It’s Finally Thursday: The Return of Critical Role Campaign 2

It’s Finally Thursday: The Return of Critical Role Campaign 2

Critters rejoice! It’s finally happening – Critical Role is actually back. I’ll admit that I took the quarantine season to catch up on Critical Role campaign 2. Before the stay-at-home order, I was somewhere in the Captain Tusktooth story arc and I wasn’t listening as religiously as I was when the second campaign first started. In other words, I was really behind and I wasn’t going to catch up anytime soon. But now I am caught up and I am so ready for more. Narrative telephone can only tease us for so long.

The show started off with a very touching poem by none other than our favorite player Sam Riegel. It was a sweet introduction and welcome back for CritRole and critters alike, with a nod to current national issues involving the Black Lives Matter movement. As a PoC, I appreciate the allyship that Critical Role provides to marginalized folks and I want to acknowledge that they’re doing a lot. I think they can do more, but we’ll see if I get to that conversation in this particular blog or not.

We start off with our heroes facing off against a giant dragon turtle! Matt has way too much fun with a couple of natural 20s and a handful of high rolls. But (as I predicted), the polymorph spells came flying out and the Mighty Nein were able to escape. My roommate had guessed that the dragon turtle would’ve been immune or at least able to shapeshift out of polymorph but, not this time. After trying to escape from their now polymorphed enemy, they realize that it was still on their tail and polymorphed it again, this time into something less quick – a sea slug.

Monster in the Deep by Bayard Wu

It was hilarious to watch them try to figure out what to turn it into. Funnily enough, a normal sea turtle—what they first turned it into—has a faster swim speed than the dragon turtle. A crab or maybe something that can’t swim would’ve been just as fine too. A sea slug works though!

On their escape from the dragon turtle towards Rumblecusp, our lovable Jester decided to send a message via the sending spell to the dragon turtle, only to be returned with threatening replies such as “I will get what I want.”

In the second half of the show, our heroes make it to Rumblecusp, the site of the long awaited Traveler Con! Caleb scouts the island with Frumpkin and finds a village. The inhabitants don’t seem to be indigenous to the island although we don’t really know just yet. The Mighty Nein decide to go ahead and traverse into the forest with the hopes of reaching this village. On the way, they run into three displacer beasts and two werebears. The werebears win the fight against the beasts and shapeshift back into humanoids who introduce themselves to the Mighty Nein. These folks are from the village that Caleb saw earlier and are seemingly friendly. However through conversation, the Mighty Nein have a suspicion that they are a part of a cult who lives on the island. The episode ends as they walk into the village and meet two of the three leaders – have our heroes walked into a trap? Will they be able to leave the island? Will Traveler Con even happen? Is it Thursday yet?!

Whoa, Werebears.

I think I can speak for almost all, if not all, critters and say that we’re so excited to have Critical Role back! It feels like it’s been forever and our favorite players and heroes are back at the table doing what they do best. From Yasha’s flower-picking to Sam’s terrible rolls, the night was filled with some great moments.

For me, the roleplaying award for the night will have to go to Jester. I just love the moment that Laura used sending to communicate with the dragon turtle to see what it wanted from them. It’s always nice to see Laura roleplay a super playful Jester and tonight was no different. It was a nice “welcome back” gesture from Jester!

What was your favorite moment of the night? What do you think is going to happen next? Honestly, the idea of a cult makes me a little uncomfortable but it will likely make for a good story. As this story element unfolds, I’ll speak more about why it’s uncomfortable. See you next time!

Teen Doges: Thoughts on Teen Wolf Seasons 1-3

Teen Doges: Thoughts on Teen Wolf Seasons 1-3

From the title of this blog, you might think that my review for the first 3 seasons of this show is going to be a negative one but actually, I really liked the first 3 seasons.

As we sit through the relapses of COVID-19 cases in the U.S., I am finding that I am continuing to watch more and more TV (like the majority of the people in the U.S.). So last week, I started watching Teen Wolf. The film Teen Wolf with Michael J. Fox came out in 1985. I’ve never seen this film but I’m sure there are tons of throwback moments in the TV show to this film.

Teen Wolf (1985) movie poster

It’s not the first time I’ve seen the TV show though, I’ve actually seen season 1 and the very beginnings of season 2 when it first aired 9 years ago in 2011. I wanted to revisit the show and put something on in the background while I played video games and worked.

The first season was a nice refresher for me. We have a teenage boy, Scott McCall (played by Tyler Posey) who gets bitten by a werewolf and shortly thereafter begins to exhibit werewolf-like abilities such as heightened senses and supernatural strength. But he also now has a short temper and can’t control when he changes his eye color and grows sideburns and fangs.

Scott McCall (Tyler Posey) in Teen Wolf.

With his newfound abilities, Scott is able to be a star player on the Lacrosse team, which also spikes up his popularity in school. Before, he was a nobody and now, he’s the coolest kid in school. To my surprise, he tells his best friend Stiles (played by Dylan O’Brien) everything and they both eventually deduce that he is indeed a werewolf. The first season is a good introduction to strong characters like: Derek (Tyler Hoechlin), a.k.a. the worst werewolf mentor in the world; Allison (Crystal Reed), the girlfriend who comes from a family of werewolf hunters; Jackson (Colton Haynes), the rival-frenemy Lacrosse team captain; and Lydia (Holland Roden), the scream queen of Teen Wolf.

From left to right: Lydia, Jackson, Stiles, Scott, Allison, Derek

Overall, the first season of the TV show is a great season – there’s a murder mystery to be solved and even during this second watch I couldn’t pinpoint who the main baddie was. There’s also plenty of fan service (i.e., shirtless sweaty werewolf, and non-werewolf, men), if you’re into that. All the characters are somewhat likable and grow on you as the season ends out.

