Reading the Slavery of Death (Part 2: Ancestral Sin)

Beck’s first chapter jumps in depth into the Eastern Orthodox concept of ancestral sin and how it differs from the Augustinian original sin model.

Right out the gate, I think there’s something really important going on here that Beck’s only casually broaching.  The original sin model is a nearly universal theological doctrine in white American evangelicalism.  This idea was implicit in the very foundation of the college ministry that I belonged to after my initial conversion, the Navigators.

The Wheel Diagram. The vertical spokes represent our relationship with God while the horizontal spokes represent our relationship to each other. (Image credit: The Navigators)

The Navigators’ ministry model is based on a concept known as the Wheel Diagram.  It’s a figure that visualizes how a Christian who is exercising obedience to God is supposed to put Christ at the center of their lives and keep him in that position through equal devotion to four major spiritual practices: Prayer, reading the Word, Fellowship with other Christians, and Witnessing.  All four practices have to be maintained in order to remain Christ-centered, with the analogy being that a wheel with any spokes shorter than the others will be uneven and likely to fail.  Like a typical introverted nerd, I was good at reading the Bible regularly and comfortable hanging out with my Christian friends, and even pretty diligent at prayer (in private).  Witnessing was a different problem entirely.  That’s likely because of the propositional nature of the primary model for witnessing we were taught, the Bridge Illustration (this is where original sin comes in).

The Bridge Illustration is based on a series of proof-texts that describe the state of the world as God having a Plan (abundant and eternal life) that got screwed up because of humanity’s Problem (Adam’s disobedience leading to our sin nature that eternally separates us from God); God’s Remedy (the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ to atone for all our sins) fixes the Problem, but humanity still has to Respond appropriately (accepting Christ as Lord).  The whole system hinges on the fact that humanity’s Problem is about its inherent sinfulness leading to death (“The wages of sin is death” Romans 6:23).  Evangelism in this context is framed around telling people about their innate evil.

And that’s pretty standard for much of evangelical theology.  The only thing I ever read when I was an evangelical that suggested this system might not be the only possible interpretation was from C.S. Lewis’s Mere Christianity where he describes the purpose of the crucifixion as a mystery that no one’s really sure about.  If you’ve not spent any time steeped in evangelicalism, then trust me: atonement theology is one thing that evangelicals are eminently sure about.

And it all rests on the concept of original sin.  There has to be something wrong with us in order for Jesus to need to intervene, and sin nature is a pretty strong candidate.

In describing ancestral sin, Beck’s taking the whole system of original sin and atonement theory and making a sidelong suggestion that Protestants might be barking up the wrong tree in their theology on this issue (even in his formal writing, Beck’s a gentle enough personality that he only says that the original sin model is much more difficult to reconcile with contemporary biological and social science than ancestral sin).

So, to recap very briefly, ancestral sin is a model where sinfulness is not innate to every person, but it grows out of our condition of mortality that was caused by the Fall (I’m curious to see if in future chapters Beck ever acknowledges the complexities that emerge when the Fall is taken not as a historical story that explains what happened to bring us to this state but as a metaphorical one that offers an explanation of why we’re in this state at all).  Adam and Eve’s initial disobedience got humanity kicked out of Eden, but the curse was only that they and their children would die.  Being in that state of mortality leads to sinful action as we become desperate to alleviate our death anxiety.

To support his case for ancestral sin as a legitimate interpretation of the human condition, Beck pulls from the Book of Wisdom, a deuterocanonical text that isn’t recognized as part of Scripture by Protestant churches, and performs some exegesis around a particular Greek word that Paul uses extensively in his letters, sarx, which is variously translated as “flesh,” “human limitation,” “natural limitation,” “weakness of the flesh,” “the weakness of our natural selves,” “the weakness of our human nature,” “the weakness of our sinful nature,” “sinful nature,” fleshly desires,” and “sinful flesh.”

Holy crap, that’s a lot of translations for one word.  The basic argument is that Paul discusses our sarx as a characteristic weakness of our bodies related to their mortality (not knowing any Greek myself, I’m taking Beck’s word on that, and additionally trusting that it’s legitimate to translate sarx as “sin nature” even though the examples of Paul connecting sarx with sinfulness don’t seem to be direct, but by proxy of being associated with physical mutability).

It should be noted at this point that I’m not an inerrantist (as I’ve said many times before), so I don’t take issue with offering alternate interpretations of Scripture that don’t necessarily gel with prominent proof-texts that might be contradictory (Romans 6:23 still sticks out in my mind), but I’m wondering how Beck’s argument would be received by someone invested in inerrancy and proof-texting.  I don’t think it’s impossible to accept ancestral sin as Beck argues for it with that framework, but it seems really difficult to me.  I suspect this is part of why Beck’s building towards his idea of the unholy Trinity where the devil, death, and sin are codependent and simultaneously pull each other into existence.  It’s paradoxical, but that system doesn’t directly contradict the proof-texts.

____________

I’m blogging through this book as my participation in the book club discussion that’s happening over at The Burner Blog this month.  Check them out to get some more perspectives on The Slavery of Death.

