#198: Verser Trials

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #198, on the subject of Verser Trials.

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.

These were the previous mark Joseph “young” web log posts covering this book:

  1. #157:  Versers Restart (which provided this kind of insight into the first eleven chapters);
  2. #164:  Versers Proceed (which covered chapters 12 through 22);
  3. #170:  Versers Explore (which covered chapters 23 through 33);
  4. #174:  Versers Achieve (chapters 34 through 44);
  5. #180:  Versers Focus (chapters 45 through 55);
  6. #183:  Verser Transitions (chapters 56 through 66);
  7. #186:  Worlds Change (chapters 67 through 77);
  8. #191:  Versers Travel (chapters 78 through 88).

This picks up from there, with chapters 89 through 99.

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 89, Slade 78

I had been thinking about the trial quite a bit since the arrest, when I realized that Slade had given away the book.  I remembered that Filp had said the peasant wasn’t with the soldiers.  I almost went back and changed the text, so that Slade would have kept the book.  I realized, though, that the book could be carried to court by the enemy, quite inadvertently, and brought in that way.

The note that appealing to the King’s impartiality was a way to influence him caught my fancy, so I had to include it.

I decided it was time for Shella to call him Bob.  It seemed the right name at that moment.

Saying that the story of recent days would not have made a good book was, of course, a bit of a self-conscious joke.  Perhaps all stories make good books, if you know how to tell them; or perhaps in creating this one, it was necessary to include bits that would be good to tell.


Chapter 90, Brown 82

The manufacture and testing of the potion seemed a necessary step; it also gave me an opportunity to get a bit of action into Derek’s story at that moment.

The idea that he had to explain it to his father struck a chord with my young test audience.

The use of the pronoun “it” for the antecedent “the man” was intentional, distancing the sprite version of Derek from humanity.


Chapter 91, Hastings 123

At this point in the story, I’m trying to construct the foundation of something that will let Lauren have a lot of action bringing down vampires, but hold off the climactic confrontations against Tubrok until after Derek and Slade arrive.  I figure Derek will work out the computer hacking part, and get the domes opened.  I also expect that I’ll leave Merlin with Derek and Bethany (I haven’t figured out yet whether Slade survives the battle) to continue battling vampires after Lauren is gone and Tubrok is dead.

I particularly liked the idea that the domes served no real function, but were built for a lot of reasons none of which were good.

In high school I toured Romania with a high school choral group.  It was part of a cultural exchange program, so we had a guide provided by the government.  That was at a time when the Jesus Movement was in full force in our communities, and some of my classmates engaged the guide in discussion about why he would not become a Christian.  His answer, simply, was that in Romania you were either a Christian or a member of the Communist Party, and the advantages of the latter were so plainly evident that that is what he had chosen.  I think that memory may have influenced this notion about the Superiority Party:  if you want to be anything important in society, you have to become a vampire, so people are eager to join.


Chapter 92, Slade 79

I decided immediately after the trial scene that Slade would be at dinner and the king would not be, but that the prince, who is a bit less cool than his father, would raise the matter of the book.  I also thought Slade would not take that well, but Shella could shine in her function of cool intermediary here.

I also had sketched out the preparations for war to some degree.  Sir Matthias is named for the apostle of that name.


Chapter 93, Brown 83

The reaction of the elders was carefully considered.  I did not think they would be enthused; on the other hand, it would make the story longer and much more difficult were they opposed.  Thus it became Derek’s task to convince them.


Chapter 94, Hastings 124

I realized that I was going to have a lot of vampire combats ahead, and I had to keep these interesting while at the same time not overburdening the text with them.  The idea of entering the scene as a fight was ending, and of referencing several fights not described, also let me give the impression that Lauren had now been here for a while and was working toward her ultimate goal.

The teleport idea had occurred to me along the way.  I realized that there was an ability in the game books to trace teleport paths, and it was too much to think that no one in this world would have it, or that they would not work for Tubrok.  Thus creating a difficult trail seemed appropriate, and I gave some consideration to how that might be done.

I liked the decapitation blow that had been used on Tubrok in the second book, and thought it made sense for Lauren and Bethany to work on perfecting that.  It also seemed that I couldn’t allow it to be instantly fatal on all vampires, or they would cease to look dangerous.  Here it presents itself as more of a finishing blow, something they launch when they know they have an opening.  The teamwork aspect also appealed to me.

