Chapter 4: the Tallest Building in the World

I think it’s a really good observation Oursler makes when he says, “He realized the truth to which these fresh generations were blind and deaf ~ that the only progress the soul can make is backward toward Paradise.” Humanity might be getting technologically smarter, but all the technology is pulling us further and further from God. It’s a major distraction, and nobody in today’s world can deny it. Whereas you’ll hear a lot of people say they feel closer to God when they go camping or hiking ~ when they turn their backs on the bustle of civilization and enjoy the tranquility of nature.

I truly wonder what must have been going through the mind of the person who invented the first gods.

It would have been pretty funny to see all the workers on the Tower of Babel so confused when God changed their languages. But it would have been terrifying to be one of them. Imagine suddenly not being able to understand anyone’s words! Your friends, your brothers ~ and suddenly you have no idea what they’re saying. It would have been very lonely to walk around the half-constructed tower and not find anyone whose speech you could understand. Some of them must have wondered at first if something was wrong with them, until they realized that nobody else seemed to understand anyone either. And they were probably frightened that they wouldn’t be able to understand their wives and children when they returned home.

I wonder if they did?

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Chapter 3: Noah and the Flood

Oursler mentions in the first paragraph of this chapter that Adam and Eve lived for a very, very long time, and that’s something that I always forget. According to the math in the Bible, Adam was only 126 years short of seeing the birth of Noah, but he was alive when Noah’s father Lamech was born. We don’t know how old Eve lived to be, but we can expect she had a long lifetime as well. They watched as the world steadily declined from the perfection they had witnessed in the Garden to the evil of Noah’s time. It must have been hard to stay hopeful through all that.

With all his preaching,” Oursler says, “Noah had made not a single convert.” I hadn’t thought of the idea that Noah must have told others about what he was doing and why. I assumed they knew, of course, because this was a massive boat that Noah was building for apparently no reason, unless he lived near the sea, which I don’t know. But he was a good man, and so it’s possible ~ even probable ~ that he would have tried to save someone. But in all the time it took to build the ark, nobody listened.

It’s interesting looking at the genealogy in Genesis 5. When you do the math, you find that Lamech, Noah’s father, died five years before the flood. But his grandfather, Methuselah, famous for being the longest-lived person in history with 969 years, was alive when the flood began. In fact, when you add Noah’s 600 years to Lamech’s 182 before he was born and Methuselah’s 187 years before Lamech was born, you get ~ 969 years. The exact same amount of time that Methuselah lived. That means it’s possible that Methuselah himself died in the flood. How long would he have lived if the flood hadn’t happened?

It must have rained for a long time before people started getting concerned. And it must have been hard for Noah and his family to ignore the screams for help coming from outside the ark.

A really interesting thing is that we have no idea where Noah lived before the flood. He could have been an American for all we know! When the floodwaters rose, the ark could have been swept anywhere.

Oursler doesn’t talk about the race of Noah’s sons, but I know that Ham’s name meant “dark,” Shem’s “dusky,” and Japheth’s “bright” or “fair” (Information I received from Chris Williamson’s book, “One But Not the Same”). This, I think, may be an indication of their ethnicity. But in order for Noah to be the father of three sons of different skin tones, he had to have been black, because genetically, a white person cannot produce black offspring, while black people can produce offspring of any color. But it makes sense that Noah would be black if you consider Adam to have been black ~ the color would have been passed down the line.

Anyway, Oursler says that Ham was the father of black-skinned people, mostly Africans. Shem was the forefather of the Hebrew people. And Japheth was the progenitor of all of us Caucasians, which Oursler calls the Gentiles. For some reason, the Bible seems to come alive on a whole new level when you bring race into the picture. (In a good way!)

Chapter 2: Cain and Abel

In this second chapter about Cain and Abel, Oursler describes the Garden of Eden as being “lost and vanished.” Does he mean that it actually disappeared? I’ve often wondered what happened to it, because I don’t think the Bible ever said. But to have an entire garden simply vanish? That seems outrageous even to me. It was a place here on Earth, and though I know God can do anything He wants, if He’d just plucked it off the Earth I feel like the Bible would have mentioned it. But it said that He placed an angel to guard it. So does it still exist? And if it does, is it as perfect and unblemished as it was when it was created, or did death’s sting bite it too?

It must have been weird for Adam and Eve to leave the garden and find that they suddenly had no control over the animals, and that the animals were dangerous. The lions and lambs weren’t lying together anymore. The lions had gained a taste for meat, and that includes human. The first time Adam had to fight off an animal’s attack must have been shocking to him.

It had briefly occurred to me before that people didn’t have any written language back in the beginning, so how did the creation story get in the Bible? But Oursler intelligently deduces that Adam and Eve must have been very open to their kids about what had happened, and the stories were passed down from generation to generation until it was finally written. That’s a good point. I like it.

And really, if anyone should know how the world began, it was Adam and Eve. The creation story is a simple one if you think about it, and that’s one reason why I find myself inclined to believe it. When humans make up a story pertaining to the origin of the human species, they think up something complicated like a massive explosion or gradual evolution over billions of years. But with the creation story in the Bible, all you’ve got is, “And God said, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light.” (Genesis 1:3) That’s pretty simple, isn’t it?

It’s interesting that sacrificial offerings were invented so early on in our history. Adam and Eve knew they had done something wrong and they were trying their hardest to make it right. And of course, they had no way of knowing that God wanted a blood sacrifice to atone for the sin they had caused as opposed to a crop offering. So it wasn’t Cain’s fault for giving the wrong thing. Both brothers gave the best of what they happened to raise. Cain’s fault was in becoming jealous because God liked Abel’s offering better. You can kind of understand where he’s coming from, though. He was probably hurt because he had given his best but God still liked Abel’s better, and so he lashed out in pain and anger.

I wonder how they knew that God preferred Abel’s offering, though. The Bible doesn’t tell us that part. It tells us that God looked on Abel’s offering with favor, but how did the little humans find out? We know He could speak to them audibly. Was it like a “Well done, good and faithful servant” type of moment?

You can tell that Cain has never done something this horrible before because after he killed Abel and God came and asked him where his brother was, his response was indignant. “I don’t know. Am I my brother’s keeper?” You can hear the anger, the pain, maybe even shock about what he’d just done.

Cain protested when God cursed him and exiled him to a lifetime in which he could farm as hard as he ever had but would never get any crops in return (which, to be honest, would be the worst punishment imaginable for a farmer). That seems like a human thing to do, but it was also a stupid thing to do, because God complied with his protest that whoever saw him would kill him. Be careful what you say to God. Instead of getting killed himself, God gave Cain just what he wanted: protection from his fellow man ~ and with it, the doom of a long life of agony in work and in regret for the terrible thing he had done.

Finally, I want to leave off with this thought from Oursler’s book:

For God Himself is love and women are the principal bearers of His mercy in this world. They habitually give their love to men who do not in any way seem to deserve it.”

Chapter 1: Adam and Eve

I think we take for granted just how beautiful the first chapters of the Bible are. The very first sentence in Oursler’s book says, “Adam opened his eyes and looked into the face of his Maker.” Can you imagine what that would have been like? Obviously this is a fictional work, and we don’t really know what it was like, but just imagine it! One moment, you don’t even exist, and the next, you’re a living being. God created Adam’s body, and with a gentle blow from His lungs, Adam breathed. Oursler is doing an excellent job at painting the picture of how absolutely breathtaking (pun intended) those first days in the garden must have been.

Back then, Adam could talk right to God. He had His presence in the garden with him in a way we can’t even begin to imagine ~ but we can look forward to one day sharing that feeling in heaven. Adam looked at God and, as Oursler puts it, saw “a countenance all wisdom and compassion and hope.” The love that God felt for Adam was so blindingly obvious because he could see it right in His face. How humbling that would be!

The only thing I have against Oursler’s take so far is that he mentioned Adam’s hair as being “reddish.” I personally believe Adam was a man of dark complexion, just from a genetic standpoint. But I can overlook it because Oursler was a white man, and white people (myself included) tend to automatically envision everyone in books to be white.

In this book, when God tells Adam about the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, Adam looks at the tree and considers it a small condition considering all of the world he had to explore. And it would be, wouldn’t it? If you had the entirety of a perfect world in all its beauty and majesty, being told you can’t eat fruit from one tree would seem tiny.

Oursler describes Adam’s first desire to be “that someone else were beside him, so that they could look together.” A companion. This desire was the first indication of his free will. If God had made him without free will, then he’d have no desires at all. And God saw his desire and can you imagine He thought it good? Can you imagine an instance when God would think one of our thoughts and desires is good?

I love what Oursler says about God making Eve. It says, “Strange and wise, the ways of God, then as always. He could have clapped His hands like some enchanter in a fairy tale and made a new being appear. Or He could merely have thought His command and it would have been instantly performed by infinite and obedient forces. Instead, God’s hands gently touched Adam’s body with a deep and beautiful purpose.” God made Eve from Adam’s flesh for a very distinct reason ~ and He knew what He was doing.

