Monday, November 30, 2015

Monthly Highlights: November 2015

Talk about another busy month! And, once again I'm writing the summary of this month's events during a break from classes. This month has been full of memorable events for me. Lots of adventure, hard work, and discovery. If you're new to Forgotten Featherpen, this is where I take the time to look back at the highlights from the month. This could be anything from real-life events to updates on my on-going book project. This time around I do have some exciting blog discoveries to share. Plus my thoughts on Thanksgiving this year. Enjoy!

The Blog

With the approach of the Holiday Season and the close of the National Novel Writing Month, I'm happy I was able to keep up with the weekly blog posting. Let's hope I can keep this momentum through December!

I kicked off November with an exciting Release Announcement: The Secrets of Ancient Man. I'm still waiting to get my hands on the book! I can't wait!

In Calm Amidst Chaos: A Response I shared my thoughts on a Worldview Art event on my College Campus. It was a great experience getting to share some of my art and view the work of my fellow students.

In the middle of the NaNoWriMo rush, I got to feeling a little discouraged about my writing. It's happened for many years. So I shared my mixed up feelings in Writing is Hard - When a Dream has to Wait. I'm hoping that soon I'll be able to join some of my friends who have completed their novels in a month!

Lastly, in Movies and Worldview: Spirited Away I shared the results of a Worldview assignment I recently completed. I had to inspect the worldview presented in Ghibli's masterpiece: Spirited Away. It was such a fun assignment! Seriously, I could write multiple papers on that movie very happily.

In addition to all this, I found three more bloggers here at Bryan College! That brings the number up to nine people! Anyone know of other bloggers here at Bryan? Welcome to the unofficial club...

My Life

Since I was entirely negligent in posting to social media this Thanksgiving, I will use the space here to share why I'm thankful this year.

This Thanksgiving, I was thankful for family.

I'm thankful for safety on the road for mine and friend's families this week. We were about to get on the highway when we turned off to pull into a gas station. We struck the curb with a horrible jerk, and when Dad opened the door to check the damage the hissing told everyone one of our tires was gone. And yet no one was hurt. Many friendly people were put in our path to help make sure we were back on the road before the night was out.

I was thankful for the old dirt road to Grandma and Grandad's out amid the cotton fields of Georgia. With the big harvest moon hanging in the sky, I could see the bare pecan trees against the wide open sky. Grandma and Grandad's house hasn't changed in years. There's still that one bedroom in the back that all four siblings have to share. My two brothers have to bear a mattress and a cot on the floor while I and my little sister claim the big bed. Sleeping with a six-year-old girl is not an easy thing. I knew I would risk an elbow to the eye or a foot to the throat from all her thrashing in the night. But I was still thankful for it. Because once the lights went out she turned towards me and held my hand as she went to sleep. I listened to my youngest brother start to snore. Judging by the white glow on the wall my other brother stayed up a bit longer on his phone. Still, I was so, so thankful.

I'd missed this closeness. And I know I won't be able to do this much longer. The number of times my family will be together like this is growing smaller. Change is always coming, so, I want to make sure I'm thankful for all the little moments.

I'm thankful for sibling telepathy and random, shared laughs. I'm thankful for sibling dates to movies and long talks with my Mom and Dad. I'm thankful for precious times with beloved Grandparents. I'm thankful for texts from friends, for health to help, and for God's provision in times of need.

Every year I'm reminded anew of why I should give thanks to God for all He's given. And yet, I need to continually be giving thanks. Every morning, every sight that meets these eyes, is a gift. Only when I'm thankful do I truly experience this thing we call Joy. As I head into this Season of Christmas I'm greeted with the anthem, "Joy to the World!" Learning the lesson of thankfulness is the only way I can have joy in the coming season and all the seasons of life yet to come.

I hope y'all had a wonderful Thanksgiving! What are you thankful for?
Did any of you finish NaNoWriMo? Any more Bryan Bloggers out there? 
Have a Happy Monday, Y'all!

Monday, November 23, 2015

Movies and Worldview: Spirited Away

Stories are an integral part of our lives aren't they? They are an art form, a type of communication, that we use to convey how we see the world. Our values and the values of our culture seep into the story. We paint the world we see through stories. Movies are just another medium for storytelling. And one of my favorites to be honest. They must be a favorite of yours as well because the most popular post on my blog continues to be Movies and History: El Dorado, where I examined the relationship between a movie and real history. You see? We all know movies communicate more than you first suspect. Recently I had the opportunity to examine a movie called "Spirited Away" for the sake of a school project. But I couldn't just leave it at that. I had to share some of my findings with you. The question I had to examine the movie through was this: 

What does this foreign film communicate about its worldview and how should I respond as a Christian? 

