What about the comic books?

This blog has been overly serious lately. So glum. I mean, understandable with the grim news lately, but still. Perhaps a bit of geekery could brighten up this place. How about we take a look at the world of comic books and see what’s going on.

Remember the cover of Captain America #1, released in 1941? It featured Cap punching Hitler. Those were good times.

image courtesy of Marvel Comics

Oh, look, it’s Punisher War Journal #8. Frank Castle sets out to take on a warped little Nazi named Hate Monger. That was when Hate Monger teamed up with the National Force, a hate group bent on violently removing anyone that wasn’t white from America.

image courtesy of Marvel Comics

Speaking of Hate Monger, he got punched in the face by T'Challa in Black Panther: The Man Without Fear! Vol 1 #523. Gosh, that costume looks familiar.

image courtesy of Marvel Comics

For a while, Sam Wilson (AKA, The Falcon) took the mantle of Captain America. In his turn as Cap, he fought against the Sons of the Serpent – Marvel’s discount version of the KKK.

image courtesy of Marvel Comics

What about the Marvel DC crossover? Nazis didn’t fare well there. Joker was disgusted to learn that Red Skull wasn’t faking his anti-Semitism and wanted to kill the Red Skull. Joker may be a psychopath, but at least he’s not a Nazi. Batman wasn’t impressed by Red Skull either.

image courtesy of Marvel Comics and DC Comics

image courtesy of Marvel Comics and DC Comics

And in 1949, Superman was lecturing kids about the importance of diversity and taking a stand against un-American racist bullies.

image courtesy of DC comics

Racism is wrong. It isn’t a difficult thing to say. Presidents of both major parties have spoken against it with ease. Comic book writers have been saying it since World War II. Granted, when it comes to portraying minorities, comic book publishers do not have a stellar track record. They’ve been known to portray the worst stereotypes possible. But they’ve been consistent in how they describe Nazis, the KKK, white supremacists, and other hate groups. Those characters were always the villain and the heroes always kicked their asses.

I won’t condone violence. Not because I am a pacifist or think violence is inherently evil. I oppose violence because I think it is usually pointless and does nothing more than perpetuate a downward cycle. But I also believe that some things must be opposed. Those who hate others because of their color of skin fall into that category. This is not an issue with many sides. We have hate groups and bigots on one side, and those who believe in justice, equity, and goodness on the other.

So, pick a side. I don’t know about you, but I’d rather side with the heroes.

I must take a stand. If I didn’t, I wouldn’t be able to look my kids in the eyes. My youngest who wants to grow up to be like Batman, mostly because he’s rich. My daughter who has a crush on Iron Fist (the comic book version, she’s not old enough for the TV show). And my oldest, who identifies with the X-Men because he knows what it is like to be different from everyone else. If I am to be the real-life hero of a dad that they deserve, then my duty is to oppose the ugliness of racism and bigotry whenever the opportunity arises.

That opportunity is now and I will not be silent.


Legalized Racism and What We Should Do

Saturday evening, I posted a GIF on Facebook of a man ripping a Nazi flag in half with my thoughts about the demonstrations, protests, and violence in Charlottesville. I said: “To speak nothing against evil is to endorse it. Hatred has no place in civilized society. What happened in Charlottesville is evil. Those who want to "reclaim" their racist past are evil. Driving a car into a crowd of protesters is evil - it is murder, it is terrorism. History taught us what happens when power is given to one group of people who believe they are racially superior. We cannot allow it to happen again.”

It elicited a curious response. "Nic, what specific action do you recommend?"

It is a tough question to answer because racism is so ingrained in our culture. Legally speaking, the law allows racism and is helpless to prevent it. Which means course correction is our responsibility. We the people. It is our duty as individuals to take a stand. So, what do I want? What specific action do I recommend?

I want my kids to grow up in a world where this vulgar display of hatred and racism is uncommon. I want the next generation to enjoy the fruits of diversity. But how? Is this even possible? Maybe. But first ...

Every GOP leader must condemn the White Nationalist movement. Not all neo-Nazis and modern Klan members identify as Republican, but the majority tend to vote for Republican candidates. Rebuking these organized racists might cost some incumbents a few votes, but they might also gain support for taking a principled and moral stand. It must be known, racism is not welcome inside the Republican Party. If our elected officials don’t know what to say, they can follow the example of a few of their party peers.

Like Arizona Senator John McCain: "White supremacists and neo-Nazis are, by definition, opposed to American patriotism and the ideals that define us as a people and make our nation special. ... American patriots of all colors and creeds must come together to defy those who raise the flag of hatred and bigotry."

Or Nebraska Senator Ben Sasse: "These people are utterly revolting--and have no understanding of America. This creedal nation explicitly rejects 'blood & soil' nationalism."

Or Speaker of the House Paul Ryan: "White supremacy is a scourge. This hate and its terrorism must be confronted and defeated."

Or Idaho Senator Mike Crapo: "I condemn and reject the racism and hate perpetuated by white supremacist groups."

Or Idaho Senator James Risch: "White supremacy – and every other form of prejudice – does not represent our American values."

Or Idaho Representative Mike Simpson: "White supremacy and their hateful rhetoric and violence, have no place in this country. Let today unite our nation against this evil rather than allow it to be divided by a petulant minority that does not represent the values of America."

Or Idaho Governor Butch Otter: "We’ve had those problems in Idaho before, and fortunately, for the most part I think we dealt with it in the right way. They weren’t welcome here." (Note, Idaho was formerly home to the Aryan Nations)

Religious leaders must also condemn hatred as a violation of their beliefs. Churches, temples, parishes, wards, and synagogues across America should hold hope for those who claim supremacy to reform and abandon their hatreds, yet it is essential we call racism what it is - a sin.

One of the pastors at my church posted a single bible verse - Acts 17:26: "And He has made from one blood every nation of men to dwell on all the face of the earth." This is what I want to hear from every pastor, priest, clergy, and minister in the Christian world. Whether it is preached from the pulpit or in newsletters or on their social media platforms, Christian leaders need to emphasize scripture speaking of unity and racial equality and reconciliation. Churches must honor and celebrate diversity as a part of God's beautiful design.

Like Christine Hoover on The Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention: "He (Jesus) teaches me that His Kingdom is the country and people to which I belong, and that this Kingdom is formed by every nation and people group. ... Being a Christian in the face of racial hatred begins with Christ’s church falling to its knees in lament and confession and asking for his Spirit to move us toward Him and toward one another."

Or Tim Keller on The Gospel Coalition: "Christians should look at the energized and emboldened white nationalism movement, and at its fascist slogans, and condemn it—full stop. ... this is a time to present the Bible’s strong and clear teachings about the sin of racism and of the idolatry of blood and country."

Or Rev. Renee Roederer of Fig Tree Revolution: "White supremacy is the catalyst, the motivation, and the actualization of a wave of terror taking place in our nation. ... in the wake of it, we have the crucial occasion to decide that we will stand definitively alongside the most marginalized people in our nation."

