Other Works by Clyde List

Arirang

No one knows how Arirang came to Oregon. All that is known for sure about Arirang is his name and the fact that he likes to sing in the marketplace.

People in my part of the world do not sing in the marketplace. Not so long ago there were people here who liked to whistle. As you strolled through downtown Portland Oregon on a workday morning you would hear the most interestingly complex trilling noises from the alleys and through the doorways. Of all the arts I wanted to learn, knowing how to whistle like a teamster or shipping and receiving clerk as he's entering or leaving a room was on top of the list. But by the time my lips were mature enough, the transistor radio made whistling unfashionable.

In America, it is still possible to hear people whistle or sing. But it is no longer possible to hear anyone-- even on the radio-- sing for the mere enjoyment of it. (Many of today's singers have lovely voices, but for some reason they limit themselves to less than a half dozen notes per recording contract and it's hard to call it singing. John Denver launched a very successful career using only four notes.)

I asked the local Chief of Police about the consequences of singing in our local marketplace and he assured me it could go down as a disturbance of the peace. In the residential neighborhoods there are also the Community Covenants and Restrictions to consider.

Arirang was at the main highway intersection in our town, his voice rising above the coastbound tourist traffic, when he heard music burst from a door of the local tavern. He looked through the doorway, found no resistance, and went inside. Then, as soon as the juke box music stopped, Arirang reared back his head and filled the air with a joyful little ditty about a maiden and her soldier-love and the little white pony waiting for him by the side of the road.

Without going into the unpleasant details of what happened next: Arirang learned all over again what Woody Guthrie had discovered about singing joyful songs in an American worker's tavern. Somebody-Done-Somebody-Wrong songs filled with misery and defeat are the only kind the capitalist bosses will permit the working people to be inspired by.

Arirang was walking past a church one morning. And there, for the first time since his arrival in our town, he heard not only loud singing, but loud unabashedly joyful singing.

He almost went inside to join the chorus but he was stopped in his tracks by a life size icon free standing on the front lawn. It was an image of a man hanging on a pair of crossbeams. It was exactly like an image that Arirang remembered seeing the time he was being evicted from his distant homeland (except that it was a real person in that case, a town mayor who had spoken once too often against the local mafiosi). To a world traveler like Arirang the meaning was as clear as an incendiary device lobbed from a passing car: "NO TRESPASSING-- This Could Happen to You!"

Torn between two extremes--the open joyfulness of the singing and the open hostility of the statue--Arirang fled into a grove of trees. Two enormous Douglas Fir trees of the sort that used to blanket the entire Pacific Northwest concealed him handily from the north as well as the south. These two trees produced a kind of catch basin for the music from the church, as bright and crisp and joyful as any in Arirang's repertoire:

Thy bountiful care, what tongues can recite?
It breathes in the air, it shines in the light,
It streams from the hills, it descends to the plain,
And sweetly distills in the dew and the rain.

With music like that, How (to paraphrase Pete Seeger) Could Arirang Keep From Singing? There was no way he could hold the music in. Though... for reasons we have already examined and explained, Arirang was careful to keep himself hid. He "came to church," but no one inside the church ever noticed him. (One day a stranded motorist, standing by the clover field next door to the church, heard the remarkable combination of Arirang's voice and the congregational choir, but Arirang disappeared before the police could arrive.)

One Sunday, a bumble bee flew in from the clover field while the choir was on the last verse of "Oh worship the King." The choir director yelped and used both arms to save herself.

Now, I must take time out to explain that if you are a member of the church choir and the choir director yelps and waves both arms over her head you understand without being told that this gesture and outburst means: "Stop until I turn the page."

It was at this moment, as everyone inside the church fell into a deathly yet respectful silence, that Arirang's voice alone was heard, soaring among the rafters of the church, alone and unperturbed as one of those bald eagles that occasionally attracts press coverage by landing in the Safeway parking lot... or like the Sun rising over traffic on northbound Interstate Twenty Six during the morning rush hour.

Added to this phenomenon was one witnessed exclusively by the Pastor of the Church, Pastor B, who, as he always did when he was preparing to go up to the pulpit and preach his sermon, was sitting by the window with the sunlight illuminating the cheerful colors of his pastoral robes. From the corner of one eye Pastor B noticed a small light flickering inside one of the frames of window glass. It might have been an insect striking at the window pane and fighting to get out. Except that the pane had been broken out by a neighbor’s golf ball the week before, and so when the man of God turned his head and looked, he discovered that it was Arirang that he had been noticing, weaving and leaping through the tulip and clover fields next door.

