How could Jesus walk on water?
The question is both absurd and current. We are engaged, it seems, in a time when religious narratives are being used to test orthodoxy. The effect of such tests is to polarize religious communities. This is going on in all worldwide religions, but I will limit my suggestions to Christianity with references to Thai Buddhism. Really, the question of whether Jesus actually walked on water or whether the Buddha pacified a stampeding elephant or whether Thor traded an eye for a translation of runes are all misdirected questions based on inconsistent assumptions. Specifically, the assumption is that we are talking about the same thing today as the stories are talking about. Walking on water is the same thing whether it is on the Sea of Galilee in 30 A.D. or Lake Michigan in 2018, isn’t it?
If we are getting mired into the question of “How”, what we must be overlooking is the type of narrative we are reading. It is ironic that even small children are able to tell the difference between beings in real life and ones in stories that begin “once upon a time.”
There are 3 types of narrative writing that often become confused. We can call them historical stories, legends and religious narratives. Consider the differences between narratives of 3 heroes, Alexander, Ulysses and Hercules.
Alexander was a warrior whose campaigns were extraordinary in that they were beyond what other generals had done. But he was a historical figure from a particular time and place who took actions that left enduring physical traces and results. None of the events of his life were done outside of real time and real space. Stories of Alexander’s conquests were historical and gave rise to the first rigorous attempts at writing historical accounts in Western civilization. Alexander lived in historical time, as do we.
Ulysses was a hero, at least some of whose adventures took place outside of real space. On the way back to Ithaca after the fall of Troy, his ship and crew were blown through a profound mist into a liminal space where they encountered beings that were unlike ordinary human beings or creatures of nature. His experiences were not likely to be repeated by anyone else, ever again. Those experiences exposed human frailty and vulnerability and reflected human proclivities, but they were not morality tales. In order to propose how they happened at all, Homer fell back on the trope that it was all because of the vindictiveness of petulant Posidon, god of the sea, and the reluctance of Athena to intervene. Socrates thought Homer got the message wrong; from Socrates’ philosophical perspective the point of such narratives had to be about more than entertainment and extraordinary story-telling. Nevertheless, Ulysses was probably a real king and hero whose stories Homer told ambiguously as happening in both historical and legendary time.
Hercules was an entirely legendary hero, whom Alexander chose to believe had lived in the dim historical past (before Ulysses) and whose armor Alexander expropriated for its symbolic value. Neither the time nor the location of Hercules’ exploits could be identified for sure. But Hercules was supposed to have lived at some time just out of reach. All his labors had super-natural elements that removed them from being seriously considered by others in real time and space. On the other hand, those labors of Hercules lacked the element of establishing a frame of reference for coming generations that stories of divine-heroes have. The stories of Hercules do not tell us how we have been rescued. They are legends.
Notice that those 3 types of heroes lived in two types of time, historical time and legendary time.
Horus, heroic son of Osiris, however, lived in a third type of time, religious time. When Horus sacrificed his eye in battle with his uncle Set to rescue his father, Horus described theological conditions under which human beings could make sense out of their life and death. The stories of that divine family were informative. They were also formative, giving rise to rites that gave human life meaning from birth to death, that gave the annual seasons meaning from one flood season to the next, and gave society meaning from Pharaoh to slave.
The stories of divine-heroes all take place outside the stultifying perimeters of the ordinary. Just as religious time is beyond the natural restrictions of time, so the operating principles in religious time are extra-ordinary. In religious time natural principles do not apply, nor do the principles that describe exceptions to natural principles in real-time. When some beneficial result that defies natural law occurs in real-time to living beings, it is called a miracle. When that sort of result occurs in religious time it is a sign; it is indicative of an implicit meaning. Its verifiability or mundane “factuality” is irrelevant. Its value is how it illuminates an aspect of the identity and character of the divine-hero.
For the purposes of this limited discourse on religious narrative there are three types of narrative depending on three types of time in which the stories took place. But those stories are interpreted and reflected upon (and sometimes re-narrated) from particular historic eras. Those eras are often labeled such things as Classical Greek, the Age of Belief, or the Age of Enlightenment based on philosophical patterns of thought. Similarly, as with succeeding schools of philosophy, each literary age found the previous age flawed, and the ones before that even more mystifying.
Before delving more deeply into what is involved with religious-time, let’s consider a particularly clear example of this sort of narrative dexterity.
