Tuesday, October 30, 2007

The 9-11 Myths

Recently I heard about an online article at Popular Mechanics that debunked all the myths regarding the events of 9-11. Since I've encountered a few folks (even some who stand on street corners with signs) who try to convince me that it was all a hoax, a conspiracy, a government planned operation, I wanted to see what Popular Mechanics had to say about it. It's a fascinating article and well worth the time to read, even if you have to do it in installments as I did.

One of the conspiracy theorists' claims is that the WTC towers were not brought down by planes as we have seen on video but by explosions planted by government and military officials at the base of the buildings and timed to go off when the planes hit them. (uh huh. And what about all the people on the planes who never came home and were never seen again? What about all the people who were on their cell phones while they were being hijacked telling people, family and friends what was happening?)

One reason some believe there was a bomb is because of all the dust and smoke that came out of the buildings as they collapsed. The PM article answers this. Another support for this weird contention (of government planted explosives) is that there was fire in the lobby minutes after the planes crashed. How could this be unless there were explosives set off at the bottom?

This too is answered. And what's cool is that my recent inquiry into the construction of skyscrapers gave me the perfect frame of reference to understand what they were talking about. I now know what a skyscraper's core is -- a hollow tube in the middle formed by strong weight bearing columns. It is there that the elevators run, and also where the ducts and wiring and so forth are placed. When the jets hit, burning jet fuel barrelled down those shafts all the way to the bottom in a matter of seconds, thus causing the fires there.

From this article I also learned that steel doesn't melt until 2750 degrees F, a temperature burning jet fuel cannot reach. (another piece of info the conspiracists use for their arguments) However, it does lose 50% of its strength when it reaches about 1100 degrees F, well within the range of temps for burning jet fuel. And at 1800 degrees, which is about hot hot they figured the fires got, it's down to 10% of its original strength. Hardly enough to hold up those buildings...

Another question I've had people pose me is "Where's the plane in the Pentagon? Why is there no evidence of a passenger plane having crashed there?" (there is). "Why did a 275 ft wide plane make only a 75 foot hole?" PM answers these questions as well.

As I said, it's somewhat long, but a fascinating article, as much for how misstatements and misinformation are seized upon and distorted into an entire network of speculations, as for all the answers that are presented as to why exactly the towers collapsed, why there are no signs of wings in the damage to the Pentagon, and what the explanation is for that engine from Flight 99 in PA that supposedly ended up miles from the wreckage site with "with damage comparable to that which a heat-seeking missile would do to an airliner."

If you'd like to read it, you can find it by clicking here.


Monday, October 29, 2007

Review at Christian Library Journal

Recently a reviewer for Christian Library Journal, Donna Bowling, emailed to share with me the events that surrounded her efforts to review my Guardian King series and in particular Return of the Guardian King for publication in the journal. Having already reviewed The Light of Eidon for this journal in 2004, she planned to review the last three books in conjunction with the release of RotGk.

When she learned that the journal would cease publication this summer, she told the publisher that she really wanted to get the series into the last issue. But time was short by then, and she was given a deadline of only a week to do so -- at the same time as she was to be out of town for 5 days. Nevertheless she persevered, submitted her review of the series, then opened an email that informed her she was 15 hours late. The September issue had already been published.

All was not lost, though. Agreeing with her that the series was very significant, the publisher decided to post it separately. (She even included a note to that effect in the separate mailing, and a link to the series is listed on the site's homepage here.) So, as Donna suggested to me, her own embarrassment and difficulties may well have given the series added attention that it might not have received had she gotten the review in on time. A circumstance which very nicely illustrates one of the points I wanted to make in the GK series.

The review is great, and I especially loved some of the "important truths" she highlighted in her series conclusion. Unfortunately, the review is available only to those who have subscribed to Christian Library Journal, so I can't send you to it, or even reproduce it en toto here, but Donna's given me permission to quote the bit that I especially liked:

"This fantasy series with frequent allegorical elements includes supernatural events produced by both the forces of Light and those of the Shadow. (Hancock) illustrates several important truths.True religion can be twisted and used by evil forces. The love and forgiveness of the Lord, at great cost to Himself, prompt fallible believers to awe and worship. True believers, indwelt by both Light and Shadow, may give leeway to the Shadow within by their fear, anger, jealousy, pride, and efforts to defeat evil by their own natural abilities. True victory only comes through total submission to the Lord and His ways and timing. Relationship and submission to the Lord takes precedence over human relationships and personal desires. With its allegorical elements, this powerful series can stimulate a sense of worship in mature Christians."
~Bowling, Donna W. 'Legends of the Guardian King,' Christian Library Journal, Sept. 27, 2007. Used by permission.


Sunday, October 28, 2007


Recently I've been going over some old notes from The Idiot's Guide To Genetics, which I read a number of years ago, and came across the following:

"In 1952 Alfred Hershey and his assistant Martha Chase studied bacteriophages -- viruses which attack and infiltrate bodies of living bacteria and genetically instruct them to make new phages out of the bacterias' own material. Numerous phages are made, then burst out, killing the host.

"Hershey and Chase mixed phages and bacteria in a blender so as to separate the bacteria from the phages and learned it was only the phage's DNA that got into the bacteria to reprogram them. This led to the conclusion that DNA is responsible for hereditary instructions."

Here's a graphic:

(Cartoon From Molecular nanomachines at the Department of Biochemistry, University of Zurich)

The bacteriophage has a little cell puncturing device which stabs down into the cell and delivers the viral DNA from the "head". Once inside the cell the viral DNA goes to work.

What has always struck me about the whole function of viruses is the excellent analogy they are to what happens when the cosmic system attacks a soul. Say, for the sake of this analogy, the believer has a soul full of doctrine -- God's truth. That doctrine acts like the DNA in a normal cell, basically as the command center and instruction guide for the cell's proper function. Along comes the "cosmic system phage," with a totally different set of instructions (the CS-DNA) which it inserts into the soul. The soul's old, proper instructions are immediately corrupted and begin to produce replications of the cosmic lies it has just been infected with, that tell it to do -- and think -- things entirely different from the original instructions. (Which is why we can be tooling along, perfectly fine one day, and, should we be hit by a cosmic system phage, be thinking like a different person the next.) If that goes on long enough, the soul becomes a veritable factory of cosmic system phages until they finally burst it apart. (There's even a doctrinal analogy for that: fragmentation of the soul.)

In fact, as I pursue this analogy I see that when our bodies are infected by a virus, they do exactly the same thing. Our noses start to run, we begin coughing and sneezing, and soon we are virus factories ourselves. I especially like it that we take in the virus by breathing or eating, both Biblical metaphors for perception of spiritual (or cosmic) truth.

By the way, "virus" is Latin for poison, and "bacteriophage" comes from the Greek phagein, "to eat."

Here's another picture, this one an electron micrograph of an actual T4 bacteriophage infecting a bacterium. You can see its little cell puncturing device penetrating the bacterium:

From An Introduction to the Bacteriophage T4 Virus at dFORM.

Pretty cool the way God puts those illustrations all around us!


Thursday, October 25, 2007


About three weeks ago, at our Communion Sunday, one of my friends mentioned in passing a website that would help you get your house in order and your act together. "Flylady.com," she called it, though I didn't write it down.

But later, being me, I Googled it ( www.FlyLady.com ) and went to look around. I thought it was kind of cool, and probably helpful, but at the time it also seemed overwhelming. As my hubby would say, TMI! (Too much information). Too much of a program. They have a free email group where they send out reminders and motivational essays and testimonials. I didn't think I wanted that much management. Or that much email! But there were bits that made sense -- that it takes a month to develop a new habit, so you should choose just one and go with it. For an entire month. Nothing else, just that.

So I thought, well, mine could be to get the dishes in the dishwasher, wash them and get them out again. To keep the sink empty. I have a tendency to keep waiting to run the dishwasher until I've filled up every last nook and cranny. The trouble is, by the time that happens I usually have more dishes than I can fit into the dishwasher, which means I have to leave some in the sink while I run it. Then start the process over. I've also tended to drag my feet about unloading it. So it just seemed nice to keep the sink empty and try to get my few weekly chores done on the day I've planned to do them.

So that's what I did. Of course with the arm exercises and visits to the therapist and having the neighbor's dog over and trying to make up for the months I spent not cleaning or doing anything... I didn't get nearly as much done as I'd hoped. Or needed to do. And there were so many things... A gazillion thoughts of all the possible tasks buzzed about in my head like flies. Not just with the ordinary maintenance of the home, but with simplifying, decluttering, fixing, deep cleaning. Add to that some weddings and birthdays coming up, with cards to make for those, and Thanksgiving and Christmas already on the horizon.

And then there is Black Box, which I wasn't seeming to get any work done on to speak of. I spent the week doing research, but no writing. I'd go into the office and the next next thing you know I'd be doing something else. Surfing the web, or not even in the room. The situation with the book was the same as with the rest of my life. A ton of thoughts, ideas of what I needed to do, books stacked up needing to be read, plotlines to develop, characters, world building, all buzzing around, with no way to decide which I should do first, and so all too often I'd just do the old avoidance behavior -- I'd go make a card, or ... frankly I can't recall what all I did, but it wasn't write.

So last Saturday I was sitting in my office, once again facing the cloud of buzzing fly-thoughts, having no clue what to do -- housework? Book? Worldbuild? Plot? Continue with Chapter 8? I didn't know. It was all chaos. I ended up going to the Lord in desperation. "I'm just a stupid sheep, Lord. I'm confused, weak, distractable... I have no idea what I'm doing, but I'm pretty sure I'm supposed to do something... I need your help!"

Shortly after that I was moved to check out Flylady again. This time I read the essay about why you need to get the email reminders. Just going to the website isn't enough. You need to have the daily reminders, encouragement and motivation. So I thought, what the heck, I can always unsubscribe or delete the emails if I don't like it. And I signed up. And just the handful of emails and articles I read that day SO nailed where I was, that it lifted me completely out of my funk. They have thirty-one baby steps for those who are just joining, and step number one is "Go Shine Your Sink". Well, I'd more or less been doing that one for the month so I was already started.

I can say, too, that it's amazing what a difference just keeping your sink shining makes. I've gotten lots of other things done too, and even used some of the principles to help me in my writing.

But it's only been a week since I've been an active recipient of the email program. So far I'm very excited about it -- the principles, the methods, her understanding of the root causes and her solutions. I think they're really going to work. Because it's a matter of daily inculcation, and from Bible class I know the importance of that. It's the matter of tiny increments of progress NOT perfection, and I know from Bible class the importance of that. That helps a lot with the writing, too. It's the identification of hot spots and the use of the timer... but I can see I'm going to go on way too long about this right now, so I'll save it for subsequent posts.

I'm a veteran of many organization books and systems, and am not totally in chaos. I already have many habits in place, so I know the habit system works. But I also know how you can get all excited about some new thing and then after a week or two the emotional element fades and pretty soon you're back to your same old ways. I'm still not to the 28 days she says you must practice a new habit before it will stick, and won't be for another week. I'll let you know how it goes.

I do have to say I love having the shiny sink and somehow emptying the dishwasher has become... fun.


Wednesday, October 24, 2007

State of Fear - 2

Okay, I thought I was done with State of Fear, but there is one more element that I really enjoyed: seeing the various techniques of argument set against each other in a situation where I wasn't personally emotionally involved. I've been reading off and on recently about techniques of debate, recognizing some of them as things I've encountered without even realizing what they were (like the "say it enough times with great authority and you'll be believed" technique) and this book had some more examples.

What I'm seeing is that just because the listener reacts and won't listen or completely dismisses what the speaker says, doesn't make the speaker wrong or remiss.

In one sequence Evans, the main pov character and global warming advocate, has just been shown a page of fully documented references to scientific studies -- hard data showing that Antarctica, after 6000 years of warming is now actually cooling. Only a small localized portion of it is warming. Overall, it's the other way around. Evans ignores the information Kenner has given him, so Kenner says,

"You thought the Antarctic melting was something new?"

