Monthly Archives: April 2011

Android Blues

Do you have a love language? This is not what I meant to blog about–not at all. Last night, however, I found myself reading the latest CBD catalog. Yes, I found myself reading it. I pick up these catalogs and idly peruse them, often times without realizing I’m doing so. Generally, this activity falls into the category of “I’m a home-school mom”. This particular edition didn’t have home-school materials in it. I’ve never ordered anything from them but school books, but that fact doesn’t seem to make one figwit of difference to them. They send me all of their catalogs regardless.

Therefore, I found myself staring at pictures of superstar Christian authors–authors that make me cringe at the image of plastic Christianity they show to the world. I won’t give any specifics, but I’m sure you can guess the authors I mean–the ones with airbrushed faces, flawless make-up and hair, straight white teeth, and quite possibly Botoxed eyes and scalpelled and stretched skin. After they create the image they want the world to see, they then write books advising women how to let go of insecurity. I’m left to presume that the answer has something to do with outward beauty. If we find the right plastic surgeon, we’ll be all right.

What a relief to know that, right? But if my self-image was in for a beating over the beautiful smiles that sell volumes of books, I didn’t understand where the true pit of despair truly was at. I don’t honestly care that I have wrinkles and wine-stained teeth and hair that never looks right. The book entitled “The Five Love Languages” tossed me in my pit, never to scrabble a way out–very much like the scorpion scraping his way up and back in my light fixture as I speak.

Curious to know what the five love languages were, I Googled the subject. I read this: “After many years of counseling, Dr. Chapman noticed a pattern: everyone he had ever counseled had a ‘love language,’ a primary way of expressing and interpreting love. He also discovered that, for whatever reason, people are usually drawn to those who speak a different love language than their own” (from 5 love languages). And then I read these supposedly universal love languages and realized I didn’t identify with any of them. My view on all of them, I hate to admit it, goes something like this: “Don’t ask too much of me, and I won’t ask too much of you.”

I have discovered through the CBD catalog that I’m not only an incurable cynic, but incapable of love. I’m an android. What is wrong with me? Why can’t I express love as others do with gifts and touch and quality time or service or complimentary words?

Are there any other androids out there, or am I alone? Do you have a love language?

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The Teleology of Characters Part II

One of my blog readers accused me of being purposely vague regarding the subject of teleology. This reader, who will remain anonymous, was correct. Yes, I was being purposely vague. But my reason for ambiguity may surprise him a little. He claimed the idea of using teleology for characters in books is fascinating and suspected I was keeping trade secrets–as if I have any!

Here’s the sad truth: I’ve been dwelling on personality types for weeks now. My mind is consumed with characterization and, therefore, I have little else to talk about on this blog at the moment. At the same time, I don’t feel confident in my understanding of this subject to write more than an overview. So you can see I’ve created a conundrum for myself–lost in my thoughts, but not having the expertise to reveal them fully. This is how I respond to the world all the time. In any given situation, my natural reaction is to give vague, mysterious, or inexplicable answers if my knowledge hasn’t prepared me to respond with definitive answers. Now you see where I’m going with this, I hope. My own natural responses play into the idea of teleology.

The word teleology is of Greek origin and can be broken down into two parts, telos meaning end; logos meaning science. Teleology is the science of final causes. When adapted to characters, this doesn’t mean writers should look to the end of the novel and work backwards in order to understand their characters’ motivations. Instead, this philosophy suggests that the universe was created with design, and that its multitude of parts don’t act outside their natures. In a simplistic way, that is the reason the causes are final, because the nature of the universe has been fixed from the beginning. Furthermore–and this is very important when considering characters in Christian novels–God works from within the nature of the individual, rather than from the outside.

I suspect my utter disbelief in many Christian redemption scenes has to do with a lack of teleology. In other words, God is working from the outside, rather than within the nature of the individual, or (and this is perhaps more common) the individual suddenly acts outside his own nature when responding to God.

Working within the scope of a person’s nature/personality type may seem limiting, but it’s actually expansive, at least for me as the author. I’ve forced myself to look at how psychologically healthy my characters are, why they’re exhibiting signs of good or ill health, why they might be acting disingenuously and mimicking other personality types.

Next time, I’ll compare two historical characters of the same personality type, and give concrete examples of how and why they are so different from each other despite their similarities.

In the above image, you will find two familiar characters who play out their types rather well.

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The Teleology of Character

Definition of Teleology (from the online Merriam Webster dictionary):

1.a : the study of evidences of design in nature
    b : a doctrine (as in vitalism) that ends are immanent in nature
    c : a doctrine explaining phenomena by final causes

2 : the fact or character attributed to nature or natural processes of being directed toward an end or shaped by a purpose

3 : the use of design or purpose as an explanation of natural phenomena

Lent is over. Holy week is on us and, therefore, my children are on their spring break. I have time to think and breathe and move forward with the tasks at hand. I’ve completed my vow of forgoing writing for lent. I would jump right in again were it not for my brain which, unfortunately, spins in so many different directions on any given day that I have difficulty focusing. It’s only when asleep that my mind is still enough to focus.

Without dreams, I would probably not be a writer at all. It’s mainly in my dream world that my mind works out the plots for stories.The other night, I dreamed a beautiful story, as if in preparation for holy week when I could begin to write again. And then I suffered from three sleepless nights in a row. I’ve been thinking far too much about character, motivation, and personality types and, as my husband puts it, I haven’t given my mind the permission to sleep. I’ve given myself the permission to write, but not to sleep.

Well, how am I supposed to write w/o sleep? Instead, I continue pondering personalities and examining them in published works of fiction. Have you noticed that some characters don’t feel quite right? Their reactions or lack of them are helpful to the story or the message the author is forwarding, but they don’t ring true. I’ve been attempting to understand this phenomenon, this instinctive knowing that the characters whose eyes I’m seeing through are pure fiction, especially while also knowing that all fictional characters are unreal, even the ones who seem genuine. They are all fabricated, and some are false fabrications, while others are true.

Understanding personality types aids in understanding characters. It has its limits, however, because people are greater than their types. They have unique histories and genetics, individual ways of representing themselves to the world. Understanding their basic fears and desires in relation to their own environment is important. Understanding them in light of a larger inner working of mankind–what Jung calls the collective unconscious–is perhaps the most crucial element of all. How characters respond or conversely ignore teleology is fascinating to me, and may give reason for my gag response to far too many Christian salvation scenes.

And all of this is to express my frustration that characters are as elusive as the people they are supposed to represent–so much more complex than their eye color, which is complex enough, and whether they are spontaneous or organized, introverted versus extroverted.

p.s. And as for the image above, what exactly motivated the Baron to cut a lock of Belinda’s hair, anyway? Alexander Pope understood characters and people very well, I think (except himself, of course).

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Shadows of Sheol

About ten years ago, I suffered a crisis of faith. My life was simple compared to the lives of others around the world and throughout history. As a child, I grew up in a loving family and never went hungry. As an adult, I married a kind man who was willing to support me and our children both monetarily and spiritually. The very facility of my world caused my crisis of faith, I’m sorry to say, because to me life was a struggle.

I struggled mentally, I struggled for time, I struggled with health. Yet, I knew I didn’t deserve the luxury of unhappiness. So many people had suffered–were at that moment suffering–more than I could imagine. And because of their suffering, many people would reject God. At some point, I began wondering how a loving God could punish all nonbelievers with eternal torment, after those nonbelievers had lived difficult lives on earth. Why not simply put them out of their misery? Eternal torture is an appalling and incomprehensible idea, even to the basest human being. The most tortuous methods of capital punishment eventually end in death–thank God, a way out of misery, no matter what crime was committed!

