This is the second of what I hope will be a long-term series called Letters From David. The “David” is David M. Swindle former editor political publications from 2009-2015 before “retiring” to focus on building a Bible-based counterculture. David was my editor at Newsreal Blog and has been my friend ever since. He is now the West Coast Editor for Liberty Island and lives in Los Angeles with his wife, counterculture feminist pop artist April Bey, and their Siberian Husky Maura. In 2006 he graduated from Ball State University in Muncie, Indiana with a degree in Political Science and English-Creative Writing and still remains stuck at the fiery fault lines between politics, culture, technology and religion.
In this installment, David talks about another former editor of mine Ben Shapiro who used to run TruthRevolt, but his words about Ben are really a devise to discuss something that’s missing from writing today:
Our mutual friend and new media colleague Ben Shapiro is venturing into new territory and I wanted to encourage you and your readers to check it out. In addition to recently launching his new website The Daily Wire, featuring his political writings and new daily podcast, Ben released his first short story collection last week, What’s Fair: And Other Short Stories, now available through Amazon.
It’s a trilogy of three stories by genre – horror, science fiction, and parable — joined by exploring the themes of fairness and equality. Each story moves at an exciting pace — Ben knows from his years of journalistic and opinion writing not to waste his reader’s time rambling on with unneeded details.
It’s wonderful to see Ben exploring more of this direction and not staying wholly focused on politics and the clash of Left vs Right. (And this is hardly the first time he’s gotten creative. In 2012 at PJ Lifestyle I wrote about Reality Check, the delightful Breakfast Club-inspired musical Ben wrote with his father.) As you know, I’ve also made this shift too this year — as West Coast Editor of Liberty Island I’ve been alternating my time between considering novel submissions across many genres and working on my own Biblically-inspired fantasy novel. I’m encouraging all of my writing and new media friends to start moving in this direction — creative writing has so much bigger audience potential than political punditry!
I think it’s vital for Jews and Christians serious about seeing their values come to prominence again in the culture to take up storytelling and fiction writing. Journalistic reports and polemics against leftism can only go so far in reaching people and communicating with them. To connect with someone to the depth needed to make serious changes in them we need to take them on a journey — we have to show them in an accessible way what it was like to experience life through our eyes, to understand the war of Good vs Evil as we experience it.
The Bible provides the most extraordinary model in doing this. As I talked about in my first part of this series at LidBlog on the coming resurrection of Judeo-Christian values, what makes the Jewish moral method so revolutionary is that it derives through training the individual how to wrestle among conflicting narratives. To figure out Good and Evil we have to put ourselves in the positions of the characters in the Biblical stories, seeing the ancient problems and challenges that repeat throughout history. In a practical sense this means trying to read all the stories in the Bible and see how they connect, how the experiences of the first humans in Genesis relate to Job and Moses, the prophets, and the Wisdom of proverbs and psalms.
What we see when reading the Bible broadly is the transformative nature of worshipping God. God takes the fallen and turns it into the risen, often noted by a change of name. Abram becomes Abraham, Jacob becomes Israel. Joseph and Moses both rose and fell from positions of power and respect to near death before God made use of them.
So Jeff, to you and your readers: God wants us all telling stories! This testament you wrote about your own faith journey (which everyone really needs to read in full) proves you have storytelling ability and get it:
I have learned much about the spirit of practicing Judaism. Jewish rituals are not purely the solemn rites done in Synagogue as I had always thought they were. God is much smarter than that. Almost every Jewish holiday has an important element at home because they are a chance to have joy, to relish your time with family, friends, community and God.
Have you ever sat in front of a dish of peanuts at a party? You try one peanut, wait a while and soon you have another. The more you have, the faster you want them. Eventually you’re jealously guarding your spot on the couch by the dish.
That’s what adding mitzvot to your life is like. The key is you don’t have to eat the whole bowl in one sitting, nor do you have to feel bad when there are leftovers.
Rabbi Louis Finkelstein a great scholar and former Chancellor of the Jewish Theological Seminary of America once defined a good Jew as someone who was trying to become a better Jew. That is the key–you don’t have to do it all at once because when you do one mitzvah regularly, something as easy as lighting candles every Friday night, eventually you will want to do another and another.
I once read that when God created the world sparks of his holiness were spread across the earth. Every time that a Jew performs one of the 613 mitzvot in the Torah one of those sparks are purified and sent back to heaven. I don’t know if sparks have anything to do with but each time I add an observance, I feel a little closer to God, and it is that bit of closeness makes me want more.
It’s the blending and juxtaposing of stories that the Bible and the Jewish people have taught and brought to humanity. The sparks have been scattered across the earth for a long time but they’re starting to come closer together now. Perhaps now this internet thing — one giant spark — has something to do with it too?
David Michael Swindle
P.S. In addition to looking to the Bible for inspiration, I’m encouraging aspiring fiction writers to pick up The Writer’s Journey: Mythic Structure for Writers by Christopher Vogler too. It breaks down many of the recurring storytelling patterns and archetypes that repeat throughout history and has been very helpful for me as I structure my novel.
Your letter reminded me of two very important verses in the Torah that just so happens to be part of the parsha my daughter read during her Bat Mitzvah. Chapter 30 of D’varim (Deuteronomy) Verses 11-12:
11. For this Commandment Which I command thee this day, it is not too hard for thee, Neither is it far off. 12. It is not in heaven, That thou shouldest say: ‘Who shall go up for us to heaven, and bring it unto us, and make us to hear it, That we may do it?’
The Talmud explains, “[The Torah] is not in Heaven” to mean that the meaning of the Torah itself is to be uncovered not by prophets, or even God’s miracles or words, but by man’s interpretation, decision-making, and story-telling. “The Torah is not in heaven,” is a commandment that the scriptures are now in the hands of man and we should turn it into parables and stories so it can be discussed and understood by all of humanity.
There is a story about rabbinical sages having a disagreement about a point of Jewish law:
On that day Rabbi Eliezer brought forward every imaginable argument, but the Sages did not accept any of them. Finally he said to them: “If the Halakhah (religious law) is in accordance with me, let this carob tree prove it!” Sure enough the carob tree immediately uprooted itself and moved one hundred cubits, and some say 400 cubits, from its place. “No proof can be brought from a carob tree,” they retorted.
And again he said to them “If the Halakhah agrees with me, let the channel of water prove it!” Sure enough, the channel of water flowed backward. “No proof can be brought from a channel of water,” they rejoined.
Again Rabbi Eliezer then said to the Sages, “If the Halakhah agrees with me, let it be proved from heaven.” Sure enough, a divine voice cried out, “Why do you dispute with Rabbi Eliezer, with whom the Halakhah always agrees?”
Rabbi Joshua stood up and rebuked God: “The Torah is not in heaven! We pay no attention to a divine voice because long ago at Mount Sinai You wrote in your Torah at Mount Sinai, `After the majority must one incline’.
God laughed with joy, saying, ‘My children have beaten me, they have learned well”