Suicide Squad Movie Review

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Last night I went to a special showing of DC’s latest movie, Suicide Squad.  When the original trailers came out, it looked way too dark for my tastes.  But as more trailers came out I began to be more intrigued.  I’ll be honest, though, and say that it wasn’t until Twenty-One Pilot’s song, “Heathens”, came out, and I saw all the multi-colored posters for Suicide Squad that I decided to give it a shot.  I know, I know  – that’s kind of a silly reason to go see a movie (the end-credits song and the color scheme!) but I really do place a lot of emphasis on the color scheme of movies!  I love the rich earthy tones of The Lord of the Rings, the silver and blue of Guy Ritchie’s Sherlock Holmes, the deep purple and golds of Tangled…if you’ve never given much thought to a movie’s color scheme I’d suggest that it’s really worth doing so from now on!  The movie producers put a lot of thought into a movie’s color scheme because it really does set the tone for the entire film.  All that is to say that I’ve never seen a movie with anywhere close to as many bright, carnival-ish, beautifully garish colors in it as Suicide Squad promised to have.  So I gave it a shot.

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And it turns out, I’m glad I did!  I really didn’t have high expectations (I’m not a comic-book fan and I’m not a DC comics person either) – I just wanted a fun, visual “ride”.  And that’s exactly what I got.

The basic premise of Suicide Squad is that, in the wake of the events in Batman vs. Superman, the government is nervous about not being able to control “meta humans” like Clarke Kent.  They want some kind of insurance against a meta human who decides to turn against the human race – so they round up several notorious super-villains as a “suicide squad” to be sent in to fight other super-villains in exchange for reduced jail sentences.  If the mission goes sour, the government figures, the blame can all fall on the suicide squad.  And if any of them happen to die, well, it’s no great loss.  Just as the squad is formed (including Deadshot, Captain Boomerang, Killer Croc, Harley Quinn and Diablo), you guessed it, an evil enchantress decides that she’s going to take over the whole world.  The squad, supervised by soldier Rick Flag, is sent in to stop them.

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Let me just start by saying that the story line was very weak and really only served to give a platform for neat visuals, comedy and an excuse for the squad to get together.  The Enchantress was a stock villain with no real reason for wanting to take over the world (do any of those villains ever have a good reason to want to take over the world? :)).  The members of the squad itself were hit and miss too, in their character development.

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Deadshot was an extremely cool, well-done character

Deadshot (Will Smith) was without a doubt the main character of the film, with Harley Quinn (the Joker’s girlfriend, played by Margot Robbie) as a close second, and the soldier in charge of the squad, Rick Flag, coming in third.  Time was spent in the first part of the film building up sympathy and back stories for all three, and while they did a really good job with Harley and Rick, Deadshot’s backstory just seemed a little sappy. It was the classic “bad guy who’s really a softie when it comes to his sweet innocent daughter, and he would do anything to help her” bit.  That bit can be well done, but it did feel a bit heavy-handed in the sob-story department as far as Deadshot was concerned (he still was a very cool and likable character in spite of this).  The other squad members (Diablo in particular) had very similar sob-stories of their own that didn’t really seem to fit.  The Joker himself was also rather disappointing.  So much hype was built around Jared Leto bringing a fresh take to the Joker, but his performance (while delightfully wild and creepy) did seem pretty forced and a bit shallow.  Maybe I’m just comparing him to the stunning performance that Heath Ledger gave to the Joker in Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight

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The Joker was less of a solitary psychopath, and more of a filthy rich, crazy-as-a-bat mobster boss in this rendition

The good news was, while the story lacked in depth, it also wasn’t nearly as dark as I was expecting.  It felt more like DC’s version of Guardians of the Galaxy (complete with humor, bright colors, a lovable band of misfits and a spunky soundtrack), though not as good as Guardians.  There was some violence (some people get shot, the squad is badly mistreated in jail, and they kill lots of rock-like monsters) but it wasn’t the focus of the movie.  It also wasn’t nearly suggestive as I was expecting.  Yes, the girl characters go around dressed in little more than underwear, but there weren’t nearly as many bad scenes or up-close shots of their bodies as I was expecting.  The only really bad scene was in the Joker’s night club where Harley and another lady dance all throughout the scene in a very, shall we say, unladylike fashion.  Language wasn’t over the top either.  It definitely wasn’t a kids movie, but I was very thankful that it wasn’t as dark as some of the trailers seemed to suggest.

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Diablo’s backstory was a bit too heavy-handed

As I said before, I went to go see the movie for its visuals – mainly the colors.  I was not disappointed!  Harley’s blue and red makeup, the Joker’s electric-green hair, Deadshot’s red and black suit, the Enchantress’s green and orange magic…all of it combined to make a feast for the eyes as far as color was concerned.  Again, I know it sounds silly, but the colors really do make this movie!  People watch The Great Gatsby for its costumes, Pride and Prejudice for its landscapes and The Lord of the Rings for its fantastical world, and I believe that all are perfectly good reasons to be drawn to a movie.  A movie, after all, used to be called “moving pictures” for a good reason – films can be like watching a painting in action.  The music of Suicide Squad was also great, I really got attached to Deadshot and Harley, the ending credits were an unbelievable riot of kaleidoscopic images and colors, and the story was kept light-hearted enough to leave you with a feeling of “fun”.

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Harley ended up being the best-developed (and my favorite) member of the squad

I can understand why many critics have slammed Suicide Squad.  It really did lack depth, many of the characters were shallow and there were quite a few cheesy and/or slow parts.  But it’s all about expectations – if you go into Suicide Squad expecting a compelling story line, a stunning Joker performance, great back stories, etc., you will be disappointed.  But if you are just along for the ride (especially if you see it in 3D as I did), I don’t see how you could fail to enjoy it!

If any of you have gone to see it or are planning on seeing it, let me know in the comments!

A Heavenly Marriage

 

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When I first read Debi Pearl’s Created to Be His Help Meet, I wanted to burn it.

True story.

I had liked it for the first several chapters, but then she kept making me so mad with the conclusions she was coming to, and the language she was using, and the points she was making.  If you’ve never heard of Created to Be His Help Meet, it’s a book for wives on how to make your marriage a “heavenly marriage”, focusing on the Scriptures that deal directly with women and wives.  She doesn’t shy away from verses like 1 Corinthians 11:3 (“But I would have you know, that the head of every man is Christ; and the head of the woman is the man; and the head of Christ is God.”) and 1 Timothy 2:14 (“And Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived was in the transgression.”).  For that very reason, Pearl’s book is one that is either loved, or despised.  I’ve read absolutely venomous reviews of this book, and if you’ve heard of it you’ve likely heard at least something negative about it, such as “Debi is heartless”, “Debi has no grace” and “Her book promotes female servitude”.  

When I first read it, I tried to put those thoughts out of my mind and give it a fair hearing, but I eventually got so mad at her that I gave it back to the person who loaned it to me, without finishing it.  I came to many of the same conclusions as those negative reviewers I’d read about – that Debi was heartless, and that her expectations were unrealistic, and that living like she writes about (submitting to and obeying your husband in everything) was just unrealistic and ridiculous.

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Fast forward nearly a year, and for some reason I couldn’t get Created out of my head.  I went back to the shelves of the lady I borrowed it from, and sat down to just flip through the book and see if it were as bad as I remembered.  Almost as soon as I started reading, I didn’t feel indignation like last time – I felt conviction.  It was like Debi was talking straight at me, forcing me to confront stinking attitudes that I’d been recently harboring in my marriage.  After nearly an hour with my nose glued to the book, I realized that only in two parts of the entirety of Created to Be His Help Meet did I truly believe Debi’s conclusions and attitudes to be wrong.  Setting those two sections aside, I was literally covered in chills as I read through the rest of the book.  The very next day I ordered my own copy and have been reading through it thoroughly for the past week and a half.

