Ebenezer Scrooge and the Miracle of Christmas

While Christmas Day has past and the New Year is about to begin, I still wanted to convey my thoughts on the iconic Ebenezer Scrooge in my first ever Content of Character post which I teased at earlier in the year. As I was in process of gathering my thoughts about Scrooge’s evolution as a character, a recent post caught from a blog that I had been following for the past couple of months caught my attention. Entitled “Departing from Stoicism: Allowing Ourselves To Feel” fellow blogger, Lance Price, discusses how people mistakenly cut themselves off from feeling pain. He states that,

Some are convinced they have overcome pain with a numbness of heart, but they live in disillusionment; their attitude towards pain weakens their ability to handle the rest of their life adequately, and consequently, they have not overcome pain, but have been submersed in its misery while trying not to blink an eye or shed a tear.

In many ways this is what Scrooge had done for most of his adult life. Dickens himself described in the opening chapter how he would “…edge his way along the crowded paths of life, warning all human sympathy to keep its distance…” This is displayed in the way he consistently declined the invitation to come have Christmas dinner with his nephew Fred along with his wife and friends.

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A Christmas Carol (1984)

As the first ghost shows Scrooge his past, we are given insight into not only how he came to detest Christmas but also how he came to adopt his own brand of stoicism. Having been left alone at Christmas for most of childhood, his company was limited to books. The closest relationship that young Ebenezer had was his sister Fan (or Fran as she is sometimes known). Not much information is given about his relationship with his father, but there is indication in the Fan’s conversation with Scrooge that the relationship was strained. As to why is up to debate since Dickens never did explain; however, several adaptations take the approach that it was because his father blamed him for the death of his mother, having died as she gave birth to him. While this is speculation and not based on Dickens’ novel it would explain and parallel Scrooge’s disdain for his nephew since Fan died when giving birth to Fred. The next closest relationship he had was with Belle, his betrothed who broke off their engagement after noticing a change in his spirit. In her reproach, she described what she had seen in Scrooge:

“You fear the world too much…All your other hopes have merged into the hope of being beyond the chance of its sordid reproach. I have seen your nobler aspirations fall off one by one, until the master-passion, Gain, engrosses you.”

Now this is me theorizing, but I believe that his changed nature was the result of Fan’s death. In order to keep himself from feeling the pain of the loss of his sister, Scrooge completely absorbed himself in his work and in process made him unwilling to interact with anyone in a meaningful way much less developing closer relationships including with the woman that he intended to marry. Just to be clear I am not blaming Belle for leaving him; she gave him a chance by pointing out the unhealthy behavior that he was allowing fester within him. But he made the choice to stay where he was, which led to his transformation into the cold-hearted and unfeeling man we see at the beginning of the story.

As we have seen with Scrooge, stoicism isn’t always beneficial but it is understandable why people are attracted it. The promise it provides of not allowing pain to hurt you, sounds good; however, this is not truly possible. To take another quote from Price’s post,

Like the way we are designed to have desires (i.e. food, relationship, purpose, etc.), we are also designed to feel, and when we choose to pretend that we don’t have feelings, that doesn’t turn them off—we just live in denial—which contradicts the reality that our feelings are being compartmentalized in a place where they aren’t managed properly, where we don’t learn from them or with them, and where their negligence undermines our innate desire to live passionately; the very opposite of a numbness of heart.

Stocism doesn’t fix the problem; it only masks it. It’s like taking a painkiller without fixing a broken leg. You probably won’t feel the pain so it doesn’t bother you but as a result you can’t walk and go anywhere. There needs to be realization that something is broken before the healing process can begin.

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A Christmas Carol (1999)

Isn’t it interesting that when the Ghost of Christmas Past shows him the painful memories, Scrooge begs for them to be taken away. However it is only by allowing yourself to feel pain that can you truly appreciate joy. Those painful memories served to open Scrooge’s heart so that he could ultimately accept on the love of Christmas and with it the joy of living in the past, the present and the future. In her book Hearing the Gospel through Charles Dickens’s “A Christmas Carol”Rev. Cheryl Anne Kincaid describes Scrooge’s transformation:

Scrooge has learned that his life is not just about himself. His past, present and future have been lived in a community of people. Scrooge had some tough times, but he also had the love of a sister, the encouragement of Mr. Fizzywig and the grace of a fiancé, and the loyalty of his clerk and nephew. (p. 134)

Scrooge was never truly alone. He had support he needed all along the way. All he needed to do was engage.