These conflicting emotions I felt for God endured for a long time–years, perhaps. I don’t actually remember. I do remember accusing myself of being a heretic and blasphemer, while simultaneously acknowledging that I had no choice but to believe in God and to accept that he was just and righteous. My belief in God and the sacrifice of his son Jesus was rooted so deeply in my soul that I knew I could never pull it out. It was a done deal–I was a Christian, no matter the outcome.

Then one evening, while sitting in my parents’ kitchen, I began ranting about the injustice of eternal torment. I was angry, and at some point, the pressure was bound to cause an explosion. Much to my surprise, my husband unemotionally answered my rant by telling me that the doctrine of eternal torment wasn’t in the Bible. My dad, always the skeptic, claimed that the Bible said so little about hell that it was difficult to come to any hard and fast dogmas about it. At first, I didn’t believe them. Multiple pastors and teachers had taught me eternal torment from the time I was a small child. I wanted to believe my family members, though, because they gave me hope. In fact, the burden that had rested on my shoulders for so long lifted just at the prospect of hope.

In the years since that night, I’ve studied the scriptures without filtering them through the preconceived notion of eternal torment. I’ve read the Bible multiple times sans dogmatic glasses, and examined the specific passages Christians use to corroborate their stance on hell. I have to conclude that my husband is correct. God forgive me if I’m wrong, but the eternal torment doctrine doesn’t appear to exist in scripture. The wages of sin is death, the Bible says, NOT eternal life in hell.

Why am I bringing this up now? I’ve read one too many articles on Rob Bell and the controversy surrounding his book. I haven’t read his book and most likely won’t. I wouldn’t consider myself a universalist by any stretch of the imagination, and I don’t know that Rob Bell is, either. What I appreciate about Rob Bell is his willingness to question something that is clearly dogma, and not necessarily scripture. 

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My Not So Epic Story: Here Today By the Grace of God

I live in a mixed-up world. Even my church’s lent services occur on Tuesday evenings rather than Wednesdays. Sometimes, I feel like I’ve fallen down the rabbit hole. Other times, I remember the design and beauty in my own existence. Here is a re-post of my personal story, one I originally posted almost a year ago:

I have wanted for some time to change my profile in order to simplify myself and clarify my goals better as a blogger.  I’ve seen profiles that are simple and beautiful, typed from the hands of people who seem to know themselves. They remind me of Tom Petty’s Free Falling song: she loves Jesus, horses, and America, too.  Why is it so simple for others?  My world seems far too scattered.  Then the truth dawned on me, and it was clarity itself.  I’m here today by the grace of God, and there’s really not much else to say–except for a little story.  It’s not a long one, because I’m far too tired to write my epic autobiography tonight.   

When my mother was pregnant with me, she had a nightmare that the devil was going to steal me from her.    This was the time of the Roe v Wade trial, and the clinic where she was receiving prenatal care tried to convince her to have an abortion.  She and my father were very poor, and my mom had just given birth to my sister.  From the clinic’s point of view, it was not practical or healthy for my mom to have another baby at that time.

Fortunately for me, my parents did not take their advice.  Unfortunately, my mom could not carry me to full term, and I was born prematurely, despite the best efforts of the hospital.  The first year of my life was terrible (or so I’ve heard.  I don’t personally remember.)  I screamed continuously and couldn’t digest anything.  It must have been nerve-wracking for my poor mom, and my dad, too, I suspect.  Somewhere along the way, though, my dad painted a peaceful moment of my mom bathing me.  It’s a classic style painting, perhaps Rembrandt influenced, with natural light focused on me and on her arms that are holding me.

This painting belongs to me now, though originally it was a loaner.  It hangs above my bed. If I examine it closely, I will discover the faint calligraphic signature which reads, by the grace of God.  My dad understood the truth thirty-odd years ago.  God is my author and my painter, and, today, I am able to rest in that knowledge.

p.s. No, I’m sorry, I’ve never photographed the painting. I should, though. The image you see above is from The Pilgrim’s Progress. A long time ago, I downloaded the image, and I have no idea where I found it. I apologize for that.   

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