Review: Amish Vampires in Space by Keith Nietz

You’ll think I’m joking if I don’t give some context. A couple of years ago, I was reading the blog of Mike Duran, Decompose. A frequent discussion was reoccurring. In Christian publishing it is difficult to get manuscript attention for anything ‘edgy.’ Or so it is said. Edgy doesn’t mean bad or obscene here, but some of us believe that even the Glad Tidings (gospel) can be (and should be) told with the grit of sin. And I would go to the Bible to make that case. The Bible–those collected stories, breathed through the Ruach HaKodesh–contains murder, graphic violence, sexual content, innuendo or suggestive language, nudity, and profanity. Sometimes different writers in different contexts, glossed over details; other times, they zoomed in. Take the book of Judges where a sword is plunged into a man, until the hilt disappears. That’s kind of graphic, right? For that matter the death of Yeshua, has flogging, striking, spitting, blasphemy, blood and guts.

But Christian publishing seem to hold to higher standards than the Bible, making it difficult for even conscientious writers to deal with anything other than the Amish. Needless to say for writers like myself (and Keith Nietz) who visit the realms of sci-fi or fantasy or ‘speculative’ scenarios, it’s even harder. But they will eat up anything Amish.

So on this blog, someone jokingly proposed that an edgy story could get in by framing itself like, Amish Vampires in Space. It was a joke, but as I can attest, a single turn of phrase can spark a story. So Keith Nietz saw an opportunity, and thus AVS was born.

Synopsis: Context aside, now onto the review. Despite the joking origin, the story is not told as parody, satire, or joke. It’s not over the top. Keith shoots it straight. So what is this serious stories where Amish, vampires, and space collide?

The opening is with a ‘stereotypical’ Amish, Jebediah who lives on a planet colonized by using the Amish–who are perfect for the job because they don’t use technology and the planets being colonized have no technology to depend on. Jeb’s just about everything you would expect from an Amish. I have frequent contact with the Amish and Mennonites (to an Englisher, they’re hard to tell apart, but there are differences), so I have some sense of authenticity on the subject. In fact through the course of my reading, I found out things I didn’t know and then asked my Amish contacts about them.

. . . I did leave out the fact my prompt was a book titled Amish Vampires in Space. I also omitted that for the character of Jebediah, I immediately pictured the particular Amish gentleman that I was asking the question.

So Jebediah has one thing that’s a bit different. A family heirloom of technology. He doesn’t know what it does, but was told when a future, unforeseen, catastrophic problem arises (like say, their local sun getting ready to eat their planet), he’s supposed to use it. He manages that, with considerable guilt because he’s a legit Amish. The machine turns out to be a beacon that summons a ship to pick them up and transplant them on another planet.

Unfortunately . . . the ship also has another package that turns out to be undead. The story then revolves around a growing vampire presence, and the tension between faith, religion, and need.

Thoughts: I won’t lie, I looked forward to this book. I wanted this book to be good because the premise, was my kind of premise. I love stories, where the author takes something normal and turns it askew. I mean, my first published novel is about killer trees. So when, I say that the book exceeded my expectations, then some of that could be my own placebo. But I found stuff wrong too, so I think that justifies what I found right.

What really shines in this story is actually the character conflicts; the vampire dynamic is just icing on the cake. Like any good story. You have some lesser conflicts; a developing romance between the captain (Seal) and the communications officer (Singer), complicated by Singer’s being a Christian, in a future setting where relationships are regulated by their government-company (not sure if they were separate or one and the same) and Christianity is seen as some, “Oh is that still around?” anomaly. To Seal this makes Singer akin to the Amish who of course look very weird to him.

Except she’s more attractive than they are. And I know this because the narrator tells me it. Several times. The story is written from the omniscient POV or at least semi-omniscient. Which is less popular, but it can be done, and it works. But the narrator should have some vocabulary. A voice all his own. And when the narrator is the one telling us how attractive each female character is, literally using the word attractive outside of dialogue, then he feels like a dude scoping out chicks, and also lazy. I would have preferred discerning from the details who was more or less attractive.

Back to the conflicts. Another is the loading supervisor who see the Amish as free-loaders, willing to let others go to hell for using technology or fighting wars, while they reap the benefits. Kind of made me think of Seven Samurai with the one samurai who used to be a country peasant.

But the conflict that really shines is Jebediah vs. the world and his own community. SPOILER!!! Using the beacon puts him in a state of sin before the community, which he is absolved of, but then ends up shunned because he stands against the leadership, who want to stay on the planet even though the sun appears to be dying—trusting God’s will. The community ends up going, but he remains shunned. Yet, of course, he thought he was saving the lives of everyone. So he didn’t want to not be Amish, didn’t want to use technology, but now he’s forced away from everyone else and surrounded by technology. But he wants to come back. Things only get worse, when Amish start getting vampirized, thus ‘proving’ that they should have stayed on the planet.

I read this in the present, where I am wrestling through the concept of community [yes, the series will continue, but it was suggested I talk to a particular brother/sister, and it’s proving hard to do]. And found it quite stirring in the subject. I firmly believe in the need to be willing to submit to leadership (so long as they are committed to faith in Yeshua and loving Him according to Torah), but I found myself immediately identifying with Jebediah, who was being shunned for not submitting to leadership. How does one navigate the waters, where they believe in submission (as Jebediah also did), but find their leadership is about to scuttle the ship? I’m still not sure, but I’m working on it, and I benefited by reading this story because it made me face the realness, of what some of my brothers and sisters are telling me: that ‘community’ may exact a steep price.

The setting is also quite creative, and real. I’m no expert in ‘hard’ sci-fi, probably because I’m not really a science major. I use science as many authors do, as a substitute for magic, to explain the abridgment of physical laws. Explaining, why I feel the need to not use ‘magic’ is a blog unto itself, but suffice to say the real problem is the substance, rather than the appearance—so even science can model the same sinfulness—but I strive in my narration to identify the real power as Elohim, not some spell or charm turned science. Why not just say ‘magic’ then, and let your narrator’s voice distinguish it as not the abhorrent thing? To that I ask, can you write a story about child molestation, but make the molestation ‘good’? “Yes, I know it says ‘child molestation’, but my narrator’s voice shows that its not the bad molestation, it’s the good . . . molestation.” See it doesn’t really work. In my opinion, when a believing author makes magic out to be ‘neutral’ they’re just revealing that they don’t understand it to be truly wrong. Which is understandable since the part of scripture that most clearly deals with the evil of magic, is the part that most Christians say is “done away with.”

But I was going to say that the setting feels real. There’s a log of ‘magic’ science in it, but there seems to be a logic behind it. Like at one point explaining that a screen and physically pressing controls was still the way of doing things rather than hand motions in the air, that lead to people smacking each other. Faster than light travel isn’t depicted as flying through a rainbow or a blinding meteor shower, but a monotonous gray fog. Not everything is glowy and shiny, but a lot of stuff is painted business like shades of blue and brown. It felt authentic, and this is a writer’s review so it was worth noting.

Unfortunately, the characterization was a little uneven. The characters were easily distinguishable from each other. No blending, not really stereotypes. Greels (the loading supervisor) was especially enjoyable, because I expected that he was going to go one way and become that sleezy, cowardly, weak-willed, type of antagonist—and he hits several of those notes—but instead turns out to have some redeeming qualities, even heroism when the chips are down.

But another main character, Seal, is a little bit flat. Probably a ‘good’ thing in that he makes Singer (who’s also a little flat) appear a little less flat. They’re not terrible, but they sometimes feel like their hitting their marks and don’t have a life of their own. For example, the ship is falling into the hands of vampires, the full extent of the threat is not known, but there’s enough going on that this storm front should have the captain’s full attention. But while dealing with that, he mentally segues into whether or not he might love Singer, and what to do about her religious weirdness. Are you kidding me?!?! You’re thinking about your relationship at a time like this? Or later, near the end, when the vampires have overrun the ship, and the Amish are refusing to fight because they believe in non-resistance even at the cost of their own lives, he ends up asking a group of unbelievers and obstinate religious believers to pray, but he himself has not had any ‘conversion’ experience.

Clarification on that last thought: I’m not saying there should have been some born-again scene. I’m perfectly fine with a fireworks-free ‘slide’ into faith. I don’t think you need to say a special prayer, but I would have liked to see some internal thought process, even if it was only a, “Well, maybe this prayer thing is worth a try.”