[During the preparation of this article, a local produce store owner showed me a list of 100 Rules that he follows to achieve a successful and happy life. Rule number 89 is: "Try singing out loud at least a couple times a day."]


Other Works by Clyde List

Pastor B and the Vine

If you were a member of Pastor B's church and someone were to ask you what you admired most about Pastor B, your answer would probably be: His ability to name the flora and fauna whenever he is going for a stroll or driving somewhere in the family car. Pastor B's parishioners know that Pastor B is good at not only identifying these natural objects but at using them as illustrations in his sermons on Sunday in church.

Seen from the window of Pastor B's study is a very elaborate, expansive, menacing, prickly, tangled web of blackberry vines. They cling to a plot of land surveyors have struggled in vain to determine the ownership of. And so every spring the vines threaten the church building a little more, while on the positive side providing Pastor B with an ever increasing supply of apt illustrations for his sermons about topics which are important to his community.

What better example than these vines could be found to illustrate the creeping nature of Socialism, Communism, and Secular Humanism? Or what could be found to warn us of the deceptions practiced daily upon people by the followers of Darwin or Buddha or Mohammed than the succulent Himalayan blackberry itself, in pursuit of which so many children and their pets have been lost in recent years? Or the nettlesomeness of the abortion, euthanasia or school prayer issues... which at first inspire us to rise and voice an opinion and then leave us exhausted, confused and defeated the moment someone else answers back?

So rich was the capacity of these vines to inspire Pastor B that we can hardly appreciate the effect that their loss must have had on him that afternoon when he returned from a pastoral conference to discover the horizon near his church cleared of all vegetation whatever: Swept away as the flowers and the beauty thereof are swept away in the book of Isaiah. The beginnings of a three story town house were already being laid in their place.

Brooding is not a habit of Pastor B, but here we see him up late at night with his Greek and Latin texts. The candle is burning low when he suddenly marks a passage from that famous contemporary of Flavius Josephus, Julius Caesar, where Caesar takes the shortest route possible from his casa in Rome to his soldiers in the field by walking straight through the enemy's field position....

Of course! There was the solution, Pastor B realizes! Instead of joining those members of his church who have begun to mount a protest against the housing project... he will do the opposite. He will take a short course in real estate and become a real estate agent as well as a preacher!

It was a clever ploy. After a few years Pastor B would accomplish two things, and possible even three: He would augment his meager salary with real estate commissions instead of constantly hounding his Board of Elders for a salary increase. And he would restore stability to his flock by tactfully weeding out prospective neighbors who might drive golf balls through the stained glass windows, walk their dogs in the cemetery, or complain about the Sunday morning ringing of the church bell.

There was even a third benefit Pastor B was not sure of until he made some calculations on the new church computer. Amazed by the result of these computations he called a special meeting of the budget committee and demonstrated to them how by adding eight new members to the congregation once every sixteen days over the next two hundred and fifty six months, the church treasury would be augmented by $32.5 Billion.

The elders were pleasantly surprised until the one member who had donated the computer mentioned that the machine contained an unfortunate bug in its central processing unit which made it useless for anything but word processing.

This week Pastor B is composing a sermon about acorns and mustard seeds. But you will have to attend his church this coming Sunday to find out how it ends.


Other Works by Clyde List

Pastor B on the Road
to Damascus

On Wednesday Pastor B was struck by an idea. It happened while he was on the road coming from town. He thought it very strange that, of all the people in town who might be stricken, that he should be the one.

The idea followed him to the end of the main road and then rose above the tops of the trees as he turned off onto the road to the parsonage. It disappeared before he reached the house. Pastor B decided not to mention the phenomenon to his family, since he had often ridiculed strange ideas in the past, and did not look forward to being targeted by the same ridicule now at this time in his career.

But when he climbed into the pulpit that evening to deliver the vesper sermon Pastor B suddenly began speaking of that ancient sage, Paul of Tarsus, who, while on the road to a far off land, was struck blind by a strange light. Pastor B's parishioners thought the sermon strange. Not only was the text out of season--the only remotely suitable holiday, Pentecost, was yet six weeks away--but the pastor's eyes seemed to glow with an unusual energy which was fascinating to watch.

His wife, Mrs. B, was worried. She felt his brow, detected a slight elevation in temperature, and immediately scheduled a physical examination for him the following week.

It was on his return trip from the doctor's office that the idea hit Pastor B again. It exploded in his face and flew right by him, as bright and shining as the first time it struck him.

Now, in all fairness, it should be stated that Pastor B was no stranger to things like ideas. Concepts and Notions, for example, were things he dealt with all the time.

Concepts are useful tools, especially if you are a parish pastor. If a visitor happens to introduce himself. as "Barney" for example, and has a large barnacle on his chin.. why there was a concept for you, something to help you remember his name the next time you see him.

Notions were useful too. It was a notion that caused Pastor B to become a preacher in the first place. But Pastor B had learned to be mistrustful of notions. The last time he had entertained a notion was while he was waiting for a haircut at Dale Smith's barber shop and was browsing some 1950 's era copies of "Look" Magazine. The musty, woodshed aroma of the pages aroused a storm of disquieting notions between his ears, which he had not entertained since he was a teenager. ...In any event, to shorten the story, his wife noticed a menacing strange aura around Pastor B when he returned from the barber's that day and ordered him dispel every last one of these notions, which he did reluctantly but without complaint.

Along with concepts and notions, Pastor B had been confronted with other things resembling ideas during his career: apprehensions, observations, moot points were often included in titles to his sermons. There were arguments, fields of inquiry to pursue. During congregational meetings there were always: agendas, topics, the business-at-hand. In his senior year at college he had written a paper on "burdens" in the Old Testament sense which he (he had to confess) never clearly understood.

But what Pastor B enjoyed most of all was fast cars. It was an obsession that had remained with him ever since high school. Sometimes, in fact, he worried that the sight of sunlight glinting off new chrome inspired him more than Scripture itself. And now: here he had this idea! More glistening and spanking new than any car he had ever seen.. swaying to and fro in the breeze on this playful Spring afternoon along the road. His eye could not work fast enough to trace the outer limits of this idea, nor see all the foundations for it, nor scan the consequences of it. The late afternoon Sun glowed from its underpinnings, defining them so sharply that the individual precepts and facets of the idea stood out like separate ideas all on their own.

When he climbed onto a fence and caught a glimpse through the window of the abundance of levers and knobs that controlled this idea... Well, let's say that he was hooked. "I found this idea and it's mine!" he said to himself, "I have a perfect right to climb inside this idea and take it wherever I please!"

As soon as he sat down inside the idea, the whole broad landscape of the American continent changed. It opened up below him like the view through the windshield of a 1934 Plymouth. He understood suddenly --as very few people ever do --the many distinctions, subdivisions, and contradictions of our country, united only by the principles of justice and liberty, as symbolized so gloriously by our proud American flag. "It's true!" Pastor B thought, "It is the divisions in our country that have made our country great! The more different kinds of people there are, the better the solutions we invent for our problems!"

He couldn't help wondering why no one had ever mentioned this to him at Bible college, where one particular view of the world was generally emphasized to the detriment of every other.

...Pastor B's sermon that next Wednesday evening was ebullient, confused but brilliant. His text was from the Book of Job, Chapter Four, verses 12 to 17. The parishioners listened and waited for the point of his sermon, their heads tilting more and more to one side as they tuned their ears to the tremor in his voice. One of the elders, a man who had listened to many sermons and knew to the minute when the argument would unfold and when it would conclude with the final "Amen," and who had also seen many preachers come and go and was not surprised by their eccentricities, mentioned to Pastor B after the service that the quotation he had cited was from Eliphaz the Temanite, a philosopher famous for his intellectual temerity... what in the Old Testament is quite frankly referred to as "wickedness."

Pastor B listened to the elder's criticisms and carefullyopened his Bible. He had received very high marks in college for his hermeneutical skills and it seemed impossible that he could make an error of such magnitude.

When he perused the text and could find no other defense he did what Christians often do under similar circumstances. He slammed his Bible shut and restated the correct formula for salvation, as set down by the fathers of the church--the sort of statement that rings so clear and true in the ears of another Christian, although not quite so clearly, and even a little menacingly, to an inhabitant of, say, Borneo-- and concluded his defense by saying, "And that is where I stand." The elder smiled and shook Pastor B's hand, satisfied that he had at last returned to his moorings.

As for the idea Pastor B had been struck with, it had been observed by some other people not so far from his parish, who reported it to a local radio personality, who ridiculed it as another example of what Sherwood residents say they see after living in a state of economic disadvantage for so many years. When Pastor B saw the item reported on in the "Valley Times" he turned to the car ads and made no other sound except to clear his throat.


