Update on Near Emmaus…

For those who enjoy the posts on Near Emmaus (where I blog on the weekends), we’ve moved to “nearemmausblog.com” (or “nearemmaus.wordpress.com”) and are no longer “nearemmaus.com.” Simply letting everyone know in case there was any confusion as to why “nearemmaus.com” wasn’t taking you to the blog.

Long story short: Mondays apply to everyone, even Near Emmaus…

Advertisements

Books to Movies… And Back Again…

When The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey came out in the fall of 2012, I was excited. I had just finished reading the book a few weeks before the movie debuted. It was the opposite case with The Lord of the Rings; I actually watched the movies before I read the books. I didn’t want that with The Hobbit.

I’m usually that guy who points out what did or did not happen in the book when watching a book-movie. Sometimes I’m sort of a snob, especially if it’s a book I really enjoyed. Yet there’s something I’ve come to notice about how I treat the book-movie genre: I’m expecting the producers/writers/directors to follow every bit of every detail to the letter. For one thing, it’d be a ridiculously long movie (perhaps why The Lord of the Rings movies were so long?). For another, even if the book was followed in every detail and was of reasonable length (you know, like no more than ten hours?), it still wouldn’t do the book justice.

Why?

It wouldn’t do the book justice because when one reads a text, one’s imagination is engaged and creates a world no one else could even come close to. That’s why I love reading fiction; because it causes me to create a world no one has ever seen before (maybe God?). Sure, the author sets the scenes, describes the characters, but the exact shapes, sizes, and appearance of everything is totally different through my imagination. Perhaps not far off the mark, but completely different nonetheless.

Another thing that I’ve seen happen when I get all bent out of shape about the movie making alterations to the book is I tend to miss out on the story being told from the movie-writer’s perspective. Think of the Gospels; we all might assume that they’re telling the same story just from a different perspective, but they actually aren’t. Sometimes there are subtle differences and other times there are major differences. But there is no question in my mind that after a good side-by-side comparison, I know that because I read John it doesn’t mean I also read Matthew.

Every time a writer receives a cool story (or really any story) and goes to put it to paper, they change things. They add in characters (like Legolas being in The Hobbit) or completely alter the setting of the story (Blue Like Jazz: Don’s an undergrad living in Reed College’s dorms instead of auditing a few classes). Whatever the change may have been, it was changed for a reason. Either they were short on time, or they’re trying to say something through the change – like Legolas helping to foreshadow The Lord of the Rings or Don the college kid possibly being more relatable to a broader audience.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m still going to seek out the book before I watch the movie. But when it comes time to watch that movie, I think I’d be better off recognizing the differences and trying to figure out the creative purposes of those changes – instead of pretentiously pointing out to my friends that I can read.

Believe it or not, creativity is not limited to any book. Instead, it’s everywhere where a story takes place. We might actually enjoy a little more in life if we listened to the story – even if it bears the same title as our beloved book.

Four Years Old Today…

In the spring of ’07, I started an electronic journal in my dorm room at the University of Oregon. Right around the same time (perhaps a few months later), I started writing Facebook notes. Much of what I write in my electronic journal (it’s a Word document) is what I’ve been emotionally, intellectually, and spiritually processing and when I started posting some those entries on Facebook, I soon found out that there was always somebody else processing the same stuff. On October 4th, 2009, I launched this blog.

I turned it into a blog to help open up various ways of connecting with people. After writing a few posts, I quickly discovered other bloggers writing about similar stuff or stuff that I hadn’t thought about. Seeing many other people processing the same stuff that I was went a long way in telling me that I’m not alone. This, of course, led me to recognize that none of us is alone.

Online communities will never replace the authenticity of in-person communities – like your local church, Bible study, book club, or even your workplace. Yet what online communities enable – via blogs, Facebook, Twitter, and plenty of other social media sites – is a space for people to share their thoughts, beliefs, and questions (in no particular order) in their own time. You don’t have to wait until your next Bible study to ask a question about Jesus or share whatever it is that God has brought you through. I’m not saying the internet is going to have all the answers, but I can say that it opens up the possibility of discussion. And more than likely, you’ll find someone who’s been where you are before.

