Is Artificial Intelligence (AI) Worth the Concern?

Big Voice Guy: It’s the My Michelle Live podcast, My Michelle Live Sci Tech talk, taking the God’s story to a geeky place. Here’s Michelle.

Michelle Mendoza: Hey, Sci Tech talk today. We’re talking artificial intelligence. It is the next big thing. You remember the industrial revolution? This is the AI revolution and it’s happening fast. Every area of industry is going to be affected. They’re saying that some jobs will be lost as a result because you just won’t be needed anymore. A computer can take our place. Doesn’t that sound like the industrial revolution? Really? There was, so telephone operators are no more; there’s a lot of industries that had to change and that’s what’s happening now. Customer service representatives. Translators and interpreters, technical writers, copywriters, data entry clerks will all be a thing of the past, they say, and so will homework because you can just have an AI do it. We’re gonna take on AI, but we’re taking it on with a man with an imagination now, and that’s important. As we look at AI, what could it look like? Could artificial intelligence today lead to a sinister future? We’ve seen lots of sci-fi movies that have painted that picture, and one book that is absolutely outstanding that looks at the potential for science fiction horrificness is Breaking Yesterday. I have the author with me, Brent R. Baker, good friend of mine, and you recognize him as a commentator from the Sports Time Out show. Brent, glad to hang out with you today, my friend. It

Brent R. Baker: It’s always fun to hang out with you.

Michelle Mendoza: We do have I don’t know, maybe a trepidation, especially in the Gen X realm, we’ve seen a lot of changes. You have boomers and they say boomers and AI, they’re just like, yeah, not my problem, not my circus, not my monkey. You have Gen Xers who have gone, we’ve lived through some things. Let’s just be real careful. But then you have the next generations who are just going, yay, no more homework. We have some things to consider here, and that’s where history repeats itself. There has been technology and changes that have. Been have come with a warning, but maybe the warning hadn’t been heated. Do you have some examples?

Brent R. Baker: First when you mentioned not my circus, not my monkeys. What this feels like to me with artificial intelligence is that this is the circus, but somebody let the monkeys out to run off on their own.[00:03:00]

Michelle Mendoza: That’s funny. Yeah.

Brent R. Baker: Yeah, I think with me, first of all, when I look at technology largely the technology itself is going to be neutral. I don’t look at a piece of technology. I don’t look at a computer and say, the computer’s bad, or The computer’s good. I do think For those of us who are people of faith or who are Christians, that technology naturally has a worldly drift, where if you just kinda let it do its thing, it’s gonna take off down the current of whatever whim the world is chasing in the moment. So technology for Christians, I’m not Amish by any stretch, but I also think we need to be very careful in how we apply it. So with artificial intelligence, I mean I think there’s a whole lot that we’re just scrambling to figure out about it. My concern is it feels like things like chat, G P T, which you can go in and have [00:04:00] these, chat like conversations back and forth with a computer program that feel somewhat human that. There’s not enough controls in place. There’s not enough research done on the implications of this, and there’s not enough transparency about what’s actually going on with

Michelle Mendoza: them. That’s the way of the world though. We experience that during the Covid era that it doesn’t matter if we’ve researched, it doesn’t matter, we just jump right in. We see with artificial intelligence that there’s a lot that can be done and there’s some great things that you can imagine now with ai, even now you can. Type in information and all of your symptoms and you can get a fairly accurate diagnosis or some really good information on how to treat. That’s, that could level the playing field for a lot of people who can’t afford the healthcare, that people with great jobs and a lot of money can. So that could level the playing field. There are things that. AI can do to computer programmers, Brent. You don’t have to be able to write complicated code anymore with ai. You can just tell a program what you want it to do in layman’s terms and it can figure it out. Of course, As we’ve seen with other booms in technology and changes, there are some good, but there’s also some concerns, and one of my concerns is that we aren’t on pace more morally with technology’s advancements, so technology advances and morality’s going.

Brent R. Baker: What? There’s nothing new under the sun. There’s

Michelle Mendoza: nothing new under the sun. Yeah. And that’s,

Brent R. Baker: The technology may be new, but the way we behave when a new technology comes out is oh, look at this. This will be fun. Hey, look, we can split the atom. Let’s make a bomb.

