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Unclean?

By G.K. Johnson

Unclean. The opposite of being clean. In our current times, people are doing everything they can to avoid this descriptor. We wash our hands. When we leave our homes, we wear gloves and masks and try to keep at least six feet between ourselves and others.

There are those for whom the word is an unavoidable description of their current condition. They are sequestered in their homes or other isolated places to wait out the virus, their bodies fighting their invisible attackers as best they can. The sickness has spread through their body, out of their control…they are unclean.

Mankind is no stranger to disease and sickness.

Thousands of years ago those with life-altering illnesses and disease had even less hope for healing. Medical knowledge was extremely limited in comparison to what it is now. Those who found themselves with incurable diseases were often sequestered in isolated places with others suffering the same fate. One of these terrible diseases was leprosy. Not only were there terrible physical ramifications from the disease, but it was also believed that those infected with leprosy earned the condition through their sin.

Imagine the heaviness of this diagnosis: the shame, fear, and loneliness that the inflicted person would feel.

“Unclean!”

“Get away!”

“Don’t infect us, scum!”

Shim’on pushed into the crowd trying to see the subject of the disruption.

People backed up and parted to reveal a man swathed head to toe in dirty white linens. The only uncovered parts of his body were his fingertips and a gap in the head covering where his eyes peered out.

Looking at his hands, Shim’on flinched. Instead of healthy pink skin, he saw white deformed stubs. The man had leprosy. Instinctively, Shim’on, Andreas, and the other two disciples stepped back.

Instead of moving away from the leper, however, Shim’on watched the rabbi walk toward him! What was the man doing? Leprosy was extremely contagious. Lepers were not permitted in populated towns; but only in leper colonies outside the village.

The disease attacked the nerve functioning of those it infected and caused sores to develop all over the body. If ever a leper were to come in proximity to a ‘clean’ person, one not tainted by the disease, he was required to shout “unclean!” to warn others of his condition. The life of a leper was lonely and filled with shame.

This rabbi was taking a gamble by approaching the leper, and Shim’on couldn’t decide if he were completely crazy or extremely brave.

Jesus continued walking toward the man until he stood directly in front of him, only a foot or so away. The crowd, which had grown increasingly large, quieted, holding their breath to see what the rabbi was going to do.

Suddenly Jesus reached out his hand and set it on the man’s shoulder. Gasps and whispers crossed over the crowd.

“Be healed,” Jesus spoke quietly, looking into the man’s eyes.

The man began to cry, tears wetting the dirty cloths wrapped around his face. He reached up a hand, and it was then that Shim’on saw that what had been decaying tissue was now healthy skin. The man continued staring at his fingers and then began unwrapping the cloth, revealing a hand, then an arm. The flesh was perfectly healthy; the leprosy completely gone!

Murmurs spread, growing in volume, through the crowd. Everyone was amazed.

“Who is this man?”

“He healed the leper with a word!”

Jesus spoke to the man quietly.

Tears poured down the man’s face and he knelt before Jesus. “Thank you, Rabbi!”

He stood in amazement and Jesus clapped him on the shoulder, grinning. The man laughed in gulps of wonder and then, he departed.*

The Zealots, author G.K. Johnson. publishing September 2020, by Capture Books.

Our Lord touches even those whom the authorities in this world say are untouchable, unclean.

Our God enters into the dirtiest, most shame-filled places of our lives and speaks life!

And it brings Him joy to do it.

The book of Mark, chapter 2, records a dinner where Jesus attends to a tax collector’s needs at the tax collector’s home. The Hebrews despised tax collectors.

These tax collectors were Hebrews who had turned on their people and accepted Roman jobs because of the financial benefits. They extorted their own people and helped to support the Roman occupation at the same time. So when Jesus invites a tax collector to follow him, imagine the outrage many of the Hebrews would feel. Can’t Jesus identify the scum in our community? Is Jesus intentionally circumventing our social bias and the rules we use to keep this kind of traitor down? The disciple, Mark, reflects that some religious Pharisees grumbled to the disciples, “Why does he eat with such scum?”

Jesus replies, “Healthy people don’t need a doctor—sick people do. I have come to call not those who think they are righteous, but those who know they are sinners.”

