Monthly Archives: July 2013

New Video Series: The Heroes We Need

As you may recall from previous posts, I’ve been attempting to make videos regularly in order to hone my skills. Last week I put up a video about webcomics, and this week I didn’t make a video at all. My initial plan was to make more Webcomics Nerd videos, and I still want to, but I’ve got a new video bug in my ear. So I’m proud to announce a new series of videos which will debut this Saturday. The series will tentatively be named “The Heroes We Need” unless I find a better name between now and then.

The series will highlight individuals around the world who were true heroes, devoting their lives to helping the poor and the weak. They’re the kind of people who are almost unknown outside of certain religious circles, but who all people, regardless of their religious beliefs, can take inspiration from. I know at least that they have inspired me. So I’m going to try my best to tell their story to an audience who may not have heard it before. The tentative title refers to the idea that these people may not be the heroes we know, but that they’re the heroes our society needs. At least needs far more than pop culture icons, athletes, businessmen, and politicians. Too often we value material success over compassion, competition over love, and ostentatiousness over humility and dedication. We need better heroes. Somehow I’m egotistical enough to think I can provide some.

The story of how I got this idea is a long and somewhat interesting one. You’ll be hearing about it on Wednesday.

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Playing the Part Well: Some Insights From C. S. Lewis and the Dropping of the Curtian

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I was rereading C. S. Lewis’s “The World’s Last Night” today. The words resonated with me as strongly as they did the first time I picked it up. The essay is about the Christian doctrine of the Second Coming, and covers a whole slew of topics about it. At one point he describes our universe as a kind of cosmic play, as a metaphor to explain what the Second Coming means. I found those sections to be the most inspiring. They remind me that the simple things I do every day can be the most important. They encourage me to try my hardest, regardless of how effective my efforts seem to my own eyes. And they chastise me, reminding me of the good things I have neglected to do, and the bad habits I’ve allowed to grow in my heart. Today I’d just like to share with you a selection from that longer essay. I hope you can get something out of it to.

“The doctrine of the Second Coming is deeply uncongenial to the whole evolutionary or developmental character of modern thought. We have been taught to think of the world as something that grows slowly towards perfection, something that ‘progresses’ or ‘evolves.’ Christian Apocalyptic offers us no such hope. It does not even foretell (which would be more tolerable to our habits of thought) a gradual decay. It foretells a sudden, violent end imposed from without; an extinguisher popped onto the candle, a brick flung at the gramophone, a curtain rung down on the play–‘Halt!'”

“The idea which here shuts out the Second Coming from our minds, the idea of the world slowly ripening to perfection, is a myth, not a generalization from experience. And it is a myth which distracts us from our real duties and our real interest. It is our attempt to guess the plot of a drama in which we are the characters. But how can the characters in a play guess the plot? We are not the playwright, we are not the producer, we are not even the audience. We are on the stage. To play well the scenes in which we are ‘on’ concerns us much more than to guess about the scenes that follow it.

In King Lear (III:vii) there is a man who is such a minor character that Shakespeare has not given him even a name: he is merely ‘First Servant.’ All the characters around him–Regan, Cornwall, and Edmund–have fine long-term plans. They think they know how the story is going to end, and they are quite wrong. The servant has no such delusions. He has no notion how the play is going to go. But he understands the present scene. He sees an abomination (the blinding of old Gloucester) taking place. He will not stand it. His sword is out and at his master’s breast in a moment: then Regan stabs him dead from behind. That is his whole part: eight lines all told. But if it were real life and not a play, that is the part it would be best to have acted.

The doctrine of the Second Coming teaches us that we do not and cannot know when the world drama will end. The curtain may be rung down at any moment: say, before you have finished reading this paragraph. This seems to some people intolerably frustrating. So many things would be interrupted. Perhaps you were going to get married next month, perhaps you were going to get a raise next week: you may be on the verge of a great scientific discovery; you may be maturing great social and political reforms. Surely no good and wise God would be so very unreasonable as to cut all this short? Not now, of all moments!