It is one of those things you find in eschatological studies, that people want to know who the beast is and so sometimes believers use the name for someone or something they think will be the antichrist.  There was a computer in Europe decades ago that was to run the financial systems of the banking world to which one of the people involved in its development gave this name, precisely because it was used in Revelation.  The fact that Tubrok is inhuman and feeds on humans made the name natural here, but it is part of the apocalyptic feeling already hinted in a previous chapter when Lauren said that possibly only the return of Christ would completely destroy the vampires.


Chapter 95, Slade 80

The time it takes to go to war in this milieu was worth bringing out for contrast.  The complications of having Shella ride with them took some thought to resolve.

I also lingered a bit over the troops on the road, and whether they would fight.  I decided it was not necessary and not profitable to anyone.  In my mind I’m moving toward a battle of significant proportion, but coupled with a sort of guerilla action Slade leads to take the castle.


Chapter 96, Brown 84

The marriage was in part a delaying tactic, so that something would be happening in Derek’s life besides the pending war; it was also put there because of Slade’s wedding, so that I could do something different with this.  Although I had been swithering about whether to have them marry and take Dearie into the verse with Derek, by this point I’d decided that really wasn’t going to be a good choice.  Maybe I would bring Derek back to find Dearie later, but for now I needed to keep him single.

I’d also decided on the conversation with the elf, which I bumped to the next chapter because I felt it needed to break at the moment the engagement was announced.


Chapter 97, Hastings 125

The wolves came to my mind at just about this time, and I thought it not unreasonable that Lauren would not have thought of them sooner, so I brought them into the story again.

For Garith, I wanted another growlish name, and that was the best I had at the time.  Sielle was actually named for a dog belonging to a crazy landlady we had our first year of marriage; but the dog was named Sienna, after the paint color.


Chapter 98, Slade 81

At this point, I was looking for an out for Slade, stalling Lauren until I got people to join her, and trying to bring my threesome together without running roughshod over someone’s story.  A commando raid seemed better than a major battle.

There was on the edge of my brain a movie in which the couple is in a bind, but she’s got a gun.  He says, “I love you,” and she says, “I know,” and as he turns to face the villain she shoots him (the villain).  It took me several years to realize that it came from Star Wars.


Chapter 99, Brown 85

I’d been thinking about this conversation for a while.  I’m decided that Derek never married Dearie, but it won’t be for his choice.

The line “You’re committed now, or you will be” is of course a joke to be said when you have decided to say or do something that will seem crazy.  I know I’ve said it before I wrote it here, but don’t know whether it’s original with me or whether I heard it somewhere else.


This has been the ninth 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.

#197: Launching the mark Joseph “young” Forums

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #197, on the subject of Launching the mark Joseph “young” Forums.

Once upon a time, what now seems a long, long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, there were forums at Gaming Outpost.

Well, there were forums almost everywhere, but the ones at Gaming Outpost were significant, big deal forums in the gaming world for a while, and then not so much but still important to me and to many of those who read my work and played Multiverser.  They were probably then the most reliable way to reach me, and there were plenty of discussions, not to mention quite a few games played, on those forums.

Then they crashed, and all of that was lost.

I can’t promise that this won’t happen to these new forums, but we’re going to make an effort, with the help of our Patreon and PayPal.me supporters, to keep them up and running, and to pay attention to what is posted here.

I arranged the forums in alphabetical order; I was going to arrange them in reverse alphabetical order, because I have always hated being the last in line for everything, but as I installed them the software put the next one on top, and although I could see how to resequence them, I realized that that would put Bible and Theology on the bottom, and while I’m not a stickler for silly formalities I could see that some people would object to that, more so than anyone would object to any other forum being at the bottom.  It is probably appropriate that it is on top.  The forum categories correspond roughly to the web log main topics, with a few tweaks and additions.

I long wished for a place to discuss time travel and time travel movies, and that’s there now.  I don’t expect most of the discussions will wind up here, but perhaps at least some will, and that will make it worthwhile.  I’ve also made a home for discussions of the Christian Gamers Guild Faith and Gaming series, and for the upcoming (this December) Faith in Play and RPG-ology series there.  There are music and ministry sections, space for logic problems discussions, law and politics pages, space for games, and a place to discuss my books, if anyone is interested in any of those topics.