Above all else, what I have found to be most beneficial from blogging is the depth of therapy in the act of writing. You see, journaling goes a long way to allow the individual to process the things around him or her. But until those thoughts are shared in community, the individual will remain as such: an individual. They will never hear what we all need to hear at some point in our lives: “Me, too.”

As I said above, blogging (and online communities in general) will never take the place of face-to-face meetings (Skype and Face Time kind of help, but being physically present is most essential). Yet in the last four years, I’ve seen how blogging has helped enhance those face-to-face meetings. It has helped formalize my thoughts and feelings so that I can more clearly and succinctly talk things out with my various in-person communities. And it has taught me that there are plenty of other people who’ve had similar experiences in life (growing up without a father, having suicidal thoughts, seeing your church community evaporate, etc.), but processed them differently.

All I can really say on my blog’s fourth birthday is that I would not be where I am without it. It makes me excited for what’s to come (especially being at George Fox Evangelical Seminary). I’m excited for the things I’ll learn and the people I’ll meet. I’m excited for the communities I’ll grow with. And I’m especially excited to see what God is going to do through it all.

Writing goes a long way to help the introvert and extrovert in their walk with Jesus.

Thanks for reading and God bless!

“Biblioblogging” through Seminary…

Something interesting happened on Thursday night during my Old Testament 1 class. We had just finished our last ten minute break (it’s a three hour class) and were each given a copy of a blog post.

Yup.

A blog post.

In a graduate-level seminary class.

Who wrote the post?

Peter Enns.

Over the past couple of years, I’ve become a big fan of Enns’ work. Whether or not one agrees with him, he at least has the courage to be honest in his posts. But more than that, he’s engaging. He’s a biblical scholar who teaches at Eastern University in Pennsylvania and yet he regularly writes blog posts that, more often than not, relate his academic work and studies with his faith in Jesus.

We discussed what Dr. Enns wrote in his post, which can be found here, and toward the end of the discussion, my professor mentioned how there ought to be more professors (and by extension pastors and seminarians) blogging. Of course this is no problem for me; I love to blog. But what it does mean is that the purpose of this blog may shift slightly.

A scholar like Dr. Enns writing blogs might not seem ridiculous, but, for those of you still in college, how many of your professors blog? How many people do you know blog? Chances are, not a whole lot of people.

Of course, blogs vary in style and content. There are fashion blogs, food blogs, Star Trek blogs, and especially sports blogs. This small space on the Internet acts as our place of intellectual refuge where we can share our thoughts and opinions without ever interacting with anyone who might think or feel differently. One blog written by a prominent pastor here in the Northwest has all comments closed. No questions. No discussions. Peter Enns, however, not only has the comment section open; he replies to a lot of them.

It was a little over a year and a half ago when he wrote a particular blog that spoke to me in a way that I needed. I was still in the middle of dealing with Calvary’s closure and Enns’ post, of which I forget the title, went a long way to help. I remember commenting on it, thanking him for writing it, and then asking him which seminary in the Northwest he would recommend for further studies. Not only did he reply within the hour, but he recommended George Fox (where I’m currently studying).

What does all of this mean for my blog? It isn’t a fashion, food, Star Trek, or sports blog, although I do occasionally write something on each (maybe not fashion; my sense of fashion sort of speaks for itself). For the most part, it’s a blog where I share about my faith. But what it’ll have to become, at least for this seminary season (but hopefully beyond), is what’s called a “biblioblog.”

A biblioblog is a fun word to say. It’s also a blog wherein biblical studies (and anything related) are discussed. What I’ve admired the most about Peter Enns’ blog is that he doesn’t try to separate his faith from his academic work. In fact, much of his faith comes from his academic studies – not that he never goes to church and only resides in his office, but that it is thought-driven. As he dives deeper into his study of the Scriptures, he draws closer to God.

My walk with God operates in a very similar fashion. If the doctrine of inerrancy hadn’t caused such a stir for Calvary Fellowship several years ago, then I don’t imagine my faith in God would have delved very deeply. In fact, I don’t know if I’d still be much of a believer. I’m sure I’d still be attending church and listening to sermons and Christian songs. But there wouldn’t be much beyond that. My “faith” would become like the seed that fell on rocky ground; it grew up quickly, but withered away when trouble came (Matt. 13:20-22).

