Saturday, June 28, 2008

The First Crusade

Below, please find the second essay I have ever written for college. This is a treatise on the First Crusade and the Idea of Crusading, by Jonathan Riley-Smith. I'm hoping for at least an A...!

Perhaps of all the wars that have been fought throughout the centuries, none have sparked more debate, ignited more controversies, and have continued to influence cultures throughout the entire world to this day than the Crusades. For the purposes of this paper, however, what shall be discussed is the First Crusade which began in 1066 and ended in 1099, as covered by Jonathan Riley-Smith in his book The First Crusade and the Idea of Crusading.

As a former Marine and a veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom, what interests the author of this essay is not the bloody battles, or the logistical concerns of the Crusaders, nor their tactics or their organization. Instead, what interests the author is the mental state of the Crusader. What brought them to the point of being willing to engage in a long, protracted campaign through harsh deserts and violent battles? Why were they so willing to fight the infidel? How was Pope Urban II able to raise such a large army so relatively quickly? According to Jonathan Riley-Smith, one must fully understand the political and spiritual mindset of the Frenchman during the century preceding the First Crusade.

Politically, much of France was in a state of near-anarchy following the collapse of the Carolingian Empire. Charles the Bald (843-877) assumed the westernmost kingdom, which also adopted the Romance language that eventually became French. This kingdom would eventually become the well from which the Church drew upon for the first Crusaders.
During the next two centuries, the Frankish kingdom would be beset by numerous invaders. The Muslims made incursions into Southern France, while the Magyars made forays into Eastern France. Perhaps the most fierce of all the invaders that beset France, however, were the Vikings. All of these battles whet the appetite of the Frankish knight for combat, and began to build among the Franks a martial attitude and society, centered around the castellan and the knight.

By the time these invasions began to trickle off, France had a widespread culture that was centered around violence. With no new expansionary wars to fight and no forthcoming invasions to ward off, Riley-Smith purports that the Frankish warriors turned inward, fighting amongst themselves. A large part of this was due to their appetite for destruction, to be sure. Another factor that contributed to their behavior was their keen desire for plundering and looting, and their desire to maintain their standards of living. So from their strongholds the castellans sent their knights out on numerous forays and raids in order to support their way of life and to sate their appetite for warfare.

A contributing factor to all this violence was the lack of a strong central government. The seat of France had very limited power. According to Riley-Smith, the king of France could only truly control only a small amount of territory around his seat of power; the rest of his country was rapidly descending into anarchy.

An indicator of this was that the term "Dominus", or "Lord", which had previously only been used in reference to God or the King, was soon being used in reference to the local garrison commanders (the castellans), who exacted taxes on their peasantry and upon any passerby who ventured into or through their territories. These castellans, who were Dukes, Earls, and Counts who were descended from the Carolingian officials, ignored the king to the point that they were refusing royal summons. These castellans were, in fact, the only authority that many men knew or respected. In effect, France was breaking up into a myriad of small, self-governed territories, with a powerless king presiding over all of them; or, perhaps, pretending to preside over these upstart castellans.

Besides attacking their neighboring peasantry and castellans, the knights also attacked clergymen, churches, and other religious institutions. Under this sort of anarchic society, the Church could not flourish. Whereby the king of France was powerless to affect this political state, the Church had the backbone and the clout to make this change a reality. Using the name of God as their authority and the presence of "piles of relics", the Church enacted the "Peace of God", which in effect was a sort of peace treaty between the Roman Catholic Church and the marauding knight. This peace called down the wrath of God Himself upon any knight or soldier who dared to break this peace. Using the Knight's sense of nobility and honor, the Church tried to coerce the knights to swear oaths to respect the Peace of God.

Despite the harsh words reserved for knights and soldiery in general, the Church was quietly building its own army, preparing to protect their own in the event that the Peace of God did not work out in the way that they had planned. The peace did hold, however, and soon the Church began a widespread building project that rivaled the ancient Roman building program. Soon, there was a church in nearly every village, and these churches were the basis for a widespread evangelism that brought many people into the Church; this sudden influx of people into the flock would soon be called upon to fight the infidel.

Meanwhile, the papacy began to introduce the idea that fighting for the Church was something to be desired and, in fact, was sanctioned by God. Pope Leo IX (1049-1054) was one of the first popes to begin developing this idea. After gaining the papacy, he raised a small military to put down his opponents. During this time he offered the remission of penance and the absolution of sins for serving in the papal army. At the same time he also began to nurture the idea of martyrdom, an idea which would help galvanize the Crusaders fifty years later.
Pope Nicholas II also used this Papal army to defend his papacy as well, and Pope Nicholas II was also the first Pope to grant the indulgence for war. Additionally he also gave the first banner to his military as a mark of Papal approval for military campaigns.

In truth it was Pope Gregory VII who was the impetus behind the idea of a "holy war." His unflinching commitment to Church reform and the Investment Conflict rapidly led to open conflict. Primarily, he used scholars and other supporters to begin researching whether or not God approved warfare; as his desire was to build an army to defend the Church it should come as no surprise that he found the evidence he was looking for, namely through the efforts of Anselm of Lucca. Anselm compiled the writings of St. Augustine of Hippo into a compendium that stated, uncompromisingly, that God not only approved of warfare, but at times commanded warfare.

Using this new-found spiritual authorization, the Church began a massive reformation of the Frankish knights and their castellans. Drawing from Anselm's compendium and from Old Testament scriptures, the Church began to pitch the idea of a "holy knight", urging them to follow the example of David and other warriors from scripture. Nearly twenty years before the First Crusade, the Pope and the Church began to exhort the people and use references such as the "knighthood of Christ", the "knights of Christ", or "knights of God" who fought in wars to defend the righteous and righteousness.

The third and final factor which helped to seed the ground for Crusaders were the chansons de gestem, which was intended for popular consumption and reflected popular tastes and ideals. The three features of the chansons that influenced the people were the role of Charlemagne as a good and great emperor who ruled over a golden age, a concern for war and the martial virtues of braver, fidelity, and honor combined with the love for traveling in knight errantry, and finally, the theme of Christian heroism in a battle for the faith against the infidel.

Thus, when Pope Urban II began to preach the Crusade in late 1095, he found that the seeds had been sewn amongst the Franks, and that the fields were ripe for the plucking. The combination of a culture that was centered around violence and had been indoctrinated into the ideas of martyrdom and a holy knighthood, all paved the way for providing soldiers for the First Crusade. Pope Urban II only had to reap the benefits of the labor of the Church reformers which had preceded him by nearly five decades.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

A Mid-June Shot in the Arm

Okay, so the song is a blast from the past (early 80's, I think) and the video is cheesy, but the lyrics are awesome; you just can't beat 'em. Pardon the pun.

Oh, on a side note, guess what I got for Father's Day...! You will never guess.

Anyhow, enjoy the movie and the song and the lyrics; I think that despite their age it is a poignant song and it has been a source of encouragement for me lately. And no, I am not THAT old; I think I was four when this song hit the charts!

Beat the System by

Caught in the undertow being swept downstream
Going against the flow seems like such a dream
Trying to hold your ground when you start to slide
Pressure to compromise comes from every side
Wise up, rise up

(Chorus) You can be more than a conqueror, you will never face defeat
You can dare to win by losing all, you can face the heat - dare to
Beat the System

On the assembly line trying to break the mold
Time to throw the wrench that will stop it cold
Going against the odds being the underdog
Dare to wield the sword that will slice the fog

You can go for it all
You can go for broke
You can turn the tide around
You can aim for the top
And take the lion's share
If you dare to hold your ground

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Would you like some cheese with that Whine?

