Monday, October 6, 2014

God as Delighted Father


I hiked up a mountain yesterday. By the way, I’m out of shape and 280 pounds. Yeah, it was hard. It was only about two miles the whole way, but to me I was climbing Mount Olympus. I did it though… and I was pretty damned proud. What I must remember is that God is even more proud of me.
You see, God delights in his children. It’s all over the Bible, but where that truth first hit me was in Psalm 18. There, King David details how he was beset on all sides by his foes. He openly admits that they were too strong for him, that he was too weak to fight them. But what does David say next? “But the Lord was my support. He brought me out to a spacious place. He rescued me because He delighted in me.” What a picture of God’s love!
Of course, God doesn’t just delight in me because I climbed a little mountain. He delights in me because I am a son to Him. I’m a child of God. And the crazy thing is, while I remained an enemy of God, He still adored me. That is the power of God’s unfathomable love.
What must be understood is that God is not just God. He is our true father. While I endlessly love my earthly father, he has his failings. He has sinned before me. This is true of all fathers, except One. God is the perfect doting dad. There is no abuse or neglect in God’s sight.
God looks at us and watches our first physical and spiritual steps. He really does delight in every fiber of our soul. This was unconditionally demonstrated at the cross. Remember, you are not a failure… God delights in you! Hallelujah!

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Castlevania: Genesis versus SNES

Whereas Capcom only released a small handful of games for Sega’s 16 bit console, the Sega Genesis, Konami was much more gracious with their licenses. Besides Street Fighter 2, Capcom really only gave Strider and Ghouls n Ghosts to Sega, and that was in the company’s early years. Konami, on the other hand, essentially released their whole library on the Genesis. Where to even start? Heck, I’ll just list em’ all. Contra Hard Corps, Castlevania Bloodlines, Tiny Toon Adventures, Sunset Riders, Snatcher, Zombies Ate My Neighbors, Rocket Knight Adventures, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Hyperstone Heist, Lethal Enforcers, and Sparkster. What a pixel-perfect treasure trove!

As great as the list above is, believe it or not there were even more Konami games released on Nintendo’s 16 bit console, the SNES. So, what I’ve decided to do here is simple: I’m going to compare just one franchise from both systems and see how they stack up against each other. This isn’t to prove which console is better (if you read this blog at all, you’ll know my favorite console is the Super Nintendo), it’s just for fun.

1A: Super Castlevania 4

Ah, Castlevania. What a legendary series. It’s the ultimate in 2D horror. Coming from the 8-bit NES, Castlevania 4 looks positively stunning… especially considering this was released very soon after the SNES’ launch in 1991. Gamers were right to drop their jaws at the power of Nintendo’s 16 bits. I liked this game so much that I even put it in my top 50 games of all time.

There’s just one problem: It might not be as great as I remembered it. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not a bad game or anything; it’s just slightly underwhelming compared to Sega’s Castlevania Bloodlines. My main problem with the game is its atmosphere. It’s just not scary or really even that creative.

You see, it’s almost as if the game designers were told by Nintendo to not make the game “too scary.” I mean, the game’s bad guys are just so boring. They include empty coffins and tables… yes, tables. Even the game’s bosses make me drowsy: Mummies and a dancing ghost couple… yawn.

Also, while I’m at it let me complain about the sprites themselves. They look ugly. I know it’s supposed to be gothic, but the sprites are just too large and gangly for their own good. Simon Belmont looks like a basketball player who crapped his shorts when he walks.

Finally, we get to the slowdowns. Yes, I know this was an early SNES game, and that Konami hadn’t quite figured out the system yet, but it’s still an issue. There are whole rooms that don’t just stutter, but move in a constant haze of slowness. The “Mode 7 room” as I call it, with the room looking like a rotating tube, is impressive, but it practically brings the game to a halt. The same slowdown happens every time you attack a mud man in the caves.

I know it sounds like I’m being hard on the game, but no Castlevania on the NES had these problems. I still love Castlevania 4 though, I would just have to say it’s no longer my favorite Castlevania.

1B: Castlevania Bloodlines

What a step up from Castlevania 4! Yeah, Bloodlines (or Castlevania: The New Generation for you Brits) is on technically inferior hardware, but it doesn’t matter. The colors pop off the screen and you’ll witness the Genesis push itself to the limit without any slowdown whatsoever.

For starters, I just like the graphical aesthetic to the game. The colors aren’t grimy like they are in the SNES version, they just look more vibrant to me. While the sprites may be slightly smaller, they don’t look awkward like Castlevania 4. Also a huge improvement is the creativity of the enemies themselves. They look positively nightmarish. From massive hellhounds whose howl breaks apart glass that you must dodge, to a seemingly beautiful princess that transforms into a giant disgusting moth, Bloodlines just has more creativity.

