They Can’t Stop the Signal Mar21

They Can’t Stop the Signal

Let’s talk about the F-word. No, not that one. The other one—the word considered by some to be just as dirty: faith. The way people talk about it, faith seems no more than a strong willingness to blindly believe something completely unfounded. And Joss Whedon would probably agree with that. I gotta hand it to Whedon for even touching on the issue of faith in some of his films and for doing so in such a compelling way. Whedon’s self-professed preoccupation with spiritual belief is interesting because he also happens to be a self-professed atheist and Humanist. In a 2002 interview with The New York Times, he admitted his fascination with “the concept of devotion” and his desire “to explore that.” However, for Whedon, it is not the object of one’s faith that is important but the strength of conviction that stands behind it. For example, in Serenity, Inara tells the crew that the Operative is not to be taken lightly, that “we have every reason to be afraid . . . . because he’s a believer.”  On another occasion, Whedon uses the character of Shepherd Book to remind Malcolm Reynolds about the need for faith. Mal: “Ah, hell, Shepherd. I ain’t lookin’ for help from on high. That’s a long wait for a train don’t come.” Book: “When I talk about belief, why do you always assume I’m talking about God?” Later in Serenity, Book’s dying words to Mal drive home Whedon’s views: “I don’t care what you believe, just believe it.” Sounds pretty Zen, no? The idea that anything goes—what’s the problem with that? There is no denying the appeal of the seeming freedom and self-made meaning Whedon desires. So what if, hypothetically, Mal suddenly decided with great conviction to believe in something morally-reprehensible? Such as, that the behaviour of the Alliance Operative was right? Yes, the one who was responsible for Book’s death and the deaths of Haven’s innocent civilians. Would Shepherd Book really not have cared what Mal ended up believing in? Somehow, I doubt it. (Note to self: make sure my dying words are less vague than “Whatever, man. It’s all good.”) The idea behind Whedon implying that all beliefs are equally valid is called Relativism. One of Relativism’s problems is that regardless of the fervor of my belief—no matter how strongly I might declare that, for example, I am a 400-foot-tall, purple platypus bear with pink horns and silver wings—neither my wishing nor my confidence makes it so. A belief either conforms to reality or not. As a former Humanist, I totally get the appeal of Whedon’s faith in “people power.” Everyone says “believe in yourself!” And sure, that phrase has a nice ring to it. In Age of Ultron, Tony Stark’s bumper sticker in the cockpit of the Avengers’ jet that reads “Jarvis is my co-pilot” riffs off the popular “God is my co-pilot” bumper sticker and signifies that Stark has more faith in something he created himself than in a higher power. Ultimately, Whedon believes that the solution to the failings of the human condition—to the problem of evil and the meaninglessness of life—lies in the optimistic belief that people alone have the power to fix themselves. Whedon’s commitment to Humanism infuses his films through the dominant theme of having faith in other people. There is no denying the appeal of the seeming freedom and self-made meaning Whedon desires when we consider our broken world full of disenfranchised people  who have come to distrust any kind of authority. But if I’m brutally honest with myself about my own failings, the reality of betrayal and, well, humanity’s track record, I have to admit that G.K.Chesterton got it right: “What’s wrong with the world today? I am.” Unlike the illusory nature of Whedon’s Humanism, I believe that the power that lies behind the Christian worldview, on the other hand, is not the power...

A theology of Christian geekdom Sep11

A theology of Christian geekdom...

Geek (gēk): A person who is very interested in and knows a lot about a particular field or activity; a person who is socially awkward and unpopular; a usually intelligent person who does not fit in with other people. Christian (krĭs′chən): A person who believes in and follows Jesus Christ. ____ North American Evangelicalism doesn’t have the best track record of embracing the arts. From Puritan iconoclasts to 20th-century fundamentalists, the arts and artists were historically pigeonholed with the worst sectors of high church legalism. More recently, the arts have been associated with dangerous flirtations with worldly culture manifested in film, television, comics, and video games. Some even go so far as to suggest that Christians who engage with the geek arts shame God and open themselves to demonic attack. While it is entirely possible for people to be “geeky” about sports or the hard sciences, there is a subset of geekdom that focuses primarily on the arts. Books? Television? Movies? Video Games? Anime? These are storytelling arts. Art (ahrt): Something that is created with imagination and skill and that is beautiful or that expresses important ideas or feelings. Certain geeks—say, the people who regularly read this site—are actually art lovers. That’s right, kiss the cheese doodle dust off your fingers and give me a high-five, because I’m looking at you! In some ways, Evangelicalism’s rejection of the arts has often implied a rejection of geeks. Those of us who love video games, movies, comics, fantasy stories, and all the rest have felt misunderstood, belittled, or in the worst cases, outright rejected by our families and church communities for frittering away our time and energy on these pursuits. In his critically-acclaimed autobiographical graphic novel Blankets, author Craig Thompson includes these frames that characterize the...

