Monthly Archives: July 2014

Iceberg

The Work of Creating an Iceberg

Something a little different this morning. I’m working on a writing project, currently, and I just need to get some thoughts down to try and spur myself on. I’m a firm believer in the Iceberg Theory, particularly as it applied to my favorite (and directly applicable) genre, science fiction. If you are unfamiliar with the theory, it’s a Hemingway-ism spawned by this quote:

If a writer of prose knows enough of what he is writing about he may omit things that he knows and the reader, if the writer is writing truly enough, will have a feeling of those things as strongly as though the writer had stated them. The dignity of movement of an ice-berg is due to only one-eighth of it being above water. A writer who omits things because he does not know them only makes hollow places in his writing.

—Ernest Hemingway in Death in the Afternoon

I didn’t plan on this, actually, when the idea hit me. I was going to just start writing, in fits. I might still do a little of that, but I need to get on this idea, actually, as it is relevant to some world events (most of the time my writing ideas are, I just don’t have the discipline in place to sit down and write them yet.

At any rate, it’s turning in to a research project (which I enjoy, so don’t let that sound dull) and the stories are beginning to spill in. I have a couple of the characters, of whom there are very many, squared away, and I have a very clear order of events, but I’m still working on the plot. I differentiate between plot and events, by the way, because you can write a story that has a clear series of things happen, and never actually develop a plot in which characters evolve.

If you are a writer, how do you begin a story (I’ve worked both out from the climax, in a time-line, and from slugs, but I’ve yet to find a really good method of beginning a story from a concept.) Also, if anyone has any experience with alternate histories, or rewriting historical events in alternate settings, I’d love to hear about it.

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Jesus on Science and Religion

This post is going to be meta, like really meta, so bear with me.

In today’s gospel (Matt 13:10) the disciples ask Jesus why he teaches the crowds in parables. He gives what can be a very confusing response, so I’m going to try and break it down.

1. Jesus’ whole life is a parable. If you don’t understand that, then you’re missing the point, but don’t worry, the disciples missed this one quite often as well, and they knew him. The entirety of the bible points to a higher truth. Every staging in the Old Testament was pointing to something bigger, all the prophecies were about something more than the moment happening. The entire bible is a parable for a higher truth, it happens to also spell that truth out perfectly to people who are embracing it: God desires a personal relationship with his creation.

2. This statement is a parable, or at least it has a hidden message that has to be teased out. I can see the disciples walking away from this saying, ‘Oh, we must be important,’ and entirely missing the point. The reason the disciples understand the parables is because they are open to what the parables mean. They are walking with Jesus daily, and seeing what he is like, so when he says something about a rich guy throwing a wedding for his son, they know it’s about God and Jesus. The people who are hearing Jesus for the first time, might not get this. If you understand the parables right off, it’s because hind-sight is 20/20, not because you are smarter than the average 1st century Jew.

3. There is a larger statement being made here than understanding Jesus’ parables. The statement is about an outlook on life. Remember that these parables were fundamentally different from the consistent teaching at the time (though they weren’t new, they were a deviation from what was being taught traditionally.) This same statement applies to our lives today, we can’t sit comfortably on what we ‘know.’ This applies to closed mindedness about science (limiting the bible to a text book, rather than seeing it as a parable.) There are people who’s eyes will be closed to the truth, either because they are convinced they are smarter, because they are convinced there isn’t a truth, or because they are convinced they know the truth and cling to it rather than have their eyes be opened.

Not That Complicated

Humans tend to want things that we can’t simply consume and forget about to be complicated. It’s a natural enough tendency, if I have to think about it a lot, I want it to be a puzzle that I need to tweak and toy with. Many times, especially with philosophy and theology, that isn’t the case.

Jesus is very often telling people who ask him that they are looking for way too much. He lauds the Centurion, who, upon Jesus’ agreement to come and heal his servant, says, “Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof, but just say the word and my servant shall be healed.” This guy clearly gets it, to his ordered mind, Jesus says stuff, and it happens. He doesn’t need to make a show of it.

There are plenty of examples of Jesus also telling people to simplify. The rich young ruler that comes to Jesus and agrees that he has followed the law but wants to know what else he can do to to inherit eternal life. Jesus says, essentially, to go simplify his life, selling his worldly possessions and helping people with the proceeds. The man goes away sad, not because he loves his possessions too much, but because he starts complicating the issue (how am I going to do that, what will I live on, how will I tell my family, is that stuff even mine, etc.)

In the gospel for today, Matthew 12:38, Jesus is replying to the Pharisees who are asking him for a sign to prove he is who he says he is. This is what we call, today, looking a gift horse in the mouth. Essentially, the same thing was being asked of the Pharisees that was being asked of the rich young ruler (and of us, you’ll note) to give up what we currently have in helping others, and to do what Jesus does. They were so busy trying to complicate it (is this guy really who he says he is, how can he be doing this stuff but hanging out with the sinners, why isn’t he supporting us in our desire to be free of the Romans) that they missed the simple point of Jesus fulfilling prophecy and completing the teachings of the fathers of the Jewish faith.

So, the question is this, what is God telling you to do that you are complicating?

Not Called to Be Foolish

There seems to be a penchant today for ‘faith’ being more important than reason.

Don’t put aside knowledge for faith. If your religion calls you to blindly ignore inconsistencies, it isn’t doing diligence. True faith is built in those doubts which are honestly explored and wrestled with.

When Jesus says, in Matthew’s Gospel,

you have hidden these things
from the wise and the learned
you have revealed them to the childlike.

he isn’t calling us to be childlike. He is pointing out that our faith doesn’t have to be learned or earned. It should be a relief to most people that this is the case. Really, this statement is a call to a deeper examination, but one rooted in childlike wonder; not the arrogance of someone hiding wisdom, but the cooperative exploration of kids. (Is it okay to call scientists ‘big kids’ in this context?)

When a kid finds out about gravity, one of the first things they’ll do is jump. The next 20 things they’ll do is jump as high / from as high as they can get away with. This isn’t to say they are trying to break gravity, they just want to see how it works, and they are examining all angles. As a parent, I encourage this. I even propose tests to help them. God is very much the same way, often offering us ways to explore our faith through events in our lives. At times, the explorations aren’t easy, but they are always worth it. The one thing to remember, however, is to never lose that sense of wonder.

Don’t be the kid who ignores their parents because parents don’t know anything, and don’t be the kid who stops exploring the bounds of what they know. We’re not called to be foolish.

Black Widow

Why Black Widow Shouldn’t Be a Man

So, let’s get the obvious name problem out of the way, a Black Widow is a deadly spider, but gender is inherent in the name. Still, it’s just a title and could easily be transferred to a guy, even if it would be odd.

The larger issue is this, there is a character behind that name. A character that has had a great deal of time go into the building of who she is, where she comes from, and what makes her tick. She’s pretty darn special. To take away the gender wouldn’t be that big a deal, the comics could still read largely the way they already do (super spy v super spy action.) Even the chemistry of the Avengers would be thrown off only a minute amount (we are talking about a b-roll character here.) There is, however, something disingenuous about betraying the character. I hope you’re all with me in the fact that this post isn’t about Black Widow. It’s also not about Captain America, The Hulk, Hawkeye, Storm, Mystique, or any other Marvel property that goes by a title.

Here’s the problem I have with the way Marvel’s announcement about Thor is being taken. Kitschy promo aside, the internet has run off with the gender bend in a predictable fashion given the current climate of gender politics. The reaction is what I have a problem with, not the announcement itself, and certainly not the situation (either as it stands or the alternatives offered below.) There is an “it’s about damn time” attitude about it. Give this gender bend to any of the title characters I mentioned above, and I wouldn’t even bat an eye at that reaction. Captain America the female super soldier, fine. The Hulk (not She Hulk, but the title of Hulk itself) as a woman, okay. Hawkeye the lady, Storm the Otherkin, Mystique the transgendered hermaphrodite (really not much of a change here, actually.) The point is this, all of these guys are humans wearing a suit and donning a name. This is not the case with Thor. Thor is Thor. There have been times in the past when things have happened to Thor (he’s been a partially disabled physicist, a woman, a frog, etc.) but he’s always still been Thor.

For anyone who didn’t read the announcement, that’s not what’s happening here. I’d be fine with it, actually, if Thor were being altered somehow to be a woman (even if permanent.) Here are some acceptable scenarios in which the “Thor is a woman” moniker would make sense:

  • Thor’s consciousness is transferred into a woman upon his death.
  • Thor is turned into a woman by some trick of fate (likely Loki’s).
  • Thor chooses to become a woman because of a need of Asgard.
  • Thor takes the mantel of an amazon out of honor to a fallen comrade.

Instead, Thor is deemed no longer worthy to wield Mjolnir, and another takes his place as the god of thunder. Thor is cast off in disgrace (and is apparently now wielding an axe and sporting a metal arm.) So here’s the kicker, if ‘Thor is a woman,’ then how is Thor still Thor? See, the problem is that a character has been sold out for this (not by Marvel, by the way, which just did a thing they’ve been doing forever, using hyperbole to sell comics.) If Marvel wants to make amazing, Whedonesque female leads, then by all means please do, I want to read about them! Just realize that once you start accepting this type of character abduction (largely by non-fans and people who’d rather just whine about injustice than take Toni Morrison’s advice) for the sake of political correctness, you start loosing actual characters.

Besides, this isn’t going to be a lasting thing. I’m fairly certain it will be the introduction of a good female, Asgardian lead. Hopefully she’ll A-list off the popularity.

Faith in Miracles

How many atheists would still be atheist if God actually showed up?

Probably most of them, actually.

Encountering miracles isn’t really a beginning of faith for most people. My own story of faith actually begins with encountering someone who didn’t have all the answers, but knew they were out there. Miracles don’t engender faith, through faith they call us to change.

In the gospel for today (Matthew 11:20-24), Jesus deals with this issue. When Tyre and Sidon, and Sodom and Gomorrah come out looking more repentant than your city, you know something is wrong. The issue is this, people aren’t going to suddenly have their eyes opened by seeing miracles. When Jesus talks to Thomas later in the Gospels (doubting Thomas, remember?) he says, “blessed are those who cannot see, and yet have believed.” They have a pure faith. They have to, they have to recognize the limitations of their perception, and be comfortable knowing that the answer is out there. Their faith is in the fact that they have not seen the miracles, and still believe.

It’s important to note here, that this faith doesn’t sit and accept just anything as true. It weighs everything against what is known, and questions everything that isn’t. It also isn’t incompatible with a scientific knowledge of the world (which is also questioning and evaluative.) What faith is, is a second set of eyes, eyes that can look at the world and see deeper meanings in simple things. Eyes that can see miracles, and realize that they are a call to repentance and change.

Stop Saying Sorry

I really don’t want my kids to learn how to apologize. It’s a worthless skill that very rarely sets things right. Most often, it just makes victims feel less bad, and the perpetrator feel less guilty. I have a feeling God has the same desire for us sometimes.

There are several spots in the bible where we are told that God doesn’t delight in burnt offerings. He doesn’t want us to apologize, for the 20th time, about our sin. He wants us to do better. It isn’t even for him, it’s for our own good. Same with my kids, I don’t really *need* them to behave well (I could just toss their toys out and have them sit in their rooms sulking if I really wanted the house clean for my own good without caring for them.) It’s about them, though. It’s about them learning that sorry doesn’t fix things.

Writing this post, I’m thinking of a couple of areas in my life where I’ve been apologizing a little too much, and not correcting the behavior. I’m glad God is merciful, but honestly, I’d be better off if I’d just stop [doing the stupid thing] in the first place. I’m sure I’d be more open to doing the right thing, if the wrong thing weren’t so often an option.