#169: Do Web Logs Lower the Bar?

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #169, on the subject of Do Web Logs Lower the Bar?.

I noticed something.

img0169Diary

I don’t know whether any of you noticed it, and there is an aspect to it that causes me to hope you did not, to suspect some of you did, and to think that I ought not be calling it to the attention of the rest.  But it is worth recognizing, I suppose, even if it is at my own expense to some degree.

What I noticed was that some of the web log posts I publish are not up the the same standard I would expect of my web pages.

Certainly it is the case that some of the web log subjects are what might be called transient.  I was quite surprised to see in my stats recently that someone visited the page that covered the 2015 election results for New Jersey.  I’m thinking it must have been a mistake.  Yet at the time it was important information, even if in another year it won’t even tell you who is in the Assembly, because we’ll have had another election.

It is also the case that being an eclectic sort of web log it is going to have pages that do not appeal to everyone–indeed, probably there are no pages that appeal to everyone.  I recently lost one of my Patreon supporters, and that saddens me, but he was the only person contributing as a time travel fan, and was not contributing enough to pay for one DVD per year; I’m sure he is disappointed that I haven’t done more time travel pages, but there has not been that much available to me and the budget has been particularly tight.  With pages about law, politics, music, Bible, games, logic problems, and other miscellany, there will certainly be pages that any particular reader would not read.  Yet that has always been true of the web site, and although the web log is not quite as conveniently divided into sections it does have navigation aids to help people find what they want.

What I mean, though, is that I don’t seem to apply the same standard to web log pages as I would to web pages.

I suppose that’s to be expected.  As I think about it, I recognize that I put a lot more time and thought into articles I am writing for e-zines and web sites that are not my own.  I expect more of myself, hold myself to a higher standard, when I am writing such pieces.  For one thing, I can’t go back and edit them later–which on my own site I will only do for obvious errors, never for content.  For another, something of mine published by someone else should represent the best that I can offer, both for my own reputation and for that of the publisher.  If you’re reading my work at RPGNet, or the Christian Gamers Guild, or The Learning Fountain, or any of the many other sites for which I’ve written over the decades, you might not know any more about me than what you find there.

It’s also the case that, frankly, anyone can set up his own web site, fairly cheaply and easily, write his own articles, and publish them for the world to ignore.  There is a limited number of opportunities for someone to write for someone else’s site, and to be asked to do so, or permitted to do so, is something of a recognition above the ordinary.

Of course, there are even fewer opportunities to write for print, and fewer now than there once were.  Not that you can’t publish your own printed books and comics and magazines, but that those that exist are selective in what they will print, and so the bar is higher.

The web log system makes it quicker and easier to write and publish something.  I suspect that there are many bloggers out there who open the software, start typing what they want to say, and hit publish, as if it were an e-mail.  I maintain a higher standard than that–all of my web log posts are composed offline, and with the only exceptions being the “breaking news” sort (like the aforementioned election results page) they all get held at least overnight, usually several days, reread and edited and tweaked until I am happy with them.  (As I write this, there are two web log posts awaiting publication which have been pending for two days, and I will review this one several times over the time that they go to press.)  But even so, the standard of what I will publish as a web log post is considerably lower than that which I will publish as a web page.

In that sense, the web log becomes more like diary, something in which you compose your thoughts and then ignore them–except that this diary is open to the world.  I think–I hope–all bloggers put more thought and care into their web log posts than they do into forum conversations and Tweets and Facebook posts.  However, while I have read some web log posts that were excellent, I have also read a few that caused me to wonder whether the author was thinking.  I try to keep some standard here, but I admit that sometimes I wonder whether I posted something because I thought it was worth posting or because I wanted to keep the blog living and active.

In any case, if you read something here and wonder why I bothered to post it, perhaps now you have a better idea of that.

#168: Praying for You

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #168, on the subject of Praying for You.

A number of years ago I was playing quite a few venues and interacting with quite a few other Christan musicians, and something began to bother me.  At first it was that we needed to support and encourage each other, and I took steps to do this, connecting venues with artists as I was able.  However, I realized that no one had ever mentioned praying for me, and I had not mentioned praying for anyone else in music ministry, and that this was something I should remedy.  I sent notes to–well, quite a few people whom I knew were involved in music ministry, and offered to pray for them on condition that they keep me informed of their situation (that’s going to be explained).  A very few accepted my offer; one offered to reciprocate.  Then over the next year or so they all dropped off the radar, as it were, no longer answering my inquiries about their situation, and today I again have no Christian musicians on my prayer list.

And that just is not right, so this is an attempt to fix that.

img0168Hands

On the other hand, I don’t want it to seem as if I’m being exclusive.  I have quite a few Christian ministers on my “friends” list who are not musicians, or not primarily musicians, and quite a few who are not involved in ministry but would want my prayers (and some of you are indeed already getting them, whether you want them or not).  So I am putting this forward as a sort of “open offer”, that anyone who wants me to pray for him (or her or them) should contact me, and I will put you on my prayer list.

However, I have a few conditions.

The one idea that is not a condition is that you pray for me.  I would not feel at all right saying that I will pray for you if you will pray for me–it’s too mercenary, I suppose.  I certainly do not object to you praying for me, and if you wish for me to meet conditions similar to those I am about to state here, I will certainly endeavor to comply.  Nor is it a condition that you support my Patreon or PalPal.me campaigns–a lot of people who need prayer don’t have money, although I’m sure that people who have a lot of money still need prayer (not something I really know from personal experience).  I am certainly grateful to those of you who do support my efforts in any way at all, but I need to assure those who cannot do so or cannot justify doing so that they will not be treated the worse for that.

My conditions are based on II Corinthians 1:11, which in the Updated New American Standard Bible reads

…you also joining in helping us through your prayers, so that thanks may be given by many persons on our behalf for the favor bestowed on us through the prayers of many.

What I derive from that is the point that God wants us to agree in prayer, and answers prayers when more of us are agreeing, because that way when He answers there are more of us saying thank You to Him for the answer.  That, though, means that if I am going to pray for you, I also have to know how God is answering those prayers.  So this is how it works.

  1. You must connect with me through Facebook.  If we are not already “Friends” send a “Friend Request”, and I’ll approve it and ask how we’re connected.  Just tell me that you read this post and wanted me to pray for you, along with some idea of who you are (for example, pastor, Christian musician, Christian gamer, reader of my other materials).  I am betting that I will already have some notion of who most people who want my prayers are, but I don’t always connect names to people quickly, so at least jog my memory.  I do not really do e-mail–every few months I download a few hundred letters, throw most of them away, and see if there’s anything important in what remains.  Facebook is the way I communicate.
  2. Tell me enough about your situation that I can pray intelligently.  This is not Romper Room (and I pray for Sally, and Jeff, and Mary, and Mark….).  If I’m to know how God answers these prayers, I have to be praying for something particular enough that you can tell me about the answer.  I have a theological objection to those “unspoken” requests which I should probably discuss somewhere sometime, but as Paul says about people who pray in tongues in public meetings, if I don’t know what is being prayed, how can I say “amen”?
  3. Which of course brings up the final condition.  Probably about once a month I’m going to get a reminder to drop you a note to ask what is happening.  That’s so you can tell me what good things God has done and I can give thanks for them, and so you can update me regarding what I ought to be praying.  If I miss a month, don’t worry–I’m still praying.  If you miss a month, don’t worry, I’ll keep praying for a few months without hearing anything.  However, after a few months I’ll decide that you’re not answering and I’ll drop you from the list.  I can’t very well give thanks to God for answers to prayers on your behalf if you don’t tell me what God has done on your behalf.  You are, of course, welcome to drop me notes between my reminders, either to let me know about God’s answers or to redirect my prayers.  I do not want your impersonal newsletter; I want to interact with you directly, to hear from you what God is doing.  If it’s not worth a few minutes to do that, you don’t really want my prayers.

So that’s the offer.  I should caveat that the only people for whom I pray every day are my wife and myself (she because she deserves it, I because I need it); how often I pray for you will depend on a lot of factors including how many people ask for prayer, how serious I perceive your need, and the limits of the program that manages the prayer list.  Obviously I am offering to pray for individuals, but the offer also extends to individuals who want me to pray for a ministry they represent, such as their band, who thus are promising to keep me informed regarding the band.  I also don’t promise that I won’t give you advice if I think you’re asking for prayer about something with which I can help; it’s free advice, and you can decide whether it’s worth as much as you paid for it without offending me.  You can also ask me to stop praying for you (which I assume you would do if my monthly queries are irksome) and I’ll take you off the list.

I think that covers it.  Any questions?

#167: Cybergame Timing

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #167, on the subject of Cybergame Timing.

I’ve played a few games which I am calling “cybergames”.  “Computer games” would suggest they are considerably bigger than they are.  These are “Facebook games” and cellphone games.  What usually happens is a close friend or family member will be playing a game and will “need” another player in order to get certain in-game benefits (a recruitment tool used by the game designers to get people who are playing to coerce their friends to play), so I will join the game and become involved, and then they will stop playing and I’ll realize, gradually, that I’m the only one I know playing this game, and eventually will realize that I’m wasting a lot of time on something that was supposed to be a way of interacting, in some small way, with this other person, and now is about interacting with a central processing unit somewhere.  However, along the way, being a game designer and gamer from way back, I notice things about these games, and one of them has begun to bother me.

img0167Game

Many of these games have timed processes.  That is, for example, you’ll say “build this here”, and it will tell you that it has started building it and the building will be complete in exactly this period of time, a countdown timer beginning.  That sometimes limits what else you can do (or requires you to spend resources to do some other things you normally would be able to do “free”), but its primary function seems to be to induce you to return to continue playing the game later.  The time units are often intuitively logical–for example, it is often the case that these will be twenty-four hours, or twelve or eight or six, fractions of a day.  With the twenty-four hour unit, you think that means you can play the game once a day and hit the button to restart this for the next day–but therein lies the rub.

Assume that you are playing such a game, and there is one task that can be done every twenty-four hours–collect a specific resource.  Let’s assume you are playing this game every morning before work and again twelve hours later in the evening after supper.  Both of those times are going to have a bit of fluctuation to them, of course, and that’s part–but not all–of the problem.  So at seven o’clock Monday evening you collect the resource, and that restarts the clock.  Of course, there are other things to do in the game–you don’t just collect the resource, you do other game play things at the same time.  So on Tuesday at seven the flag pops up to say that you can collect the resource.  Odds are against the notion that you are simply waiting for that flag to appear and immediately hit the button, so it will be at least a few seconds–let’s say a minute–before you do.  Sure, some days you are going to hit that resource in the same second, but those are the very rare ones.  By the end of a week, you are going to have shifted the time that the twenty-four hour resource renews by several minutes–so the next Monday you come to play at seven, but the flag doesn’t appear until five after, or ten after, or some time after the hour.  That’s not a problem–presumably you are playing the game for more than ten minutes at a shot, or it wouldn’t be much of a game.  However, you can’t make that clock go backwards–by the next week it will be quarter after, or possibly half past, before the flag appears.

Probably it’s not a game that you play for half an hour, at least not every night.  At some point, you give up waiting for that flag, and it “appears” in the program after you’ve shut down the game.  When you restart the game at seven in the morning, there it is.  And now you repeat the same process in the morning, until you have to quit the game and leave for work before the flag appears.  You lose a day of resource generation, and it returns to an evening task.

Not a big deal?  However, this same problem affects all tasks of length, whether twelve, eight, six, four, or even three hours:  no matter how frequently you play the game during the day, eventually the task will be unfinished twenty minutes before you are going to bed, and you will have to choose whether to stay up and hit the button late or go to bed and pick it up in the morning.  What seems like a game mechanic that pushes you toward a regular play schedule actually prevents a regular play schedule, because it shifts against the clock slightly each time.

The obvious solution to this problem is a game design correction:  replace those seemingly intuitive chunks of turnover time with rather unintuitive shorter ones.  Have the resource renew in twenty-three hours, eleven and a half, eight and two thirds, six and a three quarters, four and five sixths, three and seven eighths hours.  This lets the player show at a regular time and find the task complete and waiting for replay.  It avoids the frustration of having to wait until tomorrow morning simply because it’s not worth waiting another twenty minutes tonight.  It’s a better game design.

Anyway, that’s my suggestion.  I would probably find these games a bit less frustrating (and really, do you want your game to be frustrating?) if that were fixed.

#166: A Ghetto of Our Own

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #166, on the subject of A Ghetto of Our Own.

This is not about Christian music.  It is about race and discrimination and prejudice and segregation.  It only happens to start with Christian music.  That doesn’t mean that what it says about Christian music is not true or valuable; it only means that it’s not the point here, and if you’re not interested in the Christian music field you should read that part anyway, because it’s the example.

When I started in Contemporary Christian Music, there was no airplay for it.  The Christian radio stations in the northern parts of the United States considered The Bill Gaither Trio daring and progressive; those in the south played The Speers and Doug Oldman and other artists who were called “Southern Gospel” which meant country that sang about Jesus and avoided any of those modern rock-‘n’-roll tropes–The Imperials went too far, and particularly when they incorporated black singer Sherman Andrus in a “white” gospel band.  “Black Gospel” was also out there somewhere, but mostly in paid programming on Sunday mornings broadcast live from a local “black” church.  The dream of Christian “rock” fans was to have “our music”, Larry Norman, Love Song, Andre Crouch (although some would have niched him as “Contemporary Gospel” rather than “Contemporary Christian” or “Christian Rock”–already the fans were fragmenting) played on major secular radio stations–which in New York generally meant AM Top 40 like WABC or FM Rock like WNEW.

Denzel Washington, two-time Academy Award winner nominated again in 2017
Denzel Washington, two-time Academy Award winner nominated again in 2017

There were a lot of reasons why that wasn’t going to happen, and there is solid evidence that radio station programmers were resistant to including any songs that mentioned God or Jesus in a positive context–but then, there were other reasons as well.  I have the greatest of respect for the artists of those early years, and believe that their abilities were second to none.  However, that was an era in which successful artists in the secular field were spending hundreds of thousands of dollars to produce a record, and those amounts were not available in the Christian market.  Besides, the segregation of Christian music was already established–you never heard Southern Gospel on Country radio stations save perhaps on Sunday mornings, and stations that played Tony Randall and Frank Sinatra did not also play similar artists singing hymns.  What we got instead, the big success, was our own radio stations–mostly small stations in the suburbs who could not compete with bigger city stations in the crowded metropolitan markets looking for a niche that would create an audience and sell advertising time.  With the rise of the Jesus Movement, this was at least potentially promising, and such stations could also sell airtime to preachers in quarter-hour blocks to help cover the bills.  They began appearing in the early mid seventies.

It wasn’t only in radio that Christian artists felt excluded.  In 1969 the Gospel Music Association launched the Dove Awards, in essence Grammy Awards for Christian artists who couldn’t win real Grammies because of the perceived secular bias of the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences, although market share undoubtedly had a big part in that.  Since some of the record labels producing Contemporary Christian artists had also been producing (and were continuing to produce) Inspirational and Southern and Black Gospel artists, the Dove Awards soon had categories for Christian Contemporary and Rock genres.

What’s wrong with this picture?

