There’s this t-shirt that features three wolves howling at the moon. It’s very mystical, native American-ish, and also kind of corny. It’s not the kind of shirt you’d expect to see being sold in a store like Hot Topic, but at a turquoise and leather craft fair. But there it is. Out of place among all the vintage Nintendo and Tim Burton tees. Why? Because it’s ironic.
The idea of ironic clothing has always baffled me. I’m not sure I get the idea of wearing a t-shirt that you hate as a way of secretly mocking those people who wear the exact same shirt because they like it. Maybe I just stopped being a hipster before it was cool.
Perhaps I’m missing something, but I’m starting to feel like irony is overdone. And when you like something because it’s intentionally or unintentionally ironic, is that really any different than liking it out of some other sense of taste? I once met a kid who was wearing a Christian tee that inserted the word “Jesus” into a Pepsi logo. I didn’t actually like the shirt, but as a good church brat, I wanted to at least support the bravery of wearing such a shirt into public. So I said, “Nice shirt.” He chuckled and told me that he was wearing it to be ironic, and after I walked away, I heard him, very obviously, over-asserting the fact that it was only supposed to be ironic. As if his friends hadn’t noticed he was wearing a Jesus tee until that point.
I could have dumped the irony back on him, I suppose, telling him that my “Nice shirt” was only ironic, and that I didn’t really like his crummy ol’ shirt anyway.
The problem is that irony doesn’t hardly translate into any other arenas. Vegetarians don’t occasionally eat a hamburger to be ironic. Vegans don’t wear fur as an inside joke to other vegans. Christians don’t worship idols out of some kind of mockery to those that do.
Or do they?
Writing in the first century, St. Paul spent a great deal of time trying to teach early Christians, many of whom were converts from other religions, a sense of balance. If he taught about rules, he would rally those who came out of the legalistic system of Pharisaical Judaism. If he preached on grace, he drew about him a circle of former hedonists who were excited about the idea of having their slate wiped clean every morning. As he sought balance, a weird hybrid of the two arose: Christians who celebrated Christ’s eternal grace and forgiveness by indulging in weird and wicked acts so that grace could “abound more.” St. Paul rightly called a group of Roman believers out and said, “What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means! We died to sin; how can we live in it any longer?”
I see something similar still today. Without pointing fingers at any one group, there seems to be this notion that certain believers within a certain denomination, or a certain theological mindset, enjoy greater freedom to sin than the rest of us do, precisely because they understand grace better. The problem is that they then must also jump to the assumption that their theological foundation allows them a greater understanding than was afforded to St. Paul, when he was under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. The problem, as I see it, isn’t that grace doesn’t abound. There is always forgiveness. The problem is that no one told your friends that your crazy partying is only ironic, and after a while, maybe it isn’t.
(And speaking of wolves, be sure to check out my novella, GRAVESIGHT.)
Last night I was mapping out my writing goals for 2012. Last year came together nicely, but I was still too tight on every single deadline I gave myself. Just to give you an idea of what to expect to see from me in the coming year here is my itinerary:
- At the end of February, I want to start re-editing Cold for publication on the Kindle. This is more or less a side-project with no deadline. It’s just something I’d like to do.
- Salvage Yard should be finished by the end of April, edited and prepped for querying by the end of May.
- Immediately following the last page of SALVAGE YARD, I want to begin writing my next Christmas novel/novella, SNOWBALL’S CHANCE. I’ve got a pretty large promotion planned for this one.
- I’m going to rewrite both STREET URCHIN and IRON ORPHAN as sequels to SALVAGE YARD.
It’s this last point that I want to talk about most. The main character for four of the aforementioned novels is a man named Cage Donnagan, who works as a blacksmith, but continually ends up in the role of a crime-fighter and vigilante. The book IRON ORPHAN dealt with this in great detail, and through that, lets me explore a theme that I want to dig into even more as I rewrite the story.
The theme is ‘Karma VS. Grace’ and deals with the repercussions of justice and mercy. Despite the terminology, both of these are ancient, primitive, and biblical themes. The Christian apostle St. Paul tackled a concept very similar to karma in his letters to the churches in Galatia and Corinth.
St. Paul talks about sowing and reaping, and what he means is that if you plant corn, you get corn. You don’t get potatoes, or oranges, or Dalmatians. And the second verse speaks to the quantity. If you put a lot of seed in the ground, you’re more likely to get more back than if you only planted one seed. Paul uses this to drive home a very general spiritual point: if you plant greed, or jealously, or gossip, or whatever, into someone’s life, you’re going to get greed, or jealousy, or gossip back. And the same tends to be true of positive things: If you’re kind, people are kind back. If you listen, people are more likely to listen back.
I called the law of sowing and reaping a very general spiritual point for one reason. The bible also talks about this thing called grace. I have heard of grace described as getting the good things that you don’t deserve, and not getting the bad things that you do deserve. In other words, it’s when Christ takes upon himself the pain and penalty for the things that you’ve done wrong.
There are people in your life who probably deserve whatever they get. I’m talking about cheating spouses, deadbeat parents, and child molesters, just to name a few. They genuinely deserve to suffer whatever punishment life deals them. That is sowing and reaping. That’s justice. That’s karma. What I want to point out is that none of us get through this life without hurting other people. Those people that we hurt are God’s children, and God cares about them deeply. Just as you have been forgiven by God, and hopefully, if you’ve wronged someone, you’ve asked them to forgive you, you need to forgive others for that grace to be complete in your own life.
I say all of that to get to the theme of IRON ORPHAN, where Cage Donnagan faces down against a vigilante who is determined that no justice will be seen in the afterlife, so it falls to him to bring justice to people in this world. Cage has no problem with justice. He’s dealt plenty of it himself, but the Iron Orphan’s methods are so severe that Cage finds himself wanting to spare those criminals, to offer them at least a small amount of grace.
How about you? When your main character is thrown into the boiler, does the struggle between good and evil represent the meting out of justice, or is there a degree of grace being offered?