Hello, my name is…

So how does an author choose the names of his or her characters?

Truly, the draft of my first of Max-and-Kat’s Thrill of the Hunt novels was finished and Kat’s name was Annie.

“Annie?” my wife the editor-in-the-shadows asked. “Wrong name.”

“Her name’s Annie. I like it,” I responded.

“Wrong,” she said. “It’s gotta be Kat.”

“‘Gotta be’?” I repeated, teeth clenched.

“No question. Annie’s too — too soft.”

“But I really like Annie?”

“Too soft.”

Guess what. It’s Kat with her curly red hair, flashing green eyes, stunning smile, alarming wit, and world-renowned archaeologist’s wisdom, who now inhabits the pages of three novels.

And Max? Phew, that cowboy-turned-special-ops hero, escaped the knife, the red pen of my wife’s imagination.

I think Francis Asbury is simply lucky that “Midnight Rider for the Morning Star” was about him, America’s first circuit-riding preacher who arrived on America’s shores just before the American Revolution broke out, and thus his name was beyond changing. She of the red pen would certainly change Francis to, say, Steve McQueen. (Oops. Sorry. That name’s taken by the coolest guy e-v-e-r, whose given name by the way was Terence Steven McQueen.)

But I digress. The question is, How do writers select the absolutely perfect name for each character in a manuscript? I find myself watching the entirety of the credits of TV shows and movies — right down through the folks holding the mikes and directing the lighting. I grind A-Z through a http://www.duckduckgo.com search for Hebrew girls’ first names; Muslim boys’ names; Irish nicknames; Texas history’s heroes and heroines; anything that might help capture the essence, substance and spirit of any character who plays a pivotal part in the book I’m writing.

Jigger Jacques, a French-Canadian lumberjack and my favorite character in “The Crossing” about the KKK in Maine in the 1920s, was fashioned after Jigger Johnson, who was famous from Maine to Michigan in the world of river-running loggers in the early 1900s.

Omri Zohn — first and last names both deep dives into Jewish history — was my choice for the Israeli-born MIT professor and Nobel laureate in “The Last Aliyah.”

We have a son named Darek — Dax for short and a gifted writer by the way — and so I stole his name for a modern-day investigative journalist in my upcoming end-times thriller, “Torn Asunder.” Dax has not yet complained or sued, so I think that character’s name will stand.

Even minor characters sometimes deserve memorable names, like Ned “Zaps” Zapper, the President’s chief of staff in “The Last Aliyah.”

 

Oh, and “Operation Jeremiah’s Jar,” my novel set in Israel, is a treasure trove, including:

 

  • Jerusalem Mayor Gabriela “Gabby” Burla;

 

  • Kefira “Keffy” Jankel, a hurricane of a second lieutenant in the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF); and

 

  • Oxana “Oxy” Meyuseff, another female soldier with Mista’arvim, the IDF’s anti-terrorism unit.

 

So there you go, and there I go. Before “Torn Asunder” goes to press I’ve got to change a couple of first names. It seems I got hung up on the “Js.”

 

Yep. Jessica, Jillian, Jake. Too tough on the reader. What was that cool Australian show I watched a couple days ago? I think I can rewind through the credits…

 

The Epilogue

I love epilogues.

When you have a book well written, a story well ended, it’s like a person’s life. There can be—hopefully will be—an epilogue. And that epilogue can be far cooler than even the most remarkable part of the book, just like heaven is far more thrilling than the most gratifying, exciting time in your life here on earth.

With an epilogue, you give the reader a glimpse into what happened after the end of your story. You can wrap up loose ends, tie a bow on the entire package, and punctuate the reader’s emotions with an exclamation point.

At the end of my novel, The Crossing, about the Ku Klux Klan in a small Maine town, readers would want to know what happened to the missing King Kleagle of The Crossing’s klavern as well as my favorite character, world-renowned woodsman Jigger Jacques. The epilogue answers those questions and more.

In Chasing the Music, about the globe-trotting hunt for the music of the Psalms and introducing black-ops veteran Max Braxton and archaeologist Kat Cardova, jihadist leader Mumim Maloof was unaccounted for … until the spine-tingling epilogue.

The epilogue of The Three Sixes, a tale exposing terrorist cells in America, was told in the sobering headlines of newspapers in an airport bookstore.

The epilogue of Operation Jeremiah’s Jar, Max and Kat’s third adventure, was actually a postlude, finishing the prophet Jeremiah’s story that began with the book’s prelude. Try that one on for size.