The expression Preachin’ to the choir refers to anyone delivering a message to people who already know it and agree with you.  Politicians do it all the time:  in the main, candidates for office are not trying to persuade you to their position, they are trying to convince you that they already agree with your position so you should vote for them.  However, the Christian Contemporary music of the 1970s and 1980s was dominated by evangelistic music–songs whose focus was on persuading unbelievers to turn to Jesus–and the venues where you could hear these songs were all frequented almost exclusively by believers, people who had already embraced the message.  (This is less true today, but more in the first part than the second:  a substantial percentage of Christian Contemporary music is intended to deliver messages to believers, pastoral/worship and teaching music ministries, with only a small part being evangelistic.)

A guitarist/singer-songwriter named Mark Heard might have been the first to object to this situation in the music field.  In the early 1980s he said that in America we were creating a Christian ghetto, that we were isolating ourselves from the secular world with Christian radio stations, Christian bookstores, Christian decorations, Christian television, all of it sold to Christians and ignored by the world.  Heard took his music to Europe, where there were no Christian venues and the radio stations were all state-run, and focused on competing in the secular market there so that he could reach the secular audience.  Then-major Christian artists Pat Terry and (band) Daniel Amos supported this and followed suit, attempting to create work that would break the Christian mold.  However, there was very little crossover from Christian artists to the secular market, limited to people like Dan Peek whose first solo album had the boost in secular markets that he had been one of the principles in the Pop vocal band America, and his hit song All Things Are Possible was not so clearly a “Christian” song as others on the album.  The Oakridge Boys had managed to crossover from Southern Gospel to Country, but only by abandoning all music with a Christian message becoming effectively a secular band, and when it was announced that Contemporary Christian superstar Amy Grant would be making a secular album (from which she did put a single on the Top 40 charts) there was an explosion of controversy among Christians who did not want to support her in “abandoning her faith” (which she clearly never did despite her rocky marital history).

Part of their argument was certainly that Christians talking to each other do not thereby reach the world, but there was another aspect to it.  In creating our own ghetto, we compete with ourselves but inherently avoid competing with the rest of the world.  On one level the Dove Awards and Christian Charts are a wonderful way for Christians to recognize the accomplishments of each other.  On another level, it’s an admission that we are not good enough to compete in the world, to win Grammies or reach the top of the Top 40 chart–and possibly a decision that we are not going to try.  We give awards to the best Christian musicians, and in doing so say that we do not need to be as good as secular musicians.  We praise ourselves for being second-rate.

Perhaps now that I’ve put that forward, you can understand why it bothers me to see the racism expressed by programs like The American Black Film Festival Honors.  Blacks and Hispanics in the United States have created awards to honor people who perform well but not well enough to earn Oscars, Emmies, Grammies, Tonies, and other awards that are not racially limited.  Those who present the awards no doubt have the honest motivation of a belief that their people, “we”, are being snubbed by “them”, the people who nominate and choose the winners of those other awards.  However, this “ghettoization”, these awards that exclude anyone who is not one of “us”, screams that “we” are not good enough to win awards without excluding those “others”.  It’s like the women’s sports leagues–where there is at least some justification, in the fact that male upper body strength and greater average size give unfair advantages in many sports and co-ed contact sports can be at least uncomfortable.  Yet when Maggie Dubois says that she is the women’s champion fencer and The Great Leslie easily disarms her and responds that it would have been impressive if she had been the men’s champion fencer, it expresses an attitude inherent in sexually segregated sports:  women are not good enough to compete with men, and if they are ever to win they must exclude men from their competitions.  So, too, racially-segregated awards have inherent in them the expression of the attitude that members of this race are not good enough to compete with everyone else, and so must have their own recognition ceremonies for “us” that exclude “them”.

Such awards are definitively racist, that is, inclusive/exclusive based on race; they are excused because they favor “minority” races.  If there were an American White Film Festival award, there would be protests in the streets, but the fact that such programs as do exist favor blacks or Hispanics does not make them less racist.  Worse, they create that same kind of creative ghetto, where members of a minority group are satisfied with being good enough to win these awards that don’t require them to compete with everyone else.

Incidentally, of the twenty actor nominees for the 2017 Oscars (Best and Best Supporting Actor and Actress Motion Picture Academy Awards), six are black–thirty percent.  Given that the United States Census Bureau makes the black population of American less than half that–thirteen percent–that’s an excellent showing.  Blacks do not need their own ghetto awards.  It makes you look racist, and it makes you look inferior.  You are not the latter, and should not be the former.

#165: Saints Alive

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #165, on the subject of Saints Alive.

I usually avoid issues that are denomination-specific.  I don’t want to fight with other believers but promote unity and love between us.  This, though, seems to have crept up on me.

It came about because my wife decided she needed a statue of St. Francis of Assisi for our currently non-existent back yard garden, and found one online (not the one pictured) which we could have for a song and a long drive.  She has never been Catholic; she was Lutheran for many years until God moved her to a Baptist church, and although she is still more liturgical than I she shares much of my interdenominational attitude and experience.

img0165Francis

There seems to be a story connected to this.  St. Francis means little to me and only connects to two stories, one a legend about a wolf who agreed to a vegetarian diet so he could live with the friars and their animals, the other a joke about the unluckiest man in the world.  However, one of our long-term houseguests was raised Roman Catholic, and during his brief ill-fated marriage to a conservative Baptist girl made the mistake of bringing home a statue of St. Francis for their garden.  She was so upset by this that she had her father come read him the riot act for this act of pagan idolatry, and I think maybe our statue is here to say that not all Christians are so unreasonable.  However, I don’t really know why we need this statue, other than that it is apparently part bird bath (although she also wants a bird bath).  It was going to rest on our front deck for the winter, but then someone was concerned it might be stolen or vandalized, so it is now decorating our living room.

I would be more concerned, I think, had I any expectation that our guest was likely to pray to this icon.  I don’t think he does very much praying, and certainly not when he is not in trouble, and probably not when he is.  I do, however, realize that there are a lot of nuances and complications here.  The Roman Catholic Church officially states that people do not worship saints; they venerate them.  That’s a word that most people don’t have in their vocabulary, but some Dungeons & Dragons™ Dungeon Masters will recognize as the verb form of the adjective “venerable”, the oldest age category for character races in the Dungeon Master’s Guide.  To venerate, to revere, is to show someone well-deserved respect of the highest order.

That appeals to me.  There are believers I genuinely deeply respect, and not all of them are living people whom I have met.  If you tell me that St. Francis of Assisi, or St. Teresa of Calcutta, is someone deserving of such respect I can at least understand that, whether or not I share that respect.  However, one point that is worth noticing is that just about anyone I think deserves that kind of respect does not count himself worthy of it.  It is something of the enigma of veneration:  anyone who thinks he deserves it is disqualified.  That doesn’t mean you necessarily deserve it if you don’t think so, only that thinking so is arrogance of a sort that does not fit the character of the person who deserves it.  The people we most admire for their faith generally do not think themselves all that admirable, or at least don’t convey the impression that they do think that.  It makes it difficult to know who to venerate, as just about anyone who might deserve such respect to whom you offered it would reject it and turn your attention toward Jesus.  Maybe, though, it is different when you have entered heaven; maybe there are some among us who are regarded more highly in heaven than the rest, and have had to accept the burden of being special.

It is the next part, the part where people pray to the saints, where we start getting into trouble–but the trouble is complicated.

Let us first establish that most people do not confuse the statue with the person.  That is not an impossible mistake to make, and there are people who appear to make it, traveling great distances to visit specific statues or shrines where miracles have been reported, thinking that somehow the statue is, or contains, the presence of the person here in the world.  For most people, the statue is not different in kind from a crucifix or even a cross–a reminder, a focal point, a way to keep in mind the person being addressed.  It is not in that sense different from the person who comes upon a photograph of a deceased or absent family member and speaks to it as if it were that person–except, of course, that the person speaking to the saint in the presence of the statue assumes that the saint can hear.  But the request is being made to the saint, the departed believer, and not to the statue.  If that is clear in the mind of the person making the request, we eliminate one of the problems.

