Silence – A Fable

What do people fear most?

Edgar_Allan_Poe_2_retouched_and_transparent_bgThis question has been given many answers: uselessness, death, loneliness, old age, pain, etc., etc. Upon rereading “Silence –A Fable,” I find Edgar Allen Poe’s answer to this question quite interesting and accurate – especially in the context of the modern, largely atheistic, culture that can be found globally.

Poe sets the stage with a nightmarish scene described to him by a demon in a cave: massive water lilies, rain turning to blood, trees whipping without wind, and poisonous flowers writhing along the ground.  In the middle of this horrendous environment stands a giant rock with the word “Desolation” written upon it. Upon the rock sits a man, noble, but trembling in his solitude looking at the horrors and agitated landscape around him.  The demon hurls many forces of nature against the man to try and frighten him, but the man still remains sitting atop the rock. Finally, the demon:

cursed, with the curse of silence, the river, and the lilies, and the winds, and the forest, and the heaven, and the thunder, and the sighs of the water-lilies. And they became accursed, and were still. And the moon ceased to totter up its pathway to heaven – and the thunder died away – and the lightning did not flash – and the clouds hung motionless – and the waters sunk to their level and remained – and the trees ceased to rock –and the water lilies sighed no more – and the murmur was heard no longer from them […] And mine eyes fell upon the countenance of the man, and his countenance was wan with terror […] And the man shuddered, and turned his face away, and fled afar off, in haste, so that I beheld him no more (226).

Silence is what mankind fears most.

Man can withstand many calamities, but complete and utter silence terrifies him. In the Old Testament, God’s silence was a sign of judgment. Whenever God rejected Saul as king over Israel, his judgment was shown by his silence. Being made in God’s image, and God being in himself a social being (three in one), people were made to have communion with God and with one another. Whenever we fail in our relationship with God, silence is the result, and fear quickly follows. The badge of Atheist, rather than being worn with pride by its members, should be worn with regret and bitterness. After all, by denying the existence of God, the resulting “silence” eliminates purpose, meaning, and morality from the universe. If I thought I was the result of billions of years’ worth of “accidents” that randomly happened to turn out right so that I could exist for a short lifespan, reproduce, and then turn back into dust with the complete annihilation of not only my body, but also “me,” I, like the man in Poe’s fable, would try and run away. God is merciful, speaking to his people through the Word, and strengthening them with his Holy Spirit.

Silence, whether it is the silence of an empty house, the silence of a dark night, or the silence of loneliness, is never truly silent for the Christian. One day mankind, regardless of his professed beliefs while on this earth, will no longer have any silence. Either he will be worshiping the Great God of all creation, or he will be experiencing God’s fierce wrath in the pit of Hell. Poe’s fable does not give a complete picture of this reality, but ends with the noble man fleeing away, doomed to the silence around him. We, as God’s people, are doomed to no such fate, but can look forward to a time when “silence” will be gone forever.

References

Poe, Edgar A. The Complete Tales and Poems of Edgar Allan Poe. New York, NY: Barnes & Noble, 2006. Print.

Gaming-Fueled Education

Age is a funny thing. I’m a quarter of a century old, and as I’m approaching my third decade of life I find myself reflecting on a lot of things that I never really thought about before. Perhaps that’s an effect of maturity, of becoming a teacher, or perhaps both. All of this culminates in my desire to share the meandering thoughts of a twenty-something who isn’t yet where he expects to be in life.

One of the most prominent topics that I’ve been ruminating on lately has been my own education. This probably isn’t terribly surprising, considering that I’ve just put my first year as a high-school teacher under my belt. However, one aspect that may be somewhat unique to my experience of it is that I’m one of what I tend to call the “Gamer Generation.” Before I go any further with this, I need to define my terms.

Someone of the Gamer Generation is a person who grew up with computer or video games as a staple hobby during their childhood. To these people, interactive electronic entertainment is a constant rather than a novelty. My parents grew up largely without these conveniences, as the industry as a whole was in its infancy during their childhoods. By the time my father bought a Nintendo Entertainment System he was already married and in medical residency, meaning he had plenty of other things competing for his limited time.

