Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Mature Bible Reading

Mature Bible Reading This links directly into some Tolkien thoughts that I had...which I will share later. Stay tuned!

Art and the oppressed

On another blog, I waxed eloquent about art. In particular, I said this:
One aspect of a Christian approach to the arts needs to be a dignifying of the "common"....Of course, the "overlooked" and "common" include people. The world overlooks the weak and powerless as being meaningless. However, as the hands of God, we cannot afford to pass over those who are neglected. Dignifying the common includes pointing to the image of God in the common and overlooked people around us. Another task of the Christian artist is to speak for those who would speak but are unable. Doesn't this include being a voice for the voiceless and a protector for the oppressed?
Adiel requested some elaboration of this point. So, here goes. Hang on to your hats; this is a weird tour through my mind. Ready? One of the turning points for my understanding of aesthetics was a lecture given by Michael Card at the 2003 Evangelical Press Association convention. One of his points was the necessity for artists to live in community. Not with other artists, mind you. With "normal people". As a result, then, the artist works on addressing the artistic needs of his community. For example, one facet of this, according to Card, is to voice the feelings of others for them. This was noted in the context of laments, for instance. I put this together with a lecture from George Grant on the infamous Philippians 4:8:
Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.
In this lecture, he discussed each word in that verse. Along the way, he talked about how Christianity ennobles the common, that Biblical values bring nobility and worth to that which is otherwise overlooked. Things like motherhood or hard work. I take all of this and put it together with my developing understanding of the role of the Church in society. I see a portion of the prophetic voice to be the voice from outside the world system that critiques the assumptions and claims of power by those who are mighty. An extended quote from David Dark fits here:
Apocalyptic, correctly understood, reminds us that the language of "the kingdom of God" isn't referring to some politically irrelevant eternity of otherworldly existence. To say that it is "at hand" or "hear" is a directive to "repent" and enter into a new way of life that aligns itself with the purposes of shalom. If we miss the political significance of the Lord's Prayer, for instance, we entirely miss its meaning as a call for apocalypse now that acknowledges, invites, and pledges allegiance to the age to come while forcefully renouuncing the legitimacy of whatever lesser gods compete for our adoration. ("Thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory"). We're assisted in our understanding of what's at stake in these matters when we note John Milbank's description of the crucifixation and, we might add, the persecution of the early church as "the rejection by the political-economic order of a completely new sort of social imagination." Apocalyptic was and is the only language adequate to describe this new beginning while maintaining its practice as one of constant exodus. It keeps religion strange and ready to question the given "reality" of the day. Without apocalyptic, no questioning occurs and the biblical voice is easily edited (or censored) to the point that it appears to support whatever sentimental sap or suburban self-improvement program it's pasted upon. What should have been, for starters, good news for the poor and down-trodden is neatly packaged (and quoted out of context) to look good beside a basket full of puppies on a greeting card. A political-economic order has nothing to fear from a sentimental, fully "spiritualized" faith."
(Everyday Apocalypse, p. 14-15. Bolded emphasis mine.) Or, to quote from Psalm 146, "Blessed is he whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in Yahweh his God...who executes justice for the oppressed." (Psalm 146:5,7a) Add to this the comments of Peter Leithart, when discussing the political ramifications of the Lord's Supper. We welcome all believers to the Lord's Table, be they rich or poor, strong or weak, young or old, white or black, healthly or sick, whole or crippled. By doing so, we acknowledge that all these belong with us. The apostle Paul writes, "On the contrary, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and on those parts of the body that we think less honorable we bestow the greater honor, and our unpresentable parts are treated with greater modesty, which our more presentable parts do not require. But God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it, that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another." (1 Corinthians 12:22-25) The world finds no value in the weak, the sick, or the crippled. Yet it is precisely these people that God gathers together into His Church. So, as Christians striving to be artists, we must consider this aspect of God's nature. So, how do we do this? I have several thoughts. Obviously, there is the depiction of the oppressed to the oppressor. This is a fairly common use of art, if you think about it, although it frequently becomes merely propaganda. There's also providing the tools of expression to the oppressed. Just consider the anonymous authors of the Negro spirituals. They wrote songs for their oppressed people, which gave them to words to sing of heaven. You can also create works that embody the valuing of the weak and oppressed. Consider The Lord of the Rings. Tolkien understood that God uses the weak to shame the strong, which is why he wrote about hobbits. Finally, you can create works which encourage a certain way of thinking. A great example of this is the game Go. I have said that I enjoy playing Go because the thought processes that are required to play Go are the same that lead to good living. The experience of the game leads to congruent thought patterns elsewhere. So, in some sense, I do think that playing Go has made me a better person. Now, let's go back to haiku. I completely agree that part of haiku is pointing attention at the overlooked. Haiku can therefore be used to call attention to overlooked people. The haiku poet Issa is particularly well-known for this. Some of his haiku carry with them such a powerful rage against suffering and oppression that it's almost painful to read. Here's are a couple of examples: This stupid world-- skinny mosquitoes, skinny fleas skinny children The fat priest-- edging out while he reads the last prayer Feel the rage? Also, haiku places certain demands on the reader. The moment depicted is boiled down to its essential points; the rest must be filled in by the reader. This is characteristic of the Zen aesthetic, which tends to erode the creator/audience division. As a result, haiku cannot merely be read; they must be contemplated. I might even say that they need to be meditated upon. This attitude of contemplation or meditation carries over into the rest of life. Suddenly, you find yourself watching leaves blowing along the road or cream swirling in your coffee and realize that these things matter. And then, perhaps, you look at the unnoticed people around you, the ones that are mere details in your life, and you realize that they also matter. Like the cashier at the grocery store, the one that everyone treats as though she were merely the biological wetware of the point of sale system. Maybe even she has started to believe it. But you know better, don't you? Because there is immeasurable worth in the commonplace. As Tolkien wrote, "All that is gold does not glitter." All that from haiku? Absolutely. One of the battles of our day is the battle for the arts. Many of you who are reading this desire to pursue the fine arts as a calling or career. Remember that your calling is high. The arts are merely another avenue for ministry, and you must do your part. Michael Card points as Jesus' washing the disciples' feet and says, "If your art isn't washing someone else's feet, then what good is it?" Whose feet are you washing with your art? Is your art really any good? Or are you just lusting after the limelight? Something to contemplate, eh?

Monday, January 23, 2006

The time has come again...

Yep. I'm between books, and the urge is upon me. It's time to read Lord of the Rings again. Believe it or not, I have more to say on this, but it will have to wait until a later date.

Monday, January 16, 2006

Fun quote!

“We've heard that a million monkeys at a million keyboards could produce the complete works of Shakespeare; now, thanks to the Internet, we know that is not true.” - Robert Wilensky

Polaris is about activism

According to its designer, Polaris is about activism. In light of my recent discussion, I thought that this was quite interesting. After all, as Christians, we have an escape from the downward spiral of uncaring that is described in this thread. FYI, there is the use of language in this thread. (Aside: I think that the expression "the use of language" is really quite funny.)

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Hold on

So, life has been difficult recently. In particular, we have been leading up to Justice's hernia surgery, which was an experience that I was dreading. Everyone was telling me that it was a simple procedure, that it would be better for him, that he would be a happier person because of it. And, sure, I believed them, but still, there's that part when the nurses come and take him away.... I wasn't looking forward to it. Not at all. So, the other night, as Justice lay on our bed and burbled, I lay there, looking at him and being melancholy. It's at times like this that I wonder about Adam. "If you had known what pain you would cause, would you still have done it?" And I think of all the awful things that we have to do in this world, just to survive, and it hurts me. Just think about what "surgery" is. First, we will pump you full of chemicals to render you unconscious, hovering near death. Then, we will cut you open so that we can poke at your insides. Then we will sew you back up. Cutting to heal. If that's not messed up, I don't know what is. I'm not saying that it's wrong, mind you, but it seems like one more way that this world is seriously broken. And I want out. I'm not feeling suicidal or anything. I'm just tired of it all. So I was driving back from the store today, and I was listening to Andrew Peterson's latest album, The Far Country. In one song, he talks about the "cloud of witnesses" from Hebrews 12:1.
I saw the sun go down on a frozen ocean As the man in the moon was rising And he rode the night all full and bright With his face at the far horizon And the night can be so long, so long You think you’ll never get up again But listen now, it’s a mighty cloud of Witnesses around you—they say “Hold on, just hold on Hold on to the end And all shall be well”
And it occurs to me that, in that cloud of witnesses, is my mother and my grandfather and my grandmother. They all made it through, and now they are pulling for the rest of us. "Hold on to the end." They made it through. Jesus made it through. Maybe I can hold on a bit longer. (Justice came through his hernia surgery just fine. He is home now and resting peacefully.)