Reading The Slavery of Death (Part 1: “The Sting of Death is Sin”)

So, through a wonderful confluence of events involving The Burner Blog at Fuller Theological Seminary purchasing a bunch of copies of Richard Beck’s book The Slavery of Death and then proceeding to give them away to everyone who wanted one, I have acquired a copy of the aforementioned book.  Regular readers know that I discovered Richard Beck’s blog last summer when I was on the upswing with my own blogging efforts, and he rapidly became one of my favorite bits of daily reading (Beck maintains the admirable schedule of posting something new every weekday morning at 6 a.m. eastern time; I wish I could still manage that kind of blogging schedule) because he’s always delving into new ways to view typical theological topics with an infusion of perspectives from multiple traditions as well as his own background as an experimental psychologist.

So.

I’ve read through the introduction to the book now, and the essential argument (as I’m understanding it) breaks down like this:

It’s common in Protestant theology to consider the relationship between sin and death as a causal one where the entrance of sin into the world predicates the reality of death for all things.  The standard proof-text for this idea comes from Romans 6:23, “The wages of sin is death” (it occurs to me that it’s strange how we typically translate this passage with poor subjective-verb agreement; what’s up with that?).  Besides that verse, the idea’s also supported by the second creation story in Genesis 3 where Adam and Eve are cursed to die after they’re banished from Eden for their initial misbehavior.

Coincidentally, I think it’s this particular bit of theology that lends a great deal towards the chronic problem of biblical literalism and anti-evolutionary thought.  After all, if you remove the literal reading of Eden as a period in time before death occurred in the natural world, then it becomes much harder to nail down the “sin causes death” relationship.  Yes, there are interpretations that read the curse of death in the story as a spiritual one, which works well enough, but I think it’s still uncomfortable for a lot of Protestants to consider even physical death as a reality of the natural world prior to whatever event equates with the Fall as it’s described in Genesis.

Anyhow, that’s the traditionally Protestant understanding of the relationship.

Beck points out that in Eastern Orthodox theology, the common understanding is typically reversed.  Based on the proof-text in 1 Corinthians 15:56, “The sting of death is sin,” it’s death that leads to sin.  Beck pulls a few other passages to support this idea, such as Paul’s lament in Romans 7 after meditating on his own struggles with sin that he needs rescue from his “body that is subject to death.”

The argument here is cursory at best, but I’m still just in the introduction, so I expect to find a much more detailed case for the “death causes sin” model in coming chapters.

Before Beck gets into further details, I think I can already see how working with the Orthodox model can help immensely in coming to an understanding of the Fall as it likely happened in reality.  Instead of it being a singular event that relied on the failure of a pair of individuals, the Fall is probably better viewed as a phase in human evolution where our ancestors came to a realization of their own mortality.  All organisms have some kind of driving force that pushes them towards survival and regeneration, but I think humans have the unique trait of recognizing the possibility of future events, including our mortality (any biologists who might be reading, please help clarify if I’m mistaken).  Cognizance of our mutability likely led to the first instances of humans acting against one another in malicious ways.

In addition to considering a reversed relationship between sin and death, Beck also highlights here in the introduction how he plans to explore the connections between sin, death, and the devil as they’re considered in the New Testament (Beck calls these three ideas an “unholy Trinity,” which I think is probably a good way to sum up the interconnectedness of them).  If I’m understanding him right in the introduction, Beck doesn’t intend to fully flip the Protestant understanding of sin and death, but to supplement it with the Eastern Orthodox model as a way of exploring our root motivations for behaving in ways that we categorize as sinful and considering what the implications of love, which is characterized by an absence of fear, are for overcoming his unholy Trinity.

I think this is going to be some good stuff.

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.

Some Stuff That’s Nifty (5/4/14)

I nearly had to climb in a dumpster this past week to save a football.  Fortunately, it didn’t come to that.  Still, I’m ready to declare DumpsterGate 2014 the best work-related story of the year.

Faith

The Pope's Audience Hall Looks Like A Final Fantasy Boss Fight

La Resurrezione by Pericle Fazzini. The sculpture stands behind the chair of the Pope in the Paul VI Audience Hall at the Vatican. (Image credit: Kotaku)

1. Richard Beck commemorates Yom HaShoah this week with a post from 2008 about a visit he made to the Buchenwald labor camp.

2. Also from Richard Beck: “This is why, in my estimation, many progressive Christians, despite their focus on social justice, still struggle with being kind, gentle, forgiving and loving human beings. If you aren’t attending to the affections in your pursuit of social justice you’re prone to becoming harsh, angry and judgmental. Or just burnt out. Joy rather than righteous indignation has to be what carries you forward.”

3. Matthew Vines is getting a lot of press lately since he published his new book God and the Gay Christian.  I’ve not read it, but from what I hear, it’s a good book for people who still feel the tension between holding a high view of Scripture (that you just can’t ignore when the Bible condemns something) and being gay affirming.  Vines identifies as a traditional evangelical, and he argues his case from that position.  His original lecture, which I watched a few years ago, was very helpful for me to begin exploring my own thoughts on gay people and the Church.  I’m very hopeful that his book gets traction in the evangelical community and it does some good there.

4. Candida Moss offers a brief review of a new book on the history of the tradition of Peter being the first Pope of the Catholic Church.  Early Church history is not something that I study extensively, but glimpses like this one always seem to pique my interest.

5. Zach Hoag on some pitfalls that come with the American, post-evangelical appeal to grace.  Hoag makes a good point about being wary of grace leaving us in a position to enable others to continue doing harmful things.  It’s a difficult line to walk.

