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Thursday, July 7, 2016

Freedom in Joy

Sometimes you're blessed. Sometimes you're lucky. Sometimes, you're both of those things in spite of how badly some people want to mess it up for you. Sometimes, when it seems like everything in life wants to hold you down, you just can't help but feel like you're flying high. 

God's people are supposed to be joyous. "Shout aloud and sing for joy, people of Zion, for great is the Holy One of Israel among you." Isaiah 12:6. We're supposed to be joyous even in the midst of trials and tribulations (James 1:2-3). We have much to be joyful about: our salvation is assured, our King reigns, our God sustains and our Savior will return. Those are all great things! 

What we (read: I) often struggle with is finding joy in the simple things. In the same way that God blesses you with salvation, God blesses you in small ways every day that we take for granted. 

I'll give a great example. Months and months ago, I was playing Trials of Osiris in Destiny. I had yet to go on a flawless 9-0 run yet and travel to the Lighthouse. My team and I were 8-0: we were right on the cusp, but we had already used our one "get out of jail free card" on an earlier loss. This was it. Win or go home. I prayed, yes I very selfishly prayed, that God would help me and my team win. I felt more than a little ridiculous for praying for something as silly as a win in a video game, but I wanted it so badly. 

My team stomped our way to a 5-2 win and made our way to the Lighthouse. Quietly (it was late) I fist pumped and felt a warm flood of triumphant happiness flow through me. I prayed again and I thanked God for the gift of victory. 

Now this all seems really silly. I'm sure at least some of you are probably already thinking of ways to rebuke me for praying something so stupid or for finding so much happiness in something so trivial. But...I often can't help but feel that was one of my most honest moments I've ever had with God. I knew that I wanted to win and that I wanted to experience the victor's circle in my game. I knew I wanted it badly and I was completely honest in letting God know how badly I wanted it. So I asked him for it. And God, in what ever way he chooses to work in competitive arenas, chose to let me have my wish. And I thanked him for it. Profusely

Sometimes, it's not in the momentous, but in the mundane that we are most honest with God. Sometimes it's when He can show us most effectively how much he loves us. We expect God to help us when our backs are against the wall and there is no way out. We don't expect God to care about the little things we do every day. We even train ourselves to think that God is somehow not involved in "trivial" matters like who wins our kids soccer game or whether or not it rains during our vacation. The truth, if we allow ourselves to see it, is that even these small things are ways in which our perfect heavenly Father shows how much he loves his children. 

He loves you when you win. He loves you when you lose. He loves you enough to hold off the rain when you're in the Bahamas and loves you enough to gift you with the beauty of rain when you are in the mountains. He loves you so much that, like any father, he wants to show you in little ways each and every day. 

But you have to see it. We have to open our eyes to be aware of it. I'm at a point in my life where the grueling work of ministry is weighing ever heavier on me. Things aren't as easy or simple as they once were. There are more expectations and higher stakes than ever before. Sin tries (and often succeeds) to put me on the ground. Yet, miraculously, my eyes have been opened ever so slightly to just how much my Father gives me every day: whether it be a hilarious hour or two with my friends playing video games, a wonderful afternoon with my significant other, or coming home to my favorite dish on the dinner table. 

And I am blessed. Or lucky. Or a little of both. Either way, I haven't felt so joyously free in a long time. Perhaps ever, and for that I am grateful. 

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Hollywood and Entertainment Socialism

"Give Elsa a girlfriend!"

"Have Cap and Bucky be a couple!"

"Make Link into a girl!"

These are all things that have come into mainstream consciousness (and across my news feed) over the past few months and they are all a part of what seems to be an emerging pattern in the social fabric of the entertainment industry: the idea that in order to bring equality to the representation of different social groups (whether because of gender, ethnicity, or sexual orientation), established characters need to have changes made to them to identify them with said social groups.

I even saw a short video that used the example of two bowls of nuts: one very full (white, primarily male and certainly heterosexual characters) and one very small (ethnic minorities, women and LGBT characters). The argument being made was that even if you stopped adding nuts to the full bowl for awhile and only added to the mostly empty one, that it would take far too long to bring equality to the two bowls. Therefore, the only logical conclusion was that you have to take nuts from the bowl that's mostly full and put them into the empty one in order to bring more uniformity to them both.

