Tuesday, January 30, 2018

"Walking On the Sea of Clouds," Gray Rinehart

I reviewed the book on Amazon, and you can read and vote 'helpful' on the review by clicking HERE.

This isn't a repeat of the review; I just wanted to add some memories that came to the surface as I was reading the book. I DO, however, close with ONE MORE comment on an excellent bit I found in "Walking On The Sea Of Clouds."

I was born in 1953, so I was 4 years old at the time of the Sputnik launch. My chief recollection of that time was likely prompted by hearing of Nikita Khrushchev boast  "America sleeps under a Soviet moon."

It scared me goofy. I didn't WANT to sleep under a Soviet moon; I dimly recall weeping in  my mother's arms as she assured me that the moon wouldn't get me. I doubt that I really believed her; it takes a LOT to convince a four-year-old that the bogeyman he can see in the night sky is just a big ball of rock. Patient repetition did the trick, though; mothers are remarkably good at that.

At any rate, my fears shifted over from the moon to nuclear war and Soviet invasion over the next several years. The post-apocalyptic movie  'Alas, Babylon' on TV convinced me that I was going to have to fight Russians in the hallway to protect my baby sister. Fall-out shelters were designated on the city streets.

Strangely, the 'duck and cover' drills we did at school, and the time we practiced evacuation drills by walking home instead of riding the bus, were helpful, because it gave me the idea that we could do something if the Russkis began raining death from the skies.

School Evacuation Drill, November 1962.
The teacher held envelopes containing the bus route with drop-off points.

The scariest stuff got less scary, as we grew used to it. My family even got caught up in military convoys MILES and MILES long, traveling the two-lane roads between Texas and Georgia, and our only  interest was in seeing all the trucks, jeeps, and tanks motoring along and slowing traffic. I don't recall that we had any sense of fear at all; at least I didn't. I can't remember if these convoys were in response to the Berlin Crisis of 1961 or the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962.  In 1973, I heard about them again, from an old-service Army motor-pool sergeant, when I was stationed with the 582nd Medical Company (Ambulance) at Coffey Barracks in Ludwigsburg, Germany. He said that the massive breakdown of trucks and jeeps during the convoys resulted in the Army revising their maintenance reporting, so that if we HAD to move out again, this time we'd know who was coming.

At any rate, by the time the US started to make progress in space, most of the fears just went away in the excitement. We were given the option of staying home, or going to school, to watch the early shots on television. Our first manned mission, with Alan Shepard aboard Friendship 7 and a Redstone rocket that burned moonshine for fuel, launched on my 8th birthday, on May 5, 1961.

Surely, with that much going on while I was still in the second grade, I could expect to vacation on the moon by the time I retired! 

Well, not so much.

Wiser people can tell you reasons why we aren't living in the world we had hoped for; no hotels on the moon, no asteroid mining. The only humans in space are in the International Space Station, and that's good; however, for the last 7 years, they only way anybody can get there, or home from there, is by hitching a ride with the Russians. In addition to that, the lunch is catered by a private company: Spacex's Dragon brings consumables and parts needed to keep the people alive and the ISS aloft.

I am fortunate to be a correspondent with a number of the folks who worked to make it possible for four-year-old boys to grow up without being afraid that a Soviet Moon was going to eat them. That's something that can happen when you spend all your time reading and reviewing good books. The same brilliance that makes the tech WORK to allow people to comment on the Super Bowl from space, also extends to telling good stories about other things. Perhaps, if we are lucky, they will continue to infect future generations with the desire to reach out.

And, we are at the end of this blog post. As promised, though, I have one last comment to make about "Walking On the Sea of Clouds." I have quite a bit of training and experience working with people in moments of crisis. As such, I believe I can recognize motivations and stressors, usually before the client is able to put those things into words. 

HOWEVER, I don't think I have EVER read a book where the author does such an excellent job of detailing inner conflict in such a way as to make the characters so decidedly sympathetic. Although the primary source of conflict is the decision to seek status as a lunar colonist or worker, other issues also receive his perceptive treatment. 