The entire contemporary thriller, The Last Aliyah, is actually an epilogue to my 1860s Underground Railroad saga, True North: Tice’s Story.

And my favorite of all may be the epilogue of my upcoming end-times novel, Torn Asunder. Of course the decision is tough. Kind of like when I’d ask a golf course architect what was their favorite personal design and they’d answer without hesitation, “The next one.”

Well, everyone’s favorite epilogue should be the one Jesus performed at the end of His life here on earth.

In John 16:7-8 Jesus says, “But I tell you the truth, it is to your advantage that I go away; for if I do not go away the Helper [Holy Spirit] will not come to you; but if I go, I will send Him to you.

“And He, when He comes, will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment.”

In Jesus’s epilogue, the Holy Spirit empowers all believers to work the miracles of Jesus and, He said, even greater works “because I go to My Father.” (John 14:12)

Now that is an epilogue for the ages. An epilogue in which we can all play a part. Just as others can play a part in our lives’ own epilogues when the time comes.

Yes, I do love epilogues.

But now I’m looking forward to the best epilogue ever — a Super-epilogue: His coming again.

And, dear friend, to learn of that you’ve got some reading to do.

My suggestions: Matthew 24, Mark 13, Luke 21 and Revelation 2:17.

Talk about epilogues!

Fate of Some Christians on Cutting Room Floor

My upcoming end-times novel, Torn Asunder, ran so long that I had to delete some scenes that felt like cutting off a finger. Well, one in particular felt like a more major limb. The reason for the pain is the truly demoralizing, depressing feeling I get when hearing of the murder of Christians in various parts of the world. In my manuscript’s case, that is the Sudan.

Just so that I can enlighten my blog audience as well as feel that my words didn’t go to waste, I want to share this scene with you.

Here goes:

Punjab lay on his straw mattress on the dirt floor, listening to the night sounds around the tiny hovel. He could hear his papa sleeping in the next room and was sure his father’s arm was wrapped around his mamma. Even in sleep his papa protected his mamma. Punjab figured his father’s subconscious kept aware of the dangers of being a Christian in Sudan.

Punjab thought of his many relatives who were now dead. His uncle, aunt and five cousins were among the forty-three people who had been burned alive while worshipping in their church when Muslim militia barred the door to escape, then set the building on fire.

Another uncle and aunt and three cousins had simply disappeared one night. Family and friends assumed they had either been killed and buried, or carried off and sold into slavery.

Here in their own village, eight days ago, nearly every home where Christians lived had been torched in one night, and when those sleepy inhabitants who could escape stumbled outdoors, the men over eighteen years old were shot dead where they stood, and the women and children carted away on a big flatbed truck.

Punjab and his family would have been victims themselves that night, but were visiting friends two villages away. Nevertheless, Punjab could picture the scene. He could hear the big truck sputter down the dark road, carting away the women and children to who knew where. The women called for their dead husbands. The children screamed in horror and desperation. Fear sent a shiver down Punjab’s spine and he pulled his one thin blanket up to his chin.

Punjab quietly prayed to God. He had seen far too much horror for a boy twelve years old. Peace was all he craved. Peace and a game of soccer, he said to himself, forcing a smile.

He thought of his two little sisters, Pouya and Mimri, and asked Jesus to grant them a life of peace as well. They were too cute and precious for anything else. They didn’t deserve less. They didn’t warrant being objects of hate. Just peace.

He pictured them flanking him, one on each side, holding his hand and strolling to the swimming hole at the nearby river. He looked at them in his daydream. Pouya, eight and full of spunk, eyes always twinkling, funny thoughts spinning around in her head and spilling out on her tongue. If Punjab had known about comedians, or gymnasts perhaps, he would have guessed that Pouya would grow into one or the other, or both.

Mimri, five, was a little princess, a girl if ever there were one. Though pretty princess clothes were unknown in Sudan, she would look perfectly at home in them. Two sets of very big, very brown eyes looked up at him in his daydream. He smiled and breathed a deep, satisfied breath.

Then, abruptly, the tranquility of Punjab’s reverie exploded with a crash at the front door. The door splintered. Their voices snarling, angry men burst into the home.

Punjab had wondered about this moment, what he would do if it happened. There would be no way of escape because the home had only that one door and its two windows bracketed that door. If men were armed, his family stood no chance. Even his father, who could lift a donkey cart all by himself, was defenseless against weapons.

