Sunday, November 30, 2008
Okay, I just have to share this YouTube video. I'd love to see a quartet of singers perform part of this, like for a variety show or such:
In other news, Tim the Sorcerer recommended that I check out "Darths and Droids," a webcomic
that spoofs Star Wars Episode I and Dungeons and Dragons. I've never played a game of D&D in my life, but I still found it hilarious. It's famous for being the first website on the internet to use the phrase "Jar Jar, you're a genius!" As in, if you did a Google search for that phrase before Darths & Droids, nothing would come up. Here's a link to part one.
Monday, November 17, 2008
(I found this image on DeviantArt, a site which lets artists upload their work. I've started my own DeviantArt profile as well. This is something I wrote for ECTA about Christian themes in Avatar: The Last Airbender.)
I finally got the complete third season of Avatar on DVD, and am anxiously awaiting Thanksgiving break when I can re-watch the whole show. Avatar is the most intelligent animated series I’ve seen (even more so than most regular TV shows), beautifully drawn and superbly written. Two characters in particular are almost Dickensian in nature: Uncle Iroh and Prince Zuko. If Charles Dickens were alive today, I would not be surprised if he created a character like Uncle Iroh: a wise, eccentric old man with a wry wit, a passion for tea, and a silver tongue.
Both Iroh and Zuko are deep, three-dimensional characters. The story of Zuko’s transformation from an angry, selfish malefactor to a strong, virtuous hero is as dramatic as the miraculous redemption of Ebenezer Scrooge in Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. Though the writers may or may not be Christians, the story of Zuko’s redemption is particularly poignant to me because I know that, in the real world, such a change can only be effected by the healing power of Christ’s love.
For me, one of the most profound stories of the Bible is that of Saul’s conversion, when he became the Apostle Paul. Saul was a Roman citizen, and he persecuted the early Christians, and was even responsible for the death of the first martyr, Steven. However, even a man so evil was not beyond the power of Christ’s love. But Jesus appeared before Saul on the road to Damascus and struck him blind.
God asked his disciple Ananias to heal Paul, telling him, “This man is my chosen instrument to carry my name before the Gentiles and their kings and before the people of Israel” (Acts 9:15b). Paul’s sight was restored, and he went on to proclaim the Gospel to the Gentiles, and even became a martyr himself.
In Avatar, when the audience first meets Zuko, he is just as monstrous as Saul. He is heavily scarred, he is obsessed with taking the heroic Avatar his prisoner, and he treats his soldiers and his Uncle terribly. The viewer’s first impression of Zuko is that he is a run-of-the-mill villain. However, Zuko is much more complicated than that. When he was thirteen years old, Zuko begged Uncle Iroh to bring him to one of his father’s war councils. A general unveiled his plan to sacrifice a whole troop of new recruits, using them as bait for the enemy, and Zuko spoke out against the plan. For showing this disrespect, Zuko’s father challenged him to Agni Kai, a fire duel, scarred his son, and banished him from the Fire Nation until he captured the Avatar. Uncle Iroh, blaming himself for bringing Zuko to the meeting, accompanied his nephew. “But when his heart became arrogant and hardened with pride, he was deposed from his royal throne and stripped of his glory” (Daniel 5:20 NIV). Technically, Zuko wasn’t deposed because of his pride, but he was stripped of glory, and as he tries to reclaim his honor, he grows more arrogant and prideful.
Throughout the series, the story of Zuko and Iroh serves as the “B plot,” secondary to the main plot of Aang the Avatar’s journey with his friends. Yet, in my opinion, the story of Iroh’s influence on Zuko is even more compelling than the “A plot.” Much of Iroh’s advice reflects Christian truths. “I don’t feel any shame at all. I’m as proud as ever,” Zuko claims defiantly in the episode “Bitter Work.”
Uncle Iroh responds, “Prince Zuko, pride is not the opposite of shame, but its source. True humility is the only antidote to shame.”
“The pride of your heart has deceived you, you who live in the clefts of the rocks and make your home on the heights, you who say to yourself, 'Who can bring me down to the ground?'” (Obadiah 1:3 NIV).
While on the run, literally living in the clefts of the rocks and on the heights, Zuko asks his uncle to teach him more advanced fire bending. He fails to learn how to generate lightning, but his uncle does teach him how to redirect it. Zuko wants to test his mastery of the technique by having his Uncle throw lighting at him, but when Uncle refuses to take that risk, Zuko climbs high on a cliff in the middle of a lightning storm. There he yells angrily, as if speaking to God, “You’ve always thrown everything you could at me. Well I can take it, and now I can give it back. Go on, strike me! You’ve never held back before.
