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Monday, March 25, 2013

A Dose of Virtual Reality

A bell rang through the classroom. The black-haired teacher stood from her desk and straightened her snug, blue dress. "Today class, we will study the female anatomy."

Mickey stopped thumping his pencil against his desk and sat up. About time. Maybe we'll get to see some pictures.

Sirens wailed in the distance.

Mickey frowned. Probably nothing. Surely the authorities could handle it. Not like he could be everywhere at once. Well, almost, but not quite.

The teacher pulled down a graphic of the female reproductive organs. "First, we will go over the names of the parts."

Mickey sighed. What if it was something? What if Blue Nova could make a difference? Mickey rubbed his forehead before slipping his hand into the air.

"Okay, class. Repeat after me. Urethra."

"Urethra," the students echoed back like robots.

Mickey waved his hand. Did this woman think she was teaching kids instead of teens?

The teacher breathed in to say the next part when she turned her head. "Mickey, do you have a question?"

"Yes, ma'am. Can I be excused to visit the restroom?"

Snickers echoed across the classroom. Robert said, "I think he's scared of girls."

Laughter erupted across the classroom. Mickey's face grew hot.

The teacher snapped her pointer stick across her desk. The laughter died as fast as it erupted. "Class, that is quite enough." She frowned at Mickey. "You're excused. Don't be gone long or I'll send someone to check on you."

Mickey hopped up from his seat and headed to the door. "Yes, ma'am. Thank you." As soon as the door closed behind him, he raced to the bathroom, entered a stall, and seated himself on the toilet. He pulled his mask from his pocket and pulled it over his head.

"Hero game time!" He snuggled his body against the side wall and hoped he didn't fall over while out. "Suit, appear here as Blue Nova."

The stall faded out and then back in, except he now stood over himself, apparently asleep on the toilet. "Blue Nova to the rescue. Fast as light and just as bright!"

Blue Nova sped out of the stall, bathroom, and the school doors in less than a second. He zipped along the roads until he arrived at a row of flashing patrol car lights around an office. A group of officers huddled behind one car while individual ones pointed pistols at the office over the hoods of their vehicles.

Mickey stopped beside the group of officers. They jumped upon noticing him. He forgot from their perspective, he had appeared out of thin air. "Sorry, officers. Didn't mean to frighten you."

One of them gritted his teeth. "Get out of here, son. This is no place for you to play."

Play? Really? "What seems to be the problem, officer?" He'd always wanted to say that.

"You're becoming the problem. Do I need to escort you away?"

Mickey put his hands on his hips. "Officer, I'm Blue Nova."

"Is that supposed to mean something to me?"

Mickey's face fell. "You mean, you haven't heard of me? Fast as light and just as bright?"

The officer pointed at one of his men. The man reached out to grab Mickey. Mickey flashed around him to his back.

The man grabbed thin air. "What. . .  Where did he go?"

A man holding a gun to a young girl's head appeared at an open window of the office building. "You have one minute left, officers, to give me passage out of here, or the girl gets it."

Mickey smiled. "So that's the problem. I can take care of this guy."

The head officer pointed at him. "Don't you dare do anything. This is a delicate situation. We're trained for this. Now leave or I'll have you in jail."

This guy didn't understand what he could do. He'd have to prove it. "Just watch, sir. I'm faster than a speeding bullet too." Mickey cupped a hand around his mouth and yelled, "You might as well go ahead and shoot her. We're taking you down."

The officer's face turned beat red and he ground his teeth together. "You idiot! You don't know what you're doing."

The man poked his head out the window of the office building. "Have it your way, officers. I have plenty of hostages to go through." He ducked back in and the beginning sound of a gunshot hit Mickey's ears.

Mickey raced for the door. From his perspective, every movement slowed to a bare crawl as he fled through the door of the office. He saw the girl on her knees, hands tied behind her back. The man who had talked with the officers stood over her, a gun pointed at the back of her head about four feet away. A bullet inched its way toward the back of her skull.

