Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Thoughts on Day of the Doctor, Part III: Regenerations and Beyond

 (Here's another warning: more spoilers, folks. Do not enter unless you've seen the Fiftieth!)

As if Gallifrey wasn't enough, there are a huge amount of loose ends still in need of resolution. I can't find every one, of course, but there are a few really big ones that deserve a look.

First things first:

1) What's up with the Fourth Doctor?

I've already touched on this some in my previous posts, but there are all sorts of mysteries surrounding the appearance of a previous Doctor – an old version of him called “The Curator”. (And in case anyone was wondering, the scarf that the one girl was wearing was, in fact, given to her by the Curator.) And he implied, also, that the Doctor would be revisiting some “old favorites”—are there more Classic Doctors in our future?

Or, for that matter...a modern one? Although the Ninth Doctor declined to be in the Fiftieth, if there was some reorganization in the BBC and Doctor Who changed producers and head writers, there might be a possibility of his return. Revisiting old faces could be the perfect excuse for a cameo. It's a long shot (and, if we look at reality and precedent, completely impossible), but seeing Nine on the screen again would be worth a stretch of the imagination.

I've got a pretty good hunch that Four's appearance has something to do with Capaldi appearing twice before in Doctor Who. Moffat says that Davies had planted the Capaldi idea in previous seasons, and the idea will pan out over several more seasons. Perhaps the whole “old Doctor” thing has something to do with his regeneration limit. We may yet get some more hints this Christmas!

Which brings me to another point:

2) Eleven is about to die, there's a regeneration limit, and the Silence and Trenzalore will both be featuring in “Time of the Doctor”. Whoa!

Although I much prefer Davies's approach to the Doctor's regeneration—he started foreshadowing the Tenth Doctor's death in the middle of Series Four and gave Ten an epic and monumental two-part special to say farewell—this year's Christmas special is shaping up to be packed. Hopefully as the Eleventh Doctor's life draws to a close, we'll get some final resolution in his story arc: Silence Will Fall.

The Name of the Doctor mentioned the Valeyard. Could it be that the Doctor's dark side, the man between “his twelfth and final regeneration”, will also have a part to play in the special? Some people claim that John Hurt doesn't count as a Doctor and that Eleven is still Eleven; others claim that Hurt and Tennant's metacrisis fiasco count as regenerations, and that Eleven is actually the Thirteenth Doctor. We'll see!

And then the episode takes place on Trenzalore. Trenzalore is supposed to be the place where the Doctor dies; does he actually die there, and what about the battle that supposedly takes place? And if he doesn't die there, what's up with the giant dying TARDIS and the Doctor's time-travel “scar tissue”?

If that's not enough, Moffat is supposed to be addressing the regeneration limit, too. Like I said, it looks like this Christmas is going to be packed!

3) What about River Song?

While River has seen two regenerations of the Doctor, she really seems like an Eleventh Doctor “companion”, if she can be called that. The Name of the Doctor could work as her last episode, but everyone agrees that we need more resolution than that. Forest of the Dead was a perfect ending; but Moffat didn't leave her there and went beyond, leaving us with no end in sight. Does she just keep popping up now and then? Or does she have one last part to play before leaving the Doctor's story once and for all?

My hope is that she'll make a brief appearance in the Christmas special to see Eleven off, and that their stories will end...together. It could be wonderful and sad.

But what about after Christmas?

4) The Capaldi Era is coming. What new stuff could it bring?

Almost every Whovian is looking forward to the Twelfth Doctor, Peter Capaldi. Gallifrey was a “seismic shift” in Doctor Who, but Capaldi is no less momentous. For once, the media is going against the grain: he's not young and attractive, unlike the Doctors of the last seven years.

And really, he looks intense. Old and somewhat grizzled, he brings John Hurt's Doctor to mind—and I definitely wouldn't mind a sensible and grumpy old fellow as the Doctor. Some of Nine's intensity and angst would be wonderful, too. Matt Smith was a fairy-tale Doctor, a young guy in a bowtie traveling through space and time with his magic box. Perhaps Capaldi could once again embody the sci-fi of the show: an ancient Time Lord traveling through the crazy and wonderful universe in his incredible time-travel machine.

If the BBC goes against the grain now, what other things might they do in the future? Non-modern companions, perhaps? Non-romantic companions? Male companions? Or even aged companions? (Dude, bring back Wilf already!) There's only so many things you can do with young women traveling with a guy in a blue box. If Doctor Who's producers broadened their horizons and looked beyond the stereotypes that it has developed in the last eight years, they could do a lot of awesome things.

Or, for that matter, they could start focusing less on convoluted plots (I'm looking at you, Moffat) and more on character development. Viewers like to laugh and they like to be shocked. Good character development is more subliminal and not as easily recognizable—but, in the end, makes the story better than the most hilarious one-liners.

4) Clara's got to leave sometime.

Speaking of character development, can somebody direct the character development gun at Clara? She's painfully underdeveloped. What's wonderful is when you make a character hurt, when you give them awful dilemmas and make them choose. So far, the only thing Clara has really done is flirt, retort, and save the Doctor a thousand times. I appreciate the self-sacrifice of her action, but she needs more substance. She's just kind of...there.

It's a bit early to start thinking about her departure, especially since Moffat's last companions stayed for two and a half seasons, but still. What would be ideal would be for her to stick with Capaldi for a season and get developed like nobody's business. Then, she dies, or something equally horrible, and we get room for a Time Lord companion.

Maybe I'm just working her arc into my own preferences, but my point still stands. Having her on board at the same time as a new companion could work, too. There's precedence for it in Classic Who!

