Saturday, December 10, 2005

If you're a person who likes to go into a movie knowing nothing about it and you haven't seen The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe yet, stop reading and go see it. Right now.

I suppose I have quite a lot to say about the movie, but I don't know how much of it is really suitable for posting here. So let me make one general observation, and one specific observation. The general observation is that it was glorious. Indeed, it was excellent.

The specific observation is that I really like what they did with Peter and Susan. Now, they didn't change anything (I add that for the benefit of you rash souls who failed to heed my warning, supra), but they did add things. I guess. The thing is, Susan and Peter really didn't have a reason for existing before. Especially Susan. Peter at least served the role of being Peter, the High King. The Narnian Arthur. But they were still flat, and most importantly there was never really anything wrong with them. They were the big kids, the responsible ones. As Archimedes put it, in the book when Peter says to Aslan, "It's my fault. I was too hard on him [Edmund]," (not what he says in the book exactly, but you get the point) your response is to go, "No it's not!" But in the movie your response is to say, "Yeah, it really was your fault."

That's just an example. The point is, if Peter and Susan are simply good kids, they serve no point in the story. Edmund's role is obvious - he's the redeemed kid. And that is why he grows up to be Edmund the Just. Lucy's role is also pretty obvious - she's the one with faith like a child. And that is why she grows up to be Lucy the Valiant (side note: I have decided that the proper labels for the chivalrous lady knight are wise, magnificent, and valiant). But what are Peter and Susan supposed to teach us about the Christian life? From the books it's hard to get a real feel for that.

From the movie, I thought I got a pretty good sense. Peter is not just the grown up kid, the responsible one. Peter is the kid who wants desperately to do the right thing, to be fierce and protect his family, and (here's the important part) no matter how hard he tries he can't. It's not that his heart isn't in the right place. His heart is in the best place a human heart can be. It's not that he doesn't try. He tries with every fiber of his being. And yet he can't do it. It's not enough. He isn't the man he wants to be, that he needs to be, and he knows it. He doesn't lack heart. Or will. Or even action. He lacks Aslan. Peter's story is about finding out where his strength truly lies. And that is why he grows up to be Peter the Magnificent. That tells me something about being Christian. About being a man.

And Susan - Susan may have just replaced Peter as my favorite character in these books. I thought all of the children's performances were great (and Lucy was just phenomenal), but Susan broke my heart. She just popped off the screen for me, a real girl. You could really see how Susan "always was a jolly sight too keen on growing up," and really feel the pathos of that. Because Susan wants to be responsible. She wants to be a pillar of strength to her family, and see them all through all right in the end, and be a good servant-leader. And you can see her come to long for the wildness of Aslan, and the wildness of adventure. You can see why she grows up to be Susan the Gentle, and why kings from across the world would want her as their Queen. She's magnificent, and I think a man meeting her would be strongly tempted to bow down and worship her. And you could also see, watching Anna Popplewell's performance, how Susan goes wrong. How the girl who becomes Susan the Gentle could just as well have "wasted all her school time wanting to be the age she is now, and she'll waste all the rest of her life trying to stay that age." This movie made me actually feel for what Susan loses, and made me feel the all-too-tragic reality of why she loses it. Her story tells me something about being Christian.

It was excellent.

Sunday, December 04, 2005

Blue Rose tagged me the other day, and even though I don't usually respond to those things (and I'm not going to tag anybody else), I thought this one was a convenient excuse for blogging. So, things that have blessed me lately, in no particular order:

10. Christmas party at Vonsus and Mayxm's, even if I only stayed for a little while.
9. Blue Rose and her boyfriend.
8. Needing to come up with a suitable blogname for said boyfriend.
7. Being able to be here for Esther Selene's impending visit.
6. Being able to listen to Christmas music!
5. Friends who care more about me than about upsetting me.
4. A family that loves me and fights for me.
3. Friendship history that is firm enough for faith to rest on.
2. Sharing Thanksgiving with Archimedes.
1. The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe trailers.

Let me add a word about that last. I don't know if The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe will be any good. I don't know if they're trying to imitate The Passion of the Christ's highly successful market-to-the-Christians promotional strategy without a film that is suited to that. I don't know if they're going to miss the fact that the Chronicles are very deliberately pictures of what it means to be Christian (I know perfectly respectable, well-read people who would argue that the genius of the Chronicles is that you can read into them whatever you want, which is why so many Christians think Lewis was writing about them. Respectfully, those people are wrong. If you can't see how the Chronicles are illustrations of the Christian life, that is because you are missing something about the Christian life).

The point is, no matter how bad the movie is, it has blessed me in this one regard: the scenes from the trailer depicting Peter receiving his Christmas gifts and depicting the four children taking their thrones. Those scenes - whether the movie they come from be good or bad - reminded me of Peter the High King. Now I know that Peter is not very well fleshed out compared to other characters like Edmund and Eustace. That's okay. That boy is Peter, the High King. That boy is Edmund the Just. That girl is Susan the Gentle. That girl is Lucy the Valiant. It is like Mufasa says: You are more than what you have become. You are my son, and the one true king. We Sons of Adam and Daughters of Eve never stop needing to hear that message, I think. Be the movie good or bad, it has said that again. That is enough for me.

Saturday, November 19, 2005

This isn't something I do very often, but I've done it now: I've changed my wallpaper. Monica (my desktop) now has a composite photograph of a Timber Wolf in the forest, while Danielle (my laptop) has a painting of a Jade Falcon Mad Dog at dusk.

I came across an old poem I wrote in high school (back when I still wrote poetry), probably in response to something that happened at youth group, and it's got me thinking about the Jade Falcons again. I have a lot of heroes that I identify with, but few so old as the Falcons. I'm not even sure that anybody who reads this knows what Clan Jade Falcon is, with the exception of course of Xenophon and his brother. But most people will probably recognize the names of Marthe Pryde (the Falcon Khan) and Aidan Pryde (one of the Clan's greatest heroes). The Falcon ethos means a lot to me, but for present purposes let us just say that the Clans are a warrior society loosely patterned on the "barbarian" Mongols.

The other day, when I was contemplating that poem, I came across the following excerpt from a Jade Falcon poem. The soldier and Founder of the Jade Falcon clan, Elizabeth Hazen, is in a hopeless position on the field of battle and sees a vision of her old jade falcon, Turkina, long dead. Finding Major Hazen in despair and ready to die, Turkina has this to say: You trained from birth to be a warrior. To turn your back on your destiny because you are frightened or sick of the hunt is an abomination against nature.

Now of course most of you won't know this, but Elizabeth Hazen did not train from birth to be a warrior. Clan children do (if they belong to the warrior caste), but Hazen herself was just a regular soldier. The Falcons rewrote this little bit of history, because it was important that their Founder resemble the ruling caste of modern Clan society. Elizabeth Hazen was not born into the warrior caste, but she is treated as if she was. I was not born into the warrior caste either, but Jesus treats me that way. By grace my past is wiped away and I am given a new name, a new identity, a new heritage. By grace I have trained from birth to be a warrior.

Why is this important? People sometimes ask me if I enjoy law school, and I feel like frequently there is a subtext of whether I am doing this for the right reasons. It is usually out of concern, of course - they have heard horror stories about law school and the firm life that awaits beyond, and they want to be sure I'll be okay. I appreciate that. But it bothers me sometimes that I feel more anxious about law school than I did about, say, being a classics major.

What I realized in rediscovering the Falcons is this: just because you have trained for this from birth doesn't mean you won't be scared when it comes. Even Elizabeth Hazen was scared; all soldiers are. For those of us who only fight digital battles, sometimes we forget how uncertain battle really is. When I lead armies in Rome: Total War, I almost always win because I know better than to pick a fight that isn't over before it begins. When I adventure in World of WarCraft, I know better than to take on an opponent who isn't doomed before the first blow is struck. But of course real battle doesn't work that way, as I know quite well intellectually. In real life, you frequently have to take on fights where the outcome is uncertain.

I am in one of those fights now. Much as a medical student must apply to medical school before she has ever had a patient's life or well-being in her hands, I don't know if I like lawyers' work because I haven't done it. Not enough of it, anyway. I enjoy law school, certainly - but I am also scared. Scared because the stakes are higher now than they have ever been, because the reward to effort ratio is lower than it has ever been, scared because I am more on my own than I have ever been. That colors my enjoyment of the experience, and is at the heart of the ambivalence that is sometimes present when I answer whether or not I enjoy law school.

There are two grand things about it, though. First, real adventures have to be uncertain. If they aren't, they are only imaginary adventures where we control all the pieces. Where else can I experience the joy of adventure unless I go into a battle whose outcome I cannot see? The uncertainty is necessary. Second, just because it's scary doesn't mean I'm in the wrong place. It is scary, but that doesn't mean that I wasn't born for this. Putting those two things together - the uncertainty of the outcome and the certainty that I am in the right battle - are also necessary. For where else can I experience the joy of faith except in those circumstances?

Sunday, October 30, 2005

Two posts today. Wrote them both over the weekend, so be sure to scroll down at some point.

The point of this post is to define “chivalry,” or at least to discuss what I mean when I use that word. The idea of chivalry first came into my head in middle school, when I first discovered that girls are different – and wonderful. Shortly after this discovery came the discovery that most of my sex are complete boors when it comes to women. Now mind you, this is not to say that I am a knight and a gentleman when it comes to women. But you have to understand that I saw how most guys treated girls in middle school, and I was appalled because it did not seem very Christian.

At this time the Song of the Lioness was much on my heart, and particularly the bits about what it means to be a noble. In Tortall, the code of chivalry states that there is no job too mean for a true noble. If you wear the shield of a knight, then young and old, rich and poor may look to you for aid, and you cannot deny them. You protect the weak and the poor. You rule justly and well; you are the champion of the people of your fief. Long before Tamora Pierce wrote the Protector of the Small quartet, I heard stories about Alanna the Lioness and said in my heart, “I want to be like that. I will be like that.” It was the first time that I had read a story about Jesus (of course Tamora Pierce is not writing about Jesus, but that is what I recognized in the Song) and said, “I want to be like that.”

Because of this confluence of events the concept of chivalry has forever borne in my mind the imprint of male-female relations. I suspect that is proper – most of the stories about God’s chivalry are also stories about God’s marriage, after all. So let me define Natalian chivalry in terms of what I think we should demand of our men when they start to pursue a woman. I think you could probably break that down into three categories: a man should be wise, a man should be honorable, and a man should be valorous.

A man should be wise. Does he see things clearly, and see himself accurately? Does he fear the Lord? (Well if he does – but as Solomon says the fear of the Lord is only the beginning of wisdom.) Does he know the Lord, and does the Lord know him? Does he delight in obedience? Can he see clearly in spite of his feelings? Is his counsel insightful, getting to the heart of the matter? Is he the sort of man whose advice you could take even if you cannot see the sense in it, because you know from experience that his counsel is not only insightful but also reliable and trustworthy? Do you trust not only the results of his counsel but also the process? Does he guard his own heart?

A man should be honorable. Are his principles sound, the sort of principles in which you would want your children to be instructed? Does he hold them with conviction but also with honesty and openness? Does he reject falsehood firmly and lovingly without patronizing or compromising? When he speaks, does he speak truth? Does he do what he says he will? Are his words and his deeds consistent, two parts of one communication? Does he value himself neither more nor less than God values him? Does he value other people as God sees them? Does he consider the integrity of a woman’s heart more important than getting access to it? Does he never take access to a woman’s heart lightly? Does sin pain him? Is he self-controlled? Does he view you as a partner and a wingman, and not as an objective or a goddess or a squire?

A man should be valorous. Does he fight for other people as God fights for them? Is he growing in the Lord? Does he help other people grow? Does he long to confront sin in himself and in others? Does he act out of love, and not just out of zeal? Is he wild and fierce but tender? Is he powerful but humble? Is he slow to anger but quick to forgive? Is he unafraid of his girlfriend’s faults and wounds (or those of her family)? Does he long to help heal them? Does he recognize that however hard he strives, it is God that gives the increase – and God that gives the victory? Does he strive with everything in him all the same? Does he give of his time and his talents? Does he value providing for his family? Does he love to live in your world? Does he love to make your heart soar – or to make your heart flutter? Does he work at it?

None of this is meant to imply that chivalry is inherently masculine, but I am not so certain what its feminine version looks like. I have some feeling that it has to do with magnificence, though. When I think of the Caryatid or the Fiancée (I know she’s married now, but I can’t very well call her the Wife) or Mayxm or Nari or Blue Rose or my sister or mother, there is something … well, magnificent about them. Like Athena Glaukopis. Like a horse in its beauty and strength. I don’t know if I can define it any more precisely than that yet.

I like to toss around words like “honor” and “chivalry,” and occasionally this causes me some concern. God does not seem especially concerned in the Bible with either honor or chivalry – of course when he wrote, “chivalry” would have been a nonsensical word, but the basic idea existed, I think. After all, samurai were “chivalrous” (as long as you aren’t a medievalist, anyway); every culture has had their man-at-arms (usually mounted) whom they hold up as paragons of virtue. The Greek chariot-mounted herôs and hoplite militiaman; the Roman politician-cavalryman and grizzled centurion; the Persian gentleman archer and aristocratic cavalier; the Hebrew judge and “mighty man of valor” – these are chivalrous figures (or anyway their respective cultures thought they should be) and that would have been familiar to God’s audiences. If God wanted to talk about honor, he had the tools. So why didn’t he? Of course he did a little – Scripture doesn’t record the names of David’s mighty men for nothing – but mostly he just doesn’t seem to care one way or the other.

As troubling as it is to me to care too much about honor and chivalry, the prospect of an honorless (or honor-neutral) Christianity is equally troubling. Those words are written on my heart in the deep place, the same place that knows God loves me or God called me to Stanford. Have they infiltrated the inner room of my heart by mistake? I have a hard time believing that. God may not spend a lot of verbage telling us to be honorable or chivalrous, but he spends quite a lot of verbage talking about how he is honorable and chivalrous. I just can’t believe that he didn’t make us in that part of his image too, or that he spent all that time talking about his own chivalry without saying, “Go and do likewise.”

Saturday, October 29, 2005

Something that John Eldredge says in Wild at Heart has always sort of bugged me. He claims that the church has drilled Jeremiah 17:9 into our heads, and we go around convinced that our heart is deceitfully wicked. So far I agree with him. He goes on to say, read the rest of the book, arguing that our heart was wicked but now is good – that God has given us hearts of flesh for hearts of stone and written his law on our hearts (the hearts of believers, that is), and our heart is good.

That is sort of an uncomfortable thing to hear. Partially it’s uncomfortable because I am keenly aware of the vast gulf between what I do (let alone what goes on inside me) and what is good. I think most honest people will agree with me, unless they’ve compromised their definition of good. But as I was reminded the other day talking to Duchess about my buddy icon (well, talking to her cousin while she looked on), I am Jade Falcon. I will not forget where I come from or where I am going and there can be no compromise. Conquer honorably or die trying. Mostly, though, it’s uncomfortable to hear that my heart is good because I really have bought into the idea that it’s just not. I might even have gone so far as to say that was one of the tenets of my Christianity – that no human heart is good. That “I am a sinner in need of grace,” as Vonsus might say, is the best anybody will ever say for me.

Now of course, that’s not such a bad thing to have said about me. But I think I might have figured out what Eldredge is getting at. First, we need to distinguish between what goes on inside of us and our heart. The heart, as Eldredge uses the term (and I think this is the Biblical understanding, too, to the extent that “heart” is a term of art in Scripture), is more than just what goes on inside you – your thoughts and feelings and dreams. It’s the real you, the you whose name is on the white stone that God will give you at the end of the world. It is the “me” that Paul distinguishes from “my sin” in Romans.

But isn’t that precisely what is wicked? Isn’t it true (again as Vonsus might say) that my heart has done things that my hands haven’t gotten around to yet? I’m no longer sure it is. Here is what hit me the other day: God calls me righteous. Hitherto I have generally believed that imputed righteousness was a sort of legal fiction. The picture in my head was something like this: God looks at me and goes, “Ew, gross” and then Jesus steps in and says, “Dad, this one’s with me,” and God says, “Ok, I’ll pretend that he’s righteous even though he’s not” (emphasis added).

Is that what God does? Is God the God of legal fictions? Or is it more like Eldredge says, that inside me there are two people, so to speak: the real me, and the traitor. In other words, the new man and the old man, my true heart and my “flesh.” To the extent that we conflate those two people in everyday conversation, “I” am still a sinner in need of grace – that is, “I” am a person who sins, and I am need of grace (of course I think I would need grace even if I was not a sinner. It is not moral effort that my true heart feeds on, nor moral actions, but the life of God communicated to it without condition). But my heart is good.

I am not entirely sure what it means for my heart to be good. But I know one consequence: it keeps me in the fight. What is the use of screaming, “Conquer honorably or die trying” if my heart is inherently dishonorable? Who can put their faith in a God whose best effort is a legal fiction? The Gospel, after all, is the power of God to save. Is God’s power a mere legal fiction, simply a change in viewpoint? Or is it power?

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Things that have been good for my heart lately:

Jammix last Friday. Thanks to Wendy, the TD, Anachoron, and someone I don't have a blogname for yet for some very good polkas, redowas, and pivots, and to Blue Rose for a very good waltz. Many other good dances too - and a very good walk home. The connection between wildness and control has been much on my mind lately. I think that redowa in polka time has become my favorite metaphor for that subject.

Seeing My Fair Lady with Duchess and her cousin. I don't know if I appreciated that show properly the first time I saw it. With subsequent viewings, I have come to really like the way Eliza and Henry Higgins are written. I was struck, this last time, by how much these two characters are examples of wounded femininity and wounded masculinity. Here is what I thought of when I saw it this last time. Eldredge says (and I agree) that every man is haunted by this question: Do I have what it takes? Can I come through when it counts? The counterpart question that he says every woman is haunted (and I agree with this, too) is this: Will you pursue me? Do you delight in me? Will you fight for me? Too often - indeed, in the overwhelming majority of cases - men and women have that question answered for them when they are little, and the answer is no. This is what I saw in My Fair Lady this last time. Henry Higgins is a poser who is afraid of women (indeed, of friends) because he doesn't think he can come through for them when it counts - he doesn't even know how to come through for a woman. Eliza Doolittle has been told all her life that she's on her own, that nobody is ever going to fight for her because she's gutter trash. Here's what I love about the movie: the way these two poor people begin to get their wounds healed. Freddie doesn't get the girl. There's nothing romantic between Henry and Eliza. But her femininity nevertheless inspires him to pick up his weapons and begin to fight, and she begins to believe in delightfulness, all in a wonderfully un-Hollywood non-romantic way. "That is not love, perhaps. But it is real."

Saturday, October 08, 2005

In Wild at Heart John Eldredge suggests that there is something about the masculine heart that can only be found in the wilds. Now, I'm not exactly sure how literally he means that, but I've found for myself that what he says about wildness is true. Which is why I love to dance.

