Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Photoshop, Memories, and Real Life

When I went hiking on the Boardman River with my mom and two of my boys, I wasn't really expecting much from Mother Nature since the peak of the colors had passed. Nevertheless, I was pleasantly surprised when the gold and red sprang from unexpected places.

SmartPhone in hand, I hiked and took pictures with the second app I figured out (Angry Birds was the first one). When we got home, I uploaded them to iphoto and let Mac do its magic.  My mom murmured kind words about my pictures, then said with a hint of sadness, "That's even nicer than it was."

And you know what? She was right. The pictures made our hike look a lot cooler than it was.  I clicked buttons and slid bars until I made a picture that, to a large degree, was not true.  The only picture that accurately captured the event was one where Vincent did NOT want his picture taken. When you see his face - that's how it was.

I was on a trip once in which a father and daughter were among the group.  When I saw photos after the trip, the smiling, affectionate freeze frame put the lie to a trip that was full of tension, avoidance, and drama. I remember thinking, "Hey, at least they have their pictures. I hope it makes up for the trip."

I embrace a worldview that grounds itself in words more than images.  Jews eventually became know as People of the Book, and Christianity arose from the soil of language over pictures. The Ten Commandments make clear that God was not interested in His people trying to capture His reality or nature through images. The Bible  contains lots of beautiful poetic imagery and word pictures to describe God, but that's not the same thing as the actual image. When Jesus incarnated as the express image of God, even that was temporary, not permanent.

That command about images always seemed odd to me, but I'm starting to feel differently. Is it possible that the Bible (and by extension, God) stresses the importance of words because both the power and the frailty of images are greater than that of words? Sure, images move us - one of them is worth 1,000 words - but that great blessing can also be a great curse.

As much as I love how my pictures capture time well spent with my family, I will also remember that the day was not quite that sunny, and the colors not quite that bright, and the lake not quite so blue.... and wonder what else about my life I have not remembered truthfully, and why I sometimes feel the need to photoshop my memories in order to treasure them.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Scream Queens

Season One of Scream Queens, Fox's star-studded horror comedy, has been nominated for two awards (Golden Globes and Satellite) and won another (the Critic's Choice TV Award in 2015 for Most Exciting New Series). In spite of a declining audience throughout Season One, it appears to have enough of a following that Fox will likely renew it for another season.

If you are not familiar with Scream Queens, imagine the Simpsons, Mean Girls, and Scream mashed together. The result is a funny, satirical, shocking, violent, crude, and occasionally insightful comedy/horror show that intends to offer a cutting commentary on college culture. That's the intent, anyway.

Scream Queens takes place on a college campus where coeds are being killed rather horribly (if not creatively). All the girls in the featured sorority scream a lot - thus the title of the show - but nobody sheds a tear. Well, not real ones anyway.

Monday, December 7, 2015

Some Answers For 'Questions Christians Have For Other Christians'

I suspect there will be plenty of posts responding to the latest Buzzfeed project from Christians who are challenging other Christians to step up their game. "I'm Christian But I'm Not…" certainly sparked a lot of conversation; "Questions Christians Have For Other Christians" looks to do the same. I'd hate to see these questions be reduced to rhetorical status, so... let's do this!

“Do you really think [Jesus is] freaking out because his name isn’t on a cup that you get to hold for ten minutes while you drink a pumpkin spice latte?”

Nope. If I had to guess (and I don’t have to, but I want to), maybe 10% of Christians initially thought this mattered, and 5% of them got talked out of it by the 90% of Christians who rolled their eyes when they saw the story cross their news feed. If this incident hadn't fit neatly into an increasingly popular cultural narrative wherein all Christians look crazy like Josh Feuerstein, this would have been a non-story.

 “Why does Christian music always sound like a mixture of Nickelback and Third Eye Blind?”

For the same reason so much non-Christian music does – it sells. And though there is definitely a lot of derivative and uninspiring music put out by Christians, there’s also needtobreathe, Switchfoot, Andy Mineo, NF, Steve Taylor, Josh Garrells, Fireflight, Flyleaf, Rend Collective, All Sons and Daughters, For King and Country, Kirk Franklin, Lecrae, August Burns Red,The Devil Wears Prada, TFKJonny Lang...

“Do devotions actually happen if you didn’t post about it on Instagram?”

Of course, but point taken.

Saturday, December 5, 2015

Hollow City (Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children)

Hollow City is the sequel to Ransom Rigg's MissPeregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, a New York Times best-seller that reached the #1 spot on the Children's Chapter Books on the way to selling over 15 million copies. If reader response is any indication, Hollow City doesn't miss a beat. 

Rather than detail the plot (which can be found here), I would rather focus on several elements of the story I found thought-provoking and meaningful.

“You have a home – one that isn’t ruined – and parents who are alive, and who love you, in some measure...” 
“Why are you pushing me away?” 
“Because you have a real home and a real family, and if you think any of us would’ve chosen this world over those things – wouldn’t have given up our loops and longevity and peculiar powers long ago for even a taste of what you have – then you really are living in a fantasy world.”

In a culture where families are collapsing at a sobering rate, this kind of story strikes a chord. Hollow City is not suggesting every family is automatically good, but it is asking readers to appreciate the family they have.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Being A Hero vs. Doing Heroic Things: Katniss, Bond, and James B. Donovan

Several blockbuster movies this fall have presented very different views of heroism. James Bond (Spectre, 11/6), Katniss Everdeen (Mockingjay Part 2, 11/20), and James Donovan (Bridge of Spies, 10/16) all embody a version of what it means to be a hero. Are they all worth emulating? Should we make a distinction between being a hero vs. doing heroic things?


At one point in Spectre, one of the expendable Bond girls says, “You’re a good man.” He’s not. He’s good at what he does, and that is a very different thing indeed. Quantum of Solace and Skyfall showed Bond with the glamorous façade rightly removed. He was a haunted, hardened man, fixated on fighting for a mother country that was as ready to betray him as embrace. In the process, he left a trail of used (and often dead) women in his wake.

Those movies actually brought me back to the Bond franchise, because they rightly showed that nobody can do what Bond does without chipping away at one’s soul. Bond was no longer the man we admired because we wanted his life; he was the man we wincingly accepted because we recognize that sometimes it takes monsters to fight monsters.

Spectre wipes away the grimy image of the recent Bond and recreates the myth. He’s bigger than life, handsome, and suave; he’s always smarter, always better, and in the end he always gets the girl (even if he’s just killed her husband – which was, frankly, one of the more unsettling seductions in the Bond canon). Spectre is getting great reviews for resurrecting the ghost of Bond’s past. I wish they had let the old Bond rest in peace.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Marshes and Marshwiggles

There was a point in my life where I lost my imagination. 

