Short Thoughts: Utopianism Undoing the Curse

The dystopia of utopia is a common theme in sci fi. It’s a common theme in the history of humanity. It has driven us to a society built on the premise that we should avoid pain and sickness and tilling the earth by the sweat of our brow. In short, we want to push death away and find ever-more ingenious ways to avoid hard work.

Obviously, striving to make life better is not a bad aim. It’s laudable. What isn’t laudable is falling for the lie that we can attain perfection — appearance-wise, at least. I’ll never forget the day I took my daily walk in the park earlier than usual. The dog will fall into a sullen bout of pouting if she doesn’t get her daily walk. Therefore, on that day, when I knew I was going to be busy in the evening, I took her for an earlier walk — much to my chagrin, as the city workers were busy spraying the park with herbicide.

Herbicide makes life easier. It also gives me almost instant migraines and mild anaphylaxis (why I won’t forget that day). The ironic part is it’s not benefiting those city workers, either, as they were young fat men sitting at their leisure on the back of a truck, spraying the herbicide from big tanks when they could have been using their bodies instead.

The park in Roswell is huge. The maintained areas of green spaces go on for a number of blocks. Of course, it makes sense for the city to save on labor this way. Isn’t it amazing that Monsanto created a way to avoid hard work? However, hundreds of years ago, cultivated green spaces were maintained through the hard physical labor of workers who were assuredly not fat. Also, the most common herbicide on the market has been linked to cancer. Lymphoma, specifically. There are currently numerous lawsuits going through the court system, people suing Monsanto because they’ve linked their lymphoma to heavy Roundup exposure.

I guess it’s good for the labor of lawyers, though, who no doubt have giant sweat stains from stressing over going against a corporate giant. Or conversely, drool stains from salivating for the money they anticipate getting. Maybe they think they’ll retire early and avoid further sweat…until the doctor tells them to go to the gym, lest they die young from heart attacks.

The scourge of herbicide touches on the simultaneous curse of death and hard physical labor: men sue because they’re afraid of death; they use herbicide because they’re afraid of hard, painful work. This is what utopia means.

Also: immunizations. That’s the teaser I’m going to leave you with. (Short thoughts, remember? I almost rambled on for another 500 or so words.)

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Short Thoughts: To Be or Not To Be Scripture

I don’t spend a lot of time on my blog. I’m more inclined to spend three hours on a post instead of whipping one out — that’s why. I’m a very slow thinker. I’m going to make an attempt to write short posts every day and see how many days I can manage. No focus. No deep thought. Whatever I’m thinking about.

Lately, I’ve been contemplating Christian Scripture. I own many Bibles, including a 1611 King James with the “Apocrypha” and two types of Catholic translations with the Deuterocanon. I’ve also read the works the Catholic church considers to be apocryphal, such as The Book of Watchers. By the way, even that book is considered Scripture in the Ethiopian and Eritrean Orthodox Tewahedo churches. It’s fascinating to me how we arrived at what’s considered to be divinely ordained Scripture; as somebody who grew up Protestant, I trusted that what was in my Bible was the definitive word of God. At that time, most churches were using the New American Standard. Some still used the King James Bible, but it was fashionable in my childhood to read the NAS instead.

It didn’t take me long to realize that Catholic Bibles contained extra books and even that some Protestant Bibles did, if you could get your hands on a 1611 King James. I’m both an information gatherer and a curious person. Naturally, I began to wonder how the books of the Bible came to be collected and fashioned together in one volume. The history is anything but easy, to say the least. For example, the Jewish interpretation of what is and what isn’t Scripture had some bearing on why Esther is Scripture and Maccabees is not. Esther fit into the time frame the Jewish people held as being prophetic; Maccabees did not. However, if you read them side by side, it’s clear they fit into a similar epoch of history re writing style. Neither lean very heavily on a tone of humility before God as the previous prophetic and historic works did. Rather, they both sprang from a time of captivity in which the Jewish people were trying to find their bearings again. For that reason (I believe), the tone in both is self-congratulatory. They are books of history — I don’t dispute that in the least — but they also strike me as patriotic works meant to bolster a society attempting to find its way again as God’s distinct people.

Ultimately, for Protestants, doctrine is more relevant than the Jewish opinion on prophesy. Maccabees is also rejected due to doctrine, namely the Catholic and Orthodox belief in praying for the dead. As far as I know, there is only one passage in Maccabees that discusses prayers for the dead:

2 Maccabees 12:43-45 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
43 He also took up a collection, man by man, to the amount of two thousand drachmas of silver, and sent it to Jerusalem to provide for a sin offering. In doing this he acted very well and honorably, taking account of the resurrection. 44 For if he were not expecting that those who had fallen would rise again, it would have been superfluous and foolish to pray for the dead. 45 But if he was looking to the splendid reward that is laid up for those who fall asleep in godliness, it was a holy and pious thought. Therefore he made atonement for the dead, so that they might be delivered from their sin.

Esther contains nothing like this; in fact, Esther has little to no doctrine at all. It doesn’t even discuss God. It’s strictly a story about a famous Jewish queen and her uncle, who protected their people from mass slaughter while they were in living in exile amongst the people in Persia. Therefore, it passes muster as an appropriate historical addition to the Bible because it can’t teach bad doctrine if it doesn’t contain it.

Maccabees doesn’t purport to teach doctrine, either. It does give a glimpse into at least one Jewish person’s thought on the resurrection of the dead — it’s a glimpse into one mind in a particular epoch of history. To be fair, Maccabees is only one reason Catholics believe prayers for the dead are valid. They also look at tradition, church history, and a line in 2 Timothy (May the Lord grant that he will find mercy from the Lord on that day!). Are they stretching a little? Perhaps. But they earnestly believe in eternal life and the communion of the saints both living and having passed beyond the veil.

I’m running against the clock now. I would have liked to discuss The Books of Watchers, but it will have to be another time. Also, I need to reread it because it’s been at least ten years.

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Robert Kroese and other deep thoughts

He’s not a deep thought, maaannn, he’s a human being. Who writes books, good books. I have to admit Kroese got me through some really tough times with his science fiction, humor, and weird intellectual ideas. And he wasn’t a long-dead author, either. I could follow him on Twitter, when I found the fortitude to be on there. Quite literally, he brought me back to reading as my soul was being squeezed by the usual life garbage. When a friend committed suicide, and I hid by the utility sink at work to cry, I could go home later and read Kroese. When I hated my job, and I couldn’t sleep to save my life, I could while away the time with Kroese. When my dad was diagnosed with lymphoma, I gifted him with some Kroese books because he was bored and lacked energy from chemo. I wanted to share with my dad the books that had brought me joy.

Recently, I finished one of his older books, Shrodinger’s Gat, and I was a little taken aback by the poor editing. I didn’t mind the book; it was definitely a brave foray into fiction-with-exposition. But the editing was awful. I almost gave it a 3-star rating. I stopped myself. It had been a while since I had reviewed one of his books. Amazon doesn’t look kindly on mega-fans who review too many of an author’s books. It also doesn’t approve of authors of the same or similar genre doing book reviews. I decided to take a look at my reviews of his other books, but Amazon had unfortunately culled most of them. I think there were two left — why those two, I have no idea.

There’s no way I’m giving any of his books less than stellar ratings now.* I had this conversation over at Amatopia not that long ago. Reviewing books can be tricky. Not only does Amazon think authors-reviewing-authors is dubious, so do readers in general. There’s a reason why I don’t review many books, and being burnt-out is only part of it. But Amazon’s removing my reviews is a good way to get my hackles up, too. I mean, I’m not even a successful author. I’m first and foremost a reader. So what if Amazon and a bunch of no-nothings think my reviews are fake? Let them! I’m going to go give Kroese a good rating and let it sit there until the idiotic, soulless beasts of the internet corporate algorithms find it and delete it. Or maybe they won’t this time. One can only hope.

Does a bang precede a whimper, or is it the other way around?

*To be fair, all his books are worth 4-5 stars; this is the first one I was tempted to rate lower due to a lack of editing diligence.

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Creative Vision

We sifted through some old favorites on Amazon music last night. Or, I should say, some old favorites popped up while we were sifting through tags. One leads to another — you know how it works. But as Lindsey Stirling’s visage passed by (my husband had the controller; I could do nothing about it), I got to wondering what she was up to lately. When our two adult children were young teenagers, we had discovered Lindsey Stirling and were, like a lot of people, taken with her performance. She was creative, unusual, and possessing of so much energy. At the time, we were an Irish dance family, very invested in the dance world. Also, our two eldest children had been taking fiddle lessons for free from a local fiddle master. Lindsey Stirling intrigued all of us.

Her path to success was anything but simple, though. In her childhood, her parents were too poor to pay for full violin lessons, which meant a fifteen-minute lesson once a week. She begged her parents for dance lessons, but was told she would have to choose because they couldn’t afford both dance and violin; she chose violin. On her Twitter account, she has said she didn’t start dance until she was twenty-three years old. In the dance world, that’s insanity. Nobody makes it when they start that late. However, that didn’t prevent her from going on America’s Got Talent and getting past the first round with her unusual “hip-hop violin”, in which she danced to her own music blend of hip-hop and classical. Those America’s Got Talent videos are now famous, of course, as they eventually cut her from the show, leaving her with scathing critiques.

Pier Morgans told her, “You’re not untalented, but you’re not good enough, I don’t think, to get away with flying through the air and trying to play the violin at the same time.”

Sharon Osbourne was no less scathing. And it wouldn’t be the last time critics would tell her what she did was unmarketable. Yet, she didn’t give up and built her audience on YouTube. She’s now, of course, a millionaire with fans all over the world, but as she says herself, she wouldn’t have been successful if she’d listened to her critics, if she’d capitulated her dance/violin dream to being in an orchestra or similar endeavor, if she’d decided to be a little more ordinary.

What astonishes me is we live in a world where going around gatekeepers is a possibility. It wasn’t a possibility when I was younger. There was no YouTube where musicians could find audience approval, rather than being accepted and worked-over by the music industry, whose sole purpose is to create a product that doesn’t stand out — where everything is dulled down to the ordinary that they know will sell. The ordinary is tried and true. Humans have to be forced outside it because anything outside the ordinary is difficult to comprehend, and when it comes down to it, the vast majority of humans are mediocre and appreciate mediocrity in art because it doesn’t highlight their own averageness. They can easily relate to it.

And yet, and yet…in the midst of that ordinariness, humans have higher functioning minds and creative spirits inhabiting their bodies. That’s why a truly creative person who markets herself on YouTube will also appeal to millions of people. Creative energy is contagious, and we all want to be part of it. It’s inspirational. It doesn’t really highlight our ordinariness so much as it drives us to want to create.

Of course, this same concept is true for writers. The big publishing companies are all about selling mediocrity; e-publishing has given us a way around it. There’s no better time to be distinct from other people. There’s no better time to ignore critics who have no ability to envision something beyond what they’ve already seen. Critics are very dull people, indeed. They are like cynics who, as Oscar Wilde duly noted, “know the price of everything and the value of nothing.”

And the great thing about writing is that it doesn’t require youth, like Lindsey’s dancing. At some point, she’ll have to mellow out because she can no longer fly and do deep backbends while playing her music. I say that because it seems obvious, but she could make it work like Fred Astaire until she’s in her 70s. The backbends just may not be as deep. My only point is…she started dancing at twenty-three, very late for a physically demanding art. A writer can start writing at age fifty or seventy. It doesn’t matter. As long as the brain is till ticking with creative juices, a writer can produce work. So learn to ignore the naysayers and get your vision out there.

Here is one of the first videos I ever saw of Lindsey Stirling:

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The Saga Continues

The Catholic saga, that is. I just read commentary that it takes a year, maximum, to become Catholic. The comment was in response to my *yes, I’m sorry, sarcastic* question about whether it’s easier to be ex-communicated from the church than it is to join it, the general accusation being that the church never ex-communicates, even when they ought to. As far as joining, I’m going on two years and counting. It’s all right. I mean, yeah, I’ve heard the stories of those who powered through RCIA and were confirmed at Easter nine months later. But alongside those stories are the ones of people who languished in limbo for years. My baptism issues have been resolved; for more on that, read this post. My marriage issues, however, have not been. In my diocese — maybe in all US diocese; I’m not exactly sure — a marriage convalidation is treated like a new marriage. Therefore, I’m required to obtain four witness statements swearing that my husband and I are fit to be married. That we’ve been married for almost 26 years and this paperwork baffles the friends and family I’ve tried to get on board with it is irrelevant. My Protestant family doesn’t know how to fill it out. Worse, the witness statements require a church seal at the moment of signing, which also baffles Protestants. Protestants don’t have church seals. Where will they acquire this? One enthusiastic friend sent a letterhead from her church, hoping that would do the trick. I don’t think it will. At the same time, my kind friend is only one witness. I’m still waiting for the others. I’ve been waiting for months.

People whose confirmations went smoothly don’t seem to comprehend how difficult the Catholic church can make it to join. You’d think Catholics didn’t actually believe one’s eternal soul depended on being Catholic. Honestly, I don’t think it does. But Catholics believe that. At the very least, they believe Protestants are Christians lacking the full truth, the full Scripture, etc., and will consequently spend a long time in Purgatory. I’m now imagining heaven itself as a bureaucratic nightmare where you wait in a long line before being told, I’m sorry, you never finished the endless streams of paperwork. We can’t let you in. That sounds like hell, though, to be stuck in an endless bureaucracy, relying on appropriate stamps and witnesses that can never be obtained.

For the sake of your sorrowful passion, Jesus have mercy on me.

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