#238: Love Song by Love Song

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #238, on the subject of Love Song by Love Song.

For many of us schooled in the late sixties, a record album was not just a collection of songs.  Thanks to contributions such as Abby Road and Tommy we viewed a record album as a work of art in itself, a skillful arrangement of music and lyrics which carried the listener from beginning to end through a theme or story.  The self-titled debut album from Love Song is such a recording, from the opening strains of the title song to its fragmentary reprise at end (missing from that video and seemingly from the internet itself) in which the band carries the listener through songs that seem to follow each other in an almost mandatory sequence.

This is the fourth entry in a series of reminiscences about what might be considered the early days of Christian contemporary and rock music; previous entries are listed and linked at the end of this article.  My credentials are presented in the first article of this series, the Larry Norman article.  Song title links are to YouTube videos; no representation is made as to whether they are legal copies.

The album was more than that, though.  At the time of its release (1972) it was the first Christian rock band to get distribution nationwide, and thus in the minds of many the first Christian rock album.  We thought it wonderful, and argued that the only reason it wasn’t getting national airplay was because of the discrimination against Christian music on public radio stations.

In fairness, it was a mellow album even by the standards of the day.  Front Seat, Back Seat and Little Country Church were outright Country songs; a lot of the guitar work was on acoustic or even nylon-stringed classical instruments, and the wailing distorted lead guitar solo on Let Us Be One is well back in the mix.  On the other hand, the performance and arrangement was top notch across the board, and their use of vocals was unrivaled at the time.

They felt the adulation, and didn’t much care for it.  As Christian musicians they wanted to point people to Jesus, and it seemed that people were pointing more to them.  Three years after their debut album they released what was to be their final installment, Final Touch, and officially dissolved the band.  This was a less-admired album.  The most memorable cuts are the comical southern rock Cossack’s Song and the quiet Little Pilgrim.  They reunited for a live album, Feel the Love, three years after that, and in the late nineties there was a remastered disk under several titles of which Welcome Back was the preferred commercial one in the U.S.  They also appeared live with a dozen other artists from those early years on a live double CD tribute to Keith Green entitled First Love, also in the late nineties.

After their dissolution, Chuck Girard–vocals, keyboards, guitars–continued to do music consistent with the sounds of the band; the best known song was Sometimes Alleluia.  Bassist/vocalist Jay Truax and drummer/vocalist John Mehler lent support to other artists, most notably as part of Paul Clark and Friends, but other than Chuck the band members stayed out of the spotlight.

Fans generally believe that had the band continued it would have produced more wonderful music.  The first album had succeeded in achieving something great; the second, not so much, and Chuck continued to have about as good a career as a Christian Contemporary musician could have at the time, but never produced anything comparable to that first work.

*****

The series to this point has included:

  1. #232:  Larry Norman, Visitor;
  2. #234:  Flip Sides of Ralph Carmichael;
  3. #236:  Reign of the Imperials.

#237: Morality and Consequences: Overlooked Roleplay Essentials

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #237, on the subject of Morality and Consequences:  Overlooked Roleplay Essentials.

This is nothing new, really; it is more nostalgic. 

I don’t recall the exact date, but late in 1997 or possibly as late as early 1998, when Multiverser was first published, I had been invited to join a mailing list group (remember those?) of game designers, and did so.  I had not been there long when Gary Gygax posted to announce that a couple of guys were trying to launch a new web site for role playing games featuring a forum (remember those?), and they were hoping people would give them articles to publish.  I wrote a draft and e-mailed it to them, asking if something like this would suit them, expecting that they would respond and I would edit consistent with their recommendations; a day or two later I found that the draft had been published on the new site, Gaming Outpost.

It was a long and mostly happy relationship; I was still writing for the site one way or another up to its demise a few years back, including my four-year weekly series Game Ideas Unlimited and my original web log, Blogless Lepolt.  Shortly after the article posted I joined the forum to interact with the response (of which there was virtually none at all).  Because my Multiverser™ and temporal anomalies material and this article were published under the name “M. Joseph Young” (a name I had used for some pieces of satire published in the early 1980s in The Elmer Times here in New Jersey) but my Dungeons & Dragons™ and Bible material was under the name “Mark J. Young” (the name I used on stage as a musician and composer and on the radio), and I thought that “Mark Joseph Young” was too long for a handle, I registered as “M. J. Young”, the first time that name was used for me anywhere, the name subsequently becoming so identified with me that many people who knew me fairly well could not have told you what the initials represented.  I have been trying to obtain data from the crashed site, in the hope of recovering some of that material.  Meanwhile, the editors of the French edition of Places to Go, People to Be are always scavanging the web looking for my lost material, and they discovered this through The Wayback Machine and provided me with the link to the original copy (which I have given below).

Although I had already started several web sites (most of which are consolidated now as M. J. Young Net) this was the first time I wrote a piece for someone else’s site.  That became rather common, and I probably write almost as much for other sites (mostly the Christian Gamers Guild) as I do for my own at this point, but this is the article that started that.

Thus with the caveats that even when it was published I had expected to do a bit more polishing on it, I give it to you in its original form, unedited save for updated links:

Morality and Consequences:  Overlooked Gaming Essentials

Almost twenty years ago, shortly after I first discovered Dungeons & Dragons and the “grand thought experiment” which is role playing, I was regaled with the arguments of those who believed that this wonderfully challenging and relaxing form of intellectual recreation was the tool of Satan.  Well, if you’re in ministry you’re expected to know these things, and to uphold the true path.  Trouble was, I didn’t know it, and the more I looked at the arguments, the more certain I was that they were mistaken.  I said so, and I won quite a few battles; my responses are still winning that battle.

One of those arguments seemed to me to be particularly spurious.  Critics delighted in citing a few gamers who had said that playing evil characters was so much easier and more fun than playing good ones.  I don’t want to argue about whether it’s more fun to be the bad guy.  But my answer now is the same as it was then, that it shouldn’t be easier, and if it is, the referee is doing something wrong.  And the words and attitudes of a few players who didn’t understand the difficulties of playing evil characters were adding to the evil reputation of a game which, in my opinion, had the greatest potential for exploring and expressing faith of any recreational activity short of smuggling Bibles behind the Iron Curtain.

Yet twenty years later, gamers are still saying that it’s easier to play the bad guy, and I find myself wondering why that is.  It was never so at my table.  Villains are particularly difficult to play, for reasons which to me are obvious.  Why are so many referees letting so many players get away with murder?

And that was the answer.  I already had two degrees in theology before I discovered gaming, and I played with college graduates from several fields, with people involved in ministry, with philosophy students and history majors and businessmen–people who knew that you couldn’t get away with murder.  But apparently the typical gamers were still in school, many of them still in high school; and although for years I ran a game for the local high school kids, most of them run their own games.  And therein lies the rub.  A lot of gamers define evil as “I can do whatever I want, and get away with it.”  I’ve had a few gamers come to my table with that attitude.  The problem is, too many referees think that evil means, “he can do anything he wants, and get away with it.”  DM’s, GM’s, referees make great demands of those who would be the good heroes; but they expect nothing of those playing the villain.  Yet in many ways it’s much harder to be the villain, and the referee should make it so.

The referee must always remember that the villain is untrusted, untrustworthy, and untrusting.  He has no friends, only cronies, henchmen and partners in crime who would sell him out in an instant, as soon as his value drops below the asking price.  The concept of “honor among thieves” is promoted by con men who want to lull him into a false sense of security, so that at the right time they will get the first, hopefully fatal, blow.  Evil characters will never risk their own lives to save a comrade; they will risk no more than the comrade is worth, unless they have good reason to want him to believe they are loyal.

One gamer came to my table from a series of games in which all the characters were evil.  In that campaign, as the adventure drew to an end, the closer you got to home the less everyone slept and the fewer characters were left alive.  Never once did two characters have to divide the treasure between them when they got home.  These players knew what it meant to be evil.

But all of this relates to party members; and although non-player character party members are one of the referee’s most valuable tools in running a successful campaign, his ability to influence players into turning on each other may be somewhat limited.  What can a referee do to make a difference?

Pay attention to societal rules.  There have been very few times and places in history where you could kill someone in public in cold blood and get away with it, yet game characters seem to do this all the time.  Kill one man, and even if you had a good reason and it was a “fair” duel, you’ve got someone after you.  Kill him, and you’ve become a threat to society.  Whether it’s the law, a lynch mob, or a blood feud, the evil character will find that he has a lot of people out to get him.

What will complicate his life even more is the lack of support he gets.  A hero comes into town, and if his reputation precedes him he will be welcomed.  Common people like to have heroes around, because they offer protection and preserve the peace necessary for life to continue normally.  Villains who want support will have to threaten or bribe it out of people.  They will be shunned by all who dare, and probably driven out of town by the townsfolk jointly, possibly based on reputation alone, and certainly if they cause any trouble.  No one wants thieves and killers in their midst.

No, no one wants thieves and killers in their midst–not even other thieves and killers.  The player character makes the mistake of thinking that because he’s evil, other evil characters will be his friends.  He has no friends.  He may flee to the pirate haven or the thieves’ hideaway about which he’s heard, but they won’t welcome him with open arms.  They don’t trust each other, and they certainly aren’t going to trust a newcomer.  He could be the law, trying to get inside and take them out.  He could be a family member of one of their past victims, seeking vengeance on one of them.  He could be a hired assassin or bounty hunter intent on bringing someone back with him.  He could be another thief or killer, one more person to watch, to eliminate before he becomes a problem.  His best hopes are to convince them that he’s useful, and so remain alive as long as they remain convinced; or that he’s too powerful to challenge, and so face only the risks of being killed when he’s not looking or meeting someone bigger than he; or that he doesn’t matter, in which case he’s bound to become the brunt of the fun, the toy, the victim of every vicious sense of humor in the place.

