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Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Killing Babies

I used to be pro-choice.

I'm neither proud, nor ashamed of that. It was the product of wishful thinking; to wit, that a fetus in the womb was fundamentally different from a baby at the moment of birth.

The problem isn't one of Christian theology, nor the sentimental "why didn't you let me be born" ads. It's medical science as we have it today, and an ethical system that's rooted in logic and fair play, as well as faith.

A fetus in the womb begins as a 'collection of cells', but differentiation and specialization of those cells occurs quite soon, and before long there is a physical structure with recognizable human components.

Still later, those components begin to work in a fashion that the layman can recognize. The fetus moves; it sucks its thumb. It responds both visibly (through ultrasound) and physiologically (through measured parameters like heart rate) to stimuli (for example, the choice of music made by the mother). And yes, the fetus has a beating heart.

A beating heart which is in fact, or in potential, stopped by abortion.

For a time, I could make a distinction between stopping a heart which was actually beating, and a 'collection of cells' which would one day form a heart. Unfortunately for me, that distinction was pretty weak, for the simple fact that the cells in question would, if left alone, have an overwhelming statistical likelihood of becoming that beating heart.

Is it wrong to curtail potential? Our society thinks so; we have mandatory schooling for children. In the past, and even today in many countries, kids can be largely unschooled and made to work early, and inexpensively. But our laws protect their potential. There's the precedent.

My next argument was viability; a fetus that could not live outside the mother's body might be alive, but we as a society have no obligation to preserve that life. Again, precedent comes roaring in to unseat me; we can't disconnect comatose patients from life support on a whim, and we can never do it if they are expected to make a full recovery. A baby is normally expected to make a 'full recovery' from the prenatal state.

There are other arguments; the idea that it's a woman's "right to choose" goes away when the fetus is accorded a status equivalent to personhood, and passing both the 'potential' and 'viability' tests seems to qualify it. It's unfortunate, because it places a special burden on women; but men and women are different. I could try to sugar-coat that by saying that women have a higher responsibility, but having listened to young women, desperate because they're pregnant far too young, I think I'll refrain from that crass condescension.

The argument that abortion is a viable way to control population is far too chilling to be seriously admissible.

And for me, all that's enough. I changed.

If you're a Chirstian, Muslim, or Jew, you really don't have a choice; your Scriptures, if you accept them at all, give clear indication that the Almighty considers a fetus to be a child/ God "knows you" before you're born. John the Baptist "leapt for joy" in his mother's womb.

If you;'re Buddhist, it's even worse, because in a cycle of birth and rebirth, there isn't much downtime, and in an abortion you're delaying another soul by preventing it from attaining the karma which leads to Nirvana in the potential life. That accumulates bad karma for you, the supporter of abortion, and may guarantee rebirth at a lower level. Think 'housefly'.

The most troubling aspect of a change in attitude is being unsympathetic to women who've been raped, or are the victims of incest; a forced pregnancy carried to term is injury piled on injury. I can coldly say that crimes have consequences, and victims, and that it's incumbent on society to prevent the crime in the future by making the penalties terrifying. The Saudis are pretty good at this; so are various countries in Latin America, rather untroubled by the ACLU and ruminations on the rights of criminals.

It's no confort for the victim today, though, and in the same tone I would say that society can't help, within the guidelines and laws that govern its survival. I won't say I feel their pain. I don't. I can't.

And I'm sorry.

As a post-script, in looking for an image to accompany this post I did a Google search for 'abortion' images. What I saw seared my soul. There's no picture today. I just can't.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Shock and Awe With Dick and Jane

Marriage isn't easy. Take two people of different genders, with often widely divergent backgrounds and interests, glue them together with the contact cement of romance and hormones, and hope that the heat and pressure of daily life will create a lifelong bond.

Do you ever wonder at your audacity in risking it?

Since it's so hard, and so very important, there's no shortage of advice. Some is good. Some is harmless. Some of it's like using a gas can as a seat to watch the neighborhood kids set of fireworks.

One of the latter came from a TV preacher, heard today. He said that men crave respect - which is true - and that wives should have a sense of awe toward their husbands - and express it through frequent praise.

Took me a while to stop laughing.

Men, at close quarters, are not awe-inspiring. They are generally streets behind their wives in terms of emotional maturity, and usually never reach the level of emotional and spiritual commitment that women bring to the first week of matrimony.

A man's heart is typically torn between the woman he loves and the Big Diesel Pickup he saw parked at WalMart last Saturday. He'll be charming and attentive, but behind it there's usually an expected quid pro quo of either a special dinner or sex.

It's not that a man's love isn't genuine; it's just that it's filtered through an unstable atmosphere of testosterone, examples he had in childhood, and perceived social expectations which can result in a guy buying his wife an ironing board for her birthday - and thinking, truly, that he is being romantic and thoughtful.

Not awesome. Not close.

Asking a woman to be a cheerleader to a hyperannuated high school jock is, I would think, both somewhat insulting and ultimately harmful. Insulting because it's a suggestion to be, if not intellectually dishonest, at least mentally vapid.

Harmful because it'll eventually have to be false. There are praiseworthy things that every man does, and they deserve recognition, but forcing a woman into the role of an ego prop can damage her sense of self-worth - and if the praise starts to sound hollow, trust will be eroded. It's just words...but words are a big part of being 'all we have'.

So how do you show respect, in a way that's both honest and sustainable? It's pretty simple - let your husband be his own cheerleader.

Ask him how his day went, Ask him what he did in the workshop. You may not care about the '46 DeSoto that's been in pieces in your garage for the past ten years, but you care about him. Let him tell you about the wheel bearing he repacked. Learn about what he's doing, and ask informed questions.

That's really all there is to it. The time investment is minimal, the wear and tear on your integrity is no greater than trying to look alert during a boring Sunday Sermon, and by being a willing audience you'll be the person whose company he'll seek out above all others.

Isn't that why you're there?

Monday, October 29, 2012

Sunday, October 28, 2012

The Calendar Restoration Company

Do you remember Richard Bach?

If you're of a certain age. the first thought that probably comes to mind is "Jonathan Livingston Seagull", the slim novel about a philosophizing seabird bent on perfecting the technique of flight. If you're a bit younger, and you're lucky, you probably remember your parents talking about the book.

Of course, if you were unlucky, your parents joyously named you "Seagull".

Before the philosophy, though, Mr. Bach produced some of the loveliest, most lyrical books on flying ever published: Stranger To The Ground, Biplane,  and  Nothing By Chance. Few pilots from the 1960s and 70s haven't read at least one of them.

In many ways, Nothing By Chance is the most interesting to the non-pilot. It's the story of how Mr. Bach and two friends decided, in 1966, to see if they could survive for a summer as 'barnstormers', flying from town to town in the Midwest, selling rides in a 1929 open-cockpit biplane.

Many hungry days and two crashes later, they found out that yes, it could be done. The dream could come true, with work and sacrifice.

But the undercurrent of the book is what's interesting - the dream behind the dream. There's a yearning there, in an America of race riots and Viet Nam and polluted air and water, for a simpler time that might really still exist. It was a hope that the calendar's pages, ripped away in passing days, could somehow be restored.

It's something that a lot of us are looking for. The hope that somehow we can find a place - not just in our minds - where Lady GaGa and American Idol and the Taliban and the Internet can somehow be persuaded to dissolve into the formless void of the future, and we can live, once again, those half-forgotten days when values were solid and adventures weren't virtual, and there seemed to be something great just over the next sunrise horizon.

There are still places like that. We call them National Parks, and they are perhaps the greatest gift that any government ever gave its people.

You can take a boat into the Everglades, and see a river of grass 150 miles wide and two feet deep, populated with alligators that would be as pleased to invite you to lunch (your treat, get it?) as were their ancestors when De Soto wandered lost through the Southeast.

You can hike from one rim of the Grand Canyon to the other, and live a timelessness that's simply eternal. (Well, aside from the green ribbon of the Colorado River...it's green because it's fed by water from the lower depths of Lake Powell through the penstocks of Glen Canyon Dam. It should be red...that's why it's called 'Colorado', after all!)

You can walk through the Painted Desert in Petrified Forest National Park, across the wide empty land to Pilot Rock, with just the sound of the wind, and your own boots for company.

America has changed, and perhaps Mr. Bach's Midwestern havens are culturally closer to a Chicago suburb that they are to the Norman Rockwell ideal he - and we - still seek. But it's good to know that there are still places where time's been persuaded to stand still, and we can still dream adventures to match our daring.

We joke about you a lot, Uncle Sam. But this one, you got it right. Thanks.

It's Not OK, But It Has To Be

Forgive, so that you'll be forgiven.

Forgive your enemies. Pray for them. Love them.

Forgive your brother not seven times, not seventy times, but seven times seventy times.

Jesus sure didn't make things easy for us, did He? It's one thing to go to church and raise your hands in worship, and talk in scriptural tags. It's one thing to forgive the neighbor whose dog keeps digging up your roses.

It's quite another to forgive the person, or people, who willfully strike out against you, or your loved ones, and who destroy lives and years.

It's inhuman to forgive a killer, or a molester. It's an abrogation of our duties to what we hold dear, to send a message that even these acts can be forgiven.

Well, yes, it is inhuman. It's Divine. And far from being a slap in the face to our values and our honor, it's the hardest way to uphold them. Sometimes dying would be easier.

It's necessary.

Not just because Jesus said so, though that alone is a pretty compelling argument. It's necessary because the quality of our mercy defines the quality of our society - it makes our world a worthwhile place in which to live. And it's the only way to build a world in which God has a place.

I'm not talking about original sin, or how God forgives a fallen world. It's simply that a Divine love which has created - and still loves - such an imperfect vessel as Man can only be welcome in a society that holds Man's life as dear as he does, because in the end, that is what forgiveness is all about.

The lack of forgiveness is the desire for vengeance, at the first level, through emotional retaliation. That's usually as far as it goes, but it's enough - since that level of vengeance is enough to deny humanity to those we won't forgive. And thus, to create a two-tier system, of the Loved and the Not Loved.

How can God take part in that?

It's hard. It feels like we're saying, "It's okay, what you did."

That's exactly right. We HAVE to be okay with what they did, for the purpose of letting it go as a raindrop falls into the ocean and is lost forever.

We don't have to hang out with them. We don't have to have Christmas with them, or dinner at Outback. We don't even have to shield them from the lawful consequences of what they did.

All we have to do is to let it go, and let go the desire to see them hurt in return.

What Would Jesus Do?

Just this.

Friday, October 26, 2012

A Special Friend

I've considered myself a Christian all my life; I believe that Jesus is the Son of God, and part of the triune Godhead. I believe that He died on the Cross, rose from the tomb three days later, and is seated at the right hand of the Father. That's about as far as I ever went.

Lately I tried Bible Study to gain a deeper appreciation of the faith, and nearly ended up destroying what I had. I wrote about that a while back. It wasn't much fun, and I'm still feeling some of the effects.

The other 'issue' in my attempts to deepen the understanding of my faith was 'developing a personal relationship with Christ'.

I know it's possible - my wife has that, so do a lot of people at church, and just about everyone on Christian TV is either best friends with Jesus, or they're on the edge of being in love with Him.

But how do you get from here...a formal and respectful reverence for the Supreme Being of the Universe...to something that's "more like falling in love than giving my allegiance", to quote a recently popular song.

I asked, and was told, "open you heart and ask Jesus to come in". But how on Earth do you do that? What does it mean, to open your heart in that way, so that it becomes something far greater than the orchestration of emotions in support of an abstraction?

Should it be like opening your heart to a lost and frightened dog? I can do that easily enough, but the relationship's different - the dog's the emotional supplicant. Strike one.

Should it be like the beloved memory of a person whose voice you can hear in your head, whose touch you can feel, whose laughter and tears have the power to move you, across the miles? I couldn't hear Him, see Him, feel Him. Strike two.

But there's no Strike Three. I realized that we're all different, and for every hundred people that go into the party, that join the dance, there's someone outside, watching the occasional swirl of a dancer past a door left ajar. Someone who just doesn't mix well, who's not comfortable in the crowd, or who simply can't dance.

And that was me. When I went to parties as a younger man, I invariably ended up talking to the caterers, or walking the host's dog. I wasn't unhappy. I was just being me.

So maybe that's it. And maybe while I'm watching this party in Heaven's anteroom, the Caterer will come up and offer me a smoke, and watch with me in companionable silence.

And then, perhaps, the Hound of Heaven will come tail-wagging up, ready to play.

And I'll be among Friends.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Summer Evening

Memory. That summer dusk, years ago.

God sends us trials, to make us more Christ-like.