There are also official positions taken by churches. Like The Wesleyan Church whose announcement begins, "I denounce any behavior couched as Christian that dehumanizes people and elevates one group over another. Our doctrine as Christians and history as Wesleyans in particular compels us not to be silent or inactive, but to engage in love." The Church of the Nazarene addresses racial equality in their manual, “We believe that God is the Creator of all people, and that of one blood are all people created. We believe that each individual, regardless of race, color, gender, or creed, should have equality before law … We urge our churches everywhere to continue and strengthen programs of education to promote racial understanding and harmony.” At the 2017 General Assembly for the Nazarene Church, they accepted a proposal to add the following to the manual:

Finally, every American must decide if they believe in the ideals our founder wrote into the Declaration of Independence, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness.” If we can’t uphold this, if we cannot vigorously defend these words free of exceptions or qualifiers, then America has lost. These wars have already been waged and won. If we are to uphold the American values of equality, we must now fight against the new Nazis and the new Klan who are bringing violence to our streets and poisoning our culture.

White supremacists must know there is no safe place for their beliefs even if the law protects their right to be racist. But I will not be satisfied until they are aware their views are not welcome. Not in politics. Not in houses of worship. Not on American soil.


Morality and Where the Law Falls Short

In moral matters, the law is insufficient. The government cannot legislate good morality. They cannot pass a law to compel me to be a nice person. There are no statutes able to control thoughts, beliefs, and attitudes. While it is illegal to murder someone, being rude to a person instead of killing them is (and always will be) allowed.

Then we see events unfold like what happened in Charlottesville this last weekend. Permits were given to a hate group to gather and promote their racist beliefs - two rights that are protected by the first amendment. Many of them arrived armed, a right protected by the second amendment (according to law enforcement, event organizers encouraged demonstrators to bring weapons). This mix of white supremacists and self-proclaimed Nazis threw rocks and urine-filled bottles at police officers, they clashed with protesters opposing their hateful message, and one of them drove a car into a crowd of people in an act of terrorism.

After these types of tragedies, it is common to feel a righteous anger at the injustices in our nation. It is easy to get exasperated. We wonder how racism is still a thing. We ask, “Why do we let this happen?”

Unfortunately, we let this happen because we have to.

If I want the liberty to say whatever I want, then the same right must be afforded to those who want to say things I do not like or statements with which disagree. If I want the freedom to be critical of President Trump, then those who support him should have the ability to express their appreciation of Trump. If I wish to gather in my church and worship my God without the government's intervention, then those who worship other gods should have the same allowance. If I want the right to hold unpopular opinions, so should every other American, even if their opinion is as disgusting and vile as the white nationalists who organized and attended the ‘Unite the Right’ rally in Charlottesville.

There is a part of me who would love to see each and every one of them arrested and tried for some crime but I cannot escape the notion that the law allows them to be racist scum. As far as the government is concerned, they are free to be as bigoted as they desire as long as they do not violate any laws.

That makes it difficult for those of us who believe white supremacy has no place in civil society. It is a challenge for those of us who oppose seeing hatred and racism so easily displayed in public spaces without any legal ramifications.

Because there is no option for the law to curtail racism, I have a message for the Richard Spencers of the world. To the boys (and let's be honest, they usually are boys) like Jason Kessler, Peter Tefft, Peter Cvjetanovic, James Allsup, James Fields Jr, and Cole White.

Image courtesy of Us Weekly

If you want to be a racist clod, you are free to do so. I cannot stop you from hating the Jewish and black friends whom I consider family. I cannot prevent you from despising my Native American kids. I cannot force you to abandon your hostility toward my Latino coworkers, neighbors, and friends.

I cannot use the force of law to litigate your hatred out of existence. However, if you are free to possess and vocalize your intolerance and prejudices, I am also free to express my disdain and my revulsion of your beliefs. If you want to be permitted to espouse your discriminatory attitudes, then you must also endure those, like me, who wish to denounce and/or ridicule your xenophobia. You are on your own. You cannot be tried in a court of law, but you will be held in contempt in the court of public opinion.

You want respite? You want a reprieve? You want to avoid the natural consequence of your behavior? Well, in the words of Rage Against the Machine, "There be no shelter here."


A Retirement to Celebrate

A friend of mine is retiring. This friend is a big reason I pursued writing. A few years ago, he and I chatted about my blog. I had only recently re-branded into The Faithful Geek and starting to define who I was as a blogger. There are several writers in our area and he told me that I was one of the few who could truly write. He added how any time he sees me post something, he pays attention. I recently divulged my evolution as a writer, but that story was incomplete. These words from my friend were the first that made me believe I could be a real writer, that I could have a career doing this thing I love.

Why was the encouragement he delivered so much more powerful than the others who told me I was a good writer? Because it was Dave.

Dave spent his life working in journalism. Writing has been his job for longer than I’ve been alive. He came to the Coeur d’Alene area twenty years ahead of me, and blogging is what brought the two of us together. Over a decade ago, the Spokesman-Review gave him the opportunity to translate his editorial duties from a print only column into an online platform. Through moderating a newspaper blog, Dave promoted other local bloggers, often using their stories to create new content for the SR. I was one of those bloggers.

He was paid to write. On his writing income, he was able to buy a house, raise his kids, put those kids through college, and enjoy a fulfilling life. So, when he told me I was one of the few, it was more than a compliment. He spoke with the authority of someone who knew what he was talking about. There was a legitimacy to what he said that helped me feel like something more than a random dad who blogs as a hobby. After my conversation with Dave, I felt like a writer. It was one of those defining moments in life.

Last summer, Dave and I had another conversation, one about something incredibly specific. He told me that my post about divorce was the best article he had ever read about the topic from an evangelical perspective. Once again, I was humbled by his perspective. Such a powerful compliment from an industry insider. That blog post was one of the most difficult things to write. I was scared to hit the publish button. And here was a man I respected, a trained and professional writer telling me how much he was impressed by my writing.

Which brings me to now. I am writing a book. Something I always wanted to do but lacked the confidence to actually do it. Without Dave’s encouraging words, I’m doubt I would be doing it. I might still be blogging, but I would probably still think of it as nothing more than a hobby. But writing a book? I don’t think I would be writing a book if Dave had never told me I was one of the few writers who could really write. His remarks about my piece on divorce is what convinced me I had more in me than a blog.

It's now time for him to retire. The footprint he has left on Coeur d’Alene and surrounding communities is immense. As he moves into his new adventure of retirement, there will be a vacuum left behind, an absence of his voice. But the impact he’s had on my life is a story only I can tell. This week, I want to congratulate him on a job well done. More than that, I want to thank him for his role in helping form who I’ve become.

Dave, your retirement has been earned and well deserved, may you enjoy it to its fullest.


