Thom on July 20th, 2016

We’ve lived in our current house for five years, nearly. Among the fruit trees we inherited are two apricot trees. When I first looked the house while house-hunting they had apricots on them. Since we moved in there have been none at all or so few that the birds find them before we even realize they are there. I was severely tempted to cut them down and put something else in their place.

Apricots01Then there was this year. Remember that verse from the Bible that promises God will “pour you out a blessing, that there shall not be room enough to receive it”? That’s these two apricot trees suddenly. They were loaded with flowers this spring, and evidently we never got a hard enough freeze to kill the fruit like we have in years past.

Seeing the coming tide, I thinned them without remorse, and I removed at least three for every one I left. Hah! That didn’t even slow them down. They grew, and they grew, and then, just as we were getting ready to go on vacation, they began to ripen. Worst. Possible. Timing.

My valiant wife has done her best to keep up with them–and to find uses for them. We’ve tried them in jam (yum!), in cobbler, in cakes, eaten them straight for nearly every meal, canned them, frozen them… and they just keep coming! And we can’t even give them away, because of course everyone else is having a good apricot year, too!

I’m not sure if it’s a good thing or not that one tree seemed to lag behind the other. After we got back from vacation I went out and picked the rest of the apricots from that tree. A lot were bird-eaten and/or over-ripe, but we still got quite a few. A few were ready on the second tree, as well, but after picking those it appears we might get a week’s reprieve before the next wave hits. Apricots02

I don’t know what we’ll do when this next wave hits. Try making smoothies? Sell them to unsuspecting city-slickers as gourmet peaches? Hurl them at random passersby? Pile them up on the front walk and let them get all slimy as a trap for door-to-door salesmen? See if we can convert them into bio-fuel? Give a bunch to our new neighbors as a “welcome to the neighborhood” gift?

I know in a couple of years we’ll be missing apricots again. I suspect with the weather patterns around here it’ll be rare when we get this much–if any. At least now we know it’s possible. We’re used to the apple and plum trees producing yearly. Perhaps next time we see apricots coming on we’ll be better prepared to deal with them.

It’s a nice problem to have. We just hate to think of any of them going to waste.

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Thom on July 18th, 2016

I came across an interesting column in the Washington Post today, title “I rejected my parents’ WASP values. Now I see we need them more than ever.” In it Pamela Constable discusses her life growing up with privilege, her rejection of her parents’ values in young adulthood, and her more recent attempts to get closer to  her parents and subsequently finding they were much better people than she’d given them credit for.

Visiting home between assignments, I found myself noticing and appreciating things I had always taken for granted — the tamed greenery and smooth streets, the absence of fear and abundance of choice, the code of good manners and civilized discussion. I also began to learn things about my parents I had never known and to realize that I had judged them unfairly. I had confused their social discomfort with condescension and their conservatism with callousness.

It’s an interesting article, well worth a few moments to read.

It made me reflect on my own upbringing and my parents. I never rebelled like Constable, but I can’t say I truly appreciated my parents, either. I probably still don’t comprehend everything they went through for us. I know they did the best they could, however, and the older I get the more I appreciate what they managed to accomplish. Of course they weren’t perfect, but some of what I might once have considered failings I’ve come to accept as the simple difficulties we humans experience in trying to understand one another. Perhaps I wasn’t entirely understood by my parents, but I didn’t appreciate how difficult I was–and continue to be–to understand. I’ve since come to realize that I don’t make it easy for anyone to get to truly know me. Somewhere along the line I learned to hide large parts of myself from everyone. With five other kids to take care of it can’t have been easy for them to realize how much I kept hidden, though I’m not certain being an only child would have helped either. I’m pretty good at building walls.

In any case, my parents did an amazing job. Both came from difficult circumstances–not negative, mind you, just difficult. They both grew up accustomed to rural life and had to adapt to a more citified existence. Dad experienced many career changes, and ultimately settled in a low-level job at a University. I never realized it then, but many of his frustrations with his job came from the built-in class conflicts inherent in such an environment. He knew his job better than the highly educated people over him, and was smarter than many of the people he had to deal with every day. Dad’s genius was in hands, in his love of and understanding of people, and in his ability to organize the chaos inherent in meeting and balancing the material needs of students and professors. Students appreciated and liked him, but I’m not sure he always got the respect he deserved from the faculty and administrators.