As the seasons continue, it seems as if the show gets darker and starts to fall more into the horror category. It’s not that werewolves and murders aren’t horror, but to me it seems more supernatural/fantastical than horror. The second and third seasons are definitely horror.

In the second season our seemingly support characters get put into the spotlight as both Jackson and Lydia become important aspects of the story. Jackson and Lydia are given the bite at the end of the first season and typically you either die from the bite or become a werewolf. Both of them have done neither and they’re still alive.

Jackson from Teen Wolf

Jackson is by far my favorite character of the series. He starts off as this spoiled brat who’s good at everything. But as you start to learn more about who he is—an orphan, a loner—then you start to understand why he does what he does. He’s smart, talented, good looking, and the world is very very cruel to him. Jackson also has THE BEST werewolf transformation scene in the whole damn TV show. Think the ending of Beauty and the Beast but human becoming werewolf. I’ve only seen the first 3 seasons and let me tell you, it’s going to be hard to change my mind.

Jackson becoming the sexiest werewolf to ever exist.

It’s a shame that he didn’t come back on for season 3. Word on the street is that his character was only in half of the third season so he and his management team decided not to sign him on. It’s a shame because I think Jackson deserves more screen time. There was such a big lead up to his transformation that you would think he would’ve been a bigger character in season 3. Supposedly he comes back for a couple of episodes, so we’ll wait and see!

I’ll admit that I’m a little biased towards Jackson because of the person who plays him, Colton Haynes, a gay and out Hollywood actor. At the time of his casting and during the first two seasons, he was very much in the closet and dealt with anxiety issues. If you want more on that, click here.

Jackson’s girlfriend Lydia is also going through her own personal story arc as well as she tries to move on from the traumatic incident at the end of season 1. As the story progresses, we will soon learn that she is much more than just the scream queen of the show. She is probably my third favorite character on this show, although I’ll admit it’s hard to rank these characters as they tend to change ranks for me from episode to episode.

Lydia from Teen Wolf

Season 2 was a good deep dive into the characters that we already started to grow and love. With another murder mystery as the main plot, we’re left guessing who the mastermind could be.

In Season 3 part 1, we’re introduced to a whole new plethora of characters. It can start to get a little confusing so I’m not going to bombard you with too much. However, we have to say goodbye to Jackson who has now gone to boarding school in London. After all that he went through, I guess it kind of makes sense… a moment of silence for my favorite character though.

In this season, we see Lydia step into her new role in Scott’s pack as the wailing woman, otherwise known as a banshee. She can sense death and even prevent it if she’s quick enough. There’s also, you guessed it, another murder mystery, this time involving a druid. Wolf packs usually have a druid as a healer and an emissary. Although they do not have shape-shifting powers, they are fountains of knowledge and advise the alpha. Scott’s druid is his boss at work, the veterinarian Dr. Deaton.

Dr. Deaton doing his druid thing

There is also a new (evil) pack of alpha wolves who make their way to town. They’re there to try and recruit Scott into their pack. If he refuses, they’ll kill him. Why do they want Scott? Well, Scott is what you call a true alpha – an alpha wolf who did not have to kill another alpha to become the leader. True alphas are stronger than your normal, run of the mill alpha. And, supposedly, only one is created or born every so often.

Although Season 3 part 1 has got to be my least favorite of all the arcs, it has one of my favorite episodes in it – episode 6, Motel California. The dialogue between Scott and Stiles at the end is just amazing. The episode as a whole deals with suicide, so be warned!

And last, but not least, season 3 part 2. No murder mystery this time. I was waiting for this because of Arden Cho! I’ve followed Arden for a long time on YouTube and am such a fan of who she is – her acting, singing, vlogging, you name it. When she made a vlog a long time ago about her being on Teen Wolf, I thought to myself, “Hmmm, maybe I should go back and watch it.” Years later, here I am, and I’m so glad I made it this far.

Arden plays of the main characters in season 3 part 2, Kira. She’s the daughter of the new history teacher (RIP all the previous history teachers who have all been evil so far) and has a crush on Scott McCall (I mean, who doesn’t). But man, Kira is a badass. She’s kind of stereotyped into being a samurai sword wielding Asian American woman but don’t get me started on all the racial issues of Teen Wolf (seriously, it’s not all that bad but it’s pretty bad).

Arden Cho as Kira in Teen Wolf

It does seem like the writing team did some good work on their research though with the talk of different types of kitsune, physical representations of their tails, etc. The dialogue around the game of Go is also very well done, especially around the idea of a divine move, which is a real idea.

Also, this arc very much proves that Dylan O’Brien is the best actor on this show. From his night terrors to his monologues as the nogitsune, holy cow this guy can act! Whenever he woke up from a nightmare it just felt so real. By far my second favorite character on this show.

Dylan O’Brien as Stiles in Teen Wolf

The ending of season 3 part 2 is tragic and we even lose some key characters. So be warned, don’t get too attached to any if you start watching.

I’m excited to finish out the rest of the series but it looks like the ratings dropped off towards the end. Hopefully, it was more because of a lack of interest than a decline in story/writing. I will update you all as I continue.

What are you currently watching?

Love, Jonathan: Quick Thoughts on Love, Victor

Love, Jonathan: Quick Thoughts on Love, Victor

Dear Victor,

You’re right when you say that not everybody’s story is like Simon’s. I’m sure you know that not everybody’s story is like yours either. Either way, I appreciate both of your stories so much. There are pieces of my story that I see in Simon’s story and then pieces of my story that I see in yours. It’s crazy to think that even though we’re all different people, our experiences sometimes line up and the things we feel aren’t really that different after all.

Sitting and watching the first season made me feel like I was there with you. I was with you as you tried to be attracted to Mia but failed. I was with you when you tried to make a move on Ben and then you ran because you were afraid. I was with you when you felt like home started to feel like a shitty place to be (your words, not mine). And it’s not watching you that made me feel like I was with you but it’s because… well, I’ve been in those places before. I’ve tried so hard to be attracted to someone that I just didn’t like. I even prayed for the “right” feelings, but they never came. And yeah, I’m gay too.

My favorite part, by far, was when you went to New York. I loved seeing Bram and Simon and literally screamed when they showed up. I loved that Bram showed you that there’s not one way to be gay. Being gay is a part of who you are but it’s definitely not all of who you are. You’re still you. You’re still Victor – your mom’s blessing, the big brother, the basketball player. None of that changes just because you’re gay.

I appreciate you because you’re also a person of color. A lot of times our stories get looked over. It’s as if we can’t be gay or our stories aren’t important enough. And most of the time, it’s the gay white guys that tell us how to act, what to wear, and what to say when we come out. But you’ve reminded us that it’s not always like that. For a lot of us, it’s different. It takes time because maybe we’re not sure of our identities or maybe our family situations are difficult, and that’s okay.

Anyway, I just wanted to say thanks. Thanks for the reminder that we each deserve a great love story. I believe that that’s true but I think what’s even truer is that we are all already great love stories and we all need to be heard.

Love,
Jonathan

P.S. I hope you get greenlit for a season two.

Sabrina, Season 3: Stuck in Limbo?

Sabrina, Season 3: Stuck in Limbo?

I absolutely loved Sabrina, Season 1. The irony and sarcasm that was present was quite refreshing for someone who is so familiar with Christianity. Season 2 of Sabrina brought us deeper into the story of what it means for our protagonist to further struggle with her identity as both witch and human. This identity ultimately gives her the power to save her coven, her family, and her friends. In season 3 we find ourselves with a new filler-like story as our characters barely grow out of their season 1 and 2 molds.

Don’t get me wrong, if you’re a fan of the series, you will like it. I liked it but it definitely had it’s problems. Let’s start with those, shall we?

The music. What in the world? The music doesn’t add anything to the story or to the character’s story arcs. It’s like they paid the copyright for these songs just to show that their acting talent could also sing. Great. Now you have some mediocre covers of songs by some decent singers and a very good singer (check out Ross Lynch’s band The Driver Era for more of his amazing vox). What they should have done is paid for someone to write an actual melody for Pan’s song at the end of episode 3. False God have mercy on them.

harvey
Harvey rocking out in his garage with Theo and Roz.

So much to do, so little time. There is so much content in this season. There’s a new band of baddies, there’s a quest for the throne of Hell, there’s the coven, there’s Blackwood, there’s the love story for Sabrina, there’s love stories for all the other characters, ohhh boy. I say focus on one thing, please!

So many people, so little growth. There are some new characters in this season. All of whom I really really like. Caliban (Sam Corlett) and Robin (Jonathan Whitesell) are both super sexy and charismatic in their own ways. Mambo Marie (Skye Marshall) is an interesting character for plot’s sake and I like the diversity she brings to the story and cast.

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Sam Corlett, Skye Marshall, and Jonathan Whitesell.

However with the new addition of characters, we also can’t focus on our previous entourage of superstars. Namely, Harvey and Nick don’t get much screen time and really exist only to create unnecessary drama. What happened to Harvey’s witch hunting background? And why isn’t Nick’s internal conflict in this season explored on a deeper level? The only characters who have grown so much in this series are Roz, Theo, and Prudence and I really really like the ways their story arcs have developed and intertwined with the main plot. Let’s not even talk about Dorcas, Agatha, Zelda, Hilda, and Sabrina. I know it’s possible, so let’s see some more growth for our other beloveds as well.

harvey nick sabrina
An awkward confrontation between Harvey and Nick.

All that to say, not much has happened for the overall story in Sabrina Season 3. Sabrina is still pretty much a badass so if you enjoy that, you won’t be disappointed! The ending of season 3 also poses some really problematic questions like where did first Sabrina come from? You’ll see what I mean when you watch it but for those who are not going to, *spoilers* a Sabrina from the future comes to save present Sabrina but this future Sabrina warns present Sabrina to continue the time loop of saving herself or else all will go badly. It’s like, where’d the egg come from if there’s no chicken, sort of thing. *end spoiler*

I did like some things though! Like I said earlier, the new cast is great. Nick has an interesting internal conflict this season that shows he’s human and real but it really needs more writing to back it up and make it a full fledged character arc. Kiernan Shipka is an amazing actress for the part of Sabrina and it really shows in this season.

All in all, it’s a fine season. There are some things I don’t like about it but it was still enjoyable. I am excited for season 4 and hope that some of my favorite characters like Harvey, Nick, Lucifer, and Lilith get some more screen time and growth. I haven’t given up yet on this one. Riverdale on the other hand…


Jonathan is a seminary graduate (M.Div, 2018, Seattle Pacific Seminary) and currently works on staff at Quest Church in Seattle, WA. He also works at Seattle Pacific Seminary as an academic coach for current seminarians. In addition to this blog, he is one of three co-hosts for The Outside Story, a podcast on film, TV, and media from an Asian-American perspective. He can be reached at theoutsidestorypodcast@gmail.com or on social media (FaceBookInstagramTwitter) at @jnkmoua.

Thoughts on Weathering With You

Thoughts on Weathering With You

A couple of years ago I saw a movie that changed my life. That movie was called Your Name, written and directed by a man named Makoto Shinkai. I hadn’t heard of him before but he had been making movies and short films already. Your Name was his big theatrical debut and he took the world by storm (ha!). Your Name dealt with the ideas of gender norms, fate, and love and told its story in such a way that was refreshing, funny, and heartwarming.

Shinkai’s sophomore theatrical debut, Weathering With You, released in the U.S. this past week and I was excited to be able to catch the movie with a friend. I did my absolute best to go in without any inkling of what the film was about. And even though I wasn’t blown away by the story, the film is a wonderful addition to the world of anime and fans of Shinkai will not be disappointed.

The first thought that I had about this film is that it is just as beautiful as Your Name is in terms of animation style. There’s not much distinction or uniqueness between Shinkai’s characters, unfortunately, but the backdrops and landscapes that we find ourselves in is phenomenal.

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Movie poster for Weathering With You.

I am absolutely in love with the bright colors, use of light, and attention to detail. From the smallest flowers to every last rain drop, you can tell the animation team did not forget a single thing!

Second, I am so glad that RADWIMPS came back to do the soundtrack for this film because their work on the Your Name soundtrack was amazing. There were definitely moments where I felt like a motif felt too similar to a motif in Your Name. But like all great artists, RADWIMPS has a certain fingerprint in their music and that was apparent this time around. My favorite scene in the movie combines beautiful animation and amazing music together to create a spectacular theatrical experience and if I could watch that scene in 3D, I would do it again and again and again. For the sake of spoilers, I won’t link anything related to that scene. I want that scene to hold all of its magic for you. Once you see the film, let’s talk about it!

Speaking of spoilers, we’re definitely headed to spoiler territory moving forward. So if you care, please stop reading! If not, then continue on with me.

As I said earlier, there are some good things about the story but some parts of the story never reach their fullest potential. The clearest one is the main character, Hodaka Morishima’s, story arc. But before we dive in to that, I’m going to do a quick synopsis of the story.

Hodaka is a runaway high schooler who goes to Tokyo for a second chance at life. On the ferry ride, he almost gets knocked off the ferry due to a storm and a man named Suga saves him. Suga gives Hodaka his business card before they part ways. In Hodaka’s attempt to get a part time job, he reaches out to Suga and gets hired on as an office assistant to Suga’s “business” – an independent writing company that writes articles for trashy urban legends magazines. The urban legend that they’re currently investigating is a tale about weather girls, or young females who can wish bad weather away. After some dead end leads, he runs into Hina Amano and finds out that she is a weather girl.

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Hina praying for the first time for good weather.

Together, Hina and Hodaka create a business where Hina uses her special powers to make it sunny for people who need it during the rainy summer season. From flea markets to funeral rites and even a fireworks festival, we see Hina making it sunny for a handful of people in Tokyo. During one of her jobs, she gets caught on camera and both Hina and Hodaka decide to take a break from their sunshine business. But, they soon discover that there are consequences to Hina using her powers – her body begins to become transparent and soon, she will be spirited away.

Suga and Hodaka’s co-worker, Natsumi, do more investigating for their weather girl story only to find out that every generation has a weather girl who eventually has to sacrifice herself in order for the weather to return back to normal. With the torrential rains and thunderstorms threatening Tokyo, Hina decides to sacrifice herself, trapping herself in the sky world. The weather becomes sunny like summer is supposed to be in Tokyo. Hodaka, however, refuses Hina’s decision to give in to her fate and travels to the sky world to find Hina, with the intention of bringing her back to earth. He finds her, brings her back, and the weather returns to uncontrollable rain.

tenki-no-ko13.59-1024x576.jpg

Hodaka then returns to his hometown, graduates high school, and moves to Tokyo. He finds Suga, whose business is now a very legitimate company, and Suga encourages him to find Hina. Hodaka walks through some of the places that were special to him and Hina. He finds Hina and they reconcile.

Now, the story is not bad. The plot is actually quite good and has some very deep themes. For example the idea of choosing your own fate. Shinkai is known for this in his films though, with the idea that love and fate often cross each other. Star-crossed lovers are apparent in all of Shinkai’s work so it’s not surprising to see it here in Weathering With You. Another theme is youth homelessness which we find both Hodaka and Hina experiencing at one point in the film. They are painted as dangerous to society and as outcasts while they are homeless. And the last theme that I picked out was humanity’s connection to nature, in this case it was our connection to the weather. Time and time again, Hina is asked to make the rainy weather go away because as humans we depend so much on the sun to bring life and joy to our lives. With the rainy weather, Hodaka is unable to enjoy Tokyo to its fullest, ultimately leading Hina to sacrifice herself so that Hodaka and all of Tokyo can be happy again. This also speaks to a connection between humanity and climate change. We affect the way the weather is and the weather affects us. We have a deep relationship with nature and the weather and this movie makes that apparent.

The problem that I had was with the main character, Hodaka. His story still remains a mystery and for a main character, that’s a problem. Who are his parents? What made him run away? Why is he looking for a new start in Tokyo and then all of a sudden he’s okay with going home to finish high school? I saw this movie with a friend who pointed out that maybe Hodaka was running from an abusive household because when we first see Hodaka, he has bandages all over his face.

Weathering_2.6.jpg
Hodaka in the rain on the ferry ride to Tokyo.

This would explain his relationship with Suga and the reactions that he has to the overbearing police officers who are trying to bring him back to his family. But in all of this, the theme of youth in our society is brought up again and again – no adults are truly willing to listen to him. They think they know what’s best, so they try to protect him by keeping him captive, instead of listening to him and asking him what he needs or wants.

Another problem is that we’ve already seen this story previously with Shinkai. The love story was inspirational but very predictable. I would’ve loved it if the story focused more on Hodaka and Hina as characters with the love story being somewhat on the side. But in this case, the love story was front and center as the movie’s climax was when Hodaka did everything he could to find Hina. I think it would’ve been stronger to see the climax being the sacrifice that Hina has to make or the internal conflict that Hodaka has to face because of the loss of Hina. It didn’t make much sense for the movie to climax towards their love story when I thought the film was about a boy who is trying to start a new life and happens upon a girl who can change the weather. Maybe someone can connect those strands for me.

Would I recommend this film? Most definitely! But I would wait to see it on streaming or rent it when it comes out. However, if you are a Makoto Shinkai fan, definitely make time to go see it in theaters. You won’t regret it when you see the best scene in the film on the big screen.


Jonathan is a seminary graduate (M.Div, 2018, Seattle Pacific Seminary) and currently works on staff at Quest Church in Seattle, WA. He also works at Seattle Pacific Seminary as an academic coach for current seminarians. In addition to this blog, he is one of three co-hosts for The Outside Story, a podcast on film, TV, and media from an Asian-American perspective. He can be reached at theoutsidestorypodcast@gmail.com or on social media (FaceBookInstagramTwitter) at @jnkmoua.

Must Have Been the Wind: Non-Romantic Loneliness in Pop Music

Must Have Been the Wind: Non-Romantic Loneliness in Pop Music

Alec Benjamin is a young twenty-something year old who is rising fast on the pop charts. If you haven’t heard of him yet, I recommend you check out “Let Me Down Slowly” and “If I Killed Someone For You.” The first song being about the experience of being on the brink of losing a relationship and the latter being a song about killing someone to get the attention of someone you admire.

Benjamin’s songs go beyond just your “typical” pop music though. Not only does he write some killer hooks reminiscent of Taylor Swift and rhythmic melodies that you could’ve sworn were in one of Ed Sheeran’s songs, Benjamin is a storyteller. He claims to take a lot of inspiration from Eminem, one of his favorite recording artists. He even did a cover of the song “Stan,” one of my personal favorites from Eminem, although he didn’t cover the entire song.

Image result for eminem stan gifEminem’s music video for “Stan”

Benjamin’s latest single, “Must Have Been the Wind,” doesn’t stray away from this style. If anything, it reinforces the idea that his songwriting ability is pretty dang good and, if this is just the beginning, I am excited to see what he’ll be writing in the years to come.

Lyrically, the song is a narrative told from the writer’s perspective. It begins with the sound of glass shattering in the apartment above his, followed by the sound of a girl crying. The writer begins to worry and goes to check out the noise. A girl opens the door to the apartment above and she claims that she doesn’t know what he’s talking about saying, “It must have been the wind.”

Image result for alec benjamin gifAlec Benjamin singing “If We Have Each Other” against a desert sunset

When I first heard this song I assumed that the girl was a victim of domestic violence. Although this assumption could be true, I realized that Benjamin gives us no explicit evidence that this is the case. There is ambiguity in the lyrics: I heard a glass shatter on the wall in the apartment above mine. The glass could have been thrown at her but she could have also thrown it out of anger or with the intention of self-harm. And in the chorus he describes her appearance, singing: sweater zipped to her chin. Again, we are not given details. Benjamin also doesn’t describe hearing other voices in the apartment and doesn’t provide us with any signs that someone else is present when he opens the door.

This makes me wonder, what exactly is Alec Benjamin trying to tell us? What kind of story is this? On a deeper level, Must Have Been the Wind seems to be about the idea of loneliness. Benjamin doesn’t seem to be sharing his experience with anyone except for us – no roommates, no family or friends. It’s just him. He, alone, woke up from the noise and, by himself, decided to check it out. The girl, by herself, answered the door. No other voices and no other characters. Just two people living in their own apartments. Both characters experiencing loneliness in two different ways: one is driven to anger or self-harm, either to feel something in her life or to see if anyone else is there listening; and the other, led by his loneliness to curiosity and empathy for his lonely neighbor.

What reinforces this is the refrain which the song is titled after, it must have been the wind. As a single 29 year old living without any immediate family nearby, I spend a lot of time by myself. I had a roommate who moved out about a week ago and since he moved out, there are moments where I feel like I have to tell myself, “it must have been the wind,” because I know no one is there. Even though something so real and so tangible was there before, it no longer is. As if the wind came and took it. And maybe the writer is feeling the same thing as he lays on the cold concrete floor – maybe it was all his imagination. At the end of the song (spoiler), that’s where he ends up. Maybe she’s telling the truth and until she says otherwise, it must have been the wind.


You can check out the new single here on Youtube or click here for the Spotify link.


Jonathan is a seminary graduate (M.Div, 2018, Seattle Pacific Seminary) and currently works on staff at Quest Church in Seattle, WA. He also works at Seattle Pacific Seminary as an academic coach for current seminarians. In addition to this blog, he is one of three co-hosts for The Outside Story, a podcast on film, TV, and media from an Asian-American perspective. He can be reached at jonathan@theoutsidestory.org or on social media (FaceBookInstagramTwitter) at @jnkmoua.

Looking into the Dark: What a follower of the “false” God can learn from watching Sabrina

Looking into the Dark: What a follower of the “false” God can learn from watching Sabrina

The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina (ChAoS) is a Netflix remake of the 90s TV series Sabrina the Teenage Witch which follows a high school teenager, Sabrina, in her day to day life as a teenage witch in society today. But ChAoS is a much darker reboot with terrifying monsters, magic that can cost lives, and, false God forbid, sex and nudity. Unlike the 90s Sabrina, ChAoS also lets us in on how witches get their magic – they worship the dark Lord, Satan, who gives them these wonderful and delicious powers. For this reason alone, a lot of Christians I know have been turned away from watching this show.

Despite being a TV show about people who worship Satan, the TV show has much to offer to those of us who worship the “false” God. In fact, you wouldn’t understand some of the humor if you weren’t a Christian (or aren’t familiar with Christian practices and sayings); whether it’s Father Blackwood welcoming the congregation at a church service in which the congregation responds “And also to you,” or Sabrina saying, “Not today, Satan!” During both scenes my roommate, who is currently a seminarian, and I both rolled on the floor laughing.

Story-wise, Sabrina is actually trying to take down the dark Lord and doesn’t agree very much with the Church of Night. In the first season she swears that she will summon Satan herself and banish him, say wha? Why would Sabrina want to take down the source of her magical powers? It’s because both Satan and the Church of Night are always trying to take away (and have taken away) what she loves most – her family and friends.

ChAoS has so many good themes and criticisms to draw from but for this blog post, I will look specifically at how ChAoS portrays and critiques organized religion.

Time and time again we are faced with the “evils” of organized religion whether that manifests as things such as unjust policies/systems in local churches, unspoken racist/sexist traditions, or discrimination against LGBTQ+ folk. People in my generation (millennials), Christian or not, are somewhat opposed to organized religion and instead opt to be “spiritual not religious,” as they pray and seek (insert spiritual figure here, e.g., Jesus, Bodhisattva, Buddha, YHWH, etc.) on their own. Even during the time I was at seminary, a handful of my colleagues chose not to attend church on Sundays for various reasons. I think it was their own way of saying “I’m spiritual but not religious” as their reasons tended to be about how imperfect the churches’ policies were or how dissatisfied they were with the preaching or worship.

This blog isn’t a critique on those folks but rather, on how ChAoS critiques organized religion. One episode that comes to mind is the Feast of Feasts (yup, you read that right) where a witch is chosen to be given as a sacrifice to her coven. The chosen witch gets whatever she wants in her final days before she is killed and her flesh is devoured by her coven. The wife of the high priest, Lady Blackwood, manipulates the ritual and chooses her adopted daughter, Prudence, to receive the honor of sacrificing herself.

Those who have any experience with organized religion, unfortunately, can attest that this happens in real life. Leaders in the church are not immune from manipulating churchgoers for their own gain. This happens time and time again and goes even as far as the Bible. Here is one example of Jesus overturning organized religion:

“Then they came to Jerusalem. And he entered the temple and began to drive out those who were selling and those who were buying in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money changers and the seats of those who sold doves; and he would not allow anyone to carry anything through the temple. He was teaching and saying, “Is it not written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations’? But you have made it a den of robbers.” Mark 11:15-17 (NRSV)

A picture of white Jesus cleansing the temple. Theodoor Rombouts, 17th century.

And here’s one of the Holy Spirit stepping in and saying “Not today, Satan!”:


The death of Ananias. Raphael, 16th century.

The Feast of Feasts was banned when Sabrina’s father, Edward Spellman, was high priest of the Church of Night. When Father Blackwood took the mantle, he reinstated the holiday and the practice of a yearly cannibalistic feast. Sabrina does all that she can to stop the feast but is fruitless in her attempt. She ends up saving Prudence but another church member kills herself and the feast continues. When Sabrina asks her Aunt Zelda what she would do if Sabrina were chosen, she pauses before responding that she would never let Sabrina die in such a way.

Lady Blackwood’s manipulation of the Feast of Feasts is evil and self serving. But this is contrasted by both Sabrina’s attempt to save Prudence and Aunt Zelda’s promise that she would never let such a thing befall her niece. You could also argue that the feast itself is evil as it involves cannibalism and human sacrifice. But, again, Edward and Sabrina Spellman did what they could to stop it and they are both witches who are a part of the Church of Night.

ChAoS teaches us to think about organized religion. It challenges us to stay and fight, even if the church is doing things that we do not believe in. We stay and we fight for what we believe in because the church is more than organized religion, it is family. If there is a feast, a leader, or a policy that tells us that we are to treat one another as less than human or to treat life as less than a gift, we ought to question it. Do not follow religion blindly and do things for the sake of doing them. Instead, allow the Spirit to speak new thoughts and breathe fresh air upon old traditions. Ask questions that will reveal the Spirit of God who is lying in wait underneath thousand year old liturgies and hymns. Use organized religion to connect with the saints of the past, present, and future, instead of as a chain that forces you to feel guilt and shame if you miss an occasional Sunday church service.

Friends – organized religion is not easy. People are not perfect and when we get together to create a system, it’s not going to be perfect. Again and again we have to look at organized religion and confront its evils (read “self serving biases” if you don’t really believe in a theology of evil) because like you and me, God is constantly making all things new. And through us, by the power of the Holy Spirit in us, we are called to do such work.

Brace yourselves because it is not easy work.


Jonathan is a seminary graduate (M.Div, 2018, Seattle Pacific Seminary) and currently works on staff at Quest Church in Seattle, WA. He also works at Seattle Pacific Seminary as an academic coach for current seminarians. In addition to this blog, he is one of three co-hosts for The Outside Story, a podcast on film, TV, and media from an Asian-American perspective. He can be reached at jonathan@theoutsidestory.org or on social media (FaceBook, Instagram, Twitter) at @jnkmoua.

Cap: Civil War and Zacchaeus

Cap: Civil War and Zacchaeus
DISCLAIMER: This is a part of a paper that I wrote for a class, THEO 6090: New Testament, at Seattle Pacific Seminary. I claim that I have written this completely and it is my own original work.

Captain America: Civil War is the newest addition to the Marvel Avengers cinematic universe. My brother, who studied communications with an emphasis on TV/film and who is also a very avid film junkie, posted on my Facebook wall the day following the release of the film. And he writes, “Have you seen the new Captain America? We have to talk about how this film is the best superhero film of all time.” And so I wondered to myself, what about this film could make my brother feel this way? I tried my best to go into the film with very little expectations. But this is Marvel. And Marvel is owned by Disney. There’s no such thing as walking in with little to no expectations with two of the most amazing, storytelling mega-corporations backing such a highly anticipated film. Today I will be talking about Captain America: Civil War and its relation to the story of Zacchaeus found in Luke 19:1-10.

Captain America: Civil War is the third and last installment of a film trilogy about the Marvel superhero Captain America. This film takes place after Avengers: Age of Ultron and follows the events that happen in that film. It’s important for those who are not familiar with the Marvel cinematic universe to take into account the events that happened in Age of Ultron before watching Civil War.

The story of Civil War follows Captain Steve Rogers who is currently the leader of the Avengers – a group of superheroes that fight against evil villains who want to take over the world. At the beginning of the film we see a small group of the Avengers on a mission to secure a bioweapon that could destroy all of humanity. As the Avengers pursue the bad guys, Captain America (Cap) confronts the leader who has a bomb strapped to his chest. The leader mentions that Cap’s childhood friend, Bucky, is still alive. This makes Cap hesitate and before he can react, the leader of the bad guys pulls the trigger for the bomb. Luckily one of the Avengers, Scarlet Witch, is nearby and contains the explosion with her mystical sorceress powers. However, she loses control and sends the bomb flying into a building, killing many civilians in the wake of the explosion. This notion of civilian casualties is one of the main ideas that makes Civil War possibly one of the best superhero films of all time. We’ll return to this idea in a bit.

Another major character in this film is Tony Stark, also known as Ironman, who is Cap’s nemesis for the film. Tony is confronted by a woman named Miriam Sharpe after he gives a presentation at a conference; this is following the explosion at the beginning of the film. Miriam tells Tony about her son who was living in Sokovia during the events that happened in Age of Ultron. Her son died because of the Avengers.

The conflict in this film between Cap and Ironman occurs because Tony is confronted by his own guilt of not appreciating his parents before their death. This gets magnified when Miriam confronts him about her son who died because of him. Because superheroes do not really care about the aftermath of their decisions.

In the story of Zacchaeus, we find Zacchaeus also living the life of a superhero tax-collector. He doesn’t know about the aftermath of his decisions. He’s just doing what he thinks is best. In fact, he’s shown in the story as high above everyone else in his tree – just like how the Avengers are high above in the Stark tower, living and towering above the entire city. Until one day, Jesus comes along and tells Zacchaeus to come down. When Zacchaeus comes down, he realizes something – that he’s been up in that tree and not realizing how he’s been affecting everyone with his decisions as a tax-collector. So in response, he says that he’s going to give away half of everything he owns and that he’s going to pay back four times as much as he stole from people.[1]

If we compare this to Civil War, the Avengers are like Zacchaeus. There are a lot of things happening that are showing them that they’re higher and above everyone else. The decisions they make to fight in a city can kill thousands of people if they’re not careful. These people, in light of the Avengers, are the little people—the marginalized, the other, the civilians—who do not matter for the Avengers because their goal is to save the world, right? What are a thousand lives if you can save a million?

But for Tony, Miriam[2] is his “Jesus figure.”[3] She confronted him after his presentation and told him to come down from that tree because what he was doing was affecting her. What he did in Sokovia changed her entire life – she lost her son. When Tony heard the call to come down from the tree, his response was like Zacchaeus’ response. He took the initiative to be the leader, to stand against Cap because Cap was not willing to take responsibility for the civilian lives that were being lost because of the Avengers.

But Cap is in a very sticky situation in Civil War because of his childhood friend Bucky, also known as the Winter Soldier. Bucky is guilty for killing people and has been wanted for a very long time. But Cap knows that this is due to the hypnosis and brainwashing that Bucky underwent when he was captured as a prisoner of war after the train incident in the first Cap film. Bucky is framed in Civil War for planting bombs at a United Nations meeting that was held to discuss the formalization of the Avengers into an official U.N. organization through the Superhuman Registration Act (SRA). This was a reaction to the explosion at the beginning of the film. Tony is for the formalizing of the Avengers but Cap is not.

Captain America’s stubbornness to not sign the SRA is due to his loyalty to his friend Bucky. Signing the SRA would mean that Bucky would have to go back into containment. As someone who has always been there for Cap before he received his superhero powers, Bucky is someone who Cap holds close to his heart.

In relation to the story of Zacchaeus this resonates with the story of the rich young ruler. Cap can be seen as analogous to the rich young ruler in that he does everything he needs to do in order to be a superhero. He does everything right – Cap is the ideal moral superhero who cares for his friends, loves his enemies, and is an ideal leader. However, when Jesus asks the rich young ruler to give up everything that he has, he leaves with a sad disposition. Cap is being asked to come down from his superhero tree. But what lies in the way is his loyalty to Bucky. Is his loyalty to Bucky superior to the lives of others? In this case yes, it is. And very much so. The question for us is what lies in the way for us to come down from our superhero tower? For the rich young ruler, it was his wealth. For Cap, it is his loyalty to his best friend Bucky. For me and you it could be anything.

At the end of the film, Cap tries to redeem himself. After Bucky and Cap’s fight against Tony, Cap decides to leave the Avengers. He writes Tony a letter and tells Tony that the Avengers are now in his hands. But if Tony ever needed help, Cap would be just a phone call away. Because of his loyalty to Bucky, Cap knew that he couldn’t have both the leadership of the Avengers and his best friend. He had to choose one and of course his loyalty to his friend overcame his call to the Avengers. This doesn’t really solve the problem of superhero privilege for Cap. I would even venture to say that Cap is running away from his superhero calling like how the rich young ruler walked away from Jesus that day.