6. At Theoblogy, a guest post from Rabbi Joseph Edelheit condemning a recent video that was produced by Jews for Jesus that depicts Jesus as a victim of the Holocaust.  Edelheit’s writing is pretty raw, and some of the comments criticize his harshness, but in this case I think it’s important to remember that this is a case of a Christian group co-opting the Holocaust for the sake of prosletyzing to Jews.  That’s bad evangelism.

7. This critique of the attitude behind the recent movie God’s Not Dead gets at something I’ve been saying for a while, although it’s done in a way that’s much more snappy and readable.  God, by definition, is a supernatural being, and experiences of him in the physical world are unprovable.  It’s vacuous to argue for or against his existence, even though so many things in popular culture seem bound on that exact course.

8. Al Mohler’s also been getting some attention for writing an op-ed where he argues that supporting the death penalty is a morally justifiable position for a Christian to take.  Here are Zack Hunt and Jason Micheli explaining why that’s absurd.

9. For blog host Patheos’s fifth anniversary, they’ve asked their various bloggers to compile lists of their top five posts.  Fred Clark just published his collection yesterday, and he links to some really good stuff.  Better yet, he asks for feedback from his commenters, who form a very lively community, and they have tons of recommendations as well.  I’ve been a fan of Fred’s for a little over a year now, I think, and this is a great collection of his work.

Feminism

1. Bill O’Reilly’s not clueless.  I think he is a total cad though.  Here’s his latest bit of dog whistling to get his audience all frothed up over a celebrity they probably don’t really care about because she happens to perform songs that contain positive messages about sex.  Take note of how, in O’Reilly’s estimation, this is a problem that uniquely affects the Black community, regardless of what statistics about teen pregnancy say.

2. A follow up from Slate about the story from last week regarding the kidnapped girls in Niger.  This article gives a pretty good overview of what the terrorist group who kidnapped the girls, Boko Haram, wants to do, and why we should care about this stuff.  Also, as a side note, remember that some of the girls escaped from their captors.  None have been rescued.

3. I want to be a traitor to the mens.  Thanks Scalzi!

Fiction

1. So Disney owns Star Wars now.  They will be releasing new Star Wars movies in the near future.  I feel positively disposed towards this fact, because I know that Disney is in the business of making money and producing entertainment that has broad demographic appeal.  Whatever Episode VII ends up being, I doubt it will match the craptitude(tm) of the Prequel Trilogy.  Of course, this also means that the Expanded Universe post-Return of the Jedi is getting pretty much completely annulled.  I actually read a lot of books in the EU when I was a kid, and I enjoyed them.  All the stuff that Phil Owen discusses in this article more or less went over my head at the time (and I didn’t stick around long enough to read any of the books that take place more than ten years after the Battle of Endor).  I suppose for more dedicated fans of the EU it’s a bittersweet thing to see it decanonized for the forthcoming movies, but I prefer to think of it as simply an alternate continuity.  The new Star Wars movies will probably be original stories, but I’m guessing there’s going to be a generous share of adaptations from all that source material.

2. In a similar vein, here’s the announced cast list for Episode VII.  And here’s a series of articles dealing with the fallout that comes from having only one new female character in a franchise that has no reason to be bound by contemporary gender politics (see that article about what the Expanded Universe did to see what I’m talking about).  Maybe I should rethink my placid confidence that the new Stars Wars movies will be okay.

3. Bob Hoskins passed away this week.  To commemorate his talent as an actor, here’s a video of raw footage from Who Framed Roger Rabbit? showing Hoskins acting against blue screen running parallel to the finished scene.

Fun

1. I’m a fan of Parks and Recreation.  It’s like a much happier version of The Office, but without all the jerks.  Folks who follow the show probably know that season 6 ended with a three year time skip into the future.  That’s always a risky thing for a show that’s been so grounded in current pop culture to do.  On the other hand, we’re seeing Parks and Recreation move into a speculative mode where the show will be doing a little bit of very immediate futurism.  Since the show’s already comfortable with suspending reality for the sake of comedy, I think this will work out fine.

2. Forced perspective chalk drawings are always fun.  So is the classic time wasting game Snake (I know I spent my share of Algebra classes playing snake on my calculator instead of paying attention).  Here’s something that combines the two, although the comments on this article indicate that this is an old thing from the internet.  Well, it’s the first time I’ve seen it, and it might be for you too, so enjoy it!

3. Maybe I’m just desensitized to hyperbole on the internet, but Buzzfeed style headlines have never really bothered me much.  However, if they bother you then there’s a plugin to help with that.  Of course, fogeys like myself prefer to just add snark the old-fashioned way–with our minds.

4. Have some very well done Batman cosplay.

5. Conservation of ninjutsu indeed.

6. Okay, so maybe the problem with Star Wars movies being so male-centric has to do with the fact that they’re all actually bees.

Gaming

1. I don’t play dating sims, but I thought this was a very thoughtful article about how a genre that’s so mechanically different from the types of games that are popular among Western audiences could offer some new insights into how to advance the medium beyond experiences that focus on competition and violence.

2. Also, here’s an article about why The Wolf Among Us, the episodic adventure game from TellTale Games that’s based on Bill Willingham’s Fables comic series, is basically a stealth dating sim.