Isn’t this beautiful? It’s the very core of the gospel. I am unclean. You are unclean. We are all physically, socially, and spiritually sick with sin. And it’s only when we can acknowledge that truth to Jesus, the Great Physician, in a seed of faith for His help, that He can administer His miracles of life and spiritual birth. Sometimes it’s physical. Other times it’s a healing of our hearts.

Let’s be careful and wash our hands and follow other medical wisdom to not spread sickness. Yes, let’s also be mindful of the unclean around us…the obviously sick and those who may not show physical symptoms.

But, let’s also ask, How can we be the hands and feet of Jesus? Perhaps it’s letting His word soak into our own hearts while resting so that we have some good news to spread in a fresh way. Perhaps, it is sending a card or letter, singing hope to our neighbors from our backyard, offering to help with shopping or giving out medical gloves for commercial transactions, or maybe simply making a phone call.

Most of all, remember, dear unclean one…Jesus came to help you.

References: Matthew 8 (New Living Translation of the Bible)

To pre-order your copy of The Zealots, contact us today.

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I PREDICT GREAT THINGS FROM SOCIAL QUARANTINE

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Yesterday my husband and I made a concerted effort to not go anywhere. 

We have enough food, enough toilet paper, enough entertainment. By the end of the day though, we were tired of lounging in our jammies saying to each other, “Isn’t this great?” The roast and potatoes and carrots tasted like Sunday dinner without the guests.  Hmm. Maybe a shower and getting dressed would have helped the humor after twelve hours of forced leisure.  Even our dog seemed lowly, dumped out on the carpet. I looked at his water bowl and realized that in the change of routine, we’d neglected him.

Still, I predict great things to come of this social quarantine, don’t you?

Boredom births games, boredom births conversations, and silliness, and sex.

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I’d already seen several programs on the T.V. and just wanted to click off the power button. It felt like the reruns after 9/11. I decided to clean a room, and I found some forgotten treasures! In that little corner of heaven and for a couple of hours, I saw why cleanliness might prove to be next to godliness.

Explorations in the bookshelf, the stored software-to-learn list, webinars held on the back burner, homeschooling and getting to know one’s kids will all take shape.

All that attention kids need and crave from their parents will feel a little awkward at first. Arguments and fights will break out. They’ll look each other in the eye after a few hours and think, is this really happening?  Do I even know this person in my house?!  Then, the serious discussions will start to take place.  Values, politics, meaning, personal strengths and weaknesses, the I-never and what-if discussions.

Things you never wanted to do, you’ll do, and discover you’re pretty good at it given some time.

After we slap our foreheads, remembering to feed our pets out of routine, we’ll tire of the couch and go out to weed the garden. Who weeds the garden anymore? Lawn services are the closest thing to beautifying the landscape we see around our neighborhood.

  • So, we’ll go outside there, and find some twigs to tie into wreaths and furniture. 
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  • We’ll decide to whittle a piece of wood into shape. We’ll find some glue or caulk or paint and start playing around. Our faces will relax. Smiles will be found.
  • Families will tell stories about grandparents and ancestry and wonder whether they should plan to visit their past in another state, another country entirely.  Budgets for historical discovery will be made.
  • Designers will remember that they enjoyed drawing at one time, and they will begin to design upgrades to their houses. Negotiators, desperate for an income, will negotiate prices for work.  The economy will plunge and adjust and perhaps prices will take a turn for the more reasonable.
  • Inventors will grow industrious.  I remember we had installed a gas fireplace with a self-lighting pilot light in our old home because, at the time, rolling electrical black-outs were an issue in winter.  In this particular crisis, I’m not sure how helpful the self-lighting pilot would be to eradicate COVID-19, but I am sure that industrious minds will begin to invent heath systems, tools, and hacks for hospitals, homestays, working from home, and bartering.
  • Would-be authors who have always wanted to write their masterpiece will begin an outline, a first page, a rewrite.
  • People who fear big brother’s orchestration of society and privacy will invent new protections and products and ideas.
  • Lawsuits will be settled outside of courtrooms. Fences mended.
  • We will face our inconsistencies as human beings and personal failures won’t spiral into martyrdom into, “Yes, I’m the trash heap of humanity.” We’ll have the time to talk through specifics, and analyze behaviors, and practice improvement.
  • Stress factors will release their vice-grip on life, and when we take a long look at what our parent or child is capable of, we will want to form a production line in the family to make the best ideas flourish.
  • The wiggle worms will get in their cars and drive around to discover what is going on around them, what spring looks like, what birds congregating in gangly trees sound like in chorus.
  • Adult kids will remember their neighborly shut-ins, their elderly parents and grandparents, and try to do whatever they can to assist them out of loneliness and fear. Concerted efforts to meet these needs will be met with surprising rewards.
  • Those who enjoy singing will sing again, privately or from their balconies, together in their families, in devotion to their God and to each other.  Songs will be written. Pictures painted.
  • Family meals prepared and eaten around a dining room table. And, someone will say, “Thank you!” “Um, this is good.  Is there more?” And, someone else will decide to eat together on the sunny patio and say, “What did you learn today from this strange isolation? Did you invent something wonderful?”
  • And, a kid will say, “I found the sewing machine and decided to hem my pants, but then I tried to make something else, and guess what?  I can sew!”

