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Sunday, August 31, 2014

Intellectual Honesty

Contrary to popular belief, the opposite of arrogance is not doormat. It is confidence.
Confidence and arrogance are not related at all.
Confidence welcomes people; arrogance repels them.
Confidence fosters a safe place for others to share their thoughts.
Arrogance cannot see past its own perceived wisdom to acknowledge the value of listening.
Confidence is centered on others. Arrogance is centered on self.

Recently, it has been suggested to me that being so sure of my faith makes me arrogant.
Would I contradict people who do not believe like me? 
Dare I suggest that someone else could be "wrong?" 
Does saying so make me intolerant?
As a generation, we need to take a step back and recognize the inconsistencies in our approach to ultimate questions. It is time that we admit to the faith inherent in our differing worldviews.
While here is evidence to be fought over, the bottom line is that we will all interpret the evidence based on what we have put our faith in.

To my atheistic friends, you did not observe the big bang. You have never seen macro-evolution. You accept it on faith. Whatever evidence you have for your view is interpreted based on your faith in science, because of your limited point of view as a mere human bound by time and space.
Please admit it.

To my Christian friends. We did not witness the crucifixion first hand. We were not there when God planned redemption. And while I believe there is a lot of evidence for the historicity and validity of Scripture, I ultimately recognize that I accept the Bible on faith.

What I'm trying to say is that it is time to stop mislabeling confidence as arrogance.
Let's take intellectual responsibility for our views and be confident about them.

I do not think my atheistic friends are arrogant for believing differently from me. I think they are wrong, yes. Just as deeply as they believe me to be wrong. But I don't think they are arrogant. They have come to their views through experience and faith, however misplaced I believe it to be. I respect them for their willingness to explain their side and the logic that helped them reach their conclusions. Our discussions are calm, cordial, respectful. I value their friendship and the unique beauty they bring to my life. Without conceding the Truth I cling to, I appreciate their perspectives and want them to know that my love for them is not dependent on what they believe but rooted in God's love for me, because I was welcomed before I knew Christ also. He died for me when I was lost in my sins, so I don't think I'm intellectually or morally better than anybody else.

But let me clarify.
The laws of logic cannot be contradicted.
Two contradictory things cannot both be true.
You cannot be a good moral person and encourage genocide.
You cannot be an atheist and affirm the existence of God.

It is not insulting to my atheistic friends when I listen to them and respectfully disagree. I would insult them if I said, "Wow, yeah, It seems like you've found a lot of meaning from your atheism. I don't believe that. But that's true for you."
To say something like that accuses them of an arbitrary flippancy through which they did not reach their views. The same is true for the Christian, who quite often hears that his or her beliefs are "good for you, but not for me."
I respect the friends who tell me when they think I'm wrong.

Neutrality is neither possible nor desirable. Stand for something. Don't tell me that my message is wonderful and then turn around and say that the opposing view is just as true. Please don't insult my intelligence by claiming that logic bends for you or that we simply agree to different versions of the same story. Admit that you disagree with me. Present your evidence.
Realize that the questions matter, because they drive our actions.
Don't reduce issues of life and death to the realm of cute preferences.
Attempting to do so reveals that as a whole we are intellectually dishonest with ourselves and guilty of an arrogance that which claims to listen to all sides while secretly undermining them through pretended acceptance of them all.

There is a call in my generation to sit on the fence and take no side. Using the excuse of "waiting for more evidence," we intend to spend our lives claiming nothing, appreciating all truth, and affirming none. Some believe tolerance is spinelessness. It is the opposite. I cannot tolerate something I agree with. I can tolerate only that with which I disagree (including the friends who claim neutrality.)

So to my friends who have no faith in the Bible but faith in Darwin, I accept you, and I will tolerate you and love you and coexist with you in the most literal ways.
But just so you know, I think you're wrong.
And it is because I'm confident enough about what I believe that I can welcome you into my home, drink tea with you, read your books, enjoy your company, take your classes, grapple with your questions, and appreciate your confidence.


Monday, August 4, 2014

Not An Expert...- My Thoughts on Selections from the SLT One Act Festival 2014

As the title of this post admits, I am no seasoned thespian. My interest in theater is far older than my involvement, and therefore I know my opinion to be that of a novice. All the same, I witnessed all but one of the acts, and of those I saw all but two in their entirety.
My comments are in order of appearance, though I don't cover them all. I just had some burning opinions that I wanted to share. Hence, a blog post. What else is a blog for?

It Ain't Easy Being Godly While Being Married: Thoughts, Words, Dis-Tractions
Not to start on a negative note, but this performance was marked by bad theology and long-winded attempts at comedy. I mention it only to disassociate Christianity, and myself as a Christian, from its poor explanation of marriage and godliness. Aside from portraying God as a simple-minded Santa, this performance grossly misrepresented, misquoted, and took out of context the Bible. The actor appeared to have one intensity level and so missed out on communicating the complexities of human thought and emotion.
Here I learn my first lesson as a new thespian.
Just because you like being on stage, doesn't mean you should stay there for upwards of an hour.

Frozen Sisters
Justlie Cholewinski conquered her fears to perform, and she did a nice job. Kudos to her mom for hand-making a great, award-winning costume.

The Towel Lady
Well written and well acted. Though the audience caught the humor, I think they also realized the metaphor, and in spite of myself I think I got a little choked up.

Losing my Religion: A Heathen's Tale of Tooth Fairies and Atheism
In perhaps one of the most important monologues of the festival and a bold move considering the audience, Skylar Norman told the story of how logic and personal experience led him to stop believing in God. Of course, the story is unique since it is his own, but in bigger picture he speaks for an entire generation that is leaving churches by the droves and not always for frivolous reasons. As a Christian, I found his words to be vital in understanding the contentions of those with whom I disagree and effective in stirring compassion within me.

So What Else Are You Doing These Days?
Collin's intensely-expressed struggle to be a writer resonated with me. So many times I was moved to say, "Yes! Exactly! Someone understands!" Maybe I'm a biased member of his writer's group, but I have to say his second draft is coming along quite well.

Clarity
First-time director Samantha Topping won a well-deserved award for her directing finesse in this short skit about a girl discussing her insecurities to the mirror. What I love so much about the performance was the gritty hope of the ending. The protagonist, in a brilliantly performed moment, does not give in to the enticing escape of death. Aptly named and well-written, I'm glad that this act was recognized in the awards ceremony.

Unconscious Subconscious
My instinct would like to skip this one, but it won too many awards and garnered too much attention to ignore. What did it have going for it? A very dedicated cast, lots of makeup, interesting set pieces and a prolonged plot. Though the judges were fascinated by the entire play, I have to contend that the writing was weak and mostly driven by shock-value lines. The plot also did not stand up to further scrutiny. Worst of all, the ending could not have been more anti-climactic. There may be a way to use vaudeville techniques purposefully and meaningfully. Maybe. But no genre is done more disservice than vaudeville in the hands of amateurs.

The Prisoner and His Cause
A shocking ending and thought provoking wording, I'm glad I didn't miss it. It was a good example of the mental games that theater can play on the unsuspecting viewer. My philosophical agreement with the content is next to nothing, though it was slightly reminiscent of Milton and for that I appreciate its artistic value.

The Thread Men
This bit was another genre that I don't spend a lot of my time on, but The Thread Men justifiably won several awards. The takeaway was an anti-simplistic way of seeing the world and other people. The blocking in this elevator set was also an interesting, attention-keeping move.

Five Dollar Bill
I don't have much to say for this triple-perspective monologue(?). I'm including it because of all the religious skits, it said the thing I am currently learning as a Christian. That my actions can be motivated by God's love for me. The writer is young and has a lot to learn, but I love the heart behind what she was trying to do. It was not legalistic or preachy, and I hope she continues to grow in her ability to communicate truth artistically.


Wait Wait...I Can Explain
Of all the acts, this was the one I had heard the most about and for some reason, I did not have high expectations. Remember, I'm very inexperienced with theater, so I had not yet learned to factor in what a fantastic cast can do with a not-so-fantastic script. (Or maybe as a writer I don't love to think that the script really isn't at least half of everything..)  I was pleasantly surprised. The play was truly funny, thanks to the excellent casting, which I have already mentioned.

The Pink Lady
I know it was long. But that was the one and only problem with it. You know you're dealing with passion when a 76-year-old woman writes her own material and travels from Kentucky to compete in a festival. I am less than half her age, and I'm not sure if I could memorize all the material and remember the subtle changes in character. History lovers enjoyed it, and I really appreciated the artistry.



Friday, July 11, 2014

Seductive Selfies: A Response

I went through a phase in high school where I really enjoyed arguing. I called it debating, of course, because that sounds less abrasive and more intellectual. But I really just liked arguing to prove that I was right. Since then, God has taught me a lot about His sovereignty, how I don't need to be right, how sometimes silence is a better testimony than a well-crafted apologetic. Obviously, there are times to speak up, and I'm certainly not advocating running away when a defense should be made. But there is so much division within the Church that I have lately found myself trying harder to build bridges than stand guard on them. However, I recently ran across a popular article lately that I felt warranted a small correction.
In the spirit of building bridges, let me start with a general agreement. Girls posting seductive pictures of themselves is evidence of heart-vacancies. They want attention. They want people to tell them they are beautiful. They want to be loved. And they think that they'll get those things by posting sexy pictures on facebook. The sad thing is they are usually successful. Post a selfie and expect to get a lot of "likes" and a few "you're so gorgeous" comments within the hour. My real problem with the article is found near the end. 

"God gives us standards for purity and holiness because He knows it’s what’s best for us. True joy and contentment won’t come through the applause of your friends, it will only come through obeying and honoring God. “Blessed are those whose way is blameless, who walk in the law of the Lord! Blessed are those who keep His testimonies, who seek Him with their whole heart” (Psalm 119:1-2).I know you want to blessed by God. I sure do! Instead of striving after the empty applause of this world, strive for the fulfilling applause of your King.
You will never be happier than when you’re living your life for God’s glory."

