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Monday, August 14, 2017

M³ Our Hero Is Better than Your Hero

            We know that Odysseus is a strong leader, a great warrior, and very clever, which are all very admirable traits, especially in Greek culture. However, he’s also arrogant, destructive, intolerant, and did I mention arrogant?
            These traits make it difficult for him to be a hero to Muslim Arabs at the time when Sinbad’s story started circulating. These traits are simply incompatible with the values of the culture. Couple this with the fact that Odysseus is Greek (aka a foreigner) and it’s clear that he’s got to go and make way for Sinbad.

Friday, August 11, 2017

F³ Unbeing

            Ann went loose, letting her body twist in the wind. All she did was keep her hands tight on the rail. What was once a tempest, throwing her about became something else, something wild, but with a guiding force to it. She knew—but didn’t know how she knew—where the wind would go, and moved her body and the sail before the wind did. The sail's telltale sensors still screamed at her as they only went blue for an instant.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Islands in a Sea of Fog

            Anyone who has driven in West Texas knows that the landscape is nothing to write home about (and yet I’m doing it, anyway). It’s bleak desert occasionally broken up by flat-topped mesas, many of which have become the home of windmills.
            Most of the time, that is. Dawn, just east of Fort Stockton, Texas. The sun is a golden hemisphere struggling to break free of the horizon, promising a summer heat responsible for hammering the desert into anvil-topped mesas. But the air is not dry on this morning. Recent monsoons soaked the air, and a low fog clings to the ground. This is not the fog of San Francisco or of “pea soup” fame. It’s a veil that barely conceals, and as one gets closer, much like Salome’s enticing dance, the veils are stripped away.
            Yet the beauty in this fog is not in piercing through the veil, but in looking out across the valley, where those flat-topped mesas rise out of the fog like island oases, and fog laps at their sides, trying to swallow them. But they are too tall.

            I’m taking in all I can; the camera on my phone doing poor justice to the view as my car surges down the interstate. In a few minutes, I’ll be swallowed inside the nebula and see the fog as just a slight haze barely worth noticing. And after that, the sun will climb high enough to boil the sea away as if it never was. But the mesas remember, and the windmills remember, and I remember.

Monday, August 7, 2017

M³ A Hero of Their Own

            So, Sinbad’s 3rd is a reimagining of book 9 of The Odyssey, but the question remains, why? Why not just rewrite Odysseus as the hero they need him to be? The first part of the answer is easy. They wanted their own hero, someone from their part of the world. Greek heroes are fine and good, but they only speak to Greek culture. Sinbad is a hero of the Arab world, representing that culture. It’s only natural that they would want to tell stories of their heroes instead of relating what the Greeks did.
            This is not a new idea, either. The Romans readily assimilated Greek mythology with their conquest, making Heracles into Hercules and Odysseus into Ulysses, but they also had their own hero Aeneas who also copied and piggy-backed off of The Odyssey (at some point I may even go through the Aeneid).
            Part of the reason for Sinbad is to give the Arab world their own cultural hero in the same vein of Odysseus. Many cultures feature some type of wandering heroes. Sinbad’s 3rd Voyage copies more closely than others, but it’s still valid to establish Sinbad as the hero of his culture.
            The culture also dictated why it couldn’t be Odysseus, but more on that later.

Friday, August 4, 2017

F³ Wind's Mercy

The board bucked underneath Ann’s feet, while the sail jerked, almost beyond her control. The idea that she, using simple human strength, could control a sail caught up in a dark energy wind that propelled a ship at 1.1 light years per hour was ludicrous. It was beyond insanity. None of the math would ever work out, but then she hadn’t tried.
At first Ann fought for control, but the futility quickly became apparent. She and the board tumbled in front of Calypso, though the ship was gradually gaining on them. Flynn kept the sails trimmed so there was no spill, while Ann was tossed like a leaf in a tempest.
Procedures for how to trim sails flew through her head. The readouts on her HUD flashed information from the board’s telltales. Numbers and alerts cascaded, flashing from blue to white to yellow to red before going back along the spectrum.
“Ann,” Lita’s voice sounded in her helmet, “your pulse and blood pressure are jumping. Blood oxygen saturation is dropping. You’re coming close to hyperventilating.”
The sail jerked again, her left hand slipping free.
Flare it!
She couldn’t see her hand, nor could she see the rail on the sail. All she had as a reference was where her body knew her other hand was. She flailed blindly, a sense of panic rising up as her right hand ached from its death grip on the rail. Several times her hand glanced off, but she was never able to grab it.
“Ann, your vitals are spiking again.” Lita’s voice took on worry.
Flaring thing!
“Ann!” Panic welled in that voice.
“Flynn!” Lita was now on the ship-wide comms. “Ann is not responding. You have to bring her in.”
Flynn’s voice cut in. “Stay calm, Doctor. Ann, we’ve got telemetry and know your comms are active. Call it.”
She said nothing as she continued to flail. Fingertips hit something, and she grabbed reflexively.
“XO,” Lita came over again. “You have to reel her in. She’ll go into a panic attack soon.”
“Got it!” Ann yelled.
Despite the assurance, the sail kept fighting her, and she was amazed her feet hadn’t torn free from the board. Dully, she could feel her whole-body ache from every muscle exerting to try and control the board.
Just . . . stop! Stop fighting it. Stop thinking. The wind can’t be thought out. Stop being. Feel the wind. Surrender control to the wind’s mercy.

Monday, July 31, 2017

M³ Sinbad: Odyssey Redux

            With Odysseus’s adventure with Polyphemus out of the way, we’re wide open for something really interesting. We’ll segue into Sinbad the Sailor, who is famous for having his own adventures. We’ll skip his first and second voyages, going straight for the third. Why? Simple, we know this story. If you don’t have your own copy of the 1 Nights, you can read Sinbad’s third here.
            Sinbad’s third adventure finds him restless, as usual, and soon shipwrecked, also as usual, on an island. This island is home to an evil giant that will eat the crew. It is up to Sinbad to come up with a cunning plan to blind the giant using to spears after heating them—
            Wait! Come back! No, really, this is the story, and, yes, I know it’s a direct plagiarism of The Odyssey. If this were modern day and Homer were alive, he would be suing . . . well, we don’t know who wrote Sinbad—they weren’t even part of the original Arabian Nights—but Homer would sue somebody.

Friday, July 28, 2017

F³ Final Checks

            Ann and Kimball arrived at the kite hatch. The kite was just a large sail to be deployed when they sailed at a run, or as an emergency sail for the cockpit if the rest of the ship was lost. Ann and Hank had carefully replaced the kite while in the last system, putting in her windsurfing board and sails.
            “We’re at the hatch,” Kimball relayed.
            “Copy,” Flynn said. “opening the hatch.”
            Ann felt the hatch lift under her gloves, and she reached in to grab the hand bar on her mast. It was a single, triangular sail set on a pivot inserted into a board. Everything was made from sailcloth, which caught the wind. Already she could feel the wind threatening to tear the sail and board from her grasp. Only the anchoring line to the ship kept it from flying out into the stars.

Monday, July 24, 2017

M³ Mind Over Might

            The enduring lesson of book 9 is hard to miss: brains over brawn. Yet the pattern for Greek heroes have not emphasized this. Perseus, Theseus, Hercules, Achilles, Agamemnon, and others too numerous to list have all possessed intelligence, but it’s been subsumed behind their battle prowess. Like most fighters in Dungeons & Dragons campaigns, they take up their big-ass swords and proceed to execute their problems.