Sweet. I'll just knock the bullet up toward the ceiling. Don't want to put my hand in front of it. He sped to her, stopping as the bullet neared her neck. He only had one shot at this. He swung his hand underneath the bullet to meet it about an inch from her neck.

He didn't connect in the middle of the flying metal, but only nicked it, causing it to wobble up toward the top of her skull. "Blast it all!" He only had one option left.

Mickey snagged the base of the bullet with his right hand, clamped down as hard as he could, and braced his right arm with his left. Then he pulled as hard as he could.

The bullet neared her skin. Mickey yelled as he pulled back, throwing his body into it. He could feel the bullet slipping from his fingers. I can't let it go! Mickey bore down and grunted. He could feel the edge of the bullet moving across his fingertips. No! It escaped his grasp.

Mickey watched as the projectile pierced her skin. Blood slowly shot out, though he knew in normal speed it was spewing. The bullet stopped moving. It didn't go into the head. He must have slowed it down enough it didn't totally penetrate!

As the girl's head reacted to the impact, Mickey raced to each of the armed men, pulled the gun from their hands, and gave them a blow to the back of their heads, collapsing them onto the floor in slow-mo. He threw the weapons out the window, then scooped the young girl into his arms and fled out of the office building.

He exited speed mode by a waiting ambulance. "She needs attention. A bullet is lodged in her skull."

The medics jumped into action. Mickey laid her on a rolling bed and they examined the wound.

"Is she going to be okay?"

One of the medics glanced over his shoulders. "Won't know for sure until we get some x-rays, but from the looks of it, the worst it might have done is fracture her skull."

The other medic shook his head. "But she must have one hard head to stop a bullet like that. Never seen the likes of it before. By all rights she should be dead."

Mickey's gut churned. A hand rested on his shoulder.

The head officer stood beside him. "Sorry, Blue Nova. I guess I was wrong about you. You did know what you were doing."

Mickey stared at the young girl as her eyes blinked open. "No, sir. I didn't."

"I'd like to get your real name, to give you a commendation."

Mickey realized he had been holding his breath. He sucked in air. "Exit, suit." The business district faded away to be replaced by the bathroom stall.

"Mick. Are you in here?" Robert's voice sounded as stall doors opened and shut.

Mickey yanked his mask off and stuffed it into his pocket. The stall door opened and Robert stood before him. Mickey sat up.

Robert put a hand over his mouth and tried to hold back a laugh, without much success. "I see your problem, dim wit. It helps if you take your pants off first."

Mickey knew he'd never hear the end of this. "Not enough sleep last night, I'm afraid." He yawned. "I must have fell asleep."

"Whatever. But the teacher sent me in here to get you. Are you going to come peaceably like or not?"

Mickey stood up. "Let's go."

"By the way, you missed all the cool pictures."

Mickey figured he toyed with him, but it peeved him off anyway to think it might be true. He followed Robert back to the classroom and settled into his seat.

The teacher stared at Mickey for a moment before continuing. "Now class, we will have a pop quiz over the parts of the reproductive system.

Mickey grimaced. A piercing pain grew in his bladder. She would never believe him now. He lifted his hand.

With Mickey's body safely in bed, he virtually sat in the control room at the Titan base as Vulture, watching blankly the bank of monitors displaying TV feeds from all over Earth.

"Hey, Mick." Jeremy as Astro Man sat in a seat next to him. "How goes it? What adventures are on tap for tonight's hero game?"

Mickey jerked his head around. "Those are real people, Bucko. Not some non-existent video game characters who will never care."

Jeremy backed away. "Hey. I know that more than anyone. What gives?"

Mickey returned to staring at the monitors. "Let's just say, I realized our 'game' isn't one to the people we're saving. We shouldn't treat it that way either."

Jeremy nodded. "I agree. But what brought about this realization?"

Mickey moistened his lips. "Knowing I can fail."

Jeremy patted Mickey on the shoulder. "Welcome to reality, Mick."