This isn't a foreign concept; it's socialism in a nutshell. Only now instead of wealth or health benefits, we're applying the logic to the characters in our entertainment pantheon. Now I like to assume that those who support this logic have good intentions. However, there are problems with this line of thought.

For one, it takes absolutely no consideration for the feelings of those who are already invested in the characters as they are. Whatever attachments I may have for the heterosexual Captain America are brushed aside. After all, I've had my version of Captain America my whole life. What's wrong with someone else getting to enjoy him their way? It's the same argument we made as children when we wanted to play with a certain toy: "You've had it plenty! It's my turn!" While sharing is the right decision when the matter is as simple as the temporary possession of a child's toy, it's not good logic when we are talking about the social icons by which we collectively find and project our identities with. I'm sure it would be great for a married gay couple to revel in a romance between Steve Rodgers and Bucky, but millions of men like me are left explaining to our children why we can't go see the new Captain America movie.

Then people wonder why the backlash is worded "You're forcing your worldview upon me!" The answer is that, in fact, you are forcing your worldview upon me. You removed the element of choice when you decided to take something of mine and give it to someone else. In the children's example, you give the other child an equally cool and different toy to play with. If the original child complains, you can simply explain to him that he has his toy to play with. Both children have their hands on something that is uniquely theirs. At the movies, people can flock to the newest Marvel movie debuting their LGBT hero. That's cool, more power to them. I don't have to go, but I can if I so choose. Regardless, I still have my Cap movies to look forward to. If you choose to change Cap, then I'm either left at home watching a rerun of Civil War while you get to enjoy the new movie; or I go to the movies and watch a different character than the one that I grew up cherishing and end up grieving instead of enjoying the experience.

Now I'm sure that plenty of people simply don't care about my feelings. But the other problem with this is that, creatively, it's the lazy way out. It's relatively easy to retcon an existing character, especially when all cares about how jarring that change may be to the fan base is thrown out the window. It's much harder to take existing minority characters and use them better or to create new characters for minority groups to identify with. It's easier to make Link into a boy than to actually make Zelda a primary character in her own series. It's easier to make Captain America a bisexual than to have a new hero join the pantheon who was born gay (At least the pansexual crowd has the very popular Deadpool to look up to). The counter argument is sure to be that Hollywood won't or can't do that because it wouldn't sell to a mainstream audience. But if that character is done well and their story is will sell. Because history has always told us that a compelling story will always have an audience. The demand and expectation for excellence simply has to be there.

Culture would be richer as a whole if there was a wave of new stories being told from the varying perspectives our society has. Even as Christians, though we may disagree on the morality of certain things, we can benefit from knowing what the world looks like from a different point of view. But America seems to be settling for taking nuts out of someone else's bowl instead of demanding that the chef prepare some excellent new nuts for this empty bowl over here.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

"Captain America: Civil War" and the Divided States of America

Civil wars are the perfect subjects for the dramatic arts. The sundering of unity and the turning of friend on friend is exactly the sort of thing that makes directors and authors drool. It's heart rending, it's tense, it's emotional, and the losses in the end teach us the valuable lesson that often times nobody wins.

We easily forget sometimes that movies are not simply there for our entertainment. They are entertaining for sure, but the actors and directors who breathe life into the frames are artists, and artists have always served as the windows into the hearts and minds of those whom they live among. People have painted Christ since he walked the Earth and how he is portrayed says much about the attitudes of the society in which the painter lived. 

In the same way, the Russo brothers offer us a vivid spectacle of the mighty heroes we love turning on one another that says as much about the times we live in as it does the heroes on screen. The central conflict of the film is not so much about government oversight (a timely topic in and of itself) as it is about a group of extraordinary people with an identity crisis. Are they members of the society they fight to protect and therefore beholden to the laws that bind mortal men (Iron Man)? Or do they stand above mankind and do whatever is necessary to protect him, even at the cost of human life (Captain America)? 

This of course, assumes that the characters even know who they themselves are. Scarlet Witch wonders aloud if she's still who she was before she was gifted her powers. Vision isn't entirely sure what it is that gives him his powers or why he suddenly is not the perfectly calculating synthetic being he has always been. The boy Spider-Man struggles with whether he can still be a normal teenager or whether or not he is completely set apart from them. Iron Man and Cap only seem sure that they can't stop doing what they do because they don't want to. 

