Friday, 23 October 2020

Head and Shoulders, Needs and Throes

Head and shoulders, needs and throes.
Online church is sorted though.
Figured out the lines and glass.
Figured all of this would pass.

Options for the faint of heart.
Take the gathered Body's parts.
Rules for we, but not for thee.
Scattered for sound clarity.

Cracks in founding solid walls.
Deaf to hear the hollered call.
Hands to eyes and you to me.
Can't say "have no need of thee."

Online outer courts for those,
Who says the masks are only clothes.
Who knows what covers all our sin.
Who sees the furnace, jump right in.

A temple stood with veils in place.
To keep the sinner in his space.
For Gentile, Levite, Jew, and Priest.
A curtain rod and holy feast.

And now the veil is fashion worn.
And those that don't receive their scorn.
How dare you risk the least of these.
You have to keep your distance, please.

We all forgot the big main point.
Were all one body, every joint.
The masked, the online, "cough". Oh No!
Head and shoulders, knees and toes.

Monday, 5 October 2020

A guide to editing your work

Most of the collective knowledge concerning the editing of written work will suggest that the only way to, in fact, edit written work, of any substantial length, is to hand it over to an editor.

This is a joy a lot of writers don't know, I love the editing process. It's exhilarating to have someone give your work, that was once just an idea in your brain, feedback, good or bad.

But getting the most out of that process means doing your very best to present as finished a written work as possible to the editor.

As such, self-editing is not only a requisite skill that needs to be developed, but a tool that can be applied if adequately known.

Here is my process for self-editing to add to your writer's toolbox.

Step 1:

Keep a list of all proper nouns and personal misspelled words. The proper nouns are the big thing. Every Bob and James and Susan needs to be checked for proper capitalization and use. pluralization and overall consistency. If you're writing a series this is a must as a growing cast makes for a growing number of dumb mistakes the search function of a Word document would find and fix for you. the flip side of this coin is your personal foils of commonly misspelled words.

I rarely misspell big ones like fluctuation or anticipation, but I'll screw up for and from and form all the livelong day. So I painstakingly check these via the search function of MS Word and catch every single one that I can. 

Step 2:

After the big words and tricky words are dealt with you now use the same process on the weird things that happen in a manuscript that has been worked in for more than one or two days. Double and triple spaces, commas where periods should be after and before quotation marks. you can also use the pilcrow button and see the invisible marks that make up an electronic document like page breaks and indentations that won't show up in the document but will screw with your ebook formating.

Step 3:

After all of that, I take the document out a chapter at a time, usually from the end of the document, backward to the beginning, and run it through a third party grammar and spelling checker. I like Grammarly, but there is a host of others. all free and all useful.

This is important because if you only trust one algorithm you fall into a weird kind of cognitive bias with your own writing. After correcting what MS Word tells you is a spelling mistake or a grammar use problem for a consistent amount of time, you will change how you write to suit your word processor. by using two different word processors this allows for more and more questionable sections to be seen from mos importantly more than one angle. Grammarly hyphenates a lot of things MS Word doesn't, subtle differences, but important nonetheless.

Step 4:

hand the book over to another human being. This can be a beta reader or a professional copy editor but in the new world of self-publishing Amazon and Kobo have ushered in, what this doesn't have to be is a developmental editor. someone who is going to tell you to change things about your story or book because of an editorial standard their publishing house has or wants. to get a good and polished manuscript you really just need a second and sometimes a third set of eyes to look at your book and catch what they can. this can be a friend or a beta reader swap from one of the hundreds of online writing communities, or a freelance professional editor who will give your book the treatment can do so quickly and professionally.

I love this part because books are meant to be shared, I did not get into writing to write journals that I kept to myself. Hearing what works and what doesn't, what's confusing, and finding the last few little mistakes is soooooooo rewarding.

Step 5:

While a bit tricky my final step is to have the book read back to you. There are a number of online and free tools that will do this and my personal process is a bit weird so bear with me. I use an online service that allows for an accent change in the read back voice. I use a British accented female voice. I know that sounds weird, but the voice change catches every last word I used wrong because it's voiced differently.

