Metropolis Maria

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Star Wars: T-Minus Two Weeks - Initial Thoughts

[Please forgive the stream of consciousness aspect to this post.] 

We are now just two weeks away from the release of Star Wars Episode 7: The Force Awakens in the US.

I've been reflecting on this event for a while now.

I was eleven years old when the original Star Wars movie (now branded as Episode 4: A New Hope) was released and I saw it, that first, fateful summer of 1977.

Then in 1980, this was followed by Episode 5: The Empire Strikes Back. A new decade, and a darker turn, with an unbelievable (at the time) reveal.

In 1983, I had just finished my Junior year of High School, and my best friend at the time and I were among the first in line to see the conclusion of what is now seen as the "Original Trilogy," Episode 6: The Return of the Jedi. There was  no camping out at my little theater near Texarkana, Texas. In fact, when I pulled up, we were the first to arrive. But rather than starting the line, we went back and sat in the car. When others arrived, we got out of the car, and still ended up as the fourth or fifth people in line. My friend and I got our popcorn and cokes and sat down in the theater. While we waited for the opening, he took the lid off of his drink and flung it like a frisbee. It flew toward these two kids and as it approached it tilted on its edge and slipped neatly between them. They were so startled that they both stood up and stared after it, trying to see where it went. They never looked back to see where it might have come from.

My very first science fiction convention was in 1979; I was in eighth grade and a member of a sci-fi club. At the convention, I met Anthony Daniels (C-3PO) and David Prowse (Darth Vader).

I collected trading cards from the original films (not really seriously, but I had a few). I had a vinyl record that summarized the film's story using audio from the soundtrack.

I watched the Holiday Special on TV when it aired, and was happy, even though it was weird and trippy, because it was more Star Wars, and it was on TV!

My wife took me to see Star Wars in Concert, a retelling of the entire saga (to that point) using John Williams' incomparable score and narrated by Anthony Daniels

22 years after the world changed with the premiere of Star Wars, the "prequel trilogy" was launched with the premiere of Episode 1: The Phantom Menace. The film was meant to tell the story of the rise and fall of Luke Skywalker's father Anakin into the villain known as Darth Vader.  This was followed by Episode 2: Attack of the Clones and Episode 3: The Revenge of the Sith. These films followed the release pattern of one film every three years established by the Original Trilogy. While visually stunning, the story told by the Prequel Trilogy did not engage my imagination like the story told in Episodes 4, 5, and 6.  I'm not sure if it's because the story was lacking, George Lucas tried to do too much, or if I had become somewhat jaded in the two-decades-plus space between the two trilogies.

I read the first three Han Solo tie-in novels, and the first (post-episode 4) Marvel Comics. While I enjoyed the Han Solo novels, the comics really turned me off to the nascent "Expanded Universe" so much that I never really read anything else.

The other day, I caught a video of a capella group Pentatonix's tribute to the music of Star Wars. When the orchestral fanfare kicked in and we heard the main theme played, I nearly wept for joy.

These are mostly just ruminations as I am looking forward to the release of the new Star Wars film, Episode VII: The Force Awakens. The last time I was this excited about a new film was when I heard that someone had finally made a live-action Lord of the Rings movie, and my mind was blown, as so much of what I saw on screen was what I visualized when I read the books.  But this is Star Wars. This is the film franchise that forever altered the way I looked at the world. It presented a seismic shift in many of my choices, from entertainment to collections, to college major. I do not think it is a major stretch to say that I am the man I am today due to my God, my family and friends, and (for better or worse) for Star Wars.

I can hardly wait.

Saturday, May 30, 2015

Two Possible Futures

Last weekend, I was able to pull off a rare treat for myself: I got to see two movies, as it was Memorial Day and I had the time.  My wife and I together went to see Tomorrowland, and then on Monday I soloed at Mad Max: Fury Road (while she went to see Age of Adeline).

The two films together are at opposite ends of the spectrum when it comes to our possible futures.  On the one hand, Tomorrowland wistfully presents us with the possibility thaht our future can be bright, hopeful and full of promise, while the latest installment (NOT reboot) of the Mad Max franchise is as far to the other side of the spectrum as one can get: dark, grim, violent, uncertain in morals or promise of a better life.

