Archive | February 2008


Do you know what heat is?

Heat is energy. It travels in waves like other forms of energy. It transforms matter it touches–either by causing atoms to vibrate (heating it up) or by causing a chemical reaction that causes burning.

Heat, simply perceived, is the vibration of atoms. Absolute zero (0 degrees Kelvin) is the theoretical point where there are no vibrations in atoms.

There is no such thing as “cold”; there is only the absence of heat.

Isn’t that weird?

When someone says, “Wow, it’s cold outside,” it’s actually a misconception. It’s implying that the cold itself exists, but, in reality, there is no cold. It has no power. It can’t advance, or take something over. Heat simply is or is not.

It is the same with sound. There is either sound or no sound. Silence is just a name given to an absence of sound. Silence itself does not exist.

And light, the same. There is no darkness. There is only light and no light.

Our history is full of tales of darkness versus good–implying that both sides can hold sway over each other. It suggests that there’s some equality between them.

But, in reality, darkness can only be where light is not at that moment. It has no power of its own.

This has wide-sweeping implications. Think about it.

There is only substance or the lack of substance. And the lack of substance has no substance to affect substance. This is why it is written in the Christian texts, “Resist the Accuser and he will flee from you.”

Even we, in our supposed frailty, have substance, enough to occupy and command the space where we exist, like heat transforming matter, or light illuminating a space.

And that is why, when the proper perspective is achieved, fear is irrelevant.


Peru: The Trek pt. 3

With the workers and corn fields behind us, we turned left on a path that angled us into some woods. The day wasn’t hot, but the shade was refreshing. Tall, thin trees shot up from the valley below, passed us and stretched high above our heads. The path began to climb, and we started to surmount our first mountain.

Through the vale of flora, the fields of crops continued past us, washing down the valley in a flood of leafy green. Thin brown strips marked property boundaries and modest houses peppered the area around the village, but were more sparse farther down.

We found our way through the patches of woods. Felix stopped after a hill and asked if we wanted to take a break.

“No, we’re good,” we each echoed. Felix stopped anyway and began to tell us about a plant along the path. It was a sort of mint that, when the leaves were rubbed together and smelled, helped altitude sickness, apparently. It did smell minty. Adrian joked that Felix could have just made it up as an excuse to stop. Regardless, it was good to see even the veteran hiker needing to stop. Though, I suppose our enthusiasm was carrying us farther than normal. For him, the routine probably wore early.

Continuing, we walked along the path that snaked counterclockwise across the mountain. It wasn’t especially huge, but the steep draws and spurs were enough for me to crane my neck to take in. What was trippy was the cows and horses grazing on the slopes. How’d they stand up? Must have one set of legs shorter than the other.

After a time, I heard water in the distance. “Is that the river we’re going to cross?” I asked Felix.

“That? No,” he said, laughing.

A few minutes later I laughed too. The rushing torrent I had predicted in my mind turned out to be a modest stream, gorged with rain, plunging down a nearby draw, with a small 10-foot bridge crossing the small divide. The river I had anticipated was much farther away.

Eventually we started to break free of the forest and reached higher ground. As we rotated around the faces of the mountain, we saw more of the neighboring range. The valley fell away farther below us and blended into the distance. Clouds slowly marched through the range, hitting peaks and shifting.

Looking back, I don’t remember the minute-by-minute weather. That’s an unfortunate side-effect to waiting to write. Overall, it was perfect for hiking. The days usually started a little chilly, the nights cool enough to warrant the sleeping bag or long pants but nothing to cold. As the morning grew, there would be some drizzle, sporadic rain and mists. There would be a break around midday, with some clearing of the fog. In the afternoons there would often be another spell of drizzle, enough for a poncho on occasion. Then, in the late afternoon and early evening, things would clear off enough to see the landscape.

I do remember on day one wasn’t overly socked in with clouds. I fancied myself like an adventurer in Tolkien literature, walking and marching for days and weeks, passing the uncountable miles with just a song in my head. Then I fancied myself like an actual adventurer, soldiers or natives of old, traversing mountains and nations by foot. I was struck by how much of our lives is full to the brim with activity. That the prospect of taking days to walk somewhere is so unpleasant. The silence is a hard sound for modern man to hear.

There’d be some jokes, but a lot of the trek that day was left to each of us, our own thoughts and our own experience. I was relatively pain free that day–more would come.

Things began to get a little rocky. It was still relatively flat–obviously climbing, but nothing that drew too much heavy breathing. We got to a couple of lookout points, and Felix talked a bit about the apus and the worship of the mountains. The lookout spots had stone benches and covering, which we used to escape the drizzle and drink some water. Felix pointed to a very distant outcropping and said we’d stop there too. I could see the pavilion-type cover of another lookout point.

Centipedes. Lots of centipedes. They enjoyed the red dirt, apparently. They crossed the path every few feet. For the most part there weren’t too many bugs. Felix said there would be some biting flies closer to the river and our campsite, but that there weren’t too many bugs on higher ground.

We got to the second lookout point and stopped. Felix looked far into the distance and pointed out a stone wall, barely visible. “There. See that? That is Choquequirao. That is where we are going.”

Wow. I could see we were on the wrong mountain.

Looking ahead of us, I saw the path suddenly plunge in a series of sharply cutting switchbacks. Back and forth, back and forth, the dirt path cut a zig-zag swatch through the tall, waving grasses of this face of the mountain. It was serene, the breeze and the shimmer of silver from the lighter heads of grass as the wind sighed against the slope. The path eventually curved left and out of sight.

“There’s the river we will cross,” Felix said.

Sure enough I could hear it, faintly, as loud as the stream was when I first noticed the sound earlier, but, as we were much farther away from the river, I figured the sound would grow a bit louder.

Looking way down the river, I could see a tiny splinter of black crossing the water.

“Is that the bridge?” I asked.

“Umm, yes very far,” Felix said. “We will camp a little higher than the river, to keep away from mosquitoes. Then, tomorrow, we will climb down to the water and cross.”

I visually traced a path from where the bridge hit the far shore and noticed a similar dirt path, going in a zig-zag up the mountain, just like the pattern we were about to walk down on this side of things. I started to count the switch-backs on the far mountain. One, two, three, five, nine, 12, 17, 30. Then I lost sight. It’d be a ways.


Holy crap!

There are two Bible studies that are held each week at the Defense Information School. The Tuesday session, if you remember, is dedicated to showing Noomas every week. Thursdays are the more-typical study of a passage of Scripture.

I’ve been going to the Tuesday meetings off and on, and not so much to the Thursday ones. It’s not that I don’t have an appreciation of Scripture, but a couple of months ago the chaplain announced that he would be working through Revelation, the final book of the Bible, which deals with the end times, the apocalypse and all that business.

Revelation is a book that has messed me up for years. There is so much symbolism, historical allusions, borrowed mythology and contested aspects of the book, that it’s hard to get through. Moreover, there are at least a dozen interpretations of how to understand the prophecies. The whole thing just gives me a headache.

And, just like how I start to waiver in my Tuesday attendance after seeing argument take over the discussions on the true meaning of each Nooma, I wasn’t terribly enthusiastic about wading through the same murky debates concerning Revelation. So, I just never went to the Thursday sessions.

This past Wednesday, however, that trend came to an end. The chaplain was on leave for the week, and his temporary stand in, a Marine major who was an instructor for the officer’s course and a good friend of mine, came to talk to me.

“Hey! Sergeant Salmons, what are you doing tomorrow for lunch?” he asked.

“Thursday? Um, nothing at the moment, sir.”

“I really need you to lead the Bible study for me. I have to brief the commandant and won’t be there.”

“Err…sure. I can do it. What part are we at?”

Revelation 12.”

Yikes! Revelation 12. There are several parts of Revelation that trip me out, and Revelation 12 is definitely one of them.

Why is Revelation itself so troublesome? Some people just tell me to read the “Left Behind” books, a series of novels outlining the events that are described in Revelation. It seems pretty straightforward, and there’s a movie to go along with it, what’s to be confused about?

Problem is, that particular view of Revelation, with that particular interpretation of the sequence of events, is only 100 years old. Many modern evangelicals take the most recent view as THE correct view, plan it out, and go from there.

But there are a lot of other viewpoints, all with Biblical backing. Pre-trib, Mid-trib, Post-trib, Pre-millennial, dispensational pre-millennial, A-millennial, Post-millennial, preterism, futurist, continuous historical, historical background…all have different takes on the book’s meanings.

Then there’s the book itself. Some people think Saint John wrote it. The church has waffled on that for centuries. There is the inclusion of imagery and word-for-word phrases from Egyptian and Greek/Roman mythology (especially with the woman listed in Revelation 12…”clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet and a crown with 12 stars over her head” as the same description that describes the Egyptian goddess Isis, mother of Horus, who was attacked by Set, the ancient serpent, while she was pregnant. Horus was destined to do battle and kill Set…eerily familiar).

Martin Luther, the man who began the Reformation and started the protestant movement, hated the book of Revelation. He said he found Revelation to be “neither apostolic nor prophetic” and stated that “Christ is neither taught or known in it.” John Calvin, another huge Christian figure, thought it should be included in the canon of books making up the Christian Bible. However, it is the only book he did not write a formal commentary on.

…So. All that to say there was a huge weight that slumps on my shoulder any time anyone asks me to “explain” Revelation. And, especially with the extremely varied backgrounds of those who attend the Bible studies at my workplace–students, teachers, Catholics, Mormons, protestants, wiccans, new Christians, old Christians; it’s hard to elicit a discussion on vastly uncertain and symbolic passages without it turning into a shouting match.

…But, I did some prayer time. I remembered the wisdom literature that says “a kind word turns away wrath,” and I arrived on Thursday, quite frankly unsure of how to go about anything.

I started with a simple reading of the passage. I let the students take turns with it. After finishing I rehashed it through, letting the students sit, wide-eyed, tripping out at the strange language. I didn’t go into all the Egyptian or Roman stuff, but outlined how typical Catholics interpret things, how the Jews would have reacted to certain mentioned numbers, and how protestants typically take it.

One younger student had a question, “Sergeant. I don’t see how this helps me on my day-to-day life.”

I could have kissed her. “Exactly!” I said.

That led to a couple of points, which took up a good chunk of the remaining time.

Knowing how people throughout the centuries have interpreted the symbols and tripped-out sayings within the book are one thing, but, ultimately, transmitting love to others with the Spirit of God is hardly influenced by how a person interprets the number 1,260, or ten crowns on a dragon’s head. “Honestly, in the end, to answer your question, there’s not a huge amount that relates to living every day.”

Being compassion, being love, cultivating patience, engendering generosity, learning to be more selfless…that is the work we’re to dedicate ourselves to, if you go along with Scripture.

And ultimately, it’s far easier and more beneficial to humanity to teach kindness rather than dispensational pre-millennialism. It’s how the Messiah did it, and I think it’s a pretty good plan.


%d bloggers like this: