Ramblings: On Writing

I know, a firestorm of posts these days. But soon I will be like the lone Apollo astronaut in the command module, going behind the moon and being in a communication blackout zone. By Sunday, so I hope, I will pick up my manuscript Retribution and start the rewrite. That will take at least a month. I am grateful for those who were my beta-readers and I will try to incorporate their observations.

I’ve come to fictional writing late in life. Is it too late? I don’t know. I don’t even know how long I will have on this side of the dirt. I do know that I am still highly motivated to learn and grow in my writing. But it is a bit like a man in his sixties deciding he wants to start a rock band. Yeah, it can be done, but not without a lot of work.

My first published article was in 1984. I was elated. But for the next thirty published articles, they were all in medical journals. Scientific writing is so different. It is factual. All telling. If you dare mention a human emotion, unless it is an article about emotions, the article would be dead in the water. For example, “We were happy with the resulting data we collected at week 12.” In scientific writing you try to emulate Spock as close as you can. Logical. I had a lot of compliments with my scientific writing.

I have always been a storyteller and I have a whole mental pantry stocked with stories that would love to come out. However, food staples don’t cook themselves. You have to know how to cook to make something paltible from that stock.

Photograph by Étienne Carjat, c. 1884
Jules Verne

One of the ways that I’ve tried to hewn my writing talents in fiction is to read good novels. I’ve been reading one a week for the past four years. This is where I was getting confused. So of my favorite classical authors, Charles Dickens, Jules Verne, George MacDonald, did a lot of telling in their stories. Right now I’m reading Diana Gabaldon’s A Breath of Snow and Ashes. It is fantastic. Not much telling, no more than what’s necessary. Breathtaking in the narrative. She is a literary genius. I was surprised that she got her start in scientific writing. She made her switch at an early age of ca 41.

Diana Gabaldon

I was running into a problem with my writing, at least that’s what my editor was trying to tell me. I liked to tell not show. As I mentioned, scientific writing is all telling. But the other reason I was running into this problem was that the classical authors (Dickens, MacDonald, and Verne) used a lot of telling in their stories. Verne pauses his narratives often to give a scientific lecture about the subject matter. So, when I emulated some of those authors my editor really didn’t like it. “Show, don’t tell” is the buzz phrase around writing these days, or so it seems.

Thanks to several good teachers I was beginning to grasp this concept much better. Then I bought the book by the same title Show, Don’t Tell, and a proverbial light bulb went off. Reading so many classics was throwing me a curve ball because show, don’t tell is a modern concept in writing, at least the emphasis of it. It is a result of the video and film age. Now, to be successful you must write a novel like a movie. The reader must visualize the story in mental pictures. But that is a relatively new concept.

If you read my early manuscript of Ristretto Rain, you would see the contrast as compared to final copy. I told a lot in that first draft. Like Verne, and I had just read Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea. I told a lot about the place, Rock Harbor. I had a long narrative about the geology of the and characters. My faithful early readers pointed out to me that manuscript was going to bomb with so much detail and “telling.”

I really want to focus on Retribution and raise my writing to a new level. At this stage it needs a lot of work. If I could come close to Gabaldon, I will nail it. If not, maybe I will start a boy’s band?

Mike

The Problem of Miracles Part II

I was going to look at this topic from a variety of perspectives. However, even addressing it from a Christian standpoint alone will be daunting. Therefore, all my discussions would be how the issue of miracles play out in that Christian realm.

First, I want to discuss definitions. Like I said in my previous post, when I talk about miracles, I’m talking about something that is clearly supernatural, unexplainable via natural laws. I am not talking about “sleight of hand” kind of tricks, things that could easily be explained by natural forces.

The questions for the Christian are:

  1. Did miracles ever happen?
  2. Do miracles happen today?
  3. Are miracles common?
  4. What is the problem in not believing in miracles?
  5. What is the problem in believing in miracles or that they are not real?

The reason that we are warned to never discuss politics or religion is that both have deeply held opinions with a lot of attached emotions. In the area of religion, specifically Christianity (although I’ve seen the same in Islam) its followers often feel they have an overwhelming responsibility to make sure the ideas presented are orthodox. I call it unorthodoxophobia. Who is the true believer? Evangelicals say only evangelicals are true believers. Many other sects do the same. The implications are that those who are not following “orthodox” beliefs, are in danger of eternal punish of hell’s fire. I’ve been warned many times that I’m in danger of such peril. I keep marshmallows in my pocket just in case ;>).

When I talk of orthodoxy, I will point out very few churches, if any, have a statement about miracles as part of their church’s dogma. Most do have some statement about the Bible being God’s word and without error and the Bible does speak of real miracles, historically.

The Magician Who Astounded the World by Conjuring Spirits and Talking with  Mummies | Collectors Weekly
Magic, sleight of hand.

But there are two overarching realms that governor how Christians think in general, the dogma of the church they identify with, but more encompassing, the unwritten rules of their specific brand of Christianity. That latter category I will call colloquial Christianity. It is colloquial Christianity that told us in the Bible belt not to say, “damn, shit, or pissed off.” While colloquial Christianity does reflect to some degree the particular church denomination, but more so, it mirrors the Christian culture of that physical, cultural location. Protestant Christians think differently than Catholics on some topics. However, American Catholics think more like American Protestants on many issues than they do with their Lebanese counterparts. For example, their view of Israel.

It is within this area of colloquial Christianity that the issues of miracles are most prominent.

The one area about miracles that is influenced by the written church dogma, is the inerrancy of scripture. Did miracles ever happen? I believe the Bible is accurate when it describes miracles that happened two thousand or five thousand years ago. Those were true miracles, more than a sleight of hand. Completely outside the realms of a natural explanation. Things like dividing the Red Sea, people suddenly becoming fluent in languages they never studied, or raising someone from the dead. A very few Christians who would say that supernatural miracles never happened, explaining that the Bible is using metaphor when it describes miracles. I want to make it clear that I am not in that camp. I am orthodox when it comes the major written tenants of both the Catholic and protestant churches. The real question I want to raise is do miracles happen now, and if so, are they common?

The Children of Israel Crossing the Red Sea
Moses Parting the Red Sea

The next caveat I want to be clear about, this is not about the issue of God’s ability to do miracles. Sure, when “higher criticism” first arose in Europe in the late nineteenth century, moving into the Americas by the twentieth, they questioned if miracles ever happened because God wasn’t really there, or, he was not involved. There was also a movement (small) that came out of that larger movement called the theothanatology or “God is dead” idea. This is thinking that God did do miraculous things a long time ago, but since had literally died or disappeared and is no longer relevant. This is not at all the issue I’m raising. Most of the time when I have had this conversation with my old evangelical friends they assume that I’m suggesting that God is not big or powerful enough to do miracles. As I hope to point out later, it is almost the opposite.

The next cavet I must point out is that my discussion here and my interest in the topic of miracles has nothing to do with my cancer. More than once I’ve had well-meaning friends, who started coming to my blog after my diagnosis with cancer, assume that everything I write is me reacting to that diagnosis. I wrote a similar article about miracles more than ten years ago in my blog titled “The Christian Monist.” This is an issue I have thought about for thirty years. I wrote about it in my book Butterflies in the Belfry, which I started writing in 2002.

Lastly, the reason that I think this topic is important isn’t because I want to argue with anyone. I have no desire to try and persuade someone to change their minds about the topic of miracles. But I think this topic is important because of two reasons. First, Christianity is hemorrhaging devotees at this point in history. The church is dying in the west. There are several reasons for that but one of the common reasons is that the believer realizes one day that the miracles that they had believed in are fake. They therefore assume that all of Christianity is fake . . . and walk away. In Philip Yancey’s book, Disappointment with God, he starts with a story of a theology student leaving his faith, burning his Christian books, when he discovers that a “miracle” turned out to be hoax.

The second reason that our view of miracles is important, is because it is deeply woven into our concept of God and our relationship with him. For some people miracles means as much to their relationship with God as sex does in a marital relationship. Remove the miracles and their relationship with God is dead.

A 2020 Pew Research survey showed that 80% of Americans believe in miracles, and that they happen frequently. That is more Americans than claim any affiliation with religion. When I cast doubt on a miracle, people often see me as the mean, harden atheist because even the worst of Christians, still believe in miracles. To even raise the question if miracles are real is equated to them, as me walking into a preschool and doing a lecture that Santa Claus isn’t real. Am I the Grinch? If I wrote a book titled, Real Miracles I’ve Witnessed, I could see many publishers interested in that book and it would sell well. But if I wrote a book in the spirit of this article, titled Many Miracles are Fake, no one would want to publish it and if published, no one would buy it.

I’ve given away some of my position already, but I will add that while I do believe that supernatural miracles occured in Biblical times, I’m not positive they do today. However, I do not hold this position with certainty. I still hope for miracles and pray for them every day, but I’m not disappointed with God when they don’t occur. I have spent hours begging God to deliver me from my cancer and hoping that he will. So far, he hasn’t. But my faith is not based God doing miracles.

If God is there, He lives in reality. The more we live in reality, the better we can see God.

I have reached my conclusion about miracles from 65 years of observation of the real world . . . and a very honest observation. If you think I never gave the belief in miracles a chance, then you don’t know my history. I spent the first 33 years of my life in an evangelical world. The last 15 of those years in a very serious evangelical discipleship organization. We believed miracles happened daily. I also spent a year in college around a charismatic group where spectacular miracles were believed to happen daily . . . and I believed them. Then I came to a crossroads, created by several factors. But one of those factors was the knowledge deep within my soul that these so-called miracles were all fake. We lied about them. We lied to ourselves and to others. At that juncture I was very close to leaving Christianity altogether. This is what I’m attempting to prevent in others.

When it comes to truth, the good Christian should say that God reveals truth through his word, the Bible, and through reality. After all, God created reality. I have said many times that If God is there, He lives in reality. The more we are live in reality, the better we can see God.

I will be back for the final installment, Part III. I hope to tidy things up there and make my final points. If you have a disagreement with me so far and you want to voice that, please wait until you hear the end.

My posting frenzy is coming to an end as my sauna will be done by this week-end, my beta-readers for my next book Retribution, are done. So, soon I will be getting back to writing my novel in earnest.

Mike

Ramblings: Franklin Graham and Practical Implications of Dualism

I was working on a serious article about miracles when I turned on the TV for background noise. On that TV came Franklin Graham and one of his commercials with him standing in my beloved Seattle. I had seen these ads before, and they rubbed me the wrong way. I wanted to share via a brief, un-proofread post of why I don’t like these commercials and their philosophical implications. (if the embedded video below does not display in your device follow the link here)

I have often spoken of the ills of the Christian church (thus western civilization) adoption of the Greek philosophical concept of dualism. This is where this material universe is just a mirage, even evil, while Heaven is the true reality, pure and true. Our eyes should only be on Heaven in that paradigm. I’ve tried to tie this to very practical issues. The Dark Ages is where Dualism went to seed in western civilization, although we still hold many tenets of it until this day within our churches.

What bothers me about Franklin Graham standing in the streets of Seattle and talking about these people are lost and need Christ, call this number and you can be saved, is that he is brushing aside profound social issues, issues of this material world. Like social injustice (the root of the Seattle’s protests that Fox News portrayed as just violent anarchy). He is also further advancing the Trump-conservative narrative that Seattle and Portland are the horrible, godless places of rot and despair. Fox News runs these false stories continuously. I believe Graham is catering to that conservative base and their false stereotypes. For example, why isn’t he standing in a cluster of conservative southern white upper class Barbie houses, where people are indulging in inside trading and other white collar crimes–powered by greed, where marriages are plastic imitations of real marriages, when adultery runs rampant, and alcohol flows like water?

