The Struggle for Rest (Part 1)

Read the 10 Commandments.

Now, which of these commandments do you think would be the easiest to follow? My pick is the 4th one: “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy.” Why? Because if you look at all the other commands, you’ll notice that they all require a constance vigilance and consciousness if you want to keep them. It takes hard work and a constant defense to avoid breaking the other 9. But that 4th one is unique in that it gives the command to not work. You literally don’t have to do anything to keep that command. Just don’t work on the Sabbath.

Looking at its context, it seems like an odd command. Nevertheless, it’s there as a command that the Israelites were supposed to follow. Should be an easy one, right?

As you move into the prophets, you begin to see a pattern emerge. In Jeremiah 17:19-27, we find God leveling a stern judgment at the people of Judah because they were not keeping the Sabbath. He makes the ultimatum that if they stop working on the Sabbath, God will bless them and restore their good fortune. But if they don’t keep it, then judgment will come. And all because they don’t take a day off!

Then, in Ezekiel 20, there are repeated references made to the people not honoring the Sabbath. Again, they are given judgment as an answer. A couple chapters later in 22, the profaned Sabbath is mentioned again. Clearly this is a high-level offense!

But the problem seemed to run deeper than not keeping the Sabbath. If we look at Amos, we find not only the Sabbath profaned, but other festivals that the Israelites were to keep. The attitude of the merchants accused there leaps off the page. They couldn’t wait until the holidays and Sabbaths were over so that they could return to the business of money and misery.

At this point, the question is why is the Sabbath so important to warrant such harsh repurcussions? This really boils down to, why did God command the Sabbath in the first place? The breaking of any commandment of God deserves punishment, but what makes the Sabbath a worthwhile command to give?

If we look back to that 10 Commandments passage, the Sabbath is connected to creation: God worked for 6 days, and rested on the 7th. Thus, in creating all things, God set forth the ideal work-week. Six days of labor, one day of rest. Seems simple enough, but clearly it was a hard command to follow for the ancient Israelites.

And I think that’s precisely why God gave it.

He knew that humans would desire to work like perpetual motion machines, always working and never stopping. We might call such a one a “workaholic.” But I believe the tendency is in all of us to keep working until we can go no more. And so God commanded Israel to remember the Sabbath to force them to rest.

Although the Sabbath is never explicitly commanded in the New Testament, you can see how the principle behind it is good and wise to practice. If you look at American culture, you get this increasing sense that no day is sacred enough to close business on. When was the last time you saw the majority of businesses closed on, say, Thanksgiving? I might’ve been in junior high…

So we today suffer the same as those who came long before us. We want to keep working, keep running, until we have no breath left to work with. This Labor Day, consider taking time to rest, maybe even force yourself to do so. I think a day off once a week would help us all out considerably.

[This was a look primarily at what the Old Testament of the Bible says about “Sabbath rest.” Next time, we’ll look more closely at the New Testament and what we can learn from that]

New Story: Are You Being Served?

Just in time for the start-up of school, here’s a new College-Time Mystery!

In this one, after a slew of food poisonings hit the school, Detective Havenstraw calls on Bryan and John to help find the culprit and put an end to the mystery. But in-kitchen politics and a masked man muddy the waters…

Are You Being Served?
By J.R. Underdown

The call came down from on high for a milkshake; nothing unusual about that, given the known fact that the Vice President, Dr. Moore, was an avid supporter of Founders’ Café’s milkshakes. The call was taken by a tall, lanky Boyce student named Stewart Starwood. A second year apologetics major, it was his first semester working in the mad world of the campus’ busiest (and only) café. He grabbed the milk from the industrial-sized fridge and began the simple task of making a milkshake.

Within five minutes of the call, the secretary of the Vice President appeared at the front of the line ready to make payment for the prized beverage. Soon she turned and was on her return trip to the office…after stopping to flirt with a seminary man studying the effects of propitiation on the universe.

The whole process was so routine, so mundane, that Stewart promptly forgot about the major service he provided for the institution of Southern Seminary. But then the phone rang again. It was the office of the Vice President. The milk in the milkshake must be bad since Dr. Moore almost gagged to death and accidently spilled some shake on a paper he had spent the whole morning working on. Stewart was very embarrassed and soon the café’s manager dropped by to personally check the milk. The date said it expired a week from then, but upon getting a whiff of the liquid, it seemed to have rushed to its end. The jug was thrown out and life moved on…until a slew of more instances cropped up in the cafeteria and main kitchen as well.

*              *              *              *              *

The hot August sun poured heat into the Valley of Decision. Two trees growing close together provided some shade over a pair of park benches. On one of these sat Bryan and John, sitting on opposite sides like bookends. With open backpacks between them, Bryan pored over a Greek textbook while John nodded off over a book about the Gospels. When his head sunk low enough that the weight proved a strain, his body automatically snapped itself upright, springing John awake with it. He gazed dismally around, wiped sweat off his forehead, and swatted at gnats.

At last he sighed, “You know, Bryan, life just isn’t as exciting without Laura and Jess.”

Without looking up from his textbook, Bryan smiled and replied, “Well, Laura can’t help anything about that, since she’s in Missouri. But what about Jess? I’ve only seen her in passing.”

“She said it would be too awkward to hang out with just two guys all the time.”

“Makes sense given the culture here.”

John nodded and closed his book. “You know, people keep offering me condolences on my breakup.”

Now Bryan looked up at his friend. “Who’d you break up with?”

“No one! But, depending on who I talk to, it’s either Jess or Laura.”

“People thought you were dating one of them?”

“Yep. And they figured you were dating the other.”

