Thursday, May 29, 2014

Biblical and Literary drops in the popular series, "A Song of Ice and Fire"


George R. R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire book series is probably the last series you'd ever find sitting on the shelf in a Christian book store. Its graphic sexual content, vulgar language, and brutal violence are too bohemian for the strict and sacred values of the church. Where you stand on this, I don't know. But I do know that these books are among the best literature that is being dished out today.
I have learned on my Christian walk that literature of all kinds is important to my growth in faith. In fact, literature was necessary for me because it taught me the art of seeing from anothers perspective, to sympathize, and to understand that people are not simply black and white and easy to explain, nor is the universe. Literature taught me to think outside the box and to expect the unexpected. I have learned that fiction is sometimes more truthful than the "truth."
My faith has taught me a lot too. For example, Jesus didn't hang out with the people who claimed to be perfect or have it all together. He hung out with the messy people and the people who needed saving. And literature is the same way. We are readers, hanging out with fictional characters who are just screwed up and yet we relate to them, sympathize with them, and route for them. And A Song of Ice and Fire contains some of the most screwed up characters in the history of fiction (this statement is being made from my experience with fiction. Perhaps you know of characters who are even more screwed up?). The books are filled with so much immorality and imperfection and suffering but at the same time it is poetic and redemptive. There is beauty to be found within suffering. These are people Jesus would have been hanging out with. George R. R. Martin reveals their goodness and humanity just as Jesus revealed it in those he came in contact with. In many regards, an author is the savior of his/her own story. As the character Tyrion states, "I have a tender spot in my heart for cripples and bastards and broken things."
There are many biblical connections throughout A Song of Ice and Fire that I have recently been alluded to and now have enough thoughts on the matter to write an entire blog entry!
I first want to start with characters and what better person to start off with than the beloved Lord Eddard Stark of Winterfell - Ned. Ned is criticized many a time for not playing the game of thrones properly but that is why I love him. He values justice and what is right over power. His commitment to honor and doing what is right mixed with his calm, loving and collected demeanor outshine all of the other characters who seek their own happiness rather than that of the people around them and the realm.  Ned is an honest man who keeps his word. Right when we meet him we hear him ask his son Bran, after beheading a man for deserting his post at the Night's Watch, if Bran understands why he had to kill that man. Bran answers by stating the obvious - the man was a deserter. Ned restates the question and puts emphasis on the fact that he personally had to kill the man. He then explains that the man who passes the sentence must swing the sword. He continues, "If you would take a man's life, you owe it to him to look into his eyes and hear his final words. And if you cannot bear to do that, then perhaps the man does not deserve to die." What Ned is explaining to his son is accountability and authenticity. You must live your words, not just speak them.
Ned's death very much mirrors the death of Christ. Ned has been wrongly accused and plans to give his life if it means being condemned for a crime he did not commit. The only reason he ends up falsely confessing is for the sake of his daughters. He is accused of crimes he didn't commit, just as Jesus was by Pontius Pilate. He is then killed unjustly even though he was a pure man - not exactly pure on the level of Christ but as a prodigal son type since no one is without sin as Jesus was.
My second favorite character in the series is Daenerys Targaryen. Her plot seems to mirror the Crucifixion of Christ in an Easter Sunday sense. She steps into the flames of death which should have killed her but is reborn from the ashes. But what stands out the most for me is her name. In Matthew 22:15-21, the Pharisees try to trick Jesus by inquiring of him if it is lawful to pay census tax to Caesar or not in which Jesus sees right through them and is mad. He tells them to show him the coin of the census tax and "they offered him a denarius". Upon reading this, you may not have picked up on the similarity to Dany's name. I'm sure I would not have. However, I heard this verse spoken out loud. I first heard this verse in Jeff Bethke's video on YouTube titled Whose image is on you. It is a really great video so be sure to check it out. Moving forward, Jesus takes the denarius and says to the Pharisees, "Whose image is this, and whose inscription?" They reply, "Caesar's." Then Jesus says, "So give back to Caesar what is Caesar's, and to God what is God's." Perhaps this is a prediction that Daenerys will rule...but she may become dictatorial rather than the fair Queen she was expecting herself to be originally.
