Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Something Merry

It turns out that I already wrote a post far more articulate than the one I was just thinking about writing, which says basically the same thing, so you should really go read that. However, since I've been pondering this issue again, I do just want to say this:

I get kind of . . . at least uncomfortable, and at most upset . . . when the Milk Guy decides to throw out Jesus' name, randomly, without actually talking to Him. Most Christians I know don't like it when Jesus' name gets used that way, or any form of God's name gets used that way, really.

So why are so many of us so insistent that people who don't believe in Jesus, don't love Jesus, aren't actually talking about Jesus, aren't celebrating Jesus, use the word Christmas? How is it different from what we call "taking God's name in vain"? Is it? Isn't it? I'm just asking . . .

Monday, December 21, 2009

Green Eggs and . . . a Jewish Carpenter? or, What I Got Out of a Facebook Quiz

At various times in my life I've had people who aren't particularly enamoured of Jesus say things like, "Do you really have to try so hard to find Jesus in everything?"

No. I don't. It just kind of happens, I'm afraid. Like last week when I randomly took a "Dr. Seuss Personality Test"on facebook. First of all, let me say that you should never take a facebook quiz too seriously. This one, for example, only asked five questions, and I'm not sure how they related to any Dr. Seuss characters at all, actually. Secondly, if I were going to really do this scientifically (?), I should probably take all the other Dr. Seuss quizzes online, just to see if they match up. There are quite a few of them, I've seen. But . . . I'm not going to bother.

Still, though, when it turned out that, according to this quiz, "I am Sam--Sam I am," and that cute little short guy with the sign and the plate appeared on my profile, I thought, "Yeah! That's me! Sam-I-am!" Well, except for the short part.

Check it out. Here's Sam. He's all stoked because he's got something he thinks everybody would (or, at any rate, should) love. He doesn't give the impression of thinking he's better than anyone. He's just so enthusiastic about green eggs and ham he can't let up until his friend/innocent bystander/person-that-doesn't-really-like-him-much tries them. He doesn't seem to realise that, to an onlooker or an outsider, such a dish looks at the very least sketchy, with any inherent delight being, to that perspective, indiscernible.

Not to be discouraged, Sam tries to "frame" his green eggs and ham in ways that might appeal more to his resistant friend. The two characters, now thrown together under more and more bizarre and extreme circumstances, continue their back-and-forth for several more pages. At the point when the train has driven off a cliff, the boat has sunk, and both Sam, his victim and an entire menagerie of animals and other characters are floundering in the water, the poor beleaguered green-eggs-and-ham-avoider decides that he will try the dish just to get Sam off his case. Then--joy of all joy and surprise of all surprises!--he likes them! Sam is vindicated! Green eggs and ham really are delightful! They're so great that the former hater doesn't even worry about swallowing his pride along with the green breakfast and whole-heartedly thanks Sam-I-Am for, as wikipedia calls it, "his persistence."

I dunno. It kind of reminds me of my life . . . a little . . . ? Here I am, both suddenly and gradually delighted and overwhelmed by the knowledge that, messed up as I was and still easily am, God Himself came here to join in my life and to sustain me through it. He came to be my life, and though life with and through and by Him can often be alarming, I also wouldn't (by His grace) have it any other way. And I just know that He came to be life to everybody, and I just want them to realise it.

So sometimes I can get a little annoying. I'll try to be "all things to all people" like the Apostle Paul, sometimes even to the point of ridiculousness, and sometimes even to the point of some suffering and inconvenience. But I still think that, though they may "swallow" the whole thing differently than I do, that the real source of life for anybody--anybody--is Jesus. And so . . . it's not that I want to be annoying. I just want my friends to experience how worth it this is, in spite of the difficulties and the sometimes sketchy-looking nature of what I'm trying to share. Right now, I guess I'm still pushing green eggs and ham on people in boxes and houses and trains and boats, but one of these days I really hope someone--or a lot of someones--will decide that . . . well look. I don't even care if they decide they want me off their case. I just hope they see that Jesus is for them--and that at the end of the day they'll thank somebody.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Writing His Own Reality

So, for those of you who haven't been following along, in the last two posts I've been processing the idea of God's having created and set human history in motion as a way to work through His own issues. I don't think He did, but still, sometimes you have to process thoughts you disagree with, too, and give them an honest look.

While I was talking about this, though, I had one of those moments where you say something and then you wonder if it means something more than you meant when you first said it. This was the thing I said:

You feel, if you're writing a story through which to work out your issues, that you can't make anything happen that you don't want to happen to you, so you allow some conflict and stuff, but you can't let anybody get into really deep water, because you don't want to get into it yourself. You might end up writing your own reality.

