If you don’t believe that Jesus is God, why not Tom Cruise? Or FM-2030?

If you’re not sure Tom Cruise is crazy, check out his interview expressing his hope to “create a new reality… with enough love, compassion, and toughness.”  I miss Jesus already.  (Helpful explanations of his jargon here.)

Yet Scientology is part of the larger movement of transhumanism, and they’re not even the craziest ones in the movement.  Not to be confused with transsexuality, which this is not the place to discuss, transhumanists hope to incorporate advances in technology and “spirituality” to become immortal, post-human entities (and sometimes cyborgs).

I originally entitled this post “Science Fiction + religion – God = 😦 ” but changed when I realized that some might infer atheist non-cult-members, many of whose views I greatly respect, as being lumped along with self-theist psychos. I value dialog with people of other beliefs, but even I have my limits and and some point have to cry, “Dude, that’s loco!”

Worship someone, please, but not your future self.

The Joys of Not Blogging

It has been a while.  I love to blog.  But for everything there is a season and sometimes being a good student means being a bad blogger.  So I sympathize for you, if you love my work, for there hasn’t been much of it up here of late.  I sympathize, but I should not apologize.  My priorities have been elsewhere and rightfully so.

Trying to sell a house.  Trying to read six books a week (because that’s how many are being assigned?!  PhDdom…).  So in order to save a buck and cut off my primary source of procrastination, we cut off internet at the house, which means that all of my online time is compressed into 30 minutes MWF.  Cramping my style.

It is a joy to be online, to connect, to express to the multiverse shades of truth.  And yet, it is a joy to unplug, to breathe the fresh air, to dance with a beautiful woman in the rain, and to get some sleep for a change.

 Not blogging is just as blessed as blogging, sometimes more.  Have you been skipping out on anything in order to blog?  I know I did!  Now, back to the books….

Flex and Flexibility

“Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.” (Ecclesiastes 4:12)

“Hell is other people.”  (Sartre)

You will not hear from me for several days.  I am going camping.  I will travel for two and a half days, each way, in order to spend one night on the trail.  But if you have to ask why, maybe you haven’t been to western North Carolina.  Or maybe you don’t have friends like I do.  I pray that you do.

I love my friend, but my life is more complicated because of them.  I may say the same thing about my wife someday, if I am ever so blessed.  My life is better, but definitely more complicated.  I remember back when I had no true friends.  Middle school.  There was Nate, but he lived on the far side of town, so other than the once a month or two, I felt like a man without a country.  Then I became a workaholic in high school and forgot to care.

College changed everything.  There are others like me, in mind, in heart, and in spirit.  I am not alone.  And there are others better than me, sharper, purer, saner even, who can make me more whole just by showing up and being themselves.  It is to spend time with men that I will trek across  six states.

 I lost my mind once.  It was a “manic episode,” part of bipolar disorder.  I’ll share the gory details in a later post, but what matters here: my friends helped me get to see a psychiatrist, before I even knew something was wrong with me.  After getting on medication, I spent a few months in rehab with my family.  Home is always a safe place, but not always a healthy one, especially as a young adult.  I had to escape.  Another friend took me in for the next six months, sedated, depressed, and marginally-employed as I was.

Few things in life are more beautiful than friendship.  The joy is sweeter and bitterness more bearable with friends.  Friends make us who we are.  It’s not just a matter of influence.  It’s a matter of context.  I am not my full self when I am not with my friends.  Don’t get me wrong.  I need alone time.  But when I emerge from the cave of my mind, I need brothers and sisters — including you! — with whom to discuss, spar, dream, and despair.  Why else do we blog?

But friendship is uncomfortable, inconvenient, and complicated.  The pay-off is huge, but it comes at a price.  I think of the lengths that God went to to become my friend in the person of Jesus.

My imperfections have grated against my friends’ imperfections, even on this small trip.  Me watching too much Pacino and De Niro, barking logistics on the phone and baffled at the contingencies. A.M. might not meet be in Chicago after all.  “Why not Nashville?  It’s on the way.  You could transfer the ticket you just bought, even though the trip is this week….”  G.K. might have to do work on the house he is trying to buy and skip out on all of the actual hiking.  J.D. has to leave a day early to be with his wife.  And I feel like I’m the only one who owns a calendar and a map.

I have a choice: I can flex my ego and refuse to accomodate, or I can do whatever it takes to make this trip happen.  So I’m getting on a bus tomorrow bound northward, so that I can travel south and east, six days on the road for one night under the stars and one night of beer and pizza.  Their beer, my pizza.  Alcohol doesn’t mix well with my meds, but friendship does.  It always will.

Nothing New Under the Muggle Sun…

…But Don’t Let That Stop You From Going to the Movies

“There is nothing new under the sun.”  (Ecclesiastes 1:9)

“It’s all been done before.”  (The Barenaked Ladies)

Only One has ever made anything truly original and new.  All stories are mere shadows of His Story.  Our best stories mirror aspects of that story: the beauty of creation, the bitterness of the fall, the joy of redemption.  Even if a story only captures one of those aspects, it can be beautiful simply because it rings true, however tragic.

Shakespeare himself realized that all the good plots were already taken.  What happens in his plays might not be original, but how always is.  That gives me hope.  A good story matters, even if I already know the ending.  And I can let myself off the hook as a writer, since every what I might say has already been taken, I can focus on the how

If you doubt whether this principle is true, think of every movie made in the last ten years.  Some have been overt ripoffs.  Eragon = Star Wars – Awesome + Dragon.  Seriously!  If you want a good laugh, follow the plot parallels: farm boy gets secret message from captured princess, the bad guys kill his aunt and uncle, and torch their farm, forcing him to follows a magical mentor who sacrifices his own life when farm boy rescues the princess, so that he can save the day in an epic dogfight.  It’s a good thing I love dragons.

Which brings us to Harry Potter.  If the what of Harry Potter isn’t original (Matrix + Lord of the Rings + Little Orphan Annie), what’s all the big fuss about?  The how!  Her plots are page turners, to be sure, but J. K. Rowling’s true success is in her character development.

(Don’t worry.  I haven’t read the last book or seen the movie yet, so no spoiler’s here.) 

Harry is a complicated guy.  He’s a loner, a leader, and a friend, these attributes ever in tension with each other.  Orphaned, ostracized by his surrogate family, ever-threatened by the forces of darkness, and untrusted by the media, Harry has always had to fend for himself.  He makes independent decisions, which can be impetuous and even rebellious.  Harry is unafraid to pursue what he knows to be right, no matter what those in authority say. 

Because of this, his peers look to him as their captain in the unseen war against the forces of darkness.  Though his anger problem and independence often get in the way, he has developped a loyal cadre.

But it is Harry’s friends who ultimately define him.  They are his by chance, by choice, and by that inexplicable magnetism that draws them all together.  Quite often, he does not deserve them.  But, no matter what, Ron and Hermione stay by his side.  Harry is not afraid to cooperate, usually, but his friends make sure to help him even when he doesn’t want it.  They would give up their own lives for each other.  Since birth, this is a boy who has been protected by love, and that is the most beautiful thing of all.

That is what we really want, isn’t it?  To be reminded that life is worth living outside the norms of society, that there is something worth fighting for, and that the love of friends always makes a difference and is always worth dying for?  We long to hear a new voice sing that same old truth to a new generation, and that is exactly what J. K. has done.  Read on!

In Praise of Poop

It Happens.  You Might As Well Enjoy It.

Oh, the wonders of poo!  I’m not talking about some bizarre fetish.  I’m talking about pure, simple childish enjoyment of both the product and the process of doin’ the doo.  Maybe you were 2, or 4, or 20, but chances are you used to talk about poop alot and for whatever reason you stopped.  Why?  Okay, so your parents made you.  Is it possible that they were in the wrong?

 Sure, we throw around “crap” and “shit,” with the occasional clinical “fesces,” but those are usually metaphors and exclamations in reference to miscellaneous unpleasant things.  Why?

Poop is amazing.   The sight, the sound, the smell should all be occasion for laughter.  The color, the texture, the mystery.  “I ate that?”  Scripture is silent on such things, but I can’t help but think that poop makes God laugh, too.  Somehow we in our up-tight neo-Victorian embarassment stopped laughing.  We started taking ourselves way more seriously than God ever intended us to.

“I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” (Luke 18:17)  You might not smell like fish and b.o., like the first disciples, but whether you intend to or not, you still smell like poo at various points throughout the day. 

The next time you go, I challenge you to reflect, to ponder the amazingness of the moment, and to give thanks to the unmoved Mover.