Science

1. The universe is a big place.  Enjoy some pictures of it.

2. I want to live in an algae tent someday.

Superheroes

1. A visual history of Spider-Man’s costumes over the decades.  There’s been a surprising amount of variation (especially in recent years) for a character who’s look is pretty iconic.

Miscellaneous

1. Here’s an essay from 2010 discussing the ideological make up of the Tea Party movement.  It’s an interesting analysis that I think does a pretty good job of pinpointing the weird mishmash of conservative and libertarian values that inform the movement’s members.  Also, the importance of karma as an ideal to aspire towards strikes me as pretty insightful.  It’d be nice if folks considered that karma’s also not a terribly Christian ideal (I’m pretty confident it’s a universal value among Christians that people should always get better than what they deserve; we call that grace).

2. I’ve been getting inundated with banner ads for the past few weeks advertising John Oliver’s new comedy news show, Last Week Tonight, that premiered on HBO last Sunday.  HBO, in their infinite magnanimity, put the first episode on Youtube for free.  I enjoyed it.  I’m not going to buy an HBO subscription to watch it regularly, but where it’s freely available, I’ll tune in.  The segment on the national election in India was very informative, and the bit about ridiculous food advertising was quite good too.  Also, Oliver’s response to the Pop Tarts commercial was excellent and spot on.  Eating sugary foods for breakfast doesn’t help my students rise and shine; it just encourages them to punch each other relentlessly before 8:30 in the morning.

Some Stuff That’s Nifty (4/27/14)

We have fifteen days of school left at work, and everyone’s starting to get kind of antsy.  This next week’s going to be the most stressful because the high school’s doing our End of Course testing (two days, four 2.5 hour testing blocks, a mess of very tired and frustrated students).  On the bright side, after that’s over we’re going to do fun educational things like watch the Baz Luhrman version of Romeo & Juliet (the kids expressed interest when I mentioned that it features gang warfare, though they were disappointed that there are no fully automatic weapons).

Faith

1. This article involves a pretty good breakdown of the instances where Jesus discusses hell in the Gospels.  It’s a small number.  Then it goes on to breakdown where Jesus discusses heaven.  In Matthew alone, the number of instances where heaven is mentioned is nearly quadruple the total mentions of hell in all the Gospels.  I think that’s a pretty strong sign that Jesus had more interest in a justice of reconciliation rather than a justice of retribution.

2. Zack Hunt reposted a video from Time about a couple in California who believe God instructed them to open up a marijuana dispensary.  It’s a charming story, and does raise some interesting questions about how Americans in the Church are going to deal with the eventual legalization of pot in our country.  Check it out, if for no other reason than to see the guy in the story offer a Girl Scout cookie to the camera operator in the middle of the interview.

3. Dan Haseltine (of Jars of Clay) asked what the big deal was about gay marriage on Twitter this week.  As in, “Is there a non-speculative or non “slippery slope” reason why gays shouldn’t marry?”  It turned into a huge conversation that spans tons of tweets from Dan where things really blew up, and there were many harsh words.  I’m not adept with Twitter at all, so it’s kind of difficult for me to follow everything that was said, but the responses were generally infuriating, particularly from people who claimed that Dan was no longer a Christian because he was asking questions about gay marriage.  I think my regulars know how I feel about that kind of talk.  Anyhow, Dan eventually posted a more complete explanation of what sparked the conversation in the first place on his blog, so that will be shared as well.  For what it’s worth, I’m glad that he’s asking these sorts of questions.  It’s a good place to start in examining our assumptions about issues of faith.

4. Richard Beck’s been writing recently about the influence participating in a charismatic church community has had on his meditations about faith.  It’s very interesting and serves as a helpful dose of fairness for someone like me who’s grown into a more subdued and intellectual form of spiritual practice.  But instead of linking to that, I’m going to link you to his post about how Scooby-Doo is an allegory for the transformation of our understanding of evil from literal demonic powers to an expression of the worst impulses in human nature like greed and deception.

Feminism

0. This is a late addition to the roundup because I just saw this story last night, but it seems that a large group of students were kidnapped in Nigeria by an extremist group who did not want the girls receiving an education.  According to the article, the Nigerian government hasn’t done anything to assist in searching for the missing students, leaving the families to pay for vehicles and searchers out of their own pockets.  There’s a link to a petition in the article where you can sign to try to put pressure on the Nigerian government to do something about this situation.  Personally, I don’t know how effective that petition will be, but as someone who’s living halfway around the world, passing on the information feels like the best thing I can do to help.

1. Gender wage gaps exist in children’s allowances.  The image this article conjured for me was of a household with multiple children, a mix of boys and girls, where the parents give their sons more money than their daughters and don’t think about the disparity or dismiss it with odd rationales.  That’s probably extreme, and I doubt there are actually families who operate in such a way, but it’s a strange image nonetheless.  Remind me, if I have children, to give them all the same allowance: one crisp dollar a week.  That way they can learn about income inequality instead.

2. Samantha Field does a nice job of taking apart a recent diatribe from a blogger I really wish I weren’t familiar with.  Also, she points out that Do Not Links are the best thing ever for pointing people to things you want to criticize without contributing to their internet traffic.

Fun

1. An old video clip from The Daily Show featuring a mock debate between Steve Carell and Stephen Colbert.  The topic: Islam vs. Christianity.

2. Everyone on the internet does a cover of the Super Mario Bros. theme.  This guy did it with his fingers.

3. This bug is not having an existential crisis.  We’re just anthropomorphizing a glitch in the creature’s biology that prevents it from realizing that it’s not actually mobile.  Doesn’t change the fact that I watched this video to the end, fascinated by the anthropomorphic navel-gazing.

4. When I was a teenager, I loved Dragon Ball Z.  It’s a fun show with a simple concept: burly guys who train really hard can fly, destroy planets, and instantly grow and highlight their hair through sheer willpower.  Also, it’s an excellent illustration of time dilation as events depicted in the show tend to happen at relativistic speeds, but somehow in real time they take years to play out.  Anyway, the best thing about this show is that it has a mob of internet fans who like to argue about who is the best character.  So when someone posts a character ranking list without any kind of context, it’s like putting blood in a pool of sharks.  Enjoy the comments on this thread, which range from good-humored snark to angry rants about why the list is wrong on every level.  Warning: as with any fandom discussion, this could be a little esoteric.

Gaming

1. Though I’m not really versed in any programming languages, I do think that programming logic is really interesting.  This is a collection of simple game mechanic simulators that show the code involved in each example so that you can see the moving parts of various aspects of a cohesive video game.

Science

1. I remember doing this experiment in high school physics, but we used small model cars and glass bubbles with a little bit of water in them.  The video’s a good illustration of a fluid dynamics problem, and the guy who made the video is pretty engaging to watch.  He has a whole channel where he produces science-related videos.  There was some interesting debate on the original article where I found this video about the fact that the host, Destin, has trained his children to refer to him as “Sir.”  Anyone who’s from the American South would just shrug and note that many Southerners teach their children that using honorifics like Sir and Ma’am is just part of good manners.  For people who weren’t familiar with the practice, there was a lot of bristling.

For my part, I was more concerned with the fact that Destin appears to be an evangelical Christian.  It’s fantastic that he’s so interested in science education, and his videos really are very engaging, but I’m left with questions about his mindset.  There are a few moments in the balloon video where Destin takes a patronizing tone with his kids, or he dismisses their genuine curiosity about a scientific phenomenon (like the helium trick at the end of the video) with a flip non-explanation.  Also, and this is a concern that may be irrelevant since we’re talking about pretty basic educational videos, what is Destin’s attitude towards evolutionary explanations for biological phenomena?  From what I’ve gathered looking at a few of his videos, he seems to have a background in aeronautics, which may explain why he focuses on topics related primarily to physics.

2. Vaccines are good.  Get them.

Writing

1. I’m not going to link you to TV Tropes, because that’s a despicable thing to do to readers who may have a lot they need to get done.  Instead, I’m going to link you to the Periodic Table of Storytelling.  Just don’t click on anything.

Miscellaneous

1. There’s an interesting article at the Atlantic this week arguing that Disney has been offering ongoing support to the LGBTQ community for decades as an explanation for the apparently pro-gay reading that many people have had of FrozenI only saw the film once, and I honestly didn’t even make a connection between the plot and the struggles of an LGBTQ person (although in hindsight I suppose it should have been more obvious; I made some jokes about superheroes, and that genre is rife with allegory and metaphor about oppressed minorities).  It’s a good article, and I can see the case that the writer’s making.  On the flip side of that though, there was also a post at the io9 sub-blog (is that a thing?  I’m declaring it a thing) Animation questioning whether Disney is really pro-gay, or if, being a corporate entity with the goal of making as much money as possible, it’s simply casting a very wide net in terms of its messaging in order to appeal to the largest demographic.  Given the history of the company and Walt Disney’s own vision of creating a culture that was so pristinely inoffensive that everyone would aspire to join it, I’m inclined to go with the latter reading (although being pro-acceptance is still a laudable message).

2. As a public educator, I don’t want any more firearms inside school buildings (or in most public places for that matter).  My ultimate boss in the Georgia state government, Nathan Deal, disagrees.  I think my boss is a moron.

Some Stuff That’s Nifty (4/20/14)

It’s Easter and National Stoner’s Day (as my students so love to remind me).  Make of that conflation what you will.

Faith

1. Fred Clark writes about why he still claims the evangelical identity.  I admire his resolve, but for myself there’s too much of the identity wrapped up in a particular political stance.

2. Richard Beck: “There is the simple intellectual recognition that faith is provisional, and then there is the cognitive and emotional obsession over that fact. There is a doubt that doesn’t bring about negative mood, and then there is the ruminative doubt that creates or exacerbates depression and anxiety.”

Feminism

1. John Scalzi is a very intelligent writer, and I very much enjoy following his blog.  This recent post about the background bigotry that we’re all guilty of and how it turns into overt bigotry is really good, and I recommend you read it.  Yes, you.

2. As a white, fairly middle class person, I have somewhat varied tastes in food.  My coworkers complained very vocally last year when I said we were going to eat sushi for my birthday.  I told them to deal with it, because when we eat out, it’s usually at places with very limited options and lots of really greasy food, and I wanted to eat what I like for my birthday.  That’s all fair and in good fun, because I get along with my coworkers and we’re all adults who accept that we have different tastes in food.  Also, we’re empowered to eat what we like because we’re, y’know, grown-ups.  This article highlights an issue with how extracurriculars tend to be run at schools nowadays.  I remember pretty clearly from my days in marching band that it was the parents who could afford to donate their free time instead of working extra shifts to pay their families’ bills who did all the volunteer work for us.  They were a great group who went the extra mile to make sure marching band was fun for us students.  They also understood something that I think the parents highlighted in that article fail to remember: there can be huge economic diversity in an extracurricular, and it’s never a good idea to try to impose your own tastes on the realities that the students have to deal with.  If you can afford to help them, that’s fantastic; they are grateful.  Just don’t alienate them with sushi and spring rolls when it’s your job to feed them something simple and nourishing.  Leave that to messing with your coworkers.

3. I didn’t do policy debate when I was in college, but the debate society that I participated in did put an emphasis on a specific kind of oratory.  I find this article fascinating because it highlights a tension between the traditional values of order and decorum that my debate society prized in public speaking and a more recent trend towards highly theatrical oratory that’s not typically “white.”

Fun

Surly Link Is A Terrific Video Game Figure

Surly Link is Best Link. (Image credit: Kotaku)

1. Edgar Allan Poe is getting a statue in Boston.  The model features Poe doing a badass walk while a heart and a bunch of papers spill out of his suitcase behind him.  If anyone ever makes a scale model that could sit comfortably on a desk, I’d seriously consider buying it.

2. It’s not that I really like Frozen or anything.  It’s just that this video makes the same joke about super powers that I did in my post about that movie, and it tickles me.  Also, I feel like Wolverine singing Broadway is on the verge of becoming a major internet meme.

3. Bob Ross was a phenomenon before my time.  I mean, I get the schtick: the white man afro, the soothing voice, the happy little trees.  I can see how that could be pretty cool.  This remix video of Ross is really cool.

4. Myers-Briggs personality types mapped to Disney characters.  It’s fun, if completely unscientific (and there is absolutely no reason to read into the fact that my personality type matches up with Elsa from Frozen).

5. What happens when Bill Shatner travels back in time to kill Bill Shakespeare (in LEGO)?  Action Bill.

6. I enjoy the Harry Potter series, but I’m not a gigantic fan like a lot of people.  Nonetheless, I am very impressed with the polish on this fan project: Hogwarts is Here.  It’s a website where you can sign up to take free classes as a Hogwarts student and do actual homework for actual grades.

7. Screen caps from a 1974 book that explained to children how to do magic.  Not having lived through the ’70s myself, all I can conclude from artifacts like this are that it was a weird decade.

Gaming

1. The culture surrounding Islam is an interesting and often alien one to Western audiences.  This essay highlights some concepts in the aesthetic of Islamic artwork that could make for some really nifty innovations in game design.

2. For your weekly Minecraft here’s some 3D printed models of a guy’s Minecraft creations.  Yes, you can now have 3D printed models made of stuff you build in Minecraft.

Science

1. I posted this bit of news on Facebook when I first saw it, but I’m adding it in here as well just because I think this is too cool.  I try to donate blood as often as I can (and if you’re eligible you should do the same), and advances like this are a really big deal.  Yes, it may mean that someday I don’t get to go have free cookies every couple months in exchange for a bodily fluid that I’m constantly producing anyway (although realistically I think that’s doubtful; donated blood is almost certainly always cheaper to obtain than blood that must be bought), but I think that’s a small price to pay for better medical technology.

2. Scientists have discovered a bug in South America whose females have a never before seen sexual organ that they’ve termed a gynosome.  That’s cool.  What’s not cool is describing the discovery as “females with penises!”  The only similarity between the two organs is that they’re inserted into the mate.  There’s a good rant over at io9 to go along with that point.

Walk Humbly: Power and Presentation

All posts in this series refer to the conversation found here.

“My understanding is also that he would not be so literally offensive (in the sense of attacking, on the offence) when actually talking to a non-believer.”

Damon writes here about the attitude of the speaker, Voddie Baucham, in the video that he shared with me about the trustworthiness of the New Testament (though the video claims to be about why the Bible as a whole is trustworthy, it only really discusses the New Testament in depth).  I previously made the point in our conversation that Baucham has a triumphalist tone when he’s discussing common concerns he encounters from non-Christians when he’s trying to proselytize and how excited he is to catch them in logical fallacies (I think the fallacies he calls them on are rather absurd and deal in false equivocation, but that’s beside the point), and that tone rubs me the wrong way.

To put it another way, I find it dismaying when a Christian says that they like to be in the position of power in relation to a non-Christian (for a fuller exploration of why this kind of eagerness for power is problematic, check out this article by Richard Beck).  That is bald-faced anti-Christ talk right there, and it makes me angry to hear that kind of bullying nonsense promoted by anyone who’s supposed to be a disciple of Jesus.

Damon points out that the attitude Baucham takes in his lecture stems from understanding his audience.  When you speak to your in-group, you are free to use all the jargon and communicative shorthand you like because you can assume your audience’s familiarity with such things.  That’s a reasonable thing to do, and a good rhetorical strategy.  My complaint is that Baucham’s not just dealing in jargon, but that he’s saying that he’s going to treat people not like him differently.  He’s going to argue with them; he’s going to try to catch them in logical pitfalls; he’s going to win.

Say it with me now:

That is bad evangelism.

It’s bad evangelism because, like I said last time, you need to care about the person you’re speaking to.  They need to be viewed as a fellow human being fully deserving of your respect and attention.  You can’t do that if you cultivate an attitude that you’ll be polite to their face, but behind their back you’ll joke with your friends about how you can catch them off guard and gloat about the way you can steer your conversations with them.  That kind of attitude is all about presenting a false face to a target while saving your real face for the in-crowd.  It’s the attitude of a used car salesman.  Nobody likes or trusts used car salesmen.

In fact, now that I think on the used car salesman analogy, it helps throw into better relief that answer I’ve been contemplating to Damon’s question about the purpose of Baucham’s addressing straw men in his lecture (“Why would one waste their time defending against imagined opponents?”).  The obvious answer is because knocking down straw men makes a clever speaker look smarter without putting in any real effort.  The more insidious answer is that Baucham is not a used car salesman intent on fast talking non-Christians into buying a sleek, slightly used Jesus, but the motivational speaker for a group of used car salesmen who is trying to sell them on his methods for selling all the sleek, slightly used Jesuses to non-Christians.  He’s lying to both his in-group and his out-group.

Perhaps that’s going too far in my assessment of Baucham’s intentions; I don’t know anything about the man beyond what I’ve observed in one video, so these suspicions may be unwarranted.  However, I think it betrays a certain naivete on Damon’s part that he wouldn’t question the intentions of someone who makes a living by telling people how they can better sell their product to others.

If I’ve gathered anything from reading that article by Beck that I linked above, it’s that Christians should not be actively seeking power, especially in relation to non-Christians.  If we happen to have power then yes, we need to use it responsibly, but we shouldn’t be looking to impose a hierarchy of “I’m right; you’re wrong” on people who disagree with us (especially when we’re trying to persuade them to see the merits of our position).  We shouldn’t be talking amongst ourselves as though outsiders are less than us, all the while stroking our consciences with fervent reassurances that we’d never be that offensive to their faces, that regardless of what heathens they are we’ll treat them better than that.  That kind of behavior breeds assholes.

And no one wants to listen to an asshole, no matter how polite they may be to your face.

Justice League Part 2: Dealing with Cherem

In my first entry of this series, I explained a little bit about the difficulties that come along with reading Judges for theological instruction (primarily the dissonance between the modern Christian exhortation to embrace grace in all situations as a demonstration of faith and the author’s opinion that the Israelites’ faith failed because they chose not to exterminate their neighbors when they moved into Canaan).  In the second, I want to explore briefly an idea that I originally came across while reading Richard Beck a few months ago (here’s the relevant article from him).

Israelites Carried Captive, illustration from ...

Israelites Carried Captive, illustration from the 1890 Holman Bible (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In his original post, Beck examines the Book of Joshua and considers an interpretation that might allow him to read the book about the Israelites’ conquest of Canaan in a nonviolent way.  There’s a lot of good stuff there, and it’s definitely worth your time to read the whole post, but what I primarily got out of it was an understanding of the Hebrew concept of cherem.

Cherem, to be brief, is a dedication of everything within a city that the Israelites conquered to God, typically through burning.  This included all living things in the city.  It was supposed to be a kind of purification where the city was made habitable for the Israelites after everything that was considered unclean had been destroyed.

This is an idea that first appears in Leviticus (cf. 27:28) but what we find reading through the Old Testament is that it didn’t remain something that was considered an essential practice of faith.  Perhaps most famously we have the passage from Hosea where God tells Israel, “I desire mercy, not sacrifice, and acknowledgment of God rather than burnt offerings.”  Over time, the Israelites’ understanding of God’s character changed to recognize this preference for inclusion over othering (a sentiment that actually is laid out rather clearly in Leviticus 19:33-34), and in later parts of the Old Testament (like Hosea) cherem receives some harsh criticism.

Despite this, we still have to contend with the author’s insistence that the Israelites were unfaithful in allowing their neighbors to live.  Judges does not reference cherem explicitly, but I read this book’s connection with Joshua, where it is a practice the Israelites engage in as part of their military campaign, as a suggestion that the author would have preferred if Israel had maintained this practice in settling Canaan.  Consequently, I think the only gracious way to read the author’s intent in Judges is through the lens of a theodicy; the author wanted to explain why Israel was currently suffering under foreign rulers, and the best explanation they could find when looking back through the nation’s history was that Israel had failed to maintain its cultural purity, which they expressed through a narrative that shows Israel repeatedly falling away from its faith.

Going back to what I mentioned in my last post, this is why I think it’s important to try to separate human and divine intent when studying the Bible.  I believe that God’s character is unchanging and eternally good, while human attitudes do evolve with time and context.  Confusing the writer’s anguish over being trapped in an oppressive situation (which they try to explain by casting blame on their ancestors’ decision not to commit genocide every time they met new tribes) and God’s desire for his people to flourish is hazardous, and I think it can lead to a warped understanding of God’s character that legitimizes the maintenance of in- and out-groups.

Next time I’ll get into the actual narratives of the judges and talk a little bit about the cycle that the book employs in making its theological point about faithfulness.

Some Stuff That’s Nifty 8/11/13

Finished the first week of school, and we’re off to a good start to the year!  Here’s what I’ve seen happening this week:

Fiction

Schrodinger's Cat

Schrodinger’s Cat (Photo credit: jieq)

1. From 300 Stories, a super short piece that toys with quantum superposition.  If you understand the thought experiment Schrodinger’s Cat, then you’ll enjoy the joke.