Now let's move to the Lannister's. I want to discuss them as a whole rather than individually. Throughout the books, the Lannister colors of gold and crimson are listed hundreds of times. I wish someone would keep count of how many times the word crimson is mentioned throughout the entire series. But there is another medium which heavily emphasizes on the word crimson. Rapper and spoken word artist Propaganda recently released his sophomore album titled Crimson Cord and discussed the meaning behind the title song with the Relevant Podcast. He said he used crimson to symbolize Christ's blood. The phrase was a play on words of scarlet thread or a person's timeline or history being stained crimson or red with the blood of Christ. We are all stained with crimson on our timelines because each and every one of us killed Christ - yet we are redeemed. The Lannister's could be referred to as the ultimate sinners yet they are the color of crimson, symbolizing blood, and the color of gold which could represent alchemical gold or perfection. This points to George R. R. Martin using literary alchemy in his series. The definition of alchemy is transforming basic metals into pure gold. Literature does a similar things with characters in that they begin as flawed and sinning individuals who grow and become perfect, not in a conventional way but a authentic way. Alchemy is a very spiritual idea used throughout literature (very prevalent in Victor Hugo's The Hunchback of Notre Dame). Perhaps this points to the Lannister's all being redeemed by the end? So far we have Tyrion and Jaime redeemed, Tyrion from the start and Jaime from book 3 and I'd say Tywin and Joffery were redeemed in death. So is Cersei next?
Cersei herself shows her true colors when she orders Robert's bastards to be killed. This can easily be compared to King Herod who was threatened by Jesus just as Cersei is threatened by Robert's airs and tells his men to kill Jesus.
The final character I want to comment on is Jojen Reed. He guides Bran in the books and seems to have no concern for himseld. The show did a good job at portraying this when Jojen's hand caught fire, symbolizing his death yet he said Bran must keep going and live out his destiny and that he will be there no matter what. He is another Christ figure and possibly the ultimate Christ figure, laying down his life for his friends.
I next want to focus on locations in the series. First, the Vale. The Vale is where Lysa Arryn lives, high above everyone else which makes her and everyone living there very safe. A veil in reality is, as most know, something a bride wears over her face before her wedding This veil symbolizes her
innocence and that she is protected and safe. When her husband lifts the veil she is now entering into the unknown word of marriage and transforming into a woman. The Vale in this series is sort of the same way. It sits up high, safe and protected where no one can touch it. No one will be removing the Vale for quite some time which will keep it safe no matter what.
When Ned Stark is sent to the bottom of the dungeons in Kings Landing before he is executed, he sits in total darkness at the bottom and his experience can only be described like hell. I was listening to a Harry Potter book discussion and Dante's Inferno was mentioned and suddenly I realized that the dungeons of Kings Landing are a representation of descending deeper and deeper into hell. Ned is in the deepest circle where betrayers reside. Although Ned is innocent, he is accused of betraying the crown so it makes sense that George R. R. Martin placed him down there.
Finally, I would like to discuss the major religions of Westeros. The first, and most feared among readers, is the Lord of Lights. This religion seems to be mirroring modern day American Christianity and George R. R. Martin is poking fun at it. The religion fools people with miracles but is controlled by a malevolent god. It requires good works to be in the Lord of Light's favor and Melisandre seems to be their messiah, carrying out the Lord's work.
The Old Gods are a much more sacred form of religion and much older. Men and women who practice this form of folk religion by praying to the sacred heart tree. There are no holy texts or scriptures to follow. The only rituals they practice is prayer in front of the heart tree in the Godswood. Most Godswoods have been turned into secular gardens in the south, giving the old gods no power there. The heart trees, or Weirwood trees, have faces carved into them by the children of the forest and are considered sacred. The sap inside is red and runs out of the trees carved eyes, as if the tree is shedding tears of blood. The religion is very connected to nature and many say that the wind is a way the Old Gods speak to them.
The Drowned God is worshiped on the Iron Islands. While the iron borns are very harsh in what they believe, their practices are very similar to that of baptism. As babies, the iron born are drowned in water and brought back up cleansed and resurrected.
The faith, or the New Gods, is the most prominent religion in Westeros. There are 7 gods - 3 men, 3 women, and one ambiguous. They are as follows - the fathers, the mother, the warrior, the maiden, the smith, the crone, and the stranger. The number 7 is a very important number in the Bible. God created the world in 7 days. The Bible was originally split into 7 major divisions - the law, the prophets, the writings/psalms, the Gospels and Acts, the General Epistles, the Epistles of Paul, and the book of Revelation. In Matthew 13, Jesus is quoted as giving 7 parables. 7 psalms are ascribed to David in the New Testament. In scripture, 7 symbolizes completeness or perfection. There is also supposed to be 7 books in the A Song of Ice and Fire series, similar to other great fantasies like the Chronicles of Narnia and Harry Potter. Both of these series use literary alchemy and as I stated above, it seems this series is doing the same. It will be more obvious once all 7 books are published.
While A Song of Ice and Fire is a dark series, it shows its many biblical references just as other fantasies do. It is a mark of smart fiction and I can't wait to finish the series!
Do you see any biblical hints in the series? If so, comment with your thoughts! I would love to have a conversation with you!