Let me tell you (especially you fellow wives) – by putting the principles in this book into practice, the results of just one week have been astounding.

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Several times this past week, Galen and I have literally just looked at each other in awe.  It was as if we were asking, “What in the world has changed?  We were very happy before, but this is marriage on a whole new level!”  I honestly believe that much of the change has been in me – I am finally putting submission, reverence and obedience to my husband into full practice.  It’s been a rather subtle, yet ground-breaking shift for me in my heart.  Galen didn’t even notice that I’d been having this mental revelation and heart change.  What he did notice was the sudden increase in good communication, laughter, a feeling of intimacy and closeness, deepening friendship and just overall super-charged improvement in every area of our marriage all of a sudden.  It’s been nothing short of glorious.

Don’t get me wrong!  I’ve always been a huge believer in the woman’s place of Biblical submission to her husband and the husband’s role of leadership in the family, and a strong opponent of feminism.  But honestly, I think that the church has let a heck of a lot more feminism (or at least political correctness) seep into the minds and teaching of the believers than we think.  When’s the last time you heard a sermon preached on 1 Timothy 2?  Or 1 Corinthians 14:34?  Uh…probably never.  Or if you have heard those passages mentioned from the pulpit, it was likely introduced and ushered away again with a dozen or so caveats and explanations.  Almost every sermon I’ve ever heard on the wife’s submission to the husband has been cushioned all around with explanations – “Of course this doesn’t mean that the wife is a doormat!” “Paul never meant for women to be treated as lesser than men!” “If a husband tries to lead the wife into sin, she should definitely not submit!”.

All of these statements are absolutely true.  But the result usually is that the potency and simplicity and directness of those Scriptures are watered down.  There are certainly some really bad situations where the husband is abusive, treats his wife like a slave, and tries to force her into sinful practices – all in the name of Biblical submission.  But for the vast majority of Christian marriages (including mine), none of these factors ever comes into play: not even close.  Usually, the issues that a wife gets her dander up about are really very secondary when you think of it – the husband is spending more money than the wife is comfortable with, his tone of voice can get snappy, he likes a TV show that the wife considers too violent.  Fill in the blanks.  No clear sin – just “issues”.  The issues that I usually get upset about are equally simple, but seem so important at the time.  It’s easy to get worked into a frenzy over things that you want your husband to change – especially if you feel like it’s a really important issue.  Most Christian wives at least try to hold their tongues on the small things, but feel obligated (sometimes morally obligated) to do their duty and “put their foot down” if the issue is big enough.

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That’s where I was having trouble.  I had no problem submitting to Galen with a myriad of everyday choices, and even some “big” issues, but I always felt that if some future issue was really big enough (like moving somewhere I didn’t want to, or making a really big purchase that would be financially “foolish”) I had the right to put my foot down.  I’d never used that trump card throughout our whole marriage, but I kept it in the back of my mind just in case.  When he started leading us in a direction that I thought was a bad idea, I’d mentally take that card out and turn it over in my hands, considering if now was perhaps the time to use it.  The result of this “trump card mentality” never brought about anything but my own discontent and an occasional feeling of rebellion.  I’d return pretty quickly to contentment and submission once I’d decided that the issue at hand wasn’t worth it, but it was still a habit that I didn’t feel quite right about.

Through Created, I was thoroughly convicted of not taking the “submit to your husbands in everything” Scripture literally.  Or the “respect and obey your husbands” verse.  I took it to what I considered its reasonable conclusion (and felt pretty good about it, since I was submitting and obeying more than some other wives), and the results were really good.  We’ve always had a fantastic marriage.  But now that Debi has challenged me to trust and obey those scriptures absolutely and not just mostly, the results are beyond amazing!  I have more peace, have been more content, more in love and have had more joy than I ever had in my life.  And it’s not like I did anything that dramatic – I didn’t go from being a rebellious, screaming wife to being calm and obedient.  I just went from being a 94.76% obedient/submissive wife to a 100% obedient/submissive wife.  And now I finally understand why Debi calls marriage “heavenly.”

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I’m so young that I don’t feel quite qualified to give marriage advice just yet.  But I want to spread the word about this book to every single wife I know (and every wife I don’t know) in hopes that it will help them to have an amazing marriage!  I want to challenge my unmarried and married friends alike to fully trust and believe the Lord and His Word so they can experience the peace and joy that I’ve been basking in lately.  I want to encourage wives to throw away their “trump cards” and stop “putting their feet down” (because really, the only time to not obey is if your husband is directly leading you to imminent harm and sin – in which case “putting your foot down” would be a pretty weak response).  I’d encourage you to stop your ears to the indignant voices that scream that such teachings will only foster servitude, fearful and mousy wives and will degrade women.

It’s just not true.

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Like any Scripture, the Scriptures commanding wives to submit to, reverence and obey their husbands can of course be twisted far out of their meaning, turning them into something horrible.  But again, like any Scripture, if you trust the Lord and His promises and put them to action in your life, amazing things will happen.  I’m still a very young and inexperienced wife – I know that our marriage hasn’t been tested like some have, and that we haven’t experienced the difficulties that others have experienced.  But I do know that God’s Word is always true, and that God is good all the time and that His intentions for His children are always good.

Just try Him and see if He’s as good as His Word.  You won’t be disappointed.

Big Announcement!

My husband and I recently celebrated our 1-year anniversary.  Marriage has been more mind-blowingly awesome and glorious than I could have ever imagined.  All those folks that tell you to “watch out” because the “first year of marriage is super hard”…don’t believe them.  Marriage is flippin’ amazing!  So amazing in fact, that we decided we could no longer keep all this fun and love and happiness to ourselves.  We needed someone to share it with.  So….

We’re having a baby!!

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I’ve only got a few days left of my first trimester, and pregnancy has been an incredible (if exhausting) experience so far.  I cannot wait to meet our little one, and start sharing all of our love, joy and laughter with it.  And (as you can tell from the above picture) reading him or her book after book after book.🙂 My collection of children’s books was getting so out of hand that I had to transfer them to an entirely different bookshelf!

Speaking of which, I just realized that I’ve never posted about children’s books!  I’m shocked, honestly.  I remember planning on doing such a post at least two years ago, but I guess it fell through the cracks.  Ah well, there’s no time like the present!  Here are just a few of my all-time favorite children’s books that I grew up reading, and that I cannot wait to share with my little one.🙂

The Little House Picture Books

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These are rather hard to find!  I went on a search a few years ago to buy the entire collection, and had to buy some of them from rather obscure locations.  The wording comes almost straight from Wilder’s original stories, but the illustrations are what really make these books.

 

The Paperboy

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I remember thinking as a kid that the paper boy was so cool and brave for getting up to work when it was still dark.  All the scenes with him getting ready in the wee hours, and especially of crawling back into his warm bed just as dawn approached, always made me feel indescribably cozy.

 

Just One!

Ah, the cuteness of this book!  The fluffy little animals with berry-stained mouths.  It doesn’t get any better than that.  This book is so little-known, though, that I can’t even find a picture of it online!!

 

Tops and Bottoms

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This book is super unique because you have to hold it sideways to read it – I love the wittiness of Bear and Rabbit’s interactions.

 

The Patchwork Quilt

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This one is for slightly older children (not babies or toddlers) because the actual content is much wordier and complex than most kids books.  I love the sweetness of the old grandmother, and her love for her family.  Plus, I’m a quilter, and absolutely adore the quilting aspects of the story.

Blueberries for Sal

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‘Nuff said.