Most reviews of Tomorrowland I have seen have not been positive. They seem to focus on the positive message of the film. When I was a kid, this was the future I was promised: gleaming skyscrapers, high-speed monorails, jetpacks and flying cars.  As I grew up, I discovered post-apocalyptic entertainment, even though I didn't have a name for it. TV shows like Ark II and Logan's Run presented me with a whole new way to look a the world and the future.  Nowadays, we have film franchises like Mad Max, The Hunger Games and the Divergent series are huge moneymakers for the studios and publishing houses, mostly because we share an uncertain interpretation of what the future might hold.

But I have to ask, why can't we be reminded to have hope? Why is it wrong to want things to be better? Why must we accept that things have to be awful, and that's "just the way it is?"

Tomorrowland is bright, hopeful, joyous. There is an undercurrent of menace, certainly, a sense that darkness is just outside the door, that there is a snake in our garden, But in the words of Robert Kennedy, “There are those that look at things the way they are, and ask why? I dream of things that never were, and ask why not?” The youthful protagonist in Tomorrowland challenges her teachers who repeat the dire warnings of a dismal future with the question, "what can we do to fix it?" This stumps the teachers, because they don't consider the possibility of a future than can be fixed. Some critics have pointed out that this is a weakness in the film that there is this challenge, but no solution outside of the "think positively" mantra. But perhaps the first step is in challenging the status quo.

"You've got simultaneous epidemics of obesity and starvation, explain that one. Bees butterflies start to disappear, the glaciers melt, the algae blooms. All around you the coal mine canaries are dropping dead and you won't take the hint! In every moment there's a possibility of a better future, but you people won't believe it. And because you won't believe it you won't do what is necessary to make it a reality." -- Governor Nix, Tomorrowland

The film gets a lot of criticism for its apparent vapid "touchy-feely" message that all of the evils of the world don't have to be, but can be resolved with good intentions and positive thinking.  As a Christian, I understand that the only way for the world to be redeemed is for the crown of his creation, mankind, to be restored to a right relationship with their Creator.  But as Christians, we should never be satisfied with the idea that "that's just the way it is."  Some Christians believe that our lives on earth are a "dress rehearsal" for the hereafter. My faith tradition leans in the direction that Believers have a responsibility to live as if we are already in the presence of God, because we are. Is the world longing for God's intervention, and will mankind's rebellion result in an apocalyptic age? Yes. But we should never be okay with violence and injustice.

Mad Max lies at the other extreme on the utopia/dystopia scale. It is dark, violent, and human life is extremely cheap. It is a prime example of what post-apocalyptic fiction and entertainment is all about. We live in an age where we have almost no hope for the future, and the Mad Max films resonate with us in that respect.  Again, as a Christian, I understand that this is the way it is to be. Even the very earth itself is anxiously awaiting the redemption of Jesus (Romans 8:19-22)

But even in this nihilistic view of the future, Mad Max:Fury Road shows us that humankind has an amazing capacity for hope: a minor character discusses how she has saved seedlings for plants and fruit trees and tries planting them to see if life can be reintroduced into the bleak landscape presented in the film.

"We're in the 21st century and I don't care that I don't have a flying car; I just want to know how I ended up as an extra in A Clockwork Orange." -- Berin "Uncle Bear" Kinsman

Some will look at Tomorrowland and call it a childishly naive view of the future, and that Mad Max is more grown up.  Biblically speaking, we are called to "grow up" in our perspectives (I Corinthians 13:11). However, there is a difference presented in Scripture. On the one hand, we are told that we can only enter the Kingdom of God as a child. How do we resolve this tensions? By understading that God wants us to have a sense if wonder and dependence on Him. We need to put away childish fear, selfishness, impulsiveness and other ills. A childlike heart of wonder is not only okay, its expected of Believers.

In short, I believe that we can appreciate both. Yes the, world is in dire straits. But Believers have the responsibility, mandate even, to hold out hope for the future. This is a hope found only in Jesus, but that should never stop us from working and doing our part to better the world we live in now. We may never have a Tomorrowland future, but it need not be a Mad Max one either.

