Project Sunlight Chapter 3

Drinking Game (So far):

  1. The word “bitter” is used
  2. Every time I bang my head against the book in frustration
  3. Jenny and Carol behave in a way that is not age appropriate (99% of all SDA authors can not write believable children.)
  4. The Book goes on and on for pages about Bible Study
  5. Sybil acts like a Bible Worker/Sabbath School teacher
  6. Sybil does something creepy

Just a lazy Sabbath afternoon…

 

It’s Saturday night in our book again too, and that means that Sunlight and Michael are going out to dinner. Dear oversheltered Adventist Author, FRIDAY night. It’s FRIDAY night that’s the stereotypical people-go-out-and-do-things-night.

Anyway, Sunlight tells Michael she wants a drink.

Michael: Why a drink?

Sunlight: Why not?

Yeah, I like that logic. Why not, indeed. I could use a good stiff drink to get through this book…

Oops, that’s not what the book says. That’s what I thought the book said because that’s what I’d say. Let’s get back to snarking on the book, but first…

Yup. That’s much better.

 

Sunlight: I don’t know. Guess I’m in a black mood. I told you to find a cheerful, uncomplicated date for tonight. I don’t think I’ll ever be cheerful and uncomplicated ever again.

I get that the divorce was a big deal, but that was two years ago. You may never be uncomplicated ever again, but you should be starting to see a little bit of happiness return, at this point. And I get that you don’t have money for therapy, but you could at least go to your general doctor and see if he/she can work with you to provide you something that may help until you can get to a psychiatrist.

Michael: you watch too many late night movies, Meg. They’re enough to make anyone depressed. you ought to have a hobby or something.

Watching late night movies is a hobby. And you’re right, Michael, that’s totally the cause of Meg’s obvious depression. Good job, here’s a cookie.

Meg tells Michael that no, she hasn’t been watching movies, she’s been reading the bible. Michael, being unfamiliar with the bible, doesn’t understand why it would put anyone in a black mood.

Michael: Is that why you’re in a black mood?

Sunlight: Indirectly, perhaps. If one were to believe all that stuff, life would never be the same again.

Michael: You mean if you tried to live by it?

Sunlight: Either way. Suppose you believed and ignored it all? Very scary way to live.

Eh, it wasn’t that bad. I spent a good 5-10 years bouncing back and forth on “I believe and am a Christian,” and “I believe and I don’t care.” You know what kept swinging me back toward Christianity from “I don’t care?” My friends, not fear. Specifically, it was You. Yes, you. You know who you are. If you’re even still reading this, that is.

Sunlight(Still speaking): Did you ever read Matthew 5? That alone would turn the world upside down if put into practice.

Matthew 5, in case anyone was wondering, is the sermon on the Mount.  Let’s take a look at some of the things contained therein:

31 “It has been said, ‘Anyone who divorces his wife must give her a certificate of divorce.’[f] 32 But I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, makes her the victim of adultery, and anyone who marries a divorced woman commits adultery.

Except for sexual immorality. So, if a man beats up his wife, that’s totally fine, but if he has sex with someone else, she can finally divorce his abusive ass. Passages like these are incredibly problematic. I’ve heard it argued that this was said to protect women. In a culture where divorce basically made you a pariah, you’d want to not be divorced over petty reasons. But then why didn’t Jesus say, “thou shalt not make divorced women pariahs?

Or even “Stop treating women like property?”

An omnipotent God would know that saying something like this was going to trap women in horrible marriages for thousands of years. So why say it? He is an asswhipe, that’s why.

My other favorite verse in this chapter:

But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. 40 And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well. 41 If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles. 42 Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.

Now, there are a variety of ways to interpret this so that it doesn’t mean what it says it means on the surface, but for now we’re going to assume to that it does what it says on the tin. This does not make the world a better place. This is going to make the world one where the strong prey on the weak and the weak can’t do anything about it.

I guess to be fair, Meg doesn’t say it would make the world better, just that it would turn the world “upside down.” Well, she’s not wrong.

Anyway, I promised I wouldn’t get too far into the theological waters of perdition, so, let’s get on with it.

This next part of the conversation is just unrealistic and weird:

Sunlight(still speaking): What’s happening behind all those church doors? Not much, I wager, or surely it would spill out and onto us sinners sooner or later.

