Deceive, Dominate, Eliminate

October 29, 2009

By:  Staci Stallings

Long before this incarnation of my life (house, kids, two businesses, etc.), I was a newly-married young woman with a lot of time on her hands.  My newly-married husband and I liked football, and at the time, after football and with nothing else to really do, we liked to watch a show called, “Lois & Clark:  The New Adventures of Superman.”  It was a fun show, as I recall, all old-style charm and romance–with some violence thrown in so Superman had something to do.  Then the kids came and the house and the yard… and well, you get the picture.

So the other day I was walking through Hastings, making a bee-line for a new book I wanted when I saw the four sets of discs on the shelf.  All of the episodes!  How could I pass that up?

Short answer:  I didn’t.

While digging out from the unbelievable pile of laundry in my house, I’ve been watching those old episodes (children are all at school now, so I can watch things more adult than Max and Ruby–what a concept!).  Through the prism of the 18 years that have passed since I last watched the show, I now see the things that so fascinated me about it back then.  The romance is so real–he loves her and wants to protect her, but she won’t let him because she sees that as her being weak, and the two of them trying to figure out how to become one in a way that gives each the room to also be themselves.  It’s fascinating.

However, another aspect that fascinates me is the roles the villains play.  Becuase Superman is based on a comic book, and comic books have comic book characters, most of the villains are cartoonish.  There’s the Prankster and the Handyman.  There’s Mindy Church and Intergang.  What fascinates me is the lessons that are just underneath the surface about how evil treats evil.  These gangsters and their ilk are not just evil toward the good guys, they are evil toward each other.

There is the one who busted out a prisoner only to kill him and frame him for more murders.  There is the guy who agreed to pay the other millions for a “job,” but the payment ended up being two bullets in the back.  I saw a movie one time.  In it, there was a gang of three villains.  In one scene Villain #3 did something Villain #1 didn’t like, so Villain #1 shot #3 with #2 right there.  Now, Villain #2 and #3 had been friends prior to that moment, so Villain #2 was understandably upset that his friend had been murdered right in front of his eyes.  He reached down to help his dying friend.  Villain #1 looked at him and pointed the gun at him.  “He’s of no use to us now, right?”

Villain #2 in a performance I remember to this day, looked down at his dying friend and then up at his new “boss.”  There was a moment of decision and he sat back on the sofa.  “Right.”  I knew at that moment, Villain #2 would be killed by #1 by the end.  Sure enough.  It’s how evil works.

The other day, I was watching a Superman episode (can’t tell you which one), and one of the villains said to the other, “All you have to know is:  deceive, dominate, eliminate.”

Deceive.  Dominate.  Eliminate.

Three words that should send anyone who even thinks about joining evil running for the hills. Let’s, for a moment, take this play book into a more spiritual realm for this is Satan’s play book open wide for all to see, and it’s the very plays he is using against us.

Deceive.  This was to a letter what he did to Eve in the garden.  He deceived her.  I once heard someone say, “Satan doesn’t have to convince you, all he has to do is confuse you.”  Deception is his foot in the door.  “It’ll be okay… this time.”  “She’ll never find out.”  “It’s for his own good.”  “What have I got to lose?”  “It’s just this one time…”

I just finished reading a book in which a young woman is widowed suddenly.  She loses her memory of the events leading up to her husband’s death and spends the whole book trying to piece her life back together.  In the end we find out this loving husband-wife scenario she had going in her mind was a fantasy.  Her husband was cheating on her to further his career.  He was planning on leaving her, and their whole lives together were built her willing acceptance of his lies.

That’s what deception and choosing to live in deception will get you–misery.

However, once the evil has deceived you, it will not stop there.  In the book, there is a scene in which the husband is trying to “convince” her that his way is what she should want as well–fast cars, lots of money, a lifestyle of the rich and famous.  She, however, wants a quiet life with a family and a husband who loves her.  He has deceived her to the point that she believes she has that… until she rocks the boat and asks him for what she wants.  Instantly, deceiving her is not enough.  He backhands her, and she is left trying to figure out what she did wrong.  They have entered the dominate stage.

In Superman, evil is always trying to dominate evil.  They will lie, cheat, steal–it really doesn’t matter, and at the right moment they will turn on each other like a vicious pack of dogs. Domination and power, however, have very short shelf lives as each new, successive villain seeks to dominate the old one.  The game never changes, only the players do.

And then there comes a point when domination is not enough.  The other person is just too much of an annoyance to keep around. “He got in the way,” is a famous villain catch phrase.  In the book this showed up when the husband pushed her out of the car when she dared to question why he no longer loved her.  It also, I suspect, led to his death at the hands of the evil he had embraced (though the book is never very specific about this).

In all examples of evil, the lesson is very simple:  Do not throw your lot in with thieves.  Do not take even that first step with an evil person.  They have three goals:  Deceive.  Dominate.  Eliminate.

You will no doubt be shredded by these people, and no amount of money or power will save you.  In the end, you too will be eliminated.  It’s in the cards when your hand was dealt.

Therefore, be very careful the company you keep, for where they go, you will follow.  You will deceive, you will dominate, and eventually, no matter how hard you try or how high you go, you will be eliminated.

Best to stay out of the game to begin with.


You Can Tell You’re Getting Older When…

October 28, 2009

By: Dennis Bates

One of the sure signs you’re getting older is knowing the doctors in your area on a first name basis. And not just your family physician, but a lot of the specialists too. It’s bad enough when you recognize them at the grocery store or in a restaurant, but when you can call them by name and match them with their specialty, Medicare can’t be far behind. If you know the names of their spouses, you get bonus points, but not the good kind, the scary kind.

After the summer I’ve had, I’m close to being there. This morning when I went into my family doctor’s office for yet another skin infection, I asked my doctor how his children did at the recent dancing competition. Now I’m worried. We are becoming much too familiar.

As if that weren’t bad enough, he said Joe asked him how my arthritis in my knee is doing. Joe’s my orthopedic specialist, and he’s looking forward to replacing my knee much more than I am. Frankly, I’d rather have him ask me about football.

The plain, simple truth is that our bodies are only made to last so long, and your mileage may vary from mine. The mortal part of us ages much like a car. As it gets older, it needs more tune-ups, more daily maintenance, and more rest. It still gets us where we’re going, but slower and with lots more creaking than it did when it came off the showroom floor.

That’s just the way it is, and there’s not much we can do about it except replace the tires every so often and make sure the oil level is filled above the add mark. I guess the question I’ve always had was why would our Creator make us this way?

After all, these transitory bodies wear out and sooner or later stop all together. Why would he fill them with a soul that may grow weary at times, but never wear out and never stop? As the Creator, he could have made us any way he wants, and that includes matching our immortal souls with an immortal body.

But He didn’t. Why? What is the point of only being here on earth for a short time? What is it we’re supposed to learn from that? And if it were that important, why didn’t He just tell us instead of making us learn it for ourselves, if, in fact, we ever learn it?

I don’t have those answers. I’m not even certain that I have the right questions. Maybe some theologians get closer and maybe not. The Pharisees thought they had most everything figured out. So did the earliest leaders of the church: St. Augustine, Calvin, Knox, Luther, and the list goes on into the present day. They only had part of the picture.

All I know for certain is that I don’t know, but I don’t have to. All I have know is Jesus Christ and Him crucified, just as Paul did. That is more than enough until the earthly vessel God gave me wears out completely and frees my immortal soul. Maybe then it will become clearer to me, maybe not.

In the meantime, I’ve discovered that a lot of doctors aren’t such bad people.

First Lines and Sheep

October 27, 2009

By: Dennis Bates

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times; it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness; it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity; it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness; it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair; we had everything before us, we had nothing before us; we were all going directly to Heaven, we were all going the other way.”

I never get tired of reading that paragraph. It is, of course, the opening paragraph of “A Tale of Two Cities,” written by Charles Dickens. It breaks a lot of the modern day rules of good writing. For example, it is far too long, and it’s all one sentence. It uses semicolons, but worst of all, it uses “was”, past tense of “is.” How totally shameful. Obviously, that Dickens fellow didn’t know that all forms of  the infinitive “to be,” are not used in good writing.

I had one well meaning writer tell me once that Dickens could never get published today because of those obvious defects in his writing. I didn’t have the heart to tell the person that books by Dickens still appear everywhere in bookstores, classrooms and private libraries 150 years after they were written.

To me, that paragraph sets the tone for the entire book, and isn’t that what a first sentence of any good piece of writing should do? I think so.

Another of my favorite first lines comes from the 23rd Psalm: “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.” Back in the day when we still had to do such things, I memorized that Psalm along with all the other people my age so we could qualify for adult membership in our church. I remember how even then I loved everything about that single line.

It set the tone for the relatively short number of lines that followed, but it always brought peace to me, even if I only read that line.

My grandparents kept a few sheep in a small pasture behind their house. One summer when they were away for a while, my mother, my younger brother and I stayed in my grandparents house and watched those sheep.

Don’t believe all the stories about being able to lead sheep anywhere. They aren’t entirely true. Almost every day at least one of those sheep managed to get out of the fenced in pasture. Sometimes they all did. My grandparent’s house sat on the edge of a small town and a busy highway went along side of it. For some reason, the sheep liked to go there as soon as they escaped. I don’t know what worried my mother more: having one of the sheep struck by a car or seeing my brother and I chasing those sheep off the highway.

Still, in spite of their bad habits, sheep can be very docile and they seem to do better when they know there is somebody like a shepherd there watching them, taking care of them, and ready to get them out of trouble. It is enough for them to see the shepherd in the area and hear his voice. They don’t need much else to remain calm.

That’s what I like about the first line of the 23rd Psalm. It reminds me of that summer at my grandparent’s house. It’s enough just to lie contentedly in a nice, green pasture knowing that my Shepherd is there, and He will always come get me off the highway when I wander away.

I Want To See

October 26, 2009

By:  Staci Stallings

It’s funny how you can go to church for an hour, hear everything, but remember only small snippets of things. This weekend, the Gospel was about the blind man, Bartimaeous, who I’ve studied just a little.  I remember that they were trying to shut him up as he sat by the walls of Jericho.  He was invisible as the poor and needy were at the time (still are).  The problem was, he just wouldn’t shut up.  He kept calling out, “Son of David, have pity on me!”

Jesus heard him and called him over.  When Bartimeaous heard he had been called, he threw off his cloak and ran to Jesus.

I don’t know if you’ve ever been around someone who is blind.  My grandfather was blind for the last several years of his life.  Trust me, he didn’t run anywhere.  Running is singularly dangerous when you are blind.  In fact, if you can see but wear glasses, take them off and go run in your backyard.  You’ll quickly see what I mean.  Little things like the height of a step or a small hole can do you in before you know you’ve been done.

So I think it very interesting that he threw off his cloak and ran to Jesus.  When he gets there, he doesn’t demand his sight back.  It isn’t until Jesus asks him what he wants that he says simply, “I want to see.”

I want to see.

How profound.  Not just for some blind beggar in Jericho, but for us.

I want to see is an admission that at present I do not see.  It says, “I’m blind.”  It is an admission of weakness as much as a statement of fact.  How often, do you tell God, “I want to see”? How often do you admit to Him that you can’t, that you are blind and you need His help?

The truth is, I do want to see.  I want God to help me see the things I don’t–with my eyes and with my heart.  I want Him to gently show me what I most need to see and then to help me to change it.  I am not perfect.  I am blind in many, many ways.  Although I do see some things of God, many are not clear or some are completely blank to my vision.  There is a phrase in a song I love that says, “give my vision wider view.”  I believe God is doing that for me.  How about you?

Increase, Lord, what I can see, and help me to have the grace to know what to do, how to do, when to do… whatever is necessary when I do see.  Amen.

Sharp Objects

October 21, 2009

By: Dennis Bates

More than once I have been told to stay away from sharp objects, and I do fine for a while, but then forget and suffer the consequences.

My earliest recollection of my little problem goes way back to Scout camp at a time when my voice was changing and I still thought camping was fun. It was my turn to build the fire, and I had to do it the old fashioned way with flint and steel to qualify for my camping merit badge. I had little trouble getting the spark to hit the tinder, and after some judicious blowing I had a full flame. Now I needed some wood kindling to build a fire that would catch the logs on fire.

That took a hand axe, which is a sharp object. I learned quickly that when you hold a chunk of wood so you can make kindling, it is really a good idea to keep your fingers out of the way. I didn’t. Luckily I didn’t lose my left index finger. Let’s just say that one of my buddies and I qualified for our First Aid merit badges that day too, and although I have long ago misplaced the actual merit badge, I still have a substantial scar on my left hand to remind me I earned it.

Then there was the time that a friend and I stood at the top of a hill and threw bottles at the railroad tracks below us to watch them hit the rails and shatter. Don’t ask. It’s a boy thing. What did I learn? Never throw a bottle that is already broken. Jagged glass is nasty. My right index finger will testify to that. There’s a scar there too, just so you know.

I have quit counting the number of times I’ve cut myself trying to slice bread or mince fresh garlic. There’s just too many. My wife tries to give me kitchen duties that require use of nothing sharper than a rubber spatula so she doesn’t have to bandage me up in the middle of meal preparation. I love to cook, but the last time I picked up a chef’s knife, my wife said calmly, “Put the knife down and just back away.” See, sometimes I forget.

The middle finger on my left hand has a scar and a permanent numb spot, which are the result of a crystal glass snapping in my hands while I washed it, and slicing my finger open. Stitches were required. I never saw that one coming.

And as much as I’d like to think that’s all behind me, I actually have places on my body that haven’t been scarred yet, so there is still time for a sharp object lurking in the shadows to find them, and I’m sure some will do just that.

As painfully humorous as some of these incidents are now, looking back at them, they remind me of something that isn’t all that funny. Sin is a sharp object. It can cut, maim and even destroy. We should stay away from it, but like I sometimes forget to stay away from sharp objects, I also sometimes forget to stay away from the spiritual sharp objects, and I pay the consequences when I get too close. I carry the scars.

Fortunately, however, I have a Savior who carries deeper scars, so mine can heal, even if they’re yet to be inflicted. As long as I remember that, I’ll be more than fine, even when I forget to stay away from sharp objects.

Grandpa Charlie Cookies

October 20, 2009

By: Dennis Bates

When I visited my grandfather and grandmother’s house as a kid, there was a simple aluminum container with a lid that served as their cookie jar. It always sat in the same place and it always had chocolate devil’s food cookies with marshmallow chocolate  coating. They were store bought cookies that my grandfather picked up because he knew that all us grandchildren liked them.

In fact, to this day, most of us still call that kind of cookie “Grandpa Charlie Cookies” because that’s what they are, no matter what Nabisco or any other cookie maker thinks.

The first thing that most of us did whenever we went to Grandma and Grandpa’s house was go to that cookie jar and eat one of those cookies. It was almost as if that made our visit official in a way, and it always made us feel welcome. I don’t ever remember going to the jar and finding it empty. Even when family gatherings totalled in excess of 30 people, the cookie jar always had more than enough cookies for everyone. It never got emptied.

The last time I was ever in that house was after my Grandfather’s funeral as more than 40 family members gathered there. There on the counter by the back door  where it always sat was the cookie jar, and it was full of “Grandpa Charlie Cookies.” I had to wait in line to get one.

If one were to analyze those cookies for what they were, they weren’t anything all that spectacular. They had a tendency to be a little dry. In spite of being almost totally chocolate, they didn’t taste all that chocolaty, and they didn’t have either peanut butter or raisins in them, two essential  ingredients for a cookie, as far as I’m concerned.  

But, they are still my favorites cookie, and they were always where they were supposed to be, in that simple tin container, on the counter by the back door in Grandma and Grandpa’s house. We all knew Grandpa kept them there for all of us. That’s what makes them so special, even today. We did’t analyze them or compare them to some fancy new gourmet cookie. That wasn’t the point.

It wasn’t the cookie itself that mattered. In a very simple way, those cookies were and still  are Grandpa because they are full of his love for me and all the rest of us. Every time I see a package of them on the shelf in the store, I think of him, and I remember what it was like when he shared a glass of cold milk with me at his kitchen table, and we ate one of his special cookies.

A Typist for the Holy Spirit

October 14, 2009

By: Dennis Bates

This Sunday I have been invited to attend a local church that I have never gone to before. In fact, it is about 45 miles from here, and I don’t know that I even know exactly where it is. A former Pastor of the small church that I attend has used one of my books in an adult Sunday School class there and asked me to come discuss the book with the class.

This is exactly the kind of experience I hoped for when I started to write. To say the least, I am both nervous and excited about the prospect. One of the things I really enjoy is hearing how my stories are being interpreted by my readers. The fact that this semi retired Pastor has chosen to  use one of my short novels to teach Christian principles tells me I must be doing something right.

Sure, I would like to think that my story is so well written and moving that the New York Times should have included it on its best seller list two days after it was released. Similarly, local colleges should be analyzing it for its unique style and hailing one of its local writers (me, of course) as the Faulkner of the Midwest, or at the very least as the new Nicholas Sparks.

Why not? It could happen.

But that’s not what I’ve done right, if,I have done something right at all. What I did right was listen to the Holy Spirit and then do what I was told to do…write what I was told to write. The Holy Spirit dictated and I typed. It’s as simple as that.

I don’t mean that to sound arrogant or the tiniest bit self righteous. I have no unique insight into the Holy Spirit or God. I have the same one everyone has, but I try to listen extra hard to hear the Spirit’s voice. I have to; at my age, I don’t hear through my ears like I used to, so I have to hear through my heart and soul more and more. I try.

My former Pastor gave me a short list of questions  that he wants to discuss about my book when we talk Sunday. At first I thought I couldn’t address them honestly because the themes that he sees in the book are simply nothing I consciously set out to write about, at least not in the detail that he described them.

But then I realized that I didn’t see them because they were themes that the Holy Spirit developed in my story, and whether I was aware of them or not, they were there. Plain, clear and screaming for attention.


Now I’m really excited. Not only do I have an opportunity to address the questions and share my passion for writing, but I also get to witness.

 My real witness is how I try to write, not what I try to say. As my good friend Staci has told me many times, “The Holy Spirit already has the story written; all you have to do is pray, listen for the response and copy it down.”

That works every time, although sometimes it is easier than it is other times. You wouldn’t think that a young Catholic girl could teach such an old Protestant dog new tricks like that, but believe me, she has. Of course, there’s always the chance that the Holy Spirit has something to do with that too.

Do you think?