Exploring where life and story meet!

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

A most serious topic

Tired of the vanity and insipidness of modern culture, of pretending to be happy when you'd rather cry?  Is there really a point or meaning to this vale of tears?  Find out in this excellent article.

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Here, at the end of all things...

"...but what will you do when the end comes?"

Those words really make you pause and think.  What will you do?

I finally watched the new Star Wars movie (consider yourself warned for spoilers, but as I am the last person on earth to watch it I doubt any one will be devastated).  It finally made it to the theater in our lovely Podunk town.  When I was a teenager and reading Hamlet, I was rather saddened when everyone died, not understanding the whole concept of a tragedy but later reconciling myself to the fact and learning to love the great one liners and wonderful morbidness of the tale.  I went in assuming this one was Hamlet in a galaxy far far away and was not disappointed.  I actually liked it better than episode VII, maybe because my head wasn't spinning, wondering what had happened in the galaxy since the last movie; I felt very much as if I had walked into a parallel universe (thanks Star Trek!) with plot holes big enough to fly a Star Destroyer through, but that is entirely another matter.  You had to assume everyone pretty much gets annihilated since they aren't in the next movie, but even so, I really liked the characters and watching the destructive capabilities of the Death Star from the ground level is rather chilling (and this is only the low setting?!).  A 'disturbance' in the Force, really?  Talk about understatement!

Anywho, there are not many movies where you actually get to see the answer to the question above.  Most movies you are either so overwhelmed with action/destruction that you are left chilled, cold, and dead inside or they end happily ever after.  Very few actually let you contemplate what happens in that irredeemable moment when all is lost.  And this movie did it well.  Very well.  In our society of the quest for immortal youth we are completely oblivious to death and the end of the world (save as a plot for an action movie).  But what happens when it comes and you aren't ready?  What happens when you are sitting there and suddenly realize it is over and your only accomplishment in life is breaking your own record at Angry Birds?  In this movie, the characters were ready, they pretty much assumed it was over the moment they volunteered for the mission and died doing something vital for the survival of freedom and justice in the galaxy though they wouldn't live to see it.  But then there was the guy who built the thing and it destroyed him, tragic and ironic and horrible.  Strange that we can find peace with one death but are astonished and appalled by another in the same circumstances.

The opening quotation comes from the very end of Chapter 5 of the Book of Jeremiah, the whole chapter tells of the injustice and evil of God's chosen people and the prophesied disaster that will soon overwhelm them.  Before those chilling words, it tells of how things are as they like it and they will not be thwarted in their desires, little believing God will fulfill His word.  I cannot help but think that they felt very much like the designer of the Death Star when his own creation annihilated him.  What of each of us?  It may not be the end of the world in our case, but death certainly will one day have its due.  Can we be easy and at peace when that fell specter comes for us?  Or will we watch in wide eyed horror as everything we once thought to be so vital and important turns to ash and nothing about us, finally realizing what it is we should have done with out lives?

And what is this vital thing?  What can keep us from despair at the end of all things, as Sam Gamgee might say?:  

"He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God."   

What will you do when the end comes?

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Blessed are the socks of cashmere?

I found this article rather intriguing, it is all about the concept of 'hygge' being turned into the latest materialistic fad.  The original concept developed to maintain sanity and ward off despair during the long, cold Nordic winters but apparently has become a marketing trend to sell more cashmere socks in the US.  Living in just such a northern climate, I can truly appreciate the idea behind comfort and society and coziness during this rather dismal season (especially this year, being more dismal than most).  I also understand retailers wanting to capitalize on the sentiment, though not why consumers would necessarily cooperate therewith, as if the 'approval' of some third party made something more or less properly 'hygge.'  The author makes a wonderful point that you won't find what you're looking for on Amazon, or through any proper and authorized retailer of 'hygge,' because you just can't buy it.  Yes, socks and hot cocoa can make you cozy for an evening, but they won't make you happy or give you purpose or fill that hole in your heart.  What is the answer?  I think the article makes an excellent guess!