Despite Zuko’s many mistakes, Iroh forgives his troubled nephew every time without reservation. Once, Zuko had a choice between joining his Uncle and helping the Avatar, or helping his sister Azula capture the Avatar. Wanting to reclaim his throne, Zuko chose to betray his uncle. Later, he regrets his decision and attempts to right his mistake by joining Aang’s group. When Zuko next sees his uncle, he is afraid to face him. Iroh’s reaction is reminiscent of the father’s in the story of the prodigal son; he embraces Zuko before the confused teen can even finish his apology. “How can you forgive me so easily? I thought you would be furious with me!”
“I was never angry with you. I was sad, because I was afraid you'd lost your way.” Iroh’s relationship with Zuko is very Christ-like; Iroh forgives his beloved nephew instantly and unconditionally, in spite of his terrible past actions. The series ends with Zuko appointed as the new Fire Lord, ushering in an era of peace, the “beautiful prince” his uncle hoped he would one day become.
Saturday, November 15, 2008
Recently, the cultural diversity policy for the Lincoln Children’s Zoo prevented three of its sponsors from handing out coupons with a Bible verse printed on the back at the annual Boo at the Zoo fundraiser. Therefore, the three sponsors, Evangelical Free Church, daVinci’s, and Champions Fun Center, withdrew their Noah’s Ark display from the event this year. Apparently, it’s okay to have a display of Noah’s Ark, but quoting the actual Bible story is somehow harmful to children. There is something remarkably absurd about a diversity policy that excludes religious expression. By definition, diversity should be inclusive, with all religions receiving equal footing. Unfortunately, many modern institutions seem to define diversity by subtraction rather than addition.
At no other time in the year does this become more clear than during the Christmas season. Halloween just ended, and without even a pause for Thanksgiving, the first shot has already been fired in the 2008 War on Christmas. In an article for the British newspaper The Observer, Rowan Walker reports that Oxford, England has banned the word “Christmas” from their Christmas Festival in an attempt to be more inclusive. Oxford now dubs the event the “Winter Light Festival.”
What is going on here? Who is offended by using the word “Christmas”? Every year, in the days leading up to everyone’s favorite holiday, we hear stories of businesses and public facilities replacing the “Christ” in Christmas with a big “X,” or requiring employees to greet everyone with a strictly secular “Happy Holidays.” It’s as if we are living in the dream world of Ebenezer Scrooge. “Merry Christmas? Bah, humbug!”
The fact is, no one should be offended by Christmas. It is ingrained in American culture: In “A Charlie Brown Christmas”, the single most popular Christmas special ever created, Linus quotes the Gospel of Luke 2:8-14, retelling the whole Nativity story outright!
So, why is there such apprehension to call Christmas what it is, Christmas! The problem is we live in a sinful world which cannot stand being reminded of the good news of Christ’s coming. John 3:20 “Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed” (NIV). So don’t be surprised to hear stories about “Christmas” celebrations being restricted in the name of diversity. It’s just a thin disguise for the world’s hatred of the Gospel message.
By the way, if you’re planning to do any “Christmas” shopping this year, why not spend your dollars at a business which recognizes that you are actually buying presents to celebrate Christmas, not Winter Solstice or some other secularly correct holiday.
(Find Rowan Walker’s article on Oxford’s Christmas Festival at http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2008/nov/02/christmas-political-correctness-oxford-christian.)
Tuesday, November 4, 2008
This week for Gernant's ECTA class, we did a garbology writing assignment. Basically, we had to pick out a piece of garbage, study it, jot down our observations, and write a piece of prose fiction about our item. I picked a Mickey Mouse Club key chain.
Mickey was born, born a pauper to a pawn, in China. He immediately immigrated to America to work at Disney World. In America, Mickey faced terrible persecution. Some of the other key chains accused him of being a communist sympathizer, just because of his national origin. It didn’t help that Mickey only wore red, every day. He couldn’t help it, it was the only shirt he owned.
Fortunately, China started to make everything for America, including all of Disney’s cheap souvenirs. Mickey could stop worrying about the red scare, but now he had a new problem: at $10 he was just one little overpriced key chain in a million.
Years later, he was purchased by a Lutheran family visiting Disney World with their three year old son, Martin. Martin liked to shake Mickey like a rattle, and put him in his mouth and suck on him because, after all, Mickey did resemble a red lollipop. Mickey didn’t mind; he loved his new owner.
By the time Marty turned five, Mickey had become his good luck charm. Marty got into the habit of spinning Mickey around on his finger when he got bored. It made Mickey very dizzy, but he got through it by pretending to be a cosmonaut. After all, spinning around rapidly was sort of like being in a centrifuge. When the G-force exceeded maximum capacity and Mickey flew off Martin’s finger, it was just like lift off. However, all of Mickey’s space flights ended in crash landings, leaving him nicked, scuffed, and scarred for life. Even worse, Mickey’s dreams of being the first to reach the moon were dashed by the Americans and Neil Armstrong.
When Martin turned 16, Mickey discovered his true calling: drag racing! Mickey enjoyed the thrill of the race even more than Marty, and brought him victory every time with his good luck.
Unfortunately, Martin’s mommy, discovering his secret life, decided her son needed to grow up and slipped Mickey into the trash. Marty searched furiously for his old friend, but Mickey was gone.
Mickey thought he was done for, but by a twist of fate, he was rescued by a Concordia college student. Mickey is now enjoying a quiet retirement, sharing lengthy conversations with his fellow key chains, Darth Vader, Luke Skywalker, and the mini eight ball. Despite their differences, they are the best of friends. However, the eight ball keeps trying to predict Mickey’s future. He seems to think that, eventually, Mickey will be surreptitiously thrown in the trash by their owner’s mother. Who knows what the future holds for Mickey the Keychain?
Saturday, November 1, 2008
I wrote about the impact the play Inherit the Wind has had on me. I wrote about how, as I watched the whole audience laugh at bigoted caricatures of Christianity, I realized we are in a culture war.
There was something else about the play which stood out to me. In the original film, Drummond, who is supposed to be Clarence Darrow, cross-examines Brady, who is supposed to be William Jennings Bryan. Drummond asks Brady to imagine if only evolution were taught to children and not the Bible. Drummond thought it would only be fair if both ideas were presented equally, and not suppressed. In that case, the idea being suppressed was evolution, today it’s creationism. Of course, that line was omitted in the modern version of the play. Why? Because even though Drummond believed in evolution, he knew that only teaching evolution and dismissing other theories would hinder critical critical analysis. Such an idea was deplorable even to the anti-Christian bigots who wrote this play. Today, we have gone far beyond what Drummond envisioned. If he were alive today, he would probably support school choice, and be labeled a backwards fundamentalist by the modern secular elite. In this culture war, the enemy has captured the education system, allowing them to indoctrinate generation after generation of impressionable children.
“If I profess with the loudest voice and clearest exposition every portion of the truth of God except precisely that little point which the world and the devil are at that moment attacking, I am not confessing Christ, however boldly I may be professing Christ. Where the battle rages, there the loyalty of the soldiers is proved; and to be steady on all the battlefield besides, is mere flight and disgrace if he flinches at that point.” -- Martin Luther.
What does this mean? I think Martin Luther is pretty clear. It is of the utmost importance that a Christian stand up for the truth of God that is being attacked. If you stand up for something that is not being attacked, you’re not accomplishing a whole lot. It’s not that hard to be anti-slavery in modern America, but it was much harder when slavery was common in American society. So, which of God’s truths are under attack today? The sanctity of life and God’s model for marriage come to mind.
The world is at war with God’s word. Even passive Nativity displays, or pictures of Noah and his animals on invitations for an event at the Children’s Zoo are removed in the name of diversity. I think there are two kinds of diversity. My idea is that diversity is inclusive, that everyone should be represented. The world’s idea of diversity is excusive, a naked public square.
In a world full of war and death, these displays may not seem like a huge problem. But shouldn’t Christians be concerned that those who are against Christ, who think the good news of the Gospel message is offensive, are effectively stripping the public square of any religious expression. There is nothing inclusive or diverse about a society that only permits secular expression in public places.
These are ways the secular world is attacking our faith, and it’s where I think Christians need to step up and defend the truth. Martin Luther is right that Christians who don’t do this are a disgrace, not confessing Christ to the world.
In the years before the Civil War in America, there were two kinds of people who called themselves Christians. There were those who supported, condoned, or failed to oppose slavery, the most abominable evil of their time, and there were the Christians who believed in the abolition of slavery (and formed the Republican party to do just that). Which group was truly confessing Christ and which group was merely professing Christ? Here is a theological question I would love your thoughts on: in those times, was someone who worshiped on Sunday, but had his human slaves whipped every other day of the week truly a Christian?
Are pro-slavery Christians saved, or are these the sort of people Christ was talking about when he said this: Matthew 7:21-23 "Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?' Then I will tell them plainly, 'I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!' What about those who condoned the extermination of Jews during the holocaust? There were people who did just that, yet claimed to be Christians. Were they showing the fruit of the Holy Spirit?
If you don't think neo-nazis are saved, or if members of the Ku Klux Klan, which often evokes the name of God to justify their actions, should call themselves Christians, then here is one last question to ponder: can you be pro-choice and a Christian? Is someone who supports the extermination of over 50,000,000 innocent unborn infants confessing Christ? What would Martin Luther think?