This was the thesis of a TV preacher's talk this evening. He's a man whom I respect, so I listened.

His point was that God allows trials, or sends them, to make us into the kind of people that will be able to move closer to Him, in this life and the next. It's up to us to accept them as part of God's plan, and in that acceptance gain the blessing that God has for us, just on the other side of the storm.

It all sounded great, and put into a logical context the difficulties we face in life. But then I remembered the little blond girl, on the night that will never end.

She was dying, the victim of an IED. I think she was blond. I think she was white.

Come to think of it, I'm not entirely sure she was a girl. The damage was too great to be certain.

But she was conscious.

And in that memory came the realization that what that man on the television was obscene.

What was this child going to learn from a wall of overpressure and flame, driving gravel and glass into her skin - and her eyes? How was this going to make her anything - except dead, and agonizingly so?

To say that God allowed this to happen is an affront. To even insinuate that he sent it, is insane.

The God that I met through Jesus Christ is the one who set up a world to operate under the control of Man - and he hates how it turned out. It didn't have to be this way, but we made it this way.

He can stop it any time He wants...but then we lose the opportunity to grow into the 'adults' He longs to see. If He takes away our free will, even the will to make Paradise into a killing field, He condemns us to an Eternity lived as infants.

Meanwhile, He's a combat medic. He can't stop the bullets, but He can be at your side to give you the ultimate comfort that even in the worst moment, Someone is willing to go through Hell to reach you.

I know the preacher meant well. he was working from Paul's 'count it all joy'. But Paul was a man who knew what he was doing when he stood in defiance of the Jewish and Roman authorities.

He wasn't a little girl for whom the door to Hell literally opened, one mild summer evening.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

The Only Christianity We Have

I was tempted to start this with: "One of the more distressing things about modern Western Christianity..."

OK, sez I to me, give me a break. What other kind of Christianity do I know?

I don't know any other kind, except by reading about other places and times of faith, and imagining myself playing some kind of (preferably noble and heroic) role.

But it's all fantasy. I didn't walk through Jerusalem with Jesus, I wasn't shipwrecked with Paul, and I most certainly was not martyred with Stephen.

Instead, I live in rural New Mexico twelve years after the turn of the millennium, and my witnessing for Christ has to take place here and now, with a strategic plan that fits today's market. Growing a beard, putting on a robe, and talking to people in the marketplace isn't going to work.

Pity. It might have been fun.

But today's kind of fun, too. We have the biggest publicity tool in history at our fingertips, and can get ideas from concept to target audience literally as fast as we can type.

We have the ability to do research in minutes, that when I started grad school (1984) would have taken days or weeks. And the research we can do is dynamic - we can change the description of what we're looking for was the first flood of data comes in.

We can also know our competition (I was about to say enemy...it's mainly just competition). If we want to talk to kids, we can learn what they're interested in, and we can see what they post on the Internet.

We can look at the music to which young adults listen, reading the lyrics, and find ways to talk to them about a Christian message couched in a milieu they understand.

Walking with Jesus is attractive and cool. We can show this, with the same degree of professional presentation that Hollywood uses in pointless movies to part audiences from their money.

Sure, there's a lot of competition for time. But there's always been competition. Before we had dishwashers and clothes washers, those chores were done by hand.

Before we had the Internet, we had Dragging Main.

We've always had to compete with the World, to get Jesus' message across.

But now, thanks to technology, we can shout quite a bit louder.

(Enemy...yes, there is one, and he's pretty good with technology. We have to be better...and we have to be more interesting, and show that a Life in Christ is more interesting and fun than drugs, pornography, and rebellion for its own sake.)

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Sitting By The Fire With Jesus

"Jesus changed my life!"

Oh, yeah? How?

Flippancy aside, most people move through the world with Jesus pretty much the way they'd walk without Him.

I don't mean going to church, praying, reading the Bible...those are givens, whatever your faith (and even applicable in their own ways to secular activities, like fishing or golf).

What I'm talking about are concrete ways in which your faith has changed the way you interact with the world. I have a good friend who's gone to South America for mission work...that's certainly a change. One of my sisters-in-law will be cooking Thanksgiving dinner for the Salvation Army.

These seem to be exceptions, though...for most of us, following Christ is really rather private. We go to church, talk with other Christians, listen to and watch Christian media...but would anyone really know we're Christians except for jewelry and bumper stickers? It's a bit silly to ask if we're doing anything that Jesus or one of the Apostles would be doing. Our life and culture is so different that few parallels can be drawn.

But do we do anything that lights the world with the fire our faith should have given us? Is there any practical witnessing that would lead an observer to ask where we get our motivation?

Or is the fire warming a closed room?

Certainly, it's more the cozy room for me. We provide a haven for unwanted dogs, but that's something we'd do anyway. I write Christian novels, and I guess could make the argument that I wouldn't write any novels without the Christian underpinning. But maybe I'd be trying to emulate Mickey Spillane. I don't know.

But that's it. When I thought about this question there was not a lot of 'Christianity in action' in my life. I'm not thrilled to admit that, but it's the truth.

What about you?

Monday, October 22, 2012

Monkey's Nephew

It's called the theory of Evolution. Not the Law of Evolution.

That seems to pass a lot of people by, on both sides of the 'creation versus evolution' divide.

A theory is something that attempts to explain observed physical phenomena using an allowable methodology - that is, a methodology which does not violate any known physical laws. Like, say, gravity. It's a theory as long as it can't be proved using the litmus tests of physical rigor (accuracy, i.e., not breaking known laws) and repeatability (which means that any competent and similarly equipped researcher can duplicate the results.

Meanwhile, to stay admissible, the theory has to continue to explain what we see.

Explain what we see. That's the key, because every scientific law we have is, in the end, a model explaining why we see what we see.

Take gravity. The equations drawn up by Sir Issac Newton four hundred years ago do a good job in explaining how fast a dropped rock will fall, or how far you can throw a baseball. The Newtonian equations we do a great job in explaining the way the world works.

Sorry, The way it works as we see it. If you go to the relativistic domain, at speeds approaching the speed of light, Newtonian mechanics breaks down. Badly. Consider this...

You're on a train that is going within 0.1 meters per second of the speed of light. This is perfectly possible; there is no known reason we can't go this fast. It just burns a lot of gas.

Now, throw a ball in the direction of motion. To as observed by the side of the tracks, the ball will have a speed of the speed of the train plus the speed of the ball relative to the train. So of you throw the ball with a speed of 20 meters per second, it's going 19.9 meters per second faster than light, yes?


It's not, because no object can go faster than light, according to the Theory of Relativity, developed by Albert Einstein. Relativity explains how things work at relativistic speeds, and 'normal' speeds, quite well. (So how fast is the ball going? Just under the speed of light, but it would take a bit of math to explain why.)

But...is Relativity true? Of course not. It's the Theory of Relativity, and science likes it because, yes, it explains what we see. (We still use Newton because it's good enough to explain what we see in the everyday world, and a lot easier to use than Relativity. But it's still fundamentally wrong.)

And Relativity is, at best, incomplete, because it doesn't cover electrical and magnetic forces. basically, it covers gravity. To pull in the other major physical forces, you'd need something called a Unified Field Theory, upon which Einstein was working at his death. (Oh, and it would have to explain ' strong' and 'weak' nuclear forces, as well...)

So, what of Evolution? Certainly it explains some things, but there are other things it may not explain so well. But the biggest issue is that it's a way to explain the world. It isn't how the world works.

And it never will be.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Can You Dig It?

One of the biggest bones of contention in Christianity is the physical evidence - or lack of it - for major events, nations, and individuals in the Bible.

I'm not talking about 'biggies' like the Flood, and the Resurrection, and Christ's miracles. Those (with the exception, perhaps, of the Flood) are more issues of faith. But what about kings like Saul and David, what about the Israelite nation? What about Moses?

Not a lot of evidence has come out of the ground, it's true - but this, by itself, proves exactly nothing. The absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.

Take a couple of analogies - first, the Hittite empire. It had received brief but tantalizing mention on tablets in various Mediterranean cultures, but for centuries, scholars couldn't place it, and couldn't be sure that it really existed. Not until the discovery of a large archive in the ruins of Boghaz Koy did the Hittites step out of the shadows - and this was less than a hundred years ago.

But what if the archive had not been found, or had been destroyed? Boghaz Koy itself, though an impressive site with its own cuneiform inscriptions, simply didn't tell the whole story.

A second example is the Trojan War. Immortalized by the blind poet Homer, its historicity was first accepted, but then fell under the shadow of doubt...because no one really knew where Troy was! It was traditionally identified with several sites in what's now Turkey, but none of these had a big sign saying "TROY".

Heinrich Schliemann, Troy's major modern champion, believed that a mound at a place called Hissarlik contained the ruins of the city. So he dug...and he dug...and he dug. he found ruins that he thought were consistent with Homer's description, and found a huge cache of treasure (lost from the end of WW2 until quite recently). he found signs of burning - and Homer said Troy had been destroyed by fire.

Ergo, Troy was discovered. or was it?

The problem was that the Hissarlik site contained a number of cities, built one atop the other. Schliemann's choice, Troy II, was small, rude, and, crucially, too old to be Homer's Troy.

Unfortunately, Schliemann's methods were crude in the extreme (though not inconsistent with late-19th century digs). He simply hacked huge trenches through the site to uncover what he thought was the real Troy, destroying structures above it, and forever losing the exact locations of artifacts which came from later developments on the site.

The Troy that corresponds most closely to the Trojan War is probably Troy VIA, a larger and more carefully built city. It was also destroyed by fire, and showed evidence of a mass evacuation, followed by only slow re-occupation. Many of the details fit Homer...but not all. The mystery will likely never be solved with any finality.

And so it is with the Bible. We can only find that which still exists, and given the habitation patterns of Mediterranean cultures - the 'layered look' of cities - a lot of evidence is forever lost.

The Hittites were major players in the Mediterranean world around 1200 BC, and the Trojan War was (at least according to Homer) one of the most important events, unifying the Greek city-states in battle. And yet, the historical record of one was found only by accident, and the specific site of the second has only recently been - approximately - identified.

Does it matter? Should it? Those are questions for each individual to answer.

For Fun

Sometimes I wonder if this is true. Other times, there's no doubt.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

How To Be Remembered

 The Red Baron.

Quick, what did you think of? Probably Snoopy's nemesis. Or perhaps pizza. Or, if you've been truly unlucky in your moviegoing, a perfectly dreadful film that was released in 2008, a kind of "All Quiet On The Western Front" meets "The Bridges Of Madison County".

But here's the thing...you thought of something.

Manfred von Richthofen, the minor Prussian aristocrat who became famous for flying all-red airplanes during the First World War, was an interesting, and rather appealing individual. He was a skilled fighter pilot, yes.

He was a killer, yes. he shot down eighty British and French airplanes, in a day when parachutes were not worn.

But he was also a teacher, who was intensely concerned that the men under his command learned enough to stay alive in the dangerous skies over France. he was a writer - his book, "The Red Air Fighter" was completed, and read by even his enemies before his death in April 1918. It's a minor classic.

But most of all, Manfred von Richthofen was a human being. To read his autobiography is to travel with a man who first enjoyed air combat, loved the thrill of the chase. But as his score mounted, he became uncomfortably aware of the human toll he was taking.

He died in combat at the age of twenty-five, and was honored by his erstwhile enemies.

Manfred von Richthofen would have gone the way of all warriors...he would have faded away, except for one thing. A beagle with delusions of grandeur.

Snoopy needed a comic foil, and Charles Schultz could not have asked for a better one.

And, perhaps, Manfred von Richthofen could not have asked for a more assured place in our cultural memory.

Evangelize Thyself

We are God's advertising executives. Sometimes I wonder if he should have hired another firm.

The job of spreading the Good news has been placed, deliberately, squarely on our shoulders. I suspect that a large part of the reason is that to be able to sell something, we have to be able to understand it, and have a passion for it. Imagine Hillary Clinton trying to sell Uzis, and I think you'll see my point.

The trouble is that so many of us really don't understand what Christianity is all about. We can quote chapter and verse, and pick out the most inspiring verses, delivering them in splendidly fluent English worthy of the Court of King James. For a fellow Christian, this wins accolades. For all too many people who are searching for a way to God, it falls flatter than a Stetson under a steamroller.

The whole point of the Gospel message is one of hope and love - that God so loved the world that He sent His only begotten...

Whoa. What's begotten mean? Really, what's it mean?

This is precisely the problem. What's the solution? How can you reach people who are sincerely interested in knowing more, but whose jargon tolerance is on the low side of nonexistent?

  • Start by not talking - live the life, walk the walk, deeds not words...however you want to put it. When you evangelize, you're taking on a de facto leadership role, and the most effective leadership is of the "follow me" variety. You don't have to be a plaster saint, but it does little good to be a public sinner.
  • Leave the Bible in your pocket - most non-Christians don't see the Bible as infallible, and trying to prove your point by quoting a source they don't see as authoritative won't get you far. Use common sense - forgiving your enemies, for instance, is not only right, it's smart. It removes a psychic poison from your own soul, makes you a nicer person to be around...and (now slip this in) makes you closer to what God wants for your life. He wants you to have joy, and that your joy is full...and you can't have that kind of joy if you're trying to figure how to deflate the tires of the guy who took your parking spot..
  • Don't run down other faiths - telling people that what they believe will send them to hell will generally set up conflict, and selling Christianity to someone who's defending a position you just attacked probably won't be successful. Christianity has one advantage over every other faith - salvation - but you have to get there, and build up to it. Just saying, "believe this and you'll be saved" leapfrogs over a lot of necessary theology, like justification by faith, and why that's important.
  • Don't be in a hurry - a lot of people are saying that we've got to rush because these are the last days, because the Holy Roman Empire has been reconstituted by Greece joining the EU. Unfortunately, Ireland was never a part of the HRE. Try again? Evangelism is not about a body count of people who parrot acceptance of Christ. It's about people who really come to believe in Jesus' divinity, and in the Gospel message. You can't grow a rose in a day, but you can grow some mildew.
  • Remember that you're on the very same road - faith isn't a destination. it's a journey, and one that's uphill at that. We lose faith some days, we slip, we slide back down a rocky slope and bruise our souls...then we get up, and climb again. You're not shouting advice from a mountaintop; you're extending a hand to help someone up, while you're pulling yourself forward with your other hand.

God chose us to spread the word, I think, because the fragile vessels that we are make the best argument for Glory...that he would be willing to be one of us, to walk among His heartbreakingly stupid creations.

We're not smooth rich folks, selling Cadillacs. We're bloody and banged-up, selling antiseptic and bandages...because we've used them, and they work.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Butterfly Faith

A few years ago my wife and I started going to a cool new (to us) church. It had a dynamic pastor, trained and talented singers and musicians, and a congregation that was a few notches past enthusiastic.

Barb loved it. I almost lost my faith.

My background was pretty much solid muddle. I believe that Jesus is the Son of God (in the 'triune Godhead' sense), and that he rose from the dead, thereby permanently defeating the Last Enemy.Beyond that I didn't think about it too much, and read a mixture of Christian, Buddhist, Taoist, and Sikh books to keep my spiritual compass working. I did okay.

Suddenly, I was challenged. All these people, on fore for Jesus, singing with their hands raised. Speaking in tongues. Able to quote chapter and verse.

I tried. Raised my hands when I sang. Told to just open my heart to Jesus and be forever changed, I did.
Nothing happened.

Like a skydiver whose parachute had failed to open, I was concerned. I invited Jesus in. Apparently, He said Thanks, but No Thanks. Now what?

Maybe I didn't sing hard enough, or read enough of the Bible. I put away all my other religious readings, and concentrated on the Good Book.

And drifted further away. The words lay on the page, and when I talked to the pastoral staff they said I needed to read with the kind of open heart that I, clearly, did not possess.

My faith in God was going, and so was my faith in everything else. The world that had been a place of familiarity was now uncertain, totally unpredictable, and a Darwinian vale of danger.

I was saved by a butterfly. It flew its random aerial meander through a fresh morning, a seemingly mindless path from one hazard past the next. It even flew past my face, oblivious to the possibility that I might devour it on the wing, in a toothy gnash.

And that, I realized, is the faith that works for me. Feet up, mind in neutral, secure in the knowledge that a) God is there; b) God sorta likes me, and c) it's all way over me head.

Like a little child. I can live with that.

Starting Blocks

Some projects - like writing a book - seem so big that it's like standing at the foot of Everest in your tennis shoes, carrying a daypack..

"I'm really not ready for this."

So it's tempting to down tools and think, well, I'll start tomorrow. Those tomorrows have a way of multiplying, though, and pretty soon you'll be looking back across a calendar-sea, marked with days where you did anything else.

Starting is hard. Be it writing a book, making a garden in that bit of rocky waste-ground behind the garage, or cleaning the kitchen, the job looks daunting enough that it drowns any incentive to even look for a place to start.

The cliche is that any big job is like eating an elephant. You do it one mouthful at a time. But who wants to eat and elephant? Aside from being cute, it's probably illegal, because they're endangered. Scratch one incentive-builder.

But there are some ways to at least begin. They don't guarantee completion, and they may not work for everyone, but for what it's worth...

  • Define what you want to get done in the first work period, and make it realistic. If it's the novel you wanted to write, write the first paragraph. Don't worry about it being awful...the deciding factor is that you do it. If it's the kitchen, mark off one section of countertop, and clean that. Then quit. Give a small success a chance to see sunlight...don't bury it in an additional task that you won't finish, and that'll kill your morale.
  • Set a specific time to work. A time to start, a time to stop. If you finish early, stop early. If you don't finish, stop anyway, and pick it up again tomorrow.
  • Keep a log. Write what you want to do today, then when you're done, wrote what you did. Then write what you want to accomplish tomorrow.
  • Define your eventual goal, and write it down. Don't use cheesy motivators, like pasting a picture of the Hawaiian beach house you'll buy when your book makes the New York Times bestseller list.
  • Make the timetable for your goal realistic. It's not realistic to write a book in two weeks. It's not realistic to set up a formal English garden in a week, working alone.
  • Give yourself a small gift for each day's accomplishment. Have a cup of coffee on the deck, go for a walk...do something you like, and don't let other factors ("Mom, can you help me find my gym shoes?") make you put it aside. The reward is  part of the job.
  • Don't talk to a lot of people about your plans. Don;'t force yourself to live up to someone else's timetable.
  • Try to make your work environment pleasant. Burn incense, play music, sing...whatever it takes.
There's a saying that well begun is half done. It's speaking to attitude. That's the one thing you alone control.

Now, time to get to work on the new book...

Monday, October 15, 2012

End of the Beginning

Finished! Another book done. All I have to do it check for edits and continuity, and it's ready to shop.

It's funny. When I finished Blessed Are The Pure Of Heart I felt a sense of genuine sorrow. The characters I'd lived with for so long would now fade from my life...their stories were no longer my story. It took awhile to get past the slightly empty feeling. It was weird, and unexpected.

But now, after three more complete novels, that feeling's gone. My characters are all still with me. They're not me - but they're friends I seem to have met along the way. And - it gets weirder - I have a feeling that in their fictional universes, they have lives that continue on.

Makes me wonder about the creative process. Are we making up worlds, or are we tapping into something that already exists in God's heart, and that He's using us to express?

If anyone's interested in reading a few sample chapters, please let me know. It doesn't have a title yet, but it's an adventure story...after all, isn't falling in love the greatest adventure we have in our lives?

Friday, October 12, 2012

Hippie Heroes

Funny thing about fictional heroes. They say more about us than they do about themselves.

I recently saw an older movie (1966) called "The Blue Max"; it's a film that is high on the list for anyone interested in historic aviation, as it has perhaps the best flying sequences ever filmed. But it says a lot in another area, as well. It addresses what was important in society, when it was made.

Briefly, "The Blue Max" is the story of one Bruno Stachel, a pilot in the German Air Force close to the end of WW1. A man of humble origins (among a largely aristocratic officer corps), Stachel is ruthlessly ambitious, determined to make a name for himself by shooting down 20 enemy airplanes. This would bring him Germany's highest award, a medal called the "Pour le Merite", and nicknamed "The Blue Max".

Aside from the flying, the movie's almost painful to watch. There's nothing remotely appealing about Stachel - he's a cold automaton, with an ego that fills the screen. It wouldn't be so bad it any of the other characters were sympathetic, but no. Stachel's 'competition' on his squadron, a more experienced pilot, is a snobbish cad. Stachel's sometime mistress, a countess, collects the attentions prominent pilots under the nose of her husband, a general (a crass, publicity-minded opportunist). The only person remotely likable is Stachel's squadron commander, a stiff martinet who talks a lot about chivalry; the lines he's given are intended to make him look outdated and ridiculous.

With no one to like, "The Blue Max" is a nice example of the anti-hero film that was so popular in the 60s and 70s, and which probably took root in James Dean's "Rebel Without A Cause". We tend to look on this time with some nostalgia, but if you consider the products of the culture, there was a malign cynicism at work.

Heroes are just establishment puppets.

The real hero is the man who recognizes it, and refuses to buy into the establishment mythos.

Never trust anyone over 30.

You can see it in other films of the time, as well..."Dog Day Afternoon", "Three Days of the Condor", and even "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid".

We like to romanticize the 60s...the Beatles, the flower-carrying hippies, one of the last 'simple decades' before technology began to exert such control over our lives. But it's easy to forget the dog feces that these hippies threw at men returning from Viet Nam. It's easy to forget the riots in Detroit and Watts. It's easy to forget the most violent decade this country ever saw, for political assassinations: John and Robert Kennedy, and Martin Luther King.

Easy to see why there was a grim undertone to the movies we saw. (And note that I didn't even mention Viet Nam...the draftees' war that made young men feel that they were being herded into a war that their leaders refused to win, and one they refused to quit.)

Fast forward to today. The pendulum's swung back, and the films we see have heroes. The society we live in honors them. The 'Marvel Comics' films like "Iron Man" are a laughble, but still telling example. They wouldn't have been funded in the 60s.

We have another fairly unpopular war - Afghanistan. We have an economy that is, charitably, limping. We see the mention of Christ banned from the vocabulary of military chaplains, and a government that seems to defend the right of pornographers to openly assault our values.

What's changed? All I can think of is that maybe enough people bugged God about it, and He's seen that the time is right, now, to start building Hope again.

There are a LOT of complaints about how much we've lost, how far our culture's drifted from its moral roots...maybe true, but at least in movies, maybe, just maybe, we're drifting back.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Adopt Me!

There's an old joke that the first words spoken by a child born in Jersey City are..."Someone please adopt me!"

I'm from North Jersey, so I can say that!

Adoption is something that a lot of people look at as a last resort - if they can't have children, or if the chance of genetic damage is so great that it would be a perceived cruelty to give birth.

And that's a shame, because there is a crying need for more adoptive parents. Not for white infants in the USA, but for children whose luck has gone seriously down the tubes, and who face a childhood in an orphanage...with an uncertain future after they're discharged. All too often, they 'graduate' to a short and unhappy life of abuse, ranging from prostitution to impressed military service to grinding poverty in ghastly conditions, doing menial work.

There's a waiting list for white babies. For an African five-year-old, adoption is a miracle. For a Haitian ten-year-old, it's virtually beyond hope.

Why? The fact is that white people like white kids, and everyone wants a baby. It's assumed that it's easier to raise a baby, and this is true. Babies don't have much emotional baggage. Usually.

But the kids who need parents, who need that second chance, usually don't get it. And here, it's maybe time for adoption to become a conscious choice - a choice taken in place of having one's own child.

There are plenty of reasons why couples want kids of their own...

  • They want to experience the full passage to parenthood - from conception to college.\
  • They want to pass on their genetic material, in a child that will have recognizable traits from each parent (kind of hard to do if your kid was born an Ibo in Nigeria, and your ancestors came over on the Mayflower)
  • They want a clean slate - no memories of loss and sorrow to have to overcome
  • They want a child that'll present fewer challenges in the form of difference from the cultural norm
There's nothing intrinsically wrong with any of these lines of thinking, except that it's a zero-sum game. There are only so many homes to go around, and the total number of orphans in Sub-Saharan Africa alone is greater than the total number of children in Denmark, Ireland, Norway, Canada and Sweden combined. Over one million.

What will we tell them?

Forget About Forgiving?

Forgiveness is one of those pesky little things that I, personally, would like to overlook in the Bible. The only problem is that it's about the most commonly-mentioned concept (except maybe being struck dumb with awe) that's mentioned.

So I guess it's important. Like castor oil, and cabbage. But maybe there are some ways to make it a bit more palatable...

  1. It's not a free pass - you're nor giving blanket absolution to the person; that's God's job. You're putting aside the anger in your own heart.
  2. It's not an invitation - you don't have to forgive and then invite the person back into your life as if nothing's happened. No, wait. You do have to treat them as if nothing's happened. But you don't have to reinstitute the old patterns of behavior that led to your being hurt in the first place.
  3. It's not weak - forgiveness is not a weepy clinging and teary promises that everything's going to be all right. It's you, saying to yourself, "let it go". And then, letting it go, and when feelings of anger and bitterness surface, refusing to let them in, and refusing to hate.
  4. It's about you - forgiveness is designed to help your soul, to give you freedom. Hating someone else is, as Joyce Meyer says, like taking poison in the hope that your enemy will die. Kind of stupid.
Not easy at all. I'm not very good at it. But it seems to be important to God, so I guess I have to try.

Every day.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Change of Pace

I'm a bit too ill tonight too write...so here's something different...enjoy!

Monday, October 8, 2012

The Ego Games

There is a good chance that somewhere in your life, there is a relationship that is slowly driving you crazy.

The other person is kind, loving, funny, caring...most of the time. The rest of the time you wonder why you're even there.

I'm not sure if there's a word for this sort of thing, so I'll just describe it - I'm talking about a relationship with a parson who has to find some way to put you down to feel better about him-or-herself.

Like a light that can only be measured by the amount of darkness around it, this person has a constant need for comparison. It may be direct, it may be indirect, but sooner or later you're used as the ego's punching bag.

And it can hurt.

Why do they do it? usually, it's because of a self-image that was damaged, not too badly, as a child. Their hurt is just sever enough to make them want to cover up the gaps in their own capabilities, and the easiest way is to ensure that they shine brighter than anyone around. Easiest way to be bright is to toss mud on everything around you.

What to do?

Assuming that terminating the relationship is not something you want to do:

  1. Fight back - return insult and put-down one for one. This may, in some cases, not be a bad idea. If the person you're dealing with grew up in a large family, or came from a background where this was learned behavior, fighting back may hep to establish a 'pecking order' and a degree of familiarity (which may be subconscious). As long as you can keep it controlled, and keep the situation from escalating into name-calling and baiting, this solution might not be too bad. But you have to keep a degree of dispassionate remove that would be worthy of Mr. Spock.
  2. Parry the thrusts, but don't return them - as long as the put-downs and insults are even slightly unjust, you can try contradicting them. This is probably the weakest way to go, because you're always being reactive. You can never lead the dance, and you can find yourself led around by the nose. You also have to focus on your own perceived weaknesses, and you'll easily find yourself spending too much time building imaginary responses to imaginary arguments. The worst part of this method is that it doesn't work; your 'opponent' is looking for something beyond a mere exchange of facts, and a rational counter won't supply that.
  3. Just take it, Method A - just put your head down in ox-like stolidity, and accept what's happening. This works wonderfully if you're an ox. If you're human, not so much. The probable outcomes are a) an internalization of your own hurt, and a gradual emotional withdrawal from the relationship, or b) a buildup of anger that will one day find an outlet which will not be pretty. Neither helps the situation.
  4. Just take it, Method B - just put your head down, let the insults roll off, and remember that you're helping someone you like or love by simply being there. This is the 'high road' BS that TV preachers like to talk about at 3 AM, but unfortunately...it is the Christian way to go. It would be wonderful to get the person over whom you're tearing your hair into therapy, but since you're not the therapist, the best thing you can do is effect some positive control over the situation until professional help might be an option. To do this, you have to keep a very tight vision of your own self-worth, and a cool rein (calling Mr. Spock!) on your anger. But the payoff is this - if you can outlast the slings and arrows for just a minute, the other person's equilibrium will be shored up, and the GOOD things about the relationship will come out.
There's nothing easy about any of this, and it's really more a challenge for the ego-warrior than for you, because he or she will always have an unquenchable thirst, which can only be temporarily slaked with an almost vampire-like assault on another.

Your friend, or spouse, or sibling didn't ask to be this way - but the big question is one for you:

Can you offer a little bit of your blood, from time to time, as a sacrifice to keep them happy?

After all, someone did that for you, about two thousand years ago.

Friday, October 5, 2012

The High Violin Hurdles

Pity the poor novice violinist...their efforts are so often met with comments about fingernails and chalkboards, or romantic cats under a 3 AM moon.

There are undoubtedly thousands of violins sitting unloved in cases at the back of suburban closets, slowly drying out, and never again to carry a tune (I didn't hear that quiet chorus of "Thank God", did I?).

But...it's a shame that it should be that way, because not only the mastery of the violin is sublime. So is the journey.

  1. It's a leap of faith - taking up the violin, especially after the first, and probably most bewildering lesson, is one of the purest 'reaches' into the future you can make. The distance between 'want to' and 'can do' is almost never so obviously great.
  2. It's a leap of culture - in a time when Justin Bieber and Lady GaGa are High Art, deciding to learn the violin is an in-you-face snort of derision to Pop Culture. Take this step, and you're standing with Vivaldi and Mozart and Beethoven and Jack Benny.
  3.  It's a leap of discipline - mastery of this almost diabolically fickle instrument, dependent as its performance is upon humidity, temperature, and for all I know the phases of the moon, requires discipline...the knowledge that each day you will spend some time making noises that will make strong men weep, and dogs reach for Valium...and the dedication to go back and do it again tomorrow.
  4. It's a leap of learning - the violin can't be mastered through mindless repetition. You have to study both the music, and the instrument. You have to know how a violin works, both in general, and in the specific...you have to know your violin. Nothing in your life, except possibly your marriage, requires this.
  5. It's a leap of tolerance - you will have critics. They will be the people closest to you, and their criticisms will range from helpful to vicious. Helpful criticism can be the worst, because a well-meant comment may address something you simply can't do.  Yet.
  6. It's a leap of the imagination - every day, you have to picture yourself jamming with Itzhak Perlmann, while today sounding like Janis Joplin with a head cold.
  7. It's a leap into your own heart - the violin will learn to talk to you, far sooner than you ever thought it would (after it stops screaming "Help!", I mean). It'll tell you how it wants to work with you, to produce sounds of which you'll both be proud, and these entreaties will open up secret rooms of emotion that you never knew you had...and which are essential, to play the violin. You don't play the violin with your hands and arms - your heart plays it.
  8. It's a leap into a whole new world - one day you'll wake up, and you'll realize that you can pick up this assemblage of wood, varnish, and gut, your fingers and chin will slip into positions that are now comfortable, and you'll be able to play for the enjoyment of hearing the music. It'll feel normal.
Remember, even Itzhak Perlman and Anne-Sophie Mutter were once beginners.

Just like you.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Making Time For God

Where is talking with God on your list of daily priorities? Please don't say, 'First!"

Unless you're really an exceptional person, or someone who has learned to integrate prayer into everything you do, it's very likely not the case. Not by a longshot.

And...this is okay. We live in a world that God set in motion, and our trip through the years we have is supposed to mean something. It deserves our full attention, because properly serving the world is also serving the Almighty. In that sense, working with a sincere and focused heart, without saying God-this or Amen-that every two sentences, is the right thing to do (as well as being a lot less irritating to your co-workers).

But it's still a good idea to take time with the Man, to set aside a few minutes for prayer, to read the Bible, to meditate, whatever. Here are some thoughts on how to make that practical.

  1. Be up-front about what you want to do - prayer time is something a lot of families just don't 'get', and both spouses and children can look on it as a kind of self-indulgent way to have private time, with a divine imprimatur. This leads to a temptation to hide what you're doing...don't. Say what you're going to do - don't ask permission! - clearly, and don't leave it open for argument, or even negotiation. This is your right.  And consider the snide comments and the passive-aggressive guilt trips to be part of the sacrifice you make for Christ. It's a lot more fun to think of being crucified alongside Him...but if you can take insults on His behalf, I'm sure that works, too.
  2. Decide how much time you need, and where you need to spend it - if you need an hour a day - dinnertime - in the master bedroom, say so. If you need to be undisturbed, say so, and mean it. But if you can pick a less confrontational time and place, do so. The aim is time with God, not to pick a fight to prove your worth. And...make sure you aren't trespassing on another family member's activities. Not fair to say, "I'm praying here, so clear out!" hardly a Christian message. 
  3. Be consistent - nothing's going to build respect faster than consistency, or erase it faster than a sloppy approach to your practice. The prayer time you miss because your dog's having a seizure is fine - only an ogre would call you on that. But missing it because you wanted to see the finals of "The Voice" says a lot about your priorities, none of it good.
  4. Develop time-saving strategies - if you get your daily duties done, you're less likely to be hassled. On the other hand, if you decide that your wife and kids can start mowing the lawn because you're communing with God, you've just introduced a huge amount of resentment, and you've done any evangelistic efforts that might be needed in your home a great disservice. Make time in other ways...for instance, in repetitive chores, like mowing the lawn, try to do it the same way every time, so you have a 'tempo', and need not think your way through it. Likewise, try to organize supplies or tools you'll need so they're in the same place every time, and easily and logocally accessible. Do a time-and-motion study on your routine. I bet you can shave minutes, which can add up to hours, every week.
  5. Be normal - the fact that you pray doesn't make you better than anyone else. God decides who goes to heaven - we don't. You're praying to improve your relationship with your creator, not to build a taller base so that you can lord it over your family, friends, and community.
What do you think? Any suggestions for ways to make time for prayer?

Quitting Time

Never quit!

Good words...good, inspiring words that make an excellent banner, tattoo, or Facebook slogan.

But they carry a danger, in that they are awfully attractive...attractive enough to let your words replace your thinking.

The thing is, there are times when quitting is the right thing to do. Not just the obvious times, like when your boss is somewhat less social than Charles Manson. There are times to let go in the grey areas, when your heart says 'press on'!

I'm talking about things like jobs, careers, and 'important' hobbies (the ones that are more dream-fulfillment than time-fillers). I'm specifically not talking about quitting a marriage, or a friendship. I'm not qualified to talk about divorce, since I was divorced once but remarried the same woman (which means, I suppose, that I'm not very good at getting divorced). Ditto friendship...I don't hold with the thought of a friend for a season. Either permanent, or it's not a friend.

That said, here are some 'quitting criteria'.

  1. Is this really what I want to be doing? When you started a project or a job, it may have been a perfect fit. But we grow, and sometimes we grow out of our old dreams and comfort zones.
  2. Is this worth the time I'm putting in? Sometimes you can put more time into a given area of your life than it's really worth; the job may be a good one, but the demands for 20 hours of overtime per week may put it on the other side of 'not worth doing'
  3. Am I a better person for this? Is what you're doing making you a better spouse, friend, parent? Do you like yourself better...or as much as when you started?
Notice that I'm not saying, "can I afford to see this project through" or "can I afford this hobby". These questions should answer themselves.

Neither am I saying, "do I have the skill?" Any skill, from welding ot the violin, can be learned.

What do you think?

Monday, October 1, 2012

Let's Talk About Sex


As a writer, not talking about sex with any specificity one of the rules that I refuse to break. It's not a matter of prudery, or a religious cast that says that all sex is somehow tainted with sin.

Rather, it's a matter of privacy. My characters have to become 'real people' to me, and hopefully to you, for the duration of the book  There are some parts of my life that I would rather not have open to general examination, and I'll bet parts of yours, too - not because they're 'bad' or 'wrong', but because they're private. There is that sometimes subtle line that says, this is privileged.

And, personally, I figure that if I want these characters to be people who live on in your memory as true personalities, long after the book's back on the shelf and finished, I have to let them have their areas of privileged information.

Andrew Greeley, one of my favorite writers, takes a very different view, and made a name for himself by being 'the priest who writes explicitly about sex'. In truth, he's not a whole lot more explicit than the Song of Songs, but I find the 'sex scenes' in his novels to be the least convincing, and the least 'necessary'. They tend to slow down the development of the plot, and don't add a whole lot to character development. I mean, we know the characters aren't asexual. Point made, and we don't need to see an owner's manual, with examples, for their relationship.

Outside the writing world, most conversations about sex tend to fall into the locker-room variety. I've heard my fill, and these included 'sober' descriptions from men who thought they were being thoughtfully analytical. At heart, though, there always seemed to be some aspect of personal ego involved, with a concurrent degree of exaggeration and embellishment. The descriptions always ended up reinforcing some stereotype, and after hearing enough I began to let my mind go somewhere else. Anywhere else.(I'm told that women have their own variety of locker-room talk, but I've never heard it, and suspect that I might prefer not to!)

Obviously, there are appropriate forums (fora?) for conversations on this subject...between spouses, in therapy, and on Dr. Phil's show.

Joking? No, I wasn't. I've seen men furtively listen to talk shows that described certain sexual problems, and nodding to themselves...and one hopes that this could lead to clarity in their relationship. (And no, I don't believe that 'conversations between friends' about your relationships can serve the same purpose, because ego will get in the way.)

But...heck, I might be very wrong, and totally out of synch with the world today. Maybe sexual transparency is the psychological Sara Wrap that has resulted in the preservation of many marriages. I've been called 'one of the finest minds of the eighteenth century'...did I just prove it?