Interviewers have asked where my inspiration for The Camellias came from, and the answer is that the world of the Camellias is deeply rooted in being a 6 year old, standing on the front porch, looking for a cloud the size of a man’s fist in the sky. That’s the cloud Jesus was going to be coming back on, and I was sure I would be the one to spot it, just as I was sure that Jesus was on his way back to earth in the immediate future.
While no one in the church would have said that you could earn your way into heaven, there was this zeitgeist hanging around that, if you were good enough and prayed faithfully enough, that you could control what happened to you. One Aunt in particular was insufferably smug about how well things turned out for her because of her faith and her prayer practice and her tithing and her vegetarianism.
And the truth is that we don’t have control. Bad things happen, good things happen, and it isn’t because of prayer or tithe or taking the right thing to pot-luck. It’s that both good and bad are important to our development as people. You try to close yourself off to the bad and you also close yourself off to growth, the capacity for empathy, and a sense of interconnectedness that you only get when you look around yourself at rock bottom and discover there are people there with you simply because they want to help. Or because they remember rock bottom and they don’t want you to get stuck down there.
So The Camellias started out as a defense of living. The Ministry started as a way to talk about religion, one that is antagonistic to life in the same way my Adventist background was antagonistic to life. Or at least antagonistic to real life, where bad things happen and people learn and grow and connect and make the best of it. I say it started there. It has since morphed into its own story with an internal logic and an endgame that is all about the narrative. Obviously, those ideas are still running around, but so are new ideas. The unifying thread is fear: what are we afraid of, what do we do to get away from our fears, and what happens when we decide that our fears no longer get to be in charge.