A character in a different culture acts on different cultural motivations. These motivations are only realistic to a modern reader if they seem foreign, unattractive, confusing, yet still human. It is the reader who is the foreigner, not the foreign character alive.
“Man-generated symbols (i.e., the Westminster Confession of Faith, the Belgic Confession, or the U.S. Constitution) have power over the minds of men for a season only. Because God has ordained that men will grow, whether they want to or not, men always outgrow their symbols. We can never outgrow God’s symbols, but we do outgrow our own. To attempt to return to earlier symbols, without recasting them, is a rejection of maturity.” – James Jordan, “Through New Eyes”, pg. 36
Note: Great point, Jim. I like how you think. You may not strictly be a theologian, but then again neither was C.S. Lewis.
I am a very political person. I am an activist. I will hold a sign in front of an abortion clinic if it might do some good. If the Empire of America oppresses its citizens and takes away their rights, I will take up arms against it if that is the only way left of defending citizens.
The culture is concerned with the world and things that can be seen like people and pens and popcorn. The government is concerned with the abstract and things that do not exist like population and money and war and security and terms and legislation and the future.
Concerning the government, I have heard rumors of people called politicians. They sound like starry angels in the heaven of heavens, forming pre-existing cultural matter into abstract legislation. I have been told that these things matter.
One cultural matter-turned-legislation is gay rights. The whole issue is so tightly bound up in a narrow-minded culture, that it would be impossible to explain it to a foreigner without them laughing. First, there is the term gay. With the promise of esoteric sexual satisfaction, homosexuality leaves its victims wanting and frequently suicidal. As creatures in need of gratification for their sexual pleasure, people who are victims of homosexuality will never be gay until they are either committed to a life of celibacy or to someone of the opposite sex. Homosexuality – as a lifestyle – is unnatural and the rejection of the natural way of things is the rejection of happiness. You could learn this from Animal Planet.
With the term gay straightened up, you would then have to explain the mighty paradox that gays (along with their guardian angels in the platonic heavens) want to be married, but also want to abolish marriage simultaneously. The gay community is unhappy with the old covenant, so its wants to establish a new covenant, but still wants it to be called the old covenant. It feels that the old covenant is too exclusive, that it’s not right that it was formed between people who they are not, before they were, without their previous interest or approval. In fact, the ancestors of the gay community tried to topple the old covenant by forsaking it and condemning it as restrictive and plain. Over the years, however, the old covenant has not only become appealing, but respected. Seeing the old covenant as outsiders, the gay community felt it appropriate and possible to force its enemies to agree (with the help of the starry angels with their magical dust) that the old covenant is not what it is.
This is all very confusing, but everything is possible with the help of angels.
Those under the old covenant refused to redefine the terms of their agreement (may I remind you that a redefinition is totally possible if you believe in miracles and the supernatural. All of the strategies with which the gay community employs itself are based on a firm foundation of the supernatural), so the gay community raised its shrill voice to the heaven of heavens, convening a council of angels.
The angels, plump and young and nude, and the gay community, wearing matching bedazzled butterfly patterned ascots, took their seats and sketched out a new covenant using the terms of agreement from the old. The angels enacted this new covenant – hurrah! – and it looked so beautiful in the council chamber, but as it took effect, something awful happened to the gay community.
In the heaven of heavens, the new covenant appeared identical to the old (except that it was new, mind you), but when it took affect in reality, the angels realized they made an embarrassing mistake. The angels wrought an addendum for the new covenant and sent it down to earth. The addendum explained the mess-up; the terms of agreement which form the basis of a covenant are not based on the definition of those terms, but rather on the relationship of the participants. At the end of the addendum, the angels gave a legendary example and described the ramifications of this;
Once upon a time, there was a man named Abram from Ur. God, a being in heaven, spoke with his voice to Abram and called him out of Ur to follow him and to go to his promised land. God promised Abram that he would be blessed with every material blessing he could fathom, if only he was faithful to God. Abram obeyed and went to the promised land (where there was allegedly a mix-up with your ancestors when they tried to rape his family). In order to seal this covenant, God came down from heaven himself and walked between the divided bodies of dead animals. This signified that God was willing to take the full wrath that Abram would deserve if he was unfaithful to the covenant. It also showed – although it was pointless, because God is incapable of being unfaithful – that God was willing to take the full wrath from Abram he might deserve, had he been unfaithful in the covenant. For both God and Abram, the full wrath was death.
For both God and Abram, they offered something to the other that they could only offer because of the other. God could offer everything anyone would ever want, because Abram was a recipient creature. God could not offer the greatest blessing, without having someone to offer it to. Similarly, Abram offered faithfulness, but because of his nature he was unable to be faithful. God knew this, so God held up Abram’s end of the bargain by promising to take the punishment Abram would deserve in the future for being unfaithful (we suspect this is what the dead animals were all about). To the utmost degree, this covenant between God and Abram was invented and powered exclusively by the love of God.
As a side note, we think it is a legendary account, not because we doubt the love of God (although it is a confusing doctrine), but because we doubt that a resident of heaven would be willing to come into the world and walk between bloody carcasses. As angels, we find that to be icky and therefore not true.
The terms of agreement for this covenant could not be applied to any other party besides God and his creation, with Abram as the representative of creation. God was an essential party for the covenant. It would be impossible for any two people to have made this covenant with one another. Creatures are finite and this covenant was infinite. If, however, someone was dull enough to wish to do that, it would immediately become a different covenant, although the full wrath might carry over, thereby ending the new covenant immediately.
This is just one example of how a covenant is inseparable from the parties who participate. The nature of a covenant is determined by the parties, not by the terms. The terms of agreement for the God-Abram covenant, for example, could be applied to another couple, but the terms would change. They would change not by some forced redefinition, but by the nature and relationship of the participants. And because the terms change, the covenant changes. This is a law of nature – a law of covenants – that is so basic and fundamental, it too withstands our attempts at redefinition.
The application for us, of course, is that you are unable – not according to this council, but according to the nature of things – to enjoy the benefits of the old covenant in the way you would like. At this point, we can encourage three options, the first being the healthiest and the last being the closest to what you desire. One, you are still free to enjoy the old covenant if you find some steady babe (or person of the opposite sex, whoever you may be). Two, you can try our new sex-change program, become the opposite sex, and then as that opposite sex, marry someone of the opposite sex (this is actually a new covenant, but it synthesizes the old). Three, you can enter into a new covenant with your spouse of the same-sex. We could easily call it marriage, which gives the social impression that it is the old covenant (we respectfully ask; what’s the point?), but the mechanics of it are entirely different, so our council can only recognize it as a private contract. If this displeases you enough to come after us and bite our heads off, just remember that we are where you cannot be and you can always bite your pillow.
Ultimately, you have two choices. One, you can enter into the old covenant. Two, you can pretend you have entered into it.
We, the Court of Starry Angels of the Heaven of Heavens, apologize for the inconvenience, complexity, and despair this situation affords you.
The gay community has been furious ever since that addendum, so they continue to petition the Court of Starry Angels to change the nature of things. This petitioning is what we in America call gay rights.