"I thought it was melting faster than previously," Evans said.

"Maybe we won't bother any more," Kenner said.

(His assistant) nodded and started to put the computer away.

"No, no," Evans said. "I'm interested in what you have to say. I'm not close-minded. I'm ready to hear new information."

"You just did," Kenner said.

So he looks over the references they gave him a little more closely and...

... folded the sheet carefully. "These studies are probably financed by the coal industry."

"Probably,"Kenner said. "I'm sure that explains it. But then everybody's paid by somebody. Who pays your salary?"

Kenner goes on from there to lead Evans into admitting that he works for an environmentalist firm, and inquires if it would be fair to say that his opinions are what they are because of it. Evans hotly denies this, but Kenner pushes him a bit more until he's really irritated. At which point Kenner says,

"Now you know how legitimate scientists feel when their integrity is impugned by slimy characterizations such as the one you just made. We gave you a careful, peer-reviewed interpretation of the data... Your response was first to ignore it, and then to make an ad hominen attack. You didn't answer the data. You didn't provide counter evidence. You just smeared by innuendo."

Evans's response to this to to swear at him, insult him further and conclude that "Nobody agrees with you." Another non-argument. When Kenner points out that the scientists who wrote the papers cited on his list of references do agree with him, Evans throws up his hands and with one final expletive, walks away.

Fascinating. I have been on the receiving end of this. I will express an opinion, and people will ignore it, belittle it, then make ad hominen attacks. Press them and they get madder, say "to heck with you," and walk away. The really bad thing is that I know that on occasion I have done the same thing when someone else says something I don't agree with.

It's because we get emotional. And when that happens we stop thinking. It seems enough to just say "That's ridiculous! Nobody agrees with you! Everyone knows the Bible is true!" (or whatever). But it's not. You have to keep thinking and leave the emotion out of it. Emotion has no thoughts, no standards. It just sputters and shrieks. Instead of thinking about the issue, it attacks the person who is not agreeing.

Which, strangely enough, is exactly the subject we started studying in Bible class tonight. The doctrine of emotion... Though when I sat down to write this blog, I had no idea I was going to make this connection... :-) Really!


Tuesday, October 23, 2007

State of Fear

During my convalescence from the broken arm, one of the books I read (way back in August, now) was State of Fear by Michael Crichton. It was a quick, effortless read, and I really enjoyed it. Crichton has a lot of swift dialogue exchanges so the book isn't as long as the pages make it look.

Making his main viewpoint character a global warming believer was the perfect way to handle the material he wanted to deal with. The hero, John Kenner (a professor of environmental science who was not the viewpoint character), really knew his stuff and when he encountered a global warming fanatic, he'd ask them questions. Like could they back up their beliefs with facts? Usually they couldn't. It was just, "everyone knows this is true!" but no specific data. No familiarity with the texts, the actual studies, or with the fact that many of the conclusions about global warming have been drawn from computer models - which are only guesses - and not hard data.

Here's an amusing sequence:

"So," Kenner said, "Global warming represents a threat to the world."

"Absolutely," Bradley said. "A threat to the whole world."

"What sort of threat are we talking about?"

"Crop failures, spreading deserts, new diseases, species extinctions, all the glaciers melting, sea levels rising, extreme weather, tornadoes, hurricanes, El Nino events - "

"That sounds extremely serious," Kenner said.

"It is," Bradley said. "It really is."

"Are you sure of your facts? You can back up your claims with references to the scientific literature?"

"Well, I can't personally, but scientists can."

"Actually, scientific studies do not support your claim. For example, crop failure -if anything increased CO2 stimulates plant growth."

I love how Creighton pulls you through such exchanges with action. The exchanges themselves are always brief and somewhat contentious, salted in between the action sequences. The story is based on understanding all this, but it's slid in well.

This exchange and others like it made me think of the Bible and being ready to make a defense and maybe even being able to go on offense with Bible information. Kenner was completely relaxed and utterly confident of his facts. He knew what the studies were, had the references, and also realized what the media/world system was doing in terms of deception. How by simply claiming a thing was true enough times, they could bring people to believe it, whether it was true or not.

He didn't argue or get angry, he'd just question people. Eventually he'd cite the facts, complete with references to actual studies. When they responded with ridiculous claims in the face of that evidence, he simply stopped talking about it. In fact, more often than not he just said a little bit and moved on to another more immediate or practical concern. Or left entirely.

Crichton was also good at portraying people who knew nothing, but were very emotional and didn't want to consider facts or change their minds. They knew because it was "obvious" or because "everyone" knew that. I know people like that. I've had conversations with them. I always thought the problem was something in me, but now I'm seeing through this book that it might not be.

I'm also seeing the importance of being prepared with your references -- in my case historical, archaeological or scholarly facts, verses, etc). It's inspired me to move in the direction of preparing a defense... first of the Bible's credibility. Second of the claims of Christ. Not that someone who rejects the Bible as a legitimate authority can't still be swayed by its words. The Word of God is alive and powerful. Alive. It does things to people like no other written material or words can. But logically, defending the Bible -- which in the past is where I've fallen down -- is the best place for me to start.

Back to State of Fear... As I said I really enjoyed the character interactions, the action and the information. Crichton includes a substantial bibliography at the end, listing books he used to prepare for writing his novel. I only went through half of it and came up with a list of books I'd like to read that is probably twice as long as what I would ever be able to. But that aside, the book really moves and has a lot of intriguing, "different" elements. For all he wants to inform about global warming as a scam, Crichton never forgets that he's writing a thriller, either.


Monday, October 22, 2007

The Suffering Servant

One of the reasons it is said the Jews rejected Jesus as their Messiah is because they were expecting Him to come back as the conquering king, not the suffering servant. But scripture paints the picture of both, as evidenced by the belief of some rabbis in two messiahs, Messiah ben Joseph, the suffering messiah, and Messiah ben David, the victorious king. I suppose, human nature being what it is, it's not hard to imagine how they could have lost sight of the suffering servant, even if Old Testament sacrifices do scream of it: the slain lambs and rams and birds and goats... Jewish temples were filled with the blood of animals, all of them pictures of the bleeding and dying the messiah would do. Pictures of a messiah that had to be human, because God cannot bleed, and angels don't bleed nor, so far as we know, suffer physical pain.

