3/16/2017: Art and Cultural Norms

“Only worship music is good music.”

I grew up with this belief, or something like it. I have trouble responding with any measure of clear-headedness when someone brings it back up, though I have been and am being convinced that valuable art is a much broader category than just worship music.

This is from a document for my novel:

This is the issue with southern moralistic Christianity that requires that all “art” be “Christian” to be good. It’s an application of a cultural norm more than a recognition that intent always qualifies morality and that the intent should be “love one another.”

Otherwise—and this is not a reason or a proof against this system but a symptom or result of it—a southern moralist cannot accept or interact with other cultures that do not censor the same taboos but that might still be loving. He cannot speak with the Irish or persons from Spain or the Nordic countries, who cuss like crazy. He cannot hang out with the English or persons from Seattle or Colorado (or pretty much anywhere) because he can’t handle being in a pub. He can’t regard art that incorporates disturbing imagery even when its message is the Gospel.

Indeed, how can southerners interact with the Gospel? Maybe by Lifeway books and movies.

Intent determines moral purity; rules do not (unless they are followed with pure intent). Christ certainly exemplifies this when combatting the religious leaders, whose rules had the appearance of purity but no heart. I think our tendency is the same—to make rules and then forget the heart. And maybe it’s a parenting failure, or maybe it comes from losing faith. Or maybe it comes from failing to understand or care where rules come from and why those origins matter. Though it’s probably at its core an issue of faith.

I think Israel is a really interesting example. They began with the heart, in Abraham and then down through the central figures. They also had God-given rules designed to cultivate and guide that heart. But they lost the heart, kept the rules, and built upon the rules. Didn’t they? (12/13/2017: A friend once told me that the Ancient Near Eastern understanding of Law was more idealistic or prescriptive than prohibitive—”Look upon this law, understand the truth and justice behind it, and apply that truth and justice in whatever way is best per context”; even so, it’s pretty clear that the Jews of Jesus’ day were of the prohibitive brand). It was culture that they built upon purity, but it was godless culture. The same is true, I think, of much of southern moralism today. And surely other brands of moralism.

The problem for Christians, and anyone else looking for goodness and beauty and truth (may they find Christ), is when we assign purity or impurity to culturally normalized morals, like “(So called) worship music is the only music worth listening to” or “No cussing,” “No drinking,” “No ‘vulgar’ media,” and even, sometimes, “No nudity.” I do not believe anything is necessarily impure. Impurity requires less-than-pure intent.

The standard is love. Not just lack of unlove, but the act of love. If it’s not in love, it’s impure.

I do not mean that we should disregard all prudence when dealing with these things. Paul talks about this. Don’t tempt the alcoholic with the real freedom to drink in appropriate contexts. Don’t tempt the porn addict with the real freedom to regard the human body in appropriate contexts. But the reason for those rules (I suppose they are rules) and therefore the only thing that makes them worth following is love. Assigning these rules without assigning love leads persons into sin and wickedness. So love requires that we encourage them away from things that tempt them, until such time that they grow in faith and not be overcome with their temptations as they love.

With this in mind, certainly all bad art, and bad thinking, takes at face value the norms of its cultural context—culture being the things that man has developed.

  1. Cultural norms, because they typically originate in fallen man, are less than good.
  2. Good things accord with God. So good art accords with God—in its truth, in its beauty, in its recognition of the world and the human condition, in its creation of cosmos from chaos.
  3. So good art, and good thinking, always calls into question (typical) cultural norms.

3/6/2018: If art accords with any particular culture (given that all our cultures, even in the church, are man-touched), my guess is it’s not good (stick this word on a scale in your mind before impaling me on my perfectionism). And if you think it’s good, maybe you’ve got some introspection and repentance to do. My only real point here–good art challenges.

Edit 3/7/2018: Apparently astrophysicists agree.

Edit 2: Also G. K. Chesterton (whom I’ve yet to read).

2/28/2017: On Earning A Living

Sorry. It’s been a while since I’ve posted. It’s been super busy.