Above, you will find exactly what I do not mean by politics. The politics I prefer to devote myself to actually matter. Here are a few ways that people distinguish between these two kinds of politics;
Libertarianism – Conservatism and Liberalism
Local – Federal
Apolitical – Sign-wielder
Silence – Screaming
Disinterest – Frustrated passion
Reality – Non-reality
Many – One
Fun – Suck
Hedonism – Stoicism
Apathy – Anxiety
Relief – Clenched teeth
These terms catch a number of different flavors. The terms on one side do not coincide with one another. For example, there are many anxious libertarians. There are also many apathetic stoics (and so on).
For myself, I see the greatest split between the one and the many. This does not mean that I prefer confederacies over federal unions. It means that I disapprove of any government that concerns itself with orthodoxy and not orthopraxy. It would be very difficult for a government to limit itself in this way. It would mean that the government would be responsible for certain actions, not ordinances, theory, and terms. It would be limited to the limits initially put on the judicial, executive, and legislative branches. All of these branches were initially responsible for actions taken. Writing laws (unless they are to written to order the actions which the government ought to be exclusively concerned) to define terms is not an action. Politicians ought to be concerned with the people they govern, not terms. They ought to be concerned – and I really mean this – with things that can be seen. As a general rule, if a politician is concerning himself with the immaterial, he is not doing his job. The immaterial is not something he governs. The immaterial governs him. Laws govern him. Truth – theology, the abstract, terms, belief, laws (which all exist, but cannot be seen) – is above the government, not below it and on its workbench.
Since politicians are not doing their job, it is my privilege as a citizen to become my own politician, while the platonic politicians are busy redetermining things that have been determined since the beginning of time. I already know what laws bind my conscience. I do not need them to decide more laws to bind me. The perfect law has been written. I go there for my guidance. This is why I can say that politicians and government are irrelevant to me, because when they concern themselves with the making of the law and not the giving of it, they are essentially doing nothing. Their fabrications are imaginative creations made of air. They do not bind me and they cannot bind anyone if they are not bound themselves to something made of stone.
This is why I would not be bothered if gay marriage was made legal. According to nature, the law, God, and the conscience inside me, that does not mean anything. People have tried to convince me that it means something, but I am unwilling and incapable to assent to the terms that they have imagined. If I saw a gay couple walking down the street holding hands with rings on their fingers, it would mean corruption and not marriage. They would not be married (although in the interest of building bridges, I would just ignore their delusion). They are under a contract and feel obliged to put gold around their finger (which has always seemed silly to me).
The Empire of America is one of the beasts of Revelation. There have been many. It is a false church. It passes anti-laws using anti-matter for anti-people under the authority of the anti-christ. It seeks to bind the souls of its earthly citizens.
And what can we do?
We remain faithful to the laws of the City of God while living as citizens of this empire. It the empire writes a law that will punish us for remaining faithful, that is when we disobey. We do not start a revolution. We do not become shrill. We stay silent, we stay faithful, we pray. We concern ourselves with the politics of the oldest civilization. We care for the poor and needy, because the government will not. We disciple the nations, because the government will not. We love murderers, because the government will not. We love pedophiles, because the government will not. We love homosexuals, because the government will not. We accept all people as sinners, because the government will not. We give other sinners what they need, because the government will not. We concern ourselves with this material world, because the government will not. We pay our taxes, we use our free speech, we enjoy what we have been given and rejoice when it is taken away, because the government will not. We laugh, because the government will not.
Passive aggression is our answer to growling bulldogs. We actively construct walls and churches and buildings while they sleep. We do not growl back at them. We stay inside while it is storming and put clothes on the clothesline only in the eye of the storm.
We avoid escalation. We promote edification. We destroy by construction. We remain very political people.
The single file line fed up the stairs, one person disappearing at a time like a candy dispenser. I was finally the first in the a line of a thousand faces behind me, no one in front. A man in a blue uniform stood on the stairs, with one foot on a stair and the other in the air, suspending himself by holding a vertical railing near the stairs.
The man motioned me to step up with his hand, to disappear, as he kept his eyes on the line, not on me.
Once inside the train cabin, standing there with all the benches facing me, holding my bags, I was surprised to see that the train was empty. It was empty, but I heard old people coughing and kids arguing. “That’s my paper airplane!” “So, you just made it. You can make another one!” “Mom!” “Quiet, I said be quiet…John, just don’t look at him, just look out the window…ignore him…he’s trying to annoy you…no buts…”
It was suddenly evident to me that the rumors were true. This was no normal train.
I heard rumors of the Train of the Grand Mystical Enterprise of the North and that anyone who decides to ride it disappears from view, but I chose to become a passenger, not to experience this, but to disprove it.
What usually happened was that people, truth-seekers with varying levels of doubt, would ride the train, having heard the rumors from previous passengers that it was all true. Thousands of people would ride the train (the tickets were cheap), standing in the single file line with either impatience or anticipation. After the three hundred and twenty seven mile trip, the single file line would feed back down the stairs and out of the train like a sausage maker, worried, perplexed, or at peace.
In any case, a truth-seeker would go in and come out completely reversed and unable to see themselves in the way they previously saw themselves. The Train of the Grand Mystical Enterprise of the North made its tours, slashing the country in pieces on its brand new railroad, and destroying any truth-seeker that came in its path. And as it continued its annual tours across the country, all the truth-seekers eventually disappeared into its caverns, sucking the land dry of any desire to travel. All truth-seekers at one point in their lives give into their drive and as soon as they give into their drive, they experience a metamorphosis.
The Train of the Grand Mystical Enterprise of the North was such a successful business, because it was based on the premise that all people crave an experience. It promised an experience. Even as a doubting truth-seeker, how could I have resisted the invitation to experience truth?
As I was lost in thought, a man in a blue uniform stepped into the train from the other side of the cabin. He said, his solid voice cutting through the noise of the invisible passengers, “Find your seat, sir.”
“How do I know which seat is mine?”
“Sit down and any seat you choose is your seat.”
I looked behind myself, confused and disturbed that no one was behind me. In fact, looking out the window, it was as if everyone besides me and the man in the blue uniform had become invisible. There was no single file line outside.
I shrugged my shoulders and thought, well, alright, if the TSE approved the train, then I suppose that all dangers have been accounted for. I was most worried that if I simply sat anywhere, I would not only sit on someone, but that I would sit in someone. What sort of damage this might do to a person, I did not know.
The man in the blue uniform, with his hands folded over his brown belt, his blue can hat held onto his head with a strap around his chin, watched me sit in the front seat.
I settled in, comfortable that no one was in my seat. At least, it did not feel like I had sat inside anyone. I am a thorough believer in whatever this train is doing, I thought. I am a thorough believer, I thought. What it all means, of course, I did not know.
“Hello, friend!” said a voice suddenly, coming from my right and making me jump. I turned my head towards it and there was a man about my age – maybe two or three years older – sitting next to me.
“Hi,” I said, “what brings you on this grand mystical train?” He laughed.
“Well, what brings anyone on this train?” he asked, “I wanted to write a report on its illegitimacy, but felt as though I should ride it first. Of course, as soon I stepped into the cabin, it was quite evident that perhaps it is not an illegitimate enterprise!” He laughed. I laughed, too.
“Yes, to be honest, I can hardly conceal my surprise. I came on here to prove its illegitimacy – much like you – but it turns out that I must have been wrong. There is nothing quite, uh, normal about this train.”
“No, no, not at all!” He laughed and so did I. We both laughed together, and being unable to contain the strong emotions I felt, I started crying with laughter and he put his hand over his mouth with his eyes closed and a tear running down his face. I covered my mouth, too, and slapped his arm.
“Oh me, oh my,” I said, “This is all just so absurd, isn’t it? What is – oh man! – what is life even?”
“I don’t know!” he roared, “oh man…”
“Well,” I said, wiping my eyes with laughter still rumbling in my stomach, “I suppose we should move on to something else. It’s clear that we are both (hah!) hys, hysterical.”
He nodded his head, forcing the laughs down, “Yes, I think we should.”
“So, to get the ball rolling, where do you come from?”
“Get out!” I said, slapping his arm. “Where in Western Colorado – if you don’t mind me asking.”
“Oh no, no. I come from Grand County.”
“You’re joking!” I said. He laughed.
“I’m not joking!”
There was a pause as we both looked forward, feeling the train make its way out of the station. I breathed out deeply, letting out the last of the laughs. It was also an opportunity for my face to unredden, which I felt as though I might need.
What sort of coincidence is this, I thought, that he is also from Grand County, Western Colorado? Grand County was a relatively new township, after Colorado spread its borders over into Old Utah. I was part of a mass exodus out of Denver, when the American government legislated a population redistribution. It was not all bad. The government promised any relocated American citizen with a property of their choice whose value is equivalent to their previous property.
The train was finally out of the station and I looked out at the unfamiliar terrain of Montana. What a beautiful state, I thought.
“So,” he asked me as the noise outside the train became consistent, “Were you part of the grand exodus?”
“I was, I was. Aren’t most people from Grand County part of the mass exodus?”
“Yeah, I guess so,” I said, suddenly wondering if any of the other passengers had appeared like this man had. I turned my head to the bench on my left.
I also thought of us laughing before. It seems so ridiculous now, I thought, that we had laughed hysterically.
“What do you think of the nuclear disaster?”
“Um,” he said, thoughtfully looking forward, “I don’t think it’s all bad. I mean, I am glad that they performed the whole experiment, but they could have set off the plant in a more controlled setting. I mean get this,” he said, leaning now towards me, apparently animated by the whole topic, “they wanted to see the worse that could happen if a nuclear plant went off and to see it in a controlled setting, but why in the world would they treat it as an experiment? Right? I mean, whether it’s an experiment or not, the real life ramifications of something like that are, well, real.”
“No, no, yeah, I am totally right there with you!” I said.
“Yeah, you know, it’s just stupid. The American government really went to hell when they started doing these experiments. I get that they want to prepare us for the worst that could happen once we move to nuclear power, but how does it prepare the American populace for the worst by giving the American populace the worst before the worst happens?! It makes no sense.”
“No, it really does-”
“And, you know what, they could have done it out in the desert. The scientists – I had a friend who worked in one of the labs or whatever they’re called – said they knew what the worst was going to be and wanted to see if they could handle it in a high population density…”
“But that’s so stupid!” I said, interrupting him as he had me, “I mean, first, if they knew the worst that could happen, what is the point? And also, if the worst is frequently an accident, then shouldn’t they have taken into consideration that accidents happen? Even in experiments?”
“Yes, yes, right there with you,” he said nodding his head, “and – plus – it just wasn’t a good call not to tell the public. I mean, fine, you are performing an experiment for our good. And, fine, that sort of experiment is controversial. But they should have at least given any possible affected citizens a two year advance to move out of the area before they did the experiment. That would have been the best move.”
“I, yeah, I…it just gets me so mad. Can we not talk politics?”
“Yeah, sure. I agree. I’m not that political, actually.”
“No, neither am I,” I said, “So then, random question, how many siblings do you have?”
He stared at me, evidently at a loss for words.
“The, the chances of that…” I mumbled, frightened.
“You’re evidently frightened,” he said, “but I am, too.”
We both evidently had the same thought.
“Were you born in a hospital?”
“No, my mother delivered us all.”
He shook his head.
“I am having a crazy thought,” I said. “Do we know each other?”
“I don’t know. But that is a crazy thought. I know what you might say.”
“What is your last name?”
“Mr. Michaels, are you my older brother?”
He laughed, “If I was, it would be as much a surprise to me as it is to you! Mr. Michaels, are you my brother?”
“Wait,” I laughed, “wait, before we go on seeing if we are brothers, from the same family, let’s prove it and determine where we are right now. Psychologically, I mean.”
“Evidently,” he said, that word evidently being a word I felt I used too much and recently used it too much for a personal comedic effect, with a stress on the first syllable, “anything is possible on this train. So we cannot simply rule out the absurd possibility that it is true on the basis of sense perception and reason. We could, however, rule it out according to autobiographical facts that still EVIdently hold weight in our current scenario.”
“Sure, sure, so,” I interjected, making sure that I would be the next to the speak, “How many toes do you have?”
“Nine, as all my siblings do.”
“It’s a biological deformity caused by too much radiation in the water in Denver.”
“Yes and only a family member would know to ask that.”
“Believe me, I know. For myself, that proves it. You are my older brother.”
“But, let’s not be so hasty. We ought to prove it beyond the shadow of a doubt, because you could be someone who holds similarities to myself, but still be unrelated.”
“True, true. I am sure that a lot of people from the Denver area only have nine toes. It would not surprise me at all.”
“No, me neither.”
“Alright, so next question, what are your parents like?”
“Oh,” I said, sighing and crossing my legs in the “feminine” way, as boys accused me of at school (actually, I thought, I should ask him if he knows about that! No, maybe not, it only happened to me…), “that’s a tough question. And it could vary from sibling to sibling even if you were my brother. Siblings have a hard time agreeing…”
“Just describe them to me, please,” he said, “don’t be too particular.”
“Okay, well, my dad has gray hair-”
“That’s not enough,” he said.
“Okay…my mother has brown hair?”
“You ignoramus! More personal details than that. Everyone’s mother has brown hair.”
“But the more personal I get, the more subjective and opinionated this will become. How are we going to trust that?”
“Well, evidently I can’t know that we have the same parents if you stay with as shallow a description as my mother has brown hair! I’d much rather have the opinions.”
“Fine then. My mother is a very overprotective woman.”
“How? I don’t know. She just is. If we had the same mother, this would be the point where you’d either agree or disagree. Is your mother overprotective?”
“Hm,” he said, rubbing his chin, “Not parti…well, perhaps one could say she is. I would prefer to say that she wants her kids to be safe. Yes, that’s what I would say.”
“See! We’re getting nowhere! It would be much better if I could just show you a picture of her. That would prove it.”
“Well, did you bring a picture?”
“I don’t own any picture of my parents.”
“You know, neither do I. They didn’t like pictures or technology for that matter.”
“Hey, that’s good! Nor did mine!”
“Okay!” I said, throwing my hands in the air, “Then we’ve proved it!”
“Eh, not quite. There is still a possibility that we have different parents.”
“Well, I’m sticking to my guns. We have the same parents as far as I’m concerned.”
“How do you know?”
“It’s obvious, you ignoramus! Haven’t you noticed that we even talk in the same way?”
“I have noticed,” he said, thoughtfully, unaffected by my strong language, “that you say evidently a lot. I feel like I say it too much, myself.”
“See? I do, too. EVIdently, we are from the same family – and! wait, don’t interrupt me – if not the same family, at least a very similar family.”
