I'll always remember this story, which had its beginning in 1985/86 at a Christian Imagination class at Regent College in Vancouver, BC, especially for an illustration of the tale which an artist rendered for the front cover of CRUX magazine. There he is, the protagonist, happily dancing with his God. You don't always get a cover for your short fiction, and when you do, it may not always be to your liking. But it was a great picture and captured the spirit of this little piece of fiction.
The original story was dedicated to Mike Mason, who had written a book on Job at the time, and who was also an inspiration as a Christian who wrote deeply and creatively.
This posting of Boj also goes out as a dedication to Mike - wherever you are!
Now there was a man named Boj. Boj is Job spelled backwards and that is what his father, a religious man, had him christened, much as other families will name their children after Bible heroes such as David, Jonathan, Deborah, and Rachel, or after the apostles of Jesus. There was, for instance, on the same block that Boj grew up on, a Spanish family that had named their daughter Immaculate Conception. Such people hope that giving their children biblical names will perhaps infuse them with some of those characters’ better qualities or, at the very least, that God will smile upon such children and deal more congenially with them, guiding them through the pitfalls and temptations that destroy so many parents’ dreams. This was the hope of Boj’s father, for he was a frightened, superstitious believer in the Christ, whom he considered capricious, and he hoped that by spelling Job’s name backwards and bestowing it upon his son, all of Job’s bad fortune would be reversed in the child’s life.
As a matter of fact, the name caused more grief for the child in his public school years instead of the hoped-for reverse. Other children not only ridiculed him and made up the kind of brutal rhymes that only children are capable of creating, but teachers often joined in the mockery too, either inadvertently through mispronunciation of his name, or deliberately, but slyly, when they wished to see another creature suffer as they were suffering trying to teach their callous and disobedient pupils.
Despite all this, or probably because of it, Boj grew up very quiet and very tender, sensitive to others’ pains and needs. He became a junior high teacher, and he taught English, and he taught it well. His students loved him, for he loved them first. Often he became dramatic in the classroom, acting out scenes from the novels and plays they studied together. Many a boy or girl, hearing and watching him, felt their image pierced and laughter come, or anguish, and sometimes a tear forced inward to be released and shed in a dark, starry backyard, hands in pockets, lonely and hoping for a voice from the black mystery of two o’clock in the morning.
And despite his father, his name, and the dubious blessing it had brought upon his head, Boj came to love God. He attended a small church irregularly, listened to the sermons, remained quiet and smiled when others shouted praise. But in his own home, when no one else was with him, he would read the Bible out loud dramatically, and act out many of the events contained within its pages: Jesus before the tomb of Lazarus, Paul facing the council at Jerusalem, Jonah screaming out of the belly of a great fish, Elijah trekking to Mount Sinai and huddling in a cave to wait for the whisper of God. Then he would be overcome with joy and pain, and his face would flood with tears, and he would dance, dance in circles and fling up his arms, dance from living room to kitchen to bedroom to dining room, dance until the sweat washed away the tears, dance until he could hardly breathe and the laughter was erupting from him like the chiming of silver stars colliding happily with each other in the heavens. He would collapse on the floor on his back, still laughing, looking up at the panting, laughing face of God, his only partner, and he would begin to talk with him. This could go on for hours and often Boj merely fell asleep on the floor where he had collapsed, his round face still as a child’s, his brown hair clinging damp where it grew around his ears and the back of his head, his bald scalp tinted rose by the flush of blood to his face, his arms spread-eagled.
The teenagers in the church desperately wanted him to be their youth pastor, but the senior minister would not allow it, and the adults in the church agreed with his decision. It was not that Boj wasn’t a decent, God-fearing man, they each assured one another, but he was a little odd, and he frequently said things that bothered you for days afterwards, and he never worshiped as the others in the church did. Besides, he was not regular in attendance and was certainly a bit too chummy with the non-Christian community. He was not altogether a very religious man, when all was said and done, and they could hardly allow such a man, decent and God-fearing though he was, to have such a position of responsibility over their children, whom they had named David and Jonathan and Deborah and Rachel.