And there was a perfect opportunity [SPOILER!!!]. The Amish leaders have been increasingly condemning of Jebediah since it was his “saving” of the community that has turned most of them into ungodly vampires. And even he himself wonders if maybe he has lost his salvation. But Seal as captain has reason to believe the problem started with the other package that he picked up. And now part of the solution involves a pregnant woman who is only there because of Jebediah. Seal could see in that that his whole crew would be lost if not for this confluence of coincidence that lead a technology eschewing community onto his ship, where his people could be saved, along with the entire planet that the vampires are now targeting. That would have been a big prompt to why Seal should break out into a prayer marathon.

The Amish I actually found to be the strongest characters in the story. Who were dealt with both as being rigid, entrenched in their ordunung (order or sect), but also sincere. They’re not depicted as ignorant primitives, simply people who believe in somethings that aren’t entirely reason-able. And really, every sincere believer has to reach that place where they admit—no, I can’t prove my faith. I have some good reasons to believe what I do, but in the end, it is a choice, because I believe my faith offers the best answers to life.

Pace wise, the story is a page turner. You can stop early on, but the tension builds as things develop. Another thing I really liked was the way the vampires are dealt with. There is one scene where the first new vampire is ‘educating’ himself on his new powers and needs, that’s psychologically gruesome. Not really gory, but the whole scene didn’t seem necessary other than to show that he’s bad and gross. I don’t understand the appeal of going inside the villain’s development, unless its to show something relatable—as in the danger of what seduces someone to evil. Like seeing how David stumbled. But here, I didn’t feel like it moved the plot—other than providing exposition.

But what I did like were some of the creative vampire complications; such as vampire goats. And later mutations as the ‘infections’ take their course. It added tension because you thought you figured it all out, only to find that the good guys’ plans had become out of date.

Conclusion: I give it 4 out of 5 as a whole. There are some characterization weaknesses. But there are also some strengths. Coupled with a building pace, creativity in development, and authentic feel in setting, plus a few hints along the way, and by the end I was hoping for a sequel. And in lieu of a sequel, I just started reading the story again (being on vacation, I had that option).

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Outdated Reviews: First Men in the Moon

Facing a shelf of inherited classics that are falling apart, I decided to read them before deciding their face. These are their reviews . . .

“The First Men in the Moon” By H.G. Wells

I’m a Wells fan. I still contend that the best fiction opening I’ve ever read is War of the Worlds. That may be because his are about the first I ever read. But I stand by my evaluation. It’s simply beautiful word craft . . . “No one would have imagined at the close of the twentieth century that across the gulf of space. Intelligences greater than man’s, vast, cool, and unsympathetic regarded our Earth with envious eyes. . . ” Or something like that. I have to quote it from memory because my ‘friend’ Rebecca ‘borrowed’ it, to read and has yet to return it. =)

But this is not a review of War of the Worlds. First Men in the Moon must stand on its own. Wells reminds me again, why I like his style. I even tried (unconsciously) to emulate it, in my first stories, but now I’d say I’m more influenced by Stephen King. I don’t want to say that Wells’ style is unsuitable for modern audiences—if I did it would be a criticism of modern audiences lack of depth and attention span—but it can be harder to digest. It’s very . . . self-possessed. Very filtered. In contrast to the school which I frequent: ‘Don’t tell me the character ‘saw’ something, just show me what he saw, and I’ll know from the perspective that it is he, who saw it.’ We don’t want to see the narrator. We don’t want to be told a story, we want to be in the story!

I like both ways, Wells (as many were at that time) is a story teller. He’ll often break the ‘fourth wall’ and address the reader. “Imagine [he says to the reader] if you can, an immense hall . . . ” It’s boring and overly wordy according to modernly conditioned readers. But so are many classics, like Dracula, The Count of Monte Cristo, or Lord of the Rings. Broaden your tastes or skip this one.

So through that style, Wells tells an interesting and introspective story, about a failed business man who finds himself working with an absentminded scientist, to invent a substance, Cavorite, which blocks gravity (treated as a type of radiation) like how opaque glass can stop light and insulation can block heat. Hee hee. The science may be outdated, but what’s really funny is the series of terrible decisions made by the main characters. It’s almost as bad as Jurassic Park: The Lost World. They pack for a trip to the moon, but half the party (who has no scientific expertise) didn’t even think to bring anything to read for the flight. When they get to the moon, they are surprised to find life there. Plants growing on the surface, so they determine there must be air. How do they figure out if it’s enough to breathe? First they find out it’s oxygen by sticking a naked hand outside with a burning paper. Then they open a valve and depressurize their traveling sphere . . . not an airlock but the single-cabin-chamber. Finding they can bare it similarly to a high-altitude climb, they go aside dressed in regular clothes plus a blanket for the each of them.

They decide to go exploring immediately. You could forgive them for losing their space craft because of the rapidly growing foliage, but really, what kind of idiots would let themselves get out of sight of their oxygen/food/shelter supply? (It’s even more unforgivable when it happens the second time) Later, getting hungry and thirsty, they decide to try some local herbage . . . the characters don’t give us a good measure of time, so we might forgive them for eating out of desperation of starvation, but why did they go exploring on an empty stomach? Later, they meet humanoid beings on the moon, and the POV character, Bedford, becomes the embodiment of a self-centered, xenophobic stereotype and things quickly escalate to where—within minutes or hours of first meeting these intelligent beings, Bedford has already killed a dozen or two of them.

Now. I’ll grant Mr. Wells that many people are stupid, self-centered, and xenophobic/racist, whatever. But the utopian in Wells comes out (he was a socialist who believed in a benevolent dictatorship/aristocracy). Dislcaimer: I know now everything said or done in a story is not a depiction of what a writer thinks, but some things are. And I’d agree that in an imperfect world such an aristocracy is the only chance of an effective and good government. The libertarian view of let everyone, pretty much do what they want, and it will work out well holds little persuasion for me. But his solution, or what he hints at as a solution, is equally bad. Perhaps worse.

So, in another terribly decision, Cavor, the ‘brains’ of the enterprise, has been re-captured and is relaying his experience to Earth. He’s managed to convince the moon people that he is not an unthinking savage, despite his partner’s callous disregard of the lives of their fellow citizens. He then goes on to tell their supreme leader that he is the only one with the secret of making the cavorite . . . and that he comes from a homogenous species of beings that think the best thing in life is war. Yeah. That’s smart. No wonder this guy could choose such a reprobate for a partner to the moon. This lack of commonsense not only makes him a terrible candidate for earth’s ambassador, but like The Lost World degrades the author’s point.

Cavor’s stupidity draws attention to the obvious fact that he doesn’t know what he’s talking about. Does every human being actually relish war? I think even in the ‘uncivilized’ past, you’d find that farmers and country folk did not relish war. For the majority of history, you’d find that the people who liked war were people with no better employment. Gainfully employed people building things have little interest in leaving the product of their labor to go smash the product of someone else’s at the risk of their own lives.

Then what of the stupidity of the glorified, Grand Lunar (supreme leader of the moon)? He sits in judgment of the entire species based on one representative, who he admits to having trouble understanding?

But deeper this seems to reflect that Wells doesn’t understand the nature of the problem or solution of human society. For example, he identifies that the industrial/corporate world aims at turning people into machines. The better solution exemplified by moon people? Identify what you think each individual is best for (from birth!), then force them into that mold, including psychological conditioning so that they’ll want it whether they did naturally or not, and surgically altering/crippling them so that they are not fit for anything else. (And how exactly did they pick the Grand Lunar for his position . . . from birth?) And Wells through Cavor (or so I interpret it), thinks this is the better way!

Or another example? Someone is unemployed? Between tasks? Just drug them into sleep. Why would you want them awake if they weren’t working? What could a person possibly have to contribute to the world, if they aren’t doing something that you forced them into doing? Apparently the utopian mind sees no inherent value in a person just being a unique person. In fact, you could argue that the utopian sees the uniqueness as the problem. Which truly reveals the selfishness of its nature. Do we suppose anyone would want such a utopia if they were the ones crippled and predisposed to a life of work that they had no natural desire for? Of course not; they wish only that someone else had that lot and that they could profit from it.

But, there is some vivid description that makes the story bearable. Wells always paints a luscious landscape for me, however shallow the world’s imaging. In many places the story is carried solely by this trait (since the characters have not succeeded in recommending themselves). For example, he introduces the horror of a tentacled monster that the moon people fear, with such succinct description that we don’t much miss the fact that the monster never appears. I don’t have the text in front of me, but it was the impression I walked away with. I think from a literary standpoint that much of this is due to the brevity. The monster is mentioned with reverential fear, so we are just left with it’s unspeakable terror . . . we never get to see the monster’s zipper, so to speak.

In the end, while I much enjoy the style of Wells’ writing, I decided not to retain his work First Men in the Moon because of the odious utopian delusions, which could have been forgivable if only the characters weren’t shallow stupid creatures that compromised the credibility of all their backhanded criticisms of the society from which they came.

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Community: The Real and the Red Herrings

If Americans understood they were really many people’s, the current discord of the “nation” would not be surprising. But then what can the people of Elohim add to that? Are we closer to living together in unity? Sadly, we have more burned by community than actually looking for it. I was talking with such a pair of crispy sisters who had become discouraged. Conscious that in their hearts they had given up on community as a goal. Not just that it wouldn’t happen, but that the attempt or the prospect should be avoided.

The conversation started with, how do you make community work? So I asked if they had read my blog about mikvah: “How do you do Community: The Hoped For Gathering”. They hadn’t . . . after which I ended up having to explain in a mixed company why I thought the mikvah as practiced by the orthodox–nude with another person–was not only not a fringe idea (albeit neglected in the Messianic community) but might actually be part of the solution.

Ay-yai-yai! Oy vey!

But I digress. The essential part of the blog that I wanted to drag out was something that had kind of gotten buried in the writing of the original article, so I’ll state it better here. Yah-fearing men and women often fall in love with the idea of a community, but fail to fall in love with the actual people of the community. When someone doesn’t live up to one family’s or a clique of families’ private interpretation of kedushah (holiness or sanctification), they get ex-communicated/ex-fellowshipped. Would this happen so quickly or easily if it was their own son or daughter?

We have to love each other. We have to want to be with each other. Before community can work, we have to think of each other as actual family—not just theoretical, ethereal, spiritual family, but real family. Do you think it is an accident that the model of society or community in scripture is in fact, one family? That even those who are adopted in, cease to be separate, but become in all ways family? Where are the descendants of the ‘mixed-multitude’? Where are Ruth’s children called ‘adopted’ or ¼ Moabite? That salvation is about joining a family?

We have to adopt each other, before we can community. In these so-called communities, when it’s time for a family to leave, the conversation is framed: “I don’t want that influencing my family…”? We seem to think talk of ‘brothers’ and ‘sisters’ applies only to the point of conflict. Because real brothers and sisters never disagree . . .  We seem to confuse family and informal association.

That is why I think mikvah is important. Not just for the fun of skinny dipping. Ahahaha! Chill out ya’ll! I think it’s important because family sees family naked. Butts get wiped! Kiddos get bathed, and a time or many the kiddos probably see parents hopping in and out of the shower. I mean, come’on, YHVH’s design introduces people to the world by having them suck from a woman’s breasts. If that offends you, don’t blame me. In my version of creation, I just give babies nutrient rich pacifiers (that don’t resemble nipples) that grew on trees. Wait, that’s still too close. I know, babies will have solar panels for hair and just soak up the sun’s rays without any human contact.

I digress again, but hopefully you laughed. The point is family sees family as they really are, yet remains attached through all but the most egregious wrongdoing. [Yes, there is a line in the sand given to us in Acts 15: idolatry, fornication—which is a catchall for sexual sin, not a fancy way of saying premarital sex—and blood. Blood by the way is probably not, blood in meat, but violence. All big ticket items, not so-and-so said something mean and was insensitive or interpreted Revelation different than you.] That sense of familial loyalty and familiarity was what I was trying to draw out—the quickness to cling, not to sever. And the concept seemed to resonate with this family, and in fact several others who heard it. Maybe community wasn’t done for, because they could see too, the other families in the detonated-communities never seemed to really stick to each other. But I still sensed the word community was being regarded like a live-wire. What is community? I asked. What does the word make you think?

The example I was given was a guy who bought 800 acres, allowing others to live there, but the others would never own the property and have to abide by (as far as I can tell) an unaccounted for standard of kedushah, and the requirement to work . . . but what you created with the work would belong to the community (under the one guy’s leadership).

I said, Well, I like community, but what you described scares me. Thinking of community in scripture—taking the type of Isra’el—I can see that working together is necessary. So is submission to elders. Shared chukot (customs) or halacha (the way we walk) of a community is also necessary. But something seems to be missing . . . freedom and ownership.

A lot of flowery, Jeffersonian words could be used to build a theoretical case, but I’m lazy and would rather say, let’s look at scripture and then try to figure out how to do it, and why it might be that it works. Details aside, when YHVH brought the people into the land, he gave each family a piece of land. What does that tell you? They had just come out of Egypt/Mitsrayim where pretty much everything was owned by the Pharoah. If YHVH wanted resources to be directly under a central governing head, then why undo what the Isra’eli would already have been used to? For the matter, why did YHVH not give them a strong central ruler from the git-go?

The Torah makes distinction between YHVH’s preferred idea of a judge who essentially referees to make sure everyone is playing by Torah, and the tendency of fallen man to reject YHVH and set up an earthly king who will rule over the people. So this 800 acre idea, sounds good as a temporary arrangement of a land owner and tenants, but YHVH intended us each to have a place that was our own.

Some people will challenge the idea of ownership. Some will even argue that there is no word for ownership in Ebri (Hebrew). They have a point. Even the land of Isra’el, divided up between the families, is not considered to be absolutely owned. YHVH says, “ . . . the land is mine, for you are strangers and sojourners with me.” In that sense, correct, no one owns anything in an absolute sense. But the idea is also false. What does “own” mean? In English it has within it, the root, owe. As in what is owned is that which is owed. And lacking the divine deed does not mean we lack the owing. In fact, the passage in Vayikra 25, where YHVH says the land is His, is where He tells people they owe to return land to the inheritor at the Yovel year. I own something, because it is owed to me. My wife owns me, because by out covenant, I owe myself to her. If the idea of ownership was false, then you cannot have adultery because nothing is owed. You cannot have theft because nothing is owed to you. You cannot even honor your father and mother without acknowledging that it is owed. We can just make everyone happy and call it jurisdiction, but whatever.

But all this talk or yours and mine, doesn’t that sound so unchristian? I think a lot of people, Messianic people/Hebraic roots people/Completed Jewish people, take their idea of community out of the book of Acts; at least at first glance, but what they imagine is more like communism (great, it even sounds like community!). Don’t get me wrong. I won’t criticize what was done in Acts, and I won’t disregard it. Sharing and working together and abiding house to house, sounds all well and good. But . . .

Did Yeshua teach that? He told the talmidim, who were selected as Shelachim (sent ones/ emissaries), to go, trusting for provision; true. Or sometimes to share an extra coat with someone who had none. Etc. He even told a rich man to go and sell everything he had and join the ministry. But, did he tell Yosef of Aramithea (a rich man) to sell everything? Did salvation through t’shuva come to Zacheus after he sold everything, or after he restored what he had wrongly taken? Consider the case of Acts 2:

People went house to house, worshipping, yes? But someone still owned the houses legally, didn’t they?

“All things” were held in common, but when Ananias and Saphira had their property, it was theirs, was it not? Yes. When they sold it, didn’t Kefa/Peter say, the proceeds belonged to them? Yes. Even to hold back? Yes. The only problem was the deception.

What we see in this example seems to be a specific instance of this “things in common”. A start-up capital investment for lack of a better term. When Shaul/Paul goes to collect funds to send to the brothers in famine, he doesn’t take things does he? No. He tells them to decide “every man according as he has purposed . . .” to send, and he receives it. If things continued always in common, then you do not ask permission before reaching into the fridge.

And understand that we don’t see this all-things-in-common lifestyle practiced either before Acts (as a group), nor do we see it after. Lydia remains a business woman; she does not sell her house or her business and she is not asked to sell her house or business. Paul does not give away his tents; he sells them. What’s the key to understanding this abnormal situation in Acts? Chapter 2, verse 2, “…they were all with one accord . . . ” Verse 44-46, “…all that believed were together, and had all things in common . . . parted them to all men, as every man had need . . . they continued with one accord . . . ” Commonsense (there’s something that should be held in common =) tells us these words are limited. Did they move about as a group of 3000? Of course not, there would be sub-groups. You think a mikvah is hard to imagine with one attendant; imagine 3000! Clearly ‘together’ is another way of saying in agreement (like accord), rather than physically in constant personal space with each other. They parted to all men, clearly that doesn’t mean all men, but also women. And not just men and women, but clearly not unbelievers. The context tells us that these were people on the same bandwagon. As every man had need, that tells us it wasn’t a smorgasbord of pilfering each other’s houses; there was someone identifying needs, and distributing accordingly. And this is all wrapped up in the phrase: with one accord.

People will try to say, this is the ideal. We need to get to this. But there is a more obvious interpretation here. They all agreed this was the thing to do. If someone in the party was saying, “This is a bad idea. This guy over here is a freeloading hipster, who just showed up when the stuff was being handed out!” That would mean there was not accord. In fact, you might notice that was why Ananias and his wife ended up dead, because they pretended to agree when they did not.

What am I trying to say? That this way of life worked at that time because everyone agreed it was what was to be done. If people stopped agreeing would it still have worked? Would it be somehow wrong if they stopped agreeing? Or would it simply mean that when the agreement ended that it was time to move on to something different?

If you are in a community, in a moment in time, that together agrees to practice this, that’s great. More power to you! But that doesn’t mean that we should try to pretend or force such an agreement. If we have different ideas about how to proceed, and everyone has the same spirit of Elohim, the Ruach HaKodesh, that simply means that He is changing us from a large battalion of Heavenly fighting power, into an agile platoon size strike force.

If YHVH had meant for this to be the always-only way that the talmidim of Yeshua were to conduct themselves, then it is strange that none of the Epistles of the Brit Chadasha ever suggest it. Nor is it hinted at in the Torah. You’d think, since this idea is so foreign to the thinking of those times (and every time), that there would be whole epistles on this, but instead . . . you have one chapter, in one book, that itself never mentions it again, and we’re supposed to conclude this is the community ideal?

I think not.

To be continued . . .   

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Thoughts based loosely on a long time ago in a galaxy far far away

#1. J.J. Abrams . . .  Put down the Red Bull. Seriously, you cannot entertain a plot that requires patience or development! That is why the planet Vulcan is ten minutes away from Earth, and a girl who grew up as a scavenger is, without any training at all in the first movie, mind tricking like a pro, resisting mind-melds from the sith villain And then slapping him around like he’s never picked up a saber before!

 

#2.   I’ve got an alternative title for the movie: Pirates of the Carribean: A long Time Ago in a Galaxy Far Far Away. Am I the only one who was expecting Johnny Depp to show up at any minute? I remember there were funny parts in the original Star Wars trilogy; the droids were hilarious as I got older. But almost no one played any of the jokes straight. When old Han (by that I mean young Han) tried to bargain with Jabba the Hutt, it was funny but it was like real life humor. From the moment Han shows up in the new one he’s making a joke of himself, playing stupid when old Han would play suave. “There’s gotta be one of those thermal things. There’s always one of those thermal things”?!?!? Harrison Ford must have suggested killing his character off after he’d read the rest of the script.

 

#3. So . . .  Droid lands on a desert planet . . .  Carrying important information . . .  Get’s found by someone in grimy-white . . .  Who’s a pilot . . .  Turns out to be strong with the force . . .  Get’s Anakin Skywalker’s old light saber (somehow found from the bottom of the clouds of Cloud City) . . .  And then they have to stop a giant planet killer . . .  With moves involving blowing up a shield generator . . .  And flying down a trench . . .   Which Star Wars movie are we watching? Once you understand you’re watching a reboot of Episode 4, it makes sense that Han dies because he’s an old dude. All we needed was for his voice to come through and say, “Run, Rey. Run!”

 

#3.5 . . . And, yeah. Blow up a planet from a long long way away? And somehow the resistance knows who’s being targeted . . .  And I must have missed how they knew the resistance base location. But anyway, yeah blow up like three or four planets at once? It may sound pretty cool in theory, Disney, but in this case it felt like watching an episode of Dragon Ball Z after Freiza is dead, and you’re like . . . well how do we top that? Oh let’s just do the same thing with a bigger celestial body count. Did anyone put any thought into this movie’s originality at all? Besides having a black and a female lead character? Anyone?

 

#3.75. And did everyone forget that the empire was blown up? I knew something was wrong as soon as I read that Leia was desperate! Why is there still a resistance?!?!? How is it a resistance when there’s a senate again? How can there be a republic and a resistance working for it? Does the republic not have an army? The republic would have to be the resistance!!! WHAT IS GOING ON HERE!?!?!?!

 

#4. I now officially long for the prequels. Seriously, I miss George Lucas.

 

#5. So now all the people who told me this movie was so great . . . I’m guessing you saw a midnight showing. And stopped at a bar first. And it had been a long long time since you watched the originals. In fairness, Lucas did make it awfully hard to watch the originals, didn’t he?

 

#6. The badguy = biggest let down wuss, ever. No wonder he lost it in Luke’s academy. He’s probably a millennial, who wanted Luke to grade on a curve where 60% was an A-. Alisa points out that it was good he got his clocked clean because we’ve already had a Vader (and this guy is no Vader. This guy doesn’t deserve to do Vader’s laundry), so this guy should be something new. New. Like Anakin Skywalker in the prequels. But with angst. What we really need now is a love triangle with him competing for Rey’s affection against Finn. For a real surprise, how about they all turn to the dark side?

 

#7. Thank you, Disney, for meeting my expectations. Ever since I saw that D that looks like a G on the toe of some guy dressed as a monk coming out of a French fashion show, I knew I could count on you. I had my doubts when I saw the trailers. Those directors made it look like a movie that I wanted to see. One that recaptured the magic lost in the nineties. But you didn’t let me down. I knew anyone who could make Cars 2 and Finding Dory before a sequel to The Incredibles could take a special place in my memory and make it smell like the garbage disposal from episode 4.

 

#8. I need to go watch some Star Wars movies, now. The ones with Luke and Han and Leia in them. I just reminisced the scene with Luke on Tattoine (not the look-a-like Jakko or whatever they called it), looking at the twin suns with epic music in a long shot that made you think and feel. A shot that would be unbearably long for J.J. Abrams. Seriously, he’d get bored. In his version Luke has to fight something and blow something up before he could check on the droids. And he’d probably use force lighting in the process. Then Obi-Wan and him could play a drinking game instead of wasting time on those boring saber drills.

 

#9. Seriously that was almost as bad as Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.

 

#9.5. Ok . . . it was probably much better that KCS. There were some good parts. Basically before any of the original trilogy characters showed up. I actually did like Finn and Rey and Po, I just wish they’d been in a different movie that didn’t involve the defilement of Han and Leia, a wuss-version of Vader, and a rerun plot based on large quantities of white sugar.  

 

#10. How about Christopher Nolan directs the next one? And can someone please make sure that Johnny Depp is not already cast for a lead role?

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The Tragedy of the Gorilla vs. the Tragedy of Human Insanity