And when it is amazing, find someone you love, and tell them about it.

The Search for the Perfect Spy Movie

Why Do Spy Movies Matter More Now Than Ever?

As long as there have been wars, there have been spies.  And almost as long as there have been movies, there have been spy movies.  “Talkies” began just in time for the end of World War I and the lead-in to World War II.  Material abounded.  Who wouldn’t like out-sneaking the sneakiest S.O.B.s of all time?  While technically a story of resistance, Casablanca incorporates many elements of espionage and is arguably the greatest fun film of all time.  (Citizen Kane is arguably the greatest dull film of all time.)

Then the Cold War happened just in time for the sexual revolution and things couldn’t get better in the world of spy cinema.  The enemy was big, bad, and consistent.  Outright war was an impossibility, due to “mutually assured destruction,” so espionage was a necessity.  Enter Bond, James Bond.  He brought with him sex, guns, gadgets, cars, British suaveness, and a knack for getting the job done.  Plot-heavy, character-light, Bond set a new standard for the spy film.

In Hollywood, Bond spawned an endless stream of knock-offs and spoofs.  (In real life he would have fathered countless children and died of a dozen STDs.)  Spies Like Us, Top Secret, Spy Hard, Austin Powers, and their ilk are among the greatest shtick comedy films of all time.  Spy spoofs, it seems, will continue as long as serious spy films are made.

But our world has changed.  The Soviet Union ceased to exist, we fell off our moral high horse, and entered the thralls of post-modernism.  It’s not just that we wanted more action, which Mission Impossible I-III have readily supplied.  It’s that we wanted protagonists who were more human.

Casino Royale radically reinterpreted the Bond legend.  He’s an orphan, a workaholic, and can (and does) get very hurt physically and emotionally.  We come to understand the losses that have shaped him as a man.  He doesn’t always get the girl in the end.  He gets the girl in the middle and loses her in the end.  The action is still fast-paced and tense, but there is no doubt: not even Bond is Bond anymore.

The Good Shepherd promised to be “The Godfather of Spy Movies.”  It delivered, in that it is the story of a spy who loses everyone he ever loved because of the very profession he hoped would protect them.  Roth and DeNiro (writer and director, respectively) help us understand with great clarity how and why.  Edward Wilson (Damon) sought simply to serve his country, but his agency ended up becoming his Lord.  I’m not just a theologian reading that into the story, as readily apparent from the title and from his boss’s quip:  “Someone asked me why when we talk about CIA, we dont say ‘the CIA,’ and I told him, ‘You don’t say the when talking about God.'”  The pace is slow, but the characters and story are gripping, if you can follow whats happening; this might be difficult for some, since DeNiro does not go out of his way to help the uninitiate.

Breach is a rare tale of counter-intellegence.  It is even slower-paced than Shepherd, plus much of the dialog is realistically, awesomely awkward.  But the importance of its question far outweighs its lack of action: What drives a man to betray his family, his faith, and his country?  Part of the movie’s answer: he wanted “to matter.”  When his own country failed to acknowledge his worth within the agency, he turned outside.  Dateline’s answer (footage included in the special features): he didn’t do it for the money, he did it for the sake of “the game.”  Scary!

Perhaps the best integration of drama and action in spy movies has been in The Bourne Identity and The Bourne Supremacy.  Even if The Bourne Ultimatum does not deliver — which it may, but I hesitate, not because of any short-coming in Bourne, but rather because of the extreme difficulty of making three solid movies together — the franchise has already proven its merits.  What are the psychological effects of job stress on an assassin?  How does it affect his relationships?  What choices does he make when up against a wall?  Does he run?  Lash out blindly?  Seek cold revenge?  Forgive?  Seek forgiveness?  And when he finally achieves freedom, what then?

Why do these movies matter?  We are raised to want lives like movies: all action and excitement all the time.  When I don’t find that action, I seek some flaw in myself, because life is more boring than The Matrix.  That is the lie that most teenagers believe.  I know I did.  I want to be someone else.  Who can do that?  I want a life of action.  Who has that?  I want to make a difference.  Who can do that?  A spy, a spy, a spy.

Anyone who has ever kept a secret, knows of secrecy’s power.  Anyone with imagination understands the allure of the trade of secrets.  The most powerful man in the world isn’t the man with the most guns, it’s the man who knows the most secrets.  Yet power corrupts and action always comes with a price.  The latest batch of spy movies enthrall us with their action even as they warn us that our actions sow the seeds of our own undoing.  Never before has the spy business been so personal.

