Intersection

We came from all over–America, Sri Lanka, China, India, and more. Big schools, little schools, public schools, private schools, home schools. Some came loaded down with scholarships while other found a job and a loan to get them through. Some came with good study habits developed from a rigorous high school, while others arrived with an academic nonchalance.

Some washed out after a year or two. Others moved back home, found a job and started working full-time. Some buckled down and struggled through, overcoming their natural limitations through discipline and hard work, while others coasted through school without changing dramatically. Some are headed for greatness–a high-paying job, a happy marriage, fame, anything the world can give, while others are headed for trials–a series of dead-end jobs and forsaken dreams before one day, maybe, they’ll find what they’re seeking.

All these lines of people’s lives, running in different directions. But for a brief moment, the lines intersected, and we had this shared experience that we called college, an experience that brought us together. And at that locus, for a split-second, we were the same.

Winter Storm Warning

We had been out hiking for most of the day, and it seemed like the snow kept falling harder. Starting in the morning, we had set out on a hike up the east side of Mt. Elden, a mountain settled slightly northeast of Flagstaff, Arizona. The trail was called Fatman’s Loop and led up the mountain in a circuitous fashion. Rocks, shrubs, and trees dotted the upward slope as we hiked.

At one point the trail thinned out, and we began to notice a large number of deer droppings in our path. After walking a few minutes more, we realized that we had lost ourselves on a deer trail. The trail eventually looped back, however, and we found ourselves again on the main trail. Wasted time, but we weren’t lost.


Google’s weather forecast had been calling for a winter storm to pass through Flagstaff starting at 11am that Monday–predicting 8-10 inches of snow over the next day. On Sunday afternoon, concerned that our tent-camping expedition might not be able to handle such a large amount of snow, we walked by the KOA office to get some wisdom.

“Yeah, the weather people keep saying there’s gonna be less and less snow,” said the man at the desk. “It’s probably not gonna be too bad.”

I said I heard there were going to eight to ten inches. “Yeah, from looking at the radar, I wouldn’t expect it to be that bad,” the man said. “You should be fine.”

Because of this assurance, we had decided to stay one more day in Flagstaff, for one more hike.


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Reaching a rocky outcropping, I pulled out my phone and snapped a photo. It was beautiful, misty, quiet. I was insistent that we hike as far as we could, so when we reached the Elden Lookout trailhead, we took that turn and continued up. With snow falling steadily but lightly, we had to watch our steps. “Three points of contact!” Sammy said matter-of-factly.

Pulling my phone out again, I discovered it was dead. Freezing temperatures played games with my phone battery–it had been fully charged only an hour or two before. I had forgotten to keep my phone in my pocket and had instead put it in my backpack. When pressed against my leg in my pocket, the phone tended to last longer, bolstered by the warmth of my body. Surrounded by cold, it quickly died.

“Sammy, your phone still has battery?” I asked.

“Yeah, for sure,” said Sammy. We decided that if his phone died too, we would turn around–our hike wasn’t especially dangerous, but we didn’t want to take any chances.

We stopped and ate lunch–PB&J’s and chips–and then kept climbing. The mountain reminded my nerd-mind of the Fellowship attempting to cross the Misty Mountains in The Fellowship of the Ring. It was snowy, and the rocks were snowy, and there was ice in places. The only thing missing was “a fell voice on the wind.”

We decided to turn around.

Getting down, I discovered, was trickier than I expected. Sammy slipped a couple times on the rocks as we descended. “Careful,” I would say each time, before slipping myself and sitting down hard with a thud. My self-righteousness vanished, and we continued down, carefully, one step at a time.

Reaching our car at the base of the trail, we climbed in and headed for town. It was snowing more heavily now from a cloudy, bright sky. We stopped at the Flagstaff post office and mailed off some postcards to family, then headed for a nearby coffee shop.

It was a small, cozy establishment–the White Dove–and just what we needed. I pulled out the book I was reading (a book by Kevin DeYoung on the Heidelberg Catechism) and read for a bit while sipping coffee and letting my phone charge. We were both thankful for the warmth–something we hadn’t had much of recently. It was a welcome reprieve from being almost constantly in weather hovering around freezing.

Eventually, we decided it was time to head back to camp. The car had been covered in a fine layer of snow, so we had to dust off the windshield before driving back.

