Stairwell of the Red-Red Phoenix, A Bedtime Tale

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA“Ready?”

“Yeah,” they said, squirming beneath the comforter.

“Alright.” The room was gray, illuminated by a solitary lamp. “This might be scary.”

“We’re never scared,” the elder said.

I twined my fingers behind my head and started: “Once upon a time—”

“Once upon a time,” the younger parroted.

“If I tell a story, you have to listen. Understand? No more interrupting.”

They nodded.

“Good.” I shifted into storytelling mode. “Once upon a time, there lived two girls.”

“Regan and Ellis,” the elder shouted.

“That’s right,” I said. “One day, while playing in the backyard—”

“Dragon,” the younger said.

“No, not a dragon. Don’t interrupt. One day, while playing in the backyard, they found something, something special. Do you know what it was?”

They shook their heads.

“A box,” I said.

The younger scrunched her eyebrows. Confused by the path on which this story was hurtling.

“But not any box,” I said, before she could voice her objections. “It was a magical box.”

“What was in it?” the elder asked.

“Why don’t you stop talking and let me tell you.”

“Okay.”

“Alright then.” I composed myself. “It was dark and glowing—”

“Scary,” the younger said.

“Seriously, let me get through this.”

They blinked.

“It was dark and glowing. Both were scared. Regan, however, knew that if a magical box appeared in their backyard, then they simply couldn’t ignore it. For, obviously, it was a receptacle of great significance, carved with all kinds looping and pagan symbols.”

“Pagan?”

“Uh…I mean, pretty.”

“Oh.”

“Regan, then, reached out with great care and slowly pried back the lid.”

“What was in it?” the elder asked with wide, glowing eyes.

“A key, ornate and wooden.”

“What’s ‘ornate?’” the elder asked.

“Never mind that. It was special…special and wooden. But it wasn’t alone. Tucked beneath the key was a note, handwritten.”

“What did it say?”

“It read: Dear Girls, If you are reading this, then I’m already dead.”

“Benjamin!” my wife roared from the living room.

“Alright, alright,” I yelled back before starting again. “If you are reading this, then the Rainbow of All Encompassing Blackness has already spread throughout our land. We tried to stop it, but we failed. We, the Butterflies of Butterland, need you. We have given you the key. Find the Tree Beneath the Sun for it will lead you to the Stairwell of the Red-Red Phoenix. Fit the key and enter.

“Did they?” the elder asked.

“Yes, yes they did. And the key was true. Actually, it was Ellis who slid the key into the tree’s lock, turned it, and watched as the bark door creaked open. Inside, silver and overgrown, were shimmering spider webs—”

“Scary,” the younger interjected.

“Inside,” I corrected, “a golden light was streaming upon a stairway leading towards the sky. It was the Stairwell of the Red-Red Phoenix as once recounted in, The Grim and the Bold, written by the Grand Marquess of Nim.”

“Who?”

“The Grand Marquess of Nim,” I said.

“Oh,” the elder said. “What happened next?”

“Well…for that, you’ll have to wait. For all adventurers, and eyes, must rest. It’s time for bed.”

“But I don’t want to sleep. I want to know about the Stairwell of the Red-Red Phoenix.”

“Tomorrow.”

“Fine,” the elder yawned.

I stood up, kissed both girls on the forehead, and flipped off the light. As I shut the door, I heard the hum of a whisper: “Scary.”

Redaction

Ancient TomeMy forthcoming book is due out later this year. My editor recently emailed me with a request I have long dreaded: “Can you rewrite your Introduction?” As an artist — though I use that term loosely — my first thought was: No, I like it and I worked hard on it, really hard. But as an improving writer that wants nothing more than to grow, stretch, and become better, I thought: Why not? If I’m never again given the opportunity to publish, then I want this book to best represent what I offer. In other words, my editor and I were aligned, we both want this book to realize its full potential. So — sigh — I’m starting over today. I’m redacting my “Introduction,” taking what I have written and incorporating it into a new, fresh narrative — an invitation through story. 

In parting, I present that which is lost. Farewell old friend. Perhaps in another life…

An Invitation

 

I have been to war twice. I have seen men and women killed. I have seen the darkness of humanity. I was an agent of this darkness. And with patriotic fervor, I too have killed. Before I went to Iraq, I had considered myself to be a Christian. Afterwards, I did not know who or what I was. I began to question my faith, my country, and myself. I enrolled in Seminary. I wanted answers to difficult, life-altering questions. Questions like: What happens when Christians join the military, pledge allegiance to something or someone other than Jesus, and begin killing in the name of this new allegiance? How should churches respond when their government wars with other nations? Are Christians supposed to interpret Jesus’ commands to love their enemies literally? Will I go to hell for killing? How do I, as a Christian, crawl from the dark hole that I had dug after perpetrating systemic injustice and corruption?

Let me be frank: There is no greater form of systemic evil than war. I participated in that evil, our country continues to participate in that evil, and, sadly, many of our churches participate in that evil. This is not a political statement. This is not a theological statement. It is a simple reality of warfare. War is dark. War is evil. War is morally corrupt. I make no excuses for my conclusions, but I feel it only fair to admit to my presuppositions.

This book is written from a Christian perspective: I am a Christian. I view the world through the death and resurrection (whether symbolic or not) of Jesus of Nazareth. And it is from this perspective that I create the narrative of my life. We all have our paradigms, our perspectives from which to view the world. These paradigms, perspectives, and narratives help us process the events of our lives, help us make decisions about the future, and help us live in the present. Mine are Christian. That is why, when wrestling with questions of systemic injustice and oppression, I turn to both the Christian community and the biblical narrative for answers. If this is offensive to you, I can offer no apologizes. I am who I am.

Even so, this book is not for Christians alone. This book is not for secular humanists. This book is not for the conservative, nor is it for the liberal. This book is not for any labeled group. This book is for those who question, for those who seek answers. This book is for those who are willing to put aside their particular epithet and enter into a much larger discussion.

This book is an invitation to dialogue, an invitation to find answers corporately. I am no genius. I am no biblical scholar. I am a seeker, an aspirant. This book is full of tales, thoughts, and studies. It is my story, and through the process of writing it I have tried to make sense of the past so as to better live in the present.

Dialogue, however, requires authenticity and, in pursuit of narrative transparency, I have chosen to use both crass and rude language. For we cannot—nor should we—seek to make far-reaching decisions based on ideals. We should base our decisions in reality. Reality requires authenticity. Authenticity requires truth and truth honesty. This same honesty demands that I admit, upfront, that what you are reading is not a wooden translation of history. Narrative is rarely a past reality transcribed as fact. I have recreated dialogue and modified scenes for narrative clarity. Redaction does not render a story untrue, but palatable. In other words, “Memory is creatively reproductive rather than accurately recollective.”[1]

Because mine is a Christian perspective, I often turned to the Bible for help when writing this book. I found Romans 12:14–13:7 to be especially enlightening in terms of framing the questions that I sought to answer. Through the centuries scholars have interpreted Romans 12:14–13:7 in such a way as to promote submission to authorities at all costs; or, on the other hand, to promote a full withdrawal and retreat from society. I have discovered that these interpretations are neither valid nor biblical. But I am outpacing my narrative.

My aspirations are straightforward and personal. As a Christian, I seek to understand the meaning of Paul’s exhortation in Romans to submit to the governing authorities. Is a Christian warranted in fighting in a war? What is a Christian’s role or responsibility within the government that he or she lives? As a veteran of the war in Iraq, I seek to discover the answers to profoundly personal questions: Was I justified in what I did? Were we justified in what we did? How do I hold my faith, but also live out of my faith?

This book comes at the end of a long journey. These are my thoughts and conclusions written down, cemented in history. While, at times, a discussion can be difficult and polarizing, I humbly ask you to enter into the give-and-take of dialogue. Who knows? Together we might come to a better understanding of what it means to embody the teachings of Jesus. And, in that way, maybe our journey is only beginning.

May we have the strength to admit our preconceptions and come to one another in mutual respect.

May we dialogue honestly, vulnerably, and humbly—for only in so doing can we lay aside our hate and prejudice.

May we better identify our narratives and learn from our history.

May our conversation be a catalyst for change in our world.

 

—Benjamin Peters

Denver, CO

August 25, 2012


[1] John Dominic Crossan, The Birth of Christianity: Discovering What Happened in the Years Immediately After the Execution of Jesus (New York: Harper One, 1999), 54.

Missed Reviews

ReadingTime, life, work, and parenting get in the way. My goal in 2013 was to write a review for every book I read. I’ve already failed. Here are five books that I’ve read in 2013 that I don’t have the time to write reviews for:

The History of the Adventures of Joseph Andrews and of his Friend Mr. Abraham Adams by Henry Fielding

A wonderful, if archaic, read. Joseph Andrews is a satirical novel first published in 1742. Fielding described it as, “A comic epic poem in prose.” I would recommend this novel for anyone who watches Downton Abbey.

The Parent App by Dr. Lynn Schofield Clark

This is a scholarly study looking at the way in which media practices are changing family dynamics. If you are a parent who also owns an iPhone, then this is a must read.

The Setters of Catan by Rebecca Gable

Don’t laugh. Yes, this book is based off of the award winning board game. Yes, this book is awesome. Rebecca Gable, apparently, is a prize winning historical-fiction author in Germany. Klaus Teuber, Catan’s designer, contracted her to craft a novelization of his board game. If you like historical fiction, then you’ll enjoy this. It’s set in a time when vikings still roamed the sea and adventurers still had to carve their existence from dirt. What’s better than that?

The Anglican Vision by James E. Griffiss

My wife and I are episcopalians. And while I won’t bore you as to why, I will tell you that the Episcopal Church’s New Church’s Teaching Series is a great entry point into understanding what being an episcopalian means. The Anglican Vision is the first volume in a twelve volume set. My goal is to read a volume a month for the year of 2013. Because, as I figure it, there’s nothing like being informed.

A Voyage to Arcturus by David Lindsay

A philosophical romp into the unknown, A Voyage to Arcturus is both entertaining and intellectually stimulating. Follow the book’s protagonist, Maskull, as he travels to Tormance and encounters various lifeforms. While that might sound a little strange, it creates a setting in which Lindsay can safely explore things like gender, the meaning of life, and god. A fascinating read for anyone who is a Tolkien nerd.

What’s next for this lonely reader? Well, I’m knee deep in Les Miserables and looking forward to finally getting around to Jan Guillou’s Crusades Trilogy. I’ll let you know how they are.

Excerpt

The Nameless

When my wife told me that we were pregnant, I decided to write a book both dedicated to and about my first child.  I, obviously, couldn’t leave my second kid hanging, so I wrote one for her too.  My wife recently told me that we are having a third.  So, like one does, I started outlining my next book.

My hope is that–one day, after I die–my children, rooting around in the attic, will find three dusty and yellowed manuscripts lying behind a tasseled leg lamp and ask: “Hey, what are these stacks of crap?”  After which, they’ll head downstairs, boil water for tea, and read their respective books.  If they aren’t uncontrollably sobbing, then they’ll probably laugh and say: “What an idiot!”  But they’ll remember, and I’ll know.

Here’s the first line to my next book, dedicated to the Nameless One.

“In the beginning, there were four.  Though I was one, I was nameless.  I remember nothing.  Only light.  And then a harsh, cold darkness.”

Interested in more?  Look no further: Nim.

Remembering War

“Tim O’Brien, a writer who served in the Vietnam War, said there are as many wars as there are soldiers who fought in them. These three books on the Iraq War are just the first look at what must be thousands of stories still to be told.”  

NPR, in remembrance of 9/11, is reporting on three new war novels dealing with Iraq.  My forthcoming book will lend a voice to these stories.  The question, of course, is how does my book differ from what has already been said?  My book is neither memoir nor satire.  Rather, it is a thoughtful critique of war from a Christian perspective.  It is part narrative and part scholarship.  I think, in this way, it is a unique entry into what is certainly to become a hot-publishing topic.  I am a veteran; I have fought and killed.  Yet, I am a Christian and a pacifist.  The two questions governing my book are, one, Was I justified in what I did?  And, two, How then shall we move forward in a world riddled with violence?  My hope is that, in answering these questions, I create a safe place for dialogue, a place where conversation might catalyze transformative actions both personal and systemic.

Remembering War