Justice League is 2017

Looking back through all the movies I watched this year, along with the events and headlines we witnessed in real life, I have concluded Justice League is the most 2017ish movie of 2017.

First, a quick synopsis of the movie. Justice League picks up after the death of Superman at the end of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. Criminal elements feel emboldened knowing Superman isn't around to stop them. Diana Prince deals antiques by day and plays superhero on the weekends. Bruce Wayne believes a threat too great for Batman is coming, so he is trying to recruit a team of powered individuals to fight alongside Batman and Wonder Woman. Barry Allen enthusiastically joins the team, but the other two metahumans, Arthur Curry and Victor Stone decline.

Unfortunately, the bigger baddie Wayne anticipated was already on earth. Superman's death activated mother boxes, signaling Steppenwolf's return to earth to conquer the planet. He had been here once before but his conquest was thwarted by the combined armies of Atlanteans, Amazonians, Olympians, the Green Lantern Corp, and humanity. The modern era would never be able to raise such opposition. People no longer believe in the Greek gods, the Atlanteans and Amazonians isolated themselves. The Lanterns are nowhere to be found. The mother boxes give Steppenwolf his power and his quest to retrieve them eventually unites the five superheroes into a team, despite the initial hesitancy of Aquaman and Cyborg. Thinking they would not be strong enough to defeat Steppenwolf, Batman uses the remaining mother box to resurrect Superman in the Kryptonian incubation waters - the same pool Lex Luther used to transform General Zod's dead body into the monster Doomsday. Bringing Superman back to life didn't go according to plan, allowing Steppenwolf to retrieve the final mother box without opposition. The heroes follow Steppenwolf to Russia where he is using the mother boxes to recreate earth. The united Justice League battles against Steppenwolf and his horde of parademons, almost losing until Superman arrives to save the day.

image courtesy of Warner Bros and DC Films

Going into this movie, I expected the worst. It was directed by Zack Snyder who was also in control of the abysmal productions of two other DECU disappointments: Man of Steel and Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. I've rarely enjoyed any of his other films and think he's the most over-rated director in Hollywood. Contributing to the lowest of low expectations were expensive re-shoots, changes in directors during post production, and rumors of behind the scenes drama. Walking out of the theater, I was pleasantly surprised. I could only summarize Justice League with three words: not that bad.

Let's be clear though, Justice League is not a great movie. Despite some great action in the first couple acts, and excellent portrayals of the new characters, the third act devolved into a red-tinted CGI slogfest. The humorous tone improved Justice League compared to other Snyder films, but I think those can be credited more to Joss Whedon who took over after Snyder had to abandon the project for personal reasons. The result was uneven in tone and filled with plot holes, yet better than I predicted.

Now as we close the year that was 2017, I believe these past twelve months share much in common with Justice League. Like the movie, it wasn't a great year yet I look back and think, 'it wasn't that bad.' Consider the following.

Anticipation: Based on Snyder's previous DCEU films, most movie critics and cinephiles expected Justice League to be a dumpster fire. However, there were fans who loved DCEU bombs like BvS:DoJ and Suicide Squad and they were eager to see Justice League. Based on Donald Trump's surprise electoral college win, many Americans excepted 2017 to be a dumpster fire. However, there were supporters who voted for Trump and were eager for him to take office.

The bad guys: In the middle of Justice League, the movie unnecessarily turned Superman into a villain. In the middle of real life, Donald Trump unnecessarily turned trusted media outlets into villains.

Cult of personality: Justice League featured a legion of parademons who supported their leader, Steppenwolf. 2017 featured a legion of white supremacists and neo-Nazis who supported their leader, Donald Trump.

Superhero-y stuff: Justice League gave us the opportunity to see superheroes doing superhero things, like Wonder Woman foiling a bank robbery, Aquaman providing care for a remote fishing village, and The Flash moving fast to rescue civilians. 2017 gave us the opportunity to see humans doing superhero things, like John McCain's thumbs down vote foiling a repeal of Obamacare, JJ Watt's fundraiser providing relief to the flood ravaged city of Houston, and Robert Mueller moving fast to investigate Russia's meddling into American elections.

Inexplicable changes in character: When talking about Superman in Dawn of Justice, Bruce Wayne said, "He has the power to wipe out the entire human race and if we believe there's a one percent chance that he is out enemy, we have to take it as an absolute certainty." When talking about Superman in Justice League, Bruce Wayne said, "The world needs Superman ... He's more human than I am. He lived in this world, fell in love, had a job, in spite of all that power." When seeking political dominance prior to Donald Trump's election, the GOP positioned itself as the moral majority, morally superior to the Democrats. When seeking political dominance since Donald Trump's election, the GOP has abandoned their moral superiority, enabling a serial liar and philanderer, making excuses for police violence, supporting racists, and endorsing an alleged pedophile.

Sometimes funny: Justice League had its funny moments, like when Bruce told Aquaman "I hear you can talk to fish" or when The Flash said he needed friends. 2017 had its funny moments, like when Winona Ryder kept changing her expression at the SAG Awards or when President Trump accidentally tweeted the word ‘covfefe.’

Unfortunate ending: The climactic scene of Justice League was the worst part of the movie. It ended in a fight against Steppenwolf, was convoluted, relied too heavily on special effects, and predictably gave victory to the heroes. The final months of 2017 was the worst part of the year. It ended in a fight for tax reform, was convoluted, relied too heavily of special interests, and predictably gave a tax cut to the wealthiest Americans.

Still, despite all that went wrong in both Justice League and 2017, there were several moments to celebrate. In the end, it wasn’t that bad. Here’s to hoping 2018 is better.

image courtesy of Warner Bros and DC Films


My prayer for Christmas this year

For me, the Christmas story begins with a prayer. You see it in the first chapter of the Gospel of Luke. It reads, "Then Mary said ... "

By this time, Luke already provided some exposition. We know what is happening or about to happen. An angel visited the unmarried Mary and let her know she was going to conceive and give birth to the Son of God. She learned of a family member that was also pregnant and she traveled to visit. There, she began to worship her God.

I have to stop the story at this point, because outside of Christian culture, it all sounds a bit fantastical. I get it. So put aside what you do or don't believe and place yourself in Mary's psyche.

You are a young lady in a patriarchal culture where women do not have any personal rights outside of their father or husband. Then a spiritual apparition tells you how you are to be the mother of God's son, offspring of the divine. You are told your baby will rule over your nation and his kingdom would never end. Yet you're only engaged. An unwed pregnancy would be scandalous and it is possible that your fiancé might abandon you for fear of shame caused by raising someone else's child. You are also a nobody from a forgotten village where nothing exciting ever happens. It is a small town where everybody knows everyone, so a pregnancy would be impossible to keep secret. Without your future husband's support, you would be fated to a life of extreme poverty.

How would you feel? What emotions would be flooding your senses? Would it be fear? Anxiety? Wonder? Confusion? Awe? Joy? An awkward mix of everything?

We know Mary experienced both ends of the emotional spectrum. She expressed her skepticism when she asked the angel, "How is this even possible?" She showed nervousness and excitement when visiting Elizabeth. In the middle of all of it, she stopped to sing praises.

This is the reason I view Mary's prayer as the beginning of the Christmas story. In our annual celebrations, it seems we have lost the plot. We think of Christmas as mistletoe and holly. We think of wrapped gifts and stocking stuffers, shopping malls and amazon.com, laughter and carols, candy canes and sugar cookies, Santa and reindeer, snow falling outside and a fireplace burning inside. We see the birth of Christ through filters of modern tradition, but Christmas didn't begin with any of that.

Christmas started with hope and fear. It started with dreams and failure, anticipation and loss, happiness and grief, purpose and bewilderment, trust and doubt. Mary stands between these extremes and still she believes in what she was told. Regardless of her state of mind, she worships the God she loves and refers to herself as a humble servant girl. With an unknown future too wild to imagine, Mary exclaimed, "God will show his mercy forever and ever."

Here, Mary's confidence is anchored in more than evidence could ever prove valid. These verses of scripture are more relevant to me now than they ever have been during my time on earth. As I read the Christmas story this year, Mary's declaration has become my prayer of longing.

image courtesy of Crosswalk

She said, "He has done mighty deeds by his power. He has scattered the people who are proud and think great things about themselves. He has brought down rulers from their thrones and raised up the humble. He has filled the hungry with good things and sent the rich away with nothing. He has helped his servant, the people of Israel, remembering to show them mercy."

So I pray.