I don't mean misplaced it temporarily like I do my cell phone at least once a month. I lost the ability I had as a child to see the wonder and creativity infused into even the most ordinary things in the world.  There were times when it briefly sparked, illuminating life with its light and warmth, but it would fade yet again as the business of life dampened its glow.

Several year ago, a hike through a swampy woods on a blustery, 50 degree day in Northern Michigan rekindled that spark.

I'll be honest - this was not where I intended to be. My plan for the day involved an NBA game and a nice cup of Cherry Chocolate coffee while vegging on my sofa, but here I was on a trail hemmed in by barely budding trees and surrounded by lots of wintery grays and browns.

The dullness and potential serenity of this woodsy jaunt could not restrain my 6-year-old caffeine-in-a-bundle, Vincent; his equally frenetic friend Marilee, who was at times literally a blur; and my 12-year-old son Braden, who gamely tried to keep up with the other two. Vincent took the lead ("Stop! Wait! I'm the leader!"). Makeshift wooden gun in hand, he fearlessly led us through a gray/brown maze of lingering winter bursting with wolves, superheroes, villains, and invisible zombie giants, as Marilee screamed at...something, I'm not sure what. Bugs, maybe.

I must have absorbed some of their energy, because I soon realized this ordinary woods offered a smorgasbord of very cool things. Uprooted trees might not actually be zombie forts, but they were pretty awesome in their own right. So as the kids screamed and wildly shot giants with their stick guns, I fired up the camera app on my first generation Droid and started to see the mystery and wonder of the woods.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Psychosexual Obesity And The Dating Apocalypse

Vanity Fair's "Tinder and the Dawn of the 'Dating Apocalypse'" is a must-read for those who are wondering where our culture is heading in terms of dating, sex and marriage. It's not an easy read, and it's R-rated graphic. I recommend it only because it is brutally honest about trending sexual behavior in the United States.

It's also helpful that it's not from, say, the Family Research Council. I have nothing against them, but we expect conservative or Christian groups to write about the ripple effect of unboundaried sex. It's not often a source such as Vanity Fair writes a story that, while not taking a stance about what people should do, clearly shows why so many people who are conservative or traditional in areas involving sex have legitimate reasons for being concerned about certain social trends.

I'm just going to highlight some excerpts. You can click on the link to go to the full article (which, once again, I recommend with great caution).

It’s a balmy night in Manhattan’s financial district, and at a sports bar called Stout, everyone is Tindering… At a booth in the back, three handsome twentysomething guys in button-downs are having beers. They are Dan, Alex, and Marty… 
“Guys view everything as a competition,” he elaborates with his deep, reassuring voice. “Who’s slept with the best, hottest girls?” With these dating apps, he says, “you’re always sort of prowling. You could talk to two or three girls at a bar and pick the best one, or you can swipe a couple hundred people a day—the sample size is so much larger. It’s setting up two or three Tinder dates a week and, chances are, sleeping with all of them, so you could rack up 100 girls you’ve slept with in a year.” He says that he himself has slept with five different women he met on Tinder—“Tinderellas,” the guys call them—in the last eight days. 
And yet a lack of an intimate knowledge of his potential sex partners never presents him with an obstacle to physical intimacy, Alex says. Alex, his friends agree, is a Tinder King, a young man of such deft “text game”—“That’s the ability to actually convince someone to do something over text,” Marty explains—that he is able to entice young women into his bed on the basis of a few text exchanges, while letting them know up front he is not interested in having a relationship.

Monday, October 26, 2015

Are Pro-Lifers Hypocrites?

An abortion routine from Reginald Hunter, a comedian, has been making the rounds lately on social media. He's asking a relevant question: are pro-lifers hypocrites if they think it is sometimes okay to take human life? However, his flawed argument fails to do justice to the issue.

* * * * * * * * * * 

"Fundamentalist conservative Christians believe that an embryo in a woman’s body is sacred, and no one should harm it."

“Fundamentalist, conservative Christian” usually drags up mental images of uneducated, angry, bigoted hypocrites. Rhetorically, it’s a great way to get people on your side. Logically, it’s both irrelevant and inaccurate. There are secular pro-lifers as well as pro-life supporters from many other religions. 

I assume “sacred” was chosen to make it seem like solely a religious issue. It's not. Yes, religious people believe there is a religious perspective on the question of abortion, but it's only one of several components that make up a unified, cumulative case argument for why abortion ends the life of a human being.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Six Flawed Claims in Buzzfeed's "I’m Christian But I’m Not…”

Plenty has been written about Buzzfeed's viral video featuring a number of people who address all the ways they believe Christians have been unfairly stereotyped. As much as I appreciate the spirit behind their attempt, I'm not thrilled with the attempt itself.  First, the fact that Christ is not mentioned in a discussion is a significant oversight. Second, though there are  some decent observations (you can read the whole text here), there are also a number of claims that reveal a fair amount of confusion about what it means to be a follower of the person and teaching of Jesus.

"I’m Christian but I’m not close-minded."

Let’s not kid ourselves: everyone is close-minded about something. I am close-minded about torturing babies or driving drunk. I have friends who are close-minded about global warming, eating meat, and whether or not Christianity is a good idea. On the other hand, I am open-minded, if by that you mean I listen to competing voices on religion, politics, and current events, try to weigh them fairly, and seek to be honest about whether or not what I believe to be true actually is true.

It’s a virtue to keep an open mind – until it’s time to close it. Being close-minded isn’t automatically a bad thing – though it can be. It’s not always easy to identify when that moment arrives, but we all do it. In this case, I would hope that identifying as a Christian means someone has made an informed decision between the claims of Jesus and the claims of other world religions. Choosing to follow Jesus on biblical terms requires an agreement that Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life, and that no one has access to God except through Jesus (John 14:6). Even if followers of Christ entertain questions and doubts (as I suspect we all do in some fashion), if we claim to follow, obey and worship Jesus and not other gods, we have closed our minds around something.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Rejecting Reality: How Planned Parenthood And Its Defenders Hide The Truth

In early July, The Center for Medical Progress began to release videos procured after three years of undercover work. They released short teaser videos, long videos from which the short versions were edited, and transcripts. The videos not only showed the calculating, callous way in which key players in Planned Parenthood viewed their clients and the unborn children, they also provided reasons to believe that certain Planned Parenthood clinics were breaking the law in the process of harvesting fetal tissue. 

That's when Planned Parenthood and their defenders began a methodical campaign of  distortion, denial and deception to help people avoid looking at the reality of abortion and the industries that profit from it. One example requires a certain amount of speculation*; the facts supporting the rest of my points are clear enough on their own.

(UPDATE 9/26/15: When a reader offered a rigorous challenge to the veracity of many of my claims (you can read our dialogue in the comments section), I realized I needed to restate some of my points with better clarity and precision. I want to be as committed to truth as I wish Planned Parenthood and the press would be; I hope this update accomplishes that purpose.)

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Wayward Pines

“Before I built a wall I’d ask to know what I was walling in, or walling out."   

Blake Crouch’s Wayward Pines books have sold in 25 countries including Germany, Brazil, Japan,
Italy, Estonia, Bulgaria, France, Turkey, Spain, Hungary, Holland, Serbia, Taiwan, Czech Republic, Russia, Greece, Portugal, Korea, Poland, Israel, and China. M. Night Shamylan also recently produced a TV series which introduced the story to a much broader audience. The TV show and the book series parted ways around Episode 5; this review will focus on the (much better) books.

The story centers around Ethan, a Secret Service Agent who is very good at what he does - unless it involves staying faithful to his wife, Theresa. He is one of those well-intentioned men that we tend to cheer for even as we cringe. At least he's honest when he describes himself:
"The father of Ben. Husband of Theresa. I live in a neighborhood in Seattle called Queen Anne. I was a Black Hawk helicopter pilot in the second Gulf War. After that, a Secret Service agent. Seven days ago, I came to Wayward Pines—" 
"Those are just facts. They say nothing about your identity, your nature." 
"I love my wife, but I was unfaithful to her… I love my son, but I was rarely around. Just a distant star in his sky… I have good intentions, but…" 
"But what?" 
"But all the time I fail. I hurt the ones I love." 
"I don’t know."
Ethan has been brought to Wayward Pines, a city thousands of years in the future that is the lone human outpost in a world that has gone to hell in an evolutionary hand basket. Though he is there against his will, he realizes it’s a second chance to become the husband and father he never was - if he can survive the reality of the world in and around Wayward Pines. 

Monday, September 7, 2015

Are The Blood Moons The Beginning Of The End?

  • In 1976, Pat Robertson predicted that the end would occur in 1982.
  • In 1977, William Branham predicted the Rapture no later than 1977.
  • In 1981, Chuck Smith, the founder of Calvary Chapel, had a "deep conviction" that the world would end that year. 
  • In 1985, Lester Sumrall predicted the end in a book entitled I Predict 1985.
  • In 1988, Edgar Whisenant wrote 88 Reasons Why the Rapture Could Be in 1988 to explain why the Rapture would happen in 1988. He later revised the date to 1989.
  • In 1994, Harold Camping predicted the Rapture would occur on September 6 - then September 29, then October 2, then March 1995.
  • January 1, 2000, was the day Jerry Falwell predicted God would judge the world. This was also the day that Tim Lahaye and Jerry Jenkins at one point claimed would inaugurate global economic chaos, and that the Antichrist would rise to power.
  • In 2000, Ed Dobson published The End: Why Jesus Could Return by A.D. 2000.
  • In 2000, Lester Sumrall tried again with I Predict 2000.
  • In April 2007, Pat Robertson’s book The New Millennium identified the day for Earth's destruction. That day has since passed.
  • May 21, 2011 was Harold Camping next guess for the rapture, with the world ending five months later. When May passed without incident, he claimed it was a spiritual rapture.
Now, John Hagee (Four Blood Moons) and Mark Biltz (Blood Moons: Decoding the Imminent Heavenly Signs)  are leading a movement that claims the blood moons of 2014 and 2015 are pointing to the return of Christ this year in September (possibly) and warning us of the beginning of the tribulation, a war against Israel, or other calamitous events (almost certainly). 

Taking a stance on the blood moons has become an overly contentious issue in Christian circles. Both the proponents and skeptics are having their ability to understand the Bible accurately called into question, and that's a hard pill to swallow.  In recognition of the tension, I must note where we are united as Christians before I go into territory where we are not. 

No matter where we stand on this issue, it is Christ who unites us, not our speculation on things to come. If we disagree, may it be like iron sharpening iron (Proverbs 27:17), not clanging cymbals full of harsh noise (1 Corinthians 13). I’m skeptical; I have godly friends whose opinions I respect who are convinced. May we all take Paul’s advice to heart as we test all things, and hold fast to the things that are good (1 Thessalonians 5:20, 21). 

Monday, August 31, 2015

Visiting Heaven and Hell: A Look At "Heavenly Tourism"

"Heavenly tourism" books are serious business. Don Piper’s 90 Minutes In Heaven has sold 6.5 million copies in 46 languages; Heaven is For Real has been on the Evangelical Christian Publishers Association's bestseller list every month since it hit the shelves in 2010;  23 Minutes In Hell (which I guess falls under the category of 'hellish tourism'?) spent several weeks on the NYT best-selling list after its release in 2006 and continues to be influential.

This popular genre relies on the testimony of those who claim to have had either visions or near death experiences (NDE’s). There has been enough documentation about NDE’s that it’s hard to deny that people experience something when by all medical reasoning they shouldn't.  NDE’s offer fairly compelling support for the existence of a mind or soul – that is, something distinct from our physical biology – but I would be hesitant to claim anything beyond that.  Making an argument for the supernatural is one thing; making a claim to supernatural revelation is quite another.

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Planned Parenthood, Fusion GPS, and the Smokeless Gun

The big story this week is that Planned Parenthood hired Fusion GPS to take a look at the Center For Medical Progress's unedited videos to see if they were truly unedited. To the surprise of no one, the group Planned Parenthood hired to exonerate them exonerated them. The story has legs - my Facebook feed is full of gleefully overhyped headlines.  However, there is much more to the story than meets the eye.

First, its' worth noting that this is the same Planned Parenthood that a mere six weeks ago apparently faked a hack on their own website and blamed it on extremists. I felt very comfortable not accepting the news reports at face value - which is why I studied Fusion GPS's report of the videos for myself (more on this later). 

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children

“I don't mean to be rude' I said, 'but what are you people?'
'We're peculiar,' he replied, sounding a bit puzzled. 'Aren't you?’
'I don't know. I don't think so.'
'That's a shame.”

Ransom Rigg's Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children was a New York Times best-seller,
reaching the #1 spot on the Children's Chapter Books list during its 90 week run. The book has sold 15 million copies, and the graphic novel adaptation checked in with a 50,000 copy first printing. A movie is in the works from 20th Century Fox (Tim Burton is the director; he is a good fit for this story). Hollow City, the 2014 second installment in the trilogy, had a 500,000 printing order for its release.

Mr. Riggs notes on his website that this book was ”born out of my love for vintage photography and bizarro stories.” It’s a cleverly told story built around a multitude of very unusual photographs he found in different vintage collections. I often don't like how pictures shape my imagination when reading a story, but in this case I enjoyed it quite a bit. Seeing the next picture - and knowing it was an actual, historical photograph - kept me engaged almost as much as the story.