All of these things will happen because we are not toting each other to hockey, basketball, concerts, the gym, school, our places of worship, and work.  Deadlines will not rise up and press against our very bodies for closet space. Instead, Leisure will introduce herself as the new skeleton in our closets.

In your leisure, accept our free gift to read Mister B: Living with a 98-Year-Old Rocket Scientist.
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The Pinch

Lynn Byk, Author
Mister B:  Living with a 98-Year-Old Rocket Scientist

Mister B had been vying for the certificate of blindness since he’d turned 96, seven years prior. His January hobby was to study and search the IRS Publication 17 each year, and he’d done his own taxes until age 100.

When Joe saw that his taxes were getting adjusted by the taxing authorities two years in a row, he decided this meant that he was no longer capable of understanding how to report them.

Last month, at 103-years of age, my father-in-law finally received a certificate of blindness from his eye doctor. It was in answer to another of his badgering requests so that he could file it with his 2020 taxes.

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Photo by Brett Sayles on Pexels.com

I fished out this portion of our joint memoir for whomever reads this blog. You can tell that he is not only going blind at this juncture, but deaf as well.

We’ve had a fun spin this morning getting all the things done on Mister B’s list. He turns suddenly to applaud our execution of a morning to-do list, “Wow! You solved all my problems in an hour and we still have time for books!” I turn the wheels towards the library looking at the wide empty soccer park of stark, winter grass and note, “Where are the geese, Mr. B?”

“The heat?”

“No, the GEESE.”

“Where’s the beef? Oh, you’re trying to be funny.”

“No, the GEESE! In the park!” I flutter my arms and point.

“A treat? You don’t have to overreact like that.”

In the library, he forgets that he’s already picked up the federal tax forms, so he makes his way over to pick up a couple more.

On the way home, he taps his tax documents and spouts, “Hey, I think we should get a deduction for my blindness. Can you look into that for me?”

“You aren’t exactly blind, Mr. B. You’ve been reading for the last hour.”

“Well, I know,” he admits, “but there has to be some sort of stepped up percentage, some standard you can find out about, and you know I am blind in the one eye and I have this mascular deterioration too.”

I about lose it with the “mascular deterioration” and am pursing my lips, trying to hide my amusement, when he says, “You know, if I could get another $1,200 off my taxes, you and me could go out to Ted’s Montana Grill!” He wraps his hand in the crook of my elbow and snuggles up.

“Now you’re thinking, Mr. B., but really, you’ve already made my day.”

This week’s events prove there’s nothing more sure than death and taxes as the wheels of life moved ’round us.

My dear man breathed his final breath–to our complete shock. We were not ready to let go. Undulating lost feelings, an empty house, and reflections that he won’t be needing the bananas, oxygen, and pills this week were felt among currents moving side-by-side in streams of wonder recognizing the Lord’s compassion for him and for us as things occurred, and arching overall was a desperate hope of glory.

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Photo by Sohel Patel on Pexels.com

Mister B, Joe, had managed to pick out every corner of every walnut shell in his New England basket. He’d managed to rock a rut in the new carpet.  He’d managed to entertain his hospice caregivers for nine months with stories. He’d outlived all of his siblings and far-flung relatives. We’d managed to capture his DNA and confirm all the suspicions about his Baltic sea coastal father’s origin and the soul of his Polish mama with a Norwegian slice of pie.

