Month: August 2015

The story IV … examining plot

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© Sarah Klockars-Clauser for openphoto.netAnd on we go in our search for our author. Leaving behind a cast of characters that only helped to confuse and frustrate, we now turn to the plot of our story. When we ask the deep questions of the soul, the first seems to be “Why am I here?” However, generally failing to find an adequate answer, we turn to more shortsighted questions that would seem to be easier to answer such as “What should we do?” This is the essence of plot. What is going on and how we should act and react to what is going on around us. Understanding our plot would also lead us to discern the end of our story, which opens up all kinds of truths about who we are, what we are doing here, what is our role, and who really are the main characters. Understanding our plot is surely the key to understanding our story and finding our author.

So we look at what is going on in our lives. Surely there is good and bad. All stories have bad moments, so this is nothing to worry about. All lives begin positively. That miraculous moment of birth when all lives are a blank page and all epic stories of romance and heroism are still possible. For some that moment is cut short – sometimes before the moment of birth itself. Complications, birth defects, or unspeakable tragedy too often transform joy to despair. But this experience is the same throughout our lives. One moment elation, the next catastrophe. Perhaps it is not wise to look at individual lives and try to interpret our story. Perhaps we must look at the bigger stories, the stories of nations and peoples.

Unfortunately, throughout history we see a similar pattern. Has there been a time that the world has not been at war? Times where devastating natural disasters have not erased whole groups of peoples from the earth? No. battleHowever, there is a great savior – if you would believe some – called technology. Technology seems to hold great promise to bring people together, to erase differences, to solve many of our woes. But, alas, history would beg to differ. From the beginning, technology has promised to simplify, revolutionize, and eliminate human suffering. From wheels to hunting and gardening tools, technology has been used for good as well as for evil. But still the history of nations and peoples has plodded on unchanged. One group dominates for a time and then gets replaced by another. Nations led by cruel and vicious dictators are displaced by more benevolent rulers who in turn are overthrown by even worse regimes. The seemingly random cycle continues unabated. Thus the plot, so promising in concept, fails to inform us about much and fails to lead us to our author.

But all stories have a setting. Perhaps this could provide a clue or lead us down a fruitful path. After all, the setting is where the story takes place. The setting helps set the mood of the story and introduces constraints on the characters. Truthfully, would texting in a medieval setting make sense? Nope. Wrong setting. So what is the setting of our story? It appears to be Earth in the 21st century. But maybe, like Neo in the Matrix or the Pevensies in the Chronicle of Narnia, we will find our story existing in another setting altogether. That could change everything.

But we are trying to understand our story, so we will assume our setting is what we can actually see and hear. Trying to reason otherwise would put us in a state of pure conjecture. So we study our setting; while it changes over time, it also remains the same. But it does give up some secrets about our author. What do we learn by looking at our world? First, that the world is a wild and dangerous place. Regardless of our sophistication, intelligence, and technology we can not even begin to be able to modify the winds and storms of nature. And lets face it, being left alone in the wild without traces of modern conveniences is daunting for even the most adventurous among us. We are likely not up to the challenge.

universeBut then second, what about the immensity and size of our environment? The world in which we live seems large to us, yet is but a pale blue dot in the sea of asteroids, planets, stars, nebula, and galaxies. Some even theorize multiple universes! What could be the reason for such enormity? Is our author really so large as to require all this to tell our story? As the known universe leaves us speechless, so its part in our story leaves us with insufficient imagination to even begin to envision its  purpose.

So once again we are baffled. The plot is seemingly random, littered with both triumph and tragedy. And our setting, while leaving clues, is so wild and dangerous and so grotesquely over sized that we are left to wonder even more: what is going on here?

Perhaps I was wrong. Perhaps trying to understand the story can provide no clues about the author and can certainly not lead us to the creator of our story. Perhaps.

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The Good King

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a thinly veiled allegory of the story in which we find ourselves

Once upon a time, there was a King. A King that loved his people. A King beloved by his people. A King that cared for his people as if they were his own children and shared his wealth and splendor with them in good times and bad. Everyone was welcome and treated with honor and respect. None in the kingdom went hungry. None lacked for a place to lay their head. The King loved his people. The people loved their King.

The people also loved the King’s son as much as they loved the King himself. And, like his father, the Prince loved the people as his own. The Prince was a strong man, a handsome man. The Prince was pure of heart and sterling in character. While many young princes exploited their position, the Prince used his station to serve the people. The Prince loved his people. The people loved their Prince.

One day the Captain of the King’s army decided he was tired of being second in command. He believed himself worthy to be king. The Captain was vain. He thought himself more magnificent than all others. The Captain was arrogant. He assumed himself mighty enough to overthrow the King. So convincing was he in his arrogance that a third of the King’s army followed. They followed him into a revolt against the King.

Surprise would be his ally. Surely the King would not suspect his most decorated Captain. The Captain and his rebels would wait until the time was right. They would strike when it was least expected. At the darkest hour of the night, the attack came. Many of the King’s loyal soldiers fell where they slept. Many were ambushed under the darkness of night. Then the King’s army countered against the rebel’s treason. The King’s army was on the offensive. The King’s soldiers were infused with courage. The King’s army would win the day.

The Captain and his army were defeated swiftly. They were humiliated. The King, in an act of unreasonable grace, spared them and banished them from the kingdom. To revenge their humiliation, the Captain decided to take action. If he could not defeat King, he would wound him. If he could not be the king himself, he would make the King suffer. But how would he wound him? How would he make him suffer? An armed revolt had failed. Perhaps a less direct attack would produce the greatest wound.

The Captain gathered his wisest generals in a great council. They desired to hurt the King. They were obliged to make him pay. The general of his 1st legion proposed to capture the Prince. Nothing could hurt the King like the loss of his own son. The council agreed that the Prince would be the greatest prize. But after days of debate, the council established that the Prince could not be taken. The Prince was too mighty. The Prince was too smart.

Days and weeks passed. The generals fought amongst themselves. They turned their hatred toward each other, leaving the council in shambles. Then the Captain stood to calm the confusion. The Captain had a plan. A direct attack against the King was a disaster. An attack against the Prince would likely meet the same fate. But there was one other the King loved dearly. The Maiden. The King loved the Maiden. The King would do anything for the Maiden. But the Maiden was prone to wander. The Maiden would often leave the safety of the King’s castle to play in the meadows and forests. The Maiden would make an easy target.

The Captain and his men set a trap. They quietly moved into position outside the King’s castle. They waited. Sometimes the Maiden would venture outside the Castle walls. Sometimes she would bring friends to romp through the meadows with her. Other times she would come alone under the ever watchful eyes of the watchtower guards. Then one day the beautiful Maiden again left the Castle and went roaming through the meadow toward the deep dark forest. The guards watched her as usual while the Captain and his men laid low. Then the Maiden saw a rabbit scamper across the meadow. The rabbit enraptured the Maiden. The rabbit was soft, cute and seemingly innocent. The Maiden walked slowly toward the rabbit. So slowly, that the guards did not notice that the Maiden had gotten close to the edge of the forest. As the Maiden approached the forest edge, the Captain saw his chance. If only the Maiden would step into the forest. One step that would seal her fate and give the Captain his prize. Now the Maiden was within two steps of the rabbit. The rabbit took off, straight toward the forest. Not thinking where she was, the Maiden took off after the rabbit.

The King was heartbroken and stricken with grief. His beloved, the beautiful Maiden, had fallen prey to the enemy. He had to get her back. He set his heart on it. He longed day and night for her return. But how? How could the King get her back? He could not sit in his castle and wait for her return. He had to go after her. He had to make a daring rescue attempt. He thought long and hard about how to get her back. He thought about sending his army to rescue the maiden. But an army is large and noisy, too large and too noisy. The King knew that his enemy was too sly and clever to be taken by an army. It would be easy for him to escape with the beautiful Maiden. Finally, the King realized that the only way to get the beautiful maiden back was a sneak attack. A sneak attack into enemy controlled territory. But whom could he send? Who in the kingdom was gallant and cunning enough to pull it off? Who was pure enough to resist the temptations along the way? Who would volunteer for such a dangerous mission? A mission likely requiring great suffering and sacrifice. A mission to rescue the Maiden. The King quickly realized that there was only one man capable of carrying out the mission: his one and only son, the Prince. The King was torn. Would he play it safe? Or would he risk everything – even his own son – for a chance to regain the maiden? A lesser king would play it safe. A lesser king would send a lesser man. But the King knew there was only one choice. He had to send his best. He had to risk it all.

As the Prince listened to the King’s plan, he realized what it meant. He realized that he would have to go. He would have to abandon everything he owned. He had to forsake all that was his birthright. He had to journey into enemy held territory and face the enemy alone. A journey that might even demand his very life. A lesser man would have made an excuse. A lesser man would have protested. A lesser man would have run. But the Prince was the finest, the most noble, the most daring man in all the Kingdom. He understood the stakes. He willingly agreed to go.

It was now time to go. Everyone assumed the Prince would go with a large entourage. An army equipped with bright shining armor and deadly weaponry. But when the Prince appeared, he appeared alone. All alone. He had no armor, no sword, and no shield. And his dress was stunning. He was dressed not as a Prince, not as a warrior, but as a pauper, in rags. Then he left. He left alone and without fanfare. There was no sign that he was, in fact, the Prince.

Before the Prince made it to the enemy’s stronghold, the Captain received word of his coming. The Captain was delighted! He had the Maiden. Now he could take the Prince as well. The King would pay yet again. The Captain’s army set up roadblocks. If anyone looked like the Prince, the Captain ordered him killed. Hundreds, even thousands were murdered. But the plan failed. The Prince evaded capture and drew close to the Captain’s own stronghold.

The Prince surveyed the situation. Could he sneak in, rescue the beautiful maiden and sneak her out? No, the stronghold was too secure, its stone too thick. The only way in was through a single door. A door guarded by the Captain’s best men. Soon it was clear. There was only one way to rescue the beautiful Maiden. He had to go through the front door, free her from her chains, and fight his way out again. Surely this was impossible thought the Prince. But, he knew it was the only way. The Prince moved toward the door. When he reached the door, he was surprised at its strength. However, the Prince remembered the training at the hand of his father. He remembered how the King had taught him how to break through even the most daunting defenses. The Prince thought long and hard about the situation, but he knew, he knew deep in his soul that this was the only way. So he began.

With a strong kick, the door flew open. Several of the Captain’s men attacked, but the Prince fought them off, eventually leaving them begging to be left alone. Having disposed of the guards, the Prince raced up the stairs. At the top, the Prince found the room where the beautiful maiden was being held. Once again, he broke down the door. Again he was attacked by guards and again his strength and training did not fail. He completely defeated his enemy. Then, he saw his prize. The goal of his mission: the beautiful Maiden. She was chained to the wall. He immediately grabbed the chains and began pulling. These were the largest, most cruel looking chains the Prince had ever seen. But that did not deter him. Slowly but surely, he broke the bonds that held her captive. She was now free.

Away they raced. Back to the King’s castle. Back to safety. But alas, not all was well. Although the beautiful maiden was safe, she still longed to roam free outside the castle gates, to walk in the meadows, to wade in the stream. But she could not, for the Captain and his armies waited once again to ambush and destroy everything found outside the gate. The King’s hand was forced. One final battle must be fought. Once and for all, the matter must be settled. It was either the King or his Captain.

As the Captain and his army laid siege to the castle, capturing and destroying any poor souls who ventured outside, the King and the Prince made plans. This time the Prince would not go alone. He would not go as a pauper and he would not go unarmed. This time the Prince would lead the King’s army, armed to do battle, to completely and utterly destroy the Captain and his armies.

For the King’s plan to work, it had to be a surprise. Surely the Captain would know something was coming, but he would not know when. Many of the King’s subjects in the castle grew weary of waiting for the battle. Some decided they could wait no longer and ventured outside the castle by themselves, only to be captured and destroyed. As the months and years dragged on, many came to believe that the King would never really fight the final battle and that life would always remain as it was, no better and no worse.

Then, without warning, the battle began. The doors of the castle burst open. The Prince and all the King’s armies swept down on the Captain and his armies. It was no contest. As the Prince flashed his sword, the enemy soldier fell one by one. Finally, there was only one left – the Captain. The Prince brought him back to his father the King to see what should be done with him. The Captain by this time was a sniveling, wimpy whisper of a man, begging and pleading for mercy. None came.

After the battle was over and the victory won, life was as it was meant to be. The wedding was magnificent. The King and his beautiful Maiden were forever joined, never to be separated again. Yes, the Maiden would wander through the meadows and deep into the forests. But now, all was safe. There were no enemies, for they had been forever vanquished. The Prince, as was his custom, reveled in his glory by serving his people. And the people were forever happy.

Like this one, the Bible tells a story, a fairy tale of sorts. The only difference is that the story it tells is true!