A review of “The City of God: Transgressions”

cityofgod_bookcover“The City of God: Transgressions” by R.S. Ingermanson

Summary: Can history be changed? Three people are about to find out.

It’s A.D. 57 when Rivka Meyers walks out of the wormhole into a world she’s only studied in books. Ancient Jerusalem is awesome! Rivka can’t believe her friend Ari Kazan’s theory actually worked. But when she runs into Ari’s whacko colleague, Damien West, in the Temple, Rivka starts to smell a rat.

When Ari discovers that Damien and Rivka have gone through a wormhole that’s on the edge of collapse, he has to make a horrible choice: Follow them and risk never coming back — or lose the woman of his dreams forever

Recommendation: Yes

Review:

I love stories about history and time travel and this book covered both points quite well. While the science portion of the book wasn’t integrated as smoothly as I would have liked, it was expressed well enough to convince me that the premise of the story was possible.

I also wasn’t enamored with Ari, who was rather narrow in his outlook and beliefs. However, I realized that if I was wondering why Ari couldn’t be a bit more liberal, then the author had done a good job of creating this character. After all, we don’t get aggravated with characters that don’t seem real to us, do we?

Overall, I was quite pleased with this story. It had a strong female lead, which I found rather refreshing. She was, in many ways, very self-sufficient, yet her surroundings were so different from what she was used to that it led her to have to rely on others. However, her reliance wasn’t as a damsel in distress, but more of someone seeking directions in a strange, new land. And it was strange and new, even though it was also part of her past.

The small moment in history that the author chose to explore was one I had never given much thought to, and I was intrigued by his examination of it. I found his projection of the possibilities that could be spawned based on how this moment played out, compelling and interesting. It was a juxtaposition of Judaism and Christianity; the point at which Christianity could become unrealized or it could become what it has…one of the leading religions in the world. Given the backgrounds and biases of his main characters, it was the perfect backdrop. Would they help or hurt the outcome of history? Would their interference (unintentional or deliberate) skew our world into one totally different from what we know, or would they only be fulfilling what history had already said had happened?

Find out for yourself. Read the book…it’s really a great way to spend a weekend.

 

 

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A review of “How to Self-Promote…”

BK_bookcover“How to Self-Promote Without Being a Jerk” by Bruce Kasanoff

Summary: This book purports to help you promote yourself and your service or product by showing you how to be the best you you can be.

Recommended: Yes

Review: the book is primarily a collection of insights based on common sense. Yet, even common sense isn’t always common or easily recognized when it pushes you to step outside your comfort zone.

This book holds your hand as you step beyond your self-doubts and venture into that world of “I am worth it.”

Unlike most similar books, Mr. Kasanoff actually explains how to take these baby steps. He doesn’t just tell you that you need to be generous, he explains some of the ways you can be generous and still end up promoting yourself. For instance, his first chapter (which is entitled, “Help This Person”) explains how you can help yourself by helping others (really helping others, not just going through the motions). He makes it seem so easy that you wonder why you hadn’t thought of it yourself. In fact, I found myself nodding along as I read, while thinking, “I can do that.” One of the examples he gives of helping others to help yourself is this: when the phone rings on a busy day, don’t get frustrated by the interruption. Instead, think about how you can help the person who is calling…really help them. When you help them, they remember you (in a positive way). Then when you need help, they want to return the favor.

All his chapters are like this. Each one helps you determine how to be the kind of person other people want to help, want to promote, and want to remember.

It’s a fast read, but one read-through isn’t enough. This is the type of book you will find yourself referring to over and over again.

 

 

Answering the Question

Most of us have questions; questions that we may not ask out loud, but they’re questions that we ask ourselves all the same. For some, the questions only appear once in a while, and are quickly dismissed, for others the questions seem like a constant yapping and their silence isn’t so easily gained. For some of us, the questions are as fundamental as “why are we here?”, but for others, the questions may be even more intrinsic to their lives.

It’s these internal questions that send us seeking; seeking for those elusive answers. But maybe the answers aren’t as elusive as we think; maybe it’s just that we can’t see the answers for what they are. I believe the answers are there, everywhere, all around us; we simply need to recognize them. Many times, though, it’s just not as easy as it sounds.

For the most part, the more insistent the questions are in your life, the more likely you are to notice the bits of knowledge or “clues” that litter your path. These “clues”, these bits of knowledge, are any piece of information that makes you stop and rethink how your world, your reality, works. It’s a bit of information that brings you insight; it’s something that gives you an “Aha!” moment (big or small).

Perhaps, you hear something on TV, maybe it’s something just in passing as you’re skipping channels, and even though it seems totally contrary to what you “know to be true”, it resonates with you. So, you find yourself searching for more information about it. Maybe you find the TV show online and watch it. Perhaps doing that makes you want to know more, so you dig out books and articles to learn more. Then, you find that the more you discover about this topic, the more your own previous convictions begin to crumble. Suddenly, you realize that you’re seeing the world from a whole new perspective; you’re seeing the world in a new and different way.

We each do this; every day we do this. We hear, see, or read something that intrigues us, piques our curiosity, or just sticks with us—nibbling at the corners of our mind. We bring it out and puzzle over it, and sometimes we even go so far as to discuss it with others to see what they might think about it. Eventually, we either throw it out because to accept it creates too much fear, too much of a dichotomy with what we “know to be true” and what we want to “believe to be true”, or we accept it, thereby, pushing out the old truth/beliefs and opening our minds, hearts, and eyes to new possibilities, new ideas, and new experiences.

These bits of insights can come from anywhere or anyone. Someone in the line at the grocery store might say something to you, and while during the encounter you barely paid attention, you now find yourself thinking about it. Maybe you even wish you’d paid more attention so that you could have asked a question or two. Or maybe you read something in a magazine while waiting at the dentist’s office. You catch a quick snatch of conversation between a couple people at the bus stop or waiting at the elevator. Or it might even be a tricky turn of phrase in a blog or online story.

As I said, the clues, insights, and bits of knowledge can come from anywhere. They’re easy to overlook, but then that’s why there are so many of them. You might miss half a dozen of small ones, but trip over one nugget of information that encompasses all of the insights of those that you previously bypassed. But even tripping over a nugget of information is no guarantee that you’ll pick it up and pay attention to it.

After all, it’s scary every time you pick up one of those nuggets of information with all its new concepts, and start looking it over. But then new concepts and new ideas are always scary, because you don’t have a knowledge base that can tell you what might happen if you follow this new idea or accept this new concept.

However, if your need for answers to the questions that keep plaguing you is stronger than your fears of anything new, then you’ll let that new concept in and accept the “Aha!” moment. And every time you have an “Aha!” moment, it makes it easier to overcome the fear the next time. After a while, you’ll find that each piece of insight, each new concept isn’t really so scary after all. In fact, you’ll start to see that it really offers hope, confirmation, and assurance, not fear.

Hey God, are You Out There?

The Eye of God

 

I was watching a program on the Science channel the other night that was discussing the various scientific theories and tests being conducted to not only prove that some sort of god exists, but what type.  

It was fascinating if for no other reason than to listen to the various ideas put forth. Some were simple and seemed quite ordinary, while others were so far fetched, they could only have come from reading something out of a scifi/fantasy book.  

The more simple theories and concepts were concerned primarily with proving things from the purely mathematically and scientific approach (such as trying to write the unifying formula, which would show mathematically how all things are related, or trying to find the Higgs boson (or God particle) in the various accelerator labs). The more fantastical concepts included theories that we are merely players in a giant computer simulation—see my article “Have You Ever Been to the 13th Floor?” or that only one of us is real, and the rest of us merely players in that person’s dream (okay, but which one of us is real? I know I don’t feel like I’m a dream person…but then, how would I know what a dream person feels like?).  

They interviewed a beach bum/theoretical physicist living on some beach in Hawaii. He spends his days hanging 10, while scribbling ideas on a pad of paper. I have no doubt that he’s probably more learned in physics than I’ll ever be, but I do have to admit that his interview left me wondering how much of his calculations were physics and how much were chemically induced theories 😉  

As for the hypothesis that we are all just part of a giant computer simulation, well, that may be, but then they need to stop giving us free will and the ability to make our own choices, because as we start thinking for ourselves, we may just overthrow the computer programmer and gamer and take over their worlds as well as our own. They’re playing a very dangerous game, if they think that’s all we are, because no one has that much control over life – theirs or anyone elses.  

Then you have the physicist who was so taken with his research that he chucked it all and became a priest. Hmmmm…what does that say about science? Could it be that when it comes to that unifying force (God, Tao, The Great Creator) that proof isn’t always in the concept, that sometimes it’s in the heart?  

Then there was the neurologist/psychologist who said that “God is all in our heads.” He had rigged up an experiment that had people in a soundproof, lightproof, sensation-free chamber wearing a helmet with small electro magnets attached to the right side. They would sit in this chamber for 30 – 60 minutes and then he would flip on the magnets. According to him, every time he did that, the people would experience “visitors”. They claimed to sense the presence of one or more others in the room with them. They would describe these people and sometimes even be able to remember conversations they had with them. Most of the people also said that they were looking back at their own bodies.  

While he claims that that proves that we are creating our own gods out of our own brain waves, I say it only proves that his technique was able to induce out of body experiences in at least half of his subjects. Of course, since that wasn’t what he was looking for, and since that isn’t something he is ready to admit is possible, then as far as he is concerned, if we can experience the feelings of being surrounded by one or more other people that aren’t really in the room with us, then we must be able to make ourselves believe in an overarching being that only exists in our own brains.  

If you think I’m writing somewhat sarcastically about this program, I guess I am. But one of the problems that I’ve always had with theoretical science and scientists is their ability to create a hypothesis and subsequent tests that manage to exclude anything that might make them have to think outside their own little box. They, like a great many other people (people of faith, science, politics, and business), have a tendency to see only what they want to see.  

Granted, we all have that ability, but I especially resent it when we are fed these limited viewpoints as “scientific facts”, “historic facts”, and “spiritual facts”. While I thank them all for their input, I still reserve the right to think for myself, and if that entails taking a little bit from each category, well…then that’s my choice, isn’t it?  

So, while I love the fact that there are as many ideas and concepts of what God is or is not as there are birds in the skies, I don’t think we should get caught up in any single one. I find several of them interesting, but I think I’ll withhold judgment until I have a little more insight and wisdom—whether I’m still in the physical plane or somewhere else.

It’s all about the story

In a recent post (What’s it all about?) I spoke about frameworks (monads) and even named a few such as loved/unloved, dependent/independent, supported/supporter, and so on. One that has been made famous through its literary rendition is the love/hate story. You have two large groups feuding or angry with each other, a feud or hatred that has continued for decades. However, in the midst of all this, a member from each of the feuding factions meets and falls in love with each other. They defy their families to be together and it all ends tragically. Yes, I’m referring to the story of Romeo and Juliet. But Romeo and Juliet is a no-win version of the story.  

There are other versions, such as West Side Story…at least in that one, only one of the lovers dies. In the movie, Angel on my Shoulder, there is a similar scenario, but in this one the lovers simply continue to meet secretly until well into their middle years when they are discovered by the new pastor. He defies the feuding families and marries the couple. Bittersweet pathos instead of all out tragedy.  

James Cameron’s Titanic is another good example of a framework in action. In this instance it highlights the rescued/rescuer monad. In Titanic, the male lead not only physically rescues the girl, but also rescues her mentally and emotionally. I find this movie an especially good example of this monad, since most of these types of frameworks take a complete lifetime to fulfill, but by putting it in the context of this disaster, it speeds the monad up and makes it that much easier to spot (but without comprising the movie in any way). If anything, in this particular instance, the monad actually adds to the movie’s realism and tension.

Christopher Reeve, the actor who played Superman back in 1978, went through the supported/supporter monad. He got thrown by a horse and so became incapacitated and required support. He could have given up, and his wife could have left the other half of the monad (the role of supporter) for someone else to complete, but they didn’t. She could have given him just physical support and left him emotionally starved, but she didn’t. There were a lot of choices that both of them could have made. But he chose to be supported and she chose to support him, physically, mentally, and emotionally.

In the Harry Potter books, Professor Dumbledore and Harry Potter are actually fulfilling the father/son monad. Now, Dumbledore isn’t Harry’s father, and Harry’s not Dumbledore’s son, but they have created that framework around their relationship and that is how they are relating to one another.  

The relationship monads (parent/child, brother/sister, sister/sister, brother/brother) do not require that you actually be part of the same family. It simply means that you each fulfill the emotional and mental equivalent of that familial role. So, while you might have a sister by blood, you may feel more sisterly toward your best friend, a co-worker, or your sister-in-law.

I use examples of movies, books, and biographies to highlight and speak to this information, because for most people it’s the easiest way to see and understand the concept I am referring to. Just as most plots (movie or book) are a framework, so is life surrounded by a framework. Most of us may not be able to see it, but that’s okay, because if you can see it in your own life, then you’re not immersed in the drama of your life. It would be as if you had suddenly awoken from a dream (Your Life) and now saw only sets and actors instead of “reality”.

Frameworks or monads are a two-person outline of a scenario that we (the players) want to participate in during our lifetimes. The number and type of frameworks is astonishingly huge, but they are only frameworks. The freedom to select how you will react and the choices you will make are all yours. It’s like being an actor with only the outline of a script:  person 1 falls in love with person 2. Person 2 does not share this feeling for person 1.  (unrequited love).  That’s it, the rest of the action is up to the two players. Person 1 can moon around and never really make anything of their life; Person 2 can tell off person 1; Person 1 can stalk person 2 killing everyone that gets near person 2; person 2 can suddenly decide that they do love person 1; etc. The variations are endless. 

So try to see the frameworks that comprise the story in which your favorite movie characters are acting, or that surround the characters in your favorite stories. Once you start to recognize those, it becomes easier to start recognizing the frameworks in day-to-day life, too.

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What’s it all about?

I’m an inveterate book reader and movie watcher. In fact, I go through (on average) about 4 to 6 fiction books and biographies and about 3 movies or TV dramas a week.

When people ask me why I read so much or watch so many movies or TV dramas, I always tell them it’s my form of entertainment. But the truth of it is that they’re also my learning tools.

I’m a student of human nature. I really want to understand why people make the choices they do, what motivates them, what situations combine with what personality traits to create the choices and scenarios that occur.

While watching people is interesting, it’s not as easy to observe a complete scenario since things are happening in real-time. By reading a book or watching a movie, you see the whole scenario unfold in a condensed timeframe. Therefore, I can look at hundreds, even thousands, of “case studies” over several years rather than observing a handful of people over my entire lifetime. And when you observe people, you only see part of the situation. You don’t get the thoughts of everyone involved, you don’t get the private actions (the actions that take place just between a husband and wife, wife/husband and lover, parent and child, etc.). Therefore, you miss half of what motivates the person into doing what they do and saying what they say.

Even reading accounts of events in newspapers or seeing them on the news, you’re still missing most of the information, because news sources only tell you enough to let you know that something happened. You may never learn that the couple had been having trouble for years prior to this one incident. You may never know that the child had run away a dozen times before this incident. The news only really cares about this incident and how much drama they can milk from it.

That’s not to say that everything I read in the biographies or true crime novels is truth, either, but usually there are enough surrounding circumstances, facts, and speculation that I can get a better perspective, a fuller understanding of the motivations behind the people’s actions.

Even with the fiction books, a lot depends on the author’s honesty—their honesty to their characters. If they allow their characters to be and act according to the personality that they (the author) have developed for their character, then the book is good and is a good character study. However, if the author decides that a character needs to go or do something just to make the story interesting or to move the plot along, then the book becomes little more than entertainment.

Most authors know, though, that if they want the reader to keep reading their books, they have to let the characters be true to their established personality. Therefore, as I said, the books become a condensed timeframe study of why, which is really what I want to know.

The framework for a story (book or movie) is the same as it is for everyday life. There are monads (frameworks) for every type of scenario you can think of—serving a corrupt master/boss (honest secretary or aide finds out their boss is on the take), love/unloved, friendship, betrayed/betrayer (et tu Brute), siblings, parent/child, teacher/student, love triangle, honest/dishonest, law abiding/non-law abiding (It Takes a Thief or Catch Me If You Can), etc. All of these monads or scenarios show up in life and in books, you merely have to pick which ones you want to learn about. Once the characters or actors are added, you just go along and see how it all plays out.  

In life, it can take a lifetime (50 or 60 years), in a book, an afternoon or two of reading. And since there are a myriad of character traits that people can have, there are a myriad of ways in which a monad (scenario) can play out. That’s why it’s so much easier to study them in stories (books and movies) then to observe them in real life, and that’s why I never get tired of trying to find out what it’s all about.

Finding the Door

We all live in a little bubble of reality just like Truman did (as played by Jim Carrey in the movie The Truman Show). Some of us easily find and recognize the little door that lets us expand our vision of reality, some of us never go looking for it, and some of us might take a lifetime or longer to finally find and recognize it.

For the most part, we each create the boundaries of our little bubbles of reality through our own fears or lack of knowledge. However, as we learn and grow, we usually begin to search for that door that lets us expand our boundaries; the door that lets us open ourselves and our reality up.

To even start or accomplish that journey, we’re given “clues”—little bits of knowledge or insights—that if recognized, can help us in our search for that door. These little gems of knowledge appear constantly throughout our lives. However, since many of us aren’t even sure what it is we’re looking for, we don’t always recognize the “clues” when we come across them. Others of us just know that we have questions, so we look over each clue to see if helps answer any of those questions, and if it does, we tuck it away somewhere safe. If it doesn’t, we usually just drop it back where it was and let the next person stumble across it.

Because each of us is a unique individual, we all interpret the clues in our own unique way. Therefore, with every clue we collect and interpret, we also adjust our path, sometimes a lot, sometimes just a little. However, sometimes we find that the clues we collected don’t all work together, and other times we find out that it’s our own interpretations that don’t fit; either way, we sometimes find ourselves lost in a labyrinth or facing a dead end, and we have to backtrack and start again.

But that’s what life is about…trial and error, experiences and learning. So, although we might walk ourselves in circles, or pick up things that seem like clues, but lead us nowhere, we just have to believe that eventually we’ll find that door, and we’ll move beyond our limited reality to something a little wider, a little broader.

For Truman, “fear” took the form of the man manipulating his life, the man running the TV show. For us, it’s not that much different. Fear is a secret little manipulator that pulls our strings and gets us to do things that we might not otherwise do.

We look at a clue and because the information it offers brings us too close to the door that will open our reality, our fears tells us to drop it, or it causes us to misinterpret it; thereby sending us down a false trail. The fear whispers to us and tell us that the clue is dangerous, it tells us that the information will hurt others—others that we care for, or a multitude of other excuses, and so manipulates us into ignoring or misunderstanding the clues.

But if we really want to find that door, then we have to recognize when fear is whispering to us, and ignore what it’s saying. We have to learn to trust that other part of ourselves, that part of ourselves that questions our reality by asking “Why are we here?” or “Where is here?” Because once we start collecting the clues that will lead us to that door, we begin to find that our reality contains a multitude of choices we never saw before. And if we start to use some of those choices, we start finding more clues, and more choices. It builds on itself, until soon there are no more barriers, no more hidden panels, and no more secret passages. There’s only that door, that once opened can never be closed on you again.

Once you see and recognize that door, it can never be hidden from your view again. It’s like the gestalt theory that says once you see and recognize the pattern of miscellaneous dots as picture, you can never unsee it. It’s always there for you.

Once your mind and awareness are opened, you’ll find it very difficult, if not impossible, to close them (at least in this lifetime). So, you might as well open the door and move beyond your little bubble of reality, to the greater world outside.

And what do you find when you move beyond that door? It depends on each person, I think. We’re all different, so our realities are all different. However, as we overcome the fears that limit us, that bind us and keep us in place, we find that our reality becomes filled with more freedom. So, it seems to me, that opening that door must be the most freeing experience of all.