Evil characters are not trusted, not by other evil characters and certainly not by good ones.  They are not trustworthy; they will ultimately betray each other, and they know it.  They are also not trusting.  Evil characters tend to think that everyone else thinks like they do, that everyone else is in it for themselves and will stab you in the back.  It’s a survival instinct among their cohorts, who really will kill them when it is to their advantage.  But evil characters don’t trust good characters, and don’t believe that the good characters aren’t working some “angle” or “game”.  The good character sees good as an end in itself, but the evil character sees the good deeds of others as a means to an end.  The good cleric collects money to feed the poor, but the evil character suspects that it’s filling the priest’s retirement fund.  The good fighter protects the villagers from attack, but the evil onlooker believes it’s a setup for a power grab.  He can’t trust anyone, because he’s sure they all think like him, and he knows better than to trust someone like him.

Players won’t want to play this out.  They tend to work together like good characters even when trying to be evil.  But there’s much that can be done to sow distrust between them.  Here are some ideas.

Whenever they find something of value, make certain that no one is sure how much it’s worth.  It’s easy for a referee to say, “you found five thousand gold coins”; but how does anyone know that there are five thousand gold coins?  Better to say, “you found gold coins, several thousand by your guess”, and require them to count it.  Make it clear to each of them that they don’t know the facts, only the information provided by the others.  If Glag and Scruff count the coins, tell Glag that he counts 2000, and tell Scruff that he counted 3000, and let them decide what to tell each other.  Better yet, create a possibility that one of them miscounted by a couple hundred coins.  Now Scruff counts only 2700, but if Glag recounts it, he’ll get 3000.  Make them acutely aware of how dependent they are on each other, and how vulnerable they are to misinformation.  Never openly tell a character the value of something he would know if the others don’t know it.  Give them the opportunity to distrust each other.

Give them indivisible treasure items.  Nothing causes more grief between evil characters than a horde of a few thousand gold coins and a single magic sword.  Any character who can use the sword will think he should have it and his share of the coins; any character who can’t use it will think that the sword should replace a share of the coins, or better yet be sold to someone else to increase the number of coins being shared.  The same can be done with particularly beautiful (and possibly meaningful) pieces of jewelry, rare technological devices, and other things which can benefit only one character.  And however it’s decided, make it something they will regret.  If one of the characters gets the item, have a non-player character ask someone who didn’t get it if he thinks the character would sell it for such-and-such a price.  If they sell it, remind the player character who wanted it that it would have been particularly useful in some situation which comes up shortly thereafter.

Do the same things in combat situations.  We all know that characters will sometimes be in the thick of trouble and other times be on the fringes.  Point it out when it happens:  “Glag, while you’re fighting these three orcs, you notice that Scruff is still standing in the doorway.”  “In that combat, Scruff took fifteen points of damage, but Glag was unharmed.”  Make them feel the inequities of their situation.  Remember, a good character will generally assume that his companions are doing their best to support the group, but an evil character will generally assume that his companions are trying to shift as much of the danger and hardship away from themselves and onto him.  Encourage that perception in everything you describe.

In short, if your players think that evil characters are easier to play than good ones, it’s time to straighten up your program.  Isolate them, create suspicion.  Pass a lot of notes around; nothing puts players on edge more than the idea that the referee is discussing something with one of the other players about which they know nothing..  If the timing is right, have some party member turn up dead.  You could have your non-player character do the assassination, or you could have the non-player character mysteriously die of what cannot be proved to be natural causes.  You could tell one of the player characters that he doesn’t feel well–suffering from indigestion or something–and then have him die (or nearly die) of symptoms which could have been poison.  Make them believe that they are each other’s worst enemies, and soon they will be making preemptive moves against each other.

If after all that they still believe that it is more fun to play evil characters, let them enjoy the game.  There are good practical reasons why good generally defeats evil in the end, and evil characters should eventually realize that they’re on the losing side.  But it can be fun to lose, even exhilarating, if you play well.

Just as long as they don’t think being evil is the easy road.

–M. Joseph Young is co-author of Multiverser:  The Game and Vice President for Development of Valdron Inc.  His many web pages on diverse subjects from Internet law to infravision are indexed for convenience.

*****

Regretably, the indices no longer exist, although hopefully the web site is organized well enough to find the material that is here.  The Wayback Machine copy of this article is at this link, but is not different from what is published here.

#236: Reign of the Imperials

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #236, on the subject of Reign of the Imperials.

The Imperials began as a pretty standard male southern gospel quartet.  However, they kept crossing lines, pushing the envelope, reinventing themselves, and became a force in middle-of-the-road contemporary Christian music.

This is the third entry in a series of reminiscences about what might be considered the early days of Christian contemporary and rock music, which began with #232:  Larry Norman, Visitor, followed by #234:  Flip Sides of Ralph Carmichael.  Song title links are to YouTube videos; no representation is made as to whether they are legal copies.  My credentials are presented in the first article of this series, the Larry Norman article.

They first shocked their conservative Christian audience by taking a job as backup singers for that icon of everything that was wrong with American youth of the day, Elvis Presley.  This gave them exposure to audiences beyond anything they could have gotten as “another southern gospel quartet”.  It may have alienated some of their core audience, but it put them in a position to sing gospel music to secular audiences when they opened for “The King”.

After that, they broke another rule when they filled an open vocalist slot with Sherman Andrus, making them the first racially integrated gospel band.  Prior to that, there was black gospel music and there was all-white southern gospel music.  Now there was gospel music sung by a quartet one, and only one, of whom was black.  Again their core audience was shaken, but their reach expanded.

