Exploring where life and story meet!

Friday, December 28, 2012

No ordinary people

“There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilizations—these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit—immortal horrors or everlasting splendors.”  C. S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory.
I love C. S. Lewis, there are very few individuals who can say in a book what he says in a paragraph, and he says it in plain English.  I enjoy his fiction, but his non-fiction is very much worth the read.  I came across this quote again the other day and it it always makes me pause.  If what he says is true, then the consequences are amazing!  Are we accidental blobs of mortal flesh that breath for time and cease to be or are we something more?  There seems to be a fad for vampire stories which stems from our desire to live forever, and if Lewis is right we shall.  Forget the vampires and consider for a moment what it means if each of us is destined for eternal glory or despair.  How will it change how you live your life, how you interact with others? 

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

An unexpected pleasure!

Story takes many forms and guises and can be a firsthand telling, a book, a movie, or a song, but just because you partake of one of these formats does not necessarily mean you have experienced a story, or at least a good story.  I have not been drawn to the movies in nearly a decade, at least not since Return of the King debuted.  I have seen movies now and again, but nothing worth mentioning.  As anyone who has attended a movie in the last decade undoubtedly knows, there has been a dearth of good movies of late.  Remakes and bad sequels are all that have dominated the silver screen for some time.  Turning lead into gold might perhaps be easier than finding a good movie.  I saw The Hobbit last night and now have high hopes of succeeding in alchemy as well.

As a book, I don't mind The Hobbit but I enjoy Lord of the Rings far more.  I also was a little wary when I discovered it to be a trilogy, for it seemed they were more interested in profit than quality.  I was happy to be wrong.  The feel of the movie was different than what we came to expect with the previous trilogy but this is a good thing as the feel of The Hobbit is also very different than the sequels.  The best word I can find to describe the experience was frenetic.  It was filmed using a technique that made the characters appear to move faster than normal, this combined with the constant action made the whole experience somewhat dizzying.  I woke up with something akin to a hangover!  But barring this, it was a great romp through Middle Earth and I heartily look forward to the next installment.

But this is not the only movie to which I have looked forward this year.  I have not looked forward to a movie in a very long time, and this month there were two.  Les Miserables comes out Christmas Day and I am waiting even more eagerly than I did for Return of the King.  I must be getting old!  I love it when a great book is brought to wondrous life on the big screen but there is little worse than a poor adaptation to film.  The Chronicles of Narnia is one example of such.  The first movie was well done, the second was poorly executed, and while I enjoy the third movie it was not very faithful to the book.  Les Mis will be the musical brought to life and the musical is excellent so I have no fears for its success. 

Friday, December 14, 2012

The Happiest Christmas Tree and other banes of the season

I have a love/hate relationship with Christmas music, at least if you can call some of it music.  This is a dreadful time of year to go to a public school music program, listen to the radio, or shop in many stores.  The thing I cannot stand is the banality that passes for seasonal music in this hypersensitive age.  Either celebrate Christmas and celebrate it boldly or cease to observe it altogether, do not inflict upon us the pathetic attempts at music that comprise the body of politically correct Christmas music.  Either we celebrate the Christ-child's birth or we do not.  Songs about snowmobiles, happy Christmas trees, hippopotamuses, and incisors are all well and good on occasion but they do not a Christmas make!  There is nothing worse than sitting through your child's 'winter concert' and listening to such songs.  If you are going to sing, sing well!  Find something well written and a joy to listen to, rather than some mediocre song that happens to mention snow and hope we find it seasonally applicable. 

I love the old hymns, they are wonderful musically, poetically, and theologically but are far too often overlooked during this season, even by those who have the most to celebrate.  The modern christian Christmas songs also tend to drive me crazy for they are none of the above in most cases.  There are a few good, newer songs out there but most are as trivial and repetitive as their secular counterparts, being a mere rehashing of happy family moments, seasonal bliss, and joy at the beloved birth set to unremarkable music.  Again, if one must sing, sing well!

