Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Oxford 2014

     Exciting news (in my life anyways). One of my brilliant and amazing professors has organized a two-week class that will convene in ENGLAND!!!!! It's designed to be an experiential learning class. Instead of just sitting in a room and discussing great British writers associated with Oxford, we will actually be going to the places they wrote about! We'll be able to discuss the work of C.S. Lewis at his house, T.S. Eliot on the Thames, and we'll see Shakespeare performed at the Globe! We have an amazing reading list too!

C.S. Lewis  - The Great Divorce  and  That Hideous Strength  
            Discuss at The Kilns and at “The Eagle and the Child”

J.R.R. Tolkien-  Intro to The Silmarillion     
            Discuss at “The Eagle and the Child” 

John Henry Newman- The Idea of a University  -- Discuss at Christ Church
            Visit Littlemore, Newman Centre

Evelyn Waugh—Brideshead Revisited 
Discuss at: Herford College , Turf Tavern,
 Christ Church Meadow, and Botanic Gardens

T.S. Eliot  -- “The Waste Land” and “The Four Quartets”
            Discuss on the Waterbus trip down the Thames

Chesterton – “Ballad of the White Horse”
            Discuss at the White Horse at Uffington

William Shakespeare – TBD,  based on performances at The Globe Theater 

     Beyond this we get plenty of free time in order to make excursions to wherever else we may wish to go (within reason of course). I'm already making an itinerary of places I need to go and things I need to do. As a class we'll go on Walking tours of Oxford, to the Bodleian Library, Ashmolean Museum, Evensong in Christ Church Cathedral, Waterbus trip down the Thames, The Kilns- C.S. Lewis’ House, Concert in Oxford, Blenheim Palace, Westminster Abbey in London, British Museum in London, Tower of London/The Armoury/Crown Jewels, Churchill War Rooms/Imperial War Museum, Shakespearean Performance at the Globe Theatre, Stonehenge, andThe White Horse at Uffington. For myself I want to ride in the Eye, and visit the Sherlock Holmes museum.Then, if I have the time and the money I'd like to make an excursion over to Wales. I'd see all the Doctor Who stuff in Cardiff and soak in the air of the Welsh countryside (cityside?). Everyone always forgets about Wales, but they have some of the best Arthur myths and Wales is a source of inspiration to one of my favorite authors (that's Diana Wynn Jones in case you were wondering). 

     I'm so excited that I have this opportunity, and am even more grateful that I'll be able to go with some very dear friends. I've loved England for as long as I remember. The stories that have shaped me the most have come from that country. Pictures of propriety, virtue, and empire. Tomorrow marks the beginning  of the new year (happy new year by the way), and it also marks the official countdown to Oxford. There's still a lot to do between now and then (I mean I have the whole Spring semester to take care of first), passports to get, money to save. I'm truly excited! :) Happy New year everyone. May your year also bring its own excitements and adventures!

Monday, December 30, 2013

End of Hiatus

Hello friends,

I have finally returned! Hopefully as break continues I can build up a pretty sizable queue so that I can produce a fairly regular stream of posts. I'm not very good at blogging, I admit, but I think if I force myself to keep up the practice it will be good for me, academically speaking. I do have several reviews in the works (books and movies) and I will have some more philosophical and theological things to post as soon as I start working on my paper again. I figure submitting one for a conference will be good practice and look good on grad school resumes right? Tomorrow I'll start officially posting again! Until then please enjoy these ridiculous pictures with no context:

EXCUSE YOU The look on her face is priceless! 

Hustle or be hustled

the monkey

Sherlock doesn't have friends

Yes you did, Robin Williams!

party thranduil got his hands on the ten-hour version of "they're taking the hobbits to isengard."

draw me french dalek

snailed it!\

Until tomorrow.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

All Saints Day

Happy All Saints Day (observed) to you all. This is my first time ever celebrating it, and it has been an amazing experience :) Some business: due to a busy school schedule I haven't been very consistent in posting on this site. I plan to build up a queue over Christmas break, but until then, if you want to, you can check out my new tumblr account here. It;s like a smaller version of blogger that allows me to post my thoughts and interesting things I want to share with a time commitment that's friendly to busy college kids. Other than that I have nothing much to say. Please enjoy this quote from the Venerable Bede's All Saint's Day sermon:

