Today, I have found myself quite unexpectedly stranded in the little town of Las Vegas, New Mexico. Last night, as I was driving on my way to the Benedictine Abbey … Continue reading Stranded
So, as I’m sure you will notice, my blog has a new look and name. I’ve decided to make it something a little more mature and laid back because, honestly, I didn’t feel that the old style really fit the tone of my posts anymore. Also, I would like to blog more seriously, and it’s harder to do that when your entire frame for a post is facetious. Now, when I say seriously, I don’t mean that I’ll be putting out multiple posts a week or anything like that (I wish!). I mean that I want to put more thought and effort into my posts, instead of just writing something off-the-cuff and putting it up whenever I feel like it. I’d like to say that my old erratic posting schedule is going to change, but I’m afraid that would end up being a lie. I won’t promise to make posts by any certain schedule, or apologize for not making them often. When I have something to say, I’ll say it, otherwise, this blog will lie fallow. Still, I do want to try to post more consistently. I have several thoughts that I’d like to develop further and this seems like a good platform to do it in. I’d also like to experiment more with serial storytelling, perhaps try to write some more narrative, epic-style poetry and record myself reading it, maybe even post a little artwork… we’ll see!
So with that in mind, let’s move forward. Peace!
And so, after about five and one half months, I have returned home to the United States. This is going to be the last post in my “Journal From Honduras” series, even though it isn’t being written there. It feels strange to be back… good, but strange. I’m still working through my thoughts and feelings, and it may be awhile before I’m through with that, but as I doubt I’ll want to share all those things on a public blog, I shall go ahead and make this last post now.
….but it’s difficult to know what to say. How does one just sum up such an experience? I’m very glad that I went. There were certainly disappointments–one of them being that I didn’t get to do as much mission work as I had hoped. But on the other hand, some of the disappointments I learned from, and others worked out for good–if I had done as much mission work as I’d hoped to do, it’s doubtful that I would’ve had the time to think and pray that I so very much needed. So all in all, the trip was very good; I feel like a new person now. I’ve learned a lot of things about myself and about life, have found some much needed healing, have grown closer to God and gone much farther in my spiritual life. I’m not the same person that I was before I left. I still have a long way to go, but here I am, and life is open before me.
Some highlights: traveling about with my friend Rick to Copán, Utila, Costa Rica, and seeing all those beautiful places and going on those adventures; bringing food to the scavengers in the city dump; all the times I saw the ocean and heard the waves and smelled the salt; enjoying new foods I’d never tasted; getting to talk about Jesus and the Bible in a school. But the most enduring aspect of this trip, or at least, what seems so at this point in time, I think will be the way God spoke to me while I was there. It was a time that He used to minister to me far more than He used me to minister to others, which is not really in line with the way I would have planned it, but has proven to be precisely what I needed at this point in my life. I am so much more at peace than I was before I left. I feel stronger, calmer, more centered, and ready–because this was, I believe, a time of making ready. I don’t know what will happen next, but I am eager to see what awaits me.
And I would like to say thank you, very much, to everyone who prayed for me, provided for me, and talked to me while I went off on this adventure. I couldn’t have done it without your help. And an extra thanks to my lovely aunt and uncle, who so kindly gave me a place to stay and food to eat all the time I was there. I couldn’t have done it without them, either!
I feel like this is barely adequate to cover the experience. But ah well; these things are hard to describe. I hope that your lives may be joyful, dear friends. Be courageous. Take up adventures wherever they find you.
Well, I’ve got just about a month left of my trip to Honduras. I think it’s fitting that this last stage has been opened by a lovely trip to the Caribbean, from which I just returned last night. I was staying on the island of Utila (off Honduras’ northern coast) with a few friends, and I really had a lovely time. One of the friends I was with, Amanda, has been interning here for the past two months; the official reason for the trip was to debrief her before her return to the US, but we spent most of our time enjoying the island and the ocean.
Oh, the ocean! Every time I see it I fall more in love. During this trip I got to go snorkeling for the first time in my life, which showed me a whole other side of it that I’d never really seen before. I’ve been to some very nice aquariums and seen videos of the undersea world, but never experienced it personally, and it was absolutely enchanting. On the first day we snorkeled in the very shallow water right near the beach. At this part of the shoreline, the sand only extended a short way into the ocean before being overtaken by weeds and sea grass, which were mostly too near the surface to swim over (the spiny sea urchins living in the grass would’ve made it dangerous to crawl or walk over it). But swimming along the edge of those weeds was still fascinating. It was like going along the edge of a tiny cliff, with a whole host of life living there. Dozens of varieties of tiny, colorful fish lived along the borders of the weeds, so that it was like swimming through a painting alive with splotches of color. At times the weeds would circle around the sand, creating a sort of very shallow underwater grove, which was delightful just to hover in and watch as the fish swam by. At other times a whole school of minnows would dart in front of me and swim off into the distance, so that I would feel almost as if I was flying along with them. I never knew how much life there was along the shoreline! Looking at the water from above, even if it’s clear, doesn’t show a fraction of the fish that live within it. A little later I found a section of shoreline where the weeds were deeper, so I was able to swim out over them, and there is nothing quite like the feeling of looking down upon a vast underwater field as you swim over it, the occasional fish darting past the water receding into gloom in the distance.
The next day, we took a dingy out to Water Cay, a tiny island to the southeast of Utila. It was like being on a little desert island, like the sort you would imagine being shipwrecked on, though it was much closer to the shore than those generally are. I could walk across its length in probably five minutes or less. That was fun in and of itself; but more exciting was snorkeling around the island, which had much more variety of environment than the shoreline of Utila (or at least the section of it where we had been). There were rocky portions, fields of grass of a different variety than at Utila, sunken trees, open sands… and most exciting and beautiful of all, a coral reef. How lovely that was! How magnificent! I can’t adequately express the delight of the place. I swam in between the reefs until they opened out into the wider sea, a sandy bed which stretched off further than I could see. I was afraid to go out too far, so I stayed close to the reef and didn’t go looking to see if there might be even more impressive reef on the other side. I wish I had! But snorkeling uses muscles I’ve never really used before and I was pretty tired by that point, having had to take a somewhat circuitous route to reach the reef around all the rock beds. Swimming amongst the coral was like swimming between panels of stained glass. It was so lovely.
I think it was snorkeling that made the biggest impression on me during this trip, although I did a few other things for the first time as well. Overall, it was quite excellent, and I look forward to my last month here and especially to going home.
Well, I suppose it’s time for a small update on my life in Honduras. Let’s see… in my last post, I talked about reaching the halfway point of my trip and also about going to Costa Rica. Well, now I have two months left before I go home, and I have to say, I’m really looking forward to being back. Not that I’m having a bad time; in fact, so far this second half of the trip has been a lot better than the first half. I’ve been able to get out more and do more work, see more places, and I’ve been doing a lot of studying, thinking, praying, introspecting, and have learned a lot. A lot of things inside me are changing and it’s pretty amazing when you start seeing almost daily progress on certain issues that have been with you for a long time. But, I’m ready to be home. Ready to see my family again, and my friends; ready to be able to talk to people without stumbling over my extremely limited Spanish vocabulary; ready to have good pizza and good hamburgers and Indian food and diverse ethnic cuisines again; just ready to be back and start moving on with my life again. But I still have two months left, and plenty more mental/spiritual/emotional progress to be made, as well as more work to do. I’m looking forward to that, but I will also be glad to be home.