Throughout northern Thailand there are mountains that are considered sacred, particularly if they have caves. One of those is Chiang Dao Mountain and cave, about 70 kilometers north of Chiang Mai. Prof. Donald Swearer and colleagues from Chiang Mai University have explored these sites and analyzed legendary-histories written about them. The chronicles include several about Doi Ang Salung (literally, “Water Basin Mountain”) Chiang Dao. As a whole, the stories of Doi Ang Salung tell about events that took place while and after the Buddha (together with various disciples and King Asoka) traveled throughout northern Thailand often leaving behind a physical relic or footprint with instructions to maintain those sites as a shrine or build a temple there. Swearer comments:
Popular chronicles such as the Legend of Water Basin Mountain are fundamentally mythic in nature. The primary purpose of the chronicle is to convey the normative belief in the sacralizing presence of the Buddha in northern Thailand, rather than relating a historically accurate account. Consequently, the text ignores such rational questions as how the Buddha and his monks could have traveled to northern Thailand or how King Asoka (third century B.C.E.) could appear on the same historical stage with the Buddha. [Swearer, D.K. et al, 2004, Sacred Mountains of Northern Thailand and their Legends. Chiang Mai, Thailand: Silkworm Books, p. 95 (emph. added)].
In those legendary tales a typical event was when a person or mythic being asked for a device to help coming generations remember the Buddha’s having been there, a hair was given (or a footprint impressed in a rock); the hair was encased in a bamboo casket and buried in the ground a sacred number of cubits deep; then a Buddha statue or chedi was erected on the spot and if the site was maintained and venerated the people would prosper. Therefore, it is sustained veneration (a collective act of faith) that verifies the site as sacred and puts that spot as on a map of sacred space. Proof that the Buddha has been there in otherwise unverifiable legendary time is the sustained veneration of the site by a community of faithful people. It is not coincidental that these legends also validate that land and its political rulers as blessed by the Buddha.
Nobody who heard the narrative of the Buddha’s encounter with the Lawa farmer in Chiang Dao was bothered about how the event could have “really happened,” or how the Emperor Asoka could have accompanied the Lord Buddha on his journeys in Thailand when the emperor was born centuries too late to have met the Buddha in person. That was set aside so that the legend could communicate its message connecting the present to the primordial past that exists eternally in religious time as long as believers sustain their faith.
In the logic of religious reality, belief is a priori. Sacred narratives provide information for believers and have nothing to say to non-believers.
How are these legends interpreted? How do they rise above the level of entertaining fiction? How can they function to validate regimes? Historical accounts do not require an element of unverifiable belief. Battlefields yield evidence of past battles and accounts tend to be cross-referenced. Legends make no claims to be about historical events that are independently verifiable. They are stories that infer and allude to beliefs held by people in a previous era as having unspecified elements of truth. But they function as cultural heritage of a people. The legends say, “We are people who own these stories.”
A vignette: Not long ago a social activist was arrested (and later released with charges dropped) for having suggested two years before that a certain famous battle between Siamese and Burmese kings on elephants should be reviewed for historical validity. It is against the law to criticize the reputation of the King of Thailand or his family. Members of the military charged the scholar with undermining the account which they recall to uphold their role as protectors of Thai culture. Most of the confusion in the media and in court was caused by a lack of clarity about whether the story was history or legend and what the difference is. The military use the story as legend to identify elements of culture, but insist it is a true historical fact. The scholar argued that if the story from nearly 500 years ago is historical the facts should speak for themselves and can stand review. The scholar was saying that the military can’t legitimately have it both ways. Either the story is legend or it is history.
The same thing can be said about arguments over the narratives of Jesus.
If the stories of Jesus Christ are legends they serve to link Christians as people with a shared narrative. They serve a cultural purpose. If the stories are history they must be able to withstand scrutiny not based on faith alone. If the stories are legendary or religious, charges that they are scientifically absurd are invalid.
Now, as to the third type of narrative, religious narratives in religious-time: if the stories of Jesus Christ are religious narratives, they have the purpose not only of identifying a key aspect of the culture of faithful Christians, but also key aspects of the character of Jesus Christ as the divine-hero. Each episode adds something illuminating about the character of Jesus as divine-hero. To adapt Swearer’s postulate, “The primary purpose of the stories of Jesus is to convey the normative belief in the sacralizing presence of the Christ in the world.”
The account of Jesus walking on the sea is not primarily about walking on water, but about who Jesus Christ is as a divine-hero. The story tells people who already believe Jesus is the divine Christ, that one way Jesus is Christ is that laws of nature are not obstacles for Christ the rescuer. The story may have other meanings for people in different circumstances. One feature of narratives from religious time is that they can be adapted, provided that the adaptations conform to the principles of religious reality of the narratives as a whole. The story of Jesus walking on the stormy sea and Peter trying to walk to him could not, for example, be used to illustrate the morality of same-sex marriages. That would be incoherent. But the story can certainly give encouragement to a Christian beset by emotional storms.
To reiterate, events ascribed to religious time conform to the purposes and principles of religious time. Those narratives have nothing to do with proving to listeners that the hero was divine. That is accepted to begin with. The narrative illuminates an aspect of that divinity so listeners can expand their faith with particulars about the divine-hero’s character. If the narrative includes eye-witnesses to the action of the divine hero in religious time, the witnesses’ reaction is typically described as either tenuously recognizing the meaning of the sign they have witnessed or total failure to see the sign as having the meaning it had. Full understanding typically comes later.
Listeners to the narratives have the advantage of already knowing they are hearing about a divine hero whose story is set in religious time. The first auditors and readers of stories of Jesus were by no means simple and stupid as they are often represented nowadays. They knew how to tell the difference between a religious story and a legendary or historical one. They knew a narrative was set in religious time if the story begins with the birth of the divine hero in some way that is super-natural, such as a virgin birth or an instantaneous maturation at birth. Religious narrative proceeds in religious time with accounts of astounding actions and the convoking of a cadre of believers. The effect of these actions is to confirm the identity of the divine hero and his or her mission. The narrative signals the end of religious time with the departure of the divine hero in a way that defies death as we know it, and transports the divine hero into universal time, time without end.
Religious narratives of a divine-hero often allude to prior religious narratives. That can be very helpful to discern the fundamental meaning of the narrative. Astute interpreters find those links. They help construct theological understanding. Were there other individuals who were cast upon stormy seas and needed a savior to rescue them and send them on a mission to continue the work of the divine-hero? What about Jonah? These connections, too, make it clear that the narratives are set in religious time.
The apostle Paul was persistent in making connections between the saving work of Jesus Christ and prior accounts of the nature of that work. But he was quite unconcerned with accounts of Jesus as divine-hero. Paul was writing to communities of real people in real places in their own time. Their issues were immediate. He avoided confusing references to details about the life of Jesus in religious-time. The narratives of Jesus Christ as divine-hero were for edifying people whose faith in Christ would be enhanced by stories set in religious time.
The narratives of Jesus set in religious time have no answers to questions like, “Did Jesus really walk on water?” “Did he really rise from the dead?” “Did he really turn water into wine?”
The question to ask about a narrative of Jesus is, “What does it tell us about God?”
Pramote has had fish of various sizes for all the years we have been living in a house of our own. Of all the living creatures under our purview (cats, birds, lizards, dogs, snakes, rats, game fish, and smaller things with at least 6 legs) only the gold fish were chosen. The rest chose us. And only the gold fish required constant care and elaborate facilities.
Here in Ban Den Village, right after we finished building our house we built an in-ground fish tank for gold fish the size of our hand, not small but not large. They were a joy until the first disaster. One day, unbeknownst to us, the village chlorinated the water and when we used it with the fish they died horrible deaths. They were replaced and the fun lasted until an earthquake cracked the tank and we had to rush to save them. The tank was relined but that did not work, so a new one was dug in the ground. It leaked badly and had to be replaced by a larger one above ground. The new tank was the most elaborate of all with three filtration tanks and a complicated set of valves and pumps. This seemed to be a great situation until the electricity went off and we had to work for hours to keep the fish alive because there was no power for the aerator pump. The second time power failed we did not know in time to keep half a dozen from dying. The third time was in the middle of the night just recently when 10 died, and the tank began to lose water again. Pramote declared he has had enough and proposed to get rid of the fish.
There is no shortage of takers. At the most we had 45 fish of a wide variety of colors varying in size from a foot to about 3 feet long, which is longer and heavier than any fish we have seen in other tanks or ponds. Yesterday began the final disposal of the fish. Our nephew’s friends came to take as many as they could persuade us to relinquish. We have a few of the biggest ones left, waiting for a relative to come today. Then the fish tank will be turned into something else. I am guessing it will be for plants in pots.