It suddenly occurred to me that here was something God actually did. He wrote His own reality into the human story. I don't mean He wrote it through the vehicle of the human story. It's not that He had issues and has been inflicting them on us this whole time. It's that we have issues and He allowed us to inflict them on Him. I didn't love my NaNoWriMo characters and so I didn't want to get to involved. But God? Well, evidently He wasn't afraid of getting into the deep water Himself.

I didn't know, before, when people talked abstractly about how amazing it is that God entered the human story, or that God suffers when we suffer, quite what that meant. And I'm not sure I can really describe in words what those abstracts mean to me now. But I have this sense that "amazing" doesn't even come close, and that God knew what I only discovered by talking about it--that if I got close enough to my characters to create real, transforming conflict in their lives, I'd get close enough to get hurt myself. But God didn't just know it. He did it anyway.

We looked down on him, thought he was scum.
But the fact is, it was our pains he carried—
our disfigurements, all the things wrong with us.
We thought he brought it on himself,
that God was punishing him for his own failures.
But it was our sins that did that to him,
that ripped and tore and crushed him—our sins!
He took the punishment, and that made us whole.
Through his bruises we get healed.

(Isaiah 53 segment, The Message)

Saturday, December 05, 2009

Unloved Characters

Sometimes there are things you know, and then there are things that you confirm by doing, and I can certainly confirm, now, that a writer, a story-teller, an artist, might craft something solely to exorcise his or her own "demons." (Or, you know, zombies or whatever.) But here's something else I discovered through the whole NaNoWriMo project:

If the author doesn't care about the characters, nothing is going to happen to them.

I suppose it's not really a coincidence that right before NaNoWriMo started I read Donald Miller's new book, A Million Miles in a Thousand Years. (Or is it A Million Years in a Thousand Miles? Or something else? I can never remember. The book was better than the title.) Miller (or maybe his friend Jordan, actually: chapter eight, page 48) defines story as "a character who wants something and overcomes conflict to get it."

He makes the point that conflict is a necessary part of story, and if God is telling The Story, and He wants it to be a good Story, then there's going to be conflict. He even kind of implies or maybe even states outright that at least some of the time God puts the conflict right in there.

It's maybe a little presumptuous to imagine that every life experience I have can turn into a point-by-point analogy about God. On the other hand, even though I don't agree with the Milk Guy that image-of-God necessitates that God actually behave exactly like human beings (or that we always behave exactly like God), I do think it means that we can learn things about God through our experiences and even our reactions or those of others.

So, while I was writing the Story That Shall Likely Never See the Light of Day (oh wait--that's kind of all my stories except Trees), it finally dawned on me that if God is really a storyteller, it's not very likely that this story is just His way of working out His own issues. And I'll tell you why.

I do believe there is something cathartic about storytelling and that you can process what you are going through by telling a story. But if that's all it is--if it's just a psychological-healing exercise--if there's no actual story being unearthed in its own right, as Stephen King describes it, it's kind of rubbish. It ends up like the "story" I wrote during NaNoWriMo--boring. If I don't care about the characters (which I discovered I didn't last month), I can't be bothered . . . or even think how to . . . find out what they want or what conflict they need to overcome to get it. I don't know them, who they are, what they like, even if I'm writing from their points of view. Their personalities change from one day to the next, not because they are developing as characters but because they are subject to my allegory which, it turns out, isn't a very good one. In a sense, we (the characters and I, too) are slaves to the story, but since it is a lame story, we're all just stuck and bored. In the end the whole thing--characters, story and author--
grind to a screeching halt.

If you're in a frame of mind which makes you think God's writing you a lousy story, you might wish for it to grind to a screeching halt, or think that it already has done, but whatever got you to that point, though painful, was probably not boring, and just might have affected your character a little bit. And I will also posit that it doesn't mean God hates you, or that He is indifferent to you. To hate a character, I feel, requires too much energy and the author might then just as well become indifferent to him or her. And indifference, as I've said, does not elicit conflict or suffering--or peace, either. It elicits boredom and lack of resolution.

I'm not trying to justify God in this particular post, nor am I trying to minimise anybody's pain, because what do I really know about it? I am saying that, from the perspective of "creates worlds," I think it's pretty unlikely that all this creation is, is a cosmic attempt to sort out the psychological convolutions of the Divine. I thought it was unlikely before, in theory. Now I think it in practice.

A few more writerly thoughts on this still to come.

Friday, December 04, 2009

Working Out the Issues

When the Milk Guy and I used to talk about this stuff (and by the way, we still talk about stuff--just not this stuff, nor do we hang out very much), he would say he thought if there was a God, that God was just working out his own internal issues through people's lives. He said that if we're made in God's image, then everything humans can do, God Himself does. Not that He is capable of it--He does it.

