the sun was jealous of the moon

If you were to have walked up behind him, quietly, he wouldn’t have noticed you.  He was lost in his writing, scribbling down the last words of humankind.  His journal was the sides and corners of some operating manual he had found – it was the only paper around.  The zigzag of words and idea flowed over, above and around the preprinted text, making these final, sacred words a jumble of memories and inked, mechanical instructions.

“My name is Carlos, and I am the last living human,” he had written not long ago.  He read those words to himself again, agonizing over whether they told the depth of his pain and loneliness.  It seemed to him like there should be some kind of adjective or modifier that should accompany such a dramatic statement.  He wasn’t much of a writer, really.  It was a bit of a shame that he should be chosen to write the final words of mankind.  His name, Carlos, suddenly seemed silly to him.  From Adam to Carlos.  Some name beginning with “Z” would have been more catchy.

“I had a beautifully horrific view of the destruction.  The Sun set out a solar flare that was immense, like a whip trailing across our little Universe.  When the flare made contact with Earth, it was with such precision one might have thought the Sun was jealous of the moon’s eternal dance with our world.  The flare cracked upon the Earth, destroying it.  I saw it all happen; I watched the destruction of my homeworld happen in a flash, before humanity had a chance to say a prayer.”

He was proud of his words there.  He liked that thought… that the Sun was jealous of the moon.  It gave him something to believe in.  He thought that maybe, just maybe, he wasn’t the only sentient being still alive.  Earth was destroyed.  His friends, his family, his crew were dead.   Maybe, he hoped, there was something else still out there.

Carlos stood up, walking on the soft dust of the moon, towards his lunar base.  His team had been the living on the moon for only a month when the disaster happened.  They were the first of such teams to be sent to the moon; NASA had finally gotten its act together and planned to develop a way of life on the moon.  The plan was to build a small, sustainable city there or no more than 1,000 people.  Progress on Earth due to the EPA requiring alternative fuels and sustainable products had finally made it feasible to live off of our home planet.  It was made financially possible by the networks; they had broadcast rights to life in space.  The science made it feasible… the entertainment value made it profitable.

Carlos stood with one of the camcorders in his hand.  He was just supposed to be a stagehand.  He knew camcorders inside and out… he wasn’t creative enough to be a director but he had a keen eye for the angles and a soft focus.  It was time for another burial.

Carlos took his time setting the camera on its tripod, trying to catch the right light from the sun.  He would always have the lunar base in the background to give the burial some sort of perspective.  He hated how people thought the first man-on-the-moon was from a soundstage.  He hit the record button, and began digging.

“I’m digging this grave for Nathan Ellis.  Captain Ellis was good man, the last of the crew to give up.  I think he wanted to be the last of us all.  He would have made a better last human than me.  He would have honored us all with better words and a better dream.

I didn’t mean to kill him.  He just wouldn’t stop breathing.  We chose to keep our mics always on so we could hear each other in case of emergency.  He would breathe so heavily.  I tried to turn him down but it got louder and louder in my head.  He wouldn’t listen to me and just shut up.

I’m using his oxygen tank now, in honor of his death.”

 

It had been a week since the Sun’s destruction of the Earth.  When the flare struck the Earth it wasn’t what they might show in the movies.  There wasn’t some massive explosion, sending rocks every which way.  It was more like a boiled egg cracking, then falling into pieces.  It might have even been possible that some people might have found a way to live on these large chunks separated planet, but Carlos didn’t allow himself that hope.  Slowly, over the week, the chunks were getting further and further apart, each with their own gravity field.

Carlos had stopped looking towards the Earth in several days, so he hadn’t noticed anything unusual.  It wasn’t until a human body, disfigured but clearly in civilian clothes (possibly shorts?  A tank top?) landed on the ground in front of the camera.

“No,” was all he could mutter.

Carlos saw a piece of the Earth slowly drifting towards the moon, pulled in by its gravity.  The smaller chunks of the Earth had been drawn to the moon.  He guessed that maybe 100 miles away from his base, an Earth comet was about to crash into the moon.  In the comet’s orbit, he saw hundreds – maybe thousands – of human bodies.

Carlos was paralyzed.  Human bodies were landing on the moon’s surface all around him.  He began digging deeper.  They would all need graves, he thought.

