Exploring where life and story meet!

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

A real woman

I read Ivanhoe a few years back (please forgive any mis-remembrances on my part as it has been some time since I've read it!) and the thing that struck me the most, was Sir Walter Scott's portrayal of women.  Most people think a woman wielding a sword right along with the men is what it means to be equal and just to the fair sex, but I was quite surprised, if not shocked by what I read.  Coming from a generation where women and men are the same (or perhaps the former is superior? (sorry guys) and girls can do anything a boy can from go to the moon to playing football or running for president, Scott's writing surprised me.  Also in an age where every movie not based on a Jane Austen novel portrays men as dim-witted though lovable losers and the women as strong and decisive with it all together, Ivanhoe was almost counter intuitive.  His women, are women which is proper for a book set a thousand years ago.

Spoiler warning...if you have not read the book, a few interesting plot point lie ahead!

But it is not that they are just women, the character that impressed me most was the Jewess Rebecca.  She was everything feminine (or at least what feminine used to mean a century ago) yet she was strong, courageous, and unwilling to give into things she knew were wrong.  She was willing to fling herself off a balcony rather than give into the lust of a villainous man.  She also developed an emotional attachment to a more heroic character, but knowing it was wrong, did not 'awaken or arouse love before its time.'  Certain modern readers have complained that the title character and Rebecca should have ended up together rather than the much less interesting Rowena which would have been the case had this been a modern novel or movie.  But what was right prevailed rather than what felt right or good. 

That is what surprised me most about this book, that a woman actually had character and lived it out, even though it cost her love and might have cost her her life.  I would rather see a woman like this any day than a horde of sword wielding amazons.  Women may not have the physical strength of men, but it is the strength of our hearts that determines how much of a woman we truly are.  Too bad Rebecca is not considered a major role model by today's young women.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Of chickens and eggs

My previous post just made me wonder, can one have a story without a soul or a soul without a story?  This is obviously a chicken and egg dilemma, but an interesting proposition.  What caused our modern dearth of good stories?  Was it that man declared himself not to have a soul and then lives/writes accordingly or was it that our stories have lost their soul and thus is the quickening of our own souls stifled?  Or is it that we, as modern pre-occupied citizens, have little or no development of character within ourselves and thus cannot translate this into fine literature?  Or is it some combination of the three?  Whatever the cause, it is certainly cause for alarm as the problem will perpetuate with each ensuing generation, now is the time to begin changing the course of the Titanic though an iceberg looms large in the distance.  If you can write stories or music, if you can sing or dance, act, draw, paint, make sculptures out of mashed potatoes, whatever your skill, this is the time to put something beautiful and enriching into the world before culture in general loses all of its sensibilities forever as cave-dwelling fish have lost all ability to see. 

There is a hunger for quality work, but if famine becomes starvation, people may take to eating stones and calling it bread.  We can perhaps have a world without beauty in the arts, but I would not want to live there! 

Monday, June 17, 2013

Can one have story without soul?

            “Adventure (bah), excitement (huh)!  A Jedi needs not these things!” or so says Yoda when confronting a wide-eyed Luke Skywalker intent on becoming a renowned warrior.  I do not here wish to discuss the requisites of the Jedi, but instead explore the application of this statement to modern storytelling.  As a little girl I remember watching the “Anne of Green Gables” miniseries on Public Television during their annual fund drive (back before the internet or cable, when we somehow managed to make do with three channels, and yes, dinosaurs were long extinct by then though there was still a mastodon or two around).  I liked the TV show but thought it would make for a boring read, fool that I was, so I never picked up the actual book until my adult years when it has become one of my favorite pieces of literature.  My silly young mind thought as Luke Skywalker did, that there must be adventure and excitement overflowing within something to make it worthwhile.  While Anne has her little adventures, it is far from an epic yet it is still an endearing work of fiction, how can this be?  Contrast this with the latest superhero movie I saw a few weeks back about a guy with a sophisticated metal suit which overflowed with explosions and excitement.  It was an ok movie, but there was so much going on that my brain went into overdrive and I couldn’t sleep that night.  I take that back, it had so much going on except in the area of plot, heart, and character development.