R.I.P. Michael Corleone

Reflections on the Life and Death of America’s Most Influential Man

What people look for reveals a lot about what matters to them.  I have posted about everything from Mayan death rituals to Spider-Man, from Buddha to Jesus.  But more sought after than Jesus, Buddha, or God: the Godfather.  Every day since my first post, some random soul has stumbled across my blog because they were searching for Michael Corleone.  Well, here he is.

Don Corleone

(I’m about to ruin all of the movies, so if you haven’t seen them, please go do watch them now.  Yes, even III.) 

In an age of weaklings (Fredo and all of Connie’s husbands), Michael is the presence of strength; not of brute, physical strength (Luca Brasi), but of pure mental power and the will to act.  In an age of two-bit pimps and pushers (too many to name), Michael is the image of class and integrity; he never compromises his values, however unbiblical they may be.  In an age of hot-heads (Sonny), Michael is a man of cool composure and calculation; for this reason, he smokes but does not drink, other than the ocassional glass of wine.  When other men drag their feet, Michael is ready for action.  He keeps all his promises.  No price is too great.  He is willing to do whatever it takes to accomplish his goals.  And he always finds a way. 

Other men (Tom Hagen) might be willing to go to great lengths, but lack the vision to see all the possibilities.  He makes even his dad (Vito) look soft.  Thus saith Michael: “If history has taught us anything, it is that you can kill anyone.  Anyone.”

From his armchair, he can unleash more fury than the all the hounds of hell.  He says the word, and his men obey.  Why do they obey?  Because he pays them well, sure.  But they are willing to die for him.  They owe their alliegiance because they belong to an unspoken code of honor, of loyalty, of tradition, and of action for the sake of the greater good, for the good of the Family.

Don Corleone is a badass of the mind, the likes of which the world has never seen.  He suceeds so well at getting down with his bad self, that we all loved the Godfather I and II.  We see Michael first become the Don, then ascend to true criminal greatness, moral depravity, and selfish sacrifice.  Yet few people enjoyed the Godfather III.  Did Coppola and Puzo drop the ball?  Or did most of us simply misunderstand the movie?

Don’t get me wrong.  I and II could stand alone as movies in their own right.  III could not stand alone, but does serve to frame I and II as a Greek (or Sicilian) tragedy.  But in that it succeeds swimmingly.  The Corleones are the ultimate dysfunctional family and none of us knew how much until III.  All the Don ever really wanted was to protect his family.  He killed to save the life of his father.  He kept on killing to protect his wife and children, even if it meant killing his own brother.  He realized, before it was almost too late, that he must stop and swore on the lives of his two children that he would redeem himself.  Yet he failed and the sins of the Godfather were visited upon his children.  By doing everything in his power to protect them, Michael ultimately destroyed everyone he had ever loved, leaving him to die alone.  There could be nothing more tragic than that. 

Still, we love Michael Corleone.  It should be no surprise that Barak Obama’s favorite movie is the Godfather.  Sure, it’s about power and action, but its also about family, relationship, and spiritual and cultural identity.  Emulated by everyone from Snoop Dogg to the Muppets, the Godfather is here to stay.  God, help us to value the good in him, but to see the rest for what it is, for the road to hell is littered with bad-ass intentions.

Muppet Dogfather Snoop Dogg the Doggfather

Superman vs. Batman vs. Spider-Man

The Superhero as Mirror of the Soul

“Excuse me, while I geek-out on you,” as Dean would say.  This essay is for a chosen few, but chances are, if you’re still reading, you’re one of them.

This is not a classic fistfight between the three most popular superheroes.  The outcome of that would be obvious.  Batman would win, because he would wait until Superman had trashed Spidey (see attribute #1, below), then he’d wail on Superman with Wayne Enterprise’s stash of kryptonite (attribute #2).  Neither is this a match-up of DC vs. Marvel.  I won’t even go there. 

My question: which of these superheroes is a better reflection of human nature?

