Indestructible – 9/11 is America’s Reminder to Live

September the 11th is a date that has permanently changed the shape of our culture, and even the way we live on this particular day. We remember the lost, hear the stories of those who survived and saw what happened firsthand, and think about what we learned from this.

One can wonder, however. What are we to do on a day where life was so unjustly snuffed out on such a scale? It seems all we can do is mourn, chafe at those who committed the atrocities and find ourselves at a loss. Like Théoden in The Two Towers, we can wonder what man can do in the face of such relentless hate. Or perhaps instead, we might find strength in knowing what the real nature of the conflict was about.

At its core, I believe we can understand the conflict was one of ideas and ideals. The attacks came not from a certain nationality or ethnic background, but came from a corrupt ideology directly opposed to the core founding philosophy of our country, one of Divine liberty and the belief that our values are actual statements of truth, not just opinion. Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness bolstered by a dedication to absolute truth, endowed by our Creator with certain unalienable rights is the center of our whole idea of being American. Of course such ideas being absolutes comes from the Founders’ belief in the Biblical text as truth. Belief is the source of these freedoms.

In the film adaptation of Alan Moore’s graphic novel V for Vendetta, the main character faces off against the antagonist, saying, “Beneath this mask there is more than flesh. Beneath this mask there is an idea, and ideas are bulletproof.” While I do not agree with this story’s philosophical standpoint completely, I want us to keep this quote in mind.

September 11th was an attempt to try to physically strike at significant landmarks that are iconic in the American mind. But these buildings and establishments are not, in the end, what they oppose. What they oppose are the ideas on which this country was founded. They, by terrorism, attempted to make us afraid to live out those ideas and truths and freedoms. They slew those innocent people in an attempt to say “recant or we will do this to you.” We have seen them almost succeed in shaking people’s belief that what we value is really worthwhile. As long as we refuse and continue to live out these principles, our enemies will have failed.

In the end, what the Enemy seeks to destroy beyond the damages they inflict cannot ever be really destroyed. Life after death continues regardless, and the ideas that make life worth living endure if we continue to affirm them in our lives. I recall a line from the Sean Connery Arthurian film First Knight (1995), concerning the guiding chivalrous principles of justice on which Camelot was built.

That is the very heart of Camelot. Not these stones, timbers, towers, palaces. Burn them all…and Camelot lives on. Because it lives in us. It’s a belief we hold in our hearts.

C.S. Lewis wrote often on this idea that we cannot, because life is hard or assaulted by tragedy, surrender our pursuit of beauty and knowledge and truth. On both his essays On Living in an Atomic Age and Learning in Wartime, the idea persists that humanity is created special in that it continues to pursue what makes us better even in the face of what attempts to destroy it. We do not stop being uniquely human (moral, creative and resilient) in the face of war. And as much as modern terror can strike fear in our hearts, death has always been on the doorstep of our lives in one way or another in one of a million forms. The certainty remained the same. The only thing that changes is variety. That is why beauty and dignity must be pursued as it is given to us each moment.

On this September the 11th, and each that follow, I believe that along with the solemn respect for the dead and praise of what makes us uniquely American, we should examine and further pursue exactly what our enemy wished to destroy in us.

As Lewis said, “Even if we are all to be destroyed, may oblivion, when it comes, find us doing sensible human things: praying, working, teaching, reading, listening to music, bathing the children, playing tennis, chatting with our friends over a pint and a game of darts, not huddled together like frightened sheep, always thinking of bombs.”

They can take our bodies. A single bacteria could do that. But they can’t have our souls.

Until next time, Godspeed, Peace be with ya, and God bless America.

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Why Didn’t Chewbacca Get a Medal in Episode IV? Wookiee Culture, Actually!

A picture of inequality? Perhaps not!

Ever since the first Star Wars movie, fan theories and speculation have been one of the things that gave some life and richness to what could just been a revival of swashbuckling space opera and continuing the tradition of the fairy tale that celebrates the classic values of heroism.

But ever since the first movie, one of the ongoing debate as to why the Wookiee Chewbacca never received the Rebel Alliance’s Medal of Bravery during the ceremony. Surely as a sentient person, Chewie would deserve honor for his valor as much as Han Solo. Why was he not honored? This was even addressed in an old comic in which Leia gives the Wookiee one of the medals after the ceremony itself. But why not in front of the crowd?

Interestingly, I found an answer in the first Knights of the Old Republic game. In the game, the player’s character finds a Wookiee companion named Zaalbar. Zaalbar is a very traditional Wookiee, as we find out when we travel to the homeworld of Kashyyyk. hen the subject of clothing is brought up to him, we find out that because Wookiees have a fully-covering natural fur coat, clothing implied nakedness where there is none. They consider superfluous clothing an insult, and forgo excess garments as vanities. This is such that you can’t even equip those kinds of things to him.

Considering the deep ties the Wookiees have to the Rebellion and the older Republic, it makes all the sense in the world that Leia’s training as a senator and ambassador would make her aware of this cultural fact, choosing not to go against the Wookiee’s wishes and honor him at the head of the ceremony rather than by trappings. Then in the privacy of friends and a few officers, she would indeed give Chewbacca the honor in a way that preserved his humility and dignity.

Until next time, Godspeed and Peace be with ya!

Not Tame, But Good – Missing Fearful and Powerful Good Characters in Modern Storytelling

One of my favorite characters in all of fiction is Aslan, the Christ-figure in The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis.  The only thing really different from the Scriptural Jesus is the physical form of a lion instead of a person (alluding to Old Testament prophesies about Him being the Lion of the Hebrew tribe of Judah).  Aslan is an ancient, all-powerful being, whose very voice brings about creation. The very mention of His name brings a visceral joy response in one’s soul and is readily awaited by many in Narnia. But when asked if He is safe, Mr. Beaver responds that of COURSE he isn’t “safe!” He is, however, Good. The very instant the moment comes for him to destroy Jadis the White Witch, he does so with terrifying swiftness and sets about healing the fallen of His army with equal speed.

Very closely related in the kind of effect a character can bring is J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings. Galadriel is a noldor elf so powerful that she fought alongside the other members of the Council against Sauron at Dol Guldur. Wielder of one of the three Elvish rings of power, it is her influence that causes the blessed forest of Lothlorien to be warded so fiercely against the cursed influences and armies of Sauron. She also successfully resists the temptations of the Ring. She is a character undoubtedly good, yet you must tread easily around her and show a degree of caution and respect. When tempted by the One Ring, Frodo gains a shocking glimpse of her unleashed power.

“She stood before Frodo seeming now tall beyond measurement and beautiful beyond enduring, terrible and worshipful.”

Chapter VII – The Mirror of Galadriel, The Fellowship of the Ring

I sometimes worry about how as we try to move away from the fear of differences, we start to move towards another temptation which turns into a fear and hatred of anyone who might be superior in any sort of way, a dislike of anyone or anything that rises above the horizon line.  Even in characters, I notice that the judgements new storytellers seem to be very fickle.  They don’t like the stubborn, the stand-offish, and especially not the mysterious, the powerful or the remotely dangerous. There’s a feeling that “if you were really good, you wouldn’t make me feel small or threatened or afraid.”

We as storytellers, in this atmosphere, are tempted to always undercut any character who seems to be powerful or otherworldly with some humbling element, undercut with a flippant joke, anything just to not seem so “below” or inferior. Is it perhaps the manifestation of some kind of literary Napoleon complex? Or is it perhaps that our sensibilities have shrunken in size as to not be able to accept or relate to any character that is not immediately “brought down to our level” such that we cannot even include such characters as “Good” regardless of how they make us feel? Perhaps in recent times our understanding of what a good guy can be (or allowed to be) has been cut short.

Lewis actually addressed this in the very passage of The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe where the Pevensie children meet Aslan for the first time.

“People who have not been in Narnia sometimes think a thing cannot be good and terrible at the same time. If the children had ever thought so, they were cured of it now. For when they tried to look at Aslan’s face as they caught a glimpse of the golden mane and the great, royal, solemn, overwhelming eyes; and they found they couldn’t look at him and went all trembly.”

Chapter Twelve – Peter’s First Battle, The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe

It is rather intriguing.  At a time when “understanding” is king, I notice that there doesn’t seem to be much effort put behind it when this is involved. Is it fear? Is it resentment? Perhaps it points to what C.S. Lewis called “I’m as good as you” state of mind, a way he attempted to shorthand an attitude of combativeness and resentment against anyone or anything that might have what we want. He traces it from our acknowledgement of God’s superiority and follows it to its natural conclusion where anyone who reminds us of that lacking element causes us to respond with ire.

After all, we’ve certainly lost sight of the idea that the God of the Old Testament and the New Testament are the same God. Could the idea that Christ is both the only comfort AND the supreme terror, the Love that is satisfied with a little yet demands all perhaps be the core issue that wraps all of this up?

In the end, I do not have all the answers. But one thing I do hope in the end is to see this archetype of Good character return to fiction at large. That element of the unknown, the mysterious and the awe-inspiring and fearful part of Good is an extremely important element of the olest, most enduring stories that made us strive and endure to become something more, someone better each day. Perhaps we can be the ones to bring this back.

Until next time, Godspeed and Peace be with ya!

Thoughts On Awe, Wonder and Why We Have Trouble Feeling It.

Awe and Wonder are hard to come by in this world. We can try to force the feeling all we wish but it is something genuinely hard to find. Life seems dead set on rendering us unable to feel it. Attempts in much of modern storytelling often fail to do so entirely, only making the reader midly impressed at what is being described. We want to feel, to be immersed in stories. But the source of it comes from a difficult place in human nature that has been increasingly calloused. The numbness we feel to awe and wonder often comes from our own clenched fists, afraid of give and take. For fear of man, we’ve deadened ourselves to God who wants to take us outside of ourselves, the primary component of any Awe and Wonder.

The key element is SURRENDER, one of the most hated words in human language. In the face of man, this word is so terrifying and repulsive that we clench our fists around what we have. We do not trust man to give after they take. If not handled with wisdom, this attitude turns into a closed heart. But God made us and does not intend to harm us. We cannot allow how people treat us to unfairly carry over into the way we look at God. He is your Source, your Muse. Open your heart and your hand to take, give and (very importantly) to feel.

Awe and wonder are by their very nature, an acknowledgement of what is above and beyond you. Here the combative and defensive attitude we feel harbor because of other people has no place. Cynivism is a defense against attack and does not know how to trust. It might be justified with Man, but is poison to the soul. It carries distrust straight into the heart and the relationship you ahve with your Maker, your Author, your Storyteller. To be amazed and awed is to believe. Belief even in the world of fiction is hooked into that ages old understanding and surrender to what is above you. The heart has to be open to recieve and it has to be ready to give.

Psalm 8:3-4 King James Version (KJV)
When I consider thy heavens, the work of thy fingers, the moon and the stars, which thou hast ordained;
What is man, that thou art mindful of him? and the son of man, that thou visitest him?

King James Version (KJV) Public Domain

Peace be with ya, fellow adventurers. And remember that Awe and Wonder is rooted in love for your Author and belief. Don’t let this world keep you from believing.

SUMMER’S HERE – LET THE GAMES BEGIN!

(Wrote this at the beginning of Summer as a guide for parents to steer their kids towards good, fun games and enable them to interact about gaming.)

Summer is upon us, and a lot of folks are now free to rest and relax how we see fit.  Parents and grandparents alike have the challenge of overseeing their teens and kids as they embrace a summer of adventures.  But when the sun gets too hot and the bugs of Jurassic size emerge, kids naturally retreat to the safety of the indoors to video games.  Since those parents and grandparents might want to make sure that their media choices in games are as good as with tv, movies or music, I have three ideas to offer on how to make it easy.

Choose a console based on who’s playing it.  To sum it up without a lot of jargon, there are three major companies who make the three main game systems: Sony’s Playstation consoles who tout the processing power for dazzling graphics, and Microsoft’s Xbox which prides itself on online multiplayer games.  Finally, Nintendo is a company that created the Super Mario Bros., The Legend of Zelda, Metroid and a bunch of others.  Nintendo, because of its creative department, carved a foothold as having some of the most famous games in history.  Its games are thrilling and challenging enough to be loved by adults and tasteful enough to be played by any child.  If one is looking for an easy choice, Nintendo consoles are prime picks for content and quality for all audiences, as someone who’s had experience with all three.

Second, every game, like every book, TV show and movie, is different.  Every game in North America is rated by the Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB), and give all the games a rating based on the content: E for Everyone, T for Teen, M for Mature.   Of course, only three tiers of ratings still make it hard to figure out what makes that rating.  But the ESRB site has game-by-game information that details what content is in each.  Some games in Teen are much tamer or harsher than it may seem.  Research goes a long way.

Third, If the kids are not the picky type or are the kind to appreciate a bit of hobby history, don’t be afraid to shop out retro consoles from the company’s past.  Many are still in good condition despite being secondhand, and Nintendo consoles are famed for their durability.  These can be bought for garage-sale prices online, and games can sometimes be found at delectable prices.

Gaming media is full of choices, exciting stories, engaging gameplay of many genres and styles.  I really do encourage anyone who has kids to do research into their favorite series, and learn about the characters, stories and games to join in the fun  It’s as simple as searching those character names, terms and games titles that you are unfamiliar with, and a wealth of information awaits!  Also if you want Christian, Biblically-based perspectives on games check out geeksundergrace.com and Focus on the Family’s PluggedIn.com for more current titles.  And don’t forget!  Focus on consoles from companies that have all-audience appeal, check the ESRB for content information and don’t be afraid to buy retro games secondhand.

FORTNITE Review: Just Play With The Safties On

(This article was written as a guide for parents.)

Seemingly overnight, Epic Games’ Fortnite took over its corner of the game market, an shocking portion of internet pop culture and is even making itself known in everyday life.  What is it, is it good and is it worth it?

Fortnite is a free game which revolves around using weapons to eliminate sci-fi monsters (in the single-player game) and opposing players (in the multiplayer options) while also integrating a fast-paced resource gathering and building mechanic to create forts and barricades.  This explains the “fort” in the “punny” title.  In terms of content parents have little to nothing to be worried about.  The gameplay is fast-paced and does revolve around combat, but plays out with all the non-violence of a real-life game of laser tag or paintball.  No carnage ensues and there is a surprising lack of skin shown amongst the various female outfits.  It’s focused on comedic, light-hearted cartoon style fun and that is the tone throughout.

Where the concerns come in is interaction with other players.  Since the internet works on free speech, you’re bound to (IF AND ONLY IF you play with voice chat enabled with opposing players) hear profanities, frustrated yells and the offhand slur from other players whether they win or lose.  If you are truly concerned about this, know that pretty much every single multiplayer game has settings that allow you to shut off or turn down to mute on other players’ voice chat.  This solves the problem outright.

In terms of understanding if someone is right to play this game, I would recommend young guys and gals around 12 to start with who are good at taking losing in stride and have other interests.  “Healthily competitive” is the best way to put it, undaunted by defeat, appreciates victories and gives credit where credit is due.

Another important issue to address is the business model of the game.  The game is free to play, and gear and outfits can be earned just by completing objectives and goals through gameplay.  However, it is very common in the game industry today to involve ways to use real money to purchase these items early.  This can be very tempting to unsupervised gamers who are caught by the flashy advertising.  Warn your kids ahead of time and discuss with them how these items don’t really affect the game.  It’s a great opportunity to talk to them about responsibility with money, reading wisely into advertisements and knowing the value of a dollar.

As it concerns time management, the average multiplayer round of Fortnite runs about twenty minutes on average.  While that might not seem too long, the temptation to play multiple sessions as hours tick by could eat into your child’s time to study, do chores or pursue other interests.  Encourage them to keep it short “so it doesn’t get boring.”

With these things in mind, Fortnite has a lot to offer for competitive kids as long as they know what’s important.

No To Bros? – The Disappearance of Platonic Male Relationships in Fandoms

Shippers are a funny lot.  In some cases it is merely theories, merely hoping a certain pairing will happen and it ends at that.  Yeah well, as with everything else on this rock spinning ’round the sun in the energetic cosmos, it has spun out of control more than a handful of times.  In short, shipping can reach a level of obsession I find almost bordering on the kind of fanaticism I’ve only seen in warriors.

For those on the outside looking in, “ship” comes from the word “relationship.”  To “ship” means to desire two characters to be in a relationship, especially romantic.  They’ve been around since the dawn of fiction, but have grown way into organized forces with the formation of internet connections and communities.

In my journeys, however, I find it interesting how so many of these shippers seem to be so quick to push together any pair of guys who get remotely close in friendship.  For those on the outside looking in, I am here to tell you that I am not exaggerating.  Let me just say that “wherever two or more guys are gathered in the same place, there will be fangirls in the midst of them,” setting upon the two like a swarm of mad hornets, turning the mere notion of the two being romantically involved into their own sect.  Fellow creatures in the habitat are often advised to keep a wide berth with these, citing that you should definitely not challenge their ship, especially by suggesting a bromance or friendship or anything.  In their eyes, it has truly been demonstrated that they see friendship as the “second best,” the “almost there,” as if it is somehow lesser than.  I think in their excitement to see certain (ahem) “progress” made in society, they are dogged in their pursuit of having fictional couples be forged since they see fiction as something closer to their sphere of control.  When it, sometimes rather predictably, does not come to fruition, they often are distraught, wondering how their matchmaking instincts failed them.  It is intriguing though, that I find they seem to so quickly forget simple things in their pursuit of this.

