Saturday, December 24, 2005
Friday, December 16, 2005
Monday, December 05, 2005
I've been thrashing around in my head, attempting to answer a bit of guilt: Why am I such a curmudgeon when it comes to Christmas?
This nativity scene says it all.
I laugh and poke fun at holiday stupidity and excess. I do it because I follow Jesus. If Jesus turned tables in anger over Passover marketing, what do you think he'd do about Christmas - a holiday bearing his honorable title?
I do not assign blame for the demise of Christmas onto the "secular culture." Why are we always so surprised when people who lack faith don't get it? Of course Madison Ave. will have a different view of a holy day than a person who actually believes Jesus came. It is only natural for a naturalist to fumble the ball when the Hail Mary pass is made by a fundamentalist. Put Jesus in the hands of a religion-neutral social economy and what do you expect? Reverence?
I blame Xmas on Xians.
It's because we are so prone to objectification. When Moses went up the mountain, the void had to be filled; a golden calf did interim duty. When Moses returned, a couple of tablets of stone came with him. The tablets were interesting, but it wasn't the tablets that were important, it was what was written on them: God's words.
But evangelicals, in desperate need of an Object, insist that monuments with the ten commandments be placed in government buildings. What makes us think this will work? It's never, ever, worked before. This is a silly, unnecessary, childish tantrum over something that is trivial, at best, and deceptive, at worst.
Deceptive because we make the assumption that having engraved words on a stone will do ANYTHING. Madonna - singer, not Virgin - wears a cross near her pointy brassiere. Does this phase her? Does this change her? Does this make her holy? If the cross doesn't work for Madonna, the Ten Commandments aren't going to work for the United States government. And in some locations, such placement may produce justifiably similar disgust.
The same is true of Nativity Scenes, angels, stars.
I don't have answers. I know how to poke a finger at the problem, but I don't have a clue how to fix it. It is exhausting for me to envision how we could ever turn this Polar Express around.
So I'll sit here by the fire, listening to "White Christmas," slurping some Egg Nog, smelling the pine air, and praying that the little porcelain babe over there in the made-in-China creche might just come alive, toddle over over to me, and whisper The Answer in my ear.
Wednesday, November 30, 2005
Here are some choices for your own nativity idol:
I like this portly group -
Here's a wonderful snow globe nativity. Shake it up and it will snow, just like it did in Bethlehem.
Also, it plays music. You can tell by the little music notes.
Here's the big one. Inflates. Lights up. Guaranteed to show the world you're a Christian. You can put it right next to blow-up Grinch, blow-up Homer Simpson, and blow-up Big Bird, all celebrating this holy time of year.
Don't get angry. I have a nice creche in my home for which I paid good money. And we set it out every year. And it does mean something. But it doesn't "Keep Christ In Christmas."
- Do my children really know the difference, or is it all just a Santa Claus tale?
- Do I make a point to pull away the cultural trappings of Jesus' birth and face off with the reality of incarnation? At least sometime during the celebration? [Have you ever seen a baby born? It's not pretty. It's dramatic and honest.]
- Do I want the Government, Walmart, Madison Ave., Willow Creek, Southern Baptists, or any other human agency to nativitize Jesus?
This year I will celebrate Christmas. And I will celebrate Jesus' birth. Not necessarily at the same time.
Wednesday, November 23, 2005
It was a maple. It had hung on, stayed around, watching all the action, taking it all in, refusing to follow the crowd. I had seen it and admired the tenacity of the Last One to Fall.
So I wanted to ask it why.
“Why?” I asked.
“Because it was not my time.”
“But why now?”
“Because it was cold, and I was lonely.”
I looked him over, saw the rough edges. “You look tired.”
“Yes. I ran out of endurance. I couldn’t hold on any longer.”
The wind kicked up and he danced a bit in it. I was surprised at the loft he had left. “So it’s not over yet.”
“No. Still some life here. Don’t write me off. I’m not done.”
Any color was gone. He was not bronze or gold or brown, but ashen. The sugar had gone out of his veins.
He looked up at where he’d been – far away in the heights. There was nostalgia in his brittle nature.
“But it will be soon; it will not be long.”
And a strong breeze caught him, tossed him up and then down and he lost another part of himself. He flew up again, higher now, reaching and straining to resume his place in the world. The air threw him against the tree and pieces of him scattered in an autumn march, circling and climbing, carried into the sky by the enemy that brought him down after all.
Monday, November 21, 2005
I can't believe it. BIG JESUS made the news here in Detroit.
