Thursday, September 30, 2004

In so many words...

My theory is out there, now I expect that the fossil record will bear me out.
-Charles Darwin

We would like to modify Darwin's theory in the following way: We request exemption from fossil proof by our faith that changes happened so quickly we missed them.
-"Punctuated Equilibrium"

Wednesday, September 29, 2004

Life is an orchestration of many factors. If you continue to orchestrate them skillfully, you can proceed along the channels of normal, acceptable society. An off-rhythm on any single count—even circumstantial—can alter your alignment in the human universe and land you in the netherworld of deviance.

Thursday, September 23, 2004

Celebrity myth

Celebrities are prettier than us,


they’re smarter,


and we should admire them.


Wednesday, September 22, 2004

Part II

Once we insist that even made up things fit perfectly into the universe we know is true, where do we stop? Do we do away with flying carpets, androids, leprechauns, and talking animals? If we insist on a fictional world that completely matches the universe that we know to be true, fiction is dead. Every thing would become documentary. All attempts at science fiction and fantasy would end up silly and phony, because it would merely be a case of real world characters dressed in otherworld stage props. An argument against myth and magic cannot stop shy of condemning any departure from the universe exactly as God has made it.

Nothing about fiction is true; it’s all a made-up world. Fiction merely reflects the truth in the world. In a universe that is completely made up, it isn’t so abhorrent to create a system by which humans can participate directly in the struggle against good and evil, unless the underlying philosophy wars against God’s world (e.g., The Celestine Prophecy). No one is asking us to take fairy stories as truth, and start living them out. In our world, practicing magic is immoral because it is not a means by which God has given us by which to have power. So the only place magic power is available is through channels of evil. In Tolkein's world, magic is something given as legitimate, because we see good magic. Why do we have to be so afraid for God's truth that even if someone says, "Suppose the world were like this," we begin to call down curses?

Myth actually serves to help our understanding in a way that fiction written within our own world cannot. By existing completely outside of any context we are familiar with, we see truth under a different light. The general principles of good and evil are still operative, but they have been put in an imaginative world. So we're not distracted by the familiar, we're not blinded by realities we sinfully take for granted. The creators are forced to figure out how our world works, and what true reality is, in order to decide what kind of world to portray. And we as the readers or viewers have the opportunity to assess that alternate reality, and to use it as a contrast against our own world, which brings obscure things into higher focus, and does away with some of the inessentials that blind our own paths.

In the foundation work for The Lord of the Rings, The Silmarillion, we find a creation account that parallels our own universe, complete with one omnipotent God and archangels. Tolkein does not ask us to take magic as reality, but merely a symbol of truths we currently cannot see. In Tolkein’s world, Balrogs and Orcs parallel the demons, giants, and profanely bred, pre-diluvian Nephilim. The evil magic parallels the evil power Satan holds over the world. And the “good” magic parallels the supernatural power Tolkein knows that God holds over the one true world.

I think if we look at the groups who rail against Harry Potter and J.R.R. Tolkein, these truths are borne out. Typically you find protest within legalistic circles, where long hair, dancing, alcohol, and any form of tobacco are also automatically taboo. More solidly biblical circles recognize that truth is not so fragile that we cannot enjoy a rich tradition of storytelling and myth.

Isn't there enough heresy already in the world without finding it under every fictional rock and stone?

What child hasn't talked to and for his or her dolls or stuffed animals or toy soldiers? What child hasn't fantasized about being a knight, a king or queen, or a superhero? What child has not thought of incantations that would make some improbable or even impossible event happen—in an attempt to control the world around them? A rich fantasy life invigorates the imagination.
Casper Star-Tribune

Monday, September 20, 2004

Pictures both beautiful and sad, but seeming to portray hope on the faces of the subjects.

They're shot with such vivid lighting and colors, we almost need to be reminded they're not postcards. You could fly there tonight and meet those children, ask them what games they like to play, find out what dreams they hold inside, and what they're afraid of when it's dark.

Cry out to God for people with such basic needs. Say a prayer in gratitude that we have the luxury to throw away in a day what some can't salvage in a week. Let their sincere smiles remind us that external circumstances do not determine blessedness, peace or contentment.

Friday, September 17, 2004

Awhile ago I had a discussion with a friend about whether magic and fantasy are acceptable forms of literature for a Christian. The conversation was sparked by the Lord of the Rings trilogy, but my thoughts mostly dealt with the question on a general level. I framed two separate responses to the question, with a little bit of overlap between them. The first of the two is given below. I have not given it a formal editing, I just don't have the time right now.

The movie Lord of the Rings was at times for me an uncomfortable reminder of nagging questions I’ve had about fantasy literature (i.e., otherworldly stories that aren’t directly allegorical). There was the wizardry, the witchcraft, the evil creatures. When the movie allowed for stray thoughts, I found myself trying to frame what my attitude is towards such representations.

The first conclusion I came away with is a recognition that literature is not theology. It can touch on theology, attempt to ignore it, or attack it, but for the most part is not strictly theology. If every work of literature was a fictionalized theological treatise, an allegory, or an account of the grace of God triumphing in the world, I think the realms of imagination would quickly grow sterile. Everything would be another take on This Present Darkness, Pilgrim’s Progress, or Christian popular fiction. I’m not sure we should restrict ourselves to the rule that every story be about God, his angels, and man. And not every story to be told in the world ends in redemption. Certainly this is one of the roles needed by Christian artists, but if every Christian artist creating stories felt this their calling, I think we would eventually feel that literature is manipulative and propagandistic. Story can exist on its own merits—just by spinning a tale that increases our understanding of the world and is enjoyable. Or by empathizing with the pains and sorrows of being human. Story shouldn’t always be relegated to having a neat moral point at the end—parables are but one genre available.

To return more specifically to fantasy worlds, we also recognize that man in his current state is cut off from the physicality of the spiritual world. That is, we don’t see evil, we don’t see holiness, we can’t witness the struggle. So if a writer wants to create a world where the chasm between the physical and the spiritual is bridged, magic is one substitute. In fact, aside from those works that deal directly with what we know to be true—imagining what demons and angels actually look and act like—it seems to be one of the best offered.

It is helpful to be reminded that most writers do not intend their fictions as nonfiction masked as made-up story. Tolkein was not hoping that he would inspire Middle Earth cults, although I’m sure that that warped result would not be beyond the realm of possibility. Also, fantasy writers can never completely escape their humanness—their createdness. Every story is in the most general sense allegorical in that it casts shadows on Plato’s cave, beckoning us to come out and see what Is.

Thus every fantasy story is like a glimpse at reality through a different lens. It is a retelling of God’s universe in a new setting, which can actually wake us up out of our lethargy. Unfortunately due to our fallenness, Biblical truth can begin to be taken for granted. We begin to have trouble thinking of God and angels in a vibrant way, because we’ve lived all our lives with the understanding of them without ever getting to watch them. To put things in a new context can bring us back full circle to re-affirm things we’ve always cherished most deeply.

It might not always be a comfortable journey for the Christian. We see evil beasts and black magic and strange mutated human forms. But is it any less comfortable than what our experience would be if we could see actual spiritual realities? The Bible mentions twisted races of creatures destroyed in God’s wrath, witches called upon to bring up the dead, plagues, demons, and horrific tragedy.

That does not mean, though, that every fantasy story interprets, comments on or re-invents reality with the same understanding. Some might be an attempt to underscore other beliefs than the Biblical portrayal of good and evil. There might be an emphasis on reincarnation, amorality, or even the reversal of good and evil. In these instances it would be necessary to identify that the writer is proceeding from a pagan or occult understanding of reality. Mythology, while part of the rich heritage of literature, is created from a mindset of polytheism, and was also a direct outworking of religious beliefs. The Iliad, Odyssey, Aeneid, and others were the This Present Darkness’s of the ancient Greek and Roman world. To not recognize this at some level while interacting with the works would be to confuse truth with falsehood.

There’s also a question of how a story handles good and evil, even if from a right perspective. Evil is a literary device, borrowed from the real world, that creates conflict. But it should be an ingredient that is used in proportion, and not sensationalized. Viewed from a strictly theological standpoint, many horror stories would have to be judged as Biblically accurate. And yet the horror genre does not use evil simply to oppose the good. Evil becomes the focus, evil is sensationalized, and thus the vanquishing of evil is almost akin to disappointment. It becomes a cheap vaudeville act, made to sing and dance for cheap entertainment and thrill.

I have not found elements of Tolkein that war against God’s truth. Taken in constant doses, it might begin to warp us, no less than the One Ring begins to warp any of its bearers. But by that token, so would a continual study of demonology. C.S. Lewis once stated that he would never write a sequel to the Screwtape Letters, because the time during which he created the book was one of the darkest periods in his life. Any aspect of life or art can essentially be turned into something unhealthy in the minds of men. But aside from the concerns laid out in this treatise, I find myself not inclined to condemn any enjoyment of Tolkein and magical realms.

I would remain open, however, to other viewpoints, and would possibly have the privilege of modifying my understanding to better match how God would have me assess the subject.

Tuesday, September 14, 2004


You stand there looking like you have nothing more to say,
And Yeats’ love told him if she married him,
          What would he write about?
And Jesus told Satan that man needs more than bread,
And God told Abraham to slay his only son,
          And Mary she was with child,
And Burns told Scotland that love is like a rose,
And Patrick Henry told the world that freedom was worth it,
And Sartre told all of us hell is other people,
And Khrushchev told America (and his shoe),
          That he would bury us,

Yet you stand there, asking me to believe
          that this is the end.
Believe—you have nothing more to say.

Monday, September 13, 2004

Tell me I'm a strange one, but there's just something life-affirming, something akin to pure joy, seeing Batman standing on the front wall of Buckingham Palace.

It almost makes me wish I didn't have a day job.

story here


Friday, September 03, 2004

--Out until September 13, 2004.--

Wednesday, September 01, 2004

Farrah Fawcett was on the David Letterman show last night, and I watched the interview eagerly, hoping for a repeat of her 1996 appearance, when she was fairly incoherent at times. A little incoherence breaks the rhythm of a dull day.

Any small little thing can lend a new rhythm to a day. Today, for instance, I organized a hot dog eating contest, and ate seven myself.

The lesson I carry away from that dubious event is that a seventh hot dog tastes significantly different than a first hot dog.

But on Farrah irrationality, mostly no luck. The closest we came was a strange comparison Farrah made between herself and Dave:

"When you have a lot of hair, it hides how you look, and so I think we look the same."

Free Counter