I have also added a Multiverser game play forum.  I have in the past been overwhelmed by the number of players who wanted to play, even with my rule that I would only post one time per day to any game thread and expected players to observe the same courtesy (except for obvious correction posts).  Please do not presume that because you want to play Multiverser you can just start a thread and I’ll pick up your game.  I will give first priority to people who have played the game with me before, whether live or online, picking up where we were; I will also open the door on an individual basis to people who have wanted to play for a long time but for various reasons have not been able to do so (such as Andrew in South Africa).  Beyond that, well, talk to me and I’ll see what kind of time I have–after all, I have no idea how many of my previous players will return, or how much work it’s going to be to get back up to speed on their long-interrupted games.

My thanks to Kyler and Nikolaj, who have already helped me track down some of the bugs and fix them.  I’m told that if you are not registered, the link on the top left corner of the page will work, but the one on the top right corner will not–unfortunately, I can neither see either link while logged into the site, nor find how to fix a lot of those problems.  But I am working on it, and there is a forum specifically for contacting me about problems, and a link to my Facebook page if you can’t even get as far as that.

I look forward to seeing you.

#196: A Church and State Playground

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #196, on the subject of A Church and State Playground.

Back in the winter we noted, in web log post #158:  Show Me Religious Freedom, that the United States Supreme Court was going to decide a case concerning whether a church-affiliated school could be denied participation in a public welfare program simply because it was sponsored by a religious institution.  That decision has been reached, in Trinity Lutheran Church of Columbia, Inc. v. Carol S. Comer, Director, Missouri Department of Natural Resources, 582 U.S. ___ (2017), and the majority opinion is very like what we previously suggested, but there are three concurring opinions that quibble on the details and one dissent that is scathing, fairly well reasoned, and as long as the other four opinions combined.

Chief Justice Roberts delivered the opinion of the court, joined in full by Justices Kennedy, Alito, and Kagan; Justices Thomas and Gorsuch also joined the opinion, with the exclusion of “footnote 3”, and each of them filed a concurring opinion, and joined in supporting each other’s concurring opinion.  Justice Breyer filed an opinion concurring in the judgement.  It is Justice Sotamayer who wrote the lengthy dissent, in which Justice Ginsburg joined.

To recount briefly, Missouri runs a program which provides funding to resurface playgrounds with recycled tires.  There is a tax on new tire purchases which funds the collection and recycling of discarded tires, converting these into a “pour-in-place” durable soft surface which reduces injuries on playgrounds.  The application process for determining eligibility to receive such a “grant” examines many factors including the economic circumstances of the area, the public use of the playground, and more.  On a list of forty-four applicants, the school ranked fifth, but did not receive one of the fourteen grants because it was affiliated with a religious institution, and the department had a policy of refusing to provide money to any religiously-affiliated institution, consistent with the Missouri State Constitution Article I, Section 7, which we quoted in the previous article.  This led to a court battle over whether the State, by refusing to permit a religiously-affiliated school from participating in a program that provided aid for non-religious programs, had violated the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment, by making eligibility for a public assistance program dependent on renouncing a religious belief or association.

All five opinions discuss the balance between the Free Exercise Clause, that the government cannot interfere with someone’s beliefs, and the Establishment Clause, that the government cannot support one set of beliefs over another.  Neither clause is exactly absolute.  For example, it is agreed that the Establishment Clause does not mean that the publicly-funded fire department can’t put out a burning church or synagogue, or that the police won’t investigate a theft of church property.  The Free Exercise Clause has also been tested, and laws have been overturned which prevented ordained ministers from serving in elected public office, on the grounds that such laws forced a person to choose between his religious beliefs expressed in his vocation and his right as a citizen to run for office.

A lot of the discussion on both sides concerned the previous case Locke v. Davey, 540 U. S. 712 (2004).  In Locke, the State of Washington ran a post-secondary education scholarship program based on outstanding scholastic achievement, but with a specific clause stating that the scholarship money could not be used for ministerial training.  The student claimed that the program was a violation of the Free Exercise Clause, but the Court held that under the Establishent Clause the State could refuse to fund ministerial training, particularly given that the program did not exclude schools which offered such courses or the courses themselves, only a degree program of that nature.  They have always maintained that there was some space between the two clauses, in which States were not compelled by either to act in a particular way; the question was whether in this case the state was forced to act one way or the other, or was free to act as it chose.

The majority felt that this case was more like McDaniel v. Paty, 435 U. S. 618 (1978), in which ordained ministers were barred from seeking election to public office, and the Court held that this amounted to denying a citizen a fundamental right available to all citizens (running for public office) based solely on religious belief.  The playground was not part of a religious training program, but a part of ordinary educational aid made available broadly to the community, and the church had been excluded from the program solely because it was a church, having a religious purpose in its existence.  The denial of the right to participate in the program was a violation of the Free Exercise Clause, because it required the church to choose between abandoning its religious faith and participating in a common government welfare program designed for the protection of children.  A significant part of the decision can summarized in the Court’s words

…denying a generally available benefit solely on account of religious identity imposes a penalty on the free exercise of religion that can be justified only by a state interest “of the highest order.”

