I’m a Father

Okay, I would apologize that there was no post on Monday, and that this is all you’ll get for Tuesday, but honestly I’ve been busy since Sunday night with the birth of my son, and I’m just not sorry that was more important to me than putting up a blog post. I’ve written about priorities on this blog previously, and this is one of those points in which I have the chance to live them out. Honestly, the only reason that I’m posting right now are that my wife and son are both sleeping peacefully at the moment. Suffice it to say that we have a healthy baby boy, and that Alayna was a champ throughout the labor and delivery. It was a long, stressful, and exciting day, and now we have an amazing little boy. We’re excited about this. I hope that you all are having a wonderful day as well!

Plot Challenge of the Week

Did you know that Jurassic Park is on netflix at the moment? Alayna and I just finished watching it (though this was partially out of a hope that the more startling scenes in the movie might send her into labor). Her due date is past and we’re both just waiting for the moment when everything starts happening. The hospital bag is packed, plans are made, car seats installed, etc. Now we’re just waiting on the kid to arrive. Fair warning, next week is my week for posts, but if Alayna’s labor happens on a post day… well, I’m sure you can guess where I’m going to put the priority. So, if I can, I’ll have posts up for all of you. If posts don’t go up then you’ll know why (or at least the most likely reason why). Anyway, I have a writing exercise for you today, but if anyone wants to chime in with ideas, please do. For today’s exercise I’m going to give you a picture and I want you to use it as inspiration to design one part of the world you’ve started. This could be fleshing out one of the nations that you’ve already come up with or it could be creating an all new nation or continent for your world:

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Scene Challenge of the Week

Well, Alayna’s due date is today. She really wants the baby to come (as do I), but I suppose that he will come when he comes. Until then (or now…depending) we’ll have to be patient and do the best we can to take care of him where he is. Aside from that, I have a few of my books for next semester finished already, four (and a halfish) left to go of the one’s that I already have. I’ll start into a couple of new ones tomorrow (I’m not even going to try to get back into O’Donovan until after I’m off the sleep study–I will say that this is the first book that I’ve had to read multiple times in order to make sense of, which I take to be a good thing). Once the baby comes study will become that much more interesting. Anyway, I’ve got a scene challenge for you. If you can’t remember the rules, I’ll provide them: I provide you with specific rules for how to write a particular scene.  Try to keep your scene under five hundred words, and try to keep it in the same tone as the introduction.  If I give a line that is very dark and depressing, then I don’t want to see a scene about a drunken monkey in a tutu…it just doesn’t fit.  If I do give you a line about a drunken monkey in a tutu, then you should probably try for a funny scene.

Your Challenge: I want you to write an intensely expectant scene. This should be a scene that not only makes me feel like your characters are waiting for something, but a scene that actually makes me feel as though something exciting/terrible/surprising/tumultuous/etc is about to happen. You should focus on developing a scene that builds the sense of expectation and tension in the reader, but not necessarily in a bad way (remember, I’m expecting a baby…that is intensely expectant). This is going to be similar to a rewriting challenge, and thus I want you to find something that evokes this kind of feeling that can inspire you. However, instead of simply rewriting the scene, I want you to write a scene of your own that evokes the same feeling. Your own voice, your own characters, your own setting. Everything should be your own. This isn’t a simple rewrite for practice. I want you to write a scene that reflects the same mood, evokes the same emotions, and handles plot in a similar way, but that is still completely your own work.

Posts This Week

Well, as I mentioned last week, I’ve been so busy that I forgot to send out a schedule to the other authors. By the time I finally did most people either 1) didn’t receive it in time, or 2) already had plans that conflicted with writing posts. This is true for this week as well as Tom is up to his neck in other things and can’t get posts written. Given that I’m also up to my neck in reading, baby planning, work, and revising a couple of papers that I’m trying to get published, there won’t be any Tuesday, Thursday, or Sunday posts this week. I will be writing posts for next week (hopefully at least), and I hope that after that we will be back on track. I do want to apologize for the lack of posts this week though.

Story Challenge of the Week

Have you even noticed that women get something of a short shrift in the sci-fi/fantasy world? Whether it is in comic books, novels, movies, etc women are often depicted as oversexualized objects or playthings or as overpowered and interminably alone (because no one can match them) or as overdependent and incapable of any significant action of their own. Now, this is not to say that all science fiction and fantasy depict women in these ways, and there are some very good female characters in science fiction/fantasy works, but a lot of it does depict women in these ways. There have been many theories about why this is–the most popular is generally that so much of the science fiction/fantasy world is dominated by men, but the fact that female authors generally portray female characters in the same ways seems to discount this. I think that it is more likely that the American view of women as a whole simply varies between unhealthy extremes of dependence, use, and conquest rather than seeing women significantly as whole people who struggle, need, provide, and triumph. However, this is just my theory so, take or leave it as you will. Anyway, let’s get into the exercise. You know the rules: I give you a picture and you give me a story of 1000 words or less (at least if you want to post it here) that explains what is happening in the picture. Remember the lesson from last time, stay true to the picture. Let the audience know what is happening in the background of the picture without actually altering any of the picture’s own details. Enjoy (and try not to fall into the above tropes):

(Photo Credit)
(Photo Credit)

Life and What It’s Like

First of all, I want to apologize for missing yesterday’s post. Friday and Saturday were extremely busy for Alayna and I. However, the good news is that 1) we officially have 90% of the baby stuff organized, put together, and put away, which is kind of huge… except for the swing, which is sitting in pieces on the living room floor because I don’t have an instruction manual for putting it together and, as far as I can tell, it’s just a bunch of random metal bars that don’t actually go together (I’m sure that I’m wrong about this). 2) I am finally getting a new computer–and a good one at that. I’m doing most of my work from home now, especially with the baby coming, and so I can go back to a desktop. This means a better computer for cheaper, plus I’m getting a friend of mine to put it together, so I’m going to have a computer that can actually do stuff! And hopefully not randomly shut down on me… or randomly refuse to shut down when I actually need it to. Anyway, business and blessings both abound (and yes, that was intentional… I like alliteration). That being said, this weekend has not been great for writing posts, so again, my apologies for missing yesterday and for the generally random, ‘here’s my life’ quality of this post. However, I do hope that you all have an amazing day!

Plot Challenge of the Week

So… Total War: Warhammer is fun… and addicting… even when barely playable and green-shifted. I’m looking forward to trying the game out on a computer that can actually run it. Anyway, I have an exercise for you. You’ve done this one a few times. Today I want you to sit down and write out your basic metanarrative. I don’t want you to building any settings or develop any characters, instead use what you already have and come up with an overarching storyline for a 1, 3, or 5 story series. Plan on these stories being between 10,000 and 35,000 words long and try to have a good flow. I want you to consider and decide on the following points:

1) What locations (i.e. cities, ruins, forests, temples, etc) is your story going to center around? What are the major powers (i.e. national or religious) forces involved and how to they currently relate to one another? How are their relations going to have changed by the end of the story?

2) What characters are involved? Who is your main protagonist? You supporting protagonists? Your main antagonist? Your supporting antagonists? How is each major character going to be different by the end of the story? Is anyone going to be dead? If so, who?

3) What is the introduction, the climax, and the epilogue of each story? What are the three pivotal events that the metastory itself focuses around? What are the major events that come in between them? Try to have a clear but general outline of your plot. Consider what has to happen in the story, and then consider what should happen in the story. Then you can start working out how to get from one to the next.

4) What are going to be your major trouble areas? What events or plot points do you just not know enough about, or are you simply bad at writing? Can you work around these trouble points? If not, is there something you can do to get better at handling them?

Leviticus 5 and the Question of Volition in Sin

As I said on Tuesday, this week is kind of crazy and so I’m afraid that you’re going to have to put up with posts that simply have to do with what I happen to be thinking about. I hope that they are, in some way, helpful to your writing, but if they are not then I’m sorry.

Many Christians today don’t bother to read the books of the law (other than Genesis and the five 10 chapters of Exodus), which is sad, because there is a lot of great stuff in Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. Leviticus chapter 5 specifically deals with guilt offerings made for unintentional or even unknown breeches of the law. In other words: “If X happens and you didn’t intend for it to happen, or if you did X and either didn’t realize that it was against the law or didn’t realize that it is what you were doing, then you are still guilty and must confess, repent, and present a guilt offering to the Priesthood.”

Now, volition was considered an important part of wrongdoing by the ancient Greeks, and this has held true for much of the history of Christian thought and of modern lawmaking. In general, if 1) one can present a case that he could not be reasonably expected to know that something was against the law, 2) one can present a case that he could not reasonably predict or have prevented the harmful effects of his actions, or 3) one can present a case (or more likely have one presented for him) that he could not reasonably understand that his actions were unlawful and/or immoral, then he is generally understood to be innocent of the crime of which he stands accused–even if he actually did the act. Some examples can be presented as follows: 1) if the American Congress secretly passed a law banning the sale of firearms, and then started arresting gunsellers based on that law, then the cases would almost inevitably be thrown out of court. The reason for this is that for a law to actually be considered a law in any meaningful sense the Government must promulgate it (or make it known) to the people that it will impact. Now, it is entirely possible that a man could avoid all new sources and commit a crime that he was unaware was a crime, but in this case he is not considered to be reasonably unaware that it was not a crime (for instance, if I don’t see a posted speed limit sign and get a ticket, I am still guilty even though I didn’t know that I was breaking the speed limit). The distinction here is whether the government fulfilled its responsibility to promulgate the law. 2) If a man is driving down the street and a child runs out right in front of his car such that he cannot break or swerve in time to avoid hitting the child then the man is not considered guilty of murder. He clearly had no intention to kill the child, and he could not have reasonably taken any actions to avoid hitting the child. 3) If a man is intellectually disabled to the degree that he actually cannot understand the significant legal distinctions (for instance, an individual who is intellectual incapable of comprehending the concept of death) then he is not considered to have committed murder even if he kills someone because he cannot understand what murder is.