Of course, it still is not that different from idolatry.  Certainly there were ancient worshippers who believed that the statue or carving was itself the deity, but in the main most pagan worshippers understood that the statue was just a statue, a marker of the presence of the deity but not the god itself.  Worshipping a statue and worshipping a spirit whose presence is indicated by the statue are both idolatry–but then, so is worshipping a spirit who is not God.  There is a fine line between veneration and worship, since the former means showing respect for the object/person and the latter means expressing reasons the object/person ought to be revered (worth-ship), but let us assume it is possible to stay on the right side of that line.

C. S. Lewis explored the issue of prayer to the saints somewhere, and his analysis was interesting.  He noted that asking St. Francis, or St. Teresa, or any other departed believer (he did not name anyone specifically), to pray on your behalf is not different in kind from asking your pastor, or your spouse, or your neighbor to do so.  It seems rather straightforward, really, when you put it that way.  The problem he advanced as fatal was the issue of knowing which persons actually are in heaven.  That is a certainty we cannot have about anyone other than Jesus Himself.  We might carry the ninety-nine-point-nine-nine-nine percent out to the hundredth decimal place, but it is not actually given to us to know that Peter or Paul or Mary–or Francis or Teresa–is in heaven.  I am very confident that my sainted grandmother is there, less confident of others of my relatives, but I could not say with absolute certainty that anyone I have known is in heaven–I do not see the heart.  I am completely confident that I will be there, but my confidence is not something I can give you, and I have been known to be mistaken about some facts in the past so I might, in theory, be mistaken about any of them now.  We don’t really know who we can ask.

We have the additional problem that we don’t know how we get from here to there.  Are our departed loved ones already experiencing heaven in what we call real time, concurrent with our continued lives here on earth?  That is a possibility popularly embraced.  However, some hold to the notion of “soul sleep”, that we who die remain unaware of the passage of time until we are awakened on the resurrection day and all enter heaven together.  That would mean that Jesus is in heaven, but Peter and Paul and the others are still waiting, unconscious of the wait but not yet there.  There is also the possibility that neither of those is quite the reality, but that at the moment of death we leap across time to the moment of resurrection, not “sleeping” anywhere but simply skipping whatever time remains in this world to enter eternity on the day of a resurrection still in the future for everyone else.  In those cases, it does not matter who is going to enter heaven–no one is there to hear us yet.

Prayer to the saints also assumes that those who are in heaven are listening to those of us who are on earth.  We imagine that they are for a couple of reasons.  One is that from our earthly perspective, if we were to be taken from our loved ones and moved to heaven, we would be very interested, even concerned, with what was happening to them here on earth, and so would want to watch, listen, keep aware of their situation.  The other is that we want to believe that those who have left us love us enough that they would want to know what is happening to us.  Both of those points ignore the possibility that someone who enters the presence of God might have something far more significant to occupy his attention for the next few thousand years than what is happening to the people he left behind.  Having finally stepped into the actual immediate continual tangible presence of God, am I going to be wondering how my granddaughter is doing?  That’s possible, but somehow not likely–and I tend to think we would very quickly lose track of time, particularly if we have stepped out of time into eternity.  Let’s suppose, though, that it is the case that my grandmother wants to know how I am doing.  There is yet the question of whether heaven actually provides the opportunity to watch–as if it were the observation windows above the operating theater where students can observe the surgeons at work.  We are never told that the departed know what we are doing.  In fact, the one documented instance in the Bible of someone speaking from beyond death, of that of Samuel to Saul, suggests that Samuel had no idea what Saul was doing, and had to figure it out when it happened.  So the assumption that the departed can hear us is itself questionable.

But even if we grant all that, there is yet the question of why they would be listening to us, specifically.  I can imagine that St. Teresa of Calcutta might be intimately interested in what is happening with the Sisters of Mercy order she founded and the work progressing in India (and as we recently noted, it is getting more difficult for Christian work in India).  I might even suppose she is interested in my close acquaintance Dennis Mullins, who on one occasion some years ago wrote a song for her and presented her with a copy of the recording.  It is a far stretch to suppose she would be interested in me–I never met her, never directly supported her work, probably never prayed for her during her ministry.  It is an even farther stretch to imagine that St. Francis has any particular interest in me, and the fact that I will be one of millions to erect a statue of him in a backyard garden probably does not impact that significantly.

I think, though, that there is a fundamental problem with our attitude when we pray to a saint.  The notion we have is that somehow they are more worthy, more likely to receive an answer to their prayers than we are to ours.  It is a mistake.  If we ask our pastor to pray for us because we want someone to pray with us, that is perfectly reasonable; if we want him to pray for us because we somehow think that Jesus is more likely to hear and answer his prayers on our behalf than our prayers on our own behalf, that is not humilty, it is error.  God wants us to bring our concerns to Him ourselves, and Jesus is given to us as the “one mediator between God and man”.  When we ask others to pray “for” us we are using the wrong preposition; we should be asking them to pray “with” us, to agree with our prayers, to support us as we pray.  We are invited, encouraged, even commanded, to pray to God through Jesus Christ.  If we will not do this, our prayers to anyone else, living or dead, are not going to be of much use.  If you ask me to pray with you, I will gladly support you in prayer; if you ask me to pray for you, the best I can do is pray for whatever I hope God will give you (which might not be what you are asking), or perhaps that you will be able to find whatever it is that will enable you to pray.  God will hear your prayer.  To pray to the saints is to presume that God does not care enough about you to listen, and that someone more worthy than you needs to mention you–like having a friend who has God’s ear.  You have God’s ear, and no one is more worthy than Jesus Who makes you as worthy as Himself.

So respect believers who reflect this, but make your requests known to God directly.

And don’t make a big deal about lawn ornaments.  A reminder in the middle of our garden of a man who cared about our relationships with God and with nature is not a bad thing, and a better thing if it reminds us that God cares about our garden more than we do, and loves us, and hears when we pray.

#164: Versers Proceed

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #164, on the subject of Versers Proceed.

With permission of Valdron Inc I have begun publishing my third novel, For Better or Verse, in serialized form on the web (that link will take you to the table of contents).  If you missed the first two, you can find the table of contents for the first at Verse Three, Chapter One:  The First Multiverser Novel, and that for the second at Old Verses New.  There was also a series of web log posts looking at the writing process, the decisions and choices that delivered the final product; those posts are indexed along with the chapters in the tables of contents pages.  Now as the third is posted I am again offering a set of “behind the writings” insights.  This “behind the writings” look definitely contains spoilers because it sometimes talks about what I was planning to do later in the book–although it sometimes raises ideas that were never pursued.  You might want to read the referenced chapters before reading this look at them.  Links below (the section headings) will take you to the specific individual chapters being discussed, and there are (or will soon be) links on those pages to bring you back hopefully to the same point here.

There is also a section of the site, Multiverser Novel Support Pages, in which I have begun to place materials related to the novels beginning with character papers for the major characters, hopefully giving them at different stages as they move through the books.

This was the previous mark Joseph “young” web log post covering this book:

  1. #157:  Versers Restart (which provided this kind of insight into the first eleven chapters).

This picks up from there, with chapters 12 through 22.

img0164Tropics

History of the series, including the reason it started, the origins of character names and details, and many of the ideas, are in those earlier posts, and won’t be repeated here.


Chapter 12, Hastings 99

I realized that I was almost to a hundred Hastings stories; but it didn’t seem to make any sense to note that in any way.

I was a bit confused on directions at some point; initially I hadn’t given much thought to the directions, but now I wanted her to have arrived on the southern slope of an island in the northern tropics.  This was not for any particular reason but that I thought the southern slope probably more habitable, and for Lauren, at least, it should always seem as if God is directing things one way or another.  Even here, where there was nothing to do, I felt the need to have God’s hand putting her in the “right” place.

The half-buried staff idea had been in my mind for a while, and at this moment I decided on it.

The rain was an abrupt choice.  I wanted to fill the space, and it seemed a good way to do so.


Chapter 13, Slade 47

The comments about the air were a sudden decision.  I rather stumbled into it.

I had thought of several possibilities for what the door from the Caliph’s palace would look like from the other side, but the abandoned barn allowed the greatest possibilities.  I also began thinking that I was going to have to bring them back here, and it might be a viable end scenario to have them walk into the front door of the barn and vanish to somewhere else.

Just about everything here was done on the spot.


Chapter 14, Brown 60

Again, Derek’s spritish name is modeled on the sprite from the other game.  It was also built on his parent’s names, Morach being a joining of Morani and Lelach.

I created the spritish accents and language in part because I had been bothered by Derek’s ability to read the minds of his parents.  Under game rules, if you read someone’s mind, you get thoughts in their language, but if you use telepathy you get ideas translated to your language.  I decided that Lelach and Morani were the children of sprites who still revered the old spritish customs and language, as so many immigrant families are structured.  But then, I also recognized that it made no sense for them to be immigrants to a place where English was spoken; it made more sense to suggest that they were natives in a place where humans who spoke English had moved in and conquered them.  This became the uncertain thing behind things Derek didn’t understand.  I began to formulate an idea that he would become the sprite who led them to freedom from oppression.  The initial idea was that he would prove himself as smart as any human, demonstrating the math skills he had learned elsewhere such as trigonometry and calculus, systems which would be unknown in this world but would have evident uses once he taught them.  Not being well versed in these myself, I was not certain how I would do that, but it was the core of the idea.

I decided as I wrote this section to do the telepathy line I had considered; doing it now that he was born made more sense than doing it before this.  I knew there were ramifications, and I was going to have to deal with these, but I figured I would.


Chapter 15, Hastings 100

Again, I noticed the number of the chapter, but didn’t let it move me.

Even as I started writing this, I had decided on the cave with the water and steam, and had decided that the gear would be underground, but had not decided whether it would be buried or in the cave, or (what I almost did) caught partly in the rock.  Once I got a good picture of what the cave was like, I decided it had to be free.

I also rather abruptly realized that this was, to all appearances, a better home for Lauren than the beach.  I had nothing at the beach that should keep her there, and the multi-use fresh water and steam supply here (plus the potential emergency shelter of the cave) commended itself.  I realized it’s where I would have camped.  Thus I had her change her plans and leave her equipment here while going for the stuff she left at the beach.

I also began to get the idea that Lauren was being forced to rest.  In her last world, she had said she did not wish to rest, but to continue to be active.  I thought it might make this stall world something of interest if I used it as a forced time of relaxation.  In a sense, God could be telling her to slow down a bit for a while, to stop doing so much and enjoy life a bit.


Chapter 16, Slade 48

The prayer was a sudden bit of remembrance from the earlier book.  Actually, I had started reading the first book again to my youngest two, as no one but me had read the final draft, and so this prayer from the first of Slade’s chapters was fresh in my mind.  It led inexorably to the religious discussion, and I needed something to give the feeling of time to the travel.


Chapter 17, Brown 61

Once Derek had made the telepathic contact with his mother, I realized that I wasn’t entirely sure why he had made contact.  It was really because he was lonely, as he couldn’t talk to anyone; but it needed to be put into some kind of conversation that was more than just, hi, how are you.  Thus I started trying to think of questions he would ask.  I reinforced the idea that something was happening that he didn’t see, in the feel of the old ways.

His mother’s question, whether he could hear her thoughts, sprang abruptly to me.  It was the obvious question; I was surprised Derek had not anticipated it.  But I had not anticipated it, and there it was staring at me.  It also led me to a good consideration of the ethics of practicing psionics on other people, which I guessed would become an important point for Derek’s stay in this world.

As Derek begins using telepathy, I decided that I could italicize all telepathic communications, and that would help the reader follow what was happening.  I should probably have done that with the first book, but I had not thought of it in time.  I went back and did it in the second book.


Chapter 18, Hastings 101

As Lauren was searching the woods, I too was searching for any reason why the beach was a better place to live.  Logically, I could say she had to land there so that all her gear would be on land, but I kept thinking there was something else.

The splash of the fish was something I noticed just as I wrote it.


Chapter 19, Slade 49

The concern about fire came to me at this point, so I included it.  Again, it led to interesting spiritual ideas, and I let it have its head–particularly as the banter between Slade and Filp is always funny when they get going.

The argument about Phasius started because I wanted Shella to interact with it, and to draw out of them some backstory.  But the backstory I invented at this moment.  It owes much to A Man for All Seasons (I think that’s the name) about Henry VIII.

I realized that Slade would have said “I love you” in a very non-committal way, that is, as one says to a friend who has just done something wonderful or wonderfully funny or helpful; but as I typed it, I also realized that these words betrayed something I had been hinting with the comments on her smile, something he did not recognize himself, and she only hoped.  As I realized that, the only response I could think for Shella to give was “Thank you, my lord,” the proper response of a lesser lady to a greater gentleman on a compliment.  And I realized that this hid her hopes behind the formality, well enough that he would not see them.

Originally this chapter ended with Slade going inside to go to bed.  But it was at this point that I realized I was setting up my threesome for a trip that would be probably five days from the border to the castle, and then they were going to have to make it back from the castle to the border without being taken by Acquivar’s guards.  I thought now that they should be preparing for that trip; that is, they should be doing something on the way that would make the way back easier.  I asked three of my sons what they would do, and Tristan suggested he would try to arrange for horses for the journey.  I realized that meant finding allies; and that I had just written a section in which a potential ally, drunk though he was, had revealed himself.  Shella, I thought, would see the value, and so I changed the course to let them wait for him.

I wanted the peasants to sound like uneducated peasants, so I played a bit with their grammar.


Chapter 20, Brown 62

I realized after I wrote the telepathic discussion with the mother, that she was almost certain to tell the father.  This was going to be a problem, for the reasons Derek considers in the book.  It was also likely that the father would suggest that the child was dangerous, that the elders should be told, and that it would mean a very short life for Derek.  I thought Lelach would do something to protect him, even if that meant fleeing with him to hide somewhere.  But the first step was that Derek was going to find out that his father thought his mother crazy because she had told him Derek had spoken to her mind.

When Derek described the choice, I, too, knew the answer.  But I don’t like the characters to always succeed, so I placed the failure in there, then the mind reading, then the success on the second attempt.

I suddenly invented the nicknames.  This was exactly the opposite direction from what I had originally intended, but it was the only thing that was going to be readable.  Besides, I could not imagine them calling each other by those long multi-syllabic names.

Tonathel is obviously Moses in another world.  The idea of Derek now being connected in his mother’s mind as a potential deliverer with religious connotations came to me, and it fit in with Derek’s hopes expressed in the end of the previous book.  I drew those connections forward.


Chapter 21, Hastings 102

Between writing Hastings 101 and now I had given consideration to the ramifications of the fish, and the birds.  Were they sentient?  Were they dangerous?  I started this with little idea how Lauren would resolve those questions, but they did seem the questions she would be asking at this point.


Chapter 22, Slade 50

Originally this section was going to begin with Slade’s recognition that he had to do something to prepare for an escape route.  But as I had planned that opening, I didn’t know what it was going to be, and after talking to Tristan I went back and changed the previous section to start the process of making allies.