At the camp, we walked to the main office first, and I shot a video journal entry with my phone on the way–we had been keeping a video log of our trip, and with all the snow falling and a winter storm warning, I figured it was a good opportunity for an update.

When we returned to our tent, it had collapsed. The weight of the snow had twisted it down into a pile. Shaking the snow off, we set it upright once again.

In an orderly fashion, we got out the campstove and made dinner–instant mac & cheese combined with a couple cans of chili–voila, chil-mac! When it was ready, we wolfed it down. Then, after washing the pot, cleaning up, and stowing our cooking gear back in the car, we got in our tent.

“What the–” said Sammy, feeling around the inside edge of the tent where he kept his towel and some clothes. “Everythings soaked.” His pillow was soaked too.

Throughout the day, the snow had melted and crept in around the edges of the tarp we laid down. The moment was sobering for us–we were prepared for a cold night, but we hadn’t counted on the moisture. At least our sleeping bags were waterproof.

“Here, Sammy,” I said. “Let’s move our sleeping bags and other stuff towards the center of the tent. That way if more snow leaks in during the night nothing else will get wet.” After more discussion, that’s what we did. There wasn’t anything to be done about Sammy’s soaked pillow, but we were at least a little more comfortable.

Sammy looked up the weather forecast for Utah–our next stop. It was supposed to be clear and warm(er) there. We talked excitedly about how we were going to get up in the morning, load up, and drive out of Flagstaff. From hearing us talk, you’d think Utah was the Promised Land–the thought of getting away from all the bad weather made Utah sound positively idyllic. Utah had better be nicer, or we’ll just go home, I thought to myself.

As we lay there, snow falling, a dull light from a nearby lightpost illuminating the skin of the tent, I could see snow piling up above me. It got heavier, and as the minutes ticked by the two supports of the tent began to twist. Sammy and I took turns reaching up and giving the tent a shake to dislodge the snow. It was a game for me, watching the snow pile up and guessing the point at which the tent would start to collapse.

The snow we knocked down collected at the sides of the tent and caused the sides of the tent next to our sleeping bags to lean in on us–a cold, wet kiss if I swung my head the wrong way. I pushed through the tent on my side, scooting the snow back and creating a little box.

The game of keeping the snow away continued most of the night. I woke once to see the tent frame slowly twist, then twist some more. I popped out of my bag just in time to keep it from falling on us. The commotion woke Sammy, and I explained in guttural, half-awake tones what had happened as I rolled over and attempted to sleep some more.

The morning came quickly, and we were up with the dawn. After a brief discussion, we decided to go find the laundromat and dry out some of our gear. I checked my phone and saw a message from my mom–a picture of the king cake she had made and the words “Happy Mardi Gras.” It was Mardi Gras–I’d completely forgotten!

Unzipping the tent door, we were greeted by a lovely site–the world a giant open-faced ice cream sandwich. Over 10 inches of snow lay on the ground–maybe more.

Hopping over to the laundromat, I matched my steps to Sammy’s footprints to keep from collecting snow on my boots–like one of those Tusken raiders from Star Wars. We used all of Sammy’s quarters to dry a few loads. Then, after a breakfast of oatmeal, we set about getting past the next hurdle: driving out. A KOA employee with a front-end loader equipped with a snowplow had been out that morning clearing the main paths of the campground, but there was still a large pileup of snow directly behind my car, between it and the main path. We went to the main office and asked if we could borrow a snowshovel, so the office sent a man to help us. Walking back to our car, we passed the front-end loader making its rounds. The driver opened the cab and stuck his head out.

“Y’all are from Louisiana,” he said loudly. “You should be home celebrating Mardi Gras right now!”

We laughed, and I told him about the picture of the king cake my mom sent earlier that morning.

“You’re crazy!” he said.

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Back at the car, the man with the snowshovel took one look at the pileup and decided to call for backup, so soon we had the front-end loader swipe our area, clearing most of the snow.

“Just start backing up,” the man with the snowshovel said. “And if you get going, don’t stop.”

After a first attempt that ended in snowy wheelspin, I pulled forward, and backed up once again, keeping pressure on the pedal. The car burst free onto the path, and we were clear.

Getting on the interstate and heading west, we were delighted to see the weather clear up and become beautiful once again.

