Sunday, November 18, 2018

An Answer to the Moral Dihlemma of Theism

Let's say you're omnipotent, and you want to make a clock. There are two ways to do it:
The first way would be to create a dial with hands that always point in the right direction in response to the actual time. The big hand would move around the dial once every hour, always landing on the twelve at the exact moment the little hand arrives at whatever o’clock it is, simply because you commanded it to. You could either command it to follow that pattern for all eternity, or else you could dedicate one small part of your infinite mind to physically moving it according to that pattern. There would be nothing of what we call clockworks inside, just a giant cosmic miracle dial responding to your decree on its own.
The second way would be to build it with all the wheels inside meshing together, timed by the flywheel, driven by the powersource, working with utmost precision, insuring that the hands point to the right numbers on the dial at the right time of the cosmic time progression. Any addition you made later on would be powered by and in sync with the existing clockworks. It would be designed to work all on its own without any effort from you - except you could add an input device whereby you could make any corrections, such as, “increase speed by one millionth of a second”. We'll talk more about this input device later.
From reviewing all the evidence, both from science and from scripture, I'd have to conclude that a certain Omnipotent being that we know, chose the second of the two ways, the “clockworks” model when creating this universe. A lot of folk religion does seem to favour the “miracle dial” method, as well as, perhaps a few early scientific models. However, even early scientists as Aristotle and others leaned in the direction of a clockworks type of universe.
How does science point to a clockworks model? There are the four forces (that we know of), gravitational, electromagnetic, the strong and the weak; and we now know that atoms consist of dozens of types of particles, each rendering possible, various facets of our existence, including life.
Though we've always taken it for granted, actual life integrated with physical substance isn't an easy thing to come by. We know that rocks can't be living. Minerals can't hold life, nor can any other elements or simple compounds - although we now have very complex electronic circuitry with the right programming to make it act like it's alive (isn't that right, Alexa? “Yes, that's right”). But only the extremely elaborate intricate structure of the DNA molecule can actually hold life. We still don't know how it works, nor how to recreate it. All we can do is grow it from existing DNA.
When God said, “Let there be light,” the big bang occurred at just the right intensity to divide that initial microscopic speck into a humongous mass of photons, all at the right density to enable the formation of atoms of every size and type - the clockworks that would eventually enable life. Had that big bang been even the slightest bit more intense, physicists tell us, all that would have been enabled would have been hydrogen atoms. Life could never come about. Anything ever so slightly less intense and the universe as we know it would, again, not have been possible.
Even at the right intensity, the time still had to be right. The Omnipotent Being said, “let light be separated from darkness.” Ripples appeared on the outward flowing stream of light, and gravitational and magnetic forces began to go to work at pulling it together to form galaxies and stars. The nuclear reactions within each star formed the various particles into atoms, splitting them again, completely dissolving them and remaking them into atoms again, while some that had spun off beyond the outer periphery formed into planets. When at least one planet had cooled sufficiently, God said, “Let the water be separated from dry land, and let an atmosphere appear.” Only then, was life even possible. We are living in what is called, “The Goldilocks Zone” where it is, like junior Bear's porridge, “Just right!”
So, how much time passed between these events that led to it being “just right” for life of any sort to make its appearance? Some say billions of years, others say only a few days. The thing about such intense gravitational force as was present at the big bang, is that it greatly speeds up time, so the first couple of aeons could have been a couple of days. To God, it doesn't make any difference anyhow, as a day and a thousand years (or a billion, as far as that goes) are all the same. It was all a part of fixing the clockworks to accommodate life, and setting up that relatively short Goldilocks zone where humanity could live and roam, and fulfil his destiny.
There is reason to believe that the seventh day of creation was much longer than twenty four hours. According to Hebrews 4:3-11 we are still in the seventh day. God has been resting, and it remains for some of us to enter that rest.
So, God told man on the sixth day, “Be fruitful, multiply, fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea, the birds in the air and every living creature that crawls on the earth.” God gave His creation over to humanity for safekeeping, set His alarm clock, and rested.
Well okay, He's not exactly sleeping. Remember, there's that input device whereby He can make adjustments, and that is through interaction with humanity, to whom He gave the authority to manage things. That input device is, in fact, the life that He breathed into man that brought him to life. So, humanity is both a product of the grand universal clockworks that God had spent so much time designing and developing, and alive with the breath of God Himself. Where other creatures are simply products of the clockworks, and therefore subject to determinism, humanity is above that and is capable of true creativity, making decisions that can't be predicted by knowing all the maths. So, humanity, created in God's own image, holding God's life in his DNA, both belongs in the physical universe that produced that DNA, and transcends it. He is a higher order of being, meant to be God's own friend. That's who God gave the authority over His creation.
But we also know that the first couple of humans blew it, creating a Mess (with a capital M) that all humans coming after would have to live with, so God has been making heavy use of the input device.
Everyone is affected by The Mess, some more than others, and in different ways, prompting many to say, ‘It just isn't fair!” There's nothing about The Mess that's fair. People are enslaved, bullied, tortured, slaughtered, bereaved, left destitute, while others reap the benefits; all because of how human nature has been skewed.
Early humans took on board something that they were told not to, and that gave us an acute sense of good and evil. On the surface that sounds good, but look closer. What it was, was an obsession to compare everything. The first humans looked at each other and then at themselves and said, “Your body is beautiful, but mine? Oh dear! Stop looking at me!” (To this day, we think of nudity as evil, but God made it clear that that’s only because we think it is, when He said, “Who told you you were naked?”)
Later, someone said to his brother, “You are better than me, so God loves you more than me, therefore, I hate you!” That led to the first murder.
Later still people began saying, “Sex with you is nice, but I could have a better time with someone more beautiful/handsome than you;” and, “You have a prettier woman than I have, and a stronger beast of burden, nicer tools and more land than I have; but I'm stronger than you, so I'm taking it.”
Actually, the basic desires aren't bad in themselves. A healthy sex drive is a good thing, and some desires and urges are simple survival instincts. It's when we're obsessed with comparing the quality or quantity with what others have that it gets out of proportion.
And so, because some were stronger than others, while following the same skewed logic, we've ended up with the unfair Mess that we're in.
Now, question and answer time:
First, how can a loving God allow those things to happen?
The answer: remember the Two possible ways for an omnipotent being to build a clock? Had He chosen the Miracle Dial method, that would be a very good question. If everything worked simply because He had His hands on it making it work, then everything would run perfectly, and all the aforementioned evils wouldn't be happening. But He didn't do it that way. He went with the Clockworks model, designing the universe to run according to the laws of physics and quantum mechanics in a cause-effect continuum. Moreover, because humanity is a transcendent being, as well as an integral part of the clockworks, we had the power to screw things up on a grand scale, which we did.
Then why didn't the Omnipotent Being do something about that before things got out of hand?
Keep in mind, the nature of the universe He made, the clockworks, the careful timing, the laws of physics and the quantum mechanics, and all the preparation that went into the Goldilocks Zone; it's clear that God took no shortcuts. All of that work went into the preparation of humanity's place in the vast clockworks of the universe, as a functioning part of the clockworks.
So, let's rephrase that question: Why didn't the Omnipotent Being do something he hadn't ever done since detonating the Big Bang; and stick His finger into the clockworks, stop the universe, undo the human mistake and then start it off again where it left off?
That's not His way. He had already put humanity into the pilot seat, and had begun His day of rest. Humanity was given the freedom of choice, and with that comes living with those choices. Freewill is a dangerous thing.
Perhaps the next obvious question would be, wasn't God morally wrong in giving humanity freewill when He knew where it would lead?