Whatever happens, it looks like the BBC has enough material to run Doctor Who for ten more seasons. Here's to hoping we get some resolution soon.

And a Time Lord companion!

Thoughts on Day of the Doctor, Part II: Gallifrey

(In case you didn't expect spoilers, here's a warning: this post is chock full of them.)

David Tennant, when speaking of Day of the Doctor, said that it was a “seismic shift” in the history of Doctor Who, taking it in an entirely “new direction”.

And I have to agree with him. Bringing back Gallifrey is a seismic shift – for seven seasons, the Doctor has suffered from what he thought was his decision to destroy his own people. Now, as it turns out, he didn't make that decision after all, and Gallifrey is still out there somewhere, along with the war-torn remnants of his people.

It wasn't badly foreshadowed, either. The first hour of Day of the Doctor set up Gallifrey's return perfectly. And it makes me wonder whether Davies had this idea too, or whether Moffat just utilized the subplots that he found. The Time War has been set up as far back as the second episode of “NuWho”, the End of the World. (“There was a war. A Time War.”) And the fact that the Doctor still had to come to terms with his decision has been sowed since Doomsday, which aired seven years ago: “I was there, at the Fall of Arcadia. I fought on the front lines. Someday I may come to terms with it.”

Properly viewed, Day of the Doctor was the culmination of seven seasons of Doctor Who. While it was definitely not as dark or dramatic or huge as anyone expected, “Gallifrey Falls – No More” is more than enough to make up for the rest of the episode.

But where will the show be going now, and what are the ramifications if and when Gallifrey returns?

1) The Doctor is no longer the last of the Time Lords – and that's going to bring a lot of new vigor to the show.

Time Lords bring, quite literally, a whole new world of possibilities to the show, including more of a “Classic Who” feel, since the old seasons featured Time Lords quite often – as enemies, friends, and even companions.

Something I've wanted for a long while is a non-modern companion: a Time Lord companion would be a thousand times better, and it has precedent. It's happened before; why can't it happen again?

And with the Time Lords back, the Doctor's role will definitely change – there are a thousand possibilities. Could the Doctor be held accountable for stealing the Moment? What about regeneration limits? (That one apparently won't be featuring prominently, at least for the Doctor, since Moffat has promised that the Doctor's regeneration limit will be addressed in Time of the Doctor.) Or the fact that the majority of the Time Lords were corrupted by years of war? What sort of things might the Doctor have to stop them from doing? And what's up with Rassilon, anyway? He's certainly not dead – he was sent back to Gallifrey in The End of Time. Is he the immortal Time Lord from The Five Doctors, or is he just a namesake?

Speaking of The End of Time, that leads into my next point...

2) The Master could be coming back – and soon.

In The End of Time, the Master threw Rassilon and the Time Lords back into the Time War, and presumably went with them. With Gallifrey still alive, the council of Time Lords is still at large, and so is the Master. (The council's work was mentioned briefly in the Day of the Doctor: “the council is making its own plans”, as one Time Lord said to another in Arcadia.)

Until now, the prospect of bringing back the Master seemed like a convenient “Oh, looks like he's not dead after all” thing, like the Daleks. But with Gallifrey back, the Master's reappearance will be easy and organic. No need to force a plot twist there!

And let's get a regeneration, while we're at it. A regenerated – or even better, incognito – Master would be a plot twist and a half.

3) Could there be resolution for The End of Time in the future?

Russell T. Davies had a penchant for throwing in foreshadowing, even when he wasn't going to use it. The End of Time is a prime example: to this day, there are unanswered questions. Who were the two “dissenters” who refused to comply with Rassilon's decision? What did Rassilon mean by his Weeping Angels reference? Who was the woman in white who kept helping Wilf throughout the episode?

With Gallifrey back, these questions could easily be answered, or expanded into plot twists and new characters.

4) Time Lord technology could literally open up whole new universes.

In “Rise of the Cybermen”, the Tenth Doctor mentioned that travel between parallel universes was possible with Time Lord technology. But since Gallifrey was gone, so was the ability to travel to other universes.

But with Gallifrey back, travel between universes could be possible again. This may mean that the Doctor could revisit one universe in particular: the one where Rose Tyler is living with the Metacrisis Doctor. What happened to them? What if they had children? Could those children have unknown abilities? In a deleted scene, the Doctor gave Metacrisis a piece of the TARDIS so he could grow his own; is that still canon, and if so, what sort of possibilities does that bring?

Parallel universes aren't the only things that might be found with Time Lord technology. More TARDISes, for one thing. What do those look like?

Like I said, bringing Gallifrey back opens universes of possibilities. Moffat has a lot of material to work with!

But what about the other loose ends? I'll be addressing those in my next post.

Until then, what did you think about Day of the Doctor? Did you see any implications that I missed? Let me know.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Foolish Hopes

It seems that every person who follows the industries of film and books and music has foolish hopes. Foolish hopes are those impossible things that you wish that could happen but almost never do happen.

I have my own foolish hopes. Quite a few, actually.

For instance, one of my most foolish hopes is that, someday, the film industry will produce something that is both clean and well-made.

The movies that are clean tend to lack in other areas, such as in plot, character development, and so on. The prime example of this is in children's movies. While there have been some brilliant movies directed toward younger audiences (How To Train Your Dragon and Megamind, for instance) the tendency is to recycle the same story-lines over and over, wedded with new “ideas”. What the film industry doesn't seem to realize is that the ideas don't make the story; the story makes the story.

And children's movies lack a certain amount of depth, as well. You can only go so far in exploring deeper themes when you are limited to a child audience.

