BY John Thomas Tuft

“Rule number one,” said the speaker at the front of the large hotel meeting room, “old men get sick and die. Rule number two. You cannot change rule number one.” He looked around the audience, faces eagerly upturned to absorb his every word. “And rule number three. Any attempts to amend rule number one are negated by rule number two.” He strode across the stage with purpose. “These rules apply to everyone. Every. Last. One. Of. Us.“ He puts his hands on his hips and stars into the spotlight that follows his every move. Then he places his hand over his heart and bows his head for a moment of silence. When he looks up the volume is cranked up and he beams, “But, wait…there’s more!”

A murmur goes up among the crowd of 1000. They each paid $1500 to be a part of this exclusive workshop on ‘The Jesus Market’; you do the math. His voice grows hushed. “If you came here for religion, there’s the door. And remember, there is no such thing as neutral ground in this life.” He walks to the side of the stage and returns holding a book. “How many of us simply want good old boy Jesus around for our final scene, our death bed? Well, here at The Jesus Market, we have an app for your cell phone, linked up with your Fit Watch, so that when your heart rate goes down to a certain level, the app automatically alarms and displays a video of Franklin Graham saying the Sinner’s Prayer. Repeat along with Billy’s boy, and you’re in! Available at the website listed in your packets for a one time sinner’s discount of $99.99.”

A glass box is wheeled out onto the platform and he places the book inside of it and locks the door. He turns back to the rapt audience. “This is the story of two deities, MyGod and WrongGod. Now, you might expect a picture of the author to be on the back cover,” and here he puts a finger to his lips, “but here at The Jesus Market we like to keep such things mysterious. It’s a storybook that is born of empires and feuds, misfit monks and wandering obscure herders. And we can use it to pretty much justify whatever we want to justify with it.” He spreads his arms wider than his smile. “It’s magic! Want to wipe out a people? Go for it. Want to take more than you will ever need, with aggression that you never have to apologize for? We can do capitalism with the best! See something you want but can’t have? Relax,” he points to the book in the glass box. “You can have it.” He picks up the box and shakes it, turns it over and over. Returns it to the stand, bright in the spotlight.

He points to the glass box. “What do you see in there with the book?” He waves his hands over the box, chants a few nonsense words, and exclaims, “Right. Theology! All that stuffy air in an empty space: that’s theology. Want to customize it with some color and flavorings? No problem. If you will be so kind as to go to our website, you will find the finest collection of essentials ever gathered in one place. At reasonable prices, of course.” He launches into the spiel with the rapid-fire cadence of an auctioneer. “Race, sex, wealth, lend me your ear, whatta, whatta. Bid for your soul, keep moving the goal, who’s gotta, gotta. Suffering and sin, who’s gettin’ in? Flag and country, patriot to the cross, we’re undefeatable because we got the Boss! Who will bid on the golden cross, what am I bid on a worship crown? Hey, dollar, dollar, another sinner comin’ down!”

The crowd erupts in wild cheering. The Jesus Market sure knows how to deliver. “You will find in your registration packets a sign up sheet so that when you go home,” here the preacher, I mean presenter, gives his best dramatic pause, “you too, can be a seller in the Jesus Market. We equip you with the latest in multi-level marketing tools and skills. You will get your own manual, glass box, nametag, and PayPal signin.” There arose a commotion in the back as someone threw open the doors and a young woman ran down the center aisle, stumbling from exertion and panting for breath.

She climbs onto the stage, blinking in the bright spotlight. The ushers move to fetch her, but she takes the microphone and pleads with the crowd, “Why do you seek the living among the dead? He is not here, he’s long gone. Don’t you know, yet?” She hurriedly mumbles something and turns to go. The presenter looks shocked. “What did you say, young lady?” He demands. Her eyes wide with fear, she whispers again, repeating so that all there have to strain to hear. “The one whom you seek…” She stops to take a deep breath. “Be the one. You be the Jesus that you are seeking.” With that she drops the mic and leaves them alone. Utterly alone.

Words are magic and writers are wizards.