Tag Archives: Video Games

The Moment Of “I Love You”

I’ve tried to write this several times over and haven’t been able to. Partly, I haven’t known where exactly to begin, partly I haven’t known what to include, partly, I find this kind of thing a bit cliche, and partly, it’s a bit of a novel. All that being said, I’ve decided to start with a preface. As I said, More often than not, I find a lot of “coming to faith” stories at least somewhat annoying. A lot of them have the same, or at least a similar notion that the writer was so terrible before, and drastically better, morally speaking, immediately after their conversion. I also find it problematic when a person shares their story and neglects basic rules of writing style, spelling, and grammar. While it may be more important on some level to simply get the story out, the neglect lessens its credibility. More could be said, but I think those are issues for another post. Now I will share my story.

I grew up Catholic, largely because of a promise my mom made. When I was a year old I was diagnosed with a kind of Muscular Dystrophy (MD) that would kill me by the age of five if I was lucky. I don’t really know the time frame for all this, but when my parents got the news, my mom started praying like a maniac. I had tests done, and the news continued to be bad. I need to pause for a moment to explain a Catholic peculiarity here. A common misconception is that Catholics worship the Virgin Mary. The truth is that she has a very high place of honor, being that she is Jesus’ mother, and we recognize that her prayers are helpful and influential. Now to get back to my story, the news was bad, and eventually my mom gave up. Rather, she stopped praying to God, and asked Mary to pray for her because if anyone in the world knew what it was like to lose a child, it would be her.

Circumstances continued like this for about six months, if I remember correctly until one day my dad called my mom. He had taken me to an appointment and inexplicably, things had drastically changed. What had seemed like a ritual reiteration of a death sentence for six months had suddenly turned to a promise of life. Somehow the test results had drastically changed. I had a kind of MD, the effects of which were not entirely certain, but I would grow up, go to school, and do “normal kid stuff.” I did mention that my mom made a promise. When she asked Mary to pray for me, she promised that she would raise me as a “good Catholic girl,” so CCD was included in the “normal kid stuff” I ended up doing.

The truth is I have always been a believer in the sense that I want things to be true; I’m a bit gullible; my natural impulse is to trust people. As a child I believed in God, but when I was very young I knew him only vaguely as the Creator of the universe, and even then, not necessarily one who had a conscious mind or paid any attention to us. Eventually that changed. I came to believe that he paid attention to us, but mostly like someone watching an ant farm. As an older child, particularly in my middle school years, I just lost interest in God. I got busy doing more “normal kid stuff,” as does everyone.

In particular, my friends and I became very busy defending Mythic Island, an invented universe that was under siege from the wolf demon Agorauth. One of my friends and I created a comic for the school newspaper. I wrote the story and she drew the pictures. Every Friday night we would all congregate at my house, eat terrible pizza and play Star Wars Battlefront. Of course, since it was middle school, it wasn’t all fun. We can only assume that our group was comprised of the most unpopular kids in school. We all got picked on in one way or another.

High school changed things drastically and quickly. The summer before our Freshman year, we ended our Mythic Island adventure. That same year, one of my closest friends got incredibly busy with sports, so much so that we could hardly hang out. He also got a girlfriend, and I realized that boys could be more than just friends. Towards the end of that year I got a guitar who I named Francisco. You can probably imagine why.

At that time, I was still in CCD, and for a reason that was inexplicable at the time, I was hating it less and less. Most of my friends’ parents had allowed them to drop out years earlier, but my mom was not going to break her promise. CCD classes in ninth and tenth grade were structured towards getting students ready to receive the sacrament of Confirmation, should they choose to receive it. A “Yes” signifies that a person is an adult and active member in the Church. The odd thing was, though I was becoming more receptive to what we were learning, there was little emotion in it. It was just another class.

Another friend of mine was enrolled in the program after his parents divorced in the middle of our Freshman year because his dad thought it would be helpful for him. He hated every second of it. He had changed after the divorce. It had made him a completely different person. He was dispondent and reclusive. He stopped doing homework; wouldn’t hand in projects; intentionally failed tests. He was also rather disrespectful to our teacher in CCD, which I did not appreciate. I only mention these details about my friend because in part, I think it made me want to make up for it, so I participated more in class and I really listened. I wasn’t passive during that time.

We completed the Confirmation class at the end of our Sophomore year. It concludes with an all-day retreat at which we had discussions, weird spiritual activities which I didn’t exactly understand, and a mass, if I remember correctly. There was also a lot of free time, and my friend and I spent that time silently playing cards. At the end of the day we were given a letter written by our parents. I don’t remember much of what mine said. I do remember them saying they were proud of me, and that from this point on, my spirituality was my business. Finally, we were asked, “Will you be confirmed?” I said I would.

At the beginning of my Junior year I went through the actual ceremony, and I did keep going to church, but had I been asked at the time, I would not have been able to tell why. For the next two years I can, I think, accurately say that I was a Catholic in practice, but an agnostic in belief. I still didn’t really know who God was. I knew what he did, but that was it. During that time, I had begun to feel an increasing sense of loneliness. One of my friends had already had a girlfriend and a break-up. My other friend had been in a relationship for three years. I had never dated. However, this loneliness was more complex than the desire for a partner. I constantly needed to be around people. If I couldn’t find someone to be with on Friday nights, I would sit alone and cry. I felt unneeded, and I hated it.