Michelle Mendoza: Yay. We, just because you can, right? Doesn’t mean you should. And

Brent R. Baker: I think even the term artificial intelligence, it can be a little misleading because we’re maybe saying something about it with that name that isn’t there because it isn’t a sentient self-aware organism. It’s everything that it’s processing and telling you comes from information that it has access to so that it, that information obviously can be manipulated. So whoever programs, whatever intelligent, artificial intelligence you’re using, whether it be chatGPT, where you’re trying to write a paper or like you said medical inquiry site if if the programmers pick and choose what types of information are available, and obviously will have a major impact on what it tells you. So you could get really bad medical information. You could get

Michelle Mendoza: somebody’s AI if you are if the information is manipulated, for example, by big Pharma. Then what you’re going to get from AI Medical is we’ll take this pill and take that pill. And take this pill. So there is some concern there. If it was really utilizing. All pieces of data, which ideally it is, maybe we might see some changes. But there’s a built-in bias because what information is it being allowed to be fed into? There are some other concerns too. There was an AI bot ChaosGPT, that tweeted out plans to destroy humanity because someone tasked it too. Okay. Great job. Do you not have anything else to do with your time? I’m just thinking there was also about Google, that you had sent me this article. They were in a rush to win this AI race and they actually had some pretty serious ethical lapses that resulted. So as you said, it’s not so much that AI is nefarious, it’s how what we’re doing in order to try to get on top or what we’re able to do with it, that might be a concern. Do you wanna comment on either of those stories?

Brent R. Baker: Yeah, with Google it sounds like the ethical, they have a team of people who are designed to put up ethical guardrails in whatever Google’s doing, and you can debate about their effectiveness, but they basically had their concerns overridden because chatGPT, I don’t remember who puts that, who put that together, but Google was competing with, them, trying to catch up. And it was more important to them to get their chatbot out there than it was for them to listen to their own ethicists. That’s always a problem.

Michelle Mendoza: Yeah, vague. Yeah. What are some of the results,

Brent R. Baker: do you remember? I don’t remember specifically, but yeah, like on that, that the ChaosGPT, shoot I haven’t written about artificial intelligence in my novel, but it’s like you people have imaginations about what are the worst things that we could do with this technology. Actually building something that can float theories on how to destroy humanity and then have conversations about it. I. I’m not into censorship, but at the same time when you’re building something that can learn, cuz that’s what the hallmark of artificial intelligence is. It’s gonna start coming up with other ideas and start making plans. I don’t know. I’m sure that these things are self-contained. I’m not worried about chaosGPT, but if it’s possible to do something with a harmless chat program, it’s possible to do something with less harmless that actually has access to resources that could cause a lot of

Michelle Mendoza: damage. Of course you, your mind can wonder, and that’s, what your mind did here is thinking and in Breaking Yesterday you talk about some fairly nefarious things that wa and ethical lines that are crossed in horrific ways, the devaluation of life and such. But all of that centers around utilizing these things to advance technology. And one question that I had while reading your novel is for the people who were advancing this technology, did the ins justify the means and do? How often do we do? Have we seen that in history?

Brent R. Baker: Certainly for them, since their goal was to rid the world of Christianity since that was the end, the means. We’re extreme.

Michelle Mendoza: Okay, so let me stop you there cause that’s a bit of what we’re seeing in today’s world now we’re giving you a little bit of insight into Breaking Yesterday where there is, we’ll just say a technology that is developed to time travel back through time.  To destroy the baby Jesus before he ever dies on the cross redeems humanity. And then we could just rid the world of these troublesome Christians like Brent and I. Come on. So this is the. The crux of this science fiction thriller that you wrote, Breaking Yesterday. But in researching it and developing this imaginative technology, there had to be lines that were crossed ethically, morally where life is concerned in order to achieve this great thing that they were trying to do. But that isn’t unlike what we do today on at times.

