Thoughts on “The Last Jedi”

I’ve seen the latest Star Wars epic twice now, and I thought it time to share some thoughts. To briefly sum up, I found it compelling and ultimately quite good, but a few parts fell flat for me. The amazing thing about the Star Wars universe is how it can hit so many notes for so many people. Please remember, these are just my meager opinions.

The best parts of the film are spent with Luke Skywalker, Rey and Kylo Ren, and so I will focus my energies on them. (I simply am not moved by the others. Except BB-8.)

The heart of the film is spent on Acho-To, the gorgeous island at the end of “The Force Awakens.” Plenty of ink and keystrokes were spilled wondering where the moment with Luke Skywalker, semi-disgraced but still legendary Jedi Master, and the upstart scavenger Rey, would go. Is she his daughter? Will he help the Resistance?

I, like many of you, pondered those same questions and more, but unlike at least a sizable swath of the Internet, I had no issues with Rian Johnson’s direction of Luke. It makes sense to me why Luke would end where he is, because he’s harboring incredible guilt for a mistake that destroyed his upstart Jedi Order, drove a stake into his family, shattered his nephew and ultimately, more than anything, crushed Luke’s own pride.

The Luke Skywalker we come upon in “The Last Jedi” is not a Messianic figure anymore. He’s broken, and while he certainly does redeem himself to some degree in the end, the mistakes remain. Luke became rather grounded in “The Last Jedi”, and the more I dwell on that, the more I like it.

Kylo Ren enters the film also damaged. He’s been deeply humbled by his defeat at the hands of Rey, scarred in fact. On the plus side, he’s killed his father, so he’s happy about that at least. (Or so it seems …)

It’s that murkiness I find so compelling about Ren. Once we learn about the tragic events that send Luke into exile (a Jedi tradition!) and Ren to the First Order, doesn’t it make sense why Ren would be so conflicted? Don’t get me wrong, he’s got his grandfather’s taste for blood. Ren is t a monster, as Rey points out, but perhaps the biggest question is, which one of them isn’t a monster? Luke is horrified to discover that the young scavenger has just as much power and just as little control as his nephew, but Luke’s own devastating mistake sets all of this in motion.

This is no longer such a cut-and-dry morality play.

Ren and Rey are crippled by their own loneliness, a point that Ren makes to sizable effect to his counterpart. The scavenger spent her whole life wishing for someone to simply care for her. Ren spent his life grappling with forces he couldn’t fully understand.

So when Ren, moments after they slaughter Snoke’s personal guard together in dramatic fashion, says what he does, there is heavy weight behind his words. Given the reveal of Rey’s lineage, his point to her is chilling: You come from nothing. You’re nothing. But not to me.

The second time I watched the movie, that scene stuck with me drastically more than the first. Ren’s delivery speaks volumes more than what he said, which was powerful in its own right. Yes, the fate of the galaxy was hanging in the balance and without question, Kylo Ren demands power because it’s in his very nature to acquire it.

But for just a moment, perhaps in a way he had not experienced before, he found someone who understood that crippling loneliness. They could sense each other’s pain and feeling of abandonment, by Rey’s parents and their choice and by Luke and his failure.

Yes, Ren recognizes Rey’s power and is smart enough to recognize her value to him as a partner. Perhaps that’s all he was doing in the Throne Room, but I don’t buy it. Kylo Ren seems like a man hunting for something more than just power. He longs for fulfillment, and it simply never came from being Luke or Snoke’s disciple. It turns out he doesn’t want to be just like his grandfather.

He needs something more.

What was Luke searching for? The end, and he told Rey as much. I came to this island to die. (The dejection Mark Hamill put behind those words was palpable, and overall I thought Hamill was absolutely spectacular.) The Jedi Master found what he desired, but not before Luke Skywalker became once again what he was so many years before: a spark. Luke Skywalker’s first appearance on the galaxy’s stage was a sign of hope, a recognition that the Force had not abandoned them, and that the Empire could fall.