Step 6: (Optional)

The last and final step takes a bit of break from the manuscript, 4-6 weeks, and then upon returning to change the writing font to something drastically different than what you draft in. I do all my drafting in Georgia so when I do this step I wait 4 weeks and change the font to Arial or Courier New. the manuscript gets longer and I'm forced to read every word I now do not recognize. This is the only way I know to combat word blindness. If you have never experienced word blindness pick a simple word in your story like Dad and then search for all occurrences of the word in your book. something you wouldn't spell wrong and start checking every time you used it. By the end of your second or third page, you will start to notice the three-letter word DAD looks wrong even though you know an a flanked by two D's is in fact how you spell dad. This is rapid onset word blindness caused by reading the same word too many times. it stops being a literary unit of information used to convey the concept of a father and turns into a singular blob of questionable meaning, mainly because your brain got bored.





Monday, 28 September 2020

Godless Thoughts on The Social Dilemma

 

Like a previous post, I did on another social shockwave found here, I sat down to watch The Social Dilemma this weekend. This time with my teenager in tow. Determined to make a decent review of the film. If, for nothing else, than it being a decent film that is in need of one.

This won't be just a paragraph or two of high praise for the hard-hitting investigative journalism in the piece. As much as the film is worth-while like all works of art, even this one has some problems with it. And those problems in this case especially are godless.

As the film started with the awkward first takes of the tech experts that noticed the social dilemma, I started to notice a common theme among their joint worries. They all could see the problems facing them, because of them, even in the recognition of the power and magnitude of the good some of them had created. Still, they all seemed blissfully unaware of the origin of the problems they were seeing in the rise of The Social Dilemma. That problem is a complete lack of sin forward theology. 

I have no doubt that each of the people interviewed has some concept of good and evil. All humans do, skewed or not. But the way in which these tech geniuses and investors stumbled at the question of "Who is responsible for this problem" was telling. Maybe the director was doing this on purpose, if he was, it was brilliant. But when asked about the issue they all drew confused and complicated stares, like children caught by their father in the garden asking "Who told you, you were naked?", with the answer being themselves. A knowledge of sin and the savior from it, changes your use of the internet. It shows when you ask people about it and the thought of that dichotomy doesn't cross their minds or lips. The answer to who is responsible for, not just these problems but all problems online, is us. Or rather, us sinners.

The second problem is that this wasn't a fact by fact, idea by idea exposition on the problem itself. It was a narrative, in fact, three of them if you were looking closely. You had the story of the problem itself from Tristan Harris's perspective, for the most part. The story of the family trying to break their phone addictions at the request of the matriarch. Finally the story of Ben's avatar self and the three faces of A.I ( Advertising A.I. / Engagement A.I. / Growth A.I.)

This isn't a problem when addressing this issue. Most sermons do this these days. Weaving narratives to support a fact exposition or a truth in a long-form of media isn't a horrible thing or even a dishonest thing. However, it can be if it's not explicit. When we watch an episode of the Trials of Nature, David Attenborough skillfully overlays his narrative over the scenes of majestic wildlife being displayed for us. We get a hint of David's opinion of what a Lion might be thinking as he hunts and kills the gazelle, what the lion's motivations are, and aren't in contrast. But these are overlaid with the lion actually hunting and eating said gazelle in the video. 

We don't get the gazelle or the lion with the Social Dilemma. What we get is a simplification of every fact and facet of these narrative's lives. This is understandable for Harris's perspective. Trying to wrap our head around something like this would be hard so to achieve that he simplifies his years of experience and first-hand knowledge for us to understand. But the other two narratives are telling in a way that finds a new corner of godlessness to roost in. The perfect, multicultural, nuclear, family and their teenage and pre-teen woes is a tired trope, so when it's adjusted to make the son so susceptible to online influence that he joins an extreme centrist protest rally because of failing boy-girl social skills. This alone should be something to make you think.

Not only because the concept of an extreme center political movement would be hard to find in real life, but rather that it depends on the other side of the screen to happen. A screen populated by a three-man team of evil and heartless characters. The A.I.'s were a brilliant piece of work but made decisions and calls based on Ben's activity or lack thereof online that only a human would. Moral judgments and decisions that only a person with a theology of sin would make. They were the cartoon angel and devil on bens shoulders. His electronic conscience if you will. And make no mistake their black clothing and then contrast beige and soft-voiced singular replacement at the end of the movie was intentional. 

Algorithms can be made to make those decisions but again we come to the godlessness of the presumptions of this film. Those algorithms aren't actually doing that. Their programmers are. Sinners cause the evil we find online because sin is where evil comes from. it's not a single-minded trio of programming eccentricities doing this evil it's a coder in silicon valley who did. And who is that coder getting his virtues and vices from? When God is absent from the story, it usually means the Devil is writing it. 

By this point in the film when Ben is getting arrested at a rally and we are finally seeing the truly dark side of the vanilla Web. A light sprinkling of bitter chocolate on a quickly melting sundae. Some really dark sweetness is avoided like the silent killers they are. And for the life of me, I can't tell why. 

This movie didn't come close to the issue of online porn, not once! In all the narrative back and forth the teenage boy somehow finds an extreme political movement to join post friendzone before he finds Pornhub. Not only is this not realistic, by its selective avoidance, but the film also skirts an actual problem that is being faced on these social networks. 

The amount of teenage porn that transfers on these networks and on their devices, teens sending pictures of themselves and others if they get a hold of them is staggering. This hot button topic isn't even grazed, neither is the real-time abuse of these connections for even worse crimes like human trafficking and child sex exploitation. Entire swaths of "wrong" exchange for a fake "right" narrative or two, that can't be compared and hence aren't scrutinized for truth. 

Which brings me to my final problem. That is the wholesale avoidance of the partiality found on these social networks. To show that these social networks somehow exist with such control and algorithmic manipulation as only an after effect of the humanized algorithms is blatantly ignorant (or knowing of, if I'm right) about the controversial topic of online censorship. Everyone from the ground floor workers to CEO's of these social networks has been called out for this. From online comments to U.S. Senate hearings. All about the topic of Online censorship. Ideological bias runs deep on these platforms and to have a documentary not mention this topic once, but insist through a series of narratives that the algorithm is the biggest problem, is not just wrong, it's godless. A kind of partiality that doesn't recognize it's own trappings. 

By the end of the film, I realized what I was looking at, not a single-sided view of the issues, but a half bind stumbling into the real moral issues of the dilemma. One we face as a socially connected race of humans. We're slowly becoming and chasing the dream of heaven but doing so with human means. In heaven, we will be truly known as we will truly know. Online we are known by that which we edit and filter and exposed for what we actually are in our actions and deeds (all it takes is the latest data breach or hack.) In heaven, there will be no sin only virtue. Online we can be any kind of sinful we want, so long as we can find our community to call it a virtue with. 

The social dilemma isn't a problem of man and machine interacting in sub-optimal ways. It's an ever more accurate vision of Heaven, just without Jesus involved. Which is no heaven at all.

What every social network needs is more Christians being Christians. Acting as if God's will would be done online as it is in heaven. (Shameless book plug I know.) Ben's political leanings could have been challenged by weekly attendance at a church. His family's struggle to limit phone use blessed by a prayer shared around the table instead of politics and rules for the sake of rules. Unashamed and unafraid Christian friends to challenge Ben's involvement and posting online extreme centrist groups and posts. And Christian communities to be involved with where is teenage romantic affections could exist and be directed to godly partners of the opposite sex. Both online and offline.

The social dilemma isn't just a problem of humans interacting online. It's a problem of Christians not interacting with humans online. 

“You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people's feet. “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven. 

Matthew 5:13-16 ESV





 

Friday, 25 September 2020

Name Calling and Wardrobe Malfunctions.

I've noticed something terribly devious during the pandemic recently. And no, this will not be a post about the plausibility of the virus, nor its effects and those affected. I won't show you a chart or a bell curve or even tell you how you are or aren't "loving thy neighbor" by what you did or didn't do so far.

I am going to write down two questions. One for you and one for likely only one of your friends, you remember friends, don't you? Those the people outside your cohort. We used to have lots of them but now it's only the people we can safely be around. 

The first question is  "Have you had your choice of face-covering mocked?"

It's a simple but blunt statement that is sure to get you thinking. And given the myriad of options available during this pandemic, I'm sure the answers will vary. As a clarifyer, I'm not saying your use of a face covering. I'm saying the object itself. Likely if you are pro mask you have been attacked to some degree via macro or microaggression on your use of them, in the same way, people who fly the anti-mask flag are micro and macro agress'ing against their use. 

But I'm talking about the object itself. 

You there, Man. Has your contoured single-colored D-cup covering your face been attributed to a bra found in your wife's chest of drawers.

You there, Child. Has the hello kitty swaddling cloth with elastic band ear loops been mocked for its cuteness, in abject disdain for the sewing skills that wrought it into existence by your loving mother.

From the plain to the patterned, the colorful options that have been available for COVID masks are welcomed by those who use them if only they don't fog up our glasses or clash with our outfits. This is as practical as it gets I fear. 

If you have had your choice of mask made light of, I would love to hear from you but I'm guessing after a bit of research myself that you would be an anomaly. Their use might be debatable but their disdain isn't something to joke about in popular discourse. 

But now it's time for Question two:

"Have any of your friends who have chosen bandanas for their face covering, had their bandanas mocked?"

If they're game to talk, and have a sharp enough memory to catch these things, you'll be surprised to know that a very light and slippery thing is going on with these types of face coverings. They are being mocked. Maybe mocked is too strong a word but the names are being called out and noticed by those with ears to hear. I purposely wear one and I've been called a bandito, a cowboy, (might be because of the plaid I wear), I've been asked when is the next train robbery and outright had them (the bandanas) called silly. 

There is likely no actual reason why, but I did notice that out of all the options these are the least popular. It's not that they aren't available but they are about 1 in every 100 face coverings you'll see out in the wild. So why the rarity and why the name-calling. Aren't we all in this together?

I think this may be a matter of a simple wardrobe malfunction. 

You see the bandana and its sporty cousin the buff, are in fact articles of clothing. They are worn for purposes and have a history. Hense the old-time name-calling that a bandana can receive that a homemade or amazon bought face-covering avoids by being as novel as the coronavirus they combat. 

Those purposes are exactly what makes them useful and as effective as a homemade mask. They stop some if not all particulate in the air from being breathed in and conversely out. But effectiveness aside, they are an article of clothing and must be treated as such. 

Masks, on the other hand, aren't an article of clothing but for the life of all of us are trying to be. That's why there are fashionable and available in accordance with our fashion sense. Bright colors for bright personalities, black for the more subdued. Protective equipment that masquerades as fashion is the epitome of a religious totem. A talisman of safety, as effective as blatantly using something not effective in its place. which is what bandanas are, by the way. A homemade mask with two layers of fabric is no different than a folded bandana, but one will get you a nickname like "Pardner" and the other would never get you one line "Nursey".

No one would, however, enter into an operating room to get a hernia worked on if the doctor casually let them know, that in lieu of the surgical mask he normally used, he would be wearing a cotton bandana he found in the tack house. Why? Because it would be using an article of clothing however valid or not, for something it was not designed for. Used in place of the PPE intended for such a procedure. 

But that is wholesale what is being done with homemade masks as if they protect for and from anything. And what illustrates this is the same two-layer minimum of fabric clung to by a wearer of a homemade mask, present in a folded bandana as a face covering. One is something pretending to be something it's not and the other is something adjusting its use as asked. Both are as effective at stopping the spread of viruses both ways. in and out.

The reason, I think, one gets mocked and the other doesn't is the stakes that are involved if either is wrong. If a bandana is wrong about its ability to protect both ways. No amount of fabric is going to change the (how) of homemade mask safety. Simply because it is held to the face via elastics. But the minimum of technicalities will suffice for a bandana. 

We need a more fishy example.

If you and twenty of your friends all decided that the water was good enough to swim in. would you question the one kid who fishes, saying there are leeches in there. Now he knows that there are leeches in the pond because he uses them for bait sometimes. He might look like a party pooper with a rod and reel but no amount of fun and bright colored bathing suits would convince him to swim where swimming is questionably done. Only if you saw a leech and could verify it, right? The kids in the pond won't flee the water until they see the black slippery parasites clinging to every nook fold and cranny of their bodies. 

Well, masks never try to verify their claims of protection. Because they can be clearly defeated by scrutiny. A bandana never tries to verify claims of protection and in turn, tries to verify the minimum standard. Because of this inherent ability to play by the rules but to effectively stay on the bench, bandanas get jeers and jokes because they aren't where the fun is happening. 

And it is fun. As much as you bemoan the masks, no one makes fashion choices in discomfort and disdain. They pick out little black dresses with thoughts of the romantic dinners it will service. Wedding dresses for weddings. Suits for promotions that need a sharp dressed man. And skinny jeans to fit in with the youngsters. 

This is why you'll hear the argument and comparison of "mask's as pants" from the pro mask side of this equation. (Which I am on by the way, though not as deeply in leech filled ponds as most without my waders.) Everyone by fiat of public opinion wears something from the navel down. why can't we wear a mask from the neck up, as if the fabric on our nose is somehow as necessary as the fabric covering our genitals? 

I'll tell you why. Because Christians have a theology of clothes. It may not be a popular topic from the pulpit and the iPad as how to live your best life or a 3-week study on marriage, but it is there. Way back in Genesis where the Lord killed animals in chapter 3 verse 21, to cover the nakedness and shame of our first parents. This act of shame covering was also likely the first sacrifice for sins. Made to show them the gospel-centered way from where they were in their sin, to a savior from their sin. 

Clothes can point us to Christ, even in the slightest. By need or by purpose clothes matter to the gospel. Every day we put them on in public reminds us practically that we are creatures of sin in need of a covering. Every time we take them off, a reminder of the intimacy (particularly us married folks) that God has with us, warts and all. 

Protective equipment doesn't ever point us to Christ, it only separates us from him. The death that was needed to account for sin, is what had our first parents taken from the Garden of Eden and God's presence Gen3:21. The face-covering over Moses' face was put there for Isreal comfort and shame after worship was lifted to a golden cow in the dust below Sinai. Exo 34:30 The veil in the Tabernacle and Temple kept a righteous and holy's God's presence from the sinful people who would die in it. Lev 16:1-28.

PPE keeps us from God because PPE keeps us from death. And that of all the uncomfortable things might be what we are actually dealing with these days. not just foggy glasses and nicknames.

But clothes point us to Christ, and as fancy as we make them these masks aren't clothes. At best they are PPE. This is why Paul can say things like Philippians 1:21, and why people mock articles of clothing that point to Christ, from behind the "fig leaves" of homemade masks.  








Tuesday, 8 September 2020

The Need of Theology in the Fog.

 

One of my favourite writers often says that for most writers themselves, it's not a matter of being able to write but rather having something to say. 

As a Christian author, I've struggled around this problem for a couple years now. Not in the way you would struggle against an opponent or a physical circumstance. Like a mountain or dense forest. But like one struggles in a fog. Able to run full tilt in any direction, but foolish to do so. 

That same author is doing something profound through his platform these days, he's bringing an ancient philosophy school to the modern light and really hitting it out of the park with it too. Peoples lives are being changed and for the better. All from him having a thing to write about. And what I have noticed is that I too have an ancient way of thinking that verifiably could help people like the other author does, but seems to flounder in the marketplaces and popular discourse. There is something odd about Christian books and how we have segregated them away to places only Christians would find them. 

With rare exception, the world of Christian books seems to be few and far between unless surrounded by Christians or directed to Christians. We do not have an apologetic voice loud enough for the market that isn't already coloured with the assumptions of a Christian audience after the book release.

What would a Christian book about sex look like if not meant for the saint but rather the sinner? Not just an extra thick copy of the KJV lobbed at our view of their perversion, but a book that starts with gospel aimed at truth with "compromise" being it's the only victim. Christians seem to be really good at writing book for Christians by Christians but I'm not so sure about writing books about Christianity for Non-Christians. Gospel centred prose and research on everything from the bedroom to the boardroom.  

We believe we have the distilled truth of an almighty God when it comes to everything that claims the New York Times bestsellers title every day the list is refreshed. Business, sex, management, and money all owned by the same God who gave us the gospel. In the fog of Literature, where opinions are as dense as anything we might find in the wild, there is a light that has existed for centuries. Ancient wisdom, hope, and joy to break like the dawn over a misty valley where everything is cool and in need of said warmth. As we watch the world change and struggle in its own fog, of political turmoil and cultural decay, we have that same light to shed on others. perhaps we just need saints to start turning that light on when and where it's needed. 

What would it look like to write books for the world, from our response to the gospel, with the truth of the scriptures, for the world? In but not of as the gospel of John reads. 


John 17:14-19

English Standard Version

14 I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. 15 I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one. 16 They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. 17 Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. 18 As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. 19 And for their sake I consecrate myself, that they also may be sanctified in truth.


I for one plan to find out.

Tuesday, 30 June 2020

A mask by any other name would still be just as sweet.

Or maybe the word is sentimental.

Not in the darling way that an heirloom or talisman might suggest but in that it displays a sentiment even as it protects or doesn't.

Masks do prevent unbridled moist speaking from leaving the mouth of an individual. They may not be best at it but they do prevent some. And masks on everyone would prevent more moist speaking from becoming unbridled than masks on no one. They also can protect, given the right construction from things so small you would think they were harmless but big enough to harm plenty in their wake.

There are honest and honorable questions as to the effectiveness of masks in either direction. As a person who has had to take hazardous material training along with respirator fit testing, I've seen the gamut on what mask can and can't do, and frankly, a discussion on these will have disagreeing experts on every side taken and every direction ventured.

So let's look at what masks actually do and leave the debatable's up for debate. 

Seeing a mask conveys fear, plain and simple. Personal protective equipment implies a risk and danger, people generally are afraid of danger and should be. 

But they also simultaneously convey concern. A blue surgical mask lets me know that the person wearing it wants to take measures as to prevent their moist speaking from accidentally contacting me. Even if their mask won't do that 100% of the time, the concern is noted and I would be foolish to mistake it for anything else. 

Yet if this issue were as simply binary it would not be as problematic as it is. There is a third dimension to this cube to be drawn out in lockstep with the other two axis.

Mask's convey a virtue signal like any other mandatory piece of wardrobe. They may not be universally mandated by the government that declared this crisis and lockdowns accordingly, but they are becoming the kind of socially mandated item that few would want to argue against. And speaking of wardrobes, you do wear them remember. And you would be hard-pressed to tell me the kaleidoscope of colorful homemade masks didn't in some way portray fashion. Or that the stylish sleek black models weren't purchased and worn with a hint of vanity in their weave.

Beauty and death are only ever found in lockstep in one individual I've read about. He is cunning and slippery like the hand sanitizer we douse our selves with to make ourselves clean. 

So to illuminate this troubling virtue of mask-wearing I propose a simple addition to the equation that should sus out the real meaning behind them. If executed properly it will also make sure that no slippery serpent-like motives make it past the greeters at your church door when you reopen as well.

If you're a Christian, print the name of your church on the bottom edge of your masks in a contrasting color and the name Jesus on the top.

Will you wear that same signal of virtue when it's ascribed to a savior of the highest order of virtue and his institution of virtuous salvation. Did the thought of marking the sterile object make you wince? Or the idea of wearing such vandalized medical devices to your Costco?

People have always been hesitant when it came to evangelizing for a savior from their sins because it inherently admits, that at least at one point, we were infected with that sin and were in fact dirty sinners like the rest of the world. 

All it took to take away that infectious stigma was to remove Jesus from the equation and let everyone know in clashing, sterile, hospital-blue masks, that we were dirty, even infected, but Jesus wasn't involved anymore. 

So here's my recommendation to thwart all concern and argument to the matter at hand. Every Christian that can, should have their faces covered for the glory of God in Christ, especially when outdoors. With the gospel being declared by their actions and the words, sharpie'd boldly on their face coverings.

While attributed to Saint Francis of Assisi, this quote has as much internet credibility as most of the info you'll find on masks these days. Its truth is still surpassing.


"Preach the Gospel at all times. When necessary, use words."


COVID-19, 2020