Letter From The Editor - Issue 69 - June 2019

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Issue 23
Stories
The Hanged Poet
by Jeffrey Lyman
Into the West
by Eric James Stone
IGMS Audio
InterGalactic Medicine Show Interviews

This Is My Corporation, Eat
    by Lon Prater

This Is My Corporation, Eat
Artwork by Kevin Wasden

They got rid of the Easter Bunny first. There in the middle of the mall this year stood a guy in a slightly larger than life, felt-skinned Jesus costume with three fingers on each hand and cartoony sewn-on blood at wrists and ankles. Scrubbed and spit-combed children lined up like lambs to have their picture taken with Him under a giant pastel cross. Backlit Pharisees and our little handful of protesters looked on, shaking our fists in empty rage.

When the last of the protesters abandoned me, I waved them off in half-hearted disgust. "Go on then," I grumbled, turning back to the diminished line of picture-goers. "Jesus will be taking a break soon anyway."

After the last two shots of squalling tykes and their gap-toothed siblings, Marian flipped the clock sign down and set it to read: Back at 1 p.m.

"You ready?" she said, but not to me. She was talking to Jesus.

The Savior stood there with both three-fingered hands on his hips. His beatific smile remained perfectly in place and unmoving even as her co-worker Paul's squeaky voice issued from somewhere inside the costume. "What's he doing here again, Marian? You trying to get us both fired?"

"Drew won't do any harm. He promised me." Marian shoved off to take Jesus to the mall's locker room.

I followed, leaving my MONEYCHANGERS REPENT sign leaning up against a pair of plastic centurions. A harried mother glared at me, tugging her two boys out of my reach as if I would somehow contaminate them with my extremism.

"Don't get too close to the Fundie," she hissed to her boys, loud enough to make sure everyone in the Food Court could hear her.

I let the woman's disdain roll off me, ignoring it the same way the rest of the mall ignored me and my CHRIST IS NOT A CORPORATE SHILL (WHAT WOULD JESUS ENDORSE?) t-shirt. I fell into an empty seat by the Wok-n-Roll and waited for Marian to come back out with Paul for lunch.

We weren't into bombing things then, or Homeland Defense would have been all over us. Ours was a peaceful revolution. Signs and marches and pray-ins were the glorious weapons of our insurrection. All we wanted was to de-commodify the new Christ-chic. Marian wasn't a true believer, not a Fundie like me, but she loved me anyway. I was the ultimate freshman law accessory: a radical boyfriend. She volunteered at a religious freedom center teaching immigrants enough about the New Testament to help them get their Patriot cards. She had stunning hazel eyes, which made it even more difficult to break up with her when I knew things would be going south at Christmas.

"I just think we've gone as far together as we can with this . . . difference between us," I said to her at Salvation King one late and snowy night. "It's been good, really good, but you just don't believe like I do, and that's really important to me right now."

Tears shone in her eyes as she picked at her Values Meal. I went on.

"I mean, the fact that you wanted to come here, to this place --" I gestured at the faux stained glass saints in the window beside us, at the display with this week's toy, a wind-up Pontius Pilate with real hand-washing action. "You don't understand what being a Fundie means to me. It's about keeping Christianity sacred and profound, not some notch in Madison Avenue's bedpost."

Marian's face hardened. "Like hell it is," she said, splattering ketchup when she dropped her Crossburger with cheese onto the scripture-imprinted wax paper wrapper." Like hell it is," she said again, her lower lip quivering. "Don't you try to pretend you're so much holier than me just because you don't like to see the cross on everything. You just want something to protest against, something to make you feel like you have the one right way of believing, and being saved doesn't matter to anyone else in the world but you." She jabbed a red fingernail at me, impaling me with righteous fury. "It matters to the rest of us too, Drew. That's why we want to see Jesus everywhere, to be reminded of His presence. That's why Jesus is big business and so many corporate ministries are succeeding. Because we care enough to spend in his name."

She stood up, jerked her Ezra purse off the back of the chair and left without another word.

"I forgive you," I said, as the door swung shut. I sipped my milkshake. It made a rattling, coughing sound like an old man on a respirator. I sucked even harder to get the last of it out.

Two years before I met Marian, my name had been Gary. As I walked down the streets of Providence, barefoot and destitute, the life insurance company I'd given eleven years of my life to suddenly bankrupt, I heard the call. Business Week's cover story was "The Mustard Seed Movement: How a Little Faith Grows Big Profits." I found a copy in the garbage and used it for heat after I read it. As I stared into the flames that night, Jesus spoke to me.

"Gary," He said. "Gary, why have they forsaken me?"

I was arrested on Christmas Eve for stealing Nativities. In jail, one of the guys, a burly black man with NICK DAWG tattooed along his muscular neck, got me talking about the Rapture.

"You Fundies believe that shit, man? About floating up into the sky?"

Another guy in the common cell snorted. "I can get high without Jesus, mange." He pinched two fingers together and pressed them to his lips making a sucking noise. Several of the others in the cell laughed. "You just need the right pipe."