Inevitably, we all graduated, and my friends went away to college. Because I need help with a few basic things, I commuted to school and lived at home. It so happened that I applied to two schools, and was only accepted to one, so that’s where I went. I had hated the school search. The whole thing felt wrong to me, but something about Gordon was different. Their campus was really nice. The people there were really nice. They had a creative writing program, which sounded really nice. I somehow felt at home there. Gordon is a Christian school, and I think normally I would have had reservations about that, but unlike every school I looked at, it just felt “right.”

Starting classes at Gordon was like stepping into a whole new universe. We started classes by praying. We were required to attend chapel three times a week, and I enjoyed it. People freely talked about having a relationship with Jesus. This was all great, except that it made me more lonely. The one thing I hung on to was that my classmates and teachers and chapel speakers had taught me to pray in a way my church hadn’t. Don’t get me wrong, now that I’ve been Christian for five years, I appreciate and use the more formal Catholic prayers quite a lot, but first I had to learn how to talk. It was shortly after we had begun classes in mid August that I had begun praying that God would help me find someone to love me. I prayed this almost every night before going to sleep with increasing desperation.

I don’t remember the exact date, but I can conclusively say I truly became Christian one night in October, 2011. I was lying in bed, and I was crying. I was praying from the darkest, lowest, smallest, loneliest part of my being. I don’t know what would have happened had it passed like any other night, but for some reason I said, “I love you,” and I felt an overwhelming sensation of comfort and peace and warmth, and I felt like I wasn’t alone in the best possible way. It was spontaneous, and my only explanation is that he was saying, “I’m not going to find someone for you. I love you.” A lot has happened since then. I almost left the Catholic Church, but have since fully embraced it for a number of reasons, which I won’t explain here. I’ve never dated and have become perfectly content being single. What was sparked at the moment of that “I love you” has turned into a real relationship. I have a writing career, and am studying theology independently. I don’t necessarily know where it will go, but I trust God.

Because in my world guinea pigs can fly

Our Cockamamie Quest

Yesterday I worked for several hours on the first leg of a journey my friends will soon embark on. I’m going to be the DM for my friends while my brother’s at school. I think I have some fun ideas to work with. It’s actually kind of terrifying being in charge of a little universe, and working on this kind of story is very different than working on my novel. I can only plan for so much because they might do something I didn’t see coming at all. I’m starting them off with a fairly obvious premise, but they do have to figure a lot of stuff out.

I’ve been having kind of a hilarious email exchange with my cousin. It started several weeks ago and our initial question was whether or not Jesus likes little kids. It was just a silly, hypothetical debate, but it’s since moved into some actually serious questions. It’s awesome because my cousin lives in Canada, and since texting country-to-country is expensive, we don’t talk much except for at camp and at Christmas. The whole thing is funny because we’ve been simultaneously having a Star Wars debate about whether or not the Dark Side of the Force is inherently evil. My position is that it is not.

I also started playing Skyrim yesterday. Anything involving dragons is automatically epic in my book. I’ve thought dragons were awesome since I was five. I’ve also started reading the Wheel of Time series, which is a humongous monster, but a huge story is no longer intimidating to me. I read the Bible cover to cover. It took me ten months, but if I can stick to that, I can most certainly stick to a long fantasy series.

I’ve also been more seriously working on my book again. It would be simply unfair of me not to dedicate this thing to God because my strategy for dealing with writer’s block or simply for coming up with ideas has been to say, “God, I’ll type, you write.” Quite frankly, he’s written a lot of my book, whether literally or not.

The point of all this is that I am completely immersed in stories lately and I love it. The other night, my friend and I watched the first eight episodes of Stranger Things, which was so great because the main characters are a group of four middle school boys who play Dungeons and Dragons and get wrapped up in a very real extra-dimensional, good-versus-evil battle. It reminded us so much of when we were kids. When other kids were doing whatever it is normal kids do on Friday nights, we would ditch the “real world” and head for Mythic Island where we plotted and fought against the wolf demon Agorauth.

It’s funny. When I was a kid I wanted nothing to do with the “real world.” I made up stories and tried so hard to escape into those stories. I guess I like stories so much because I can predict what’s going to happen a lot of the time. The real world is much more unpredictable. I love stories for what they are. I love stories about different realities where dragons are real, but I love them as stories in the real world. They make the real world better.

For a long time I didn’t like my own story because I didn’t understand my own story. Maybe it’s cliche to call a life a story, but that’s how I think of it. I like my own story. It’s unpredictable, and the world it takes place in is scary, but the worlds of all the best stories are scary. Some of the best stories take place after the end of the world, or some catastrophic meltdown. Realistically, most of the stories I like–most of those worlds–are a lot scarier than this one. This one’s just the scariest to us because we’re living in it. What also tends to be true of my favorite kinds of stories is that humans (or other humanoid creatures, elves, etc) are more powerful than they are in the “real world.” Characters are a lot more capable of taking care of themselves.