Andrus would eventually leave along with fellow vocalist Terry Blackwood to form Andrus, Blackwood, and Company, whose biggest hit to my knowledge was the rock-‘n’-roll tribute Wonderful, done with an almost comic backup from Blackwood to Andrus’ truly stylistic lead vocals.  (Unfortunately, they are also remembered for the completely tasteless idea for a song about the martyrdom of Steven, heaven is just A Stone’s Throw Away.)  Russ Taff joined The Imperials at that time, and also had a bit of a solo career on the side.

About that time Chris Christian had a contract to provide material for one of the major contemporary Christian labels, and the Imperials got him to produce their 1979 albums Heed the Call and One More Song for You, in a style that might be dubbed Nashville Contemporary.  They were a quality act within their style, and their novelty song Oh Buddha became one of the few heavily requested at our album-oriented CCM station.  They were never a cutting-edge rock band, but with recordings of songs like Old Man’s Rubble they broke out of the mold of southern gospel and became a standard in middle-of-the-road Christian contemporary.

I don’t own any of their recordings; they were never on my list of favorites, and my budget pretty much kept me to records I really wanted that I could get the record companies to give me.  They were, however, one of the quality vocal bands of the time, even if their southern gospel roots still influenced their vocal arrangements even after they crossed solidly into the contemporary/rock sound.

#235: Versers Infiltrate

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #235, on the subject of Versers Infiltrate.

With permission of Valdron Inc I have now completed publishing my first three novels, Verse Three, Chapter One:  The First Multiverser Novel, Old Verses New, and For Better or Verse, in serialized form on the web (those links will take you to the table of contents for each book).  Along with each book 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 with the chapters in the tables of contents pages.  Now as I am posting the fourth, Spy Verses,  I am again offering a set of “behind the writings” insights.  This “behind the writings” look may contain 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 is the third mark Joseph “young” web log post covering this book, covering chapters 43 through 63.  These were the previous mark Joseph “young” web log posts covering this book:

  1. #218:  Versers Resume (which provided this kind of insight into the first twenty-one chapters);
  2. #226:  Versers Adapt (covering chapters 22 through 42).

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 43, Kondor 106

I had decided at this point to turn the situation around, to put the trio among the whites and see where that took me.

Bob and Shella of course are protected by their SEP to enemies spell–they would not have thought of it thus, but everyone in this world is their enemy–and so they are not seen until they reveal themselves.  The fog was convenient as an explanation, particularly for Joe, whose perspective this is.

The take charge attitude Bob displays is a technique for getting people to yield:  he acts as if there is no question who is in charge here, and they are not certain they are in a position to object.  Even the way he asks “who are you?” carries with it the implication that he is important and they are not.

I wanted European sounding names up front to contrast against the African names I had used among the blacks.


Chapter 44, Brown 117

Splitting the team is another encounter in the scenario, which sets up the next two.  It’s always tricky trying to figure out how to split them, although it helps generally (in play) that it’s done with one player character and the rest of the team non-player characters, so if I can set up a credible reason for the split, the split works.  Here I am able to make the split the decision of the main character.

Derek has used this springing stab attack before, but it was a risky move and I couldn’t allow it to appear to be a certain kill.  This time he had to fail, and we had to have more tension in the fight because of it.

I realized at this point in the read-through edit that I had not mentioned the chain, and it had to be somewhere accessible, so I went back to Brown 110 and made a few tweaks to include his weapons.


Chapter 45, Slade 106

Slade’s uncertainty about what to request reflected my own about this scenario:  I did not know where it was going.  It was a good short-term cover story, but it opened more problems ahead.  I was going to have to figure out what to do about them.


Chapter 46, Brown 118

Making the communications links very short range was a story decision at this moment:  I did not want Derek to know what was happening to the others until he got there.  It made sense, though, as short range communications would use less power, be less likely to be overheard, and be sufficient for most applications in a commando group.

One of the points made through the books and in the game is when you have more options you have more decisions.  Derek here considers whether to become Morach and use the drugged arrows, although he rejects it as not better tactically.


Chapter 47, Kondor 107

The notion that both sides had dehumanized the other takes form here in a simple conversation.  It probably is not changing the world, but it is illuminating it.

Joe’s speech is reminiscent of Shylock’s in The Merchant of Venice.  In high school I had to write and perform an updated version of that particular Shakespearean play for an English class, and when the Jew says, “If you prick us, do we not bleed?” arguing for his own humanity, we have something of the same echoing here.

I was the eldest of four siblings, and at some point decided that whenever two people were sharing one object–a sandwich, perhaps–the fairest way to divide it was to have one person divide it into halves as evenly as he could, and the other pick which half he wanted.  That’s not quite the same thing here, but as the threesome defer to each other, they each are seeking to accommodate the others as fairly as possible.


Chapter 48, Brown 119

I should apologize to our friend whose middle name is Kaseem, a very American Christian son of a Palestinian Islamic family, who goes by “K. C.” (his given name appears on some of his mail, and his first name is also rather Arabic, but few people know it).  It seemed likely that in this situation an Arab terrorist in Britain would have adopted the same name.

