Faith and Reason

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One of the major themes explored in the Deveran Conflict Series is focused on differences in spiritual perspectives. None of the major characters shares precisely the same set of values, and for that reason, conflicts invariably arise. The greater the contrast between worldviews, the more intense these frictions become. But how do the various characters approach the dangerous minefield of potential disagreements when these differences must be moderated by relational, social, or command hierarchy?

The featured image in this post, for instance, features Bronwyn, Algernon, Kira, Garrick and Brenna gathered around the table in the Superstition Mesa homestead, just prior to enjoying a meal. Bronwyn and Brenna are both women who have always maintained belief in God, though Bronwyn’s version of the deity to whom she’s praying is far less personal and relational than Brenna’s. Algernon, whose priestly faith often reflects an anguished wrestling over his personal failure to maintain ideal conduct, believes that liturgy pays a crucial role in spiritual discipline. The story of his twin sister, Kira, is one of redemption. As a young woman who made poor choices, she gained personal insight into God’s grace. Her faith is a gratitude response to being rescued from a life path that would have quickly led to her death. Garrick, who denies the supernatural altogether, patiently waits for his family members to conclude their prayers before eating. He does this out of respect for each of them as people, even if he stridently disagrees with their faith.

This post explores those issues through a series of dialogues taken mostly from three of the Deveran Conflict Series’ novels: The Long Journey, Ceremonies and Celebrations, and Dreams and Missions. While spiritual disputes between characters occur in every book, as the narrative continues, the major characters learn how to adapt to one another and leave room for differences in perspective.

Let’s begin our look with a scene from The Long Journey. Here, a Tamarian logistics officer named Major Gretschel notices Brenna praying over injured soldiers and healing them after a battle with giants. Although he is favorably impressed by her combat skill, the major wonders where she gets the power to heal wounds. When he discusses this issue with Garrick, the major’s dismissal of Brenna’s faith puts rationally-minded Garrick in the awkward position of defending the Lithian maiden he loves.

Major Gretschel scoffs as Garrick explains his beloved’s spiritual perspective.

        When he heard this, Major Gretschel raised his eyebrows and wrinkled his nose. “And she thinks that her god honors every childish request she makes?”

          The major had a way of consistently belittling other people. Garrick didn’t like this, especially with Brenna as the subject of his ridicule. He’d learned, however, to temper responses in the presence of an officer, so he concealed his irritation. “The way she prays is hardly childish,” Garrick began. “There’s a strength in it I find hard to explain. She relates to her god as if he’s deeply interested in her every concern. Her faith is not a toy; it’s not a crutch. Her faith is an army with heavy artillery . . . .”

          “So you believe in this god of hers?” the major asked, underscoring the irrationality of Brenna’s conviction.

          Garrick didn’t take the bait. “Do you, sir? Can you offer a rational explanation of her healing skill?”

          Major Gretschel scoffed, as if he’d been asked a very stupid question. “I say she’s a demon. She gets her power from evil spirits.”

          This time Garrick shook his head. “A demon who plays hymns on the chapel organ? A demon who bleeds like we do, grows weary, grieves over her smallest character flaw and talks to god in her sleep? A demon who weeps at the beauty before daybreak, feels hurt for being hated without cause, plays the piano and organ with great skill, and recites long passages of Lithian scripture from memory? In what evil realm does such a frail and gentle creature exist?”

          Major Gretschel thought for a moment. “Well, at the very least, I’d say she sounds like a fanatic.”

***

The difficulty that skeptical people like Garrick face, when confronted with the power that Brenna wields, is determining a rational reason for her inexplicable healing skill. This is made more complicated by the lack of evidence that any injury occurred after she’s finished with her task, coupled with the reality that not every one of Brenna’s efforts to heal is successful. In the narrative, some soldiers die in her arms, at other times her healing is only partial — as was the case with Kira’s gunshot wound in The Inquest, and she was also unable to heal the scar on her neck that testifies to a Kamerese rebel trying to kill her with a machete in Crisis.

In some instances, a secular-minded character, like Mariel Hougen, will run into a wall of resistance against her evidence-based perspective. In this scene, from Ceremonies and Celebrations, she takes Jawara, son of Penda, third wife of his beloved father, to task over his refusal to take her military analysis with the gravity she believes it deserves. Note as you read that she is clearly frustrated and pushes against his stalwart faith quite vigorously, yet she is careful to avoid overtly belittling his character or intellect. It’s clear, based on what she’s thinking, that her respect for, and admiration of, Jawara diminishes as a result of this conversation.

