Category Archives: Stories

WHO WAS THIS ADAM GUY?

If we read literature of any kind we can’t escape references to Adam and Eve, Abraham, and Moses, Delilah and Bathsheba, Mary and Joseph. Who were these people? OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

All these and many more inhabit the Scripture’s story line. Depending, of course, on your view of Scripture they may be historical or mythological.

Personally, I believe that Scripture is the most comprehensive and accurate record of history that we have. Unlike Zeus or Ulysses, these were real people. There is far more proof for the Bible’s authenticity than for ancient Greek or Roman writing. But more important, the lessons they teach us about life, for good or ill, are of inestimable value.

Character defines who we are more than our stature, ethnic background or hair colour. And our family and the people we hung out with have influenced our character for good or ill. In this series of blogs, I invite you to hang out with Bible characters. Let their livDSCN2176 - Copyes impact you for good. Learn to embrace their good qualities and avoid their mistakes.

Of course, if your character is already perfect [tongue firmly in cheek] you might want to follow these blogs just to bone up on universals embedded in Western culture. Allusions to the ten commandments, the good Samaritan, Bathsheba, Samson, and so on.

Consider first Adam, who–as indicated by Jesus Himself–was not a type or symbol of humanity but a real person. God created Adam in His own moral image and gave him responsibility to steward the resources of earth at a time when the environment was ideal. “Then God saw everything that He had made, and indeed it was very good” (Gen. 1:31). “The Lord God planted a garden eastward in Eden, and there He put the man whom He had formed”(Gen 2:8).

Within the godhead, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit enjoy a loving and expressive relationship with each other. God knew, “It is not good that man should be alone” (Gen. 2:18). And so He created Eve as Adam’s companion to somewhat replicate the divine interaction of the persons of the godhead. Alexander Whyte in this book on Bible Characters describes Eve as “sweet, warm, tender, wistful, helpful, fruitful—a love full of 00008_s_15amtvyymk0021nice and subtle happiness.”

Loving relationships form the foundation of human experience. We were created to relate to others not to live as loners. In relating well to one another, in marriage and in other human relationships we reflect the image of God in us.

As divine image-bearers Adam and Eve possessed qualities that reflected on a limited scale divine qualities. Their intellectual ability qualified them to communicate and investigate. Their creative ability enabled them to originate things and value beauty. Their administrative ability prepared them to wisely care for the world. Their moral image enabled them to be and do righteously. “God saw everything that He had made, and indeed it was very good.”

We should celebrate the amazing potential that God has created within us. That potential should move us to use our abilities to bless the places where we live. As a children’s song tells us, “God don’t make no junk.” As image-bearers we should honour and respect all people. Racism, prejudice, and arrogance are clearly sub-human, evil.

Adam and Eve were placed in an idyllic garden where they could enjoy fruit from all the trees except one–the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. One prohibition! They had free will to choose to obey or not. They faced thousands of positive, attractive, nutritious options. Delicious fruits. Only one temptation. WOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAhat did they do? What will we do with all the healthy, constructive, godly options that we enjoy? Will we choose obedience or will we be drawn to harm ourselves by choosing hurtful options?

Satan slithered into the garden and temped Eve. He said, “You shall not surely die for in the day you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil” (Gen3:5). She “saw that the tree was good for food, that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree desirable to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate…gave to her husband” (Gen 3:6). Temptation exerts a powerful appeal to us by enticing us through the lust of the flesh (an appeal to our physical appetites), the lust of the eyes (an appeal to something we want to possess) and the pride of life (something to enhance our ego). Let us ask the Lord to help us recognize temptation in these three areas and resist its downward pull.

Eve chose to disobey the one command God gave her. Adam knew it was wrong but yielded to Eve’s offer of the fruit. Both broke God’s command. But when asked by God what they had done they pointed their fingers instead of accepting blame. Eve blamed the serpent, Adam blamed Eve and God! Adam said, “The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me of the tree and I ate.” Eve said, “the serpent deceived me, and I ate.” (Gen 3:12,13)

DSCN4987 (2)Both Adam and Eve played the blame game. Eve blamed the serpent. Adam blamed Eve. Part of the fallen nature that we inherit includes the propensity to blame others for our sins and weaknesses. Our parents. Our education. The government. The environment we grew up in. The church. Our friends. God. If we would mature spiritually, we need to stop blaming others and accept personal responsibility.

From Adam and Eve we learn about our need for relationships; the fantastic potential enshrined in ever human; the importance of obeying God’s commands; the need to make careful, moral choices; and about our propensity to blame others for our sins.

(Further articles, books, and stories at: http://www.countrywindow.ca –  Facebook: Eric E Wright –   Twitter: @EricEWright1  –  LinkedIn: Eric Wright )

 

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Is Fiction Inferior to Non-fiction?

Many of the people I meet at book tables explain to me that they only read non-fiction. The implication is that fiction is somehow inferior. Just give me the facts whether of history or engineering or finance—write it out for me in logical order.

Non-fiction writing has great value. I’ve written nine non-fiction books and many articles. But soon after my book, Revolutionary Forgiveness was published, a neighbour asked me a question. “Why don’t you write about forgiveness using the medium of a story with descriptions of characters dealing with bitterness and hurt?’

Good question. I still feel it is important to summarize biblical teaching on forgiveness [and other subjects] and give examples of those who have abandoned bitterness and resentment. But in some ways fictional characters and situations can illustrate more deeply the thoughts and feelings, the anguish and pain of unforgiveness. Fiction can also reflect powerfully on the subtleties of joy and peace that comes with forgiveness.Scan_20170327 (5)

Consider historical fiction. It is one thing to read the facts and figures of life and death, of battles and defeats that occurred in World War Two. But when we read, for example, All the Light We Cannot See, by Anthony Doer, the effects of the war on allies and enemies become stark. We feel the story. A French family with a blind daughter open up to us the anguish and fears that reverberate deep inside the psyches of an occupied people. In the same book, a German family gives us an agonizing glimpse into the pressures and fears that drove many to conform and even resort to unbelievable cruelty under the Reich.

Rust Bucket jpeg, 288 pixOr take slavery. We are told that there are an estimated 27 million slaves today; men, women and children being trafficked for sale to brothels, farms, and businesses. Telling the true story of one or two who escaped can put a face on this evil. However, fiction, written, as I have done in Captives of Minara and Rust Bucket, helps to illuminate both those who traffic and those who are kidnapped. We can gain a heightened a sense of the unbridled malevolence of its practitioners and agony of the victims.

What about indigenous affairs in North America? The Back of the Turtle or The Inconvenient
Indian
by Thomas King, or Susan Cooper’s The Ghost Hawk probably accomplish more in raising awareness and sympathy than a dozen government studies.

Think of geogrScan_20170327 (6)aphy. In Christy, by Catherine Marshall, we journey back in time to an earlier day in t
he Great Smoky Mountains. We might be able to read depictions of the flora and fauna, the slang of the people and their superstitions in non-fiction books but we would miss the living sense she gives of people and place. We would not feel ourselves walking with Christy among spring dogwoods.

Consider terrorism and Islam. We have myriad books written about Islam, pro and con, but without fiction books such as The ReScan_20170327 (4)luctant Fundamentalist, or The Association of Small Bombs by Karan Mahanjan, we will miss insights into the influences moving liberal Muslims to become militant as well as the anguish of those affected by their militancy.

But let me hammer in the final nail in the coffin of those who restrict their reading to non-fiction. Do you mean to tell me that the method of the greatest teacher of all time is defective? That is, should we discount the parables and stories Jesus told to teach us about how to act and believe? The parable of the good Samaritan. The Lost Sheep. The Rich Man and Lazarus. I doubt any would go that far. Jesus not only taught straight-forward principles—the sermon on the mount—but a multitude of stories. He was the penultimate story-teller. It is an honourable calling.

