Once upon a time, a kingdom was attacked by brigands while the King was absent. The brigands captured much of the King’s territory, at least temporarily. Some of the King’s subjects even made peace with the brigands. One band of hardy yeomen, however, determined to defend the kingdom at all costs.
Perceiving (as they thought) that they could not repel all brigands everywhere, they gathered in the heart of the kingdom. If they could not defend the entire kingdom, they would at least protect its heart. They staked out their territory in the heart of the kingdom, and there they erected a fortress from which to hurl stones and shoot arrows at the King’s adversaries.
Their fortress, however, was small and rather rude, while the subjects who had capitulated often dwelt in cities that were passing fair. Many who hated the brigands thought that they could live safely in these cities while occasionally protesting against the invasion. Others hesitated in between, not liking the cities and wanting to fight the brigands, but liking the look of the fortress even less. That is when a few within the fortress shouted, “If you will not come within our walls, then you are the enemy!” And they threw stones at them.
For many years the situation remained thus. Some who lived in the fortress would speak with some who dwelt in the land, but this, too, was hazardous. To be seen speaking to one who was not of the fortress was to risk a stone to the noggin. Those who lived in the fortress could not always tell the difference between a defender of the heart of the kingdom, a capitulator from the cities, and a person of the land who dwelt in neither place.
As the defenders began to erect the second story of the fortress, a few of them created private chambers of their own. Such insisted that their chamber was the entire kingdom, and its builder was the King’s anointed. These builders provoked conflicts with the builders of other rooms and chambers. Not infrequently, they would assassinate their rivals within the fortress. Because the bodies were buried carefully in a deep dungeon, no one thought that they would ever be found.
Many defenders, however, never gave their allegiance to a builder, but only to the King. They knew that there was an entire kingdom outside of their walls. But they ventured out less and less frequently. Also, they displayed less and less hospitality to those who were outside. So it went as the defenders began to build the third story.
As the third story was taking shape, a youngster named Christopher was growing up in the fortress. He learned the ways of the place and he loved the fortress, but he would also look longingly at the grounds outside of the windows. He reasoned that the purpose of the fortress was to defend the kingdom, and not merely to defend the fortress. And so he began to venture outside.
At first he stayed within the heart of the kingdom, visiting sites that he had heard about in the fortress. Then he began to wander as a visitor through the rest of the kingdom (for was it not still the King’s territory?) and to meet other subjects. Some he found to have made peace with brigands. Some he found to be loyal subjects of the King. He even found a few lifting up weapons against the King’s enemies.
When he re-entered the fortress, he smelt a stink. He remembered noticing this odor often while he lived in the castle, but now it seemed overpowering. He determined to find the source and began to investigate the castle. His researches took him into virtually every room at virtually every level. He found that the foul air came from two sources.
First, the original builders had used some decaying materials in their construction. Christopher realized that these rotten materials were unhealthy and that they would eventually rot away and topple the entire structure. He reasoned that considerable renovation was in order.
He did not find the main source of the stench, however, until he began to poke around in the dungeon. There he began to discover the bodies of those who had been assassinated. Eventually he was able to learn where most of the bodies were buried and who had assassinated them. Most of them had been sacrificed because they had threatened (sometimes quite unintentionally) the supremacy of some builder within his own chamber.
Christopher also found great halls and entire wings of the fortress that were well-ordered and well-maintained. Some served him fresh bread and living water. Some helped him to sharpen his weapons and to shine his armor. He loved those who maintained these bright halls, for their chambers were better than anything else he had found in the kingdom. For the sake of these halls, and for the sake of the kingdom, he determined to do all that he could to make the fortress strong and beautiful.
Outside the fortress, those who had made peace with the brigands were turning into brigands themselves. They represented a new threat, but those who dwelt in the fortress were simply not interested in them. “They are far away,” they said, “and safely outside our walls. Let us build more chambers!”
