In his current state, it might take years for Vic to recover his right mind. He’s been flaying around and mumbling the whole time in the back seat of my car. His mind, no longer aware of surroundings, seemed to be in a state of virtual reality. And that is the reason for the all-night drive.
I was told to not bring a phone or any electronic device with me. I was given a hand-drawn map with sketched landmarks to direct me once I left Highway 16.
Down the backroads, I questioned what I saw. Those Aspens by a fence – is that what’s shown here? Was that the rock formation I was supposed to turn at? Where are the three lone towering Ponderosa Pines? Is that the field of wildflowers I drive alongside?
After two hours I found myself at a huge rock formation that jutted out northward per the “N” on my map. According to the sketch, an Indian would be there waiting for me. What happens now?
Out from behind a rock came the Indian. He came over to my car and looked inside. When he saw Vic, he shook his head. He looked at me, pointed to himself and said “Notah”. He asked me if I had any electronic devices. I assured him that I didn’t. He told me to follow his pickup truck.
After driving an hour or so, somewhere around Bighorn National Forest, we drove up to the off-the-grid Fire and Flame Human Refuge. Notah helped me walk Vic to the door of the lodge. A petite older woman came out and helped me walk Vic inside. I turned to thank Notah but he was gone.
Inside, there was pine wood everywhere. I felt I had returned to summer camp. A door swung open and the room filled with the aroma of baked corn bread . . . and chili?
With the woman’s help, I brought Vic into the Great Room. I settled him in an arm chair that faced outside. A field of wild flowers was in view. In the distance, fir tree-skirted mountains. Vic put out his hand and began twitching his thumb as if flicking a TV remote button.
There must have been twenty-five people in the Great Room. Catatonic people.
Sharon introduced herself. She was the one who had helped me with Vic. I learned that she managed the refuge. I asked about the people in the Great Room.
“Do you see that woman standing by the window?” Sharon pointed.
“That is Marisa. She is not looking at the wilderness in front of her. She sees only her reflection in the glass. Up till now Marisa has spent most of her time taking selfies and posting them on social media.”
“What about that man who seems to be constantly scrolling with his finger?”
“Before Bill came here, he was constantly checking social media pages for updates. He developed the scrolling-finger habit as part of a social-validation feedback loop. Dopamine was released into his brain when someone liked or commented on something he posted. Right now, he’s in withdrawal from the social-validation feedback of dopamine.”
“What about that teenage girl over there? The one with the wide-eyed look?” I asked.
“Myra was brought here by her mother. She had isolated herself from her family. She spent hours of the day on social media. Myra has a fear of missing out. It is a common phenomenon for teens to want to be socially connected. Technology offers a non-stop social-validation feedback loop. A teenager, fearing the possibility of social alienation, goes online constantly for validation.
Myra developed a sleep disorder after staying up all night texting. Her school work suffered. She developed poor eating habits and gained weight. The negative effects of her social media interface made her depressed, angry and less social. Technology presents teenagers with a false sense of relational security while ignoring those in the same house.”
“Is that young boy here for the same reason?” I nodded my head in the boy’s direction.
“Yes, similar reasons. His father brought him here. John was online playing games for hours and hours. His father asked him to spend time with him outside – play catch, go fishing. But John refused. Like Myra’s social-validation obsession, when John didn’t play or interact with the games, he thought he was missing out. His father could see that John was missing out on life, so he brought him here.”
“What about that older couple sitting in the arm chairs?”
“They are Jim and Sally. Their close friends brought them here. They were very concerned for them. They told me that Jim and Sally would get up in the morning, turn on the TV and listen for the weather forecast. They would leave the TV on the rest of the day and sit and listen to the world’s take on things and the advertised solution: problem, problem, problem, cure; problem, problem, problem, cure; problem, cure; day and night.
By their friend’s account, Jim and Sally had become terrified, angry and even despairing by what they heard. Honestly, that’s what Noise does to people. C’mon. Let’s listen to them for a moment . . .”
“Jim, you are a racist.”
“We both are Sally. They said so.”
“They’re telling us that we could die from cancer or climate change or COVID or the guy in the White House if we don’t do something.”
“How about we just die, Sally, and be done with the whole business?”
“Now Jim. We should listen to them. They know better than us. They’ve told us so many times that we can’t trust our own thinking . . .”
“I am glad their friend brought them here,” Sharon said. “They needed relief from the Noise . . . At Fire and Flame, we don’t give people sedatives. We give them space to work out their salvation.”
Sharon then asked me why I brought Vic to Fire and Flame.
“Vic has been a friend of mine since high school. We hung around each other and kidded each other all the time. But then things changed when he got devices. He was no longer present with me or to anyone, really. It seemed to me and his other friends that Vic was using technology to avoid us. He talked incessantly about what this and that could do.