Oh, Sunburn (in other words, ow)

Sunburns are a rarity in my life. Perhaps that is because my day job keeps me inside for most daylight hours. Maybe as a writer, I'm driven to work where there is a wi-fi connection: coffee shops, libraries, fast food joints. Beaches are not known for offering internet access, and let's be honest, I'm not the kind of guy who is going to bring his laptop to the beach for a three-hour writing session.

Looking back on the thirty-some-odd years I have been alive, I wasn't the kind to frequently burn - even when outdoors more frequently. Those occasions I did turn a little red, the strawberry tint would quickly fade into an enviable tan.

Until this weekend. I took the kids swimming on Saturday and we spent a few hours at a Spokane Valley public pools. Everyone had fun and afterwards, I felt like a normal human being. I changed back into street clothes, and headed to Art on the Green with my daughter. Zu and I ate some fair food. We wandered through the vendors and crafters. Zu tried samples at every booth that offered them. Even then, I still didn't notice any ill effects of prolonged sunlight exposure. Night approached, I began to feel a little funny, like something was off. When we got in the car to return home, I wondered 'why do my shoulders feel so warm?' It wasn't until I was standing shirtless in front of my bathroom mirror when I realized the full extent of what I'd done. A bright red hue covered my upper body. Biceps into my shoulders and down onto my pectorals. Forehead. A little on the cheeks and tip of my nose.

I'm sure my naked appearance is far more comical than usual. I should mention I had sunscreen with me and failed to apply it.

This burn is the worst of my adult life. Perhaps the worst since high school. But I've been thinking. Is it the worst ever?

The first truly memorable sunburn I ever got was a series of burns over the course of a single summer. At the end of my seventh-grade year, my grandparents drove me from Seattle to visit family near Kansas City, Missouri. In the few weeks I was there, my cousin Allen and I spent our days playing in a local park, hanging out at his dad's church, walking to the candy store in downtown Weston, or swimming.

Twice a week, my aunt would drive Allen, his sisters, and me across the river into Leavenworth, Kansas to go swim at the public pool – a twenty-minute drive each way. My aunt made sure we would get there as early as we could and stay as long as possible. Twice a week, for three weeks, for hours on end, with no use of sunscreen, my cousins and I would play in the water with little shade and fewer breaks. I left the state of Missouri looking like a skinny tomato.

My next road trip was from Weston to Cheyenne, Wyoming. A long drive through the cornfields of Nebraska listening to nothing but country music with my mom's little sister and her husband. My mom was in Cheyenne and we stayed there for Frontier Days before heading back west. The second leg of my journey home was from Cheyenne to Twin Falls, Idaho with my mom and her aunt. We stopped for a weekend long family reunion in Twin Falls - camping at an RV park that had a pool with water slides. I spent two full days riding those slides. There, I received another burn on top of what I got in Leavenworth.

We finally returned home and I resumed my normal summer routine: hiking in the Cascades as much as possible. Toward the end of summer, I attended my church's youth camp on Elbow Lake outside of Yelm, Washington. The camp gave us three hours for free time every afternoon and I spent most of my free time on the water in a canoe … working on my third sunburn of the summer.

After the pool in Leavenworth in June, the water park in Twin Falls in July, and the lake in Yelm in August, I turned into a human slice of toast. By the time I started school again in the fall, those consecutive burns had turned into the darkest tan I've ever been.

The second major memorable sunburn happened when I was fifteen and hiking above the Paradise Lodge on Mount Rainier. The air gets thinner above 5500' elevation. And that afternoon, at 6800' the sky was the deepest and clearest blue I had ever seen and the sun was deceitfully warm. So close to the glaciers and walking on snowpack, I would have expected cooler temperatures. As the day wore on I stripped off layers; by midday, I was down to shorts and a tank top.

(incriminating evidence)

There were two things that my skin had not anticipated. The UV rays are stronger in thinner air. Also, sunlight reflects off snow. At the end of the day, it was obvious I was burned. Legs, arms, shoulders, neck, sides, and back. There were clear tan lines (red lines?) outlining the length of my shorts and shape of my tank top. What made this sunburn memorable are the burnt areas that had never burned before. Light bouncing up from the snow tinged the undersides of my chin and nose.

Now, I'm burned again and it feels like the worst ever. But is it? I don't know. In comparison, it is mild compared to what I've done before. Maybe my age has made me over sensitive. Or it has been so long I've forgotten what it feels like. Or maybe I've lost the youthful energy that compensated for the pain in my younger years. Regardless, I am not enjoying this experience and I am eager for it to fade away.

Going forward, I’ll be adhering to the admonition offered in Mary Schmich's commencement column, which she published in the Chicago Tribune the year I graduated high school: "Wear sunscreen. If I could offer you only one tip for the future, sunscreen would be it. The long term benefits of sunscreen have been proved by scientists whereas the rest of my advice has no basis more reliable than my own meandering experience."


Movies, Mahnke, & Money

If you order DVDs through Netflix, old school style, they are delivered in fancy red envelopes. Open it up, watch the movie, insert back into the envelope, and return through mail. Fairly simple. Inside the envelopes, they promote various contests or upcoming events, usually seasonally related. However, the most current contest confused my oldest child.

"This doesn't make any sense." Christian said. I asked him what he meant and he explained, "Why would you bring movies with you if you were going to be stranded on a deserted island? Wouldn't you rather bring some survival supplies? If I was stranded on an island, I'd be more focused on living and getting back home than watching my favorite movies. Besides, what are you going to watch them on? Your laptop? And how long do you expect your battery to last? It's not like there's a TV there. Or electricity. Unless there are other people on the island and they have a TV you can use. But then you wouldn't be stranded. This is ridiculous."

I want to say he was overthinking things. Taking it too literally. After all, it is only a silly contest. But he does have a good point.

One of my current favorite podcasts is called Lore. Hosted by novelist Aaron Mahnke, Lore dives into the true origins behind ghost stories, monsters of legend, and modern mythology. I crave a good story and Lore is overflowing with greatness. The show is fascinating, and Mahnke's voice is near hypnotic. My off-kilter timbre landing somewhere on the spectrum between Mickey Mouse and Eeyore is jealous. Beyond his podcast, Mahnke is also an entertaining personality to follow on Twitter. He is witty, intelligent, and articulate. His bias is clear but not in a way to elevate himself as better than anyone else.

Last week, Mahnke went on a tweet spree. This series of tweets cemented his place on my list of people I want to meet some day. Note: this was all in response to people complaining he was "too political."

Reading through his rant, I wanted to jump up and down, throw my fists in the air, and shout, "Me too!" Check out Mahnke on Twitter and do yourself a favor, listen to Lore.

Whoever thought that chipped debit cards was a good idea should be fired from their job. Then rehired so they can be fired again. And they should be banned from working in research and development at any company - especially banks. Some people have good ideas. That person is not one of them.

I'd rather swipe my card. I hate those chip readers. Loathe them. They've made spending money more complicated than it needs to be. But this is the world we live in now. Yay for progress.

