Category Archives: Life

Note to Self

Because, today, I am in desperate need of a reminder. A reminder of where my priorities lie. Where my faith is fixed. Where I hide my heart. God help me stem the tide of bitterness in my soul.

From the pen of C. S. Lewis, in what may be his most breathtaking piece of nonfiction: The Weight of Glory.

It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest most uninteresting person you can talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare. All day long we are, in some degree, helping each other to one or the other of these destinations. It is in the light of these overwhelming possibilities, it is with the awe and the circumspection proper to them, that we should conduct all of our dealings with one another, all friendships, all loves, all play, all politics. There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilizations – these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit – immortal horrors or everlasting splendors. This does not mean that we are to be perpetually solemn. We must play. But our merriment must be of that kind (and it is, in fact, the merriest kind) which exists between people who have, from the outset, taken each other seriously – no flippancy, no superiority, no presumption. And our charity must be a real and costly love, with deep feeling for the sins in spite of which we love the sinner – no mere tolerance or indulgence which parodies love as flippancy parodies merriment. Next to the Blessed Sacrament itself, your neighbour is the holiest object presented to your senses.

And my other source of sanity. I point you to Stephen Colbert. Love and peace to y’all.


Christmas Carols and Mental Illness

How is that for a clickbate title?

No, I am not suggesting a correlation. It’s more like I am combining things.

Today I happened upon this: No, I’m Fine

It won’t take long to read it, so go read it! If it doesn’t ring a bell with you, it may still help you understand what some other people face.

I’ve overloaded before. I can’t say if my overloads are like his because I’m not in Mr. Tayler’s head, but what he says is hauntingly familiar. When the stress ratchets up to a level that flips a particular switch in my brain, a kind of pressure-valve, I change. It’s usually caused either by sensory overload (there is a reason I avoid noisy concerts and large masses of people…) or from having too much to do. Being single means that, apart from the kindness of family and occasionally friends, I have to do All The Things myself. And there are a Lot of Things. I tremble when I try to imagine what it’s like for single parents!

This is different from my depression, but not unrelated. The stress can either tip me into overload (more violent, but shorter lived), or depression. That is, the machine either executes an emergency release of pressure, or it simply shuts down. As a friend and I recently said over e-mail, depression sucks. She, dear heart, is grieving. That is a monster of a trigger.

Side Note: if you’re wondering why I refer to my brain as if it’s made of gears and pipes and switches, it’s because it helps me give context to the things that happen in it over which I have no control. And if you don’t buy the idea that I have no control over some processes in that particular fleshy mass, then you really need to educate yourself on how mental illness works. If you can “pull yourself up by your own bootstraps,” or “cheer yourself up,” then you are dealing with the more unpleasant aspects of normal human emotion. Real depression, or anxiety, or other mental afflictions are not in that range. They are what happens when something goes wrong with the machinery. If you haven’t experienced what that’s like, then the best thing you can do is listen to those who have and believe them.

For my friend who is grieving, this is a hard time. It’s a hard time for a lot of people. I know of a family who recently and unexpectedly lost a child around the same age as my nephew. My heart broke when I heard about it, and it’s been breaking off and on ever since. I can’t imagine what that must be like. How hollow the season of comfort and joy must feel for them right now. How they might want it to go away, to leave them alone. Please remember them in your prayers.

Cheery stuff for around Christmas, I know. As it turns out, I’m stressed right now, but otherwise pretty even-keeled. I’ve had a few small overloads, but no depression. I am extremely blessed to be able to say that, and I am on-my-knees grateful.

Still, this does not look like it will be a lighthearted season for me this year. That’s not necessarily a bad thing (though I do like to have a lighthearted Christmas, when I can). Sure, this is a time for rejoicing that Our Lord came and took human form for our sakes, but isn’t part of that rejoicing a recognition of why He came? Why we needed Him so very badly, and why His coming was not only Good News, but the only possible Good News a world like ours can receive? That the Perfect Creator would take up weakness, vulnerability, grief, pain, and not only death, but seeming-abandonment by God Himself. For if ever we feel so abandoned or forgotten, we can still look to Him and realize that He, too, cried out “why have You forsaken Me?”