Brent R. Baker: In the book, in developing Time Travel this group didn’t really care about the consequences on the actual time travelers. What would happen to their bodies traveling into the past. Now again, time travel, there may be some hints that something like that might be possible, but in the world I created here well, in the real universe, matter cannot be created or destroyed. It can only be converted to energy. So I’ve always wondered if you went back in time in your body, what would happen if you end up in this time in the past where all of the atoms that compose your body already exist in some other form, some other person or some other. A rock, whatever, dirt. Because we all end up in the dirt and decompose and get, and the atoms get recycled and formed into different types of molecules. Anyway in the book, the Timed traveler, if you go back using this technology, your atomic structure will begin to disintegrate because it can’t coexist with right. With the atoms that are already there. Basically, if that were basically, it comes back one piece at a time. It’s

Michelle Mendoza: so fascinating because what would happen if you could, would you disintegrate? I don’t, would something else, disintegrate it,

Brent R. Baker: it gets you the point. The point was though, that when they sent. When they sent these, the first people back to do this, it was like, yeah, that might happen, but we have this mission to accomplish and we’re not going to tell them. They’ll figure it out when we get there. When they get there, and then they won’t go back

Michelle Mendoza: because the ends justify the means. Yeah. But not only that, but. The we won’t give away any secrets to the book or spoilers, but what empowers gives power to this great ability is dance around some pretty horrifying ethical things as well. Bringing it back to today and what we’re dealing with as I’ve often said, I g on, my biggest concern about technology is that technology is advancing and our ethics are failing in many ways. We care less about people. We care less about the value of human life. We outright lie to ourselves about what’s in the womb and what a woman is. We lie about science to ourselves for our convenience. So I guess the question is not only what could possibly go wrong, but what is the God’s story in all of this? Because you, you get to that as well, you present. Heroes and heroes of faith that make a moral and spiritual difference. Can they in Breaking Yesterday? Can we find those kind of people today and can we be those people?

Brent R. Baker: I think we first need to focus on being those people rather than  finding those people. I think trying to find those people takes the onus off of us.

Michelle Mendoza: I could just say you should do it. Anyone second that nomination? That’s great. I’m gonna

Brent R. Baker: I think, yeah, it’s always. It may not be pleasant, but it’s always helpful to look in the mirror and say, as a Christian, am I living the life that Christ put forward for me? Am I using the gifts that I was given for furthering his kingdom, for loving other people? So that’s the first question. I think one of the things that I wrestle with in writing this and the sequel too is, what is life and what is the value we place on it. So of course there’s always, we talk about it with abortion. When does life begin? We deal with it all over the place. We have we have a society where we have an ever increasing number of people on the autism spectrum and they are I will say targets of abortion in a lot of cases. Or down syndrome babies, same sort of thing. You have some cultures where. You wanna eliminate those people before they’re even born.

Michelle Mendoza: pre, we could take some DNA tests and see if there are, people of the wrong kind of political leaning or the wrong faith. Really, like you had said earlier, there is nothing new under the sun. It’s just a different evil in the. Different packaging, but it’s evil, just the same. And I’m not, again saying e AI is evil, as you pointed out at the beginning of this interview. It’s a neutral thing. It’s just a tool. It’s how we use that tool that can be truly dangerous. AI is something, a bell that cannot be un rung. It will be part of our society. But here’s the kicker. AI did not take God by surprise. It’s not like he’s up there going, whoa, did you think you’ll like Gabriel? The angel was like God, you come here, come in. You gotta see what these humans did today. You gotta see what they created. It’s not like God’s sitting up there going, whoa, what do I do now?

Brent R. Baker: Oh, look what they did now. Yeah. I also think that’s question of life. I think people. One of the dangers of it to me is that people will begin interacting with AI as if. It is another, a living person.

Michelle Mendoza: And what will that do to the psyche? Think about that they have realistic what they call sex bots that people get into carnal and even emotional relationships with, and honestly, It leaves people so hollow. We see suicide at record levels because people aren’t having real connections the way we were created to connect. That seems really dark and sad, but don’t you think it opens the door for those of us who walk in a biblical worldview to say, Hey, there’s a better way to mirror that better way. Walk in that better way and offer hope to a hopeless world that whose best attempt at relationship is talking to a computer.

Brent R. Baker: Yeah, hopefully that’s not our best attempt. Actually it’s interesting here I’m wearing my Star Wars shirt with, which is C3PO

Michelle Mendoza: That is so cool. Thank you my friend.

Brent R. Baker: Thank you, mom. Yeah. You watch Star Wars and C3PO is a living character to, as far as how we. We view, I’ll say him. It just, it’s not C three PO is actually an, it is a robot, but the way the character is it’s a sentient being and that’s not what AI is. The question we will start running into is as AI becomes more sophisticated and. It becomes harder to discern whether we’re interacting with a human or an AI creation. Will we start regarding AI as a life form. Which opens up a whole lot of ethical issues because then you start protecting with them with laws and it actually makes it’s just one more way that we try to make humans into gods where it’s oh look, we created this life. And now we can program it. Now we can program it to do what we want. Yeah. Oh yeah. That it’s one of the geniuses I think of God creating us was allowing us freedom of choice. We can’t do whatever we want without consequences, but we have freedom to choose, do A, do B, this is gonna happen, that’s gonna happen, but you still get to pick. AI is, I think our, sorry, attempt to be God and create something that then we can control, which usually doesn’t end well. Usually things, that switch gets flipped. When you ignore the ethicists and. A computer program can take control of power systems or nuclear arsenals, and it decides like chaosGPT to lock you out. That doesn’t mean it’s alive, it just means that somebody programmed it to do what it wanted.

Michelle Mendoza: So let’s get back to the deeper God story, which is it didn’t take God by surprise. This is all part of his, not history, but His story. So God knows what he’s doing. It leads somewhere down the road. We have many prophecies and insights in the Bible that point to what may be taking place in the future regardless of what that fleshes out as. We know that God has a plan and his ultimate plan and even the allowance of differing things that happen around us is all centered around redemption.

Brent R. Baker: Yes. And as Christians we need to remember that the war has already been won. And so in this time that we live in that doesn’t mean that there aren’t like skirmishes still going on that can cause a lot of pain. But it’s … I think of living in this world is, like some of those Japanese soldiers that are living on islands in the Pacific after World War II ended, and they didn’t know that the war ended, and they’re still out there, looking for threats and fighting and all that kind of stuff. And  I sometimes feel like that’s the world we live in here. It’s like battle preach out there in God’s creation, which goes beyond the space and time that we live in. It’s all been settled. But we don’t have a view of everything. We just need to trust that when we got that message that, hey, the war has been won. ou gotta be look out for what’s going on around you, but be confident in the final outcome

Michelle Mendoza: And that’s something that we can bank on. That is the God’s story. I wanna talk a little bit about now we delved into AI great, but Breaking Yesterday literally as a sci-fi thriller that. Delves into some pretty cool technology, some archeology. There’s just a layer upon layers and what it’s been liken to is if you are familiar with the Frank Peretti series Piercing the Darkness, This Present Darkness, incredible imaginative books they, this is in that kind of realm because you deal a bit with the spiritual realm, with the physical realm, but then you add in this crazy technology. It’s brilliantly written and it’s a fun read. The technology though makes it next level stuff. You also have, interestingly enough, you’re working on the sequel and the sequel right now. You sent me a picture of the cover that was created by AI, wasn’t it?

Brent R. Baker: It won’t be the final cover, but it’s as needed to stick something on my website. I’m I don’t wanna just have a blank book here. And yeah, I, it’s crazy. You can go on to, I did this on Microsoft Bing and you can go in and say blonde woman with a cross tattoo on her back, which is what the picture is. And, within two minutes, there it is.

Michelle Mendoza: Yeah. It’s astounding. And. Yet, I don’t think that AI could produce some of the pieces of literature, honestly, that like we’re looking at Breaking Yesterday and other things because it lacks a bit of soul. What? Has been the evolution of this book. I think that each one of us has a purpose. We have a calling that we have a reason that we’re here on this planet, right? And yours is one of your purposes. Your passions is telling. Stories. So for those who may have a story or a passion inside of them, whether they will write a book or start a ministry or it makes a difference in, in their lives as a teacher or preacher, whatever it is, how did that cultivate in you and how did it go from these imaginative ideas to a into black and white?

Brent R. Baker: I can tell you that if you’re in college, that studying being a novelist is not a path to financial success when you get outta college. And of course, that was my intent. But life got in the way. I got married, had a kid, and For, it was about eight, nine years. I found myself working in a rural Michigan manufacturing stamping plant.

Michelle Mendoza: that there’s a, there, there’s a Easter egg there, some of that to the book. So what were you like imagining what it was like, what could be, was it too boring?

