I’ve been meaning to write that post… The one that’ll explain the reasons for my periodic absences from blogging, the one that poignantly describes my ongoing issues with depression without being depressing, the post that will (hopefully) encourage others struggling with the same thing.
But guess what?
It ain’t happening.
Some struggles aren’t blog-worthy. I think this is something we tend to forget in our Instagram-filtered lives, where even people having a tough go of it manage to smile and wave at the camera, perhaps with some witty/self-deprecating/snarky comment. I’m not there, though.
There are good days – treacherously good days. Days that remind you what it’s like to breathe, to exist, to take up space; days you forget to ponder your veins and the slow passage of time and the creep of life. But the bad days? The bad days swallow you whole, and sometimes there’s just no energy to ride it out, much less do something that requires spirit, effort, passion.
So when I’m here…hey, thanks for stopping by. When I’m not… It’s not laziness or apostasy or even busyness, it’s just a temporary inability to function as well as I want to. But like the good days, I’ll be back. It might just take a while.
The third book is probably my favourite so far (I’m on book number six, Song of Susannah, at the time of writing this review), though I have my reservations about it. Having drawn first Roland, then the other major characters for the series, the story is more settled and its eventual destination is less up in the air, subject to King’s (often drug or alcohol induced, let’s be honest) whimsy.
The Waste Lands picks up in the forest just beyond the beach Roland found his two companions, Eddie and Susannah, on, three months after Odetta and Detta’s doorway confrontation. Roland has been training Eddie and Susannah in the way of a gunslinger. But all’s not well with Roland: having stopped Jake’s (first) death in the second novel, his mind is tearing itself apart, one part insisting that Jake is dead, and the other insisting that he’s still alive. As the trio find the Path of the Beam, which will lead them to its centre, the Dark Tower, Roland’s condition deteriorates, as does Jake’s back in New York.
Roland, Eddie and Susannah eventually pull Jake back through to their side. The relief of this scene – for some weird reason you want Jake and Roland reunited, although it’s obvious that Roland can’t really be trusted with the welfare of the individual members of their ka-tet, their group – is undercut by what can only be described as a rape, though King plays it like it’s a victory for Susannah (or the Detta part of her, anyway). It sucks. I’ve always thought of King as more or less benign, but the sexual aspects of his fiction often go to dark places and honestly the novel could’ve done without it, though not the series, as we see later.
With Jake (and a bumbler named Oy) completing their ka-tet, the group set off to find Blaine the Mono – a train that could take them across the wastelands and bring them nearer the tower. But first, they have to get through an otherworldly, gang-infested New York called Lud…
So, what’s the verdict?
Title: The Waste Lands Author: Stephen King Publisher: Scriber (1991, 2003) Rating: 3/5 (Goodreads rating, for comparison: 4.24/5) The best feature of the book: There’s more emotional investment in the characters. The worst feature of the book: Lud sucks. Blaine sucks. Trigger warnings: Nonconsensual content of all shades. Evil technology. Hazardous conditions. You’ll like this if… You, like me, just want to finish the bloody series.
There are a few ways we can look at Proper 20A’s Gospel reading. The general interpretation is that in Matthew 20:1-16 Jesus is speaking about entry into the Kingdom of God. Salvation isn’t reserved for the Jews but for everyone who believes, and even the people who are “saved last” (ie the Gentiles) will have the same reward as those who entered first. In a way, the last ones are even better off, for the Gentiles never had the law to guide them as the Jews did. A second interpretation is that Jesus is speaking here about grace in a more overarching way: God’s grace is the same to everyone who believes, regardless of their works, because in Christ our righteousness is equal. A final interpretation is more prophetic in nature. Jesus used the reality of unemployment and poverty in first century Palestine to school his audience in the Jubilee nature of the Kingdom of God. In this interpretation, practical (read: monetary) matters don’t fall outside the scope of God’s Kingdom. The wealthy and powerful don’t get a free pass to do with their finances as they please (a common enough situation in the society Jesus lived and taught in); their affairs are as subject to God’s Kingdom as the rest of them. In fact, in view of the workers’ resentment of equal wages, everyone should be careful not to idolise money. Of course these interpretations aren’t mutually exclusive. I want to focus on the kernel in each interpretation, which is this idea of “entry”–everyone gets to come in: “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Gal 3:28).
Time and time again Jesus taught that the only requirement to salvation (and through salvation the full participation in his family, his Kingdom and its work) is repentance. The only sin we need repent of to be “allowed in” is our unbelief. The process of sanctification is a result of this repentance, this metanoia or “turning around”, and as such its lack isn’t enough to deny our salvation, our entry into God’s Kingdom.
This is pretty basic, but I think it’s important to remember this in our “churchified” societies (in the Westernised world, at least). In many churches, entry into God’s Kingdom is wrongfully equated with the process of sanctification itself. It’s a works-based mentality that demands “evidence” of our salvation, when the only evidence needed is our salvation itself. God’s grace is in full evidence in our salvation, regardless of what we do with that salvation. The old objection, “So I can give my life to Christ and go on sinning till the day I die?” actually holds true. You could. That’s grace.
But, we Pew Fillers object, that’s unfair! And if we see grace as something that’s earned through our comparative goodness or obedience or God forbid, church attendance, then yes, it is unfair! It’s outrageous! But if we see grace as an undeserved gift – one the Giver, Jesus, can do with as it pleases him – then we realise that no, it’s not so unfair. The parable Jesus tells in Matthew 20:1-16 makes clear that the amount of work done has nothing to do with the wages paid. The “wage” of grace is always the same, it’s always complete and it’s always free because it isn’t a wage at all, but a gift. We cannot earn it.
The reason I wanted to discuss this particular interpretation is because any discussion of how unearned grace is must be encouraging. We cannot earn grace. This should be a relief whether our week has been filled with good deeds or bad ones, because damn it all, our effort or lack of it has nothing to do with what we get. We get it all. That’s been established. When we “continue to work out [our] salvation with fear and trembling” (Phil 2:12), it means simply realising again and again that we have been saved. It’s happened. “It is finished,” Jesus said. That’s the beginning and the end of it. That’s why grace is freedom from sin and death: it breaks their rules. It breaks their cycle. It changes the world.
Who we identify with in this parable will tell us a lot about our faith, and in what, or whom, our faith is. Do we identify with the labourers who’ve been at it since morning? Are we the ones who showed up later still, or last? Are we still standing around at the marketplace, waiting? Grace tells us clearly that it doesn’t matter which of these “workers” we are. Our gift is the same: it is inclusion, it is grace, it is life, it is God looking at you and saying, “Yes, yes, yes.”
When I first read these novels more than a decade ago, the only thing that got me past Roland’s betrayal of Jake at the end of The Gunslinger was curiosity about whether Jake would return, and remembering this is what inspired me to keep reading this time around. The Gunslinger doesn’t paint Roland Deschain in the best of light: he cuts a lonely, implacable figure that verges on the sociopathic, and the lack of supporting characters in The Gunslinger make it hard to draw an outsider’s bead on him.
This changes in the second novel in the series. Having tracked down and confronted The Man in Black in the previous novel, Roland wakes up on a beach apparently years after their conversation knowing that he has to “draw” three others to his quest. He sets out to do that, sickening on his journey from an attack by a monster that took most of a hand and a bit of foot, looking for people he knows only as “The Prisoner”, “The Lady in the Shadows” and “Death”…
More human this time round though not always humane, it’s as much a story about a fantastical quest for a tower through foreign worlds than it is about a man finding friendship amid duty and honour.
So, what’s the verdict?
Title: The Drawing of the Three Author: Stephen King Publisher: Scribner (1987, 2003) Rating: 4/5 (Goodreads rating, for comparison: 4.23/5) The best feature of the book: More characters means more movement, more intrigue, more plot. The Drawing of the Three reads as less self-indulgent than The Gunslinger. The worst feature of the book: Though I understand King’s characterisation of Detta, the way she’s “othered” as an insane black woman to serve as temporary villain is offensive and to be honest, boring. Trigger warnings: Racism, casual misogyny, unlikely romance. You’ll like this if… You’re a fantasy fan or a Stephen King loyalist.
Sometimes it’s so hard to trust that You know best.
Hard to trust that You’re good and kind and faithful and just.
That You’re true. That You’re real.
The world is as convincing as a politician, and as full of promises. Promises that in times of hardship, difficulty, pain and uncertainty – oh, the uncertainty! – look if not better, then at least more likely.
And You never were a politician.
Never said what the “It” crowd wanted to hear.
Never stood with the powerful or the perverse.
Never wavered from the Kingdom way You proclaimed.
Father’s Son, You always spoke true
(and good and kind and merciful)
calling, inviting, encouraging.
Speak to me today. Speak to me of trust.
Speak to me of truth: Your truth.
Speak to me of mercy over judgment
and repentance over sin
and love over apathy, anger, and hatred,
of patience and gentleness and self-control.
Speak to me the good words of obedience
and faith, of resurrection life, of You, Your Spirit, and our Father.
Speak, Lord. It’s Monday, but Your servant is listening
(or trying to, anyways.)