I enjoy songs like Winter Wonderland and Sleigh Ride, but they are played so often on the regular radio stations and in stores that one quickly comes to detest them and look forward longingly to New Year's Day!  It is hard to find a good, seasonal song that insults no one with mention of that reprehensible event we wish to avoid mentioning but for which the season was originally celebrated!  I would rather not celebrate Christmas than celebrate it badly.  I almost wish the secularists would have their way and completely eradicate the secular observance of Christmas and leave it to those who actually have something to celebrate.  The atheist is insulted to have Christ mentioned in his hearing this time of year; I am insulted when we are told to celebrate Christmas but leave out 'the reason for the season.'  It is like trying to celebrate the 4th of July but avoiding mention of anything about America, the Revolution, freedom, or patriotism for fear of insulting someone.  It completely negates the purpose!  So it is with these half-baked attempts to celebrate Christmas without Christ.  There just is no meaning left in the word or the season.

We celebrate love, joy, peace, and family (or should) on this particular holiday and none of these concepts are inspired by 'Frosty the Snowman' or 'Grandma got run over by a reindeer.'  What inspires these feelings: "And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.  And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them, and they were sore afraid.  And the angel said unto them, "Fear not, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.  For unto you is born this day in the city of David, a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord."  (Luke 2:8-11 KJV).

There are many holidays this time of year, for many religions and cultures, celebrating many and varied things but only one celebrates the advent of peace and joy on Earth.  Perhaps we can celebrate the Winter Solstice as was popular before the advent of Christianity in the Western world?  I do not know what the answer is, only that we have lost the heart of the season and our songs suffer thereby.  We wish to celebrate something, but the true reason to celebrate is not free, it comes at a cost.  To accept this peace, this joy, we must accept this Gift God has offered and that means we must ourselves be changed and that we do not like.  But ever has this been the feelings of men, it is not a new idea.  Ever has it been that we know better than He that made us.  Ever has the idea been offensive, even millennia before Christmas was annoying atheists.  We must either accept or deny this 'Rock of Offense and Stone of Stumbling.'  This celebration of something we deny is ridiculous!  We want the celebration without the sacrifice and that cannot be.  So let us truly celebrate with music worthy of the occasion or give up the idea altogether. 

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Sorrow and the Season

Advent is an ironic time of year: we look forward to something that happened two millennia ago!  But all the Christmas joy about us, can for some be quite discouraging if not downright painful, and makes this time of year very difficult.  We idealize Christmas and often forget the true meaning and real implications; I do not speak of the materialism drowning out the nativity story, but that there is sorrow in Christmas as there is in every human endeavor.  But the sorrow need not be triumphant for the story ends in joy!  We all know the idealized and beloved story of a baby in a stable with a plethora of animal friends, the joyous angels proclaiming peace on earth, and the strange wise men of the east and their wondrous gifts.  But do we remember a mere girl found pregnant in a time where such a condition out of wedlock might well mean death?  Or that she was forced on a long journey at such a delicate time and hardly had a penny to her name?  Or the vile King who would slay all the boy children in the village to destroy this percieved threat?  Could we have the stable without the cross?  Yet even the darkest day in history ended with Joy in the morning.  Every story, at least in this fallen mortal sphere, has its sorrow, its tragedy, and its grief.  But no matter our struggles nor our pains, there is One who has known them, has borne them Himself, and He Himself has promised Joy in the Morning.

Job wondered at this riddle of sorrow thousands of years before the Beloved Story.  He never got an answer, only an assurance that there was One who was competant to shepherd the world and all its people through the baffling maze of Time.  He lost his fortune, his family, and his health.  His friends accused him of some hidden sin that had no doubt caused this tragic judgement he was now enduring.  But Job maintained his innocence and demanded an answer of his Maker.  He was given an interview but no true answer, but in the magnificscence and power of God he had found peace.  He did not understand.  We do not understand.  Can any mortal truly comprehend this tragic story called life?  But the Author knows and we too can find peace in that.