This is how a real transaction transpires:
"Please swipe or insert card." *swipes card*
"Chip enabled, please insert card." *inserts card*
"Do not remove card"
"Do you want cash back?" *no*
"Please enter your PIN number" *enters PIN*
"Do not remove card"
"Do not remove card"
"Do not remove card"
"Please remove your card now." *removes card and machine beeps*
"Thank you for shopping with us, have a nice day.

This is how every transaction feels:
"Please swipe or insert card." *swipes card*
"Swiping not available. Ha ha. Fooled you. Insert card." *inserts card*
"Do not remove card." *waits*
"No, seriously, don't remove your card." *waits*
"Don't even think about removing your card." *waits*
"Don't do it, bad stuff will happen." *waits*
"Do you want cash back?" *no*
"You're thinking about removing your card, aren't you?" *no*
"If you do it, I will break you."
"Please enter your PIN number" *enters PIN*
"Do not remove card." *waits*
"Do not remove card." *waits*
"Because if you do, it will disrupt the process." *waits*
"Do you want to start this process over? DO YOU???" *no*
"Then don't remove your card." *waits*
"Remove your card. DO IT NOW! Hurry up. What is wrong with you?" *panics, grabs receipt instead of card*
"What are you doing?" *removes card as an air raid siren starts whirring*
"It's about time. Thank you, come again."


Didn't see it coming ...

Disclaimer. The following contains some strong and possibly probably offensive words. When it comes to topics like addiction, depression, and suicide, I tend to speak the language of the broken and the hurting. There are certain elements of the human existence which escape the normal realms of my linguistic abilities. There are maladies in our lost world that do not deserve my politeness or my eloquence. Consider yourself warned.

Today is a day that Linkin Park fans should have seen coming. Or at least we can make that determination in hindsight. Still, the headlines were shocking. To lose Chester Bennington so suddenly and without any hint this would (or could) happen.

image courtesy of the indie spiritualist

Yes, he struggled with addiction and alcoholism. Yes, he fought his demons to get clean and sober. Yes, he had a rocky relationship with his fame. Yes, he had a painful childhood and years of pent up anger. All signs pointed to someone who battled depression and anxiety. After all, Linkin Park’s breakthrough single found Chester singing the opening lyrics, “I cannot take this anymore.”

On the other hand, he was a man who was loved by his family and his bandmates. He was a man respected throughout the industry. He was a man who inspired and encouraged a legion of fans.

As is often the case, the smile he wore disguised a darkness in side. It was a mask to cover the fragile real person inside who was on the verge of collapse. He managed to channel his rage through his songs where he’d sing and scream and emote as if performing with his band was a cathartic counselling session. For those of us who found his music at the right stage of our lives, Linkin Park was a form of therapy for us too. We found solace and solidarity in these songs.

After the suicide of yet another of our musical heroes, we engage in the only form of grieving we have available. We return to their songs and mourn the loss of someone we never met. While we didn't know them personally, they helped us get to know ourselves better. So that is how I spent my evening: listened to Linkin Park and cried. And in the middle of all of it, I could see a pattern I had not noticed before. Their music continually evolved, but if you pay attention, Chester’s pain is woven into their lyrics throughout their history.

Sixteen years ago, they released the single ‘In the End’ where Chester sang “I tried so hard and got so far, but in the end it doesn’t even matter.”

A year and a half later, the first single on their second album contained the chorus, “I wanna heal, I wanna feel what I thought was never real, I wanna let go of the pain I’ve felt so long, I wanna heal, I wanna feel like I’m close to something real, I wanna find something I’ve wanted all along, Somewhere I belong.” I listened to this song in tears today realizing that he never healed. He couldn’t let go of the pain. He never found that thing he wanted.

In 2010, the song ‘Waiting for the End’ came out, containing lyrics from Chester, “All I want to do is trade this life for something new, Holding on to what I haven't got.” Fifty-one days after Linkin Park released this single, my grandfather passed away. This song helped me cope and grieve, and even now I am crying as I type. I will always think of Grandpa Casey when I hear this song.

Four years ago, LP collaborated with Steve Aoki for their twenty-fifth single, ‘A Light that Never Comes.’ As that song played this evening, I broke down. Chester’s limited contribution to this song found him “Waiting for a light that never comes.” And I couldn’t escape the thought that the light never came.

I’m at a loss for words. Another headline of another dead rock star in another tragedy that could have been avoided. I am sick of this shit. We, as the human race can do better. Depression does not have to be a terminal disease. Drugs and alcohol do not need to be life sentences. We need to address the mental health crisis in our nation with serious and deliberate efforts. Because depression and suicide is not just something for the wealthy and famous. It affects us all. I’ve lost good friends to suicide and I don’t want to see it happen again.

So I have a message for death: fuck you. And suicide? Fuck you. Depression and addiction, I love my friends too much for you to take them from me so fuck you too.

We are all flesh and bone, damaged and weary. Yet I hold on to hope in this beautiful messed up world. There's a Linkin Park lyric that says, “This is not the end.” And I believe that. If you’re feeling like you’re waiting for a light that never comes, please don’t go. There is help. If you are in pain, you're not alone. If nobody else is listening, come find me. I’ll be here.


Status Check: Tidbits

You might see a bit of a slow down in the number of my blog posts over the next couple months. For a multitude of reasons.

1. It's summer and the kids are keeping me busy. They're spending most of their time at a day camp while I'm at the office. After I pick them up, the activity continues. JJ is playing baseball again this summer. I'm spending some quality time with each of them. And I am still trying to make Saturdays our adventure day. Most nights, by the time we get home, we cook dinner and start bed time routines.

2. I'm busy trying to get school done. It is more work than I anticipated, but it is the good kind of work. One recent class required the weekly assignments to be written as blog entries which was easy for me to figure out since that's what I do. In case you missed them, you can find those posts here, here, here, here, and here.

3. I've also written a couple articles for the parenting site They Call Me Dad. My second contribution was posted today and you should go read it. The first was published in April; you should read it too.

4. Speaking of writing, I am hustling to complete the first draft of my book. There is a lot of research going on and I want to have something that I can begin to share by the end of the year. In order for that to happen, I have to work my butt off. I'm roughly 20% through the project and I am more excited about it than anything I've ever written.

My temporary work-space. Note: Wendy's is not paying me to promote them, but I wouldn't object if they did.

5. Not everything in my life is about kids and work. I have been spending a lot of time with a wonderful woman and on Sunday we will be celebrating a year together. Thankfully, she supports my ambitions and encourages me to write, which makes everything else I talked about in this post so much easier.

That should summarize the state of life at The Faithful Geek. A five-for-Friday post on a Monday. As I start my 13th year of blogging, I am so grateful for those of you who regularly read along, for those of you who geek out with me, and for the few of you who periodically disagree with what I have to say. You have made it possible for me to enjoy something that I never imagined doing: to call myself a writer.

Thank you for sticking around. When my fingertips are not busy plucking out words and sentences and paragraphs for school, guest posts, or my work in progress, you will continue to find my thoughts about what it is like to be a Christian, a dad, and a nerd in this bizarre and beautiful world. Until then, do me a favor and click on an ad or two. It will make my oldest son happy.


Spider-Man: An Adequate Homecoming

What makes the Marvel Cinematic Universe work is how they are more than just comic book movies. The MCU blends a host of genres into their films - all retold from a superhero perspective. The Iron Man trilogy covered terrorism, scientific ethics, and corporate espionage. Captain America provided a historical war drama in The First Avenger and a political thriller in The Winter Soldier. Thor was a redemption story framed in high fantasy. Ant-Man was a heist movie. Both Guardians of the Galaxy movies were space operas. And now, there is a coming of age story: Spider-Man: Homecoming.

image courtesy of Columbia Pictures, Marvel Studios, & Sony Pictures

My first impression of Homecoming is overwhelmingly neutral. Bright and colorful, humorous and entertaining. It didn't feel overly long despite the 133-minute run-time. Yet, I walked out of the theater filled with competing emotions: satisfaction and disappointment. I enjoyed the movie, but I'm conflicted.

Tom Holland embraces the geeky awkwardness of Toby Maguire's Peter Parker and the jovial quips of Andrew Garfield's portrayal of Spidey. Additionally, Holland has a youthful charm not possessed by either of his predecessors and Homecoming benefits from his ability to fit the role of an angsty teenager. Homecoming picks up in the aftermath of Civil War where Peter Parker had his first taste of official superhero work. He is eager to get out and do it again.

The villain is perfectly cast by Michael Keaton as Adrian Toomes/The Vulture. Toomes starts off as a contractor managing waste disposal after the Battle of New York (the climatic third act of The Avengers). His contract is terminated, leaving him and his crew unemployed. They are replaced by Tony Stark’s newly created US Department of Damage Control. One of Toomes' employees (The Tinkerer) discovers some of the alien technology still in their possession can be used to create useful tools. Toomes begins a new criminal career stealing alien tech and Stark hardware from USDOC. They repurpose these scraps into weapons to be sold on the black market.

Several familiar faces reprise their MCU roles. Marisa Tomei returns as Aunt May. Robert Downey Jr plays the mentor and father figure Tony Stark/Iron Man. Jon Favreau plays Stark's bodyguard and best friend Happy Hogan. Gwyneth Paltrow makes a surprise appearance as Pepper Potts, Stark's girlfriend. And Chris Evans filmed a series of PSAs as Captain America.

Despite the basic formula of good guy stopping bad guy from villainy, Homecoming is essentially a movie about a high school kid in the midst of high school drama. The cast is filled with teachers and students that make up the world of Parker's daily life. Kenneth Choi is the school principle and Hannibal Burress coaches the academic decathlon team. Parker's best friend Ned (Jacob Batalon) is the wingman. Liz (Laura Harrier) is most popular girl in school. Tony Revolori plays Flash - breaking the stereotype of the jocks being a bully. Instead, Flash is just a normal kid who is also an obnoxious jerk.

Aside from the heroics, Parker wrestles with typical teenaged struggles. He is the smartest kid in school but has trouble applying himself, has a crush on the cutest girl in school, is constantly picked on by the bully, and experiences apathy toward all the things he once enjoyed. He is the kid who wants to grow up too fast. After helping team Iron Man in Germany, school is suddenly boring. He would rather be on missions with The Avengers, saving the world – abandoning education for adventure.

Homecoming succeeds by skipping the origin story. Peter Parker was a kid when the chitauri invaded Manhattan; it is the most significant event of his childhood. He grew up in a world where superheroes were known and their exploits were newsworthy. By the time Spider-Man appeared in Civil War, we knew he was doing superheroey activities and posting videos of his antics to YouTube. That's how Tony Stark found him. We don't need to revisit the spider bite that gave Parker his powers or the death of his uncle and the "great power/great responsibility" speech. We don't need those key moments in Spider-Man's origins because they have been told many times before.

Spider-Man: Homecoming is a fun movie. I enjoyed it. The casting is excellent, the costume design is impressive. The script is concise. The story line is engaging even if predictable. Some of the best moments of the movie are the most human interactions - especially a tense moment between Parker and Toomes, neither character dressed like their hero/villain alter-egos. My favorite scenes were musical montages: the first set to Blitzkrieg Bop by The Ramones and the second to The English Beat's Sooner or Later.

I give you a glowing review. An appealing summertime blockbuster. But somehow, I'm unimpressed and feel a little let down. Homecoming is part of the MCU, has the Marvel feel, and would not have been possible without the inclusion of Iron Man. However, it didn't have the same weight or impact as much of Marvel's expanding library of films. No big social issues. No deep philosophical meaning or moral lesson. I have no desire to go see it again like I have with several of the previous MCU movies.

It is only a story of a kid learning how to be a better superhero. It isn't a great movie, it's just OK. It is better than bad but falls short of amazing. It saved the franchise after the mess that was Spider-Man 3 and the two Amazing Spider-Mans, but did little to stand out among the crowded superhero genre. It's good enough to make me want to see where these characters go next but not so good that I'd call it a must-see movie. If you like comic books, you will probably enjoy it. If comic books aren't your thing, you're not missing much. Homecoming accomplished what it set out to do. Nothing more, nothing less. In other words, it is an adequate movie.


Doing Something Right: Summertime Edition

Summer has arrived in full force. A little belated but North Idaho has seen gradual warming since Father's Day and last Friday was the first time we reached 100 degrees this year. The sun is out and will be lingering for a while. For some people, summertime weather means beaches and boats, hiking the mountains or floating the river, sunburns and tan lines, summer camps, bonfires, volleyball, frisbee golf, cliff diving, baseball games, and backyard barbecues.

Not me, though.

Sure, my family participates in many of those typical summer activities. My oldest has earned himself sunburns on two consecutive Fridays and is slowly learning the value of sunscreen. My youngest has played his first two baseball games of the season and I took the kids out to watch the Spokane Indians last week. We will partake in opportunities for swimming and hiking and grilled foods. However, those activities and experiences don't make my summer summer.

For me, there is only one thing that makes this season feel truly summer-like. A soundtrack.

There are certain songs that should only be played between Memorial Day and Labor Day. There is music that makes you feel like you belong where the waves crash along the shore. There is a particular collection of tunes that dance and in hand with inflatable pool toys and roasted marshmallows. Whole genres that beg to be played during the summer months. Reggae. Ska. Salsa.

Or maybe I am just weird. Which is always a possibility. However, summer just isn't summer until I hear a couple specific songs.

This year, with a new car (I named it Emrys, BTW) that has an excellent sound system, I needed some cruising music. So, I did what I have enjoyed doing since I was a teen growing up in the 90's. I did what I was once paid to do in my former job as a DJ. I created a mix of songs for the occasion. It has been playing in my car for the last three weeks with a few breaks to listen to Spanish lessons with the kids.