He quickly asked God to rescue them supernaturally, then spun off his mat and ran to his sisters in the adjoining room. Groggy and confused, they looked at his figure in the dark. He knew they knew it was him, but before he could speak, a crushing blow to the back of his head sent everything spinning into darkness.

Very briefly, he heard his sisters scream. Somewhere in the home, his father shouted. Somewhere his mother…

Sometime later, Punjab awoke. His head felt like a knife pierced his skull. It was still nighttime, but he could see the dawning sun struggled to break the horizon. He half-lay on the ground, his upper body propped up against the wall beside his front door, his wrists tied behind him.

He winced at the pain in the back of his head and his temple, and a mammoth man stepped inside the door. A moment later the giant loomed over him and kicked him in the ribs.

“Get up, Christian swine!” he growled and kicked Punjab again, harder this time. Now the pain in his side overcame that in his head, and Punjab struggled to stand up. His equilibrium fouled up, his hands tied behind him, he barely got to his knees when he fell sideward.

The goliath grumbled something and a second man stepped inside. One on each side of Punjab, they grabbed his arms and yanked him up.

“You filth,” the giant said, then spit on the floor, “you become an example.”

Punjab fumbled the facts over in his mind, but the pain made it impossible to decipher them. Everything was awhirl, his vision spinning. Fragments of the night came to recollection. He was in his home. The door had burst open. Shouts. His sisters. Then—nothing. Until now.

“An example to others… like you… Christians,” spat the second man.

“Deny your faith,” demanded the first.

Punjab said nothing.

“Deny Jesus!” the man shouted.

Punjab could not deny his Lord and Savior.

A slap to his face snapped his head back.

“Deny or die!”

“No!” Punjab sputtered, spitting blood. “Never!”

“Then go to Sheol!” the giant growled, and they dragged him outside, shutting the door behind them.

Punjab felt like a rag doll in their hands. He was too weak and in too much pain to fight back. Thoughts of David and Goliath spun across his mind, but he couldn’t grasp them. He felt like his head was tumbling down a hill, over and over, over and over, and he couldn’t stop the sensation to create a clear thought.

In one sudden jerk, the men lifted him off the ground. As one of them held him aloft, the other lifted his right hand to his side at shoulder height. Punjab looked to his right just in time to see a huge spike hammered through the palm of his hand. He screamed and passed out.

Later—minutes? hours?—he awoke to see the rising sun over the field where his father planted soybeans. He felt strangely suspended, with excruciating pain in his hands and feet. He struggled to breath.

He looked about him. He was crucified to the door of his home. If he could see above his head, he’d know that with the blood that had poured from him, his tormentors had drawn a fish with an “X” crossed through it. A message for any remaining Christians in the village.

Hours later, a brave neighbor put his own life at risk and yanked the offending nails from the door, releasing Punjab from his horror. Punjab drenched his clothing in tears. He had no idea what had happened to his momma, his papa, and his two little sisters, Pouya the comedian and Mimri the princess.

 

Filling in History’s Blanks

Damariscotta 1.jpg

Damariscotta presentation at Skidompha Library on “The Underground Railroad in Maine.” A wonderful crowd!

THE HISTORY of the Underground Railroad here in Maine — its heroes and heroines, its “safe houses” and escape routes — continues to grow in width and breadth as I speak around the state.

The number of selfless, brave Mainers who dared to break the Fugitive Slave Law — and the prison and fines it mandated — is humbling to a self-centered 21st-century mind.

The most recent examples of bravery come from the Mid-Coast where in the spring of 1842 the Rev. Austin Willey of Hallowell was badly beaten and bloodied by an angry mob and unceremoniously thrown out of a hall in Damariscotta for preaching abolition.

Several local sources at my talks in Damariscotta and Orr’s Island came forward to mention three possible “safe houses” in Damariscotta, one in Bristol, one in Damariscotta Mills, one in Newcastle and one on Bailey Island.

Despite risky repercussions from pro-slavery neighbors (yes, half of Mainers reportedly supported the barbaric institution), the area was apparently bubbling over with mostly white people who saw the plight of slaves and determined to help.

(In many cases it’s difficult to be positive that a home was a “safe house” even if it contained a hidden room, or a false basement. Because it was illegal to house a fugitive, people kept those secrets close to the vest. They’d know who was bringing slaves to their homes and to whom they were to transport them… Any more knowledge was dangerous.)

