A Halloween Scene

Who needs the orange Jack-o-lanterns, plastic spider-webs, and cheap décor that students are taping to their windows and doors in my dorm?  A free and more convincing Halloween scene can be found in the autumn scene outdoors.

My college campus is ready for Halloween.  Dry leaves rustle in the trees and on the ground.  Bad luck cracks zigzag the sidewalks.  Scrawny black cats alternately hover for scraps and dash away in alarm, crossing paths with dozens of doomed students daily.  At night, the new dorm that is under construction exudes the presence of a haunted house.  The glassless windows gape deep black in the dusk, and sheets of plastic fly loose from the plywood frame, rustling, whispering, and flapping in the wind as I walk by at night.  Bony trees finger the sky, the final tatters of leaves barely clinging on.  Dark grey clouds smother the fat half-moon and splash the sky with dark and light blotches like a predator’s pelt.  Spiders encroach on classrooms and dorm rooms, prowling on the floor or skittering across notebooks and desks.

The real Halloween scene is all around me, not confined to dangling Kleenex-like ghosts or strings of plastic eyeball lights.


Combined and described, these scenes create one creepy and doubtful compilation.  Yet, I have actually observed all these animals, objects, sights, and sounds over the course of my month back at college.  When I realized how all these observations reminded me of Halloween, I decided to describe them and spin them all together into one unified scene.  In spite of the picture I have been able to paint with these moments of reality, I am the first to admit that my campus is in fact quite pretty and welcoming, and the spiders are really the only part of the Halloween scene that has given me the creeps.

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When Intellectual Safety Kills

People like safety. They like the comfortableness of it, the self-validating nature of it, the superiority of it in a world that is anything but safe. However, in most cases the illusion of safety is more highly prized than the reality of it. We surround ourselves with other likeminded individuals who hold similar mores, political ideologies, theologies, and worldviews, giving ourselves the impression of ‘safety’ through mutual validation.

However, like with most idols, this kind of ‘safety’ dehumanizes people. The opposing party, group, movement, culture, race, or denomination, becomes condensed into, and defined by, a stereotype. Keeping those we disagree with at arms length is ‘safe’, it is ‘comfortable’, and it permits the continuing illusion of  doctrinal and cultural superiority. This ‘safety’ also destroys meaningful dialogue because a genuine challenge to an established stance is seen as combative and a personal attack. When we identify ourselves with a specific group -and by identify I do NOT mean casually associate -any attack made on that group becomes a personal attack. Whether it be liberal vs conservative, Protestant vs Roman Catholic, pro-abortion vs pro-life: the list could go on and on -when you say I am ‘X’, any attack on ‘X’ becomes an attack on you. This is especially true in Christian circles which often demonize each other, as well as take worldly definitions with which to define themselves (conservative, liberal, etc…). We forget that when Joshua asked the angel of the Lord, “Are you for us, or for our adversaries?”, the angel did not respond to the question, but simply stated, “No; but I am the commander of the army of the LORD. Now I have come”(Josh. 5:13-14). God was not bound by the human definitions that Joshua used (Israel vs. Canaanite), but rather is only defined by himself -God is on his own side.  Similarly with Jesus, the ultimate divider in his ministry was not between Jew or Gentile, clean or unclean, but between those who believed and those who did not. Christ alone is the ultimate one by whom we as Christians should identify, and any earthly categorization should be secondary to this -a very distant second. Jesus went to those whom the Jews despised and hated, explicitly because he was doing the will of his Father and that mattered more than any cultural, political, or misguided religious categorizations of his day.

Christ went to the outcast, the disenfranchised, and the poor of his time, bearing the good news of himself. He gave no heed to whether they were like him, or whether it was culturally acceptable, but only looked to his Father’s mission. We are called to be like Him first and foremost. We are not first Americans, or conservatives, or Reformed, or pro-life, or black/white/Hispanic/Asian, legal/illegal, rich/poor/middle-class, but rather Christians. Putting aside these human classifications does not mean we turn a blind eye to evil (Jesus certainly didn’t), but it does mean we are free in Christ to genuinely engage with all men, women, and children everywhere: in safety and without fear.

 

 

A Little Short Lark

Let me describe to you the view outside my office window. The green young tall trees are growing stronger by the day. Their weaving lovely many branches have seemingly accepted, finally, that they are not to be chopped down by glimmering buzzing many saws, as have much of their kind. No, they are to remain, a homage half-hearted to a city’s need for nature.

