Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Wasted Wednesday: Harry Potter & Community

Many a time I have often asked the question, why is it that the Harry Potter books have resonated so well with me and my life?  Not only do I love these books for their literary and alchemical elements but I also love them because of their spiritual elements.  While many other books have had huge impacts on my life, none have had quite an impact that can compare to Harry Potter.  For the past few weeks I have had the opportunity to immerse myself in all things Harry Potter by listening to podcasts such as Mugglenet Academia (Harry Potter literature discussion) and Alohomora (a global re-read of the books).  On top of listening to Harry Potter podcasts, and literature podcasts in general,
I have also had the opportunity to listen to sermons via podcast from some of the best known speakers including Rob Bell, Matt Chandler, Jeff Bethke, and more.  My brain has been wired on academia these past few weeks and is forcing me to make some awesome connections between what I am listening to and the things in my own life.
I have many theories as to why I love Harry Potter but a realization has recently come to me that I never once considered but now seems fairly obvious.  Community.
The Harry Potter books set up a community for the reader.  A diverse group of individuals unite in one thing - that they can do magic.  Every person seems to be a friend or an acquittance of another.  We see Harry spending time with the Weasley's and feeling like he has a family despite the fact that his family is all gone.  We see people helping each other and standing up for one another and strong bonds growing.  There is gossip and anger.  Kids go out together to drink a pint of butter-beer or play a practical joke or practice a sport.  There is an entire area for kids to shop for candy and goodies at Hogsmeade.  Hogwarts itself is a mini community where kids have the freedom of being away from home and are able to focus on what is important with their friends. And for some odd reason, I feel as if I can relate to this picture completely.  If there is any reason for me wanting to enter Harry's magical world, it is because of the community.  I would love to be apart of the Hogwarts community.
As a kid, this was not the case.  I did not want to go to Hogwarts and often wondered why my peers did want to go.  After all, why would I want to go to a school where there is so much danger lurking about?  And the Wizarding World?  I would never count on going there either.  So how come my perspective has shifted so much?  My only guess is that it is because I have had a similar experience since reading the books as a ten year old.
Reading these books brings me a feeling of nostalgia, partially because they were a huge part of my childhood and a huge part of my adolescence.  But another reason I feel nostalgic is because I feel as if I have already lived similar to Harry.  When I read Harry Potter, the emotions I feel mirror the emotions I felt when I was apart of youth group as a teen.  This is a huge connection as to why I find the books spiritual as well.
Youth group was something I always looked forward to as a teen.  One of the best times I had was when I would go with my fellow teens to church youth camp in Montrose, Pennsylvania.  Although we were only at camp for a week, the experience was very much similar to going away to Hogwarts.  We each were a part of our own cabin, we went away to study the bible with our friends and have fun at the same time, and it felt like we were apart of a big family.  This seems to mirror Hogwarts.  At camp we sometimes groaned when we had to read our bibles but ultimately during that one week over the summer when we were at camp, we found we were happier and more connected to God than ever before.  That is what I think of when I read Harry Potter.  The characters seem connected and I feel that connection to them.  When I read these books, I witness a lot of happy and healthy communities that have many differences and at times negativity and they struggle but they always pull together and are united.  This can teach Christians a lot when it comes to our own communities.

Monday, July 29, 2013

Reading: A Clash of Kings by George R. R. Martin

I don't think I can begin to explain just how excited I was to pick up the next book in the A Song of Ice and Fire series.  A Clash of Kings sat on my bookshelf for many months and although I was eager to read it sooner than later, I forced myself to hold off until my college semester was over so that when I went to read it I would not be distracted by other books required for classes that would immediately take precedent.  This book needed to be my focus.
After reading the first book in this series, I knew I was hooked.  A Game of Thrones, now one of my favorite books, is a book richly character driven and incredibly real.  I have also been a relatively large fan of the HBO TV Series which was another reason for me to read this book.  I wanted to watch the second season but didn't want to watch it before I read the book.  I was indeed in a pickle.
While I was highly anticipating this read, I was also a bit cautious.  Many people have told me that the books grow worse and worse.  It has been said that George R. R. Martin tries to do too much and that the books begin to go all over the place with too many story lines.  Do I agree with that after reading the second book - yes.  A Clash of Kings seems to be the start of an insanely complex story-line full of multiple points of view and a huge amount of small plots combined with the overarching theme - who will take the iron throne?
A Clash of Kings starts right where the last book left off.  Joffery is still King of the realm while Robb fights to be King of the North and gain vengeance for his father's death.  Across the narrow sea is Daenerys Targaryen with her dragons, desperately trying to find ships so she can sail to Westeros and claim the throne that rightfully belongs to her.  All the while, King Robert's brothers are at odds at who should have the right to the throne - Stannis, the eldest, or Renly, the favored.