All of these uncertainties break apart the mighty Avengers from within. In the dazzling airport sequence, men and women who we have always known as the most steadfast of friends duel: Black Widow with Hawkeye, Vision with Scarlet Witch, and Iron Man with Captain America. The lines become blurred when, at different points, Black Widow, Black Panther and even Iron Man himself switch sides. The Winter Soldier briefly turns on both sides when Colonel Zemo reactivates his hidden Hydra identity. 

This dramatic spectacle draws from the current state of American culture where we have perhaps never been as divided as we are today. Even the War Between the States presents a more black and white picture than the myriad shades of grey that have proliferated in the past two decades. Our political affiliation, our religions, our views on government, our sports teams, our styles and music, our lack of religion or our views of morality and law all divide us. In a society obsessed with identifying oneself with a larger group, we're not even sure anymore what gender we are. All we know is that anyone who thinks differently than ourselves is not only wrong, but by disagreeing with us they are impinging on our very right to exist and must be bludgeoned into accepting our viewpoint as valid. 

Like Agent Carter so eloquently put it, when the world asks us to move, we defiantly plant our feet and demand that they move instead. This works when men work together for a common good. When everyone does it for their own individual agenda, it fractures a society.

There is hope. At the end of the movie, Tony Stark reads a letter written to him from Steve Rodgers. Steve knows that his relationship with Tony will never be the same. They both know that the Avengers have been sundered for a length of time to be determined. But along with the letter is a cell phone and the promise that "If you need me, I'll be there". There is the hope of healing and of being brought back together again.

As is so often the case, we look to our heroes to do the impossible and to show us the way. 

Monday, July 27, 2015

Nothing Left Unsaid (Harry Potter fanfiction)

My story, so of course it's used by permission. Wanted to share it!

Disclaimer: J.K. Rowling owns Harry Potter and all it's characters and such.


It was a dark night in Godric’s Hollow. The rain beat mercilessly down onto the pavement, forming puddles and bouncing back upwards to wet Hermione’s feet as she opened the kissing gate to the small church graveyard.

She had had to come back like this, where she could be alone. Where the only other person who could hear her was the person she was here to see.

There were many other places that were considered. After all, he was the most famous wizard in the world. There had been many voices all clamoring to be the site that would surely become a major pilgrimage spot for years to come as people came to pay their respects. 

Ultimately, it had been her voice that made the others see that there was only one place he would have ever wanted to be.

Here was where it had all started. Forty years ago, a young boy was found in the home of his murdered parents and a saga for the ages had begun. They had been telling his story for his entire life and they were going to tell it for many more years now that he was gone.

But he had never, ever been any of that to her. To her, he had always been a quiet boy who needed a friend. A boy who’s unbelievable bravery had saved her life countless times and who’s undying friendship she treasured above all others.

To her, he had always been just Harry.

She was soaked to the bone as she made her way slowly between headstones, heading for one that stood out amongst the many well-worn markers because of how new it was.

She could already feel it building, her dread mixing in with an unquenchable sorrow that threatened to swallow her whole. Tears were already falling and mixing with the rain on her face. A low rumbling of thunder rolled over the sleeping village.

She goes to her knees as she reaches her destination, reaching out her hand to touch the smooth stone.

Harry James Potter
Husband, Father, Friend

So many had pushed for something more “heroic”, but she hadn’t allowed it. He would have never wanted it.

She remembers where she was when Kingsley’s patronus had found her. It was a Sunday, she had been in her study reading a book during one of her rare quiet moments when the deep, slow voice had told her that there had been a mishap in the Auror office; that three Aurors who thought they were busting a small-time smuggling ring had walked into an ambush set by former Death Eaters, that they had all been killed. That one of the Aurors had been the Head of the Office…..

She hadn’t been able to believe it at first. Surely there had been a mistake. There had been so many times before and he had always….

But no. This time it had been real. All too real.

Ginny had been devastated. Ron hadn't spoken for a week. The kids had all come home from Hogwarts for an entire week leading up to the funeral and Hermione….she hadn’t spoken either. Not just because her greatest and closest friend was gone, but because he took with him a secret that only she knew.

