Saturday, December 28, 2013

In the Footsteps of the Inklings: Some Thoughts on Critique Groups

I’ve been wanting to write this post for over a week now. Unfortunately, I haven’t gotten much writing of any kind done lately. The new notebook that I have continued Raiders’ Rise in sits near my bed, begging me to use it and reminding me that Chapter 21 is almost done. But things keep intruding. I just finished this awesome trilogy by Pamela Aidan called Fitzwilliam Darcy, Gentleman. It managed to draw me away from my writing more than once. If you like Pride and Prejudice, I would highly suggest it to you. And then there was Christmas shopping, present wrapping, errand running, and, of course, Christmas. Oh well. I did write a book for my little brother as his Christmas present, so, technically, I have written something.

Anyway, now that my life is updated, let’s move on. I’ve been thinking a lot about critique groups and partners over the past couple of weeks, thanks in part to this post and its follow-up on The Writers Alley, an awesome blog full of neat writing tips. And, in considering the idea of a critique group, I thought of the Inklings. For those of you who do not know, the Inklings were a club started in the 1930’s in Oxford, England by J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis. It was composed of several writers, along with a diverse set of Lewis’ friends. They met at “The Eagle and Child” tavern or in Lewis’ rooms at Oxford to discuss any number of topics, including writing. Though it was not a critique group, per se, I still draw some thoughts from the Inklings.

  1. Members of a critique group should be friends. C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien were close friends before they ever started the Inklings. Tolkien helped bring Lewis back to Christianity. And, as mentioned, most of the members of the Inklings were Lewis’ friends. His doctor, lawyer and brother all attended the meetings. Many of the members had fought in WWI, like Tolkien and Lewis. What this says to me is that they would have had a healthy respect for each other and a genuine desire to see good come to them. While I know it’s possible to critique someone’s work without being close friends with them, I would think that, with an ongoing endeavor, friends would understand you and give their advice in love.
  2. Honesty is required. J.R.R. Tolkien read many excerpts of The Lord of the Rings at meetings of the Inklings, and C.S. Lewis, in particular, was quite brutally honest about his opinion. In fact, the two often disagreed on each other’s works. But they were looking for the best way to improve the writing of the other. In fact, Lewis wasn’t always tough on his friend. If I remember correctly, he was moved to tears by “The Choices of Master Samwise”, and he told Tolkien that. Honesty – though honesty cushioned by praise is recommended – is essential to a good critique partner/group.
  3. You don’t always have to talk about writing. The Inklings discussed topics as varied as their members. They had many interests that bound them together. And I think they benefitted by not being so pinpoint focused on writing all the time. Sometimes the best thing for writers is to talk about or do something completely unrelated to their profession.
  4. Successful writing requires opinions besides your own. The very point of a critique partner or group is that more than one opinion can be fed into a work. Honestly, the impact of someone’s input can’t be measured. But just imagine, for a moment, what Lord of the Rings and The Chronicles of Narnia might have been without the critiques of the Inklings. Tolkien and Lewis were both literary geniuses, but would their stories have impacted the world the same way if they hadn’t been a part of the Inklings? No one could truly say. Yet I think the Inklings must have been integral to their writing, if only in morale. I know that my writing certainly benefits when I get others’ thoughts on it.
I used to be part of an online writing forum where I was able to engage and receive critiques. It was rewarding for me to help others by giving input, and gaining their thoughts was extremely helpful for me in writing my first book. This next year, I want to look into finding a critique partner or becoming part of a critique group. What about you all? How do you view critique groups/partners?

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Faith–Trusting God in Everything

“Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.” – Hebrews 11:1

If you’ve spent much time in church, then you’ve probably heard this verse before. It’s one of those things we quote regularly and put on home decorations. The concept is so integral to our lives as Christians. Faith. Such a simple word. Yet we continually forget to apply it.

I have a copy of Jesus Calling by Sarah Young, and, though I’m bad at reading it consistently, I’ve found a great deal of wisdom within its pages. Today’s entry pointed me to the verse I quoted above. Well, after I read it, I continued to read on through the rest of the chapter. It’s really an amazing passage of Scripture. It goes through the patriarchs, detailing their acts of faith. And, honestly, even though I know all these stories, the recounting of their faith is remarkable! Abraham wandered for years, trusting in God’s Promised Land. Moses’ parents trusted in God to protect their child from Pharaoh. Moses’ faith freed a nation from slavery. Rahab hid two spies, trusting that God would save her.

Hebrews 11 is like a breathing, chanting proclamation of faith and God’s power. It’s awesome! And reading it jolted me with energy. Lately, I’ve been rather lackadaisical about trusting God. In the back of my mind, it’s been a “Yes, I trust God.” But I haven’t been applying it. My faith has been missing actions.  And I’ve missed the excitement and certainty that faith brings.

Sanctus Real has an excellent song that inspires me to have more faith, and so does Kutless. I’ve posted both of them below.

The other thing that really caught my attention during today’s Jesus Calling entry was this:
“Spend time allowing My Light to infuse your dreams with life, gradually transforming them into reality. This is a very practical way of of collaborating with Me. I, the Creator of the universe, have deigned to to cocreate with you. Do not try to hurry this process.”
Well, I don’t know about you, but this immediately made me think of my writing. God gave me all the stories that are welling up inside of me. He infused me with the ability to put words together in a pleasing manner. He is the Author of both my story, as a whole, and of the stories I create. Yet I don’t always let Him in to co-create with me. How can I be achieving the best story if I’m not letting the Designer of that story work through me?

This has been poking at me a little bit recently, anyway. But now I realize that I can’t be the storyteller I’m supposed to be without God’s involvement in everything. This isn’t my show; it’s His. And I have to trust that He knows what He’s doing. Writing is one of my dreams, but I can’t hold onto it with a tight fist. He will fulfill in His way and His time. I just have to trust.

What about you? Are you living your life with faith? And are you giving Him your dreams to fulfill as He sees fit?

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

You Know You’re a Writer When…

In general, I don't do tags, because, while there are some clever tags out there, I don’t think they fit the vision I have for my blog. It's hard for me to enjoy them when they refer to books and characters I know nothing about. So, if I’ve been tagged by one of you and haven’t followed through on it, I apologize. I'm sure you had fun with it, but I don’t see it as something for me. 

However, I came up with a fun idea (at least in my mind) recently for a tag, and I wanted to share it with all of you. I have a couple of aims with this. 1) I’m hoping that it will be a good way to increase traffic on multiple blogs, and 2) It should increase the feeling of community among those of us who are writers. I’ve seen and participated in many of these lists before, but I’ve never seen it as a blog tag.

So, without further ado, I present: “You Know You’re a Writer When…”
  1. You must link back to the blog on which you first found the tag. This will hopefully accomplish the increased traffic that I mentioned.
  2. In your post, give 4 to 6 things that you do that are pretty unique to writers as a breed.
  3. You can’t use the same things as someone else as already posted. Get creative, people!
You know you're a writer when…
  1. You maintain that your characters consistently do things you didn’t plan. Non-writers usually look at you like you should be on your way to the insane asylum for saying this.
  2. You choose to write while your favorite TV shows are on. NaNoWriMo  increased my tendency to do this.
  3. You get some inkling of a plot idea from nearly everything anyone says.
  4. You’re tempted to induce various emotions in your loved ones just to figure out correct descriptions for those emotions.
  5. You draw characters, places, clothing and maps even when you have very little artistic ability. Drawing clothing from Raiders’ Rise was one of my distractions during NaNo. *sigh* I’m not terrible at maps, though. Hehe.
Feel free to do this even if you’re not tagged.

Now, I’ll tag:
Liv at
Leinad at
Jag Swiftstorm at
Jake at
and Rayne Speryll at
Go forth and indulge your eccentricities, my friends! Winking smile

Writing Quote

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Thor: The Dark World

I got to see Thor: The Dark World in theaters last weekend, and, even now, nearly a week later, I’m still confounded. It was that crazy.

Thor 2 takes up a couple years after The Avengers. Now back in Asgard, Thor and Loki follow distinctly different paths. Loki faces his father’s wrath and is committed to prison, while his brother, along with Lady Sif and the Warriors Three, journeys around the Nine Realms, bringing peace to the chaos caused by the destruction of the Bifrost. However, with the Dark Elf Malekith intent on returning the world to the darkness from which he came, Thor chooses to partner with his brother, though he doesn’t trust him. But will they be able to stop an indestructible mass of pure destruction that has taken over Jane Foster’s body before it kills them all?

Plot: As implied by its title, Thor: The Dark World follows a darker path than its predecessor. It begins with a prologue that tells of the Dark Elves, their leader, Malekith, and his plan to destroy the Nine Realms with the power of the Aether [pronounced Eether], a red mass that contains raw power and destruction. He intends to release it at the Convergence, when all Nine Realms line up and the borders between them become blurred. He is stopped by Thor’s grandfather, Bor. But thousands of years later, the worlds are converging again, and Malekith has reawakened. On Earth, Jane Foster has fallen into another dimension and been infected by the Aether, which will destroy her if it’s not removed. Thus, Thor must save both her and the Nine Realms from Malekith’s evil designs. In order to do this, he releases Loki from prison. What happens next? Well, it wouldn’t be very fair of me to tell you, now would it?

I found this story to be compelling and, at times, unexpected. The superhero genre, as a whole, can be somewhat predictable. While this can actually be comforting, as one review put it, I felt like Thor 2 carried enough plot twists to make it fresh as well. In order to save Asgard and the other realms from Malekith, Thor enlists Loki’s help, feeling deep misgivings in the process. Loki’s sarcasm was really brought out in this film, more so than in either of his other appearances. It made for some fantastic one-liners, but I think they took it just a tad too far. It makes a couple of scenes almost cheesy. Humor from other characters, especially Jane’s intern, Darcy, also lightened the film. In a good way, mostly. The climax of the film was dramatic and appropriately dangerous, though it, too, contained some humor. Oh, and a note for those of you who haven’t seen it: There is both a mid-credits scene and a post-credits scene. I missed the last one.

Characters: Chris Hemsworth (Star Trek, Snow White and the Huntsman) returns as Thor, the mighty son of Odin and protector of Earth. Thor is torn by a great range of emotions in this film, though he handles them all in a very manly fashion. To me, it seemed like his dialogue was a little less Shakespearian than it used to be. Whether that was intentional, as a result of the time he’s spent on Earth, or not, I missed it. Not that it’s all gone, of course. He is Asgardian, after all. I just found that to be an interesting element. His performance was brilliant, though.

Loki, of course, was played by Tom Hiddleston (War Horse), the magnificent British actor whose biggest role to date has been as Loki. I believe it was Hiddleston who said that Loki is the fallen prince in Thor, the charming psychopath in The Avengers, and the anti-hero in Thor 2. That helped put some of my impressions into words, since I left the theater going, “Loki continues only to confound!” As I mentioned earlier, his sarcasm was a bit over the top, but his acting was absolutely incredible!

Natalie Portman (The Other Boleyn Girl, Black Swan) plays Jane Foster, Thor’s human love interest. While Odin advises Thor to forget her, Thor cannot. He rescues her when she is infected by the Aether and takes her to Asgard. Jane, though a scientist, is, in many ways, an innocent girl taken out of her element in this film. I thought she was shown to be a little more capable in Thor, but her actions are understandable in this film. Her devotion to science is clear, as is her love for Thor. I thought she could have been portrayed as a little less doe-eyed, but she was nonetheless an integral part of the story.

Malekith is played by Christopher Eccleston. He captured the Dark Elf’s focus on destroying all light excellently and is a terrifying villain. As a side note, the other Dark Elves wear masks that make them seem faceless and horrifying. All in all, the villainy was exceptional. Rene Russo portrayed Thor and Loki’s mother, Frigga. I was pleased to see her gain a bigger, and incredibly poignant, role in this movie. I thought she was one of the best supporting characters in the whole story. Her stern and weary husband, Odin, was played by Anthony Hopkins, who captured a certain dislikable quality about the character. Jaimie Alexander acts as Sif, Zachary Levi as Fandral, Ray Stevenson as Volstagg, and Tadanobu Asano as Hogun. I was disappointed to see these four on screen for less time than I was expecting, though they play an important role.

Kat Dennings was even more snarky than she was in Thor as Darcy Lewis, Jane’s intern. I actually found her kind of annoying at first, but as she settled down I relaxed. She has her own intern in the loveable and quiet Ian (Jonathan Howard), who I thought was an awesome addition. Stellan Skarsgard was wonderful as Erik Selvig. I hadn’t really thought about how his experience under the power of Loki’s staff would have affected him, but the actor demonstrated his slight touch of insanity in remarkable, if both hilarious and disturbing, fashion.

Themes: At first glance, themes are somewhat difficult to pull out of this film. However, the threads of courage and sacrifice were both well-developed. Thor’s moral strength really came through this time around, as did Loki’s conflicted motives. Ultimately, I think courage was the strongest theme and was demonstrated by several characters.

Other Thoughts: Early in the film, a possible love triangle is developed between Thor, Jane, and Sif. I was disappointed to see it abruptly dropped. While it added an interesting element at first, I think it would have been better to just leave it out if they weren’t going to bring it to a head. I really loved the way Thor 2 incorporated Loki and Frigga’s tricks. It was done in an important and entertaining manner. Now, this movie is much more violent than Thor. Though I wasn’t overly fazed like I am with certain violence, there were still moments when I cringed. Thor snaps someone’s neck; someone else is stabbed rather violently with a sword. The language was moderate, limited to a few instances of the d-word and s—t, though I found the profanity to add little to the story. There are several dramatic emotional swings that had me crying at a couple of points.

All in all, I really enjoyed Thor: The Dark World. Though, as I mentioned, I did leave a little overwhelmed. It’s not as straightforward as Thor. Perhaps it will make you think a little more. But if you like other Marvel movies, you will probably enjoy their latest installment.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Lessons Learned From the Deleted Scenes in Thor

I watched Marvel’s Thor last night for only the second time. In case I haven’t made this clear yet, I LOVE Marvel movies. And I think a lot of writing tips can be gleaned from them. Most of them are well-crafted stories with brilliant characters and believable plots. Despite their larger-than-life scale, they resonate as real. After watching the movie last night, I viewed the Deleted Scenes. I’ve seen most of them before, probably off of Youtube or Pinterest. But I’ve never seen them all together like that, right on the heels of viewing the movie. Note: This post is rather full of spoilers, so if you haven’t seen the movie but are planning to, I would step away right now.