The movies that are “well-made” tend not to be clean. Gratuitous violence and suggestive content are all over in movies targeted towards adults. There are, however, some stunning exceptions. The Lord of the Rings is a good one. Another one is Ender's Game, a newer movie that stands as a beacon of what the film industry can do. There is no suggestive content, and you can count on one hand the amount of curse words that were used, all of which were mild. Best of all, it has an incredible and remarkably deep storyline.

What if more movies like Ender's Game were made? What if Hollywood, for once, experimented in “clean”, and yet deep, stories? The result could be wonderful.

Here's another foolish hope of mine: that someday, someone will remake the French play Cyrano de Bergerac. So far, nothing has come close to beating the 1950 black-and-white version. And indeed, beating it would be hard even if the producers of a modern version were strict purists. But sometimes I wonder what it would be like if someone made a long epic of a movie out of the play, with incredible actors, stunning cinematography, and a screenwriter committed to preserving the original text of the play. It would be beautiful.

The trend is there. Les Miserables, like Cyrano de Bergerac, is an old French piece of literature – and it turned out to be a success. Perhaps Cyrano could make it back on the screen one day, providing that he was properly adapted. No adaption is better than a bad adaption.

Also, while we're wish-granting, how about a three-volume leather-bound set of the Complete Works of G. K. Chesterton? No such collection even exists, much less in a three-volume set. And a shiny, new, high-quality hardcover of the Hooker translation of Cyrano de Bergerac would be pretty cool too.

What about you? Do you have any foolish hopes for the various “story” industries? A movie you'd like to see made? A book you'd like to see in an awesome edition?  Comment and let me know.  

'Cause sometimes dreams have to come before reality can follow.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Thoughts on Day of the Doctor, Part I: Pulling Off 50 Years

As I write this, it has been less than eleven hours since I saw The Day of the Doctor, Doctor Who's 50th Anniversary special.

I wasn't quite sure what I was expecting, but what I got was not what I expected.

What happened first is that I wobbled in my chair and waved my hands around crazily. The source of this sudden seizure was that the episode's starting credits were the original title sequence—smoky black-and-white stuff with a modern Doctor Who and BBC logo. Then came another nod to the old series; the school at which Clara was teaching was in some way connected with one of the original companions, Ian. I don't know a whole lot about Classic, but I suspect it's the same school that the Doctor's granddaughter went to all those years ago.

It was a good start to an episode that was celebrating 50 years of Doctor Who history.

And the episode went on, introducing Queen Elizabeth I, Zygons, Daleks, and the Moment in the guise of Rose Tyler. (Some fans might have been disappointed that the real Rose wasn't actually in the episode. I wasn't particularly bothered by it. Rose wasn't a bad companion, but her storyline had ended, and I was glad they kept it that way.)

There are three major problems of the Moffat Era: one, bad pacing and/or plotting; two, “bizarre” plot-lines; and three, bad foreshadowing. The first problem is seen most prominently in episodes such as A Good Man Goes to War, The Wedding of River Song, The Snowmen, and The Name of the Doctor. “Bizarre” plot-lines are also seen in those episodes, particularly in The Wedding of River Song. And finally, bad foreshadowing is seen in such episodes as A Good Man Goes to War.

I was pleasantly surprised to find that Day of the Doctor didn't suffer from any of these problems. The pacing throughout the episode was very well done and none of it felt rushed, and it wasn't any more bizarre than any other Doctor Who episode out there.

But as the episode began to draw to a close, I started to panic. At one point we stopped for a bathroom break and we only had twenty minutes left in the episode. The Zygons were just about defeated, but the Time War problem still loomed. “So far it's good,” I told my friend, “but Moffat needs to kick it into gear if he's going to shoot this thing up to epic.”

Two minutes further into the episode, and I began to relax a little bit. We finally got to the great Time War dilemma and things were starting to draw to a close.

And that's when he did it. What happened then was one of the most brilliant things Moffat has ever done in Doctor Who.

And the best part was that it was perfectly foreshadowed. The whole bit about the Zygons was, as one of the Doctors put it, the exact part of their timestream that they needed to see in order to make their decision properly.

Then they did it: they brought back Gallifrey, and all of the Doctors.

And when Nine appeared on the screen, if for two brief and fantastic seconds, I fell back in my chair and my friend fell off of his chair and crashed to the ground.

It was so well done that I am still marveling about it right now. Sure, the episode isn't perfect—I would have preferred a darker and more gritty type of episode. It was a little too light and it concentrated a little too long on the Zygons, but other than that I have no qualms.

Then the end—the end! Gallifrey was saved, and all thirteen Doctors!

And leave it to Moffat to top himself—not only did he do that, but he brought in Peter Capaldi for an instant, and started foreshadowing for Capaldi's run. 

Whatever is going to happen next, I'm more than ready for it

But what will the next part of Doctor Who history be like, exactly?  I'll dig a little deeper into the implications of Day of the Doctor for Capaldi's coming era, and more specifically, how Day of the Doctor ties in to The End of Time, in my next post.

Until then—allons-y!

Thursday, November 14, 2013

On Waking Up to a Rooster

To the careful observer, a rooster is one of two things to the sleeping person: either he is an idyllic wake-up call, or an alarm clock from hell.

Roosters worked as alarm clocks in the old days, if rural legends are to be believed. (That brings up the question of what a rural legend is, and whether it is made up by people who don't actually live in rural areas.) According to legend, the arcane rooster, at the exact moment when dawn breaks, feels in his bones that he ought to crow, and crows loudly, consistently giving the happy farmer something to wake up to.

This may or may not be true. I wouldn't know, since I have never been a happy farmer, although I have been happy and I have lived on a farm; the roosters, however, disappeared long ago.

