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The Vision: The Movie Feds

The Vision: The Movie Feds December 4, 2020

The Vision, pp. 205-222

This section ends with Asher in a truck with Ben and Dusty (the younger men he’s mentoring) driving to the The Last Publishers compound. Ben and Dusty rib Asher about Cheyenne, and appreciate that Asher pushes back in fun—they’re glad to see him acting more normal, and letting go of some of the anxiety that followed the Walmart bombing that nearly killed Cheyenne.

The Swearing Bible Verse Thing

Here’s Dusty:

“Well, I know it has nothing to do with the pink truck, but I can durn guess it has a lot to do with the sweet thang that drives it.”

Asher growled and made a face, indicating for Dusty to hush, but reached up to tussle the tall, thin boy’s shaggy brown hair. “No durn. It’s just a polite way of saying damn. Scripture says, ‘let your yea be yea and your nay be nay’. By the way, you need a haircut.”

As bizarre as the interactions in this book so often are, there’s a piece of this that feels very real—that “yea by yea and nay be nay” passage was brought up as a reason not to curse all the time when I was a kid. But that’s not at all what that passage actually meant.

Here’s the full passage:

Matthew 5:33-37

Again, ye have heard that it hath been said by them of old time, Thou shalt not forswear thyself, but shalt perform unto the Lord thine oaths:

But I say unto you, Swear not at all; neither by heaven; for it is God’s throne:

Nor by the earth; for it is his footstool: neither by Jerusalem; for it is the city of the great King.

Neither shalt thou swear by thy head, because thou canst not make one hair white or black.

But let your communication be, Yea, yea; Nay, nay: for whatsoever is more than these cometh of evil.

This is about vowsnot about cursing or swear words. Mosaic law says: “Do not swear falsely by my name and so profane the name of your God.” Again, remember, this is about vows. In this whole Matthew passage, Jesus is saying “Jewish law says X, but I say to you Y,” and each time, he makes things more extreme. Jewish law says don’t commit adultery, but say to you don’t even look at a woman lustfully—that kind of thing. This is the same: Jewish law says not to make vows by swearing by God’s name, but say to you not to make vows by swearing by heaven, or by the earth, or by your head, and instead to just say yes or no.

This is actually a really good illustration of why actually learning about the Bible, the period, and the things referenced matters, and taking the Bible “literally” ends up completely perverting is actual meaning.

The Painted Floorplan 

When they arrive at the TLP compound, they enter the warehouse, where the Herb Den crew has set up shop, and find that the floor has been painted to look like the layout of a house.

The group squeezed into the small makeshift kitchen to eat and talk. The old concrete floor had been recently painted a black and white checkerboard. The small red enamel table seemed suddenly cool instead of just a yard sale reject.

Dusty’s deprived upbringing caused him to really appreciate classy. He followed the red painted hallway floor to the front of the warehouse. “Man, you have the whole floor painted like it’s different rooms. When did you girls find time for all of this?”

The girls explain that they hired a “local” to paint the floor based on computer printed floor plans Yancey created. But you’re probably still wondering about Dusty’s “deprived” upbringing. So am I!

We are never told a single thing about Dusty’s background, upbringing or otherwise. No idea where he’s living, what he’s doing, or how old each actually is: Dusty could be 15, or he could be 19, or anywhere in between—or who knows, with the way Debi talks about the women working at the Herb Den, he could be 23 for all we know!

Bobbie Jo is enthusiastic about the floor:

“You should see the concrete rug up front. It matches the couch and chairs with little flowers all over it. When I walked in this morning, I thought it was a real rug!”

Why wouldn’t you get a real rug? Surely there’s a yard sale reject rug around somewhere. Because frankly, painting a rug on concrete isn’t going to make the ground any less cold. 

The boys stayed only long enough to load Cheyenne’s truck with eight 50-pound bags of mixed herbs she was taking to her Amish friends’ house for them to pack into cute retail bags.

This is fine, but I don’t feel like I have any feel for the actual relationships going on here—this is the first time these Amish friends have been mentioned. Are they Christian, according to Cheyenne and Hope and Asher, etc.?

