Revenge of The Christmas Monster

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Taught my first Advent lesson for Sunday School yesterday. We talked about how Jesus is our hope, light, and peace. I shared how this holiday season can be one of darkness for myself. How Advent helps me focus on the light of the season, Jesus. Got me thinking about the things we bring into the holidays. I was telling Tab that we battled The Christmas Monster, even as a married couple, for a long, long, time. We’ve worked hard though to create our own traditions (which I love) and refocus what Christmas is all about for our family. Below is a post I wrote about the Christmas monster in 2015. Enjoy!

The holidays are a battle. A war filled with presents.

The Christmas list is a list that must be structured to maximize gifts received. I’m not sure what year I learned how much family members spent on me for Christmas, but I did. Strategic planning ensued. I would organize my list so that the most expensive items were at the top of the page. As one would read down the list, the items became cheaper. I would even take this a step further by listing the items retail price. I was a monster, used to three family Christmas events. One with my dad’s parents, one with my mom’s parents, and one with my immediate family.

Sometimes monsters look cute. I mean, handsome.

My Aunt Jody has no children. She loves giving; she loves Christmas time. On the other side of the Christmas campfire, my mom felt the need to compete with my aunt and grandparents. Growing up, she co-owned a craft business with a friend. My mom would spend hours out in the garage, cutting out craft pieces with her scroll saw. She would then paint these items, piece them together, and then go to a weekend craft show to sell. Generating money for Christmas that we did not have. I remember my Grandma and Grandpa Ayers coming out to help her paint and get items ready to sell. The holidays were stressful for my mom. I’m sure she wouldn’t tell you that. I’m sure as a kid I couldn’t have told you that my mom was stressed over having to compete. But she was.

The gift overload distorted my view of Christmas. The season became all about what I could get. I didn’t see the stress it was causing those around me.

My mom has since learned to let go and not compete. But I’m still learning, shaping, what Christmas looks like for my family. I don’t want Wyatt growing up thinking that Christmas is about maximizing what he can get. Sure, maybe kids do that to a point. But I do not want to raise a Christmas monster.

What does Christmas look like for you and your family? How do you go beyond presents?

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Far Cry 5 and Faith Distorted

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A man comes to town and befriends a preacher. He mixes truth-spoken with drug-fueled visions. He kills in the night and then moves on to capture the hearts of men. The town is soon flooded with one man’s lies. What is this perverted faith being presented in Far Cry 5?

The use of religious imagery and language are often intertwined in video games. Faith presented as a misunderstood mystery.

Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see. – Hebrews 11:1

Two Examples:
  1. 1998’s Xenogears delved into crucifixion, a Roman form of the death penalty. The game then took things a step further by having the crucifixion take place on a hill called Golgotha. Sound familiar? Japanese RPG’s have a tendency of pulling parts and pieces from all different cultures and shoving them into their narratives.

2. Ken Levine’s BioShock Infinite plays around with the concept of baptism being a key turning point in a man’s life. The beginning of the game going so far as to use baptism as a point of entry into the City of Columbia. Press X to Accept Baptism.

What should the Christian response be to distortions of faith in media?

  1. We should not be surprised at non-believers not understanding spiritual things.

For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. – 1 Corinthians 1:18

2. We should recognize / be aware of certain genres of media having a predisposition to use religious imagery and language just because they can.

3. We should call out / shed light on depictions of faith that are not accurate and veer into cult territory. Far Cry 5‘s baptism trailer clearly depicts an unhealthy faith and devotion to a man, who will fail them. In watching the trailer, I’m reminded that God is not oppressive; God is not about control. No, oppression and control are tools of the devil.

Unlike the tagline at the end of the Far Cry 5 trailer, God does not call Christians to trust Him blindly nor to pray and obey Him out of fear:

Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding. – Proverbs 3:5

In the end, Far Cry 5‘s fictional Hope County, Montana is in need of a spiritual cleansing. These people need to experience the freedom that Jesus Christ offers and be freed from the cult-ish slavery they are mired in. Being a Far Cry game, violence and rivers of blood will be the only way to purity.

Will you make the trip to Big Sky Country when the game is released?

Will you embrace the violence, the distorted faith presented?

That Dragon Cancer drove me to prayer

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Tabitha and I experienced That Dragon Cancer together. With Wyatt tucked away in bed for the night, we hooked the laptop up to the television. Light’s dimmed, we entered the world of the Green family. The musical score comforts like a warm blanket. The woods around full of promise and wonder. In this setting we meet the Green’s son, Joel, who is feeding a duck. Joel laughs, a lot. After a transitional time at the playground, we meet the dragon of this story, cancer.

Cancer, represented in jagged distorted shapes of hate. Always lurking like a monster in the night. Howls reverberating as a heartbeat of a sick boy.

That Dragon Cancer is a series of vignettes, brief flashes of hope and dark nightmares. Narrated at times by Ryan and Amy Green, we follow their family on their journey with Joel. Tabitha and I appreciated the depth of honesty in Amy’s comments on doubt. Doubt is normal, she says. A contrast to the modern Church whispering “hush” in such moments.

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No matter how dire the situation became. No matter how hard Amy and Ryan prayed, their faith stood out to us. A faith that allows for questions, doubts, and even fears. Media, as a whole, has a hard time portraying faith. The video game medium allows for an unknown level of intimacy. Allowing us to partake, in some small way, in the Green’s suffering. I’m thankful for that.

As the game ended, I found myself in a contemplative mood. That Dragon Cancer reminded me of my need to pray. I prayed for Amy, Ryan, and their family. I fell asleep only to wake up sometime later. Praying over life, direction, and meaning.

I would like to thank Ryan and Amy for being real. For sharing Joel’s life and opening up their family to the world.