Hello Reader,

I want to make a formal apology for being so scarce lately. Life has become very hectic on my end. Not that this is a bad thing; it is just another phase in my life, and to be frank with you, it is quite refreshing to be extremely busy.

A List
Art History, accelerated course (one semester in one month)
Introduction to Western Civilization, self-paced, accelerated course
Ace Hardware, full-time (usually 9am to 7pm)
Commercial Power Washing, minimum of six nights a month
Most importantly: My Family

It has been fun and interesting trying to juggle and balance everything. But it has left me very little time for anything else. I can promise you this, Reader: I am writing a sort of biography for my grandfather's 90th birthday, and when it is completed and given to him on his birthday (next weekend) I shall also post it here!

So, be kind, and keep dropping in, Reader. I have not forgotten about you, and I hope that you do not forget about me!

Thursday, May 29, 2008

First Lines

I love the first line in a book. As a reader, it is the line that grabs my attention, sticks the hook in my lip, and draws me in like a fisherman reeling in the largest whopper of his life. As a reader, if the first line does not reach out and grab me, then I find that the first chapter had better redeem itself. If not, I give the book about a hundred pages, and if I still do not "feel" what the author is trying to do, I nod in appreciation of what it took for the author to produce the book, then close it up and retire it to a shelf.

As an author, first lines intrigue me in a way that is hard to explain. Sometimes, I wonder just how it was that the author wrote such a line. Sometimes, it makes me feel a little inadequate as an author. I have spent some time simply writing first lines, trying to make them interesting and unique, but it is a skill that is more innate, I believe, than something that can be learned. One thing that I have noticed is, the first line of a book almost always ties in to the last lines of a book. They are interrelated, and inexplicably linked and by more than simply being sentences in the same book. Think about the first line of the bible: "In the beginning-" What is the last chapter of the bible about? A new beginning. C.S. Lewis put it perfectly when he wrote in the "Space Trilogy" that man has not truly had a chance to live yet, that this time period between Adam's fall and the soon second-coming of Christ is like the faltering steps of a child learning how to walk. Our hope rests not in an end to the world, but in the creation of a new reality, a new world... therefore we see how the first line ties into the last.

Anyhow, here are a few of my favorite "First Lines" from some of my favorite works.

"No one would have believed in the last years of the nineteenth century that this world was being watched keenly and closely by intelligences greater than man's and yet as mortal as his own; that as men busied themselves about their various concerns they were scrutinised and studied, perhaps almost as narrowly as a man with a microscope might scrutinise the transient creatures that swarm and multiply in a drop of water."

"In the week before their departure to Arrakis, when all the final scurrying about had reached a nearly unbearable frenzy, an old crone came to visit the mother of the boy, Paul."

"Call me Ishmael."

"As I left the railway station at Worchester and set out on the three-mile walk to Ransom's cottage, I reflected that no one on the platform could possibly guess the truth about the man I was going to visit."

"He lay on the brown, pine-needled floor of the forest, his chin on his folded arms, and high overhead the wind blew in the tops of the pine trees."

"It was a dark and stormy night; the rain fell in torrents, except at occasional intervals, when it was checked by a violent gust of wind which swept up the streets (for it is in London that our scene lies), rattling along the housetops, and fiercely agitating the scanty flame of the lamps that struggled against the darkness."

"The star vanished from the telescope in less time than a single human heartbeat."

"The year 1866 was signalised by a remarkable incident, a mysterious and inexplicable phenomenon, which doubtless no one has yet forgotten."

"Time was when the bar would have welcomed anyone from Zantiu-Braun's strategic security division, given him his first beer on the house and listened with keen admiration to his stories of life as it was lived oh so far differently out among the new colony planets."

"The last drops of the thundershower had hardly ceased falling when the Pedestrian stuffed his map into his pocket, settled his pack more comfortably on his tired shoulders, and stepped out from the shelter of a large chestnut tree into the middle of the road."

Sunday, May 25, 2008

In Preparation for Memorial Day

What's Hallowed Ground?
By Thomas Camprell

What's hallowed ground? Has earth
Its Maker meant not should be trod
By man, the image of his God,
Erect and free,
Unscourged by Superstition's rod
To bow the knee?

What hallows ground where heroes sleep?
'Tis not the sculptured piles you heap:
In dews that heavens far distant weep,
Their turf may bloom:
Or Genii twine beneath the deep
Their coral tomb.

But strew his ashes to the wind,
Whose sword or voice has saved mankind,-
And is he dead whose glorious mind
Lifts thine on high?
To live in hearts we leave behind,
Is not to die!

Is't death to fall for Freedom's right?-
He's dead alone that lacks her light!
And murder sullies, in heaven's sight,
The sword he draws:-
What can alone ennoble fight?-
A noble cause!

Give that: and welcome War to brace
Her drums and rend heaven's welken space!
The colors planted face to face
The charging cheer,
Tho Death's pale horse lead on the chase
Shall still be dear!

And place our trophies where men kneel
To Heaven! -but Heaven rebukes my zeal
The cause of truth and human weal,-
O God above!-
Transfer it from the sword's appeal
To peace and love!

Peace, love,- the cherubim that join
Their spread wings o'er devotion's shrine,-
Prayers sound in vain, and temples shine,
Where they are not:
The heart alone can make divine
Religion's spot!

What's hallowed ground? 'Tis what gives
To sacred thoughts in souls of worth!
Peace! Independence! Truth! go forth
Earth's compass round;
And your high priesthood shall make earth
All hallowed ground!

Dedicated to all Americans who have perished in the heat of battle, thick and fierce; to those who have given their lives so that others may live in the way that they so choose, even should it dishonor their very memories; to those who have shed their lifeblood upon the blades and the bayonets and the screaming bullets and the ever-hungry teeth of War, who have fought so that Freedom may yet ring from the Mountaintops to the Valleys, from the Golden-hued Plains to the Storm-Tossed Coasts; Prithee, remember these gentle heroes who so willingly answered the clarion's call and ran toward the sound of the guns and the clamor of War, and let us NEVER FORGET, else they shall have died in vain.

Remember the 8,000 Patriots who died in the Revolutionary War.
Remember the 35 Marines and Sailors who died in the Barbary Pirates War.
Remember the 2,260 Patriots who died in the War of 1812.
Remember the 1,773 Patriots who died in the Mexican-American War.
Remember the 212,938 Union and Confederate Souls who died in the Civil War.
Remember the 385 Patriots who died in the Spanish-American War.
Remember the 37 Marines and Sailors who died in the Boxer Rebellion.
Remember the 53,402 Patriots who died in World War I.
Remember the 291,557 Patriots who died in World War II.
Remember the 33,746 Patriots who died in the Korean War.
Remember the 47,424 Patriots who died in the Vietnam War.
Remember the 256 Marines and Corpsmen who died in Beruit.
Remember the 148 Patriots who died in the Gulf War.
Remember the 29 Patriots who died in Somalia.
Remember the 310 Patriots who have died in Afghanistan.
Remember the 4,081 Patriots who have died in the Iraq War.
And Remember the Patriots who have died in the Wars and Struggles of our Nation not listed here.

For My 214 Brothers of 5th Marine Regiment
Who Have Borne The Battle
and Paid
The Ultimate Price For Our Freedoms.

For My Marine Brothers And Sisters
And All FMF Corpsmen
Who Have Died During
Operation Iraqi Freedom
May 2003 - Present

You Are Gone But Not Forgotten.

Semper Fidelis

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Random Writing

Sorry for not posting any more of The Veteran recently, but this popped into my head today and I have to get it out. More episodes of The Veteran shall be forthcoming.

David was sitting across from the stranger when the oddest feeling overtook him. He went from a casually aloof state to one of full mental alertness. There was nothing that the stranger was saying or doing that triggered the change; no balled fists, or angry statements, or quiet threats. The stranger did not even change the cadence of their speech or the tone of their voice. In fact, David was quite sure that the stranger did not even notice that he had suddenly shifted mental gears.

David had been slouching in his chair, casually stirring a cup of coffee with his free hand when the feeling came over him. Without making any sudden movements he gently laid the spoon down on the plate and rested his forearm horizontally on the table, with his elbow slightly bent and cocked so that if the need arose he could throw a rapid, heavy punch without having to pull his fist back to his ear. Mentally he relaxed every muscle in both of his arms, starting at the fingertips and working his way up the arm, until each of his arms felt as light as a feather, and instantly he knew that if he so chose, he could move his hands so quickly that they would be a blur. He did not rack his shoulders straight back, but let them rest naturally upon his spine, which he realized that he had unconsciously adjusted so that it was a literal pillar, a perfect column, running straight up and down. His feet, too, shifted, until both of them were resting flat on the floor, and once more he relaxed all the muscles throughout both of his legs, until they, too, felt lighter than air.

Oddly enough, David could feel his heart beat a little faster, pumping endorphins and adrenaline throughout his system, and his hearing and eyesight became more acute than they had been but moments before. The slight ache that David had felt in the back of his neck faded away, until there was no pain at all. Suddenly, it was impossible to look away from the strangers eyes, and he became aware of every nuance and gesture of the stranger, who had remained completely oblivious to the change that was sweeping over his conversant. His eyes bored into the strangers and he felt as though he were peering into his very soul and separating truth from falsehoods as they tripped from the strangers lips.

So heightened were Davids senses that when an insect managed to slip through a crack in the door landed on his arm, he could count each of the six legs that alit, ever so slightly, on his skin.

David knew that he was ready for anything. If the stranger gave the slightest indication of trying anything dangerous, he would move faster, swing harder, and connect with more kinetic energy and accuracy than the stranger ever could.

In fact, David knew at that particular moment in time, he was the most dangerous man in the room.

The stranger, however, remained completely unaware as to David's physiological and mental changes, and continued to natter on about nothing in particular. The minutes ticked away with David poised in a perfect state of readiness and the stranger still rattling on, until the stranger excused himself to use the restroom. David's head was on a swivel as he watched the man stride away and he knew, in his heart of hearts, that his heightened state was no accident; the stranger was an equally dangerous man.

Saturday, May 17, 2008


Reader, I really wanted to sit down and write today, and perhaps at some point later in the evening I shall eventually get to it. My original intention of sitting down in front of the computer was to sit down and write two or three segments of "The Veteran." However, my shoulder hurts so bad that it is blinding out and overriding any other "thing" that I really wish to do. So, I apologize. I think that I shall find my ice-pack and retreat to my bedroom to ice my shoulder and try to ignore the pain.

Monday, May 12, 2008

The Veteran Part III

Sorry for taking so long to post something new, life has been busy. I also apologize for the brevity of this particular post. Stay tuned for the next installment, which I promise shall be longer!

It was close to midnight before The Veteran decided to get up from the corner of the mostly demolished building and start making his way across the city. He had no Central Neural Computer to tell the time -the Government made the implantation of the CNC's at puberty mandatory about thirty years ago- but years serving in the military for the Zealots, combined with decades of living on the streets of the City In The West had given The Veteran an innate sense of time that was more or less spot-on. As he slowly shuffled out of the ruined building he bid a silent farewell to the Cobbler and his Wife, while vowing to find the Others, or die trying.

He knew that by the time he eventually found the Others, the Government Rebuilding Corporation would have already razed the rest of Building 451 Block C and begun construction on something newer, shinier, and more technologically advanced. Inwardly, The Veteran knew that the building wouldn't remain shiny and new for very long; perhaps a day's worth of exposure to the pollution, grime, and nasty rain would stain the building with a dark patina. Inside of a week the "new" building would be indistinguishable from the rest of the City. It was like that all over, and a key reason to The Veterans' inability to stay locked in on any true locations; everything changed, but everything always looked the same. Only the monolithic ebon ziggurats that loomed for miles over the rest of the buildings served as landmarks, and even then the fact that they were identical to each other in orientation and construction served to make navigation without the CNC nearly impossible.

The Veteran knew that the ocean was in the west, but he had no way of finding the west. There were no longer any printed maps, no signposts, nothing; each citizen of the City In The West navigated using their CNCs. The Veteran remembered one of the campaigns he had fought in during the War of Absolution, where the Zealot's geosynchronous satellite navigating system had been shot out of space, leaving the ground troops without any satcom or GPS; he had led his small squad of soldiers to the objective point using the sun and a compass. Now, he had neither; even if he had struck out on his journey during the middle of the day, the sun was obscured by smog and rain clouds anyhow; the only way to truly tell night from day was the murky gray light that managed to filter its way through the miles of layers of cloud and smog.

The only thing that The Veteran had at his disposal was the slight idea that, perhaps, the reason the rain always came down at the same angle was because of the slight breeze that seemed to be the always-constant companion to the murk and the rain, and that the origin of the breeze was, in fact, the ocean itself. He had a distant childhood memory (even as he wondered whether the memory was his, or whether it was something he had made up) of visiting the ocean once, well before the War and the smog and the oppressive Government, back when his parents were both still alive and the world seemed innocent and happy.

He shook his head, clearing his mind of such thoughts, and finished picking his way out of the building. Once he was back in the alley, he took a quick mental inventory of himself, especially checking his pockets for the artificial lung. Once he was satisfied that his very few worldly possessions were still about his person, he exited the alley and went to stand in the middle of the street. The rain was still coming down in buckets from heaven, but he threw his hood back and began to turn in a slow circle, trying his best to discern which direction the breeze was coming from. The rain pelting on his face, though, ruined everything. He lingered for a few moments more, until he began to look suspicious, and then flipped his hood back up over his head and moved to the side of the street, where he huddled under a doorway, trying to decide what to try next.

His stomach rumbled, reminding him that he hadn't eaten in roughly 24 hours, and the more pressing concern of filling his belly caused him to abandon his mission, for now at least, and try to beg passerby for a food chit.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

The Veteran: Part II

Part Two of "The Veteran." Again, super-rough-draft, so be kind!

The Veteran waited four full hours before he slowly began to pull himself together. It took another ten full minutes for him to shake all the debris from his body and rise to a sitting position. Sometime during the firefight, if it could have been called that, his hood had fallen back and rain now plastered his long graying hair to his skull and turned all the dust from the building into mud. Shivering, he wrapped his tattered cloak tighter around his body and flipped the hood up over his head, trying to reclaim some of his lost body heat.

The brutal efficiency of the police disturbed him to no end. They hadn't even bothered to see if they had left anybody alive inside Building 451 Block C; the sheer amount of firepower at their disposal pretty much guaranteed that any occupants were now dead. Despair welled up inside of The Veteran, and he hugged his knees and started to cry again. Though no stranger to death, even senseless death, the occupants of the Cobbler's store had been the first people in decades who had shown him any sort of interest, although their relationship had gone much further than that. They took him in whenever he came by, allowing him to shower in their tiny recycler, feeding him a full meal, and chatting with him about current events... and history.

After all it was the Cobbler and his Wife, both octogenarians and quickly approaching their 90's, who had introduced him to The Way. Their kindness, forthrightness, and sheer implacability had struck him to his very core, and had awakened something inside of him that had been long dead. They had explained to him about The One that had come, all these many millennia ago, to atone and to reconcile the entirety of Humanity to Himself. Upon first meeting them he had been both absolutely enthralled and totally horrified, all interconnected, as though the two could never be separated. After all, he had fought on the losing side, and had spent the last forty years listening to the propaganda of the Government about the evils of Free Thought.

The only thing that had kept him returning, at first, was their kindness and their willingness to allow the vagrant Veteran to use their recycler and their kitchen table. Over time, he ceased debating, and simply started listening.

In retrospect, that was probably the wisest thing he had done in his entire life.

Now, he turned his sorrowful eyes upon the ruined building. Before its destruction it had been an ancient cinderblock-and-mortar building that had hunched forlornly between two taller and more modern constructs. The Cobbler and his Wife had rented out their floor from a rather cantankerous Vietnamese couple who ran an illegal cyber-sitting service from the floor above them; they spent hours jacked into The System, monitoring children in various households throughout the City In The West for the busy parents. The Veteran wiped a grimy hand over his eyes, trying to smear the tears away, even as he distantly wondered what all those children were doing now, for it was obvious that the Cantankerous Vietnamese, too, had perished in the police assault.

Slowly, he rose to his feet, wincing when pain shot up his leg. He checked it briefly, ensuring that he hadn't somehow been hit by all the gunfire, then gave a sort of half-hearted shrug when he remembered that it was his old wound, protesting after having to stay immobile in such a cramped position for so long. Rain continued to pour from the sky, grimy and putrid, and The Veteran paid it no mind as he began to pick his way into the debris field of the building. He had no doubts that The Cobbler and his Wife were dead, but he had a desire to at least look upon them one last time.

He picked his way through the streams of nasty rain pouring from the gaps in the roof and ceiling, courtesy of the gunfire, and over the puddles that had formed over the past several hours. His memory of the small building wasn't complete, but he eventually made his way into the back rooms, where their tiny living area was, and where he was sure they would have retreated to in their final seconds of life.

The Veteran cast about for a few moments, puffing on his artificial lung from the exertion of picking through the debris, until he spotted a partially-curled hand sticking out from under their splintered kitchen table. He began to select a route through the detritus to the hand, then paused: did he really want to see them this way? Or did he want to remember them as they were, kind and firm and merry and healthy? After a few more moments of hesitation he took the last few steps, moving around a fallen section of the roof and the half of the table, and found the body of the Cobblers Wife. Despite the horrible wounds in her chest she had the most peaceful, restful look on her face, and the serenity that she possessed even in the midst of her horrific death shook The Veteran once more, and he began to weep, sinking to his knees and clasping her other free hand in his.

Eventually The Veteran rose to his feet once more, coughing and sobbing, and looked about for the Cobbler himself. He wouldn't have been far; The Veteran knew that he would have died trying to protect his Wife. He turned around and there, partially pinned by the very fallen section of the roof that he had skirted earlier, The Veteran saw the Cobbler; he realized that he must have walked right past the elderly man, so intent was he upon seeing the owner of the hand that had stuck out from under the table.

Grief and horror and anger welled up inside The Veteran, and in mere seconds he was kneeling by the old Cobbler, holding the old man's head in his lap, stroking the wispy white hair with his own gnarled and grimy hands, choking back sobs. The old Cobbler looked as if he had simply fallen asleep, as if he had decided that this was the spot that was the best for a good, long nap. Except, The Veteran knew, he would not be waking up from this nap; at least, not on this Earthly plane.

As he knelt there weeping, a slight movement caught The Veteran's attention. For a split second he ignored it, until he realized that the movement was coming from the Cobbler's mouth. The Veteran stopped sobbing and bent close, to see if the old Cobbler was truly moving his lips, even as he knew that he was simply imagining that the Cobbler was still alive, that perhaps he was projecting his own wishes upon the corpse of the poor old man.

But, no; shock stunned The Veteran when he realized that, indeed, the lips of the Cobbler were moving. He placed his ear next to the man's mouth and held his breath.

"I knew you would come. Go... go tell the rest."

"What 'rest,'" The Veteran gasped, his voice gravelly and deep with grief and surprise. The Cobbler's mouth worked for an instant, before the rest of the words came out in one final gasp, as if he had fought to stay alive for this very moment in time.

"The others who follow The Way... you will find them at the Southern Wharf, near Pier 192A... look for the sign..."

With that, the Cobbler breathed his last. Too shocked to move, The Veteran simply sat with the Cobbler's head still in his lap, a mixture of grief and wonderment filling his chest. There were others? He wondered why the Cobbler hadn't shared this with him before now.

How long he sat there, holding the deceased man's head in his lap and stroking the wispy hair, he couldn't say; he knew that when he looked down, most of the Cobbler's hair was now grimy from The Veteran's own filthy hands. Dismayed at what he saw as the defilement of the body of his only friend, he gently laid the Cobbler's head onto the floor and slowly, painfully, tried to stand. Eventually he made it to his feet and, wheezing, he hobbled to a corner of the building that the rain hadn't begun to invade yet, and leaning up against the wall he slid back to the ground, kicking plaster and debris away from him as he did so.

There were Others! This news was as exciting as the deaths of the Cobbler and his Wife were appalling. "There are Others," The Veteran said aloud, startling himself with his own voice. It wasn't often that he spoke aloud to himself, but when he did it was usually to repeat one of the Cobbler's stories about The One to himself, to help him fall asleep when the dreams from the War of Absolution came and haunted him. Stories about The One were the only things to keep the dreams away. The Veteran shook his head, trying to gather his disjointed thoughts, and began to repeat the location that the Cobbler had given him over and over, until he was sure he had it memorized. His deepest fear, at this point, was forgetting the location of the Others. Then, he truly would be alone in the City In The West; then, all he would have to look forward to would be his eventual, slow death.

"The Southern Wharf. Pier 192A. Look for the sign," The Veteran said. He gave a firm nod, resolving that, first thing tomorrow, he would begin the journey to the Southern Wharf. Wherever that was.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

A List

I'm in a quirky mood tonight, so here is a (not so final) list of my favorite words, in no particular order.

Deus Ex Machina (covered elsewhere!)
Defenestration (and/or defenestrate)
Droning Tones and Melodies (not a word, more a phrase... but work with me here)
Symbiotic (or symbiote, whichever comes first)

More, I'm sure, will be forthcoming...

Monday, May 5, 2008

The Veteran

Hey all... sorry for taking so long to post anything. Life's been awful busy on my end! Anyhow, I got home from work today and desperately had to write something. This is brand-spanking-new... so you are all the first to read this. I'm not sure where I'm going to go with it; maybe a short story, or a series of short stories. Perhaps, this could even be built into a novel. Like I said, I'm not positive where this is going. Either way, enjoy! Oh, and be kind... this is seriously rough-draft.

Dawn broke over the city, a cold and gloomy light filtering through the layers of smog that hovered constantly over the municipality. There was a threat of rain in the air… but when wasn't there? It was said that you could set your Central Neural Chrono by the rain. Though the sun was just rising, the City had never truly slept… perhaps, close to midnight, there had been a period where it could be said that it had slipped into a light doze, but never sleep.

Deep in the bowels of the inner city, beneath the towering black ziggurats that housed all the major departments of the Sun Conglomerate, below the several lanes of traffic, and almost hidden from sight, a figure wrapped a tattered and filthy cloak tighter around his frail shoulders and flipped the hood up over his head. His face was dark and creased with age and exposure to the pollution that cluttered the city from deep below the earth up to the very heavens; all but the most rich and famous bore some scars from the accumulated filth. He was a veteran of the War of Absolution, but very few knew that; in fact, there were times when even he forgot that he was a veteran.

Being on the losing side was never something to brag about.

He raised himself up from the piles of garbage that he had been dozing in, and a heavy cough wracked his frame. The Veteran tried to shrug it off, coughing heavily for a few moments, before giving in and pulling out a grimy artificial lung from his pocket and taking several deep breaths out of it. The fresh air quelled his rheumy cough for the time being and, shaking his head at the waste, he carefully folded the lung back up and stuffed it in his pocket. The lung had been a handout from SunCo, and he had managed to be one of the first in line that day; it was probably more luck than anything, he had simply been wandering past the distribution area when they opened the doors, but he was grateful for the lung. More than once it had put an end to his wracking cough. He knew, though, that the lung was nearing its use-by date, and The Veteran hoped that he could remember the exact location so he could get another when he ran out. He had a nagging fear that, unless he could gain a steady supply of artificial lungs, the cough would kill him.

It was funny, in an ironic sort of way; he should have died decades ago, during the War. A grenade had landed right next to him in the bunker that he and his squad-mates had taken refuge in, and The Veteran (he had been a SemiCorporal at the time) had frozen in panic; time seemed to stretch and compress, and before he could react in any way, one of his buddies threw himself atop the grenade, absorbing the full impact with his own body. The Veteran paused, trying to remember the name of the man who had sacrificed himself for his squad-mates; time and illness had stolen it from him, however.

Now, he eked out a meager existence in the bowels of the City In The West. Many hundreds of miles long and wide, there was no true center to the city, but if one could ever point their finger onto a plasma-map and say "This is the center," then he was there; more money and affluence flowed through this part of the City than any other. It was here that The Veteran begged for money so that he could buy a pint or so of broth and noodles; occasionally, he would splurge and buy a couple of ounces of rice. His mouth started watering, thinking about rice. Perhaps, today, I shall buy some rice, he thought.

He began to shuffle out of the side-alley. The Veteran had acquired a limp during the War, too… every now and then a shooting pain would jolt him out of his fog, lancing up from his right ankle all the way to his hip. He couldn't remember where he had received that wound; just another hazy memory, clustered in his skull with millions of other disjointed and half-remembered times. Just as he breached the alley, cold, fat raindrops began to fall from the murky sky.

The Veteran could remember a time when the rain would actually cleanse the sky, and bring with it a fresh smell in the air. Now, however, the rain came down oily and gray, and usually stirred up more unpleasant smells than it quelled. He was glad for his hood, and he limped with his shoulders hunched against the fetid liquid, heading toward the one area of The City that he had firmly entrenched in his mind.

It was the only part of The City that he truly knew by heart, and for good reason: it was the one place that he had learned how to truly live.

It was there that The Veteran had learned the true reason for the War of Absolution. Waged decades ago, the War had pitted the intellectual elite against the illiterate religious zealots. At the time, The Veteran had been very young and highly susceptible to influence, and had fought on the side of the zealots not truly understanding what the war had really been fought over. He was told that it was really about free speech, and about freedom of thought, and the freedom to choose. All he really knew, at the time, was that he was seventeen years old and willing to fight against something, and the Zealots had gotten to him first.

It was a shame, The Veteran reflected as he limped toward his goal, that the Zealots hadn't taken more time to explain to him what they truly meant by "freedom of thought." Oh, he still would have fought; if anything, he may have fought even harder. In the end, though, even The Veteran realized that it wouldn't have changed anything. The deck had been stacked against the Zealots from the beginning, and it was really only a matter of time before they were defeated and the leaders of the Zealots either executed or brainwashed.

Even today, The Veteran would catch glimpses on the Flimsies of the ancient leaders of the Zealots being trotted out by the government to rail against free thought. Every time that he saw them, a tear would leak from the corner of his eye; he knew that deep within their hearts, they would rather have been executed than turned into mindless zombies, spewing the filth of the Government.

As The Veteran limped down the crowded streets, he had to thread his way through the thick crowds that were gathering. Many of the folks had nothing better to do than simply walk the streets, looking for side work or causing trouble. A good number of the rest were on their way to or from their Government jobs, or were in their off-shifts, shopping for household goods or simply squandering their small stipends on random things.

Sirens wailed, drowning out the dull roar of the populace, and The Veteran ducked into an empty doorway and squatted down, becoming as small as possible. The chances that the sirens were meant for him were very slim, but he hadn't lived as long as he had by being lazy or rash. The police cruisers, however, were headed for a date with destiny elsewhere, and after the raucous sound of their sirens had faded into the background noise of the rest of the city, he climbed wearily back to his feet and continued on to his destination.

Several times along the way he had to stop and breath into his artificial lung, each time taking in only as much clean air as he needed before gently folding it back into his pocket. Worry crept into the back of his mind; he was needing the lung more and more. That was never a good sign.

It took him nearly twice as long as normal, but finally he glanced around, looking for the few landmarks that he had memorized; sure enough, there was the Android Repair Shop, right next door to the small mom-and-pop Cobbler. He ducked into the alleyway that was between the Cobblers and a Government-Approved Delicatessen and searched the wall on his right; between the third and fourth bricks, etched into the mortar, he found the symbol that he was looking for: <>< He knew he was on the right track.

The Veteran took a few tremulous breaths, then began to shuffle forward.

He hadn't taken four steps, however, before a blaring siren sounded off just behind him, along with several incredibly bright spotlights. Instinct took over and The Veteran fell to the ground, covering up with his cloak, as a booming voice drowned out all thought: "THE OCCUPANTS OF BUILDING 451 BLOCK C ARE UNDER ARREST FOR RELIGIOUS ZEALOTRY. YOU WILL EXIT WITH YOUR HANDS UP IMMEDIATELY: WE HAVE BEEN AUTHORIZED TO USE DEADLY FORCE."

Dread rose up in The Veteran's belly; for a moment, he wondered if he had been followed. However, he hadn't been arrested yet, nor had the police singled him out. They were directing their attention at the Cobblers.

A few tense moments ticked by, until a thin, querulous voice called out from the Cobbler's store. "You can kill my body, but you cannot kill my soul!"

"Ghost 'em," said the voice over the intercom, and immediately the air was filled with thousands of rounds of depleted uranium as the police opened fire. The Veteran hugged the ground, trying to crawl into the cement, as the air, already deadly, suddenly turned even more lethal. Dust and bits of mortar and stone rained down on The Veteran, pelting his body and causing him no small amount of pain; however, he remembered only too well what happened to soldiers who squirmed under fire, and so remained perfectly still under the assault.

The barrage continued for several minutes, until there was no way that any living being could be left alive inside the building; in fact, it was a sure thing that anybody behind or above Building 451 Block C was dead, too. The Veteran knew that the police would chalk it up to Zealot brutality, and that tomorrow he would see in the Flimsies about the vicious gun battle that took place between an outnumbered and gallant force of police and a ruthless and bloodthirsty band of Zealots.

Tears leaked from The Veterans eyes, leaving twin trails in the dust and muck that the City had deposited over the years. His only true friends in the world were now dead.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

A Big Disappointment for Publishers Everywhere

In late 2002, I was writing short stories for an online magazine, or e-zine, called WritersHood. At the time, I was extremely excited; I was working with an editor, and having my work critiqued by published authors and editors alike. It was thrilling. Then, in early 2003, I deployed to Kuwait (and subsequently Iraq), and forgot all about Writershood for the time. When I returned to the States, I had much more on my plate to worry about than trying to publish short stories online. By the time I remembered WritersHood, it had closed down; I wasn't crushed, but I was disappointed that I had lost my contacts withing the 'Hood.

Then, in October of last year, the original Science Fiction editor from WritersHood contacted me. He had been hunting me down (literally) for almost half a year, starting with my old military email address and working forward from there. Needless to say, I was both impressed with his acumen and implacability, and honored and humbled that he had kept my contact information in his "future contacts" list. He inquired as to whether I had any Science Fiction (some) or Fantasy (yes) novels that I was wanting to get published. I immediately ran all my novels by him, received the constructive criticism that I knew I had coming, and then started submitting my Fantasy works through his new employers. I was thrilled!

As all this was occurring, I threw out a general query as to whether or not there was anything that I could help him or his Publishing House do; yes, I had no formal education, but what I lack in book smarts I believe that I make up for in willingness to learn and a gung-ho attitude. Personally he had no use for me, but he suggested that I join the First Readers club. I accepted with great expectations: I was going to be in the front lines, the trenches so to speak, of a Publishing House, slogging through manuscripts, offering up those that were worthy to be scrutinized further by accomplished editors, and rejecting those that should never have seen the light of day in their current form. I would be separating the wheat from the chaff, so to speak, and I couldn't wait.

So far, out of the five novels that I have done a Readers Report on, I have recommended only one. It was phenomenal; I was hooked from the first sentence. The main character was believable, and what made him even more interesting, to me, is that he came across as a world-weary business man, but when he needed to, he could whip it on pretty good. I was very impressed with the amount of effort that the author put into this novel, and if it makes the final cut from the acquisition editors, you can rest assured that I will purchase the novel to add it to my library.

Then, there were some novels that I read that were good, but not good. There were little things about them that bothered me; for example in one novel there was a large cast of characters and a pretty good plot, but there was no depth to the characters, nothing to make you love or hate them, nothing to make you root for them; in short, I finished reading it because I don't like leaving things unfinished, not because I cared about the characters.

In another novel that ended up getting rejected, mostly everything was amazing; the plot was awesome, the characters believable and likable, the technology (it was a Science Fiction novel) was cool, even the spacecraft was well thought-out... but the antagonists were goofy. There's no better word for it. It was as if the author had put all of their attention into what they had thought to be most important, then flipped through a dictionary, and stabbed their finger down at a certain point and said, "yes, oh mighty spatula, you and all of your kind shall be my antagonists!" (The antagonist was not a spatula, but I am trying to protect the author should they stumble across my blog) This novel joined the growing list of polite "thanks, but no thanks" pile.

The last two manuscripts that I have had to read... well, the only word that could possibly suit them is bloodcurdling. One was so bad, I wished that I had never learned how to read. Aside from having a horrific plot, I felt as though the author himself did not even know where he was going, or what he was wanting to say. At one point, the only reason I knew that I was reading the same manuscript was because two of the side characters kept popping up. Aside from that, absolutely nothing else that was occurring had absolutely anything to do with anything in the rest of the manuscript. It has been said that "one million monkeys, typing on one million typewriters, for one million years, would rewrite the complete works of William Shakespeare." I'd argue that two million monkeys typing for thirty seconds would have been able to produce roughly the same quality of work that I had, unfortunately, volunteered to read.

The latest manuscript that I am laboring over is beginning to shape up along these lines. So far, even though the characters are living in the 22nd Century, they are still watching television and listening to radios. Call me old fashioned, but I'm hoping that we will have invented something way cooler than televisions by at least the year 2030.

Why am I telling you all of this?

I want to exhort any reader of my blog that is considering submitting any manuscript to any Publishing House: Do Not, under any circumstances, simply submit the first thing that you happen to pound out. Just because you have written a fiction-length manuscript does not mean that it is suitable fiction. Likewise, simply because one of your friends, or your mother, think that what you have written is "good," does not mean that it is suitable for submission to a House. A writer must hone their craft, read and re-read their manuscript, labor over it like a blacksmith labors over a sword, they must put their sweat and their blood into it, they must ponder it when they are forced to be away from their manuscript, and constantly be thinking and re-thinking their manuscript. When the writer thinks that they are finished, they must then turn to Page One and start all over again; the writer must know their work inside and out, backwards and forwards. The characters in the manuscript must become the writers best friends or their worst enemies; they should know their characters better than they know their family members, they must be able to tell you, at the drop of a hat, how their characters would respond in certain situations. I have seen writers smile when they think of something funny that one of their characters did in their manuscript; this, reader, is how one must write.

And, when the writer has poured themselves into that manuscript, when they believe that it is finally ready for submission, they must then ask a pivotal question: "Were I not me, would I read this?" That is the central query, and one that the writer alone cannot answer. At this point, the writer needs to begin soliciting their manuscript to anybody they know who would be willing to read it, with one giant disclaimer. The writer must tell their reader, "Do not tell me what you think I want to hear, tell me what you really think." If the writer truly knows their reader, and vice versa, then the reader will be brutally honest. And that is what the writer needs to hear, brutal honesty. However, if the writer is not ready for brutal honesty, then they need to put their manuscript away; forget about it. They need not begin to think about submission until they are ready for brutal honesty. If the writer cannot take constructive (and sometimes not so constructive) criticism, then the writer is in the wrong arena.

When all that is said and done, and the writer has taken constructive criticism, he or she must begin at Page One all over again. Read it through the eyes of their readers; they ought to look for basic spelling and grammar mistakes; look at things that caught their first-readers attention, and examine whether or not they ought to make the suggested changes that had been brought to their attention. The writer should read their manuscript all the way through; when they are finished, they should be excited not because they wrote a manuscript, but because the manuscript itself was engrossing, and invigorating, and exciting.

When the writer finally begins the submission process with any Publishing House, they should do so with the secure knowledge that what they are now submitting is the best manuscript that they could possibly produce.

Please, Writers of the World, do not slap together words that two million monkeys could pound out on two million typewriters over a time period of thirty seconds; put your heart and your soul into it. Publishing Houses everywhere will thank you, and you will be secure in the knowledge that, even if you end up being rejected, it wasn't because you didn't try your best.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Deus ex Machina, secundus secui

In my original Deus ex Machina post, I had spoken about the entire human condition and the fate of the entire Human race. Due to our inherent nature, we are doomed to fail, doomed to death, and doomed to destruction. A Dystopian future looms in our collective horizon; squalor, teeming masses of sick and poor, war and death, catastrophes and ill-fated horror... all these are what awaits us, should we continue marching on the inexorable path that we have already laid our feet upon. As I stated before, though, there is a Deus ex Machina that awaits us; the Perfect Plot Twist, the real God on a Machine, awaits the perfect timing set forth by His Father to arrive.

All that said, though, I believe that within the Plot that is the Human Race, there has to be individual chapters to make up the entire Plot. I suppose that every human life is its own chapter, although that may not be the best analogy. Perhaps, we ought to look at the entire Plot as a giant tapestry, with individual lives acting as the threads in the tapestry. Robert Jordan wrote a little about this in his Wheel of Time series, but I don't believe that he touched on it as well as he could, nor do I believe that he approached this idea from a biblical standpoint. As we live with and interact with one another, more of the Plot is revealed, more of the Tapestry is woven, and as time progresses, entire themes are soon apparent within the Plot, and beautiful designs are shown on the Tapestry.

Reflecting on my life, I can see many themes and plot twists that have occurred at key moments. Remember: the key definition of deus ex machina is that it is an improbable character, artifact, device, or event that is introduced at the pivotal moment without which the character or main characters of a story cannot escape from. How many times within my own life have I been trapped in a corner, painted there by my own irrational behavior, only to be extracted by the deus ex machina of my life?

One example comes straight from the war, and is slightly amusing. During the Invasion of Iraq, we experienced the worst sandstorm that has been seen in Iraq in over fifty years; literally, it was called the Mother Of All Sandstorms, or the MOASS. We had set up a small Combat Operations Center during the previous night, to provide communications, tactical and logistical support to the lead battalion that was only a few miles up the road. Then, sometime during the night, the MOASS started up and the lead battalion was withdrawn to help provide security around our small COC. Later during the morning the wind was so bad that we had to tear down all of our antennas; none of my Marines were answering their radios, so I decided to trudge through the sandstorm to give the command verbally. By this time, the storm was so bad that I could barely see a foot in front of me; I had to follow the large, 26-Pair cable that linked the combined radio antennas to the radios down in the COC. I arrived at AntHill, gave the command, and started trudging back; however, I hadn't counted on my Marines being so technically proficient, nor as speedy as they ended up being. About half-way back to the COC, the hock-end of the 26-Pair cable went whizzing past me. There I was, standing in the middle of Iraq, smack-dab in between the Antenna Hill and the COC, about 200 yards from the literal front lines of the invasion, and stuck in the worst sandstorm in fifty years.

I tried to remain calm, but I'll be honest; there was a tinge of panic involved. I tried to walk in a straight line, but the wind was obviously blowing me off course. I walked for an undetermined time, then stopped, and just started praying. I know that I had walked past the COC. I could have walked less than three feet away from the tents, and I would have missed them because of the sandstorm! As I stood there praying, however, a noise caught my attention: incredibly, I heard something honking. My hand in front of my face to block out some of the grit that was trying to peel the skin from my face, I peered into the wall of sand; sure enough, I could also see a slight glow coming from the same direction as the horn.

I followed the light and the noise, and incredibly I stumbled across the very last Hummvee on the line... anything further than that vehicle, and I would have been walking in enemy territory, and probably would have been lost for quite some time. I could have even ended up as a Prisoner Of War.

But there was that Deus ex Machina that was introduced at exactly the right time.

What makes that story so very interesting is that I can see the plot twist as it occurred directly in my life, but how it directly affected 3,000 other Marines, as well. See, our Regimental Combat Team 5 was headed directly into an Iraqi Division-sized ambush; for those who don't know tactics or military lingo, a Division is significantly larger than a Regiment. If we had continued pushing forward at the same speed and intensity as we had been prior to the MOASS, we would have stumbled into a killing field. However, because of the MOASS, we halted all forward movement and Saddam grew impatient and started moving those units around, thus exposing them to our surveillance. We were able to locate and identify the Iraqi Division, and subsequently attack and destroy them, all because of this massive sandstorm. If we had continued on, the chances of RCT-5 making it out of that ambush fully intact were slim to none.

Deus ex Machina.

Another example is in my financial life. I started my power washing business in 2004, with a substantial amount of money and many great expectations. I built up a great client base, and by early 2007 the business had many awesome clients and a steady amount of money rolling in. By all standards, Marathon Pressure Systems was doing great. However, a series of calamities were awaiting me; some clients moved on. I tore the rotator cuff in my right shoulder, causing an excruciating amount of pain on a daily basis. I had a large maintenance expense that I didn't foresee. I suddenly owed a substantial amount of money to the IRS. In the middle of everything, gas prices were rising, we purchased a home and moved, and my shoulder continued to deteriorate. By the end of 2007, things had declined to the point that I had stopped taking incoming clients because of my shoulder, and the clients that I did have were not paying on time.

In January of 2008, I started a job search, to supplement the business. I applied all over the place, only to receive the same response: No education? No job. My lack of a college degree was limiting me to two or three basic occupations: Janitor. Construction Worker. Security Guard. People especially liked me as a Security Guard because of my military background; however, that just didn't cut the mustard, for me. I finally was accepted for an interview with the Tucson Police Department, as a police dispatcher. I wouldn't have to do any strenuous labor on my shoulder, and the pay was good.

I started counting on the TPD job to rescue me from my financial situation. As the interviews with TPD progressed, things in my life continued to regress. We missed a month's mortgage. We started paying our bills selectively, trying to juggle and balance them so that no one bill would get too bad. And the more this occurred, the more I was counting on TPD to rescue me. God was suddenly taking a back seat to the Tucson Police Department.

Last week, I received the news that the TPD was wanting to hire me... in August of 2008. August! I was crushed. There was no way that I could wait that long! Bills have been stacking up, I've been putting off creditors, my refrigerator has been getting more and more empty, and my shoulder has been getting worse and worse.

Where is my Deus ex Machina? There is no way I can rescue myself from this situation.

I know that the Plot Twist is coming. I can feel it, just over the horizon. I know, now, why the Deus ex Machina hasn't come into operation yet; it is because I thought I wouldn't need a Plot Twist. I thought I had the entire plot figured out, from beginning to end! How can I be rescued, unless I realize that I need rescuing? You can't save a drowning man, if he doesn't realize that he's drowning!

My Deus ex Machina is coming... I know it.

Monday, April 21, 2008

The Puppy

I am a huge fan of Doberman Pinschers. The breed was originally developed by a German named Karl Friedrich Louis Doberman, who was a dog-catcher and a tax collector; since he traveled through many bandit-infested areas, he had the desire to "build" a perfect dog to help him through those rough patches of ground. I'm sure that after many trial and error tests, he came up with the finished product: The Doberman Pinscher, which he felt was the perfect combination of strength, loyalty, intelligence, and ferocity. Since then, they have been used as guard dogs, watch dogs, and police/military dogs.

In fact, the first true use of military dogs inside of the US Military occurred during World War II; the United States Marine Corps was, in fact, the first branch of the military to ever use dogs in combat. In fact it was the battle of Bouganville, in the Pacific Theater, on 1 November 1943, that was the first official use of dogs in combat. Dobermans were the official USMC War Dogs, and were used extensively throughout the Pacific campaign, fighting alongside their humans in the steaming jungles and the shell-torn beaches. During the campaign, it was common for Japanese sappers to sneak in, during the cover of night, to kill many Marines who were sleeping on the beaches. After the "Devil Dogs" were brought in, not a single Marine unit came under attack from the Japanese. Not only did they serve as sentries, but they also helped to find and neutralize snipers, booby traps, ambushes, and lead the attack on bunkers, pill boxes, spider holes, and dugouts, as well as scouted forward positions and occupied fighting holes with their owners at night.
Needless to say, the Doberman Pinscher proved their worth in WWII.
We adopted our first Dobie in 2005. Her name was originally Princess, but we changed it to Roxie; Princess just didn't seem to fit her. Yes, she was regal, and gorgeous, but certainly no "Princess." Names like that are reserved for Chihuahuas and Mini-Pins, not my 85 pound muscle with teeth!
She quickly worked her way into our hearts. Her calm demeanor, her steady nerves, her willingness to put herself on the line for us, as well as her loyal heart and loving manners all endeared her to us. On one occasion during a family walk, we were set upon by a stray mutt. The poor dog really didn't know what it was in for; in fact, he probably just wanted to check us out, give us all a friendly sniff, and head on his way. Roxie saw him coming, though, and threw a cross-body block that literally floored the mutt. She was on perfect alert; her muscles straining, her cropped ears at attention, an "I'm going to eat you" snarl on her face, and her nub of a tail pointing straight back; I'm telling you, she was intimidating, to me! After the mutt evacuated himself from the area, Roxie turned to look at us, a goofy look on her face, her nub wagging, as if to say "I took care of him for you, gang! I love you guys!" We slathered her with praise, hugs, and kisses.

I think the best part about Roxie is that she can go from 110% protection mode to 110% "love you" mode in an instant. Stranger at the door? She's on alert. Stranger ended up being a friend over with their infant son? She's all love, giving little Roxie kisses to the baby and allowing him to climb all over her. My 6 year old loves Roxie: he won't go out back to play unless she's with him. And when she's outside with him, she's on guard duty; she watches his every move, follows him around, and generally baby-sits. I've never, ever had to worry about my kids around Roxie.

All this said, earlier this year we decided that, since we loved Roxie so much, we should look into adopting another Doberman. To our delight, the same adoption agency that we got Roxie through had another Dobie pup up for adoption; he was a goofy Gus, with unclipped ears and long, lanky legs. The night we met him, we fell in love all over again; he was such a gangly little guy, all legs and ears; he found a moth, and was absolutely fascinated by the little insect, chasing it around, snapping at it, watching it flutter about... we were smitten. We took him home that night and introduced him to Roxie, who accepted him into "her" home with an open Dobie heart.

It didn't take long to realize that our new puppy, whom we dubbed "Bentley" was absolutely nothing like our other Dobie.
Where Roxie is steadfast, loyal, intelligent, fearless, and loving, Bentley is iffy at best, dumb as a rock, scared of everything, and loving only when he feels like it.

He's slowly adapting to the rest of the family, but I'm afraid that there's something dreadfully wrong with the poor guy. Oh, he's adorable; but he's also a complete dodo. The doorbell rings, and Roxie goes to work, alerting us that somebody is at the door and standing ready to devour them if they prove to be unfriendly. Bentley? He runs in circles chasing his nub of a tail. One of the kids makes a funny noise, and Roxie simply looks up to see what's going on, then resumes her nap. Bentley? He runs away. It's a sad day when a 6 year old armed with a squirt-bottle could break into my house and chase away my Doberman! He also has developed an inexplicable habit of sitting on the couch. I don't know how he managed to figure it out, or why it would even be comfortable to him, but he's done it; bottom on the couch, front paws on the floor. Ah!

The most worrisome of all his habits, though, is his incurable love for paper goods; specifically, napkins and tissues. Oh, he loves napkins and tissues, especially used napkins and tissues. To him a used tissue is like haute cuisine, which he instantly devours. If one were to observe Bentley on any given day, one would instantly recognize the crazed glint in his eye as he prowls the house looking for a stray tissue that is within his reach. Once it is discovered, the poor tissue stands no chance at all; it's toast! Meal times are the worst; we've trained him to not beg at the table, but more than once he's been observed slinking from chair to chair, snitching napkins from laps and quietly sucking them down like so much linguine. My favorite is when my wife tucks a spare tissue into her pocket, leaving a little ear of it hanging out for easy access. Bentley will sneak up alongside her and, with the precision and care that one would normally see with an eye surgeon or a rocket scientist, he teases the tissue from her pocket, then happily and proudly prances away to eat his treat in the privacy of his crate.

Ah, I suppose that he's still young; I know I did some odd things when I was young. I can only hope that Bentley outgrows his tissue-habit and starts fitting the Doberman description!

(Photos, top to bottom: Guam War Dog Memorial; Jedi Master Roxie in repose; Roxie frolicking in one of our summer monsoon puddles; Bentley sitting on the couch; Bentley scared of... the camera?)

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Guarding the Mind

In todays day and age, there are many different idioms, ideas, ideologies, isms, and methods within this cosmos (world) that have been developed for the sole purpose of tripping up the average Christ Follower. The funny thing is, there is nothing new under the sun: everything that we run up against today has been tried at least once before. The good news, when it comes to combating these myriad of isms, is that the methods for defeating these attacks are simple, timeless, and most importantly, have the ring of utter Truth.

The first way to defeat false philosophies is to keep our eyes upon Christ; He is the Head over everything, the Beginning and the End, the Alpha and the Omega; from Him we draw all of our Truth, all of our Strength, and all of our Wisdom. When we keep Him in focus and Him in the forefront of our lives, it becomes suddenly very difficult for any man to take his place. When I was a young Christ Follower, I went to a church here in Tucson that I called "Pastor X's Church." Was that really Pastor X's church? Was I going to church to hear Pastor X, or was I going to church to hear my Savior? Unfortunately for me at that time, I hadn't fully realized the distinction. The end result, of course, was that I ended up being disillusioned by Pastor X, because he is only a human being; he has feet of clay! The same is true of any cult or ism out there. Why follow a man, or a couple, or a family? Christ must be the head.

The second way to defeat a false ideology is to stay focused on bible-measured teaching. We need to keep the scriptures paramount. God's Word is to be our guide, our measuring stick, our magnifying glass for examining everything that comes our way. Why should we follow something that "sounds good?" There is an old saying, that holds true; if you stand for nothing, you'll fall for anything. When we aren't diligently searching the scriptures, when we aren't hearing the adequate and proper teachings of the scriptures, then we are left open to any wind of ideology or change that comes our way. How many Cults have said, "there is a better way," or "there is a new way," or, "there is something else." No: read your scripture. There needs be nothing else! Everything needed for understanding God, seeing the Father, learning of our Human Condition and the subsequent Cure, is contained within the Word of God.

The third way to defeat false doctrine and to keep strong, is to abound in Grace, and to not be bound by laws. Cults, doctrines, and any other religion will always give a list of do's and dont's. Do wear This. Don't eat That. Say This. Don't Say That. Do This Now. Don't Go There. A Real ____ Will Only Read This Type of Book... Now, truly there has to be a list, but it must align to Christ (see #1) and be found in scripture (see #2) and be taken in the proper context, proper grammar, and within the History of the Church. But everything else? My favorite fight with another Christian is about this: What To Wear To Church. Do you truly want to know what to wear to Church? Read Colossians 3:12: 12)Therefore, as God's chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. 13)Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. 14)And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity. Does it matter one iota if I should wear sandals or a suit to church? Absolutely not. Yet I have met, and argued with, men and women who believe that if I were truly regenerated by the Holy Spirit then I would dress a certain way. Reader, Following Christ has absolutely nothing to do with the outward appearance. Jesus' strongest words were reserved for the religious elitists of His day; 25 "Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. 26 Blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside also will be clean. 27 "Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of dead men's bones and everything unclean. 28 In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness. (Matthew 23:25-28). I hate to break it to you, Reader, but the majority of American Christians that I run across fall into this category. It's one thing to adhere to the bible, to the Word of the Living God, and it's another to put your own social ideals, personal opinions, and "Church Culture" ahead of the King of Kings.

The fourth way to defend our hearts against ideologies is to remain Joyous, Authentic, and Balanced. This means putting away our plastic smile and our canned answers, our false glad-handing when we're at church. In a pissy mood? Say so! Our honesty will be refreshing to those we run across. Happy? Good! Be happy! As a Christ Follower we come across many hard spots in our lives; my pastor said today that every believer comes across their own Garden of Gethsemane moment (because we are being carved into the image of Christ... heavy words), so we aren't required to be over-the-top happy at all times; but neither are we to be dour, quiet, and have a sort of lamentation over our faith. One basic tenet of Following Christ is the joy in knowing that our sins are forgiven, that we have an Advocate in Heaven, and that one day we shall be seen as we truly are, and that the veil that has been drawn across our Humanity shall be withdrawn, and we shall live with Christ as our True King, as we were meant to live from the very beginning!!

So there you have it; the four guideposts to protecting ourselves from empty words of empty religions. Adhere to them; stick to them; and don't just take my own word for it, because I am simply a man, but examine it for yourself; open up a dialogue with God; do your own research. Come to your own conclusions. You won't be disappointed.

And The Band Played Waltzing Matilda