No marriage was perfect. It took hard work and dedication to make anything between two imperfect people work. Harry and Hermione had always had an agreement: whenever things got tough, they could always go to each other for advice or just to vent. They had spent years talking about Ron’s insensitivity and Ginny’s control issues. They talked about how nice it would be if they could talk with their spouse like they could talk to each other, that they would understand them like they understood each other….

In the end, they had always parted with the knowledge that they loved their spouses and their children and that no matter what it was worth fighting for. A tight hug, a kiss on the cheek and they were back to the lives they had chosen for themselves.

That is, until a month ago. Harry had called Hermione and asked to see her for one of their “marital sessions” as they called them. She had agreed, as there were things she had wanted to talk about too….only….

They hadn’t done much talking at all. She had opened the door and kissed him on the cheek like she always did….always had done for almost thirty years…..but something had been drastically different.

He had looked at her and she had looked at him and suddenly they were seventeen again: dancing to a song on the radio and the whole world was crashing around their ears and none of it mattered because right now it was just him and her.

Like a movie that had been put on pause, they were suddenly back in that moment when the music stopped and he was looking into her eyes….eyes full of affection and gratitude and fear….fear that if they took the chance that was sitting in front of them that there would be no going back.

He had walked away then, but now…..he leaned in and she put her hands on his chest and before either of them knew what had happened they were on her couch and her hands were in his hair and her legs were wrapped around his waist and she was lost….so lost in his sweet kisses that she didn’t even come up for air.


“Oh God….finally.” had been the only words they shared as they shed their clothes and threw caution to the wind, finally giving in to what had always lurked beneath the surface of their friendship since that moment so long ago when Hermione had wrapped him tight and told him that there were more important things in life than books or cleverness.

By the time that they came to their senses, it was time to go. Ron would be home soon and Ginny had already sent her patronus once. He gave her one last desperate kiss and they promised that they would meet again….sometime very soon….and talk about it. Talk about everything that this meant and everything that they hadn’t ever had the courage to say before.

Only, that day was today and there would only be one side to the conversation this time.

Hermione could feel her hot tears mixing with the cold rain on her cheeks, the conflict in temperature a fitting symbol of the conflict in her heart.

Sorrow for her lost friend and lover. Shame that she had failed at the biggest decision she had made in life all those years ago. Fear at what being here meant….

Fear at what it would be like to do it alone….

“I was scared Harry.” She talks out loud, not sure if she’s crazy or completely sane for getting this mountain off her chest. “I was so scared back then that I would lose you, that you could never feel that way about me. I was terrified that if we were together then I wouldn’t be able to think objectively enough to keep you alive…..”

She takes a deep breath before the plunge, “It was always you Harry. You were always the first in my heart.”

As she feels the pressure slide off her chest she can no longer hold back the sobs that rack her body, shaking her with a violence only matched by the tearing of the screams in her throat. Her soul shattering grief is only drowned out by the driving rain on the sodden earth. Like the heavens themselves are pouring out the vials of her sorrow.

For the first time in her life, Hermione Granger is without Harry Potter.

An incompleteness settled over her as the last of her sobs dies in her throat. The feeling of not being whole….of being only half of what she was before.

She had decided, before, that she wasn’t going to live her life in a lie anymore. She wasn’t going to pretend that what happened with Harry wasn’t real. There were divorce papers sitting in her desk drawer at home…..

She had found Harry’s in a box labeled only by her name.

That whatever they could have had was out of her grasp now left her with no answers. For once in her life, Hermione just didn’t know.

Was it fair to anyone to reveal the truth now? Ron, Ginny, Molly, the kids…..most of them were barely coping now…..if they knew the truth…..

But the truth hadn’t really died with Harry. She still loved him more than life itself, whether he was alive or not. She couldn’t bear to make it worse for anyone now, but there would be a time when the grief wasn’t so suffocating and then…..she could do what she knew in her heart she had to do.

Until then, there were things she couldn’t leave unsaid.

She pulls out a fat envelope, an impervious charm on it to keep it from getting wet. A fresh tear escapes as she remembers why she learned the spell in the first place.

“It’s all here Harry, everything. Everything that I never had the courage to say and everything that I kept locked away for all these years.”

She places the envelope on the ground behind the pile of roses that she herself left here just that morning.

“I just thought you should know.” She touches his name one more time. Closing her eyes and imagining that she’s tucking a stand of hair behind his ear.  She bends down and places a kiss on the stone and just before pulling away she whispers

“There are more important things…friendship, bravery, and love. I love you Harry.”

She lets it sink in, drinks in the sound of rain sliding off the roof of the church and the smell of roses and wet grass…..

She finally finds her way to her feet, marveling that she has the strength to place her feet underneath her. She feels lighter, like a massive weight has been taken off of her shoulders.

He knows.

She puts one foot in front of the other. The light splashing of her shoes barely audible in the cacophony of raindrops. It’s an accurate metaphor, she thinks, for what her life is now. Putting one foot in front of the other, just a step at a time, wondering at each step what it would be like if he were there beside her.

If she closed her eyes and thought hard enough, she could almost swear that he was.  

Sunday, March 1, 2015

A Love Letter to my One True Pairing (It's all about the Harmony)

I know I'm years too late.

I know that it's over and has been over for years.

I also don't care.

I'm coming to the close of my third journey all the way through the Harry Potter books and this time I'm even watching the movies for the first time. I've been a Potterhead from the beginning. Nothing effects me quite the way Harry Potter does. I love every minute of it.

I also love deeply my doomed One True Pairing that calls this universe home: Harry and Hermione.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Is Destiny the Warhammer 40k MMO We Always Wanted?

Don't get me wrong:


Bungie has really done it again in my book with Destiny. It's a fantastic game that has me totally engrossed. Really cool weapons, classes, missions, story, and enemies.

Let's talk about those enemies though. Anything strike you as strange? Anything seem familiar? I played it for about three days with the answer being no. It all seemed entirely new and unlike anything I had ever seen.

That is until I hopped onto the Warhammer 40k wiki yesterday to do a little reading while I was taking a Destiny break and something struck me: there's a LOT of similarities between some of the races in the two universes.

Take the Awoken for instance. They're an enigmatic race that lives on constructs out in space because of a disaster on their homeworld of Earth. They are mysterious in their aloofness and seemingly embrace a policy of duplicity. They descend from Earthlings and seemingly have no love for the Vex, Cabal, or the Hive. However, they're a huge roadblock to the player's Guardian in trying to eliminate the threat of the Darkness and they have a complicated relationship with the Fallen. The Queen has Fallen guards from an unknown source or house, but she also put a bounty on a Fallen Archon Priest of House Winter that the player eliminates in a strike mission.

This sounds eerily familiar to the description of the Eldar from Warhammer 40k. The Eldar are also a race on the run in space from a catastrophe on their home worlds. They also remain aloof from the galaxy as a whole and seem to play both sides of the diplomacy coin. One minute they are fighting side by side with the Empire of Man and the next minute they are purposefully diverting an Ork WAAGH into Imperial territory to save themselves the trouble. Interestingly enough, the writers for both Bungie and the Warhammer teams cite the classic fantasy trope of Elves as inspiration for both the Awoken and the Eldar.

There are similar parallels between the Cabal and Space Marines (huge armor and weapons, Roman influences and organization), the Fallen and Dark Eldar (nobility and pride, piracy, hit and run tactics) and even between the Darkness and the Realm of Chaos (uknowable, unmerciful, and the ultimate enemy of humanity).

This is not to say that Bungie simply ripped off Warhammer 40k. They have similarities, but are not similar. Bungie's universe is definitely unique and has it's own idiosyncrasies. The Awoken are really an offshoot of humanity. The Vex and Exo don't really have parallels in Warhammer 40k. The Hive are more Gears of War Locust than Warhammer 40k Tyrranid (a topic for another time) and the Fallen don't exist for sadistic pleasure like the Dark Eldar. I love both universes and really hope we learn a lot more about Bungie's universe going forward.

That's not to say that I won't think from time to time about how much I want an MMO in the Warhammer 40k universe. Or a new game of any kind. In the mean time I will enjoy my favorite game since Halo: Reach.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Robin Williams Helped Save My Life

Robin Williams is an exception to the rule about celebrity deaths being stunning. Being stunned by Robin Williams' death has very little to do with his talent as an actor or comedian (which speaks for itself), but has a lot more to do with the fact that Williams was so ubiquitous and touched so many lives in a personal way. He was so present on television and the silver screen that for anyone who has spent any amount of time in America and not seen him in something is nearly an impossibility.