Dance has meant many things to me while I've been at Stanford, and I begin to suspect that it will become the Testimony of the latter half of my Stanford career - the Great Fact; the single most important reason, in the narrative of God's work in my life at this school, why I had to come to Stanford and couldn't go anywhere else. Dance has meant the redemption of my friendship with Blue Rose; it has meant chivalry; it has meant healing of my geek's heart; it has meant romance.

Now it means wildness. Whether I'm dancing at Friday Night Waltz with Duchess and friends I don't have blognames for, on Thursday nights with other friends I don't have blognames for, or at Jammix with lots of friends I do have blognames for, there is something wild, something unfettered and free, about the experience of dance. Not romantic. Pre-romantic.

A year or two ago I discovered that God met with me in the aftermath of a dance, alone in the cold and the moon and the stars. I begin to suspect why. Since he first called to Adam our God has loved to meet with people in the wilds. And even in the Silicon Valley, clearly he still does.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Archimedes' recent thoughts about The Da Vinci Code and our discussion about Puddleglum got me thinking about faith recently. I have zero intellectual tolerance for the idea that faith (particularly Christian faith) is anything like believing something because despite the fact that you know it isn't true, or despite the fact that you think it's probably untrue, or because you want it to be true. My everyday definition of faith (and my understanding of the Bible's everyday definition) is believing something because you have enough evidence to make the conclusion more likely than anything else, even if you don't have enough evidence to prove it in a strict sense. This is, I suspect, the dominant mode by which people believe things in their everyday lives, and I am ordinarily vaguely annoyed when people talk about religious faith as being somehow a hugely different and alien method of thinking compared to their regular experience.

Nevertheless, I must admit there are times when faith can look kind of weird, and I think I understand a little better now why people have this popular view that faith is believing something simply because you want it to be true. One of the most brilliant insights I ever heard about faith (from Lewis, though I'm sure he didn't think of it first) is that the human mind, once it has accepted a proposition as true, does not automatically go on accepting that proposition as true. You see this all the time in unhealthy relationships (I've done it myself a few times): you accept a certain proposition (e.g., this is a bad relationship to be in, or your significant other values you very much) and then something happens and all of a sudden that proposition is very fuzzy or it flies right out of your head. You see the girl again and all of a sudden the relationship looks very good to be in. Or you have a stressful day and all of a sudden your SO's silence of the last eight hours is filled with dire significance. You see the same thing in roller coasters: I know perfectly well that the odds of me dying on a roller coaster are very slim, but at the top of that horrible drop all I can think is, "We're all going to die." Indeed, virtually the whole point of the roller coaster is that it causes my calm acceptance of its safety to fly right out of my head.

Holding on to the proposition in the face of these circumstantial changes (what Lewis calls "mere moods") is one of the principle aspects of faith. It is recognizing that these circumstantial changes may make me feel differently, but have no bearing on the validity of the sober judgment I made earlier. The fact that the roller coaster is a lot scarier from the top than it is from the line has no bearing on its safety one way or the other, and the question I must ask myself in the midst of my fear is, "Was my earlier assessment well made or not?" If it was (which it presumably was, if I adopted it) then I should proceed to act along those lines even if I don't feel like it right now.

Roller coasters are a trivial example, but the methodology holds true for much more serious questions. But here is what seems interesting to me: let's push this a little farther. Suppose the fear (or whatever mood it is) gets so bad that I can't even remember my earlier argument. All I have is the bare fact that I thought this was a true proposition before, when I considered it in tranquility. I can't remember why, though.

I think this is the situation Puddleglum found himself in, which surprised me. If you recall The Silver Chair you recall that it has a wonderful speech at the end which contains, among other stirring and yet disquieting statements, "I'm on Aslan's side even if there's no Aslan to lead it." Now, at first that looks very much like the popular version of faith: my belief in Aslan is independent of the facts. That would be an easy mistake to make.

But in fact that's not what's going on. Instead Puddleglum has come to a place that all Christians will come to at one point or another: the point where things are so bad, or so tumultuous, that you can't even remember why you believe any more. All you can remember is that you do believe, because at one point you were convinced you did have reasons for believing. At that point - when you can no longer support your belief - you've got to admit that it's possible you're wrong. Well, you've always got to admit that, but you've especially got to admit it now. Maybe there is no Aslan. Maybe we copied lions from cats and cats are not copied from lions. But even if there is no Aslan is not the same thing as even though there is no Aslan.

Now, here is where faith comes in. It is not, as the popular view might suspect, closing your eyes against the doubts you can no longer refute and holding on tightly to your belief. It is looking very closely at the doubts and realizing that these are not real doubts; they are not the sorts of things that should make one reevaluate a soberly adopted position. Instead, they are mere emotions - merely fear, merely infatuation; whatever they might be. And because of that, the reponse of faith is to ignore them in favor of a position that you know was once adopted soberly (even if you can't remember the details at the moment).

Now, that looks like closing your eyes to the truth, but in fact it is nothing of the sort. In fact it is perhaps the great test of a person's faith, when they come to a situation that requires that sort of analysis and they can hang on to enough sanity to analyze instead of react. In the midst of the world crashing down around them to still look at the storm of doubts and see it for what it is. I wonder if this is perhaps how the misconception got started.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

I'm reading Xenophon's Hellenica in my spare time up here, and I'm enjoying it thoroughly whatever its deficiencies as history (I wonder what the modern view on that is - I'm curious as to why this Oxyrhynchus Historian is considered so superior, given that we have only fragments and indirectly reported pieces of his work). Of all the ancients with whom I am more or less familiar, Xenophon is the one I admire most. The introduction to my translation of the Hellenica contains the following statement: "The hand of God is an explanation that dulls the quest for truth, but it is the explanation to which Xenophon, so unlike Thucydides, readily had recourse."

That "the hand of God is an explanation that dulls the quest for truth" is the sort of thing one hears often enough if one has the right sorts of discussions, but it strikes me as an either ignorant or disingenuous statement. There are two ways in which one could mean "the hand of God" as an explanation.

One way (the way I think most people have in mind when they complain about it as an explanation) would be something like this. Somebody asks, "Why do objects fall?" and somebody else answers, "The hand of God." Somebody 2 then says, "No, gravity makes objects fall" and Somebody 1 says, "No, I don't believe in gravity. The hand of God did it."

I have never been to the mysterious hick land where people talk like this (the Duelist doesn't count; when he says stuff like that he says it on scientific rather than religious grounds), and the people who claim to have are generally the sorts of people whom I find to be more or less ignorant about Christianity and how to interact with it, either intellectually or socially. Consequently I am usually wary of such claims.

The other sense in which somebody might mean "the hand of God" is a little more complex, and doesn't seem to me to dull the quest for truth at all. This would go something like this. Somebody 1 asks, "Why do objects fall?" and Somebody 2 answers, "The hand of God." Somebody 1 then says, "Why?" and Somebody 2 says, "Because this is the equation for gravity," and perhaps Somebody 1 pushes that to a discussion of the theory of gravity. But all of that will be begging the question, because what Somebody 1 has really asked is not, "What is the mechanism by which objects fall?" but, "Why is there such a mechanism?"

Now, the hand of God is certainly not the only answer to that question. The other obvious answer is, "There is no reason why the mechanism exists; it simply does." This seems structurally equivalent to the hand of God, though. It's not a scientific verifiable statement, and it poses the same problem of eternal existence. But eventually you get to this point where you've got to pick one or the other, and in that case "the hand of God" doesn't dull the quest for truth at all. It is the very object of your quest (or at least the sort of thing that is the object of your quest) and is no more or less a cop-out than any of your available alternatives.

The thing is, this is the way in which I almost always hear people invoke the hand of God, whether for good or for ill ("the hand of God destroyed New Orleans with hurricane Katrina" would be an example of "for ill"). But I note that it is usually the "for ill" that people are really upset about. For instance, I imagine that most people (myself included) would be offended by the proposition that the hand of God caused the devastation in New Orleans. But why is that? Not because that explanation dulls the quest for the scientific, mechanical explanation. Because at the level of inquiry where it is appropriate to invoke the hand of God, I think it is has been erroneously invoked. I don't know that I've ever seen "the hand of God" dull the quest for truth, but I have seen it be wrong.

Monday, August 01, 2005

I told Anachoron I would talk about adventure in a later post, and since I just got back from Las Vegas now seems like a good time.

First, let me give a little more detail about Vegas for those whom I deprived in my profound relief at being home. Vegas is a fine city, I'm sure - I would feel churlish, not to say disobedient, if I didn't admit that. I expect that there are normal people who live there, and probably if you look long enough and know where and how to look you can find some gold in the city's life. But the part of it that I got to see was, on the whole, wretched and miserable. A hive, if you will. Of the scum and villainy variety.

Let me elaborate: I don't mind glitz. I don't mind glam. I don't mind over-the-top. I don't even mind plastic surgery, qua plastic surgery. What got to me was the oversexualized front that the resorts (and especially ours) put up. Crowds - nay, mobs - of men and women looking for hookups, or even just to drink in the heady thrill of being sexy and having their sexiness drunk up. All of them so naive about what they were playing with that it made me want to cry. Do you remember the day at the River when Cat gave her testimony?

So Vegas was not much of an adventure. Seeing Lady Alanna's sister at the airport (I don't have a blogname for her yet, sorry) - that was more like an adventure than flying off to some silly exotic locale to be surrounded by beautiful people and fine food.

When you think of adventure, what do you think of? I think of heroes going off to war, or young men seeking their fortune abroad, or a knight and his squire on the open road, or a band of unlikely companions on a quest to the world's end. Frodo and Bilbo Baggins had adventures. Alanna the Lioness had adventures. Keladry of Mindelan had adventures. Cimorene had adventures. The Pevensies had adventures.

