Tuesday, 29 October 2013

HOW TO TRAP NAIVE CHRISTIANS

C.S. Lewis once wrote a fictional book of letters from one demon to another called The Screwtape Letters. The senior demon gave the junior devil instructions on how to deceive non-believers and shipwreck the faith of those who became Christians. If Jack, as he liked to be called, had the time and inclination, he might have also written a parody on how to trap Christians.

Every type of device for catching creatures needs some sort of bate to lure the unsuspecting animal to it.  Food that the creature likes is placed inside the gadget so that moving the treat will hold whatever disturbed it. Fish hooks are a sort of trap as well because the barbs dig into the creature's mouth. Likewise, live traps prevent the animal from escaping. Whichever method is used, the end result is the same.

Cults operate on much the same principle as animal traps. Instead of delicious food, they offer acceptance for the lonely and "advanced knowledge" for seekers of truth. At first, the new members don't realize the peril they're in. The organization gives them what they crave without letting on that the leaders have evil intension's for them.

Then the time comes to lay down the rules and regulations which new recruits are expected to obey without question. By this time, the follower is more than willing to comply. After all, the "exalted leader" or "anointed teacher" knows much more about the spiritual disciplines than the novices.

The trapped believers eventually run into problems with one or another of the cult's dogmas. Such people are taken aside and lectured by elders in the group. If the underlings comply, the elders keep an eye on what those people do until they feel sure that all rebelliousness is gone from their minds.

The trouble really starts when the disillusioned followers persist in questioning doctrines or the actions of the leader and his elders. Such people are taken into meeting rooms and the elders use psychological force to gain the compliance of the unruly members. If the unwanted behaviour persists, the rebels are punished in some way.

The last weapon cults have is disfellowship. The members have become so dependent upon the closed circle of the cult that the outside world looks terrifying. Only the strong-minded or extremely disaffected individuals break away and start a new life in the real world.

I went through most of these stages at a house church I once attended. As a warning to others, I wrote my newly-published memoir called How I Was Razed: A Journey from Cultism to Christianity. Please check it out at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Virtual Bookworm.

Friday, 25 October 2013

PUTTING THE FIZZ IN PHYSICS

Were you labeled a "nerd" or "geek" when you went to school? I certainly fit the description. Not only did I wear thick glasses but I loved science. Chemistry class was one of my favourites. In fact, I gained five extra points on my grade by staying after school and experimenting with electrolytic cells. At the prompting of my science teacher, I even wrote a paper on how every chemical change had an electrical change accompanying it.

In 1972, I received a chemistry set for my birthday. I had hours of fun experimenting with the chemicals and test tubes. I even made a few independent discoveries, most notable being what happens when copper sulphate is mixed with ammonium carbonate.

Even in my adult years, I enjoyed any sort of program that dealt with science. I listened avidly to radio shows on the subject and watched whenever a TV program highlighted some new discovery.

Even at my government job, I shared my passion with others in the office. Most folks didn't want to know about my discoveries but my supervisor's supervisor, Barry,  shared a funny story with me.

When he was a boy, one of his friends brought out a lump of potassium from the science room. As his friends stood outside the building and watched, He took out his pocket knife to scrape a sliver of the highly-flammable metal off. Being kept in kerosene, the lump was extremely slippery.

Instead of a shaving, the entire lump slipped out of the boy's hands and dropped into a mud puddle. The potassium reacted so violently with the oxygen in the water that it danced across the surface of the puddle. The leftover hydrogen also ignited, surrounding the lump in blue and orange flames.

After a minute, the potassium completely oxidized. The puddle now resembled spilled milk. Barry never told me what happened afterward but I feel sure none of the kids involved told the science teacher where the lump went.

During one science class, I saw what happens when potassium hits the water. The teacher began his demonstration by turning out the lights and drawing the blinds. Then he carefully cut a piece of the metal off from the rest and dropped the tiny chunk into a sink filled half way to the top with water. The potassium fizzled and popped as it skittered around the sink.

Then I did something foolish. I leaned over the sink to get a better look. A fragment of the metal shot upward and hit my right cheek. The teacher immediately rushed me over to the "eye wash" station and cleaned off the burn.

I wrote of my love for science in Deliverance from Jericho: Six Years in a Blind school. Click on the book's link, on the right hand side of this page, for more info.

I also wrote about my love of science in my newly-published memoir, How I Was Razed: A Journey from Cultism to Christianity. Please check it out at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Virtual Bookworm.

