Exploring where life and story meet!

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

The Great Game of Life

Our culture loves games, many moderns prefer the brightly colored incessantly needy phone apps, but let us not forget the entire subculture of 'gamers,' from the old-school dice and books of the RPG crowd to the original Zelda and Mario games on the ancient forebears of today's astonishingly vivid and realistic gaming systems.  Why do we love them so?  The same reason we love stories, because they are stories we can lose ourselves in, to feel productive and significant, to make discoveries and find social interaction, real or fictional.  As humans, we crave significance, meaning, and relationship, we demand a world that makes sense and one in which we can make a difference, have adventures, and dream.  That is why the games so easily suck us in, providing a pleasant alternative to the grim realities of our lonely, tedious, and grief filled world.

But what does it all mean in the end?  The game is nothing, no matter your score or triumphs, if the machine breaks, the memory is corrupted, or there is no power to run it, it all comes to naught.  But so do many feel about life in general, so why not wile away the lonely hours in virtual fascination, if wile we must?  If pleasure is the only solace and meaning in life, by all means, succor yourself as best you can!  How dreadful, this worldview that all of life means nothing, is nothing, results in nothing, came from nothing and to nothing it will go.  While the words spoken on Ash Wednesday are grim, 'from dust you are and to dust you will return,' at least dust is something, was something, can be used for something again (enriching soil, growing plants...), whereas Nothing is and ever will be Nothing.

But thankfully we need not believe the folly of the more enlightened materialists and resign ourselves to a brief span of years before pointless oblivion.  Even the smallest child seems to know life means something, even those games and stories that fascinate us so seem to understand that life means something, else how could they delight us into wasting countless hours in pointless pursuit?  Life is a game, a great big, sometimes terrible game, no matter how dull, how lonely, how insignificant it might seem at the moment.  It has a point, it has rules, it is enthralling, and anyone can win!  Certainly a brighter prospect than endlessly tapping brightly colored squares on our phones and then Nothing.

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

The original Easter Fool's Day

People are excited that this year Easter and April Fool's Day coincide, but has it not always been so?  For Paul tells us in I Corinthians 1:18-31:

"For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.  For it is written,

“I will destroy the wisdom of the wise,
and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.”

Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe. For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.

For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, so that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.”"

Elsewhere we discover that His disciples are perplexed, confused, and in complete disbelief while the elders bribe the guards to hush up the conspiracy and Mary thinks He's the gardener!  What a wonderfully confused mess!  The impossible has happened and no one quite knows what to do with it, a perplexity that still troubles the world to this very day, for those same confused individuals eventually go on to be accused of 'turning the world upside down,' and so it is to this day.  So what are you going to do with it?  Happy April Fools! 

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Why do the people sing?

There's a catchy song in the musical version of 'Les Miserables' that asks if you can hear the people sing, lately I've been wondering why the people sing?  In the musical, besides for the bawdy and uncouth 'Master of the House,' most of the singing reflects the title of the show: the miserable.  The people sing because they are dying, thwarted in love, left to rot in chains, denied justice, are cold and hungry, are overlooked and lonely, or have watched their dreams wither and die.  But despite the overwhelming darkness, evil, injustice, and misery, there is a theme of redemption, hope, and love undying that runs through the whole saga like a lifeline, giving meaning to their despair and comfort in their angst; their songs and prayers do not go unheard nor unanswered.  While watching the cast interviews on the 'extras' of the movie version of the musical, no one was untouched by the story, and they couldn't say enough good things of how 'Occupy Wall Street' and 'Lee's Miserables' were just such touching examples of the barricade scene and its high but crushed hopes of oppressed humanity.

