Doct-her Who

I won’t belabor the discussion on this topic too much. It has only been in the news for about three days, but I’m already sick of hearing about it.

The next Doctor has been cast as a woman. Some love it, some hate it, and some are simply waiting to see how they do. I’m personally in the wait and see camp.

See, I’m absolutely fine with The Doctor being female. Why? Other than the fact that it’s TV and fiction and if they want to cast a woman they can, The Doctor is an alien. The Doctor is over 2000 years old now, and has two hearts. The Doctor is not like us, except for the fact that a human plays him, and now her. But that’s more for the convenience of not having to put them in makeup than anything else. Time Lords look like humans.

But they aren’t.

The Doctor has long been beyond human social norms. In fact, much of the humor of Doctor Who plays upon the typically unobserved social divide between Time Lords and Humans. The Doctor is fascinated by humanity because we are different, and because we are so fragile, and yet to resilient at the same time. It’s the same thing that fascinated Gandalf with regard to Hobbits in fact. Quaint. Simple. Yet…indomitable.

But I digress. The Doctor can be a woman. Jodie Whittaker’s reveal was very cool, and I think she looks like she can be The Doctor. I’ve only seen her act a little bit, but from my limited experience with her work, she seems to have the chops for it. I haven’t seen her comedic prowess, but she has an expressive face, and established dramatic credentials. I think she’s an excellent choice. Therefore, let it not be said that I am opposed to this casting.

However…

While I trust that Jodie Whittaker has the tools and talent to pull this off, I am less confident in the writers and execs in charge of the show. Based on the last season, especially, I am concerned that they have made this casting with ulterior motives in mind. I enjoy Pearl Mackie’s work as Bill. I found Bill enjoyable to watch, and a fun companion. She was adorable, yet deep. I love, as the Doctor also loved, that she smiled at danger. It was a nice, refreshing take.

I was less impressed with the heavy-handedness of the writing this past season. It seems to me that in two thirds of the episodes, we had to sit and watch Bill patiently explain, as if to a four year old, how much of a lesbian she was. Never, “Nah, I’m not interested, mate, I’m a lesbian.” though. Always, “…yeah…well…see…I’m not…really into…man bits….actually…”.

Let me be clear. There can be lesbians on TV. I’m not opposing a lesbian on TV. What I do oppose, is writers acting as if I can’t handle it. Or maybe it’s that they think I’m too stupid to understand that Bill likes girls.  I hate when I can see the writers so clearly in a script, if you know what I mean. And I felt like I was watching the writers the whole season. It felt more like Saturday Night Live sketch writing at times. The constant over-explanation of homosexuality, the pigeon-holed Trump pot-shots, and the attack on a fictionally extremist version of capitalism come to mind.

My only fear is that the same team that brought us that awful writing, has essentially vowed to continue their ham-fisted political cramming, and that they’re going to write The Doctor, not as a 2000 year old Time Lord who loves humanity and is in awe of the universe, but as a human woman who must constantly reassert the fact that she’s a woman. If we end up in a board room full of stuffy old caricatured British men while the Doctor has to lecture them on their rampant sexism, I will not be at all surprised.

What does that show us anyway?

What if The Doctor shows up in that same board room, says something brilliant, and then offers to help save them, and they simply recognize that she knows what she’s talking about, and listen to her? Isn’t that what message you’d rather see? It’s subtler, and it shows us hope and unity.

On the other hand, we could spend two thirds of our episodes gesturing wildly at The Doctor’s breasts. “I AM A WOMAN! I AM A WOMAN! CAN’T YOU SEE?! THAT’S THE MOST IMPORTANT THING ABOUT ME NOW!”

There is always hope, though. The Doctor teaches us that, right?

 

What it really means…

John 3:16.

Arguably the most often quoted, well known verse of them all. Bet if you’ve spent any time at all in a church, you can quote it in King James without thinking.

…forGodsolovedtheworldthathegaveHisonlybegottenson…

It rolls off the tongue, in Middle English no less, for just about anyone.

This is the thing about John 3:16 that struck me fairly recently, and that I’m hoping will strike you. It doesn’t mean what you think it means. What you think it means is this:

God loved you SO much, so VERY much that he gave his only Begotten Son, and whomever believes in Him, will not die, but they’ll have everlasting life instead.

It’s close, but really, it’s a little different. Actually, you might think I’m crazy, but I think the difference changes the tone of the whole thing. I think it’s kind of a big difference.

Here’s what it really says:

This is the way in which God loved the world: He gave his only Son, and everyone who believes will not be destroyed utterly, but live forever.

Seems similar until you really think about it. It isn’t that God loved us SOOOOOO much. God loves us infinitely. The question of how much He loves us is unfathomable. There’s no one with long enough arms to hold them out and show us how much. There’s no one on earth who can love you as much. The amount, being incomprehensible to the finite mind, is rendered virtually irrelevant. God loves us, and that’s an infinite quantity.

