An Epiphany at The Force Awakens Part 3: True Religion

Part 1: An Epiphany at The Force Awakens Part 1: Guarding the Gates.
Part 2: An Epiphany at The Force Awakens Part 2: Protecting the Sacred

Even with a rudimentary knowledge of Star Wars lore it’s easy to see that The Force Awakens is not a new story. Yes, technically it is. It’s a sequel and it moves the Star Wars saga forward, but it’s not a new story. I think that’s what made The Force Awakens so appealing. It was a retelling of the original Star Wars movies.

As I watched it, I pondered the involvement of Disney and realized something. Maybe Disney does seem like a merchandising company these days, but their fundamental core is re-imagining beloved stories. Snow White, Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, Aladdin, The Little Mermaid; they’re all retellings of classic tales. Even Walt Disney’s first animated short was based on Alice in Wonderland (but Alice dreams of cartoon animators and movie stardom instead of the Jabberwocky and white rabbits). Storytelling is why Disney bought the creations of George Lucas and Stan Lee. Instead of Hans Christian Andersen and The Brothers Grimm, they are inviting a new generation into the stories that matter to modern people. That’s who Disney is. It’s in their DNA.

Consider their 2010 release “Tangled” based on the story of Rapunzel. The Rapunzel character and story have iconic elements that are familiar to almost everybody in the west. Children and adults know about the long-haired girl locked in the tower by an evil witch and how she hangs her hair out the window for the prince to climb up. Some may even know about how Rapunzel healed the prince’s blindness. And though it’s not as familiar as Cinderella, elements of the Rapunzel tale are woven into our collective consciousness.

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Other parts of the original story are not as familiar. Rapunzel was, far all intents, sold by her father to the evil witch in exchange for herbs. The prince also wasn’t exactly a rescuer. He climbed her hair for a nightly booty call and over the course of a few visits impregnate Rapunzel. When the witch discovers Rapunzel’s clothes are growing tight around the waist she cuts off her hair and banishes her to the wilderness. The witch then tricks the prince using Rapunzel’s locks and sends him plummeting from the tower into a patch of brambles. Blinded, he wanders the land for years until he stumbles across Rapunzel and their young children. He is healed by her tears and they live happily ever after.

Rapunzel is a classic, fun a story, but honestly it’s not as good as Tangled. Disney created an entirely new tone for the story with their changes. Tangled’s Rapunzel challenges her kidnapper and goes on an adventure of self discovery. There is no prince. Instead she falls in love with, and saves the life of, a good-hearted thief. When she’s reunited with her mother and father we see that they’ve held out hope for her return for sixteen years.  Disney’s story still retains all the beloved elements of the original, but it incorporates them in a richer more thoughtful way.

I think Disney did the same for The Force Awakens. They kept the classic motifs we love about Star Wars. The orphan Rey, with her proclivity for gadgets and dusty brown garb, reminds us of when we met Luke on Tatooine. Han, Rey, and Finn’s visit to a cantina at Takodana conjures memories of strange-faced, clarinet playing  aliens in Mos Eisley. There’s probably no need to even mention Han and Kylo’s meeting on the catwalk or Poe’s ace flying at the Starkiller base.

But Disney introduced thoughtful new twists too, especially with Kylo Ren and Finn. Kylo intentionally evokes the spirit of Darth Vader,  but unlike Vader, Ren is plagued with insecurities and self-doubt. The character of Finn humanizes the mindless automaton that was the Storm Trooper. His fear of death and ability to question the morality of his actions brought a complex new element into the robotic role of Storm Trooper. Both characters ask us to look deeper at people we want to disregard as “bad guys”.