It's really magnificent; I was struck immediately by the precision and compassion in Rinehart's words, as Barbara "discovered a kernel of doubt inside herself that she’d never noticed before." (Gray Rinehart. Walking on the Sea of Clouds (Kindle Location 1924). Word Fire Press.) What follows here, and in other places, is an emotional 'set' laid out with almost mathematical exactness. Every word is the right word; the sum of those words places you inside the skin of the POV character. It's simply marvellous to me; it might not be to you, if you haven't had people as your primary field of study for the past forty years. But you will enjoy it, just the same.

Peace be on your household.

Friday, January 26, 2018

Writing about Monsters and Murderers: SHORT!

I'm reading the remarkable "Walking on the Sea of Clouds" by Gray Rinehart at the moment (review likely posts later today) and his brilliance in character insights has me thinking.

I believe the dictum is "write what you know," which is why Jack London could write about San Francisco and Alaska, and Mark Twain could write about the Mississippi and mining camps. Those are things they did.

BUT: what about people who write about characters who are deeply disturbed?

It's something to consider, isn't it?

Peace be on your household.

Friday, January 19, 2018

INVASION: Day of Battle, by John F Holmes

I just re-read my review of "Invasion, Book 1:Resistance," which you can find here; and I'm thinking: WOW, was I ever a tough grader! I gave that book 4 stars, SOLELY because it ended on such a cliff-hanger. I believe I'm going to have to amend that review, now, and clarify that it was BECAUSE IT WAS SUCH A COMPELLING STORY!!!! and had a cliff-hanger ending. The second volume wasn't available at that time, so it was really just frustration that I couldn't go further that's reflected in the loss of a star; It wasn't that I didn't like it; it's that I liked it too much.

Well, Holmes has atoned for that with this book. Not only has he written the much desired sequel, but his prologue does an excellent job of refreshing my memory without boring me to tears. I read the first book in August, to get the review out before the Dragon Awards were voted, and somehow (it was personal stuff) I missed the release of this in November. So, the Prologue was needed, and was very well done, indeed.

This is the kind of book that would be placed on the top shelf of my bookcase, in the days before e-books were my drug of choice. If I turn my head, I can see the crowded array of those top-shelf books: Heinlein; Niven; Pournelle; Drake. Clancy and Crichton were on the next shelf, by the way, just to give you a better idea of my rating system back then. It's outmoded, now, because I have shifted over to ebooks, and I might procure as many as three dead-tree books each year, and those are usually reference materials; the exceptions are autographed copies, which I do pick up from time to time.

So much for the preliminary, now on to the review of THIS volume in the story, which may be found on Amazon here:

Many of the characters from "Resistance" continue their stories in "Day of Battle," and some of them regrettably end their stories here. That's to be expected, in a war fought against superior technology, particularly when the enemy holds the high ground.

However, the covert plan has made arrangements for those circumstances. Timing, as always, is the key, and since the enemy has systematically stomped on advanced communications, that is probably the most difficult part of the plan to implement. Everything has to happen at the same time, or, at least, in the exact sequence. And that's a difficult story to tell.

Holmes manages to do that quite effectively, however, by telling the complete story of each point-of-view character from beginning to end. When he shifts the POV, he summarizes the other activities that are taking place at the same time, so that we realize the incredible complexity of the battle, without getting lost  in the story.

The space battle has to be won. The submarine attacks have to be protected. The cities have to be invaded. The strong points and other key installations have to be defeated, and it all has to happen at the same time, or it won't work, and we won't get another chance.

It would not be possible, without the assistance of the superbrains of the artificial intelligences, coordinated by the commanding general with a brain link. It would not be possible, without the theft of an invader spacecraft, piloted by the Empress of Japan. It would not be possible, without the skill and determination of a pitifully small number of combat veterans, who have been waiting for their chance. It would not be possible, without the volunteers and conscripts from the generation which has grown up post-invasion.

And Holmes manages to tell every story, in a way that allows us to experience the personal sacrifices made at each level.

The book doesn't solve every issue, fortunately, so we have (at least) one other volume to anticipate. The same cliff-hanger feel isn't here in this story, for which we may be truly grateful.

Peace be on your household.

