Friday, May 23, 2014

In Memoriam

Good weekend, fellow castaways.

This is Memorial Day Weekend in the United States, a weekend of remembrance for those who not only placed themselves in the breach for freedom around the world (and here at home), but also lost their lives in defending it.

My books are almost all dedicated in some small or large part in honoring those who serve in military, police, and fire-fighting professions, because I feel strongly that there is no sacrifice greater than one's own life, and these people deserve our respect, our honor, and our thanks, whether they lived through their terms of service or not.

In my novel Critical Mass, I wrote an exchange between two characters that stands out to me as a statement at the heart of what I believe to be the mission of our men and women of the armed services. Here, I post it again, for the benefit and in honor of those whose blood has watered our Tree of Liberty:


Jimmy sat on the porch, watching the dull routine of the afternoon in front of him. The air commandos not on guard sat in the shade of Nadia’s lawn for lunch, weapons within easy reach. Those on duty at the detention shacks stood their watches, ever vigilant against any attempted breakout. The occasional fly or wasp buzzed by, its hypnotic drone lulling the man in the wooden chair. The pain med Watts had given him was just starting to do its work, and the ache in Jimmy’s shoulder was finally at a tolerable level. But on the downside, that warm, sleepy feeling Jimmy hated so much was just beginning to creep in and steal the rest of his afternoon.
The old warrior’s eyes had just drifted shut when the screen door opened with a protest of springs. The steps on the porch were light and favored one side. The soft scent in his nostrils confirmed the identity of the other party. “Afternoon, Miss Paine,” he mumbled through the painkiller’s haze. Another smell, cool and yeasty, wafted to him and he held out a hand to receive the cold bottle offered, his eyes still closed.
He couldn’t resist his own grin at the smile in her voice. “You must have sonar, you old coot.” The chair next to Jimmy’s creaked as Jenna settled into it. She clinked her bottle against his and took a pull.
The first swallow went down good, so he took a second before speaking. “How’s the leg?”
“Better, thanks. A little stiff, but I can work with it.”
“Good. Wouldn’t want ya to miss out just ’cause ya got a little hitch in your git-along.”
“Jimmy, I wouldn’t miss this if I had a whole leg off.”
“Big deal, eh?
Jenna looked out at the yard for a while before answering. “They lied to me. I don’t like being lied to.”
“But do you still believe in what they want? World unity and Kumbaya, and all that crap?”
Jenna tensed and clenched her jaw at the offhand remark. “When you kill someone, what do you feel?”
Jimmy bristled at the question. “You’re kidding, right?” Feel? How the hell am I supposed to feel? What kind of stupid question was that?
Jenna’s eyes narrowed with passion. “I want to know what you feel when you pull a trigger and put a bullet into another person, and let their life spill out. In whose name did you do it? Yours? Your country’s? And how did it solve anything?” She looked away. “That wasn’t even enough, was it? You had to teach others how to kill, too. For a border. An imaginary line on a map.”
She paused long enough to take a swallow. “So before you label someone’s beliefs as ‘crap,’ just think about what it felt like every time you killed someone for that imaginary line.”
The hair stood up on Jimmy’s neck. I swear, if you were a man, I’d pin your ears back… As it was, there was no way he was going to let that one go. It had been a long time since he needed to shift into sergeant mode, but the shift was as smooth as his last class of recruits.
“Young lady.” He struggled through gritted teeth. “I didn’t kill anyone for a line. I killed to save an idea. That idea was that free men should be able to defend themselves from oppression and tyranny and help other men to live free as well. Them poor jackwagons who stood in the way of that idea were the ones I killed. And to tell you the truth, I don’t feel a damned thing for ’em. That line on the map you’re goin’ on about is the line that says, ‘on this side you’re free to choose your own destiny.’ And I’ll spill as much blood as I have to to make sure it stays where it’s at.”
Jimmy sniffed and set his bottle on the small table between them. “Look at you, giving me the ‘baby-killer’ speech. How many bodies have you left behind? Why don’t you tell me what you felt when you stood over the bodies of the people you laid out for a lie?”
He gave her a cold smile then and watched the steel in her eyes melt away. “I’ll grant you, hon, you ain’t any worse than me. But you sure as hell ain’t any sight better.”
Leaning his chair back, he said, “Now, I’d be willin’ to bet your vision for this earth ain’t too far from mine. We just ended up thinkin’ about it from some different places.” He fixed her eyes again with his. “I do know if I’d have had a half-dozen more of you on my team, we’d have buried less of our boys and more of theirs.”
Jenna broke her gaze away and looked across the yard. In the silence that followed, Jimmy imagined he could hear the gears working inside her head. He just hoped that, whatever she decided in the end about whatever it was she was pondering, it wouldn’t affect her edge when it came down to brass knuckles and billy clubs.
Things were going to get bad enough as it was.