Friday, July 21, 2017

F³ Tethered

            Ann climbed out of the airlock awkwardly, the mass of the umbilical and extra burden to be accounted for. The first was a tether to the ship, made of thick, strong titanium that was more than secure. The second was a dataline, feeding her HUD with images from the ship’s sensors, relating her position on the ship’s hull, her vital signs, and other minutiae. She needed it since she couldn’t see, at all.
            According to the HUD, they were already sailing at a paltry 11 knots. The sails were full, with no luff to them, but they sailed at a close haul, quite nearly in irons—which would be directly into the wind.
            Flynn’s is starting me off with training wings. Fine, I guess.

Monday, July 17, 2017

M³ Prophesied Fate

            On escape from the cave, Odysseus takes his men and the sheep they escaped with back to his ship, but he doesn’t just leave. That would be too easy. Instead, he starts taunting Polyphemus who is surprisingly good at echo-location and hurls boulders at the departing ship. These hit so closely that the waves threaten to drive the ship back to the island. Odysseus’s men are so freaked that they beg him to stop taunting Polyphemus.
            Odysseus refuses.

Friday, July 14, 2017

F3 Aftermath

            As was typical after a lecture, students came up to ask questions. Usually it was a bare handful, most wanting to know about mundane issues like registration, the syllabus or the online learning management system of the university. And as soon as she answered one of those, the others filed out, having gotten their answer.
            This time, though, many stuck around for something more substantive. One student asked her, “What do you propose we do about Confederate Flags and monuments to Lee?” From her accent, it was clear she was from a Southern state.

Monday, July 10, 2017

M3 Insight to The Problem

            When we last left our heroes, they were trapped in a cave with the dreaded cyclops, Polyphemus! The barbaric giant vowed to feast upon all, including the great Odysseus. Can they escape the peril? Can they hope to defeat such a giant? Can I drop the lame announcer voice?
            Yes. Yes, to all three. The only one of those that was actually a question was the last. There really are no spoilers when it comes to a story recorded over 2,500 years ago.

Friday, July 7, 2017

F3 Carols

            Everywhere the stage was littered with fallen sheet music for the Christmas program. I glanced to the two men keeping me on my feet, and whispered. “Sing.”
            “What?” the man on the left looked at me as if I had gone insane.
            I probably am.

Monday, July 3, 2017

M3 What's in A Name?

            One of the more famous parts of the story between Odysseus and Polyphemus is that of the name Odysseus gives the cyclops. This is famously translated as “No man, No one, or Nobody. These are all correct, and the cleverness of this answer comes through, but also paints Polyphemus as a bit a moron. Certainly, he’s not the sharpest knife in the drawer, but the translation doesn’t do anyone any justice.

Friday, June 30, 2017

F3 Things Look Bad for Our Hero

Looking Bad for Our Hero

            “What are we going to do with them, Bruce?” One of the teens called out to the leader.
            “You freaking butthole! Don’t say my name!” Bruce, the one with the barbed wire bat said.
            Bruce is evidently in charge, which is not a good sign. He seems like he’s going to start popping people with that bat. If someone did get 911 off before tossing the phones, the cops will have a hostage situation, and I’m guessing that the demon in him is going to go down the collateral damage route rather than let people go.
            “You freakers are just some little witches for this holiday crap, aren’t you? Well it ain’t gonna happen.” He held up the plastic Jesus, tossing it high in the air and whacking it with his bat. He didn’t connect very well, so it glanced off and ricocheted into the rows of seats.
            His fellows jeered at that, while the group cringed, seeing their own fate. The one teen who spoke up earlier, pointed at the rest of us.
            “Look at ‘em. They’re pissing their pants.”
            “They should.” Bruce said. “Pinky, get the gear. We’re gonna show ‘em what to be afraid of.”
            No one moved or responded.
            “Pinky!” Bruce whirled on the guy at stage right.
            “Wait, I’m Pinky? When did we decide that?”
            “When you wore that freaking pink shirt, Gary!” Another laughed.
            “Freakers, shut up with the names!” Bruce said. “Just go get the gear. We’re going to show ‘em.”
            “Sure thing, Bruce, er, sorry.”
            “Freak me sideways!”
            Gear could only be summoning supplies. I don’t think these guys have the mojo to bring in anything really powerful, but there are different ways of summoning. Whatever is in them is dangerous, and they might try and possess other people. Gotta do something.
            I didn’t have the proper weapons on me, and I was in no condition to fight, anyway. Plus there were too many innocent people around. I started scanning my surroundings, looking for something to use, something to neutralize these teens when I heard a whimper from my knee.
            A little girl clutched her mother, arms wrapping around the woman’s legs. The mother tried her best to comfort and shush the girl. The girl, maybe eight, was a breath away from full on sobbing. I caught her eye for a bare instant before it disappeared back into her mother’s skirt, but that look pleaded with me to help, somehow.
            I scanned the faces of other people, and most of the adults tried to look brave, but I could see the worry in shifted feet and nervous fidgeting. Here and there other children glanced back, shielded by their parents.
            I looked down, sighing heavily, and I saw the answer.

            “Dun dun dun!” Jessie said.
            “Jessica!” Nikki snapped. “It’s bad enough I have to deal with his constant interruptions.”
            “Sorry,” she said, but it was clear she wasn’t sorry.
            “This is your bad influence,” Nikki glared at me. “I know you have corrupted poor Jennifer, but did you have to spread it to another innocent?”
            “No. Just, no.” I pointed a finger at myself. “Nice guy, I’m on the list and have the hat to prove it.” I pointed at her. “You, bloodsucking vampire, AKA corruptive influence. The bad habits Jen has picked up from you—”
            “Are not infuriating when it comes to telling stories.”
            My mouth was open to continue pressing the attack, but I closed it. “Okay, you may have a point there. Hammett and Chandler I’m not, but I’m not selling fiction. This happened. Now, I’m almost done, so let’s get back to it.

Monday, June 26, 2017

M3 Civilization Fail

            With the gods not present on the island of the Cyclopes, it’s no surprise that the law of the gods really holds no sway over them. Specifically, we’re talking about the law of hospitality, for “Zeus is the avenger of suppliants and strangers—Zeus, the strangers' god—who ever attends upon reverend strangers” (line 271). This a big deal. We’re not talking about some minor deity being in charge of strangers. Zeus, king of the gods. The head honcho, the big cheese himself. The language, too, is strong. Avenger is no word to be tossed about lightly, and the same is true for reverend. These mean that strangers, travelers, have a sacred position within Greek society, and to do wrong by them is to invite the wrath of Zeus.
            But the Cyclopes are far from Greek society, “for the Cyclopes reck[on] not of Zeus, who bears the aegis, nor of the blessed gods, since verily we are better far than they” (276). We already established that the Greek gods are not omniscient, and now we have the Cyclopes whothink they are superior, and is not willing to follow the law of Zeus regarding strangers. The Greeks divided the world into those who “are cruel, and wild, and unjust, or whether they love strangers and fear the gods in their thoughts” (176).  We take this even further, and the cyclopes all live in caves and subsist only by their flocks. They do not cultivate the land in any way, nor do they build. Their living is very primitive. In short, the Cyclopes are barbarians. By every measurement the Greeks have, the Cyclopes are a tribal people, not much above monsters (if that).
This is very bad news for Odysseus and his men, who are about to become dinner. The only measure towards civilization and mercy—in Polyphemus’s eyes—is that he will eat Odysseus last. Not exactly a good host. How will our hero escape this peril? Tune in next week for “What’s in a Name?”