And then He overcame. He rose even from that darkness and death. God had not truly abandoned God, as He has not truly abandoned us. And He is still bringing us up along with Him. He came down to our level in order to lift us up from that mire. I think that is very Good News. And seeing the mire around me only highlights just how Good.

Hope is born in human flesh, in a cave filled with animals, and that is our comfort and our joy.

And now, yet again, my Carol Countdown from 2013.

December 1: O Magnum Mysterium – Nothing says Christmas like 16th Century Latin

December 3: Away in a Manger – probably not the version you know…

December 6: Hearth and Fire – more winter than Christmas, but lovely

December 8: Balulalow – A joyful song from Scotland

December 10: Don Oiche ud ImBethil – Softer, more meditative fare. It gives me chills.

December 13: Cantique de Noel – You may know this as “O Holy Night” but I dare say that it is far more beautiful in French, especially with Joan Baez’s voice

December 15: Beautiful Star of Bethlehem – Twangy country Christmas music, and a fine example

December 17: Brugundian Carol – a softer, more mellow folk carol

December 20: Third Carol for Christmas Day – hauntingly beautiful song from the 1700’s

December 22: Veni, Veni Emmanuel – I love “O Come, O Come Emmanuel” in any language, but there is something of crystal-beauty to the words in Latin.

December 24: Go, Tell it on the Mountain – The incomparable Odetta, what more can I say?

December 25: Christmas in the Trenches – And finally, the Christmas offering. It’s pretty self-explanatory

Love and blessings to you all! And Peace, and Joy, and every good thing.


Fallen Writer

~*GASP!*~

What is this? An original post? It can’t be!

Well… to some extent, it isn’t. The first part of this post was written a year and a half ago. The quoted text is not how I currently feel, so no prayers or sympathies are needed for depression as I am not presently in a depression (prayers and sympathy for stress, however, will be much appreciated!). The insights I apparently had during that grim time, though, are still relevant to my mind, and as I did not post it back when, I have decided to post it now and tie it in with my present thoughts.

And, uh, Merry Christmas/Happy Holiday-of-your-persuasion! It doesn’t look like I will be doing much Christmas-posting, but I will, again, re-post my carol countdown for any who are interested. :)

I am going through some stuff right now. Nothing is “wrong,” but then my brain chemistry doesn’t really care. It never has.

It’s moods like this that make me want to burn down the world. Luckily for me, and everyone else, global immolation is not in my power. Besides, I would probably remember who and what I love in time to stop me, even if it was.

Depression will pass. It always does. I have learned the hard way that the dimness of the world I see right now is no more real than if I were staring at it through rose glass.

If only knowing were feeling.

Different established aspects of the characters I write become more or less real to me depending on my mood, at least in the abstract.

I have found that I do not need to understand a character for them to reveal themselves in my writing, but the insights I get when I am not writing can help me see the “big picture,” what the characters themselves do not see. You know how we, as people, are often too “close” to our own lives to see ourselves objectively? It seems characters are usually like that, too.

Anyway, I’ve known for a long while that I am dealing with two protagonists who have a (mostly unconscious) deathwish. They have forgotten how to love themselves in the way that allows a person to really love their neighbors. In contrast, I have a protagonist who “loves his life” (John 12:25) so much that he is willing to do nearly anything to survive. Right now I can clearly see the irony of the fact that all three are, despite their differences, self-destructive.

If they change, it will be painful, but then processes that create lasting change are ALWAYS painful. Break the twisted bone so that it can heal straight. Even my dull-dark mood is not enough to hide from me the beauty and joy inherent in redemption.

Cheery stuff, no? Though I do touch on eucatastrophe at the end. It relates, in an acute-angle kind of way to what I will say next.

My stories, all of them, are rife with questions of redemption: what it is, what it means, how it works, if it works, what happens when it doesn’t come into play, etc. Being part of a Fallen race, the question is of deep importance to me.

What I’ve been pondering lately, in a more balanced frame of mind, is how to deal with the concept of Fallen Humanity in-story.

Stories are funny things, aren’t they? So many varieties, and yet so many common notes.

My genre is, I guess, Fantasy Fiction (or speculative fiction, if you want a bigger umbrella). Not particularly High or Low, Heroic or Dark. In fact, running down the list of sub-genres, I’m not sure where it falls. That’s neither a good thing nor a bad thing, by the way. Some of the best (and worst) fantasy fiction out there plays to type.

The reason is that each type has its aim and the formulas work. If you want a peanut-butter milkshake, you use ice-cream, milk, peanut-butter, and maybe some chocolate syrup. You don’t add chicken soup, or gravel.

So, I am not writing dark, cynical fantasy because my aim isn’t deconstruction. But most of the alternatives have heroes that, while flawed, are still… well… heroic. And their villains are villainous. And I look at them and wonder: how much difference is there, really?

In one sense, of course, there is a vast difference. I am not attempting to diminish the importance of choice and freewill. But the Fall cuts through everyone. In a sense, it brings us all close together, even if we’re together in bondage. I may cheat, or lie, and another person may commit mass murder, but without salvation, we’ve both walked through the gates: “Lasciate ogne speranza, voi ch’intrate.”* If we both find salvation, we both find salvation, regardless of what we’ve done. In this sense, at least, there are no levels.

We’re all sinners. But the world, as a whole, rarely seems to agree. There’s a persistent feeling (one that I have to fight in myself) that some things just aren’t forgivable. That some marks, once made, are indelible.

So what does this mean for my writing? I guess it means that I’m walking a fine line. On one hand, I want my reader to like and sympathize with the “good guys,” to be horrified by the destruction wrought by their antagonists, and for the two sides to be quite clear (well, most of the time, anyway). But without ever being able to forget that the degree of separation is not as wide as it seems. I’m not necessarily talking about anti-heroes or anti-villains. I’m not exactly dealing in gray and gray morality.

I guess, maybe, I’m asking how we approach the Fall. How, if we believe in true Good and Evil (as I do,) and know that we’re Not Good (yeah, that too), do we view those whose Not-Goodness horrifies us?

I know that, for a lot of people who share my faith, this may sound stupidly obvious, but I’ve always believed that the obvious needs saying sometimes: I feel like this is Important. Not just on an intellectual level, but on an emotional one.

How do we love our enemies? How do we face mass murder, exploitation, corruption, and cruelty? We must condemn these things because we know them to be evil. To excuse or ignore them in a story, as in real life, would be a sin. But in real life we’re forbidden to judge the perpetrators. Part of that may be because of our human limitations. We can’t really understand our fellows. But maybe it’s also because, when we come right down to it, “we” are not as far from “them” as we would like to think.

To an ant the size of a pin-head, an ant the size of  a bean seems huge. To a human they’re both very small, nearly the same size, even.

The Fall makes us all ants.

And so, dear possible-future-reader, if you ever think it strange that I touch on a monster with sympathy, or deal harshly with a protagonist for a comparatively “small” fault, remember that it isn’t because I’m a relativist.

It’s because I’m not.

 


 

*Dante’s Inferno – “Abandon all hope, you who enter here.”


 


Hymn for the Season

Life is hard. Beautiful, agonizing, wonderful, terrifying, joyous, grief-woven, sublime and small. All at once.

Times of transition, whether external or internal, are tough. Yet without them, we don’t grow. Like Bilbo with the ring, we go on living without gaining more life, and if that goes on too long, we may look in the mirror and find Gollum staring back.*

We’re (skip down if you want to avoid foul language) fuckups.

Even the best of us, even at our best moments. We try to do things, and we fail, we’re self-deluded and we think ourselves wise, we look through a distorted lens and believe what we see to be truth. To use modern parlance, we are Epic Fail.

We are. If you think I am wrong, that’s ok. Maybe you’re right. But if what I’m saying makes you angry, may I make a suggestion? Sit quietly for a while and ask yourself why my words anger you. Or don’t. I’m not the boss of you. Be glad of that. I’m a bad enough boss over me.

This probably sounds like I’m down on myself, and on humanity as a whole. That’s the funny thing about life, though. It’s full of seeming-contradictions that somehow aren’t contradictory. They just seem like they should be.

I’m more free when I admit this kind of crap than when I try to deny it. I’m free to love myself and humanity when I admit that all is not well. When I try to pretend that I am fine, that I’m not a rampaging mess, I find myself imprisoned, and I find myself doing more damage to myself and to others. The more control I take, the less I have.

Admission is not the same as acceptance. I admit that I struggle with obsessive-compulsive tendencies, a predilection for addiction, depression, and worse than all of those together, I struggle with selfishness, anger and pride. I do not, however, accept these things. I call them out by name and then I turn and fight. I do all I can to overcome them.

I often fail. If I had only myself to rely on, I probably would have given up long ago. Why fight my nature? Against it, I am outmatched. I can only overcome one part of it by indulging another. To quote C. S. Lewis:

“Pride can often be used to beat down the simpler vices… The devil laughs. He is perfectly content to see you becoming chaste and brave and self-controlled provided, all the time, he is setting up in you the Dictatorship of Pride—just as he would be quite content to see your chilbains cured if he was allowed, in return, to give you cancer. For Pride is spiritual cancer: it eats up the very possibility of love, or contentment, or even common sense.” -Mere Christianity, Chapter 8: The Great Sin

It’s the admission of failure, coupled with the desire to continue to fight, that makes me deeply grateful for the action of my Savior in my life. I’m dead tired, both from internal and external battles. And here He comes, to pick me up, to hold me while I sleep. In Him I find freedom even in the midst of the raging war. He frees me from my self-inflicted slavery, and from the slavery of the world around me.

I am a mess. But He isn’t asking me to get myself together, first, then come to Him when I am ready. He wants me now, mess and all, and if I will come, then bit by bit, painful though it may be, He will make me into my true, free self.

There are some words that, if spoken to another person, spoken as a “you” instead of an “I” or a “we,” become horrible. The following hymn is an example. If anyone can read it, or sing it and not feel that s/he is one of the “sinners,” then it loses all of its power for good. To me, though, in this place, it is a song of life. Because I am a sinner, poor and needy, weak and wounded, sick and sore. And if I tarry till I’m better, I will never go to Him at all.

A hymn for the day:

Come, Ye Sinners, Poor and Needy – words by Joseph Hart

Come, ye sinners, poor and needy,
Weak and wounded, sick and sore;
Jesus ready stands to save you,
Full of pity, love and power.

I will arise and go to Jesus,
He will embrace me in His arms;
In the arms of my dear Savior,
O there are ten thousand charms.

Come, ye thirsty, come, and welcome,
God’s free bounty glorify;
True belief and true repentance,
Every grace that brings you nigh.

Come, ye weary, heavy laden,
Lost and ruined by the fall;
If you tarry till you’re better,
You will never come at all.

I will arise and go to Jesus,
He will embrace me in His arms;
In the arms of my dear Savior,
O there are ten thousand charms.

View Him prostrate in the garden;
On the ground your Maker lies.
On the bloody tree behold Him;
Sinner, will this not suffice?

Lo! th’incarnate God ascended,
Pleads the merit of His blood:
Venture on Him, venture wholly,
Let no other trust intrude.

I will arise and go to Jesus,
He will embrace me in His arms;
In the arms of my dear Savior,
O there are ten thousand charms.

Let not conscience make you linger,
Not of fitness fondly dream;
All the fitness He requireth
Is to feel your need of Him.

I will arise and go to Jesus,
He will embrace me in His arms;
In the arms of my dear Savior,
O there are ten thousand charms.

Source: Cyberhymnal

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*In case anyone doesn’t know, this refers to characters in The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, by J. R. R. Tolkien


Terry Pratchett

I wish my lilac was blooming already. I would put a sprig of it in my hair.

Rest in peace, Sir Terry. And thank you for introducing me to Vimes, and Death and the rest of your marvelous motley crew.


New years, nightsticks, and tropes

New years have never been a big thing for me. Time rolls on, and January 1st isn’t much different from December 31st. There was a funny moment where my housemate, having made other plans, discovered that, instead of spending New Year’s Eve with my family, I would be staying home, as I was sick. She felt bad, at first, saddened by the thought of me ringing in the New Year all alone.

I nearly laughed. Then I proceeded to explain that it was not nearly as sad as she feared. In fact, being sick, I had spent about a week not sleeping well, and I was hopeful that I would be able to get a decent night’s worth. I had a supper of wonderful Korean dumpling soup (forget chicken noodle) and went to bed at 8PM. I slept like a ten-ton boulder. It was wonderful!

I don’t know what it is about New Years Eve that fails to thrill me. I guess I get my fireworks fix on the 4th of July, I’m not much of a drinker, I don’t like champagne… maybe it is because my family never made much of it?

Or maybe it is that I am a cynic when it comes to “fresh starts.” I shouldn’t be, I know that landmarks help some people. But I can make a landmark any time I please. I can say “enough, I am changing this part of my life right now,” and the start of a new year, or the end of an old one, doesn’t seem to make a difference for me.

But something has been building over the Christmas season, for me, and it spilled out on the first day of 2015. It’s still going. That thing is inspiration. My muse has sunken it’s wicked, pointy teeth deep into my arm and shows no sign, at present, of letting go.

Ah, the double-edged sword of inspiration. It is a great feeling, it gets my sluggish work moving. But it also leaves me raw and open to those voices that plague most writers, the whispers of “your work is crap.”

So far, they are just whispers. I shut them out. Eventually, they will be shouts, and I will have to struggle through this, again. But until that time, manuscript-ho!

As sometimes happens, regardless of the state of my muse, I’ve been digging into TVtropes.org in search of answers to questions about the tropes contained within my own work. I like to be aware of such things, and to keep them in mind as I write. In digging, I have discovered something… interesting.

Whether it is a good thing or a bad thing is up for debate.

If you have spent any time on TVtropes, you know that tropes are ubiquitous. They are all around you, all the time, and not just in fiction. Chances are, you, yourself, embody some tropes, or are at least touched by them. In a round about way, this is why tropes exist in the first place.

I keep searching for the “main” tropes for my main characters. You know, their main defining characteristic? Their archetype? I find, instead, tropes that touch them, but constantly miss the mark. Either this means that I have done a good job in creating well-rounded characters, or that I have, instead, created characters that are so off the beaten path that, for most people, they aren’t relateable. …yes, for any non-writers reading, this is the sort of idiocy that keeps writers up at night.

I know there are a lot of characters out there who defy/subvert/invert/play with tropes. I’m not suggesting that I am creating anything ground-breaking, here. I am more interested in figuring out why, even before I had a good understanding of tropes, I created a cast of characters who largely defy them. Does it have to do with my hatred of firm categories? Or my need to defy expectations? Quite probably… but often, those things create tropes of their own. I will continue to ponder.

Also, on a sort of side-note, I recently found an answer to a question that came up two years ago in my writing. One of my characters picked up a nightstick as a favored weapon. He still hasn’t put it down, but I now know where, in the tortuous caverns of my subconscious, he found the thing. I recently re-watched Terminator I and II with my brother. It turns out that in the latter, one Sarah Connor, picks up a nightstick and runs with it. The image of her gripping the side-handle, the weapon tucked, at the ready, against her arm, was like a light-bulb going off in my brain. I don’t know about you other writers out there, but I absolutely love it when I discover these connections.

Enough pointless rambling and crazy linkage. I would love to hear what any of you think about your own writing processes and how you analyze (or if you even analyze) your characters and plot.

May 2015 be a good year, for all of us.


Advent Recycling

Alas, I do not think my time will allow me to do advent posts like I did last year. Hopefully next year.

I will try and highlight another carol for Christmas, and here, I will gather together last year’s offerings, and give you a advent calendar (and Tolkien) themed post from Grimmella.  I hope you enjoy them!

December 1: O Magnum Mysterium – Nothing says Christmas like 16th Century Latin

December 3: Away in a Manger – probably not the version you know…

December 6: Hearth and Fire – more winter than Christmas, but lovely

December 8: Balulalow – A joyful song from Scotland

December 10: Don Oiche ud ImBethil – Softer, more meditative fare. It gives me chills.

December 13: Cantique de Noel – You may know this as “O Holy Night” but I dare say that it is far more beautiful in French, especially with Joan Baez’s voice

December 15: Beautiful Star of Bethlehem – Twangy country Christmas music, and a fine example

December 17: Brugundian Carol – a softer, more mellow folk carol

December 20: Third Carol for Christmas Day – hauntingly beautiful song from the 1700’s

December 22: Veni, Veni Emmanuel – I love “O Come, O Come Emmanuel” in any language, but there is something of crystal-beauty to the words in Latin.

December 24: Go, Tell it on the Mountain – The incomparable Odetta, what more can I say?

December 25: Christmas in the Trenches – And finally, last-year’s Christmas offering. It’s pretty self-explanatory

Peace and love to you all, entering this season, however you do, or don’t, observe it!

Featured image


Out of the Silence Comes Pumpkin Pie

Sorry for being so quiet, of late. Things have been things, and I haven’t had much inspiration.

 

However, given the nearness of Thanksgiving, I thought I would share a recipe.

Phila Rawling Hach is a living friend of my late Grandfather, and a friend of my parents (I like her, too, but I’ve only met her twice). Her zest for life is greater than pretty much anyone else I have met. Phila loves to cook.

A few years back, the Nashville Retrospect, which is, by the way, a fascinating slice of Nashville history, dug up her pumpkin pie recipe from her cook book Kitchen Kollege.

I thought it looked tasty, and decided to try it. I will never make another kind of pumpkin pie again, if I can help it. The freshness of the flavor, the texture, everything about this pie is fantastic, so here we go:

 

Unbaked pie shell

1 cup raw, grated pumpkin

2 cups top milk (or half-and-half, if you must)

1 cup sugar

1/4 tsp salt

1/4 tsp cinnamon

1/8 tsp mace

3 well-beaten eggs

Beat together eggs, sugar, and spices until smooth. Add milk and pumpkin. Arrange unbaked pie crust in a pie plate, and fill with mixture.

Bake for 10 minutes at 400 degrees, then turn the oven down to 325 and bake until firm. It will look lighter than most pumpkin pies, so test it with a toothpick.

 

Grating raw pumpkin by hand is a chore, so if you have a food-processor, you can do that, too. The important thing is to have a good pie-pumpkin, and to have the pumpkin raw when it goes into the pie. That way, all it’s lovely juices stay in the pie.

 


Vanitas

http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/1/12/Gysbrechts_Still_life_with_a_skull.jpg

Vanitas/Still Life with a Skull, one of several by Franciscus Gysbrechts, mid-to-late 1600’s.
Image from Wikimedia Commons: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/1/12/Gysbrechts_Still_life_with_a_skull.jpg

I haven’t many of my own words, right now, which is why I haven’t been posting. What few words I do have are being channeled into fiction and a few friends and loved ones who are facing trouble and pain.

Three friends of a close friend of mine, all from the same family, were killed in a wreck. Serious illness and death have touched several people I love. There is death, illness, strain, pain, separation, abuse, stress, and frustration close at hand, and horrible violence, famine, illness, war and death not far distant.

In other words, everything is normal for the world.


It is easy to think, in relatively peaceful and prosperous countries, that we are safe, and in many ways, we are. It’s also easy to feel ashamed of that peace and safety, knowing so many do not have it. I keep asking myself what that shame means. Is it helpful or harmful, a tool or an attack? It shouldn’t mean that I want what little peace and prosperity there is, in the world, to vanish (or should it?) but that I do not want such things to be so isolated, so rare. Perhaps, so long as it makes me want to use what I have to help, then it is good, but if it paralyzes me with shame, it is evil.

But there is something to be learned about both peace and prosperity, for those who are in it: It is, in the end, no real protection. Pain and death will find us. If we delude ourselves into thinking otherwise, or in distracting ourselves until we forget, then we are in for a shock.

Different faiths have different perspectives on how this reality should be faced. In my own, Christianity, there are many different angles from which it is approached. There is no single answer, though some folks pretend that there is. There are no pat sayings that cover all angles, though some people like to pretend there are. There is, instead, a mosaic, with space between the tesserae.


Be careful what you say to pain. I have to remind myself of this. It’s too easy to forget, we are so desperate to say something, to help somehow, that we do damage. Better to be silent. After all, in silence the Spirit may have a chance to speak without all of our clutter. My mind is very cluttered… and I am certainly not silent, here. But then, what is this blog if not a place for me to vent? Maybe venting, here, will keep me from saying stupid things to someone anon.


The painting, above, is a vanitas, a reminder of mortality and of the ephemeral nature of earthly wealth, power, pleasure and wisdom. In this particular painting, the skull is wreathed in dried grass, a symbol of the brevity of life, and the hope of resurrection, as the grass dies every year, but returns every Spring. It is the only thing in the painting that is treated so. I think C. S. Lewis, in The Weight of Glory points out one reason why.

There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilizations – these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub and exploit – immortal horrors or everlasting splendors. This does not mean that we are to be perpetually solemn. We must play. But our merriment must be of that kind (and it is, in fact, the merriest kind) which exists between people who have, from the outset, taken each other seriously – no flippancy, no superiority, no presumption.

Growing up, especially while studying history and biology, I got a very different impression of the world. What is the life of a human, so brief and fragile, to the life of a nation, or the world, or the universe?

This is no answer to the question of pain and death, or at least, it is not a complete answer. But it does shift the perspective. If I believe that human’s are, in essence, immortal, then how I treat them becomes much more serious. The responsibility is immense. When we turn our backs on human suffering, we are turning our backs on the suffering of an eternal someone. In Weight of Glory, Lewis catches at a possible risk. A turnabout.

It may be possible for each to think too much of his own potential glory hereafter; it is hardly possible for him to think too often or too deeply about that of his neighbor. The load, or weight, or burden of my neighbor’s glory should be laid daily on my back, a load so heavy that only humility can carry it, and the backs of the proud will be broken.

How this post rambles! I’m not sure there is a point, or at least not a clear or singular one. I keep coming back to the vanitas. Almost all is vanity, born from dust and to dust returning, but if there is something eternal in that dust, which I believe, then the one thing that is not vanity is the immortal. The pain in my fellows, the suffering, may be finite, but I do not think it is trivial.


Brooding on Monsters

Forgiveness of others when they wrong me is a fundamental, though often challenging, requirement of my faith. I understand why it is so important, and why we often need help to accomplish it. I desire to be forgiven when I wrong others.

As far as extending human understanding, and even the idea of forgiveness, to some people, I seem to have limits.

Listening to the news has recently brought before me a recurring theme in my life: There is a homicidal torturer that lives under my skin. She longs to take predatory humans, especially sexual predators, into a brightly lit room and vivisect them over the course of several days.

There. I have said it. Yes, I know that many predators are also victims of predation or other horrible circumstances. I also believe that there is a predatory strain, an impulse, a siren call to dominate others, imbedded in humanity.

Obviously, I am no exception. I want to torture certain people, I want to murder them, and when all is said and done, both stem from that desire for domination.

I want to dominate and destroy an aspect of humanity (by proxy of humans that openly manifest it) that exists within me. Even more ironic is the fact that the predatory aspect I contain, that I hate so much in others, would be my motivation and means for attempting to dominate and destroy the aspect in others.

A friend said to me “but they are using it for evil. You want to use it for good.” She means that I want to use it to avenge the weak who are harmed and even killed by those who have the power to harm them. She has strong feelings about cruelty, and she has seen much first-hand as she tries to rescue animals from horrific abuses. She, like me, wishes she could pay the inflicters back, perhaps starving and beating them, then putting them in rings together and forcing them to fight and kill each other while people watching place bets.

There is a grim satisfaction in the thought. An eye for an eye is just. But then I remember that I do not believe that I am the judge. I am a fellow defendant, or at best, a plaintiff.

And yet, without that sense of outrage, that anger, that horror, I would have no motivation to act, to try and stop genocide, or human-trafficking, or rape. Great struggles against these evils are born from the anger, the sense of there being such a thing as justice and injustice.

Righteous anger is, I believe, just that. It is right, and it is anger. Some acts, and the people who perpetrate them, need to be stopped. Given the dangerous monster under my skin, I see the need for an impartial system to stop them, but sometimes the systems do not have the reach, the power, or even the desire to do so. What then? Is a mob, or a movement of the outraged better or worse than the lone avenger driven by righteous anger? A movement is certainly harder to stop, and they have achieved great things, like the Civil Rights Movement combating social injustice. But groups can easily become predators, too, or take their vengeance too far.

After all, not everyone agrees on just causes for anger and action, or the extent of just punishment.

But that is really another issue. What I am trying to process, here, are my own murderous desires. God help me, I know that though my anger may be right, those desires are not. They are understandable, but corrupt. If they are any less horrible than the acts they clamor to avenge, it is not a very great difference.

“Love the Sinner, hate the sin,” is one of those sayings that is too short to be helpful. For one thing, it has become trite, and for another, it is wide-open to all sorts of interpretations and actions. Even if I take it in what I believe to be the right way, I find it rife with complications. How do you love someone when they have done truly horrific things to others? How?!

Perhaps distance makes a difference. It is far easier to simplify matters from a distance, to empathize and demonize ideas of humans rather than real ones. But that is not the whole story. Chances are that I have met perpetrators, predators, and been unaware. I have not yet had to look someone in the eye, knowing horrible things they have done to another person, and try to separate something human from something monstrous in my mind.

I have no solution to this yet, other than the mysterious power that rests in prayer, questioning, and seeking. I am not sure I want answers from others, either. This seems to be one of those instances where I need to find the answer for myself. People vary so much in what makes them angry, how they react, and what they feel or believe is right. Everyone might have a different “answer,” and unless I find this one myself, I will not  trust that it is mine.

I am not even entirely sure why I am writing this post, but I desperately needed to vent, and one thing I do believe is that this world could always use a bit more honesty.

So here I am, raw and snarling. Today, I do not like what I see in the mirror any more than I like what I see in the news. I leave the can of worms of “News Media Bias” unopened, and I ask you to leave it closed, too. I cannot deal with that argument right now. However, I do believe that the sensationalism, the constant barrage of horrors and the voyeuristic hovering, has an effect on me, and on others.

There is good advice to be had in Philippians 4:8

Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.

I need a bit more of that right now. Predators must be fought, but if we forget what it is we fight for, then what is the point? Perhaps that is the beginning of an answer for me.

Perhaps the monster in me wants to fight against something it hates, but God’s will is that I fight, instead, for something I love?

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