Monday, January 9, 2012

Of Deux Ex Machina and Mary Sues

Let me get one thing clear first off. I like Christopher Paolini's Inheritance Trilogy. It's a great, entertaining series that I wouldn't keep reading if I didn't thoroughly enjoy it. This is not intended to excuse me for what I am about to say. Let me insist that having flaws does not make a work of fiction bad, nor do I think I could do any better.

That said, I could say a lot of things about Inheritance. I'm currently about halfway through the final book (at least, as far as I know it's the final book). But then I would delve far too greedily and deep into a topic that could go on for very, very long, as it could for any fiction series. Fantasy in particular seems to be particularly vulnerable to stereotypes, reverse stereotypes (where a plot thread or character is introduced just to be different, and usually ends up being its own stereotype, ie the Brave and Strong princess), and plot holes. Fantasy books are just complex enough to do that, and since modern fantasy has originated almost entirely from the work of one author to revive mythology, the Tolkien comparisons and accusations will abound. Luckily every generation brings in new great fantasy, so every new writer can expect to be accused of copying Jordan and Salvatore as well.

One more caveat before I get into a specific analysis. Christopher Paolini is a very good writer. This used to not be the case. The quality in writing between Eragon and Brisigner has changed immensely. The books are now engaging, clever, dramatic, and articulate without bombarding the reader with big words and archaic expressions shoehorned in (not too much, anyway). His frame-by-frame action sequences are still somewhat stilted, but I can attest to those being very difficult to write, and the only person to truly master it that I have read is R.A. Salvatore.

Ok, here's the analysis. And by the way, minor spoilers ahead. Not huge ones, I'm only halfway through, but be ye warned. If you haven't read the final book, you're probably still safe to read this. I'm going to look at a particular character one could accuse of being either a Mary Sue or a Deus Ex Machina. For those unfamiliar with the terms--A Mary Sue is a term originally used of fanfiction, to describe an author inserting themselves into a character, and hammering down your throat how talented and likeable that person is. However, the term is often (perhaps mistakenly) used to apply to pretty much any poorly written character that comes across as too powerful or whom the author seems determined to make us like. A Deux Ex Machina is an "act of God" that steps in to save the day whenever necessary, while being strangely absent at many other points in the story where it would have come in handy.

Believe it or not, I said Mary Sue, yet I'm not going to talk about Eragon. I'm not even going to talk about Arya, as much as I'd love to. No, I'm going to talk about a drop-in-and-drop-out character named Angela. Angela is a gypsy of some sort. I'm pretty sure she's human, since it doesn't say otherwise. She can read the future--she was originally introduced that way. If you've only seen the movie, she's the fortune teller in the random tiny floating town with the beads, weird accent, and no real purpose and a penchant for speaking in the third person.

Angela can use magic. Better than most humans. Better than most elves, who are the best magic-users in the realm. Better than Eragon, who is supposed to be one of the best magic users as well. Angela can use a sword. Better than elves, who are also the best swordsmen. Better than Eragon. Better than Arya, who repeatedly beats Eragon just to make sure we know how superior she is to him, and thus the perfect match for him! (Don't go down that path, Michael. Blogger doesn't have the storage space to cover an Arya rant). Angela even (spoiler) possesses a sword capable of cutting through anything. She just has it. Always has, as far as we know. Didn't mention it until the fourth book. Hasn't offered to use it on the unbeatable dragon, or the other unbeatable dragon.

Yet Paolini really, really wants to make sure we like her. She is given all the witty little liners. She says so many demeaning, trivializing things to the main characters, you would think she's an Aes Sedai from Jordan's Wheel of Time. She could care less about the dangers of the main plot. She seems to like the main characters alright, but in an off-hand kind of way. She's basically a housecat.

Yet, twist! Despite how trivial and uncaring she seems, she's really powerful and awesome! At certain points, she steps in after being absent for hundreds of pages and saves the day! Then goes back to knitting. How awesome! She doesn't even care the world's going to end! She has the power to do pretty much anything, but doesn't because she's got knitting to do! Don't you just love her? Isn't she just so mysterious and aloof?

I'm going to make a Tolkien comparison here. I am not accusing Paolini of copying, though I'm guessing it was an inspiration. Copying is not a bad thing. Fantasy as a genre exists because of the works of other people--Tolkien's entire genius was to build off of existing stories. But my comparison is to show one example of many where Paolini has tried to achieve something Tolkien did, but just missed the mark. This is where most of Inheritance's problems lie. Paolini's original ideas are great. His unique characters like Nasuada are great. But the elements he borrows from others aren't bad because he borrowed them, they are bad because he misses why they were so great in the original.

Tom Bombadil is a Deux Ex Machina. For those only familiar with the LotR films, Bombadil was a figure the group met between Hobbiton and Bree, who welcomed them to his home and saved them from the Barrow-wights, ancient undead spirits from which Pippin got the blade he used to kneecap the Witch-King. Bombadil shows up when the party sings his song, defeats the invincible wights, and saves the day. One may ask, why doesn't Bombadil go all Derry-Doll on Sauron himself? But like the question "why didn't the eagles fly the ring into Mt. Doom", this actually has a legitimate answer. (Mordor has a freaking air force of Nazgul, one does not simply fly into it).

Bombadil is not human. He's not elf or wizard either. There is no one else like him. He is unique. He is friends with a living tree and married to a river. He is a force of nature as much as anything else. As a force of nature, Bombadil is not only obligated to be somewhat neutral, but he is powerless outside of his own forest. That is his domain--I'm not even sure if he can leave it. So while he would love to help the party out, he can't. Even though the Ring does not affect him (he is not drawn to it and he can even see those wearing it), he cannot understand its importance and would probably lose it if Frodo gave it to him.

As a force of nature, Bombadil can be of infinite power without breaking the plot of the story. Like a well-timed blizzard, his power can save the day when it needs to, yet leave no one asking why it didn't hit the main bad guy and end the adventure. His limitations are very real and provide a legitimate reason why he doesn't help out more.

Angela has no such limitations. There is no reason why she should be so powerful, but since she is, there is no reason why she shouldn't do more to help. Thus the aloofness which is designed to make us love her makes her unforgivably sadistic. Thousands die because the affairs of the world don't matter to her. She claims to care about Eragon, yet she rarely offers her massive power to aid him. This is not the likable, witty character Paolini seems to have intended. This is great power with no responsibility. Paolini, please, do your own thing. Stop trying to make us like characters by emulating tropes that have worked for other writers. Because all it takes is one tiny difference to take a likable stereotype and turn it into an unlikable one.

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Thursday, July 1, 2010

Better than Calvinball

I was recently introduced personally to the sport of tennis. I had observed it enough (last year my window looked out over the tennis courts) and I discovered that the game is very easy to pick up. I always pictured it as a scaled-up version of Ping-pong...bigger court, bigger weapon, heavier ball. I was wrong. Not in my comparison to ping-pong, but in my assumption that it was scaled up.

Let me give a caveat before I start. I greatly enjoyed playing tennis. So hear me out, tennis fans.

I know that in ping-pong the main challenge, at least for me, is hitting the ball so it doesn't go out of bounds. I always found this unique--most games have out-of-bounds, but as a precaution rather than an objective. I expected tennis would be different--that the challenge would lie in hitting the ball hard enough to make it out of your side. I was woefully overestimating the corporeality of tennis equipment.

A tennis ball isn't merely light. It is ethereal. Its very existence hangs by a thread. It is so light I wonder that it is even called a ball. And the racket is the same. Together, the barest amount of force transfers unto huge amounts of motion.

Ok, point taken. I realized I was swinging too hard. I found out quickly that the main objective was in fact, pulling back in force to hit inside the lines. I had expected that, and that objective exists in all sports. No field-goal kicker wants to hit too hard. But tennis is unique in that the amount considered "too much force" is about that required to open a door.

That aside, I found tennis very enjoyable. It's incredibly relaxing. It's the only sport I know of where you can do fairly well with one hand in your pocket. Keep in mind, I'm referring to casual play, not competitive. But that's the beauty of it--it lends very easily to laid-back play. Football has no casual option. You can't play soccer without expending fair amounts of energy. But tennis is so relaxing if you want it to be, I am leery of even referring to my use of it as a sport.

To me, calling casual tennis a sport is like calling Mah Jong a puzzle. In Mah Jong, you're not trying to figure out how to do something. You're mostly just repeating steps until you finish. Yet, the game is addictive. It's relaxing, stress-relieving, and even gives satisfaction at the end despite its generous learning curve.

