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And then below it: Shay Bourne: A Wolf in Sheep's Clothing? Don't

Let a False Prophet Lead You Astray!

The line of cars chugged forward, finally, and I turned into the parking lot. I had to pull my car onto the grass; it was that crowded.

The throngs of people waiting for Shay, and the media covering his story, had not dissipated.

However, by the time I came close to the prison, I realized that the attention of most of these people was not held by Shay at that moment, but by a man in a three-piece lime-green suit, wearing a clerical collar.

I got close enough to see the pancake makeup and the eyeliner, and realized that Reverend Arbogath Justus had now moved into the realm of satellite ministries... and had chosen the prison as his first stop.

"Miracles mean nothing," Justus announced. "The world is full of false prophets. In Revelations, we're told of a beast that uses miracles to fool men into worshipping it. Do you know what happens to that beast on

Judgment Day? He and the people who were fooled are all thrown into a lake of fire. Is that what you want?"

A woman fell forward from the cliff-edge of the crowd. "No," she sobbed. "I want to go with God."

"Jesus can hear you, sister," Reverend Justus said. "Because He's here, with us. Not inside that prison, like the false prophet Shay


There was a roar from his converts. But just as quickly, it was matched by those who hadn't given up on Shay. "How do we know you're not the false prophet?" one young man called out.

Beside me, a mother tucked her sick child into her arms more tightly. She looked at my collar and frowned. "Are you with him?"

"No," I said. "Definitely not."

She nodded. "Well, I'm not taking advice from a man whose church has a concession stand."

I started to agree, but was distracted by a burly man who grabbed the reverend from his makeshift pulpit and yanked him into the crowd.

The cameras, of course, were all rolling.

Without thinking twice about what I was doing, or that I was doing it on film, I pushed forward and rescued Reverend Arbogath Justus from the clutches of the mob. He wrapped his arms around me, gasping, as I pulled us both up onto a granite ledge that ran along the edge of the parking lot.

In retrospect, I didn't know why I had chosen to play the hero. And

I really didn't know why I said what I did next. Philosophically, Reverend

Justus and I were on the same team-even if we pitched religion with very different styles. But I also knew that Shay was-maybe for the first time in his life-attempting to do something honorable. He didn't deserve to be slandered for that.

I might not believe in Shay-but I believed him.

I felt the wide, white eye of a television camera swing toward me, and a herd of others followed. "Reverend Justus came here, I'm sure, because he thinks he's telling you the truth. Well, so does Shay Bourne.

He wants to do one thing in this world before he leaves it: save the life of a child. The Jesus I know would endorse that, I think. And," I said, turning to the reverend, "the Jesus I know wouldn't send people to some fiery hell if they were trying to atone for their sins. The Jesus I know believed in second chances."

As Reverend Justus realized that I might have saved him from the mob to sacrifice him all over again, his face reddened. "There's one true word of God," he proclaimed in his camera-ready voice, "and Shay

Bourne isn't speaking it."

Well, I couldn't argue with that. In all the time I'd been with

Shay, he had never quoted the New Testament. He was far more likely to swear or go off on a tangent about Hanta virus and government conspiracy. "You're absolutely right," I said. "He's trying to do something that's never been done before. He's asking questions of the status quo. He's trying to suggest another way-a better way.

And he's willing to die for it to happen." I raised a brow. "Come to think of it, I bet Jesus might find a lot in common with a guy like

Shay Bourne."

I nodded, stepped down from the granite ledge, and shoved my way through the crowd to the security partition, where a correctional officer let me through. "Father," he said, shaking his head, "you got no idea how big a pile of you-know-what you just stepped into." And as if

I needed proof, my cell phone rang: Father Walter's angry summons back to St. Catherine's, immediately.

I sat in the front pew of the church as Father Walter paced in front of me. "What if I blamed it all on being moved by the Holy Spirit?" I offered, and received a withering glare.

"I don't understand," Father Walter said. "Why would you say something like that... on live television, for the love of God-"

"I didn't mean to-"

"-when you had to know that it was going to bring the heat down on St. Catherine's?" He sank down beside me and tipped his head back, as if he were praying to the carved statue of Jesus on the Cross that rose above us. "Michael, seriously, what were you thinking?" he said softly. "You're a young, handsome, smart, straight guy. You could write your ticket in the Church-get your own parish, wind up in

Rome... be whatever you want. And instead, I get a copy of an affidavit from the attorney general's office, saying that as Shay Bourne's spiritual advisor you believe in salvation through organ donation? And then

I turn on the midday news and see you on a soapbox, sounding like some kind of... some kind of..."


He shook his head, but stopped short of calling me a heretic.