Mariel struggles to retain composure as Jawara resolutely refuses to accept her threat assessment.

Jawara held his right hand out with his palm facing heavenward. “A farmer who sows good seed can expect a good crop.”

          Mariel veiled her disbelief and disappointment. Apparently, she’d given Jawara more credit for intelligence than he deserved. “I’ve brought you hard evidence that a potential adversary is headed this direction,” she complained. “I’ve outlined a logical motivation for Gaspar Navarro to act against Lord Velez, yet you dismiss my analysis in favor of pure conjecture and wishful thinking!”

          “I’m not wanting to offend you,” Jawara replied, “but I honestly don’t believe you can understand the complete picture.”

          Mildly annoyed at his impertinence, Mariel scowled. “What do you mean?”

          “Not everything that matters can be quantified,” Jawara said. “You present a case based on what you consider an objective analysis, and you expect people to behave in a self-interested manner.”

          “Of course!” she replied. “That’s how people operate. It’s a biological and social imperative.”

          “It’s clear that you think so,” Jawara responded, gently. “However, let me give you a practical example that might shed light on why I disagree. When two people love each other, it’s reasonable for both of them to expect the other will act favorably to sustain the relationship. All successful relationships depend on an expectation that your partner will not only do what is right, but also, what is best. In the spiritual realm, we call this faith.”

          “So you think God is going to prevent disaster?” she asked.

          Jawara sat back in his chair. “The Holy One will do whatever he wills, and what he wills is always in the best interest of his people.”

          Collecting her thoughts while she sipped tea, Mariel changed tactics. “How do you know that God hasn’t sent me here to warn you of impending doom?”

          This time Jawara smiled. “So you’re a prophet now? Have you come here to call me, my family and our friends to repentance?”

          That didn’t work, she admitted to herself. When it came to spiritual discussions, Mariel had no experience from which to draw. “If God did not send me here, and I turn out to be right, what then?”

          “You still don’t understand,” Jawara corrected. “The Holy One will act in our interest. Without question, and without exception, he always does.”

          Mariel raised her eyebrows and lowered her chin.  “This was true in Shirak, where the same people you’re facing in Maidenhair Pass defeated the Lithians and destroyed their civilization?”

          Jawara nodded. “Yes.”

          Exasperated, Mariel slapped her hands on her thighs. “How can you believe such a thing?” She’d heard that Jawara’s wife, Niobe, had not survived the invasion, but she maintained enough self-control to avoid hurting him with a painful reminder of his loss. Mariel didn’t need to emphasize that the Azgaril had ruthlessly killed many of Jawara’s loved ones during that invasion. “How can you contend that God cares for anyone, when you, your family and your devout Lithian friends were driven from your homes?”

          “The evil you describe proves that the Holy One honors free will,” Jawara replied. “Yet, even amid much suffering, we maintain hope in the promise of a better life in this age and the next. While we remain here, we endeavor to live with integrity and testify of God’s mercy to anyone who will listen.

          “Our hope is not in things that can be seen, touched, or measured. That’s why Lord Lynden sold the best of his land to the peasants who live here. That’s why he let Lord Navarro’s soldiers go home, instead of slaying or enslaving them, like the Kamerese have always done to their vanquished enemies. The Holy One expects us to act rightly, and we, in turn, expect the same of him.”

          Mariel felt like she was being reprimanded, and she didn’t like it. Her high regard of Jawara diminished rapidly as he persisted in this maddening, rigid perspective. How did Garrick manage to deal with Brenna, who held similar views?

***

Even when talking to Garrick, a fellow skeptic, Mariel overlooks the spiritual and unmeasurable for physical traits that can be quantified. After Brenna is evacuated from Traitor’s Pass in The Long Journey, suffering from severe altitude sickness, she tries to turn handsome Garrick’s attention away from his Lithian girlfriend. Believing that their shared heritage, culture, language, military service and rational perspective gives her a significant advantage, Mariel is shocked to hear that Garrick actually admires Brenna, in part, for intangible matters.

Traitor’s Pass is the highest-elevation, continually inhabited place in all of Devera. Altitude sickness and cerebral edema are common problems at this lofty height.

“Ah, but your situation is deliciously intriguing!” she countered. “You’re romantically involved with a foreign mercenary. In my line of work that makes you very interesting.”

          “So, lieutenant, you’re a spy now?” he queried.

          She dismissed the remark. “Don’t be silly. At first I wondered why a good-looking Tamarian boy would bother with some flighty foreigner who speaks the enemy’s language, but then I took a good look at her while we got her into her clothes and I know why you like her!” Mariel smiled lecherously. “Let’s just say I noticed how she fills out those little running sweats of hers.”

          “You think that’s all I care about?” he asked. “If I took an interest in you because of your red hair, how long do you think that would sustain my attention?”

          “I think that would depend on which red hair you were looking at,” she replied, provocatively leaning forward.

          Garrick felt outmaneuvered and needed to think fast. He stammered uncharacteristically. “Lieutenant, I don’t deny that Brenna’s beautiful,” he began. “But don’t patronize me with simplistic talk.”

          Lieutenant Hougen laughed. “Yeah, right! Convince me that when she moves around, or rubs her soft parts on you that you’re thinking about her goodness and character.  Come on, soldier, do you think I was born yesterday?” 

          Garrick grew impatient with her accusation. “I don’t appreciate you talking about Brenna like that. What do you know about her, anyway? How can you disconnect her intellect and character to focus on her body like she’s some rack of meat in the market? I’ve just watched her leave here on a gurney with a tube in her nose, I don’t know if I’ll ever see her alive again and you think my primary concern centers on how she fills out her running sweats? Are you out of your mind?

          “I’ve fought with that young woman at my side for months. I’ve watched her risk her life for the guys in my unit, dragging their broken bodies to safety while the enemy shot at her. Together we’ve been tired, cold, hungry and terrified. I led her around when she was snow blind. I’ve heard her laugh; I’ve watched her cry. I’ve listened when she vents frustration because people hate her without reason.

          “She prays over me, lieutenant, though I don’t even believe in her god. Brenna accepts me just as I am. In the past few hours I’ve seen what she’s like when she’s deathly sick, and I don’t know if I’ll ever see any of those other things again.” Garrick’s eyes brimmed with tears, but he restrained his anger, holding back his fear and sorrow. “Don’t tell me what I love about her, ” he concluded. “That’s for her and me alone to know.”

          Lieutenant Hougan felt a tide of remorse rising within her, having miscalculated Garrick’s dedication.  She looked away, regretting her attitude, regretting her words. The linguist shook her pretty head. “Well, Mister Ravenwood, I’ve been out of line,” the attractive officer admitted. She paused, searching for the right thing to say, as if mere words well spoken could mend her mistake. “I hope you’ll forgive me for misjudging you. She’s clearly put her name on your heart, and I can honestly say she’s honored to have won your devotion.”

***

In this situation, Garrick, when faced with the common and rather lurid judgment that his interest in Brenna is motivated by the size of her breasts, defends himself by outlining aspects of Brenna’s character and behavior that illustrate a far deeper understanding of her value as a woman than Mariel credited to him. Knowing from experience that masculine focus begins — and too often ends — with physical attraction, the Tamarian officer is surprised by the depth of Garrick’s devotion and a little embarrassed that she so quickly and easily dismissed Brenna’s integrity, honorable conduct, courage, talent and intelligence. The irony at work here is that Mariel is continually frustrated when men focus on her beauty, rather than her analytical skill, and yet she reflexively projected the very attitude she hates on another woman, based entirely on Brenna’s physical attributes.

Perhaps the most difficult conflicts over faith arise between Garrick and Brenna. She believes in God. He does not. This creates tension between them that nearly results in the demise of their relationship on more than one occasion. However, they manage to negotiate these difficulties with compassion for one another, trust in the value of their differing worldviews, and careful communication. Here, in another Ceremonies and Celebrations dialogue between Bronwyn, who is upset after Garrick and Brenna have a significant fight and he storms back to base while Brenna weeps alone in her room, and Kira, who seems oddly confident that her brother and the Lithian woman will reconcile.

Among her many talents, Kira is skilled at weaving baskets. This one is intended as a gift for her mother.

          “She’ll be the perfect army wife,” Kira continued. “She doesn’t need to bruise or dirty her dainty piano fingers with cooking, cleaning and laundry. Garrick’s a career soldier. He doesn’t need anyone to do those things for him. Whenever he wants to eat, he goes to the mess hall. He’s got limited wardrobe needs: combat clothes, a dress uniform, some underwear and a few shirts and pants for casual occasions. All of that is provided for him, and they’ve got facilities on base to do his laundry.

          “But when the bullets fly, Brenna shines. There’s nothing more practical for a soldier than a wife who is fearless in a fight and can heal wounds with a kiss. I visited Garrick on base one day while you were at the Temple. Sergeant Grossman sat down with me and related stories about her courage under fire that made my hair stand on end.”

          Though Bronwyn had never witnessed Brenna’s mysterious healing ability, she knew what every one of the Lithian woman’s combat citations meant, and did not doubt Kira’s testimony about Brenna’s valor. “But she’s a woman of faith, and your brother doesn’t believe in God. How does that work?”

          Kira put her weaving project down for a moment. “You have to know my brother to understand,” she explained. “But once you do, his relationship with Brenna makes perfect sense. Garrick has always been the kind of person who acts in harmony with the way he thinks. He’s very introspective and always wants to behave in harmony with his values. It’s obvious that Brenna is the same, and that’s the common ground between them.

“But why can’t she find a mate among her own people and religion?” Bronwyn inquired. “I don’t see why she’d bother with your brother when there are good-looking Lithian men out there.”

Kira smirked. “Come now, Bron . . . . Don’t you find him handsome?”

Bronwyn, a bit flustered, admitted that she did. Lean and muscular Garrick had been blessed with perfect, masculine proportions. His striking, grey eyes and disarming smile melted feminine hearts and attracted attention wherever he went.

“Why would Brenna feel any different?” Kira continued. “Garrick’s every bit as good-looking as she is. He’s charismatic and he’s got a solid career ahead of him. He treats her with almost reverential respect and sincerely honors her ethics, even if he doesn’t agree with her views. For a woman whose religion demands an intimate relationship with God, that’s fundamental.”

“I still don’t get that,” Bronwyn admitted. “She prays and he doesn’t. She believes, and he doesn’t. That sort of thing can easily divide people, even when they’re physically attracted to each other.”

Though Bronwyn brought up a good point, Kira had an even better counter. “Have you ever heard him criticize or ridicule us for our belief in the Great God?” she asked. “Has he ever made you feel uncomfortable while he’s visiting and we bless our food, recite Gottslena or gather for morning and evening prayers?”

Bronwyn shook her head. “No,” she admitted. “He’s actually more respectful about the liturgy than some who live in the sacred community.”

Kira returned to her task. “That’s why it works. Brenna is too devout to choose a partner who doesn’t accept her faith, and the fact that Garrick gives her latitude to believe as she sees fit permits their contrast in world-view. He’s not threatened by her faith. She’s both beautiful and benevolent. That’s what he wants.

“Besides, they have other things in common, too. He’s a soldier, she’s a warlord’s daughter. He’s smart and brave, and so is she. We used to listen to high-brow music on an old record player, so he enjoys what she plays on the piano. They both read philosophy, poetry and enjoy outdoor activities, like hiking and hunting. The two of them are so well-matched, I can’t see either of them walking away from one other at this point.”

***

While in that scene, Kira makes it sound like the gap between belief and disbelief is a trivial matter, the reality is very different. Garrick and Brenna struggle to get past this issue in the early months of their relationship. They have many confrontations over this issue until they learn how to successfully navigate these conflicts. This requires a rare degree of interpersonal respect, great care with phrasing, and a consistent willingness to value a view that is, in some ways, antithetical to their own.

In the scene depicted below, Garrick and Brenna engage in a playful chase on their way to Superstition Mesa. She’s been tormented by evil spirits for months, following her dreadful experience at La Casa del Matados in Crisis. Because he doesn’t believe in spirits, Garrick struggles to support her. After a pointed conversation with Dr. Bauer, the regimental psychologist — whom Garrick visits for treatment of combat trauma — the young soldier gains insight into the cultural framework that informs Brenna’s perception of reality. Once he understands this, he finally perceives the internal logic of her perspective and can offer good counsel.

Garrick pursues his beloved Brenna. She, however, is much quicker and has far more stamina than he. He won’t catch her until she wants to be caught.

As they neared the overgrown, moonlit path leading up to Superstition Mesa, Brenna expressed a concern he’d never heard from her before. “Can you love me if I’m like this?” she asked.

          Unwilling to unravel what little self-confidence remained in his woman, Garrick chose his words carefully. “I’ll always love you, but I’m worried,” he admitted. “This spiritual battle you’re fighting is wearing you down. It’s frustrating that I can’t help.”

          She stopped him, dropped her backpack, laid her head on his chest and took his hands in hers. “You are helping,” she replied. “The Fallen Ones said that you would leave me. They said you’re having doubts about committing yourself to me, but they were wrong. You came when I called. You’re with me now.”

          Garrick held his breath. How could the wicked spirits of her imagination know that such a thought had crossed his mind? “I’d like my aid to be more practical,” he told her, covering his rising panic by shifting the focus of their discussion. “I wish you could forgive your captors and put all this conflict behind you.”

          Brenna sighed, then lifted her backpack by its upper handle. “I’ve tried,” she complained, walking onward. “I just don’t know how. I feel that being raised in a bubble of goodness hasn’t equipped me for dealing with the kind of evil I’ve experienced.”

          “Then maybe you should talk to my sister,” he advised. “She might be able to help.”

          Brenna understood that Kira’s dreams had been dashed and her hope snuffed out by addiction and torment. Yet, she’d emerged from that experience as a strong young woman, fiercely committed to using her gifts to help others overcome their troubles. Brenna pondered her beloved’s words for awhile as wind sang through the treetops. “I’m astonished that while you don’t believe, sometimes Allfather speaks through you.”

          “Hmm,” he smirked. “I don’t know about that.”

          Brenna slapped his backside playfully. “So, you think I’m crazy after all?”

          Rising to her challenge, Garrick shed his backpack.  “I’ll show you who’s crazy about whom!” he warned, reaching to tickle her.

***

Of course, Garrick does not have faith, nor does he believe that any deity speaks through him. She does, however, so he accepts her view as meritorious and moves on. Likewise, she acknowledges that his perspective differs and does not insist that he should think like she does. Some of my devout readers have expressed frustration over this, wondering why Garrick doesn’t “convert” to the “truth” of her religious view. But that isn’t the point of the story. I’m illustrating how these two negotiate a divisive issue that could easily derail the love between them. To my Christian readers, I remind them that I have the authority of St. Paul on my side in this regard:

And if a woman has a husband who is not a believer and he is willing to live with her, she must not divorce him. For the unbelieving husband has been sanctified through his wife, and the unbelieving wife has been sanctified through her believing husband. Otherwise your children would be unclean, but as it is, they are holy. (1 Corinthians 7: 13 – 14)

But Garrick’s advice bears fruit in the testimony of his little sister, Kira, whose childhood sexual and physical abuse mirrors the mistreatment Brenna received at La Casa del Matados in ways that Brenna had not previously considered. As they travel south on a luxury train, the Fallen Ones again come after Brenna. This time, Kira experiences the event from beginning to end, and her prayerful solidarity with Brenna helps the Lithian maiden in her struggle.

Brenna, who’d initially believed Kira to be spiritually inferior to her, learns that her soon-to-be sister-in-law has made amazing progress in her faith journey.

Kira raised her brow in surprise. She’d never expected saintly Brenna to admire her for anything. “To be clear, I don’t approve of what they’ve done to me, but I’ve forgiven them.”

          Slowly, Brenna shook her head. “How? How can you honestly forgive anyone who deliberately wrenched away the gift of your innocence?”

          “The very first thing I had to do was recognize why I felt angry with them,” Kira told her. “My feelings are legitimate. No one can deny that what I feel is right.

          “I’m not giving them power to torment me over what they’ve done. I prayed about this until I felt their influence diminish, and whenever I feel resentful, I pray to remember that they can no longer hurt me.

          “I started counting my blessings and thanking the Great God for every one of them. I thank him for Algernon and Garrick, for you, for Bronwyn’s forgiveness and friendship, for protecting us from the giants, for giving us our house, and everything that is good and noble. Then I took control over my own destiny.

          “I know you feel guilty about killing your enemies, but that guilt is not from God. Maybe you believe the evil spirits are right to condemn you. But the gift God offers is that none of us get what we think we deserve. You get better than what your own sense of right and wrong tells you is fair, and that is an unbelievable offer that you have to accept by faith.”

          Astonished that Kira had made such spiritual progress in so short a time, Brenna held her breath. This was not the fruit of Temple theology. “You’re right,” she replied. “But I can’t forgive those who’ve hurt me.”

          Kira squeezed Brenna’s hand. “You didn’t make a bunch of bad decisions, like I did. You didn’t rebel against authority, or deliberately flaunt your sexuality like I did. You didn’t choose to run away with an evil man, or give control of your mind and will over to opium, like I did. You weren’t held down by gangs of men who had their way with you, and you weren’t sold as a sex slave. All of that came from choices I’d made.

          “Your time at the Casa Matados is more like mine as a child. Just as I had no control over what my parents did to me, you were under the control of people who felt that beating and trying to rape you was their right. They didn’t care that you’d be hurt by what they were doing.”

          “That’s what makes forgiveness so hard!” Brenna complained. “I was at the mercy of merciless people, but when I had power to hurt them, I acted no better than they did. I can’t believe I behaved that way.”

          Kira’s brow rose in sympathy again. “This is where our paths converge,” she said. “When I prayed about the bad things I’d done, I realized that God’s love is greater than I could comprehend. Because I’ve been forgiven for my own evil and stupidity, I can forgive my parents for abusing me. That’s why I can face them now.”

          Brenna’s eyes widened. “I’m amazed that you can say that with such conviction,” she stammered. “I’ve seriously underestimated your faith.”

          “The power to overcome is within you,” Kira promised. “Meditate on God’s magnanimity. Accept the gift, and then you can extend the same grace to everyone who’s wronged you. Know that God loves you deeply, and don’t let pride over losing the appearance of spiritual perfection keep you locked into the past.”

***

Conversations of that kind can only happen between people who share faith. Kira and Brenna do not believe the same things about God, but they find common ground that draws them together. Later in Ceremonies and Celebrations, Brenna’s younger sister, Acacia, feels displaced and a little sad, noting the strength of relationship that has grown between her big sister and the young Tamarian woman.

But not every spiritual conflict is quite so abstract. In the same book, Algernon exhibits surprising tenacity in faith, even when his belief in principle puts his life in peril. In the image below, he confronts an assassin known as The Shadow, whose guild is under contract from powerful people in the sex trade industry who don’t want Kira’s ministry to continue. His threats only harden Algernon’s resolve. The irony here, is that The Shadow is a former priest, who like Algernon, took vows to define his commitment to public service. Also like Algernon, he is a Temple trained martial artist. While he suspected that the younger man would yield to the dreadful reality of violence against him and the people he loves, Algernon’s faith becomes a shield behind which he shelters.

Despite his vocation as a lowly monk, Algernon is confident in, and passionate about, his role as a spiritual shepherd.

This dangerous game required prudence. Algernon had given thought to every action, but didn’t reveal very much to anyone. “The detective visited my place to question my brother’s girlfriend. She was on his suspect list. He never asked about you.”

          “Then why is he looking into my activities?”

          “That’s his job,” Algernon replied. “When people die unnaturally, he makes an effort to find out who’s responsible. You expect him to do otherwise?”

          “Let me remind you,” The Shadow interrupted.  “Those Kamerese vermin were sent here to kill your brother’s woman. Does a Heroine of the Republic deserve death on our own soil?”

          “When did murder become a patriotic duty?” Algernon replied.

          “Don’t play games with me,” the assassin warned.  “I told you that if you follow the rules we set out, you would be permitted to engage in your ministry without interference. I also promised that certain threats against your family could be dealt with quietly. I expect discretion from you in return.”

          “I am sworn to serve the Great God,” Algernon replied fearlessly.  “I’ve said before that when it comes to public service, I don’t answer to you or your clients. As far as discretion is concerned, I’ve said nothing to implicate you, or your organization. If the police make an arrest and press charges, it’s because they’ve collected incriminating evidence, not because of anything I’ve told them. But if they’d had solid reasons to accuse you, we’d be speaking in jail, not here.”

          The last statement surprised the assassin. “You’d visit me in prison? Are you trying to save my soul like you do with the pimps and the whores? I’m honored!” he replied sarcastically.

          “My moral imperative to serve doesn’t distinguish between those who are worthy of my efforts and those who are not.”

          The assassin shook his head. “Your colleagues at the Temple would say I’m inveterate, and that you’re wasting time trying reform a wicked soul like mine.”

          Algernon disagreed with Temple teachings in many areas, and this was an important example. “You are not beyond redemption. Everyone does wrong, including me. That puts the two of us on a level playing field in the spiritual realm.”

          The Shadow laughed. “That’s unconventional talk from a pariah priest! All I’ve ever heard from people like you is condemnation.”

          While that was likely true, Algernon’s experience in Kameron, the spiritual influence of Brenna – who believed that Allfather personally loved people – and Jawara – who maintained that the Holy One provided guidance to anyone following a moral path – the hard work of relational restoration with Kira, and the uncanny way in which the Superstition Mesa homestead project had come together changed his perspective. He rejected the hard line traditions of the Temple Elsbireth, particularly their belief that the Great God could never be known. Though he often struggled with personal, intellectual doubts about the existence of God, Algernon could cite a long list of evidence illustrating that a power greater than his own mind – one beyond his personal control – worked through his life.

          Further, when Algernon examined his motives, he couldn’t deny the selfish impulses driving his behavior.  This problem extended so broadly, that the contrast between the lofty ideals Jawara espoused and the base drives of his own soul led him to conclude that he could never aspire to the spiritually flawless lifestyle espoused by Gottslena writings. While this might have discouraged most people, Algernon felt liberated to focus on aligning his attitude toward service, and had stopped worrying about perfection.

          Therefore, though he was an ordained priest, Algernon never claimed moral ascendency over anyone else. Given the evidence that God actively worked in his life – as Brenna often passionately argued – Algernon concluded that God loved him. From that point, logic permitted an extension of the belief that if God loved him, God could also love others who struggled to behave rightly, even if they missed the mark. This perspective gave him a refreshing humility, when compared to traditionally-minded Tamarian priests.

          For these reasons, he had no difficulty associating with prostitutes and assassins. “It’s my honor to be concerned with your soul. I’m not here to judge. I’m here to be your friend.”

          “There can be no friendship with a man like me.”

          Algernon leaned forward and spoke in a low tone.  “You may not understand this now, but one day, you may find that I’m the only real friend you have.”

          The Shadow smirked. “Believe in whatever fantasy you wish. I didn’t summon you here to confess my sins; we need to talk business. My clients are displeased that you and your team have turned away so many girls.”

          “Oh?” Algernon remarked. “So, a hidden condition of our mutual understanding is that it only remains in effect as long as my sister and I don’t have an impact?”

          “The issue is one of degree,” the assassin clarified.  “My business clients did not expect their supply of new recruits to dry up as they have in recent weeks.”

          Algernon had been delighted to see that Kira’s success with Lilian created a synergy among the girls.  Not only had Kira and Bronwyn become more confident when they spoke to young women at the train station, but once Lilian joined them, her credibility turned many potential sex industry victims toward charitable organizations and government services that could offer these girls legitimate help.

          “Are you ready to die for what you do?” Algernon asked, leaning forward, earnestly.

          “What kind of a question is that?”

          Algernon laughed. “It’s one that illustrates the strength of your conviction. Not long ago, I talked to a pimp who thinks he’s doing a great service for society, but I can tell you that he’d never lay down his life on principle. If he ever had to choose between life and integrity, he’d do anything to stay alive.”

          Annoyed now, The Shadow tapped his index finger on the table. “What does this have to do with the issue of you interfering with the business of my clients?”

          “My intent isn’t clear?” Algernon queried. “I’ve devoted my life to public service, and no threat you make is going to change my mind.”

          “You speak this way to me?  You know what I can do to you, or to someone you love . . . .”

          “We’ve already been down that road,” Algernon reminded him. Having slain one Black Blade assassin with his bare hands and crippled another for life, the young priest had already proven himself a formidable adversary. “More death isn’t going to change anything.  If your only intention in calling me here was to deliver another threat against my life, you should know by now that I’m not easily intimidated.”

          Against his better judgment, The Shadow liked and genuinely respected this uncompromising priest. There was something refreshing about his perspective, and it would be a shame to kill him. “Your attitude is counterproductive,” the assassin admonished. “I’m trying to warn you that shutting down my clients’ supply of new recruits will have grave consequences.”

          Algernon didn’t flinch. “The real truth is, none of your clients believed that God would honor a ministry to strichmadchen, but it should be clear by now that they were mistaken. When God’s hand moves through the affairs of men, you would do well to cooperate with it, so that you’re not crushed by his power.”

          “Is that a threat?” the assassin asked.

          “No,” Algernon replied.  “It’s a warning.”

***

While Algernon is very confident in his martial skill, and The Shadow is well acquainted with that fact, Algernon’s point isn’t about his physical prowess. He’s quite willing to die for what he believes in, and what astounds The Shadow is that both men know that no one is willing to lay down his life for an idea personally known to be a lie. In this case, Algernon is proving the intensity of his devotion to faith. It’s not always been like this with him, as he starts the series as an angry, cynical young man.

Brenna, however, has been devout from the start. As Mariel became better acquainted with her, the Tamarian woman bumped into Brenna’s intense spiritual perspective more frequently. In the interest of getting along — as command imperatives demanded and a genuine appreciation for the Lithian woman gradually inspired — she didn’t push back very hard. But she’s not afraid to point out that her view on faith differs significantly. In a brief dialogue from The Long Journey, Brenna expresses gratitude to Allfather for the effort Mariel exerted in clearing the military bureaucracy on Brenna’s behalf.

Prior to receiving these documents from Mariel, Brenna had been cooped up in a cottage on the Dragon’s Lair base, guarded by soldiers and unable to leave. To her, it felt like house arrest, and the relief she experienced as a result of Mariel’s efforts fills her heart with gratitude.

When Mariel arrived with Brenna’s bursary documents in hand, the feeling of triumph she experienced when finally allowed to leave the cottage inspired a beautiful smile and laughter.
“May God be praised!” Brenna exclaimed.
Mariel scoffed, her brown eyes rolling. “It seems that I’ve done an inordinate amount of work for you to attribute credit to your god!”
Reaching out to grasp her new found friend’s hand, Brenna replied with a gentle, explanatory smile: “Your friendship is a divine gift, and I am grateful that you’re here to help me.”
Acknowledging that devout Brenna attributed every kindness to her deity’s influence, agnostic Mariel gracefully accepted the Lithian woman’s gratitude.

***

Even though she’s openly dismissive, Mariel appreciates Brenna’s sincerity, and Brenna does not criticize her Tamarian friend for her expressed disbelief. Brenna doesn’t badger, berate or belittle Mariel, she doesn’t preach at her, nor does she condemn. Instead, she behaves graciously toward a woman whose overt atheism might give a believer of lesser restraint an excuse to criticize.

The brief, final example I’d like to share also comes from Ceremonies and Celebrations. Here, Garrick and Algernon contemplate the deep questions of life as they stare into their parents’ grave.

After the unexpected deaths of their parents, Algernon and Garrick are confronted with essential questions related to the meaning of life.

“This is where all of our aspirations descend,” Algernon muttered.

          Garrick patted his brother’s shoulder. “One day, either you’ll stand over my grave, or I’ll stand over yours. It puts everything into perspective, don’t you think?”

          Algernon jammed his shovel into the excavated dirt. “Yes. It casts a bright light on all relationships. Aside from giving us life, what good did Mom or Dad ever do? What was the point of their existence?”

          “There is no point,” Garrick replied. “All we’ll ever have is what we have now. All we’ll ever be is who we are in every moment that passes. All that matters is that we care for our loved ones with purpose and passion.”

          “Well, that’s not good enough!” Algernon replied, somewhat testily. “If I can contemplate the question, there must be an answer. Why do we create music and art, if not to fill an emptiness in our souls? Where does that longing come from? Why do we love and laugh, only to end up in the ground?”

          “You’re the priest,” Garrick replied with a shrug. “It’s your job to figure that out.”

***

This overview illustrates the range of perspectives and interpersonal conflicts that arise in the series. There are many others, all of which are equally interesting. The common thread linking each character — whether they aspire to faith or not — and each scene in which they appear relates to their shared commitment to living in harmony with their values, and respecting worldviews that differ from their own. Our world would certainly benefit from following their examples.

Every person in this image views faith through a different lens. They each bring a unique perspective into how a well-examined life should be lived.

***
End of post

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