So, anyway, the main thing that I’ve been doing lately, as far as mission work goes, is Charlas Biblias–Bible Talks. I have been joining Rick and Amanda (the same people I went to Costa Rica and Copán with) to go to a couple of different high schools and give talks to the students about various aspects of Christianity and the Bible. It’s really been interesting, to see the high schools and the students, as well as to be part of sharing the Gospel with them. I also find it quite refreshing to be in a country where we’re even allowed to do that; if Christians in the US tried such a thing there would be an outrage. It’s rather silly, because isn’t school supposed to be about learning? Shouldn’t anyone have the right to present their beliefs to students, so the students can make an informed decision about their own? At any rate, the whole experience has been rather cool. It was interesting also to observe the differences between the students: in the one school, which Rick has been doing Charlas at for a long time, the students are more friendly and familiar, but also less attentive and participatory; while at the other school, which none of us had been to before, they were almost uniformly intent on what we were saying, and we had great results with those students. These Charlas are something that I will likely continue doing for the rest of my time here, so I’m looking forward to seeing what else happens as we advance.
What else is new? Yesterday I accompanied my uncle as he went to present a lesson to a church in one of the rougher parts of town, way up on the hill where all the roads are steep. I helped him to carry things and set them up, but unfortunately I couldn’t understand much of the lesson, since it was all in Spanish. Still, it was interesting; I got to see a part of the town I’ve never been in before and meet a few people. This city becomes gilded in the evening, and as ugly as some parts of it can be during the daytime, it’s all beautiful as the sun is setting. Lately I’m seeing more and more of the beauty of life and the world. It seems that the more I see of the world, the more in love with it I fall. It is a stunning creation, and nothing more stunning than the people who inhabit it.
At the end of the month I’ll be going up to the Caribbean coast again with Rick and Amanda, for Amanda’s debriefing at the end of her internship. That should be cool, especially as we’ll be spending at least one day with an island all to ourselves! I am blessed to be able to visit the ocean not once or twice, but three times while on this trip. This wasn’t something I expected, and I am grateful. I don’t think I could ever get tired of the ocean.
Well, I don’t think I have anything else to say at the moment. May your days bring you joy!
Because I ought to do some writing but am not really sure what to write, I have decided that I might as well talk about this show and some of my frustrations with it. This show forms a sequel to Attack of the Clones and a prequel to Revenge of the Sith. Exploring the Clone Wars was a great idea, because I personally think that they are one of the most interesting periods in the Star Wars chronology. Unfortunately (though not unexpectedly) this show was a disappointment on several levels. And so, I give you…
…or at least my review and criticism of it. This most recent Star Wars Day (May the 4th), I decided I needed to watch something Star Wars. Being in Honduras right now, I don’t have access to any of the movies, or anyone to watch them with, and so I thought “why not delve into The Clone Wars?” And so I did, and finally finished watching the series the day before yesterday. My feelings about this show are decidedly mixed. I’ll go into the good first:
- Some of the characters. Anakin, Obi-Wan, and Ahsoka especially. I felt that this show added well to the already established characters of Anakin and Obi-Wan, even managing to make Anakin likable and sympathetic (most of the time, anyway), which I have never felt he was in the movies. The addition of Ahsoka was a nice touch (though I think her design is somewhat silly), because she gave the show something like a protagonist, added a new and interesting dimension to Anakin’s character, and was a fairly decent character in her own right. Also, I liked the clone characters, especially Rex and Fives, and enjoyed all the episodes that focused on them. Finally, Asajj Ventress, while stereotypical and melodramatic in the beginning, developed into a much more interesting and three-dimensional character by the end, and in my opinion was the show’s best antagonist.
- Most of the episodes that focused on Anakin, Obi-Wan, Ahsoka, or on the clones. These I felt were generally the strongest episodes in the series, the ones with the most interesting concepts and dilemmas, and the ones that actually make it worth watching. In particular the final four episodes of season 5 are very good.
- The art and animation style. I’m not sure what the general consensus about this is, but I for one enjoyed the art style of The Clone Wars. Yes, it could be a lot prettier, but I think the style is well-suited for the show, and the almost video-game-ish look contributes to the fantasy feeling that I think Star Wars ought to have.