Within the context of the gospel, our motivation for holiness is not being blessed by God. These are dangerous words that speak to a bargain mentality with God, and one I've heard at youth camps for years. These "if-then" statements recall the words of Job's friends when they insist that Job is suffering because of sins he has committed. God deals with Job, but notice Job 42:7- 
After the LORD had spoken these words to Job, the LORD said to Eliphaz the Temanite: “My anger burns against you and against your two friends, for you have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has.
God makes it clear to Job and Co. that He does not operate on an earning system. He is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, abounding in steadfast love. But from the way we talk, we believe that He is responsible to reward us for our self-imposed righteousness.  
"Don't you want a godly husband?  Then stay abstinent." As if sexual purity is the way to earn a man. 
"If you have sex before marriage, you'll never be truly happy." As if God is so unmerciful that you'll never recover from the sins of your past.
The gospel tells a different story.
Instead of seeking purity because you want to be blessed by God, realize that you already are incredibly blessed by God in the salvation He offers through Jesus. Then, out of joy and thankfulness, stay away from the stuff that put Him on the cross. Run to Him for acceptance and love.  
When you realize that you are already loved and accepted in Christ, you don't need to go searching for approval from others. You will lose the thirst for others' attention. You'll be free to focus on others without worrying about what they think of you. That is true freedom. And that will keep you from posting seductive selfies. 

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Mumford and Sons: Roll Away Your Stone

Mumford and Sons is not like The Script.  
The Script writes resonating, emotional songs circling around questions. They ask important questions that are currently haunting the post-Christian nations of the world. They don't speak for their souls only when "praying to a god that I don't believe in" and ask "is there anybody there?" The group reminds me of Whitman's Noiseless Patient Spider, casting out filament after filament of themselves in hopes of feeling them catch somewhere. Unresolved longing characterizes their major themes.    
(For a more in-depth look at the redemptive qualities of The Script, check out this link. http://thingsthataremade.wordpress.com/2012/08/23/the-script/)
Mumford and Sons is not that band. 
They ask tough questions and suspend judgment and allow for other interpretations and all that politically correct jargon. But at heart and soul, Mumford isn't throwing open ended questions down a dark hole. They are lowering ropes and hitting solid ground. By that I mean that they don't avoid uncomfortable topics, but they don't leave listeners in the dark either. 
Their song Roll Away Your Stone is a particularly compelling picture of grace. 
The narrator exposits his vulnerability and the conflict begins. 
How could I not recognize the "hole within the fragile substance of my soul" and that "I have filled this void with things unreal?" This is my testimony. 
But as Mumford reminds me, there is grace enough for this. And to my great relief, it is not law-driven moralism that gives me answers, because "It's not the long walk home that will change this heart, but the welcome I receive with every start." The biblical reference to the prodigal son draws a line between the hopeless wondering and the hopeful knowing. Secure grace gives me solid ground to stand on so I can become that "newly impassioned soul" that finishes out the song. 
But I'm cheating now in my cultural reviews, since I just picked an easy song.  Redeem a song about redemption, why don't I?  (Check out, also, their new song "Lover of the Light." The music video is an experience in waking sleeping dragons inside yourself.)
Forgive me, but when grace is hidden everywhere I can't help but enjoy a clearer picture from time to time. I now propose a toast to Mumford and Sons, the English voice for light and grace and love. 

Monday, July 7, 2014

Batman Begins to Make Sense

From where I stand, the genre can't surprise me anymore. Superhero stories follow that basic pattern that my favorite antihero, Megamind, wrestles with so much.

You know it.  The one where the man with muscles ends up with the gorgeous girl after an epic battle with the nemesis, a battle that costs him very little because, after all, he is (Insert Epic Name Here)-man and he has the astonishing ability to blow things up by biting his fingernails....

I haven't seen the Avengers yet.  My students tell me that I would appreciate the humor of one "Loki of Asgard," but I haven't made time for it yet, because in my premature judgment I'm pretty sure that doing so will result in that pattern...a lot of explosions instigated by people wearing really tight costumes and yelling insults at monsters while trying to save innocent people.  
And if I'm going to watch a movie, I prefer a gut-wrenching drama like Becoming Jane (an all time favorite with a horrifyingly beautiful ending) or a thought-provoking science-fiction/action drama like Inception (wherein Leo references Greek mythology and a plot twist blows my mind several times per scene.)

Still, I know that superhero stories satisfy some craving within us.  Rather I should say that they open up the wound of our craving, which is even better since that will hopefully send us looking, and in looking we might end up in the best place.  There are small, but tangible, echoes of Eden and Calvary even here, as we yearn for the Super-Man who can save us from our fears.  So, to defend it from my own attack, I know it isn't the surprise that producers go for.  I think they actually market to the "of course...yes...I saw that coming" crowd.  Which is perfectly fine.  Just not my go-to.

All of this is a long, unnecessary self-justification for the three or so hours I spent last Friday watching Batman Begins for the second time in my life.  The first time I saw it, I enjoyed watching those scenic mountain training sessions right next to the exciting technological weaponry scenes, but I didn't really understand what was going on. Thankfully, this time around my brother patiently allowed me to ask questions throughout the film so that I wouldn't get lost in the non-linear storytelling.  After a weekend to think it over and a bit of time with a pen, I've come to a concise takeaway in two parts. 

When Good conquers its fears, then Evil should be afraid.  Where there is goodness, there is hope. 

The great thing about Batman is his lack of any inherently supernatural qualities.  Bruce Wayne is just a human whose training makes him really tough and whose inheritance makes him really rich.  Excellent qualities in a crime fighter. Add to that his voluntary six years of vagabond living and a Rachel-motivated heart of compassion, and you have the ideal vigilante. He isn't just promoting "the ends justifies the means";  he's actually providing a blueprint for worse-case-scenario decision making that advocates courage and love. When forced to choose between the rigid justice of the League of Shadows and the lawless bureaucracy of Gotham, Wayne doesn't fall into the trap of false dichotomy. Instead he makes the decision to live an isolated, misunderstood, self-sacrificing life to give hope to the people of the city.
But to do so, he has to reconcile with his past.
Batman chooses bats as his symbol because it is his greatest fear.  When he overcomes that fear, he becomes a force to be reckoned with on the streets of Gotham. Criminals cower in terror at the mention of his name, and the people begin to think that their city can be something beautiful again.

Batman isn't about a guy with special abilities who wants to flex his biceps before an adoring crowd. It's a spoiled rich kid who matures into a man who loves goodness.
As soon as I comprehended that, Batman began to make sense.
(Also, I really actually enjoyed it.)

Book Review: Map of Time

"Don't some lies make life more beautiful?" - Gilliam, Map of Time

The answer is yes.  Of course.  Some lies make life more beautiful, more livable even.
Belief in something, regardless of its correspondence to reality, may comfort temporarily, but as those who suffer know all too well, a comfort grounded in a lie is no true comfort at all.  There is something to be said for Truth in connection to Beauty.  Beauty is without substance when it abandons Truth.

Not to start on a negative note at all.  Because Felix Palma is a brilliant author whose use of words punctures holes in my ignorance. With a dizzying plot that left me breathless and somehow also creative, the book whirls and weaves two main plots into a shocking end.  The idea of the book is a philosophical feast and so elegantly phrased that I forgot I lived in the 21st Century. And I have to praise any author who dares to invent three different, yet believable, means of time travel. My favorite passages are the introspective moments in the thoughts of H. G. Wells revealing an author with an intricate mind.  Palma's mastery of plot development is only rivaled by his exquisite character development and the highlights are at critical, emotional commentaries on the works of other authors wrapped up in seamless narrative.  If there are any weaknesses in craftsmanship, it is his use of an elevated vocabulary which some readers tend to find irritating, but which I enjoyed as a nerdy philologic celebration.

However, I do have two issues with the book.

The first, and less important, is a gratuitous use of sexual immorality.  While the first appearance provides a significant contribution to the plot, the subsequent occurrences are (in my opinion) excessive, detracting from the purpose of the book.

The second is the twisted truth of the healing power of story.  Make no mistake.  Story heals.  Stories affect us deeply and can be a means of grace.  (See my post on the grace of fiction for more on that topic.)  But it is the seed of Truth within the stories that bring the healing. Without at least that seed of Truth, the Beauty is lost and therefore the potential for comfort. The disconcerting use of lies to "save a life" in Palma's work cannot be reconciled with a love of Beauty at its essence.  Both Andrew and Clair live "better" lives without ever knowing that their existences are based on falsehood propagated by Wells, the third protagonist. This pragmatism is applied only to the "good" characters, while the "bad" characters seem to operate on another set of rules.  While I'm slow to condemn actions that are, in the end, selflessly motivated, I have to say that the book doesn't maintain a commitment to Truth, and because of this, the validity of the art suffers.  

That said, the work is truly fascinating and worth a discerning read if you're between library books and need a page turner.  The old-world feel is balanced by the potential for so much more since Wells himself pens The Time Machine, the book that started it all.  






Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Redemption: Art in Christ and Christ in Art

Sketchers made my running shoes.  Crafted from the "minimalist" philosophy of running, they are designed to keep my foot stable and supported while being light enough to let me run freely.  And I love to run.  They fit me perfectly. They also have the added benefit of looking really cool. Which is why it's crazy how I treat those shoes.  I toss them into the car and snatch them from the floor and cram my feet into them when I'm ready to go.  Actually, those shoes are taken for granted even when I'm running, while they are protecting my feet from pavement, trail, or treadmill.  I don't realize how much I depend on them, because I truly don't want to run with another pair.  My sketchers are what facilitate my habit.  

Like my running shoes, I have a word that I tend to use and toss around without really thinking.  It's an important word.  One I wouldn't want to write without, but that I tend to take for granted, expecting my audience to grasp it without ever explaining it.  It fits.  It even sounds cool.  And I know it motivates my writing and facilitates my little writing habit.  
Though I overuse it, I call myself back to the original meaning in hopes of clarifying my goals for this blog and for all of my writing.  

The word is "redemption." 
It means "to buy back." 

There are two sides to Redemption stories: The Redeemer and the Redeemed.  
One who buys and one who is bought.  
Like in my favorite story of all where the stakes are very high, because the princely Redeemer goes to such great lengths and excessive personal costs to buy back an unworthy slave who hates him for no reason at all.  He buys back the slave with His own blood. Then, instead of returning the slave to work, He makes her his own and gives her the inheritance rights of a son, clothing her in His beauty and honoring her with His love. All of that is ancient world terminology for the cross of Christ and the glory of the gospel.  A love that is foreign to us.  A love that we crave beyond our understanding.

What does it have to do with the arts?
I often claim (a bit pretentiously, I admit) that I'm "redeeming" a bit of literature or a tv show or a song or some other such scrap of popular culture.  This is, by far, one of my favorite activities and one that is responsible for unreasonably late nights and writing binges during which I occupy a solitary spot and consume vast amounts of green tea.  But what does it mean? 

The realm of art is God's.  He is the originator of art and a great lover of art.  He is also the ultimate collector of it.  
Every realm of the creative world displays His glory.  And every realm of it is now trapped in a sinful world.  
Theater.  Journalism. Fiction. Painting. Music. Woodworking.  
All of it matters, and all of it reflects in some way, the God of Heaven.  
When I say I am redeeming a bit of literature, I mean that I'm "buying it back."  I'm attempting to unravel the meaning so that it can be traced back to the majesty of Jesus where it truly belongs.Whether the human creator realizes it or not, his or her work is often redemptive in itself because we bear, unwittingly, the Image of God and cannot help but reveal Him in our work. 
Therefore, rather than adding meaning where the author didn't intend to put it, I am simply pointing out where it shows up with or without the original intention of the artist.  It has more to do with the reality of the artist's humanity than with the agenda he or she is attempting to communicate.
I'm pulling back the curtain that inevitably covers those aspects that more clearly reflect the beauty, goodness, and truth that originate in Him and belong, still, to Him.  
Grace.  Love.  Joy.  Worth.  
By attributing these aspects to their rightful owner, I honor the art and the artist because I'm also pointing out their dignity in the gospel, regardless of their personal relationship to it. Additionally, I'm able to affirm those good things that humanity agrees upon, whether or not we recognize equally the Source.  Writing with this in mind is to see Him in everything and everything in Him, giving me endless material and endless reason for praise, which is why He gave us the arts in the first place. 

So-called secular art has imagined itself an orphan for far too long.  Let it find the Father.  

  









Monday, June 30, 2014

Sherlock...yet again!

It appears to be about time for another post about Sherlock Holmes, specifically the BBC Sherlock starring Martin Freeman and Benedict Cumberbatch.
Let me begin by saying, I'm not recommending the show.  I'm redeeming it.
It's not squeaky clean, and I'm not condoning all of it, but I can say for certain that it has given me the ability to think through some very virtuous things. The themes of the show, with the brilliant writing behind it, might actually have given me a better picture of love.  Which is one of the highest purposes of storytelling.
 
If you need more background or you haven't seen the show,  here are a few old (very old) posts for you.
For my analysis of Sherlock Holmes in general as a character and literary type:
 http://batteragainstthebrilliance.blogspot.com/2012/01/sherlock-holmes.html
For my analysis of Season 1  http://batteragainstthebrilliance.blogspot.com/2012/01/sherlockagain.html

In my last little scribble on the show, I expressed my hope that Sherlock would be humanized, unsure how else I could continue putting up with such a massively arrogant lead role. Even with this anticipation, I entered the next episodes skeptically and long after their release dates, aware that it could go either way.
It has been a slowly unfolding story.  But in the end, it did not disappoint.
To correct on my previous views of the show, I have to admit that many of the vices evident in the first season are clarified and worked out as just that, vices.  Now that I stand on the other side of season three, I'm willing to say that though the morals of the show are messy, they are not without thoughtful merit.

A few examples of redeemable material from the last season:

GRACE: John, ever the real hero in the show, depicts a stunning picture of grace when he throws into the fire a flash drive with Mary's past on it.  His complete forgiveness of her is sealed with the words, "The problems of your past are your own business.  The problems of your future are my privilege."  Few Christian-themed stories do as good as that. Very impressive.

BEAUTY: Sherlock actually falls (albeit temporarily) for Molly, a girl who works in forensics.  She was invisible to him when they had worked together previously except when she was useful for cleaning up his messes or solving a case, but by a small act of kindness in the second season, she awakens the goodness that lies underneath all that intellectual, sociopathic exterior that we love/hate in Sherlock.  She is the one woman (besides John's wife) that he learns to treat with respect and without pragmatism.  For a few shining moments, he sees her for who she is and he gains yet another friend.
 
LOVE: In the final moments of the final episode, Sherlock sacrifices himself to protect John and Mary.  By putting a bullet in Magnussen's head to protect Mary, knowing that he will not be spared the full justice of the law, Sherlock proves that he has come a long way.  Not to excuse murder of course, but for Sherlock, the act is a stark contrast to the first season finale which finds him hesitant and shocked at John's reckless move to save him from Moriarty.  And finally we see the sharpie line between Sherlock (who killed for love) and Moriarty (who kills for sport).

It is his own words that both condemn and redeem him in a self correcting speech at John's wedding. "I am dismissive of the virtuous, unaware of the beautiful, and uncomprehending in the face of the happy." Sherlock almost overdoes his apologies and appreciations in this emotional and out-of-character display of affection.  He further admits that while he can solve crimes, he can't save lives.  It takes John to understand people and to show Sherlock his complete inability to do so.
And so John is rightly recognized for his part in the slow, fascinating journey of saving Sherlock from himself.

At long last, consistent contact with people who stubbornly love him has chipped away at his heartlessness.  Of course, he is still Sherlock. By his own admission, he is no angel and there is evidence of that.
But even these glimmers of humility, however small are enough to make me excited that season 4 will not let me down.
 


Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Harry Potter

Fandom doesn't impress me.  Usually, I dislike things for the mere fact that others like them.  Which is, of course, not a very rational way to handle preferences, but I can't remember a time that this wasn't my modus operandi.  Here on the threshold of my 24th birthday, I humbly admit my long-delayed and profound appreciation for Harry Potter.

I was attending camp in the summer of 1998 when Harry Potter's name entered my vocabulary. But it wasn't until a few years later, after the series was in full swing and gaining popularity, that I began vigorously resisting its attraction.  Though I recant my former position, I'm glad I didn't read them in junior high.  I'm glad I waited until I could appreciate the weight of what Rowling was trying to communicate.  
Book one pushed an eyebrow up in moderate interest.  But by book three, I was completely taken in. Days after finishing book seven, I'm still reliving the moment when love conquered evil.  

Some redemptive highlights of the story include believable characters, a creative setting, surprising plot twists (I was back and forth on Snape almost every chapter...), and a beautiful return to Truth at the end.  (Additionally, I was able to add a few British words to my repertoire: snogging, jumper, dodgy, and wotcher.) Whatever else can be said for Harry Potter, you can always count on the fact that he will choose to save others instead of himself.  And in the end, that is his redemption as well  The narrative points to the Biblical truth from Mark 8:35 and other passages referring to the kind of Life that conquers death.  
With an artful use of major motifs and minor allusions, the classic themes of death, courage, and love find a home in the orphan boy whose opportunities to advance his own fame are conquered by his growing selflessness.  How could I not be gripped by a story that ends with the hard-earned words "all was well?"   

I am glad on this side of the books to join the many who applaud J.K. Rowling for her deeply human (and so consequently deeply complex) story.  It is a signpost to many things greater than itself.   

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Roots and Wanderlust

I never meant to put down roots.

My parents laugh when I say this, because I'm just four months into a teaching job.  Explaining to them how I feel stuck takes a bit of verbal gymnastics and the reminder that I've fallen just barely short of promising my adorable, 8th-grade, 1st-year, Spanish kids that I will shepherd them all the way through Spanish 4.  That's at least a four year commitment.

Advenuture beckons me like Odysseus's sirens.  A call that I can't resist, but that I'm chained to a palm tree on some once-exotic island called Adulthood.

Is that a tragedy!? The generation above me spent their lives trying to give me what they didn't realize I wouldn't want. A stereotypical version of the American Dream.  A picket fence in a cute neighborhood with two happy kids in a stable marriage.
Maybe I'm the weird one, though. Because I'll admit.  Many of my friends have done that.  And sometimes that looks kind of nice.
But mostly, I'm writhing under the tyranny of a consistent job while some unhappy wanderer inside of me pouts and asks when we can start saving for another adventure.
A still-alive insect pinned to the science project board.

For context, since I was 15, I've been in a perpetual state of travel.
Planning a trip, going on a trip, remembering a very recent trip.
But I haven't been on a plane since August, and I can feel my feet turning to concrete.  Only good for plodding up the stairs to my classroom where any number of my 53 students are waiting for me to talk to them in Spanish.  But then I'm spoiled.  At least I teach a subject that allows for immense freedom both in concept and content and one that provides me a constant opportunity to open eyes to life outside the picket fences.

Then again, as a follower of Christ, I have a burden to get them to see more than just culture and language.  I want them to see what travel is actually for.  And because I work with upper class kids, this is harder to do than I ever imagined.
Having lived most of my life sheltered from the dangers of wealth, I regard travel as something you do for a reason.  Not primarily for fun or vacation, though I had tons of fun on most of my trips. But mostly my travels were the result of a lot of prayer and a lot of work saving to make the dream a reality. I was an oddity in my class because I traveled.
Not so for my students who are already world travelers.  Their parents have treated them to escapades in Europe and the elite coasts of Latin America.  They have seen it all from the heights, and they are easily bored with what I still know to be fantastic.
Age obviously makes a difference here, but I clearly have a different perspective on travel than they do, because I've never been out of the country on vacation.
The eight graders are often shocked to learn that I was in Spain and never saw Madrid or Barcelona. "Why!?" they want to know.
Because I was there to learn.  Not just culture and language.  But people and ministry.
How do these image bearers think?  
How can I love them?  
How can I serve them?
I didn't do this perfectly, and I'm not saying that there's no place for a vacation.
But I am saying that when you go on a vacation your perspective is "What's in it for me?"
When you go on a missions trip, you're asking, "What can I learn?  How can I love?  What is God doing here?"

That said, I didn't see the side of Europe they saw.  God let me see what many of them didn't have the chance to see.  The not as pretty, but oh-so-beautiful people side of things.

How was it different?

I've never been in a gondola, but I've walked two miles to catch a bus to go to a Spanish class with no other English speakers in a tiny basement classroom...learning I'm not the majority in this world and in many cases, I'm the weird one.

I have never petted a giraffe or ridden an elephant, but I have watched pastoral life in Basque Spain and got acquainted with the same sheep for three months...learning that sometimes travel is just as boring and mundane as staying at home.

I've never been on a tour of historical Madrid, but I've rambled aimlessly through the foothills of the Pyrenees mountains on long afternoons with only my prayers and the presence of God...learning that solitude is vital to life at home or abroad.

I have sat on park benches talked with Romanian beggars in the streets of Beasain and tried to coax a smile from a broken human being...learning that the desperate are a picture of my desperation before God in the gospel, and that He responds with love and mercy.

I've never surfed in Rio, but I've been served Brazilian barbeque on plastic plates as I sat on concrete floors with dozen happy brothers and sisters...learning that fellowship needs no linen napkins and hospitality is giving the best we have out of our little resources.

I've never seen the Eiffel tower, but I watched little French children play on a playground and miserably failed to communicate with them...learning that it really is the thought that counts, but a little bit of language goes a long, long way.

I've never shopped in Marrakech, but I have listened to the throaty, acapella hymns of Moroccan believers finding joy in a God who is nothing like their old slave master Allah...learning that praise and worship isn't essentially an American thing.

I've never napped on the beaches of Cozumel, but I have trudged through the sand of Sonora and laughed with kids who never owned shoes while they marveled at the magic of a digital camera...learning that nothing that is mine is really mine for myself, but mine for the sake of loving others.

Last week three of my students returned from a week long missions trip to the Dominican Republic. They entered the room with their sunburns and smiles and yelled the colloquial "queloque" greeting to their teacher.  I heard them recount their memories and the stories of their experiences teaching English and trying to communicate with Hatians and Dominicans.

Something stirred in my heart again.  Something wild and suppressed. Something jealous and excited. And I had to remind it of who I am.  I am a wanderer.  But not in the way I see myself.  I'm a wanderer because I'm not home.  Even here, my roots are temporary.  They are an interim before the real kingdom comes to fill the earth with the glory of the Lord like the oceans cover the sea.
And until then, I'm still a foreigner, rejoicing in the moments I have to see all the beauty in this brokenness.  And though I don't have any airline tickets to anticipate right now, I'm engaging in the same thing as when I traveled.  I'm here to love my students.  To commit to them. To teach them to wander through the mountains and sit with the beggars on the benches.  To help them see that there is something more valuable than beach combing in Brazil and sampling cuisine in France.
There are the people who need the Love of God and our own hearts that need the reminder of our insignificance.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Literary Nutrition

Why bother?
All the books are written
All the words were made
mixed and setting now
like jello,
ready for an easy slide down
the throats of readers everywhere.
Why spend the time in tension making,
creating something more substantial?
Is it that you know starvation
we will feel when the bowl
is empty and the easy
answers have digested?
how much we will want with a will beyond our knowing
something greater than the games and post-apocalyptic terror
something that does more than make us scared of our own skin
and mindful of how meaningless we are
When we are sick of existential snacks and
have had enough of dead mouth dreams,
prepare for us the second banquet
so we will wonder why
we were not hungry for the first.

Gray

Gray days ask for tea
I don't deny them.
They sit beside me in sock feet
We read the words together
While clouds will sometimes
find the story somewhat sad
and start to cry.
I do not try
to stop their tears

Saturday, April 5, 2014

A Letter to the Author

Move me.
Make me marvel.
Make me think that there is something more
than all the madness
more than magic for amusement
-than the music I imagine
maybe mystery is mangled in
a million mundane moments
marvelous
magnificent
majestic
mine.
Untangle it. 

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Chamber 5: The Nautilus on Destiny

(These are personal reflections which were inspired by watching the final episode of David Tennant's last season on Dr. Who.  A fact which I believe all ten of my readers will find humorous, nerdy, preposterous, and immature.  With this one I only ask that they please remember that a poem must not mean but be.  And that the poem was inspired by, but is not about, The Doctor.)

Either choose mundane nobility
or else adventure to omit the norm.
Concede your human exclusivities;
you cannot fish for flounder in a storm.
But fallacy is thinking you are writing
with pen poised over paper you have found.
Another gave you life and love and laughter
And, weeping, breathed into the worthless ground.
Can you ignore prophetic gasps and longings;
predictable as ocean ebb and tide?
Dare you refuse the drums to battle sounding?
Do not pretend to fight then run and hide.
Remarkable but quiet is your calling,
In silence fused with meaning you will die
Helpless, hopeful, happy in decision
Aware of when the diatoms collide.  

Friday, February 28, 2014

Growing Up Human

It is, of course, essential
but it need not be done
there always is the option-
barbaric as it seems,
you can continue nibbling on the grass;
I am myself reluctant
caught as I am between the lovers' quarrel.
A generation yells the ancient wisdom,
the other waits aloof and unconvinced
The purpose (that which we call education):
protection from the failures of our past.
But then have we not all of us our scars
to hide or else to bare and so to use?
By now we recognize to great degree
that true experience cannot be shared.
Their uniforms are pressed, are clean
are brushed, and shoes are shined.
We send them out to do
as they have been prepared
and they will doubtless suffer
and though we cannot save
their combat boots fit well the prints
of those who walked this way
(for we have shaped them so)
we must then know there is a price to pay
to grow up human. 

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Book Review: Speaker for the Dead

I knew that I loved Ender Wiggin while reading Ender's Game last fall.  That's probably why I had such hesitation about continuing the story in Speaker for the Dead.  I didn't want to spoil the end of the first book.  I didn't want to move away from the special place where the world was utterly wrong, yet exactly what it should have been.  (That's a brilliant paradox that O.S. Card writes about so well.)
But at the urging of a couple friends and after a long procrastination, I reluctantly picked up Speaker for the Dead.
Once again, I must acquiesce to the greater literary wisdom of those friends.  It was even better than Ender's Game (though couldn't have been the same without it), and I'm even more in love (that's right, in love) with Ender than I was.
Framed with the theme of the brutal necessity of truth, Ender's continued story speaks to a very different future than one foretold by many scifi writers.  Instead of a dystopian universe of humans lacking empathy, we find whole worlds where the definition of humanness is drastically different, but I think not inappropriate.  Since Card is the Shakespeare of the science fiction world, it is no surprise that he deals with the hard questions of what it means to be human and answers it by giving us stark contrasts and shocking comparisons.  Only a true artist of a writer could make me relate profoundly to a species of piglet-like creatures whose ingenuity is only surpassed by their apparent brutality.
And though I must reject most of Card's theological premises, (and resist the subtle appeal of his belligerent humanism), the echo of real Christianity is strong.  And Ender as Messiah figure exudes the best of the literary type.
Beyond the sheer delight of imagination and the value of excruciating pain in human relationships, the book emphasizes once again that magnificent theme.  The sacrifices of love are often wrapped in what appears at first to be death.  And it is indeed death.  But it is, as the pequeninos knew so well, such is a death that leads to life.

Monday, January 27, 2014

By Faith

Jacob dies in Egypt;
by irony (or sovereignty)
he leads a life of pilgrimage
in the Land of Promise
yet dies a prince embalmed
in a land of lies and bondage
The sorrows and the sins are his
but so the covenant of God.
And what of God
who orders these discrepancies
these diametric rifts in perceived reality?
Say only,
"Bury me in Canaan."
for faith is not a slave to the apparent
allowing in his sojourn
delays, detours, and disappointed hopes
which end
despite the doubts
in empty tombs

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Chamber 4: The Nautilus on Redemption

Broken things breed
yet more brokenness
the sharp edges of
the brittle shards
shatter even hands, skin cannot
escape and so we bleed
for we are living glass
breaking, being broken
but belonging to a
broken Hand of grace
which Hand gathers
glass and gore
to heal with blood the bleeding
His brokenness grieves and
blesses broken things. 

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Digory

He is the Adam of the worlds
This resonates
like music in a vast and ancient hall
there is no such thing as isolation,
change may magnify as well as mar-
the ringing of a bell in Charn
may toll the death of one gold Lion
in a universe a jump away
for worlds are not so stable as we think

Yet what is Charn?
the dying world
ruled by immortal death,
frozen suns, burning ice
red lights in brilliant darknesses
the rage of deadly fire found attractive.

I am the calloused hand
clutching one cold hammer
waiting for the tone to wake the beast.
Listen to a bell to char the ears
Let go a hammer chafing in the hands

Where in the worlds is left to me but
the ground beneath His paws
on which the tears
of His compassion fall? 

We Throw

A stone cannot be
thrown
into a river without the
rings
rippling from the centerpoint
the reference of the change
of surface broken
underneath now
another stone
settles

we are pebble gatherers, my friend
why do we fear so much
the breaking of the tension
on the surface of our souls?
let the stones collect and swell
in safety underneath
and then our banks may overflow
as rivers run to meet the sea. 

Unhidden Human

On the street the women come and go
speaking of grapefruits and tangelos
of children with colds and clothing with holes
on the cold street they bare their
souls, we do not meet
but we acknowledge what we are
and soundlessly we speak
the mutual tongue unangelic
something human something
treasured dropped among
the dirt and dust
of daily dealings things discussed
while what
we try with violent struggling to hide
is thrust
unwittingly into the open air
displayed, expressed, advertised
like clothes we wear,
We cannot help but be ourselves
without effort little knowing
our true selves
how beautiful
how broken
and oh,
how loved.