2017 Movie Trailers in Review

Instead of a movie review, today I’m going to review movie trailers! What makes a good movie trailer? Let’s figure that out.

Star Wars: The Last Jedi

This trailer receives an A for music and sound. It’s an unconventional trailer in that it teases the plot of the film but also raises a lot of questions–why is it time for the Jedi to end, for instance? Those questions are what will drive audiences to the theater come December. This trailer strikes the perfect balance of being fun to watch, informative, and intriguing. 5/5

The Dark Tower

This trailer for the screen adaption of Stephen King’s Dark Tower series makes the movie look like it will be compelling. Primarily expository, this trailer spends a lot of time setting up the plot and characters of the film for viewers. This seems appropriate given that the series will be unfamiliar to many (unlike with Star Wars). The trailer also mentions Stephen King, which might give audiences a sense that the story will be interesting. However, I believe the trailer lacked a sense of mystery. After watching the trailer, I don’t really have any burning questions I want to go to the theater to have answered. That said, the concept and actors may be enough to sell the film. 3/5

Spiderman: Homecoming

This trailer has three main goals: introduce the new Spiderman, introduce the villain, and promise viewers a fun adventure. It accomplished those goals for the most part, leaving me with a strong sense that I know what the movie will be like. Is it as intriguing as The Last Jedi trailer? I don’t think so, but that’s forgivable.

That said, the music and sound were good, and the trailer includes a tag after the title reveal at the end of the trailer with a humorous sound byte, presumably designed to generate a laugh from the audience right before the screen goes black and the next trailer begins in a theater: it’s a clever technique used by a lot of trailers. 4.5/5

The Mummy

This trailer hits a lot of good notes–it’s informative, intriguing, and even has a well-chosen song by the Rolling Stones playing ominously in the background. The Mummy franchise is a bit old, but studios are hoping that Tom Cruise will be able to reinvigorate it. A question I have after watching the trailer: why is the Mummy so interested in Tom Cruise’s character? This trailer strikes a great balance of showing what the movie is about yet also not revealing too much. 5/5

Wonder Woman

This trailer is fairly expository, which is fitting given that the creators are trying to sell the concept to an audience that needs to be won over: what about this film should make us want to see it? Well, World War I, for one thing. The trailer seems to set the film up as a prequel narrated by Diana about her involvement in World War I. This trailer promises everything–explosions, drama, romance, suspense, and humor. Notice that this trailer, like the one for Spiderman: Homecoming, puts a 15 second clip after the title reveal at the end of the trailer to generate a laugh from the audience. It’s a recurring technique.

I also really enjoy the music and sound of the trailer; the only thing that could have been stronger is a sense of mystery, perhaps around the villain. 4.5/5

Blade Runner 2049

I evaluated this trailer from the perspective of someone familiar with the general plot of the original Bladerunner, but who hasn’t seen it. This trailer weighted itself very heavily on the side of mystery. Very little (anything?) is revealed about the plot of the film. In fact, what is shown in the trailer could very well be simply the first few minutes of the film. After that, anything could happen!

Instead of taking a summary approach, this trailer focuses instead on identifying the people behind the film (executive producer Ridley Scott and director Denis Villeneuve) and the two main actors–Ryan Gosling and Harrison Ford. Perhaps the PR team behind this trailer is banking on Bladerunner fans and the prestige of the creators and actors to draw audiences to the theater. It may work, but speaking as someone who is unfamiliar with the Bladerunner story, I think the trailer should have revealed more about the film. 4/5

Conclusion

In addition to introducing the story and characters and providing a tease, some trailers artfully mislead audiences, making the films more of a surprise, as in this trailer for La La Land (Without spoiling, there’s a scene in the trailer that is different than in the film). This would be a fun technique to evaluate, but can’t be done until the above films hit theaters.

Until then, happy trailer-watching!

Baking and the Bible

And they baked unleavened cakes of the dough that they had brought out of Egypt, for it was not leavened, because they were thrust out of Egypt and could not wait, nor had they prepared any provisions for themselves. – Exodus 12:39

Reading through Exodus a couple weeks ago, I came to the passage that describes the Passover, and it struck me as interesting that God emphasized that the bread that the Jews ate during the Passover had to be unleavened.

Why was this? I decided to find out, and also to find other passages in the Bible that talk about baking.