My munchkins are growing more familiar with the music I selected. After listening through the full playlist a couple times, each of my three kids have picked out the songs they like best. One day, about an hour into the mix, Zu had a question for me.

"Where's the Fresh Prince?" She asked.

DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince's classic summer jam 'Summertime' is the second track in my playlist. It is one of those songs that I must hear before I can accept that this hot weather is valid and acceptable. It is one of those songs I believe is best played while driving around with the windows down and volume up. And that song is the one my daughter wants to hear the most.

This is how I know I'm doing something right. My daughter, like most girls her age, wants to listen to Justin Bieber or Ariana Grande or Shawn Mendes. Yet she has an appreciation for old-school Will Smith. She will belt out the lyrics when Corinne Bailey Rae plays. I will catch her singing along with some obscure artists like Ozomatli or The Sundays, bands I know she would never be exposed to without having a father like me. It makes me smile every time.

Because serious musical conversations with others is one of my favorite things, I'm sharing my summer playlist with you. These are the songs that define summer for me. Enjoy.


A New Dream

I've always been a dreamer to one extent or another. As a ten year old, after watching Back to the Future Part II, I dreamed of one day riding an actual hoverboard. In high school, I had dreams of becoming a songwriter or a radio DJ with my own morning show.

Now, the grown up me dreams of being a good dad and seeing my kids make world-changing contributions to society when they grow up. I dream of having a book published. I dream of losing weight. My insatiable and unrequited wanderlust dreams of travels to see destinations from New Zealand's Hobbiton to the remaining Tatooine sets in Tunisia. I long to climb to the Christ the Redeemer statue in Rio de Janeiro and attend a church service at Paisley Abbey in Scotland - with a small detour to see Loch Ness. My inner dork wants to own a Mini Cooper and a Cadillac Escalade XL, and have those two vehicles parked side-by-side in my driveway.

It's good to dream. Of course, we should set goals and work towards achievements. But there is something special about having dreams, especially when you have someone with whom you can share those dreams. Even if it is an unachievable vision or silly daydream, imagining the possibilities of where your life could go builds feelings of hope and optimism. Looking at the state of the world today, we could all use a little more hope and optimism.

These days, I'm starting to see a new dream. One that is shared. One that the more I think about it the more it sounds appealing.

Life on a farm or ranch.

I know what you're thinking. You want to know what logic I have dreaming a rural lifestyle. Me, the person who has spent his entire life in the suburbs. Me, the kid who grew up in the shadow of Seattle, shunning country music for the grunge and punk rock that hit peak popularity as I came of age. Me, the geek, video gamer, and cinephile; the urbanite who finds comfort in the sound of traffic, the feel of large crowds, and the sight of city skylines lit up at night.

And you might be right. Despite attending a high school nicknamed Cow-Pie High, I am the last person you'd expect to enjoy the day to day life with livestock and acreage. My exposure to ranches is limited to guided horseback trail rides at summer camp. My experience with farms is nothing more than the smell of bovine manure wafting over the fence during football home games in the MPHS stadium. I enjoy my five minute commute to work. I appreciate having a Subway, a Jack-In-The-Box, and a MOD Pizza within walking distance of my apartment.

Yet I have a new dream. Weekend before last, my girlfriend invited me out to see her horses. They're boarded with a friend of hers who has a barn and large pastures and the space to train horses. We hung out with her and a few others that also have horses staying there. Porch lights shone instead of streetlights. Traffic noises were replaced with chirping crickets, honking geese, and clucking chickens. I watched the sun set with nothing but trees lining the horizon. I rode a horse in an open pasture late into the night. While there, a thought crossed my mind: I could get used to this.

I pictured the kids playing in the fields - chasing grasshoppers in summer and snowball fights in winter. I envisioned warm nights sipping on a mojito and lounging in a hammock next to a campfire without worry of neighbors interrupting my chillaxation. I could see myself saddling up on a horse for recreation on a regular basis.

This isn't a random hypothetical thought experiment born after a single night socializing in a rural environment and spending a couple hours on horseback. I wouldn't be having these thoughts if it were not for several conversations I have had with my girlfriend over the last year. Then my oldest son admitted that he doesn't want neighbors.

Some background: my girlfriend wants to find property in the middle of nowhere that is big enough for her family and her horses. She wants goats and chickens. She wants fruit trees and a garden. She will ask me random questions out of the blue like "If I got a pig, would you help raise it?" Or "Could you eat the meat of an animal that you helped raise?" When she asked me if I would enjoy living out in the middle of the woods, I told her I could live anywhere as long as I have wifi.

If things work out between us, the chance of me following my girlfriend into the country isn’t just a possibility, but an inevitability. I don't find this proposition intimidating, but alluring.

This is where my new dream begins. In this vision, I would contribute to the chores of feeding and caring for animals. My breakfast would be made with fresh picked cherries and recently laid eggs. While the kids are at their mom's house, I could work a part time job or volunteer somewhere. And days when the kids are staying with me, I could drive into town, drop them off at school, then take my laptop to Starbucks to spend the day working on my next book until school is out and we all return home.

Obviously, we can't do this right now. This is a dream about how the future could look. If I want it to be a reality, I need to get a publishing contract. If I want to get a contract, I need to have a book. Which means I need to finish my manuscript. Which means I need to hustle. Because when it comes to a ranch life, I could get used to it.



Summer has finally arrived. It is here in full force with oppressive heat and humidity, smokey skies from a few different wildfires burning in Central Washington, and the power of a couple electrical storms that have blown through town in the last week.

It is the anti-school season but that doesn't mean we're taking it easy. The kids have been spending their days in a day camp at a local church and I've been hustling between my day job, my manuscript, college, church, playing with the kids, and spending time with my girlfriend. We are embracing the busy. In the meantime, here are a few snapshots of what life is like in the Casey household.


While doing laundry, J noticed the Nike logo on one of my shirts. He's my athlete (and is currently playing rec-league baseball) so he recognizes those things.

"My favorite brand of shoes," he said, "are Nike and Airwalks."
"Yeah?" I replied. "My favorites are Adidasand Vans."
"Oooooh, I like those too. So my favorites are Nike, Airwalks, Adidas, and Vans."
Then I add in another. "Converse makes good shoes. I'd love to get a pair of Chuck Taylors."
"Yeah." JJ stared into space for a moment. "OK, Nike, Airwalks, Adidas, Vans, and Converse. Those are the shoes I like best. Oh, and Under Armour."

Apparently, he has a thing for shoes.


We spent the Saturday before Father's Day downtown for the annual Car d'Lane car show and auction. Zu found several cars that she liked or she thought were pretty. But of all of them, there's only one she said she would want to own. This Audi. My girl has expensive, and classy taste.


It should be obvious that my oldest is mine. Genetics is a faithful servant. He looks like I did at his age. He inherited my awful coordination and lack of sporty skill. He got my intelligence (although, his mom is exceedingly smart too). And he shares my enthusiasm for all sorts of geekery.

