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

The 3 R’s of Stargate SG-1 – Retribution, Repentance & Reconciliation

For those who thought I was referring to the other 3 R’s (Reduce, Reuse & Recycle) I apologize in advance. But seriously at first I was only going to talk about repentance, but then I thought about adding retribution and reconciliation as I went through the researching process. I also was planning to discuss multiple media examples but I found one that was able to exemplify all of the 3 R’s: the show Stargate SG-1 and the episode “Cor-ai.”

For those who are unfamiliar, Stargate SG-1 is a TV series, which was a continuation of the original Stargate movie that aired from 1997 to 2007. It follows the story of SG-1, a team consisting Colonel Jack O’Neill, Dr. Daniel Jackson, Captain Samantha (aka Sam) Carter and Teal’c of Chulak. They serve General George Hammond of Stargate Command and are tasked to defend the earth from a parasitic species known as the Goa’uld by exploring new worlds via the Stargate which creates a wormhole between two points in space. Now with that brief synopsis of the series out of the way, on to the episode discussion and just a warning there will be spoilers ahead.

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Teal’c surrounded by the Byrsa.

“Cor-ai” takes place at the end of the first season, and starts off with SG-1 transporting to a new world. Teal’c recognizes the location from the many visits he made when he was the First Prime of the Goa’uld System Lord Apophis. During the team’s investigation they come across the planet’s inhabitants, the Byrsa, who not so welcoming given their frequent contact with the Goa’uld. O’Neill convinces them they are not their enemies and they mean them no harm. Tensions ease for a bit but not before a young man by the name of Hanno sees Teal’c.

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Hanno in the Past.
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Teal’c in the Past.

 

 

 

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Hanno in the Present.
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Teal’c in the Present
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Let the Cor-ai commence.

It is revealed that Teal’c, during his service to Apophis, had killed Hanno’s crippled father. The young man seeks retribution on Teal’c for killing his father through Cor-ai which is the Byrsa culture’s version of a court trial. However Cor-ai is very different from U.S. court trials we may see both in its fictional and non-fictional forms. First off the notion of innocent until proven guilty does not exist in Byrsa culture and it was explained to SG-1 in the episode, “If there were no guilt there would not be Cor-ai.” Second the victim of an offense has the three roles of judge, jury and executioner, and needless to say this concept doesn’t sit well with O’Neill:

Jack O’Neill: “You can’t be the judge, that’s not fair.”

 

Hanno: “Judge?”

 

Jack O’Neill: “Yeah, the guy who controls the proceedings, decides what happens here.”

 

Hanno: “Why is it not fair?”

 

Jack O’Neill: “Because your are the son of the victim.”

 

Hanno: “Yes.”

 

Jack O’Neill: “The judge has to be impartial.”

 

Hanno: “What does that mean?”

 

Daniel Jackson: “Uh, impartiality would require someone who hasn’t already formed an opinion about Teal’c’s guilt or innocence.”

 

Hanno: “How can there be such a person? Everyone who has a mind has an opinion.”

In a desperate attempt O’Neill tries to appeal the Byrsa elder to have someone else judge the Cor-ai. She responds saying, “Only the person who has suffered understands the pain that been inflicted. Who else can fairly say what the punishment must be?” While Cor-ai seems unfair in light of the American justice system, Hanno is well within his rights to seek retribution in this way (within his culture at least). It’s better than just killing Teal’c right then and there and Hanno even acknowledges at the start of the Cor-ai that he was wrong to let his anger control him in that instance. So despite differences in perspective, Cor-ai serves the same purpose as court trials, to carry out justice and prevent revenge killings.

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Hanno questions Teal’c.
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Jack O’Neill’s conversation with Teal’c.