"Paint stripes on a toad, he does not become a tiger."
Martin continues with his multiple perspective narration and adds a few new voices to the story which includes Davos Seaworth, an ex-smuggler now a knight for Stannis Baratheon and Theon Greyjoy.  The narrators from the last book remain, except of course for Ned.  I have flipped through the next two books a bit and see that two mores narrators are to enter the pack and possibly more.  With that in mind, this book also introduces many new story-lines and complexities.  Martin is an expert when it comes to this and he excels at creating multiple characters that are completely unique to themselves and their world.  I'm having a hard time figuring out where to begin to explain all that Martin introduces throughout this installment, and perhaps I shouldn't even talk about it because I don't want to give away an spoilers.  I will say this - with all of the new perspectives and all of the
new story-lines and individual character issues, these books are going to be a hell of a hard read.  I am concerned as to if they will stay consistently good or if indeed, as my friends warn, they will go downhill because there will be too much going on.  I have a feeling it will be both because while they may go downhill, I have no doubt Martin will still be able to capture his characters as well as he did the first time around.  The story may be doing too much and may not have enough of a focus on one element but that may play to the story's strength's, not weaknesses.

"'He has a song,’ the man replied.  ‘He is the prince that was promised, and his is the song of ice and fire.'"
The thing I enjoyed most about this reading experience though was being able to combine it with watching the adaption on the big screen.  What this TV adaption has that many adaptions don't is credibility - that things are more often than not the same as they were in the book.  Scenes are done incredibly well and the actors are spot on.  The second season seems to be slipping away from the book a bit more than the first but it is still done incredibly well.  I re-watched the first season as I read this book and it was a real team experience.  Say a character popped up and I had no idea who he/she was.  I would watch an episode the next day from the first season and there the character would be.  I was therefore able to see how certain characters originated (it seems I forgot quite a bit) and I applied that knowledge to my place in the book.  It was a great experience.
In the end, A Clash of Kings is without a doubt just as good as A Game of Thrones.  Although there is a bit too much going on, the book stays consistent in tone and character development as well as in plot, keeping me engaged and wanting more.  I will give the book 4 out of 5 stars.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Reading: Sex God by Rob Bell

Going into this read was a bit of a daunting task.  The title of this book alone is something controversial yet also humorous to some.  I'd heard a lot of bad things about Rob Bell previous to reading this book.  I watched a trailer for his new book on YouTube and there were tons of comments from people who were casting hate at Bell for being a heretic.  This made me nervous and feeling a bit mislead.  I bought quite a few of Bell's books online and was afraid I had wasted my money.  Of course I had already read his short book Drops Like Stars but that was a bit of a let down and didn't help Bell's case.  Thankfully, I was proved wrong.
Rob Bell's Sex God, according to Publisher's Weekly, isn't "a sex manual, an exploration of the differences between men and women, or a marriage how-to, though all of that is here.  Instead, it's the story of God becoming human, of humans mirroring God and love made manifest in the chaos of our humanity.  This book joyfully ties, and then tightens, the knot between God and humankind."  Another review from Christianity Today states, "While most books about sex for dating Christians begin and end with 'don't,' Bell outlines the bigger picture of human relationships and what they can teach us about God's character."  These two reviews seem to sum it up beautifully.  Bell takes all your preconceptions about God, sex, and what the bible says about sex, and he talks about it in an authentic language that is scarcely seen in theological texts today.  Sex has become something to be ashamed of in the church.  In society, it has become a form of recreation.  Kids learn about it mostly through the media and are told that sex equals your self worth - the more you get, the happier you will be.  If parents talk to their kids about it, they only tell them to not do it and when asked why, they are provided with broad answers that don't really get to the heart of the actual answer.  I could go on and on but I think it is needless to say, sex is a confusing topic in general.

“When a human being is mistreated, objectified, or neglected, when they are treated as less than human, these actions are actions against God.  Because how you treat the creation reflects how you feel about the Creator.”
Bell doesn't just talk about the physical, spiritual, and emotional aspects of love making though.  On the contrary, he talks about sexuality as a whole by bringing in passages from the bible and comparing them to our modern day reality.  He tackles many important questions that are often never mentioned when discussed in secular culture nor when discussed (if it is even discussed at all) in the church.  Bell talks about how sex is an important aspect of love and is essential to a couple that has committed their lives to one another.  Another thing I loved about this book was how Bell made it
clear that God is not just a dude sitting on a cloud waiting for you to visit him on Sunday's and do lots of good deeds for self righteousness.  God, in fact, is everywhere.  He exists in the most mundane of places and in the most holy of places.  God can not be defined or put into a box yet throughout human history, that is all we have tried to do.  God is many things but the one thing he is not is clearly definable.  Bell channels this idea in his book and makes it clear that faith is more than religion.
Although sometimes Bell seems to go off topic, he always brings his area of discussion back in full circle by the end of each chapter, leaving the reader to feel satisfied and enlightened, for Bell makes connections that I have never imagined before and he brings up points that I never knew existed in the topic of sex.

“What is so striking is how unsexual that whole section of the city (where prostitution is legal in Amsterdam known as the Red Light District) is.  There are lots of people 'having sex' night and day, but that’s all it is.  There’s no connection.  That’s, actually, the only way it works.  They agree to a certain fee for certain acts performed, she performs them, he pays her, and then they part ways.  The only way they would ever see each other again is on the slim probability that he would return and they would repeat this transaction.  There’s no connection whatsoever.  If she for a moment connected with him in any other way than the strictly physical, it would put her job, and therefore her financial security, in jeopardy.  And so in the Red Light District there’s a lot of physical interaction and no connection.  There are lots of people having lots of physical sex – for some it’s their job – and yet it’s not a very sexual place at all.  There’s even a phrase that people use with a straight face – 'casual sex.'  The rationale is often, 'It’s just sex.'  Exactly.  When it’s just sex, then that’s all it is.  It leaves the person deeply unconnected.  You can be having sex with many, and yet you’re alone.  And the more sex you have, the more alone you are.”
The book is set up in an assortment of many small paragraphs following one after the other, making it is a fast read.  It is fairly obvious that Bell is trying too hard when it comes to chapter titles and making points.  While his points are always valid ones, he always tries to end a paragraph with a closing statement, a clever turn of phrase, that is intended to leave the reader in awe but these ending sentences usually made me laugh not because of their content but because of how the content was executed.  The same can be said about the chapter titles.  Bell tries to shake things up with chapter titles such as "she ran into the girls bathroom" and "whoopee forever" and the titles make sense once Bell makes the connection but by the next day, I had a hard time remembering how the titles were relevant and therefore sometimes would forget what points Bell had made in the first place.
Overall, this book was an excellent read though.  It clears up a lot of misconceptions about God and sex that needs to be discussed not only by the church but by the general public.  It is a must read!  I will give the book 4 out of 5 stars.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Reading: Why We Write edited by Meredith Maran

Why We Write is a book I never expected to read.  I had seen it in bookstores and I had seen it online but never had a want to pick it up.  Only when someone gave it to me as a graduation gift did I commit to finally reading it.  To my surprise, the book was a complete delight!
The entire book consists of a bunch of authors writing short chapters that explain what they believe writing is and why they love to write so much.  Each chapter begins with some quick facts about the author including their birthday and education, etc.  The author then proceeds to write about their writing experiences and why they enjoy their craft so much.  There is a real sense of freedom as you read the book.  Each author puts their own personal touch on the book, making it an eclectic read.
Each author teaches you a lesson from their own experiences.  For example, author David Baldacci wrote that the way he found agents was by looking through his favorite books and writing down agent names from them.  He would then proceed to send his manuscripts to these agents.
My only fault with this book is that all of the authors were all award winning and successful.  While I
think that is great, I wish there were also lesser successful authors talking about their writing career and why they write.  My hope is that another book is published with the same title, Part 2.  That would be great!
Overall, the book offers incredible stories, great tips, and has a variety of different writers to give you a full grasp of what it means to be a writer!  This review is short but I don't have much else to say.  I will give it 5 out of 5 stars!

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Thirsty Thursday: David Karp

There is an internet god and his name is David Karp.  People worship him and what he has created; Tumblr.  Tumblr has become a huge blogging platform that ranges in content such as politics to funny cat pictures.  It is described as Twitter meets YouTube and Wordpress.  At the age of 21, Karp founded the massive blogging website in the bedroom of his mother's apartment in New York.  His main goal for the website was to create something that inspired creativity and didn't just contain creative content.  For this reason, Karp speaks out about websites such as YouTube, the most popular video streaming website, and says, "They take your creative works - your filmed that you poured hours and hours of energy into - and they put ads on top of it.  They make it as gross an experience to watch your film as possible.  I'm not sure it will inspire any creators." 
Karp's Tumblr has seemed to encompass a philosophy all on it's own.  Check out the quote to the right from Jim Jarmusch.
"It's not where you take things from - it's where you take them to."
Tumblr seems to support this idea that originality is dead but authenticity is not.  What exactly does this mean?  Well, originality is something that has never been done before (in all aspects) while authenticity is taking an idea we have seen before or possibly know well and shaping it into a foreign species that we've never contemplated before.  There is a big difference.  The site supports taking from places and using anything to produce something genuine because everyone gets ideas from somewhere and nothing is purely original. 
A great example of originality versus authenticity is the Walt Disney collection of animated classic movies.  Each one of them, especially the princess ones (though not limited to), is set up in a specific format.  The films always start with a character who is different from the pack and wants more out of their everyday mundane existence.  The story will consist of slap-stick humor using two side characters (ex. - Timon and Pumbaa, Cogsworth and Lumiere, Genie and Abo, etc.).  There will be a villain that is ugly in some way with triangular artistic features.  There will most likely be a love story fit into the picture.  And every character gets their happy ending.  In a sense, none of the films are original because each one is the same format.
However, each film is authentic.  Each film has an original movie score and beautiful, fun tunes to sing along to.  Each film brings in a completely different story line that makes you look at the world differently than before.  The movies contain underdogs (ex. - Aladdin and Quasimodo) and we experience a whole new world through a new set of eyes and each film really challenges us and makes us question what it means to be a human being.
This philosophy is something I believe in 100% and that is why I chose David Karp for this week's drink.  Now I am signing off and as usual, I quote the world's most interesting man - "Stay thirsty my friends."  See you guys next time!