Corduroy

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Man, I’m realizing a pattern here – almost all these books either involve food, night time or cute animals.😀 Corduroy is a cute stuffed animal exploring an empty mall at night – makes sense that this would be a favorite!

Last but not least, If You Give A Mouse A Cookie

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So much fun and such a classic!

There are SO many more books I love (When Bunny Grows Up, the Clifford the Big Red Dog books, all of Eric Carle’s masterpieces) but don’t have time to mention.  What are some of your favorites, either growing up or that you read to your kids?  I’m always up for suggestions.🙂

 

 

Mansfield Park Book and Movie Review

 

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Much to some of my friends’ chagrin and astonishment, I have never been a fan of Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park.  I’ve read it at least two or three times in the past (even doing a really good book-discussion led by Maribeth), but nothing could convince me that Mansfield Park had any of the depth, humor or morals of her other stories.  Recently, though, I’ve re-read (or rather re-listened to) the book through the fantastic reader, Wanda McCaddon.  And this time, I tried to put aside my bias against the story and pay sharp attention to the characters, the progression of the plot, and the examples/lessons Austen got across with this story.  And to my great surprise, I actually liked it this time around!  Even though Mansfield Park has some of the most infuriating characters (aka Mrs. Norris) and situations (aka Edmund falling for Mary Crawford!?!), it is no less well written than her other masterpieces.  I think I finally understand why I didn’t like it before – it’s not that it wasn’t a very well done, realistic, poignant depiction of the Crawfords, Prices and Bertrams.  It’s that I didn’t like the folks themselves.  It was like looking at a beautifully, masterfully-painted portrait and saying, “I don’t like it” because it was a painting of a person I disliked.  Once I realized that my grudge was more against the Crawford’s and Bertrams (and even against Fanny Price herself, for being a pushover) I was able to set that aside and see the story for what it is, a classic and a work of art.  In the process, I came to understand and like the characters better as well!

In a nutshell (but boy is it hard to put an Austen story in a nutshell!), Mansfield Park is the story of Fanny Price, a poor girl from a big family who is sent to live at Mansfield Park with her rich cousins, the Bertrams.  Lady and Sir Bertram, their children Tom, Edmund, Maria and Julia and Aunt Norris all live at the Park.  The only one who pays any attention to Fanny (while the rest of the family belittles her) is Edmund.  Fanny falls in love with Edmund, but he has no clue of her feelings.  New neighbors come into town – young, single and handsome Henry Crawford and his sister Mary.  They’re bad news and huge flirts, and they almost single-handedly ruin the Bertram family by the end of the book.  Mary breaks Edmund’s heart, and Henry tries (and fails) to do the same with Fanny.  He ends up running away with Maria (who happens to be married) and destroying the Bertram family reputation.  Through everything, though, Fanny remains the same.  Steady, quiet, compassionate, submissive and ready to help.  It’s easy to mistake her as a pushover at the beginning of the book, but it’s clear at the conclusion that she’s the strongest one of all.  She resists wrong and pursues good no matter what, even if the entire household of Mansfield Park can’t seem to tell the difference.

So after finishing the book this afternoon, I decided to watch the 1999 movie adaptation.  I didn’t expect much from it, but I also went in to it with something of an open mind (having not looked up any reviews).  I should have looked up at least some reviews and saved myself 2 hours of agony – and that’s what I hope to do for you right now with this review!

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For starters: Fanny isn’t Fanny in the movie.  She’s okay as a completely original character, but she is almost the polar opposite of the book Fanny.  Fanny Price in the original story is gentle, timid, submissive and quiet.  In the film, she’s spunky, forward, loud, rebellious, energetic, feministic, boisterous, as well as being an abolitionist and writer of bold, sensational stories.  I think they were trying to merge her with Jane Austen, but it just didn’t work.  In the movie, Fanny tries to be force herself into the group at Mansfield whereas in the book, she knows from the very start that she is not truly a part of the family and never will be.  In one scene of the movie, when she is shunned by Mrs. Norris in front of the others, she runs out of the room in slow motion, cries and runs to her room.  This sort of thing happens all the time in the book and Fanny takes it quietly.  It’s one of the reasons that I always had a hard time liking Fanny, because I hate to see her submit to ill treatment for years and years.  It makes her seem weak, but again, as Austen gradually reveals by the end of the story, Fanny is stronger than anyone else at Mansfield Park.  The movie cheats and tries to make Fanny “strong” by speaking boldly, walking with her head high and not giving a rip about what anyone (but Edmund) thinks.

I think it’s not so much that Fanny is weak, as that she’s intensely introverted.  And there’s nothing necessarily wrong with that!  It’s easy to mistake extroversion with strength, and introversion with weakness.  This article really helped me see that I was falling prey to the “Fanny Price is a weakling” idea, and that I was actually dead wrong in my estimation of her character.  Reading the book with a clear separation between introversion and weakness in my mind, I was able to really admire Fanny this read-around.  The movie obviously fell prey to the “submission is weakness” fallacy and re-molded Fanny as a result.

Julia and Maria were pretty good, Maria especially.  They really showed her character, motivation and slow descent into shame and immorality well.

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Lady Bertram is more of a druggie than the languid yet dignified lady in the book.  Literally, she’s addicted to opium.  I don’t even know how to comment on a druggie in an Austen story……

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Sir Bertram is such a creep in the film!  He spends all of his screen time either yelling at Fanny or almost flirting with her like a stalker.  I ended up liking and admiring him in the book, but I couldn’t stand him in the movie.  He has no scruples in manipulating and threatening Fanny to get his own way.  He’s downright cruel.  In the book he did some manipulating, but he was never mean.

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Edmund was okay though it was hard to separate him from Mr. Knightly because Johnny Lee Miller plays both characters in different adaptations.  He was too flirty and love-struck with Fanny, when he wasn’t supposed to love her until the end.  Then he almost immediately falls prey to Mary and says “he could never marry anyone else”.  And then at the end, he claims that he’s always loved Fanny.  What?

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Mary was way too crafty and sensual – wearing low-cut dresses, smoking cigars, and playing billiards with the men.  All of this was clearly designed to convey the fact that Mary is bad news, but it’s frankly very cheap (and not period-accurate).  Austen gets it across with characteristic subtlety, and even makes her readers waver once or twice on the “is Mary bad” o-meter.  The movie just jammed it down the audience’s throat.  The scene with Fanny and Edmund helping Mary read her lines was ridiculous – Mary completely seduced (through an aura of cheap sexuality) Edmund in less than ten seconds.  It totally demolished Edmund’s until-then honorable character.

They did a good job showing the inappropriate nature of the play (which I never really understood in the book) but it was super rushed.  The play was such an important part of the story, and it took up less than 5 minutes or so of screen time.  In fact, almost everything about the movie was rushed (except for the parts that they added in).  It was like the film makers were terrified that the original story of Mansfield Park would bore viewers, so they jumped from important scene to important scene with no build up in between.  Rather than making the movie fast-paced or engaging, it left me on the outside, viewing as if from a distance.  I had just finished the book less than a few hours before, so I knew the story very well.  Still, I felt confused and jumbled by the pacing and lack of development.

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They try to lighten up the darker themes of Mansfield Park with very out of place comedy.  Shaky cameras, lilting music, burping, awkward montages, characters speaking directly to the camera – none of which is actually comedic, and none of which comes close to true Austen humor: that is to say, wittiness.  The one part I did laugh at wasn’t supposed to be funny – it was supposed to be romantic but I was literally laughing out loud.  When Fanny is in Portsmouth, Henry Crawford sent Fanny a gift.  He sent these two little peasant boys with a huge basket of doves and fireworks and one of the kids sat there playing some kind of strange looking instrument.  The doves flew into the sky in slow motion, and there was “sparkly” romantic sounding music with fireworks going off the whole time.  The whole street in Portsmouth jumped out of bed to come watch, like it was an amazing display, but it was so incredibly random that I couldn’t help but laugh!