I smiled at him but spoke dead serious to NICK DAWG. "The Rapture is coming," I told him, slipping into street talk. "But when it comes, ain't nobody gonna know about it. It's gonna come like a thief in the night --"

"The kind that steals plastic Virgins and Wise Men?" That got another laugh, but they were listening to me. I was witnessing to the sinners, and they were listening.

"No, the Rapture is gonna come when nobody expects it, and all those who've been saved will be gone from this vale of tears. The rest of ya'll suckers will be looking at the times of Tribulation, when men turn to false gods and have to live every day under the reign of Satan."

"How are all these people supposed to get raptured?" NICK DAWG asked again. "Just fly up into the air like the Goodwill Blimp had soul magnets on it?"

My turn to laugh, but not too hard. I had to remember where I was. "When the Rapture comes, those that believe will go to live with the Lord," I said.

"You mean they die?" another one of my cellmates asked.

"Not their souls."

A dude in green flannel -- he'd said he was in for beating on his old lady -- cleared his throat. "So if no one knows when it happens, and people just die and shit, how you know it didn't already go down?"

"Who's to say it didn't? Or that it only happens once instead of as a process over time? God built the world in seven days and waited forty before he let it stop raining. Ever since then it's taken longer and longer for him to do anything miraculous down here."

NICK DAWG's jaw flopped open. "It says that crap in the Bible?"

"If you know how to read it."

"And how's that?"

"With Fundie eyes," I said. I grabbed the bars of the cell doors and prayed for all of them, that they might see as I did. There was a grumble of profanity and muttered astonishment in the cell, then it was quiet for a long while.

There was a great crack in the dark of night and lo, the walls of our jail had fallen down around us, yet not one man in the cell was harmed.

"It's a miracle," I called out. "My Lord has freed me from this prison that I might go forth and clear his name from the marketplaces."

Outside, Jodie, a new convert, waited in a stolen pickup truck festooned with tinsel and manger hay. She was grinning like a criminal herself.

"It was just a little C4," she said. "Thirty grams."

That jailbreak became a watershed in the Fundie movement. With just a palmful of C4 that she'd conned out of an old Army boyfriend, Jodie turned us from peaceful zealots into the Middle East kind -- at least as far as the public eye could see. It wasn't long after that the government, a bully brigade of Keystone Kaisers at the best of times, began to take us more seriously.

They started the counter-harassment by putting the cross on Patriot cards and, being Fundies, we declined to take the mark; the cross had no more business as an implement of the state than it did as an open source brand. So they gave us the same cards as the Jews and Muslims and Mormons and Scientologists and Buddhists. Our Patriot cards were yellow, not red, white and blue like everyone else's.

And they watched us like jealous housewives. When they could find us.

Bombing things, and being shot at for our beliefs made us into a corps of wannabe martyrs; I nearly became a successful one when several of us were caught burning down the Schenectady plant that printed the Old Testament Prophets collectable-card game. Instead of dying for my beliefs, I was imprisoned again.

They sent Marian and her newly-minted law degree to serve as my defense.

"Hello, Gary." She spat my old name like an accusation. Her briefcase, a shiny leather affair, plunked down on the table in front of me.

I met her hazel eyes. "It's Drew. I changed my name when the Lord changed me. I stopped being Gary long before I ever met you."

"I didn't know He changed you into a monster."

I looked away.

"There were fourteen people in the building, Gary."

"Drew."

"Fourteen parents and sons and daughters and husbands and wives and significant others, just trying to make a living. And you Fundies nearly killed them all. For what? A kid's card game?"

"The Lord calls home whoever's place is ready," I said, hating the uncertainty in my own voice. "They were doing the devil's work."

She withdrew a clear plastic bottle of Holy Water (Now 50% more blessed!) and took a drink. I scowled.

"What are they offering?"

Marian still hadn't sat down, and now she leaned across the table so close I could smell her Anoint! perfume. "Fifteen years in medium security lockup, or confess and publicly renounce violence and you'll be out on parole in five with good behavior."

I whistled. "That's still a long time."

"Meanwhile, a lot of innocent people not getting burned or blown up on the job."

"The tide may turn yet."

"Which tide?" she asked. "Because things are not looking good for Team Fundie. Jodie Mayler's singing hosannas that it was all your idea. So she'll walk free. Nick O'Donnell was crying like a baby when they offered him a year in exchange for testifying against you."

I took that onboard slowly, keeping my face still. Maybe Marian was right to hate me; maybe she'd been right about other things as well. I closed my eyes and prayed for guidance.

I was resolute in my belief that the Lord spoke to me that night in Providence. He wanted me to stem the tide of his church being used to peddle burgers and tampons on every commercial break and billboard across America. He wanted me to change the world, to cleanse it of Christian consumerism.

Yet in the end, I took the deal, telling myself it was what Jesus Himself would do. I'd be back on the street all the sooner, and besides: Christ's teachings were as much about non-violence as they were anti-materialism.

