Ponder Eternity

Some of you may have noticed that I made no posts for several months until my last post on Christmas. In late October, I caught a serious, but not life threatening, infection. Early in the illness, I ran a very high fever, but antibiotics dropped the fever to a temperature only slightly high. Nevertheless I was ill. It was not until early December than my temperature dropped to and stayed at normal indicating that the infection was finally conquered.

A consequence of my illness is that my back became very weak. I could only stand or sit for short periods of time. By the time the infection was gone, I had lost 15 pounds and a great deal of muscle mass and muscle tone. Most significant was the loss of muscle tone in the muscles of the back that support the body. In the last couple of weeks, I have stretched and worked out with very light loads so that my back muscles are approaching a useful strength. I can now walk more than 200 yards and can sit for over two hours.

Needless to say, I had a lot of time to ponder things. Even though there was no risk of death, I pondered my ultimate demise. What if I did die within a matter of days or weeks?

In my condition, there was little I could do to change things. Fortunately, my will is in my lock box with a copy in my lawyer’s office, but other matters are unresolved. The garage would remain a mess until my widow and children took matters into their own hands. The garden needs to be cleaned up for the winter. Friends helped me there, but had they not, my heirs would have had to clean up the mess left by frozen valves. I find myself making resolutions to get the garage and shed in order once my health and strength return.

A more serious concern is what will happen to a person after they die. In my case, I have a prepaid burial so the body will be taken care of, but what about the soul? What happens to a person’s soul after death?

A few of my friends are either agnostics or atheists. They argue that everything ends at death, but the rest of the world believes that a person’s soul survives for eternity in one way or another. Thus for most of us, we need to ponder what is the destination of our soul, and what we can to direct our soul to a desirable destination. Monotheistic religions tend to offer the equivalents of heaven and hell. One will either be rewarded or punished. Most of the Asiatic religions teach reincarnation. The person’s soul will be reborn in another animal. Would you rather become a horse, a rat or a worm? At some time before death, we need to ponder the destination of our soul, and what, if anything, we can do about it.

Had I been on my death bed, there would have been nothing I could have done about the messy garage. What, could I have done about my soul? After all, eternity is a long time. If one’s soul ends in a place of punishment or in the body of an undesirable animal such as a worm, eternity is a long time to regret what one did in life.

The agnostics and atheists are in a bind. Because they believe that death is the end, there is nothing they can do. In fact, their life becomes meaningless unless by chance they did something of major benefit to mankind. Even then, they will never know how they have blessed or cursed their descendants. Personally, I believe there is a supreme deity who rules the universe. The agnostics and atheists will discover after death that they are accountable to this deity. Oh woe are they. It is interesting to note, that psychologists find that atheists have a greater fear of death than people who believe in a god.

So have you pondered your relationship to what ever deity you believe in? What destinations does your deity offer you? What, if anything, can you do to influence the deity? What have you done already? What can you do in the time remaining before your death?

In my case, my pondering consisted in reviewing and confirming the choices I have already made. I am a born-again Christian. I believe there is a God who is supreme and who owns everything. Our possessions have only been lent to us during our lifetime. There is nothing we can do to impress God. We can not pay him back because we own nothing. Even if we did, what of value could we give to the one who owns everything?

As a Christian, I believe God is beyond our comprehension. We simply can not conceive God in all His power and glory. As a result Christian theologians set forth the doctrine of the Trinity. No, we do not believe in three gods. Christians believe that this overwhelmingly grand and glorious God can be viewed in three ways. God, the father, the historical sovereign God. God the son, or Jesus, who lived among us in human form as an example, teacher and savior, and God the Holy Spirit who moves within our consciousness teaching, guiding and correcting us that we might work to glorify God.

As a Christian, the Holy Spirit urges me to do good works that glorify God, but what work can I do that can earn my way into Heaven? I do things to glorify God, but nothing I do “earns” my way into Heaven.

Some people use the metaphor of a balance with a person’s good deeds on one side and their evil deeds on the other. Others think of a celestial book keeper entering debits and credits for our good and bad deeds. Unfortunately, humanity is inherently sinful. There is no way for a person to be able to do more good than evil. We all deserve an eternal punishment that Christians call Hell. We can not buy our way into heaven with good works. There is nothing we can do that is of greater than our sins.

While many people get frustrated trying to work their way into Heaven, Christians get to Heaven on the basis of faith. It is an individual decision, but those who get to heaven believe that Jesus was born, died and rose again as payment of their sins. Only the death of a sinless man, Jesus, can atone for our sins.

You may have picked up that I said I was a born-again Christian. This means that I not only accept by faith the salvation that comes from Jesus, but I have given my life to him. He is my Lord and Savior. I strive to live my life to honor him and live in his strength and mercy.

I would hope the readers would seriously consider Christianity, but my purpose in writing this post is to get you to ponder your death and your future in eternity. Perhaps you disagree with me about Christianity, but in any event take the time now to think about what will happen after your death. If you are not sure of where your soul will go, or if you have doubts about what you have believed up to now, ponder eternity. Now is the time to look for a faith that works for you. Now is the time to change your life in a way that will impact how you spend eternity. Do not just stumble through life, and at death find yourself spending eternity in a place of punishment.

As for me, Christianity offers me the path to heaven. You are free to look for other paths, but the Bible says it is the only path.

Regardless of your religious beliefs, now is the time to consider how you will spend eternity. A sudden death could leave you spending eternity where you do not wish to be. Remember, eternity is a long time. While you are at it, you may also wish to ponder for a moment if you really believe your choice of religion. There is time to reconsider now, but not after death.

Reynold Conger is an author of fiction. He writes his books to entertain, but they are written from a Christian perspective. For information about his writing, go to Reynold Conger.com.

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Merry Christmas

Tis the season to be jolly. Among other things, we wish each other a merry Christmas. Yes, I know it is politically correct to say Happy Holidays, but that takes all the punch out of it. We could say that about any holiday, for example, groundhog’s day. There is something special about this time of year, Christians are celebrating Christmas and Jews are celebrating Chanukah. Both of these religious celebrations honor the God that is the basis of both Judaism and Christianity. Our Christmas season derives from these.

Being a born-again Christian, I wish that all people were Christian. To me the meaning of Christmas is that God sent Jesus to Earth as a baby to live among men. Jesus is an example how to live righteously, our teacher and our savior. Christianity make my life richer.

Our Christmas holiday, however is enjoyed also by non-Christians, agnostics and even some atheists. So I can wish a merry Christmas even to those who ignore the religious significance of the season because I wish them to enjoy the secular celebration of the season. I do wish my Jewish friends and other Jews a happy Chanukah and most of them wish me a merry Christmas in return. Even though they are celebrating Chanukah, they are part of the greater Christmas holiday.

Whether you are religious or not, please celebrate Christmas (or Chanukah) and help to spread the good will of the holiday.

 

Reynold Conger is a published author. For information about his books, go to ReynoldConger.com. 

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Do My Friends Get in Stories?

Every now and then, in a joking way, I tell my friends to be careful lest they end up as characters in my next book. Of course the same applies to my enemies, but they are seldom around to hear me give the warning.

There has to be consideration of libel laws, character assassination and loss of friendships, but most writers write about what they know. We write about people we see or meet, but who would we know better than our friends and our enemies?

Over the years I have written more than 20 manuscripts, mostly for practice and my own entertainment when on consulting assignments in foreign countries. I can only think of two manuscripts in which I directly recorded physical and personality characteristics of friends on the printed page. When I wrote My Knight in Shining Armor, I memorialized my late college friend who died in Vietnam. I not only used his real name, 2nd Lt. George Stivers, but tried to give him the same personality as he had displayed in college. My concept was to bring him back from the dead through literature to enjoy his chosen career and have a chance for romance with the girl of his dreams.

The other time was after I had been at my 40th reunion. All the writing coaches advise us to write about what we know so I wrote about a reunion caught in a crisis. As I wrote, it was a little startling to see my classmates come to life on the computer screen. I did change most of the names, but I suspect that any of my classmates could have read the manuscript and correctly identified most of the characters. Perhaps it is just as well I never published that manuscript. At my age, I am losing too many friends to death. There is no need to make any of the survivors angry.

As it turns out, my friends and relatives do populate my stories. I have not used any of my enemies, but several of my enemies would make good villains. My technique is to merge several personalities into one character. A character, I will call Dave may have Sam’s physical appearance, but John’s personality with a few of Sam’s habits thrown in. Dave may be a combination of Sam and John, but he will take some action that Charles once did. So is the character, Dave, taken from Sam, John or Charles?

As I flesh out a character, I usually find that none of my friends are exactly what the story needs. That is why I merge personalities together. I get richer characters, custom made for the plot in which they must function.

You ask about villains. Usually I have to make them out of whole cloth because no one I know has quite the right makeup to have the right combination of evil and potentially redeeming characteristics.

I did need a villain for a subplot, and once did cast in that role a girl who once jilted me. I did change her name, but left the rest of her alone. I did not assassinate her character. After all she is a classmate and a friend, and she plays the villain’s role in a manuscript that probably will never see the light of day.

Writers, take care of your friends and enemies. You never know when you will need them to populate your next novel.

Reynold is the author of three published novels and two novellas that have been published only as e-books. For information about Reynold and his work, see his website, ReynoldConger.com. His books can be purchased on his website or from most on-line book sellers.

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Is Drug Use Worth the Risk?

There are people who get addicted to pain medications, but a bigger problem are those who use drugs for the “high”, for what ever pleasure they get. Is recreational drug use worth the risk?

Everyone knows the statistics of drug use and addiction, but an article in the Albuquerque Journal brings it home. There have been 20 recent deaths in New Mexico including one victim who lived near me.

The victims had each taken what they believed to be black-market oxycodone. That would have been risky enough, but they probably felt safe because oxycodone is a prescription drug manufactured in plants that assure there is only 30 mg of drug in each tablet. The victims had reason to believe the dose they were taking was an amount their bodies could tolerate.

Unfortunately, the pills taken were not oxycodone, they only looked like 30 mg oxycodone. They consisted of a filer material, blue dye and fentanyl. Fentanyl is a high powered painkiller that can kill easily. In this instance, the drug users also had no idea how much fentanyl was in each tablet. Apparently these fake pills were made in Mexico and exported north.

Drug use and drug related deaths have become rampant in the US. There is nothing unique about the state of New Mexico that makes it more vulnerable to drug problems other than it is one of the states that share an international border with Mexico.

Considering the risks, is it worth it to use recreational drugs? For one thing, can you be sure what you are putting into your body? Are you sure what the dose is? The further you go into the black market for your drugs, the greater the risk that you are not getting what you thought you bought.

There are all kinds of ways to have fun without using drugs or alcohol. Is it worth risking death for a short time “high”? The risk of deadly overdoses is on the rise.

Don’t start taking recreational drugs. If you have already started, STOP NOW. If you are addicted, seek help.

Don’t let recreational drug use prevent you from having a long and happy life.

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On the Train

I am writing this in the lounge/observation car watching the sun rise behind the Southwest Chief as I travel west toward home in New Mexico. We have just crossed the state line from Kansas into Colorado and were told to change our watches from CDT to MDT. Due to lack of WIFI, I am writing this on the word processor. I will have to post this after I get home.

Those of you who read my earlier post about my reunion, know that I planned to take the train from Albuququerque to Chicago. In Chicago I rented a car for the drive to Waukesha, Wisconsin where the Waukesha High class of 1961 had a great reunion, our 55th. Being a bit more mature than we were for earlier reunions, we dispensed with the fancy dinners, music and dancing. (Who wants to dance at a reunion anyway? We want to talk with our old friends.)

We started the reunion by joining a breakfast club Friday morning. This club is former athletes and fans from all classes along with current and retired coaches from all sports. All of the ’61 alumni gathered together on an enclosed porch at the restaurant. What a great way to start a reunion.

Friday night the class of ’61 met for a fish fry. I think they were about to kick us out by the time the last of us finished talking. Saturday night, rather than a formal dinner, we met for a buffet. There was no formal program, but there was an open mike. Several of us made short remarks. Most of the evening we circulated and renewed old friendships.

After a quick visit with my brother, I started back.

At one time the United States enjoyed a vast network of passenger rail service, all provided by the private railroads. The trains with longer routes had dining cars, Pullman sleeper cars and cars with private compartments along with coach cars. Passenger rail travel was comfortable, efficient and within most people’s budgets. It was faster than traveling by automobile, but slow in comparison to air travel. Of course, airlines were in their infancy following World War I and really did not mature until the late ’50s.

Following World War II, automobile ownership became very popular. Families began taking vacations by auto. Long distance auto travel was not very efficient, but as roads and cars improved, passenger travel by rail declined. The improvements in air travel cut further into rail travel. One at a time, the railroads reduced their rail service. Most railroads stopped passenger service entirely as freight became more profitable than passengers.

Passenger rail service would have died a quiet death had not Congress passed a law establishing AMTRAK. My trip on AMTRAK from Albuquerque to Chicago was 26 hours. The seats in coach are wide and spaced five feet apart. They recline and have foot rests. I was very comfortable. I slept better on my trip than I have on most of the intercontinental flights I have taken. Seats are equipped with tray tables and 115 volt AC power. My only complaint is that there was no WIFI. I was told WIFI was only available in the sleeper cars. The observation car provides great views, but the view from my seat on the upper level was pretty good.

Unfortunately in many places, AMTRAK travels mostly on tracks owned by freight lines. In some places, track conditions do n ot permit high speed travel and in other places we had to wait for other trains to pass the other direction. I have been told by a railroad employee that AMTRAK trains no longer have priority over freights. This makes it difficult to stay on schedule. To the credit of the train crew, we reached most scheduled stations within a few minutes of the schedule, but we were up to an hour late at other stations.

Someone will comment that I could have traveled to Milwaukee much faster by air, but I had no need to get there quickly and I saved some money. I also saved the time and aggravation of going through TSA security.

AMTRAK is hamstrung by being a government owned company that is ruled by bureaucrats and crippled by politically mandated budget restraints, but all things considered they do a pretty good job of providing passenger service. The crews on the two trains I rode, took good care of the passengers.

My criticism of AMTRAK is that they do a terrible job of publicity. I suspect there are many people who are not even aware of the availability of passenger service between major cities. The AMTRAK websites are poorly done and a little confusing.

In my opinion AMTRAK should have more routes servicing more cities. On some routes, trains need to run more frequently. Unfortunately, no transportation provider can afford to provide service without adequate ridership. This is why I think AMTRAK needs better publicity. If they increase ridership, they will be able to justify the the fund for additional equipment. With additional equipment and increased ridership, they will be able to expand routes an schedules.

When I was a business traveler, air travel was the travel of choice because I needed to get to the clent quickly. Time is money in business. As a retiree, I seldom have the need to get to my destination quickly. Retirees, college students and some vacationers often can take their time when traveling. It is in the country’s best interest to have good passenger rail service, even better than what AMTRAK currently provides.

(My apologies for not posting this sooner. I wrote the draft for this post on the train, but could not send it for lack of WIFI. Once home I got busy, but better late than never.)

Reynold Conger is a retired scientist and teacher who has taken up writing as a retirement career. He used his train time to write this blog entry, finish revising his next novel, a Christian thriller and to begin on a middle grade nonfiction book about bees. For more about Reynold’s books, visit www.ReynoldConger.com.

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Wooden Alphabet Blocks

Have you looked at what is on the shelves for young children to play with? Mostly plastic toys. A large number of them require batteries. Doctors and other experts are concerned about the types of toys offered to young children.

The grandson of a friend of ours is having a party for his first birthday. Today, My wife and I went shopping for a present for the young lad who has just started walking. Yes, we saw what we expected. a few soft dolls and animals and a lot of plastic toys, many need batteries.  Our our objection to battery operated toys is that they toy is useless once a battery is discharged or lost. I was disappointed that many of the toys simply entertain the child. We looked for a toy that this boy could interact with, perhaps something he could push or pull.

We chose a locomotive with a handle that he can push along. The locomotive makes popping sounds as it goes. We think he may like it. It will also help him practice coordination skills.

While shopping I found a package of wooden alphabet blocks. The discovery took me back in time. In my youth, and for some time after, all children from two to about ten had blocks, and the most popular blocks were alphabet blocks.

Alphabet blocks were cubes of wood about 1.5 inches on each edge. There were several variations, but they had the following feature in common. Each face had a letter, number or the picture of an animal. Younger children simply stacked them on top of each other. That was great exercise of coordination skills. Older children built walls, towers and other structures. It stretched their creativity and helped to develop a sense of balance. Children who know a little reading or counting could line them up in numerical or alphabetic sequence. Some would even spells simpler words.

These blocks never wore out and seldom broke. Children could play with them for hours before getting bored. Either gender could play with them, and often boys and girls played together with a set of blocks. Sets were often passed down from older siblings to younger ones and from one generation to the next. There were only two safety risks. (1) A child could hurt someone by throwing a block. (2) A child or adult could trip over a block and fall.

I am pleased to see that they can still be purchased and am awed at their comparative simplicity. They are order of magnitude less complex than any other toy on the shelf. Rather than offering our children sophisticate and expensive toys, why do we not look for simple toys that the children can interact with in positive ways.

How many times have we witnessed children open an expensive present and then play with the box? I think it is time for consumers to look for and buy simple toys, especially when buying toys for young children. Perhaps if there is a demand, toy manufacturers will offer more toys that are simple and basic like the wooden alphabet blocks.

Perhaps we need fewer electronic games and more games like wooden alphabet blocks, Lincoln logs, erector sets, etc.

Nothing in this post should be considered as an endorsement of any brand of toy.

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Going to the Reunion

In a couple of weeks, I will return to Waukesha, Wisconsin to join in the 55th reunion of the Waukesha High School class of 1961. I am looking forward to it. I only get to see some of them every five years at the reunion.

The sad thing is that so few of us will be gathering for the festivities. Indeed, many have died. Most tragic is that two of the women have died since reserving a place at the reunion. One was a friend of mine who I hoped to see, but she died at the end of May. Don’t get me wrong, it was not a high school romance. We were friends. I thought she was beautiful and charming, but all four years of school she was the steady girlfriend of one of the champion swimmers. He is also a close friend of mine so it never entered my mind to try to steal her heart. Nevertheless, I will miss visiting with Nancy again.

I expect to have a lot of fun and renew a lot of old friendships. No, I was not a high profile member of my class. I started as a scrawny nerd with fly-away hair and glasses. In four years I added enough muscle to be average weight for my average height. I did well enough in science, that a lot of my friends asked for my help, but socially was almost a wall flower. The closest I came to a claim to fame was that I second string swimmer and ran 5th or 6th on the cross country team. Nevertheless, I did have a respectable number of friends, some of whom I expect to shake hands with. The athletes at Waukesha High won a number of championships in several sports (including swimming) and bonded together tightly. My friends include athletes from all of the sports teams. Perhaps it is the athletes I look forward to meeting the most.

Another factor is that we are all 73 years old. We will probably vote to hold another reunion in 2021, but by then only a remnant of us will be left. I expect to live well past age 78, but this may well be the last time I see some of these friends.

We are a class without a school. In 1957, we started high school as freshmen at Waukesha High School in a complex of four old buildings that covered a city block. The oldest building had been demoted to storage. One building housed the junior high school. The rest of the junior high building and the other two buildings housed the high school. About 3,000 students jammed into this set of buildings with a capacity of 1,800. This complex became to be known as Central Campus, because a new building was being built on the south side of town. The South Campus was opened in mid November. The freshman and sophomores stayed at Central Campus while the upper class-men moved into South Campus. The two campuses operated as one school. All extra curricular activities, including sports, were open to students of all grades. There was no separation of underslassmen and upperclassmen on the sports teams and other extra curricular activities. As Waukesha grew, they built a Waukesha North and a Waukesha West. All remaining high school students were moved from Central Campus into South Campus. The resulting high school is now known as Waukesha South. Two of the buildings were torn down on the Central campus and an administration wing added to make one of several middle schools for the community. I guess we are technically alumni of Waukesha South High School, but somehow it doesn’t seem right. The buildings we studied in have been severely modified and so has the student body. Now Waukesha South schools only 1/3 of the public school students from the city of Waukesha. Back in 1957-61 there was a catholic high school in Waukesha that drew a few students away from us, but our student body consisted of all of rest of the high school students in Waukesha County except those from Oconomowoc and Brookfield. Oconomowoc had had its own high school for some time. Brookfield had just started its own high school. because we drew students from such a large area, we had a diverse student body ranging from city kids to farm kids.

If you have a reunion coming up, go. So many people are afraid to go for one reason or another. If you hesitate to go, think again. You will have fun renewing old friendships. You will even have fun meeting some of those people who you didn’t know that well. It is also fun to see how some of your classmates have turned out. Yes, most of us men are bald. Some of the women are not the cute shape they used to be. You will not recognize a few except by reading their name tags. You may be interested to learn who has been successful and who has not. At my reunion, we did our share of bragging, but no one put anyone else down. We simply shared in the joy of success and tried to uphold those who had not met their goals.

The class of 1961 spent 4 years together and formed bonds that can only be broken by death. We are pleased to gather together every 5 years.

Reynold Conger is an author of fiction. He writes from a Christian perspective. For more about Reynold and his books go to his website, www.ReynoldConger.com.

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