Chapter Twenty-three – What Do You Want from Me?

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Talia dragged Keith away from the windows of a travel agency with posters of Greece and Turkey destinations. They were spending the day in the “big city” shopping and finishing up preparations for the trip. “We’re going there,” she laughed. “You don’t have to look at pictures.”

“The history of these lands is like a huge press,” Remmy explained as they climbed into a rental car. “Wine, olives, cheese, words, all are squeezed, and the faithful were squeezed, by war, by persecution. Sometimes they flowed out to other places. Sometimes they went into hiding. Sometimes they hid in plain sight.”

“They hid in plain sight? How can you do that?”
“So many ways. Let me give you an example from Europe. The Jews, the Marranos, as the Spanish called them, publicly claimed to have converted to Roman Catholicism under the threat of the Inquisition. Jews have the Mezzuzah, the little box on the doorpost containing Scripture. They would still have that box, but it would be part of a whole design, carvings around the doorway, and none would notice that one part which contained the treasure. Even for the Moors, the Moriscos, it was so. In a country where one ruler proudly displayed no less than five severed Moorish heads on his coat of arms, these people lived and served another faith, but very cautiously.”

“I’m glad Christians don’t have to do that in America,” Keith said.

“Really? You think you still have religious freedom in America, do you?”

“Sure we do.”

“Nonsense. How many people have been fired from their jobs for such trivial things as wearing a pin with the Pledge of Allegiance, containing the words Under God?”

“What? Nobody.”

“You are wrong. How many teachers have been disciplined for having a Bible on their desks – not even showing it or reading the Word to students, just reading it themselves during times when the students have seat work?”

“They can’t stop you from doing that. How do you know this stuff? You don’t even live in America.”

“In America you have a saying, ‘to keep the ear to the ground’, I believe it runs. I have been a long time keeping my ear to the ground. I listen, I watch, I see the chipping away that goes on. Christians are supposed to turn the other cheek, to bear all things, to be longsuffering, to always be loving. You see, the enemy has used our own Scriptures against us, just as the evil one used them against our Lord in the wilderness temptation. I read of someone who pointed out that Satan used more Scripture in one conversation than many faithful use in hours of ‘fellowship’.”

“I never thought about that. We get together for a youth activity and we play basketball, eat pizza, and at the end we have a devotional.”

“Exactly. Even when we have a choice, it is divided into tidy packages. Why do we not ourselves always try to press the word stored in our hearts, to make it flow out into all our lives, not just the ‘devotional’ parts? Do we regard it so lightly, that the basketball and the pizza, they are given more time? What do the Scriptures say, over and over and over again? They call for meditation. They call for prayer. They call for tucking the word into the heart. They do not call for the basketball or the pizza.”

Keith laughed uneasily. “Right. But look at our Bible as Literature class. That’s spilling over into the kids’ lives, into their families’ lives. We had no idea it would take hold like that.”

“It is the Word. That is what it does, if we truly let it. What do you think will come of this archival project they have taken your Bibles for?”

“It could be the greatest thing that ever happened. So many people use computers and the internet for Bible study already. You can meet people all around the world. You can study with them. Getting school students involved in it can only be good, right? And you saw it yourself. They didn’t take anything. They gave it all right back. Didn’t even bend a page out of my Bible. I checked.”

“Are you trying to convince me, or yourself?”

“But they said they respected our faith. They thought it was important.”

“I respect the huge dog with many shining teeth who guards my neighbor’s yard,” Uncle Remmy smiled, pointing out a ferociously barking animal as they pulled up alongside a bistro. “But what if I persuade that man that I cannot sleep for the barking, that I do not feel safe. He must build a high, strong fence. He must get a chain. He must put a muzzle on his dog. These are reasonable things, already laws in civilized countries. But his dog can no longer do what he obtained it to do. ‘Oh, look, what an admirable dog he has’, we can say, when it is restrained and silent and troubles us no more.”

“Wow,” Keith said. “But everyone whose opinion I value, everyone I love, said we should do this. I mean, you two were right there helping us carry the stuff out to the church van Sunday night.”

They ordered coffee and pastries. “I think maybe Uncle Remmy’s just playing devil’s advocate with you,” Talia ventured, shooting some sharp looks at her uncle.

“Talia tells us that you are ‘safety man’ at your school,” Sophia said. “She says how much you and your father care for these children, and for your beautiful sister and mother. We just want you to keep on doing that, to think ahead and to plan for the safety of these you love and honor.”

“Okay, so, are you saying we’re being too short-sighted? You’re giving us that van for Grandma and Joana, because you thought we weren’t considering their safety enough? Maybe you don’t realize that my mother and father spent everything they had taking care of Grandma, and then Joana got sick. My mom worked sixty-or seventy-hour weeks, and my dad still has two jobs.

“I just took off like some oblivious teenager, because I had scholarships and grants for college and no debt, and got my own place and my own car. When my mom dropped dead from a heart attack, I realized that I’d quit being Mr. Safety and started being Mr. Selfish. Dad and I sold everything we could possibly do without, and we have done the best we could. I don’t know what you want from me, but I’m just a guy trying to do what’s right. I don’t need this kind of grief.”

Keith jumped up and took off running. The others called out to him but he was in no mood to stop. He had gone to college here and knew the city fairly well, but finally ran out of breath in the park. He collapsed on a bench and tried to get his breathing back to normal.

“No way,” he muttered as the familiar rental car pulled up alongside the black wrought-iron fence.

“Please don’t be angry,” Talia said as she ran up to him. “They do it to me too. The new cellphone we just got you for the trip? Uncle Remmy can track the GPS.”

“Why do I keep feeling like I’ve suddenly become part of some super-secret spy mission, and that it’s up to me to save the world?” Keith demanded. “Who are you people? Why did you come to our town? What are we to you? Why did you even need our participation in this trip? What’s really going on with these Golden Testaments, and why in the world would you need our school’s help, or my help, to get them?”

“Get them all out in the open, Keith,” Sophia said. “Every question you want to ask. We promise to try to answer anything you want to know. Anything we can, at least.” Remmy and Sophia sat on a bench across the footpath and Talia sat next to Keith.

“Well, okay, then, did you or didn’t you know that this Repository Project was going to demand that we get all our Bibles and materials scanned?”

“We knew nothing about that part of the project. We asked Talia to become involved in it, frankly, because we wanted to learn more about it, and could get no information from the outside. We did not specifically choose your school or you. Talia sought the teaching job there, because we wanted to learn about the project from the perspective of a small, conservative school and community where the program would be new. We wanted to see the implementation from the beginning.”

“What about these new families?”

“We have no connection to them, and no specific knowledge of where they came from or why they chose this town to push their agenda. But this is a pattern, which I am sure you and your father and grandmother have already noted, to extend government control and extort compliance in places where they would likely find great resistance. These small towns require special handling. It took us a little time to realize that the Bible as Literature grants would first break down the resistance, and then create obligations, and finally force obedience.”

“So who are you people, that you feel like you need to get involved with us? Talia was the one who told dad about the program. Nobody showed up from the government. None of those parents brought it up.”

“We are just people, Keith, who want to try to preserve the Word of God and slake the Great Thirst. We know that many governments, not just the American government, are trying to stifle reliance on the Scriptures. They don’t want them taught. They don’t want them to exist. So of course we assumed this program must seek to do the opposite of what we would wish it to do. Talia wanted to make a stand, to make their plan, whatever it was, what is the expression? – backfire. She wanted to teach truth as truth, not as just another mythology. The two of you have succeeded beyond our wildest hopes, especially in the memory aspect of the class. Your memory clues have been simply brilliant!”

“Well, I just remembered all those crazy memory cues we had to learn for Science. Mnemonics, I mean. Especially for Chemistry. Like ‘Leo says Ger! or Leo the lion, Ger!’ T stuff like that for the Bible memory, especially the references. That’s what I always mess up on.

“Grampa used to say, ‘If the Scriptures are your best friends, why don’t you know where they live?’ So I told the class; here’s Galatians 2:20: ‘They only asked us to remember the poor, the very thing I also was eager to do.’ Think of two gals who ate two hundred and twenty peanuts. These gals weren’t much like Paul, which starts with a P, because they didn’t care about the poor, which also starts with p. So the gals help you remember the reference, and the P in peanuts reminds you of Paul, plus the P in poor, and then we’re ready to start working on the verse itself.’”

All three of his companions exploded with laughter.

“But to get back to the nasty now and now,” Keith continued, “How’s the trip connect to the Bible as Literature Class, anyway?”

“For over two years now, we have believed that we were being followed and spied upon in our work to discover the whereabouts of the Golden Testaments. We thought we were getting very close with the information we had that was leading us to search in the Levant or Anatolia. Things began to go wrong with our research contacts, our travel plans, our equipment … All of this convinced us that we must be on the right track, but that we must try to misdirect those who wanted to stop us. So we arranged for Talia to offer this trip to for the school.

“Who would suspect that we would take forty-five high school students along with us on a quest that has brought us more and more into danger? It was our hope that they would think we have given up, or were aimlessly fishing and no longer a threat. Indeed, recent events nearly persuaded us that we had to stop, when we learned that people would kill to stop us, and even those we would want to be our allies did not think us worthy.”

“Oh, so this is that ‘honorable man’ who said that you shouldn’t ‘play with defilement’?”

“We have promised to be candid with you, Keith,” Sophia said. “So we must tell you that Talia did not have pneumonia. Please do not think that she intentionally lied to you. We had an emergency and needed her to come to us in Naxos, so we had contacts here arrange for her to appear to have fallen ill and be hospitalized. Poor Talia did not even know what was going to happen.”

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