I wonder if we approach commerce from the wrong direction. I write, or whatever it is I do, to give, to love. What recompense I receive is also someone’s gift. That’s the interdependence inherent in love. And in this way a community should function. I realize this is not the way of the world, it having fallen from love into karma. But God hasn’t fallen into karma, and God still steers the thing.

Thus I shouldn’t think of it as “How can I make myself deserve to be paid?” but rather “How can I best give?”

The natural question that arises, then, is at what point do you make a living? Or how do you provide for your family?

(2/12/2018: I’ve spent quite a lot of time trying to figure out what I was saying in this next part. It’s been so long since I’ve posted that it’s been a good reminder about the purpose and guidelines of these posts. But I figure this is a touchy-enough topic that I should probably try to figure it out.

So perhaps I refer to the precedence of grace before action and to us being called to good work without being able to control grace—something about the dependence inherent in faithful work and thus the disconnect between a faithful, dependent worker and a goal corresponding to independence. Or I may have had a couple ideas rolling around in there.)

This seems similar to me to the question of grace and faith. If salvation is by grace and grace alone, at what point does a person act, or respond, as it were? At what point does a person have faith? And in the case of present salvation, or sanctification, at what point does the person take action? There seems to be some kind of disconnect between cause and effect. I wonder if the answer lies in my misconstruing the effect. Is salvation the properly desired effect of faith? Of good action?

Doesn’t the faithful person already assume salvation—that is to say, dependence—and in his godly dependence seek primarily things other than what the so-called independent person still requires? 

Is earning a living the properly desired effect of giving to others? I suggest no. And I think my adherence to the question is symptomatic of my so-called independence.

I remember hearing something from someone at some point that went something like this: Give, give, give, and if you happen to get, give that too.

The focus isn’t on not having. I’m not an ascetic. The focus is on giving. And I think we have enough correction by way of Jesus on receiving. That is, don’t depend upon it, for God takes care even of flowers and sparrows.

What about one’s family? Surely providing for others is a gift, and we work in order to earn those things that others need to survive. Yes, but money is not all. There are things more important than money. For instance, learning to give. Giving alongside you. Serving others. Depending upon God. All of those things are more important than merely possessing.

And that term, earn a living, is just wrong. Earn, as in karma. A living, as in those things that make us alive. How graceless and anti-metaphysical is that? As if food and clothing and housing make us alive. As if breathing, alone, is living.

Further, how often does the term actually mean to earn indulgence? We’re on the escalator of indulgence—our horizon of living goes up with every notch of the crank.

Of course we should try to keep breathing. God gave us life, time, and it’s best spent with care. But to what end? To indulge? Or to give?

Thus, we breathe to give. We keep breathing to keep giving.

2/19/2017: On Twitter

Most of my follows are persons who follow just to get follows. I have one friend (with whom I speak regularly) who uses Twitter. The rest of the persons I follow are news outlets or blogs I like or writers or friends who don’t really post but whose posts I would read.

I won’t play the follow game. If I follow 30k people, my feed won’t have anything worth reading. Just self-promotion. I will lose my “curated content.” Likewise, all who follow me will be persons who don’t want to read my stuff but just want to self-promote. No thanks.

I want my social media interactions to be… interactions. Not screaming into a screaming crowd.

The connections I make should be relationships, as far as I’m able. Even if it’s the relationship of the artist to the reader, as is the case with so many content creators that I follow. The same would be the case for anyone who followed me who actually wanted to read my stuff.

I don’t foresee making friends on Twitter, but who knows. It’s difficult enough for me to make friends, given the time and temperament required for me to feel comfortable enough to connect. I require extended conversations, really.

At the same time, there is a benefit from having a public-facing outlet. For one, it helps desensitize me. I will continue to be afraid to be myself openly if I never engage with potential readers. It’s similar to sending work out to publishers. It’s good for me to practice public authenticity and transparency.