In my research for Becoming NADIA, I came across the inspiration for men like Jimmy DeBartolo. General William "Wild Bill" Dean commanded the first American force rushed to Korea after the North Korean Army stormed across the border into the South and laid siege to Taejon. General Dean's actions in leading his men from the front earned him a Congressional Medal of Honor, the highest award our country can give to its warriors. He was truly a soldier's soldier, and his men loved him as much as he loved them.
We must, in between the barbeques and picnics, take a moment to solemnly remember those who came back home in flag-draped coffins, whose lives were laid down not for glory, nor of pride, but for the concept that men should live free to make their own destinies. They weren't perfect, nor sinless, but they were the ones who stood in the breach for us. We owe them much more than we could possibly repay.

Saturday, May 3, 2014

The Question: Part Three the Final.

Greetings once again, O fellow castaways, and thanks again for your patience.

This week, the third and final part of The Question.

We need to start at one point, and this is critical to understand: NOTHING IS IMPOSSIBLE. That is just as important to understand  as the fact that "Old Marley was dead as a doornail." Anyone who tells you anything is impossible, knows nothing. Now, according to science, you say, some things are impossible. Iron does not float. You can't leap to the moon. Politicians always tell the truth. Dead men don't get up and live again. Science is fact, and science does not lie. Science, in fact by its nature, cannot lie.

Well, science cannot lie, and that's a fact. Science can't; scientists can, and do. But that's another issue. Back to science itself: C.S. Lewis (not a scientist, in acknowledgement to an argument put forth by one person in particular) said, "Science studies nature." Science has become very adept at predicting certain results and phenomena under certain conditions. For example, iron doesn't float. Well, that's not entirely true. Huge ships weighing several thousand tons are made of iron, and yet they float quite easily. Now, you say, that's cheating. Of course, if you distribute the mass of iron over a sufficient area such that it displaces a volume of water equal to its mass, it follows that iron can float. What about a cannonball?


 Here: (I never said anything about what liquid in which the metal could float, now did I?)

What about the leap to the moon? Okay, give us rockets. That's one hell of a leap accelerator. The politician thing, no one has an answer for yet. I'll grant you that one.

Now, here's the other shoe: As I said above, Science studies nature. Science has become very adept at predicting certain results and phenomena under certain conditions. Those "conditions" also assume that no outside forces are acting upon the result. Hence the term "supernatural," as in "acting or behaving in a way that supersedes nature."

NOW we have a game-changer. We also have something that will NOT be duplicated in a controlled environment. Let's say we go bowling. You roll a ball for a perfect strike, right down the lane. Perfect trajectory, perfect momentum, perfect spin. Your release is flawless, and the ball rolls happily down the lane on its way. But then the lane attendant hits a button, and the bar comes down in front of the pins. The ball gets deflected by this outside force, introduced at someone else's caprice, and the strike never occurs. "Stop that!" you yell, and he nods and waves as the gate rises once more into its place above the lane. So you roll again, and just to be contrary, the attendant hits the button again. This "outside force" is unpredictable and uncontrollable, and has a direct effect on the outcome of the sequence of events.