Sorrow?  What can God know of mortal suffering?  Why would a good God allow such?  Job's riddle remains to this day, our answer is at best a paradox.  But God does understand our sorrow and our grief.  That baby in the manger was prophesied long before His birth to know these thing.  As the Prophet Isaiah longago foretold:

  He was despised and rejected by men;
  a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief;
 and as one from whom men hide their faces
  he was despised, and we esteemed him not.
  Surely he has borne our griefs
  and carried our sorrows;
 yet we esteemed him stricken,
  smitten by God, and afflicted.
 But he was pierced for our transgressions;
  he was crushed for our iniquities;
 upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,
  and with his wounds we are healed.
(Isaiah 53:3-5 ESV)

A man of sorrows, aquainted with grief?  Crushed for our iniguities and pierced for our transgressions?  By his wounds we are healed and his chastisement brought our peace?  God has not only known sorrow, He has suffered it on our behalf!  These wondrous words are immortalized in Handel's Messiah and will long haunt your heart and soul should you be so fortunate to hear them thus.

A little child in a manger brings joy and wonder to our hearts, but do not forget the full story.  Enjoy the lights, the hot chocolate, your family and friends, the gifts, and the joy of this Christmas, but do not despair if your heart aches with loneliness, you shiver with cold and hunger, or you dwell in the depths of grief and sorrow for there is One who has 'borne our griefs and carried our sorrows' and will neither abandon nor forsake us.  Remember the sorrow and the joy, for the former is temporary and the latter forever.  We shall mourn in this mortal night, but joy comes in the morning!

The great Advent hymn, 'O Come, O come, Emmanuel' of this well reminds us:
O come, Thou Rod of Jesse, free
Thine own from Satan’s tyranny;
From depths of hell Thy people save,
And give them victory over the grave.
O come, Thou Day-spring, come and cheer
Our spirits by Thine advent here;
Disperse the gloomy clouds of night,
And death’s dark shadows put to flight.
O come, Thou Key of David, come,
And open wide our heavenly
home;Make safe the way that leads on high,
And close the path to misery.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Happily into the abyss

I read a rather distressing statistic the other day, according to the article we use about 3,000 words in our modern vocabulary and in Shakespeare's day they used about 60,000 words!  I knew the modern state of the English language was in dire straits but I did not know how bad it truly was.  Though if one thinks for a moment of the stuff that passes for culture in this day and age I suppose it is not surprising.  Texting (shudder) is the communication method of choice.  Your average TV show has less plot and character development than a comic strip; this does not even begin to consider the crude humor, base language, and dreadful stories.  The only movies they make any more are super hero flicks, bad remakes of classics, and things that are best left unmentioned.  Check any social media site or message board for lovely examples of modern English!  I think if I taught English today I might become suicidal. 

But it is so much easier to float along in the sewer of pop culture than it is to have an original thought or think for oneself.  We no longer have to collect the facts, analyze them, and draw a conclusion; we merely listen to the talking/texting/typing heads and repeat what they tell us without any analysis or critical thoughts.  Our minds have become a subway for information: in our ears and out our mouths/fingers without a thought or detour along the route.  We do not dig deep and look at things from all sides, we merely smile and nod and move on to the next fascinating cat video.  We have forgotten how to think, to analyze, to reason.  But how can the modern generation be blamed for their technologic euphoria?

Beauty and meaning have died somewhere along the way.  There is no truth or purpose in anything, so why invest time and effort in things that are not entertaining?  Higher criticism teaches us that it is not the meaning of a text that is important but what we think it means or should mean.  Does anyone actually find modern art attractive?  Modern literature is some of the most dreadful prose that has ever had the unfortunate chance to find its way into print.  Has there been a great piece of music written in the last fifty years?  Why are there numberless college classes covering obscure movies and their impact on society, but you can hardly find a descent history or English class anymore? 

Meaninglessness has smothered our souls and therefore our ability to think, enjoy, and create.  We drown our soullessness in endless draughts of technology, social media, and entertainment, much as a disheartened man might for a time forget his sorrows with drink.  The terrible thing is that there is so much beauty out there, so many good books, wonderful works of art and music, but we have not the time nor temperament to imbibe and enjoy them.  Be a rebel and read a great book!  Share one with your kids and friends!  Help stop our culture from sliding irrevocably into the abyss of mindlessness. 