Not that I have room to talk. I don’t think he got the respect he deserved from me, either. I know much of that is inherent in the parent-child relationship, and fathers being misunderstood by their sons is practically a requirement. I think I fell into that less than most, but I still can’t help but notice how the older I get, the more brilliant my parents seem. My parents, like so many others during that time period, quietly “got it done,” and largely without getting the credit they deserve. I hope we all figure this out before it’s too late.

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Thom on July 9th, 2016

Life is getting in the way too much at the moment. I think I need to step away from everything for a while reevaluate what I’m doing. Until then, I’m not going to be posting, or very intermittently.

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Thom on July 7th, 2016

Because I couldn’t think of anything else to write about today I went back a year and looked at what I was posting this time last July. It turns out I had just finished The Merchant Prince (my fifth novel) and was planning to take some time to revise The Queen’s Colors, the novel I finished before that.

My first thought was discouragement. It’s a year later and all I’ve got to show for it is about 30k words on the next novel I had planned. But I did do a fairly extensive revision of Queen’s Colors, and I’ve since identified another major fix I need to work on. I did a lot of world-building for The Forerunner, my current project, and wrote close to 20k words that I largely threw away when I started over. I also began a side-project, my yet-to-be-named “young adult paranormal romance.” That one quickly went off the rails because I was trying to “pants” it, which I’ve pretty much determined I can’t do anymore. My first two novels were written as I went, which is the reason why the first one stank on ice and why the second is an odd exception. I think that one only succeeded because it was fan-fic, so much of the world-building was done for me and because the plot was rather cliché.

So far to date The Queen’s Colors remains my favorite and, I believe, my best work. The Merchant Prince really needs some significant rework, but it shows promise. As for The Forerunner, I’m trying to out-stubborn it. I’ve felt for some time I’m not up to the challenge of this one yet, but I’m determined to make a go of it anyway. It’s had some magical moments, but for the most part it’s near-drudgery. As in “why am I still trying to be a writer?” drudgery. There are some other things going on in my life that have lent quite heavily to that, but I have to admit to questioning my commitment to being a writer. It’s more habit that’s keeping me going than anything else sometimes.

But to give myself a little credit, the level of complexity has changed for this novel. Yes, Merchant Prince followed three major characters’ points of views, but it was largely one main character with two other characters all involved in different perspectives of the same plot line. Forerunner has two completely separate plot lines with a major character in each, and before long there will be a third minor plot with a major character completely separate from the other two. I’m still setting up things that will run for three novels (at least), as well as building the plot for this novel. It’s challenging, and it’s work. Usually by now in each novel I’ve hit my stride and it begins writing itself. That’s not happening yet with this one. One of the plotlines is starting to show signs of taking off, but that’s not the one I’m on at the moment.

Summertime is always a hard time to write, I think. There are just too many distractions; vacations, kids’ activities, lack of good sleep (allergies are wrecking havoc this year), heat, etc. My motivation is low right now, and likely to take some even more serious hits soon. The next month is going to be a struggle, and my main goal is just to not give up.

How’s that for a motivational post? 😉


Thom on July 6th, 2016

I have to ask: Does anyone actually believe that either Trump or Clinton are honest, moral, caring people seeking office in order to help all Americans? Do we even care that they are not? It seems we long ago gave up on trying to select good, honest people for public office and instead opted to vote for the candidate who claimed to most support the individual policies we hold most dear.

But tell me this: Can a dishonest, immoral, self-serving person, even if they get those policies passed into law, be counted on to draft policies that will actually serve the common good? Or is this method of selecting our leaders only expediting our collapse as a society?

Our political class seems hell-bent on pleasing those with the most money and power to keep them in office. We already know this to be both a disaster and a necessary evil, as witnessed by the number of people who both decry money in politics and yet revere the rich people on their side who use their money to influence politics, as if simply having the right party tag endows virtue to overcome the corrupting influence of money and become an altruist who cares nothing for money while simultaneously seeking to get as much of it as they can in order to continue influencing politics. In the end they will seek after policies that keep their flow of money coming, and the devil take everyone else.

And we as a people continue to buy into the great lie that the right government can somehow save us all from ourselves. We decry all the social ills we see around us and charge the government with fixing it, all the while ignoring the fact that social ills come from personal ills. We cannot achieve a moral government that can create a moral society while clinging tightly to our own immorality. When we lose our personal selfishness enough to transform a corrupt government into a moral one that can create a moral society we won’t need the government to do it anymore. We’ll do it without them. We would need government less and less because we would draw our own lines far enough back that the government as a restrictive fence would be unnecessary.

