Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Rejecting the Cycle (Star Wars: The Last Jedi)

An amateur Star Wars watcher making no original conclusions about the movie yet simply thinking through her own observations with spoilers included. 

         I wouldn’t be the first to write on the issues of the world in Star Wars. The idea of the force, being a somewhat vague concept of energy and nature which can be wielded for power, good or bad, has pagan themes down to its core. It’s a worship of nature and a dependence one one’s self for morality. It is faith, but in a thing which has no security nor salvation. I have nothing against this world in fiction. I will encourage my children to read and watch the adventures of Luke Skywalker, Harry Potter, and Percy Jackson as they battle against odds and show themes of good over evil, friendship, sacrifice, and love which are rooted in the great story of Christ who came before them. But upon watching the latest Star Wars movie something else struck me about their world. Hopelessness. They are lost in a cycle which cannot be overcome because of the very design of their world. The force is the most worshipped and powerful idea. It is an energy derived from nature, yet it is neutral. We see two distinct sides in Star Wars, each using the force for their own purposes. We depend upon the goodness of one side to win out, but the force takes no sides. 
         There is a scene in “The Last Jedi” where Rey has the opportunity to join Kylo Ren. Two people on separate sides are stuck in a moral dilemma. Kylo Ren offers an idea: let’s get rid of this whole idea of Jedi and Sith and let’s start something new that doesn’t fall back into this pattern we’ve seen so many times. As audience members we revolt against this idea which sounds evil and goes against the very grain of their world, and applaud Rey for resisting. And yet, in retrospect, what he proposes is so fundamentally interesting. At the end of the movie, the good will win, but, inevitably, at some point, someone will become fond of the power and choose to overthrow good, becoming bad, and the fight starts all over again. And the great force has nothing to say in this matter. In fact, if it does have a stance, it probably approves of this cycle-like existence. As Rey trains from Luke, we see her grasp the idea of the force; she sees birth and death, happiness and despair, comfort and loss. The ups and downs of the world, this circle of life, it cannot be escaped. In fact, it is even praised. In a strange way, Kylo Ren offers a way out. Of course, whether that would have worked or not is hard to say. Considering the fickleness of humanity I highly doubt it, but the whole concept was striking. We convince ourselves that this cycle is fine. It’s just the way it is. But what is amazing is that in this action-packed, adventurous, long-lasting story there is no end and no real hope. The cycle will go on because that is the world they live in. In many ways, our world seems similar with death and life, grief and joy, and pain and healing all in an endless circuit. So, why not just accept it and get used to it? Something inside us seems to fight this complacency.
                   There is another action-packed, adventurous, long-lasting story that, unlike Star Wars, actually gives the hope of a final ending where good defeats evil forever. In that story, the “force” is not neutral, He is God and He is utterly good. There is no playing dice with Him; He has already defeated the evil. In His story, this cycle we find ourselves in where we see our loved ones die, feel the frailty of our bodies, endure the frustrations of our world,  bear with grief and fear, is not something we need to settle with, nor should we. We were not made for it. Only in the story of Christ do we actually see a defeat of the never-ending cycle where Good ultimately and forever defeats the evil in this world. The best part…this story is true. Enjoy the wonderful world of Star Wars, but be forever grateful that you do not live in it. 

Monday, November 13, 2017

A Few More Reasons to Study Abroad

Over two years ago, I packed my two polka-dot suitcases and headed to the airport for a 5 month study abroad journey in Northern England. As a local Billings girl who had never left the states and was still living with my family through college, this was the opportunity of a lifetime. I had been raised on BBC dramas and loved European history and had made studying abroad a life-dream as a little girl. As an English Literature student I was dying to know their perspective on some of the old literature I’d read and visit some of the great places referenced in my many books. Studying abroad was something that shaped me, and as I look around at other students, desiring to learn and grow and yet somehow stuck in one way or another, it seems to me we should be a little more proactive about encouraging our own students and children to seek out this kind of adventure for several reasons.
    1. Studying abroad is a perfect mix of independence and freedom while being limited in time, being organized by a school, and being given a place to live. I am not downplaying the courage it took for myself and for others to do something like this, however, the security of knowing I’d be picked up from the airport by someone connected to the school I’d be studying at and given a room to stay in was extremely comforting. Also, having the time limit of five months gave me something to hold on to on the hardest days.
   2.  Studying abroad is different than merely traveling. Learning similar things from a different viewpoint was very beneficial. Taking a Shakespeare class as a freshman in the states is quite different than taking one as a junior in England. Before you expect me to go on and on about how the latter was far superior, it truly wasn’t. I respected and enjoyed both of my teachers and they each brought new ideas and perspectives on the table. Being in America, there is a distance from some of the culture and history brought about in some of these subjects giving us a clear head for how to perceive certain issues. Being in England, there was an identity found in some of the historical happenings and cultural issues being discussed, showing me how important their history is and how it influences them even now.
  3.   I have friends from all over the world and that is something I hope to take advantage of someday. Making friends was one of the most difficult aspects for me. I forced myself to attend clubs and events in hopes to make that bosom friend from England I’d been dreaming about. I waited five months for this to happen and suddenly realized that my closest friends were the other international students that I had bonded with. While I didn’t meet the friend I had imagined in my head, I enjoyed getting to know people as we went to lunch or to the pub or out to tea. I now have friends in England, France, Finland, Argentina, and places in the states I’ve never been. While we don’t all communicate constantly, I now know that if I ever am able to travel again (which I truly hope to do) than I have someone I can call. And traveling with a friend is so much more edifying than traveling alone.
 4  It wasn’t the perfect dream I’d imagined in my head. While this doesn’t seem like the best reason to encourage young adults to study abroad, I think this is deeply important. Now, of course, this isn’t everyone’s experience, for some it is the idyllic adventure they always imagined it to be. However, very early on in my travels, I realized that while I was in a town surrounded by ancient, Roman walls with cobblestone streets and a gorgeous cathedral that rang every hour, I still had to lug groceries back to my room, go to class at 9:00 on Monday morning, and do laundry. I planned trips to castles and Spain and London, but I also walked miles soaked to the bone in rain, got lost in Barcelona, and slept in some questionable hostels. However, it was those moments that stretched me as a person. I learned how to deal with difficult, frightening moments because I knew the next moment I would be viewing something thousands of years old with tremendous importance. I dealt with the blisters because I knew that looking at the rolling green hills and pastures was a view I’d never forget. I learned that life is still very much life, even in other countries that we may have romanticized. I learned that the people are still just people with different stories and preferences and personalities. Going abroad wasn’t as picturesque as I thought it’d be, but because of that I learned much more about the world and was tested in my perseverance. However, this has not dampened my desire to travel again. In fact, it now only gives me confidence that I have done so and can do so again even if it means traveling in large airports, going on overnight bus rides, and trying to read maps.
 5.   Before I left Billings, I had a very detailed idea of how my life was to be. Coming home was very different than my expectations. Some things change while others fall apart. Before I left Billings, I never imagined going far or doing anything too risky. While I still have much to learn and am not quite sure where life will take me, studying abroad has made me a little more flexible. I hope now that there are a few more adventures left in store for me, and I’m doing my best to find them. I also hope, however, that as the first one did, the others will bring me back home in the end.

Learning and growing doesn’t happen in a stagnant environment. When my parents took me to the airport to say goodbye, my mom looked me in the eyes and quoted one of our most beloved stories, “You are braver than you believe, stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think” (“Winnie the Pooh,” A. A. Milne). Education is about so much more than the grade report and amount of money you make after graduation day. The support and encouragement I had to take this step changed my life in subtle yet significant ways. Exploring the world, taking in new things, and meeting new people is one of the best opportunities our educations gives us to mature and challenge ourselves. Just one more reason to encourage others to study abroad.

Murder on The Orient Express: Mystery and Justice

The content of Kenneth Branagh’s latest production is drastically different from the other comedies and dramas currently in the theatre. Choosing to take on an old Agatha Christie mystery feels like a bold choice considering modern taste. However, his version of “Murder on the Orient Express” was undoubtedly well-done. The all-star cast proved their career with captivating acting, and the filming showed the beautiful scenery of the Orient’s route from Istanbul to Paris, perhaps itching those with some wanderlust in the audience. The portrayal of Christie’s colorful characters come to life in gorgeous costume and Branagh himself was humorous and precise in his role of the famous detective Hercule Poirot, not in the least offensive to those accustomed to David Suchet’s previous portrayal of the character. The plot is one classically simple and effective. Twelve passengers stuck upon a train with a murder to solve. The outline of a confined space and a mystery to solve has captivated audiences for centuries and Christie’s unique story-line is no less thrilling and mind-boggling. Through the wonderful storytelling, this plot has one theme that is wrestled with throughout. In tales of detectives and law enforcement the issue of justice is always at hand. While seemingly straightforward, our characters show that mixed with human empathy, finding and executing justice can be much more complicated. Sometimes, solving the mystery is not as difficult as the choices one must make afterwards. Take your friends and loved ones to watch “Murder on the Orient Express” and then ask yourself, do you agree with the greatest detective in the world, Hercule Poirot? 

