Monthly Archives: February 2013

Follow in the Small Things

Lately I have come to a point in my life where I must make some very serious decisions, decisions that could affect my entire life. I am coming to a crossroads where there are many paths to take. The only question is which path is the right one?

From a young age I’ve known, vaguely, what I wanted to do with my life: I wanted (and still want) to follow God and do what He would have me do. I just haven’t known exactly what that is. Does he want me to be a writer, or a director, or a teacher, or what? I still don’t know. It has been a source of anxiety and frustration for me all my life. Where am I to go? There are many ways that seem good to me; which one is the road that God wants me to follow? Why doesn’t he just tell me? Why don’t I feel led? And then, the horror that comes with that thought: perhaps God has been leading me and I have been too indecisive and afraid to notice! What a terrifying thought, to think that I may have “missed the boat” on God’s plan for my life. A silly fear, after a moment’s reflection. God is patient, and he speaks clearly when we listen. I have been trying to listen. Still I can’t shake the fear entirely.

Thus has been my thoughts of late, when two very normal things happened. The first is that at my internship (which is in the media department of my church) I was asked to make a small edit to the footage of the church Christmas play. Now I was out of town at that time so I didn’t see the play. As it turns out my boss had been given information that was slightly off about where the edit actually needed to occur, and as a result I ended up skimming through the whole play (multiple times) looking for a scene that didn’t exist. In this way I got the general effect of watching the play. Without going into too much detail Jesus is a character in the play and greatly inconveniences a few Christians by being himself. It was a great play, but there was a few lines in particular that stuck with me. The Jesus character kept telling people to follow Him wherever he led; but when one character asked where he was going He simply said “Follow me and you’ll find out.” This frustrated me a little. I want to follow! Tell me where to go! How can I follow if I don’t know where you’re going!

The second thing that happened was that I read a book. Or rather reread a book. I was flipping through God in the Dock, which is a collection of essays and interviews by C.S. Lewis. I was reading bits at random when I came across the transcript of a public question and answer session that Lewis had held. I’ll reproduce the relevent bit here.

“Question: Will you please say how you would define a practising Christian? Are there any other varieties?

C.S. Lewis: Certainly there are a great many other varieties. It depends, of course, on what you mean by ‘practising Christian’. If you mean one who has practised Christianity in every respect at every moment of his life, then there is only One on record — Christ Himself. In that sense there are no practising Christians, but only Christians who, in varying degrees, try to practice it and fail in varying degrees and then start again. A perfect practice of Christianity would, of course, consist in a perfect imitation of the life of Christ. I mean, in so far as it was applicable in one’s own particular circumstances. Not in an idiotic sense it doesn’t mean that every Christian should grow a beard, or be a bachelor, or become a travelling preacher. It means that every single act and feeling, every experience, whether pleasant or unpleasant, must be referred to God. It means looking at everything as something that comes from Him, and always looking to Him and asking His will first, and saying: ‘How would He wish me to deal with this?’”

I thought that bit was interesting, but soon put it out of my mind and went on with my business.

Later that night I was alone in my apartment watching TV before going to bed. I was flipping around when I came across a show that I knew was a) very funny and b) often raunchy, mean-spirited, violent, and even blasphemous. I, as is sadly too often usual for me when channel surfing, ignored part b and focused on part a. I started watching and was just through the theme song when suddenly the interview popped into my head.

“It means looking at everything as something that comes from Him, and always looking to Him and asking His will first, and saying: ‘How would He wish me to deal with this?”

For the first time in far too long I thought to myself “Would Jesus watch this show? Would He want me to watch it?” The answer was pretty obvious: no. The show’s entertainment value in no way made up for the garbage I’d be putting in my mind and heart, as well as the fact that it often insulted my Lord and Savior. It would be foolish and dishonorable for me to watch it. So I changed the channel until a came across a reality show on the sci-fi channel about monster makeup artists and watched that instead. It was then that I realized something. I had been begging God for weeks to give me guidance about the big things in my life, but I hadn’t stopped for a second to think about his guidance for the small things in my life. With the big things it was not immediately apparent which choice was best; but in the small things it’s often very obvious what choice is best if I would only stop to think about it. But I wasn’t bothering to think, I was just doing whatever I felt like doing. It wasn’t just about TV shows; in my interactions with people, my writing habits, and how I spent my free time I wasn’t seeking God’s will. Why should God advise me in the big things when I ignore his advice in the little things?

If you’re feeling lost when it comes to the serious choices of your life, check to see if you’re doing well with the choices that don’t seem so dire. Life is made up of our little daily choices: in the end God may care more about how you treat your coworkers than which field of work you decide to go into.

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A Funny Little Exercise

I’m taking a creative writing class right now. I’ve been working on a short story for it and I’m about five pages in. I won’t go into much detail but it’s set in a typical fantasy setting with orcs and dwarves and what have you. I’m pretty sure things are going along well. Then today our teacher, whose techniques I’m not entirely sure about, asked us to do an exercise. In order to help learn about “making good plots” she asked us to take our main character and write them performing a stand-up comedy routine.

My main character happens to be a fourteen year old apprentice scribe. From a fantasy universe. With Middle Ages-esque technology.

Okaaaaaay. I decided to give it a try anyway. The result was funny enough that I thought I’d share it with you all.

 

 

Dustin stood in front of a crowd. Somehow, for some reason, he had to perform a standup comedy routine.

Never mind that he’d never even heard of standup comedy before now. So I’m supposed to…observe things? In a funny way? There are a lot of people out there. I think. Where am I? Dustin looked toward the stage exits. Each one was filled with strange dark figures with tentacles and one glaring purple eye. They told him (somehow speaking into his mind without the aid of a mouth) that if he failed to perform, and perform well, then he would be devoured by small beetles for a thousand years.

Dustin was terrified, to say the least. Nothing for it. I’ll just have to get out there and try my best.

“So…so…hello. Greetings, everyone. My name is Dustin Spademanson. I’m here to amuse and delight.”

Dustin stared into the dark room. Tentacled figures sat at every table. Silence filled the room.

“Who, ah, who here has read The Study of Realms by Sino of Antoli?”

Silence.

“He, he, he really is a quiet amusing writer, actually. He once wrote that ‘Though men are tall as oaks compared to the smaller races, one will find that if he is sufficiently proud of this fact then the tree will be a far superior ruler.’”

Silence. Somewhere (and somehow, given their lack of mouths) there was a quiet cough.

“It’s actually really funny if you think about it. He was saying that it would, ha, actually be better to have a tree as a ruler than a person. Sometimes. Which is funny, because, I mean, a tree can’t really even do anything, can it? It just sits there and…and grows leaves. I guess that’s kind of the point.”

Dustin glanced to his left. A tentacle creature had removed a horrifying looking device from its suit pocket. Dustin didn’t care to know what it was.

“Ahem. So. I once saw a bird fly off with a man’s hat? He was telling a story in the market when suddenly this osprey just swoops down and takes his hat. He was so angry, running around the market yelling “Give me back my hat you bird.” That was pretty funny.”

Complete silence.

Dustin swallowed. “I guess you had to see it yourself.” He wasn’t sure what to do now. Quickly, quickly, think of something.

“I know a few lyrics? Some amusing poetry? Perhaps that would satisfy you fine gentle…things?” He cleared his throat.

Old Maude went down to the river to wash.

She did not see the lurking fish.

When she placed her basket…wait a minute, that’s not the right line. One second. Hmm. The last word rhymes with wash…”

Dustin stood there, silent, for about twenty seconds.

“Maybe I shouldn’t recite poetry.”

A soft sound, much like a relieved sigh, filled the room.

“Anyway. Oh! I know. A few years ago, when I was a new apprentice scribe, I was asked to copy the Alambuncus Philotatia. I worked on it for days before…and this is the good part…before one of the Masters looked it over and realized I was copying it totally backwards! I didn’t know much Loquacian, you see, and though I knew it was read from right to left instead of the normal way I didn’t know that I wasn’t meant to copy it going left to right! Oh, I had to scrub floors for weeks for that!”

In the back of the room there was a low rumbling sound. Was that laughter? It didn’t sound like laughter.

Dustin was at the end of his rope. He hadn’t a clue what to say next.

“Oh! I think I’ve remembered how that poem went.”

At that moment one of the tentacle beings in the wings pulled a lever and the curtain came falling down. The sound of quiet applause could be heard from the other side. Another tentacle creature walked up to him, pulled out some kind of pen, and wrote the word “MEH” in large block letters on his forehead. The next thing Dustin knew, quick as he had arrived, he was home again.

The Pink Room

pink-room
Today I was sent by my school’s newspaper to see a documentary that was being screened in our chapel. It’s Social Justice Week at my school and the documentary, titled The Pink Room, was being shown to raise awareness of the horrors of sex trafficking in Cambodia, and what some are doing to help. The only reason I went was because we needed an article to highlight Social Justice Week. After seeing it I’m terribly glad that I did.

The documentary was powerful to say the least. Right from the beginning it took us into the dark heart of the Cambodian sex trade. We’re told the story of woman named Mien who grew up with an alcoholic father. He would take most of the money he earned all week and waste it on liquor and gambling. Mien and her siblings didn’t have enough to eat, and when they complained their father would beat them. She wanted to help her family so when she was only a young girl she sold herself to a brothel. They locked her in a room for several days until they could line up a client: people pay top dollar for a virgin. She remained at the brothel for years, facing beatings and abuse if she failed to please her clients.

There are many with a story like her’s in Cambodia, and The Pink Room does not shy away from telling us the worst of those stories. We hear that men from all over the world come to Cambodia to enjoy themselves. Pedophiles regularly come to rape little girls outside the view of the law. The pimps there cater to every interest.

Among these villains we can also see those who are willing to fight for the innocent. The documentary interviews leaders from International Justice Missions, Chab Dai (literally “joining hands” in Cambodian), and Agape International Missions, all of whom are active in trying to stop the Cambodian sex trade and help former victims to heal. They work with the government to raid underground brothels, rescue women from sex slavery, and give them psychological, material, educational, and spiritual support. Mien was just such a woman. She was rescued from a brothel after she had given up all hope. She received love and acceptance from those who saved her, and was given help on creating a new start in life.

The Pink Room‘s greatest asset is that it shows us both sides of the issue plainly. It does not attempt to soften the painful reality of the situation; but it also shows us the reality of the good that is being done as well. Don Brewster, founder of Agape International Missions, said that “People watching (this documentary) should not walk away sullen and defeated but empowered that anyone–and I mean anyone–can help rebuild lives. Now that you are aware, you have the life changing opportunity to act.”

If you ever get an opportunity to see The Pink Room then you should take it. If you can’t, then you should at least go to http://agapewebsite.org/aims-story/ to learn more about how you can help stop sex trafficking in Cambodia.

Discouragement

Sometimes discouragement comes your way. Sometimes you feel that there is little you can do. Other days you don’t even know what the goal is. What are you striving for? Why were you made this way, placed in this spot, and brought to this point? What use are you in the world? Some days you feel like Solomon, who had everything we humans hold dear in life, wealth beyond compare, peace and security, wisdom and knowledge, all delights of the flesh, and still bitterly wrote “All is meaningless under the sun.”

Sometimes I think that money would solve my problems. Ever since I was a child I had a favorite fantasy, as simple as it was improbable: that I would be walking along some day and suddenly find a neatly stacked pile of hundred dollars bills falling from the sky and landing right in front of me. It was a favorite fantasy whenever I wanted something I couldn’t possibly afford. When I became a college student the fantasy came to mind not when I wanted material possessions but instead when I wanted security. I wanted to feel safe. I wanted to know that everything would be okay, and that I wouldn’t have to worry about trying to find a part time job every semester.

All that is foolish in more ways than I can count. I am secure. God has taken care of me, and will take care of me in the future. My first two years of college my needs were very small, and I managed to find a job for one semester out of each year. I wanted to work year round, but no matter how hard I tried I couldn’t land a steady job. Then suddenly, when my needs increased, I managed to find an excellent school year round part time job on campus. Then over the summer, working at Mt.Ranier for an excellent wage (considering my lack of experience), I realized that my needs were about to become even greater. I asked God to provide; and suddenly this last year I’ve found myself with three different paying jobs on campus. God provides. He never gives me more than I need (which starts to drive me mad with worry) but he never lets me fall either.

It’s also silly because money doesn’t make you any happier. It doesn’t give you fulfillment or lasting security. Even if a million dollars fell from the stratosphere onto my front porch it wouldn’t guarantee a thing. I could be run over by a bus tomorrow. My apartment could burn down. My family could die in a car crash. Money can’t protect me from the troubles of the world.

Still I can’t help but fantasize about money. I wish I had enough that I could do whatever I wanted to do for a living, rather than what might pay the bills. I could write without having to worry about whether anyone will ever pay me for writing. I could make movies without ever worrying about getting a return on my investment. Money tempts me with the thought of such freedom. Yet those who have the most possessions always seem the least free. Businessmen pull in six figure salaries spend their evenings working late at the office and stress their hearts into an early grave, missing out on the benefits of the money they tirelessly earn. Money won’t make me free.

It is very strange. I have more than enough money, really. For someone my age I have taken care of my finances very well. I know friends who have casually let slip that they only have $12 to their name, until their next paycheck comes in. The last time my own bank account was that low was shortly after I opened it. Yet often all I can think about is “You’re graduating in only a few months. How will you get money? Where will you find a job? What are you going to do when your savings dry up?”

I can’t stand the uncertainty of it all! All my life I’ve never known what I was meant to do. I’ve pleaded to God to let me know what His plan is for my life. Even a little hint would be nice! Am I supposed to become a movie maker? Yeah right. There are millions of young people who want to be moviemakers, people who know more than me, have done more than me, are more talented than me, and still didn’t make the cut. Maybe just video then? Please. You don’t know the difference between an f-stop and a shadowbox. You don’t know how to do proper lighting, filtering, composition, or special effects. You haven’t even tried to make a video in almost a year. Who are you trying to fool. Am I supposed to become a writer? Oh sure. The last piece you tried to publish was rejected by everyone you tried. You’ve never published anything, and even if you do that’s not going to put food on the table. Alright, I’ll work in PR. Great. Work hard covering up the mistakes of some souless cooperation for the rest of your life. That sure is fulfilling work, if you can get it, which you probably can’t given your lack of experience. Fine then I’ll work for a nonprofit and help people. Who would take you? You aren’t going to jump into World Vision straight from college. You’ll end up working at some little nonprofit out there doing work you may not even care about for almost no pay with zero benefits. Well maybe I should become a history professor. Really? Kind of late for that revelation Sparky. You’ve been working on the wrong degree for that. On top of that, do you really want to spend four to six more years of your life getting a doctorate for a career you’re not even sure you want in a field that doesn’t guarantee you a job?

Maybe I’ll just lie on the couch and gather dust then.

Discouragement will always be there, I guess. Even Martin Luther King Jr. doubted himself. Most days I can shrug doubts off. Or at least shove them into the background of my mind. But on days like today they start to sour all my thoughts. I had a great post planned for today. But I couldn’t write it. I just stared at the screen too worried and tired and discouraged to even try. So I wrote this instead.

Writing can be terribly cathartic.

Sniffles

Hey guys. I tried to promise myself that my blog would never get to the point where it was nothing but a series of posts explaining why I haven’t posted lately, but you guys deserve some kind of info. Well here’s the info: I’m not feeling so good. Physically. I’m not sure if I’m sick or just tired with a sticky throat, but whatever it is I don’t quite feel in tip top shape for writing.

Sorry there was only one post this week. Next week will be better. Honest.

New Updates and Old Directions

So, despite my best intentions, updates on the blog have become extremely sporadic. I could claim that I’ve been busier than usual lately, but that isn’t true. I am busy but I’ve been far busier and still posted three times a week like clockwork. The truth is more complicated. On the one hand there has been a series of events in my personal life that have sent me for a loop, events I haven’t felt ready to write about. On the other hand I’ve lost a lot of motivation and inspiration for new posts. I’ve sat down and thought about this, and I think I’ve been able to isolate why.

I’ve lost my sense of direction.

To be fair, I never really had much of a sense of direction for this blog in the first place. From the very first post I didn’t really know what to write about. Christianity, video games, writing, movies, webcomics, filmmaking, I didn’t know what I was supposed to write.  On the other hand I knew exactly why I was writing in the first place. I was writing so that I could become better at writing. It didn’t really matter what I wrote about, as long as I wrote it as well as I could.  Writing was the point; everything else was secondary.

So I wrote about video games and books and history and anything else that popped into my head. If I had an interesting idea or learned about something exciting I’d write about it as well as I could. If I had no ideas at all then I would find something to write about, even if it was only thinly veiled blathering about the fact that I can’t find anything to write about. The point was to keep the schedule: three posts a week, and only put up a link if you’re desperate.

But then I missed an update. And then another one. And then I missed a whole week. With every post I missed I felt less bad about missing more. “Oh, shoot, it’s midnight on Tuesday and I haven’t written a post for Wednesday? Well it’s too late to write something now. I’ll just let is slide until I’m less tired and can do it properly.” Then, of course, I would never get back to it at all. Letting it slide one day turned into one week. Then just thinking about the blog brings feelings of guilt. It’s a vicious cycle.

And while the filler posts were becoming shorter and shorter, the posts I felt were really important became longer and longer. I started to feel disdain for writing posts that I didn’t really care about. I wanted to write about exciting, interesting, and vital subjects like apologetics and helping the poor. This is a noble sentiment, but it only compounded my procrastination problem. If I couldn’t find something “important” to write about then it became easier not to write anything at all. Do you know why I haven’t posted anything in ages? It’s because at the end of my last big post I said that I had more to talk about on the subject. Then, when it came time to write my next post, I couldn’t really think of much to actually write about. I didn’t feel inspired. I wanted to talk about something else, but I knew that I had promised to keep writing about naturalism. In the end I wrote about nothing. Which brings us to today.

I’ve gained a few followers thanks to my posts on apologetics, but this blog is, at its core, a blog about writing. I need to be able to get back to that or I wont be able to write at all. Yes, I will without a doubt be writing about apologetics in the future. But I’ll also be writing about movies and history and writing and webcomics and anything else I want to. Maybe that’s not the best way to go to create a succesful blog, but I have to remember what success is about. Success is writing something and knowing that someone, somewhere, will read it. Failure is writing nothing because you’re afraid not enough people will be interested in it.