John 3:16 is far more practical and far less ethereal and “feely” than we realize.

This is the manner is which God loved us. Here is the act that He did because of His love. This is the measured, real, definitive, powerful love of God. He gave up the life of his beloved Son. A part of Himself. While we were still screaming at Him in our childish pride.

I realized this, and it changed not only John 3:16, but it changed any mention of God’s love from an inestimable feeling that I couldn’t wrap my brain around, into a decisive sacrificial act of will. It changed into something by which I can measure myself when I am told that I am to love as Christ loved me. When I am told to love my wife as Christ loved the church? It’s no longer “so much”. It’s “In this very way.”

That’s a powerful realization.

 

The Mystery Continues…

I have received another packet from Mills and Costa, this one being far more informative than the last, not to mention the phone conversation. The thing with Uncle Sherman was that as fascinating as he was, there was always this kind of unspoken understanding that he was a little bit crazy. Theories, ideas, and plans that he came up with were kind of indulged. I think I was the only one who tended to take him seriously.

If these letters I received are real, and this isn’t some kind of elaborate prank, then there may be more to Uncle Sherm than anyone ever anticipated. At least, there is now.

I expected to receive journals, or notes, or something ordinary. What came in the mail a few days ago, had me perplexed, and I am still not certain of what I have before me.

I do not wish to inundate you with a lot of photos, but let me at least give an idea of what I received. Pictured below, the bundle of documents:

 

As I began to parse the stack of papers before me, I realized that this was not actually a series of letters. It appeared to be one letter stretched across many miscellaneous scraps. It’s not the most coherent message, but I think I have the idea. I hesitate to speculate too far beyond that which I know for certain, but the message on these random sheets, points to someone lost. But the question isn’t where. It’s when!

The writing is the same hand, but the message appears on the backs of postmarked papers ranging from 1942 all the way up to 2008. It appears that the writer was rushed, seeming to grab desperately for any means to write down their missive, and then place them in the post without address. Just a hopeful plea that they reach their intended destination. The destination seems to be me. Or at least it is now.

The message alludes to an experiment gone wrong, to an artifact of unknown power, and and an element that makes travel through time a possibility. My knee jerk reaction is, of course, skepticism and outright disbelief…but what if?

I can’t say more, not yet, save this:

It seems that I am a crucial link in a deep mystery that transcends my previous expectations. I don’t know what my role may yet be, but something important is about to happen. Stay tuned!

Collected Five Word Writing Challenges – 2011

I decided that rather than repost each of these little challenges individually, I’d just collect a bunch in a single post. Some of them relate to each other a little anyway,  and I didn’t want to be spammy about it. As I said in the previous post, these were groups of five words that were provided  to me by request on my Facebook feed. I had a lot of fun doing these, and I think I might try it again soon. Please enjoy my collection of Five-Word Writing Challenges, circa 2011!

 

  • 1. Hypnotic
  • 2. Prophylactic
  • 3. Chicken
  • 4. Catalyst
  • 5. Nephew

 It Was a Dark and Stormy Night:

     The heavy rain was beating a hypnotic tattoo on the old broken umbrella. The city streets were awash in the torrent, reflecting shimmering lamplight as the drops danced in the deep rivulets. The umbrella was too small. A meager prophylactic measure against the uncharacteristically quiet storm. It rained, but no thunder. No lightning. Not tonight.

     I’d tried returning my nephew’s calls. Three attempts on my office phone and no messages. So I put my leftover stir-fry chicken in the icebox, shouldered my black leather attache and holstered my .38, and off I went. 10:30 on a Thursday night in the middle of a monsoon, to be sure he was still among the living.

     It’s not like him to call and not leave a message. No, that kind of call from him had to have some kind of unusual catalyst. Not like him at all. 

  • 1. Riposte
  • 2. Tootles
  • 3. Ecclesiastical
  • 4. Halitosis
  • 5. Sparks

 Lord Tootles Teaches Fencing:

“Riposte when I say to riposte, you great nincompoop!”

“I am sorry, Lord Gafford! I will Lord Gafford!”

“For all your assertions that you will, I have yet to actually see you make good on your word! You might as well call me Lord Tootles for all the honor with which you treat my tutelage!”

“Yes Lord Tootles!”

“That was not to be taken as a command, you half-wit!”

“My apologies Lord Toot…Lord Gafford!”

“Now, once again through the pattern, and this time, when I strike, and you parry, I want to see sparks fly from your foil on riposte. Either attack me or go home!”

“May the heavens strike me down like a false prophet if I fail you again my Lord!”

“There is no need to grow ecclesiastical, lad. Just lay on this time!”

“Yes my Lord!”

“For the life of me, son, we’ll make a swordsman out of you yet. If only we could do something about that halitosis, then we might even get you married someday.”

“Yes my Lord.”

  • 1. Homeworld
  • 2. Lesbians
  • 3. Finnish
  • 4. Totalitarian
  • 5. Pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanoconiosis

 Ferro, The Man (Sort of) Who Knew Everything (Really):

The last of the great ships left this part of space 329 years ago, bound for their homeworld. That was a long time for one of the natives. Not for Ferro though. He was yet a youngling according to his own people. For 153 of those years, he’d lived quite happily as a Finnish peasant, but the weight of totalitarian rule had finally gotten the best of him, so he had written a compilation of Finnish Folklore, stirred the spirit of the country amongst the masses, and quietly moved away.

     He spent the intervening years between then and now with a host of different jobs, learning everything. That wasn’t an exaggeration. He really did know everything. Not that he advertized that fact. The truth is that most people did not respond favorably to someone who knew everything.They hated to be told the parts they were missing, especially when they did not know they were missing. So Ferro usually kept to himself.

     Tonight though, he sat in a pub in New York. Brooklyn. He rather liked New York better than the Old York, but that was only an opinion, and not to be taken as one of the facts of which he knew all.

     Presently, he was engaged in a conversation with two lesbians named Paulette and Emille concerning 18th century Finnish politics. It was one of his favorite subjects, as it was one of the first things that he ever remembered knowing everything about. They were astounded by his grasp of the nuances of the climate of the day, and he appreciated their appreciation of his discourse.

     “Seriously, though…you don’t really know everything, right? That’s just some kind of hyperbole.”

     Had Ferro let that fact slip? He was going to have to be more careful.”No it’s true. I wouldn’t lie. Go on. Try me.” He sat there, smugly sipping his pint of Karhu. He remembered helping to start the brewery where it was still made, back in 1898.

     “Ok, what’s the longest word in the English language?”

     “Pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanoconiosis.” Ferro replied without hesitation. “Go ahead. One more.”  

     “What is the last word of Jon C. Cook’s first novel?”

     Ferro almost laughed. Too easy. Easier than the last one.

     “Heretics.”

     “Incredible.” Paulette’s jaw hung open. So did Emille’s.

     “I know.” Ferro said with an air of nonchalance.

     A ship would be back in another 329 years. That’s how long it took. One would leave when the first one returned. Ferro had already learned everything about this planet with time to spare. He always had been gifted.

  • 1. Autistic
  • 2. Godhead
  • 3. Peen
  • 4. Boatswain
  • 5. Thrusters 

The Quest for Ferro:

 “I have word from the Flagship, High Commander Renna.”

 “Is that so? And what does the Imperial Godhead, may we exult in their radiance, require of us, Captain Gorra?”

“We are to embark at once to retrieve Ferro. His ship has returned.”

 “Ah, so they made it back one year early? I’m impressed. Their engineers must know everything about engineering.”

“I have it on good authority that they do from Boatswain Kello. He knows everything about those of us who know everything about something.”

 “Excellent. He’s a good man. I’d like to see him ranked someday.”

“As would I. Well, I should say that we’re ready to go. First Mate Billu? Release the moorings and fire maneuvering thrusters with all speed!”

 “I can’t Commander Renna. Thrusters aren’t responding.”

“Again? What is it going to take to make them work? I’m on my last nerve waiting for the thrusters to be usable again.”

 “Get me the engine room on screen.”

 “Sotty?”

 “Aye Commindah?”

 “Sotty…why do all of the engineers talk that way?”

 “Idae Nae! Thes is the wih wer suppeas tae due et.”

 “It’s true Commander Renna. We have people learning everything about Engineering protocol and the experts agree.”

 “Fine. Sotty, what’s wrong with the thrusters?”

 “Praemaery maneeeuvering thresters ‘r shot! Ahm genna heft tae peen all thae revets thet haeld em tegethea!”

 “Oh for crying out loud, Sotty. Just get it working.”

 “Aye Commindah!”

 “Can’t he just speak like everyone else? How does that have to do with engineering?”

 “Well, we could ask, but that’s Gollo’s department. He knows everything about knowing everything and could probably tell us if we have to apply that particular protocol.”

 “Well, get him in here!”

“We can’t. He’s currently off world learning everything about being Autistic.”

 “Ferro is just going to have to wait then. When’s he due back?”

 “Shouldn’t be more than 135 years.”

 “Oh alright. I’ll be in my cabin reading my pulp detective novels. I’m reading a good one about some guy and his nephew.”

