Thursday, September 14, 2017

Most Important Questions

If you have been around nerds that are fans of The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, you will be thinking of a question like, "What is the purpose of life, the universe, and everything?" But as fun as a discussion of this question or the novels would be, this is not really the most important question. The most important question is both much more fundamental and can be applied to so many things.

Most of us don't examine our own beliefs very much or very often. We pick up a few in childhood. Change all of them in our adolescence. And then acquire another layer of beliefs in our early adulthood. Then we stop asking questions and get jobs.

There are lots of people that believe in God because their parents taught them to. There are an equal number that don't because their parent taught them to and they rebelled later. Neither of these reasons is a good reason.

There are lots of people that are Democrats or Republicans because their parents were. There are an equal number that aren't because their parents were and they rebelled and picked the other party. Neither is a good reason.

I could go on and on. Groups of people that like Coke or Pepsi. Groups of people that believe in vaccination or not. Groups of people that believe in global warming or not. Groups of people that have good oral hygiene or not.

The vast majority of people have these beliefs or preferences and haven't thought about them for many years. Sometimes decades. That is why this question is important.

People that think that they are living the examined life will be saying. "But I have asked this question." And they are expecting the question to be, "Why do you believe the way you do?"  And this is a good question. But it is not the best question.

Whether it was in your youth, at your parent's knee, or through a mature study and examination, everyone has a conversion experience to all of their beliefs and preferences. There is a reason you believe the way you do. It is important, but not as important as you think.

And that leads us to the real question. The most important question. The question that will help you peel back the layers of tradition, and habit, and peer pressure. The question that will show you what things you believe and know for good reasons and the things you are only clinging to because it's easier than figuring it out on your own or for some fanatical and unreasonable reason.

The question is, "What would it take to change your mind?"

Simple isn't it. It has an elegant structure that is unassuming. Yet it also has a sharp edge that can cut away the facade like a scalpel.

If we use this question well, we will not only find out what we really believe and think, but will discover better reasons. We may change our minds on a few things that we thought we believed.

When we are in a discussion of some conflict or controversy. We can reduce the fighting by saying, "In order for me to be convinced and change my mind, this is required." This required evidence will either show us to be a fanatic or will give the discussion a more rational basis.

Applying this question does not need to wait for an argument. Each of us is capable of asking this question of ourselves. What would it take to change my mind that Macs are better than PCs? What would it take to change my mind that eating meat is not inferior to vegetarian diets? What would it take to change my mind on politics, religion, or personal preference and belief?

Once applied, the question shows us things that we are accepting and even acting on that we have not examined thoroughly. It will show us things that we believe that we are fanatics about. Fanatics are people that have a belief or argument that cannot be falsified.

Most of the time we think of fanatics as religious. So let's start with that example. If you ask yourself, "What would it take for me to change my mind about my Church or Religion?" And the answer is, "Nothing short of an angelic visitation," then you might be a fanatic. If on the other hand, the answer is simple, "If I pray and feel like God wants me to attend a different church, I will." Then you are probably not a fanatic.

But religion is not the only way people can be fanatics. Many people are fanatical about other things. Global Warming is one that I like to talk about. I had this argument with a friend. If we ask, "What would it take to change your mind about Global Warming?" And the answer is, "Nothing, Global Warming is Science!" then you are a fanatic. If on the other hand, the answer is, "If we take regional temperatures on a monthly basis and compare them to like months over a 5-year span, the result should show a warming trend or not." Then you are not a fanatic.

Here is the tip. If you don't have a reasonable way to change your mind. Especially if you don't have ANY way to change your mind, then you are a fanatic. And your argument or belief is probably false.

So, what would it take to change your mind?



Tuesday, May 30, 2017

To Paint with all the Colors of the Visible Spectrum



So I started this story when a friend of mine and I were discussing how we learned about science. I was saying that I had learned a lot about science by reading science fiction. He was not convinced and was of the opinion that there would be too much fake science.

So I started writing this short story to prove my point. I showed him the rough draft. It wasn't the end of the argument but I did use it in my argument.

Then it went on the shelf. Or at least the digital shelf. When I started to publish my short stories, the characters in this story started a protest. They wanted to be published as well. I couldn't find a good reason to keep them confined, so they have been release.

I'm happy to publish a short story about a young man who is socially awkward but has great talent. He is an artist who paints with stars. To do this he has to know and discuss a few parts of astrophysics.

Not all is sweetness and light. He has a rival that is jealous and attempts to sabotage his ship. Things look a bit grim for a while.

You'll have to read the story to find out if Baxter can save himself and his friends. And to find out if he can overcome his limitations to make new friends. And to find out how he paints with stars.

To Paint with all the Colors of the Visible Spectrum is now available on Amazon.

Monday, February 6, 2017

Airlock: A Grey Space Story

Another Story is up and available on Amazon.  This is a short story that I wrote, liked, and started writing a series of stories around this character.

James Grey is a man trying to make a living. He goes on a salvage mission and gets more than he bargained for. Basically, it's a man in a space suit, with an airlock, and a limited amount of time.

It's a short story.

I started out playing with some ideas for a video game that a group of friends and I were thinking about developing. This is not one of the ideas that had any traction, but the small, one sentence note that I had jotted down about this story kept bugging me. I kept seeing it and thinking about it. So I started to add a bit more detail to it.

In a few days I had a plot, a character, and then a rough draft. So I showed it to a friend of mine. He hated it. But while he was reading it, I wrote the plot outlines for nine more stories based on James Grey and his AI partner Jeeves.

As sometimes happens when we get negative feedback, I dropped the project and went back to my Novel. A novel that is now finished and available on Amazon, and Smashwords called Arbor Colony. Available in both eBook and Paperback.

