Some Stuff That’s Nifty (5/18/14)

Sorry for no link round up last week; we had friends in town and I didn’t spend my usual lazy Saturday morning poring over the internet for cool stuff.  No fear though!  That just means I have two weeks’ worth of links to share today.

Comics

1. Life in Aggro is a regularly featured webcomic on Kotaku‘s weekly webcomic, and for the past month it’s been running a story recounting what I’m assuming is one of the authors’ experiences playing through the game.  It’s a beautifully drawn comic, and this series has been particularly good.  The final part of the four part story just went up yesterday, so you can see the whole thing on their website.  Here’s the link to the first part of the story.

These Watercolors Distill Superheroes to Their Very Essence

Black Widow in Watercolor. By Blule. (Image credit: i09)

2. I don’t use ComiXology to buy comics.  When I do buy comics, I prefer to purchase physical copies (the one area where I feel like a luddite is digital purchasing; I just struggle to get over the hump of not having a copy of the content that I can store and maintain how I like).  Even so, this article is a fascinating look at ComiXology’s business model and how their recent decision to remove in-app purchasing from their iOS app impacts both their business and the consumers who use their service.

3. Because it needs to be said again (it always needs to be said again), there needs to be more to female superhero design than sex appeal.  Here’s a wonderful article from Lauren Davis explaining why (if for no other reason, read it for the plug that the new Ms. Marvel series gets; that book is fantastic and I want to read more of it like now).

4. Though I have a passing interest in comics history, I’m not really into comics from the Golden and Silver Ages.  Apparently that’s a mistake, at least for Golden Age stuff, because it was a diversity wonderland before the Comics Code came along and whitewashed everything.

5. I generally think of myself as more of a Marvel fan when it comes to superheroes, but I have to admit that I do agree with pretty much everyone on this list of in-universe jerks.  And yeah, Professor X just keeps getting worse and worse.  Cyclops, on the other hand, has always seemed like a justified jerk, and I love him for it.  Namor’s debatable, because I’m not sure you can classify the level of egotism he displays as necessarily jerkish so much as “I’m the King of the Ocean.”

Faith

1. Candida Moss explains what professions were not recommended for Christians in the third century by St. Hippolytus of Rome.  The list is, unsurprisingly, filled with jobs that Christians nowadays not only do, but often aspire towards.

2. Fred Clark is a straight white male.  I am also a straight white male.  If you want to read something not written by straight white males, then check out Fred Clark’s recent list of blogs that are written by people other than straight white males.

3. Richard Beck answers reader questions about his book The Slavery of Death.  There’s some really interesting thoughts going on here.

4. Zach Hoag: “The Christian faith, rightly understood and practiced, is both syncretist and separatist all at once, and in different ways. In fact, syncretism is at the core of Christian identity, as the very definition of the faith is the expansion of first century Judaism to include Gentiles without requiring total change to their religious practice! It was an honest to goodness combining of Greco-Roman religious practice with Israelite religious practice, seen through the lens of a new Messianic identity. Christianity IS syncretism!”

5. A breakup letter to John Calvin (I’m not sure I was ever in a relationship with him, but I think it still sums up my feelings about his theology rather nicely).

6. I don’t typically post articles from i09 in my faith section (mostly because their articles that touch on religious subjects tend to have a bit of an anti-faith bent), but this article from Mark Strauss is thoughtful and nuanced in how it approaches the problem of creationism.

7. More from Fred Clark (remember, I have two weeks of material to sift through), this time about the phenomenon of mondegreens and their relationship to interpretive differences between Christians who disagree about the Bible.  Don’t know what a mondegreen is?  Then go find out.

8. Rachel Held Evans, Tony Jones, Matthew Vines, and Jay Bakker had a talk this week discussing Vines’s new book God and the Gay Christian.  It’s an hour and fifteen minutes of good dialogue about the issue (complete with lots of technical difficulties!), and I’d definitely recommend watching the video of it.  Fortunately, Tony Jones has posted the talk on his blog.

9. Samantha Field at Defeating the Dragons wrote a post this week coming out as bisexual.  I’m really happy for her.

Fiction

1. I’m not the most educated person when it comes to speculative fiction.  Most of my knowledge has been acquired by proxy of Rachael, so this essay, which seems pretty impressive and persuasive to me, may be a bunch of hot air.  Nonetheless, I think it does raise some interesting questions about the relation between contemporary speculative fiction and literary fiction.

2. The Star Wars Expanded Universe is dead.  Nonetheless, it did give some good stories.  Here’s a list of 10 particularly notable ones (as an aside, I’ve begun watching the Clone Wars cartoon now that the whole thing is on Netflix, and being only halfway into season 1, I think it’s great; it’s a wonder what can be done with the prequel-era setting when George Lucas isn’t pulling all the strings).

Film

1. For all my criticisms of various movies that I see, I like to think that generally I’m a pretty easy to please viewer.  I have an overly developed fondness for superhero movies (even the ones that don’t deserve it), so I’m really a poor judge of which big movies are not so great (case in point: I really liked Man of Steel except for the ending, but everyone else I talk to thinks it was the worst Superman adaptation ever conceived).  This article and subsequent conversation in the comments does a pretty good job of elaborating on why certain superhero movies get really positive reactions from viewers while others don’t.  It’s all speculation and opining, but it’s interesting speculation and opining if you like to think about superheroes and the movies we make about them.

2. For your enjoyment, a comic explaining why DC hasn’t started production on a Wonder Woman movie yet (as an aside, I first came across this comic through Kotaku where a conversation in the comments erupted where one very obtuse fellow began complaining about how everyone’s constantly calling for movies featuring female and minority superheroes just irritates him, and we should all shut up because it’s going to happen anyway; except, y’know, it’s not going to happen if no one says that’s what they want to see).

