Pastoral Calls—Part 2 of 3

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Face-to-Face

A weeping woman called me on the phone
And said, “My daughter’s in the county jail.
They will not let me see her on my own
She’s charged with murder with no hope for bail.

“But you’re a pastor and they said that you
Would be allowed to visit if you came.
I raised her in the church but she withdrew
And joined a cult, I can’t recall the name.”

Her daughter had been renting an old shack
Just down the road from the small church I served.
The deed was done, there was no turning back;
And now she faced the justice she deserved.

Her child was still a baby, not yet two.
Her boyfriend lost his temper when she cried.
Strung out on dope, not knowing what to do,
They beat her with a belt until she died.

I called the jail and offered to stop by.
When asked, the daughter said she’d take a pass.
Her boyfriend said, “Okay,” but wondered why
I’d want to visit him through thick-set glass.

Our conversation ranged from sports to God,
And George McDonald’s early fantasies.
And through it all, one thing stood out as odd,
A moral void that left me ill-at-ease.

He showed no sign of feelings or emotion.
There was no sense of conscience I could see.
Of guilt, remorse, or sin he had no notion.
He asked, “Why are they doing this to me?”

He seemed to be as smart as smart can be.
And though well-versed in science, art, and math,
He made my blood run cold. It was, you see,
The first time I had met a psychopath.

On my way home I stopped to look around
Their shack, now empty, nothing left to hide.
But next to where the baby died, I found
A Bible with the boyfriend’s name inside.

Pure evil had, for me, been a distraction.
To see it face-to-face was a surprise.
A naive, moral/ethical abstraction,
Until I saw it in that young man’s eyes.

.

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James A. Tweedie is a retired pastor living in Long Beach, Washington. He has written and published six novels, one collection of short stories, and three collections of poetry including Mostly Sonnets, all with Dunecrest Press. His poems have been published nationally and internationally in The Lyric, Poetry Salzburg (Austria) Review, California Quarterly, Asses of Parnassus, Lighten Up Online, Better than Starbucks, Dwell Time, Light, Deronda Review, The Road Not Taken, Fevers of the Mind, Sparks of Calliope, Dancing Poetry, WestWard Quarterly, Society of Classical Poets, and The Chained Muse. He was honored with being chosen as the winner of the 2021 SCP International Poetry Competition.


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18 Responses

  1. Russel Winick

    Chilling. You can never forget something like that. Very well done, and thanks for sharing.

    Reply
  2. Cynthia Erlandson

    This is an extremely moving, well-written account. I think it says a lot for you that you were able to talk to this man, and also that you were able to make such a sickening experience into a poem. I can’t imagine having the inner strength to do some of the things that pastors have to do.

    Reply
  3. Roy Eugene Peterson

    Such a sad story! My uncle was a pastor and had to face such evil on occasion. The feeling of helplessness under these circumstances is palpable even with prayer. The only thing left to do is leave it in the hands of God.

    Reply
  4. Paul Freeman

    Chilling is indeed the appropriate word. It must be very difficult to set such experiences down.

    Reply
  5. Sally Cook

    James, this is a fine poem. I have seen this twice in personalities. and once in action. In each instance I would define it as excessive selfishness. Did you feel your presence helped?

    Reply
    • James A. Tweedie

      Sally, Sad to say, I cannot imagine that my presence helped anything at all. In my brief interaction with this young man I observed a total moral and empathetic disconnect on his part. I suppose that “excessive selfishness” is one way to describe it but what I experienced in this situation was a profound psychosis resulting in a mental, moral and emotional disconnect from what I understand to be normative social reality. Several comments have used the word “chilling.” That is exactly how I would describe my encounter, along with words like “frightening” and “surreal.”

