Thursday, November 29, 2012

ON YOUR MARK, GET SET, RADIATE!

Two weeks post-chemo I am starting to regain strength. This final chemo has been the hardest to recover from. Yesterday I finally felt able to walk across a city street without wheezing and gasping. That is a major improvement. The Finish Line is in sight. All that's left is the radiation treatments. 

Went to LA to consult with my radiation doctor yesterday. I got to practice the ability to walk across a city street without wheezing and gasping.  I had a preliminary CT scan with a followup next week. The radiation treatments will begin after that. The treatment schedule is better than we had been led to believe. At first we were told it would be @ five minutes of treatment six days a week for six weeks. Yesterday we learned it will indeed be five minutes per day, BUT for five days a week for only five weeks. That means I can come home each weekend on Friday afternoon--just like a real, live LA commuter--and I don't have to return until Monday afternoon. That will make the commute much easier.

The tragic news is that the gigantic, state-of-the-art, multi-buliding hospital campus in downtown LA--including the apartment I'll be staying in--does not have internet access; neither phone jacks, nor wifi. Even my local, provincial Kaiser has that. So, my journey is not just to Los Angeles, but also Back to the 80's.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

MELCHIZEDEK

Hebrews 7:1-10

Melchizedek serves as a picture of Christ. Jesus the Christ is greater than Abraham, Moses and Judaism. And it is not because Judaism is bad or wrong. Jesus is greater because He is the very God Abraham, Moses and Judaism worship and serve.


