Monday, January 28, 2013

Bridge Out

I like traveling. It's fun to pick out new destinations to visit and lay out a plan on a map to see how many interesting historical or scenic sights can be visited on the way. Yet gasoline and money are not usually in endless supply, so often the most economical route is chosen. Most people, too, do not have the time or patience to drive down every possible route to their destination.

Why, then, is there this tendency in culture to do the such a thing with spirituality? It is not difficult to find widespread examples of different spiritual beliefs in the news, movies, books, and even in music. Choice is good, but are all choices equal?

It has been said by some that there are many ways to God. Others suggest that all religions are valid and that all roads lead to the same destination.

Do they?

Consider Jesus' words in Matthew 7:13 (NKJV), "Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it."

I've heard it said that maybe Jesus is just being too strict for our times nowadays. After all, the culture was different back then and look at all the world has to offer now in terms of religion. In Matthew 24:35, however, Jesus states, "Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will by no means pass away." (NKJV)

Here is an exercise. Try lining up the world's varied religions next to one other sometime. Compare their core beliefs. Do they really mesh together? Are they really all paths to the same destination?

Christianity is unique in many ways, but perhaps the most prominent way is that salvation is not dependent on the efforts of the believer...unlike the rest of the world's religions. In fact, in Ephesians 2:8-9, Paul writes, "For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast."

Let's take another example: Hinduism relies on millions of gods. Yet in Isaiah 45:20-21, it states, "Assemble yourselves and come; draw near together, you who have escaped from the nations. They have no knowledge, who carry the wood of their carved image, and pray to a god that cannot save. Tell and bring forth your case; yes, let them take counsel together. Who has declared this from ancient time? Who has told it from that time? Have not I, the Lord? And there is no other God besides Me, a just God and a Savior; there is none besides Me." (NKJV)

Those don't sound like roads leading to the same destination.

Yet it is not hard to find the mixing of these belief systems today. Some have labeled this as merely an "Eastern way of thought", in that a person can hold two very contradictory beliefs at once. After all, you can readily find "Christian yoga" and prayer "labyrinths" on some church properties. It is one thing to hold contradictory beliefs. It's another when those beliefs are lived out and there are real-world consequences to holding on to them.

Case in point: believing in eternal life (via Christianity) and the achievement of nirvana in Buddhism. One relies on God, the other relies on human works. One results in eternity with God while the other essentially leads to "nothingness". To quote Gautama Buddha, "Where there is nothing; where naught is grasped, there is the Isle of No-Beyond. Nirvana do I call it—the utter extinction of aging and dying."

In short, there are two destinations in this example: somewhere and nowhere. One destination is brought on by an act of God while the other is brought on by an act of self-will. One destination results in ultimate fufillment while the other results in ultimate annihilation. One road leads to streets paved in gold while the other leads to a bridge that is out.

How can one be on the road to somewhere and nowhere at the same time?

Saturday, January 19, 2013

A Simple Story

Ok, not really.

I've posted another short story from Corridors over on Wattpad. It can be found here. It's anything but a simple story, however.

Told through a series of letters, it details one scientist's quest to improve his abilities by using an implanted memory chip. It's a subtle nod to the intelligence-altering surgery from another book, Flowers for Algernon.

Friday, January 11, 2013


Last summer, I watched on television as Felix Baumgartner sat poised on the edge of a capsule readied to jump. The capsule was attached to a balloon that had risen to a height of 128,100 feet. Moments later, he leaped out of the capsule in what would become a world record height for a skydive. The jump was fascinating to watch but also nerve-wracking until he landed safely back on the ground using a parachute.

I don't know where Felix stands in terms of faith matters, but an interesting question to ask would be this: did he feel any closer to God while he was up there? (Or did he even care?) To put it another way, does a mountain climber scaling Mount Everest get closer to God as they approach the summit?

Before leaving the capsule, Felix remarked, "I wish you could see what I can see. Sometimes you have to be up really high to understand how small you are...I'm coming home now."

In Isaiah 40:21-22 (NKJV), it reads, "Have you not known? Have you not heard? Has it not been told you from the beginning? Have you not understood from the foundations of the earth? It is He who sits above the circle of the earth, and its inhabitants are like grasshoppers, Who stretches out the heavens like a curtain, and spreads them out like a tent to dwell in."

If nothing else, maybe Felix had a similar visual vantage point.

Yet if Felix had instead been aboard a deep sea diving vessel, he still would have encountered God. In Psalm 139:7-10 David writes, "Where can I go from Your Spirit? Or where can I flee from Your presence? If I ascend into heaven, You are there; if I make my bed in hell, behold, You are there. If I take the wings of the morning, and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there Your hand shall lead me, and Your right hand shall hold me."

One of the thematic questions I'm exploring in my current work-in-progress is whether or not mankind can flee to another planet in order to escape God...or at least the perceived persecutions from Christians themselves. Sort of like a reverse version of the Mayflower voyage. Is it possible? Or is God truly omnipotent and omnipresent not only on Earth but also elsewhere in the universe as His word suggests? And in a similar way, why do so many people expend so much endless energy trying to run in the first place? There are several plans in the works to send missions to Mars, and surely some challenges will be raised on the existence and nature of God as a result.

Yet fleeing to outer space would still bring a person face-to-face with God.

In Amos 5:8 (NKJV) it states, "He made the Pleiades and Orion; He turns the shadow of death into morning and makes the day dark as night; He calls for the waters of the sea and pours them out on the face of the earth; the Lord is His name." Likewise, in Job 38:31 God tells Job, "Can you bind the cluster of the Pleiades, or loose the belt of Orion?"

The chances of our generation taking a spaceship to the Pleiades or the belt of Orion to test this theory in the next decade are probably zero. Even if we could make it there, how would one even begin to amass enough energy to rearrange entire star systems?

Maybe the answer isn't found by soaring in a balloon to the edge of space or scaling up the highest mountain. Maybe the answer isn't found in the depths of the ocean or in a settlement on the Red Planet. Perhaps the answer has been with us all along, ready to respond in an instant as the Israelites found out during the exile: "And you will seek Me and find Me, when you search for Me with all your heart." (Jeremiah 29:13, NKJV)

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Project Mandelbrot

I like code names. I don't know why, but they sort of add an aura of mystery or even a sense of nobility to various endeavors. Software projects are often given code names, too. For instance, Windows XP went by the internal name of "Whistler" and Vista carried the name "Longhorn" for a time. So, to mimic the time-honored tradition of naming software projects, I've decided to start naming my writing projects...maybe more as a means of motivating myself than anything else.

Maybe this is sort of like a battle cry, I don't know. I do know that the next book I'm working on is going to go by the new code name of "Project Mandelbrot". On the surface, it's going to be a series of short stories set on the Earth and Mars, and will stretch across several decades of time. Underneath, at both the micro and macro level, it's going to be most structurally complicated thing I've ever attempted to write. I can't get into too many specifics at this point, but if get this to work, I'm going to use it as a stepping stone for my next non-fiction book. At a later date, I'll also dig into the zany structure behind this book and how it took years to develop.

It's also going to involve fractals. Lots of them. If you ever get bored and want to read up on those, start with Mandelbrot himself or the mathematical set that is named after him. I hope some of the stories will also instill a sense of wonder about science and just plain tell an intriguing story.

In other writing news, I've posted one of the short stories from Corridors over on Wattpad for a while. Check it out and let me know what you think.