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Coffee, and Southern Hospitality

Disclaimer: I've never lived any further north than North Carolina. The brief time I lived in Miami, Florida, was in 1959, when it was still mostly in the South.

But, I WAS in the Army, and say what you will about the Big Green Machine, it has put more boys and girls from the South in close proximity to boys and girls from the North than Amtrak and the interstate highway system combined.

And it was in the Army, from the lips of a lad from one of the boroughs of New York, that I first heard of  'a coffee.'

Now, I had grown up around coffee. Next to sweet tea, coffee is THE thing that was served most often as a beverage in Southern homes in the 1950's & 1960's. Maybe in palaces, Coke was served, but for those of us just running around bare-footed, a Coke was a dessert, not a drink. I was flabbergasted the first time I heard of someone drinking a Coke in the morning.

As a teen, I'd drop in to the neighborhood gathering house (they had teenage girls and Steppenwolf records), and I'd be greeted by the mom, "Hey, you want a cup of coffee?"

That wasn't at all unusual. It was the routine, and I absorbed it, and today, I offer coffee to the guys who come to fix the cable, as well as to friends and family. But, I never, ever, ever in my life offered someone 'A coffee.' It's always:

"Would you like SOME coffee?"
"Can I get you A CUP of coffee?"

I was thinking about that this morning, running through my memory to see if there was any time AT ALL that the formulation "A coffee" crossed my lips. At first, I thought I was free of that formulation, but then I realized, that there is ONE time when I use the phrase.

It's when I'm going through the drive through window at Starbucks, or some similar coffee emporium.

"Welcome to Starbucks, may I take your order?"
"Yeah, lemme have A venti coffee with double cream."

And it occurred to me: That's where the Yankees get it.

They get their coffee, to go, at diners. That's how you always see it in the movies and on TV, at least.

Tough cop show dialogue:

In the precinct: "Hey, Bennett, if you're going to the deli, get me a coffee and a danish."
At the crime scene: "Lew, Brody got us a bunch of coffees. You want one?"

They never visit each other in their houses, because everybody lives in the city, and there is a bodega on every corner and two delis per block. That's where coffee comes from. They don't have a sweet little old lady sitting on a couch, watching soap operas, offering the caffeine fix to everyone who comes through the door.

Nope. In the South, it's as much a ritual as it is refreshment; in the North, it's essential fuel to fight off the blizzards y'all experience 9 months out of the year, if you are a civilian; if you are a cop, it warms the fingers, so you can feel your gun and your pencil and pad to take notes and write tickets.

Now, I usually don't think that much about coffee, but lately, my system can't tolerate it. It jacks my metabolism and my blood sugar drops, so I've had to give it up. I'm drinking this silly lemon ginger probiotic herbal tea, now. It's okay.

It ain't as good as coffee, though.

Peace be on your household.

Sunday, January 14, 2018

"Not By Sight," by Ken Prescott: Late Skirmish in the Cold War

It's been 27 years (December 31, 1991) since the very last act of the former Soviet Union: the Soviet Ambassador to the UN delivered a letter to the UN Secretary-General announcing that Russia was the successor state to the USSR. That was merely turning the lights off and locking the door, however;  the USSR had been collapsing for the past several years, with August 21, 1991 marking the last formal resistance to handing over power to a non-Communist state.

For those who came to adulthood in the post-1991 world, it's difficult to comprehend just what a significant role the Cold War played in the lives of the people born in the 10 years following the end of WWII. We had regular duck-and-cover drills in the classroom, and learned evacuation routes from school to home in case of a nuclear war. Millions of service members served in Europe (I was one of them) to act as a speed bump on the day when the Soviet tanks came rolling across the Fulda Gap, with all our efforts designed to slow their progress so that Reforger could bring the combat units based in the continental US across the Atlantic. Every barracks, every military building of any kind, had posters on the wall, urging us to KNOW OUR ENEMY, with scary descriptions of the utter determination of the Soviet soldier to obey orders without question.

At the time I was stationed in Europe (March 1973 - August 1975), the Soviet Union was in total control. The United States military focus was almost entirely in Southeast Asia, and the reductions in force that came following the end of our involvement there, the end of the draft, and the upheavals in our government all acted to give the Soviets a great deal of security on the home front. (It made them so secure, in fact, that they made the decision to get involved in Afghanistan, which they regretted bitterly.)

In 1980, things changed, with the election of Ronald Reagan, who declared them to be an evil empire.

Reagan's determination to bolster the strength of conventional armed forces, while modernizing and developing new weapon systems, forced the Soviets into an arms race they couldn't possibly win, because their economy didn't have the ability to provide both guns and butter. When Mikhail Gorbachev came to power in 1985, he immediately began a process of openness and reform (glasnost and perestroika).

It was the beginning of the end for the Soviet Union, because having gained a little freedom, the associated republics wanted more. The more concessions Gorbachev gave, the more the satellites wanted, and the more the hard-liners in his government resisted.

And that's the background for Prescott's novel.

Here's my Amazon review of the book, which, after about an hour, still hasn't posted.

I obtained this book through the Kindle Unlimited program.
I MUST first pay my compliments to the cover, else I will forget. It's really eye-catching: a night-vision shot of an attack helicopter, silhouetted against the brighter flares of....something. Might be the lights of a city, might be burning tanks; but whatever the brighter points are, they serve to emphasize the stealthy lethality of the war machine. The font and placement are also good choices, too; my initial impression was of early dot-matrix green-screen printing, and that's exactly the right tone for the time in which the story is set. An artist could tell you why the title and author's name are legible; I don't speak that language, but I appreciate that effect.

Despite a typo in the Chapter Five title, the main events take place over a period of about a week in early May, 1988.

In December of 1987, Reagan and Gorbachev signed the Intermediate Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, the INF, with the implementation date of June, 1988. The hard-liners in East Germany (DDR) and in the Soviet Union bitterly opposed the liberalization policies Gorbachev had implemented, and resisted them to the fullest. The DDR rightly forecast that only the backing of the Soviet military machine kept them in power, and so there were factions that sought any opportunity to disrupt the implementation of the treaty.

Meanwhile, in America, rogue elements in the intelligence community were eager to take just about any action they could, in the wake of the Iran-Contra disaster. Knowing that heads were going to roll, they wanted to produce an intelligence coup as justification for their continued employment.

Enter Dennis Sandoval, an Air Force enlisted man in the process of qualifying for the elite intelligence department known as Ghostrunners. His somewhat fog-shrouded past has provided him with enhanced skills, but he has earned the ire of his executive officer by reporting the dishonesty of an existing member of the team, who has since been kicked out of the unit.

To his surprise, he immediately gets placed into operational status upon completion of training. That, plus an appalling lack of intelligence needed to carry out the mission, makes him suspicious that all is not as it seems.

He's correct in that. He is told his mission is to exfiltrate an unknown American missionary who is smuggling Bibles across the border. (Note: this was a common practice in the days before the Iron Curtain fell.) In addition to the fact that he is not given the identity of the missionary, other aspects of the mission are also problematic; however, the reaction of his executive officer when he asks questions makes him decide to keep his mouth shut, at least through official channels.

What follows is an adventure which could have been written by Tom Clancy at the height of his career, and since I repeatedly devoured every book Clancy wrote, that's high praise from me.  Weapon use and deployment, moving across terrain, and spycraft are all described with the ring of authenticity. The only NON-standard story elements are the little coincidences, which are necessary to the storyline, and incidentally in providing us with a look at Sandoval's background.

There aren't any cliff-hangers, but there are a number of plot lines which could and should be developed further. The story has an obvious prequel called for, and the character is too good to be seen in just one book.

Peace be on your household.

Friday, January 12, 2018

Where's the Music of the Revolution Now?

I read Peter Grant's comments this morning on Mad Genius Club. and that sparked this post.

A long time ago (1977 - 1986) I made my living recruiting students for admission to college.
Accidentally, almost, I learned that what we call the 'liberal arts' used to be called the 'liberating arts;' they were programs of study that would provide you with a profession that would liberate you from life behind the plow.

There were four of these liberating arts: doctor; lawyer; preacher; teacher. That's all the economy at the time could support. It took everybody else who wasn't one of these to make sure that there was enough food to eat, clothes to wear, and places to live.