Bleeding and pain are for humans.

That realization seems to me profound. It suggests that part of being human is suffering pain. That, in a sense, humans were made to suffer. Yes, Adam and the woman were made perfect and placed in a perfect environment, but that was done with God's full knowledge that they would eventually fall and be kicked out of the Garden. In fact, I believe the Bible teaches that was His intent. (Not that He made Adam sin, just that He knew He would and decided to use that in His plan.)

When God the Son took on the form of a man it was in order that He could suffer what He never could suffer as God. That's a concept sharply at odds with today's society which seems on a mission to wipe out all suffering. We cringe at the thought of anyone having to suffer, make all kinds of laws to protect ourselves from it, try to pretend we can avoid it if we follow those laws and do all the right things. We act like it's the worst thing ever should we encounter some (and most of what we do encounter is trivial, and certainly far less than what our Lord endured).

I think many times Christianity is sold with the notion that it will end suffering. "Come to Jesus and have peace. Come to Jesus and have happiness and blessing." Yes. There is peace, happiness and blessing in a life lived in Christ. But the world's definition and perhaps many Christians' definition of those terms is not the same as God's. The world's idea means no suffering. Peace comes when all the circumstances are good and right and comfortable. That's not God's definition.

I submit that suffering is a big part of what it means to be human. And that the way a Christian views suffering has a lot to do with how he views the Christian life, and his purpose on earth after salvation.

Charles Hodge in his Systematic Theology, has this to say on the subject:

"If the end of redemption as well as of creation and of providence, is the production of the greatest amount of happiness, then Christianity is one thing; if the end be the glory of God, then Christianity is another thing. The whole character of our theology and religion depends on the answer to that question."
It's a question worth pondering.


Sunday, October 21, 2007

Son of Man

Recently we've been studying in our Bible lessons about the humanity of Christ. One area of indication of His humanity is found in the names He is given or gives Himself.

Jesus (Yeshua) is the name provided for his humanity, one shared by four other Israelites, including Joshua the son of Nun, who took over from Moses and led the Jews in taking the promised land.

Son of David is a title that linked Him to His ancestor David (a man) and to the royal promises that would be fulfilled by the Messiah (as a man -- a descendant of David who would sit on the throne of Israel forever).

One name in the New Testament is especially meaningful because it was the name He often gave Himself: Son of Man. This was the title that linked him to the earth, His mission and His humanity, even as it focused on his lowliness and humanity.

The Son of Man has no place to lay his head. (Mt 8:20)

The Son of Man came eating and drinking = human activity.(Mt 11:19)

This name also focused on his suffering and death. "The Son of Man must be delivered over to sinful men...and be crucified and die and rise again..." (Lk 24:7) Any focus on suffering and death has to refer to His humanity, since God can do neither.

The name "Son of Man" is used more than 80 times, and in fact, is used two times more than "Son of God" in the New Testament.

That's interesting. You'd think Jesus would be more concerned with identifying Himself as the son of God, rather than the son of man. After all, few around him had any trouble recognizing him as human and in fact, many thought that was all He was. Why would he use the term Son of Man for Himself more than Son of God?

Well one reason is because of the angels. This was such a cool revelation for me. The Bible teaches we are all a on a stage (see my article What is the Angelic Conflict under Writings on my webpage) where angels watch us and God's dealings with us. They were especially watching during the time that Jesus was on earth, and there are all sorts of references in the Bible to angelic appearances during that time.

And why not? It had to be absolutely mind blowing to them to see the God of the universe, the one they had worshiped in the throne room of heaven come down to earth and literally become a man. A being lower than themselves, a being that could be hurt, that could bleed, that had needs, that was so incredibly fragile. A being whose need for air would tie him to the dust of the earth, even if gravity did not. Mind boggling. It must have been almost impossible for them to believe He'd really done it, thus their need to hear, over and over: he really was God and man, united in one person, forever.

The fact He lowered Himself to do that, makes Him a God worth worshiping. Worth everything. It's mind boggling even for us to think about what God was willing to become and to sacrifice for the sake of people, His creatures, most of whom would want nothing to do with Him... Even so, He reached out and gave it all for us who believe and those who don't. Seen in the full context of the angelic conflict and how the human race figures in resolving it, the Incarnation is a stunning demonstration of God's love and fairness and wisdom. And, above all, His grace.


Thursday, October 18, 2007

Blog Friend Forever

One of my long time blog readers (and former frequent commenter, when I had the comment function turned on) notified me today that she had chosen my blog along with four others to receive a Blog Friend Forever Award. This award is given "to awesome BLOG owners who keep their readers excited about their posts. Their blog posts are interesting (NOT spammy) and worth reading and keep their subscribers looking forward to each and every post." Thanks so much, Michelle! . I'm honored and I appreciate the encouragement.

Michelle lives in Phoenix, and is the sister-in-law of a friend I used to homeschool with. Michelle also homeschools and has recently completed her first novel, Eldala, a fantasy/romance which she has published through Lulu.com. You can find more information about it on her blog sidebar, including early reviews and an excerpt from the book.


Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Halfway There

I've been really tired the last couple of days. And also really busy with various pursuits. Which is why there was no blog post yesterday. I see my orthopedic surgeon tomorrow -- the one month follow up. In preparation, the physical therapist measured my range of movement and we compared it to his original measurements. I've made decent progress and am about halfway there on the waving/flapping motion with my hand, and maybe not quite halfway on the twisting/rotating motion (twisting your arm so your palm faces up or down -- facing up is the hardest and the one with the least progress)

Between the visiting dog, interrupted sleep, various chores needing doing, the increased number of arm stretching sessions, errands and appointments, I haven't had more than a hour 0r so a day to focus on Box. Tomorrow doesn't look much better but I might be surprised. I'm off the skyscrapers, and have made the relevant decisions about my building. For one thing, I intend to abide by Connie Willis's advice to research and work out no more of the details of your background than you really need. I'm not writing a novel about constructing a building, after all...

The latest area of inquiry is what life is like for a postdoc (and what exactly a postdoc is) and in a research institute. Yesterday I overwhelmed myself with the vastness of my ignorance. Today I remind myself that I am not writing about life as a postdoc or in an institute, either. It's good to keep the goal before me. Also, the Lord knows exactly what I'll need to know and I'm going to trust Him to guide me in that pursuit.

To that end I started reading Michael Crichton's Next which I just picked up from the library yesterday. Already I've learned about dewars (steel thermoses you fill with liquid nitrogen to transport embryos) and cytokines, got reminded of venture capitalists and the biotech world and, having been slogging through a fairly boring biblical novel (a different one from the one I talked about a few posts ago), am quite pleased to be carried along again.

But I still think I'll be going to bed shortly after this is posted. And after I ice my arm one last time...


Monday, October 15, 2007

A Moth and a Dog

"She was delighted in seeing her plan upset by unexpected events, saying that it gave her great comfort and that she looked on such things as an assurance that God was watching over her stewardship, was securing the accomplishment of His will and working out His own designs...(whatever the obstacle or interference) she was joyfully ready to recognize the indication of God's ruling hand and to allow herself to be guided by it."

So said Elisabeth Elliot in one of her books of someone called Janet Erskine Stuart. I copied the passage into one of my little homemade books and though I liked the notions conveyed in it, I don't think I ever really understood them. Until the other day.

I've instituted a little morning routine where I do different chores each day for an hour or so, and last Friday little things kept interrupting, so that the hour stretched into two. Then as I was finally making my breakfast, I found a moth hiding under the mini blinds and spent some more time trying to kill it/get it out of the house. And I thought about how things like that moth, that you don't expect are always popping up and why is that? Why can't things just go smoothly? It seemed to me that the Holy Spirit answered, "So you'll know you're not the one in control of things."

And suddenly I saw it. Well, of course! And not only am I not the one in control, but I need constant reminders of that fact. As I've mentioned before, it's all too easy to get caught up in all the things I've got planned to do. Suddenly the schedule becomes the master and all those things take on way more importance than they should.

Today I got another lesson in that. Today the neighbors had the roofers over to remove the old shingles in preparation for putting on a new roof, and they brought their dog over to our yard while the workmen worked. Hercules is a nice dog, cute, friendly and full of energy. But there were all sorts of little interruptions, concerns, and adjustments to be made as a result of having him here. Somehow I didn't even finish my chores until after lunch. And only got in three of my arm exercise sessions. And no work on Box.

But there is now no condemnation to those who are in Christ and I refused to let myself take a guilt trip over it. Instead I thought of the moth and reminded myself that nothing really depends on me. "Faithful is He who calls you and He will also bring it to pass." Or, as Job says (23:14), "For He performs what is appointed for me, and many such decrees are with Him."

And today's events served to remind me of those facts.


Sunday, October 14, 2007

Why I Didn't Like This Book

One of the things I've noticed -- and perhaps struggled with the most -- in my experiences with today's Christian writing communities, is the strong thrust toward supporting one another and one another's works, regardless of the differences in doctrinal beliefs that might exist and the degree to which those differences are manifested in our stories. For some a difference in doctrinal belief is apparently of minor importance, rather like the difference between liking vanilla or chocolate. I've even heard some say that they don't care about theology at all, they just want to love Jesus. And the brethren. For one with that viewpoint, I can see where it would be easy to read and recommend books, movies, etc, regardless of doctrinal content.

I don't think that way, though. Doctrinal differences matter to me. Oh, I'll be the first to say that people have every right to believe what they wish to believe, and even to write stories that reflect those beliefs (indeed, if you're going to write, you should absolutely be writing about what you believe and care about!) What I have trouble with is recommending those books to others when they put forth things I consider to be against the Truth. If my heart cannot rejoice in something my mind rejects as false and wrong, how can I tell others to read it?

A case in point is a book I read recently, which I shall not name because I did not finish it and would not be able to recommend it, for reasons which I shall set forth below. In general I don't like to talk about books I haven't liked, but I thought perhaps this dissertation will shed some light on my approach.

My problems began with the book's premise -- that a man had been cloned from Christ's body using a cell found on the Shroud of Turin. My first thought was that God would never allow that to happen because it would have no meaning in His plan and would, in fact, seriously obfuscate important elements of the work and person of Jesus Christ. The whole reason for the virgin birth was so that Christ would have a human body without a sin nature. Which means his human spirit, imputed by God along with a human soul at birth, would not die on contact with a body contaminated by the sin nature passed down from a human father. He had to be spiritually alive, perfect -- sin free -- and yet, like Adam, have the will that would enable Him to sin if He chose.

If someone were to clone a body from a cell of Christ's humanity, God would still have to impute human life at the point of birth and why would He? There would be no point. God's entire intent was that we come into this world sinners, condemned from birth and in need of a savior. Breathing life into the perfect body of this clone would only be recreating Adam, and we've already been there, done that... Why would I want to read about something that would be completely pointless?

But the book is notable for its success in the field of Christian SF , so I finally decided to give it a try anyway. If story, writing and/or characters are strong enough I might overlook my doctrinal quibbles. Besides, the novel begins with an "Important Note from the Author" that says things in the book are not as they seem and we should keep reading. Okay, I thought. I'll read. The whole cloning thing could turn out to be a hoax...

Given that the main viewpoint character is an unbeliever, and that the character behind the aforementioned cloning project is also an unbeliever -- and one hostile to God -- this viewpoint seemed viable. I had serious trouble, though, when not too far into the book it was declared that the cells which were cloned had come from Christ's resurrected body. There was no way I could believe that, since resurrected bodies are not at all like regular human bodies (able to walk through walls, appear and disappear, fly, travel through space, etc,). The clone, however, did not seem to possess any of these powers, though as the book progressed, he did have some supernatural abilities...

Still working hard to suspend my very intense disbelief and lack of desire to even investigate these concepts, I persevered, holding on to that admonition at the start that things are not what they seem...