In these swaying softly trees, there is a certain one spot with a horizontal particularly branch that seems to be the place of honor supreme. All the little small stars of this patch of wood have perched there at time one or another. The crows, their black shiny feathers unkempt, like to gather in a row and hurl little many nasty insults at me, or so I imagine from their disdainful dark looks. The bright golden beautiful butterflies are better, for they pay no one any mind, content to chase each other around the trunk, up and up, till they are lost among the leaves few that have begun to turn yellow themselves.

The most dignified of the trees’ visitors was a speckled large hawk that once drove the chattering several crows away. The hawk held its private own court on that branch for nearly an hour, and I am sure he gave wandering many squirrels a fright. Let them be startled out of their fuzzy fat skins, for all I care. There are too far many of them, and there’s one in particular that likes merely to ascend to the top tallest branch, and rip the innocent poor leaves off. That’s all he does; rip a leaf, and watch it drop. Rip a leaf, and watch it drop, for just for kicks, I assume. What a little strange creature.

If, sweet dear reader, you have made it through that wandering strange description and noticed nothing amiss, let me enlighten you. You see, English has odd many rules that perhaps we knew at one time and then forgot. One that I perhaps had learned and certainly never thought of since then is the order of adjectives in proper modern English.

Apparently, adjectives are to be written in this particular order: quantity or number, quality or opinion, size, age, shape, color (and there are a few other ones that can come after that, should you be describing something excessively specific, such as original, material, purpose). Should you choose to deviate from that order, to describe the several chattering crows as chattering several crows, and their little many nasty insults instead of their many little nasty insults, you sound a bit like the the bard who wrote Beowulf…or maybe just a slightly addled person.

And me? I’m just a some-time procrastinating strange writer, fiddling with the English language just a little for a lark.

Dora the Explorer

The time is 6:30 AM, and I am covered in the morning dew–my daily ritual is beginning. I’m splayed out in the parking lot of the Pleasant Glen apartment complex, just lying there as water collects on my skin.

My owner and her family come out to meet me, and my face lights up at the sight of them. Doors unlock, slam.

“Get your seatbelt fastened! We’re already late,” says my owner—Jane.

My name is Dora, and I am a Ford Explorer. It was Jane’s daughter that called me Dora first, and it’s the name I identify with the most. I’ve been called a lot of other names as well, but I won’t repeat those–what happens in the car stays in the car.

Jane turns the key in the ignition, and I sputter before turning on. Headlights on, a swipe of the windshield. A systems check. Get those seatbelts on, kiddos–I flash the seatbelt light furiously until they click their belts.

Uh-oh: the front right tire has low pressure.

Jane needs to be alerted, so I light up the low pressure light on the instrument panel.

“Ah, shoot,” says Jane. Good, she noticed. “Joey, get out and kick the tires to see if any of them look low.”

Joey hops out and looks around. He kicks my tires, one by one, circling around. Getting back inside, he says, “The one in the front on my side looked a little low, but the rest were fine.”

“Well, it should be enough to get y’all to school then,” says Jane. She shifts to reverse, and I begin to back up. I don’t think this is a good idea, but I always obey what Jane says to do–it’s one of my best characteristics.

Jane signals me to go forward, and I pull away at a good clip. Jane always wants me to go faster than I want to–ignoring most speed limits, but it’s a forgivable trait for me. At least she uses her turn signals.

Barrelling down the highway, I see it’s going to be a beautiful day–58 degrees, and I notice my MPG’s are up to 22, which is a good streak–Jane gave me high-octane fuel when she refueled me last time, so that has helped. The road is slick, but my tires have little wear, so I enjoy the traction.

Everything is good except the front right tire–I’m concerned about that one. Suddenly, I hear a bang, and I lurch involuntarily to the right. Jane stifles an exclamation of dismay and slows down, heading towards the shoulder of the road. It irritates me, because (like I said before), I’m a very obedient vehicle. But this time, I couldn’t help it. I come to a complete stop.

“Do we have a flat tire, Mommy?” says Tricia from the back seat.

“We do, honey,” says Jane. “Now be quiet while Joey and I get out the spare.”

It’s a long process, and I can’t do anything to help, so I just sit back and take a moment to rest while Jane and Joey take care of the problem. Soon, they’ve attached the new tire. It feels weird, foreign, like putting a new shoe on just one foot–at least, that’s what I imagine it would feel like, if I was a person. It’s smaller too.