- The music. The composer for this show combined many of the classical Star Wars elements we all know and love with new and diverse elements from all sorts of musical traditions, with the result of a dynamic and interesting soundtrack that always fits the mood and seems to go perfectly with Star Wars.
But now for the bad, which in my opinion outweighs the good, though I should say that I still enjoyed the show throughout despite these unfortunate elements:
- Too broad in scope. I felt that the show tried to cover far too much ground. It attempted to show a galaxy-wide perspective on the Clone Wars, which was very ambitious, but did not end up working as well as I’m sure the creators hoped it would. Because of this, and also because I knew already how everything was going to end, it was difficult for me to connect emotionally with what was going on in many instances. The result of this broad scope is that you get many small windows and glimpses into different parts of the war, but rarely get to delve deeply into any one area–and that sort of deep-delving is what is needed to create a really engaging and emotional experience.
- Too many characters. This is one of my major issues with the show, and is related to the first thing I listed. In order to cover this broad scope of the war, the show employs a huge amount of characters. There are stories that have done this successfully–such as George R.R. Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire saga–but this show is not one of them. The individual episodes and story arcs are simply too short and unfocused to delve really deeply into any of the characters or, for the most part, to develop them in really significant ways.
- Other issues with the characters. I liked a lot of the side characters that were added to The Clone Wars. But there were a lot that I didn’t like at all, and felt really detracted from it, such as the ridiculous Colonel Gascon in season 5 or Ziro the Hutt. Jar-Jar Binks, of course, deserves mention here. His inclusion in most of the episodes that he’s in makes very little sense. He’s not funny and the other characters seem to be selectively blind towards his idiocy, which definitely hurts the show’s immersion factor. Also, the treatment of battle droids makes very little sense. They act with too much intelligence and emotion considering their supposedly simple programming, and like Jar-Jar, are rarely ever funny. The attempt to insert comic relief with the battle droids usually fails pretty badly, in my opinion. And then of course there’s the villains, but I’ll go into that in my next point.
- Simplistic villains. With the exception of Asajj Ventress towards the end of the series, I felt that all of the villains in this show were overly simplified and lacking in motivation or fierceness. Even Palpatine is not depicted as the incredibly cunning man that he is supposed to be, but as someone always gloating about his plans behind everyone’s back. You’d think that people would’ve started to notice all his evil grins by now. General Grievous is basically a joke–he’s too cowardly to be an effective commander and if the show was sensibly written he would’ve been relieved of duty very quickly. Asajj Ventress is also pretty cowardly, but she makes up for that by being sneaky and cunning, which General Grievous most certainly is not. Other villains for the most part have no subtlety, unrealistic or unspecified motivations, and a general “comic book feel” in the bad sense of that term. Count Dooku is okay, but is very little developed, and could have been much stronger than he was.
- Simplistic morality. The simplistic villains in this show are perhaps a symptom of its deeper problem of simplistic morality. It gets better as it progresses, but still the entire show is based around very simple and unrealistic moral precepts. Pacifists are good. Fighters are bad. Peace is right. War is wrong. Good is good and bad is bad; with rare exceptions, the characters are shown without the moral complexity and shades of grey that real people have. This was really an irritation, because as the viewer you’re supposed to champion the side that is presented as good, but that is difficult when the show is so simplistic with its representation.
- Apparent ignorance of major philosophical questions and ethical problems. And here is another point that I think is related to the show’s simplistic morality. There are some really major philosophical questions surrounding the Clone Wars that this show almost totally ignores. Those are the extremely questionable ethics of the Republic and Jedi in fighting with an army of slave soldiers; the development of identity and codes within that army; the psychological impact on the young Jedi padawans of being thrust into positions of command in a huge war; the psychological impact on the Jedi as a whole of becoming generals when formerly they were peacekeepers; the ethics of the Separatists in wanting to make their own laws and not be subject to the Republic, and even fighting with an army of droids instead of sending slaves or citizens to the front lines to be killed; the effects of propaganda on both sides–remember that the Separatists, while they have a noble cause, are essentially ruled by megacorporations who do not have the best interests of anyone but themselves at heart, and the Republic claims to be a champion of democracy and freedom while refusing to allow people to peacefully leave their rule and fighting with an army of slaves. All of these questions and more are implied in the basic setting and situation of the show, but none of them are explored except in the most basic levels, or not at all.
- The movie. What more needs to be said? But actually, my main problem with this movie is that it’s kind of exhausting. Even when viewed as merely an episode or series of episodes in the overall show, it still has far too much action in proportion to everything else, and doesn’t do much at all for the plot.
- Use of the Force. This was one of the most frustrating things to see in the day-to-day of the show. The Jedi did not fight like Jedi. They used only the most basic of Force techniques, and sometimes not even those. Even in the movies the Force is used to greater effect than this, to say nothing of all the complex and powerful uses that it’s put to in the Expanded Universe. The Jedi even seem to be ignorant of well-documented Force phenomena in the Star Wars universe, like Force ghosts. The Jedi in this show are essentially Chinese warrior monks with laser swords and some basic telekinetic powers. Even Anakin, who is supposed to be one of the strongest Jedi, doesn’t seem much stronger than your average Padawan in any other Star Wars story.
- Contradiction of and/or blatant disregard for canon. Related to the above point. This frustrated me to no end. Yes, The Clone Wars stayed in line with the canon as established in the movies. But it appeared to exhibit a definite contempt for what had been established throughout the Expanded Universe. And maybe I’m just extra sensitive towards this point because of Disney’s recent stupidity in saying that only the movies and The Clone Wars will be considered canon, but really. Show some respect for the multitudes of artists and writers who have developed this universe. I think the worst offense was the butchery done to the Mandalorians, but there are numerous examples. Personally, I think that the creators of the show could’ve just as easily stuck with the established canon as make up new stuff. It would’ve been easier, even, and no difficulty to fit into the show.
- Poor and/or nonsensical storytelling choices. Another perplexing issue. This relates to the issues I mentioned earlier with the characters and scope, but also manifests in things like the random Jar-Jar episodes and the terrible 4-episode arc in series 5 about Colonel Gascon. It simply doesn’t make sense to divert the watcher to these random characters that no one knows or cares about, and then never revisit them. Also I have very mixed feelings about the revelation of the control chip in the clones’ heads. On the one hand, it makes a lot of sense; on the other hand, it removes a good deal of the drama, horror, and moral complexity of the clones’ betrayal of the Jedi in Order 66. It was an explanation that wasn’t needed, which hurts a story as much as anything.
And so, what would I do to fix the show? Well, if it was in my hands, I would have done several things differently. First, I would have focused it much more closely around Anakin, Obi-Wan, and Ahsoka. I would have made them the “power trio” of the show, like a Harry, Hermione, and Ron, or a Frodo, Sam, and Gollum. I would have made Ahsoka the protagonist, with Anakin and Obi-Wan being her main ally and her mentor, respectively. A lot of the other side characters could still come in, but I would never have focused on them, except maybe in a handful of episodes scattered here and there. The central thrust of the story would have been the relationships of those three and the way they grew as characters. Through Ahsoka the problem of Padawans becoming commanders could be explored. Anakin and Obi-Wan would’ve made great foils for each other because they would disagree on many of the philosophical questions mentioned above. Also, I would focus each season on one or two planets/battles and plotlines. This would allow each setting and plot to be explored much more thoroughly and mined for all its potential. Then, I would greatly expand on the use of the Force. I would contrast Ahsoka’s relative weakness with Anakin and Obi-Wan’s skill and strength–they are, after all, two of the most famous and popular Jedi in the Republic during the Clone Wars. The various questions I mentioned above would all be explored in various ways. I would delve a lot into clone culture and the way the Jedi affect it. I would keep Count Dooku and Asajj Ventress as the main villains, but I would make Dooku a much more compelling character. This is a charismatic man who holds together a galaxy-wide movement–he ought to be much more convincing in his arguments for his own side. I would explore his motives much more, as well as Asajj’s. In short, I would make the show much more complex, rich, and layered, while narrowing the focus to only a few characters and settings, and getting rid of several annoyances in the overall makeup of the show.
