I had planned to make a little video to celebrate this final post, but there were, um, technical difficulties:
Ah, well. I tried.
Yes, Typewriter Monkey Task Force is ending at last. Before I lay the blog to rest, I should probably answer a few final questions.
What will happen to your typewriter monkeys?
A few readers have asked about my typewriter monkeys—as a precaution, I presume, in order to stay out of their way. Never fear! I don’t intend to unleash my monkeys upon any of my readers.
My monkeys wanted to set off some fireworks to celebrate the blog’s end, but that never ends well, so I threw them a goodbye party instead. I provided snacks, and they brought their own drinks. (I didn’t even know you could make cocktails with rum and bananas.) They drank enough rum to float a boat, and ate enough bananas to sink one.
While my monkeys slept off their hangovers, I took the opportunity to pack them comfortably in a large crate, and to ship them to Australia.
Goodbye, and good riddance!
Of all places on Earth, the Outback seemed like the one where my monkeys could do the least damage. (Even so, brace yourself, Australia.) If the Mad Max movies are to be believed, the Australian interior is already pretty wild, so my monkeys will fit right in.
What will you do now that TMTF is over?
I will catch up with long overdue housework, sleep, work on my story project, and play some video games… probably not in that order.
As long as the vision of heaven is always changing, the vision of earth will be exactly the same.
~ G.K. Chesterton
Do you know what’s nice about stars? Stars stay. They’re fixed in the night sky. Although they seem to move slightly as our planet spins, stars are heavenly fixtures.
I often think of a particular star during the Christmas season. Most of us know its story. Wise men followed this star until they found the infant Christ, whom they worshiped, and to whom they gave kingly gifts. It’s a familiar image of the Christmas season, often depicted on holiday cards and remembered in carols.
Just imagine if the wise men had followed, say, the moon. They would never have found the Christ, unless by accident. The moon moves across the night sky. It regularly changes shape, apparently unable to decide upon one it likes. The wise men would have found neither hope nor truth following the moon. It leads nowhere.
I recently reread G.K. Chesterton’s Orthodoxy, which I once reviewed for this blog. One of Chesterton’s criticisms of contemporary worldviews is how constantly we change them. “We are not altering the real to suit the ideal,” he declared. “We are altering the ideal: it is easier.” Frequently changing our ideals makes real progress almost impossible. Quoth Chesterton, “This, therefore, is our first requirement about the ideal towards which progress is directed; it must be fixed.”
Figure B: Wise man
Reform requires fixed goals. A traveler can spend all day walking, but if he chooses a new destination every five minutes, he won’t make much progress anywhere. He needs a fixed destination. If the wise men had followed the moon, they may never have found any hope for their broken world. Fortunately, they followed a star, and found it.
They found him.
C.S. Lewis, an admirer of Chesterton, had this to add:
Now Faith, in the sense in which I am here using the word, is the art of holding on to things your reason has once accepted, in spite of your changing moods. For moods will change, whatever view your reason takes.
If our beliefs, goals, and ideals change with our moods, we may as well be following the moon—we’ll get nowhere. We must find fixed ideals, and we must stick to them.
There is a fine line between healthy transparency and self-centered whining. I sometimes stumble over it. I tend to talk too much, or not enough, about my struggles and problems. Unlike some of the writers and bloggers whom I admire, I haven’t mastered the art of selfless transparency.
I hope I can be transparent today without seeming whiny or selfish. A number of things have weighed me down lately with sadness, anxiety, and uncertainty.
I’m not sure what to do, except to keep going.
Be still, my soul: the Lord is on thy side.
Bear patiently the cross of grief or pain.
Leave to thy God to order and provide,
who through all changes faithful will remain.
Be still, my soul: thy best, thy heavenly Friend
through thorny ways leads to a joyful end.
A couple of months ago, as I sat in a back pew of my church, a singer took the stage for a special performance of “Be Still My Soul.” It’s a beautiful hymn, and one of my favorites. As the singer began the second verse, I was surprised to find myself holding back tears.
I almost never cry. It took me a moment to realize why an old hymn had brought tears to my eyes.
It was a moment of painful emotional clarity. I felt, for a moment, echoes of my old faith, with its old confidence and hopefulness. I mourned their loss.
Be still, my soul: thy God doth undertake
to guide the future surely as the past.
Thy hope, thy confidence let nothing shake;
all now mysterious shall be bright at last.
Be still, my soul: the waves and winds still know
his voice who ruled them while he dwelt below.
Work has been really tough lately. A widespread shortage of nursing professionals has left my workplace, a nursing home, hilariously short-staffed. At any rate, the staff shortage would be hilarious if it weren’t, y’know, a serious problem that’s exhausting and demoralizing those of us remaining.
I applied this week for part-time work at a few local libraries. They aren’t hiring, unfortunately, but offered to keep my applications on file. I’m not hopeful, but hey, I tried. I tried, I tried, I tried. Now it’s back to a workplace that seems a little more dysfunctional every day.
At least it’s not as bad as my last job, I remind myself. It isn’t yet.
I learned just yesterday that starting next year, I must either work more hours every week, or lose my employee health insurance. It’s not an easy choice. I feel like I can’t handle working any more hours, especially under current conditions, but can’t afford to lose my insurance coverage.
I’m kidding about the wasteland. I wish I were kidding about Trump. In writing this blog, I’ve avoided political discussions: partly to avoid strife and controversy, and partly because I’m not versed in politics. Today I’ll make an exception to acknowledge that Trump’s election troubles me greatly. A majority of voters supported a narcissistic liar who openly derides women, immigrants, minorities, and the disabled.
Is this America? Are Trump’s ideas what we value, support, and believe? Is this God’s Church in America? Have we really decided Donald Trump was the most Christlike candidate for president?
(Besides, have you seen Trump’s hair? It’s not a hairdo—it’s a hair-do-not.)
Look at that hair. Look at it. It’s horrible. On second thought, maybe don’t look at it.
Trump’s election is appalling, but Hillary Clinton was hardly a better choice. This was an ugly election, and I couldn’t see any possible victory. Simon & Garfunkel put it well: “When you’ve got to choose, every way you look at it, you lose.”
America, which already seemed plenty broken, is in shock. Reactions range from fear to outrage to smug satisfaction. Heck, the situation makes my workplace seem perfectly ordered and functional by comparison.
I just want to stay home, drink tea, and wrap Christmas presents. Is that an option?
Be still, my soul: the hour is hastening on
when we shall be forever with the Lord;
when disappointment, grief, and fear are gone,
sorrow forgot, love’s purest joys restored.
Be still, my soul: when change and tears are past
all safe and blessed we shall meet at last.
My parents moved to Spain a week ago. After using my apartment as their home base for seven months, they packed, said goodbye, and launched themselves bravely into the next chapter of their journey. I miss them. More to the point, I am so proud of them. They live by faith, always cheerful, bouncing from place to place with practiced ease, loving others.
My parents are the best.
A week or so before my parents left, my older brother and his family concluded a brief visit to Indiana. They’ve returned to the Dominican Republic to continue working with troubled youth. I’m proud of them, too.
My family lives by faith in Jesus Christ. They uphold a legacy of belief and devotion that stretches back generations. That circle remains unbroken.I believe. At any rate, I try.
Perhaps my favorite prayer in the Bible isn’t actually a formal one, but a desperate plea from a man at the end of his hope. A father begged Jesus to heal his son, who from childhood had suffered from an excruciating malady caused by a demon. (Here’s the full story.)
“If you can do anything,” pleaded the man, “take pity on us and help us.”
“‘If you can’?” echoed Jesus. “Everything is possible for one who believes.”
The father exclaimed, desperately, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!”
That’s my prayer these days.
I face my own challenges, and the world seems more broken by the day, but God has a reputation for calming storms, and for making just a little good stretch a long way. God is bigger than social inequality and personal problems—and he is certainly bigger than Donald Trump’s hair.
I spent hours yesterday sifting through clutter in my apartment: books, blowgun darts, office supplies, ocelot pelts, papers, outdated foreign currency, clothes, and centuries-old trinkets of carved stone and bone.
It occurs to me that my life is kind of strange.