“Eh, approximations don’t float my boat.”
We both sat forward with our arms crossed and our legs crossed. He crossed his right leg and I crossed my left and my left foot touched his right foot. I shifted my weight to the left so I did not have to suspend my foot over his, but could leave it suspending without any effort and still not be touching his.
“Well,” I finally said, “What do you think of this whole train business then? Let’s forget about our family for a second.”
“I think it is rather odd. I mean, here was this long single file line. I expected this to be a full cabin. But it’s just you and I.”
“When you first saw the cabin, did it sound as if there were others in here?”
“Was there a man in a blue uniform that told you to sit anywhere?”
“No, I took my seat and hoped for the best. If there were any danger, they would have told me about it.”
“Oh, good point. Hm. I guess it’s a little upsetting about the man in the blue uniform.”
“Oh, I just mean that it’s upsetting that our experience wasn’t exactly the same when we first came on the train.”
“Why does that bother you?”
“I don’t know. It would have been nice for something to be clear here.”
“What would have been clear if I had a man in a blue uniform tell me to take any seat?”
“I guess, I guess, constarnit, I don’t know!”
“Ah,” he said in a mocking tone, “helpful.”
Outside, sage brush flew by the window, but the mountains in the distance stood motionless, as if watching the train.
“I don’t know if you are experiencing this, but I feel like my mind is a labyrinth right now.”
“Do you?” he said, with his hands clasped over his right knee, “I don’t feel that quite at all. It’s quite clear what we’re in. This train is trying to mess with us.”
“No, no, it’s not that! The train is trying to tell us something.”
“What?” he asked and then chuckled.
“I don’t know. We came here as truth-seekers. We found some truth.”
“Yeah, uh, I mean, as far as I can tell, I have a family member I didn’t know I had!”
“No, you knew you had me, you just had never seen me. You knew you had eight siblings, you just didn’t know me. If there is one thing I am sure of, it’s that you still don’t.”
“Just a point of clarification; did you feel as though you knew all of your eight siblings before coming on this train?”
I thought about the question. “I, I suppose I might have,” I said, pointing at some invisible chart in front of me, “but if I had, I don’t remember if I did.”
“I would ask you what you meant by that, but I don’t think you would be able to explain yourself.”
I laughed. “No, probably not!” He laughed, too. “Did you?” I asked him.
“Again, I don’t know. I thought I did – much like you, I suppose – but I have forgotten. Some things about you are familiar, but other details are not. If I had known you before, I certainly did not see you real like I am now.”
“That’s interesting,” I said, “Do you think we know our family the best when we meet them as strangers? Do you think – let me finish this thought – that we can know people the best when we don’t know anything about them?”
“Well, I don’t know how it is for you, but for my parents, they know each other almost perfectly. And they have known one another forever.”
“Same with mine.”
He unclasped his hands and uncrossed his legs and stretched his arms, putting them in the air.
“So how long is the trainride?”
“Does it matter?” he asked.
“I guess it doesn’t.”
“I am going to take a nap if you don’t mind,” he said, taking a pillow from under the seat and putting it behind his head. He closed his eyes.
“I don’t mind. I think I might too, just so I am not left alone. I wouldn’t mind going at the same time as you. Do you mind?” I asked, taking my pillow from under my seat and resting it behind my head.
“I don’t mind at all,” I heard a voice say from my right, as my eyes closed.
I breathed out deeply.
“You know, whatever happens,” I said, “whether you are my brother or not, it is fun that we can be here together. I am glad to be experiencing this with someone. What an odd world we live in.”
“Agreed. Friend,” he added, “Now who are you going to thank?”
I took it as a rhetorical question and we stopped talking and all I heard was the wheels of the train on the track.
Eventually, in the darkness, I saw a house form in front of me, as if it came out of an invisible graph. It did not come closer, but grew as if it was. I could make out more details as it approached. It is not moving then, I thought, but maybe I am moving? Maybe I am growing in front of it.
As we came towards each other, I felt something warm and fuzzy in my hand. I looked down and there was an animal that I might as well have called a gerbil, but I had only ever heard a gerbil described.
As the house approached, I saw that there was someone standing in the doorway. No, sitting. There was a man sitting in the doorway of the house. And he stared at me.
“Can I get in?” I asked.
“You’re asking if you can get in?” he said with a hollow voice that echoed in the darkness, as if I was still on the train, but now going through a cavern. “What do you think this place is? Heaven? Heaven is not a house. You need a better imagination, kid.”
“What is heaven?” I asked.
“Why are you asking me? I am only a gatekeeper.”
“A gatekeeper to what?”
“You should know that. It is something you want.”
I looked down at the fuzzy thing in my hand.
“Do you want this?”
“Cut it up and put it on my lap. There is a knife in your pocket.”
I took out the pocketknife and began cutting up the fuzzy gerbil while it was still alive. It squealed. With my hands covered in blood, I put the pieces on his lap. He put his heavy hands over the pieces.
“There. Now can I go through?”
“The gerbil had nothing to do with coming through.”
“What do you mean?! So I just killed it for no reason? That’s sick.”
“No, not for no reason. I asked you to. And you obeyed. Thanks.”
“You’re sick, man.”
“I am not a man.”
“You look like one. What are you, then? An angel? A spirit? A metaphor for God? Are you God?”
“No. I am something you must pass. I am, however, affiliated with God. Let’s just say that he and I have the same goals. Sometimes, it seems like we’re not affiliated, because you see me and hear what I have to say about him, but you have never seen him yourself.”
“Oh, just shut up. Please, just take the gerbil. I just want to get through. I’m just growing like a train – can’t you see? – and if you don’t move, I am just going to crash into you like a wall.”
“I have taken the gerbil. But I don’t eat animals. It is not about the gerbil. I don’t care about the gerbil; I don’t care if you killed the gerbil or not!”
“Fine, then,” I said. Opening up the pocketknife again, I took it and shoved it between his ribs.
“You got me!” he said and, jumping up, moved out of the way from the doorway.
I woke up from the dream and looked around the train. It was nighttime. I looked to my right. The man was gone. The train was in the station. I sat there, bewildered in the darkness, stunned. My pillow was wet with saliva.
A door in the back opened.
“You still here?” he asked.
I looked behind me. It was the man in the blue uniform.
“You best get off the train,” he said.
“But…I’m sorry, I fell asleep.”
“Sorry sir, the ride is over. Thanks for riding with us.”
“Where are we?”
“The train station in Grand County. It is time for you to get off.”
He helped me with my bags while my mind was somewhere else. He asked me some questions and I answered impatiently. Yes, yes, I’ll be fine.
I stepped off the train, outside the station, called a taxi, went home. I sat on my bed, realizing that I had seen truth, but bewildered.
I had seen truth and what had it done to me? I can’t seek it anymore. I have seen it and now I have to do something with it. There is nothing more to seek. I am sitting on my bed. Had I really seen it? Had I understood? These sorts of questions haunt me still. I never worked it all out, but I never thought to ride the Train of the Grand Mystical Enterprise of the North, to ensure again in my mind that it had happened at all. I tried to forget it all, what I had seen, but I couldn’t. I couldn’t forget what I had seen.
I got a glimpse today of a world that made me smile. I saw every person, for just one moment, as a member of a special club.