What is a Worldview?

This word is heard a lot in Christian circles today. But what does it mean? And how does it apply to movies like Spirited Away? Put in a long fashion, a worldview is the framework of our most basic beliefs that shapes our view of the world and is the basis of our decisions and actions. Put in a shorter fashion, a worldview is like glass lens you see the world through. Ever heard the expression "through rose-colored glasses?" It's a similar concept. 

"[Worldview] is like an invisible pair of eyeglasses - glasses you put on to help you see reality clearly." ~ Jeff Baldwin

What Worldview does is act as a foundation. Imagine a pyramid with Worldview on the bottom. Your foundation is how you see the world. The middle layer, on top of your worldview, are your core values. At the top of the pyramid are your actual behaviors. You see? How you see the world shapes your value system and ends up dictating how you behave. 

In addition, there are....

Four key areas a worldview will impact:  

  • How you relate to God (Ultimate Being)
  • How you relate with Humanity
  • How you relate with Nature
  • How you relate with yourself

Having taken the time to figure out my own worldview personally, I was now ready to dive into this foreign film and discover which worldview it was communicating 

So let's get to the fun part already!

Chihiro with Haku

The Story

"Spirited Away" was written by the Japanese animator Hayao Miyazaki and produced by Studio Ghibli. Since its release in 2001 it has been the most successful film in Japanese history. If you have never heard of Miyazaki, he is often called the Walt Disney of Japan. His many films have the reputation of being magical and memorable. 

The story centers around the rather whiney little Chihiro as she moves with her family to a new city. Their journey becomes sidetracked when they wander into what appears to be an abandoned theme park. But when the sun sets everything changes. Chihiro's parents have been transformed into pigs and strange, bizarre spirits are now roaming the lighted streets! Chihiro must overcome her fears if she wants to free her parents and escape this place. 

Many challenges await her. Chihiro finds a job in a bathhouse for spirits, loses her name, and must decide whether to really trust the mysterious Haku is she wants to succeed. Along the way, the small girl finds her bravery and makes unforgettable friends in this sweeping adventure

For fun, you should definitely check out the trailer!

Worldview of Spirited Away

A River Spirit
For any of you who have already watched the film, you know it's not like our normal American-made movies. It doesn't include our normal cast of fantasy characters. And why would it? It was made in Japan! It's interesting to note that Miyazaki intended this movie for a child audience. Japanese children must be made of tougher stuff than American kids! All the bizarre spirits and witches in this film are what big sisters like me call "monsters." So what's the deal here? 

It's pretty simple. These movies were made by a Japanese storyteller. He naturally draws from a widespread worldview in his country. A belief system commonly known as Shintoism. 

Shintoism: a devotion to invisible spiritual beings and powers called Kami, to shrines, and to various rituals. 

The Kami would be the assorted spirits you see in the movie. They are neutral, neither good nor evil, so long as all things are kept in balance. This is because, in Shinto, no one in inherently bad. Evil is like a disease that infects someone. Shintoism has no absolute truth and no ultimate god. Only these nature spirits. So, very loosely, here are the... 

Rules of Shintoism: 

  • Do not break harmony with the Kami (nature spirits)
  • Do not disrupt worship of Kami
  • Do nothing to disturb harmony of the world
  • Do not harm natural world

A lot of Japanese culture is steeped in this religious worldview. So, it comes as no surprise to find it in Miyazaki's "Spirited Away." You can see evidence of it in almost every one of his films. I watch a lot of Japanese anime as well and I'll tell you the Shintoism is there too. It's expected. What does that mean for Christians? Can we enjoy stories like this that hold a worldview different than our own? 

Soot Spirits 

How Christians should (or should not) respond

Just for kicks I went out and looked for reviews on this movie written by other Christians. I was met with very different perspectives of this film. 

Let's focus on the negative first. This first reviewer gave Spirited away a -4 on their scale. The spirits and witches were clearly not a wise decision for good Christians to be viewing. There were no allusions to a Christ-figure or even a God. If the story does not support a Christian worldview then what purpose does it serve to watch it?

"Abhorrent ~ Creepy Worldview." ~

Because someone says something in a way we disagree with, does that mean we can't hold a conversation with them? I wonder what MovieGuide would have to say about the Chronicles of Narnia? That had pagan symbolism in it too you know. Centaurs, fauns, unicorns, and Rivergods aren't Christian. And hey! C.S. Lewis turned Jesus into a lion! Just saying. 