It is hard to know how to react to this end of an era, as it were. We have almost never been without fish. They have been part of our life, and a measure of our well-being. This aspect of our identity crept up on me. I was not prepared to be known by the fish we keep. They are a sign of our prosperity, because there could not be fish like this without expendable cash to run the motors, buy the food, build the tanks, and much more. When people saw our fish they revised their estimations of us. The fish are a matter of pride because of their size and color. Connoisseurs (of which I am not one) know how to evaluate colors of fish like this. I believe the more colors and the brighter they are, the better. Anyhow, we have had up to $2000 or $3000 worth of fish I understand, and we are giving them away to good homes, we hope.
Which brings me to a more delicate matter.
These fish are Pramote’s pets as well as objects of pride. He has given several of them artificial respiration – yes, I’m not kidding about this – you’d have to have seen it to believe it. He rescued some of them as spawn and raised them from minnow size into size big enough to join the rest without becoming their snack. He medicated them when a mystery disease threatened. He knows which ones are off-springs of which. We have a more personal relationship with our cats, but the fish have been significant. They have signified things I am not yet aware of, I suspect. That may become clear as the last ones leave and the valve is turned to drain the tank into the orchard.
It amazes me how things become part of our meaning.
TEMPLE SECRETS, ESSAY 4
Phra Kru Wimon Boonkosol of Wat Nimmolwiwat in Roi Et was featured in an article in the Bangkok Post two months ago with a rather remarkable claim about the mythological dragons represented in nearly every Buddhist temple in Thailand.
"The naga is a mythical creature in Buddhist mythology. The animal is a half-serpent, half-human deity. When he is in human form on a path to salvation after redeeming himself from his bad karma, he still yearns to study dhamma and do good deeds," the abbot explained.
My interest in the venerable abbot’s assertion goes far beyond the literal matter of whether an animal, mythological or biological, can be invested with speculative, philosophical concerns. I am interested in how the Thai Buddhist scholar can come to such a conclusion. How, in fact, can Christian scholars come to conclusions about dragons, or saints, or God? What rules are there? This very issue is at the heart of the most profound theological battle of Christianity in 21st century America. But I will limit my analysis to Phra Kru Wimon’s statement, “The naga … is a half-serpent, half-human deity. …he yearns to study dhamma and do good deeds.”
It is the abbot’s belief that the naga is or ought to be a role model for Buddhists in that regard. The abbot is designing his temple to feature the naga as an aspirant for human beings to emulate.
The first matter is how the naga appears in Buddhist mythology. Foremost among the naga’s appearances in the central narratives of the Lord Buddha is the story of a naga protecting the Buddha as he was in his trance acquiring the dhamma. The naga, named Mucalinda, raised the Buddha above a flood that had been provided to delay the demonic forces sent to prevent the Buddha being enlightened. The Buddha seated on the coils of a naga and being sheltered from the deluge is a major symbol in Thai Buddhist art.
Would that we all had such an opportunity to provide heroic service for the Self-Enlightened One! Phra Kru Wimon wants us to know that we do have countless such opportunities, although they may not be so dramatic. We are at the frontier, as was the naga, between the serene Holy One and the attacking forces of chaos and enslavement to Evil.
The naga, however, has other roles in Buddhist mythology. Our own first encounter with a naga might come as we approach a Buddhist temple where a pair of nagas guards the entryway and the stairs into the main assembly hall where a re-enactment of the Buddha teaching his disciples often takes place. We would do well to suspect that the naga is not unambiguously a docile creature. Those whose intentions are pernicious are duly warned. Overhead, along the eaves of the buildings, are other nagas swimming in cosmic space between heaven and earth.
If the naga is a mythical creature, the realm of discourse about it is mythological. The line of such discourse can be traced with methods used to study mythology, including narratives, linguistic analysis, sculpture and architecture, and applications in other realms of discourse such as philosophy or religion.
Here is a basic fact: a mythic entity is never entirely contemporary. A narrative cannot be a myth if it has no mythic roots. Myths have an independent existence. No matter how a myth has been adapted and manipulated, it is from an earlier time all the way back into the mists of pre-history. The validity and relevance of a myth is that the message it conveys is derived and not simply concocted. So, it is important that the naga as it appears in Buddhist mythology has connections to earlier mythology before the time of the Lord Buddha. The naga of Thai Buddhism is related to Sheshanaag of Hindu mythology, upon whom Vishnu reclined afloat on the cosmic sea of milk before the earth was formed. There is a mythic trail that traces that lineage. It can be confirmed through study of symbolic representations from archeology and Buddhist temple art. What can be concluded from this is that the abbot has not misrepresented facts to say that the naga is a mythical creature. Nor has he tried to obscure the fact (as many religious pundits do about sacred beings) that the naga is mythological. Its relevance depends on it being representational and metaphorical. Oh, what a mess religions get themselves into when they are careless with their symbols.