Then developments in agriculture, energy production, transportation, and a few other areas meant that it took fewer people to provide the necessary means to live, and more wealth was generated, and society became able to support people with degrees in psychology and music and philosophy. New professions were generated, as well, with a need for engineers, architects, and people who could make nuclear warheads.

Eisenhower warned of the dangers of the military-industrial complex; the current wretched institution is the college-financial complex. The colleges promise, the financial agencies loan, and students enroll and then drop out. If they drop out early, they may only owe $5,000, with no acquired skill set which would allow them to pay off the debt. If they finish a four-year degree, they may wind up with as much as $80,000 in debt, also with no acquired skill set, in too many cases.

No wonder we have muttering mobs of disaffected individuals. They are facing years of scrimping and saving to pay off the loans that paid for four years to get a degree in political science, and are qualified for a job in retail, child care, the fast-food industry; the same jobs they were qualified for before they started school.

Forty six years ago, I was a disaffected youth. The main thing my cohort protested was The War, but we were also wildly indignant about racism, outmoded expectations of sexual behavior, outmoded standards of dress and hair length, outmoded drug laws, and crimes against migrant farm workers. Oh, and exclusion from the political process. And the evils of the technological society. I'm sure there were other items on our agenda, but I can't recall them at this time.

Now, my PERSONAL solution to the paternalistic domination of 1972 was simple, straightforward, and logical: I joined the Army.  It was wonderfully liberating! I no longer worried about all the stuff that had bothered me in my brief career as a college student, because I had no worries at all. Someone was always there to tell me what to do next, and when and how to do it. And I never had any problem getting to sleep at night.

And while I DID have a student loan hanging over me, it was only $250, and I used my munificent pay ($333.60/month as an E-3 under 2 in 1972)  to pay that off before I shipped out to Germany.

Somewhat more liberal policies are extended today. When my oldest son signed his contract after completing his BA in History, preparing for his career as a teacher, the Army agreed to pay off his student loans in exchange for his selection of a combat arm, and he picked field artillery.

However, there has been one change which is horribly crippling to the muttering mobs: they have no unifying music.  I do not know why this should be the case. Heck, we only had ONE radio station that played contemporary music in 1972, and it was AM! The high tech music delivery system was the 8-track tape cassette. And yet, I was able to have my revolutionary fervor fed by Crosby, Stills, Nash, & Young all year long, supplemented by chanting "All we are saying, is give peace a chance," at protest meetings.

I have no solution for the music problem. However, for the college loan problem, I can offer the path my oldest son took: join the Army. Of course, that may mean that you get shipped to Afghanistan and wind up hammered by a 155 mm rocket, but you knew that was a risk when you signed those loan papers as an eager college freshman, right?

And, if you qualify, the military can also provide you with some bodacious skills. If Air Traffic Controller is still available, that's a pretty marketable skill.

Or, you could just sign up for the career track in high school, and maybe supplement it with a year or two of tech school. Some amazing job opportunities out there for people who can do things.

And, since the current music scene seems to have failed them, I offer the wisdom of 1957, provided by the Silhouettes.

Peace be on your household.

Saturday, January 6, 2018

Grief Examined: Make It Didn't Happen

There is a Larry Niven short story, not in the Known Space timeline, that contains the line: "make it didn't happen."

The protagonist is one of the first astronauts on the Moon, and he discovers an ancient alien base. He manages to get inside it, and discovers incomprehensible machinery. It's clear that this wasn't built by man, which means that it came from a race that had solved the problem of interstellar travel. Storyline follows, but in the end, he discovers that the aliens used time-travel as a part of their exploration of the stars.

And he goes a little nuts.

Flashback to his childhood: he and his brother were playing with a Flexi-Flyer, a board with wheels and a steering yoke that you rode down a hill, just like a sled on snow. His brother, maybe really too young to do it, takes his ride, and crashes at the end. (That happened a LOT, actually.) However, instead of a case of road rash, his brother gets jabbed under the ribs by the rubber-coated handlebar, and it ruptures his spleen. The symptoms are masked by shock, and by the time his parents get him to the hospital, it's too late. The brother dies. And the older brother turns his tear-stained face to his parents, and the doctors, and he begs them: isn't there some way we can go back, and make it didn't happen?