  • 1. Constabulary
  • 2. A
  • 3. Serenity
  • 4. Carnal
  • 5. Penguins 

Zach Le Bec:

     My name is Zach. I guess that’s what people call me. My full name is Zachariah. Zachariah Hargrave Le Bec. Of the Quebec Le Becs. I’m a Penguin Herder. A Penguinherd. You probably haven’t heard of me, seein’ as how most folks outside of the northern territories don’t exactly move in Penguinherd circles.

      First thing’s first:

      The most cunning of you might say, ‘Hey Zach, they ain’t penguins in the north.’ Well, that’s where you’d be wrong, my friends. Fact is, those little black and white waddlers are all over the place up there. You don’t see ’em, and I’ll tell you why – World class, Grade A Penguin Herders. We keep ’em right where they’re supposed to be.

      Yeah, a man can get lost out there underneath the northern lights. A kind of quiet, solemn serenity beneath the wide open sky, with your Penguin Herd close beside you. They know the sound of your voice after awhile, and you don’t have to use a penguin prod unless you get a particularly cantankerous old Bull Penguin who’s hopin’ to be more than friendly with another Penguin’s lady friend. In a carnal way I mean. We don’t allow that. No a penguinherd is a friend, a companion, and a constabulary out there on the open tundra, if you follow. Our way is law, and the Penguins know it.

No, my friends, Zach Le Bec don’t brook no nonsense.

My name is Zachariah Hargrave Le Bec, of the Quebec Le Becs.

And I’m a Penguin Herder. 

  • 1. Principle
  • 2. Excruciating
  • 3. Transitory
  • 4. Instinctive
  • 5. Ultimatum

Rugged:

     It isn’t as though I mind people walking all over me. Really, it’s the principle of the thing. In my mind if you do your job well, you should at the very least be noticed from time to time. I realize that I’m probably not the best looking. I’m old. I’m plain. But you know what? I’m the best that you have and I’ve done very well working for you all these years.

     In my line of work, often times we can be transitory. Here and gone in a year. Maybe two. It all depends on whether your boss decides that you’re worth keeping around. Maybe you start in the front office, you see a lot of people. You get to be a part of the place, and then maybe they just up and decide they don’t like the look of you, and move you back by the water cooler. That’s if you’re lucky.

     Usually it all comes down to an ultimatum. One boss will say to another boss, maybe that boss’s boss, that if someone doesn’t find a replacement for you this week, then they will!’. ‘That one is filthy and bland and awful’, they might say. I have to tell you, it’s hard to hear that kind of talk about oneself. Even if it is true. The realization that one is quite definitely about to be put out to pasture is an excruciating moment. A flash of self-awareness that can leave you feeling threadbare and torn.

     But, that’s my lot I suppose. I am a no frills, feet-on-the-ground kind of individual. It is my instinctive ability to lay low and do my job that has gotten me this far, and I think I’ve done my best. But before long, I’ll find myself on the curb. Curled up, cold, and waiting. Eventually I’ll fall to pieces, but you could say that’s all part of life, for a rug.

Lock and Load – Five Word Writing Challenge – 2014

A few years ago, I had my Facebook friends contribute random words. I took batches of five to produce some short fiction just for a fun writing challenge and really liked some of the results. I think I may post a few here for kicks! Enjoy!

  • Universe
  • Creatures
  • Talisman
  • Apples 
  • Shenanigans

“Miller!”
The voice came through harsh and tinny. It always gave him the impression of cold electric.

“Miller, I need you on deck! Yesterday!”

The acting commander, Turk, seemed to always need him yesterday. Everything was a crisis. If he thought about it, he’d be surprised if something wasn’t a crisis on an assignment like this.

Miller dropped his crossword on the table and slid across the steel flooring on his wheeled chair stopping himself against the wall by smacking the green call button on the intercom with a practiced palm.

“Copy that commander. Tux or T-shirt?”

“Tux, Miller. Double time.”

Great. Away mission. “Be right there, sir.” He released the call button and huffed, but without hesitation he was headed for mission prep to suit up.

Ten minutes later, Miller stood in the small demarc chamber next to command. His quarters were smaller, but only just. The wall on the far end of the dull, gray room was framed by large coiled strands of metal cabling. They ran down the edges and back to where he was standing, gathering and disappearing into a floor mounted console covered in buttons and sliders. He had no idea how the contraption worked. Wasn’t his job to know. He was the muscle.

Turk stood to his left and another crew member they called Race occupied the space before the complicated looking console.

“What do we have, commander.” Miller asked.

“Details are vague. Some kind of shenanigans on one of the outlying planes. Normally nothing to concern us in this corner of the universe, but as our luck would have it, the regular authorities are…otherwise occupied.”

A look of understanding washed over Miller’s face. “You have to be kidding me. Is this Iresa again?”

“Iresa is fine, Miller. It’s her staff. As far as I’ve been made aware, she is off-world in some kind of negotiation right now. If she would take my advice, she’d have twice the police force with half the personnel.”