There are many angles to that one. Part of the assumption is that it was like trusting the keys of the family car to a young child. Others picture it as setting a bowl of sweets on the table, and telling the two-year-old, “Don't touch!” The way the Adam and Eve story is often told, one quite easily comes away with that conclusion. However, if we examine the accounts more carefully, we might get a far different picture: The first man had already named all the animals, and, according to Rabbinical tradition, used sounds that matched the nature of each creature, like a well studied Kabbalist would. So, was Adam no more than a small child? Perhaps it was more like the father entrusting the keys to the car to a son nearing adulthood, who already knows how to drive safely and responsibly, and has already proven himself on many occasions. The son is ready, by anyone's standards to be trusted with such a potentially dangerous machine. But he still messes up at the critical moment, causing death and destruction. Who is morally responsible for that?
That leads us to another angle: why was the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil there in the first place?
One thing we don't pretend to know is what ultimate purpose it served. There are a few theories, such as: maybe it was meant for later after humanity had matured to a certain level; or that it was simply there to test humanity's obedience; or as a chance to exercise his power to choose. Perhaps none of them completely satisfy everyone, but there is the other consideration: Adam, as we observed, had been there longer, knew what was what, and knew what he was doing. Eve was a new arrivals, so she was easily deceived.
When Adam discovered that Eve had eaten the forbidden fruit, why didn't he take Eve by the hand, lead her to where God would be walking in the cool of the day, and say, “I'm afraid we've had a miss-hap. Eve has gone and eaten from that tree you told us not to, because the snake told her it was good for her. Isn't there anything that can be done for her?” He didn't do that. He simply ate of it himself, knowing full well what the consequences were (and people point to the Genesis story to show how superior men are to women. How was that superior?).
Yet another angle is, would it really have been better to be products of determinism than freewill? If we were, would we be enjoying the levels of creativity that we do, pushing the limits to what's possible, or indeed, even discussing freewill versus determinism? It's clear from a close examination of Scripture that God's intent in creating humanity was to enjoy companionship on that level.
It's on that level that we see that God, by making use of that “input device”, initiated a mid-course correction intended to eventually bring everything back into line with what it's supposed to be. As anyone knows, who fixes things, some fixes may take a while, and in mid-fix, look even worse than when we started out. That Fix (with a capital F) involved instituting a covenant with various ones, which gave the Omnipotent One the leeway to manifest His Omnipotence in a limited way (things like parting the Red Sea, etc) without overstepping the mandate He had given humanity. In fact, that was the whole point of having a “chosen people”, so He could “legally” maintain a presence on the earth so He could carry out the Fix. Humanity created The Mess, humanity must play a vital part in The Fix.
What about those who have been suffering in the meantime, simply because The Fix is still in the works? What of those who have never heard of The Fix?
The traditional assertion is that every man, woman, boy and girl, puppy and kitten who hasn't read aloud the Sinners Prayer from the back of a Chick tract, will spend all of eternity burning in the intense fire of hell; it doesn't matter how miserable their life was on earth.
I believe there is a hell, and also a world to come, in which the meek will inherit the earth. I also believe that being fully initiated into God's Kingdom is through repentance and faith - being born again by the Spirit of God. However I also believe it is a mistake to assume that Theologians have distilled the sum of all truth from what we can read of scripture. I do believe God is just, and besides being omnipotent, He is all knowing. He knows the lives of every abused child, every slave, each bullied and beaten vulnerable person, from beginning to end - and He's just. I can only trust Him with that. That’s a part of having faith in Him.
We do get some vague hints from the Bible, the following from Yeshua's parables:
The parable of the rich man and Lazarus: A rich man who had everything, but never showed mercy to poor diseased Lazarus who sat at the door grabbing what crumbs fell from the dishes as they were being carried out to be washed. Both died, the rich man went to hell, while Lazarus went to a comfortable place and was held in the bosom of Father Abraham. We're not told that Lazarus was a born again Christian, nor whether he was Torah observant; only that he was receiving compensation for a life of misery. The rich man was, apparently receiving just compensation for non Torah observance, particularly of those parts of the Torah that command us not to neglect the poor of the land, to see to the needs of the widows and orphans and the refugees - about consuming the earth's resources without giving anything back.
The parable of the sheep and the goats: At judgement day, the Judge of all the earth sits on His throne, directing some to move to His right, and others to His left. To those on His right He says, “I was sick and you helped me; I was hungry and you fed me; I was imprisoned and you visited me etc… enter into the joy of the Lord.” Those people replied, “Huh?” “When did that happen?” “I've never even been to church!” “I never saw you…” And the Judge replied, “Oh yes you did. When you befriended that homeless kid, when you went out of your way to check how that very sick looking man was doing, when you paid out more than you could afford to feed that family… you were doing it to me.” To those on His left, He had other things to say.
As I said, the above are hints as to God criteria for judgement. A major one is according to how we judge others. Yeshua said, “Don't judge and you won't be judged. By what standard you judge others is how you will be judged.”
I picture one of us standing in the queue at the final judgement: The man just two ahead of you approaches the throne and says, “I was really bad, I know. I had such a bad temper, I beat my wife and my kid A couple of times, and…”
The judge interrupts him, “Yes, you confessed that to me, and by my grace, you were beginning to overcome in that area. You were on your way to becoming a truly good gentle husband and father before your father-in-law shot you. You are forgiven. Enter into the joy of the Lord.”
The one just before you approaches, saying, “I'm not sure I'm worthy to enter. I couldn't keep my hands to myself, always flirting, my wife divorced me…”
“But you kept looking to me for forgiveness, and you were slowly being transformed by my grace. Enter into my joy.“
Then it's your turn. “I can't think of any reason I can't just enter, can you? I mean, I wasn't nearly as bad as those other two, and they…”
“Not so fast. What about when you went to church wearing a shirt that hadn't been ironed, or that time you were seen picking your nose in front of the City Hall? And then there's the time you bent over to pick up a coin, and the top of your bum was showing!”
“C'mon! Those are such small thing! Those two ahead of me were…”
“I can't judge you the same as them. You wrote your own rulebook when you judged others by how they conduct themselves in public, so I have to judge you by the same standard you judged them.”
Maybe not exactly like that, but you get the idea.
James says in his epistle that by fulfilling the commandment to love our neighbour as ourselves instead of judging and favouring some over others, we qualify ourselves to be assessed by the royal law of liberty.
This brings us to our biggest obstacle; by taking on board the Knowledge of Good and Evil, we've made ourselves experts in judging others, and that, in turn, subjects us to judgement.
By showing mercy, giving people the benefit of the doubt, forgiving personal offences, releasing grudges, we place ourselves under God's mercy. However, we can't simply “unknow” the Knowledge of Good and Evil, can we! As much as we try to forgive and forget, it just keeps coming back. Also, some wounds are so deep that we find it impossible to forgive. That's where we especially need The Fix.
Just as The Mess was created by humanity, so also was The Fix, in the person of Messiah Yeshua. The Omnipotent One had been spending all of human history setting it up so that He, by human consent and cooperation, could send The Fix in the person of His Son, the human, Yeshua.
After spending a lifetime telling us about The Fix, Yeshua Himself became the target of every injury, abuse, slander, false accusation, and was finally subjected unjustly to the most torturous death imaginable; absorbing the shock of all human injustice, while uttering His last words, “Father, forgive them.”
As a human, Yeshua had the authority of a human, but without the setback of having gone wrong. He expended all the energy He had been given, and all the authority He had, until there was no more to expend, so He underwent death. Thus it was the perfect exercise of human authority, completely undoing the Mess, making The Fix available to all of humanity.
So, what exact was it that this perfect exercise of human authority enabled the Omnipotent One to do? Something along the line of what He did with the first human, when He breathed into him the Breath of Life. It was so powerful that it brought Him back to life, complete with his body, but in a highly enhanced state. What's more, because it was officially enabled by human authority, it has the potential to affect all humans, solving all the world's problems, eventually bringing resurrection from the dead (in the same enhanced state). It's a force greater than we can imagine, and it's been in our hands ever since.
So what's wrong? We’re like a bunch of kids sitting on top of a machine more powerful than a nuclear reactor, but we're fighting over a game of marbles. … a bit like having a supercomputer in our pocket, and using it to look at pictures of cats, and getting into arguments with people we've never met (I possess a device, in my pocket, that...) Isn't that just like us?
So now the fix is in place, it's there in the clockworks, but it's still up to humanity to apply it. That's what we're on about now - some of us anyway.