One of my favorite parts in the game has to be the Leaning Tower of Pisa. Here, you’ll fight a demonic Gargoyle boss as the tower beneath your feet rotates 360 degrees. Bloodlines is full of cool touches like these. Like when you enter stage 6’s Castle Proserpina and you have to navigate where you’re going through a split mirror effect.

Quite honestly, Bloodlines is just more daring than Nintendo’s effort. For the first time in Castlevania history, you’ll see copious amounts of blood as you behead harpies or spill the guts of zombies with your whip or lance. Yes, I said whip OR lance. In Bloodlines, you can actually pick one of either two characters and each has slightly different branching paths and weapons.

All in all, I really underestimated Bloodlines on the Genesis. It’s more than just a solid Castlevania translation, it might be my favorite in the series.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

A godless poem


The unbalanced neurons send a shockwave across my being,
I feel every jagged cut.
A blackness.
A coldness.
Another day.
A strong start, but a weak finish.
A good deed, but a wasted hour.
Cut off from the divine source.
I can’t stand it, I want to jump out of my skin!
Where is God?
Busy pleasing corporate men with unimpressive genitals with Bush.
Busy playing golf with Obama.
Too busy to even exist.
I’d break out of this bleeding void, claw the ribbons of this fatalistic tapestry with my bare hands,
if it meant I could see His face.
A glimpse, just a glimpse and, like Bonhoeffer, I’d crawl naked up to the gallows for His glory.
Come, Lord Jesus!

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Ikiru


“What have you been up to?” That’s the question I dread most when I bump into an old acquaintance. Truthfully, for the last seven years, I’ve accomplished little. A few part time jobs here, and a few classes there. Certainly not enough to impress someone that I didn’t want to see in the first place. As I make up an excuse to end the conversation, I’m left wondering if I’ve just been spinning my wheels.

Luckily for me, I’m not the only one that’s had this problem. In Akira Kurosawa’s drama, Ikiru, a bureaucrat by the name of Kanji Watanabe has spent 30 years of his life as a glorified rubber stamp. A rubber stamp for giving citizens the run-around, no less. It isn’t until he gets an x-ray and discovers he’s stricken with terminal stomach cancer that he begins to change.

Of course, not all change is good. At first, Watanabe tries to shake up his monotonous past by getting drunk and flirting with prostitutes in the night. Here, he’s a stumbling and lost man. It isn’t until providence leads him to talk with an energetic young toymaker that he’s inspired to make a real difference in life.

For his six months left on Earth, Watanabe fights government waste and corruption, and even stands up to a gang, to have a park built for children. Using all his reserves of strength, he succeeds, and finally dies at peace on a swingset. As an aside, Ikiru, produced all the way back in 1952, has sensational acting and an eye for the subtle. When Watanabe started tearfully singing “Gondola no Uta” I nearly cried myself.

Ikiru and Watanabe’s life’s message is this: It’s not too late to change. What a Christian message! Look at Peter, who denied Jesus three times, yet became the rock of the church. Or look at the thief on the cross. He didn’t even have half a year, at the last possible minute he was redeemed.

Ikiru also shows the feebleness of the institutions that are supposed to protect us. The film shows us clearly how politics is not our salvation. To put it another way… the people you elect don’t give a damn about you. Bob McDonnell and John Edwards are just the guys that got caught.

Still, what I come back to is this: Watanabe is us. Every one of us. We are all clocks ticking away. Not all work is equal. For many toil in a haze, barely alive. We’re not dead yet. Let us live and love one another.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

I don't have it all figured out


I’ve been suffering from writer’s block for the last month or so. Originally, I just wanted for something brilliant to strike me, but eventually I just sort of lost interest in blogging. Writing is a lot harder than it looks… especially if you’re doing it for free. Well, luckily for you, I thought of something.

Beliefs are funny. That is, everyone has them but few will admit as much. I remember very distinctly how when I first became a Christian, one of my irreligious friends smugly quipped, “Yeah, you know that’s not true.” It was actually quite uncanny. You see, at that moment my friend had only one worldview: that Christianity was not a viable worldview. That was it. Yet despite such intellectual failings, he believed himself in the right.

I remember another moment when I quoted something Paul said on homosexuality in the Book of Romans. My libertine buddy did not like the Bible’s viewpoint, and angrily shouted that I didn’t know what God thought. As childish as he was acting, you know something? He was partly right. I don’t have the mind of God. That is, I don’t know everything.

Yet I’m the one who is going to take a stand on what’s true in the universe. I’m not just going to sit on the sidelines and be an elitist hipster. I’m going to take the famous wager and bet with my life that God exists. Not because I’m afraid I might be wrong, but because I want to believe that Jesus really did love us so much that he sacrificed himself on a cross. His death is worth living for.