In this world God says “surrender.” It’s the most counter-intuitive thing a person could do. Our instinct is to armor up, grab a sword and fight against whatever evil confronts us. We want to fight because we think it’s our job. We think we’re the main character. In Mythic Island, my friends and I were the main characters. In this world we’re only seeing our little pocket of reality in a finite blip of time and space. At the same time, we’re not insignificant. In church on Saturday we sang a song, the chorus of which was: “Long have I waited for you coming home to me and living deeply our new life.” We’re not the main characters in the epic story that is reality, but we all have an important part to play. We matter and what we do matters to the story. God made us because he loves us.

God says “surrender.” We have to surrender to something. We may not be the main characters in The Story, but we’re the main characters of each of our own individual stories that are significant to The Story. Ultimately, everyone has a destination and their own mission to complete. I like thinking of it that way.

Surrender means listening. Surrender means trusting. Surrender means embarking on the cockamamie quest that is your life. In the best stories; the ones that matter; the one’s that really influence you, the characters are asked to do seemingly ridiculous, impossible things, but these things are asked of them by someone they respect and maybe even love, and they wouldn’t be asked if it wasn’t of utmost importance. You’ll also notice that they aren’t told all the details at the start. They are presented with a problem, they are told what to do, and the details become clear as they move along. This is true in the Gospels. It’s true in real life. Jesus says “Follow me.” His first followers didn’t ask why. They didn’t ask where they were going. They didn’t ask what they were supposed to do. They trusted him. If you’ve ever played Dungeons and Dragons or a game like Skyrim, your character is presented with the same kind of scenario. You’re given something to start with, and as you move along, things become clear. Our first “quest” as Jesus’ followers is to learn to surrender; learn to trust.

Because in my world guinea pigs can fly!

What Christianity Is Not

To figure out what Christianity looks like, I think we have to figure out what it doesn’t look like. What actually makes someone a Christian? What are the duties of a Christian? What does it mean to practice what we preach? Why does it sometimes seem like the church is dead or ineffective? As I said, I think the best way to answer these questions is to first figure out what Christianity is not.

Nowhere in the Bible does it say that Christians have to prove that God exists, yet the Church spends ludicrous amounts of time, effort, and sometimes money to do just this. The fact of the matter is, it’s not our job. It is our job to tell people the “Good News.” However, I think even Christians themselves have lost their sense of what this actually is. Salvation is not about where you end up when you die. It’s about knowing that you are a sinful person, and that you are forgiven, you are loved, and you will never be alone.

Being Christian does not give you license to judge anyone. Look at the U.S. in particular, however, and you will find that some of the most judgmental people call themselves Christians. In fact, many will judge other Christians very cruelly because they belong to the wrong denomination. The Church is supposed to be the unified body of Christ, not a house divided against itself. Every denomination has something about it that is imperfect. We can not adequately emulate Christ if we are fighting among ourselves or even being downright cruel to people who adhere to different ideologies than us.

Christianity is not at war with philosophy or science. It can and should inform our understanding of both, and both can give us a more concrete understanding of how God works in the world. God wants to be known, and the fact that the world and the universe can be studied and understood by the human mind is a testament to this. He can never be known completely in this life, but he gives us clues through philosophy and science as to what he is like. For example, Jesus says that he is the light of the world. Genesis says that the universe was created when God said, “let there be light.” I once read that at the moment of the big bang, there was most likely a tremendous flash of light. I also recently read that scientists discovered a zinc spark–a kind of flash–that occurs at the moment of conception. Every human mind is unique. It’s like it’s own little universe. Chew on that for a bit.

In a similar vein, Christianity should not be afraid of art. I am unashamedly very Catholic. I am also a science fiction writer, I hang out mostly with atheists and agnostics, I watch movies and play games in which religion is out of the question, or other gods exist and have real power. Art never, under any circumstances, brings God’s  truth or omnipotence into question. Some genres portray sinful behavior as normal or even good. It’s up to the individual to decide whether these portrayals are personally problematic on a spiritual or emotional level. If they are not, then there’s no reason why the story as a whole should not be appreciated and enjoyed. Art should be primarily judged for its artistic quality.

Lastly, Christianity is meant to be personal, but it is also meant to be active. The reason why the Church often seems boring, outdated or “dead” is because many have completely internalized and abstracted the faith. It is true that Christianity encompasses a philosophy or a set of “rules” by which an individual should live. However, Jesus said that the most important thing is to love God and to love our neighbors. Love is communal and concrete. At the very least, two people must be actively involved. Love obviously can take many forms, whether it’s a work of charity, the act of forgiving someone, or a selfless personal relationship with another. Love involves giving of one’s self, but it is often misconstrued as something like an abstract, impersonal respect, particularly when it comes to acquaintances or strangers. Put simply, people just don’t pay enough attention to each other. Christianity demands that we start paying more attention.

People have lost faith. There are plenty of reasons for this, but I think the simplest is that we are no longer willing to believe the unbelievable. Why don’t we see miracles happening anymore? It’s because we doubt their validity. We see them as “magic,” and magic is directly opposed to what we know and are capable of through science. We have more faith in doctors and engineers than we do in God. I am absolutely guilty of this, so while I’m pointing the finger, I’m pointing at myself, as well.

