Monday, April 16, 2018

Doctor Strange, Violet Baudelaire, and the "Greater Good"


My family watched the movie Doctor Strange last Friday. It was an...interesting movie for sure, and Dr. Strange did have a positive character arc of transformation from a self-centered jerk into a defender of the earth, but I can't say that I liked it. There was quite a bit about it that bothered me, like the Eastern mysticism and occultish magic that most certainly didn't fall into an acceptable category of fantasy magic. I'm not against all fantasy magic—I love Narnia and Tangled and Frozen, after all—but the magic in Doctor Strange really seemed to cross the line. I'm not going to go into it too deeply as that's not the main point of this post, but I think it was pretty clear that it was supernatural, spiritual power that didn't come from God. And because of that, the bit where Dr. Strange had to surrender completely to the powers in order to use it treads into very dangerous territory. Surrender completely to God, absolutely, but if you're surrendering completely to anything else, you're in big trouble.

Aside from all that though, one thing that really stood out to me was the overall message of the movie. The idea that you can do anything, break any rule, so long as it's for the "greater good."

Do evil that good may come.

Use whatever means necessary to save the world, even if it's wrong.


Early on in Dr. Strange's use of magic, he's warned by another sorcerer named Mordo about manipulating time. It can destroy the space/time continuum, which obviously can have catastrophic consequences. According to Doc Brown, after all, it could destroy the entire universe. Because of that, tampering with natural laws is forbidden. In the climax of the movie, Dr. Strange turns back time to reverse the destruction of the bad guys and traps himself in a time loop with the ultimate bad guy to wear him down and get him to agree to leave. Despite Mordo's warning that such actions always have consequences, this is presented as a noble and heroic action. 

In and of itself, time travel and time loops don't bother me. I liked Doctor Who up until the last season and still like earlier seasons, and I enjoy watching Back to the Future and Groundhog Day. The problem comes when the writers create a scenario where breaking good rules is considered the right thing to do. A scenario where doing evil for the sake of the supposed "greater good" is upheld and applauded.

And they take it a step further in the end credits scene by showing that by trying to prevent sorcerers from breaking the rules, Mordo has become a villain. 
 
These sorcerers are trained in the use of magic by a woman known as the Ancient One. She is a supposed good character, a trusted mentor, one who does right. I can't recall any of her actions that the writers of the movie appeared to consider wrong. Yet she is drawing power from the Dark Dimension to extend her life. This is supposedly acceptable because she has been able to teach others for a longer period of time. Using evil power to extend her life is okay because it helps the "greater good."

Perhaps the reason this aspect of the message was so prominent to me was because earlier that same day I had been listening to The Slippery Slope by Lemony Snicket while sewing. In that installment of A Series of Unfortunate Events, Count Olaf and Esmè Squallor are constantly harping on the "greater good" mantra, which to them is the successful theft of the Baudelaire fortune. It doesn't take much to realize that that is no true greater good, but that's not where the book stops exploring the theme.

Sunny was kidnapped by Count Olaf apart from her siblings at the end of the last book, after they'd all set fire to the Caligari Carnival. Violet, Klaus, and a spoilery character are desperate to get her back, and so they hatch a scheme. They dig a pit in which to trap Esmè, and lure her to it, so they can exchange prisoners. Sure, it's not really a good thing to do, but that's okay because they're only doing it to rescue Sunny. It doesn't really matter if it's wrong because their purpose is good.

But then as Esmè is about to fall into the trap, Violet has a revelation. They're acting like villains. They're behaving just like Count Olaf and that isn't okay. It doesn't matter how right your cause is if you do wrong things to accomplish it. Two wrongs don't make a right. So instead of allowing Esmè to fall into the pit, they warn her, help her get back to Count Olaf, and find another way to rescue Sunny. The "greater good" argument is invalid.

I had this rattling around in my brain as I watched Doctor Strange, and I couldn't help comparing the two messages.  

Doctor Strange: anything is acceptable as long as you justify it by claiming it's for the greater good.

The Slippery Slope: villainous behavior is never acceptable, even if it's for the greater good.

And I'll take the message of The Slippery Slope any day over Doctor Strange.

Friday, April 6, 2018

A Short Blogging Break

Just a heads up that I'll be taking a break from blogging and such next week. My quarterly newsletter will also be on its way soon. See y'all in a week!