I know atheists and scoffers will delight in seeing me fall from time to time. It will be a justification for their own perversity. But you know what? My faith has already been vindicated… and it’s been vindicated just recently.

An ex-prisoner, who I helped out by driving him to his brother’s funeral, was on the verge of tears as he thanked me for my time. You can’t fake emotions like that. Where are all the “freethinkers” in soup kitchens and nursing homes? They aren’t there. I may not have it all figured out, but I’m throwing in with Jesus. And in so doing, I’m throwing in with the least of these.

We all have to deal with limited amounts of information. We can’t know every “jot and tittle” of the cosmos, but we have to eventually come done on one side of things. Are you going to believe in yourself, or are you going to believe in God?

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Top three video game movies

                3. Halo Legends (2010)

While technically a compilation of short films, Halo Legends is too much of a Bungie wet dream to not include on the list. This straight to video release has it all, from recapping the Flood stomping exploits of Master Chief in Halo 1-3, to showcasing a vintage, watercolor anecdote centered on a pair of Elites dueling for their honor. The last episode even features a sort of parody of Dragon Ball Z... or perhaps just a parody of action anime in general. The creator of the hit show Appleseed served as the project's director, so one can only hope this movie isn't the end of the honeymoon for anime and Halo.

2.Silent Hill (2006)

It's no secret that I think Silent Hill 2 is one of the most beautiful stories ever told, video game or not. So, what does that make this movie then? Well, the special effects are stupendous, and it's definitely as scary as Dick Cheney hunting. It's just that the story isn't all that above Jeepers Creepers or any other creature feature of the week. Still, the film is gorgeously macabre. For once, the producers seemed to actually give a damn as to whether the foggy sets were authentic or not. They even got the look to Pyramid Head down right. Konami would be proud! Now if they could only make a decent Resident Evil movie...

1. Mortal Kombat (1995)

Yeah, the fact that this is the best we have doesn't say a whole lot about an overflow of quality licensed material... Despite my whining though, Mortal Kombat is pretty damn entertaining. It takes a lot for a kid and an adult to be delighted by the same action onscreen. This film was a minor phenomenon when it was released stateside in the mid 90's. From Liu Kang dueling the frost ninja, Sub-Zero, to Johnny Cage trading blows with the skeleton from Hell, Scorpion, Mortal Kombat did not disappoint. "Your brother's soul is mine!"  

Friday, May 16, 2014

Living with depression


I’ve talked about my depression pretty in depth before, but I think the subject warrants an entire article. That’s because it’s now a part of me, like other facets of my being. So, what’s it like living with clinical depression? Well, let’s take a breath and dive in.

Depression is like someone’s sucking away at the very marrow of your soul. Imagine that for years on end, your joy in almost its entirety was snuffed out. It’s as if reality’s colors have dimmed. It’s like a movie without sound. In short, it’s terrible. I’m not sure where it came from, but it’s here now. This biochemical tribulation has been like a cerberus hounding after me in some Lovecraftian hellscape.

Enough with the metaphors, eh? The bottom line is that sometimes I feel a hurting emptiness where my heart should be. I can’t enjoy the things I once loved. Worse than that, I want to die. Not every day, but close to it. I wouldn’t wish that on my worst enemy… and yet it is mere ordinariness for me.

The worst part about the suicidal thoughts is that they come from nowhere. I can’t predict them and I can’t prepare for them. Each time it comes it’s like a black wave crashing over me. I try praying. I try reading my Bible. I even try watching anime. Nothing works in those moments. It’s then that hopelessness creeps in. I have idealized death in some form every week for the last seven years. It’s tiring.

Here are things you must know if you’re reading this and don’t understand depression. First of all, don’t blame the person who is suffering. Be understanding and use your words carefully, you don’t want to trigger a negative emotion. Secondly, be around for that person. Seriously, be around. If you’re going to make a commitment to be a shoulder to cry on, you need to stretch your availability. Finally, if someone you care about is talking about wanting to die, don’t take it as idle conversation… get professional help immediately. Also, as an aside to my fellow Christians: don’t tell someone they’re depressed because they didn’t pray hard enough. Say that to their face and you might be walking funny afterwards.

That’s as basic as I can give it to you, but maybe that’s enough. To finish, I’ll tell you what keeps me going: faith that there’s a purpose for my suffering. Basically, faith in God. If I didn’t believe that there was an objective reason for my existence, I would have already committed suicide. I mean that with every atom that I am. So don’t tell me that I can get by on my own strength, because you don’t know what you’re talking about. Either I believe there’s life in Jesus, or I believe in the void of death. For today, I choose the former.

“Therefore we do not give up. Even though our outer person is being destroyed, our inner person is being renewed day by day. For our momentary light affliction is producing for us an absolutely incomparable eternal weight of glory. So we do not focus on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.”-Second Corinthians