As the Cor-ai commences and Hanno asks Teal’c if he killed his father he replies, “Yes. I am the one who killed your father.” Admittedly he didn’t want to kill Hanno’s father, in fact it is revealed that he shot him not just to appease Apophis but so that the Byrsa would not be slowed down when they had escape into their hidden caves if the Goa’uld were to return to the planet again. While he had the right to blame it on Apophis, Teal’c acknowledges and accepts responsibility for his actions. This is best exemplified through his conversation with O’Neill (apologies for the length but I thought it would be best to show the entire conversation):

Jack O’Neill: “Teal’c are you trying to commit suicide?”

 

Teal’c: “I do not understand.”

 

Jack O’Neill: “Why didn’t you tell me you were guilty? At least before you told a room full of people that wanna see you dead.”

 

Teal’c: “You already knew, only you did not want to hear it. That is why you asked me not to speak.”

 

Jack O’Neill: “What happened?”

 

Teal’c: “Apophis ordered me to kill Hanno’s father.”

Jack O’Neill: “So, you were following orders.

 

Teal’c: “Hanno’s father died by my hand. No one else’s. I am responsible. What I did while serving Apophis, I will not hide from.”

 

Jack O’Neill: “Even if the punishment is death?”

 

Teal’c: “Then that is what I deserve.”

 

Jack O’Neill: “Teal’c, you sound like you wanna die.”

 

Teal’c: “Colonel O’Neill, have you ever faced the crying eyes of a child whose father you have just murdered?”

 

Jack O’Neill: “Not exactly. Teal’c, there are a lot things we do that we wish we could change and we sure as hell can’t forget, but the whole concept of chain of command undermines the idea of free will. So as soldiers, we have to do some pretty awful stuff. But we’re following orders like we were trained to. It doesn’t make it easier; it certainly doesn’t make it right, but it does put some of the responsibility on the guy giving those orders.”

 

Teal’c: “Then you are saying Apophis is responsible for Hanno’s father’s death.”

 

Jack O’Neill: “Yes.”

 

Teal’c: “You are wrong, O’Neill. While in the service of Apophis I did many things. For these deeds, my victims deserve retribution.”

 

Jack O’Neill: “Can we focus on this one case only for now please?”

 

Teal’c: “This case represents the many.”

 

Jack O’Neill: “Well it shouldn’t! Why? Why are you doin’ this?”

 

Teal’c: “When I look into Hanno’s eyes, I see the horror on the faces of many others, as their loved ones prepare for Goa’uld absorption. Worse yet is the face of the victims whom I selected as they realize they are about to take their final human breath. Hanno’s father is not the first nor the last of those whose lives I’ve taken. And I have done far worse, O’Neill. I cannot give all of their loved ones retribution, but I can at least give it to this one. I am sorry, O’Neill. I will not run.”

I wouldn’t say that Teal’c is giving up but rather he is letting this Cor-ai give him the chance to repent from all the acts he committed as First Prime of Apophis. Teal’c didn’t deny the crime he committed and I guess that is what stood out to me the most when watching this episode. It is rare especially in our society to see someone who is so repentant that they willing to accept retribution from those they have wronged. Despite SG-1’s best efforts to defend Teal’c, Hanno sentences him to be killed by his own staff weapon.

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Teal’c risks his life to save the Byrsa villagers.

Thankfully the story does not end with Teal’c’s death for Goa’uld decided to show up in the Byrsa village just before Teal’c’s execution. Hanno leaves with the other men to fight them off but instructs a boy to inform those in authority to go through with the execution that if he is killed in battle. Unfortunately despite effort of the Brysa men as well as O’Neill and Carter, the Goa’uld discover the location of the women and children along with Jackson and Teal’c. Thankfully Teal’c is able to cut his bonds thanks to the boy who gave him a knife and put his life on the line to save the women and children from the onslaught of Apophis’ Serpent Guards. After risking his life to save the Byrsa villagers, Teal’c still hands over his staff weapon prepare for his execution by Hanno’s hands. This is the conversation that followed:

Hanno: “You would save those who wish to kill you?”

 

Teal’c: “I would save those who deserve to live.”

