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The Giant Permanent

Last week, I posted about Marina Keegan’s idea of having an anti-nihilism device. This one is about her concept of eternal life. In two different essays, she notes her fear that the sun will burn out. The universe will freeze over. All is lost. This is how she describes it in her essay Song for the Special:

“If you didn’t already know this, the sun is going to die.When I think about the future, I don’t think about inescapable ends. But even if we solve global warming and destroy nuclear bombs and control population, ultimately, the human race will annihilate itself if we stay here. Eventually, inevitably, we will no longer be able to live on Earth: We have a giant fireball clock ticking down twilight by twilight. But maybe there’s hope.”

Later in the essay:

“The thing is, someday the sun is going to die and everything on Earth will freeze. This will happen. Even if we end global warming and clean up our radiation. The complete works of William Shakespeare, Monet’s lilies, all of Hemingway, all of Milton, all of Keats, our music libraries, our library libraries, our galleries, our poetry, our letters, our names etched in desks. I used to think printing things made them permanent, but that seems so silly now. Everything will be destroyed no matter how hard we work to create it. The idea terrifies me. I want tiny permanents. I want gigantic permanents!”

What’s the solution?:

“I read somewhere that radio waves just keep traveling outwards, flying into the universe with eternal vibrations. Sometime before I die I think I’ll find a microphone and climb to the top of a radio tower. I’ll take a deep breath and close my eyes because it will start to rain right when I reach the top. Hello, I’ll say to outer space, this is my card.”

Her answer for eternal life is finding a microphone strong enough to make her voice go on forever. Christians believe we don’t need a big microphone. We need a big Savior. Christ took the cold. His father turned cold against him so that he could make his face shine on us. And this is eternal life. It’s the only giant permanent.

Quotes from Marina Keegan, The Opposite of Loneliness: Essays and Stories. Read the essay online HERE.

Using the Hemingway Editor App

After hearing about it for what seems like forever, I decided to give the Hemingway App a try. Those who have been around the blog for a while know that I’m a fan of minimalist writing. The app works to help keep your writing simple and clear.

You can check it out HERE.

The app highlights difficult and very difficult to read sentences, passive voice, weak sentence structure, adverbs, etc. If I plugged the previous sentence into the app, it would tell me to rewrite it like this: It highlights difficult to read sentences. It highlights very difficult to read sentences. It highlights passive voice. It highlights weak sentence construction. It highlights adverbs. It helps to keep your writing flowing.

We are officially using it on the book project. After using it to edit one chapter, I was sold. The only negative is that it is very labor intensive. But I guess editing is supposed to be that way. If you need something to help you clear-up your writing, you might want to give it a try. It costs around 20 bucks for the desktop version. We’re in no way connected to them, so I had to pay just like everybody else.

Here’s an example from chapter 1 of our book project. The purple highlights mean that each sentence is very difficult to read. The blue highlights mark an adverb and a qualifier:

Here’s the same paragraph after editing:

Fiction in a Buffered World

I’m slowly making my way through Charles Taylor’s book A Secular Age.

One of the interesting distinctions Taylor makes about our culture versus past cultures is this: He says before the Renaissance, Western people lived in a “porous universe.” This means that they were vulnerable to outside spiritual forces, They were vulnerable to God. The universe, and the self, could be penetrated by things outside it.

He argues that we are now living in a “buffered universe.” In the age of the ‘self,’ we are isolated and cannot be penetrated by external forces in the same way.  We are not vulnerable to “the world of the spirits and powers” in the same way that our ancestors were.

To put it in another way: Western culture was once enchanted. Now it is disenchanted.

Think of Martin Luther praying to St. Anne during a lightning storm. Most modern Westerners now attribute lightning to merely natural causes. What’s the use of praying to anybody? Just check the weather report before you head out next time.

Let me tie this thought to something else. A while ago, I watched a talk by Alan Jacobs that related to his. You can watch it HERE. He makes a lot of points about fiction in the talk. I’ll let you watch it if you’re interested. I just want to give him credit for the line of thought.