My parents, who are missionaries, have used my apartment as their home base during their slow transition from working in Uruguay to working in Spain. Since they plan to depart for Galicia in a few weeks, we began sorting through their stuff yesterday in preparation for packing. It was an… interesting process.
My dad grew up in the jungles of Ecuador, and my mum loves antiques. Between the two of them, my family has accumulated a ton of awesome junk, much of it very old. I found a toucan beak, a stone axe head of incalculable age, an armadillo shell, and an ancient Incan figurine, among other things. I felt like I was reorganizing the office of Indiana Jones; I could almost hear him say, “This belongs in a museum!” (In case you were wondering, my parents are nothing like Indiana Jones; sorry to disappoint.)
My parents have spent time in the state of Indiana. Does that count?
Of course, these exciting souvenirs were merely sprinkled over heaps of modern, ordinary items such as clothes, books, and kitchenware. My apartment currently contains my stuff, my younger brother’s stuff, my parents’ stuff, and even a little bit of my older brother’s stuff.
My apartment is, um, a tiny bit cluttered at the moment.
Gathering my parents’ possessions uprooted some of my own, like unto the parable of the wheat and the weeds. This is actually a good thing. In a month, when my parents are bound safely for the rainy shores of Spain, I intend to take inventory of my worldly goods, and then to get rid of some.
Since my parents are missionaries, we moved around a lot. We never got a chance to accumulate much clutter. Every move to a new place stripped away all the stuff we couldn’t take with us. I learned to live light.
At any rate, that’s what I thought.
O’Hare International Airport proved me wrong. When I traveled from Ecuador to the US for college, I carried all of my worldly goods with me in a backpack, a carry-on, a computer bag, and two duffel bags the approximate size of adult male hippos.
Artist interpretation of Adam’s duffel bags.
On that day the air traffic controllers of O’Hare decided, in their infinite wisdom, to make my plane unload its luggage at one end of the airport, and its passengers on the other. This required me to walk approximately two hundred sixty extra miles along dingy airport hallways, and I had a bus to catch. Of course I did.
So I ran—well, I shuffled—dragging my carry-on, with my pack and computer bag slung across my back, and a duffel bag dangling from each shoulder. As I stepped, my duffel bags swung with the ponderous force of battering rams. Straps cut into my back and shoulders. I kept stepping—well, shuffling—wishing for a luggage cart, or a team of porters, or the sweet release of death.
That experience shaped my guiding philosophy for owning stuff: If it isn’t worth moving, it isn’t worth having. I want to live without clutter or extra weight. When I move somewhere new, which I’m sure I will sooner or later, I want moving to be as easy as possible. If I wouldn’t move something to a new home, I probably don’t need it right now, and should probably get rid of it.
For the most part, my clutter-free philosophy has worked well. (At any rate, it has left enough empty space in my apartment for my parents’ worldly goods.) A minimalist approach makes it easier for me to keep things organized, and helps me to appreciate my individual possessions. I feel lighter, freer, and calmer without so much stuff.
My friend JK wrote a blog post about tidy living. Henry David Thoreau wrote, “Simplify, simplify.” Even Jesus Christ said, “Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; life does not consist in an abundance of possessions.”
It will be cathartic to take inventory of my possessions later this year, and to give away the stuff I don’t really want. I hope the nearest donation center doesn’t mind books.
Today’s story is a testimony, I suppose, but not mine. It’s the story of a pastor who founded a ministry, and of a congregation that supported it. My part in the story is actually very small. It’s kind of an anti-testimony, really.
Once upon a time, my laziness inspired the creation of a church ministry called Change the World. It gathers donations in the form of spare change and small bills, and then uses this money to support charity projects across the world.
At one point, when I was in college, I acquired about forty-five dollars in loose change. That’s a lot of coins, guys. Seriously, that’s like five flipping pounds of money, stuffed haphazardly into a sagging resealable bag.
Spare change is kind of a nuisance, really.
This little fortune was more of a nuisance than a blessing. Where was I going to spend five pounds of change? I couldn’t use it at a store or restaurant—no sane server or salesclerk would accept a bag of coins. I was too lazy to put them in paper wrappers for deposit at the bank. How was I going to get rid of them?