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Among my FaceBook friends, there people of every type, from Tea Party goers to Wall Street Occupiers, from anarchists to libertarians, even someone with Neo Nazi sympathies as well as Zionists, and of course Trump lovers and Trump haters. No, I'm not just maintaining FB friendships just to brag about my “collection”; I sincerely value their friendship, and I intend to keep them all, if you don't mind.

So, my FB experience often includes memes and comments from just about every perspective, praising Trump, cursing him, as well as for and against every other issue from guns to refugees. It's also hard for me to express any political opinion without offending someone. So, what do I do?

More often than not, I don't.

That's not a cop out. It's just that there are things that are far more important to me, namely the Kingdom of God. The Church doesn't stand or fall depending on who’s in power or what laws are passed. Christians in places like China, the old USSR and Africa have demonstrated that over and over.

Now, I'm not against Christians voting and being involved in the democratic process. I did vote, not for or against Trump, but for UK to remain in the EU. I live in Northern Ireland where the consequences of Brexit are becoming more and more obvious. But I think, at this point, it would be an even bigger mistake to turn around and disregard the choice made by the people and remain in the EU in spite of it. The damage done to democracy would far out last the damage of leaving the EU.

When both sides love their own political agenda more than they do the democratic process, even to the point of scuttling the normal political process for the sake of their agenda; we no longer have national politics, but civil war - or more accurately “civil cold-war”. In sports, it's called bad sportsmanship (which also happens).

I'm very much afraid that some places very close to our heart, are in a state of civil war.

Living in Northern Ireland gives me a perspective on this (I stop short of saying “unique”). I'm a participant of a “24-7” prayer cell in S. W. Belfast, where we've been both praying for and working towards reconciliation between the two communities.here. A lot has improved, but also a lot of work still needs to be done. Ethnic reconciliation has been close to my heart for quite some time.

But now, I'm also seeing another area badly in need of the ministry of reconciliation; the rift between conservatives and liberals.

I realise there are issues at stake that are very important, such as what's the proper response to refugees and immigrants (legal and illegal); how much ought to be spent on military or on welfare, or health and education; what laws should be passed regarding various moral issues, how to legislate guns - the list is endless. But we must not forget that there are Christians on both sides of these issues who truly love God with all their heart, soul and strength, and their neighbours as themselves, even if they disagree on what’s good for their neighbour.

The solutions to these problems do not ultimately lie with changing the laws, or voting in this politician or that, however wise and wonderful. Nor will the same laws and politician, however sinister, stop the Kingdom of God - that is, once believers realise where our strength lies.

We desperately need the ministry of reconciliation very close to home.

Monday, August 07, 2017

How a Slap on the Floor Saved Time-space

In the beginning, God created four dimensional existence. Before that, all was darkness, no form, nor even dimensions to render form possible, and God's Spirit brooded over the face of the non-existence.

Then, God said, “Let there be light.” Immediately there was movement, an intense brightness consisting of photons moving outward in every direction. Thus, existence came to be, as light shown from the centre, the beginning of time, outward in a straight line to the end of time, an ever expanding time-space of intense whiteness.

Then, God said, “Let the light be separated from the darkness.” Dark matter began to separate from the light matter, causing ripples to appear in the beam beginning at the centre of time-space. As it proceeded from the centre, light and dark matter began to gravitate towards a multitude of centre points. Some of these formed into black holes which caused the light to swirl around, forming galaxies. The vacuum that was left, those areas where darkness prevailed, God called “night”, and those parts affected by the light, “day”.

In all of this swirling of galaxies and the gravitational pull, stars were formed, and then planets. On some planets, land was separated from the water. God said, “Let life come into being.”

Plant life began to spring up. Simple life forms provided nourishment for the more complex, which, at the end of their own life cycles, became food for others of their kind, all the while reproducing themselves through their seeds and shoots. Thus, to the end of time, life-baring planets were filled with self-sustaining multicoloured life. God looked at His four-dimensional time-space, and said, “it is good”.

Then, God said, “Let there be living creatures that move about, swimming in the sea, flying in the air, and walking and creeping on the dry ground. They can eat the vegetation, and become food for one another, and at the end of their life cycles, they can become food for the vegetation.

Thus the whole earth became self-sustaining.

Each creature, acting according to its need and instinct, followed a course that could be predetermined by taking into account every factor and every movement in the universe. A butterfly living at the beginning of the age of butterflies, by flapping its wings one way or another, would determine the courses of a tropical storm near the end of the age of tropical storms. Of course, how the butterfly flapped its wings was also the predictable result of yet other factors.

When some of the species became so large as to take over and inhibit the further development of life, they were destroyed by a large asteroid, which was simply following it's predicted course.

God looked at this and said, "It is good, but not good enough." The whole universe was nothing but a big toy, and after some shifting and tweaking - and doing things like flicking a butterfly,  or adding to the gravitational pull of a small rock in space so that it would strike an asteroid, putting it on a course to destroy the dinosaurs a few aeons later, thus making room for mammals - God decided that four dimensional time-space needed something more innovative, something that would make it complete, less predictable, a true work of art, fully expressing His creative and loving nature.