This same conception of volition has been applied to sin throughout most of the history of the Christian church. Thus, we are all imperfect in many ways and may certainly do thing that would be considered sinful if 1) we had an accurate understanding of God’s character, and/or 2) we had an accurate understanding of our own actions. These may be consider ‘unintentional sins’ in Leviticus 5. However, Christian thought has generally absolved Christians of personal guilt for unintentional sins: if I don’t know that I’m sinning then I can’t repent for what I’ve done, and if I have been committing the same sinful action for years before I realize that it is sinful then it is unlikely that I can ever specifically repent or make restitution for every specific instance of that sinful action. Thus, Thomas Aquinas (among others) famously declared that human action is necessarily volitional and that anything that is not human action cannot be considered sin. Thus, if I do not actually make the choice to sin then I am not sinning. In the modern conception of sin this seems to contradict the Levitical law.

However, I believe that the crux of the problem here is that modern Christians tend to think of sin only in terms of ‘crimes against God.’ This is not to argue that sin should not be thought of in these terms, as certainly volitional sins fit this model almost exactly. However, it is to say that sin is more than just willful acts of rebellion against God. This is the distinction between natural sin and personal sin (or natural sin and volitional sin), or the distinction between effects of sin and acts of sin. The death of a child that ran out in the middle of the road or an act of killing performed by a mentally handicapped individual who is incapable of understanding ‘killing’ still result in horrible tragedies, and these may be considered the effects of broken people living in a broken world. In fact, the Levitcal law had provisions for accidental killings that seem to have served the same general function as modern manslaughter laws (which would cover the situation involving the child). Similarly, the guilt offering demanded in Leviticus 5 is not simply the same as the sin and guilt offerings demanded for volitional sins in the Levitical law. Instead, the requirements of Leviticus 5 may be understood as recognizing that men as a whole are broken and that this brokenness often results in sad, or even horribly tragic, circumstances. Further, it recognizes that men should be held responsible for the degree to which their brokenness contributed to the situation, but they should not be held responsible in the same way that an individual who willfully committed the same act would be held. Thus, under modern law a killer who is incapable of understanding his crimes would not be found guilty and sentenced to time in prison, but he likely would be committed to a psychiatric institute for care and treatment. This similarly recognizes that his brokenness contributed to the situation, but not in the same way that a willful act of killing would have.

Thus, a robust concept of the distinction between the effects of being broken people living in a broken world, and our responsibility based on those effects, and willful acts of rebellion against the laws of God is necessary for an appropriate understanding of scripture and for an appropriate understanding of sin, justice, and grace.

Scene Challenge of the Week

Okay, today’s post is going to be short and simple. Total War: Warhammer is a lot of fun… even though it barely works on my computer… and HP is stupid about it’s drivers and thus the entire screen is green-shifted… which makes it hard to figure out what is happening sometimes. Even with these limitations, the game is fun. Further, I’ve been planning on buying a new computer since January and haven’t yet, and I can justify getting a desktop again (since I’m not constantly working out of coffeeshops anymore). So, I’m going to be building (with a lot of help from a friend) a new desktop PC sometime in the next couple of months. Anyway, without further ado, I have a writing exercise for you. If you can’t remember the rules, I’ll provide them: I provide you with specific rules for how to write a particular scene.  Try to keep your scene under five hundred words, and try to keep it in the same tone as the introduction.  If I give a line that is very dark and depressing, then I don’t want to see a scene about a drunken monkey in a tutu…it just doesn’t fit.  If I do give you a line about a drunken monkey in a tutu, then you should probably try for a funny scene.

Your rules: You task this week is to write a scene of at least 150 words that is all one sentence. If you’ve been following the blog then you’ve seen this challenge before. Remember to make sure that the scene is grammatically correct, and that it flows well. Again, you might want to give it to a grammar nazi after you finish to make sure that your grammar is solid. Your cue: “I don’t get it…”

Random Post on God, Goodness, and Nature

So, here’s the deal: Tess is extremely busy this week and I forgot to send the schedule to everyone else (this has since been remedied) and I’m exhausted and have a hundred other things on my mind. So, while I apologize that this may not have anything to do with writing, today you will get some of the random things that have been on my mind today. First, Alayna had her first serious ‘I might be in labor’ moment today. She wasn’t, but the doctor did say that it will probably happen fairly soon. Also, in the Euthyphro Plato raises the question of whether the gods are good because they do what they know to be good, or whether good is good because the gods do it. While the question was originally phrased in this way by Plato, it has become one of the major questions in Christian moral theology: does God do what he knows to be ontologically good by some outside definition, or is what God does good because God does it? Four major positions have been presented as a response to this:

  1. God does what he knows to be good. In Euthyphro Plato argues that the gods do what is good because they know it to be good. In both this text and in The Republic Plato argues for a conception of the good as an ultimate form of reality that the gods know better than men because they have greater access to knowledge of it. Thus, the good is good ontologically speaking regardless of what the gods say or do and the gods are then beholden to follow this ontological definition of good if they are to be deemed good gods (though in The Laws Plato retreated from this view and argued that for the good to have a meaningful ontological existence it must be founded in a divine mind). Many Christian thinkers have adopted a similar idea, arguing that God does what is good ontologically speaking and that this good is good regardless of who does it or who does not do it. Thus, on this conception God could do evil and be judged for it, but he chooses not to. However, this seems to impose an outside restriction upon God. If God does not decide what is good then who does? Where did the good as an ontological reality come from if it did not come from God? Who has the power and authority to tell God what he must do to be considered good?
  2. Whatever God says or does is good because he is God. Several Christian thinkers have adopted a volitional idea of goodness. God is sovereign and has all authority and thus whatever he says or does is the definition of what is good. Thus, God’s word defines what is good for reality and for men simply because it is God’s word. This idea sufficiently accepts God as sovereign and argues that the world must simply submit to his will. However, it also seems to argue that God could declare anything to be good. Thus, if God suddenly decided that rape, theft, or the sacrifice of children in the worship of Moloch are good then they would actually and ontologically be good. This makes ‘good’ entirely subjective and arbitrary, which seems to reject the actual notion of an ontological reality. If the ‘real’ good can be arbitrarily changed then it is subjective, not objective or fundamentally real.
  3.  God’s nature defines the good and his word and will reflect this nature. Many Christian thinkers have argued for an understanding of the relationship between God and good that weaves a thread between the above two views. This argument goes that God’s ontological and unchanging nature defines what is good and evil: that which corresponds with God’s nature is thus good and that which does not correspond with God’s nature is evil. Thus, it cannot be argued that good is simply subjective or that it an be arbitrarily altered by God’s command. It is God’s nature, his essential and unchanging being, that defines what is good, not God’s word or action. However, this also defends a strong conception of God’s sovereignty: there is no outside ontological standard of goodness to which God is beholden and no one can be said to have imposed a standard of goodness upon God. It is God’s own nature that imposes the standard of goodness that his words and actions then reflect.
  4. However, this has led to a conception that God’s words and actions necessarily follow his nature: that is that God cannot do evil in the sense that he is ontologically incapable of doing evil. This seems to limit God’s omnipotence. While we may certainly argue that God has not, would not, and will not ever rape someone, it seems to limiting to say that God is ontologically incapable of rape. Proponents of this view have argued that it can fit within an understanding of omnipotence if we understand omnipotence as the ability to do anything that is within one’s nature to do, but this seems to be a deficient understanding of omnipotence. If, for instance, I am a perfect human that cannot fly or create stars I could, under this definition, be called omnipotent because I can do everything that it is within my nature to do. However, if a human can be omnipotent on his own then it seems to be of little value to say that God is omnipotent.
  5. A solution to this problem is a strong distinction between ontological capability and volitional capability. That is to say that it is correct to say that God cannot do evil. However, saying that God cannot do evil is not to say that God is ontologically incapable of doing evil, as if some greater power were restraining him, but to say that he is volitionally incapable of doing evil. God cannot do evil because he will not do anything that violates his own nature. This is something that cannot be said of humans: we violate our own nature on a regular basis. Even those who give a very loose definition or conception of human nature must accept that the average human experience existential and psychological crises because they violate that which they perceive to be their own nature. On a stronger definition of human nature it is necessary to accept that humans consistently violate those purposes for which they were created and thus violate their own nature. However, God does not violate his own nature, and thus because he is volitionally capable of perfectly living out his divine nature he is volitionally incapable of doing evil, which is that which is against his nature. Thus, God can do evil in an ontological sense (which provides a strong concept of omnipotence), but he perfectly refuses to do evil in a volitional sense (which provides a strong conception of his omnibenevolence that protects his sovereignty).

Just a few thoughts that have been bouncing around in my head for the past couple of days. I hope that you enjoy them and that, in some way, they benefit your writing.