            I read a review of that movie that praised it for having much more plot and character development than the average movie of the comic book genre, and this is true, yet it says very little as having a teaspoon of salt is having infinitely more than the person with only a grain or two, but you still don’t have much to brag about.  I have always been a Star Trek fan, but I doubt I will go see the new movie as it looks to be high on the adventure/explosion scale which I fear will detract from the story, that and the dark undertones of the trailers (and the title) make me leery; Star Trek is never at its best when the theme is so dark (think Nemesis, First Contact, etc.).  I think we have forgotten what a good story is.  The last century or so, people thought it was to find some new viewpoint or underrepresented cause or some weird theory that no one could possibly comprehend or care about and put it on paper and thus came the curse of Modern Literature (you cannot seriously tell me you enjoyed much of the required reading in high school or college).  Before the decline of storytelling (which seems to have occurred about the same time as liberal theology and higher criticism began to creep into the church, a decade or two before World War I), a story was assumed to have characters to love and hate, a moral, a setting, and most important, a plot.  Now we just have explosions, a brooding or manic villain, and a one dimensional guy possessing some odd ability but no personality who will nevertheless save the world.  Yawn, I almost prefer modern lit!

            As far as I know, nothing blows up in any of the Anne books and there isn’t even a good sword fight.  All there is is character and heart, and lots of it.  I think that is why I love Anne so much, she could be me!  The characters come to life, could be people you know or perhaps are deeper than the people you know (sadly) as modern life stifles character development.  I am not saying you cannot have adventure and excitement in a story, many wonderful stories are rife with it, but you must have heart, you must have the human experience.  I always found Modern Lit to be somewhat cold, clinical, heartless, and lacking in soul, though I could not exactly put it into those words when I endured it in my youth, it always left me feeling dead or hopeless after wading in its murky waters.  Anne makes me laugh and cry, and feel all warm inside; she gives me permission to dream, to rejoice, to be.  Modern Lit tells me there is no point in any of that nonsense, modern life is just as dreadful (or worse) than the book.  C. S. Lewis takes on these competing ideas in his book That Hideous Strength.  An interesting read from a sublime storyteller.

            Like everything else in modern life, I suppose literature too has lost its soul.  I suppose that is why books like Harry Potter and Twilight are so popular, they reach back to that old tradition and say, “here is a story indeed!”  That is why the parables of Jesus, the fables of Aesop, the fairy tales, and the Odyssey have never gone out of vogue, and why books like Anne of Green Gables will always have a place in the hearts of those who love good stories.  The modern sciences and humanities all tell us that there is no point, no purpose, no reason for being, no grand scheme in all we see and do.  Men were wiser in vanished times, they knew that every human heart loves a good story because life is a grand story with plot, characters, and an Author.  We are all of us actors on Shakespeare’s stage.  The learned of our day can preach all they want about the meaninglessness of life and even try to convince us that there is no meaning in a story, but they never will, because even little children know that the princess should live happily ever after.  We can grow up and become ’wise’ according to the standard of our day, which is to throw off all sense of hope, wonder, joy, and faith which is to take all the meaning, purpose, and excitement out of life.  But fear not, this 'wisdom’ has only been considered such for the last 150 years or so, and most Kindergartners still know that unicorns exist thus there is hope for the human race, at least until they take Modern Lit in high school.  But like Anne, there will always be dreamers and hopers in the world, and they will write stories, real stories, and we still have countless volumes from the past that are still wonderful today.  In the ‘foolish things’ of the world, therein lies the wisdom of God.

June blue and other mysteries

            Many people ask how a good/gracious/involved/loving God can allow suffering, pain, misery, despair, grief, or X to happen, whether X is the death of a loved one (especially at a young age) or getting a C on a test or being late for work.  The better question I think, is why do we take the world for granted?  The modern urban humanoid immersed in their technological universe has failed to notice the natural world and all its splendors, me thinks.  How could Chaos, a distant/uncaring/indifferent god, or the Great Supreme Whatever create a sky of June blue?  I find it strange coincidence that June exists at all, let alone that the morning sky would be such a lovely color rather than the drab grey of November or the hideous green of my 1970’s era dorm room walls.  This is no philosophical proof of God, merely an observation but certainly an interesting one.  We are so used to pleasant things that all we can do is complain when things do not go as we assume they must, like spoiled children we throw a tantrum when things are not according to our wishes and wonder why God is then not good?  It is our definition of good that needs changing, not God’s practice of it.  In this confused and desperate world, there are so many things that are pleasant, beautiful, wonderful, and good and these should remind us daily of Him who cares to provide them when no cosmic law says He must.  A June sky is certainly consideration and blessing enough for such flawed and weary creatures, but He did not stop there but blesses us daily with what we assume to be mere trifles.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