Under such “strict scrutiny” the policy failed.

To some degree, the concurring opinions have to do with footnote 3, which reads

This case involves express discrimination based on religious identity with respect to playground resurfacing.  We do not address religious uses of funding or other forms of discrimination.

Justice Thomas expressed the view that Locke failed to apply strict scrutiny to the facts in that case, and ought to be overturned–but that that was not a question before the court at this time.  However, he thought footnote 3 too limiting, and deferred to Justice Gorsuch’ concurring opinion for that.

Justice Gorsuch says that the Court makes an indefensible distinction between religious status and religious use, and so distinguishes Locke from the present case.  He makes the point thus, comparing the two cases:

Is it a religious group that built the playground?  Or did a group build the playground so it might be used to advance a religious mission?….was it a student who wanted a vocational degree in religion?  or was it a religious student who wanted the necessary education for his chosen vocation?

The only justification for the decision in Locke, in Gorsuch’ view, is the “long tradition against the use of public funds for training of the clergy”.  As to footnote 3, he feared it would be misconstrued as saying that the principles on which this decision was based do not apply outside very narrow fact sets, which he thought was incorrect.

Justice Breyer put the emphasis on the fact that the program involved was intended “to secure or to improve the health and safety of children” and was in that sense not different from other public welfare programs such as police and fire protection.  He did not want to extend the decision too far, but thought in this case it was a clear violation of the Free Exercise Clause, and that for programs akin to this the fact that the applicant was a religious school should not exclude it.

Interestingly, none of these opinions declared that the Missouri Constitution’s Article I section 7 was unconstitutional; the majority opinion merely stated that as interpreted by the Missouri Supreme Court it ran afoul of the Free Exercise Clause, and so would have to be understood differently in the future.

Justice Sotamayer’s dissent is long, involved, and pointed.

Her most cogent point is that the church identifies the school as part of its ministry, intended to build the foundations of Christian faith in its students, whether children of church members or others from the community.  We have established that States can refuse to pay scholarships for ministerial training.  It is reasonable to conclude that the State can refuse to pay for Bibles, Korans, Torahs, as well as vestments, chalices, sacramental elements.  Arguably the doors, windows, roofs, and walls of church buildings are part of the ministry.  We would not use government money to pay for such acoutrements, because they are in a sense part of the ministry.

Yet it is clear that this is not so.

In the wake of Hurricane Sandy, it was established the Federal Flood Insurance and Disaster Relief could be used to rebuild damaged churches, as long as it was distributed even-handedly–that is, not favoring any particular religion.  So government money can be used for repairing physical plant of religious buildings.

Further, the National School Lunch Act provides discounted and free lunches to students in private and parochial schools without regard for the religious nature of the school, because lunch is neutral and it would be discriminatory against the religious choices of these families to exclude them from an otherwise neutral benefit because they are attending a religious private school.

So on the one hand we ask ourselves whether the playground is part of the ministry of the church, and in a sense it is, but in the same sense that the lunchroom is part of the ministry of the church.  Indeed, from the perspective of the Christian faith, every congregant is an extension of the ministry of the church, and yet we know that people cannot be excluded from government assistance programs simply because they are members of a faith which regards all of its members as ministers.  The government cannot avoid giving money to church ministries, as the church understands them, because whenever money is given to people who belong to the church, it is aiding the ministry of the church.

And on the other hand, we ask ourselves to what degree the support of the playground is supporting the religious mission of the church.  In many states it is a requirement that schools include a physical education program, and although Trinity’s school is essentially preschool the playground may be necessary to their certification–that is, if all schools must have some kind of playground for physical activity, then the playground is clearly meeting a secular, a non-religious, requirement.  Stating that it is a part of the ministry of the church certainly calls the matter into question, but seen in perspective, the answer should be obvious, that state money given to religious institutions for secular purposes such as meals and playgrounds are not a violation of the Establishment Clause, and might well be required, as the majority observes, under the Free Exercise clause.

None of this touches the deeper problem, that the language in the Missouri State Constitution is Blaine Amendment language, which as we observed was inserted for essentially religious (anti-Catholic) purposes.  However, since no party addressed this, that issue remains for the future.