But there isn't.

And when he discovers the time machine on the Moon, he immediately tries to use it to go back in time, and somehow, make it didn't happen, make it so that his brother doesn't die.

Doesn't work, of course.

Last night, I kept myself awake until long past midnight. If I went to sleep, then today would come; and today is the memorial service for my brother-in-law Chuck. As long as I stayed awake, maybe...maybe...tomorrow wouldn't come.

No, I didn't delude myself to that extent, although there were many times in my misspent youth that I fully gave in to that futile fantasy. Most of them were because there was some catastrophe waiting for me at school. And there were lots of times when I tried bargaining with God: please, God,  just make it didn't happen, and I will serve You forever.

Last night, I somehow slipped, ALMOST, into that immature, magical thinking. I wasn't REALLY trying to reverse time, in the physical sense; but I did go back in time, in my head, to the days when my sister Wendy was a little girl, and I was her big brother who would not let anyone hurt her.

And I wailed at my impotence in not being able to fix things for her. I was absolutely powerless to make Chuck's illness and death didn't happen.

I only wallowed in that misery for a short time; I take my insanity in small doses these days. After I  felt sufficiently horrible for a sufficient amount of time, I came out of Dark Scary Miserable Land, and re-entered the real world.

And IN that real world, Wendy is NOT a little girl who needs her brother to retrieve her stolen bicycle. She is a grown woman, who taught public school for thirty years, retired, and is now a professor at Wesleyan College, where she is teaching the next generation of educators how it works.

Yes, she DOES need her brother today, but not to make it didn't happen. She is not fragile. I will not attempt to shield her from her grief today; I will provide an arm for her to lean on, and I will carry THREE clean handkerchiefs today (I normally carry two), and I will allow HER to decide how things will go, and in what ways she needs my support.  She is strong. She has proved her strength in so many ways it would take me pages, VOLUMES to talk about them. She is not a frail, hothouse flower, who needs me to rescue her from the least threat of discomfort, lest she faint and need smelling salts. Nope, not Wendy. She is a Steel Magnolia, in the very finest sense.

I will not disrespect her by treating her in any other way.

Peace be on your household.

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Small Exercises in Humility

It's not REALLY necessary to re-ground me, I think. I hope I don't have an over-inflated sense of self-worth.

I know I do a good job with words. I'd like to think that I keep that in perspective; the numbers of page views this blog gets shows me that while I do have some fans of my writing, there's no danger of overexposure. People tend to like my book reviews.

I have been a counselor for 35 years now, dating from the day I earned my M.Ed., and I think I know how to talk, and give comfort or encouragement with my words.

So, today, my older sister called to give me some of the funeral arrangements for Chuck, the husband of our baby sister Wendy. And she very kindly let me know that there were to be no speeches at the funeral, at Wendy's request. Okay, that solves the problem of what I was going to say.

Just in case Carol reads this, let me point out that wasn't the ONLY thing she told me; she did provide very helpful information, and we provided mutual support!
I just like to find it humorous that big sister called to tell me not to talk. 

So, there's that.

The other thing is that I I have just finished the reviews which were promised for the month of December. If my count is correct, I wrote 16 reviews, but some of those were movies, and others were just drop-ins; however, 10 of those were planned and promised. I go with the number 10, because that's how many books Kindle Unlimited lets me check out at one time. For the past couple of months, I've been loading 10, deleting them after they are reviewed, and then loading up again.

I usually solicit from the readers of the Mad Genius Club, and from a certain Facebook page with 1,082 members, a huge fraction of which write science fiction and fantasy. However, this time, I put my offer out on a page I have only recently joined (with 1,783 members), which has as its' focus Conservative and Libertarian Fiction. Although I do not claim to be in either of those camps, as I am a person who is owned by a cat, I find that I enjoy most of the books written by people in that group.

So, I made my customary offer, that I was open for business, and did anyone have a book that they wanted me to review.

Only to be met by a deafening silence.

"Who in the wide world of sports are you?" is the summary statement of the responses that followed. In fact, there was such a confusion that I found it necessary to delete my first post, and make a second one, clarifying who I was, offering my prior reviews as my credentials, and describing what I can and can't review.