Anyone who has played Fable 2 has probably experienced this. The game involves "jobs" your character can get, such as blacksmithing or chopping wood. The minigame for the job is mindlessly simple and repetitive. And I couldn't stop playing it. I could play it while studying for a test or carrying on a conversation. It took almost no brain cells and only one finger. Part of the draw was that I was earning money, which I could spend on a sword to save the kingdom, or preferably, on a vegetable cart which would bring in revenue with which I could buy more veggie carts. But the game itself was somehow stress-relieving. It's the gamer's definition of grinding....yet it was somehow worthwhile. And it showed my that despite gamers' protests, a game does not have to be challenging or fast-paced to be fun. Note the success of Puzzle Quest and Hidden Object Games.

Anyway, I found this rule to hold true for tennis. We didn't have to keep track of points. We didn't even have to spend energy. We just played because it was enjoyable. And the fact that it takes place outdoors and involves movement is icing on the cake. I may not be leveling up my skills or earning gold, but I'm spending time using the apparatus God has given me to interact with the world known as my body, and that's always a plus.

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Saturday, May 29, 2010

Who am I?

You don't see me on TV. You can't come to my megachurch. In fact, I'm not at all where you'd expect. I might be on a streetcorner. I may hide in my home or a cave. I might show up in the office of a political leader, of course uninvited. 


I don't live in a penthouse. I live in the bottom of a well. I don't wear a suit and tie or a biker's jacket--I wear camel skins...or nothing. I don't have a picture-perfect family--my wife is a whore. 

If I showed up in America, I wouldn't be on The Today Show--I'd be on the 7 o'clock news and police station bulletin boards. You don't want to meet me--if you knew me, you'd have killed me too. I don't answer skeptics with miracles and healing--I answer with mauling bears and consuming locusts. 

I am not the last hope of a nation. By the time I show up, it's already too late. I don't have throngs of loyal followers--I don't even have a single convert. Everyone hates me; no one listens to me; by anyone's standards I am an utter failure. Yet while I don't see any fruits of my labors, my message lasts, and theirs don't. I am not here to tell you that you can have the best life now--I'm here to say that your damnation will bring others to God. 

I am the Prophet. I am God's mouth on this earth. I am His heart, His will, His sword. Don't claim to be me or wish for me to come back. Be glad my time is over--and instead come directly to my Master.

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Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Kid's (Parents) Say the Darndest Things

Moments from this year's "Letters to Santa":


"I want a rifle, a shotgun, a bulldozer, and a tractor...Please bring my mom an ice scraper that reaches all the way across her windshield." --Jacob, 6 (Ahh, northern PA...)

"I would like a rifle, a new BB gun, dinosaurs, and a pistol. Please bring my daddy a new rifle and a handle for the bathroom door." --Luke, 4(!!)

"Can you get me an Iguana leash for my Iguana? A new light for my Iguana cage? Plus new computer parts for my computer?" --Julia, 9 (And some soap for my house's HUNDRED BAFROOMS???)

"This year for Christmas I would like Jonas Brothers stuff. I would really like the Jonas brothers themselves, but I understand if you can't." --Mallory, 6 (Don't worry, kid, trafficking is still perfectly legal in the North Pole. Just don't forget to open the box early on Christmas.)

"Please bring medicine to make my Grandpa all better. Then maybe his hair will grow back and he won't look like Daddy anymore." --Blaise, 6 months (6 months? Sorry, not buying it.)

"I be little bit good, little bad. I still need 2 make-ups. I want lots of presidents! Lots of candy, I want babies (??) and new house for Grandma mother and Buddy biscuits and buddy teeth! Buddy, Unky Todd's dog. I will leave saucy noodles for you and candy canes for reindeers. I love you, come see my pretty lights." --Jaiden, 4 (Engrish kid is Engrish?)

" I would like Indiana Jones Leggoz game, Bat-man Leggo game, and Star Wars 2 leggo game." --Bradley (You deserve neither Batman nor lego anything. Or, if your parents wrote it, they don't deserve a kid who likes Batman or lego anything.)

"All I want a 12 guage shotgun and a 22 semiautomatic. I want a 4 wheeler." --Caleb, 4th grade (You might be a...no, it's too obvious.)

"I hope ****everyone has a good christmas..." --Gage (Watch your language, Gage!)

"I will leave some cookies and food for the reindeer. P.S. you can take my dad's mountain dew" --Hunter (COAL. Nothing but COAL for this guy.)

"I would like the Halo 3 game for xbox 360." --Braxton, 3 (Well played, Dad. The "kid" wants it. Sure.)

Santa's got the best job ever. Reading all of these hilarious letters, stamping every one of them with NAUGHTY (gogo Total Depravity), shoving them in the shredder, and taking a long winter's nap.

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Sunday, November 29, 2009

A Cloud of Witnesses...another short story

A Cloud of Witnesses

I dreamed I started down a narrow path. The symbolism was obvious enough from the start. The path was not hard to find, but it was clear from the beginning that it would not be easy. Still, I had heard on good recommendation that this was a worthwhile road.

The path was bumpy, and meandered around jagged rocks and over hills, seeming to go out of its way to be unsteady. Sometimes it seemed to fade entirely under rocks and fallen logs, but I was always able to find it again, though all the time I saw not a single sign or marker.

I saw no one walking with me along the road. Surely others had come, but it was a long way which most people were eager to be done with. The chances of seeing someone else along this long, winding path were slim.

But, then, I saw someone. A figure that had to be a human standing off in the distance, immobile. As I neared I saw that it was an older man, frail but standing straight. He wasn’t moving forward along the path or coming towards me, but he didn’t seem to be stuck or have fallen. He was just…standing there. He was smiling, I realized as I neared. He didn’t say a word, just stood there smiling at me. As I passed by him, I realized the way must not be so tough after all. Such a frail man had made it just fine, and didn’t even seem to be tired. His very presence was a sign that the way was passable. And then I realized, that’s what he was. A sign.

As I continued, they became even more frequent. This road didn’t need signs of metal or wood—it had signs of life. Every time I wanted to stop, to give up, to declare the path impossible, I would see another, waiting, spurring me on. If they had made it, so could I. They all smiled at me, some eagerly, others sadly. Some raised their hands and waved; others clapped for me like spectators at a game. Their silent presence gave me the resolve to go on.

When the nights grew dark, I knew I had to continue for fear of what may frequent the road. I despaired of losing my way, until I saw one of the people holding a torch for me. They didn’t extend their arm to lend it to me, so I did not take it. But that torch gave me the light for many paces. When its light faded behind me, I saw another ahead. Always just enough to go on.

The more I traveled, the more of these men and women I saw. Some were even children. As I continued, the road got rougher, and the faces of the people grew more gaunt and harried. They had made it…but it had not been easy for them or me. Once again I wondered what I had gotten myself into. But they had made it, and so would I.

Ahead I saw a wooden sign. Curious, I ran towards it, as I had seen none so far. It pointed two ways, forward on the path and backward. But as I neared, I saw that this was no sign. It was a cross. I wondered if I had made it at last—if my Savior was there on that cross. But as I neared I saw that it was another. A young man, possibly a teenager, hung dead on the cross. Yet he was smiling. His outspread arms almost seemed like they were open for an embrace. His right hand pointed one finger forward—even in death he told me to go on.

Oddly, this grim reminder did not deter me. Again I thought, He made it this far, at least. I can go forward as well. And so I continued. Along the way I still saw the encouraging people standing and waving. But I began to see more and more crosses. I saw gallows with bodies hanging from them, always facing further down the path. I saw a pile of stones with a bruised arm sticking out, fingers pointing down the road. But most abundant were the crosses, which began to line the road on the left and right, less like signs and more like distance markers.

At night I despaired of finding a torch, since I had seen no one living for miles. At last in the distance I saw a glow, and ran forward just to see a smiling face. But when I reached the glow, I saw that it was no torch. It was a burning man tied to a stake, wood piled at his feet. Smothered in smoke and flames, his head still looked further down the path. And in the light of the burning body I continued.

Days and weeks passed, and I continued down the road, solemn. My way was more clearly marked then ever before. And I knew that if these men and women had made it, so could I. Yet I also knew that I was likely to share their fate.

One day I had walked for miles without seeing a single sign, living or dead. I searched frantically, thinking I may have lost the path. Where were the others who had come this way? How could I know I was going the right direction?

Then, I saw a single marker. It was again a cross, but peculiar in that it was empty. This was the first empty cross I had seen. Perhaps I had stumbled onto another path, the wrong road. But as I looked on the cross, I saw a sign above it. In simple letters it gave my name. I had gone exactly the right way. But what of those who did not recognize the name? How would they know, after so long, that they were still on the path? How would they know the path was even possible?

I asked the questions in my head, but I already knew the answer. I had been shown the way. I had been shown what to do. Now I was to do it. Slowly I mounted the footstool leading up to the cross. Cautiously I stretched my arms out wide in either direction. But as the nails drove deep into my bones, I smiled and made sure to point a finger forward. As I had been led this way, I would help others know they were on the right track—that the way was indeed possible. And some day, we all would find the way to the finish. But for now, it was my job to cheer on those who ran the race after me.