Only to run into the author's portrayal of an event which, though never referred to as such in the story itself, was obviously the Rapture. However, instead of vanishing as the Left Behind series presented it (and as I believe the Bible teaches), all the Christians dropped dead all over the world, leaving their bloated, decomposing corpses for those left behind to deal with. That's not only gross and macabre, but I don't believe God would do that with His royal family! The resurrection is a blessed hope, something we are to look forward to with eagerness and delight. Furthermore, we are to lights and blessing to the world, in life and in particularly, I think, in the finale of the Church age. To portray that moment as all of us dying physically in unison, leaving piles of dangerous, pathogenic "trash" behind, doesn't mesh with who we are in Christ nor, even more, with who God is. I thought the whole idea to be an insult to His character.

It also doesn't mesh with what Scripture has to say about the resurrection -- that it is not a physical death, but a bodily resurrection. The mortal shall take on immortality, and our bodies shall be changed in the twinkling of an eye, not left behind rotting. Jesus, the first fruits of the resurrection and the prototype for the rest of us, did not leave behind a body to rot, but was transformed, and we will be like him, caught up to meet Him in the air...

At this point I put the book down and did not read it for days. Then, since I was about halfway through, I decided yet again to set aside my objections and go on. It became clear that the clone was, indeed, not a good guy (I'm guessing the Antichrist) but now the story began to drag. There was too much political maneuvering, obvious, New Agey, demon-influenced characters, and an ever increasing list of elements that provoked my 'That's not the way it is/will be!" reflex. Also the story seemed to have become less and less about the characters, and more and more about presenting the author's view of end time events. The gradual revelation that his timeline for those events and the events themselves were not at all according to what I believe the Bible teaches was the straw that broke the camel's back.

There are many things out there to read, and not enough time to read even a small portion of them. At some point you have to make a decision as to whether you will devote any more time to a book you are deriving more moments of annoyance and disagreement from than pleasure. Thus about three quarters of the way through, I gave it up.

People who know me well would not find any of this analysis surprising. I do it with movies, too, though usually they don't have outright Christian principles they are portraying. It's in large degree why I am so picky about what I like. Sometimes that pickiness dismays me. On the other hand, I am what I am by the grace of God, and the same aspect of me that is so picky, is part of what I do when I write my own books. So I guess I'll just have to live with it.


Thursday, October 11, 2007

Blowin' in the Wind

"Your soda is sloshing in the cup. The hanging lamp over the table is swaying like a pendulum. You're beginning to feel a little seasick. Are you in a boat on rough seas? Nope, just on the top floor of a skyscraper on a windy day."

"On very windy days, the building sways...the corner columns creak and groan... and my windowpane flaps and vibrates so alarmingly that I abandon my office." -- Tenant, Sears Tower, Chicago, IL

--From Skyscrapers by Carol A. Johmann

I'd heard about the fact that skyscrapers sway a bit in the wind, but I was... ahem... blown away to read that your soda would slosh in its cup and you might actually feel as if you were at sea. Wow. The book says that skyscrapers are actually designed to sway no more than their height in feet divided by 500. Which means the taller of the two World Trade Center Towers (yes, this book was written before 9-11) could and did sway 3 feet in all directions at the top.

My building in Black Box is not going to be a skyscraper, but it is going to have an atrium and it's going to be unusual, so I needed to know if it was even possible. I think it is, and I'm glad not to have to deal with swaying in the wind -- it's only going to have ten stories. I also learned about how they have to keep water tanks on the tops of very tall skyscrapers for fire fighting, since even the longest firetruck ladders only reach about the tenth floor.

My institute is ten floors but it's out in the middle of nowhere, so it probably needs some water tanks on the upper floors, too. Which has given me an idea for a lake and a garden on the ninth... or maybe eighth floor. That should be fun. I wonder if I do that, does it mean there has to be a flood sometime in the book? ...ooh. When I put it that way, given this story's Noahic underpinnings, I suppose it's almost inevitable. But we'll see...

Have a great weekend,

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

The Ig Nobel Awards

My friend Ed Willett's science column this week covers the annual Ig Nobel awards, bestowed each fall by the editors of the Annals of Improbable Research. This year's batch of winners for the oddest topics for research projects/papers includes the one investigating the most common problems sword swallowers encounter while pursuing their ... swallowing. If you've read my Guardian-King books, you know I have a special love of swords, though I've never tried to swallow one -- nor had any desire to. It boggles the mind, though, to think that someone would consider this a worthy topic for research...

You might also find the paper about our unexpected bedfellows (winner of the 2007 Biology Ig Nobel) to be of interest. Or not...

Then there are jet-lagged hamsters, very odd suggestions for military weaponry, and, well, Ed's written about it all much more amusingly than I so I refer you to his article here.


Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Skyscrapers, Therapy and a Bird

Well, I ended up just too tired to do a post yesterday. Oh well. Today I worked on making a map for my research institute campus. I also have to decide on how the main building is constructed and do some floor plans. As I was progressing through the chapters I was jumping all over the place (Lacey's room is first in the basement, then on the third floor, then the fourth...) and I realized that if I didn't stop and take care of these details now, it was only going to get worse, probably to the point where no one would be able to find all the inconsistencies before the book went to print.

To that end I went to the library and checked out books on skyscrapers -- mostly I was looking for information about what their basements were like, but as usual I've learned lots of other interesting things that are helping me with the building design in general. I also made a campus map, using the information I've already set down in the book combined with a few borrowed features from an old map of the Biosphere2 property.

Besides that I had another physical therapy session today, during which I was given some silly putty like stuff to take home to squeeze and pinch. Since I'm having less problems with the swelling, we're getting a little more aggressive on the exercises -- bending my wrist down, then up, then rotate right and left -- and he increased my daily sessions from three times a day to five or more.

Finally, I received in an email the following link of a dancing bird. I enjoyed it so much I thought I'd share it. It was posted on another blog (for bird rescue) and is accompanied by music from the Backstreet Boys. Enjoy.



Sunday, October 07, 2007

What's Enough?