Actually, it was something God had in mind from the very beginning.
God created a new life form, unique from all the others - humanity. The human was capable of true creativity; independent of his need to survive, his instinct, or anything that limited the other creatures to a predetermined course. In fact, the human was created after God's own pattern.

Thus, humanity would contribute to the final design of the four dimensional time-space. The main difference was that humans were limited to being conscious of the fourth dimension one moment at a time, not seeing it from beginning to end as God does. That, if you think about it, is the only way humans could possibly influence time-space through non-predetermined choices, all the while God knowing about those choices beforehand simply by viewing the entire time-space from beginning to end. God can and does influence the the final design by interaction with humans through various means of communication, influencing their choice through suggestion, and sometimes enabling those humans to perform miracles.

Thus, the final shape of the four dimensional time-space is a corroborative effort between God and the human race which God designed to be both a part of and as fellow artist in the project.

However, there is also a downside to this whole design. Humanity is also capable of the choice to do or not to do what God wishes, even of violating specific instructions. That factor is a necessary part of being designed in God's image, unlimited by pre-determinism. One day, humanity partook of an element that he was specifically instructed to leave alone. It affected him in a way he wasn't prepared for, giving humanity a consciousness of good and evil. Humanity was already creative, but now his consciousness was skewed by the need to constantly compare things by there rightness, their desirability and superiority. This opened up many dark areas that humanity wasn't ready for.
The act of disobedience was so serious it sent shock-waves throughout the whole four dimensional time-space, and threatened to shatter the whole thing. It's possible that, as viewed from God's perspective, it did begin to shatter.
God's remedy was to absorb that shock.

To understand the concept of shock and the absorption of shock, we could either delve into the laws of physics, or we could use a simple illustration, from Judo. People being trained in Judo are taught how to fall. Being thrown to the ground, or even falling backwards can cause serious injury if one doesn't know how break their fall, because of the shock-waves going through the body. To prevent injury, one simply slaps the floor just before the back of the head hits the ground. The hand may smart, but the head stays intact because the hand has absorbed the shock-wave. As we talk further about the strategy of absorbing the shock, think about a judo fighter slapping the ground as he falls.

Interacting with various humans, especially those of the family clan of Abraham through Isaac and Jacob, God set up a framework whereby He would continue to  cooperate with humanity to enact His plan to both absorb the shock and restore everything to a beautiful state. An important part of this framework was the institution of blood sacrifice.

Death can be viewed as simply the end of a natural cycle; a part of nature. Untimely death, however, is something that continues to send shock-waves through the four dimensional time-space. Causing an untimely death without just cause is what we call murder. God told Noah and his sons that murder must be atoned for by the death of the perpetrator. Only by that means is the shock-wave absorbed so that it doesn't do further damage to time-space - like a slap on the floor.

Blood sacrifice is another means of using death as a means of absorbing shock. The agreement God made with Abraham and his descendants, given in detail to Moses, provided for blood sacrifices on a regular basis. This was sufficient to temporarily hold back the damage from the great shock-wave. Thus, Israel played a vital part in preserving the universe by becoming, as it were, the provider of a multitude of slaps on the floor.

It is indicated in the Talmud that when Israel was at Mt Sinai, they saved the world from destruction by accepting God's terms and ratifying the covenant God had made with Abraham.

However, that was not yet enough. It was the preparation for God's ultimate solution. God sent an instance of Himself, His Word, to a critical time-location in time-space be born as a human with all the attributes of a human including the ability of independent choice. He had all the authority of a human, including the option of communicating with God through the Holy Spirit, so his actions would constitute those of a human from inside the four dimensional time-space. Though He was from outside time-space where He could view the end from the beginning, by being born human, He restricted Himself to being conscious of the forth dimension only one moment at a time.

As a human, Jesus, the Word of God, exercised all the authority he had - authority that had not been diminished through human failings - even to the point of death. That death was the event that absorbed all the shock-waves and saved the universe - the ultimate slap on the floor. Not only did it save four dimensional time-space, but it left a surplus of energy that enabled the resurrection of the dead.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Politically Correct or Socially Aware?

I would like to propose a new word to use instead of the term "Politically Correct". I'd prefer be called "Socially Aware".

As the term implies, "Political Correctness" claims to define what's correct and incorrect. It screams at us if we say something wrong, or express the wrong opinion. "Socially Aware" invites us to look at what's really at the heart of the problem, and to respond with compassion, even if the wrong word accidentally slips out of our mouth.

I find the "Political Correct" mindset legalistic. It leads to polarisation. It insinuates that one is either in or out, and if one fails to be correct on one or two points, one is all the way out.

At its best, it's not the ideal way of showing compassion to the downtrodden and administering social justice. Too often, it's the façade which justifies hating the perpetrators of injustice more than we love the victims of it. Hate is never a good motivation for justice. While it might move the crowds more quickly, the fruit of it is never sweet. The only motive for social justice is to have compassion on the victims, while recognising that the perpetrators of the injustice are also its victims.

So, I don't claim to be "Politically Correct", but I do want to express how I feel about some of those injustices, while separating the true injustice from the ones artificially created by the name-calling. I also want to seek out helpful solutions to those injustices, ones that truly enable the marginalised people-groups without creating more problems; solutions not based on revenge, that don't idolise the victim, and that recognise that the perpetrators of injustice are often also the victims of previous injustice. I want to talk about solutions that look forward to the day when the wounded party can truly get on with life without being hindered by the pain of the past.

For-instance, I believe that Native Americans have not been dealt with fairly, and that we who claim a Christian heritage have a lot to answer for in regards to American history (some of my own ancestors on my mother's side were white settlers in Western Ohio during the Indian wars of the 1700s).

I believe that the Irish have been dealt with cruelly and unfairly by the British in our history, and that Protestant attitudes have added to the problem (some of my ancestors on my father's side signed the Ulster Covenant, declaring their stand as Protestants in opposition to a Catholic Ireland. I'm also an Ulster Scots on my mother's side).

I also believe that America has yet to fully come to terms with the slavery of Black people in their history, and that many black people are correct in their perception that they are not accepted wholeheartedly into white society -- even among whites that claim "political correctness". I've been among them long enough to know that, plus, I was raised as a minority (a white living among brown-skinned people). Also, my wife is Asian, and she often feels the same rejection. It's a fact.

I also believe that many many Moslems simply want to live peacefully among the communities of the nations of their adoption. They are caught between those in the general population who perceive them as possible terrorists, and the radical fringe groups within their own community who are trying to push them towards radicalisation.

And, I believe that Jesus' command to show compassion to the poor and to assist the downtrodden -- sic. the refugee -- takes precedence over our fear that there might be one or two terrorists among the refugee population. The mandate He gave His followers was to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, be hospitable to strangers and make disciples; not make the world a safe place for our own kind.

On the other hand, does being "Politically Correct" mean we're not allowed to acknowledge that certain problems exist? Can we recognise the needs of countries like Israel to take necessary measures to ensure security for their citizens (which includes Jews and Moslems)? Or, is it even politically correct to admit that Israel has a right to exist as a nation? What about recognising that Moslems and other groups in Israel are treated far better than Jews are in most Moslem countries?

Does being "Politically Correct" mean that one religion has the right to be offended, but another religion doesn't? Why does a borough council that allows a local mosque to broadcast their call to prayer over a p.a. system not allow nativity scenes and church bells because they offend the Moslem community? Mind you, I don't care that much about church bells and nativity scenes. I was raised in a country where I was a minority, and we didn't have those things. My Christian duty is to tolerate an offence directed at me rather than allow my lifestyle to offend others, except through the Cross of Christ. That, in itself, is already offensive enough. However, in my mind, Church bells and nativity scenes have very little to do with the Cross of Christ -- and for that matter, so do ornate gold crosses that we like to wear*. However, I can still recognise a double standard when it appears in the name of "political correctness".

So, for me, "politically correct" is an inadequate word. I'd prefer to call myself "socially aware".


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* I hope my Catholic and High Church brothers and sisters don't take offence. I'm not against gold crucifixes, but I'm sure that they also recognise that it's by the true Cross of Christ that we're saved by, which emanates from inside.

Sunday, February 28, 2016

The Genie

By Robby Charters

©1997



He had called me out of the blue, and told me he had something important to give me. I hadn't seen him since school days, and now, we were sitting across the table from each other at a rather nice café.
After a sumptuous meal that was thankfully on him, we were all talked out about who of our mutual friends had gone where, who had married who, and when's the last time we saw who-ever, and we were sipping our coffee. He still hadn't broached the subject. It was almost like he was avoiding it.
I finally bit. 'So, what is thing you were talking about?'
He pause, looking at me, almost sheepishly. Then, without saying a word, he reached into the carry case next to him, and pulled out what looked like an ancient brass lamp, and set it on the table between us.
'What is it?' I asked.
'It's been in the family for a while,' he replied.
'An heirloom?'
'You could call it that.'
'And you said you're giving it to me?'
'Yes.'
'You sure? I mean, this could fetch a very good price in an antique shop, or in someone's collection.'
'Things like this, you don't sell,' he said. 'You'll find out soon enough why.'
'But how?'
Now, he paused, and with a slight grin, said, 'Some day, when you have the whole day free, just take it and rub it real good.'
He laughed, sort of nervously. I also laughed, thinking, this has got to be a joke.
He said, 'Really.'
'Of course,' I said, beginning to feel as awkward as he was feeling. I tried to jog my memory for any private jokes we could have had that could explain this gesture.
'You will do it, won't you? I mean, some time, when you've got time, rub it real good.' Now he looked serious. I was beginning to really wonder about him.
'What will happen?'
'You'll find out. You won't believe me if I told you, but just do it.'
'Look, really,' I said, 'This is such a valuable artifact, and we haven't seen each other in such a long time. I can't take this from you, really.'
'No, please.' He put his hand on mine as I held the lamp and looked at me with impassioned eyes.
'Well, okay,' I said.
Finally walking away from the restaurant, I felt disturbed. He obviously seemed well off, and otherwise quite stable. Was he suddenly cracking up under some immense pressure or other?
I got home, and found a nice place to set the lamp, and, to tell you the truth, forgot about it.

I write in my spare time, and have a few pieces that I'm sending around to various publishers and literary agents – so far with limited success. My normal job at that time was as a clerk at a brokerage firm. Those two things kept me quite occupied, so I quite forgot about my lunch with my old classmate.
At times, I allowed my literary interests to run away with me, and when doing work on a real involving piece, it's hard to get my mind off of that when I should be concentrating on my other work. That's sort of what led to my losing my job all of a sudden – well, that and some other financial setbacks that affected the whole firm, which if I were more alert, I could have helped to prevent. Quite a few of us were made redundant, and I was largely held to blame.
This was quite an upset for me. I was now without a job, and with bad prospects of getting another one of this sort, what with the references they were likely to give.
I gave myself over to my writing. In fact, I buried myself in it.