That’s one reason I love the letter that Lenny and Danielle Goodine shared with me. When they bought their home in Palermo in 2017 they discovered the letter in a hidden room behind a closet. Written by Union soldier Charles to his wife in 1863, it said:

Dearest Sarah,

“I have missed you so very much as the fighting has been very heavy for the past few days. God, however, has been my stay. Without His help, and the thought of you, my love, I would have given up long ago. Many men in my camp have nearly given up hope of ever seeing their family again.

“There are times, my love, that verse comes to mind: “Behold, I have graven thee on the palms of My hands: Thy walls are continually before me.”

“God has done many things for me these past months. Things I could not even imagine.

“The farm is being well taken care of by your guests, I trust. Just make sure that they are not seen. Pretty soon you should send them on their way to Canada. Congress has enacted a new law, billed as the Fugitive Slave Law. Slave owners from the southern states can come to the north and recapture their slaves. Those harboring these fugitives can be arrested for doing so.

“Be careful. Please write to me. Your loving Charles

That was new information, found in 2017. So if you happen upon history please do share the discovery, whether it concerns the Underground Railroad, or any other part of lost history. Those heroes and places of significance deserve to be recognized and honored. And today’s generations should be informed about both the heroics and the evil perpetrated in the past.

Damariscotta 2.jpg

Damariscotta’s overflow crowd had an “artistic view” of the Powerpoint presentation.

Orrs & Bailey Island Yacht Club 2.jpgMy wife, Loy, and I loved Orr’s and Bailey Island Yacht Club’s airy room. The club’s hospitality was pretty top-of-the-line as well. Thank you, all, and for one member’s tip that “solid information” confirms the chapel at the Maine State Police Academy in Vassalboro (formerly the chapel at Coburn Academy) was a “safe house.”

Ad Hoc Repository of Revelations!

My thanks to all the folks who continue to add reported sites to my growing list of “safe houses” in Maine’s extraordinary Underground Railroad that helped fugitive slaves escape to Canada in the 1800s.

Feedback is never the same no matter where I speak on the topic of my novel, True North: Tice’s Story.

A full theater-seated room at Skidompha Library in Damariscotta revealed two new “safe houses” — one in  that town and another in Thomaston.

A packed house for the Joshua Chamberlain Roundtable at Curtis Memorial Library in Brunswick included one lady whose Dad had taken her into Brunswick’s amazing mile-long escape tunnel when she was a child; a woman who confirmed earlier reports of a second safe house in Wiscasset besides Castle Tucker; and a gentleman who had a lead on another site on the west side of the Kennebec River in Augusta.

The Kennebec Historical Society seated a record crowd, including a gentleman who reported his home on Summer Street in Augusta had been a safe house. More on that when confirmed.

Together, we’re filling out the known way stations for those scores of frightened fugitives escaping slavery, many of whom were being chased by slave hunters.

The number of safe houses in Maine has mounted to more than 80 from Kittery to Ft. Fairfield and even up in Ft. Kent.

This was an important period in Maine and America’s history — a time forgotten in Maine history textbooks. And we should not forget history or… what? (We will be “condemned to repeat it.”)

It’s uplifting that so many men and women put their fortunes, and families, in danger to help others when they did not have to. They allowed their consciences to overcome their fears.

I hope we all contemplate the question: Would I do the same? Would I be prepared for perilous times that might come? Would I face dread consequences for helping a person in trouble?

Chamberlain 1

Some of the full house at the Joshua chamberlain Round table in Brunswick, Maine.

 

History Archaeologists

While archaeologists (like Dr. Kat Cardover in three of my contemporary novels) dig underground for clues of cultures past, as I speak around Maine about the Underground Railroad of the 1860s and the Ku Klux Klan of the 1920s, I’m finding a treasure troth above the ground: living, breathing people.

My “digs” are in libraries, historical societies, cultural centers, churches, homeschool conferences, and even a yacht club. And my “archaeological finds” are the attendees’ stories.

Sometimes the most fascinating history isn’t found in a book by Doris Kearns Goodwin (about American presidents), or Leo Tolstoy (the Napoleonic wars), or Robert Graves (I, Claudius).

Sometimes the source is our friends and neighbors and audiences.

History is locked in their heads, not buried in the earth. It is stories told by great-great-great-grandparents to their children and their children’s children down through the generations.

It’s a letter from a soldier to his wife, discovered in 2017 in a hidden room at their farm in Palermo, Maine. It’s an aged dissertation written by the son of a Southern plantation owner trying to affirm the righteousness of his now-lost cause.

Yes, while textbooks fail us, oral history seeps — unbidden but always welcome — out of the most wonderful, obscure hiding places.

The Underground Railroad and the KKK in Maine are ignored in history books for different reasons, I’d guess. In the 1860s people simply didn’t go public that they were “conductors” or operated “safe houses” on the Underground Railroad because they could be jailed and fined.

The KKK? Perhaps the reason for its absence from Maine history books is the same reason German schools basically whiffed for decades on teaching children about concentration camps. The Holocaust was appalling, reprehensible, shameful, and deadly for six million souls, and they didn’t want to think this way of their ancestors, or even acknowledge such a bleak, evil time in their own country.

Maine schools rarely if ever teach about the brave men and women who put their lives and fortunes in peril to help escaping slaves in the 1800s.

But now is a good time to do so and not simply because of my novel, True North: Tice’s Story. The Underground Railroad is ripe with fascinating, invigorating, uplifting tales.

For other reasons, schools never teach about the Ku Klux Klan’s amazing rise to social and political prominence in the 1920s in the Pine Tree State, where Catholics and Jews were its main targets.

Again, now’s the time to teach this bit of history, and not because of my novel, The Crossing.

Slowly, from our new “archaeologists,” my wife, Loy, and I are adding previously unknown “safe houses” to the amalgam of places along Maine’s trails to freedom in Canada.

Two weeks ago in Skowhegan we were told of safe houses in Norridgewock (to the southwest of Skowhegan) and Cornville (to the northwest), yet none in Skowhegan itself.

Last week in Springvale the news included safe houses in Sanford, Kittery Point, Acton and Shapleigh.

Speaking in Pittsfield, a lady in Newport fessed up that she had discovered her grandfather’s KKK robes in the attic and burned them in her backyard. A similar story was told in Biddeford.

Thank you, one in all, for unveiling your previously “buried” mysteries so that we can expand on Maine’s and the nation’s history.

Harland Eastman and me

Top Photo: I speak in Springvale, Maine, about the Underground Railroad to a crowd who added three new “safe houses” to our growing list.

Above Photo: Among the group was former U.S. Ambassador Harland Eastman, longtime president of the Springvale Historical Society.

An Interview with the False Prophet

So you, dear reader, are a reporter (Boo! Hiss!) and you’re interviewing the leader of Church Universal, which has been created by the One World Government to bring all religions together as one.

What would you ask His Excellency Howard Alphonse Bliss?

Here’s the setting for my End Times novel, Torn Asunder, I’m in the midst of writing:

Truth Publications feature writers Darek and Jillian Field and religion writer Ty Cole are in Jerusalem to interview Bliss, who proves a slippery subject when questioned on matters of theology.

Please give the scene a read and let me know how our three intrepid reporters did and if you have a good question or follow-up that they missed. (They’ll take the blame in my stead.) Here goes:

“So glad you came, Mr. and Mrs. Fields. Nice to see you again, Mr. Cole. Please have a seat. Ravi,” Bliss turned to his assistant, “would you have Owandu bring in a tray of coffee, tea and biscuits?”

Chettri bowed. “Yes, your Excellence,” and left the room.

“Well, this must be quite an assignment for me to get three of the world’s foremost reporters,” Bliss remarked, sitting down in one of a circle of overstuffed leather chairs.

Ty lowered himself into in a wide leather chair and Jillian took a seat with Darek in a leather love seat.

Jillian was impressed that Bliss did not take the place of authority behind his desk. She measured the man before them. Taller than Darek by about two inches—probably six-foot-two. Narrow-shouldered. Definitely not athletic. Piercing blue eyes. A narrow mouth with thin lips. Oozing with confidence.

Darek spoke first. “Jillian and I want to look at the cultural impact of Church Universal. Mr. Cole is here to get the religious perspective.”

“Fine. What can I tell you?” Bliss asked. “Fire away.” He sat back, looking comfortable and at ease. A snake in lamb’s clothing.

“Bottom line first,” Darek said, setting down a tape recorder on the table in front of Bliss and clicking it on. “Why create Church Universal in the first place?”

Bliss ran his fingers through his blond locks, then interlocked them in front of him, alternately raising his fingers (the old church steeple game, Jillian thought) and curling them.

