The moral of the story is exactly what you might expect.

Last night, I had a prescient dream. As dreams usually go, it filtered through my mind in three distinct parts. In the first part, I made the acquaintance of a round, red-faced fat man known as Fat Face. He was quite effusive to me in our new friendship. For no reason at all, he gave me a $20 bill. I didn’t want to accept it, but he insisted again and again, telling me it was Christmas, and didn’t I need the money for my family? It’s a gift! he pronounced. Finally, I relented and took it because I had learned that not accepting gifts can be just as rude as not offering them to others.

In the second scene, I found myself in a dorm room with a frumpy tech geek, who looked very much like Hobie in The Sasquatch Dumpling Gang, as well as a tawdry half-rate prostitute whom an unknown party had paid to seduce the unsuspecting geek. I was caught in the middle, but judging by the look of boredom on the prostitute’s face, she wasn’t about to put her best effort in the job, thereby rescuing me from revolting tawdriness. In fact, she was so bored that she left the room, telling me to take over where she’d left off. Of course, that held no appeal for me, which necessarily brought me to the third phase of the dream.

An unknown and petty gangsta slammed in the room to inform me that Fat Face had sent him to collect. As persuasion, he shoved a revolver in my face.

“Collect what?” I asked.

“The money you borrowed, plus interest.”

“I didn’t borrow anything.”

“Tell that to Fat Face!”

No amount of argumentation could dissuade the thug from treating me as a worthless debtor. Fat Face is my friend; there’s some mistake, I iterated and reiterated. That $20 bill was a free gift! Regardless, the thug dragged me to Fat Face’s house, which was an old, tidy farmhouse made out to be a Victorian. I perched on a worn but stately couch, and I waited for Fat Face to show his face and vindicate me.

He didn’t–vindicate me, that is. His once friendly round-cheeked face turned hard. He insisted I owed him $80 now because the $20 debt had immediately quadrupled as soon as I had accepted it. That unpleasantness now over, he sat across from me for a friendly chat, the threat of violence receding in the background with the gangsta. Instead, the room was suddenly filled with men who were indentured servants to Fat Face; they had all borrowed from him, and it was impossible due to the economy to pay the money back. A few of the men sat on the couches around me and shouted orders at the actively working men, but it was clear to me that they were indentured servants, too. They were indentured servants called managers, and yet servants, nonetheless.

At that point, my mind began to waken, and in its surreal half-sleep state, I saw the men as braying donkeys. I explained to myself that they were like Pinocchio, who had taken the bait when told he could play all day in Toyland, and had, instead, woken up a donkey and been forced to endure hard labor. Further, I explained to myself that this was exactly what university students did when they took the government’s “free” money. The debt and its subsequent, compounding effects on society would force them into servitude until they died.

The moral of the dream–I logically deducted, as I was now fully awake–was this: If you attend college in the usual way, you’ll come out the other side an ass.

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Stated Goals

1. I’m currently having my blog redesigned. My posting may be erratic until then (as if it wasn’t already). My goal is to create a new environment.

2. The reflection of my days will no longer be concerned with answering the question, “What did I accomplish today?” and instead will focus on how action-oriented I was. Research, for example, is an action and not an accomplishment.

3. I’m writing a book that is proving very difficult for me. My goal is to have a rough draft in about two months time.

4. Each morning, I will pretend that I slept the night before and proceed accordingly.

5. Exercise is always a goal. I will continue to exercise seven days a week, without exception. That has nothing to do with anything here, except that it helps keep my brain alert.

6. These are my personal goals, not my familial ones. Please don’t confuse the two. No, that isn’t a goal, but an explanation.

7. This one is related to goal one. Here are the subjects I will focus on in the future of this blog: History, Philosophy, Science, Christianity. I will no longer write fiction or memoirs here because I plan to publish them and sell them, not give them away for free.

8. I don’t currently have a comment or discussion policy because I don’t get a lot of discussion. But if and when I do, I still won’t have one. I disdain people who can’t take dissent.