I was shaken to my senses by the arrival of yet another rejection letter, along with the bills for the rent, water, phone, and a statement from the bank showing an ever dwindling account balance.
My savings were getting low.
I just wasn't in the mood to write that day. In fact, I had the whole day ahead of me with nothing to do.
Alone in the house, pacing back and forth across the room, I was in one of my moods, doing weird things on impulse, like shouting, or picking something up, like the toy gun that my young nephew forgot on his last visit, shooting some of the dishes in the china cabinet, and then blowing the imaginary smoke from the barrel.
My eyes lit on the lamp, and remembered my fiends instructions, when I have the whole day free, to rub it well.
Without really thinking about it, with an air of drama, I grabbed the lamp and began rubbing it vigorously.
I was just in the process of saying, 'A good day to you Mr. Genie,' when there, right in front of me stood a real genie.
'And a good day to you too, Mr. O'Brien,' he answered back. 'I am at your service for this day only. Ask for what you wish, and I will accommodate you – within reason of course.'
The only way I can describe him is to say that he looked like the cross between a story-book genie, and an angelic being, and a tooth fairy. Apart from that, there's no way to even remotely describe him.
Needless to say, I was in a state of shock. My throat was dry, and I reeled backwards until I collapsed on the settee.
The genie bent over me. Contrary to what the storybooks say, I felt no inclination to pinch myself to see if I were awake. The image before me was so real, and yet so other-worldly, that there was no question of my being awake or asleep. Real dreams don't affect one like this.
'What is it you wish me to do for you?' asked the genie.
'– I need a drink –' was all I could manage.
Instantly there was a glass of water in his hand which he gently brought to my lips.
That water was the most refreshing water I have ever tasted. It wasn't bottled water from the newsagent's, and it wasn't from the taps. Its effect was to bring me into a more stable frame of mind.
Finally, as though the genie were a visitor who had dropped in for a chat, I indicated for the genie to sit in the armchair. He did so.
'So, what brings you to my humble abode?' I asked.
'You rubbed the lamp, just as your most excellent friend from school days asked you to do, so I am here at your bequest.'
'So, are you my servant for always?'
'Oh! By no means! Only for today. Ask me anything within reason, and I will see about accomplishing it.'
'Within reason?'
'Well,' he said, 'For instance, we don't want the local economy to go spinning into hyper-inflation, now, do we!'
'Oh!' I said, not expecting such technical expertise from a genie. 'So if I asked for a Swiss bank account containing about ten billion US dollars, would that be going beyond the reasonable limit?'
The genie thought awhile.
'My sources tell me,' he said finally, 'that there is such a bank account that once belonged to a close relative to the Czar, who died without leaving any heir, or anyone to transact his business matters. Is it your wish to obtain the said account?'
'By all means, yes!'
'Right then,' he said. 'Some papers relating to the said account with your name on them have just been dropped on the desk of the one who will handle this matter. You will be notified tomorrow, when my service has terminated.'
'When your service is – terminated?'
'As I said, I'm only at your service for one day – twenty four hours.'
'That's right,' I said, remembering he had said that already.
I began considering the position in which I found myself. I had a genie for the day. I had just wished for, and been granted (so he said) a bank account containing ten billion US dollars. That is quite a sum, capable of buying anything that can be bought with money. What more could I wish for?
Then I said, 'Why don't we solve the world hunger problem?'
'That,' said the genie, 'Is beyond what I'm authorised to do. World hunger, national turmoil and things like that must be solved without help from the likes of me. They require resources that have already been entrusted to mankind. I'm only authorised to grant selfish desires.'
That sounded so noble, and yet, I was taken by surprise by the word 'selfish.'
As if to answer my thoughts, he said, 'Oh, before the day's out, you may be in a less selfish frame of mind, and with your ten billion dollar bank account, you'll be in a good position to start getting that job done yourself.'
However, the prospect of using my bank account to solve such problems wasn't quite as exciting as that of using the genie's special powers.
Finally, I said, 'I haven't had anything to eat yet. How about a meal fit for a king?'
'Which king?'
'Does it matter?'
'Well, yes. The British monarchy eats one way, the king of Thailand eats a different diet, various African kings...'
'Okay, okay,' I interrupted. 'I'll go British.'
'Fine. How about the exact same menu that the queen is scheduled to have for brunch today?'
'Okay!'
I won't go into detail about what I had, but it was some of the finest food I ever tasted, and yet in such small portions that I had to ask for seconds. That was granted of course. I realised afterwards that it's quite likely that royals eat to mind their weight. It's just that I didn't feel like doing that just then.
Leaning back in my chair, I tried to think of what else I could wish for that my ten billion dollars wouldn't buy.
'I'd like to see the Orion nebula from up close. Could you arrange that?' I asked finally.
'Yes. I could confine you in a bubble of artificial atmosphere, and take you there.'
The next thing I knew, I was suspended in something like a transparent sphere, and we were moving at breath-taking speed through the universe.
I can only say here that it was better than a planetarium show, or even a film show with special computerised effects. The nebula looked even more awesome in real life than in any of the photographs I've ever seen. We even came close to being right inside it.
After that, I asked to see a black hole, which the genie consented to do from a safe distance so as not to be sucked in. Then, we went to view a quasar. That was even more awesome. I can therefore tell you many things about quasars, black holes and nebulae that astronomers don't even know. I've even left some astronomers quite amazed at some of the things I knew that they had only just begun to discover. However, they still won't believe I met a real genie.
All this, of course, took quite a long time. By then, I was hungry again.
'How about taking me to the finest café on the French Riviera?'
So he did.
We sat and I enjoyed another great meal. I tried to ask the genie more about himself. I began to notice that he had such an impersonal attitude.
'You must enjoy going to all these places,' I said.
'It's a job.'
'I mean, all that universe up there!'
'Oh, it's marvellous, but I see it everyday.'
There didn't seem to be much that would impress him.
'Why don't you help yourself to a sandwich?' I offered.
'To tell you the truth,' he began, 'For me to attempt to enjoy myself with any of these would be the same as you trying to gain the same enjoyment from day-dreaming about something you wished for.'
'Then how do you enjoy yourself?'
'Where I live, things aren't like this.'
'But don't you live inside the lamp?'
'Oh! Goodness no! I only appear when someone rubs the lamp as you did, and then, only once in their lifetime! No, I spend most of my days in our world.'
I had been trying to think of some more wishes on which to spend the rest of the allotted genie-time.
'Take me to your world,' I said.
'Now, that will be a difficult one,' he said, now rubbing his eyebrows. 'It's so different there that I don't think you'll cope.'
'Try me,' I said defiantly.
'I can take you only as far as my sitting room.'
'Okay, let's go.'
Immediately, we were at a place which I can only describe in sketchy detail. It wasn't really like a room, yet there was furniture – a few pieces anyway. The remarkable thing was, everything was alive! Even the furniture! Everything greeted the genie as we entered.
The genie greeted each piece and then introduced me to the easy chair, to the coffee table, and to what looked like a huge video monitor, and to some other objects, including some books and magazines on the coffee table. They all greeted me heartily, as though I were a guest in their house.
I noted that the genie, himself, began to change his composure ever so slightly from one of detachment to warmth – at least tofwards the objects in the room.
The genie invited me to sit down, and the chair confirmed the invitation.
At first it had looked something like an overstuffed armchair. When I sat in it, however, it conformed to the exact shape I needed at that moment, and then began massaging me! For several days, I had been having back pains, but the chair began rubbing me in the exact spot I was hurting. For as long as I was there, sitting in that chair, I was always in the position I needed to be in, not because I changed position, but the chair itself moved me around to the position I needed. At times, it even threw me up a foot in the air, so that I would land in a way that would soothe whatever part of me hit the chair first.
I turned to the genie, and said, 'I wish for one of these chairs.'
'I'm sorry. I cannot give away my friends.'
Then, he handed me a tray full of some of the most delicious pastries I have ever seen.
'Oh, I couldn't. I just ate,' I protested.
'But you mustn't offend these dear cakes,' said the genie.
'Yes,' said one of the cakes. 'You must eat at least one of us!'
I was shocked! Eat something that talks to me?
'You must understand,' said the genie, 'these cakes live to be eaten. Their crowning moment is when they are chewed up and go gliding down a person's throat.'