If he is sincerely concerned about the people of Seattle why isn’t Graham taking a stand against racism of social injustice? Why isn’t he addressing the roots of homeless? Are people homeless simply because they are not Christian and don’t have their lives together like the good people in the Barbie houses?

Dualism plays out in Christian circles by imagining that the only thing of value in a person is their soul. That their struggle in this material world with social injustice, poverty, mental illness (often genetically based), is inconsequential. That their behavior (unless it is homosexuality or abortion) has no consequences, things like a president who lies all the time, full of greed, and who is a slut, sexually.

It reminds me when I was an evangelical and had personally adopted this same dualistic mindset. A friend and I went to a lecture by an elderly Presbyterian missionary who had spent 50 years in war-torn Lebanon. At least 200 people were there. I went to this lecture because I was in preparation for being a missionary to the Middle East. While this man was showing slides of the hospitals they had built, the clinics, the social programs to help those people my evangelical friend was becoming angry. Then he shouted out in a very rude way, “You call yourself a Christian. I’ve heard NOTHING about Christ’s gospel! Sir, you are a complete fraud.”

While I was uncomfortable with this friend’s outburst, I agreed at the time with his premise. If you were not saving souls but getting involved with people’s physical needs, then you not doing God’s work . . . or so I believed.

In closing, to be fair to Franklin, he is the president of Samaritan’s Purse. I will post Samaritan’s Purse mission statement below. It does appear to take the whole person in consideration. I hope that is true. I will add one caveat. Throughout their history, Christians have been known to use social services as bait to bring people in, to save their souls without really caring for their being. That is a dualistic approach. I hope that’s not what is happening there.

Samaritan’s Purse Mission Statement

Samaritan’s Purse is a nondenominational evangelical Christian organization providing spiritual and physical aid to hurting people around the world. Since 1970, Samaritan’s Purse has helped meet needs of people who are victims of war, poverty, natural disasters, disease, and famine with the purpose of sharing God’s love through His Son, Jesus Christ. The organization serves the Church worldwide to promote the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ.

The God I know is in love with humanity, with all of creation, with the material, and the immaterial. I like that God.

Mike

Ramblings: The Problem of Miracles, Part I

I hope that I see this article through to publication here on this blog, because I’ve given miracles a lot of thought. I am still in my break of writing Retribution and will get back to it shortly. I was thinking that I would write several articles here during this break.

A writing instructor said to me once, “The best way to learn to write is to do it. Nonstop writing.” But my problem, as I mentioned before is that while I have a creative mind, I have a lousy ability to see details. I can read something I’ve written, which is missing a key word, and not see that missing word. Or that I substitute a homonym, like hear for here. I just don’t see it. So, while I write a lot, this causes me not publish things because of the dread of proofreading. Actually I have written two short stories during this break, but stopped just short of completion.

But I digress. I think this Part I on miracles will all be a total digression. Think of it as a book’s preface, but the wrong preface, intended for a different book. Miracles, I will get to it.

Regarding the short stories I wrote, one was a horror story titled Like Me, which I was going to publish here for Halloween. In short, it was about a social recluse Chuck who had no friends. The story was filled with psychological melodrama regarding how he got to that point. He discovers Facebook and tries his last ditch effort to make friends. He contacts everyone in his old high school (he is about 22 years old) and out of 400 “friend requests” only 7 accept. Then none of the 7 comment on, or like his posts. He tries all kinds of posts, funny, interesting, cats, newsy, art, . . . and no comments. He even posted a selfie of him sitting on the toilet. Nothing. Was anyone even seeing his posts?

This story, until this point, is based on a true story. I knew someone who got very angry at everyone because no one commented on their posts. But it goes deeper. We all want people to like us and to comment on things that we do, things we write, art we create, houses we build, jobs we take, and children we raise. Well in the case of Chuck, he becomes a serial killer, hunting down the 7 Facebook “friends,” stalks them and runs them over with is yellow VW Beetle, one by one. I don’t know how Stephen King gets by writing such creepy things without people thinking he’s disturbed.

The second short story was about truth, my obsession with absolute truth. It is about a high school jock in the bayou who has severe aquaphobia (fear of water). His new school has a new indoor pool and all students are required to learn to swim. He reports that he sees an alligator in the pool and tells the coach and other students. He does not want to be forced to get into the water.The word spreads. The coach, a very rational man, finds no evidence of a gator nor even an access point of how the gator could have entered the school. While, 10 years earlier an alligator did bite off a young girl’s leg in her private pool, that pool was outdoors and near the swamp. Their school was far from the swamp with small locked doors. But the whole town becomes divided between the gator believers and unbelievers. It becomes hostile at times. “We’re not sending our kids to that gator infested school! That coach and principal don’t care about us!” Conspiracy theory after conspiracy theory is spun. In the end, the gator believers burn the entire 20 million-dollar new school down. Over a beer 5 years later, the boy confesses to a friend that he made the whole thing up.

Aquatics Program - The Pennington School

The other reason that I have not taken the time to finish my writings during this hiatus from Retribution is that I’m building a sauna. I’m doing it for a reason. One of my plethora of new medical problems is my extreme cold intolerance. No one knows why. I thought it was due to my anemia but my anemia improved to just short of normal and the cold intolerance has not. I’m reptilian now. I cannot seem to generate my own heat. In the summer I can lay in the sun and feel fine, until the sun darts behind a cloud. Then I freeze.