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

On growing up, growing old, and wearing out

There seems to be a vast deal of confusion about the idea of 'growing up.'  Peter Pan and a certain chain of US toy stores are against the very idea.  Eternal youth is the ideal of many Westerners and no few fall into the trap of thinking if they never grow up they'll never get old.  Even Jesus said we must become like children to enter the Kingdom of Heaven.  But what does it all mean?  Are we to remain immature and childish our entire lives to find the fulfillment, happiness, and contentment we desire?  Is immortal youth the key to eternal bliss?  Here's C.S. Lewis on the subject, taken from 'The Last Battle,' the final book in the Narnia series:

"Grown-up, indeed," said the Lady Polly.  "I wish she would grow up.  She wasted all her school time wanting to be the age she is now, and she'll waste all the rest of her life trying to stay that age.  Her whole idea is to race to the silliest time of one's life as quick as she can and then stop there as long as she can."

I read Peter Pan and really did not enjoy it (perhaps that is the whole point of the book?), an immortal youth without responsibility or restraint turns out to be no fun at all.  And as for those who refuse to grow up, living in their parents' basement and never actually taking responsibility for themselves or their actions, they still get old, even if they never mature.  Meanwhile, I look in the mirror and find it hard to believe the birthday that will soon creep upon me, for inside I don't feel half that age and I know at least one octogenarian who is still 26, so it isn't just me.  And as for Jesus, He is in no way implying that we must embrace immaturity with all enthusiasm, rather He's referring to the childlike wonder and open hearts of children in their better moments.  Speaking of which, it is when my son tries to be the most grown-up that he is the least fun to be around: the tantrums, sulking, anger, and frustration over his thwarted attempts to be in control and have his own way.

So what then is the moral?  Remaining stubborn, selfish, and immature like a young and undisciplined child certainly is no fun, for one day we'll wake up and find ourselves 75 years old with the emotional maturity of a twelve year old, having missed out on everything of worth in our lives.  Spending our lives obsessed with a certain physical age only leads to regret and bitterness.  We cannot help growing older physically, but we need not grow old spiritually.  We must certainly 'grow-up' in the sense of becoming mature and wise, but we need not grow old, losing our sense of wonder and innocence and joy, for in doing so, we most certainly shall wear out.  There are many souls that have grown old, even in their third or fourth decade of physical life, whereas, like my octogenarian friend, there are others that burns as brightly in their old age as ever they did in their youth.  This is what Peter Pan actually desired and what Jesus commands.  Society thinks physical youth is all that matters, which makes a certain amount of sense in a materialistic society, but neither Jesus nor Peter Pan are materialists.  Neither should we be, if we truly desire to find Joy.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Inside Out and right side up

Most modern media leaves me rather bored, confused, disgusted (bathroom humor is not an art form, thank you very much!), or in danger of neuronal apoptosis, but occasionally I stumble across something worth watching, not just once, but again and again.  This applies especially to much of the animated fare coming out of the major studios, each one is exactly the same story, just with a different species as the main character and a slightly different setting.  Occasionally they do produce a gem worth watching however, and 'Inside Out' is just such a movie, and yes, I am well behind the curve, it has been out for several years and I only watched it the other day.  What did they do right?  They told a story worth telling, whereas most such movies are stories for story's sake, this is a story with a great big important point that our society and culture desperately need: life is not all about being happy all the time, people and their thoughts/emotions/behavior are complex and multifaceted, and if we overlook or forget that, we fall apart.

Reacting to our feelings, letting our immediate emotional responses determine our behavior, especially when many of us hardly have any control or understanding of why we react the way we do, is like letting your toddler drive because he's really excited about it and just knows he can.  But that is so normal in our society we hardly think about it.  We vote emotionally.  We shop emotionally.  We date emotionally.  We eat emotionally.  We write horrible things on social media emotionally.  Even our educational, legislative, and justice systems are now driven by emotion.  The facts don't matter, the truth is relative, it is all about how it makes us feel and our immediate reaction thereto.  We are so much a part of 'the mob' that we are losing our individuality.  Our loves, our hopes, our fears, our hates, our desires are all dictated by what 'they' think is appropriate, good, bad.  They being the media, the culture, our friends, our peers, etc.

But why?  That's the beautiful thing about this story, there comes a 'hitch in the giddy-up' forcing us all to ask, why?  Why the anger, the silence, the pain?  What's the point?  What are the consequences?  Why can't we all just be happy?  There can't be a place for sadness in a healthy life, can there?  While almost every other modern story tells us to 'follow our dreams and be happy all the time,' this one pauses to ask, 'can we?'  And the truth is, no, we can't.  Sorrow is as much a part of life as joy, grief clouds all our happiest days, and if it doesn't, we probably have some serious emotional soul searching and healing to do.  This movie acknowledges that and asks us to ask those questions of ourselves.  And that is hugely countercultural.  And very refreshing.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Prophet and Clown

“They are constantly colonists and emigrants; they have the name of being at home in every country. But they are in exile in their own country. They are torn between love of home and love of
something else; of which the sea may be the explanation or may be only the symbol. It is also found in a nameless nursery rhyme which is the finest line in English literature and the dumb refrain of all English poems, 'Over the hills and far away.”
~G.K. Chesterton on the English~

Many have heard of or read C.S. Lewis, but far fewer know of Chesterton.  I love Lewis, but no one amuses me like Chesterton, even if his meaning escapes me far more than I'd like to admit.  Lewis is an academic and a theologian, explaining high concepts to simple minds in a way that allows we common men to easily and wondrously grasp just a bit of the heavenly mystery.  Chesterton is a philosopher and a jester, a frolicsome, lighthearted puppy that likes to chew on the slippers of divine truth.  Lewis is concise, Chesterton a glorious rambler.  Lewis would make an in depth study of those hills faraway, Chesterton gads through those green hills with all the joy and innocence of a spring lamb.

My dilemma with this passage is that I am unsure if Chesterton is stealing the Apostle Peter's 'peculiar people' and usurping the spiritual exiles of the book of Hebrews and applying it to the English or if I am reading a deeper meaning into his words than he ever intended.  I am a closet Anglophile (though I must admit, Ireland and especially Scotland are very dear to me as well).  As I am not technically English by birth or culture, but certainly by literary adoption and heredity, I suppose I am not technically allowed to commentate on this desperate riddle, but as no one else seems intent to do so, I will amuse myself thus.

I think this little snippet a perfect description of not only the English, but of the citizens of that much greater Kingdom of which Chesterton is our most amusing Prophet.  To add to our musings, consider L.M. Montgomery's description of the sea: "The woods call to us with a hundred voices, but the sea has one only — a mighty voice that drowns our souls in its majestic music. The woods are human, but the sea is of the company of the archangels.”

Mystery, adventure, the sea as symbol or definition, the poetry of things barely glimpsed, there is a seed of it in every soul, whether we allow it to grow and flourish is another matter, or whether it lays quiet, forgotten until the rains come at last or it rots through the grip of a hundred endless winters, that is our choice.  We all hear that 'dumb refrain,' but does it resonate in our hearts and souls and inspire us to dream and join the dance, or do we grumble or scowl or turn away in disgust or busyness?  It is the very heart of the 'Parable of the Sower,' but are we fertile ground yielding a hundredfold in our turn or do the birds or weeds or stones bar that 'fine line' from residing within us?

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Born this way

Nature versus nurture, heredity versus learned behavior, genetics versus environment, what is cause and what is effect?  The argument goes on and on for any number of conditions, behaviors, traits, and pathologies, but there is probably no easy, black and white answer, unless 'a little of both' counts, except for perhaps one very odd condition: the undying and indefatigable love of stories.  I don't care how old you are or what culture you are from, you love stories, that or you're lying to yourself and everybody else for some really strange reason.  Be it television, movies, books, poetry, anime, music, comic books, a real live bard or storyteller, history, politics, even social media, sports, and celebrity gossip, everywhere you look, there's a story, and we as humans are addicted to it.  But why?

'He has set eternity in the hearts of men.'

I first ran across that little snippet while reading a very practical and bestselling book about a decade ago, I don't remember much else about the book, but that particular verse stood out to me and has haunted me ever since.  The author was quoting from the Biblical book of Ecclesiastes (3:11), a book thousands of years old that wrestles with the question: what is the purpose of life?  The same question each and every human has wrestled with since the dawn of time.  It is why we love stories: they help us process and understand ourselves, the world around us, and life in general.  It was Jesus's favorite means of helping others understand God and His plan for Everything.

Or we could just be accidental blobs of organic goo that just happen to like epic tales?  I never met a computer, a chemistry experiment, a math problem, or a chimp that was fond of a good story; it is the one thing that sets us apart, makes us unique, is completely inexplicable within our natures from the rest of the created order.  We are dreamers, adventurers, starry eyed children, and there's a Reason for it.

Two timely articles you might find interesting:

On Tolkien and a possibly wasted life?
More on Tolkien and the power of story.