Michael: I expect the Christian community has made an impact to one degree or another over the years. Don’t be too hard on them.

Sunlight: Perhaps–when they died at the stake or were tossed to the lions, but how about now?

Michael: I saw a mass baptism on television the other day, would that satisfy you?

 

It took me 5 read throughs to understand that this. What I think is being said here is that Christians never actually go out and witness. When they were being thrown to the lions, they were witnessing by getting martyred.

To accept that this is true, we need to understand that this book takes place in a parallel  universe, in which America is a godless nation run by absolute heathens, and not at all saturated with Christians trying to run the government.

Churches have been quite active, and not always in a good way. Don’t forget the crusades, for starters. Even in the 1970s, however, they were very much involved in politics. Either Meg lives under a rock, or this is a parallel universe.

Sunlight tells Michael all about Sybil and the Bible studies, and instead of telling her it pings his creep-o-meter, he says:

Michael: Maggie, just for tonight can’t you let go of whatever it is that’s eating your insides out? So you lost Jim. You’re an intelligent, attractive woman with a whole life ahead of you. He isn’t the only man on Earth. you said you wanted to eat, drink, and be merry. Let’s do that. I want to see you smile. Really smile, without all that worry in your eyes.

Can we talk about how empty this is? He isn’t the only man on Earth. Well, no, he isn’t, and he is an asshole, but Meg loved him. What she is going through is very hard. At the same time I can’t help but agree with Michael. It’s been 2 years already, time to move on with your life.

Sunlight: Then order me a drink

Michael:(motioning to the waiter) that’s not how your carpenter friend handled problems

How do you know? The Bible doesn’t say Jesus never drank, in fact, it says the opposite. These people haven’t been indoctrinated yet, they should have no idea that Jesus really drank grape juice. (Well, no, he didn’t, but don’t tell an SDA that unless you are prepared to be involved in a 4 hour long bible study.)

Sunlight: Michael, don’t bug me about that. I shouldn’t have told you. I want steak, rare, and a baked potato. And a tossed salad with that scrumptious dressing they serve here. And a cocktail.

Sigh. This, my friends, is not how you order a drink. I know, because I’ve tried. The way you order a drink is to look at the drink menu and decide what you want. If you don’t know what you want, tell the bartender you want “a fruity girl drink, with anything but cherry. I wanna feel it, but I don’t wa9nioi87

CAT

*brushes cat off keyboard*

let’s try this again. You tell the waiter, “I want a fruity girl drink, with anything but Cherry. I wanna feel the alcohol but not taste it.”

Bartenders are good at this sort of thing. Tell them to get creative, but give them some guidelines, and they’ll give you something you really enjoy. At the very least give them something to work with besides “a cocktail.”

Also, she is eating a rare steak. This is a subtle way of walloping us over the head with the fact that Meg needs the health message.

(They eat and they drink and they talk and after a while Sunlight does laugh, her eyes too bright, her voice rising shrilly over the background music. Michael takes her home. AT the door she senses his disappointment in the evening.)

For an SDA author, this is subtle. We’re probably supposed to infer that Meg is drunk, though it looks to me like she’s just a little tipsy. And we are shown it rather than being outright told.

See, I give credit where it’s due.

In any case, Ms. Strong seems not to know the difference between a moderate drinker and an alcoholic. What Meg says would imply some sort of alcoholism, but the way she drinks just… doesn’t. She drinks when they go out, but she doesn’t seem to drink much at all otherwise. She doesn’t drink at home, or with Sybil, and she doesn’t carry a pint of cheap vodka in her purse throughout the day “just in case.” There’s no talk of Michael trying to cut her off, because once she starts drinking she can’t seem to control herself. She has a few glasses of wine with dinner, and that makes her an alcoholic.  But then we get told this:

Sunlight: you wanted me to laugh, didn’t you? There’s no laughter in me except what bubbles up out of the alcohol. Go find someone else, Michael. You and the Carpenter would make a good pair. You both have impossible dreams. He tried to invent a fantasy world, you’re looking for one When you find the pure land, let me know. In the meantime, don’t ask me to laugh.

Poor Sunlight! How hurt she is deep at the center of her being, and how tenderly the Prince could heal that hurt. My interest grows in the young man Michael. He exercises great patience toward his perverse little friend. She’s quite right that he would make a fine follower of the Prince.

His perverse little friend. Please, tell me I’m not the only one who thinks that phrase sounds kind of dirty. I also think it’s kind of demeaning to Sunlight.

The next time Jared opens his journal, it’s Tuesday night, the night of the bible study. All week he’s worried Meg would cancel, but she hasn’t.

The two women are meeting in Sybil’s apartment. Carol is reading a comic book while Jenny is struggling with a page of remedial math. Why isn’t her mother helping? If she is struggling, she may need some help. Anyway, Sybil sends her cleaning lady over to watch the girls and or clean Meg’s apartment (it isn’t clear which) and Meg trots off to Creepy Sybil’s apartment for bible study.

She[meg] gasps a little as she enters, realizing Sybil wasn’t joking when she said she at around thinking up new ways to spend money. The apartment contains a tasteful collection of expensive furniture, art objects, and thick rugs, obviously arranged under the skilled hand of a decorator. A fitting background for Sybil, Sunlight thinks

Hang on, slow down. Seventh Day Adventists believe angels can’t read minds. How the fuck does Jared know what she is thinking?!

All the neutral tones accented with black and a whisper of red here and there. Fresh flowers on the glass coffee table. And Sybil in a soft black and white lounging outfit, a red scarf at her throat.

What kind of art objects? What kind of flowers? At least we sort of have a color scheme: “Neutral tones with black and a whisper of red here and there.” This is kind of a half assed description. We don’t even know what kind of furniture Sybil has, except that it’s “expensive.”

We learn a little, but almost nothing about Sybil as a character. We learn she likes to collect art, but what type, and why? We know she likes thick rugs that are “black, red, or neutral” colors.

Meg asks how Sybil can possibly study in a place like this.

Sybil: I don’t see it anymore… I get restless when my surroundings are out of kilter

Sunlight: You’d better take a tranquilizer when you come to my place, then.

Sybil: I thought your place was cheerful and cleverly done. Undoubtedly, decorating a home on a budget presents more of a challenge, but you’ve done well. Now, sit yourself into one of those cream puffs –that’s what Bill calls those round velvet chairs–and tell me what you thought of the book of Matthew.

I get the feeling Bill doesn’t appreciate Sybil’s taste much.

So, basically, this is what Sybil’s chairs look like.

I’m going to try not to get too much into the theology of this, because it’s all very boring too me, but I might here, for the first few paragraphs, just to give you a little taste of what this would be like if I was going to actually plow through it all.

Sunlight: Well, for starters, I thought the man Jesus was extremely impressed with faith. It seemed the only people he could help were the kind that had a blind trust in him.

Sybil: Would you believe I was so impressed with the same thing that I drew a circle around the word “faith” whenever I came across it?

Sunlight: Why do you suppose he expected those people to trust him? He was a total stranger. He must have had unbelievable magnetism to entice those working men away from their jobs…

Is this the way that real people actually talk? Is this the way two non Christians talk about the Bible? No and no.

Sybil: Speaking of the good life, what do you make of chapter 24? Half the time I thought he was talking about Jerusalem, and then it would seem as if he was talking about the end of our planet altogether.

Sunlight: Maybe it’s a mixture of the two…

Sybil: It sounded like science fiction.

No, it didn’t. We’ve all read Matthew 24, which basically talks about the destruction of Jerusalem, though many people do believe it talks about Christ’s second coming as well. Sermon after sermon is spent in SDA churches analyzing this.

It does not sound like science fiction, not at all. It was a big thing in SDA churches, a while back, to say that the great controversy between Christ and Satan was “just like science fiction, only better, because it’s real!”

This was probably cooked up by youth pastors to make kids go read The Great Controversy. It only halfway worked. I got through about half of it before giving up after having been repeatedly put to sleep by it.

Anyway, there’s like, 4 pages of this, nothing but them reading Bible verses and talking in stilted dialog,  and is it just me or is Sybil kind of sounding like a Sabbath school teacher?

And then we get this:

Sybil: If I really dared believe Jesus would return in my day, or even sometime after my death, nothing could depress me. There would be a point to my life, something to get ready for, to look forward to. I guess death wouldn’t even scare me that much.

Who wrote this? June? Fuck you, June, just fuck you. Jesus is not a cure for depression, thinking he was coming during my lifetime did not save me from a fear of death, and as an atheist, my life is not pointless.

Sybil and Meg blather on about who the good people are, the ones Jesus is going to take to heaven. How are they so stupid? Meg went to Sunday School till she was a teenager. You can’t grow up like that and not know that Jesus is going to take with him those who believe. You may get a watered down version of Christianity in non SDA churches (or so some claim) but you will not be able to escape without knowing the absolute basics of Christianity, unless you do so before the age of ten. Meg was a teenager. Teenagers are old enough to remember.

This is meant to make us feel smarter than the protagonists (well, we know who the good people are, and we’re one of them.) but in reality it just makes the protagonists look stupid.

Anyway, Sybil makes tea, and Jared tells us they chat about other things. Then they go back to talking about the bible. Basically, the author cut out all the interesting dialog.

Eventually Sunlight says this:

My head was spinning when I finished studying, Sybil…. maybe we shouldn’t try

*pushes cat aside*

Maybe we shouldn’t study anymore. Let’s just get together and chat or go out and take some macrame lessons or something. This stuff is way over our heads.

This is actually a good suggestion. Really, just because Sybil was lonely doesn’t mean they have to study the bible together for gosh sakes.

So it doesn’t make sense for Sybil to be “obviously disappointed” in this context. Unless she is, like I’ve said, a secret SDA bibleworker spy.

Sybil asks her to try one more session, and tells Meg to ask Michael about the question that made her head spin. Are you ready for it guys, ready? It’s the Sabbath. Matthew 28:1 says that the Sabbath ended as the first day of the week began, but that can’t be right, because Sabbath is the first day of the week.

Because the Jews totally worship on Sunday, and Jesus was Jewish, so he’d have worshiped on Sunday, just like the Jews. Meg went to Sunday School as a child. She should know better.

Sybil isn’t ready to decide whether or not she believes in God, but thinks believing isn’t enough anyway, because James 2:19.

These women just studied Matthew. How has Sybil… oh right, she’s a bible worker spy. Nevermind.

Sybil:…..do you know how to pray?

Sunlight: Now I lay me down to sleep–

Sybil: I’m serious, Meg. Really pray.

Does she not sound like a Sabbath School teacher? Sybil realizes she sounds like this, because she immediately backtracks.

Sybil: then how about demonstrating? I really think we’re crazy to try to understand the bible without help, so ask Him to give us some direction this next week as we study. Ok?

Sunlight: Right now?

Sybil: why not? I’d do it myself, only I’m–I’m too shy.

So Meg prays. Now, prayers in fiction are tricky, because prayer, by definition, is a very personal thing. When the author shows too much, the reader can feel uncomfortable.

Meg’s prayer here isn’t terrible. It’s short, to the point, and from the heart.

Sunlight: Lord, we are blundering around in the bible and coming up with a lot of questions and not many answers. but we do have a shaky sort of faith in you. If that faith is acceptable to you, please help it to grow and help us in our study. Amen.

This is not good writing, but it’s not terrible either.

Jared goes on for a few paragraphs about how awesome this is, and he is off to find The Prince, who, though he already knows about it, can’t wait to hear it from Jared!

This chapter… is bad. Aside from the unrealistic dialog, cardboard cutout characters, and pages and pages of Bible Study, it is also a window into how Christians THINK non Christians think. Throughout the first few chapters, Meg and Sunlight keep saying, “you may think I’m crazy,” or, “This is going to sound insane, but…”

Except that, so far, none of the things they have done are crazy or insane. (Don’t worry, they will be.) The things they think others are going to to think they’re crazy over are things like… reading the bible and praying. Adventists, you see, think that the world thinks those things are crazy. But  At least here in the United States, Christianity is a majority religion. Yes, there are vast differences between basic Christianity and Adventism, but the entire country thinks that,  at least that the basics: praying, reading the bible, going to church, are normal.

“Hello neighbor, you may think I’m crazy, but today, I’m going to take my dog on a walk,” said the Abominable Snowman, hesitantly.

See how ridiculous that sounds? No one, at least in our part of the world, is going to see this as abnormal behavior. What they will see as abnormal, however, is that you clearly think this behavior is abnormal. And then they will look at you like you are crazy.

I’m going to take this one step further: perhaps it is not that Ms. Strong simply thinks the world works this way as a result of severe isolation. Perhaps, indeed, this is secretly how Ms. Strong (and perhaps some of her friends) secretly see themselves.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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