The names came out of thin air when I needed them.  I was somewhat torn between having the drunk be part of some connected conspiracy, which I thought helpful but unlikely, and having him wish to hide all sympathies for the priest given the danger of supporting him, which I thought useless though probable.  I tried to find a middle ground on that.

Before I wrote this section I got Kyler’s input on the same question of preparing for the return.  Where Tristan had suggested speed, facilitated by horses, Kyler suggested stealth.  I had, while asking the boys, considered the possibility that Shella might create the illusion that Phasius was still in his cell; now I had them getting Phasius out of the castle and reaching a place where horses were available to ride from there to the next point, change horses and ride to the end of the valley, where they would have to rest and abandon the horses.  Tristan also suggested that if there were only one road in their direction and they were on it, they would easily block any messenger from getting beyond them to alert troops down the line.  The last leg, up the mountains, would include at least one good hiding, possibly involving invisibility provided by Shella, and a battle in which Slade could defeat a dozen guards.

The only idea I have at this point for Phasius is to run into the abandoned barn and be whisked away.  I don’t even know where he would go.


This has been the second behind the writings look at For Better or Verse.  Assuming that there is interest, I will continue preparing and posting them every eleven chapters, that is, every three weeks.

#163: So You Want to Be a Christian Musician

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #163, on the subject of So You Want to Be a Christian Musician.

I have been a Christian musician–performer, composer, arranger, founder and/or director of bands–for near half a century now.

It might be argued whether that alone puts me in a position to give advice on the subject.  After all, although I have recorded an album, it would be debated whether I was ever a “successful” Christian musician.  I am not in much demand on the circuit and never have been.  However, from the time I was in high school, later in college, and then during five years as first a disk jockey and ultimately program director of a major Contemporary Christian Music radio station I talked to dozens, possibly scores, of successful Christian artists, and nearly always asked them that question:  what advice do you, as a successful Christian musician, give to anyone who wants to do what you do.  I asked such people as Noel Paul Stookey, Dan Peek, Phil Keaggy, Scott Wesley Brown, Glad, Brown Bannister, Chris Christian–well, I don’t even remember everyone I asked, let alone what they all said.  However, four of them I do remember, and I will give you something of the gist of what they said for your consideration.  I will also comment on that advice, because I think it worth contemplating.  I also think, in retrospect, that it is probably good advice for anyone who knows what he wants to be or do, and particularly for those who want to pursue artistic endeavors.

Larry Norman, perhaps the original nationally known self-identified Christian rock musician
Larry Norman, perhaps the original nationally known self-identified Christian rock musician

I will mention Barry McGuire first–probably the first truly prominent secular musician to become a leading contemporary Christian artist, who had been with The New Christie Minstrels, starred in the Broadway production Hair, and soloed with the hit Eve of Destruction, but whose signature song following his salvation was Happy Road–mostly because I do not think I can articulate what he told me.  What I remember is that the concert somewhere near Boston had ended and he was out among the audience, mobbed by people, but he heard my question and focused his entire attention on addressing it, addressing me and the rest of the audience, as if the question genuinely mattered.  What he said, and perhaps what he did, caused me upon returning home to write a song entitled Mountain, Mountain, about being what God made you to be instead of trying to be something you perceive to be great.  That actually is a good starting point for this, but we will return to it.

I was one of several reporters interviewing B. J. Thomas at Creation ’83.  At that time he was probably the most successful secular artist to turn to Christian music as an entertainer, his song Home Where I Belong introducing the singer of Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head and I Can’t Stop This Feeling to a Christian audience, and he had a hard time in the Christian music field precisely because he was an entertainer, not a minister.  What he said, though, was don’t think you missed your break, or that you are still waiting for your break to come.  If you are diligent, many breaks will come to you, and if you are good you can make one of them work for you, and if you miss it, another will come.

Ted Sandquist was probably the original contemporary Christian worship leader, with songs like Eternally Grateful, All That I Can Do, and Lion of Judah.  I’m afraid that when I caught up with him after a concert, his answer could have been a wonderful book, delivered orally in under a minute.    He spoke about things he called scope and ministry, and to a large degree was the first person ever to get me thinking of some of the things I discussed recently in the music ministry series–along with whether your calling is to be nationally known or simply serve in a local congregation.  In short, his advice was to think in terms of ministry, whether you are called to it, and what is the nature and extent of your calling.  If you follow this web log, you have already seen the extensive materials I have written on that.

Finally, I caught up with Larry Norman after one of his concerts at Gordon College.  Larry is probably the original nationally-known Christian rock musician, best known for I Wish We’d All Been Ready, Sweet, Sweet Song of Salvation, and the album title Only Visiting This Planet.  The intensity of his response was overwhelming, and the focus of it was in the question, why do you want this?

Before I address that further, I should mention two things about Larry that I learned separately from that.  One is that he was known for a gift of discernment, that he could see things about people that they often did not recognize about themselves.  It may well be that he would have given different advice to someone else, but that this was what he thought I needed to hear.  The other is that he had a very hard life as a Christian rock musician.  Often he would play a concert and after the fact be informed that “apparently the Lord did not provide” enough money to pay him.  He was then criticized for subsequently insisting on signed contracts for concerts that could be enforced against those who did not pay what they agreed, and quite specific terms concerning what his hosts would provide such as accommodations.  He rubbed shoulders with people like Paul McCartney, but he did not find the life at all glamorous or enriching.  That might have impacted his view as well.

However, I think that there is a level to that advice that we all need to hear:  Do not want that; it is not something to want.

It came to me recently, as I had again heard a story of some Christian band that had been formed to provide music for one event who then found themselves propelled to the top of the Christian music charts and sent on national and international tours.  The famous story is that of Amy Grant, who at sixteen spent a bit of money on some studio time to record a song for her mother’s birthday, and the recording was heard by Christian record producers Brown Bannister and Chris Christian, who quickly signed her to a major Christian label recording contract and propelled her to stardom–perhaps the first contemporary Christian recording artist to crossover into secular success.  God clearly sometimes chooses some people to be “successful” Christian artists who had made no effort to be that; it makes sense that He has a hand in choosing those whose success appears to be built on years of hard work.  There are equally many stories we do not hear, of people who worked hard to achieve what never came, and of people who hoped maybe that one day lightning would strike, as it were, and they would be propelled to success, to whatever level of fame is found in Dove Awards and Christian music chart-toppers.  If God wants you to be there, He will get you there; it may be that He wants you to work hard at your music and stay where you are, and it should be sufficient motivation for the work that God is pleased with it.

It is also the case that this is not something to want.  The work of a “successful” Christian musician is hard work–constant travel, brief stays in strange places, one performance after another.  I have seen how tired such people often are, but this is what they do, and they will do it again tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow.  It wreaks havoc with family life, as either you take your family with you to hotels or more commonly in a camper, or you leave them behind while you travel for weeks or sometimes months without them, sleeping in the “bus”, a modified camper shared with the rest of the band.  Those who make it work either managed to reach a high enough level of success before marriage that they were able to do very short tours and fly to most events, or have other jobs frequently as pastors such that they finish concerts Saturday night and are in church Sunday morning.  And the money is not all that good–better, perhaps, than it was for Christian artists a few decades back, but the entire music industry is changing, in a sense collapsing, so that even the major stars do not make what they once did.

