You Might Be the World’s Villian, not its Hero

One of my favorite questions to ask people is ‘What fictional character do you relate to the most?’ People usually need to think about it and answers are an interesting insight into that person. But I noticed a pattern recently when people answer the question.

No one ever says a villain. They always choose the hero of a story or at least an admirable side character. Which says something about how we view ourselves.

We are quick to put ourselves in the shoes of the story’s hero. I include myself in this. In answer to my beginning question, I often answer Jonah from the book The Giver. Coincidentally, Jonah is the hero of the novel, the one person who sees the world differently than everyone else. He is also the person who saves his entire village. I see my own arrogance when I answer my own question with Jonah.

We shudder at the horrifying villains of stories. But we forget that these villains are the embodiment of humanity’s evil. In fact, they often portray evil in a more biblically accurate way than our own minds. For example, I can convince myself that a little bit of selfishness is tolerable. But when I see a character in a story who destroys everyone to get what he wants, I see selfishness as it truly is: destructive and demonic, wherever it is found.

The problem is that we distance ourselves from villains so quickly that we don’t pause to find ourselves in them. When we wince away from villains, we miss a big reason stories have them: To warn us of the danger of flaws that we may already have. Of what we could become if we do not watch ourselves.

The Bible says that every human has been corrupted by evil at their root. Every man in inherently bad. Which means your corrupted soul might have more in common with a story’s villain than with the hero. I know that’s a provocative statement. But maybe a knee-jerk reaction to that statement might show the depth to which we’ve convinced ourselves that we are inherently good people. And it shows how much we need Jesus Christ, mankind’s only savior from the wickedness embedded in our DNA.

And so, I end with a challenge. The next time you watch a movie or read the book, stop to think about the bad guy instead of the hero. Try to find a similarity to him, one that you aren’t proud of identifying. And then, in Christ, ask for God’s help in crushing that evil.

Watch Napoleon Dynamite when You Feel Worthless

What do you do when you feel like a failure? Believe it or not, one solution might be to watch Napoleon Dynamite.

The characters of Napoleon Dynamite might even be the personification of your failure. Napoleon is awkward and dull. His brother Kip is weak, shy, and spends his days chatting with his beloved (whom he has only met online). Deb, who has a crush on Napoleon, is also reserved and unconfident. If we took all of our insecurities and quirks and made them into actual people, the result might be this movie.

To be someone like Napoleon is many people’s worst fear. Be socially awkward? Be bullied and on the lowest class of the school hierarchy? No thanks. Yet, at the end of the movie, Napoleon is the victor. He dances in front of the school and gets the student body to vote his friend Pedro into the office of class president (defeating one of the most popular girls at school). And in the final scene, Deb walks up and begins playing tetherball with Napoleon. Previously, he has always played alone.

As much as we laugh at Napoleon and pity him, we feel this warm connection to him. There’s a part of us that almost wishes we were him. Because he, in all of his hilarious brokenness, has a life that we admire. He has true friendships and a loving family.

In the end, we come to believe that if someone like Napoleon can achieve an admirable life, so can we. The beauty of the movie is that it puts loving friendships within our grasp. So often, we can become afraid of how we talk, look, and act, because we fear that those things might keep people from loving us. But these quirks don’t keep Napoleon from being loved, and they won’t keep us from being loved in this world either. In other words, if Napoleon can do it, we can too.

I am convinced that this is a godly message. Other humans can love us no matter what we are like. And I thank God that they do; this is the beauty of family and friends. But higher than this is the realization that God continually offers to us his love, his affirmation that we have an immense value that is proved by Christ’s death and resurrection.

The Bible says that we come into a relationship with God through Christ alone. Napoleon Dynamite reminds us of how beautiful relationships are. How beautiful it is to have people who are invested in your life and care deeply about you. And God goes above and beyond this, caring for us with a depth that no human can.

What do you do when you feel like a failure? You fall on the fact that God loves you, that you are endlessly and infinitely valuable, and you are not a failure. Through Christ you can be ushered into a relationship with God, which is the greatest gift this life offers you.

And if you need some help, Napoleon Dynamite might remind you how amazing it is that God still loves you, quirks and mistakes and all.

Amadeus: Why Aren’t All Prodigies Christian?

“All I wanted was to sing to God. He gave me that longing… and then made me mute. Why? Tell me that. If He didn’t want me to praise Him with music, why implant the desire? Like a lust in my body! And then deny me the talent?”

The above lament comes from the movie Amadeus, spoken by the composer Antonio Salieri. Salieri is the top composer in his time until Mozart is discovered, who then overshadows Salieri in his glory. Mozart is a prodigy.

But Mozart is very immature, constantly flirting with girls and making inappropriate jokes. Salieri, in his own opinion, is far more mature and adult, and deeply desires to honor God with his music. This thinking leads Salieri to ask that very tough question: Why God, did you choose the immature Mozart to be blessed with unimaginable talent, instead of me, who would have used the talent to glorify You?

It’s a question that I relate with. I long to write beautiful stories for the glory of God, stories that cause lumps to form in my readers’ throats as God works in their hearts. But there is this impassable gap that exists. I have so much emotion that I long to pour into a story but I don’t have that prodigious talent to give a story the majesty it deserves. It’s like envisioning a master painting in your mind, but discovering as you paint that it looks far less impressive than you imagined it.

I’ve asked Salieri’s question before. I still ask it. Sometimes it’s out of pride, out of a sinful craving to try to affirm myself as valuable through others’ appreciation of my work. Many times, though, I believe the question arises out of a genuine desire to honor God in my writing. I wonder why, if I desire to write for God’s glory, I can find atheists who write “better” stories than me. Even stories that completely speak out against God.

But I’ve come to a freeing realization, one that other artists might relate with.

I am not called to be a prodigy. I am only called by God to steward the creative gifts He has given me. Whatever He has given me, whether it’s one talent or ten, I need to honor Him with. Right now, the stories I write won’t be read by all of America. But they might be read by a friend or a family member. And I wonder if writing a story as a gift to an individual, to be read by only them, is a higher calling than writing a book for all of America. God has placed specific people in my life and I should be using my art to influence them. I should be giving my writing to people as a gift and sharing it as a way of loving God and loving others. It’s like drawing a picture for your kindergarten age child- no matter your drawing ability, your child will treasure your sketch more than the Mona Lisa. Because the sketch came from you, whom they love.

And so how would I answer Salieri? I would say, “I don’t know why Mozart has these gifts and you don’t. But keep writing music, otherwise the world will lose another great composer.”

Why We All Love Romance Stories

One of my favorite paintings is Lover, Beloved by Lucas Moneypenny (you can view it here). The work portrays a man and a woman lying in a field, one atop of the other, both (presumably) nude. You can’t see anything “inappropriate” in the picture, yet the artist is able to convey the beauty of sexuality as God designed it.

Marital love is sacred. From the first couple, Adam and Eve, the romantic relationship between a man and a woman has been uniquely beautiful, like nothing else on Earth. Marriage and the creation of a family are, at their foundations, attempts between two humans to co-create the most beautiful piece of artwork they can. We know of no higher creativity than that which binds humans together in marriage and creates children out of the sacred relationship.

I strongly believe it is this sanctity that causes love stories to enthrall us. In my first draft of this blog post (before I rewrote it), I spent most of my time dissecting why it is that humans are enthralled by love stories. I wanted to talk about the ways that the adoration for romance traces back to our deep need for relational intimacy and how that need can only be satisfied in God.

While all of that is true and helpful to discuss, I think at some points it can be unnecessary. This is because our fascination with love stories tends to be self-authenticating. Why do we find it so enjoyable to listen to how our married friends met one another and began their relationship? Because, well, we just instinctively know and feel that something larger than life is occurring when two people meet one another and intertwine their lives in marriage.

And it is larger than life. It is heavenly, in the deepest sense of the word. Paul reminds us in his letter to the Ephesians that the relationship between a man and wife is meant to be an image of the eternal relationship between Christ and the Church. That truth is stunning.