Now, I should probably say that I do know that this show was originally made for children, and that that is probably the source of some of the issues that I pointed out. But personally, I don’t think that should be an excuse. Children are able to understand fine shades and good storytelling. And also, the creators of the show had to know that it was going to be watched by thousands of people who are not children. Under the circumstances, it makes no sense to dumb it down.
Anyway! I would like to reiterate that I did actually enjoy the show. But I also enjoy picking apart its flaws. :P
Well, here I am, halfway through my trip to Honduras. A little more than halfway through, actually–I left the US on March 18th and will return on September 10th, so my real halfway point was a few days ago. In order to get my visa renewed for the second half of the trip (they’re only good for 90 days), I went south to Costa Rica for a few days, returning to my aunt and uncle’s house last night with a new visa good for the remainder of my time here. It was a pleasant trip, though I would not care to repeat the 17+ hour bus ride anytime soon, or ever. Unlike the last trip I took to Copán, which was focused on learning, this trip was focused (at least for me) on relaxing and enjoying the time; which seems interesting in light of the fact that I think I probably enjoyed the Copán trip more. Perhaps when enjoyment is the primary goal it becomes harder to find than when it is pulled along in the wake of something else. Not to say that I didn’t enjoy myself! I very much like Costa Rica. The scenery is gorgeous, and San José, the capital city (where we were staying) is clean, open, and has a friendly feeling. The city’s downtown was quite nice, and it was fun to see the sights there, although I wished we had more time for exploring. On the second day of the trip we spent the entire day at a resort, where we enjoyed a beautiful rainforest trail and one of the very prettiest beaches I’ve ever been to in my life. This is the second time I’ve been to the ocean during my time here, and I am grateful, because I didn’t expect even one trip to the sea. All in all, from the very brief glimpse I got of it, I think I rather like Costa Rica and its culture. I could see myself living there much more readily than in Honduras, although I still would not like to live in a place that never had winter.
Halfway… I feel like I’ve been here longer than three months, yet at the same time, it is a bit surprising to see the halfway point having come and gone already. I had very few expectati0ns for this trip before I came–I don’t tend to expect a lot of things when I’m going to a totally unfamiliar place and doing things that are far outside my experience. Honestly, I just wanted to get away from my day to day life and take time to rethink and soul-search, and if I could do some things to serve God and help others at the same time, then so much the better. And so far the trip has allowed me to do those things, though it has been lighter on the serving part than I had hoped (but this should soon change as I work more with the people who I went to Copán and Costa Rica with). I really did need time to think; I have been able to slowly and gradually work through many mental, spiritual, and emotional issues that I have needed to work through, and am still I think in the midst of that journey. Putting aside the physical (as always, I probably ought to be getting more exercise and more sleep and less sweets), I feel healthier than I have in a long time. I am learning to be at peace and my ability to wonder at the world and take joy in simple things is ever-growing.
I am looking forward to seeing what develops during the second half of my trip. It’s strange to think that, in the context of this trip, I have just as much time ahead of me as I have behind me! A lot could happen during that time. I will be a different person by the end–everyone I know could be different–life changes in the blink of an eye. I think that’s beautiful, and more beautiful still are the eternal things that stay with us no matter how much the physical world shifts and changes. There is beauty everywhere, and the rampant ugliness only serves to highlight it, and I learn to see that more every day.
Peace, and I hope that your road leads you home–