Why should we need government agencies and dozens of people to extract taxes from us and use that money to help the person next door (after paying all the middle-bureaucrats first) when we could just walk next door and help them directly. Why would we need a government to regulate guns or drugs if we could all raise our children to respect one another, handle conflicts in loving ways, take care of our bodies, and hold life sacred? Why would we need to be concerned about “consent laws” and “rape culture” if we daughter our sons and daughters to respect themselves and each other and to take the process for creating life seriously and view it as something other than entertainment like taking in a movie or playing Monopoly?

But no, in our attempt to improve ourselves we seem to have overlooked having a common goal as to what that means. We’ve somehow adopted the objective of building a government that will take care of all the unpleasant things for us while we pursue our own self-interest to the point of self-destruction. Turning everything over to the government doesn’t make us more caring, more patient, more kind. If anything, as our social media discourse suggests, we’ve simply become self-absorbed screamers for whom no level of behavior or discourse is too low so long as it accomplishes our goals of making everyone else behave the way we want them to. In short, we’ve doubled-down on our selfishness while throwing out for ourselves all the rules we expect others to abide.

We’ve not just thrown the baby out with the bathwater, we’ve hooked up the septic system to the faucet. We’re swimming in our own filth and blaming it on everyone else while refusing to bail. We want everyone else to behave exactly as they should, but we’re unwilling to deny ourselves anything. We want to be able to engage in risky behaviors without consequence. We want to be cruel and vicious to anyone we disagree with until they change–and punish them if they are cruel and vicious to us in an effort to get us to change.

We love to spout the aphorism “Be the change you want to see in the world,” but we don’t understand it. It doesn’t mean bludgeoning everyone else into changing first. It means changing yourself first and foremost, before attempting to change anyone else, and even if no one else ever changes. That’s a tall order. I’m trying really hard and I still can’t do it. And I’m more successful than most. A great many out there would find it infuriating that others are still not changing, even though they’ve been trying for several days already! Or that others are not changing exactly how they were supposed to.

That’s because it’s not enough for us to want to change. We need to agree on what those changes should be. Left to our own devices we each press for the change we feel is best based on our own personal circumstances and desires. My idea of the ideal world is very different from that of either Clinton or Trump. My idea would probably even deviate at least some from that of the Dalai Lama. Can we as a race ever truly create the ideal society without a single, comprehensive social objective that we all acknowledge as superior? What would that even look like? How would we know if we’ve found it?

I have my ideas, of course, but it stands about as much chance of being accepted as anyone else’s–probably less even, since my source is currently out of favor in modern society.

But even without a single social objective for us all to work for we could accomplish much if we could learn to serve ourselves less and others more. If we could learn to control our desires and sacrifice at least some of our more destructive pleasures. If we could learn to live first and foremost for the benefit and betterment of mankind instead of the enrichment and aggrandizement of ourselves. If we could learn that no personal achievement could be more important than producing and preparing the next generation to be as good or better than ourselves.

That’s a lot of “ifs”. Are we up for it?

Thom on July 4th, 2016

If there is someone whose shoes I’d rather not walk in, it’d be Tim Tebow’s. And not just because I suspect they’re bigger than my own. It’s just that, as a prominent Christian, he seems to be a lightning rod for anti-Christian hate. The latest incident, in which he came forward to comfort the wife of a passenger who had a heart attack during a flight, seems to be proving that the only thing some people hate worse than a Christian who fails to live their religion is a Christian who does.

A passenger suffered a heart attack. The Delta crew sprung into action and a physician’s assistant named Nicki Freeze started administering CPR.

As anxious passengers watched the drama, Tebow left his seat to see what was happening. Nobody knows what he actually said, but Tebow leaned over and hugged the stricken man’s wife and prayed with her and her friend.

Tebow left the plane with her and collected her luggage. He put it in the car that was waiting for him and took the woman to the hospital.

He stayed with her as a doctor broke the news that her husband had died. Then he went on his way and didn’t say a thing about it.

Tebow didn’t post anything on social media or speak to media. If he does, my guess is he’ll talk about the efforts of the flight crew and Freeze.

His foundation would only confirm the incident happened.

It seems to me that a good man stepped forward to offer what help he could–and far more help than most anyone else would have thought to offer. But based on the social media reaction, that was a terrible thing. Granted, the reporter figures the negative response at only 40% of the over-all response, but the sort of things Tebow is accused of is telling:

“I think I’m going to throw up,” one commenter wrote.