      Reply
  6. Joseph S. Salemi

    A new phrase has been making the rounds of psychological circles and religious commentators, to describe what is an increasingly common phenomenon. It is “diabolical narcissism.” It refers to a complete lack of any kind of love for or consideration of others, and a self-regard so total that it defies belief. I find it interesting that both religious believers and atheist-agnostics have independently come to the recognition of this phenomenon, and have described it in similar language. For religious believers, the word “diabolical” alludes to a supernatural level of evil in these persons; while atheist-agnostic commentators have used the word “pathological” or “systemic” to describe the kind of deep narcissisim that is being diagnosed. It goes far beyond ordinary selfishness or vice, and is a complete corruption and degradation of the soul. It is actively malignant, and utterly conscienceless.

    Reply
  7. Sally Cook

    James and Joe,
    Just to have been in the presence of such an entity
    must indeed have been chilling to you James. I once had a pastor friend who, having always been a good Christian, on his deathbed told me he was losing his faith. My reaction was to shout out YOU CAN’ T !

    I think of evil as dark and very cold.
    Have either of you experienced the effect of any such debilitation?
    I have been thinking a lot lately about forgiveness. How much is anyone expected to forgive?

    Perhaps others are interested in this question?

    Reply
    • James A. Tweedie

      Sally, An example: a large Christian congregation of which I am personally familiar, had just completed a three-year multi-multi-million dollar renovation/expansion. The week before the dedication service the new buildings were gutted by arson. The arsonist was a local high school senior who refused to give a motivation for why he had done what he had done. In a spirit of forgiveness and mercy the church leaders (with some conditions) offered to defer criminal charges if the boy showed contrition and remorse (ie repentance) and offered restitution through some form of church-directed and supervised community service. The youth refused it all including offering an apology. Reluctantly, the church then pressed full criminal charges and the arsonist was tried as an adult, found guilty and sentenced to prison for the time mandated by state law. Forgiveness can be freely offered but, without repentance, the only benefit from the offer of forgiveness is for the one who made the offer.

      My understanding of scripture is that God does not send people to hell. Rather, God allows people to have what they want. And that means that hell turns out to be a very crowded place where, as we read in the opening chapter on the Book of Judges, “everyone did what was wise in their own eyes.” Which is the best definition of hell in the Bible. Although I didn’t know the boy arsonist personally, it seems that he may have had a shattered, fallen soul akin to that of the man in my poem. Will prison turn him around? Probably not. Then it will be up to God to discern what is in his heart and whether he is open to God’s open-ended offer to redeem and save.

      We pray, “deliver us from evil.” And there are people who personify unrestrained evil all around us. For the rest of us, it is not that we are not possessed by evil, but that by God’s grace, the inclination of our hearts, and the power of the Holy Spirit to enable us to exercise some measure of self-control, we are able to be able to love one another as Christ loved us. Even if imperfectly.

      Reply
    • Joseph S. Salemi

      Sally, the best source of analysis and information on Diabolical Narcissism is by the commentator Ann Barnhardt at her website Judica Me Deus. A detailed lecture on the subject is given in a video, and you can link to it at:

      http://www.barnhardt.biz/diabolical-narcissism/

      Censors took this video down when Barnhardt had it on YouTube (it cut too close to the bone for left-liberals), but she has it at the above link, and has made it freely available to anyone.

      A real problem is that the phenomenon of diabolical narcissism is actively promoted by many of the most powerful and influential elements in modern society: advertising, mass media, corporate culture, entertainment, and of course that bottomless black hole of moral poison, academia.

      Reply
  8. Yael

    This well-composed poem is at once a gripping story full of suspense and anticipation of the final outcome, as well as a scathing indictment of the deathly lukewarm condition of the Christian church in the Laodicean age. I remember my church denomination being nearly useless when I was a newly baptized, saved and born-again follower of Jesus and wondered what I should do when faced with purely evil and demonic behavior in people, especially those very close to me. I found the Bible-based instructions I needed to confront evil and cast unclean demonic spirits out of people, including myself, in the teachings of the late Derek Prince. His teachings on spiritual warfare, breaking generational curses, and casting down strongholds have been a great blessing to me and equipped me with the knowledge and techniques I needed to be more like Jesus, who went about casting out demons and healing people; (this doesn’t mean I speak in tongues because I’m definitely not Pentecostal). His vast sermon library is on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YcSVVhwcNKQ
    I pray it will be a blessing to you also.

    Reply
  9. Jeff Eardley

    A very sad story beautifully told. Highly readable and with perfect rhythm. Thank you for this.

    Reply
  10. Norma Pain

    Absolutely chilling story expressed in a poem. I cannot say I enjoyed it as the subject matter is so disturbing but I thank you James for sharing what must be so difficult to recount.

    Reply
  11. Margaret Coats

    James, you’ve used the abab rhyming quatrains to frame a story not in accordance with your easy-to-read form and rhythm. That allows readers to stand back from what you encountered, and to do what you did, namely, to wonder at the presence of pure evil among us. You’ve brought up a couple of associations as to where it arises, namely, devaluation of human life in its early stages, and cults that attract young adults. A thoughtful poem, as well as a good descriptive one.

    I am sorry to say that I have encountered two pastors (an Episcopalian and a Lutheran) who value early human life, and human souls entrusted to them, so little that they have accompanied women to abortion facilities and prayed over them while they “do what is wise in their own eyes.” The only difference I see between them and the young man you met is that they did not wield the instrument of death in their own hands. The young father in your story not only did so, but did so in company with the murdered baby’s mother (another horror you indicate but do not emphasize). This mother had been influenced by a cult. I have no personal experience of cults, but have heard a story of seeing pure evil in the eyes of a cult leader, from a young man who planned to leave the cult. Thanks be to God, he left all the faster, and got out with no injury to the body, and no permanent damage to the soul. He did consider that what he saw was not human but a devil in human form. That brings up the question of whether and when the diabolical narcissism recognized today is demonic obsession or possession. A great deal of it was seen in the time of Jesus who had power to drive out the devils and heal the afflicted human beings.

    Reply
    • Joseph S. Salemi

      I have been told by exorcists that possession by a demon is rare, but obsession is much more common. In the case of some extremely evil cult leaders, “perfect possession” may be the case — a situation where the individual is totally and completely under demonic control, without any of the physical or emotional disturbances that are frequently thought of as indications of possession. A person who is “perfectly possessed” is of course much more dangerous, since he is in full command of his faculties and intellect, and can use them for diabolical ends.

      Reply
  12. Joshua C. Frank

    I keep thinking about that guy… chilling indeed. But what I find far more chilling is that this is what every leftist out there is like with the diabolical narcissism that, as Joe mentioned, is encouraged everywhere in today’s world. As Margaret mentioned, there is little difference between their murder of their baby and an abortion.

    I remember the big stink a lot of (fake) Christians made when Obama said that the United States is no longer a Christian nation. I said he was right; we’re now a Satanist nation, because Satanism’s only tenet is, “Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the law.”

    Reply
    • Joseph S. Salemi

      Much of the entire West is post-Christian, apart from isolated pockets of resistance that are now being actively persecuted by legal and extra-legal means. This is what is behind the tsunami of perversion that is being spread everywhere, particularly with the financial help and overt political pressure of the United States. We deliberately appointed an open pervert to be our ambassador to Hungary, just to show contempt for the conservative Christian government there, and we are pushing for LGBT dominance everyplace else where we have influence.

      What is even more frightening is that we are now actually starting to set the stage for nuclear war with Russia — a war that nobody can win. Our naval forces blew up the gas pipeline from Russia to Germany, and we are now sending tanks and other military materiel to the kleptocracy of scum who run the Ukraine, along with uncounted millions in money that we can ill-afford to spend. And this is a kleptocracy that Obama deliberately put into power by illegal subversion.

      WE ARE THE BAD GUYS. By destroying that pipeline we have committed an act of war against our NATO ally Germany; and our homegrown neocon maniacs are foaming at the mouth for further provocations and military confrontations with Russia.

      What the United States is doing is not simply insane. It is diabolical. We are allowing perverts, trannies, social justice warriors, and neocon lunatics to literally bring us to the edge of destruction.

      Readers — please don’t respond by whining to me about the poor Ukrainians. If you do that, you’re just part of the problem.

      Reply

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