But we think thus because we keep on assuming that we know the play. We do not know the play. We do not even know whether we are in Act I or Act V. We do not know who are the major and who the minor characters. The Author knows. The audience, if there is an audience (if angels and archangels and all the company of heaven fill the pit and the stalls) may have an inkling. But we, never seeing the play from outside, never meeting any characters except the tiny minority who are ‘on’ in the same scenes as ourselves, wholly ignorant of the future and very imperfectly informed about the past, cannot tell at what moment the end ought to come. That it will come when it ought, we may be sure; but we waste our time in guessing when that will be. That I has a meaning we may be sure, but we cannot see it. When it is over, we may be told. We are led to expect that the Author will have something to say to each of us on the part that each of us has played. The playing it well is what matters infinitely.”

The Premiere of the Webcomics Nerd

Alright! The promised video is up. You can watch it right here, immediately below this sentence!

Here’s a quick summary of what I got out of the experience:

1. Man, I can’t believe I forgot this already but having a script is pretty dang important. I went scriptless on this one and I’m not very happy with the result. I had to cut out about half of the video I had because it was rambley, unimportant, or poorly worded. What’s worse is that I had several points I wanted to talk about that I just blanked on completely. Next time I need a script for sure. What’s frustrating is that I already learned this lesson years ago, when I worked on my first silly little video projects as a teenager. Oh well! Maybe now I’ll remember it for good.

2. Remember how sensitive camera mics can be. On board microphones are excellent at picking up all the little sounds you don’t want to hear. There are a couple places where you can hear muffled talking and plates clinking. All that came from the next room over, despite the door and wall in the way.

3. Focus on the camera. I keep drifting my gaze off to the right. Gotta stop doing that.

4. Making your own image is better than grabbing one off the internet. I wasted a lot of time looking for a silly “arter” picture for the video, and finally just made my own on paint. It works for this because the whole point is not being able to draw, so I was able to make it nice and sloppy and still get my joke across. Much more satisfying than picking something random off Google images.

I’m not sure what my next video will be. I’m going to shoot for this Saturday, but no promises on this one.

The Video

Hey guys! Remember when I promised to have a video ready by this Saturday? Well I’ve been so busy on it I missed several updates lately. The good news is that I got it done about twenty minutes ago, which was still midnight here in Alaska! The bad news is that it’s going to take a few hours to export, and then I have to upload it to YouTube which will take who knows how long. I’d much rather get some sleep. Look for it Monday at the latest.

What Does It Mean To Live In A Fallen World?

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In my travels here and there over the great wide blogosphere I occasionally am struck with inspiration for a  post of my own. This is one of those posts.

I was over at Randal Rauser’s blog, flipping through the archives, when I came across a post about the possibility of demons being responsible for natural evil. Now by natural evil I mean evil that has no obvious human perpetrator. We can blame mass killings and the like on the choices of fallible and often corrupted human beings, but we can’t do the same for a hurricane or an earthquake. It’s obvious that many terrible natural disasters occur around the world causing pain, death, destruction, and suffering. This creates an objection toward the idea of that a good and powerful God exists. If God is good then why do such disasters happen?

One possible explanation that some apologists and theologians have presented is that natural disasters are caused by demons. This may seem like a pretty backward and superstitious belief for modern philosophers to have, but it’s not as ridiculous as it sounds. If you already believe in God, and angels, and demons, then why can’t demons be responsible? To be more clear, if demons exist at all then they could possibly be blamed for natural disasters. If a Christian believes in demons already then it is not at all an implausible argument. This works logically (I: If demons exist then they could be responsible for natural disasters II: Demons exist, therefore III: Demons could be responsible for natural disasters).

Of course that leads to the question “Why would God allow demons to cause natural disasters?” But then, why does God allow anyone to cause harm to any person whatsoever? The traditional answer to this is that God prizes free will. He did not want to create a world of robots incapable of choosing anything that God didn’t choose for them. So he created beings with free will, and the consequences of that is that some beings are going to choose badly. They are going to choose to hurt other beings. As usual C. S. Lewis puts it better than I ever could:

“God created things which had free will. That means creatures which can go wrong or right. Some people think they can imagine a creature which was free but had no possibility of going wrong, but I can’t. If a thing is free to be good it’s also free to be bad. And free will is what has made evil possible. Why, then, did God give them free will? Because free will, though it makes evil possible, is also the only thing that makes possible any love or goodness or joy worth having. A world of automata -of creatures that worked like machines- would hardly be worth creating. The happiness which God designs for His higher creatures is the happiness of being freely, voluntarily united to Him and to each other in an ecstasy of love and delight compared with which the most rapturous love between a man and a woman on this earth is mere milk and water. And for that they’ve got to be free.
Of course God knew what would happen if they used their freedom the wrong way: apparently, He thought it worth the risk. (…) If God thinks this state of war in the universe a price worth paying for free will -that is, for making a real world in which creatures can do real good or harm and something of real importance can happen, instead of a toy world which only moves when He pulls the strings- then we may take it it is worth paying (The Case for Christianity).”

So there we are. Demons, like humans, are beings with free will. They also have powers we do not understand. Therefore it is possible that they are responsible for natural disasters, and God is off the hook. However we have two major problems. Firstly this is a terrible argument for convincing people who do not believe in demons. It’s downright awful. It’s persuasiveness grows exponentially worse the father you get from conservative Christianity, and it’s people who are far from Christian belief (atheists, agnostics, etc.) who are the ones who need the question of natural evil to be answered before they’ll consider believing.

That’s where Randal Rauser comes in. In the post I linked to above he expands on the problem I just pointed out. One passage in particular caught my eye and my thoughts. He writes:

“It is possible that natural evil might be due to demonic agency. It is possible that legions of demons are employed every June-to-January in the “Atlantic Ocean Hurricane Task-Force” (AOHTF) while others are employed full time at the “Pacific Rim Committee for Earthquakes” (PRCE), even as others labor at the “Department for Evolving Predators” (DEP) and still others moonlight at the “Institute for Spreading Cancer” (ISC) or the “Society for Droughts and Floods” (SDF). So come on Mr. Mephistopheles, roll up your sleeves and get to work. There’s misery to be spread about like so much fresh manure.”

When you actually start thinking about the ramifications of believing that demons cause natural disasters the results are pretty ridiculous sounding, aren’t they? And that got me thinking: what if demons really did cause hurricanes? How would they do that? I mean hurricanes aren’t mysterious events that come out of the blue without warning or expectation. Meterologists know pretty solidly what weather patters will cause a hurricane, and exactly how one forms. I don’t know much about the subject at all, but doesn’t it all have to do with hot air and cold air meeting in a certain way? That’s probably the understatement of the year, but the point is that hurricanes are part of a chain of cause and effect, a chain we can track pretty clearly. At what point did demons get involved? Did they heat or chill the air with supernatural powers? Have we ever had a hurricane appear without being able to trace it back to certain weather events which themselves were bound to happen based on the events that occurred before them? I don’t know if I’m being clear or not so I’ll try saying it another way; wouldn’t the hurricane form regardless of any supernatural intervention as long as hot air and cold air met in the way that we have proven causes hurricanes?

That got me thinking about cancer. Isn’t cancer too caused by natural occurrences? We may not know how all cancers develop but I don’t know anyone who thinks there is anything particularly supernatural about them. Take lung cancer, for example. We know that if you smoke your chances of getting lung cancer go up. Does any of us (and I’m definitely including Christians who believe in the existence of demons, like myself) believe that tobacco causes cancer because the leaves are infested with demons, and tomatoes don’t cause cancer because demons just don’t like them? It’s just silly. So in some cases at least we know for a fact that cancer is caused by substances in tobacco. If you smoke tobacco you increase your risk of cancer. That’s just the way it is.

