A Book and a Video Game

I want to talk about a two random things that have nothing to do with one another, other than they are dear to me and I have enjoyed them.

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First, before he went to be with the Lord, Ron Baines gave me a copy of The Journal of Esther Edwards Burr, 1754-1757. He gave me two copies, “For his literary girls”, with the promise that I would give the other copy to my dear Stephanie Florentino. He then proceeded to read me a passage from it and explain that he thought I would enjoy the book because Esther sounds a bit like someone from Pride and Prejudice.

As always, Ron was right. I did enjoy the book very much. The Introduction is exactly what you would expect two modern feministic women to say about intimate letters written by two Christian women. Where they see chafing against male leadership, I saw sanctification. Where they see the trappings of a society that put women down, I see Christian women trusting the Lord.

I tend to be focused on fiction, books on doctrine, and military history. This book was my first venture into non-military biographies since I was a kid. It is a collection of the letters written by Esther to her best friend as she moves with her husband, deals with health issues, brings two children into the world, worries about her extended family, and tends to her hearth and home.

Because of her letters, I was able to live with her through fear for her parents from the Indians and French, through fear of sickness, through her struggles with trusting the life and death of her children to the Lord, and all the other things two women would correspond about.

The sense of loss which filled me when I came to the end of Esther’s letters surprised me. I had become attached to this woman. Knowing the book ended because she passed away, and not just because we lost the rest of her letters, saddened me greatly. But how different that sadness is when your reading about real people compared to fictional ones. I love Sam, Harry, Hazel and so many other characters, but they are temporary and all dust in the end. Not so with Esther. I will actually get to meet this dear saint who went to be with the Lord shortly after her husband and left her children behind. Ron is now with Esther in heaven. What a glorious hopeful thought.

I highly recommend this book. It is funny, dull, beautiful, hopeful, sad, and everything normal life is. I’m very thankful Ron gave it to me, and I will treasure it for as long as the Lord gives me.

 

Second, the game Price and I have been waiting for for a very long time finally came out this Fall: Final Fantasy XV.final_fantasy_xv_wallpaper__whit_new_prompto_by_realzeles-d9fy76x

After the huge disappointment of Metal Gear Solid V, we tried to go into this game with low expectations. That proved difficult after going to see Kingsglaive late one night like we were 20 again, and after the four anime shorts released on YouTube about the four main characters, and the free pre-game that included an adorable fox-like creature named Carbuncle. Just you try to stay calm.

In November, we got our copy and started to play. Right away this game was perfect. The story was perfect, the build-up was perfect, this game was perfect.

Before FFXV, Red Dead Redemption, Brothers, and StarCraft all proved to be moving stories that brought me to tears. Final Fantasy XV has replaced all of them except Red Dead Redemption.ffxv_key-art_tgs2014-noscale-1920x817

This story is a brotherhood story written from a man’s perspective. It is a very masculine game, which is refreshing when so many games and stories have lead females and are told from a feminine perspective. This game isn’t a romance story. There is love in it, but the focus is on the relationship between the four young men. Not their relationship with any girls. Its smart remarks, food, fishing, adventure, and battle.

This story follows four friends on a road trip. They are Noctis, the prince, his bodyguard Gladiolus, valet/cook/driver Ignis, and friend Prompto. Noctis is on his way to marry the beautiful Lunafreya, but taking his time to get there with no shortage of teasing from his three friends. While they’re having a good time on their road trip, their country is attacked. Noctis’ father, the king, is murdered, Luna is whispered to be dead, Gladio’s father is dead, and their capital city is destroyed. Darkness begins to encroach and deamons fill the land.

The rest of the game follows Noctis, now King, as he seeks to gain the favor and power of the gods so he can reclaim his kingdom. Gladio, Ignis, and Prompto follow faithfully after him, protecting him, encouraging him, and keeping him focused. Lunafreya, not dead, goes before him to prepare for each meeting with the gods.FINAL FANTASY XV EPISODE DUSCAE_20150317222557

Or, that’s what you think the rest of the game is going to be about. (SPOILERS AHEAD!)

In an epic battle, which has split the four friends up in defense of a city, Noctis is injured and Lunafreya is murdered while he watches. This sends Noctis into a tail spin of emotional gloom for weeks. Ignis lost his sight in the battle, but Noctis doesn’t seem to care. The four friends begin to fight as Gladio is torn between frustration with Noctis, who won’t shoulder his kingly responsibilities, and Ignis, who needs constant help. The game play became very interesting here, and emotionally painful. Through the first 2/3 of the game, you are literally tripping over your friends. They are always right there with one. With Noctis and Gladio fighting, and Ignis’ loss of sight, they are now always behind you. The fun joking turns into demands that you slow down and think of someone beyond yourself. As the player, you feel alone and isolated.

(At this point, I went to bed. I couldn’t handle the characters fighting. It was so painful. It made me realize that I would rather kill off a character than have friendships fall apart.)