Tuesday, 22 October 2013

DID I WASTE MORE THAN FIFTEEN YEARS?

I've blogged often about my time at a cultic house church and how I learned many blasphemous doctrines. But were those years really wasted? After considerable thought, I believe they weren't lost after all. Here's why I think so.

Pastor Steve Wells at South Main Baptist Church preached on 1 Philippians 1:12 a few Sundays ago which reads, "Now it is my purpose to make clear to you, brothers, that the cause of the good news has been helped by my experiences;" Though the apostle Paul was in prison, those circumstances actually helped spread the message of salvation through faith in Jesus Christ.

As I listened to Pastor Steve preach, I realized that I have actually benefited from being in that misguided congregation.  During those years, I had taken a correspondence Bible study course and read my King James Version from cover to cover. Though I learned wrong doctrines, I became familiar with Bible books and where they were located. I even memorized some verses, though I did so to prove Brother Herald's warped theology to others.

When I turned my back on God for nine years and studied evolution, I gained a better understanding of the theory. It seemed fairer to me than Christianity because nobody could be faulted for genetic defects. The cult members believed that ancestral sin was transmitted from parents to children instead of everybody being responsible for their own transgressions. Now I know that the opposite is true.

When I repented of my prodigal behaviour toward God's love for me, I eagerly relearned the essential doctrines of the faith. Though years passed while I slowly learned how wrong Brother Herald was, I realized that many other naive believers were in the same condition I once was.

In 2008, I decided to write a memoir of my time at the house church and how the heavenly Father led me out of its spiritual grip. I set to work in March of that year and completed the manuscript four years later. During that time, I researched various cults as well as how they deceive eager truth seekers. I also took great pains to make sure I wasn't writing anything that was blasphemous or misleading. Additionally, I double-checked what I wrote to see if it squared with what I remember teaching others and what I staunchly believed in back then. I also listened to various Christian radio shows to learn the extent of evolution's consequences. By the final edit, I knew I could stand behind my book's contents.

I wrote extensively about that house church and listed its doctrines in How I Was Razed: A Journey from Cultism to Christianity. Please check it out at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Virtual Bookworm.

Friday, 18 October 2013

WHAT'S NOISE TO YOU IS MUSIC TO MY EARS

Remember shortwave radio? Without wires, satellites, or Internet service providers, people have been able to listen to distant stations half way around the globe. To me, there's something wondrous about being able to hear voices and music from distant lands while sitting in my home. The fading and distortion just adds to the feeling of pulling in stations. During crises, such as the terrorist attack on the Westgate Mall in Nairobi, Kenya, I was able to hear events as they unfolded.

Being a lover of electronic sounds, I've often listened in wonder to the point-to-point stations between the shortwave broadcast bands. The tonal qualities and strangeness of the signals only made them more appealing to me.

I'm not alone in my fascination with these mysterious signals. Shortwave listeners have probed the ether for clues to the purpose and location of these transmissions. For a report on this hobby, listen to NPR's "All Things Considered" radio feature, "Music By The Numbers". You can also hear another report called NPR's "Lost and Found Sound" radio feature, "The Shortwave Numbers stations". Once you get past the commercial, the program gets quite interesting.

Musicians have also noticed the tonal qualities of shortwave utility stations, as listeners call them. Avant Garde composers such as Karlheinz Stockhausen led the way but eventually rock groups mixed these signals into their music.

One of the most famous uses of these signals was "Reception" by Paul McCartney and Wings. It was the beginning track on his 1979 LP Back To The Egg.

Another good example is "Radio Waves" by OMD. Using a shortwave radio with a scanning feature, the duo recorded the signals as the receiver scanned a specified frequency range. Then they recorded their instruments and vocals along with the radio recording.

Lesser-known musicians also followed suit. Listen to "World Service" by Anthony Moore and the way he used distant signals to augment the feeling of being in one of Africa's war-torn countries.

"Animal Waves" by Can is another example of shortwave signals being use to create a mood of distance and exoticness. This track from one of Germany's more adventurous bands appeared on their Saw Delight album in 1977.

Sound collages have also been made using shortwave signals as well as program snippets. Here's one called "Time Zones" by Negativeland Particularly humorous is the Radio Moscow clip and the announcer's reference to the "Commy" people.

Though "Radioland" by Kraftwerk only contains synthetic shortwave sounds, I believe it still qualifies as it's an ode to shortwave radio activity. It conveys the concept of scanning the dial quite well, in my opinion.

I also have used these mesmerizing signals in my own electronic music compositions. One of them is called "A Short Wave To Shortwave" by Bruce Atchison. A better example is "Passing Messages" I used a numbers station and shortwave utility signals to create the mood of hearing a clandestine broadcast.

I've mentioned shortwave radio in all three of my memoirs. The first two are available through this page. How I Was Razed: A Journey from Cultism to Christianity is featured on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Virtual Bookworm Publishers.

Tuesday, 15 October 2013

LAY MINISTER CLAIMED EARTH HAD AN INVISIBLE TWIN

I certainly learned many bizarre doctrines while at an aberrant house church. In fact, I wrote down as many as I could remember in How I Was Razed: A Journey from Cultism to Christianity. One of Brother Herald's craziest ideas escaped my attention until the book was published. Here's what he said at one Wednesday meeting.

As Sister Roberta, her daughter, and I listened attentively to Brother Herald's message about aliens, he startled us with a "revelation" of our world's hidden twin planet. "These space people who watch the sons of God on earth do so from an invisible world that orbits between the earth and the moon," he announced. "The reason people can't see it is because the planet is protected by a field which bends light around it so that nobody down here can see it."

After a dramatic pause, he continued, "Scientists have detected an unexplained wobble in the earth's rotation. This is due to the hidden world's gravitational pull on our planet."

Brother Herald went on to explain that the light-bending field would be turned off during the great tribulation mentioned in Revelation. "From the point of view of people on earth, the sun will appear to turn black and the moon will turn the colour of blood," he explained. "The reason the moon will become the colour of blood is because of this hidden world's atmosphere. It's the same effect that happens during a lunar eclipse."

After the closing prayer, I asked, "Can I go to that world someday? I sure would love to visit it."

"You may visit it, Bruce, but only in the spirit. I'll arrange for you to be able to travel there. You're spirit will leave your body and a good spirit will take your  place while you travel to that planet."

For weeks afterward, I wondered if I had visited that world or not. I couldn't remember doing so but, as Brother herald warned, the aliens could have erased my memory of the visit.

Forty years later, I still feel astonished that I could have believed such errant nonsense. Empirical science alone should have shown me that another body added to the earth-moon system would have created huge tides far greater than what we experience. Unless those imaginary space people could have hidden all traces of their presence, it would have been noticed by people long ago.

Being a naive Christian, I had no idea of what a cult was or that I was actually in one. The church considered Brother Herald's pseudo-revelations to be on par with the Bible and nobody had the right to question them. Thanks to good apologetics teachers, I now know  how to discern truth from lies.

In addition to showing how badly deceived I had been, I provide tips in my testimony regarding how to understand scripture. You can find more information about How I Was Razed at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or Virtual Bookworm Publishers.

Friday, 11 October 2013

THE WEALTH OF NATIONS REMAINS RELEVANT


Telephone banking, debit cards, PayPal: these forms of monetary transactions have been around for only a decade or so. Yet the underlying time-honoured principles of economics continue to work in the same way. Somebody pays with part of the reward for their labour for a product or service provided by someone else. That person is in turn paid for their work.

A book called The Wealth of Nations was written by a man named Adam Smith in 1773. It described the way commerce worked and how the balance of wealth benefited a nation's people. Smith also demonstrated through his examples how capitalism is the most efficient system for raising the masses out of poverty.

Beginning from primitive people bartering what they had in excess for what they lacked, Smith showed how humanity became progressively specialized. Folks used to have to make everything they owned, including tools. Eventually, those who were better at one craft focused exclusively on that and traded their wares for the goods of other specialized craftspeople. Today, folks have become so specialized that they would be hard pressed to harvest a crop without machinery or build themselves a house, let alone making every implement they needed by hand.

I see this fact plainly in my own life. I write fairly well and I'm becoming skilled in storytelling. But don't ask me to repair a car, fly a plane, or remove a brain tumor. I can bang nails into boards but I'm no carpenter. Likewise, the best I can do in regard to being an electrician is attaching ready-made plugs to electrical cords.

Additionally, Smith noted the power of self interest. People won't work for no reward but they'll give their best when the incentive to do so is held out to them. Whether it's volunteers at a charity or a rock star on stage, the passion of their activities drives them to continue on in spite of difficulties. Negative incentive also keeps employees labouring, though they might feel like they're only "working for the man." Even so, positive incentives such as fulfillment, fame, and royalty payments are more likely to produce good results than negative pressure.

Two-hundred-and-forty years have passed since the publication of The Wealth of Nations, yet Smith's observations continue to ring true. Socialism promises great things but it operates through confiscating wealth from its producers and giving to those who crave it. In fact higher taxation and regulation of industries dampens their output. This is why free enterprise and governments favourable to it tend to encourage economic growth whereas socialism stifles it.

Having self-published three books and sold many freelance articles, I know first hand about economic incentive. When a Man Loves a Rabbit: Learning and Living With bunnies sold relatively well since I knew people who loved their house rabbits. Deliverance from Jericho: Six Years in a Blind School sold poorly because most of the enquiries regarding it were from blind folks who couldn't read the paperback. I learned from that experience that knowing one's readership is crucial to increased sales. Details on these books are available through the links on the right hand side of this page.

How I Was Razed: A Journey from Cultism to Christianity, my most recent book, is available from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or Virtual Bookworm Publishers.

Tuesday, 8 October 2013

WHY IS DISCIPLESHIP IMPORTANT?

Christians consider proclaiming the gospel to be a vital part of their faith, and rightly so. Yet there is another aspect that must be addressed, namely discipleship. One of the last things Christ said in Matthew 28:20b was, "Teaching them (disciples) to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you.... " Therefore, making disciples is just as important as proclaiming the good news of salvation.

What a pity that so many new believers are left to seek spiritual nourishment from whichever source presents it. From the research I've done and my own experience, I discovered that cults attract mainly seekers of truth. Hardened atheists and devotees to various religions have no use for cults as they are secure in their own beliefs. New Christians, as I was in the early seventies, have no discernment skills so they fall for any lie that masquerades as truth.

In my case, I had given my life to Christ at a vacation Bible school held in the basement of my sister's friend's mother's home. I went there expecting the usual stories and treats that I'd had at the Lutheran church. But Mrs. Blacklock taught something I'd never heard before. She said that everybody was headed for hell but those who accepted Jesus into their hearts and asked forgiveness of their sins would be saved from that terrible fate. I pondered this new teaching for five days, then decided to surrender myself to the Lord.

I don't blame Mrs. Blacklock for not personally inviting me to her church but I wish she had. As far as I know, nobody came to my family's home to invite Diane and I. Mom doesn't remember either. When I was sent back to Jericho Hill School for the Deaf and Blind in September, I returned to the same Anglican church I had attended for the previous five years.

I became spiritually hungry during the summer of 1970 but nobody had told me why church attendance was important. Consequently, I sought spiritual nourishment from radio preachers. Most of them spoke of basic things which I had already learned but one voice stood out among the rest. When I heard The World Tomorrow, I became captivated with Garner Ted Armstrong's persuasive doctrines and analysis of world news events. This was so different from the "Jesus loves me" preaching I'd heard that I faithfully followed his program.

Then a friend invited me to his house church in November of 1971. Far from the usual Bible study topics, the lay minister spoke of the same sort of things Armstrong preached. I became so captivated by Brother Herald that I joined what I thought of as Thee Church.

As I attended the Wednesday evening meetings, I soaked up everything Brother Herald taught as if it was gospel. Here was somebody who refused to paddle around in the shallow end of the scriptural pool. My desire to know more about God was satiated by his biblical interpretations and I saw no danger in what I learned.

I realize now that Thee Church was a cult and that Brother Herald set himself up as God's mouthpiece. Had I been mentored in apologetics, I would have spotted Brother Herald for the blasphemer he was.

This is why I wrote How I Was Razed: A Journey from Cultism to Christianity. People need to know the truth so they can spot a counterfeit gospel immediately. Read more about this testimony of God's providential guidance at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or Virtual Bookworm Publishers.

Friday, 4 October 2013

OUR PRIVILEGED PLANET

What makes our planet special? According to some scientists, we orbit an unremarkable star in an average galaxy in a vast universe. What makes earth special is that it's perfectly suited for life.

Even a quick look at the other planets in our solar system shows that we live in the best orbit. Venus and Mercury are too close to the sun and the other worlds are too far away. Venus also has a thick atmosphere of carbon dioxide which creates a green house effect. This planet is actually hotter than airless Mercury.

Mars, though it might have had water and a thicker atmosphere at one time is now a barren planet with almost no air. Likewise, the outer planets are unsuitable because of their distance from the sun and lack of oxygen.

Additionally, earth's moon is large enough to create tides which stir up the oceans but not enough to flood the land. During an eclipse, it covers the disk of the sun but allows us to see our star's atmosphere. If the moon was closer or larger, we wouldn't be able to see the sun's corona, Too small or far away and the eclipse would be too bright to study.

Our star is the right size as well. Too big and the earth would eventually stop rotating. One side would be endlessly facing the blazing sun while the other side would freeze.

Earth also has a spinning liquid iron core which generates a protective magnetic field. Charged particles from the sun are deflected around the planet by these magnetic field lines, thereby preserving life. Smaller planets such as Mars have no liquid iron cores. Radioactive particles bombard its surface, though the thin atmosphere does attenuate them somewhat.

Our place in the Milky Way is likewise the optimal one for astronomy. Too close to the centre and nearby stars would make it difficult to see other stars. The excess radiation would also prove deadly to life. If earth was inside a spiral arm of the galaxy, we wouldn't be able to tell which stars belonged to it and which were outside. Being between the spiral arms allows us to see the universe better. If Earth was at the edge of the galaxy, it would lack the heavier elements required for life.

Additionally, the laws of physics demonstrate how finely tuned the universe is to support life. If any of the parameters were changed, such as gravity being a bit stronger, intelligent life couldn't exist. Arguing that there are multiple universes and this one got lucky just pushes the problem down the road. The laws which allow for our universe are so finely tuned that even a slight shift wouldn't allow stars to form.

Some scientists speculate that other planets might have life on them. While it might be possible, we have no evidence of it. We appear to be the only ones in the universe and our planet shows apparent evidence of being made for us.

More evidence of our favoured position in the universe can be seen on the video The Privileged Planet produced by Illustra Media. This DVD shows that there is a purpose to this universe and our place in it.

I also wrote about how I rejected evolution in How I Was Razed: A Journey from Cultism to Christianity. Check it out at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or Virtual Bookworm Publishers.

Tuesday, 1 October 2013

MEMORABLE COOKING DISASTERS

Those of us who cook or bake our own food have often learned the hard way about what not to do. I'm no exception. Often these accidents happen due to carelessness or assumptions.

Forty-one years ago, I began cooking my own dinners. I decided one evening to make rice. When I poured some into the pot, It didn't look sufficient for my supper so I added more. Being new to cooking, I didn't realize that rice would fluff up. I ended up with enough for two or three meals. I also made the same mistake with macaroni.

Those weren't the only disappointments I was in for. Baking potatoes in the oven took longer than I anticipated. Nobody told me it would take at least an hour. I grew increasingly impatient as darkness fell but the potato remained stubbornly tough. I had the same problem with boiled potatoes. Now I boil the spuds first, then cook the vegetables and meat later so that everything is ready at the same time.

I'll never forget the great banana loaf disaster of 1975. Having taken a cooking class in high school, I felt confident that I could bake at home. My first problem was that the gas stove had no temperature gage on the oven control. I had to guess at how hot I should heat that antique range.

The next mistake I made was adding one banana rather than a cup of banana in the mix. The result looked like a rectangular meteor. I manage to eat the uncharred part but it was extremely dry.

I've also made mistakes through absent-mindedness. One lunchtime, I poured the batter into the waffle iron before it was warmed up. It stuck fast in the iron and refused to come out in one piece. I managed to scrape off the mess but by then it was stone cold.

I also learned the hard way that "non stick" doesn't mean that the pan will stay that way after a few uses. The fried eggs I hoped to have for supper stuck to the Teflon, causing me to scrape it off with a plastic spatula.

One habit I still need to work on is to turn off stove burners after I'm finished. One evening, I absent-mindedly set a three-ring binder on one burner. I hadn't noticed that the electric element was on low until the smell of melting vinyl filled the kitchen. It also set off the smoke detector. Removing the melted mess under the element took a long while as well.

In my forty-one years of being a bachelor, I've melted the bottoms of aluminum kettles, forgot potatoes on the stove until they started burning, and had innumerable pots of soup boil over. I'm grateful that nobody witnessed these disasters.

I mentioned many non-food mistakes I made throughout my life in When a Man Loves a Rabbit: Learning and Living With Bunnies, Deliverance from Jericho: Six Years in a Blind School, and my newly-published memoir, How I Was Razed: A Journey from Cultism to Christianity memoirs. Please check the latter book out at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Virtual Bookworm Publishers.