“Centuries of disharmony,” Bliss said. “Millennia, actually. Enough is enough. A major barrier between religions is that each has thought, ‘I’m right. Everyone else is wrong.’ This is an old trick of Satan that we first read about in the Garden of Eden. And killing each other in the name of God and ‘what we think is right’ is absurd. I’m sure God would have none of it.

“And we found that there were a number of us—from all religions—who felt the same way. Peace is a universal word, a universal concept, and, we think, the basis for a universal religion.”

“But,” Ty said, “how do you get around the fact that these various religions have, for millennia, worshipped very different gods?”

“Whatever gods they’ve worshipped are enshrouded in myths, fairy tales, and stories written by men and, thus, with man’s errors,” Bliss said. “We feel we can’t truly know God, or the gods if there are more than one, because of our limited minds as compared to the great Mind that created the universe. And if we can’t know Him, how can we define Him? It’s best, we feel, to simply agree on the concept. There is a God, or gods, and He or they want peace for mankind.”

“How do you marry that concept with the Allah of the Muslims ordering the destruction of people of all other religions unless they relent and worship him?” Jillian asked.

“I don’t have to reconcile it,” Bliss said. “I don’t have to reconcile anything any of the religions lays claim to. Truly, I don’t care to debate any point of any religion. My belief—and, yes, my life—are based solely on the idea of peaceful co-existence. A loving God would want nothing less.”

“What of the remark by Jesus,” Jillian interjected, “that ‘no one can get to the Father except through him’?”

Bliss shook his head slowly. “As I said, I care not to debate any particular scripture of any particular religion. What we’ve created here is a universal religion, one that all mankind can believe in and follow without any of the trappings of existing belief systems.”

Ty leaned forward. “I’m reminded of the old saying, ‘If you stand for nothing you’ll fall for anything.’ The leaders of Church Universal are mere men. So how do you expect Christians and Jews to turn away from the teachings they believe came from the mouth of God—or Muslims, Hindus and others who believe in their gods?”

“Mere men, yes. But, we believe, men who are ordained and anointed by God to the task at hand,” Bliss said. “To your point, we believe in unity in cause even if there is not total unity in faith. Unity in cause is central to our duty as the Church Universal. And, again, that cause is peace. Ask any Christian if they want peace. Ask any Muslim.”

“The Muslim might answer ‘yes’ with their lips while firing a bullet into a Jew with the rifle in their hand,” Darek said.

That’s my man. Straight and to the point.

Darek continued, “Isn’t this ‘cause in unity’ too simple for such complex theological and political disagreements?”

Just then the door opened and a dark-skinned woman entered, carrying a tray complete with tea kettle, coffee carafe, and a plate of biscuits. Behind her, a blonde, blue-eyed Norwegian-looking young lady came in, carrying a tray with cups and saucers, cream and sugar. Jillian was startled by their stunning beauty. Setting down the trays, the two women poured what the four people requested.

“Thank you, Owandu, Kari,” Bliss said as they finished. Settling back with cup and saucer in hand, he turned toward Darek. “You mentioned the simplicity of our cause in these complex times, Darek. May I call you ‘Darek’?

Darek nodded assent.

“If it were too simple, would some of the great religious leaders of their time sign onto the concept as early on as 1996?”

“Like who?” Jillian asked, edging forward in the love seat, wondering if his response would confirm what she knew to be true.

Bliss did not lie. “From February through April 1996,” he said, “Episcopal Bishop William Swing traveled through Europe, India and the Middle East, hoping for a Church United—a sort of United Nations of Religion. He sought commitment from such leaders as the Dalai Lama, Islam’s Grand Mufti in Cairo, the Sankaracharya of Kancheepuram, Mother Theresa, and the Archbishop of Canterbury. He also sought pledges from people active in interfaith work, including those at a conference at the International Interfaith Centre in Oxford. In July and August 1996, the bishop visited with religious leaders in Japan and Korea.

“In the end, he enlisted the commitment of many of the world’s religions, and that of Mother Theresa.” Bliss looked triumphant, his chest swelling.

“Amazing,” was all Jillian could whisper.

“Do you have records of this trip?” Ty asked.

“Yes, and I’ll provide them to you,” Bliss said. He leaned behind him, pushed a button on his desk, and said into a speaker, “Ravi, please put together a packet of information on Bishop Swing’s 1996 travels enlisting collaboration for the Church United. We’ll need it before our friends leave.”

“Yes, your Excellence,” came the reply.

Bliss turned to Jillian, Darek and Ty and, looking each in the eye, continued, “In keeping with your question, Darek, the same God who made the hands of a Jew, made the feet of a Christian, the eyes of a Hindu, the heart of a Muslim, and the brain of a Buddhist.

“The Bible even says that, in God, there is no male or female, Jew or Gentile. We in Church Universal believe we’re all brothers and sisters in God, created by the same Father (or fathers, or even father and mother, if you prefer).”

Ty interjected, “The Koran declares God has no Son and Mohammed is his prophet, directly contradicting the New Testament.”

“As I said,” Bliss responded, “I will not get entangled in scriptural arguments of the different faiths. That’s not my calling. Peace and unity. Peace and unity. I’ll go on with this refrain until my dying day.”

Bliss’s piercing blue eyes zeroed in on Ty. “We have to love each other as brothers in God the Creator. You and I. Jews and Muslims. Christians and Hindus. Yes, and Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses who, I’m sure you think, are cultists.

“We’re all brothers and sisters in God just as two people born from the same parents are brothers and sisters. We all descend from Adam and Eve. Or, if one still believes in Darwinism—which I, personally, feel has been sufficiently debunked—we come from the parents of the first primate. Whatever we call ourselves today—Jews, Christians, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, Bahá’í—we share a common ancestry.”

Jillian began to ask a question, but Bliss held up a hand. “And I might add that whatever the name of ‘God’ may be in different languages—Yahweh, Allah, Dios, Dieu, Dio, Gott, Brahman—he is the same Being.”

“How on earth, Mr. Bliss, can you have a religion, Church Universal, without a specific theology?” Jillian asked.

“My answer, Jillian, is that I do have a personal theology that guides my own life. But Church Universal is just that: universal. We can’t take sides and nit-pick about the particulars, or the semantics, of any single religion. Because of that, though I may have a personal belief on all sorts of topics, I won’t get involved in debates on any of them.

“But I want to emphasize that religious tolerance is not religious indifference. Tolerance values the right of another person to hold beliefs you think are wrong. We are, above all else, tolerant.”

Jillian slumped back in the loveseat. Slippery as slime. This guy could have been a politician of the highest order.

“Well, okay,” Darek interjected. He sipped from his cup and set it down. “I’d like to ask you about the extra-religious activities of the Church Universal.”

“Please do,” Bliss said. He crossed his legs, at ease.

“You have the support of the One World Government and Sardis. How much do you intend to get involved in government affairs?” Darek asked.

“As we’ve stated in an early white paper, we cannot escape, and indeed should embrace, the task history has imposed on us,” Bliss said. Forming his hands as if holding a basketball in front of him, he added, “This is the duty of helping to shape a new world order in all its dimensions—spiritual, economic, political, social.”

“What of Paul’s admonition: ‘A good soldier does not get involved in civilian affairs’?” Ty asked.

“Obviously, I disagree,” Bliss replied flatly.

“What are some of the specifics you refer to when you mention ‘helping to shape spiritual, economic, political and social dimensions’?” Jillian asked.

“We’re establishing priorities right now,” Bliss said. “How do we wrestle with population problems? Can we mediate in conflict resolution between religious groups in regional hot spots? How can we spearhead efforts to eradicate poverty? And climate change? In what ways can we help single mothers with day care, or help young women making the choice for or against abortion, or entire neighborhoods facing extinction because of massive job losses? There is a plethora of issues, of challenges, that Church Universal must discuss and determine the parameters of our role.”

“So, at this point you have no specifics?” Jillian pushed.

“I’m afraid not. But those will come soon enough. You’ll notice a lot of empty space in this building,” Bliss said. “Before long those spaces will be filled—occupied by people handling these issues.”

“What happens,” asked Darek, “if Church Universal is at odds with One World Government on a particular issue?”

“Compromise,” Bliss said firmly. “It’s a wonderful word, a marvelous concept, and a fruitful way of doing business. You’re from America, a great country whose history is defined by compromise. Where would it be without compromise?”

“A whole lot better off, some would say,” Jillian responded.

“Well, I don’t believe it. The opposite of compromise is conflict, and the ultimate conflict is war. What has war ever proven?”

“Without America going to war, Hitler would have conquered the world and then you’d have no chance to compromise,” Jillian countered.