Of course, it is not so much the money as the recognition, that you are on stage, people are listening to your songs on the radio and the Internet, you are traveling the world singing.  That is also called fame.  But then, fame in the entire music industry is not what it was–if you heard a list of the twenty most successful musicians in the world today, it is likely that you would not recognize several of the names simply because styles have fragmented, and no one is truly informed about rock, rap, country, Christian, and the wealth of other genres that command substantial but discrete audiences.  Take it from me.  I might not be a “successful” musician, but I am world famous–as a role playing game author and theorist, defender of hobby games, time travel theory writer, and general writer–and it has almost no cash value and very little impact on my daily life apart from that I have to do the work.  Or hear Paul Simon.  He tells a story of a night when he and Art Garfunkle were sitting in a car in a park under one of New York City’s many bridges, and a song came on the radio–their song, Sounds of Silence, which the disk jockey announced was now the number one song in the country, by Simon and Garfunkle.  At that moment, Art Garfunkle said to him, “Gee, wherever those two guys are right now, it must be a real great party.”  Being at the top of the chart doesn’t mean nothing, but it doesn’t mean much.

Of course, get enough fame, and you have to reorganize your life to insulate yourself against the crowds.  You are not going to get that kind of fame doing this, and the admiration you do get will perhaps bring a smile to your face from time to time, but it’s going to prove to be much less than you imagined.

More on point, though, and connecting what Barry McGuire said to what Larry Norman said:  this is not something you should want.  What you should want is to know God, to become what He made you to be, and to seek to do what He wants you to do in life.  If that includes being a famous or successful musician, He will bring you there; He won’t lead you where you want to go, though, only where He knows you will become the best you He made you to be.  One thing I needed to learn over the years was that had I been a successful Christian musician early in my life I never would have been any of these other things–I never would have written the role playing game or become involved with the hobby gamers whose lives I have in some small way touched, never would have undertaken to write about time travel, never would have studied law or written about politics, never would have become chaplain of an international online organization, never would have done most of the things for which I am recognized.  There was so much of who I am that I never would have discovered, that no one would have known, had God moved me in a straight line to what I always thought was the only thing I could do well–music.  He wanted me to become the teacher, the writer, the influence that I am.  I might have been a great musician, but I would never have been anything else.

Peter Hopper was the drummer in a band called Rock Garden, who played their penultimate concert at Carnegie Hall.  I never talked with him despite having a more than passing acquaintance with the band’s rhythm guitarist Dennis Mullins, but a few weeks after that concert, after they had played their farewell concert, I heard him speak about it.  It was what he had wanted all his life, and as he sat on stage playing for the crowd he looked around and said, is this really what I wanted?  Why did I want this?  He told us that God promises that if we seek Him He will give us the desires of our heart, and said that in his experience God had done that, given him what he had always wanted, so he would be able to see how empty it really was, and how the only thing worth desiring was God.

So don’t want this.  Don’t want to be a musician, or anything else for that matter.  Want to know God, and to find His path for you.  That’s the only desire in life that is guaranteed to be fulfilled and to satisfy.  It is also the only path that will bring you anywhere worth being.

#162: Furry Thinking

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #162, on the subject of Furry Thinking.

If you are in the gamer community you probably have already heard or thought most of this.  Ridiculous news travels fast.  For those who are not, well, it’s worth getting you up to speed a bit.

A British company known as Games Workshop publishes a game under the name Warhammer 40K.  The “40K” part means that it is set in a far-flung (forty millennia) future in which, perhaps somewhat ridiculously, primitives fight with mechas.  The game makes significant use of miniatures, which the company produces and sells.  These miniatures are entirely made of plastic, but some of them have designs that include the image of fur clothing or covering on people or machines.

PETA, that is, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, is protesting this.

Image by  Erm What https://www.flickr.com/photos/ermwhat/
Image by Erm What https://www.flickr.com/photos/ermwhat/

I am tempted to join the chorus of those who assert that PETA has lost it–it being at least the last shreds of credibility that the organization had.  I would prefer to think that they are intelligent people who have sound reasons for their position, and so I would like to attempt at least to understand them.  I do not agree with them, because of what I think are some fundamental issues, but in order to discuss those issues I think it is important at least to attempt to grasp their view.

The stated issue is that the appearance of fur on the models, even given that it isn’t even faux fur but just molded plastic in a roughened pattern that looks like fur, sends a wrong message.  That in itself is a bit ridiculous–as one father of a gamer reported his daughter asking, how can PETA tell whether the plastic molding representation is supposed to be real fur or fake fur?  However, we should give PETA the benefit of the doubt.  They could reasonably object to the use of fake fur for much the same reason:  it is popular because it looks like real fur, and in looking like real fur suggests that killing animals for their fur is an appropriate human action.  People should not kill animals for fur today, and suggesting that it will be acceptable to do so forty thousand years in the future is just as unacceptable.

In its argument, PETA includes some detail about the inhumane ways in which animals are either trapped or hunted and killed, or raised and killed, for their furs.  Within the context it’s a bit ridiculous–for all we know, in the Warhammer world such furs might be grown in vats of cultured skin skin cells that have no innervation and no central nervous system, and thus no real pain.  Fur might grow on trees, genetically mutated or modified.  They might have devised completely painless methods of hunting, trapping, and killing fur-bearing animals.  Extending an argument based on the details of actual modern treatment of such animals to the distant future is indeed silly.  However, it is probably not the distant future with which PETA is concerned.  If they still exist in forty millennia they will undoubtedly argue whether any of those methods are truly humane; their real argument is not whether these are appropriate actions in the future, but whether they convey an appropriate message to the present.  Their position in the present is that it is fundamentally wrong to kill animals for their skins, and so the suggestion that it will be permissible in the distant future is a wrong message, because it always will be–and by implication, always has been–wrong for people to do this.

That is where PETA and I part company on this issue.

Somewhere I have seen, probably in some natural history museum, a montage of a group of primitive men dressed in furs using spears to bring down a Woolly Mammoth.  That display, to my mind, communicates something of the reality of the lives of our distant ancestors.  Yet if PETA is to be taken seriously, that display sends the same kind of wrong message as is sent by the Games Workshop miniatures:  humans have killed animals so as to clothe themselves in the furs, and are engaged in killing another animal.  It might even be argued in their favor that one of the theories for the disappearance of the Siberian Mammoth from the world is that it was hunted to extinction by primitive humans (although in fairness it has also been suggested that they died due to the decline of their habitat at the close of the last ice age).  Yet wearing furs and killing animals was how those humans survived, and thus the means by which we have come to be alive today.

I think that PETA would probably assert that the humans had no higher right to survive than the bears and wolves and deer and other creatures they killed for those furs, or the mammoths they hunted for meat and skin.  PETA has an egalitarian view of the creatures of the world, as I understand it:  all creatures are created equal, and have an equal claim to continued life.  People have no right to kill animals for their own purposes, whether for clothes or for food or for habitat.

One reason this view is held is that people believe there are only two possible views.  The perceived alternative is to believe that humans have no obligations at all to other creatures, and can use them however we want, kill them with impunity, torture them even for no better purpose than our own entertainment, eat them, and wear their bodies as clothing and jewelry or use it to adorn our dwellings.  Put in its extreme form, this position is indeed reprehensible, and I object to it as much as PETA does.  However, these are not the only two positions.

Still, that “reprehensible” position is at least defensible.  PETA can argue that the human species has no better right to survive than any other creatures, but it is equally true under that argument that our right to survive is not any less.  Other creatures do not, by this fundamentally naturalistic argument, owe us their lives, but neither do we owe them theirs.  If our survival is enhanced at their expense, it cannot be asserted that we have less right to survive than they.  In the abstract the claim that we do not have a higher right sounds good, but if the issue were to be whether you or I would survive, it is very likely that you would choose you, and if it went to court after the fact and it was reasonably clearly apparent that it was “you or me”, the courts would undoubtedly exonerate you for choosing your own survival over mine.  The simplest form of that is the self-defense defense, but it’s not the only situation in which this is a factor.  Our ancestors killed animals and ate them and wore their furs because in a very real sense it was “them or us”, either we kill these animals and protect ourselves in their skins or we die of exposure.  Certainly I think that killing for furs that are not needed for our survival but merely decorative is selfish, but under a naturalistic viewpoint I can find no basis for saying that it is wrong to put the needs and preferences of other creatures above our own.  Further, I would not condemn an Inuit for his sealskin boots–it is part of his survival, and it is not clear that modern boots are either as easily available to him or as effective for the purpose.

