Project Sunlight Chapter 5

This chapter is terrible. Bad. Awful. In it we are supposed to see Meg’s life improving now that she has accepted (mostly…we never really get a bona fide conversion scene. It all happens rather gradaully, which, to me, is more realistic.) Christ into her life.

Instead I just spent the entire chapter wanting to bash the writer’s head against the wall, screaming, “HUMANS. DON’T. WORK. THAT. WAY!”

As we recall from chapter 4, Meg is hosting a dinner party, with her ex-husband and his new wife. Now, I’ve known people who could be friendly at holiday dinner parties at their ex’s house, in the presence of said ex’s wife, but they never went out of their way to be friends like this. So this all seems rather…over the top and unnecessary.

But, the author is determined to shove these 8 people together, even if meta-Meg cries and drags her heels.

Before I forget, here’s the obligatory drinking game:

  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
  7.  One of the characters indicates that they are “crazy” for reading the bible/praying/going to church/whatever normal thing lots of mainstream Christians do

And a picture of my Sweetheart, helping me read:

You’re on this part mama

 

Meg, Jenny, and Carol are getting ready for the big dinner that Meg planned in chapter 4. Carol is brushing Jenny’s hair, excited that they’re having a party and their father is coming.

Jenny: It’s not going to be quite like old times, dummy, his wife will be here, too, and you mustn’t talk about things that happened when we all lived together

Do you know any ten year olds that talk like this? I don’t know any ten year olds that talk like this. Also, “his wife?” What child refers to their step mom as “dad’s wife?” I would’ve changed “his wife” to “our step mom.”

Sunlight: I guess we both have to realize that Carol isn’t a baby anymore, Jen. I think she understands the situation.

Carol is 6. Meg has been divorced for 2 years. 4 years old is old enough to remember, but it’s not old enough to remember much. Carol wouldn’t be able to jabber on about how things were before, because she wouldn’t have very many memories. 2 years is, after all, most of her remembered life.

Sunlight (still speaking.): Would you girls think I was insane if we prayed that this will be a happy, relaxed time for everyone? Right here, now, before the guests arrive?

(Drink!) I could buy that Jenny and Carol have never prayed before. But children are very impressionable. If Meg acts like praying before a party is normal, her girls will think so, too. Also, praying isn’t insane. This is like, the 3rd or 4th time Meg has mentioned that she is or may be “crazy” or “insane” or “having lost her mind.” This is suggestive of the fact that, at least meta-Meg, does feel like she is losing her mind.

Jenny is smart. Jenny picks up on this. I picture her saying this with narrowed eyes, not quite sure what to make of it.

Jenny: What’s going on with you and Sybil? Are you getting religious like the old lady that helped you clean when we lived in Pennfield?

What religion was she? How old is “old?” How did Jenny know the lady was religious? Did the lady talk about her religion? Why does Jenny not mention her by name? Why does Jenny call Sybil by her first name?

Meg pulls a cop out.

Meg: I’m not sure what it means to “get religious,” Jen, but Sybil and I have been trying to find out what it means to follow God. In fact, knowing God just a little bit gave me the courage to have this dinner party today, and to ask your father, so something good has come from it.

…..

Jenny and Carol exchanged glances. They were not at all sure that anything good was going to come from their parents being in the same room together. And their step mom, Marie, was coming too. Jenny was absolutely sure this was going to be a disaster. Unlike Carol, she wasn’t disillusioned enough to think that her mom, her dad, and Marie were all going to be best friends and live happily ever after. It would be enough, she thought, if they would just stop fighting. Unlike Carol, Jenny had been relieved when their dad moved out. It meant an end to the constant bickering and walking on eggshells. Jenny was quite apprehensive about tonight. What if it all just turns into a huge argument? With 8 people instead of two? Her stomach began to hurt. If God had caused this to happen, she wasn’t sure how she felt about him. Would he really make their get together enjoyable? Out loud, she simply said: “Yes. I’ll pray.” After all, if God had caused this to happen, surely he wouldn’t allow it to end badly.