A little leaven…

Jesus said to them, “Watch and beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees.” – Matthew 16:6

In 1st Corinthians, when Paul addresses the sexual immorality that is continuing in the Corinthian church, he commands the Corinthians to cast the unrepentant person from their midst, following this command with the explanation:

Your boasting is not good. Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump? Cleanse out the old leaven that you may be a new lump, as you really are unleavened. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed. Let us therefore celebrate the festival, not with the old leaven, the leaven of malice and evil, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth. – 1 Corinthians 5:6-8

From these passages, we see a theme developing: leaven (or yeast) is often representative of sin. It is analogous in the the way a little yeast can cause a whole lump of dough to rise: even seemingly minor sins can have a corrupting influence on a body of believers.

In thinking about this reality–that even small sins can have a large corrupting influence–I remembered a post I wrote a long time ago, about the little foxes. Drawn from the verse in Song of Solomon that states that “the little foxes spoil the vines,” this post was about how discipline in small areas of life can lead to greater discipline in more important areas of life.

The Bible confirms this idea with the analogy of leaven, and it’s a reminder for believers that in being transformed into the image of Christ, there is no aspect of life that we may leave untouched.

But can holiness have a “corrupting influence” as well?

In a related vein (at least in my mind), there is a Youtube series called The Bible Project that has published a series of videos explaining different biblical concepts, and their video on holiness makes a really interesting observation about holiness, drawn from the book of Isaiah:

In Isaiah 6, Isaiah has a vision of the Lord that fills him with dread because he recognizes his unworthiness to come before a holy God:

And I said: “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!”

Then one of the seraphim flew to me, having in his hand a burning coal that he had taken with tongs from the altar. And he touched my mouth and said: “Behold, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for.” – Isaiah 6:5-7

The video points out that this passage is surprising in that it shows something corrupt (Isaiah’s lips) becoming holy by coming in contact with something pure–a burning coal from the altar. This was a radical idea for Israel: contact with corruption could cause uncleanness, but contact with holy things didn’t accomplish the reverse.

Yet in Isaiah, we see the reverse of the corruption of the leaven. So even though we have seen that little sins can have a corrupting influence, we also see that holiness can be imparted to have a conversely transformative influence.

We, like the woman in Matthew 9, may touch the edge of Jesus’s garment, and be made well.

Beauties, Beasts, & Boycotts

The past two weeks have seen a spike in controversy surrounding the upcoming live-action remake of Beauty and the Beast, both from Christians at home and Russians abroad. The controversy relates to the director stating in an interview that the film will have a gay character and a “nice, exclusively gay moment” towards the end of the film.

Since this statement, Franklin Graham and many others in the evangelical community have called for a boycott of Disney for pushing an LGBT agenda, and at least one theater has announced it will not be showing the film.

Over in Russia, the film has been given a 16+ rating. The Russian Culture Ministry gave the film this rating after Russian MP Vitaly Milonov petitioned them, writing in a letter to the ministry, “In this case, society cannot be silent about what film distributors are offering under the guise of a children’s tale…The obvious, blatant, shameless propaganda of sin, of perverted sexual relations.”

One left-leaning pastor named John Pavlovitz called the reaction in the Christian community “unprovoked jerkery,” and many news outlets are quick to point out the perceived hypocrisy of people who enjoy the central plot of romance between a girl and a beast but object to a homosexual subplot.

I don’t think it is entirely fair to term, as Pastor John Pavlovitz did, the call for a boycott as “unprovoked jerkery,” After all, the boycotters weren’t the ones who took the film and made it political–the filmmakers did that. So we can debate whether it’s “jerkery” to boycott the film, but it was hardly unprovoked.

But with all this controversy swirling in the air, I thought I would take a stab at some of the arguments from Christians on both sides of the issue and seek to find a viewpoint that communicates love to our homosexual neighbors, integrity and consistency in our living, and commitment to the truth of the gospel.

Why Christians Should Boycott

“If I can’t sit through a movie with God or Jesus sitting by me then we have no business showing it,” – statement from the drive-in theater in Alabama when announcing they would not be showing Beauty and the Beast.