Recently in Bible Class, we had a guest speaker who challenged us to figure out what we wanted in life. He said that for fifty-two years he'd chased after money and success, and it didn't end up at all the way he thought it would. So he challenged us to make a list of what we wanted. What would be enough? But first, he said, know this: "If you decide on some number as the benchmark of success, you will always want more. It won't be enough. No matter what God gives you, it'll never be enough. You must decide what is enough for you. And it won't be a number."

That really spoke to me. I'd already realized that for years I had been looking at success in terms of X + 1 : whatever I had at the moment plus one more. A certain number of books sold would be success, a number I hadn't specified, but which was more than what I'd sold to date. And I'd seen that no matter what the number was, it would never be enough. Once that was reached, then I'd want more...

What about all my books in print? Is that success? Or maybe publishers eager to buy my next book, vigorous pre-release sales and a continuous stream of fan letters? These are all still numbers. And still nebulous at that. No matter what I'd say -- sales as good as So and So's, sales better than they were for my last book -- it would never be enough. Because it's intrinsically based on comparison, and there'd always be someone with more. I've read that authors who are getting million dollar advances get upset because their competition got a tenth of a million more on their contract. It's human nature.

What about getting on the best-seller list? I'm sure that would be fantastically thrilling the first time. But then what? If that's success, I'd want it a second time, and probably for longer than the first. And all the while, there'd always be the knowledge that someday I'd be supplanted. It's inevitable. No one stays number one forever... So...do I want to be #1 for a day? A month? Five years? My lifetime? Is that success? Is that security? No.

Security is easy. It's in the Lord. It's with the Lord. Success? I used to think it was selling a book. Having a contract. Well, all five of my books have been published, and if I had books to sell that no one wanted to buy, then by this definition of success I would feel I wasn't successful. How about awards and reviews? I've gotten four Christy awards. A Publisher's Weekly review. And yet, in my human nature and thinking, I want more reviews, more awards, more letters, more ads, more sales… Because if the first book gets a review, and the second book doesn't, then the second must not be as good as the first. There won't be as much attention paid. Sales will slip off... You failed...

What is enough?

Well, our speaker was right: it's not a number. So I go back to the original question and beyond? What do I really want? What do I think X + 1 of any of it will give me? Human viewpoint says it will give me a sense of worth and approval. But that's a lie. I will never find either on the road to success by numbers. The world promises you the favor of men -- and by that a sense of worth and approval from the accomplishment and approbation -- if you work hard or have talent or "luck," if you follow the rules. And maybe you will for a season. But take away the accomplishment and approbation, and the worth and approval goes with it, proving that none of it was genuine. I want to be confident in my worth and approvedness no matter what people say or do, whether there's success and approbation or whether there's not.

And as I write this, I realize I already have the seed. Instead of yearning for X + 1, concentrating on that, why not concentrate on truth? On what the Bible has to say about me as a believer in Jesus Christ:

I'm already approved by the only one who matters. I have great worth to Him because He gave His uniquely-born son for me. Jesus himself went to the cross willingly. For me. I have been bought with a very high price. Because of it, I have God's own righteousness and have been reborn a new creature. I'm indwelt by the Lord Jesus Christ. I am a royal priest, a royal ambassador for the God of the universe. I have a great and awesome treasure inside of me: His word and mind.

I have peace and contentment. I have an intimate relationship with the Almighty, who cares about me and my happiness more even than I do myself, who loves me as a child and friend, who made me as I am for his glory and pleasure -- to bless me.

Focus on these things and it becomes difficult to care about sales and numbers, especially when you realize you have nothing you did not receive by grace. Focus on these things, and everything else fades to unimportance. It is remembering all of these fantastic things about ourselves as believers in Christ - and living in them - that provides the only true and stable happiness in life.

Success isn't a number, it's a way of thinking. It's knowing "Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death..." It's having Him say, in the end, "Well done, thou good and faithful servant." That's success.


Thursday, October 04, 2007

Moving Forward

Today marks two weeks since I've had the cast off. My arm is still an almost constant annoyance -- aching, twinging, being weird -- and not regaining its range of motion nearly as fast as I expected, but it is improving. And my expectations, I realize now, were worthless, based as they were on my total ignorance of this rehabbing process.

But every day I can do a little bit more, and I'm content. One cool thing to come out of all this is that I now have a night time brace for my right hand and a nifty little "smart" glove with ergo beads to keep my right wrist in proper position while typing to prevent the carpal tunnel syndrome from revving up. And of course, I have the speech recognition, as well.

And I'm also making progress on Black Box. Not a lot, but I'm still feeling utterly relaxed about it, knowing that the Lord is going to see it through. I worked in some changes on Chapter 7 today, and have come to the realization that I have GOT to make some maps, so I'll probably be doing that Friday or Saturday, if I have time. I have to go in for another physical therapy session Friday afternoon, plus do my home exercises in the morning, so I can get in two sessions for the day. That's good for eating up about three hours at least...

Anyway, my hands are getting tired of typing here (speech recognition can be quite cranky and stop working for no apparent reason, which it did when I was trying to dictate this post) so I'll say good night and toddle off to ice my arm.

Have a great weekend!

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Human Celebrityship

I thought I had nothing to say about the publicity addiction post, but it turns out I do. I woke up this morning with several things on my mind related to it. The agent's observation that the blog is a way to connect with readers and let them know about your books. A comment by one of the blog readers that she always keeps in mind the "needs of my readers". The tendency for blogs to become popularity contests in the concern for getting comments and cross linkages and conversations so that your blog will end up at the top of some list somewhere.

Here's some of what the Lord's been showing me lately:
"For we are the true circumcision, who worship in the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh, although I myself might have confidence even in the flesh. If anyone else has a mind to put confidence in the flesh, I far more: circumcised the eighth day, of the nation of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the Law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to the righteousness which is in the Law, found blameless. But whatever things were gain to me, those things I have counted as loss for the sake of Christ. More than that, I count all things to be loss in the view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for (because of) whom I have suffered the loss of all things and count them dung in order that I might gain Christ…" (Philippians 3:3-8)

The upshot here is that the Apostle Paul is regarding as dung all the qualities of his person, his life and his achievements that might make him a celebrity in human eyes. And the word he uses, skubalon, does indeed refer to animal excrement. Thayer's definition is 1) any refuse, as the excrement of animals, offscourings, rubbish, dregs; 1a) of things worthless and detestable. It's a pretty strong word, and Paul uses it deliberately to communicate the depth of his revulsion for all those things. Things which, says Luke 16:15, many use to justify themselves in the sight of others; things which are highly esteemed among men, but detestable in the sight of God.