Others of the King’s men, however, men who were not of the fortress, took up arms against the new brigands. They fought valiantly, and they began to build a fortress of their own. Some within the first fortress became jealous. It was whispered that the new fortress had capitulated to the enemy, but this was a slander. It was also whispered that the builders of the new fortress (which was near at hand) had stolen the land upon which they built. “Only we have a right to that land,” said some within the first fortress, forgetting that the kingdom belonged to the King and not to them.
Each time the new soldiers drew near to the first fortress, they were pelted with rocks. Some commanders of the fortress began to pronounce imprecations against these new soldiers. “They are not of our fortress,” they intoned. “Therefore, they must be of the cities. They must be capitulators. Those who do not live in our fortress are all capitulators. Let us curse them lest our young warriors see the splendor of their banners.”
But Christopher was heartened by these new soldiers. Many of them he knew personally. He had met them during his travels throughout the kingdom. He understood that they loved the King and would die for Him. “Let us cheer them!” Christopher exclaimed.
Many dwellers in the chambers glowered at Christopher. “How can you speak well of men who are not in the fortress?” they asked. “If those men were fighting for the kingdom, they would join us in our chambers. All those who are not of our chambers have made peace with the brigands! That includes you.” But Christopher knew these nay-sayers from his investigation of the castle. He knew that they were heirs of the assassins, and he fully expected them to become assassins, too.
Even as these dwellers fulminated, however, young warriors began to stream from the fortress. These young men were nauseated by the stench within the fortress and they yearned for fresh air. They felt confined by the narrow chambers, in which they had witnessed too many assassinations. Most of all, they wished to strike a blow for the King. They flocked to the banners of the new soldiers.
“There is still a place for the fortress,” said Christopher. “We must make it a fortress worth saving. Let us open the windows and let in the light and air! Let us remove the victims from the dungeon and give them a decent burial! Let us tear out the rotting materials and build anew—and well! And let us remember that we are defending the kingdom—all of it! and not just a few rooms in a fortress.”
Many agreed with Christopher. Indeed, some of the more spacious halls and wings of the castle had been built by those who were trying to do just what Christopher suggested. They had begun to replace the decaying materials. They had opened their windows, and in the clear light of day they perceived many wonderful views. They treated the new soldiers with fairness and honesty. The odor was less in these rooms, though it could not be avoided entirely.
To many, however, a single chamber was more important than the kingdom. They had spent many years decorating the decayed building materials. Furthermore, they beheld with dismay the men who were leaving. “There is no stench,” said some, “And besides, we like this smell.” “There were no assassins, only great builders, and they are our heroes,” intoned others. Still others objected, “You just want to run the castle.” And still others claimed, “What we really need to do is to build more chambers.”
They began to cast stones at Christopher and at the maintainers of the bright halls. And the stench grew, until it filled parts of the fortress like a noxious Cloud. And it was a Cloud of Untruthing, and its name was INNUENDO, and its method was slander, and in its heart was murder (for whoever assassinates a man’s character assassinates the man), and it multiplied suspicion wherever it drifted. And from the pits of the dungeon, where lay the bodies of the slaughtered, arose great laughter, as the laughter of a dragon.
And the more men ignored the stench, and the more they hurled stones within the fortress, and the more the Cloud cast its shadow, the more the young warriors abandoned the fortress.
Confession of Sin
The Book of Common Prayer
Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,
maker of all things, judge of all men:
We acknowledge and bewail our manifold sins
which we from time to time most grievously have committed,
by thought, word, and deed, against thy divine Majesty,
provoking most justly thy wrath and indignation against us.
We do earnestly repent,
and are heartily sorry for these our misdoings;
the remembrance of them is grievous unto us,
the burden of them is intolerable.
Have mercy upon us,
have mercy upon us, most merciful Father;
for thy Son our Lord Jesus Christ’s sake,
forgive us all that is past;
and grant that we may ever hereafter
serve and please thee in newness of life,
to the honor and glory of thy Name;
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.