Fangirls, shippers, countrywomen, please lend me your ears.  Guys are, whether you acknowledge it or not, more complex than either complete stoicism or complete erotic fixation.  Are we to truly forget that guys have every capability to be complex as women are able to be?  We, too want to form friendships and companionship and desire to be open with others without an overhanging context of sex.  Yet somehow despite the fact that we consider this a given for women, these women manage to completely miss this, frankly, obvious point.  We are not only an on-and-off faucet of passionate eros.  Remember that there are different kinds of love.  In a time of diversity, I would recommend, perhaps, for people to think how there are different loves, and each of them extremely valuable and not interchangeable.

C. S. Lewis did a whole book on The Four Loves, an examination on the kinds of love based on the four Greek words for it.  He had a lot to say about philia, the friendship, the “brotherly love.”  He talked of how friendship, while not a necessity like food or water to survive, is what gives survival and life meaning and worth like philosophy and music.  Men, when allowed to be our best, form brotherhoods with other men that we trust, allowing the two to share one another’s burdens and sharpening each other like iron to be their greatest inall things.  We share a unique burden to have to be the front line, defenders, the first ones into danger and very often the last ones out.  Because of this, we crave understanding, camaraderie and the ability to be frank, humorous and real with each other.  We need good fellows to challenge each other, drive us to self-improvement and to call out each other’s nonsense.

It is not so much that they ship M/M at all that I write this blog.  It is the trend of completely unfounded contempt, discontent and rage when it does not happen.  One of the reasons I am bringing this up to begin with is that these relationships are not easy to form.  We often, once we get to know a person, attempt to forge those bonds by being better friends, getting to know one another better and pledge to stand by each other in each others’ pursuits.  And let me just say that I’ve found that one of the greatest killers of these types of potential “blood-brother” relationships is others passionately calling for it to becomes something it was never meant to be.  It is possible for guys to just want to be friends, and in fact not feel right until that exact void is fulfilled.  Some who went without fathers crave a mentor who is encouraging and will be there for them.  Those without siblings or had a lonely childhood will gravitate towards those who they can be a sibling to.  Guys who have trouble opening up will try to find people they feel like they can be secure to talk to.

Not every trait is isolated to friendship to be sure, but to think that it is a lesser thing that can be replaced by romantic love or to be disregarded in favor of the latter is an utter mistake.  Friendship allows for, sometimes even in the first stages, a level of honesty and ability to gather, commune and connect with other men with a common purpose and drive that allows us to be competitive without spite and supportive almost on the level of blood familial connection.  Speaking as a man, I find it almost insulting that there seems to be, in some communities, this bygone assumption that men growing close to one another is some sort of romantic signal, that the relationship must inherently be romantic and that it is a worse outcome if it becomes “merely” friendship.  I fail to understand why this needs to be explained, but an effort to draw closer is required to forge a friendship.  Very often amongst the veritable graveyard of sunken ships, you find intact brotherly, surrogate-fatherly, student-mentor relationships that are not only useful, but fulfillingIt should honestly be an encouragement to generations of boys to form strong, edifying and accountable relationships that encourage them to face life’s challenges, grow stronger inside and out, treat women right, etc.

It’s almost amusing how so many women claim “toxic masculinity” is ever present in every single facet of male behavior, while at the same time, distill all the sum of male relationships from a spectrum down to either utter numbness to all affection to only wanting a sexual connection with every living thing within reach.  Not every friendship covers a “bromance romance” and men honestly need it to add fulfillment to what otherwise only becomes the life of a survivor to men.

Of course, the wheels will keep turning and these shipping communities will continue to do this, but if this gives anyone a good reminder, my work has been done.  As for us guys who understand this, don’t mind us if we are looking on at the obsessive shippers shaking our heads with a dismissive laugh.  We hope one day they’ll understand.  But in the meantime, we’ll continue to have, or attempt to form, the relationships they tend to toss over their shoulders.