After several trips to Nashville via I75 through Ohio, we learned to look for this laugh-out-loud landmark. Anybody heading down after us was cued up to watch for it; not that anyone would actually miss it. If you're not sleeping, you'll see it.
According to the Free Press article, people are now claiming that BIG JESUS has protected drivers on the very dangerous stretch of the interstate. "Thank you, BIG JESUS!"
Can I get a little BIG JESUS for my kitchen? Fewer bagel knife mishaps would be nice. And I should have one for my car - the Protestant version of St. Chris.
People who buy into this and then wag the finger at Catholics for things like Rosaries and Icons and Candles for the Dead should be forced to put a BIG JESUS on the top of their homes so we will know which houses to avoid.
Of course, it might make the neighborhood safer.
Thursday, November 17, 2005
A Town and Country van was in the lane left of me and slightly ahead. The driver jerked right it into my lane, almost crunching my front left. He reacted and pulled back left into traffic on that side. Then back into my lane again, then into his own, then slowed to nearly a stop.
I looked back and he was behind me. I could see clearly in my rearview mirror: he and his passenger were embroiled in an argument. There was no doubt they were very angry, and if I'd had the skill, I could have told you what the whole thing was about.
They were signing. With their hands. Screaming with their fingers, yelling with wild, urgent gestures, so fast and furious their movement was a blur. At least one of the them was deaf, so the flailing was angry communication. The result? Eyes not on the road, hands not on the wheel, my life on the line.
I had a sign I thought I might give to them, had they been paying any attention. They didn't even hear my horn.
New rule: Don't argue, sign, and drive.
Tuesday, November 01, 2005
Crying only a little bit
is no use. You must cry
until your pillow is soaked!
Then you can get up and laugh.
Then you can jump in the shower
Then you can throw open your window
and, "Ha ha! Ha ha!"
And if people say, "Hey
what's going on up there?"
"Ha ha!" sing back, "Happiness
was hiding in the last tear!
I wept it! Ha ha!"
To read more of Kinnell's poetry, head for here: Galway Kinnell
Monday, September 26, 2005
It's so silent on what ails its lost souls
By John W. Fountain / Special to the Washington Post
This is important reading. While Mr. Fountain's appraisal applies directly to the culturally Black church, the problems he unveils apply equally to the white church.
He suggests that materialism is at the core of the problem within black congregations. I believe that materialism is at the core of the problem in white congregations, too.
By materialism, I do not mean money, the acquiring of it or the spending of it. Nor do I mean the stuff we accumulate.
Materialism, according to Webster's second definition (which is the right one in this context), is: a preoccupation with or stress upon material rather than intellectual or spiritual things. Using that definition, let me list some areas of materialism in white congregations:
- Buildings and property
Like teenagers, people outside the faith see right through this stuff. If we offer spiritual sustenance - living water - we will attract the spiritually thirsty. If we offer earthy, transitional fast-food, we will repel the spiritually thirsty; they'll go find another source for water, mucky and foul and environmentally hazardous as it may be.
People are looking for grace. Offer it in any container, but make sure it is pure. Make sure the container isn't the preoccupation. Make sure that the container holds the real thing.
Sunday, September 18, 2005
A mystique hangs around an island like fog. The islands of my life have been escapes from normal. They have been super-charged romantic. They have been adventurous. They have been places to come to the end of yourself; to stretch, feel, learn. To confront life.
Islands in books feature the same stimulating setting. Treasure Island. Swiss Family Robinson. Lord of the Flies. Life of Pi.
Movie Islands: Castaway. Peter Pan. (Hook). Jurrasic Park. Pirates of the Caribbean. The Gallapagos in Master and Commander.
TV Shows: Gilligan's Island. Fantasy Island. The Prisoner.
Even media that don't have islands have islands: The planet Degoba in Empire Strikes Back. The Wilderness in The Gopel of Luke. The Emerald City. K-Pax.
Here are the islands I have visited:
- Catalina Island off the California Coast in the Pacific. When I was a young teen, my parents went for a four-day trip. We stayed in an inn before they were called Bed and Breakfasts. After the island tour (islands often have tours), my younger brother and I had the run of the place, without my parents dogging our steps. This was amazing to us.
- Lake Perris Island. For a while when we lived in S. Cal. we owned a little power boat. We'd head out to this tiny little island in this man-made reservoir and picnic, swim, be exotic.
- North Manitou Island. This is my favorite island. When the kids were younger, we'd go to North Manitou to backpack. Since it is wilderness, that's all you can do there; no restaurants, hotels, fudge shops. Just quiet and trails and water and mud and rain and mac and cheese with tuna and us and no one else except the racoons and chipmunks, which were enough company for anybody. The boat company drops you off on a dock and tells you they'll be back in two days. If they don't come back in two days, then they'll be back in four. If they don't get there in four, it will be six, and so on. That alone is adventure.
- South Manitou Island. Ship wrecks. Light house. Sand dunes. Long stretches of beach with not one other person within sight or sound.
- Three Island Lake Island (Lake Island Lake Isl...) Just a few two-track miles from Stuben, MI. in the heart of the Upper Pennisula, where our family spent two wonderful vacations. April and CA friend Alicia swam to the island, feeling grown up and independent. We took a row boat over to explore. The kids had a picnic there. It was a scrub island that will never know the importance it had in the formative years of our children.
- Mackinac Island. Ah! Romance and love and the accomplishment of riding the perimiter at 50 years old. Fudge. Carmel corn. Ice cream. Horse poop. The brunch at the Grand Hotel: seal-tight memories in a bottle of cherry juice.
When I want to get away, run from normal, sniff around for solace, I'm looking for an island. Get me to an island. Boat, jet ski, swim fins, jet spray catamaran - whatever. Just get me there.
Heaven is an island. Adventure, romance, story, growing and stretching, love, family. Until then I'll have to settle for the earthy simulations.
What's your island?
Wednesday, September 07, 2005
Count me in.
The literal definition is: "one that flees; especially: a person who flees to a foreign country or power to escape danger or persecution." The fleeing part, in this case, may not be especially true. (Not fleeing appears to the the problem, either by choice or by circumstance).
The root of the word comes from Latin: refugium; a person who seeks refuge.
I do not diminish the suffering of hurricane survivors, but I count myself as a refugee, running for safety. Would that we all would determine to seek refuge - to be refuge hounds, sniffing around for the safe place, the safest place.
If you are not a refugee, why not? Have you found it? I haven't. Yet.
There are places, mostly people, where refuge is close; I can feel it deep, like a puzzle piece almost fitting. My marriage, my kids, some friends. When I am with these people I feel safe and protected; refuge is close.
When I worship, I can feel it. Swirling around touching my deep places, prompting laughter and tears and love. Refuge is close.
These are the prophecies and promises of another place: heaven, paradise, the Bosom of Abraham. I'm looking for that place, and one day I'll find it.
Until then, I run.
Wednesday, August 31, 2005
Nunnelly is where my first-born, April, is headed. We have all lived together within same-state borders for the entire existence of the Benson family - until now. Now, Nunnelly gets my daughter.
Sure, we're not losing a daughter, we're gaining a travel destination. Nunnelly.
I think I saw Nunnelly pass by as I was driving the car along a small two-lane out in the hollers of Tennessee. As I sped by, blasting through Tennessee at 32mph, Nunnelly was a blur on my right (or was it my left?) Should a blur, viewed out of the corner of one of my eyes, host the presence of my beloved daughter? What has Nunnelly ever done to deserve this? Does Nunnely fully appreciate who's headed its way?
I drove to Tennessee to help her move in. When we left Royal Oak, MI, we didn't have a clue where she would be living. She had done some homework; within a few hours after arriving on Saturday she had signed papers for a funky two-room apartment. Nunnelly didn't have any accomodations, so she settled for the next biggest town near Nunnelly: Centerville. She works in Nunnelly, she lives in Centerville.
She's employed by a boys' camp, working with teenagers from desperate parents who pay a lot of money and send their kids away because they're disruptive. My wife, Linda, and I are desperate parents who would pay a lot of money to have our kids close to home because they are great people. I've wondered how all of us - Linda, me, April's three brothers, Grandma, and Buster the dog - could disguise ourselves as disruptive teens who could go and live at the camp. Three brothers won't have a problem. But Grandma? It's a stretch.
Twenty hours after we had arrived in Tennessee, I pointed my van toward the North and drove the 10 hours back to Michigan alone. I only cried until Kentucky.
Nunnelly, you'd better be good to her.
Wednesday, July 20, 2005
We saw a guy locking a bike to a chain link fence. It was our only clue to the exact location of the Back Alley Bike Shop, besides the name and the general Cass Corridor location. Drove down the same alley, saw a kid scoot around the corner on a bike and head up a dark narrow stairwell. Heard the sound of many people upstairs. Could have been something different, considering the location. Intuition was rewarded by a rugged, upper floor chop-shop suite. It was filled with perspiring pedalers pushing the gears on bicycles sitting upside down on benches or held in the air by support stands. More than that, filled with bikes. More than you can imagine.
Little Blond Girl, around 12 years old, gave us the $1.00 tour. She threw her arms out, generally pointing to the big room around her, to the loose group of bikes and parts.
"Here's the bikes being worked on."
She pointed to another part of the same large room. "Here's the Office."
The "Office" was a counter salvaged from the curb modified to represent the Reception Desk, and behind it against the wall a scattered shelf of paper, some books, and a few worn staplers.
"Here's the Spare Parts." She wore her white oversize T-shirt like a dress with a pair of jeans underneath. The shirt dragged behind her, made her look smaller than she was, and she was small. She pointed a sleeve toward the wall where shelves held coffee cans and plastic containers overflowing with brake pads, pedals, seats, racks, gears, coils of cables, more than you can imagine. All chopped from old bikes.
Little Blond Girl said, "Ya wanta see the Bone Pile?" She bounced around the corner into another part of the operation.
Spread out in the large room, organized by style in long, crowded rows, piled on each other: bikes.
"There's kids, ten-speeds, mountain, three-wheelers." She jogged around the aisles, holding up examples. Bikes. More than you can imagine.
"Back here they keep the Summer Program bikes." She threw a few rims up onto a small hill of rims, and made a path into what once was - a shower? - and in the dark pointed to some bikes. "If they don't get em done in a month they get put out in the big room."
"Ya wanna see the paint room?" Little Blond Girl didn't expect an answer. She skirted through another door and found a small workbench with some spray paint cans in the middle of more parts.
"They paint parts like this," she said, and she picked up a set of keys on a ring on the bench, took a can of paint and sprayed the keys. She held them up, getting a little paint on her white shirt.
"See? Like this:" her innocent assumption that we had never seen anything spray painted before.
"We have this art, too. We're gonna sell it. See it?"
She picked up a can of spray paint and used it as a pointer.
"See? There's some there . . . " She sprayed in the direction she wanted us to look. A mobile hanging made of bike miscellany.
"See? More there . . ." She sprayed in another direction. A Schwinn sculpture.
"Some more over here . . ." Sprayed again. An unidentified Huffy-creation-in-progress.
She liked spraying the paint into the air.
We turned to go so we wouldn't get sprayed, and so that she wouldn't empty the can pointing things out to us.
She jumped in front of us. "Wanna see the Work Room?"
She took us back into the first large room. Same area as the Office and the Spare Parts. Lots of people, maybe twenty, working on bikes.
"Here's the Work Room. This is where we all work on bikes, fixen em up, taken em apart."
A guy with long hair working on a mountain bike looked over and smiled. Another young man was tooling a cool racer on a workstand alongside a kid who was talking his ear off. A twenty-something woman finessed a gear shifter with the help of a fifty-something guru. One large oscillating fan close to an open window pushed a little air around while steamy bike lovers took care of business.
Little Blond Girl left us and flitted around the work room, talking to everybody.
We wanted to pick up some parts, build a bike, and ride out to offer it to somebody.
Tuesday, July 05, 2005
It is inevitable. It is built in. It is frightening beyond words. If you would rather live in blissful ignorance until it is too late, don't read any further. If you are brave enough to face the truth, read on, Oh Courageous One.
Here is the woeful, painful, ironic reality that will drive you nuts:
We are becoming our parents.
Three generations of Bensons sat in the living room comparing little toes. We noticed that the pinky toes of our left feet were immovable. Our right foot pinky toes flexed and pulled, the muscles responding to our mindful control. Our minds were not strong enough to convince similar motion from the left foot pinky extremity.
As if that's not scary enough, what is true of pinky toes is also true of emotions, behavior, and aging. When I look at myself through the lens of my father, I recognize that I bear a stronger resemblance to him in the way I fix my breakfast than in the way my male pattern baldness is developing, which is a pretty jagged pill to take if you've seen the back of my head. My dad ate oatmeal every stinking day, the same brand, the same thick-paste consistency, doused in half-and-half, eaten with the same chewing sounds. Not one of these eccentricities could be altered without a major depression setting in.
Ah, but I'm different! I don't eat oatmeal!
I insist on a half grapefruit, lightly dusted with sugar, with hot coffee from fresh ground beans. This is followed by a bagel, not the bready, yeasty, cheap kind from the grocery store, but a boiled and baked bagel from Elaine's. I won't eat it unless it is cut in half and toasted hard. I add cream cheese, which I spread carefully around the bagel for about ten minutes. If this is not what I eat for breakfast, I can be a little grumpy. OK - I can be downright suicidal.
But at least I am not like my dad! Nope! No oatmeal for me!
This is what is so aggravating: I have fought my whole life long, all of fifty years, NOT to be my father. Sure, Dad had some admirable qualities which I pray to emulate. He was faithful. He was a great preacher and pastor. He could be fun, and he was sacrificial. He understood grace.
But, just like you, there is a part of me that says: I will not be like my father. I will be my own person! I will be an individual! I will not fall to the same error and weakness and emotional pile of contradictory angst that was clear and present in my father when I was a teenager. I will not be set in my ways, will not be stubborn and moody, will not get stuck in the deep ruts on the edge of life. I will live free. (Can you hear violins?) I will be wild and adventurous. (Tympani can be heard softly as strings rise in dynamic tone.) I will step off the road and into the unknown every chance I get! (Horns make their entrance.) I will not be fettered by the genetic code of my forebears! (Reaching crescendo!) I will be ME!
But before that, could you pass the cream cheese?
Stanley Alvarado Benson
08/02/1919 - 07/01/2004
Monday, June 06, 2005
A stiff breeze last month brought a torrent of brown whirlybird seed-things spinning and falling from blue zenith; helocopters all around. May.
Precisely on schedule, the cottonwoods shed their fuzz on June 1 and have not run out of the white stuff yet. It piles up in the gutters, along the edges of lawns, in the filters of all sorts of things, and in all the major, exposed openings of the human body, most especially the eyes and nose and mouth. June.
Now, all around the backyard, on any flat surface, green, yellow, and brown powder settles; the dust of blooming weeds and ornamentals that will change color but not go away until fall. Summer.
Bright leaves blowing and tossing signal autumn. White flakes dancing the same rumba, falling from the same unidentifiable locations segue into winter. Waters, in great gushing drafts and delicate mists, cascade down from higher places. Spring.
I could spend hours just looking at stuff fall from heaven. "All good gifts around us are sent from heaven above; so thank the Lord for all his love."
Wednesday, May 18, 2005
Tuesday, May 17, 2005
Sits at the piano bench in a ragged tuxedo and begins to play selections from the Bach Concertos on the instrument he drew from memory.
Beth, his nurse in the mornings, stands ten feet away. Any closer and he would again be agitated; he is frightened of people, and places, and things. Beth moves a hand to smooth down some of the wrinkles of the blue patterned scrubs she wears. They were stained by the jelly which was on the toast which Nigel tossed her direction at breakfast, but in the light of the fingered artistry of his playing she is subconsciously concerned about the appearance of her clothes. Her mouth is slightly open; her eyes locked on Nigel.
He plays, and clearly has played before. It is not perfection, but it is too close for this hour, for this place, for this Nigel. The skill makes the circumstance tense, but offering hope.
Dr. Standish sits in a folding chair in the dim corner of the dining room. How is it that there is fresh air here? The usual smells of this house have lifted from this corner. How is it that the sounds - cries and groans and babbling of patients - are overwhelmed by the mathematical quiet of Bach? How is it that, at eight-forty on a Tuesday morning, just before his normal rounds begin, confident and stable Dr. Standish is sheltering his face from the small group of people gathered here? He is touched; he is embarrassed.
Nigel plays. His eyes dance to the fugue. The music pours from inside. The labels have been ripped from his clothes, mirroring the nervous truth of his identity. He is completely lost, forgotten by whoever once cared. He is mute by his heart and head, but his fingers speak. They credential a story.
More are gathered here now. They are listening, attentive. This establishes him, anchors him in time. He plays with intent. He has had a yesterday. He will have a tomorrow. None of it is sure, but all is made actual by the music.
Thursday, May 12, 2005
It may be that we have lost our ability to hold a blazing coal, to move unfettered through time, to walk on water, because we have been taught that such things have to be earned; we should deserve them; we must be qualified. We are suspicious of grace. We are afraid of the lavishness of the gift.
But a child rejoices in presents!
Friday, May 06, 2005
I took a walk the other day. It was "Refuse Collection" day - trash day - and up and down the blocks surrounding my house people had put their objects d'junque on the curb, never to be seen again.
What can you tell about someone when you look at their trash?
One house had assembled a used toy store, mostly pre-school stuff, colorful under a layer of toddler grime. Playschool houses, some games, a box or two of stuffed creatures. What prompted the trash? What happened that motivated this stuff - still useful - to become garbage? Did a little child grow up? Was this punishment for some infraction of family rules? Are people moving - a doctor gets relocated; a laid-off auto worker must find work elsewhere? Was there a divorce? Did a child die?
Another block revealed an organ. Small, cheap, maybe 20 years old, at one point a marvelous gift that made the recipient cry, but now superseded by keyboards that can sound like a choir or a truck or an organ. Who played the instrument? Did they stop, or did they upgrade?
There was a house which bore the remnants of a party. Hundreds of bottles. A dozen pizza boxes. What was the celebration? Who was there? Did they leave and drive home sober?
There was a house with four mirrors. All were in good shape, except one which had been broken at the curb. What happened to the occupant that forced a need to abandon these personality tools? Was there the purchase of better mirrors? Or was it a decision to stop looking? Stop caring? Stop obsessing?
One place had a nice couch. We have a couch with holes in it sitting in our living room. This couch was better. I almost thought about . . . But, no. Wrong color.
Thursday, May 05, 2005
My youngest produced this memorial for his beloved pet Beta fish. His name was Niko Xarth. Not my youngest, who's name is Jon, but the fish. The fish was named Niko Xarth. That's pronounced "szaeorth."
Jon loved his fish and kept good care of him.
Please respond here with condolences. In lieu of flowers, please send contributions to your local SPCA, or the recently formed ROSBLCTF. That's pronounced "rosblechtf." It stands for the Royal Oak Society for Better Living Conditions for Tropical Fish.
Tuesday, April 26, 2005
Click on the title above. It's a link you might appreciate. They sell "Honesty Stamps."
Not from the US Postal Service, but the kind you use with a stamp pad. Only it's not a pretty picture, but a phrase. Here are some examples of the phrases available on their stamps:
- I sincerely apologize for all the trouble I've caused
- In all my life I've never met anyone as beautiful as you
- I swear on my mother's grave I'll never do that again
(Oh, yeah, real honest. You'll do it again. You know you will. And your mom knows you will, too.)
I have some ideas for some new honesty stamps. I could really use these:
- Hey. You could use a bath.
- Your writing is drivel; go find a job.
- Your sermon today was not the greatest.
- You would be a loser if it wasn't for your wife.
- Your t-shirt is wrong-side out.
I have been up since 6:15 a.m. Several people have seen me today. I just looked into a mirror for the first time. My shirt is on wrong-side out.
Give me some of your ideas for honesty stamps. And hey, let's not lie about it.
Monday, April 25, 2005
Here's the premise: Take a bunch of people. Have them bring along only a few personal items. Take them to a remote location and seclude them, forcing them to live together for a while. On a regular basis, the participants take a vote. Before the votes are taken, political alliances form, then break, then form again. When they vote, they put a name on a piece of paper in secret, then they hold up their vote and say it out loud. The votes are carefully placed in a special container, and the votes are counted. Whoever's name shows up the most gets voted out of the group - they are no longer part of the tribe. Everyone vows to keep it all quiet until the whole thing is over. Each time a vote is taken, a symbolic symbol involving fire is used to communicate the results.
Ah. It turns out Mark Burnett did not have such an original idea after all. I wonder if he knows more than he's letting on . . .
"I talked to Cardinal Gonzales from Venezuela, and he's decided to vote for Cardinal Schmidt. But I don't know. Schmidt doesn't pull his weight around here; he just sits around while the rest of us do all the work. He brought candy bars with him, and he's not sharing. I'm not sure how I'm going to vote."
"I overheard Smith and McBride talking about an alliance with the Italians. I think I'm going to join them."
"Hey, look! We've got mail!"
"It's the next challenge. It says we need to solve this puzzle. If we don't solve it, we don't eat."
"What's the puzzle?"
"Looks like we've got to figure out the nature of the Trinity."
"NO! I was afraid of that. I do better at the physical challenges - rosary bead stringing, or lighting incense, or a fish eating. I'm not a threat on the theology stuff."
"Don't turn around, but Cardinal Stewart is walking around in his birthday suit again!"
Brain Burp: I've got an idea. A new way to handle pastoral search committees. Lock 'em up in the church building. They don't get out until they've hired a pastor. Every time they take a vote on a candidate, they reveal the results by lighting the church steeple: red means they failed to get a majority vote, green means we have a new pastor. After about two weeks, if they still haven't got a pastor, we withhold their food. After another week, we shut down the plumbing.
Protestant conclaves. Oh, yeah.