When Adam first saw Eve, Oursler says he “leaped up, joy in his shouts.” And why wouldn’t he? Eve was probably perfect by everyone’s standards. They had the perfect marriage, the perfect world, the perfect life. They had no fear because there was nothing to be afraid of.

During satan’s confrontation with Eve, I’ve found another small thing to question. Oursler says, “Eve’s eyes, turning to the sky, seemed to be trying to find the answer in the white, fleecy clouds that rode invisible winds.”  Genesis 2:5-6 says that the earth was watered by a mist that rose from the ground, but of course, that was when the earth was first created. We don’t know how long it lasted. But I was under the impression that it didn’t rain at all until the time of the flood. So that’s something to think about.

Here’s something interesting. “There comes a time when evil has to leave us alone; the tempter is not allowed to stay at our elbow when we make up our mind.” Satan planted the idea in Eve’s head that God was trying to keep her and Adam under Him, when in fact, they could be equal with Him. But like Oursler points out, “Her reasoning was perfect too; she was equipped to defend herself against him.” And she was. She was perfect. Her thoughts were perfect. She could have decided to obey God’s laws and ignore satan’s enticements. But he gave her an idea, and then left her alone to think about it, and that’s when her free will and her curiosity got the best of her.

And then it suggests that Adam’s downfall was in jealousy. I had wondered why Adam would also eat the fruit when he knew full well what she had done. But here, she had done something he had never dared to do. She had tasted something he had never tasted.

And in his newfound shame and awareness, his first reaction to the question of his Father was to blame somebody else for what he’d done wrong. And then when God turned to ask Eve for her perspective, she did the same thing. So God punished the serpent first, because it was ultimately his fault, and then he punished Eve for listening to him, and then he punished Adam for joining her, because they were all wrong.

And at the end of His punishments, God told the humans that “to the ground you shall return.” Their immortality  was stripped from them, and death entered into the world. God left the garden, and Adam and Eve were doomed to walk the desolate world and only glimpse the beauty and perfection of their past from afar.

How terrifying that must have been!

Life Lessons From Volleyball

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It’s been a fair while since I’ve posted, hasn’t it? Okay, fine, a little more than a fair while. It’s been a very long while. I don’t know exactly when my last post was, but I’m sure something in my life must have changed since then. But one thing that hasn’t changed is volleyball.

I’ve been playing volleyball for years now, and I’ve gotten to the point where I’m one of the best intermediate players I know (and I know a lot of volleyball players). Do you have a sport or activity that it seems like everyone does in your area? Well, volleyball is that for me. It seems like everyone I know plays or has played at some point. I have been playing for probably six or seven years, and fortunately, I’ve learned a few things besides just good technique. Since volleyball was, is, and probably will be a part of my life for a long time, I thought I’d share the lessons I’ve learned from it.

1. You can’t do everything on your own.

This first lesson is a pretty obvious find when you think about volleyball. You can’t play volleyball very well on your own, and you can be dead sure that I’ve tried! You need a team in order to do well and win. And while you can win a few volleys and score a few points by yourself if the ball keeps coming to you, ultimately you need teammates in order to win the game.

It’s the same with life, and that’s another thing I’ve been learning lately. Sure, you can get through life by yourself, not connecting with other people or going out of your way for anyone but yourself. But it’s a pretty dull life. (Trust me on this.) As frustrating as they are, human beings do make life interesting, and you will have a lot more fun if you have them around. Plus, you kinda need them. God made us to be social creatures, to have a need to be around others of our own species (though, granted, some a bit less than others). Criminals are put into solitary confinement as a form of torture, and it’s because we truly, biologically, psychologically need other people. Depriving yourself of meaningful connections may seem like the safe route, but it takes a major toll on you in the long run.

2. Know your teammates’ skills so you can work together in the best way for the team.

If you want to win a volleyball game, you need to be on a team that works well together. Part of this is knowing the abilities and skills of yourself and those on your team. That way, you know that if you mess up, so-and-so will cover you; you know which person to hit it to for a bone-shattering spike; and you know who the weakest link is so you can back them up.

It’s helpful also to know the talents and abilities of your friends and family so they can help you when you need it and so you can help them when they need it. You know who to go to when you need advice, comfort, or a jolly good time. (Or help hiding the body.) It’s also a great help for a leader, especially, to know what his people can do so he can get things done quickly and efficiently.

3. If you’re going to teach something, teach it according to how the student learns, not how you like to teach.

When I first started going to volleyball, I was not good. I was still growing, for one thing, and I had very little muscle tone and zero precision. I was obviously unskilled, as I am with all sports when I first start, and everyone took it upon themselves to teach me how properly to do it. At first, it was fine, because I didn’t actually know how to hold my hands or where to stand or how to keep score. But four years in, it got a little old.

Yes, that’s right: four years. They kept trying to tell me how to play the game even though I’d been playing for that long. I don’t know if they thought I was really that slow of a learner, or what. But they continued to tell me the same things over and over again because I just couldn’t get it right. But the issue wasn’t that I didn’t know what I was doing. I knew very well how to play (I was, in fact, the only one who seemed capable of remembering the score); I just couldn’t seem to make my body do it correctly.

This carried on until one day I was practicing setting and spiking on the floor in my room a couple of hours before volleyball was going to start. I had taken some kenpo classes at my college and had decided to continue studying it privately after I quit. I had been experimenting with a few hand positions, whether I wanted to keep my hands in fists like most people do or whether I’d choose a different, more original positioning. I had decided upon a half-fist, half-open position, where my pinky and ring fingers touched my palm and my three remaining fingers were open in a talon-like pose. While I was practicing setting with my volleyball, I curled my hands into this position and set with only three fingers, and my setting almost immediately improved. When I tried spiking, I made the connection that the desired arm movement for a good spike was very much like throwing a baseball, which is my favorite sport. Instantly, my game improved, and that night I played better than I ever had.

The point I’m trying to make here is that everyone had been trying to teach me exactly the right way to do things according to how they played. But when I implemented bits of muscle techniques that I was already familiar with, I learned and improved much faster. So that’s what I mean by teaching people according to things that they know, and not just the ways that work for you.

4. Be ready for anything.

Sometimes the ball gets to moving so fast, you can’t react quick enough, and you get hit in the face or the stomach or wherever else. Most of the time you get hit because you weren’t paying close enough attention, or you didn’t expect it. This is where you learn to always be ready. You may think you know where the ball is going to come from, but sometimes it can take an unexpected trajectory and you miss.

I’ve learned that you have to be ready for anything in life too. You never know when the economy will do something funky and you end up rich or bankrupt. You never know when the weather’s going to whip up a nasty storm that cuts your power or takes your roof off. (Less likely nowadays, I suppose.) You never know when you’re driving and a deer appears out of nowhere and you swerve and end up hitting a mailbox or a ditch. And maybe some other examples that are a bit less life-threatening. Just…be ready, okay? Be ready.

5. Have your teammates’ backs.

I mentioned this earlier a little bit in knowing your teammates’ skills. If you know who the weakest link on your team is (though most people would be nice enough not to call them the weakest link), you know to cover them. But the weakest link isn’t the only person on the team who makes mistakes. Like I also said before, sometimes the ball takes a crazy trajectory. You expected it to be going forward, so you went forward, but in fact it ends up flying back behind you and you have to pivot and run and pretty much always miss it. That’s where your team is supposed to cover your back, and you them.

In life, you’ve got to do the same for your friends and family. You’ve got to be there when they need you, and pick up the slack when they’re not able to do something they usually take care of. Because life is all about surviving until you die, right? And we’re all in it together.

6. The team is only as strong as the weakest link, so build each other up.

I know what you’re thinking. Again with the weakest link. Look, I’ve never been a nice person, okay? But there’s nice underneath the mean if you calm down enough to see it. So quit getting offended and pay attention.

It’s true that the chain is only as strong as the weakest link, and it’s also true that the team is only as good as the worst player. Everyone will make mistakes, but the worst player will make the most, and you know it. So if you want a strong team, help them get better. And if you want a strong posse or a strong family, build each other up.

7. Practice doesn’t make perfect, but it helps.

You can’t be perfect. Nobody’s perfect. Hannah Montana taught us that in 2006. But the more you practice, the better you’ll be, and that will make you less likely to make mistakes and more likely to fix them if you do. The more experience you have, in volleyball and in life, the more able you will be to handle whatever comes your way.

8. Have fun–you’re not in it to win it.

This is probably the most important lesson I’ve learned from volleyball, which is why it’s last, because people are scientifically proven most likely to remember the last point that is mentioned. Depending on what kind of volleyball you’re playing, it might be important to win. But the most important thing is to have fun, make jokes, smile, and laugh – because the bond you’re creating with the people you’re playing with is more important than the game you’re playing. People are the only investment worth making in this world, so make the most of every moment you have with the ones you love. You can’t win at life, so just enjoy the ride.