Let's apply this factor to the question of miracles. Point 1.) Is it possible to prove a negative? In other words, can one say with certainty there is no God? Remember, I said, nothing is impossible. Therefore, by my own argument, it should be possible to prove the nonexistence of God, and I'm not talking philosophically. I mean in a real, scientific way.  I might say one could, and here's how: Star with a box of finite dimensions. Make it as big as you want. Let's start with 10 feet on a side. Now climb inside your box and close it off. You are now the only living thing in that box, right? Wrong. There is you, and all the bacteria and dust mites and whatnot that live on you, as well. But is God in that box with you? Maybe, maybe not. The only way to tell would be determined by your awareness of all things in that box, in every corner, on every side, at once. That way, God can't dodge away and hide somewhere behind a flap or something when your focus is somewhere else.

Now, make that box as big as you want: a mile on every side, a hundred miles, a thousand miles, a million light-years, it doesn't make a difference. The only way you could prove beyond doubt that there is no God, is to know and be aware of every single point in the universe simultaneously. That would make you omniscient and omnipresent. Why, to do that, you would have to be omnipotent Hey, aren't those the attributes of God? That could be some dangerous territory, Bruce Almighty.

So I think you owe me this: 1.) There is a possibility that there is a God. 2.) It follows, then, that if there is a God, that he could be omni-scient, omni-potent, and omni-present. 3.) It follows now that if there is a God, and  this God person is omni-omni-omni, then this He/She/It just may choose to act, within His/Her/Its range of ability and judgement, to act upon certain situations for His/Her/Its own benefit or the benefit of others, am I correct?

Now, back to The Question: Jesus was a Jewish man from Galilee in Israel who lived in the first century of our current calendar era. He was put to death by Pontias Pilate in Jerusalem and laid in a stone tomb, where the body hung out for a period of time exceeding twenty-four hours. I say that because there are some who choose to pick nits over how long he stayed in the tomb. Let's stick to basics, folks.

Anyway, a guard contingent of armed men (most likely Romans, because crucifixion was reserved for political crimes against Rome, and so this was an execution under Roman jurisdiction) was posted to make sure he stayed put. By many accounts, on a certain morning, the tomb burst open from inside, and Jesus walked out, not only alive, but thriving. Statements from the time indicate that he was seen by up to five hundred people at once.

Of course, these are the biblical accounts. Now doubters would say his followers overcame the guards and stole the body, and claimed he rose from the dead. Okay, let's go with that for a while. These are not stupid people. If a dozen bikers started saying Papa Guardado was raised from the dead, what would any reasonable person do? How about say, "Let's see him!" "Well," they say, "He's not here right now. He just left." Yeah, right. So how did the Twelve convince anyone with a lick of sense that Jesus came out alive from the tomb? No risen Jesus, no resurrection.

Again, if there was no resurrection, why did no one search for the body or question his followers? No man would die for what they know to be a lie, especially when plied by a Roman lector with a scourge for any period of time. Why would they do that? So obviously, we have a dozen or so men at least, who were convinced as sure as I breathe, that Jesus was raised from the dead. They began to preach that as truth, and the matter began to catch momentum. If you torture ten men, one of them will talk. That's a plain fact. And at this point, everyone in that area had a vested interest in making sure Jesus stayed dead. The Romans wanted peace in their conquered province. The Jews wanted the Romans to leave them alone so they could live their lives. All they had to do was break one of the followers to show them where the body was taken.

So, a group of men and women claim they saw Jesus back from the dead. No one interrogates them? No one says, "Hey, here's his body; they lie!" What credibility could they possibly have had to influence history in such a long-reaching way? How about a risen Jesus?

That's why I believe. Not just because someone told me. I looked into it myself, and my questions were answered to my satisfaction. This of course didn't just jump up and bite me out of the blue. There was a series of supernatural events that led up to my final inward knowledge of "Yes, that was the way it happened."

The last part of The Question is this: What do you do with knowledge like that? For a lot of folks, it's changed their lives. I know it's changed mine.

So I guess that's it. You can do two things here: believe it yourself, or not. You're free to choose, and that's the beauty of it all. I'm not your judge, any more than you are mine. Next week, we'll be on to another point of discussion. Till then, be well.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

The Question: Part Two

Greetings, O fellow travelers on Starship Earth. I apologize for the staggered spacing of my recent posts; I have one teenager in track, and another in softball, and I will not let my children go through a season without seeing their Dad on the sidelines, cheering them on.

Last week I opened the box.