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things – Philippians 4:8

  1. Watching the film would be an implicit show of support to an opposing worldview. In some ways, censoring culture might be compared to “baking the cake.” Some Christian bakers may not have a problem baking a cake for a homosexual wedding, but others may feel that baking the cake is an implicit show of support for beliefs that run counter to their own, as much as they may love and care about their homosexual friends. In the same way, going to watch a film after the creators deliberately state it is advancing an LGBT agenda may seem to be a violation of conscience to some.
  2. Consider portrayal. Some might say, “Well, we watch other movies with depictions of characters transgressing God’s law all the time, so isn’t it hypocritical to treat this film differently?” While I do agree that sometimes Christians put homosexuality on its own pedestal as if it’s some sort of super-sin compared to others, I do think it’s important to consider portrayal–are these issues portrayed in a positive or negative light? One other difference here is that we know in advance what the movie’s perspective is.
  3. Consider the weaker brother. Paul says with reference to food offered to idols:

“Be careful, however, that the exercise of your rights does not become a stumbling block to the weak. For if someone with a weak conscience sees you, with all your knowledge, eating in an idol’s temple, won’t that person be emboldened to eat what is sacrificed to idols? So this weak brother or sister, for whom Christ died, is destroyed by your knowledge. – 1 Corinthians 8:9-11

There’s definitely a discernment aspect to the culture we take in, and we need to ask the question: even if I can be edified by what I am doing (or at least not harmed, although that begs another question: if the best we can hope for is to not be harmed, should we really be doing that thing?), what about the people who are looking at my life? If I listen to a song that in its lyrics objectifies women but mostly just enjoy the beat and the sound (as I sometimes do), I’m enjoying the music and not being consciously influenced by the negative message, but what about a brother or sister who comes along and hears me listening to the song and is harmed by the song’s worldview?

Here’s another passage to chew on:

If an unbeliever invites you to a meal and you want to go, eat whatever is put before you without raising questions of conscience. But if someone says to you, “This has been offered in sacrifice,” then do not eat it, both for the sake of the one who told you and for the sake of conscience. I am referring to the other person’s conscience, not yours. For why is my freedom being judged by another’s conscience? If I take part in the meal with thankfulness, why am I denounced because of something I thank God for?” – 1 Cor. 10:27-30

Why Christians Shouldn’t Boycott

  1. It will probably be a fun, entertaining movie. This point is a bit of a non-sequitor but something I can’t help but bring up as a lover of the cinema.
  2. Wasn’t LeFou always gay? Since the announcement and ensuing controversy, the director noted that his statement has been exaggerated and that subplot is really just that–a minor, subtle subplot in the larger story. Why let a political kerfuffle stop me from going to see a movie I’ve been waiting for for a while?
  3. It’s inevitable in culture to get some bad with the good. As Christians, we need to have discernment. This might be a good opportunity to have a discussion (with children, friends, family, etc.) about worldview and God’s design for sexuality.
  4. What message does a boycott send? For the discerning Christian, this film won’t be harmful, and it’s important to cultivate an attitude of love towards the gay community, even if we believe their lifestyle runs counter to Scripture. What message are they hearing if we deliberately boycott this film for the explicit reason that it contains a depiction of a gay character?
  5. Wouldn’t this be (for many) a double standard? Following on the previous point, many Christians watch movies that have positive portayals of sin in them all the time–adultery, theft (*cough* Logan *cough*), rebellion against parents, and more. What makes this movie so special that it deserves to be boycotted? There’s a double standard here, and I believe that we’d consume a lot less media if we limited ourselves to only that which exclusively conveyed a Christian worldview.

So which side do I come down on? I’m still deciding, but I lean towards the latter viewpoint. Thinking through the different arguments has made me conscious of the fact that I don’t think as often as I should about the effect watching certain movies or shows may be having on me, and that they might indeed be harmful.

The Answer

 

And one of the scribes came up and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that he answered them well, asked him, “Which commandment is the most important of all?” Jesus answered, “The most important is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these. – Mark 12:28-31

If you love me, you will keep my commandments. – John 14:15

Jesus commanded his followers to love him above all else, and if they do love them, they are to keep his commandments. We are also commanded to love our neighbors as ourselves. Even our gay neighbors. There might be a tension for some between these two statements–showing our love for God through obedience him (even if that means using our voices in the public square to decry positive displays of what we consider wrong), and showing love to our neighbors.

In the Phil Vischer Podcast last year, the hosts talked about the idea of “proxy wars.” In the Cold War, the US and the USSR didn’t fight one another directly (MAD and all that); instead, they fought a series of “proxy wars,” conflicts in Asia and the Middle East where each superpower would arm opposing sides in smaller conflicts. They were miniaturized conflicts that represented an underlying larger conflict between America and the Soviet Union. In a similar way, some of these current controversies–transgender bathrooms, cake-baking, and now Beauty and the Beast, are proxy wars between competing worldviews. The deception, of course, is thinking that winning an individual conflict (or even several) will solve culture’s problems. Truthfully, only when a people is convicted of sin by the power of the Holy Spirit and brought into relationship with God can there be an end to this conflict.

In the meantime, faithful Christians must use discernment as they seek to love and obey God above all else, love their neighbors as themselves, and speak the timeless truths of Scripture to society.

Words

Growing up, I loved to write fiction–made-up worlds, characters, and situations.

As I’ve grown older, I find much of my writing has shifted into the realm of non-fiction. Stories from my life, people I’ve met, events I want to remember.

Reality is endlessly interesting. Growing up, the idea of modeling a fictional character off of a real-life one seemed dull and uninspired. Now, it’s hard for me to imagine writing a character that isn’t drawn from some type of real person I’ve encountered; the world has such a variety: prophesying bikers, affable-but-deadly veterans, hippies, heroes, and villains. No doubt, the intense variety is because the Author has more creativity than us all.

To be able to capture some of the complexity, beauty, and vitality of the world in a story–that is the goal!

Review: The Imitation Game

The following is an evaluative critique of The Imitation Game I wrote for a composition class last year. I discovered after choosing my topic and position that my teacher really liked the film, but fortunately she was good-natured enough to hear out my alternate perspective…

What forms the core identity of a person? Is it their accomplishments, their beliefs, their sexuality, or something greater? This is an enigma that baffles many, including, unfortunately, the creators of The Imitation Game, a biopic about Alan Turing. An eccentric mathematician, Turing was responsible for cracking German encrypted communications during World War II, indirectly saving millions of lives. The Imitation Game decodes Turing’s remarkable story into a film less than two hours, and the result, while highly watchable and well-acted, confines itself to generic characterizations and contrived plot devices that ultimately make the movie forgettable.

The film’s setup seems promising: Great Britain is fighting the Nazi menace, and they are losing. A major difficulty is that the Germans communicate using Enigma, a machine that encrypts communications, keeping Allied forces in the dark about German plans. To find a way to break Enigma, the British recruit Alan Turing (Benedict Cumberbatch), a brilliant mathematician with a severe inability to work with others. The Imitation Game follows Turing’s work aiding the British war effort alongside fellow cryptanalysts Hugh Alexander (Matthew Goode) and Joan Clarke (Keira Knightley).

The movie is well cast—Cumberbatch, Knightley, Mark Strong, and others do justice to their respective roles. Also, audiences will appreciate the cinematography—a simple but colorful treatment that seems fitting: no flashy special effects here, but instead a style that supports the plot without drawing attention to itself.

These elements sound like the makings of a great biopic, and they are, but the filmmakers don’t quite crack the code to fitting them together. The film attempts to touch on all aspects of Turing for which he is known—his work as a cryptanalyst, his contributions to computer science (Turing Machines—the foundation of modern computing), his contributions to the world of artificial intelligence (the Turing Test), his contributions to the war effort, and his sexuality.

With all these threads to pull from, it is disappointing that The Imitation Game offers only shallow characterization. The movie attempts to capture the homosexual aspect of Turing’s identity in the film, but the different threads—Turing’s close friendship with his classmate Christopher Morcom in middle school and other events—don’t connect with the rest of the film or Turing’s character. They are random asides, possibly thrown in to make us empathize more with Turing, but instead they will leave audiences scratching their heads, “What was the point of that scene?” The real Turing remains as much of an enigma after watching the film as before. Stringing together vignettes to create more a highlights reel of Turing’s life than an actually enlightening portrait of the man, Turing’s character is hardly developed beyond the description “eccentric yet socially stunted genius.” This is a role that, while Cumberbatch plays well, seems a bit too similar to Sherlock Holmes. And Sherlock Holmes is more interesting.

Even worse, the plot, while it offers a few surprises, mostly recycles dramatic situations and moral conundrums that audiences have seen before in other war films and dramas. The result feels contrived, a poorly conceived imitation of better films. There is a point in the movie where Turing learns the importance of working as a team and having allies, but this lesson seems very forced and only heightens the sense that many of the characters only exist to move the plot forward. Turing’s team of cryptanalysts is portrayed (with the exception of Clarke) as a crew of idiots saved only in their efforts by the genius of Turing. They exist for morale support throughout much of the film, coming through as a team for Turing when he is about to be fired but otherwise remaining one-dimensionally in the background. Whether or not this is an accurate portrayal I don’t know, but either way, it does not make for interesting drama.

So despite having, on paper, all the elements of a compelling biopic—a solid cast, interesting subject matter, and plenty of story to work with—The Imitation Game fails to put the pieces of this puzzle together. Even though it is available on Netflix now and might look tempting, for compelling stories about eccentric geniuses, look elsewhere.

Physical Therapy

When I was younger, as some of you readers are aware, I broke my leg (I leave the story of how that happened for another day). I remember the day the blue fiberglass cast finally came off, as I sat on the orthopedist’s table. I saw my leg for the first time in several weeks: it had shriveled. My left foot and calf were noticeably thinner than my healthier right foot. Looking at the contrast caused by muscle atrophy, at this leg I didn’t even recognize as my own anymore, I began to cry. When the orthopedist re-entered the room, he told me in a commanding voice that my leg was completely healed and to go run down the hall to the waiting room. Well, I didn’t run. I hobbled.

And I kept limping for a while. Until I grew accustomed to limping, favoring my left leg. I borrowed a cane that had once belonged to my granddad, and used this to support me for a while. The orthopedist had promised that since I was young I would probably bounce back from the injury without a need for physical therapy. Well, I remember my mom seeing me limp out from my room one day and, in exasperation, declaring that I was going to see a therapist.

So I did. The therapists put electrodes on my foot to warm up the muscles for about 15 minutes, and then I began doing exercises. Some of it was painful, and I know I cried at least once. As visits continued, I got to know several of the people at the center. There was Reneaux, the stocky therapist whose real name was Renard but insisted it was important to have a cool nickname. He recommended “Captain Jack” for me. Then there was Rebecca, another therapist who had always wanted to play the violin and actually started learning after she found out where I took lessons.

The other patients there also had their own stories. An older lady came regularly for therapy on her wrist, which she had broken after tripping on some sort of pet leash. She had an odd notch in one of her calves, and one day she explained what had happened: she had had a growth there, so she had gone to the doctor, who looked at it and then informed her that he was 99% sure it was cancerous and that he’d have to amputate her leg to keep it from spreading. “I cried the whole way home,” she said. But when she woke up from surgery, she still had both legs—apparently the cancer hadn’t metastasized, so all the surgeon’s had to remove was a big chunk out of her calf.

One patient, an exuberant woman in her late twenties, sat next to me a couple times. Like me, she was receiving leg therapy. She loved getting to know people and talking about her church, and she asked one day what had happened to me. After I told her, she shook her head, “Ahh, you’ll be all right, though. You’re young, and you’ve got your whole life ahead of you. When you get to be older, they fix you by putting nuts and bolts and rods in you.” She laughed and demonstrated by extending her leg until her reconstructed knee stuck in a rigid, mechanical sort of way.

People like this encouraged me, but looking back I still cringe thinking about how much I milked my injury. Of course, I didn’t think I was at the time, but I most certainly did.

Since then, I have had a more general realization: there comes a point where I can begin milking pain or sadness in my life the same way I milked my leg injury. Using it as a subconscious excuse to be lazy, or reckless, or rude. In reading Nathaniel Hawthorne last quarter, a quote struck me, one from The Dolliver Romance, which describes a widow (and possibly refers to Hawthorne’s own mother) “whose grief outlasted even its vitality, and grew to be merely a torpid habit” (Hawthorne).

When grief becomes habit, be careful. It might be time to say, “Yes, I was hurt, and maybe nobody expects much of me, and maybe I’m not completely healed yet, but it’s time for me to stop using this as an excuse. It’s time to move on.”

Temporary Friends & Where to Find Them

photograph from the window of a plane

I stow my bag in the overhead compartment and look down at my seat. It’s an aisle seat, which I don’t mind—window seats are nice for the view out of the plane, but sitting next to the aisle will mean more leg room. Looking over at the woman sitting next to me, I motion towards the window. “Are you cool with the window seat, or would you rather have the aisle?”