PRECIPICE CHAPTER 8


  Eight



YOSEMITE VALLEY
SATURDAY MORNING
            Drake found the Happy Isles Nature Center surprisingly crowded. Surprising, because back in the summer of 1996 Happy Isles, located at the southeastern corner of the valley floor, had narrowly escaped catastrophic destruction. A massive chunk of exfoliating granite had thundered down the mountainside from just below Glacier Point. The blast effect had been powerful enough to hurl mature pine trees through Park Service buildings. Choking dust had blanketed the entire valley. Bridges had completely disappeared under the titanic avalanche. The nature center, as well as its many visitors, had been providentially preserved. The avalanche, though by no means unique, had still been the worst rock slide in the recorded history of Yosemite Valley.
            After reflection, Drake realized he should not be surprised at the crowds. After all, the human inability to remember tragedy, for any amount of time, is a matter of record. Here they are—and don’t forget yourself Pal—frolicking at ground zero. The fact is, granite has a nasty habit of fracturing and exfoliating (which is simply a fancy geological term for ‘falling’). The point being, there is really no place one could reasonably call safe in Yosemite. Well, he thought if I wanted to be safe I could have stayed home and played video games instead.
            A hoarse shout drew his attention to the thickly forested slopes to the east. People began moving curiously in the direction of the shout, streaming singly and in knots toward an open-air concession stand. Drake trailed along joining the edges of the migration. True to his loner nature, he quickly found a rocky knoll where he could observe from afar, rather than mingling with the crowd.
            “Hank, heel!” he ordered as his normally docile pup began growling. “You’re acting awfully twitchy.” Drake knelt to calm the dog. “What’s wrong, Lassie? Has Timmy fallen down the well?” He grinned and returned his attention to the commotion.
From his elevated position, through stands of thick evergreens, Drake observed the center of attention. A large, tawny mountain lion stood on a wooden footbridge straddling a small stream. The noisy crowd had obviously disoriented the beast for it kept glancing left and right, agitated and indecisive, tail slashing, seeking an avenue of escape.
            Drake’s forehead wrinkled in puzzlement. That’s unusual. Everything he knew of mountain lions said the big cats assiduously avoid any kind of human contact. Sure, it is barely possible for a lone hiker to encounter a cougar from time to time, but that is an extremely rare occurrence. On the other hand, there has been a series of mountain lion sightings right there in Yosemite Valley; three to his knowledge in just the last month. That called for some sort of rational explanation.
            Perhaps the lion population, with hunting curtailed and no natural enemies, had simply grown too large. A growing lion census would also account for the shrinking deer population as reported by hunters. That might possibly account for a number of lions suddenly appearing in heavily populated regions. Possibly, but Drake’s mind still rebelled against what seemed to be an unbelievable idea. As an afterthought, he pulled Hank’s leash out of his pocket and snapped onto the collar. No sense letting the dumb mutt tangle with an angry cougar, he thought.
            When he looked again, Park rangers began appearing around the fringes of the crowd, seeking to contain and move people away from the agitated beast. Other rangers worked to carefully surround the mountain lion without making it feel cornered; a delicate balance. A green and white Park Service truck slowly approached along a wide footpath. A stocky ranger got out who looked to be in his fifties. Grizzled gray hair showed beneath his green Ranger campaign hat. Drake watched as the ranger loaded a heavy-barreled rifle with a fat tranquilizer dart.
            By this time the Rangers involved with crowd control had succeeded in moving people back about a hundred yards. Walking carefully along the path, his rifle pointed safely at the ground, the ranger from the pickup deliberately prepared to put the lion to sleep. Drake noticed a large, heavy-duty steel cage fitted to the bed of the pickup. It looked sturdy enough to contain a good-sized bear.
            Adjusting the rifle’s strap around his left arm, the ranger removed his hat and deliberately got down on one knee, sharpshooter style. Fascinated, Drake watched as the lion snarled, then quickly moved a few menacing steps toward the end of the footbridge. The rifleman released the safety catch, took careful aim, and prepared to fire.
            A sudden fusillade of shots jerked Drake’s attention to the opposite side of the little stream. Oddly, the small-arms fire made a distinctive, stacatto “popcorn” sound. Hank yelped, and struggled to escape, but merely succeeded in wrapping his leash around Drake’s legs. A group of men wearing woodland pattern, camouflage clothing had crept to within fifty-yards of the bridge. They were firing an assortment of weapons, some fully automatic, at the trapped mountain lion. A hail of bullets struck the bridge, sending chunks of wood and dust flying into the air. Several of the shots connected with the lion as it attempted a mighty leap over the handrails. Struck several times, its limp, bloody body tumbled off the bridge to splash heavily into the shallow, rocky stream.