Bryan laughed and looked out toward the valley sloping up to the seminary. He squinted for a moment and then said, “I can’t bring Laura back or force Jess to hang out with us, but I do believe some excitement is coming our way.” John followed Bryan’s gaze. “Unless I’m mistaken, Detective Havenstraw approacheth.”

John indeed saw a bald-headed, husky figure approaching down the steps, now veering off into the grass, cutting across the valley to their location. When the sweaty figure finally stood before them, it was, in fact, Detective Havenstraw.

“You two are hard to find on such a small campus, you know that?”

“Hello again, Detective,” greeted Bryan.

Havenstraw nodded. “Hello Bill, Joe.”

The two students exchanged glances and pulled their backpacks out of the way so the detective could join them on the bench. He yanked a handkerchief from his pocket and dabbed his gleaming crown.

“Where’s your lady-friends at?” he wondered.

“They don’t hang with us anymore,” John noted.

“Oh. Sorry it didn’t work out.”

The two exchanged glances once more.

“You said you were looking for us?” Bryan prodded.

“Yes! And had a hard time of it, too. I went to all the popular hangouts on campus and couldn’t find you two there.”

“Our hangout is off the beaten path or up the nearest tree,” John explained.

The detective glanced at him. “Whatever you say, Jack. As long as I’ve found you at last.”

“And what do you need us for?” Bryan wondered.

Havenstraw leaned back and looked at him. “You’ve undoubtedly heard of the food poisonings going around?”

“You make it sound like an epidemic,” John remarked.

“It is!” Havenstraw retorted, whipping his head around to John. “For two weeks straight there have been a slew of food poisoning instances that can be conclusively pinpointed to the seminary’s kitchen. Now we don’t know what poison is being used or who’s behind it or why someone is doing this, but it’s at a crisis point now and the higher ups here want me to look into it.” He paused and dabbed his head again. “I would take the case myself, of course, but I figure if you two are still interested in solving mysteries, this could be right up your alley.”

Bryan cocked his head to process what the detective just told them. John cut in, “So we’d be, like, official police guys?”

“Well, no. You’d be working undercover, you could say. I will pay you accordingly for your services.”

“You’re going to pay us?!” John exclaimed, surprised at the notion of solving a mystery for money.

“Yes…”

“Well! Bryan we can’t turn down an opportunity to help our old friend Detective Hoosierwhich.”

Bryan laughed a little, mostly at Havenstraw’s confused look, and then said, “No, I don’t think we can turn him down.”

“Thanks, boys, I do appreciate it! Now here’s a good starting point, I have everything squared away with HR here to hire you two immediately.”

“Hire us for what?” John asked.

“To work in the kitchen, what else? I said you’d be undercover. You can investigate this case from the inside. Give me updates on anything you find out; I believe you have my number. Well, I must be off. There are several pressing cases of more importance down at the station. Remember–inform me on any major development.”

“I’m sure you’ll hear from us soon,” Bryan assured him.

The detective smiled, shook their hands, and started off across the valley by the path he came.

“Well, John, there’s your excitement,” Bryan remarked.

“And about time! Seems like a quest fraught with danger.”

“Yep, and you’ll be on the frontlines for this one.”

“What do you mean?”

“I think I’ll have you run the investigation from the inside while I tackle it from without.”

John stared hard at his friend. “You mean, you’re not going to work in the kitchen with me?”

Bryan shook his head. “Nope. I’ll work on the outside.”

“Doing what? Studying the different types of ashes that cigars leave?”

Bryan laughed. “As interesting as that sounds, I’ll actually be investigating what kind of poison is being used in the food.”

“What good will that do?”

“Help us find an antidote; maybe trace where the poison is coming from, thus making a list of people who may have purchased large quantities of it lately; know what to look for in our investigation; the gaining of a valuable clue—”

“Okay, okay, I get your point. So what about me?”

“You can compile a list of suspects; this would be people working in the kitchen area. Anyone suspicious or who have a proper motive. It could be anything. You’re pretty observant, so pay close attention and take careful mental notes. You’ve also worked in the kitchen before so you’ll be more familiar with the layout and at least some of the people. You’ll seem less likely to be covertly poking into the affair.”

John frowned slightly and thought for a moment. “Well, I guess I better go fill out my paper work.”

The next day, in the middle of the afternoon, John entered the empty cafeteria and looked sheepishly around. A Latino came through the stainless steel double doors and deposited some ingredients into a large fridge behind the buffet counter. He batted an eye to the clueless kid but said nothing and disappeared through the doors. John followed and found himself in the midst of hurried activity. Soon a tall, slender man appeared wearing a black chef’s hat. His narrow face and soft-set eyes hiding behind round glasses considered John.

“May I help you?” he asked.

“Yes, I’m starting work in the cafeteria tonight. My first day, though.”

The chef considered him a little more and then a light lit his face.

“Ah, of course! Come with me. I am Chef DuPont, the head chef.”

John followed the tall man down a side hallway where they cut into a small room that turned out to be the employee clock in station.

“Shut the door behind you, please,” the chef requested calmly. When John obeyed, a change came over the man and panic contorted his face. “Are you the undercover agent they promised me would investigate everything?”

John paused, somewhat taken aback by the man’s manner. A mischievous thought entered his mind. “If I say no, this will be very awkward.”

The chef gave a scrutinizing look. “But you’re the only new person we’ve hired lately. Surely you must be him!”

“Yeah, I am. I was just pulling your leg.”

“This is no time for leg-pulling! Do you realize my job is on the line?!

About now, the door opened and a female face popped in. “Hello, sorry, can I clock in real quick?”

