Pop Theology

Rogue One and Martin Luther King Jr.

Let’s start with this: I think Rogue One and Martin Luther King Jr. are both great. (For very different reasons, of course.)

But I think the new Star Wars movie and the holiday celebrating a civil rights hero might have something else in common. So let’s see if I can explain this without sounding a few shots short of a Stormtrooper.

Although I genuinely enjoyed Rogue One for the great acting and payoff on plot promises, after I walked out of the theaters, I asked myself two questions:

Why can’t I remember any of the characters’ names except Jyn?

And why am I only mildly sad?

(Spoiler Alert: Bail out here if you haven’t seen the movie and plan to.)

rogueonetwo

These are not the protagonists you’re looking for.

The movie’s suicide mission was, in a surprising twist of realism, actually a suicide mission. Our heroes got the Death Star plans, but died in the process. And yet, while Rogue One is darker than Star Wars IV-VII (those are the only other movies in the franchise I acknowledge), it didn’t feel like a tragedy.

Why not?

Maybe because Princess Leia calls the plans “hope” to save the galaxy…and we cheer when she shows up. We know her. That’s our heroine, the one who gets the happy ending, the guy, the glory. It’ll all work out in the end, we are reminded, and all those tragic deaths are a part of the bigger picture.

And maybe also because the movie pulled punches with character development. Meaning, all the characters are essentially orphans, or at least that’s the conclusion we’re supposed to draw since their backstories (except Jyn’s) are only vaguely hinted at. Their only goals are entirely contained in the success of the mission.

We’re hopeful at the end of Rogue One because our one-shot characters sacrificed to achieve victory for the real protagonist: the Rebellion. They got what they wanted, and so did the audience.

Again, let me say: this is not bad or lazy writing in my opinion, although I know some people who disagree. To me, it’s what you do if you want to create a standalone war movie where everyone dies and the audience feels sad but triumphant in the end (and you want to spend time on cool action scenes).

As I thought about the movie, the next thing that came to mind as was that Rogue One reminds me of African American History Month. Which led me to ask two other questions:

Why do I only remember the names of a few headliners like Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King Jr.?

And why am I only mildly sad when they fight and live and die without seeing their dreams of justice realized? (more…)

The Bible Says You Shouldn’t Play Christmas Music Before Thanksgiving

It’s October, which means I’m getting taunting texts and Facebook messages from friends who are starting their season of listening to Christmas carols.

If you groaned when you read that insane sentence, this post is for you. If you guiltily turned down the volume on the Mannheim Steamroller version of “Little Drummer Boy” to keep reading…this post is also for you. (You may not know how desperately you need it.)

batman

Now, please don’t read this in a spirit of judgment. I just want to show, using Scripture, why God wants you to save the caroling for December, or at the very earliest, after Thanksgiving.

Let’s start with the biggest musical collection in the Bible: the book of Psalms. They cover a wide range of topics: helping the people of God to join in corporate worship to thank the Lord for deliverance and favor, repent of sin, and extol praises. All that to say—a season of thanksgiving is critical to our spiritual life, and is often neglected when we move too quickly to Christmas (often cluttered with all kinds of commercial baggage).

Are there songs about Christ’s birth? Sure. Mary’s song of praise is a lovely example, and you could argue that John 1 is an example of a poetic tribute to Jesus’ coming. But notice that they are kept in their place: Scripture sings about Jesus’s birth…when specifically and purposefully telling about Jesus’ birth, which we take time to do in December. (more…)

On Neverland and Growing Up

My generation has a problem, or so everyone seems to be saying.

Whether they’re commentators criticizing grown adults for playing Pokémon Go, or experts focusing on the fact that Millennials are less likely to marry, bloggers nicknaming us Special Protagonists, or columnists bemoaning the emotional fragility that requires a filter of political correctness and trigger warnings to discuss anything remotely controversial, you get a pretty grim picture of young people today from just about the whole world.

Which is a bummer, given that I’m a young person. Especially because, while I don’t agree with every article bemoaning our (multiple) flaws, I can kinda see their general point.

A recent hit by Twenty-One Pilots, “Stressed Out,” has been labeled an anthem from our generation. You can listen to the whole thing, but the general sense is in the chorus: “Wish we could turn back time, to the good ol’ days, when our momma sang us to sleep but now we’re stressed out …Used to dream of outer space but now they’re laughing at our face, saying, ‘Wake up, you need to make money.’”

So, catchy song, but I’ve got to admit, the whole idea of the good ol’ days being the era we spent drooling in our cribs sounds a little pathetic. In some ways I get the nostalgia for naptime and Lunchables, but with some stress comes great responsibility and at least a little power to, you know, drive yourself places, make choices about your future, think through ideas and beliefs, or,  if none of those appeal to you, at least stop wearing diapers. (more…)

On Leaving a Legacy

Last weekend, I lurked around the American Christian Fiction Writers conference, watching as hopeful attendees took classes and faced dreaded pitching appointments with editors and agents.

When you walk through those halls, you can almost feel the weight of all the ambitions and hopes, from the multi-published author struggling with doubt to the aspiring novelist who clings to a dream that seems impossible to the writer who’s facing rejection or anxiety or comparison.

And it reminded me of the tower of Babel and a hip-hop musical about the life of Alexander Hamilton.

Hamilton3

If the second half of that sentence sounds strange, then you’ve probably never heard of Broadway megahit Hamilton. I can’t universally endorse it if you’re bothered by strong language, but the story is compelling, the word play is ridiculously clever, and Washington’s cabinet meetings are rap battles.

Thematic Cliff Notes (no spoilers): Hamilton struggles throughout with a desperate need to leave a legacy, one that drives him to work harder than his peers…and neglect his family and make some incredibly stupid choices. “I am not throwing away my shot” and “Just you wait” are his constant, almost desperate-sounding refrains. He’s determined to make a name for himself, whatever the cost.

In contrast, I give you George Washington: “Let me tell you what I wish I’d known when I was young and dreamed of glory. You have no control: who lives, who dies, who tells your story.”

Hamilton1

Hamilton2

I’m seriously considering making business cards with these two quotes on them.

Of the two characters, guess who has the best perspective on this one? (more…)

How To Be Outraged at the Right Things

Confession: I saw exactly none of the Olympics, since we use our TV entirely for Netflix and watching movies.

Like those people who try to summarize plots of books without having read them, what I know of the Olympics is basically: Michael Phelps made a funny face, trampoline is an actual event, the U.S. women’s gymnastics team was awesome, and people are racist, sexist, or both because they condemned Gabby Douglas’s alleged bad attitude while shrugging off Ryan Lochte’s alleged vandalism and perjury.

DouglassLochte

My response to that last one was…maybe. Maybe not.

But I’m pretty sure it showed that we have a problem with our cultural expectations for others.

Think about it. The reason we are outraged by something is because it goes against what we think ought to happen.

When we are outraged and probably shouldn’t be, it’s often because we take something true (“Parents should watch their children carefully. Animals shouldn’t be treated with cruelty.”) and use those truths to completely overreact to a situation we think shouldn’t have happened (“The evil zookeepers who shot the poor, defenseless gorilla and the incompetent mother who let her kid wander into the cage are criminals and horrible people.”).

When we should be outraged about something and aren’t (say, abortion, or another politician is caught lying) it’s usually because it doesn’t affect us personally or we expect it to happen and go on happening. (more…)

Should Christians Play Pokémon Go?

Confession: I feel extravagant when I buy a box of brand-name Cheez-Its.

Blame it on genetics. I come from a long line of thrifty (not cheap) ancestors. This means that when I’m thinking about making a purchase, I have a hard time spending money unless I absolutely need it. (“New shoes? These are fine. I can color over the scuff marks with a Sharpie and make them last another year.”)

Which is why I had a hard time deciding to buy this awesome-but-overpriced-and-completely-impractical pin that references my favorite Pixar character.

GrapeSoda

I eventually did because my twin sister Erika, also a recipient of these thrifty genes, said something interesting: “I figure, if something brings me tiny bits of joy and happiness whenever I see it, it was worth the cost even if it serves no practical purpose whatsoever.”

For context: we are not talking about anything extravagant here, people, nor anything super-spiritual. When she made this statement, my sister was referring to her Batman-themed dress and Darth Vader antennae topper. (I am not joking.)

So what does that have to do with Pokémon Go? (more…)

Love the Hard People

I recently watched Edward Scissorhands for the first time and was shocked to find out that it is not actually a slice-and-dice horror flick where everyone dies, painfully mutilated, at the end.

So, basically, it exceeded my expectations.

WARNING: Spoilers ahead. (And not the fate of the butterfly. I'm really not sure what happened to it.)

WARNING: Spoilers ahead. (And not the fate of the butterfly. I’m really not sure what happened to the butterfly.)

The actual plot of the movie is more like this: an ultra-nice suburban housewife name Peg discovers an abandoned young man­…who was created by an eccentric inventor with scissors for hands. Understandably frightened, she backs away, saying, “I’ll just be going now…”

And Edward (the most adorable knife-adorned teenager you’ll ever meet) says, “Don’t go.”

And she doesn’t—for a while. The whole community “welcomes” Edward, according to the IMDB plot summary, which is true only if your idea of a rousing welcome involves gushing over a person’s freakishness, using him for your personal gain, trying to fix him, and loving him only as long as it’s convenient. (Spoiler: it gets inconvenient really quickly—Peg ends up deciding it’s best for Edward to return to his home in the abandoned mansion.) (more…)