Thursday, May 29, 2014

Lions and Direwolves

There's a very popular book out.  It has incest, a lot of war, sodomy, adultery, and family is a big theme in it.  It's called the Old Testament.  Wait.  Did you think I was referring to another book?  Oh yes, Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin has all of that too.  With family being so central to our religion, our scriptures, and our lives, I thought I would share some of my thoughts about family and what I see our western culture believes about the family.  In some ways, I can actually see this reflected in the fictional land of Westeros where Game of Thrones exists.

In Game of Thrones, there are a number of different noble families competing for the iron throne to rule the seven kingdoms.  Each family has their own unique set of flaws and characteristics that set them apart from the others.  In some ways, their flaws break their family apart.  In some of their characteristics, they bring strength to their family.  Of all the families, this is best seen in duality of the Lannisters and the Starks.

House Lannister

"A Lannister always pays his debts."
The Lannisters are pretty much the Malfoys of Westeros.  They are cunning, wealthy, proud, and pretty mean.  Jamie and his twin sister, the queen Cersei, have three children out of a secret incestuous love affair.  The Lannisters are power hungry and have a terribly complicated love/hate relationship that makes other sibling rivalries look like bromance.  Tyrion the dwarf, is the youngest of the Lannisters and is more tolerated by his siblings and father than anything else.

Like most of the characters in Game of Thrones, the Lannisters are more flawed human beings than outright evil.  When Jamie is humbled by having his sword hand cut off, he comes to show he actually cares for other people beyond his sister and children.  Cersei does awful things to anyone outside of her family but genuinely loves her children and her brother.  When her son, Jofferey, becomes a tyrant king she laments to Tyrion that the Gods have punished her incest by giving her Jofferey.  I would argue that the biggest flaw with the Lannisters is their xenophobia.  They see themselves as superior and trust no one outside of their family ties. (And often don't even trust one another.)  More on that in a bit...

House Stark

"Winter is coming."
Contrast to the Lannisters is the Stark family.  Honor is a central principle to them.  They are an up front lot and back stabbing ways does not come naturally to them.  Despite being from the cold north, the Starks are compassionate and warm.  Like the Lannisters, family is clearly important to them.  Unlike the Lannisters, the Starks are far more accepting and trusting of others outside of their family unit.  Ned Stark, brings home a bastard son from one of his military conquests and treats him as if he were of legitimate birth.  He also takes on a boy from a dispute with the Greyjoy family and raises him like his own.

Bran befriends a wildling woman, Osha, who tried to rob him at knife point but then becomes a trusted and even loving ally.  Interestingly enough, Osha is wary of a mystic boy and his sister who befriend Bran even though Bran shows trust in both of them.  At the end of the third season, Osha parts ways with Bran and to take the youngest Stark, Rickon to a group loyal to the Starks.  Bran ventures beyond the wall to unknown dangers.  Osha tells the mystic boy and his sister, "Take care of him.  He means the world to me."

In the events of the series, the Stark children become separated.  The war for them is about bringing their family back together again.  The Starks are sometimes betrayed by allies despite their admirable acceptance of others.  Though they are physically apart from one another, the Starks are the most unified family in the series.  Their dedication to ideas greater than themselves is what keeps them together in spirit and purpose even when it drives them apart physically.

For example, the mother Catelyn, insists on staying by Bran's bedside when he is in a coma from a fall.  It isn't until an assassination attempt on Bran is made that Catelyn realizes that something darker and more dangerous is at work.  She realizes that staying by Bran neglects Rickon and she does nothing for Bran by staying by his bedside.  Perhaps she feels guilt of being a "bad mother" like she could have prevented the fall somehow.  Instead of continuing to be at Bran's side, she instead dedicates herself to bringing justice to Bran's assassination attempt and to uncover the plot threatening the realm.  Though it requires her to leave her son she does more for Bran committing herself to her values and principles.
A hilarious "Disney" version of Bran and Hodor.  I thought it was appropriate for this blog post.  Ha ha.