If I’m physically working, doing house chores, carpentry work, after 15 minutes I feel almost normal. But if I sit down, with minutes I start to freeze, even with the thermostat turned up to 71. I am still wrapped in a down sleeping bag. Some of my doctors have thought it was funny. It’s not. It is painful, just like as if you go out into your yard and sit on a metal chair, in the dead of winter, in your underwear. It’s unbearable. I am starting to think that is far more complicated than anemia, like maybe my thermoregulator part of my hypothalamus is broken. But now even my digression is digressing.

Water Snakes Sunning    A pond in McDowell County, North Carolina
Reptilian Sunning

Another medical anomaly, on the positive side, is that I had uncontrolled severe hypertension related to my kidney damage from the cancer. After struggling with this for months, then presto, about 6 weeks ago it ended. Part of my blood pressure regulating system in my kidneys kicked back on.

I was introduced to saunas during our one year in Michigan’s Keweenaw Peninsula. It was settled by Finlanders. The first time we met our neighbors was when they came over and asked if we wanted to come “sauna with them. Clothes optional.” I built a sauna there. Had to.

The Opposite of Cold: The Northwoods Finnish Sauna Tradition | Steam of  Life | POV | PBS
Traditional Sauna in Finland

But my plans with this sauna is to sit and write in it. Not turned up to the typical 180 degrees, but more like 100. If even that sounds intense, it would be like our apartment in Cairo from April through October. But like with all my building projects, this is taking much longer than I had expected and distracted me from taking the time to write. It has also cost more than I expected. I was going to build it out of recycled materials. While the siding is recycled split rail cedar from fences, the rest is mostly new material. It is almost done.

New Sauna Under Construction–(the stone wall was last winter’s project)

Then there is the issue of miracles, which I hope to tackle again. I do it with trepidation. Like with those sensitive about typos, there are plenty of miracle believers (meaning that they believe that miracles are common) get pissed off if I question that. But I want to explore the whole topic with great candor. While this discussion will explore miracles across all belief systems, once again I will default to discussing mostly about different Christian perspectives. But to make sure you get your money’s worth (pun of course) with this article, I will begin by an introduction to my terminology.

What I mean by miracle is something completely outside the possibilities of natural laws. So, driving the car to another town on empty is not the kind of miracle I’m talking about. I’m talking about driving a car for 30 years with no gas, and no engine. Just space under the hood (now that sounds like something in a Stephen King novel). While I’m delighted and deeply thankful, even thankful to God that my hypertension went away, and that I’m not on dialysis right now, I would not consider those miracles under this definition. More, much more in the Part II.

Mike

Ramblings: The Thin Line Between Fear and Real

As always, something in life propels an idea to the forefront of my mind . . . then I ruminate over it for days. I’ve always been interested in the idea of fear and anxiety, partially because I’ve suffered from anxiety, at least in the past, and I’ve worked with many patients with anxiety disorders.

The first thing that brought this to my mind this week was a pro-Trump friend describing their despair over the election. They listed what was going to happen under a Biden administration, including the following; 1) America becoming communist, 2) the economy going down the drain, 3) disbanding all police departments and anarchy running wild, 4) the government coming for their guns, and the list goes on. To be fair, I heard similar things from some anti-Trump friends over the past four years, about the destruction of America and western civilization under Trump’s reign. The problem with both of these . . . is that they are simply not based in reality. It is not real.

Real fear is a gift. It keeps us safe and alive. I was watching a rabbit in Rosario Beach area yesterday. They are so high strung with eyes switching to the right and left and sudden, jerky moves. Chipmunks are the same or more. Just watch how a squirrel or rabbit crosses a busy road. Their “nervousness” is their defense mechanism. To escape possible harm . . . or death.

But unreal fear, does us more harm than good. It is, however, difficult at times to tell the difference. Unreal fear is usually based in physical harm, or the fear of being unliked (socially).

I will give a personal case in point. When I started to become ill, now almost two years ago, my symptoms were subtle at first. A twitch here, a twitch there. Was it nerves? I thought . . . more like hoped so. I reduced my caffeine. My mother had just passed away and my siblings had her funeral before I could get there. Incredibly painful. That was stressful on two fronts. My first twitches started when I went home to Tennessee to say goodbye to my mom at her gravesite. Denise and Amy were with me. So, it was reasonable to me that the twitches were not real but a function the fear during that painful period.

But then the twitches got worse. By Thanksgiving (2018) I knew something was wrong with me. Twitches throughout my body. It is hard to explain but I hesitated going to see doctor because, 1) I was afraid that he would think it was just mental and 2) the only disease that I could imagine I had was ALS . . . a certain death sentence. Till this day, none of my doctors have ever seen the fasciculation syndrome that I suffer, we presume, as a result of living in renal failure for months with no other symptoms. I decided to make the holidays as good for my family as I could by not seeing a physician until Christmas was over. I didn’t want my diagnosis of ALS to ruin their Christmas.

By the time I saw my physician, the first thing he said, “The twitch is just stress.” So my fears of his judgement were realized. But I knew he was wrong.

But back to the big concept. I’ve witnessed the ruin of many lives, due to the fear of the unreal. With my previous tendency toward fear, I know that many unreal but fearful things have ruined my moments of joy. Having faced death, my anxiety is much less than it was before. It is hard to explain, but it is like my worst fear, getting incurable cancer, has been realized, so what could be worse? Nothing.

While I do not fear death, I don’t welcome a premature death. But I do fear suffering, having tasted it brutally in 2019. As I said before, I never knew how isolating suffering can make you. It is a dark place, much worse that I had imagined. But if I were to die in my sleep, helping me to avoid months of such suffering, I would count that as a blessing . . . but just not yet. I still have too many things to do on this earth.

Serenity Prayer Retro Metal Tin Sign religious Catholic image 0

The difference between Fear (without merit) and Real (things that should scare us into acting) is sometimes hard. It is a little like the Serenity Prayer. Discernment. For the Fears, we need to set it to prayer or some would chose mindfulness, living in the moment and not what might be.