Thursday, August 6, 2015

A Response To “Planned Parenthood is Not Selling Baby Parts, You F****** Idiots.”

When Skepchick Rebecca Watson wrote her now viral post on the Planned Parenthood scandal, no one had to guess which side she was defending or what she thought of the pro-life crowd. The article is worth considering – not because she's right, but because what is presented as fact is so woefully wrong in so many ways.

As I respond to her arguments, I will be quoting the shortened blog version of the video that she posted on her website. A lot of what I have to say will challenge her claim that nothing illegal is happening. The rest will hopefully point out why it shouldn't be legal in the first place.

Planned Parenthood is in the news a lot these days thanks to a maliciously edited video making it look like they SELL BABY PARTS.

First, the Center for Medical Progress released the uncut video along with the edited one. All anybody has to do – including all the journalists and bloggers who keep repeating this silly charge - is watch the whole video or read the transcript CMP provides on its website. If CMP were trying to deceive, they would have kept the uncut video a secret.

Second, if you think the edited videos makes it ‘look like’ Planned Parenthood is selling baby parts, just watch the videos and see for yourself. You will hear the following:
  • "We don’t want to get called on…selling fetal parts across states.”
  • “If you have someone in a really ‘anti’ state doing this for you, they’re probably going to get caught.” Get caught at what? Obeying the law?
  • “I think a per item thing works a little better, just because we can see how much we can get out of it.”
  • “I think for affiliates, at the end of the day, they’re a non-profit, they just don’t want to—they want to break even. And if they can do a little better than break even, and do so in a way that seems reasonable, they’re happy to do that.” Every business would like to do a little better than break even. That's called profit. It's probably worth noting that In 2014, Planned Parenthood's revenue exceeded their expenses by $90 million.
  • “The Federal Abortion Ban is a law, and laws are up to interpretation.”
  • “Here’s the heart. My fingers will smoosh it if I try to pick it up. The heart is right there… A lot of times I‘ll get a full torso, spine, kidneys. You could send the whole thing or pick that apart… It’s a baby.” There's the baby parts. 
  • “If someone delivers before we get to see them for a procedure, then they [the babies] are intact…” Which is good for those clients who want intact babies. 
If you think I am trying to trick you or I am ripping quotes out of context, please go watch the videos or read the transcripts.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

The 'Ick Factor' And The Planned Parenthood Videos

While discussing the recent Planned Parenthood expose, I have been told that my opinions about abortion are influenced by the ‘ick factor.’ Apparently, my opposition to abortion can be minimized or dismissed because I think abortion is gross. If I recommend that people view a picture or video so they can be fully informed, the response is fairly consistent: “There are a lot of medical procedures I don’t want to watch. Just because seeing them might make me squeamish doesn’t mean they are a bad idea. After all, I don’t want to see what happens in a heart surgery, but heart surgeries are a good thing.”

That's true. Something is not wrong because it makes me squeamish any more than it is right because it doesn't make someone else feel the same. So is this a legitimate argument? Am I and other pro-life advocates simply wanting to create a moral framework to support our weak stomachs? Obviously, I don't think that's the case.

Saturday, July 25, 2015

The Best Stories

"What good are fairy tales if we can't find our way?" - Ransom Riggs, Hollow City

As the peculiar children in Ransom Rigg's series are desperately trying to find a way to save someone they love, several of the children keep reading a book of fairy tales that apparently contain important truth. One of the children complains that the tales are useless. As far as he can see, they are lost; they need concrete truth, not fanciful stories.

It's a valid concern, but not a sound one (as Hollow City eventually shows). Not all truth is didactic and plain. Some of the most important truths are conveyed to us through fictional stories. Look at the parables Jesus used: a man was walking from Jerusalem to Jericho; a woman with ten silver coins lost one; a rich man stole a poor man's lamb.  None of them were 'true' in the sense that they actually happened to a particular person, yet the were all true in a way that transcended the story itself. A story that begins "once upon a time" does not always mean falsehood is about to follow; in it's best form, it presents true embedded in a timeless kind of story - if we take the time to find it.*

So what good are fairy tales if we can't find our way? I would argue that the goodness and truth of a well-told tale (and I am broadening this term to mean any type of fictional tale, fable, parable or story that creatively imparts truth about life) is actually most valuable when we can't find our way. However, for this to be true, three key elements need to be in place: truth, honesty and hope.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

It's Not Just Entertainment

As the Traverse City Film Festival approaches, anyone going to downtown Traverse City will inevitably see one or twenty posters with this year’s slogan: “One Great Movie Can Change You.” I completely agree. This is not a new insight, of course. People have recognized the power of entertainment for thousands of years. However, the slogan has encouraged me to revisit how the arts and entertainment both reflect and shape us.

Obviously, the arts reflect us as they respond constantly to the environment in which they occur. Read any Western Civilization textbook and you will see the ebb and flow over thousands of years. If a good story, song or image doesn’t resonate with something in a person’s life, no one is going to care, and the out-of-touch artist, author, musician, or filmmaker will lose his or her audience.

But entertainment shapes our culture as well. This was clearly the case even before ubiquitous media has burrowed into our 21st century psyche. Andrew Fletcher, a Scottish writer and politician, wrote of a wise friend who believed that “if a man were permitted to make all the ballads he need not care who should make the laws of a nation…most of the ancient legislators thought that they could not well reform the manners of any city without the help of a lyric, and sometimes of a dramatic poet.”

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Inside Out

Riley is an eleven-year old girl who is not, in fact, the main character in Inside Out. Most of the plot focuses on her emotions: Joy, Anger, Disgust, Fear and Sadness. Up until this point, Riley has led a life largely controlled (literally) by Joy. But when her family moves to a new town, Joy suddenly has to compete with other emotions like Anger and Sadness in ways she did not have to before; in other words, her formerly quiet inside emotions are about to come out for the world to see.

Inside Out is the latest Pixar extravaganza from the director who brought us Up and Monsters Inc. Metacritic has given it a 93 out of 100; Rotten Tomatoes has a 98% critic rating (check out this link for some of the more choice reviews). Along with the well-deserved accolades from critics and audiences, parents of autistic kids are reporting that this movie is helping their kids better identify and express their emotion. The psychologist who helped develop Riley's inner life told Pacific Standard:
"I got an email from a mom who took her highly functioning autistic boy to the movie, and seeing the movie was the first time that this young guy had insight into his emotional difficulty. He said: "Mom, I know I have anger, fear, and disgust, but I really struggle with sadness and joy—I don't know where they are." And she said it was their breakthrough moment. I was blown away."
Inside Out is creative, insightful, funny, heart-wrenching and full of hope. I may or may not have teared up several times. I most certainly laughed. In the midst of my enjoyment, a few understated but important elements in the movie stood out to me.