Further, society has lost its sense of what sin is. Sin is a refusal to do what is right, and what is asked of us by God. By extension, it is separation from God. God is the ultimate good, and the true manifestation of love. Therefore, separation from God is separation from love. Sin isn’t always as concrete as people might think. It’s complicated. Jesus says in the Sermon on the Mount, “Be perfect….” Obviously no one is nor can we be perfect, but it is something we must strive for. Union with God brings peace and joy. I’ve realized that something I have to overcome is impatience. Sin does not only refer to specific actions. It encompasses sentiments and ideas as well. What I want to emphasize is that being sinful does not make someone a bad person. It just means that one is imperfect and therefore, apart from God.

So what does Christianity look like in an actual, practical sense? We are given specific duties. I think these duties can be summed up in three commands.

1: Love God. Worship him and honor him, and pay homage to his kindness and greatness.

2: Tell people about God and about salvation.

3: Be kind. In other words, be self-giving.

It sounds straightforward, but actually, the way in which we do these things involves some creativity. This makes the task more personal, but can also make it more difficult. Furthermore, they are all intertwined. In doing one, we tend to accidentally, or intentionally do one of the others to some degree. Truthfully, we can’t love God without loving other people because God has infinite love for all people. Therefore, worshiping God involves spending time with people and being kind. Then there is communal and informal worship. Communal worship is what we do in church. Informal worship is more personal. Prayer is a kind of worship, and again, this is somewhat structured, but is still more personalized. Completely personal worship is when we do our work or create something in order to honor God. Loving other people and loving God requires that we tell about salvation because we should want people to know about the greatest love there is.

This is often difficult because people have been force-fed the wrong message and mistreated by those who claim to be followers of Jesus. The message that we ought to be spreading is actually rather simple. All we really need to tell people is, “What you believe is between you and God, but I want you to know that the God of the universe loves you, and you can know him and he will always be with you because Jesus paid for all the evil in the world and he is alive now. Everything will be made right.” The point is there is nothing negative in that statement. We can’t start with sin. Starting by telling a person that they are sinful does not work in a relativistic society. People have lost their concept of objective morality. We have to start with love and move towards a concept of sin, emphasizing all the way that we must strive for the good, but that we are safe.

Because in my world guinea pigs can fly!

The Intensity Of Head-Space

Today is Star Wars Day, so of course I have to write about it. There’s so much I could write about. Realistically, it’s an absolutely amazing story. It has so much longevity, and as far as I know, it’s the closest we’ve got to a parallel universe. What I mean by that is, for one thing, it exists in several genres. Regardless of the quality, one can read, watch, and play Star Wars. This has been true since the very beginning. The universe exploded with A New Hope, and it’s still expanding. What is also significant is that is the amount of contributions from fans. The people who love this story shape what happens in its future and in the parts of the galaxy we wouldn’t otherwise see.

The latest RPG I’ve been a part of is a Star Wars rendition of Dark Heresy. We decided to go this route because we understood and cared about that universe. The time period our game takes place in is the height of the Empire (between Revenge of the Sith, and A New Hope), far away from where the “main story” is taking place. Before this, I had been part of two Dungeons and Dragons campaigns. I hastily threw together my characters, not thinking too much about who they really were, what they cared about, or where they came from. This time I took time.

My character’s name is Sky Turin. Before becoming a Jedi padawan she lived with her father on the lowest level of a planet similar to Coruscant, though this was not where she was originally from. Her parents were from the Sky, which was the wealthiest part of the planet. Think of Cloud City. The Surface, where she lived for most of her early life was the poorest. Her parents were what would probably be the Star Wars version of missionaries, working to empower the poorest people on the planet. When Sky was nineteen she rescued a Jedi, not much older than herself, who crash-landed in her neighborhood while in pursuit of a Dark Jedi. Dark Jedi, if you don’t know, were force-users who were not directly allied with the Jedi or the Sith. They generally minded their own business, but the few Jedi who remained after the Empire took most of them out pursued them, either to bring them over to their side or detain them if they could.

While Sky was helping Val escape, Val discovered that Sky could use the Force, though she didn’t know what she was doing at the time. Sky went with Val to the remaining Jedi–none of them officially masters–and was permitted to learn the Force and become a Jedi herself, as the Jedi were desperate for recruits. After some preliminary training with a light saber, Sky and Val went to a planet similar to Earth to investigate a possible meeting of Dark Jedi in a mountainous area, similar to the Rocky Mountains. While they were there they were ambushed and captured. Their captivity didn’t last long, however, because Val was extremely powerful with the Force. They were able to escape, but had to leave in separate ships. When Sky returned to the Jedi council, she discovered that Val had not returned. The council would not permit her to look for Val, so she left and began searching against their will. This is where I entered our campaign. While I don’t know the specifics of where the story is going, I do know that Sky is assertive, hates the Dark Jedi, hates the Empire, and mistrusts the Jedi themselves. She has been taught that the Dark Side is evil, and will lead to her own destruction, but she’s so obsessed with finding Val that she will most likely not always stick to the Code entirely. She’s also impulsive and will probably make some stupid decisions.