Now how many other things in our environment cause cancer just by being themselves? Let’s look at UV radiation from the sun. We know that UV rays can cause cancer. Does that mean every ray of sunshine is infested with demons? Of course not! It’s just natural laws at work. If UV radiation didn’t have properties that caused cancer then it also wouldn’t be able to cause our bodies to produce vitamin D.

And what about earthquakes? Earthquake are the natural result of tectonic activity, activity that is beneficial in numerous ways. If you have tectonic plates then you will have earthquakes, and if you don’t have tectonic plates then you don’t have the Earth as we know it.

All that got me thinking.

You see, I was never taught that natural disasters were caused by demons when I was growing up. I heard that opinion from other people later in life, but in my own family and church it wasn’t taught. Instead I was told that such disasters happened because we lived in a fallen world. In Eden, before the fall of man, everything was perfect. Because of Adam’s sin all of creation suffered. That’s what I was told, and that was what I believed. But the problem with that belief is that it’s very vague. What exactly does it mean to live in a fallen world? Why would God cook up such terrible things as earthquakes, hurricanes, volcanoes, and cancer just because Adam sinned? How did Adam’s moral actions cause nature to be thrown out of whack? It’s something I’ve never fully understood. But after reading that blog post I think I understand it better now. When you really look at natural disasters you see that, with things the way they are, there is no way they could not have occurred. The only way to have a world without hurricanes is to have a world that is radically different from our own, a world with less water, heat, and rain. The only way to have a world that doesn’t have earthquakes is a world that doesn’t have mountains, along with a dozen other things that make our world such a beautiful and amazing place to live in.

So what if man never fell? What if humanity stayed as Adam and Eve where; immortal, beautiful, intelligent, and made after God’s own image? I think that even if humanity never fell there would still be earthquakes and hurricanes. The only difference is what the results of those natural events would be. Imagine experiencing the intensity of a hurricane without the fear of death or injury. Imagine witnessing the sheer power of an earthquake without the dread of destruction. In a world without death such natural occurrences would be incredible events. Sure some houses may be knocked down. Houses can be rebuilt! But in an unfallen world death would not be in the cards. Similarly, I imagine cancer and would be far easier to cure and prevent in a world where man and God live in communion. Perhaps we’d quickly learn which foods and substances to avoid. Perhaps our own bodies would be strong enough to resist corruption and mutation.

In the end I prefer this explanation to the demon one. I find it also fits in nicely with what I already know to be true. I believe that God felt free will was worth the risk. It’s hardly a jump at all to believe that he might have felt that hurricanes, earthquakes, landslides, and famines were worth the risk as well. A world without the possibility of those things happening would be a bubble wrap world, completely alien to the one we know today and far less capable of sustaining life.

Getting to Work

Since I put up my last post on envy, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking. As I said envy is a terrible sin, and very caustic to the soul. However it does has a use if we’re willing to understand it, tame it, and put it to work. Envy lets us know when we feel that we lack something. It can be an alarm bell revealing hidden aches and disappointments that aren’t always clear. In other words, envy can be very helpful for introspection.

Once envy has tipped us off that we feel we lack something, the next question to ask is whether that something we lack is worth going after? Not all things that are envied should be sought, but that doesn’t mean that all things that are envied are bad. If I envy a man because of his wealth I probably should wonder why money matters so much to me, and how I can work to change my priorities. If, on the other hand, I envy a man because of his patience, insight, and strong morals then I should work to improve those own aspects of my life.

So I applied this process to myself. Why did I feel so envious of JesuOtaku of all people? What hidden sense of lack or failure did that envy reveal? It didn’t take long to find the answer. Deep down I feel like a failure for not doing more work with video. I have a great camera, great editing software, and some talent; yet I’ve done nothing to help that talent grow. Every now and then I’d try to think of a project to work on, but I’d soon forget it. Most of my ideas were beyond my reach; mainly because I don’t have actors, costumes, or props. So I was content to sit around knowing that I wanted to make videos but doing nothing. I let myself ignore my needs because trying to fulfill them is hard. Not hard as in difficult, but hard as in involving a lot of mental and physical effort. It was easier to act as if I didn’t really need make videos.

But then JesuOtaku reminded me of my dreams, and that hurt.

Well I’m going to do my best to fix that.

I’ve decided to give up on searching for some mythical “perfect” idea for a video. I’m just going to make videos. I’m going to shoot for one a week, starting next week. I’m setting the due date for Saturday. I’ll put a link to it on the blog here. However, I’m going to warn you. The video won’t be about writing, or apologetics, or most of the things I write about on the blog. As a matter of fact this first video is going to be about webcomics. I’m going to review a webcomic I enjoy. That’s all. It’ll just be me, sitting down in front of a not very interesting wall, talking about webcomics with a few still images drifting by. I don’t know if it will be interesting or even very good. But it’s something I can do. Besides, hasn’t that been what this blog is really all about? Baby steps. The man who takes his steps one inch at a time moves faster than the man who won’t take any steps at all.

So next Saturday we’ll see if I take that first little step.

Envy

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Though envy is one of the “Seven Deadly Sins” I’ve found that its easy to overlook or underestimate. It seems kind of silly to have it up there with big bad sins like wrath, pride, and greed. We often have trouble conceptualizing it. We know greed when we see it. We can create a mental picture of wrath with ease. But what about envy? Isn’t that just wanting what other people have? What’s so bad about that. I mean I guess you shouldn’t steal things from people, and wanting could lead to stealing, but is it really that big a deal?

I think it is, but that it’s hard to see because that definition of envy misses the mark. Just forget about wanting peoples things. That’s a part of envy, but it’s the most obvious part. A better definition might be this: hating someone simply because they’re better than you. Now I want to be clear that by “better than you” I’m not trying to say that some people are intrinsically better than others, or that just because someone has achieved success means they’re superior. What I mean is that there are people out there who you believe are better than you at something you really care about. Maybe they’ve achieved fame and fortune and you’re spending every day sending out job applications and worrying about how to pay the bills. Maybe they’re a famous artist and you’re an amateur who dreams of the day when your art can support you financially, but until then has to pay the bills by flipping burgers. Or perhaps they’re an athlete who seemed to breeze through the competition while you lost early on. Now naturally just because those people have succeeded doesn’t mean they’re better than you. But that doesn’t change the fact that you often feel that they are, and we hate that feeling. We feel ashamed at ourselves, and then that shame turns to anger. Who are they to make me feel this way? They don’t deserve their success. They don’t have to work as hard as I do. They only succeeded because they’re rich. It’s all politics. We start to hate that person, simply because they have succeeded where we have not.

That’s what envy is. And that’s why it’s a sin.

Envy isn’t just wanting what other people have. Envy is hating other people because they have what we want. Envy is a powerful and dangerous emotion. It breaks us down, makes us a little less human and a little more petty, angry, cynical, self-deceptive, and hateful. Its spiritual acid. That’s why its one of the seven deadly sins.

Just today I recognized envy in myself. I was watching reviews of anime by JesuOtaku, an extremely knowledgeable reviewer and critic. She’s talented and fun to listen to. I’ve always enjoyed her stuff. Then I found out that she was starting her own personal website. I watched an intro video for it. Everything was fine…until she described herself as an internet entertainer and independent video producer. Those seemingly innocent words hit me deep down. You might recall that one of my dreams is to make movies. I’ve been trying (without much luck) to get into either the film or television business. I want to be a writer or director someday. I know that’s an almost impossible dream to reach, but you have to dream big, right? And somehow when she described herself as an independent video producer it came home to me how far away from me dream I am. I’m nowhere close to it. And here she is, a woman about my age, and she has her own well followed internet show with her own website and viewers and fan base and everything else I don’t have.

And I hated her for it. I felt anger rising up within me. I fell into a foul mood. I wanted to kick something. I wanted her and her website to fail. I wanted her to find out that she was nothing, a nobody with no talent, a failure. If you had asked me I would never have consciously said any of that. I would have recognized that my feelings were unjust if I’d put them into words. But envy doesn’t stop for introspection. In that moment I hated her as much as I’d ever hated anyone in my life.

Then I realized that I was experiencing envy. I recognized that the deadly sin I most often ignored was running wild through my heart like a screaming two year old throwing a tantrum. So I decided to put a stop to it. Why should I be angry at her? I should be happy for her success. She’s a talented woman and she deserves it. It’s time to knuckle down and deal with the real problem: I’m not happy with my own level of success. I should do something about that.

Try to recognize envy in your life. You can only fight the enemy if you can recognize it. Once you can spot your own envy you can start to combat it. Don’t let envy take control of your heart. Envy can only help you tear people down; it won’t raise you a single inch higher.

Storytime Fridays: East of the Sun and West of the Moon, Part 11

Part 11
It was two days before the horse slowed. She was ragged. Her eyes were weighed down with dark circles, her legs were raw, and her arms were as stiff and cold as granite from clinging to the horse’s neck. Her hopes rose when a mountain grew larger on the horizon. She almost shouted out with relief when another cottage appeared on the desolate rockface. This was the smallest yet; a ramshackle hovel made of dry logs and mildewed thatch. An old woman sat on a stump outside the door. She was spinning yarn out of goat’s hair on a golden spinning wheel. She was short, and her face was a wrinkled and leathery as an old walnut.

The horse stopped a few feet away from the spinning wheel and she fell off of the beast like a sack of potatoes. As she lay groaning on the ground the old woman walked over, helped her up, and ushered her inside of the cottage. She didn’t have the strength to protest as the old woman led her to a small cot and tucked her in with a thick wool blanket; she did have enough presence of mind to tap the horse behind its left ear before she went inside, and without pausing for a breath the creature ran off at breakneck speed. “There there dear. You’ve gone a long way. Get some rest now. You have time enough to sleep, I’m sure.”

When she woke she found breakfast waiting for her on the table.  There was pickled herring, half a loaf of coarse bread with butter, and a pitcher of goat’s milk. She felt better after eating it. It had been a long time since she’d enjoyed an actual meal.

The old woman was spinning outside again. “Good to see you awake dearie. Here, sit down on the log there. Don’t worry, its dry.” As she sat the old woman removed the last of the yarn from her wheel. “Now what are you doing here young lady? Nobody comes to my house by accident.”

Slowly she told her the whole story, from being the daughter of a poor farmer, to the bear and the palace, to now. The old woman didn’t interrupt. “…so you see, I’ve come all this way and I’m desperately hoping you have the answer to my question.  Do you know where the castle is? The one east of the sun and west of the moon?”

The old woman smiled, but shook her head. “I’m so sorry dearie. You’ve come such a long way, but I’m afraid I don’t know. Still, I can see you are determined. If you’ve come this far then you’re sure to get there eventually, early or late. But I can tell you the whole story of how these events came to pass, if you’d like to hear it.” She nodded her head eagerly.

“Well my neighbor told you the first bit of it rightly. There was a good old king who ruled not far from here in a grand castle. He had a son, the prince who you’ve already met, but his wife died before they could enjoy any more children. The kind was filled with sorrow, and in his sad state I’m afraid a rather old and nasty troll took advantage of him. She disguised herself as a beautiful woman and wormed her way into the king’s heart. Soon enough they were wed, and not long after the king took ill and died, likely as not the result of some trollish mischief. Now she was in charge, and soon arranged for the prince to wed another troll, with a nose as long as your arm, disguised as a beautiful princess. However the prince was not as blind as his father and soon found out the terrible truth. He refused to marry a troll, and revealed his stepmother’s true nature to the entire court. Well that old troll fell into such a temper that she cast a spell that flung the entire castle, foundations and all, off to someplace east of the sun and west of the moon. Still, even then the prince refused to abide by her schemes. So she cursed him to take the form of a bear by day. Then she made a bargain with him; if he could live with a woman who would be his bride for a whole year without her seeing his human form then he would be free of her and the curse forever. But if he failed he would have to consent to marry the troll princess. He had no choice but to agree, and now you know the story from top to bottom. The prince must marry the troll, and there will be no happy ending unless you make it yourself. Perhaps you might at that, before all is told.”

Her heart felt cold. She was glad to have heard the whole story, but it only deepened her feeling of guilt. She was the prince’s last chance and she had failed him. She had tried as hard as she could to make things right, but after days of searching she was no closer than before. “I don’t see how I can fix any of this mess. I don’t know how to find the castle, and I don’t know what I would do even if I could get there. It’s hopeless.”

The old woman smiled broadly, though she had hardly any teeth left in her mouth. “We’ll see about that. I don’t know the way, but I know someone who would, if there is a way at all. You can ride my horse, dearie, and he will take you to see the East Wind. He and his brothers will be feasting at his home tonight. They might be able to set you right. You never know!” Another horse, this one taller and stronger than the rest, came from behind the cottage. The old woman helped her mount the mighty creature. “When you get there just touch him gently behind his left ear and he’ll return to me. And here!” The old woman, with some effort, lifted the golden spinning wheel and loaded it onto the horse’s back. “Take my golden spinning wheel. Who knows? It may come in handy, and you’ll need all the help you can get. Hold on tight my dearie. It’s a long way to the East Wind’s house but you’ll get there safe and sound before it’s all over. Good luck!”

She gritted her teeth and held on tight as the horse began galloping away. It was going to be another long trip.

 

End of Part 11

Self Help Pizza

Learn by doing. Do by trying. Try by willing. Will by…wanting? Want by…being human I guess?

I thought I was on to something there. It started strong, but ends badly. Better just chop it off after “try by willing.” If you don’t have the will to try then you’ll never make it to “learn.”

What’s really funny is that I came up with that little piece of fortune cookie “wisdom” because I made a pizza today. From scratch (meaning I made the dough myself). My family has always made our own pizza dough for homemade pizzas. Apparently that’s not especially usual here in America. There have been several times when I’ve told someone that my family made pizza all the time and they assumed that we bought a crust somewhere and just added our own ingredients. Anyway, it was always my dad’s job to make the pizza and I’d help out a little. Today I felt like taking the recipe on myself (I’ve made it a couple times before on my own, but it’s been a long time). The dough ended up a little too dry on one side, a little too sticky on the other. The pizza itself was a little lopsided, and wasn’t as flat as it should be in the middle. Plus the crust was too thick, and I used too much cheddar cheese on the toppings. Still it was pizza, and even bad pizza is good eating, so I’m not too disappointed. I have some dough left over and I’ll try again tomorrow, or maybe the day after. That pizza will be a little better than this one (I won’t use as much cheddar, at least). Presumably the next pizza I try to make will be better than that one, and so on. Someday I’ll have kids of my own and I’ll make the pizza almost perfect every time.

It’s pretty obvious to me that almost everything in life is like that. The more you do something the better you get at it, bit by bit. The more I write the better I get at writing. The more I bake the better I get at baking. The more I run the better I get at running.

Something that’s often overlooked is that our moral life follows the same rules. Are you impatient? Then try practicing patience. You probably won’t do very well (like my lumpy pizza) but the important thing is to try. And then to keep trying. Little by little, as the years go by, you’ll find yourself becoming better and better at patience. The same is true for honesty, charity, love, and kindness. Many people give up on themselves. They take their flaws and try to make those shortcomings a part of their own identity. They think (or say) “I’m a grumpy person. I’m lazy. I’m insensitive. I’ve got a temper. That’s just a part of being me.” The thing to remember is that you can change, if you’re willing to. The change will be hard (as hard as training for a marathon sometimes) but it will come with time.

As a Christian I know that I’ll never be perfect. I know that no man can make it on their own. I know that only through Jesus can we rise out of our sins for good. But I also know a lot of Christians who seem to use this as an excuse not to try to get better. Yes, Jesus will help us on the path to righteousness. And yes, we can never “earn” heaven by our own efforts. But I don’t think it’s wrong to say that Jesus expects me to try.

The question is, am I willing?

UPDATE: Hey, did you know that this is the 100th published post on this blog? I didn’t until after I wrote it. Here’s to the next 100!

Dream Art

I had an odd dream last night. Not much odder than most dreams are, and it’s not interesting enough for me to bore you by describing it. However, the dream reminded me of something I’ve been thinking about for a long time, but never quite seen realized. How do you artistically express a dream?

Dreams are weird. They feel real while you’re in them, but that’s only because you’re unconscious. You don’t know you’re in a dream, and if you realize you are then you typically wake up. When you do wake all the preposterous events that occurred during the dream come to life. Your living room has not somehow merged with your grandmothers house (only with pink paint, and it turns into some kind of bank at some point), you would never actually go to school in your underwear without realizing it somewhere between your front door and the sidewalk, and (hopefully) no one in real life would ever try to steal your teeth. What’s strange is that such obvious facts were not at all apparent during the dream itself. Dreaming is such a unique and strange experience. It’s unlike anything we encounter during our waking hours. Which, unfortunately, makes it incredibly difficult to describe. We’ve all tried to tell someone about a dream we once had, and usually it turns into a ramble of half forgotten imagery with a nonsensical and boring plot. Describing a dream is typically dull; however, dreams themselves are charged with emotion and spectacle. The problem is that there is no way to convey that emotion except with words. In a dream even a pink plastic flamingo can be charged with terrifying aspect; but try explaining that to your roommate who you woke up at 3:00 AM with your screaming.

Tolstoy (I think, you might want to double check that) described art as a means of communicating emotion. An artist feels something, and creates a work of art to express that feeling, whether that’s through sculpture or music or paintings or even comic books. If the artist is successful then when someone experiences that art they too will feel a bit of what the artist felt. Dreams, being such emotionally powerful experiences, prove especially difficult to express artistically. It’s one thing to try and capture joy itself in a painting, and it’s another to capture joy in the form of a small dog who turns into a pair of living slippers halfway through the experience.

In short, dreams are weird.

Since I love the medium of film and video I’ve been especially interested in how to capture the experience of dreaming in that format. I’ve seen many movies and TV shows with “dream sequences” but they never match up to the real thing. One problem is that they seem too real. A camera picks up all the detail available in a scene, but in dreams the only details that exist are the ones we’re currently experiencing. Dreams typically don’t have fully realized backgrounds and detailed sets. They’re fuzzy, liquid, shifting from one thing to another rapidly. So when a movie shows someone’s dream and I can see blades of grass in the lawn, cracks in the sidewalk, bark on the trees, etc., it becomes that much less dreamlike. I can think of one dream sequence where the person in question suddenly found themselves in a black void, with furniture and people appearing out of it depending on what was happening at the time. That comes closer, but is still off. How many dreams are in a black void, after all? I complain but I have no real solution. A scene must be filmed somewhere, after all.

Perhaps someday we’ll be able to record our dreams. I’ve heard people describe some far off “dream television” where we can watch people’s dreams as they happen. But as someone who makes videos for a hobby I have to say that a TV just won’t work. If we ever do develop the ability to enjoy other’s dreams it will have to be a full body (and full brain) experience, just like the real thing itself. Any other medium does not seem capable of matching up. A dream doesn’t inspire emotions like a piece of art does; it is emotion, combined with sound and image and touch and smell. And yet, dreams don’t really involve hearing, seeing, feeling, or smelling anything. It’s a purely mental experience, and one we can’t easily replicate physically.