There is something grand and thrilling in the very word, adventure. Destiny is in that word. But I think that is only because love is in that word, and more than anything the destiny of a human being - if we will let go of this infantile nonsense about making our own destiny, or controlling our own destiny - is love.

The great point about adventure, I think, is that it happens together. A story in which the adventurer has no companions, nobody to help him on his journey, is a sad and depressing story. It is the exception that proves the rule: adventures are supposed to be undertaken by bands of brothers side by side facing the unknown. The adventurers may be two, or nine, or a hundred, but they go together. Together they face the unknown. Together they brave perils and hardship. Together they live or together they die.

This is why, in Natalie, adventure is a love word. The essence of adventure, I believe, is togetherness. I mean, of course, something more serious than two people doing the same thing. I am speaking of two people joining their fortunes to each other, together to delight and together to sorrow, together to conquer or together to be conquered. Then it does not matter so much what is the nature of their enterprise. It may be only to live well through a year of college. It may be only to love well and be friends. It is an adventure if undertaken together.

I do not think that togetherness is the essence of love, exactly, but I think it is very close and I believe that it is in some degree necessary for love. I do not know if adventure creates love (although I know it strengthens and deepens and ripens it) or if they merely attend each other, but I do know that it is in adventure that love is to be found.

So far I have been speaking of love in the general sense. But romantic adventures exist as well, of course. And it is in this context I find the language most instructive, for if two people are to have an adventure it is evident that neither of them can be the adventure. Discovering the other person, learning what is their world and how to live in it, that is romance and that is good. But sooner or later they must turn their eyes to the road and the adventure that Aslan has for them (if I may borrow language from the Chronicles) and take it as best they may. Which is to say, if your life as a couple is nothing but discovering and delighting in the other person, your adventure will fall flat (indeed you may never reach it at all) and your love will fail. And it points out that your partner in the adventure must be more than fascinating and fun and witty and successful. They must be a good partner. I do not refer to mere compatibility. I mean they must be of trusty character. Who would you rather have at your back: Sam Gamgee or Achilles?

The adventure, of course, is that part that makes it hard. Anybody can get to know a person if that is all they have to do - we do it at summer camps and on reality TV all the time, and that is why those romances tend to be so bright (and short). But sustaining the romance during the adventure itself is quite another thing. It is in times of peril - be the peril the War of the Ring or having a real job - that the bond between the two people is tested. It is then, and not on Tahiti, that they must see to it that their fortunes are not disjoined. Indeed, they must do more than that - in the midst of vocation, friends, and in general life, they must become yet closer to each other if they are to succeed. I suppose that it is very hard work - but that is no more than we would expect from an adventure. And of course as everyone knows the survivors of an adventure are fast friends. But in a romantic adventure, if they take the adventure well and do more than merely survive, they may become more than fast friends. They may become (but of course this requires more than merely taking the adventure well, hard as that is by itself) what I believe is a different kind of being: a family. Have you ever seen a real family? It is well worth seeing.

Thursday, July 28, 2005

I have heard (and you probably have too) that the Greeks had four different words for love, and it is mostly true though not nearly as true as pastors and theologians would have us believe. Natalie has three different words for happiness:

Delight is sharp, piercing. It is ephemeral, but intense and hot and bright. Delight is a rush, the kind of happiness that stops up your throat and feels like it's about to come spilling out of your eyes. It can make the world fade away - or perhaps I will say it better if I say that the world folds itself up into a single object or feeling or sensation. I associate it with polkas that take your breath away and with redowa chases and especially passionate waltzes that crush the whole world into a circle of arms, with certain times when Esther Selene (I hope she won't mind my saying this) was in my arms or in my eyes.

Happiness is soaring, uplifting. It is broader and mellower than a mere moment, but higher and grander. Happiness can be wild and sylvan or tender and velvet, and it is not as intense as delight but higher and longer. Happiness if full of hope and of laughter and merriment. I associate it with being at Jammix after a long absence, with friends long gone and recently returned, with Christmas, and with the beginnings and end of adventures (adventure, you must remember, is a love word in Natalie).

Joy is deep and throbbing. It is broader still than happiness - so broad that time does not really apply to it. It is in your bones and deeper, low and humming across length and breadth. It is not hot and bright but it is full of power, so full that it is sometimes giddy and sometimes terrible. It can be like longing, but I think it is more like recognition of a profound hunger. Longing looks to the future and I think there is very little of hope in joy. It is what it is, crushing and terrible but soft and full of grace. I associate it with certain moments of worship, with remembrance of God, with obedience, with the family, with Blue Rose.

As long as we're on the subject I should make a few caveats as well. I do not associate any of these things with an opposite in the way that some people mean when they hypothesize that happiness and sadness are really two sides of the same coin. I can see that that might be comforting for some people when they are sad but for myself I think it is rubbish. I see that sadness can sometimes make us appreciate happiness (I mean it in the general and not the specific sense) more than we used to, but as I perceive it happiness is its own thing, and on the whole it is diminished by sadness rather than enhanced. If we required knowledge of sadness to have happiness by the nature of the thing, then I do not think happiness would be happiness at all.

Nor do I associate any of these kinds of happiness with enlightenment or wisdom, although I hope that I have made them sound as transcendent as they seem to me. For that matter I do not associate wisdom or enlightenment with suffering, either. I have met a fair number of people who have suffered more or less horribly, and none of them seem to have been made wise thereby although I consider a few of them wise nonetheless. I strongly suspect that several have been made more foolish.

Finally, I do not associate any of these things with satisfaction or fulfillment. I think I have had more than my share of both happiness and fulfillment, and I am now convinced that fulfillment is not to be found in happiness.

Friday, July 22, 2005

I have heard the Chronicles of Narnia described as "brilliant" or a "masterpiece" before, but until I began rereading them again just this month I had no idea why people talked about them so. You must remember it has been ten years or more since I read them last, so although I knew in theory that they were allegorical I mostly took my mother's word for it. "Allegorical" does not actually begin to cut it.

When I was in high school (which was the last time I made any formal study of English, with the exception of one class as a freshman at Stanford) we talked a lot about Christ figures. I feel like people talk a lot about Christ figures in literature, and I do believe that after finishing the Chronicles as an adult (am I an adult?) I will find such talk even sillier than I found it in high school. The reason is this: generally, when people put a Christ figure into their stories, they put in a figure that stands for some idea that Christ in turn stands for. Perhaps it is the idea of the Dying God, or the idea of Sacrifice, or the idea of New Life. But when Lewis put a Christ figure into the Chronicles, that figure stood for the person of Christ, in many aspects. Usually, a Christ figure communicates only an idea. Aslan communicates a character. And he does it quite well. Lewis once said that he hoped children, reading the Chronicles, would recognize Jesus the more easily when they were older thereby. I am having the opposite experience. I am reading about Aslan and saying, "I know that person! That is exactly what he's like!"

But what makes the Chronicles a brilliant masterpiece, I think, is that the allegory goes far deeper than just Aslan. I feel as if almost every page is packed with allegory. These are, I suppose, books about what it is like to be Christian. And the truth is that it doesn't come across as heavy-handed to me at all. Obvious ... obvious, perhaps, but I am not at all sure how obvious it all is to someone who isn't already Christian. But more important than their obviousness or obscurity, now that I am reading, is their accuracy. More perfectly than any story I have ever imagined (and certainly more than any I have ever read or heard), the Chronicles capture what it is like. The world of Narnia is really not like our own world at all, and yet if you know what to look for you hardly notice that - that's the genius of the allegory, what makes them an allegory among allegories. And what a good time for these to come back into my life, too. I feel as if the air of Narnia were working on me these past months, and soon enough I shall be ready for adventures once more.

I'm reading The Silver Chair right now, and the following passage struck me as so sweet that I just had to repost it. How I would love to storytime these some time! I hope you find this as sweet as I just did:

"Will you promise not to - do anything to me, if I do come?" said Jill.

"I make no promise," said the Lion.

Jill was so thirsty now that, without noticing it, she had come a step nearer.

Do you eat girls?" she said.

"I have swallowed up girls and boys, women and men, kings and emperors, cities and realms," said the Lion. It didn't say this as if it were boasting, nor as if it were sorry, nor as if it were angry. It just said it.

"I daren't come and drink," said Jill.

"Then you will die of thirst," said the Lion.

"Oh dear!" said Jill, coming another step nearer. "I suppose I must go and look for another stream then."

"There is no other stream," said the Lion.

It never occurred to Jill to disbelieve the Lion - no one who had seen his stern face could do that - and her mind suddenly made itself up. It was the worst thing she had ever had to do, but she went forward to the stream, knelt down, and began scooping up water with her hand. It was the coldest, most refreshing water she had ever tasted. You didn't need to drink much of it, for it quenched your thirst at once. Before she tasted it she had been intending to make a dash away from the Lion the moment she had finished. Now, she realised that this would be on the whole the most dangerous thing of all.

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

I don't usually do this, but allow me to squeal for a moment.

SHE'S BACK!! Thea is back in L.A. - living in Woodland Hills, no less! Oh my, that's so exciting. I can't wait to see her. It's been years, and I thought I'd never see her again ... but she's back! She's back, she's back, she's back!

Now that that's done, we return to our regularly scheduled introspection. Why is it important that she's back? Other than the fact that she's my friend ... my old friend, my dear friend, Thea. I think it has to do with something Michelle Manley said at The River once: we value gifts because they remind us of the giver. And there's something of that going on here.

In many ways I think my generation, and the generation immediately preceding, will be remembered as the Rise of the Nerds. Every six months or so you can find an article rehashing the old saw (it's an old saw now) that nerds make better boyfriends\\husbands\\lovers. And nerdy activities phase into the mainstream, and nerds do something like found Google and become cool. I feel like society is progressively recognizing our general worth (or maybe I'm just getting older, and this happens to every generation). Which is fine, because we do have a lot to offer.

But one of the problems many of us have had (and I know I've talked about this before, but bear with me) is self-esteem. Particularly as pertains to girls. Did you guys watch Beauty and the Geek? One of the things the girls generally seemed to consider a goal was to teach the guys that they do have what it takes to take on the world of girls. Getting that into your skull (and into your heart and your bones) is one of the most life-changing experiences a nerd can experience. And, for Christian nerds, one of the biggest spiritual growth spurts. And I am firmly convinced that nothing conveys that experience like a pretty girl believing in you. It is a gift, a precious gift, that I believe God earnestly desires to give to all those who don't have it.

In my life that gift came through five pretty girls. Thea was the first. My old friend.

Monday, July 11, 2005

I had to post the following from today's Penny Arcade. If you don't understand why people like Penny Arcade, it's because they have a feel for what it means to be a gamer and they can express it eloquently. Witness:

Proponents of our medium, your host included of course, use the term "art" to describe games because that software has been the catalyst for transcendent experiences. That said, we approach it with a suite of highly specialized, hyper-refined skills that allow us access to it. Most people don't don personas with an easy motion of the wrist. And it's not hard to see why they might fixate on superficial elements like "violence" when the fact of the matter is that they lack the skillset to fully discern electronic space, to take the mantle upon them and manifest another life.

Simultaneously, I think it's rare that we as players truly think about what it would mean for a game to be "art," straight up, with no qualifications. I'm not even sure the two terms can abide without rancor in the same sentence. Games are products, we buy them, and like other things we buy we have a reasonable expectation that it will produce a certain quantity of "amusement" before we have exhausted its supply. This definition is not sufficient to describe art. Art can be illegible. It can be exhausting. It can be maddening, offensive, and
revelatory. Sometimes, it is literally Our Savior in a jar of pee. There is certainly no guarantee that you may be amused consistently; we take it for granted when we play a game that such was their intention, even if they have failed in it. Art can and will elude you. I'm fairly certain these themes are incompatible with the entire anatomy of consumerism.

As a side note, the current series is pretty funny. I try not to link to things on my blog, but because this present series of comics represents the hopes and dreams of many of my kind, I link to it in this sentence. I shall return to this theme below, after the following rant.

It's funny that Tycho (for the uninitiated, that's not a blogname, that's his pen name) should post the italicized text above only a day after Dad and I were once more lamenting the diminishing of the serious wargame market. I have reasonable hopes for Starsiege: 2845 to be fun, and I have reasonable hopes that it will be a good depiction of the universe. But let me tell you, if I were making that game, things would be different, and I would happily send anybody who couldn't handle it crying to their mothers.

The thing of it is, though, that the skills required to "handle it" are just that - a specialized skillset that very few gamers have. I'm willing to bet that if you asked your average gamer, who can soak in most aesthetics without even trying, how armor works, they'd give you a blank stare. Most of them think that "tank" means "something whose job is to get shot." And they haven't got a clue what "sniping" actually means. Sigh. All I can do is try to educate people, I suppose.

And speaking of educating people, that is why you need to read the comics I linked to above (there are four as of this posting). There was a time when I couldn't imagine being romantic with someone who didn't have the skillsets necessary to process games as art. That time is past. And now, can you imagine me dating someone who doesn't dance? But that is silly too.

It is silly for two reasons. First, because having the skillset isn't anywhere near as important as having the willingness to try and acquire it - and that isn't anywhere near as important as loving the fact that I have it. Second, because the only real reason why I want to date a dancer (and the only real reason why that comic has resonance) is because it's a point of shared adventure - an activity that lets the two of you share a deeply cherished experienced. But the point of romance is learning to find more of those, and who is to say that the ones you truly share are supposed to be the ones that came ready-made?

Thursday, July 07, 2005

A few quick thoughts while I'm trying to clear my head of all the preferences law that I'm trying to force through it. I shall post these in reverse order of happiness so the post does not end on a downer.

First off, I'm glad my sister and her students are safe. Once again, may the counter-terrorism forces of the United Kingdom have good clean targets and shoot straight. But of course that isn't a real solution. The only real solution to this kind of Muslim extremist neoterrorism has got to be social, political, and economic. Why so few people seem to recognize that the Iraq war is a multigenerational regional engineering project, to create a Middle East which no longer fosters this kind of I'm-a-disgruntled-anachronism-with-a-bomb brand of Islam, I don't know. And, following my sister's example, that's all I'm going to say about that, lest I get ... emotional.

Second, although I have become much more tolerant of alcohol and am expanding the repertoire of wines that I like (another item on the list of gentlemanly skills: How to Drink Wine), I still have essentially zero tolerance for intoxication. I try to be polite about it, but the fact of the matter is that people (and especially friends) getting drunk, tipsy, or even noticeably buzzed in my presence feels like a major betrayal (I have decided, actually, it is probably number 2 or 3 on the list of major betrayals). I understand that I have friends who get drunk, tipsy, and/or buzzed on a regular basis, and while I think it's a stupid activity which I have no real problem condemning in the strongest terms, generally speaking they're polite enough not to do it in my presence. Coworkers, sadly, do not always know me as well. That or they're just not as polite. Probably the former.

Third, the Fourth of July was wonderful. There was good food, the weather was nice, there was a fire started by fireworks very close to my house that the fire department put out before it could burn anyone's house down (stupid stupid people ... the west San Fernando Valley in summer is not a place to be screwing around with incendiaries). And I had a great time in the pool with Twilight, Ayudaren, Kathelia, and Lionell, four squeegees, two mops, and two balls (not to mention the tactopi and tictofish). They just showed up with these cleaning implements and balls and said, "Let's make up a game." So Calvinball-ish. The game ended up being kind of like human foosball and kind of like pool volleyball and kind of like soccer and a little like squash: the pool was divided in half and each team was not allowed to cross over the center line. The goal was for the people in front to get the ball into the goal on the other side of the pool, and each team's goal had a goalie who was allowed to touch the ball with a mop but not with any part of his body. The game was made even more complicated by the fact that the two sides of the pool, while equal in terms of difficulty, were unequal in terms of topography. The deep end had a small goal but was, you know, the deep end, and the shallow end had a wider goal but let people stand up. Quite possibly the best pool game ever. And afterwards we had those glow-tube things, and when Kath started decorating her bathing suit with them Lionell and I decided that clearly we needed to make armor out of them, so we did. Here's to not growing up!

Fourth, yesterday I and three of my aforesaid coworkers (of whom, mind you, I am generally fond) spent our day with Public Counsel. This meant we (and two other summer associates, plus two full-time Public Counsel people) walked around the lobby of a county Department of Public Social Services office talking to the people waiting there and offering our help to clear up any problems that might have arisen with their applications for General Relief (welfare) or food stamps (which are actually on a credit card nowadays, but are still called food stamps). I'm sure you didn't know that sometimes the county is less than helpful to these people, but now you do.

It makes me happy to know that this kind of free public interest work has been the tradition of all lawyers (not just public interest lawyers, though they do it full time) for the past 450 years. I'm not a lawyer yet, of course, but it's amazing what a difference it can make just to have somebody show up who knows a little bit about the law and is willing to take the applicants' side. I spent my whole day with a mostly-blind guy whose benefits had been cut off, and it was amazing what a difference that made for him. We ultimately didn't get his back benefits reinstated (it was technically his fault that they had been cut off, and the rule wasn't even really a stupid one in general, although it was in this specific case), but he was actually okay with that and it really meant a lot to him that we were there to even try. And even having me there in the office with him while he reapplied for benefits made a huge difference, apparently - both in the way he felt about the experience and, apparently, in how helpful the county was. Now, I don't really feel like judging the county's level of service (wow, look at that - I'm not judging somebody who is operating at a mediocre level), since I'm sure that working that kind of job you learn real quick to be cynical about the whole process. Don't really approve of that, but I can't find it in me to condemn them real strongly. But regardless, my presence there made the whole process a dignifying experience for this guy. Pretty cool, huh?

Monday, July 04, 2005

As I've gotten older I've become more philosophical about Independence Day. I used to be pretty cynical about it - particularly around tenth grade, when I found out that the American colonies had the highest per capita standard of living in the world at the time of the revolution. Nowadays I understand a little better the constitutional violations the revolutionaries were concerned about, but mostly I figure that I know of no nation which has an admirable birth and ours is not bad, as national foundings go. It's a sign of the world's brokenness that a place like America (or any nation present or former; take your pick) can be considered great, but it is my nation and my homeland and I pray even so that God bless us and raise us up in all the ways that count.

I am even, I confess, proud of it on occasion. One of the nice things about being more philosophical about Independence Day is that I can be proud of my homeland in spite of our many faults. In my opinion, every person should have the luxury of being proud of his or her homeland.

I doubt any soldiers read this, but I am connected at various removes to soldiers in active service, and for some reason that is important to me. Once upon a time a soldier was considered great because he was brave, or valorous, or fierce. Not so long ago the greatest among nations was the most warlike, and citizen bodies prided themselves on the valor of their warriors and the energy of their warmaking. Greece and Rome were both, in their time, the most civilized and the most warlike nations in their part of the world.