Eventually, through several trials, Noctis becomes who he is supposed to be. Ignis demands Gladio and Noctis heal their relationship. And, Ignis learns to fight by sound instead of sight. Prompto is captured by the enemy, and they go to rescue him and find the crystal which will heal their land.

As the player, you’ve acclimated to Noctis being out front with his party behind, and are really happy everyone is friends again. Then, you have to abandon your three friends in a battle against the deamons to reach the crystal. Noctis’ only hope is that by reaching the crystal he can save his friends. Instead, Noctis disappears inside crystal he thought would rid his kingdom of darkness and deamons. Noctis is lost and his friends must carry on without him.

While inside the crystal, Noctis is told by the gods that the only way for him to save everyone is to die. He must sacrifice himself to bring light and peace.

When he returns, ten years have passed. There is no light. But, his friends are waiting. They are waiting for the King to come back. They believe and have always believed Noctis would return. (Seeing this Christian theme played out brought me to tears. They waited on their friend. They waited for the King.)

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There are many more sub-plots, side quests, unique monsters, and even a whole other villain I haven’t talked about who is behind all the evil and treachery. This is a dense game with a very ‘living world’ feel. The ending fights and scenes, with characters 10 years older than before, are very moving. Noctis willingly gives himself to save his land. The last campfire scene where he tells Gladio, Ignis, and Prompto how much he loves them hurts with its beauty.

Uniquely, Luna’s entire role is to help Noctis. She goes before him to demand the gods help him, which is her role as Oracle. She could have gone down a different path, but instead she chose to help her intended husband become the man he needed to be. How rare is it to see this feminine virtue praised and shown as honorable in any modern media?

This is an excellent game for young men to play, because it honors the relationships between men without turning them into any weird homosexual thing. It shows warriors fighting for their home, setting aside boyish things to take on responsibility, and standing together against darkness. It shows a King taking on his burden, and it shows the men around him helping him. This is a beautiful game about masculine friendship.

I loved everything about this game. I loved the story, the characters, the brotherhood, the music, the setting, the gameplay. I always enjoy any story which focuses on masculine friendship and the strength found there. FFXV did just that.

Rated PG-13: There is a bit of mild language in the game, but this rating is mostly for the handful of scantily clad women. The girl who runs the garage and one of the summon spells are far from modest. This would be the main issue for me in recommending the game for young men. It’s probably nothing worse than what you see in most movies, like Star Wars, but I still wanted to give a heads up about it.

I just couldn't resist this perfect picture. lol

I just couldn’t resist this perfect picture. lol

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Age of Ultron and Fury (My Birthday Movies) (SPOILERS)

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It’s been a long standing family tradition to go see a movie of my choice around my birthday. Thankfully there is usually something out that I’m very interested in seeing about mid-May.

This year it was Age of Ultron directed by none other than Joss Whedon who is one of my all-time favorite story tellers. I tried to keep my expectations low, but who am I kidding? This is the man who created Firefly, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel and so many more shows. This is the man I would pick to direct anything I’ve written because he always has the right mix of heart, snark, cheese, and greatness. And, he’s not afraid to kill of characters you love.

But we, me and my husband, aren’t comic book people. Neither of us grew up reading them and we aren’t real fans of the movies. There have been a few that were fun—looking at you Guardians of the Galaxy—but overall neither of us like the Ironman movies, or the Thor movies, or the Captain America movies all that much.

So, what did we think, my man and I? We loved it. We loved it. We loved it. I should, at this point in time, tell you that there are some major spoilers here, so be warned.

First, the movie was fun. It had an excellent balance between character building and action. It had just the right amount of down time and just the right amount of butt-kicking. I was impressed with the growth of each of the Avengers. Whedon didn’t leave them where they were at the end of the last Avengers movie. He took the time to grow each of them. He gave them depth. He wasn’t afraid to showcase how easy it would be for Stark to be a bad guy, how lost Captain America is at times, and how broken Bruce Banner is. He took all these different characters in stride and made sure everyone developed into something richer and deeper.

Second, there have been some raging online by the feminist about the women in this movie. (Lol. Classic case of biting the hand that feeds you. FYI Joss Whedon is generally applauded by feminist for his strong female characters.) After watching the movie, I know why. Joss’ gift with female characters is to make them strong without losing their femininity and staying to true to the female psyche. He never tries to make women men. He always has a good balance of men and women. He always lets them both be strong and weak in different ways which complement each other. I have always loved how he handles women.

This movie is no different. Black Widow is her normal amazing assassin self and yet we get to see such a gentle side of her when she’s helping the Hulk. This mighty warrior woman is beautiful because she is the Hulk’s perfect helper. She doesn’t just tramp around hating on men—though she has some really great lines about picking up after the boys. She is the only one able to calm the Hulk down and she doesn’t belittle that gift or see it as beneath her to be his helper in that way.

The second great female in the movie is (AND PLEASE DON’T READ THIS IF YOU HAVEN’T SEEN THE MOVIE) Hawkeye’s wife. This is a woman who lives out on her own with a husband gone much of the time and in danger raising two kids and expecting a third. If she’s not a strong woman, I don’t know who is. She also gives a subconscious kudos to the amazing wives of men in the military and law enforcement. What I love about her is she doesn’t tell Hawkeye to stop fighting. I hate nothing more than women who tell their men to stop fighting when there’s a war going on. She tells him that they need him and he needs to go. She is what Hawkeye is fighting for, what they’re all fighting for. She is the safe house. Do you know how much strength it takes as a women to be a safe house? Many thanks to Whedon for not forgetting the rest of the women out there who don’t get to be Black Widow, who just get to be a wife and mother. Thank you for honoring that and showing it as amazing.

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Third, the movie brought back the idea of super heroes fighting for the everyman. Many of the most recent superhero movies seem to have forgotten the idea of rescuing the little old lady’s cat out of the tree while in the middle of fighting crime. They’ve forgotten the idea of the superheroes being good guys who fight for the little guys. In most of the movies, everyday people were expendable for the sake of bigger effects. My husband said that watching Ultron was the first time he’s seen Superheroes rescue people since the original Superman movies.

Being Joss Whedon, this was done with a wonderful mirroring technic. The end battle is all about rescuing everyone. It’s about the Avengers proving they aren’t monsters by rescuing families, women, and kids even while they’re dealing with the bigger problem of Ultron’s droids. Captain America leads the charge in being unwilling to sacrifice the life of the innocent to save the world. That’s what makes super heroes awesome. They can actually do that. They can save the world and find the lost child, and keep people from falling off bridges. That’s why we love their stories.

The mirroring occurs when we see that the Twins, Quicksilver and the Scarlet Witch, are bad guys because their parents were killed in a war. No one watched out for the innocent families and so their parents died. This led them down a path which ultimately made them villains. When the Avengers come to save the world, they make sure there are no casualties that will create more villains. They make sure the people are safe.

The second way it’s mirrored is when the Hulk and Ironman duke it out. They destroy a city without caring one wit about the people who live there. Ironman sees this as collateral damage, but it eats Bruce Banner alive. He doesn’t want to kill innocent people because of his powers. He wants to help them. These mirroring elements are excellent character building and storytelling technics.

For the first time in a long time, I watched a movie that did what fantasy does best. It raises the stakes in everyday life to something world changing while not losing the everyman. Hawkeye was given a great role in being the person we could all connect to who had to fight without powers, but still fight. Every morning when our husbands go to work and when moms take care of their children and we live our lives, however that has played out, we can see ourselves as being these superheroes who willingly fight for their homes, families and way of life against a bigger and mightier foe.

Warriors don’t fight to just kill enemies, they kill enemies to save their friends and family. That’s what makes a warrior: the reason they fight. That’s what made this movie great.

There are some wonderful scenes in this movie. (Looking at you Hawkeye and Scarlet Witch) There is some wonderful storytelling in this movie, but ultimately it’s about people who are unbelievably powerful stooping to take care of the smallest and weakest of us. Yes, I am looking at this through Christian colored glasses, but doing so let’s me see the Christianity that pervades all of life, for what better echo could you have than someone mighty reaching out a hand to someone low.

Favorite Quotes: “You get hurt, hurt ‘em back. You get killed, walk it off.”


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Fury

After Age of Ultron, we rented Fury. It’s my second time to see this movie and I’m going to try to put into words how much I love this film.

I didn’t expect to like it. I was pretty sure I wouldn’t. The previews made it look like a bad historical fiction with tanks sneaking around behind enemy lines. It’s not that at all. It is good historical fiction. It is about a tank crew asked to hold the line at the end of the war to defend some cooks and doctors from a group of SS soldiers. The tank crew heads to the crossroads but encounters a tiger tank on the way reducing them from four tanks to one. This one tank must decide to hold the line or run away leaving their weaker brothers exposed to attack. They stand.

The movie is dark, gritty, gross, violent, crude and not for the weak of stomach. It doesn’t really pull any punches about being at the end of WW2 in a tank crew. It shows what sort of barbarianism is required in war. But, it also shows a sergeant doing his best to prepare a boy for war. It shows how hard it was for recruits to come in and replace soldiers who had died. It shows how eaten alive these men were by what they had to do.

The first act of the movie is so tense it’s hard to watch. You wonder if this movie has any redeeming value. What’s the point of watching a bunch of men bully each other and kill each other? What’s the point? The value is hinted at in the two times War Daddy (based on the real War Daddy and Audie Murphy—both Texans) steps away from his men to regain his self-control. He loves his men and will do anything, even very hard things, to keep them alive.

Again, warriors don’t fight to just kill enemies, they kill enemies to save their friends and family. That’s what makes a warrior: the reason they fight. That’s what made this movie great.

This movies turning point of grace is when the four men on War Daddy’s tank crew decide to stick with him and fight even though they know they can’t win and they will die. From this point on, the movie is nothing but a tear-jerker as the men spend their final moments bonding, fighting, and dying together.

I can’t say enough how amazing this movie is. I loved the character Bible who loved the sinners around him. I love War Daddy who taught a kid to be a man so he could save his life even when the kid hated him for it. I loved the men bonding around the boy and accepting him as one of their own. I loved the bully who proved himself a friend.

Looking at this through the lenses of Christianity, we are reminded that war, even spiritual warfare, or maybe especially spiritual warfare is dark and gritty. We should also be reminded that those over us, our elders, may seem tough/harsh but they have our wellbeing in mind and they carry their own scars. We would do well to heed them because they love us.

There is nothing about this dirty, rough, gross, beautiful and amazing film that I didn’t love. This movies is why I love war movies the best. And Fury is probably up there with Lone Survivor, Band of Brothers, and We Were Soldiers for me.

“Best job I ever had.”

 

Maleficent

imagesDisney seems to be on an anti-traditional true love kick. There are things about this that I appreciate like a little tongue-in-cheek laughing at one’s self like you see in Frozen when Anna ‘falls’ in love with Hans. I also appreciate the nod to other types of love that lead to sacrifice like family relationships. But, what I don’t like is the removal of the male-female true love relationship.

I know many parents who are probably breathing a sigh of relief that their daughters can watch Frozen or Maleficent without getting their heads filled with false notions of Prince Charming falling madly in love with them, charging in on a white horse, and rescuing them from their parents and all that’s horrible in their life. But, before we all jump on this band wagon, let’s think through it just a bit as people and as Christians.

The Bible uses lots of different familial relationships to teach us about our relationship with God. It calls God our Father. Christ is referred to as our brother. We call one another brother and sisters in Christ. But, one of the strongest descriptions in the Bible, in fact, one of the strongest running themes in the Bible is the idea of Christ and his Bride. Christ and his Church are shown to the world through our marriage relationships. This relationship is shown in the love of a man for a woman, the act of getting married, and then living a life committed to one another until death do us part. This is a very important concept and one we don’t want to throw away too quickly.

Now, I think what Disney and parents might be reacting against is the harsh reality of realizing love at first sight is just the doorway into a loving relationship, not the basis of the relationship. True Love can’t be based on an emotion. When we teach our children that they can have a marriage relationship based upon an emotion we’re setting them up for failure. Thus, we’ve reached a point where we think we’ve found a Truer Love in the relationship between sisters, and the relationship between god-mother and child.

What we’ve missed completely is that, just like those relationships, true love is not an emotion. It is a daily choice to be loyal, supportive, and sacrificial for the sake of someone else. No two sisters love emotionally. Trust me. I have four sisters. Do we all just feel loving towards each other all the time??? No. Of course not. But we’re a family. We love each other. We stand up for each other. We’re loyal to each other. If only more people would see their marriages that way.

Fairy tales are not to be taken as gospel truth; we have the gospel for that. What they are supposed to do, like all fantasy and superhero stories, is exaggerate good and evil so that for a short time we can see the glory of good triumphing and be encouraged to get back in our own battles.

While I somewhat sympathies with what Frozen and Maleficent are trying to say, it also concerns me that they decide that the male-female love relationship is okay to downplay or get rid of all together.

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Now, just a few thoughts on Maleficent itself. SPOILERS!!!

One, I found it very odd that her name is Maleficent from beginning to end. Just a thought, it’s very hard to make the name Maleficent good. Even after seeing the movie, I don’t have a warm fuzzy when I hear Maleficent. I still shudder a bit. I think giving her a good version of this name would have been wise, like Magnificent or something, if you want to tie the names together.

I thought the movie started out strong, got realllllllly slow through the middle, and finished rather poorly. It was fun. The setting was very pretty. But I didn’t think the movie was very logical. I think they tried to show a heart broken by false love and healed by true love, but instead of doing a mirror image, they used a different type of love. The pain and suffering in the movie was one only parents and mostly just women could understand and relate too. King Stefan was crazy which didn’t make his anti-relationship with Maleficent understandable, it just made it kinda strange.

There were a few moments I laughed at, but not many. There were a few moments I sort of choked up, but not really. Godzilla hooked me more emotionally than Maleficent did. Again, the filming was beautiful, and they tried to show you Maleficent changing as she gets to know Aurora, but the ending didn’t seem to match the rest of the movie. It would have been better if they had stuck to the story. Let me pity Maleficent, but have her stay the villain of the film. That would have been amazing. Or at least have her be forgiven and forgive in a real way. Aurora gets anger at her for a few minutes for putting her under a curse, but ultimately Maleficent faces very little punishment for her crime. King Stefen betrays her, sinks into madness, and dies. The only real moment with him is when he pleads for his daughter’s life. The rest of the time, you really don’t care about him, you just wonder how he has kept the kingdom going for so many years.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m all for saving sinners type stories, undeserved rescues, and what not. I love anti-hero moves for that reason. But in an attempt to re-tell this fairy tale, I think they lost a lot of its strengths. There was no moment when Prince Philip was armed with the sword of Truth and the shield of Righteousness so he could defeat the dragon. At the end, the only character I cared about was Maleficent’s crow. He was the only one I was rooting for, the only one I cared if they lived or died, and he was the one I thought should have woken Aurora with a kiss. He loved her, and wasn’t trapped by a broken love.

So, there were a few moving scenes, but ultimately little story. I think there were some opportunities to make the good less pure and the evil less dark. There was room to write a redemption story. There was a chance to mirror a bad love and a healthy love. Instead, it was a plodding, boring story where the only person I cared about was a man who promised to serve Maleficent, fell in love with a golden haired child, laid his life on the line for her, and lived to see her grow up into a beautiful young lady. I think the crow is the real hero of this movie. Maleficent never learns of the power of the love between a man and a woman. Stefen only catches a glimpse of his daughter loving Maleficent, but doesn’t really understand what is going on so he doesn’t learn the power of love. Aurora doesn’t ever really deal with her father’s betrayal, but everything’s all right in the end, not to worry! 🙂

Yep. I like the crow the best.

PS. Even with my above mentioned concerns, I did enjoy Frozen. It was cute and funny. I didn’t feel the same way about Maleficent. I felt disappointed.

Data and Love

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I’m a huge Star Trek: Next Generation fan.  I spent many Saturday nights, freshly showered, forbidden from doing anything which might get me dirty, eating popcorn, apples, and cheese while watching ST:NG.   It was a family tradition for years.  Watching them now is like going home for an hour.  The show has retained its value over the years.  The characters are rich, the stories unique, interesting, and heartfelt.  The setting, while becoming a bit dated as we have similar technologies now, isn’t a hindrance to enjoying the show.  The nice part about it is it’s relatively clean, with pretty descent morals.  I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again, I personally think what sells this show and shows like Firefly, Chuck, Band of Brothers, and Sherlock is the personal friendships behind the scenes.  You can’t create chemistry like that.  This isn’t romance, which does create powerful stories, but something more subtle and longer lasting.  This is friendship.  When you watch ST:NG you can sense that the main crew doesn’t just work together.  They have a unique bond behind and beyond the camera.  This is what I love so much about the show.

But, I’m not here to talk about one of my favorite themes: friendship.  I’m here to talk about something I noticed in Episode 25 of Season 4: In Theory.

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ST: NG has a standard storytelling outline.  You have the main plot, generally scientific, and then you have the sub plot, generally human relations.  Once in a while, they swap them.  In Theory was just such an episode.  The focus of the episode was Data’s first girlfriend while the scientific danger functioned as the subplot.  Data, the emotionless android, has his first romantic relationship.  Here’s the question posed: Can you have a relationship, a meaningful love relationship, without emotion?

ST:NG’s answer: No.

The show postulates that due to Data’s inability to ‘feel’ love for someone, he is incapable of being in a meaningful relationship with a woman.

I found this odd and disturbing.  Data has a wonderful friendship with Geordi throughout the entire show.  They’re best friends.  But it’s not just Geordi.  Data is a part, a very important part, of the entire crew.  The crew accepts him, helps him, protects him, defends his rights, and in no way seem inhibited in their expressions of love for him because he’s incapable of feeling emotions.  In the movie, Star Trek: Nemesis, Data gives his life for Picard.

Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends. – John 15:13

How much more could Data love or be loved?

Over and over again, the show works to develop Data’s humanity.  It surrounds him with acts of love expressed through friendship and family all the time.  If you think about it too long, like I have, you begin to realize that what Data is incapable of feeling is not love, commitment, belonging, familiarity, or anything along that line, but romance.  It is the bubbly warmth of romance Data is incapable of feeling.  Does that mean he’s doomed to a life without a woman at his side?

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Show of hands.  Is your husband romantic all the time?  Do you refuse to be around him when he’s not being romantic?  Are you romantic all the time?  Is your life just one big montage of romance?  Is Nicholas Sparks whispering in your ear?

Please!

If marriage depended on any of us feeling love every waking moment it would quickly end in divorce…oh.  Oh.  Oh foolish world, look at what we’ve done.

We’ve filled our children’s heads, and our own, with the evil lie that love is an emotion.  Love is a feeling.  You can’t control your feelings, thus you can’t control your love.  Love is a feeling.  A warm fuzzy – I learned that on Sesame Street.  And when that warm fuzzy is gone?  When the person you married wakes up and isn’t looking so super-model-ish?  Then it’s over.  You’re done.  Just get a divorce and move on to the next warm fuzzy.  Why do you think so many movies and shows stop before everyone gets married?  Because true love, real love, love that will last you all your life isn’t a warm fuzzy.  It’s an act.  It’s a daily act of self-sacrifice, of giving.  (That’s one of the reasons I love the show Chuck.  They didn’t stop at the ‘I Do’ moment, and they didn’t trash their marriage afterwards.)

Guess where warm fuzzies mistaken for love leads as a whole?  Not just to a high divorce rate.  They also leads to a ridiculous monster called tolerance.  Do you know why someone making a statement and me disagreeing with them is considered mean?  Do you know why we no longer view an honest and wise statement as loving, but as bigoted, racist, and hateful?  Because love is a warm fuzzy and you just busted mine.  How dare you?  How dare you bust my bubble of warm happiness with your cold logic or your rigid belief system?  You need to tolerate me.  My warm fuzzy!

If love is an emotion and not an act, we become a nation of weak, whining children pouting over all our assumed emotional injuries.  Real emotional injuries and abuse gets lost and tangled up in our worship of emotions.  Healing gets pushed aside.  We no longer recognize real love when we see it.

Back to the Data episode.  Date rewrites his personal program for his new girlfriend.  He asks her what he can do to be a better boyfriend.  He goes way out of his normal programming to accommodate her.  In the end, she rejects him because he can’t feel romance.  She lumps Data with her other ex-boyfriends who were just selfish.  As a long time Data fan, it was frustrating in a silly way.  How could she reject him?  As a thinking Christian, it was sad and scary.

We can’t trust our emotions.  They are a gift from God, a beautiful gift, and one I’ll be the first to admit I’m very thankful for.  But I don’t trust them.  I don’t follow my heart.  I guard it.  It’s a wayward lying thing.  If I don’t guard what I watch, read, and hear, it will believe anything that gives it a warm fuzzy.  Put some sappy music behind it and a wide-eyed child or puppy and I’m already crying.  If I don’t guard it, I’ll read into my husband’s actions things he never ever intended and he’ll do the same to me.  If I don’t guard it, I’ll destroy every relationship around me as one by one they stop exciting me and start requiring real work.

Love is not an emotion.  It’s an act.  Believing otherwise is dangerous, unhealthy, and following a lie.  Our country believes and has believed for a long time that emotions are our guiding star and we are reaping what we have sown: a high divorce rate, bullying in the name of tolerance, an inability to practice common sense, exultation of youth, and an elitist mentality.

Guard your heart.

I Corinthians 13: 4-13:

 Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

Love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, 10 but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away. 11 When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways. 12 For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.

13 So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.

Chuck

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Recently some people we thought were dear friends inflicted Chuck on us via massive arm-twisting and emotional evangelizing.  My husband and I are both busy people, we have a wonderful evening entertainment routine which includes Rhett and Link’s Good Mythical Morning, and we really didn’t have time for another TV Show.

They applied the pressure. (We’re so glad they did.)

Hesitantly, we started season one in early February.  And once you start…you’re doomed.  In about four weeks, we devoured all five seasons becoming Chuck-evangelists ourselves.

This show is the Get Smart of my generation.  It’s very specifically geared towards those of us fortunate enough to be born in the late 70’s and early 80’s.  It is brilliant.  It now occupies a slot in my Favorite TV Show List alongside Star Trek:NG, Firefly, Band of Brothers, Sherlock and 24.  Chuck is funny, cute, intense, heart-warming, relatively clean, and relatively moral.  The jokes are both nerdy and geeky, and cover everything from Court Jester, Terminator, Final Fantasy, Cobra, Batman, Tron and so much more.

The real beauty of this show, though, is not the jokes only my generation will get, it’s the characters.  The main characters all grow, but don’t change.  They all mature without losing the core that made you love them in the first place.  Each season they add important layers to the main characters that give them an unusual amount of depth for such a fun show.

Normally, I don’t enjoy shows with a lead female who can fight her way out of any situation, especially against bigger men.  I think it’s unrealistic to the point of being patronizing and insulting.  Strength is not always how much butt you can kick.  I really hate it, generally, when they pair a strong, cold female with a wimpy guy.  I just don’t find the ‘I can be as strong as him’ plot point satisfying.  Call me old school, but I enjoy the strong guy who saves the girl far more than the strong girl who saves the guy.  All this was true until I watched Chuck.  Chuck’s saving grace, his strength, is his moral compass.  He never strays from it.  He always does the right thing no matter what national secrets are on the line.  It’s why you love him.  It is why Sarah loves him.  And while Sarah is saving Chuck physically – she protects him – Chuck is saving her spiritually and emotionally.  Chuck gives her something to live for, not only because she loves him, but also because he’s good.  She wants to be a better person because she loves him.  They play this theme out dimensionally with the other characters.  The hardened John Casey is not immune to Chuck’s good nature.  I think, ultimately, Casey is my favorite character.  He starts out easily mistaken for cardboard.  He grunts, shoots, and has no emotion.  By the end of the show, he’s part of the family, willing to do anything for his team.  Casey becomes human because of Chuck.

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I loved Chuck’s use of marriage.  In many stories once you have the lead male and female marry, the spark is gone.  They fight.  They cheat and lie.  They lose everything about them that you once loved.  Not Chuck.  Chuck and Sarah’s marriage only strengthens their bond.  They have a greater depth of character as a unit and as individuals once they’re married.  I loved the power it gave their characters when they no longer protected their boyfriend or girlfriend but their husband or wife.  Even the side characters, Awesome and Ellie, have a good marriage.  Marriage is not treated as the end of romance, but as the beginning.

There are many heartwarming themes running through this show.   Loyalty to friends and family is at the forefront.  My husband and I have a close-knit family.  We spend a lot of time together.  We’re loyal to each other.  I love this show for honoring that.  It was also nice not to feel like the political punching bag.  If you’re conservative in any way, you know what I’m talking about.  Chuck, probably due to Adam Baldwin’s influence, makes conservative jokes that don’t poke fun at us as stupid but as strong.  Casey has a picture of Ronald Reagan in his house, Rush Limbaugh is mentioned, and guns are used regularly.  Chuck’s personal aversion to guns isn’t touted as the next step in human enlightenment, but only part of his character, making it less annoying.  This is one of the few shows where the wife chooses to be at home with her child.  How often does that happen?  Never.  But Ellie admits she wants to be with her daughter and Awesome sacrifices what he wants for her.  It’s great.

So, this show is one of the few shows that made me laugh like a geek, satisfied my courage/loyalty loves, and didn’t trample my conservative belief system.  On top of all that, it had layers of depth, twists and turns, intense moments, and I cried.  I cried like wake-up-the-next-day-with-sandpaper-eyes through the last three episodes.  As soon as it was over, I wanted to start it again.  I watched much of this show with the similar intensity as 24: just one more episode, one more.

This picture brings on the tears!

This picture brings on the tears.

Parental Warning:  I would rate Chuck PG-13.  It is a feel good, relatively clean show, without too much language or violence, but seduction is part of the spy game.  And as nice as it is to conservatives, it’s not based on firm Christian values.

Brothers, a Tale of Two Sons

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SPOILERS!!!!

I’m part of the video game generation….but I don’t personally play video games.  I’m not really that good at them.  I tend to die a lot, or get all jumpy, and forget which controls do what leading to mass frustration.  What I do is watch video games.  They’re my husband’s favorite form of recreation even though he really doesn’t have time to play them anymore, so he watches them.  It’s like sports.  When you’re a kid, you play football, baseball, soccer, and basketball.  When you get older, you watch others play.

Many of the video games that have come out in the last twenty years have had amazing stories, compelling characters, and beautiful artwork.  Yes.  Artwork.  I’m one of those people who believe video games are artistic and a form of art just like movies, photography, painting, writing, music, sculpting, etc.  Early on, the means to showcase the artistic side of gaming was less visible unless you knew the craft, but the stories were there.  (If you did know, it’s quiet impressive what could be done with 8bits.)  Games like Chrono Trigger, Final Fantasy, Metal Gear, and the first Starcraft had gripping, moving stories that left you asking for more.  As technology advanced, the artistic side of video games became more obvious to the everyday layperson playing a game here and there.  I remember the first time I picked up a Warcraft 3 art book.  It blew me away.  It was beautiful, detailed, rich, and haunting.  Skyrim, a fully interactive world, has sweeping scenes of majesty, epic music, wooly mammoths, customizable characters, and an entire land you can walk collecting plants, animal hides, and meeting strange and interesting characters.

But what about the stories?  I’m here to tell you that not only are the stories filled with myth, twists, turns, and character development, some of them have even made me cry.  Yes.  Video games have brought tears to my eyes.  The top of the cry chart is Red Dead Redemption.  I pretty much bawled.  After that comes StarCraft 2: Heart of the Swarm, the beginning of The Last of Us, and now Brothers, a Tale of Two Sons. (Honorable mentions are Mass Effect 2 and Metal Gear anything.)

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Brothers, a Tale of Two Sons, is an epic, short, moving, fun video game designed by Starbreeze Studio with the help of 505 Games.  The story takes place in an agricultural setting against a fantasy backdrop with amazing visuals.  The mountains, valleys, rivers, trees, sky, giants, trolls, ogres, fish, birds, and everything else are impressive.  They’re beautiful, awe inspiring, and detailed.  There are benches placed here and there throughout the game so that your characters can sit and take in the view.  Every scene is sweeping.  Meaning, no matter where in the game you’re at, the view spreads out as far and wide as you can see.  But, all that’s just the backdrop for a game that tells a story through unique game mechanics.

This is a story about two brothers.  You play both of the boys at the same time.  Your left hand controls the older brother while your right hand controls the younger brother.  They start you off slow, giving you time to get used to the controls so you don’t have one brother standing still while the other runs off in a crazy direction.  Pretty soon, you have them working in unison on ever more complicated climbing puzzles and traps.  (None of it gets too complicated because that’s not the point of the game.)

The game opens with the younger brother visiting the grave of their mother.  The older brother interrupts him with horrible news.  Their father is dying.  The two boys rush their father to town where they’re told that the only way to heal him is with a drink from a magical tree.  Off they go on an adventure.  The designers perfectly capture everything a brother adventure should be.  The boys defeat bullies, big dogs, help friendly trolls, scale mountains, ride rushing rivers, free trapped birds, discover giants, fly, slip down tunnels, ride goats, explore an old battle field, and sail the sea.  All the while, you control one brother with your left hand and the other with your right.  None of your adventures are possible without the effort of both brothers together.  And here comes the tears.  (You probably already guessed it.)  One of the brothers dies.  He dies at the base of the tree they were searching for to heal their father after all their adventures.  Suddenly, your left hand is doing nothing.  Your right hand climbs the tree, gets the drink, and then buries your brother.  Your left hand does nothing.  Never before have I seen a game mechanic used to create so much emotion.

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But, it gets worse/better.  Now, you must make it home alone.  One of the creatures you aided on your adventure takes you almost all the way back.  He leaves you, the only brother, standing on a beach facing your biggest fear, and you’re alone.  (It’s a fear, until now, that your brother always helped you through.)  A ghost of your mother appears and encourages you, but even when you move your character forward, the game stops you….until you control him  with the controls of his brother.  (Bawling yet?)  Only when you use the left hand side of the controller is the remaining brother given the courage to face his fear, move past it, and save his father.

Even the guy we watched play the video game choked up.  It was just so perfectly done.

This is the kind of game where you lose yourself.  The beauty of the world sucks you in right away.  The story, filled with exactly the kind of adventure you’d want to have with your brother, encourages you to invest in it emotionally from the beginning.  To have to play one-handed, until courage is needed, is the perfect end to this game.

As a writer, I found the landscapes inspiring, the story moving, and the adventure a good refresher on what should be included in a Tweens or YA story.

Parental warning:  This game is fairly mild with no language or sex.  It is emotionally moving, slightly violent, but not in any sort of heavy-handed way.  It does get darker as they move along in the story, but if your kids have seen or read Lord of the Rings, the Hobbit, or Harry Potter they should be fine.

Man of Steel

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(Deanna, you can watch this one. 🙂 )

Recently, my husband and I watched Man of Steel.  We begged and begged until my sister and brother-in-law agreed to let us borrow it for the weekend.  Snuggled up on the couch, surrounded by goodies we probably shouldn’t be eating, we watched Man of Steel.

Now, a little background:  my husband’s favorite superhero is Superman.  Let me put that in perspective.  My husband is a quality man.  He has two favorite ‘bands’: Metallica and Beethoven.  He almost never reads fiction – Lord of the Rings being his exception.  He speaks highly of only a small handful of video games.  He watches few movies.  Now, this isn’t to say that he doesn’t enjoy many good gifts of the Lord, but he is very careful to guard what he loves.  His love is reserved for only the best of the best.  I’m a little freer with my love of the arts.  I enjoy lots of different music, read fiction all the time, and love a range of different movies.  But, I can at least agree with him, that what he loves is some of the best, of the best, of the best, with honors, sir!

To say my husband’s favorite superhero is Superman, means he thinks Superman is the best of all the Superheroes.  He enjoyed the Avengers.  He enjoyed Batman.  But Superman is his favorite.  Why, you ask?  Because Superman is Good.  He is good.  He does the right thing.  Always.  But, more than being just plain good, Superman is innocent.  He is innocent in a very appealing, charming, wholesome way, which makes you want to be a better person.  It’s not that he’s naive or unaware, he just doesn’t grovel in it.  He is the kind of Superhero that drives you to be better than you are.  (This is the great beauty of fantasy stories.  They have a great power to communicate truth and to encourage you in the belief that sin is ugly and goodness is beautiful.  A well-written fantasy like Lord of the Rings helps you see how attractive good and light is!)  Superman is also unapologetically American.  They didn’t focus on this as much in the new movie as the old cartoons and movies, but it was still there.  Superman is Truth, Justice and the American Way…even in a society that doesn’t really understand what that means any more.

As we watched Man of Steel, I kept glancing at my Husband’s face to see if he was enjoying it or hating it.  The last Superman movie was such a huge disappointment.  It totally missed everything Superman embodies.  It forgot he is good, innocent, and better than petty human selfishness.  It didn’t spur you to be good, it encouraged your more subtle sinfulness.  Man of Steel was much better.  Superman was good, wise, purposed, self-sacrificing, loving, strong, and brave.  He was everything a mother would want her son to be.  He was everything a woman should find attractive in a man.  (And, he even captured a few of Christopher Reeves’ looks.)  My husband was grinning from ear to ear by the end of the movie.

So, for some wholesome, fun, stand-up-and-cheer storytelling, watch Man of Steel.  It got two thumbs up from my Husband.  This is a great movie to share with the little boys and girls of all ages in your family.  🙂