Brent R. Baker: What could be underground here? Honestly, it was. It wasn’t fun, but it was like one of the best experiences that God placed in my life because I know at, in my mid twenties I walked in with a sense of arrogance. These people aren’t educated. I am, I quickly found out that some of these men and women who, this was in the nineties, so some of those people were older and hadn’t even finished high school or maybe even middle school. Wow, they’re actually really smart. They’re smarter than I am. They know this like the back of their hands. So it was very humbling from that perspective and I learned a lot. A lot of really bad things in the book happened surrounding a fictional manufacturing plant like that. And believe me, in my experience was nothing like what happened there, but it was like, this is a perfect setting for something like some of these things to happen. Interesting. So I so I did start as I started writing the story back in the. In the nineties, and then it’s interesting. Okay. Yeah, so it’s kinda why I accept

Michelle Mendoza: then about that is that w you like everybody else as you’re expressing your passion, you play off of, and you incorporate the experiences that you. Have had your real life experiences, the trials, the tribulations. So the more that you have the failures and the victories, the more of these that you have, the more relatable your message actually becomes as you develop your story and it’s encouragement. To other people because while this is, while Breaking Yesterday is a work of fiction, it does have a reign of reality, which is what really makes it fascinating to people. It’s what draws people in. And in our age, we are in strange, perilous, confusing times, but being able to reach people in a language that they can understand and sometimes by a work of fiction can get people thinking about the things that are truly most important and really isn’t that what we need in this age? We’re out of time, but what a fascinating look at artificial intelligence and the how the work of fiction can make a difference in your world. Breaking Yesterday will be linked on My Michelle Live and everywhere you’re listening, viewing, reading this interview. Thank you, Brent, for your time today.

Brent R. Baker: Thanks for having me.

Michelle Mendoza: Always fun to have you with us. God bless you.

A few more sources about AI:

ChatGPT, AI, and the future of privacy  (

Cannot Compute (Salvo)

There is no A.I. (The New Yorker)


A road trip through ‘Wyoming’

A road trip through ‘Wyoming’

Did anyone say “Covid project?”

I certainly didn’t, especially not in 2019. 2020 is a different animal. One of the blessings of this strange and taxing year has been helping my songwriter friend Nicole Unser put together this companion devotional to her most recent album.

Before the virus hit, Nicole had started her “story night” home concert series where she weaves her music with stories about her life into the lives of those who are in her audience, who quickly become participants and even part of her rapidly growing extended family. It’s a unique and moving experience, but much of it came to a screeching halt in March when the world shut down.

One good thing that came out of it was this journal, which takes you on a “road trip” that encourages the reader / listener to examine their own lives in light of how the past impacts the present, and how God brings context and healing to it all, if we allow him.

I’ll be honest, this is the sort of thing that women tend to gravitate toward and men shy away from. But if we’ve learned nothing else this year, it’s that mental and spiritual pain is not just a female thing. We’re watching our society implode largely because we don’t know how to deal with what’s going on upstairs, in our heads. If something inside you is telling you that not everything is OK, and you are wondering if that is something that God can help with or even cares about, then this is a road trip you should embark on.

In the foreward I wrote, I talk about Dallas Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott and his struggles with depression and anxiety. There were some who criticized him for being so open about that. But guess what? When we don’t deal with these things, they fester and damage other people, even if we can’t see what these things do to ourselves. There’s plenty of evidence of the consequences of that kind of denial all around us.

So, are you up for the road trip challenge? Head over to to pick up a copy, or even to just check out her music, video mini-documentary, and podcast appearance where she encourages us to take on this important and timely topic.

Dawn of the Third Day

Dawn of the Third Day

It has been a long and difficult week. You and the many who followed Jesus of Nazareth began the week with a feeling of triumph, entering Jerusalem with fanfare, people lining the streets, proclaiming him King of the Jews. Surely, Jesus would lead his people into throwing off the Roman oppressors, would continue to put the Pharisees and their self-righteous ilk in their place? It was time for a new age. Everyone could feel it.

Yet, that was not what had happened. Celebration turned to confusion turned to pain and fear. Jesus was betrayed by one of his own, captured, tortured. He was “celebrated” as the King of Jews all right … with a crown of thorns, with his hands and feet nailed to a cross in an execution as humiliating as it was physically cruel.

The man who claimed to be one with the Father – maybe even in a way God Himself – was now dead. All of your hope for the future is gone. Everything he taught seems to have not only been in vain, but maybe even a lie.

Close your eyes now …. take in those feelings of confusion, of hurt, maybe even of betrayal and anger. How could all of his words been have untrue? Did not those whom he healed still walk, still see? What does this mean for you?

Keep your eyes closed. You don’t know why, but you have accompanied a small group of women this early morning to the tomb. Maybe it was a chance to say a last goodbye. Maybe a desire to see that he really had indeed been killed. Your little group cautiously approaches the grave site as the first shafts of sunlight peak over the horizon. You feel the warmth against your skin, feel a light breeze, take in the scents of early morning, mixed with the scents of the burial spices carried by the others.

Your thoughts are interrupted as the ground shifts beneath your feet. A jerk, the ground lifts, then falls. Rocks tumble in the distance. Those around you are alarmed, and you stumble. As suddenly as it started, it ends. You look at the others around you … frightened, discomfited. After some discussion, you move on.

You enter the garden surrounding the tomb. You know that Joseph of Arimethea had given this space for Jesus, and you think it was befitting of someone like him to be honored in this way. But as you approach, something seems amiss. The others are murmuring as well. From a distance it appears as though the stone meant to seal the tomb was sitting next to the opening, not covering it as it should. Could this be the wrong place?

You get closer … there had been a contingent of four Roman guards at the tomb. They were … well, they are there. But one of them is gone. Two are on the ground, asleep, appearing dead. The fourth is just awakening. He turns and sees the tomb, somehow open, with the stone rolled uphill from is resting place. You know that his life is as good as over. With the tomb open, the guards will be executed. He looks at you and the women, eyes wide with fear, and runs. Runs!

You have never seen a Roman guard run from anything, so approaching the now open tomb seems much more frightening than it did moments ago. What had happened here? Yet the desire to know is too strong to ignore. You loved Jesus and want … need … to know what had become of him.

And then it all seems to happen so fast, so fast that you have to think through it carefully later on to capture details that all melted together in the confusion.

You peek into the tomb, but it is dark. You can see that there is no body. Linens, yes, but empty. And then it is light, much lighter and you can see the head piece, rolled neatly at the other end of the stone platform where Jesus’ body had laid. Light? Yes, from two men … not men, angels … sitting on the platform, one at the head, one at the foot. You and the others fall to your knees, but the angels tell you not to be afraid. Not to worship them. They ask why we seek the living king among the dead.

Living? What?

He was not there because … he had risen from the dead? It is one thing for Jesus to have brought others back from the dead, but how does one raise himself? It was as he had told us, but we hadn’t understood. It was the third day …

There is no body here because Jesus is alive. Alive! He had been dead. You had seen it. You had seen much of the flesh torn from his back from the relentless beatings. You had watched them brutally place the crown of thorns upon his head. You had watched as the spikes had been hammered through his hands and feet, as his body had been raised upon the cross upon he was mocked while he suffered. You had watched as the Roman soldier stabbed his side, and water came forth, proving he was indeed dead.

You had helped take him down, helped deliver him to Joseph’s burial place. He wasn’t just dead, his body was completely broken.

Some of the women are convinced that Jesus is alive. You think of what he looked like when you last saw him and wonder how that could be so, and if that would even be a good thing given his condition. You and the others discuss the matter and decide to tell the disciples, who are all still in hiding for fear of their lives.

But the twelve … well, the eleven that were left … they don’t believe it. They accuse your group of being crazy. If you’re honest with yourself, you do wonder about your sanity. You know what you’ve seen. No man could come back from that. But then Jesus … wasn’t just a man. So, could it be?

Peter and John at least are willing to believe that Jesus’ body had somehow been taken, despite the presence of the Romans. They didn’t see how that was possible, but they take off running for the tomb. You and the others follow as best you can. When you arrive, John is standing outside the tomb, looking uncertain, as though trying to wrap his mind around what he was seeing. He goes into the tomb, and soon he emerges with Peter. They are arguing over the same teachings of Jesus that you remembered, that he had said he would be raised from the dead. And now, apparently, he had …or his body was just … gone. They head back to the other disciples, their loud discussion receding in the distance as you wonder what to do next.

You and the women stand quietly talking. Mary Magdala moves off by herself, weeping. You are ready to leave, but when she re-enters the tomb you decide to wait for her. She is inside for a few minutes and as she comes out, you see that a man is waiting beside the tomb now as well. Joanna asks you if you remember seeing that gardener before. He seems vaguely familiar, but you can’t quite place him.

Curious, you draw closer. He seems gentle as he speaks to Mary. You hear her ask if he was the one who moved Jesus’ body. This kind man, who seems both familiar yet unfamiliar, looks at her and says, “Mary.”