"But above all these things is the being associated with the companies of angels and archangels, thrones and dominations, principalities and powers, and the enjoyment of the watches of all the celestial virtues—to behold the squadron of the saints, adorned with stars; the patriarchs, glittering with faith; the prophets, rejoicing in hope; the apostles, who in the twelve tribes of Israel, shall judge the whole world; the martyrs, decked with the purple diadems of victory; the virgins, also, with their wreaths of beauty. But of the King, who is in the midst, no words are able to speak. That beauty, that virtue, that glory, that magnificence, that majesty, surpasses every expression, every sense of the human mind. For it is greater than the glory of all saints; but to attain to that ineffable sight, and to be made radiant with the splendor of His countenance, it were worth while to suffer torment every day—it were worth while to endure hell itself for a season, so that we might behold Christ coming in glory, and be joined to the number of the saints; so is it not then well worth while to endure earthly sorrows, that we may be partakers of such good, and of such glory?"

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Books to read before you die.

/ Vintage Books on Display

I have several friends who were making lists of this sort, so I thought I'd jump on the bandwagon!

The Faerie Queene Book 1 - Edmund Spenser

Songs and Sonnets of John Donne

Tales of Mystery and Imagination - Edgar Allen Poe

A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court, The Prince and the Pauper, Short Stories - Mark Twain

Beowulf - Anonymous

Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats, Four Quartets, The Journey of the Magi, Christianity and Culture, - T.S. Eliot

The Confessions, City of God - St. Augustine

The Divine Comedy - Dante

Alice in Wonderland, Through the Looking Glass - Lewis Carroll

Peter Pan - J.M. Barrie

Wind in the Willows - Kenneth Graham 

A Midsummer Night's Dream, The Taming of the Shrew, King Lear, The Tempest, Macbeth, Hamlet, Sonnets - William Shakespeare

On Virtue - St. Thomas Aquinas

Proslogium, Monologium, Cur Deus Homo - St. Anselm

After Virtue - Alasdair MacIntyre

The Silmarillion, The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings, The Children of Hurin, The Unfinished Tales - J.R.R. Tolkien

The Wonderful Fool, The Samurai, Silence - Shusaku Endo

Dracula - Bram Stoker

Metaphysics, Nicomachean Ethics, Poetics, Politics - Aristotle

The Republic, Timeaus - Plato

Mere Christianity, Screwtape Letters, The Chronicles of Narnia - C.S. Lewis

Treasure Island, The Black Arrow, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde - Robert Louis Stevenson

Hard Times, A Christmas Carol - Charles Dickens

The Consolation of Philosophy - Boethius 

Frankenstein - Mary Shelley  

Any Mythology, but especially Norse and Celtic (and Japanese)

Paradise Lost - Milton

The Bible (especially Job, Hebrews, Romans, 1 Corinthians, Genesis, John, and James)

Harry Potter (I had to do it)

The Mabinogian,  The Death of Arthur (Mallory), Arthurian Romances (Troyes), The Once and Future King (T.H. White), and any other Arthuriana 

Fairy Tales (Especially Grimm Brothers and Hans Christian Anderson)

Total Truth, Saving Leonardo - Nancy Pearcey, 

The Knight's Tale - Chaucer

The structure of Scientific Revolutions - Thomas Kuhn 

The Father Brown Stories, The Man Who Was Thursday - G.K. Chesterton

Foxe's Book of Martyrs 

There are probably a billion other books that deserve to be on this list, but for today these are the ones I find to be the most important for everyone to read (/ these are the ones I like best).

Thursday, October 10, 2013

The Work of God/ Opus Dei

     This week I was invited to attend a talk given by Dr. Scott Hahn. If you don't know who he is, that's ok, I didn't either (if you want to know you can look here). I went, and I have to say it was one of the most surreal experiences of my life. Now, let me be clear, I've grown up Protestant, and more specifically low Protestant. My childhood haunts included the halls of many a Baptist and Evangelical church. Recently I've made the jump from my Baptisty past to the REC (Reformed Episcopal Church), which, for all intents and purposes, doctrinally was not that big of a leap (although in terms of format I'm still reeling). This speech, however, was given by a Roman Catholic for a Roman Catholic audience.