However, I have a number of reputable sources informing me of just how inerrant the divine rooster is, such as the various Disney movies and local farm stereotypes.

Sadly, society evolved past the delightful custom of owning a rooster, and instead substituted mechanical alarms. I am unconvinced that this is the better alternative, since the only snooze button available to the rooster is the chopping block. And besides, a “cockle-doodle-do” is much easier on the ears than incessant beeping, and tends to foster a warm sense of rustic value, something that is lacking in today's postmodern society.

However, it is also my duty to inform you that not all roosters produce this pastoral appeal. While I trust the fables of my home turf, roosters change from continent to continent. In Africa, for instance, it is apparently a custom to starve your roosters so that their melodious crow degenerates into a cross between a screaming baby and a dying cow.

This accentuates the mental instability of both the roosters and their owners. As a result of their conditions, African roosters have lost their sense of time and thus crow at intervals throughout the day. Several times I've been startled to find my neighbor's rooster waddling up to my back door and screaming a “cockle-doodle-do” at my back before returning to his quest for moldy rice in the nearby trash pit.

If you are in the unfortunate position of having been asleep when one of those roosters is waltzing by, my recommendation is to wear earmuffs, particularly if you are on the top bunk of a bunk-bed. The mosquito net is useful for keeping mosquitoes out but not as useful at keeping you in when an unexpected caterwaul sends you flying off your bed in panic.

With this in mind, please be careful in your selection of a rooster, making sure that it is thoroughly American and well-fed. With a rooster, you too can feel like a happy American farmer living the rustic life.

And if, for some bizarre reason, you are dissatisfied with your purchase, eating the rooster is always an option.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

What's the Point of Education?

A provocative title like this needs a bit of explanation. I'm not asking a rhetorical question, with the implication that there is no point in education. I'm asking what the real point of education is, the goal of the thing.

With that out of the way, let us ask ourselves, “What is the practical point of education?”

First, education is about letting a kid know a little bit about a lot of things. Even if he'll never go to China or meet a Chinese person (which is unlikely in our increasingly multi-cultural society), he'll at least know where China is and some of its history, so that if China becomes important in some way in his life, he'll know something about it.

Second, education is about learning to understand how the world works, both scientifically, socially, and otherwise.

Third, (and this one, I think, is the main point), education is about preparing people for life. This takes on a variety of forms.

a) Education should prepare a person for what they want to do in life—that is, their job.
b) Education should prepare a person for what they will encounter in life—like, for instance, basic math skills needed for things like money matters.
c) Education should prepare a person to communicate and interact effectively in society.

I think that pretty much covers it.

The reason I bring this up is because, before something is done, you should first understand why it is done. When something becomes about the method rather than the reason behind the method, then the method can stray from its original purpose.

So maybe that's a little confusing. Let me explain, in the context of education.

What has happened to education, in almost all forms, is that education has become the end rather than the means. Education is the “method” to helping children become adults who are equipped to face the world. But today the point of education, it seems, is education.

If this is true, that education has become the end rather than the means, then there should be certain results.

First, that education will be more about tangible results rather than intangible knowledge. This will mean that the focus will shift from people to statistics, and that the new “method” of education will heavily involve the measuring of those statistics.

Second, that people will view education as a necessity, resulting in people who go to school for no reason other than to go to school, or people who go to college for no other reason besides going to college.

These results are exactly what we see in today's education. Schools are rated by their statistics; if they produce kids who have “good grades”, they are a good school. This is also why testing is apparently so important to schools. They're always measuring people to see how well they're doing.

The thing is, if rules are based off of reasons, if the rules break the reasons, you ought to break the rules. In other words, if the point of education is to prepare a kid for life, and education instead inhibits that preparation, then education must be changed.

So here's the deal about our methods of education:

Point number one. Education today is about tangible results instead of intangible knowledge. There is no harm in measuring how well a person is absorbing the knowledge taught in school, but tests have gone far beyond that. Tests become the end rather than the means.

Last year, I had to study to take a chemistry semester test. I studied long and hard and took the test, got a pretty good score. The point of my studying, however, was not to learn more, but to get a good score. This meant that what I understood, right or not, was that tests were not about measuring learning but about scores. (This issue has been given to Third World countries to a more drastic degree. Literally half of the school year where I live in West Africa is comprised of test after test about stuff the students never even learned with textbooks they never had.)

This is the message that is given, whether intentionally or not, by today's education system. Tests are about scores, not learning. Classes are about good school statistics, not knowledge. This, in the end, results in less real learning.

Point number two. This makes education a disturbingly commercial operation, making school function like an assembly line: more efficient and less individualistic. Businesses are all about making more money and achieving higher rates, which makes school sound more and more like a business. And the bad thing about businesses is that they're not afraid to cut corners in order to cut costs and maximize efficiency, which is the last thing you want for a school.

This also means, as much as schools might want to, they cannot minister to each person's individual needs and goals in life. They can provide a flat education. By that, I mean, education that's almost exactly the same for each person, which is not half as effective and limits potential.

This, too, results in less real learning.

Point number three. Education for the point of education results in a waste of money and time. For instance, take college. Some people go to college because society tells them that you basically have to go to college to get anywhere in life.

Remember that the point of education, particularly higher education, is to prepare for life. If that is true, then a person ought to know what they're preparing for when they're going to college. But if college is the end in itself, then people will go to college simply for the experience...which is what has happened to a lot of American teenagers and twenty-somethings. Some people constantly change colleges and change majors because they honestly don't know what they're going to do in life – but the message they've been given is that you've got to go to college if you're going to get anywhere.

And if you don't know where you're going, I wonder how much you're actually learning.