Vic’s other friends gave up on Vic. They had come to find out that Vic had spent large portions of his paycheck on new devices. He bragged about the new devices until one day he came to one of his friends and asked him for a loan. Vic wasn’t able to pay the mortgage. He had to borrow money. But that wasn’t the breaking point for Vic.
I heard from a friend that Vic wanted to join me at the Remnant camp to escape the COVIDians. Two people had come to his door and asked him for his Vax papers. Vic learned the reason they came to his door: they had been monitoring him through his devices. He didn’t have Vax papers because he refused to be vaccinated.
The two COVIDians declared Vic “unsafe’ and told him that he was banned from the Internet, email and online accounts. They took away his phone, laptop and internet connection. They wrote his name down on a ledger and said they would be back the next day.
I relayed back to Vic that he could come to the Remnant camp but he would have to go to Fire and Flame first.”
As I was talking to Sharon, Vic got out of his chair and began walking around the Great Room. He was again flaying his arms and mumbling to himself.
“When they first come here,” Sharon said, “they are agitated.” They haven’t been used to having their hands free. They are restless, hyperactive, and full of nervous energy. They cannot tolerate a sense of boredom and look for highly stimulating activity. They walk around and say and do things and are unaware of the effect they have on others. It will take time for Vic to become focused and to stay focused on reality.
“Fire and Flame . . .?”
“Fire and Flame is a portal to a world away from the constant pinging of digital devices. The Dark Forces of this world produce relentless Noise. It is meant to unsettle and distract you from The Message. Here, there is Signal not Noise.”
“Message? Signal?” I asked.
“You will find out tonight.” Sharon replied. “C’mon I’ve prepared a room for you. You can rest before dinner.”
A bell rang. We were summoned to dinner and I was again reminded of summer camp. I got up, splashed some water on my face, got dressed and headed down the hallway.
The dining room was another pine-paneled Great Room: floor-to-ceiling windows on three sides and a fireplace. Twenty-four pine-wood tables filled the room.
When everyone had gathered and were seated, Sharon asked “Evangelist Mark” to please ask the Lord’s blessing on the meal. Evangelist Mark stood up and prayed the blessing on the cornbread, chili, salad and the lemonade (what I used to call “bug juice” in my camp days). Odd how the past and present comingle and not just in my dreams.
I looked around the room. Six people sat at each table. And though so many filled the Great Room, there was little chatter. I saw many somber faces. Some stared off and ate, unaware that others were sitting across from them. Others fidgeted with their silverware and played with their food. A few were animated and tried talking to those around them but received no response.
Sharon sat down and gave a big sigh. She and her helpers had made sure everyone had food before sitting down. “How’s the food?”
“Delicious! The aromas had made me when I came in this morning,” I replied. “Is that Bach I hear in the background?
“Yes. Bach is the sound of redemption. It is particularly effective in helping to balance our brains between dissonance and consonance. The mind is then able to focus and attain deep concentration. This enables an inner quickening of the imagination, creativity, memory and intuition.”
Across the table from the two of us sat Joe. Sharon asked Joe to tell me why he had come to Fire and Flame.
“Well,” Joe began, “. . . a 5G network. I was told that it was the bee’s knees. They said it was designed to connect virtually everyone and everything together including machines, objects, and devices. With it, I was to be almost omniscient – aware of everyone and everything through a mobile ecosystem.
But using it day after day I found myself thinking about the device and what it wanted me to be aware of and wanted me to do next. I had become connected to an impersonal object that was directing my life with its AI. I was fooling myself – actually, I was subverting myself – pretending to be aware and to be in control of my life.
“That’s what brought me here. The addiction to being omniscient and to controlling things was intense. I spent most of my time working the device. I was doing apps, pushing buttons – nonstop! I finally asked myself “Why does my heart tell me to think like this? Inside my head . . . it was like John Cage music playing over and over.
One day I heard of Fire and Flame from a neighbor who was fleeing the COVIDian and Woke persecutions. He said that he was going to the Remnant camp. One night I left everything behind when his car showed up. He drove me here.”
Joe ended his account with a smile.
“Jennifer,” Sharon leaned over. “This afternoon Vic broke into my office. He was looking for a device to get on the internet. I have none. Then he started breaking into cars and trucks looking for a way to connect and found nothing. Then he ran into the woods. Notah found him and brought him back.”
“Vic may try again tonight. If he does Notah will follow him. No one is a prisoner here. We understand it’s a major struggle to be free from Noise. Notah will ask if he wants to return. If not, he will take Vic to a bus stop many miles away from here.
“We are a refuge for humans. We can’t help trans-humans, if that is what Vic wants. They are wired for Noise. We are to live as humans, we are to love. Trans-humans cannot live, cannot love. They only obey digital prompts and inputs.”