On Independence Day, it seems fitting to me to pray a blessing on our soldiers. We claim to be a different sort of nation than those that have come before - in this one small area of society, may it be so by God's grace. I am not aware of any army which has spent any amount of time on foreign soil without incurring the wrath of the inhabitants. I am not so much concerned for how our soldiers are viewed today (although I am aware that many hold them in high esteem even today) but with how they will be viewed by the grandchildren of the world. May they have good targets, so the innocent are neither under their fire nor victims of collateral damage. May they aim true and hit only what they shoot at. Nevertheless, may our soldiers be remembered not for their ferocity but for their meekness. May their grandchildren, and the grandchildren of those who know them, remember tales not of their bravery but of their compassion. May those who serve with them hold them in awe not because of their terrible skill but because they raise up those around them and teach them how to fight with honor for their children and their homeland. May their enterprise be considered great not for the energy of its warmaking, but for the energy of its building. However the world judges America or the success of its efforts, I pray that the world's grandchildren remember today's soldiers as the best of our people. Even if the name of America becomes a slur in the mouth of history, may our soldiers so conduct themselves that our grandchildren will be ashamed to speak ill of them. And even if we are remembered as one of the great civilizations, may we be remembered because of our soldiers not as the most warlike people of our time but as the most compassionate.

Happy Independence Day.

Friday, July 01, 2005

One of the things that law school has done to me is made me more able to see the other side of things. That's good, inasmuch as that is the avowed goal of the faculty of Stanford Law School. And I have to say that while I might have viewed the ability of lawyers to argue either side of a case sophistic or weasely before, now that I am beginning to acquire this ability for myself it doesn't strike me that way. It strikes me as grown up (don't worry, Esther, I don't mean "grown up" in the Peter Pan sense. May I never grow up in the "stop delighting in things" sense - but in the "stop being immature" sense? Sure, sign me up for adulthood).

One of the unanticipated side effects of this is that I can no longer opine about the law or politics with a lot of people. Not all people; I recently had a fairly long and refreshing discussion (not even a debate, but a real discussion) with some folks about the recent Supreme Court takings case (you can find the discussion here and the case here if you're interested; I'm Nabterayl). There are two basic problems.

First, I have a more faith in the political process now than I did a year ago. A lot more. Second, I have stopped believing in judges blindly following their own personal codes, which makes me suspicious that politicians ever blindly follow their own personal codes. Having read after one year of law school more cases than most Americans would read under threat of death, I am convinced that basically all judges do the best they can of following the law and upholding the constitution. The thing is that this is not always very different from what many people decry as following their own personal codes - but that strikes me as silly. What's really going on is that the judge has a personal code which embodies a certain commitment to follow the law and uphold the constitution and a certain understanding of what that means. Which is a good thing. A judiciary that didn't do precisely that would be an amoral monstrosity, and the fact that one might disagree with a judge's understanding of how to best follow the law and uphold the constitution is really immaterial.

Part of this is that I've read a lot of cases that I thought were rightly decided. I think it would do people's faith in the judicial system a lot of good if they read a decent sample of cases; they might be surprised by how often the supposedly evil judge got it right. I've read a lot of cases by "liberal" judges that I felt did justice, and I've read a lot of cases by "conservative" judges that I felt did the same. I am beginning to suspect, in fact, that "liberal" and "conservative" don't describe judges very well at all.

All of which makes me suspicious of people who prophesy doom and the destruction of liberty, Americanism, justice, constitutionality, and/or the forces of good now that Justice O'Connor has announced her retirement. When asked how she wanted people to remember her, she said she hoped her tombstone reads, "Here lies a good judge." I have a really hard time believing that she is unique in that sentiment among her peers. That's what all judges want, and I defy politicians of all flavors to find a Supreme Court nominee who would rather be remembered as a good liberal or a good conservative than a good judge. The fact that sometimes a person's personal understanding of what it means to be a good judge conflicts with yours does not mean that the sky is falling.

In general I feel like the past twelve months have been very good for my ability to empathize (which is nice, since they've also had their share of horrible). I don't think that has really affected my ability to judge things, though, which I suppose is probably what people really fear about lawyers. I think that's an important combination. Being able to see the other side of things is fairly crucial for being gentle, meek, and humble. But so is being able to say, "I understand where that's coming from, but I'm still not afraid to say that it's bad."

Thursday, June 23, 2005

Congratulations to all of the not-long-ago graduates! I hope that your day was full of good memories and closure, once you got past the endless litany of people congratulating you and telling you how special you all are. Not that you aren't. And I shall miss those of you who aren't going to be around anymore. I shall miss you very much. Come back to play with me, talk with me, pray with me, and dance with me.

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Congratulations to all of the soon-to-be-graduates. I hope to post about that later, but for now I want to talk about something else.

When I was in high school, Alex Michel gave a sermon whose point was that although there are many good reasons to follow God, in the final analysis, he deserves our loyalty\\allegiance on the bare fact of his existence. Like most of Alex's teachings, it really hit home to me, but this one even more than most has stuck with me. I have recently been getting ... reacquainted with it, let us say.

Perhaps this message stuck with me so because it is contrary to my natural inclination. As Archimedes can attest (because I wrote a short story on this theme for my creative writing minor which occasioned much good discussion between us ... ah, beloved friend, how I miss living with you), by temperament I don't have much use for a God who isn't comprehensibly good, wise, mighty, and loving. I don't precisely require my deities to be mere superhumans, but I do want to require that they have effable virtues.

The trouble with that, as I was recently and somewhat violently reminded, is that if you push that to its logical extreme you aren't really worshipping God anymore - you're worshipping goodness, or wisdom, or might, or love. Or if we require that God does good things for us, we might end up worshipping good things - whether those be comfort, self-esteem, a purpose in life ... and that can easily be an evil whose magnitude is difficult to overstate. But on the other hand, who honestly wants to pledge their unswerving, unquestioning loyalty to a god of death, or even a god as ambiguous as Ares?

I want to distinguish that, parenthetically, from pledging unswerving, unquestioning loyalty to what a god tells you to do or what you think a god tells you to do. I question all the time whether or not I understand what God has actually said to me. I have no religious allegiance to my perceptions or thoughts. But I still have on the books, as it were, an unconditional pledge of loyalty to the being himself.

Anyway, the difficulty for me is that unquestioning loyalty is normally the sort of thing that you warrant in my mind. That is the fundamental nature of pistis as I understand it ("trust" in ancient Greek; it's the New Testament word we translate as "faith" or "belief," as in "I believe that Jesus is the Son of God"). Somebody has a track record, which eventually warrants you backing them to the hilt even if, somewhere down the road, they ask you to do something you don't understand or even disagree with. I have pistis in my family for that reason. I normally think of myself as having pistis in Jesus for the same sort of reason - I know him well enough that I feel confident trusting him, unconditionally (and in case you're wondering, no, there aren't many people I normally say that I "trust").

This understanding of pistis seems somewhat at odds with my old/new understanding of why it is, at bottom, that Jesus deserves my devotion. I cannot devote myself to him for any reason except that he is that he is. But what if he were different? Would I devote myself to Ares because he is that he is?

I think perhaps that the difficulty is that I shouldn't be trying to apply the principle to other religions. Ares never said, "I am that I am." Nor did his devotees believe//trust//have faith in him in the way that Christians believe//trust in their deity. I think perhaps I am beginning to understand why so many generations of commentators have spoken of the Christian religion as fundamentally different from other ancient (at least ancient pagan) religions. Religion in antiquity (oh, Prof. Martin would be so proud of me for remembering this!) turned essentially on the principle of "I give that you give." Christianity turns on the principle of "I am" (or, rather, "You are"). Jesus is good, and wise, and mighty, and compassionate, and in a sense we worship him because of those things. But only in the sense that he could not be other than those things; we worship him, in his own nature, and not as the representative or the pinnacle of lofty ideals which are the real objects of our devotion. It is true that Jesus is the pinnacle of goodness, but I do not worship goodness. I worship him. Yet at the same time, if he were not the pinnacle of goodness, he would not be himself. So that is where the conflict is reconciled. I do not worship gods because they are gods. I worship Jesus because he is Jesus, and that is, at the end of the day, all there is to it.

Boy, you think you understand something, and then ... Praise be to God.

Thursday, May 19, 2005

Well, I'm back at home, simultaneously unpacking and preparing to go on vacation to Hawaii. So far I've seen Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind at Ayudaren's behest, which was quite as good as he advertised, and met Lionell's new (well, new to me) girlfriend. I am preparing for further adventures in Phoenix Earth, wherein we will explore further the destiny of the brothers Follakir, and I am preparing for new adventures as Marina Spier, aimless English major. On Saturday the gang and I will see Episode III, and this long arduous episode in the saga of our Star Wars lives will come to a close.

In short, I am home. I realized yesterday as we were packed into Twilight's den watching Nausicaa and talking about what Ms. Spier would bring with her on a road trip around small town USA that we're really only like this when we're all together. I can't help but feel if I were to bring home one of my Stanford friends - especially one of the Stanford friends I met through dance - they'd find me virtually unrecognizable at home.

And speaking of dance, the Big Dance went off smashingly in my opinion. Congratulations to Blue Rose for that, and congratulations to Shanah Van for a highly entertaining and well-received choreography of "Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy." Everyone I could reasonably have expected to be there was there, with the exception of White Jade, and that was satisfying. There were also a few people who I couldn't reasonably expect to be there who were, and that was satisfying too. Of course it would have been nice if a few others had been present as well - Alanna, Chariessa, and Esther Selene, to name a few - but since they'd all have had to travel several thousand miles to get there, I think I can forgive their absences. And it was delightful to see and dance with Terina, whose company I have missed altogether too frequently this year. I also got to dance the Dawn Mazurka again (and in a set with Shanah, Rose, and the Dance Master, no less), which was highly satisfying even if I did make one rather large embarrassing mistake (among several smaller embarrassing mistakes). I think I've got it locked down in my head now, though. Many thanks to my gracious partner, for whom I have no blogname, and to the rest of my set.