A redheaded woman landed near him… or at least that’s what he thought it was.  It was hard to tell if she really was even a human, but in Carlos’ mind he saw her.  His daughter was a redheaded beauty of seven years old.

 

He patted Molly on the head.  She was a beautiful sprite of a child, her poise full of grace and her hair full of mud.  A tomboy, for sure, she took after her father.  Carlos had loved Molly like a precious jewel.  He understood the world that lived and breathed around him and new that once she was old enough there would be enough pain and anguish for her deal with on her own… he wanted to be sure that her childhood would be filled with all the care and affection he could give.

When Carlos was approached to work on the lunar base project, he did so with two caveats.  The first was that he would be allowed to use the video equipment to send personal videos back to his family.  The second was that Molly and his wife, Mary, would be in the first group of civilians to make the transition to living on the moon.

Carlos only took the job knowing that he was building a better future for Molly.  Being away from his family was going to be torture, but a man can be brave when he knows that he’s been tasked with making history.   He ruffled Molly’s hair, bent down, and gave her a loving, almost casual, temporary hug goodbye.  He would see her soon, he told her.

 

Carlos scooped up the decayed, charred bag of flesh that had fallen near him.  Had you been there with him, you would have told him that it wasn’t Molly.  There weren’t any distinguishing features.  From your perspective, you wouldn’t have been sure if the charred thing in his arms was Molly or a pet dog.

Carlos wept.

Openly, unashamedly, he wept as he held his beautiful Molly in his arms.  What father is meant to bury his daughter?  What father should know that he could have held on a little longer, could have been a little less brave, should have not done the right thing for his race and instead stayed home, riding a bike with his child and making mudpies?  What father wouldn’t have chosen a few more weeks with his child instead of being the final survivor of the human race?

As he looked up from the charred remains of Molly, Carlos saw his last glimmer of hope walking towards him.  Slowly, as if he was in some slow-motion movie sequence, a woman was walking towards him.

‘Could it be?’ he thought. ‘Someone survived.  Someone else is alive.  I’m not alone.’

“Thank you, God,” he said aloud, though his mic, where it was picked up by the still listening camcorder.

Carlos could feel his energy returning, his blood filled with hope.  He didn’t find it odd that she walking towards him without any protection, no restrictive space suit.  He could see her every curve and brilliant beauty.  It did not surprise him that she was on fire, her hair made of flames and her skin bristling with heat.

“Hello, Carlos.  I’ve come to save you,” she said.

“Save me?”

“I love you, Carlos.  I am the Sun, I am all powerful.  I take what I want.”

“Why… why me?” was all he could stammer out.  He was on his knees now, taken aback by the sheer heat of the Sun.  He was weak.  He was showing his submission to the Sun. 

“There were too many humans, Carlos.  I only ever wanted you.”

“But I’m no one special.  Why am I the last to live?  Why did you spare me?”

“Clearly, you’re a survivor.  You must be special if you’re still alive and everyone else is gone.  Look around you… nothing remains here for you.”  Sharpening her eyes, glaring into weak Carlos’ tortured mind, she said, “Only the Sun remains.  Only I have love for you.  Don’t you love me?”

The heat had dried his memory.  Gone was his concern for the charred remains of some fleshly thing that had fallen near him.  Was he ever married?  He couldn’t remember her name… surely he was married once.  “Love you?” he asked.

“Yes, Carlos – Love me.”  It was more a command than an answer to his question.  “You’re the last human to live.  Surely you know what love is.  Surely you want to love and be loved.  Isn’t that what humanity is all about?”  The Sun smiled a smirk of a smile and turned away.

“Please, don’t let me die alone,” were his last words.

The Sun just walked across the moon’s horizon, into the ball of gas light years away, ever so slightly with a sway of her hips.

Carlos sat there, on his knees, for what must have been hours.  He mind was empty, it seemed.  He slowly stood up, letting the blood return to his tingling calves and cold feet.  He took a few steps backwards, the weight of his steps crumbling the charred remains he so tenderly held only moments (hours?) ago.  He didn’t notice.

He climbed into the lunar base, walking past the camcorder and Captain Ellis’ grave site.  He walked down the echoing halls, past rations and the few remaining oxygen tanks.  He walked past his room and carried off no personal effects.  He walked to the ship’s docking station, climbed into the captain’s chair and initiated the take off sequence.  Carlos set the ship on autopilot and, in moments, his retinas were burned from the light of the sun.

 

If you had been there, you might have picked up his clumsy journal of an operating manual.  If you had been there, you might have finished Captain Ellis’ burial.  If you had been there, you would have watched as Carlos drifted off into space, seeking love one last time.

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A Real Prayer

I spent the summer of 2000 in Northern Ireland, working with a ministry there called Project: Evangelism. John Moxen will likely never know how formative my time with him there was. He was a temporary mentor, and I only wish that I had honored him with more of my time while I was there, or simply had been able to spend more time there in general. My three trips to Northern Ireland and Project: Evangelism are a part or the makeup of my spiritual life and are - in many ways - when I grew from a boy into a man. It was during this trip when I had perhaps my most emotional and spiritually draining prayer experience. I try to keep my conversations with God fairly simple. I find that Christ's example in the Lord's Prayer was pretty simple. It consists of honoring God, of asking for our most basic needs, and for God to shape us into His will. As such, I ask for little, try to give thanks a lot, and am more concerned with the simpler needs than extravagant, supernatural requests. Please don't think that I'm saying we shouldn't pray for such things; it's just not in the norm of my prayers. But this story is a story about one of those times when I truly believe the supernatural interceded. A trio of students who were there the summer I was on staff came rushing into the house in a panic. What was the cause? One of them had been attacked by a demon. Now... I don't know what really happened that night. I didn't see a demon. I'm not at all an expert on these things. Here's what I know: these students were scared. They were crying, they were freaking out, and something was desperately wrong. This was early evening, somewhere around 8pm. The boy who had been "attacked" went straight to the students' bedroom. I went in to talk with him and pray with him. I believe he told a genuine story. I believe that something happened that night. And I know this - there was a spiritual battle going on in the room, surrounding us. We prayed and prayed for what seemed like hours. In truth, it was probably somewhere between five and ten minutes. The passion was there, the urgency was there. I remember praying these words: "God, take your protection from me and offer him a double dose of your spirit. Protect him through the night." Moments later our prayers ended. Then I was driven straight to my bedroom. I was overcome with exhaustion. Every part of me was saying to go to sleep, to rest, and to simply let tomorrow come. My spirit felt naked and open. I don't know how all this works. I can't say that I have anything much to say about experiences with angels or demons or any knowledge of how I've been spiritually protected in the past. But I know that prayer is real, and that it is heard.
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Q: Donald Miller | Narrative Expressions

Donald Miller was the first of the second session presenters.  The second session was decidedly different from the first.  Whereas the first seemed to be experts who set the tone for the key points of our conversation at Q, the second session felt much more pastoral.  Perhaps the better was to synthesize it is that the first session was “here’s the story” and the second session was “here’s what my part of the story could be.”

Donald Miller did a great job at setting the tone for the following presenters, talking specifically about narrative and how stories effect us; specifically, how our personal story effect us.

Miller began by telling the story behind on of his yearly rituals: every year he spends time to sit down and literally decide what he’s going to spend the next year doing.  What is your next year going to be about?

This past year he was struggling, however, as he couldn’t decide what it was he wanted to do for the first time.  While he was still trying to figure it out, he received a call from a friend he’s known for years.  He had once sent her a letter that described the things he wanted to accomplish in life.  They talked about that letter and he discovered why he no longer knew what he wanted to do: he had accomplished all the he had once dreamed of.  He needed a new story to take part in.

We as humans identify most with a three-act, single protagonist story.  We are the single protagonist, and we need an antagonist.  A few things he points out from this idea:

·         The story becomes as important as the dream.  If the protagonist dies, their dreams die.  What is lost if the dream dies?

·         If your ambition is evil, you are the villain.

·         If your ambition is apathetic, you are a background character.

The problem he describes for the church today is that our story has been hijacked by a lesser story; the story of secular culture.  For all the time we spend on “sacred” entertainment, we spend hours more on “secular” entertainment.  We need to be a part of a better story.

Miller describes a friend whose daughter was dating a… less that appropriate suitor.  Her life was going down a path the father did not approve of, but he didn’t know how to help her.  When the family stumbled into an opportunity to help build and fund an orphanage in another country, the family rallied around the idea.  The suddenly found a better story.  Saving lives was such a better story to be in than rebelling against her father.  The family found themselves in a better story, and better for it.

I think the psychological implications of story and narrative can run deep.  I find myself agreeing greatly with Miller – I wish he had taken the ideas further.  I don’t think that the church has been simply hijacked by a lesser story; I think most churches don’t have a story.

In Kevin Kelly’s presentation he made the “controversial” statement that we have to consider the possibility that Armageddon won’t happen in our lifetime.  That there are other options for what will happen in the year 2100, 2200, or even 3100.  So many churches have grown lazy because there is no greater story; they don’t know about social injustices like slave trading or environmental issues that will affect their children’s children.  And so, the biggest story their church is caught up in is the color of the carpet.

So many churches have dissention because their pastor has not given them a better story to be a part of.  Every story needs an antagonist; if the church isn’t aware of opportunities to change culture for the better, if they aren’t aware of the movements of Satan, they can easily lose sight of who their antagonist is.  In a culture where the greatest antagonist is “the man,” then if the church has no other antagonist the first, and easiest, person to see as the villain is the pastor.

If the pastor hasn’t given his church a better story to be a part of, his people will turn on him or leave.

Big churches can get by on the story of being part of something big.  Church plants can get by on the story of being part of something new.  Aging churches can get by on the story of being a resting place before they die.

Or, we can have a better story.  What is your church’s story?

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Circle of Story

So why is Will Wright's keynote so interesting to me? The core of the keynote was a demonstration of his upcoming game, Spore. Yes, thi in itself is interesting. But what's more interesting is his actual talk, his actual reasoning for developing the game the way he did. What's interesting is the circle of story and how story - and thus, storytelling - has evolved. According to Wright, stories are unchanging. They are a chain of events that flow through a larger story. This, in of itself, warrents some conversation. If stories are unchanging, can we permit stories to be resurrected and retold in new ways, but still retain the same beats and characters and passion; can stories remain unchanging yet flow through a different set of larger events? The most ready example of this would be the multitude of Hollywood remakes of older movies. What makes these resurected stories successful - and what makes them such failures? And what of stories that are created to be resurrected; there has for years been an X-Men comic, but now there is a movie series as anew version of the smae basic stor, along with multiple cartoon series, video games, and even a refreshed Ultimate X-Men series of comics. Wright clarifies two of the strengths of linear storytelling:
1) The audience is engaged in not only the story being told, but also the myriad of directions the story can go 2) The storyteller knows the ending and, as such, can craft details and steps to better take the audience to the themes and morals of the story.
This leads us to see that the storyteller has an obligation to the audience; not only myst they string together events to head toward some sort of resolution, the storyteller must put his audience on a path that makes sense, and that perhaps could have been deduced from across the myriad of possible outcomes; and that the storyteller's path was once worth listening instead of the audience departing down an alternate path in their own mind. But now, Wright tells us something different is happening: "Computers can start understanding what story a player is following, and the game can change on the fly to adapt to that type of story. Eventually games will learn player behavior a lot faster through adaptive mapping and story parsing, so the player's intended story can change, via music, events, lighting, and even the events that happen in the game. "This is similar to what happens to Jim Carrey and The Truman Show. He's wandering around through his life, and the director is controlling what happens to him, but he can't break the bonds of what 'Truman's Life' is." The Truman Show and Groundhog Day are the two best examples of linear storytelling." It is possible for Wright to adapt the story being told to the audience's choices; now longer is it a storyteller and an audience; the storyteller is crafting the player's story. So how is this reflected in society? How can a book publisher engage a world where linear stories have evolved? How can we resurrect stories that are integral to our lives into player stories that are dynamic and change with each action we take? If stories are becoming more and more lifelike - to the point of being almost organic and interacting with the storyteller and the story player - do stories become more important and life less so? How can I take the truths that I know and tell them as truths - as something more than just a story? edit: the link to Will Wright's Spore keynote coverage: http://www.joystiq.com/2007/03/13/sxsw-joystiq-live-at-the-will-wright-keynote/
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