By seeing the deleted scenes from Thor, I learned some very valuable lessons about editing.

1. Just because a scene is funny doesn’t mean it adds to your story. Interactions between the Warriors Three, Lady Sif, and others, are hilarious. But after watching the movie, I realized that, had they kept the scenes they cut, it would have bogged the film down. This movie isn’t about Lady Sif and the Warriors Three. It’s about Thor. I adore humor and think it adds a very necessary element to a story. But unless you’re making a comedy, be careful that you don’t allow the funny parts to overwhelm the story goal.

2. Supporting characters should feel real, but you don’t have to delve deeply into their lives. Again, I take from the scenes involving Thor’s Asgardian friends. In the movie, it is obvious that Fandral is a charmer (and I just found out that Josh Dallas doesn’t play him in Thor 2 – *wails*), Volstagg is a prodigious eater, Hogun is a grim warrior, and Sif is a strong soldier, yet also a feminine lady, of Asgard. Many of the deleted scenes are extended looks at these four, but, in the end, they weren’t necessary. Their loyalty to Thor is the most important part of their scenes and that was captured in the movie. I know that I have a weakness for going too deeply into my supporting characters’ lives. In the last few chapters of Raiders’ Rise that I have written, I’ve introduced some new characters that I really like. However, I didn’t plan them in my outline, and I’m afraid that I’m starting to dwell overly long on them. So, that will be one of the hurdles I have to face in editing. Too many characters to focus on will just distract your readers.

3. Don’t add scenes just to show off your world to your readers. There is a very short deleted scene near the climax of Thor in which Erik Selvig is punctured by shrapnel from the Destroyer’s mayhem. Thor then finds a healing stone one of his friends must have brought from Asgard and uses it to heal the wound. While depicting a neat item, it does nothing positive for the story. If anything, it slows it down and feels contrived. Thus, I’m glad they removed it. Fantasy and sci-fi writers, especially, struggle with this, I think. We create such fascinating worlds, and it feels like a travesty not to share every aspect of those worlds with our readers. But they’re far less interested in the world than the story. So, carefully evaluate your scenes to make sure that you’re adding to the story, not just showing off.

4. Readers must understand your villain. My biggest problem with Thor is that Loki’s motives are not clear for most of the movie. I do think that Loki is one of the most incredible villains Marvel has ever created, at least on screen. I can’t speak for the comics. But his tragic fall from glory is somewhat unexplained here. After Odin falls into the Odin-sleep, Loki assumes the throne. But he seems to go abruptly from sad, confused, and slightly jealous to insanely power-hungry. Perhaps that was what the filmmakers wanted, but it’s the most aggravating part of the movie for me. At the end of the film, we finally understand why Loki acted as he did. But while suspense and mystery are handy tools, I think they were misused in this case. The one deleted scene that I truly think would of have bettered the story is an extended scene from when Loki and his mother, Frigga, are sitting by Odin while he sleeps and discussing the future. This scene was trimmed down quite a bit in the film, but in the original take, Frigga has Odin’s scepter brought to Loki as he leaves the chambers. He does this amazingly bewildered, quirky eyebrow-thing that shows the confusion that Loki still feels. Frigga, not Loki, decides that he will take his father’s place on the throne. And she says something that would have shed light on all of Loki’s actions thereafter – “Make your father proud.”

If they had kept that scene, Loki would have made so much more sense in the movie. He would still be a villain, but we would understand his motivation better. This reminds me that my villain is just as important as my heroine, and, even in a case such as Raiders’ Rise, when the villain’s viewpoint is never directly shown, I still have to demonstrate why he does what he does. Otherwise, my heroine’s achievements mean very little. Your villain must be just as real to your readers as your protagonist is; make sure you include that all-important scene that makes things click for us.

Feel free to tell me what you think about Thor and my conclusions. I’d love to hear your thoughts!

Thursday, October 31, 2013


Tomorrow is an auspicious day. It is November 1, the beginning of NaNoWriMo 2013. If you do not know, NaNoWriMo is short for National Novel Writing Month. Each year, November is the month in which people are challenged to write 50,000 words. I really wanted to do it this year, but I’m still in the middle of Raiders’ Rise, and, technically, you’re supposed to work on a new novel. I don’t want to take a break from my book when I’m making progress, though, so I’ve decided to compromise.

I am challenging myself to write 50,000 words, unless I finish the book first. But I will just continue working on my current project. Because of this, I’ve chosen not to register on the site and get involved in the forum. Maybe next year. I’ve written just over 50,000 words on the book so far, and I’m close to halfway through, so I may just do it. But it’s going to be a huge challenge. I’ve got to cut out Pinterest and reading. And every spare moment should realistically be spent writing. But does that make it okay to ignore my loved ones? Not in my opinion. So, it will be a balance. And I’m hoping that by this time next month, the first draft of Raiders’ Rise will be finished.

What about you? If you’re doing NaNo, what’s your strategy? I wish you great success!

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

A Writer’s Advice by ABC

I realize I did Alphabetical Advice recently, but I wanted to do another one specific to writing. So, without further ado:

Avoid redundancy.

Brilliant writing will not come every single day.

Characters must be real and unique.

Description can be overdone, but it is nonetheless necessary.

Emotion is king in stories.

Friends don’t necessarily want to hear every single thing you write.

Giving up won’t make you feel any better.

Help can come from unusual sources.

Inspiration is incredibly fickle.

Jump into something new every now and then.

Knock on the door of opportunity.

Listen for the truth in criticism.

Manage your time productively.

No idea is completely original.

One day at a time – that’s the only way to make progress.

People other than yourself have valid opinions.

Quantity, in the form of practice, often leads to better quality.

Relish your successes, but don’t let them swell your head.

Set goals.

Take the time to edit.

Understand the process in whatever sector you’re writing in.

Variety can often cure writer’s block.

Write consistently on many different topics.

X-periment with new techniques.

Your talent is a gift; appreciate it as such.

Zany as we may seem, writers have a very important job.

I’m not perfect at most of these, by any means. What aspects do you struggle with or do the best at?

Friday, August 16, 2013

Pinata Birthday Party

I’m sorry I’m so late with my second writing project. I started it a while ago, but I haven’t been overly enthused about it, so I haven’t worked on it. I know, classic procrastination. Anyway, I can’t promise that it’s that great, but here you go:

Prompt # 2: Write the story of a child’s birthday party from the perspective of the piñata.

I began my life as a sticky mess of something called paiper mâché stuck onto a flexible frame. Two pairs of hands molded me and coaxed me into existence. Well, one pair coaxed; the other poked and prodded. The former pair was sturdy and larger than the other. The woman who belonged to those hands was focused and kept telling the other person to pay attention.

“I know you’re excited,” she kept saying, “but do you want to help with your piñata or not?”

Piñata? So that’s what I was to be called. If I had a nose, I would have wrinkled it at the other person and her pair of hands. They were grimy and never stayed still. She would pat at the wet stuff on my frame and then bounce around the room, screeching something about a birthday party and how excited she was. I wished that she would go away. But then she came skipping back to run her little hands through that nasty-looking paste stuff, drip it all over the newspaper pieces and the table, and slather me with it. The cold seeped into me. Then the woman who seemed to be in control put newspaper on me, covered in more sticky stuff. They left a hole in me, set me on top of the hole, and then disappeared for a long time.

I could feel the paiper mâché harden as I waited for them to come back. I couldn’t move; I was stuck on the table where they had left me. Eventually they returned, though. For a few minutes, both people worked on adding more layers to my body, but then the little one scurried out of the room. I was glad that she left. I didn’t think I could handle much more of her vigorous patting. The one with the bigger hands continued to layer me with gooey paper before leaving again. So I sat there, waiting. There is nothing else to do when you’re lying on a table but don’t have hands or feet to move with.

Noise emanated from other places that I didn’t know about. I could hear the little girl’s voice, but other sounds wafted in as well. Some kind of deep snapping sound reached me; then a terrifying animal came bounding into the room, colored brown and black and slobbering. The thing on his backside – a tail? – wagged back and forth at dizzying speed. He spotted me and launched toward the table, but then the woman dashed in and grabbed that red thing around his neck. As she pulled him from the room, she muttered something about dogs and crafts not mixing.

She came back a long time later and began to apply some more wet stuff. But this was not paper; it was just wet stuff, colored green. She dipped a brush into it and wiped the brush on me, over and over. Then she stuck strange pointy things on two sides of me. She added two little circles with smaller, wiggly circles inside of them and then stepped back, smiling.

“I think we have success,” she commented, then called, “Honey, do you want to see your alligator?”

No one came, though. She stepped out of the room; when she returned some time later, she carried a large bag in her hand, full of lumpy things with all kinds of different colors. She proceeded to dump the contents inside of me. At first, they bounced off my insides and rattled around, but then they settled into a nice pile that grew bigger and bigger. When she had emptied the bag, she put more paiper-mâché over the hole. Then she left again! I was really getting tired of this routine.

She did not come back until after the world had gone dark and then become light again. She picked me up, attached some strings to me, and then took me outside, where she handed me to larger person, a man. He stood on a metal thing with slats in it. When she handed me to him, he stepped up higher and tied my strings around a thick branch. He pushed me back and forth before going back down to the ground and taking the metal thing away.

People moved around the yard for a while, hanging up paper things called streamers and setting up tables with balloons on them. They left me alone, though. Then I heard a new sound.


The little girl ran into the house, followed by her mother. They didn’t come out for a while. I heard more ding-dongs, and the sounds of laughter from inside became louder and louder. Then, all of a sudden, a river of small people came pouring out into the yard. They were dressed in pretty dresses and were squealing in those high-pitched voices I’d already decided I hated. They sat down at the tables, and the woman came out with a cake, flickering with candles, in her hands. Singing and laughter and more shrieks ensued.
When they got up from the tables, though, their attention turned to me. The man who had put me up in the tree got a long, smooth, tan-colored stick and handed it to his daughter, who walked toward the tree. She grasped the stick fiercely and pursed her lips, studying me. What was she going to do?

Thwack! She hit me with the stick, making me swing from side to side. Ow! Why was she hitting me?! She did it again. Thwack! Thwack! Thwack! I was rocking violently back and forth by now. Then she handed the stick to another little girl, who did the same thing! Ow! This hurt! Four more children whacked at me with the stick. And then, I suddenly broke open! I couldn’t stop myself; my frame simply cracked, spilling the stuff inside me all over the ground. Instant screaming ensued as the girls rushed into the middle of the mess. I continued to swing to and fro, feeling bruised and emptied. When they had gathered all the stuff up, the girls ran to another part of the yard. They continued to laugh and scream and stuff those little lumpy things into their mouths, but they left me alone, swinging in the wind.

The biggest struggle I had with this one was personifying something that has no ears but can hear things, has no eyes but can see things, and has no nerves but can feel pain. With some things, I couldn’t decide how a pinata would describe it. As the story goes on, he seems to know more about the world around him. In the end, it was a ridiculous prompt, so I had to remind myself to be a bit ridiculous. Let me know what you think - I'm open to suggestions and critiques.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

The World May Change, but Some Things Stay the Same

Is our world worse today than it used to be? Our immediate response is to think, “Yes, of course it’s worse.” I personally struggle with fear when I realize how many kidnappings, murders, and assaults take place in the U.S. every day. Hearing about the constant turmoil in the Middle East or the steady encroachment on our liberties scares me. It’s so easy to think that our time is much more awful than our parents’ time or our grandparents’ time. We as humans naturally think our circumstances are worse than anyone else’s, because we’re pretty selfish. We also hear about way more bad things happening than they ever did.

However, are more bad things actually happening? I think that’s ultimately debatable, and I’m not going to get into the nitty-gritty of facts and figures right now. As a concept, however, I find this fascinating. Bad things happened when my parents were young too. Kidnappers didn’t start working just because I was born. People have been murdered since the time of Cain and Abel. Your grandparents probably lived through World War II, for goodness’ sake! And you cannot say that that was easier to face than our struggles. To deal every day with the threat of Hitler wreaking evil all over the world – can you imagine how terrifying that must have been?

Now, yes, it is true that our world is becoming ever-more sinful as we draw closer to the End Times. Our society as a whole is probably worse than it was when our grandparents were young. More people live together before they’re married; more children are born out wedlock; divorce is at an abhorrently high level. Nonetheless, my grandparents’ world was not perfect. And bad things happened to them too. I believe it was my pastor who said, “It’s not that the world has gotten so much worse. It’s that our news coverage has gotten better.”

This has really struck me the more I’ve thought about it. Yes, we can live in fear of the ever-increasing horror that is our world. We can cower as we listen to the news, wondering how we’re ever going to survive. But you know what? We’re not going to. Eventually we will die. You may die from old age; you may be murdered at the prime of life; you may lose your life because of cancer. But that is not the end. The way God intends it, humanity’s story is not completed on this earth. Far from it. Our time on Earth is just a blip in eternity. We’ll spend the rest of our time in one of two places. So, no matter how bad this world gets, God’s plan hasn’t changed. And it’s important to remember that God has not forgotten us. He has not abandoned us to the evil in this world.  

In Genesis 9, God established a covenant with Mankind that He would never again flood all the earth. The rainbow symbolizes this particular promise, but I often think of it as a reminder of all His promises. And God still sends rainbows…
So, in the midst of our struggles, when it feels like the world is crashing down, we can remember that our God has not abandoned us. And just like God’s plan remains the same, our mission has not changed. If nothing else, it’s become even more critical. We are called to share Jesus with the people around us. We are called to be faithful to God’s leading. We are called to love our neighbors. The way that looks for each of us may be different, but our purpose remains the same. How will you answer the call?

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

A Writing Challenge for Myself

So, I’ve found myself at something of a loss for blogging inspiration lately. I have wanted to blog, and I’m starting to feel a bit undisciplined for putting it off. I’m sorry for procrastinating. However, today I want to start a writing challenge for myself. I found this really neat site that has photo prompts, with descriptions, for different writing activities. Some lend themselves more to short stories, and some have a more journal-writing bent. I’m going to try really hard to post one every two weeks. I can’t promise they’ll be good, but I’ll try. It’s going to be a good exercise for me, I think.