Best dance of the night was probably with Anachoron to "Save A Horse, Ride A Cowboy." I have to agree with him that while I would die if polkas were played much more frequently than they are, as far as individual dances go they're almost always my favorite. There's such an intense exuberance to flying through the air to a good technopolka, which is why I had to open my lungs and sing to that song. Sorry if I embarrassed anybody, but it was just so much fun (and I was quite pleased to find that I could sing and polk at the same time). We thanked the Dance Master afterwards for playing that song, and that was fun.

Oh, and one more thing. He called it air redowa.

Monday, May 09, 2005

"Then [Moses] said to Him, "If Your Presence does not go with us, do not bring us up from here." - Exodus 33:15

"No servant can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other." - Luke 16:13

"Keep your heart with all diligence, for out of it spring the issues of life." - Proverbs 4:23

"That which you do, do it from the heart, as to the Lord and not to men." - Colossians 3:23

"And God is able to make all grace abound toward you, that you, always having sufficiency in all things, may have an abundance." - 2 Corinthians 9:8

Why do we things? How do Christians make decisions about what to do and what not to do? This is one of those questions that I always come back to, one of the philosophical issues that I really care about. How is it that we are to serve God with our whole heart, to find him wholly sufficient to meet our needs, and yet do things?

Not too long after she got married, Michelle Tumes recorded a song in which she sang, "You're the one, You're the one, one and only love." In the liner notes she amplifies, "It occurred to me this year that God is the only love." This has always struck me as embodying a fairly deep decision-making principle. The principle is this: Above all, our hearts must be invested completely in God. So perhaps we do things because it would be inconsistent with devoting ourselves wholly to God to not do them.

I am speaking here of doing things, or making decisions, which implicate where you place your heart. On this view, the decision-making principle is essentially to avoid idolatry, and there are some activities which pose no risk of that. Whether to watch a movie, where to eat lunch, what to wear today - those are things that I would say usually don't implicate your heart. Sometimes they do, of course - for instance, during my birthday week I intended to watch a series of movies with emotional significance, and I need to be careful which movies I choose and when I watch them. They were chosen specifically because they do implicate my heart. But there are lots of decisions which odn't ordinarily implicate such matters.

And then there are decisiosn which ordinarily do. Some of the ones on my list are going to college, dating a person, and joining a performing group. Those are activities which I think you must devote yourself to body and soul if you are to do them successfully (there is an exception for non-college age people going to college, as I tried to articulate last night to Duchess and Enika). Consequently, on this view of decision-making, there is a problem if you are undertaking them separately from your calling to the Lord rather than as part of it.

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

What I love most about theater is when a company comes together as a real company. I don't particularly care about how well the performance went, or how well I did, except insofar as people in the company are depending on me to do my job and it pleases me to not let them down. When all cylinders are firing, a theatrical company is what I hear any good fighting company is like - joined by bonds of loyalty and love, everybody trusting everybody else to do their job and come through in a pinch, able to respond to unexpected emergencies with smooth efficiency as a single organism. In a good company those in charge have the moral authority to really lead, and at every level in the hierarchy people are ennobled both to follow those above them and to serve those below them. All this to say that although the Savoyards are far from perfect, there is a good company spirit about them, and whatever critiques I may have of them, I wish them well.

Particularly now that Neani is probably gone. And because I am fond of the Savoyards, I am feeling somewhat nostalgic that she is leaving as well. Especially since I am so very fond of her. And especially since I have a soft spot for stage managers. It was a good leaving, I thought, and I wanted to mark it in my own way.

The primary purpose of a blogname is to honor the person who has it. And since I've never written Neani's out fully, let me do so now. She is Neanis Kalliplokime, Anassa Pragous Toude Kai Bouleumatos, and she did a good job.

Sunday, April 24, 2005

I'm listening to Gretchen Wilson's "Homewrecker" and "Redneck Woman" a lot lately, courtesy of Duchess' music loan. Gretchen Wilson apparently strikes some sort of redneck/honky-tonk chord in me, which is pretty funny considering it's not at all clear why I have such a chord at all. But I feel more at home at the Saddlerack than any other club or even non-social dance that I've been to, and I'm pretty sure I would have felt that way even before Esther Selene. There's something admirable about the whole "I'm countrified, deal with it" identity that these songs kind of trumpet. Partly because there are some values that are affirmed here which I approve: the woman in question is healthy, frankly sexy without being lascivious, hard-working, fun-loving, devoted to one man. Reminds me a lot of Mayxm, if I can say so (finally came up with blognames for Vonsus and Mayxm - points if you can remember where the name Vonsus originally comes from; extra points for remembering who Mayxm is). And partly it's just the brazen, counter-cultural, "I don't need you to approve my identity" aspect to it all.

In that way I suppose what I'm saying is that the redneck identity is like the geek identity in that critical counter-cultural respect. Or instead of counter-cultural, we might say insular: a sense of us vs. them. That insularity is an integral (and, I believe, pernicious) part of the geek identity.

I've been thinking about this since the Duelist's live-action roleplaying game (LARP) last night, which was an inordinate amount of fun despite the reservations I had about live-action roleplaying on a theoretical level (perhaps I'll talk about that later). It reminded me of how very fond of geeks I am, and of gamers in particular. I still think of them as my people ... much to the surprise of people like Nari, who apparently see me as some sort of suave, put-together, vaguely ladies' man type (I wonder how Princess or Thea would react to that? Surprise? Or, "I knew it all along?"). But as Archimedes so cogently put it, I'm really just a geek who's learned to cope well.

Anyway, I was thinking about the geek identity again, which is a subject that frequently makes me vaguely sad. We are a curious population. On the one hand we are a deeply insular community, one that is firmly convinced that the outside world is baffled by our defining hobbies at the least, and probably despises us for them. All you need to shut up an authentic geek conversation is for someone from the Outside to walk up, radiating his unconscious, "I am baffled by and despise you" aura. We are, by self definition, the underdog and the liminal - no matter how populous or mainstream we actually are. In private we are convinced of our eventual triumph and inherent superiority over the outsiders, and yet deeply wounded by our liminal status (never mind that we assume that status voluntarily as well). Perhaps closest to my own heart, we are convinced on a deep level that we are unattractive and will never be able to find a good and lasting romantic relationship - and certainly not with anybody from the outside! We suffer both from insufferable arrogance and the most fragile self-esteem. Yet we long for heroism, moral fortitude, maturity of character, and the triumph of right over wrong at any cost. We are, I believe, a people who believes that mankind can be more than it is, and I further believe that it is one of the deepest, least-questioned precepts of our creed that there is a universal imperative to be more than we are. To grow. To transcend. To become what we were meant to be - heroes and heroines - no matter what we are.

I am painting with broad strokes here because I wish to talk about us as a population, and I think those are accurate enough on a populational level particularly if we're talking about gaming geeks (Duelist? Neani? Would you agree?). And I wish to talk about us as a population because I think that society in general, and the church in particular, does a very bad job of dealing with us. We're taught to be sensitive to persons with disabilities, to women, to homosexuals, to those whose creeds are different than our own. We know, because it's in the air, how to modulate our diction, tone, and body posture so as to radiate acceptance of those groups. The same is not true of geeks. How many outsiders do you know who know how to approach a truly geeky conversation about roleplaying without shutting the conversation down by their very presence? I don't know many - and I'm not counting the instances where the geeks themselves brazen it out because they've learned to adopt a "this is me, deal with it" mentality. That solves the immediate problem but doesn't get at the underlying view of the world as a fundamentally hostile place.

And does the church really do a better job? Our youth groups and fellowships go camping, we go on ski trips, we go on missions trips, we have pick-up games of basketball and ultimate frisbee ... but when was the last pick-up game of Smash Bros., or the last LAN party, or the last roleplaying session? Or when was the last time a Bible study or small group addressed the lie that there's nobody out there who will ever love us and be willing to join themselves to us in a great romantic adventure? (It is not, of course, that we are all deeply attractive people. Many of us have deep wounds and flaws which are frankly romantically repulsive. The lie is not that we're small, shriveled people - the lie is that there is no grace to address that fact) It isn't, of course, that anybody means to exclude us. And of course many of us enjoy the outdoors and athletics, and many of us have managed to claw our way past the lies about our own attractiveness. But the point is that so far as my experience has shown, we simply don't occur to people as a population that needs ministering to. We don't exist to the church as a population.

Which I think is a real shame. Because there's a lot of good stuff about being a geek, but the fact of the matter is that there's a lot of hurt that goes into that identity, too.

Sunday, April 17, 2005

Every year about this time I start thinking about my birthday. I try to make a few plans of my own every year, because that way if my friends don't throw me a party (and I mean, really, they've got to stop sometime) I won't feel like my birthday went uncelebrated, and I usually don't feel like going to the hassle of planning a party for myself. This time though I might have to do a bit of planning.