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Sunday, October 11, 2009

The (Only) Story Ever Told

Yes, I am still editing this thing. Sometimes.


I got to thinking the other day, which is almost as rare as me actually updating this blog. In the secular world, many people see the Bible as "just a good story". It's a bunch of great little tales for Sunday School, almost on the level of Aesop's Fables--good stories with nice messages but no history behind them. Obviously to a Christian, we see the problem with this. The Bible isn't just stories--it's historical facts behind real events.

But. Why is it that the secular world sees the Bible that way? Why don't people who discredit the Bible throw it out entirely? Few can deny the significance of the Bible whether or not it is true. I think part of the reason people think it's just a story is this--if the Bible were a work of fiction, it would be an epic.

If the Bible were just standard literature, it would still be remembered throughout time. It would be ranked among Tolkien, Homer, and Beowulf as astounding, gripping fiction. This may be part of the reason why people are reluctant to see the Bible as true--everything works too perfectly. It plays out too much like a good story.

But there's a reason for that. The Bible is a good story, at the same time as being a history. Histories are entirely factual--this happened, then this happened, and so on. Facts without commentary arranged by date, not by purpose. In fact, a history writer doesn't have much of a purpose besides stating fact--they're not trying to prove anything to the reader.

But the Bible is arranged more like a story--events put together to prove points and stir emotions in the reader. How can it be true if it makes such a good story? It's all too convenient.

The reason is this--the Bible was written by the best Storyteller ever. He didn't just write the Bible about what happened. History is (pardon the overused pun) His Story. It is God writing an epic drama, not in ink and paper but in flesh, earth, and life. How do the Apostles make up such an interesting group of varied characters to rival the Fellowship of the Ring or the Knights of the Round Table? Because God brought them together. How is the time of the Judges so exciting as a war drama? Because God wrote it that way--not just the book, but the actual events penned by God.

This should, in my opinion, affect our interpretation of the Bible. We like to divide the Bible into types--the Psalms are poetry, the Gospels are history, the Epistles are doctrine. This is fine. Each type has its own writing style. But the History books are not just dry listings of facts. The Epistles are not cold legal documents. They are living, breathing pieces of literature--and each book is poetic in its own way.

Yes, we take the Bible literally. Realize as you read it that the events it describes actually happened. But also look at it like a piece of literature, even like a piece of narrative fiction in its style. If you see an event described in a Gospel, don't just say "well, that happened" and be done with it. Why did the author put that event there? Why did he phrase it the way he did? Why, for that matter, did that event even happen? Because, remember, the Bible wasn't just written by God about certain events. God wrote the events, too--and everything happened for a reason. Time is His novel. When we see the Bible as a great Story playing out even today, it begins to truly come alive.

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Sunday, June 14, 2009

The Request

The service is almost over. I didn't hear a word the preacher said tonight--all I could think about was my request. The time for sharing requests has come--but should I?

Lots of requests tonight. Hopefully they will keep thinking of more, preventing silence and stalling time before the pastor starts the prayer time. Not that more time would help. I just can't make a decision.
I know I can't beat this on my own--I need God's help and prayer holding me up. But I can't tell my friends. I sure can't tell my parents. Maybe I should just call it an unspoken...
Prayer requests keep coming in. Someone went to the hospital, someone's mother isn't doing well. They need that job, their car needs fixed. The same requests as always pour in, and everyone is willing to pray because they know God cares. But my request doesn't belong here. It's not the same as the others.
You don't have to say the word porn. Just say you're struggling with lust. God will know, and you need their prayers.
But Christians don't struggle with lust. Or at least, only new ones or carnal ones. Not these people. These people's struggles are physical--they've gotten past the spiritual battles. And they see me that way too. I was raised in a Christian home. I went to Christian school. I can't have these problems. If I did, they would be heartbroken, disillusioned. No, it's not for my pride that I won't bring up. It's for their sake. I can't ruin the image they have of me.

The teen in the pew doesn't know the man behind him. The two know each other superficially--one as a youth leader, and the other his student. He doesn't know that this man, too, struggled with lust. That he left a young girl pregnant fifteen years ago. No, the youth leader says. They don't need to know that. They're good kids--none of them will struggle as I did. Besides, you don't bring that kind of thing up at church. You talk about God's provision and comfort in hard times. But you don't talk about temptation. What the man doesn't realize is, he's not only hurting himself by keeping his past locked inside. He's hurting the teen who could learn from his mistakes. But neither one speaks...and both lose out.



Requests are over now. The pastor asks if anyone has any praises--testimonies of God's goodness this past week. A woman decides if she should share. Yesterday was the ten-year anniversary of her husband's death. It had been hard, but prayer had brought her through the day, and she was still able to rejoice in the Lord.
But as she heard the praises, she was discouraged. Someone found their lost keys. Someone was out of the hospital. Someone had avoided a car accident. Important things to be thankful for, but something people could say Amen to and forget. Hers wasn't like that. She couldn't bring up death in praise time. She didn't want to depress everyone or feel like she was asking for pity.
So she kept quiet. She didn't know that right behind her was a girl who lost her grandfather and needed hope, a girl who thought her problem was unique. Neither woman speaks for fear of breaking the happy mood--and both leave thinking no one else has the same problem they do.



Is there anyone that fails
Is there anyone that falls
Am I the only one in church today feelin' so small

Cause when I take a look around
Everybody seems so strong
I know they'll soon discover
That I don't belong

So I tuck it all away, like everything's okay
If I make them all believe it, maybe I'll believe it too
So with a painted grin, I play the heart again
So everyone will see me the way that I see them

Are we happy plastic people
Under shiny plastic steeples
With walls around our weakness
And smiles to hide our pain
But if the invitation's open
To every heart that has been broken
Maybe then we close the curtain
On our stained glass masquerade

--Casting Crowns--"Stained Glass Masquerade"

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Tuesday, March 17, 2009

The Voice of Molech

Another short story; this one I came up with on the drive back from Spring Break.

The Voice of Molech

Molech speaks.

I hunger, king. I thirst for blood—the blood of your enemies.

I have no enemies. My kingdom is eternal, guided by the Sun and promised to me even after I die.

Mighty Pharaoh, my servant, you have many enemies. And they are mine as well. The sound of sheep cries from your own lands—lands you said would never be defiled by those vile creatures.

The Hebrews are harmless.

You hate them, though. You hate the sheep, as I do. You hate their god, as I do. And their strength is not in horse or in tomb—but in numbers. In children. Too many children. They will never stop. They will grow until they are beyond numbering—for so their god has promised. Stop them. Feed the beasts of the Nile with their children. Feed their children to me. Sate my thirst for children’s blood.

 

Molech roars.

My servant, my king, my slave. He is here—the enemy. The King who would take your throne and mine. Time is short—He will take it soon.

This cannot happen! The usurper must die.

Still  your tongue. You know He is no usurper. He comes for His lands—lands I, we, have held for eons. We must stop Him.

But how?

Kill Him, and those He loves. Bring me more sacrifice. Bring the children to my arms, that I may quench this eternal lust that torments me. The Ewe will wail—let her. Let the world know that the Lamb is dead and the sheep wander lost. Bring me lambs, not just one as the Jews do but many. As many as can come to my salivating mouth.

 

Molech whispers.

My child, my little girl. What has happened is not fair. You should not have to bear this burden, this monstrosity inside you. I will take it. Give it to me. I am always willing to take more, though I have taken countless in the past. Give it to me.

No. You will not take this one.

Stay out of this, shepherd. This one is not your sheep. Your sheep are pure, holy. Such a one as this would never sit in your flock. Even your flock condemns her. She has made her choice, they say. Let her live with the consequences.

Though I am but a hireling, the Great Shepherd is with me. He has died for this one—whatever she has done.

Don’t listen, child. It is too late. You have satisfied your lusts, your unclean desires. Now let me satisfy mine. Give it to me. You do not deserve this one. It is mine.

This lamb belongs to the Shepherd. He will help her raise it.

It is too much work, too much trouble. This parasite has invaded your body. You have never chosen this. You never asked for this thing. Allow me to do what I do best. Thousands I have helped with the ever growing problem of children. You don’t want him. I do. I want him like nothing else. This is my lifeblood. Without it I starve. I will not starve.

You will tonight, Molech. You will not take him. Your arms will be empty—your stomach unsatisfied. You have taken too many precious gifts already. Tonight your hunger goes unsatisfied.

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Friday, February 13, 2009

Can I Get An Amen?

I began thinking today about what comprises a good message. Between the two recent lecture series at school and my Exposition class, I've been thinking about this a lot. Is it a certain format? Do you have to alliterate? Is a topical or textual sermon better?


I think different people have different ideas of "good messages". But a message should not be deemed good because we enjoy it. It should be deemed good because it helps us grow. 

The most obvious example of an enjoyable but fruitless message is the more liberal concept of a charismatic speaker telling some health and wealth gospel. It is clear to most conservatives that this profits nothing. But fundamentals have their own version of this. Yes, even conservatives can like a message simply because it is entertaining.

Granted, we are entertained by different things. But think of the messages we so often laud--an hour of denouncing liberalism, declaring the authority of the Bible, and standing fast on the doctrine of inspiration. 

All of these are good points, the type of points that call for an "amen" (though I do not think the speaker should ask for one). But when we leave, how much have we grown? If I leave a message that stressed the importance of biblical preaching and talked about nothing else, what have I taken out of it? I know the Bible is important. I know all about inspiration. Almost everyone listening to the message already knows everything he talked about.

Yet these are the messages we come out of raving about, and shout "Amen" throughout. Isn't this its own form of entertainment? We are hearing what we already know but want to hear more. We even have our own version of the charismatic liberal preacher. He alliterates, ends with a poem, and uses words like "propensity" and "equanimity" and basically anything that ends with "ity". His words sound like they came straight out of Spurgeon or Tozer, except sounding more artificial since people don't talk like that anymore!

But I digress. My point is not presentation. My point is that even conservative Christians have their own type of entertaining sermon with no meat.

And then I began to think about something. We say Amen because we agree. If we agree, we already know it. If we already know something, we aren't growing. Rarely do we say Amen when a preacher brings up an issue with which we still struggle. In fact, we are most silent when we are truly challenged.

So I submit--maybe the sermons that call for Amens are not the best ones. Maybe a valuable sermon is instead one that makes us say, "Hmm." One that we do not rave about afterwards, but are instead lost in thought as we see an area we need to work in. Is a good sermon one we enjoy? We are certainly gratified to hear a preacher say something we've been "saying all along", but have we grown?

May we all be prepared to tell people, not what they already know, but what they most need to hear.

2 comments:

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

New Email

If you haven't seen this on my Facebook or my Google Site, I just got a new email address--michael.dunkerton@gmail.com. Emails to my old address will be forwarded to my new address. This is also the address I will use to edit this and my google site.

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Saturday, January 10, 2009

New Website and a Short Story

Over Winterim this year I wrote a short story entitled "Prayers". I couldn't find a way to load it onto this blog without copy-and-pasting the entire thing in a huge post. So I made a Google Site, here, to put up all my stories. So far the site is pretty sparse. But someday I may put more up there. I definitely will load any writing I do on the site, and probably here as well.

The other stories on my site are pretty long, but Prayers is only about seven pages. You can access it at my site or right here (clicking will start a download of the Word file). Please comment on the story either here (whether you're reading this on Facebook or my blog) or on the site itself (Right now you probably won't be able to comment on the site, as only site collaborators can do that. But if you go to ABC you should still be able to see the site using your abc.edu email address).

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Saturday, December 27, 2008

You're a Good Man, Mankind?

I just started reading an excellent book called "Superheroes and Philosophy". It's a collection of essays about the philosophical ideas presented in superhero comics, comparing them to Socrates, Aristotle, the Bible, etc. Sounds silly, I know. But superheroes, whether in comics, movies, or Saturday Morning Cartoons, do present a lot of topics for discussion. Some of these are the nature of man, the idea of good vs. evil, and the concept of friendship. The book addresses why Batman, though surrounded by allies, doesn't seem to have anything consisting of a true friendship, or why superheroes even decide to fight for justice.

Some of the chapters are silly or poorly written, and initially, the use of Greek philosophers raised my eyebrow (metaphorically), as it may have for you. But the editors, who do most of the writing, have sound ideas, and seem to even have a correct understanding of theism. The main editor may even be a Christian.

In any case, this post is not meant to be a review, so I'll get to the point. One of the biggest issues is why anyone with superpowers would decide to fight for good, especially when it meant giving up so much. One philosopher cited in the book claims that justice only exists as a way for weaker people to protect themselves from stronger people--and thus any intelligent stronger person would overrule justice and take what he wants for himself. But superheroes don't do that--and neither do most people. The conclusion is reached that most people do have some inclination to good that draws them to do the right thing.

But wait! Doesn't this violate everything we know about Total Depravity? Isn't that humanistic propaganda, saying that mankind is inherently good?

Well, maybe not. This is a big topic is superhero media, and one of the reasons I think people like superheroes. Superheroes are a fantasy about incorruptible people--realistic people who go through struggles, yes, but also people who inspire us because in the end they do the right thing.

But how fantastic is the idea of human good? Take the first Spiderman film, where the citizens of New York, though usually antagonistic to the wall-crawler, stand up against Green Goblin in the name of New York Pride. Look at The Dark Knight, when the two ferries decide to risk their own lives in not destroying the other ship. Would this really happen? Well, even if it wouldn't, I don't count this as a point against the movies, since unrealistic idealism is part of the point of superheroes.

But let's go back to the original question--Is mankid inherently good? Usually our first answer is an adamant "no". We are marred by the sin nature and incapable of good without Christ. This is true. But is the sin nature, our "nature"?

Ultimately, no. Never forget that humans are created in the image of God. It is never natural for humans to sin. Our inherent nature is perfection, innocence. Sin is a disease which corupted that. A man with cancer is not cancer. A man with leprousy, though he be called a leper, is not leprousy incarnate. He is an otherwise healthy man marred with an external disease that has infected him.

In many ways this quesion is pointless. Since the sin nature dictates our actions, for practicaly purposes we are sinful creatures. But our inherent nature is one of good. This is how even the unregenerate sinner knows that what he does is wrong--he simply has no ability not to do it. Mankind, even unsaved mankind, does have an inclination to good, they just practice only evil.

Granted, this means the scenes from Spiderman or Dark Knight may be unrealistic, but I wouldn't call them humanistic. They acknowledge that there is an unchanging idea of good and evil behavior, something humanists deny.

And the most important thing is this--we must never forget where we came from. Too often we see only the sin nature and forget the image of God. When you look at a lost person, do you see someone God fashioned with His own hands in His image to be perfect, or do you only see the sin nature marring that perfection? Never forget that the sinful person you are witnessing to is a man or womn Christ died for. While we may be covered in cracks and burns, we are pots made by the Expert Potter--and so are the lost world.

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Wednesday, November 12, 2008

The Answer to Life, the Unverse, and Everything

Why are we here? This seems like a question only someone without a knowledge of the truth would ask. Obviously we as Christians know, right? God made us. Why the question is...why? What are we put on this earth to do?

Many would say we are put on this earth to spread the gospel--to witness. Without being harsh I answer to that an emphatic no. Man cannot be created to witness because without sin, a result of man's own disobedience, there would be no need to witness. Eden needed no evangelists, and neither will heaven. Also, God can (and often has) brought men to Him entirely without our help. Witnessing is a blessing for us in participating in God's plan, but it is not our chief end.

Our chief end, the reason we were created and still exist, is to glorify God. This is why we were made. This is why He gave us a will--because we can praise Him better than any animal.

I've been thinking about this as we discuss Worship in the class Foundations of Church Music. Since worship is our purpose, it must be pretty important to God. But why?

When I was a little kid the hardest part of prayer for me to understand was praise. How do you praise God? I started by simply saying, "You are a Great God." But, I thought, didn't God already know this? How can it satisfy God to hear us telling Him what He knows infinitely better.

This leads to another important fact I have come to believe--Our worship does not benefit God. It pleases Him, yes, but it does not improve Him or change Him at all. God cannot grow, cannot be made greater by our praise or anything else. What do you get the God who has everything?

So why does He want worship? It often strikes us as strange how much God likes to focus on His greatness. He commands us to praise. As I said in an earlier note, He often even breaks us down just so that we realize how much we need Him. Is this pride? Obviously not, because He deserves it. But still, it sometimes seems petty, like something a pagan god would demand, to demand our praise. How can our praise mean anything to Him?

I submit that He wants our praise more for our sake than His. God is a God of order. He desires things to be as they should be. The natural order is for the weak to praise the Almighty. Even the rocks and trees know this--as they are all prepared to sing if we slack off. So He created us--vessels to praise Him, because that's the way things are supposed to work.

That's why He likes to break us--not so He can stand over us and say, "I told you so. I told you you needed me." But because when we are lying on the ground, our back broken and face crushed in the mud, we can finally have peace. We can stop trying to do things ourselves and let Him take care of it. It's much better for us to rest in the medical tent than to try and run into a battle only He can win.

Worship should never be done with a selfish attitude. Our goal is to praise God, not to benefit ourselves. But as we worship Him, we find ourselves overwhelmed with the peace that comes from things being as they should. And somehow, in some inexplicable way, the refuse that we offer up as praise is a sweet smell in His nostrils, and our feeble attempts to do Him justice put a smile on the face of the God who cannot be improved upon.

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Friday, October 17, 2008

Why Can't We Be Friends?

In chapel today Dr. Anderson made the comment that we live in a fractured culture. He made this comment in reference to the generation gap, but it got me thinking about the idea of a broken society. Has our culture broken itself? Does it undo the very ideals it is trying to achieve?

Look out For Number One
One of our chief "virtues" in America is independence. The day most people equate with patriotism is Independence Day. We frown at the collectivism the Chinese displayed in the Olympic ceremonies. Many still consider our greatest enemy to be communism. (Communism is a very flawed idea, to be sure, but mainly because it is too perfect. Such an ideal is not possible, though if it were it may be sound.) But Americans think the problem with communism is simply the fact that everyone looks out for each other instead of themselves. We cannot grasp the concept of caring more for the group than the individual. This thought scares us--if we start seeing our communities as more important than ourselves, we will become mindless Borg.

Individualism Brings Isolation
What has this mindset achieved? What is the result of unbridled individualism? This brings us back to the fracturing of society. It is my opinion that our individualism has brought us only isolation. We try to be our own people--and in the end that is all we are.

Consider the counter cultures for a minute. A Goth teen will say that he is tired of doing what everyone else is doing--he will be his own person. But in the end he is just like every other Goth. Though he claims he doesn't need support, in reality he simply goes elsewhere--to a counter culture--to find it.

Everybody... Needs Somebody...Sometimes...
In this way many Americans don't seem to realize how much they need companionship. We think we can do it all on our own--and the solution to all of our problems is to separate more and more from those we are dependent on. This has led to the degradation of an important part of society--Friendship.

Take, for example, the way people look at brotherly love. It is not acceptable in our culture for two guys to hug or say they love each other without bad connotations. People watch Lord of the Rings and immediately think Frodo and Sam are gay because they have a true friendship. Two guys can only be friends in the capacity of hanging out and having fun--but imply that they care about each other and assumptions are made. The same thing happens with a guy and a girl who are genuinely "just friends."

I think a lot of this has to do with our "me" mentality about friends. I have friends because they do something for me--provide enjoyment or amusement, or for the sake of romance. Once a friendship stops benefiting me, I end it. And in a paradoxical way, when you reach that point, friendships don't benefit at all.

I think this is specially true among guys. I have the blessing of great Christian friends. But it is still awkward sometimes to talk about something serious with a friend with whom you joke around a lot. Now that I know my friends very well, I can switch from Chuck Norris jokes to discussing temptation or struggles with sin. But for many this is not easy.

Why have we become so awkward about discussing our feelings with each other? Why is it so hard to rely on a friend and trust them with private information? Maybe it is because we wouldn't want to hear our friends bare their souls to us. A friendship needs to be for the sake of our friend, not ourselves. Only then can we truly benefit from the friendship, and have a deeper relationship than discussing whether Batman would beat Jackie Chan in a fight.

I don't presume to be a scholar of social trends, but it seems to me that our friendships have become more selfish and superficial, and by focusing so much on ourselves we are hurting not only potential friends, but ourselves as well. Fellowship is a foundation of Christian living, and our nation truly is lost if we have forgotten how to make friends.

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Monday, September 8, 2008

Why Do We Fall?

Recently I re-watched the movie Batman Begins, obviously in connection to the recent sequel. This post will not be a review on either of those excellent movies, but rather a comment on a line from the first.

In a style similar to Uncle Ben's famous power/responsibility phrase, Bruce Wayne is inspired by a quote from his father of which Alfred later reminds him. The line is, "Why do we fall? So we can learn to pick ourselves back up."

This is one of my favorite lines from the movie, but thinking about it I realized that it is only half true. We do fall in order to learn a lesson, but are we learning to pick ourselves up?

This summer I worked at a summer camp as a counselor. It seems like a job that is all fun and games, but anyone who has counseled before knows that a full summer of 24-hour days with kids is both physically and spiritually draining. We are responsible for the physical safety, fun, and spiritual growth of all of our campers. And every week seemed to be a struggle for at least one counselor. One would get a concussion, another would become ill, another would have a cabin of rebellious or unruly kids. It got to the point where I would ask "Why?" It seemed like camp was hard enough without all of these difficulties.

But this summer I got closer to God than I have ever been. I was forced to develop better devotions and more honest prayer time, because without that connection with God, I would have collapsed. And just when I thought I knew what I was doing and began to be confident in my counseling abilities, God would send another rough week of camp. I soon realized I could do nothing without God.

After this experience I would like to reword Mr. Wayne's famous phrase. Why do we fall? So we stop trying to pick ourselves up and reach out a hand for God. God breaks us so He can put us back together. He puts us through hard times to force us closer to Him.

At first glance this seems barbaric. God delights in knocking us down just to remind us how much we need him? This seems more like the actions of a petty Greek god than a perfect Lord of Creation.

But the reason God does this is not pride. God delights in His own glory, yes. In a man this would be pride. But God cannot be prideful, one reason being that He actually deserves glory, unlike anyone else. Another reason is that God's desire for praise and recognition is not for His own benefit, but ours. God knows what is best, and out of love always does what is best for us.

And God knows that we will never be truly happy unless we realize our relationship to Him. The hard times He sends to break us are merely so we do not try to stand against even greater storms. He allows us to stop trying to stand up on our own feeble feet and finally lean on the only One who can hold us up.

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Saturday, May 17, 2008

Some Thoughts Allegorical

Recently I watched the movie Prince Caspian in the Chronicles of Narnia series. I will try to keep this from being a review (though I do like reviewing) but I wanted to share my thoughts on allegories. I have heard time and time again that the Narnia stories (and, an even more ridiculous claim, Lord of the Rings) are allegories. These claims are not only false, they annoy me. C. S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien both stated clearly that their works were not allegory.

A nice claim, but can they prove it? Well, check the definition of an allegory. Dictionary.com calls an allegory "a representation of an abstract or spiritual meaning through concrete or material forms." An allegory must represent something spiritual by something physical. Pilgrim's Progress is an allegory. Christianity, Despondency, Vanity; these are all represented by people, swamps, cities.

Now take, for example, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. People cite this as the most blatant allegory because the correlation to the cross is so obvious. But take a second look--is Aslan dying on the Stone Table a physical representation of a spiritual event? Absolutely not--and this thinking can be dangerous. Christ's death on the cross was neither abstract nor primarily spiritual. It was a physical, real, historical event. Aslan was not a picture or type of Christ--He was Christ.

Anyone familiar with the series can tell you that Aslan the Lion was simply the form Christ took coming to Narnia. In the world of men, He came as a man. In a world of talking animals, He came as an animal. Narnia is not a world where the spiritual is made physical--it is portrayed as a world where real, physical things that happened on Earth such as Creation and the Crucifixion happen in a slightly different way, but just as real and physical.

What I find interesting is that some say Prince Caspian is less allegorical than the first book. I disagree. Neither are allegorical, but Prince Caspian includes some physical representation of spiritual events. It is less clear in its purpose because it does not portray a past Bible event--it portrays a struggle we have today. Peter tries to fight the battle in his own strength--and loses. His failure is graphically shown as many die for his choice. But when he puts his trust in Aslan, all is well. We do not fight physical battles, but we still need to trust in God. Only by His strength are we kings and queens.

That said, I would like to return to the idea of allegory. It is important that we realize that things portrayed in so-called allegories like Narnia and Lord of the Rings are just as real as they were in the stories. The events described in the Bible are not abstract, and they are by no means only spiritual.

There is a difference between having a spiritual point and being an allegory. Any good movie or book will have a spiritual point. This often leads to ridiculous claims of type and allegory. Superman is often compared to Christ (especially in Superman Returns) because he is a hero. I have even heard Harry Potter called a type of Christ because he was willing to give his life to help is friends. This is missing the point! Any good hero will be self-sacrificial! This does not mean he is anything like Christ, and it is nigh blasphemous to presume so. Yes, most protagonist show Christlike attributes, but this is because Christ is the ultimate example. Anything anyone does right is Christlike.

I look forward to more Narnia movies--while some cite the first as the best because the symbolism is most obvious, I like many of the others because they give lessons not just in the events of the Cross, but in the character of God and in righteous living (though the first had much of this as well). Be careful not to spiritualize the events of the Bible or carry allegories too far. Don't look for symbolism where it's not there when watching movies based on Christian tales--just try to see where you can learn from what the characters learn. Every allegory falls apart eventually--even the parables of Christ cannot be taken as detail-by-detail correlations. But a good story giving deep spiritual points--these will last a long time.