At twilight, the group from dinner came down to the fire pit. We sat down on the semi-circle of logs around the bonfire. The sun had gone down behind the horizon of mountains and no longer gilded their peaks.
Above us, in the blue-to-black July sky, a conjunction of terrestrial objects – Venus, Mars and the moon. They were easily visible. Venus shone brighter and slightly below the red planet. The familiar moon was making its circuit below.
Across that cosmic vista came a silhouette of a black whirring object. And then another. Sharon leaned over and told me “They are the regime’s Charon drones. They are keeping an eye on us. The regime and the people of the Noise are terrified of the people of the Signal”.
At that moment, a young boy, maybe ten or eleven years old, got up and stood next to the fire. He began . . .
Happy are those
who do not follow the advice of the wicked,
or take the path that sinners tread,
or sit in the seat of scoffers;
but their delight is in the law of the Lord,
and on his law they meditate day and night.
They are like trees . . .
The boy recited the Psalm from memory. He sat down and then an older woman – a grandmother? – got up. She began to recite Psalm 61 from memory . . .
Hear my cry, O God;
listen to my prayer.
From the end of the earth I call to you,
when my heart is faint.
Lead me to the rock
that is higher than I;
for you are my refuge,
a strong tower against the enemy . . .
When she had finished, a teenage girl stood up and recited Psalm 104 from memory . . .
Bless the Lord, O my soul.
O Lord my God, you are very great.
You are clothed with honor and majesty,
wrapped in light as with a garment.
You stretch out the heavens like a tent,
you set the beams of your chambers on the waters,
you make the clouds your chariot,
you ride on the wings of the wind,
you make the winds your messengers,
fire and flame your ministers . . .
When she had finished, she sat down. Each of them had recited their Psalm as a dramatic reading. The words came from their soul.
The drones, now four of them, blotted out starlight as they hovered and circled. I looked around. Was I the only one who noticed them?
Someone yelled “Evangelist Mark! Give us the Good News!” More joined the call.
A man, fiftyish, got up. He took off his glasses and handed them to Sharon. (I learned later that they were husband and wife.) He covered her with a blanket.
The night air had become chilly. More wood was thrown onto the bonfire. People huddled together under blankets. Faces became animated with the fluctuating glow of the roaring fire. All eyes were on Evangelist Mark.
This is where the good news starts – the good news of Jesus the Messiah, God’s son . . .
I recognized the words from the opening of The Gospel According to Mark.
“A shout goes up in the desert; make way for the Lord! Clear a straight path for him! . . .” . John the Baptizer appeared in the desert . . . “Someone a lot stronger than me is coming close behind” . . . This is how it happened . . .After John’s arrest, Jesus came in to Galilee, announcing God’s good news. “The time is fulfilled! God’s kingdom is arriving! Turn back and believe the good news!” . . .When the sun went down and evening came, they brought to Jesus everyone who was ill, all who were demon possessed . . .
Jesus went back to Capernaum . . . a crowd gathered with the result that people couldn’t even get near the door as he was telling them the message . . . A party arrived: four people carrying a paralyzed man, bringing him to Jesus. They couldn’t get through to him because of the crowd, so they opened up the roof above where he was . . . they used ropes to let down the stretcher the paralyzed man was lying on. Jesus saw their faith and said to the paralyzed man, “Child, your sins are forgiven!” . . .
Evangelist Mark, from memory, continued his dramatic narration of the whole gospel to its conclusion . . .
When Jesus was raised, early on the first day of the week, he appeared first of all to Mary Magdalene . . . Later Jesus appeared to the eleven . . . he told them off for their unbelief and hardheartedness . . . “Go into all the world and announce the message to all creation” . . . When the Lord Jesus had spoken with them, he was taken up into heaven, and sat down at God’s right hand. They went out and announced the message everywhere. The Lord worked with them, validating their message by the signs that accompanied them.
For over an hour, the fireside group sat captivated by The Message. When Evangelist Mark sat down, someone in the group began singing. Then others joined:
If we die with him, we shall live with him;
If we endure patiently, we shall reign with him;
If we deny him, he will deny us:
If we are faithless, he remains faithful. For he cannot deny his own self.
While they sang, I looked for Vic. Then I saw him leaning against a tree, back from the group. Shadows came and went across him, as many began walking back to their rooms. Was that a sparkle of belief in his eyes? Was that the glistening of a tear?
Sharon and her husband Tom – “Evangelist Mark” – walked me back to the refuge rooms. I was tired. Tomorrow I would make the long drive back to the Remnant Camp and to people of the Signal there. Sharon told me that Notah would help me ditch the drones. He knew when they came and went. He could tell by their noise.
©Jennifer Ann Johnson, Kingdom Venturers, 2021, All Rights Reserved
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