His reappearance, even as a Force Ghost, did it again. A spark that will light the fire that will burn the First Order down. The path we see Luke walk in “The Last Jedi” is captivating, and he was consistently my favorite part of the movie. I wanted to spend the entire film with him, digging into his conscience, peeling back his pain. The scene with Yoda was mesmerizing, and featured perhaps my favorite quote in the entire series, a beautiful examination of what teachers pass on       to students:

Heeded my words not, did you? Pass on what you have learned. Strength, mastery. But weakness, folly, failure also. Yes, failure most of all. The greatest teacher, failure is. Luke, we are what they grow beyond. That is the true burden of all masters.

“The Last Jedi” has grown on me. As I dwell on what the film is and not what I wished it to be, I can appreciate the path these characters are on and how messy it all is. Nothing has worked out as Leia, Han or Luke would have hoped right after the events of “Return of the Jedi.” Tragedy and terror has struck the Skywalker family, and by extension the galaxy.

No one is without fault and everyone is under pressure. Doesn’t that somehow feel familiar as we enter 2018?

On repentance and the hope of Christ

I had survived another day at work, toiling away at the neverending pile of tasks on my desk (all of them urgent, of course). I was looking forward to spending some time with my girlfriend, but first came the gym, where I would sweat away the day’s mistakes and hopefully tire myself out enough to get some needed rest.

But as I stepped on the treadmill, instead of finding the usual videos to get me through, I went a different direction. I watched something else. I turned from sports documentaries (a recent fascination of mine) and music videos to something deeper.

YouTube is not the easiest place to find orthodoxy, but it can be had if you search enough. I’ve grown progressively defensive of the theology I ingest, a blessing indeed in today’s world. So consider my delight when I found someone who seemed to be grounded in the historical faith!

I won’t share his account here for a myriad of reasons (in short: I don’t fully endorse him, and this post isn’t about him), but needless to say he got my attention in his video about salvation. He teaches salvation by faith through grace, a clear Biblical teaching.

His words on repentance struck a nerve with me. I have for many years struggled endlessly with the same general sin, and it has at times caused me serious anguish. I scratched and clawed and I will continue to battle, but after awhile, sin’s true threat is in making you numb to it. And so I had become numb to my own sin.

That, Christians, is a bad place to be. But we have a God who at the same time can hate sin with every fiber of His being and also desire nothing more than to redeem you from its weight. And so, as I marched away on the treadmill, with a pastor in my ear via a YouTube video, I found myself brought to repentance yet again.

Indeed, the failing I presented to God wasn’t just the acts of sin, but rather my own pride surrounding it. Ah, if I had only sinned! No, I made it worse (as all humanity has done) by not only failing, but then convincing myself that I had not in fact failed. Or simply ignoring it. Is it not just that we are unworthy of the glory of God, as Paul says, but also that we simply will have no it other way. This is why we cannot save ourselves.

Repentance is nothing more than acknowledging our own frailty before Christ. It is repeated throughout the Bible that the most righteous man is the one most aware of his own failings, most willing to kneel before God and beg for mercy and most willing to believe that God delivers His promises. Consider David and Paul (among others), who wept at their own sin.

Further, recall what we are told to pray in the Lord’s Prayer:

Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name.
Your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread,
and forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil.

It begins with a firm declaration that God is on high and his name is worthy of worship. It continues with a petition that His will, work and kingdom be done. And then, we petition again: Provide for us, Lord, as only you can do so. But yet another, perhaps even a grander petition: Forgive us, Lord. Forgive us not just for the sins we can acknowledge, but also indeed the sins we never realize. Forgive us for impure thoughts. Forgive us for unkind words. Forgive us for anger, for lust, for malice, for doubt, for pride.

In this advent season, let us praise our Lord and Savior for delivering Himself up for a people so unworthy of His grace. Oh, gracious Jesus, we live and breathe only by your Mercy.

Dwell on the magnificent words of Paul in Colossians 1:15-23:

He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.

And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him, if indeed you continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel that you heard, which has been proclaimed in all creation under heaven, and of which I, Paul, became a minister.

I will never be perfect, but I cling to a perfect Savior.

A risk worth taking

One of the more positive developments in my life this year has been my discovery of Queens of the Stone Age. I was able to see them perform (with another favorite of mine, Royal Blood) in August. They were awesome. Queens is a more eclectic Foo Fighters, heavy in moments, tender in others, but also distinct.

Josh Homme’s lyrics can be particularly powerful, and of late I am dwelling on a few lines from “The Way You Used To Do”:

Is love mental disease or lucky fever dream?
Fine with either

Yeah, that about sums it up.

I did not expect, upon entering 2017, that’d I find the love of my life, but here we are. I so clearly identify with Homme’s point — what the hell is this? Love is ridiculous, it’s like a roller coaster that doesn’t end, full of inescapable fear and untouchable highs. It’s the most glorious thing.

I didn’t know what I was missing. But even if I have to be insane to fall in love, and even if this is all but a dream that shall fade, I’m happily here, and I’m happily hers.

If the world exploded behind us
I never noticed if it done
Let nobody dare confine us
I’ll bury anyone who does

Yep. It seems like love has this unique way of focusing you, burning off the dross and solidifying your concerns.

My heart, a ding-a-ling
A puppet on a string
C’est la vie
So lay your hands across my beating heart, love

There’s an eager vulnerability with all this, a willingness to accept unmanageable risk because the payoff is extraordinary. We’ve both had to reconcile that, and it doesn’t come easily. But, some of our more special moments have come upon the acceptance. Yes, she can break my heart, and yes, I can break hers, but accepting that risk is fundamental to the experience. That isn’t to say someone is getting hurt here — you think I’d be writing this if I was riddled with doubts? — but rather to acknowledge the reality because the entire portrait must be taken into account.

Love is like driving on the highway in the dark, and it’s raining, and the wipers aren’t working. It’s dangerous, it’s scary, you’ll probably be scarred a little in the best-case, and worst-case you fly off the road. As someone who’s already flown off the road, I’m weary but also experienced. I lived. I have scars — I see them all the time — but I lived.

The darkness has passed. Now, I see this opportunity for what it is, a chance at something special, and so I drive on, eager to see what happens.

Day 201 – Evolution

Evolution of the bull. Blood, sweat & years. After 3 sessions and 22hrs of tattooing with world renowned @NikkoHurtado, the story's almost done.. Every detail is a reflection of my own personal history. From the cracks and heavy damage in the bone representing life's hard lessons I've learned over the years. Just like scars and wrinkles – I'm so grateful to have 'em because they're earned. To the horns, not pointing up or out to the side, but pointing straight ahead representing relentless energy and forward progress. The core and anchor of this image is in the eye. Look closely and you'll find the life, energy, power and you'll feel the MANA (spirit). The eye tells the story of a disruptive positive energy always ready to dent the universe. Depending on the light and angle, sometimes the energy's subtle and sometimes it's glaring. But it's always alive and ready to disrupt the universe and love and protect my family and all things I love with intense passion and gratitude. Cheers to living, learning, evolving and growing. And to the positive disrupters ready to dent the universe. #EvolutionOfTheBull #TheDisrupter #TheMana #NowLetsBreakOutTheTequila

A post shared by therock (@therock) on

As I grow up, the passions that motivate me change. When you are younger, you pursue more childish aims — this is not news. I was concerned about catching WWE Raw each Monday and listening to the newest Eminem record. I was not concerned about upgrading the CRM at work, or being up on JavaScript trends, or dedicating time to sermon writing or kicking tail at the gym.

Nope.

But things change. Our hearts, minds and bodies change and evolve as experiences mold us. For Christians, we rejoice that God himself works to mold us, beating down our sinful nature one block at a time. We are not what we wish to be, but we’re also not what we once were.

When I saw The Rock decided to change his famous bull tattoo, I smiled. I admire Rock (don’t look surprised). The man has done so much, driven entirely by a desire to achieve in new realms. Remember: Rock’s dream wasn’t Hollywood or WWE, it was the NFL, but a devastating back injury did that notion in.

So, he moved onto the WWE, became one of the three biggest stars in the history of the profession, and then moved onto Hollywood. Again — success in that realm was not considered a given. Sure, he had the look and charisma of a big action star, but highest-paid actor in Hollywood? No one predicted that.

So, yes, I admire The Rock. I admire Dwayne Johnson. I admire that he works incredibly hard and isn’t satisfied. Too often, I feel satisfied, too willing to let down my guard and soften up. No time for that in Rock’s world, there’s another door needing kicked down.

Rock’s production company is “Seven Bucks Entertainment.” Why? Because before he was The Rock, before he was electrifying, before he stood toe-to-toe with Stone Cold or John Cena, before he walked tall, before he brawled with Dominic Toretto and even before he sang in “Moana”, Dwayne Johnson stood outside of an apartment building with only seven bucks in his pocket.

Never forget.

Evolve.

Day 200 – The most excellent way

And I will show you a still more excellent way.

If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing. -1 Corinthians 12:31-13-3

Your spiritual giftedness is of serious value, Christian. God has blessed you with something of His divine use, and use it He will. He will mold you, prepare you and place you in a position to do what He needs. You are to be used.

If you teach, do so. If you preach, do so. If you encourage, do so. If you can heal, do so.

And as great as that is … as wonderful as it is, the Apostle Paul tells us something greater is afoot.

No spiritual gift is worth anything — no amount of knowledge, healings, encouraging talks or powerful sermons — if it comes devoid of love. Short of love, all of it is worthless.

Christians, we are to be known for love before anything else. This is not optional. And love breathes life into the gifts and skills given to us by God, making them effective in a dark world. Do all things through love and Christ shall be revealed.

But what does love mean? Oh, how our society has warped this. Love means tolerating everything, right? Love means no one is wrong (except the Bible, of course), right? Everything goes, everyone is right, we make the rules now.

Wrong. Utterly, entirely, categorically wrong.

This is love:

Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

Love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away. When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways. For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known. –1 Corinthians 13:4-12

Love is patient, kind, humble, gentle, easygoing, forgiving, steadfast, righteous, strong. God’s love is overwhelming, a force so powerful that it can defeat anything. God’s love defeated sin and death when it manifested itself as Jesus Christ, Son of God, slain on a tree and raised mere days later.

Love is not catchy political slogans or cultural notions that give us warm fuzzies. Love apart from truth is not love, folks — it is something different. You can decide what that might be.

Love is permanent, unable to be destroyed by man or devil, as it endures at the behest of the Lord, who Himself endures forever. God created love — He literally invented it — and so of course when can it expire? It never will.

And love is also a promise, hope for tomorrow, reassurance that Heaven indeed awaits. Christians, this is not the end. Christians, your pain is not the end.

Heaven awaits, a time where we shall have the opaqueness of our view wiped away for good, our eyes opened to the beauty of a fulfilled promise.

I see now in a mirror dimly, but not for long. I know in part — but not for long, even though I am fully known and loved.

This, brothers, is love. And it is the greatest of all.

Day 199 – ‘Moana’

Maybe it’s the fantastically catching tunes. Maybe it’s the charming, memorable debut of Auli’i Cravalho. Heck, maybe it’s The Rock singing.

Whatever the true reason was, I adored “Moana”, the latest Disney creation (out last November). I saw it last night and can’t get the cuteness out of my head. That pig! That chicken! It was a delight.

The story follows usual themes, but it should. I don’t see that as a problem, because the story is but one aspect of the experience. These animated sing-songy movies are about more than the plot — they immerse you in a world of fun characters, unique worlds and great tunes. “Moana” has all of that in spades.

I also love that the story doesn’t revolve around Moana finding love or something. No — she finds herself. I like that quite a bit in retrospect. We’re not watching her chase after a guy — we’re watching her chase after life itself.

Lin-Manuel Miranda, of “Hamilton” fame, penned the hits here and it shows. “How Far I’ll Go” is a downright fantastic song, not relying on jokes (like Rock’s amusing “You’re Welcome”). You probably heard it on the radio or caught Cravalho singing it on TV — she and Miranda worked quite well together. Bravo, girl.

Rock chews every inch of scenery, relishing the chance to voice an egotistical demigod (a semi-autobiographical role, eh?). The man is pure talent and charisma. Little did I think that the wrestler I loved back in 2000 for slamming Vince McMahon through a table would be crooning in a Disney movie 16 years later, but he’s that good. (Rock ‘2020)

Rent “Moana” and prepare to love it.

 

 

 

 

 

Day 198 – Goodbye, Chester

Last week, Chester Bennington, the lead singer of Linkin Park and formerly of Stone Temple Pilots, committed suicide. He was 41.

Unlike the death of Chris Cornell, losing Bennington hit me. I have come to deeply appreciate the talents of Cornell after the fact, but before he passed I hadn’t developed much interest in grunge altogether. That has changed. I’ve developed that bond with his music.

But Linkin Park? I grew up with them, man. So, I want to share a few thoughts on Bennington, the band and their effect on me.

And I know, I may end up failing too
But I know, you were just like me
With someone disappointed in you

Numb

Growing up is hard. I began to realize at a certain age that I had expectations for my life that ultimately were not achieved. I began to realize that society had expectations for me — as a young male — that I did not achieve. And so it became that I felt like a disappointment, particularly in high school, in the moments I didn’t block it out.

I’m not casting aspersions at anyone or even society, but rather explaining why I could identify with those words. It wasn’t as if anyone was directly accusing me of anything — oh, no, I gladly create my own demons. I could just visualize someone saying those words and realizing that they, too, were just like me.

With someone disappointed in them too.

I know what it takes to move on
I know how it feels to lie
All I want to do
Is trade this life for something new
Holding on to what I haven’t got

Waiting for the End

By now, I’m older. This song came out in 2010, but I didn’t gravitate toward it until the fall of 2014. Those were not good days. I was a mess.

It was in those days I learned what heartbreak was like, a lesson I would learn again. But for the first time, I experienced the shock, pain and utter sense of loneliness that comes with it. There was no relief in sight other than the passage of time, and make no mistake, time healed the wounds.

But during the storm, it is hard to trust that the winds and rain will die down. All I wanted was what I did not have, and so because I couldn’t have, I needed to trade this life for something new. In a sense, I did — I turned deeper into faith in Christ than ever before.

But it hurt. Chester’s lyrics and vocals helped.

I don’t like my mind right now
Stacking up problems that are so unnecessary

Heavy

I feel this within myself so often that it’s almost a given. I know I will do this — I will start a small fire of doubt and spend days tossing logs on it. Reading those words — hearing Chester sing them — isn’t a simple process for me. Those words are real, autobiographical. For him and me.

Bennington was a fantastic singer, powerful and melodic, able to handle the darkest metal screams and softest pop lines. He’s a fit in anything from “Black” to “Enter Sandman” to “Rolling In The Deep.” His range is often overlooked because of the way Linkin Park is viewed: gimmicky. And, yeah they were. Rap-metal was gimmicky, let’s not kid ourselves, but the band did evolve. “Hybrid Theory”, the band’s wildly successful debut, sounds nothing like “A Thousand Suns” (out in 2010) which sounds nothing like “One More Light”, the band’s presumably final album, out in May.

The mechanism by which they could evolve wasn’t exclusively Bennington (Mike Shinoda deserves a nod, for sure), but he was the engine. Give a band a vocalist like him and let them go. It’ll work.

And it did.

