Wednesday, June 28, 2006


A couple days ago while I was editing a ZenderTalk, the fire squad and an ambulance raced down the street because a nine year-old girl here walked her bicycle across the highway five hundred yards from my office and didn’t see a truck. So the truck cut off her leg and drove three of her fingers up into her hand. The medical people put the leg in a plastic bag. I don’t know what the girl did because I have not been told. By the time the mother got to the scene, her daughter’s leg was already in the plastic bag. The mother fainted (someone told me) because her brain turned away certain oncoming images, sending blood to other body parts unburdened by sensory perception.

I woke up at 2:30 this morning in a sweat of concern about everyone’s spine. I had a bad dream about my son and a chair and a truck and his spine. God surrounded the spinal cords of humans with bone pieces, but the arrangement is hardly good enough. God forgot to pack the world with Styrofoam peanuts. So He made fire trucks and ambulances and plastic bags. And does He ever know how to divert human blood.

Never go back to sleep if you have to be disturbed in the middle of the night. I follow my own advice and get out of bed before much time passes; boiling three eggs is easier than thinking.

I had to kill a spider. He (or she) walked across the edge of the counter while my eggs boiled. It was bad timing for the spider. He or she might have lived to inject venom into the bloodstream of a family member, so I had to choose death over life for the spider. I hastened the death of spider and did not like any of it. I notice that the longer chicken eggs boil, the farther and farther away they get from the lukewarm liquid form they assumed in the uterus of the chicken. Apparently, female chickens have periods once a day. I do not know if the spider had a family. I hope not. The goo of spider life is smashed in a napkin right now. The goo had life in it (or was life), but now it does not.

The girl is in stable condition. There will be no funeral this week; the funeral men can wear their casual shoes today. The girl lost the bottom half of one leg; the leg cannot be reattached, so I guess they’ll throw it away, with or without the shoe and sock. I am going to walk down the road now and take a photograph of where the girl lay in the road bleeding to death before God sent the paramedics. I think it was also around this area where the mother fainted. You will be able to see the skid marks. The road will be bathed in morning light because I look out my window now and the new sun looks orange. The truck driver said that he would never drive a truck again. The old man who first cradled the little girl’s head walked away with blood all over him. Human blood is similar in consistency to the brown goo of spiders. The man has yet to walk across the edge of God’s counter, but his wife died twelve years ago. The spider, unfortunately, died this morning.

Many women in this world have ceased ovulating, lucky them.

© 2006 by Martin Zender

Tuesday, June 27, 2006


My last fitness walk occurred on Monday, May 22. On Monday, May 22, my plan to walk to Pittsburgh died like a bird against a windowpane. To put it yet another way, Monday afternoon, the twenty-second of May, 2006, became my last eight-mile ramble into the rolling countryside. God withheld His new plan for my life until I saw the sign of condemnation planted by the Mennonites.

The Mennonites. Thank you, Menno Simons. Just what we needed: another religious sect wearing strange headgear. I had always hoped that condemnation could one day smell like horse poop—alas. And thank you, Jakob Ammann, Amish patriarch, for taking the religious severity of Simons to the highest methane levels possible. Your clippity-clop testimony to the world is: “We’re pleasing God and the rest of you are going to hell in a handbasket. Can we interest you in a pie?”

Several Mennonites in this area have become fond of driving condemnatory religious signs into the fertile, flowered soils of their property. The posts are wooden and uniform of grain and girth; they are birthed, apparently, at the same shop of carpentry. The signposts are as sturdy as the cross that Simons and Ammann crucified Christ upon. The most ingenious feature of the sign is the part of the post holding the epistle itself—it’s a slot, actually—allowing for interchangeable messages of varying degrees of spiritual harm. Oh, and guilt. I almost forgot the guilt.

The menfolk in these parts pound these posts out near the road so the hell-bound, driving past, might quickly imitate the Mennos and save their souls from perdition. Some gospels I have read in the past include: ■ BE YE PERFECT ■ CEASE FROM SIN ■ THE MEEK SHALL INHERIT THE EARTH ■ GOD SHOWS MERCY TO THE MERCIFUL ■ GOD’S WORD: HEED AND OBEY ■ THE WAGES OF SIN IS DEATH.

While these self-righteous salvos—in one form or another—are scripture based, the references are divorced of context and married to the distinct scent of threat. I have not seen a positive message yet. There is nothing of what God has done for humanity. If the cross of Christ has benefited anyone, free of charge, the gratuity is not mentioned, or even hinted at. Those parts of Paul’s letters full of grace, peace, thanksgiving, and the wonders of race-wide vindication, are ignored in favor of those parts deemed by the Mennonites as favoring them and damning the rest of mankind: CEASE FROM SIN. All right, I will. Cross my heart and hope to die, I will. But can I start Monday? I’d like to enjoy the weekend.

The sign in this particular Mennonite yard—located at the two-mile mark of my round—had for months read: GOD SHOWS MERCY TO THE MERCIFUL. True enough—as it stands. But this was an Old Covenant deal between God and man, void of the present grace. The question I wanted answered—directly from the horse’s mouth, as it were—was: What happens to the unmerciful? I often dreamed of asking. In my fantasy, I knock on the Mennodoor in search of a happy sequel. A plain woman answers. Her head is covered, she is aproned, and several Amlets duck and hide behind her skirts.

“Hello,” I say. “My name is Martin Zender, a sinner. Yes, I said, a sinner. I do not even own a hoe and—God help me—I eat cream puffs on the Sabbath. I bathe daily and tumble-dry my clothes. Forgive me; bear with me; have mercy on my mustache. I have read your wonderful sign for many months now, hoping to earn my way into heaven. ‘God shows mercy to the merciful,’ says your wooden headline, and I thank you for it. You are good people, merciful people, reaching out to a sinning man like me who has never once baked a single loaf of bread or fertilized a carrot. May God have mercy upon your household and curse mine in hades, naturally. But before I depart for the underworld, I must know, from a sanctified lip that has never been rouged or glossed: what happens to the rest? What happens to the unmerciful of our sorrowful race?”

In my fantasy, the Mennoness calls up a holy humph from deep behind her epiglottis. At the same time, she snatches up a firepan and a golden snuffer from the altar of God, next to her spatula rack. She then bangs me with the firepan and smites me with the snuffer. It hurts, but I know I deserve it. It is my penance for driving a red car. The Amlets giggle, bite me in the knees, then run away to play on their acacia wood swingset. Things look dim for me, but alas, I shall not return home void.

“The rest?” says the Mennoness. “The rest?” Imitating her favorite Old Testament Prophet, the Mennoness smites me a second time. “The rest?” she says again (She says it a total of three times, the third time accompanied, in my fantasy, by the third smite of the sacred snuffer.) Three more humphs emerge, each one holier than the last.

“Why, the rest are damned for eternity,” she says, “in hell, of course. Do you not know anything?” In comes the firepan, again, to my forehead. In spite of the ensuing headache, I manage a smile. The Mennoness intends to send me away happy, and she does. She concludes her sermon with a kick to my buttock area and a verse from the book of Exodus, chapter 38, verse 22: “‘Now Belalel, the son of Uri the son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah, made all that the Lord had commanded Moses.’ Go and doest thou likewise!” With the slam of the door, my fantasy is sadly concluded. I have not even received a gardening tip!

Back now to Monday, May 22, just past noon. My fantasy is not only dissolved, it is dead. For in the place of the MERCIFUL sign is a new sign that makes the old sign look like a peace sign:

Dear God, Moses, Abraham, and Lot. Why me? Why must I suffer so upon this vale of tears? Is it fair that I should have been made a modern-day apostle, a sent-one, a teacher, a bearer of the glad tidings of God? A light in the midst of the darkness? A fine-tuned discerner of all things dark? And what darkness! Poor Judas, a man, set apart by God from his mother’s womb for dishonorable use, chosen by Christ Himself, possessed in the end by none other than Satan, steamrolled by the God-machine of divine inevitability, freed at last from the demonic oppression, remorseful, self-loathing, hanging himself, burst open at the belly, disemboweled, buried, only to happen upon—today—this rude disinterrment, dragged from his peaceful sleep, hung from a new tree, used, abused, his same tangled bowels rearranged upon a Mennonite signpost for the admonition of moderns who could not—ever—offend the Deity in a like manner as he.

And Acts 1:25? Dear God, take me now.

“And praying, they say, ‘Thou, Lord, Knower of all hearts, indicate one whom Thou choosest, out of these two to take the place of this dispensation and apostleship, from which Judas transgressed, to be going into his own place.”

“To be going into his own place”—a simple euphemism for the grave. To the hell seeking Mennonite, however, it is synonymous, in the case of their favorite whipping boy, with eternal separation from God. That this is their proof text exposes both the state of their scholarship and the state of their hearts.

It exposed, for me, the course of my next sixty years.

The sign affected me deeply, powerfully—not in the way the Mennonites hoped, but in a way aligned with the purposes of God.

God, my father. He has called me, in this life, to defend His character. He has no need for such human assistance, but he condescends to inspire and accept it for the sake of honoring those called to it. I defend Him neither for reward nor for honor, but because I have to. It is woe to me if I don’t. It is woe to me either way, truth be known, because I feel the heartache God feels when He sees this sign. I have sympathy pains. The message harms me. I have a problem with it. The worldly man ignores it, the religious man applauds it, but the man standing stock still now in all his useless walking gear feels it grinding in his gut.

To unscripturally condemn a man to an unscriptural hell for an unscriptural eternity is to condemn the man’s God along with him. It is to condemn the One Who created him in His own image, for His own glory. The apostle Paul said of the Jews in Romans 2:23-24, “You who are boasting in a law, through the transgression of the law you are dishonoring God! For because of you the name of God is being blasphemed among the nations, according as it is written.”

Think if Paul had met the Mennonites.

It is true that Judas Iscariot disqualified himself, relatively speaking, from the glories of Christ’s millennial kingdom. The thousand years of peace will find the human betrayer of Christ still in the grave. He will rise at the great white throne, however, to be judged and adjusted by God for his sin. This adjudication does not satisfy some divine vindictive streak. Rather, it is for Judas’s own good. Here before God’s majesty, Judas will apprehend, at last, the glories that eluded him on earth. And yet God has not appointed him to live for the eons, so he is returned to the grave: the second death. Is this the end of him? It cannot be, for God is called, in 1 Timothy 4:10, “the Savior of all mankind.” Unless He saves all mankind, the inspired appellation is a joke.

The inspired appellation—I assure you—is not a joke.

The Apostle Paul, by divine inspiration, wrote in 1 Corinthians 15:26 that, at the consummation of the eons, death is to be abolished. For those in the second death, this means deliverance into life. The Apostle John, also inspired by God’s holy spirit, quoted John the Baptist in John 1:29, “Lo! The Lamb of God Which is taking away the sin of the world.” Did he mean all the sin of the world, or all sins except that of Judas?

Take a guess.

If you can’t get it right now, don’t worry. You will. You’ll get it right eventually. You’ll figure it out in a high place on a future day when you hear a voice louder than all others praising God for His wisdom, patience, mercy, and love—and worshipping the One he necessarily betrayed—worshipping Him for His plan, His purpose, and for dying, yes, even for the likes of him.

As for me, standing and shaking before this blasphemy in flowers, I realize that I am still not doing enough. With so much darkness in the world, I must make better use of my time. There are other paths to fitness besides those requiring a quarter of a work day. It is time to reclaim the era and take God’s light into every place.

Except here. This place already thinks it has it, so its eonian course is set. So I shake the dust off my shoes, finish my walk, and devise ten new ways to publish the truth.

The Mennonites? I leave ‘em to their fantasies. Their spiritual light bulbs ain’t coming on until Judas’s does.

© 2006 by Martin Zender

Thursday, June 22, 2006


You want to know what happened subsequent to the Gold in the Cave Wall entry, and of course I’m going to tell you. Obviously, I am still alive. But am I solvent? Is my family once again consuming generic pancake batter?