Read more about Mind Game and Hero Game, along with sample chapters and where they can be purchased.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Did OT Morality Get Thrown Under the Bus?

One of the methods used to discount sections of the Bible that may go against what one wants to believe is to illustrate how we no longer abide by many of the commandments in the Old Testament. The implication being, of course, if we don't have to avoid eating pigs or sacrifice sheep upon an altar anymore, then who's to say prohibitions against homosexual relationships or premarital sex haven't also gone the way of the dinosaur? Or that sex outside of marriage is no longer wrong?

There is some truth to the viewpoint. That is, there are commandments in the Old Testament that we no longer follow. There were some changes made along the way. Some would attribute them to cultural differences, but we must not assume too quickly this is the case. Especially when the reason for those changes are spelled out in the Bible itself.

Therein lies the problem. People point to changes and then assume that means everything is up in the air and available for redefining in the manner we want to define, so as to allow for our favorite sin. When we become the arbitrators of which commandments to keep and which commandments to dump, then we have invalidated the authority of Scripture to be any kind of reliable guide and moral compass. Indeed, that appears to be the goal of many groups, to relegate Scriptures out of the realm of moral teaching and restrict it to purely "spiritual" applications.

However, the spiritual cannot be artificially separated from the rest of life. If God intended anything, it was to have us live a way of life that promotes physical, emotional, moral, social, and spiritual health. The whole person. The commandments were not given just to have rules, but to guide us into living within our design specs so that we will find the greatest fulfillment.

The answer to the changes is in the Scriptures itself, and falls under two main categories: fulfillment and clarification. All changes and subsequent leaving behind certain commandments are due to one or a combination of both reasons. Let's take a look at some examples to illustrate what we are talking about.

The sacrificial system. This is an example of Jesus fulfilling the sacrificial system of the Old Testament. There is ample scriptures supporting that because of Jesus' sacrifice, there was no longer a need for the image of animal sacrifices which pointed to Christ's sacrifice on the cross. Jesus fulfilled that section of the Law, wiping out pages of commandments that no longer apply to us. Once the real sacrifice had been made, there was no longer any need for the blood of goats and rams.

Stoning of adulterers. The Old Testament Law said that those caught in the act of adultery must be stoned. There were similar seemingly harsh laws in response to sin. This is another example of fulfillment. What Jesus did on the cross and through His resurrection was to bring a new healing to each person that up until then did not exist. Death reigned, but Christ defeated death by death and by rising to life again.

A medical example helps here. Let's say a certain infection has no cure, so when a limb gets infected, the only way to save the person is to cut off the limb. It is drastic, it is harsh, but better than the whole body being destroyed. But then one day, someone discovers a cure for this disease. Cutting off one's limb is no longer necessary, would even be considered an irresponsible and stupid decision. For why cut it off when it can be saved?

Before Christ, there was no healing for sin. Left unchecked among the people, sin acted like an infection. The only way to keep the whole of God's people from being lost was to cut off those who had become infected to the point they would infect others. To put them in quarantine, so to speak. The only solution to check sin was a radical one.

Once Christ came, however, sin had a cure. This is why the story of the woman caught in adultery is so critical to this understanding. (John 8:3-11) Most people focus on how Jesus deflected the Pharisees who were testing him. They figured if He went lenient on her, they could accuse Him of not following the law. If He was strict, they could accuse Him of not being flexible and realistic. But He told them, "He who is without sin cast the first stone." They all left, leaving Jesus alone with her.

Keep in mind, according to the law she should have been stoned. According to what Jesus said, He was the only person in the crowd, being without sin, who could cast the first stone. Being God, He would have been within His rights to follow His own law and cast the stone. But He didn't. Instead He said, "Neither do I condemn you. Go and sin no more." Why the change? Because she would be healed and infect no one else with her viewpoint. Because her encounter with Christ changed her.

But this did not make adultery no longer a sin, it simply showed that because of Christ that sin could be healed. Same with many others that before required the radical cutting off of of people infected by sin. Through healing, that aspect was fulfilled and the former commandment no longer applied.

