An Extravagant Gift of Love

Just In Time For Christmas

It’s that time of year. We sharpen our elbows, like pencils on the first day of grammar school, and then fly around shopping malls the way demented comets streak across our solar system.  Shoppers indulge in an orgy of consumerism and when retailers advertise sales and discounts, pandemonium ensues.

Is it a cause for concern when willing adults become slaves to materialism? Perhaps yes, perhaps no. However, it is troubling when our children expect, even demand, gifts so expensive, their cost would have accounted for the entire holiday celebration a generation ago. On a societal scale, income inequality is further exacerbated when the poorest among us go into dept trying to emulate the excessive lifestyles they see on television or read about in tabloids.

What will historians say? Will they look back in disbelief? When and how did we become these people? Of course we can easily blame the advertisers, but isn’t it incumbent upon each of us to look past the tablets, video games, smart phones and shiny baubles, and bridge this spiritual void? More importantly, is this even possible in today’s society?

This seems like a good place to reprise the lessons in Dickens’ immortal story, A Christmas Carol, but since we all know well the story of Scrooge, I’ll allude instead to C.S. Lewis’ acclaimed novel, The Great Divorce.

The lead character awakens, after death, in a place called Grey Town, a joyless, dismal neighborhood where it’s perpetually raining and always twilight. Dilapidated rows of homes and shops, tattered billboards and windowless grey warehouses stretch to infinity without nature or beauty to break the monotony. Time is frozen; the people are quarrelsome and continuously revert to their own selfish obsessions and indulgences.

The way out is via a flying bus that stops at the foothills of Heaven. Here, the passengers are but a mist without substance when glistening spirits appear, offering to act as their guides. The only problem is that to enter Paradise, the passengers must make a great effort to change. Remaining relentlessly who they are, most make excuses and willingly return to the prison of Grey Town.

The secret to change is obvious, for like the passengers on the bus, the lock to this prison is on the inside of the door and the key sits on the table beside us.

Through the remarkable gift of faith and prayer we can find the strength to turn that key and walk free. Free of materialism, free of what our deepest truth knows is something less than the spirit of the season. Long before we ever enter Grey Town we will find that freedom immeasurably improves our lives and contributes to our success, not just today, but also when we meet our spirit guides. So this Christmas, rediscover God’s gift of reasoned faith and renewed spiritual strength. Then turn that key.

On Writing About the War on Terror. By Connie Atkinson

Yesterday, Tom and I had the good fortune to be guests on the Dan Rivers Show on WKBN in Youngstown, Ohio, about our new novel, The Brotherhood of Purity. It is the story of an American journalist pitted against an Islamic terrorist. We had a wonderful time talking with Dan who is a skilled and intelligent interviewer. Glad folks were listening and had a good response. Some listeners felt that we conveyed an impression of sympathy for terrorist causes. We felt that this was an important observation that deserves the most thoughtful of responses.

Tom and I are trying to tell a story. After 9-11 we asked ourselves innumerable times, like so many Americans, “What were those guys thinking?” We did much research in search of an answer and our findings illuminated that question in many unexpected ways. When we began writing, we decided to write the book as fiction to reach a wider audience. Also, we just wanted to tell a “romping good tale” as one of our beta-readers called it.

We believe it is important for America to think about how we conduct the War on Terror because, regardless of whether or not we feel safe at home, there are thousands of American military personnel who are dying and being maimed by this ongoing fight; there are many, many more dying every day by their own hands; there are still more who are homeless and unemployed and our country is not doing the best job of protecting them. We need to think about what we are doing and whether there is a better way to protect them as well as the folks on our shores. Lest we forget, Americans dying and being harmed on foreign soil is, nonetheless, Americans dying. In that sense, no, we are not safe and we add to this the erosion of our freedoms that is taking place day by day.

As long as Americans, anywhere, are dying and being harmed; as long as hundreds of billions of dollars are being consumed in the fire of war; as long as innocent people in the Mideast are also suffering death and injury at our hands which only seems to help terrorists recruit more suicide bombers and enemies who plot to destroy us all, don’t we have an obligation to continue to explore better ways of, not just ending war and avoiding future wars, but of creating lasting peace?

This is a story that took courage to write. We had to battle our own demons, and each other, a great deal. At the start, we just wanted to lash out at the terrorists and vent our own hurt and rage. But in the end, we realized that it was necessary to become detached from our own beliefs and just tell the story. The story took many about-turns as we were writing and started seeing more layers to the truth than we ever imagined existed. We think we wrote a book that many will find surprising and, perhaps, edifying.

The story, itself, never addresses the issue of whether, or not, the authors sympathize with terrorist causes, or not, nor should it. In the interest of integrity we just tell the story. In reality, we found that the story told itself as we were writing it. There is no purpose or advantage, in our eyes, in telling the reader what to think, but in showing many viewpoints and then letting folks come to their own conclusions. We hope that, like all good books, it will touch on some of our common human experiences and provoke a dialogue.

I’ll leave you with a short review by one of our NetGalley reviewers:

“I thoroughly enjoyed this book, the characters were engaging and believable. I applaud the aims of the authors, and look forward to more from this pair.” Alan Fisher

We would love to hear from our readers. Write us at http://www.thebrotherhoodofpurity.com and let us know what you think?

Software Lessons and the Big Bang

Watching the rollout of The Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) one can clearly see the parallels from many other major software releases by the Federal Government: An exasperating, maddening experience for wearisome users, that will persist, for a long, long time. The best solution; roll back the ACA software now.

How do I know? Well, I managed several enterprise business systems and once tried the ‘Big Bang’ approach. That’s right, we launched all the functionality, for all the requirements, for all the users, in one vainglorious software release. The results were, to say the least, disastrous!

This did not deter us at the time. No, we soldiered on for weeks, working round the clock; slogging through two million lines of code to find the one offending bit. That is, until the suffering users screamed, our executives ordered a roll back and, my boss reminded me that, “It’s very hard to paint the wheels on a moving locomotive.”

Properly chastened, I learned a valuable lesson: everyone has a problem software release once in a while. So we adopted the soft launch approach and never looked back. All subsequent releases were deployed to a limited user base with a manageable feature set; we monitored production, listened to the users, for big issues we rolled back, but most of the time we just tuned the servers and tweaked the functions and user interface. The end result: a happy user population, and my weekends were mine again.

The point of this story is that The Affordable Care Act application is overloaded and each additional user’s click of the mouse is adding to a ‘denial of service’ attack from the software’s point of view. Thus I make the following suggestion, but first a disclaimer. I am only looking at this from an IT perspective and not commenting on the legal, political, or even the moral merits of The Affordable Care Act, or whether it will really lower healthcare costs as its name implies. Indeed, anecdotal evidence suggests it will not. Only time will tell.

So here goes. Lets begin by giving the common folks the same courtesy as was extended to big business and delay full implementation of The Affordable Care Act for one year while the “glitches” or “bugs” can be sorted out. For now, pick a ‘Blue State’ that will work to make it a success. Then pick another ‘Blue State’, then the next. Once demonstrated in these states, rollout the software to the total user population. The risk of course is the application doesn’t work or the advertised benefits don’t materialize.

Anyway, as an IT professional, that’s my two cents.

Hi folks,

The haiku from the pages of our novel, ‘I fly across time, born as flesh, reborn as spirit, guiding those I love’, became all too real this week.

Those words rang in my head; a desperate prayer, while I watched the memorial service in honor of a kind and courageous woman, whose husband I have worked with at DoD for many years, killed in the senseless shooting at the Navy Yard.

Lost in my thoughts on the long drive home, experiencing that same hollow dismay as during the aftermath of 9-1-1, the common thread among the recent shootings, the incident in Boston and September 11 became clear.

Leading up to all these events were clues and hints and indications, signs along the way portending what was to come; all ignored by good people.

The title of Chapter 1, ‘Because Good Men Do Nothing’, makes me wonder if perhaps, we all share, in a small way, the responsibility for the terror gripping our world.

If the ‘heart of God is healing’, and I believe that it is, maybe now it is time, for all those of good will to act, and put a stop to this endless woe. If anyone has a suggestion, please share!

Thanks for reading and God bless.

tdc

Thoughts Upon Launching a New Novel

Welcome, friends, to the first post of The Brotherhood of Purity blog. Our hope for our readers is that they will, first and foremost, find the story entertaining and engaging. We hope the characters, the story, and its message will resonate with you well after you close the book on the final page. Our hope for this blog is that the story will provide many edifying and stimulating ideas for discussion based on the first assumption of the novel – the Oneness of Humanity. Our ultimate goal, aside from its entertainment value, is to raise consciousness and to generate ideas that, perhaps, can morph into a new paradigm of relationship building. Learning to see our essential oneness, despite our different cultures, values, and beliefs, is humanity’s most challenging goal at this period in our collective evolution. Recognizing this fact is merely the first step in creating an integrated and peaceful world. Mechanisms must be developed that facilitate understanding and genuine communication amongst different peoples on the planet who are all competing for scarce resources and who all yearn for freedom, autonomy, and justice. As the weeks go by, and more and more folks read the blog and join the conversation, we will have many opportunities to open our minds and hearts to each other and really hear.

Love and Peace to All,

Connie Atkinson and Thomas Di Carlo