In the age of the buffered self, people do not want to be told what to do. One of the hallmarks of post-modernity was/is rejection of authority and institutions. With this being the case, there were more and more instances happening of people coming to faith, or their faith being sustained, through fiction. C.S. Lewis reading George MacDonald’s book Phantastes is the classic example of this.

In a buffered age, God often uses means other than preachers to penetrate people’s souls. And preachers should take note of this and try to use those things as well. This is no different than the prophet Nathan using a story about someone stealing a sheep to confront King David’s adultery. David was buffered. He was most vulnerable (or porous) while he was listening to a story.

Entertainment (whether fiction books, or movies, or documentaries, or whatever) is a tool through which the buffered self can become porous. It is our primary means of enchanting the disenchanted. This means we need to look for ways to take the things we are consuming and use them to point people to the truth. To point people to Christ. That’s what Seeing Christ in Fight Club is going to focus on.

Anti-Nihilism Device

I’ve been reading The Opposite of Loneliness by the late Marina Keegan. She was a Yale grad who died in a car accident shortly after her graduation. The book is a collection of her short stories and essays.

One thing that stands out about her essays is the sense of isolation she felt. But I won’t go there in this post. Instead, I want to share a line that struck me in her little essay, Putting the ‘Fun’ back in Eschatology. You can read the whole thing online HERE.

She is wrestling with things she’s learning in her science classes – mainly with the ‘fact’ that the sun is eventually going to burn out and die. She comforts herself with thoughts that NASA will eventually perfect space travel and come up with solutions for living in a sunless galaxy. Here’s the quote:

It’s natural selection on a Universal scale. “The Origin of the Aliens,” one could say; a survival of the fittest planets. Planets capable of evolving life intelligent enough to leave before the lights go out. I suppose that without a God, NASA is my anti-nihilism.

In his novel Generation X, Douglas Coupland coins the term “anti-victim device.” An anti-victim device, according to Coupland, is “a small fashion accessory worn on an otherwise conservative outfit which announces to the world that one still has a spark of individuality burning inside.” Think of a conservative Southern girl with a lower-back tattoo or a nose ring. She may be straight laced in a lot of ways, but watch out. She’s got a wild side too. She’s taking jiu-jitsu lessons too.

Keegan saw NASA as her anti-nihilism device. That’s different from an anti-victim device, but kind of similar too. An anti-nihilism device says, ‘Yeah, I know the sun is going to burn out and everything’s going to freeze, but I’ve got hope.’ And notice she qualifies this with the key phrase – “without God.”

Without God, everyone has to have anti-nihilism devices. Christians tends to call these things idols. An anti-nihilism device is the thing you go to for ultimate hope when you realize there’s really nothing to live for. No reason not to be an anarchist, a nihilist, to just fall into total despair and do whatever you want.

Chuck Palahniuk has started calling himself an ‘optimistic nihilist.’ That’s a nihilist with blinders on. King Solomon was right folks. Without God, life under the sun doesn’t make sense. And the sun eventually burns out anyway. Some folks need to turn NASA into God. Others turn their their careers, their families, their favorite sports team, whatever into gods. They have to have something to brighten their day when the sun is burning out.

Important Update: I’m moving


My friend Jeremy and I are launching a new site called Recognizing Christ (click HERE). We are working with a publisher and are hoping to launch a book in the next year or so. In light of that, we’re focusing our efforts on the new site. I will continue to monitor Tides and Turning, and probably make a post once in a blue moon, but my focus will be on the new site.

The new site is a work in progress, but in the coming months it will feature blog posts and a podcast focused on ‘Christ and culture’ primarily.

But here’s the main thing: You can also sign up for our insider updates where we’ll give updates on the progress of the book project, share what we’re reading and watching, and even let you read the first chapter of the book right before it goes to the publisher.

Want to know what the book is about? You’ll have to head over to www.recognizingchrist.com.