Miller had met Iresa before. She was a capable leader, but much more comfortable with political maneuvering. Not so much with this kind of mindless enforcement.

“Alright then.” Miller said, nodding as he checked the herma-seal bands around the cuffs of his suit. “What’s the job?”

Turk produced a pad from behind his back. The black screen danced with orange lettering as the details of the mission scrolled by. The pads were on a multi-dimensional network that filtered jobs to the most convenient units.

“According to the report,” Turk began, clearing his throat as he studied the scrolling text, “This has something to do with the same creatures that have been causing unrest in several of the adjacent sectors. They’ve gotten into the habit of jumping from world to world.”

“That isn’t good. I thought we had a handle on them after the last incursion.”

“Looking like they’re a little more…resilient, than we assumed.”

Miller thought a moment, chewing on the prospect of fighting those things again. They really were just hunters. Didn’t seem to eat their kills, or even kill for a particular reason. It had seemed like sport.

“How many?”

Turked pecked at the pad’s screen before answering. “A handful. Maybe five.”

Miller nodded, and looked around exaggerating his glances. “And I assume you’ve gathered me a force of ten to twenty galactic marines to dispense them, right?”

Turk only raised his eyes from the pad and looked sternly at him from beneath his furrowed eyebrows.

Miller blew out his cheeks and shook his head.

“Right.” He stooped to grasp the rim of his helmet in his right hand. “Look. If you’re sending me through alone against five of those things, then I want the Talisman.”

That got Turk’s attention. “The Talisman? Are you insane?”

“I’m working for you aren’t I? Yes. The Talisman. It’s proven to work against their hide and I need the firepower. I’m not going to risk five on one with this squirt gun and a stern glare.” Miller lowered his left hand to the marine issue peashooter on his thigh. Thirty rounds of police ammunition against five of those monsters?”

“You know I can’t just lend that thing out, Miller.”

“Do you want them to keep ravaging? If so, by all means send me in as-is.”

“It’s worth more than you are soldier.”

Miller only waited, meeting Turk’s eyes.

Finally, and after some doubt had formed in Miller’s mind that the request would be granted, Turk’s shoulders fell and he lowered his gaze.

“Fine. But you so much as scratch it, and your head is on my wall, understood?”

Miller nodded. “Sir.”

Turk and Miller walked back out to command and across to a blast-proof glass panel. The commander pressed a sequence of numbers on a small adjacent keypad. The glass slid to the side and a flat metal base pushed out from the recessed alcove. Mounted there on a pedestal was the Talisman.

It was unremarkable, really, at least in appearance. A gold oval band. A bracelet, with two blinking blue lights on the top facing edge. Turk stepped aside, and reluctantly gestured for Miller to step forward. He did so, and picked up the Talisman. He slid the simple band over his left wrist until it nested into place on his armored suit. Every suit was equipped with an interface for a Talisman, but so few still existed, that they were rarely used.

Upon hearing the audible click as the Talisman slid home, Miller felt a kind of gyroscopic pull on his left arm. Miller had worked with the Talisman bands at the academy, but that had been years ago. Still, the operation was as familiar as if it had been yesterday. He made the correct mental adjustment and the band blossomed open impossibly, covering his left arm in a shining gold gauntlet. He felt the weight increase, and could not help being surprised as the Talisman’s primary weapon erupted from the back of his wrist. A heavy energy cannon. They still didn’t know how the device functioned. Probably never would. It was tech far more advanced than anyone could manage. Deadlier than any weapon a single soldier could wield by a factor of ten and rarer than blue apples.

Miller relaxed his mental state and the Talisman retracted in a complicated series of sliding, folding clicks and whines. “This will do, commander.” He didn’t wait for Turk to respond, but turned and started back toward demarc. Turk followed, grumbling behind him.

“Miller, you had better take care of that. We only have the one and it’s not as though we can requisition another.” Turk actually sounded nervous. That was a welcome change from grousing and angry.

“I’m sure it’ll come back without so much as a ding, Turk. Relax. You act like you’re the one about to waltz through a wormhole and fight monsters.”

Turk favored Miller with what passed for an uneasy smirk, but said nothing. He turned to look at Race, who was still stationed at the console. She nodded and began a sequence of adjustments before poising one hand over a large switch. Her eyes went to Miller.

“Ready when you are, Miller.”

He was always impressed with the demarc operators. They could open a wormhole to anywhere within seconds. A feat that, by all accounts, was a mathematical task beyond 99.7 percent of the remaining population. And Race was the fastest. Hence the name.

“Roger that, Race. Ready.”

Miller hoisted his helmet over his head, settling it into the herma-seal and hearing the hiss as the suit achieved containment.

Race raked her hand across the switch, and the light’s dimmed a moment before returning to normal. Across the room, a burnt red shimmering gate appeared within the frame of coils. Miller only faintly heard the sizzle of the wormhole through his suit.

“You are go, Miller.” Race’s voice blared through his helmet comms.

“Copy.” Miller answered to confirm the functionality of his microphone.

Race nodded that she heard and Miller turned to Turk.

“Don’t wait up, Turk.” Miller yelled through the helmet. Turk wasn’t wearing comms.

“Commander Turk to you.”

Miller tried his best to leave Turk with the impression that he had no intention of exercising caution. The fact was he was always careful. But it was no fun letting everyone in on that little secret.

Miller checked the Talisman to make certain it was fastened securely. He checked his seals once more, and with an informal salute, trotted through the gate.

This was the life. A life anyway. Well, life. Anyway, it beat a crossword.

Further Correspondence…

I looked through some of my older photographs and managed to find a picture of my Great Uncle Sherm. He was considerably younger in this picture than when I knew him. At that time he was old, yet vital. You get a sense, just looking at him though, that he was an interesting man.

I have spoken with a paralegal at Mills & Costa. She contacted me simply to confirm that my letter had been received and to verify some personal information. I expect that very soon I’ll be receiving more documentation relating to Uncle Sherm’s discovery. Processing has been difficult, apparently, which leads me to believe that this is an extraordinary situation. She was not at liberty to disclose more over the phone, but I expect that she did not exactly know the nature of his discovery at any rate. So, thus far I am still somewhat in the dark.  I have to admit that initially I was ambivalent. I expected I’d end up with papers and junk. But now, after further contact, I’m not so sure this will be a run of the mill estate distribution. We’ll see…

A Most Mysterious Event

 

I received a letter last evening, which you will find attached. It was waiting for me in the post when I arrived home from work. The letter came in an unassuming manila envelope, addressed specifically to me at my current address.

This letter, dated May 8th, was a legal communication from Mills & Costa, an Estate and Tax law firm in Ontario. I was suspicious at first, but after a brief investigation, I was able to determine their legitimacy.

The letter went on to inform me of the passing of my Great Uncle Sherman, whom I have been out of touch with since I was a young boy. I remember him at various family functions. He was the kind of man that a boy could idolize and look up to, in that part of the young mind that fancies adventure and half-planned excursions into jungles, and parts unknown. I remember thinking about him the first time I saw Indiana Jones. He was that kind of person. He even had the degree in Archaeology.  He wasn’t flashy, but he told the greatest stories! The last time I remember hearing about him, he was headed off to pursue a theory in Virginia. It was a long time ago, but this letter brought back the memory.

It seems that Uncle Sherman, or Sherm as everyone in the family called him, has left me something of his estate. I have no idea what it might be. The only real information I have in that regard thus far is that they are currently compiling “correspondence” for me. We shall see what that means.

Enclosed in the letter was a newspaper clipping, which I am also attaching. It seems to corroborate my last known memory of Uncle Sherm. Whatever he found in Virginia must have made some kind of impression, having been sent to the Smithsonian for examination.

I have no idea what may unfold here, but I’ll keep you posted…

 

-J

Jesus wasn’t a Socialist

 

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I don’t get up in arms about too much. I’m not even here to argue whether socialism is good or bad. Whatever I think about socialism, Jesus simply didn’t advocate it. Let me explain why.

First, the definition of socialism. Here’s a direct copy and paste of the relevant definitions from Mirriam-Webster:

Definition of socialism

  1. 1:  any of various economic and political theories advocating collective or governmental ownership and administration of the means of production and distribution of goods

  2. 2a :  a system of society or group living in which there is no private property b:  a system or condition of society in which the means of production are owned and controlled by the state

Casually, when people refer to socialism, I believe what they mean is, “The government takes the money of people who have it, and redistributes it to those who have less of it”. I disagree with that idea, but I’m not really going to spend time here addressing personal disagreement with the philosophy. I’d rather stay focused on why Jesus didn’t support it.

Now, let me address the image above. It’s the one, or something like it, that I see most often when people want to call Jesus an advocate for socialism. This is in reference to something Jesus did that is recorded in all four Gospels. He fed a great many people. The account says 5000 men, but there were likely as many women and children as well. He fed them by taking one boy’s meal (five loaves of bread and two fish) and serving it to the rest of the assembled people, and then afterward, they collected 12 baskets of leftover food.