I found it vastly amusing, but also rather horrifying that they all missed the point entirely.  Lee's Miserables?  Disheartened Confederate soldiers of the American Civil War (they were the pro-slavery side, by the way!).  Occupy Wall Street?  A now forgotten uprising of dissatisfied hipsters, really?  The barricade scene was a plot point, not the whole point of the story!  The theme is redemption and hope not born of this world, not a celebration of the crushed but immortal dreams of humanity.  The people sing because they hope, know, want, need, desire something beyond the mere human cruelty and indifference all around them, they are prayers set to music, not because they think someone will hear their song and have mercy but because they are expressing the deepest longings, yearnings, and needs of the human heart and the answer does not lie within the purview of our fellow men, if it did, we should have already established a utopia somewhere or somewhen upon this mortal earth, but that Kingdom has not yet and will never arise, at least without a change of management.

The other day I ran across a 'song list for PTSD' and curious, I followed the link and was given 32 secular songs that are supposed to help you make it through your darkest night.  I was depressed just reading the list so I'm not sure how it is supposed to help you in the midst of a traumatic attack of your darkest nightmares made real, ugh!  Why do the people sing?  This was a list of 32 famous songs spanning decades of musical invention but there was nary a hint of hope or light amongst them.  You can sing about being happy, but why are you happy?  If the nihilistic nightmare of modern culture is real, why are you singing?  If all comes from nothing and to nothing it will go, if you will die and everything you were and did means nothing, why are you singing?  Children will sing when they are excited or happy, they enjoy many a mindless and nonsensical ditty, but those are not the songs I question: they are mere nonsense and fun and quite at home in a pointless universe.  But why do Men sing, grown adults whose minds are troubled or whose hearts are moved by some grandiose feeling of joy or horror?

Our modern popular music seems nothing more than those childish ditties turned to darkness, infant joys turned to ash by an indifferent and pleasure seeking world; 'Master of the House' is our only anthem though sung in a million variations.  Like our philosophy, there is nothing behind our music, it has no heart, it means nothing and to nothing it shall return.  But we need not go tuneless through the twilit world, for there is real music, songs that mean something and connect us to a larger world, a world beyond our own, where there is One who hears, and like the benighted folk of the musical, when we have no more tears or words or hope, only a dismal song in the night, He has promised joy in the morning.  Unless we miss the point entirely, like the cast of the movie, and mistake one short act for the entire show.  Why do you sing?  What is your inspiration?

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Modern Mystics

I ran across this interesting article, and though I haven't read the books reviewed by the author, I find myself agreeing with him that the view of Heaven espoused in said books is far too small, a mere paradisiacal reimagining of what we currently know.  I can understand secular culture, such as 'The Far Side' comic strip with its middle aged, chubby, spectacle wearing heavenly citizens with stubby wings, ill fitting robes, and shabby halos, seeing the afterlife as dull and tedious in the proposed lack of evil and conflict, a necessary ingredient (in our meager understanding) in all great stories, but to have that same view from a theoretically Bible literate believer is ridiculous.  How can you read Daniel, Ezekiel, or Revelation and walk away thinking there will be no drama, no glory, no wonder, no story?  How can you read the final chapters of Job and still think you know anything at all about this mortal earth and its functioning, let alone of what comes after?  The Apostle Paul saw Something, Something so tremendous he wasn't allowed to speak of it and was given some grievous affliction to keep him humble, lest his secret knowledge drive him to pride and away from the very wonders he had seen.

True, we don't know much about the hereafter, only hints and teasing glimpses, promises we can barely understand.  But can you truly believe that He who made sunsets and platypuses and all the horrifically beautiful creatures of the deepest depths of the sea, the Inventor of music and light and stars would have so drab a throne room or so dull a court?  If Earth is but the footstool, can you image the throne?  The Psalmist envies the swallows nesting in the crevices of the ancient temple, but can our destiny truly be so blasé?  I think not.

I was probably seven when I looked over at the distant high school and wondered what the older students did during recess with no swings or slides, little understanding that there would come a day when I too would not think the once exciting playground a necessary part of life.  It is a similar line of thought that drives such myopic visions of Heaven.  Like that child, we cannot yet comprehend what it is and is not, we can't wrap our finite minds around it.  Instead of contenting ourselves with these childish visions, rather let us listen to those whose vision is not so stunted and small: the mystics, the poets, the storytellers, the bards, those who though full grown, can still see through the eyes of childlike wonder and try, however imperfectly, to pass those visions on to us.

C.S. Lewis is a personal favorite, 'Perelandria,' 'The Last Battle,' and 'The Great Divorce,' give us little hints and snippets, ideas of what could be, might be, might have been, or at least asks us to take off our mortal blinders and consider things bigger than our own experience.

J.R.R. Tolkien mixes glorious visions of wondrous histories, realms beyond the present perishing world, and echoes of greater beauty and purpose into his prosaic world of war and grim quests, death and despair, much like our own.

G.K. Chesterton is the ultimate child of the Kingdom, his inexorable sense of humor and the ridiculous makes whatever he is writing about, be it chalk or cheese, a joy to read.  His impishness dashes past our jaded guard and straight to the heart, where the Truth he mirthfully revels in both awakens and astonishes.

L.M. Montgomery's stories never stray into the realm of fantasy or fairy tales, but her heroines often find themselves drifting off into whimsical sunsets and October fields, seeing the brief glimpses of heavenly glory that occasionally shine through into our own world and the Great Truths that likewise shine into our own rather mundane lives.

George MacDonald is a man who has seen things, strange and wonderful, as puzzling and fantastic and beautiful as the heavenly visions of Ezekiel or John.

These are a few of my favorites, but I'm sure there are countless others.  After reading their works, I have a very hard time accepting a small view of eternity.  I think it is far more akin to trying to explain graduate school to a preschooler: they just don't understand or care!  It is not Heaven that is too small, rather it is our mind's ability to comprehend it.  John, the author of Revelation, noted that the world itself could ill contain all the books that might have been written of Jesus and His works whilst He walked among us, a mere thirty years or so of earthly existence, how much less everything beyond space and time, eternity, Heaven, the Godhead and all it has wrought?  Small indeed!

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Sage advice from a modern philosopher

'To write one must first suffer,' 
~(or something like that), Garfield the Cat~

Yes, this week's inspirational quote comes from a fat, lazy, lasagna horking feline of the cartoon variety, but hey, one scavenges a muse where one must!  There's a reason this cartoon franchise has been popular for nearly four decades: he's a hilarious philosopher in animated fur, dare I say as witty and good-naturedly snarky as Miss Austen herself, though in a format far more suitable to modern minds (Heaven help us!).   However you feel about the source, I think this sagacious line drawing has an excellent point.  Have you ever read something by someone who has never actually struggled with anything in life?  I'm convinced those are the sorts of people that write modern children's books, a literary class so vapid I'd feel bad lining my mouse cage with most of it (that is not to say there are not excellent children's authors out there, but most of the stuff churned out by the educational presses is only palatable to the people who printed it, least of all to the kids who should be reading it).  There is a popular vocal artist in a music genre I've given up as hopeless in recent decades but I can never remember her name, I call her 'whiny teenager girl' and most people seem to know immediately to whom I'm referring, but at the beginning of her career, her greatest laments and struggles were those common to twelve year olds and she wrote scads of songs about them and it drove me up a wall.

There's nothing wrong with writing about what you know (indeed, a trait more people should exercise!) or writing music for a particular segment of society (twelve year olds for example) but when they play identical song after song after song and then repeat it over and over and over, so all you hear all day (if you work somewhere that plays only a certain radio station day in and day out) is whiny teenager girl lamenting her lovelorn anguish and how it isn't ever going to get any better at the ripe old age of thirteen, well, you understand where the term 'postal' might come from, even the most gentle and docile of temperaments must have their breaking point!  She had not (and happily so) suffered much at that age and her music shows it, but why someone chose to make her famous and play her songs everywhere for the rest of eternity is beyond me, unless those children's book producers have now invaded the music scene, disturbing thought indeed!  True art, of whatever form or format or genre, comes from the heart, and the more that heart has seen, loved, grieved, and suffered, the more moving is that art.  Albeit suffering does not equate with talent (or perhaps taste?) as Picasso obviously suffered greatly, and though famous and renowned, I still feel like most of his masterpieces were filched from a seven year old's art case, but that's just me, perhaps I have no eye for that sort of art any more than I have an ear for music made for teenie boppers.

I've observed this in my own case, when writing (for good or ill), I always feel like my muse waxes hottest when I'm struggling with something significant, either present or past.  And then there are those days that are bright and sunny and happy and I really can't write a coherent sentence, let alone a decent composition of any sort.  Is it that those who have suffered have a greater understanding of our humanity, mortality, and the greater things beyond, or is it that they are driven to create as an outlet for their grief?  Perhaps it is some combination of the two?  If only we could find someone to write a nice little thesis on this theory, but as doctoral theses are far from works of art, no matter your discipline, that might be disaster indeed!

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Life IS the waiting

You've probably seen plenty of articles on 'life in the waiting,' no matter what stage, age, or lifestyle you currently inhabit.  Whether you're a Kindergartener who can't wait to be a 'big kid' or waiting for the letter confirming that you made it into the school of your choice or hoping to meet 'the one' or are stuck on an appropriately named adoption waitlist, the truth is we are all 'waitlisted' for most of, if not our entire lives.  We all have something we wait with anticipation (and a little dread) for, knowing that when it arrives life will begin or be full or happy or whatever at last.  When all our dreams come true, then life will be what it is meant to be...for about a day or a week or a month but then we find ourselves waiting once more.  After Prince Charming waltzes into our life, then we wait for the engagement ring and then the wedding and then the baby...notice a trend here?  But like silly children who just demolished an entire room filled with lavish presents, we look around and wonder what to open next.  We are never content with what we have, rather we long for the next big thing, and think that this time, somehow, that longing, that yearning, that restlessness will finally go away or be satisfied, but it never is.

We all have that thing we long for: a relationship, a child, a spouse, a nice house or awesome car, the dream job, retirement, grandkids...and there's nothing wrong with longing, with dreaming, with working hard to achieve our goals, it's what makes us human, we're designed to do just that.  But where we get in big trouble is in thinking when those goals are achieved, only then will life have arrived, only to look back and realize we spent our whole lives waiting for life to arrive.  Instead of waiting to live until the waiting is over, we need to learn to live in the waiting, enjoy life as it is no matter if IT ever arrives.  We must live in constant hope and contentment rather than in the shadow of despair and discontent otherwise we fail to live.

We finalize our second adoption in a week, the day after my 38th birthday, we began the paperwork for our first adoption just before my 30th birthday.  We've spent eight years trying to build our family, and much of that was spent waiting, and certainly not in patient hope but rather in anxious what-ifs and impatient whens, jumping every time the phone rang only to be disappointed when it wasn't the agency calling or moping around for weeks on end convinced it would never happen.  Before that it was 8 years of college and grad school and 7 years of indentured servitude to pay it off, always working working working for that day when all debt would be paid off and we'd be 'free.'  Before that it was working my tail off just to survive a broken family and brutal school life so I could have a future to look forward to.  And here I am, nearly 40, and wondering where my life went!  All those things are good and wonderful and worthwhile, it is not that, but perhaps if I had spent less time being anxious and worried about the future and rather just spent more time enjoying the NOW, I wouldn't look back and wonder how all those years passed me so swiftly by, especially when each day felt like an age as we languished on 'the list.'

So what is the take home message?  We are built to yearn, to hope, to long, to dream, it is the very essence of our humanity, it is not wrong or bad to do so, it is who and what we are.  Rather it is how we go about it that is the important thing, yes, make goals and plans, have dreams and dearest hopes, but don't make them the very stuff of life, look around and embrace what you have, who you are, what you can do NOW, rather than looking to the future and waiting for life to arrive, cause life is here, now, and you can't have this moment back again.  This isn't the 'fear of missing out,' rather it is living intentionally and gracefully in the moment, rather than waiting, waiting, waiting, for the perfect moment to arrive, because the only moment we'll ever have, that truly matters is right now.