Things got worse before they got better—I made certain of it. Whenever things head south financially, I always do the irrational thing: I give money away. I think I probably do it to give God sport. God loves the impossible, well do I know. It’s only fun for Him if He can make a feast appear from a kid’s two-bit lunch, or make lame people walk, or make blind people see. David conquering Goliath is only fun for God if David is a seventh-grader and Goliath shaves with the blunt edge of a sword (or, better yet, not at all). As long as Goliath has every conceivable physical advantage—size, sword, helmet, shield, and full medical coverage—then God is ready to go with the uninsured shepherd boy. Same with His Son. As long as Christ is pinned helplessly upon a cross with not one thing left to His name but faith, then God is ready to unleash Satan and conciliate the world to Himself.

“Become, then, imitators of God.” Galatians 5:1. Okay, God. You asked for it.

I went to a Bible study the weekend following Gold in the Cave Wall. My new paperback, The Really Bad Thing About Free Will had just returned from the printers, so I took a handful of copies of that, along with my other paperbacks, along with How to Quit Church Without Quitting God, along with my CD, Part-Time Sinner.

The hostess had not so much designed this gathering as a Bible study, but as a time when I would talk and other people would listen. I always pray before these things, acutely aware of my weakness. I know it is my weakness that God uses, not my strength. My prayer, then, is that I would always remember that.

The first time I ever addressed a public gathering, I was so scared that I knelt at the sink in the bathroom of the hall and prayed for a miracle, which ensued. Ever since then, the continuous miracle is that, when God prods me to open my mouth publicly, He grants people knowledge and understanding. I’m no longer scared because I know from experience that God speaks in spite of me not because of me, but I still put myself, mentally, at the foot of the sink.

The same thing went on at this “Bible study.”

I talked, answered questions, and everyone seemed to enjoy themselves. The hostess served pizza, the miracles occurred in the typical nonobservable fashion (I would hear the details later), and Melody and I prepared to leave—but not before I metamorphosed into a sort of celestial Santa Claus.

I felt the urge to give away as many books as possible. So before I left, I reached into my “Santa’s bag” and pulled out copies of The Really Bad Thing About Free Will. I talked a little bit about the book, and then handed out copies. Then I did the same thing with all my other books. Everyone was laughing, because all these books kept coming out of my bag like the loaves and the fishes. As the books flew out of the bag, I said crazy things like, “Bless you, my child,” and “Your troubles are over,” and “I hope you want these, because here. Here. Here. And here.” I worked so hard I could have used a couple elves.

The hostess walked Melody and me to our sleigh and eyed me with genuine concern. “Good God, Santa,” she whispered. “You gave away a couple hundred dollars worth of books there, at least.” She knew about my situation and slipped me a twenty for the reindeer. I gratefully pocketed the bill and said, “I know. But I loved it. It was fun. It felt crazy. Ho, ho. Need a book?

The next day, I received a check in the mail from a supporter that made me whoop right there in the kitchen. Later that afternoon, a friend I had not heard from for 4 ½ years called out of the blue to tell me that he was “back on board” and ready to assist the ministry again. The evidence of this arrived six days later, satisfying the people at the phone company, the electric company, and half the people at the mortgage joint.

God rescued me, once again, via the Body of Christ.

This cycle will repeat itself for the eon, I suppose. I would like to foresee a time when I’m comfortable, when I’m “rolling in it,” delivered from the stresses of financial free-fall and recovery. But somehow I think that God will continue to stun me with timely miracles, and provide givers—givers including myself—with even more opportunities for greater blessing. Perhaps; perhaps not. In any case, I’m still on my knees at the altar of the sink, praying for miracles. God? He’s rubbing His hands together and smiling, scanning Earth for the helpless among humanity.

© 2006 by Martin Zender

Wednesday, June 21, 2006


When it is so light out so late, all I want to do is play with my kids and not go to bed. It is true that my kids are 19 and 17 and 13 years old, but the statement still stands.

My oldest son Artie got me a small leather, triangular-shaped football for Father’s day. “Footballs” like these are ordinarily made of notebook paper. The athlete folds the piece of notebook paper over and over in the manner of an American flag prepared for storage. The football is not stored, however, but rather flicked across a table by the facing competitors. The object of the tabletop game is to get any part of the football to hang over the table edge without falling off. This is a touchdown and is worth six points. For the point after touchdown, the athlete “kicks” the football with a flick of the middle finger through a set of “goalposts.” Just as in real football, a successful kick is worth one point. The goalposts traditionally consist of the competitor’s thumbs touching horizontally and index fingers extending vertically. But tradition gives way to these modern days.

Welcome to the 21st century. The “football” Artie got me for Father’s Day is genuine leather, and the goalposts are genuine plastic. And when I played my son Jefferson yesterday morning, I got genuinely drubbed: 50-28.

When Aaron got up, he, Jefferson and I played Triple Solitaire. This is just like single Solitaire, only three times as fun. Instead of one person playing his or her own cards on top, everyone can play on everyone else’s cards. If all three players uncover the two of hearts at the same time, for instance, it’s a race to see who can get the two on top of the ace first. The game does not ordinarily draw blood, but bruised knuckles are common. I usually win because I’m so mean and fast. I’ve never let my kids win at anything. Because of this, they are all competitive and very good at everything they do. They know that when they beat Dad at Ping-Pong or Monopoly or basketball or Triple Solitaire, it’s the real deal. Aaron finally beat me in Ping-Pong one day last winter for the first time in 200 or 300 games, and you would have thought he had won an Olympic gold medal. It was great! (I hated it!) I played the national anthem for him and he wept.

We all had to go to work. Aaron had to weed-whip for an elderly woman in town, Jefferson had to mow our lawn, and I had to get some ZenderTalks in the can. But there we sat, playing Triple Solitaire. It worked out this way: Aaron won one, Jefferson won one, and I won one. None of us were too badly injured, so we all went to work. “See ya later,” we said.

After returning from work at about seven in the evening, I found Aaron and Jefferson and Aaron’s friend Heath golfing in the yard. They were inventing “holes” that included a tree trunk, the burn barrel, the metal barn roof, the well pipe, and the natural gas tank. I didn’t want to play, I just wanted to watch. I wanted to be the gallery. So I stood behind ropes and followed the golfers around. I applauded politely whenever someone “plunked” the burn barrel under par. I only got hit in the head with the golf ball once, but even then I applauded politely. I consulted the leader board frequently. I carried my own lawn chair. I drank bottled water.

Soon after, the sky turned purple and black; a storm brewed. I love severe weather; it’s so much more interesting than normal weather; it’s more exciting, more severe. Artie came home just then from work and we all knew what he was going to do: set up his video camera. We were right.

The two older boys and their associates are filming a movie this summer. I’m not allowed to tell you what it’s about. I am allowed to say, however, that it will include purple and black cumulonimbus clouds.

I love watching Artie compose. The clouds performed weird gyrations above his lens. The clouds roiled and boiled over our heads. They looked near enough to touch. The mien of the clouds was deliciously frightening. Aaron thought he saw a funnel forming in one of the black clouds. I wish he had. I have always wanted to see a tornado. Readers who have actually lived through a tornado will hate me for saying this. So be it. I still want to see a swirling vortex.

Not a single vortex came, however, not even a swirling one. Just rain. And did it come! The storm made the house so cozy. At the start of the rain, everyone crammed into the house. Outside was dark blue and wet and cold, but everything indoors was orange and warm and familiar with all of our breath. When the storm died down, the outdoors became sullenly inviting again and Heath and Aaron invented a new game beneath the electric wire draped from the telephone pole to our house called “Throw a Rock Up Above the Wire, and Make the Rock Hit the Wire On the Way Down, but Not on the Way Up, and The First One to Do It Three Times is the World Champion of This New and Stupid Sport.” (I have since learned that the new sport is now called “Plim.”)

I watched Aaron and Heath struggling to make the rock hit the wire on the way down. Heath finally got a hit, and then Aaron got one. It took a long time for them to get one apiece. I doubted it could be so hard. Let a real man toss and see what happens, I thought. And so I announced into the rainy twilight: “I can do that on the first try.”

It was raining steadily, and increasing. Heath and Aaron kept handing me the rock—and handing me the rock and handing me the rock and handing me the rock. In the meantime (when I needed a rest), Aaron got his second hit. Then Heath got his second. Aaron kept getting large drops of rain in his eye. My shirt was starting to stick to my skin and it was getting darker and darker. I kept throwing and throwing, missing each time. Neither Aaron nor Heath could fathom that a person could miss so many times in a row while trying so diligently. And yet I continued to accomplish the unfathomable. Aaron and Heath kept giving me tips and hints: “Stand directly under the wire.” “Keep your hand in the center of your body.” “Try to hit the wire on the way up.” “Don’t throw so high.” “Throw higher.”