Give fiction a try…but be careful of your choices. Not all fiction is created equal.

(Further articles, books, and stories at: http://www.countrywindow.ca Facebook: Eric E Wright Twitter: @EricEWright1 LinkedIn: Eric Wright  Also check out his books on Amazon.)

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Rumors of My Demise

Last week I got a startling phone call from a friend, laughing about the fact that I was alive and kicking. Evidently, he had just received an inquiry from a cousin in a neighbouring town about my demise. What!

The newspaper in that town, the Peterborough Examiner, had printed a long and glowing obituary about my writing career. My photograph accompanied the piece.

In the next day or two, both our church office and my son-in-law received calls about my passing.

However, the gentleman they eulogized was not me, Eric E. Wright, but Eric Wright a mystery writer from Toronto who has written a series of books featuring a Toronto policeman.

Oh, the ignominy, or pale glory, of living under the shadow of a popular anderic-fall2 well-known personality. Just the month before, as has often happened, shoppers at a book fair had assumed I was that mystery writer. “Didn’t we see a review of your books in the Toronto paper?” Sadly, no.

Occasionally, I’ve been tempted to enjoy his reflected popularity. In the summer I received an email informing me that I had been the honoured recipient of an award for lifetime achievement–only the second time that award had been granted. For ten seconds I thought, how wonderful! Then I realized it was my nemesis. Augh! I immediately sent back an email declining the honour.

At other times the confusion has been scary. Years ago our bank called up one morning to inform us that we were thousands of dollars overdrawn in our US account. After our initial shock, we realized that it was our most worthy colleague. Fortunately, the bank rather quickly back-peddled when they realized it was the other Eric Wright charging a rather expensive Caribbean vacation to his account.

About the obituary; I phoned the editor and explained the confusion. He profusely apologized for this serious error. Evidently, when they accepted the article from one of their stringers, they just went to their huge online catalogue of pictures and picked an Eric Wright photo. They had actually, printed a review of one of my books in the past. As a consequence of their error, the editor promised to print a retraction with some reference to my ten published books and a link to my web site.

Book collageFinally, I may come out from under the shadow of my nemesis and get some publicity. Mind you, I’m not going to hold my breath—but it could happen. At least I’m in good company. Wasn’t it Hemmingway who said, “The rumors of my demise have been greatly exaggerated?”

(Further articles, books, and stories at: http://www.countrywindow.ca Facebook: Eric E Wright Twitter: @EricEWright1   LinkedIn: Eric Wright )

Escape Across the Baltic

I had no idea my visit to a local coffee shop would introduce me to a man who barely escaped both the Nazis and the Reds. I’m a writer who sometimes visits a local hang-out when a character I’m developing leaves me stymied. That’s how I met Michael, or Mihkel as it is spelled in Estonian.

That morning, our small coffee shop was packed with seniors meeting for their daily confab, tradesmen coming in for a caffeine jolt, and travelers taking a break from highway congestion.

The only place I could find to sit was opposite a white-haired gentleman with an ordinary face but astonishing blue eyes. Some Viking blood, I surmised.
“Do you mind if I sit here?” I said.

“Not at all,” he replied. “This is a busy place.”

I set down my coffee and cinnamon bun. “I should have bought shares years Hill Spirits II0001ago.”

“You’re right about that.”

Silence fell between us as he sipped his coffee and I tried to eat my cinnamon bun without smearing it all over my face. I ended up with frosting on my fingers. I’d forgotten to get a serviette. Seeing my predicament, he passed over a couple.

I nodded my thanks. “Come here often?”

‘Yes, ever since my wife, Hilda, passed on.” He glanced over at the group of seniors on the far side who had erupted in uproarious laughter, then back at me. “What sort of work do you do…or are you retired?”

“A bit of both. My wife keeps reminding me that I’m supposed to be retired. But I don’t play golf or fish so I fill up most of my time writing books.”