Side Bar, On Writing: In a shallow segue, I will say that I have no fears about my writing because I know the reality of it. With that said, I completed my first writer’s workshop yesterday. While I’ve taken many writing courses, this was the first workshop with successful fiction writers. While each of the session leaders had written many novels, and some have won prestigious awards, none of them are financially successful from their books. That’s one of the reasons they teach, both at universities and colleges, and such workshops. But I felt I held my own with the group. I had a fear that I would come into the roomful of professionals like a literary kluts.

When I look back on each completed book, I always have some regret. But that’s a good thing. I think if I were to start Ristretto Rain today, I could write it much better. That is because I’m constantly learning and growing as a writer. My Retribution is nearing the “beta reading” by two very kind friends. I just can’t wait to make the next draft, much, much better.

Fear Not,

Mike

A Hodgepodge

I put the headings in bold so that you can choose any topic that you are interested in.

Regarding the Election: I gave up a long time ago with the quest of changing people’s minds on candidates. With that said, as an ex-evangelical, I am still concerned about the blending of Christianity with any secular philosophy including American nationalism or a political party. When I was an evangelical I participated in handing out “voter guides,” which I did not realize at the time, were constructed with a cooperation between the Republican party and some evangelical leaders. We were so convinced that only the Republican party was in step with Christianity that there should never be one Christian vote cast for a Democrat. Then we are left with the situation where evangelicals vote for a Republican candidate no matter how horrible that candidate is. This was a well planned out strategy by the Republican party to create a brand that was palatable to the Christian church by using emotionally charged terms like “pro life” and “sanctity of marriage.” But this whole process of blending Christianity with any political party is unBiblical. Before I say more I will give a link to our pastor’s sermon last (here) Sunday, which addressed this topic rather well.

Message for U.S. Citizens: Voting in 2020 U.S. Elections | U.S. Embassy &  Consulates in Indonesia

Caner Update: Last Tuesday I was able to get established as a patient at Seattle Cancer Care Alliance’s Multiple Myeloma Clinic. Before, I was only a patient of their stem cell transplant unit and they could not follow my care outside the transplant. The Multiple Myeloma specialist on Tuesday agrees that I’m in a good partial remission and nothing needs to be done now. But we set up parameters that if and when my cancer starts to surge (and that is the typical path of MM) I can quickly come back and get set up on the next step. The next step is not so clear right now because the field of MM treatment is rapidly changing. That’s good news as new treatments are continuing to appear. Of course I still have my constellation of nagging symptoms and must continue walking the tightrope of renal failure.

Headache Clinic: I realize that I have several of my old patients who follow this blog. I’ve mentioned before that I had full intention of coming back to work after my bone marrow transplant, but was laid off as I attempted to return to work. Basically, the hospital said if I could not come back at 100% they did not want me. I could not do that so they closed the clinic. Then my partner in the clinic, Dr. Moren, and I started the groundwork of a new clinic in Bellingham. Then COVID hit, which meant that I could not work with contact with the pubic and that put an end to that. Dr. Moren is seriously attempting to created that clinic now, so keep your ear to the ground. Will I ever be part of that? I don’t know. I can’t (because of my risk factors) until COVID is under control. A vaccine? I will keep you posted, but hopefully Dr. Moren will get back into practice and offer the high standard of care that we did at the Island Hospital Headache Clinic.

Quarantine: I know that we are in this together. I don’t know how I survived last winter when I was almost in total isolation for weeks (Denise working long hard hours). But for the grace of God, I think I would have lost my mind. With COVID-19 making the long predicted surge, I will start to enter more of a self-imposed quarantine again. For me COVID 19 would be a death sentence. I am so thankful that Denise has a new job that allows her to work from home. That is a blessing and a lifeboat in the sea of insanity.

Writing: I also know that I have some followers here who are writers and, like me, writers wannabe. I have finished the first draft of my book Retribution. I have two readers looking at it right now in its rough form and will give me feedback. I will spend the next few months re-writing and fine tuning it. I really want to make this my best book ever and approach the big publishing houses. Because of this tedious process, it will be several months before it is published. I’ve taken several online courses in creative writing and will attend a virtual writing workshop offered by a local college, this week end. I am always striving to do better.

I wanted to talk about the dark side of being a writer wannabe. What brings this to mind was a set of emails and phone calls I got this week. It was from a national syndicated Christian radio / TV show that wanted me to come on and do an interview about my book, Butterflies in the Belfry. Now for a writer, you think that such an opportunity would be a godsend. However, I did not return their calls or emails. The reason brings up an important topic for writers.

First of all, while I think this recent contact was legitimate, there are many, many which are not. I have emails daily with people stroking my ego, trying to get me to take the bait. There is a whole cottage industry of people selling stuff to writers wannabe. For example, I was harrassed for weeks by someone in Hollywood (checked the number and it really was a Hollywood number) who was leaving messages and emails that they wanted to make a movie based on my book. Finally the guy left a voicemail that my book Butterflies in the Belfry would make a great movie. When he said that, I knew that he was full of crap, had never read the book and it was a con. That book would make a horrible movie. These groups try to get you to sign contracts for large sums of money and then nothing comes from that. It would be hard to hear any real opportunity within the chatter and background noise of the daily deluge of fake opportunities.

The reason that I decided to not pursue this radio / tv interview is two fold. First, maybe it would create sales of 500 copies of Butterflies in the Belfry, but is it worth the emotional toil. But here’s the downside. I wrote the book with the goal of telling my story and to give a third path for many who see only two paths, staying and accepting all the tenets of evangelicalism, or fleeing to agnosticism or atheism. People are leaving evangelicalism in droves. My path, which I explore in Butterflies in the Belfry, is to stake out a new (actually old) version of Christianity. What happened was many devotees of evangelicalism read the book, were offended and felt obligated to write me and to tell me I was going to hell. That’s what I’m afraid would happen if I promoted that book now. I also believe that I’m a better writer now and I do not want to shine a light on that rustic work. I was happy, and this may be the highlight of my writing career, my two favorite writers, Philip Yancey and NT Wright, both read Butterflies in the Belfry and sent me nice letters telling me they liked it.