Bliss waved off her answer. “You may argue anecdotally, but compromise is the only answer to the great challenges facing mankind and Mother Earth today. Premier Sardis is a master of compromise; he has to be. I believe I’ve displayed that I’m also adept at conciliation. Working together, we’ll show the world what truly great leadership is.

“Premier Sardis and the One World Government leadership have relentlessly distanced themselves from prejudice, intolerance, discrimination, oppression and hate.” A pained expression filled Bliss’s face and he continued, “Those are five fruits that the world has, too often, witnessed in connection with the various long-time religions. Church Universal has and will continue to distance itself from these characteristics as well. These are fruits of bad religion and bad religious people.

“Yet, we’ve seen them among imams, pastors, rabbis, et cetera, et cetera, for thousands of years. God abhors hypocrites, and that, my friends, we intend never to be.”

With that, Bliss thumped his clenched fist on the glass coffee table before him.

Darek turned to Jillian, gave her a half-smile as if saying, “Watch this,” then faced Bliss. “Back to my question of what happens when Church Universal and One World Government are at odds. You say compromise, but will the two of you compromise on all issues? And, more fundamental to the question: What makes you think Church Universal should have any say at all in crucial matters facing the world?”

Bliss was unflustered. “The One World Government has the final say, of course. But we will be vocal. I have one example for you.”

“That is—?” Ty responded.

“Cloning. Cloning has come a long way in the last couple decades, but no man has, or can, create a human being—or even one small part of a human being—from scratch.

“Because cloning is unnatural, I oppose it. We’re playing God when we create clones to harvest their body parts. We’re playing God by simply attempting this process. But Premier Sardis and others have decided it is not in our realm to stop this science. So—”

“But compromise is not compromise when it’s one-sided.”

“I disagree.”

Jillian and the others waited for him to explain.

After several moments, clearly no explanation was coming.

Time for the leap.

Jillian pointed toward Bliss. “How do you respond to the people—Christians, I should say—who are declaring that Church Universal, and you in particular, are the embodiment of what was prophesied in Revelation? That Premier Sardis is Antichrist and you are his False Prophet?”

Bliss’s face, for the first time, noticeably reddened. His nostrils flared. An eyebrow jerked skyward. Jillian wondered if he would reach across and slap her and envisioned Darek breaking his arm.

But, no, he remained seated and drew in a deep breath. There was a deathly silence. Jillian, Darek and Ty took a collective breath, Jillian wondering about the answer and knowing they would be ushered out of the office when Bliss was finished with this question.

“I’ll give you a short and a long answer,” Bliss finally replied. “The short answer is, that is absurd. I can not speak to the intent of such people; I can only forgive them for defaming Premier Sardis and me.”

Sidestep number one, Jillian thought.

“The long answer is that these people should be looking forward to the coming of the Messiah, not trying to dredge up some sort of Antichrist or False Prophet. I, like these Christians, am looking forward to the coming of the Messiah. But I believe his coming is being hindered by such people as this.

“The Creator wants His great energies to flow to earth to produce the physical manifestation of the Messiah. But that flow can only happen when mankind raises its collective consciousness to be properly awakened receptors.”

New Age, anyone? Jillian shook her head.

Bliss noticed her response and raised the middle three fingers on his right hand. “I believe there are three types of people on earth: Those whose consciousness has been properly raised so they can readily accept the Messiah; those whose consciousness has been raised somewhat but not so high that they can readily and immediately accept him, but they might be able to accept him after further enlightenment; and those who will never accept him. These Christians, speak as they might about Jesus being their Savior, are deaf and dumb to what he said and stood for while living among us. He spoke of love, forgiveness, sanctification, and accountability.

“As for me, I’m at peace with who I am. And that is not the False Prophet, but the leader of a great movement to reconcile men—” he eyed Jillian, “and women to each other. And if you want proof of the goodness of Premier Sardis and myself, simply check with Owandu if you see her on your way out.

“That young lady had terminal cancer. She was weeks, perhaps days, from death. But we prayed over her, laid hands on her, and today, as you can plainly see, she’s healthy, restored, and happy. Would the Anti-Christ and the False Prophet actually heal someone?” He spit out the question. “I think not!”

With that, Bliss stood. The redness began to retreat from his face, his blue eyes sparkled, smile lines wrinkled alongside his eyes, and his right hand shot out to offer firm handshakes to his three visitors.

Have at it, dear reader.