Sunday, July 5, 2015

Obergefell v. Hodge and the Future of Marriage

The recent Obergefell v. Hodge decisions has generated intense discussion about homosexuality, the nature of marriage, the power of the Supreme Court, the meaning of equality and rights, and the impact on churches as well as faith-based businesses and organizations. I don't care to jump into any of those conversation in this post. I would like to offer a different reason that this decision concerns me. In order to do so, I need to back up 23 years.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Neil Gaiman's Interworld Trilogy: Heroes And Cautionary Tales

I was first introduced to the writings of Neil Gaiman through Neverwhere, a dark, moving, parallel universe fantasy that takes place beneath the streets of London. As I further explored his writing, I found him to be constantly creative, often profound, and entirely capable of writing books for both adult and youth audiences (American Gods and The Ocean at the End of the Lane, respectively).

The three books I have mentioned only scratch the surface: he has multiple best-selling and critically acclaimed books and graphic novels to his credit as well. Gaiman’s recently finished InterWorld trilogy is an excellent addition to his canon. It is inventive, thought-provoking, and filled with characters who embody many of that attributes to which we all should aspire.

A brief synopsis of the plot: Joey Harker discovers he is a Walker, a person with the ability to “walk” between parallel realities. He also discovers that Joeys of all shapes and sizes from these realities are part of InterWorld, and organization that seeks to keep two opposing forces, Binary and HEX, from taking complete control of all the worlds. Binary sees everything through the lenses of science and logic; Hex sees it all through the lenses of magic. One character notes:
“New worlds are always being created. Some are worlds in which science holds sway, others are worlds in which magic is the motive power. Most worlds are mixtures of the two. We of InterWorld have no problem with either ideology. Our problem is with HEX and with the Binary, who both seek to impose their belief systems and methods of reality on other worlds —sometimes through war, sometimes more subtly. InterWorld exists to maintain the balance…. 
The Binary and HEX are locked in struggle, both overt and covert, for the ultimate control of the Altiverse. They’ve been going at it for centuries, making real slow headway because of the sheer magnitude of the task. I think the last census we intercepted indicated somewhere in the neighborhood of several million billion trillions of Earths— with more of ’em popping out of the vacuum faster than bubbles in champagne… Each of them wants only one thing— to run the whole shebang.”

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Down The Rabbit Hole: On Caitlyn and Culture

“Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?' 
'That depends a good deal on where you want to get to,' said the Cat.
'I don't much care where -' said Alice. 
'Then it doesn't matter which way you go,' said the Cat. 
'- so long as I get SOMEWHERE,' Alice added as an explanation. 
'Oh, you're sure to do that,' said the Cat, 'if you only walk long enough.” 
― Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland

The Bruce/Caitlyn Jenner story has given us a window into the culture in which this shift in identity has taken place. This post is not about Caitlyn as a person. Caitlyn's difficult internal struggle is very real, and it deserves compassion. Though I'm guessing Caitlyn and I disagree on how resolution and healing can be found, I hope that Caitlyn finds them.

What follows are not observations on Bruce/Caitlyn as much as thoughts on trends in our culture's ability to process complex issues such as this one. Supporting Jenner's new self-identity does not happen in a vacuum. It requires a manner of reasoning and a particular worldview perspective that I believe is leading us haphazardly down a rabbit hole of deeply confusing philosophical and moral dilemmas.

Monday, June 1, 2015

Duggars, Duplicity, and Dilemmas In Christian Community

The recent Duggar scandal reveals some huge problems for the Christian community. I'm not going to pile on the family here - plenty of other blogs are doing that. It's a sad story on many levels. I am simply going to note that the Christian community must learn some important lessons from this situation or we are destined to see this scenario play out over and over.

First, we must commit to being people of integrity.  Jesus offered an important caution to those who were rushing to judgment: “Let him who is without sin, cast the first stone” (John 8:7). It wasn't a call to overlook sin; it was a reminder that hypocrisy haunts us all. That's in important verse for a family (and a son) who are very publicly involved in political causes centered around Christian family values.  For a family with Josh's history embedded in their familial DNA, the Duggars were remarkably outspoken in public policy causes that focused on the sexual sins of other people.

It’s a bad idea to position ourselves as if we are speaking from a pristine pedestal of purity in any area of life. We Christians must own our stuff. We shouldn’t be calling out the skeletons in the closets of others if we can’t acknowledge our own (see Paul's instruction in Romans 2:17-24). Our past sins don't automatically deny us the right to speak about the same issue when we see it in others - maybe we are passionate because we want to warn others of the  wages of sin. That's understandable, but without honesty, transparency, love and grace, it's going to end badly. If we are really all about protecting victims and changing people’s hearts, we need to start in our own homes or churches. (Google “mote” and “eye” for more detail.)*

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Age of Ultron: Human Visions, Second Chances and Filled Gaps

The Avengers have invaded your local theaters - and the public consciousness.  Critics like it and audiences love it. It passed the $700million dollar mark only eight days after its release. A spokesperson for Disney said it should pass the $1.5 billion that the first movie brought in. That billion, with a 'b'. The next Avenger movie is several years away, but between now and then you will see plenty of TV shows and movies preparing the way.

I'm not going to rehash all the (appropriately) congratulatory things others are saying about the quality of the film. If we can grant that Joss Whedon knows what he's doing, we can move on to issues that go beyond the artistic merits of Age of Ultron.

Comic books are today's mythology without the religious devotion. All of the Avengers are reminiscent of these more-than-human heroes. Thor is the only demi-god in the classic mythological sense; Captain America and the Hulk have been made superhuman through science; Quicksilver and the Scarlet Witch were crafted through genetic and supernatural influence. They are all some version of Heracles, a blend of humanity and something greater that makes them so much more. 

Iron Man, Black Widow and Hawkeye are merely human, but Natasha and Clint’s gifts and training along with Tony’s technological genius have left them all with abilities that qualify them as “super.” They are Hector, Ajax, or Aegea, blessed by the nature and nurture gods to be bigger than life. 

As with any story that involves super folks, both the best and the worst of humanity will arise. These stories are not meant to present simplistic heroes and villains. They are meant to tales of horror and hope, cautionary and encouraging in a way that helps us better understand or navigate life.  Of course, everyone who tells a story - director, singer, author - approaches it from a particular worldview. What is the problem of humanity? Where is our salvation? Do our histories define us, or can we choose who we want to be? Age of Ultron is no exception. Whedon has crafted a movie that focuses our attention on the best and worst in the world - and in us.