Stoicism has a tendency to isolate people from the love that family, friends and ultimately God. While stoic philosophy of the ancient Greeks has some merits, the problem is that it places faith in an idea not a relationship. Jules Evans addresses this when he compared Stoicism and Christianity, stating that one of (and I think the most important difference) is that “In Christianity, love is more important than rationality.” He explains,

…this is partly why Christianity is much better at community than Stoicism – because communities need to be grounded in love, not rationality. If a community is grounded in rationality, it immediately leads to a stiff hierarchy of the rational. Love, by contrast, resists hierarchies. Love is gentle, vulnerable, humble, serving.

When Scrooge is free from the burden that he had placed on himself, he was able to demonstrate the love that he had denied to give towards his loyal clerk Bob Cratchit and his faithful nephew Fred.

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A Christmas Carol (1938)

Christmas is a celebration that reminds us of how love led God to take on the form of human baby so that he could restore the broken relationship between humanity and Himself. This makes Fred’s expression of his love for Christmas even more poignant:

“…I have always thought of Christmas time, when it has come round — apart from the veneration due to its sacred name and origin, if anything belonging to it can be apart from that — as a good time: a kind, forgiving, charitable, pleasant time: the only time I know of, in the long calendar of the year, when men and women seem by one consent to open their shut-up hearts freely, and to think of people below them as if they really were fellow-passengers to the grave, and not another race of creatures bound on other journeys. And therefore, uncle, though it has never put a scrap of gold or silver in my pocket, I believe that it has done me good, and will do me good; and I say, God bless it!”

Thankfully Ebenezer Scrooge came to share the same affection for the season has his nephew did and in the process turned his repressed and dreary into an open and joyful one. So as this year draws to a close, remember to keep Christmas like Scrooge did throughout the new years to come.

Sources:

A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens

“Departing from Stoicism: Allowing Ourselves To Feel” by Lance Price

Hearing the Gospel through Charles Dickens’s “A Christmas Carol” by Reverend Cheryl Anne Kincaid

“Stoicism and Christianity” by Jules Evans

Looking Beyond the Surface – Making the Right Media Choices

At sometime in our lives we have probably heard the phrase you can’t judge a book by its cover. Many times it used to express the belief that just because it doesn’t look good on the surface doesn’t mean it’s bad on the inside. But what if the opposite was true? What if the book cover looks perfect but story contained within is awful? Some might think I mean awful in the sense that is not written well, but I am talking about the messages within the story itself.

It is easy to pass this off and say that is just a story; however, any story whether it be found in books, movies or TV shows reflect the beliefs the creators and by extension the culture. However we need to be aware of what we put into our minds, because while it may look good it may not be good for us. Just as the saying goes you are what you eat and those who are health conscience do what they can to watch what they eat, the same is true with what we read and watch.

I find disheartening that there are many who are unaware or apathetic towards state their minds and spirits as they read or watch media that has flawed messages. I don’t expect everyone and everything to be perfect in a story; main characters need to have flaws in order to make them relatable. But what if those same main characters who are displayed as role models are saying or doing something that is wrong? It doesn’t even have to be overt, in fact most times it’s very subtle and there lies the potential danger. If a certain behavior is displayed as normal it conveys the message that it’s acceptable when it is not.

Now I know it is not popular these days to judge media by what it may or may not be implying but if we expect not to be affected by the media we set our minds on then we are sorely mistaken. This reminds me of something I read for my senior seminar paper which addresses this issue. In her book How Fantasy becomes Reality: Seeing Through Media Influence, Karen E. Dills describes,

“…the paradox that we live in a culture where we are powerfully influenced by messages from the mass media but where many of us misread that influence because we think are invulnerable to it. I believe we deny our own vulnerability to media we are actually increasing the degree to which we can be manipulated. If you do not know you are vulnerable – indeed, if you think your are invulnerable – you will not think and act in way that protect you. Two basic errors in judgment that we make are (1) believing that fantasy stories in no way shape our realities and (2) believing that media’s reason for being is to entertain rather than to persuade us.” (p. 9)

We first have to admit the potential influence that media can have over our thoughts and second to take steps to think more critically about what we watch and why we watch it. For Christians a good rule of thumb comes from Scripture in Philippians chapter 4 verse 8:

“Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.”

When we set our minds on these things we will reflect it in our lives and verse 9 continues with this thought:

 “Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.”

So look beyond the surface and reflect on excellent and praiseworthy media that affirms what is true, noble, right, pure, lovely and admirable.

via Daily Prompt: Surface

Are You A Watcher Or A Player? Lessons to be Learned from Nerve

Are you a Watcher or a Player? That is the question that the recently released film Nerve poses to its audience. Before going further I should say once again that I have not watched this movie, and there will be some out there wondering why don’t I talk about media I have seen. I can understand why since I did the same thing with Ghostbusters (2016).

However I argue that both of these posts are springboards for discussions about elements that can be seen within their own trailers which contain snapshots of their themes and ideas. And the main idea that Nerve demonstrates in its very first trailer is the role that augmented reality plays in the everyday life of the modern individual. Augmented reality as it is defined by Merriam-Webster:

An enhanced version of reality created by the use of technology to overly digital information on an image of something being viewed through a device (as a smartphone camera); also: the technology used to create augmented reality

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…if you dare to complete.

This is the perfect description of the game Nerve for it is presented as an extreme internet version of truth or dare. Bob Hoose from Plugged In Movie Reviews summed it up in this way:

Nerve, based on a 2012 young adult novel by Jeanne Ryan, plays on that love/hate relationship with the Internet. It tells a tale of pretty young things who are willing to risk life and limb for a splash of cash and dash of celebrity in their otherwise ordinary lives. And there’s just enough subtext beneath its kids-on-a-digital-dare veneer to keep watchers of the Watchers involved and hoping for a thought-provoking assessment of these contemporary concerns by film’s end.

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Like so fun to WATCH, but I like would never PLAY.

Given that within this fictional world, this augmented reality internet game show has led people to break the law and risk their own lives for fame and money, I am surprised that the authorities have not even attempted to shut it down because of the danger the participants can pose to themselves as well as others. I guess we have to chalk it up as a forgotten plot-hole.

However Nerve is no longer fiction. Augmented reality has become (pardon the term) a reality. There is an augmented reality game which takes the form of an internet show like Nerve and it is called The Runner. It is airing on the website go90 as I am writing this post and is hosted by a well-known youtuber Matthew Patrick the host of Game Theory and Film Theory youtube channels. In an article it was explained that,

The Runner…is the culmination of a project [Ben] Affleck and [Matt] Damon have been working on for a decade-and-a-half. It will follow its titular runner as he attempts to traverse the United States without being caught by his fellow contestants. On social media, savvy viewers will have opportunities to interpret clues that will help them determine the runner’s current location.

But the most familiar augmented reality game is the recently released and very popular Pokémon Go. And yet within less than a month of its release it has been misused and abused, from leading people to fall off cliffs and causing car accidents to robbery and kidnapping. Granted these are extreme cases, but these outcomes were the result of playing a mobile app that digitally overlays fictional pocket monsters.

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Life both on and off the web.

If anything Nerve is trying to show how augmented reality is effecting our culture and how devastating the consequences can be. In his review of the movie on Plugged In, Bob Hoose writes that,

On one hand, we’ve come to depend upon—and even take for granted—the Internet’s almost magical ability to instantaneously provide virtually any information we’re searching for. And for those who want to leverage this medium into cyber-stardom, the World Wide Web tantalizingly tempts otherwise average folks to believe that they can become household names. All it takes is a properly placed camera, enough eyeballs watching and enough thumbs clicking a “like” button.

The problem however does not lie with technology, but rather the people using the technology. Any and every technology from a simple book to most advanced computer software can be used for evil. But it doesn’t have to be that way, because we who play have a choice to either let this technology consume us or step back remember that life is more than just a game.

This is especially true for those who profess to be Christians. We are called to use what we have for the glory God and that includes game apps. We should use the technology in a way that is pleasing to Him and not let it consume us to the point we can hurt ourselves or others whether it be physically, emotionally or spiritually. Instead we should view augmented technologies like Pokémon Go as something to enjoy from time to time as well as a tool to reach out to others.

Sources:

“Ben Affleck, Matt Damon’s Go90 Series Be Co-Hosted By Youtube Star Matthew Patrick” by Sam Gutelle

“Nerve Movie Review” by Bob Hoose

“‘Nerve’ Review: It’s ‘Pokemon Go’ as a Gonzo Horror Movie” by Peter Travers

Pokemon Go and The Church: 5 Questions for Christians to Consider

Let Us Be Elegant Or Die! My Thoughts on Little Women

Little Women is a story that somehow transcended time and its characters are relatable now as they were back when they were first written. There has been a lot of analysis over the years and let me tell you I found some doozies as I was researching information about this novel. But as this is “A Few of my Favorite Things” I will mostly stick to my own experience and personal opinion with just a dash of interesting tibits of information about the book and its author.

Best place to start is the first time I was introduced to the story of Little Women. I was not introduced through reading the book (I did read it later though) nor was I introduced through its multiple film adaptions. Rather it through an audio drama production that I first heard the story. Any guesses who made that audio? That’s right Focus on the Family Radio Theatre.

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2004 audio adaption.

Within the same year my 5th grade class read and studied the novel and I remember bringing in the audio drama for the class to hear. It was only the following years that I became more aware of some of the film adaptions of this literary classic which can be seen below.

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1933 Version.
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1949 Version.
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1978 Version.
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1994 Version.

While I have not seen the entirety of these films other than the 1978 version, I have seen some clips online and have read about other people’s opinions about them. However Focus on the Family’s audio adaption stands well on its own merits and will always hold a place in my heart. A huge plus that the audio version has is that it provides the voices and sounds allowing your imagination to fill in the visuals from a character’s appearance to the layout of a house.

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Orchard House, the Alcott family home.
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Josephine March, great American authoress in the making.

Of all the characters I loved the character of Jo March because she was the creative free spirit that many women, young and old, desire to be. While every sister stands out in their own right, it can be said that the story Little Women is Jo’s story since it follows her a majority of the time. Since Jo is a reflection of author Louisa May Alcott this is hardly surprising.

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Louisa May Alcott (1832-1888)

Little Women one of the few stories that I have personally encountered that has relatable female characters. The reason why they are so relatable is because the characters based on the women in Alcott’s own life, her sisters. I can believe in Meg’s prudence, Jo’s candidness, Beth’s congeniality, and Amy’s exuberance. This is the reason why this book has remained in the public consciousness for all this time because the audience can see themselves in one or more of the March sisters. I can only hope that some day I might come across an author or filmmaker who can produce the same kind of effect that Little Women had starting in 1868.

Life Worth Living – Me Before You Missed the Point

I was not even sure I was even going to discuss this film, because I had not seen it or even read the book it is based on. But I felt it was important to express my thoughts due to the recent attention it has been getting on the internet lately. Before I go any further I realize that some who read this will disagree with what I have to say, but I feel that this debate is important because awareness is better than ignorance even if it seems easier.

First a little background; I saw trailers for Me Before You a few months ago back in 2015 and at that time I thought that it was would be a nice romantic film that tackles what it is like coming to terms with the loss of mobility and how unconditional love triumphs. When I discovered it was based off of a book, curiosity got the better of me and I decided to read the summary on Wikipedia. When I read how it ended, it broke my heart. I am not kidding when I say this.

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Characters Louisa Clark and Will Traynor from Me Before You.

After reading the summary, I debated whether or not I go to see the movie. I thought if I watched it in context maybe it would at the very least help me to understand it better. But the more I thought about it and the more I researched a number of disabled individuals’ views of the book as well as the movie, the more I realized that going to the theaters would only support the misguided belief that a disabled life is not worth living.

Also it appears I am not alone in this view, for a lot of people especially those with disabilities criticize the film for implying that who suffer from a loss of mobility can never live life to the fullest. While there are those who defend that physician-assisted is a private decision by calling it “death with dignity,” Breakpoint commentator John Stonestreet explains,

An individual’s decision to commit suicide in the midst of an illness or disability – whether that individual is real or on the silver screen – shapes how our culture treats others in the same situation.

Despite the romanticization of physician-assisted suicide in Me Before You, its marketing campaign proclaims #LiveBoldly to which one Twitter user with a disability retorted “Do you really want us to #LiveBoldly, or…just…#DieQuickly?”

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Francesco Clark, author of Walking Papers and founder of Clark Botanicals.

Franceso Clark whose book Walking Papers chronicles his life after suffering an accident as young man that left him paralyzed, criticizes the film especially since they referred to his book without his knowledge,

I was never asked if my book could be included in the movie, nor was I ever told that it would be included…While I understand that this movie is based on a work of fiction, my book – and my life – is not.

I’ve worked tirelessly to show people that being quadriplegic isn’t the end of your life, it’s another beginning…While I am by no means taking a stance on the issue of assisted suicide, I feel compelled to express that I am angry to be unwittingly associated with a storyline that suggests the only option for those who sustain injuries like me is death.

Life for  Francesco Clark has not been easy, but he chose to move forward and is making strides to regain some of his mobility back, all the while running his skincare company Clark Botanicals.

In the movie and the book, the quadriplegic character Will says to his love interest and main character Lou, “I don’t want you to miss all things someone else can give you.” However by taking his own life he in essence took away what she wanted most…himself.

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Joni Eareckson Tada with her husband Ken.

This is in complete contrast to Christian author and radio host, Joni Eareckson Tada who herself is a quadriplegic and a married woman. In her statement she released addressing the movie she said,

As a quadriplegic who’s been married for nearly 34 years, I can say for certain that my husband and I have a deep and satisfying relationship, mostly because of – not in spite of my severe disability. It teaches us both patience and self-sacrifice; endurance, respect and joy, even when – especially when – times are hard. The Bible says God’s power shows up best in weakness, so any marriage that has a disability can potentially be a powerful blessing to both spouses.

The difference between Will and Joni is that despite the difficulties Joni’s strength lies with God.

Instead of reading or watching Me Before You, I recommend you read instead Joni: An Unforgettable Story (1976) or watch the movie Joni (1979) if you want to see the true story about her struggle with her lifelong disability and how she started down the path of living a fulfilled life in the midst of it.

Sources:

“‘Me Before You’ People with Disabilities Aren’t Better Off Dead” by Jon Stonestreet

http://www.breakpoint.org/bpcommentaries/entry/13/29399

“Quadriplegic author ‘angry to be associated’ with Me Before You” by Henry Barnes

https://www.theguardian.com/film/2016/jun/15/quadriplegic-author-francesco-clark-angry-associated-me-before-you

“Joni’s Statement on the Glamorization of Physician-Assisted Suicide in the New Film Me Before You” by Joni Eareckson Tada

http://www.joniandfriends.org/blog/me-before-you/

Blast from the Past – Looking Back at Quo Vadis

When I searching through some forgotten folders on my computer, I found a series of Word documents that I had written almost 10 years ago. It was the very short lived series of newsletters that I wrote in the summer of 2007 entitled History Plus Literature Monthly; in each issue dating from July to September, I would focus particular historical fiction novel where I researched the historical period it took place as well as review/summarize the novel itself. Since I have discussed topics relating to more recent movies in my past two blogs, I thought I switch up and take a look at the book in my first issue of my newsletter: Quo Vadis by Henryk Sienkiewicz…don’t ask me how to pronounce it.

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An Altemus Edition of Quo Vadis from 1897.

As I looked back at my amateur newsletter, besides thinking how scary it is that this document was written close to 10 years ago I noticed thought how simplistic it was. It consists of three pages: the first page I gave the historical background in which the novel was set, the second I summarized the novel itself, and the final page I complied a Works Cited or bibliography if you will. Having reread it again I then decided to research additional information that I might have left out.

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“Quo vadis?” “Romam eo iterum crucifigi.”

Title of the book comes from the Latin phrase which means, “Where are you going?” The phrase has significance within the Christian tradition as being the words that Apostle Peter asks when he encounters Christ as he was fleeing from Rome to escape the coming persecution. In response Jesus replied, “I am going to Rome to be crucified again.” This then gives Peter the courage to return to the city and to continue his ministry until he is martyred by upside-down crucifixion. This story found within apocryphal resource known as Acts of Peter (Actus Petri cum Simone) was among the many resources that Sienkiewicz used as he wrote his novel.

It was because of Quo Vadis that Henryk Sienkiewicz received the Nobel Prize for Literature ten years after it was published. Not only that but the book was a bestseller, and was adapted into other forms of media throughout the years. First a stage play in 1900, then it was adapted into film 4 times in 1901, 1912, 1924, and 1951, and it was also made into 2 miniseries in 1985 and 2001. The 1951 film adaption was nominated for 8 Academy Awards in the same year for Best Motion Picture, Best Supporting Actor twice (Leo Genn & Peter Ustinov), Best Dramatic Score, Best Art Direction, Best Cinematography, Best Costume Design, and Best Film Editing. This demonstrates the quality of the story; while there are elements that are fictional the main focus on development of early Christianity is pretty accurate.

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Poster for 1951 film adaption of Quo Vadis.

To close I will give a brief summarization Quo Vadis. It takes place during around the time of the Roman persecution of Christians by Roman Emperor Nero, following the unfolding love story between Roman commander Marcus Vinicius and a Christian woman named Lygia. Through Vinicius, the readers are guided through the worlds of Roman society and as well as the early Christian community. Unlike my previous reviews I will not spoil any further, because I would recommend you read or watch the story for yourself. It actually has been awhile since I read the book myself. Perhaps I might refresh my memory and enjoy the experience all over again.

Sources:

24th Academy Awards

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/24th_Academy_Awards

Acts of Peter

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Acts_of_Peter

Quo vadis?

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Quo_vadis%3F

Quo Vadis (1951 film)

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Quo_Vadis_(1951_film)