Prompt #1: Make a list of Alphabetical Advice

Accept Advice
Be Honest
Consequences are Real
Dance Every Now and Then
Every Struggle Comes to an End
Forgive Always
Give Of Yourself
Happiness is Just a Feeling
Invest in Others
Judging is God’s Job, Not Yours
Kids Can Teach You a Lot
Learning Doesn’t Stop at Graduation
Meaning Can Be Found in Everything
Notice the Little Things
Own Up to Your Mistakes
Plan For Possibilities, but Don’t Be Rigid
Questions Can Indeed Be Stupid
Remember God’s Faithfulness
Self-pity Will Get You Nowhere
Temptation Takes Many Forms
Understanding Doesn’t Come Overnight
Value People
W’s are Awesome
X-pect Life to Have Ups and Downs
Your Life Should Mean Something
Zeal is Important but Often Misplaced

I had fun with this one, and I may do more, with a writing focus or something else. You should try one yourself!

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Writing Update

You know, all my brilliant ideas seem to vanish when I actually go to write a blog post. Confused smileThat’s why I’m late. I love blogging, but it’s certainly a lesson in not waiting for inspiration.

Anyway, I just wanted to say that I actually am writing. I’ve been working on a fantasy called Raiders’ Rise, and I’m hoping to finish the rough draft by the end of the summer. Phew, that’s a really crazy goal when I think about it! Anyway, few of you actually know what Raiders’ Rise is, but I just finished Chapter 8, with a grand total of 15 typed pages and 4,801 words. The previous 7 chapters have an average of 1,967 words apiece. It took me a while to write… And it brings my book total up to 18,571 words. I’m thinking I will end up with a fairly long novel, since I’m really only about a quarter of the way through the book at this point. We’ll just have to see!

The reason this chapter ended up being longer than the others was that I had a very specific, symbolic way I wanted to begin and end the chapter, and all the in-between stuff became needed as I was writing it. I was going a little crazy, because I wanted to finish it so badly! That’s how writing goes, though, isn’t it? But I did complete it, so I feel accomplished. And now to keep pushing!

How long is the average chapter word count in the books you’re working on right now? How do you like to end chapters? How’s the writing progress for those of you who are writers? Keep writing; it’s worth it in the end!

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Without Meaning, Life is Meaningless

You’re probably staring at your computer screen right now, thinking, “Duh! That’s what ‘meaningless’ means!”

Well, I’m glad to know you understand English, but I promise, I’m not crazy. As self-explanatory as this seems, life is completely and utterly meaningless without meaning. Most of us understand this on a linguistic level, but think about it philosophically. What is the point of anything if it doesn’t have some meaning? Why do we do anything if it doesn’t serve some purpose and reflect some aspect of Truth? See, the thing is, no matter if you’re naturally a deep thinker or not, this matters immensely. Everything in life requires something beyond itself to be of any consequence.

“Meaning” is the “end, purpose, or significance of something.” [courtesy:] What is the purpose in each of our actions? Going out for coffee or ice cream serves no end in itself – it’s the conversations we have and relationships we form while we’re out that last. What is the point of going to work if we don’t have something important we’re working towards? For that matter, what is the meaning of money? By itself, having money serves no point. It’s the things we use the money for that give it value. So it is with everything in life. What gives our activities value? What infuses our lives with meaning?

As a writer, this concept is incredibly important to me. Why do stories matter? Are our words merely for entertainment, or do they serve some other purpose? I firmly believe that our stories are meant to mean something. They’re supposed to teach us lessons, warn us about Evil, and remind us of Truth. Entertainment is all well and good, but if that’s all that stories contain, something is wrong. Our words are the torches burning bright to show people the path of Truth. We must not let those lights be extinguished. We as writers are called to permeate our words with meaning. Make your stories point beyond themselves. Make them last. Make them mean something.

But what meaning can we impart to our words if life itself is meaningless? If there is no point to life, then there’s no point to writing. And without God, there is no point to life. If you believe that this life is all there is and that when we die, we’re done, what purpose does your life have? If you believe that God is not real and that there is no Higher Power out there anywhere, why are you here? What can your life possibly mean? What’s the point?! Why do moral laws matter if there is no Law-Giver? Why can’t I hurt you if I don’t like you? Why is it wrong for me to take your stuff? Why does it matter what North Korea or Iran is doing? Why do we cling to our American freedoms? Why do we get emotional about things if those things have no point? Why does it hurt when we lose someone? Why do we fall in love? Why do we care?

Quite simply, it’s because our lives must have meaning. Despite the live-for-today attitude we try to cultivate, acting like this moment is all that matters, we crave meaning. We as human beings need life to mean something beyond today. That’s how we were made. Life is meant to be overflowing with meaning. That’s why our laws are important; that’s why we want to fall in love; that’s why it hurts when we encounter loss. These things all mean something. But without God, they can’t mean anything at all. If there’s not a higher purpose we are living for that will transcend the grave, our lives have no purpose. If God is not real and directing my life, nothing I can do or say has a point. Why should I even be here if God isn’t real? Pushing God out the picture makes life meaningless.

We can’t live like that. Everyone knows that there must be a point in living. There must be something in our lives that persists beyond itself, that has a purpose. The question is: Does your life have meaning?

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Star Trek Into Darkness

I had the opportunity a couple of weeks ago to see Star Trek Into Darkness in theater. The sequel to J.J. Abrams’ mostly popular 2009 Star Trek, this new film is more intense and larger in scope than its predecessor. With the new alternate reality of the Star Trek universe now firmly established, there are no visits from future travellers, except a communication with Spock Prime, who chose to remain in the new reality in Star Trek. Instead, the film focuses on character development and and a villain taken from older films who may cause many to draw parallels to our own world.

Into Darkness opens with an entertaining action sequence that finds Captain James Kirk, played by Chris Pine, breaking numerous Federation rules and saving Spock’s life in the process. As the film expands, Kirk is rejoined by his crewmates from the previous movie: Zachary Quinto as Spock, Zoe Saldana as Lt. Nyota Uhura, Simon Pegg as Scotty, Karl Urban as Dr. Bones McCoy, John Cho as Sulu, and Anton Yelchin as Pavel Chekov. We soon find that, since being given command of the U.S.S. Enterprise, Kirk has gained exactly no humility. And his commanding officer, Admiral Christopher Pike (Bruce Greenwood), is not happy about it. His most recent actions get his command stripped from him, and he’s sent back to the Academy. But Pike still believes in him and reinstates him as the Enterprise’s  First Officer, under his own command. Soon, however, they have bigger problems to deal with as a rogue Starfleet Officer, John Harrison (Benedict Cumberbatch) blows up a records office in London and begins a one-man war against Starfleet. He attacks Starfleet commanders, and Kirk is allowed to chase him into Klingon space. But things are not as they seem, and the crew of the Enterprise will soon be forced to question their loyalties and perhaps trust the one man they never thought they would.

Characters: In Star Trek, Chris Pine’s Kirk emerged as a brash, young officer with great potential for leadership. He continues this trend in Into Darkness. In general, he shows no respect for the rules and very little respect for those in authority over him. But he does show admirable qualities of loyalty and friendship, and by the end of the film, he seems to have gained at least a modicum of sobriety. Kirk is a fun character to watch – one whose successes you rejoice with and whose lines you usually laugh at. But he’s also one whose actions and attitude you probably wouldn’t want your children to emulate.