My novel was looking lonely there with so few companions and suddenly this short story was back bugging me to be finished. So I sat down and read it again. One of two things happens when I read something that I wrote and set aside. Either I hate it, or I go "Wow, that is good. I should finish it."

So the Grey Space stories are back on the hopper to get finished. They should be pretty quick work to finish and get out there. So no one should be worried that I'm not going to finish Seed of Stars the next novel after Arbor Colony.

While you are waiting for it, check out this story and let me know what you think of it.

Thursday, February 2, 2017

Not all Lepers were healed.

"During the time of Christ, he healed lepers and caused the blind to see. But he didn't heal all of the lepers. Nor cure all of the blind. And we don't know why." This is a quote that I read in the credits of a movie called the Coalville Miracle. I find it pretty thought provoking.

A shallow person might read this and feel a bit angry or resentful at God. If God is all powerful and can stop evil men and bad things from happening, why doesn't he do it? Does he not love all of his children?

And some people encounter this thought and their shallow view of God, as a kindly grandfather figure that keeps a handful of candy in his pocket to give out to especially good little children, falters. Their faith is shaken. They encounter a crisis of faith and some don't recover from this first and inevitable question.

Why does God permit bad things to happen to good people?

The answer is both simple, and profound. I tell a parable of the frost to help answer this questions. The parable goes like this:

There once was a farmer that was in the business of growing peaches. He had worked hard and nurtured and cared for his orchard for many years and this year he would have enough fruit bearing trees to make a profit and pay off his debts at the bank. 
Then there was a late frost. To those not in agriculture, a late frost will damage the buds on the trees. Many of the peaches that would have been borne by those buds would never happen. A good portion of those that did survive would be damaged and misshapen. The financial winning year had been ruined in one night. 
The farmer stopped going to church. After a few weeks, the leader of his congregation came to call. The farmer had this to say. 
"God knows that I can't grow peaches with a late frost." Said the farmer. 
His visitor looked him up and down and replied. "God knows very well what it takes to grow peaches. But he is more interested in growing men. Peaches may not grow with a late frost, but men won't grow without them." 
The farmer kicked at the dirt a bit and then looked up. "I understand what you are telling me. You'll see me in church next week."

For any who missed the point. We don't reach our full potential without some hardships in life. We have to encounter both; times where we have to lift another, and times where we have to be lifted by others. We don't become what God wants us to become without these experiences.

We can't become strong and able to do hard and difficult things by having an easy life where we never encounter hardship or pain.

This is the simple answer.

The deeper answer is a bit more personal. But it's the same principle and the same basic answer.

There was a time in my life when I was making lots of money, everyone in my family was healthy, and the future looked bright. I felt like I was really blessed, and that I had made it to a place of security.

At this time I encountered a person that was stuck. They could not get to a place that would allow them to feed their family and make personal or professional progress. I didn't even hesitate.

I took time off of work and dug into their problems and helped them get to a place where they could help themselves. It was a bunch of work. I spent a bunch of my money. A few times my wife looked at me and asked if I had gone crazy. But I felt the hand of God on my back pushing me forward.

A few years later, I was upside down on my finances. I was desperately trying to pay off debts. I let my car get repossessed and tightened my belt quite a bit to make it by.

Then my wife and I lost a child. At what I thought was the lowest point, I was shown that I could go lower. Then I lost my job.

It was like everything that I had was being attacked. Nothing was safe. Every day I needed more and more and had less and less.

Other people did step in and help me. I'm not keeping score, but I'm sure there are people that felt the hand of God on their shoulders as they helped my family the way I had felt it years earlier.

At this time I made the observation, "I used to think that all of my troubles could be solved with just a little bit of money. Now I have troubles that no money can solve."

I'm not telling this story to brag or to be proud in my humility. I'm saying that I'm the same person in both parts of the story. I had money and health and safety and had enough to freely give to others in need. Then circumstances changed and I needed help, was visited with poverty and death and pain and humiliation.

I know that God allowed both sets of experiences to happen. If I had only had the blessings of health and wealth, I would lack an empathy for those in trials and pain. God is making me into something he needs. He is wise enough to know what I need to become that.

I don't know specifically what God wants to make of me. It may not be something that gets finished in this life. But I love God and trust that he has a plan.

Anger comes from Pride

When I help others, I sometimes see them struggle with being angry. Angry at banks or credit cards.
Angry at landlords or employers. Angry and police or government.

I get caught up in this anger sometimes as well. It never makes me happy. For a time, I tried to have opinions on all the current events and voice my feelings at the top of my social network enhanced lungs. Then I learned that this only made me depressed and unhappy.

I'd rather be at peace, and be happy. I invite you to be happy with me.

Grieve over the fallen, but don't curse those who have caused it. There are plenty of people cursing them without you.

Lift those in need of your help, but don't shout at those that took advantage. There are plenty of people shouting at them without you.

Aid those that need aid, but don't lash out at those that hurt others. There are plenty of people lashing out at them without you.

Anger comes from pride and pride comes from thinking that you are better than those that do wrong in your eyes. Pride comes from judging others, most of the time when we don't know the details.

Peace comes from doing what you can to help others and trusting in the Lord and his plan, and letting others help you when it is offered.

I don't know why all lepers weren't healed. I know that the healing in my life came to me not because I deserved it, but in spite of my not being worthy. I have done little to merit the kindness that is shown to me on a daily basis. The only thing I can do to repay it is to try and show kindness to others, especially when I don't think they deserve it.

So we have the choice to find within ourselves anger or peace. I recommend peace.