Friday, 21 May 2021

A note about my book "Online as it is in Heaven."

So a while ago I wrote what I thought would be the next trendy Christian book on a topic not many people were talking about at the time. 

Online as it is in Heaven, was definitely the best title snag I ever managed to pull off as a self-published author. The book has always done well. Selling a few copies here and there but it was always my hope that the concept of the book, a theology for the internet would catch on.

Well, it didn't.

When pressed by a pandemic and governmental response to the pandemic, the church as a whole fled to the internet as a type of compromise never seen before. Much to the delight of the health officials that wanted everyone to socially distance themselves. It seemed to be the fix all that we needed in the face of "danger" with big spooky scare quotes.

But in doing so Churches began a steady process of compromising their distinctives and convictions in blatantly wrong ways, rightly worded for everyone's greater good.

When it comes to my book, having never been called for interviews or consulting, I can hopefully assume that most people in positions of decision-making authority in the worldwide church, have not read my book. An apparent failure I am daily grateful for. But the book remains up for sale on amazon and kindle. 

Providing a moral problem for this author to deal with. 

First of all. The book is tragically incomplete. There is a faithful spirit in the pages but it never considered the kind of things the church would do online in the name of safety. Those things need to be reconciled and updated. In time and eventually. 

Second. I'm not about to hide my shortcomings and frankly sins if this book has inspired the church to act unfaithfully online in the pursuit of Heaven. A note will be added to the digital and print-on-demand versions of the book to clarify the book's incompleteness and future pending revisions. One detailing the need for future work on this particular theological problem set.

For those who have already purchased the book, in any format and with proof of purchase, I will refund the cost immediately or provide a free paperback or electronic copy if so desired upon republication of the revised version of the book. Please get in contact if this applies to you.

I'm not one to believe in the practice and worth of penance. But since last year when what was being told to the public about the virus and what was actually happening stopped lining up, I've felt odd about this book and finally came to terms with what to do with it. 

Hopefully, like all sinful and evil things, even in small and trifling ways, Jesus can redeem this too.

"Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God."

Hebrews 13:16

Thursday, 4 March 2021

Half Full

Half full parking lot of cars.
Half full sky with half full stars.
Winter nights give way to spring.
Almost time to shout and sing.

Half full pockets still locked down.
Half full wake and wedding gowns.
Empty seats are waiting still.
Overflowing cup to fill.

Half full coffers, half full plate.
Budget, project, early, late.
Half full office, couch, and desk.
Optimistic measured risk.

Half full bookshelf, half full shoes.
Sweatpant, hoodie, robe and pews.
Half full thirty, fifteen, none.
Gather church to praise the Son.

Half full tomb, well actually third.
Three in one and slaughtered Word.
Lamb and lion, pierced and slain.
Precious is the righteous name.

Half full wedding banquet feast.
Find the most and find the least.
Find the wicked and the poor.
Ask, seek, knock on heaven's door.

Half full basket filled with sweets.
Eggs and chocolates dared to meet.
Life in death did savior bring.
Almost time to shout and sing.

Wednesday, 9 December 2020

An update on the book.

As many of you know I have been slowly if not surely writing a book about the relationship and interaction between COVID-19 and the Chruch.

In October my employer worked with me to gift a month of writing time in November, to use up my vacation while still keeping an eye on all the pots currently on the stove at work. The time was well spent and as of November 30th, I have one section of the book drafted with 20,000 words down on the page.

The reason I'm updating everyone in a more official way is that the 20,000 words that got written were in a very different direction to where I thought the book was going. As such my initial hopes to publish a finished book by the first anniversary of the lockdown would not only result in a rushed and poor draft of the book. It will likely take 4 more months of writing to complete the book as it stands currently. What I'm hoping to do is get this first section as clean as possible in the first parts of the new year and really look into where this book ended up going with some trusted thought partners. 

In the meantime (That is until the first section is assessed) more regularly, I will be focusing on my pen name R.G. Michaels, and the fiction works I had originally planned for this year. This November was originally going to be both the launch and completion of a now three-part young adult novel series, for the annual NANOWRIMO. Alas, COVID and Jesus had other ideas.  

You can find that work and Social media following at . I am hoping to have the first book of the series released by easter of 2021 under that pen name. If not sooner

There is a strong chance that I likely won't return to non-fiction writing because of this book. To be real honest the process has kicked the ever-living shit out of me and 2020 has taken its toll to boot. The peace that I feel in my mind and spirit while writing fiction is a tempting and soothing balm from the Good Lord. In the event that it is or at the very least will be a more lasting silence from my real name, I figured I would give everyone the heads up. 

I will likely still post the odd article or poem to the blog as able and inspired to do so. I'm far too Dutch to not be opinionated on the internet. 

I'm not completely sure if this is a change in direction I'm seeing or just fatigue. So I don't want to do anything drastic. The blog will stay up and all the content will along with it. I'll likely collect all my research and notes and publish a rough notes version of the book in the event of it not being completed for anyone who was hoping for the next Purpose-Driven-Life from me to at least get the price of admission back to the sideshow that is my writing career.

Until all the smoke has cleared, rest in God. I know I sure am.

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


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.