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Reverend Alson Pierce's life is destroyed by the brutal murders of his wife and son. Everything he's loved most dearly is taken from him, and he is left alone with nothing but his damaged faith in God. Upholding the Gospel's commandment to "love your enemies," Reverend Pierce requests entry into a maximum security prison to serve his nemesis, Alex Leonard, in a true Christian sense. When the prison authorities question his intentions and deny him access, the media gets involved and the minister's wish is ...
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Reverend Alson Pierce's life is destroyed by the brutal murders of his wife and son. Everything he's loved most dearly is taken from him, and he is left alone with nothing but his damaged faith in God. Upholding the Gospel's commandment to "love your enemies," Reverend Pierce requests entry into a maximum security prison to serve his nemesis, Alex Leonard, in a true Christian sense. When the prison authorities question his intentions and deny him access, the media gets involved and the minister's wish is granted: He and the murderer are brought together within the prison walls. A documentary filmmaker is granted permission to record this miracle of forgiveness. Reverend Pierce is lauded as a saint. What the public doesn't know is Pierce's intention to shoot the murderer dead. What the reader doesn't know is whether Pierce will fulfill his desire or not.
In convicted murderer Alex Leonard, Gabriel Everett has created one of the most menacing and enigmatic villains in recent memory. He is violent, racist, remorseless. The bondage and psychological abuse Pierce and his family suffered in their home continues in the prison, even though Leonard's hands and feet are bound in his jail cell. Meanwhile, Pierce battles his own demons and questions the righteousness of God. A Story of Scorpions addresses issues of vengeance and forgiveness, redemption and damnation. It is a profoundly affecting story which touches those fears most thrillers leave untouched.
I have not read a newspaper since the day before I was on the front page of one. I have not watched the news on television or kept my radio on during the news. No news is good news.
I do not read the newspapers because I get too distressed over what is in them. That was hardly a problem before. I used to read about other crimes, other victims, and shake my head or even groan, but I never questioned the essential rightness of the world. I asked what it was coming to, rhetorically, like everyone else, but I do not recall ever missing a dinner, a movie, or a night of love-making because someone had been murdered, tortured, or raped. I never walked to the pulpit and said, "I have no words for you this morning because of something that happened to a neighbor last night, something that tears all words from my mouth and threatens to tear the very wings off the Dove of Heaven." I slowed down to look at the auto wrecks, but I never abandoned the highway. I always had somewhere to go.
I guess I still have. This afternoon I have been asked to meet with my spiritual director, or counselor if you will, whose place in my life is guaranteed by the conditions of my paid leave of absence. This sabbatical was granted to me by my church shortly after the murders — as much, I suspect, from the fear that I was contagiously unlucky as from any sense of compassion or obligation. My director says there is something about me in today's newspaper that we must discuss. He knows I don't read the papers, that I have yet to read the accounts of my wife's and son's deaths, but he is probably afraid that someone will mention a detail to me and he wants me prepared, I suppose. My sextonwalked his message to my house. I have no phone, so I had to call him back from a booth.
I wonder if he is tired of me. I cannot blame him if he is. He sounded annoyed with me on the phone. He was curt.
Now there is an ancient worry I had almost forgotten: the fear that someone doesn't like me, the fear I have given offense. How I used to live in thrall to that! It was a bigger presence in my life than God Himself, that anxiety to be on good terms with everybody. How strange that I could have lost that fear, along with just about everything else, and still be alive.
Andrew, like the psychiatrist the other day, cut right to the chase. No one wants to take time on preliminaries with me. I guess I am a man with whom small talk is impossible.
He started right in after the "quiet time." He doesn't open sessions with a prayer any more. He can't decide if he's a Quaker or a Zen Master. No word to the wise is sufficient. The last I heard he was hell-bent on "exploring Deconstruction," which as nearly as I can tell means taking apart everything from the Godhead on down, not counting one's salary and benefit package.
"I take it you're still not reading the papers, Al."
"So I'll read this for you."
"If it has anything to do with the crime, I won't have it read. You'll have to summarize."