In essence, I hope to share my thoughts and feelings as I draw closer to God by way of study. So as I work through my classes (“Indigenous Spirituality,” “Knowing Self, Knowing God,” “Introduction to Biblical Hebrew,” and “Old Testament 1”) I hope to share how God’s working through it all. What I really hope for, though, is to a create an online space of discussion where questions are asked and faith is shared.

I may not post as often as I would like  or really with any consistency (school and work come first). And I may write something you disagree with. But that’s a major part of this blog: To discuss faith in Jesus.

As the Road to Emmaus story (Luke 24:13-27) shows us, faith in God is every bit of an intellectual journey as it is a physical, emotional, and spiritual one. The tough part is to keep walking.

God bless.

Blogging When Busy…

It was slightly alarming to see that I haven’t written a post since June 8th. Two weeks would have been more understandable, but three? Just ridiculous.

A couple things have happened since then, though. I started reading a lot more, which took time away from writing. And I also took up a second job working for the Eugene Emeralds as part of their grounds crew, which took time away from both reading and writing. With July right around the corner, I now have to make sure I have a place to live in Portland before I start school in September. I’m a little hard pressed to find time to write these days.

Yet it’s no excuse. I love to do it – partially because it seems to encourage others and mostly because it helps process things I learn from the Lord. And while journaling goes a long way, putting something into a blog takes a little extra effort. I can’t sit down, spill out all my thoughts, and expect people to understand. Virginia Woolf was good at that, but I don’t think I am.

Instead, I have to edit and rephrase. I have to say it out loud as I write it to make sure it sounds understandable (this is especially fun at Starbucks when I’m sitting alone). As my good friend Tyler once told me, I can’t just throw a bunch of letters on a document and see what sticks. Every word, sentence, and paragraph is there because I chose to put it there.

I say all this to point out that finding time to write is more than finding a mere hour there or half hour here. It’s finding a solid several hours without any other obligation to work on my craft – to fine-tune it to make it the best I possibly can. It sounds tedious and boring, but I love it. Because at the end of it all, when I see the post fully written, edited, and published on my blog, I don’t simply feel productive; I feel satisfaction in having to work hard and work well to create something.

What these last three weeks have taught me is that blogging in seminary is going to be tough. Not only will I be a full time student; I’ll also be working at least part time, which means there’ll be little time for much else. Strangely enough, though, I’m excited about all of this. I’m excited about spending hours upon hours studying and reading and then turning around to go to work. I’m excited about experiencing life in the largest city I will have ever lived in. I’m excited about taking a plunge into something that fully engages me. Such an experience will need to be processed, which means I will have to blog at some point.

A lot is going to change in the coming months and every bit of it is exciting. Despite how busy it will be, I want to commit to writing posts in here partially because they encourage others, partially because it helps me process things, and mostly because it honors God to practice the talents and gifts we’ve been given. It doesn’t matter how busy life gets; if you aren’t doing what you love (even if you aren’t getting paid for it), then you’re doing it wrong.

On to more posts!

God bless.

Review: Dan Brown’s Inferno…

Honestly, I don’t like writing reviews. If those who read the reviews read the book first, then they’re fine. But people tend to use reviews like Rotten Tomato for movies or app reviews on iTunes; they’re temperature gauges for a book’s predicted enjoyableness. It’s an indirect way of reading a book by its cover.

Why am I writing one now, then? For one thing, I hope everyone reading this has already read Brown’s latest novel or doesn’t care about it at all. But for another, such a novel deserves a response and not because of its profound literary quality.

In short, I’ve always enjoyed the thrill of Brown’s novels. Picture Indiana Jones in a Jason Bourne-like setting, but with no combat skills and some commitment issues (four novels, four girls – get your act together, Langdon). Sure, these story-lines are unrealistic, but hey, a lot of movies are that way: Star Wars, Star Trek, Lord of the Rings, etc., etc. What makes those movies enjoyable is not only the action, but also the relatable characters.

In Inferno, however, no such relatable characters exist. In writing scripts or novels, the most important aspect is how the characters are developed. How well or not well viewers or readers relate to the characters depends upon how well they’re developed in the story. Dan Brown did not do a great job of this at all.