Friday, June 23, 2017

F3 The Climax

            “Shut the freak up!” one of the demon teens screamed—

            “Okay, now what is it?” I asked.
            “Freak?” Nikki arched an eyebrow.
            “Yeah, Boss,” Jessie added. “Even I don’t buy that one.”
            “Well, yeah,” I said, “but you both know how I am about swearing.”
            “I believe you take issue with blaspheming more than simple cursing,” Nikki explained.
            “Just because I don’t take religious issue with other forms of cursing doesn’t mean I approve of it. It’s not like dropping the F-bomb is going to add to the story in this case. You know what he’s really saying.”
            “It’s still kind of weak, Boss,” Jessie said.
            “Okay, I am not going to sit here and drop bombs for the next twenty minutes as I tell this story.”
            Jessie held up her hands defensively, then gave me a ‘just yanking your chain’ grin.
            Nikki gave a slight shake of her head. “Very well, carry on.”

            “Shut the freak up!” one of the demon teens screamed through the community center. I couldn’t tell which one, but he was clearly angry, but then most teens were.
            “We mean freaking business!” yelled another one from what sounded like the other side of the stage.
            “We’re not freaking leaving until we get what we freaking want!” chimed in a third, from the front of the stage.
            I sat up, trying to see through the sea of legs for their location, but fortunately two people helped me and held me up, my ankle still too tender for any kind of weight. I was afraid I would see guns in their hands, but was only slightly relieved they had baseball bats. One had gone the extra step to wrap barbed wire around his bat. It was enough of a threat to cow the entire group, especially with so many kids in the room.
            “We weren’t going to take it this far, but now, we’re going to freak all of this up!” barbed bat said. He was tall and stocky with menace in his voice and a tattoo of a skull on his neck. He wore a tank top that showed off muscled arms and torso. He looked as built as a linebacker, and there was no way that people wouldn’t get hurt if they tangled with him.
            Especially me.
            “Call the cops,” I whispered to the men holding me up.
            “Before any of you idiots get any stupid ideas about calling the police,” barbed bat continued, “throw all your phones off the front of the stage.” Some people hesitated. “Every person I catch with a phone is going to get my freaking bat shoved up their freaking rear!”
Cell phones sailed through the air, landing in the first rows of seats. I added mine to the mix.
Not like the cops will get here any time soon, and I don’t want to provoke these guys more than necessary. Guess I’ll have devise something clever to get us all out of this. Good thing I’m Matt Allen, genius detective—

“Matthew!” Nikki slapped a palm on my desk.
“Geez, you really know how to kill a story,” I said. “Fine, I’ll tell the version where the hero—and that is me—is more or less real. It’s not as fun, though.”
Jessie unsuccessfully tried to stifle a laugh.

Monday, June 19, 2017

M3 Limits of Greek Godhood

            Ahh, The Odyssey, one of my favorite books of mythology. I think I like it because it’s got these great episodes throughout the book, much like a nice tv show. “Join us next time as Odysseus deal with Circe the Witch!”
            And while at some later date I will go through the entire book analyzing each adventure, that is not today. Today we start in the middle, with Book 9 (or IX if you’re a fan of Roman Numerals like me) where Odysseus faces off against the dreaded Cyclopes!
            Why in the middle? Well, for lots of reasons, first and foremost is that because Odysseus’s adventures are mostly episodic, we don’t lose out on anything by starting in the middle. The next big reason is that it has to do with some of the same stuff we talked about with Abraham recently. Third, this story in particular is essential for understanding another myth, which we’ll dive into after this one.
            So, Odysseus and his men sail to the island of the Cyclopes (but there’s no sign or anything announcing this). Odysseus, despite the protests of his men, loads up some wine, and heads inland to see if he can find some signs of civilization (spoiler alert, he doesn’t). Instead he finds a cave stocked with cheeses in various stages.
            Again, the men are not happy. They want to abscond (yes, that’s the word I’m choosing here) with the cheese and make sail for home. Odysseus, however, insists that they stay because it would be inhospitable to steal.
            Enter the Cyclops Polyphemus, erstwhile son of Poseidon, who leads in his sheep and promptly seals the cave entrance with a mighty boulder. I must also point out that these sheep are scaled to size for Polyphemus as well. These are not little lambs.
            So, Polyphemus proceeds to do the “Fe Fi Fo Fum” thing and . . . wait, wrong story. It’s similar enough, but we’ll get into that another time. The big P isn’t happy that Odysseus and his men are in his pad, so he proceeds to question them. Odysseus tells him that they’re just looking for hospitality, (citing his devotion to Zeus and how Zeus is the god of Strangers) and that they brought gifts of wine for Polyphemus.
Polyphemus isn’t happy about this, and proceeds to do the most inhospitable thing one can do, smash a couple of sailors heads against the cave wall, chop them up, and eat them (not raw, nicely roasted over a fire).
See, Polyphemus really doesn’t care about the gods, he actually believes that the Cyclopes are greater and more powerful than the gods, so there’s no reason to honor or reverence them. Such irreverence—maybe to the point of outright blasphemy—doesn’t have immediate repercussions for him, either, and the Greek gods are not exactly shy about punishing hubris.
So why aren’t they punished by Zeus and his ilk. Why are there not thunderbolts and transformations aplenty, here? Well, we have to talk about omniscience. The Greek gods ain’t got it. Not by a long shot. If someone is out of earshot, out of sight, or otherwise beyond the senses of the gods, they don’t know about it. Artemis didn’t know about Actaeon's presence until he got too close, nor did she know her father had disguised himself as one of her own nymphs. Hera knew about many of Zeus’s affairs, but not all of them, and the list goes on.
The gods don’t appear to be present on the island of the Cyclopes at all. There is no devotion to the gods save for that brought to the island by Odysseus and his men. The Greek gods are also fiercely territorial, and none of them has any following from this island. None of the gods resides here, most probably because there are no humans here (which is easy to understand since Polyphemus is dining on them).
It’s the natural limit of polytheism. Since there are many gods, each with their own particular specializations, their own domains, none can ever rise up to the level of omniscience. In this respect, they are much more human than God in the Old Testament. Their limits make them more relatable, and also give them flaws with which humans can more readily identify with.
But just because Zeus didn’t hear of this disrespect at the moment does not mean that there is complete unawareness as to the kinds of beings the Cyclopes are. Stay tuned.

Friday, June 16, 2017

F3 Historical Enquiry

            (This has been inspired by recent events. I figured rather than writing an essay explaining my feelings, I’d use this.)

            Alex surveyed the lecture hall, jam-packed on the first day of class. Visiting professors almost never got this kind of enrollment from students, but, thanks to the internet, her reputation preceded her.
            “Well, now,” she said, adjusting the position of her headset microphone. “The last time I checked only history majors required this course, and my roster shows that nearly half of the students in here have different majors. I assume that means you came for the, shall we say, ‘other projects’?”
            A murmur of laughter swept through the room.
            “I thought so. Well, anyway, Welcome to Historical Enquiry. Even if it doesn’t fit into your major, you’ll get some upper division elective credits. I try to make these lectures as interactive as I can, even if there are three hundred of you. So, how many of you, by show of hands, attended or watched a video of the special lecture about Robert E. Lee?”
            More hands went up than did not, which made Alex smile.
            “Well, then, does anyone have a question? Feel free to shout it out. I promise I won’t be able to identify and embarrass you in a crowd this big.”
            A low rumble of shifting and whisper followed, as was typical in any undergrad class, but then, someone got the courage up. “Most historians disagree with your theories about Lee purposefully losing at Gettysburg, that he was a staunch slave owner and not an abolitionist at all. How do you justify going against established facts?”
            The voice was male, and came from somewhere on her right, with an echo-y quality that made Alex think it was about halfway back.
            “That’s a good question. Most of my evidence comes from Lee’s strategies and his general sentiment towards the United States, but I have to take this to abstraction, first. You see, the history you were all taught—as far back as elementary school—was wrong.
            “I need to qualify this. As an example, let’s examine abolitionists and slavery during this period. It’s true that Lee was no abolitionist as you have come to know the word, but then I’m willing to bet no one in this room truly understands what the abolitionists were.
            “Of course, there were those that regard the word as we do today, wanting slaves to be freed and receive the same rights and privileges as whites. Sadly, those were considered zealots of the movement, taking things to the extreme. They were even called, ‘ultra-abolitionists,’ led largely by the Quakers and men like William Lloyd Garrison. This kind of thinking was not what most who called themselves abolitionists meant.”
            She began walking across the stage, deliberately walking away from the podium. Using her small tablet, she called up slides from one of dozens of prepared presentations and sent one to the room’s projector.
            “The literature majors in the room—and there are few of you—will most likely recognize this man as Walt Whitman, poet of the mid-nineteenth century. His famous book Leaves of Grass point that he was against the institution of slavery, and so, an abolitionist. But do you know that he was also an editor for The Brooklyn Daily Eagle? He frequently availed himself by writing editorials dealing with political topics.”
            She clicked over to the next slide, bringing up one of the quotes she had memorized. “In the September 1st, 1847 edition, page 2, he wrote ‘The truth is that all practice and theory . . . are strongly arrayed in favor of limiting slavery to where it already exists. For this the clear eyes of Washington looked longingly; for this the great voice of Jefferson plead, his sacred fingers wrote; for this were uttered the prayers of Franklin and Madison and Monroe.’ From these words, it would be easy to conclude that the man is a staunch abolitionist, working as hard as possible to stop the extension and progress of slavery to new states, possibly—many would hope—to lead to the practice’s extinction.”
            A murmur of agreement ran through the hall. Alex caught sight of a knot of students nodding their heads in a knowing fashion; most likely a knot of literature students clustering together for protection.
            “However,” Alex held up an admonishing finger, waggling it to caution everyone. “However, this is only part of the story. Earlier, in the same editorial,” Alex clicked to the next slide, “Whitman explains that ‘Slavery is a good thing enough, (viewed partially,) to the rich—the one out of thousands; but it is destructive to the dignity and independence of all who work, and to labor itself. An honest poor mechanic, in a slave state, is put on a par with the negro slave mechanic—there being many of the latter, who are hired out by their owners.’
            “Here we see that Whitman is not concerned with the moral plight of slaves, that it is wrong for one man to own another. Instead, he is concerned about ‘the influence of the institution of slavery is to bring the dignity of labor down to the level of slavery, which, God knows! is low enough.’
            “And while he clearly equates negroes and slavery with the lowest levels, he feels quite strongly about ‘the indomitable energy of the Anglo-Saxon character.’ So, yes, while he does want the practice of slaver ended, it’s not because it’s immoral, but because it hampers the economic development of lower-class whites.”
            The sound—as Alex liked to think of it—of epiphany rippled through the room.
            “Whitman was not alone as an abolitionist who didn’t care about granting rights to slaves. There is John O’Sullivan, who is responsible for the phrase ‘manifest destiny’ in his article ‘Annexation.’” Alex clicked to the next slide, showing the cover for United States Magazine and Democratic Review.
“He believed in ‘the eventual voluntary abolition of slavery,’ as simply a matter of course. However, he also wanted the ‘ultimate disappearance of the negro race from [U.S.] borders.’
“In fact, many Americans desired not just the end of slavery but for those slaves to leave the country, so much so that the American Colonization Society was founded in 1816 to establish Liberia, specifically for former slaves to emigrate from America. But the number of slaves far outnumbered what this small colony could hold, which is why O’Sullivan proposed ‘The Spanish-Indian-American populations of Mexico, Central America and South America, afford the only receptacle capable of absorbing that race [negroes] whenever we shall be prepared to slough it off.’
Alex paused a few seconds to let that sink in. “Whitman and O’Sullivan are not alone. I could go on, easily, dredging up articles and editorials from dozens of publications, not to mention what we would find in actual Congressional records on the matter.” She brought up a new slide listing the names of authors, editors, lawyers, judges, and politicians who published their thoughts.
“And these are only the written records we have. What about the illiterate and uneducated masses who voiced their opinions in local taverns and by their election of these officials to represent their sentiments?”
She brought up another slide, a giant question mark, meant as a time for students to ask questions, but she repurposed it on the fly. “The question, now, is, what is the history? The version you know from school or what I have just revealed to you? History as you have been taught it bears the immutable concreteness of carvings in stone. It is presented as permanent and irrevocable. It is also shallow and conceals the marble within.
“We are facing controversies now where many seek to tear down Civil War monuments that take up the side of the Confederacy. Tear down Lee and Davis; tear down the Confederate Flag. These are history’s losers, who were bigoted and not worth our remembrance.
“In doing so, it’s a glorification of the Union and their staunch support of antislavery and civil rights for African Americans, but as we have just seen, that is an inflated and romanticized version. It’s long been stated that history is written by the victor, and is often the case. Many civilizations would even attempt to erase the history of dissenting parties, seeking to eradicate the ideas they represent by banishing the legacy. Frequently, they are successful. But of course, history will repeat itself. The only guard against that repetition is to learn from the lessons of history.”
She brought up a slide showing the Mission Statement of US Holocaust Museum.
“We need reminders of dark times. We need to face that which makes us uncomfortable; denying and changing history to suit our sensibilities will only allow that history to repeat. We must keep our discomfort alive to remind us to keep changing.
“And I suppose I should finally get around to giving a more direct—roundaboutly, anyway—answer to the original question. I’m glad so many of my colleagues disagree with me. I want them to question my sources. I want them to examine Lee’s tactics, the words of his generals, and the man after the war the same as I did. I want them working hard to look for cracks to prove me wrong. Dissenting opinions regarding history are good. We must examine everything. We must advance ideas which are contrary to the established belief. Only by doing so can we chisel away at the unnecessary concrete to get at what is real underneath. Sometimes I am wrong. I admit it, but that is no reason for me to stop advancing new ideas. And I do so by the process of Historical Enquiry.
“The study of history involves looking at all sources, in delving into all records to try and shine a light on the past, but in addition to looking at records, writings, and remnants, we must look at what we don’t have. What has not been said that we would expect? An omission can be just as telling as what’s been recorded. We must consider the tapestry of history as a whole to look for inconsistencies in the warp and weft.”
She brought up section of tapestry where the threads were reversed over one another in one particular section, making a slight distortion to the overall picture. “Inconsistencies are rarely mistakes, aberrations to be ignored; they reveal something more, a larger narrative and truth to themselves.”
The tapestry zoomed back to reveal the whole picture, the Bayeux Tapestry, and several spots of inconsistency appeared, but also formed a pattern, that of a five-pointed star.
“We must look to the whole to understand the individual points of inconsistency. This thing I call Historical Enquiry is disjointed at best, more usually maddeningly frustrating as the patterns refuse to identify themselves. It is only by advancing unpopular and irreverent theories that we can hope to make sense of them.”
Using a blue laser, she traced the outline, and there were some gasps. “Don’t get too excited,” she cautioned. “I Photoshopped that in there to illustrate my point. If finding patterns was as easy as that, my job would be considerably easier.”
That drew some laughs, and Alex let it continue before moving on, and taking on a more somber tone. “The greatest tragedy, when it comes to history, is that one version is advanced as the version of history, a version which has such popular support as to become not just concrete, but forever enshrined in marble mausoleums. The study of history needs to be alive, not just because history is constantly being created, but because we must continue to uncover what that history actually is.
“When I see the current controversy regarding Confederate monuments, I’m saddened at the very idea. We sit in judgement from what we believe is a lofty, superior position without true understanding. History is not democratic; the number of ‘likes’ ‘retweets’ or comments it receives does not make it the most valid. That is the way of tyranny. History must have informed discussion, and be motivated by curiosity. We truly enquire when don’t know answers, not when we are sure of them. But we have poured the concrete and let it set in the shape we wish it to be. We create and elevate one faction while disparaging another. History is complex, and the reduction of it to popular, concrete sentiments is as damaging—if not more—as erasing and ignoring it.
“We must reveal, rather than conceal or obscure, our history, for only through such revelation can we truly know and understand history. The naming of dates and places is not history. The story, the full tapestry is what teaches us not just about the fact of the events, but the motivations and historical forces at work. To study the Civil War is to study what happened before and after. Stretch it back even beyond the earliest colonization to the roots of institutions of slavery among ancient peoples. Then carry it forward to the present day and see that sentiments are still present, that we, as a people, have not changed as much as we claim to have.”
Alex checked the time, seeing that the class was nearly over, the entire time spent on that one question. Only some of the students also checked the time, and fewer still started packing up their bags. “Well, I believe I answered that question in far more depth and roundabout detail than even I anticipated. I usually save this lecture for my grad students. I’ll have to come up with new material so they get their money’s worth.”
A ripple of laughter went through the hall, but Alex picked out several faces who were deep in thought, their brows wrinkled or fingers rubbing at temples as if to lend extra power to mental mechanisms.
“I had hoped to launch a discussion about what our first special project should be, but let me ask instead, who would be interested in pursuing the ideas of the Civil War and slavery?”
Hands shot up across the room, such an overwhelming majority that those who didn’t raise their hands looked mildly confused at those who did.
“Very well. I’ll generate some ideas for us to decide on for next class. Class dismissed.”

            (It’s long, I know, but I wanted to give a complete stance on this subject. For those interested, you can read Whitman’s editorial via https://www.newspapers.com/image/50252625/
            For O’Sullivan, you can read “Annexation” here: https://pdcrodas.webs.ull.es/anglo/OSullivanAnnexation.pdf )

Monday, June 12, 2017

M3 Hard to Be The King

            So now we know what kind of sacrifices Abraham was going to make, how monumental this would be to his life in every single way, and yet he still went through with it. But, of course, Isaac’s life is spared at the last moment thanks to an angel telling Abraham to stop. It’s a good thing that said angel did not get stuck in traffic.
            Of course we come to the crucial question regarding this entire story: why? What’s the point of it. We’re told by the angel that it was to “know that [Abraham] fears God,” but that doesn’t really make sense, does it? This, if anything, raises a more pressing question, which we’ve touched on before, but is still very poignant: Is God omniscient?
            Right, both this story and Adam & Eve’s fall point to an answer that says, no, he’s not omniscient. He had to ask where Adam and Eve were, and he had to test Abraham’s faith. So, if we take this literally, it implies that God does not know all and see all.
            But we must also take other things into consideration. First, God created the cosmos as evidenced by Genesis Chapter 1. Moreover, this took considerable planning and know-how, mostly because He knew what order the creation had to happen in. (This isn’t Brahma fumbling through creation haphazardly.) So we know God is intelligent and ordered, but we need to be able to prove that God is not omniscient to proceed.
            With regards to Adam and Eve, we can either take this literally or we can look at this as God as a parent (as we did when we looked at this chapter). Since God is about the spoken word, he has given them a chance to tell the truth, an idea he repeated with Cain. We also have to look at this in terms of simple deduction. When you’re a parent and you have one kid, and the cookie jar is broken, you know who did it. Adam and Eve don’t exactly have a lot of options for who to blame, but they do immediately spread it to the serpent as well.
            With Abraham we’re a little more confused. If God knows what Abraham would do because of omniscience (or even simple deduction) why go through with it? What’s the point if God already knows what Abraham is going to do? Moreover, isn’t this out of order? Shouldn’t God be testing Abraham’s faith prior to making a covenant with him?
            We already know that there was an instance where God tested Abraham, though not quite to this extent, and God found him worthy to receive the covenant, so this should be completely redundant.
            So what gives?
            I think we can be reasonably assured that God can figure out what Abraham’s faith was. This is not exactly rocket science. God has been able to watch Abraham for, well, all of his life, so he’s got a good grasp on what Abraham is going to do at any given time. So, again, what gives? Why go through this?
            If the test is not for God’s assurance, it must be for someone else’s. Isaac is a possibility. He needs to see the level of devotion that his father has for God and the covenant, that this truly means everything, not just to Abraham, but Isaac, too. After all, Isaac will have to carry the covenant forward.
            But he is just a kid, and chances are that his attention was elsewhere instead of pondering the life lessons God wanted to teach him. This just leaves Abraham.
            So why is important that Abraham go through this? First is the obvious, that he needed to know his own level of faith. Many interpretations of the story point out this as a definite part of the story, and I agree with it. Abraham needed to know how much he trusted God, but this probably isn’t the main reason. Abraham and God have enough history that this was always in the background. Abraham had proven that he trusted God in numerous instances, this would just be a matter of degrees, but it’s still largely redundant.
            However, there is something else that Abraham needed to learn, and that was what it was like to be a king. God has promised him that he will father nations, that the chosen people will come through his descendants. And while I dearly love Mel Brooks as Louis, it really is not “Good to be the king.” The king must make the hard call, choosing for the benefit of the entire population instead of just what the king would like. The sacrifice of Isaac is about learning to make the touch choice, that kings will make choices that make them unhappy, that some choices have no happy ending. Abraham was fortunate this time around as God stepped in to give Abraham the best possible outcome. Had he not, Abraham would have had to live with the choice he had made, accepting all of the consequences with it.
            This is a lesson of kings and command, to choose who lives and who dies. Abraham experienced this on a small-scale when he negotiated the lives of Sodom and Gomorrah, but now it’s been made personal, and it’s not a lesson he’ll forget soon. He’ll also pass it down to his descendants so that they know how to govern, as well.

Friday, June 9, 2017

F3 Refuge

            I bolted, still with the plastic Jesus under my arm. I didn’t immediately hear any car doors open or shut, so I must’ve surprised them by jumping out of the car. My brother Paul had been the track star, not me, and while I was still in decent shape, I was not a demonically-fueled teenager. They would catch me unless I went all-out.
            I sucked air in and out, pumping my arms as hard as I could and lengthening my stride to eat as much pavement as possible. The community center closed into view. I approached it from the side, my eyes fixed on the door that I prayed someone had the sense to unlock just in case a detective being pursued by demonically-possessed teenagers needed to use it.
            I pushed down on the lever and pulled hard. It flew open so fast I staggered back a step, but then I surged forward. I felt a moment of triumph as I went inside, confident that had won the foot race. The inside of the door was lit, and I could see ropes and curtains. I was back stage, and could hear the rehearsal of the Christmas program as someone announced over a microphone,
            “And there was no room in the inn. . . .”
            Perfect timing. I can walk in with Baby Jesus right on cue. I’ll need that long before I can stand upright.
            I hunched over, struggling to breathe, and my muscles felt like jelly. My lungs rasped and my vision wobbled in time to my heartbeat, a fact which intrigued and disturbed me at the same time. After a few moments, I managed to get my breathing under control, and took halting steps to where I could walk onto the stage, peering at the gathered people. The Nativity took up the far side of the stage, and the choir, mostly youths, filled in the side closest to me. My chest still burned, but I made myself stand upright, trying to figure out when best to walk onto the stage.
            Hands seized me from behind, and then I was sailing through the air. I landed hard on my right foot, which buckled underneath me, and I yelled out in pain. First the ankle, protested, then my knees and shoulder as I tumbled raggedly onto the stage before ending in a slide. I halted up against some of the choir, taking note of one man’s argyle socks above his boat shoes.
            More hands came around me and helped me to my feet, but I promptly fell down again when my ankle refused to support me. A general murmur of confusion passed through everyone there until microphone feedback silenced everyone.
            “Pathetic fools!—”

            “What’s with that look?” I asked.
            Nikki glared daggers at me. “You’re lying,” she said flatly.
            Jessie’s eyes darted back and forth between us, but she didn’t say anything.
            “There is no way that your attackers were that cliched,” Nikki finished.
            “Come on, this is standard villain dialogue. There have been whole books written on this. It’s practically mandatory.”
            “The truth, Matthew.” Her foot bounced more quickly, a sign of her extended irritation.
            “It’s not anywhere near as entertaining. Let me tell you, angsty teenagers really don’t sound good when delivering threats.
            “I prefer this to be an accurate story rather than a colorful one.”
            “Right, okay. You asked for it. Keep in mind this was a while ago, and I don’t remember every little thing they said, okay?”
            “I know your memory is better than you claim, but very well, be as precise as you can.”

Sunday, June 4, 2017

M3 Abraham's Sacrifice

            It’s been a long haul to get to the story that Abraham is probably most famous for, the sacrifice of Isaac. It’s been a long time coming (sorry about that), and it pretty much culminates in this.
            Most are familiar with this story. An angel tells Abraham to take his son up into the mountains and sacrifice him to God.
            Time out.
            This is our first (of probably many) interruption. Abraham knows what he is told to do, but no one else is subject to this conversation. In particular, Sarah does not know. That would not be a pleasant conversation. “Honey, I’m going to take our only son, the one you wanted more than anything else, and take him up and offer him as a human sacrifice to God.” That would not fly. Ever. Remember the ages involved, too. Abraham is over 100, and Sarah is close to it if she hasn’t already hit it. Keep in mind, too, how much Sarah wanted a child (y’know, the whole thing with Hagar?). So she absolutely has no idea what Abraham is planning. It’s the equivalent of “I’m taking the boy with me to do manly things.”
            This in itself has huge implications for Abraham. Not only has he been commanded to sacrifice Isaac, he will have to face the repercussions of such an event with his wife and his servants. Yes, he and Isaac are not alone. On day three of the excursion Abraham told the others “Stay here with the donkey; the boy and I will go over there; we will worship, and then we will come back to you” (Gen 22:5). So not only is Abraham hiding it from his wife, he’s deceiving his men, likely because they won’t understand it, either.
            I mean, we have to face this, the request borders on lunacy. Okay, maybe it left the border behind, even. But it serves as a good measuring stick for Abraham’s faith, which is how most people interpret the story. He was so faithful that he would sacrifice his only son. Not only that, he’ll break the heart of his wife. Isaac was everything to her. After having Abraham bear a child through Hagar, she sent Hagar and Ishmael away to make room for Isaac. She wanted him to have everything, especially after she worked so hard to have him. There is no way she would forgive Abraham for Isaac’s sacrifice.
            Likewise, Abraham didn’t tell his men for a similar reason. They wouldn’t understand the idea of sacrificing Isaac to God. In fact, they would have likely tried to stop it. Abraham would have sacrificed his son and had to face down these men about Isaac’s absence, and Abraham would have been completely ostracized, if not killed.
            It’s also worth noting that this is still a tribal existence. Abraham is the head of his tribe, but that would quickly change with Isaac’s sacrifice. Abraham at best would have lost everything. On top of his son, he would have lost his wife and society. He would have had a fate similar to Cain’s (though Cain got to keep his wife). At worst, he would have been executed.
This was a heavy burden for Abraham no matter what. We don’t have any kind of internal dialogue. There’s no internal debate or journal recording Abraham’s thoughts on the entire matter as this is Genesis. Genesis specializes in short, to the point stories. It’s not until Exodus that we get significant character development. The command to sacrifice Isaac is the original Catch-22 situation. If he fails to do it, he will break his Covenant with God and be lost. If he does, he will lose everything.

Friday, June 2, 2017

F3 Pre-surf Medical

            Ann left Flynn in the cockpit, adrenaline already pumping through her, and she barely resisted the urge to jog to the upper airlock.
            Wish Flynn was better at the yoke, but not everyone can be me.
            Just before the airlock she met Lita carrying a mess of biosensor pads.
            “I’m going to monitor your vitals closely during this.”
            Ann rolled her eyes but knew better than argue with the Doc. “I think you just want to see my skin.”
            Lita gave a small, knowing smile. “I can see your skin anytime I like, girl.” She sounded confident, but Ann caught a hint of quaver in her voice, suggesting she was remembering the other night.
            “Then you better be ready for when I get back.”
            “Your blood pressure is high, and I’m reading elevated neural activity.” Lita checked her slate.
            “Uh huh. Of course it is.” Ann sealed her suit again.
            “Don’t get lost in what you’re feeling. Keep your head in the game.”
            “Yes, Mother. Captain Killjoy has already given the safety spiel.”
            “I’m not talking about that. I know what this means to you. He doesn’t.”
            Oh, sure, throw a moment of weakness back at me. Hadn’t meant to tell her.
            “I know. My head is in the game. More than you know. To fly like this . . . I’m all in.”
            “You and your gambling,” Lita shook her head. “Make sure you win this . . . what do you call it?”
            “Right. Good luck.” Lita leaned in and kissed Ann lightly, then stepped back immediately, her eyes darting into the locker before the airlock.
            Still self-conscious about others. Have to do something about that. Later.

            Ann stepped into the locker, adrenaline pumping even harder as she was one step closer to finally being able to windsurf.

Monday, May 29, 2017

M3 Sodom's Legacy

            Okay, I know, this is a bit long in the tooth. This is the last time we’ll talk about Sodom . . . for now. I make no promises about the distant future.
            So, Sodom had a lot of sins. While breaking hospitality and rape are very, very big no-nos, and incest is up there, too. We have to consider the long game. And yes, we have to do this. This is essential because we know it’s God’s view. In establishing a covenant with Abraham, we’re not doing this for a couple of days or a week or even a few years or decades. God is looking at the generations. Abraham himself will not become a nation, but his descendants will. So we know that God is taking the long view of everything. We need to consider this in light of what happened to Sodom.
            Sodom not only was violating hospitality, raping, fostering incest, and just generally being overall jerks, they were perpetuating this throughout generations. If left to themselves, they would newer generations would succeed them and continue their traditions, none of which are very good (as we’ve seen). This adds another layer to the crimes of Sodom that they would teach and spread their way of life, which is incompatible with God’s ideas. This is not supposition, either as Lot’s life was threatened for doing the right thing. Sodom’s teachings represent a future threat to the generations promised to Abraham.
At this time, they are two cities, but in hundreds of years, they could be an unstoppable empire of corruption that would destroy Abraham’s descendants without pause. This would be a violation of God’s covenant with Abraham. In many ways, the destruction of Sodom is God fulfilling his promise to Abraham about future generations. Again, God is taking the long view. He knows what will happen if Sodom goes unchecked through history.
With this final piece of the puzzle, we understand why this story is part of the larger story of Abraham. We understand both sides of the puzzle where Abraham respects hospitality and God’s law. Sodom’s people were in direct opposition to this and a threat not only to people of their time, but for the future. Unfortunately the teachings of Sodom weren’t completely eradicated as Lot’s daughters had their children, both of whom went on to found their own tribes which became a plague of Israel in the future.

Friday, May 26, 2017

F3 Demons 101

            “Right. So, Demons 101,” I said, popping the top on my can of root beer. “First thing, you know all those movies, especially The Exorcist?”
            “Is that the one with the soup?” Jessie asked.
            “Yeah, that’s the one. Forget ‘em. They’re pretty much universally crap. Doesn’t work that way.”
            Nikki tilted her head, looking at me with skepticism. “And how did you become an expert on demonic possession?”
            “Says detective on my door, don’t it?” I jerked my thumb toward the hallway. “It does, right? Sometimes people scrape that off.” I looked over, verifying that it was still there.
            “Titles do not bestow knowledge, take if from a duchess, a marquess, and a goddess.”
            “Wow,” Jessie said. “you’re all of those?”
            “Other lifetimes, dear Jessica. Other lifetimes. And I can assure both of you that the declaration of a title did not come with details on what that entailed.”
            “Sure, sure,” I waved that away. “But I’ve got experience with this. It’s piecemeal, but it does all come together. You remember Renee Carrigan?”
            Nikki was stone-faced, either not remembering or caring.
            “No,” Jessie said.
            “Before your time.” To Nikki, I said, “The succubus? Remember her, now?”
            “My memory is clear,” Nikki said icily.
            “I read about her!” Jessie broke the glacier in the room. “Jen said it was required reading. I think she just ran out of things for me to do, though.”
            “Right. So, anyway, I bring up her because she’s recent, and you experienced this. I’ve learned that when it comes to demonic possession, it’s not surrendering the driver’s seat. More like a shared partnership.”
            Nikki frowned, her eyes scrunching in thought.
            “It’s not 50-50. It never is. But the host is always in there somewhere. Sometimes it’s 90% host, 10% demon. Other times it’s reversed. Usually it’s more equitable.”
            “Then why is it that possessed people are so difficult to exorcise?”
            “This is why I bring up Renee. See, the thing is, most possessions are welcomed. The person invites the demon in. You know something about invitations. But instead of the home, it’s the body. And once someone comes in, it’s a lot harder to kick ‘em out. Even if the host changes his or her mind, it’s tough. It’s much tougher if the host wants to hold onto the demon.”
            “And is this why the attempt to exorcise the succubus from Renee failed?”
            I looked at a spot on the desk between us, remembering what happened to Father Nate, and a flood of regret sucked at me like an undertow.
            “No,” I said slowly, “That was . . . that was my fault. I should’ve realized Nate wasn’t in a good place to do that. He tried to. . . . Yeah.”
            Nate left the priesthood after that. Haven’t heard from him, since. Hope he’s okay. Need to try sending another email to him.
            The silence hit me, and I glanced up. Jessie frowned, an expression halfway between sympathy and confusion. She didn’t know enough of the details of the case to understand, but she saw I was unhappy.
            Nikki looked considering, but it was softer than her usual weighing looks. I couldn’t tell exactly what that look meant on her. On someone else I might say she was empathetic, that she knew something of what I was going through.
            “Anyway,” I began, leaning forward again, “exorcisms aren’t easy, no matter what. And there are different kinds of demons. Some more animal-like than others. I don’t know the full low-down on the different kinds—I’ve never needed to know—but there’s a lot of ‘em.
            “Where was I going with this?”
            “Their agenda,” Nikki prompted.
            “Oh, right. So, like I was saying, there’s this blending, and it’s not like there are telepathic conversations between the two, more like urges. You know how sometimes you’ll get up and go into another room, but you don’t know why you’re there until you grab the thing you wanted?” They stared at me blankly. “Okay, that’s just me, then. But, yeah, so imagine there’s this urge to do something and get something, but you can’t completely identify it. You just go get it. I have no doubt that the demons want something related to this Nativity, but probably not the Nativity itself. That would be where the teens’ desire to pull pranks kicks in.”
            “I see,” Nikki nodded.
            “Good, because I don’t think I can come up with another way to explain it again. Does anybody want this slice?” I pointed to the last piece of pizza in the box.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017


            I've been looking through my archive, and I've discovered something phenomenal. I have 1,000 blog posts. That’s a lot. I feel like that deserves some kind of celebration, or at least noting this milestone in some way (hence this post). I hope to keep this going. I enjoy the creativity and chance to commit some of my writing to at least a digital permanence.
            Here’s hoping for another 1,000.

            Thanks to all those who stop by and take a gander.

Monday, May 22, 2017

M3 Lot's Daughters

            So, here we are. Yep, this is it. Most people tend to focus on what we’ve already covered when it comes to Sodom and Gomorrah. Bad city, attacking the angels, the angels level things, Lot escapes, the wife becomes a salty statue. The end, right?
            Wrong. So very, very wrong. Monumentally wrong. Not the assumption, the acts that are to follow. See, this is where the story goes completely off the rails. Yes, that’s right, the story up to now is okay. I’d be happy if it ended here, but it didn’t.
            Lot, sans wife and sans future sons-in-law, escapes with his daughters. They don’t make it to the next city, and just kind of hole up in a cave in the hills. As housing went, it was a good deal: low rent, good insulation, no construction costs. The guy had just lost everything but what they could bring with them, so he took what he could get. And that would have been fine, except that his daughters had a notion.
            They realized that Lot was an old man and that there was no one to carry on his name and bloodline after he died. They also thought that they might end up as spinsters because there were no men readily available to father their children. So they hatched a plan to kill two birds with one stone.
            Lot could father their children.
            Okay, we pause to let that sink in and allow time for prolonged “ewwwwwwwwwwww” and involuntary shudders of revulsion.
            Go ahead, take your time. I need to pause, too.
            Right, so we got that out of the way.
            So, now we have the alluded to incest. Lot’s daughters will sleep with him, get pregnant by him, and have his children. And it raises a very important question:
            Is incest allowed?
            Seriously, we have to ask this. We know that the attempted rape of the angels was bad, especially since it violated hospitality, but what’s the message here? Is it okay for daughters to sleep with their fathers?
            They had a noble intention. They wanted to “preserve offspring through [their] father” (Gen 19:34). Lineage was a big deal in the ancient world. There was a lot riding on people’s names in those days, and the only way a name continue don is through the male siring of children. If Lot’s wife had survived, it may be that the daughters wouldn’t have felt the pressure to do this. It’s a small maybe.
They are still as keen because “there is not a man on earth to come in to [them] after the manner of all the world” (Gen 19:31). They are not only looking to preserve Lot’s bloodline, but feel the need to have children themselves, and with the destruction of the cities, they are short on suitors.
            So does this mitigate the situation? Do noble intentions count?
            The answer is a short, unequivocal no.
            We know this because of how they pulled it off. Lot, we know, is a fine, upstanding guy. He stood with Abraham and was the only good person found in Sodom. We know his credentials. And this is what prompts us to ask the question in the first place. If he is okay with incest, then it must be allowed since he’s the example of a good, upstanding person.
            But he wasn’t okay with it. Nothing could be farther from the truth, and his daughters knew this because their plan was to “make [their] father drink wine, and [they] will lie with him” (Gen 19:32).
            So they applied a social lubricant to make it all happen because they knew he wouldn’t be okay with this. This escalates the crime even further, especially since the daughters took turns on subsequent nights: “Look, I [the oldest] lay last night with my father; let us make him drink wine tonight also; then you [the youngest] go in and lie with him, so that we may preserve offspring through our father” (Gen 19:34).
            Reading between the lines, this is, simply, rape.
Lot’s daughters raped their father.
On successive nights.
I need to take a moment.
Okay, I’m all right.
His daughters knew what they were doing was wrong. That is unequivocal because they knew they had to get him drunk. Now, if anything, this part of the story reinforces a couple of different things. First, Lot really was the only good person in this city. For his daughters to rationalize their behavior as good only goes so far since they knew they had to get him drunk. They knew that he would not approve of their idea, and so took steps to take what they wanted, anyway. This is the legacy of Sodom, and it shows that even his daughters were subjected to the city’s corruption. Now, they most likely did not learn this kind of behavior from him given his behavior in the story. This leaves two sources of influence, first, their mother, who turned back to the city and paid the penalty. Second is the city itself, which would convey its own lessons.
Here we have a final metaphor for the city, which I’ll go into next week.

Friday, May 19, 2017

F3 Pizza Party

            Jessie devoured her slices with the vigor of any ravenous post-teen. I was more moderate in my approach, but still wolfed down a full slice of pepperoni and mushroom without saying a word to continue my story. Nikki indulged in a slice of the same, though she took tiny bites, nibbling at it. She never did eat much when it came to meals; for her it was more social nicety than necessity. Her real meals required different fare.
            That thought helped chase my hunger away, especially as a glop of sauce fell from my bite and onto a napkin. It was too thick, and yet the imagery was crystal clear in my brain, which sent the message to my stomach.
            “Right, so where was I?” I asked.
            “Gmfw tmems hi maawer,” Jessie said around her pizza.
            “I believe you had just secured your passengers in the vehicle,” Nikki said.
            “Mmhmm!” Jessie nodded vigorously.

            I shut the door, and then heard the garage door opening. I whirled to see a guy ducking under it, then snarling several cursewords at me. I ran around the car, and jumped into the driver’s seat, saying a quick prayer that now, out of all the times when I needed the car, that the engine would start immediately.
            It did. I slammed it into gear and tore off down the street. Unfortunately, I saw their car back out of the garage and turn after me. I was in the middle of suburbia in the evening. I was easy to spot as most people had gotten home an hour or so before. That and there were only so many directions to turn.
            I didn’t do high-speed chase scenes well. And with every corner, I had to slow down, allowing them to catch up. They didn’t seem to care as much about the corners as their tires squealed around every turn.
            I didn’t know where I was going, turning automatically, skipping some side streets and taking others. I floored it, trying to open the distance, but my Taurus was no match for their car. I felt the ram from behind as I started a turn. The wheel got away from me and I had to slam on the brakes to avoid plowing into a block wall. I spun the wheel hard, now, fishtailing and then aiming at the wall on the opposite side of the street.
            The guy boxed me in. Couldn’t go forward, and couldn’t go backward. So I ditched the car, taking baby Jesus in my arms and running. It seemed stupid, foolish, and every other kind of idiocy I could imagine, but I ran with the plastic savior in my arms. I saw the community center up ahead. The lights were on, and the sign out front proclaimed, “Christmas program rehearsal tonight”
            If I can reach there, they can call the cops.
            I snuck a glance back and saw the boys running after me. No, running wasn’t the right word. It didn’t look like a human run. More like an animal loping along. I didn’t see any glowing eyes or anything, but I could tell that something was in them. Something bad.

            “Wait a moment,” Nikki interrupted, leaning forward. “Are you telling me that these boys had become demonically possessed?”
            I ticked off my fingers. “Circle drawn on the ground, ancient Hebrew text, moving like some kind of animal. Yeah, I think that’s what I’m saying.”
            “Wow,” Jessie breathed. “Really?”
            “I must confess I find your story dubious, Matthew,” Nikki sat back, glowering.
            I shrugged. “I didn’t want to tell this story in the first place.”
            “Why would they steal a Nativity? Demons must have a higher agenda than that.”
            “So you’re an expert on demons, now?”
            “No, but this doesn’t make sense.”
            “Okay, looks like we’re going to have to have a time out to talk about demons. Pass me another slice, Jessie. Are we out of root beer?”

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Catching Readers with a Catchy Cover --Guest post by Justice

Everyone knows the old saying “you can’t judge a book by its cover” isn’t true anymore. Not with the fast-paced world of digital publishing where every time you turn around there’s a new, interesting book release.

In this world, readers have to judge a book by its cover. Which means you need a kickass cover.

So what makes a kickass cover?

1. It has to look professional.

There are a lot of authors making their own book covers, which is super cool IF they know what they’re doing. But graphic design takes a lot of skill and training most authors haven’t put the time and effort into. And believe me, readers can tell. This is also true for cheap pre-made covers. There’s nothing wrong with grabbing up a pre-made cover that matches the book IF it’s professionally done. But I’ve seen a lot of amateur book covers being sold for $30 and the images are stretched, the font is plain and doesn’t stand out, and the resolution is terrible. Remember, you get what you pay for.

If you want to be taken seriously as an author, you have to come right out of the gate looking like a professional. You have to compete with thousands of traditionally published authors who have covers made by industry professionals with the help of a sales team. That means putting the time and/or money into a cover. It’s the very first thing readers see when they browse books.

2. It has to stand out.

Thousands of books are being published every single day. The market is flooded now more than ever. It’s awesome so many people are getting their stories out there into the world, but it also means there’s a lot of competition for yours to stand out. So how do you stand out in the crazy world of digital publishing?

Do something unexpected. Use a bright color for a horror novel. Or a dark color for a sweet romance. Stay away from trends. Or if you want to go with a trend, put your own twist on it. Or be a minimalist and make good use of dead space. Look at what’s flooding the market and avoid it. Change the angle, desaturate the photo, use a funky font, just do something different.

3. It has to project the right tone.

One of the biggest mistakes I’ve seen authors make with their covers is trying to do too much at once. Your book cover doesn’t need to tell exactly what it’s about. If it’s a paranormal romance about a single mom who falls in love with a werewolf on vacation in Hawaii, you don’t need a wolf, a palm tree, a child, and a couple kissing on the cover. There IS such thing as too much of a good thing.

Think about the tone you want readers to pick up on. Prioritize. Remember, standing out is important but in a way that makes sense for the book. What’s the mood? What’s the genre? Is it funny and flirty? Is it dark and horrific? Is it a deep, emotional memoir? Each of these would use a completely different set of colors, fonts, and effects to create a tone that will give readers an idea of what they’ll experience when they open the book.

When you hire a cover artist, make sure you communicate clearly how you want readers to feel when they look at your book cover. And how they will feel when reading your book. A good cover artist should be able to match the inside to the outside and combine that with standing out and looking professional. With this formula, you should be well on your way to a successful career (in whatever way you define it).

Thank you for having me and I hope these points help you design (or choose a designer) the perfect cover for your book! Remember, pay for a professional (or take a class!), keep it simple but unique, and communicate clearly with your designer.


Justice is the lead designer at Rebel Book Design. After spending 6 years as a hybrid author and learning photoshop to make marketing graphics, she took a formal course on graphic design and realized, as much as she likes creating what’s inside the book, she likes creating the outside even more.

To see her portfolio, services, and prices, check out her website at www.rebelbookdesign.com or email her at rebelbookdesign@gmail.com. You can also like my facebook page at www.facebook.com/rebelbookdesign to stay in touch.