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Mansfield Park itself was so clear in my mind in the book, but in the movie it was strange.  It was like a big cold castle.  I’d imagined it as being well-furnished and beautiful, but it felt very stark and poorly furnished (almost dingy) in the film.

 

Fanny was way too easily taken in with Henry. She’s coy and flirtatious, encouraging him to continue pursuing her.  Then when she firmly refuses his proposal of marriage, it feels out of place and strange.  Henry hardly gave a moment’s suspicion of his dark and selfish nature in the movie, so it doesn’t make any sense for Fanny to refuse him.  In the book, you see so much of his impropriety that you want to stand up and cheer when she is steady in refusing him.  They seemed to be spending way too much time on Fanny and Henry in the movie, at the expense of developing other more important parts of the story.

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And then – horror of horrors – they made Fanny and Henry FALL IN LOVE!!!  They got engaged and what’s worse, they flippin’ kissed, y’all!!  I jumped to my feet and started screaming, “No way!!  No way!! You’ve got to be kidding me!” at the TV (something I never do, but it was just so horribly out of place and character that I couldn’t help it).  Fanny then looks like a complete hypocrite the next day when she comes to her senses and refuses him.  The entire story devolves into a soap opera between Henry and Fanny, with a little Edmund-Mary drama thrown in for good measure.  I never understood why some “bonnet movie” critics accuse Austen’s stories of being little better than soap operas, but I think it’s because they’re just that: “bonnet movie” critics.  No one who reads Austen could accuse her of such a thing, but poorly-done movie adaptations of her stories certainly can give that impression.

Worst of all, suddenly in the last 30 minutes of the film they work really, really hard to earn their PG-13 rating.  Fanny finds a sketch book of Tom’s that depicts torture and rape of slaves in the Bertram’s estate in Antigua, as well as a sketch of Sir Bertram with a black mistress.  Sir Bertram finds her looking at the book and blows up at her.  (None of that, of course, had any part in the book.)  She runs away to her room, but that same night, Fanny walks in on a very graphic, frontal-nudity bedroom scene of Maria and Henry committing adultery.  I was absolutely horrified.  The scene came on too fast to prepare for or look away from – it caught me off guard and made me really mad.  Yes, in the book Maria does run off with Henry, but Austen would never depict such a scene in her stories.  I’ve never felt dirty watching an Austen film, but I did with this one.

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In short, whether you are a fan of Mansfield Park or not – DO NOT WATCH THIS MOVIE.  It destroys the story, mocks Austen’s characters and plot, and is by far the most suggestive (and then graphic) Austen adaptation I’ve ever seen.  I usually try to do positive movie reviews on my blog, but there are quite as many bad movies as good ones in the world unfortunately.  I think it’s just as important to warn people away from some movies as it is to encourage them to watch others.  I may have been unduly hard on the film makers as far as story and characters go, because I just read the book…but I think not.  Overall, they took so many liberties and changed so much (and added such trash) that it felt like they were trying to “update” Austen’s story for modern viewers and make it more exciting and dramatic.  As almost always happens when people try to completely revamp classics, this movie failed miserably.  Mansfield Park may not be my favorite Austen story, but it is excellently written with very compelling, thought-provoking situations, ideas and lessons.  One always comes away from an Austen story with a better understanding of humanity, morality and character.  Mansfield Park is no exception.  Sadly, however, the movie adaptation is.

In short – just read the book.🙂

Professor Severus Snape and Hamlet, Prince of Denmark

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**Serious spoiler alerts for both Harry Potter and Hamlet in this post!  Do NOT read this post if you may ever, possibly, in the most remote future, even consider reading Harry Potter.  This will completely ruin it for you.  I’ll be discussing the biggest plot twist in the entire series in this post.  Also, both of these characters are far too deep and their stories too complicated to summarize in this post.  In this post I am diving right in, and assuming that you are familiar with both of these stories and characters.**

I’ve been slowly re-reading through the Harry Potter series over the past several months.  At the moment, I’m in the middle of the fifth book, The Order of the Phoenix.  Severus Snape’s character is becoming more complex with each book, a change that I always relish with each re-read.  Snape is without a doubt the most fascinating, interesting, confusing and compelling character in the entire series.  In fact, the first time I experienced the stories, I was on the fence as to whether or not I liked the whole Harry Potter story.  But the moment that the big reveal about Snape was unleashed in The Deathly Hallows, I sat stunned, covered in chills and absolutely in awe.  I was instantly convinced.  The story arc surrounding the greasy-haired, sallow-faced, deeply unpleasant professor single-handedly made me a fan of Harry Potter.  I had never encountered a more complex character in any book I’d ever read.

That is, until I read Shakespeare’s Hamlet.

Hamlet was my first-ever Shakespeare play, and from the start I was hooked.  I listened to the brilliant Kenneth Branagh audio version of the play, watched Mel Gibson’s movie adaptation, the thought-provoking Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, and then the incredible 4 hour Kenneth Branagh-directed word-for-word movie.  Hamlet, as a character, fascinated me to no end.  He’s deeply intelligent, covering a raging storm of grief, fury and revenge with a dazzling facade of madness.  Everything he does, every babbling speech and embarrassing situation he puts himself in, every word out of his mouth – all is calculated, all is a sham, all is carefully designed to further his purpose.  His tragic end, brought about in the very hour that he accomplishes his goal, only adds to his appeal.

Although I love both of these characters so much, I had never once thought of them in conjunction until recently.

Last night I was thinking over different literary characters, and wondered what I would say if someone asked me who (in my humble opinion) the most complex characters in literature are.  The answer came immediately and without thinking.  “Snape and Hamlet.”  I did a double-take at my own answer.

Snape….

…..and Hamlet.

I mentally held the two characters up side by side for the first time.  They seem so utterly different – one a prince, the other a professor.  One the most compelling of Shakespeare creations, one the modern brainchild of a British single mother.  One sharply dressed, handsome and compelling, one sullen, pallid and lurking in the background.  Still, a whole list of shocking similarities between Snape and Hamlet presented themselves.  It kept me wide-awake, staring into the dark long after my husband was snoring beside me, and I could hardly wait to write a post about it today.  So without further ado, here are all of the similarities that I have noticed (so far) between Professor Severus Snape and Hamlet, Prince of Denmark:

  1. The Outfit.

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OK,  I know that this one is just surface, but it was the very first similarity that came to mind when I started comparing Snape and Hamlet.  Both men are dressed from head to toe in black (and both rather darkly mysterious and dashing to boot), from the time of their introduction to the time of their deaths.  The darkness of their garb seems to reflect the dark, sorrowful and brooding nature of both Hamlet and Severus Snape.  The prince initially wears black in simple mourning over the death of his father, but when he discovers that his father was murdered, the blackness takes on a whole new meaning.  A darkness enters his soul that doesn’t loosen its grip on him until he finally kills his murderous uncle and fulfill his oath of revenge.  He wears black far longer than his queen mother and her new husband, Hamlet’s uncle, believe appropriate, but he refuses to let go of his father’s death.  It is what drives him every moment of every scene for the rest of his tragically short life.

Professor Snape, too, is never shown in either the books or movies in anything other than black.  Even his hair and his eyes are dark as ebony.  The impenetrable blackness of his eyes shroud all emotion, keeping both the reader (and Harry himself) guessing as to what’s going on inside that brilliant, greasy head of his.  The darkness with which Snape surrounds himself (like Hamlet) goes far deeper than just an affinity for black clothes.  Snape teaches and lives beneath the castle of Hogwarts where no light can reach, and even his home is in the dirtiest, darkest and dingiest of neighborhoods.  I believe that Rowling used the blackness cloaking every aspect of Snape’s life to symbolize his mystery.  And I don’t think I’m stretching things too much to believe that Snape himself may have chosen an entire wardrobe of black to constantly remind himself (as Hamlet does) of the death of Lily.  It is, after all, her death and memory that motivates his every decision.