 

 

Day 197 – ‘Dunkirk’

So far this year, in theatres I’ve seen:

  • XXX: Return of Xander Cage (it was a movie, I can give it that)
  • Logan (exceptional, with its own review coming at some point)
  • The Fate of the Furious, a solid romp if it a bit familiar now
  • Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, another solid if a bit familiar romp
  • Wonder Woman, a blast
  • Spider-Man: Homecoming, a charming superhero flick

None of them compare to the overall experience that Christopher Nolan’s “Dunkirk” delivers. “Dunkirk” is a visceral movie, beautifully shot and rendered with expertly mastered sounds that places you directly into the boots of one of the thousands of British soldiers lining the coast of that French town. You are there with them, inhaling the sea, squinting out toward the hope of home while terror rains from the skies. Will you survive? Each time a German plane screams into the scene, you shake with fear. As soon as that engine whine first crosses into your ears, the panic begins.

You know what awaits.

The Germans pinned the British and French armies along the coast in 1940, placing the fate of the war in the balance. Remember: America didn’t join the European theatre until a bit later, so it wasn’t as if the Yanks were on the way. With home only right across the English channel, the specter of a slow, mass slaughter of the British army shone bright in the faces of Winston Churchill and British high command.

I won’t get into all of what happens, but essentially the British populace (coupled with a particularly bizarre easing off the gas by German leader Adolf Hitler) saved the day. Colin Moriarty made a helpful video explaining the story of Dunkirk.

What I most enjoyed about “Dunkirk” was the lack of desire to make this anything except a realistic look at what those days on the beach felt like. This isn’t a human interest story nestled inside a war movie (“Saving Private Ryan”, for example). We hardly even learn the name of a single character, but it makes no difference. Nolan is a master of his craft, maybe among the very best filmmakers alive, and he wields his powers to full effect with “Dunkirk,” wrapping you up in dire emotion for characters you know little about.

What is there to know? If Nolan spends time establishing who Tom Hardy’s pilot or Harry Styles’ soldier are, it diminishes the point. The war was full of men with families and reasons to survive. To focus on just one in a sense takes away from the other.

All you know is that death awaits as the hour glass begins to run dry.

Nolan gives us a glimpse of how morality becomes a sliding scale when men feel such incredible pressures. War, like intense heat upon metal, can warp even the best of us. But good can shine through, and seeing people suffer and yet endure for the good of their country is a powerful image.

“Dunkirk” is exceptional.

[Editor’s note: This post has been updated to fix a mistake about when the United States entered the war.]

 

Day 196 – An update on the blog

Hi guys.

I love this blog. I’ve written words on it, many of which I remain proud of, and I’m thankful you all read. I’ve written about faith, fitness, Trump (January feels like 15 years ago!), music and so much more. It’s awesome.

But, when I started this little venture, I was in a wildly different place in life. I was mired in unemployment, feeling lost and empty, alone and beaten down. Putting fingers to keys helped with that a lot, and it still helps a lot. I can tell I don’t suck quite as much at writing today. 🙂

But now, I’m busier than I’ve ever been. I’m working harder than I ever have at my craft, trying tirelessly to be better. (I was in bed at 12:30 last night, wide awake, thinking about making database calls with JavaScript. Seriously.) I have learned from past failures.

I continue to grind on fitness, battling my neverending desire to eat literally all the food. I’m leading a weekly Bible study and attempting to sound competent in the process.

Plus, well … there are some other cool things going on that not everyone knows about.

So, something has to give, right? A boy only has so many hours in the day.  I’ve had this thought in the back of my head the last few weeks as I’ve begun to realize a daily blog isn’t much tenable for me now, especially one of any quality. I can write a hundred small posts with YouTube videos, or maybe 30 deeper posts that aren’t quite as gimmicky.

So, here’s what I want to try. There won’t be daily posts anymore. But, my goal is three posts a week, and ideally those posts will be a little thicker than what has come out lately. I don’t know what days they’ll be out or the topics, but three is the goal.

Thank you for your support. I love you all. 🙂