“Tim Tebow was getting in the way while trying to be a missionary on a plane? What a putz!” (Ed. There is no indication in interfered with treatment–if he had, he’d be in jail now)

“Tebow is the male equivalent of a Kardashian. Maybe he ought to change his name to Kim.” (Ed. Some even suspected a setup)

“Why is this even a story?” (Ed. Speaking of Kardashians…)

“Prayed? Give me a break. Get out of the way and let modern medicine take care of the sick. Idiot.”

Both the reporter and I agree: Such a response to such an act of kindness reveals more about the people who hate Tebow than it does about Tebow. But to be honest I have to retract me initial statement a little. I wish I could say I’d have done the same in his shoes.

Thom on July 1st, 2016

I was reading the comments on a music video recently when I ran across one stating that as much as he likes the artist’s videos, he has to cringe while he watches them because the artist identifies as part of a group he disagrees strongly with. I have to wonder about where we’re headed as a society when we aren’t allowing ourselves to enjoy art for itself. Do we really have to weigh everything about the artist and all their varied affiliations before we can enjoy something? Do we really have such an excess of goodness and beauty in the world that we have to look for reasons to disqualify such things when we find them?

Maybe I’m just naïve, but if I enjoy an artist’s work I enjoy the artists work. I don’t worry about their orientations, politics, pet peeves, or whatever unless they start forcing it down my throat. I don’t sit there and obsess, wondering “What if this person is a conservative?!” or “What if this person is a member of Black Lives Matter?!” or “What if this person is a Muslim?!” or “What if this person voted for Trump?!” What difference does that make in whether the art they produce is enjoyable? There’s plenty of art I don’t care for because I just don’t care for it. There’s plenty of art I don’t care for even though the people who create it are top-notch people. And there is plenty of art I admire, and don’t care who produced it.

Similarly, it seems like any time someone who identifies with a particular controversial group does something good, people who oppose that group or that person come flooding out of the woodwork to malign that person and their motives rather than just say “Hmmm. I guess maybe there’s good in everyone.” And heaven forbid they ever adjust their opinion of that person or that group toward positive territory.

It seems strange and sad to me that we’ve “advanced” to the point where we can only see value in something or someone if they are part of our approved circle, and that someone who outside that circle can never produce anything of value in our eyes. We want so desperately for people to see and approve of the good in ourselves, but refuse to even look for it in those from the wrong group.

Perhaps its our own fault. We’ve allowed group identity to dominate so much of our public discourse that we make it difficult to see one another as individuals. And if we do happen to find little points of commonality between ourselves and someone from one of those groups it’s become easier to disavow that commonality rather than allow a connection to another human being who, more than likely, is not so terrible a human being as we want to think.

I admit that there are some people out there I hold to be truly reprehensible. But I’d also like to think that if I were ever in a social situation with that person I’d be able to look past that enough to be civil and even give them a chance. I’d like to think that if, say, I were to suddenly find they enjoy Michael J. Sullivan’s books as much as I do, I’d happily discuss that commonality for as long as they’d like to and allow myself to come away thinking better of that person because of that little bit of shared experience. I certainly wouldn’t rush home and destroy my entire collection of Sullivan books because that person also likes them.

Not that I’ve ever had the chance to prove it. But I have experienced cases where someone I admired has disappointed me greatly to the point that I’ve avoided their work for a time, only to encounter that person again and have a positive experience that makes me amend my opinion and repent a little of my intransigence. Would that I had been more open minded in the first place, but I’ll at least declare a partial victory for decency that I did not allow my initial judgment to remain inviolate

We need to get away from this “us vs. them” mentality. We need to stop condemning people for things that are only a part of who they are. We need to stop viewing someone’s affiliation with a particular group as their defining characteristic. I’d rather see a world where we can celebrate the good things that we all do and produce, and not worry about what might be lurking behind it all. The world is getting ugly enough. Let’s appreciate beauty whenever and wherever we can find it.

Thom on June 30th, 2016

Trigger warning: Sorry, more religion.

A friend of mine forwarded a post from someone that made him rather sad. I agree. The post was sad on many levels. I really feel sorry for the original poster, because he (or she, but I’ll use “he” by default) clearly went to a lot of effort only to wind up right back where he might have had he understood God the way I do. Certainly I can understand where this guy is coming from, but…well, it’s as if he’s talking about someone else entirely, because my experience with God has been so different.

Let me back up a bit. I won’t reprint the post here because I don’t know how close a friend this was to my friend and I don’t want to make things awkward for my friend. But I will paraphrase. This person supposedly read the Bible through twice, and then went through it verse by verse, using Hebrew and Greek lexicons and a concordance to study each word’s original meaning. Because of this he decided that God was made up by men, and represents all the ugliest traits of mankind. He feels God is a “monster” who only loves his children if they love him first, and exactly the way he demands.

This person has now left Christianity and feels he has become a much better father than God, because he has learned to love without possession, as he puts it. He, unlike God, is not “silent and absent” in the lives of his children, and he doesn’t torture them if they don’t reciprocate his love. He’s proud of his keeping his children away from the “abusive and controlling religion” of Christianity.

Like I said, I feel sorry for this guy. I’m not sure which form of Christianity he was raised with, but there are some out there who really do lean the direction he indicates. If he grew up with one of those, I can understand why he would be so bitter. But not all Christian religions are the same. I’m pretty sure he could find several that mirror his beliefs more closely. I personally belong to one that, with few variances, pretty much preaches the type of parenting he has “discovered”. This doesn’t mean that we’re all excellent parents. Being consistent and perfect at anything is pretty difficult, and I suspect that were we to examine this person’s parenting he didn’t practice what he preaches all the time, either, unless what he preaches is such a laissez-faire style of parenting that to be a perfect parent you do as little as possible beyond providing for your children’s basic needs.

But I have to say right now that if this person’s study of the Bible revealed a monstrous God on every page, he wasn’t really approaching his study with an open mind. More-over, I’d say he likely skipped most of the New Testament. But usually, in my experience, when people outline their study approach in such detail it’s usually in an attempt to establish their own credibility, to be able to claim “I know it better than you do!” I’ve encountered quite a few such people through the years. Some of them are sincere, but most are laying the claim out there and daring anyone to prove them wrong, hoping to win the argument without a shot.

It’s similar to many of the people I encountered as a missionary for my church who, when we tried to tell them about the Book of Mormon–additional scripture we use alongside the Bible–they would claim that they had read it and knew all about it. If we were feeling particularly mischievous that day we’d usually follow up with something like, “So what did you think about the part where Joseph Smith was riding the white buffalo?” (It’s nowhere in the book, which is an ancient record that Joseph Smith only translated. He does not appear anywhere in the main text. Neither do buffalos of any color.) I don’t think I ever had someone call our bluff on that; most would claim they’d read that part and found it interesting.

But even if this gentleman is sincere and really did go through the entire Bible line by line, I believe he still missed the point. The New Testament, which most Christian religions place much greater emphasis on than the Old Testament, and rightly so, is not filled with vengeance and torture of those who don’t immediately do as they’re told. Yes, Christ and his apostles warn of the final judgment, but during his ministry Christ was not one to condemn, because those people were still alive and still had time to change their lives. Christ, also, was not an amalgamation of all of man’s worst traits, as this man claims, and I’d be interested in knowing what references he found that support that claim. I’ve yet to find anyone else who is even vaguely familiar with Christ’s teachings who doesn’t believe mankind would be much better off if they could live up to what Christ taught and demonstrated.

You want to talk about loving without possession? Try sacrificing yourself for the sins of all mankind, whether they choose to accept that gift or not. That is ultimate love, and I’m baffled that this person seemed to completely miss that.

But enough about that. Ultimately I get the feeling that this was someone who has been embarrassed by the secular world over his former religion an has been looking for an excuse to bail. I suspect his study of the Bible was motivated by a desire to excuse his loss of faith, not by a desire to maintain it, and as with most things, you tend to find what you’re looking for. I’m glad that on his own he was able to find sufficient truth to undo the incorrect interpretations he had learned previously about parenting. I hope he is truly being the father he claims, and is not just saying that in an attempt to further justify his departure from and prejudice against Christianity.

I’d rather turn to what I have found in my life in Christianity. First of all, I have found God to be an incredibly loving and patient father. But then I do have some advantages over this other fellow. My religion has additional scripture that both reinforces and clarifies the Bible. We also have continuing revelation today that provides even greater clarity and scope, and provides more specific application pertinent to our day. So I admit my perspective is likely to be significantly different from most Christian religions.

I find it a little amusing that this fellow feels he could teach God a thing or two about parenting. It’s like a little boy living in the big house his father has provided who one day finds some blankets, pulls some chairs together and builds himself a fort, then goes and grabs some snacks from the pantry and crawls into his fort, pleased with what a wonderful provider he is, and not realizing that beyond a little effort, he has provided none of it. God organized everything we can detect for our benefit. What little existence we are able to scratch out from that on our own is admirable, but is only part of what God intended all along. If he wanted us to not have to work for our sustenance he could provide it all, instantly.

Similarly, I could understand why people get so frustrated with a god who ends or allows to be ended the lives of those who are not doing what he asks–if this life is all there is. If this life was God’s attempt to “raise us children”, such punishments would indeed be harsh. But it’s not. We, as distinct intellectual entities, have existed forever, and we’ve been with God for measureless time being raised up to be who we are now. We had progressed as far as we could in our limited state, and so in order to unlock continued progression there had to be a few things happen. We had to gain physical bodies like God has, for one. And we had to prove ourselves capable of handling any further progress.

That’s what this life is. It’s not our “formative childhood years”. It’s not even our school years. It’s the final exam for everything that went before it. So when something happens to end our life, be it age, disease, natural disasters, conflict with other children, or God himself calling down punishment, it’s not really “wiping us out” so much as declaring that, for us, the test is over. Put down your pencil and bring your test booklet up to God’s desk now, please.

As for God treating us like possessions, if that were true this life would be vastly different. If God wanted us all to do exactly what he wants without exception he could do it. But that’s not what he wanted. That’s what Lucifer wanted. Satan was afraid of the idea of allowing us all to come to earth and be tested based on our own free will and the choices we make. That would allow for a lot of God’s children going contrary to God’s will and not passing the test. His plan was to force us all to do the right things. But that wasn’t what God had in mind. The ability for each of us to choose for ourselves is sacred to him. That’s why Christ stepped forward and offered to not only support God’s plan, but to be the sacrifice that would introduce repentance into the equation, making us subject to both justice and mercy.

Satan hated that idea so much that he took a third of God’s children and convinced them to follow him instead of God. And God, valuing so highly our right to choose for ourselves, let them go. And he loves them all still, even as they work tirelessly to bring ruin on the rest of his children.

Now there is where I suspect the gentleman writing the post and I disagree. He perhaps feels that if God truly loved all of us he wouldn’t insist on there being consequences for disobedience. I know that’s not a popular concept these days. People are looking for every possible way to escape consequences, not accept them. Now, I hope for his children’s sake, this man hasn’t taken the concept of “their lives are their own” to mean not giving them any rules or consequences during their formative years. That is not love, it’s fear. Love is knowing that there are some things that are definite and certain enough that they must be taught, even if it means invoking punishments. Fear is not wanting to face the natural backlash that occurs when imperfect, immature beings (ie. children) don’t like that some actions have negative consequences. It’s the avoidance of short-term inconvenience with no consideration for long-term results. It’s not love. And I suspect on some level that gentleman understands this.

But as it is, in this final exam we’re currently undergoing, God is so loving and just that he realizes that not everyone had the same opportunity to learn all the right answers. He’s not, for example, putting some of his children in the “slow class” simply because they were born in Africa during the dark ages and never even heard of Christ, let alone knew about the gospel. No, he will look at what things that person was taught to be right and wrong and measure against how well they lived up to what they knew. Every other physical requirement, such as baptism, that was not available to his children when on earth, will be available to them at some point. What matters most is how well they did in the circumstances in which they lived.

Also, because he is loving, God tends to give his children only as much as they can handle. The Old Testament, which the gentleman feels is so full of monstrosities, is evidence of that. God gave biblical Israel what they could handle. They couldn’t seem to bear a “higher law” such as Christ gave in the New Testament, and so God gave them a simpler law: Here’s what you are to obey, and here are the consequences when you disobey, and yes, they’re harsh, because you don’t seem to pay attention otherwise. As it is, I’ll still be pretty darn patient, if you really look at it, and I’ll continue to keep my part of the covenant I made with you, even when you forget to do so. (There really are different, valid ways to view the Old Testament. You find what you look for.)

Now any decent parent knows that each child is different, and you have to approach each one differently. What rules and consequences you have for one doesn’t always work with others. Some are really good in some areas and can be given some leeway, while others you have to watch like a hawk. Is it really so hard to imagine God could know us all at least as well and adjust accordingly?

But oddly enough, in his level of “hands-on” effort it seems like God can’t win. If he immediately visits disobedience with fire and brimstone he’s a terrible monster. If he doesn’t, people take that as a sign that there is no God. For every person like the poster who thinks god is a vindictive monster, there are dozens who wonder why God doesn’t stop all the bad people from doing bad things. But if God is such a monster, I can’t help but notice a distinct lack of smiting going on these days. And if God is asleep at the wheel, I can’t help but wonder if those critics would feel the same if he continually stepped in to stop them from doing bad things.