This gorilla tragedy is just another example of the complete insanity that is modern ‘thought.’ Or as the Bible talks about it, the corruption of the mind.
Sad that the gorilla was killed? Yes. I’m also sad when I run over a squirrel on accident. For that matter, I also say a special prayer of thanks when I eat meat, because I know my meal came from the life of an animal. I generally avoid the combination of meat and dairy out of consideration for this.
In both of those cases, I would not hesitate for a moment to squish the squirrel rather than endanger myself or someone else on the road. Or for that matter, damaging the large investment of the vehicle. (Though if I can safely avoid, I will. Which I usually do). And after my special prayer, I eat the animal flesh which, just like the gorilla, were not doing anything but minding their own business.
In fact, to emotionally swayed masses I would say the chickens are more tragic because the gorilla’s life plan was doing whatever he wanted until he died of natural causes. Your chicken sticks were bred to grow so fast that they got sick, but were ‘mercifully’ killed when they were too heavy to support their own bulk, but before they died from other complications. They were then butchered, diluted with other ingredients of variable ethical and nutritious nature before they were unceremoniously consumed, with your child not even knowing where they came from. And then some of them went to waste along with the rest of the 43 million tons of food that America throws out every year.
Give me a break.
Then some people have the mental rot to suggest that perhaps we should have let the child die rather than the gorilla? Or try a hail-mary pass tranquilizer, on the slim chance that the 400-lb gorilla might not do anything dangerous in the minutes before he goes out (hopefully not landing on the four year old boy).
Maybe some of the more reasonable see that the obvious, only right choice, was to save the boy regardless of the cost to the animal because of the God-given premise that a human life is more important than an animals. That the Elohim of the Bible, while commanding kindness, did give us the animals to use including ending their lives. Why could we kill for food, but not to save a life?
Some of these higher-level thinkers though, now search for someone to blame for the tragedy. Now. I haven’t been there, so I can’t say whether the gorilla enclosure was too lax. And I can’t say whether the parents were watching youtube videos on their smart phones rather than watching their children. And even if I thought one of the parties could have done better . . . I’d remember that millions have gone through that areas without anything like this. This doesn’t happen every day. It’s what you call a ‘freak’ accident.
In comparison . . . perspective is delicious isn’t it? How many children are run over by cars every day? I don’t hear anyone proposing that every sidewalk needs at least a ten foot fence around it. Maybe we can get some politician to take a look at that.
How many children drown in pools, so why don’t we turn them all into kiddie pools?
Kids get injured in government sponsored sports, so maybe we should have all the football players where those big sumo suits?
That last one isn’t a bad idea, because I think football as it’s played is stupid. Really? I’m supposed to run into this big guy as hard as I can? Oh sure, if we actually taught self-control, and trying to play hard with the restraint not to hurt each other that would be one thing. But instead we glorify the damage!
The point is. #$&% happens. You cannot stop everything. And there’s an opportunity cost to trying. You can add layer after layer of protection, and the cost will go up and people will still get injured. Just in different ways. In this case, everyone should take consideration for their own actions that lead to this. Was there something they missed? Or did something just happen? And remember not every risk is worth eliminating, unless you want to give up your car, pool, execute all criminals, grow all your own food, and do without electricity . . . of course then you’ll face the danger of not being able to get help in a hurry, cool off in dangerously hot weather, have mercy for lesser criminals, or do all the wonderful helpful things electricity enables.
Long story short. The gorilla is dead. Have some sorrow, then move on. Stop trying to charge people with stupid stuff.
And certainly we do not need a law named after the dead animal.
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‘Mean what you say and say what you mean,’ may be the most under utilized piece of advice

A while back, I was having an argument with someone close to me. No, not my wife. Of course, not her. It had to be someone else . . .

So, I suddenly had this thought . . . I keep saying this thing (I can’t remember what it was), and then she keeps saying another thing (because I’m a guy, I definitely don’t remember what that was). And I thought, “It’s like no matter how many times I say ___, she never seems to absorb it. She always comes back with something that’s not related.”

Now, the obvious criticism on myself is, “Did you actually listen to what she said?” It’s hard to argue that I did, since I just admitted to not remembering what it is she said.

But in my defense, I also can’t remember what I said, so was I not listening to myself either?

Don’t give some elvish-riddle as an answer.

But let’s side step that. It occurred to me, as I thought about this empasse, that what I was saying, wasn’t actually what I wanted to communicate. There was something I wanted to communicate–in a crude fashion (not vulgar, I mean rough, unfinished)–but I believed it was unacceptable. So what I ended up doing was finding a polite lie to say instead. Now, I’m not about to go all Trump on the world and just start lashing out with whatever garbage is in my soul and call it, “Telling it like it is.” But sometimes I say something that I don’t really mean, because I don’t want to hurt someone’s feelings, but then I get mad because they don’t get the message!

About this time, I read a part of B’resheit (Genesis), where Ya’akov (Jacob) is hearing about Yosef’s dreams. The scriptures say, Ya’akov reproves Yosef as if Ya’akov is disregarding the dreams as childish foolishness, but then says he guarded the sayings in his heart. Why would you do that if you were disregarding? And why, for a younger son who was prophecied to be greater than his older brother, who was the grandson of a younger son who was prophecied to be greater than his older brother . . . why would that person find offensive the idea that the youngest son of his beloved would rule over the older sons from a less beloved wife?

I think some commentaries make a good suggestion, that Ya’akov did believe the dreams, but didn’t want to offend the other brothers. But in fact, what follows is that the brothers get more angry. Before that, we had another situation (with Dinah), where the brothers also say something they don’t mean (terms for getting Dinah) that they never intended to keep–I think the terms were designed to be too high, hoping Shekhem would release Dinah rather than pay. And what happened? Turns out, Shekhem would pay and so they end up ‘having’ to kill them instead to prevent an assimilation that they should never have agreed to.

So taking this altogether, I begin to think that not saying what we actually mean . . . actually causes the situation to escalate. That seems to be true in my life. Does it seem so, in yours? You stand there and ask why, does this person keep doing this, when they know how much it ticks me off! But the fact is, you’ve never truly told them how/why it ticks you off!

But again, is the answer just to verbally vomit on them? That can’t be true. Because that is also not saying what you mean. Do I mean to degrade this person? To exaggerate their wrong? To compare them to animals and disregard every good thing we’ve ever shared? No.

The only answer that I can think of is to be . . . slow to speak. I know, how boring. But we have to stop, and ask, What is this person saying, and what do I actually believe about that. When offended, rather than saying, “Don’t worry about it.” Out of reflex, I have to stop and say, “Actually . . . that makes me feel like you just don’t care about what I think. What I’m hearing you say is that you just don’t care how much work it takes to build a retaining wall?”

And if I said that, what they might then say, if I spoke in love instead of verbal vomit, “Maybe, I didn’t really think about how much work it took. I was just thinking, how much more work you’ll have to do because that wall is too high. You won’t be able to finish the project in the time either of us agreed to.”

Of course, that’s if everyone can calm down. But you get my point. If instead, I just get mad, then the real issue will probably never be addressed. Which means for all that blustering and arguing, the foundation of the argument was never discovered. Thus, the argument will be built again.

I think this also applies to national debates. People on the radio talk about the bathroom gender thing. And the argument usually sounds something like this. “I understand there are people who can’t tell if they’re a boy or girl, but I’m concerned about straight-guys who are perverts. So it’s a safety thing, not to have boys showering with girls.” The gay marriage argument is pretty similar. “I don’t have a problem with whatever they do in private, but they shouldn’t be able to call it marriage legally.”

Those seem like stupid arguments to me. Actually bigoted, because they’re proposing punishing someone for something they say isn’t a problem, and usually because of some other hypothetical problem. A lot like the argument that people shouldn’t have guns because someone else might abuse them. But if we were talking, directly, then we could say, “No, I believe there’s a problem with the initial behavior. I believe it is the sign of someone in the process of self-destruction. When I hear about medical disorders, where someone doesn’t see their own arm as part of their body and wants to cut it off. I don’t hand him a saw; I say we get him some help. Not knowing what gender you are, or that you are made for the opposite gender, is a sign of serious, deep-rooted confusion. It does not need to be enabled or dressed up; it needs to be addressed and us try together to pull them back from it.”

Of course, that argument would fall on deaf ears, unless both parties have possession of the truth. I mean, we have a large portion of society who thinks that relations that have not produced one-single human life, are the same as relations that are responsible for 8 billion human lives. Which is why, I would rarely make it, but if it must come up (say for voting), then we need to be able to say what we actually mean instead of abandoning the actual bedrock truth in favor of an argument that is disingenuous.

But I digress. And I understand there is a place for simply not making an argument at all, personal or nationally. I think that’s probably most of the case in America and in our personal relations, because the other person is probably not answering from the same place of truth. But in our personal lives between those of close relations, people we actually know, I think maybe we just need some more directness.

Strike that. I do think we need more directness. Say what you mean (instead of some convenient cliché), and mean what you say (stand behind what you’ve said).

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For All the Boring Guys, Out There!

Update: I’m way behind on my blogging, due to lots to do! I left my position at the unnamed giant retailer that I’ve been working at since the close of the Happy Turtle. I’m now once again, working for myself as a sole-proprietor in the form of a private contractor. However, being paid much better than previously, and with the hard to quantify value of being able to work pretty much as I want. Not unobligated, you understand, but no uniform, no pretending people are right when they are wrong, that sort of thing.

Bloggery: But I’ve been wanting to post. I’ve had several ideas. Some include continuing to open cans of worms of doctrine, but I’m kind of seeing the wisdom in why even the clearest revelation of Elohim (the Mashiach) chose to hide doctrine in parables. I’ve thought of political posts, but … blech.

But during the process of this new business venture, my woman and I decided to get a vehicle, requiring a car loan. Now, I’m anti-debt in the sense that I think debt represents the symptom of generational mismanagement. I include myself in that. With a more clear thought process and vision, I could have been a land lord by now. But it’s not a sin to take on debt, especially in a country that operates contrary to Torah anyway. Debt would not be nearly so tempting if the Yovel year was kept for example.