Yet I do not intend to defend that position.  I think there is a third position that covers the concerns of both PETA and the Inuit.  Man is neither the equal of the other creatures in this world nor the owner of them.  We are their caretakers; they are our charges.

That means that sometimes we have to kill them, responsibly.  The best example is the deer of North America.  In most of the continent, and particularly most of the United States, deer thrive but the predators that kept their numbers in check have been decimated.  Without wolves and mountain lions in significant numbers to kill and eat the deer, their natural reproductive rate (geared to replace those lost to predation) quickly overpopulates the environment.  Certainly we have the selfish concern that they will eat our gardens, but even without that part of the problem they will starve in droves, because there is not enough food to feed them all.  The lack of predators is our fault, but only partly intentional.  Certainly we took steps to protect our children from creatures that would recognize them as a potential meal, but it is also the case that we frighten them, and so as we expand they retreat.  That means that deer will die, and their bodies litter the wilderness–and the alternative is for us to maintain managed killing of the overpopulation.  Licensed hunting is an effective and economical approach.  There might be other ways–such as rounding up herds into slaughterhouses and selling the meat on the market–but PETA would find these at least as objectionable.

It also means that we have the right to kill them when in our view it meets our needs–such as taking cattle and pigs and fowl to slaughterhouses to put meat on our tables.

The issue of whether we should refrain from killing animals for clothing is a more complicated one.  After all, in Genesis 3:21 we are told that God made garments of skin for Adam and Eve when they were inadequately clothed in leaves, and we take that to mean that it was the skins of animals, and that thereafter we dressed ourselves in animal skins following the example God gave us.  On the other hand, we have other materials now which are at least as good, and we have a shortage of animals, at least measured against the number of people we have to clothe.  We can provide for our needs without killing a lot of animals, and so we should prioritize our responsibility to care for those we still have.  That does not mean we cannot use fur or leather as part of our clothing; it means that such use should be limited to situations in which it is the best choice for the purpose.

It also means that in a distant future in which animals, including predatory animals, are plentiful and humans are struggling to survive, our present standards about killing creatures for fur or wearing the skins of animals who died or were killed for other reasons simply do not apply.  Most of those who are intelligent enough to be able to play complicated miniatures wargames are also intelligent enough to understand this, even if PETA is not.

#161: Pseudovulgarity

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #161, on the subject of Pseudovulgarity.

At an hour ridiculous by just about anyone’s standards, the dog rousted me to let him out.  A word went through my mind as I sat up.

I’d like to be able to tell you that the word was “Hallelujah”; it was not.  What I can tell you is that it was not any word that is ordinarily recognized as a curse or swear word or vulgarity.  It was, rather, one of those words made up by some science fiction or fantasy writer to give the characters foul language that doesn’t have any real meaning and so won’t be nixed by the censors–not the one used in Red Dwarf, but that sort of thing.  In fact, the words that went through my head next were, “He can curse in six imaginary languages.”  I can’t, but it is a silly notion, and raises the question of how we as Christians should regard such speech.

img0161Dwarf

Words are avoided for several reasons, and we should understand why specific words are avoided–but I am not going to delve into explanations of individual words.  Some are called “vulgar” by which we mean “crass”; they refer to objects or actions which are not discussed in “polite society” and so it would be rude to use them.

Problematically, some words which make this list have perfectly appropriate uses within certain contexts, but become offensive when they are used in an insulting way.  An expression that means being condemned to eternal punishment is probably appropriate declared from the pulpit, but not expressed as a wish aimed at an individual.  The proper word for a female dog among breeders at a kennel club show becomes vulgar when applied to a person; in its original sense it becomes obscene.

Obscenity is perhaps vulgarity up a notch:  these words usually refer to actions which decent people disdain because they are in some sense morally repugnant.  “Rape” might have been on this list except that we need a name for that crime; it will serve, though, as an example of other words which are not used because they refer to acts themselves regarded immoral.

The other category of avoided words involves the commandment not to use the name of the Lord in vain.  Here the problem is that no one should invoke God disrespectfully, and it is commonly done.  All “offensive” words are considered offensive to people, or at least to “decent” or “proper” people; those in this category are considered offensive to God, but also to people who would be offended by disrespect toward God.

Prior to the early 1970s respectable people did not use such offensive language in conversation, public or private.  This ended with the release of the transcripts of what are called the Watergate tapes, recordings of conversations in the Oval Office in the White House, in which the words “expletive deleted” probably were the most common longer than three letters.  These announced to the world that the respectable speech of our leaders was a facade covering considerably more corrupt language in private.  It is certainly ironic that Richard Nixon is still roundly condemned in nearly all quarters, but his example in this followed by so many.

This covers most of what we consider “foul language”, and most of us feel that if we manage to keep this out of our speech we have done well.  I wonder, though, whether we have.  The other day someone who uses entirely too much foul language asked me whether there was something he could say instead.  I suggested Praise the Lord; I do not know whether he has implemented an effort on this front.  I do recall a pastor friend of mine telling of a deacon in his church with Tourette’s who apparently spoke no foul words and so his expletive outbursts were all on the order of Alleluia, Amen, Praise God, and that answered a question I had had about the syndrome in people who had not learned any bad words.  Most Christians make a point not to say anything that falls into any of these categories; some don’t consider it a significant issue.

What is somewhat more intriguing is the use of substitute words.  The language is littered with them–“gosh” and “golly”, “gee” and “geesh”, and words like “heck”, “darn”, “dang”, “sugar”, “frigging”, to replace more vulgar language.  These words we use in order keep our language “clean”–but do they miss the point?

The phrase “apple-polisher” does not immediately call the image from which it is apparently derived; “brown-noser” is closer to the vulgar original, but you don’t want to think about what that one means.  The fact that we avoid the words but convey the ideas is not especially commendable.  In college I was very good at creative invective until an event I have recounted elsewhere shocked me into the realization that some people were hurt by words which to me were a game.  If what you say is intended to give offense, it is not really inoffensive to say it without offensive words.  Perhaps more fundamentally, if the use of a word reflects a bad attitude within, a replacement word to express the attitude does nothing about the attitude.

I am of the opinion that we as believers should avoid using words which offend–not merely those which are offensive to specific races or subcultures, but those which are offensive to polite society.  The use of invented vulgarity, in the form of invented words, is probably reasonable for inclusion in fiction, particularly fantasy and science fiction, to give the feeling of a real lower-class culture (I still see the use of such words as the language of the lower classes, and the fact that Nixon and his aides used it lowers my opinion of them far more than it raises my opinion of the use of such language).  In my own writing I manage to avoid most of it, and while I’m prejudiced I don’t think my prose suffers for it.

As far as substitute words in daily use, to the degree that they reflect negativity, invective, or distress, we probably should learn not to use them–not because the words themselves are bad, but because they convey attitudes which we ought to be eliminating in ourselves.  We mistakenly think that something which happens is bad because at first impression we don’t like it, but every gift from God is good, and He gives us our days and our lives.  Certainly there are people who harm us or others, and we are right to hate what they do–but that they do it tells us that they need to be repaired, need God’s love and ours to escape the darkness in which they are living.  They don’t need our foul language or our not-foul replacement language or our invective or insult or disdain.  They need our help.

So if you wondered why words of that sort mattered, maybe this will give you some notion.