Death & Taxis (Cont’d)

Full Story Here

Tom blew his car horn as a squat, cube-shaped car switched lanes in front of him. “Self-driving HOOEY!” he muttered.

“You have self-driving cars?” said Kaylen. “We are just now getting that sort of technology in America. That is so cool!”

“Cool?” repeated Tom. “Yes, if that’s what you want to call it. Take a look, though!” Tom pointed to the car that had just cut in front of him.

The car had four wheels but otherwise looked alien to Kaylen’s eyes, unlike any automobile she had ever seen. It was a box-shaped car with vertical windows on all sides, akin to a gondola, and the wheels were small and appeared to be able to go in any direction, similar to the wheels of a dolly. Despite this modern design, the car seemed to trundle along in a very uncertain fashion. It moved a foot into Tom’s lane and then stopped and readjusted. On the top of the car was a reflective orb suspended like a bell from a small frame, and above this belfry was an antenna that pointed upward. The car continued moving very cautiously forward, stopping abruptly as a sheet of paper blew across the roadway.

Tom honked again. “These self-driving cars are so flighty. It’s amazing that they move at all. They are so sensitive to interruptions, that they can barely move above 5 miles per hour.”

“Well, new technology always has hiccups when it’s first introduced,” noted Kaylen.

“Spoken like someone who has witnessed the unveiling of many new technologies!” said Tom brightly. “You should have seen the first prototype of these cars. They were the opposite of now. They were forever bursting with energy, so they would routinely be bumping into cars in front of them. Just a sort of persistent tap in the rear as we were moving forward in stop-and-go traffic. Very annoying. So the manufacturer of the car reprogrammed them to be safer. Now, the cars of petrified of moving at all!”

Kaylen listened to all this, absorbing the sight of the timid car. It completed its lane change and seemed to settle down somewhat, having for the moment reached an equilibrium. “I’m sure they will work out the glitches before too long.”

Tom shrugged. “Maybe. Everyone is chattering about innovation, but innovation here always seem to hit some snags.”

“The point of purgatory,” continued Tom, “As you may have read in certain religious texts, is purification, or expiation. It’s not the fire of hell—it’s the fire of purification. And what better way to expiate and make someone suffer…than by making them sit in traffic.” Tom said this last part as his cab slowed to a complete stop. To the right, a giant billboard displayed a map of the traffic circles, with each circle colored brightly in either yellow or red colors. As Kaylen watched the billboard, the outer circle’s color turned from yellow to red.

“Hmm. Want to get a bite to eat?” said Tom. “There’s a pub not far from here that has exquisite Caribbean-inspired street tacos.”

Kaylen looked at the tightly interlocked cars all around them. “But, how will we get there?”

“Come with me!” said Tom, putting his car in park and opening his door to get out. “This jam will take at least an hour to sort out. We have the time.”

To be continued…

The Root of a Wrong (The One About Porn)

In Christendom, why is viewing pornography considered wrong?

Some answers you may have heard:

  • It hurts relationships!
  • That is somebody’s daughter/sister!
  • it’s gross!

While these are valid points, they are also mostly subjective, relatively dismissable arguments that ignore the fundamental reality taught by Christianity: people are made in God’s image, and sex was designed for marriage.

Being made in God’s image imbues every person with dignity, a dignity that the porn industry takes from people. Evidence suggests that many pornographic videos are the result of abuse or actually depictions of rape (2020). What this can mean for people is that by viewing porn and feeding the demand for the content, they incentivize this to continue. Not only this, but pornography objectifies people in a way that reduces people and fails to recognize the full person–it elevates what is sensory about another person to the absence of all else.

Christianity certainly values the sensory as good–this is why we are able to praise beauty when we see it. It must be understand, however, in its proper context, which is marital. A fuller picture of this idea is expressed very well in the book The Theology of the Body in One Hour and is this: sex is marital by its very nature. But to understand that truth, we have to understand marriage as being in some sense sacramental: it is a visible sign (or incarnation) of the relationship between Christ and the Church, just as the bread and wine represent (or become) the body and blood of Christ. This connection is probably easiest for Roman Catholics to make, but I think there is biblical warrant for this sacramental-ish language with regard to marriage in other traditions; after all, the Church is described as the bride of Christ.

Trying to understand sex outside the context of marriage is like trying to understand the life of a famous basketball player without knowing anything about basketball: it can be done (after all, the player is a person who has a life outside of the sport), but it will inevitably miss many important details due to the lack of contextual knowledge.

