Friday, April 18, 2008

Amen and Namaste

Like every other self-respecting English major in the world, I am currently working on the Great American Novel, the book that will single-handedly bring print back into fashion and intellectual thought back into everyday conversation. Unfortunately for me, my creativity recently took a nose-dive, as did my interest in and ability to work on the book, and it's been stagnating on my laptop for the last several months.

The novel itself is fascinating, in my mind. It has two separate storylines which will ultimately connect at the end in an explosion of brilliance and luminosity--just as soon as I figure that part out. The first storyline (told from the point of view of the archangel Gabriel) is an exploration of the role of God, the angels, and mankind in the Old and New Testament--it focuses on God's expectations of men and angels, and vice versa, from Genesis to the birth and rebirth of Christ. Ultimately, it concludes that Christianity's insistence on black-and-white ethics and morality is damaging to both heaven and earth, especially in light of many not-so-nice things the Father has done in the past. There is a middle ground, it's just a matter of finding it. The second storyline is about an involuntary prophet living in a not-so-distant future fascist state that bears a striking resemblance both to the US today and to the laws of heaven as dictated by God. It explores the role of academia in society, the necessity of intellectual freedom, and the degeneration of individual rights, as well as the juxtaposition of salvation and enlightenment in theology.

You don't have to tell me that it's a bit arrogant and pompous. I already know that.

But it's also an incredibly large project. For the first three or four weeks after I moved to Colorado, I spent six to eight hours a day on the book, straining my eyes and my back and actually damaging my laptop keyboard. So far, I believe it's the best thing I've ever written, but it's absolutely nowhere near completion. I've been working on it for about a year, and I'm only about a quarter of the way done--with the first draft. I'm anticipating I'll be working on this until I'm at least 30, which is fine by me. Most of the greatest works in the English language took years and years to complete, and I comfort myself with that knowledge on a daily basis. Tolkien is one example, as is Milton. Chaucer. We can't all be Jack Keruoac and spit out a book in four weeks, after all, and I'm not sure I would want to be even if I could, given the other options.

So you can see why I'm a mite bit concerned that I can't seem to focus enough to work on it. It takes me a little while to get into the novelist mind-set--plus, I'm on the computer all day at work, so it's less than appealing to run home and boot up. That's why I was pretty excited to get the spark several days ago--I was up late, re-reading what I've done and making changes to the outline, changing my perspective on where my characters are coming from and where they're going. It was a good beginning, and I'm hoping it can lead to positive results in the semi-near future.

What's bothering me, though, is where I received this inspiration. It wasn't a spark of creativity sometime during the day, it wasn't my inner self whispering in my dreams. It was the Mormons.

Let me explain. For the last six months, my family has been visited by Mormon Elders once or twice a week. They will generally stop by, chat, eat and drink, and leave. Period. End of story. There's been very little talk of God in our visits with the various young men, and even less talk of the Church. We would discuss what they do and who they see, but never what they believe.

Our most recent Elders, however--they trade-off every six weeks--haven't followed this exact mold, and I can tell they're bound and determined to save my soul. The problem is that I have no interest in salvation. Spiritual health does not equal baptism and church attendance, in my mind. When I mentioned that I was writing a book about a modern-day prophet--essentially a Latter Day Saint--their ears perked up, and we began to discuss, in a purely academic vein, the theory of heaven, of life after death, of the role of faith or lackthereof. I invited them to come back, to discuss the Degrees of Glory, which, in Mormon tradition, is the different "levels" after death--Spiritual Paradise, Spiritual Prison, and Hell. They gave me a pamphlet and told me to read it "prayerfully."

When they returned, they gave me lots of food for thought. We discussed being a Christian vs. just being a good person, the role that angels play as messengers (versus God or Christ speaking for Themselves), basic Church history. Basically, the works. But when they packed up their Bibles and their Books of Mormon, they asked if they could pray, as that was what they normally did after they discussed the Good Book(s). I was immediately on my guard, as I had made clear--crystal clear, I thought--that I have had exceedingly bad experiences with organized religions and Christians as whole, and I will not join their Church. I did not attend the art festival I was invited to, I did not watch General Conference. But their very respectful, non-denominational prayer for my happiness and peace made me suspect that--though they know I have no intention of becoming Mormon--they think, or at least hope, that they'll be able to convert me, despite the fact that I ended it with an "Amen and Namaste" and told them I generally preferred meditation to prayer.

As soon as I realized their hopes, however, I felt immediately guilty. Here I was, using their good will and hopes for my "salvation" against them, as research for my heretical, virtually anti-Christian book. Their hair would stand on end if they even suspected how far I'm pushing the envelope in my novel. Cruel and vindictive God who cares little for humanity? Check. Homosexuality (or at the very least homo-social) on part of said God? Check. Final conclusion that it's better to Fall into a third category of spiritual world--neither heaven nor hell--which looks an awful lot like a personal search for enlightenment? Double check. This is not really something these good missionaries would really approve of, and my selfishness made me feel both guilty and ashamed.

Apparently, however, guilt and shame was what it took to jump-start my inner novelist, and I stayed up into the wee hours sifting through my past brainstorms to weave in my newest revelations. The Mormons are coming back on Sunday--after all, it's not merely a black-and-white ethical issue.

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