The X-Wing will rise Jul30

The X-Wing will rise

Sometimes you find a place that is so inspiring that every time you go back you discover something new. Something powerful. Something that connects with you. There is a place like that for me in The Empire Strikes Back, on an unassuming planet called Dagobah. I remember the first time I saw the misty swamp of Dagobah. I remember how I felt. My father took me to see Star Wars: Episode V when I was a boy. That powerful scene where Luke fights Darth Vader in the cave impacted me to such a degree that I was convinced the Sith lord was right behind me, that any moment I would hear his rasping breath. But what draws me to the story is not just the exhilarating lightsaber fights, the chilling carbonite, or the Millennium Falcon (my dream ship). I am most intrigued by how the small, wise, green Jedi Yoda trains his eager student, Luke Skywalker. I believe that the X-Wing can and will rise. And the more I look back on it, the more I revisit that bog in Dagobah, the more I begin to understand why. Luke originally goes to Dagobah because he sees a vision of Obi-Wan telling him to do so. Talk about a leap of faith, especially since Luke is possibly going crazy from almost freezing to death at the time. When he gets there, Luke’s X-Wing crashes into the bog on Dagobah. He meets Yoda and then tries to use the force to lift his ship out, but he fails and watches the X-Wing sink. Luke: Oh, no. We’ll never get it out now. Yoda: So certain are you. Always with you it cannot be done. Hear you nothing that I say? As a Christian watching this film, my faith is encouraged each time I see this scene. There is something in the exchange between Yoda and Luke that is a cryptic reminder of exchanges Jesus has had with me. I’m reminded of times when I’ve questioned what I believe in and when I’ve had to trust someone. Of believing that what someone says is true even if the circumstances appear to indicate otherwise. Of trusting in a power far greater than myself to accomplish things I could not hope to do on my own. Somehow the challenges Luke goes through in understanding the Force are similar to the challenges I face in understanding God. Like Luke, I know there is much more for me to experience. And like Luke, I need to be willing to stay in training to exercise my faith. It challenges me to ask what I really believe about Jesus’ words in the Bible. When he says, “Greater works than these will you do because I go to the Father,” do I believe that? Do I believe Jesus’ words, or am I more like Luke’s response: Luke: Master, moving stones around is one thing. This is totally different. In the problems I face, do I look to Christ’s words and say that it was fine for him to work miracles back in the day, but somehow his miracle working power, the true “Force,” has faded over time and can’t be used today. But Yoda disagrees. Yoda: No! No different! Only different in your mind. You must unlearn what you have learned. “Only different in your mind. You must unlearn what you have learned.” Instead of believing Yoda, Luke finds a new excuse. I’ve done this before, too. I’ll find an excuse to avoid doing something I know is right. And it’ll seem like a perfectly good excuse too, just like Luke telling Yoda that lifting the ship with the Force is impossible. Luke: I can’t. It’s too big. Yoda: Size matters not… Yoda reflects Jesus’ wisdom:  “Nothing is impossible for those who believe.” Luke has reached the end. He does not believe. Then he watches Yoda use the force...

Two broken hearts: the vulnerability of Doctor Who Jun29

Two broken hearts: the vulnerability of Doctor Who...