However, the abbot of Wat Nimmolwiwat has gone further than to say, “Nagas are doers of good deeds. The naga that protected the Lord Buddha was doing what its ancestor did in supporting Vishnu, and as the dragon was doing in transporting the Chinese-Buddhist avatar of the Buddha, Mae Kwan Im.” Phra Kru Wimon also takes pains to connect the naga to the philosophical core of popular Buddhism.
I believe the reasoning is something like this: the naga was stuck in animal form as a result of its demeritorious behavior in past existences; but through one supreme act in safeguarding the Lord Buddha the naga was delivered from that karmic punishment. Thus it could proceed on its path to release from the endless round of birth, suffering, and death. Release comes through realizing the real nature of existence is not permanence but constant change. This realization is enlightenment. It breaks the cycle.
There is mythological support for this. The cosmic serpent is famously represented holding its tail in its mouth. The Greeks called the serpent Ouroboros. This is what it came to mean to Gnostics at the time Buddhism was gaining traction in India:
From a Gnostic viewpoint, the opposing ends of the ouroboros were interpreted as the divine and earthly in man, which, despite being at odds with one another, existed in unison nonetheless. In this sense, it is comparable to the Chinese yin and yang, depicting the harmony of contrary forces, as well as the cosmic dichotomy of light and darkness in Manichaeism and the Zoroastrian philosophy of the farvahar, which first posited that each soul was composed of a pure, divine component, as well as a human one. …the ouroboros went on to enjoy much popularity among Renaissance alchemists. Again representing the infinite nature of time and the eternal, it was seen in the eyes of the alchemists as the ultimate obstacle to be overcome in the Magnum Opus, their incessant struggle; for to become immortal – their chief aim – meant to break the incessant cycle of the ouroboros once and for all.
It is striking to me that in Thai Buddhist temple art the naga is emerging from the mouth of another serpent. But that is the end of it. The naga is no longer grasping anything. Its avarice is ended. It has broken the incessant cycle.
The abbot’s campaign is to enhance the relevance of the naga as a mythic symbol for the cosmic context of human existence into a symbol for a specific item of philosophical dogma, namely, that after balancing karma one must study Dharma ( i.e. dhamma in Thai, the Truth that the Lord Buddha discovered which leads to enlightenment and release). This must be accomplished through study.
To accommodate this concept the abbot declares that the naga is “half serpent, half-human deity.” This may be more than previous mythology will support. The most famous text about the naga yearning to become a monk actually describes how it was prevented by the Lord Buddha, himself. The naga had transformed himself into human form.
“Shortly after, when asleep in his hut, the naga returned to the shape of a huge snake. The monk who shared the hut was somewhat alarmed when he woke up to see a great snake sleeping next to him! The Lord Buddha summoned the naga and told him he may not remain as a monk, at which the utterly disconsolate snake began to weep. The snake was given the Five Precepts as the means to attaining a human existence in his next life when he can then be a monk. Then out of compassion for the sad snake, the Lord Buddha said that from then on all candidates for the monkhood be called 'Naga' as a consolation. They are still called 'Naga' to this day."
Indeed, there are examples of Thai Buddhist temple art in which the “human deity” is part naga or emerging from the mouth of a naga. But they are all modern. According to widespread narratives about karma, an animal would have to be reborn as a human with enough karmic accumulation to be able to attain enlightenment. Human beings must work at it. One of the pathways is study which is a cognitive undertaking. Divine beings can achieve the benefits of enlightenment instantly through direct contact with a Buddha. In the Thai Buddhist narrative the Lord Buddha spent part of his final compassionate delay from Nirvana by visiting divinities in their heavenly abode. It would seem, then, that the naga was not entirely divine or human. Mucalinda was not transubstantiated into Nirvana by his meeting the Lord Buddha in person, nor was he human enough to study dhamma and be enlightened without being reincarnated as a human and ordained as a monk. Nor would his being “half animal and half human-divine” be an example for us to emulate. It is tricky to use a mythological example for a religious purpose.
Perhaps it is best just to agree with the abbot that the naga is an appropriate symbol for the two most important undertakings of a Thai Buddhist: study of dhamma and doing good deeds. The abbot’s declaration that the naga is “half animal, half-human divine” is a homiletical device. It appears his intention is to reinforce the interpretation of the ever-present naga in Thai Buddhist symbolism as a metaphor for Buddhist endeavor. But the abbot’s sermons would be weakened if his mythology had been flawed.
I probably should leave this discussion at this point, but I want to add a note to be developed some other time. I have tried to sketch how the use of a mythic symbol (an archetype in the terms of Carl Jung) has roots that can be traced. This lineage substantiates the legitimacy and intrinsic meaning of the symbol. By the same token, a symbol can be identified as mythic by tracing its heritage. That is the bind in which contemporary popular Christian theology finds itself. Christian thinking has detached itself from its mythic heritage. Simplistic Christians have decided that biblical narratives, for example, cannot be mythic. They must not be myths. That would ruin things. But the obvious fact is that a great deal of Christian symbolism is profound precisely because it is mythic with roots deep in human experience, maybe even in our DNA. No religion can be sustained after it has been thoroughly demythologized. This is the failure of post-Enlightenment liberalism. Nor can a religion be profound that treats its myths derisively. That is the flaw of alt-right conservatism.
Previous essays in this TEMPLE SECRETS series include:
I attended an event here in Chiang Mai last week that brought together many acquaintances from years past. One Thai fellow about my age from Los Angeles wanted to know how things were going with me. In the course of our conversation it became clear he hadn’t heard about my “changes of orientation, and my Thai spouse” so I filled him in. He never missed a beat, flicked an eyebrow, or registered the least surprise. It isn’t always thus.
One of the unfair things about being LGBT is that we’re never completely finished “coming out” of the closet. There’s always somebody else who doesn’t know, and we have learned we can never be sure how they will react.
I was reminded of one of my bigger surprises in this regard.
Ricky was HIV+ at age 12. He was infected by tainted blood he received as a hemophiliac. I was asked by two of our church members to let them hold a fund-raising event in our church for Ricky.
That’s how it started.
Ricky’s church was a large, fundamentalist, blue-collar congregation in the refinery and steel-mill district. They dis-invited Ricky and his family when members protested. 4 or 5 of us clergy formed an ad-hoc advocacy group to try to get better information about HIV-AIDS to churches in the area. We were signed on as an aspect of the state’s Department of Children and Family Services to provide religious resources and help when called on. Joyce was the social worker who took care of us. We became a headline program in her annual reports.
Over the next 2 or 3 years we met, conducted worship services for people living with HIV-AIDS, visited patients in hospitals if the patients were open to a visit, and sometimes conducted their funerals. Joyce was tireless.
When the program closed and Joyce lost her job. She was first out of work, then homeless with a young daughter. For weeks Joyce came to me to get help of various kinds. She and I considered it an accomplishment that we managed to keep her off the street, homeless as she was. And then she met Matt. Matt was a dentist and a religious skeptic. After almost a year, Matt and Joyce decided to get married. They asked me to officiate. It was a very small wedding. We laughed about how nice it was that Joyce and her daughter weren’t threatened with living on the street anymore. She fervently declared that I had saved her life more than once. That confirmed she had been suicidal, as I had intuited.
Shortly after that I left the area but Joyce sent notes about her new life and the fact that she and Matt were taking instruction to join the Greek Orthodox Church.
Over the next 6 years my life underwent radical change. I admitted I was bi-sexual on the gay end of the spectrum, changed jobs to avoid battles with the church it would have been too early to win, and made other major adjustments.
One day I happened to be back in the area having a large cookie in a shopping mall when Joyce came through. She greeted me like a beloved uncle and when she asked about my life I told her the headlines. I was still nervous about coming out to most people but I didn’t hesitate because Joyce and I had been through a lot.
It was probably three months later that I heard from her. I’d come back to Thailand and she sent a Christmas card with a letter in it.
“I am shocked,” she said. “I had no idea you were succumbing to this. Matt and I have talked to our priest about whether our marriage is valid since it was conducted by a fraudulent minister who could not be anointed by the Holy Spirit. Of course, Matt and I want no further contact with you.”
Rev. Dr. Kenneth Dobson posts his weekly reflections on this blog.