This was a miracle, obviously. Jesus had done something that didn’t have anything to do with political commentary, nor was it a social edict of some kind. It was compassion. Read the passage as it’s told in Luke:

Luke 9:10-17

10 When the apostles returned, they reported to Jesus what they had done. Then he took them with him and they withdrew by themselves to a town called Bethsaida, 11 but the crowds learned about it and followed him. He welcomed them and spoke to them about the kingdom of God, and healed those who needed healing. 12 Late in the afternoon the Twelve came to him and said, “Send the crowd away so they can go to the surrounding villages and countryside and find food and lodging, because we are in a remote place here.” 13 He replied, “You give them something to eat.”They answered, “We have only five loaves of bread and two fish—unless we go and buy food for all this crowd.” 14 (About five thousand men were there.) But he said to his disciples, “Have them sit down in groups of about fifty each.” 15 The disciples did so, and everyone sat down. 16 Taking the five loaves and the two fish and looking up to heaven, he gave thanks and broke them. Then he gave them to the disciples to distribute to the people.17 They all ate and were satisfied, and the disciples picked up twelve basketfuls of broken pieces that were left over.
Jesus had compassion on this crowd. He had just spent time healing people, though he desired some solitude and rest. This crowd followed him and pressed in on his group of disciples. They wanted to disperse the crowd, but Jesus took time for them. This sort of thing happens a second time, and is recorded in two places, and it’s probably safe to assume that he did it more than twice.
I feel like Jesus was teaching the disciples with this, as much as he was caring for the crowd, and that’s one thing I love about him. He’s not just caring, he’s clever. I imagine there was no end of teachable moments in his presence. But I digress.
Jesus fed this group himself. He used His power to do it. Yes, he borrowed someone’s food to do it, but he didn’t take a very wealthy person’s grain and make bread. He didn’t collect everyone’s money and redistribute it. He gave something of himself to make the lives of those around him better. And did that boy get his food back? And then some, I’d imagine. Government never entered into it. Neither did the rest of the society. It was personal for Jesus. His example isn’t socialism. It’s personal altruism.
We have a tendency to read into the Bible, or any text, that which we think should be there. The greek word is eisegesis, but we call it confirmation bias these days. It simply means that we take our own desire to be correct, and we read it into interpretation. In this case, that’s exactly what happens. People see Jesus’ selflessness, and they want it to support their worldview. It’s so easy to do, and I’m not attempting to belittle people for it. But we do need to be aware of the fact that it happens if we aren’t very careful. It has happened regarding things far worse than the idea of socialism. Ascribing political import to Jesus’ actions is something that caused problems even in his day. Jesus wasn’t here to establish political power, but that’s what many people assumed.
One more thing. Sometimes you see a passage in Acts taken for a socialist, or communist society that broke out in the early Christian church:

Acts 4:32-35

32 All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of their possessions was their own, but they shared everything they had.33 With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. And God’s grace was so powerfully at work in them all 34 that there were no needy persons among them. For from time to time those who owned land or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales 35 and put it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to anyone who had need.

 

But here’s the thing about this passage. This is totally voluntary. This isn’t taxation, it’s generosity. These people, new believers from all over the place both geographically and socially, who were Jews, Romans and so forth, became united in one purpose. This wasn’t governmental. These people were caring for each other out of love for each other. This isn’t socialism either. This is what it looks like to “love your neighbor as yourself.”

This is much more than socialism. It is a call to care for others yourself, and a call to sacrifice willingly to make sure people are cared for. It has nothing to do with a government taking, and then redistributing wealth. No, it’s more immediate, and more personal. You don’t get to tell someone else what to do with their money/property/time. It falls to you.

And if I may, that’s why I disagree with socialism. Because it ought to never get to that point. If you’re going to cite Jesus as your template, then you’re going to have to reckon with the fact that he doesn’t ask for governmental oversight. He calls for you to take it into your own hands and care for that person next to you. That’s how he does it himself.

The Bible says that giving should be done from the heart as you are led, not from compulsion, and not with a bad attitude. It’s not “from each according to his ability” at all. It’s deeper than that. It’s “from each according to his desire”.

We don’t get to rely on other people to give, and we can’t wait on the government to compel it.

Not if we’re using Jesus as our example.

 

My Financial Testimony

I almost went down a road that a lot of people find themselves traveling. It’s the road that leads to a life where debt is normal, and account balances are guesses. The world is backward. There are financial institutions telling us how to use our money. These are businesses in the business of money, trying to get your money, and helping you to manage it. Lest you think I’m calling for banking regulations, let me be clear that I’m not saying that.  At least, I’m not calling for the government to police the banks or credit companies. What I’m calling for is for the people to start to re-learn the basic financial principles of their grand-parents. Capitalism will do the rest, I think. If we say to the banks and credit companies, “Your product no longer provides me with a service that I find useful.” Then they’ll have to do one of two things: Adapt, or go under.  Let me tell you my story.

My personality has always been a here and now kind of thing. As a kid, and even on into early adulthood, I jumped from hobby to hobby, and interest to interest, unapologetically and frequently. I used to say that I had what many people call an “addictive” personality, but that’s not really it with me. My personality is more like, “consumptive”. I devour my interests with gusto, and for awhile I’m intensely focused on whatever it is, and then I will suddenly move on to the next thing. So forth and so on it goes.

