Metropolis Maria

Thursday, November 13, 2014

A Dr. Who Noob Watches Season 8

Confession: I have never been a Whovian, that is a fan of Dr. Who. I stumbled across the character and the series on my local PBS affiliate when I was a young teenager and immediately dismissed everything about it as being irredeemably cheesy: the stories, the props, the sets, even (and I know I will lose some points for this) the Doctor himself (as played by Tom Baker).  As a youngster who was exposed to the glorious effects of Star Wars, I thought that the American science fiction TV series like Buck Rogers, the original Battlestar Galactica and others were more compelling to me. Even a series as dated as the original Star Trek was, it had better sets and effects than Dr. Who.

As I grew older, Dr. Who faded even further into the background. I didn't know (or care) who played the Doctor after Peter Davison (Tom Baker's successor - the only reason I knew even that was due to an article in STARLOG Magazine that I read). I didn't keep up with much in traditional geekdom for a number of years, preferring to keep up with the Society for Creative Anachronism (a medieval reenactment group) instead.  After some time, Dr. Who fandom reappeared on the horizon, thanks in large part to a completely rebooted series, starring Christopher Eccleston. I wasn't even cognizant of that fact until Eccleston was cast in a bit part in the American TV superhero show, Heroes. Of course, I only learned that fact after he had left Dr. Who in the hands of David Tennant, who also played one of the villains in the Harry Potter film franchise. Once again, I didn't make the connection until recently, after I was more familiar with Tennant from his film role.

I would occasionally parachute in and catch reruns of old episodes, but nothing really captured my imagination much.  I learned some of the history and lore of the series from online acquaintances who would gush about their love for the series, referring to a certain actor's portrayal as "my Doctor" and so forth, but I just wasn't interested.

I think I know one of the things that kept me from really getting into the series: the serial structure of the season. In the early days, I was more comfortable with the episodic structure, where every episode was a standalone and the status quo remains unchanged. That model was the pervasive form for American television programs in my developmental years, like Star Trek, Buck Rogers, and Original Battlestar Galactica. You might have recurring characters and the occasional two-part episode, but again, once the story was over, nothing really had changed as far as the characters were concerned.  In Dr. Who, I picked up right away that there was much more to the character, the history and so forth that I didn't know, and jumping in was not an option, as I didn't want to enter the series in the middle of an ongoing story, and not know what was going on. If I invest in any type of serial program, I need to be able to go back and start from the beginning and follow it from there. When I first encountered the Doctor, there was no NetFlix, no Hulu, no On Demand, no complete seasons on DVD (no DVD for that matter). When the series was rebooted with Eccleston, I still had difficulty in starting in because I couldn't always find the beginning.

Then I heard that there was to be a new "regeneration" of the Doctor, that is a new actor would be taking over the role. The actor's name was Peter Capaldi, and I knew almost nothing about him, other than what a few online acquaintances posted. The general consensus was Capaldi was an acceptable choice, even though there were very vocal groups who had hoped for an ethnic minority or a female as the new Doctor.

Over the summer, my wife and I got hooked on a series from the BBC titled The Musketeers, which was a series based on the Dumas' novel The Three Musketeers. I was interested to learn that Capaldi was cast as the Machiavellian Cardinal Richlieu. Throughout the first season of The Musketeers, I was impressed with Capaldi's take on the Cardinal.  I was so impressed, that I decided to give Dr. Who a shot, starting with the first episode with Capaldi in the role.

There have been several articles bemoaning the stories told in this season of Dr. Who, and I'm sure that there may well be some merit to their lack of enthusiasm over the use of stock Who villains Daleks, Cybermen and Missy (The Master). But for me, someone who has no history or familiarity with them, it was all new and I watched as the Doctor had to overcome the threat each one presented.

Again, Capaldi is an amazing actor, able to go from eccentric to menacing to totally befuddled to supremely confident seamlessly. He is an absolute joy to watch. And I did watch. I thought at first that I would give it a couple of episodes to get me, and while I didn't always enjoy the stories, Capaldi brought me back again and again, and I finished out the season (and am looking forward to the Christmas special).

The stories were uneven, but I discovered a great deal of thought provoking (for me anyway) takes on the theme of redemption, good and evil, pain and loss, and many others. One could even explore the idea of God's apparent silence in times when we really need Him the most in one episode.  The Doctor's struggle with his own identity is apparent in the first episode ("Why did I choose this face?") and whether or not he is a "good man," and even admitting that he had made a lot of mistakes, before announcing a determination to "do something about that."

Some may think that this was a weak season for Dr. Who, but for me, it dealt with a number of my objections, mostly with regard to the sets, props and special effects. But as I imagine most Whovians will tell you, those are peripheral to the portrayal that each actor brings to the role of the Doctor. I think Capaldi plays the kind of Doctor I would like to watch.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Geek Theology 001

For some time now, I have been collecting quotations, lines from movies, television series, books, etc. that illustrate defining values of what I and others have taken to calling "Geek Theology." When I run across them, I like to post them on the various Geekklesia social media outlets (Facebook and Google+), but I'd like to start posting them here, grouped by themes.

Darkness and Light

"Once you let the darkness in, it never comes out." -- ARROW, season 2, episode 17 "Birds of Prey."

Sarah Lance/Black Canary: "I spent six years in the darkness, and I looked into the eyes of the devil, and I gave him my soul."
Ollie/Arrow: "Let me help you get it back." -- ARROW, S2, episode 21: "Seeing Red"

Barry Allen/The Flash: "Turns out no one can outrun pain. Life is tragic. But it's also precious and sweet and extraordinary and the only way I know to honor my mom's life is to keep running." -- THE FLASH, S1 Ep 3, "Things You Can't Outrun"

Detective James Gordon: "I promise you, however dark and scary the world might be right now... there will be light. There will be light, Bruce." -- GOTHAM, S1, episode 1 "Pilot"

Ichabod Crane: “The way we fight monsters must not be to create monsters. We must be better than them.”  -- SLEEPY HOLLOW, S2, episode 2 "The Kindred"

"Faithless is he that says farewell when the road darkens." - J. R. R. Tolkien

“The world is indeed full of peril, and in it there are many dark places; but still there is much that is fair, and though in all lands love is now mingled with grief, it grows perhaps the greater.”― J.R.R. Tolkien, The Two Towers

"Oft hope is born when all is forlorn." - Legolas, The Return of the King, by J.R.R. Tolkien

Buttercup: You mock my pain.
Man in Black: Life is pain, Highness. Anyone who says differently is selling something. -- The Princess Bride

"Just because someone stumbles, loses their way, doesn’t mean they’re lost forever." -- Charles Xavier (Professor X), X-MEN: DAYS OF FUTURE PAST

Scooby-Doo taught us that the real monsters are human.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Hero or Sidekick?

First of all, let me say that it is great to be back. I have been on hiatus while I transitioned from an administrative role in my church in Mississippi to a pastoral role in a local church in Virginia. The transition has taken longer than I anticipated, but I have a number of notes for posts in the hopper that need a bit of work, but this is one I was able to finish. Hopefully, it will be of help to someone.

In the film, Fools Gold, a character refuses to let himself be called the sidekick. In fact, his line is "I don't think of myself that way. I am the lead character in my own story." This quote reveals an underlying truth in nearly everyone's life: everyone is the hero/star of their own story.  

In the live-action version of the superhero satire The Tick, Arthur bristles  at the notion that he's the Tick's "sidekick." He prefers to be known as his 'partner.' He cannot accept that he might have second billing to someone else.  An entire movie, Sky High, was made with this premise.  Kids go to a high school for supers where they are taught as either heroes or sidekicks, depending on their powers and control over said powers. The kids relegated to the sidekick role are depicted as disappointed. They have the ambition to be the hero.

There is even a  list of thirty things to do if you ever find yourself as the sidekick.  This list notices that sidekicks routinely get the short end of the stick and seeks to encourage readers to plan ahead and do the smart thing to ensure success rather than the cliched dumb thing that forces the hero to rescue the sidekick. It makes for a great laugh, but nonetheless reinforces the idea that being a sidekick is no fun.

I think that this might be true of all of us, to some degree or another; we want to be the lead character, the hero. Nobody wants to be the sidekick.  

But there is a huge cost to being the hero. George Reeves, who played Superman on TV for many years, hinted that he might have worn a girdle to keep his "middle-age spread" in check so he could continue to "look the part." Reeves also died suspiciously, with speculation that he might have committed suicide. Later, actor Christopher Reeve (no relation), who starred in four Superman films himself, fell from a horse, suffering a cervical spinal injury that left him to spend the rest of his life in a wheelchair.

Singer Randy Stonehill wrote a song that contained lyrics indicating his understanding of the cost of being a hero: 
And I used to dream of being a hero,
Yeah, I told myself I'd never fall down.
But I couldn't take the strain and Jesus is the name
Of the only hero I've ever found." -- Gods of Men

Another singer, Steve Taylor, wrote a song that even more explicitly showed that our heroes often let us down:
When the house fell asleep there was always a light
And it fell from the page to the eyes of an American boy 

In a storybook land I could dream what I read
When it went to my head I'd see
I wanna be a hero
But the practical side said the question was still
"When you grow up what will you be?"
I wanna be a hero

It's a nice-boy notion that the real world's gonna destroy
You know
It's a Marvel comicbook Saturday matinee fairytale, boy 

Growing older you'll find that illusions are brought
And the idol you thought you'd be was just another zero
I wanna be a hero 

Heroes died when the squealers bought 'em off
Died when the dealers got 'em off
Welcome to the "in it for the money as an idol" show
When they ain't as big as life
When they ditch their second wife
Where's the boy to go?
Gotta be a hero

When the house fell asleep
From a book I was led to a Light that I never knew
I wanna be your hero
And He spoke to my heart from the moment I prayed
Here's a pattern I made for you
I wanna be your hero -- Hero

The final verse of Taylor's song points us to his and Stonehill's hero: Jesus.

Jesus said "Come unto me, all you who labor and are heavy laden and I will give you rest." (Matthew 11:28).  We can look at this promise in this way: those who struggle against overwhelming forces have a friend who will always be there and sticks closer to us than a brother (Proverbs 18:24). He also has "overcome the world" (John 16:33) and so is the hero not only that we want, but also that we need.  Jesus claims the identity of the hero who has come to free the captive and bring relief to the oppressed (Luke 4:16-21).  He lives this identity throughout the Gospels, confirming that He is the hero. Nearly everywhere you look, Jesus  is seen defending the defenseless and befriending the friendless. As the Apostle Paul notes in Romans 8:31, if He is for us, "who can stand against us?"
Too often, we try to take over the hero role, when we are clearly not qualified. This is evident from the old bumper sticker that claims "God is my co-pilot." Only when we adjust our thinking and our lives to the reality that there is a God and we are not Him will we discover that He makes a much better hero than we do.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Surfacing....but just for a moment

Friends, I haven't forgotten you all here during my recent transition back to a pastoral ministry. Things have been a little hectic here, and I'm still not in a place where I can do lengthy, thoughtful posts.

So, in the meantime, let me just point you to some Max Headroom-related items of interest.

First off, I've been checking out some podcast episodes that discuss our favorite "computer generated" AI talking head.

At the top of my playlist (in reverse order of download) is the Retroist Podcast, episode 046. Great discussion of the series and some personal anecdotes that tie in the ABC TV series from 1987 to the pop culture phenomenon that Max was.

Next is Autopilot, season 2 episode 11. This is a podcast about old TV shows in general and their pilot episodes in general. Great discussion about the similarities and  differences between the BBC Telefilm "20 Minutes Into The Future" and the American TV series pilot episode "Blipverts."

Third is Greatest Movie Ever podcast Max Headroom episode. This one focuses more on the BBC Telefilm and only touches briefly on the US TV series.

The final one i'd like to mention is Sci-Fi Tech Talk podcast episode #000006 Max Headroom. The episode discusses how amazingly prescient the series was in its presentation of technology and media manipulation.

All are great retrospectives of just how awesome the Max Headroom TV series truly was.

Something else of interest, my good friend Steve Nibblelink of Alien Graphics has an incredible line of novelty identification badges, including a Network 23 press badge and a Metrocop ID badge. Follow then links in this post to his Pinterest page to see them, and place your order for your favorites and support a hard-working geek.

Monday, May 12, 2014


I realize that I have been a little slack in my posting schedule recently. A lot of that has been due to my off screen life responsibilities. I have been doing a lot more travelling these past few months than I care to do for a while, and that has disrupted my writing.

Having said that, I am at the keyboard, alerting my loyal readers (all six of you), that there will be some further changes in my off screen life, which will most likely affect my writing as well, at least for a while.

The Princess Bride and I are being transferred to Harrisonburg VA, where we will assume the roles of front-line pastoral ministry.  For the past six years, we have worked for our denomination at an administrative level, but the powers that be have seen fit to return us to regular pastoral duties.

We are currently in the process of packing up home and offices, and will depart our current assignment on June 15.

I do covet your prayers, as this will be an interesting transition. I hope we remember how to do it right.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

[Theology Thursday] Life Always Finds A Way

This winter, we were trapped in the "polar vortex" that had crippled much of the country in the coldest temperatures in recent memory.  I was reminded that winter is often associated with death, but I have been thinking recently about the fact that death is never really the end of the story, and I am certain that life will appear once again.

We tend to believe that death is the final word, the in the Bible we often see death as being in one sense "cut off" or "separated." in Genesis 3, Adam and Eve "died" when they were cut off from fellowship with God and each other due to their disobedience. The nation of Israel "died" when they were separated from their homeland during the Babylonian captivity. I think you can understand what I'm trying to say here. God is never satisfied with death, and is always trying to bridge the gap and restore life just as He always tries to restore relationships

Some time ago I ran across this article  from the website io9 that dealt with a 100-year-old abandoned wreck that had been left on its own in the shallows that has now become the home for a small forest.

I ran through the images that were filled with exquisite natural beauty, and I was reminded of an article that pointed out that signs of natural recovery were evident near the Mount St. Helens eruption site about a year after the event.  I went looking for the article, but this one was as close as I could come.

Pictures like these remind me again of the wonder of creation.  In the midst of death and destruction, to quote from the film Jurassic Park, "Life always finds a way."

Likewise, I also believe that "life is not a malfunction" (from the film Short Circuit).  Life is no accident, but has purpose and created by God.  The Bible clearly communicates that God is at the beginning of creation and the Author of life (Genesis 1-2), even if there is some disagreement on timetables and such. Later, in the Gospel of John, Jesus is likewise identified as God and therefore nothing exists that He didn't make (John 1:3).  During His earthly ministry, Jesus again communicates that there is no life apart from Him: "Jesus answered, 'I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.'"(John 14:6, New International Version)

Sometimes, as in the case of the shipwreck and the Mr. St. Helens environs, life is born from pain and death.  Describing the pain of childbirth, God, through the prophet Isaiah says that He will not allow pain without something good to come of it.  'In the same way I will not cause pain without allowing something new to be born,' says the Lord." (Isaiah 66:9 New Century Version).  Even in the midst of death, life can be found, and with this being so, we can have hope.  Author and theologian Leonard Sweet quotes from St. Clement of Alexandria: "He turned our sunsets into sunrises" Clement of Alexandria (c.150-c.215). To make it even geekier, J. R. R. Tolkien wrote "You can only come to the morning through the shadows."

Looking at the pictures linked above, I'd have to agree.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

The Times, they are a-changin’

This week, I was asked to give a devotional at my place of work.  I had planned on posting the text, and since one friend asked nicely, I will do so today.

Just before Christmas, it seemed as if everyone wanted to talk about the 50th anniversary of the British children’s television series, Dr. Who. Now I am not a fan of the show, only because it has never ‘hooked’ me the way it has for others, but I can appreciate the excitement many fans have for the series. Imagine that! One TV series – fifty years –with eleven different actors playing the title role.

In the series, the Doctor, as he is known, is a Time Lord, which means he has the power, via a very special vehicle, to travel back and forth through time.

Now, there are other time travel stories. How many can we name? Back to the Future, Quantum Leap, The Time Machine, Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure, and many others. These are neat stories, and I think that in general people are fascinated with the idea of time travel, because I think we all do it.

Now, I don’t mean physically travel through time, but when we remember good times in the past, or we anticipate what tomorrow will bring, we are, in a sense, moving through time.1

Often, when we go back in time in our memories, we do so out of regret for something that happened that should not have, or something that didn’t happen that should have.

In the New Testament, there are two words used for the concept of time. One is Chronos, and from it we get words like “chronology” and “chronic”. This word has the meaning of a specific measurement of time. It is concerned with the seconds/minutes/hours/days/weeks/months etc. of time. If we were a true time traveler, we would need to know the specific time (chromos) in which to travel to get where we want to go.

The other word is a little more abstract. It is Kairos, and it deals with a moment in time, The music group Kansas released a song many years ago titled “Dust in the Wind.” One line says “I closed my eyes, only for a moment and the moment’s gone.” This is kairos.

Another way of considering kairos is the idea of the “opportune moment.” In the first Pirates of the Caribbean movie, the good guys have just defeated the bad guys, and the hero, Will Turner, has come face to face with the woman he secretly loves. He wants to tell her he loves her, but just can’t. Take a  look at what happens.

The opportune moment. When we look back in time in our memories with regret it is because we missed the opportune moment. The time we should have acted and didn’t. The “if only” time.

The two verses that really speak to this idea are found in Ephesians and Colossians: “See then that you walk circumspectly, not as fools but as wise, redeeming the time, because the days are evil.” (Ephesians 5:15-16 NKJV) and “Walk in wisdom toward those who are outside, redeeming the time. Let your speech always be with grace, seasoned with salt, that you may know how you ought to answer each one.” (Colossians 4:5-6 NKJV)

In Scripture, we read that God created time When he created the first day and night. He understands that we are finite, that we only have a limited number of days allotted to us.

He calls us to take advantage of the moments (kairos) he sends us in the limited number of hours and years (chronos) he has given us.

Many of the commentaries I looked at in preparing this devotional advocated 'care' or 'caution' in 'redeeming the time.' By I think, in this day and age, the right course of action is boldness. We need to boldly look for opportunities to redeem the time.

Dr. Who may be a Time Lord, but Jesus is the Lord of Time. How should we honor him this new year? By taking advantage of the opportune moment.

1. Most of my thoughts have been influenced by this series of blog posts

Monday, January 6, 2014

Relationships Matter

I’ve been reading No Cape Required: 52 Ways to Unleash Your Inner Hero by Kristen Parrish as a weekly devotional. Parrish uses pop culture heroes to illustrate themes and characteristics Christians should embrace in their daily lives and walks with Jesus.  The first, naturally focused on Superman’s quest for Justice. This week’s was on friendships, as exhibited in the relationship between Captain Kirk and Mr. Spock in the original series version of Star Trek.

As I have been thinking about that theme, I am reminded that humans were created to be relational.  We were created first of all to have a relationship with our God (Genesis 1:26-27). He also created us to have relationships with each other (Genesis 2:18).  God Himself exists in a perpetual relationship with the other Persons of the Trinity (the Son and the Holy Spirit). The Trinity – three Persons existing as One Whole – is an immense mystery, but it testifies to this fact.  If we are, in fact, created in God’s image, then we were created to live in perpetual relationship with each other.

Sin  - the active rebellion against God – is, by its very nature, a breakdown in the relationship between people and God (Genesis 3:9). It also leads to the destruction of relationships between families and friends (Genesis 3:16).

The temptation for geeks and nerds is to protect ourselves from mocking and teasing by withdrawing from people and building up walls to keep others out.  But as we prevent others from getting to close we inadvertently are also keeping God out.  While it may be difficult at times to open ourselves up to being hurt, it is critical for our redemption – for our restoration to full humanity as we were created to be – that we be relational.

Relationships matter.