This kind of imaginative storytelling is an integral part of what it means to be human. Before we made fire, developed complex language, or organized ourselves into tribes we told stories. Stories are how we remember who we are despite growth and change. They tell us where we’re going and remind us where we’ve been. They told others what mattered to us and what kind of people we were. Stories connect us to our history, to our identity, but most importantly to each other.cave

Whether it was Cro-magnon tribes, family units, sports teams, or today’s geek clans, stories bind us. Consider why we remember the story of the The American Revolution every year in July or why Great Uncle Bob loves to reminisce at the family reunion. What are your own motivations for sharing stories about Star Wars, comics, cooking, or football with another person? We love to share our stories and passions because we long to be known and to know others. We share our stories to invite that connection. We listen to other’s stories to gain that intimacy. It’s who we are. It’s in our DNA.

Unfortunately what I’ve learned from this experience is that when we’re passionate about something we’re also prone to self-sabatage. Too often we refuse to share our own stories until we’ve vetted the other person’s credentials. Or we refuse to listen to another person’s story because we’ve assumed we already know who they are. Worse yet we become obsessed with protecting our the purity of our own stories from outsiders and rob ourselves of experiencing the benefits they give us. These actions thwart the possibility of the human connections we most desire.

Instead we should throw the gates wide and invite anybody and everybody to love what we love. We should share our stories and passions with anyone, encouraging them to jump into the waters of what we’ve found to be good. We must also kindle a genuine curiosity for the stories and passions of others. Rather than protecting our sacred things we should be actively looking for their reflection in the sacred stories and passions of others. Sharing what we love is the truest form for geekhood, and there’s no better way to awaken the force of humanity in ourselves and others.

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An Epiphany at The Force Awakens Part 2: Protecting the Sacred

Part 1: An Epiphany at The Force Awakens Part 1: Guarding the Gates.

Despite hearing only positive comments about the latest installment of Star Wars, I was still   skeptical going into the theater. I remembered the excitement when The Phantom Menace came out. I also remembered the wave of disappointment that followed. Fans had high expectations of Episode 1 because their nostalgia and memories were wrapped up in the franchise. Certainly people had forgotten what happened the last time a new Star Wars trilogy was released. Not to mention that fact that Disney has purchased the Star Wars franchise since then.

I’m not anti-Disney, but the new ownership counted strongly against the film in my mind. I felt some sense that important geek things like Star Wars needed to be “protected” from an entity who, in my mind, was only concerned with extracting profits. Disney didn’t care about the characters they had bought or the fans who loved them. They cared about saturating every minute detail of our lives with merchandise.

Take Marvel Comics for example. I said before that I was never a Star Wars fanboy, but Marvel was a little different for me. I had collected more than a few comics in my day. I particularly loved the anti-heroes like Wolverine, Punisher, Venom, and Image’s Spawn. I had my share of collectibles – from action figures to trading cards to video games. And even though my interest in comics waned in high school, I still read a few graphic novels a year. So I cared enough to bristle at the idea of Disney controlling Marvel. It chaps my ass that ever since they took over I can’t walk through the grocery store without Captain America staring up at me from a can of creamed corn.

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My house was a perfect proof case for my cynicism too. We have Disney merchandise literally overflowing from closets, drawers, and baskets; Lego sets, dolls, shirts, posters, cereal, balloons, pillows, plush characters, blankets, ornaments, cups, bowls, coats, and hats adorned with Disney characters. My kids don’t ever clamored to go see the latest Disney movie, they beg for Disney dolls, toys, and trapping bearing the likeness of the movie’s characters. In my mind Disney movies were long form, re watchable, commercials meant to hawk their merchandise.  

With Star Wars and Marvel, Disney was going to get a massive assist from my generation. We’re coming of age financially, starting our own families, and rabidly loyal to our geeky interests. Modern geek parents push their children towards comics and sci-fi rather than classic adventures and princesses.

I had this theory that Disney had bought Marvel and Star Wars so that millennial geek parents would hand deliver their children’s interests to Walt et al. Children were going to be begging for Star Wars and Marvel merch before they were potty trained. The winds of nostalgia and parenthood would swirl into a hurricane of fresh spending.

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But even before we left for the theater my emotions and actions didn’t jive with my cynical theories. I was getting excited for Lexie to be introduced to Star Wars. While building Lego laser turrets, I had her watch a two-minute recap of the original three Star Wars movies and filled her in on important characters and parts of the story. 

Then, as the movie started, my nostalgia kicked into high gear. I wanted to lean across my wife and say “Remember how Luke was a lonely kid in the desert? Just like Rey! Rey found a little droid. That’s like what happened with Luke!” I couldn’t help but feel a swell of pride when she said “I’m pretty sure the pit that swallowed [Poe’s] spaceship was the same ‘pit of death’ that worm guy was throwing people into.” My emotions caught me off guard. The more I watched, the more I was re-enraptured with the magic of Star Wars and the sheer delight of sharing it with my daughter.

Maybe I was just another sucker, but as I watched familiar characters, scenery and motifs flash across the screen I had an epiphany that cut to the core of the etched-in-stone geek tenets of gate-keeping and protecting the sacred. It was a sudden clarity that illuminated the power and importance of stories – even ones produced for the masses by a giant corporation. I was reminded me how much fun it is to share something you love with others.

Part 3: An Epiphany at The Force Awakens Part 3: True Religion

An Epiphany at The Force Awakens Part 1: Guarding The Gates

I know what you’re thinking. I’m going to lull you into false sense of comfort and then slam you with one of my god-forsaken Star Wars/Star Trek jokes.” I promise, this isn’t nerd-bait. I’m going to make a confession about the bad attitudes I’ve had about Star Wars lately. Then share an epiphany I had while watching The Force Awakens and repent of being disingenuous to good storytelling (regardless of who is doing the telling).

If you know me then you know I’ve been grumping about Star Wars a bit lately. I haven’t made an effort to find out much about it and I’ve mocked the idea of seeing it. Cassie mentioned a few times that she wouldn’t mind seeing it, but every time I’d see a Star Wars movie or merchandise commercial, I’d groan and lament how sick I was of Star Wars. I’ve even spent a fair amount of time teasing Star Wars fans on social media.

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It’s not that I hate Star Wars. I have fond memories of watching Episodes 4-6 as a kid. I’ve cared enough about those movie that I can hold my own in a conversation with just about anyone. (I mean how else could I harangue nerds with irritating Star Trek/Star Wars jabs?) I even saw Episode One in the theaters carrying a Stormtrooper blaster along with my lightsaber wielding friend. That’s pretty hardcore.

But, the thing is…I’m not a good enough fan by even some of the looser Star Wars fandom standards.

I’ve never seen Episodes 2 or 3 – I don’t even know what they’re called. I’ve never owned a Star Wars action figure or a t-shirt. Hell, I don’t even own the movies. I’ve just never been a huge Star Wars nerd, my geek interests have always been in music, philosophy/theology, and technology.

Point and case: While waiting in line to see The Phantom Menace with my lightsaber carrying friend, I got into a nearly day ruining argument about the philosophy of Linux v.s. Windows.

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My recent grumpy and contrarian attitude about Star Wars is honestly of the “get off my lawn” variety. I feel that in recent years a person’s “geek cred” rests almost entirely on their dedication to Star Wars (and comic books). If I’m honest, I’ve gotten a little butt-hurt about it.

As the geek-chic culture has grown, it often seems like I’m on the outside and it stings a bit. I feel like I’ve paid my dues. I spent my formative years on the other side of fitting in, obsessed with the uncool, digging and scrounging to feed my nerdy interests. So when I catch a hint of dismissiveness about my geek credibility on account of my lack of rabid excitement for Star Wars I get a bit testy.

“I’m 33 years old you little 18-year-old s**thead! We didn’t have the f***ing internet to manufacture our obsessions when I was growing up! We had to seek older, more experienced human beings! We had to endear ourselves to them and apprentice our way to geekhood. I put blood, sweat, and tears into this! Don’t you look down your g*d***ed nose at me just because you memorized the Wikipedia article about Star Wars and watched a few Marvel movies! Get off my lawn you little brat!”

Sorry, back to the point…

When my daughter recently started mimicking my curmudgeonly attitude towards Star Wars it felt a little uncomfortable. She’s only six, she hasn’t seen a single Star Wars movie, and she was being mindlessly contrarian because of my old man baggage. Thankfully my wife stepped in and reminded her (and me) that she hadn’t even seen Star Wars and that she might even like it. Lexie saw the wisdom in Mom’s admonition and decided she might actually like to see it. (Yeah, I did felt like an asshole.)

There’s no justifiable reason for me to burden her with my nerd drama. I’d heard that The Force Awakens was great from everybody. I’d also heard that it had a female protagonist to boot. That seemed like a good thing for my daughter whether she’s going to be a geek or not. So this Monday we dropped two-year old Cora off at daycare and the three of us went to see The Force Awakens.

Part 2: An Epiphany at The Force Awakens Part 2: Protecting the Sacred

2015: A Year In Review

  1. Love is Stronger Than Death by Cynthia Bourgealt
  2. Fourth of July Creek by Smith Henderson
  3. God and the Gay Christian by Matthew Vines
  4. One Hundred Poems from the Chinese by Kenneth Rexroth
  5. Portlandia Cook Book by Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein
  6. The Miracle of Mindfulness by Thich Nhat Hanh
  7. Desire Found Me by Andre Rabe
  8. The Drawing of the Three (The Dark Town II) By Stephen King
  9. Scripture and the Authority of God by N.T. Wright
  10. Flipped by Doug Pagitt
  11. Beat is Beatitude by Andrew William Smith
  12. Trust me I’m Lying by Ryan Holiday
  13. The Prophetic Imagination by Walter Brueggemann
  14. Sinners Welcome by Mary Karr
  15. The Art of American Whiskey by Noah Rothbaum
  16. How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie
  17. A More Christlike God by Bradley Jersak
  18. Vanishing Point by Howard Axelrod
  19. …And Justice for Art by Ramon Martos
  20. Allah by Miroslav Volf
  21. Orange is the New Black by Piper Kerman
  22. Out of Orange by Cleary Wolters
  23. Zone Theory by Tim Heidecker and Eric Warehiem
  24. Speaking Christian by Marcus Borg
  25. The Future of God by Deepak Chopra
  26. Twenty Dinners by Ithai Schori and Chris Taylor
  27. Wild by Cheryl Strayed
  28. Meditation Made Easy by James Folk
  29. A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson
  30. Feminist Theology by Natalie Watson
  31. One Nation Under God by Kevin Kruse
  32. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban by J.K. Rowling
  33. AWOL on the Appalachian Trail by David Miller
  34. The Origin of Satan by Elaine Pagels
  35. Accidental Saints by Nadia Bolz-Weber
  36. The Waste Lands (The Dark Tower III) by Stephen King
  37. Hector and the Search for Happiness by Francios Lelord
  38. The Time Garden by Daria Song
  39. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by J.K. Rowling
  40. Backpacking Basic by Clyde Soles
  41. Hearing God by Dallas Willard
  42. The Appalachian Trail by Ronald Fisher
  43. The Wizard and the Glass (The Dark Town IV) by Stephen King
  44. Brunch at Bobby’s by Bobby Flay
  45. Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

I was just shy of matching my reading numbers from last year. I missed it by one book. Honestly I’d say I read more this year than last year though. When I consider that some of the novels I read were over 700 pages each…. Either way I feel pretty good and who doesn’t love a an ego boost now and then

One of the biggest difference I noticed in the list this year was the type of books I read. Even though I read ten less fictions books than I did in 2014, I read a ton more fiction by volume this year. There were nearly 3,000 pages in the Harry Potter and Dark Tower books alone.

Last year I “binged” on Christian theology books that had been “off-limits.” This year I still read a few Christian theology books, but only twelve compared to last year’s twenty. This was the first year in my life that I didn’t attend church regularly. I went for high holidays like a good heathen, but I dialed back my obsession with church and christian theology.

That said, two of my Christian theology reviews were high water marks for the blog. I was honored to be chosen to take part in a virtual book tour for Brad Jersak’s book A More Christlike God in July. Earlier in the year Andre Rabe, the author of Desire Found Me, chose my review as one of his top five and shared it extensively on social media. These were two pretty exciting moments.

But, if there’s one thing that stands out in my reading list, it’s memoirs. I started the year with a strange love memoir by a Christian mystic. I had a mid-year Orange is the New Black memoir marathon. The I finished off the year with a mountain of hiking and outdoor memoirs. 2015 was definitely the year of the memoir.

The batch of hiking memoirs have definitely excited my imagination the most. I spent a great deal of time growing up fantasizing about facing off against nature. Whether it was disappearing into the wooded creek from sun up to sun down as prepubescent boy or reading Hatchet for the first time outdoor adventure excited me growing up. Eventually  Suburban Teen angst and fascination with computers in high school and careers and various other forms of adulthood overshadowed those things. But, reading these memoirs of rugged men and women (except Bill Bryson, of course) entering the mountains, woods, and trails and emerging reborn on the other side have reignited that childhood wanderlust.

In 2016 I’m planning on leaning even further into fiction and read a few things outside my comfort zone. I also hope to finish the Dark Tower and Harry Potter series. On the non-fiction front I have a stack of outdoor adventure and survival memoirs and a short list of books on communication and simple living. I have a few Christian theology books sprinkled in and couple on Taoism and Zen for good measure. Of course the best laid plans of mice and men often go awry so I’ll keep you posted!

Here’s to books, good and bad, good health, and another trip around the sun!

Happy New Year!

The Time Garden: A Magical Journey and Coloring Book by Daria Song

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There was a time when I painted, drew, or colored at least a few times a week between private art classes, high school art classes, and just creating stuff at home. Hobbies have to be prioritized these days, so doodling with kids and the occasional painting event at the local art center are about the extent of my artistry. I’ve never lost interest in it though and occasionally inspiration will strike be it pumpkin carving, making silly holiday cards, or doodling at work.

When I first heard about “adult coloring books” I assumed it was some ungodly union between crayola and pornography. As much as the crude teen in me would delight in coloring dicks and boobs, it’s nothing like that. It’s actually a new movement among adults to unwind and relax. Science has shown that the act of coloring can counteract stress, anxiety, and a slew of other adult related maladies and actually generate a sense of well-being. I thought it might be an interesting intersection of my interests in art and mindfulness so I decided to give it a try.

My first book was The Time Garden: A Magical Journey and Coloring Book. Along with the coloring pages it has a sparse story reminiscent of the Nutcracker. The story begins with a girl who discovers a strange fairy residing in a clock at her house. She climbs up some chairs to get a closer look but falls and is knocked unconscious. When she awakes, she find herself inside the clock. She decides to give chase to the fairy and the rest of the coloring pages are the strange and magical place they run through.

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Each page is filled with intricately detailed images. Dreamy patterns, structured architecture, repeating stretch out on each page. While there were some “organic” scenes with trees and animals, I was a bit disappointed with the over abundance of buildings, clocks, and blocky designs. When I read the title of the book I had visions of trees, nature, and English style gardens, but it didn’t really deliver to those expectations.

An important but easily overlooked consideration for coloring is the medium. I have become fond of colored pencils lately, so I chose those as my coloring tools. Unfortunately I think this was a poor choice. Because of the all the small details in this book it was hard to keep the point on my pencils sharp enough to stay in the lines. The colors also came out dull and lackluster on the paper. Because this book is printed on thick, sturdy, art quality paper I think markers or pen would have been a better choice. This is definitely something you’ll want to give some thought to.

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This was a fun diversion from my regular reading and daily tasks. I have even begun to keep a coloring book in my desk for when I take breaks or need to unwind. I definitely think there is something to the benefits of adult coloring and I recommend checking out the practice even if you don’t consider yourself artistic. This particular book, however, just wasn’t for me. There was too much tiny detail work and the scenes became repetitive and boring after a few pages. I’ve found Outside the Lines, Too by Souris Hong to be more enjoyable for me.

Disclaimer: I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.