Saturday, March 31, 2012

Sabbath Reflections: Mythologizing Easter

Take a second and think about how you would tell the story of the first Thanksgiving in a few sentences. (Yes this is a post about Easter. No you did not enter into a time-warp that took you back to November. Why would you even think such a silly thing?)

I actually did an activity like this at a Thanksgiving party last year, where three different groups performed skits to summarize the event. Here were the main plot points that pretty much everyone included:
  • Pilgrims flee religious persecution of some kind.
  • They travel to the New World on the Mayflower.
  • They land on a rock.
  • Lots of them die in the winter.
  • The kind Indians help them plant corn.
  • They celebrate with a feast.
  • And they all lived happily ever after.

Even some of these details were fuzzy to a few people who will remain unnamed. (I overheard one conversation involving whether the Pilgrims arrived before or after Columbus.) But that was the general flow of the summaries.

Everyone probably knew that the Indians who attended the first Thanksgiving didn’t say, “Me eat corn now.” They probably didn’t think that all of the traditional dishes—sweet potatoes with marshmallows?—were served at that feast. And, if I had asked, they could probably have explained how the Pilgrims would have viewed the modern celebration of the holiday (I’m sure they’d love the parade, especially those Rockettes) given their religious beliefs.

But the picture that comes into our heads is the cartoon version, the coloring book plot that was drilled into our heads since we were young enough to wear paper-bag Indian costumes and newspaper pilgrim hats.

In our culture, Thanksgiving is considered a real, historical event…but that’s not what we think of first. We’ve made Thanksgiving into a myth.

To Christians, Jesus’ resurrection is considered a real, historical event…but that’s often not what we think of first, because we’ve made Easter into a myth.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

The Best of the Worst: Disney Villains, Part Two

Last week, I discussed the pros and cons of various Disney villains. But there are still more psychologically disturbed megalomaniacs to analyze. Here they are.

Ursula from The Little Mermaid

Interestingly, almost everyone names Ursula as the villain they would never want to face, both guys and girls, even people who have only seen the movie once when they were eight. She’s clearly the most memorable—the tentacles, I think, have something to do with that. We’re often more afraid of the villains that combine other fears (i.e., people being terrified of Maleficent and Jafar only when they become a dragon or a snake). A lot of people are afraid of drowning, the creepy things that lurk in the ocean, and crazy bad hair, and transfer those fears to Ursula.

What Works: Her laugh is terrifying, her lair is distinctly creepy, she has a great song, and she grows to be enormous in the last scene. What’s not to hate?

What Doesn’t: Mobility? Honestly, I just disliked Ariel so much that I didn’t care if Ursula killed her or shriveled up her soul or whatever she does. But that’s not Ursula’s fault.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Sabbath Reflections: Sunday School Standards

Over Spring Break, I picked up a book to review for a Christian publication, a devotional for kids that included Bible stories with a short paragraph of application. There was really nothing wrong with it…except that, of the 101 stories it included, you would probably be able to name at least 90 off the top of your head.

They’re what I call Sunday School Standards. Any kids’ worker worth his salt could pull out a flannelgraph and short, quippy song about any one of them. Any kid who grew up in the church could summarize them fairly accurately (although I’ve learned that if you’re asking a little boy, it helps if the story involves fire or weapons). And any adult who hears one of these stories in church crosses his arms, sits back, and thinks, “I dare you to teach me something new about this old story,” probably without realizing it.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

The Best of the Worst: Disney Villains, Part One

Let’s face it: in a lot of the (non-Pixar) Disney movies, the villains make the movies. Often the main characters (*cough* pretty much all of the princesses except Belle) are fairly predictable and not all that interesting.

But those bad guys, with their obligatory black-themed outfits and one dramatic song per movie, they capture people’s attention. How do I know? Because one of my stock get-to-know-you questions, asked in many group settings, is, “Which Disney villain would you most (and least) want to face?”

This usually turns into a discussion of the various merits and downfalls of each villain. I’ve complied some of the more interesting observations here, along with some handy armchair analysis. I’m covering five this Wednesday, and another five next Wednesday, in no particular order of scariness.

For you writers out there, think of this as a reader poll about what will work the next time you’re planning an antagonist. For non-writers, maybe this will give you a better idea of who you’d like to take on the next time all of my hypothetical questions become reality (although, if that happens, I guarantee we’ll have bigger problems).

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Star Wars Mafia

This post has no relevance to anything I usually post about. It’s just a really great game that needs to be shared (and explained so people can actually play it).

I did not create this game. That credit goes to Jordan Bolte, a graduate of Taylor my freshman year who I never actually met. My sister and I modified it a bit, adding and taking away characters and changing a few powers, but he came up with most of this.

But, seriously, this game is awesome. Even people who hate normal Mafia love it. The world needs to know about it. So bear with the lengthy rules. The best way to learn about this game is to play a round or two. It’s not complicated for anyone…except the Force, the narrator. So this document is really for all the wannabe Forces out there. Enjoy.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Sabbath Reflections: I Am the Lorax

No, I do not have orange skin and bright yellow hair, as does the title character of the new movie The Lorax. I haven’t even seen the movie, but I’ve read the book, a Dr. Seuss story about a creature who “speaks for the trees,” trying to defend them from others. As I thought about the movie and how many people are annoyed at the preachiness of its message, I realized that I have my own truffula trees to defend.

A really smart guy named Albert Borgmann talked about what he called “focal practices” – the practices that require time and interaction with other human beings. In a world where technology distracts and multitasking is a high priority, we’re letting the focal practices slip away, he said.

“Not on my watch,” I replied, striking an epic pose to make myself seem way cooler and tougher than I really am.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Anyone Can Build a Theme Park

When I was a kid, we did not have cable T.V., so we only got five channels on a sunny day when we adjusted our bow tie reception-thingie just right. We didn’t subscribe to any magazines except Reader’s Digest, which I never read, and various Focus on the Family publications. My friends were not rich. And I lived in the Midwest, about as far from any ocean as possible.

Translation: We did not get the Disney Channel, our magazines never had ads for theme parks of any kind, very few of my friends ever took a vacation to Disney Land or Disney World, and we lived much too far away for billboards for these attractions to reach us.

But I still grew up knowing that an essential part of childhood was wanting to go to Disney World.

Before I actually visited myself for the first time when I was sixteen, I had a vague impression of what Disney World was. Those huge Dumbos flying in the air, and enormous teacups spinning you until you got sick. Little kids grinning as they hugged Mickey and various other impersonators. Overpriced souvenirs. Fireworks. A giant castle in the background.

Now, that may not seem like a detailed impression, but think about it for a second: I had virtually no contact with any kind of Disney advertisements, and yet I was able to construct a fairly accurate picture of what Disney World was like.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Sabbath Reflections: A Character Study with Micah

No, Micah is not a kind, bearded psychiatrist with a C.S. Lewis quote on his wall and calming music playing in the background.

He’s an Old Testament prophet. (Although he probably also had a beard. Or maybe that’s just my stereotype from too many flannelgraph figures and coloring pages where all the men had beards.)

One of my all-time favorite verses is Micah 6:8, which says, “He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.

There it is. So simple. If you want to know where God has gifted you, why you struggle in certain areas, or why other people act the way they do, just look at this verse.

One kind of strange-sounding way I’ve applied this to my life as a writer is to use it to analyze my characters. Out of the three categories on this list, what comes easily to them and what does not?

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Find a Place to Play

Writing is work. Writing is hard. Writing is a business.

All this is true. But most people, especially those who aren’t writers, read these statements as: “Writing is boring. Writing is intimidating. Writing is for a select few who are smarter and more talented than me.”

I talk a lot about the discipline of writing, because I know a lot of writers who struggle with that. Hopefully, I do it in an encouraging way and not in a way that makes me sound like a bossy, egotistical kill-joy. Because I can totally pull off that image in real life. Not.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Sabbath Reflections: Tips for the Prayer Civilian

I am not a prayer warrior. I don’t have a lot of discipline, so my prayer time is loose, unstructured, and hey-look-something-shiny in nature rather than a focused, prolonged time of bringing a list of requests before God. I’ve skipped merrily away from any mention of prayer meetings or extended times of intercession during Lent, because God doesn’t believe in drafting people into places where they’re not gifted, right?

Well, not really. Obviously, as believers, we’re all called to pray as part of building up our relationship with Jesus and responding to the needs of others. (This also applies to areas like hospitality, evangelism, and service where the “I’m-not-gifted” excuse tends to come out.)

But what if that’s not your comfort zone? I’ve always found it very difficult to pray for the world, at least once I got past my second-grade, “And God, please help all the missionaries” phase.