Before they leave, Asher takes Cheyenne’s hand—“she felt as if she had brushed the electric fence”—and tells her for the umpteenth time that she’s in danger and that he’s worried about her, with tears in his eyes. Cheyenne suddenly realizes that this means that Asher loves her and is worried about losing her.

As though all those other times weren’t a clue?? I mean this is pretty much the only interaction the two of them ever have—Asher touches Cheyenne in a way that surprises her in its intimacy, and tells her that she’s in danger, and just about cries over her. Lather, rinse, repeat.

“The Feds”

Dusty lurched forward. “Look at that. Ain’t that the feds?” Three large black SUVs had just pulled off the country road onto the lane that led to The Last Publishers ministries.

These are movie feds. Clearly.

Asher, who is for some reason in a truck with Ben and Dusty again, immediately drives to the security gate, arriving immediately after the feds, whom the security team has already let through without checking ID. 

Asher is livid:

“What kind of security do we have? He didn’t even look at the vehicles. Just because they look official is no reason to ignore protocols. With those tined windows, there’s no way of really knowing who or what’s in the vehicles.”

LOLOLOL. This just feels so typical of this operation.

This whole scene is just so beyond bizarre.

Asher drives quickly, following “the feds”:

By the time they got up to the parking lot the feds were already exiting their vehicles, obviously in a hurry. … Two of the men immediately headed to the warehouse where the Herb Den operated.

When the young men piled out of the truck, the rest of the feds were waiting for them. Glancing at Ben and Dusty, Asher saw that they were nervous. He could appreciate their feelings.

Asher moved, trying to skirt the men and go find the girls, but two agents blocked his path, saying, “Sorry, sir, we need you here to answer some questions. then you can go.”

I mean …? Maybe?

After a few minutes, the two “feds” that went inside come back with the four Herb Den employees.

There was a long moment of silence as the men stood staring up at the girls on the dock. Finally a small man dressed in a dark suit that appeared smaller still walked up the steps. He flipped open a leather wallet displaying his badge, as he addressed the girls standing in the open warehouse door. “My name is Agent Zich. We are part of a special anti-terrorism task force working to unravel a few incidents in the area. Mind if we have a private talk with you girls?” He motioned forward. “Inside.”

Wait, why did they trot the four women outside at all, just to take them back inside? Why not knock on the door and say “excuse me, we need to talk to you, can we come inside?”

Asher’s troubled gaze followed the girls as they disappeared into the shadows of the warehouse. The men stood in silence, watching the huge door slide into place. It was clear to Asher that he was being detained until they finished questioning the girls.

No, Asher! They haven’t said you’re being detained, so you’re not! Ask them if you’re being detained! And if they say you are being detained, ask they why! Ask what you’re being charged with! This is nuts!

Ben studied the men. They all looked amazingly alike. He realized he could be one of them.

Dear readers, this is indeed what it says.

He wasn’t too tall or too short. His hair, unlike Asher’s, was nondescript. He knew he could blend in as effectively as they did.

None of this ever matters. At all.

The sound of his own voice was shocking to his own ears. It was high pitched and strained as he asked, “Why now? It’s been almost a month since the bombing and you guys never came here before … so why now?”

This book. This book is everything.

The men’s faces were void of emotion. Nothing indicated that they had heard the question.

Movie. Feds.

Then, with practiced precision, one of the men pulled out a paper and held it up for the three young men to see. It was a picture of a young Arabic looking girl.

Arabic is the language. Arab is the ethnicity.

Also, just how young are we talking? If I didn’t know better I’d think we’re talking three or four years old, but this is the girl Magdalene saw in the car, and that girl was playing a game on a cell phone, and wearing a head covering, which puts her past puberty (remember, her family is Saudi). And remember, Debi calls Cheyenne a “young girl.” It’s possible that to Debi everyone under 30 is a “young girl,” but an editor really should have flagged this.

Anyway, moving on:

The three young men stared at the picture of the unknown girl. Asher’s throat felt dry as he asked, “Who is she?”

The man folded up the paper and put it back into his coat. His nonchalant movement seemed to suggest that it was not really that important, but Asher knew better.

Please tell me they’re wearing dark sunglasses.

“It’s her, isn’t it? The girl who put the note under the door?”

Most of the feds just stood around the big idling vehicles, ignoring the question. The young men waited for an answer.

Finally one of the men responded, “We thought the girls might be able to tell us.”

Asher felt a sudden breathlessness. His bass voice came out in a forced whisper. “She’s dead … isn’t she?”

The agent glanced at the three young men, but never answered.

Look, it’s possible I’m wrong, but I really do not think the “feds” actually act like this. There was never even any real introduction, just one line starting with “I’m Agent Zich.”

Also, Asher should recognize this girl—Magdalene later goes on and on about how nice her parents always seemed, how she feels like she got to know them from her many trips to Main Street Market. If this is the one Saudi family in town, and they run the Main Street Market as a family business, Asher would have seen this girl many times, and would almost certainly remember her. This is a small town, and Main Street Market has the only gas station.

The last time we talked about this girl, I gave her a name: Noura.

Bobbie Jo and the Cookies

Anyway, that’s the end of the scene. And that’s weird! We never get to see what happens inside, with the girls. I think Debi thinks she’s engaging in good writing (adding variety, maybe?) by having the girls’ side of this interaction—their interview with the feds—referenced only in the past tense, in reminiscence, but it feels choppy.

Look, here’s what comes directly next:

Magdalene sighed with pleasure as she finished washing the dishes at the Herb Den’s small kitchenette. It was good to be back at the Herb Den, even for a day. Asher was a hard taskmaster, making the two girls promise to keep the doors locked and the lights out, making the place appear empty and unused. But Asher recognized that Bobbie Jo and reached her end of tolerance; she needed time out from confinement.

It took me a while to realize that this wasn’t describing the girls’s side of the interaction on the day the feds showed up. I was confused initially, because why was Magdalene at the Herb Den? The feds had come to the TLP compound! Then I started to expect Magdalene to get a phone call saying “the feds are here, you need to come back to the TLP and talk to them.” Of course, that doesn’t square with all four Herb Den employees being immediately brought outside at the warehouse at the TLP compound by the feds (only to be taken back inside).

But this is what I meant by choppy!

There are several pages about how much Bobbie Jo likes cookies and how they’ve all had to say no no no, Bobbie Jo, you can’t eat all the cookies, but Magdalene is super nice and brings Bobbie Jo one fresh cook anyway, breaking Cheyenne’s rules, after Bobbie Jo threatens to beat her up.

“Mag girl! I know you’re finished. Bring me a cookie … no, three cookies. You’d better hurry before I come back there and body slam you,” Bobbie Jo teasingly threatened. Magdalene’s reverie evaporated.

I don’t think Debi knows how badly Bobbie Jo comes off here.

Magdalene and the Pushy People

Anyway! Debi then introduces something only to immediately act like it’s super important and long-lasting. When you’re writing a book, you can go back and add earlier references so that something doesn’t come out of the blue. Debi does not appear to do that, at all. 

After Magdalene brings Bobbie Jo a cookie, Bobbie Jo says:

“Hey! Clean this up while I finish up this inventory list. Then we can leave. I know you want to take Tess’ kids to the herb pond to play. If we hurry, maybe we can finish early enough today to go.”

This is the first reference to Magdalene hanging out with Omar and Tess’s kids. It later becomes a major plot point—because these kids aren’t white kids and her dad’s a White Supremacist—but here it’s only just been introduced.

And then we get:

“Tess and Omar say I have to call my dad.” Magdalene made the announcement like it was a death sentence.

Bobbie Jo quickly looked back at the screen. “Yeah, well, Omar and Tess are wise folks. If they think you should call, then you should. You can’t put off contacting your parents forever. Besides, Tess has really taken you under her wing since we’ve all lived at TLP. You spend all your free time with their family. I think you should do what they tell you. If they told me to do something like that, I sure would.”

What the what what now?

First, we’ve seen no evidence that Tess has at all taken Magdalene under her wing, and until now we’ve been told that Magdalene spends all of her free time with the Herb Den “Trio.” Remember the whole thing about how the Trio has become a Trio plus one, and the whole point of the name the “Trio” was that they spent all their time together? Second, Tess and Omar don’t live on the compound. Does Magdalene have a car? She almost certainly does not have a driver’s license. How is she spending all of her free time with Tess and Omar’s family?