Spock, as a half-Vulcan, is the most logical one aboard the U.S.S. Enterprise. He has a usually unerring adherence to duty and regulations that is commendable, if a bit strict. Kirk consistently stretches Spock’s definition of allowed behavior, but Kirk also challenges Spock to accept the half of him that is human. During this film, I was glad to see Spock loosen up a little and utilize his humanity. His logical side is still intact, though, which is good, because his reason is needed to balance out Kirk’s impulsiveness.

John Harrison is a terrifying character, to say the least. He is portrayed first as a rogue agent and then as a sympathetic character. The audience is torn one way and then another, confused as to who should be trusted. Played by Benedict Cumberbatch, the highly popular star of the BBC show Sherlock, Harrison is a character fans genuinely want to like. The film caters to this reaction. But it also firmly establishes what side he is on, leaving me with a definitive opinion that I have difficulty forming with Thor's Loki, for example. Regardless of his loyalties, however, Harrison is a brutal man. He has no qualms about killing anyone, and one scene shows him crushing the skull of someone with his bare hands, though the camera cuts away before he finishes the job. The sound is horrifying, however. Cumberbatch played him to perfection, in a chilling performance that brings the audience to the edges of their seats and may very well suck their breath from them. He may be the character people remember the most when they’re finished with the movie.

The other crew members of the Enterprise are much the same as in the first film. Uhura emerges as the most compassionate person aboard, but her many talents are still clearly emphasized. Bones is still pessimistic; Scotty retains his sarcasm and his heart of gold; Sulu is brilliant and shows some leadership potential in this movie; Chekov is young, enthusiastic, and bright. Unfortunately, he has no memorable “I can do zat!” moment like he did in the first film. The newest member of the crew is Carol Marcus, a beautiful young scientist played by Alice Eve. She is serious, committed, and a bit defiant, but she does play a very important role later in the film. Kirk of course flirts with her, but nothing serious comes of it. Though important, I felt that her story had no resolution in this film; in my mind, she didn’t fit as well as the other characters do. Altogether, though, the characters of Star Trek Into Darkness are well-rounded and portrayed brilliantly. They play complement to the plot well.

Plot: I enjoyed the many twists and turns of this storyline. It is complicated, full of danger and added elements that make your head spin. It is far more intense than its predecessor, but it is a believable story that kept me spellbound.

Themes: This story is more complicated than the previous film in many ways. Among these are its many possible applications to our world and our way of thinking. The distinct reference to home-grown terrorism may or may not spell a warning to us at home. It will at least make you think. The movie includes subtle questions about genetic manipulation, the rights and wrongs of warfare, and the danger of unrestrained power. Kirk pursues a revenge trail that lands him and his crew in danger; by the end of the film, he seems to have realized that revenge is not the best path. I applaud that. Starfleet as a whole also reaffirms their commitment to exploration, not warfare. Personally, I like the return to peace, but I’m not sure what purpose exploration serves them if they’re not supposed to interfere (including help) with other space civilizations. That was the most confusing theme to me. A path of peace is well and good, but sometimes war is inevitable. It will be interesting to see how, if at all, that theme is expounded upon in future films. Along with these somewhat deep and possibly troubling strings, the film does carry themes of friendship and loyalty that give it a positive beauty. The friendship between Kirk and Spock in particular is expanded from the first film and touches gently on the heartstrings. They remind us of how special and important friendship can be. All in all, the movie may leave you scratching your head, but it will probably also make you think.

Objectionable Elements: This film is rated PG-13 for a reason. It is tremendously more violent than Star Trek, with Harrison shooting, fighting, and crushing at will. A lot of people die, and while this is necessary to understand the scope of Harrison’s actions, it is still somewhat disturbing. In addition, there is distinctly more foul language in Into Darkness than in its predecessor. Numerous instances of the s-word and the d-word dot the movie, rarely adding anything to the story. Two additional scenes serve absolutely no purpose – one shows Carol in her underwear and the other portrays Kirk in bed with someone who doesn’t even appear later in the story. I don’t approve of those types of scenes anyway, but when they are simply gratuitous, not even aiming for emotional fulfillment of some story thread, they just make me angry. The movie would have been better had these scenes just been left out.

Conclusion: I did enjoy Star Trek Into Darkness, though I left the theater feeling more emotionally drained than I felt after watching the first movie. Watching it is an up and down ride that may make you cringe, laugh, grieve, and rejoice. It is an intense movie, but it has its relaxed moments too, with familiar punchy one-liners that make you smile. The movie is certainly not for young children and requires a bit of caution for the faint-hearted. It is more violent and full of language than I would prefer, but its plot is entertaining and well-developed. It is deeper than the previous film and may ask some questions that make you search for answers. But that is not necessarily a bad thing. Essentially, if you liked Star Trek, you will probably enjoy Into Darkness as well. I personally prefer the former, but I am curious to see what J.J. Abrams will pull out of his sleeve next for the Star Trek universe.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Victory in Christ

Contemporary-Christian singer Matt Maher has a song called “Christ Has Risen”, and in it, he paraphrases 1 Corinthians 15:55, which says, 

"Where, O death, is your victory?
Where, O death, is your sting?"

These words capture an extremely important concept for Christians to understand if they want to live a Spirit-filled life. As Christians, we have been given a promise that our God will never leave us or forsake us. He has given us a Helper to fulfill that promise. The Holy Spirit is our Counselor and our Comforter. But too often, we forget Who He is. We forget that He is here to transform us. He isn’t supposed to be this static personality waiting for us to do something. No, the Holy Spirit is here to work in each one of our lives, making us more and more like Jesus every day.

We have been given victory over sin through Jesus Christ. We cannot forget that. And the Holy Spirit is the vehicle of that victory in our lives every single day. “Victory” is defined as “success in a struggle against difficulties or an obstacle.” Well, our lives are certainly full of difficulties. But we are promised success if we trust in Jesus. So, why do we worry? We are not given a spirit of fear. We don’t have any reason at all to be afraid.

I’ve always struggled with this concept. It’s human nature to fear things, and I, perhaps more than some, am scared of a lot of things. I have always had trouble letting go of this world and letting God’s Spirit guide me. But I learned something recently. As Matt Maher sings, death has no hold on us. I had never really thought about this before, but the Holy Spirit raised Jesus from the grave. Do you realize what that means? The Holy Spirit conquered death. And that same spirit LIVES IN ME. And He lives in you. Do you understand how incredible that is? Death is the very biggest weapon in Satan’s arsenal, and it’s completely powerless against our God. The Holy Spirit is God in us. Against the Holy Spirit, Satan can do nothing. He can’t conquer us as long as we hold onto Jesus. Nothing Satan can say or do is powerful enough to defeat God Almighty, Who is on our side. So why are we scared?

Nothing Satan can devise for us is bigger than God’s strength. I know that there are difficult days. Believe me, I am not belittling daily struggles. But none of those struggles can compare with the power of God, which rests inside of you. God wants to work in us. He wants to give us His strength. We need to learn that God, and thus the Holy Spirit, is bigger than anything we will ever face. And the reward waiting for us is bigger than anything in this world. So, when the days get hard, when relationships fall apart, when you start to wonder if your Christianity is worth it, fall on your knees and worship the God Whose strength is always enough. And remember that His Love will never leave you.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Les Mis

Stunning. Terrifying. Beautiful. Depressing. Exhilarating. Magnificent. Crushing. Soaring. Huge. Emotional. Les Mis is all these things.