Thursday, May 22, 2014

A Reflection on Podcasting

Today I have just released Episode 11 of the podcast I am a part of called Talk Magic to Me. It feels surreal that my friends and I made it this far! 11 episodes seems miniscule next to other podcasts who have dished out hundreds to almost 500 episodes. I can only hope we make it that far. Although 11 is a small number in that regard, it is a big number from where I'm standing. We started this project in February and now it is almost June! I hardly can recall why the months have slipped right through my fingers. While life tends to speed by anyway, this podcast seems to have put my life in overdrive.
Many good things have come from this podcast. The best part about it though, by far, is getting to have conversation with friends. Every week I get to watch a new movie and write my thoughts down for future discussions and it is awesome! I especially love when we discuss heavier topics (which may occur more with our new grubs section). Being able to put my opinions out there in a more approachable way is great. Another great aspect of podcasting is listener feedback. While we haven't received a lot, we already seem to have a few devoted listeners which is amazing. I can only hope that our podcast will be an inspiration for them as much as other podcasts have been for me.
While podcasting has highs, it also has lows. I know my fellow host Jen will agree with me when I say that podcasting is STRESSFUL! It is especially stressful when it isn't your job and it sucks up all your free time. I find that I am more often than not extremely tired and so all my waking hours are either at my job or working with the podcast. This has forced me to neglect many things that I don't want to neglect like reading, writing, and of course blogging. I've gotten better at managing my time but it is still tiring. I have become sick of editing to the point where I put it off until the very last minute. No wonder I am stressed. Once I sit down and commit to editing though I enjoy the job.
But at the end of the day, this is something I enjoy doing. I want to continue to have healthy conversation and talk about why Disney is so awesome with my friends and listeners. Who knows, maybe something great will come out of this one day (preferably a full time job or a trip to Disney World).
Between all of the highs and lows, podcasting has given me room to grow as a person and an artist.
The experience has given me many teachable moments that I want to share. The first is that I can't judge myself too harshly. After recording our first few episodes, especially the Frozen episodes, I would wake up the next morning feeling crappy and as if what I said during recording wasn't good enough. It's a sucky feeling and I still feel it every now and then and am still learning that I can't be too hard on myself. I have also learned that I can't judge other podcasts too harshly either. Before Talk Magic to Me, I would often be nitpicky and annoyed when a podcaster forgot to mention something or say a fact correctly and now when I listen back I notice my fellow hosts and I making mistakes or forgetting important info.
The next thing I have learned is that it is okay to be stressed. I is okay in context. I am stressed because I am trying to make the podcast great so there can't be anything wrong with that...right? It also teaches me to loosen up and learn from the stress. I now have to ask myself, what do I NEED to do and what can wait? Jen said to me a few weeks ago that podcasting is a labor of love. I would have to agree entirely.
Finally, podcasting has pushed me to be more creative. Coming up with fun games and grubs and writing the basic script is working a lot of your creative juices. I'm being pushed in a new way and I can see a big difference in myself already.
Ultimately, the experience has been good and I look forward to our future episodes and can't wait to see where the podcast takes all four of us!