2. Revenge 

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From the moment that Hamlet’s father appears to him as a ghost, and explains that he was murdered by his treacherous brother, Hamlet’s life is absolutely consumed by revenge.  Everything is calculated toward the single end of bringing justice upon his uncle.  He ultimately succeeds, but at the expense of his reputation, his position in society, and ultimately his life.

Sound familiar?

As Rowling (finally) reveals in The Deathly Hallows, Severus Snape is not just a spiteful teacher.  He is not the traitorous, spying, slinking dog he seems to be – he is actually the most dedicated, passionate, self-sacrificial character in the entire story.  Ever since he (through a horrible mistake) caused the death of the woman he’d loved since childhood (Harry’s mother), Severus determined to do whatever possible to make things right.  He couldn’t reverse the fact that Lord Voldemort had killed Lily Potter, but he could dedicate his life to protecting her son.  And by protecting Harry and saving his life on multiple occasions, as well as the hugely instrumental roles he played in spying on Voldemort and feeding him false information, Snape played a major role in the downfall of the Dark Lord.  Thus Snape is not only (like Hamlet) hell-bent on avenging the death of one he loved, he seeks after redemption for his past mistakes.  It is this cruel, relentless, dual slave-master of regret and revenge that keeps Snape so focused in the maddening facade he must put on for seventeen years.

3. The Facade

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First-time readers of Harry Potter are almost always driven bonkers by the question, “Where does Snape’s loyalty lie?”  He is insanely confusing, complex and mysterious.  Not until the very end of the 7th book to readers finally understand Snape and why he did what he did.  Sometimes there are glimpses of good (as when he saves Harry’s life on different occasions), but the majority of Snape’s actions seem to be overwhelmingly on the side of evil.  It’s not until the end of the story that readers understand that it is Snape’s grief over Lily’s death and his desire for redemption and revenge upon Voldemort that drives everything he does.  Suddenly everything falls into place, and it is clear that nearly everything Snape did and said in the previous books had a purpose and overarching plan.  For a full seventeen years, Severus was forced to keep his true self under strict lock and key, while putting on a show to the rest of the world.

Shakespeare was kinder to his audience.  And to Hamlet.  We as readers understand almost immediately why Hamlet is so grieved, why he must enact revenge upon his uncle, and why he must bury his sorrow and feign madness in order to accomplish his goal.  The strain that Hamlet is under, forced to gibber and laugh when his heart is burning inside, is almost enough to make him truly go mad.  The thing is, Hamlet only has to put on this horribly difficult act for a few months.  Snape has to endure the slow torture of his facade for years and years.  The whole idea of putting on an act is a brilliant and fascinating piece of literary genius on the parts of Shakespeare and Rowling.  It is simply the revelation of each character’s motivation (Hamlet’s is revealed instantly, Snape’s is revealed at the absolute climax of the story) that gives each man and story a different feel.

4. The Girl

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Both the professor and the prince have known true love.  Both of them caused the deaths of the woman they held most dear.  Snape’s entire story-arc is completely saturated with his love for Lily, and his grief over causing her death.  She is absolutely central to his life.

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We as readers initially don’t know terribly much about Lily Potter, except that she was Harry’s mother.  When we discover that she and Snape used to be best friends, and that it was Snape’s fault that their friendship was broken and she turned to James Potter instead, and far more importantly that it was Snape’s fault that both James and Lily were killed by Voldemort, it suddenly makes sense why Severus is so obsessed with Lily’s memory and avenging her death.  Her death is the reason for all of his sacrifice.

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For Hamlet, however, it is almost exactly the opposite.  He appears to truly love Ophelia before the whole deal with his father’s ghost, but as soon as he takes on the mission of revenge, he throws her under the bus.  It would seem like readers would hate him for this, but somehow we don’t.  Being cruel to Ophelia strengthens his facade of madness, as well as separating her from himself.  He truly is single-minded in his pursuit of revenge and has no more room in his heart for a romantic attachment.  He also may have been trying to separate her from himself to protect her – after all, he was on a mission to kill the King of Denmark.  Whatever his motivation for cutting ties with Ophelia, Hamlet ultimately caused her death.  Grief over Hamlet’s cruelty drove Ophelia mad, and she dies (either by accident or suicide, we may never know) directly because of him.

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Both men inadvertently caused the deaths of their beloved, but while Hamlet sacrifices Ophelia for his cause, Lily’s death is Snape’s cause.

5. The Tragic End

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As if these characters couldn’t get any more compelling and complex, they both meet truly tragic ends.  Hamlet is trapped by his uncle, and meets his death at the hands of betrayal and poison.  The poison works quickly, but not before Hamlet fulfills his oath to his father and kills his uncle the king, and makes peace with his once-enemy Laertes.

Again remarkably similar to Hamlet, Snape meets his death in a trap, at the treacherous hand of the main villain (Voldemort), by the means of poison.  Unlike Hamlet, though, Snape is left gasping out his last breaths alone, and it appears to him that he has utterly failed.  When Harry runs into the room and sees that Snape is dying, Snape clings to life long enough to pass on the vital information that Harry needs to defeat Voldemort.  In the process, that night marks the end of the hatred Harry has always held toward Snape.  In short, he and Snape make peace, and far from failing in his mission, Snape gives Harry the last push he needs to end Voldemort once and for all.

…………….

I’m sure that there are other similarities between Hamlet and Severus Snape, but this post is already way too long!  It was just something that blew my mind and that I’d never thought of before.  Have any of you Shakespeare or Potter fans ever noticed any similarities between the professor and the prince?  If you think of any I may have missed, please leave them in the comments below!  Discussing literary characters is really fun, so I’d love to hear any of your thoughts on both Hamlet and Shakespeare.  Also, let me know which character you like best.  I’ll let you guess (based on this post) which one I like best.😉

 

Why I Didn’t Watch War Room (And Why You Don’t Have To Either)

Maybe I’m the only one who feels this way, but has anyone else ever gone to go see a Christian film in theaters simply because it was Christian?  Or overlooked its flaws, plot holes, bad writing, poor humor and stiff acting for the same reason?  Or recommended it to other Christians just because it’s a film about Christianity?

Maybe I’m the only one…but I don’t think I am.

Forgive me (truly) if I step on your toes during this post.  Maybe you genuinely enjoy films in the traditional Christian genre.  Maybe you are in the camp of “support the genre until the films get better”.  Or maybe you feel that Christians should stand behind other believers in any realm of art.  My aim is not to bash fellow Christians, film makers or not – my goal is simply to challenge them to step up to the plate both in creating and in viewing films.

Ever since Facing the Giants, Christian directors have been fighting for a Christian foothold in Hollywood.  Films by the Kendrick brothers (Facing the Giants, Fireproof, Courageous, War Room) dominate the tiny, growing genre, as well as movies like Beyond the Mask, God’s Not Dead and The Secrets of Jonathan Sperry.  These movies are typically low budget, have a strong Christian message (or messages), are conservative, moral and very clean.  Churches and youth groups across the country promote these films, excited that we Christians are gaining ground in the movie industry.

But are we?

Compared to other Christian films throughout the years (whether dark and disturbing like To Save a Life or Faith Like Potatoes, or just plain cheesy like the Left Behind series or Time Changer) the Kendrick brothers’ films seemed well-made, and were encouraging to boot.  They’re family friendly.  Christians know that they can bring even small children in to the theater and not be afraid of any negative material frightening the children.  And if there is any negative material (bad guys, scary situations), parents know that it will always be redeemed in the end.  So what if the movie is cheesy and badly written, with unbelievable situations and wooden characters?

The Secrets of Jonathan Sperry doesn't have anything going for it other than a clear portrayal of the gospel message.

The Secrets of Jonathan Sperry doesn’t have anything going for it other than a clear portrayal of the Gospel.

Parents in general (and Christians in particular) will always want clean, conservative films for their families.  But do we really have to sacrifice quality for purity?  Think about it – shouldn’t the two go together?  (Read: most Pixar films.)  Why is it either quality or purity?  When else do we go pay good money to see a low-budget, badly-written, preachy, wooden film just because it’s clean?  Even if it’s better than the other low-budget, badly-written, preachy, wooden films in its genre?  In every other genre in Hollywood, most audiences demand quality, believability, originality and entertainment when they go to the theater.  So why are Christians settling?

Courageous's actual film quality is higher than the Kendrick brothers' previous films, but is severely predictable and cliched, with poor acting.

Courageous’s actual film quality is higher than the Kendrick brothers’ previous films, but is severely predictable and cliched, with poor acting.

I don’t know about everyone, but I know that for me, it was almost exclusively guilt.  Part of me (even when I was a child, watching Facing the Giants for the first time) recognized the cheese, the poor film quality and bad acting.  The other part of me (and I really don’t think I’m alone here) felt like I had to like the film because…well…well, because it was Christian for Pete’s sake!  Who wants to be the one person in the movie theater (which is filled almost exclusively with Christians) who laughs at a campy scene or doesn’t applaud at the end?  Even in recent years, I excused all sorts of low-quality Christian films because they were at least better than their predecessors, and hey, they had a good message.  I had two sets of movie standards – “regular movie” standards and “Christian movie” standards.  (I’ll let you figure out which standard was higher.)

Recently though, I’ve decided to chuck the “Christian movie” standard and just have standards.  Moral standards, cinematography standards, script standards, acting standards and most importantly, story standards.  I never hesitated for a moment to minutely dissect a mainstream movie – to discuss and argue and logically tear it apart on the way home from the movie theater.  If I pushed against it from every angle and it still stood, then it was a keeper. But I never did the same with any of the Christian films I watched – nor did any of my friends.  I (we) never discussed, dissected or criticized.  We simply affirmed.

Fireproof boasts good acting and a strong message, while seriously lacking in the quality of the cinematography itself.

Fireproof boasts good acting and a strong message, while seriously lacking in the quality of the cinematography and story-telling.

Until Christians start raising the bar, keeping the same standards for Christian films as “regular” films, I don’t think that Christian films are ever going to get any better.  Directors and script writers know that they’re guaranteed to succeed, so long as they have a strong enough Christian message and appeal fellow believers.  Supporting a faith-filled film is tied up with supporting your actual faith, and how could you refuse that?  (It’s a brilliant marketing technique, I’ll give them that.)

I have yet to see a traditional Christian film (meaning a clean, conservative film containing the gospel message and core Christian beliefs) that comes anywhere close to Hollywood standards.  And if the current Christian movie model continues unchanged, I don’t think I ever will.  Because (borrowing and meshing together ideas from N.D. Wilson, C. S. Lewis and Kevin McCreary here) simply pushing a message and creating characters and stories around it will never make for a good story.  If the characters aren’t developed, fleshed-out, and deeply connect to the audience, why should we care what happens to them?  If the story is flimsy and one-dimensional, how will it move hearts and change lives?  (Click here to hear more from McCreary on the subject – you’re guaranteed some laughs as well as food for thought.)

Beyond the Mask was one of the least preachy Christian films I've ever seen. While cliched and cheesy in many parts, it felt more like a Christian version of a Zorro film or classic black-and-white action movie than a stereotypical Christian film.

Beyond the Mask was one of the least preachy Christian films I’ve ever seen. While cliched and cheesy in many parts, it felt more like a Christian version of a Zorro film or classic black-and-white action movie than a stereotypical Christian film.

Truth is truth.  The gospel is the gospel.  It is true whether cheesily portrayed or not.  I agree with 90% of all of the messages in these Christian films.  In a sermon, marriage advice book or Christian lecture they would be powerful and maybe even life-changing.  But trying to mix marriage advice, sermons and lectures with movies doesn’t exactly work.  God can use a preachy film to reach people – just as He can use a sunset, a visit with a friend at a coffee shop, a secular movie, a song or a dream to reach people.  I just think that Christian directors should raise their standards way, way higher and focus on creating great characters, amazing story lines and an excellent film instead of pushing a message. As I said, truth is truth.  The gospel is the gospel.  If you are a Christian director, writer, artist or musician, and Christ is at the center of your life, He is going to shine like the sun through your art.  Truth will come through your stories naturally – no preaching needed.

God's Not Dead had a mixture of good and bad actors, but an unrealistic story line that felt like Christian propaganda.

God’s Not Dead had a mixture of good and bad actors, but an unrealistic story line that felt like Christian propaganda.  All the Christians were good, kind and reasonable, and anyone who didn’t believe in God was selfish and cruel.

So what’s the solution?  Not to stop telling stories, surely.  We are characters in a Story told by a Story-Teller who never stops speaking, never stops creating.  We humans can’t help but tell stories of our own – but we can help how we tell them.  Christian directors can focus on mastering the art of film making, and learn to tell stories of redemption, glory, sorrow, sacrifice, love, betrayal and courage, instead of trying to simply create two-hour advertisements for Christianity.  Christian movie-goers can keep their money in their pockets until there’s a movie that’s worth watching, that conveys truth in all its complexity – whether in the Christian genre or not.  Eventually, the directors will get the message.  And in the end, the same thing all of us Christians want would be accomplished – the proclamation of truth through excellent, well-crafted, intentional art.

And that, dear readers, is why I didn’t go see War Room.  I know that it contains truth about the Lord, about marriage, about prayer and Christianity.  But as with any trailer I watch, I’m not watching it thinking, “Hmm, what kind of moral will I be left with at the end of this film?”  I watch it with a sharp eye out for characters, effects, music and story-telling.  And if it doesn’t look compelling or well-made, the trailer is as far as it goes.  Sadly, War Room fell into the it-only-goes-as-far-as-the-trailer camp, along with scores of other movies I’ve seen advertised this year, across all genres.  I felt guilty at first for me and my husband being some of the only Christians in my circle to not have seen it, but I don’t any more.  And if you, for whatever reason, feel guilty (even secretly guilty) for not liking the genre of sermons-disguised-as-art that we know as the “Christian movie industry”, then please feel guilty no longer.  You have permission to keep your money in your pocket until Christian film raises its standards.  And you didn’t get the permission from me – you got it from the Story-Teller who writes billions of complex, hard, glorious, triumphant, sorrowful, incredible stories, played out by realistic, flawed, beautiful, deeply loved characters every day.

(Hint: you’re one of them.)

Like a Russian Novel

 

 

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It’s rather embarrassing, but I have never in my life read a Russian novel.  For a bibliophile, I feel like reading thick, wordy novels by people with names like Solzhenitsyn and Petrushevskaya is a given.  (I just googled those authors, by the way.  Like I said I’ve never read any novels from the Great Cold Expanse.)  I have friends who have read Crime and Punishment, War and Peace and The Brothers Karamazov and have actually enjoyed them, but just the idea of those books always scared me.  Lately, especially, I’ve been resting in the safety of re-reading old favorites (Wilson and Rowling), knitting magazines and housekeeping books.