So, despite a solid instruction regarding money when I was growing up, I was never terribly interested, and so it didn’t stick. I got a little older, and my vascillating interests became more and more expensive. My hobbies required funding, and I wanted things right now. You can see the problem.

It was at this point in college that I started wondering about credit. See, it made sense to me that I could buy something big and make payments. After all, that meant I could “afford” the big things I wanted now instead of waiting the weeks or months it would take to save up for them. My first purchase was a lie which said “If you can afford the payments, you can afford the stuff.” I completely bought it.

It wasn’t because I consciously, rationally thought it through. I was emotionally attached to the stuff I wanted, and the idea that I could have it now and pay for it slowly was intoxicating. I’m the guy who, when he first gained access to ATM cards,  got a thrill from going to the mall and getting $20 out of the magic money box. I spent who knows how much on bank fees, and who knows how much on $20 food court trips to the mall. Spending is fun for me, and I wasn’t thinking at all.

My first card was Capital One with a $600 limit, which I quickly slammed up against. I bought a gaming system, likely the only thing that was worth buying in the first place, and who knows how much was just wasted on eating out, and frivolous garbage. I opened another card, and maxed that one out too. Fortunately the limits were low. I simply couldn’t help myself. The biggest problem was that I didn’t have anyone telling me to stop. It wasn’t anyone’s responsibility but mine at that point. I didn’t tell my parents how I was doing financially, and once I moved out on my own, there was absolutely nothing to keep me in check.

Before I was finished, I had bought two cars, one used, one new, neither of which I needed. I had a mortgage, which I rolled my other debt into on a refinance, and I still hadn’t cancelled my credit cards, so they were on their way back up. The banks didn’t stop me, the credit companies didn’t warn me, and the loan officers never once said, “This might not be the best option.” And do you know why? Because they don’t care about your financial future. They want you locked up in their products, because that’s where you’re the most profitable to them.

Two things saved me. The first and most important was the girl I decided to marry. I say it that way for a reason. She didn’t save me as my wife. She saved me when I decided that I needed to be better than I was to even be worthy of spending my life with her. I didn’t get better overnight, and I’m still working on being the best I can be, but realizing that I needed her in my life caused me to look very seriously for the first time at the way I behaved. In some ways, I was fine. In others, like my finances, not so much.

I realized that what I was bringing to the marriage was a lot of debt and irresponsible behavior. I didn’t pay things on time, I didn’t have any control of my spending, and the worst part, was I didn’t have any idea how bad it was. I tell people it’s like being out of shape and overweight. A thing that I’ve also experienced first hand. You know, because your clothes are tight and your joints hurt, and your breath is short, that you’re in bad condition. You’re living outside of your means in one way or another. And you know that before anything changes, you need to know how bad things are. You have to get on the scale. With my weight, the moment came when I had to buy a pair of size 40 pants, when I had been a 38 for years. I knew I was losing my health.  I knew financially, when it became stressful to do anything that resembled looking at my bank account. It happened when my electric got turned off one month. I knew I was floundering, and I was going to lose if I didn’t get my head screwed on straight.

Ok, second thing. My parents came to me, because here’s the thing: Your parents aren’t as stupid as you hope they are, and they said, “Look, take this class. We’ll buy the kit for you, if you promise to take it.” I was skeptical, and I was prideful, but I was also scared and feeling more hopeless every day. And I knew that soon I would be getting married and that was when I caved and agreed.

I started Financial Peace University in May of 2005 on my own, and in June, I married Michelle, and she attended the rest of the class with me. I was afraid that she’d be mad at me forever when she saw how terribly I had handled my finances, but instead, she tackled it with me, and we used our tax refunds, both mine and hers, to kickstart our emergency fund and begin to pay off  my debt. I don’t want you to miss that. We paid off MY debt with OUR money, and that made an impression on me which still means the world to me today. We’ve been married 12 years this coming June, and we’ve never had a fight over money. We’ve never had a fight period. Now, can I say that we’ve had disagreements? Sure, but we’ve always been on the same page.

Financial Peace was an incredible tool for us. We started our lives together in step financially, and with money being the number one cause of divorce in the United States, it was about as wise a decision as we’ve ever made. We never even had to wonder about it. I recommend it more than words are capable of conveying. It made this frivolous financial drifter into someone with a real sense of control over his impulses and spending. It made me a better husband, and a more generous giver. It really did bring peace into my life. Thank God. (And Dave Ramsey, and a bunch of other great people without whom I would never have been able to drag my sorry broke behind out of a financial hole of my own making.)

Proverbs 13:12 – Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but when desire comes, it is a tree of life.