The obvious answer is that God, no matter what some of us think, is a much better parent than we are, and much, much wiser. He’s not prepared to invalidate the results of the final exam just to please a few people who are really just wanting to find excuses not to believe in or follow him. God’s plan–and the rules he lives by–are critical, and he walks a very delicate line between justice and mercy. Out of love for all of his children he will not suspend the rules (for us or for him) just to benefit some of his children.

It should be noted, too, that God is not us. Because of his commitment to maintaining our right to choose it’s rather unfair to hold the stuff we do against him. As I’ve noted before, there are far too many Christians who are not living up to what they claim to believe. There are far too many Christian religions misinterpreting what God has laid out. But is that really so surprising? There are very few people of any believe (or lack thereof) who even come close to living up to how they believe we should live. That’s not God’s fault.

I know I certainly don’t live up to everything I know I should be or do. And I, for one, am glad the plan he laid out gives me time and opportunity to change and improve. The difference I see is that the God I know is patiently helping me improve. If that improvement is slow (ie. glacial) it’s my failing, not his. What I see is that God is standing by, waiting to reward me when I get something right rather than rushing in to punish me when I screw up. What I see is a God who loves me far more deeply than I love myself–or am even capable of loving. What happens during this “final exam” is only a miniscule part of what he has in store for me and all others who are trying to follow him.

It hurts when others don’t see it. It bothers me when people denounce God simply because he doesn’t do things the way they would do it. I can only imagine how He feels. But however much it must hurt, he still loves them without condition. But love and rewards are not the same. Would it really be love if he rewarded everyone equally, no matter how good or bad they were? That would be more like nonchalance. He loves all of us enough to reward us according to what we choose for ourselves. We don’t understand it all yet, but when all the grades are tallied and assigned I believe we’ll all be satisfied with our grade and subsequent reward. We just won’t all be given the same reward. And as any parent can tell you, finding a reward that all children value equally is a lot harder than you’d think.

God knows, though. And he loves us enough to set up all of this to help us know what reward we want most.

Thom on June 29th, 2016

Trigger warning: Religious discussion. For those who dislike such things, it’s best to move along.

As part of the soundtrack for the animated movie “Big Hero 6” there’s a song by the group Fallout Boy, titled “Immortal.” My kids loved the song after watching the movie (fun movie, incidentally) and downloaded a copy. I’ve heard the song a lot since then.

There’s one line, however, that immediately caught my attention:

Sometimes the only payoff
for having any faith
is when it’s tested again and again
every day

As a person of faith I’ve contemplated this line and concluded there are at least two separate interpretations. The first is pessimistic: The only thing that comes from faith is having it tested forever. Count on it. You may be better off without faith in the first place.

The other interpretation is more hopeful: There is a payoff for having faith, but it usually comes after it’s been tested, sometimes to the extreme. It’s good to have faith, but it’s going to take work.

I tend to hold with the latter interpretation, though sometimes it can sure seem like the former is correct. There have been several times in my life, mostly when I was younger, when I’ve cried out in frustration, “What good has being good done me?!” I’m not particularly proud of my narrow vision at those times. Somehow I got the idea that I should get to pick and choose which blessings I get and when. Time and a broader perspective has taught me the folly of such thinking. Had I had my way at those times I would have missed out on some pretty big “payoffs”.

It’s not like every reward I’ve received for faith only ever came after intense struggle or trial. But we are promised in scripture that faith must be tried before it can grow, which usually implies some sort of evidence that your faith was not misplaced. “…wherefore, dispute not because ye see not, for ye receive no witness until after the trial of your faith. (Ether 12:6)” If you would have the benefits of faith, you’re going to have to be tested first. That’s just how it works.

To those without faith this may sound daunting, even unfair. Even for those with faith it can be intimidating. Not all tests will push you to the very edge of your endurance. But some will. Going without work for two years while trying to support a family was perhaps the hardest test I’ve had to endure. My faith was literally tested again and again, every day. But yes, there was also the payoff, which at least part of involved taking an even bigger leap of faith. Looking at it all in the rear view mirror the blessings are easy to see. Looking at it from the other side, it got pretty discouraging at times.