Superman

To say that Superman is invincible and powerful would be an understatement.  He’s practically omnipotent, omniscient, and omnipresent.  He is also all-loving.  He refuses to kill his archenemy because, well, everyone deserves a fifth chance.  The man has no dark side, and not so much as a character flaw, unless you count his decision to be nerdy at his day job or the fact that he is simply too good.  Superman doesn’t remind me of me, he reminds me of Jesus.  Did I mention that he’s an alien?  Sorry, Man of Steel, I like you but you are not like me.

 

Batman

Batman is the opposite of Superman on almost every level.  He is completely devoid of any super power.  However, he is made super by two attributes (see application above).  Attribute #1: Batman is possessed of the “will to power” (Nietzsche).  He ruthless and occasionally psycho in his drive to do whatever it takes to accomplish his goals.  He has embraced his dark side.  Attribute #2: Bruce Wayne is obscenely rich and can purchase whatever technology and training necessary to kick maximum ass.  Sorry, Dark Knight, but I’m too poor, too soft, and too sane to walk in your shoes.

 

Spiderman

Enter Spider-man.  He’s not very super.  His personality is all wrong.  Sure he has the powers, but he occasionally loses them in a fit of insecurity and self-doubt (Spider-Man 2).  Or he attempts to augment them by embracing evil powers from outer-space (Spider-Man 3).  He is in love, but he consistently fails to do what it takes to woo, win, and keep Mary Jane.  He might succeed for a time, but he immediately botches it in the next movie.  He ends up killing most of the bad guys he faces, but it’s usually on accident.  The first one wasn’t, but that has haunted him ever since.  He has unique gifts, which he is uncertain how to use and often neglects, but gifts nonetheless.  He is a man at variance with himself, darkness and light conflicting within him.  Peter Parker reminds me of me.

 

In conclusion, Tarantino’s thoughts on superheroes, spoken through Bill in Kill Bill Vol. 2:  “Batman is actually Bruce Wayne, Spider-Man is actually Peter Parker. When that character wakes up in the morning, he’s Peter Parker. He has to put on a costume to become Spider-Man. And it is in that characteristic Superman stands alone. Superman didn’t become Superman. Superman was born Superman. When Superman wakes up in the morning, he’s Superman. His alter ego is Clark Kent. His outfit with the big red “S”, that’s the blanket he was wrapped in as a baby when the Kents found him. Those are his clothes. What Kent wears – the glasses, the business suit – that’s the costume. That’s the costume Superman wears to blend in with us. Clark Kent is how Superman views us. And what are the characteristics of Clark Kent? He’s weak… he’s unsure of himself… he’s a coward. Clark Kent is Superman’s critique on the whole human race.”

 

Clark Kent is the image of Peter Parker.  And they wonder why everyone loves Spider-man!

 

Lean with Envy

Why Do You Work Out?

“The grass is always greener on the other side,” and nowhere is that clearer than at the gym.  Mirrors on every side, we look at each other.  Then we eye ourselves with self-lust and self-loathing. 

Self-lust: “Look at me!  Man, I’m a hottie, but if only I had just one more ripple,” his eyes speak into his own.

More sane, but no less sad, self-loathing: thin people trying to become bigger, big people trying to become thinner.  And saddest of all: thin people trying to become thinner, slowly killing themselves.

Not everyone works out.  My friends who don’t all wish 1) that they looked like they did and 2) that it wasn’t a “should.”  But now that most of us have desk jobs, a “should” it will remain. 

Few of us can honestly say:  “I enjoy my body the way it is.  I’m going to celebrate it by running, jumping, lifting heavy objects, throwing miscellaneous projectiles, etc., just because those are wonderful things to do.”

Our culture tells us that a perfect body is the product of exercise, and that body is the goal.  That is a trap.  There is no perfect body.  A healthy desire to exercise is the product of a healthy mind and spirit.  A healthier body is simply a side-effect of your enjoying what is already good in yourself and in the world around you.

Exercise is good, but our motivations for exercise are fraught with self-rejection and self-deception.  What we do might appear beneficial but, as always, our motives demand deep scrutiny.

The Terror of the Blank Page

Creative [Self-]Destruction

I sit paralyzed by the page I am about to write. It could be my best work… if I would just think harder, get more sleep, and drink more Ovaltine™. But its already too late, I know, distracted, sleepless, drinkless. Then I realize: I can either be a writer or a perfectionist, not both. To be the one is to destroy the other. The writer destroys gladly!

Published in: on June 28, 2007 at 3:41 am  Leave a Comment