Monday, April 2, 2018

The Man Who Invented Christmas

Here it is: My promised video on The Man Who Invented Christmas! Have you seen it? What did you think?

Monday, March 26, 2018

Jill Pole--The Chronicles of Narnia

I'd been intending to do a video on the movie The Man Who Invented Christmas, which we recently got from Redbox and really enjoyed, but I came down with a cold, and have to put it off. Instead, I decided to revive an old blog series I'd intended to do for longer than I did about my favorite fictional characters. Today's subject is Jill Pole from The Chronicles of Narnia.

As much as I love Lucy and Edmund and Eustace and Peter and Digory and Polly and Caspian and Reepicheep and Puddleglum and Shasta and Aravis....etc., my favorite Narnia character has to be Jill. She's the one I relate to the most. She's the one I most wanted to be. She's the one who gets the book with the underground adventure. ;) And she's a realistically flawed character besides.

Jill attends a boarding school called Experiment House, which is coeducational, a school for both boys and girls, or what used to be called a mixed school, though some said it was not nearly so mixed as the minds of the people who ran it. She is bullied there because the authorities had the idea that children should be allowed to do what they liked best and, unfortunately, what ten or fifteen of the biggest boys and girls liked best was bullying others. At an ordinary school, the bullies would have been found out and stopped, but at this school the Head considered them "interesting psychological cases" and talked to the bullies for hours. And if you knew what to say to the Head, the main result was that you became rather a favorite than otherwise. (And I totally had Paul Scofield's voice going through my head as I typed that.) Evading these bullies, Jill and Eustace find their way into Narnia where Aslan charges them with finding Caspian's son, the lost Prince Rilian. They receive Four Signs to guide them in their quest.

Only, Jill is the only one to actually hear any of these instructions from Aslan because she showed off and caused Eustace to fall off the cliff and get blown to Narnia ahead of her. And she doesn't do a very good job of informing him about all Aslan said.

With the help of gloomy, awesome marshwiggle Puddleglum, they journey to the north of Narnia looking for the ruined city of the ancient giants, but the Lady of the Green Kirtle distracts them by telling them of the comforts of Harfang and the Gentle Giants. Jill and Eustace both are tired of the wind and the rain and hard, cold earth to sleep on. Jill does like her comfort. And she's so focused on that that she doesn't do a good job of remembering the Signs. I always prided myself on knowing the Four Signs better than she does, but I can't say I'd do any different in her place. Still, though, they'd have had an easier time during the part with the Silver Chair if they'd remembered them properly.

Jill makes a lot of mistakes. And I mean a lot. She and Eustace fight a lot—they'll end by knifing one another, I shouldn't wonder—she focuses on her lack of comfort to the point of forgetting and missing the Signs, she's afraid to go on...and yet she makes it to the end. They do rescue Prince Rilian, and she's even the one, in the middle of the enchantment scene (my favorite to act out) who remembers Aslan. Though it's Puddleglum who gives the most awesome and amazing speech. But in the end, she's repentant. She's sorry for all the mistakes she's made. It makes her into a better person for The Last Battle

And they'd better do a good job on the movie.

Monday, March 19, 2018

What Is Your Mission Field?

What is a mission?

Is it a foreign mission? Work in the church? Spreading the Gospel in whatever circles God places you?

All of the above?

I've been thinking a lot about life missions and people living in their little bubbles lately. I feel like a lot of Christians get stuck in their little bubble of their family and local church and never see the big picture. I feel like a lot of Christians get the idea that a missionary is someone who goes to a third world country to spread the Gospel and miss that we should all be missionaries in our circles of influence.

The world is bigger than our little bubble. American culture is bigger than our own households and local churches. And as we sit in our little bubbles, the enemy is taking ground.

The enemy has gotten into our government and perverted it from the intent of the founding, so that it no longer protects and defends what is good and right, but instead protects and defends sin.

The enemy has gotten into education, teaching children false things as truth from evolution to the LGBT agenda...and even many "Christian" institutions teach unbiblical worldviews.

The enemy has gotten into entertainment, changing from the common themes of Christianity in many classics (children's ones, anyway) to an onslaught of liberal agenda.

The enemy has destroyed the family and even basic tenets of biology such as gender.

Even the American church in general has let the enemy come in and divide us as many accept the liberal, sinful agenda that is pushed so hard today.

And we as Christians just sit in our little bubbles and let the enemy win.

We should fight. No, it's not going to be over until Jesus comes back. No, this world isn't ever going to be perfect. But does that give us license to stop fighting? Does that give us license to sit back in our little bubbles and just let the enemy win?

I don't think so. I don't want to face Jesus one day and say, "Well, I knew You were going to come back, so I just sat at home and waited." I want to be able to say, "I fought for You until the end."

I can't do it all. No one can do it all. That's why we all have our part of the wall to build. We all have the area of culture where we have gifts and interests and opportunities, and we have to use it to fight.

My family has been called into the political arena where we work to put Christians into office who will fight the evil in the government, doing their best to take down the bad laws and protect righteousness. How would it be if the government was full of Christians who sought to serve God in that office like William Wilberforce?

A dad at my church is using his position as a public school band director to try to start something like FCA for band. How would it be if there were more Christians in the schools willing to reach the children with the truth?

I've been gifted in writing, and I do my best to write good quality stories that point people towards God and the Bible. How would it be if entertainment was filled with Christians who created quality books, movies, and music that pointed people to God instead of filling their heads with normalized sin?

How would it be if the mainstream media promoted good and right things rather than promoting sin and stirring up people to riots?

How many more people could we reach with the Gospel if we stepped outside our little bubbles and used the gifts and opportunities God gave us for His Kingdom? How much more mission work could we do if we viewed our talents and interests as mission work rather than hobbies? How much more of a good and faithful servant would we be if we stopped sitting at home focused on our own personal lives and got out there into the culture being salt and light?

This fight is bigger than ourselves. It's bigger than our bubbles.

And I'm going to fight till the end.

Monday, March 12, 2018

Authorly Goals and Progress

It's already March!

This year is going by fast. A little too fast for making significant progress on author projects, but aside from that, I'm not saddened by the speed of the year. It's been good. (Other than that evening when I babysat a six-month-old with separation anxiety, and then the next day my sister started throwing up while my parents were out of town. That was a rough weekend, but I made it.)

So where am I on writing, etc.? Well, it's going.

I've been working on recording Creighton Hill. I'm through Chapter 12, but I just had to get a new SD card. The recorder didn't come with one, so I just used one we had laying around from a camera, and it gave me data write errors sometimes. Apparently that's indicative of a problem with the SD card, so yay. My goal is to finish recording by the end of the month, which should be doable, so long as this new SD card fixes all the issues. I'm excited about the project, and like always, once I get past Chapter 8, it's fun. I've been over those first 8 chapters WAAAAAYYYYY too many times.

Carrie Mouse, my picture book idea, has been worked on a bit. My sister and I storyboarded the whole thing, and my sister has done a few test illustrations, but I still need to write new text. I don't expect it to take too terribly long once I sit down to do it, however, words count even more in a picture book, so there's likely to be lots of agonizing over word choice. I don't have a specific goal on that project (I need one), but I'd like it to be out in time for Christmas. Fingers crossed. We also want to have little Carrie Mouse stuffed animals to go along with the book. My sister will be making the Carrie doll—that shouldn't be hard for her, she's fabulous at it—and I'm planning on knitting a little cardigan for each one. I haven't started figuring that out yet, but I have started knitting baby sweaters for the Klay Kottage Etsy shop. By the way, if you search "brown mice" on Pinterest, it gives you rice recipes. Go figure.

And Acktorek. I just really need to carve out some time to sit down and write. I decided to cut part of Chapter 1 and combine it with Chapter 2, so that means I'm writing Chapter 3 right now. I really want to finish this first draft by the end of June so I can use the second half of the year to rewrite the Espionage sequel, but I'm not super confident that will happen. I'm still hoping, just not confident. I reread A Wind in the Door to help reawaken that sci-fi/fantasy portion of my brain, and it's been great (and I feel like I should reread some more L'Engle). Things are getting strange in the story, and I'm eager to know exactly what's going on. I'm really pantsing this book, so I often don't have a clue what's going to happen next. Hopefully that doesn't mean it's going to be a mess. I'm planning on really starting to push on with this project, because I really want the first draft written by the end of June. We'll see how that goes.

So that's what's going on with me author-wise right now. It's an adventure!

Monday, March 5, 2018

Book Spotlight: A Wrinkle in Time

I talk about my experience with this childhood favorite book, and my impression of the trailers for the new movie.