That's a hard verse and concept to get one's mind around, especially in our day when the lust for human celebrityship is running rampant -- in the writing field, as much as any other. It's even in the Christian writing field, just more cleverly masked. As people strive to get their names before the public (to establish their brand = to become famous, at least to some degree), to get their books known and out there so that sales will be good (successful in human eyes), they might even say it's not themselves they're trying to promote but God, or the message God has given them. I don't buy that anymore. I think God can promote His own message and bring us along for the ride if that's His will. (And if we have developed the capacity -- or should I say, He's developed that capacity in us, over time through the inculcation and increased application of His word.)

Years ago, my pastor, R.B. Thieme, Jr, had this to say on the subject: "The believer is responsible for the values he establishes in post-salvation experience. You'll either establish those values on the basis of the word of God or on the basis of the arrogance sins, which include inordinate ambition and inordinate competition. When you regard celebrityship (human success, fame, wealth, etc.) as dung, you are fulfilling the plan of God. If you are negative to the spiritual life, you move in your ambitions toward success or celebrityship and you get to the principle of glorification of self: 'Look what I'm doing!'"

I've had that quote in my little booklet of selected notes for years. More than ten, at least. It never meant so much as it did to me this last week, when I came to see its elements at play in my own life more clearly than I ever had before...


Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Publicity Addiction

Last summer, shortly before I broke my foot, I came across a blog post on publicity addiction. I think I was googling email addiction and publicity addiction came up along with it. I found it fascinating, thought I'd run a post of my own, and include it as a link.

Instead, I'm pretty much just going to link to it. I think a lot of what she has to say is right on, though I'd take her conclusions a step further. This summer the Lord has convicted me that my job is to write my books, to communicate truth through them and through the blog, and leave the publicizing to God. It's not my job. I know I've said this before, but it seems that even though I say it, and believe it, there are still cobwebs of unbelief that must be cleaned out. Little bits of the whole I still cling to, trying to drag out of the fallen city of Jericho and hide in my tent. Or really, in my case, not even hiding them, since I didn't realize what I was taking out. It's easier to recognize some thing you are not supposed to cling to and much harder to see the whole frame of reference that is off.

Anyway, I offer this post from an agent (I'm assuming it's Jessica Faust, cofounder) with the BookEnds, LLC — A Literary Agency blog. It's called An Intervention and it's about, well, publicity addiction. You can find it here.


Monday, October 01, 2007

3:10 to Yuma

Last weekend our Friday night movie group went out for dinner and to see the Russell Crowe/Christian Bale western remake 3:10 to Yuma (rated R for lots of violence). Was it good? Not in the cheering, uplifting, makes you feel good for a week after you've seen it kind of good. But it was... fascinating. Russell Crowe and Christian Bale are my two favorite actors and they were mesmerizing, especially Crowe. Together they had tremendous chemistry.

The whole movie was exquisitely cast and put together. The acting was amazing and you just had to keep watching. You never knew what would happen next, and you wanted very much for everything to resolve satisfactorily, though you didn't know how that could be pulled off, and not even what would be satisfactory. For me the ending was like having the rug pulled out from under me. And yet... as time has passed... it was the right ending.

I never know until the next day whether a movie is really good or not. Some turn out to be full of icky things I wish I'd never seen. Some never enter my mind again, to the point I can't even remember seeing them. Not so, 3:10 to Yuma. I couldn't get its images -- particularly scenes of Crowe -- out of my mind, all day Saturday. Scenes I responded positively to, even though he played the villain. But not until I went to bed Saturday night, and a torrent of thoughts and realizations swept through my mind, did I really understand what was going on there.

Right after the movie our group had discussed whether or not the Bale character's uprightness had softened the Crowe character and changed him at the end. We had differing views, and I was more on the side that he'd been changed. In that moment Saturday night I saw that I was wrong. Ben Wade, the train robber and killer played by Russell Crowe, was not only a sociopath, but a type of Satan. Or even the cosmic system personified.

He was attractive, likeable, intelligent, knowledgable, artistic, charming, competent, gentle and generous at times... And turned into a vicious, cold blooded, extremely efficient killer in the blink of an eye. More than that, he had no conscience. He took what he wanted and did what he wanted without regard for anyone else, and no one could stop him.What was fascinating to me was not just that all the characters in the movie were to one degree or another pulled under his spell, but that I was, too.

Only afterward did I see how much I had liked Ben Wade -- against all sense -- and therefore wanted him to be reformed. I wanted to believe he did indeed have some good in him that would eventually come out and everything work out right and good...somehow. Even though I knew very well the horrible things he'd done. Even though logic said, "These things cannot be ignored. For justice to be served he has to die..." Incredibly, my emotion obscured the logic, and my attraction to him caused me to overlook and minimize his crimes. To make them somehow justified.

After all, the first guy he killed was a traitor. And the guy he killed with the fork was extremely obnoxious... and had done his share of lawless deeds, as well. And the next one... ah, but the details aren't important here. What fascinated me was how I could be made to like something about the character so much that I would overlook obvious, even heinous elements of who he was and project positive elements of my own values upon him. In short the power of his charisma caused me to deceive myself, and turn him into something he wasn't.


And that is only one of many elements woven together throughout this picture. I love the complexity and the layers and the way so many things were interwoven. Christian Bale's character was another gold mine of reflection and discussion.

This movie provides a great illustration of how we allow ourselves to be deceived in life; of how Satan and his Cosmic system minions operate, offering things that don't deliver what they seem to promise and leave us used up and discarded...

So was it good? I'd say it was. But definitely not for the kiddos.