Other Works by Clyde List

Molly Down the Road

Molly lived alone in the house on One Hundred and Seventh Avenue, just down the street from Pastor B's church. From the point of view of everyone who knew her, Molly was unremarkable.

But Molly was remarkable. For, when Molly was very young she adored her parents and did not rebel against them as so many in her generation did.

Eagerly, every evening after supper, Molly and her siblings would clear the dishes away from the family table. Then they would sit down around the table again to observe the Old Man take the ancient family Bible off the shelf and lay it open before him. In dreadful silence he would divide the Book in half with his work hardened hands and lift the thin red page divider out....

The Old Man's voice would boom like distant thunder then, as the minds of Molly and her siblings were filled with images of seers and swordsmen, kings and queens, dragon-monsters and ruined fortresses and beautiful golden cities and a hundred other images too curious to be believed if they had been read from any other book.

Because of these daily Bible readings the Bible became like a city on a hill for Molly throughout her life, through which she would wander at her leisure. These solitudinous journeys were like a visit to a faroff land that had never been completely charted. Questions about where she had been never ceased to occupy her mind.

For example, Molly often wondered, why do translators insist on translating the words Or Nogah in Isaiah 9:2 as anything other than "the light of the Planet Venus?" Where did "venus" (Latin for "that which came") go?

Why, Molly wondered, do translators accept the term "evil angels" or "angels of destruction" in Psalm 78:49, when the original Hebrew words don't mean that at all. The Hebrew means precisely nothing, in fact, until you reconstruct one easily misconstructed letter on one word and you get, not "evil angels", but "Shepherd Kings," a tribe well documented by scholars of the ancient Middle East?

Why, Molly wondered, do translators so nonchalantly render "barad" as "hail" in Exodus 9:23-25?

Why, Molly wondered, are visitors from what is reputed to have been the most powerful kingdom in the ancient Middle East not mentioned at all during the days of the Judges and the reign of King Saul ... except for that one pitiful exception in I Samuel 30:13?

Why don't scientists pay attention to the interesting curve that appears when the lifespans mentioned in Genesis 5 are put on a graph (a question very high on the agenda in Genesis 47:7-10)?

Why hasn't some psychologist paid attention to the fact that, in Genesis 3, no matter how carefully people tune their ears to what's being said to them, they don't hear the same things?

Why do almost all the sick people that seek healing in the Gospels come to the Lord showing the same list of symptoms as were observed during World War One, when soldiers returned from the battle certifiably blind, deaf, numb and otherwise completely incapacitated, yet without a mark on their bodies?

Why, Molly wondered... But her mind would become so lost with contemplation of these mysteries that she could not rest.

One day on her way to the store, Molly noticed a new sign on the lawn in front of Pastor B's church. The plastic red and white letters announced that a guest Pastor was visiting the church that Sunday. He would explain how the Amazing Secrets of the Bible had at last been unlocked and how there was nothing new to learn.

"What a fascinating place church must be!" Molly exclaimed. She jumped from her accustomed track. She found a place in the audience and after several minutes of careful listening she learned that the whole world had been created out of thin air in six twenty four hour days exactly 6243 and a half years ago and that every one of the 70 sextillion stars that currently shines within the 27 billion light year realm of the known Universe will disappear in the blink of an eye someday very soon, and that it will all be our fault, and that anyone who dares to laugh at this conclusion is suffering from the negative influences of a secular humanist education and needs to reform.

Everyone around Molly was nodding with satisfaction over this Good News.

But Molly was horrified. She hurried from the church as quickly as she went in, her coat buttoned up to her chin. She had never realized before how dangerous it was to stray.

She was ducking across the final intersection before her house when she overheard some people coming out of the corner tavern, discussing a comet that was heading toward the planet Jupiter. "Of course nothing like this could ever happen to the Earth while we are on it." a man of some intellect and bearing was saying.

It all sounded vaguely familiar to Molly. Like deja vu: this idea of stones disrupting a planet's equilibrium (Joshua 10: 11-14) and of people seeking refuge (Exodus 24: 9-11) among the stones and occupying themselves (Joshua 7: 25 & 26) with these objects as well as possible, with so little else to think about (Habakkuk, Chapter 3). She could almost hear the voice of the Old Man Himself rumbling upstairs in the attic.

But Molly was reformed. She was no longer going to allow her thoughts to wander freely down those forbidden avenues she had enjoyed all her life until now. She locked herself in her house from that day forward and never read her Bible again.

The End

Read Clyde's Address to the 2000 Lutheran Freedom Conference

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