I'm a man of faith, and a man of logic. They don't conflict, and we're working through the questions that used to bug me, until I found the answers. Because it isn't enough to believe. Understanding why one believes is crucial to a faith, otherwise you're just following a religion. And yes, there is a distinct difference between religion and faith.

Now, there does come a time when someone in whom I have implicit trust does ask me to just take their word for something. And if they have a proven record, I don't feel bad about simply believing. You're not an idiot for taking the word of someone who has never let you down, no matter how outrageous the claim. That's the difference between belief and dogma.

My faith centers around the three day time span that literally changed the world. Last week, I presented historical evidence for the existence of the man Jesus of Nazareth. Now, I'll tell you this: Very few honest historians will tell you they doubt that he walked the earth during the period of about 4BC and 33AD. Tertullian, Pliny, Josephus, and hundreds of others wrote about him as a real person within just a few years of the events in question. As they say, the amount of evidence is simply overwhelming.

The next concept that we need to discuss centers around the reported death of Jesus. Just like Dickens' A Christmas Carol, it must be distinctly understood that Jesus was dead, or nothing wonderful can come of the story that follows. Because if Jesus was not crucified on the cross and died, then there was no resurrection. As Paul says, "And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith." So I will freely admit, if there was no death, and no resurrection, I'm nothing more than a fool in serious trouble for my past, and worse than a fool for teaching hopeless lies to my children.

So of crucial importance is the point that Jesus was "as dead as a doornail." For this, I'm going to detail about what the men who were with him observed. I believe the biblical record is accurate, not just because it's "the biblical record," but because of the events and phenomena observed, as well as the manner in which they were related.

We have to remember that of the twelve apostles who were the closest to Jesus, almost all were fishermen by trade. Illiterate, uneducated. There was Matthew the tax collector, and a couple of revolutionaries who belonged to the group called Zealots. We don't know what education they received. I think we can assume Matthew could probably read and write, but he was basically an accountant. The only physician listed in the new testament was Luke, who was a disciple of Paul.

All the synoptic gospels agree Jesus was arrested, flogged, and sentenced to death by Pontius Pilate. This is also confirmed in Tacitus' record  that he was put to death under Tiberius' reign.

They started with a simple beating, playing a game popular among rough men. They blindfolded him and struck him with their fists, saying "Who hit you?" This wasn't a love tap; they punched him. Then they started in with canes before taking him to Pilate for judgment. Pilate sentenced him to flogging.

Flogging was accomplished with a tool called a flagellum, similar to a cat-o-nine tails. It was a whip with a short, stout handle and a series of tendrils made of woven leather. The end of each was wrapped around a metal ball, a shard of pottery, or a steel barb. The victim was tied around a whipping post by the wrists and flogged with this whip for a set number of strokes. Every strike would result in severe contusion, or a cut, or both, and often skin and meat would come off with the tendrils. Depending on the number of stripes administered, a flogging could easily become a death sentence in itself. The records available cite thirty-nine stripes with the flagellum were laid across Jesus' back before he was led out to be crucified. He was so weak, they had to draft a man from the crowd to carry his cross-beam for him, because he was too weak to carry it himself. Shock and blood loss were already beginning to take their toll on the man.

Any medical professional can tell you, shock is as deadly as any wound. The blood vessels to the brain contract and narrow in a reflex that is supposed to make the victim sleep and recover from an injury. But in many cases, the vessels shrink too much, and the person never wakes up again. I broke my arm in gym class in the seventh grade, and went into shock from the blow. My vision closed in to a tunnel, and I had no idea what I was saying. And that was nothing compared to a flogging at the hands of a Roman lector.

Crucifixion was introduced to Rome by the Assyrians. The Romans took the technique and refined it as an art of inhumane murder. Crucifixion was a death sentence, plain and simple. The victim was stretched out just a little short of an arm's length on the cross-beam, and nails driven through the wrists. Then the cross-beam was hoisted and fastened onto the upright via a dado cut into the beam. At that point, the victim's feet were stacked one on the other, knees slightly bent, and a third spike driven through the tops of the feet and out through the heel. The victim was suspended in a position where, in order to inhale, he had to push himself up on the bottom spike to get slack on his arms. In order to do that, he had to put pressure on his wounded feet, and then sag back down to hang from his arms. He could exhale like this, but not inhale.

