Last year, in the backdrop of the Christmas Tsunami story, were some rather detestable comments by people that the Christian conservatives wish wouldn’t call themselves conservative, never mind Christian.
One of them was a fellow named Ake Green. Now, I don’t know this guy; I only know that he had some rather uncharitable views on the tsunami victims. I decided to run with that, and take him on a walk into the supernatural that he spoke for.
Only in my version, those in the afterlife did not care for his representation. Oh, no. Not one bit.
We often overlook the true meaning of Christmas, both left and right. It’s not about propriety or presents: it’s about redemption.
And if that message was denatured and despoiled by someone in your experience, no matter how removed from your everyday life, then (from the fine print of Christianity) that is against their account, not yours. By everything that person claims to believe in, they are in trouble.
This is about how Reverend Ake Green got his groove, having never had one in the first place.
Act I: Heaven
Now Ake Green reached heaven, which he did on account he was a Christian by profession (albeit his practices had the heavenly host scratching their heads some).
But his processing was held up. It seems middle management just could not believe that this butthead had passed muster. Yet, here he was, wild-eyed and justified, his years of fag-bashing seemingly validated. He was saved! They were in Hell!
Why, the good reverend had even brought his latest pamphlets, praising God for his most excellent choice of targets and means to expunge them from the Earth.
In a nearby conference room in Judgment City (you may be familiar with the old Meryl Streep movie Defending Your Life; it’s not quite real but it’s real enough for government work), you could cut a wedge out of the frustration and serve it up as a slice of pie.
Saint Peter and some of the heavy heavenly hitters, the angels Michael and Gabriel among them, gathered around a computer console (Heaven’s got all the latest gear, it never has slow connectivity or software glitches, and spam and spyware and never an issue.
“‘godhatesfags.com’,” Peter read drily, pulling on the end of his long beard. Then he chuckled. “I guess Upper Management didn’t get that memo.”
Gabriel set aside his celestial trumpet (it looks like a trombone with no slide), and grimaced. “It’s not funny! This guy’s a menace! I can’t have bigots like this running loose. What’s he going to do, bring signs like that one to the Jubilees?” The archangel thrust a finger at the screen, where a mock traffic sign declared ‘Homo-Fascist Sweden’.
“No,” the warrior-angel Michael added. “Your musicians wouldn’t like that at all.”
Gabriel glared. “Don’t even get me started on that bone-headed ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ policy in your ranks –“
Michael smiled. “Hey, ignorance is bliss…and nobody waves signs around. Besides,” he paused “if the newly-arisen Reverend Green pokes his placards near my boys, they will make Heaven into Hell for him….”
Saint Peter jumped up. “That’s it!”
“What’s it?” the quarreling archangels asked in unison.
Saint Peter started pecking keys into the keyboard without answering.
“Hey! Are you rerouting him? Is that allowed?” Michael asked.
“Are you allowed to lay waste to entire armies and nations?”
“Well…yes. But that’s my job,” the general of heaven’s armies answered. “And I do so only under orders.”
“Hmm…hmmm. Right…” Peter replied as he flashed through screen after screen, getting his rerouting requests processed by the superlatively efficient techno-angels that handle all the Paperwork of Goodness.
Gabriel chuckled. “He’s got you there, Mikey.”
“Hey. Anyone I zapped had it coming. Besides, if I was ever aiming for the wrong target, the Dad would pull the plug on the operation. You know how it goes…”
“…yes, we do. ‘It’s all part of God’s plan’.” Peter piped in. “And that’s the point; if we’re mucking up the works, we’ll get an email or one of our mobiles will buzz or something.”
“Oh,” everyone else in the room chorused (the Big Three weren’t alone).
Peter finished, brushed his hands together, and leaned back in his Posture-pedic ™ chair. “Well, there you have it!”
Gabriel, Michael and others leaned in. The twitters and buzz began in earnest, and cascade throughout the seven levels of Heaven. (Secrets don’t keep in an omniscient society.)
Then the big blue light on the conference phone lit up. A deep chime, no reverberation, stopped the conference room in its tracks.
Gabriel cleared his throat. “Ah…you want that on speaker, Pete?”