With that in mind, he surprised me when he told about his preferred living arrangement. He said nothing about the size of home. He didn't mention anything about having to share a room with his brother or wanting his own space. Nor did he specify a city, state, or country.

All he said: "I don't want to live close to any neighbors." He's been spending time at his mom's boyfriend's parent's home up north of us. They live on acreage in the middle of the woods. He always has fun there and I think he is growing fond of the idea of shooting targets, building tree-houses, seeing wildlife, and the freedom to wander and explore.

He also told me that if I ever moved onto a large property with a big yard, he would do all the mowing. I'm going to hold him to that promise.


Christian isn't the only one warming up to the idea of a country lifestyle. My girlfriend owns a couple horses and has been trying to get me out to see them. This weekend, we finally made it happen. I've always enjoyed riding but growing up in the Seattle suburbs, the opportunity to do so was rare. Then, Sunday evening, I found myself on Roxy, riding late into the night. And for the first time in my life, I was in complete control of where we went, rather than following a guide.

One of the friends riding with us said I looked natural on a horse. Well? I could get used to this.


A Movie Review in Two Parts, Part 2 - The Perfect Allegory of Our Time

As we left the theater, Christian was buzzing with excitement. He declared Kong: Skull Island is now his new favorite movie. Well, second favorite right behind Doctor Strange. The jump scares weren't too scary. The combat scenes kept him engaged. He loved seeing the bond built between Kong and the photographer Mason. Marlow's comedic relief made him laugh. He was stunned by the scenery from jungles to village to boneyard, to riverways. And the size of the monstrous King Kong filled him with awe, so much so that he started cheering for the beast before Marlow revealed Kong as the island's guardian.

image courtesy of Warner Bros and Legendary Pictures

On the drive home, Christian had one question. "Why was Packard so determined to kill Kong?" He couldn't understand how Packard was unable to see what everyone else understood to be true - that Kong was a hero. He's a good monster. How could Packard be so blinded to hate that he ignored all of the advice given to him?

I gave him the simplest and truest answer I could provide.

Some people live in a world of black and white. For these people, everyone is classified as for us or against us. They divide their world into an us and them. We are the good guys and they are the enemies. Packard was one of these people. He was a career military man fresh from the battles of Vietnam. He thought of the war as a just cause and wanted to continue fighting. With US troops returning home, Packard saw the mission to Skull Island as a new battlefield. War was his purpose and he needed an enemy. As a well-trained soldier, Packard believed he was the good guy which automatically made Kong the villain. The deaths resulting from the initial firefight with the giant ape only served to confirm Packard's preconceived notions. Packard took the loss of life personally and he could only place the blame on Kong.

The beast was nothing more than an enemy to be defeated and no amount of reason could dissuade Packard.

As we talked, I began to explain more. The simple explanation really doesn't adequately answer Christian's question. How could one man's quest for revenge blind him to the goodness of his enemy? Because that's how hatred works in real life. We live in an era of identity politics where our world is divided between us and them. It is easier to scapegoat the other than to accept and remedy our own flaws. We're Americans and they are Mexican immigrants. We're Americans and they are Syrian refugees. We're the moral majority and they advocate gay rights. We're white America and they are black. It makes us afraid and people act stupid when they're scared.

We see this black and white world in our government. The Democrats view themselves as the good guys and the Republicans as treasonous foes. The Republicans think they're the patriots and the Democrats are enemies of the state hellbent on destroying the USA. Congress is eternally deadlocked refusing to come to the bargaining table, constantly seeing the other side as the party of bad ideas.

We see this black and white world in our churches. We want our houses of worship to remain safe for us. We separate into groups: we are saved, they are pagans. We isolate and ignore God's call to preach the gospel to all peoples. We struggle to build any meaningful connection with outside groups from the homeless population to the LGBT community. We are lost trying to help those with addiction or mental illness. We fail to live up to the biblical call to care for orphans, widows, and foreigners. We're us and they're them and it is easier to build a wall to separate us from them than it is to treat them with love like God.

We see this black and white world in armed conflicts on every continent of this planet. The enemy is always dehumanized to absolve soldiers from the emotional toll of warfare. Vietnamese soldiers were called Charlie. Combatants in the Middle East have been called ragheads. We're the good guys and they are the enemy.

There is a problem with such an outlook on life. No one thinks of themselves as the bad guy. No one looks at their actions and think "Yeah, we're totally evil. We're definitely going to hell for this." Even as Bashar al-Assad gasses his own people and drops bombs on schools and hospitals, he sees himself as a hero. The ISIS militants carrying out horrific acts of terror in Paris and London see themselves as holy and just. Vladimir Putin believes he is a good guy. El Chapo thinks he's decent man. Theresa May believes she is on the side of all that is right. President Trump thinks he's the best. Alex Jones, Sean Hannity, Steve Bannon, and Kellyanne Conway all think they speak truth. Hillary Clinton, Nancy Pelosi, Mitch McConnell, and Paul Ryan believe they want what is best for our nation. CNN and FOX news portray themselves as the most reliable source of news. Taco Bell claims to serve good food.

In Packard's hatred for Kong, he represents everyone who seeks to separate the world into us and them. He is the living embodiment of Trump's travel bans. He is Brexit. He is China's human rights violations. He is religious extremism. He is patriarchy, homophobia, and discrimination. He is the conflict between police officers and the African American community. He is everyone's racist uncle. He is YouTube's comment sections.

By refusing to listen to the advice of the tracker, photographer, and former WWII pilot, Packard represents everyone who is unwilling to walk a mile in someone else's shoes. He is the lack of empathy that plagues our world. He is the resistance against diversity. He represents those who automatically dismiss anyone who disagrees as wrong. He is everyone you know who will not listen to anyone with differing viewpoints.

From that perspective, Packard is a lot like the angry minority that has taken over our government. He reminds me of the ugliest segments of our culture. He shows us the worst parts of ourselves. Sure, Kong: Skull Island is not a perfect movie, but it is the perfect allegory of our time.


A Movie Review in Two Parts, Part 1 - About Kong: Skull Island

I wasn't sure what to expect of Kong: Skull Island. It's the second film in the Warner Bros/Legendary Pictures shared universe (AKA MonsterVerse), and I was a bit disappointed by the first movie in the franchise - 2014's Godzilla. But Kong received mostly positive reviews, looked visually stunning in a way that it must be seen on the big screen or not at all, the cast features Loki and Nick Fury, and I needed something to watch at the theater with my oldest on Father's Day. Additionally, Kong was directed by the same guy that brought us the quirky, sweet, and heartbreaking coming of age story The Kings of Summer. So I felt Kong was worth a shot. I was pleasantly surprised.

Now, let's be clear, this is not the best movie ever. There are flaws. It is heavy on exposition - often at a pace you'll miss it if you're not paying close enough attention. The character set up designed to make us care about characters that are eventually killed off is hit and miss. The ending, while satisfying, is wholly predictable. The tone shifts from a standard action genre romp with all of tropes, to mixing in horror elements, to a sci-fi reimagining of a National Geographic documentary, to an admiring tribute of Apocalypse Now, and back to a summertime adventure. At times, it felt like Kong didn't know what kind of movie it wanted to be.