     For the first time in my life I know what it feels like to be a homeschooler in a room full of public schoolers. Or, on the flip-side, one of my Catholic friends at my Baptist university. Now, let me be clear, I enjoyed the speech, and I have no problem with our Catholic brothers and sisters, it was just strange to be one of four Protestants in a room filled with Catholics. I knew things would be different when the opening prayer included a mass recitation of the Lord's prayer ('Oh good,' I thought to myself, 'I know this one'), but was completely lost at the end when there was a recitation of a Hail Mary ('Oh' I don't know this/ don't feel inclined to say it') . It was also a bit uncomfortable at times during the speech. A good speaker makes jokes, and Dr. Hahn did, they were just jokes targeted at a demographic that I'm not part of. Usually if I hear a joke about Protestants and Catholics, the Protestants come out on top. Not so in this auditorium! Some of the theology was different as well and often I noticed that even when we believed in the same answers the path we took to arrive at those answers was very different. And often, with beliefs shared by both parties, the emphasis on what was important was different for each party (for example, on the subject of homosexuality, the Protestants emphasize the unnaturalness of the action, and a greater focus is on how the sin is wrong. Catholics, on the other hand, focus more on the person. God loves the person as they are, but he doesn't want them to stay as they are, he wants them to become better. The sin is still wrong, the main focus of the response is just shifted).

     The most interesting (and strange) thing, however, were not the differences I felt between my Protestant beliefs and their Catholic ones, but similarities of goals and purposes. The point of the meeting was to talk about the 'New Evangelization' - the Catholic focus on re-evangelizing lapsed Catholic people and nations. The focus was, not just to share the gospel, but to make sure that those who believed were mentored and discipled in a way that strengthened their faith, and allowed them to continue their Christian growth. This is very similar to a recent Protestant emphasis on discipleship. It's no good to just covert people if you don't help them grow. It was also interesting to hear a Catholic speaker talk about the importance of living a wholistic Christian life, expounding on the idea that you don't have to be a missionary or a minister to evangelize - that you are meant to be a witness both by your life and your words. A theme important to Protestants as well. Dr. Hahn is also apparently a Catholic apologist, defending the faith from a Catholic point of view, a movement heavily parallel to the booming Protestant Apologetics sphere.

     The vocabulary was different, the format was different, the emphasis and the jokes were different, but the core of beliefs and the mission was the same as what I'd been hearing my whole life. Being constantly surrounded by Protestants I hear a lot of misconceptions concerning the Catholic church and practice, and at this speech I heard misconceptions about Protestant beliefs and practice (For the record, Protestants do believe in sacraments (ordinances), we just have two instead of seven, and we're all aware that the 'New Testament' refers to the new covenant instituted by Chris,t and is not really mean to refer to a collection of 27 books. We know that the title is really 'The books OF the New Testament'). I won't say that I don't hold any misconceptions myself, but what I was most struck by was the fact that Catholics and Protestants really are fellow members of the catholic (as in universal, not the institution) body of Christ. We believe in the same God, we have faith in the same Son, and we are all led in the same mission by the same Holy Spirit. Dr. Hahn gave out a book that dealt with what he called the opus dei, the work of God, and this is what all Christians are called to do. Whether Catholic or Protestant we are all called to do the work of God here on earth, to reach out to our fellow humans and share the gospel with them. It made me think that the Church would be better served if there was less of a focus on the differences between the two Christian powerhouses and more cooperation. We are all Christians, and I see no reason why we can't do the work of God together.  

On a purely unrelated note, I finally posted something! Yay! I have more things, I don't know when I'll get to them, but I'll post them whenever I feel like I have enough time to finish them :)

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

New Blogging Idea

    I thought that it might be fun for me to do a Blog series centered around animated shows that are every bit as good as the best live-action shows on T.V. today. I've found that people tend to dismiss animated shows off-hand as being simply 'for children.' However, in my experience, many animated T.V. shows deal with incredibly complex issues, and often combine stunning artistry with great story-telling. Just like comic books I believe that cartoons, anime, etc. are incredibly impactful and receive far too little credit with the public at large. We live in a world where Geek culture is gaining increasing importance, and I know many self-proclaimed Geeks who would agree that these shows helped to shape their lives. So, anyways, I thought for a while I'd post reviews of shows that helped to shape me, and that I believe are simply incredible and need more love.

     I don't really have a name for the series yet, and I don't have any posts, but I have plenty of ideas and plenty of shows I think deserve a review, so I guess I'll reveal the rest of the information with the first post in the series. We'll see how this goes, should be fun.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Hero Week: Despicable Me

Story Girl is hosting a Hero week this week, and I thought I'd throw my two cents in with a character review of Despicable Me (in celebration of Despicable Me 2). I'll be the first to admit that, when it comes to Dreamworks movies, I'm initially very skeptical. I mean, the company's no Pixar right? Well, sure, but lately I've felt that Dreamworks has been outpacing the Pixar powerhouse (How to Train your Dragon anyone?). Despicable Me is certainly not on par with Toy Story or Finding Nemo, but with that being said, as far as heartwarming stories go, it's hard to beat this one.

First there's the movie's protagonist, the not-so-super villain Gru. Gru desperately wants to be one of the best baddies there is, but compared to recent developments in the criminal world, his villainy is pretty small scale. It's always fun to love a bad guy, and its even more fun when, deep down, you're pretty sure that the bad guy isn't so bad after all. Gru gets some pretty adorable character development as he makes the transition from aspiring super villain to dad.


Margot is pretty great. She's not may favorite character, but she's a wonderful big sister to Edith and Agnes. She's also not afraid to call Gru out when he's a terrible person, which is helpful. Also, she's wearing a Lorax shirt, which I just now noticed, and that's pretty boss.


Edith is pretty hilarious. For a girl who wears a lot of pink and does ballet she's pretty tough. I think of all the sisters she has the least screen time, but I do hope we get to know her better in the second movie. 


AGNES!!!! She was my absolute favorite. If anyone could melt Gru's heart it was this kid. She's so sweet and adorable, and totally has one of the best lines in the whole movie. She's one of those kids that you wish you could know (like Calvin and Hobbes, but in a good way).


Gru's Minions were pretty fantastic too. I loved them. They are responsible for the movie's cruder humor, but I honestly didn't think that it detracted from the story at all. Plus, they just get themselves in to ridiculous situations, which is great.

     I didn't want to watch this movie when it came out, my family made me. I swear to you I've cried every time I've watched it since. It's incredibly adorable, and even if it isn't as great as Pixar, whenever I feel sad I'd rather watch this than a Pixar movie. True story. I'm not sure what that says about me, but there you go. :)

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Two Sentence Movie Reviews


    I had an idea at work today. I originally intended one of the main components of my blog to be for movie and book reviews. I realized that I hadn’t been doing much of that, and there were so many movies I’d seen since I started this, but that I didn’t have a whole post to write about. So, instead, mostly because of my laziness, I’ll start doing two sentence movie reviews where I pick 10 movies or T.V. shows that I’ve seen and give a brief synopsis of my reactions to them. Occasionally I’ll do a real review for a movie, but only if I feel like there’s a real reason to! So here you go – 10 movies I’ve seen reviewed in two sentences with a starred review as well! :)

Oz: The Great and Powerful
This movie was a painfully campy, overacted, candy colored, mockery of the original which created as many questions as it sought to answer. Strangely enough I wound up enjoying it. 3 flying baboons out of 5.

Whisper of the Heart

Miyazaki truly shone in this incredibly adorable G rated coming of age story, which, coincidentally, is best watched in the original Japanese (the English dub changes key plot points), about a young girl who seeks to discover who she truly is, and the boy she’s come to admire. I cannot convey with mere words how much I’ve come to love this movie. 6 cat statues out of 5.

Doctor Who series 7

I really really really love this show, and I really wanted to love this season (I’ve been trying super hard to get over Ten’s departure) but I didn’t. I didn’t hate it, but I just really hope that the 50th anniversary steps it game up (Moffat, I’m talking to you). 3 mysterious companions out of 5

The Last Unicorn

As a child I passed over this movie many times at the rental place. I would pick it up, look at it, and then rent Sky Dancers – that was a mistake. 4 butterflies out of 5.

There’s No Business like Show Business
My mom and I wanted to watch a musical together and Ethel Merman seemed like a good choice. Coincidently my first musical introduction to Marilyn was not a disappointment in this super cute and quirky vaudeville tribute. 4 scandalous costumes out of 5.

I’ve known about this anime for a long time, but finally decided that I should watch it, and I’ve not regretted it. It’s pretty hilarious, and it’s been a fascinating introduction to Japanese mythology!  4,000,000,254 Lost Jewel Shards out of 50 kazillion.

Quigley Down Under

My family made me watch this with them. The scandalous aborigines were the best part after Alan Rickman. 2 ½ dead bad people out of 5.

Star Trek: Into Darkness
I had super high expectations for this Star Trek sequel, and I was not disappointed. All the actors were fantastic, heroes and villains alike, plus Mickey, from Doctor Who, had a role! 4 ½ Sassy Vulcans out of 5.

The Aristocats
My friends and I watched this after we couldn’t get into a pre-screening of Monsters University. I’d forgotten how fantastic this movie was. 5 scat cats out of 5.

When this came out in 2007 I loved it so much I saw it twice, twice. Upon further reflection, the book is better and the fact that I’ve grown up is a little sad to me. 3 ½  fallen stars out of 5.

Well there you have it, 10 movies I've seen semi-recently and my thoughts on them! Tell me what you think. (p.s. two posts in two days!?! Madness!).

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Christian Fiction

Let it be noted that what follows is a highly opinionated piece. I'm quite certain that not all of my assertions are correct, and that there are many others who know a lot more about the subject than I do. I don't expect everyone to agree with everything I've said. I simply ask that you take my ideas for what they are - rough and uncensored (in the best possible way). And know that I have the highest respect for published authors (with a few notable exceptions), and that I don't despise anyone's ministry. That being said, I think there's a problem with the Christian fiction market as a whole, and these are things that need to be called out and addressed. (I myself am not immune from falling into these errors in some of my own writing, so this is self-criticism as much as anything else).
    There’s nothing that I love more in the world than a bookstore. I love the smell of books, and the way that they look and feel. I’ll be the first to admit that I have a problem: whenever I enter any sort of store that sells books, I can’t leave without purchasing at least one (at least one). It’s not even that I really want to read all of the books that I buy (but I do), it’s more that I just need to own them, to have them constantly surrounding me at all times. I love stories, I love the way they make you feel, and I love how the best written ones have a soul and a life of their own.

     I believe that great storytellers are some of the most important humans in history. In my mind men like Homer, Virgil, Dante, and Shakespeare are just as important, if not more important, than the leading political and intellectual leaders of their (or any other) time. I’m also incredibly proud, as a Christian, to be a part of the Western literary tradition. Many of the West’s best authors, our greatest story tellers, have been Christians, and have sought to glorify God in their acts of sub-creation. But now, I suppose, I’ll get to the point of all this. It is my belief that the great Christian literary tradition has died out.

     What makes me say this? Well, I’m pretty sure we’ve all been to a Christian bookstore at least once (or at least all the people I know have), and we’ve seen what’s there, and read some (or a lot) of the books. Every time I go into one of those stores or read the latest Christian fiction sensation I come away with a deep sense of disappointment (that’s the mildest emotion that I feel). I’ve been thinking about it for a long time – what happened to the Dickens’ of the world, the Lewis Carrols’? The C.S. Lewis’? The Tolkiens’? Where are the Christians who are writing great literary masterpieces? Well, I’ve compiled a list of how I think Christian artists have gotten it wrong as a whole, and some things I think can be done to raise the quality of Christian fiction as a whole.

Where We Went Wrong (look at that alliteration!):
·         The Commercialization of Christianity: 
       A Christian Bookstore is a business. There's nothing inherently wrong with that, but as a business, and specifically as a solely Christian business, it has to have products to sell, namely books. So, how is this accomplished? Well, there's already a market for Christian fiction, all one simply needs to do is fill it by mass producing books. It is a fact that quantity is valued over quality in this business. If people like what you write, you are expected to start cranking out a crap ton of the same sort of thing, and, if you're popular enough, they'll get other people to write even more books under your name. It's called ghost writing and it's equally as prevalent in Christian authorial circles as it is elsewhere. This kind of framework give rise to three huge problems.
     Number one - Sketch theology. If you walk into a Christian bookstore at any given time you'll see hundreds of books for sale that contain heretical viewpoints. Christian self-help books are a big ticket item with a prosperity gospel message. The Shack is another one with theology that's blatantly heretical. Why would a so-called Christian bookstore sell such things? Answer - these books are best sellers that make a ton of money. As long as the author claims that the book is Christian, and God is sort of mentioned, it doesn't matter what the author is actually saying. Not all books in a Christian books store have flimsy theology, but I would probably argue that most do (well, a little less than most).
     Number two - Poor quality merchandise. I touched on this before, but most of the books for sale in these stores are more of a dime novel quality than of real literary merit. I've read higher quality fanfiction than some of the stuff they sell on those shelves. Now, I know you get that in every book market. In all honesty, the vast majority of books written ever are, how shall I say this, less than memorable.We can't all write the next great classic, and  I think we all know that even most best sellers will be forgotten in a few years. But again, if I'm being perfectly honest (and this is just my experience), there hasn't been any above average quality Christian writing in the past 50 years. I'm pretty sure the last great author was Tolkien. (And seriously, please correct me if I'm wrong, because I would love to find another Tolkien).
     Number three - hyper-specialized market. There was a time when Christians just wrote books. Dickens wrote books that stemmed from his Christian faith, but were not explicitly Christian. Tolkien's faith is never blatantly stated throughout any of his works, yet the Lord of the Rings is arguably as Christian as anything ever written. What's more, these books have appealed to thousands across generations, race, culture, class, etc. Christian literature has lost its mass appeal. By appealing only to Christians (and not even all Christians, but specifically to the born-again evangelical market) Christian bookstores have basically told all consumers and authors outside of its target market that what we have is not for them. A Christian bookstore is not a place frequented by the atheist, Mormon, or Muslim, because the things sold inside are deliberately not meant to reach them. Christians have started writing solely for themselves. This specialized market also creates a bad atmosphere for the aspiring Christian author. There's a sense that if you are a Christian, and you want to write, you have to write a specifically Christian book. In essence the Christian community has alienated itself from the outside world. We're not only not of the world, but we're not even in it anymore. Literature changes hearts and culture, and, as Christians working within a hyper-specialized market, we've given up our opportunity to use literature to change the hearts and minds of a generation.
·         Emotion over substance:
     Christian book mistake number two. Probably two thirds of Christian fiction can be classified as romance novels. I hate romance novels, I'm just putting my bias out there for everyone to see. I hate them, I think they're stupid and ridiculous. That being said, I don't hate romance itself. One of my very favorite books is about a girl named Sophie Hatter who falls in love with a Wizard named Howl, but that's more of a sub-plot than the point of the whole story. I am a girl, and I do think that romance between two characters can liven up a plot, but that's as far as I'm willing to go. I don't like romance novels on principle, and here's why: they're written (for the most part, I can think of several exceptions myself) to emotionally manipulate women. Now, do I believe that Christian romance authors are sitting at their writing tables cackling over their latest work? No. I think most of the authors are nice women who like the romance novel genre too. They like the emotional high that comes reading the books, from watching two characters fall in love. In one sense love is a good thing, romance is a good thing, but if consumed in excess I believe that romance novels can be incredibly damaging. In the end I think that most of the ones that they sell in the Christian book stores are no different in terms of substance than the Harlequin novels that they're attempting to 'purify'. And that's a problem. The manipulation of women's emotions are being used to sell books that have little or no redeeming qualities otherwise. In other words, they're substanceless.
     Now, I pick on Romance novels because they' make up the largest portion of the industry, but I can make he same complaint about the other 'Christian' books. Supernatural thrillers, for example, are incredibly popular and fall prey to the same issues. They exist to excite an emotional response, they have some obligatory mention of God, and then they're done, but they're no Screwtape letters. And I believe Christian supernatural thrillers are actually more spiritually dangerous for both readers and authors alike. Most deal with incredibly dark themes that are not treated, I believe with the appropriate severity. C.S. Lewis himself never attempted anything like the Screwtape letters again, because they were so spiritually draining (and that's coming from a master).

     So, what have we produced? Basically what the Christian world has now is a specialized market that's making little to no impact on the surrounding culture, that's overall poor in quality, unhealthy in theme, and lacking in substance. 

Where We Need To Go From Here:
·         Stop being poorly didactic:
     What do I mean by this? Well, it's simple: there's nothing wrong with a work of art being moralizing or instructive, if its done well. Most Christian books strive to have some sort of a moral theme, or strive to present the gospel within their work, but the overall effect is forced and trite. It's admirable to try and present a moral message, but honestly, it's better to do so with subtlety and tact than with blatant ineffectiveness. Example: Pilgrim's Progress V. The Faerie Queene. Both are Christian allegories with a moral message, and both are good, but the Faerie Queene is clearly the superior work. Why? Bunyan's allegory lacks grace and mystery. He pretty much names the characters what they are and personifies everything. The Faerie Queene, on the other hand, probably has more of an agenda than Pilgrim's Progress, but is infinitely more imaginative and effective than the latter.
     What can Christian writers do differently? Well, for starters, I believe that we should stop forcing God into our novels. Yes, you read that right, if you cannot find a way for God, a gospel presentation, etc. to be easily and nicely placed in your work it's best to not force it. Maybe that means you need to re-write what you've written, or maybe that means you shouldn't write an overtly Christian work, but until Christian authors realize that a work can still be deeply Christian without one single reference to God, it will hurt the overall quality of the work. I've seen it done badly in every genre, although it's probably the most irritating in fantasy. Authors try to be clever, but what they're really doing is inserting the western Christian religious system under a different name into a world in which it doesn't belong. It's simply not necessary, and it serves to distract the reader from other important story elements.
     That being said, I've seen things done poorly the other way around as well. In an attempt not to be preachy authors pass up opportunities to use the western Christian tradition in places where it would be wholly appropriate. If you're writing a story about a priest it would be silly of you to never mention God. The man's a priest, he talks about God for a living. Also certain period pieces can have characters that would be wholly comfortable talking about religious subjects. The point is, all books (should) have a message that they're trying to convey, but authors should strive to not weigh their books down with moral elements that don't fit. And for the love of cheese don't moralize badly, writing is an art, no one wants to read  a diatribe of your plot irrelevant opinions.  
·         Have a real message:
     This is closely related to my previous suggestion, but deserves its own section. You've all heard the saying 'If you don't have anything nice to say, don't say anything at all.' Well, I'm adding my own saying: 'If you have nothing important to say, don't write a book.' That may seem a bit harsh, but really, stories aren't simply entertainment, they tools. As Christians we should use the tools available to us to touch the hearts and minds of those around us. How do we do that? But writing things with themes that are universally accessible and important. To pick on Romance novels again, that's one of the reasons I can't stand them. If those books didn't exist, the world would not be a worse place. Sure they're about love, but for most, its not a powerful or memorable love, it's just an emotion, and the books themselves have no real point or message. Do you know who's actually a good romance author (even if she isn't my personal favorite)? Jane Austen. Why? Because her books are about far more than the emotional attraction between two people. Another good one? Elizabeth Bronte. Wuthering Heights is a fantastic example of how love should not look. In each case, the author had something she wanted to convey, whether it was a moral message, or something even deeper, and she conveyed it. That's what the best books do, and that's what Christians ought to do, for we've been given the best deck of cards to deal with (is that a metaphor? I'm making that a metaphor).
·       Strive for beauty:
     This, in my opinion, is the most difficult and most important thing for any author to accomplish. Yet for Christians, I think it should be a requirement. Human beings are made in the image of God. As such we are sub-creators, and what is writing but an act of sub-creation? When we write, we are engaging in an act of worship. When Christian authors write, I wish they would look at their work as an expression of their love for God (and I'm sure many do). To strive to make the words they say, the sentences they construct, the final sum of their thoughts, as beautiful and magnificent as possible. Not everyone is going to be able to move an audience to tears with a single sentence, but if our works are filled with as much love and care as possible, that's a triumph in its own right. Stories are beautiful things. They have a life of their own in a sense. Our job as authors is to give rise to them, and then to help them as they grow. Not all of them will grow up to be great epics, some may only be homely dime store novels, and some may not survive, but if more Christians would strive to create something beautiful, I cannot help but think that God would honor that.


Monday, May 20, 2013


The autumn of Kyoto, Japan
     Ok, I know I said I'd post relatively soon, and it's taken me a bit longer to get around to this, but that's mostly because the set of posts I'm really working on require a lot more thought and reflection that I had anticipated. So it is with controversial subjects. Anyways, until I can get the first one to my liking I thought I post a bit about the place I want to travel the most in the entire world: Japan. I have five reasons for believing that Japan is the most ideal country to visit, and perhaps live (although they are xenophobic... but only to people who want to live there forever... maybe to everyone...), and they are as follows:

     #1. Japan in simply the most beautiful country on the entire planet. There really is no contest. Every single season in this place is gorgeous.
Meguro River in Spring - Tokyo, Japan
Meguro River in Spring
Beautiful Fields in Hillside Hokkaido, Japan

Mnt. Fuji
Some Hillside in the middle of nowhere

Everywhere you go is amazing (I choose to believe this, contrary to any and all potential counter-evidence). They have Tokyo, rice fields, Kyoto, Hokkaido, and it's all just really amazing.

     #2. It's maybe, like, the only country in the entire world that I can go to where some of the people there are just as obsessed with their misconceptions of American culture as I am of my misconceptions of theirs.
Maybe misconception isn't the word... but seeing as how I've never been there I can't be sure...

     #3. I really do love the aspects of their culture that have been imported to America.
Fake Ramen s the best!
Anime is fantastic... albeit you have to be just as discerning with this as with anything else, but there are some incredibly compelling stories. Trigun, Full Metal Alchemist, Samurai Champloo, and the satires - oh the satires.

Studio Ghibli films are some of my favorite evar, and the studio is in Tokyo! (No but really, Howl's moving Castle and Whisper of the Heart are in my top 3 favorite movies of all time... ALL TIME).

It's always fun to listen to music that you can't understand... even when you have translated lyrics. Also the androgynous singers are fun too. 

Because you know that any country that has a Disney park is a place you want to be.

Tokyo Tower - but isn't that a knockoff of the Eiffel Tower you ask? No. It's bigger... and red... completely different.

     #4. Japan has a fascinating Christian history. 
Missionaries first arrived in the mid-sixteenth century, but no significant progress was made, for by the end of the sixteenth century the Shogunate started persecuting Christians, to the point of martyring many (including crucifying some). Japan then closed itself off from the outside world for nearly 200 years, but Christianity did not die out. It survived, garbled and severely diminished, but when missionaries were allowed back in the country in the 1800's, there were still some Christians there. Christianity then began to grow slowly, and Nagasaki became the center of Christian life in Japan... until it was blown up in 1945. But there is still a Christian presence in the country (however small) and some of its most important cultural figures are not only openly professing Christians, but make Christian themes the subject of their work - i.e. Shusaku Endo, and Makoto Fujimura.

     #5. Japan's real culture is both stunning and mysterious. 
It's so different from Western culture in general, not to mention America, it's incredibly fascinating. They're so formal, but it's fascinating. Everything from their temples, tea ceremonies, dress, mannerisms is incredibly fascinating. They have a whole different mythos on which their culture is built, but they're also dealing with the same modern problems (increased secularization, etc.) that threaten Western culture. It's like we're both dying, but we both have such beautiful things to offer still. 

     I guess it all boils down to that ultimately. When I look at their culture, whether rightly or wrongly, I feel a sense of solidarity, a sense that Japan, just like the West, is an old, proud, beautiful cultural tradition that must figure out how to survive in a modern world. Sure I love a lot of their modern stuff, I love a lot of America's modern stuff, but more than that I love the cultural foundations of each, and I would relish the opportunity to experience the world from a completely different perspective, to stand on a different foundation. 

Monday, May 13, 2013

Sweet Summer

     I'm not sure how I did it, but I managed to survive this crazy semester. There were points where I thought I wouldn't make it, points where I insincerely regretted my decision to pursue a college education, but I survived, and somehow my trusty 4.0 GPA companion survived with me. It's certainly a relief to be done. I welcome you summer with open arms. I can't say I have any big plans for my three months of freedom. I'm working nearly 30 hours a week now, and trying to read as much as I can. I'm rewarding myself for finishing school by reading Harry Potter for, like, the tenth time (that's not really hyperbole). I have a ton of posts planned for the summer, and I'm excited about doing more with this blog. For sure I have a few fantasy/mythology posts planned, because how can I not talk about my great love? I also have several book and movie reviews in the works, and a lot more philosophical/theological musings. I just thought I'd do an 'I'm not dead post,' and hopefully I'll have something out tomorrow!