Friday, May 29, 2009

Mary Mother of God - Look at this falling damage!

Its so easy to get terms confused. As an Irishman, I do it constantly and have to put on my verbal watchdogs so I don't say "Earthy" when I mean "Earthly" or "effect" when I mean "affect."

This is especially true in the abstract arena, where you are juggling concepts in your head and trying to make correlations or decide what X+Y actually produces.

This all came to mind because, as I said, I am working on revising the rules for the venerable RPG I have played for over two decades, Villains and Vigilantes. It was a great game, but like Star Trek: TOS, over the years the seams began to show and it needed a few home rules to keep it running smoothly. Like ST: TOS, it did not need a complete overhaul but rather a "re-mastering" so it would be as lovely as the old girl could be. In an effort to stay true to the original concepts, I have taken upon myself to personally delve into each rule, questioning why it works and seeing if it can be made better. Many rules are fine "as-is" and some are just plain ingenious. Others are obviously intuition and some are "intuition gone wrong."

Falling Damage
The rules state that an object falls at a rate of 100 game inches the first turn, 200 game inches the second, 300 the third and so on and so forth until 1000 game inches a turn is reached. Using our game inches to miles per hour conversion factor of 4.4, this means a PC or object who's falling starts at around 22.7 mph and tops off at 227 mph. This VERY close to the real world measurements, with terminal velocity for a man in a 'diving' low -resistance freefall equaling about 200-220 mph. EXCELLENT!

Only one problem: the ACCELERATION should happen every SECOND, not every TURN (or 15 seconds).

So in V&V you can jump off a 40 story building and hit the ground at 22 mph, the same rate as any parachutist.

Now the NEXT paragraph covers that this is not possible, because you take the square root of your Basic Hits (human male = 4 BH so that's a 2) times the distance fallen in feet as damage. So if you jump, you are going to hit the ground at 22 mph, but take 100 x 2 or 200 points of damage.


No wonder the villain is about to toss the hero off of the roof on the front cover! There won't even be enough left to mop up!

Now of course this is all ameliorated by Agility, Invulnerability, etc., so for years we did not question this basic error - we were out to play a game, not do physics! We just accepted the rule as 'well-thought-out-by-minds-greater-than-us' and let it stand.

It was quirky, and we knew something wasn't right ("My hero should be MORE afraid of falling than a nuclear bomb?!") but we didn't question it.

Until we saw the error. Boy, was it a doozy.

Mary, Mother of God
Every orthodox, genuine Christian I know has accepted Jesus Christ as God incarnate. "He is the express image of the invisible God..." says Paul and we can know God as a Person because of Jesus Christ. Just by reading Colossians 1 or John 1, you can see this doctrine of Christ's divinity.

And Mary is his mother, right? So she is the Mother of God, right?

Uh, no. You see, this fallacy appeared in the 3rd century or so. Once everyone who knew Jesus and Mary personally had died, and their kids died, men began to show how easy it was to get off track and got this convoluted.

You see, Mary IS the Mother of Christ, we all can affirm that, but she only contributed the flesh for Jesus. It was the Holy Spirit working in her that brought forth the divine. Otherwise, Jesus would have just been a normal human.

Luke 1:26-35
26 In the sixth month, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, 27 to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin's name was Mary. 28 The angel went to her and said, "Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you."

29 Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. 30 But the angel said to her, "Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favor with God. 31 You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus. 32 He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, 33 and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; his kingdom will never end."

34 "How will this be," Mary asked the angel, "since I am a virgin?"

35 The angel answered, "The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God."

I have seen and known devout Christians in the Roman Catholic Church, and I gotta say, they often show Christian charity far better than some Protestants I know.

But this error has led to so much idolatry and error, it hurts. It so easy to think the wrong things about God. It reveals our fallen nature.

If you love what you do, if you love doing things the right way, do yourself a favor.

Review the rules you have been handed and double-check the reason for them. Many will hold up because they did come from a good heart or mind. But don't be surprised when you find that men can make a most basic error about the nature of our world - or of the Lord who rules it.


Friday, May 22, 2009

25 Years in the Making

Knightstar - (c) 2009 Justice Carmon
That's my premiere character to the right - Knightstar. I am finishing up a novel about him and his buds right now.

And I have finally gotten off of my duff to put together my old rules variants for Villains and Vigilantes. While it is still up in the air whether or not I will use other contributors, I am just sick of waiting for someone else to do it.

And I am lazy. It has taken me 25 years to do this thing I like.

I began compiling my data and today I scanned in bits of old artwork I had done over the years - and you know what? I liked a lot of it but I had too little of it. I have been living in "survivor mode" for years, thanks in large part to my debt and lack of faith in the skills God gave me.

I gotta get more pro-active.

Anyway, I thought I'd showcase some stuff from decades past.

Enjoy.(Oh, BTW, these characters are all copyrighted by me and in some cases I have a co-creator, so don't get too frisky and claim them as your own. Even if I do not go after you, they might.)

Starbolt (c) Justice Carmon & Thomas BiffleStarbolt - the fastest man in the galaxy! My buddy Thomas Biffle, and I created him back in 1980. Think DCU's Animated Flash meets Quasar.

Vengeance - the avatar of divine retribution. My friend Scott Craig created this character as an Egyptian deity's "agent". Scott loved the Dark Phoenix saga and it shows in this flame-based character. Think Human Torch meets Wildfire. Yeah - he had a REAL MEGABLAST!

Lupran Assault fighter - our cosmic bad guys were alien werewolves who merged tech and magic. This was their assault fighter. Think ROM Spaceknight's Dire Wraiths meet Werewolf by Night.

Turbohawk - DEFINITELY all mine. I love this urban vigilante with bionics. Think Six Million Dollar Man meets Batman. To wit, a paraplegic veteran from the Iraq War is drinking himself stupid in the rougher areas of Chicago when he gets mugged and his live is saved by a kid called "Crowbar" (see below). Next day, at the veteran's hospital he's offered a second chance and a new program - the "cybersoldier" program codenamed Blackbird X. He's gonna get new arms, legs and even wings so he can fly! (Its the cape, natch). Takes it on condition the kid stays with him as his helper and personal aide.

So is born "Turbohawk and Crow".

Here's Crowbar - now just called "Crow". (He's a little too "lily white" here - in production he'll be more African-American.

Well that's it for now.

Back to work.

Thank you Jesus for all the neat ideas.

They helped me see you better.


Thursday, May 21, 2009

Do Unto Others...

" you would have them do unto you."

When Jesus said this it was clear He wanted us to be primarily compassionate and a bit generous in how we deal with people - especially people who lack fundamental social skills or are just plain mean.

I have been mean to good people and found that their grace towards me really did a better job of searing my conscience than anything else.

I have had people be very mean to me - and most of the time I can say "Aw, that's not the way they normally are. 'This too shall pass.'"

Its when someone is constantly abusive or rankly selfish, say 9 out of 10 times, that you want to stop listening to Jesus. I think that's natural. I think even Christ understands that. He DID warn His disciples time and time again they would be attacked, ridiculed, tried and such. He did tell them when the Gospel is rejected and you the messenger are blown off, to move on.

And I think that is to be an act of love. You see, I heard the Good News about Jesus and how He would take care of my sins - but never that He would take care of me. I had to read that for myself in the Bible. I also remember thinking when I sat in my liberal, lukewarm Presbyterian church as a teen: "Well, if this is TRUE, why aren't we more excited?!"

The deadness of the faith around me astounded me. So, considering myself better than the 'deaders' in my church, moved on - to honest Unitarianism. I had no idea what I believed except that I wasn't so bad as all that.

Guess what? Jesus moved on. He let me do EXACTLY what I wanted.

Long story short: it did not work. Then I sought Him. Well, long story short on that, He Spoke to Me and scared the BOOGERS out of me (Yes, I mean LITERALLY SPOKE. Yes, Virginia, you too can go from being a liberal-minded Presbyterian to being a 'Jesus Is Lord' Pentecostal in 0.35 seconds).

I didn't want to be hassled with religion or someone giving me their cookie-cutter morality of sexuality.

After I had imbibed all the disobedience to God I could take, I went looking for Him.

He was waiting.

"Do unto others as you would have them do unto you."

I think Jesus was never forced to obey. I think Jesus had PLENTY of opportunities to do His own thing. He just never did, that's all.

But He obeyed out of love and God would not have wanted Him to do otherwise.

I think Jesus leaves us alone to HELP US find out He was right.

A terrible analogy is coming to be sure, but do you remember how the Russian mobster says in The Dark Knight. "[The Joker] was right. We haf to take care of REEL pro'vlem: Bat-man."

Jesus is right, folks. We have to take care of the real problem: selfishness.

Sins against God are just the symptoms. They are NOT the root problem.

Jesus makes holiness and obedience simple in this one verse: "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you."

Yes, I think you will need the power of Christ's resurrection to do that very thing.

Yes, I think you will have to bow before Him to become a new creature with eternal life and a transformed heart, but in any case, Jesus knew we were fairly compassionate to our own selves and fairly non-compassionate to those who hurt or wound us.

By the way, this is a pro-active command. It is usually not seen in that light.

It is not "Don't do to others what you would not want them to do to you!" I think Buddha and Socrates said something similar to THAT in 5th century B.C.

No, that's the Old Testament-thinking folks. Jesus said "DO what you want them to DO unto you." A few other thinkers caught on to this, namely Plato. This could be misconstrued as a form of manipulation and has been used that way by many. "I gave you a piece of my pie; give me some of yours!"

But that's not what Jesus is saying. He's saying "Be generous in all areas. Be cool and giving like you are Bruce Wayne or something. It will DEFINITELY come back around to you. Givers have LOTS of people who want to help them when THEY need it."

I'll tell you, unlearning selfish protectiveness after being slapped and beaten by the world can be hard - but I have learned Jesus is right.

Small anecdote: I was working at Ruby Tuesdays right after becoming a Christian. I was trying very hard to do EXACTLY what Jesus said, and let me tell you, there were times I went into the walk-in freezer to rant and cool off and pray "JESUS, HELP ME!"

One girl made it her GOAL to push my buttons; she stole my tables and customers costing me some very needed income. I got grim, but I trusted the Lord to deal with her. After I left, one year later, she became a Christian. She came up to me to tell me and I praised God with her. I cannot tell you how happy I was.

I did what Jesus said about turning the other cheek and it worked. In fact, by letting her do what she did, I believe she finally saw her need for a Savior. She was wrong by any measure and she knew it.

Another story: one girl, petite and auburn haired, quiet with that Prairie-homesteader gaze, was her friend, though I did not realize it. Once she too did something that got me hot - forgot to do her sidework, something small like that, but it impacts the entire crew - and I wanted to give her a curt command or two. But remembering what Jesus said, and that every decision I made when angry was wrong, I held my peace.

Later, I discovered that I had been mis-scheduled to work a Friday I was to have off. Only ONE person was available to swap with me to fix it.

Yeah. You saw it coming, didn't you? It was her. I asked her to swap and she was kind enough to do it.

I guess what I have learned - and am still learning - is let Jesus process the hearts He wants to grab at the speed He can.

My job - and yours if you call yourself a believer - is to do as much kindness to them as you can. Be generous to the jerks.

And if they are a blatant jerk or really wrong, tell them in the way YOU would like to hear it.

"Hey dude."


"You might want to re-think that."

"What if I don't, huh?"

"Dunno. Might be bad for you. Just saying, is all."

You really cannot take offense at that. And later, even if you DO the stupid thing, and suffer consequences, you know that person cared for you. They spoke out of love.

You know those awful commands in the Bible? All those 'Do nots'?

Did you ever think it was a kind God trying to give US the 'heads up'?

Thanks for caring, all my kinder brothers.

And thank You for them, Dad.


Monday, May 18, 2009

Confession is Good for the Soul

I have two confessions:
a) Last night I ran a game with three (then turned four) new gamers. I loved it.

b) I do not want to write anything after having downloaded visually so much powerful stuff from "Occasional Superheroine", Valerie D’Orazi's tell-all site, covering everything from her abusive father to her wounds (mental and physical), to her pain in trying to fit into the male-dominated industry of comics and finding her dreams turn into suicidal thoughts.

It is raw, funny, painful, and very understandable. Nope, she is not a Christian, but yep, she does listen to Christian radio and finds some of it good, though with caveats: when we forgive those who hurt us and 'let God deal with it' are we granting empowerment to the abusers? Doesn't this keep the cycle of abuse going? (Quick Answer: adults who can wound back need to forgive. Children - including "adult children" - need to go to a safe place and get healed FIRST.)

Her blog today was about the comic book shop were she worked at the tender age of 16 being torn down to the foundations. Like so many shops in the early 90's it was a cesspool of weirdness, of strange characters needing escape from their personal pain, of banal marketing that nearly crushed the life out of the industry as greed took over.

The worst part was the 'loss of innocence' that happened there. When what she discovered what she loved (comics) was not what motivated or captivated the shop owner's interest. She relates the exact wording and then discovers that another 'abusee' decided some come-uppance was in order. (Scroll down: ).

I like her. A lot.

(Valerie, you aren't going to read this, but after 'hearing your pain', and today's blog, I am reminded of that scene in Forest Gump when the shack Jenny was abused in was torn down. Between you and me, Jesus affirms what Buddhists call 'kharma'. You might want to read the book of Esther for the sheer fun of it.)

Y'all boys and girls out there readin' dem funny books have a good day, 'kay?



p.s. Remind me to tell you the time I was writing a series for young boys and was asked by two women editors if there were any "strong female characters" in it. When I replied I didn't really have that on the radar - it was to be for boys and it was about them becoming modern-day knights - I went from level-one talent to 'we'll email you when you become sensitive' status.

Still waiting for that e-mail.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Happy Birthday Israel! (& Christendom's Oldest Oath of Allegiance)

Today is the nation of Israel's birthday. It is also, for that reason, my fictional hero's birthday. He was born the day Israel was restored as a nation: May 15th, 1948. I'll tell you more about him later.

But as I walked into Wheaton College's library this morning, after being mildly shocked how empty the campus was, the strangest thing and most wonderful thing was written on the library's announcement dry-erase board:

"Jesus is Lord."

What is truly spooky, is that I wrote the remainder of this blog two days ago on Wednesday, May 13th.

I'm not stupid. God wants me to know something and is hammering it in. So without further ado, here's what I wrote and saved as a draft and now publish:

If you were like me, sitting in Sunday school, thinking that meant next to nothing, think again.

Christians in the first century said this as a counter-cultural Oath of Allegiance. You see, Caesar was considered divine as he sat in power over the Roman Empire; it was known and repeated "Kaisar Kurios!" i.e. "Caesar is Lord!"

Christians who said "Christos Kurios!" were not just saying that Jesus was divine, but present and powerful and the True Ruler of the world.

By saying it, they were defying the power of Rome, and by implication, all who paid homage to Caesar.

Paul wrote: "No one can say 'Jesus is Lord' except by the power of the Holy Spirit." [I Cor. 12:3]

They were a bit radical, but since many had seen or knew someone who had seen the resurrected Christ, it was understandable. Once that happened, they were pretty certain Caesar was just an imposter king.

"Jesus is Lord."

That means He wins, no matter what. It also means we speak up for Christ, no matter what. Jesus expects us to stand true to Him in the political arena, and this blogger reminded me of that.

"Jesus is Lord."

Well, frankly folks, He is.

We either obey Him as such or not. As one said "Jesus is Lord of All, or He is not Lord at all."

That's right.


Thursday, May 14, 2009

Graduation Day -and its a craaazzzy finish

I almost did not graduate from college way back in 1994. I worked my tail off and got it down and found out that my instructor was gong to fail me because I had missed the review deadline. I had talked a good game, got busy with work and life and nearly screwed up my entire graduation.

Some buds saw how hard I was working at the very end to make my photo shoot deadline (5 days later) and interceded for me. He relented and I got a 'C'.

I hate projects. They are fun to start but horrible for me to finish. I love possibilities; I hate endings.

I had a kind poster do an intervention on me recently and pointed out I was saying this or that but not getting to the finish with it.

Here's what is awful about finishing: you have to do it alone.

Everyone has ideas and gets excited on the front end, but if you are working on the project, you finish it alone. In a dead heat. At 3 a.m.

One writer said "I don't want to write. I want to HAVE WRITTEN."

I love that.

I have two projects to do. No, three.

I am going to kill them all this month, Lord willing.

Don't expect any postings for awhile. Or expect them to be your typical blog off-the-cuff remarks. Nothing deep.

And for what its worth, I like giving away the farm. Expect something neat up here soon.

"Freely you have received, freely give."


Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Oldest Christian Oath of Allegiance

Today is the Nation of Israel's birthday. It is also, for that reason, my fictional hero's birthday. He was born the day Israel was restored as a nation: May 15th, 1948.

As I walked into Wheaton College's library this morning, after being mildly shocked how empty the campus was, the strangest thing and most wonderful thing was written on the library's announcement dry-erase board:

"Jesus is Lord."

What is truly spooky, is that I wrote the REST of this blog two days ago on Wednesday, May 13th.

I'm not stupid. God wants me to know something and is hammering it in. So without further ado, here's what I wrote and saved as a draft:

If you were like me, sitting in Sunday school, thinking that meant next to nothing, think again.

Christians in the first century said this as a counter-cultural Oath of Allegiance. You see, Caesar was considered divine as he sat in power over the Roman Empire; it was known and repeated "Kaisar Kurios!" i.e. "Caesar is Lord!"

Christians who said "Christos Kurios!" were not just saying that Jesus was divine, but present and powerful and the True Ruler of the world.

By saying it, they were defying the power of Rome, and by implication, all who paid homage to Caesar.

Paul wrote: "No one can say 'Jesus is Lord' except by the power of the Holy Spirit." [I Cor. 12:3]

They were a bit radical, but since many had seen or knew someone who had seen the resurrected Christ, it was understandable. Once that happened, they were pretty certain Caesar was just an imposter king.

"Jesus is Lord."

That means He wins, no matter what. It also means we speak up for Christ, no matter what. Jesus expects us to stand true to Him in the political arena, and this blogger reminded me of that.

"Jesus is Lord."

Well, frankly folks, He is.

We either obey Him as such or not. As one said "Jesus is Lord of All, or He is not Lord at all."

That's right.


Monday, May 11, 2009

Star Trek & New Voyages

I saw it. Lord have mercy on my soul, I saw Star Trek Friday.

There were fist fights, sword fights, starship battles and planets being blown up.

There were jokes and love and rage and humor and I'm-too-cool-to-be-touched-by-you attitude by Kirk and oh-so-that's-your-logic-well-here's-mine-baby from Spock, so ice-cool under fire that you'd swear Mafia hit men would respect him.

There's young Chekhov who brings innocence and earnestness to every scene he gets to speak in and a grouchy McCoy who doesn't let command decisions get in the way of good horse sense.

Other things have changed, but not to anything ugly. Uhura is still a poised professional, but she has more chops than charm now. Scotty is more comedic like Chekhov, but not mockingly so. Sulu is a bit more serious, but his ability to kick butt and help Kirk are welcome sights to behold.

The actor portraying Captain Pike was an admirable, spot-on choice. With calm demeanor, practical wisdom and a steady gaze, you can see how he got Kirk's respect and attention.

Now what's great was how much respect was given to ST:TOS - and what is amazing is how deftly Abrams jettisoned all ST baggage logically - we have a FULLY re-booted Star Trek franchise in an alternate universe, kids. We kept the characters and the icons we liked and shook them well.

We are not getting a ghost or a rip-off of the old Trek. We are getting Trek back from the grave in a resurrected body. She's alive and the old girl isn't quite the same - and will never be the same again.

That's more thrilling than scary at this point. Banality had slowly quenched the fire of Star Trek. This film lights it all up again like a quart of starter fluid on an old charcoal grill. FWWoommPP! (Watch yer eyebrows, boy!)


When I was a kid, I dreamed of being a part of Star Trek in some fashion: having loving camaraderie with a crew of very talented professionals, sailing the stars faster than light, meeting new civilizations and fighting bad guys. I know all geeks feel the same, but I had a terrible moment in which I had just finished reading "Surprise!" by Nichelle Nichols and Sondra Marshak from Star Trek: The New Voyages 2, and was very touched by the crew trying to throw a surprise birthday party for Kirk, even as an alien "pet" had boarded the Enterprise.

The writing showed me not all families had to be dysfunctional. I did not realize it, but I was wanting their fictional community, not "Star Trek" per se.

I went outside our small home in Mississippi and looked up at the winter stars. I had an ache in my heart that was something terrible. I was a logical young boy (Spock had taught me to be so), but I wanted or would have given ANYTHING to see the Enterprise in the night sky above me. To be on board her with that crew I loved so much.

C. S. Lewis called this "sehnsucht" - this almost inexpressible longing or hunger for something that was missing.

I found it later, in Christ, in going on my own adventures with Him, in meeting other believers across the globe. Christ gave me peace and truth. Christ gave me a chance to start over, to leave behind banality and experience life anew.

"The human adventure is just beginning" said the old movie poster for Star Trek The Motion Picture.

In Jesus, my longing was fulfilled. Not only was I forgiven, but I became an immortal by accepting him and one day will visit the distant stars, according to Romans. But first, Jesus had to heal me, to turn me away from my animal pursuits of shelter, food, sex, etc.

The adventure of becoming human was just the beginning. One day it will be completed in a new universe. This is what Paul was referring to in the first verse, I believe.

Romans 8:19-23; 38-39

The creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed.

For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God.

We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies...

For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

We are decaying for now, but one day, in the blink of an eye - a new universe will be given us! No decay, no death, no disease.

I cannot wait to see what we will discover there.

Live long and prosper.


Thursday, May 7, 2009

To Boldly Go Where No Man Has Gone Before [Again]

Its the end of an era, I think. We had to do it sooner or later, and though I haven't seen it, the newest Star Trek movie looks to be garnering a lot of fan and critical praise. [Scoring 94% on the Rotten Tomatoes meter!]

In short, what Batman Begins did for our Dark Knight, and Casino Royale did for James Bond, this is doing for the crew of the U.S.S. Enterprise. The good news is that the baby is not being thrown out with the bath water and a logical explanation within the parameters of the Trek universe is given for the changes we will see.

I haven't been this impressed since I heard Geoff Johns brought back Hal Jordan.

It sounds like a script I would have been proud to have written as a fan, hoping with all my heart to keep the essence of our heroes but updating them with a new cast. It is a re-birth and I for one like the cries the baby is making.

I've seen ham-fisted shallow attempts at making an old character 'cool' by those who never appreciated the original. To see what I mean, just remember some of the Marvel cartoons of the 90's, specifically, The Avengers. GAAAAHHHHHH!!

Two different artist friends of mine were called to aid in re-imaginings and re-designs for two different comics. Both were humble men, willing to please the editors and worked hard to make the decisions from the higher-ups work. Neither re-launch went anywhere after they were done. This was not their fault, but hey, guess what fans remember?

It stinks. It really does.

So I am glad for J.J. Abrams was able to pull this off. I am glad for other creators who had a successful launch after wading through the millions of opinions and wretched pressures of fanboys (Jon Favreau comes to mind). Some re-workings work well, some do not. We've done everything possible to undo the changes in Superman, Supergirl, and Green Lantern wrought by "the powers that be" at DC Comics. Let's not even talk about "One Day More" with Spidey losing his wife over at Marvel. Wow - Mephisto has the power of God - who'd have guessed?

Why does one re-boot work and another does not? It's simple, really.

We are creatures of reason AND imagination. We want both satisfied when we are being entertained. Are you trying to make the character more logical, more human, more engaging or are you just trying to attract attention - "NEW AND IMPROVED!"?

In essence, are you wanting to go new places and expand his or her mythos, or just give them a "cooler look"? If the latter, you've failed from the get-go.

We don't mind new designs that reflect a better aesthetic - but those kinds of changes are usually gradual - look at Superman's costume for crying out loud. He's had nearly 11 different logos at last count over 70 years of publication, but we never complain. In Star Trek the Motion Picture, Gene Roddenberry dropped the ball by re-designing EVERYTHING. In Star Trek II we actually breathed a sigh of relief when we saw black boots, black pants and some semblance of color in the uniforms again. The only non-gripe: we had to admit the updated design for the U.S.S. Enterprise was pretty darn cool. She looked more elegant than ever.

Abrams and crew are wise enough to keep the main aesthetic in certain areas and dropping them in others. You treat our heroes right, and we will forgive this. We will even accept it as necessary and good, given time.

Reason AND imagination. We want to go on new adventures with our old heroes reborn. We do not want hang around imposters and wanna-bes who got no clue what a tricorder does or why compassionate McCoy is so doggone irritable (hint: he worries all the time about the crew.)

We'll miss Shatner, Nimoy and Kelly. They laid out a ground-breaking Shakespearian triangle I hope these principals capture.

But going into the future boldly is what Star Trek is all about.

I'll be seeing it tomorrow, Lord willing.

And if I like it as much as I liked that first episode I saw some 33 years on that ABC affiliate in Memphis, TN, I will be one of the most surprised and delighted Trekkies you've ever known.

Yeah, I know I should say "Trekker", but I am too old to care.

Live Long and Prosper.


Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Gattaca: There is No Gene for the Human Spirit

I am re-listening to the soundtrack for Gattaca, and its breaking my heart again.

I saw this "near future" sci-fi movie 12 years ago at beginning of my spiritual journey with Jesus. It grabbed my heart, this story of Vincent, a 'defective' natural birth - a "God child" as they are called - who wanted to travel into space, but was considered unfit because of his less than desirable genetic code.

To accomplish his goal, Vincent must surreptitiously borrow "a ladder" (the DNA code used for identification in biometric scanners) from a "perfect" man, Jerome (played by Jude Law) - one who had all the undesirable traits removed from his DNA.

The story centers around a murder mystery that ultimately reveals Vincent as an imposter, but, in a beautiful backhand, he is saved at the last minute by a sympathetic soul who already knew he was not what he purported to be.

Vincent's striving to beat all the odds against him are the stuff most American films are made of. What makes this film memorable is that hope and sorrow are both so well presented in the music and in the decisions of the principals. When one decides to give his life to insure Vincent's 'identity' is never endangered again, we are struck by his love for Vincent - for there is no other reason for him to do this, to give his very life.

There is breath-taking suspense along with the pathos in this film: will Vincent succeed in his "crime" of being imperfect when a true crime - a violent murder - has taken place? This film strikes a strange chord in me like a film-noir with an almost happy ending. I think I felt the same way as I finished watching On the Waterfront with Marlon Brando - you know, the one where he says "I coulda' been a contender; I coulda' been somebody - instead of a nobody."

You see, you can do many things through training, desire, effort and will, but without love - and a great sacrifice for love - you will continue to be a nobody in this world, for it is set up only to recognize the ones it favors: the perfect, the beautiful, the rich, the movers & shakers. There is a trump card: love.

Jesus did that. He turned us nobodies into somebodies the day He died for us.

"For the son of Man came not to be served, but to serve and give His life as a ransom for many."

Jesus ransoms us from despair, from our physical inabilities, from our lack of education. Jesus was loved by the very least of his society - the disenfranchised, the ugly, the deformed, the bitter and argumentative, the women of ill repute.

We were studying the death of Christ last night, and I was listening to this soundtrack from Gattaca and it all ran together in my head: the wrenching heartbreak of those women, wailing as the only man who treated them good was dying in front of their eyes. The shock and awe of the Roman centurion as darkness fell on the land; Christ cried out and the ground shook.

The most terrible day in human history was THAT day. Yet it was also the day that brought hope for the saints, as Christ paid for them to live and inherit the stars.

In Gattaca, there is a scene I cannot forget: Vincent is swimming out into the ocean at night, in competition with his "perfect" brother, Anton. The goal: swim out as far as you can, and the first one who turns back loses.

Vincent beat Anton years ago, and it was the turning point in their relationship.

After minutes of punishing strokes into the darkness, Vincent's brother stops, gasping for breath, and treading water "Vincent! How are you doing this, Vincent? How have you done any of this?"

Vincent replies, "You want to know how did it?"

"This is how I did it Anton: I never saved anything for the swim back."

If we as Christ-followers want to understand and know the love of Jesus Christ, we are going to have to do something insane.

We are going to have love and live like we are going to die today.

We can't save anything "for the swim back."

He did not, and it saved our souls.

Let us accept that gift in the spirit it was intended and reciprocate unequivocally.


p.s. The ending of Gattaca [with MAJOR Spoilers, do NOT watch if you have not seen the movie, please], also shows the substitutionary sacrifice of Christ and what it means for us amazingly well. Watch again if you HAVE seen the movie: "Maybe I'm Going Home".

Monday, May 4, 2009

X-Men Origens: Wolverine! (or becoming the animal within)

I saw Wolverine today, and I have been wracking my brains to figure out what was good enough to write about it, 'cause it struck me as having less plot than a Capcomm video game. I'm writing this just as I returned from teaching Romans, chapter one at DuPage County jail, and it hit me that there was something redeeming to learn from this movie after all.

In the movie, James Logan, aka Wolverine, is constantly being told by his half-brother Victor Creed he should not deny what he is -an animal.

What we know intuitively is that Victor is simply a murdering psychopath, and his intent is to not let Logan leave him -they have been brothers for 160 years for crying out loud! They've been through war after war after war together -he can't leave!

So Victor appeals to this 'brothers in arms' even as Logan rejects their lifestyle of "find some action, go killing, laugh and snarl as 'mere mortals' strike back!"

The film is uneven and functions as just part of the serial drama of the Marvel universe. Sad, because I really like both principals. There is no build-up for many decisions or subtleties in how certain emotional arcs are played out. But for all that, our hero, Logan does decide to stop hanging around with the really bad guys because they kill a bunch of innocents one night in Africa.

He doesn't want to be a beast anymore.

Now this could have been a great story of redemption that almost happened, etc. A real Hamlet tragedy. It doesn't come close - sorry. Now, fanboys got what they wanted - i.e. nice imagery, cool action, respect for source material - but the discerning viewer ends up going "I think this was a LOT of money for a very shallow story..." but it did have one redeeming feature:

It points out the depravity of man when he has no fear of God, of death and judgment. And it just so happens, I taught on how God judges men when they refuse to honor Him. Let me tell you, Paul doesn't mince words on where you should put your faith (hint: Jesus) and just how damnably depraved and ruthless a human being gets who refuses to worship God; we end up worshiping all sorts of other things that are awful. As I said in the jail: "Guys, you were designed to worship something greater than yourself. If it ain't God, then its going to be family, or drugs, or a lover or your nation or sports or whatever!"

The rationalist worships reason, the naturalist nature. It is inevitable. We must be part of something, Someone greater than us - for we ARE fallen and helpless and mortal.

In Romans 1, Paul blasts the sexual perversion he sees around him in the Roman Empire and connects this depravity to an intentional refusal to acknowledge God as Creator or to thank Him for all He has done for mankind.

Romans 1:21-32
For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened.

Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles.

Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another. They exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator—who is forever praised. Amen.

Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural relations for unnatural ones. In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed indecent acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their perversion.

Furthermore, since they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, He gave them over to a depraved mind, to do what ought not to be done.

They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice. They are gossips, slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents; they are senseless, faithless, heartless, ruthless. Although they know God's righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them.

God wants to save us from evil, but if we refuse to listen, do you know what He does?

He "gives you over" to your baser instincts. He turns you into Victor Creed. He literally stops restraining you and lets you run rampant. Like Nebuchednezzar becoming a beast after his proud boasting in the book of Daniel, He leaves you to become less and less human -and humane.

In my experience, wickedness supports wickedness, applauding and approving it. And if you don't applaud, they will come after you, snarling and growling.

So you want to leave evil behind? Live a humane life? Get ready, bub and make sure your skeleton is laced with adamantium.

You really didn't think you could just leave without a fight, did you?

p.s. Wanna see this movie? Trust me: matinee only. It won't hurt as much. Here's a spot-on review on how fanboys are causing this type of drek to be produced: