Thursday, February 25, 2016

Timeless Truths: What Christians believe about… #1-The Bible (Part 1)

7. What Christians believe about… #1-The Bible (Part 1)
February 25, 2016
All Scripture quotations are from the NIV.

14) But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, 15) and how from infancy you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.
16) All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness,17) so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work. 2 Timothy 3:14-17

If you grew up attending church, you probably have more than one Bible. You’ve also more than likely heard the Bible described as:
  • rules to follow
  • an/the Answer book
  • encyclopedia or history book
  • science book
  • roadmap for life
  • owner’s manual

While some of these descriptive terms work well at times, they often lead to the Christian defending God’s Word in ways that alienate the listener.

So, what’s the answer? What’s the real description of the Bible?
The Bible is a conversation between God and humanity.

The Bible describes itself in several places. Some include a mental picture.
  • Your word is a lamp for my feet, a light on my path. Psalms 119:105
  • Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. Ephesians 6:17
  • For the word of God is living and active and full of power [making it operative, energizing, and effective]. It is sharper than any two-edged [a]sword, penetrating as far as the division of the [b]soul and spirit [the completeness of a person], and of both joints and marrow [the deepest parts of our nature], exposing and judging the very thoughts and intentions of the heart. Hebrews 4:12 [The Amplified Bible]


a.   In addition to “sword,” the word in Greek was used for the knife used by the priests to slit the throats of the sacrificial lambs and for the knife (scalpel) used by a surgeon.
b.   “soul and spirit” used here to emphasize the whole person, not two separate entities as in other passages.
The Bible is alive because of what it does in our lives. The power comes from the authority we give it. It is life-changing for all generations.

Other descriptions don’t require a mental picture.
Jesus prays for His disciples in John 17, that God would Sanctify them by the truth; your Word is truth. (v15). You can’t have a true relationship with God without truth—the Scriptures.

Next week we’ll look deeper into this topic.

Thanks to Rev. Scott Peterson for the central teachings used in this blog.

Next Thursday's Timeless Truths Series: What Christians believe about… #2-The Church
Follow me on Twitter: @CRDowningAuthor and Facebook:
My website is:

I'd appreciate your feedback!

Monday, February 22, 2016

A Science Guy’s Almanac #18. Year 2. A ruptured Spinal Disk and Giant Snowflakes – Part 2

A Science Guy’s Almanac #18. Year 2. February 22, 2016
A ruptured Spinal Disk and Giant Snowflakes – Part 2

When last we left our intrepid hero, that’d be me, I was sent by gurney from the ER to the pediatrics floor. I was only 18, so I qualified as a child chronologically. Just by looking at me, though, I’d have thought someone would have noticed that I was 6’ tall and weighed around 205 pounds. Neither of those dimensions is stereotypically pediatric.

The whole “you’re how old?” thing began early in life. I was the biggest kid, or in the top two, in my class from kindergarten through 6th grade. I had to start shaving in 7th grade because it was against school rules for students to have facial hair.

By the time I graduated from Junior High I was 5’9” tall and weighed 165 pounds. I was also the school record holder in the 100-yard dash and the long jump. Both those records still stand today—52 years later. Of course, they don’t run any races in yards anymore, so that’s safe in perpetuity. Since my record jump was 18’ 1¾”, I’m not all that surprised that it’s still on the board in the boy’s locker room.

Another digression. There are others to come. Now, back to the pediatric ward.

Beds in pediatrics are 6’ long. My head touched the headboard. My feet were at right angles against the footboard. The blanket almost made it to my chin. Since I was on heavy-duty pain meds, none of those were an issue. But, even the largest pediatric hospital gown was an issue.

If you’re familiar with hospital gowns, the adult ones are far from modest. Imagine wearing a hospital gown whose bottom hem ended just about 6” below my navel. I’ll wait while you look down and see what’s 6” below your navel. Modesty was not an option. The gown was also too narrow to meet anywhere along my dorsal surface. The combination of lack of length and lack of horizontal cloth left nothing to the imagination.

I woke up in the miniature hospital space. Just after 7:00 AM a stern-looking nurse entered my room. In an equally stern-sounding voice, she demanded, “What are you doing here?”

I had no answer for that. So, I kept quiet.

“You need to be on the 5th floor in orthopedics.” With that, she tossed me a pediatric robe. “Put that on. I’ll send an orderly in with a wheelchair.”

Once again I ask you to imagine. The pediatric robe was about 2” longer than the pediatric hospital gown. For those of you math-phobes, that put the bottom of the robe 8” below my navel. Hold that thought.

The pediatric wheelchair arrived. It was not quite as wide as my hips. I had to kind of wedge myself into the seat. It was awkward. But there was just enough room for squeezing and crossing of my lower body parts that I managed to make it to the 5th floor without being arrested for indecent exposure.

My arrival in orthopedics solved the wardrobe problem. I was given an adult hospital gown. Hmmm. Perhaps solved is a bit of an exaggeration, the gown being designed as it is. Nonetheless, male body parts that are covered by fig leaves in Roman sculptures but not by pediatric hospital gowns on adult-sized patients were now covered.

I hadn’t been in my new bed more than an hour when I was attached to a medieval torture device. A headgear was placed on my head with a strap beneath my jaw. A second leather strappy-thing was hooked around my hips. Metal cables were attached to both my headgear and my hip-gear. The cables were placed on pulleys. Weights were hooked to each cable.

The experience is known as traction. It’s an attempt to pull the vertebrae apart until the distance between them is restored to factory specifications. At that time, Dr. Laughlin, the Head of Orthopedics, wasn’t sure if one of my lumbar disks was compressed, herniated, or ruptured. The constant pull from the weights on my rack…
Ooops. The Rack was a medieval torture device. Traction is a medical procedure. Toe-may-toe/Tow-mah-tow.

The constant pull on my spine by the weights during traction is designed to relieve pressure on the sciatic nerve.

I got to go on a field trip the afternoon of the first day on the 5th floor. A physical therapist with an adult-sized wheelchair entered the room.

“Time to go down to Physical Therapy,” she announced. After unhooking me from the traction setup, we headed down to the basement for PT.

Once in the basement room, she helped onto a thinly padded table. If you don’t know why I needed a wheelchair and help to climb up on the table, you should go back and read/re-read the face-planting description in Almanac #17. Just sayin’…

“Lay back flat,” she directed. I did.

“The first thing I’m going to check is how the damage is affecting your muscular control.” I nodded.

“Okay, then. I want you to point your toes straight up to the ceiling. I’m going to try and pull your toes down so they’re pointing at me. I want you to prevent me from doing that.”

Give it all you’ve got, I thought. You’re not pulling my toes in any direction.

That sounds overconfident. Remember: I was 18-years old at the time… and invincible! Or so I thought.

In my defense, my legs were strong. I had 24” thighs and 17” calves…

“Let’s start with your good leg.” She grabbed my right foot. “Hold them in place.”

She pulled. I held my toes up. After a few seconds, she stopped pulling. My toes were pointed straight up to the sky!

“Good,” she said.

Of course! I thought.

“Now let’s try the injured one.” She grabbed my left foot. “Hold those toes in place.”

She pulled. I held my toes up.

“No,” she said. “I want you to hold them up like you did with your right foot.”

“I did,” I said.

“Oh… Well, let’s try again.” She pushed my toes back up. “Hold them up.”

This time, I tensed every muscle in my body and willed those left toes to stay up.

She pulled. My toes pointed right at her. I’d watched. That stupid foot had ignored my mental command!

Let’s try something else,” she said. She held up what looked like a pizza-cutter with spines instead of a sharp edge. [I Googled it. It’s called a Wartenberg Wheel.]
The sadistic Wartenberg Wheel!
“I’m going to start at your little toe and run this up your leg. Let me know when you feel any sensation.”
“Okay,” I said.

“I’ll start with your right foot again.” She touched my little toe with the prickly wheel.

“Ouch!” I yelled and pulled my foot back.

“No problems there,” she understated. “Now the left.”

I waited. 

And waited.

“You can start anytime,” I said.

“I’m already past your knee,” she said.

That ended my only Physical Therapy session. 

Snow is now in the extended forecast!
Next Almanac post: A ruptured Spinal Disk and Giant Snowflakes – Part 3

Follow me on Twitter: @CRDowningAuthor
My website is:

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

How to unflatten a pancake character (reprised and revised)

How to unflatten a pancake character (reprised and revised)

This is a revision of this blog entry. It first appeared in May 2015. I've learned more since then, so I've chosen not to mark the changes. You can consider this an edit of an earlier version of what I thought was a completed manuscript. If that doesn't ring a bell with you, hop in your "way-back machine" with Mr. Peabody from Rocky and Bullwinkle--or just scroll through my blog posts--until you arrive at Editing. Lessons learned the hard way (2/2/16).  A clever soul might just click on the link...

Unless your novel takes place in the two-dimensional world of Flatland, you don’t want characters that lack multiple dimensions.

I remember re-tweeted a tweet about an author arguing with her main character about something she had planned to include in her story arc.

I’ve been thinking about that since then.
Do you argue with your characters?
If so, why? 
If not, why not?

Each character, even a "walk on," should be capable of being fleshed out into a minor character. In fact, I'm sure there are books in print where the main character was once nothing more than a role-player in an earlier book by that author.

