Are You There, God? It’s Me, Leah

are you there god

My parents got me a copy of Judy Blume’s Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret for my last birthday. I read it in a day and finished with mixed thoughts. I mulled over the fact that the main character talks to God despite belonging to no religion. She looks for him in a variety of churches and doesn’t find him, yet she doesn’t hesitate to tell him what’s going on and what she’s thinking.

I remember the first time in my life the idea of God’s presence was addressed. To prep us for prayer, my first grade teacher looked at the open door and said “I think I see Jesus coming in right now.” I looked, then said “I don’t see him.” One of the other kids said “That’s because Jesus is air!” Of course, my six-year-old mind believed him. As a result, believing in God isn’t an issue.

But talking to him and gleaning a response? That’s a whole other ballpark.

One of the issues getting in the way is how to see and/or address God. Everyone in my life suggests treating him like a revered leader, a parent, and a close friend. Absolutely none of that computes. There are things I’d say to my friends that I’d never say to my parents (favorite swear words, for example). Plus, I generally talk about leaders, revered or otherwise, with the expectation that I’ll never meet them in person. And just imagine the hubris that would come from treating God—the king of everything and everyone—like a parent.

Another issue is everything I’ve been told about what we’re allowed to say to God. Just this week, my prayer group at work studied the first chapter of a book by Francis Chan, who argues that God is just and fair, so his judgment is absolute. And if we disagree—or even dare to argue—then it means we’re arrogant. That doesn’t mesh well with what I’ve learned from my mentor, which is that God prefers we be honest with him even if we’re angry with him.

Once again, it doesn’t compute.

And then there’s the issue of closure. A few nights after reading Blume’s book, I decided to try telling God everything that was on my mind. All that was left was this feeling of “Now what?” But it’s not the only time I’ve been left confused or hanging. When I pray for guidance, it takes months to get an answer. It’s easier to get a clearer answer if I’m praying with a second party, but I can’t expect people in my life to drop everything every time I have a question only God can answer. Once or twice someone will feel moved to speak to me on God’s behalf, but in those cases I have no idea what to do with what they’ve given me.

When I was a kid, a woman visiting the school shared a story of how she lay her broken heart at Jesus’ feet and was showered with his love. In college, a friend told me about how she prayed for guidance and was answered on the spot. Me? Sometimes it feels like I’ve got nothing. Then I hear the last thing I want to hear. And in those few times I hear what I want to hear, it feels less like God talking and more like wishful thinking.

The truth is, when I started writing this I didn’t know how to finish. I couldn’t think of a realistic conclusion without sounding negative. So I closed my laptop, left the phone and 3DS alone, and lay in bed for a while. With nothing else to do I decided to focus less on when I heard God and more of when I felt him nearby. I thought of the Hunger Games song “Deep in the Meadow,” and the image of lying in the grass under a willow tree. I thought of the bishop from Les Misérables showing mercy to Jean Valjean when no one else would. I thought of my mentor, and the fun yet insightful conversations we can always have. I thought of the aftermath of the first Charlottesville march, and the people in my hometown coming together on Monday night and asking “What can we do about this?” I thought about my favorite comedians drawing attention to things going on in the world. And I thought about my alma mater, the place where my faith became real to me even though I dared to wrestle and ask questions.

I’ll never fully understand God. But maybe I don’t need to.

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12 Tips for Honoring Consent

Consent

Over the last few months, we’ve had a lot of women come forward and share stories of how (and in some cases, who) they were sexually harassed or assaulted. The response to the #MeToo movement…varied, to say the least. Some negative responders opted not to leave their vacation home in DeNile. Others vocalized Mike Pence’s rule of women, which is to not be alone in the room with a woman without his wife holding his hand. Neither of these responses are helpful. Denial and shaming are exactly why victims don’t come forward, and the “all women are sexual pieces of meat, so don’t catch yourself alone in a room with them” theory doesn’t help women in their careers.

People, if we want the assault accusations to stop, then we need to get better at teaching consent and respect. To get the conversation started, I would like to offer twelve tips for accepting the word “no.”

1. If they don’t want to have sex with you, don’t have sex with them.

If you ignore this rule, you are committing a crime. Plain and simple.

2. Don’t try to blackmail or persuade someone to have sex, especially if they’ve already said no.

Despite what bad chick flicks and horrible fan fiction will tell you, the cat and mouse chase isn’t romantic. When people say no to sex, they mean it.

3. Ask.

Even if you don’t think it’s romantic, ask for permission before plowing through. Even if you think it’s okay to move forward, just ask. Better to be safe than sorry.

4. Don’t make the other party feel guilty for saying no.

Sex might be fun, but it’s not the only way to pass the time. And if you are that upset, try the Scream into the Void app. It’s actually quite therapeutic.

5. Catcalling isn’t flattering.

Drooling over a stranger’s body parts doesn’t make you look like a cool dude, it makes you look like an entitled prick. So stop it.

6. Work is not an appropriate place for sexual activity.

Most workplaces see romantic relationships between coworkers as conflicts of interest anyway. So contrary to what Michael Scott will tell you, the workplace is neither a dating website nor a mating ground.

7. If they’re underage, DON’T EVEN GO THERE.

It’s illegal. It’s disgusting. It’s illegal. It’s emotionally scarring. Did I mention it’s illegal? Bottom line, just don’t.

8. If they’re drunk, unconscious, or otherwise incapacitated, they aren’t in a great position to give consent.

True, we haven’t quite worked out the “what if both parties are drunk?” problem yet. All the more reason to start the conversation now.

9. Regardless of what gender you are, you’re allowed to say no to sex.

Even if you’re halfway through, you can say no. And if you’re asked for sexual favors you’re uncomfortable with, you can refuse.

10. If you are guilty of assault or harassment, don’t lie or make excuses.

Despite what some might think, human beings aren’t allergic to humility. We all need to get better at making smart choices as well as taking responsibility for our actions. And sometimes, that means admitting we did something wrong, accepting the consequences for those choices, and taking steps to make sure we don’t do it again. The more we work on it, the better we can get at it.

11. Don’t support people who’ve been accused.

Not only does it make you look bad, but it enforces an environment where victims can’t come forward. If there’s no weight to the accusations, then there’s no harm in investigating them. Better to investigate a hundred potential lies than to ignore one undeniable truth. He might be the nicest person you know, but if he’s guilty of a crime then he’s guilty of a crime.

12. Bottom line, don’t be a jerk.

Enough said.

Top 11 Nostalgia Critic Editorials

When you think of online personalities, who comes to mind? For me, it’s the Nostalgia Critic. Since 2008, he’s posted reviews of movies from the past. When he’s not losing his mind over bad screenplays, he’s losing his mind over bad comedy. If he isn’t going crazy about strange CGI or poor decision making, he’s going crazy about bat credit cards. It’s almost impossible to imagine the Nostalgia Critic without a freak out coming to mind.

But that’s not what this post is about. This post discusses the times where his serious side comes out to discuss topics in film-making or dissect what worked or didn’t work in certain movies. To put it simply, this is about his editorials.

Since I’m sharing video links, I’ll only talk about it when I want to say something he hasn’t already touched on. But for the most part, I’ll just let his editorials speak for themselves. With that in mind, let’s take a look at the top 11 Nostalgia Critic Editorials.

#11: Where’s the Fair Use?

Over the last few years, there’s been a lot of controversy going on with YouTube channels getting copyright strikes. Sometimes it’s just for posting movies without Hollywood’s permission, but other times channels got hit just for talking about these movies. Here, the Critic explains what the law says, how it’s being exploited, how YouTube is handling it, and the Critic’s own experiences with battling claims and strikes. While he’s had some of those resolved and he’s managed to put reviews back up, this is still an ongoing issue for many YouTube users.

#10: Why Do We Holiday Too Early?

#9: Top 11 Strangest Yet Best Couples

#8: Can Hype Kill a Good Film?

#7: Is White Washing Really Still a Thing?

#6: Should We Scare Our Kids?

#5: When Is Something So Bad It’s Good?/Can a Film be so Good, it’s Bad?

Since they’re somewhat tied together, it only made sense to have them share a spot.

#4: Top 11 Good Things from the Star Wars Prequels

#3: When Does a Joke Go Too Far?

#2: WTF is with the ending of The Graduate?/Does Romeo and Juliet Suck?

Again, they’re pretty similar, so they share a spot.

#1: A Farewell to Roger Ebert

Ten Random Facts: Series of Unfortunate Events

snicket

Of all the children’s books in the world, Lemony Snicket’s Series of Unfortunate Events is among the most intriguing. Even after thirteen books, two adaptations, and several spinoffs, much of SOUE is still filled with unsolved mysteries and unanswered questions. But that doesn’t mean we don’t know anything about what went on in creating the story. And since October is the month of creativity and imagination, it only seems fair to share a few fun facts on one of the most imaginative pieces of writing. So let’s not waste any time and dive right in.

  1. To underline the theme of misfortune, the entire story is dedicated to the number 13. There are thirteen books in the series, each book has thirteen chapters (minus the last book, which features a fourteenth chapter as an epilogue), the title of the series has twenty-six letters (which equal thirteen when divided by two), and the last book was released on Friday the 13th. To carry on the tradition, Netflix’s was released thirteen years after the film adaptation, also on Friday the 13th.
  2. Catherine O’Hara appears in both adaptations of SOUE; she plays Justice Strauss in the movie, and Dr. Georgina Orwell in the Netflix series.
  3. Several anagrams and alliterations are used throughout the series, though the Baudelaires don’t draw attention to them until the eighth book in the series (Hostile Hospital).
  4. Though both the movie and Netflix show VFD members carrying spyglasses, they’re neither seen nor mentioned in the books.
  5. Throughout the books, the author either mentions or alludes to several other real life books and authors. Among these references are Herman Melville, Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland, TS Eliot, and Melville’s book Moby Dick.
  6. Daniel Handler published the books using the pseudonym “Lemony Snicket.” But he’d been using it much earlier during his personal life—ordering pizza, creating a fictional identity, etc.
  7. Handler never planned on writing children’s books, partly because he thought they didn’t treat children like adults. After a conversation with his editor, he changed his mind and wrote Series of Unfortunate Events, books he wished he’d read when he was ten years old.
  8. The point of SOUE is that the world is always complicated, but learning about it makes it easier to live in. Another book that makes a similar point is Dr. Seuss’s I Had Trouble in Getting to Solla Sollew.
  9. A family with three children is a trend throughout the series. Three Baudelaires (Violet, Klaus, Sunny); three Quagmires (Duncan, Isadora, Quigley); three Denouements (Dewey, Ernest, Frank), and three Snickets (Jacques, Kit, Lemony).
  10. When asked about his books, Handler either doesn’t answer the question directly or tells readers not to expect answers.
  11. A handful of other characters have either described Violet Baudelaire as “pretty” or “lovely.” Notably, the only thing we know about Violet’s physical appearance in the books is that she has long hair, which she ties up when she wants to focus.
  12. On the DVD case of the 2004 movie, the plot description reflects those of the books (“You shouldn’t read this,” “A few reasons why you’ll either hate or love this story,” “Throw this away immediately”).
  13. Among other spinoffs, there is also a promotional pamphlet called 13 Shocking Secrets You’ll Wish You Never Knew About Lemony Snicket.” The thirteen secret simply reads “He is finished.”

Sources used:

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt4834206/trivia

http://mentalfloss.com/article/69126/11-not-so-miserable-facts-about-series-unfortunate-events

https://www.buzzfeed.com/eleanorbate/the-world-is-quiet-here?utm_term=.nck7MRBll#.yrbJVd3ll

When is a Story a Classic?

Classic-Literature

Victor Hugo’s Hunchback of Notre Dame. Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird. What do all these stories have in common? They’re all considered classics. But have you ever wondered when a story becomes a classic? Why is Pride and Prejudice considered a classic, but not Mansfield Park? Why is Harry Potter starting to be called a classic, but not Hunger Games?

When I first started asking about the “bar of storytelling classiness” (not the best name I’ve come up with, but I don’t care), I started briefly brainstorming. My first three theories were popularity, legacy, and message. However, popularity didn’t seem like a strong enough qualification—at least, not on its own. Not every classic leaves a legacy behind, nor do they all preach an important moral.

At that point, I decided to contact my admin Ashley and ask for her thoughts. Her first thought was that we reread classics over and over. But we both agreed that, while this is true for stories like Lord of the Rings and Sherlock Holmes, the same could not be said about Anna Karenina or Hunchback of Notre Dame. Then she suggested the traits that appeal to audiences, remarking that there are different categories for classics.

So then I asked which traits could relate to different audiences over long periods of time. And that’s when it finally hit me: a story becomes a classic when it appeals to something in us that is not only human, but also universal. Sometimes they say something profound about what it means to be human, though they don’t always have to. The Princess Bride is a classic because it appeals to our craving for humor and satire. Treasure Island and Dracula are classics because they appeal to our longing for adventure and adrenaline. And romance by itself is a classic genre because it appeals to our desire for intimacy and emotional connections.

But when they do say something about humanity, it becomes a classic when it strikes a chord in us. Lord of the Rings relates to how easy it is to feel hopeless, but reminds us that we can always find hope. Christmas Carol shows how simple sources of lasting happiness can be found anywhere. Frankenstein shows the tragedy of unrestrained ambition. Gone With the Wind is (and I cannot believe the words coming out of my brain as I write them) a classic because it reminds us that passion isn’t always logical or virtuous.

To put it simply, classics are examples of storytelling at its best. When done well, storytelling is a universal art that reminds us we have more in common with the people around us than we realize, even if we come from different cultures or speak different languages. It reminds us that two people with different sets of beliefs have more in common than we might think. It showcases the best and worst of humanity by being realistic but still maintaining faith in ethics. A story becomes a classic when it becomes a well-known timeless reminder of what it means to be human.

Did Shadowland Have a Secret Meaning?

If you’ve seen Broadway’s take on The Lion King (or you clicked on the video above), you might be familiar with a song called “Shadowland.” It appears in the second act, when the Pride Lands have turned into a desolate wasteland and Nala leaves home to look for anything that can help her pride survive.

But while this moment doesn’t appear in the animated movie, have you ever noticed that it’s played in the background? Like, almost a dozen times? I’ve heard the chorus line played a few times before, but it wasn’t until I bought the full movie soundtrack that I noticed just how often we hear the verse and chorus lines laced into the background music.

Granted, this isn’t the first time Disney has done this in their movies. You’ll hear the title song played off and on in Beauty and the Beast, moments of “A Whole New World” played throughout the third act in Aladdin, and the “Hellfire” theme played over and over in Hunchback of Notre Dame. But no one ever sings “Shadowland” in The Lion King. So why include it in the background music at all?

Well, to answer this question, let’s look at the moments where we hear it. It first comes up when Mufasa is showing Simba the Pride Lands. For three seconds, we hear part of the verse when Mufasa runs into the elephant graveyard to defend Simba and Nala. Then the verse and chorus are played twice afterwards, once when Mufasa scolds Simba for his carelessness and again when they’re stargazing. Then we hear the chorus line after the stampede, when Simba realizes that his father didn’t survive the ordeal. Then we hear it when Timon, Pumbaa, and an adult Simba talk about what stars are. We get another glimpse or two when Simba and Nala reunite after years of her thinking she was dead. You hear it again when Mufasa’s ghost appears and says “Remember who you are.” And we hear it again as Simba and his three friends stand on a cliff, preparing to take on Scar. It’s played off and on during the confrontation. And then we hear it one last time after Scar dies, right before Simba takes his place as king of the Pride Lands.