Monday, September 4, 2017

Fire and Rain

 In light of the natural disasters occurring over the summer of 2017: 

All I see right now on my facebook feed or in the paper is the havoc that natural disaster is having on our country. Half of it is drowning while half is burning. The devastation in Texas is heartbreaking as is the destruction happening in my own state of Montana. In each area, there are stories of injuries, wreckage, loss, and, ultimately, a sense of hopelessness. As Christians, we often have to face the world with that ever looming question of, “if God is in control, then why is there so much hurt, so much pain, and so much suffering?” Why does he allow Texas to be swept away by rain and Montana to suffocate under fire and smoke?
No answer here. However, as I look around, I’m noticing something. We human beings are pretty proud creatures. We were told to “subdue” the earth; however, somewhere in that transition we got the idea that we had ultimate control. Like a child who is handed an ounce of responsibility, we suddenly thought that we were big enough take over the whole job. Well, it’s in times like these we realize how wrong we were. Thank the Lord for the advances in technology which have given us more knowledge about the world, allowing us to better protect ourselves and it. That said, when disaster happens, we are shamefully put in our place. We suddenly realize that we are just beings after all, not little gods roaming the earth. When fire and flood subdues the earth, while we can and should do something about it, in the end, we are left to pray for something mightier than ourselves to intervene.
Perhaps that is why God sends fire and rain. It wouldn’t be the first time. So, I don’t know why there is so much hurt, but it seems to me that we can recognize one thing in the midst of it all; we are not ultimately in control and thank God for that. Nature is God’s way of reminding us who is Sovereign, and it is not us.  

So pray for Texas, pray for Montana, but pray with the knowledge that God owes us nothing. Instead, this beautiful place we have to take care of is due to his grace, love, and mercy. As is everything else that is good. 

Monday, July 10, 2017

When I Read Psalm 55


"For it is not an enemy who taunts me--
then I could bear it;
it is not an adversary who deals insolently
with me--
then I could hide from him.
But it is you, a man, my equal,
my companion, my familiar friend.
We used to take sweet counsel together;
within God's house we walked in the throng."

I don't know much about my Psalm history, but I do know many were written by David as he was on the run from a man he used to consider as dear to him. I was surprised to resonate with the words of David despite the fact I'm nowhere near physically running for my life. David's words hold power and emotion, but in this passage it is not fear or pain which one notices but the heartache, the betrayal, the broken trust. David has lost a friend and a refuge. We tend to trust people around us and place them on pedestals only to find they are human, sinful, and likely to fall down. Balancing love and trust in this world is so hard. Too little and we reject one of God’s greatest gifts to us in family, fellowship, and relationship. Too much and we reject his greatest gift, ultimate trust in him because of the mercy and love he has already bestowed upon us. The best people are no replacement for the hold God should have on our heart. David's heartache is painful and heavy, but this is no blues ballad. David writes a song of hope. 

"Cast your burden on the Lord,
and he will sustain you;
he will never permit
the righteous to be moved."

I am grateful for David's honest words which everyone has felt to some degree. I hope through every disappointment, betrayal, and heartache I learn to forgive and to continue to offer others my love and trust despite the risk. Through all that, however, I am grateful that in every inevitable let down, every time I feel rejected or every time I fail others, I can sing as David did and cry out: 

"I will trust in you." 

Monday, January 9, 2017

One Year Ago

                I can’t believe that this time last year I was flying over the sea to begin my semester abroad. I remember the fear and anxiety I had. I remember waking up early to go to the airport and looking at my suitcase by my bed. The one that ended up having a lot of things I didn’t need, and lacking a good amount of things that would have come in handy. Staring at it, all I could think was, “What have I done?” I remember saying goodbye and crying for the entire two hours of my first flight, leaving the poor man next to me looking rather uncomfortable. I remember my mother choking out the bit of A. A. Milne’s quote, “you’re braver than you believe” before being unable to finish the rest. I know it’s dramatic, but for a girl who likes to play things safe, this just seemed like a really bad idea. I had been stretched and grown through the circumstances that God had placed in my life already, but it is a very different thing to willingly choose something that you know will cause you to grow and change. That decision started the adventure that was five months of living abroad in the beautiful city of Chester. You saw the pictures, or you may have read my recorded thoughts as my journey took place. There were no lightning bolts of maturity or deep spiritual struggles, but I learned how to take care of myself a little more, I learned what matters to me, I’ve learned to ask for help, I’ve seen things I’d only seen in pictures and on movie screens, and I have friends scattered all over the world now. I’ve learned to put up with a lot of hard mattresses, bizarre bus rides, sore feet, and I’m not afraid of airports anymore (still not a fan of the bus thing though). I’ve better learned how to turn to God when I feel alone and scared, because people, even those who love me most, aren’t enough. I’ve now come to find myself looking back on last year more afraid and anxious than ever. It’s a fear of a different kind. It contains my unknown future, it plays off of my insecurities, and it is inconsiderate of my fragile heart. It just goes to show that every day and every year there are new struggles and new fears to overcome. Each one feels overwhelming and terrifying at the time, but even so, his mercies “are new every morning” (Lamentations 3:22-23). Looking back to one year ago, I am thankful for the opportunity I had, for the courage God granted me to take that step, for the experiences, the friends, the lessons learned, and the continual guidance He will have on my life. I called it my adventure, and it was, but it was only a part of it. It jump-started what feels like a new stage to my life, one that has been difficult and frightening, yet which has caused me to grow and trust in Him on a level I hadn’t thought I needed before. To any of you considering travel, even just a bit, take your chances and go. You never know what you will learn or see or who you will meet, but it will open your mind and heart to so many things. It is a risk, it is a change, it is enthralling, it is painfully mundane, it is expensive, and it will have consequences, but more than likely, it will be worth it. 

Saturday, August 6, 2016

Returning Home

I never thought I’d be writing about my journey home, but here I am. I suppose I’ve become rather accustomed to writing out my thoughts in an effort to make sense of them. Coming home is such an out of body experience. The feeling of stepping off of that plane and walking down the stairs of the Billings airport was like floating on air. It is the strangest thing to run into the arms of those you love most and whom you haven’t seen for so long. It’s like a puzzle that all just fits and no time has passed at all. Yet, at the same time, there’s a gap created by time and distance which you must learn to cross. I am very glad to be home. I love being at work again and I love being with my friends and my family; however, the transition is one that takes getting used to. Everyone warns you of this but honestly, I wasn’t all that nervous about it; I was prepared for change when I came home. I knew my school, my work, and my new house were all going to have an effect, but I didn’t care, I just wanted to be home. Yet, I find myself slipping into that longing of how things were before I left. I am envious of the familiarity and the surety I had. Which is funny considering how scared I was when I left. I’d never been afraid of anything so much, yet here I am, in the very place I feel safest, feeling so much more frightened. It’s funny how God likes to change your plans and expectations. When I say funny I mean frustrating, difficult, stressful, and disappointing. I had wonderful imaginings for my summer back and how it was to look and for my final year at school this fall. What I forgot was all the little adult things that invade into your fantasies and make everything so unpleasantly real. I’d love to go back and escape into the world of beautiful cathedrals, green landscape, ruined castles, and rich history… only I know that I would feel just as frightened there as I would here. Fear isn’t something you can run from, but it is something you can fight. Here’s the thing, life on this earth never goes according to plan. I should rephrase that: life on this earth never goes according to our plan. This world is full of the beautiful things of God and yet it is tainted with the horrible reality of our sin. I was unprepared for how oppressive the fear of the future can be. I wonder about where I will be in five years; will I be teaching the literature I love so well? Will I have found someone to lead me and love me? Will I have started a family and be learning how to raise children of my own? I hope so, but vain hope isn’t enough, I need something stronger. When I left, I asked God to use my experiences and lessons learned in the UK to influence and prepare me for my new adventure at home. That looks differently now than how I expected it to look. I am learning and growing in Christ probably more than if things were going as I had so “perfectly planned”. I am learning that fear of the future is merely showing a weak faith. I am learning what it means to be content and satisfied in Christ alone. I am learning to trust what he has, even though it may not be what I thought I wanted. I am learning that I am not here to be merely happy and I am not here to serve myself; I am here to “glorify God and enjoy him forever”. And the greatest joy I can find is in doing this very thing. I’m not good at it yet, but I have the greatest helper I can get through the Holy Spirit. Plus there is one great advantage to being home; I am surrounded by people and a community that makes it bearable. People who have loved me and encouraged me through my foolish decisions, my worst days, and my weakest moments. The devil likes to make you think you are most alone when the very opposite is true. God give me strength to face the future...if there is success, happiness, and love so be it; if there is failure, pain, and loneliness so be it. Either way I have the love of someone far greater than I; someone who has loved me more than anyone else can or will, and not because of anything I have done. I have the Spirit of the Living God dwelling inside me and; therefore, no matter what else there is in my life, there will be peace, joy, and purpose.

“Go on to think of the love of the Son in its breadth, its length, its depth, its height; go on to know the love of Christ which passeth knowledge. Think of Him who came from Courts of Heaven and laid aside the insignia of His eternal glory and was born as a babe, worked as a carpenter, and endured the contradiction of sinners against Himself. Think of Him into whose holy face men spat and on whose brow they pressed a crown of thorns and into whose hands and feet the nails were hammered. There He is on the Cross. What is He doing there? There He dies for us, that you and I might be forgiven and reconciled to God. Think of his love, and as you come to know something about it, you will forget yourself.” –Martyn Lloyd Jones

Father I know that all my life is portioned out for me.
The changes that are sure to come I do not fear to see.
I ask Thee for a single mind intent on pleasing Thee;
I ask Thee for a single mind intent on pleasing Thee.

Anna L. Waring