Guess I wasn't such a prominent reviewer after all.

Once the ice was broken, though, it was okay. Some of the authors I have already reviewed chipped in with their endorsements, and between what was offered there, and from some other sources, I got my January dance card filled quite satisfactorily.

By the way: I DO have a Plan B. Any time I don't have author requests to review, I go hit Baen up and review what they have on tap. It's ALWAYS good; that's how I discovered Dave Butler most recently, and LOTS of superb writers in the past. In fact, I'm reading "The Cackle of Cthulhu" in between other things at the moment; hence the link at the top of the page.

So, back to reading, and then reviewing. And I will ask you to be in prayer for my sister Wendy for the next while; we are having the service for Chuck, her husband of 34 years, this Saturday, January 6, at 3:00 PM in Macon.

Peace be on your household.

Monday, January 1, 2018

A Prayer For A Happy Death

My church tradition does not include the veneration of the saints; in fact, according to some of the things I've read over the years, it has been regarded as idolatry, and preached against as a sin.

I'm sure that at one time in my hot-tempered youth, I was adamantly against such a thing as asking a saint to pray for me. I was adamantly against a lot of things in those days, as young people with hot blood often are. 

I believed then, as I do now, that I had direct access to God, and that I did not need any intermediary to plead my case before Him. More specifically, I believed that I had direct access to God the Father, and that any intercession on my behalf was done by Jesus, God the Son. And I hope I may receive your pardon if, at that time, I did not fully understand the complexities of the doctrine of the Trinity.

Ain't real sure I comprehend it now, to be honest with you. I just know it as a probably-unknowable concept.

Today, I have a fairly systematic theology, but I never argue about any of it. That's because most of it doesn't really matter in most cases. It's true, the system I've developed over the years explains a lot of things that were mysteries to me in the past, and it's also true that some of what I believe directly contradicts some of the things I was taught in Sunday School when I was little; other parts of my theology provide a rationale for what are otherwise impenetrable truths. As far as I know, however, they aren't a part of any doctrinal statement of any religious institution anywhere.

It only comes up when I am talking to my gift-from-God, happily-ever-after trophy wife Vanessa, the elegant, foxy, praying black grandmother of Woodstock, GA; or when I am reading the Bible with Kenneth and Alicia; sometimes, in my conversations with Uncle Mylon.

I don't feel the need to proclaim my self-invented doctrine further, though; first, because they are just my ideas, and second, because they pale in comparison to a certain truth which IS important: Jesus is THE Hostage Release Team; He died to set us free, so we can go Home to be with our Father, Who loves us. It's all TOTALLY about love. That will always and forever be the basis of what I do and think and believe; and if I find myself doing, thinking, believing something in conflict with that, I need to change.

It's not a very convoluted belief system. It's pretty egalitarian; everybody needs it, nobody can earn it, it's love. Nobody has an inside track, there is no provision for influence peddling or special favors.

But today, with my brother-in-law struggling to breathe, and my sweet and brave baby sister sitting beside him, holding his hand, telling him she is there with him, and that she loves him, while the alarms are going off on the monitors for his PO2 and heart rate;

Today I understand the comfort I would take in praying to Saint Joseph, the Patron Saint of Happy Death.  Today, if I had been raised in that tradition,  I would promise to perform acts of charity to honor Saint Joseph, who died in the presence of his wife Mary and his son Jesus. I would ask him to reach out and take Chuck's hand, and lead him across the River Jordan into the Promised Land.

I just don't think it works that way. I believe God hears us pray, in our pain, and fear, and ignorance, and that He answers us in His love.

And I've been praying for a smooth transition for Chuck; that he not keep having to fight for breath, that he be able to relax, and rest, and sleep, as Wendy holds his hand, and whispers to him of her love; and in that sleep, he quietly transitions from this death into LIFE.

And beyond that, I can do nothing; except to be ready to provide support for Wendy in the future. That's all I can do; that's all I must do, and it's enough.

(But, I think I snuck in a little prayer to Saint Joseph anyway, mostly because doing it was a little bit of comfort to me. )

Peace be on your household.