Friday, April 24, 2015

[Review] Daredevil (Marvel/Netflix TV series)

The Marvel Cinematic Universe has proven to be an unstoppable force, regularly producing films and television programs that mine the depths of their catalog. These productions feature properties that bring larger-than-life characters from the four-color pages of comic books, thus introducing these characters to a whole new audience that would never otherwise sweet foot in a comic shop. 

Since re-acquiring the Daredevil property from 20th Century Fox in 2012, Marvel has displayed a consistent ability to "get it right" when it comes to putting their properties on either the large or small screens.  A year after the rights reverted to Marvel, it was announced that they had entered into a deal with Netflix to produce a number of serious based on Marvel paperless, including Daredevil.

Two weeks ago, the thirteen episode series Daredevil premiered on Netflix, marking a major departure from other Marvel productions. The series is dark and gritty in tone, seeking to emulate a crime drama, which is a radical departure from all the other Marvel offerings, to date.

There is a lot to really like in this series. Starting with the title sequence beginning with the slow reveal of blind Justice (a nod, perhaps, to Matt Murdock's own blindness as he strives for justice for the disenfranchised?), the music really sets the stage for what it's too follow. In fact, there are some very interesting musical choices that while being unexpected at times, serve to perfectly set the stage for what we are seeing on screen. At times the lighting also works in unexpected ways. Often, the heroes are shot in dim, diffused lighting, highlighting the low-rent office space area while the corporate villains that are working against Daredevil and his allies are for in bright, high key lighting that also provide a visual counterpoint to the deeds of darkness that are done in the daylight.

One of the real surprised to me is the fight choreography. It is epically good, probably the best I've ever seen. I used to think the best was on Arrow, but I've seen Daredevil and now I know better. recently posted an interview with the fight coordinator explaining how a three-minute, single-shot sequence where Daredevil takes on a gang Russian mobsters in a hallway was pulled off.

The writing is excellent, the acting is top-notch, and especially Vincent D'Onofrio is perfectly cast as Wilson Fisk, aka, the Kingpin, the series' major villain. The only thing about the acting that have need pause was that it seemed as if D'Onofrio was using vocal inflections from his character in Men in Black.

One of the major themes that finds through out the first session is "What keeps a good man from becoming like that which he fights against?" Daredevil & Fisk state repeatedly that their purposes for doing what they do are in fact, the same: "To make their city a better place to live." In fact, this is spoken almost word-for-word by each of them at various times. But how they go about it is a fascinating display of opposites. When he first bursts onto the scene, Matt is dubbed "Devil of Hell's Kitchen," which seems to play up an almost anarchic sense of justice: the police and those who we have been taught to trust to protect us are failing, and someone must intervene. On the other hand, Fisk is determined to live in the shadows, refusing to allow even those closest to him to "speak his name." Even when we does venture out into public, he is immaculately groomed: everything has its place and everything in its place. On the surface, the Kingpin (a name that sadly does not appear in the series thus far), represents order, but as the series develops, it is a Mephistophelian order, one that brooks no dissension, nor deviation from the visualized destiny.

The struggle to maintain one's sense of righteousness, and not be sucked in to the temptation to use your enemy's methods against him is palpable. I especially appreciate the fact that Matt is motivated to seek out guidance from outside of himself. As a Catholic, he understands that the seal of the confessional is inviolate, and so his secrets are safe with the priest, Father Lantom. Every interaction between Matt and Father Lantom is powerful.  It is as if the priest gets Matt and is gently guiding him along a moral pathway that is fraught with "dangers, toils and snares."  Two scenes from the series, I believe, brilliantly illustrate both just how good the writing is and this moral dilemma Matt faces.  In episode 9, "Speak of the Devil," Matt's best friend Foggy Nelson, their secretary Karen Page and reporter Ben Urich are discussing the motivations of the "Devil of Hell's Kitchen:"

Foggy Nelson: "Why did he come to Ben? Why not just take Fisk down himself?"
Ben Urich "Maybe he knows there's some roads you can't come back from."

