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17/08: Reviews - "The Morning Tree"
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The Bible story that is the basis for the Christian holiday of Easter has been molded over the centuries into a rote parable. Most people could chant its highlights of the story without much effort: Judas Iscariot betrayed Jesus, Pilate washed his hands of the crucifixion, Jesus rose from the dead on the third day, and so on.
This author has another take it. His fast tale follows the protagonist, Ras, a centurion in the Roman army who also believes in Jesus, through harrowing flights and fights with incredulous evil creatures who start out normal (although sinister) enough: “at the far end was the dark old man from the street shop on a black horse. His silhouette stood black against a purple horizon. He held a scale in his left hand, laughing. With each breath the man grew larger. Ras shook his head and squinted. It is an illusion. Soon the man and horse doubled in size.” This morphing old man and horse sets off one of a series of slashing, bloody battles to outrun evil in its worst forms. It would seem that Ras’s mission—to rescue the missing scroll of the gospel of Jesus—is insurmountable.
Seven others travel with Ras as a caravan to Jerusalem, but Ras remains a loner—mainly because of his hideous skin affliction. His body is covered in scaly sores and scars. He can barely tolerate the delicate rays of the full moon; he would die if exposed to the sun. Therefore, the danger is compounded since the caravan must only travel at night.
The unending tension provides a sure vehicle to keep the reader barreling along with the mission. There are mysterious turns in the plot that add to the delight of seeing this story brought to (new) life. Reams (a high school teacher who practices law and consults to the iNternational Atomic Energy Agency) offers a realistic, detailed portrayal of the countryside, towns, the people, and the great city of Jerusalem.
The reader cares about Ras and his inner angst with his own personal truth. “Lucifer pointed a harsh finger at Ras. ‘You serve me with deeds like that, Ras. It feels good to win with violence, doesn’t it?’” Ras is tortured with wanting to follow the teachings of Jesus without giving up his noble and respected reputation as the strongest, most dependable centurion who kills without a second thought.
The author hints: “There is no room for war or killing in Jesus’ teachings. If there is a lesson in this novel, that is it.” Maybe true. But the reveal at the end, at the morning tree, which is actually a fig tree, gives the reader a different, more intricate version of the Easter story. This lesson will surely stretch the reader’s imagination, and perhaps, belief system. And that’s always a good thing.
Aime Merizon, ForeWord Magazine
An attorney by day, Austin Reams has been working evenings and weekends for over three yeas now to write and publish “The Morning Tree,” a historical novel set in the time just after the crucifixion of Jesus that explores the issues of violence, war and Christianity.
The 36-year-old Reams said he was inspired to create the story by events leading up to the invasions of Iraq by U.S. and British forces. Reams recalled how Pres. Bush addressed the nation to talk about his decision to use military force to depose dictator Saddam Hussein.
“Here’s a president who clearly wore his religion on his sleeve. Bush said that he had prayed over this decision to go to war, so it seemed like he was saying that God had given his approval to go to war,” remembered Reams. “I was appalled by that statement. War and killing are incompatible with Christianity. There is no room for ay killing or war in the Christian vernacular.”
“There are many good arguments for war to achieve political results,” said Reams. “However, I am personally disturbed and upset by people that use Christianity as some kind of justification for the use of deadly force.”
According to the New Testament, after Jesus preached the Sermon on the Mount, a Galilean centurion approached and asked him to heal his servant, which Jesus did. Reams created this centurion, who is basically a police officer employed by Herod Antipas in Galilee, as a man named Ras who converts to Christianity.
Reams pointed out that in the gospel according to Matthew, Jesus told his followers at the Sermon on the Mount, “Do not resist an evildoer.” In the gospel according to Luke, Jesus said, “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you.”
“The Morning Tree” begins after Roman forces execute Jesus and his disciples report that the gospel written by Jesus has been stolen. The disciples ask Ras to locate the missing gospel. A man of war, Ras uses violence in his pursuit of the gospel. At the novel’s climax, he comes to realize that he has been deceived and that the essence of Christianity is non-violence.
“The metaphor for the whole book is, if you use violence to serve Jesus, you are killing Jesus,” said Reams. “You are really destroying the teachings of Jesus.”
Reams spent three years writing the book and preparing it for publication. He hired a professional editor and created his own company, Mimbrez Publishers, to produce and distribute the novel. … Reams will also distribute “The Morning Tree” on the Internet through mimbrez.com, with $5.00 of each book sale donated to the charity of the purchasers’ choice.
"In ‘The Morning Tree,’ Reams Writes Novel for War Weary"
The MidCity Advocate
By Craig Gunsauley, Editor
October 26, 2006
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