I had adopted my survivor's limp, the mannerism that says "Don't push me, I'm still very vulnerable." I hate it.
"There's no need to summarize. You've just about written the article yourself."
He allowed me a moment to register the shock before going on. Like Leonard. The sadist's pause.
"This was on page three of the Great Falls County News, morning edition. 'Prison Refuses Pastor's Request to Love His Enemy.'"
He looked up at me to make sure I'd heard him, and then went on:
"The Sermon on the Mount is not in the governing code of the New Jersey Department of Corrections. At least that's the message it's sending to The Rev. Alson Pierce of Lenapee Borough.
Following the murder of Pierce's wife and son in their home last November, Pierce wrote to their convicted killer, Alex Leonard, asking for an opportunity to meet him and 'love his enemy.' Leonard is serving a life sentence in Hamilton State Prison for the stabbing deaths of Cynthia Pierce, age 36, and James Pierce, age 4. Mrs. Pierce was also raped before her death.
'It is not my intention to reproach you for what you have done,' Pierce wrote in his letter, "to convert you ... or in any way to ... interfere with your life."
Pierce offered his services to Leonard, including 'diversions or entertainments,' as a way of serving Christ. Pierce hopes his efforts on Leonard's behalf will enable him to join his deceased family in heaven.
According to prison administrator Frank Amazo, Pierce's request was rejected out of concern for the minister's emotional health and because Leonard has no wish to see him.
'We have to respect the inmate's wishes in a matter like this,' Amazo said. 'We also feel on the advice of our professional staff that such a visit is not in the victim's best interest.'
Amazo added, 'We certainly respect Rev. Pierce's sincerity. He's obviously trying to practice what he preaches.'
Rev. Pierce could not be reached for comment on the decision. He is currently on leave from the Smyrna Federated Church in Lenapee, where he has served as pastor for the past six years.
Pierce had been hospitalized because of a savage beating received during the murders of his wife and son.
Incredible. The powers and principalities. They had beaten me to the punch. I had threatened them with a public request, and they had bested me with a public rejection. Force is met with force. The nature of retaliation is escalation. This is why we are told to turn the other cheek. Andrew was talking to me. I was now holding the clipping in my hand.
"Are you with me, Al?"
"I wasn't, but I am now."
"Alson, what are you up to?"
"It seems the newspaper pretty much explains that."
"No, it doesn't. I want you to explain it."
"There's nothing to explain."
"I'm sorry to disagree. I'm beginning to wonder if you need more qualified help than I'm able to provide."
"Beginning to worry that I'm becoming a biblical literalist maybe? Have no fear. I have no intention of testifying to the Virgin Birth in a letter to the editor."
"Don't be funny."
"I'm not being funny. You're being funny. This whole stinking business we're in strikes me as hilariously funny, Andy."
I knew he wouldn't like the nickname or the display of temper. I stood up for emphasis.
"We waltz around in black robes and take vacations to the Maine coast on money earned from proclaiming the relevance of the Gospel, especially the moral and social relevance, go light on the hokus-pokus and the opiate of the people stuff of course — we make Gandhi and Dr. King into the new St. Peter and St. Paul — and then somebody tries to put some of it into a little practice and we act like he needs a straitjacket. If that's not hilariously, uproariously, sidesplittingly funny, tell me what it is?"
"Sit down, Al, you're flailing."
"Don't tell me to sit down, Andy!" I shouted. "I've been told to sit down one too many times. Told to sit down with a goddamn gun pointing at my kid's head and tied like an animal to a chair!"
I shook my finger at him, then sat down. Andrew was silent for a minute.
"And what were you intending to do, pray tell, when you walked into Alex Leonard's cell and he said 'May I offer you a chair, Rev. Pierce?' Tear out his eyes? Or is that your secret hope? Are you trying to go out like Gandhi or Clint Eastwood?"
"Go to hell, Andrew."
"I am not a biblical literalist, so I'll take that as no more than a generic insult. Oh, Al, let's not do this with each other."