"You've read Tertullian," he said.

We all had, in seminary. He was a famous orthodox Christian historian whose text The Prescription Against Heretics was a forerunner of the Nicene Creed. Tertullian had coined the idea of a deposit of faith- that we take what Christ taught and believe it as is, without adding to or taking away from it.

"You want to know why Catholicism's been around for two thousand years?" Father Walter said. "Because of people like Tertullian, who understood that you can't mess around with truth. People were upset with the changes of Vatican II. The Pope's even reinstated the Latin


I took a deep breath. "I thought being a spiritual advisor meant doing what Shay Bourne needs to face his death with peace-not what we need him to do, as a good Catholic."

"Good Lord," Father Walter said. "He's conned you."

I frowned. "He hasn't conned me."

"He's got you eating out of the palm of his hand! Look at you-you practically acted like his press secretary today on the news-"

"Do you think Jesus died for a reason?" I interrupted.

"Of course."

"Then why shouldn't Shay Bourne be allowed to do the same?"

"Because," Father Walter said, "Shay Bourne is not dying for anyone's sins, except his own."

I flinched. Well, didn't I know that better than anyone else?

Father Walter sighed. "I don't agree with the death penalty, but I understand this sentence. He murdered two people. A police officer, and a little girl." He shook his head. "Save his soul, Michael. Don't try to save his life."

I glanced up. "What do you think would have happened if just one of the apostles had stayed awake in the garden with Jesus? If they'd kept Him from being arrested? If they'd tried to save Hi's life?"

Father Walter's mouth dropped open. "You don't really think Shay

Bourne is Jesus, do you?"

I didn't.

Did I?

Father Walter sank down onto the pew and took off his glasses. He rubbed his eyes. "Mikey," he said, "take a couple weeks off. Go somewhere and pray. Think about what you're doing-what you're saying."

He looked up at me. "And in the meantime. I don't want you going to the prison on behalf of St. Catherine's."

I looked around this church, which I had grown to love-with its polished pews and the spatter of light from the stained glass, the whispering silk of the chalice veil, the dancing flames on the candles lit in offering. Where your treasure is, there your heart will be.

"I won't go to the prison on behalf of St. Catherine's," I said, "but I will go on behalf of Shay."

I walked down the aisle, past the holy water, past the bulletin board with the information about the young boy from Zimbabwe the congregation supported with their donations. When I stepped outside the double doors of the church, the world was so bright that for a moment, I couldn't see where I was headed.


There were four ways to hang someone. The short drop involved a prisoner falling just a few inches; their body weight and physical struggling tightened the noose and caused death by strangulation. Suspension hanging required the prisoner to be raised upward and strangled. Standard drop hanging-popular in America in the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries-meant the prisoner fell four to six feet, which might or might not break his neck. Long drop hanging was a more personal execution: the distance the prisoner fell was determined by weight and body type. The body was still accelerating due to gravity at the end of the drop, but the head was restricted by the noose-which broke the neck and ruptured the spinal cord, rendering instant unconsciousness, and a quick death.

I'd learned that next to shooting, hanging was the world's most popular form of execution. It was introduced in Persia twenty-five hundred years ago for male criminals (females were strangled at the stake, because it was less indecent)-a nice alternative to the blood and guts of a typical beheading, with all the same punch as any public spectacle.

It was not, however, foolproof. In 1885, a British murderer named

Robert Goodale was hanged, but the force of the drop decapitated him.

Most recently, Saddam Hussein's half brother had suffered the same grisly fate in Iraq. This was a legal conundrum: if the sentence of death was to be carried out by hanging, then the prisoner could not be decapitated, or the sentence wasn't fulfilled.

I had to do my homework-which explained why I was reading the

Official Table of Drops and estimating Shay Bourne's weight when Father

Michael came into my office. "Oh, good," I said, motioning to the seat across from my desk. "If the noose is positioned right-there's something about a brass eyelet-the fall causes an instant fracture of the C2 vertebra.

It says here brain death occurs in six minutes, and whole-body death within ten to fifteen minutes. That means we've got a four-minute window to get him back on a respirator before the heart stops beating and oh, I almost forgot-I heard back from the AG's office. They denied our request to have Shay hanged instead of executed with lethal injection.

They even included the original sentence, as if I haven't read it a bazillion times, and told me if I wanted to challenge it, I had to file the appropriate motions. Which," I said, "I did five hours ago."

Father Michael didn't even seem to hear me. "Listen," I said gently,

"it's easier if you think about this hanging business as science... and stop connecting it personally to Shay."

"I'm sorry," the priest said, shaking his head. "It's just-it's been a pretty bad day"

"You mean the showdown you had with the televangelist?"

"You saw that?"

"You're the talk of the town, Father."

He closed his eyes. "Great."

"I'm sure Shay saw it, too, if that's any consolation."

Father Michael looked up at me. "Thanks to Shay, my supervising priest thinks I'm a heretic."

I thought about what my father would say if a member of his congregation came to him to ease his soul. "Do you think you're a heretic?"

"Does any heretic?" he said. "Honestly, I'm the last person who ought to be helping you win Shay's case, Maggie."

"Hey," I said, trying to boost his spirits. "I was just about to go to my parents' house for dinner. It's a standing engagement on Friday nights.

Why don't you come with me?"

"I couldn't impose-"

"Believe me, there's always enough food to feed a third world country."

"Well, then," the priest said, "that would be great."

I switched off my desk lamp. "We can take my car," I said.

"Can I leave my motorcycle parked in the lot here?"

"You're allowed to ride a motorcycle, but you can't eat meat on


He still looked as if the world had been pulled out from beneath him.

"I guess the Church forefathers found it easier to abstain from beef than


I led him through the maze of file cabinets in the ACLU office and headed outside. "Guess what I found out today," I said. "The trapdoor from the old gallows at the state prison is in the chaplain's office."

When I glanced at Father Michael, I was pretty sure I saw the ghost of a smile.


One of the things I liked about Dr. Wu's office was the wall of pictures.

An enormous corkboard held photographs of patients who had beaten the odds after having Dr. Wu operate on their failing hearts.

There were babies propped up on pillows, Christmas card portraits, and boys wielding Little League bats. It was a mural of success.

When I'd first come to tell Dr. Wu about Shay Bourne's offer, he listened carefully and then said that in his twenty-three years of practice, he had yet to see a grown man's heart that would be a good match for a child. Hearts grew to fit the needs of their host body-which was why every other potential organ that had been offered to Claire for transplant had come from another child. "I'll examine him," Dr. Wu promised, "but I don't want you to get your hopes up."

Now I watched Dr. Wu take a seat and flatten his palms on the desk. I always marveled at the fact that he walked around shaking hands and waving as if the appendages were totally normal, instead of miraculous. Those ridiculous celebrities who insured their breasts and their legs had nothing on Dr. Wu and his hands.


"Just say it quickly," I said, full of false cheer.

Dr. Wu met my gaze. "He's a perfect match for Claire."

I had already gathered the strap of my purse in my fist, planning to thank him hastily and beat a retreat out of the office before

I started crying again over yet another lost heart; but these words rooted me to my seat. " I... I'm sorry?"

"They have the same blood type-B positive. The tissue crossmatch we did of their blood was nonreactive. But-here's the remarkable part-his heart is just the right size."

I knew they looked for a donor who was within 20 percent of the patient's weight-which for Claire meant anyone between sixty and a hundred pounds. Shay Bourne was a small man, but he was still an adult. He had to weigh 120 or 130 pounds.

"Medically, it doesn't make sense. Theoretically, his heart is too tiny to be doing the job his own body needs... and yet he seems to be healthy as a horse." Dr. Wu smiled. "It looks like

Claire's got herself a donor."

I stilled. This was supposed to be wonderful news-but I could barely breathe. How would Claire react if she knew the circumstances behind the donation? "You can't tell her," I said.

"That she's going to have a transplant?"

I shook my head. "Where it came from."

Dr. Wu frowned. "Don't you think she'll find out? This is all over the news."

"Organ donations are always done anonymously. Plus, she doesn't want a boy's heart. She always says that."

"That's not really the issue here, is it?" The cardiologist stared at me. "It's a muscle, June. Nothing more, and nothing less. What makes a heart worthy for transplant has nothing to do with the donor's personality."

I looked up at him. "What would you do, if she was your daughter?"

"If she was my daughter," Dr. Wu replied, "I would already have scheduled the surgery."


I tried to tell Shay that he was the topic on Larry King Live that night, but either he was asleep or he just didn't feel like answering me. Instead, I took out my stinger from where it was hidden behind a cement block in the wall and heated up some water for tea. The guests that night were the nutcase reverend that Father Michael had sparred with outside the prison, and some stuffed-shirt academic named Ian Fletcher. It was hard to tell who had the more intriguing backstory-Reverend Justus with his drive-in church, or Fletcher-who'd been a television atheist until he'd run across a little girl who could apparently perform miracles and raise the dead. He wound up marrying the girl's single mother, which in my opinion, greatly diluted the credibility of his commentary.