Nothing worked. In the meantime, Heath became World Champion. In order to comprehend his victory, I continued to miss and miss and miss. My many attempts and many misses bordered on the miraculous—the absurdly miraculous. It was astonishing how many times in a row I failed. Aaron said, “I won’t be able to sleep tonight until you do this.” Aaron had become the adult, I the child. “Concentrate, Dad,” he said. “You can do this. Go slower. Think about it. Concentrate.” The wire was only six or seven feet above my head, but my story remained the same: miss, miss, miss, miss, miss, miss, miss, and miss. I cursed the rock under my breath; it was shaped like a peanut. Darn the peanut, I thought to myself. It was raining too hard. It was getting too dark. I was too tired. I was dehydrated. Satan hated me.

Finally, it happened. Quite by accident (I assure you), the rock “ticked” the wire on the way down. I ran across the lawn with my fists in the air, yelling like Tarzan. I felt like I’d just won an Olympic gold medal.

Aaron played the national anthem for me, and I wept.

I do love summer, at times.

© 2006 by Martin Zender

Tuesday, June 20, 2006


Someone asked me how frequently I’ll be blogging. The answer is: When I move to Tierra del Fuego at the tip of South America during early, mid, and late June, when the sun—bobbing up only occasionally over the Antarctic horizon—is rarer than a llama sirloin on a blue Patagonian fire, then I suppose the blogs at this time of year will come more bloggingly, and the words more frequently.

You already know how hard it is for me to write under the duress of sunshine. Yes, I know I’m a contradiction. I admitted as much on ZenderTalk a few weeks back. I like what the sun does for the thermometer, and I like how the planet leans harder toward the mother star now and makes me not need a coat. But this daylight business has got to go.

If only something could be done about the wattage.

But look at me this morning. I am in fine fettle. It is just past five and I have beat the sun out of bed for the first time in three weeks. The result? I have amassed, already, 200 words, including a new one: “bloggingly.” In addition, I have paired the words “llama” and “sirloin” in the same sentence for the first time ever. I have striven for this so many times over the years, only to suffer near misses. There was always something wrong with either “llama” or “sirloin,” or both. I had no idea, settling in here twenty minutes ago, that this would be the day of the breakthrough. And people say writing is boring!

I hope that, by this time, everyone has been able to catch up to the goings-on in Zenderville. I would like to thank Heather Dannewitz of Arizona for naming this blog. Heather is a regular to my website and one day e-mailed me with a link to her own blog. Believe it or not, I had never even seen a blog before. I saw photos from Heather’s wedding, and some Arizona sunrises, and I read some of Heather’s upbeat prose. I thought to myself, Hey, Martin. Blogs are pretty cool. Don’t you wish everyone who visited your website and read your books had blogs and sent you links to them? Then you could put faces to names and the people would become more real to you. Then when you wrote new books or did new ZenderTalks, you could picture the people and know a little bit about them. You could see who they married and what their dogs look like. Why write or talk to a faceless audience when you can write and talk to Bill With The Mustache, Wanda With The Heart Condition, Alan Of Exxon-Mobil, and Sue In Jail? Everyone has a life—everyone.

The thought occurred to me then: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”

I want to be known. I fear becoming a non-entity behind a teaching. “Teaching” is a cold word. Human beings, on the other hand, are warm. Human beings teach; human beings learn; human beings touch. We do not learn in order to become smart; we learn in order to become better at living. The teachings given by God to humanity are not lifeless, and neither am I. And neither are you. The Words of God are for humans, not craniums. The inspired Words should make us wake up differently; they should make us smell the roses and the coffee knowing more intimately about roses and coffee; they should make us look at one another more closely in the eye and say, I know you. We are going through this together.

I was going to call my offering “ZenderBlog,” but Heather told me as gently as she could that the title sucked. She suggested “Zenderville,” and I instantly zoned it residentially.

I am building this town to be inhabited.

© 2006 by Martin Zender