Monthly Archives: March 2014

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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Jill’s Guide to Fascism 101

This is from the section on group dynamics: Choosing a team is very important to human creatures. It gives a sense of belonging, as well as healthy competition. It gives a necessary distraction from the evils of the world. It creates necessary rivalries against the opposing teams, which subsequently take over mental faculties such that those involved in the rivalries can see nothing else. They suffer from tunnel vision and one-track-mind-itis.

You can imagine that this dynamic of team-playing is exploitable by those who understand the simple concept of divide and conquer. Use the press to start a controversy and voila! watch the public choose sides and waste their precious energies arguing about it. Then do something underhanded when everybody’s busy fighting, something that will seize power on a grand scale from all parties involved. If the light of awareness dawns on the public, start another rivalry–easy peasy!

If you are a budding fascist, get creative. People can be divided politically–republicans vs democrats, for example. If a new movement begins to unite people of varying political ideologies–the Tea Party and Occupy are just two recent American movements–neutralize them by forcing them on one side of the spectrum or the other. The Tea Party can be forced into the White Racist Republicans, and Occupy will conveniently fit with Fascist Liberal Democrats. Phew. Disaster averted.

Political parties aren’t working for you? Ah, well, don’t be shy about dividing people on racial, gender, and religious lines. Are the Christians getting a little too cozy with one another? Quick! Start a homosexual rivalry! They’ll be casting aspersions on each other for months, if not years. Of course, there are layers of domination. If your goal is to dominate the world, do so through Christian charities. After all, Christian people want to save the children of the world, as well as eradicate poverty. You can use their monies to further the imperialist agenda of sterilizing/birth-controlling the populations of undesirable third-world countries. Just in case anybody’s waking up to the imperialist agenda of charities, use the rivalry you’ve already started on homosexuality and voila!. One side will threaten to remove necessary funds from starving African children, and the other side will cry Hate! Hate! They hate homosexuals and starving African babies! Now would be a good time to recommend other appropriate charity organizations. Don’t go too far, though. Recommending the Bill Gates Foundation right away might be a little too telling. You don’t want to tip your hand too soon.

Really, the sky’s the limit when it comes to fascism. Well, actually, you don’t have to be limited by the sky at all, but I wouldn’t want to divulge every fascist secret! When you understand group dynamics, though, you’ll realize just how easy this game is. If you happen to be a capitalist as well as a fascist, I would suggest selling really expensive beer, hotdogs, and nachos for the showdowns you start. What could be better than profiting off your own petty little wars?

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By the Grace of God Redux

DSCF0602At Christmastime, I watched It’s a Wonderful Life because that’s what one does when one has the flu in December. Holidays are meaningless to me, but the conceit in the movie intrigues me. As I was feeling sorry for myself, I couldn’t imagine that the world would be tangibly different without me in it, as it is for George Bailey.

I haven’t saved my brother’s life. I don’t even have a brother, and I greatly annoy the one sister I do have. I’m a blight on the landscape; I haven’t kept my town from going to pot; my career as a writer hasn’t touched lives in the way Bailey’s career as a banker does in the film. My flu-hazy brain decided that my worth would be more difficult for a heaven-sent guest to evaluate. I wouldn’t be such an easy case to crack as George Bailey. As I already said, I was feeling sorry for myself, down in the dumps at Christmastime. Go figure.

Of course, that’s nonsense. Better writers and philosophers than I am have waxed poetic about no man being an island. As much as I’d like to believe I am, it isn’t true in any sense of the word true. If things had gone differently, the world would be a different place in very tangible ways. Some people liken this concept to the butterfly effect. The smallest acts from the most powerless creatures create a wavelike effect on the world around them. To house the idea in a cliche, the smallest pebble thrown in a still body of water ripples in greater and wider circles around the tiny spot where it broke and disturbed the surface of the water. Or maybe the other cliche I could use is this one: the smallest amount of salt upsets the PH balance of the sea.

On this blog, I’ve written and posted and re-posted a little piece about how I came to be. I will quickly sum it up: It was the year of Roe v Wade. My parents were poor and used the services at the local health clinic. Because they now could, the workers at the clinic recommended that my parents abort me. Thankfully, my parents didn’t heed the advice and, instead, brought this unhealthy, scrawny, premature baby into the world. I cried and cried, if anybody could have doubted my existence in the world.

At times I’ve wondered if my purpose in this world is to upset people, since I’ve been doing it consciously and unconsciously as long as I can remember. But putting that aside, the obvious tangibles that would not exist without me are numerous and varied. If the last memory of me were to be sucked into the ether, my husband wouldn’t have me to make him happy or crazy. My children wouldn’t exist. Their future children wouldn’t have the possibility of existing. The house we live in wouldn’t exist. The story behind the house–that would vanish, too. Our loyal dog, which we rescued from the shelter, might have been put down if I wasn’t there to receive the message from her sad eyes. Our cat–well, she would probably be fine, faring for herself. But she wouldn’t be the same.

Those are the obvious answers. Apart from the obvious, I couldn’t possibly begin to count the numerous lives I’ve brushed against, the people whose souls I’ve bonded with, the people I’ve loved, the people my family has helped in one way or another. By the grace of God I was given this life. That’s what the painting says–the one above, painted of me and my mom, when my dad was a very young painter (about 20?). He inscribed it on the corner near his name: By the grace of God, A.L. Miler. How could I ever forget, as this painting is the first image I see on waking?

It’s a wonderful life. It is. And it’s a conceit that many of us need to think about when we question our purpose–our razón de ser. I would hazard a guess that we also need to dwell more on our day-to-day interactions that create these ripples, that change the character of the world around us.

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The Problem With Jerry

Jerry has a problem, the biggest of which is not that he is about to become memorialized on the internet. First of all, an image is the primary means of capturing a moment. So, imagine this: The [redacted] coffeehouse has gone through many manifestations since existing in this small southwestern town. From a dark, gloomy den of beer and coffee and Mediterranean plates and a shiny espresso house with a wave-shaped red laptop counter, it’s become a down-at-heels remnant of its former glory. The bar stools at the laptop counter are ripped and shaky, the leather couches are worn and patched, the sage green paint has been rubbed from the walls. The black-painted acoustic ceiling tiles are gap-toothed in spots and sagging in others.

On entering, I’m hit with the smells of good espresso combined with acrid coffee and butter that has been baked and burned, baked and burned. Today, the tall bald man who is owner of an enormous wolfhound crosses the threshold at the same moment I do. He’s sans-dog, and that is unusual for this towering man who chooses to live with an equally towering beast. He is generally found around town with his dog on a lead, even inside the coffeehouse.

At the laptop counter, the man with the spiked grey hair and moustache is shrugged into a blue parka and is peering out his small oval glasses, as agitated as usual. Every Saturday, he brings his tobacco pouch and rolling machine to the coffeehouse. Today being Saturday, the litter of tobacco has spread in every direction. In addition, he has a laptop and numerous books, some of which contain chess strategies. The man is a wreck. He isn’t all there and, frankly, he reminds me of me if I were a man and twenty years older. Facing him across the red counter gives me a sense of seasickness, to be honest.

“The problem is, Jerry,” the man says, and runs his agitated hands through his hair. “The problem is I help you with your math, and then it opens you up to more problems with math, and it never ends.”

This isn’t the first time I’ve heard him mutter, “The problem is, Jerry…” What is exactly is Jerry’s problem? Is his problem–his state of being–related to the stapled packets of math work? Is Jerry’s problem inherent to his status as a student at [redacted]?

Let me tell you about Jerry, and then, perhaps, I can determine just what Jerry’s problem is. I don’t know Jerry; I know his name because the crazy man who sits across from me likes to repeat it as though it were a curse word. By contrast, Jerry is calm and quiet. Jerry, in fact, takes the abuse lobbed at him because he wants help with his math packets.

“The problem is you’ve been working on your math for seven hours, and you still don’t understand it,” the agitated abuser shouts.

Jerry has close-cropped ginger hair, and almost a full beard, if he weren’t missing those patches in between sideburns and chin that many men lack. He has broad shoulders, naturally large [rather than gym-built] biceps, covered in tattoos. He has tattoos on his back too; I can see them through the thin white t-shirt he wears. Now, here is where I decide whether Jerry’s dignity is worth preserving–whether I should describe him down to the last detail, such as the one that’s obvious due to his pants slipping down. I’ll save his dignity.

Jerry’s not a bad-looking man, and his pale eyes bear intelligence. There is nothing particularly wrong with Jerry from an external perspective, except that he’s chosen to consult the crazy, agitated professor–the archetypal mad scientist. Jerry’s slouched posture tells me he’s attempting to retain his solid sense of being while waiting for the oracle to answer the questions hidden in the numbers. And now he’s coming undone, just like his oracle.

Eventually, Jerry and his math tutor step out for cigarettes. But then they return. There is never an end to this process–to the vacuum or the black hole that is math. This is the problem with all knowledge. There’s no end to it. The more Jerry knows, the more he doesn’t know. He would no doubt be all right with that, as most people are, if his tutor didn’t continue to shout it at him. The agitation is a contagious disease. Jerry needs to step away, walk out–leave by the scuffed green backdoor and allow his tutor to bang out the front, with its jangling wind chimes made of cogs and wheels.

Thankfully, they both do just that. And now I’m faced with an empty laptop counter–empty except for the litter of tobacco. The coffeehouse has become a peaceful, albeit shabby haven. I have an open view of a man holding a newspaper and a couple laughing together and drinking syrupy beverages from colored straws.

The problem with Jerry comes to a close, as all problems will if you wait them out. Men made in the mold of the tutor don’t understand this; men like Jerry do. I’ve wondered, at times, who should be consulting whom.

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