Sunday, November 25, 2018

The Beautiful Queen


There was once a girl who was so beautiful that she was known throughout the land. Her skin was fair, her eyes like those of doves, and her voice was like an angel’s. Her father provided for her, dressing her in the best clothes, giving her gifts often, and making sure that she was never in need of anything. Not only was this maiden stunning in her physical beauty, but her kindness and compassion were well-known. All the children in her village flocked to her, and she made time for each of them.

When it came time for her to marry, she had no shortage of suitors. In fact, there were so many that it was difficult to even begin the process. So she and her father came up with a solution. They enlisted some trusted friends and relatives to narrow down the suitors to just a handful. But even then it was hard.

As the girl agonized over her decision, her father thought of the carpenter in the village. He was a humble man who did not have much, but he was kind and gentle, much like the girl. The father introduced the carpenter and the girl, and they were an instant match. The father was sure that an engagement was near.

But then a king came to the village. He had heard rumors of the girl’s beauty, and had come searching for a wife. The king was tall and handsome. His clothes were fine and colorful. With him came attendants and wagons of jewels. He promised the girl the world. He would give her fine food, beautiful clothes, a majestic home, and anything else she could dream. After learning of the girl’s good heart and all that she did for the poor and helpless, he promised to help her with those endeavors. With his support, she could provide for even more people than ever before.

It did not take the girl long to choose the king. Soon there was a royal wedding, and it was grand. People came from all around to be witness to the marriage. The girl was now a queen, and the king lavished her. She was given handmaidens and her own home in the country. She had the best foods, brought from all over the world. Now that she was no longer burdened by the problems of everyday life, she had plenty of free time to practice her compassion on the poor and needy.

But this was when the girl, now a queen, began to realize that there was a problem in her perfect world. The king, who had promised to support her ministries to the needy, was nowhere to be found. He was always away on some crusade, conquering another nation. She found that the money and support he had promised her began to dwindle, as they were needed to fund his wars and conquering.
The only time the king paid her any attention was when he needed to garner support for his rule. He demanded that she be on his arm at every banquet and ceremony. All the common people swooned, because they made such a lovely couple. It made them swell with pride that they lived in a country that had such a beautiful, noble king and queen.

The beautiful queen lived in her mansion, trapped in a prison of her own wealth. She had to support the king, no matter what he did, because she depended on his money to support her care for the poor, as well as herself.

Eventually the beautiful queen became bitter and despondent. She soon only cared for buying things for herself, as it was the only thing that gave her short bursts of pleasure. As she turned inward, she became ugly and scarred. It wasn’t long until she was just a wrinkled old lady clad in gaudy jewelry. To the poor of the country, she had become a disgusting reminder of what wealth and privilege had done to them.

She died long before the king did, and those who didn’t find her disgusting thought that she was just irrelevant.

A Party

Brittany had always been the princess. Spoiled rotten is what they called her. Her older sister was the responsible one, the one you could always count on. Monica was sensible and safe. Brittany was a wild child, but her father was wrapped around her finger, so she never got in trouble. At least with him. There were plenty of times, however, when he had to bail her out of trouble with other people.

So it was no surprise when Brittany stole her father’s credit card and ran away. The surprise, however, was that he didn’t cancel the card immediately. He paid the bill when it came, using the charges to keep up with Brittany’s whereabouts. It was only when she maxed the card out that he finally canceled it. But he did this with great sadness.

In the meantime, Brittany had ran away to the city. She had dreams of becoming an actress and living a life of luxury. For her, every day would be an adventure. She would leave behind the boring small town life and live a fast paced life in the city. And it worked out like this for a while. But soon her expenses grew too great, and the credit card she relied on no longer worked.

She took a job waiting tables at a restaurant that required her to wear a skirt that was short and a top that was cut low. She learned to flirt with the men to get more money. It was there that she met a man that told her she could make more money if she would wear less clothing. He got her a job working at a club where she stripped for money. She was able to keep up her lifestyle because of how much money she made, though she felt dirty when she went to sleep at night.

Brittany became friends with some of the other strippers, and they all did drugs. She had always been adventurous, so she tried them too. It wasn’t long until she was addicted, and soon the money from stripping wasn’t enough. The same man who suggested that she strip told her that he could help her make more money. He could arrange men that needed her services, services that cost much more than stripping.

Soon Brittany was working all night on the street, giving most of her money to the man and keeping just enough to buy more drugs. He paid all her bills, so she was almost enslaved to him. He only gave her enough money to make it through the day. There was no way for her to get away, and soon she was trapped in a cycle of abuse. She wanted to go home, but she had stolen from her father and ran away without even saying goodbye. There was no way he would take her back, especially now that she was a prostitute.