This past Friday, I watched the new Les Misérables for the first time. I have never read the book, and I have never seen a full performance of any other version. I did listen to it as an audiobook when I was young, but I didn’t really understand it or remember much of it. Thus, the story was mostly new to me. And I cried. My goodness, did I cry!

Girls have this weird thing where they subject themselves to sad things just so they can cry. I’m not sure why we do that necessarily, but a good cry is remarkably therapeutic. Thus, sad movies and music can be helpful in the long run, though they should be approached with a degree of caution.

Anyway, that’s a bit off topic. Back to the point. Les Mis was incredible! It’s a long movie, at 2 hours and 38 minutes. The first quarter/third/half or so (It’s a good chunk, okay? Sarcastic smile) is less interesting than the last half, but that’s mostly because the second half is the culmination of everything that the first half sets up. Did they spend a lot of time setting the story’s conflict up? Yes. Was it too much? I’m not sure. I think it came really close to being too much, but it’s okay. And if it had been hurried, the emotional impact of the latter half wouldn’t have been as great. So yes, it is long. But its length contributes to the story’s depth in many ways.

The first huge surprise for me was that the characters sing nearly every line. I knew it was a musical, but when I think musical, I think of prominent musical numbers scattered through the whole thing. I expected a lot of songs, but I also thought there would be plain dialogue. There is some, but it is exceptionally brief. So that was jarring. From the beginning of the movie, you are immersed in song. But I adjusted to it eventually, and then the story really gripped me. I was captivated by the tale of this prisoner, Jean Valjean, kept in prison for nineteen years because of a petty offense and haunted by a policeman, Inspect Javert, whose attention to duty is frightening, to say the least. There seems to be no mercy in the man.

Valjean was played brilliantly by Hugh Jackman, the star of X-Men Origins: Wolverine, as well as Australia. Before seeing the movie, I was thinking how odd it would be to see Wolverine as a somewhat haunted Frenchman. But Jackman played him to perfection. You don’t think of Wolverine at all; Jackman is completely different as Valjean. His fear of Javert, his love for his charge, Cosette, and his emotional journey from hate to forgiveness are well captured by Jackman’s performance. Javert was played by Russell Crowe [Gladiator, Robin Hood ]. In a special feature interview, Russell Crowe said he wanted to draw out some of Javert’s emotional turmoil. I think he did that, to a point. He plays the unrelenting Inspector extremely well, and then, towards the end, his moral confusion is captured pretty well.

Anne Hathaway, the star of such favorites as The Princess Diaries and Get Smart, plays Fantine, and she pours a great deal of raw emotion into her performance. She is vulnerable and beaten down by life, but she has an inner flame in her love for her daughter, Cosette, who is played by Amanda Seyfried, previously in Mamma Mia and Letters to Juliet. Her voice is heavenly. Eddie Redmayne plays Marius with passion and breathlessness and a youth befitting his character. He also has a fantastic voice. The only problem I had with his performance was that, at times, you expect more from his facial expressions than he gives. But you don’t know how hard it is for me to criticize that; he was fantastic. Eponine was played in haunting fashion by Samantha Barks. She gave life to a character so young and so tired, so hopeful and yet so trodden down, and she played it to perfection. Her voice was really special, in my personal opinion. “Little Bit of Rain” is one of the most beautiful pieces in the entire film.

The supporting characters are all fantastic as well. The “Barricade Boys” are something special, and Aaron Tveit plays Enjolras magnificently. The sets of the movie are huge and really neat. The ships at the very beginning almost blew my mind, and the barricade is awesome! Each scene is crafted with special care, and they build to a mindbogglingly emotional crescendo. I cried through most of Fantine’s scenes, and after Eponine sings “On My Own”, my tears pretty much just escalated until the end. Then said tears had to gradually wind down during the credits. I’m really not exaggerating when I say I cried through almost the entire last half. I think I cried through “On My Own”; I know I cried through “Bring Him Home”, “Empty Chairs at Empty Tables”, and the end song. And the barricade scene? Ugh, the tears wouldn’t stop.

In some ways, I was surprised to cry so much. I mean, yes, it is an exceptionally sad story. But once I started crying, I continued to cry through happy and sad moments alike. You’d think I’d calm down emotionally during the happy moments. Nope, not really. I think I’ve figured out why it’s such an emotional movie, though. It’s an emotional story to begin with, but it’s connected entirely by music. It’s a well-known fact that music is tied to emotions. So, taking moments that are emotional on their own and then making them flow one into another with music is pretty much a recipe for tears. Thus, be prepared to cry. A lot.

Normally, I wouldn’t think such a sad movie could be so magnificent, but it is. Listening to the soundtrack now, I cry again. But I can still say it’s a great movie. Why? Because its themes are beautiful. Les Mis teaches you that beauty can come from ashes. It tells you that love endures, that some things are worth dying for, and that forgiveness can change your life. That is why I now love Les Mis. The songs are special and the actors are great. But in the end, it’s the themes that make it incredible. The themes are the reason this story has lasted and why it now continues to make an impact. 

So, if you don’t hate musicals and you are up to an emotional few hours, I would definitely suggest trying out the new Les Misérables. You may find yourself feeling more rewarded than you ever would have expected.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Wait, How Does It End?

I’ve been reflecting on alternate endings lately. You know, where directors include one or more different endings to a movie in the Blu-Ray or DVD pack. Now, to be fair, I have never actually seen an alternate ending for a movie. Nonetheless, the concept doesn’t make intuitive sense to me. The point is to provide extra material for the viewer. I understand that, and as a lover of movies, I even appreciate it to some degree. Special features can be a lot of fun.

However, as a writer, the whole idea of alternate endings is really wrong. The alternate ending should be entertaining, make sense, and feel like a real ending. But it can’t be better than the real ending. After all, we would then feel cheated, right? A story’s ending should be the best that it can possibly be. Therefore, alternate endings shouldn’t be able to measure up to the real thing, and they would therefore be rather pointless. If they are good, they breed discontent with the actual movie; if they’re not good, they’re each a waste of time that leaves you feeling unsatisfied.

So, in my opinion, alternate endings are yet another marketing gimmick that serve absolutely no truly helpful purpose. 

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

The Story of Heroes

I’m not going to lie. I’m a pretty big fan of Marvel movies. I’ve never read the comics, because I’m not really a comic book person (except for Calvin and Hobbes, but that’s another story). But I love most of the movies. I got The Avengers for Christmas, and I was watching it a few days ago for the second time. To be perfectly honest, I was a little disappointed the first time around; it didn’t quite live up to my expectations. Nonetheless, once I got over that initial disappointment, I did like the movie.  Now I enjoy it fully when I view it. 

Anyway, while watching The Avengers, I started thinking about heroes. Captain America is by far my favorite Avenger, but everyone else more or less ties for second, mostly because I can’t decide whether I like Thor, Dr. Banner, or Hawkeye better. I like Black Widow and Iron Man too; like I said, they all come in around second. But they are all very different kinds of heroes. Iron Man is cocky, brilliant, and relatively self-serving. Of course, in The Avengers, he does learn a lesson in self-sacrifice, so that helps. Nonetheless, he’s not particularly noble. Hawkeye and Black Widow are very gritty, somewhat tormented people who are trying to make up for bad things they’ve done by being heroic. Bruce Banner is a very quiet, unassuming guy, always a little angry, who is desperate to keep his life from falling apart again. He’s only heroic because he has to be; it’s not a life he would willingly choose.