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The World Is A Place

I would be happy to burrow into a place without time, or to lose, as Kant called it, my a priori notion of time. If time is related to the experience of the senses, then I’d rather ditch it altogether. However, as I’ve always described this longed-for experience as “digging a hole and disappearing into the earth”, I can’t imagine how my senselessness could exist without space. That, I suspect, is the limitation of the human imagination. Or it’s the limitation of my imagination.

Heat death occurs at the zero threshold.

Heat death occurs at the zero threshold.

I imagine there’s a kind of barrier to be crossed in a quantum tunnel, if one can dig out such a thing. Judging by the slowness of my actions in time and space, I couldn’t approach the speed necessary to create such a place where time has reached zero and I would freeze into a senseless zone. For unknown reasons, my mind configures me as a kind of microscopic fetus clawing my way in the appropriate direction, and then, once there, toppling unwittingly into a concave area, the path there and place itself being similar in appearance to a mercury thermometer. So, perhaps, my image has changed a little, and I’m no longer a microscopic creature, but mercury falling down its tube as the temperature declines.

In our days of low philosophical drive, I’ve often heard agnostics express their distaste for the idea of eternity. If heaven–or a place of eternity–were real, it would be soooo boring!! It would be torture to live forever, so they postulate. But they seem to have a fundamental misunderstanding of eternity, no doubt owing to Kant’s a priori notions. Eternity would not operate in the same way on the senses and, therefore, boring itself can’t be quantified in such a scenario, let alone be a descriptor of such. I’m not certain my mercury bulb is really an apt visual descriptor, either, except that it demonstrates the concept of crossing a barrier at zero. What happens past that zero threshold is not knowable, in the same way we can’t imagine what will happen at the “heat death” of the universe. Surely, it will be impossible to maintain entropy, in which case, time disappears, in which case…

I would like to imagine I could be frozen in that blissful place for an unknowable period measured not in time, but in ____. I’m at a loss to fill in that blank. I really, really want a space without time, even though it’s unquantifiable. By unquantifiable, I mean that it would occur in zero seconds, and then it would cease to exist unless it met with time again. Perhaps eternity is simply a fold at the farthest limits of space that doesn’t actually exist. Or perhaps my a priori assumptions are mucking things up–mine, not Kant’s. Perhaps at zero entropy, the universe as we know it ceases to exist and is recreated in a way that is unobservable to our senses now.

Oh, for heaven’s sake! All I want to do is lose my senses. That’s all I’m asking for, and writing my yearning for a zero entropy cavern is forcing me to become more acutely aware that I don’t have one and can’t because it’s an impossibility. I think I might put on a workout video–one so difficult that my muscles are reduced to jelly before the intense pain kicks in. If I’m going to sense, I might as well sense with all the gusto life offers.

In other words, here are some from Alexander Pope’s Dunciad, book IV:

In vain, in vain, — the all-composing Hour
Resistless falls: The Muse obeys the Pow’r.
She comes! she comes! the sable Throne behold
Of Night Primæval, and of Chaos old!
Before her, Fancy’s gilded clouds decay,
And all its varying Rain-bows die away.
Wit shoots in vain its momentary fires,
The meteor drops, and in a flash expires.
As one by one, at dread Medea’s strain,
The sick’ning stars fade off th’ethereal plain;
As Argus’ eyes by Hermes’ wand opprest,
Clos’d one by one to everlasting rest;
Thus at her felt approach, and secret might,
Art after Art goes out, and all is Night.

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This Is No Longer the World of Babette’s Feast

Years ago, when I attended a private Christian school, the teachers felt it was their duty to push us out of our comfort zones. Stretching the minds of coddled middle class youths is a noble venture to say the least, especially if these youths are to have any positive impact on the society around them. They need their eyes opened; they need to become aware that a not-so-pleasant world exists outside their bubbles.

For that reason, one of our teachers showed us the film Babette’s Feast at the beginning of senior year, and then again at the end of senior year. Our understanding for the film was supposed to have improved by the end of the year. In college, I had a literary criticism professor who used the same trick of examining a poem at the beginning of the semester, and then again at the end to demonstrate how much he’d opened our eyes. At the start, the words of the poem were innocent, but by the end, they were teeming with sexuality and Marxism. Most assuredly he had opened our eyes; all of that symbolism was now present and would always be. Once the eyes of the mind are opened, it’s difficult to shut them again.

To be fair, our high school teacher wasn’t opening our eyes to hidden sexuality. Rather, he was opening our mind to art. The plot of Babette’s Feast goes like this: a group of Puritanical plain-living Christians gasp out a meager living on a remote stretch of Danish coastline, keeping to themselves and their dwindling congregation. The story revolves around two sisters, once beautiful, who have never married because their austere father found no suitor acceptable for them. These Christians have no joy in their lives. They eat plainly, dress plainly, and eschew entertainment. One day, a Frenchwoman, Babette, knocks at the sisters’ door with a letter of recommendation as a housekeeper and cook. The woman is a refugee of revolutionary France. The sisters take compassion on the worldly woman and open their home to her. Then, Babette receives notice that she’s won the French lottery and, in celebration, offers to cook a special meal for the sisters and the other congregants. As it turns out, she’s a highly-regarded French chef who serves them an exotic feast, complete with multiple courses of rich foods and alcohol. Initially, the sisters accept her offer out of graciousness for the heathen woman who simply doesn’t know any better. By the end, the congregants of a dry Christian faith are the ones transformed by the artist. Their eyes have been opened to the beauty of the world–to love and passion–and will never easily close again.

The sisters assume that Babette will now leave them, no longer be their housekeeper, because she’s wealthy with her 10,000 francs. But, no, Babette explains, a meal such as that–for twelve people–comes at a cost of 10,000 francs. Babette has given everything she has to thank these people who took her in. One of the sisters proclaims, “Now you will be poor the rest of your life!” Ah, but Babette knows the correct answer: “An artist is never poor.”

Here is a potential Christian reading of the film: Living in an impoverished way in order to please God isn’t Christianity. By extension, a lovely meal of food and wine isn’t in any way in opposition to Christianity. Beauty, pleasure–these are gifts from God. But we aren’t saved by them. The artist didn’t save the stuffy Christians from themselves by giving them the essential truth they were lacking. Yes, they were lacking in love, and Babette offered her love to them. Human love is limited, though, and it isn’t the ultimate truth in contrast to pious Christian living. These sisters and their congregants were truly lacking in the joy that comes through following after Christ, of being renewed inside by Christ’s sacrifice. These people knew nothing of the joy of God. Nothing. They only knew of forced deprivation. At best, Babette is a reflection of the kind of love God offers to us–God being the original Creator and Artist. I’m not one for preaching in film. In a Christian reading of it, the film works on that level. It doesn’t need to be more explicit than that.

Here is a potential secular–>Christian reading of the film: An artist is never poor. Babette herself tells us this. Furthermore, artists have gifts to give us that will teach us and fill our lives, regardless of who they are or what they create. If they are self-sacrificial, then they’ve done all that’s required of them as artists. This is, perhaps, the crux of the secular reading that I’ve retained–the concept of artist as savior, artist as sacrificial giver of truth. Perhaps I’ve retained that understanding because it’s what this particular teacher was attempting to impart to us throughout our senior year.* Art is able to open our eyes, and we will, by extension, never be poor so long as our lives are enriched by it. The more mature we are, the more we’ve grown up in the faith, the more we’ll be able to understand this truth and be able to sift through the filth to discover the flecks of gold hidden inside. Art is a mirror of the beauty and depravity of humanity, and we need to look in this mirror and see ourselves reflected there.