3. I like animation.  I also like live-action.  I get a little wary when animated franchises get live-action adaptations.  Apparently so does Jason Krell.

Fun

If Disney Characters Were College Students

Of course Quasimodo would go to art school to be a sculptor. By Hyung86. (Image credit: Kotaku)

1. I wish I had space to display a four-foot wide drawing of an imaginary megacity that features iconic buildings from all the most famous cities in the world (and throughout history).

2. Did you know that the number of Nicolas Cage movies in a given year correlates with the number of people who drown in swimming pools?  Neither did I, but here you go.  Have fun.

3. What about Zoidberg?

4. And just in case you prefer real cephalopods to imaginary ones, here’s an octopus unscrewing a jar from the inside.

5. Someone invented retractable metal claws.  It’s pretty adorable to see how excited he is to be able to tear stuff up with them.

6. It’s not often that I see discussion of Breaking Bad where someone reads Walter White as so adamantly sympathetic.  For my part, I gravitated more towards Jesse as the emotional center of the show after the end of Season 3, but to each her own.  Here’s a post from Scribalishess where Susan Pigott discusses her experience of watching Breaking Bad for the first time.

Gaming

1. For what it’s worth, I’m still not tired of jumping and punching in video games.  I spent the last week of school this year playing Street Fighter II and Super Mario Bros. 3 with my students as a way of passing the time after we turned in our final grades.  Nevertheless, this is a good article wondering about the seemingly interminable popularity of first person shooters and whether gaming is due for a new golden genre like the platformers and fighters of the ’90s.

The Legend Of Zelda: A Link To The Past 3D Papercraft Map

The overworld map of Legend of Zeld: A Link to the Past as papercraft. By Wuppes. (Image credit: Kotaku)

2. Gilbert Gottfried is famous as the voice of Iago from Disney’s Aladdin and as the guy who did that video for the internet where he reads excerpts from 50 Shades of Grey.  We can now add to his impressive resume the fact that he made a video where he reads some of the most famous lines from video gaming.  “Holy hell is it erotic!” indeed.

3. Nobody likes trolls.  I’m not sure anyone really understands why they do what they do either; not even the trolls themselves.

4. Minecraft‘s pretty much the best thing ever when it comes to creating interactive online learning experiences.  The world’s fully customizable, and it’s a lot of fun to build stuff with friends.  So using the game as a lab for teaching Japanese sounds like a wonderful idea.

5. Jason Schreier has crowdsourced from the Kotaku commenters a compilation of good entry-level games in the JRPG genre.  I agree with much of the list (I’ve played a lot of them myself), so if you have any interest in that most quirky of story-driven game genres but don’t know where to start, this is a good thing to look at for ideas.

6. People like to play as characters who are not themselves when they’re gaming.  This article talks about what it’s like to play a character who also happens to not be the same sex as the player.

Science

1. Cartwheeling spider.  That is all.

2. Kidney disease runs in my family.  Just last year my mom received a transplant that she had been waiting on for three years, and the donor was, unfortunately, someone who had died.  We don’t know who the donor was, but it’s weird to think that my mom had to wait for someone else’s misfortune just so that she could get the kidney she needed.  It’s an objective fact that a live donor would have been better all around; kidneys from live donors last much longer than kidneys from deceased donors, and the donor’s still alive when the procedure’s over.  Of course, it’s a scary thing to donate a kidney; you’re voluntarily giving up one of your organs.  This article explores this topic more in-depth and considers some potential solutions to help incentivize the donation of kidneys, since there’s a constant need.

3. Scientists have engineered a strain of e.coli that contains six base pairs instead of four in its DNA.  This is kind of a big deal.

4. I donate blood on a regular basis because I think it’s an important thing to do if you meet the guidelines for eligibility.  One weird quirk of the experience that I’ve always wondered about was the fact that I’m always asked multiple questions about whether I’ve ever had sex with a man.  Seeing as I’ve not had that particular experience, I always answer no and move on with life.  It never occurred to me before that answering yes would prevent me from being able to donate.  What the heck, FDA?

5. So how would people react if we were to discover extraterrestrial life?  For my part, I’m pretty psyched about the possibility, but this article from i09 suggests that in general, people of faith tend to be poorly psychologically equipped to deal with aliens.  I’d like to counter that if you have religious beliefs, especially of a Christian variety (I’m not going to speak to any other traditions because I just don’t know well enough to say), and you’re still engaging in anthropocentrism as part of your faith practice, then you’ve probably missed the point Jesus was making about dying to the self; that’s not just a personal exhortation, but a fact of communal living that you have to accept things are bigger than what you see around you.

6. Neil deGrasse Tyson said that philosophy was a useless field to study.  Many people on the internet disagreed.

7. Hurray for advancements in prosthetics!

Miscellaneous

1. “How Misunderstanding Disability Leads to Police Violence”

2. I think this one’s already been all over the internet, but here, for anyone who hasn’t read that awesome Slate article about Phineas Gage.

3. We interred over 100,000 Japanese-Americans in camps during World War II.  That’s an important thing to remember.  Fortunately, Ansel Adams helps us out with that through these photos (here’s a link to the full online collection at the Library of Congress) that he took of the internment camps during the war.

4. I find it doubtful that China’s actually collaborating with Russia, Canada, and America to build an intercontinental rail line.  Still, it would be really cool if this does happen for reals in a few decades.

5. My students have an unhealthy fascination with Beats by Dr. Dre headphones.  You can imagine my childlike glee when I read this, because it means that I’m now justified in telling them that their taste in headgear is not only ridiculous, but also appallingly bad from an audiophile’s perspective.

6. H.R. Giger passed away this week, and i09 saw fit to post a collection of some of his assorted works in commemoration.  Giger’s work is extremely fascinating, and highly creepy (he did design the look of the original xenomorph in Alien).  Go check the gallery out if you’re interested, though keep in mind that one of Giger’s favorite subjects was the interplay between humanity and technology, and he tended to use lots of sexually evocative imagery.

7. Deaf culture is a complicated thing.  The introduction of cochlear implants into the deaf community a little over a decade ago was pretty big news; not everyone received the new technology with enthusiasm, because it was seen as a threat to Deaf identity (for a really good documentary exploring this issue, look up Sound and Fury; it’s available to stream on Netflix, or if that’s not your style, you can find the whole thing freely available on Youtube, along with its follow-up from 2006).  This article from The Atlantic discusses some of the issues surrounding a new type of cochlear implant that has no external component.

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Victory Lap!

So, after last week’s extremely glum post about my feelings of inadequacy as a writer, I had a really good weekend to completely upend all that and leave me feeling like things are going pretty well.

First off, I wrote a drabble.  It was a simple piece done in a fit of creative anxiety at the encouragement of Rachael, and it turned out alright.  I was happy with it, and I posted it here on the blog on Sunday morning as well as over at the Drabblecast forums.  Then I more or less went on about my day, until I was fiddling on the internet and I got a message from Norm Sherman.

I do not know Norm Sherman, so Rachael and I briefly considered what the message might be about, and we came to the same conclusion: he wanted to run my drabble on his podcast.  Then I opened the message to find it was true.

So now, I can say that I’m a published author, and that doesn’t just include stuff that I put up on my blog.

If you’d like to listen to my story done in delightful audio, then go check out Drabblecast Episode 296 – Five Ways To Fall In Love On Planet Porcelain.  My story opens for Cat Rambo‘s, whom Rachael assures me is a really big deal in the fiction community (sorry, Cat, I’ve never actually read any of your work, but I promise I will very, very soon!).

On the nonfiction side of things, my most recent post about the Justice League study that I participated in over the summer exploded my view count after I linked it on Rachel Held Evans’s Sunday Superlatives, and she liked it so much that she retweeted it.  As someone who has a grand Twitter following of three (including my wife), this resulted in a little bit more of a bump than I was hoping for from dropping a link over at RHE’s blog.  It was a pleasant boost in my confidence, and I sincerely hope that everyone who stopped by to read about Deborah enjoyed my thoughts, no matter how simple they might be.

The fact that these two separate events happened pretty much within an hour of each other on Sunday night was great, and to celebrate, I’m going to try to renovate my blog a little bit with some static directory pages for my various series.  I’ve tried to be consistent with my tagging, but the whole blogging thing is still relatively new to me (just over three months I’ve been at this now!) and I’m feeling it might be easier for new readers to see my old stuff if I have something that’s not going to drop to the bottom of my home page as it gets older.  That’ll be something to look out for, though I’m not going to set any specific schedule for when those new pages will go live, since I’m a horrible procrastinator who’s just trying to keep up with his daily posting schedule right now.

Anyway, thanks to my regular readers, however few of you there may be, and big thanks to Norm and Rachel for enjoying my work enough to share it with other folks.

Some Stuff That’s Nifty 8/4/13

Well, I’m back to work now, so we’ll see how I manage keeping up with my steady stream of content.  In the meantime, while we all twiddle our thumbs worriedly, enjoy some links.

Comics

1. Over at Me: A Wannabe-Superhero, Elizabeth Sharrod posts some thoughts on why she enjoys wearing shades.  They provide a level of protection out in public that I know I don’t get to participate in because I always have to wear my glasses (can you imagine how much it would suck for Cyclops if he needed corrective lenses?  That would be one nerve-wracking visit to the optometrist.

2. If you’re interested in comics, but you don’t know where you might start to read some of the better classic stories, here’s a good thread on i09 where readers suggest their favorite crossovers.  Anything you see that involves the X-Men, I’ve read, and generally I agree about their quality.

Fiction

1. 300 Stories has another flash fiction piece that tickled me this week.  Since I started following there’s been something new every day, so check it out if you enjoy quick bursts of story to spur you on.

2. This is not fiction per se, but it is some handy advice on making a setting from scratch.

3. If you like fiction, and you like it free, then hurry up and go download Tor’s collection of five years’ worth of short stories.

Religion

1. John Scalzi is a fiction writer, but this week he posted a meditation on Matthew 6 that captures a little bit of the motivation that I think most Christians strive for when they serve others.  I can’t say that I always succeed in acting selflessly, but it’s a good reminder.

2. From Defeating the Dragons, a post discussing the difficulties of separating the acts of reading and interpreting the Bible.  We all bring our own interpretations to what we read, and the Bible is no different in that respect.  I think conversations between parts of the Church would probably go much more smoothly if we could all remember how difficult it is to set aside our biases when reading the Bible.

3. Morgan Guyton at Mercy Not Sacrifice gives us the first in a series he’s doing on verses that have profoundly affected him.  The first is a meditation on 1 Corinthians 1:28: “God chose the base things, the despised ones and those who are not, to reduce to nothing things that are.”  The fact that God chooses the despised ones is reason enough for me to choose them too.

4. From Rachel Held Evans this week, an interview with Nicole Baker Fulgham, a Christian activist for improved public education.  Fulgham’s agenda does not deal with homeschooling or creationism, only with trying to address real deficits in the public school environment through faith-based outreach.  I’d love to hear more from her.

5. In the wake of Rachel Held Evans’s CNN article last week about Millenials, everyone and their clone has put forward an opinion about the issue.  Here’s Richard Beck’s take, which is remarkably generous and, I think, astute.

Movies

1. I know The Wolverine is out and doing about as well as I expected it would, but I’m much more looking forward to this version directed by Woody Allen.

2. I’m sure everyone knows this, but The Simpsons do a lot of movie parodies.  For anyone who might want a chronological catalog of all of them for the first ten seasons, here’s a couple of videos.

The first issue of Batman: The Dark Knight Ret...

I reiterate: the next Superman movie will be based on this. Cover art by Frank Miller. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

3. The more I hear that Man of Steel 2 is going to be based on The Dark Knight Returns, the less hope I have that it’ll be a good follow-up.  I don’t want an old Batman versus a young Superman, I just want Batman and Superman being awesome together as the perfect complementarian couple (he’s justice and he’s mercy!).  Aside from that, it strikes me as a huge mistake to base a Superman film on a Batman story.  Actually, just give me 90 minutes of Superman and Batman doing this.  Thanks, DC.

4. James Cameron, what are you thinking?  Really, what more plot could you possibly have to fit into three more movies in the Avatar franchise?

5. The most fun part of this discussion thread on i09 is that I scrolled down through it, and realized that thanks to this summer, I’ve now seen a lot of the movies that people mentioned.  Also, if you’re looking for sci-fi and fantasy movie recs, these threads pop up pretty regularly over at i09, and they’ve not disappointed me yet.

TV

1. Rachael and I just finished marathoning Season 5 of Breaking Bad this weekend.  It was wonderful.  Here’s an alternate universe take on the series’s premise wherein Mr. Black quits his job as a meth cook when he finds out he has cancer and dedicates his life to teaching.

Gaming

1. Because extra violence is always the way to update a classic game, check out this rendering of Super Mario Bros. Level 1-2 with added blood, bombs, and a dragon.  Seriously though, I don’t see how the extra violence really improves this.  It’s a beautiful render otherwise.

2. I was originally just going to link to this funny short about Atlas and P-Body from Portal 2, but I followed a link rabbit trail and ended up coming across a bunch of other videos made by Zachariah Scott.  The one about Chell is quite poignant, and the series on turret mishaps is quite precious.  Check them all out when you have some time.

3. Hi, my name’s Jason… and I’ve used walkthroughs.  They’re kind of an integral part of gamer life, even if no one wants to admit it.  So I’m happy that someone did.  Also, back in their heyday before wikis became the de facto source of game tips, strategy guides were a great source of high quality game art.

4. This is a strange one, and I’m really not sure how I feel about it myself.  So, this guy at a conference gave a talk on gaming as a religion.  I think he was trying to draw a comparison between the sacred space that a lot of folks enter when they go to worship and the gamer trance.  I’m not buying that though, because generally after I finish a gaming session, if it’s gone on for too long, then I feel drained and listless.  After a worship service, I generally don’t feel drained and listless (unless the pastor went way over time and there’s a line for the bathroom, then I’d really like to feel a little more drained and listless).  Saying that gaming is a religion is, I think, taking the idea of subculture too far.  I love playing video games, and I love the possibility of religion intersecting with my preferred subcultures, but I never mistake my gaming hobby for my Christian faith.  Also, jeans tucked into galoshes?

Feminism

1. I’ve mentioned before that I’m a fan of Anita Sarkeesian’s video series Tropes vs. Women in Games.  She just posted her third installment this week, so I thought I’d pass it along.

Current Events

1. I’m very poor.  Does that make me contrarian?

Science

1. Unfortunately, instantaneous teleportation does not seem to be a feasible technology to pursue at this time.  Unless, y’know, we just want to use up a much ambient energy in the universe as possible and accelerate the heat death by a few billion years.

2. I’m always skeptical of any headline that goes “[Blank phenomenon happens] says science.”  Science is not some monolithic czar passing down judgments about the nature of physical reality; it’s just the collected knowledge that’s been sifted out through countless hours of research and study by people for centuries.  So yes, this article’s headline is “Money turns People Into Jerks, Says Science,” but don’t think of it as science making the claim.  Think of it as the proposal of the researchers at UC Berkeley based on their own observations.  It probably needs to be corroborated by other researchers, but it’s still a fascinating look at how advantage inclines us toward selfishness.

3. I love stories like this.

4. To add to everyone’s weight neurosis: the universe is expanding, and that might mean we’re all getting bigger and don’t even realize it.

5. Apparently Pinocchio got it all wrong.

Miscellaneous Nerdiness

1. I teach English, so I have a little internal chalkboard that screeches whenever someone makes a linguistic error.  Fortunately for me, I don’t let this on most of the time, although now that I’ve written this on my blog everyone will silently judge me for silently judging them.  Otherwise, here’s a fun video about a bunch of words that people commonly mispronounce.

2. Every teacher has fantasies of pranking their students in ridiculous and humorous ways–especially if it involves taking away their cell phones.  I’m kind of appalled that a teacher actually did this to his student, but I think the internet is a better place for it.

Links that Turn You into a Gibbering Idiot

1. I bet insanity inducing blueberry pie is the best insanity inducing pie.

And that’s it from my little corner of the internet.

Leaving Church: One Voice

Rachel Held Evans made a huge splash this weekend with her article on CNN about the reasons people in the Millennial generation are fleeing the organized Church.  She listed off a lot of things that she’s observed as complaints that Millennials make about the current state of the organized Church.  I don’t need to mention them here, because they’re pretty well-known by people interested in the problem, and if you’ve come to my blog before hers then there’s been some bizarre fluke in the space-time continuum.

English: Icon of Jesus Christ

English: Icon of Jesus Christ (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When I was a child I hardly ever attended church.  My mother’s family was Methodist, and I think my father’s was Baptist.  I remember going to the Methodist church where my mom was a member a few times, but it wasn’t a very interesting experience.  It was highly traditional, with an aging congregation that lent me no opportunities to make friends my own age.

I knew Jesus’ name, but I didn’t really get who he was.  I remember thinking that his last name was really Christ, which meant of course that Mary and Joseph were in fact Mr. And Mrs. Christ.

I didn’t receive a spiritual education from church growing up.

When I was in high school, I began wrestling with questions of mortality and eternity and all the things that adolescents who think they’re way smarter than they really are deal with.  Though it was terrifying to think I had nothing besides my life, I decided that God must be a fiction.

At the same time I was withdrawing from my cultural Christianity, I saw many of my friends engaging with theirs openly and without reservation.  It was in high school that I first became aware of the idea of Christ’s moral perfection, but I really didn’t want anything to do with it.  Many of my friends tried to convert me, but I’d given up on God, and that was all there was to it.  I loved my friends, but what they were talking about just didn’t make sense to me.  I would not be proselytized into believing something that wasn’t true.

My friends who wanted to share their faith with me were poorly equipped by church to answer my questions.

In college, I met my future wife, Rachael.  Within our social circle, she was the one we deemed “the Christian.”  From our first encounter we were always at odds because we both loved to argue.  It went without saying that if we were left to steer a conversation, it would go to God, and then we’d be at it for hours.  Rachael is a far better debater than me, so she usually won.  Winning the arguments didn’t move me though.  God didn’t exist, and no amount of semantic gymnastics could convince me otherwise.  I told her as much several times.  I also told her that I hated being beaten into an intellectual corner.  So Rachael did the first thing I remember as being a genuine expression of Christ.

She stopped arguing with me.

That’s not to say that we didn’t still talk about God, but there was a definite shift there from trying to win to trying to be a friend.  Eventually we fell in love and had a tumultuous relationship that lasted all through college where the central tension was over how you make a romantic relationship between a Christian and an atheist work.

The short answer, in our case, is you don’t.

Late in my junior year of college, I became a Christian.  I can’t tell you an exact date or point to a specific event, because my conversion seemed to follow a sort of catechesis whereby I gradually moved from being an atheist to an agnostic to finally saying, “The hell with it, this Jesus is on to something.”

So I waded into the pool of evangelical Christianity.  It was awkward and embarrassing because I spent months in a weird ideological limbo trying not to let on to my non-Christian friends (who were all largely hostile to it) that I’d gone over to the dark side.  To help me cope with that, I was taken in by Rachael’s friends from the college ministry that she went to.

So, late in college, I finally assimilated into church.

There were a lot of missteps on my part trying to understand the subculture I found myself in.  I was adopted, not native-born, and this meant that I had some rough edges to polish before I properly fit in.

The biggest challenge I faced was maintaining my intellectual integrity while fostering my faith.  As a recent convert I hoped that it wasn’t impossible to hold on to both, but I didn’t have any guidance on how to do it.  The primary message of the subculture I found myself in was that faith trumped all intellect, so if there was something that conflicted with your faith, it needed to be thrown out.  I had to discard evolution, acceptance of sexual diversity, and a lot of other ideas that had become core parts of my intellectual identity in high school and college in the name of upholding my faith.

Upon leaving college, church had replaced my identity.

After Rachael and I got married, we tried multiple times to find a church home (a Christianese term for the small community of believers and their building that you regularly associate and worship with).  Though neither of our families had prioritized church attendance when we were growing up, we got it in our head that we needed to be going as a way of practicing our faith.

We tried a lot of places, but the three that really stick out in my mind go like this:

We first tried a church that a friend of ours had attended growing up, and for a while it was good.  We even joined a small group while we were there, but things never quite meshed.  Rachael and I had been taught to take Bible study very seriously, and when it came to be our turn to lead one for our small group, we kind of frightened everyone away with how rigorous we were in flipping through the Bible for cross-references (this was also at the height of our literalist phase when even the suggestion that Paul didn’t write one of the letters that are attributed to Paul set us in a tizzy).  Besides alienating our small group, we also failed to connect with anyone in our own demographic.  There was just no other young married couples without children there.

The second church we gave a shot was a megachurch.  We liked the pastor and felt that his preaching was orthodox but still challenging, and the in-house worship band was phenomenally good.  Connecting with a small group was even harder there, because church membership was required before you could get in touch with anyone.  We did manage to score an invite to a dinner party for one small group, but to our chagrin it was populated by people in their fifties who spent the entire evening talking about how much better things were when they were kids.  It was also the most rigid display of hospitality I’ve ever seen, because I keenly remember there was a set form to everything the host family did in terms of food service.  They always served the people who were least familiar first, starting with the woman in each couple, then gradually moved down the line to the most familiar.  Several weeks later when we saw the couple who had hosted at the church, they didn’t even recognize us.

The third church seemed like a much more promising fit because it was a young congregation of college students and college graduates, and it had a major emphasis on social justice for the poor and homeless.  Rachael and I went to an after-service brunch that they threw one day and accidentally ended up sitting at the table with all the pastors’ wives.  They were not very friendly towards us.  Despite that, we kept going because we felt like there were no other places within driving range (these churches all got progressively farther and farther from our home at the time) that even remotely fit.  Then we took Rachael’s parents to a service one time when they were in town for a visit.

That happened to be the week that one of the associate pastors announced that he was quitting to pursue another job, and the congregation saw fit to extend the service by an extra forty-five minutes to wish this guy farewell.  Rachael and I realized after that incident that though they were a tight-knit group, clearly they were not a tight-knit group that was open to extensions.

So after three years of marriage, church had left me with no spiritual home.

It’s now two years on from that point, and I’ve found my faith reinvigorated by participation in the progressive community through online discussion.  I’ve developed strong friendships with non-Christians who I no longer feel pressured to proselytize, because I’m comfortable with Jesus’ command to love your neighbor as yourself.  Though I fail frequently, I aim to be hospitable and gracious to people, because that is how I understand evangelism to work.  I’ve reclaimed my old positions on evolution and sexual diversity while finally reconciling them to my faith, which I feel is stronger than it’s ever been.

These stories don’t give a full picture of what’s happened with Millennials within organized church.  All they do is reflect my experiences, which are admittedly limited.  Even so, in my experience organized church failed me and my peers as a place for spiritual education, asked me to change my identity so I would fit its mold, and rejected me repeatedly when I couldn’t exactly fit the communities I wanted to join.  This is not the whole story, but it’s my part of it.

I am a Millennial, and I left organized church behind me to find better spiritual growth, to reclaim things that no one ever told me I didn’t have to abandon to be faithful, to find a true community of believers who care about exchanging ideas and growing toward Christ together.  From organized church, I rejoined the Church where Christ is Lord and all are welcome.  It doesn’t have any walls, and meetings aren’t regular, but it is good.

Some Stuff That’s Nifty 7/28/13

Let’s see what’s going on!

Religion

1. There has been a lot of good stuff coming out of Defeating the Dragons this week.  It’s hard to pick just one article that I really liked, so I’m going to link a couple.  ForgedImagination’s writing about her struggles breaking away from a fundamentalist branch of the Church are incredibly moving.  Here’s one about her experiences with the toxic effects of modesty culture, and here’s another where she discusses her difficulty even setting foot in a church these days.

2. In a similar vein, Morgan Guyton at Mercy Not Sacrifice has been churning out a ton of good material this week.  He’s discussed the nature of the gospel as an open invitation to a party instead of a get out of hell free card, what it means to participate in a Church that is “exclusively for the excluded,” posted an open letter to an atheist that he hopes to begin a dialogue with (there’s discussion of Slavoj Zizek), and offered up a meditation on how the doctrine of utter depravity is better interpreted as utter providence.

3. From Richard Beck at Experimental Theology, a rumination on hopeful belief versus dogmatic belief framed in the context of the question of what the Christian afterlife looks like.  Beck calls himself a hopeful universalist, and makes a good point about the reality that faith consists of a certain amount of doubt, and so certainty is not something that’s helpful to throw into the equation. Also from Beck, a paper he presented at a conference on Christian ethics back in June which discusses the connection between Christianity and anarchism.

4. I read Fred Clark at Slacktivist regularly.  He’s a very harsh critic of the religious right, and sometimes with good reason.  Here’s a critique he recently wrote pointing out how the purity culture that parts of the Church participate in creates a bizarre climate where ideological extremism only exists in one direction.

5. I’m so happy that Rachel Held Evans is back from vacation now.  She’s the reasonable bridge builder in my regular diet of Christian bloggers.  This week she wrote a thoughtful post about how anger is a useful tool for spurring action, but a hindrance in maintaining a clear vision.  Also, because she blogs for CNN now, she wrote a great article there discussing the reason that people are becoming disillusioned with the modern evangelical branch of the Church.

Comics

Kitty Pryde

Kitty Pryde (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

1. Over at Beyond the Gamer, XmenXpert posted a nifty list of five superheroes in the Marvel universe who haven’t been made into Avengers yet, but really should be.  Kitty Pryde tops the list, which why not, seeing as she did single-handedly save the Earth from a giant bullet by phasing it through the planet.  Honestly, if you’re a hero in the Marvel universe and you save the whole world all by yourself, that should be an instant Avenger card right there.

Science

1. Magnets are a lot of fun.  Magnets used to make ferrofluids do interesting things with their structure is more fun than that.

2. Rachael and I saw Waking Life this week (in what I’m calling the slowest movie line-up of the summer), and while I thought it was strange, it did ask some interesting questions about the nature of dreaming.  If you haven’t seen it, then it might be worth your time; just don’t expect any comprehensible plot, since the entire two hour film seems to be mostly a simulation of a dream.  To help you figure out what that’s supposed to mean, here’s a list of ten theories on the nature of dreaming.

3. So, leave it to a bunch of Germans to freeze light for a minute.  “This light moves too quickly!  We must stop it so we can optimize its efficiency!”

4. I’m not sure this is exactly what they were talking about in Inception, but it’s an interesting avenue of research.  I’m curious to see what comes of memory implantation (one person in the comments mentioned that this could have profound effects on treating Alzheimer’s if it eventually led to being able to implant a person’s lost memories).

5. I listened to an audiobook a few years ago that was set in the near future where everyone had these weird silver glove things that worked like a cell phone.  They were fully flexible, and people just kind of stuffed the gloves in their pockets until they needed to make a call, then they pulled the rumpled little thing out, put it on, and got connected.  The first step to getting those gloves is this stuff here.

6. “We all love cephalopods!”

7. We actually get yellow skies like this in Georgia on occasion, though never with the awesome cloud formations.  Rachael and I used to joke that maybe it was the world ending; apparently we weren’t the only ones thinking that.

8. A quote from Rosalind Franklin, who discovered the double-helix structure of DNA, about the importance of allowing science and everyday life to intersect as much and often as possible.

Gaming

1. I don’t have a smartphone.  If I did, I doubt I’d try to do this with it.  “You died of the plague, roll a new character.”

2. I haven’t played this game, but the trailer looks good.  It’s a point and click adventure about a woman who’s nine months pregnant, in jail, and suspected of murdering her cellmate.  Also, it’s free.

3. Chrono Trigger is, objectively, one of the best games ever made.  I own it on three different platforms because no matter how many times it gets re-released, I always want to play it again.  This tribute makes me all nostalgic, and also leaves me wondering if Square Enix will ever do an HD update.  Check it out.

4. When you stop and think about it, you realize that the play cycle on Donkey Kong really was pretty short.  So short, in fact, that one guy with way too much time on his hands did a play-through of all three levels using stop motion photography and beads.

Movies

1. I feel very ambivalent towards the X-Men movies.  Even the ones that are generally considered good aren’t perfect.  Also, like any action movie, there are always plot holes.  For your consideration, a series of videos enumerating all the problems that were in the first three X-Men movies.

Current Events

1. Via MaddowBlog, an article discussing the recent trend in conservative policy toward instituting prison reform as a cost-saving measure.  Personally, I think this is a wonderful move on the part of the conservatives, because it holds true to the conservative ideal of fiscal responsibility while doing something that really will be of benefit to society as a whole.

2. From The Next New Deal, an article reviewing the libertarian model proposed by Robert Nozick in his book Anarchy, State, and Utopia.  I am not a libertarian, so I won’t say that this is a good critique of libertarianism writ large, but it puts the model that Nozick promotes in a very different, very harsh light.  If I have any libertarian readers, would you care to comment on this?

What the Heck, China?!

1. A man in China has a pet turtle whom he gives cigarettes to.  The turtle is a nicotine addict.  This is very sad, because I love turtles.

The Internet is for Sharing

1. Kotaku links to a Reddit thread where people are posting comparisons between Game of Thrones and Star Wars.  It’s Reddit, so you’ve probably already seen it, but I live under a rock and found it novel, so here it is.  Obviously, it contains spoilers for both franchises.

And that’s it from my little corner of the internet.

Some Stuff That’s Nifty 7/11/13

Back from vacation, and finally caught up on all the stuff that’s been going on since the last roundup.  Look for thoughts on my vacation tomorrow, and for now, enjoy these links!

Lightning

Lightning (Photo credit: Pete Hunt)

1. A student of design at Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design in Jerusalem has come up with a design for a compact living space that’s made from two sheets of fabric stitched together.

2. Over at i09, we get a history lesson on a time when the Pope decided everyone was going to skip ten days on the calendar, and some people didn’t like that.

3. Fred Clark at Slacktivist has an answer to Richard Beck’s post about mattering that I discussed today.

4. The Avant/Gard Diaries recently published an interview they did with the Seattle vigilante Phoenix Jones.  I’m doubtful that what this guy is doing is really safe for the public, but I have to admit that he seems to have a real conviction about improving his community.

5. I love The Simpsons.  I enjoy Game of Thrones.  I adore Game of Thrones Simpsonized.

6. Rachel Held Evans is taking a break from the internet for a few weeks, but before she left, she posted this excellent rumination on the problem with biblical literalism as most people understand it.  Evans is a truly remarkable person in the blogosphere, because she very adeptly walks the fine moderate line.  Even if she’s not posting anything new for a while, take some time to check out her older content.

7. I am quickly becoming a fan of Richard Beck’s blog Experimental Theology in a big way.  Here’s a post he wrote two days ago in regards to an ongoing series he’s doing where he reads through the complete works of theologian William Stringfellow (that’s an awesome name).  There’s so much that’s interesting about this post, but if I have to pick out one thing to draw your attention, read the section regarding Stringfellow’s thoughts on prayer following his diagnoses with a debilitating disease.

8. A write-up on an incident that happened recently at a convention where someone thought it would be funny to slap stickers that said ‘fake geek girl’ on the rear ends of women attending the convention.  The behavior of the person who did this is reprehensible, but I can’t help feeling that Harris O’Malley, who blogs as Dr. NerdLove (his schtick is that he gives dating advice to nerds) and who originally created the stickers that the perpetrator used, made a misstep in trying to satirize the issue this way.  It probably speaks more to my own ignorance, but just looking at the sticker I couldn’t tell that it was meant to be making fun of the issue.

9. This one’s a downer, because it’s a story about how a child recently died after she had received a highly experimental trachea implant that was grown from her own stem cells.  The implant appears to have been a success, but other complications eventually killed her.  Despite the sad end to this story, I’m glad to know that treatments like this one are being researched and that the state of our healthcare technology is always getting better.

10. This couple had a Batgirl/Nightwing themed wedding, and it looks classy as heck.  Also, the photography’s really good.

11. Another brief post from Experimental Theology.  There’s something profound about boiling your understanding of the world to “sin and mercy.”

12. I’ve played Dungeons & Dragons in the past with some very good friends.  It never threatened to harm my immortal soul.  Mostly there was just a lot of goofiness and endless attempts to frustrate the DM.

13. This one’s mostly just a horror story, but it’s a true one.  I’d put it in the same category as the above link regarding the unfortunate girl with the trachea implant as something that saddens me because it happened, but also leaves me happy because people continue to expand and refine our scientific knowledge so that better, more effective treatments for all the malaise in the world can be found.

14. Striking a blow for gender equality, this guy’s taking a firm stance that he is not doing anything special by being a stay-at-home dad.  I love that he rejects the hero rhetoric by pointing out that he can’t lose no matter what he does while his wife can’t win with the same set of choices.  Kudos for writing the article, now get back to work; your children need you.

15. Following up on the last trailer for Sharknado we have this new one featuring a guy slicing a shark in half with a chainsaw.  The made-for-TV movie airs tonight, and for once, I regret that I don’t have cable.

16. I’m sharing this mostly because it references Watchmen heavily in its discussion of the different kinds of intelligences that humans display.  They make a good point that what we typically emphasize when we talk about intelligence relates to logic, while if we’re looking to enhance human capabilities in order to improve society, we should be thinking more along the lines of improving empathy.

17. Yet another post from Experimental Theology (just go read Richard Beck’s blog yourself; it’ll save me time sharing all this stuff), this time discussing the issue of gender dynamics within the Church.  Beck’s response to the whole mess is very thoughtful, and he cuts through the arguments to one simple question: are we grasping for power when we enforce gender roles, or are we seeking to serve one another as Jesus commanded?

18. And to wrap up, something amazing.  Rachael and I recently had our own personal experience with the awe and wonder of lightning, and I can say that seeing it this way is much cooler.

Yeah, I’m a Feminist

Okay, it’s been a couple weeks on Catchy Title Goes Here (if anyone has any suggestions for a better name, I would love to hear them; I’m horrible with titles) and the folks who have been regularly reading have probably picked up on something that I didn’t mention in my introductory post.

I’m a feminist.

Userpage icon for supporting gender equality.

My only regret with this picture is that the symbols are color coded. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Of course, those of you who know me personally already knew that.

And since ‘feminist’ is one of those terms that’s loaded with tons of different meanings, I should explain what I mean when I say it.  Put simply, I think that men and women as groups are equal in capability and value.  The sexes are both equally rational and emotional on average, and any perceived sociological differences arise from our cultural upbringing instead of our inherent natures.  The only differences between the sexes that can be generally applied are biological ones, i.e. sex organs.  Concurrent with these beliefs, I believe that women, as half of the global human population, deserve equal opportunity, compensation, and representation within society.  A culture that promotes such equality would be a better one than what we have currently.

This hasn’t always been the case.  I went through a very anti-feminist phase starting late in college around the time that I became a Christian.  That’s not coincidental.  I live in the American South, and the type of Christianity that’s most prominent in these parts is a very socially conservative brand of evangelicalism.  Part of the package of beliefs that I initially picked up included the idea of spiritual differences between the sexes with an implicit hierarchy of leadership that places men above women.

According to the model as I received it, men are supposed to be active leaders and protectors who do the hard work and make the tough decisions.  Women should be passive and gracious, and their primary purview is within the home.  The two sexes fulfill different roles in the Church, and without both of them things break down.

After graduating I spent a couple of years working a cubicle job while building my life with my wife Rachael.  We got married about six months after college, and in our pre-marriage counseling we were advised to adhere to the model above as closely as we could in order to make our marriage fulfilling and Godly.

We quickly learned that the model didn’t work well for us.

I was supposed to be the “head” of the marriage, but I’m not an assertive person, and I realized quickly that I didn’t want to be the one responsible for making all the important decisions.  Rachael wasn’t happy with the idea that she was supposed to be responsible for maintaining the house when she was also working full-time.  I acted very much like a man-child during those first couple years, and after much fighting we eventually decided that the one head model just didn’t work for us.  We needed to be partners.

That’s not the end of the story.  I was still a long way from reaching full anti-feminist recovery.  I had to deal with the hurdles of being one of a handful of men in a cohort of women when I went to graduate school for my teaching degree.  I like to think of that period as my “men’s rights” phase, which is to say that I felt my privilege being impinged upon in my professional environment, and I resented it.  It was around this period that I read John Eldredge’s Wild At Heart, a book that was very popular in certain Christian circles a few years back.  I bought into the idea of innate masculinity, and it soured my attitude towards my schooling.  There was a great deal of dissonance between thinking that I had a uniquely adventurous spirit and sitting in a classroom learning how to be an educator, a career that oozed with the trappings of a feminine domain.

Fortunately for me, that phase didn’t last long as I watched Rachael deal with some issues in her job that led to us both becoming more interested in the problems that women face in the workplace.  It’s hard to hold on to anger about your own loss of privilege when you see up close what conditions are like for people who don’t have that privilege in the first place.

By the time I graduated and found a job (a long, grueling process that would be better left to a different story), I had pretty much reversed my anti-feminist stance.  Rachael did a lot to help with that, because she took an interest in it first, and we discussed it constantly.  We’d remodeled our marriage to be an equal partnership (my spending a year unemployed and responsible for the housework while Rachael worked full-time helped with that), and I gradually became amenable to the idea that women are not only men’s equals, but that the only discernible differences between the sexes as groups are biological ones.

This had some implications for my understanding of theology, and eventually I learned that the position that I’d grown into was a model known as egalitarianism, and the model I’d originally learned was called complementarianism.  Rachel Held Evans has a fantastic blog that highlights issues surrounding the tensions between these two theological models.

I think that brings everything up to date regarding my story of becoming a feminist.

Of course, being a feminist carries with it some difficulties, especially given my personal interests.  I’ve written before about problems with how women are portrayed in comics and video games, which, despite those problems, are, objectively, some of the best things.  I think about these issues a lot, because I think that our culture shapes and defines us in very subtle ways.  Our society does not have gender equity, and part of that is due to the fact that we portray ourselves as not needing it.  That’s a mistake and, within the subcultures that I associate myself with, something that leads to not only inequity, but implicit misogyny.  As a Christian I find myself unable to abide that inequity, and as a feminist I try to point out the problems that I see.

So yeah, I write about feminism a lot in context of my other topics.

What do you guys think?  Do you have any personal experiences with feminism that have shaped how you see the world?  What do you think of the feminist label in the first place?