Third, since when does being befriended by someone mean you have to obey their every suggestion? Sure, this isn’t a relationship between equals, it appears to be more of a mentorship thing, but that’s not how mentors work either. Fourth, unless Bobbie Jo has experienced being kicked out of the house, pushed into sex work, raped, kidnapped, and nearly dying, I don’t think she’s in a position to give Magdalene any advice here at all. Except perhaps advice like “you know, we should probably find a good therapist for you to work with, and maybe a social worker.”

Look, the one and only reason I can see for these people keeping Magdalene at the TLP compound the way they have is to keep her from having to return to her father. If they did talk to child welfare or try to get custody of her (so they could enroll her in school, get her a driver’s license and her identification documents, etc.), the first thing child welfare would probably do is contact her parents. Technically, she’s a runaway. If they’re not keeping her here to protect her from her father, then why are they suddenly telling her to call her father?

No one’s motivations make sense in this book.

Back to Magdalene:

“You know my dad is a White Supremacist. My dad believes mixed race children are mongrels. Remember he wanted me to kill his own grand baby … and he doesn’t believe in abortion. I don’t think they really know how much White Supremacists can hate. The fact that I love and respect Tess and Omar makes me not want to obey them in this matter.”

“Geez, Mag,” Bobbie Jo’s voice held distain, “Your dad lives 300 miles from here. He’s not going to hurt Omar’s family.”

Okay, I genuinely want to hit Bobbie Jo right now. Spoilers: Magdalene’s dad is going to literally organize the local White Supremacists to murder Tess and Omar’s family. They’re going to set fire to Tess and Omar’s house with their four young children inside. Bobbie Jo is talking out of her ass.

(Sidenote: We’re never told anything at all about Tess. The above passage suggests, however, that she’s white, because there seems to be an implication that Tess and Omar’s kids are mixed race, and we know that Omar is Black. This means that the only Black person in this book—Omar—is an ex-con converted through Malachi’s prison ministry. If Tess had been Black I’d have concluded that there are indeed other Black people in their circles or community—but no! They only meet Black people through their prison ministry! Lovely.)

What Debi wants us to think of Bobbie Jo, in this passage? Bobbie Jo says Magdalene should call her dad since Omar and Tess think she should, and insists that Magdalene’s dad poses no threat to Omar and Tess. But Magdalene’s dad does pose a threat to Tess and Omar.  If we’re to conclude that Bobbie Jo is in the wrong here—and she is!—then we should also to conclude that Magdalene making a phone call to her dad is nuts. But I don’t think Debi wants us to think that, because the ultimate consequence of Magdalene calling her dad is going to be him realizing that she’s right—that Tess and Omar’s kids are human beings—and in her dad converting to True Christianity. As Magdalene lays on her deathbed, she joyously thanks God that she called her dad.

And there’s also this, from Bobbie Jo:

“You worry too much. Besides, that humongous fence and the Gideon Band will keep out a bunch of stupid White Supremacists. You know … you met Derek. Man alive, if he is any example of the rest of the pack, they are all way down on the bottom of the intellectual ladder. He is so gross … he is barely a humanoid as far as I’m concerned. They will not get past that fence.”

Again, if we’re supposed to conclude, here, that Bobbie Jo has sadly misjudged things, she would be misjudging them both with regards to Magdalene’s dad and with regards to Derek and the fence. For this narrative arc to work, Derek ought to get past the fence, and prove he’s not as dumb as Bobbie Jo thinks—but neither of these will happen. We’re never given any reason to believe Bobbie Jo’s assessment of Derek is off base.

Now yes, people can be right about one thing and wrong about another. But this is a book, and what is and isn’t included usually matters, and has narrative purpose. This … does not.

I feel the need to add two things.

First, it seems like a very very bad idea to cavalierly bring up the man who kidnapped and raped Magdalene and left her for dead, after which she had to survive alone in the woods for three months. This was the most traumatic experience of her young life, and Bobbie Jo is just all, “oh, you know that Derek, he has no brains.” What. No.

Second, the way Bobbie Jo talks about Derek makes me uncomfortable. Is he a bad dude? Yes he is! But “he is barely a humanoid as far as I’m concerned” suggests a wanton willingness to dehumanize people that I find strange in a book that is literally about White Supremacists and attempted genocide. This whole book is about how the group’s antagonists—White Supremacists and Muslim terrorists alike—literally dehumanize their enemies. So why have Bobbie Jo do the same? And it’s not like the point is that she shouldn’t—no one ever pushes back. According to the TLP crew, Derek is basically not even human, end of story.

Magdalene changes the subject, telling Bobbie Jo that she’s decided to stop working at the Herb Den and instead work directly for The Last Publishers on their publishing ministry. She wants to share the gospel, she says. Anticipating Bobbie Jo’s insistence that the berry business will fund the publishing ministry, Magdalene says:

“The berry thing seems so far removed from missions. It’s like it’s happening to someone else.”

She’s so right. It almost feels, dare I say it, like these things are happening in two different books. So weird!

The Young Muslim Girl

And now, six pages into Magdalene and Bobbie Jo hanging out at the Herb Den offices, we finally get clarity on how this fits with the bit with the feds:

“I want my life to be used to get God’s Story into the hands of those who don’t know Jesus, especially young Muslim girls. And now more than ever, especially after the feds came with that picture of my friend.”

Magdalene’s deep sigh revealed how deeply troubled she was concerning the young Muslim girl’s disappearance.

What. That’s it. That’s all we get.

I think we’re to assume, based on this, that the feds came and told them that Noura—that’s the name I’ve given her, Debi doesn’t name her—is missing. But we don’t get it stated any more clearly! Remember, Noura’s parents own and run the Main Street Market. The family is from Saudi Arabia. Noura’s father has some connection to the Walmart bombing. Magdalene had a conversation with Noura once, and Noura put a note warning the Herb Den crew under their door one day. Magdalene decided not to tell the police about the note because she didn’t want to get Noura in trouble—the whole Herb Den crew was worried about honor killings, etc.

After the bombing, Cheyenne told “the investigators who questioned her” about the note. But apparently those investigators weren’t the feds. I don’t think they were local police either though, because the book has made clear what it thinks of the local police, and it would have said so if it was, rather than going with “the investigators.”

So presumably, Noura’s parents found out about the note (because someone questioned them?) and now Noura has disappeared. Magdalene says she doesn’t see how Noura’s parents could have harmed her—“they were always so nice to me, even though Cheyenne says they gave her the heebie-jeebies”—but Bobbie Jo is unconvinced.

“The average Muslim person is trapped into obeying or being in jeopardy of losing their life. Terror works to control their own people just like it does with those who are not Muslims. Believers are kept faithful through fear.”

This book is basically one long piece of anti-Muslim propaganda. Are there Muslims who fear losing their lives if they leave the faith? Yes. But there are billions of Muslims in the world, living in very different countries, with cultural and other differences. And for most Muslims, Islam is their religion the way Christianity is for Christians: it encompasses the rituals of life, houses of worship and religious charities provide community and social functions, and religious dogma answers questions about one’s place in the world, and gives life purpose.

The idea that Christians are Christian due to genuine faith, while Muslims are kept faithful through fear, is nonsense. Most people hold the religious beliefs they do because of their family and the people around them. This is true for Islam, and it is true for Christianity. Are there places where leaving Islam can cost your life? Yes. And that’s bad. But there are also places where Christians bomb Muslim mosques—or places where secular authorities put Muslims in reeducation camps. Extremism is not limited to any religion, and it is bad in all its forms.

The Enduring Tragedy of 9/11

In this book, all Muslims are extremists, and therefore all Muslims are bad. Here’s how Bobbie Jo pushes back against Magdalene’s insistence that Noura’s family was kind to her:

“You are too young to really remember 9/11, but that morning when we found out it was Muslim terrorists that hijacked the planes, I was still living at home. We had a family staying with us. We all stood around the TV watching that morning. The visiting man was so upset, but he kept saying, ‘Remember, these are only a handful of evil, crazed men who did this terrible thing. They do not represent the Muslim people in any way. We have many Muslim neighbors and they would never tolerate such atrocities.’

“Later we were sitting at the lunch table when someone from his home town called him. I will never forget his stricken face as he held the phone. He just dropped the phone into his plate full of food.

“Then he stumbled to his feet and left the room. We all just freaked, knowing something even worse had happened. His wife jumped up to follow him to see what was going on.

“We were all sitting around the table when she came back in a few minutes later. her eyes were red from weeping. She said, ‘They’re dancing in the streets … our friends in our neighborhood are dancing gin the streets’. They said the news says that Muslims are dancing in the streets all over the world celebrating this terrible crime.”

Bobbie Jo’s eyes momentarily dropped as she finished. “To my knowledge the news never clearly let it be known how widespread the rejoicing was in the U.S., but … we do know that in our friends’ neighborhood there was dancing.”

This, of course, is utter nonsense, but it also makes me incredibly sad, because it rings true to how 9/11 functioned to convince Americans like Debi that Muslims are all terrorists and evil people who must be banned from the United States as a threat to peace-loving people everywhere. The September 11th attacks are tragic not only in the loss of life that day, but also in the devastating affects they’ve had on American Muslims, by driving xenophobia.

I was a teenager living at home in 2001. At the time, my family was the host family to a Muslim international student at the local university. He lived in his own apartment, but we invited him over often, and served as a sort of family away from home. Three days after the attacks, he was still so scared he hadn’t left his apartment. We took him out to eat to try to help him become comfortable in public again. We also knew a Muslim family from years before, when I was little and we were neighbors. The father of that family was our family’s doctor, and as it happened, I had a doctor appointment on 9/11 that year. What I remember is how scared he was.

As I was writing this, I remembered something else—there were arrests in my town, after 9/11. Half a dozen men were arrested and accused of terrorism. These were Muslims, in our community. So I felt that, in fairness, I should look that up real quick. The Muslims I knew were devastated by the 9/11 attacks, but were other Muslims in my town involved, in some way? Or supportive? Oh hey guess what: no. It turns out that the men who were arrested, imprisoned, and publicly accused of supporting terrorism did nothing of the sort. In fact, the case was such a mess that the FBI apologized afterwards. It was all a mistake. The men had done nothing wrong. But it was too late: their businesses suffered irretrievable damage and their families were smeared with false claims of extremism.

That is the true story of 9/11.

After Bobbie Jo tells Magdalene all of this, Magdalene says “no matter what, I’m glad I gave her the gospel.” Which is an odd response, since the gospel is, in the universe Debi has created here, probably the reason Noura has been disappeared. I’ll go ahead and spoil it: Noura is dead. It was an honor killing.

Since this is tragically sad, let me take a gander into the weeds: If the feds didn’t show up after the bombing itself, it’s odd that they care this much about one honor killing—especially since we’re to believe there are extremist Muslims in massively growing numbers all over the country, so you’d expect, in this universe, to also see hundreds or thousands of honor killings each year, on top of all of the many bombings we’re told there are.

This book does not actually make sense.

Teens Don’t Have Rights in This Country

This situation also underscores why I’m against proselytizing children. I’m in favor of making sure that children have all the tools they need to be prepared for independence when they turn 18. That’s what Noura needed, not this. And maybe Noura had that—we’re not really told otherwise. But maybe she didn’t—this is a case where befriending Noura’s family would have helped her, because it would have meant she had access to more people and connections outside of her immediate family. That is key to being able to attain independence at age 18.

Until children turn 18, they are under their parent’s control, and there is very, very little room to navigate around that. In the U.S., teenagers have very few rights, and their parents have almost total power over them. Children in Christian homes suffer the consequences of this all the time: a teenage Leelah Alcorn walked in front of a truck after her Christian parents took her out of public school to homeschool her in order to separate her from her LGBTQ support network (Leelah was transgender). What Leelah’s parents did was completely legal.

Proselytizing children is a bad idea for a very, very large number of reasons, but it is especially a bad idea in the U.S., where parents have near total control over their children until the day they turn 18. If the The Last Publishers crew wanted to reach these Muslims, they could have invited Noura’s parents over for dinner, and begun building relationships with them. But they didn’t. They didn’t at all. Instead, all we get is Cheyenne’s heebie jeebies and Magdalene’s one brief conversation with Noura (why couldn’t she have actually befriended her, one wonders?).

This is a book where everything is wrong.

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