Exploring where life and story meet!

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Where happiness is...

Money can't buy it, fame can't procure it, power can't obtain it, thrills can't give it, stuff can't offer it.  Chasing after it is like pursuing a rainbow, instead it creeps upon us when we are least suspecting it but if we turn suddenly to glimpse it, it is gone.  Our circumstances do not determine if it is ours to have or not: young or old, single or married, kids or no kids, rich or poor, famous or obscure, it doesn't matter.  It has become an idol or an ideal in Western culture, this pursuit of happiness, mostly because no one truly knows what it is any longer.  The ancients (anyone who lived before the advent of 1900s) had this quaint idea that happiness and virtue had something in common, namely that one could not have the former without the latter.  And in a culture whose only virtue is individuality, no wonder it has become such a fleeting concept.  We buy the right clothes, watch the right entertainment, read the right books, make so much money, hang with the right crowd, but still we are discontent, thus we must do so more and more, yet ever the hole deepens, the chasm widens, and we are further still from our idealized state.

But we are seeking fulfillment in circumstances rather than within ourselves.  The ancients knew they could not control most of their external circumstances, but what they had full control over was their own character, actions, words, and thoughts.  Modern man blames his failings on his parents, his genes, his education, his job, the world in general, bad luck, even his diet, but never thinks that it might have something to do with his own lack of character.  For we are told from the cradle that we are all special and perfect and good and that life in general will be wonderful and then we get out into the real world only to discover it is all a pack of lies and we are miserable therein.  We focus our energy on good grades, musical talent, athletics, dance, or any other skill or talent, rather than on becoming decent, respectable people.  We are taught to seek value in our skills and achievements rather than in the 'content of our souls,' and then when we suffer a crippling injury ending our football career, what then is left to life?  Or if we are not overly skilled in any one discipline or field, what is the point at all?  Life is pointless so why not live as it pleases you?

Modern culture has come to see children either as a burden, a nuisance, something to be avoided lest they destroy 'your' life or an idol through which your own broken dreams can be realized, rather than unique individuals who are both a blessing and a responsibility.  It is all about 'me' and nothing else matters.  No wonder we look to the gods (ourselves) and find them disappointing.  Happiness is found by focusing on something completely other than the self, forgetting oneself for the moment and losing oneself entirely in the other: a sunset, a baby's laugh, a celebration of another's joy, a beautiful song, a bird on a branch, a crocus pushing through the snow, the hush of a dying day.  These are mortal whispers, hints, echoes of that greater thing called Joy, a place to which each of us is called, but few of us pause long enough in our pursuit of happiness to even realize it.

Forget all you ever learned about self-esteem and the innate wonderfulness of yourself and how the world is just a splendid place and everything will work out happily ever after with absolutely no effort on your part.  Look around you, look at yourself.  You know you are flawed, broken, hurting, lonely, frenzied, and often feel adrift; so too is the world full of sorrow, grief, evil, and malice.  It is not the happy place you were told to expect since the beginning nor are you the wonderful darling all your teachers and coaches proclaimed you to be.  Yet your inmost heart says things should be otherwise.  What gives?  Instead of pretending the world is as it ought to be, perhaps we should discover why it isn't.  Pretending you are well when you are ill does not make you better nor does ignoring death and sin make them go away or negate their consequences.

The good news is, there is a cure and a happily ever after, but it is not found within ourselves.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Of dreams

Everyone has dreams, plans, and hopes, after all, is not 'the American Dream' a cultural necessity (at least if you happen to be an American)?  Here's an interesting little article on what happens when our dreams/plans don't quite work out the way we intend, after all, if we dream it, it must be ordained and approved by God, who designed and equipped us to dream in the first place, right?  Or maybe not, read the article, it is very short but may make you rethink the way Western culture has taught us to automatically think about our hopes and dreams.

Monday, February 2, 2015

On significance

Most people spend their entire lives trying to be significant, yet how can we matter at all in a world of over 6 billion now living and countless others who have gone before or are yet to come?  What matters what I do if it will all implode in a few billion years and revert again to meaninglessness?  Just look at your favorite social media sight and watch people compete for attention with their cute baby pics, cute dog stories, controversial links, etc.  Everyone is awesome, perfect, and wonderful, at least on their site, but inside, they are just like everyone else: wondering what it all means, what it is all about, and what is the point any way?

But we don't have to be 'good enough.'  We don't have to earn love or recognition, which completely floored me, for I spent my whole life in such vain pursuit, knowing I could never achieve anything even verging on success, but I don't have to.  There is Someone who knows every sparrow, every blade of grass, and who named the stars as He called them into being, Who gives everything meaning and significance and Who promises to love you no matter that you revile Him, ignore Him, or run from Him.  He knows every hair on your head and He is infinitely patient.  You can run, but you can't hide, but why do we want to run?  We want to do it all ourselves and take all the credit when we know, deep inside, it is utterly futile and pointless.  Like little children that want to dress themselves but can't quite get it right but utterly refuse our help.  What silly children we can be, like sheep that have wandered off, but thankfully there is a Father and a Shepherd that is just waiting for us to realize we can't get home in and of ourselves and to ask for His help.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

A link

This is what life is all about, at least life before modern aesthetics!  Enjoy!

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

A new review of a rather old movie: Ivanhoe

I just received a collection of 'romance' DVDs as a gift and will be gradually watching them and perhaps, if so inclined, reviewing them.  It is a collection of some of my favorite books on film so I am hoping they portray them well.  The first on the list was Ivanhoe.  I've never actually seen the movie but I have read the book, and quite surprisingly, they did a pretty good job of sticking to the story though I'd hate to see a more modern remake.  The title character and Rebecca would run off to Spain or something, ugh!  Obviously the effects and cinematography are nothing compared to modern flicks, but unlike modern moviemakers, I know effects do not a movie make.  There is a lot of plot, some very good acting, the characters are truly who they were written to be, and overall I very much enjoyed it.  Strangely, one of my favorite characters was Christopher Lee's Master of the Templar, he makes an astonishingly good madman!  Prince John is a narcissistic sissy you love to hate and played to perfection.  I was very happy with the production.  They did get a little overly romantically dramatic between Ivanhoe and Rebecca as compared to the book, but nowhere near as bad as it might have been were it made now.  The final conflict was not resolved exactly as portrayed in the book, but in six hours of run time, that is a small change indeed!  Overall, if you like the book and can handle older movies with 'cheesy' effects (at least by modern standards) then this is a winner.  If you can't handle long, drawn out plots, lots of good characters, and just want stuff to blow up, then maybe stick with The Hobbit.  

Monday, January 12, 2015

There and back again and again and again: a Review of the third Hobbit Movie

I finally bit the bullet, found a babysitter, and went to the last installment of 'The Hobbit,' and I can't say that it was worth it. I've been dragging my feet, dithering, and otherwise making excuses, and this from the person that once skipped class in graduate school to get tickets to the midnight opening of 'Return of the King,' and went to a movie she'd never heard of in hopes of watching the trailer for the same. I love Tolkien, am a big fan of the 'Lord of the Rings' trilogy in both its literary and theatrical forms, but I have been very disappointed with the current handling of 'The Hobbit.' To be fair, I will admit I am not a huge fan of the book either, it is a nice little story, but nowhere near 'Rings' in either a literary sense or on my list of favorite books, but it is not meant to be, it was written as a children's story, a lighter, gentler look at Middle Earth than that portrayed in the more serious 'Rings,' and it is this fact that I think which has proven the downfall of the current incarnation of the movies: they tried to make it as epic as 'Rings' and have only made a muddle of things.

I will reference back to one of my favorite characters from the Rings book, Faramir, though his character was horrendously abused in the movies (this is my one major beef with that production). In the books he says, "I do not love the bright sword for its sharpness, nor the arrow for its swiftness, nor the warrior for his glory. I love only that which they defend." This is the whole point of Tolkien Middle Earth saga, Hobbit, Rings, or what have you. Tolkien does not have war for war's sake but to protect that which is worth protecting, but the entire Hobbit trilogy is nothing but a great unending chase or, the last installment especially, a giant, protracted battle. There were a few good moments at the first that gave me hope for this last episode, but alas, they died aborning.

The actors playing Bilbo and Thorin especially were good, but they never got a chance to actually become the characters they play, rather the entire epic is spent in action rather than in exploration and development of any sort of character or plot. I felt like I was watching someone else play a video game rather than watching an actual movie. The whole elf/dwarf love triangle was also weird and verging on creepy, next thing you know Arwen will be hitting on Frodo! Why drag in Azog and the White Council? Why make a trilogy of a book that would make a decent 3 hour movie in the first place? Why were the battle scenes bigger, grander, and cooler than anything in Rings when the Battle of Five Armies (not 'the' Five Armies) was nowhere near that scale? Where did the Wyrms come from and why not use them to greater effect against your enemies rather than just digging holes? Who on earth was ever trying to refound the Kingdom on Angmar? Why make the lonely mountain of huge strategic value when it is actually in the middle of nowhere? Why attack Dale, a ruined town inhabited by refugees, did those scenes mind anyone else of Helm's Deep sans the walls? How did anyone survive anyway, with all those orc hordes and all the good guys annihilated? Five eagles and a bear aren't going to save the day, this looked worse than the Pelennor Fields! This was a story about a hobbit and some dwarves, a wizard and a dragon; it is a journey there and back again, an intimate look at a few characters rather than war on a grand scale, or it should have been.

There was no closure, no wrap up, no epilogue. Return of the King arguably had too much closure, but The Hobbit had barely anything at all. Who lived, who died, what came of them? Where was the moral tale of greed, jealousy, friendship, bravery, and honor? Sure, they had a few touching moments but they seemed a mere afterthought amidst all the grand theatrics. This would make a fine video game but a poor movie. I was sorely disappointed in the affair as a whole, it would be different had Peter Jackson not proven himself with the original trilogy, after that, this can be nothing but a dismal failure. There is no storytelling, only action; no character or plot, only blood and suspense. He has shown he can tell a good tale but that is far from the case here, only the video game junkies can find much to admire in this muddle; there is no story at all.

Perhaps modern aesthetics require all action, no subtle plot or characterization, nothing over which we must mull and chew and think, only blood and guts and glory with no moral underpinnings or thoughts of greatness to disturb our vain and shallow lives. We prefer to muddle on in ignorance and indifference, much like the denizens of the Shire when the world beyond their borders is on the very verge of collapse and then sneer at the returning heroes as if they were the ones who were mad; perhaps it is an unwitting and ironic commentary on the sad state of the modern mind in the Western world.  If you like carnage, action, and battle scenes, this movie is awesome. If you want a touching story with a smattering of adventure and danger with interesting characters and an actual plot, go read the book or find a different movie!