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Authors worth reading

Authors worth reading:

L. M. Montgomery: her heroines are all elf maids in human guise though their fairy land be Canada

G . K. Chesterton: certainly a wise old elf with a child’s heart who can write a wondrous account of cheese

Jane Austen: the wit of the fairies in the guise of a daughter of England’s lesser gentry

J. R. R.  Tolkien: a student of elf lore, language, and topography, a wizened professor of the realm

Charles Dickens: the heart and humor of the fairies set amidst the drudgery of urban living

George MacDonald: the founder and true guide to fairyland, few describe it better

C. S. Lewis: a few words can say more than many books, truly a wizard of plain english

Victor Hugo: can find hope and virtue amidst chaos, cruelty, injustice, and indifference

Shakesspeare: witty and either delightful or cruelly tragic

James Herriot: one would think the folk of Yorkshire elves and their beasts capable of speech

Louisa May Alcott: heart and virtue make her characters rich though poverty and dread lay all about


Monday, November 19, 2012

The Post-modern Fairy Tale



            It has been brought to my attention that the historically popular form of literature classically known as the “fairy tale” is no longer appropriate for modern audiences.  The concepts of good and evil, right and wrong, and so forth are no longer relevant save for a few backwards thinking individuals who have not fully embraced the modern era.  Higher criticism has also taught us that it is not what the author means but what the reader thinks the author should say that is the important concept when studying any type of writing.  We must also take into account the offensive nature of such material in reference to certain genders, species, races, times, places, occupations, etc.  So in order to rectify this appalling situation (lest it necessitate the unthinkable practice of banning the genre altogether) I have submitted the following Postmodern Fairytale or rather Postmodern Story pertaining to a certain order of Pixie:


            At the time and place of your preference, there lived a sentient being (species and gender according to taste) who endured a series of disagreeable circumstances (as imagined by the reader), but said character overcame these difficulties in a manner likewise decided by the reader, after which was attained an agreeable state of existence (according to your standards).  And if it is agreeable to the reader, this is now the end but please feel free to add to or subtract from the above as necessary to your own pleasure.


            As you can see, this new format should spawn a revolution in a rather outdated literary genre and will again draw the fervent interest of generations of new readers!

Must be dead and English to qualify?

            I could not imagine what the connection was between my favorite authors and their respective works aside from the fact that they are all dead, overwhelmingly English, and mostly male; it even occurred to me that while I might adore one work by an author I very likely abhorred another book by the same genius!  What then is the connection?  And why could I not find a living author whose works I might love just as much?  But I have found my connection: they are all poets of prose.  Each has a peerage in Fairyland; they have found the child that will enter the Kingdom of Heaven.  These have grown up but not grown old.  They can look upon the world with the wisdom of an adult yet see through the eyes of a child.  They rejoice in the wild, unspoiled places of the world and dare to venture into the most remote and unexplored recesses of the human spirit, yes the very soul of man do they explore.  That is why no great author now living is easily found for ‘Modern Lit’ has killed literature and post-modernism has denied the very thing that gives meaning to life.  I read ’the classics’ as my school teachers thought them but I went away completely devoid of any appreciation for such writings.  They might reflect poignantly on some new topic of modern interest but forgotten are the things that truly make the ‘classics’ classic.  I have tried.  Ulysses has been touted as the best book ever written in the modern era which may be why I have utterly given up on the modern era and any of its prodigy for it was complete drivel and I could barely make out a word.  Shakespeare writes in a foreign tongue (to my modern understanding at least) yet truly ‘me thinks there be method in his madness.’