I pray to remain humble and recognize how much my life has been blessed. I pray to be reminded of God's power. I pray God shows his mercy to those who are hurting, who have lost loved ones to death, incarceration, or broken relationships. I pray the pride of those who see themselves as superior due to wealth, race, gender, religion, or nationality will be broken. I pray those who seek to mistreat immigrants and refugees will be scattered. I pray those who condemn and harass the LGBT community will have a change of heart. I pray those who abuse their authority will lose their seats of power. I pray God raises leaders who will serve against their own self interests. I want to see foster kids gain homes, for the working poor to find relief, for the malnourished to be fed, for the lonely to discover a friend, for wounded communities to receive healing.

For those who exploit any form of systemic oppression, from white privilege to income disparity, from biased legislation to state-sponsored persecution, I pray they reap the fruits of their efforts, I pray they are sent away with nothing.

I pray God helps those who are tirelessly working to help the orphan, the widow, and the foreigner. I pray God shows favor to those who demonstrate kindness to the brokenhearted. I pray God protects those who sacrifice their safety to protest injustice. I pray God shows love to those who love their enemies. Lord, remember us and show us mercy.


To the Trump Supporters Who Raised Me

Intentionally or not, you inspired me to doubt everything - a taboo activity in the church we once shared. I became a skeptic. I took everything you gave me and ripped it to shreds, piecing it back together like some sort of art project, a collage where I kept those tenets that rang true and abandoned anything that conflicted with scripture. There is a word for this: deconstruction.

In cuisine, a deconstructed meal is one were the ingredients of a dish are cooked and served separately or in a non-traditional manner so that it is something wholly different. Like a deconstructed pizza might have meat and veggies wrapped in dough and baked with melted cheese on the outer crust then served with a marinara dipping sauce: the parts are all there, yet it doesn’t look like a normal pizza.

Religious deconstruction is much the same. Pull it apart and reassemble into something new and different. For some people, their doubts are too great and they become an atheist or agnostic. For others, they find a faith renewed stronger, deeper, and more vibrant than anything they experienced in their evangelical or fundamentalist past. Some of you would think of the former as an apostate and the latter a heretic. It is with these heretics I stand, those who tugged at all the loose threads, watched their world come undone, then stitched it back together into a rebuilt faith.

After I reconstructed my religious faith, I thought we were still on the same team in those things that mattered. Sure, we may disagree on proper attire for Sunday morning church services. Our beliefs about science and evolution might not align. We may have opposing political stances. And our opinions about addiction and mental health will vary. Yet we agree on the important tenets. We believe in the same God, the same incarnation, the same sacrifice in crucifixion, the same call to love our neighbors as we love our selves. When we talk about Jesus, we speak about the same Savior, the same divine come to earth to be a servant King.

I embraced an ecumenical approach to church. That you and I could take liberty in those differences that are inconsequential, yet stand in unity in issues essential to the Christian faith. When it came to the most important aspects of doctrine, we agreed.

Or at least we thought we did.

The last couple of years have forced me to question what we believe all over again. I watched your exuberant support of Donald Trump and wondered how we got here.

image courtesy of The Atlantic

Before I continue, I should clarify. My concern is not with those of you who simply voted for Trump and regret it. Or those who don’t like the man but voted for him as the lesser evil. Or those disappointed in his behavior and actions and hope he can do better.

My objection is with those who continue to support the president, even after this first year he’s been in office. You are the people who cause me to question again if this thing we call Christianity is worth the devotion you profess. When I see you describe Donald Trump as the hallmark of a Christian man, I am left with one of two possible conclusions. Either you don’t really believe all those things you raised me to believe, or what you believe is full of shit.

When I was younger, you taught me that marriage was sacred and divorce was to be avoided. To protect marriages, you insisted on fidelity. Now you voted for and continue to applaud a man that has been divorced twice, has had multiple affairs, and is now in his third marriage.

When I was younger, you taught me to always respect women. Now you support a man who frequently degrades ladies based on their appearance or biology, has bragged about sexually assaulting women, and has been accused by multiple persons of harassment, assault, and predatory behavior. You led me to believe in gender equality because both male and female were created in God’s image. Now, the president you laud slut-shames or insults any woman who challenges him.

When I was younger, you taught me to value honesty. Now, the president you celebrate is a serial liar. All politicians lie, yet Trump has turned dishonesty into an art form, routinely making demonstrably false statements and he constantly attempts to discredit any negative press about him as “fake news” regardless of the accuracy of the reports.

When I was younger, you taught me that pride and greed were to be avoided as the worst of all sins. Now, you elected and gleefully support a man who is blatantly arrogant, vain, and prideful. His greed is limitless. His life is built upon the quest for more fame, glory, power, and wealth.

When I was younger, you taught me to be kind. Now, this person you think is the greatest president ever gives all of his opponents crude nicknames. He teases people for their weight and height. He mocks the disabled. He vilifies the gay community, refugees, Latinos, African Americans, women, the poor, and anyone else he can use as a scapegoat.

When I was younger, you taught me scripture that said anyone who does not love does not know God. It also says perfect love drives out fear. Now, you follow a political figure who frequently preaches fear. He wants his supporters to be afraid of the other. He preys on every opportunity to scare you with invented threats of Muslims plotting to kill you or immigrants coming to take your jobs.

I don’t care if you voted for Trump. I am baffled by how you continue to honor and prop up a man who contradicts everything about how you taught me to live. I cannot understand how you praise someone who is antithetical to all of the morals and values you spent two decades teaching me to uphold. If you are so willing to abandon these basic Christian values of love, goodness, and decency, what worth did they ever have? What other beliefs currently maintained will you quickly dispose of tomorrow, or next year, or twenty years from now?

I love God, and I follow Jesus. Your fair-weather religion cannot rob me of my faith. At the same time, what you call Christianity is unrecognizable to me. Your evangelical creed has traded Gospel for politic; you’ve traded grace for power. If this is what you call Christianity, I want nothing of it.


To the Evangelicals Who Raised Me

To the various pastors, Sunday School teachers, youth leaders, family friends, and other well meaning adults who helped my parents raise me. Thank you for your efforts. My folks are amazing people and I know they could not have handled me all on their own. Allow me to congratulate you on mission accomplished. You successfully ushered me into adulthood where I became a law-abiding, tax-paying, contributing member of society. I know it was not easy.

image courtesy of Huffington Post

I was a quirky and precocious child. I knew all the Bible stories you would never teach to children. Like how Lot's daughters got him drunk so they could have sex with him. Or how the prophet Elisha summoned bears to maul a group of obnoxious teenagers. Or the time a youth fell from a second story window after dozing off during one of Paul's all-nighter sermons. I was the kid in church asking you why I wasn't allowed to dance when King David once danced naked, and why we weren't allowed to drink alcohol when Jesus and his disciples frequently consumed wine.

Those questions I asked were the first starts at pulling threads to see what would unravel. Those were my attempts to peek behind the curtain and see how the wizard worked.

The older I got, the more I queried. In the environment you maintained, asking questions was a dangerous activity. My inquisitiveness was often discouraged, mocked, or ignored. Yet I kept poking and prodding and trying to figure it out for myself.

What I discovered is that a lot of what you taught me did not make sense. In fact, much of it was unbiblical.

You taught me smoking, drinking alcohol, dancing, using profanity, and watching movies in a movie theater were all sinful activities. You made me think that my soul could be condemned to hell for dropping a single f-bomb, stepping foot inside the local cinema, or holding a single Marlboro between my lips. Your biggest message was how doubt was the gravest of sins, and possibly one which was unforgivable.

You prohibited one non-sinful thing under the assumption it would lead to something biblically sinful. Forget the verses about freedom in Christ or liberty for believers or personal convictions. You created strict (and sometimes absurd) rules not grounded in scripture to prevent what the Bible does describe as wrong. For example, you prohibited any imbibing because the Bible tells us to avoid drunkenness. What we have here is legalism.

When I reached the age where several of my peers were abandoning the Christian faith, I rebelled against legalistic dogma. I still believed. I still attended church. I also questioned everything. In the end, I realized a lot of what you taught me was crap.

Now, as a grown adult with kids of my own, my tenets of faith are much different than what you tried to pass on. My theology is probably a bit more liberal than you would prefer.

I still don’t smoke, for health reasons - not because of religious objections. I rarely drink, although I do love a good mojito. I dance like a fool, but only when no one is watching. It no longer bothers me when I hear other people cussing because I do not believe in a God that is scared by our vulgar language. I go to the theater as often as my budget allows. And I still have a bevy of doubts. There might be a few of you who think I'm hell-bound based on this paragraph alone.

I picked apart the Christian faith to determine how much of what you said when I was a kid held up under the weight of scripture. In the end, I got rid of a lot of baggage. Hopefully what remained were the parts that matter.

That God designed us to have an intimate relationship with the divine.
How God's love for us is the most powerful force imaginable.
That Jesus came as God in the form of a man to disrupt the corrupt patterns of human folly.
How Jesus set an example for how we should live.
That people have no greater way to love than to sacrifice their own lives for others.
That God's plan is to restore this world and fix the broken bits of our lives.

I still believe in sin. I believe that child abuse and sexual assault are sins. I believe intentionally deceiving others is a sin. I believe anything that brings harm to the weak, the poor, the powerless, minorities, children, the elderly, and the disabled is a sin. I believe it is a sin when our words and actions do not demonstrate love for God or love for our neighbors. I believe that racism, misogyny, and other forms of bigotry are sins. I believe these sins separate us from God. I also believe that God is eager to forgive and God’s grace is bigger than any of us can imagine.

Smoking and swearing and movie theaters and slow dancing and wearing jeans to church on Sunday mornings have nothing to do with creation, incarnation, crucifixion, resurrection, or salvation. Following petty rules about what should or should not be done will not change how much God loves us. Arguments over daily sanctification or eternal security are meaningless when we should be caring for orphans, widows, and refugees.

The person I am today is alien to the kid you taught and guided and mentored all those years ago. That kid might even think of me as a heathen. Regardless, I must thank you. You raised me to be a (hopefully) decent human being. I would not be who I am without your influence. For the good and bad and ugly, you were the catalyst for my wandering, rebellion, and renewal.

But there's more.


Censored for AdSense

Toward the beginning of the year, I started including advertising on this blog in hopes to earn a little extra income. My autocorrect changed the word “earn” to “eat” in that last sentence, so before proofreading, it had me hoping to eat a little extra income. That statement is probably truer than I’d care to admit. My son is hoping I become a full time writer someday so that I can spend more time with him, and adding advertising was the first step in that direction. Thankfully, Google’s AdSense made it easy to implement and maintain. Before I forget, this is also a shameless plug asking you to click on an ad or two while you’re here. It’s appreciated.

Now imagine my surprise when I received a harshly worded email from Google threatening to suspend my AdSense account for violating the terms of our agreement. “This is a warning message to alert you that there is action required to bring your AdSense account into compliance with our AdSense program policies.”

According to the email, I published something offensive. What could it be? Is it because I used the F-word multiple times when writing about Chester Bennington’s suicide? I get how people might not approve of my intentional use of profanity, but is that enough to catch Google’s attention? Nope. According to my warning notice, I published something “sexually suggestive or intended to sexually arouse.”

Wait, what?

That was also my response. Because I would never share something pornographic. I have a strong distaste for pornography, although not for religious reasons. I have ethical/moral objections to the industry because of how thrives under the evils human trafficking and child abuse. I also know a bit about how on-screen talent is paid, how it is structured to be demeaning to the women involved, and how so many are trapped there due to drug addiction, disease, misogyny, and systematic economic prejudices. I don’t want that kind of filth on my blog. Not to mention how it doesn’t remotely fit the theme of fatherhood, faith, and geekery.

Yet, for some reason I can’t explain, Google believes I posted something that was pornographic or sexually gratifying. They provided a link as an example demonstrating where I violated the policy. I followed it and it led to a post I wrote in June about the Sermon on the Mount where Jesus is talking about how we should react to those who mistreat us.

A blog post about Jesus supposedly violated Google’s anti-porn policy.

Is it because I mentioned streaking, strip clubs, or nudist resorts? Or because it included the biblical story of King David dancing while practically naked? Or because I described ancient culture’s aversion to nudity? Nope. It was because of the picture. A man walking through a crosswalk wearing only a pair of sneakers.

To be clear, there was nothing sexually suggestive about the image, nor was it intended to sexually arouse. The photo was taken from behind and from a distance. In efforts to be extra careful, the posterior was pixilated to avoid the exposure of anything offensive. Yet for reasons beyond my comprehension, the image was deemed inappropriate.

There are two bits of irony we have here. First, the post was published in the middle of June. It sat for five months before Google sent me notification requiring action. Which means someone complained. Which means that someone probably wasn’t offended by the picture, rather they were offended by what I wrote. The second instance of irony is the nature of AdSense’s ads compared to the image I used. I’ve seen ads from AdSense that were far more sexually suggestive than the picture in my post. Which means I had to edit my non-sexually suggestive photo to continue using advertising that might actually be sexually suggestive.


Regardless, I have great respect for Google’s policy against pornography. I oppose the porn industry so I have no objections to revising my content to comply with Google and AdSense, even while their methods are a tad hypocritical.

If King David was willing to become even more undignified to be held in honor, then I’ll be willing to censor myself to achieve the same goal. Because the picture doesn’t matter. It’s the message that counts.