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Monday, April 28, 2008

funny graphs
see more song memes

funny graphs
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song chart memes
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funny graphs
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funny graphs
see more song memes

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Monday, April 7, 2008

Dayenu--It is Enough

דַּיֵּנוּ

LORD,
It would have been enough if you had created the first man perfect, but you provided a test to prove his faith.
It would have been enough if you had provided a test, but you promised a redeemer when he failed.
It would have been enough if you had promised a redeemer, but you gave us a law to remember that promise.
It would have been enough if you had given us the law, but you also chose a people to protect that law.
It would have been enough if you had chosen a people, but you allowed those not chosen to partake of blessing too.
It would have been enough if you had allowed Jews and Gentiles to partake in the law, but you provided a Lamb for those unable to obey the law.
It would have been enough if you had only provided a Lamb, but you sent him as flesh to dwell among us.
It would have been enough if he had dwelt among us, but he also committed no sin.
It would have been enough if he had committed no sin, but he died to defeat Satan.
It would have been enough if he had defeated Satan, but he also defeated sin and death.
It would have been enough if he had died for our sins, but he rose again.
It would have been enough if he had risen again, but he also gave us the Holy Spirit.
It would have been enough... but you also gave us eternal life.
It would have been enough... but you gave us the ability to do good.
It would have been enough...but you give us spiritual blessing on earth.
It would have been enough...but you give us peace and joy.
It would have been enough...but you give us physical blessing.
It would have been enough...but you give us suffering to bring us to you.
It would have been enough...but you give this to any who will come.
It would have been enough...but you spread your gospel so all can hear.
It would have been enough...but you let us partake in this miracle by ministering through us as vessels.
It would have been enough...but you give us rewards in heaven for work you do through us.
It would have been enough if you had offered all this to any who will accept it, though sinful man's heart cannot and will not. But you chose some to be regenerated and able to accept your gift.
It would have been enough if you had chosen some...but you chose me.

Now unto him that is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that worketh in us, Unto him be glory...Amen.
--Ephesians 3:20-21

1 comments:

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Let Us Feast

I intended to post this on Good Friday, but my time was otherwise occupied. Easter is a fitting day to post this as well, though.

America has many holidays. The bank closes on days such as Martin Luther King Day, President's Day, and Valentine's Day. These are usually just an excuse for corny ads and a day off of school, however. Few consider the origins of the holiday or observe the holiday in any major way. Catholics celebrate many days of the year for their religious significance. But as American Protestant Christians, we do not have many holidays that we actually celebrate. Palm Sunday is usually just an occasion for special music at church. Good Friday is sometimes ignored entirely, though it commemorates one of the most important events in history. And many events the Catholics observe, Protestants ignore.



What's the point of bringing this up? Well, I thought of it because of some unique circumstances this year. Easter is unusually early, so Passover, which usually falls close to Easter, is now a month later. But another Jewish holiday falls on the same day as Good Friday--Purim. Purim is the celebration of the events of the book of Esther--the preservation of the Jews under the Persian Empire.

Christians rarely celebrate Purim. Neither do many celebrate Passover, though both these feasts commemorate Old Testament events, which are of course included in our Bible as well as the Jewish one. Even Hanukkah, a holiday many think is simply a pagan version of Christmas, is an event that affected Christians--if the Jews had not been preserved through the events of Passover, Purim, and Hanukkah, Jesus would not have been born and we would still be in our sins. The salvation of the Jewish race was vital to the salvation of Gentiles, so we should celebrate as well.

We as Christians tend to think of Judaism as ritualistic and legalistic. But especially in the feasts, Jews have an advantage. A Gentile nonbeliever would not be as prepared as a Jewish nonbeliever to hear the gospel--because much of it Jews already know. Jesus is clearly seen in the feasts of Israel--and we have much to learn from Jewish Christians in this respect.



Besides giving us a picture of Christ, I believe celebrating Jewish feasts would greatly benefit our Christian culture. We have so few true religious holidays--Thanksgiving does not even have roots in the Bible, and is nearly as commercialized as Christmas. Easter is often simply forgotten aside from wearing pastel colors one Sunday.

Easter is one of my favorite holidays because it is always so joyous. Christmas is a peaceful time--I enjoy it the most in the evening with Christmas lights and singing soft carols. But Easter is a time for enthusiasm! Singing "Christ Arose" or "Christ the Lord is Risen Today" always puts an excited smile on my face. Holidays should always be time of rejoicing--and Jewish holidays are no different.

We tend to think of somber holidays like the Day of Atonement when we think of Jewish feasts. But think of the Feast of Tabernacles--an enjoyable time of camping in self-made tents outside while celebrating God's provision. Purim is a happy feast--cheering at mentions of Mordecai and booing at Haman's name.

Purim includes one interesting tradition I discovered this year. Celebrants dress up in costumes like Esther, Mordecai, or simply random costumes like mimes or cowboys. This has to do with the theme of mistaken identity which permeates the book of Esther. Xerxes was unaware of Esther's identity as a Jew. Haman thought the king wanted to honor him instead of Mordecai. And one presence is hidden throughout the book. The name of God is never mentioned in the book--but He is clearly behind the scenes dictating every event. This hidden identity is celebrating through the use of costumes. Everyone likes dressing up--and celebrating Purim is a way to enjoy this activity without supporting Halloween.


The point? I think American Christians have too few holidays where God is truly celebrated. God wants us to be full of joy. We should celebrate Him constantly, but frequent holidays remind us of this too. The Old Testament is as much a part of our faith as the New, so there is no reason not to celebrate Old Testament feasts. We would have more occasion for appropriate and godly celebration, and more importantly, we would be often reminded of the great things God has done.

1 comments:

Sunday, February 24, 2008

I Need a Hero

As a minor note of news, you can now view comments to a post while staying on the main page of this blog--just click the "X Comments" link and it will pop open.

On to the post.

With recent changes in superhero movies and the increased popularity of fantasy stories, the concept of "hero" has changed dramatically. Should the hero of a story be infinitely powerful and morally perfect, like the early concepts of Superman? Should the hero be constantly challenged by inner conflict, likeFrodo? Should the hero even be a hero?

The fantasy genre is especially going through this conflict, with its many subgenres such as sword-and-sorcery, high fantasy, and low fantasy. The main difference between genres within fantasy, besides types of mythology used, seems to be the concept of heroes. I realize I am now in the minority as a fan of high fantasy.

High fantasy is a dying art--because it includes admirable heroes. And the trend seems to be away from this type of hero. Many people don't want to look up to the characters in a book--they want to relate to them.

Role-playing Games
When did this trend start? Besides the simple fact that moral heroes make our increasingly sinful world feel uncomfortable, there is another factor. Fantasy has seen a comeback since the days of Tolkien largely due to role-playing games.

Role-playing games began as a form of cooperative storytelling--everyone assumes a character and describes that character's actions based on their personality and character traits. Not surprisingly, the more popular these games became, the more corrupted they became. The word "game" led people to believe that the object was winning, not coming up with a good story. So players built their characters to do whatever would make them stronger and wealthier, not what would be most realistic.

When role-playing games moved to computers and video games, the game obviously had to become about growing stronger and wealthier, not about the story. Who would play a computer game where the goal wasn't to get stronger? So the heroes no longer wanted to save the world, as much as they want to make money and gain experience.

The Mercenary
For a player who wants to make a character that will gain wealth and experience fast, the easiest character to create is the mercenary. This character does not care about other people unless helping them will earn him rewards. He may do good or evil--whichever helps his personal gains.

This character is almost necessary is computer and video game RPGs. But because of the popularity of RPGs in general, this character has spilled over into standard fiction. Fantasy books are full of characters who only wish to serve their own ends--and these are more often than not the favorite character. No one respects a true "good guy" any more.

Heroes and Anti-Heroes
This doesn't mean that heroes can't have struggles. The anti-hero can be a great character in a lot of fiction--someone who can't decide whether he is good or evil, someone who does evil thinking he is doing good, or someone who tries to be good (or evil) and constantly struggles with crossing the line. No character should be perfect. However, there is a line crossed. A good guy should be good. Never perfect, but someone one can admire. I want a hero to be someone at least a little better than I am--but so many stories have even the main characters behaving worse than the average person. And if the writer wants to get across that a certain person is a good guy, I should know that he's a good guy--and in the end he should have conquered at least some of his demons--not given in to them.

The Hero and the Mercenary
An example of the breakdown of heroes is the Pirates trilogy. Take Jack Sparrow in Pirates 1. He's an antihero. He mostly does everything for his own benefit--or so we thought. He just can't bring himself to betray the good guys even when it was in his best interests. He does things that he calls "incredibly stupid"--he can't explain why he does good, but he does it. Jack Sparrow was a man one could respect, yet retained the mystique of a "bad boy" nature.

But in Pirates 2 and 3, this changed. Writers noticed that it was Jack's bad side that attracted viewers, not his good side. So they played this up in the next movies. He changed into the mercenary. He no longer had any conscience at all. Any good he did was only because he thought it would benefit him more. He changed from a mysterious, intriguing anti-hero to a selfish, grubby, pitiable mercenary. This, I believe, is why these movies were not received as well as the first by many. As much as people say they want to relate to a character, everyone wants someone they can look up to.

This is why Spiderman is more popular than, say, The Punisher. Spiderman is relateable in that he possesses weaknesses and flaws, but he does what is right when he can.

Mercenaries can be great characters in fiction--as can anti-heroes. But sometimes, it's refreshing to have a character "just trying to do the right thing in a mixed-up world"--someone doing good, simply because it's the right thing to do.

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Monday, February 11, 2008

Shedding the Blood of Prophets

This post is sort of a pet peeve, but I have reanimated that decaying corpse quite enough--so I will refrain from using that term in this post.

I was reading Matthew 23 recently, and came across this passage--

"Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you build the tombs of the prophets and adorn the monuments of the righteous, and say, 'If we had been living in the days of our fathers, we would not have been partners with them in shedding the blood of the prophets.' So you testify against yourselves, that you are sons of those who murdered the prophets. Fill up, then, the measure of the guilt of your fathers. You serpents, you brood of vipers, how will you escape the sentence of hell?" (Matthew 23:29-33, NASB)

The Pharisees boasted in their descent from the heroes of the Old Testament, while at the same time declaring that they would not have made the same mistakes. Christ declared that they made the exact same mistakes and so demonstrated the lineage they boasted in.

We look at this example and wonder how the Pharisees could claim that they would not kill prophets while planning to kill Christ? Couldn't they see?

But here we make the exact same mistake as has been made all through history--we think we are too smart to fall into the same holes as our fathers, and we fall. We say to ourselves "How could the Israelites in the desert continue to doubt? How could Moses disobey God in striking the rock? How could the disciples not have faith when the storm clouds came? How could Martha not see that Mary had chosen the better part? How could Peter deny Christ? How could Israel praise Jesus only to crucify Him a few days later?

We say, "If I had lived in the time of Christ, I would have followed Him." But when we look honestly at ourselves, can we still say this? We have the full revelation of the Bible and the Holy Spirit to help us live rightly, yet still we sin. How then can we condemn characters in the Bible when they erred, in absence of these benefits? Would we, without seeing the whole story, accept the claims of a country preacher to be God incarnate?

When looking at Bible stories that present characters in a less than favorable light, remember this--these were the founding fathers of our faith. We should not give them the status of demigods as the Catholics have done, but we must not condemn every sin committed without keeping in mind our own flawed nature.

A couple examples--

(1) Martha. So often we see Martha as the carnal busybody with no concern for the spiritual. Foolish Martha, why can't you be like your sister Mary?

But we forget to look at Martha's other appearance. John 11 gives us considerably more insight about Martha's character. We see how Mary and Martha respond to the death of Lazarus because Christ delayed.

Often we read this story with our anti-Martha filter on. We see her say "if You had been here, my brother would not have died," and see her rebuking Christ for not getting there sooner. Then we see Mary say the same thing and think, Poor, wounded Mary.. She just wanted her brother to live. Why are we so biased? They say the same thing--yet Martha adds more. Mary's faith stops there until she actually sees Lazarus raised up. But Martha says more--

"Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. Even now I know that whatever You ask of God, God will give you."

She understood that Jesus has the power to do anything--faith we don't see in Mary. See what she says next.

"Jesus said to her, 'Your brother will rise again.' Martha said to Him, 'I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.'"

Martha saw that an immediate resurrection was not necessary--she would see Lazarus again and it would be enough. Later she acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God, demonstrating theological knowledge beyond her time--namely, the resurrection and the fact that the Christ was also the Son of God. She had more faith than many, since she did not need to see a miracle to believe. So instead of criticizing her, we should learn from her example.

(2) Peter. Peter is another example of a hero of the faith whom we bring down to make ourselves feel better about our own faith. We tell ourselves that we would never deny Christ, or that we could have walked on the water without doubt.

Peter is one of my favorite characters in the Bible because he's an excellent example of how God uses the traits we already have. Peter's personality? He was a rock--in more ways than one. He was a scandalon-- a rock of offense who said what was on his mind no matter what people thought. This was both an advantage and a disadvantage. He was often the first to speak--and sometimes he was right, sometimes not. But at least he spoke up. A good example is in Matthew 16. Peter is the first to acknowledge that Jesus is the Christ--not being afraid that the others wouldn't follow. Not long later he rebuked Christ for talking of his death--once again speaking up first, but this time he was wrong.

Take the example of walking on water. Peter didn't have the faith to walk when the waves grew large--but everyone else stayed in the boat! Would we have gotten out?

One of Peter's biggest blunders is his denial of Christ. We criticize the fact that he was only in the courtyard a short time before he broke and denied Christ. But except for John, all the other disciples had already forsaken him! (Matt. 26:56) Peter's denial was not an example of how he was weaker then the other disciples, but how even he could not boast in his strength.


The main thing to remember is that the people in the Bible we often criticize were great men of the faith (why is it that Peter is called "the one who denied Him" instead of "the one who walked on water" or "a pivotal character in the founding of the church"?). They kept the faith without the Holy Spirit or the complete Scriptures. So go a little easier on them when they "shed the blood of prophets".

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Sunday, January 27, 2008

Yet another video...



Eventually I'll start doing some real posts on here...

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Thursday, December 27, 2007

Very Early Preparation for Talk Like a Pirate Day (Sept 19)


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Sunday, December 16, 2007

The Reason for the Season--Knowing God

As I often do when the holiday season begins to affect my mood, I was singing Christmas songs recently. Usually we sing these songs so often the words become meaningless to us. But as I was singing "Mary Did You Know" (one of my favorite songs) I came across the line, "When you kiss the little baby, you've kissed the face of God." I've sung this song countless times before, yet for some reason this time, as I washed dishes in the college kitchen, I had goosebumps from this line. It was something I had never really thought about before. Kissed the face of God. The face of God!
In the end of Exodus 33, God tells Moses, "Thou canst not see my face: for there shall no man see me, and live. Behold, there is a place by me, and thou shalt stand upon a rock: And it shall come to pass, while my glory passeth by, that I will put thee in a cleft of the rock, and will cover thee with my hand while I pass by: And I will take away mine hand, and thou shalt see my back parts: but my face shall not be seen." God's glory was so great that Moses could only look on God's back, His Face was too great for Moses to see.
We cannot even imagine what God is. Ted Dekker's series, the Circle Trilogy, asks the question, Is God a lion or is He a lamb? The answer is--He is both, and neither. Both are images we use to imagine the unimaginable, to think of God in finite terms we can understand. Because of this, I thought--there is a reason for Christ's birth we seldom think of. We know Jesus had to be born on earth so He could die for our sins and so He could sympathize with our humanity. But Jesus also was born to give us an image of God we can understand. When we pray to God, we can picture Jesus because His human form is something we can comprehend.
But has the idea of God in flesh really dawned on you? There in the dishroom at ABC, it partly dawned on me. I could not sing anymore--luckily no one else was near to see. My voice cracked as I came upon the words, "kissed the face of God". I am not usually an emotional person, but this revelation stopped me in my tracks. This same God who had to turn His back to Moses lest Moses be overwhelmed, this same God Mary could hold in her hands, and kiss his face. Can you imagine it? And we have the same privilege! Jesus is no longer physically present on the earth, but we can have Him in our hearts. We can share intimate moments with the Creator of the Universe, and see Him Face to Face!
A student here wrote a beautiful song entitled, "You Can Know God." The verse asked, "who can know God?", seeming to say that no one can fathom God's greatness. But the chorus answered--"You can know God." God is infinitely great, greater than man can comprehend. But because Jesus came to earth, we can see God Face to Face.

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Monday, December 3, 2007

As I Say, it's No Skin off My Nose

I was reading the Book of Job today and I came across Job 19:20. "My bone clings to my skin and my flesh, And I have escaped only by the skin of my teeth." (NASB) I started wondering, what does this expression mean? It obviously originated in Job, since it is such an old book. So I decided to look it up. The Phrase Finder says

"The source of the phrase "by the skin of one's teeth" is indeed the Book of Job, although the precise phrase Job used was "My bone cleaveth to my skin, and to my flesh, and I am escaped with the skin of my teeth" (not "by"). Just what the "skin" of one's teeth might be is a bit unclear, but it probably refers to the thin porcelain exterior of the tooth, not the gums. Job evidently kept his teeth, but just barely. It is also possible that he was saying that the margin of his escape was as narrow as the "skin" of a tooth is shallow -- the equivalent of a "hair's breadth." In any case, Job clearly meant that he'd had a very hard time of it, and the phrase has been used ever since to mean a very narrow or arduous escape."

A pretty obvious interpretation. But it reminded me of another idiom--skin of my nose. The oldest an most well-known occurrence of this phrase to me was It's a Wonderful Life. I wondered if it originated from this movie--it certainly was preserved by this movie, along with other 30s-40s phrases like "See you in the Funny Papers" and "Hee Haw". But I decided to do a little research here as well. A seemingly well-researched site says this--

The other day I chanced to overhear a snippet of conversation while standing in line to have my linens starched. Two elderly women were discussing some aspect of their work, and one said to the other, "Well, if he wants to pay that much for a typewriter with no vowels, let him! After all, it's no skin off your nose."

I thought to myself, "What a quaintly curious expression!" Naturally I had heard the phrase "no skin off my nose" before, but, like most people I suppose, had never really given much thought to the origin of such an odd idiom. As the next day happened to be a religious holiday for me (The Feast of the Sacred Topological Enigma) and therefore not a work day, I decided to spend a few quiet hours in the library exploring the etymology of "no skin off my nose".

To my surprise, this simple expression has a long and interesting history, and is closely tied to the terms "nosy", "sticking his nose where it doesn't belong", and even "keeping his nose clean".

In sixteenth century England a clandestine group of cabbage worshipers inhabited London's seamier neighborhoods, practicing a variety of bizarre rituals involving cabbage—including coleslaw, sauerkraut, and the newly invented Reuben sandwich, which had been banned by the government as being subversive ever since the visiting Count Halitosis had disgraced himself by splattering corned beef on the tablecloth at a state banquet.

With informers everywhere, it became common among the cabbage cult to cut a very small hole in the doors of the places of worship, so that the high priest could peer through and verify the identity of those wishing to enter. However, electric lights being unknown, it was difficult to make out the faces of people standing outside in the dark, so another method was devised.

Followers who desired entrance to the service were to make a small mark, like a birthmark, on the left side of their nose, and then thrust their proboscis through the hole in the door. If the mark was missing, the priest would know that the nose did not belong to a true believer, and he would take a sharp paring knife and slice a long strip of skin from the nose. Understandably, the King's guardsmen came to be very wary of taking an assignment which could result in "skin off my nose", and eventually the phrase came to mean anything costly or painful. Those who had suffered the indignity of having their noses pared like an apple were, of course, subsequently easy to spot walking down the street, and peasants would tease them about the wisdom of "sticking their noses where they didn't belong".

Eventually the secret of the mark on the nose was discovered by spies who managed to infiltrate the cult, but the King, in his Divine Wisdom, refused to permit his guardsmen to stoop to such silliness, and proclaimed that any of his men wishing to keep their heads attached to their shoulders would do well to "keep their noses clean".

The English language is indeed a rich and colorful one, with a fascinating history."


Very interesting! It makes me want to look up a few more (I am open to suggestions).

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Tuesday, November 27, 2007

A Battle of Destinies...

In light of the previous post, I must needs present my opinions on a common debate. A war is going on with no neutral sides. No one may stand by the sidelines or try to ignore the fight. And the issue is this--Pirates or Ninjas?
Now though I cannot claim full neutrality, I shall try to present points for both sides in this post. I myself hold the Pirate side, but the Ninja side certainly has merit that cannot be ignored. Some points would seem to give automatic victory, but these exist on both sides, making the fight an endless stalemate.

Points for the Ninja side--

  • Ninjas are stealthy--the Pirates wouldn't see them.
  • Ninjas are quick--the Pirates couldn't hit them.
  • Ninjas are masters of life and death--it takes great effort to kill them, and they still seem to show up afterwards.
  • Ninjas can fight with anything around them--everything is a weapon.
  • Ninjas often have supernatural abilities.
Points for the Pirate side--
  • Pirates are shifty--you can't trust them.
  • Pirates are seaworthy--no one can best them on the open sea.
  • Pirates have guns. Enough said.
  • Pirates hold to no code of honor--they will do anything to get what they want.
  • Pirates have pirate songs. And rum.
But like a certain popular toy, there is more to this debate than meets the eye. Where did it come from? Why would Pirates and Ninjas fight, and why is the question so important? Probably the main source of the conflict is the similarity of the two groups. They fight because they are just like each other, in their respective cultures. Both are often motivated by greed and treacherous. Both can be used effectively as mercenaries. Both are popular at birthday parties.

Before one can go any further, one must recognize the vagueness of the terms "pirate" and "ninja". Pirates can be seafaring scalawags, or those who sell movies and songs illegally. Ninjas are even more diverse. The first ninjas were peasants who trained to fight the better armed armies of the samurai, at least according to Mythbusters. But we're talking about fictional ninjas here. Some are members of elite orders that train high up on mountains in an attempt to achiever perfection. Some are mercenaries, or rebels. Some are modern-day thieves (usually art thieves) or assassins who do not mind using modern weapons. In any case, there are certain traits that fictional pirates and ninjas must have.

Pirates--
  • must be scalawags.
  • must speak in pirate talk.
  • must plunder, pillage, and raid.
  • must be treacherous.
  • must use swords (may also use guns and cannons)
Ninjas--
  • must use unorthodox fighting techniques.
  • must not be afraid to kill, even the defenseless and the unarmed.
  • must use a variety of weapons.
  • must be silent and unseen.
  • must be Asian.
With these facts in mind, one can finally decide who wins in the conflict of Pirate vs. Ninja. And then he must wrestle with the next epic question--Vikings or Indians? Spartans or Mongols? Batman or Dr. Doom? . . .

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Friday, November 23, 2007

Ask a Stealthy Ninja

Okay, I tried to put the video right into the post, but it cannot be done. Don't ask questions, just see the video here. This is making me reconsider my allegiance to pirates--this guy is hardcore.

Check out some of the other videos at the main site...and I thought Will It Blend would be a good time-waster!

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Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Will it Offend? That is the Question...

If you haven't checked out Will it Blend (see link on right) yet, you really should. This site answers some questions that have been plaguing mankind for centuries, such as--what does a blender look like from the inside? And can an iPhone really do anything? And what do you do with that horrible singing plush you got last Valentine's Day?

Anyway, as interesting as that site is, it has absolutely nothing to do with this post, except the name. An issue for many Christians, especially those my age, is "What modern-day activities are prohibited by the Bible?" The Bible obviously doesn't say a word about what movies we should watch or what music we should listen to. So how do we know whether something is wrong or not?

Some things are clearly not appropriate. The Bible warns against lust, so movies that cause lust are not to be watched. But some things are not as clear. Is there a certain rating we can go by for what movies to watch? Are there certain types of music that are better than others?

Surprisingly, the Bible does speak of this. The Corinthians had a similar difficulty--the issue of meat offered to idols. A cultural anthropologist could explain this better, but to my understanding, many Greek and Romans temples sacrificed the blood of livestock, but not the meat, or at least not all of it. This left portions of meat in the possession of the pagan temples. They would then sell this leftover meat in the markets. Purchasing this meat was seen as a sign of supporting or condoning paganism.

Paul speaks of this issue in 1 Corinthians 8. He starts by saying that there is no such thing as an idol. False gods are just that--false. They have no power. Thus the meat is not defiled by being placed in front of a statue. However, not everyone is completely aware of this, Paul states. Some could not bring themselves to eat meat offered to idols. Paul explains that even if the reader is aware that eat offered to idols is no more unclean than any other meat, he should not offend his brothers who do not know that.

Romans 14-15 go into more depth. It explains that, on insignificant matters such as this, one can go by his own conscience. Each must examine himself, and see if he can eat this meat without feeling guilty. Romans 14:6 says, "he who eats, does so for the Lord...and he who eats not, for the Lord he does not eat." Each man, the one who eats meat, and the one who does not, does so because of personal convictions. Verse 3 explains that the two men are not to judge each other for what their consciences tell them.

So we see that the important issue as always, is our motives. If we can listen to Contemporary Christian Music and it means something spiritually to us, we can listen to it. If another Christian does not feel comfortable listening to it, he should not.

Is this the only guideline, then (at least in areas not outlined in the Bible)? No. Now we ask the immortal question--Will it Offend?

Paul continues in Romans 14-15 to say that we should never offend our Christian brothers and sisters. He says in 14:21 "It is not good to eat meat or to drink wine, or to do anything by which your brother stumbles." Back in 1 Corinthians 8, in verse 13, he says "if food causes my brother to stumble, I will never eat meat again..." If a brother was offended by the fact that Paul ate meat, Paul was willing to abstain from meat for his sake

In the same way, we must seek never to offend others. If someone in my church says that it is wrong to have long hair, it is wrong to have long hair in that person's presence. They do not determine what is right and wrong, but because long hair offends them, it is wrong.

Why should I change my lifestyle to accommodate for those who like to make up rules? Most of the things people find offensive are cultural, not biblical! But Paul said he was willing not to eat meat for the sake of his brothers. Surely we can refrain from modern music and certain movies if our brothers and sisters are offended by them.

When deciding if something is wrong, and there are no direct biblical guidelines, do not only ask if the action itself it wrong. Ask yourself, Will It Offend?

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