A Lesson from the Lion and the Direwolf

The Lannisters are a foil to the Starks.  In some ways, they can be foils for each other.  The Lannisters exemplify unhealthy relationships in the family whereas the Starks exemplify healthy interdependence.  On one hand, you have a group of cunning people that have risen to power and on the other hand you have a group of honorable people that has been betrayed repeatedly.  We actually can see lions (Lannisters) and direwolves (Starks) in our western culture in and outside of the church.

The big lesson to learn from the Lannisters is the destructive nature of codependency in the family.  Having been part of different support groups, I've found that codependency is quick to be pointed out in non familial relationships but often completely ignored in family relationships.  The unfortunate reality is that unhealthy emotional attachments in the family is the norm.  It's a toxic epidemic in our society and we even see it in the church.

So how do we know a relationship in our family has become unhealthy?  Let's see if the lions of Westeros can give us an example.

Cersei Lannister is the power hungry queen of Westeros.  When her son, Joffery, becomes the King she realizes that she can't control him.  Joffery betrothes Lady Marjorie Tyrell who proves to control him far more than Cersei.  Cersei becomes jealous and starts to hate Marjorie despite bringing happiness to her son and the good of the realm.  Jealousy is a big indicator of an unhealthy component in a relationship.  Is it natural?  Sure.  Things get unhealthy when the jealousy fuels manipulative and shaming actions.

How does a direwolf deal with jealousy?  Let's have a look at Catelyn Stark.

In the first year of their marriage, Ned Stark returns home from war with a bastard son in his arms.  Though Catelyn and Ned barely know one another (arranged marriage) Catelyn comes to hate the boy.  She treats him differently from her other children whereas Ned treats him like a legitimate child.  Catelyn later says this to her daughter-in-law of the bastard, Jon Snow,
"When my husband brought that baby home from the war, I couldn't bear to look at him, didn't want to see those brown stranger's eyes staring at me. So I prayed to the gods 'Take him away, make him die'. He got the pox and I knew I was the worst woman who ever lived. A murderer. I'd condemned this poor, innocent child to a horrible death all because I was jealous of his mother, a woman he didn't even know! So I prayed to all Seven Gods 'Let the boy live. Let him live and I'll love him. I'll be a mother to him. I'll beg my husband to give him a true name, to call him Stark and be done with it, to make him one of us'...And he lived. And I couldn't keep my promise. And everything that's happened since then, all this horror that's come to my family... it's all because I couldn't love a motherless child."
Jon is raised as a high born.  The Starks love him except for Catelyn.  Ideally, Catelyn would have loved Jon despite her jealousy but doesn't.  What sets Catelyn apart from Cersei is her ownership of what she feels.  Catelyn actually recognizes another human being outside of her family, albeit a little too late.  Also, despite her jealousy, Jon still lived a good childhood.

There's more to read in the story of these two families and the dynamics of their relationships.  The big takeaway is to be more like an honorable direwolf than a cowardly lion.  Our dedication to our beliefs does more for our family than any amount of time we can spend with them.  We can teach our children to be courageous and to set boundaries and be examples for what we believe. We don't have to be afraid of the world outside of the walls of our home.  Betrayal and hurt are legitimate risks and they are worth it if it means a better Kingdom of God.


Thursday, May 22, 2014

Ask for help. It's okay, I promise.

Some times I think of myself as something of a superhero. No, I don't don a cape and fight crime at night. I do like to serve in my ward, be a great friend to others, and generally an all around good guy. I think many times I unintentionally look to be impenetrable and without flaws.  (To strangers that is. My close friends and family don't have enough fingers to count my flaws. Ha ha.)  It's easy to get used to seeing myself as a hero.  Therefore, it's also easy for me to buy into false ideas about super heros.

For example, I don't always ask for help when I need to.  I'll pridefully convince myself that I got everything under control and no need to ask anyone for help.  I got it.  No sweat.  This pride problem of mine will show up everywhere from my education to my social life to even my finances.

After not working this much this past semester and focusing so much on school, I found myself broke.  Really broke.  The I-can't-afford-rent level of broke.  The reality of it hit me hard where I had to swallow my pride and ask for help.

So I did.

I went to the Bishop and he said he would help me with food first and if that wasn't enough would help me out with rent as well.  We filled out a form together with things I would typically need in a week.  He kept one carbon copy and I kept the other.  That next week I went to the Bishop's Storehouse.

The first thing that struck me about the Bishop's storehouse was the spirit I felt there.  It was small and had the very basics you would need for food and toiletries.  There were a lot of service missionaries there and one took me around to get everything on the form.  I realized that I was feeling a lot of shame for being poor.  It hadn't hit me until I arrived at the storehouse but then I felt it was okay for me to be where I was at.  Me being poor didn't change how my Father in Heaven felt about me and he wants to help me.

I'm really grateful for the Bishop's Storehouse.  For me, I see that our Heavenly Father truly cares for each and every one of us and our temporal needs.  There's no shame in asking for help from Him or from one of His servants.  For me, the blessing was not only in the temporal but the spiritual as well.  I have a stronger testimony now of the love my Heavenly Father has for me than I had before.

I hope more members and non-members alike take advantage of the blessings our Heavenly Father has for us.  He may ask us to let go of pride or shame but in return he gives us something beautiful.


Tuesday, May 20, 2014

The Summer Movie Stephen is Most Excited For!!

I'm hijacking Andrew's day to post today.  I'm also posting again this Thursday.  Mwa ha ha ha ha haa!  In case you missed it, the second trailer came out yesterday for Guardians of the Galaxy.  Check it out below!

Ghaaaaaa!  I'm so excited!  This is the movie I'm most excited for this summer.  It looks so fresh and delightfully bizarre.  It looks funny too.  If it's anything like the comics I've read, you won't want to miss this.

So excited!


Monday, May 19, 2014

Joe Got Married

This past weekend, Mormon Geeks writer Joe got married. I think we should all enjoy this picture and then go write on the Facebook page a congratulations to them.

(And yes, I'm using the wedding as an excuse for a lack of a post this week.)

Sorry, not my place to post pictures I took at his wedding, including a butt load of selfies. Okay, here's this selfie and Andrew and I. That one I'll post. Ignoring me, it's a good pic of Andrew looking cartoonish.

Alien abductions are involuntary, but probings are scheduled.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Regenerations: Bishops and The Doctor

So in honor of Joe getting married this week, I'm gonna talk about two of his least favorite things: Bishops and Dr. Who. (Okay, maybe he doesn't really have a thing against bishops.)

Recently, a friend was talking to me about his new bishop. There was an interesting idea that would this bishop give the same responses to my friend's concerns as his previous bishop. Because, after all, they're guided by the same source.

I had an analogy all worked up, but he didn't know Doctor Who (how sad for my friend). So I'll give it to my readers. But first, I finally found an answer far later to my friend's question. At least, an answer that I see and feel to be accurate. For this example, I'm not using anyone's personal experience. I'm just focusing on the generic.

If Bob goes to Bishop Jones and confesses of something. And if Bishop Jones says to Bob, "Let's talk about this again in two months and see how you're doing", he is correct. But, you have to remember that this man, despite his call to lead a congregation, is still a man. He still has what he thinks and feels is best for you as an individual.

During this two months, Bishop Jones is released and replaced by Bishop Smith. (Anyone see the Doctor Who reference?)

Remember Bishop Smith is a completely different man. His thoughts and feelings on a subject are different. And Bishop Smith may listen to you and say "I think I'd like to have you meet with me in two weeks and please don't take the sacrament until after we meet again." Guess what, Bishop Smith is also just as correct.

But...wait....if Bishop Jones is led by God and Bishop Smith is led by God, then how come they can come up with a different response/approach to the same thing? Ignoring the "well, Bob has continued in his sin" idea, I'm going to point to the fact that each man sees things differently. To Bishop Jones, your problem, your past, and you as a whole are seen in a certain light. Bishop Smith sees you differently.

One can fault Bishop Smith for being too pious. Too by the book. Too young in his calling. One can just as easily fault Bishop Jones for being too apathetic. Too hands-off. Too trunky in his calling. (How many readers actually saw it that way?) Here's the thing, each man has a different approach to express his love as well as to help us use the atonement in the way to best receive forgiveness. I doubt Bishop Smith doesn't know what he is talking about and I doubt that Bishop Jones was just ready to be done.

Now let's take the Doctor Who approach. Rose is different than almost any other companion in the modern Dr. Who series. She is the only one to have seen two doctors. (Yes, Clara will shortly, but we haven't seen her and the 12th (not counting War) interact a lot yet.)

For Rose, she had gotten used to a "fantastic" Doctor. But then we get the ginger-obsessed 10th doctor whose teeth feel weird. Yes, everything about him is different. Including his personality. I think the key to these regenerations is that each doctor has a physical quirk to him. You go from distinguished to carrying a recorder to looking like a clown to having the longest scarf known to man, to keeping celery to the most obscure coat to a red "Riddler's" cane to a steampunk outfit to a biker jacket to a pair of converse to a bow tie.

The point is, that a bishop is like The Doctor. No, he doesn't travel around in a blue Police Box and have interchangeable companions like a bad boyfriend. But he does view things differently and still be able to do the job that he is asked to do.

This same analogy works for all callings...

 Alien abductions are involuntary, but probings are scheduled.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Redemption Stories

Hey everyone! I've been incognito the past few weeks because I've been wanting to finish a strong semester. Now that the semester is over, I can rededicate at least part of my attention to Mormon Geeks.
I've recently been watching a slightly censored version of the TV series Game of Thrones. Game of Thrones is kind of like a Greek tragedy set in a fantasy medieval world. It's like Mad Men but with dragons and swords.

The character development, acting, writing, plot, visual effects, set pieces, and production values are amazing. It's a break world with characters living in the gray between good and evil. My favorite characters are the Stark family for their honor and moral fortitude. They unfortunately are somewhat less skilled in their cunning and it is taken advantage of from other characters.

Even the Starks are human beings. No one is perfect. Because of this, it's normal to become attached to characters you would normally despise and end up cheering them later on.  It's why I found out why people like the show Mad Men. When I first started Mad Men I thought, "Why do people like this show? None of these characters are likable and I keep watching this because I want to see their demise." So I did. I ended up starting to like the characters. Why? Because I began to empathize what was going on in their life and started to connect with them. I stopped focusing on their flaws and started to feel bad for them when bad things happened.

Characters I couldn't think I would possibly like I ended up liking or at least respecting.

In the first season of Game of Thrones my favorite character, Bran, is pushed off a tower to seeming death by another character, Jamie Lannester, who I instantly hated.  (Pushing a little kid off a tower? Yeah, so not cool.) As we get to know Jamie we start to see him as a real jerk and all around awful person.

You can imagine my surprise when I heard friends telling me that they actually root for him in future seasons. "Seriously!? He's a bad guy! How can anyone believe in him after what he's done?"  I haven't gotten to the part where Jaime becomes heroic but it did make me think of other characters who redeem themselves.
In Heroes, there is a villain with serial killer tendencies named Sylar. He's a delightfully complicated and totally evil bad guy. He's obsessive and has the ability to kill people and steal their powers. The first season of Heroes is television gold. Everything after that is crap. (with a few moments of awesomeness in season 3)

However, there is an episode of season 3 where some characters go to the future where a lot more people have powers. Sylar is now married and a hugging stay-at-home father with a cute son. When they go back to the present, Sylar actually starts to make decisions that cause him to fall in love and want to redeem himself.  Sadly, he doesn't follow through and chooses to still be the bad guy.

Guess what? I actually believed it. I came to actually root for this character that I originally was hoping would be killed off.  It amazes me because I can passionately root for a character's demise and then take a 180 turn and root for their redemption.  Not every story makes redemption believable but I find the best stories have common themes that we can even apply to our own lives as we repent, make restitution, and change our hearts.
Edmund was a jerk but then became awesome.

What are your favorite villains turned into Heroes?  What lessons do you think we can learn from their stories and why do you think redemption stories are so great?