For some reason though, I haven’t been able to get Anna Karenina out of my mind lately.  I’ve always turned up my nose at that book (“Who wants to read a whole book about a lady who commits adultery and then dies?”).  I didn’t want to read a book that finished with a less-than-cheerful ending.  But Wilson reminded me lately (through that masterpiece, Notes from the Tilt-A-Whirl) about how life isn’t all upbeat, cheerful and cozy.  A lot of life is cheerful, upbeat, cute, positive and cozy, but that’s only half of life.  Life isn’t all bleak landscapes and black eyeliner, but it also isn’t all fuzzy animal memes and knitting magazines.  Both are part of reality, and if a story is to have any sort of meaning then there must be some sort of balance.

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I think we Christians especially are guilty of focusing on only the soft, the gentle, the safe and the lovely.  Tune into your local Christian radio station, listen to the DJ’s oozing with saccharine sweetness and you’ll see what I mean.  Walk into the local Christian book store – you’ll see fish magnets, Thomas Kincade paintings and hundreds of devotionals aimed at making you feel good inside.  Even though it contains some of the most powerful declarations of the Gospel I’ve ever read in a fictional story, I seriously doubt you’d find a copy of Dracula tucked in between One Minute Inspirations for Women and Amish Sweethearts.

On the other end of the spectrum, the authors and movie makers and song writers who ignore the good in the world, who focus on the death and dark and black spots in life, are just as one-sided and imbalanced.  They call themselves realists, but they ignore the beautiful, soft, gentle aspects of life that are just as real as war and struggle.

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Sometimes life is truly like a postcard – the sun is shining and the world seems like it could not be more perfect.  Sometimes it’s a bit more like a Russian novel.

The peace of God, the glory of God, the love of God – these things are real.  You will feel good when you draw near to God because He is Purity, Peace and a Sanctuary.  But focusing on just making yourself feel good isn’t exactly the point.  Glory is not a Thomas Kincade painting.  Peace is not a dove magnet on your fridge.  Love is not a good feeling you get after reading a devotional.  There’s nothing wrong with any of the cute and positive and feel-good products and stories out there.  There’s nothing wrong with feeling fuzzy inside.

But it is not the whole picture.

Love is a Person who walked on the earth, healing, loving, laughing, weeping, transforming.  He was beaten and torn and tortured to death for the salvation of His Bride, becoming the very embodiment of sacrificial Love.  Glory is a Majesty, a Life, a Power so intense that even death could not hold Him.  And the kind of Peace He gives is the assurance and hope that has sustained His children not just through the good days, but through the hell of the Holocaust, persecutions, prison, torture and death for two thousand years.

These are not fragile virtues.  They are not threatened or extinguished when the dark times come.  They are real, they are powerful, and they are more solid than the ground under your feet.

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If true art is that which reflects reality, then we writers (and readers) should never zero in on just one aspect of life, whether it’s the light, sparkly parts or the dark, hard parts.  The light Christ gives is a light that can handle the darkness.  We live in the light, but we should never fear the dark. We should invade it.

In the words of Wilson:

“The world is rated R, and no one is checking IDs. Do not try to make it G by imagining the shadows away. Do not try to hide your children from the world forever, but do not try to pretend there is no danger. Train them. Give them sharp eyes and bellies full of laughter. Make them dangerous. Make them yeast, and when they’ve grown, they will pollute the shadows.”

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So I’m not afraid of reading tragedy, because I know One who took all tragedy on His own shoulders.  I can read Hamlet and weep.  I can read read Dracula and shudder.  I can read Jane Eyre and revel in the beautiful, somber bleakness.  I have the Light of the world in my heart and on my side, so I can look into the shadows and learn.  I don’t live there, and I never want to focus solely on the darker places in life.  I will never read 50 Shades of Grey, I will never watch horror stories, I will always hate the ending of the Hunger Games, and I abhor the modern novels of “realism” that wallow in pain and death, because these are only darkness and nothing more.  But the stories that mix sorrow and joy, beauty and pain, and in which truth ultimately shines through (whether in triumph of good or in punishment of evil) – those I can (and will) read.

So I am reading my very first Russian novel, Anna Karenina.  I’m only a fraction of the way in, but I can already see shadows encroaching on the pages.  But I know that true reality (love, glory, justice and peace) will ultimately win out in the end.  Even if it’s not a pretty end, as long as the truth shines through the darkness, it will be beautiful.

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New Year, New Loves

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I feel very guilty for having neglected this blog for so long!  Aside from being very busy with work and then very sick, I haven’t blogged in a while for several reasons:

 

  • My blog is almost exclusively writing- and reading-centered.  I have not written anything in quite a while and my reading has been mainly re-reads that I’ve already covered on this blog before.

 

  • Whereas I used to sit down and read for hours, this past year I have slowly become more and more passionate about knitting.  I still love books with all my heart – it’s just that I’m spending way more time knitting than reading lately.

 

  • I didn’t know how you readers would feel about me posting knit-related posts along with my more traditional book-related posts.

 

  • I had gone so long without posting anything that I felt like I would be rusty if I tried to start posting again.  I’m sure I am/will be rusty but if y’all are patient with me I’m sure I’ll get back into the swing of things.

 

  • On a more philosophical note, I haven’t posted for a while because I’ve wondered lately what the point of blogging is.  Obviously people love to read blogs.  I love to read blogs.  But blogging for myself suddenly seemed…I don’t know…selfish?  Like what’s the point of writing a bunch of words about what I think about movies and books or what I’m up to at the moment?  I’m not on Facebook because I always thought it would be silly to update people all the time about what I’m doing, where I’ve been, what I’m enjoying at the moment.  But I realized that blogging is very similar in a lot of cases – it’s usually more lengthy and carefully thought out, and has some pictures for embellishment, but it’s still just me writing about things that I think or things that I enjoy or things that I am doing.  The idea of blogging has felt selfish lately, but I think I had it all wrong – it’s not about selfishness, it’s about inspiration.  More on that at the end of this post.

 

So there you have it.  This is why I have neglected to post anything for such a long time.  And I didn’t really want to admit all of these things to y’all because it might sound, I don’t know, unprofessional?  But to heck with professionalism.  This is a blog for Pete’s sake!  No one is grading or judging this blog, or will fire me if I post something they don’t like.  Maybe that’s been at the root of my blogging-block lately – maybe I’ve taken it too seriously and just need to lighten up with it.

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Yes, I am a writer, but that doesn’t mean that all of my posts have to be painstakingly thought out and gone over with a fine-tooth comb before posting them.  Yes, I am an avid reader, but it’s okay if I post about other things than books once in a while.  Yes, I want to be taken seriously as a blogger and a writer, but it’s okay to admit sometimes that I’m not in the middle of writing a novel that’s going to change the world, or that I haven’t had any revelations about the nature of stories, or that I haven’t read anything new in a while.

It’s okay to admit that I’ve been just sitting by the fire, watching the snow, and knitting.

It’s nothing mind-blowing, it’s nothing philosophical, it’s nothing terribly exciting (unless you’re a fellow knitter, in which case just the idea of yarn and knitting needles makes your heart beat faster).  But it’s what I’ve been loving lately.  And I mean loving.  And that’s what this blog is about, right?  Sharing new ideas, new books, new thoughts and sometimes new loves and interests with all of you.  That’s what most blogs are all about.

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It’s not selfish or narcissistic (although it can be if gone about the wrong way) for a blogger (or Facebooker) to write about what she’s been interested in lately and put it out there for the world to read.  Because it’s not necessarily about the blogger – it’s about her passions, loves and interests.  And other people read blogs because they share the same loves and want to be inspired.  The very word inspired comes from the French word inspirer, which means to breath in.  “Inspiration” is a buzz-word that’s thrown around all over the place nowadays until it’s easy to forget what it actually means.  It means breathing something in. Drinking it in.  Breathing life into something that was getting tired or run down.  Blogging is one way that people inspire each other, breath new life into old pursuits and passions, and maybe even spark an interest that was never there before.