            I do not want new thoughts in old wine skins but old thoughts in interesting wine skins.  As the Preacher famously penned, ‘there is nothing new under the sun,’ and truly man has not changed since the dawn of time though perhaps his technology has, therefore I do not understand why the prophets, poets, and kings tell us that he has and we must adapt accordingly, even in our literary discernment.  I defy the modern ‘poets’ to write as their ancient peers, with clarity and skill and virtue!  Yet our modern professors tell us that we are not to ask what the author was trying to say but interpret the writing as what we think the author should have said.  We study everything about a work but its meaning!  If you would be entertained, find a modern criticism on an old work; the results can be quite astonishing.  In a world where there is no truth, no right, no virtue there can be no Story.  While the laws of Fairyland might seem odd or downright backwards at times they are still Laws without which there could be no Fairyland.  Without sense and direction and purpose there can be no plot and no lesson.  A good character must have character!  This therefore is the doom of literature and perhaps society for Story is the blood of civilization.

            What do my authors know?  They know there is Truth and Virtue, Good and Evil.  They know there is a beauty and a mystery and a wonder that exceeds mortal expectation and experience and their stories are fraught with this feeling.  There is something greater, grander, and wiser at work in their writings even if it is not mentioned in the text.  A great story is one that is more than the words upon the page.  There is a whole universe and things even beyond that universe which man cannot directly perceive yet he knows within his very heart must be there for there to be any sense or purpose in this strange adventure called life.  Yet the doctors and psychologists and scientists all say we are nothing but matter and atoms and various physical principles; everything in life can be reduced to a simple mathematical equation.  That is why so many ‘modern’ people are so messed up; we ignore the very thing that makes us human.  A rhinoceros does not wonder or dream or aspire; it just wants to be a rhinoceros and thinks no more upon the matter.  Only mankind yearns for such things.  Only men can know the truth of sorrow and joy.  There is no equation for joy but Joy plus Sin equals Sorrow.  And there is only one answer to this equation and my authors have found it.  It is in the Something beyond the material, beyond what we can perceive without senses; it is a thing that must be seen with the soul.

            No wonder modern lit is dead for a body without the soul is dead so too must our literature be.  To find a good story I must go back to a time when humanity still had a soul, only then could we write a good story.  For all good stories are the same underneath but different on top; all the bad stories are different in a superficial way but the same at their core, if they had one.  A story must have a soul just as a man else he is just a zombie out terrifying unsuspecting readers for the soul of a story comes from the soul of a man.  One must believe in a soul to write good stories.  There is One who told wonderful stories yet we do not study His stories and their meanings, we debate over the existence of the Author or which historical figure He stole them from or which ancient tradition most affected His own perception of reality and if it has any relation to our own when we are merely characters in another story invented by Him.  These authors I love most may not agree with me completely on such topics but they have found this Thing beyond our own bleak reality and are thus able to write truly wonderful stories and let us peek into this Thing that they have found.  Yet the world will continue to debate and criticize and forget things that they can never truly appreciate or understand for they have forgotten childhood and Elfland and when they cannot understand something they must deride, criticize, and rebuke it as foolishness when all that is required is the guilelessness and innocence of youth: the ability to take the Author at His word.  There is no ulterior motive or hidden agenda; the Truth is plainly before them in the text though they see it not.  They think the whole thing folly because they do not like the reflection when they look into that most adamant of mirrors.  They crucified the Author, why would they like His finest work?

True Magic

            All children believe in magic, at least until their parents or the world tell them to stop being silly and to ‘grow-up.’  Never were more dread words spoken!  For there is magic in the world if only we remember to look for it.  It is not the sort of magic one immediately assumes: it is not hocus pocus or strange incantations, the changing of princes into frogs and so forth.  It is something akin to joy or perhaps joy in its original state.  It is that unspeakable feeling that hums in the background of the most wondrous occasions; that unsung music that sets the soul to dancing.  You have felt it.  That overwhelming happiness when long sundered friends are reunited.  The merriment of family gatherings upon a snowy Christmas that is mistakenly blamed on too much eggnog when hearts are warm with the wonder and forgotten innocence of childhood.  It is a cool summer evening when the sky glows deepest blue after the sun has fled while the stars begin to peep out and the moon is a sliver on the horizon as the mist creeps into the low places, there a cricket sings, and the fireflies play amongst the roses; perhaps even a fairy watches from her hiding place while a wrinkled gnome peeps from his hole.  It is there in the laughter of children at play, in the entire being of a newborn child, and anywhere that men forget themselves for a moment.  That is the magic of Heaven, though only subtle glimpses into what eternal bliss must be like.  Children know it, long for it, until the world steals their innocence and their natal wisdom and it is utterly forgotten in the pursuit of things temporal which mortal man thinks is true happiness.  That is why we must become children again to enter the Kingdom of Heaven.  To forget ourselves and live in the absolute wonder of the moment.  Only in such fear and awe can we truly find God.  This world is fraught with sorrow, pain, and death but behind this thin veil lurks that for which we truly long, that for which we were made, that which we catch only in fleeting glimpses while we tread this mortal earth.  

A fairy story of our own

            There is nothing so elaborate as a lie nor so simple as the truth.  Though truth may be heaped upon truth to create the most complex and intricate structures, each of its principle parts are stunningly simple.  So it is that a few subatomic particles come together and form an atom and so along the chain until we end with a living organism or the Mona Lisa or a universe.  Consider all those heresies of living tissue: death, disease, injury, and anything else that mars the physical self of an organism.  Cancer is nothing but a cellular lie.  One cell decides to be something that it is not: an entity unto itself and starts to multiply and grow, regardless the cost to its brother cells and the creature as a whole.  It will eventually kill its host if radical means are not used to destroy it.  It is trying to be an organism in its own right little thinking it can survive without its host and when the host dies so too shall the cancer.  So it is with all lies; they are a twisting of that which is already there, a mutation of the simple and elegant into the profane and grotesque.  This concept applies as much to stories as it does to life.  The Fairy Stories are true in that they are simple, often simpler than the strange concoctions that pass for literature in this modern era.  For unlike many stories, the fairy tales at least function in a truthful universe.  There is nothing sadder than a fictional tale without set laws that must be adhered to except in the case of miracles.  These rules need not be the same as those in our own tale, but they must be consistent.  If a species survives by metabolizing atmospheric nitrogen it cannot spontaneously become an avid vegetarian save by divine intervention.

            Perhaps that is why people love fairy stories and they endure when so many ‘classic’ or much applauded books have vanished from common memory.  Sometimes the fairy stories make more sense than our own twisted reality, but then that is because we forget we are actually living in a fairy tale!  The problem is not that our own reality lacks a set of laws but that people are unsure what those laws are.  The idea of a common moral law and the requisite moral law Giver has gained something of a notorious view of late and is classed in the category of mythology right along with unicorns and dragons.  But that is not to say there is not such a thing as a unicorn, but there is certainly such a thing as a moral law.  We all want the world to be good, it is not, and we know it is not; therefore there must be a reason for this lack of goodness and our notice of the dearth.  For why would we pine for a good world if such an ideal did not exist?  So something went wrong long ago before once upon a time and we long above all else to return to the ideal of happily ever after.  We also know, deep down no matter how much we fight or deny it, that there is such a thing as right and wrong; just as much as we know there is a law of gravity.  If unthinking molecules must abide by a set of rules, so too must the higher organisms, most especially man.  Otherwise, how is it that we complain when our own ‘rights’ are trespassed upon?  If we had no ‘rights’ then we would have nothing to complain about, but as we have ‘rights,’ there must be something innate within each of us that is aware of such things and knows how one person ought to treat another.

            So we have a moral law and a broken world, but what now?  Besides our sense of inherent rights and responsibilities, and this sense that all is not happy in paradise, we also all yearn for a purpose and meaning along with a restored paradise.  So we desperately need a giver of moral law, a cure for our rotting world, and a giver of direction and meaning.  It is the perfect recipe for a fairy tale!  So what then is the answer to the deepest riddle of our hearts?  Once long ago when the world was young and good, there dwelt a man named Adam…who broke the world…and then after many long years of darkness and doubt, a child was born…to die that the world might be restored…and as the tales say, we shall live happily ever after, meaning forever and ever if we can but believe the story!