I just hope that Jane remembers that she’s not supposed to go as fast on a spare tire–it can be bad.

With the punctured tire in the trunk, we take off once again–20-35-45-60, then even higher. Nope, Jane definitely did not consult the user guide. I can sort of sympathize, but sometimes I wished Jane followed the rules more–things tend to go better.

We arrive at school, and Joey and Tricia hop out.

“Have a good day, you two,” says Jane. “I’ll pick y’all up at 2:30, just like normal.”

It’s just another successful expedition completed–a morning in the life of a car.

A Roman Wedding in One Act

Cast of Characters:

Silvius—Heir of the house of Valerius, a rich Roman family

Gaius—Friend of Silvius

Aurelius—The paterfamilias of the Aureli home

Jullina—Aurelius’ wife

Aurelia—Aurelius’ daughter

Nomenclature of Aurelius

Act I

Scene 1:  The light of early morning is peeping over the rooftops of the houses that crown the Caelian Hill of Rome, tinging the roofs in gold and the shadows in gray. Clients are already gathering in the vestibulium of the house of Aureli.  Silvius is about to enter when a friend on the street recognizes him.

Gaius:  Good morning, Silvius!  What brings you here?

Silvius:  Some personal business with Aurelius.

Gaius (with a wink):  Not in debt with him, I hope?

Silvius (seriously):  No, I’m here to ask for his daughter in marriage.

Gaius:  Well, you’re a rich, promising gentleman!  You deserve Aurelia, and I bet her father will think the same.  The gods be with you.  Bring your news to the Campus Martius this afternoon.  I’ll be there.  (Silvius looks embarrassed.)  Is anything wrong?

Silvius:  Whenever I have visited Aurelius before, he never seems to remember me!  He always consults his lurking nomenclature when I show my face in the atrium.

Gaius (waving his hand dismissively):  Oh, I doubt he cares what his future son-in-law’s name is as long as it’s that of a rich aristocrat.  Can’t wait to hear your happy announcement!

(Gaius exits, leaving Silvius pacing in the vestibulium.)

 

Scene 2:  Silvius enters the atrium where Aurelius sits with his nomenclature standing next to him.

Aurelius (aside to nomenclature):  Who is that man?  He looks familiar.  Is his name Julius?

Nomenclature:  No, sir.  It’s Silvius Valerius.

Aurelius (sotto voce):  Oh, yes!

Aurelius (aloud):  Silvius, welcome!  What business brings you here?  Not debts, I think!  (laughs heartily, for the Valerius family is famously rich)

Silvius:  I’m here to sign a contract with you.  I would like to marry your daughter Aurelia.

Aurelius:  I could not find a happier choice in a son-in-law.  You have my happy blessing, Julius—

Nomenclature (in an urgent whisper):  Silvius!  His name is Silvius, sir!

Aurelius (turns slightly red and clears his throat):  That is Silvius.  Lapsus linguae!

(Silvius does not appear convinced, but he does look happy as he and Aurelius bid farewell.)

 

Scene 3:  Jullina prepares Aurelia for the wedding.

Jullina:  Today is the day!  The omens are favorable, and all is prepared.  You look beautiful, Aurelia.

Aurelia (smiles):  Thank you, mother.

Jullina (placing the flame-colored wedding veil on Aurelia’s head):  The perfect color for you, my beautiful daughter!

(Jullina and Aurelia embrace affectionately.  The noise in the house grows louder.)

Jullina:  We must go down.  Silvius will be here soon.

(They exit.)

 

Scene 4:  A crowd waits outside Silvius’ new house as Silvius and Aurelia complete the wedding ceremony inside and light their hearthfire.  At last, they emerge into the sunlight, smiling.

Silvius: Thank you for sharing in our joy, friends.

Gaius (yells from the crowd): I was right!

(Silvius smiles and winks at Gaius as everyone else becomes distracted.  Too late, Gaius sees the wedding torch Aurelia tossed.  It knocks him down, but a moment later he pops up, torch in hand and grinning.)

Silvius (mouths to Gaius): You’re next.

Gaius: Hope you’re as right as I was!

(The End.  Curtain falls.)

TYCHO

Music elicits moods. A power-metal battle hymn will make you feel strong and impervious, the string section of Vivaldi’s ‘Winter’ will make you feel anxious, and Tycho’s synth-filled soundscape will make you feel relaxed in its vastness. Since I work in an open office floorplan, the incessant chatter can often become distracting and a handy pair of earbuds has become invaluable. However, much more so than in college (when music made an excellent study aid), various styles of music have proven themselves to be even more distracting than the people around me. Anymore, when I need to withdraw from the hubbub of office chatter, I turn to a variety of genres including power metal, hard rock, and most recently—electronic.

Because electronic is a very expansive genre, and one I know little about, most of my listening knowledge has come from artists I have stumbled across or learned about from others better versed in this style of music than myself. With roots going all the way back to the 1960’s with bands like Kraftwerk from Germany, the genre has a vast, but pretty short, history. The style of music has been typified by the use of synthesizers to produce tones and notes, but today it encapsulates a much broader swath of music—all of which is produced using some variation of live and computer generated instruments and sounds.

One group that falls within the ‘electronic’ genre, called Tycho, produces music using a mixture of both synthesized instruments (hardware synths) and regular instruments (e.g. electronic guitars, drums, etc.). The group is primarily known for using lots of ambient melodies and is incredibly relaxing to listen too. The band’s lead, Scott Hansen, also designs all the merchandise and album covers himself in an effort to present a visual image that is consistent with the sonic nature of his work—efficient, clean, and pleasing. Tycho makes for excellent working music due to their relaxing and clean sounds, but also contains the depth that makes attentive listening rewarding.

The genre of electronic music contains a huge variety of artists, sounds, and sub-genres, and people will be drawn to it for a variety of reasons. Mine is probably not as idealistic as most—just wanting something to block out the cacophony of the office-space; however, by pursuing it I have discovered bands like Tycho, that present a beautiful artistry in their melding of old with new, acoustic with digital, and audio with visual.

For Emily, in the Fall

“If you were coming in the fall,”
She dreamed, “I’d brush the summer by,
With half a smile and half a spurn,
As housewives do a fly.”

So I, like her, fondly mused,
And dreamed of all I could do,
Of both quiet actions and eternal deeds
And what and where, and who.

“If I could see you in a year,”
She wished, yet “centuries delayed”
And she finally was left, “ignorant of length,”
With goblin’s sting unstaid.

Likewise my dreams, and wishes too,
That fall was charged to bring,
When summer’s sum was all but spent,
Fall gave me not a thing.

So fall’s months were gathered, and put aside,
“Each in a separate drawer,”
And I waited for the time to drip away,
And for winter to bring me more.

Then winter came and failed to bring
Just what I thought it ought,
Yet third is the charm, though long the nights
‘Till spring, whose aid I sought.

Yet when she came, Spring but smiled,
And what I wanted she refused to send,
But instead she tossed my old dreams away
And bade me begin again.

So through summer I plotted anew
An autumn course of my own fair making,
You may not come, or perhaps you may,
But this time’s my own for the spending.

Inspiration and quoted passages courtesy of Emily Dickinson, “If You Were Coming in the Fall.”

Wonder Woman: A Review & Reflection

This is both a review and a reflection on Wonder Woman. Warning: mild spoilers ahead!

Breaking through German lines and through several other barriers to become a highly successful superhero movie, Wonder Woman has been a hit for several reasons–an interesting main character, humor, heart, and thoughtfulness.

Beginning on the idyllic island of Themiscyra, we learn about the youth and training of Princess Diana (played by Gal Gadot). Against her mother’s wishes, Diana trains to be a warrior, which comes in handy when British spy Steve (played by Chris Pine) crashes on the island and brings boatloads of Germans in hot pursuit.

This film succeeds largely due to the likeability of Diana–as many prior films have shown, having a beautiful or “cool” leading character isn’t enough–the main character needs to also be interesting and likeable. Diana is all that, equal parts exotic, sincere, and comedic (her encounters with the “world of men” are played for comedic effect quite well, reminding me of Thor).

Her childlike belief throughout most of the film that killing the god of war, Ares, will bring a stop to World War I provides one of the primary themes of the film–the nature of mankind. Are they basically good, corrupted by outside forces, or is that corruption part of their natures?

This is a million-dollar question and one that Wonder Woman is out to answer. Initially insisting that Ares is to blame for corrupting men’s hearts, Diana believes that once she destroys Ares, the war will cease.

When this doesn’t seem to happen near the film’s climax, Diana becomes disillusioned. Steve comes alongside, insisting that they still have a chance to put an end to the war. Diana responds, “My mother was right. She said that men do not deserve you.”

Steve’s responds, “It’s not about deserve. It’s about what you believe.” This line, though not using biblical terminology, is speaking of grace–grace is something that’s not necessarily deserved but is instead given based on the character of the giver–it’s about what the giver believes, what sort of person they are.

It’s a beautiful moment.

Of course, the writers do their best to ruin it by later having Diana declare, “I believe in love,” but the moment is still powerful and interesting. I don’t know the beliefs of Patty Jenkins or any of the film’s creators, but I think it’s interesting that a discussion of human nature made it into the film and that it came out looking almost…Christian.

The only real sore point for me was the implied sex between Diana and Steve, destroying the purity and principle of two otherwise good characters in an anachronistic infusion of modern values. While as a whole I prefer Wonder Woman to Captain America: The First Avenger, I can’t help but wish for Cap’s old-fashioned virtue in his romance with Peggy Carter and feel that the film would have benefited from such an approach.


Planning their infiltration mission by night, Steve and his compatriots have a drink, clinking their bottles together and saying. “May we get what we want, may we get what we need, but may we never get what we deserve.” Watching the film a second time, this scene took on greater significance, foreshadowing the thematic revelations later in the film. It is a humorous line of course, but it reflects the fact that all the characters (Diana excepted) are wrestling with the fact that they have done bad things and feel some sort of guilt for it.

If DC films continue this vein of thoughtfulness, I think I may be headed back to the theater in the future, for Justice League, and more.

“High Flight,” or “A Squirrel’s Sonnet”

 

Oh, I have skipped the grasses green and sailed between

Tree boughs which bounce and wildly spring beneath

My little nimble paws, and then I lean

And crouch, and sail again, leaving a wreath

Of falling leaves to crown the distant ground.

Oh, I have played a year of hours and days

With my comrades, till we have curled and wound

Above, below, through every tree and maze.

Oh, I have scampered, scuffled, skipped through

Each tree and leaf and hill and stuck my nose

Down holes, till summer’s old and autumn new,

And then I gather nuts the fall wind blows.

But when the winter comes, I eat and sleep

Until spring shines:  then I shall dance and leap.

A Question of Love

“Dear friends, let us love one another, because love is from God, and everyone who loves has been fathered by God and knows God. 8 The person who does not love does not know God, because God is love.  9 By this   the love of God  is revealed in us:  that God has sent his one and only  Son into the world so that we may live through him. 10 In this is love: not that we have loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice  for our sins.” -1 Jn. 4:7-10, NET

After reading the above passage recently, the following question struck me: in the context of saving faith, is the appropriate question “do I love God?” In Christian circles, whenever welcoming someone into the church, talking about ones faith, etc., this is the go-to question: do you love God? However, should the question rather not be the more fundamental, “Does God love you?” Must it not be the latter, for 1 John 4:19 says, “We love because he loved us first.” Even in light of passages such as Proverbs 8:17, “I [God] love those who love me,” which seem to intimate the contrary, are, on closer inspection, not actually doing so. For if God in his wisdom and sovereignty can lovingly elect sinners before the foundation of the world (Eph. 1:4-6), does this not necessitate His love coming first? Proverbs, rather, is speaking of the proper heart and outward response to God’s love. This outward demonstration of love toward God signifies the love that was already at work in our hearts: our love is a natural fruit, a necessary response (Matt 12:33, 13:23). The criticality of this question is rooted in the fickleness of man and the steadfastness of God. For a salvation dependent upon human love is bound to fail. For before any time is passed our affections are drawn to many things: food, public image, lust, slothfulness, selfishness, but thanks be that while our love is weak and wavering, God’s is most steady.

Our love is a fruit, a natural and necessary response to the love God has extended to us, a Christian that claims Jesus and continues to live on with no fruit calls into serious question the veracity of their faith. However, the first question does not address the true source of faith -because that rests in God alone. We must never confuse which love saves and which is a response. For if we look at our own fervency for assurance it will always leave us doubting; by resting in God’s love, only then can we find the solid rock.

“It is a blessed thing when the faithful soul in prayer fixes his uplifted eyes of faith on Jesus only; when he does not look about him to lay hold on his own scattered thoughts, nor behind him at Satan who threatens him with the thought that his prayer is in vain, nor within him at his sloth and lack of devotion; but looks up to Jesus, who sits at the right hand of God and makes intercession for us.” -Bo Giertz, The Hammer of God, p. 202