I think that my notion of how forty or fifty terrorists with significant military equipment could get into a public high rise office building is probably adequate; I suspect it’s been done, at least in other works of fiction, although I don’t know for certain and hope I haven’t given ideas to any terrorists out there.


Chapter 49, Slade 107

The exposition of the problem and solution was probably unnecessary, as I hope the readership already understands it.  It’s there for clarity, and to show that at least the characters understand it.  It also set me up for Joe’s next move.

The referenced movie was entitled The Russians Are Coming!  The Russians Are Coming!, and was generally a rather humorous film, although the climactic scene did have a Russian submariner climb the outside of a church bell tower to rescue an American boy who had slipped and was hanging precariously from some unsafe board.


Chapter 50, Brown 120

We had a problem with the rise in popularity of rap music and the corresponding rise in small portable audio players:  friends of my sons would come to the house and blare what I considered obscene language.  I informed them that if guest in my house talked like that I would ask him to stop or leave, and I couldn’t treat his music player any differently.

The lone individual was probably inspired to some degree by Hans Gruber in Die Hard, the villain pretending to be a separated office worker.  Derek intuitively recognizes that a real terrified office worker probably would not have mentioned how many of them there were, and thus he must be trying to feed information to someone.

Derek’s memory is of the slasher summer camp scenario in his first book, Old Verses New.  He gives all the relevant details.

The fifteen minute thing gave me a deadline without promising to detonate the bomb.


Chapter 51, Kondor 108

The discussions in the previous chapters revealed to me what had to happen here:  I needed Joe to demonstrate that he was a genuinely compassionate human being, without either appearing that he was trying to do so or stepping out of his otherwise coldly rational and atheistic character.  This was where I managed to find that solution.

The peeping sound of tree frogs, which for years I thought were crickets, is a normal sound in the woods during the warmer times of the year.  That it is absent demonstrates that the ecology has been disrupted by the war.

The orange light is because Joe is still using the settings of the cybereye he used when they stepped into the fog.  Thus his “red” sensors are seeing infrared and his “green” sensors are centered on green, and thus the combination of heat with visible light is interpreted by his brain as a combination of red and green, which the brain sees as orange or yellow.

I figured the medicine practiced here would be that of the Crimean and American Civil Wars–a lot of amputations, no anesthesia or antibiotic.  It would be simple for any modern doctor to improve on the situation, particularly one with a medical bag containing a few modern instruments and medications intended for emergency field use.

The diagnosis is there because I thought it important that Joe establish his credibility through being able to tell what was wrong.  If they’re going to believe he can fix it, they must first believe that he knows what he is saying.

Again the Shylock speech influences Joe’s answer about whether he is a demon.


Chapter 52, Brown 121

Derek raises an obvious solution:  check a building directory, there is bound to be one.  I am glad no one ever attempted to do this in play, because I don’t have one–the floors are created in response to the arrivals of the player character, to meet the needs of the encounters that are appearing next.  Since I didn’t actually have to present a complete directory in order to say that Derek saw it, that wasn’t a problem here.  In play, I’d just ask the player where he intended to go to find such a thing, and see what he wanted to do, making it as difficult as possible to get there, and interrupting him with the remaining encounters along the way.


Chapter 53, Kondor 109

When I wrote this chapter I was contemplating the possibility that the whites had some religious truth and the blacks were all atheists.  I saw no way to pursue that, though, and ultimately abandoned it.  I was beginning to recognize that I’d set myself a problem that my characters could not possibly solve, although actually the point was probably not that my characters were supposed to solve the problem but that they themselves were to learn from it.


Chapter 54, Brown 122

The “terrorist uses terrorist pretending to be hostage as a shield” scenario is also in the book.  I had not yet begun shifting Derek’s chapters forward and had recognized that I had bitten off a huge story that wasn’t going to be able to be finished in a reasonable time running against the Kondor and Slade story, so I brushed over this encounter by telling it in retrospect.  It enabled me to include all the encounters in the original scenario without bogging down into telling yet another directly.

The story here is a combination of two encounters which I always hoped someone would connect this way–one, the launching of a larger team to find them, the other hitting the booby-trapped door.  When I wrote them I hoped someone would think of a way to walk the strike team into the booby-trap, and that’s what I did here.

As Jim’s doubts are resolved, we are reminded that there was no reason for him fully to trust Derek before this, and no indication that he actually did–Derek was the leader because that was the assignment, not because Jim recognized his ability.  Of course, Jim has been reflecting Derek’s own self-doubt in this situation, but that has caused Derek to play the part of the person who knows what he is doing.


Chapter 55, Slade 108

Having Bob have to ask directions (twice) instead of following “his ears and his nose” underscores that he is very different from Joe.  Joe works from solid evidence and rational thinking; Bob works from hunches and luck.  Bob’s hunches and luck always get him through the trouble, but not through the simple tasks.  Finding the mess tent isn’t a very risky situation–not much riding on it–so it was fun to have him struggle with it however briefly.

I think the best expression of the idea that men usually accepted excuses that began with the words “My wife” came from Ogden Nash, in a non-poetic poem about how criminals frequently arrested for vagrancy when “casing a joint” in preparation for a crime could explain their presence any place at any time with the words, “I’m waiting for my wife.”  Bob has not had any experience to support that, but he recognizes that it’s true of people he has known.