Peter eyed the light. “Ah, better not.” Not that it would matter, what with it being the omniscient society and all. Regardless, the forms of confidentiality, of respectfulness, had to be obeyed.
And as is the case when Upper Management wanted to control the release of news, all the other celestial luminaries in the room heard was Peter’s side of the exchange “Yes, Lord?…That’s too much? That’s not enough? You’d rather he go here instead of ….there. Sir? Oh…thanks. It was Michael who inspired me..” Michael glared at his colleague, mouthing the words What. Is. Your. Damage?
“Thank you, God.” Then the light blinked out, and the room exploded with questions for Peter, the chief of which were:
“So, what’s the scoop?” Gabriel asked.
“WHAT inspiration!?” Michael demanded.
“He says it’s a go, but thought I needed to get an updated organizational chart, because I originally sent one request to the wrong department…and, never mind.
“It seems Upper Management had something in mind for our new arrival already. All we were doing was filling out the paperwork.”
After a brief silence, Gabriel said “Wow. I never get over how cool that is.”
Saint Peter, keeper of the Pearly Gates, Rock of the Church and a surprisingly good stand-in for Jerry Garcia when he dresses the part, just laughed.
“Oh, you ain’t seen nothin’ yet.”
Act II: The Den
The former Reverend Green had envisioned his eternal sojourn as a reward for a lifetime of battling evil in the form of love that took all forms but the angry, barely-restrained violent mode that at once made him a talented agitator and a horribly insensitive person. He had served a peculiar role in his life, that of cautionary example of how not to interpret Christian scriptures; while he was of himself a net loss in recruitment, it had been determined by the Paperwork of Goodness team that to the presence of such persons actually saved lives, by making their expressed positions vulnerable to ostracism and ridicule.
Green had served his God, only not nearly in the way he thought. He’d help discredit the use of Scripture as a basis for bashing homosexuals once and for all; his dovetailing a prejudiced vendetta with a global disaster had only sealed the fate of such fools, at least for a while. Alas, Michael’s predecessor, a bright-eyed fellow who had sought opportunities elsewhere, was always working to corrupt and diminish, and so long as the instrument of God’s design was Humanity, Lucifer would never be short of fresh materials…and fresh ideas.
Green had served the Dark One’s purposes, glorifying and validating fantasies of violence against homosexuals and all persons foreign, regardless of how they were foreign. Green advocated the end of community, the triumph not of individuation but of alienation, or personal irresponsibility. His subtext: It’s not my brief to care. It’s not my brief to feel. All I must do is declare the power of God, and interpret signs as punishments against people who aren’t Just Like Me.
Green had been a close call; had he passed on most days his visceral joy at the suffering of hundreds of thousands of people that he would not mourn, and the millions that he refused to comfort would have sent him the other way, and that would have been that.
But Mr. Green got lucky; he died in a repentant moment, as he reflected in solitude while watching the news from Asia that it was difficult to reconcile his caricature of Swedes as globe-trotting perverts with the image of a two year-old boy reunited with his weeping father at a hospital in Thailand, as he mourned the loss of his wife and other children.
If I could help them, he had thought as his heart went out….then went out for keeps.
Act III: Calcutta
There are many roles in the heavenly host, work for billions even with the most excellent efficiency ratings and infrastructure enjoyed by the Celestial Community. All tasks are valued and essential.
There is no lying about, eating lotuses and deflowering virgins, and despite the angel Gabriel’s side gig as a musician, one of his key responsibilities was comfort of the dying.
And now the archangel Gabriel and newly-minted guide, the former Ake Green, stood in a hospice in Calcutta, full of persons of many ages, but mostly under thirty…full of persons, the smell of demise, and flies.
“It’s so disgusting, so morally disgusting,” Green sneered. “They’re dying of AIDS and other sex diseases, aren’t they?”
Gabriel took a breath, swallowed, looked up at the swinging fan that was the only air circulation in the hall. “Yes. They are.”
It was unrepresentative of the state of the medical profession in India; it was perfectly representative of consequence of the ostrich-like unconcern of Indian society in the problem that was about to take the promise of Indian greatness away from it, just as it was beginning.