I first encountered Doctor Who when I was a child visiting my grandparents. Their TV was on in the background, featuring a cast of accented actors. One man stood out, with wildly curly hair and an over-long scarf of various colours. However, it was when the characters crowded into what looked like a tiny blue phone booth, only to be welcomed into a large, technologically advanced interior, that my attention was firmly captured.  And so was born my future as a Whovian (i.e. Doctor Who fan). For more than half a century, Doctor Who, an alien Time Lord from the planet Gallifrey, has been traveling time and space in his stolen Time and Relative Dimension in Space—better known to all as his TARDIS, which is stuck in the exterior form of a blue British Police box (not phone booth). His unique alien physiology (which includes two hearts) gives him the power, when old or mortally injured, to transform into a new body with a slightly altered personality. All of this, combined with his vast knowledge of science, history (both past and future) and unique technology (namely his sonic screwdriver) make for one impressive time-travelling adventurer. What makes the Doctor’s journeys so compelling to follow is his choice of companion (usually human) to share his adventures with. As viewers, we share the same sense of wonder that these companions experience, vicariously boarding the TARDIS ourselves. Doctor Who is at his best when he is vulnerable, facing the fear of death. Yet, all too often these same companions thrust the Doctor into danger. His deep affection for these people make him vulnerable in many ways, like the countless times a companion has been captured as a means to coerce the Doctor to do the villain’s will....

I don’t want to be upgraded Jun08

I don’t want to be upgraded

Humans are funny. On one hand, we want to avoid any kind of vulnerability at all costs.  We don’t like to fail, be judged, or show any imperfection. We guard our appearance because we don’t want to look old, or fat, or out of style.  Consider the amount of makeup ladies wear; consider Spanks or Just For Men hair coloring.  And that’s just physical vulnerability—when we mess up, we immediately look for excuses—someone or something else to blame. We will go through all kinds of elaborate schemes to avoid feeling uncomfortable, uncertain or hurt. On the other hand, we would fight to the death for our right to be imperfect, vulnerable and broken. We do it in personal relationships and as a species. And, as is reflected in our preference for stories that support and identify with our ways of thinking and feeling—we love stories where we are victorious over those who would take away our individuality, diversity, autonomy—our right to make our own mistakes and be vulnerable. I wonder, would I be willing to sacrifice myself for someone else? Most superhero stories have this element.  There’s often some alien race that wants to take over the world and make us conform to their ways—and it frequently means that they want to take away the things that make us weak—like feelings—so that we will be obedient.  Doctor Who has many examples of this: The Cybermen (who call it “upgrading”) and the Daleks to name a couple; Star Trek has the Borg who want to make everyone part of the Collective; Falling Skies has the Overlords who want to turn the kids into Skitters… We also have stories of humans trying to “improve” their own kind, like in the novel Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell. There was talk a couple of years ago of scientists being able to remove bad memories from people’s brains—even my 12 year old thought that was a bad idea. And then, Gravity Falls had an episode all about it—and cartoon children came to the conclusion that there is value in vulnerability. A story that has stuck with me is about Batman’s Mr. Freeze, who tried so hard to avoid the vulnerability of grief that he went to extreme measures; he tried to save his wife through cryogenics and wound up turning himself into a villain. Avoiding emotion never ends well—you are always going to turn into a supervillain if you try not to feel. Whether we have superheroes come to the rescue or a rag-tag fugitive fleet saves the day; a remnant few will stand up for our right to be the small, broken, hot mess that humanity is. Someone will be there to resist—even when resistance seems futile. In fact, in most TV shows and movies, the little group of heroes will inevitably have a conversation like, “What are the chances of success?”  “Slim to none.”  “Let’s do this.” We would fight to the death for our right to be imperfect, vulnerable and broken. In The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe, C.S. Lewis illustrates the power of vulnerability as salvific. Aslan offers his own life to save the life of Edmund—a traitor. By sacrificing himself, not only does Aslan save Edmund, he brings out the “deeper magic” that saves everyone and takes down the evil Witch who was oppressing Narnia. Aslan’s vulnerability changed from apparent weakness to the ultimate strength—and that’s why we are so willing to fight for it—vulnerability embraced becomes unfathomable strength. Vulnerability is literally the banner of Christianity—the cross.  I’m challenged every day to step outside of my comfort zone to serve others, to see and acknowledge my failings and shortcomings. And, contrary to what many think about Christianity, valuing vulnerability doesn’t mean I’m an obedient drone. I wear my brokenness like a badge. I follow the example of a God who came to the world in the form of...

All for one, one for all May06

All for one, one for all...