We did decide that any debt taken on must be payable within a schmita cycle so that the lender is not left incriminated for not forgiving our debt.

So we sit down to take out this loan, and frankly, we’ve over drafted our accounts with an embarrassing frequency, mainly due to our previous business venture. Needless to say, I was joyfully astonished to find that our rating was north of 800. I felt quite good, despite how much I listen to Dave Ramsey (who I respect).

And it got me thinking. Forgive me if I brag. But, I didn’t have good credit because of a moments decision or because I scored really well on some intellectual test. I have a great credit score because I’ve lived a boring life. I’ve never had a smart phone (though that may change). I’ve never bought a TV on credit. In fact, other than a car paid off nine years ago, and credit used in the course of business, I haven’t done much of that.

The point is that I did nothing exceptional. I simply had a habit of making those boring, adult decisions in terms of finances. So it occurred to me, that here I was benefitting because I’ve been boring.

Lately, I’ve become increasingly enamored with the idea of building an estate, and leaving inheritances, etc. Listening to Dave Ramsey, watching Downton Abbey, and restoring a farm haven’t hurt that. For example, the other day I looked at getting a tractor repaired. This tractor, used, goes for $5,000. It is 60 years old. Think about that, a piece of equipment that has been used consistently and still runs 60 years after it came off the line. And we’re lucky if a car makes it 5????

The other day, I heard about how some college students are leaving college with 120,000 in loans. And I thought . . . 50,000 would get you maybe 50 acres of land. You could built a decent economical, efficiency house for 20,000 maybe. Buy a tractor for 30,000. Clear any trees (you can sell those or use them for construction or heating for a good many years), make back some extra cash. Buy a butt load of farm implements (little stuff) say another 10,000. We’re at 110,000. Get a good farm truck for delivering. There you go. You’ve now got direct income potential immediately and all of that invested is directly secured by physical collateral rather than unsecured debt.

That was just an example to say, we’re throwing money at institutions so that they can train our children how to work for someone else–and they’ll need to because of the debt. Instead of using that same money to create the ability to build more wealth independently.

I may right a book to more elaborately explain this, but essentially it comes down to something I heard years ago:

  • The poor see money for spending. That’s not a criticism, because when you have little, it has to go directly to living. But you need to be looking, mentally, to graduating to the next worldview.
  • The middle class see money for saving. That sound’s like a good idea. And it is, that means you are not simply spending because you can, you are saving for future expenses. You are looking to the future, but even that needs to be graduated beyond.
  • The rich see money for investing. How is in investing better than saving? Saving retains the surplus that you already had. It means keeping things from getting worse. Investing means making the money make more money. But, we think that investing means buying stocks and making money off of other people’s efforts. The truth is that investing is simply growing your capacity to create new wealth.

For example, I got a tax return this year, and I planned to get solar power, to cut my energy costs. But a friend told me, “At some point you cannot cut your way to wealth, you have to increase your earning.” So instead, we turned to infrastructure upgrades that would allow us to make more, like the purchase of the vehicle. Pasture fencing. A grain mill.

I’ve gotten off subject, cause it looks like I’m talking down education. I’m not. It’s great if you have a specialized purpose for knowledge that you can’t easily attain. But I do believe that most people need a better basic training at home in the form of estate vision than they do college education. I mean if you build a company and hand it down successfully to your children, you should have trained them it. That means they have the real world knowledge to run a company and they have the company and the experience, what the crap would they need the degree for? And if people viewed their family wealth like a companies wealth (net worth and each family member as a shareholder) then they could create internally growing wealth, and each generation should be able to grow without “needing” to get a mortgage worth of education to learn what frankly they could have been learning all their lives.

And they wouldn’t need to go to the bank for a vehicle loan, they would go to the family. Or maybe the congregational body.

But the main point is that all this requires is those boring choices. The simply saying save instead of spend. Buying things that make money or improve the family infrastructure more than entertain it. Buy a chain saw, not a new cell phone every year. Start paying yourself a car payment so the car gets paid for and you get the interest instead of the bank. Encourage the generations to live together so they grow in assets instead of debt.

Little boring decisions. Be the boring guy. Does that mean you won’t be as cool?

It depends when you ask the question.

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Review: “Lina’s Holy Struggle” by Gary Riner

The following is an expanded review of Gary Riner’s Lina’s Holy Struggle (https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/545477), an ebook available on Smashwords.com. A condensed version can also be found on Smashwords. My intent in the expanded edition is to help writers (myself and Gary Riner included) develop their craft. This review contains mild spoilers.

***

The book is a story in a planned series of stories about young godly women. The main character is a sixteen-year old Iranian girl, who is a follower of Yeshua (a Christian). And normally when I say, ‘Yeshua’, and I am mentally substituting the Hebrew name for “Jesus”, because that’s how I speak. But in this case, the girl actually uses the name Yeshua. Which helps develop the tone that this is not about a western Christian girl in an exotic setting, but actually about a middle-eastern disciple in her native setting. Gary does a wonderful job throughout the story of weaving in cultural details, such that many readers will find their horizons expanded.

And even though the villains in this story are Islamists, Gary does not make all Islamists out to be villainous. The title character clearly reflects a viewpoint of trust in the truth of scripture, that Yeshua is Mashiach, and Mashiach is the way of salvation. Yet many of the Muslim characters are presented as kind, wanting to do right as they believe it, and to have compassion. 

Another thing the story does really well is to portray the plight of someone (especially a woman) who converts to trust in Mashiach in a fundamentalist Islamic culture such as Iran. Gary does this fairly . . . realistically. Early on, a Christian character is tortured for their faith, while others are tortured and killed elsewhere. Gary does a good job not softening things for the readers. And that’s a hard thing to do, but how do you tell a story about the trial of holding to the faith, without communicating how real is the struggle? Would Yeshua’s sacrifice have meant so much to us, if had lived perfectly on a deserted island and died peacefully, or too suddenly to make a choice? Isn’t the magnificence of His perfection, that He was tempted? That He saw His gruesome death coming, and chose it anyway?

Gary’s story askes us just what we would endure and still hold true to our faith. Now, I do think he pulled a few punches. A few times he left out details that would have been difficult to read, but would have made it a little more true. But, I think every believing artist has to find a balance between what is necessarily graphic or distasteful, and what is unnecessarily graphic. I mean even the Bible uses euphemisms for horrible things in some cases, and goes into scandalous detail in others.

Overall, the story is pretty good. Diverse in activity, surprising at times, stirring, even (one particular scene had me near tears). But it’s not without its flaws. What comes first to mind was inconsistency. It seems it needed another scrub. Formatting stuff: numbers that would normally have been written out were left as numbers, strange uses of quotation marks, underlining, etc. Violating convention is fine, but it’s like driving on the right side of the road. Would it work if you drove on the left side? But in the wrong country, you’ll probably get some funny looks, wild gestures, and flashing lights. Don’t break convention unless you have a good reason. This felt like the writer just didn’t know it was a convention.  

Another inconsistency is the rotating of character titles. One person can be Jane and also the banker, Mom, Sis, the short brunette, all in the same story. But whichever title you use in a particular place, that title should have meaning beyond simply variety of word choice. For example, if I wanted to have some variety, and I had a scene where Jane was trying to turn on a light by pulling a string hanging from the ceiling, I might say, “The short brunette tried and tried, but that string waved just out of reach, silently saying ‘Neener, neener, neener.’” The title choice is relevant and descriptive. You wouldn’t have Jane nuking a burrito in the microwave in a home-life developing scene, and write, “The banker watched the burrito swell as if it would explode.” Her being a banker is irrelevant. So I think Gary could have done better in many cases (especially when referring to God), simply by referring to the characters by name or simply by pronoun when it was clear.

Besides uneven formatting and presentation choices, the main character comes off uneven. There’s a moral dilemma early on, the solution to which, left me aghast. But honestly, that was because I was expecting something more Hollywood. So kudos to Gary for not going that route. That’s one of his strengths. From that choice, Lina goes down a morally offensive path toward ‘redemption’; it’s Lina’s Holy Struggle, after all. But along her struggle, she is eventually hit by a bus—spiritually speaking. Afterwards she becomes a completely different person.

Now the event is of such magnitude that one would expect changes, but it felt like at that point that she became a full-time evangelist. Fine, great! But the annoying kind. The one who turns a conversation about pancakes into, whether you’ll go to hell if you choke on said pancake. Far be it from me to discourage anyone from sharing the Glad Tidings, but there’s a reason those people are annoying. It annoys me, I think, because for one its conversational hijacking. But also because the hijacking says the pancake itself has no value. Normal life events have no value. It devalues the very life of a person. Why would I listen to you if you’ve just told me the normal joys of my life have no meaning? Beyond being a turn-off, it doesn’t even make sense because we know it is God’s goodness that leads men to repentance. Rather than lowering the pancake, we should be elevating it. Ignoring basic goodness in life, makes it seem like the only moments that count are those that are printed with scripture and explicit gospel priming. Didn’t Yeshua point to birds to make a point? That would only work if you paid attention to the birds. What did YHVH say to Job when He made His appeareance? Did He say, “What if you choked on a pancake…?” No, He pointed to creation again and again and again. Why? The presumption is that life itself teaches us truth. The pancake’s innate buttery, fluffy goodness is innately telling us something; you either have ears to hear or you don’t.

So the main character becomes this kind of person. Of course, those people exist. I’d even daresay that most of the best believers probably are tempted by that pattern of behavior. I mean, if you grasp the fullness of what it is to be in a loving relationship with the Elohim of elohim, the Creator of the Heavens and the Earth–from an intellectual standpoint–everything else seems like a distraction. So it’s perfectly, possible and realistic that, after such a traumatic event, Lina would become like this.  

Then what are the grounds for criticism? I think the problem is that Gary doesn’t show us the inside that justifies this shift. Early in the story Lina makes a decision that I found reprehensible, but the display of her inner workings made me see that it was hard to imagine how she might have avoided that decision. I understood—however I might have disagreed. In the later case, I saw a vacuum of normal reaction. As if Lina was actually some kind of impossible, robotic believer. Why did she not react to being nearly killed? Someone is trying to help her, and she just brushes aside their best efforts and condemns them for not being a believer, why doesn’t she see how unreasonable she’s being? Why don’t any of her believing friends say, “Hey, girl, you’re being a jerk.”  

I think that was where the story had the most potential to be improved, by letting Lina mature and become a powerful saintly figure, but while maintaining her humanity. Or else showing us that she was immature, but it was coming out of an honest internal process. 

One related area. Lina’s later shift, I inferred to be Gary focusing on delivering a specific message, rather than allowing the characters freedom to tell that message through who they were. So, being focused on the message, Gary passes up avenues for better story telling (IMO). For example, there was a scene where Lina goes to a pool. Now being an Iranian girl growing up with strict modesty standards, she’s had quite a culture shock moving to Isra’el which is mostly secular and therefore not concerned with modesty. So being at this pool, wearing something she never would have in the past, surrounded by others even more “scantily” attired, that could have had an influence. Someone might have seen her discomfort. Showing some scarring from a recent event, could have given her more difficulty. Thinking about a recent near death could have been a factor. Point being, lots of things could move the story on a personal level. Some of these are mentioned in passing, but the whole scene lasts a paragraph or two and concludes with Lina again talking about Yeshua to some people (who we only meet by summary). When I read that I concluded: that scene only existed so we could see that doors are opening for her to share. And because of that sense of the scene’s singular purpose, it felt like empty calories.

The “magic” of a story comes in hiding the structure. Why? Probably because living our lives, our own stories don’t seem to have structure. It’s like a magician’s tricks don’t work unless, he can distract you with the show. So how could Gary have worked this better? Stories have structure. In fact I would say, my poorest writing is when I’m just wandering without structure; failing to ask myself, “What does this scene have to do with the story?” Focus on the “reason” for each scene helps cut out a bunch of superfluous wordery. But once the reason for a scene is identified, then you have to add in the ‘superfluous’ details: the magician’s distractions. You fog it up. Hiding what the reason for the scene was, so the astute reader will afterward think . . . “Oh, that happened because of . . . ”  And that realization may never reach the conscious level; Kudos if it doesn’t! The reader shouldn’t know why something worked, they should simply sense that it does.

A great example is watching Castle or The Flash and watch the way the show explains things. A character will begin to say something, but then a question will come up. In the worst cases, the question is so obvious no thinking person would ever ask it. But then another person will dramatically enter the conversation to supply the answer. This ‘works’ because it makes the dialogue become a conversation with flare instead of a monologue. Usually, the person who supplies the answer will also begin to answer from off camera. As if they just rolled up, figured out the conversation, anticipated the question, and supplied the answer before there could be real-life dullness. It keeps the story moving, makes it kinetic. The only problem is when (like in Castle) you do it multiple times in every episode, usually with the same characters. Once you see the technique it just becomes annoying.

“Really? You couldn’t have explained that all where you were? How is it that you always begin your complicated explanation away from the computer screen with all the answers? What? Did they find you in the break room and started to ask you there instead of beginning the conversation at your work station?”

In a later blog, I intend to lampoon the abuse of these techniques, but when used right, these add those ‘distractions’ that hide the seams. And they aren’t just distractions. They are life. If you think of your life in terms of a list of items, actions, etc. It becomes boring, very very very boring. “What did I do today? Well . . . I got up. And I had breakfast. I went to work. Then went to the gym. Came home. Ate again. Melted my brain with The Voice and went to bed.” I got bored just writing that. It seems like nothing happened at all. But that ignores all the bounty of the life YHVH has given us. The way those pancakes tasted. That crisp breeze that slapped your face and antagonized you until you got in your car, feeling the cold of the seat grab you through your clothes. The funny dance you did to stay warm while the car defrosted.

Good writing needs to include those little details, because it is the little details that fill out the story and make a scene that was only ‘there for a reason’ into a scene with a reason in it. And in the best cases, this shouldn’t just be details hiding a reason, it should be two or three reasons. In the scenes where it works, characters are doing things, interacting with others, and giving exposition all at the same time. If Lina needs to be seen sharing, that’s great. Send her to the pool, but have her do something else in the same trip.

Conclusion: The premise is interesting; timely and relevant might be better descriptors. Gary writes a story that has a lot of pull, but suffers from rough patches in formatting, and more so a message getting in the way of the story. Again, the message is not the problem, but the delivery gets in the way of the story, making both feel artificial and unrelated. But that problem doesn’t really surface until the last third or so, and even then Gary shows some good scenes and ironic twists. 

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Presidential Candidates 9: Oh Forget It

To recap . . .

Oh forget it. I’ve tried, but the more I read, the less I care about this political process. I really like/liked Ben Carson, but even he is tainted as  I see more and more that the internet just doesn’t provide the information to find out if any of these guys are qualified.

You can’t trust the media because they’re all agenda driven, without any of them looking through the prizm of Elohim’s words. When they say someone is pro-life, you’re not sure what they mean. When Factcheck says Obama tells 75% half-truth or better and Hillary 71% or better, you’re left scratching your head about what standard these guys are using. And how do you begin to define who is covetous?

You just can’t tell because not enough is known about any of these guys really. You don’t know them (and that was one of the key qualities of the judges and kings: they were supposed to be known). You know some hand-picked soundbites, answers given to controlled leading/suggesting/implicating questions. Answers given so as to avoid a minefield if implications that will offend this base or that base, or the unicorn-like independent voters.

The whole process is just crap. What should the process be like? Have people tell us stories about the candidates, and than look for corroborating evidence. Like I would in an investigation. “Oh, so when you said ‘___’, I’m not sure that was true. Where did you learn that from? What music was playing in the background? Was that a Tuesday?” It’s those unrelated details that can be verified which lend credence to the narrative.

The bottomline is we don’t have a context of trust or distrust through which to view the claims and promises of the candidates. All we’re left with is emotional, jedi-mindtricks. “Oh this candidate made me angry about things I was already angry about! They’re the one for me!”

“This candidate made me cry about things I was already sad about, she really gets me!”

“This candidate said in vague terms that they were against what I was against; I like their conviction.”

Maybe this is a rant. Maybe it’s political verbal vomit brought on by the sickness that is a political process in a vacuum of morality or shared spiritual identity. Or maybe, I’m just up too late at night.

Either way, I’m gonna end this series. I’ll probably land on some candidate (who  will undoubtedly be eliminated in the primaries), but I’m not going to waste any more blog time on this.

Just remember for yourself:

Elohim told us how to pick leaders: They should be brothers (they call the God of Avraham, Yitzchak, and Ya’akov, their God). They should be able (able to lead, to move others by going-out and coming-in in front of the community). God-fearing (not perfect, but wanting, not just to ‘do good’ but to do the will of Elohim). Truthful (not maybe saying something that could be true or untrue, but seen to be truthful). And hating covetousness (or dishonest gain).

May Elohim give us wisdom to find a good candidate, and to have shalom if we can’t.

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A Journey of Calendars

If you’ve been studying “Messianic Judaism” or “Hebraic Roots” for long, you’ve probably realized there are differences in how to figure out what day to celebrate the Mo’edim (the appointed times/feasts).

…I have the feeling I’ve written this blog before…

When I first started in my journey, I simply accepted the predominant calendar, which seems to be the rabbinic one, which seems to have been handed down by the Pharasees. But over time, I came to distrust the Rabbis. I found points that I disagreed with them on. Such as whether Pesach is the evening of the 14th vs. the latter end of the 14th going into the 15th as they say. Does the counting of the Omer begin after the first of Matzah convocation or after the weekly Shabbat? Things like that.

Like many sincere disciples (and I think this is a good thing), I started to say, I don’t want to be bound by man-made traditions (which I still hold to . . . but with more nuance).

So I started editing my personal view of the calendar. I noticed some Hebrew calendars didn’t even start on the same day as others? Which lead to the question of when does the month start? It seems to be lunar, but what is the New Moon? Is it the first sliver? Is it the dark of conjunction? What if you don’t see it at all for days because of whether? Do you start counting when you see it or can you calculate it? If you can calculate it why look at all?

And when does the year even start? Scripture says Aviv, but what if you have 13 versus 12 months? Does barley have to be ripening? How did the Isra’el keep Aviv in the desert then when they weren’t growing any barley for 40 years?

And then you get into even harder questions where “Lunar Sabbatarians” suggest that the seventh day isn’t the Shabbat at all, but rather the Shabbat floats based on the cycle of the moon. Oh vey!

But the more I study, the more I think . . .

YHVH never told us whether it was the crescent of the moon or the dark. Or whether it had to be cited or calculated . . . He kind of left that up to us. And why is that so surprising? Didn’t He leave the naming of every species to Adom? He told Adom to tend the garden, but did He tell him how high to let the grass grow? Are there clues? Patterns we see in scripture? Sure. But just because Elohim had Isra’el walk around a city, doesn’t mean that every battle needs to start that way.

The Rosh Chodesh is a good example of that (translated as new moon but actually simple means “head of the new” or “first of the rebuilding” which is interpreted with wide consensus to refer to the moon’s rebuilding). The name tells us that it’s a time related to a rebuilding of something, tradition tell us that that it’s the moon that is rebuilding, and we can see that as we watch the phases pass through the sky.

Rosh HaShanah is like that too, by that I mean the one in Aviv. Aviv means green, naturally we would assume that its a month when things are turning green, whether that’s barley specific? That make sense because in the Shemot (Exodus) account we are told the Barley was up and smitten sometime before the 7th of Aviv. But with a time frame like that, one might conclude that the barley was well underway and perhaps somewhat green before Aviv.

The point is these descriptors give us frameworks, but the exact details may not be so clear. And what’s wrong with that? For example, I think the case against the so-called Lunar Sabbath is pretty concrete. B’resheit tells us that Elohim counted 4 days before there was a moon at all. The days up to that point are counted on the basis of a series of evenings and mornings, not moon phases. And when the moon did come, the Shabbat would have been on the third day, not the 8/15/22/29 as the more prevalent theories propose. And suppose He had it start not at New Moon to accommodate it’s late arrival? The only Shabbat pattern He showed us in B’resheit is the 7th day Shabbat, not the 8/15/etc plus the ‘fudge factor’ at the end of the chodesh due to the month not being evenly divisible by seven. Add to that the fact that YHVH specifically differentiates His feasts that do come on specific/certain days of the Chodesh and contrasting with Shabbat where no such specificity is given, and it seems pretty clear that Shabbat has been preserved by Isra’el uninterrupted since Moshe. And that’s before we look at all of the explicit impossibilities (like how you can’t have 50 days made of 7 Shabbats plus one with a lunar Sabbath cycle), or the considerable historical evidence that it was never this way.

Anyway, back to my journey. So our home fellowship is looking to get one calendar that we can agree on. Not because we’re so divided or because we want everyone to walk in lock step, but how can you have community when you can’t agree on which day is Kadosh and which is ordinary? You simply can’t function that way. How can we admonish each other to keep Torah if we each think we’re breaking Torah while professing to keep it?

So we’re trying to get a calendar together. And being the motivated and somewhat arrogant person I am, I start to hammer one out. It’s pretty good-looking if you ask me. In big print it gives the cycle of months as named in scripture. A little explanation for the name and what the month is about. But beyond that, I found as for the real mechanics . . . I kind of was reinventing the wheel.

To keep Aviv from slipping into the wrong season, I went with the popular advice to simply put Aviv as the first Rosh Chodesh after the vernal equinox. It seems like a good idea because while the months are lunar, the Biblical years seems to be solar. But then . . . how is that different than the Rabbinical calendar that adds a leap month every so many years to do the same thing?

The Bible also seems to put forth the idea that months are supposed to be 30 days long (you can see this in Noach’s 5 30-day months or Daniel’s prophecies). Some suggest this can only be fixed when YHVH restores the timing of the Heavens that has been modified by various miracles and calamities. Others have suggested counting the first day as zero so that you end up with 30 even though there’s 29.

If that last part sounds crazy, I don’t any way to say it so it sounds better. “Wait, we’ll count 0-29 because the first day doesn’t really count, but we’ll count the zero as if it is something so that we end up with 30 somethings . . . even though we’re counting to 29. Why don’t we just count to 30 starting with 1, like we would with any other item?”

But that 29 = 30 idea is really an attempt to solve this problem that lunar months aren’t 30 days, but they’re supposed to be! I had my own eloquent solution. Since I’ve heard in Hebraic thought that part of a day counts for a day, and since in some cases (like the counting of the Yovel/Jubilee years) the first is also the last (the Yovel year is really also the first year of a new count) . . . couldn’t that indicate that the last half day of a lunar month really counts as a full day so that 29.5 is really 30!

I was really excited because the idea seems so brilliant and poetic! That’s right I just solved this huge problem sitting behind my computer.

But then it slowly dawned on me. Those half-day fudges would solve the problem if they were only one day out of a month . . . but if the last day is also the first day then I’m really taking two half-days out of each month which means 30 = 29! AAARRRGRGRG!

So then I thought, ok. Just make one month have an unshared 1st day and then share on the back end, and then repeat that pattern with the month after. So you’d have in reality 29.5 counted as 30, then 29.5 counted as 30. Sounds good, but then which months are the unshared versus the shared? And then the other shoe fell. All this gymnastics accomplishes the exact same thing that the rabbinic 30-29 alternating month setup does.

So that brings me up to the present. For all my effort, all I’ve managed to do is change the look of the rabbinic calendar. And as far as I can tell, with the exception of the lunar-Sabbath model (which simply displaces the Shabbat), that’s all any of these calendars do. So I’m back where I started, thinking what’s so wrong with the Rabbinic model?

What have we gained for all this tusseling, trying to replace a model that we then recreate? Do we really think YHVH is less honored by the traditional calendar which makes a good-reasonable attempt to keep the Mitzvot, than by each congregation and family and individual coming up with a private calendar that they are dead certain is THE way YHVH wants it done? Even though He never gave us the specifics on how to do it?

Or is it perhaps that He gave us the framework and simply trusted us to express it in community and that the precise details weren’t so important?

“BUT HASHEM IS KADOSH! YOU CAN’T APPROACH HIM IN ANY OLD WAY!”

Tell me, did Elohim tell the Kohen what kind of knife to use for the ritual slaughter? If He did that would have been in oral tradition. Did He say exactly what constituted evening? Did He tell Noach how to build the ark, step by step? Which board to use? Which hammer? Why is it so hard to believe, YHVH simply wanted us to use a little bit of collective human reason and compromise? Is He too small to have accounted for what we might do?

Heaven forbid.

Let’s stop freaking out about the ‘precise’ way of the calendar and try to just get on the same one with anyone who is trying to just follow the Torah. You make your case, that person will make theirs, and lets simply vote and stop worrying if we got it perfect. YHVH knows what we meant to do.

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