“And no one can see us? Just like in the movies?” Ake asked.
“Oh, no.” Gabriel smiled. “They can see us, but they only notice us when it’s important for them to do so,” he said.
Just at that moment, his passing caught the attention of one bedridden person, who held a hand up. He smiled at her, then reached out and stopped Green from moving on. “Hold. This is your first customer. You can speak but no one but I will notice you; it is not time for that.”
Gabriel kneeled next to the low bed and took a mottled hand. He spoke Bengali, but Green followed it as if he’d been writing gay-bashing signs in it for decades. “Tell me what you will, Tanvi, daughter of Meghnad. I am here for your peace.”
Green blurted out “You know her name?”
Gabriel nodded. “She is Tanvi, which means ‘delicate girl’. She has had a hard life. Her father’s name means ‘thunder’, which is appropriate, for he was a violent and abusive parent, and I mean that in all that ways that should frighten and appall all fathers.”
“The monster! Oh, how I’ve clamored against these perverts and their depradations on the innocent…”
Gabriel held a hand up. “Really, not now.” He looked back at the girl, who was unresponsive. “Tanvi: I am Gabriel, though many mistake me for Shiva in this land, for I come to the dying.”
Tanvi shuddered and whispered hoarsely: “You come to destroy me, lord?”
Gabriel shook his head. “No, child. This life has destroyed you. I am here to bear witness to your end, and comfort you.”
Tanvi swallowed. “Water,” she pointed weakly to the right side of her head; a dirty glass half-full of lukewarm water stood there. Gabriel nodded, lifted the glass, and morphed it with a touch into a crystal goblet of chilled distilled water, with the barest touch of lime flavoring.
Green was impressed. It was the first actual miracle that he had ever witnessed, apart from his own continued existence. Then he noticed the video camera overhead. The hospice was not completely nonmodern.
“Isn’t that trick going to be noticed?” He pointed up.
Gabriel did not even look. “Nothing that is unimportant for the living to see will be seen. The machines will record it. A room full of advanced gear would mark a very interesting and powerful energy signature and a slight change in the local gravitational field. Due to the drain of energy from the surrounding area, the temperature of the room is so much colder that human skin could detect it, but it won’t…”
“I’m cold, lord,” Tanvi said, as she drew up her blanket.
“…unless it is important for people to notice,” Green finished. He looked about, then at Tanvi herself, as she sipped the water some more.
“Perhaps it is this delicious ice water you have brought me,” Tanvi said to Gabriel.
He set the cup aside and placed a hand to the side of her cheek, and smiled. “Perhaps.”
Green gazed at Tanvi. A whore, laid waste by decadent choices and now paying the price for it. Having laid down with Lord knew how many strange men for money, now she received the archangel Gabriel herself by her bedside, serving her as if she were the Mother of God. He shuddered, unable to look at her blotched, emaciated body, her thin, short hair, the near absence of a figure. Why, the girl didn’t even have a shift on over her nearly-…no, absent breasts.
It was then that he looked toward an atypical formation between a woman’s hips and the inside of Tanvi’s neck. Yep. An Adam’s apple.
At which point Green snapped. “This…girl is a man! A transexual homosexual faggot pervert!” He exploded. This is the sort of thing he had fought, died and gone to heaven for. Surely, Gabriel was unaware that he was ministering to the damned. Green looked about. Row after row of poisoned, dying, damned queers and whores and perverts. It was his old self, his earthly self, the one that Heaven had no plans and no future for.
“Silence!” Gabriel ordered, and Green went utterly still, as if he were a frame on an MPEG. “You desecrate our work with your obscenities!” Gabriel got up and released the panting Green from stasis, grasping him angrily by the shoulders and bringin his wrathful, beautiful face close to the former reverend’s.
“But she’s a..he’s a…f…homosexual!” Green said.
“Probably! No, wait…” Gabriel consulted his omniscience. “No, she is! What of it?”
“But…I fought this sort of filth my entire life. I was accepted into Heaven for my work, right?”
“What!” Gabriel roared. “You were almost eliminated by your vendetta!” Gabriel paused. “Oh, silent on your own account now, are we?”