But one day as she laid on a park bench, recovering from a high that had made her think she was going to die, she decided she had to go home. Maybe her father would let her pay rent and live in the house as a boarder. She found one last customer and then used the money to buy a bus ticket home.
When she arrived home, she found her father waiting on the porch. He ran out to the yard to meet her. She started to tell him that she would pay rent, but he refused to listen and just hugged her tightly. He brought her inside and then called their friends and family. He insisted that they have a large party for Brittany.

Brittany’s father wasted no time. He bought all sorts of food–steak, potatoes, shrimp cocktails, wine, and three large cakes. He even had “Welcome Home Brittany” written in icing on the cakes. A DJ was hired, and hundreds of dollars of decorations were purchased. No expense was spared, and Brittany was the center of attention.

Monica came home from class and heard the commotion that was going on inside the house. One of her cousins was outside, so she asked what was going on. Her cousin told her that Brittany was home, and they were having a party. Monica got angry and refused to come inside the house, so her father came out to see what was wrong.

“Daddy, I’ve never done anything to upset you. I’ve always done what was right and worked hard to make you and Mom proud. You’ve never had a party like this for me. But Brittany stole from you and worried us all so much, but you’re having a party for her? I don’t understand.”

“Monica,” her father replied. “You are my daughter, and I love you more than anything else. Everything I have is yours. But your sister was gone, and now she has returned. We thought she was dead, but she’s alive. So we should celebrate.”

Minimum Wage

David had been contracted to dig a long ditch for a waterline. It sounded like a simple job, and truthfully it was, but it had been made more complex by the fact that his entire crew had come down with some sort of flu. Now he was in need of several workers who could wield a shovel for the rest of the day.

Luckily, he knew a solution. He drove down to the local day-laborer center and found two men waiting. He told them that they could make one hundred dollars for a day of digging. They agreed quickly and jumped in his truck. David took them to job site and they started digging. After a couple of hours, David realized two men wouldn’t be enough to finish the job by the end of the day. So he drove back to the day-laborer center and picked up two more workers.

After lunch, David surveyed the job site and realized he still needed more help. With two more workers, he might be able to finish the job on time. So he drove to the day-laborer center once again and picked up two more workers. The six men worked hard, and the job was near completion. But time was running out, and David had promised to finish the job by the end of the day. So just to make sure, he went back to the day-laborer center and picked up two more men.

At the end of the day, the men all lined up to collect their pay. David started by paying the men who had come to the job site last. He paid them one hundred dollars each. This excited the men who had started the day with David, because they knew if the men who had worked only a couple of hours got one hundred dollars, they would get much more. When it came time for them to collect, David handed them one hundred dollars. They became angry and started cursing at David.

“Why are you upset?” David asked. “Isn’t this what we agreed to this morning?”

“Yes, but we worked hard all day, and those men just got here, yet we’re getting paid the same. That’s not right. You’re cheating us.”

“No, I’m not,” David replied. “You agreed to work all day for one hundred dollars. That is what I’ve paid you. Don’t be mad because I decided to pay the men who worked shorter hours the same. Don’t be mad because I’m generous. It’s my money, isn’t it?”

Seeds

Jim had been looking forward to spring since last summer. He had worked all winter, meticulously planning his lawn. He had done everything he could to make the soil as fertile as it could be. He had watered regularly, put down fertilizer, and even released some earth worms into the yard. He had read about the last one on a website for gardeners.

Now spring was here, and it was time to plant his seed. Right now his lawn was just a big patch of dirt. But by June it would be a luscious swath of green, the envy of the entire neighborhood. He had done all of the hard work. All that was left was the planting. He grabbed the large bag of seeds he had bought at the local nursery into a spreader and headed to the front yard. He began spreading the seed, moving in a carefully planned pattern.

Some of the seed fell on the sidewalk, and birds came along to eat it. Some of the seed fell into Jim’s neighbor’s yard. This neighbor didn’t take care of his yard, and as a result had many weeds. Jim’s seeds were choked out by the weeds. Other seeds fell too close to Jim’s house, where the soil wasn’t deep. Those seeds grew, but died quickly because their roots weren’t deep. But most of the seeds landed on Jim’s rich soil. Those seeds grew into a beautiful carpet of green, and Jim’s yard became the jewel of the neighborhood.

Two Prayers

The priest came here early in the morning. It was his parish, and his church, and he loved basking in its eerie silence. St. Bartholomew’s was a well-respected church, and he was a well-respected member of the town’s clergy. He stood for righteousness and truth, never wavering in his faith in God.

He came here each morning to pray. The priest knelt before the altar and closed his eyes, clenching his hands near his weathered forehead. His gray hair was tousled, and his bones creaked as he lay prostrate in the house of God.

“God, I am so thankful that I’m not like the lost,” he prayed. “I’m not an adulterer, or drug addict, or an embezzler. I fast often, I read my Bible regularly, and tithe much more than ten percent. Thank you for giving me such faith.”

The priest stood and looked across the altar. To his surprise, he was not alone, which was unusual for this time of day. Another man knelt, just like he had been. But his clothes were torn and dirty. His beard was wild and streaked with gray. The priest saw a sign of drug use in the man’s rotting teeth. The man was mumbling wildly and fidgeting constantly.

“Oh, God.....Oh, Jesus,” the man said loudly. “Oh God in heaven, have mercy on me. Please God, make me clean. Make it where I don’t want the drugs no more.”

The priest shook his head and thanked God once more that he was not like the pitiful masses that prayed in his church.

The Bank Account

Andrew couldn’t believe his bank statement. The money was coming in so fast that he couldn’t keep track of it. The numbers were shocking. He’d never seen that many zeroes in his life. When he started his career in investment banking he knew that he would be financially successful, but this was far beyond his wildest dreams.

Andrew leaned back in his chair and put his hands behind his head. The night was dark, and his office was illuminated by the glow of his computer screen. It suddenly dawned on him that he had too much money in his bank account. If something were to happen at the bank, such as a robbery or the bank failing, he would only be insured for the federal minimum, which he was now far above.

At first panicking, and then energized, Andrew began planning. After weeks of research, he felt he had an approach that would keep his assets safe. He would put his money into various high interest accounts, invest in stocks and bonds, and then keep some on the side to invest in ideas that he was interested in. Satisfied, Andrew went to bed that night and sighed with relief. He had finally made it. He wouldn’t have to worry about struggling to pay his bills, wouldn’t have to work long hours, and could basically relax for the rest of his life.

But as he lay there in bed, he was gripped by a troubling thought. What if he didn’t wake up? Who would inherit his fortune? He had no family to speak of, nor any close friends. He had spent most of his time making money. Andrew opened his eyes and stared up at the ceiling, freed from the grip of financial insecurity, but now enslaved by the thought of his own mortality.

A Trip to the Holy Land

Kurt’s legacy was hinging on this trip. As the new director of one of the largest interfaith organizations in the United States, he was planning on making a splash by organizing a tour of the Holy Land for a group of the most influential spiritual leaders in America. It would be ground-breaking, and a stunning example of his ability to promote tolerance and diplomacy among different faiths.

The first leg of the trip went well. There were no issues at the airport, no lost luggage, and no one got food poisoning from the airline food. The three leaders got along great, despite the fact that they had never met before. There was David Burroughs, pastor of one of the largest churches in America and a well-respected theologian. Then there was Harold Schulman, a rabbi and famous author. Rounding out their group was Abdullah Amen, a Muslim scholar that was a voice of tolerance and compromise.

As they toured the famous sites throughout Israel, the men joked and laughed together. They had serious discussions relating to faith, theology, and living a life that God desired. Kurt enjoyed just listening to these great men converse, and he knew that this trip would be something people would be talking about for years to come.

Three days into their time in Israel, the four men were eating at a trendy café in Jerusalem. As usual, the lunch was spent in deep conversation, and Kurt loved every minute of it. After about an hour they decided to continue on to the Wailing Wall, something they had all been looking forward to seeing. The three men of faith excused themselves to the restroom, and Kurt told them he would meet them at the car. He wanted to use the short walk to the parking lot to digest the fascinating thoughts he had just heard.

Kurt leaned against the car and soaked up the Middle Eastern sun. It was a beautiful day in Jerusalem, and he didn’t want this trip to end. From his spot on the car he could see the restaurant’s exit. He noticed that a homeless man had positioned himself by the door, possibly to ask for money or food. Not a bad strategy, Kurt thought to himself. The man was dirty and ragged, and looked like he had been beaten up recently. There were cuts and bruises on his face. His wrist was swollen and blue. He looked to be a Palestinian man.

The first out of the restaurant was Burroughs. He glanced down and saw the homeless man, then quickly looked up. He began walking quickly toward the car. Kurt couldn’t believe what he saw. He was now interested in how the other two men would react.

Amen was next out, and he too glanced down at the man and kept walking. Kurt now stood and watched intently as Schulman came out. Surely one of the three would at least acknowledge the man. But Schulman followed suit and walked right by the homeless man. Kurt was shocked.

He stared at the man and considered walking over to give him some money for food. But he didn’t want to risk offending his traveling partners. How would it look if he went over and cared for the man when they hadn’t? Just as Kurt was about to turn and walk away, he noticed something strange.

An Israeli soldier walked up to the man. The soldier had on a crisp uniform and carried a large gun. Kurt cringed as he realized that the soldier was going to make the homeless man leave. Kurt was worried, because it didn’t look like the man had the strength to walk anywhere.

But what he saw befuddled him. He watched the soldier stand next to the man for a few moments, but never look at him. Then very subtly, he dropped a large bill in the homeless man’s lap and walked away. If Kurt hadn’t been watching closely, he would have never seen it. He walked back to the car filled with the giants of faith that accompanied him on this trip. He could only shake his head.