In our postmodern society that grasps for truth–any truth–I’ve been observing Christian people blindly choosing the second reading and following after art as though it will offer them the answers they’re desperately seeking. However, they’re no longer youths sitting in a classroom watching Babette’s Feast. The kind of artwork they’re exploring, interacting with, and learning from isn’t a beautiful feast created out of a grateful heart, but work created from blasphemy, mockery, and hatefulness. Ironically, the simple takeaway message of Babette is really quite pure. Yet, the wrong message many of us have taken from it–that art in itself is sacrificially true–has led us to learn from works that contain no such simple truths.

*I edited this post a little and decided to add this disclaimer. The teacher I’m talking about would never have stated things quite as simply as I’ve done here. Thankfully, one of his articles on art has been preserved on the internet, and I’ll be examining it next time.

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What Is Holiness?

As a Christian who writes and publishes, rather than a “Christian writer”, I’ve been engaging in the question of holiness in art for years now. To be honest, I’m a little tired of the discussion because there’s simply no clarity–no accepted definitions for anything. This is a general problem for all of us in a postmodern society, but more on that in a bit. Years ago, I befriended a community of fellow speculative fiction writers, most of whom I found at Mike Duran’s. Throughout the years, the topic of holiness vs honesty in art has been beaten to death over there. Here is one example (that happens to conveniently be showing up in his “most popular posts” list at the sidebar): Why Christians Can’t Agree About Christian Fiction.

In this conveniently accessible post of Mike’s, he divides Christians into two camps: the Holiness Camp and the Honesty Camp. The Holiness Camp will, ostensibly, produce clean literature complete with appropriate moral messages. Those in the Honesty Camp are, by contrast, a group of artist types who believe they are more intellectual than the Holiness types. I have one crucial question to ask: Why is Holiness not the light that reveals what Honesty is? I will reiterate: If you are a Christian, why is Holiness not the beacon you use to determine Honesty?

Perhaps the problem is with the definition of Holiness. Perhaps those in the Honesty Camp are anything but honest about what Holiness is. Is Holiness defined as following a set of man-made rules? Please answer that question for me. Is it? Did Jesus himself violate Holiness by refusing to follow man-made rules? Did he? One commenter on the article linked above makes an argument so oft-repeated it nauseates me: The Pharisees loved the Law more than they loved other people (and presumably God) and that was their error; by extension, Jesus loved people more than he loved Jewish Law and constantly broke the laws to reach people (this commenter goes on to demonstrate how Jesus broke laws by speaking to the woman at the well). Let’s extract the truth from this oft-repeated nonsense. The Pharisees didn’t love God; that is true. They didn’t love God enough to love God’s laws above their own set of rules. The Pharisees were following their own laws and deeming themselves righteous for doing so. Jesus didn’t ever break his Father’s laws. If he had done so, he wouldn’t have been the spotless lamb. He would have been guilty before God and in need of redemption just as the repentant thief who died by his side was.

Do you want honesty? You need a new definition of Holiness. You don’t know what Holiness is. If you knew, you wouldn’t insist on continuing this argument.* Thank God our salvation doesn’t require a perfect understanding, or we’d all be sunk–especially in these postmodernist days when anything means nothing or everything depending on the day and the popular mode of literary criticism.

For most of my life, I’ve been deeply skeptical of postmodern art, and I’ll tell you why. I don’t mind pushing the boundaries of traditional forms. I don’t mind breathing new life into word and image and dance. But what has always bothered me about postmodernism is not the desire to bring something new to art, but the desire to completely destroy all traditions from the past and rebuild art and religion from a postmodern worldview–a world without definition such that each individual can create one for himself. Don’t you realize how modern man has robbed himself of vital foundations? Don’t you see that in art, in poetry, in dance?

Don’t you see how that foundation is missing in religion, as well? We literally have no foundation to stand on. When we accept that there is a dichotomy between Holiness and Honesty, we admit we no longer have a foundation. It didn’t used to be this way. It didn’t. Holiness and Honesty are intertwined concepts. They inform each other. They tell us what state man is in, and what state man should be reaching toward. One cannot exist without the other, not honestly anyway.

*This is a general “you”. I’m not picking on YOU.

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