What was less obvious at the time was that even in the middle of that arduous test of faith we were receiving the payoff from a previous test of faith–one that involved much less of a struggle. The leaders of our church, who we hold to be prophets, have been telling us for years to avoid unnecessary debt, build up a reserve of food, and save money as much as possible. Even though we were just starting a family and money was often tight, we saved money. We worked hard to live within our means so that every time I got a raise we could save even more money instead of just increasing our lifestyle. It required faith to do that at times. There were many nice things we could have had, but passed over in favor of building savings. There was some reward in watching our money grow, certainly.

But it was especially nice to have that to fall back on in hard times. The payoff for our earlier faith was much more obvious–so obvious I nearly didn’t see it for what it was.

I suppose another less obvious payoff for having faith is that it’s much easier for me to believe that there is any payoff at all. Someone with little to no experience with faith might tend to adopt the former interpretation of those lyrics; that there’s no point in having faith because you’ll just keep running into wall after wall until you can’t take the bloody noses anymore.

But even for those of us who have faith and have seen it validated, it’s still a safe bet that our faith will continue to be tested, again and again, every day, and probably for the rest of our lives. We can either get tired and give up, or lean into the wind and keep walking. Those various trials likely won’t look just like ones we’ve tackled previously, either. They’ll probably come in new forms we’ve never experienced before, requiring us to grow in some way in order to overcome them. That growth itself may be the payoff. There may be other payoffs as well. But we mustn’t forget that there will be some reward at some point, and we need to keep pushing forward.

Sometimes the reward of faith is developing faith in faith.

Thom on June 28th, 2016

My interest in Lindsey Stirling keeps growing. I recently read her memoir “The Only Pirate at the Party” and found it to be both a fascinating look into her life and an inspirational story. To watch her videos you’d never know what is going on behind that smiling face. Reading about her struggles with anorexia has made me take a closer look at my life and the psychological mindsets I struggle with, and it gives me hope that they can be overcome.

Of course the book is not all about her anorexia. Much of it is about where she comes from; her childhood, her family, her explorations of her talents. And yet the book is not all about that, either. She talks at length about her college career, and yet only in one brief mention do we ever hear what she studied there: film. It’s almost like it’s trivial information, and yet the impact of that decision is obvious. No wonder her videos are so impactful.

Nor does she really talk about where she developed such a head for business. We can tell some of the credit comes from growing up in a home with limited material resources. Some of it comes from simple drive. But somewhere along the way she learned to live on little while putting away money to further her career and provide for all those who work with her. That’s a high level of financial maturity for someone so young.

This book is definitely a memoir and not a biography. Don’t read this book if you’re simply looking for an exhaustive source of detail on her life. She has very specific things she wants to cover, and so many more than she doesn’t even touch on. I found it both enlightening and frustrating in that regard. But I enjoyed it quite a bit, and I’m glad I read it. I recommended it to my daughter and probably will recommend it to my sons when they’re a little older and are ready for the messages there.

Meanwhile, I happened upon her latest video today and was blown away. The quality of her videos has usually been the main draw for me–I’ll admit I wasn’t much of a fan of her music initially, and could only listen to it as part of the total audio-visual package. But “The Arena” may be the first one where all the pieces have really clicked for me. The music itself is highly listenable, reminiscent of Hans Zimmer, melodically interesting, and with a much better balance of the electronica elements. I like this one for itself, even without the video.

But the visual impact is stunning. It appears she teamed up with Derek Hough to choreograph the dancing, and the two of them are on fire. It’s fine dancing. I could watch it just for them alone. Once again she reaches into what seems to be her signature style: steampunk western with a touch of Mad Max. In this one she creates a surreal backdrop to tell her tale. Her videos often tell stories, but this transcends into allegory. Perhaps it’s because I read her memoir and can recognize the themes that come out here, but I found it powerful.

I hope this is the shape of things to come. Lindsey has managed to synergize her music, her dancing, and her visual storytelling into something powerful and potentially life-changing. I know it’s not something that everyone’s going to love. I’m not sure it’s even meant for old codgers like me, though it does seem as though her audience cuts across all demographics, but I believe she’s got an incredible vehicle for making a difference to young people. She’s got something to say, and I think she’s got the means to make people listen.

If she can keep this going I’m going to have to admit to being a fan, and not just an admirer. I’ve been able to see what she’s doing for a while now and have approved of her approach even if I didn’t appreciate all of the elements. But she seems to be maturing in her art, and it may just be in a direction I can embrace without reservation. I guess we’ll see, but she’s definitely got my attention now.

Wayne Chilcott liked this post