On knowing when the hinds calve (Job 39)

I am not a theologian, but it is hard not to wonder and imagine when one is alone in a wood on a glorious morning in June what God was thinking when He wrought all this.  It is nearly overwhelming to the senses, such are the sights, smells, and sounds.  I get overwhelmed simply studying the plants nearest me and their resident insects and this is multiplied exponentially throughout the forest and does not account for the creatures too small to see, let alone the birds and larger creatures not currently in my view.  Yet every leaf and blade of grass is intimately known to God, how can He even begin to comprehend it?  This brought to mind what little we know of life before the fall of humanity into darkness:

Genesis 1:26-28 ESV:

Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” 

So God created man in his own image,
in the image of God he created him;
male and female he created them.

And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”

Genesis 2:15, 18-20 ESV:

The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it.

Then the Lord God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him.”  Now out of the ground the Lord God had formed every beast of the field and every bird of the heavens and brought them to the man to see what he would call them. And whatever the man called every living creature, that was its name. The man gave names to all livestock and to the birds of the heavens and to every beast of the field. But for Adam there was not found a helper fit for him.

What I love (and hate) about Genesis is that it hints at what happened, where everything came from, and what things were like, but there is far from enough detail to satisfy my ravenous curiosity.  But there is enough for what we need and therein I should be content, except on such a morning!  It seems most people have this innate love for growing or caring for plants or animals, and according to this passage, it is in our very bones.  Whether we farm 10,000 acres, breed iguanas, or simply manage to keep a houseplant alive, it brings us a sense of satisfaction we can find in little else.  Perhaps that is why dogs have become very nearly children in our confused culture.  The first duty of our forebears was to study and tend the world that was their home, though it has become rather confused through sin and the intervening years, it is still in our DNA, so to speak. 

What has mankind lost?  What intimacy will we never have with the natural world as God first seemed to intend?  Genesis 9:2 contains this curious phrase: "The fear of you and the dread of you shall be upon every beast of the earth and upon every bird of the heavens, upon everything that creeps on the ground and all the fish of the sea. Into your hand they are delivered."  The setting is God speaking to Noah after the flood.  We take the wariness of wild things for granted, but it is at least hinted at in Scripture that it was not always so.  It is such questions that I love to ask but for which there is but little answer.  What was it like?  What will it be like when all is made anew?  It is an intriguing question. 

But until I find my answers, at least I know there is One who does know all that passes amongst the bugs and the grass of this world.  He knows the movement of the smallest subatomic particles and He knows every hair on my head.  In a world of confusion and doubt, that is reassurance indeed!

Good reading about a good read

Here's an interesting article about a good book, its a perspective I had never considered after reading Perelandria by C. S. Lewis, quite intriguing.

Monday, June 10, 2013

And a little child shall lead them

We spend our whole childhood trying to grow-up and be adults then we spend our adult years missing our youth.  There is an exuberance, an innocence, and a wonder found in childhood that our modern culture turns very quickly to disappointment, bitterness, and apathy.  This is no way to live, it is merely a miserable existence.  This is why we need beauty, wonder, and joy in our lives, to remind us of what it is to live.  One cannot look upon the star strewn heavens and feel apathetic in that moment of wonder.  Perhaps this is also why we have children, they teach us all that we have forgotten about wonder, joy, and curiosity.  This is also what the Kingdom of Heaven requires; blessed are the pure of heart for they shall see God!  Who else can find joy in rocks and empty milk jugs?  They still believe in fairies and monsters under the bed and unicorns.  This is certainly wisdom!  We then are the fools who forget to marvel at such simple pleasures and thereby take the world far too seriously.