Avoiding work on the Sabbath. Numerous times the Pharisees accused Jesus of promoting work on the Sabbath, something explicitly prohibited by Law. Or at least, as the Pharisees interpreted "work," Jesus was guilty. They had huge volumes listing out what was work and what wasn't. Jesus alludes to one of them when He said, "What man is there among you who shall have one sheep, and if it should fall into a ditch on the Sabbath, will not lay hold of it and lift it out?" (Mat 12:11)

Jesus then concludes in the next verse, "How much more valuable then is a man than a sheep! So then it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath." By this he clarifies what was meant by "work." Indeed, He makes it plain that the Sabbath was not meant to be a burden to man, but a blessing: "The Sabbath came into being for the sake of man, and not man for the sake of the Sabbath." (Mrk 2:27)

Multiple wives. There was no commandment to have multiple wives, and nothing in the New Testament against it save when the New Testament Church wanted leaders, then the rule was a bishop or presbyter or deacon should be the husband of only one wife. (1Tim 3:2, 12, Tit 1:6) Also, for the Church to enroll a woman as a widow, she had to be the wife of only one husband. (1Tim 5:9) The later indicates what is discussed isn't one at a time, but one spouse for one's whole life. A widow by definition has no current husband, so it could only be referring to one previous husband.

This is illustrated clearly by Jesus when He is asked by the Pharisees whether it is lawful to "put away" his wife. (Mrk 10:2) Jesus asks them what Moses said, and they replied Moses permitted the giving of a certificate of divorce. Jesus then goes on to clarify not only why Moses permitted that, but also that marriage is for one man and woman, not multiple of either.

First he lays out the design of marriage as God originally intended. That is, that a man shall take a wife, and the two shall become one flesh. What God has joined, let not man put asunder. But how does one put such a union asunder. He clarifies that in the next comments.

"So He said to them, 'Whoever should put away his wife and marry another commits adultery against her. And if a wife should put away her husband and be married to another, she commits adultery.'" (Mrk 10:11-12)

Note the linkage. Divorce alone isn't the problem. It is marrying another, that is, having sexual relationships with a new person. That is committing adultery, and rends asunder the previous union when it is done. Which is why a man or woman is not sinning by marrying another when the other spouse commits adultery, because that union has already been destroyed.

Jesus clarifies for us what divorce is, when it becomes real divorce by committing adultery, and that God's design is for a man or woman to have only one spouse through their lifetime. Whether one at a time, or several at the same time, Jesus made it clear either situation was sinful, and that it was allowed in times past because of our stubbornness. Not because God wanted it that way.

In most every instance we could bring up where something was practiced or commanded in the Old Testament, but appeared to have changed, the reason could be shown to arise from one or a combination of these two factors: fulfillment and/or clarification. So to demonstrate why we should change or drop other commandments in the Old Testament, one would have to clearly show what was fulfilled or clarified to justify the change.

When it comes to the sinfulness of certain moral codes like sex outside of marriage, whether "premarital" or adultery, homosexuality, or other types, not only is there no fulfillment that would make them no longer applicable, or clarification that excuses their classification as a sin, instead one finds reinforcement of their continued sinfulness.

The Church leaders met in council to determine which of the Jewish Law the Gentile Christian converts would need to follow. They only passed on three specific parts of the Law, one of which was to abstain from "sexual immorality." (Acts 15:20) This clearly shows that the Old Testament morality about sexual matters was passed on as valid to the growing Gentile Church. Indeed, at no point in Christian history did the Church ever back off of these activities as being sin, until post-modern times among some Christian groups.

So not only do you not find any justification in Scriptures that these moral laws changed either through fulfillment or Jesus clarifying what was meant, you don't have any indication that these activities have ever been considered not sinful from Moses to this day. There is no change. There is no basis upon which to dismiss them simply because you can point to items that have changed and you want to lump these activities in with them based upon personal bias against them.