 

Hanno: “I have made a mistake. My memory is faulty. You are not the same man as he who murdered my father.”

 

Teal’c: “I am the one.”

 

Hanno: “No that Jaffa is dead…”

In that moment there was reconciliation as Hanno gives Teal’c his staff weapon back and allows him to go back to Earth with SG-1.

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Hanno returns Teal’c’s staff weapon.

In some ways the justice system we see in “Cor-ai” is similar to how God operates. Like Teal’c, we all deserve retribution at the hands of God for all the sins we have committed against Him. We also have the same choice as Teal’c to repent and confess our wrongdoings to God. Finally we all have the ability receive reconciliation from God but unlike Teal’c we don’t need to prove ourselves worthy. Romans 5:6-8 explains:

“You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”

God has already forgiven us and paid the price for our sin through Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross. All we need to do is to repent and accept that forgiveness for the wrong we have done and will do. It is only when we do this that true reconciliation is accomplished and the promise from Jeremiah 31:34 is fulfilled:

“For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.”

In this way we begin life anew and just like Hanno’s words to Teal’c the old self we leave behind is dead. That still doesn’t mean the struggle isn’t over but we live in the knowledge that we are free from the retribution of sin through our act of repentance and our acceptance of God’s reconciliation through His death and resurrection. That leaves only one question: Are you ready to lose your life in order to save it?

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

Who Do You Call? Rebooted Franchise…Rebooted Gender

With the recent release of the Ghostbusters reboot starring an all female cast, the internet lite up with critiques and rants, some of them thought out and others…not so much. While there are those who denounce any and all criticism as being misogynic, the real problem for many is that they believe the idea of any reboot is just plain lazy, an excuse for film companies to make a quick buck on an already existing franchise. It is understandable; the movie market has been saturated with reboots as of late.

However that is not only problem I see; I dislike the idea of this movie not only for its unoriginal plot elements, but also for its unoriginal female characters. Granted they have different names and tweaks in personalities, but the female cast of the Ghostbusters reboot serves to replace the original male cast of characters from the original Ghostbusters. Now before I go any further I must explain that I have not watched the original or rebooted Ghostbusters and I have no plans to do so in the near future, although I might breakdown and change my mind.

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Cast of Ghostbusters (2016)

To me the rebooted Ghostbusters is nothing more than a glorified gender-bender fanfiction. I am not downplaying all fanfiction; it is fun to read some of those crazy or not so crazy scenarios from time to time especially if it is written well. But we should recognize it for what it is…fanfiction. Changing the main cast of an existing franchise from three white guys and a black guy to three white girls and a black girl is not innovative film material.

I am concerned that this Ghostbusters reboot will be setting yet another precedent of taking characters from any work of fiction and change them from men to women for the reboots. In the short term it would save the film companies time but in the process prevents them from seeking out original female leads from unadapted stories or making up new female leads for new stories themselves. For all the problems I have with The Force Awakens even I have to admit they came up with their own female character in Rey; I have my problems with her but she was not replacing Luke Skywalker like the female cast of the Ghostbusters (2016) are doing with the male cast of Ghostbusters (1984).

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Pittsburgh Filmmakers Youth Media Program

I am not denying that there is a sore lack of media with leading female characters, and I do wish that there more fictional women I could relate to. But we need both male and female characters and taking male characters from existing franchises and making them female is not the answer. Instead this should be an opportunity for aspiring filmmakers to tell stories with relatable female characters that exist not to replace men, but to work alongside them and to be respected in their own right.

Sit Down John – What I Like About the 1776 Musical

Last week on July the Fourth my mom and I sat down to watch 1776, a film adaption of the successful Broadway musical by the same name. It is has become a bit of a tradition for my mom and I to watch this film on or around America’s Independence Day. It is also is one of my top favorite musicals which is why I am talking about it on “A Few of my Favorite Things.”

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1776 DVD cover (2002).

For those who are not familiar with this musical let me give a brief plot summary. The story focuses on John Adams as tries to get the Continental Congress to pass a resolution on independence in light of the state of war between the colonies and Great Britain. But Adams is rather “obnoxious and disliked” by many of his fellow members of Congress and quickly learns that only way to succeed in this goal is through the help of others, among them being Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson. This ultimately leads to the creation of the most influential documents in U.S. and arguably World History; The Declaration of Independence.

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Good God! What in Hell are you waiting for?

I will be the first to admit that not everything in 1776 is historically accurate and I am sure some the founding fathers if they were alive to see it may take offense with how they were interpreted. However that is what you get when there two centuries separating these men from the script and song writers for this musical. Despite this Sherman Edwards did great adapting the writing of Peter Stone into an engaging musical that could be hilarious and serious at the same time. The actors, most of whom were from the original Broadway show run, were amazing and the actor that played John Adams is none other than William Daniels who would later be known for playing Mr. Feeny on Boy Meets World.

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So this guy…
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…is also this guy?

 

 

 

 

 

One of the most well known songs of the musical and probably the most entertaining is “The Lees of Old Virginia” where we formerly introduced to Richard Henry Lee who was responsible to proposing the resolution for independence. It is funny to see how may adjectives that ole Richard can add “Lee” to along with Benjamin Franklin’s encouragement and John Adams’ unamused countenance.

But my one of my favorite songs in the entire production would have to be “Molasses to Rum” which vividly portrays the concept of the Triangle Trade which those of us in the U.S. probably learned in history class. In this song South Carolina delegate Edward Rutledge points out the hypocrisy of the North over their opposition to slavery when they was just as responsible for the existence of the salve trade as much as the South. Actor John Cullum delivered such an amazing and haunting performance that has to be seen and heard in order to be appreciated. Because I am unable to find a video of that particular performance, I am only able to post the audio soundtrack from the film in order to give a taste of what it is like.

This film has seen it fair share of edits, including the original theatrical version from 1972, a laser disc version from 1991 and finally making its transition to DVD in 2002. The most complete version is from the 1991 laser disc which first included the song “Cool, Considerate Men” that was cut from the theatrical release as well as additional music and film sequences which made it run a total of 180 minutes or 3 hours. However Director’s Cut for the DVD shortened the length by 20 minutes which included cropping the song “Pwiddle, Twiddle and Resolve” to its original length from the 1972 release, which is a shame because it is a rather enjoyable sequence and it can be seen in its entirety down below.

Oh and another scene that was cropped was a reprise of “The Lees of Old Virginia that involve John Adams “falling” into a water fountain. Needless to say it is amusing.

Despite of the changes to its content over the years 1776 is one of the best musicals out there and it handles one the most important events in American history with depth as well as humor. Nowhere is this displayed more than with the songs between John Adams and his wife Abigail. The lyrics were inspired by actual letters that the couple wrote to each other around the time the musical is taking place adds a degree of authenticity to both characters.

By the way for those following my Facebook page here is an answer to the role of saltpeter in this movie.

In conclusion I would recommend this to anyone who would like to see a film that can make history fun as well as relatable, of course don’t take this musical interpretation of history as gospel. By all means look up the history for yourself and learn something new about the people who made the formation of the United States possible.

UPDATE (7/15/2016)

After posting this blog post I realized that “The Lees of Old Virginia” youtube video I had used included the extended reprise sequence in full glory. I did some digging and found out that they had release a Blu-ray edition in 2015 where there is an option to watch an extended cut of the movie. There is also extra audio commentary featuring William Daniels who played John Adams and the late Ken Howard who played Thomas Jefferson. Needless to say I know what to ask for Christmas now, that’s if I don’t purchase it myself sooner 🙂

Sources:

“1776: The Movie – 1776 Pioneer Special Edition Laserdisc”

“1776: The Movie – VHS vs. DVD”

July 4 Special Reissue Theory: “1776: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack”

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)

Free of the Cycle – Captain America: Civil War Review

I have recently watched Captain America: Civil War after the insistence of some friends this past weekend. For those who have missed my last blog post about my view about the lack of originality in movie industry in these days, than you can probably guess I was reluctant to see it. But I gave in for the sake of my friends, and it was better than I expected. Don’t get me wrong I still believe that more original movies should be made and more people should give them a chance, but I am not going to downplay a sequel or a reboot movie if does well and Civil War did well. So well in fact that it is the first movie I went to see it in theaters for a second time.

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As I was thinking about what I watched, I noticed something not many people talk about in their reviews of the movie and that is the cycles and consequences of vengeance as well the importance of forgiveness. Now there is discussion about accountability, “with great power comes with great responsibility” and all that jazz; however while I believe that this topic was well presented in this movie I found that it also has a lot to say about vengeance and forgiveness. Needless to say spoiler alert if you have not watched the Civil War and want to go see it…you have been warned.

As we take a closer look at the movie, we need to understand what defines vengeance as well as forgiveness. Thanks to Google Books I was able to find book by Martha Minow entitled Between Vengeance and Forgiveness: Facing History after Genocide and Mass Violence which (if you can’t tell by the title) addresses these topics. First up is vengeance, which Minow describes as “the impulse to retaliate when wrongs are done” (p. 10) and states that it has the potential to cross the line in respect to the rule of law. She goes further explaining that…

“The danger is that precisely the same vengeful motive often leads people to exact more than necessary, to be maliciously spiteful or dangerously aggressive, or to become hateful themselves by committing the reciprocal act of violence…Vengeance thus can set in motion a downward spiral of violence, or an unquenchable desire that traps people in cycles of revenge, recrimination, and escalation.” (p. 10)

These downward spirals of violence can be seen as the movie progresses exemplifying themselves within three characters: Helmut Zemo, T’Challa (Black Panther), and Tony Stark (Iron Man). Helmut Zemo, the main driving force in the movie, is enacting revenge upon the Avengers for the events in the Age of Ultron which led to the death of his family. T’Challa seeks vengeance upon Barnes because he holds him responsible for his father’s death that takes place in the movie. Finally Tony goes down the path of retribution upon the revelation that Bucky as Winter Solider murdered his parents.

While all these characters at one point or another decided to enact vengeance, the outcomes for each of these characters by the end of the movie are different. Helmut Zemo who is a departure from his comic book counterpart (instead of a German Baron, he is colonel of a Sokovian tactical unit) is better described as an antagonist than a villain. He still in the mentality of vengeance both before and after the events of the movie and also perpetuated the cycle of violence by inciting conflict between the Avengers, especially at end of the movie where he reveals the circumstances behind the deaths of Tony’s parents with the full intention of provoking Iron Man. All Zemo cared about was that the Avengers pay for the death of his family and he would not let anyone or anything get in his way of his vendetta (seriously he killed two men in the course of the movie). This is best exemplified using his own words:

“I admit it. This war is my doing. The Avengers destroyed my home. They stole my family from me. So what better revenge than to have them fight each other, and tear themselves apart?”

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Moving on to T’Challa we see early in the movie his determination to kill Bucky, as exemplified in his question to Captain America during their police escort: “So I ask you as both warrior and king, how long do you think you can keep your friend safe from me?” But he has a change of heart when Zemo’s intentions are revealed. After seeing the consequences in the wake of one bitter man’s actions, T’Challa decides to end it before he does something he would live to regret. In his own words to Zemo, “Vengeance has consumed you. It’s consuming them (Avengers). I am done letting it consume me.” This where forgiveness comes in, which Minow states that…

“The victim should not seek revenge and become a new victimizer but instead should forgive the offender and end the cycle of offense…Through forgiveness, we can renounce resentment, and avoid the self-destructive effects of holding on to pain, grudges, and victimhood. The act of forgiving can reconnect the offender and the victim and establish or renew a relationship; it can heal grief; forge new, constructive alliances; and break cycles of violence.” (p. 14)

In USA Today interview, one of the directors Anthony Russo reflects on T’Challa’s journey throughout the course of the film…

“Black Panther’s arc is one of our favorite things about the movie: He’s driven so powerfully by vengeance and he gets to a point at the end of the film where he realizes what that drive has done and is doing to other people and he’s able to set it down and move forward. This idea that he would offer refuge to Cap, this guy he’s been fighting the whole movie, and Bucky, this guy who he’s been trying to kill the whole movie … is just a really cool arc for him to go through and it’s inspiring.”

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“Your friend and my father, they were both victims. If I can help one of them find peace.”

Through his actions towards Captain America and Bucky in the end credit scene, T’Challa is demonstrating forgiveness. By the end of the movie he is able to see Barnes in different light than he ever could under the veil of vengeance.

We finally come to Tony Stark who was incited into conflict after being exposed the recording of his parents’ death at the hands of Barnes as the Winter Soldier. Now Stark as we see earlier in the film was reflecting on the grief at the loss of his parents as well the emotions over the division among the Avengers due to the Sokovia Accords. Seeing that Bucky was behind his father and mother’s deaths made him lose whatever patience he had. His mind went immediately to vengeance and not even Cap could talk him out of it.

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Captain America: “This isn’t going to change what happened.” Iron Man: “I don’t care. He killed my mom.”

As the movie ends the Avengers are torn apart, beaten and bloodied by a conflict that could have been avoided. But despite the dark shadow that vengeance casts, forgiveness shines a ray of hope in Steve’s letter at the end of the movie where he asks Tony for forgiveness for not being honest about what happened to his family. We however have to wait and see if Iron Man and Captain America fully reconcile in the movies that are to come (but more than likely they will).

The lessons that this movie teaches is important especially for Christians who are called to demonstrate forgiveness, since Christ displayed the ultimate act of forgiveness through the giving of his own life so we might be saved by the shadow of sin. We rebelled against the God of the universe so we deserve any and all vengeance and retribution for our defiance against Him, but He chose to save and forgive. All we have to do in return is accept that free gift. Closing out will be a passage from Romans where I believe the Apostle Paul summed it up best about how living in grace and forgiveness should be the goal of the Christian life.

“Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: ‘It is mine to avenge; I will repay,’ says the Lord. On the contrary:

‘If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.’

Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”

(Romans 12:17-21)

Sources:

Between Vengeance and Forgiveness: Facing History after Genocide and Mass Violence by Martha Minow

“Spoilers: Why those ‘Captain America: Civil War’ end-credits scenes matter” by Brian Truitt

Keeping it Fresh? Reflection on Star Wars: The Force Awakens

As I was debating what should write about for my first blog post, my mind went Star Wars Episode 7: The Force Awakens which I went to see the movie in theaters with my brother and another friend in early January. I was not as hyped to see it (I was keeping my expectations low) but I still was curious whether or not J..J. Abrams could move the Star Wars Saga forward. Now I have to admit when I was watching the movie I was elated and upon leaving the theater I was excited about what I saw. But as time past and my rush was gone and I began to think about what I watched, my perception of Episode 7 changed.

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When I realized that a lot of the characters, locations and plots from the Original Trilogy were used beat for beat in The Force Awakens with very little difference, any respect I had for the movie vanished. People bash the prequels for being among the worst Star Wars movies, but I would argue that they at least incorporated new characters, locations and plots. Sure a few of these elements…a lot of these elements that were not executed well but at least they tried.

The Force Awakens unfortunately decided to play it safe doing the same story of A New Hope with an underdog ragtag group of main characters going up against an evil and mean galaxy conquering war-machine with tweaks here and there so that the similarities would not be so easy to notice upon the first viewing. Star Wars Episode 7 is a reboot passing off a sequel and considering J..J. Abrams the director of the successful rebooted Star Trek series was involved just makes it all the more disappointing.

Now I know many people, young and older, like this new Star Wars movie but I respectfully have to disagree. Best way I can describe my view is that I feel cheated out of what could have been an amazing new story. This became more apparent when I heard about some the ideas that were dropped from The Force Awakens. While it is entitled “10 Crazy Ideas Dropped From THE FORCE AWAKENS” some of them were not that crazy; some were actually really cool. It would have been amazing if these ideas had been incorporated into the movie and it would have made the story more unique.

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Click image to watch the video.

I really wanted to like this movie, unfortunately I feel the originality that characterized with the earlier movies in Star Wars franchise took a backseat in order to cater to people’s nostalgia of them so that more money could be made for those who produced it. And Star Wars is not only franchise that film companies are capitalizing on. Of the top 10 grossing movies of 2015 only 2 were original stories. The remaining 80% consisted of sequels, reboots or spinoffs of previously existing franchises with The Force Awakens at the top of the list. From sequels like Avengers: Age of Ultron to reboots like Cinderella to spinoffs like Minions and everything in between nostalgia seems to dominating the box office and looking at the line up of movies for this year that is not about to change anytime soon. And to be honest despite my enjoyment of Star Wars and some other franchises like it, I desire to see filmmaker come along with movie based on an original idea.

Box Office 2015- Top 10 Movies
Original movies like Inside Out and The Martian did not even make it into the top 3 of the Box Office in 2015.

So the question becomes why are people afraid of trying something new? In a paper entitled “The Art of Originality,” it’s author Timothy Ryan attempts to answer this question using art of Vincent van Gogh as an example:

“It is also van Gogh’s originality that prevented him from being successful among the masses initially…It would appear that this often goes hand in hand with originality. The lack of acceptance, severe criticism, and the failure of the masses to understand original works because they do break with established and accepted traditional forms….So when something original comes along or something that departs from tradition is presented, it doesn’t always get the appreciation initially that it may garner later once people have had time to adjust and absorb what is really being placed before them.”

Producers at the time of its release viewed A New Hope much the same way. It was so different from the norm and many believed it wouldn’t do well. Now 40 years later, it is the one of the most well-known sic-fi franchises right alongside Star Trek. But it’s success has also come with a price, because with a large fan base there are both hardcore and causal fans who would be willing pay money to see a sequel series and this demand is catered by film companies because they know now that Star Wars sells. This also explains the prevalence of movies based off of nostalgic films, tv shows and comics because those who grew up with them would be interested in seeing them on the big screen. While this makes it easier for film companies to find something the masses will approve of, it prevents new stories from being created. Samuel James mentioned the same concern in his blog post:

“Nostalgia, if unchecked, runs opposed to creativity, freshness and imagination…making it less likely every year that new storytellers with visions of new worlds, new characters and new adventures will get the financing they need to materialize their talents.”

This cycle must be broken and aspiring filmmakers should be at forefront, especially those who profess to be Christians. God is the original storyteller and the story that He started back at the beginning of time is still continues to this day. He never lacks for creativity and that is a trait He instilled us as humans. Throughout the Bible the phrase “sing a new song to the Lord” is mentioned 9 times, 6 from the book of Psalms alone. Unfortunately with kind of movies Christians are producing they are not reaching out beyond its Christian audience, in fact they are mocked in mainstream media. Eric Metaxas from Breakpoint argues,

“We should be, as C.S. Lewis once wrote, the best storytellers in the world. But lately we’ve earned a reputation for producing corny, preachy, and low-quality art. It’s time to turn that around.”

Maybe filmmakers both Christian and Non-Christian should take the advice from author Herman Mellville: “It is better to fail in originality than to succeed in imitation.”

Sources:

“The Art of Orginality” by Timothy Ryan

“‘The Force Awakens’ and Getting Trapped By Nostalgia” by Samuel D. James