            “Drop your weapons!” shouted one of the rangers, drawing his sidearm and aiming at the camouflaged figures, only partially visible through the dense stand of trees. Other rangers reacted as well, drawing pistols and quickly seeking cover behind trees and rocks. The men in the trees—obvious militia types, thought Drake—opened fire on the rangers. Drake watched the officer who had given the command to surrender quickly dive for the ground and roll into cover as a spray of lead erupted gouts of dirt near him.
            Obviously, the Park rangers, armed with only short-range pistols were woefully outgunned against the heavier firepower carried by the militia boys. They could do little more than hold their ground and try to cover the civilians, many of whom were making the ranger’s job more difficult by their frantic movements. In the meantime the men of the Mariposa Militia were having a grand old time playing Rambo. Firing wildly and running from rock to tree they re-enacted every clichĂ© of last year’s blockbuster action films.
The crowd, screaming in panic, fled from the gunfire as they had not from the mountain lion. Drake, who had prudently taken cover on his rocky knoll, looked up, mouth agape, as Dr. Hollingshead scurried past, dignity abandoned. He rushed toward a boxy green recreational vehicle in the parking lot. Drake was even more amazed to see Megan, hampered by a fashionably tight skirt, following in the good Doctor’s wake, futilely calling, “Brooks, Brooks, wait for me!” Hollingshead either ignored her or, in the feverish excitement of the moment, simply didn’t hear. He quickly jumped into the RV. The engine had to be running, because the vehicle immediately raced way. Gravel sprayed from the rear wheels as it slued around, accelerating from the parking lot.
            Megan came to a confused halt on the concession patio, stunned by the doctor’s self-serving abandonment. Drake, fearing for her safety, raced down the slope. He grabbed her by the arm.
“Come on, Meg, you can’t stay here!” He shouted. She looked at him with wild, uncomprehending eyes, and remained rooted in place. “Come on!” he yelled again, this time in fear. Megan—unbelievably—resisted. He ended up nearly dragging her, protesting loudly, back to the shelter of the stony hillock. They were blessed. They reached shelter—barely—before the militiamen altered their aim a hair. Stray slugs began whizzing randomly through the air around them. Megan screamed and Drake winced as several projectiles struck nearby rocks and trees, spraying them with stinging fragments and splinters.
“Ahhh!” Drake heard from the other side of the knoll. The shout of pain was followed by a heavy thud on the ground. Goaded by conscience, Drake peered around the safety of his nice solid rock. He saw the sharpshooter, sans rifle, painfully dragging himself toward Drake’s knoll. The ranger’s left leg trailed useless behind him, his progress painfully slow. Drake summoned his courage, sent up a quick prayer and reminded himself to keep low. Swallowing hard he scuttled across the intervening ten yards, grabbing the wounded man by his wrists. Keeping himself in a low crouch Drake dragged the wounded ranger into cover, his painfully arched-over back aching with the unaccustomed strain.
            Once he and the ranger had reached relative safety, Drake dropped to his knees, breath rasping in and out of his winded lungs. When his breathing slowed he looked at the ranger’s leg. “Is it broken? Do you need a tourniquet?
“Can’t feel nothin’ at all!” gasped the ranger, both hands gripping his leg.
Drake found no sign of blood on the trousers, and the angle of the leg looked normal. Drake brought out his pocketknife and slit the ranger’s trouser leg up past the knee, searching for a wound.
“Thanks,” the ranger—his nametag read Gutierrez—grunted. He grimaced while Drake grimly worked, “I think I musta’ caught a tumbling ricochet,” he grated through clenched teeth. “With all these branches and whatnot, nothin’s gonna travel in a straight line for very long.”
Puzzled, Drake looked but found little; only a smear of blood, but no gaping wound on the leg. Then his searching hand encountered something solid on the ripped material. He discovered an oddly misshapen lump of lead clinging to Gutierrez’s pant leg, in the approximate area of the knee. Drake plucked it from the green fabric. He examined it for a moment, bouncing the still warm slug in his hand. It was flattened and distorted with a maze of sharp little wrinkles. It did not look like any kind of bullet to Drake. Amazingly, though it had struck the hard flesh and bone just below the knee-joint, on the outside of the leg. It had done so without any penetration.
“It must have bounced around for a while,” said Gutierrez, “I’m tellin’ you, a round travelling at full power would have shattered my knee socket.”
Even so, the joint was already swollen and darkening, but only a trickle of blood came from the impact point. “Thank God,” gasped Gutierrez, “no penetration. Numb now, but it’s gonna hurt like a sonovagun later on.”
“You need help,” said Drake. We’ve got to get you to a doctor pretty quick.
“It’s nothin’,” Gutierrez grunted, “I had it lots worse than this in Nam!”
Drake noted that the firefight had faded into the distance. The endless barrage of gunfire slowed to occasional sporadic pops and stutters. Judging by the sound the militia appeared to be withdrawing. As the gunfire eased, Drake became aware of a confusing cacophony of noise. Hysterical cries, shouted orders and loud wailing came from all around. He couldn’t tell whether the Park Rangers were pursuing the militia or not.
As he and Megan were tending to the ranger, a harsh voice shouted from behind them, causing Drake to nearly jump out of his clothes.
“Federal Government!” they heard. Then, with more menace, “Don’t move, Pal!”
Drake froze in place, holding his hands well away from his body without turning to look. He didn’t want to do anything that might make anyone nervous. Gutierrez didn’t seem to mind though. “Federal Government?” He shot back. “Like you got any kind of jurisdiction here. This is National Park Service authority!” Drake carefully lowered his hands to the ground, waiting tensely while the Feds hotly debated exactly who had authority over whom.
Suddenly, he felt a firm hand on his left shoulder. It pulled him backwards, frog-marching him on his knees, away from the dispute. “All right,” a calm voice commanded him, “place your hands on the back of your head and lace your fingers.” Drake complied and a large hand slid its fingers roughly between his hands and head, clamping Drake’s hands by taking hold of a healthy hank of hair. The grip effectively immobilized him. At the same time another disembodied hand expertly frisked him in an embarrassingly thorough manner. Finally he found himself released and told to stand easy.
Drake stood and turned to face a solidly built man of approximately his own age, dressed in jeans and another of those cheap blue law enforcement raid jackets. Everybody had them. The man stood where he could easily cover the whole group, speaking quietly into the microphone of an expensive-looking radio headset. The letters ATF were printed in yellow block on the left breast of his jacket. Drake couldn’t help but notice that the man held a large automatic pistol pointed safely at the ground. He waved a leather-bound identification folder Drake’s face. It contained a shiny gold badge and a colorful Identification card, proclaiming the bearer to be Federal Agent Martin Baker of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms.
A wholly predictable identity verification routine followed. Drake carefully removed credentials from his wallet identifying himself. He attempted to gain some credibility by deliberately stressing the ‘Reverend’ part. It appeared to make no difference to Agent Baker. The man asked questions in a professional manner, ranging from Drake’s purpose in the park to his eyewitness account of the shoot-out. He dutifully wrote everything down in a pocket notebook.
Again without warning, Drake felt ill-mannered hands on him. He again felt jerked roughly around to faced the man who had originally screamed at him. Dressed in the same windbreaker and radio as Baker, he nevertheless had a younger, tougher and much cooler presence. He wore one of those soft, pork-pie hats in an ugly shade of green and yellow. His sharp face, sporting a skimpy goatee, displayed a less than professional visage, contorted by anger.
“Why didn’t you identify yourself, you fool?” he demanded. “The last thing we need around here is an idiot civilian traipsing around in the middle of a firefight!”
“Hey, I told you to knock it off, Mister Dexter!” Gutierrez jumped in again, physically as well as verbally, “This guy just saved my valuable, Federal butt!” 
Drake wanted none of this; like that made any difference to anyone else.
“Dex,” said agent Baker in a calm, authoritative voice, “we’re wasting time. The bad guys with the guns are gone.”
            “But Marty, you heard what the boss said; this guy was…”
            “Never mind!” Baker interrupted quickly, then to Drake; “Sorry to have detained you Reverend. We just had to be sure of your identity. Let’s go agent Dexter.” They moved off in the direction of the retreating Militia, Dexter’s plaintive arguments fading into the distance.
            Several other rangers had quietly arrived during the altercation. Two of them knelt to attend to their fallen comrade while a third radioed for medical assistance. Drake and Megan just stood around with the rangers. Drake found himself with nothing else to do and little to say. Presently, a Park Service ambulance arrived, loaded the wounded ranger aboard, and made its careful way back down the walkway. The other rangers dispersed, leaving Megan and Drake alone on the deserted path.
             “Now,” said Drake, turning to address Megan, “just what were you and Doctor Greenpeace doing here anyway?”
            “What do you mean, Stan?” she asked innocently.
            “What I mean,” he explained patiently, “that you two ran past me looking like you had just TP’d the principal’s office.”
            “Well, we were running from those militia terrorists of course. We were scared—terrified. I still am! Aren’t you, darling?” 
            Drake shifted uncomfortably, his heart still racing. “As a matter of fact,” he said, “yes. I’ve never been in the line of fire before. I didn’t like it one bit.” Megan threw her arms around his neck and buried her face in his shoulder. “Oh Stan, that poor mountain lion, it was horrible!”
            “Yes,” he said, stroking her hair, “it was pretty bad. I don’t think ranger Gutierrez enjoyed it much either. C’mon, let’s get out of here. If we walk back to the parking lot I think we can catch a shuttle bus to the village.”

Friday, November 23, 2012

POST CHEMO CELEBRATION

Karen went to the very last ACSI (Association of Christian Schools, International) conference in Anaheim, this week. Because her school puts their teachers up in the ritzy Hilton we decided that I should go as part of my post chemo celebration. After the conference we stayed an extra night and Hilton blessed us with a mini-suite upgrade.


On Tuesday the kids came and we went to Disneyland. We got one of those electric scooter things for me to ride. I felt sort of ridiculous in it, but truth is I would not have been able to walk far in that crowd on my own. I'm thinking of writing a post about them though: "Mobile Scooters; Blessing or Blight?"


Cars Land in California Adventure was a lot of fun. The Imagineers had a lot of fun with automotive-themed humor...


As evening fell we found ourselves at Small World. I was quite disappointed that Alton Gansky's twisted vision of a shootout inside did not take place. On the plus side, I'd never seen or heard the Christmas version before, so at least it was different. We got in line just as they lit the place up for the night. June was pleased to see the lights go on...



After dinner and a few other attractions we topped the night off with a trip to Soarin' Over California. I always get a little misty on this ride. But it had been a long day and someone was becoming grumpy...


I and my family are very thankful this year that I've survived the chemo and the prognosis for the radiation and beyond is quite favorable. Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to one and all.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

PRECIPICE CHAPTER 7


                                               Seven


YOSEMITE VILLAGE
SATURDAY MORNING

            Drake gradually became self-aware when the early morning sun started streaming through a chink in the curtain directly into his right eye. He rolled over to escape the sun’s glare only to encounter Hank’s anxious, wet tongue on the other side of the bed.
            “Okay, okay,” he grumbled, shoving the dog away, “I get the picture. You want to go outside. Just hang on a minute, will ya?”
Wiping the slobber from his face and the sleep from his eyes, he reluctantly arose from bed, stumbled to the kitchenette, flipping on the coffee maker. Drake always felt worthless in the morning before coffee; one of his few vices.
While waiting for the caffeine to brew he shrugged into his sweats and took Hank outside to take care of pressing doggie business. Back inside, he sat down at the kitchen table which he employed as an impromptu workstation. After booting up the computer, he opened the program to check e-mail. Quickly scanning and deleting anything that looked like junk mail or spam, Drake found he had only two personal notes left to read. The coffee maker emitted a series of gurgling noises, signifying the brewing cycle had concluded. Reaching back from the table he poured himself a steaming cup, doctoring to taste.
Sitting back, sipping from the warm mug, Drake opened an electronic message from his deacon, Gene Prentice. Apart from being a generous guy with his vehicles, Gene worked as an aerospace engineer, with a network of on-line friends rivaling the national intelligence agencies. The message came up in standard e-mail format.
Return-Path: 
X-Nvlenv-01Date-Transferred:  19-September
05:45:59-0400;  at SC-MGN1.EDW
From: Geneb2@rdgt.nav.mil
To:  revdrake@theology.edu/
Subject:  told you so
Form: memo

Pastor:
I TOLD YOU TO SPEND YOUR VACATION IN TAHITI. My Online spies inform me that the government is moving a huge amount of assets into Yosemite to deal with those Militia kooks. You could be smack dab in the middle of another Waco foul-up. Check out the following Web site: www.maraposa.mil.org/  
THAT should give you something to think about. And remember TAKE CARE OF MY TRUCK. ;~}
You’re welcome,
Gene Prentice
FAIRCRAFT Corp.

Drake read the message with a smile. In e-mail context, words written in all uppercase letters signify the sender is being emphatic, not to say screaming. Gene always laid it on thick when he thought he was funny.
            The other letter came from a missionary friend on Guam. The typical form letter detailed the latest events with the ministry. A short personal note inquired about Drake’s present state of mind and ministry. Drake dashed off a quick note to both friends. “I’m enjoying my visit. Taking scores of pix to bore you with. More later.”
After he had finished his ‘e-ministrative’ duties, curiosity got the better of him. He selected the world wide web address Gene had included in his e-mail. The computer recognized the jumble of letters as a URL, a legitimate address on the World Wide Web. Drake opened his web browser and accessed the site. The web page that came up on the screen turned out to belong to the Mariposa Militia.
            “My, my,” he murmured to himself, “what a surprise.”
            Drake watched as several text articles quickly appeared on screen. An official-looking logo for the Mariposa Militia appeared at the top of the page, a patriotic image of a Revolutionary War Minute Man, poised and ready for action. Another image resolved under the Minute Man. The colorful image of a wild west-type wanted poster appeared. The poster rather arrogantly called for the capture of a man it identified as Wild Bill Gordon, Special Agent in Charge for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms. The particulars had him listed as working out of the Bureau’s Sacramento Field office. Drake’s eyebrows rose in surprise. The photograph on the wanted poster bore a striking resemblance to the intimidating bald man he had spoken to at the foot of Yosemite Falls.

*          *          *

While mechanically going through the act of shaving, Drake found himself thinking about Gene’s playful warning and the implications of seeing a controversial officer of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms in Yosemite National Park. His cellular phone began emitting its familiar electronic warble. Drake went and got it and flipped it on. He heard Megan’s sleep-dulled voice addressing him across the dancing electrons.
            “Good morning, Stan,” she began, not bothering to identify herself. “I couldn’t bear the thought of you eating a cold, greasy breakfast at that ghastly cafĂ© over at the Lodge. Please join Paige and I for breakfast at our place.”
            “I don’t know…” he hesitated. “Are you sure that’s going to be all right with Paige?” he asked a little defensively, “I mean, after all, she seemed a little hostile yesterday, don’t you think?”    
“Nonsense, darling.” Megan assured him. “She’s a grown woman. She’s forgotten all about that. Hurry along now, I’m famished.”
            Since he had taken Megan home the night before he already knew the way to their small home. After he finished dressing, Drake whistled for Hank and they strolled over to the compact two-story cottage, set among a little village of employee cabins not much larger than Drake’s. When he knocked at the door, Paige’s startled face appeared.
            “What do you want?” she asked, seeming more surprised than annoyed. Drake groaned, rolling his eyes elaborately. “Oh, uh, Megan invited me over for breakfast,” he stammered. “I guess she sorta forgot to tell you.”
            “As usual,” she replied with a wry expression. “Well, come on in. And don’t forget to wipe your feet.”
            “Yes, Ma’am,” he said contritely. “Thank you very much.”
            “Oh, stop being so polite,” she said, heading across the small sitting room to an equally compact kitchen. “I’m won’t bite you. You just caught me by surprise yesterday; that’s all.”
“Is it Okay for Hank to come in too?” He asked, “He’s really well behaved.” 
Paige looked down to see Hank sitting docilely at Drake’s feet. “Oh, look at the pretty doggie!” she gushed. She dropped to her knees and began fussing over the furry mutt who sat there thumping his tail on the porch, basking in the attention. Paige looked up at Drake and asked, “What did you say his name is?”
“Hank,” he replied.
“Come on in Hank, by all means,” she said with a smile, then added, “Oh, and bring that guy out there in with you.”
Drake followed her back the kitchen and took a seat at the table. Hank sat obediently at his feet. Paige went back to her breakfast preparations at the kitchen counter. Drake tried to act casual, glancing around the room, but Paige remained the obvious center of attention. Looking up suddenly, she caught his eyes and asked archly. “Do you always conceal you identity when you’re on vacation?”
            “Look,” he sighed, growing impatient with the game, “I’m the same guy, whether I’m speaking from the pulpit or chowing down in your kitchen. Sure, I happen to be a pastor. But that doesn’t mean I wear an enchanted robe under my street clothes, or carry vials of holy water in my utility belt. I’m just a regular guy.”
            “A regular guy?” she asked, then added, “With a holier-than-thou attitude?”
            “Wait just one little second,” he laughed, temper giving way to absurdity. “You don’t know me. I could be a total jerk, or Barbie’s dream date. You can’t know that yet; unless of course you have—like me—The Power.
            She stared at him for a strained moment, then smiled at his disarming silliness. “I haven’t been too impressed with religious people before. That’s for sure,” she added sotto-voice. “I guess I’m just taking it out on you. I humbly apologize. Truce?” she asked.
            “Sure,” he agreed with relief.
            Over breakfast, for which the allegedly famished Megan never showed, Paige and Drake chatted in a wary but friendly fashion, sticking to non-controversial subjects. Paige told him about interesting spots to visit. Drake related his store of knowledge concerning the infamous, car-crunching bears of Yosemite. As a Valley resident she already knew about bears. Also, as a Valley resident, it did not surprise him to learn that she had never visited the museum. Polite as each of them were trying to be, the tension in the room made for a strained and uncomfortable meal. Each of them were going out of their way to be extra courteous, seeking to avoid controversial issues. But at least she hasn’t shooed me out the back door with a broom yet.
            “Have you thought of climbing Half dome?” she asked, eyes alight.
            “Oh, no, you’re not getting me up on some cliff,” he said with mock horror, “I saw those crazy rockhounds, hanging by their sleeping bags, a thousand feet up on El Capitan. That’s not for Mama Drake’s pride and joy.”
Paige laughed merrily at Drake’s tourist ignorance. She explained, “Half dome is that huge rounded formation at the head of the Valley. It’s a tremendous rounded Granite plug. It juts straight up, like 4,000 feet from the valley floor. Eons ago nearly half of it sheared off on the westward side, leaving a cross section of sculpted granite behind. You should do it. Tourists make the climb every day. It is the most beautiful object in the whole world.”
“Okay,” said Drake, “You’ve intrigued me. And I agree it is beautiful, but since it’s so steep and round, how can anybody climb it without being a mountaineer?”
            “That’s easy,” she said, “the Park Service rigged a stairway of sorts up the rounded backside of Half Dome for tourists. It isn’t strictly rock climbing,” she said, “merely good hard labor. Of course the hardcore rockhounds would rather climb the sheer face any day of the week. Oh, but once you reach the summit,” she rhapsodized, “from the crest, you’ve got a terrific view of the whole Valley, and a panorama of most of the National Park, not to mention,” she added playfully, “a four thousand foot dive, straight down.”
            Drake found the idea of climbing that ancient monolith to be both intriguing and sobering. I bet the view is worth it, but the thought of staring straight down a four thousand-foot precipice scared the bejeebers out of him. I get nervous painting the steeple on the church.
            “It sounds like a trip worth making. But it also sounds like I ought to make it while I’m still based down here in the Valley, instead of when I’m packing all my camping gear up to Merced lake.”
            “Now there’s a picture,” laughed Paige. “A tenderfoot hauling a pack full of gear straight up Half Dome’s backside. That’s an idea almost worth painting,” she mused. “But actually, a lot of people make a two day, overnight trip of it. So, when do you think you’ll go?” she asked.
            “Whoa,” he said. “I haven’t decided if I’m going yet. Besides, I’m taking it slow and easy this week. I’m supposed to be on a relaxing vacation, not the Bataan Death March. After all, as we theologians say; ‘The seat of the Vatican did not complete it's fabrication during the course of a sidereal interval.’”
            She made a face, “Sorry, I don’t speak Latin,” she said dryly
            “I'm merely recalling the adage that Rome wasn’t built in a day.”
            “Now I’m starting to wonder if you really are a pastor or not,” she sighed. “You’re way too human.”
            “Thenk yew,” drawled Drake in a horrible Elvis impersonation, “Thenk yew very mooch.” Switching back to his normal voice he said, “I wish people could really understand that.”
            “But how can you be any kind of spiritual leader if you’re not other-worldly?” she asked.
            “I’m not other-worldly. Would you be impressed if I pretended to be? Besides, how am I supposed to communicate with people in this world if I’m living in another?” he countered reasonably. God could easily have given the job of proclaiming the Gospel to sinless angels. Do you know why God chose to use fallen, imperfect people?”
            “No,” she said warily, “why?”
“Because He doesn’t have any other kind to work with. Ha, ha. I mean, don’t get me wrong, my life has changed drastically since I gave it to Jesus Christ. I’m committed to serve God and repent when I fail. I simply don’t see the point of pretending to be Hollywood’s ideal clergyman, as if they had one. The way I figure it, God called me, not my impersonation of Reverend Do Right. Isn’t that right Hank?” Hank didn’t look up from the plate he was licking clean, but he did wag his tail. It could have been agreement.

*          *          *

            The conversation had made Paige decidedly uncomfortable. Stan Drake shattered her personal convictions about phony religious folk. She did not like it one little bit, either. She had summarily tried, convicted, and sentenced her childhood faith to insignificance. That battle was over. Religion was a joke. The courtroom of her heart did not appreciate fresh evidence for the defense cropping up at this late date. Until today Paige believed she had Christians all figured out; neatly pinned, labeled, and compartmented. Either they were blatant hypocrites, like her parents, or weak, humorless nobodies, like her old minister.
            Stan Drake, just by stepping into her life, had burst her bubble. He was personable and easy to talk to. There was no hint that the face she saw might be any different from the one his congregation knew. Moreover, she liked him, and it scared her. That thought frightened her more than the knowledge that Mother and Father had found her again. She did not want to find out there might be real Christians out there, believers who weren’t playing some sort of meaningless game for empty points.
            “I will not let that happen,” Paige assured herself, with a somewhat vague promise.