Love stories in movies and books, whether it’s in Beauty and the Beast or a funny chick-flick, are tapping into this heavenly reality. Our fascination with love stories comes from our fascination with love. And our fascination with love comes from the desire planted irremovably deep within us, a desire that yearns for someone who will love us as we are.

We find this love in Christ. Every wedding, in reality and in story, is a tiny shadow of the wedding feast of the Lamb, where Christ and the Church rejoice in being married to one another. The next time you read or watch a love story, remember that the emotion you feel as you behold the love story is grounded in the beauty of the eternal love story: That of Christ relentlessly pursuing the fallen Church, to redeem her and to present to Himself a bride like none other, washed white in His blood.

Las Vegas: Surprised by Joy

As I reflect on the shooting in Las Vegas, one thought keeps returning. Over and over again, my mind returns to the image of a person hunched over an open casket, looking breathlessly upon the deceased, wondering how their beloved could be dead. Twenty-four hours earlier, they had planned on spending decades together. But those decades are gone, stolen in just a few minutes of unexpected violence.

I am, in many ways, speechless. It feels partially obtuse to try to write something addressing this topic. I feel unworthy to even speak of it. Art offers a medium for us to dialogue with our deepest feelings and pains, emotions that can remain unarticulated in our souls for years. Still, I believe that some feelings can only be touched and explored from a distance by artists and storytellers. I believe that some groans of pain cannot be put into words.

And so, for this blog post, I defer to William Wordsworth’s poem “Surprised by Joy.” Perhaps it can offer us a taste of what it means to lose a loved one, to help us remember what those affected directly by Las Vegas may be experiencing today.

The poem tells the story of a person who has lost their beloved and catches themselves feeling happiness for a short moment. The narrator is plagued with guilt that he could ever feel joy when his loved one lies silent in the grave. I am not suggesting that those affected by Las Vegas are feeling joy right now, but, of the poems I know, this most accurately has shown me what it means to lose someone to the evil of death.

Surprised by joy—impatient as the Wind
I turned to share the transport—Oh! with whom
But Thee, long buried in the silent Tomb,
That spot which no vicissitude can find?
Love, faithful love, recalled thee to my mind—
But how could I forget thee?—Through what power,
Even for the least division of an hour,
Have I been so beguiled as to be blind
To my most grievous loss!—That thought’s return
Was the worst pang that sorrow ever bore,
Save one, one only, when I stood forlorn,
Knowing my heart’s best treasure was no more;
That neither present time, nor years unborn
Could to my sight that heavenly face restore.

So, to sum it up: The narrator feels an intense experience of joy (Surprised by joy), and turns with a smile to share the feeling with his beloved, assuming that the beloved is standing next to him (I turned to share the transport). However, as he turns to share this amazing felicity, he is forced to remember afresh that his beloved has passed away (…buried in the silent Tomb). His heart screams out in guilt that he could ever experience joy without his beloved (how could I forget thee?…to be blind/to my most grievous loss?). He says that the guilt’s pain is the worst he has ever felt, save one exception, when he first stood forlorn after his beloved’s death so many years ago, knowing that his beloved would never be restored to him.

This is a sadness that we sit in now. The poem gives us a faint inkling of the pain that some are going through; the sadness of never seeing their beloved family and friends again on Earth.

Still, as we sit quietly in this pain, we must not forget that Christ has risen from the grave and conquered death. It’s in the pain of hunching over a casket that we understand the hope of the coming resurrection even more. Wordsworth’s poem does not mention this. God does not neglect our pain, nor does he ask that we suppress our lamentations and groans of agony. But he does ask that we trust in the Messiah to redeem our pain and pull meaning from it. In the face of death, we see how powerful our God is. Only the God that has crushed death is worth worshipping. He is our Father, comforting us in tragedy with His presence.

We long for the resurrection. We long for the time when the saying will come to pass, “O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” In light of Las Vegas, we remember how beautiful the hope of resurrection is for those in Christ, and we remember that our God has not left us alone in our pain, but has suffered with us on the cross.

Fruitvale Station: The Real Cause to America’s Race Problem

I remember a time when I passed an elementary school in one of Chicago’s housing projects at the moment the children were being dismissed. Standing on the sidewalk, men in their twenties stood waiting for their children. I could smell marijuana in the air, I heard profanity and catcalling, but the thing I noticed the most was something entirely different: Children were flooding out of the school, running and jumping and laughing. In one moment, I realized how wrong my prejudice of that area was. I had, in honesty, never pictured a housing project as a place laughing and filled with children. It was one of the most perspective-shifting experiences of my life.

Recently, many NFL players have begun to kneel during the National Anthem in protest of police brutality. Both the players’ action and President Trump’s response to it have produced a new swirl of tension and controversial Facebook posts. It reminds many of the videotaped police shootings over the past few years and accompanying protests. For me, it reminds me of those children.

Fruitvale Station

In the midst of this entire situation, the movie Fruitvale Station proves to be extremely relevant. It reminds us that our perspectives are limited, something that everyone (including myself) needs to be consistently reminded of. We are not God, and our sinful hearts cannot see the world in clarity.

Fruitvale Station is based on the true story of 22-year-old Oscar Grant III, who was shot by a police officer on January 1, 2009. The movie walks through the last twenty-four hours of his life, attempting to portray an accurate picture of his life. You follow him as he interacts with his four-year-old daughter, his girlfriend, and his mother. But the film doesn’t portray him as the perfect man. His speech is filled with profanity, he is disrespectful to police officers, and he threatens the man who has fired him from his job.

The movie begins with the actual cell-phone footage of the shooting in 2009. By the end of the movie, when the shooting is recreated by the actors, the movie watcher encounters the shooting in a new way. Oscar Grant III is no longer an unclear blur in a cell phone video, but has become a human who the moviegoer connects with. He is real but flawed human being, with real but flawed relationships.

Fruitvale Station reminds us that life is far more complex than we might prefer. Both the police officers and Oscar Grant III could have acted in a more responsible way that may have prevented the shooting. But more than that, Oscar Grant III was a human. Not a statistic, not a criminal, but a man made in the image of God.

With such a controversial issue as police brutality, we must approach it humbly. Whatever our opinion of the police or of criminals, our opinion arises from our experience. The police and criminals we have encountered in the past will define how we view the police and criminals that we will meet in the future. And, ultimately, I believe it is grossly naïve for anyone to assume that the police officers around America will all act exactly like the police officers in their hometown.

The Cause of America’s Race Problem

A quick scroll on Facebook will show that many people are discontent with the racial situation in America, for one reason or another. It is my opinion that one loses the right to complain if they aren’t striving to change the situation they are complaining about.

I am not claiming to have a solution; the police and racial issues in America are far larger than I can deal with. That is for God to redeem. Still, I know where the problem arises from. Are you ready?

It arises from me.

Similarly, an old newspaper once asked its readers, “What’s wrong with the world?” G.K. Chesterton is said to have replied, “Dear sirs, I am.”

Chesterton’s reply is strong and convicting. We are not innocent bystanders. Every one of us contributes to the problem of racial division in America. And before we can address the problem of racism (or any of its manifestations), we must ask ourselves how we contribute to the problem.

Looking and Living Towards the Future

I am deeply thankful to all of those who have held conversations with me that have formed my thoughts on this issue. I am still developing all of this internally, looking at the areas of life that I need to change to better live out my faith in the realm of racial reconciliation.

The national race problem is bigger than I can address, I leave it for Christ to address on the cross. Yet, as I work to weed out the evil of prejudice in my own life, I am encouraged by words from the song “The Impossible Dream” from the musical Man of La Mancha:

And the world will be better for this
That one man, scorned and covered with scars
Still strove with his last ounce of courage
To reach the unreachable star

The star might be unreachable in our days on Earth, only attained in heaven. I don’t expect racial reconciliation to fully occur on Earth. I don’t expect police brutality to end, and I don’t expect people to cease misunderstanding police officers. I long for the day when Christ comes to Earth, and every nation, tribe, people, and language join in worshipping the Lord. Where everybody’s culture is honored and held in harmony under the one thing that can bring true unity through diversity: The life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Until that day, I want to be the man who is scorned and covered with scars, striving with his last breath to get one step closer to a life that reflects God’s love for mankind. That reflects his love for all people, and His special love for the outsider. If I can make a difference in the lives of those around me for the glory of God, that difference will be eternal. And the difference will be beautiful.