When you set the Shintoism aside for a second you can see what else this movie offers. There are healthy themes of courage, loyalty, and growing up in "Spirited Away." The story also deals with things like greed, selfishness, putting other's needs before your own, and true love. Our Christian worldview deals with those as well doesn't it? 

I believe that a Christian who understands their own worldview can watch a movie like Spirited Away and still come away with a valuable lesson. Of course, we all should monitor what media we allow to influence our lives. I'm just saying you can't discount a movie's value based entirely on the cultural worldview. 

Beautiful Art from Film

Well! That was a mouthful wasn't it? Worldview really is an interesting thing when you start applying it to the movies and shows you watch. You learn a lot. Would you like to see more posts like this? Has anyone else watched Japanese films before? Questions or critiques are always welcome in the comment section below.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Writing is Hard - When a Dream has to Wait

This post has been reminding me that it needed to be written for a long, long while. This is not an admission of defeat. It is not me labeling myself a failure or having a pity party. This is just me, finally putting the cloud of thoughts into one mass. Maybe that way I can help myself by getting it out of my head. 

Writing is Hard. 
Sometimes a Dream has to Wait. 

Writing down my thoughts has never been difficult for me. Whether it be a journal entry, a school paper, or the quick-fire response to a forum post, I can always manage to put something down via my pen or my keyboard. So cranking out words to fill a void is not my problem. 

Stories have always been a sustenance for me. I thrive off good stories like I would thrive off good food. They fill me and keep me energized. Reading stories is an easily-accessible way to get this energy. But the treat is making my own stories. I've been doing that since I was little and I see no sign of ever ceasing in the telling of stories. They whirl in my head like displaced pieces waiting to be put into order. The characters pass through my mind like friend's I've met once upon a dream. They've gone on before me on their great adventures and I am just the recorder, following in the tracks they've left behind. 

But Writing is Hard 

Yes, I have the ability to write and appreciate stories. I can write blog posts and English papers and collaborate with others to create short stories. But my big dream, my big ambition to write my own novel....why is it taking so long?

It's November if a lot of you haven't noticed. In the writer-blogger sphere, that means one thing: NaNoWriMo. The National Writing Month. This month brings with it the challenge of completing an entire novel before November is out. There are clubs, forums, and tools like you wouldn't imagine available to help writers with this challenge. Year after year I've watched as online and in-real-life friends work hard and complete their books. Year after year I still haven't completed mine. It's hard to communicate the frustration with this. 

Writing is hard. Sometimes all the little articles and tools in the world won't write the book for you. It takes work, and I've put in a lot of work. But I get the feeling this baby of mine is going to take longer than a month of non-stop work to crank out. It's still deep within the planning and conceptualizing stages. I'm making progress, but sometimes I still feel like I've done nothing at all. 

And Sometimes a Dream has to Wait

School and life have a habit of happening. Other things take precedence over writing. I have to balance my school schedule with my social life and add writing in there somewhere. It happens that I have to wait another semester before taking college-level writing courses. It happens that I may not be able to finish out the Creative Writing Minor I've really looked forward to. 

The fears and doubts regularly crowd in. I was never meant to do this. What if I show my work to someone only to find out this isn't the gift God intended me to use? I'll never be successful at this. I'll never finish. Even if I do, no one will read it. 

If I only ever had those things pressing in on me I would stop writing altogether. I would cut myself off from the dream that has captivated my mind for years. If it were not for the friends that encourage me to write I would quit. If it were not for the ever-present sense of joy when I write I would put down my pen forever. The inspiration still flows and I still burn inside to put the words in my mind to paper. 

Writing is hard. Sometimes a dream has to wait. But that doesn't mean the dream will die. If a dream can endure the bumpy road then it is one worth chasing.  

Thanks for dealing with me while I rambled a bit today. I really do envy those of you who are doing so well this November with your novels. Has anyone else felt this frustration? Is anyone else having to put a story on hold? Encouragement, advice, even criticism are welcome in the comments below! 

Monday, November 9, 2015

Calm Amidst Chaos: A Response

"My best stab at a definition for art would be to say it is the product of an intentional and creative act that seeks to communicate the depth of meaning that we feel in our souls. Sometimes that creative expression is a direct response to an inward voice, and sometimes a direct response to an outward voice. It is a way to communicate our engagement with reality with love, beauty, pain, grace, and glory." 

~ Jason Truett Glen, Director of Worldview Formation at Bryan College

This post will admittedly have two purposes. The first is to share my recent experience participating in the art event hosted at my college. The second is to share a little of the story behind my own entry to the exhibit. Through and through, this is a response to the theme of calm in chaos and the topic of Christians expressing themselves through the arts. 