I don’t remember where I got the name “Vargas”, but it seemed European, probably Spanish or Hispanic, to me, and it got me away from a monolithically British name set.

I now had a story I could run for a while, as Joe taught medicine to the white doctors and Bob pretended he was eager to leave but would wait a bit longer.  It wouldn’t last forever, but it would hold for a while.


Chapter 56, Brown 123

I had said “photography studio” previously, but had forgotten that when I got to this chapter (I was writing very slowly, trying to find my story as I went).  The idea that a nuclear bomb would be traceable by detecting radiation sent my mind in the direction of a place that had radiation shielding, and while I suppose a photography studio might have that in a darkroom, the readers would certainly know that a radiology practice would have to have such rooms somewhere.  In reviewing I placed the radiology office next to a photography studio to resolve that.


Chapter 57, Kondor 110

The remembered words of the preacher were similar to some I had heard on some teaching tape decades before; I do not know who it was, although it was probably one of Bob Mumford’s free monthly teaching tape series (from a variety of speakers).  The quote is far from exact, but it is basically the same concept.  It was also probably race-reversed, but I think that gives it more impact here.


Chapter 58, Brown 124

The penultimate encounter says that the character finds the leader, and the bomb is not far.  The guards on the door are in essence window dressing–I decided at this point that there would be guards on the door.  It is sort of an extra encounter, but it is an obvious one, particularly given that the leader knows there is a strike force out there.

The lost kid gambit is an obvious one for a five-foot-tall male adolescent, and would probably set terrorists off balance.  It is undoubtedly part of why children are used for bombers in the Middle East–Westerners, at least, hesitate to shoot them.


Chapter 59, Slade 109

I notice a couple things about Bob that came simply from writing his story, not from any particular consideration of the matter.  One is that despite being bored in camp with nothing to do because Joe is teaching medicine to the white doctors, it never occurs to him that it might be either interesting or valuable to sit in on that instruction.  The other is that although he is bored, he gets out and around and Shella does not, but he doesn’t really think much about her being bored alone in the tent.

When I realized that there were no people of mixed race, and that Bob might eventually notice that, I needed a word for it.  “Arab” was reasonably good, because as a people they tend to be the median skin color, and their geographical position in the world suggests it might well be because of racial blending.

Some of this may have set my mind running toward the gather world.  I don’t know whether I had yet realized I would be pushing that into the next book, but I began to think in terms of a magical Arabian setting for it.

It was probably a stretch suggesting that Bob knew “Montague” was the name of one of the families in Romeo and Juliet, but that’s why I didn’t let him know the other name (Capulet), as knowing the one more shows his ignorance than his knowledge.

Joe’s smattering of French is not sufficient to make it seem that he speaks French, only that he’s become educated enough to use snippets of foreign languages common among educated speakers of English.

The idea that a person can matter without doing anything is certainly not new, but it’s one that’s usually overlooked.  One of our United States Presidents (Truman, perhaps?) was once asked about the fact that his father had been a lifelong failure, and he responded to the effect of asking how anyone could be considered a failure whose son became President of the United States.  That has to reflect on the father somehow.


Chapter 60, Brown 125

The decision to stab someone with a dart of course goes contrary to expectations, but is perfectly logical in the situation and demonstrates that Derek is able to use objects in unexpected ways.

The simple plastique bomb was not really planned, but it had come to me that Pete had acquired the explosive earlier and really should use it at some point.

I was doing final preparations for publication and realized that Jim referred to what you see on “TV”.  In all my British television viewing, I don’t think I’ve ever heard any character use that American identifier.  I changed it to “the tele”, which I checked with Dictionary.com to be certain I had the right spelling.

I also realized at this point that Jim and Pete would use “lift” instead of “elevator”, and attempted to make those changes retroactively.


Chapter 61, Kondor 111

Joe is struggling with the fact that in what he must believe is coincidence he and Bob have exactly the kinds of skills needed to do the job of persuading each side that the other side is human in the sense they understand.  It seems like divine intervention, but of course for him that can’t be accepted.

His thought of not telling Derek because it would “confuse the boy further” is in essence an idea that the evidence really supports the view that there is a God, so it has to be suppressed.  It is an accusation raised against people of faith frequently, but it is subtly present here on the other side.


Chapter 62, Brown 126

I had to remember that although Derek is good at what he does, Jim is good at what he does, and that’s not what Derek usually does.  Thus Jim does the assault here.

I’ve heard the “cautions” on British police dramas; they don’t repeat them as often as they do on American shows, I think (where we call them “warnings”), but I’ve heard them enough to recognize that they are different on a few points.  That’s to be expected, since most of ours are based on United States Supreme Court rulings interpreting the Bill of Rights, and I expect theirs have followed based on their own laws and court rulings.


Chapter 63, Slade 110

Any time a story falls into a routine, it risks becoming boring.  I needed to break the routine again, and of course there was in the background this problem that Robert Elvis Lord Slade of Slade Manor is a title from a different universe, with no correspondence here, and someone might eventually realize that.  It gave me a new tension.

I recognized that it would be easy to give a non-descript name to the section of law in question here, and it would be very realistic.  In America we speak of violations of Title IX, or Miranda Rights, or First Amendment issues, and we know what they are because the shorthand refers to familiar laws.  Thus “section five of the war code” would be that kind of “everyone knows what this is” identifier that you would only know if you were from there.

That Shella would want to straighten up the tent before Joe arrived was exactly the sort of wife thing husbands don’t generally understand.


This has been the third behind the writings look at Spy Verses.  If there is interest and continued support from readers we will continue to publish this novel and the behind the writings posts, and prepare the fifth novel to follow it.

#234: Flip Sides of Ralph Carmichael

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #234, on the subject of Flip Sides of Ralph Carmichael.

This is the second article in a series of reminiscences about what might be considered the early days of Christian contemporary and rock music, which began with #232:  Larry Norman, Visitor.

For what seemed a lot of years I didn’t like Ralph Carmichael.  He wrote the song He’s Everything to Me, and was responsible for the little booklet of similar songs, songs of a particular style that I found irksome.  The way I have often described it is that these are songs older people bring into church services for the younger people, and young people tolerate as the best they’re likely to get but not really what they want.  The late sixties and early seventies were full of these pseudo-contemporary musicians, from the Hot Hymns and Cool Carols collection by Presbyterians Richard Avery and Donald Marsh to the Roman Catholic contemporary folk singer Ray Repp.  I viewed Carmichael as a facilitator of what I regarded musical pablum.

I was corrected.

Song title links are to YouTube videos; no representation is made as to whether they are legal copies.  My credentials are presented in the first article of this series, the Larry Norman article.

It’s not that Carmichael wasn’t responsible for the publication and promotion of a lot of this music I thought didn’t really appeal to the target youth audience (and really, that audience was a lot more varied than I credited at the time).  It isn’t even that there were some gems in the trash–I doubt I would have heard Kurt Kaiser’s Pass It On were it not published by Carmichael (and Kaiser’s Master Designer, while not in the same class as the marvelous Pass It On, is a decent song, too).  It’s that there was more to Ralph Carmichael than I knew.  Carmichael might not have been all that adept at writing music for the upcoming generations of the sixties and seventies, but he proved quite adept at finding people who were and getting them in the spotlight.  Ralph Carmichael spearheaded Light Records.

I have no idea who the leading labels are today, but by 1979 there were four major publishers of contemporary Christian record albums.  Word Records (originally Spoken Word Records) came out of Waco, Texas, and their Myrrh label was instrumental in launching careers of quite a few major artists of the time including Barry McGuire and The Second Chapter of Acts.  The Benson Group in Nashville had several labels, of which Greentree Records was the largest in the contemporary field, with a number of Nashville-based artists including Dallas Holm.  Sparrow Records was a latecomer to the field, but quickly became the label of choice for most of the California-based musicians and dominated a lot of the best music.  Carmichael started the fourth, not in time but in size, Light Records, connected to his Lexicon Music and loosely to Word Records.  Andre Crouch and Resurrection Band were the big names on Light, which featured many other artists in a mostly light contemporary sound.

It also released, on vinyl, a weekly half-hour interview and music radio show, The Ralph Carmichael Radio Special, featuring its new releases.  We would receive these in the mail, a disk on which Ralph himself would talk with an artist and introduce all the songs on the A side of a recent album, and then for the next week the B side of the interview record would cover the B side of the album.  This kind of behind-the-songs program was not really otherwise available in Contemporary Christian music–oh, we made our own when we were able, trying to land extended interviews with artists in the area for concerts or available by telephone from elsewhere, but Carmichael made it easy, putting his young artists in a spotlight that boosted their exposure significantly.  He did a tremendous amount for contemporary Christian music in those days.

He ultimately earned a place in the Gospel Music Hall of Fame.  It was well-deserved.

I still am not a big fan of the kind of music he wrote, but I have a lot of respect for the man himself.

I also have a story he told on himself, which I got from Barry McGuire, but it will arise in connection with another artist later in our series.

#233: Does Hell Exist?

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #233, on the subject of Does Hell Exist?.

Pope Francis was in the news, quoted by a liberal publication in Italy as having stated that there is no hell.

The Roman Catholic Church immediately did damage control, issuing a statement to the effect that His Eminence was misquoted.  Yet it seems he must have said something which caused the interviewer to extrapolate this notion, and that raises a question that has vexed believers and theologians and deniers for generations, at least:  what is the nature of eternal punishment?  In short, is there a literal Hell?

It sounds very nearly like an heretical question, the sort of notion that would have you dragged before an inquisitor once upon a time.  Yet the fact is that it’s not a new issue, and proves to be one that has been hotly debated even among conservative churchmen for most of the past century.  There are a lot of layers to it, and it’s worth considering.

Let’s start with definitions.

The first issue is what we mean by hell.

The word itself conjures images of a flaming abode where people are tortured eternally by demons.  This, though, is not its biblical nor its historical sense.  Our English word was once the rough equivalent of the Hebrew word “sheol”, the place where the dead in some sense go, sometimes rendered “the grave”.  It is not dissimilar to the Greek concept we call “Hades”, which was originally “Hades’ place”, the realm of the god of the dead, implying that people who died in some sense continued, but weren’t really alive as we would understand it.  We could continue the debate of exactly what the ancients envisioned, but it may have been something like that almost-awake state we sometimes experience when we have a vague awareness of the world around us but cannot fully understand or interact with it.

But doesn’t the Bible tell us that hell is a place of torture?  Not exactly.  It speaks of the afterlife of the lost, and of the punishment of fallen angels, but it doesn’t give us entirely clear answers, only images.  This makes some sense, if we recognize that whatever the nature of the afterlife it is completely outside the experience of every one of us still living, and thus the best we can be told is that it is something like something familiar to us that is different–and Young’s Theorem (my father) states, Things that are not the same are different.

Jesus frequently said that for those who did not come to faith, the afterlife was like Gehenna.  We have created images of this place “where the worm never dies and the fires are never extinguished”, but Gehenna, or literally the Valley of Hinnom, was a real place:  it was for centuries the garbage dump outside the city of Jerusalem, where composting waste supported a proliferation of creatures feeding on it and the production of methane created spontaneous fires.  The message is that if you miss heaven, it’s the equivalent of being tossed in the garbage.  It is of course a metaphor; it doesn’t really tell us what hell is like as a physical place, or even if it is a physical place.

Similarly, Jesus spoke of being cast into the outer darkness.  This, though, was generally contrasted to the other image, the image of being invited to the wedding feast.  We thus again have a metaphor, on one side being included in this wonderful party, and on the other side being locked outside in the cold and dark.  It in that sense tells us what hell is like by analogy, not what it is like in any physical sense.

Doesn’t the Bible speak of a lake of fire, though?  Yes, it does–late in the book Protestants call Revelation and Catholics Apocalypse (the same concept, really–“revelation” coming from the Latin for “unveiling” and “apocalypse” coming from the Greek for “uncovering”).  Almost anyone who attempts to read the book concludes that it is rich with metaphoric imagery, and this is a metaphoric image.

Besides, does it make more sense to see the devil and his angels swimming about in a lake of fire for eternity, or to assume that the fire consumes them completely so that there is nothing left?

Consider the alternative.

That has become the issue.  There are, of course, groups that believe no one goes to hell, that everyone ultimately is saved, but these are not regarded orthodox by anyone other than themselves, and their beliefs are not Biblical.  The “orthodox” alternative lies in the question, as put by John Wenham in his book The Goodness of God, of whether eternal punishment is eternal in its duration or eternal in its consequences.  Fire, one of the critical images, consumes.  If we throw someone in fire long enough, there remains nothing–even ash is reduced to gasses given enough time and enough heat.  C. S. Lewis somewhere suggested that any being separated from the source and foundation of being long enough would deteriorate into non-being eventually, and examples in his metaphorical The Great Divorce suggest that people separated from God ultimately cease to be people at all–the clever example of the issue of whether that person is merely a grumbler or has now come to be nothing more than an ongoing grumble without a person at all.  People without God are becoming less human; people in Christ are becoming more human.  Again as Lewis observed, it might be a very small change during life, but if it sets a pattern that continues into eternity, people who have begun the right pattern ultimately will be perfect, and those on the opposite track ultimately will deteriorate to nothing.

This resolves the objection, that heaven could not possibly be happy as long as hell continued.  Hell doesn’t continue; it merely happens, and those to whom it happens soon know nothing.

It comes to my attention that at least one of the creeds says that Jesus “descended into hell”.  To this, first, it should be said that the creed does not tell us what hell is; second, that creeds are not scripture but only human attempts to distill scripture; and third, that this is probably an interpretation of Ephesians 4:9 where Paul says that Jesus descended “into the lower parts of the earth” (which could mean here where we live, in the context).  The Bible does not actually say that Jesus entered any place called hell.

So what do we conclude?

We conclude that we do not really know anything at all about hell.  It is certainly not impossible that there is a place like Dante’s Inferno in which people continue to live and to suffer to varying degrees based on their wickedness and unbelief.  Those, though, are images from medieval concepts of torture, not Biblical images.  A place of eternal punishment could exist, and people could be confined there.  It could be torture, or it could be that the torture is knowing that there was a chance at something better which was rejected, or it could be that those who are there do not know or believe that death could have brought them to something better.  Perhaps they suffer only in that they don’t know what they missed, but not knowing they don’t realize that they have missed anything.

Perhaps, though, the imagery is meant to tell us that those who embrace Christ are brought into an eternally blissful existence, and those who do not do so are tossed in the trash, thrown in the incinerator, and removed from existence.

I do not say that I believe that; nor do I believe the other.  I believe that God has not clearly told us what happens to those who reject Him, partly because it is beyond our experience and therefore our understanding, and partly because what matters is we understand that whatever happens to those who reject Him is something we want to avoid in favor of what happens to those who embrace Him.  If we turn to God, we may never know what would have happened to us otherwise, and we will never need to know whether there is an eternal hell or only a terminal one.

So the answer is yes, there almost certainly is a hell–but it is probably nothing like you have imagined.