This is the proper context in which sex is to be understood, and outside of this context lies confusion, and, according to Scripture, danger.

As drinking poison is harmful to our physical bodies, sexual impurity is harmful to our souls. It’s actually bad for us as beings. Paul warns the Corinthians, a church rife with sexual immorality, to flee from it:

“Flee from sexual immorality. Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body” (1 Cor. 6:18 English Standard Version)

I would like to note two things about this verse. First is that we are to flee from this sin, as Joseph fled from Potiphar’s wife. There are probably some applications here that the readers may develop for themselves, but the second thing about this verse is that it puts the sin into its own category: sins against one’s own body.

Sins that harm one’s own soul. Sin that is powerful. We see elsewhere in Scripture (a character in The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert points this out) truths that should make us tremble—that God will give people over to their sin and then to a reprobate mind. A reprobate mind is one of the scariest things. G.K. Chesterton writes about the madman:

“A man cannot think himself out of mental evil; for it is actually the organ of thought that has become diseased, ungovernable, and, as it were, independent. he can only be saved by will or faith.” – (Chesterton, 2020, pp. 16-17)

It is scary to see how powerful sin can become if we let it reside in us.

Scary, that is, were it not for a Savior even more powerful than sin!

“No one has ascended into heaven except he who descended from heaven, the Son of Man. And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life” (John 3:13-15 English Standard Version)

There is a process that begins when a person receives Christ and a communion with the Spirit that is powerful not only to save but to transform.

In contrast contrast the mind darkened by the power of sin, the words of Romans take on new meaning:

“Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” (Romans 12:2 English Standard Version, emphasis added)

This transformation is only possible because of a central fact: that when we receive Christ, we become new creatures:

“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” (2 Cor. 5:17 English Standard Version)

In a world filled with powerful sin capable of destroying our bodies and darkening our minds, word of a Savior is good news indeed.

References

Butterfield, R. C. (2012). The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert: An English Professor’s Journey into Christian Faith. Crown & Covenant.

Chesterton, G. K. (2006). Orthodoxy. Hendrickson Publishers, Inc.

Evert, J. (2017). The Theology of the Body in One Hour. Totus Tuus Press.

Pornhub Reportedly Profits from Nonconsensual Videos and Real Rape Tapes-Here are the Latest Examples. (2020, February 3). Retrieved from https://fightthenewdrug.org/pornhub-reportedly-profits-from-nonconsensual-videos/

Worldbuilding Resources

What do writers do when they are procrastinating while putting together a story? They go hunting for writing resources to help them with worldbuilding! This is a concept I’ve always struggled with as a writer—I relish the dialogue but drag my feet with the setting. In developing the world for Death and Taxis, I have been researching writing resources for assisting with world development.

Reddit – 100 Worldbuilding Prompts

https://www.reddit.com/r/worldbuilding/comments/als11s/100_worldbuilding_prompts/

This seems like a good list, filled with some offbeat questions to get the mind thinking differently about their world – such as question 17:

It’s late at night and I’m hungry, what food venues are still open?

The Novel Factory – The Ultimate World Building Questionnaire (131 questions)

https://www.novel-software.com/theultimateworldbuildingquestionnaire

This resource is broken up by category and therefore gives more structure to the world development than the previous resources. The first section pertains to the physics and nature of the world, the second section to geography and natural resources, etc.

As an added bonus, Brandon Sanderson, one of my favorite fantasy authors, teaches a course at Brigham Young University on novel writing, and all the lectures are available online: https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLH3mK1NZn9QqOSj3ObrP3xL8tEJQ12-vL

That’s all for today. Back to procrastinating worldbuilding.

Death and Taxis: Chapter 1

This story is inspired by a conversation with a friend–B. L. White–about a deceased taxi driver who gives people rides in the land of the dead.


“Where are you headed?” said Tom, taking a tire-squealing right turn onto Purgatorial Circle as he attempted to beat the oncoming rush of the traffic circle.

“Excuse me,” said the passenger, “This is very embarrassing…but could you please, before I tell you where I am headed—tell me where I came from?” The passenger, Kaylen, had a strange sensation, akin to the feeling of blacking out, and a vague, mostly physical recollection of the feeling of throwing up, and then of—this! Waking up, the growing sense of alarm at not remembering the immediate past and anxiety of not knowing…did something happen? Kaylen looked for clues at her appearance and clothing. Everything seemed normal: she was wearing a wooly blue-and-green sweater and grey jeans.

She sized up all these things in a moment as Tom glanced in the rear-view mirror and began to answer her question. “Well, if you’re here, then…well…” His voiced trailed off for a moment as he thought. “Well, you see…you have died. And now you’re here on the other side.”