Green blinked, stunned. “But…what…why was I…saved…”
Gabriel shuddered, and gathered himself. “You were ‘saved’ on account of one prayer, just as you died.” He paused. “God forgive me for saying this, I hate foxhole conversions. You clowns are so much trouble…and most of you end up under other management, regardless.”
Green blanched. “What do you mean…that this isn’t forever?”
“Why should it be? It wasn’t for Lucifer and his kind, and they started off with far more frequent flyer miles than you! The universe is always changing, always expanding — oh, and it is thirteen billion years old thank you very much.
“Besides, this is your eternity with us, Reverend: doing what you prayed that you could do, the moment you died: Helping.”
Green folded his arms, shrunk into himself, a duplicate of Michelangelo’s ‘Descent of the Damned’. “No…no. Not them. I didn’t mean that.”
“Bullshit,” the captain of the angelic host declared. “You repented of your blanket hostility toward the suffering, and your heart went out to aid and comfort them.
“We it not the case, you would have been sent to the care of my old friend, the Prince of Darkness. He never has enough hands to do the work of prejudice and pogrom, excoriation and extermination.” Gabriel paused momentarily, looking inward. “Unbelievable. You’re actually thinking it over.”
“What! No…no…yes. This is so…painful for me.”
Gabriel nodded slowly, then directed Green’s attention to the dying Tanvi. “No doubt.
“But is this really your time to feel sorry for yourself?”
Green held his silence, tears welling up in his eyes. His life’s work would earn him high regard, but only among the fallen angels. All that had saved him, had let him past the gates of Heaven, had been a lapse in his hate-filled resolve.
Gabriel nodded with grim approval. “Tears, at last. What’s more, they’re not even for yourself.”
“I hurt…so many people, and I thanked God every day that I could do exactly that.”
“Yes. you did.”
“I…don’t deserve this. I don’t deserve to be here.” He fell to his knees, sobbing.
“No. There’s no question at all about that,” Gabriel declared, looking down, frowning. Then, as suddenly, he knelt down beside his new protege, and lifted him into a standing position. “The only question is what you will do to make good on the gift.”
“It..it would take forever to pay for what I’ve done on Earth.”
Gabriel smiled. “Then perhaps you have come to the right place, after all.”
Green nodded, self-awareness taking hold in a way that he had never allowed in his material life. “It may take forever for me to change into what I should be, too.”
“Then we had better get started.” As Gabriel said that, time resumed elsewhere in the hospice gallery. Tanvi blinked, wondered where her visitor had removed to, then saw not one but two radiant figures standing near the foot of her bed.
“There are now two of you lords,” Tanvi said.
“She..he…umm…” Green swallowed. “She can see me now.”
“It must be important that she do so.” Gabriel crossed his arms and nodded in Tanvi’s direction. “Go and minister to her. She is dying and has little time left. No family will come to her; what friends she has have either died or forsaken her. The hospice workers here are state employees and act as little more than teamsters for the almost-dead; they will not sit with the dying, either.”
“More water, lords, if you please,” she asked.
“That sounds like a good start,” Gabriel added, as he made to leave the room.
“What? You’re leaving me here alone? What do I say? What do I do? What if I say something…typical?”
Gabriel laughed quietly. “You have a simple task here, no need for miracles (which is good since you’re not empowered to perform them just yet). Just be a good listener.”
“I never was before,” Green frowned.
“You can be now, if you choose.” Gabriel walked away and added, “We’ll talk more later. ‘Later’ is something we never run out of here.”
Green nodded, and turned to Tanvi. He walked to the bedside slowly, stood there for a moment.
“Who are you, lord?”
“Do not call me ‘lord’, child,” he answered, feeling much like a Papist, ahem, no, a Catholic priest at the moment. “Call me Father Green,” he smiled and, remembering he was already dead and beyond disease, reached to hold the head of an AIDS patient and bring a cup of water to his, ahem, no, her lips.
“Thank you,” Tanvi said. Taking a series of fast, shallow breaths after settling back onto the cushions.
At length, Tanvi asked “Father Green – Have you always been a minister of God?”
Green choked back a few tears, then answered. “No.
“Actually, I just started today.”