Sep 172015

Tomorrow I will graduate from the Army Logistics Captain’s Career Course.  It’s been kind of a rough six months for me.  The course was more challenging than I expected.  Nevertheless, as I walk across the stage, no matter what the good general says, this is what I will hear:

You may go, for you’re at liberty,
our pirate rules protect you,
An honorary member of our band
we do elect you!


Sep 072015

It came to my attention yesterday that you can self-publish a “book” of any length with Kindle Direct Publishing, for free.  So I gave it a whirl, and submitted a short story I wrote several years ago.  It took slightly more than the 15 minutes advertised, because I had to take a minute to find suitable cover art.  But there it is: I am now every bit as published as C.S. Lewis.  You can buy my book here:

The price was set at 99 cents, with a 35% royalty going to me.  I could have gotten a 70% cut, but I would have been required to charge $2.99, and my conscience couldn’t allow recommending anybody pay three dollars for 3500 words of content.

Now, of course, the only problem is that anybody interested has likely already read it.  If you have read my story before, I would find it very amusing to see your review on the Amazon page.



Sep 062015

I haven’t been following the county clerk controversy very closely, but I’ve gotten the impression that there’s a lot of confusion about the rights of conscience, and how that relates to resigning, verses refusing to comply.  I am not a county clerk, and nobody has asked me to perform or approve any immoral acts, but I am an Army officer, so I have spent a little time thinking about when it’s appropriate to disobey an order.

So.  Scenario one: Joe the Soldier has a religious epiphany and becomes a pacifist.  From his perspective, all military service, or maybe only combat, is immoral. I happen to disagree with this guy, based on my understanding of Jesus’ conversations with many a Roman soldier, but no one should violate his conscience, so any military service at all for him is a sin.  He should resign, since there is no way he can keep his job and keep his conscience.

Scenario two: Joe the Soldier is a good Soldier, and has no qualms about doing his job, until the day his direct supervisor orders him to commit an atrocity.  He should not resign.  Nothing in his views have changed, but he is being ordered to do something that is unlawful (that is, immoral) for a Soldier to do.  In fact, the one thing he must not do is resign, since in this case resignation gives tacit consent to the unlawful order.  His job, as a Soldier, is to actively resist the unlawful order, and make whatever noise he can, so that the rot can be removed from his unit to the highest echelon where it originated.  He should complain, loudly; he should call the Inspector General.  If the unlawful order is not rescinded, he may be court-martialed for refusing to obey an order.  He should embrace the court-martial, as an opportunity to bring his chain of command under investigation, and he should bring in the media when it happens.

There is a massive difference between resignation and refusing to comply; and in the event of a corrupted hierarchy, resigning in protest is a coward’s escape, because it allows the criminal authority to continue unchallenged.  Obviously, it should be done carefully, and not impetuously, because the authority being resisted has to actually be requiring an immoral act.  Refusing to comply because you just don’t wanna is just a waste of jail time.

I don’t have any real opinion on the country clerk case, whether her decision was right or wrong.  But there are plenty of good reasons for a government official to refuse to implement a new law, when that law is immoral.  It is never appropriate to privatize your ethics, in order to give tacit consent to a public immorality.

Aug 282015

Stephanie S. on Science Fiction literary quality:

It also matters what the pretty words actually say.Style does not necessarily indicate substance. Style can, in fact, be used to cover up an author’s complete failure to imagine the Big Idea that is supposed to be one of science fiction’s hallmarks. I decided to jump in and become a Hugo voter around Sad Puppies I; since then, I have seen a number of stories – particularly in the short fiction categories – that use fantastic elements as superficial glosses over what, in truth, are extended ruminations over characters’ emotional states in which nothing of any consequence actually happens. In many of these cases, the emotion is very well-rendered, but digging deep reveals a foundation of sand. The textbook example of this phenomenon is “If You Were a Dinosaur, My Love,” in which the event that inspires the “content” of the story is based on an improbability and the point-of-view character is left powerless to do anything but rage at her plight.

I read science fiction for ideas.  I’m an ideas man.  Characters are nice, and I certainly wouldn’t want to read a story without characters, but a story that is “character” driven, in the traditional sense, is terrifically boring.  That’s because what often passes for “character” is really quirkiness, overlaid on top of a Myers- Briggs randomizer.  Then we just watch the emotions play.  That’s like fireworks: red, green, blue.  I need a reason to be there besides just to see the show.

For me, the most recent sweet spot was actually Ancillary Justice.  What a lot of interesting ideas to follow!  and yes, there was some work involved in verifying it all added up at the end.  The sequel, Ancillary Sword, just didn’t cut it. An older book that also knocked my socks off recently was The Dispossessed, by Ursula K. LeGuin.  Again with the ideas, and not that much with the plot.

On the other hand, I just can’t read Kevin J. Anderson, so I guess style has to count for something.

Aug 242015

Listening to Writing Excuses on the way home from work today, I had a little mini epiphany.  In TV and Movies today, a lot of the supernatural elements are built on a Catholic mythos.  That is, they visibly depict angels and demons and other supernatural elements (such as the use of crucifixes and holy water) in a way that is generally consistent with the Catholic understanding of how those things actually work.  Not being Catholic, these depictions are really unsatisfying for me.

I was raised in a pentecostal/charismatic background, where the supernatural is considered very real, but things work very differently than what Catholics think.  For instance, in a movie with a pentecostal mythos, there would probably be a scene in which somebody tries to ward away the demon or vampire with drops of holy water.  No effect.  But get some anointing oil out and bam! instant hedge of protection.  It just works differently, and those differences are jarring.  The only think I can think to compare it to would be an Explosive Ordinance Disposal Soldier trying to watch Hurt Locker.  All the inaccuracies drive you nuts!

On the other hand, when I was a kid, I really enjoyed Frank Peretti novels.  I haven’t read much of his in a while, but Peretti started out writing supernatural thrillers based on a charismatic ethos.  It turns out I’m not actually all that in to thrillers, but the supernatural elements for me were gripping, because it was so… accurate, in a way that Hellboy could never hope to be.

So here’s the question:  What movies, books, etc, really grabbed you because the supernatural elements struck you as accurate to what you had been raised to believe?  On the other side, what stories completely knocked you out of the plot because they depicted supernatural elements in an “unrealistic” way?  What one supernatural or spiritual element do they never get right that you wish you could see depicted accurately… at least just once?

Aug 242015

Let each of us please his neighbor for his good, to build him up.

–Romans 15:2


Those of you who know me may know I have an agenda against the glory of God, at least as I’m hearing it talked about in a lot of churches. There’s a tendency to overstate the case.  God is himself intrinsically glorious, and we are to glorify God, in the sense that we should always be acknowledging His glory in our talk and actions.  But a lot of times we use the idea of glory as a way of explaining God’s motivation, and as a key for identifying what our motives should be. And often, this gets in the way of simpler, more accessible objectives.

So looking above at Romans 15:2.  Each of us should always seek to be pleasant to our neighbors.  Why?  For their benefit, to build them up. Should our goal be to glorify God?  Yeah, sure.  But if you aim at God’s glory without looking to our neighbor’s good, I doubt you’ll have much success at hitting either.

I often think that love is a bit like happiness: it’s a byproduct, and can’t be got by aiming directly at it.  So, looking at the cross, I’ve heard it said that as Jesus died, he was thinking first of the glory of God.  Now we can’t know what Jesus didn’t say, but what does scripture say?  “The son of man came, not to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” “Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief.”

There are lots of ways that Jesus could have given glory to God, in a maximally efficient manner.  Most of the ideas that come to mind involve lightning bolts.  But he came as a servant, and was humbled unto death, for the benefit of people who had made Him their enemies.  This is the apex of glory, but what makes it glorious is His humility and his care, not for himself or for the Father in any direct way, but first for us.  If you say that Jesus came looking for glory, and after a little research settled on saving the world by dying as the best among many options, it cheapens it a bit, doesn’t it?

Similarly, if I come looking for glory (glory for me or for God), and I settle on helping my neighbor as a good way to get it, I suppose it’s as Jesus said, “surely you have received your reward.” There’s a better, more direct way.  Jesus has been good to me, so let me be good to my neighbor.  Why? For his good, to build him up.  My neighbor is in God’s image.  It is good to be good to him.  No other motivation is necessary.

Aug 232015

The foundation for the humanities is preaching and synagoguery. Take away the gospel and you have some metaphysics, but no reason for literature and history. You still have the stories people like to tell but no Keystone keeps it altogether.

What I mean is that every narrative has a central point of view or set of values to hold the plot together. No cohesive values means no cohesive narrative: there’s just no human way to even care. But the only way you can have a cohesive narrative that covers all the stories – all of human history and the whole human race – is if you have a single cohesive set of values that are true for all peoples in all places.
The study of the humanities is teasing out of that set of cohesive values. If there is a keystone concept, a singular idea that encompasses all narratives and holds them together, that idea has to be the gospel. If it isn’t the Christian gospel, it must be some other gospel.   If there is no gospel, then we are stuck with that other most basic idea that crowds into all questions of right and wrong, and truth and beauty: “sez who?”