In the film, John Goodman plays a manipulative cryptozoologist employed by Monarch - a government funded secret organization that exists to study and hunt down giant monsters. Goodman's Bill Randa believes an unmapped and unexplored island in the South Pacific is home to these creatures. As the Vietnam war comes to a close, Randa convinces a senator to fund a scientific expedition to the island complete with military escort. The crew travelling to Skull Island includes seismologist and Monarch employee Houston Brooks (Corey Hawkins), biologist San (Tian Jing), tracker and former British SAS captain James Conrad (Tom Hiddleston), compassionate anti-war photojournalist Mason Weaver (Brie Larson), Lt. Col. Preston Packard (Samuel L. Jackson) finishing his tour of duty in Vietnam, and a bunch of mostly disposable soldiers and helicopter pilots belonging to Packard's squadron who really just want to go home.

Once on the island, they drop seismic charges from the sky which angers Kong, a giant ape. Or as one soldier asked "Is that a monkey?" Kong methodically brings down all of the helicopters in a fit of rage. The survivors of the various crashes are split into isolated groups and each attempt to achieve different goals.

Packard, with Randa, wants to recover the weapons cache from one of the other helicopters so he can confront and kill King Kong. Along the way they encounter a giant spider with legs like bamboo trees and a flock of pterodactyl-like vultures. In another group, Conrad, Mason, San, and Brooks trek to the north end of the island in hopes of rescue from an anticipated supply drop at an exfil point. This second group is captured by a local tribe and meet Hank Marlow (John C. Reilly), a missing WWII lieutenant who crashed on Skull Island during a dogfight and lived with the natives since 1944.

Marlow explains his survival and the friendship he formed with his former enemy, a Japanese pilot who was also stranded after the same WWII dogfight. According to Marlow, the tribe worships King Kong and consider him their protector from bigger and deadlier lizard-like creatures called skullcrawlers. This second group invites Marlow to accompany them so he can return home a war hero. He agrees and escorts them on a boat he built from the wreckage of his and the Japanese planes.

The two groups converge and hope to reach the north shore, but are unable to continue because Packard refuses to give up his self-appointed mission: to bring down the monster Kong. Conrad, Mason, and Marlow attempt to convince Packard to leave Kong alone. They warn him that killing Kong will leave them vulnerable to something worse. But Packard refuses because he blames for the deaths of his men. He wants vengeance.

Earlier in the movie, after the helicopters all crashed, there is a stunning shot of Conrad and Kong staring each other down. It is pure cinematic magic where the anger in Conrad's eyes match Kong's fierce expression. Between the man and the monster, there is no love lost. That brief scene sets up a bitter rivalry with no possibility of a peaceful resolution. As a viewer, you know from that moment on that one will kill the other.

image courtesy of Warner Bros and Legendary Pictures

I won't spoil the remaining plot line. If you're a movie junkie like me, you could probably guess on your own. Yet by the time credits roll, Kong: Skull Island accomplishes what it set out to do - entertain. Many of the big action set pieces were thrilling. The cinematography was stunning and frequently far more beautiful than what is found in typical summer blockbusters and big studio tent-poles; a ton of credit is due to the director of photography. And John C. Reilly turned out to be the action star I never knew I needed.

The third (and next film) in the MonsterVerse is titled Godzilla: King of the Monsters. But after seeing Kong: Skull Island, I dispute the validity of that title. Kong is king. When the fourth film, Godzilla vs. Kong rolls out in 2020, I will be cheering for the big ape.


Changing Perspectives: Committed to Non-Violence

In three short verses in Matthew chapter five, Jesus provides instruction on how to assert your own sense of dignity when others attempt to strip it away. He told us how to maintain our humanity when other seek to humiliate us.

When we understand the context – the culture and laws of the original audience, it changes our perspective. We can take off the western lenses we normally use to read scripture and view it from the standpoint of someone living under the oppression of Roman occupation. I can no longer see this passage as a lesson in humility, instead I see it as a call for justice. Jesus never intended us to be doormats. Jesus never wanted us to passively suffer abuse. He knew we would be mocked and persecuted, but he wanted us to know that we could still insist others show us respect. He knew people would treat us like crap, but he continually reminded us that we were worth more – that we had inherent value as adopted children in God’s family.

So, he gave three pieces of instruction. If someone insults you as unworthy, dare them to treat you like an equal. If someone tries to make you experience shame, make them feel ashamed. If someone uses the law to burden you, use that law to your advantage. These are acts of generosity, but they are also acts of rebellion. They force your abuser to see your humanity and regret their cruelty.

If you see me as an equal, maybe you won’t slap me again. If you’re embarrassed to see me naked, maybe next time you won’t take my clothes. If you don’t want to me to carry your pack for two miles, maybe you won’t force me to carry it at all. Maybe, if you see me as a human being, you will treat me like one. Maybe, if you see my dignity, you will respect me.

At the end, Jesus tells us to love our enemies. He gives us options to avoid the harm our enemies want to cause us, then he tells us to love them and pray for them. This whole passage is soaked in grace. How much better could this world be if we showed love and grace to those who oppose and mistreat us? How much stronger would we be if we held the boundaries to say, “you can’t treat me like this” but still hope our enemies experience blessings? What could we achieve if we looked at our opponents and said, “I won’t let you hurt me, but I want the best for you.”

Nowhere in this sermon does Jesus suggest we act with vengeance. He does not instruct us to repay violence with violence. Jewish law allowed an eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth. But Jesus insists such measures are counterproductive. Instead, he says, “don’t resist.”

When faced with oppression or abuse, we think there are only two options: fight back or let it happen. Jesus shows us there is a third option: challenge it. Don’t fight against them, show them so much grace that their actions seem absurd. Don’t resist an evil person, subvert them. You can’t control them. Instead, let their behavior lead them to their ruin, you don’t have to go down with them. What Jesus advises we do in the face of adversity is passive. It’s non-violent. It is more rewarding than suffering in silence and it is far more effective than revenge.

A slight change in perspective. And suddenly, I see Jesus’ words as something so much more audacious, more daring, more dangerous, more rebellious, more subversive, more powerful, and more beautiful than I ever have before.

I also believe this message is more essential now than ever before in American history. As the government seeks to restrict our freedoms, we need to demand they see our dignity. Under threat of foreign and homegrown terrorism, we must demonstrate our humanity. To combat school bullying, we should empower and protect the powerless. With a populace struggling through drug addiction and mental health issues, grace is needed in abundance. During protests opposing racial discrimination and police brutality, we need a little peaceful subversion.

None of the challenges facing our country can be solved with violence. Thankfully, Jesus gave us three non-violent methods to subvert the powers that be: turning the other cheek, giving the shirt off our backs, and going the extra mile.