And then you and the others all see him at once for who he is. It’s really him! His flesh is not torn. He is not swollen from his beatings, or bloody. It is hard to look at him and see the impossible. And yet it is as he promised.

His hands and feet hold the scars of his crucifixion.

His eyes are the same eyes of the one who loved beyond all measure, without fear or condition.

It is Jesus.

He tells you to go back and tell the others that you have seen him. They still do not believe you. In your heart, you know that you hadn’t truly believed until you saw him for yourself. Peter, John and the others will soon as well.

(Originally written for Tonasket Free Methodist Church Easter Sunrise Service, April 2019.)

Pandemic in a culture of mistrust

Pandemic in a culture of mistrust

I have received no assurance that anything we can do will eradicate suffering. I think the best results are obtained by people who work quietly away at limited objectives, such as the abolition of the slave trade, or prison reform, or factory acts, or tuberculosis, not by those who think they can achieve universal justice, or health, or peace. I think the art of life consists in tackling each immediate evil as well as we can.

C. S. Lewis, “Why I’m Not A Pacifist,” The Weight of Glory


Well, this is one heck of a time to launch a blog.

The Corona Virus / Covid-19 pandemic is well underway, and so is the panic. I was in Seattle the day the first Covid-19-related death was announced. Many of the region’s inhabitants responded to the first death from a contagious virus by … storming Costco and emptying it of toilet paper, thereby potentially exposing themselves to said fearful virus.

Just the sort of thing I’ve read about in many apocalyptic science fiction yarns I’ve read through in one sitting.

Yes, I’m a sci-fi nerd, and proud of it. It’s what I grew up escaping into, especially Robert Heinlein’s “teen hero” space travel books he wrote in the 1950s, and before that the classic Tom Swift, Jr. kids’ series. Later I came to see such stories as non-threatening ways to examine human nature, ask unanswerable questions, marvel at the intricacy of the universe. And ultimately deepen my faith, where I tend to welcome questions and ambiguity more than some of the traditional answers that discourage those deeper questions. These are the types of stories I enjoy writing and hope to share before too much longer.

I got to meet one of my favorite authors last summer, Frank Peretti. Aside from being a gracious and authentic man, he said something that really struck me about why stories are important: “Jesus told stories. Because they work.”

Even those who don’t share my belief in who Jesus Christ is recognize and even revere many of his stories. The Good Samaritan parable is one such example. Jesus did not present it as an historical event; rather, as a story told in response to a question meant to challenge him.

“Who is my neighbor?”

Jesus’ answer was that the neighbor, in this case the Samaritan, was actually someone who was hated by the respectable and righteous of that time and place. The hero of the story, who stopped and helped a man who’d been robbed, beaten, and left for dead, would have scandalized the listeners of the story. It would be like a pastor standing in the pulpit telling a story about a transgendered Muslim illegal immigrant risking infection to care for an elderly Covid-19 sufferer while mainstream Christians turned their backs. The story seems designed to offend.

We get used to stories that have been told over and over and they lose some of that original intent. Which is a good reason for new stories to be told, stories to challenge, stories that at first are safe to read because we don’t see them as about us.

Sometimes I realize those stories are not just about us, but about me.

That’s one of the reasons I enjoyed The X-Files. Aliens, monsters, weird stuff, conspiracy theories. But ultimately the series was about questions, deep ones. It’s not a source of my theology, but I love its willingness to ask questions, because I don’t think that God is threatened by our questions (even if God’s answers don’t jive with Fox Mulder’s).

Mulder in many ways reflects our society now, 20 years after the series aired (its recent reboot notwithstanding). His mantra for life: “Trust No One.” That is where we are at as a society, which makes navigating challenges like a global pandemic much more difficult. The national institutions that were held in high esteem two generations ago are no longer revered.

Our cynicism isn’t all off-base. And I am chief among sinners when it comes to cynicism. In so many ways our elected representatives no longer represent us. Sexual scandals have rocked our churches, destroyed lives and damaged our faith in those who should be pointing us to God. Much of our mainstream media is devoted to pushing agendas rather than reporting news. Our educational system seems to concern itself with issues and topics best taught at home, rather than basic foundational skills. Both science and faith communities often start with conclusions and avoid questions that don’t support what they already believe. Every political decision or weather event becomes an existential crisis, so that when a true existential crisis might be upon us most of us write it off. We’ve heard it all before.  We’re all Fox Mulder. We trust no one, not even ourselves.

So when the president or the governor announces measures to contain the virus, no one outside their core voting bloc trusts them. “If he’s not my guy, he’s part of a conspiracy to destroy my life. And the (right wing / left wing) media is complicit, and the medical-industrial complex caused it, and we’re one step away from tyranny by the Democratic Governor / Republican President.”

Would you like your dictator painted blue or red? Then again, what competent government wouldn’t start to crack down when its citizens hoard toilet paper the moment the first person dies?

Maybe the virus is overblown. Maybe not. Maybe in a few months it will be a scandal that we’re raking our politicians for. Or maybe we’ll be burying friends and loved ones while still in isolation and wondering why we weren’t more prepared. I don’t know. For once I will be praying with all my might for a political uproar over a scare that ended with a whimper.

My trust is in God first. But to get through this, we – no matter our core beliefs about faith and the universe – need to begin to trust one another again. Maybe the institutions have indeed betrayed us. Our neighbors are still with us, next door, down the street, in town. People different than we are, facing a common threat, even if we don’t really understand what that threat is.

Some of them will be getting sick. Many will be afraid.

Serve him. Learn to trust her. Whether the Samaritan in the story is you or that other person.

If you are not involved in a front-line health care position, might have some extra time on your hands. If your escapist fantasy involves apocalyptic adventures, here’s a couple of my favorites. (Both are Christian authors, though the stories are not overtly so.)

Doomsday Book, Connie Willis – A mid-21st century college student who is researching history using time travel accidentally ends up in 1348 in the midst of the Black Plague that killed between 75 and 200 million people. A similar plague is loose in the 21st century, and we see that the more things change, the more they stay the same. Intricately researched, it’s not for everyone, but it’s my all-time favorite time travel book.  Amazon link:

The Line Between, Tosca Lee – A young woman escapes the cult she’s grown up in, only to find that a virus threatens the existence of humanity. No time travel in this one, and maybe not something to read if you are losing sleep over Covid-19. At least our modern-day virus doesn’t cause madness as this one does. So if you’re into “it could be worse” scenarios, here’s a good one. Author link:

Gazette-Tribune Days

Gazette-Tribune Days

Veteran Features

I’d only been a sports reporter when I started at the G-T. And I still love sports. But something special happened when I sat down to talk to veterans of our armed forces to hear and share their stories. Thanks largely to Michael Stewart – an Okanogan County vet whose story I would still like to write someday – these men shared what it was like to risk everything for their country abroad or their families at home. Please read these.

Gerald Baker (my grandfather) – World War II
Ken Fulford – Viet Nam
John Jones – Viet Nam
Hugh “Doc” Maycumber – World War II
Floyd Kennedy – World War II
Jim Pruitt – World War II
Adam Brazil – Iraq


A few other favorites

Jack (Black) was Here – My only celebrity interview, and my most-read newspaper story.

A Cavallo – The story behind Quill Hyde’s fantastical, ominously charming, miraculously monstrous mobile party wagon.

A Taste of History – 105-year-old Lula Gardner on life in the early 1900s. Not my best-written story but one of the cool ones.



“Half-baked” columns

Little did I know that the idea for the name of my newspaper column would be co-opted by popular culture. When I first hired on at the Ogemaw County (MI) Herald in 2000, managing editor Bruce Bischoff forced me to start writing a column. That was his good move. Allowing him to suggest its name may not have been.

“Half-baked,” he said. “It’s perfect.”

I thought, “Yes! People always think that columns are poorly developed, and their writers lacking intelligence. And it goes with my name. Why not laugh at myself?”

Bruce was thinking of the movie by the same name that had come out a couple years earlier. A stoner comedy. It went right over my head. Less than a year later, a “Half-baked” column had won a state-wide award, and Bruce brought to my attention that he’d played me and that it was too late to make a change.

Too few years later, Bruce passed away. The column, at first dedicated only to sports, expanded to cover other topics during my time at the Okanogan County (WA) Gazette-Tribune. I kept the column name.

Bruce had actually hired me while standing on the sidelines of the old Detroit Silverdome during a state championship football game. A half-baked idea that worked out pretty well.

The Michigan editions of those columns exist only in bound editions in newspaper offices in West Branch and Standish, MI. But if you want a slice of deep rural life in North Central Washington, go for it: