Trolls

Last night I took a risk and watched a foreign-language mockumentary. It was actually one of the better things I’ve seen this year. Trollhunter is the story of three college kids who go in search of a bear poacher, and instead find a gruff, government-paid, gun-for-hire that runs around the country keeping the population of Norway’s biggest, hairiest state secret in check.

From beginning to end it’s a fun and exciting movie. While there are some rather drawn-out chase scenes–it is “found footage” after all– the ornery title character and the goofy, yet terrifying trolls scattered throughout the stunning landscape more than make up for it.

Trollhunter has something special thing in its favor: a wondrous and imaginative view of the world. A big theme of the story is that these giant monsters are scattered everywhere, but most people refuse to see the evidence. This means where most people see an abandoned mine, we learn to see a troll den. Where others see woods ravaged by a tornado, we see a troll trail. When others see power lines or musk oxen, we see electric fences and bait. This is delightful to someone who grew up looking for elves behind pines and dragons in every sun-gilded patch of underbrush.

As far as parental guidance goes, this is simply not a kid’s movie. It’s not grotesque, there’s no sex or nudity, but it’s just not geared for children. It’s intense, sometimes dark, and while most violence is off-screen, it is there in some scary moments. Also, the whole thing is in Norwegian. There are subtitles on the Netflix version, which is what I watched, and it does translate the occasional swear word.

But if that doesn’t deter you, and you’re looking for a fun way to spend some time, with some action, thrills, and laughs, check out Trollhunter. I think you’ll be glad you did.

Also, this:

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Troll Fells

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Grey granite stone stands tall,

Ringing Norway in an icy wall.

Fjords cut and woods conceal

Broad lands with a chilly feel.

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Rumbling, tumbling rock will roll

As giants roaring, begin to bowl.

Beware the hall of the mountain king,

The land where eagles fly and Norsemen sing.

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The sound of crumbling crash and cracking ice

As soaring wind ceases to smell so nice

Are a sign that when you’re near the Pole,

You may find you’re fleeing a fearsome troll.

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Give the Devil No Slack

Our life is a series of stories, and every one of those stories comes to its climax. When you have struggled with some puzzle in your life, some trial or temptation, eventually you will defeat it or it will defeat you. In the long run, for followers of Christ, the first is guaranteed, and that’s a blessing with its own set of issues.

You see, when the story comes to a head and you defeat the beast that’s been separating you from God, the immediate result is that God rewards you, whether through a closer relationship with him, some more earthly gift, or often both. The temptation then is to rejoice that you have finally arrived, finally defeated the beast, and then immediately slack off. Don’t.

The problem with sin is that it’s not a beast. Each sin, each struggle, is an entire race of some monster or another. When you learn to kill the Troll of Lust or Ogre of Anger, you have not defeated lust or anger once and for all. Its relatives will come back. No, all your victory means is that you have graduated from the troll-killing academy and know what to do the next time one shows up. But if you pass the test and immediately forget the lesson, you will have to relearn it. And relearning old lessons is messy and results in more battle scars.

The lesson goes deeper, too, and it involves more fairy tale analogies. Beowulf, the old Anglo-Saxon hero, defeated Grendel. Immediately after that, he had to confront Grendel’s mother. Then, after a period of peace, he had to fight yet again, slaying a terrible dragon. Our life is not about just one monster. No, our walk with God means confronting all the monsters. As soon as you kill the ogre, the dragon pops up. When you kill the dragon, you hear the witch around the corner begin to cackle. So when God rewards you for having slain the first enemy, rejoice like a child when his father praises him, then look around in the underbrush for the next ambush, eager to defeat whatever he throws at you next.

There is a positive side to this as well. Back in the Middle Ages, folks had a symbol for Christ that works just as well for Christ-likeness: the stag, or what we would call a pure white, elk-sized, buck-deer. In the stories, the knights would always be chasing this stag, trying to capture it. Always the stag would lead them into some adventure or another. They weren’t just spending their lives defeating evil, they took time to search for what was good.

The stag, I want to say, is Christ-likeness. At the end of each story in our life, when you capture a virtue, you have to keep it. When you finish the chase, you can’t just leave your spoils behind. It’s like a sword: it gets rusty if you don’t take care of it. So when God rewards you for a job well done, thank him and keep trying to do it better, to please him more. Don’t go slack on that virtue. When you capture the stag, don’t think it means you must never chase again. It means you have to find the next one, ride faster, ride harder, catch it quicker. That’s what growing in the Lord is all about.

I say all this because I don’t know how many times I have defeated some sin in my life, or started a righteous habit, only to slack off and have the old struggle jump back and reclaim me. So, a word of advice from one traveler to another: Even when the quest is over, give the devil no slack.

A Tenet of the Faith

It is a fact of life, and a tenet of the faith, that everybody is a sinner. Everyone lies, everyone is willfully blind to their own faults or the faults of those they love, and everyone twists their version of events to accommodate their own desires. We are all, every last one of us, selfish little buggers who lash out when we should forgive or cling greedily to our pride when we should humble ourselves and live for others.

And this does not apply only to pagans. This is true of Christians– all Christians. Every last one of us lies, cheats, steals, covets, lusts, or loses our temper on a more or less regular basis. Judged objectively, by the standards of a Creator who made all things good, by the standards of the God who is love, we are scumbags.

This is even true of the people we like. You may choose to ignore it when the evidence crops up, but go one night without sleep or wake up with a headache and immediately you will recognize the faults of every human being you come into contact with.

This is true of great men too, men we respect. They not only make mistakes, you know the kind- accidents and indiscretions, no, they also willfully do the wrong thing. Watch them long enough, see them interact with those who give them trouble, and it will come out eventually.

This is not news to Jesus. While we were yet sleazy, self-centered scumbags, Christ died for us. Knowing that we’re the sort of people that would join in crucifying him if we thought it was in our interest, he chose to take the punishment we deserved. He showed us how to die to ourselves, he gave us Someone Else to live for, and he showed us the way up out of the grave.

This does not mean we ceased to be sinners; it means that our sins were paid for. We’ve been given the grace to live for God, and to show that same grace and selfless love to each other, but we are still toddlers taking our first steps down the path of faith. There are times when we will stumble, so we confess our sin, ask forgiveness, get up and keep on walking. And every time we should thank the Lord that he loves us even when we don’t deserve it. Because we never do.

But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” Romans 5:8

Rejoice, for the Lord is good; his mercy endureth forever.

Lines in the Sand

Earlier I promised to throw in my two cents on the election now that it seems Romney is the inevitable GOP nominee. I asked you to check out a post by Pastor Douglas Wilson and one by Daniel Alders. Where Pastor Wilson refuses to support Romney on principle, Mr. Alders on principle cannot let Obama win.

These are not uncommon arguments, and they’re both worth taking a minute to consider. On the one hand, Mr. Alders is right: Obama can cause more damage than Romney, and can do so faster. He is also right that we have virtually no chance of electing a third party candidate as an alternative to Romney or Obama. In choosing not to vote Romney, and certainly by encouraging others to do so, we increase the chance of an Obama win when we have a chance to stop it. We are, indirectly, giving a chance to a candidate who is against much of what we stand for.

On the other hand, if we are to support Romney, we are directly supporting someone who is against what we stand for. Now, admittedly, Romney is less of an atrocity than Obama, but that doesn’t stop him from being atrocious. Within certain limits, we might be willing to put up with the badness of a more centrist or even liberal Republican. For instance, I might have considered voting for Santorum despite my differences with him had he managed to win the primaries. But how far is too far? Where do we draw the line?

Romney is a notorious flip-flopper, and his stance on abortion is uncertain. Political decisions can be gambles, and I might have been convinced to roll the dice on his commitment to his most recent views, but my patience has worn thin, and this is not the only place he has problems. He’s easy on domestic partnerships for homosexuals and recently hired an openly gay man as his spokesman on foreign policy. He opposed the recent healthcare law, while having supported something similar in Massachusetts. He also favored a bailout of the auto industry. And I find it hard, in good conscience, to vote for a Mormon, especially when folks today are so willing to declare Mormonism Christian.

In all that I see as much danger for this country as there is in voting for many Democrats. I see plenty of risks and dangers, but not one redeeming value. He is a statist, socially moderate at best, and inconsistent. I cannot in good conscience vote for such a man.

It is reasonable to point out that Obama is worse, but I’m not being asked to support him. Yes, this means there is a larger chance Obama will win, but I have two things to say to that. First, if Obama wins, it’s no secret that he’s a liberal statist and his mistakes will all be ascribed to liberal statism. But if Romney wins, he is a Republican, and therefore his mistakes will be ascribed to conservatism. And, if Joel Osteen’s equivocation is any indication, possibly to Christians.

The second thing I have to say is this: we cannot continue to give ground. Liberals have had such an impact on this country since the sixties because they were tenacious, snatching at every inch available and giving up nothing. Conservatives, on the other hand, have fatalistically resigned themselves to cutting their losses. We elect Statism Lite and expect it to weigh down the radical statists.

But with this strategy, we never gain ground. We never win battles, we only fight to the draw. If we never grow a backbone, if we never stand as a counterculture and fight for our beliefs, we will never change the direction this country is going. We complain about compromise in Washington, but every time election season rolls around, we compromise at the voting booth in the name of cutting our losses. Fine, maybe we won’t lose the country all at once, but we will prove to the liberals that their victory is inevitable and they should keep trying.

No, we have to be every bit as tough as the opposition. We must demand grit and a commitment to the truth. If we want uncompromising candidates, we too must be uncompromising. If we don’t stand for something, we’ll fall for anything. So, for me, this is the line. I will not vote for a candidate that means nothing but a slow death.

So where does that leave us if Obama gets reelected? In other words, have we gained anything, and are we to be held accountable for what Obama does? First off, we have gained our integrity. And if that doesn’t sound like much to you, maybe you should reconsider whether those corrupt Washington bureaucrats really do represent you well. We have also taught the Republican establishment that if it wants our loyalty, it needs to give us something to work with. This means that the next time around, maybe we’ll get the guy we want.

But are we to be held accountable for what Obama does wrong? Quite frankly, absolutely not. It’s a twisted logic that makes a man who refuses to choose between two evils into one who supports the worse of them. A refusal to support either candidate does not mean you support the one that wins- it means you didn’t support either one. Pretty straightforward.

Maybe such a person didn’t do all in their power to stop the bad guy, but not everything in our power is the right path to take. We still have a system of values, and it doesn’t go out the window when things get scary. One of the things that system does not allow is fighting one wrong decision with another. And so I will not vote Romney.

A note to those perusing this site who are more familiar with my artsy posts, reviews, and other less touchy subjects: I have friends and family who are Democrats and other brands of liberal, independent and libertarian. I love these people very much. But I believe what I believe, and I won’t change that in order to avoid offending them. If our friendship is worth keeping, it can survive these differences. Plus, I’m pretty sure we still have in common the love of wood smoke and good stories.

Have a blessed week.

Pines

If you haven’t noticed, I have a strong artsy streak, and it likes to land on pretty things in nature. One of those pretty things that has always captured my imagination is the pine tree. It’s big, it’s ostentatious, it makes a statement. So just imagine my surprise to find that pines are not the same everywhere, but look drastically different between my home in East Texas and my college in northern Idaho. The following are my thoughts on such a strange happenstance.

                The Moscow pine is shaped like a spearhead, broader than the firs, but still thrusting up in an attempt to pierce the sky. All of its branches are turned to that same goal, the little needles scratching at the air. When the wind comes, those dark bristles stir, but the tree stands firm. It has a mission, a dark and noble purpose, and it will not be moved.

                The Nacogdoches pine rolls in the sky like waves on the shore. Two and three times the size of its Moscow cousin, it sways in the breeze, its branches tossing in gentle air or mighty tempest. It is not pointed, but spreads its topmost branches like a cottony canopy over the verdant forests. Beneath that ceiling, shade chokes the lower boughs, and many times they shrink and fall away altogether. But they die with a purpose. In the room created below, there flourish dogwoods and azaleas, crepe myrtles and leafy hardwoods, carpets of flowering honeysuckle. A Nacogdoches pine is shelter from the storm, a nurse to the woodlands beneath.

This stands out to me because pines and I go way back. I grew up with pines encircling our house, playing beneath them, watching them swirl in hurricanes. Our two-story fort was built out of pines, with pine bark for camouflage. Pines ringed the soccer fields I played at, and they gave their name to the woods that stretch from Louisiana and Arkansas into Texas and Oklahoma–the woods I was raised in. So one day I hope to pick up this theme again, and do it justice. Not with prose alone, or with my own variety of free verse. No, with carefully crafted poems backed by years more experience. Until then, I hope I’ve been able to show you a little of what I see in pines. Have a blessed weekend.

A Hodge of Podges

For your perusal today, I have several things.

First, a poetic musing. I would like to write an ode to flea markets. There are not enough sonnets about soccer fields. Why do the poets never talk about swimming pools? Pizza is worthy of an epic. Rapping about this pleasant weather we are having is so ridiculous that it must be a good idea. An opera could be composed which revolves entirely around a single hour of an elementary school water gun war. I’m pretty sure I considered it at the time. Finally, haikus on that feeling you get when you remove shin guards.

Second, consider the following post on why there’s no sin called “watching a stupid movie,” but there is one called, “being stupid while watching a stupid movie.” Here.

Third, on a more serious note, contrast these thoughts on the election with these. At some point I will throw in my own two cents, but for now, you should find yours.

Fourth, over the next week or so I will be working on a post on wealth and poverty. In order to make it good, I’m going to be taking a while. Ergo, that post on pines should be up fairly soon, hopefully followed by a short prose piece on reading water meters and another about eating with Dad at King Buffet, both playing off some recent sermons I’ve heard. Meanwhile, read this.

Last, and most seriously, the crawfish is an irreplaceable delicacy. From the holy art of shelling the beast, through the eating of the tasty meat, and on to slurping up the juices which have collected in the head, the whole thing is evidence that there is good in the world. I heartily recommend the practice, if you are in a place where it is possible.

Wordsmithy

Another book by Pastor Doug Wilson, another home run. This one, though, is of a different type. He’s blessed us with theology, simultaneously instructed and entertained us with fiction, but this particular bit of advice is unique. In Wordsmithy, he teaches us how to live like a writer.

There are plenty of writing manuals out there on how write well— how to craft a story, craft a sentence, place a comma. These are great, and have their place. In Wordsmithy, on the other hand, Wilson teaches us how to live the kind of life that will produce writing worth reading. His advice ranges from tips on what sort of stuff to read, how not to take yourself too seriously, and how to live in the real world, not just the comfortable padded armchair of writer-land.

The gist of the book is that to write well, one must live well. If you don’t know what the world is like, you can hardly write about it. Closely related is the idea that you must love the world before you can write well about it. If you take no joy in the subject, neither will your readers.

The advice is far more specific, and clothed in gems of wit and little connections between tips that integrate the whole thing into a tapestry of good advice. I highly recommend it for anyone who wants to be a writer.