Of my time in jail I will say only this: I prayed much, I read much, I suffered much, I learned much. We really had lost our way, straying from His word to fight against marketeering when He wanted only our faith and repentance. The others in the movement were blind to how far we'd fallen from the path. I promised God and His Son that I would help the people understand.

When they finally released me, I found that Paul had spread the word throughout the Fundie network that I was no longer to be trusted; that I'd sold out. Few would speak to me, and my message of prayer and non-violence fell deaf on Fundie ears.

"Let the corporations and consumers have what is theirs," I said on street corner pulpits and in little prayer cliques all across the country. "It is the spirit, the Holy Spirit that they cannot take and cannot change -- that's what is important. That's what God wants us to serve."

And people drank their bad coffee and ate their stale pastries and listened. We prayed for an end to the bombings and the persecution and the Christian antiquities market. We prayed to a personal savior on behalf of the world, but we remained primarily concerned with the purity of our own souls.

The Jesus bubble showed no sign of bursting, even when the looming recession was finally acknowledged mid-decade. Salvation King announced massive layoffs and an embargo on genetically modified Potato Nails in the same week. The Christian Patriots League denounced Business Week for profiling a hot young Neo-Gnostic space tours exec who claimed his company's overnight success was just the tip of the iceberg. "Outer Space is the next Inner Peace," read the caption under his smiling face. Behind, a starry blackness and seventy-two orbiting spacecruisers. He had one for each of the names of God and refused to expand beyond that as a matter of principle.

I got my ticket from the line for Presumed Patriots, people with yellow Patriot cards like mine. It was a shorter line, but it took longer to process through, and it led to a more stringent security check.

"One for the Shekinah, please," I told the Korean girl behind the counter.

She took my Patriot card and my debit card and laid them on the counter. Her eyes widened as she picked them up again, staring at me. "Are you really him? I mean, the one who bombed that factory and left the Fundies?"

I ducked my head a little, feeling suddenly bashful. "That's me," I admitted. Somewhere behind me in line, someone's phone or tablet alarm went off. It sounded a little like a rooster crowing.

"It must be Fundie day in space or something. They're going up in droves. Hope that won't make you uncomfortable?"

"I should be okay." I finished filling out the statement of intent and all the other questionnaires, then looked up. "What ship are they on?"

She looked puzzled for a second, then shrugged. "Pretty much all of them."

"I'm surprised the system is letting so many of them up at one time."

She tapped her touchscreen and grinned ruefully. "You know the government. This isn't about keeping people safe, it's about knowing who they can point the finger at, after."

The Roosterphone went off behind me again and a bull-necked man in uniform went over to "provide assistance."

I looked at the longer, faster line. "As long as they keep the Inherent Patriots happy, I guess." I checked my bag and filed through security's yellow-roped rat maze into the terminal, looking around for familiar faces.

I remember talking to Nick (formerly NICK DAWG) one time, after he'd had his tattoos removed and joined the movement, but before he squealed on me about Schenectady so he could go free and drop out of sight. He asked me if I still thought the Rapture was about dying and not going up bodily to Heaven. I told him then it was silly to adhere to the word choice and fickle translations of what had been written twenty-one hundred years ago. No one in their right mind would believe that nowadays. It was an analogy, I explained, poetic language using images that conveyed the message better then than they do now.

Kind of like how He referred to His followers as sheep back then, and today that docile species has been sheared and gene-burned into extinction.

I look across the crowded shuttle at Nick, who has seen me but refuses to meet my gaze. Elsewhere on the shuttle, and perhaps already aboard the Shekinah, the dwelling place of God, there are others.

I begin to understand now. Paul and his zealots would surely see this fleet of pleasure vessels with the long and unpronounceable names of God as an offense worthy of the ultimate sacrifice.

I smile at Nick and the rest as an attendant straps me in at the heart and all four points, explaining about weightlessness. I listen, but not closely. I'm wondering how they plan to do it.

I won't stop them. I've realized that the Fundies are no more open to peaceful, personal Christianity than mainstream America was to the non-materialism of His teachings. I won't stop them because I hear the Lord's voice again, saying Follow me, and leave the dead to bury their own.

They have made their announcements and crossed off their lists and now the world is clawing at my body, trying to anchor my bones with its gravity. Even the forced air tastes leaden. What Paul and the Fundies do today, they do without me and without God's love. Will they be forgiven the spectacular burning sacrifices they plan to offer?

I do not know.

But the weight is leaving my body and my body is rising to the heavens at what I now know to be the end of my days. Perhaps Nick was on to something about the Rapture. I turn my cheek toward him when I'm able. "God loves you," I say. "I forgive you."

The shuttle approaches the spacecruiser dock and people crane their heads to see the gigantic name of God painted on its side. But not me. I am content to wait until I can see Shekinah from the inside. I close my eyes, thinking about the room that's been prepared for me within.

Somewhere on the shuttle, I hear a rooster crowing.


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