Likewise, in the very next episode, Madame Gao, the leader of a Chinese heroin smuggling ring lectures Fisk on the conflict within himself:

Madame Gao: "Man cannot be both savior and oppressor"

While I was watching this series, I was also reading Greg Garrett's excellent resource Holy Superheroes!: Exploring the Sacred in Comics, Graphic Novels, and Film (revised and expanded, from 2008) In a chapter on vigilante justice, Garrett references a couple of issues of the Daredevil comic from 2003 that seem to have an influence on the overall tone of the series:

"Seeing how superheroes deal with the kind of human problems we might face can be instructive. In the issues of Daredevil, written by Brian Michael Bendis, the character of Matt Murdock/Daredevil has faced many problems that couldn't simply be solved by a well-placed fist, and his response to them has been morally ambiguous. Matt tells his friend and law partner Foggy Nelson that he misses going toe-to-toe with one of his most dangerous foes, Wilson Fisk/the Kingpin, because he says, 'I knew where I stood with Wilson, I knew the rules.' (Daredevil, vol. 2, #45 [2003], p. 8)

"Matt has returned to pragmatism, instead of relying on a rock-solid moral code to do what's right. And as a result, one of Matt's friends, fellow superhero Luke Cage, tells him he's turned into a 'low-life piece of garbage.' Luke goes on to explain: 'Our entire existence, we put on the outfit -- all the crap we been through -- what puts us apart from the lowlifes is how we behaved with the crap we didn't ask for...Be a man! Stand for something more than just a pair of tights.'" (Daredevil, vol. 2, #44 [2003], pp. 20, 22, quoted in Holy Superheroes! by Greg Garrett)

Greg Garrett mentions a notion prevalent in many comics, that of "pop fascism" (p. 65), which is where the superhero imposes his or her own interpretation of justice in a situation where it is apparent that the appropriate authorities are either incapable or unwilling to do so. The problem with this, as Garrett sees it, is that that it can lead to moral pragmatism, or the determination that only what "works" is all that is important, without being anchored to a moral code that applies across the board. This small-screen iteration of Daredevil could very easily head down this road and end up in a place where he is uncertain of where he stands with the so-called "bad guys." Instead, he is guided by Father Lantom, Foggy Nelson, Karen Page, and another character that challenges his motivations Claire Temple (played by Rosario Dawson).

Overall, Daredevil is excellently produced. I would caution viewers that the series deserves its TV-MA rating. In fact, that is probably my only criticism. I think I would prefer less language and less gore. That said, neither the language or the for feels that out of place, just an observation in the interest of full disclosure.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Why Geekklesia

I'm always thinking about what I want to say here as well as over at the Facebook and Google + companion page for this site. But I don't limit myself to just the what; I also think about the why.  Why do I seek to post nuggets of interest (perhaps only of interest to me), and look for ways that these nuggets can illustrate spiritual truth?

I think it is because we live in an essentially pagan culture. And by pagan, I mean a culture that is biblically illiterate at is core.  A culture that, for all of its technological advances, is deeply wary, even cynical, when it comes to faith.

The 21st century is in many ways like the first century: despite pockets of believers, the wider world just doesn't know.

I recently saw a meme that claimed that geeks are people for whom the details matter. I'd also add that geeks also embrace the possibilities.

According to the Bible, mankind (both male and female) were created in the image of God. We aare introduced to God in Genesis 1, where the very first thing we see Him doing is creating the world. So, creativity is an intrinsic part of our makeup. For far too long the Church in general has not reacted well to creative people, many times mocking and even suppressing them.  It's no wonder that geeks are often quite creative, but feel as if the Church has no use for them.

But even those who do not subscribe to any particular faith seem to acknowledge that there are things like right and wrong and truth and beauty. As such, they are drawn to the stories about heroes righting the wrongs and saving the day.  As G. K. Chesterton wrote in "The Red Angel, "Fairy tales, then, are not responsible for producing in children fear, or any of the shapes of fear; fairy tales do not give the child the idea of the evil or the ugly; that is in the child already, because it is in the world already. Fairy tales do not give the child his first idea of bogey. What fairy tales give the child is his first clear idea of the possible defeat of bogey. The baby has known the dragon intimately ever since he had an imagination. What the fairy tale provides for him is a St. George to kill the dragon."  Echoing this idea, C. S. Lewis added "Since it is so likely that they will meet cruel enemies, let them at least have heard of brave knights and heroic courage. Otherwise you are making their destiny not brighter but darker." (Of Other Worlds, "On Three Ways of Writing for Children" (1966))   Lewis' good friend J. R. R. Tolkien also wrote in his essay "On Fairy Stories" that all these classic stories of heroic derring do ultimately point us to the "True Myth," -- the Gospel story.

Our world is desperately seeking a hero. We have been disappointed that so many of the people we have been taught to trust - the police, clergy, teachers and so on have proven to be less than perfect in their trustworthiness. The government is mired in petty, partisan squabbles, and even the Church is caught up in debating minor points of doctrine which should not hang us up so much, but rather lead us to appreciate the majesty and beauty of Jesus Christ, our Risen Lord.

It is no wonder that some are drawn to speculative fiction, what some my call a geek culture. In this culture, we find readers, television and film viewers, gamers, writers, costumers, and the list goes on. Many of them have rejected those institutions that the majority culture was taught to believe in, and to strike out on their own, and find Truth for themselves.

It is this culture that Geekklesia seeks to serve.  In the seventeenth chapter of the book of Acts, the Apostle Paul used an image from the local culture to point to Christ (Acts 17:22-34).  It is our intention to do the same here, to the geek culture, rather than the Greek culture.

Therefore, "Geekklesiastics" are geek believers who will find ways to incorporate their faith in Christ along with their hobbies and synthesize them into an expression that reflect their whole being.

The Greek word "ekklesia," (ἐκκλησία) from which we draw the name "Geekklesia," means "those who are called out." It is the New Testament name for the Church. Geekklesia is not a church, per se, but an expression of it. In the same way that the early Christians were "called out" from their culture to form a new community based on their mutual faith in Jesus, Geekklesiastics are those who are "called out" of the mainstream by their shared love of science fiction, fantasy comic books and other geeky pursuits, but they are also "called out" of the geek community by their love for Jesus.

'Nuff said.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Thoughts on Cosplay

While recuperating from my still-broken ankle, I attended Madicon 24, on the campus of James Madison University. Since I was not 100%, I wanted to at least go for a few hours on Saturday and check out the scene.  It has been 30+ years since I attended an honest-to-goodness convention, and I really wanted to see what remained the same and what had changed in the intervening years.

One feature that hadn't changed is the cosplay. Cosplay is a portmanteau mashing up the words costume and play and describing an aesthetic expression where individuals can identify with a favorite character or setting in science fiction or fantasy.

Back in 1996, Barbara Adams made headlines when she wore a uniform based on ones featured on the Star Trek: The Next Generation television series as part of the juror pool during the Whitewater trials. When asked why, she simply said "I always wear my uniform on formal occasions."

It is interesting that Ms. Adams recognized the seriousness of the event, and I don't believe she was trying to mock the proceedings. Rather, she incorporated something she loved into her life, making it public, and no one in the courtroom objected to her choice of dress.

A year after Ms. Adams wrote her Star Trek uniform to a high-profile national trial, the 501st Legion was established. The 501st is, in its own words, "the leading force in fan-based charity events.... (and) is truly dedicated to brightening the lives of those less-fortunate." But it is best known as the organization of Star Wars stormtrooper costumers. Members create all their costumes themselves. No item can be purchased, so as not to infringe on the intellectual property of Lucasfilm (owned by Disney).

For a number of years, I participated in a historical reenactment club known as the Society for Creative Anachronism (SCA). This group researches the Middle Ages, and is known for holding events where attendees dress in garb, or historical costumes. Other groups also focus on the period dress of the American Revolution or the American Civil War.

In a blog post from December 2012, Molly McIsaac wrote about the various reasons people engage in cosplay. In short, it really boils down to two main reasons: identification and community.

Identification is a factor in that the cosplayer is seeking to emulate a particular character. For example, at Madicon, I saw someone cosplaying Kim Possible (from the Disney cartoon) and several Links from the Legend of Zelda video game from Nintendo. Ideally, the person cosplaying one of these characters has identified a quality or trait that they would like to replicate in their life.

The other reason people cosplay is for community. They want to belong to something bigger than they are - there's the sense that the more the merrier - and stronger. At Madicon a "garrison" of the 501st were present, so there were several variations of stormtroopers, fighter pilots, snowtroopers, and so on. The last con I attended (some 30 years or so ago), I recall seeing two people dressed like Viper pilots from the old Battlestar Galactica TV series.

Again, identification plays a large role, but rather than identifying with an individual character, the cosplayer focuses on the goals and values of a group, and seeks like-minded souls to participate in the fandom together.

This all got me to thinking: Who do we identify with? Who are we "wearing"?

There are some well-meaning Believers (and a few clueless ones as well) who are concerned about people who spend so much time and energy in cosplay. What they forget is that it's not about what someone is wearing (1 Samuel 16:7, Matthew 15:17-20), but rather who you are wearing.

The Apostle Paul teaches in his letter to the Roman church that we should "clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ and forget about satisfying your sinful self." (13:14, NCV) What he is saying is that out pursuit of Christ's likeness that it is as if we wear His righteousness and goodness and holiness like a garment. Now, by this I do not mean to imply that there is a particular "dress code" that Christians should wear like a uniform, but that we should be known by how we live our lives. Elsewhere, we are encouraged to have the same mentality and attitude of Jesus, by placing the needs of others ahead of our own, and living in humble obedience to God (Philippians 2). This'd id's the example Jesus gave for us to model for the world, as if it were a fine for of clothes. Outwardly, we could wear shorts and a T-shirt, or a jumpsuit, or even a kilt: the actual fabrics and designs don't matter, only the character of our lives. 

This also fulfills the two main reasons people cosplay: identification and community. But in this case, we identify with the character of Jesus Christ Himself, and in so doing, we also seek to be a part of His body, the Church. 

The main difference is that most of the time, at least, cosplay is temporary. Cosplayers dress up like their favorite character, or someone from their favorite franchise, for a short time, and then they take it off. But the Christian is to be clothed in Christ permanently. Every day Jesus' life should be on display in the Believer.

Suit up!

Thursday, March 12, 2015

[Retro Review] Unbreakable

Last week I broke my ankle slipping on some ice. Since I wasn't going anywhere for a while, I decided to catch up on a movie I hasn't seen when it first came out, but one I had heard many good things about. That movie was M. Night Shyalaman's 2000 exploration of what makes a superhero or a supervillain, Unbreakable, starring Bruce Willis and Samuel L. Jackson.

WARNING! The below synopsis and analysis contains spoilers!

My initial thoughts were that in this film, every character is in some way broken. David Dunn (Bruce Willis) is dealing with a personal sacrifice he made twelve years ago that has apparently limited his future. His grief over this loss leads to a restlessness that causes his relationships with his wife and son to be broken as well.

Elijah Price (Samuel L. Jackson), unlike David, is physically broken. He has a rare condition that leads to brittle bones, which means he is highly susceptible to injury. Although deeply embittered by his condition, he is loved by his mother, and yet that doesn't seem to be enough. He desperately desires the approval of the other kids in school who bestowed him with the name "Mr. Glass." 

Both are seeking something. David wants peace of mind and spirit and a sense of purpose. Elijah wants to find someone else like him, even if it's a physical opposite. David denies his "specialness" while Elijah exploits it.  Only as David discovers what his purpose is does he find the peace that he had been missing.

In the end, it is revealed that Elijah is the arch villain of the story, committing unspeakable crimes to force his "opposite," David, out into the open. In an interesting reversal of the tropes, David does not use his superhero power to defeat Price; he does what any ordinary person would do - he turns him into the police.

Many people hold up the graphic novel Watchmen as the supreme deconstruction of the superhero genre. I think a serious case could be made for Unbreakable. The film asks questions about what is a hero's purpose, and that of his opposite, the supervillain. But what if, in the end, David and his villainous opposite were equally gifted by God to fulfill a good purpose, and not to occupy the opposite ends of the morality scale? What if the evil perpetrated by the villain was not borne out of necessity, but out of his choice, viewed through his bitter resentment for his life? What if Elijah had, as the old quip goes, "used his powers for good, instead of evil?"

The essence of sin is to miss the mark of God's glory (Romans 3:23), and that failure to live up to the perfect image of God inherent in people is the result of transgression, literally a "stepping across the boundary," or rebellion against God's will. In short, sin boils down to a choice (this is a pretty simplistic comparison, but it will suffice for my purposes here). Elijah became too wrapped up in his hurts and pain to see anyone else, and was guilty of great acts of evil in order to elevate himself.

Sin leads us to broken relationships between ourselves and God, nature and each other, and none of us can find rest in anything until we learn to rest in God (Augustine, Confessions, 1:1). Once we accept that our purpose is to honor God and find fulfillment in a life lived in obedience to Him, will we know the peace that transcends all of our loneliness, pain, and bitterness.

We are broken because of our sin, and we can only find peace and purpose when we are united with our Creator and live within His will for us.

Friday, February 27, 2015

Not As Happy A Birthday

I had been looking to this week for a few days. Friday is my birthday, and although my wife was scheduled to be out of town this week at a conference, she was due to return on Friday night, and we would be celebrating on Saturday, with a visit to an Irish pub in town.  While she was away, I thought about spending a little "me time" at my favorite big box book store just browsing.

I should have seen it coming. First, we had been pounded two weekends previously with snowstorms which forced us to cancel many of our church activities, something I really dislike doing.  I also had to learn to shovel a precariously steep driveway at our home so that we could get out when the roads were clear enough. Not once, but twice.

The second time, I didn't get as much cleared, and on Monday night (two days before my wife's trip), I slipped on a patch of ice, and went down hard. Not quite twenty years ago I severely sprained my right ankle, and thought at first that I had done the same thing here, even down to the same ankle. Our bedroom are on the second floor, so I drug myself up to the room and changed into my pajamas, took aspirin and elevated my foot to try to reduce the swelling,  The net morning, after a restless night, I fainted in the bathroom when I got up.  So, a trip to an orthopedic specialist later, I got put in a walking boot.  I was relegated to sleeping on the couch since our rooms were on the second floor and I was in no physical condition to climb steps. Needless to say, I didn't sleep well.

Between the lack of sleep and the medications, I haven't enjoyed the week like I had hoped.  To make matters worse, Today, on my birthday, I learned that Leonard Nimoy, the actor who portrayed Mr. Spock on the Star Trek TV series and movies, passed away.

I have not updated this page as often as I would like due to our move to a pastoral assignment, but I felt that I needed to address this as Star Trek was one of the earliest geek memories I have. There was action, there was space travel, there were ideas and there was humanity. And Nimoy as Spock stood out the most in a show full of standouts.  He was the one alien in a show dedicated to learning about "new life and new civilizations." His character was explored even more deeply on the films and the contradictory nature of his descent from and human mother and an alien father was itself a fun examination of what it meant to be different to a kid who had always experienced the difficulty of fitting in. In fact, I never felt like I belonged until my sophomore year of high school.

As I got older, I finished college, attended seminary and was ordained. However, I never forgot that earlier gravitational pull toward sci fi and fantasy, and found that there was room in God's kingdom for geekly pursuits, and so I dedicated myself to seeking out way to communicate the old, old story of the gospel message contained in the Christian faith by using the metaphors and stories of genre fiction, including science fiction and fantasy.  One of the lessons I believe that Spock learned was that adherence to a philosophy of pure logic and a repudiation of all emotion is essentially empty, or as the author of Ecclesiastes would put it, "vanity." Rather, for there to be true fulfillment, one must embrace a sober balance of the heart and the head.

This has not been my most favorite birthdays of all time, for the reasons outlined above. I hope it doesn't come across as whining, because all in all, aside from the major inconvenience, it could have been a lot worse.  I am deeply moved by the death of Leonard Nimoy on my birthday, but I am all the more grateful for the influence he had on my early development as a geek, and appreciative of the opportunity I have today to stop and really think about what his decision to play this role has meant not just to me but millions of others around the world.  While I cannot claim to have always been his friend, or that he was the most human of all the souls I have met, I do pray that his legacy and memory would indeed live long and prosper.