Thor and Captain America are much closer to the idea of classic heroes. They have an inner nobility that is missing in the other Avengers. They have distinct moral compasses. Thor, of course, is from a different world. Asgard has different standards than those on Earth; he lives by a different code. Nonetheless, it is a high code of honor similar to that of Steve Rogers, Captain America. Steve’s is just more American. Thus, there’s a very clear reason I like Captain America best. He’s far and away the best role model. And he’s both sympathetic and likeable.

We have so many different definitions of heroes in this country, and our stories reflect that. The Avengers portrays it quite well, with its ensemble cast of very different people. But there was a time when a hero had a very distinct role to play. He wasn’t a person always torn between heroism and falling into an abyss. He didn’t see things in shades of gray. There was a right and a wrong answer, and, once upon a time, our heroes always chose the right path. It wasn’t a question of what he should do; he had a very distinct moral compass, much like Captain America and Thor do.

I read an article a few weeks ago that looked ahead to the expected blockbusters of 2013. Man of Steel, coming out on June 14, was on the list, and the reviewer was saying he thinks America is ready for a traditional hero again. Man of Steel is, of course, a retelling of the story of Superman. Now, to be clear, I have never seen any of the Superman movies or read the comics, so I’m not an expert. But as far as I can tell, Superman was one of those heroes that I was talking about: strong, with an undeniable belief in right and wrong and the ability to choose the higher path. This reviewer’s statement about heroes got me thinking.

Why are superhero movies such a success in this country? Why do we fall in love with them? Why do they make us feel bigger than we do on our own? It has to be because of more than just the special effects and cool powers. Sure, there are those who come just for the huge scale of the movies. But for the majority of us, I have to think that it’s the heart of superheroes that captivates us. We are fascinated by a man or woman’s choice to give up pieces of their own lives to protect those who do not have the powers they possess. We’re impressed by this concept of heroism.

I believe that there are two reasons for this and thus two directions our fascination with heroes can go. On the one hand, we are beings made to worship God. There is a part of us that looks for something higher and more majestic than ourselves. And when we don’t want to acknowledge that God is the rightful receiver of that awe, we will, consciously or not, lavish it upon something or someone else. We have an undeniable desire to worship. You can try to spin it all you want, but that fact remains. Without pouring your worship upon God, you will inevitably devote it elsewhere. The superhero genre highlights characters who are bigger, and on occasion better, than we can ever hope to be. Thus, in some cases, that awe we are meant to feel is transferred to those heroes.

I want to be very clear here. I am not insinuating that superhero movies are bad or that being impressed by superheroes is wrong. Please do no misunderstand me. All I’m saying is that we have to keep things in perspective. Without giving God the worship we are designed to give, we run the risk of worshipping something else. For some people, this “worship” may very well be directed towards heroes. The Greeks had that problem. They fawned over and worshipped Hercules and a myriad of other heroes. Don’t let that be you.

There is another side to our love of heroes, however. The best heroes represent the highest abilities of Mankind. Human beings want to know that they can be better. We want to know that we can somehow rise above our pettiness and our dirtiness. We want to believe that there is something more out there than the evil we see played out in the news every night. Heroes give us an outlet for this belief. They show us that we can be better. They tell us that we can be brave, that we can help others, and that we can make a difference. They inspire us to push farther, work harder, and daily be the best we can be. Heroes give us hope.

This is why I love Captain America. He represents everything good about us. He holds the hopes and dreams of a nation that has passed away, and he knows the pain of losing everyone he ever knew and loved. He has gone through more than many of us could ever bear, and yet, he continues to fight. He keeps getting up, no matter how many times he is knocked down. And this has nothing to do with the super-soldier serum. That is who Steve Rogers was before he ever got into the Army. What makes Captain America great isn’t his physical prowess. It’s not his amazing shield or his ability to essentially regenerate. Instead, the reason Captain America is amazing is because in  his heart, he is the best of us. He is a role model of the highest order; in my mind, he is the best hero in The Avengers.

Now, I won’t go on about how much I love Captain America any longer. And I promise I won’t bash you if you like another Avenger better. Cap is just my best and most current example for my topic. Heroes can be both a very bad and a very good thing for us. If we are not careful, they can steal away the devotion in us that is meant for God. But they can also inspire us, lift us out of the mire, get our focus off the bad and onto the good, and teach us to be better. It is for this reason that we should remember our heroes, even those on the silver screen.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Valentine’s Day, hmm?

So, it’s February 13, 2013. Tomorrow is the famous Valentine’s Day, synonymous with romance, chocolate, flowers, and dates. I’ve always enjoyed Valentine’s Day. Throughout the years, my dad has brought Sweetheart candies and sometimes cards home for us. He picks the sweetest cards. Unfortunately, Sweethearts have gotten less delicious over the years, and the messages are less meaningful today, in my opinion. I remember “I love you” and “Marry me.” Yet these days I find myself staring at “Call me” and “U” something or other. Most of the fun of Sweethearts is gone for me because of gradual degradation of quality.

In the same way, I’m disappointed by the commercialization and misunderstanding of love. Valentine’s Day is marketed for romance, not love. Nothing that people put out as marketing gimmicks around this time of year reflect true love. Chocolates and flowers, though wonderful, bring romance, not love. I think we’ve lost sight of what love is in this country. Love is sacrificial and patient and thinks of others first. True love follows the example of Jesus. Anything else is just a cheap imitation.

This doesn’t mean romance is bad. It just shouldn’t take the place of love in a relationship. That being said, I don’t have a date tomorrow. As much as I would love to, that’s just not what’s in my future right now. God has other ideas. And He does know best; I can count on that. Instead of dwelling on my singleness (which is actually a gift in many ways!), however, I’m going out for coffee with a few friends. We’re going to make it a girls’ day out, and I’m sure it will be a blast.

I’ve decided that moaning about what I don’t have won’t benefit me in any way. It hinders me from being the person God wants me to be. I have found that being dissatisfied with the place God has me in only brings pain and blocks me from the joy I could be experiencing. I am in a specific stage of life right now, and I should be focusing on how I can bring glory to my Father in Heaven where I am. That’s certainly not an easy lesson, and I unfortunately can’t say I’ve mastered it. But I think I’m getting better. So, no, I probably won’t be experiencing romance and gushy feelings tomorrow with half of the nation. But you know what? That’s okay. I don’t need a guy to make my life complete. I have Jesus, Who cares about me infinitely more than anyone else ever could. I just have to rest in His arms and know that He’ll always bring about the very best for me.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

My Attempt at Poetry…

Well, obviously I continue to fail at my once-a-week posting goal. I’m sorry, I really am. But here’s something for you. I’m not much of a poet; in fact, I usually completely stink at poetry. My rhyming poems in particular come out rather cheesy sounding usually. But every now and then I write a poem I like. This is one I wrote last year, and I realize it’s nothing miraculous, but I did like it. I hope you do too.

Simple Things

Because the world is full of lessons.
The Wisdom that you gain.
At things that bring you joy.
Even in the rain.
And fill your heart with blessings.
As Jesus taught us to.
Like you will die tomorrow.
What God has given you.