Take care,

Mike

Ramblings: The Undoing; and Wearing One’s Life Close to the Surface

I used to be more creative, or so it seems. Aging, living in extreme stress, and having gallons of chemotherapy pumped through my veins may have taken their toil. My loss of creativity also could be my misconception.

I don’t jog anymore. Okay, I’ve run three times, only a mile each. But I used to run six miles each Saturday and two miles on many other days during the week. Running is hard for me. It hurts. It hurts my knees, ankles, my entire body, except my teeth. I put up with those with the hope that running would let me live a long and healthy life. I guess that didn’t work out so well. But to run, I must put myself in another state of conscientiousness. Meditation may be a better term. Denise runs on tails in the woods. I run on asphalt because I run with my eyes closed and my mind deep in thought to escape the pain. If I ran on trails I would trip over a root, fall flat on my face, and knock out my front teeth.

It was during those prolonged periods of meditation that I had my most creative thoughts. I could solve car problems. I could design goat barns. I could write interesting narratives. I could have new thoughts about God or Quantum mechanics. I either need to get back to running or learn to meditate in a chair. Now, creative thoughts are precious, like the elusive four leaf clover that you press between the pages of a book once found. I must write these creative thoughts down so I don’t forget them.

My twitching came back this week (had never left) so it is hard to sleep. I awaken at two this morning with twitching in my legs, my back, and my tongue. I’m editing and adding color for my characters in my new book Retribution. I was searching for a better word for being authentic. What came to my mind at two in the morning was “she wore her life close to the surface.” I wrote that idea down on my phone beside my bed.

I got back to sleep, awakening at eight. I tuned my cell phone to NPR for the news. They reviewed the new miniseries, The Undoing, based on the novel, You Should Have Known by Jean Hanff. It is about a man who has a dark secret life, while pretending to be the perfect father in a perfect family. The opposite of the character in my book.

The space that one puts between their true self and the self they project has always fascinated me. I recognized early in my life that there was a space between who we are and how we project ourselves to the public. For some people that space is wide. For the authentic people, that space is narrow. People under 40 are far more authentic than my generation.

My example of the extreme phony is Dennis Rader. He was a college graduate, with a degree in justice. He was in the Air Force. He was a devout Christian (Lutheran) and taught Sunday school. His church elected him as the the president of their council. He was a Boy Scout leader. He had a wife and two children. He also had a “hobby” of kidnaping women or men, raping them, putting them in bondage, torturing them, and killing them. He had ten such victims. This morbid hobby was in his secret life, that wide space between what he projected and who he really was. His arrest shocked the people in his community. Yet, during the trial it came out that he had a different personal life that even his wife didn’t know about. He had captured and tortured animals since being a child. He wore women’s underclothes. He was a peeping Tom. He hid cameras in women’s bathrooms. But his example is the extreme. But extremes are good for staking out a point.

I had an aunt, Terri, who was notorious within our family for her double life. Not as bad as Dennis Rader. For one, she was a kleptomaniac. The first time this aunt was at my mother’s house she stole my mom’s best clothes. Mom was poor at the time and it was painful.

Terry lived above her means. Her husband had a blue-collar type of job, and she lived like she was Melania Trump (not quite). She also worked very hard to project the image of the perfect Christian, Baptist to be exact. She wore perfect attendance pins from her church (given if you don’t miss church for a year). She was a conniving woman. We suspect she stole thousands of dollars from her church and seniors in her town. She “kept money” for both, “because the banks weren’t safe.” She only got caught stealing razors from a grocery store. She claimed she was framed by godless people.

Dennis Rader.jpg
Dennis Rader, the BTK (bondage, torture, killer) killer

My mother was an authentic person. Maybe that’s where I got my desire for the same. She said exactly what she thought without regard of what other people thought. For example, She told one of my girlfriends, “You’re prettier than his last girlfriend, but I can tell he liked the other one better.” We were at dinner and I kicked her shins under the table. Then she said, “Ouch, Mike’s kicking me under the table because he didn’t like what I said, but it’s the truth.”

In my book Ristretto Rain, I created a character, Jamie, who had a brain injury that left him authentic. Some would say too authentic. I based his character on a real man I know. It is fascinating being around him.

Thirty years ago, I went back and studied the unfiltered life of the historical Jesus. I grew up in the Bible belt. I had heard about Jesus for decades. But I found this historical Jesus to be quite refreshing. He was simple. He had three things on his heart and agenda, truth, love, and justice. What he disliked the most, was the phony, especially the religious phony. I like this Jesus. He seemed to live his life on the surface and he invited everyone to do the same. Where’s there an plenty of grace, there’s an invitation for transparency. Where there’s a critical attitude, it is a fertile ground to be disingenuous.

As an evangelical we thought our calling was to be godly. Godliness was defined by acting in love, showing joy, showing that we live in peace, showing patience, and kindness. Our real calling is to be authentic. The clearer we see ourselves, the better we see the world, and God. Our calling is to shower those around us with grace and mercy, so that they too would have the room to live authentically.

Ramblings: Navigating the Bubbles of Realities; The Truman Shows

Disclaimer, this is not a rant against Donald Trump. It is simply an attempt to mark out the boundaries of both sides in a fair way and to look at the barriers to bringing those groups together.

I recently had yet another discussion with a Pro-Trump friend. In the midst of this discussion, I realized (once again) how we not only have different opinions, but live within bubbles of different realities. If you watched the movie, The Truman Show, it is a lot like that, but where we are living in completely separate worlds, not just cohabiting Truman’s with different opinions. In this posting, I will not attempt to describe which “reality” is closer to actual reality. I mean, Truman did eventually escape from the manufactured reality and into the real world. I just want to lay out the boundaries of those worlds in as fair terms as I can. Feel free to correct me via the comments if I did not capture it correctly. One caveat, there is a spectrum of perspectives within each buble, neither pro or anti Trump worlds are a monolith.