Kaylen tried to process these words. Instead, she became curious about the road. “This is a traffic circle, you said?” She asked. “It’s pretty long, huh?”
“Longest there is,” said Tom. “For some reason the planners of this place didn’t like the idea of stoplights and intersections here. So they did what everyone does—they made this place an enormous traffic circle. Also, the architects have always been obsessed with ring-shapes. You know Dante and the 9 rings…?” Tom looked in the rearview mirror and was met with an empty expression. “Nah? Well, he was just an old dude—more my generation—and he wrote about heaven, hell, and purgatory. And he theorized that the places are divided into concentric rings—starting with the outer ring and working inwards. Or outwards…I don’t remember!” Tom said brightly. “Anyway, the point is—Dante got it more or less correct, only instead of rings, it’s really a bunch of concentric traffic circles. Dante didn’t know what a car was.”

Tom looked again at Kaylen and saw that her eyes had glazed over and that she had no idea what he was talking about. “Look, I’m rambling, but the point is, we have to get through 9 different traffic circles, and you got here at a pretty busy time of year actually—December always seems to be a rough time, and there’s a civil war going on in the East right now, so that’s also increased the number of visitors considerably. So the traffic is pretty bad today. You have until we get to the center to figure out where you’re going. No need to rush, though!”

The Contrapositive of Love

When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Feed my lambs.” – John 21.15

The Inverse or the opposite? A discussion at an IEEE computer society meeting a few nights ago might seem like an unlikely place to be talking about love, but amid the discussion of a networking concept, the presenter distinguished between the opposite of a thing and the inverse of a thing. “What is the opposite of love? Most people would say it’s hate, but the opposite of both hate and love is apathy.” I didn’t fully follow this distinction, but the thought process started me thinking about synonyms, how we use them, and what they mean.

So, what is the opposite of love, and how is it different (if it is!) from inverse, converse, and contrapositive? Let’s take a look!

What do those words even mean? Time to dust off those logic definitions and find out! Let’s examine a statement and the 3 related statements we can draw from it, and evaluate whether these statements are true.

“If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you.” – John 14.15-17

The Statement

If you love me, you will keep my commandments.

Converse

If you keep my commandments, you will love me.

This is false – without a heart changed and set to love God, outward obedience is insufficient to form love.

“Many will say to me on that day, ‘LORD, LORD, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?” – Matthew 7.22

Inverse

If you do not love me, you will not keep my commandments.

This is also false—there are lots of moral people who, even without loving Jesus, are capable of keeping Jesus’s commandments. It is possible to honor God with our lips and obey commandments taught by men, while also having a heart that does not love God

And the Lord said:

Because this people draw near with their mouth

and honor me with their lips,

while their hearts are far from me,

and their fear of me is a commandment taught by men,

therefore, behold, I will again

do wonderful things with this people,

with wonder upon wonder;

and the wisdom of their wise men shall perish,

and the discernment of their discerning men shall be hidden.” – Isaiah 29.13-14

Contrapositive

If you do not keep my commandments, you will not love me.

This is almost true—but more accurately stated as—if you do not bear fruit in keeping with repentance, then you do not love me. UPDATE: a more math-minded reader than I pointed out that the contrapositive of a statement is always true, so ignore the previous statement! The correct phrasing of the contrapositive should be: if you will not keep me commandments, then you do not love me. This is true!

Loving God expresses itself in the fruit of good works in believers. Though believers are imperfect, backslide, go through perhaps even seasons of life where they hold on to sin, the fruit of a heart truly in love with Christ is a walk that is increasingly obedient to his commands.
In Conclusion

What is the opposite of love? Is it hate, or is it apathy? Since opposite, unlike converse, inverse, and contrapositive, doesn’t have a strict definition in logic, I am left with a dictionary lookup to decide. The definition of opposite is as follows:

op·po·site (adj.)

1. Placed or located directly across from something else or from each other: opposite sides of a building.

2. Facing the other way; moving or tending away from each other: opposite directions.

3. Being the other of two complementary or mutually exclusive things: the opposite sex; an opposite role to the lead in the play.

As an an adjective, we would say that love and hate are opposite emotions, whereas apathy is the absence of emotion. As a result, to answer the original question in an extremely roundabout way, the opposite of love must be hate, but in the absence of love, there is indifference.