What do all these moments have in common? They all deal with the weight of leadership.

Think about it. We hear it when Mufasa is teaching Simba the responsibilities of being king. We hear it again when the hyenas are cornered, and they realize Mufasa can tear them limb from limb. We hear it again when Mufasa scolds Simba. We hear it again right afterwards, when we get a hint that the king might not live to see the happily ever after. We hear it again when the king is dead. We hear it again, years later, when Simba is briefly confronted with the memory of his father’s death. We hear it again when Nala realizes that Simba could take on Scar and become king. We hear it again when Mufasa tells Simba that it’s time for him to accept the role he was born to play in the circle of life. We hear it again as Simba steels himself for the upcoming battle. We hear it off and on during the confrontation between hero and villain. And we hear it one last time before Simba is named king.

This seems a little odd—especially considering the lyrics of the song. The song by itself has less to do with leadership and more to do with saying farewell. Then again, Nala is the one who sings it, and in both version of the story she becomes queen. And what is a queen except the female equivalent of a king? Maybe the writers intended to expand her story to show how she took up the mantle of leadership when Scar turned everything upside down. Or maybe the composer had some other intent altogether.

Admittedly, this theory still has a few holes in it that are worth debating. And the people at Disney might’ve had completely different reasons for including the melody as a background tune, but not as a musical number. But this is what Disney is best known for—little Easter eggs and conspiracy theories that add importance to the story. Would we enjoy Lilo and Stitch as much if they explained outright that the title meant “lost and pulled together”? Would we love Beauty and the Beast as much if the characters pointed out the significance of Belle wearing blue? So as far as the song “Shadowland” is concerned, what do you think?

Patriotism

There are a few reasons why I’ll never fit in with conservatives. Anti-abortion doesn’t mean pro-life, people shouldn’t be denied services and rights based on sexual orientation, and whoever said “take our country back” in the 2016 election knew next to nothing about Native American history. But no matter where individual conservatives stood on those issues, there was always one thing they could agree on: patriotism.

Until recently, I used to believe that patriotism was synonymous with “America is the greatest country on Earth!” or “America first!” And sentiments like those make me cringe. How can America be the greatest when we’re far behind other countries in intelligence and human rights? How does putting America above everyone else honor God? What can we be proud of?

That clip above was aired before Trump became president. And since we turned into the world’s court jester, my view of patriotism became more and more negative. But then I saw that post-election Black-ish episode where the main character says “I love this country even though it doesn’t always love me.” Then I saw Emmanuel Macron inviting American scientists to France so that they might have the finances and resources to fight climate change. And that’s when it finally hit me:

Patriotism doesn’t mean being competitive so much as it means being loyal. Your country is a lot like your family. You can’t choose where you were born, nor can you choose who raises you until you can take care of yourself. Maybe your relationship has been great, maybe it’s been nothing short of absolute shit. But even if you leave and never see them again, you can’t bring yourself to completely hate them. Why? Because they’ve been part of you for so long.

It’s the same with your country. No matter how it’s treated you, living here has made it a part of who you are. So, America, here’s my message of patriotism to you:

We’ve had an odd love-hate relationship over the years. I never know exactly what you think of me. Sometimes you made me laugh, other times you scared me shitless. And I won’t deny that I’ve envied Europe for its British literature, French sweets, and Norwegian scenery. We haven’t always seen eye-to-eye, and there’ll most likely be many times in the future where we’ll disagree some more. But you’re still a part of me that I can’t ignore. When they wanted better opportunities, my ancestors came to you. I was born and raised here, and thus you’re all I’ve ever known. And while you’ve sometimes made it tempting to leave, the truth is there’s a part of me that can’t bring myself to hate you. Maybe it’s your people, maybe it’s your burgers and chips, or maybe it’s my inner-American tendency to defy logic and reality, I don’t know. And maybe I will leave someday, depending on where God takes me. But the fact of the matter is, I’ve come to love you too much to give up and leave now. I will fight for you, for as long as it takes, because you and your people are worth fighting for.