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

A bit more on Polaris

(The previous report is here.) In this post, I wrote:
"Or, for that matter, what does Na’ir say about me? Originally I wasn’t wanting to play a noble loner, which is my default character, but I think that’s where I ended up. At the same time, Na’ir was fiercely dedicated to a people who failed to care anything for him. In his death, Na’ir saved them all from an agonizing demise, yet they spit on his grave and called him a traitor. Still, I thought that his story ended happily. After all, he did save the people, and even if they don’t care, I do. No one else remembers the noble death of Na’ir before the walls of his remnant, but the four of us do. Indeed, our memory of his life and death still remain while the people of Polaris are already dust. And, somehow, that is enough for me."
I thought about this a bit more, and it made perfect sense. We know that the remnants of Polaris fell. After all, "it all happened long ago, and now there are none who remember it." So, by definition, my memories of Na'ir's service to his city outlasted the people's despise of his supposed treachery. And isn't that part of our hope as Christians? Our Creator, the Author of this story, remembers all the sacrifices that we have made for Him, and His memory is eternal. Those around us mock us, but one day soon they will all be dust, scattered in the wind. Yet our God will remain, and His remembrance is forever. So what does Na'ir's ending say about me? It says that I'm a Christian. (The next report is here.)

Saturday, January 07, 2006

We wrap our first game of Polaris

(The previous report is here.) (This account was also posted on The Forge. You might find the responses from the folks there to be interesting.) We did it. After five sessions of play, we wrapped our first game of Polaris. I admit that we cheated a bit to get there (more on this below), but still, what a ride! For those who are interested, the previous session report is here. Let’s get into it, shall we? Long ago, the people were dying at the end of the world. Quotables: “Are you going to die?” “I’ll try!” “Okay, plotting epic conflict—not knitting.” Overview There’s a lot to go over, and to make my life easier, I’m going to lay it out by character, rather than in chronological order. When we last left Bellatrix, she had walked out to the Mistake with her demon child to meet its father. Of course, we all knew that this meant that Marfik had returned for one more scene. As Bellatrix and Marfik argued, I narrated Marfik brushing off his skin which flaked away to reveal his true demon form. We agreed that it looked something like this but worse. Embedded in his chest was a crystal in which burned the light of the Sun. Bellatrix and Marfik argued about their agreement, which was written on a scroll in Marfik’s possession. Even though Bellatrix tried to tear it up, she was unable, since she had signed it in her own blood. Marfik, though, had used someone else’s blood, so he was not bound by it. Bellatrix tried to kill Marfik but was unsuccessful. At this point, Azrakralizec materialized from the shadows and was about to kill Bellatrix. However, Marfik’s son stopped him, insisting that she be crucified on the wall instead. Bellatrix took advantage of the lull, picked up her son, and threw him at Marfik. The spines on his head cut Marfik, seriously wounding him. Then, Azrakralizec drew his shadow sword and attacked. We cut away to another scene at this point. When we returned, the duel had ranged out onto the floor of the Mistake. That’s right, Bellatrix was dueling Azrakralizec in the very heart of the Mistake. The light of the midnight sun shone down through the mist, illuminating the combatants as all the demons in the Mistake gathered to watch. But Bellatrix was no match for her opponent. With a mighty blow, the demon clove her sword in two and cut deep into her chest, hurling her to the ground. In a rage, she leaped to her feet and charged him with her bare hands. He simply sidestepped and cut her in half. As she lay dying, Marfik bent over her to taunt her. “At least you kept your part of the agreement,” he sneered. But, where her blood stained the floor of the Mistake, a single snowflower bloomed. This connected quite well with Bellatrix’s first scene, where she rejected a flower that Marfik had brought her. Sadly, only Gabrielle actually picked up on this in the middle of play. If Raquel and I had been a bit more aware, we might have played it up even further. Meanwhile, Heka was disowned by her father for being part of a secret marriage. Moreover, her son was again showing signs of being tainted by the Sun. So she took him to a holy man in the remnant who put the blessing of the stars upon her son. “He will be safe,” he said, “for as long as this city stands.” She thanked him and left. Mintaka wandered out into the wastelands, heading towards the South and the mythical Flame of the South. He fended off snow demons by humming the ballad that he had written for Heka, but eventually he succumbed to the elements. When he awoke, he was in a strange place in the South. The players all knew that it was modern-day New York City, which led to some amusing moments. Eventually, Mintaka located the Flame (which was a gem of some kind) and evaded capture by running down the side of a building. Then he began the long journey back to Polaris, followed by several inhabitants of the city that he had left. However, the snow demons attacked again, killing several of his followers. However, Mintaka fought them off with his lute. This led to an interesting post-game discussion. Gabrielle saw her character as physically assaulting the demons with his lute, while Crystal and I thought that she was using music to kill the demons. Once the demons were dead, Mintaka pulled out the Flame and cast it into the snow. Then he turned his back on Polaris and led the surviving members of his small band back to the South. Na’ir Al Saif quested out into the wilderness, seeking the Wail of the Wilderness which has slain his father. But soon the Wail found him, manifesting as a business-like demon who informed him that one person would die in the remnant every hour until he agreed to work with them. Na’if refused, cutting the demonic manifestation in half with his sword. This did not seem to affect the Wail, which continued to speak to him. Na’ir then turned and headed for the Mistake, where he cried out his challenge to the demons below. He could not agree to the Wail’s demands, so he knew that he must try to do something at the Mistake to force the problem to end. Only the Wail responded, reminding him that people were dying in the remnant. So, gripping his father’s sword, Na’ir descended into the Mistake. As he descended, he met the Frost Maiden, who blocked his way. When he refused to stand down, she smiled and said, “I will only step aside for my friends.” And then she stepped aside, allowing him to continue into the depths of the Mistake. At the bottom of the Mistake, Na’ir found Marfik. (We figured that this was soon after Bellatrix’s death.) Na’ir challenged Marfik, thinking that he was behind the current attack on the remnant. With a contemptuous blow, Marfik shattered Na’ir’s sword, leaving him gripping only the hilt and a jagged stub. In turn, Na’ir plunged the shard into the crystal on Marfik’s chest, causing it to shatter. Blazing light exploded from the shattered crystal, burning Na’if and blinding him as his eyes melted away. Yet, as he put his hand out, he felt the shards of his father’s sword on the ground. Gripping them, he stabbed Marfik through the chest, killing him. Then he heard the Wail again. “We are all still here,” it said. We cut away at this point. When we returned, Na’ir was emerging from the Mistake, bloody and broken but still clutching the hilt of his father’s sword. Nonetheless, he knew what he had to do. He staggered to the remnant and entered it. The city was full of wailing and crying as the Wail exacted its vengeance. He groped his way to the top of the Starsinger tower, which is the tallest tower in the remnant. Grasping the hilt of his father’s sword, he plunged it into the floor. Then he lifted his face to the sky and called out a name. And the stars began to fall. And with them, they brought healing and life. In response, the Mistake belched up a demon horde which poured from its maw, hurtling towards the remnant. Na’ir drew forth his father’s sword, which was reforged in ice, and personally led the defense of the remnant. He rallied the defenders, including Heka, and forced the demon horde back from the remnant. Then, in a scene reminiscent of Return of the King, cavalry from another remnant arrived and charged. The demon horde was scattered. A falling star obliterated the Wail. The remnant was saved. And then, as Na’ir turned from the battle, a stray arrow pierced his heart. He fell, and he died. No one remembered him and his noble leadership. No songs were ever sung of his sacrifice. Indeed, he was blamed by the people for raising the Mistake against the remnant. He was accounted a traitor to the people, and his name was dust on the winds of time, forgotten by all. Except for us. How We Cheated For a variety of reasons, we knew that this was going to be the last session of the game. And so, admittedly, we cheated. Only two of the four Knights were actually played through to completion. Heka and Mintaka were left incomplete. However, there were good reasons for this. In many ways, Heka was largely played as an innocent. Crystal didn’t really “get” the game until the last couple of sessions, and, as a result, her character wasn’t really “Knightly” until the end. Instead, she seemed to be the sort of person that justified all the Knights’ sacrifices. The players unanimously agreed that it would be too heart-breaking for something really terrible to happen to Heka. So we decided to let her off the hook. Certainly, her fate is tied to the remnants, and the remnants will fall, but we don’t need to know how it happened. Mintaka is a bit of a different story. By the end of his arc, Gabrielle saw him as having regained some of the honor that he had sacrificed by murdering Arcturus. However, that honor was not to be found in the lands of Polaris. In part, she made this decision because she felt like Mintaka’s story was running out of steam. Gabrielle and Crystal had a hard time being truly adversarial to each other, and I think that it showed in the lack of intensity in their characters’ stories. So, rather than jumping the shark with Mintaka, we ended his story here. Besides, now we can take it from the top, with another player. Ralph will be joining us when we start things up next time. I’m looking forward to being his Mistaken…. Thoughts on Ice and Light When we started playing Polaris, I eyed Ice and Light and thought, “We’re not getting any mileage out of those at all.” Even when I took advances, I bumped Ice based on my opinion of Na’ir (who I saw as being quite duty-bound), rather than on my own sense of gaining Effectiveness. Boy was I wrong. During Na’ir’s climactic battle, I used “It Shall Not Come To Pass” about four different times in quick succession. He had just tipped over to Veteran Status, so his Ice was 4 and his Weariness 1. Therefore, I could get my own way 50% of the time. So, while my Mistaken desperately tried to thwart me, I kept brushing aside her complications. “It shall not come to pass.” “It shall not come to pass.” And what I really meant was, “You won’t stop me from getting the death scene that I want.” More on this in a bit. It all worked because I put Na’ir in a situation where he was supporting the societal structure at the peak of his Effectiveness. As a result, I was able to force the outcomes that I wanted. Rolling well helped, too, I admit, but the thematic decisions that I had made over the course of the game in continuing to ramp up Ice suddenly had a massive impact at the story’s climax. It was amazing. Thoughts on Getting The Exit You Want I’ve generally been talking about Mistaken tactics during this series of Actual Play posts. However, I noticed something this session about playing the Heart. Every Knight will eventually betray the people unless he dies first. So, once your Knight clicks over to Veteran, you should be angling to get your Knight to die before he betrays that which he loves. There are a couple of obstacles to getting the good death that you want. The first is, of course, the Mistaken, who ought to be doing his best to make you pay for anything resembling a happy ending for your Knight. The second obstacle, though, is all the unfinished business that your Knight has. So, part of the tension of the game is trying to finish up the work at hand before betraying the people. Ideally, your Knight should die in the process, keeping him from doing any more damage to the people. To get this to work is a bit tricky, though. You can only call for your Knight’s death as a “But Only If…” statement, which means that you need to get the Mistaken to throw down. On top of that, you have to accept the Mistaken’s statement in order to get your death scene. (Think about it, and it will make sense.) So, how to get your pristine death scene? Here’s how I did it. First, I started digging up all the things that I wanted to accomplish for my Knight. He saves the remnant from the Wail. He transcends his blindness to lead his people in a desperate battle against the hordes of the Mistake. For a brief moment, he achieved that sort of mystical stature that only few heroes achieve. I kept pushing and pushing and pushing, trying to get a rise out of my Mistake. Then, when the Mistake began throwing out obstacles, I just slapped them down with “It Shall Not Come To Pass”. This worked because of all the Ice that I had accumulated, of course, but I think that it would also work with “It Was Not Meant To Be” or judicious application of “You Ask Far Too Much”. The goal here is to get your Mistaken to hand you a conflict statement that you’re willing to accept. Until he does, no mercy. Of course, this approach could backfire. I could have failed all those rolls for “It Shall Not Come To Pass” and started racking up the Experience checks. But, nothing worthwhile can be accomplished without risk. So, in our game, finally the Mistake threw out “But Only If Na’ir is blamed for the demonic attacks.” And, in that moment, I thought of a passage from Ecclesiastes: Also this I came to see as wisdom under the sun, and it impressed me. There was a small city with few men in it and a great king came to it, surrounded it and constructed large siegeworks against it. But there was found in it a poor wise man and he delivered the city by his wisdom. Yet no one remembered that poor man. So I said, "Wisdom is better than strength." But the wisdom of the poor man is despised and his words are not heeded. (Ecclesiastes 9:13-16) “That’s perfect!” I thought, and so I ran with it. “But Only If Na’ir dies.” And the Mistaken accepted it. A Brief Meditation on the Mistake While I don’t buy Joseph Campbell’s overall thesis, I do find some of his observations on the hero story to be interesting. The one in particular that I recall is the “Journey into the Underworld”. In the Journey, the hero descends into the Underworld and faces his greatest challenge. As a result of his victory there, he returns with life and knowledge for his people. When we had finished up our Polaris game, I realized that, at least in our game, the Mistake was the Underworld. Two of the characters had gone to the Mistake, seeking knowledge. Both had made sacrifices within its depths and had returned with the knowledge that they needed. Just an interesting observation. I wonder how other Polaris groups approach the Mistake. The Necessity of an Aesthetic Sense As I mentioned earlier, I have been writing a lot about tactics, particular the tactics of playing the Mistake. However, it is important to remember that Polaris is not about “winning”. The goal really is to create a good story through the use of the strategy and tactics. As a result, all the jockeying for position between Heart and Mistaken needs to be counterbalanced by a shared aesthetic sense of what makes for a good conflict outcome. (I mention this idea here.) There were several times over the course of our game that a Heart or Mistaken said, “But I don’t want to object to that. I like it!” That is good. It’s important for all players to be willing to say, “I like the outcome of this challenge, even though it means admitting that my opponent got the better of me.” When a player says something and everyone else nods, being a Jerk needs to go out the window. The scene is right; don’t mess it up. Post-Game Observations After the game, we found ourselves sitting around, talking about our characters. In particular, Raquel raised an interesting point. She said that the group had worked for Bellatrix to have something of a heroic ending. However, she wasn’t persuaded that Bellatrix really deserved it. She said that Bellatrix had been arrogant and selfish, putting her own desires ahead of the welfare of the people. As a result, Raquel found herself pondering Bellatrix’s story quite a bit. What did it all mean? Or, for that matter, what does Na’ir say about me? Originally I wasn’t wanting to play a noble loner, which is my default character, but I think that’s where I ended up. At the same time, Na’ir was fiercely dedicated to a people who failed to care anything for him. In his death, Na’ir saved them all from an agonizing demise, yet they spit on his grave and called him a traitor. Still, I thought that his story ended happily. After all, he did save the people, and even if they don’t care, I do. No one else remembers the noble death of Na’ir before the walls of his remnant, but the four of us do. Indeed, our memory of his life and death still remain while the people of Polaris are already dust. And, somehow, that is enough for me. shadow of a stone swirling snowfall obscuring tracings of a star But that was all long ago, and there are now none who remember it. (The next report is here.)

Monday, January 02, 2006

Goths On Being Vapor

WARNING: This is a half-formed thought. The author specifically disavows any action that you might take as a result of it. So, while I'm waiting for my computer to finish thinking, I'm looking at Peter Leithart's blog and listening to Lacuna Coil. Odd combination, I know. Specifically, I'm looking at a couple of his posts about Ecclesiastes:
Qohelet, Modernism and Postmodernism Qohelet and the gospel
In particular, this quote (from Qohelet, Modernism and Postmodernism) spoke to me:
Provan points out that for Solomon, the human pursuit, the pursuit that is frustrated by the vaporousness of life, is a pursuit for YITRON, gain (Ecclesiastes 1:3). Provan suggests that YITRON essentially means "surplus," "something left over." When the balance sheet of a life is tallied up, we want to be in the black. Provan suggests that Ecclesiastes 1, without directly answering the question of whether gain is possible in human life, implies that it is not by pointing to the "gainless" round of created cycles. Sunrise today showed no progress over sunrise yesterday; the ocean doesn't show a profit as the rivers flow into it. Why then should we expect human life, which is fleeting, to show gain?
In fact, it got me thinking about the Goth aesthetic. I'm not going to step into the debate about what it means to be Goth or not Goth. I'm not even going to take a position on whether or not I'm a Goth. I will note that it is not a name that I apply to myself. Whether someone else might do so is really of no concern to me. However, I am going to note the names of two Goth-style bands that I have come to enjoy. The first is the aforementioned Lacuna Coil. The second is the once-popular Evanescence. Consider the names. A "lacuna" is an emptiness or void. To be "evanescent" is to vanish like a vapor. Like a vapor. They know. On some level, they get it. Life is just a vapor. This knowledge spills over into the dress. Lots of blacks and greys dominate. It can look pretty depressing, actually. This is one of those areas that I understand. I once wrote a short essay on why I wear black. There were lots of different reasons, some silly and some serious. But here was one that I gave:
I wear black because black is the color of mourning. The more I grow, the more I see the pain that the world holds. Every day is filled with death and pain and sadness and crying. John Donne says, "Any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind, and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee." Should I not mourn over the broken, fallen world in which we live? And so I wear black.
Vapor. But still, today, as I considered all this, I realized that there are also the notes of hope wedged into the Goth aesthetic. Both the bands that I cited have female leads. This means that, while the heavy music rumbled below, the vocals soar above it like angels. Sometimes, in the midst of the blacks and greys, there is a stark white. In the midst of all the death and pain and confusion, there is a taste of transcendence, of Heaven opening and beaming down life. Leithart goes on:
This eschatological qualification fits with the NT uses of the Ecclesiastes language of vaporousness. The creation was "subjected to futility" until the revelation of the sons of God. Does this mean then that eschatologically, there will be gain, that losses will be recovered? Is this the meaning of the resurrection of the body? Will the lost artefacts of a godly life be raised with the body? Will all our vapor be gathered up and "solidified" along with the gift of a Spiritual body? (Ain't it cool how eschatology came up under point #8?)
This life may be a vapor, but there is more to the story that the evanescence of our mortal coils. Beyond all this awaits something else. In a different post, Leithart states:
Also, another dimension of the idea of vapor. Vapor doesn't last; it burns off in the sun. But vapor is also a veil, a screen. Think of the difficulty of trying to drive along a road in a thick fog. Everything disappears; we know there's a world out there, but the vapor screens it off from you. To say that life is vapor is to say that it's hiding something. And Solomon appears to be suggesting that the vapor of the world screens us from God Himself, who for the time being, "under the sun," remains behind the veil of the vaporous world. As Jordan points out, the world is so constructed as to require us to live by faith.
Beyond the vapor of this far country waits God. As I've thought about it, I wonder if I will want to wear black in the coming age of glory. I think that I will wear white. (Maybe it will be a blackish white.) For in that country, there will no longer be a need to mourn our low estate. In the meantime, I think that I'd like to work towards redeeming the Goth aesthetic. I don't know what exactly that means, but I'll let you know if I figure anything out.