Twitter also gives me an opportunity to relate with others in an interesting context and often over interesting topics, even if it’s just in passing. I don’t think the focus in these interactions should be in gaining followers or even being heard for being heard’s sake (in fact I don’t think this should ever be the focus), though that’s the temptation (the reason for which, I suspect, is because followers masquerade as proof of legitimacy). As is the case for all human interaction, the focus should be the interactions, themselves, or the mutual effort toward other interactions. It’s just love: the commandment par excellence, the seminal commandment, the single guideline of all work. The interactions, and to the degree possible, the relationships—they are what’s important. If someone happens to want to continue interacting, great. If not, great. It’s like a giant room of persons, you wander to different groups, contribute to the conversation from time to time, maybe find someone who has something interesting to contribute from time to time. It’s all about the interactions, not about the followers. (10/18/2017: The focus should be on the persons, and the interactions serve as the bridge between them and me. I do not mean that interactions matter more than persons but that my continued interaction with persons matters more than gaining followers.)

And what interactions matter but real interactions? Mutually wanted interactions, wherever you can find them, or at the very least, polite ones.

Twitter has its limitations. But it’s like Instagram for writers. Post a quip instead of a squared photo. And it’s the smallness that makes it accessible and casual enough to facilitate interactions. Maybe not conversations, though. Which is where links and blogs come in.

2/17/2017: On Line Breaks in Poetry

I’m looking at the two versions of of a poem I wrote, “Reach” (As of 10/18/2017, it’s still just sitting in a folder on my computer).

The first, what’s more natural to me at this point, separates lines into different grammatical parts. For instance, in the first stanza, I separate the three prepositional clauses into their own lines. I follow the same thing throughout the poem, actually. It’s all separated into different grammatical parts.

I have read poems that do not follow this method (some more than others), and it’s these that the second version emulates. They break sometimes in between grammatical units, like nouns and their modifiers, like prepositional clauses, etc. The effects seem to include natural forward motion, like stair steps or like the meter in Jabberwocky, and an emphasis on certain words or phrases that wouldn’t otherwise be noteworthy.

Here’s a couple for study:

http://www.rattle.com/on-domestic-ecosystems-by-liv-lansdale/

This one seems to break each stanza into three lines regardless of what’s going on in the thought. At the same time, thoughts always end at the end of a stanza, even though a thought might take up more than one stanza. Each line is two to three words. So I can’t tell if she’s following the numbers or following one of the other purposes I mentioned before. Or something else I’m missing.

https://www.fathommag.com/stories/the-cellist

Garrett also sticks to a specific number of lines in each stanza, but he doesn’t seem to stick to a specific number of words in each line.

Perhaps I should read up on modern line breaks. There’s bound to be a reasoning I’m missing.

2/9/2017: On Whimsy

I’m reading Harry Potter. And perhaps the thing I like best about Rowling is her whimsy. Now, the temptation to emulate someone I like is fairly standard and something I am aware I should generally avoid. But I think something needs to be said about feeling free to be silly. I don’t have to be so serious all the time.

I’m almost always silly with persons I love. Either silly or surly. Sometimes just sarcastic or ironic. But rarely serious, unless I have been moved to be such, and then only insofar as to communicate that thing about which I am serious. This of course doesn’t include times I am afraid or angry—those are the times I get quiet.

When I write, it’s often as if I’m anxious or angry (I imagine the former). My humor finds no place. I focus more on “what I should say” rather than writing recklessly. I’d rather write recklessly. Joyously. Playfully.

But I imagine it comes with feeling comfortable and free in my communication to others. And I imagine this will come in time. I have written about writing being just another form of dialogue, another aspect of relationship, and I still believe that. And like any relationship, comfort comes with time. And with comfort comes silliness.

Which is more reason to write publicly every chance I get. Not only will it help me break the ice, but I will practice and learn all those other things that I need to learn to be a good, godly person-who-writes. This also includes the other things I have started. Everything that gets me interacting with people.