We would argue about this, and nothing the Milk Guy could say would make me see that this premise is a logical necessity, and nothing I could say would make him see that it isn't. Bummer about that.

I still think I'm right--that it isn't a logical necessity. There is nothing about the "image of God" doctrine that makes it impossible that that image could, given certain circumstances (like, you know, turning away from God), become skewed, twisted, malfunctioning. "Image of God" does not equal "lack of free will," although the Milk Guy denies free will if there is a God. (Also not a logical necessity, despite what he says.)

On the other hand, ever since NaNoWriMo, I have had to have a second think about at least the concept of God working out His issues through us. I don't think God had issues before He made us, although one might posit that He does now. And while I don't believe His issues cause Him to sin (He's still complete in His Triune Self and doesn't need to be ruled by anything), I have recently entertained the thought that this idea--this concept of God as a sadistic puppeteer--isn't a logical impossibility, either. (Actually, it is if you look at all the data, but just as an off-the-cuff theory it isn't.)

Here's why I had to take it into account: I started writing this novel at the beginning of November. I started it as kind of a sci-fi/fantasy allegory about cancer and the issues that I've had to mull over in the last year since I had it. This story at the outset was, I suppose, a way for me to work out my own issues. It was a way to process things like chemotherapy versus natural preventatives and remedies, via metaphor and symbol. It didn't take long before issues of God and His involvement, and even some of my tension over the Milk Guy, sneaked their way into the allegory, too.

By that time, the whole plot had started to get murky, and I realised that my characters, as mere caricatures of people I really knew or of concepts I was really dealing with, were kind of annoying. Like, all of them. The most interesting one (and even she was kind of boring) was the one who turned into the zombie-like manifestation of cancer. Thought-processes of semi-conscious monsters are kind of hard to transcribe, though, so I couldn't take it very far. Still, it turned out that if there were any of these characters who I wanted to succeed, it was really only her.

I didn't care about the other ones. They were just vehicles for my issues. They bored me. I could have cared less what happened to them. Let the poor monster-girl eat everybody, frankly, for all I cared. But of course that's not what I want to happen to me. I don't want my cancer to come back, and I certainly don't want it to take over. You feel, if you're writing a story through which to work out your issues, that you can't make anything happen that you don't want to happen to you, so you allow some conflict and stuff, but you can't let anybody get into really deep water, because you don't want to get into it yourself. You might end up writing your own reality.

I guess that's sort of magical thinking, but sometimes I think like that. (You might know that by now.) Realising all this made me really have to sit down and think about the Milk Guy and his theory. I did. I sat with it for most of the month. But stay tuned. I'll tell you later why (besides holding onto what I already believed) I realised that wasn't the whole story.

Thursday, December 03, 2009

More About Apostrophes

We have discussed apostrophes before. Then the other day, Antagonist-Andrew (long-lost Starbucks friend recently rediscovered on Facebook) pointed out to me this link. I find it delightful and I think I kinda want that t-shirt.

It did start me off on one of my etymological musings, though. I started wondering who decided apostrophes would be used for possessives and not for plurals, when normally they're used for contractions. (If you have no idea what I'm talking about, I'm really sorry. You can just skip this post. This is, perhaps regrettably, how I think sometimes.)

Then I wondered if originally possessives were contractions--like, maybe people used to say stuff like, "David, his book," and the "his" got smushed into the preceding word and ended up as "David's book." This, of course, doesn't immediately explain why we don't say, "Anna'r book" for women ("Anna, her book"), but there might still be some reasons:

1. When possessives started coming into the English language, it was a more patriarchal society so they didn't care about gender-inclusive language.

2. If you must say it, "Jesus's" is easier to say than "Jennifer'r."

3. No one except people from central Massachusetts wanted to sound like people from central Massachusetts by adding "r"s to the ends of words that ended in vowels.

So. Now we actually have a reason for possessives to have apostrophes and plurals not to have them. Listen up, apostrophe abusers! Just stop it, okay?

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

One Lesson Learned

Much as I may enjoy reading (or watching) sci-fi/fantasy stories, I am utterly unable to write them. I've tried it before. This last attempt, through NaNoWriMo has sort of put the nail in the coffin on that dream for me.

But maybe I just need to read more of it. Even (or maybe especially) children's. Which makes me grateful to Son-of-Milk-Guy, who gave me his entire collection of Spiderwick chronicles. I'm pretty sure he never read them himself, but I was rather pleased that he thought I might like them . . . all by himself.