Jesus' blood pressure would have spiked during this ordeal to incredible levels due to stress and shock. He was already well on the way to death soon after being mounted thus. Now, remember, the idea was to keep him there until he was dead, and there was no way he was coming down alive. I'll admit, the Jewish leaders at the scene were concerned about finishing the job before the Sabbath. But there was no rush; this was now a matter for Rome. To mollify the priests, however, the soldiers went along and broke the legs of many of the criminals crucified along with Jesus that day. What that did was hasten their deaths by inhibiting their ability to raise up to breathe. The aim of crucifixion is suffocation, after all. But when they came to Jesus, they didn't break his legs, believing him to be dead already.

Now, this is where the description gets interesting. John said a soldier ran Jesus through with a spear, "and blood and water flowed." This is important, because an uneducated fisherman like John took this to be a supernatural sign. It wasn't a miracle at all, but a phenomenon that occurs in cases of suffocation. The blood begins to separate and settles in the chest cavity in a way that a stab wound releases blood, and then water, in large amounts. So what happened was not a miracle as John supposed, but a confirmation that Jesus was indeed dead.

What happened next was the body was wrapped tightly in linens soaked in spices and oils, and then laid on a stone bench in a tomb donated by Joseph of Aramithea, one of the Jewish leaders and s secret follower of Jesus. The stone was rolled in front of it, and a guard set. These were either Roman legionaries or temple guards. The leaders asked for a Roman guard, but there is some debate over whether there was actually a squad of Romans or a contingent of the Temple guard assigned to guard the tomb. The reason was to make sure none of his followers could steal the body and claim a resurrection. In either case, a squad of armed men stood watch day and night.

According to most accounts, Jesus' followers were too busy hiding from the police to worry about staging a false resurrection, and besides none of them understood that there was supposed to be a resurrection in the first place. Besides, they only had two swords among them, and only one of them at that point was a trained fighter (Simon the Zealot). I suppose someone with some real creative force, plenty of time to plan, and some determination could have overpowered an armed squad of soldiers. But let's cover that in next week's post. The point I'm trying to make here is that Jesus was dead when he went into that tomb.

Some skeptics say he was only in shock, in a short-term coma, and that he managed to unwrap himself after reviving in the tomb from the shock of the cold bench on which he was laid. Okay. Let's say that a man scourged thirty nine times, beaten within an inch of his life, crucified and ran through with a spear, the body already in a state where fluids were settling and separating, had the strength, after three days lying unattended on a cold stone bench, to undo wrapping cloths impregnated with sticky, tar-like myrrh, and then roll a tombstone weighing in the neighborhood of half a ton from its place, overpower a contingent of armed guards, and convince thousands of people he was supernaturally raised from the dead.

I'm a big fan of Occam's Razor: Don't overcomplicate things unnecessarily. That doesn't mean totally ruling out anything. We cannot operate from the assumption that we live in a closed system, that there is no God, and miracles cannot occur. You can live there if you want; I've seen too much to accept that as final fact. We also cannot operate under the assumption that there's a fairy under every bush, or that Bigfoot was last seen walking hand in hand with Elvis. We take matters under open advisement pending evidence or proof of their verity or falsehood. That's called "keeping an open mind." Some of you may want to try it sometime; you may end up receiving happy surprises.

We'll get to the rest of my point later. For right now, we have only two conclusions to make here: That he was dead went he went into the tomb, or he wasn't. The most likely conclusion is that he was in fact dead. We have eyewitness accounts from two men who were there (Matthew and John), one account dictated second hand (Mark was Peter's translator), and one account written by a man who did a fair amount of research on his own within a few years of the facts in question (Luke, who wrote: "Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled among us just as they were handed down to us by those who from the first were eyewitnesses and servants of the word. With this in mind, since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, I too decided to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught."

In other words, the guys who were there said he was dead. Who am I to argue, just because I think something is impossible from my limited experience?

Next week, we'll look at the Final Question. Till then, be well and keep safe.