What I know about Trump is not “what the liberal media has brainwashed me” as one Trump supporting friend said. I have followed Trump since the 1970s. In the very beginning, I liked him as I (and I was an evangelical at the time) thought that he was a good role model of being very successful and having values such as not drinking alcohol. But that fondness quickly waned as I observed his narcissistic and womanizing behavior. I became much more opposed to him when I thought he was very dishonest and racist. I have watched almost every Trump rally, press conference from start to finish. I follow him on Twitter. I watched the impeachment hearings from gavel to gavel via C-span (no commentary, just the objective hearing). And, I have spoken to countless Trump supporters. So, while my description of the Trump world may not be completely accurate, it is informed. Again, you are welcome to correct any of my mis-statements via the comments.

Truman Show
Truman Finding the Escape from his Fake World

Welcome to the Trump World

Within this world, Donald J. Trump is the greatest president in the history of America. He has “worked his ass off” for Americans, giving them (pre-COVID) the greatest economy in America’s history. He is not a politician, which works in his favor. He is brutally honest, the most honest president we have ever had. This rubs many people the wrong way because he pulls no punches but tells things like it is. That’s one reason he is hated by the establishment.

Donald Trump profoundly loves this country, more than any other president. He fights hard to put America first. He’s pulled us out of all the treaties and agreements that were taking advantage of America. He has fought hard to throw out illegal immigrants who have come here only to mooch off our society.

On the Economy

Donald Trump has ushered in the greatest economy America has ever known. Prior to COVID, we had one of the lowest unemployment rates in history. The stock market was soaring to record heights. He was able to do this because he is a very smart business man and knows how the economy works. He is also a tough negotiator and has gotten much better deals for America than any other president.

On the Environment

Trump has given us the best water and air in the history of our country. Climate change is not real but only a lie by the liberal elitist to destroy businesses.

On Society

He is a bulwark against the rising tide of radical socialism of the left. The agenda of this radical movement is to take away ownership, first of guns, then businesses and etc. This radical movement is anti-American and anti-Christian, run by the socialist elites in Hollywood and media. Trump wants to lead America back to its patriotic and Christian roots as we were in the 1950s.

On Race Relationship

Donald Trump has done more for the black community than any other president by giving them jobs, growth in their 401 Ks and business opportunities. The Black Lives Matter movement, was instigated by the far left (mostly white) liberals with a Marxist agenda and most blacks know that there is no racism in America.

On Christians

There has never been a president that fights for the Christians like Trump. He has fought to bring back Christian values in a growing secular nation. That liberal society was trying to ban things like prayer in schools, flags, church gatherings, saying the pledge to the flag, and general religious freedom. No other president has supported Christian values so fervently. He has also appointed conservative judges and will the one leader who will eventually stop abortions in this country and end the countries devaluing of heterosexual marriage. Donald Trump is God’s chosen man for president ot led us back to being a Christian nation.

Donald Trump could have achieved even more but has a profound resistance from the Washington establishment (deep state or “swamp”) and the mainstream media. The mainstream media is liberal and have a coordinated effort to turn our country into an anti-Christian, even communist or Muslim country. The media and radical left Democrats have attacked him without cause since he was elected. The Muller Report was proven to be a farce. The impeachment found nothing.

Not only should we re-elect him, but if we don’t, America is in peril and if the radical left wing gets into power, the economy will be destroyed, guns will be taken away, abortions will soar, and we will be drifting towards a socialist, godless country.

Welcome to the Anti-Trump World

Donald Trump has a serious mental health problem, a narcissistic personality disorder. In this disorder, the self becomes the center of the universe and all actions and thoughts are self-serving towards self-elevation alone. However, Donald Trump is a very gifted man in persuasive speech and charismatic persona. That combination, narcissistic personality plus a persuasive personality are the basic building blocks of a cult leader and that’s what we have now. The first steps of any cult leader is to make you doubt all your sources of information, except what comes from him or his supporters. Then, the information from him and his supporters (right wing TV and media sites) help him to spread lies to demonize anyone who does not support him. He is profoundly dishonest, spinning false narratives that always make him out as the hero. These are some of the hallmarks of all religious cults.

In reality, Donald Trump does not give a damn about America, Christians, or anything outside of himself. He uses this projection of himself (patriotic Christian) to win support from those who do take patriotism and faith seriously, while in his private life, he mocks these people. He has attempted to destroy all good American institutions for the sake of self elevation, this includes our Justice Department, intelligence community, FBI, military, education and etc. There has never been a more anti-American president than this one.

On the Economy

In this narcissistic quest, he has opposed anything that could hurt his goal of making the economy look (artificially) good. The stock market rise is his greatest yardstick as is the unemployment rate. The quickest way to make these numbers (only a pinhole view of the real economy) is to cut the taxes of the wealthy company owners and to end all regulations. That is exactly what he has done. It is like a sugar high for an economy that has no lasting benefits. Regulations, while some are extraneous and hinders business growth and should be cut, many are there for good reasons; for example, to protect the workers, the consumers, and the environment. If you look at other indicators of the economy (eg. GNP, national debt, trade imbalance) it does not look so good even before COVID.

On Society

There is no liberal conspiracy to; take away guns, take government control of businesses, to ban religious freedoms, to introduce communism as a form of government, to elevate abortions as a stand method of birth control.

On Race Relations

Black Lives Matter is a legitimate movement started by and led by blacks. It is in response to 400 years of racism in America that still exist in our institutions. Rioting and violence is not condoned by the majority of the left and virtually all of that was done by opportunists (wholesale looting just for the selfish material benefit) or even right wind instigators.

On Christians

If you ever wanted to know what the real (un-Americanized) historical Jesus was like, look at Donald Trump. He is the absolute opposite to Jesus in every way. Trump is self-centered, arrogant, money hungry–full of greed, extremely sexually promiscuous, incessant liar, igoronat, racist, hater of the poor and downtrodden and with a total lack of intellectual curiosity. He spouts hate of all people who are not his supporters (and even despise them behind their backs). Think of the opposite, and then you have the real Jesus.

Those Christians who told me that they recognized Trumps faulty behavior, but held their noses and voted for him anyway because he opposes abortion, are, to use Biblical terms, straining at a gnat but swallowing a camel. While claiming to want to reduce abortions, they are actually increasing them by cutting funding to basic women’s health (including access to birth control) but far beyond that, they are condoning dishonesty, which is the greatest of all sins. All evil begins with a lie.

Conclusion

This is what we are up against, the two diabolically opposed worlds in which people live. How do we bridge this gap? How do we create a constructive dialog? Many say we can’t. But do we have a choice if we want to survive as a nation?

We need to find the exit door from the Truman’s Shows that we live in, and find factual truth, not information that just supports our own bias. Real truth should be the meeting ground. Conservative and Liberal “news outlets” and websites are dens of lies. The more we go there, the more we will be entrenched within our bubbles. For Christians, the real Bible paints a picture of a God who is obsessed with truth (not some religious truth but factual truth) and love for the real world he has created. Let’s go there.

Mike

Ramblings: Observations in the Season of Elections

The world will not end if Donald Trump is re-elected. It will not end if Joe Biden is elected. In the big scheme of things, elections come and go. While I agree, there is a lot at stake, life will go on after November 3rd. Sometimes each side overstates the value of an election to get more votes.

Most who know me, know that I’m not a fan of Donald Trump. It is not political. I was not a fan of Trump when he was a Democrat. I would feel no different if he was a liberal. Although I don’t agree with all of his policies . . . some I do agree with. So, it is not about policy. For me personally, I can sum it up in the issue of truth. I am profoundly interested in truth and authenticity of character and in my view, Trump is a failure at these. I value truth as a person because all evil, all ills of society, starts with a lie. As a Christian, I believe that if God is there and the more you are involved with real truth (not talking about “religious truth”), the clearer you can see God. The more you are involved with deception, you start to see a distorted world and a god created in your own, distorted image. This is about all I will say negative about Trump in this post.

Before I’ve said that I make comments about Trump and etc. in public forums because I believe in dialog. I compared it to the debates on Mars Hill in Athens 2000 years ago. But maybe I was naive. I love to have conversations with people when we talk in a respectful way about facts. Believe it or not, I enjoy talking to people with different ideas than my own the most. I find it intriguing that another person holds such a view and I am very curious to find out why. Sometimes they are so convincing that I change my view to theirs.

But in my attempts to have discussions about Trump, it has not gone so well. The reason is, the discussion quickly deteriorates into the emotional rather than the logical. I admit that I’ve been guilty of this myself. But, from my perspective, as soon as I have challenged a Trumper on something that I think is untrue (Biden is a child molester was one of those) they immediately come back with, “You are a libtard. You’ve been brainwashed by the liberal media. Your head is in the sand.” At that juncture, dialog ends. The worst one, and I’ve mentioned this interaction before, was on another forum when I recommended, as has the WHO and CDC, mask wearing and a Trumper, who I have no personal relationship with, said he would love to put a bullet in my head because I wear a mask. How can you have a dialog around that?

But I will make it clear that this is not just happening on the Trump side. I have also mentioned before that I live in a Trump world. I am from the south. My entire family are Trumpers. I was an evangelical for 20 years and still have many friends from that world and almost all are Trumpers. I am from a small town in Appalachia. I still have some friends there and that is deeply Trump country. I also worked in a medical practice in Mount Vernon and was working there during the 2016 election and all of them were Trumpers (hearing about how great Trump was every day). So, for the sake of my own sanity, only knowing my wife and kids as non-Trumpers, I joined two Christian, anti-Trump groups online. While it did grant me some sanity, soon I started to hear lies and hatred from that group as well. Many of them too could not have a logical discussion without resorting to the emotional arguments. They were often posting disgusting photos of Trump with exaggerated bellies, butts, etc. What does that have to do with a logical debate? It is pure emotional hate and doesn’t help the discussion.

I honestly don’t understand when people don’t speak up against evil, such as the mishandling of the COVID pandemic or the slaughter of the 23 people in El Paso. When I do, they see it as political. But they have their reasons. But one of them could be the personal, social cost of speaking up. That is what I’ve found and I’ve have stopped talking in such forums about Trump. For one reason, minds are mostly made up. I have given up my dream that I could say something that would change their minds. The reasoning as become emotional, not logical. With logical reasoning, you can discuss, debate and reach conclusions. I think of the late Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Antonin Scalia who were diabolically opposed in legal views, but profoundly good friends in life. How? Because they did not let their reasoning deteriorate into the emotional but left it as logical, fact driven.

This image of Justices Antonin Scalia and Ruth Ginsburg riding a elephant in India in 1994 appears in the book, "Notorious RBG: The Life and Times of Ruth Bader Ginsburg."
Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Antony Scalia on an elephant

I have just finished my first draft of Retribution and it is in the hands of some readers (beta testing) so I am coming up for air after being consumed by the book for almost two months. I hope to write more. I was going make many arguments about why not to support Trump, but I will refrain. I’ve lost too many friends who are Trumpers including my family. I’ve had some hate mail here when I’ve said negative things about Trump. I do have an open letter to evangelicals about why not to vote for Trump. I may post it or may not. But America will go on after this election, despite the outcome. But my prayer for all people is that they pursue truth, real truth and at all cost.

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