Harvard Professor Robert Langdon wakes up in a hospital somewhere in Italy. Not even a day before, he was back in Massachusetts preparing for another week of class. Two doctors accompanying Langdon tell him he suffered a head wound from a missed gun shot. One side effect was a small, temporary case of amnesia; he could not remember the previous twenty-four hours. Soon after his short discussion with the doctors, his almost-assassin returns, shoots the male doctor in the chest, and then chases Langdon and Sienna – the female doctor who got Langdon ready quickly and led him on an escape from the hospital – through the next eight or ten chapters.

Langdon attempted calling the U.S. Embassy to receive some help in returning to the U.S., but minutes after his phone call, military-looking personnel arrive to Sienna’s apartment complex (they’re temporary hideout shortly after the hospital). Both Sienna and Langdon realize they were working with the spiky-haired woman who shot Langdon in the head (a graze, really) and who was chasing them through the hospital. Feeling terrified, they fled her apartment complex just as the military-looking squad was charging up the stairs.

To shorten what happens next, they flee to a museum, constantly elude the military squad, accidentally kill the spiky-haired woman from a museum’s attic, figure out they’re supposed to go to Venice based off a portable projection of an altered painting of a scene from Dante’s Inferno, almost totally escape the military personnel, but Langdon gets caught while Sienna runs away free. In Venice, three-quarters of the way through the novel, Langdon discovers everything he had believed up to that point had been lies.

Sienna secretly worked for the same agency that Vayentha, the spiky-haired chick, had worked for prior to her death. He learned that Vayentha was also an actress of sorts; she faked many assassinations to help “protect” various clients the agency was hired to protect. So, Langdon was not actually shot, was never in a hospital, never received real stitches, and he was not running from anyone trying to kill him because no one was trying to kill him. The military personnel was an elite crisis-averting squad trained in containing potential health crises so that few, if any, victims died. They were chasing Langdon because he had been working with them only hours before he woke up in the “hospital.”

Not only is this a classic, wool-over-the-eyes trick, but what never happens is any sort of real character development. Everyone up until Venice is not who they seem to be – not even Langdon. What’s worse is that there is never a relatable moment from any of the characters. Their fear, worry, and pain is all a facade; it’s all part of a grand scheme orchestrated by this top-secret agency who hired Sienna and Vayentha. The elite, military-looking squad actually worked for the World Health Organization.

Any truth that is discovered is in Venice. The World Health Organization tells Langdon they’re tracking down a potential plague developed by a genius biologist who also made incredible advancements in technology. He was also in love with Sienna. This top-secret agency reveals to both Langdon and the WHO that they were responsible for helping the bio-terrorist – their client – achieve his goals, even though he had committed suicide several days prior. Having a major change of conscience, this top-secret agency decides to assist the WHO in tracking down whatever plague this genius biologist had created.

Each character suddenly becomes terrified of this plague and readers are led to believe that if they don’t find what they need to find, they’re all going to die (because this biologist was all about solving
the global population problem by “thinning the herd”). When they finally arrive to where this plague, contained in a slowly-dissolving plastic baggy, was located, they find it was gone. At the moment of discovery, only Langdon and the squadron leader were there. Suddenly someone emerges from the darkness, knocks over Langdon, and flees.

Langdon chases this person all the way to a dock where many speedboats are anchored. However, this person is too quick; he/she hopped in a boat and drove away before Langdon ever had a chance of catching them. Yet, as he stands there on the dock, he can hear the boat idling out on the night-covered lake (or river or ocean, I can’t remember). Moments later, the boat turns back, pulls up to the dock, and shuts off the engine. It’s Sienna. After discussing trust for several moments, Langdon hugs Sienna and says, “You can trust me.”

What Sienna discovered and then revealed to everyone was that this “plague” had already been dispersed. The slowly-dissolving baggy had dissolved a week before Langdon ever even reached Italy. Everyone had already been infected with it. However, Sienna reveals the most peculiar thing about this “plague”; it’s actually a viral “disease” with a genetic code that would, over a short amount of time, render one-third of the world’s population unable to birth children. Global population would be thinned not by some major, catastrophic event, but by a slowly-developed disability to bring future generations into the world.

Only a few chapters later, there are some more discussions with Sienna – who has a 208 IQ – about trust and she winds up joining the leader of the WHO to discuss possible plans to counter this genetic problem. And that’s it. Langdon goes back to Harvard after kissing Sienna on the lips and the novel ends.

To describe Inferno: incredibly anti-climactic. To describe the characters and their emotions/relationships: forced. Having read it, though, I can now see how The Da Vinci Code, Angels and Demons, and The Lost Symbol (and even Deception Point and Digital Fortress – Brown’s two other, non-Langdon novels) were all almost the exact same way. I think I was too distracted by the controversial things Dan Brown had said via fiction about Christianity – what actually gave his novels their popularity.

When I finished Inferno and posted my progress on Goodreads, a wonderful app that helps track all the books you’ve read or want to read, I gave it two out of five stars. Why did I rate it two stars as opposed to one? Because in my creative writing classes, we learned to evaluate books by what does work and what doesn’t work. Having listed my major problems with Inferno, I have to say that what Brown was attempting at would have been a great story. Yet it would have required far fewer words and more time spent developing each of the main characters – not easy to do when the amount of time elapsed in one’s story line, as in Inferno, is barely more than a day or two (yes, there were flashbacks, but the “present” story was not long at all).

All in all Inferno is a waste of time. I’ve always admired Brown’s usage of history and symbolism (however misleading he has been at times), but this one fell quite short. Without relatable characters – however believable or unbelievable they may be – one cannot have a compelling novel. I didn’t feel Langdon’s whatever it was he was going through or Sienna’s insecurities when it came to trusting people or especially their affectionate feelings toward one another. It all felt told rather than shown to me.

One novel I’m still excited about – and soon to read – is Khaled Hosseini’s And the Mountains Echoed. He’s the author of The Kite Runner and A Thousand Splendid Suns – two novels I thoroughly enjoyed reading. Not sure if I’m going to write a review for that one, though; I’ll just have to see how it goes.

What’d you think?

For those who read Brown’s Inferno, what were your thoughts and feelings as you read? Did you enjoy the novel? Do you think I missed something important?

Story Intro…

Here is a short excerpt from a story I began writing tonight (this morning? It’s that awkward period when I’m still awake from Saturday, but technically it’s Sunday). I thought I’d post it and see what everyone’s thoughts were as to where they think the story is going, if it should be a novel or short story, what they think it’s about, or any other thoughts that come to mind when reading. Hope you enjoy and please feel free to leave comments, questions, and concerns. Thanks!

Richard loved his wife.

Amidst the trembling, tears, and dust flowing around the attic air, he could hear his own breathing. And foot steps. Heavy foot steps. Lots of them. All slowly pacing around the wooden floor beneath Richard. He dared not to even move his arm lest one of the floor boards beneath him shift with him and he be discovered. A bead of sweat, mixing with the dust and blood on his face, slowly traveled down the side of his left brow, curling with his cheekbone, and making its way to his jawline. Every nerve in his body sought to wipe the sweat away, but terror of the men below him stayed his hands.

And then it fell.

Right through the floor boards.

Landing squarely in the middle of the search party.

The heavy footsteps stopped.

Richard started shaking – hoping they wouldn’t look up. He prayed to whatever God or gods he could, asking for deliverance, asking to be a free man. Unbeknownst to him, his body, curled up between the attic stairs and a storage chest, started rocking back and forth. With his head bowed and eyes closed, he dreamed of what once was – decades past. He dreamed of a time when Elizabeth and he were free to roam, free to travel, to read, to write, to love. He dreamed of a time when he could stand toe-to-toe to anyone who threatened her or their life together. He dreamed of a time when he was half the man who now cowered in the attic of his own home.

Elizabeth’s scream stirred his dreams.

Eyes now opened, body trembling, heart near stopping, Richard listened as the men below him dragged Elizabeth – his wife, his beloved – from hiding. Hearing her struggle, her feet kicking to and fro, he nearly opened the stairs. He nearly dropped down to free her. He nearly became half the man he once was.

She screamed all the way out the door, through the fields surrounding their home, and on out of range of Richard’s ears. His head now rested against the storage chest, eyes staring into dark places of imagination. What were they doing to her? Worse yet, what were they planning on doing to her? He could still breathe and his heart still beat, but death was claiming him. It was claiming the part of a man that stands against evil, that dares to risk one’s life and limbs to see justice done and peace restored. Yes, death was claiming the better part of him. His body now leaned against the chest. It moved.

“He’s upstairs!”