I would also like to confess that for this movie I sided with Captain America. #TeamCap. Cap has always been my personal favorite superhero because of all of his leadership qualities. He always makes decisions that he knows would best benefit the entire team. And he always chooses loyalty to those who he loves the most. In this case, it was his best friend Bucky. The heroic sense of loyalty displayed in Cap is romanticized, for me especially, in the film Civil War where Captain America is the good guy and Tony is the bad guy.

My confession is that I want to be loyal to those who are close to me and I want them to be loyal to me too. I don’t want anything to come above my relationships with my best friends or my family and in all cases I want them to choose me. But when we compare Civil War and the story of Zacchaeus together we can see that loyalty is not always a good thing especially if we put it above Jesus’ call to discipleship – to care for the marginalized, the poor, the oppressed, and the other. Jesus calls us to abandon loyalty to everything else when it comes to loyalty to God. The question for us is, are we willing to abandon our loyalty? Are we willing to come down from our superhero towers (or trees) when Jesus asks us to step down? My prayer for all of us is that we would be challenged in our every day to see how we affect those who are silenced by our privilege and that we would ultimately choose to come down like Zacchaeus and Tony did. #TeamIronman

Oh, and the reason why this is the greatest superhero movie of all time? It’s because we, the non-superhero people, were finally recognized as a part of this universe.

[1] A lot of my summarizing here is a regurgitation of my TA paper on this passage in Luke but with a superhero twist to it. In the story of Zacchaeus, the privilege that Zacchaeus exerted over everyone else was his occupation as a tax-collector. Similarly, the Avengers have a superhero privilege as well. The Avengers can do whatever they want without any repercussions or consequences. This is analogous to Zacchaeus. He can do whatever he wants to because of the power he is given as someone who works as a tax-collector.
[2] In my research for this, I found an interesting article about the casting of Miriam as an African-American woman. See “http://www.comicbookresources.com/article/captain-america-civil-war-mother-lode-bonds-beyond-race”
[3] Not necessarily “Jesus” but an icon or a symbol that points to Jesus. Miriam acts as the catalyst in which Tony experienced compassion for the marginalized and those who he did not even consider before.

Honor Your Father and Mother: Things I’ve Learned from the Hmong-American Church

I want to talk about honoring our parents. And that begins with reconciliation.

Reconciliation within the Hmong-American church* is something that we don’t talk about much. There is division but no one wants to talk about it – congregations split over generational, theological, and cultural differences. You name it and most likely we’ve experienced it. When Protestant denominations began, they started to split quickly and we see Hmong-American churches experiencing the same thing now.

Reconciling these differences will take more time and words than I have available here but I do want to begin the work of reconciliation between generations by pointing out two things that the first generation does that will help the generations who come after them. When we build upon these aspects we honor and preserve the work of our parents and claim the gospel as our own rather than having Western culture define Christianity for us.

1. Knowing and Engaging the Hmong Culture

Our parents know the culture and language so much better than we do.

I grew up in white suburbia on the border of Sacramento and Elk Grove in northern California. I had no Hmong-American classmates until 6th grade. My first Hmong-American classmate had a Hmong name, Seethong, and got teased for it. I was embarrassed because he was apparently different and I had to share that with him. I avoided him like the plague. But on his first day of class, he came and spoke to me in Hmong and I would reply in English. My Hmong was bad. The only time I would speak it was to communicate with my grandparents who lived with us.

My fear of being seen as Hmong stopped me from embracing my heritage. I wanted to fit in. The culture that I wanted to associate with told me that in order to do that, I needed to be as white as I could – an honorary white person.

As Seethong tried to relate with me, I shut him out.

My parents don’t do that.

They understand the struggles of being an immigrant and use that as a basis for relating to others. They willingly engage with Hmong people that they see at the store even if they don’t know them. They say “Nej tuaj thiab los?” which means “Oh, you’re here too?” This asserts that one is pleasantly surprised to see the other.

I have tried to abandon my Hmong heritage while growing up and now I am scrambling to undo all of that.

Embracing my Hmong heritage prepares me to meet people where they are – Hmong immigrants, Hmong-Americans, and others who fall into the ‘third consciousness’. If I’ve learned anything in ministry, it’s that ministry depends highly on this connection and my parents do this so much better than I do.

2. Funerals

When a funeral is planned at the church I grew up in, almost everyone at the church is present during at least one of the services and if not, they are working in the kitchen to prepare meals. At smaller Hmong-American churches, everyone is there. Everyone.

Hmong funerals are gatherings where friends and family come together. In the non-Christian Hmong funerals I’ve experienced, there is eating, gambling, smoking, and consumption of alcohol. This can go on for days depending on the rituals that happen during the funeral. The family, and/or in-laws, who have experienced the loss are responsible for everything – the finances for food and drinks, the costs of the funeral, and any help they may need.

In the church community, the church is responsible for providing help with the cost of the funeral and for providing services.

At a time as difficult as losing a loved one, I’ve seen no other culture reflect Christ more than the Hmong church. It’s difficult for me to understand because I hadn’t experienced what death means for the Hmong. There is a bigger fear of death. As I’ve learned what death means in Hmong culture, I’ve learned to appreciate the work of the care ministry at the church in which I grew up.

Understanding God’s work at funerals is based on understanding the Hmong culture. Honoring my parents and honoring God begins with this simple work. If we want to do ministry successfully in our context, we must consider reconciliation and honor the work of the generations who have gone before.

I’d love to hear your thoughts,
Jonathan

[*] I want to make it clear that I am speaking solely from my experience under the Hmong District of the Christian and Missionary Alliance. When I say the Hmong-American church this is what I am referring to. Even then my personal experience with Hmong-American churches is limited to the church that I grew up in and the very few churches that I had interactions with while in leadership.