'But – these are living things! They'll die!'
'Ah yes, you being from the world underneath, where concepts of life and death have become distorted and therefore obsessed with extending life for as long as you can hold on to it. These cakes, however, live and long for the moment for which they were made, and that is to give enjoyment to the one chosen to partake of them.'
'They don't want to live a long life?'
'On the contrary. The saddest food I've ever met was a steak and kidney pie that had lived over a week, and therefore grown stale and lost its ability to bring joy to the eater by its freshness. It was a miserable thing! It even made me weep. It's hope revived somewhat, however, when I went to feed it to the dog. At least the dog could still enjoy it so that made the poor dear pie happy once again.'
I was still hesitant. This was foreign to anything I had ever conceived of.
The chair and the coffee table joined in to induce me to eat. 'Oh! Do have at least one piece! You'll make them ever so happy!'
The back of the chair pushed me forward towards the tray. The coffee table stretched and moved the tray closer to my reach.
'The fact that you're from the other world makes it even more a privilege,' said the genie. 'Don't let them down!'
Feeling quite on the spot, I finally reached for a piece; whereupon a cheer rose up from the entire tray and a squeal of utter delight came from the bun I selected.
The noises emitting from the chocolate éclair I picked up certainly didn't help things as far as I was concerned. I finally took the first bite fully expecting a cry of pain. Instead, came a cry of joy. I could even hear the piece I had bitten off laughing and shouting inside my mouth as I chewed. Every chew produced more cries of delight, until finally its laughter faded down my throat.
I had to admit that it was certainly a delicious éclair. By time I had finished that, the revulsion had been replaced by a sort of curious enjoyment. Next, I picked up a cream-puff. More squeals of delight, but this time, slightly different. Each cake not only had its own flavour, but also a personality of its own.
I ate several pieces. It was becoming rather fun – like feeding animals at the zoo, but in reverse.
Being somewhat satisfied, my attention turned to some of the other things. The genie was still there, but standing around with that sort of detached air about him – except that he interacted with the furniture and the cakes, and had a more jovial spirit about him as though he were among his own.
The books and magazines intrigued me. I picked up a book – a sort of special interest tome one finds on coffee tables – and it opened all by itself. It was about mushrooms of all sorts, except they were obviously not mushrooms you would find on the earth. The book told me so. There were no words in the book, but the book spoke to me, and the illustrations were all moving pictures.
I have never been interested in mushrooms, and would never have even bothered to look at any book on the subject on the earth, but this was a totally new experience.
The pages turned by themselves at the exact moment I would have turned them myself, and the voice of the book would say things like, 'Here we have a field mushroom. They usually keep to themselves, but they're really quite pleasant once you get to know them. They go best in a salad, as they get along quite well with the lettuce. In fact, given the right ingredients, such as cheese and an oil and vinegar dressing, this mushroom readily merges its personality with the rest to make one very pleasant dish, and is generally quite talkative and erudite on many subjects. On the next page, we see a tree mushroom. As you can see, they become emotionally attached to the tree on which they grow, and only consent to be picked if you promise to serve them up with fruit of some sort. The tree, of course, enjoys the company of the mushroom...'
I could actually hear the tree and the mushrooms in the illustration conversing with one another.
At one point, I forgot myself and asked a question which the book readily answered. Later, I asked a question which was a little bit out of the range of that volume, and a magazine on the coffee table suddenly opened up. The book said, 'The Weekly Journal of Botanical Science should answer that question for you.' At that, I became engrossed in what that had to say.
After a while, my attention drifted to the thing that looked like a video monitor. Noticing my attention, the thing spoke:
'Anything you care to see?'
'What do you show?' I asked.
'Just anything you like!'
'Well – I've always wanted to see the Episode Seven of Star Wars.'
'Oh! Come now! Of course I could show you that, but then, you can see that any time you please! After all, you're coming into ten billion dollars, are you not? Why, you could buy yourself a whole cinema!'
I was taken aback that the video monitor knew all about my situation.
'Then what can you show me that I couldn't see myself?'
'Do you want fantasy, or real life?' asked the video monitor.
'Fantasy,' I answered. I do enjoy the fantasy genre.
However, I was unprepared for what immediately came on the screen. It was, in fact, some of the fantasies I actually entertained.
The first scene was inside of a publishing house, in a particular room that I always conceived was where manuscripts are reviewed and either rejected or accepted. At the desk was a teenage girl chewing gum and casually leafing through a pile of manuscripts and synopsis. She'd pick up one, and glance at the title and author, and usually say something like, 'This guy's a bore,' or 'Him again!' or simply heave a sigh, throwing the manuscript into the reject pile.
As she was doing that with yet another manuscript, a superior walked slowly to her desk. Just as the girl dropped the manuscript onto the reject pile, the superior grabbed it, saying, 'Come now! You're hardly reading these at all!'
The superior looked at the manuscript. It happened to be one of mine. He read the first paragraph.
'Now this guy can write!' he told the girl. 'How many of these has he sent you?'
'Only about ten,' said the girl.
'And you've never once sent anything by this obviously tallented writer to my desk?' He then proceeded to give her a sound brow beating, and then fired her. That left me with a feeling of gratification.
Walking into the other room with my manuscript, the superior said to his colleagues, 'I've just uncovered a gold-mine! Here, look at this!'
The rest of that scene was that of all the office personnel looking over one another's shoulders reading my manuscript with comments like, 'This guy can write!' and 'Why haven't we heard of this guy before?'
The scene changed, and I saw two old school friends walking into a book shop. There, facing them on a book rack was a book with my name on the cover.
'Hey! Look at that!' said one of the two, as the cover of the book caught his eye.
'That isn't the same Boz O'Brien we knew, is it?' said the other.
One of them picked the book up and looked at the back cover. There, on the back was my picture in a dignified pose flashing a toothy smile.
'I can't believe it!' he said.
'And I didn't think the guy would amount to anything!' said the other.
The first one had opened randomly to a section I was particularly proud of having composed.
'I never though he had it in him!' he was saying.
'Some people are late bloomers, I guess,' said the other.
Walking to the cashier, each with a copy of my book, one of them was saying, 'Whatever – he's obviously out-bloomed the rest of us!'
The scene changed again, and there was an old school teacher telling how he had greatly underestimated me. Other scenes showed me appearing on talk-shows along side well known rock-and-role stars and actors, who were gawking in my presence. In yet others, well know politicians were talking about me, and how they should call me in for consultation on issues I had addressed in my book.
Needless to say, I was immensely enjoying the show. The very things I had visualised were happening right here before my eyes. My sense of justice was being gratified. It was as though things I felt were true all along were being confirmed, including that maxim, 'Truth is stranger than fiction.' The phrase, 'Too good to be true,' was obviously an antiquated proverb fit only for the literary dustbins.
Just for further verification, I asked the video, 'This is all in the future, right?'
'Oh! Dear me! You did say you wanted fantasy, didn't you?'
That was my first clue.
'Well – I guess I did.'
'Would you like me to switch to 'real world' mode?'
'I guess,' I said hesitantly.
'Before I can go into any other 'real world' images, it's necessary to go back through the fantasies we've pictured, and replace them with their corresponding realistic images,' said the video. 'We'll begin with the last one we viewed.'
Immediately, I saw a repeat of the last image, which was one the scenes with the politicians and heads of state. However, instead of praising me and deciding they must call me for consultation, they were saying things like, 'It's that Boz O'Brien again. He thinks he knows our job better than we do,' and, 'If I could round up all of these crack pots, like this O'Brien guy, and force them to take my job for one day, then they'd see for themselves whether this is an easy job or not.'
When it came to the talk shows, instead of me stealing the show with my sage wisdom, the other guests, which included rock-and-roll stars and actors were grilling me on what they considered quaint or politically incorrect ideas. Since public debate is not my strong point – I have many a time lost an argument with my boss by my inability to properly defend myself on the spot, only to realise later what I really ought to have said – I was being made to look like a total fool on the TV screen.
On the other hand, since the fantasies had followed a progressive sequence, each new 'real' image I now saw brought a sense of relief that at least the previous humiliation couldn't possibly happen. For instance, being humiliated on national television, at least meant that the politicians would certainly not give me even a second thought. The next few scenes rendered any appearance on television also out of the question.
The two old class mates walking into the book shop, this time took a look at my book, and said:
'That Boz's book?'
'Looks like it.'
'I always thought writing was his strong point.'
'Yeah, but I never cared for the subjects he chose.'
'Doesn't look like he did much better on this one either.'
They both walked off without buying a copy.
Then came the scene that even put the stops on that one. This time, it was a couple of level headed editors sitting in an office reviewing several manuscripts.
'It seems like everyone's trying to write about the same old thing.'
'Yeah. Plenty of talent. In fact, too much talent. I just wish that either more of them would launch out in something more out of the ordinary, or else we would have the guts to go ahead on one of the really way out ones.'
'You mean like this one?' picking up my manuscript.
'Yeah – well – good writer and all that, but...'
'I know. Just a little bit out of touch some how.'
Again, my manuscript ended up in the reject pile.
By now I felt like a deflated balloon. Now, up came a new scene.
This time, I saw my entrance with the genie into the sitting room where I was presently. Everything happened just as I remembered it, except, instead of looking out from inside of my head, I was looking at me from the outside. Other than that, there was no change from what I clearly remembered happening, apart from the feeling one usually gets when looking at a video of one's self, a sort of embarrassment.
After a while, something began to disturb me about the scene. It suddenly reminded me of a young child on his birthday, absorbed only in his own enjoyment. My host, the genie was standing up to one side as I sat in his chair, taking him for granted as a child would his parents or teacher. The pastries with their personalities clamoured for my interaction while I acted like a child feeding animals at the zoo. Finally, there was me, indulging in the video showing of my fantasies, with the look of one easily giving in to flattery. All through this scene, I did my best to convince myself that this impression wasn't really accurate – that it was just the impression one always gets when looking at videos of oneself.
However, I could make no such rationalisation about the scenes that followed.
Now, I saw some of my present friends saying things like, 'He just stays cooped up in his house writing his books,' 'What is he anyway? Too good for our society?' and, 'Whatever can he find to write about if he never gets out and around!'
Some of the scenes where from the period before I lost my job. Fellow employees were saying, 'He's got good ideas, but I think he doesn't even know how to relate to people,' and, 'I think he's been a bit out of touch lately – living in a dream world.'
Suddenly, things started to make sense – though not the sense I wanted it to make. A definite pattern was beginning to show. Now, I felt sick.
Just then, the video monitor said, 'That's probably enough for now, wouldn't you say?'
He was right.
The chair said, 'Sit back and relax a bit.'
I realised I had been sitting on the edge for the past few minutes, and my back was getting tired. I sat back, and immediately my back began to feel better. But the rest of me didn't.
After a few moments, it suddenly occurred to me to say, 'Thank you – er – chair.'
'Oh! Don't mention it. You know I thoroughly enjoy doing this.'
'Yeah, but – well, I appreciate it just the same.'
'Thank you. I'm glad you told me that.' I could sense a note of genuine appreciation in the chair's voice. I started feeling better.
I noticed the genie still standing off to one side with his hands behind his back, looking off in a different direction.
'Genie,' I said, 'You've been standing up all this time. You should sit down.'
'Well, yes, come to think of it...'
I began to stand up.
'No! No, no!' said the genie. 'There's room for two of us there, isn't there, chair?'
'Why of course there is!'
The chair suddenly began to widen to become something like a settee, and the genie took a seat opposite me.
'You know, Genie,' I began again, 'I really appreciate you bringing me here to your own home. I mean, I'm sure this isn't the usual thing for a genie to do, and –'
The genie looked at me in a way he hadn't all day, no longer with that detached look. That warmed me further inside.
'Oh! Don't mention it. Why – here, there's still more of these buns left!'
He handed me the tray, and again the pastries began to squeal with delight at the prospect of being eaten.
I picked one, but this time, I held it for just a second or two, noticing the joy radiating from the apple tart.
'You look delicious!' I said.
'Oh! I hope I am! I hope I am!'
I put it in my mouth, and began to enjoy the fact that I was giving the apple tart its ultimate fulfilment in life.
The genie helped himself to a few, and I had a few more. Now, we were talking about things that probably weren't very important, but we enjoyed talking. I was eating the pastries, but not as a child in a zoo, but the pastries and myself were mutually enjoying one anther. All this seemed to be refilling that same part of me that had been drained completely empty from watching the scenes on the video monitor – only now it was something more solid.
Suddenly, I thought about the time. I looked at my watch.
'Oh dear! Isn't our twenty four hours up?'
'Oh! Don't worry about time!' said the genie. 'I'm just beginning to enjoy this!'
'But you said I could be with you only one day!'
'That is, I'm only legally required to serve you for twenty-four hours. If you and I both want to do something beyond that, that's up to us, isn't it!'
I laughed with delight.
'I know,' he said. 'Why don't we go pick some mushrooms!'
I told him I thought that was a lovely idea.
I cannot begin to describe the beauty of the countryside we encountered. It far surpassed any landscape I had ever seen on the earth. We picked several kinds of mushrooms, including field mushrooms, which the genie proposed making into a salad when we got back; and some tree mushrooms, whom we promised we would serve up with fruit, which we did. We enjoyed one another thoroughly; had wonderful conversations with the salad on a number of erudite topics, as we ate it; listened to the tree mushrooms' fond memories of their trees (they also compared notes with the fruit); and we topped that off with the remaining pastries. The video monitor then showed us some other types of shows which I won't even try to describe here. All in all, the genie, the chair, the coffee table and books, the video monitor, our food and myself all had a wonderful time.
At one point, an idea popped into my head. I turned to the video monitor and asked, 'I don't suppose you could show Back to the Future Four could you?'
'I suppose I could,' he said.
I wondered how he would pull it off, as any further sequels of that film would have to explain why 2015 has come and gone, and flying cars still weren't a reality.
The film opened sort of like a documentary about the history of hover-cars. The inventor, it seemed, was searching for a way to help his young brother who had been crippled in an accident. His search for a way to give him mobility was what led to hover technology, which was later applied to motor vehicles and skateboards.
The film showed the scene of the accident, a white Rolls Royce, a black pick-up truck, an ambulance nearby, with paramedics surrounding the young boy. Others were assisting Marty McFly, who had injured his hand, and was looking suitably horrified at what had just happened. Suddenly the action sped into reverse. The boy flew back into the car, the black pick-up up-righted itself and sped backwards, while the white Rolls Royce glided backwards into the side road. Finally, there was Marty McFly at the wheel of his new car, and Needles, in the other car, challenging him to a road race. Again in forward motion, the action proceeded, but as it did at the end of Back to the Future III, in which the accident didn't happen.
I don't know if the film will ever be made or not, but I won't give any spoilers – just in case.
By the end of the film I was getting tired. After all, I had been up for well over twenty four hours – although the chair had helped to offset quite a lot of the fatigue. The genie took me home by the scenic route, and showed me other parts of the universe that not even astronomers know about.
Finally, we ended up in my kitchen. It was late at night.
'You know, I'd offer you a cup of tea if I thought you'd enjoy it,' I said.
'Actually, I would,' said the genie.
'But – I thought you...'
'Come! Back there on the French Riviera, there wasn't much to enjoy. Here, I'll heat the water and you get the cups.'
I got the cups, and also the biscuit tin.
'I'm afraid these biscuits don't talk, but..'
'Oh! Never mind,' he interrupted. 'You and me can do enough talking for all of us. That's what eating is for, really, isn't it!'
Suddenly, I was beginning to see that there indeed wasn't so much to be enjoyed at the French Riviera cafe, or in the queen's brunch. In fact, there wasn't much to be enjoyed in anything I had been so concerned about in the last – I don't know how long.
We had our tea and biscuits, and the genie finally departed. I went to bed and slept soundly.
The next morning, I was awakened by a phone call.
'Hello?'
'Is this Mr. O'Brien?'
'Yes?'
'This is the Banque of Commerce and Fidelity in Zurich. I've been trying to get a hold of you since yesterday. It seems that the late Count Zorrokoff ...'
'Oh – that. Listen, could you call me much later? I'm really tired right now.'
I hung up and went back to sleep.