Saturday, April 28, 2012

Life Lessons From Contra (NES)


Last night I watched this video of a guy reflecting on his experience with the NES game Contra (video here). It got me to thinking of my own experience with the game and have thus gleaned some life lessons.

Like all platforming games, you improve your performance by repetition.  You play up to a certain point and then die because of some obstacle.  So,  you keep playing up to that obstacle until you remember what's coming and finally you're able to anticipate what's coming and either dodge or shoot the sucker and move on.

It could be some enemy that pops up out of the underbrush, or maybe the movement and attack patterns of a boss - regardless, it takes practice.

Now, the thing about Contra (and again, any platformer worth its salt), is it's difficult.  You get four chances, or lives, to make it through and defeat the Red Falcon menace.  When all four are exhausted  you get three chances to continue.

The difference is, when you die with more than one man left you pick up right where you left off.  If you lose all of your lives, you can continue from the beginning of that stage (which can be really frustrating when you have the boss on the ropes, and then it comes through with some sort of cheap sneak attack (but then again, that's the point of this whole post)).

But if you use up all of your continues you have to start all over from the very beginning.

This is how God works His sanctification out in us!

Suppose God has brought you up to a crisis and you nearly go through but not quite, He will engineer the crisis again, but it will not be so keen as it was before. There will be less discernment of God and more humiliation at not having obeyed; and if you go on grieving the Spirit, there will come a time when that crisis cannot be repeated, you have grieved Him away. But if you go through the crisis, there will be the p├Žan of praise to God. Never sympathize with the thing that is stabbing God all the time. God has to hurt the thing that must go.
Oswald Chambers, My Utmost For His Highest, Aug. 13 entry


When we "go through it but not quite," we lose a "life" but we get another shot at it.  Fail again, we get another shot at it, but we're set a little further back.  Keep on failing, keep on being impertinent and never-learning, well, then we've got to start the whole dang thing over again from the beginning.

Why waste life going through the same things again and again, going in circles, traveling at a certain pace but never really getting anywhere?  Do you ever get that feeling?

Now, maybe we're successful on a certain level - let's say, professionally.  We move up in a company but then never seem to be able to hold a steady relationship; be that one of romance or meaningful friendship.  They always start off well enough - there's the initial excitement of finding someone who shares common interests (Browncoats, are ya with me?) and you ride along on that excitement for awhile.

Now, "awhile" can be a matter of years or a matter of hours, and then for some reason or another it starts to break down.  It could be for any number of reasons, but it all comes down to this primal one: we're human.  The threat of a failed relationship is inevitable - we all face it at some point.  Until we learn how to deal with that - communication, reconciliation, commitment, love - then we'll just keep going in circles, looping around from one relationship to another, never sustaining anything more than an enthusiastic acquaintanceship - never being without someone nearby, but always and forever alone.

Or maybe it's not relationships per se, but integrity, or loyalty, or time management; until we learn whatever God is taking us through we'll just keep going in circles.  Unless you're in an over-sized teacup, that's really not much fun.

BUT - if we maintain a spirit of wanting to make it through, if we fall 20 times but stand up 21 - thanks be to God for His infinite grace!  So long as we accept the fact our hearts beat for His purpose, He is faithful when we are not; He is our 1up.

Never, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever give up.

What's God taking you through right now?


Sunday, April 22, 2012

Blue Like Jazz

I put the "pro" in "procrastination."  One of these days I'll get back on a regular posting schedule, but there's a lot going on right now and I'm trying to maintain my center.  Anywho, one thing I really want to talk about is the film Blue Like Jazz.

I've seen it twice now; once opening weekend and again a couple of days later.  It's that good.

Apparently, the project to produce this film started about six years ago and then they ran out of money.  Someone suggested they check out Kickstarter.com.  They did, and in 30 days raised enough money (and then some) to complete production.  The film was released on April 13, 2012.  It's kind of like an indie film with really, really wide release.

Actually, that's exactly what it is.

Anyway, it's a film adaptation of Donald Miller's book of the same title, Blue Like Jazz. I read it a few years ago, back in '06 or '07 and really liked it.  I thought of it as the book I was aspiring to write.  Instead, this yahoo, Miller, beat me to it.  It's not like I've had anything published yet, anyway.  It's just one of those things.

I haven't read it since, though I enjoyed it very much.  I was excited to hear about the film, especially after seeing the trailer.  I was thinking to myself, wow!  This looks like an honest-to-goodness honest film made by Christians, not a Christian propaganda piece made by Christians!

Going into it, I was glad I had only read the book once and didn't remember much about it because then my expectations were able to be fairly broad.  I only expected that it'd be honest, it'd be real, and it'd be an authentic account of a young man struggling to make sense of his faith and the world around him.  In those senses, all expectations were fulfilled - in all other senses, I was blown away.

Now, I knew this film was going to be edgy.  It was going to be edgy because it was going to be honest; honest almost to the point of transparency.  The difference is, being honest is being real, but with discretion and thoughtfulness.  Transparency is being real but without a filter of any sort.  You get the warts and dirty laundry as it comes; that, along with the good stuff, is practically thrown at you rather than entrusted as you get better acquainted with an individual.

Transparency I can handle; honesty, that's a little tougher.

With transparency, it's all out there; you know what to expect.  It's simpler, though it's messier.  Plus it's similar to how I primarily function when I'm not paying attention.  I wear my emotions on my sleeve; I'm typically on or off in any given situation - there's no room for in-between, just chilling - again - when I'm not paying attention.

Honesty?  Well, that's different.  It's scary.  God is honest with us, but He's not transparent.  He doesn't lay all His cards out on the table; He entrusts with a little bit of knowledge, bit by bit.  And that's how it's to be in all relationships.

You don't lay out all your cards at once; you wait and see if the individual across from you is trustworthy, for each card is a piece of your soul being revealed.  How do you know that person isn't just going to take that piece of you and trash it?

Alas, I digress...

Honesty is more difficult than transparency because you can't lay out a map of how to predict the other person's behavior, you can't just categorize individuals and make the business of a relationship so easy to deal with.

People are people - not things to be put in boxes.  All areas of our lives bleed over into the other and back and forth, and vice versa, and so on and so forth.

I have to let people be people and that's scary because getting each successive card also takes commitment - it takes time and a commitment to share some of your self with this person.

It's scary on one hand because what if you commit yourself to a lot of time with this person only to find you don't like what you're finding?  Or regardless of if you like what you discover or not, you realize it just won't work; what then?

It's scary on the other hand because what if, card by card, piece by piece, you reveal more of who you are and then the other person decides he/she doesn't like what he/she sees?  The prospect of rejection looms over us all at some point.

So, what does that have to do with Blue Like Jazz?  Like I said, it's an honest movie.  The narrative doesn't play its full deck immediately.  But like when you get to know someone, bit-by-bit we learn more about it and I was thinking to myself, how on earth is this ever going to come back around to Jesus in a meaningful way?

In its honesty and candor, the filmmakers pull no punches as to what life was like for Miller in college, and they accurately portray the life of a statistically typical college freshman in all its drinking and debauchery and mischief - but never to the point of exploitation.  That is to say, there are no sex scenes (there's not even a kiss!), the cussing is realistic but not gratuitous, and one particular prank that is pulled...well, it's done and I was shocked.

Me - I was shocked at what I saw portrayed in the movie.  I was actually uncomfortable.  My self-righteousitis flared up and I found myself thinking, how on earth is God going to be glorified in this??!

Well, it all comes together in the end.  When the final scene started taking on its heft and depth, my heart was in my throat and I nearly cried.

The story makes me think of my own: raised in the church, lived as a naive Jesus Freak in high school, went off to college out of my Christian bubble and began to question my faith.  I went through my own prodigal years, my time of questioning and doubt, my time of pain.  None of that weakened my faith just as the first 7/8s of the film don't weaken the story; all of that is tinder for the fire of God's love - in my heart and in what's communicated in the heart of the film.

So, for the doubters, the philosophers, the seekers, the founders, the whomevers, I highly recommend this film.  It is enjoyable, it's fun, it's poignant, it's sad - it's a meaningful dramatization of the human experience.

And if you're like me, wondering what some of the songs in the movie are, the one that involves a bear and a bicycle is called, Bicycle Bicycle, You Are My Bicycle by Be Your Own Pet.

The song featured in the trailer and in the film when Miller hits his catharsis is called Taos and it's by Menomena.

So that's all.  Go see it.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

I Love Armadillo Hide

Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays we wake up in time to form up in the day room by 04:45.  When it's warm enough - as it has been the last few occasions - we go running as a detachment.

After taking an accountability muster in the day room, we go out and form up in the street for stretches and then get into three ranks and get to it.

Along the way we have someone calling out the cadence.  One of my favorites is "Runnin' Through the Jungle" in which a narrative is told in the first-person about running through the jungle early in the day and encountering different jungle animals.  The animals threaten the runner, but the runner warns each of the creatures that if they don't yield they will each be turned into a battle helmet, a parka liner, a pair of skivvies, or a pair of boots.  Each of these articles of clothing are necessary parts of a sailor's uniform.

With that in mind, not too long ago at church someone mentioned the armor of God and then we went through the different pieces of the armor.  When we got to the helmet of salvation I couldn't help but think of "battle helmet."  I mean, after all, where else do you wear any kind of helmet other than in battle?  In the context of armor, that is.

"Battle helmet, battle helmet," I thought.  The thought was like a mouse with a lit dynamite stick tied to its tail, scurrying around in my mind seeking safety.  And then it hit me: "I looooove armadillo hide!  / Makes my battle helmet fit me just-a right!"

The helmet of salvation made out of armadillo hide?  I hardly doubt that's what Paul was thinking when he wrote his letter to the Ephesians, but what if...?

In the cadence, the sailor is running along on his mission.  He comes across a threat - an armadillo - let's say a rabid armadillo because I don't think armadillos are particularly menacing (and probably not actually found in the jungle), but I digress.

Or maybe the armadillo isn't exactly a threat, but still an obstacle.  So the sailor says, "Armadillo, armadillo, you better move, / before I make a battle helmet out of you!"  Clearly the sailor is without a helmet of his own and in need of one seeing as he is on a dangerous mission running through the jungle.  So instead of quailing at the first sign of resistance, as innocuous as an armadillo could be (unless it's rabid), the sailor soldiers on and takes that obstacle and makes it an asset; what was once threatening to impede his mission is now helping him.

And ain't the spiritual journey of faith just like that?  Are not the trials and temptations we face meant to test us and make us stronger?  Do those trials and temptations then not become assets to us?  We have the experience of getting burned by sin, by pain, by loss but we conquer those trials - by the grace of God - and we are more than conquerors because what once was a threat is not merely removed, it is re-formed into aiding us!  

As we are strengthened by the testing of our faith, does that not strengthen our assurance in our salvation in Jesus Christ?  So doesn't that old armadillo, in a sense, become a helmet that assures us of our salvation?

What if that's what it's like?  We are in a spiritual battle; what if the armor is supplied to us from our Lord via on-site procurement?

Just a thought....

Monday, April 2, 2012

In case you didn't know, an MC (Mass Communication specialist) is the eyes and ears of the Navy.

MCs are documentarians, historians.

MCs are trained in photography, public affairs, journalism, videography, print and design, graphic design, and that's all just part of the basic training we receive to earn the title of MC.  So I'm not just busting out my best Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson impression by referring to MCs in the third-person; I do so because I am not one yet - I have three more months to go.

Training for the MC rate happens at the Defense Information School (DINFOS on Fort George G. Meade in Maryland.  It's located between Baltimore and D.C.

The first half of training is a joint-operation kind of deal.  My class of sailors from the detachment was split into four groups and we were all put into sections with 3-4 members of the other branches excepting the Coast Guard (some of the instructors are in the Coast Guard, though).

The school is staffed by senior enlisted from all of the military branches as well as civilians.  My journalism instructor is a civilian and she was great.  My public affairs instructor was a tech sergeant from the Air Force and he was pretty cool, too.

What's really great about the training at DINFOS is all of the instructors love what they do and enjoy spreading that love via training up the next wave of public affairs and mass comm specialists.  When an educator is actually excited about his or her subject area the students can't do anything but benefit.

Well, a couple of Fridays ago we finished the first half of our training and we've moved downstairs into the Navy-specific training.

First up is photography and it's been great.  The assignments are challenging and the instructors demanding, but it's worth it.  Just today (Monday) we went to Annapolis with the assignment of taking several pictures with different shooting techniques in mind.  It really pushes a person out of his comfort zone, but once you get going it gets easier.

I chatted with the owner of a tobacco shop for the better part of two hours and got some decent photos and then moved over to a coffee shop where I got to know a couple of baristas.  It was cool.

So, in a nutshell that's what's going on - just wanted to catch you all up to speed.

In the coming posts I'll begin sharing some more stuff on the faith/spiritual side of things again and talk more about the MC rate.  Right now, though, I have a lot of plates spinning and I'm working on my time-management skills.

More to come!