References:

https://www.desiringgod.org/articles/how-do-i-know-if-i-really-love-jesus

https://www.varsitytutors.com/hotmath/hotmath_help/topics/converse-inverse-contrapositive

https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Matthew+7%3A22-23&version=ESV

https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=John%2014

https://www.thefreedictionary.com/opposite

Review: Bibliotheca

What started as a $1.4 million Kickstarter campaign back in 2014 finally came to fruition in 2016 with the publication and delivery of a four-volume edition of the Bible (or 5 if customers chose to have the Apocrypha included in the slipcase). What was unique about this edition, you may rightly ask? There are many editions of the Bible that cost well under $199. So why the steep price tag?

Well, these four volumes–divided into the The Five Books & The Former Prophets, The Latter Prophets, The Writings, and The New Testament–represent a reader’s Bible of sorts–no page or chapter divisions, and with a single-column layout. In addition, the materials are very high-quality, from the stone-based mineral paper that the text is printed on (supposedly longer-lasting than normal paper) to the cloth material covering the exterior. So a reader’s bible for hipsters? Well, basically.

bibliotheca_celery_standard_sq_1024x1024
from the website; the above is similar to my edition except mine includes the Apocrypha separately, not in the slipcase.

What I have discovered since receiving my editions is 3 things:

  1. I am less likely to read a book that I view as too valuable to handle regularly; the editions collected dust on my shelves for the first two years of ownership. They looked great, though.
  2. Now that I have begun reading from these books more regularly, I am beginning to appreciate the designer’s decision to use a revised version of the 1901 American Standard Version (ASV) translation, which, from my understanding, is largely the original ASV with “thee’s” and “thou’s” updated to use more modern expressions. The reason I appreciate this is that I can read familiar passages and encounter slightly different phrasing that makes me pause to figure out what the passage is saying; the translation seems very readable and clear, but also different from the NKJV and ESV I’m accustomed to. So I often find myself meditating on the meaning of a passage before pulling up another translation to verify the meanings are similar. The process has been fun!
  3. I also appreciate the lack of verse and chapter divisions–it makes it easier to see connections between thoughts, especially in New Testament epistles, where I often stop reading at the end of a chapter or topical division. In 1 Peter 3:1-12, for instance, it is easy to see the transition from Peter talking to wives, then husbands, then everybody together. There’s no “Suffering for Righteousness’ Sake” header splitting verses 1-7 and 8-12. It is a continuous thought as Peter addresses several audiences. Seeing this progression is possible with any Bible of course, but the simplicity of the page design makes it easier for me to recognize.

I pre-ordered back in 2014, waiting until 2016 for delivery, and only this year did I finally begin to take the books off the shelf and crack them open more regularly. Was it worth the wait? The books are very high-quality and have provided a helpful bit of variety (I know! The nerve of praising novelty with respect to the Bible!) to my Bible reading, so I say–yes.

Review: Once Upon A Time in Hollywood

Director Quentin Tarantino excels at suspense, building anticipation that something terrible is about to happen in many of his most memorable scenes. Most of the time in Tarantino’s latest creation, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, the situations defuse themselves, but the few times they don’t, chaos ensues.

The movie tells an endearing buddy story—washed-up western TV actor Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio) stars as the “heavy,” or villain, in all his newer films and yearns for the days when he was young and played the hero of the pictures in which he appeared. His stuntman and best friend, Cliff (Brad Pitt), drives him everywhere he needs to go, a requirement after Rick racked up one too many DUI’s.

Rick also lives in a house next door to actress Sharon Tate and director Roman Polanski–something that becomes important as the film begins to intermix fiction with the real-life events of the Manson murders that occurred around that time. The film’s story seems to wander at first, but actually builds carefully, laying out characters and beats scene-by-simmering-scene while intermixing real-life Hollywood notables such as Steve McQueen and Bruce Lee with Tarantino’s own composites. It’s a film of many layers that is enjoyable on the surface as a dramatic, off-beat, humorous film filled with memorable characters and moments. Yet with a little knowledge of history and the events surrounding the Manson murders, some of the scenes take on more significance and have greater impact.

Of course, this is an alternate history, so we know that Tarantino is putting his own twist on the disturbing historical events. While not a violent movie by any means, the film contains a few violent moments that make the film warrant an R rating (along with profanity, drug use, and some sexual references – at least according to the film’s IMDb page).

What is this film? Is it wish fulfillment? Haven’t we all wanted to go back in time at some point or another, saying, “If had been there when this or that historical event happened, here’s what I would have done.” Perhaps this film is for know-it-alls? Regardless, the result is quite gratifying while also being suspenseful. The suspense is also greater since, due to the composite nature of the movie, we actually don’t know everything that will happen. Tarantino, not history, holds the last card here.

This is a movie for movie buffs as well as buffs of history. It’s well-acted, well written, well designed, well-photographed, and well—just all-around well-done.

How Did Those Boots Get There?

The boots hung from the power line like a pair of condemned convicts. They rotated limply in the humid breeze, savagely strung up four years ago and hanging by their laces ever since. The feat was remarkable—thirty feet of air stood between the ground and the power line, so the person who placed the boots up there had both good aim and a good arm.

The feet must also have been remarkable because the boots were size 14½ boots, extra wide. They were brown, tarnished by sunlight but disturbed by little else. They had observed as thousands of cars had passed underneath over the course of their time there.

The boots themselves didn’t mind, of course: they chatted often about how they didn’t miss deployment, as they called it, at all. Ryan, the left boot, and Candace, the right boot, talked frequently about how they missed their retail days when all they had to do was sit shiny on a shelf and wait to meet a new person. Ryan and Candace found themselves lonely sometimes—after all, the demand for size 14 ½ boots was minimal. But they had a happy life in their own way, cheering as their friends—the Johnston & Murphy loafers two shelves over for instance—departed to find their place in the world.

But Ryan and Candace didn’t obtain a good owner. A tall, thuggish man who smelled like grease and two-day-old-Old-Spice purchased the plus-sized couple. This man had taken them home and shocked Ryan and Candace at how he mis-handled them. The original coating of polish covering Ryan and Candace wore quickly off and was replaced with scuff marks and a handful of deep scratches.

All of this to say, on the night that Dank-Spice-Man decided to go out, drink one too many drinks with his buddies, hop in the back of their car, then halfway home complain he needed to use the bathroom NOW, Ryan and Candace were all too happy to lead Dank-Spice-Man out into the woods, before being involved in a bet where the man and his friends each began attempting to toss the boots onto the power line. It was Dank-Spice-Man’s friend Arnold who finally succeeded.

Arnold won $10 that night. Ryan and Candace? They won their freedom.

The Thing He Thought He Left Behind

 

Spine-tingling,

With humid heaving,

Softly growling,

Now loudly howling

Is the Thing he left behind.

Story-trusting,

Musket-wielding,

A youth in part,

But with a grown-up heart:

He made a vow to kill its kind.

 

Rifle raising,

Muzzle blazing,

Now reloading,

Then un-loading,

A silent corpse he left behind.

 

Hip-hip-hooraying

And hand upraising,

The boy turned about

And went grinning to his house,

While the Thing went out of mind.

 

Decades passing,

Then the boy, he,

Like Ulysses, traveled home,

And, waiting for him there

Was the thing he left behind.

Life Lessons From My First Snowboarding Trip

  1. At times, if you are like me, you will end up in a situation that you agreed to be in, but without fully understanding what you were signing up for and the risks involved. This is why a lot of wiser, older folks opine about experience being the best mentor; sometimes it’s good to listen!
  2. Lace your shoes securely.
  3. You will fall down a lot at first; the important thing is to not break any bones and to get back up and keep going. If you do this, eventually, one of the following will happen:
    1. you’ll break something and have to stop.
    2. your bum will go numb and you’ll stop minding the falls as much (preferable to option 1).
    3. you’ll gain experience and fall less (the most preferable option).
  4. Often, an inexperienced boarder (I have no idea who you might be thinking of!) will pick up speed, lose control, and wipe out. Learning to slow down takes practice but is 100% worth it.
  5. Be sure to pack the right equipment for the activity (snow pants, beanies, snowproof gloves, etc.).
  6. Learn from each mistake, and don’t get discouraged when you’re sore and it hurts.
  7. Try not to collide with other people during your journey; it’s less fun for everyone.
  8. We all make it to the bottom of the mountain eventually, just at different speeds and in different conditions; some arrive at the bottom on stretchers (not to be too macabre, but I did see it happen). Experienced boarders tend to arrive at the bottom quickly and with minimal injury.
  9. Regarding chair lifts – sitting and waiting is a big part of snowboarding, and of life! It helps to have a friend alongside you, to pass the time.
  10. While you’re sitting and waiting, remember to enjoy the scenery. Oooh! Ah!

IMG_20190322_144111

To those who may be curious: no, I didn’t collide with anybody (whew!). I did fall a lot, but I returned safely home with no major injuries, and with more skill as a boarder than when I arrived. Since I had no experience when I arrived, this is not remarkable. Whether snowboarding is something I would ever do again, well…that is another post.