For these reasons, the obsoleteness of certain sections of the Old Testament cannot be used to justify declaring something as not sinful, or to ignore clear injunctions in the Old Testament that haven't changed nor is there any basis upon which to do so.

Can sin stop being sinful?

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Exciting News!

Most who follow me know of "The Reality Chronicles" trilogy I wrote, published by Splashdown Books: Reality's Dawn, Reality's Ascent, and Reality's Fire. I know you've all read them and loved them, so I won't bore you with details about them. (Sarcasm aside, click the links to find out more about them and where to pick them up.)

The ending of Reality's Fire left open the possibility of a spin-off series. Which I've taken advantage of, and planned a five-book series which I've tentatively titled, "The Legend of the Dragons' Dying Field." So far I've written two of the books in that series and started on a third one: The Magic Within, The Dragon Within, The Dragon Without. The first of those, The Magic Within, I submitted to AltWit Press back in January. Splashdown Books was willing to look at it, but we both thought some cross-pollination would be good for all involved and she encouraged me to check out some other options.

This week, in communication with AltWit Press, they indicated they wanted to publish the story. Today, a contract with my signature left my mailbox. So, being it is official, you will all be excited to know that the first book of this series has a home! I'm thankful to Pauline at AltWit for adding me to their line up and look forward to some profitable years together.

The tentative release date, if all goes as planned, will be this coming fall, in time for your Christmas shopping. Stay tuned for any news as this publication progresses.

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Top Ten Ways Authors Bore Readers

Some act like writing a novel is easy, based on how many authors are published each year among self-published titles and the quality in many of them. There are so many ways an author can fail the reader and bore them to sleep. Here are my top ten ways us authors can bore our readers.

10. Boring start to the story.

Nothing like a massive info dump or display of the author's research to get a reader yawning before he reads past page one. . . if he makes it that far.

9. Boring movement through the middle of the story.

Despite a great start, the story bogs down into daily life and seems to be going nowhere. It appears the author is just adding filling to make the story long enough to be labeled a novel. "Whoops! Can't get to the ending yet. Let's have them talk about politics. Yeah, that will be interesting." Right.

8. Boring ending to a story.

An otherwise great story does a free fall at the end either by failing to add unexpected twists to its resolutions and/or not resolving the primary story arcs at all.

7. Boring characters.

Nothing says, "sit back and fall asleep" faster than all characters sounding alike, sounding like the author, stereotyped, and/or annoying. Go ahead. Make my day.

6. Boring dialog.

When your computer could write more compelling dialog, you know you're in trouble. In real life, small talk is engaging. In a novel, small talk will have most readers wondering when the author is going to return to telling the story.

5. Boring action.

When the reader slodges or skips long sections of action sequences with little character/story building, he will more likely equate your novel with a B-rated Kung-Fu movie than an exciting story. When you hear your son saying what mine said upon hearing a story read to him, "He took a whole paragraph to say they got off their horses," you know you're boring your readers.

4. Boring descriptions.

Nothing halts progress like pausing a story for a litany of static scenic descriptions. We might as well watch paint dry. Descriptions should paint an active picture in story, not pull out to fill in every little detail whether important or not for the sake of realism.

3. Boring climax.

Few things are more frustrating to a reader than having a story build to a climax, then having it putter out. Instead of emotional payoff, the reader gets emotional frustration, and a bad case of book-throwing.

2. Boring conflict.

So your protagonist needs to save his bedroom from roaches. Okay, maybe I can identify with that dilemma, but do I care? Not likely. Not unless, perhaps, they are aliens invading our world through a dimensional portal in the walls of your room. Low stakes for the characters means low stakes on keeping a reader interested and entertained.

1. Wasting the reader's time.

Not to mention any money spent to acquire the book. If your story is boring (You did catch that theme, didn't you?), that means the reader will regret having spent the money for the book, and the time to read it, however far they may have foraged through it. Creating an entertaining story is the first task of a fiction writer. Fail there, and you won't gain a solid following.

What other things authors do that bore you to tears?