So hi guys, I’m back.  I’m not going to let the pressure of blogging perfectly or professionally keep me from just writing about what I’m actually doing.  I’m not going to let the dread of seeming narcissistic keep me from helping breathe life into your day, into your reading, your movie watching or knitting.  I’ll just share what I’m loving, even if they’re new loves that I’ve never shared on this blog and don’t even know how to.  (How does one post about knitting?  The Yarn Harlot certainly manages to do so brilliantly.)  But I’ll learn, and I’ll not worry about it if I do so clumsily at first.

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And have no fear – I shall still write many a post about stories, too.🙂

Bedtime Movie Tag

Happy December everyone!!!

I’m loving the Christmas season already, and we’re not even a week in.  Bing Crosby and Michael Buble are singing in the background of my life from morning till night, the Christmas tree is in full glory and holiday spirit is everywhere!  It’s both exciting and strange to have our very first Christmas as a married couple – exciting to make new memories and be together during the holidays, and strange to be away from our families and childhood traditions.  The excitement definitely outweighs the strangeness though.🙂

Heidi (from Along the Brandywine) tagged me ages ago with this fun tag but I’m only just now getting to it.  I’ve been busy with knitting Christmas gifts in my free time, but now the last one is complete.  Yay!

1.A movie that kept you up all night

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I had an extremely hard time going to sleep after watching Apollo 13; I loved the movie, but it was so intense that I could barely sleep after I finished watching it.  I don’t think I’ve ever been up all night because of a movie, though…

2. A movie that made you scared to sleep

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Nightmares have always plagued me, ever since I was a little child.  So I can’t count the times I lay awake staring at my ceiling, scared out of my poor little wits because of some movie I’d seen.  But I don’t think any movie terrified me more than Jim Carrey’s How The Grinch Stole Christmas.  The funny thing is, though, that I never actually watched the movie!!  I saw the trailer and clips here and there at friends’ houses, and it was enough.  I was terrorized with that green face leering at me out of the shadows and in my dreams every night.  It cracks me up to think of it now!

3. A movie that made you go to sleep

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I’ve watched Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl so many times that I usually get heavy-lidded during the final battle sequence, if I watch it at night.  The more yells, gunshots and sounds of sword fighting, the sleeper I get.😀

4. A movie that left you tossing and turning all night in anticipation for its release

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The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey; I’ve never anticipated the release of any movie to such a monumental extent!  I practically lived and breathed Hobbiton for the months leading up to the movie release, and no matter how shamefully bad the other two films were, the first movie did not disappoint me.  I was excited out of my wits the whole time I watched the movie in theaters (and then went back two more times later)!

5. A movie that would be your worst nightmare to live in

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The Hunger Games.  I liked the book okay when I first read it, and really enjoyed the first and second movies, but the more I think about The Hunger Games universe the more horrible it seems.  I can’t stand the story now.  I’ll still watch Catching Fire occasionally, but the overall storyline and world is just awful – I can’t imagine a more hellish punishment than to be thrown into Katniss’s world.

6. A movie that reminds you of nighttime

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The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (every time I’ve watched it it’s been late at night) and Interstellar (which I saw late at night in theaters with Galen on a date last year)

7. A movie that has a nightmarish cliffhanger

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The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1.  It was horrible.  Enough said.  I have zero interest to see the second movie, the first one was so dark and truly nightmarish.

8. A movie you actually dreamed about

Ha ha!  I couldn’t begin to count the number of movies I’ve dreamed about.  I’ve dreamed that I confronted Saruman in a big warehouse, that I helped Sherlock and Watson (Robert Downey Jr and Jude Law, of course) solve a case, and that I fought Bellatrix (with a faulty wand to boot!), just to  name a few.

9. A movie monster you wouldn’t want to find under your bed

Gollum.  *Shudder*  Out of any movie baddie, he’s the one I’ve had the  most nightmares about.

10. A refreshing movie you love watching at night

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A Christmas Story!  I look forward to watching it every single year; my whole family gathers in the living room with various presents for wrapping (we tuck ourselves behind couches and such so the others don’t see their gifts) and then turn the movie on and wrap as we watch.  It’s so much fun!!

That was fun, Heidi! Thanks for tagging me!

The Awesome Food Award

This tag couldn’t have come at a more perfect time – I’ve recently become hooked on the most incredible cooking challenge series I’ve ever seen, The Great British Baking Show.

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Needless to say baking and food have been on my mind a lot lately!  In fact I even attempted my first ever tarts yesterday, inspired by the baking show.  They turned out splendidly!  I used cassava flour instead of wheat flour and the results (if I may say so) were delicious.

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Since I’m allergic to gluten and dairy and also have to avoid all grains whenever possible, baking gets a bit more complicated than it used to in those blissful days when I could eat anything I put my mouth to.  But I still find all sorts of ways to enjoy good cooking and baking and hope to stretch myself even further in the future (gluten free doughnuts are on the horizons at some point).  Thanks, Heidi, for tagging me!

1. Your thoughts on cheese?  Even though I can’t eat many cheeses, I can enjoy as much aged cheese (which doesn’t contain the dairy protein casein) as I want!  I’m enjoying a block of aged white cheddar right now that’s sharp and nutty and a bit salty.  It makes killer Philly cheese-steaks and enchiladas, and is delicious to snack on by itself.
2. Favorite pizza?  I love the wood-fired, gluten-free pizzas from a local pizzeria called Farm to Flame.  There are so many delicious toppings that I almost don’t miss the cheese!
3. Have you always had a “traditional” dinner (i.e. turkey and all the fixings) on Thanksgiving?  Pretty much!  Turkey and ham, cornbread dressing, pecan pie, pumpkin pie and buttery yeast rolls are all “musts”.  I can’t wait for Thanksgiving this year!
4. Favorite Thanksgiving dish to prepare?  Probably the yeast rolls – I usually make a double batch of Williams-Sonoma’s Classic Dinner Rolls recipe.  It always makes a ridiculous amount of rolls that are just to die for and are so ridiculously fluffy and rich!
5. Your favorite breakfast? If I’m completely honest, my favorite breakfast is peanut butter and chocolate.  And shocking though it may seem, I do eat it for breakfast at least once a week.🙂
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6. Favorite kind of bread (i.e. whole wheat, French, sourdough, cinnamon-raisin, etc.)  When I could eat regular bread, my all-time favorite was white, crusty, floury, yeasty French bread.  The possibilities are endless with just one loaf of French bread – eat it plain, with butter and honey, made into a sandwich, served with a big plate of spaghetti…
7. Favorite vegetable?  Lettuce!  Without which I couldn’t make all the delicious salads that comprise many, many of my meals.
8. Do you like sweet or sour?  How about both?  I’m thinking lemonade, sour jelly beans, clementine-flavored Izze drinks, granny smith apples…
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but if forced to choose then I’d of course have to go with sweet.
9. Most unusual/unexpected ethnic dish you’ve ever had?  Hmm…the problem is that, even though I’ve been all over the world I’m kind of timid when it comes to trying truly unusual dishes.  I had duck in China, calamari in Louisiana and (probably the most unexpected dish to date) something called “brown pickle” in England.  I really tried to enjoy it, but just couldn’t get past the strange flavor.
10. Hamburgers or hotdogs?  That is a constant source of indecision for me.  Almost every week this summer when Galen and I visited his family’s farm, his parents grilled out.  I was always faced between that very question, and usually went for a bit of a cheating compromise.  I almost always go with hamburgers but then sneak back to the kitchen (or to my husband’s plate) for just a bit of hot dog afterward.  :)