Here's the situation I wrote myself into that triggered this blog. Other situations have inspired the revision.

I once collaborated on what my co-author and I hoped would be a series of books. The book series idea had morphed from a single book concept. We discussed an antagonist who would be involved in at least the first two books in that series. The antagonist was originally a cold-hearted, cold-blooded criminal. That characterization seemed to work pretty well for a single book. 

However, as I was outlining the second book and writing chunks of both, I realized two things.

  • First. I’d written a really bad person.
  • Second.  I did not want to continue writing about this particular individual because there was no direction to go but deeper into the pit of badness.

So, I had a choice to make. You can speculate on what my options were. Here’s a quote to kickstart your thinking. 

“No character should be all good or all bad--that is not believable.  Characters are people and they are three-dimensional.  The way to flesh out characters effectively is to have some good in the bad, some bad in the good.  Showing a character's soft side gives understanding to the reader. They might still hate the character but it allows them to understand the character.  All bad or good is boring and only works in fairy tales with good princesses and bad queens.”

Go ahead, I’ll wait…

I’m not going to give you what I thought my options were. I don’t think that’s particularly relevant to this blog. Bad news: you can’t compare your ideas for options to mine. Good news: because I didn’t share, your options can’t be wrong.

What I decided to do was mellow the character out. I started by having his mother telepathically communicate to the character. You should know that he'is euthanizing his mother at the time of this extrasensory transmission:

This gesture is both unexpected and welcomed. It indicates a side of a personality I never manifested. It suits you well. Do not abandon it.

Hold that thought.

As I progressed along the storyline, Antagonist became, well not genial, but, at least, quasi-likable. That was fine… up to a point.

One of the key plot points in book two involves the Antagonist doing something he could never have done without the added depth of compassion.

So, I had to reverse course.
  1. I could have deleted all I’d written about his morph from all bad to not so bad.
  2. I could have changed the plot point in book 2.
  3. I could have generated an incident that caused Antagonist to revert backward into his former self. Not all the way back, because that would have been counter-productive and a big waste of time and energy.

I chose #3.

It appears as though the collaboration with my co-author has dissolved--on good terms. I still plan on producing a series of books with a Protagonist like the one in the current first manuscript. It might be that Protagonist. Book 1 might even be all of what's been written so far with a change in the career choice of the Protagonist. I'm considering adding a failed college romance in lieu of the marriage currently in the draft as well.

I feel certain that the Antagonist will resonate with more readers in book 1. I know he'll still be able to pull off his dastardly deed in future books without moving out of character. And, I now have a variety of ways to complete the dastardly deed planned in book 2 from which to choose.

You’ll have to wait until book 1 of the yet untitled series is available to see if you agree that I “did good” with my choice. But, you’ll have to wait until book 2 is out, to see if I really did what I think/hope I did with my pancake character.

Your goal needs to be 3-D characterization. Unless, of course, you live in Flatland.

Write on!

Next blog: What's in a Name? How do you title a book?
My website is:

Feedback is always appreciated. You might post a comment or email me at:

Monday, February 8, 2016

A Science Guy’s Almanac #17. Year 2. February 8, 2016 A ruptured Spinal Disk and Giant Snowflakes – Part 1

A Science Guy’s Almanac #17. Year 2. February 8, 2016
A ruptured Spinal Disk and Giant Snowflakes – Part 1

When I graduated from high school, I went to University of California San Diego. It’s excellent school for Academic pursuit, But not so much for football. In fact, I played on the only football team in the history of the UCSD campus.  

My high school football team in my senior year could best be categorized as bad. The UCSD team I played on was worse. We did have some very good football players. But we also filled roster spots with warm bodies until we suited around 30 players for the pre-school year practices. 

Included in the warm bodies was a guy who'd broken his leg skiing. When day during practice he collapsed. We gathered around and looked at what appeared to be a severely broken leg--the outside of his foot lay flat on the ground while his kneecap pointed straight up. However, the player wasn’t in any pain at all. 

He did go to the hospital, and his leg was repaired. Turns out, the spiral fracture that he done skiing never really healed. What did break during practice was a portion of the bone that had died instead of healing. The dead bone didn’t hurt.  

But I digress.  

Our first football game was before the school year started. UCSD had never had a football team. Because of that, the cheerleaders were not used to having anything to do until basketball season. Gamer's that the were, the cheerleaders dutifully showed up. As might be expected, there were some glitches. 

During that first game, the cheerleaders misspelled UCSD more than once in the traditional University of California clapping chant. The entire chant is the cheerleaders and the crowd shouting our the school's initials followed by "Tritons Fight!" 
I didn't think remembering U--C--S--D was that challenging. I was mistaken.
That example of horrific cheerleading was the highlight of the first game. 
We lost 40 do nothing.  

Our second game was against Cal Lutheran University. Our schedule consisted of teams that had openings in their schedules when we also had openings—that was pretty much every week. 

Cal Lutheran was the defending small schools champion. 

Remember, we were terrible. 

We rode from La Jolla to Cal Lutheran in a yellow school bus. As soon as we arrived we carried our own football gear to the locker room and suited up.  

We were the first team out on the field to do the warm-ups. 
About 10 minutes into our stretching exercises, the Cal Lutheran team arrived—all 60 or 70 of them.

Cal Lutheran kicked off. We ran three plays and punted. Cal Lutheran probably ran four or five plays before they scored. 

They kicked off again. 

We ran three plays and punted again. 

That cycle continued throughout the game.

About halfway through the second quarter, I was playing quarterback. Greg Gleason, who transferred to Tulane the next year and set several school records, and I alternated at that position, but I was on the field during this particular series.

We ran what was supposed to be a rollout pass. It ended up being a quarterback keeper when no receiver was open.

The year was 1968.

Unlike today, in 1968, no players ran out of bounds intentionally. Every running back, wide receiver, even quarterbacks tried to smash their way to as much yardage as possible every time they touched the ball.

I remember being tackled by at least six players on that particular carry.

We didn’t get a first down.

We punted again.

I was on the punt team as what we called the "up back." My task was to stand in front of the punter and block the first or the most dangerous person that got close. The number one skill required for the position of up back was to not back up.

Think about it.

The up back is blocking while the punter is punting. If the up back backs up, there’s a chance for two rapidly moving objects to contact the up back's tush. Since I had no desire receive either a shoe or football enema, I was perfect for this job. 

Once the ball was kicked by the punter, my job was to go to the side of the field but the ball was kicked to. The punter went to the other side of the field in case the receiving team ran a reverse.

On this particular return, I could see that Cal Lutheran was trying to set up what is known as a picket line.

Imagine a row of players all approximately same distance from the sideline. Each player is trying to keep any opposing players from passing through the line. If done correctly, the picket line makes an open lane for the part returner between his team's players and the sideline. 

As soon as I saw the line forming, I got between two guys who weren’t paying attention to the up back. I waited for the ball carrier, prepared to make a tackle.

Without warning, I was smashed in the back by one of the picket line players who'd turned and saw me. His helmet hit me in the lower back. I went down in a heap.  As a climbed to my feet I looked around to see if the official had thrown a penalty flag.

He had. I felt better as I jogged off the field. 

Since I also played linebacker about half time, three or four plays into Cal Lutheran’s possession our coach called my name. Then he told me to get in there. Nothing unusual yet.

I took a step with my right leg. No problem. But, when my brain told my left leg to take a step, nothing happened. I face planted in front of the bench along the sidelines. That was unusual.

The coach asked me if everything was okay.

I said no. He put somebody else in at linebacker.

The team trainer got me up on the bench. Just before halftime, I was assisted to the locker room. Once in the locker room, it was determined that there was no way I was going to play the rest of the game, So they gave me a shot of a muscle relaxer. 

After the game, the trainer said that I shouldn’t ride home on the school bus. My mom and dad were at the game. They'd driven up in their car. They said they would take me to the hospital.

It was then that they were asked by the coaching staff if they would mind taking another player with them, too. They agreed to do that.  At the time, the coaches were more concerned about the other player than about me. His abdomen was swollen and it was very painful, they thought he probably ruptured his spleen. 

On the drive from the Cal Lutheran to the UCSD hospital in La Jolla, I lay in the back seat of my mom and dad's Chevy Malibu. The other player sat in the front seat next my mom. She was in the middle of the bench seat. My dad was driving..

All the way home, the player in the front seat moaned every time the car made a sudden move or hit any size bump in the road. It was quite a ride.

We got to the hospital. My dad went up to the Emergency Room to let them know we were there. The coaches had called the hospital from Cal Lutheran telling you we were headed that way.

The E.R. technicians took the other player first.

Then a young man in a lab coat came to check on me. 

My mom looked at him and said she thought we should wait for the doctor.

The man introduced himself as the chief of Orthopedic surgery at the hospital.

My mom said it was okay to check me out. 

After a brief check of my condition, I was admitted to the hospital.

Being 18 years old at the time, I was sent to pediatrics.

I found out what happened to the other player we brought home. He'd been hit so hard on one play, that he'd swallowed enough air to inflate his stomach. That was why he was in pain.

He spent most of the night burping. They released him the next morning.

Watch a version of this on YouTube:

Next Almanac post: A ruptured Spinal Disk and Giant Snowflakes – Part 2

Follow me on Twitter: @CRDowningAuthor
My website is:

Follow A Day in the Life of a Science Fiction Writer by Email