During the late 1980s and early 1990s, the video game industry was hitting its stride after a crash in the late 70s and early 80s. This upswing was due mainly to Nintendo releasing the afore-mentioned console system at a fair price. Subsequently, children of the late 80s and early 90s found video games fairly common. Even if they didn’t have their own console, it was likely that every kid in a white, middle-class American neighborhood knew somebody with a Nintendo or Sega system. Failing that, there was usually someone’s parents who had a nice computer and a few games that they could play. People of the Gamer Generation were aware of games’ novelty to some extent, but never knew a time of life without video games.

I am a member of this generation. I remember when I was 4 (1991) visiting my great aunt and cousin. My cousin had an NES (as did my dad, but my parents wisely kept that a secret for years,) and my sister and I would take turns playing Super Mario Brothers and Duck Hunt. We were terrible at it, but it was a lot of fun and it kept the two of us occupied and relatively quiet. That’s where my interest in games started. More than 20 years later, I still find myself playing games — albeit less frequently than I did in high school and college. Those years hold another group of topics I could touch on, but what struck me a few weeks back was the incredible positive impact that some of these games had on my education. Not always my schooling, per se (I was an idiot with screwed up priorities as a highschool freshman), but certainly my education.

I learned a lot about flight, modern dogfighting, and naval maneuvers thanks to gaming. F/A-18 Hornet taught me the basics of thrust, yaw, pitch, and roll when I was 6. Harpoon taught me about fleet maneuvers in cold-war era simulations of the nations of NATO pitted against the USSR, and how the chain of command and rules of engagement worked. This developed an interest that would send me eventually to Tom Clancy’s naval series of books.

Pictured: Learning experiences circa 1994.

Later in life, games like Civilization and Age of Empires sparked interest in Ancient and Medieval history. To this day, I would argue that the Civilization series’ in-game encyclopedia is one of the best researched documents for teaching history interactively. The Civilization series also helped me to understand what all it took to build and sustain a society, rather than just the history of those societies.

It also taught me never to trust the Greeks in diplomacy, the scoundrels.

Titles like Company of Heroes, Axis and Allies and the original Call of Duty fostered an interest in World War 2 history that I still have. Thanks to those games, I began to research feverishly the different battles, generals, types of weapons and equipment used, types of tanks, etc. Even more than that, it spawned an interest in learning more and more about the reasons why the war occurred. Sometimes those are ugly facts, but they are facts I never would have learned without being inspired to dig deeper. That inspiration came in large part from my gaming hobby.

I learned a decent amount about Japanese weapons after playing Ninja Gaiden on the original Xbox. I didn’t learn any real information directly from that game, but it made me ask questions of a good friend and Japanese swordsmith. I also started doing more research into wilderness survival after playing Minecraft, Unreal World, and the recently released Don’t Starve.

Now, you may be asking yourself at this juncture “What’s the point of all this?” That’s a fair question. I see in mass media a lot of hysteria over the potential negative effects of video games — in education, in society, etc. In fact, there are many people who wanted to blame the Newtown, CT shooting on Call of Duty, ignoring the fact that the act of murder is far older than video games. The argument has been made that if video games drastically affected behavior, children of the 80s would be violently stomping every brown mushroom and turtle in sight — common actions in the Mario Brothers series. This simply wasn’t the case.

Although the TV series may have incited some violence with how bad it was.

To be fair, there are legitimate concerns about the abuse of electronic games negatively affecting someone’s life — a topic for another day. But we shouldn’t ignore the positive aspects that gaming can have simply because there is potential for abuse. Puzzle games like the Professor Layton series sharpen problem-solving and logic skills. Action games have been shown to increase reaction times and hand-eye coordination — skills prized in any surgeon. Strategy games test planning, tactical ability, and both macro- and micro-management. All of these are positive skills, but we mustn’t ignore the themes of games as well. The theme can leave a much more lasting impact than gameplay can. There are many themes of history and heroism in gaming, which I believe are very positive things to cultivate interest in. There can also be negative themes in some, but that’s where good judgment is supposed to come into play.

In closing, I’d like to encourage you to not consider video games too broadly. For example, questions like “Are video games good or bad?” or “Are video games dumbing down our kids?” are far too general and inflammatory to be very useful. It’s understandable why we ask these sorts of questions: we like easy answers for things that we either don’t understand or don’t want to take the time to consider. I urge you to reject those sorts of non-specific questions. It’s incredible the impact that games can have on a person — I learned so much directly and indirectly from my gaming hobby that it’s hard to imagine where my real education would be without it. While as Christians, parents, concerned citizens and/or gamers we need to be careful with our hobbies and entertainment, we need to remember not to throw out the baby with the bathwater.