“Oh, window,” she responds with a smile. “Gonna get some sleep,” she adds, moving her head against the wall of the plane in an explanatory gesture. She is a small woman of average build, dressed in a dark suit. Dark hair, brown eyes.

Sliding my laptop bag under the seat in front of me, I sit down and buckle in. The plane taxis to the runway, and soon it takes off; it is a Sunday afternoon, cloudy and wet. From the lightning I saw earlier on the way to the airport, I wasn’t sure if my flight would still be leaving, but fortunately there were only minor delays due to problems at our destination, Atlanta.

The plane is at cruising altitude now, and the woman next to me and I start talking—just a little at first, as I don’t want to be rude or keep my seatmate from napping. She practices law in Shreveport and is on her way to a conference in Nashville for a charter school she counsels. I’m on my way back to Maryland from a wedding.

On my way down to the wedding, the plane from Baltimore to Atlanta had in-flight entertainment systems, so I watched half of a Bond-esque actioner called The Man from UNCLE. However, none of the other planes I’d been on since had entertainment systems, so I hadn’t been able to finish the movie. “So,” I say to my new friend after explaining the situation. “I’m hoping they’ll have the same system on my connecting flight so I can finish!”

At this, the woman smiles. “Well, I hope you get to do that!”

We talk some more before reaching a pause in our conversation. I pull out a book I brought and read for a bit, then put in earbuds and listen to music.

I often think about how extraordinary temporary friendships can be. Sitting in an airport waiting for a flight, I’ve met some incredibly fascinating and colorful people. A retired pilot, whose uncle took him flying when he was 19. Sitting in the cockpit, his uncle motioned to him to sit down, and then told him to take off. “Take off?” he said, having never touched the controls of an airplane before. However, he proceeded to throttle the plane up and take off. Once they were in the air, his uncle said, “Taking off is easy. You’ll spend the rest of your life learning to land.”

In a way, interaction with strangers can seem fairly meaningless. After all, it’s the relationships with people I live my life with—friends and family—that are the hard ones. Being kind and chatting with a friendly face that I probably won’t see again is easy compared to the challenges of maintaining long-term relationships with friends and family.

Yet there’s something inspiring and heart-warming about two people’s paths crossing and, just for a moment, getting a window into another person’s life, creating a thread-like connection. The thought that my story or conversation or kindness (or rudeness) can have an impact, however small, on another person’s life, is something really profound to me.

The flight lands, and my newfound lawyer friend and I exit the plane. By this point I’ve learned about both the Napoleonic code of law (the basis for Louisiana’s legal system) and charter schools. “It was nice meeting you,” she says. As we reach the exit and prepare to head to our respective connecting flights, she hands me a business card. “If you ever need anything, just give me a call.” On the card is her contact information and the name of the law firm she works for—it’s a personal injury firm that she runs with her dad. It’s a simple gesture, but one that I appreciate. I stash the card in my wallet, thinking that someday, maybe we’ll meet again.

Looking at the Waves

I wrote and performed this song at a live worship event several months ago. The full album (featuring me and a bunch of other artists) can be found on Spotify and Youtube.

LOOKING AT THE WAVES

Matthew 14:22-33

Looking at the waves, and I’m sinking

Sinking like a stone.

Looking at the waves, and I’m thinking

Of all the troubles I’ve known.

 

“Come and place your hand inside of mine.

Look me in the eye.

Come and take my hand, O you of little faith,

It’s gonna be all right.”

 

Looking at the waves, and I’m sinking,

I’m sinking fast.

Looking at the waves, and I’m thinking

These good times aren’t gonna last.

 

“Come and place your hand inside of mine.

Look me in the eye.

Come and take my hand, O you of little faith,

It’s gonna be all right.”

 

Walking out to meet my Lord, I stumbled in the sea,

But he is strong to save; the Son of God will rescue me

And with my eyes on you, I walk by faith not by sight,

And I know you are faithful to bear me safely through when you say:

 

“Come and place your hand inside of mine.

Look me in the eye.

Come and take my hand, O you of little faith,

It’s gonna be all right.”

 

“Come and place your hand inside of mine.

And doubt no more.

Come and take my hand, O you of little faith,

I’ll bring you safe to shore.”