In the end, I sheepishly handed over the bag of change to my pastor. In my defense, I was transparent about my own laziness. Giving the money to my church was the easiest option; I didn’t pretend otherwise.
My pastor—I’ll call him Socrates—accepted the coins, apparently unfazed by my laziness and ineptitude at being a capable adult. Instead, he realized how much spare change people tend to have scattered around, and decided to redeem it for the kingdom of heaven.
Together with the church’s leadership team, Socrates founded Change the World, which redirects donations of loose change toward a new charitable project every month. A number of church members supported the project enthusiastically. It continues to this day.
In college, I served that church in a number of capacities, from mowing its lawn to running its soundboard to whacking bongo drums during its worship services. I find it hilarious that my only enduring impact on that church was not only completely accidental, but openly lazy.
As Linus from the Peanuts comic once put it, “There’s a lesson to be learned here somewhere, but I don’t know what it is.”
Peanuts by Charles Schulz.
My accidental involvement in the Change the World project reminds me of a story from the book of Numbers. It’s the tale of the wicked prophet Balaam, who was sharply criticized by a donkey. (It’s a funny story.) That donkey probably wasn’t planning to get involved in the work of God, but then neither was I.
My legacy of laziness endures to this day. I hope it has done the world a little good.
A few days ago, John Cleese showed up on my Twitter homepage—a video of him, I mean, not the man himself. (That would have been pretty cool, though.) I think the video, a brief discussion of extremism, is worth sharing.
Extremism is a vague term, but it generally describes a cause or belief—or, alternatively, support for a cause or belief—so extreme as to be harmful or irrational.
In just a few words, Mr. Cleese lists benefits of extremism, which are more or less synonymous with some of its flaws:
Well, the biggest advantage of extremism is that it makes you feel good, because it provides you with enemies.
Let me explain. The great thing about having enemies is that you can pretend that all the badness in the whole world is in your enemies, and all the goodness in the whole world is in you. Attractive, isn’t it?
So if you have a lot of anger and resentment in you anyway, and you therefore enjoy abusing people, then you can pretend that you’re only doing it because these enemies of yours are such very bad persons! And if it wasn’t for them, you’d actually be good-natured, and courteous, and rational, all the time. So if you want to feel good, become an extremist!
That’s a problem with extremism, isn’t it? It’s often nothing more than an oversimplification, or a deflection of blame. It deflects the blame for vast, complicated problems toward anyone with whom the extremist strongly disagrees. This enables both wrath and pride, allowing an extremist to act like a jerk and feel like a saint: an appalling hypocrisy.
Most extremists are easily controlled. They want to deflect blame on others. If someone tells them others are to blame, most extremists are only too eager to agree. After all, it’s satisfying to point out a speck in someone else’s eye. It’s much harder to acknowledge that I might have something in my own.
Extremism is alive and well in the world today. It provokes conflicts great and small, from massive terrorist attacks to petty political insults. I like to think I’m not an extremist, but Mr. Cleese’s video touches a nerve—I understand the mindset he describes. It’s easier to blame others than to figure out to whom the blame really belongs… especially if it ends up belonging to me.
It’s so easy to point fingers, isn’t it?
I mean, just for example, I could say, “Those extremists! They ruin everything, and I have nothing but contempt for them.”
If I said this, I would admittedly make a valid point: Extremists generally make the world a worse place. However, I would also overlook a point of great significance: By griping about extremists, I’m not exactly making the world any better, am I?
It begs the question: How is my contempt for extremists any different than their contempt for others?
It’s all rather complicated. The world tends to be a mess, after all, which may be why Jesus Christ made a point of summing up so neatly: “So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.”
This doesn’t mean that I must accept every point of view. What it means is that I must do my best to respect and understand everyone, even if I don’t agree with them. Disagreement is fine. Extremism—demonizing those who disagree—is never acceptable.
On a personal note, I do tend to blame my typewriter monkeys for all of this blog’s problems. Maybe, instead of deflecting that blame, I should acknowledge that some of it belongs to me. I make mistakes, too. Maybe I should try to respect and understand my monkeys instead of assuming the worst of them.
A new series of posts begins today. As this blog stumbles doggedly toward its final post, I’m planning my next big personal project. I want to rewrite a story. I speak, of course, of the Lance Eliot saga: a trilogy of fantasies, and a dream I’ve chased for more than a decade. At this point, I have no delusions of grandeur, fame, or literary excellence. I just want to get the damned thing written.
Sooner or later, every creative person reaches a point at which he just wants to scream and shake things—preferably sharp, pointy things. (Art by JK Riki.)
A while back, when I wondered whether to discuss my story here, nobody raised any objections, so here we are. I’m not sure how often I’ll publish posts about the Lance Eliot saga, but they won’t take over TMTF or anything. This blog’s regularly scheduled nonsense shall continue!
I’ve decided to title this series Adam’s Story. I considered longer titles, like Adam’s Story Project, and more specific ones, like The Lance Eliot Saga, but settled on a title that’s short, sweet, and personal. After all, Adam’s Story refers to more than a story I want to write. It is also my story, the story of Adam, who has spent (or misspent; the jury’s still out) an alarming number of hours making up stories about a guy named Lance Eliot.
I’m actually really excited to write about the Lance Eliot saga, for at least five reasons.
It will let me work on two things—this blog and story planning—at the same time, and with the same effort. How efficient!
It will provide, I hope, a smooth transition from writing a blog to writing the story itself.
It will force me to be a bit more disciplined. I can’t write about an aspect of the story until I’ve made sufficient progress in planning it, so I won’t be able to skip steps or cut corners!
It will allow me to express my enthusiasm for the Lance Eliot saga, and to spread awareness of it. Every bit helps!
It will allow me to share some of my ideas. Even if I’m not able to finish the Lance Eliot saga, at least I will have gotten some of its details out of my head.
This is a picture of me throwing away the torn-up pieces of my story’s published version. Hold on, my mistake, it’s actually that version’s cover. How… apropos.
The new version won’t be anything special, but I hope to make it much better than previous ones.
Will I publish my story? I don’t know. I haven’t planned that far ahead. I’ve stopped calling the Lance Eliot saga “my book project,” and begun referring to it as “my story project.” I should probably write it before I think about publication, and I should probably plan it before I start writing.
As I plan the Lance Eliot saga, each post in the Adam’s Story series shall focus on an aspect of it. Relax, there won’t be any huge spoilers here. That said, there will be small spoilers, but nothing past the story’s earlier chapters.
Here are some of my ideas for posts about my fantasy and its world.
I have to lay out the basics at some point, right? There won’t be any massive reveals here: just the early stuff!
There’s obviously a character named Lance Eliot. This post shall share a few more.
The setting is changing from previous versions of the story. I hope to make it more unique, with more details from personal experiences, and fewer generic fantasy elements. (There shall still be dragons, though. I can’t bring myself to leave them out.) The geography is changing a bit, too.
Goodbye, old setting. We hardly knew ye.
I guess this means my dad and I will need to make a new map. It’s a good thing he’s a patient man.
Earlier versions of the story didn’t really delve into politics. Iwant to change that. The simplistic political scene of earlier drafts shall be replaced with a tenser situation, finding such diverse inspirations as the Cold War, The Chronicles of Narnia, and Final Fantasy XII. Lance Eliot’s story shall be an adventure, not a political thriller, but I’m excited to give it some political background.
Like the story’s politics, its lore shall be more nuanced this time around. In The Lord of the Rings and his other fantasies, J.R.R. Tolkien imagined the God of Christianity in a fantastical context. I plan to do the same, taking cues from the later Old Testament, and borrowing ideas from Greco-Roman mythology and the Legend of Zelda series.
I really struggled with the concept of magic as I wrote earlier versions of the Lance Eliot saga. At first, I fought to reconcile magic with a Christian worldview, and I think I’ve figured out that part. Now my struggle is to invent a kind of magic that isn’t too vague, generic, or unbelievable. The magic in my story isn’t actually called by that name; for now, I’m calling it aer. What is it? Why aer? You’ll just have to wait and see.
I plan for my story’s three parts to parallel, however loosely, the three parts of the Divine Comedy. The first part of my story shall borrow from Dante’s Inferno, and it’s going to be a hell of a ride. (Alternatively: It’s going to be a damned good time. I can’t resist these puns, guys. I’m so sorry.)
I may cover more aspects of the story; I don’t know. Today’s post covers pretty much everything I have planned for now.
That said, this story won’t plan itself, so I’d better get back to it.
Dante’s Inferno is not a cheerful poem. It follows the poet Dante and his guide Virgil through hell, upon whose gate are inscribed these words: Abandon all hope, ye who enter here. This slogan could just as easily be printed on the poem’s front cover. Inferno isn’t a fun read, unless you happen to enjoy long conversations (all written in archaic language and poetic meter) with the tormented souls of damned sinners.
I once wrote about my favorite opening lines in literature, and more recently considered some of my favorite last lines. For example, A Tale of Two Cities ends on a poignant note: “It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done; it is a far, far better rest that I go to than I have ever known.” My all-time favorite last line concludes The Lord of the Rings: “‘Well, I’m back,’ he said.”
The final line of the Inferno is right up there with my favorites. For a poem whose most enduring words are “Abandon hope,” it ends hopefully. Dante and Virgil leave hell.
I can imagine it so clearly: disheveled travelers, exhausted from climbing in the endless dark, chilled by the ice of hell’s last circle, disturbed by the horrors of the underworld, glancing upward and seeing a sky alight with stars. I can see them stumbling out of the cave into the fresh air, blinking in the soft light from heaven. I can hear cicadas buzzing and feel a breeze stirring the grass. Hell is behind them. The nightmare is ended. After all the circles of hell, they know they’ve reached safety, for they see again the stars.
I’m a bit sentimental, but that’s one of my favorite images in all of literature. After literally going through hell, our heroes are safe. They are no longer trapped beneath stone ceilings. Above them, the heavens declare the glory of God. It’s a touching picture, and an uplifting end to a really bleak poem.
In one of the Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis, there’s a similar scene in which the protagonists escape an underworld to find themselves beneath a starry sky. J.R.R. Tolkien’s books also feature characters ending underground journeys by stumbling out into the open, such as Bilbo getting out of the Misty Mountains in The Hobbit and the Fellowship fleeing Moria in The Fellowship of the Ring. Escaping the underworld to find oneself beneath the sky has become a literary motif, and I dig it.
To conclude, here’s a bit of trivia: All three parts of the Divine Comedy end with the word stars. Neat, huh?
While this blog was on break, I went to a wedding. It was splendid. I’m not the sort of person who enjoys weddings, but this one was all right.
The tables at which the wedding guests were seated were named after fantasy lands, from Hyrule to Narnia to Middle-earth. I sat at the Redwall table, drinking coffee and stacking the paper cups like a conqueror piling up the skulls of his vanquished foes. I chatted with relatives, some of whom I hadn’t seen in many years.
The whole stacking-empty-cups-like-skulls-of-slain-enemies thing is a habit of mine.
All around me rang the joyous hubbub of dozens and dozens of people, all gathered to celebrate the union of a man and a woman who really love each other. I may not care much for weddings, but heck, I’m not made of stone. It was a lovely evening made special by lovely people, and also by cake and coffee.
For a few months, I’ve struggled more often with depression, but on that evening, it all seemed very far away.
I love road trips. A good road trip is a breath of fresh air—no, a blast of fresh air. It blows away the dust and cobwebs of tired routines and lingering anxieties, making even familiar things seem new again.
My younger brother and I took a road trip to attend that wedding. (Due to scheduling difficulties, we had to miss another wedding last week, which is too bad.) We followed back roads through woods and meadows, along rivers, and past quaint little towns. An iron sky stretched over us. Rain spattered the windshield, but we were wrapped in warm clothes, with coffee drinks at our elbows, comfortably braced for our travels.
There’s nothing like a road trip on a wet day.
At one point, as I lounged in the passenger seat, I spread out my duster overcoat like a blanket. “If you need me,” I told my brother, “I’ll be in my duster cave.” With that, I dove into warm darkness, where I spent a few cozy minutes thinking of nothing in particular.
After the wedding, as we drove homeward in deepening gloom, I made up for lost time by thinking hard about my plans for my book project, the Lance Eliot saga. I bounced some ideas off my bro, who listened patiently and made encouraging noises.
After years of feeling stressed and guilty about my book project, I felt something different. I felt optimistic. I felt excited. “Lance Eliot’s story is going to be so much better this time,” I told myself, “assuming I ever get around to writing the damned thing.”
I don’t know whether I’ll ever finish Lance Eliot’s story, but after that trip, I felt eager to try.
Those days of rest and travel were like a strong wind, blowing away the dust, and breathing hope into my life. I appreciated the break from blogging. It was good to spend a few hours on the road, and great to spend time with family. I’m encouraged and refreshed.
However, a cynical part of me can’t help but wonder: How long before the dust settles again? In the past few days, familiar shadows of gloom and anxiety have crept up on me at odd moments. Has anything really changed? What happens when my hopefulness wears off?
I don’t know.
C.S. Lewis once wrote,
Now Faith, in the sense in which I am here using the word, is the art of holding on to things your reason has once accepted, in spite of your changing moods. For moods will change, whatever view your reason takes.
Blogging pro tip: When in doubt, quote C.S. Lewis. Works every time.
My hope and courage are more dependent on my moods than I feel comfortable admitting. When times are good, I tend to assume they’ll stay that way. When times are bad, I lose hope of ever seeing better ones. I get so caught up in the moment that I can hardly imagine the future being any different than the here and now.
TMTF returns today after a two-week break. I took that break because of some bad days, and during those two weeks I had some really good ones.
The way I see it, every life is a pile of good things and bad things. The good things don’t always soften the bad things, but vice versa, the bad things don’t necessarily spoil the good things or make them unimportant.
I tend to let these good and bad things dictate my moods, and thus, much of my life. I’m trying to learn to enjoy good things without becoming overoptimistic, and to endure bad ones without losing hope. As it is written, “When times are good, be happy;but when times are bad, consider this: God has made the oneas well as the other.”
God is there, in the good times and the bad. So are many of the people whom I love most, and that’s a comfort.
In other news, TMTF is back to updating regularly. We apologize for the inconvenience.
My own belief is that video games have artistic potential. Whether they actually fulfill that potential is an entirely separate question. For the most part, they favor fun over artistic expression, leaving weighty subjects to other media.
Religion is an especially weighty subject, and its effect on art is incalculably great. Christianity in particular has inspired art for two thousand years, and some of it isn’t particularly religious.
Of course, much of the art informed by Christianity is overtly religious in nature: works by Michelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci, classics like The Pilgrim’s Progress and Dante’s Divine Comedy, music like Handel’s Messiah, and countless more. However, Christianity has also influenced many secular works—watch nearly any movie by Quentin Tarantino or the Coen brothers and you’ll see what I mean.
The book of Ezekiel is apparently a bit more vengeful than I remembered.
Yes, the influence of Christianity has reached some unlikely places. It begs the question: If video games have artistic potential, have they used any of it to explore the subject of Christianity?
The answer is… hardly.
Christianity has informed many video games, but its influence is mostly superficial. Many games draw upon Christianity for its cultural or symbolic flair—or, if I may put it another way, its flavor.
The Legend of Zelda, one of the most important games ever made, uses Christian iconography not to make a point, but rather to convey an impression. For example, the game’s protagonist has the symbol of a cross on his shield.
Is it just me, or does the hero of The Legend of Zelda look like he’s going from door to door with a Gospel tract?
I don’t know why the game’s developers put a Christian cross on the shield. Perhaps it was inspired by the cross designs on shields in medieval Europe. Maybe it was supposed to represent nobility, righteousness, or heroism. Either way, this symbol of Christianity is literally front and center in one of the greatest games of all time.
Incidentally, the game features another Christian symbol: the Bible, whose title was translated for Western versions as the Book of Magic. In the game, the Bible empowers the protagonist to throw fireballs, which isn’t something Bibles generally do. (At any rate, mine doesn’t.)
I’m going to discuss a few more games in this post, but for full disclosure, I should admit that I haven’t played most of them. I know them mostly by reputation, by reading about them, or in one case by following the game’s story on YouTube.
Christian imagery shows up occasionally in video games, many of which avoid association with the religion itself in order to avoid controversy. This has led to fictional religions that bear outward resemblance to Christianity—particularly to Roman Catholicism.
Video games such as the Final Fantasy series sometimes feature Christian (especially Roman Catholic) elements such as priests, churches, cathedrals, holy water, and baptisms.
Can we take up an offering to repair the church in Final Fantasy VII? It could use a new floor. And some more pews. And a table in the back for coffee and doughnuts.
A few games even tackle the subject of religious corruption, but always within fictional religions whose resemblance to Christianity is only superficial.
Of course, some video games take a more direct approach, depicting Christianity itself (instead of a fictional religion) for its imagery, culture, or history.
The Hitman series—which, as its name suggests, is all about assassinations—uses “Ave Maria,” a song based on a Christian prayer, as its theme. It may be meant to evoke a somber mood, or perhaps to suggest an ironic parallel between the Church and the syndicate that employs the eponymous hitman. Either way, the series doesn’t have anything meaningful to say about Christianity; the games merely borrow from it.
The Assassin’s Creed series uses religion as a backdrop to its fictional history. The first game takes place in the Holy Land during the Crusades, and the second in Italy during the Renaissance. That second game apparently ends with the player beating up Pope Alexander VI, which seems weird to me. What developer, when given the limitless possibilities of game design, decided to make a game that climaxed in a fight against a fifteenth-century Pope? Did that developer just assume that all Christians are evil? Should I be offended?
There are a few games—just a few—that try to say something meaningful, whether good or bad, about Christianity.
I’m not sure what point The Binding of Isaac is trying to make. The game definitely has something to say. It may be an exploration of how religion can be abused, or maybe an outright censure of Christianity. I’m in no hurry to find out; I prefer my video games not hopelessly gloomy, thank you.
The most interesting treatment of Christianity I’ve seen in a video game comes from Bioshock Infinite, a story-driven first-person shooter. (For the uninitiated: a first-person shooter is a game in which the player shoots things from a first-person perspective, simply enough.) The game doesn’t focus on religion itself as much as on what it brings out in people.
The original Bioshock game is set in Rapture: a ruined underwater dystopia. It was built by an atheist who was convinced he could harness the potential of humankind in an enlightened society. The city fell apart, its remaining inhabitants fighting for the survival of the fittest.
Welcome to Rapture?
By contrast, Bioshock Infinite is set in Columbia: an airborne city bustling with religious folks and overseen by Father Comstock, a self-proclaimed prophet. Despite its bright exterior, Columbia is also a dystopia. It reflects not a Darwinian struggle for survival, however, but the ugliest blunders of American Christianity.
The religion in Bioshock Infinite is the Christianity that excused slavery, oppressed Native Americans, reviled foreigners, and mistook love of country for love of God. It’s an exaggerated picture, but also one based on history.
Welcome to Columbia?
I appreciate that Bioshock Infinite doesn’t blame Christianity for Columbia’s problems, but acknowledges how it has, throughout history, sometimes brought out the worst in people. The game suggests the problem is not with faith, but with human beings.
Fortunately, Christianity also brings out the best in people. The game’s debt-ridden protagonist, Booker, is hired to rescue a woman from Columbia on the promise that his employer will “wipe away the debt.” As the game unfolds, it becomes clear that Booker’s debt isn’t just a matter of money. He needs to be forgiven.
Besides forgiveness, Christian themes in the game include baptism and longing. The latter is beautifully expressed in the hymn “Will the Circle Be Unbroken,” which is part of the game’s soundtrack.
Bioshock Infinite isn’t a perfect game, and its depiction of Christianity is definitely upsetting. However, it’s a more ambitious and nuanced take than I’ve seen from any other video game, and I respect it for that.
While a few games offer thoughtful explorations of Christian themes, others exist simply to appeal to a religious market. They’re the worst.They often steal their ideas from other games, and they’re nearly always terrible.
What are your thoughts on Christianity in video games? Let us know in the comments!