I tried thinking of some grander metaphor that could add to the depth of this discovery, but I kept falling short and figured that I would just let it go. Me letting the thought go is part of a new policy I have considered enacting. I might call the policy the “Transitory Policy” and it would require that I not act on all thoughts.
The “Transitory Policy” is a response to my habit of archiving any interesting thoughts I have for later use in something like an essay or short story. While I usually act on most thoughts, whether it takes me a month or twenty minutes, some are left in the archive and get a little stale.
Now, they get a little stale to me. But to someone who has never had the thought before, they are not stale. The staleness is in relation to me, not to their value. I have no problem with this perceived staleness, except that it makes it quite difficult to act on a thought that has become cold and unfamiliar. Sometimes it feels like I am working with someone else’s thought and that is quite uncomfortable. Other times, I will read one of my archived thoughts (they range from a word, to a sentence, to three paragraphs, to a thousand words), and laugh, because it is incoherent. I write them for myself, you see, but for myself at that time. They are helpful to remind myself when the thoughts are still hot off the press, but serve little to no good in transposing the great passion I feel for them in the present for my future self, for me now.
The “Transitory Policy”, therefore, is a recognition that there are many joys in this life, many profound thoughts, many glimpses into the fabric of creation, but all things are fading. I stand on a bed of quicksand and I will one day be swallowed up, unable to recall my mental space as a mortal. The “Transitory Policy” is a way to let me relax and to look at a thought and say, yes, that is interesting. I may act on it later, I may not. I might just use it in a conversation or enjoy it by myself. One of the greatest pleasures God has given is to allow us to see through the fabric of creation and give us the privilege of keeping it to ourselves.
This is often called for, because if you do see something grand even if you are just walking down the street, and feel it so greatly that you must call your brother who is living in another state, his response will never match the passion you feel for it. And his inability to see what you see sucks the joy out of the whole thing. In that case, it would have been better to keep it between you and God.
Now that you have been thoroughly introduced to the “Transitory Policy”, let me tell you about the thought that was on the chopping block. Since I had the thought, I have lost the passion I once had for it, but the sun dog is still in the sky and the dots are still dancing on the back of my eye lids.
This special club goes beyond nearly all boundaries that prevent people from seeing it. It goes beyond our religions, our races, our places, our perspectives, our imports, our exports, our developmental errors, and our inflated views of self. This special club is the club, not of humanity – which goes beyond the one boundary which this special club does not – but of the living.
We are all here for a time, in this transitory and ticking state, experiencing the frailty of our bodies and the mockery of the elements on our skin. We are the vessels, the members of this special club – and to call it special sounds diminutive, unfortunately – and we have all escaped being sucked into a far greater club than any of us could fathom. The adverse of the special club is this greater club. This greater club is not the club of the dead, but of the nonexistent.
If I were to call it a battle, it might seem crass and progressive. But I am not just talking about the millions of seeds that did not make it, so you could become more than a seed. That is one battlefield of an ancient and complicated war. It is a war whose battlefields are found in the regions of your personal history. Only you have stepped out of this war. Your existence in this small frame is the victory.
I am not suggesting evolutionary progress. I am suggesting something far greater and whether evolution plays a part is irrelevant entirely. In the beginning, God subdued a force called chaos, so that he could bring order into existence. In my mind, I do not find any distinguishable characteristics between order and existence. To exist is to be ordered towards thing. To exist is to be ordered towards God vertically, towards creation horizontally, and away from chaos. God ordered creation and, by ordering it, brought it out of the chaos.
I do not think, unlike Augustine, that the darkness which God formed was a preexisting material. Without playing semantic tricks, it confuses the doctrinal necessity that God created out of nothing. It does not make it impossible, but simply confused. Since God is all powerful, he can only create and exist according to his own nature. But when God interacts with his creation, it is sometimes his nature to overstep the bounds which he set up for creation. This is what we call miracles or the supernatural (although to be frank, with the supernatural, I feel that it is simply another realm of creation, albeit a top-tier level, one with its own boundaries, restrictions, and laws). I could easily conceive of the act of Creation as having been one such miracle. When God created, he overstepped the future boundary of this creation that made something like ex nihilo impossible. This is in perfect accord with his relationship with his creation.
Knowing God, it is no surprise that he would do something which, by definition, is illogical to us. It is irrational, illogical, inexplicable that he would create out of nothing. That is the point. By creating out of nothing and overstepping the boundaries which he created, he proves that he is not bound by the boundaries of creation, but bound by his nature alone. It also proves that we are within this frame he has created and that in our limited life, we are unable to even conjure up any rule which governs the act of creating out of nothing. To God, who is above us and our rules and our reason, we can trust that he has set rules and boundaries even on that mystical act in the beginning, which we cannot see, but are in accord with his nature.
By saying all of this, I simply want to show that God did not subdue any sort of matter, which by definition is ordered, but subdued nothing, which is chaos. There was no preexisting matter that he drew from some temple in the heaven of heavens. I love Augustine, but that is an unnecessary absurdity. God made everything out of nothing. The act of creation was order. God fought nonexistence. Or rather, he subdued it.
There is an essential distinction between fighting and subduing. Where all other gods in all other creation myths have to go through some sort of struggle, the Creation of Yahweh is a pleasant labor. He enjoys himself. He created for his own pleasure, just as we create for our own. Who is going to ask God why he did it, when that person is unwilling to answer the question why he decided to first pick up the pencil? God fought nothing. He subdued nothing. Nothing is the foe, because nothing is the antithesis to God.
It is further proof of the eternity of the Trinity that he chose to fight nothing. Since the Trinity is pure existence, a being eternal, it has no other reasonable foe but nonexistence. They are not equal, for nothing is thoroughly inferior to the Trinity in its nonexistence. Nothing would have been fought had it been an equal to the Trinity, but it put up no fight. It was malleable enough to be ordered into a peaceful week.
Nothing is the great evil and we feel this as eternal beings. We feel it the most strongly, because to exist is to be eternal and to be eternal is to be a creation (for us) and to be a creation is to be in relationship with the Trinity. Anything, therefore, which exists is in relationship with God. So any creature which has broken a relationship with God is doomed to the eternal abyss, which is a broken relationship with God. A broken relationship is the greatest punishment, because as soon as we are dependent on ourselves for happiness and not God, we cease to exist and become self-edible. Those in the abyss are in the state of eternally eating themselves, like a blackhole. They do not exist.
While God subdued nothing, the war for our existence is a struggle. When the sin fell over Creation like a heavy stage curtain, childbirth ceased to be peace. Existing ceased to be peace. Losses occurred alongside all gains. Because of our broken relationship with God, we humans were forced to battle nothing again. The fall was a reversal of the Creation. Where God created out of nothing, creation was quickly slipping back into nothing. This is seen in the pains of Eve. This is seen in the losses of genealogies and the weakness of this existence that took the lives of so many possible forefathers. How many family trees might have existed, had there been no fall? How many children and so quickly? How many long lives, which gave more room for more people to have existed? In this long history of broken people, your presence was preserved like a small boat on a stormy sea. You can be seen thousand of years ago in the water that Moses drank, even if that is bordering a cliche. Your present has been around for a long time and it is only the sustaining hand of God that held back the forces of nothing, threatening to undo the thin thread of people that made your present possible. God has been with you since the beginning of time. He has ensured that you are here for a time.
And so, while life is most certainly a gift, it is also an escape. Everyone who is alive right now, who is part of this wide but shallow club, has escaped nothing. God has been there, again bringing creation out of nothing perpetually. Because when sin fell over Creation like a stone wedding gown, God was done resting and he has been at the scene ever since, cleaning up what we have ruined. God loves us and so that is why he continues to uphold creation, but if he took his hand away, creation would fall back into nothing from where it came. He has the power to forsake things, he has the power to remove his face from our presence. And if he does that, we cease to exist.
So why and how could anyone, seeing that existence is not only a gift but also a partial salvation, scorn God? He has given you a part of the great gift of relationship. And he has only asked us to wait, just a moment, for his return. And for the time being, we are to enjoy what we can here. And while it might seem like the scraps of a past paradise are before us, those scraps can sustain our gratitude for a lifetime. Thank you, God, for making our lives so short. There is too much for which to be grateful.
This is why the righteous wait. This is why waiting is righteousness. The righteous are waiting to give up on God. Those who are unrighteous are impatient. They do not want to wait on God. They ask the question “How long, o Lord?” and are impatient for the reply. Instead, they give up on God. But the righteous, they do not give up on God, but give themselves up to him. I picture the pleas of the saints asking “How long, o Lord?” going up as chimneys of smoke to heaven from an altar, all of the faces of the saints going up with the smoke, me there, and you.
There is an objection I have heard to God. It is perhaps the strongest of the great objections to God. It asks, “How could a loving God make some for destruction?”
This objection is short and has a game leg. Its primary fault lies in the fact that the person who asks it is not thinking of himself. When a man asks that, he is thinking of God (who he evidently does not understand), and he is thinking of a group of people who do not actually exist. He is thinking that some are made for vessels of destruction to glorify God.
What he does not realize is that these vessels of destruction are not doing anything against their will. God does not destroy them if they do not wish to be destroyed. God judges and loves for his own pleasure and because it pleases him, he has given us the decision to choose what we want.
The man must not think of this group who is led against their will, which do not exist, but of himself. He must think of himself, only, and God. And when he does that, the choice is clear. If he knows God well enough to make that sort of objection, he also knows the law of God. The law of God is written on his heart, otherwise he would be unable to treat God as a human in this way and place God under his mortal DIY ethical buttresses. The man knows that it is his choice to be a vessel of destruction. He can choose to be one. He knows how to become one. All he has to do is reject God, as a vessel of destruction might, because he does not like the frame which God places on him. Or, he can look past himself and embrace God and be a jar of clay. It is he who rejects God, not God he. From the beginning of time, it is the man who desired to reject God. Since justice is a good, the justice that vessel receives pleases God.
God is most pleased when all his creations receive what they desire. Some desire destruction, others dependence. In this way, God is glorified and pleased.
I thought of throwing all of this away. I had, in one way, too much difficulty writing it and, in another, too little. And perhaps I should have thrown it out. But someone wiser than myself once taught me that if you continually pour yourself out, you will continually be made full. I hope that by pouring this out, although I find it to be a thought as transient and paltry and unnecessary as the next, I will be filled with yet more thoughts that can be poured. Of writing books there will be no end.
Preface I, “The Storied Cathedral”
Without my Father, I am a blind man riding a bicycle down a hill. I am a woman who has convinced herself that she is pregnant and, with her hands on her belly, tries to force out the baby. But she passes out and wakes up to find that she is still fat.
He appears as chaos to us, in a whirlwind, and we are frightened and want to run away. It is a violent storm and we want to look away. It is coming for us, because with our shrill voices we have requested a hearing. He comes to us in the fields outside the city. And if we come into his presence, we go outside the city walls, forgetting our reputation with this world, and forgetting ourselves. We go out into the swirling motions, hold our breath, pray, and forget.
And by forgetting, we see that he has planned his stories perfectly.
It would be sacrilegious to say that he is building a cathedral with his stories, because a cathedral is a man-made thing. But it would not be sacrilegious to say that he is building a universe.
In my mid teens, I saw a vision of his complexity and chaotic appearance. Caught in the Whirlwind, a collection of stories, was the child of that vision. But when I let the ideas ferment in my mind, they quickly became stale and self-destructive. I set out to prove through this collection that our search for identity and questions are finished when we enter into the presence of God. The answer to the trial of Job was simply the face of our Father. As soon as we come into his presence, which drives us mad as we watch its ferocity and irregularity from the city walls, we are silenced and the Father speaks with his image. The Father does not communicate to us through frail language, but through the unbreakable force of his own identity revealed in the Christ. He pours out his Spirit on his Son and this wrath is so profound that it kills him. And this is love, that he laid down his own life, so that we could throw our petty questions at his feet.
As I once saw it, your creativity was so endless that all possibilities were realities in your creation. You did not just create this universe, but you breathed a cloud of a billion universes all connected and united under the solitary completed possibility of your Son, Jesus, dying on the cross in this universe for all sins in all possibilities.
This was my construction, but I felt that it was my place as a creature to contemplate your breadth and width and height. I felt that if you really are eternal, then perhaps your creation is eternal and infinite beyond just one universe. I concluded that all of your creation and every possiverse existed in this universe, if even a few miles apart. There are many universes (possiverses under my model) contained within one universe, creation, which is infinite.
Ironically, this infinite creation underneath you began to shrink your own infinity. I felt that if creatures only saw how much you had planned and how much you had fulfilled and how much you governed and guided, then the ancient question, “Why do bad things happen to good people?” would be answered.
But in believing your creation to be infinite and in desiring to show this to others, so that their questions would be silenced as mine were when I saw you, I was conflating you with your creation. In making your universe infinite, I was making you finite. And therefore, I increased the questions and confusion for a god that was no longer necessary.
I could not see that you are a god of nature, but not in the classic sense. By saying that the greatest god is a god of nature, someone is usually confessing to be a spiritualized and compromised atheist.
When I say that my Father is a god of nature, I mean that I am who I am. I mean that he is bound by his nature and, unlike my complex fabrications, is satisfied. The eternity in him that answers all the questions of man, the end of the trial of Job, is that he is the Trinity. And in this Trinity, he is self-satisfied and does not need to create an endless tapestry. He is satisfied to make one universe and provide himself as savior once and have me exist only once.
To better understand this, consider yourself. Only you will do certain things and think in your way. You are the only you that has ever existed. And unfortunately, the cliche that we are special no longer makes us satisfied but greedy for proof that we are more special than others. Let me reinstate that old maxim, you are special.
You are special, because you will die and you will never have a second chance to repeat this life. Every mistake you make here is eternal unless you come into the Father’s presence. Only the Father can forget, because he knows all. To forget is righteousness. To live in the present is righteousness. To be satisfied with your nature is righteousness. To wait is righteousness, until you can wait no longer and you die and you are not left asking, “How long, o Lord?” because he is looking at you.
It is impossible for you to act and create outside of your nature. Luckily, our nature is malleable and intentionally so, so that if we face some deficiency of virtue, we may be healed by a graft of identity.
I will only ever create according to my nature. The fact that a multiverse is attractive to me says something about my nature. Everything I do is a footprint of my nature. I cannot be free from my nature, because I have been made good. I do not want to be free from my nature. I am being perfected as a creation of the Father.
The two saddest thoughts to me are these. One, not that someone would die, but that they would be afraid of death. Two, not that someone was insecure, but that they are not content to be themselves. The greatest pleasure in this life comes from our worship of God in our small span through what we have been given, our bodies.
So while I could conceive of a god that would create eternal possiverses, it would be heretical to call that god Father. The Father does not and has never created outside his own nature. The possiverse does not exist. This is a declaration of his eternity, because it is an acceptance of the finitude of creation. Creation is underneath the Father and is therefore not eternal.
So it is with my relationship to my stories. In relation to the stories I create new from the soil and the sun he has given me, I am eternal. I can only ever create something limited. I cannot create possibilities. My stories will only go as far as the words I use will allow. There will always be boundaries.
This is why the artist, being afraid of his limited nature, ends his stories with vague language, estimating that our lack of knowledge is equivalent to the Father’s mystery and proves that the artist is god. He uses vague language to avoid the truth that he holds vague notions of himself. It is the creator who embraces his finitude that is free to create real worlds. Vague language, by allowing for any number of interpretations, gives this pleasure not to himself but to the viewers. They complete the story in their own mind and make it real for themselves. And so by setting himself up as god, the artist takes away the single pleasure he is offered and gives it to someone else. The atheist walks in the footsteps of Esau.
For all of this, every creator should memorize Ecclesiastes. I need to memorize Ecclesiastes, to digest it and have it rest in my elbows and knees. God’s gift to man is to eat, drink, and take pleasure in his toil, because all is vanity and we are the dead.
We are the small. We are the vessels, broken or made whole. We are the paintings, running and blending and God holds us in derision. We are the worried and we grasp for moments with our machines to preserve them. But to every season there is a time and a time for every purpose under heaven. And to writing books there will be no end, so the sum of the matter is this; fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man. And all is vain, but God remembers all we do, whether attempted or thought, and he will bring us into his presence and judge us according to what identity we choose to lose.
So, Father, I offer up this gift to you. Take my storied cathedral. It is my joy, my privilege, your gift, my toil to construct a cathedral of as many stories I might write and on the tall front wooden door, I have a plaque that reads soli deo gloria, because my glory is fading, but your victory lives in all of us. Father, I have lost the will to fight, for I was not made for life. And I want to jump into that destruction outside the city walls, because this city is coming down and you have prepared a place for me to create and to laugh.
And this is all not a very serious affair, because there are so many of us. So I have no need to get my arms wrapped around those next to me, unless it is for a hug and not for the sake of influence.
Father, here is this storied cathedral, take and seal it for my court above. It is there that I may perfect my work. It is there that I go to continue my work. It is there that I may remember the darkness here and the fear and the uncertainty about evil and it is there that I may write a million stories that do nothing but retell that deep story of Job, which I have only just begun to understand. And Job had more kids and had a bigger house and his influence on earth spread down through the generations to a skinny pale kid living in the empire of America and he is learning contentedness and he finds pleasure in his thoughts, only because they are completed by gratitude, because I did not invent soil and I did not invent the sun and I have only just begun to tell your single story, your storied universe, through the only way I know how, not as a mirror but as a statue, growing towards heaven.
And each stone I use and the frescoes on the floor and the gargoyles on the towers and the bats in the rafters and the vaulted ceilings with the longing paintings and the saints in the windows, these are all my creations. And they are part of the same possiverse of my own mind and I have taken them from that temple of ideas and fixed them firmly into this construction.
And reader, this is for you. Every story you see is part of the same universe. And I call this universe The Storied Cathedral. And I would be a pagan not to tell some of my characters about the sacrifice and resurrection of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, who is as real for them as he is for me. And the same choices are before them, whether I have told his name to them or not, to listen to the Father speak through his idols.
The windows on the left, Caught in the Whirlwind.
-Ludington, Michigan, 2014
Preface II, Puerile Philosophizing
I woke up yesterday and stabbed my eyes out. I can see much better now, after the pain. I can tell you what color your soul is. I know the rhythm of the rain. I understand that the earth is curving at every straight edge. I have seen the blackness of space and felt it. I am not ashamed naked. I can see when failure is heading my way and I can dodge the bullet. I have seen that smaller things are much larger than big things. I can breath underwater. I have dispensed with every outworking of my humanity, except my core remains the same. I am still human and for all my attempts at escape, I still cannot measure God.
I woke up yesterday and my eyes grew back. I see everything again, and that’s much more painful. I can’t see what you really mean. I am clumsy when I try to end something that shouldn’t have begun. I will not live past two hundred. I don’t know how old my descendants are. I plan on planning things. I kill the people I love the most. I leave out hope when it’s needed most. I intend to save others from my own faults. The earth is flat. I cannot dispense with my humanity, but every now and then I try. Every attempt sheds light on something dark. It is not evil, it is not against me. It is very scary. I still cannot measure God.
What variation exists in His head? What has He hid from us? He has not hid my death. He has not hid my failure. I look to Him and I see a face with worlds behind Him. He can allow things that are not to be. Who will argue with Him? Who will demand that He follows rules which we have arbitrarily placed? Who says we have to understand Him? We have to acknowledge Him. If we don’t, every endless line of vision is an absurdity. A world without God would be a world that contains a long list of unconnected unknowables. He is the connection of these things. His existence alone explains why there are universes we cannot see. His existence alone explains simultaneous realities that seem contradictory. He cannot be measured, because He is the measurement.
It is through Him that I become eternal. I am caught up in this flurry of activity, too wild to wrap my head around. It’s wrapped around me and I have to either embrace the ridiculousness or suffocate. This is a reality where anything is possible and where every possibility exists at the same time; where every detail is just as important as the last. There are the wrinkles on an old man’s face and there are billions of galaxies. How many universes are there? How much variation? How much possibility? How much knowledge and force is necessary to control a reality where infinite things exist? A number is not even good enough. I still cannot measure God.
Here are some guidelines to measuring yourself.
1. All things exist at the same time logically, only if God exists.
2. God is working. These motions generate a whirlwind which wraps around everything. He hides the whirlwind with His cloak, so we cannot see.
3. Sometimes the cloak blows out and we see things we ought not.
4. We mean nothing apart from God. He has to focus on everything intently. He has to focus on us. Because we are wrapped up in the whirlwind, we become eternal. We are eternal souls, distinct from everything else and playing an essential role.
5. Apparent contradictions in reality exist and must. They are apparent, because they are there. They are contradictions, because of how we see them, not because of their nature. The Law of Gravity and our other theoretical grids cannot capture what we observe. What we observe is the nature of the universe and a reflection of the nature of God, who loves our categorical creations.
6. Because contradictions exist, they have to exist for some reason. They exist, because God has been loving Himself for eternity. And He has a whirlwind wrapped around Him.
7. Everything is constantly changing and subject to the power and usefulness of God. We can choose to either be tools of Him, or reject Him and use ourselves. The latter is just another form of helping His goals.
8. A reality without numbers – one whose boundaries are incalculable – demands that our finitude be subject to His will, even in the cases when He has given us complete free will.
9. My immortality is born out of this work.
-Geneva, Illinois, 2013
I want to see a lay person in the church write an epic. Unfortunately, fiction is either written to be sold or to be mysterious. There are the writers who have a message and there are the writers who have a vision. The story is sometimes used as honey for the medicine or is conflated with the truth itself. There is the marketer and the mystic and I think that the next epic will be written as something like magical realism.
I do not like to talk about genre or to put more into one genre than another. All things are pure to those who are pure and this is not only an ethical claim but also an aesthetic claim about form. The point is that content ought to determine form, not vice versa.
The content for an epic ought to come from a writer who has a vision after hearing the message.
A writer whose motive is exclusively spreading a message will pick a form that will sell, so he writes science fiction or erotic fiction or young adult fiction or whatever it is that the mass market enjoys.
A writer whose motive is exclusively to spread his vision, however, will pick a form that will prove his status as a cultural prophet, something like free verse or unedited postmodern schlock. And he will remain the most active member of the local writing group, revered for his depth of vision and the trouble in getting others to understand what he sets up as mysterious. The farthest he will get professionally, perhaps, is printing off one hundred copies of his free verse poetry about finding Your True Self and asking the local coffee shop if he can put five or six copies on their shelf next to the coffee mugs. Or, she will become a professor of English at a community college and get tenure after a few years and teach her students to express themselves exactly as she wants them to.
The next epic will not be a postmodern one nor will it be a “rational” one. I am about to make a grand claim that deals with how to change culture, so let me first defend myself.
__________Personal Defense: Skippable__________
This is a blog. A blog is a public journal and I feel it can be as fruitful to have a public journal as a private one. The difference does not lie in motivation, but in content. A private journal can be used for anything–and so can a public one–but you can say anything in a private journal. You are either writing to your future self, Journal, or Jesus and these three people already know everything about you.
A public journal, however, is a place to share your opinions on things. A gigantic marketplace has existed since there was culture and it is called public opinion. It is a marketplace in which it is free for everyone to participate. The blog is only one tool used in this ancient marketplace.
Some modern people look at the internet and blogs and think it is some new invention, but the infrastructure has been there as long as people have had voices, ears, and something to say. The internet only speeds up the process of disseminating information, news, and opinions between people. The written word is the child of recorded speech.
My grand claim about changing culture is that the goal for a “culture-changer” should never be to change culture. I do not mean that the goal is too vague. Frequently, someone who wants to change culture knows of a way to do it. The goal of changing the culture is dangerous, instead, because it is frequently too specific. When someone becomes a vendor in the marketplace–whether they are spreading a message or sharing a vision–they try to do the new thing. And new things are frequently repetitions of old things that were once new. The specificity of their goal is often a way for them to provide an extreme alternative to the “old” things that they see as “problems” in culture.
And then they are pumped and thrilled (!) to oppose big businesses with small businesses or big churches with small churches or Christian fiction with dark realism (this is a dark world; not that dark) or consumerism with asceticism or their parents with radical discipleship or church programs with Eastern Orthodoxy.
But history has proven that swinging the pendulum the opposite direction is not enough. To oppose something extremely is not enough to change culture. The more violently we support extremes, the more violently the pendulum will swing right back to the problems we once opposed. All it takes is for the visionaries to die and for the rebels, our children, to be the next visionaries who will die.
A true visionary will not just oppose one extreme and not just both extremes and not just the balance. He will oppose the entire idea of a pendulum. He will oppose the fable that history is a cycle and that the current age has to be cycled through and that we have to play some part in the battle between Yin and Yang, to bring in the New Age.
He will be pleased that he lives in the age in which he has been put. He will embrace all of history, not as a power play between two truths or the fruit of men who once struggled with dichotomies, but instead as something very good all the way through and increasingly being made perfect.
A true visionary will live contentedly with all men of his age and of the past age and, instead of addressing their present cultural hungers (and his own), addresses the ancient hunger for a relationship with mankind’s Father. He will not look past in history and see one age that he wishes we could go back to, nor does he see that our cultural hope lies in the future (for the present, oh how it is so woefully terrible! No goodness! Dark realism! No one sees things the way I do! Oh, piety! Somebody whip my back, I am too perverted to even enjoy potato chips with a clean conscience).
He will speak through all extremes of past ages. I mean this in both senses. He will draw from past cultural extremes, knowing that he is not the first man who craved peace. They are not only tools for him, but things to cut through, to destroy and look past. This can only be done if he uses them as tools.
Somewhere inside here lies multiculturalism, intertextuality, the idols of postmodernism, surrealism, the avant-garde, and magical realism.
All past epics spoke through the ages in this way. Epics are so strongly rooted in a place in both space and time that they are set free from their age and considered ageless. A contemporary epic would have to do this. It would have to be so well-rooted in this postmodern age (this post-postmodern age?) and in the tools that postmodernists use that it speaks through postmodernism into the realm of ageless epics alongside Paradise Lost, Pilgrim’s Progress, The Divine Comedy, Don Quixote, etc.
In my opinion, this epic will be considered a masterpiece of magical realism. It will be written by a man whose spiritual life is a field so well-tilled and so rooted in the Gospel, that his conviction pervades the visions that capture him. And from these visions, he carves an epic because he loves to.
Good cannot be done by those who are not good, a church cannot grow if there is no integrity, discipleship cannot be done by those who have not yet been discipled, and form cannot be perfected if there is not first content.
Our Father grows his church, not by more programs or by extra forms, but by people who have been indwelled by the Spirit of Christ. This is essential to understand for writers just as much as it is for pastors as much as it is for the lay person who is an ordained electrician.
A writer cannot write to change something, unless he has first been changed.
This is why St. Benedict in his rule said that if a brother becomes proud or begins to self-identify himself in his craft, then the abbot should take away his craft until he has again forgotten himself. This is why pastors, if need be, should sometimes take time off from their ministry and ordained electricians should take time off to go into ministry. This is why we set time aside to stop what we are doing and, instead, spend time in silence with God. This is why we fast from good things. This is why we do not works ourselves to death, as if our salvation was through the realization of our ambitions. This is why we, if we find that we have four kids under us (I do not) and a wife beside us, sacrifice our thoughts and ambitions and visions to pour love into them until they can do nothing else but pour love into the next generation.
And this is why ambition is something that must be cultivated. I am tired of writers in the church compromising their ambitions for distractions. I am tired of elders condemning ambition as if it was something foreign to the saints of God. The restoration of the church will not just come from nuclear families and from wives who think that submission to their husbands means that they cannot have opinions.
The restoration of the church will come from those who are pure and from the forms that they choose, which become pure. And these people, if they find themselves bursting with ambition either for missions or for shifting the cultural landscape of America through film, have to forsake distractions and instead embrace discipline, cultivation, and glory to God in their ambition. Ambition is no enemy of the church. Ambition is the God-given desire to create, which is the most reflective action of our Father in which we can participate. And because it is mightily powerful in doing the work of God, it is mightily attacked by Satan and all of the enemies of the Church behind him. Hollywood heteroclites who are completely ignorant of the forces of good and evil that use them as vessels of battle (Pharaoh with his wooden heart: a pawn of God) will go unopposed if we champion silent chastity over the virtue of ambition. Adam had a paunch and Eve had curves and they enjoyed making things and had ambitions of filling the earth and multiplying. Adam and Eve wanted to change the world and the first person who opposed this ambition was Satan who wanted to silence their desire by offering them an opportunity to just sit down for a minute. We cannot even sit down rightly and take a break from our race, if we are not first running towards something, pursuing ambitions that our Father has given us.