“Yes, Sarah, I was just orienting our new recruit here to kitchen life. Sarah, this is, er, Jordan.”

“If you forget you can call me John,” replied the new employee, shaking Sarah’s hand. “My name’s hard to remember anyway.”

Sarah laughed and gave a smile that exuded curiosity but wisely shied away from asking questions since, one, the head chef could be a curious man sometimes, and, two, it was always safer to keep an arms-length distance between boys you’re not well acquainted with at Boyce and Southern.

After she clocked in and exited, shutting the door, the tense conversation resumed.

“Now, Jotham…”

“John…”

“Yes, John, sorry, if you have any questions or need any clues, ask me. I have placed myself entirely at the mercy of this investigation.”

“That’s very kind of you.”

“Yes, I’m hoping it shows them that I am not poisoning the food. It’s absolutely silly to think that I would be doing such things!”

“So they consider you a suspect?”

“Of course! The only way the food can be poisoned is within the kitchen. I am, I believe, their chief suspect because rumors are circulating that a new food service will be taking over the kitchen duties here. Apparently some students can’t handle good food! So they think I’m trying to foil it for the school.”

“Wait, they’re planning on bringing in an outside organization to cook our meals?”

“Yes! Now tell me honestly, is the food I cook so bad?”

John thought hard. He was rather indifferent to taste and generally graded food on edibleness. “Um, your cooked carrots are really good.”

“There! It makes me glad to know the person investigating this mess is on my side.”

“So you’re not the one poisoning the food?”

“Heavens, no! I wouldn’t dream of it! Why would I poison the food and put myself out of a job and into prison?”

“Why indeed,” Bryan repeated later that night as John recounted the conversation in Bryan’s dorm room. “But there could be a reason. He may see the coming storm as inevitable and try to damage the school’s reputation.”

“Even if it means prison, public humiliation, and professional shaming?” John countered.

“A sick mind would consider it.”

“But the chef isn’t sick in the head,” answered Gus, Bryan’s tall Hispanic roommate.

“Oh hey, Gus,” greeted John. “Bryan, should he be in here while we discuss this case?”

“I actually asked Gus to help us,” Bryan answered. “You see, Gus also works in the kitchen. I think having a second pair of eyes down there is helpful. He is also better acquainted with the staff.”

“And,” Gus added, “I know lots about herbs and things.”

“Why would herbs be helpful?” John wondered.

“Because the person behind the poisonings may be using an herb,” Bryan explained. “Gus may help us identify it. So,” he continued, shutting down his laptop, standing up and pacing the room, “the chef is probably innocent. So who else is there down there, John? You said you compiled a list?”

“Yes, I wrote down several names on a paper towel in between sautéing vegetables for students.”

“Looks kinda gross,” Gus noted as John pulled it from his pocket and unfolded it.

“Yeah, I accidentally starting using it to clean the sneeze glass…Anyways, first on the list is Chef DuPont.”

“Whom we’ll set aside for now,” said Bryan.

“Right, so I’ll just go down the general chain-of-command.” He cleared his throat. “Next in line to Chef DuPont is Chef Maggie, or Chef Mag for short. She’s about the same age as DuPont and has been working with him since he started here.”

John paused to see if Bryan would comment, but he motioned for John to continue.

“Okay…next is Chef Mag’s niece, Chef Katrina, or Chef Kat for short.”

“Do all the chefs have shortened versions of their names?” Bryan wondered.

“I don’t know,” answered John honestly. “I’m not sure if anybody would call the head chef Chef Du, though.”

“Some do,” Gus joked.

John laughed, Bryan smiled and shook his head.

“Alright John, we have Chef Mag and Chef Kat. How long has Kat been working there?”

“This is the start of her third year.”

“And she’s Mag’s niece?”

“Yep. They both told me so…and Chef Kat looks like she’s related to Chef Mag anyway.”

“Good. Carry on.”

“Well, those are the main chefs in charge of the kitchen. They’re also the ones who have been there the longest…except for General Jackson.”

“As in Stonewall Jackson?”

“The same…well at least that’s the reference. Her real name is Jennie Jackson, but everyone calls her General Jackson for short.”

“That’s not really shorter, but what does she do?”

“She runs the grill.”

“Ah, that lady!” Bryan cocked his head. “Yeah, I can see her earning that nickname.”

“Those are the vets, unless I’m missing some. Gus can fill that out more. The rest are mostly fresh faces to the staff.”

“And who are the freshest?” Bryan posed.

“There’s a pretty girl named Sarah, who hasn’t given me her phone number. Maria, who’s not as pretty but seems to really like me, almost to the point of being creepy. Joseph, who is a wine connoisseur (but don’t tell any of the professors that), and some Latino guy named Juarez, who never talks.”

“He never talks?”

“Nope, but he makes a mean burrito!”

“I see,” Bryan muttered and paced the room, stroking his chin. “And there are others who have been there longer?”

“Yes, but I didn’t meet them.”

“That’s fine. Gus, you said you’re pretty well acquainted with everyone? You can enlarge John’s sketch later. But for now, I think that’s enough to start spinning theories.”

“What’s our starting point?” John asked, taking the open seat at Bryan’s desk.

“The timing of the poisonings is significant, I think,” Bryan began. “They didn’t start until the beginning of the semester. John, see if you can find out from the chief chef when the new hires were hired.”

“Okay…” John noted as he jotted down a note on his nasty paper towel. “But what will that tell us?”

“We know when the first instance happened; Detective Havenstraw gave me a full report. So, we can compare when they were hired with when the poisonings started.”

“That’s a brilliant idea!” Gus exclaimed.

“What muddies everything, though, is this news of a possible overhaul of the kitchen staff,” Bryan continued.

“How so?” went John.

“Well, maybe it’s not the new people. Maybe this Chef Mag is behind it. Perhaps she’s angling for Chef DuPont’s position should an overhaul happen. If she can paint him as helpless during this crisis, or even as the culprit, then she may succeed in getting him fired and getting herself promoted.”

“Bryan, you open that door and a plethora of possibilities are plausible,” Gus remarked.

“I know, Gus. It’s all a tangled mess now, but we have to start somewhere. John can dig into these new recruits, and you can give me herbal poisons and more info on the other staff members.”

“But, in the meanwhile, how do we stop the poisonings?” John posed.

“Constant vigilance. Whenever you’re down there, keep an eye out for suspicious behavior. We’ll gather our clues and see if someone slips up.”

The next few days proved a little fruitful. John found that Sarah, Juarez, and Joseph all started at the beginning of the semester, thus putting them all in the window as viable suspects. Interestingly enough, Sarah was hired before the semester, as she lived off-campus and beat the mad rush for a job in the cafeteria. This put her as most suspect, considering she had more time to learn the lay of the kitchen.

Gus provided Bryan with plenty of helpful information. By the end of a couple hours, Bryan felt like he knew the kitchen staff well and started paying more attention to those he interacted with in the cafeteria and café. Gus also found, through some shrewd means, that there was plausible backup to the rumors of a new kitchen regime on the horizon. On top of all this, he gave Bryan a number of different possible poisons or means whereby the poisoner was sabotaging the food. In the end, John noted that Gus was “better than Google.”

A big break came a few nights later when John was going to clock out after a wildly successful “Wild West” themed dinner night, during which General Jackson came dressed as a salty dancehall chanteuse (she was salty because she salted the beef and she gave some students a little attitude). The hour was late, after taking down the decorations, and John was the only one left. As he passed through the stainless steel double doors, he almost knocked down Chef Kat.

“Whoa! Sorry!” John apologized. “You still here?”

“Yeah. I thought you all left?”

“Everyone else did, but I accidently knocked over a trash can and had to stay and clean it up.”

Chef Kat laughed. “Sounds like you. Well, have a good night.”

“’Night.”And John passed on in to the kitchen. After clocking out and on the cusp of leaving, he paused. He thought he heard a noise somewhere in the otherwise empty kitchen.

He slowly peered around the corner of an stove down the “hot strip” of the kitchen where all the fryers and ovens were. He heard the noise again. It sounded like a door opening or closing. He crept down the aisle, wondering if he should pick up one of the kitchen knives readily available nearby. Suddenly the steamer door opened behind him. He spun around and waited for the hot vapors to clear. Before he could move, though, a tall figure with curly black hair, greasy spectacles, and a smiling face stepped into the cloud and came out on the other side.

The figure was Gus.

“Gus!” John proclaimed. “Seriously, you know how to spook a guy.”

“Sorry, I couldn’t help it.”

“What are you doing down here?”

“I heard they posted a new event and I wanted to sign up for it. I went to the bathroom first and heard you enter. I waited until you were about to leave to scare you but you came down this way and I thought I’d give it a bigger effect with the steam.”

John simply stared at his friend. “Well, mission accomplished.”

“So what were you doing?”

“I was investigating a noise…”

John trailed off as he heard the noise again and turned in time to see a tall man clothed in black, with a black ski mask covering his features, walk into view, coming from the walk-in freezer, and stop dead to look at the two students. It was only a moment and he took off, exiting out the nearby double doors to the parking lot.

“After him!” John finally yelled. And the chase was on.

John came up quickly behind the man as he cut through a flowerbed. The man, realizing how close his hunter was, picked up his pace and dove behind a car. When John reached the vehicle, the man was gone. Frantically John darted to and fro through the parking lot, scaring students and visitors walking to their cars. He knew the search was over when he heard the squeal of tires and watched a dark sedan disappear into the night.

He uttered an exclamation and turned his sights to the nearest entry point into the building. As he came upon the stairs descending to the entrance, Gus rejoined him.

“I found something!” he shared, holding a half-full vial.

“What’s that?”

“Something.”

“Right…”

“That guy dropped it.”

“Know what it is?”

“A clue. I must analyze it…with science!”

John nodded and they entered. As they passed Founders’, John saw Bryan and got his attention. They power-walked back to the cafeteria and explained what happened as they went. Within 30 minutes, Chef DuPont was on the scene, investigating the freezer for any evidence of tampering. Meanwhile, in the dining area, the three detectives sat at a table, Gus with a chemistry set, John and Bryan in discussion over the night’s events.

“This presence of an outsider skewers things a bit,” Bryan admitted.

“How so?” John wondered.

“Because it could be, literally, anybody who’s behind this affair now.”

“How do you mean?”

“Well, you said yourself the back door is locked. Considering he exited that way, it would indicate that was also his entry point. That means that someone’s letting him in…which opens it up to just about everybody.”

“What if it was one of the kitchen staff in different garb?” John posed.

“Did his height or demeanor remind you of anyone on staff?” Bryan countered.

“No…not that I can think of.”

“No, I don’t think he works here,” Gus entered, as he mixed a watery substance into a beaker.

“As I thought,” said Bryan. “So, who let him in?”

They sat in silent thought a moment before John snapped his fingers.

“Of course! I almost ran into Chef Kat when I entered the kitchen to clock out.”

Bryan cocked his head. “Interesting…I suppose she could’ve let him in and then exit, trusting he’d let himself out…”

Before Bryan could expound on his thought, Chef DuPont burst through the double doors and came moaning into the dining area. With his head in his hands, he sat with the investigators.

“Ruined! It’s all for nothing!” he cried. “I can’t tell what’s been tampered with. We’ll have to throw it all out to be safe. That’s several hundred dollars worth of food!”

“Look on the bright side,” Gus offered, “I think I’ve identified the poison he’s using.”

The others all riveted their eyes upon Gus, awaiting the answer.

“I believe he’s giving us all Beaver Fever.”

Blank stares and open mouths. Finally, John laughed.

“There’s such a thing as Beaver Fever?”

“Its scientific name is giardiasis.”

“Did you figure it out with all that scientific stuff?” the Chef asked.

“I was trying to. But then I thought of all the symptoms of those poisoned and guessed it. To be sure, I tasted it.”

“Are you going to get sick now?” Bryan wondered.

“I don’t think so. It was a small amount.”

“How can you be sure based on a small sample?” DuPont pressed.

Gus’ face changed to one recalling a nightmare. “I know the taste well. I had beaver fever once before, when I was a kid. My sister and I were swimming in a river in Nevada once near a beaver dam. I drank a lot of the water because I thought it was healthier, being natural water and all. It had a funny taste but I thought nothing of it until a day later when I got sick. The doctor diagnosed it.”

“Wait, so what exactly is beaver fever?” John wondered, feeling that was a pertinent question.

“It’s basically water with fecal matter in it.”

The other three men exchanged shocked glances.

“Poopy water?” John exclaimed. “We’ve been eating stuff saturated in poopy water??”

“That’s one way of putting it.”

Chef DuPont groaned. “It’s hopeless! I might as well put in my resignation…”

He got up and moped into the serving area of the cafeteria.

Bryan watched him and then turned back around with knitted brows. “Perhaps I’ve been taking the wrong track with this. Perhaps, instead of trying to deductively figure out who is behind this, maybe we should instead set a trap and physically find who’s behind this.”

“Brilliant!” said John. “This investigation was moving along slower than a sloth on a slide. But how are we going to force our culprit out in the open?”

“I have an idea,” said Gus. “In fact, I think I know where he’ll try to strike next.”

“Where?” asked Bryan and John simultaneously.

“The trustees’ dinner in two nights. That was the event I came to sign up for.”

Bryan nodded. “I believe we’re all going to sign up for that event, Gus.”

In two nights, Bryan, John, and Gus reported to the kitchen for duty. They all donned their finest Oxford button up shirts and black dress pants they just picked up from the free thrift store on campus. They were given official vests with the seminary’s shield and dove insignia over the heart. Chef DuPont was also present, but was mostly a wreck. Chefs Mag and Kat did more in assisting than DuPont did in leading.

The set up was simple: an elevator behind the kitchen went up the next floor to a smaller food prep area. Bryan was stationed at the bottom level, keeping a sharp eye out for anyone suspicious. Gus and John, having prior catering experience, were the main agents on the floor, Gus orchestrating things topside, John keeping an eye on the guests. In addition to them, Juarez and Sarah worked as well. John was very surprised, though, to see Detective Havenstraw looking rather uncomfortable in a seminary security guard uniform.

“In case I need to arrest somebody,” he whispered as John passed by with a quizzical look.

Another guard was also on duty, but John had never seen him before.

Soon the special guests were arriving, with Dr. Mohler and the chief trustee bringing up the rear. The men talked congenially as they sipped on water and tasted salads. Aside from Dr. Mohler, they were completely unaware of the tense sting operation being played in their midst.

John stood by the door between the kitchenette area and the banquet hall, poised like a sentinel carefully watching his subjects. Suddenly Gus burst through the door, nearly knocking John over.

“Hey! Bryan caught the culprit! It was Juarez!”

“What? Really? How?”

“I guess he caught him trying to slip some bad water onto a plate. Hit him over the head with a tray. He’s out cold now, but we’re trying to revive him.”

“Wow, Bryan’s getting harsh with his detective work. Okay, I’ll alert Havenstraw.”

Gus disappeared through the door and John began signaling to the undercover cop, who understood none of what he was doing. Finally, John had to personally retrieve him.

“What were all those hand do-hickeys you were doing?” the detective rightly asked.

“They’re baseball signals,” John replied.

“Baseball? Who keeps up with baseball?”

“Aren’t you American?”

“Yes, I watch football. Now what do you need?”

“Bryan caught the guy. He’s out cold down below.”

Havenstraw followed John as nonchalantly as he could through to the mini kitchen and down the elevator. When it opened back up, Bryan, Gus, and Chef Kat were bent over Juarez trying to wake him.

“What happened to the guy?” the detective wondered.

“Bryan hit him over the head with a serving tray,” Gus answered, holding up said tray that now had a crack in the middle.

“Bryan with the brutal take-down!” Havenstraw proclaimed.

“Sorry, it was the first thing that caught my attention,” the chagrined student replied. “I’m not used to this sort of detective work.”

“It’s fine, it’s fine,” Havenstraw comforted, kneeling down and pulling a small container of smelling salts from his pocket. “Now you boys hold him down good. He may try to get away.”

“We wouldn’t want that to happen,” said Chef DuPont who now arrived on the scene.

“I’ll say,” Gus joined, “tonight’s a bad night to be short-staffed!”

They all exchanged looks and Detective Havenstraw waved the phial beneath Juarez’s nose.

The Hispanic stirred and slowly opened his eyes. Quickly he took in the situation: his arms being pinned down, the beefy security guard bending over him, the throbbing pain on the top of his head. Fear flashed in his eyes and he struggled, but Havenstraw’s voice stopped him.

“Give it up, kid, you were caught red-handed slipping the poo water onto the plate.”

Juarez relaxed a little. “I guess it was a matter of time before this estupido operation was uncovered.”

“Whoa! He can talk!” John declared.

“You better sing if you wanna avoid another bonk on the head,” the detective threatened.

“Okay, senor, take it easy. I’ll tell you everything. Just no more bonks on the head, huh?”

“Yeah, sorry about that,” Bryan said.

“Don’t apologize, Bryan,” Havenstraw cut in. “Now, Enrique, tell me everything you know.”

“It’s Juarez. I’m from a Mexican gang in Shively. I was approached by a guy who called himself Dr. Jones about a special operation that would be easy money. I volunteered and it turned out to be a cake-walk gig. Get hired onto this kitchen staff, gain everybody’s trust (which I did by not saying anything), and slip poison water into the meals or else let Dr. Jones personally handle things when he wanted.”

“Ahh,” Gus let out, “there was a catering event a couple nights ago when we chased him. You were working it, weren’t you?”

“That’s right. And that’s all I know.”

“Tell us more about this Jones fella,” Havenstraw demanded. “Why is he doing this?”

“I don’t know. Apparently someone above him wanted it done.”

“What does Jones look like?”

“He always wore disguises. But I can show you what he has on tonight.”

Bryan looked startled. “Do you mean he’s here?”

Juarez gave him a mischievous look. “Of course. He’s probably slipping arsenic into the trustees’ dinners right now.”

Chef DuPont gasped and groaned. Havenstraw grabbed the Hispanic by the shirt collar. “Who is he?” he growled.

“I’m surprised you didn’t guess it…he’s the other security guard.”

A crushing hush fell on those present.

“We’ve gotta keep the guests from eating their dinners,” Chef Kat noted.

“Sarah is probably passing them out right now,” Gus added.

“And I bet she’s ticked I’m not helping her,” John murmured.

Havenstraw stood up and they were shocked at how quickly and quietly he handcuffed Juarez to a nearby prep table. “Brody and Jack, with me. I’ll try luring Dr. Jones out of the dining hall. Be waiting in the lobby in case he tries to run. Gil, you and Chef Cake try to reel in the passed out plates. Chef Dupree, make sure Juarez doesn’t split. Let’s move!”

John and Bryan exited through the kitchen and went upstairs to the lobby. Havenstraw, Gus, and Chef Kat took the back elevator and one-by-one reentered the dining hall, where the guests ate in blissful ignorance. Sarah was a little upset that no one helped her pass out plates and was soon on the verge of quitting when told they needed to recollect them. As these three came out for their awkward task, Detective Havenstraw approached the false security guard and mumbled that he had to ask him a question in the lobby. They started off together when suddenly the man threw an elbow into Havenstraw’s face, knocking him over a table. As all present spun around to the commotion, the man darted into the lobby.

Bryan and John jumped him there. John tackled him by the shoulders and Bryan went for the legs. They fell in a pile on the ground. Dr. Jones was the first to rise, scurrying for the stairs. He was well on his way down when John jumped on the wide, slick banister and flew after him. Had John been a split second behind, he would’ve smacked the culprit against the turn in the steps. But Dr. Jones was a smart man and wisely let John fly into the wall by himself while he dashed on by.

He turned his hopes for freedom toward doors that led much in the same direction as his last chase. The doctor seemed like he would make a clean getaway when, emerging through the doors, he was greeted with a command to “Freeze!” and saw a security guard with a bruised cheek standing before him with a gun.

His pause was barely perceptible before he rushed the undercover detective, brushing away the gun, and sending a fist into his side. Havenstraw returned with an elbow strike of his own that clipped the top of Dr. Jones’ head and sent him reeling sideways. Before he could stand up straight, two college students tackled him.

The ensuing scuffle ended when Havenstraw, having recovered his gun, pistol-whipped the man on the head. Or, at least, he tried to. Dr. Jones’ reflexes were quick and he pulled John in harm’s way, knocking the lad out cold. He then wrested the gun free from Havenstraw and staggered up, silently pointing the barrel at his pursuers.

Bryan and Havenstraw stood surprised but still. Dr. Jones glared at the two of them, apparently trying to decide something. Finally, and suddenly, he shot Havenstraw in the right arm. As the man groaned and cursed and Bryan instinctively ducked down, Dr. Jones dashed off.

“Get him, Bobby, I’m fine!” the detective grunted.

Bryan ran off. He saw the man run toward a car and open the door.

“Wait!” he cried out. “We know who you are, Dr. Jones.”

The man stopped, turned, and leveled the gun at Bryan.

The student continued, “Why did you do it? What did you have to gain?”

The man said nothing, but merely smiled, and fired off a shot that zipped by Bryan’s face and smashed into a car window, setting off the alarm. As Bryan stood frozen from his brush with death, the infamous Dr. Jones hopped into his car and drove away.

“Bo! Are you all right?” cried the detective, running up and holding his arm.

Bryan snapped out of his daze. “Yeah. I think he was trying to scare me.”

Havenstraw cursed. “That man’s dangerous for a food poisoner!”

The two came back to John, who was sitting up on the ground rubbing his head. “Man, now I know how Juarez felt…no offense, Bryan.”

Bryan smiled slightly. “None taken. Are you okay?”

“Yeah. He get away?”

Bryan nodded.

“Well, at least we have this…” and he held up a gold ring. Bryan took it and examined it while Detective Havenstraw looked over his shoulder. It looked like a plain class ring with the only design on it being a trapezoid with four diagonal lines crisscrossing through it.

“What on earth does that mean?” Havenstraw wondered.

Bryan shook his head.

The trustees’ dinner was officially postponed after that incident. Gus, Sarah, and Chef Kat decompressed after the night’s exciting by getting ice cream afterwards. Chef DuPont had a long conversation with Dr. Mohler and eventually resigned, in spite of all assurance that no one held him responsible since Juarez was caught. His resignation gave way to the new food service that took over, laid off all the employees, and promptly rehired them for the heck of it. They also raised the food costs, which disgruntled the students until they provided an unlimited ice cream machine in the cafeteria. In addition to getting his arm mended, Detective Hindenburg finally learned the names of his “little detectives.” He also investigated the ring, but came up with nothing. The two students were a little shaken after the adventure. John cheered himself up with the realization that they got paid to do detective work, and Bryan translated the entire letter of 1 John to ease his mind.

The moral of the story is: Never yell at a man holding a gun.

*college-time mysteries. ’15. All rights reserved.

The Problem with Hypocrites

I find it funny when people say they don’t want to be a Christian because they’ve known too many Christians who are hypocrites. I also find it funny when people claiming to be Christians refuse to go to a church gathering because they’ve seen too much hypocrisy in the church.

While these arguments are worth serious consideration, they strike me as humorous when you start to think about them a little. As far as Christians refusing to attend any type of church service due to general religious hypocrisy, would that person say they are not a hypocrite? And second, as far as those who refuse to believe in Jesus due to the hypocrisy of His followers, don’t they realize one simple truth?

Everyone is a hypocrite.

It doesn’t matter who you are. Get down off your high horse and admit it, you’ve played the hypocrite at one point in time. Everyone does. Give a body enough time to speak and live and he/she will slip up eventually. I’m a hypocrite; you’re a hypocrite. We’re all guilty.

So now what? For starters, maybe having that perspective will give you a little more patience and grace when people act like hypocrites. Knowing that it “takes one to know one” goes a long way. But I also want to note that the Bible knows we are hypocrites and spends quite a bit of time addressing the issue (see Jeremiah 7:1-15 & Matthew 6 for starters).

We should all strive to be genuine, in word and deed, but understand that we all fail. That doesn’t mean we should turn a blind-eye to hypocrisy, rather we should deal with it in love and humility. Maybe then we can have genuine conversations about faith and life without the shallow arguments in tow.

An Ideal War

A couple weeks ago I had the privilege to talk briefly with a veteran who served in the recent Iraq war and was wounded in the spine by an IED. The doctors said he’d never walk again, yet there he was moving about with the aid of a cane. I found him and his story brave and admirable, but what I want to especially point out is a particular aspect of our conversation.

Having fought in Iraq, the issue of politics in war inevitably came up. It soon turned to the current threat of ISIS. He expressed his thoughts and then put the spotlight on me, wondering what a young American like me thought about it all. My mind immediately lighted upon an idea that I felt was true enough. I realized that America will probably have a hard time fighting ISIS, not because of weaponry or training (I’d say we beat them there) but in a more crucial way. I saw that, frankly, America lacks any cohesive ideal while ISIS is pretty solid on theirs.

An ideal, as a noun, can be defined as “a standard of perfection; a principle to be aimed at” (thank you, Google). The wars that America have been successful in have been the wars in which our ideal was clear. Typically the ideal was freedom and democracy. We used to have a patriotism unlike any other country. Americans used to be great fighters because they knew their ideal, understood the price to attain it, and pressed on through every hardship to see it accomplished. In recent decades, we’ve lost that.

Let’s face it, Americans are fattened cows roaming about the hillside for the next clump of green grass we can devour. Hundreds of restaurants spring up at every turn; convenience stores meet our every need; various venues to entertain us are in over-abundance. Not that any of those things are bad. They’re really the outpouring of the freedom our veterans have so bravely fought (and died) for. But an abundance of victories, over time, can lull even the greatest giant to sleep if he is not watchful.

And that’s where we are now, a sleeping giant stirring restlessly at the sound of wars and upheaval far away and yet of immediate concern. I, like every good American, want to see ISIS defeated and dismantled, blotted out from the face of the earth. But while I’m no military adviser or high-up politician, I can see what’s happening on the home front, and what I see needs to change if we want any hope of soundly standing up to ISIS. What we need is an ideal, an ideal of freedom (largely rooted in a strong sense of morality) that pushes past our cynicism and awakes us from our slumber to defend the things we hold so dear.

Poem Preview: The Battle Anew

As I’ve announced previously on this blog, my next big writing project is a collection of poetry I’ve written over the past decade. Lately, I’ve been typing up some poems and will soon begin the weeding out process of who will stay and who will go. This one, written while a freshman in high school, is in contention. What do you think? Thumbs up? Or thumbs down?

The Battle Anew
By J.R. Underdown

Can you hear the sacred battle cry?
Up in arms, all sisters, brothers!
There’s no escape, the battle’s nigh.
We must fight for others.

Arm yourself, train and prepare.
We’ve waited too long to fight.
We can withstand this deadly air;
With God, we can face the night.

Can you sense the battle anew?
It’s rising day by day.
Hear its growl, what will you do?
You can’t step from its way.

So draw your sword, if you’re with us,
We’ll fight side by side.
We’re washed by the blood of Jesus;
He can turn the tide!

But, oh God, who will go?
Who’s brave enough to stand?
You’re children act as if they don’t know,
Arouse their hearts with Your hand.

A spark, a flame is what we need
To awaken our hearts again.
Oh dear Lord, hear my plead!
Take us away from sin.

Confusion, though around us blows,
Can’t stop the cause of God.
Why be afraid? For He knows
What ground, tomorrow, we’ll trod.

And finally, Lord, help me to rise
And lead others to the fight.
May I be brave, and open my eyes
So that You may cut the night.

Summer Tunes

With Memorial Day behind us, that means summer is coming into its own. What can make your summer even better is having the right tunes to bear you through the long hot days and dark muggy nights. Here’s a list of 10 albums I own that I think make for a great summer soundtrack…

1) Suburba (House of Heroes)- While pretty much every House of Heroes album is a “summer” album, this gem is the epitome of them. There’s a loose story running throughout adding to its draw. Surefire hits include “Independence Day for a Petty Thief”, “Salt in the Sea”, and “Relentless”.

2) When I Was Younger (Colony House)- This amazing album came out last summer and it was the one that defined my waning days of the season. It starts off with 80’s tinged tunes like “Silhouettes”, moves into heavier rock territory with “Keep On Keeping On”, and mellows out nicely with introspective cuts like “Moving Forward”.

3) Summer EP (Jon Foreman)- All of his seasonal EP’s are worth looking into and this one gives the perfect soft touch to the summer months with “A Mirror is Harder to Hold”, “Resurrect Me”, and “Deep in Your Eyes”.

4) Poems, Prayers, and Promises (John Denver)- Another softer album to balance out the rockers. Crank up your car radio to “Take Me Home, Country Roads” or wish you were in the Rockies with “I Guess He’d Rather Be in Colorado”. The longing apparent on this album could be the perfect prep album for vacation!

5) Almeria (Lifehouse)- Okay, I don’t own this album in full, but I have listened to it on Spotify frequently. It has a more “western” feel to it and, along with the sweet cover art, makes it an easy choice for the summer, especially with songs like “Between the Raindrops”, “Right Back Home”, and “Gotta Be Tonight”.

6) Wake Up Call (Petra)- I had to fit Petra on here somewhere! This album comes with some scorching Southern-fried rockers like “Midnight Oil”, “Strong Convictions”, and “Underneath the Blood”.

7) The Eleventh Hour (Jars of Clay)- Of all their albums, I associate this one the most with summer for a number of reasons. It has a good balance of rockers (like “Revolution”), quiet moments (“Silence”), and anything in between (“I Need You”).

8) The Peace of Wild Things (Paper Route)- A fine album for any season, this one lends itself to summer as well with sing-out-loud hits like “Two Hearts” and “You and I” and mellower cuts like “Sugar”.

9) ‘Til We See the Shore (Seabird)- I’m sure I’ve mentioned this album before, but it’s just that good. From the bouncy opener “Black and Blue” to the driving “Let Me Go On” to the dance-worthy cut “Maggie Mahoney”, spin this record and you’ll be rocking out this summer.

10) Vessel (Twenty One Pilots)- I’m not a huge rap fan, but this group rides a good balance of rap/electronic/pop. The sheer amount of energy this album carries is worth some summer listens. “Holding on to You”, “House of Gold”, and “Screen” should be checked out.

Honorable Mention:

11) Everything Will Be Alright in the End (Weezer)- Again, don’t own this album, but I’m close to buying it. The tracks are great and will give you the pep you need for every turn of summer. Highlights include “Back to the Shack”, “Da Vinci”, and “The British are Coming”.

What are some albums/tracks you’ll be spinning this summer?

The Price of Fame

In 1996, a song was released that propelled a lowly band called “The Verve Pipe” into being one of the great one-hit wonders of the 90’s: “The Freshmen.” The song is basically about misbegotten youth, beginning with an abortion, continuing with a suicide, and ending with the ugly aftermath of broken relationships. It’s a chilling, gripping song that honestly looks at the folly of youth.

You could stop there and think that’s it. They wrote a deeply emotional song, became famous for it, and moved on. But the curious tale of the song and its writer, Brian Vander Ark, continues with The Verve Pipe’s follow-up album, a self-titled work that examines fame and specifically how the band got there…through “The Freshmen.”

Particularly interesting is the song “Hero,” in which the singer seems to regret writing the song that propelled him and his band into fame. In it he acknowledges the fame he’s received, but also admits that, in retrospect, he feels like a “creep” for becoming famous on “another suicide”, that is, someone else’s pain. In the end, he seems to warn the listener not to take the song too far with the lyric, “For your abuse/but not intended for internal use.”

The guilt he expressed over his fame is striking. He undoubtedly wanted to be famous, he even says as much in the song: “But a hero’s what I want to be.” Yet, it seems, to him, the price wasn’t worth it. He took a very serious and emotional subject and crafted a hit pop song out of it. Some people probably wouldn’t think twice about it, but he feels almost ashamed for how he exploited it.

Much could be said about these two songs and the dilemmas they produce, but I’ll make my point simple: You may want fame on a certain level, but beware of how that fame may affect you. Sometimes the price of fame isn’t worth the trouble (or guilt) it causes you.

Here’s a quote from Flying Colours, a Hornblower novel by C.S. Forester, that I think summarizes what I’m trying to say:

“Prospect, and not possession, was what gave pleasure, and [Hornblower’s] cross-grainedness would deprive him, now that he had made that discovery, even of the pleasure in prospect. He misdoubted everything so much. Freedom that could only be bought by Maria’s death was not a freedom worth having; honours granted by those that had the granting of them were no honours at all; and no security was really worth the loss of insecurity. What life gave with one hand she took back with the other.”

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