One of my favorite birthday memories is of worship in Mirrielees with Archimedes, Blue Rose, and Archimedes. I guess that would have been my twenty-second birthday. This year I'd like to do something like that, but instead I'd like to do a kind of prayer and dance thing. There are all these Christian dances I've got on my computer, and I think it would be good to get together with a few loved ones who like to worship God, to come before him as friends and then to dance (and maybe sing) before him as well. I hope that doesn't sound blasphemous to anybody. I know that I technically come from one of those silly non-dancing denominations, but I don't see why a couples dance can't be worship. After all, standing around ska dancing can be worship. Is there really a functional difference? I don't think so. Of course putting this plan into practice would require me to get access to space, and since there aren't any danceable lounges in Crothers that may prove somewhat difficult. I'll see what I can do. Shanah got Roble once for her birthday and of course that'd be perfect, but I doubt that I have the same standing with The Powers That Be as she does. It'd be even more perfect because then once we were done with with the prayer and the worship we could have a great big space for dancing and there would actually be room to technopolka. Life does not have enough technopolka in it, and there is nothing to do but to take matters into my own hands (I have 38 songs on my technopolka playlist, most of which I have never danced to but would like to). I'd really like for my public birthday dance (assuming there's a birthday dance at Big Dance, which presumably there will be) to be a technopolka to Gina G's "Ooh, Ahh ... Just A Little Bit," but that seems unlikely because Big Dance is generally better suited to birthday dances with more general appeal, such as lindy or cross-step or something like that. So it would be cool if I got to have it as my private birthday dance, but perhaps that is not to be.

I discovered the other day what I mean by technopolka. It really has nothing to do with techno, and most of my technopolkas are really too fast to hustle to as well (well okay, they're very fast hustles). But for that matter, many of my technopolkas (such as the Celtic rock stuff) don't really lend themselves to hustle, and some of them (such as the bluegrass technopolkas) certainly can't be hustled to. They aren't all fast, and some of them are so slow that I think a regular polka step would be painful. The unifying feature, I've discovered, is that musically they all strike me as having the redowa as their basic step. That can be done to very fast music, or to very slow, as Anachoron and I proved last Jammix. You just have to fly laterally far enough, and get enough air. But there's a certain energy independent of tempo which makes something a "technopolka" in my mind.

The whole worship and dance thing is something I've had cause to think about lately. Until I actually looked up the meaning of the word "psalm" I assumed that most of the Christian justification for worship practices comes from the Old Testament. Turns out that a psalmos is the motion of playing a stringed instrument (translate as plucking, twanging, or even strumming, if you will), and it comes to mean "a song sung to a stringed instrument" (usually a harp, I believe) so I actually think that there's a good textual argument that the earliest Christians used instruments in their worship, whatever the Duelist thinks. But so far as I know other worship practices, such as the raising of hands, clapping, and dancing, find their textual support in the Old Testament, and particularly in the psalms. When worship leaders and pastors talk about that I hear them talk a lot about the posture of surrender, about how we clap for temporal things and a fortiori ought to clap for God, and lots of things along those lines, but it occurs to me that they probably have intrinsic value as well. That is to say, they're Jewish (or at least they were in the Dark Age) worship practices, and by adopting//adapting them we implicitly celebrate how God's glory was shown through the chosen people and all the history that surrounds them. And, to be a little more controversial about it, we're claiming to be the children of Israel (controversial not because there are many Jews today who can claim to be familial descendants of Israel; everybody agrees that "children of Israel" is a metaphorical\\spiritual term. The fight would be over the criteria for properly applying that label to a person). It seems to me that we value them in large part simply because they appear in David's kingdom. I wonder why nobody ever talks about that in church.

Thursday, March 31, 2005

This may come as a surprise to you, but I take online quizzes fairly regularly and I even consider how I would answer people's surveys, memes, and the like (though after that one time with Shanah I no longer actually fill them out). I rarely post them, but this one is just too good to pass up. How would I do in a zombie infestation scenario?

Armed and Dangerous
Congratulations! You scored 87%!
You made it out, alive and well supplied. You probably even kept most of your party alive too. You know what to look for, what to take, and when to just run. You even feel a strange inkling to go back. If you did, you'd probably do just fine.

According to the quiz, I did better than 95% of the people my age and gender. Mom and Dad would be proud.

On that note, I feel it's high time I posted about Republic Commando, because it's fantastic and I just finished the middle third of the game again so it's on my mind. It's been a while since I reviewed a game, so here's my digest of the highlights:

1). The animations are great. The way people move, the hand signals, they conspire to create a wonderful feeling of realism. Well, it's not realism exactly, it's a war movie. This is what Star Wars would look like if someone were to make it a war movie. And of course the hand-to-hand animations. Sure, sometimes your commandos just kick that droid over, or smash it perfunctorily with the butt of their weapon. And that has its own, "You're just a droid, out of my way" charm to it. But there's also watching your pod brother grapple with a big beefy Trandoshan wielding a pair of scimitars, disarm him with his bare hands, and stab one of his own scimitars through the lizard's head.

2). The squad is spot on. What really makes this game is the squad chatter - listening to how the squad responds to everything that happens. It really doesn't get boring, and that's because they're all interesting people. Every member of Delta Squad (including you) has his own personality, which fits perfectly into the ensemble mold we have come to expect. Thirty-Eight (you) really does feel like The Old Man, but as The Old Man would be if he was actually the same age as his squadmates (you're clones, after all) - his authority comes from his competence, his personal maturity, and his devotion to his squad, since he can't derive it from superior age or experience. Scorch and Sev are the comic relief and comic foil, wihle Fixer gets to play squad mom to these two as they needle each other and disparage each other. Yet there's absolutely no question that they love each other as brothers in arms, and that any of them would die for their squadmates in a heartbeat. But more importantly is the sense that none of them are going to let their squadmates die - that Delta Squad lives and dies as a unit.

3). Along those lines, what makes the squad chatter possible is the revive mechanic. You can see this on the website, but the basic idea is this: when any commando (even you) goes down, any other commando can run over, apply some Star Wars first aid, and get him back on his feet with half health. You can do this in the middle of a firefight, if you dare, or you can wait until the fighting is over and it's safe. Frequently (because you will be wondering) your squad can finish a firefight without you and then revive you afterwards, which is wonderful. This does two things. First, it drives home the no-man-left-behind ethos of the squad. Second, it enables the squad chatter, because the script writers know that you won't get to the third mission with Sev and Fixer dead back on Geonosis. This is a problem that all conventional tactical unit simulations have - the squad mates aren't really interesting people because they might die: you can't write a script which calls for a squadmate to say a line in mission 5 if that squadmate might have died in mission 4, and no studio on Earth has the funds to record enough voiceover to cover every contingency. Consequently squadmates in games are traditionally either uninteresting people or invulnerable. I think that Republic Commando gets around this problem beautifully.

4). The weapon dynamic is good - not fantastic, but close enough. There are basically three problems with the weapons in virtually every first-person shooter that I'm aware of. First is that they have crosshairs painted on the screen. Half the reason aiming is a skill is because it's actually quite difficult to determine where your weapon is truly pointed, and the crosshairs tradition does away with that entirely. Second, nobody is ever injured. Characters are either fully operational or dead, and there are no gradations of functionality in between. Third, all the weapons have to be "balanced." This generally means trading off between damage, rate of fire, accuracy over range, and ammunition count, and ultimately arises out of a belief that if the playing field is not leveled with chess-like precision, the game isn't fun. A fourth issue that many games have is that the character can carry a platoon's worth of weapons and ammunition.

Republic Commando doesn't deal with these issues perfectly, but it does a better job than most games. The aiming issue is handled in two ways. First, while you do have a crosshairs painted on the screen, it's usually some variation on a circle rather than a dot or actual crosshairs - in other words, it doesn't actually paint a dot on the screen which indicates where your fire will inerringly land. That point exists; the game just doesn't tell you where it is. If you want to find out where your weapon is pointing you must press the button which raises it to your eye, which means the reticle disappears and you must instead aim using the weapon's iron or glass sights. A few weapons don't have this option and are correspondingly less accurate. While a weapon is held in this position your peripheral vision is restricted, but it is possible to aim much more precisely. Second, while you can't be injured, your squadmates can, at least a little bit, and at least most entities in the game (including you) can be put down with a second's worth of fire or so, so you don't notice the health bit as much as in more traditional shooters. And finally, the weapons reflect what is in my opinion a more realistic "balancing" than usual. The rapid-fire weapons in this game are not made weak or inaccurate to compensate; in fact your blaster rifle is pretty much the best weapon in the game and you start off with it from the beginning. I really appreciate games that don't see "high-capacity magazine, high rate of fire, high lethality, good effective range" as unbalanced. Military tactics are not about being a good chess player. They're about dealing with unbalanced force mixes and asymmetrical situations.

There's this wonderful back-and-forth between the no-heroics seriousness of it all and the heroic over-the-top moments that characterizes all great war movies. It's not a contradiction - one of the reasons we love war movies is because they study how extraordinary strength of character is drawn out of ordinary people who aren't looking to be heroes. I think that's the inherent appeal of the war movie thing. It's taking one of the most stressful situations we know of and watching people rise to the occasion - and asking ourselves, in some sense, if we could do the same when the rubber met the road (I think the same applies to our endless fascination with love stories, since as Harry Turtledove pointed out love and combat are pretty much the most stressful situations we know of). That's a curious thing, if you think about it - most of us will never be in that sort of situation, so what does it matter if we could rise to the stress of combat or not? We might as well watch movies about raising chinchillas and wonder if we, too, could raise a chinchilla at need.

I think the difference must be that we have an intuition that the fortitude required in combat (or in love) is more general than the fortitude required in raising chinchillas - that it says something deeper about our character. Dad once told me to be sure to pass on the tradition of Sound Tactical Thinking to my kids, and I think he was only half joking for this reason: that the study of combat and the contemplation of what it requires of the human character is the contemplation not just of combat but of things that make a person mature.