So what are we left with? A system where education itself has become the point of education, whether on purpose or not.

What the education system needs is a way to regain the original point of education, a practical application of what people need in order to be prepared for life and gain knowledge of the world around them.

The paradox is, the most effective way to do this is to get rid of effectiveness. If you're running education like an impersonal business in order to gain effectiveness and efficiency, you're going to lose effectiveness and efficiency, because school has to be personal in order to be effective.

Either school's got to change or Wal-Mart and McDonald's are going to get a steady stream of new employees.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Cold Blue Skies

The human race gets used to things far too easily.

When I came back from Africa this past March, the world seemed to be brighter and newer and shinier than it ever had been before. It was so American that it made me laugh—snow and bare trees and nice roads and friendly white people and cold blue skies.

It was wonderful. Very wonderful. But as time went on, and March passed into April and May, something happened.

America was America. It was so different from Africa, but after a while the contrast between the two began to fade. I grew accustomed to having hot water (that blessed thing) and 24-hour electricity and seeing “white people” every day.

And I find that the more I get accustomed to something, the less I appreciate it and the more I feel entitled to it. Getting “used to” something is, in the end, a bad thing.

And it's not just good things that I get used to. Getting used to bad things is even more dangerous.

Evils such as murder are horrifying and shocking because of their rarity, because we never get used to them. But having lived in a country where corruption is the norm and violence is a given, I can tell you firsthand that getting used to that which is bad only serves to make things worse.

Because when you're used to something, you don't particularly care to change it. After being pulled over for the twentieth time by a so-called policeman, you start wondering if you can ever make a difference. Little by little, we get used to it, we tell ourselves that it's the way things are and we have to just deal with it. And little by little, we stop trying to change it.

Here's the deal: never get used to anything. Never take anything good for granted or anything evil as the norm.

Let every good day be extraordinarily good. The grass is green, and sometimes it feels as if that's all it could be. But if you think about it, it could very well have been brown—so be grateful for green grass! The world is wonderfully new and incredibly old—every day is a new one, and yet nearly the same as the one before.

I said earlier that the more I get accustomed to something, the less I appreciate it. So perhaps the converse is true—maybe you will appreciate something more if you are used to it less.

And let every bad thing be awful. Never get used to it—never let evil be an everyday occurrence, or sin be habitual. Never let it numb you—never let poverty be a fact of life, never let the world's depravity lull you into thinking there's nothing you can do, never let it callous your heart.

Let good be wonderfully good, and let bad be unacceptably evil—and never get used to either.

Friday, August 2, 2013

On Old People

My grandpa's wheat field in May.
There is a problem with modern teens.

Before I get into the problem, however, let me talk about one particular symptom of that problem: a lack of foresight and depth in today's youth.

This mostly deals with the focus of a teenager's life. That is, we tend to think a lot about temporal things. And whether we realize it or not, we have been deceived into thinking that those things have lasting value.

Video games would be a popular example – but before I use it, let me backtrack here and give a whole lot of disclaimers. I'm not trying to guilt anyone into thinking that they shouldn't play video games at all, and I'm not saying that video games are bad things.

But the point stands that video games have no lasting value. They don't contribute to a person's emotional, spiritual, or relational depth, which is one reason why there are quite a few shallow people in the world.

Things like that crop up all the time in a teenager's life. Even conversation, which has the potential for lasting value, can end up being one long string of meaningless blonde jokes.

A preoccupation with temporal things shows that we don't know just how temporal they are. We have the wrong perspective. We can't see into the future far enough to realize that we had better spend our time on better things.

Of course, this symptom can be caused by a number of things, just like nausea can be caused by both malaria and the flu. And in no way am I stating the primary cause of this shallowness; but I think this is one of the causes.

Very simply stated, young people as a whole don't spend enough time with old people. In fact, we spend so little time with them that we think they're boring, and nothing could be further from the truth.

As a rule, actually, old people are far more interesting than young people. Sorry, teenagers, but you guys are flat-out boring compared to the grayhairs that sit at donut shops on Saturday mornings.

You see, “old people” give us perspective on life. They've gone through a whole lot more than we have. They've learned things the hard way; and we won't have to if we listen to them long enough. They know what sort of approaches work in life and what sorts don't. There are so many things that they've learned that we have yet to learn, and we'll get a head start if we learn it from them.

Because a lot of old people, being so much closer to death than we are, have learned quite a few things about life and what's really important. Of course, there are always exceptions, but for the most part there are a lot of giants in the faith that young people tend to forget about.

So if you have to pick one thought to take away, take away this one: spend time with the grayhairs. They have stories to tell if only you listen.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Top Three Foods for Literary Inspiration

Over the years, I've used a variety of methods to help me focus on my writing. One of the methods is to have some sort of food or drink nearby to snack on. Somehow this helps me concentrate—who knows why.

While this could easily turn ugly (sitting at a computer and eating all day is not exactly a recipe for a healthy life), it is, perhaps, a viable method of creating inspiration. At least, I think so.

Or maybe it's just a mental thing.

Without further ado, then, I give to list of top three foods that inspire me while writing!

3) Cheez-Its

A delectable, crackery-snackery food, having a handful of Cheez-Its on hand will perk up the laziest chapter. Or maybe it's just me. Anyway they're delicious.

Just make sure that you take a handful and then put the box away, otherwise you might eat more than you intend to. I speak from experience.

2) Chocolate

Best eaten dark, chocolate is an excellent combination of sugar and cocoa. Sugar for the brain and cocoa for the imagination. (That's not a scientific mixture, by the way. I made that up just now.) The best way to eat it is half a square at a time, letting it melt in your mouth as your fingers tap-tap away at the keyboard. This leaves time for writing and eating at the same time.

Just pop it in quickly, or else you'll get chocolate on the keyboard.

1) Coffee

It's a scientific fact (or so I've heard, anyway) that heat is a vital component to provoking an imagination to action. That's why taking a shower or going on a walk tend to help jog inspiration out of bed.

Thus, coffee is best drank hot, and, like chocolate, dark. Spoiled people like me prefer Starbucks. Sipping on a cup in the morning wakes both you and your imagination with an influx of caffeine.

And yeah, I know, coffee is a drink. But “Top Three Foods and Drink for Literary Inspiration” just sounds awkward.

So there you have it, three resources for you to use to help you write. Maybe they'll work for you, too.

Or maybe not.

But what sorts of food or drink (if any) do you use to provoke inspiration?

Anyway, just remember to use these resources sparingly, especially coffee. I'm about to have my third cup and I'll probably regret it later...but hey, can't let the rest of the pot go to waste, and nobody's drinking it. Yay for me.

Friday, May 24, 2013

"Impossible!" — Thoughts on Series Seven of Doctor Who

(Please be aware that this contains spoilers for most, if not all, parts of Series Seven of Doctor Who.  If you haven't seen it yet, AVOID THIS POST AT ALL COSTS.)

Last Saturday, Doctor Who's Series Seven finished with a flourish.  The hype was pretty big, I'll admit, and the name of the finale episode helped: "The Name of the Doctor".  The final words of the episode left everyone reeling:

SILHOUETTE:  "What I did, I did in the name of peace and sanity."
DOCTOR: "But not in the name of the Doctor."

The last shot revealed the silhouette's face, and words materialized beside the profile: INTRODUCING JOHN HURT AS—THE DOCTOR.

Speculations flew almost as fast as a Moffat plot.  Who was this Doctor?  An unknown regeneration between Eight and Nine, as some leaks seem to hint?  A regeneration before the First Doctor?  The Valeyard from Old Who?

Right now, the likeliest idea is that this sorta-Doctor is a post-Eight pre-Nine regeneration.  Besides the dubious articles running about the Net supporting this theory, the thing that this Doctor "did" is most likely a reference to the Moment that ended the Time War.  This has been greeted with mixed feelings by most.

My own thoughts are this: it CAN be pulled off, if Steven Moffat (head writer of Doctor Who) is very, very clever.  And usually Moffat is.  However, there are some things that worry me:

1) Series Seven was not as good as Moffat's previous seasons.  It seems like the great Whovian may finally be running out of steam.  While he promises that the fiftieth anniversary special will be explosive (and Whovians are ready to believe it, since the Tenth Doctor is returning to reprise his role), this season seemed like "butter scraped over too much bread", to quote the venerable Bilbo Baggins.  While "Asylum of the Daleks" and "The Name of the Doctor" complimented each other, the essential question that was asked in "The Snowmen" —who is Clara Oswald, the impossible girl?—had little resolution until the final episode.  In fact, it could very well have been introduced throughout the season (without Clara becoming a companion) and then resolved in a two-parter, or even a packed one-parter.  (I think the lack of two-part episodes was one of the reasons this season suffered.)  They tried to stretch a shorter plot (Clara's identity) over a long season and it didn't quite work.

(I've heard rumors that Series Eight will be Moffat's last season as head writer.  Is it true?  Who knows.  But I'd definitely consider it as a good change if Moffat doesn't shape up—and if a suitable writer is found to take up the mantle.)

2) There hasn't been half as much resolution as there needs to be.  We essentially had another "Wedding of River Song" cliffhanger—resolving one mystery while introducing yet another.  I think, however, that there are even more loose ends than that episode: the Silence have not been resolved, River Song is still a wild card, and now we have an unknown Doctor on the loose.  "The Doctor doesn't like endings"—and apparently Moffat doesn't either.  The key to a truly satisfying story is introducing a certain amount of resolution in the end, even if there are loose ends, but I think Moffat went a little too far.

That being said, I think that the 50th Anniversary special has a LOT of potential.  (And we need a trailer soon.  Thor:  The Dark World is coming out in November, too, and it's had a trailer out for weeks.)  If Moffat pulls himself together, it could be incredible.

And now, as for Series Seven as a whole, here are my thoughts:

You know, it was a good season.  There weren't any episodes that were really boring.  "Dinosaurs on a Spaceship" was about as close as it got, and what it lacked in plot it made up for in hilarity.  But compared to the groundbreaking stuff in Series Five and Series Six, it wasn't as good.  "The Bells of Saint John" and "The Name of the Doctor" just don't compare to "The Impossible Astronaut/Day of the Moon" and "The Pandorica Opens/The Big Bang" as premiers/finales, in terms of plot and theme and character.  Moffat still has some fantastic scenes—the one with River and the Doctor in "The Name of the Doctor" was incredibly good, and the introduction of Hurt's Doctor was stunning—but the nonstop action of his previous episodes was somewhat lacking in these.  And compared to the theme and character moments of stuff as far back as Series One and Series Three, it was lacking there too.

With this year being the 50th Anniversary year, there's a lot of nods to Old Who: Cybermen and Daleks both made appearances, as well as the Martian fellow in "Cold War".  And some catch-phrases were reintroduced, most notably "Geronimo!" but also, more subtly, River Song's "sweetie" and the way the Doctor straightens his bow tie.  (That occurred in episodes like "Asylum of the Daleks", "The Snowmen", and "The Rings of Akhaten".  It's one of the gestures of the show that gives quite a bit of meaning: it means that the Doctor is staring down a problem and that he's going to fix it—looking dapper.)

And one thing I really loved about "The Name of the Doctor" is that we got to see most, if not all, Eleven Doctors.

Some highlights on the season:

Best scene of the season was definitely the Doctor's speech in "The Rings of Akhaten".  In fact, I think that's my favorite scene of the Eleventh Doctor's entire run thus far.  The emotion is incredible - combine that with the music and it's deeply moving.

Coming in second would be the Doctor/River scene in "The Name of the Doctor".  While I'm a bit miffed that we missed Eleven's last goodbye to River before the Library, that scene made up for it entirely.

Best episode of the season was probably "Asylum of the Daleks".  It's fast, well written, and makes the Daleks scary again.  There are very few things I can say kept me on the "edge of my seat".   "Asylum of the Daleks" was one of them.  And the final scene is just brilliant.

"Nightmare in Silver" comes in a very close second.  After Neil Gaiman wrote "The Doctor's Wife" (an episode I dislike), I was hesitant about him writing another episode.  Luckily, "Nightmare in Silver" was fantastic.

Best dialogue of the season was basically all of the Doctor/CyberDoctor stuff in "Nightmare in Silver".  Very well written, very entertaining, and very, very nerve-wracking.  "I'll call myself...Mr. Clever!"

Best minor character of the season (basically non-recurring characters) was probably the unknown morgue fellow in "The Crimson Horror".  He made me laugh.  "I call it...the Crimson 'Orrah."

Worst part of the season was probably that the Doctor kissed five different people.  Seriously.  At least the only one he kissed for romantic purposes was his wife.

Weirdest part of the season was when the Doctor pulled a doll out of his pocket.  Double take!

In summary: this season was really good, with some fantastic moments, but it could have been better.  If Moffat kicks his brain into gear, then this year has a lot of potential left.

What about you?  Have any favorites or least favorites for this season?  What's your opinion on Series Seven?

Whatever you think, I'm sure all Whovians can agree that the wait till November will be excruciating!


Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Dissatisfied With Church?

I once went to a youth group that seemed to have everything going for it. Upbeat music, a talented worship band, interesting activities (that were, of course, Bible-themed), and because teenagers need sugar, they let everyone have a bottle of root beer every once in a while.

For the most part, I enjoyed it. And I'm sure most everyone else did.

And yet, there was something missing, and I knew it.

Over the years, I've grown more and more dissatisfied with the way church is done. My youth group was merely one example. Sometimes we're focusing on other things when we ought to be preaching, and when we are preaching, it's cotton candy and does practically nothing to give people what they actually need to apply the Gospel in their own lives.

I think this dissatisfaction is a good thing. It means we know we don't have everything right, and that there is a model for churches, one we're not currently meeting. Dissatisfaction with the way things are leads to change.

However, we must never mistake dissatisfaction for change for the sort of dissatisfaction that leads to division – and the problem is, they are very, very easy to confuse.

This past Sunday, I visited one of our home churches with the rest of my family for the first time since we've gotten back to America. One of the first things I noticed after the service started was that the church had switched to electronic drums.

And for the rest of the first song, I was only half-singing, distracted and more than a little annoyed at how wimpy the drums sounded.

After the first song, I got my head on straight and figured it was more important to worship Jesus than to get annoyed over drums. So I got over it and the rest of the service was great.

But that was a prime example of the wrong sort of dissatisfaction. My example was a really minor one, but you can easily apply it to another situation. A church changes youth pastors and the new one is boring, or one of the pastors leaves the church and a quarter of the congregation leaves with him, or the style of the worship changes and either the younger generations think it's too old or the older ones think it's too modern. There's a myriad of different manifestations of it.

My point is, in “critiquing” the modern church, we can become too dissatisfied with it. Because we dislike the way church is done we say we'll be done with church. The church has problems, and I'll be the first to agree. But it's still the church. We can't just abandon it or get annoyed with it and cause problems. The best way to change something is not by pulling out, but by pouring in.

I have problems with the amount of money spent on church buildings, to use another personal example. But I'm not going to get into a fight about it. What I am going to do is immerse myself in the Word of God (encouraging others to do the same) and then He'll do the talking from there.

If we're focused on God, He'll produce in us the right sort of dissatisfaction – the sort that leads to the right kind of change. But it's always important to distinguish between the two. One will lead us closer to the church in order to change it, and one will take us farther away because it hasn't changed.

Let's make sure we've got our heads on straight.

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Unlocking the Brain

There is a problem I suspect most people have, even those who don't write half as much as I do.  It's the problem of an essentially locked brain.

You see, while my mind is capable (and unfortunately, more than willing) to create fodder for your thoughts and my own, outside circumstances render it incapable of actually writing these ideas down.  I'm locked.  I've had a dozen ideas, any of which would have made a thought-provoking and decent article.  It takes time and effort to write them, however - and when I have time (which is rarely), I don't have the effort.  Usually I go and read instead, although writing an article would be more productive.

The sum of this rather rambly post is that I have not posted on here, and that I have read Agatha Christie instead.

While the coming week will be hectic, I should be able to buckle down and write some meaningful stuff the week after.  If I'm not busy writing my novel.

But if I don't blog on here for two months - AGAIN - well, you'll know the reason.  See ya then.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Service (And How Liberia Views It)

“That's okay, I can do it myself.”

How many times have I said that one? More than you'd think. Most of the time I say it when I'm trying to do some form of work. If I'm washing my own dish, washing the car, painting a basketball backboard, drawing a bucket of water from the well, etc., at some point some Liberian, such as the security guard on duty, will come up to me and say, “Oh, Jake, I can help you with that,” or “I can do it for you”.

Needless to say, I'm an American born and bred and I don't particularly like having people do things for me, so I reply with, “That's okay, I can do it myself.”

An old picture of our well
Now, don't get me wrong, I'm not trying to keep people from doing things for me. “I can do it myself” isn't an anti-service thing. But really, doing such things myself is counter-cultural.

There's this underlying mindset of “service” in Liberian culture when it comes to menial labor. The lower you are on the ladder of success and prestige, the more menial labor you have to do.  Such as drawing water from the well.  So when a white person (like myself) comes into the country, no Liberian wants to let the “boss man” get his hands dirty and do actual work.

One Tuesday we were having a teen Bible study with some local Liberians just out of school. At one point I was trying to explain in a relevant way the significance of the fact that Jesus washed his disciples' feet. They had heard it before, of course; they knew Bible stories from church, but oftentimes Liberian teens don't grasp the meaning behind the stories.

So here's what I said:

“Say that Ma Ellen” - (that's the president of Liberia, by the way) - “is coming into the compound.” I gestured to the rusty gate to our concrete-block fence. “She gets out of her car and says hello. Then she says this: 'Oh, I see your feet are very dirty. Let me wash them for you.' And then she gets down on her hands and knees and washes your feet.”

At this, their eyes flew wide and they shouted, “No, no! You can't do that!” Evidently I had succeeded, and the message got through to them: Jesus' act was completely counter-cultural and crazy. Nobody as high and important as President Ellen would stoop as far as to wash someone else's feet. It's crazy!

But like I said, it's deeply embedded in the culture. When outsiders come in, this is what they see. They often say, “Wow, how generous these Africans are! They're always serving others.” And this is true. When Christ has changed a Liberian's life, it's beautiful to see. They're unselfish, generous, and serving.

But too often good things can be twisted. Service is an important part of Liberian culture, but it's the wrong kind of service.

The service Christ calls us to is inherently democratic. One person is not better than the other. Democracy was born when Paul said, “All are one in Christ Jesus.” The kind of service the Christian is called to is where one person serves the other because all are equal. It is love-motivated service. But the Liberian kind of “service” turns this truth around: Liberian service is where one person serves the other because all are unequal. The Liberian serves the boss-man because he's the boss-man, not because he wants to serve. But the boss-man doesn't serve him. Yet this is exactly what Christ calls us to – to serve one another regardless of who that “other” is.

Christian service is out of love. But Liberian “service” is often out of selfishness. I had one of our security guards tell me that “the Liberian love office job”. Why? Because it involves no menial labor. They only work so that they can get to the point where they don't have to work.

Yet Christ says the exact opposite. The last shall be first – completely counter to everything in this culture, where everything is a race to be “first”.

But if this country can regain this kind of Christian service, this real service, it will be transformed. And I think that the best way to start is to serve.

That's why I say “I can do it myself.” Because the white man can work too. I'm not higher than anyone else. So I'll wash my own dish; and other people's dishes too. I'll draw my own shower bucket, and my dad's shower bucket too. Change has to start small before it can grow big.

And maybe we can turn self-service in to self-sacrificing service.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

When In Doubt, Post Pictures

This is a mantra that has been oft-repeated by my mother, whose blog mostly consists of pictures.  As I don't have anything particularly meaningful to say (yet), and I have some blank space that needs filling, pictures appear to be the way to go!

This is a picture of the beach at ELWA, which is an acronym meaning Eternal Love Winning Africa.  It's essentially a great big missionary compound where many of the Samaritan's Purse and SIM (Serving In Mission) missionaries live.  This picture was taken several weeks ago shortly after we went swimming.  (We live several miles from ELWA, so we walked there along the beach.)  This was an hour or two after low tide, so the waves were still manageable.

This is the fence at our compound.  The tree you see there is a coconut tree, which we've harvested several times since moving in in December.  (While coconut water is rather strange-tasting, I do like the coconut flesh.)

This picture, however, was likely taken in December or earlier, before we had any work done.  The wire hanging off the fence there has since been taken down and replaced with broken glass and new wire.

Here's a rather artistic picture of a sunset through our new wire.  If you look closely you can see the broken bottles cemented to the top of the wall.

That's the same coconut tree, by the way. ^_^

And that's pretty much all I've got.  If you have any questions, ask away!  Maybe I'll respond with pictures. 

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

What's A Blog About?

Greetings, wanderers from near and far!  This post marks the debut of my new blog, "Reflecting the Mirror".

When one starts a new blog (something I haven't done since beginning Teenage Writer nearly three years ago) the first question to answer is this: what's it going to be about?

So far I've found that question hard to answer.  The primary reason I created this blog is to fill a literary hole in my life: something you might not know about me is that I'm very fond of writing essays, for lack of a better word.

Before you shut down your computer at the sight of that awful word, let me explain that I mean "essay" in the very best sense: a piece of writing having to do with one's opinion on a subject, whether it be G. K. Chesterton's infamous essay "On Lying in Bed" or a simple theological treatise or a commentary on some political issue.

I mentioned, however, that I've found the question of this blog's subject hard to answer.  That's because I don't want this blog devoted exclusively to one thing.  If anything, the subject of this blog is everything - or everything that comes to mind, anyway.

So what should you expect?  Well, the one thing I know I'll be writing (at one point or another) is an essay.  Besides that, it's all open.  I could revive old traditions and give some cautionary words on rabbits; I could very seriously write a theological post on justification; I could post pictures of Africa; I could post stories on Africa; I could talk about lying in bed; the possibilities are endless.

One thing I do promise, however: it is going to be entertaining!

Welcome to Reflecting the Mirror.