His eyes narrowed. “A writer, eh? Interesting. I’ve often wanted to write my story for my children and grandchildren.”

I looked away. Oh, no, I thought. Not another one. Everyone I meet seems to feel their story is worth capturing in print. Well it is, but it can be boring too. Out loud, I said, “That’s interesting.”

He nodded. “I was only seven when I escaped from Estonia. All our family in one leaky ship, fighting a terrifying storm on the Baltic.”

“Estonia?” I said, taking a sip of coffee. “Is that one of the Baltic States along with Latvia and Lithuania?”

He arched his thick eyebrows. “Most have never heard of us. We’re such a small country. Calgary probably has more people than Estonia.”

“But why did you need to escape?” I said.

He sighed. “Ever since I can remember we lived in fear—first from the Russian communists. They gradually took over Estonia when I was a child. Red flags appeared everywhere. The teachers in our school changed—spent most of their time spouting communist garbage. The books changed—even our history. Our language changed—we had to learn Russian. We had to line up and sing their horrible song. If we didn’t we got whipped.”

He looked into the distance. “I hated it. Once I laughed during the song. Got beat so bad I could hardly sit down for days. The only time I felt safe was when I slid under the covers at night.”

“Do you remember when that was?” I said.

He shuddered. “Must have been 1940. A brutal time. I remember our neighbor screaming when Red soldiers dragged her husband away. A week later the whole family disappeared. We never saw them again. I had nightmares for months. I’d wake up crying. Mother would come in and comfort me.

“The first clue I had about what was happening was the disappearance of my friends from school. I learned later that whole families had been deported to Russia and hundreds of Estonians executed.”

I stared down at my half-eaten cinnamon bun. “Was that when you escaped?”
He drained his coffee cup. “No, no, things got much worse. The Germans invaded Estonia in 1941 and, at first we thought they would save us from the Soviets. That’s when I lost my older brother. He used to carry me around on his shoulders. Playing piggy-back.”

Why didn’t I have my notebook with me? “What happened?” I said.
“He just disappeared into Russia. My Dad later explained that he had been forcibly recruited into the Russian army as they retreated from the advancing Nazis. We never heard from him again. The Soviets stole some 33,000 Estonian men this way.”

When I saw him glance at his empty cup, I jumped up. “Let me get you a refill.”
“Oh, that’s okay,” he said.

“No really. Let me. I’d love to hear more of your story.”

When I returned with fresh cups of coffee for both of us, I sat down and asked, “What happened when the Germans took over?”

He brought the coffee cup to his lips and stared into the distance. “Such a terrible time. Many Estonians didn’t make it through the war. People thought the Germans would rescue us from the hated Soviets. I remember standing with my father and my other brother to wave as the Germans marched in. That relief lasted barely a week until, like the Russians, the Germans unleashed a new wave of brutality. They executed thousands, mostly Jews, Communists and their sympathizers. It was a repeat of the Russian takeover. People just disappeared. Then they began to seize young Estonian men to serve as cannon fodder in their assault on the USSR. Estonia lost about 20,000 men—dead.

“Fortunately, my other brother fled into the forest to join the forest brothers before he could be conscripted.

“Forest brothers?”

Michael’s eyes lit up. “Yah, they were really guerillas but we called them forest brothers.We were proud of them. They harrassed the Germans when the rest of the country could do nothing but groan.”

“But how did they live?” I said.

“Local people brought them food and information. They had an abundance of weapons left behind by the retreating Soviets. Estonia has lots of forest where they could hide.”

“Were there shortages of food during the war? ”

“Oh, yah, but we lived on one of the coastal islands on the Baltic Sea. We were better off than those in cities like Tallinn and Riga on the mainland. We always had fish from the sea. Milk too from our cow and eggs from our chickens. But as things got worse and worse, people realized the only hope was escape. My father, with several others equipped a boat with a small aircraft engine. They planned to get set up in Sweden and arrange for our families to be extradited. But half-way across the Baltic, the motor cut out. A German patrol boat captured them and put them in prison.

“For two days mother cried and cried. Then she dried her eyes and assured us the Allies would soon liberate Estonia. She kept us cheerful. Fed us. Saw we got some education. Fortunately, being on an island, it wasn’t convenient for the Germans to confiscate all our food. And we had our music. Still, it was hard without father…But I’m rambling on. Sorry, I didn’t mean to bore you.”

“No, no.” I cringed at the memory of my earlier thoughts about people’s boring stories. “You mentioned music.”

He nodded vigorously. “Yah, almost everyone in our family learned to play some instrument. Guitars, mandolins, and a many-stringed instrument called a sitra. Music was so important, especially after the revival that spread through the churches before the war. As I look back, faith in God and devotion to the Lord gave us something solid to believe in as the world crumbled around us.” He sighed again. “If only the younger generation could see that faith is something that carries us through the best and worst life has to offer.”

In today’s secular society, I thought, it’s not often we hear someone talking openly about their faith.

“You mentioned sailing to Sweden. How did that happen?”

He set down his mug. “I’ll never forget that journey. Understand, several years passed until the German invasion of Russia collapsed. The Soviets chased the Germans into Estonia and began to bomb our cities. The Nazis freed my father and the others as they began to retreat. Soon after his release, he told us to get ready to leave. A man called August Meeritsal had drawn up a list of people wanting to flee. Father had put our names on it including my brother who’d fled into the forest, although he hadn’t appeared yet.

Michael grinned. His eyes twinkled. “People chattered about getting to Sweden where everyone had chocolate and could get store-bought clothes. It sounded like heaven. By this time all the Germans—there had never been very many— had retreated from the island. A crowd gathered in the village green in front of the church. My uncle Fedor got out his fiddle and people began sing patriotic Estonian songs that had been banned. Uncle even made up a song, ‘The ship is coming, the ship is coming. We will be free.’

“I didn’t know what ship he was talking about but the next day a two-masted schooner, the Elli, anchored offshore. Seeing the ship, Father looked worried. ‘That ole thing leaks like a sieve.’ It was an old schooner used mainly to haul lumber and freight between the islands.

“A few German boats still patrolled the coastal area, so the captain had had to get their permission to come. He convinced them they were going to use the ship to evacuate people to Germany, while their real aim was to go to Sweden.
Michael’s brow furrowed as he thought back to that day. “Yah, the captain came on shore and waved the list. ‘Everyone on the list, get ready to leave tomorrow morning,’ he said. Not only those on the list but many others ran home to gather together what they wanted to take with them. Dad had already arranged for a neighbour who was not leaving to care for the family cow and chickens.”

Michael stopped to catch his breath and gulped a swig of coffee. “I remember the date when we departed; Saturday, September 23rd, 1944. We could hardly sleep the night before. I remember it as clear as day even though I was only about seven or eight. In the morning people gathered along the shore with suitcases, trunks, things tied up in sheets, furniture and all kinds of stuff. When the ship’s bosun saw what people had brought, he shouted, ‘No! No! You can only take one small bag each.’ That was painful. Like everyone else we had to leave our precious possessions behind. I had to leave my dog. It was big, a mongrel, I guess one would call it, but I loved it. I cried and begged but the bosun just shook his head. It was a sad sight to see the shoreline littered with what was left behind.

“Was there a dock or something for the schooner to tie up to?” I said.
“The ship anchored off shore. They ferried people out to the ship in small, motorized fishing boats. One of them capsized and the people had to swim back to shore.”

“How many, do you think were taken on the schooner?”

He frowned as he carefully set down his mug. “That became a big problem. Originally, they planned to take 150 people. But when Alex Lugas, the captain, and his family came, he saw it was already overloaded. He ordered all non-local people off— people he didn’t know. But only two or three families left. He couldn’t force people off. So he made ready to sail. We learned later that the ship carried 310 people! Imagine.”

Just then two burly OPP officers entered the coffee shop. Michael glanced over at them. “Yah, those guys remind me. Before we could sail, a Nazi shore patrol came looking for young men trying to evade being drafted into the German army. Some young men hid behind women and children down below in the hold. Two Nazi soldiers jumped onboard. They opened the cargo hold door, and shouted below for any young men to come out. ”

Michael’s voice had risen such that the OPP officers and some of the customers glanced our way. Michael laughed, showing two gold teeth. “Everyone held their breath. We could tell the German soldiers were nervous. They kept looking over their shoulders out to sea, expecting a Soviet patrol boat, I guess. All was quiet. No one answered. We all waited in suspense. Fortunately, the soldiers spied some gasoline cans which they confiscated and left.

“It had taken all day to load the ship. We saw other small boats leave the coast north and south of us, but none as big as ours. We grew impatient. Finally, late in the evening the captain had the sail hoisted, the anchor lifted and we were off. People left behind on shore lit bonfires and waved as we set sail. Many young people on the ship began to sing; ‘Do not fear the stormy sea…’ That hymn proved prophetic.

“I was shaking with fear. Would the Russians appear before we could leave? Would they shell the ship? I was somewhat comforted by the captain’s words, “May God be with us, let us go.

“Most of the women wept openly as they had to leave their friends and farms behind. But my father assured us that we would be back by Christmas when the allies defeated the Germans.

“As darkness descended, Pilot Riis set a course for Gotland, the largest and closest of two Swedish islands. By Sunday morning the sky changed and wind veered southeast. Waves began breaking across the deck as the ship heaved in the heavy seas. Those who hadn’t been able to go below got soaked. Many men spent their time working the pumps as the old boat began to leak badly. I’m not ashamed to admit I was terrified that we would drown. All over the ship people began to be seasick. We heard urgent cries from other boats being battered by the storm. I learned later that some of the overloaded and rickety boats that set sail from different places along the coast were lost. Some were strafed by German or Russian planes. “

I looked at my empty mug in surprise. I’d been so absorbed in Michael’s story that I couldn’t remember finishing my coffee. “Were you on deck or below?”

“Below. We were crammed in like cattle. The stink was horrific. But we made it. By Sunday evening, after 24 hours at sea, we saw land. A Swedish warship came alongside and guided us to port where we anchored offshore until the morning. As a boy, however, I was taken onboard a Swedish ship along with the others my age and the women. I remember looking back at the schooner and wondering if I’d ever see my father again because the storm was so bad and the ship leaks so much. The Swedish warship ferried us to the harbour. The joy we felt to be on dry land was tempered by our worry about others on the ship. But at least we were safe from both the Nazis and the Soviets. And the next day everyone did get off.

“The Swedes were wonderful. The prince himself came and made sure we were seen by a doctor, had dry clothes and food to eat. A few weeks later a farm family took us in. We stayed with them for seven years until we immigrated to Canada. I’ve had a good life. Always found work. Met and married Hilda and we had five children and 14 grandchildren. Can you imagine?”

Michael leaned back, finished the dregs of his coffee and sighed as his mind returned to 1944. “I lost not only my dog but my buddy at that time. He stayed behind with his family and we never heard from him again. ”

He looked at his watch and stood up. “I must go. My daughter Elvi will be waiting for me to pick her up.”

I stood with him and reached out my hand. “I’m Rand. I didn’t catch your name.”
He gripped mine firmly. “Mikhel but in Canada we say, Michael. Pleasure to meet you.”

I watched him leave. His posture was rather stooped and he leaned heavily on a cane that I hadn’t seen when I was sitting down. But without knowing his story, no one would ever suspect he had lived through both Nazi and Russian occupation and escaped across the Baltic.

(Events in this story are true to historical reality but the characters are fictitious. My chief informant, who actually lived through most of these events wanted to remain anonymous. Previously published in the anthology, Hill Spirits II)