Still, he was a better speaker than Reverend Justus, who kept rising out of his seat as if he were filled with helium. "There's an old proverb,

Larry," the reverend said. "You can't keep trouble from coming, but you don't have to make out a place card."

Larry King tapped his pen on the desk twice. "And by that you mean...?"

"Miracles don't make a man into God. Dr. Fletcher ought to know that better than anyone."

Unrattled, Ian Fletcher smiled. "The more you think you're right, the likelier you are to be wrong. That's a proverb Reverend Justus probably hasn't encountered yet."

"Tell us about being a television atheist," Larry said.

"Well, I used to do what Jerry Falwell did, except instead of saying there's a God, I said there wasn't one. I went around debunking claims of miracles all over the country. Eventually, when I found one that I couldn't discredit, I started wondering if it was really God I objected to... or just the sense of entitlement that seems to be part of affiliating with a religious group. Like the way you'll hear that a person is a good Christianwell, who says Christians corner the market on virtue? Or when the president ends a speech with 'God bless the United States of America'... why just us?"

"Are you still an atheist?" King asked.

"Technically, I suppose you'd call me an agnostic."

Justus scoffed. "Splitting hairs."

"Not true; an atheist's got more in common with a Christian, since he believes you can know whether or not God exists-but where a Christian says absolutely, the atheist says absolutely not. For me, and any other agnostic-the jury's still out. Religion is intriguing, but in a historical sense.

A man should live his life a certain way not because of some divine authority, but because of a personal moral obligation to himself and others."

Larry King turned to Reverend Justus. "And you, sir, your congregation meets in a former drive-in movie theater? Don't you think that takes some of the pomp and circumstance out of religion?"

"What we've found, Larry, is that for some people the obligation of getting up and going to church is too overwhelming. They don't like having to see or be seen by others; they don't enjoy being indoors on a beautiful

Sunday; they prefer to worship in private. Coming to the Drive-ln Church allows a person to do whatever it is he needs to do while communing with

God-whether that's wearing pajamas, or eating an Egg McMuffin, or dozing off during my sermon."

"Now, Shay Bourne isn't the first person to come along and stir the pot," King said. "Few years back, a Florida State football quarterback was found lying in the street, claiming to be God. And a fellow in Virginia wanted his driver's license changed to reflect that he was a resident of the

Kingdom of Heaven. What do you think it is about Shay Bourne that makes people believe he might be the real deal?"

"As far as I understand," Fletcher said, "Bourne's not claiming to be the

Messiah or Mary Poppins or Captain America-it's the people supporting him who have christened him, no pun intended. Ironically, that's very similar to what we see in the Bible-Jesus doesn't go around claiming to be God."

" ' I am the way, the truth, and the life; no man cometh unto the Father, but by me,' " Justus quoted. "John, 14:6."

"There's also evidence in the gospels that Jesus appeared in different forms to different people," Fletcher said. "The apostle James talks about seeing Jesus standing on the shore in the form of a child. He points it out to John, who thinks he's nuts, because the person on the shore isn't a child but a handsome young man. They go to investigate, and although one sees an old, bald man, the other sees a young guy with a beard."

Reverend Justus frowned. "I can quote the Gospel of John forward and backward," he said, "and that's not in there."

Fletcher smiled. "I never said it was from the Gospel of John. I said it was from a gospel. A Gnostic one, called the Acts of John."

"There's no Acts of John in the Bible," Justus huffed. "He's making this up."

"The reverend's right-it's not in the Bible. And there are dozens of others like it. Through a series of editorial decisions, they were excluded- and considered heresy by the early Christian church."

"That's because the Bible is the Word of God, period," Justus said.

"Actually, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John weren't even written by the apostles Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. They were written in Greek, by authors who had a modicum of education-unlike Jesus's fishermen disciples, who were illiterate, like ninety percent of the population. Mark is based on the apostle Peter's preaching. Matthew's author was probably a

Jewish Christian from Antioch, Syria. The Gospel of Luke was allegedly written by a doctor. And the author of the Gospel of John never mentions his own name... but it was the latest of the four synoptic gospels to be written, roughly around A.D. 100. If the apostle John was the author, he would have been extremely old."

"Smoke and mirrors," Reverend Justus said. "He's using rhetoric to distract us from the basic truth here."

"Which is?" King asked.

"Do you truly believe that if the Lord chose to grace us with his earthly presence again-and that is a big if, in my humble opinion-he would willingly choose to inhabit a convicted murderer, two times over?"

My hot water started to boil, and I disconnected the stinger. Then I turned off the television without hearing Fletcher's answer. Why would

God choose to inhabit any of us?

What if it was the other way around... if we were the ones who inhabited


MICHAEL | Change of heart | M I C H A EL