All this Boj knew. He only smiled sadly and continued to teach his classes in English, and to dance in his home, and to dress simply and eat simply - he was somewhat poor since he sent the greater part of his paycheque to an invalid sister.
But he did not complain, nor shake his fist at heaven, nor curse God, though he was often hurt and perplexed. He did not rebel against the laughing God who was his only dancing partner.
An uncle Boj had never heard of finally called in his lawyer and settled his will in a hospital bed in-between coughing up blood and a nurse sliding a tube down his throat and sucking up brown and yellow phlegm. He named Boj as his sole beneficiary, inasmuch as the uncle was a religious man who had made his fortume in munitions and nuclear warheads, and who, having heard of Boj’s piety from another nephew, hoped this gift of all the money he had ever earned from all the wars he had ever supplied, would appease God with regard to his feet swift to shed blood. After all, the money was going to one who was definitely God’s child and who, in accordance with his faith, would use the money, very likely, to advance the kingdom of God upon the earth.
A day after his signing of this will, the uncle was alone in his private hospital room. Looking out the window he saw the evening shadows glide into the room together, from trees and houses and people, and congeal into the sharp outline of a long, thin darkness. He summoned up his act of bestowing his money on a child of God and awaited the peace which ought to accompany this summons. None came. An arm that seemed the concentration of all the darkness since the earth’s beginning, so dense it was, spilled rapidly towards him like ink from a smashed bottle. He tried to cry out as his soul was slashed open and his life fled from him.
When a nurse entered the room it was full of the night. As she shone her flashlight towards the bed, she saw the slack jaw and the bulging eyes, and the first two fingers of her right hand came automatically and professionally to close the eyelids down over the screaming gaze.
Boj was rich.
He did not want to move from his house, but so many of his family pressed him to do so he finally acquiesced, both to please them and to escape the hundreds of people he’d never known who were continually dropping by day and night.
All of these people knew what to do with his money. A hundred missions groups came by, a thousand Christian businessmen. They plagued him constantly, like locusts. They raised their voices
to God because of the blessing he had bestowed on Boj. They thanked God that Boj was considered righteous enough to receive it. All the voices said the same thing, no voice said anything to the contrary, so that Boj had to struggle to keep from believing it himself. Though he knew his God could not be so easily manipulated by his children’s actions, whether to blessings or cursings, the voices were incessant. He thought he would lose his mind. He prayed but received no response. Eventually, he had no time to pray at all and hardly any time alone in which to dance.
His new house was located in a plush area of town and most of his neighbours were lawyers, doctors, and assorted corporation executives. They considered him an eccentric whom they rarely saw except when he was going to and from school in his white, open-neck shirt and dishevelled brown slacks. Soon they did not even see him then, for the principal asked him to conclude his year at Christmas. Boj’s teaching and the manner in which he had been able to hold his students spellbound had fallen far below par.
For the business of running his late uncle’s empire was formidable indeed. Corporate lawyers, women representing buyers from countries he’d only read of in TIME, men from the department of national defence, chief executives from the conglomerate’s offices and munitions plants across the country, signatures, decisions, financial advisers to heed, document after document to read and consider.
Boj had refused to leave the new house and set up in his uncle’s offices a thousand miles away, so they all came to him at his home. Soon he had to hire a dozen secretaries and bookkeepers and a number of household staff and a gardener. At first, he had abhorred the thought of carrying on with his uncle’s business interests, considering what they were, and was about to close down the whole operation and distribute the capital to world relief organizations. But he met with an outpouring of protest from all those who heard about this plan, followers of the Christ and followers of anything but the Christ.
Men and women brutally reminded him of the mass unemployment this would cause, inaugurating possibly a national crisis; that the nation would lose the benefit of billions of dollars in armament sales so that the economy would sink even further, creating more suffering and swelling the ranks of the poor; that commitments had been made up to ten years in advance and that, in the name of all that was sacred and holy, these commitments had to be honoured. Boj had seen no way out of these implications and had reluctantly carried on with the business of running his inheritance. “Better you with your Christian principles,” whispered a friend in his ear, “then, God forbid, someone else without them.”
In all this, he did not forget god, nor did he stop dancing, though he had fewer opportunities and he danced with less and less conviction. Often he would stop in the middle of a dance and fall to his knees weeping because he did not mean the dance at all. No laughing God stooped over him, panting from dancing Boj’s hora of worship. But Boj did not curse God, or rebel against him, or ignore him. Nor could he thank God once for the inheritance that had made him financally rich but spiritually poor.
A war escalated to a feverish pitch in his head. On the one hand, did not everything ultimately come from God’s outstretched arm? Should God not be glorified and praised in all? On the other hand, was everything that came a person’s way in life a blessing? Was not evil often mingled with good? Was God to be praised for all the wickedness in the world? How many Christians had Satan made wealthy who were adamant that their financial success came from God? How many churches grew because congregations thrived on the worship of Mammon which they could not distinguish any longer from the spirit of God? Witches, Satanists, all the cults held billions of dollars in assets. Which was the voice of the serpent? Which was the whisper of the dove?
“You’re wrong!” one businessman cried, confronting Boj in his office. “You’re completely off the wall not to praise God for this. Give thanks in all things, Boj. You’re totally ignoring the hand of God in this. You’re not giving him any of the credit due his name. You’re sinning, Boj. And God punishes sin. He won’t let his glory be trampled underfoot.”
“Suppose this is a test, a trial,” responded Boj, his face growing warm, “suppose this money is straight from the pit. How do you know God doesn’t want me just to stand up and walk away from it?”
“Boj,” said the senior minister of his little church, “a man of your spiritual acumen would be an asset to the leadership of our church. What happened to you convinced us you are a man who walks with God.”
“I am the same man I always was,” declared Boj, “the same man you wouldn’t allow to be the church’s youth pastor. I haven’t changed, I never changed.”
“Boj, you’re a righteous man!” called another.
“I’m a sinner saved by grace,” Boj retorted.
“Let us interview you,” coaxed a Christian broadcaster. “You will give people hope. A little man in a little town with a little job, but he trusts and serves God quietly and faithfully. Finally, the day comes when that quiet faithfulness is rewarded. Don’t you realize, Boj? Your story shows that it is faith in God that will bring results. Not faith in anyone or anything else. Not faith in this country’s dream that money and power are the goals that give a person’s life all the meaning it needs. Tell your story, Boj. And give your God the glory for it.”
“I don’t think nuclear warheads give God much glory,” Boj snapped, “and they will give him even less if they are ever launched.”
“If you do not see the hand of God in all of this, you are lost,” moaned a woman.
“If Satan has a hand in this and I cannot recognize it, I am truly lost,” whispered Boj.
“Boj!” pleaded a friend who was like a brother to him. “Listen to me. Where are you and where is God? Do you feel close to him?”
“Is it easy to worship him?”
“Is it easy to pray to him?”
“Boj! You are cut off from him! Until you praise him for what he’s done you will never get near God. Can’t you see that? You’re worshiping your idea of God, not God himself. Throw away your obstinacy and see God as he really is.”
“I do see him. I must. Have I loved evil? Have I danced with darkness? Have I worshipped Hell?”
“You do not see him. You cannot. You have only loved your own imagination. You are lost!”
Boj’s mind burned and swirled with sparks. He could not sleep. He could not eat. What little was left of his praying ceased. The dancing stopped. He did not want to dress in the mornings and he did not want to undress at night. He sat slumped at his desk, draining cups of coffee, the skin of his face sagging from his skull.
Why not? he thought finally. God was God. Could something like this happen without his consent? Maybe he wanted Boj to be rich. Others who loved God were rich. Why not just praise God publicly for it? God had withdrawn himself from Boj. Maybe the lack of gratitude was the reason after all. How could so many others be wrong and Boj right?
He scrubbed his face with both hands so that his flesh reddened. He picked up the receiver of his phone. He would call a public meeting, a press conference. Let everyone come and hear him. They would all be happy. He could have his friends back again. He could sleep. Maybe he could even worship. He punched in the amber button and spoke with his secretary.
The hall downtown was crammed the next morning. The church leaders and dignitaries were pretty sure they knew what was about to occur and most were genuinely grateful, a few were smug.
“God’s brought him around,” someone affirmed. “This announcement will open the eyes of a lot of people in this country.”
Boj stepped from a side door and stood before a battery of microphones. Spontaneously, people began to applaud. Camera flashes flickered over his face like sheet lightning. As he waited for the applause to die down so that he could be heard, he watched the flashes burst all over the hall, tinging smiling faces blue and white. Suddenly the thought pounced upon him like a cougar: These are missile blasts.
In all that Boj had been through, he had never raised his voice at God. He had never permitted anger. He had never shaken his fist, never shouted, never demanded that God explain himself. Now the flashes and the blue-singed skin and all the weeks of pain and frustration rose in him like a ball of hot lava. He flung out his arms and glared over the heads of the people.
“My God! Why have you abandoned me? Why have you struck me this blow? Am I your enemy? Am I someone who hates and despises you? I am your friend! Is this how you treat your friends? I have done nothing wrong! How have I abused you? How have I insulted you? I love you! But you have thrown me into the street, you have covered me in filth, you have let men and women cut me to pieces and trample me.
“You have weighed my hands down with war and murder. You have buried me alive in gold. Now you stand back and join those that accuse me. How could you do this? How could you hurl me into the grave? How could you turn your back on my love and my devotion? How could you reject me? Speak to me! Where are you? Turn and face me! I want out! Do you hear me? I want to be free of all this! Am I nobody to you? in God’s name, speak!”
By the time Boj had finished his ranting and raving at the ceiling, face purple and swollen as a grape, the hall was swiftly draining of people. “He’s gone bonkers!” one minister had shouted. Even the reporters, most of whom were atheists, had taken only a few final photographs before fleeing, glancing nervously at the ceiling as if they expected a thunderbolt from Zeus.
Boj unclenched his fists and hung his head, heart hammering, sweat shining on his scalp. He scarcely heard the words, the thumping of the blood through his head was so loud.
“It’s about time you spoke up.”
He lifted his head, surprised. The hall was empty.
Within one month, the munitions conglomerate went bankrupt. Boj was restored to a position of greater financial poverty than before he had received his uncle’s inheritance. Those who watched Boj’s ruin cried, “Aha! You see?” and spoke openly of how God had punished Boj for his ingratitude. The senior minister, upon seeing Boj’s fall from wealth, called for the congregational vote that barred Boj from the little church for life. Several television evangelists used Boj’s demise to illustrate sermons on God’s judgment.
Not only did Boj have to move from his plush neighbourhood, but he had to seek employment at a small school in an obscure rural community - the school board would not allow him to return to his former teaching post. The only room he could afford to rent in that minute community was on the top floor of a large farmhouse which, among other things, boasted nine children under the age of twelve and a huge widow, their mother.
Long after the children were put to bed, the widow would be sitting up in her chair reading a book and three times out of four, she would hear the soft patter of swiftly moving feet coming from the ceiling over her head. She knew her odd, quiet little boarder was dancing up a storm in his room and that was all right with her. She never heard any music though, and that was strange, yet not a cause for great concern. In fact, there was something else.
Didn’t she often see the aurora borealis skipping about outside her windows on such nights, even in the dead of summer, and didn’t she frequently sense that the air was charged, that there was something in and around her house, a powerful presence? This was odd indeed, yet she had to confess she was never frightened, but instead strangely comforted. She would listen to the rhythm of her boarder’s feet until she fell asleep in her chair, book open, and dawn just coming up over the meadow to splash a pail of cold red over the bottom of the sky. She would sleep, and sleep well, while over her head a happy God laughed and panted and danced a hora with his friend.