Saturday, May 2, 2015

Undivided (The Unwind Series)

If you aren't reading Neil Shusterman, you should be. His Unwind series may be one of the best current YA stories addressing significant moral and social issues in a way that leads readers toward the truth. This review will cover the final book, Undivided. If you are not familiar with the series, it may be helpful to read some observations about the previous books.

"Unwind is compelling. It’s disturbing. It makes the moral heart of our culture’s debate about the aforementioned issues unavoidable. It's one thing to write academic papers about post-birth abortion; it's quite another to vicariously experience the murder of innocent people deemed unworthy of life. The reader can't help but cringe at the empty deception in defense of Unwinding while cheering those who fight to stop it. Though Shusterman intended to take a neutral approach by highlighting hypocrisy on all sides, the story sends a clear message about the value of human life." 

"There was far more to UnWholly than its discussion of the soul and personal identity. Risa and Conner show maturity and respect in their relationship. An ongoing story about rescued Tithes gives plenty of opportunity to analyze both the proper use and improper abuse of religion. And there is an achingly beautiful moment of forgiveness between two teens who have been horribly damaged by life. It may have been the best moment in a great book.But as much as I like his series for all those things, I am more impressed with Shusterman's ability to starkly reveal the implications of living in a culture that has forgotten what it means to be human."

Once again, Mr. Shusterman has reminded us of a number of issues that are just too important to ignore.  When does life begin? What does it means to be human? What happens when we view people as property or things? Are we just parts, or is there a unifying soulishness to our nature? Should scientists do things just because they can, or is there a should that needs to be part of the discussion? In a world that increasingly traffics in flesh (in areas such as pornography, the sex slave tradesavior siblings, and medical experiments on aborted babies), any reminder of the value of humanity is a good one." 

In Undivided, Mr. Shusterman brings this series to a close. Once again, he addresses serious issues in a thought-provoking and accessible way.

Monday, April 20, 2015

It Follows

It Follows is the most recent horror movie darling of critics and audiences alike. The plot is relatively simple: a girl (Jay) sleeps with her questionable boyfriend, and in so doing becomes the target of It, an undefined monster that wants to kill her. The only way she can get rid of its relentless stalking is to have sex with someone else who will then become the target - unless he gets killed, which will then make her the target again. 

Even the director acknowledges that the plot sounds silly on paper. Apparently, seeing it does the trick. It's been getting great press from critics and fans alike for its artistic merit, and it's garnered the dubious distinction of becoming what The Daily Beast called “an STD panic nightmare.” Considering how many have noted the movie's innovation as well as its  relevance to current social issues, It Follows piqued my interest.

It Follows creates a remarkably tense atmosphere through anticipation rather than gore. The artistic accolades are well deserved: David Robert Mitchell has made a truly frightening movie with a minimal amount of violence.* However, I want to push back against what many are saying about the message. 

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Saint Odd

Odd Thomas has become perhaps the iconic name associated with Dean Koontz. The series has sold over ten million print copies and 900,000 ebooks just in the United States. There are also three graphic novel prequels, a couple novellas, and a movie based on the first book.

Odd Thomas deserves the popularity – and the acclaim. Odd is a genuinely good guy, devoted to doing the right thing even when he knows it may cost him everything. The recently released Saint Odd wraps up this series in a way that provides an appropriate finale to an exceptional story.

A number of themes have stood out to me over the course of this series, and particularly in the final book.

1) Odd doesn't wait for injustice or evil to come to him – he tracks it down and engages it. Some people have noted that while many of today's literary heroes step up admirably when something is forced upon them, few actively seek for battles to fight. Odd Thomas is one of the few. He has a gift that shows him supernatural realities in ways others cannot see. Because of this, both Odd and the evil he seeks to combat are drawn to each other. He notes,
A gift like mine seemed to come from some higher power, and whatever the source— whether God or space aliens or wizards living in a parallel Earth where magic worked— it must be a benign higher power, because I was motivated to help the innocent and afflict the guilty.
He could have withdrawn - after all, most of the fights don't immediately effect him (though the ones that do are of the utmost importance). Instead, Odd once prayed to God, "Spare me so that I may serve." Odd has been spared many times, and his service takes him around the world and into the heart of evil. His friend Ozzie notes that he was"a young man who would give his life to save a friend or even an innocent stranger, and who, in giving it, would think he had not done enough."

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

From Terminus to Alexandria (The Walking Dead, Season 5)

Season 5 of The Walking Dead continued to dominate the ratings for cable TV shows. It also continued to offer a thought-provoking storyline that wrestles with the complexity of life and death.  Rick's group finally finds a city that offers safety, but not all of them are able to settle back into civilized life. They have spent a lot of time in a Darwinian wilderness. Abraham notes, "It's gotten to the point where everyone alive is strong now. We have to be. You're either strong and they can help you so you help them or you're strong and they can kill ya. So you gotta kill them. You gotta kill them and... I want to say it's never easy. That's not the truth. It's the easiest thing in the world now."

Daryl believes that "the longer [people are] out there, the more they become what they really are." If that's true, then life among the Dead has brought out the best in Michonne and Daryl. When Carol asks a formerly renegade Daryl if he's "starting over" since the plague hit, he responds, "I'm trying." That's something of an understatement. Michonne has gone from being the psycho who kept pet walkers to the moral compass of the group.

On the other hand, Rick and Carol have not fared so well. "We do what we need to do, and then we live," Rick says, and that includes a willingness to slit human throats and conquer peaceful towns if needed. Carol has become frighteningly good at being whoever she needs to be to survive. Yes, I want them on my side in a fight. No, I don't want them as neighbors. Season 5 began with "No Sanctuary," an episode that suggested no place was safe for them. By the time "Conquered" wrapped up the season, it appears that no one is safe from them.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Golden Son (Red Rising)

 “I hate how my body shivers at the idea of glory. There’s something deep in man that hungers for this. But I think it weakness, not strength, to abandon decency for that strange darker spirit.” 

Golden Son, the second book in Pierce Brown’s Red Rising trilogy, is garnering even better reviews than its excellent predecessor. Mr. Brown deftly blends Greek and Roman mythology, sci-fi, fantasy, and dystopian fiction (you can see the influences of Star Wars, The Hunger Games, Ender’s Game, Lord of the Flies, and Game of Thrones) into a vast, mesmerizing story of revenge, power, love and betrayal. Mr. Brown noted in an interview with Science Fiction and Fantasy:
"Put simply, Red Rising is a story of rebellion. It is set seven hundred years from now, in an age when humanity has terraformed the planets and moons of our Solar System. The story follows Darrow, a young Red (the bottom tier of this futuristic society) as he attempts to bring to justice the rulers of his society, the Golds, who have enslaved his people for half a millennium. Even if he has to infiltrate their ranks to do it... Golden Son begins several years after the events in Red Rising as Darrow continues in his quest to undermine Gold rule and pave the way for a Red revolution. While Red Rising stayed on Mars, Golden Son explores the far reaches of the Gold empire."
In my review of Red Rising, I noted that I wanted my boys to read about Darrow because of his compelling nobility. He wasn't perfect, but he embodied commitment, faithfulness, love, justice, and a righteous anger that he always managed to aim in the right direction (even if it took a while).

I don’t feel that way about the Darrow in Golden Son. That's not to say I have discouraged my sons from reading it. After all, one can learn the importance of living well by appreciating the reward of virtue or the destruction of vice. Red Rising shows what happens when purpose, character, and nobility bring a stabilizing moral center into a chaotic world; Golden Son shows what happens when that center does not hold.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Jupiter Ascending

“Can you make a modern-day fairy tale in the way you can make a modern-day science fiction story… Can you capture that sort of playfulness again?” - The Wachowskis in an interview with Buzzfeed 

Jupiter Ascending has taken a pounding in terms of art of filmmaking, and rightly so. It's incoherent at times; it's poorly paced; it's both silly and weird; the dialogue is at times woefully lacking; there are two brief scene of entirely gratuitous immodesty and nudity (PG-13); it borrows constantly from other movies (though some of that is meant to be an homage to classic directors or films); the plot holes are monumentally large; and Sean Bean's character inexplicably does NOT die, so that threw me off, too.

Having said that, I found Jupiter Ascending to be strangely endearing in spite of all its inadequacies. Somewhere within the beautifully epic and entirely implausible mishmash of space opera, reincarnation, beekeeping, manga homage and dinosaur evolution, there lurks a story - or at least part of a story - that resonated with me.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

The Last Man On Earth: Becoming The Person We Hope We Can Be

I decided to watch The Last Man on Earth after some of my friends commented how much they liked the show. A little online research revealed that critics and audience alike had quite a few good things to say about it.* Thanks to Hulu, I recently caught up on this quietly ascending show. 

The Last Man on Earth is precisely and appropriately named (the creators cite Life After People, The Omega Man, I Am Legend, and 28 Days Later as source material for the idea). After two years of searching, Phil Miller (Will Forte) concludes that he is entirely alone on earth. He drives to Tuscon, moves into a mansion, and resigns himself to an ever diminishing life of porn, booze, junk food and innovative demolition. 

He is given what some would think is the ultimate freedom – all the virtual women and real alcohol you want, with all the time in the world to make the adolescent inanity of Jackass into a reality. We (thankfully) don’t see the porn he uses – we just see how it cannot take the place of real people. We see all the alcohol he consumes – and it’s clear he is numbing the pain. This is the existential collapse of man. Phil’s painfully honest prayers and clever attempts at killing time alternate between poignant and amusing, but his inner life is falling apart as badly as his home. It's Ecclesiastes 1: "“Meaningless! Meaningless! Everything is meaningless.'” When he acknowledges that he is giving up on life, we get it.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Worldviews in Entertainment: Starting the Conversation

This past week, I had the opportunity to engage with middle and high school students on the topic of entertainment. In the course of four 2 ½ hour sessions, we talked about some popular YA fiction and watched four movies: Maleficent; Captain America: Winter Soldier; The Amazing Spiderman, and Ender’s Game. (Most of them had read or seen Hunger Games, Maze Runner, Guardians of the Galaxy and Divergent,  I was looking for something that was new to them and wasn't about sparkly vampires).

In order to explore the worldviews, we used the following template of questions for a discussion at the end of each movie:

  • What’s wrong with the world according to the story? What’s the proposed solution?
  • Who are the heroes/villains, and why?
  • What does the story suggest are important virtues and unfortunate vices?
  • What things does the story just assume (rather than argue) are true or real?
  • What does it mean to be human?
  • Does the story make a difference between someone who does heroic things vs. someone who is a hero (or someone who does villainous things vs. someone who is a villain)? Is there a difference to be made? 
  • What does this movie want you to believe is the secret to a good or meaningful life? Does that work in the real world?
  • Does the story make sin/goodness look compelling? Boring? Revolting? Irrelevant?
  • Many popular stories confirm either what we hope is true about the world or what we fear it true about the world. Do you see that in this story?
  • Is God (or are Christians) present in the story? If so, is the portrayal honest? What about representations of the people and beliefs in other worldviews?

Monday, February 23, 2015

Originality, Freedom and Form

Every discipline has its fundamentals. Chemistry is built on the periodic table; football greatness stands on blocking and tackling. Painting rests on the foundation of color, line and perspective. Musicians build upon the scales and chord progressions. Writers don’t write novels; they craft sentences. If you want to create art for the glory of God, master the fundamentals of your medium and allow your creativity to build upon that foundation.

A famous guitar player visited a local high-school music classroom for some question and answer time. One student asked, “How much did you practice when you were my age?” He answered, “I played my guitar nonstop day and night, surely more than 6-10 hours a day including band rehearsal. And NO, it did not come naturally as I struggled to discover my unique voice on a very difficult to control, loud, feeding back Gibson Byrdland, but I never gave up!”

Another student asked, “How do you memorize a song?” He answered, “To truly be one with our music, we must be naturally driven to play till it hurts. By playing our favorite licks or songs over and over and over again, the song & patterns become part of us. It takes enormous work ethic and dedication to ‘nail it’.”

Originality builds upon mastering the historic fundamentals of your craft. If you master your craft, you can create what you dream. It is a perpetually frustrated artist whose imagination constantly writes checks that his skills can’t cash! Creating art to convey a message without understanding the form, structure, and techniques developed in your discipline is like trying to perform surgery on someone without going to medical school. As a communicator of truth, remember that excellence in your work earns you the right to be heard by the culture.

When I was learning the guitar I practiced religiously. However, as all guitar players know, you get to a place where many people quit. It’s learning the F-chord. You must barre the entire first fret and then place your remaining fingers in an unnatural position and then SQUEEZE! Playing the F-chord actually hurts! Many a beginning guitar player has put his instrument in the basement after encountering the F. Every discipline has an F-chord. You must persevere past it if you hope to walk in greatness.

- an excerpt from an upcoming book on the arts by pastor and author Carey Waldie. Visit his website at http://www.careywaldie.com.

Friday, February 13, 2015

Black Mirror

Black Mirror is a British TV sci-fi series that takes a serious and provocative look at the unintended consequences of technology. Writing for The Guardian, Charlie Brooker, a creator of and co-writer for the series, noted
”I coo over gadgets, take delight in each new miracle app. Like an addict, I check my Twitter timeline the moment I wake up. And often I wonder: is all this really good for me? For us? None of these things have been foisted upon humankind – we've merrily embraced them. But where is it all leading? If technology is a drug – and it does feel like a drug – then what, precisely, are the side-effects? This area – between delight and discomfort – is where Black Mirror, my new drama series, is set. The 'black mirror' of the title is the one you'll find on every wall, on every desk, in the palm of every hand: the cold, shiny screen of a TV, a monitor, a smartphone.”
Though not prolific (seven shows in two seasons so far),  Black Mirror has won numerous awards, and its viewership around the world is growing tremendously. At least one episode is being turned into a movie, and an American version is sure to show up soon. 

After watching Season One, I was struck by the notion that Mr. Booker is a secular voice crying in the wilderness. Black Mirror is prophetic in the same way that Brave New World was ominously prescient. There are a lot of reasons to fear that the things we love will destroy us, and Mr. Booker has shown himself capable of pulling back the curtain on a future that simultaneously fascinates and terrifies. If you watch an episode without getting very uncomfortable, you're not paying attention.

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Katy Perry's Experimental Game and Superbowl XLIX

Katy Perry is charismatic, creative, and bold, and she sings songs that get stuck in your head (I dare you not to hum "Roar" once you hear it). She has more Twitter followers than anyone else in the world. She's also a great performer as seen by her impressive Superbowl halftime show that featured Lenny Kravitz and Missy Elliot. If your measure of success is technical showmanship, musical talent and star power, it was a solid show. If your measure of success also involves the appropriateness of the show, a different kind of discussion takes place.

Quite a few people weighed in on social media commenting on how "family friendly" and "clean" the show was. There were no wardrobe malfunctions or nudity. Nobody twerked. I heard, "It wasn't Beyonce!" more than a few times as people recalled previous shows that pushed the envelope much further than this one did.

That's all true, but in order to conclude that it was "clean" or "family friendly" I think we need to define what that means. Yes, it was more visually appropriate than a number of recent shows. However, that's hardly the only marker for whether or not the whole family can sit down and enjoy the show. To a large degree the medium is the message, but the lyrics of the songs are messages too, are they not?  So to get a clearer picture of the "family friendly" or "clean" nature of the show, I offer a lyrical snapshot of what was celebrated during halftime of the Superbowl. (Not all of these lyrics made the cut for the show, and some that did were changed, but they are part of the original songs):

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Attack On Titan

Both the anime and manga of Hajime Isayama's Attack on Titan have been absurdly popular and widely praised. Last year, five of the books in the series were in the Top 20 graphic novels in the U.S., beating even The Walking Dead;  8.3 million copies sold in just the first half of 2014 to boost its total sales close to 22 million copies in just under five years. 

To give you an idea of the audience being reached, anime and related merchandise was a $4 billion dollar business around the world in 2006. In 2009, anime accounted for 90% of Japan's television exports. And by the time Attack on Titan finally knocked Eiichiro Oda’s “One Piece” out of its top spot, "One Piece" had already sold 345 million copies around the world. That's the kind of numbers that J.K Rowling, Dean Koontz, and Stephen King move. Anime and manga have been in a slump the last few years (at least in the U.S.), but that is likely a reflection of digital piracy rather than lack of interest.

For those who are new to the anime and manga world, here's a few things to note before looking at Attack on Titan in particular.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Sinner (The Wolves of Mercy Falls)

To help us enter into and better understand the entertainment shaping today's culture, I offer my latest review of books effecting a primarily New Adult/Young Adult audience. My goal is not to critique the art form as much as look at the worldview in the story.

Maggie Stiefvater’s original Wolves of Mercy Falls trilogy left me with mixed emotions. I was
impressed with how well she plumbed the depth of the teenage experience in her characters, and I liked how she used the werewolf genre to explore how people must fight the animal urges within them.

However, I was frustrated with how some of it played out in the end. I noted in my review of the trilogy:“This is a haunting story of one Grace more than a generous grace; of a beautiful Mercy that falls mostly on the deserving; of a woods populated with wolves both lupine and human, and of saints who rise from the ruins of their own lives. I must add the truth I wish could have been embedded more deeply: grace is for all, mercy exists for the underserving, and all of us can transcend the wolf within us and forgive the wolves around us.”

I was pleased when Ms. Stiefvater released Sinner, a follow-up story about Cole (my favorite character from the trilogy) and Isabel. Of all the characters in the original story arc, these were the two in which I had invested the most.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Red Rising: You Must Live For More

“If you led others to freedom. The things you could do, Darrow. The things you could make happen.” She pauses and I see her eyes are glistening. “It chills me. You have been given so, so much, but you set your sights so low.” 
“You repeat the same damn points,” I say bitterly. “You think a dream is worth dying for. I say it isn’t. You say it’s better to die on your feet. I say it’s better to live on your knees… What do you live for?” I ask her suddenly. “Is it for me? Is it for family and love? Or is it for some other dream?” 
“It’s not just some dream, Darrow. I live for the dream that my children will be born free. That they will be what they like. That they will own the land their father gave them.” 
“I live for you,” I say sadly. 
She kisses my cheek. “Then you must live for more.”

Pierce Brown's Red Rising received strong critical reviews after its release in January of 2014.  By February, it had made the New York Times' best-seller list, and Universal Pictures had won a 7-figure bidding war for the movie rights (World War Z’s Marc Forster is slated to be at the helm). The second book in the trilogy, Golden Son, has just been released. So far, it's getting even better reviews than Red Rising. If you are looking for the next big YA dystopia, this is it. 

Monday, January 5, 2015

Scientific Mythologies: How Science and Science Fiction Forge New Religious Beliefs

James A. Herrick's Scientific Mythologies: How Science and Science Fiction Forge New Religious Beliefs offers a fascinating look at the interplay between fiction and reality. Sci-fi literature has had far more of an impact on scientific research than one might expect. Rather than being a purely logical endeavor, science is sometimes fueled by- and often distorted by - what scientists want to be true. As a result, scientists sometimes embrace cherished ideas in ways that are remarkably at odds with their claim to be dispassionately pursuing hard, cold facts.

Mr.  Herrick identifies seven of what he calls scientific mythologies that arise when fertile scientific imaginations join with a strictly materialistic view of the world: the myth of the extraterrestrial, the myth of space, the myth of the new humanity, the myth of the future, the myth of the spiritual race, the myth of space religion, and the myth of alien gnosis. I will let Mr. Herrick summarize the dilemma this creates:

“We are the victims of our fictions; for well over a century, our popular stories have argued that the future was pregnant with something beyond the human, something requiring our assistance to be birthed. Speculative science as well has helped to popularize and propagate this myth of the miracle baby, fruit of science and nature, citizen of the future, destined for space. We are no longer the pinnacle of a divine act of creation, the specific flesh in which God chose to clothe himself. We are now instrumental people, no longer flesh, but stepping-stones to something more important, indeed, something divine.