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Phillip E. Carpenter

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   Recent stories by Phillip E. Carpenter
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Chatting with Jesus
By Phillip E. Carpenter
Monday, June 18, 2007

Rated "G" by the Author.

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Agnostical religious experience


Hiking the John Muir last summer, I saw the man in a somewhat shopworn robe sitting atop the ridge staring across the forested valley below.

Bearded longhair wack job
, I thought, whereís his gear? How did he make it here with no pack, water bottle? Must have four lug nuts loose, some new wave retro hippie still stuck in the sixties.

He didnít seem to notice me, and as an agnostic conservative who believes a woman has a right to choose but should carry a concealed .357 so she doesnít have to if she doesnít want to, I send mixed signals to both the radical right and looney left. I generally keep my distance from political and religious ranters and the lunatic fringe, but for some strange reason, on a whim I turned from my path that day somewhat nonplused at my own uncharacteristic actions.

Approaching, I saw him turn a normal looking face, no Jack Elam, Marty Feldman wild-eyed suspicious stares, no flight-or-fight grimaces nor rage spittle so I was somewhat reassured.

He nodded nonchalantly to acknowledge my presence.

"Hey," I offered by way of what passes in California for formal greeting, then without invitation, sat down cross-legged, just out of reach, of course. He remained silent, making me wonder if he was perhaps one of those ascetic Monks, like Benedictine, Byzantine, Jesuit or Thelonius.

I noticed his sandals were home-made and very well worn and he had an old wooden staff lying nearby that looked like it was ready for a hundred-thousand mile checkup.

"I assume lots of people tell you you look like Jesus," I grinned. Bet he never heard that one before.

He kept staring away across the distance as though I didnít exist.

Miffed, I ventured somewhat rudely, "So, who are you, then?"

He smiled a little at my effrontery, finally speaking. "In the final analysis, I am all men, I suppose, but if you will, Jesus is as good as anything."

I chuckled. Called my bluff. "Rose by any other name, huh? Okay, so, howís things going with the world today according to Jesus?"

He turned and looked me in the eye for a long moment and suddenly I felt strange, imagining for just a second he was, like, reading my soul. Donít let this hippie psych you out, man, I told myself, itís his act, his thing.

Shaking his head slowly, he replied, "Not well." After a pause he added, "I suppose, since you went to the trouble to climb all the way up here, you are lonely and bored for company so youíd like chapter and verse?"

True, the trail can be lonely but thatís also a good thing sometimes. I do absorb a certain contentment from nature in the rough without the constant disharmony of man-made noise. But then I could always find an excuse to loaf a while and I find unusual characters interesting and am naturally nosy.

"Lay it on me, holy man," I said, smiling to show it wasnít meant derogatorily.

He sighed and looked at the ground where the spring grass had begun to dry with the advent of summer. "I am disappointed, of course," he said quietly, "so much potential, so much promise and yet....so much stubborn ignorance."

I assumed he wasnít talking just about me, but he could have been... and he was right.

He went on as though thinking aloud, "I thought religion would help mankind rid itself of the old myths such as blood sacrifice to appease false gods. Instead it has mutated madly into unending religious wars and horrible suffering without end. I thought Godís logical commandments would be taken to heart as a guide for morality, to better brotherhood and understanding between men.

I thought love would eventually conquer hatred and the bountiful and happy effects of peace would defeat violence and destruction or at least engender self-control.

But despite advances in science and education, you aggressively continue to foul your own nest, polluting without regard, destroying natureís fragile bounties. I thought if you were shown better moral examples it might generate a beginning of adherence to higher standards of behavior. And yet you glorify lawlessness, debauchery, blood sports, base carnal perversions. You still practice killing and torture and wage wars to win land. You admire excess wealth for itís own sake just as you do wielding power over one another purely for individual pride. Money trumps intelligence, fame trumps fidelity, the list goes on."

He turned his gaze toward some sort of soaring bird far away, then brushed a wisp of long hair out of his eyes before continuing. "So, it appears the experiment on this planet was a failure and I must abandon my trust."

He again turned his intense eyes upon me and frowned a bit as though trying to explain algebra to a five-year old. "You see, In this universe the order of things requires entropy prevail in order to begin anew, but one hopes each time we return in one form or another it will be better, slowly improving the Grand Design. Sadly, this time it was another near miss. So near, yet so far, no cigar."

I didnít know what to say. I told myself this guy certainly had his act down, must have rehearsed this spiel hundreds of times.

I was becoming uncomfortable, having an unaccustomed emotional reaction...donít know if it was his calm, sad manner, his low-key voice that projected an undeniable certainty about what he said or what, but I was feeling a surge of something.

As though someone else was doing it, I couldnít seem to stop myself from reaching over and taking his hand, not in a gay way but to comfort him. It was warm, almost vibrant in mine. I imagined I could even feel his blood pulsing strongly. I forced myself to avoid looking for spike scars, then thought irreverently , "If heís for real, he would have healed himself by now anyway."

He turned toward me once more and I saw the barest glint of tears in his eyes, read the overwhelming empathy in his face.

My throat tightened as I felt his gentle squeeze. "Itís best you go now, friend Edward," he said quietly, "I thank you for this great gift of your precious time."

Reluctantly, I stood and walked down the hill, wondering why I was experiencing an unusual tingling through my body that culminated with a buzzing sensation at the top of my skull. Suddenly realizing I had never introduced myself by name, I stopped short after a couple of hundred yards and looked back. As though some barrier within me had broken, questions now flooded through my mind like water over a spillway, so many things I desperately wanted to know.

There was no one there.

Had I been suffering sun stroke, dehydration or high altitude sickness that caused hallucinations? I felt fine, however, better than ever, but scared about my mental state. Was this the start of Alzheimers or dementia? Only time will tell.

But in any event, that was the day I mostly quit watching or reading the international news. They couldnít tell me anything really important about how everything will turn out in the end. I felt in my gut I already knew.

His last words keep echoing in my thoughts day after day,

"..your precious time."
..  


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Reviewed by lilyana ramos 11/23/2007
Very thought-provoking and well done. I didn't get any feeling that "Jesus" was confused about the future, just disappointed in the choices mankind had made with free will. Of course the poem was an exercise in psychology and left it up to the reader to decide if the hiker had actually met an illusion of Jesus or was merely hallucinatory, drawing on his own societal conditioning. Looking beneath the actual words written on paper to find either more philosophical questions, true meaning or ambiguosity is the task of true literary aficianados.
Reviewed by Annette Hendrix Williams 9/21/2007
The real Jesus isn't confused about future events.
Reviewed by Harry Smith 6/27/2007
Really cool. Great method of introducing philosophical commentary on the direction the human race has taken to assure a non-future for coming generations and a warning to anyone smart enough to see it. This author's writing is far and away a notch above anyone else I have read and his versatility is amazing.


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