Fruitvale Station is rated R for profanity, violence, and drug use. Viewer discretion is advised. 

Blind to Beauty: On Dinosaurs and Chihuahuas

I remember the first time I watched Jurassic World. Sitting on my couch a few days later, with my Chihuahua sitting on my legs, I had a startling thought: What if tiny lap dogs went extinct instead of the dinosaurs? I wondered if, in this imaginary universe, Jurassic World would center on a bunch of little dogs pouncing around the jungle. I also wondered whether Chihuahuas would be just as enthralling in this imaginary universe as dinosaurs are in ours.


Granted, part of the fascination with dinosaurs is their size. But I don’t think their monstrous size drives our enchantment to the creatures. Otherwise we would be just as enamored with elephants and blue whales. Instead, I believe the driving force is mystery. Dinosaurs sit shrouded in darkness, touched only by our imaginations.

Contrast this with Chihuahuas, to whom we barely give passing glances (unless they’re super cute). In a manner of speaking, nothing makes a dinosaur any more objectively exciting than a lap dog. Yet, being frozen forever in the fossil record, dinosaurs command our attention.

Here’s the point: Humans are enthralled by mystery. We strain our eyes to predict the end of a movie, to imagine what dinosaurs looked like.

But there’s a tragedy. In the midst of straining our eyes at mystery, we completely forget that an infinite amount of fascinating beauty sits right before us. Sits on us, in the case of Chihuahuas.

Consider the night stars. Ralph Waldo Emerson once said, “If the stars should appear one night in a thousand years, how would men believe and adore; and preserve for many generations the remembrance of the city of God which had been shown!” However (and he mentions this further in the quotation), the irony is that, in our world, the night stars come out every night, and they pass by most of us unnoticed.

Whether it is stars, orange juice, or Chihuahuas, beauty surrounds us. And I use beauty in the full power of the term: All of those things are reminders of the supreme beauteous glory of our Creator. Yet, because our ability to see beauty atrophies, like glow-in-the-dark bedroom stars slowly dimming as the night wears on, we must practice noticing this beauty. We must strain our eyes to see the beauty that is right in front of us.

How do we recover our sight? How do we heal our vision to see the beauty that God has steeped this world in? Here’s one of many solutions: Story.

Perhaps you’ve read a story and been fascinated by how the author turned something seemingly insignificant into a riveting plot. How a train ride or a chance meeting in a grocery store becomes the basis for an enthralling story. I don’t think this is because fiction stories are more “exciting” than true ones. In fact, every one of our lives is an epic, filled to the brim with love and loss, hope and hurt. I would argue that whoever you are, your story is greater than the best book ever written.

See, stories remind us of how exciting our lives are. Like when you play in the park with your child and remember how much fun it is to play, even as an adult.


One of the amazing things about stories is that they force you to pause. Sitting to watch a movie intently, or taking time in reading a book, allows you to breathe and slow down, beginning to taste life instead of just swallowing it whole. Which is why, when you leave a movie feeling inspired, you feel more alive and more connected to the world. You have begun to remember how beautiful life really is.

G.K. Chesterton, in his book Orthodoxy, said, “Fairy tales say that apples were golden only to refresh the forgotten moment when we found that they were green. They make rivers run with wine only to make us remember, for one wild moment, that they run with water.”

Don’t get too busy with the world, with work, even with people, that you forget to look around you. The beauty of God, shown through His creation, is screaming out. In people, in pets, in everything. And once you start looking for it, you will see that it has always been there. Waiting patiently for you to notice it.