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Mini Book Review: Politically Correct Bedtime Stories by James Finn Garner

Politically Correct Bedtime StoriesPolitically Correct Bedtime Stories by James Finn Garner
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book is just as funny as the title implies it to be. I'm so glad someone had the guts to confront the issue of political correctness in fairytales by writing their own group of fairytales! I mean, these were spot on. They served the purpose of tackling an issue that we are faced with in the modern day and did it in a hilarious fashion. I don't think I've ever laughed out loud so much when reading a book.
It's a quick read which was nice.
It helps when you are familiar with the fairytales. For example - I've never read the emperors new clothes so even though some parts were funny, I didn't really get the point of the story.
We live in a time when people are way way way too sensitive, especially when it comes to portraying people in stories, movies and tv.
Here is one of my favorite quotes from the book, which I noticed someone else used in their review as well so kudos!
"The wolf said, 'You know, my dear, it isn't safe for a little girl to walk through these woods alone.' Red Riding Hood said, 'I find your sexist remark offensive in the extreme, but I will ignore it because of your traditional status as an outcast from society, the stress of which has caused you to develop your own, entirely valid, worldview. Now, if you'll excuse me, I must be on my way.'" Pure comedy gold. Much better than those stand up comedians they've got on Netflix haha.
Overall, nicely done. I look forward the reading the second installment which I have already ordered!

View all my reviews

Friday, May 9, 2014

World Vision's Decision to Revoke Hiring Gay Employees

When I was 15 years old, I went to a concert in Philadelphia called the Revolve Tour where several Christian artists and speakers came to empower young women. While there, the performers constantly brought up World Vision and even showed a video talking about what the organization was and how we could help.  As a 15 year old who was eager to do her part and do good to follow Jesus, I suggested to my friend that we sponsor a child together.  It would be $40 a month which we would split to pay $20 a month. She agreed and so her mom helped us fill out the paperwork and we even received white wrist bands for our charity. I had no job and no source of income but felt that it wasn't an issue. I felt that I had the money to give and starving children needed it. After a few months though, I was out of money and had to pull out of the entire thing. I'm not sure if my friend and her mom kept the sponsorship or not.
Recently there was an issue involving World Vision and the law stating that companies and corporations couldn't deny an applicant for discriminatory reasons such as race, ethnicity, sexual preference, etc. World Vision complied to this law and made a statement that they would be hiring gay employees from now on. The statement was not taken lightly and before long, tons and tons of World Vision advocates pulled the plug on their monthly donations.  It wasn't long after when World Vision revoked their statement and gave a formal apology.  This is my understanding of the story.
I think my biggest issue with this situation is the fact that people are willing to ignore starving children because of this decision. Suddenly, because of a political decision, starving children can no longer be supported by certain people?  It's okay to support them when your money is traveling through an organization that believes everything you believe but not when you believe different things? I mean, I know it was a big decision for World Vision to make and I know gay marriage is a huge issue that people take strong sides on...but shouldn't we be more concerned about where the money is going instead of what the company believes? Isn't it enough that you both agree that you want to feed starving children and obliterate poverty?
Let me break this down. I'm not ignorant to the fact that people want to support an organization that stands up for what they personally believe is right. Often times a Republican won't donate or support a Democrat's organization, and vice versa. Or think of businesses and organizations like Chick-fil-a and Susan G. Komen. Some people will defend Chick-fil-a because their beliefs are their beliefs and nothing more when it comes to business practices (or they support them because they agree with their beliefs). Others will no longer eat there because the profits are said to go toward organizations that are blatant gay hate groups. The same can be said for Susan G. Komen. Many support this organization because it is doing good to forward the research to cure breast cancer and how can we not support curing cancer in any form? But some don't support this organization because it is said the money doesn't always go toward breast cancer research but abortion clinics. There is one key component here that both sides are missing - a common variable. One side believes the company has a right to believe what they believe while the other takes it step further by saying these businesses/organizations are using their power to fund hate groups, controversial medicine and are choosing political sides. In both of these cases, people stand up against the big guys because their money isn't going toward what they believe it should be going toward and it is only fair that the consumer has a right to know where there money is actually going.
Then there is World Vision. Can I ask, would this decision affect where the monthly donations go? No! We already know that not 100% of World Vision's donations go toward starving kids and most likely goes to funding other things in the organization but that isn't what this whole thing is about...and as for employee pay, it's unfair to say that a sinner of any nature doesn't deserve the right to a job, whether you believe being gay is a sin or not. But in the end, World Vision's decision to hire gay people doesn't change where there money is going. Other factors may change this but hiring gay employees doesn't.
That being said, what I gather from all of these monthly donators pulling their money out of the pot is that they seem to care more about this false moral objective of the company rather than what the company is really about. They support World Vision and since most Christians object to gay marriage, they don't want to show support any longer because if they are hiring gay people, then World Vision isn't on there side.
Okay...but I have two questions.  One - who does the money of a non-profit go towards, their company or what they do? The right answer would hopefully be what they do which is supporting starving children (though as I said, I'm not sure 100% of World Vision's profits from monthly donations goes towards preventing starvation and everything else World Vision says they are doing). Two - who's side are we on? You see, I thought that all World Vision supporters were on the same side - the side to end world poverty. I thought poverty and the belief of standing up to it meant more than a political stance. And more importantly, I thought we as Christians were taught, "let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone" from John 8:7 in the Bible. Is it just me or has this organization created to fund love and end poverty become a source for outsiders to learn about hate in the Christian community? Because when I take a step back and look at the whole picture from a non-Christian perspective, I see a group of people betraying their said goal of love in order to cast hate on another group - as if we are all not worthy of love and attention but only a select few. Hosts on the podcast Christ and Pop Culture comment saying, "[These] poor children [World Vision sponsors] are a political football."  And it is quite true.
What is super ironic is that last night I watched Dumbo and it wasn't until I was halfway done writing

this post that I made a connection between this situation and the early Disney film. In the beginning, Dumbo is delivered to his mother and love ensues the train car the elephants inhabit. But when Dumbo sneezes and reveals his big ears, panic is released. He is different and different is bad. You may be thinking, you can't compare an animated movie about an elephant with big ears to humans rejecting gay marriage.  Well, I would argue that I can compare the two. Disney characterizes the elephants as a proud race and this is a big deal to them who take pride in their appearance. It is just as important an issue as gay marriage is to Christians. Moving forward, there is a scene in particular where Dumbo is sitting alone in a corner crying after his mother is taken away from him and chained, all because she tried to protect him (another incident in which John 8:7 takes precedent since the boy making fun of Dumbo's big ears has big ears himself). All of the other elephants are huddled in a circle, gossiping. They want to disown Dumbo as an elephant because he is different. When Dumbo walks over to be with his kind, they not only block him from joining their circle but ignore him and pretend they don't see him there and this strips Dumbo of his humanity...or his elephant-ness is you want to be specific. Aren't Christians doing the same thing with this World Vision incident? Oh, so you're gay? You can't have my God or be a part of my good works. I mean...really? Are we that big headed? Author Richard Snickel says of the scene in his book The Disney Version, "The hugeness of the beasts contrasted gorgeously with the smallness of their souls."  And indeed, the hugeness of Christian pride and self-righteousness contrasts wonderfully with the smallness of our souls.
At the end of the day, we can't let our feelings direct our actions and I know that is a challenging idea and one I struggle with a lot. But it is important for us to see every side of the rubik's cube because if you don't, you won't ever solve the puzzle but be ignorant to other solutions. It is important to ask, how does this affect me, if it doesn't affect me than who does it affect, and why does it matter in the context of the situation?
In the case of World Vision, the situation does not affect me since I don't donate money or need someone to support my well-being because I don't have the means to. The decision to hire gay employees doesn't affect my well-being and certainly doesn't affect my theology but it certain tests my theology and makes me stop and think. The decision of the World Vision donators pulling out their money doesn't affect me but it affects the kids that the money goes toward. That donation may have given a child a net to protect them from mosquitoes. Now, because World Vision gives anyone the right to be an employee, other children will not have the opportunity to have nets to protect them and the whole thing is absurd. What does a person's belief in gay marriage matter to an organization feeding, clothing, and supporting poor children? doesn't.