The Concept

"The theme giving guidance to the entries this year is Calm Amidst Chaos. -- These works of art will examine the role faith has in one's response to life's challenges and how art can reflect a meaningful response to these issues." ~ Jason Truett Glen

The announcement for this event came up before one of our weekly chapels here on campus. It struck my mind that participating in such an event would be fun. The only problem was that I had no concept for a project. I didn't want to force a concept for such a theme. I wanted the right inspiration to come to me. Just a few days later I sat in on a class where the teacher referenced the woman who washed Jesus's feet and her Alabaster Box. 

Immediately the song "Alabaster Box" by Cece Winans came to my mind. Oh, there is such meaning for me in this song. If you haven't listened to it then I highly recommend it. For me, this symbol of the alabaster box represented the pouring out of Mary's most highly prized possession. For me what I prized most were my gifts, my pride, and my control of my circumstances. Breaking that treasure box and pouring it out for the Master of my life was the hardest, most relieving thing to do in my life. 

"As she poured her love for the master
from her box of Alabaster.
And I've come to pour my praise on Him
like oil from Mary's Alabaster Box.
~ You don't know the cost of this oil
in my Alabaster Box."

I knew I wanted to capture that feeling in a painting so I combined my reaction to that Chapel and the song with some past experiences of mine where I had found calm in amidst chaos. Years ago I had my own season of darkness when I felt like I was too deep in the darkness to be rescued. My inner world was shadows and storms. One night I poured out all that I had and tearfully lifted my hands in surrender. That moment I felt God's peace pierce like a shaft of light through the clouds. This chapter of my life was what I decided to try and communicate for the art exhibit. 

"Pouring out Praise"
By Bethany Youngblood

The woman in the painting stands in the midst of a storm. She pours out two parts of herself, represented by the two bottles in her hands. The Bottle of Tears on the left represents her emotions; her hurts and joys. The Alabaster Box on the right represents her pride and gifts. With hands openly surrendering these two things she pours out her worship and experiences peace in the chaos.

The Exhibit

"It's also another way for students to recognize the complexity and talent that is present in their peers. It's easy to compartmentalize fellow students into neat sub-culture boxes, but we are all made to bear the image of our creative and wise God." ~ Jason Truett Glen

 We can all connect through pain. Through the desperation of being without direction. The pounding of storms. Through the pang of loss. And through the small shaft of calm that breaks through the clouds. In a way I think all the wonderful works of art that were shown at the exhibit had a past of pain to them. That is the only way we really understand what calm and peace are. Amidst the beauty I experienced that evening I also saw and heard the personal pains of the artists. What made the beauty truly shine through in their work was the triumph they found through Christ in their storms. Honestly now, some of what was presented impacted me so powerfully I cried. 

My dear friend Emily and her entry, "Journey"

Overall, I would easily say this art exhibit was a complete success. I was impacted, challenged, and inspired. I got to see how wonderfully talented my fellow students are and I cannot wait until next year to see what they make next! 

The Application

It's a wonderful mystery how God crafted us with the ability to express emotions. Just imagine for a second that you had no outlet to tell others how you felt! One way of expressing is through words. I prefer the written word to speaking in public. But art is another medium I and others make use of. Art is a natural blending of our human gifting to create and express in some small way like our Creator does. I marvel at how some are gifted in mixing watercolors to create a woodland scene. I marvel at the movement of a hand as it picks out a melody on a guitar's strings. 

These works of art, these tools of creative expression, communicate deeply to those around us. During this art event I felt my Christian brothers and sisters were aware of how their art was instrumental to communicating their thoughts on God. So why is it that Christians all around the world still struggle with the place of art and creativity in their lives? 

I know I've written about this topic before in my Christians and Creativity series. But I heard that the college might be doing a Chapel series on Christians in the Arts so be prepared for me to come back to this topic. 

I just want to encourage any out there who wonder where art fits in with their Faith. Your creativity reflects our Creator. He is the Origin of Creativity. He gave you your gifts. So expressing yourself through artistic mediums isn't a sin. A lot of our churches have some skewed views of art anyways. 

So if you do enjoy being creative....create! Reflect your Creator and express what He's done in your life to the world! 

Me with my entry, "Pouring out Praise."

What are your thoughts about Christians and Creativity? Do you enjoy expressing yourself through art too? If any of my fellow classmates stumble in here, what did you take away from the exhibit? What struck you? As always, comments and questions are welcome below!