“All for One, One for All!” cried the child as he swung the wooden rapier, parrying and riposting against his enemy. Have you ever truly thought what this saying means as it rolls off our tongue? On New Year’s Day, I finally caved to the phenomenon that is Netflix. While scrolling through the umpteen number of choices, my eyes caught the BBC Television series The Musketeers. Who doesn’t love a good swashbuckling story. And if it’s based on Alexandre Dumas’s novel, all the better. I thought, why not? Why not, indeed!! I was hooked. Each episode is filmed almost like a mini-movie. The cinematography is brilliant, and the scripts draw you into the story.  Fight sequences are dances of power and finesse, and the flashes of steel instill the heightened awareness of danger. I raved about this show to my fellow “geeks” and the gauntlet was thrown. Why not write about what this series means to me as both a geek and a Christian? Our unique gifts and helping each other through weaknesses are what makes us strong. Challenge accepted… En Guard! In the first episode of The Musketeers, we are introduced to each character. We meet Athos, the leader among men, Porthos, the warrior, Aramis, the self-proclaimed romantic hero, and D’Artagnan, the young up-start out to prove himself. Each man is beautifully flawed. Through the actor’s nuanced portrayals during the exquisitely choreographed fight sequences, we glimpse into and draw on these characteristics and see how they make a well-rounded, yet intriguing person. It is where we begin to engage in their strengths and weaknesses that we see the foundation their characters are built upon. Athos (Tom Burke) mourns the loss of his wife, a woman who he gave everything to and was betrayed...

From zombies to robots: What if? Apr14

From zombies to robots: What if?...

As geeks, we often envision ourselves in worlds filled with zombies and aliens, vampires and werewolves, mutants and robots, dungeons and well… dragons. From our imagination those experiences absolutely must be shared and from them we form community. Community from conversations built on two simple words: what if…? Most of our favourite stories are built upon this question. In the upcoming months we are going to explore that very question in a rather non-traditional sense. Every time I have ever heard the question asked is within the context of survival, morality, and political structures. Our angle will be a little different. We are going to engage it from a spiritual and religious perspective. What if [insert situation here] happens…. and what would and could that mean to people of faith. April is set to be Resurrection month at Area of Effect. It makes sense with Good Friday and all. So what better question to kick off with than zombies? What if zombies really existed and what would that mean for our faith? We’ll just have to see. Let us know what “what if” situations you’d like to read about in the...

My Little Churches, My Little Churches… Feb26

My Little Churches, My Little Churches…...

You know those jokes where the knowledge required to actually get said joke is so specific and so niche that only a handful of people will understand—but those who do will definitely think it’s funny? This is one of those and I think it is hilarious (Yes, I shamelessly laugh at my own memes). In this instance, you have to be a Brony, Pega-sister, or have a small child that has discovered the magic that is friendship on Netflix AND be familiar with the church denomination scene in Winnipeg. If you fit this bill here is your virtual high five. Check out the churches for yourself – for reference of course. Westminster United Church St. Margaret’s Anglican Church Church of the Rock Bethel Mennonite Church Springs Church The Vineyard...

Finding beauty in the end of Korra Feb16

Finding beauty in the end of Korra...

I was a little surprised, though looking back at the show’s last two seasons, I can see there were subtle hints. Korra has her relationship with Mako in the first seasons of the show, but then there isn’t much in the way of romance after that. However, her friendship with Asami grows throughout the entire series, to the point where she writes Asami a letter and tells her what is going on in her life when she doesn’t open up to any of her other friends. Even though the ending does not jive with my personal beliefs, I found it beautiful. During my introduction to the show, I actually wasn’t sure if Asami would last past season one; she is given the opportunity to join the Equalists and has motive for doing so, but she ends up sticking with Korra throughout every ordeal. I’m glad she does, because her tough, independent, and moral character is largely why I continued watching The Legend of Korra to the end. Asami faces all sorts of temptations and has every reason to spite Korra (you’d think benders murdering her mother and Korra stealing her boyfriend would be enough to turn her to the dark side), but instead she responds with love and friendship. So of all the things that happen in The Legend of Korra series finale, the moment that stands apart most is the final scene where Korra and Asami are staring at each other romantically, holding hands and heading off into the glow of the spirit world together. This ending to the series caused quite a stir. Some viewers responded with confusion, some with denial, some with anger, and some with delight that their hopes for “Korrasami” had come true. I might have seen the ending coming if I hadn’t been watching the show through a heterosexual lens,...

Beautiful Magic: Reconciling Harry Potter Feb11

Beautiful Magic: Reconciling Harry Potter...

I grew up in a house where my dad was adamantly against magic. While he did let me read The Lord of the Rings, I wasn’t allowed to read the Harry Potter series. My introduction to Hogwarts came in my first year of university when I read Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone for my English class. I was enraptured, drawn in because of how clever the book was. As someone who enjoys textual analysis, I was delighted by how much there was to discover in the book, like the Mirror of Erised, which shows the viewer their heart’s desire, and the fact that “erised” is “desire” spelled backwards. After that first reading of Philosopher’s Stone, I blew through books two through six and then joined the rest of the fandom in waiting for Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows to come out. I’ve been a fan ever since. So how have I, a Christian, embraced Harry Potter? I think it’s important to understand where the magic comes from. In other fantasy books or TV shows, there’s usually an indication of the original source of the magic. For example, the source of magic in Middle-earth is Eru Ilúvatar, the creator of all things (see the “Ainulindalë” in The Silmarillion). In the BBC’s re-imagining of Arthurian legend, Merlin, magic is woven into the fabric of the earth, and Merlin himself is a being of magic, created by Destiny to help and guide Arthur, the Once and Future King. In both cases magic is very much a tool that can be used for good or evil. The magic in Harry Potter is simply a tool that most often acts as a plot device.It is the same in Harry Potter. Rowling herself has said that she invented...

Doctor Who is my saviour Feb10

Doctor Who is my saviour...

Personally, I miss the days of Battlestar Galactica’s supremacy on TV, but I cannot deny that allure and magic of Doctor Who. Either way, it was my love for Science-Fiction and linking it to things deeper than “who is the best doctor?” that caught the attention of an Anglican mission in Winnipeg, St. Benedict’s Table. Geekdom House was asked to come kick-off their relaunch of ideaExchange. As the title would suggest, ideaExchange is an exchange of faith-based ideas not typically addressed from a pulpit on a Sunday morning. After meeting with Jamie Howison, a priest at St. Benedict’s Table, we came up with the idea to watch, study, and discuss the episode “Vincent and the Doctor.” The episode stars the eleventh (and my favourite because of this episode) doctor, Matt Smith. However, due to technical difficulties the episode could not be played on the night in question, and instead what happened was a semi-improvised discussion about geek culture, community, faith, and why Star Wars episodes 1,2, and 3 were comparable to poorly made Christian films (of which there are a number of examples). Here is the podcast in its entirety, and if you’re interested in listening to more ideaExchange talks, you’re more than welcome to check out the St. Benedict’s Table podcast on...

The Heart Behind Geekdom House Feb01

The Heart Behind Geekdom House

The primary operating belief behind Geekdom House is that both the Christian community and the nerd and geek community have something to offer one another. We are not trying to Christian-ify the nerd and geek community, but our philosophy is about creating a space where both groups can interact with each other. We want to be honest about our love for all things nerd and geek related and not be afraid to engage with it on a philosophical, spiritual, and faith-based level. We want both communities to have a positive impact on each other. “We believe that being righteous is far more valuable than arrogantly being right.” We truly believe that there are those within both communities that love to engage in rich discussions about the metaphysical. We believe this because for years many of us have found ourselves with feet in both camps. Area of Effect, as a publication, is meant to be a place where we band together in our love for all things nerd and geek related, and we hope to inspire moral, ethical, and metaphysical discussion. We are honest that our bias is rooted within Christianity, but we humbly believe that we, too, are mere Padawans on our journeys. As an organization we do not have a unified theology, and each staff/writer/minion has their own interpretations and understandings. We do have though the expectation that none of us truly believe we have it all figured out. We believe that being righteous is far more valuable than arrogantly being right. We are open to discussion, open to being wrong, and open to learning more from anyone about who we are, why we are here, and what our purpose is. We hope that, as Christians, by making an honest and earnest creative contribution to the community, others (regardless of their faith background) will accept our invitation to have discussions about these things in the nerd and geek community that we all love so dearly. We love having these discussions and we hate having to leave our faith at the door. We want to bring ours and let you bring yours while we figure this all out together. Let the discussions...