Then, he simply disappeared.  We saw no vapor, no shudder, heard no heave. He was breathing deeply in sleep, he took six shallow breaths, and suddenly he breathed no more.

The day after, wandering through the hall, I peered into his empty bedroom. “Where are you, Mister B?”

A while later, as my husband and I clomped up the stairs bringing tax boxes from the basement–for our ongoing life, I saw Mister B’s script from his doctor lying on top. Damn.  He’ll not get this last pleasure! The irony of it,  although his tax deduction came through, finally. I muse, my chest tightens, and I stomp on the top step because Joe can’t enjoy this poetry having simultaneously shaken hands with death.

In fact, the only time I ever knew Joe to stomp his own foot was the night before he died.  The pain in his chest was “biting” he said.  “Biting” just like his mother’s description of her lung cancer to him the last time he saw her. Throwing out his groans through the house, his howls, his stomps, and finally, his whimpers broke our hearts.  We called the hospice repeatedly and received directions for morphine. And, finally, he slept snoring roundly.

The thing is, so many beautiful things occur between birth, taxes, and death.

Joe’s fortitude happened.

“Old age isn’t for the faint of heart,” he’d say. Indefatigable, Mister B found patience for the long hours of silence which deafness handed to him, meekness at his failing strength to stand and walk.  Interest in the many varieties of soup he downed when his esophagus stopped working. “Why is this happening?  Why can’t the doctor fix it? What kind of credentials makes her a doctor?” Then, acceptance.

His humor shined with polish.

When he needed a handy cherry-red walker near the end, he often grinned grasping the handles toot-tooting like a childish train engineer. He mostly kept his own counsel and his own secrets. Only what benefited his audience escaped his lips.  He’d launch into some political opinion, then, “Why do I care? It won’t matter to me. The world is your oyster now.” And, “thank you”, “I’m so lucky”, and “I appreciate ya” up to his last night. Sometimes he’d list the accolades of his doting valet of a son to me. “I couldn’t have done any better,” he’d say. Other times he’d wonder if my husband cared that he was dating me or that I had two husbands.

Wonder happened.

He was still curious about things he thought he saw or heard, and those conversations could become sheer fantasy of reason or extreme frustrations trying to explain to him that his experience was not logical.

He started uumming over his food and singing.

Patience and humility happened.

His itching and face cancers reminded me of the misery of Job covered in boils. We’d slather Mister B’s head and torso with medicated cream.

Sacred respect happened.

He stopped mocking our dinner prayers and bowed his head every evening, closing his eyes, respectfully. I ached to know it was more than that, but I never will this side of the resurrection. Many times he thought he had to get up to go to work.  It was only right that he should work and share the household burden. Maybe he could get some kind of job…

If you’re one who’s feeling the pinch of a parent’s age and what that might mean, if you’re curious about how a family could learn to love again, and if you’d at least like to consider the value of caring for your elderly parent, I hope you’ll pick up our memoir, MISTER B: LIVING WITH A 98-YEAR-OLD ROCKET SCIENTIST.  I was a most resistant upwardly mobile child, and I was wooed.

It does take two.  Both sides had to budge. Both sides had to be open to learn respect. He led the way by deferring to us, “You kids take this over.  Why do I need it?  I’ve lived my life.” Or, “You decide. I trust you.”

My husband says his father had become someone he’d never known prior to these final years. Tears have rolled wetting his face many times this week. “Thank you, Dad, for loving me, for teaching me how to live this life.” These were his last intimate words to his father.

But if it’s true that the amount of tears shed relates to the amount of love you hold in your heart for one who’s passed, it’s also true that living in the wonder of Mister B’s company, I became a vastly different person during these past six and a half years.

My takeaways:

  1. Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.  (Galatians 6:9)
  2. All of you, have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind. (1 Peter 3:8)
  3. Pray without ceasing. Give thanks in every circumstance, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.  Do not extinguish the Spirit. (1 Thessalonians 5: 17-19)
  4. Honor your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land the LORD your God is giving you. (Exodus 20:12)
  5. Math, accuracy, and facts are intrinsic to a good long life. You must have accurate and honest weights and measures, so that you may live long in the land the Lord your God is giving you. (Deuteronomy 25:15)

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