"Who threw down the gauntlet? It wasn't me. Who called me in and read me the newspaper?"
"Was it news to you? Was this the first time you heard of their answer?"
"Yes. I haven't checked my mail yet today. There could be a letter there."
"You should get a phone, for God's sake. You could hook it up to a machine. At least ..."
"I'll get a phone when I'm good and ready. Not having a phone is about the only pleasure I have these days, but it's a pleasure, let me tell you."
"I'm sure it is. Al, are you able to see why I'm a little upset here? I mean I don't expect you to kiss my ring, but I've stood by you through this whole nightmare. I used my credentials to up my job description from your spiritual director to your counselor, not that I was ever much of either, frankly, to you I mean. I used that new status to argue for you to stay out of court, I helped videotape your testimony — and there was a job I wouldn't give to my worst enemy. It was horrible. For you most of all, I know, but for me too. I've put my nuts in the ringer to spare you exposure, I've bullied the regional directors on your behalf, I've kept your governing board from pulling a coup while you're out of the pulpit, I've met with you and listened to you and wept with you, and then you go pull this stunt without a word to me. I read it in the paper for God's sake. I mean, never mind if it's the right thing. Maybe you've got the Holy Spirit and all I've got is hemorrhoids, but I read it in the paper, and it reflects on me, too, because I'm supposed to be your counselor and guide. What do I tell people? I endorsed this? Or Pierce is totally out of control?"
"You can drop me if I'm an embarrassment."
"Is that what you want? And that's the other thing, Al, and it hurts, I'm suddenly like the enemy here. If you plan to do any soul searching on this, I hope you'll remember me. I mean, who am I? I'm your friend. I was Cindy's friend. I am also grieving."
It was probably no exaggeration for him to say so. I always thought he was sweet on Cynthia. Whenever he met her, he seemed to take on the attitude of her soul-mate, the one who truly understood her because they both understood me. I was more or less their child — in his eyes. Cynthia often spoke of him as a blowhard. Still, she glowed in his attention. She blushed even. What does any of this matter now?
"Blessed are those who mourn," I said.
"Give me a break. Jesus! You know what this is, Al, as well as I do. This is the delusional paranoia of somebody about to develop a prophet complex. You're going to do a mighty deed and the rest of us soul-blind Pharisees had best just stand back and marvel. Everybody's an enemy now."
"I have only one enemy, Andrew, and he's not you. And I intend to love him. If it kills me."
"Oh Christ, Al."
"Oh Christ indeed, Andrew."
We engaged one another's eyes for a silent moment. I noticed the number of gray hairs in his goatee. He is a good man. He has served as my spiritual director since the time of my second church job, as his assistant over in Holland Grove, and even though I stopped following much of his advice some years ago, I never stopped in my grudging admiration for his guileless decency. Even his sins — his infatuation with my wife, for example — were transparent, "natural," harmless. Andrew, if ever you find what I have written here, know that I mean what I say when I call you a good man.
"I'm not sure we should wait till tomorrow."
"Don't worry. I'm not going to do anything drastic. Apparently I'm not even going to visit a prison. I can wait. I need to wait."
"Okay, but go home and try to sleep. You got medicine?"
"Still doing the journal every night?"
"Yes. More than ever lately. That's been a helpful suggestion, Andrew."
"I'm still interested in having you share some of it, you know."
"Sure. Let's just wait a while on that."
"Your call completely, Al." He stretched out his arm across the desk to me. "Look, why don't you sleep at our place tonight."
"No. Go home to your family, Andrew. I'll see you later. Leave an appointment with Bob. I can make anything. I have no engagements. I just had my hair cut."
There was a letter in my post office box, which I checked on the way home. It came from Alex Leonard's attorney. Mr. Leonard had "no desire" to see me, it said. And Mr. Leonard's attorney did not advise him to. There's this joke about a dispute over the boundary between heaven and hell. I heard it in the barbershop. St. Peter threatens to sue the devil in order to establish the property line, but the devil just laughs in his face.
"Where are you going to find a lawyer?" he says.