Saturday, May 3, 2014

Coffee with Jesus by David Wilkie

I'm not a huge comic book person.  I tried to get into them as a kid but they never sparked my interest.  I have always been a novel person, specifically fiction, and comics were always too quick and seemed too open ended.  I wanted descriptions instead of pictures doing to work for me.  Fast forward to present day.  I don't know what pushed me to buy this comic book, Coffee with Jesus.  I must have heard about it through Relevant Magazine or something because when I rack my brains and wonder what prompted me to buy this book, I draw a blank.    But I bought it and read it in a matter of hours.  Yep, it was that good. 
I still can't say I am a comic book fan but the comic strip medium was perfect to execute what the author, David Wilkie, had in mind to give people quick snippets of Jesus while they drank their coffee in the morning.  Coffee with Jesus was what I expected it to be.  It sarcastically made fun of what Christianity has become to most Americans and painted Jesus as this relaxed, hipster-esque fellow who you can have an everyday conversation with yet he isn't afraid to pick out your BS.  There are tons of people attacking the same idea but in different styles - mostly videos, sometimes music, and tons of books in the Christianity section of your local bookstore.  Some people have made the idea cliche while others have captured it beautifully.  But what made Coffee with Jesus so unique besides it's comic book form was the intelligence behind it.  It wasn't a silly comic book as some people might expect.  This is due partly to the fact that many people don't take comic books seriously and the fact that Jesus in a comic strip is almost as ridiculous as Christian Rap used to sound.  But just like Lecrae has changed the way people view Christian Rap, I think Coffee with Jesus will turn a lot of heads as well.  I've never read Calvin and Hobbs (though one day hope to change that) but from what I have read of theirs, I can imagine Coffee with Jesus being on their level.  Yep, I said it.  It's that good.
Each comic strip was raw, intelligent, and humorous and they all had one thing in common; each one contained solid theological teachings.  The blunt and sarcastic nature of Jesus worked well with the American/religious Christian characters he drank coffee with.  Each character was given a brief back story and I truly felt like I had gotten to know them all by the end.  Plus, the character of Satan seemed like an over the top parody of cartoon and old superhero movie villains.  I had a hard time not cracking up when I was reading each strip. 
My fear is that people will pass by this comic strip because it is a comic book and people may think it won't have much to say.  However, I believe this book has as much to say about faith as C.S. Lewis's Mere Christianity.  It is a book that has come to abolish our inner Pharisee.  Too often we dive into "Christian" media and find cheesy and overdone creations that don't really tell us who Jesus is or what it means to be a Christian.  But this comic book lays it all out on the table and doesn't try to sugar coat anything.  Plus, I liked the artwork.  It was simple black and white drawings and each character always kept their original look apart from Carl who would sometimes have a beard or wear a hat.  One thing to be aware of is that this isn't a story, just snippets of a character's coffee conversation with Jesus.  There isn't any character development like you would expect in something like Spiderman.
I think this is a book that would be great to read more than once.  The first time, read through it all in one shot or over a period of a few days.  Then, return to it and maybe read one comic strip a day while you drink your coffee or eat your breakfast so you can soak in the theology!  Reading the book just in one shot like I did is fine and I don't plan to read it over breakfast for a second time but I do find it a tiny bit forgettable because of the large amount of comic strips.  They are each unique but reading them back to back sort of blends them together in my mind.  One strip a day may soak through more and have more of an impact on the reader.
I would love to see a volume two on the shelves one day!  Fingers crossed!

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars