Archive for the ‘writers’ Category

Re-reading Literature

February 17, 2010

Now that I have a bit more time than I used to have, I decided to read some American literature.  Its a subject that has always fascinated me.  I think, however prejudicially, that America is a pretty special place, and I wanted to dig into the American psyche a bit more.

I went to the library and checked out some college textbooks on American Literature.  Now, I’m not totally illiterate on the subject.  I read a great deal of good American fiction when I was younger, and have continued reading it through life, although at a slower pace when I was busier.  I understood the elements of a story to be: the main character or hero faces a conflict.  The conflict could be a person, situation, or internal crisis.  The conflict gets resolved, and the story ends either with the problem overcome, or the hero learning something vital, which allows the reader to determine how he will then act on his new knowledge.  However, what I read in the Literature texts, almost exclusively, was something else.  What I read seemed to go like this: the main character is in despair, the book explores dark elements of the human psyche, the main character is searching for meaning or happiness or love, and the climax is discovering it doesn’t exist.  The story ends either explicitly with the character’s death, or implicitly, with the character’s disappointment in his or her quest.  It was all pretty dark, depressing material.  It was amazing that I didn’t remember reading very much of this kind of literature in my youth.  Then it hit upon me that perhaps the selection of literature in these texts is biased toward this very negative kind of story.

Searching farther, I read an article explaining the difference between popular fiction and literature.  I expected to find out that popular fiction was lacking description, had shallow, underveloped characters or the like.  Instead, the difference is that popular fiction has the plot I described above, with a conflict resolution and (according to the author of the article) a “happy ending”.  According to this auth0r, true literature described the human condition as it is, with all its “angst”, and lack of answers.  In other words, real life has no happy endings, and no answers, so to write stories that have either of these is to succumb to the lure of writing popular fiction (with the inferior motive of making money) instead of literature.  Another author stated it was impossible for any Christian fiction to ever be considered literature, because a Christian’s unique belief system precludes any “angst” or despair.

Well, all I can say is I wonder if the requirement to study American Literature in one’s first two years of college  is a good thing.  What if it leads those young, mostly teenage students to believe that life is nothing but despair and meaninglessness?  No wonder there are so many college students on antidepressants!  Their beliefs about life have been shattered.  This is totally unnecessary in my judgment, because there are quite a lot of very happy people in the world: people solving their problems and creating good and beautiful things for their families and their posterity.  The intellectual crowd may be the ones out of synch with the “human condition”.  They are staring in despair at a glass thats all but empty, sure there are no answers to their thirst.  The rest of humanity is out to find the faucet.

Is the Bible Believable?

December 2, 2009

Its a miracle the ancient scriptures were preserved so well and faithfully.  No other culture has such a vast collection of its ancient literature.  To think that Jesus read these scriptures is amazing and even more astounding is the fact Jews everywhere read these same scriptures today, two thousand years later.  Jesus gave credence to the Old Testament.  He quoted from nearly every book of it.  When He spoke about it, He spoke with authority.  Those were His Father’s words, God’s truth.  Since Jesus proved his own credibility through his miracles, his Resurrection from the dead and final ascension into the heavens, we can accept His assessment of the veracity of Old Testament scripture.

Novels aren’t Factual Truth

June 16, 2008

The novel has always told truth about people, relationships, culture, society and life in a roundabout way.  Through the thoughts and conversations of the characters, the reader gains an insight into how people think, what they believe, their motivations and emotions–at least in the time of the novel’s setting.  Today a new genre of novel attempts to tell truth more often found in non-fiction work, but tell it without the kind of research, footnotes, quotes and debate found in articles and essays.  The medium used to tell the author’s version of truth about some present societal or political debate is a lecture by one of the characters (usually portrayed as an expert of some sort), or fictional articles, fictional tv shows and the like.  The reader begins to believe the fictional characters and media in the novel are the result of well-researched, well-weighed, even-handed evidence.  Most often this is not the case.  The author is interested in the reader being persuaded to the authors point of view through the medium of a “page-turner”, the involvement of the reader’s emotions and the reader’s identification with characters.  As a result, a lot of readers change their opinion on many topics, but without the critical thinking and study expected of the reader of serious prose.  Its a free country, and speech is free, but these days readers need to use critical thinking when reading the “information” in novels, as much as they do when reading editorials.

Accurate Accounts of Jesus Life

May 6, 2008

Some time ago I mentioned in a post that one could learn of Jesus through reading the original four accounts of his life, death and resurrection.  I had a sarcastic comment asking if I had read original papyri.  What I meant were the gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.  Recently a lot of attention has been paid to the “other gospels”, such as the gospel of Thomas, the gospel of Judas, etc.  These aren’t the original accounts.  The proponents of including these “other” gospels in one’s picture of Jesus, may or may not realize they paint a very different picture of Jesus than the accounts written by his friends and contemporaries.  Like any other religion, Christianity had unusual sects and splinter groups.  Groups who misunderstood the message were even more common in those early days because of the difficulty of travel and communication.  This makes the spread of the original writings all the more extraordinary.  Today we have more than 10,000 manuscripts or fragments of the original New Testament writings dated within a century or so of the time of Jesus.  This is more than we have for any other writings of the time, or even later!  The writings spread all over the Roman empire—all the places where churches were founded.  What else is amazing—the copies all essentially agree, and they agree with the gospels and epistles we have today, despite 1900 years and numerous translations.  In contrast, the “other” gospel accounts exist in one or two copies, and were found with Gnostic writings.  Gnostics developed their philosophy in the century following Jesus, and they tried to spiritualize everything—explain Jesus appearance and his miracles, including his resurrection as spiritual experiences.  They were in many ways like unbelievers today, they didn’t want to believe what the four original gospels said occurred.

 

The Gospel of Thomas was found in Egypt, written in Coptic.  What is interesting about that is Thomas is believed to have gone to India—indeed there are monuments to Thomas in India.  Orthodox Rabbis (who hardly have a dog in the fight where Christian scriptures are concerned) have stated the writers of the so-called “Gnostic” gospels have no understanding of first century Jewish thought, as the apostles would.

 

I would venture this, where the Christian canon of scripture is concerned.  Rather than “stifle truth”, the 4th century church leaders, solemnized a list of books that had been widely accepted as valid for many years.  Their other criteria  was the necessity of apostolic authorship or apostolic authority.  The book must have been widely disseminated and accepted by most of the churches.  There was, as there is today, much writing that has little to commend it.  If one were writing the history of the twentieth century, how much credibility should they give to the National Enquirer or the Weekly World News?  Indeed, how much credibility should they give to stories that circulated on the internet.  What if I, today, decided to write a fictional Civil War diary?  I might have some political or philosophical point to make, or I might just be interested in telling a good story, never mind the facts.  Should my “Civil War Diary” have the credibility of one written by someone who was there?  My own book would be found out by my lack of proper language use for the time, and my misunderstanding of the time.  Some of the Gnostic writings fall into this category, but all “other” gospels and epistles were written without any connection to the actual apostles and that inner circle.

 

So, the “original” accounts, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John were written by people who were contemporaries of Jesus, who were in partnership with the apostles if not apostles themselves, and we have so many fragments, manuscripts and references to these writings in other manuscripts from the era, we can find them trustworthy as history, or else be skeptical of all history.

 

Nonni

Having a church home

February 28, 2008

I think the ninth most important thing in life is to have a church home.  The people in one’s church are extended family.  We take care of each other, and the things that go on in and because of churches, (which get absolutely no publicity outside the church), are the things that help people and communities survive.  However a lot of people will never know the help, encouragement and inspiration they could receive in a church.  They say “you will never catch me in a church, thats guaranteed!”

Here are the two main reasons I’ve heard why people don’t go to church.

 

  1. The people in church are all hypocrites.

 

What is the definition of a hypocrite?  A hypocrite is someone who doesn’t live up to the standards he professes.  If that’s true, then there are hypocrites outside the church as well as inside.  Many people in the professions have a standard of excellence they can’t always attain.  They wouldn’t think of themselves as hypocrites for holding high standards, nor, would most of the world think so either.  That derogatory application of the term only seems to apply to people in church.  Would you want your doctor to lower his standards so as to avoid being called a hypocrite?  Would you want your lawyer, pharmacist, teachers, or any other professional to lower their standards because they can’t always keep them?  Nonsense!  But most folks jump all over church people for holding out high standards, when they can’t perfectly keep them.  What is the alternative?  You see the alternative all the time.  A lot of people set their own standards, and make sure they only set standards they can always meet.  Such a person might say, “I’m a good person.  I’ve never murdered anyone.  I don’t abuse children or animals.  I help people when I feel the urge to do so.”  Of course, there are many other moral standards such a person could have, but they don’t.  They could also do a quite a bit more good if they didn’t mind being put out or making some sacrifices, but they don’t feel that’s necessary either.  Of course, such a person couldn’t be accused of hypocrisy because they don’t violate their rather simple standards, but then their reach doesn’t extend very far either.

  

  1. The preachers are all in it for the money, they disagree with one another, and the people in church are more troubled than the people outside the church.

 I decided it was foolish to go to the doctor anymore.  Most doctors are in it for the money, they disagree with one another, and the people in the doctor’s waiting room are sicker than the people out in the street.

Most people who complain about the people in church consider themselves to be better than “those church people”.  My prayer is that no one should refuse heaven because they can’t stand the people inside.

  Nonni 

    

Finding your calling

February 25, 2008

The fifth most important thing in life is to find your calling.  I do really consider this to be one of the top 10 most important things in life, because its one that a lot of people miss, and I think they go through life with a low grade grief because of missing it.

How do you begin to find your calling?  Well, how come we named it a “calling” anyway?  Its something God made you to do, and in a sense He “calls” you to be doing it.  The word vocation comes from the latin word for “call”, because in those days life was more about God and less about “me” than it is today.  Still the “call”, even though it comes from God, is meant for you and is specifically for you.  God tailored you for it.  He gave you abilities, interests and passions, so you would fit the call.  Therefore, the three questions to ask yourself are:  “What am I good at?”  “What do I love to do?” and “What do I really care about?”  One of these days when our “best self” is driving, its good to think about the answers to these questions.  I say when our “best self” is on the job, because to get good answers you have to have somebody good doing the answering.  Days when I’m selfish, vain or otherwise full of myself are days when I am not going to get good answers to the three questions. 

If I ask myself “What am I good at?”, I’d better be brutally honest with myself.  Better yet, I should ask a few other people who may have a less biased and therefore more realistic answer.  I had thought myself quite good at music and art and fancied myself famous one day in one or both of those fields.  That was until an art professor told me I should buy a camera instead, and the music director told me I had no sense of rhythm and no voice either.  Quite a disappointment, to be sure, but then my motive was wrong.  I mostly wanted to be famous, and thats never a good motive.

The second question, “What do I love to do?” might be somewhat easier.  There are two pitfalls here, though.  The first is that a lot of people are martyrs at heart and think nothing worth doing is valuable unless you suffer in order to do it.  These people feel God’s will is always to be doing something very difficult and sacrificial.  What a pathetic view of God!  I’m sure He’s very disappointed!  In fact, a Christian author, J.I. Packer says that where our interest and delight collide with our duty, that is where we find our calling.  If God wants me to do something and He wants me to do it for more than a couple of weeks, and He would like to see a good job done, then He will make me with the ability to do it, interest in it and enjoyment in doing it.  He’s the smartest of us all, and we ought to give Him credit for it.

The other pitfall is we think we like to do a thing and actually we just very much admire the people who are doing it.  We think they are so wonderful and we want to be as wonderful as we think they are, so we want to do what they do.  As I said, I loved music, and I so admired good singers.  It wasn’t until the community choir director (not at all as nice as the choir director at church who put up with all sorts of things) told me I sounded like a long tailed cat in a room full of rocking chairs, that I realized I didn’t actually like singing all that much–I just wanted to be like the singers I admired.  If you’re not sure of the difference, just try out the thing you think you would like doing and see what happens.  You will either love doing it and be good at it, or you won’t.  And, by the way, you’ll never love doing something you’re bad at, at least not for long.  Frustration is quite a joy killer.

Speaking of cats singing, we used to lie awake on summer nights listening to the cats singing through the open windows.  After awhile my father would yell out “Oh for crying out loud, she said no!”  Of course, this has nothing to do with our topic, but since it was cute and we did mention cats, I decided to include it.  Now we’ll go on to our third question.

What is your passion?  What do you really care about?  The answer to this might come out of your personal experience, something you have seen or something you have read about, but you will realize you care about it very, very much.  It might be needy children, or the sick, or seeing people succeed in business, or seeing a house constructed, or seeing a field harvested.  Whatever it is, you will care deeply, and it will be part of your package.

Whenever you find a place where the three answers intersect, you will be in the general vicinity of your calling.  For instance, if you love animals, you’re very good at science and you care very much about the welfare of animals, you might be a veteranarian.  If you also love the outdoors, you might be a park ranger.  In my case, I loved children and homemaking, I was good at homemaking, and I felt strongly about being a homemaker, so that is what I did and never outgrew it until my dear husband died after the boys had grown.  That is when I began writing.  I love writing, and I only write about things I feel passionate about.  Am I any good at writing, well you will have to answer that for yourself, won’t you?  The wonderful thing about writing is who can say when its good?  Its rather like beauty, in the eye of the beholder.

 Nonni

Introducing Nonni

February 20, 2008

My Nonni is a writer.  She is my quirky, wise, witty and thoroughly loveable grandmother.  She has been writing forever, but she is totally non-technical.  She is so technologically challenged, you’d have to call her techo-disabled.  She still writes with a pen and a legal pad.  But some of her stuff is pretty good, and I told her I’d set up a blog for her writing.  I love to write too, but if I write here, I’ll limit it to stories about Nonni, since this is, after all, her blog.

Nonni has been around forever–old as dirt, she would say.  She’s still sharp tho.  She was born in Scotland originally, but came to America when she was nine years old.  She lived in California most of her life.  She had a nursing school education, which was a pretty good education for life, I’d say.  She started writing about her experiences when she was quite young, and while she’s still writing today, she has a whole trunk of things she’s written over the years–much of it undated.  Whenever she has a dry spell, I’ll pull out some of the old material that looks good, and post that.

 Well, thats it for now.  I’ll add more soon.