2. A cinematic short about a girl who controls everything and her boyfriend, whom she makes come rescue her.  I don’t quite get the point of it, but the filming is beautiful.

3. I’ve been really short on time this week (that’s probably going to be normal for the time being), so I have not read this story yet and can’t speak to its quality, but it’s advertised as an unusual superhero story.  Once I get a free half hour, I’m going to look at it.

4. I’ve forgotten about this in the past, but once a month i09 features a short story from the latest issue of Lightspeed magazine for free.  This month’s entry is “The Knight of Chains, The Deuce of Stars” by Yoon Ha Lee.

Religion

1. At Experimental Theology, Richard Beck links to the commencement speech given by George Saunders at Syracuse University this year.  If you haven’t read it yet, then be prepared.  It will make your eyes sweat.

2. From Slacktivist a link round-up that had so many good articles I wasted an entire evening going through them.  I couldn’t pick just one to pass on, so just go there and click on pretty much anything in the list; you’ll come across something cool.

3. From Theoblogy Tony Jones talks about why it’s important to encourage children to ask hard questions when we educate them about faith.

4. ForgedImagination writes at Defeating the Dragons about her experience with absurd fundamentalist rules growing up, and how it was the motivation behind the rules that was the truly damaging part of the culture.

5. Morgan Guyton’s finished up his series on 5 verses God’s tattooed on his heart.  I thought the last one was outstanding, but the entire series is good, and you should give it a read.

Gaming

1. Ash (Not from Pallet Town) at i09‘s Observation Deck came across a demo reel for a pitch that the same studio who made the animated TMNT movie made for a Legend of Zelda film.  It looks very pretty, so give it a watch.

2. The Artificial Selection Project has started up a conversation about Anita Sarkeesian’s recent videos on Tropes vs. Women in Video Games.  Unlike a lot of conversations I’ve seen (I’m looking at you, Kotaku comment section!), this one’s trying to take a look at the issues Sarkeesian’s raising without dismissing her out of hand.  Also, as someone pointed out in the comments there, remember that a trope is not the same thing as a cliche; tropes can be good, but cliches are always bad.

3. This game’s not done yet, but it looks really good.  The Novelist is about a ghost who’s trying to help a writer balance his work and his family.  The underlying idea is that it’s not possible to finish the game and have the writer succeeding with his work, his wife, and his son, so the player has to make value judgments on what they think is most important.

Science

1. The Atlantic published an interview with psychiatrist Christine Montross this week, that has some very interesting insights into the world of intensive therapy.  Some of her stories remind me of situations I’ve encountered at my job working with children who suffer from psychological illnesses.  It’s a good read.

2. Another piece from The Atlantic, this one about the struggles that people on the autism spectrum have with pursuing romantic relationships.  It raises a good point that in doing behavioral therapy with people on the spectrum who want to better fit in socially, romantic interactions are usually overlooked.

3. It’s probably not actually possible to see impossible colors (otherwise they wouldn’t be impossible), but it’s a fun thought.  Also, definitely play around with the blue and yellow squares embedded in the article; when I crossed my eyes and stared in between them, I saw this weird effect where the illusion square shifted from blue to yellow and back again as my cones got fatigued (or something; I’m not really sure what the actual explanation would be).

4. So there’s quantum mechanics and there’s relativity in physics, and we haven’t figured out yet how to harmonize the two theoretical frameworks.  This is a pretty good primer on why we might be interested in doing that in the first place.

5. Unfortunately, I’m back at work so I can’t stay up all night to watch meteor showers.  However, if you can, here’s some info on how to get the best view of the Perseids, which are supposed to be peaking from early Monday through Tuesday this coming week (8/12-8/13).  Meteor showers are amazing, and I would go do some stargazing if I didn’t have to be at work.  Go see it if you can!

6. I love dystopias.  They’re so much fun for exploring how we can make our world suck more.  I also found this list of seven technologies that will probably never be implemented the way they are in their respective stories to be fun.  Enjoy.

7. Not all grapes are spherical.

8. A polar bear wandered over 200 miles out of its normal territory looking for food because the ice flows it relied on to catch seals were not there this year.  It starved to death.

Comics

1. From i09‘s Observation Deck, MyDearPeaBody delivers an excellent rant against male comic book writers who recently made comments to the effect that comics are not for girls–especially not superhero comics.

Movies

1. Real-world Wall-E robot.

TV

1. Rachael and I are really looking forward to Breaking Bad starting back up.  It’s such good television.  If you’re all caught up, then feel free to check out this summary of the first four and a half seasons in middle school musical form (it’s even kid friendly!).

To Do With Friends

1. Dr. Frood shared a fun game to play with your friends when you’re hanging out but have run out of things to say.  I would probably ban cars with their standard mufflers removed so that they sound louder, and I would require everyone to spend fifteen minutes reading something every day (internet videos do not count).

2. This is kind of a lopsided water balloon fight.  I’d want to be on the winning side.

Cool Pictures

1. Photographer Fong Qi Wei has put together a series of photos that show the passage of time in a very unique way.  It’s hard to describe in words, so just follow the link to see what I’m talking about.

2. Children wearing watermelons.

3. Researchers caught a shark that was promptly eaten by another shark.

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

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.