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.