Thursday 23 May 2019

"Biological Warfare (in the Heavenlies.)"

One of my latest entries to the Writing Challenge. It was given a "Highly Commended" award.

Demon Prince Kankerworm was furious.

He was progressively subjugating those Christians (the smug ones anyway) in his city. Suddenly, “reinforcements” arrived in the form of that arrogant and meddlesome Prince Pestilence.

‘If it hadn’t been for orders from Below, I’d tell you to get lost, Prince Pest!’ he fumed at the grinning newcomer. ‘Why‘d they send you here, anyway? You’ve already spoilt our operations in Africa, driving so many to repentance! Then they formed their strong Christian communities!’

‘Oh yeah, WartFace?’ retorted the horrible apparition before him. ‘We might have succeeded if you Subversives had done your job! If all your whisperings and Feel-Good Indoctrination had been effective, like you boasted it would, then they wouldn’t have sent all those fanatical Western Missionaries! So, now the Boss is sending in his Big Guns – Me – to disrupt and discourage your pathetic little saints you’re so spooked about. Show me where they are. I’ll fix ‘em!’
He dumped his huge pack of toxic explosives in front of his colleague.

‘Oh! “Big Guns”, is it?’ snarled the other sarcastically, though secretly impressed. ‘Well, let’s see how you cope with those saints Who-Know-Who-They-Are! Then you’ll understand what we Field Units are up against. C’mon, then!’

They flew down to the city below, and Pestilence immediately targeted the big cathedral with the tall steeple, dropping an Influenza virus-bomb through the walls. It exploded invisibly on the congregation inside, infecting them all immediately. He laughed uproariously.

‘No! You idiot!’ shouted Kankerworm from above, exasperatedly. ‘You can have your fun on unbelievers and compromisers in your own time. Very few Bible-believers there. We got work to do! You’re wasting your ammunition!’

He indicated a neat-looking Bible College down the street, then folded his arms sceptically, waiting to see what Pestilence would do.

‘Oh, I can handle religious people with a lot of theology in their silly heads!’ snorted his rival, and plunged through the walls to the lecture halls. He got as far as dropping a bomb inside one, but a heavenly warrior appeared and sat on it. It fizzed and infected only a few inattentive students nearby. 

The next lecture hall, he was stopped short by a huge, shining heavenly guard. Glancing fearfully at the notice board at the door, he saw “Principles of Faith – Biblical Perspectives” by one of the most feared Bible Lecturers that ever shook the gates of Hell. He was one who prayed fervently before his lectures. Throwing what toxic dust he could past the angel, he fled to the next lecture.

Here the notice read “Higher Criticism, and Including Other Religions.” No guards there!
‘That’s more like it!’

Getting ready to hurl a big one in amongst the attendees, he hesitated. What good would it do? Most were evidently entangled in their conflicting philosophies anyway and couldn’t do any damage. Kankerworm was right. Wasted ammo.

Scattering virus-dust on individuals he passed, he returned to where Kankerworm scornfully waited for him.
‘Not that easy, is it? Come this way, then.’

He flew off to the other side of the tracks, his fellow demon grumbling after him. Biblical Christians (those who knew their God at least) were hard work to subdue, little though he would admit it.

They came to a tidy but unprepossessing hall in the outer suburbs. 
Pestilence remembered. It was in a seedy, impoverished neighbourhood where vice thrived. A fledgling mission had begun there. He and his minions had blanket-bombed it previously with Cholera, AIDS and more, to put a stop to any evangelism. 
‘Ha! I bet many turned their back on this Saviour of theirs. Any figures on that?’

‘Sure have!’ came the grim answer. ‘Five oldies died and went to heaven.’

‘Only five??’

‘Yep! The moment the outbreaks came, the little mission reached out with medical help and fell to its knees in prayer. Miracles happened! Soon one family after another fell to the Enemy, the neighbourhood got cleaned up, the brothels closed down, the dealers and mobsters left town. The church is thriving! I’d show you if it wasn’t for the hordes of angel-guards. It was a disaster! So much for your blanket-bombings!’

‘Well, what happened to your gossips and scandals and such!’ yelled Pestilence, red-faced. ‘Aren’t you supposed to divide and conquer in that clever little way you boast about?’

‘You gotta give it time, you fool! Wait ‘til they get comfortable, complacent and fall for prosperity teaching and all that. That’s real sickness.’

‘Your pathetic praying missionaries didn’t catch it, though, did they?’

Tuesday 7 May 2019

The Latest Excerpt from The Poor Preachers: Adventures of the First Lollards

The story so far.
Set in 14th Century England, a group of Reformer John Wycliffe's followers, known as his Poor Preachers, were being trained to go out and preach the Gospel. Young master Abingdon befriends a talented farmer's son, Thomas Plowman, who feels called to preach together with Father William Shephard, who has the same calling. Abingdon makes the introduction.

Chapter 6: Yokefellows

‘And when they ministered to the Lord, and fasted,
The Holy Ghost said to them, Separate ye to me Saul and Barnabus
[part ye to me Saul and Barnabus],
into the work to which I have taken them.’

(Deeds of Apostles Chapter 13:2 Wycliffe-Purvey Translation/Revision.)

‘Thou’rt a Dorsetshire man -- even as I.’ observed William, hearing the stranger’s accent. ‘Doubly welcome art thou, Master Thomas Plowman.’
He invited the two of them to dine at Hereford’s quarters to hear his story. Such was the trust and esteem that his master had for him, William had earned the privilege of entertaining whomever he wished when Hereford was away.
Excitement grew in them all as first Tom, then William, shared their stories. Even without the naming of himself in Tom’s visitation, William knew in his heart that they were destined to minister together in a powerful way.
Tom, with his budding intuition, could see that William was not only his chosen mentor, but a yokefellow in the Lord’s work -- a mighty work, such as had not been seen for centuries.
When asked of his immediate plans, Tom explained that he had nothing fixed beyond his meeting with William and his aspirations to become a preacher of the gospel. He was willing to sleep in the hay-barn of a local farmer he had worked for until he found something more comfortable.
‘Holy Saints! In a hay-barn? God forbid!’ protested Benjamin. ‘Is there not a free bed in our dortoir at Merton, now Holloway hath departed? I shall speak with the Ward of Residence thither.’
He cut short Tom’s expression of thanks.

The next day, his friend brought him to Hereford’s quarters again, where William awaited them. Abyngdon was in high fettle, very pleased with his find. This was the second stranger he had befriended who showed great promise.
‘A right good fisher of men am I.’ he boasted laughingly. ‘Is he not an evangel sent of God, as Doctor Evangelicum hath so prayed for, Father William?’
‘So I think, and so saith mine heart.’ William agreed.  ‘It hath been in the heart of Doctor Hereford to begin classes for the training of these “poor preachers” that Doctor Evangelicus would raise up. Alas, we have not many students that art both graduate and willing to go forth among the poor folk. But need we a-many years of study for this task? Nay! Methinks that laymen will be needful, of especial them that be gifted and called for such a strange work.’
He looked speculatively at Tom and quoted a verse from Hereford’s translation of the Book of Esther: ‘Who knows but that thou art called into the Kingdom for such a time as this?’
‘But withal respect to Master Plowman, sickerly he is not so goodly countenanced to look upon as were the fair Queen Esther!’ objected Benjamin. 
Tom laughed and riposted, ‘Nay! Rather be I like to them that would have devoured the good prophet Daniel, or so ‘tis said.’
William was too obsessed with Wycliffe’s vision and their latest find to enter into the spirit of this. Smiling absently at the camaraderie of the other two men, he said, ‘Doctor Hereford hath pledged monies and more for this vision, and Doctor Evangelicus himself also. They live frugally that they may give oft to the poor; hence do they gather wealth for the kingdom of God. But what of thine own wealth, Master Plowman? Wherewithal shalt thou sup and faire if thou wouldst join us?’
‘Heed it not, Father, for labour I with mine hands for my needs,’ Tom answered eagerly. ‘Two farms hath I inherited and may be sold, if it be deemed needful to raise the wherewithal. But I be thy servant or disciple, yea, whatsoever thou would wish in all else, for so hath it been ordained, I trow.’ 
‘Good man! Gladly would I disciple thee,’ approved William, sensing once again the bond between them. ‘Thou’rt lettered?’
‘Father James of Gillingham hath so taught thy servant, and I read much when I may.’
A mischievous grin emerged.
 ‘But, alas, he hath not driven forth the demon of inquisitiveness that possesseth me.’
‘Ha!’ commented Benjamin. ‘I perceive that thou’rt a born scholar. Thou hast need to be so inquisitive, yea, and a little wood¹ also, et abnormis sapiens.’ 
As Tom looked mystified at this, Benjamin took on an air of superiority, in mimicry of the august Doctor Wadeford. ‘To be interpreted: A Natural Philosopher, my son.’
‘And I perceive that my friend shall instruct thee in thy Latin, God aid thee, e’er all is done,’ observed William. ‘Come thou to these quarters on the morrow, if thou wilt, and I shall observe thy cunning with the quill. Thou shalt copy some of Doctor Hereford’s tracts with me. There be many a student that hath so repaid the Masters for their sponsorship, and thus have read the scriptures in the mother tongue. So shalt thou earn thy faire also.’
‘Gladly will I do so, Father William,’ said Tom gratefully, dizzy at the thought of reading the Holy Scriptures himself, in his own tongue. ‘And I thank thee of thy kindness.’
‘Yea! But ‘ware the scourge of the dreaded chorea scriptorum², Master Plowman,’  added the irrepressible Benjamin in a voice of grave admonition. ‘‘Tis a grievous affliction that plagues us all in this task.’
Tom looked a little apprehensively toward William, as though he would be struck down by a demonic attack or horrible debilitating disease. William chuckled.
‘Fear not the doomsome words of yon jobbardly Jeremiah, Master Plowman. He maketh merry with us all oft and anon, and ‘twill be to his own undoing. But heed thou his warning that thine hand may have its Sabbath rest each day, that thy copying may not overburden it.’

Nicolas Hereford had been delighted to meet Tom when William explained his circumstances and his calling. 
Like all of the leading Wycliffeite teachers, Hereford sponsored some of the more promising, but indigent, students through their studies at Oxford. These were mainly young men whom he had met on his travels, while preaching in churches throughout Leicestershire and Gloucestershire. Fired with a call to preach the gospel, they would often approach him, or William Shephard, at the end of his addresses. Hence, many students automatically adhered to Wycliffe’s movement at Oxford.
There were also a growing number of lay students, like Thomas Plowman, who had begun attending Hereford’s special classes for lay preachers.
By contrast, Doctor William Wadeford and his followers only accepted the sons of gentlemen or wealthy merchants for enrolment in his courses; only those who could pay their own way. He sneered at the ‘peasant-priests’, as he called them, in Wycliffe’s train, shaking his head disgustedly at how ‘basely the clerical vocation hath descended’.
‘How hath the mighty fallen!’ he quoted derisively, referring to Wycliffe, his rival.

Thomas Plowman would never have been considered fit for one of Doctor Wadeford’s classes, but with Hereford, it had been a different matter altogether. Based on his obvious intelligence, together with a recommendation from William, Hereford had willingly offered the young man a sponsorship.
‘Mine exceeding and grateful thanks, good Doctor.’ replied Tom with a kind of bucolic dignity. “Natheless, a proud son of the soil I be. I have vowed me that neither meat I shall take, nor bed shall I slumber in except that I have toiled for’t. Forgive me if churlishness this may seem.’
‘Thou’rt a man of honour, I deem, Master Plowman.’ replied Hereford approvingly. ‘Thy zeal doth commend itself to thy calling. But mark me well, there is a grave yoke that thou must also bear as an Oxenford cleric, and in especial one that be of Doctor Wycliffe’s party.’
He went on to enumerate the study disciplines and responsibilities that would be expected of him.
‘So this I would ask thee: Canst thou truly make provision for all thy need and yet attend unto all thine office?’
Tom opened his mouth to protest his capacity for an even greater load, but he looked up at William, standing behind Hereford’s chair, and caught the quizzical gleam in his eye. He bowed his head and smiled.
‘Good Doctor, mine own father once saith unto me: Not even the strongest oxen can plough two furrows. I will accept thine offer with thanks.’
‘So be it! Thou’st spoken as a true Wycliffeite preacher, my son.’
‘Amen!’ agreed William, his smile broadening. ‘An honest man is he. The labourer be worthy of his hire, and fear not, verily thou shalt labour for it indeed, Master Thomas.’

When lectures were in recess, Tom joined William in going among the village folk, working and talking with them. This was as the breath of life to him. His sunny temperament, hard work and enthusiasm soon won over many hearts, and he became just as popular as William.
In the beginning, he observed and listened to William’s style as he preached and prayed. Within a year, Tom’s confidence had grown to the extent that his own voice rang out in the streets of local towns and villages. 
William noticed that when Tom discovered some new revelation from the scriptures, he would share it fervently and skilfully with his street congregations, with powerful effect. Tom had a natural gift of words and a boldness that gave William a slight twinge of envy.
‘Ah, well!’ he said philosophically to Benjamin as they drank their ale at the Bull and Book. ‘He is an evangel preacher, a reaper of souls. I am but a shepherd.’
‘Aye, but one that feedeth those selfsame souls, Father William.’ said Benjamin firmly, with one of his occasional bursts of profundity. ‘Ye are destined to labour together, both. Have I not seen it oft? What will it profit the soul if it be born, but to perish through want of succour?’
‘‘Tis soothly said, my sage, and I thank thee of thy kind rebuke!’

The only serious fault William could find in Tom was a certain impetuosity that characterized him, and sometimes got him into trouble. When injustice was being done, Tom could not stand by and watch without intervening. On one occasion, William witnessed two of the more unruly students, whom Tom had found harassing an elderly woman, having their heads banged together.
Tom also found it hard not to confront the hecklers and gainsayers in the street crowds that came to hear them. More than one student or cleric that was hostile to his message, and said so, found himself semi-baptized, face down, in the miller’s pond or horse-trough nearby. It was not really a violent temper that prompted him to react in such a way, but rather, in Tom’s youth at Gillingham, it was often considered the normal way of disposing of one’s opponent to end a debate, whether verbal or physical. He sometimes did it before he realized what he had done.
William was usually able to smooth over the situation with diplomacy, and found it hard to castigate his erring disciple when he came to him later in genuine repentance.

One such incident occurred after one of Doctor Wadeford’s followers was left with his feet sticking out of a thornbush, kicking wildly. Muffled noises could be heard emanating from within the bush. Although William was present at the time, it had all happened too quickly for him to prevent. 
Tom immediately realized the enormity of what he had done. Not only would he receive a raking down from his mentor, he knew a complaint was sure to be made to the masters -- even Doctor Wycliffe himself. With a rueful lowering of his head, Tom turned to William, awaiting condemnation and an imposition of penance.
Eheu, Padre. Peccavi.’ he said soberly.
‘So though sayest!’ William snapped, rather annoyed. ‘But “Primum non nocere!”³ quoth I, thou jobbardly shakebuckler! Avoid him anon!’
But then exasperation slowly gave way to a smile on William’s face as Tom hastily obeyed. Then an irrepressible chuckle arose from deep inside, which gave way to helpless laughter as Tom, doing his best to conceal his relief, apologised to the shaken victim. William walked away, shaking his head and still chuckling -- a bubble of mirth that lasted well into the evening.

Tom largely grew out of such behaviour -- once William convinced him that it did more harm than good. 
‘Hark ye, Thomas!’ his mentor would say earnestly. ‘Wilt thou impart wood justice? And wilt thou debate with the sword or strong arm of the flesh? If thou wouldst make enemies unto thyself, beware lest it be to thy gainbite! Stint thou this witaldry! Mark thou the words of Holy Writ that sayeth: “Whatsoever ye mete shall be meted unto you.” Wilt thou reap that which thou sowest?’
Tom was silenced, remembering the words of his father and mother.
‘Well, be not discouraged, my son,’ added William, relenting. ‘Thou hast strange gifts for a strange task that is before thee, even more than I. Thou’st a great heart within thy breast, moreover. Thou’rt a shakebuckling rogue, Master Thomas Plowman, but I perceive we shall become boon comrades. And mark thou this: Ab ove maiori discit arare minor.’
Tom wrestled with the quotation for a moment, for his latin was still only half learnt. Then it dawned on him.. “From the older ox the younger learns to plow.” he laughed.  “But what if the younger be a froward beast, Father Ox, and drag thee onward beyond thy measured ploddings?”
“Then shall I avoid me the yoke, and ride upon the plough to look upon thee as thou toilest alone, Master Plowman. And wield I the goad also.’

In spite of William’s half-hearted attempts at disciplining him, the imp of mischief never really left Tom -- even to the end of his days.

1 "Wood". An old English expression meaning "Crazed"
2 "Corea scriptorum". Latin for "Writer's Cramp"
3 "Primum non nocere". Latin saying meaning "First of all, avoid all harm."

Also "Gainbite" is "Regret."
"Stint thou this witaldry!" is "Stop this buffoonery!"