I considered writing Sky’s story in full detail. In fact, I tried, but she’s too distant from me, for lack of a better way to say it. Ironically, I think I have trouble creating a story in an already existent universe. My novel takes place in a future version of the U.S., but almost everything about that world is my own. It feels awkward to me to write about a universe that someone else made, even if I’m inventing most of the details of a story that is otherwise original. It feels weird to talk about the Force and the Empire and the Jedi as if they were my own. It feels invasive in a way, like I’m invading someone else’s creative space. At the same time, the Star Wars universe has always seemed very inviting when it comes to original ideas. I think what this ultimately comes back to is that I’m much better at coming up with characters than I am at coming up with plot. I’m great at writing their past, but when it comes to writing their present, I often get stuck.

I’ve written two hundred pages of my novel thus far, and I’m about fifty pages into Part 2. Part 1 was a lot easier to write. So far I’ve had to write two battle scenes. I think they were both okay, but they both need work. I have trouble with timing and intensity. Right now I’m working on a captivity situation. I have to deal with the head-space of a character who has just been captured and is about to be interrogated by an evil government. This kind of scene is slower, but I think, just as intense, and I’m much better at writing this kind of thing. I think Star Wars is a very action-oriented story, and maybe this is why I have trouble writing in that universe.

One of the greatest stories I’ve ever read is Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky. Most of that story takes place in dialogue and internal thoughts, which one might assume would be boring, but it’s anything but. Solitude, in particular, can make for some seriously intense character and plot development. Head-space, while mostly metaphorical, is still space, and in that space, anything can happen. In that space, a character can go insane or overcome impossible odds. A person’s psychology makes them who they are, and plot can’t exist without characters. A world without people in it doesn’t matter.

I’ve seen some great and some terrible post-apocalyptic movies. I’ve noticed two things regarding these, and regarding my story. First, the movies that are good have more people in them. It’s hard for a story to maintain its momentum when no one is around to keep things going. Second, what I’ve noticed, and sometimes want to smack myself for, is that I keep creating more characters. My story takes place over a very large area–basically the entire United States. I’ve noticed that the space in which a story takes place tends to correspond with the number of characters that are needed to keep the story going. Sometimes great movies or great stories take place in one house, or even one room. Sometimes there are only two or three characters involved, and these stories can be great. Some of the most intense scenes in my story are conversations or even internal monologues.

Interestingly, in the case of Star Wars, we really don’t get to see too much of the characters’ head-space, at least not directly. Their personalities come out in how they react and adapt to various situations. This is clearly effective because we know and love characters like R2D2 and Chewbacca, who never even speak a word of English. However, I think to get to know characters in this way, there needs to be constant action. There isn’t a lot of time, or even good reason to slow down. Finding a happy medium is definitely difficult. I think the few exceptions are the exchanges between Luke and Vader in Return of the Jedi, but even these are short and almost invariably turn into light saber fights. The thing about dialogue is that it has to be executed well. There are far more longer exchanges in The Phantom Menace-Revenge of the Sith, but they’re often not well written. They’re either boring or cheesey. If there had been less talk and more action, I think they would have been better movies.

Because in my world guinea pigs can fly!

Wicked Cool!

In a recent post I said that I have decided to officially dedicate myself to Jesus. I’m happy to say that that’s still the plan. I’ve been learning a lot lately. Apparently, there are several different ways in which I can do this. It’s a little intimidating because there are apparently a bazillion different orders of nuns and Sisters who all do different stuff and follow different philosophies and what have you. I also learned, as of last night, that there’s a thing called a “consecrated lay person.” Basically, as far as I can tell, there are three different categories of religious life, and my first step is to figure out where I fit best. At the moment, I like things about all of them.

The first is that of cloistered nuns. These are generally ladies who live together away from secular society and dedicate their lives almost entirely to prayer. They live extremely simply, which allows them to not be distracted by outside influences.

The second is another group of Sisters who generally live together, but are much more a part of society, doing work to help people, etc.

The third group are “consecrated lay people,” which are people (dudes and ladies) who have chosen to forgo marriage and family life in order to serve Jesus as best they can. Like nuns or Sisters, they take official vows in the church, but don’t necessarily live together and tend to have “regular” jobs.

I like the idea of removing myself from the distractions of the world and focusing entirely on God, but I desperately want to help people in any way I can. I don’t think I’m very good at praying. The fact of the matter is, I probably need to “practice” more. I’m also realizing that I want to serve God, and I want to be free. I want structure, and I want to be able to randomly change and randomly do things. I know serving God doesn’t mean I’m not free. I just don’t presently know what the solution is or what the best fit is for me. Maybe, once again, I’ll end up doing something I never saw coming.  I am leaning towards one particular thing, but I’m not going to say what it is yet here. I have to see if it’s right first.

Last night I watched an awesome video by Father Mike Schmitz. At least for me, that guy is a rock star. It was actually the first time I’d ever even heard of him, but I ended up watching several hours worth of his stuff.. actually I listened whilst playing Minecraft. He’s funny and brilliant. But anyway… the point he was talking about was that love is physical, and love is a gift. When you love someone, you want to give them all of you. This can mean a lot of different things, in different relationships. He asked the question: what does that mean when we’re talking about a relationship with God? Obviously an infinite, omnipotent God doesn’t have a body–at least not now.

Two thousand years ago, he did. Jesus came to Earth as a finite person. He was both fully God and fully human, and he had every single person ever in mind. That’s why he gave us the Eucharist. In the Eucharist Jesus is giving us all of him. When we literally eat the body of Christ, we become one with him. It’s literally Jesus. I “believed” this, but I didn’t understand what it meant until I started thinking about being a religious person. He literally gives his entire self to me. I want to give my entire self to him. I have to.

Because in my world guinea pigs can fly!

I Put It Behind Me

Every night my dad and I have the same routine. He comes home, we eat dinner together with my mom and brother and birdie-brother, watch the news until I can’t stand politics any more, and then we go downstairs to race and watch a movie or two before bed. My dad and I watch a lot of movies.

Every night we play Crash Team Racing, which came out some time in the 1990’s on the Play Station 1. We always play a best-of-five tournament, and we always use the same five tracks. We also always turn the game sound off and listen to music while we play. Last night my dad put on an artist that I didn’t recognize. I didn’t pay all that much attention to it, partially because I didn’t particularly love it.

I couldn’t sleep again last night, so like usual, I read. I was reading through 1 Corinthians, and at one point, Paul emphasizes over and over that God raised Jesus from the dead and he will do the same for us. Obviously it’s important to believe that. In my last post I talked about how I realized the fullness of what that means. He’s alive today. He’s with us in everything we do. I was reading this stuff at around 4:00 this morning, and I was awake, but sleepy. At some point I read (paraphrased) “he will raise us from the dead,” and though it wasn’t even an entirely formulated thought, I had a moment of doubt. What if he doesn’t?

It only lasted for a second, or maybe even half a second, and I immediately felt bad. I was annoyed with myself for thinking it and I decided right away that I would go to confession on Thursday. I can honestly say that my faith has been really solid and I haven’t had even a speck of doubt for a long time, so of course, my initial instinct was to sulk. Then I realized that a better response would simply be to put it behind me.

I do believe that Jesus is alive. I do believe that God raised him from the dead. I do believe that there’s a life after this one. Most importantly, I believe that my sins have been forgiven. It was an accident. Sulking about it would not be productive. More to the point, sulking makes me focus on me and how I failed and now that makes me feel. It makes me ignore God at a time when I need him most, and it makes me feel alone. So instead I prayed. I just said over and over, “I believe in you. I trust you. I’m putting this behind me. We’re good.” I made a point just to talk to God before I fell asleep, and it took me a while, but I felt a lot better.

While all this was going on I had a line from a song stuck in my head, and I realized it was from the artist we were listening to while I was playing with my dad. The line was “If I ever lost my faith in you/ there’d be nothing left for me to lose.” I don’t know any of the other lyrics, and I’m pretty sure it was about a girl or something, but that’s not the point. God was using those two lines to help me out because it’s absolutely true. Nothing else would matter. I’d be adrift with no destination. It’s not a matter of where I would end up, but who I would be with, and I’d be alone. I need Jesus more now than when I first met him.

Maybe that sounds counter intuitive. I think as you become more interested and involved in spiritual matters you realize just how big the universe is, and just how small you are. It’s so important to trust God. He loves everyone perfectly, and he desperately wants us to love him back. We can’t do that unless we trust him. I’ve come to realize that trust, even by itself, is almost even more important than direct love when it comes to relationships with anyone. If you don’t trust someone completely, you can’t love them.

I’m slowly but surely moving towards the next milestone, whatever that may be. I’m putting that moment of doubt behind me because Jesus put it behind me. It doesn’t matter because that moment of doubt isn’t who I am. I don’t belong to that doubt. I don’t live in that doubt. Jesus is alive, and I’m alive; I have faith because of him.

Because in my world guinea pigs can fly!

Insomnia Induced Idea

I went to bed uncharacteristically early last night because my epilepsy wasn’t behaving, which of course meant I woke up at some unreasonable hour. I wanted to get up and read, but that would have been a pain for my parents, so I decided to invent a story instead. Somehow that got me thinking about the story line I’ve been following in Oblivion, which turned out to be entirely unhelpful since I’m presently stuck in that game (I’ve been playing Minecraft instead).

Eventually, because my mind is a tangential lunatic, and because insomnia is particularly conducive to intellectual meandering, I got to thinking about Christmas. Christmas is about celebrating how God came among us as a human, and I realized something interesting. The Gospel is not the only story in which a god becomes human, but it is unique in that, as far as I know, it’s the only story in which a god becoming human has a good outcome for humanity in general. It is also the only story in which, again, as far as I know, a god comes among humans as someone vulnerable and helpless. Lastly, it is the only story in which his humanity is permanent, and has a permanent outcome.

We hear all the time how amazing it is that God came among us in human form, but compare it to other stories. Last fall I took a class about ancient literature–namely Greek and Roman mythology. It was a ton of fun because those stories are absolutely insane. I love the insanity, and I realized that a lot of what those gods did made no sense, but a lot the things the Christian God does don’t seem to make a ton of sense either (to me at least). The difference is that God does everything out of love, while in most other stories involving deities, the gods are largely self-serving. Furthermore, those stories are episodic, and while some of the stories in the Bible are episodic, it is professed that God has an overarching plan for humanity.

This is what happens when you study literature and theology together.

Because in my world guinea pigs can fly

New And Old Favorites

I came across a video game review I did several years ago on here while looking through old posts, just being nostalgic. I gave a list of my all-time favorite games at the tame and explained why, so I figured it would be fun to do one now.

The list back then:

Jack and Daxter
Spyro (original trilogy)
Spyro (new trilogy)
Crash Team Racing
Crash Warped
Crash Bash
Journey

I came up with this list at the time because I was feeling nostalgic, but some of the games on this list are still favorites.

The list now:

Spyr0 (first game)
Crash Team Racing
Journey
Minecraft
Oblivion

I like the first Spyro game because it’s incredibly simple and easy and you can beat the whole thing in a few hours–well, until you get to Tree Tops. I forget how to beat that level every time I play it. I eliminated the two sequels from my list because they add in gimmicky complications that I personally think make the whole process a little less fun. Most of the game is pretty mindless, and sometimes I just enjoy a mindless game. All you have to do, really, is wander around, collect treasure, and occasionally fight bosses that are really pretty easy to kill.

I like Crash Team Racing because my dad and i get really competitive about it. It’s just something we do together. He comes home from work, we watch the news for a little while, and then we play Crash. As with Spyro, it’s incredibly simple and relatively mindless, so we usually talk about stuff or trash talk unnecessarily while we play. It’s basically like Mario Kart, only easier, and requires less effort.

Journey is probably even more simple than the two games I just talked about. The purpose of the game is to get to the shiny mountain. You just wander through several levels until some spirits who are showing you visions throughout the game help you to fly through the last level to get to the top. You would almost think a game like this would be boring, but it’s actually beautiful. It’s visually stunning, and the soundtrack is amazing. In fact, I sometimes just listen to the soundtrack while working on things because I like it so much. The nice thing about this game, too is that it only takes about an hour and a half to play through the whole thing. Furthermore, there are little things you can do within the game that can add to it, but are not necessary. If you want to, you can search for images that help tell a story (based on your interpretation), and shiny symbols that make your scarf longer, which in turn allows you to fly higher and longer. Again, though, you don’t have to do these things. If you just want to book it to the shiny mountain, you can.

Minecraft has been around for a while now, and while I don’t play it nearly as much as I used to, I still consider it one of my favorite games. Sometimes I just like to listen to music or podcasts while building my kingdom. What I like about Minecraft is that it’s fun by yourself or with playmates. I like working on projects with my brother and cousin, but I also like to just do my own thing. It’s also fun that there are different game modes. I tend to find survival mode more fun while playing with others because it adds a little complication that makes cooperation necessary, while I find creative mode more fun by myself because it allows me to build stuff more quickly without having to worry about starving to death.

I only recently started playing Oblivion. It’s definitely the most complicated game on my list, but in some ways I find that refreshing. Playing oblivion is really like entering a whole new world where magic and goblins and other strange creatures are totally a thing. I like that the world is complicated. You can have a hundred things going on all at once, and in some ways, the stories intersect. You acquire quests right when you’re in the middle of something important. The nice thing about it is that you can do things at your own pace. I also like creating a story around my character, which this game not only allows, but encourages. You can join guilds and by doing so, create enemies, and what you do matters. I’ve played other role-playing games, namely MMO’s, but I’m also liking that this game is single-player because the focus is on my character. She’s actually significant, and I have to be careful about who I piss off.

Well, that’s it for now!

Because in my world guinea pigs can fly!

Why I Like Star Wars More Than Lord Of The Rings

Yes, I realize how nerdy this is. As I’ve mentioned before, I live in fantasy land. I watch fantasy movies, read fantasy stories, and play fantasy games. Yes, that includes Dungeons and Dragons. I’m also a nerd when it comes to art, and I love to over analyze everything, so when these two aspects of my nerd craziness coincide, I get excited. Lord of the Rings and Star Wars are probably my two favorite fantasy (movie) series because, let’s face it, they’re probably the best. Unless you’re incredibly boring or totally clueless, you know that Star Wars episode seven: The Force Awakens is coming out in December, and I am beyond stoked. Furthermore, I got tickets for opening night! Even my brother, who is also a major Star Wars fan thinks I’m insane, but let’s face it; I belong with the crazies.

I woke up way too early this morning after having a dream that I forgot to do my math homework, which was horrifying, and couldn’t fall back asleep because for some reason I started thinking about why I like Star Wars more than Lord of the Rings. Why I started thinking about this, I have no idea, but I thought it would be fun to write a blog post about it, and here we are. So why do I like Star Wars more? I’ve come up with a few reasons.

Something I realized this morning, which I thought was interesting is that, although the scope of Lord of the Rings is smaller than Star Wars (i.e. it takes place over a much smaller area), I think the stakes are much higher. It’s not just a question of Jedi vs Sith; Republic vs Empire; good vs evil. If the Fellowship fails, it could literally mean the end of the world. In my playwriting class we learned that higher stakes tend to make for a better or more interesting story. However, what I realized is that LOTR feels finished to me while Star Wars feels like it still has life in it. LOTR feels like an epic story of times long gone that gets passed down through tradition from generation to generation. I think this is what it should be, and I think it makes it a very successful story. It’s suspenseful, has enjoyable characters, and has a satisfying ending.

On the other hand, the Star Wars story feels like it could be going on as we speak. For one thing, there hasn’t been much extra material written outside of the core LOTR trilogy, while the original Star Wars trilogy has been followed by books, TV series, video games and prequels. It feels more like a universe that one can live in, partly because, especially when you play the games, you can. The story may have supposedly happened a long time ago, but it feels like it could still be going on, especially since the sequel is coming out. That universe is still expanding.

Cinematically, LOTR is a superior trilogy, hands down. The acting is arguably better, the script is better, and the effects are considerably better, which is an obvious benefit of those movies being made later. Here’s the thing, though, I don’t care. The Star Wars characters are more likable and more relatable, and this, among other things, is what has me hooked. Furthermore, the Star Wars characters have more understandable and more relatable motivations and problems. I think Luke’s relationship with his father is particularly interesting. You would think that he would hate him for abandoning him, turning to the Dark Side, and trying to destroy everything Luke comes to believe in, but he forgives him, and ultimately, that forgiveness leads to Vader/Anakin’s redemption. It sounds rather Christian, doesn’t it? I won’t talk about that because this isn’t meant to be a spiritual post, but I just think that it makes it an appealing story to me personally.

Here’s the thing, there are things about LOTR that are better than Star Wars, but the villains definitely are not. The villains in Star Wars are human. This makes them more scary, but it also allows the audience to empathize with them in a way. I definitely think Vader deserves some empathy, especially if we consider his story as a whole. I won’t argue with you. The prequels are bad, at least from an artistic standpoint, but I think they do add to the story. Anakin Skywalker begins his journey as a poor kid with an ordinary life. Nonetheless, he’s ambitious and optimistic and full of love. This leads him to do some not-so-nice things after joining the Jedi, and ultimately leads to his downfall, but the point is, he starts his journey as a good person, and ends it that way. There’s a scene in Return of the Jedi where he’s talking to Luke, and Luke tries to convince him to come with him. Vader says it’s too late for him to turn back, but you can tell in his voice that that isn’t true. You can see it when Luke says, “My father is truly dead.” Though you can’t see it in Vader’s face, you can see that this hurts him when he leans over the railing of the walkway they were standing on. You know, even as an outsider, that he’s not 100% evil. A part of that loving kid is still in him, and he misses his family. You don’t get that in LOTR. Both Sauron and Saruman are as impersonal as they come, and we don’t care about them.

I think it’s more fun to think about the Star Wars universe. To insert yourself into the LOTR universe is to go back in time. To insert yourself into the Star Wars universe is to entertain so many possibilities about technology, space travel, and maybe even politics. I think also that Star Wars, in some ways, is more unique. LOTR takes place in a similar universe as games like World of Warcraft or the Elder Scrolls games, or stories like the Inheritance Cycle. Medieval worlds with dragons and magic are fun. There’s no denying it, but that’s why there’s a lot of them, while I don’t know of any stories that take place in a similar universe as Star Wars… except for Star Trek, but Star Trek is dumb and stupid.

Lastly, I had an interesting realization. This has almost nothing to do with the movies themselves, and yet, I think it may have a lot to do with why I like Star Wars more. I’ve seen both series a million times, but I’ve seen LOTR a million times more. I think this has actually led me to be somewhat less interested in it, and more critical of small details that make the story more fun if you overlook them. Star Wars is still new every time I come back to it.

Because Guinea Pigs Can Fly

P.S. Apparently this is my 300th post, so that’s pretty cool!

Where To Find God

Earlier today I read a short article that one of my friends posted on Facebook about why Christians should create art. The strongest argument, I thought, was that we are created in the image of God who is the ultimate creative force in the world. We’re not meant to just sit idly. We are meant to take care of God’s creation, but we are also meant to create. Another point that was made was that good art is a reflection of the goodness in the world, and the potential for the world to come.

The author also pointed out that the art we create doesn’t have to be Christian art. Painters don’t have to paint scenes from the Gospel. Songwriters don’t have to exclusively write worship songs. Good art amazes us and can even bring us to tears, and I think there’s spiritual value in that. We can pay homage to our Creator without being obvious. Good art brings joy to our lives, helps us relax, and allows us to dream and to wonder.

If God is meant to be like a friend, if we’re meant to have a relationship with him, then it’s important to actually spend time with him. On one level, yes, that means going to church and reading the Bible and praying, but I think it can also mean just being content, enjoying some good music, or playing a good video game by yourself. It means enjoying life and appreciating what you have. I think simply being content is a way of communing with God because the complications of life and the world around us aren’t getting in the way. I think that’s why a lot of people say that they find God in nature, as opposed to in a church.

It’s not easy to be content. I know I often find myself overly critiquing my thoughts and actions and coming to the conclusion that I’ve failed. I often find myself thinking that I’m doing something wrong or that I’m missing something important or that I’m wasting too much time. I’m very critical of myself, especially when I think I’m being overly self-indulgent. Trying to be perfect is a giant hassle. All this is to say that I am often the most at ease–the most content–when I’m playing video games in my bedroom. I’m not praying, I’m not reading, I’m not thinking. I’m just enjoying myself, and honestly, I think it’s really good for me. I get the same feeling out of reading fantasy stories or watching movies. It’s not a spiritual activity, but it lets me be at peace. Some people find God at the top of mountains. I find him in epic adventures through which I escape my own mind: through which I escape the complications of this world.

Because in my world guinea pigs can fly!