Whoops, sorry. That wasn’t the book, that was me. Here’s what really happened:

Carol: Then let’s pray. We could stand a lot more good things around here.

Meg and the children pray. Afterwards, Carol says that this is the first time in her life that she has prayed. Except, she didn’t. Meg prayed, Carol just knelt by and was silent. What the author–and Carol– really mean is that this is the first time Carol has had to sit through a prayer. Poor child. It won’t be her last, or her shortest.

Just then, the doorbell rings, and it’s Sybil with Bill. Sybil introduces Bill, who says:

Bill (A tall, distinguished-appearing(sic) man with piercing, intelligent eyes): I am in your debt, young lady, for keeping Sybil entertained these past weeks. I never expected to see her so fascinated with the bible. She’s been reading it like it contained her horoscope for the day.

Does June Strong actually think we heathens study our horoscopes voraciously every day? Because, uh, we don’t. Most of us read them for shits and giggles, if we read them at all. Sooooo Sybil’s been reading the Bible lightly for shits and giggles, or does Bill actually read and study his horoscope like Christians study the Bible? I haven’t read ahead far enough to know, yet, if Bill and Sybil are (or were, in Sybil’s case) ever into astrology. It just seems like such a weird thing to say.

Meg makes some small talk, and then in walks her ex husband, Jim.

Sunlight: (Shaking Jim’s hand) I’m sorry it’s taken me so long to get myself together. Please relax and enjoy yourself. Jen, would take Marie’s coat, please?

…..

Jenny took her step-mom’s coat and went to hang it up in the closet. She ordinarily would have protested, but she’d caught sight of her mom’s pained look, and Marie’s strained smile. The two women had quickly changed their expressions, but not quickly enough. Jenny’s stomach tightened, and she went into the kitchen.

That’s not what happened. Sorry. Here’s my real reaction to the above scene, where Meg is apologizing.

“I’m sorry it’s taken me so long to get myself together.”

She’s… sorry…. it’s…. (drink!) *headbang headbang* look. It is not Meg’s fault that Jim left her, and that Jim has been a complete and utter jerk to her. Even if Meg wants to forgive him, that does not mean that she has to let the dirtbag back into her life, except for where the girls are involved.

Meg has every right to take as much time as she needs to to get over Jim’s betrayal. Meg owes no one any apologies.

And hey, where’s Jim’s apology? Because he needs to give one too. We’re supposed to think it’s all good because Meg has forgiven him, but forgiveness, contrary to popular opinion, isn’t going to heal the root of the problem.

Then we get this sickening paragraph. Meg has gone into the kitchen, and Michael follows.

Sunlight: You startled me. I’m recuperating from the first round and preparing for the next. Oh, Michael. It hurts so bad (tears run down her face)

 

Michael: It’s ok, Meg, it’s ok. Maybe you weren’t ready for this. Just because you’ve decided to forgive him doesn’t mean you need to welcome him back into your life, ok? Let’s just get through tonight and then you can take things as slowly as you need to, ok?

Whoops, there I go again, trying to write decent characters who behave like human beings instead of sociopathic cardboard cutouts. Here’s what really happens.

Michael: I’m glad to you hear you say those words, Maggie. It’s step number 1. Now, what can I do to help you? Besides finding a kleenex.

Asswhipe. Look, inviting Jim and Marie over is clearly causing Meg a lot of distress. And it wasn’t necessary! It is not necessary for Meg to start throwing dinner parties with Jim and Marie. And even if Meg does want that to happen eventually, she needs to realize that she is still very hurt and angry and needs to take things slow. And that that’s ok! There is nothing wrong with having to take things slow. Heck, there is nothing wrong with not proceeding with things at all.

Also, I have a problem with this passage because it follows the “it has to hurt to heal” philosophy that SDAs (and other Christians) are so fond of. “When a bone is broken,” someone will tell you. “Sometimes the doctor has to re-break it in order to set it right, so that it can heal properly. It’s the same thing with us and God.”

Usually, this is used by a person as an excuse for them to do something unpleasant to you “for your own good.” Like making you forgive your abuser while he gets off scott free.

(The dinner proceeds, awkwardly at first, but with increasing warmth and laughter. Sunlight busies herself with serving and says little.)

This is not the attitude of a person who is relaxed and enjoying herself. Mega-Meg is clearly not pleased with the direction the author is insisting she take.

Then, out of literally nowhere, we get this conversation:

Jim: The world of science is changing so fast that the textbooks my classes use are outdated almost before they leave their wrappers.

Sybil: Maybe they should dispense with them altogether, and just have daily bulletins from the laboratories. (laughter)

Michael:(smiling): Doesn’t it seem strange to you that all of a sudden men would get it all together, after thousands of years of crude existence? Maybe we humans aren’t as brilliant as we’d like to think. Suppose there’s a Power beyond us shaping events to fit His master plan?

Excuse me, asswhipe, but a lot of women have helped too. If Michael was using the term in the general sense meaning “humanity,” he would’ve said, “man,” not “men.”  Or he could have said “people,” “humanity,” or “humans.”

This paragraph is also clunky, shoehorned in theology(drink!). An Adventist audience will know exactly what this is referring to: Daniel 12:4. For context, we’ll start in verse 1:

“At that time Michael, the great prince who protects your people, will arise. There will be a time of distress such as has not happened from the beginning of nations until then. But at that time your people—everyone whose name is found written in the book—will be delivered. Multitudes who sleep in the dust of the earth will awake: some to everlasting life, others to shame and everlasting contempt. Those who are wise[a] will shine like the brightness of the heavens, and those who lead many to righteousness, like the stars for ever and ever. But you, Daniel, roll up and seal the words of the scroll until the time of the end. Many will go here and there to increase knowledge.

SDAs believe that this chapter is referring to the End Times. They tell us that, among other things, that just before the end times, there will be this huge increase in knowledge and technology. They claim that there wasn’t much science for the longest time, and that suddenly, just around the turn of the century (1900), people got a whole lot smarter, and lots of new things were discovered. Then, in the late 1900s to the year 2000 ish, the computer and the internet were created and all of a sudden we have like a fuckton of technology with updates every 2-4 years. Whereas 200 years ago, we didn’t even have cars.

Seventh Day Adventists believe that these advances in science are happening because we are living in the last days, when “knowledge shall increase.”

That, then, is what the author is shoehorning here into Meg’s dinner party: clunky end times events foreshadowing.

Right after Michael says all that about science, Bill says this:

Bill: You are suggesting, I gather, that history might be coming to some kind of conclusion. I’m not sure I want things to wind up. I’m just getting to the place where I can enjoy the rewards of a lifetime of work.

I didn’t leave anything out. Bill really does think, here, that Michael talking about advances in scientific development are totally related to the end of the world. Now, a Seventh Day Adventist, of course, would pick right up on this. A non SDA, though, Would have a hard time making the connection. To them, this would look like a jarring, out of place transition.

Anyway, Sybil responds to that with:

Sybil: Don’t you think whatever lies ahead might be just as pleasant and challenging as whatever it is you plan to do?

Which seems, to me, out of context and jarring. Oh well.

Bill: I wouldn’t bank on it. It’s always been my opinion that we’d best get all that’s to be had out of this life, because I figure we’re little but fertilizer when it’s all over.

Smart attitude. I like it.

Marie: I couldn’t enjoy life here if I believed that. There is so much beauty, and human relationships are so precious. Life must go on somehow.

If Marie wants to believe in an afterlife, and finds that that has more meaning to her, more power to her, I suppose. But this book is not a live and let live book. The reader is supposed to shudder at what Bill says, and nod along in agreement with Marie. How could you really enjoy life, they reason, if you believe that this is all there is to it?

Jim: I feel the same way sometimes in the lab. Life is so mysterious and complex that it wold be insane to destroy it.

Except that scientists, and everyone, actually, destroys life all the time. Scientists (not in a high school lab where Jim teaches, but set that aside) destroy life all the time, when they experiment on animals and bacteria. Humans destroy life every time they eat, even vegetarians. These carrots that I’m currently snacking on in an attempt to eat healthier used to be alive.  Still are, in a way. In a way, I am eating something that is still living.

I get that this is probably supposed to be a subtle dig at abortion, or….something…but all I’m seeing here is a lack of self awareness.

Not just a lack of self awareness that everybody, in order to live, must somehow take the life of something else, but a lack of self awareness that their God is literally coming back to destroy the earth with fire. Not just plant and animal life either, but human life.

Keeping all that in mind, this paragraph doesn’t make sense. Moving on.

Jim(still speaking): But I haven’t the faintest idea where we’re all heading. I just do the best I can and hope everything turns out all right.

Which is probably all anyone can do, really. Unfortunately, that’s not enough for our Christian author.

Sybil: I think that’s a dangerous approach, Jim. Meg and I have been studying the Bible, and I’m convinced there’s more expected of us than just living a decent life.

Sybil goes on about Christ and loving him, and also loving our neighbors. she ends with saying that most of us barely acknowledge God’s existence.

Sigh. Cat, you are in the way….. her eyes were closed before this pic was taken. Sleeping like a sleepy kitty.

 

Hmmm this seems to be turning into one of those blogs. I’d say I’m sorry but I’m really not. So moving on…  whenever she does…..

Ok. She is gone, and I have found the Nutella. All is right with the world.

Bill: This conversation is getting far too heavy for me. C’mon, Jenny. Let’s excuse ourselves and read the comics. I haven’t seen Flash Gordon for at least ten years.

Jenny(giggling): I don’t think he’s around anymore

Bill: Well, that’s a shame, but surely Blondie hasn’t retired.

(they settle down on the couch with the Sunday paper.)

Bill doesn’t want to talk about religion anymore,so he rescues Jenny and they go read comics. I’d say I like Bill, here, but with what Sybil has said about him I’m inclined to think that this is just his “charming” side.

In any case, everyone but Michael leaves at that point. I guess no one wanted to talk religion.

Sunlight: How did I do?

Michael: Only you can tell. how did you do?

Sunlight: Well, I didn’t lie down on the floor and kick my heels and cry. Maybe that’s good for the first time.

Michael(Tenderly): It was more than pretty good, Maggie, it was splendid. I have something for you

Sunlight: Animal, vegetable, or mineral?

Michael: Beats me (He places a beautiful, leatherbound bible in her hands)

Meg asks how he knew she’d been wanting one (drink!) and I bang my head against the wall as Michael tells her that he’s been studying too.

Michael: I find that you can’t get anywhere without a concordance. That thing you were using was only a child’s New Testament.

So, has Michael given her a Bible, a concordance, or a bible with a concordance? The writing is so clunky I had to re read it twice before realizing that, duh, Jared just said it’s a bible. Still.

Also, um, what? SDAs all over the place will tell you that their theology is obvious once you take the time to read the Bible, and that all you have to do is read the Bible. So I’m a little confused here as to why you’d need the concordance at all, instead of just, you know, reading the damn thing. Nope, in order to understand the Bible, you must read verses out of context and jump around a lot.

Michael: Those few chapters I read to you that night here really got to me. It was as though they met some need I’d had all my life. I went out the next day and bought a Bible and have been digging away ever since.

Because Michael, the red blooded American, did not own a Bible. Uh huh, sure.

Meg asks if Michael wants to study with her and Sybil, but Michael says he’d rather wrestle this out alone. I have to give Ms Strong here some credit. Group Bible studies aren’t for everyone,and some people refuse to admit that. However, Michael is not going to find the SDA interpretation of things without SDA flavored Bible study guides or the secret Bible worker spy guiding him. When one reads the bible on one’s own, one can get some SDA doctrine, but not all, and probably not most.

Michael: It will either turn my life upside down or I’ll go my way without it. (He pauses) Somehow, I can’t see how one can become moderately involved.

Why? Michael wasn’t raised in a strict religious environment, or he’d have had more exposure than this to the bible. So why does he not think you can have religion in moderation?

Meg agrees with Michael, and I think that it is this that is the dangerous idea. This is the sort of thing that leads to fundamentalist cults.

Michael helps Meg clean the house, then leaves. Afterward, Meg and the children gather around, admiring Meg’s new bible.

Jenny: They make it seem so mysterious by putting it in soft leather and with the pages so thin.  Are you sure it’s any different from any other book?

Well, no, no it’s really not…. at least, it’s not any different from any other book in its genre. It’s no more important than, say, the Koran (Quran?)

Sunlight: You can buy it in paperback at most bookstores, Love. But that doesn’t make it any less special. If it’s really God’s message to us, it deserves fine pages wrapped in soft leather.

Poor, dead cow that sacrificed its life. Let us have a moment of silence for these poor creatures sacrificed so holy books fated to collect dust on bookshelves can have their fancy covers

Ok, we’re done with that.

Jenny: do you think it’s really God’s message to us?

Go Jenny! In my mind, she is a secret closet skeptic who sees right through the religious bullshit.

Sunlight: Well, I’ve heard some say it’s the only intelligent inkling we have of where we came from, why we’re here, and where we’re headed.

These people she’s heard of are probably Christian creationists. There are lots of Holy Books(tm) that have origin stories, and supposedly tell us what is our purpose.)

Jenny (giggling): Do you know the answers to all those questions?

Why is she giggling? None of this is funny. Jenny’s done a lot of giggling in this chapter. She’s 10, not 4.

I think this is Meta-Jenny, trying to fool the author and her mother that everything’s a-ok with her. You know, since no one seemed to care that she was failing school, and no attention is better than negative attention.

Meg tells Jenny she doesn’t have the answers, and she and the girls read a chapter of Luke before they go to bed. For once, we are spared a description of this.

Jenny asks if they can do this every night, and Carol asks if she can pray before bed.

Jared writes that this was the most interesting dinner party he’s ever seen in the history of the planet. He must not have observed too many dinner parties.

I would not have believed Sunlight capable of playing gracious hostess to her former husband and his wife. Only Earth Friend’s softening influence could bring about such a change.

Or therapy. Or time. Or… you know, a lot of things besides the magical earth fairy could have helped.

Seriously, can I pretty please get someone good at drawing to draw what comes to mind when they hear the phrase “Earth Friend?”

And of course my sleeping cat puts her paw right over the paragraph I was going to read. It’s ok, though. This entire page is just Jared babbling on about the heavenly city. I can just skip this part.

After babbling about The Prince doing the work of intercession and judgement, he starts moaning about books and TV.

Earthlings could learn so much if they would turn off their TVs and put away their books and magazines. The Bible is brimming over with exciting discoveries.

Yes, exciting… that’s the word for it… absolutely….

Jared babbles for a paragraph about the book of Daniel, claiming that it has “fascinating prophecy that sheds insight right down through the ages to the end.”

Yes, the book of Daniel is written for us, not for some ancient target audience who’s long dead by now.

One would think men would spend every spare moment searching and praying for understanding when it involves their eternal destiny, but the Rebel somehow soothes them into a lethal indifference.

Only the men, though. Not the human race in general. No women allowed, apparently.

Jared spends a few more paragraphs pondering over what decision most humans will make, and wondering how much time they all have left. It’s all quite boring.

So far the main conflict in the book has been Meg and how she deals with her divorce. How her daughters are reacting, how she is coping with alcohol, dancing, and bible study. Now that she has made the decision to forgive her husband and be friends again, it would seem like the main conflict has been wrapped up. (At least, from the author’s perspective, this is clearly over and done with.)

So, what’s left? More Bible Study? Ok, I know what’s coming next, don’t tell me because I don’t want to think about it. So, there’s another main plot point (spoiler alert: It’s awful) starting in chapter 7, and then the end time events happen in chapter 10. This was chapter 5.  There are only 11 chapters in the entire book. We are 43% of the way through the book, and the main conflict (end times) hasn’t even happened yet. This is not an end times novel, this is a boring bible study novel.

So, even if one puts aside the godawful Biblical exposition that makes one’s eyes glaze over even if one agrees with it, the cardboard cutout characters that don’t talk like real human beings, and the fact that Jared is a creepy stalker, this book still doesn’t work because, really, there’s no story.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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