Wave SplinterTitle: That Dragon, Cancer
Developer: Numinous Games
Platforms: PC, Mac, OUYA
Reviews on: PC
MSRP: $14.99

*A review copy was provided for this review. 

Thomas Wasn’t Alone

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We are not meant to go at this life alone.

thomas-was-aloneThomas Was Alone drives home the point that we are meant to live in community with others. As the levels in Thomas progress, the game reinforces that red rectangle Thomas needs others to move from one point to another. Thomas cannot move through the game world alone.

My son graduated from kindergarten today (5/29). I’m not sure how I feel about that. Sitting there in the auditorium, I was reminded of what big personals events were like growing up. I remember having the biggest cheering section out of anyone. My parents, siblings, grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins were always there to cheer me on. I wasn’t alone.

thomas-was-alone1Thomas Was Alone combines minimalist design and expert narration to introduce characters one cares for. Take Claire for instance. Claire is a large blue square. Even though she cannot jump high, Claire dreams of becoming a superhero. Thomas and his friends need Claire. She is the only one that can float across the toxic waters that would kill anyone else in an instant.

The Bible talks about the human body having many parts, each with it’s own task, function, and purpose. The Bible likens the human body to the body of Christ. In that we are meant to live in community.

I teach a group of men on Wednesday nights. We’ve been going through some difficult material. Peeling back masks and becoming real with one another, I have learned that we all have a need for friendship. Most of us feel as if we do not have anyone to walk in life with. We feel alone. Sometimes lost. Isolated within our families, running the race of life. The guys and I discussed how we can move beyond our personal islands:

  • Reaching out, in person, on the phone, even a simple text
  • Having a bigger focus than just ourselves
  • Being legacy minded

God lives in community with the Holy Spirit and Christ. If He is our example. . .  it may be time to pick up a phone, knock on a door, connect.

I write all this for myself. I am sure no one else can relate.

Taking the Devil’s Dare

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The sound of a man’s skull being crushed by a car door, not a sound I’ll soon forget.

I know that evil exists. From the psychotically deranged, to those being held prisoner by their pasts. Evil exists in simple lies and even in some of our everyday actions. The Bible calls this depravity sin.

543435c6b649bMarvel’s Daredevil is one of the finest products Marvel has crafted on film. The characters are believable and the action is intense. And yet, I cringe as I plunge myself into the darkness of this show. Within the first few episodes I’ve witnessed:
  • A man impale himself on a spike
  • A man flatten another man’s skull with a bowling ball
  • Women tortured and treated like dirt
  • A car door used to reduce a man’s head to goo
Why is evil so compelling? What makes us watch such things? Is it a hope, a desire down deep, that things will get better? That justice is right around the corner? I’m not sure. But justice in the world of Daredevil is executed by a man who makes himself judge, jury, and executioner. Daredevil is no hero, quite the contrary, he is part of the problem.
And yet, I continue to watch.
What are your thoughts on the series?

Hope

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Many years ago, I had the privilege of reading Cormac McCarthy’s The Road. The story is about a father and son making their way south after their world has been torn asunder. As the world grows grey and bleak, cannibals scour the roads and food becomes a memory of the past. Dread, fear, and hopelessness saturate the book just as summer thunderstorms do in Texas. I found The Road to be haunting and an absolutely memorable page turner.

The Road

In 2009, director John Hillcoat brought “The Road” into the darkness of movie theaters. The movie did not look like a joy-filled affair, faithful to the book, so I passed on it. Recently, I discovered that Netflix had added “The Road” to their vast library. So last night I sat down and watched as much as I could stomach. The sense of hopelessness and dread eventually did me in as the two main protagonists entered a house/mansion. Memory recalls that houses, in the book, were places that either served to replenish dwindling supplies or as examples of how far the human soul can fall. The foreboding feeling I felt told me that this particular house held untold horrors. Simply and quietly, I turned the movie off.

As the screen faded back to the familiar Netflix menu, I knew my night needed a palette cleanser. Kevin Costner’s “Dances with Wolves” provided just that.

Dances with Wolves

With the inspiring beauty of the American frontier, “Dances with Wolves” offers hope in solitude. Grand vistas of the rolling prairie soaked in sunlight stood in absolute contrast to the devastating world of “The Road”. Though not intentional, I ended up watching two movies that highlight being alone, cut off from a civilized world. While “The Road” wallows as the world begins to literally dim, “Dances with Wolves” embraces that which has made America an exceptional nation, hope.

President Kennedy Visits Ireland

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Over lunch, I happened to watch a PBS documentary on President Kennedy’s visit to Ireland, in 1963. Crowds gathered everywhere to see the President who had led America through the Cuban Missile Crisis some 9 months earlier. Beyond the crowds, the very faces of the people themselves are what captivated me. One would think that President Kennedy’s visit was the second coming of Christ. Joy-filled faces, reaching out to touch or to simply catch a glimpse of the American President filled the screen. For some reason, this awestruck scene reminded me of wave that swept now President Obama into the White House.

I think that we, as Americans, get excited about ideas. Be it flying among the clouds or carrying a Swiss Army Knife-like cell phone, we are always pushing the boundaries forward, testing what is and is not possible. I think that that is what carried President Obama into office. The very idea that an African American could become President of the United States was too big of a thought to pass up. So a majority of Americans voted him into office.

After nearly 4 years of leading the United States, President Obama’s time is running out. Though he is running for a second term, he now has a track record to back up his lofty speeches. The word “hope” no longer has the optimistic tone it once did. We have seen Obama polarize our country in ways he swore would never happen; we have seen how his words lead to little action.

President Obama is certainly no John F. Kennedy. However, JFK was not all he was cracked up to be either. I can’t wait to see what the November elections bring.