 Images are used for demonstrative purposes only, and represent the intellectual properties of Larry Bond, Firaxis Studios, and Nintendo respectively. No profit or copyright infringement from these images’ use is intended.

Contests, Lists, and Long Words

RR-Summer-300x300Learning writing skills and seeing others display their talent in words has become much easier in the modern technological age we live in.  Below, I have collected several articles which I highly recommend to anyone embarking on the thousand-mile-long journey to better their own reading and writing skills.

First of all, Redeemed Reader, a website devoted to children’s literature, is hosting two summer reading contests, which you can learn about here and here, and a writing contest.  You can find another reading contest here, at Veritas Press, a company that provides resources for a classical education.  Veritas Press also has three reading lists.

What’s more, for those who have experienced Hippopotomonstrosesquippedaliophobia, or want to know what it means, this article from Mere Inkling is a must-read.

-Arrietty-

What Am I?

This is another school assignment, this one completed for a Creative Writing course.  In the syllabus, the teacher described three types of writers: The sensitive diarist, who cringes at publicity; the writer, who is happy to see their work published; and the artist, whose lofty goal is to become “a first-rate author.”  The assignment was to “Tell me which of the three groups (Diarist, Writer, or Artist) you think you fall.  Also, tell me how good you are at accepting criticism.”

When I first read the three categories of writers, Diarists, Writers, and Artists, my mind immediately said, quite clearly: “No.  Yes.  NO.”  But then my thought process kicked in, resulting in the usual confusion that occurs when the cogs of one’s brain begin to turn.  Eventually, the answers became: “A little bit.  I guess.  I hope not.”  Then these phrases all collided to form the all purpose sentence: “I don’t know.”  But I guess I really do, sort of, maybe, and hopefully writing this will help me sort my thoughts out.

Actually, I did keep a diary when I was little, in a very nice notebook with a very fine painting on the front of well-dressed bunnies having tea in a lovely meadow.  The book was eventually filled with the horribly embarrassing thoughts of a little girl with messy handwriting.   When I lost it (which says something both about my attachment to it and my orderliness) I chose a notebook with blue hydrangeas on it.  It’s slightly less cringe-worthy reading.  I’d developed some taste by then, and also decided that no one would want to know exactly what mundane things we did in Shreveport that day.  It’s still a bit pretentious and full of attempts at “depth,” but seriously, how much depth is in a sheltered twelve year old?  In the end, I gave up.  I’m still not much good at writing about myself to myself.  However, when I write to my best friends, that’s a different matter, so much so that I once addressed an e-mail to “Dear Diary.”

But in one way, I am a Diarist.  Stored on my laptop are several word documents filled with little snippets of stories, occasional poems, even an essay.  Most of them are incomplete, but I didn’t necessarily write them to be complete.  I wrote them because I had an idea, and needed to release it.  I enjoy making up my own little stories.  I need creative outlet.  But I do want some of my stories to be published.  The best ones.  What good are they if I am the only one that can experience them?  I can be somewhat shy about my writing, to be sure, but in my heart of hearts I still want it read.

As to being an “Artist,” a “full-time, first-rate author, with all the grueling, lonely hours this entails…”  I should like to be published someday, I think I really would, but I don’t write just to write.  I write because words are what stories are made out of, and I love to read stories, and I hope other people do too.  But the idea of lonely hours is not appealing.  I like real people too.  And, to tell the truth, I also believe I’ve met “writing artists,” and I don’t like them.  Without going into too much detail, artists in general are…I don’t like people with “artistic taste,” or “artistic temperaments,” because those phrases are often just used as an excuse for bizarreness, for flightiness, for, it must be said, for walking all over the rest of us mere mortals.  Now, I must admit that I do sometimes see all these tendencies in me.  But I at least attempt to squash them as soon as I notice these “creeping poisons.”

I think, after all, I am just a mere mortal, who might one day seek to walk with the gods (of writing).  I bask in encouragement, in fact, I need it, but I do manage criticism, because I do want to be better at writing, and that’s what it’s going to take.  I don’t want be an Artist, and the road I travel is too fraught with dangers for a Diarist.  I write stories.   I am a Writer.

Bringing Back Shakespeare

Shakespeare

“That’s awesome!”

“Cool!”

These and other overused expressions are words that many Americans use every day. But why? Isn’t anyone getting tired of saying the same thing in the same way? Doesn’t English have a lot of other words that might be more appropriate? After all, didn’t Shakespeare write in English? Why is it that he was so creative but we’re so dull? The answer begins with a lengthy backstory…

De Copia

220px-William_Tyndale

A few weeks ago I listened to a lecture about William Tyndale. What struck me about Tyndale was his complete mastery of the written word—he was such a masterful translator that even today many English Bibles use parts of his translation. For instance, we owe such phrases as “let there be light,” “the signs of the times,” “Peter went out and wept bitterly” (which could have been “Peter went out and cried hard”), “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God” to Tyndale, and competing translations have rarely measured up to Tyndale’s eloquence and sense of verbal rhythm.

He had an incredible gift, but Tyndale’s mastery of the English language was deeper than raw talent. John Piper, in a lecture on the life of Tyndale, notes that Tyndale probably used a book called De Copia when he was a student. What was De Copia? Piper explains:

[De Copia] helped students increase their abilities to exploit the “copious” potential of language. This was hugely influential in the early 1500s in England and was used to train students in the infinite possibilities of varied verbal expression. The aim was to keep that language from sinking down to mere jargon and worn-out slang and uncreative, unimaginative, prosaic, colorless, boring speech.

All very interesting, but just how rigorous was De Copia?

One practice lesson for students from De Copia was to give “no fewer than one hundred fifty ways of saying ‘Your letter has delighted me very much.’” The point was to force students “to use of all the verbal muscles in order to avoid any hint of flabbiness.” It is not surprising that this is the kind of educational world that gave rise to William Shakespeare (who was born in 1564). Shakespeare is renowned for his unparalleled use of copiousness in language.

So basically, both Tyndale and Shakespeare were master wordsmiths because they studied hard. Because they found 150 different ways to say the same thing. This boggles my mind!

Those who are against this studious approach to language mastery might argue that “I’m just spontaneous. Words come naturally and I have an instinctive gift for language.” In response to this argument, here is a quote about military combat: “We do not rise to the level of our expectations. We fall to the level of our training.” I believe this is also true in speech and writing—those who apply themselves will do better than those who “wing it.” “Winging it” may sound great and it certainly helps the ego, but more often than not people’s default state is not eloquence but banality (Piper says something very similar in his lecture about Tyndale).

scotland-forever-560

Let Battle Commence!

Fighting the banality of modern language can be difficult, especially with the limited vocabulary in use today. Also, I will be the first to admit that I’m not even close to being what one might call a “master of language,” so the following instructions are somewhat akin to a blind man leading a blind man… Anyway, here are some thoughts on how to increase one’s mastery of language in both everyday speech and writing:

  1. Read more books, especially older ones that might contain less oft-used words, because there are always new ones just waiting to be rediscovered. Ever heard the word “catholicon” before? A beautiful word, one I didn’t learn until last week.
  2. Be more self-conscious about words—try to notice when you use common filler words such as “um,” “like,” “I mean,” “you know,” etc. Eliminate them (this problem is one I struggle with in particular). Also, humbling as it may be, ask relatives if there are any phrases that you overuse–I find many people have certain “go-to” words that they use all the time. The wonderful thing about English is that there are always good synonyms for every word, phrase, and expression that exists, so finding alternatives shouldn’t be difficult.
  3. While there’s no need to toot your own horn saying “look at all the big words I know,” don’t be afraid to use new words. Make it a sort of game to find new ways to say the same thing.
  4. Speaking of saying the same thing, take the De Copia approach and find 150 sentences that all express an identical thought.
  5. Write more often.
  6. Dare to be ridiculous!
  7. Treat the world as a stage, one where you write your own dialogue. Why not attempt in everyday conversation to craft and use the best, brightest, most inspired lines of dialogue this world has ever heard? Instead of being satisfied with the mundane humdrummery of everyday speech (That’s awesome! Cool!), why not become dedicated to using the expansive English language to its fullest extent, until the greatest dialogue in the best movie ever made pales in comparison to the impromptu play of our lives?
  8. Have fun!
  9. If you’d like a theme song for this undertaking, here’s the perfect tune.

Oh, and finally, as a sort of kick-starter, here is a brief list of synonyms for “cool,” “great,” and “awesome”:

  • Fabulous
  • Marvelous
  • Terrific
  • Fantastic
  • Remarkable
  • Extraordinary
  • Tremendous
  • Magnificent

Excelsior!
Jack M.