But at the same time, I think there’s merit to making an effort to let loose in my writing. Much more so than holding back. So I’ll just have to add this to the endless and impossible list of things to be mindful of in my day-to-day, moment-to-moment.

I found this effort helpful during “Fettered Fett,” for my writing class. It was fun, and it only came after I clustered and ended up with the bubble “Write what you like.”

Perhaps I can start making an effort to write fun-ly during my warm-ups, for starters. But I suppose I should at least cognitively make this an option while working on my book.

At the same time, I do have serious times that are not anxious. When I’m moved by something, I communicate to others about that thing, and I do so with emotions pertaining to my being moved. I often write about things that move me, and it’s appropriate to do so not whimsically. But I think there’s a  problem if all I ever write is serious. Such would seem to indicate that I only care about writing those things that move me and not any of the “lesser” things that occupy so much of my in-person time.

1/23/2017: On Editing LBKs

How should I edit my Learning By Keyboard documents prior to posting them?

The temptation is to appear to know all things. To be a superlative thinker and writer.

I read through these things I dealt with months ago, I find things that I have since corrected (in my thinking), and I want to change them to represent what I think now. I don’t want to appear like I don’t know something.

But aren’t these documents supposed to reveal my inner dialogue to others? And isn’t their purpose, when writing them, to learn? And in learning, isn’t the assumption that I don’t know?

Even now, posting something new, I should assume that I will post some falsity. Else I’ll never post anything, since to the degree that I progress, I will always find mistakes.

And again, isn’t my foray into the public in the vein of dialogue? Relationship? That means vulnerability—people seeing me as less than perfect. As human. (10/17/2017: Not a brand).

My tendency is to (attempt to) set myself apart. Or above, rather. I want to surpass everyone else. At least in whatever things I have been convinced matter, which ranges from video games (now defunct) to my ability to figure things out. But I’m learning, or perhaps relearning or developing, that humans were designed as a community of individuals. It’s both, so I don’t believe in the diminution of individuality. But to the degree that you’re set apart, you’re removed from the community.

It’s the difference between standing above and standing beside others.

And if Christ’s example teaches us anything, we stand beside each other. With each other.

So what does this mean for my posts? I don’t think it necessarily speaks directly to the editing. But it speaks to the ground-level desire to appear knowledgeable. And I wonder if I should deny the desire to edit old mistakes or to qualify them with commentary merely to deny myself this desire.

Of course, if these posts were didactic, I would have reason to correct them before posting in an effort to protect others from what I know (or think) are mistaken ideas. But that’s not my intent, really. I want to also show my process of thinking and learning. If someone learns something for the things I learn, great.

This reminds me of something else. I think a much better approach to interaction with others—from the closest circles, like my family and church and work, to the furthest, which is the world and even what might be beyond—is to walk beside them. To seek truth and love and beauty, and ultimately and primarily, God, beside others. To learn together, rather than to learn on my own (as if that were really possible) and then to disperse my golden wit to the street-rats of lesser faculty (!). I have already written about this.

I need growth in this area. And perhaps by posting things that reveal my fallibility, I will grow. And if anyone learns from what I learn in the writing of these, we will learn together.

Furthering this idea—this is little different than posting things that I am thinking through now, like this very document, and knowing that I will later make corrections upon them. The same principles go for all writing, all dialogue, all interaction with others. The same correction—that I should seek what’s good alongside others—applies both to the present and the past.

Another thought. If I wrote something that I now know is wrong but didn’t write the correction to that thing in a later document, to protect others from believing that thing, I could add a commentary.

Am I neurotic or what? Goodness. Ha.

So, how should I edit them?

  • Fix grammar/typo issues if it makes things too hard to read. Keep it to a minimum.
  • Add commentary if something isn’t developed in a later document and needs to be corrected for others’ benefit.
  • Be a human with others.

For further: How to keep writing my thinking documents in the same way that I always have (in order to learn), knowing that I’ll probably post them.

1/23/2017: On Learning By Keyboard

Guidelines for writing my thinking documents.

I should only have guidelines that protect me from veering into showmanship. I shouldn’t turn this into some legalistic, neurotic pursuit. I should try to remain true to what I naturally do, which is write to think. The only difference is that I’m revealing my inner dialogue to others.

So how does a person think out loud? Or more accurately, how does a person who naturally fixates on appearing like he has everything figured out think out loud and still be authentic in doing so?

  • If you don’t need it for you to understand what you’re talking about, don’t add it.
  • You don’t have to make it pretty sounding. You don’t care about that as often when writing for yourself.
  • This is not an academic paper. Editing it into sterility is not only too time-consuming, it removes the natural flow of thought that you’d like to keep intact. Mistakes, learning—these are natural processes of learning. Duh.
  • You’ll forget these or care more about your appearance at times. If that happens, it’s just another mistake that you’ll have to allow to be public! Ha.
  • Develop those thoughts that would drive you to develop them without others knowing you did. Don’t develop thoughts that you only think others would care that you developed, and don’t hide thoughts that you don’t think others would care about.
  • You’ll probably add or remove some of these guidelines later. That’s okay. You’re also learning how to post inner dialogue… In fact, by the time this is posted (see below), I will probably have gone through these a few times.
  • Here’s a fun one. When should I post this document and the document on how to edit these documents prior to posting? I know that at least in part I want to post them now to preempt all the mistakes that I will post later. Sort of a, “The mistakes you read are on purpose, and I know they’re there, and I know better than them now, so don’t think I don’t know what I’m talking about.” Kind of defeats the purpose of what you’re learning is probably better. So, post them chronologically.

9/28/2017: Thoughts on Portals in Narrative

A portal threat (in a narrative) seems to assume that danger is only external to one’s own world. It’s just not realistic. And it has more in common with a simplistic and separatist worldview—that we will cordon ourselves off from all threats in order to be safe—than a truly good one (a godly one).

In the good one, the hero enters into the darkness and faces danger, even at her own expense, in order to save the rest of them. Or to save the ones on the other side of the portal. Or simply out of faithfulness to a godly call, which is just faith working through love.

In the good one, the hero assumes the threat we already pose to ourselves—that even with portals closed, our doom remains—and the need to dialogue with philosophical and theological opponents in order to grow.

And so there is no, “We have to close the portal!” There is only, “Enter the portal! Enter all the portals!”

I am convinced that God delights in our continued and ever-broadening engagement with his creation. And I suspect the answer is never separation. At least not fully or permanently. It’s always connection.

1/19/2017: Writing As Relationship

I was reminded this morning that life is all about relationships. I tend to get focused on knowledge and action, and I tend to try to dominate those things.

And it dawned on me that a more appropriate metaphor for my interaction with both knowledge and action is relationship, rather than domination. I don’t cow them into submission; I invite them to join me. 9/5/2017: Or, perhaps, I ask to join them.

It’s much the same as what I’ve been writing about. Magic, in my world, can be dominated or loved, and it’s the latter that’s better.

Esther Meeks has a book about knowledge that uses a similar metaphor, apparently.

And perhaps the best concrete example of relationship that I can use is my relationship with my wife. Think of spending time with her, having conversations with her, getting to know her, having fun with her, working with her… If I manhandle her in my attempt to do these things, and working together comes to mind the most, not only will she resist me, but I fail to love her. And excepting that she, in love, turns me around, our relationship will turn sour. It will die. And until it is again injected with life, it will remain dead.

Relationship takes time, forgiveness, learning (growth), flexibility, relaxation, fun… If it’s all work, and the only goal and guideline of the relationship is to get work done, the relationship breaks down. Relationship is all about love—loving each other, loving God, loving others together…

Yesterday I was having trouble writing. All I wanted to do was veg (I am in the middle of breaking my media addiction, so the cravings are intense sometimes, and my motivation for good things is often low, and I’m a grump). This is almost exactly like I have been with Mysti at times, especially when I was more into video games. I would want to play, and the time that I had to spend with her when I wanted to play was terrible. We couldn’t connect because I just wanted to be elsewhere. And yesterday a similar thing happened with writing. I made myself write instead of vegging. But I couldn’t connect with it. There was no chemistry. It wouldn’t come to me, and I kept averting from it. And the harder I tried to make it work, the more aloof I felt, and the less writing would respond to me (low quality stuff, writer’s block, language just not coming out). Because there was no desire for relating with writing, no warm connection, no real desire for connection other than for accomplishing my goal of 1) not vegging and 2) producing, the relationship was dead.

As soon as the warmth between you and whatever it is with which you are relating goes away, the relationship breaks down. And whatever you attempt to do with that thing will be as stifled as your feelings.

But I imagine it goes the other way more. If you only work on a relationship in order to make it of more utility, it seems… dead. But maybe that’s wrong. It’s like people with whom you work. It’s difficult to actually have a relationship if the only reason for doing so is the work or goal you share. The relationship really blossoms when you actually like each other, when you want to relate not only for the common goal but more for the relationship itself.

And I guess that’s what the goal of writing has been for me. The whole Bill Hendricks search for a vocation. I wanted to find something with which I would click. Something with which I would have chemistry. I feel like finding writing was like matchmaking. And if me and writing get on well, if we like each other, and the relationship continues to grow, it’ll work out long-term. I can commit to it with surety that things will work out.

This actually reminds me of my writing class. I thought of it the same back then—that learning to write was like starting a relationship. I guess I forgot about that.

But it’s not just writing. The more we healthily relate to anything, the more natural our common work with that thing will be. The more we try to dominate anything, the more it will break down—if not immediately then eventually. Domination only ends in death. It’s unlike God. It’s the difference between trying to control and feeling free enough not to have to.

So how to relate to writing from here; some ideas:

  1. Spend regular time together. And if it’s been a while since you have, don’t expect things to be warm and cozy right away. It’s regular time that nurtures a relationship.
  2. At the same time, sometimes it’s good to spend brief periods apart. Relationships take effort—especially at first. Give yourself a break from time to time.
  3. Fun helps: just as you go on dates with your wife, do fun things with writing. Those warm feelings go a long way.
  4. Try new things together. Learn together. Working on some common goal with writing. That’s what the healthiest level of the relationship is anyways—to not only relate with each other but to relate with others together.
  5. Learn more about writing. “Dialogue” with it by learning about it and then putting what you learn to practice. Listen to others who have studied it. Study others’ writing and see how they relate with it.
  6. If you have a bad day, figure out what you did wrong (if anything), make it better, and try again.
  7. My characteristics when I attempt to dominate: feeling the need for control (“It just won’t do what I want! Do what I want!”), feeling pressured for time or quality, wanting to force writing into those goals, frustration, lack of motivation,
  8. Relationships take time.It takes a while to internalize what works and doesn’t work for that relationship. Time and practice. “Brick by brick,” as they say. It probably won’t be magic right away—especially as you work through your addictions, which draw your desires elsewhere. I am still learning to relate with Mysti after almost eleven years of marriage. It’s waaaaaaaay better than it was before, but growing closer really never stops. Or it shouldn’t.
  9. If writing just doesn’t respond to you, no matter how well you try to make the relationship work, maybe it’s a bad fit. Likewise, if you just hate spending time with it, and you’re doing a good job at trying to relate with it, maybe there’s just no chemistry, and you should try something else.
  10. With that in mind, some key characteristics to look for in a good vocational pairing:
    1. Does it forgive you? Do you forgive it? After the dust settles, can you go back to it and the relationship be warm or get warmer? Or does it remain sour and defensive?
    2. Does it respond to you? When you try to work with it, does it work with you?
    3. Do you ever click with it? Those times when things just fall into place.
    4. Does it give you joy, or is it a burden (think of this on a scale)?
    5. Do you share common goals?
    6. Does it have a future? Can you see yourself committing to it?