Jack and his issues

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Lost, season 1, episode 11: “All the Best Cowboys Have Daddy Issues”

In which Claire and Charlie have been kidnapped by the Others and Jack runs frantically after them without knowing where he’s going and then gets Lost and then is a jerk to everyone else that’s trying to help him rescue them.

Jack is interesting, because he’s undoubtedly the intended hero of the show, but he’s simultaneously (1) so righteous and (2) so flawed that sometimes it’s hard to put up with him. I love this episode because I think it really helps understand where that is coming from. Jack is extremely burdened by (1) his perfectionist need for approval and (2) his guilt for his mistakes. It’s interesting to see that both extremes of Jack’s personality stem from his relationship with his father.

Before the island when Jack is faced with the decision to report his father’s malpractice or to help him cover it up, his father finally gives him the approval that Jack has possibly wanted his whole life, although in a backhanded and loveless way. Reversing the insult that he’d given Jack earlier, Jack’s dad tells him that Jack does have what it takes to be a great surgeon, and that he is so great because his dad was hard on him and pushed him so hard and so ruthlessly and withheld his affection from him.

As sickening as it is to agree with him, the proof of what Jack’s father says comes at the end of the episode.

On the island when Jack finds Charlie strung up, we don’t know how long Charlie has already been hanging there. Jack heroically attempts to resuscitate Charlie, but then when it becomes clear that he’s too late to save him, then Jack crosses over from heroics to mania. Kate tries to comfort him but he pushes her away, and she cries for him to just stop and accept the situation, but Jack won’t stop trying. He won’t call it. And in the end, he wins, and Charlie gets revived.

Jack’s dad is right. He has created in Jack a person that has been pushed so hard that he won’t ever be happy or satisfied or possibly even likable, and that is exactly what makes Jack so powerful and such an effective hero.

The Moth

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Lost, season 1, episode 7. The first episode centered on Charlie.

The Episode

Before the island, Charlie had been reluctant to stick with the band because of the conflict between his religion and the temptations that the band’s popularity was introducing. His brother Liam told Charlie of how important Charlie was to him and to the band and that he couldn’t do it without him. Liam promised that they would help each other and stop if things got out of hand. So Charlie continued with the band and the record deal based on the confidence that his brother had given him.

Later when the band had gotten even more popular, Charlie found his brother with drugs. By that time Liam had become the popular member of the band and had taken credit away from Charlie, and this time Liam wasn’t flattering to his brother. Liam said that he was the important member of the band and that Charlie was useless. Now torn down by his brother, Charlie found comfort in drugs for the first time.

By the time Charlie crashed on the island, he was a hopeless addict (while his brother was ironically clean and settled down with a family). When Charlie isn’t needed to pitch in around camp he starts to believe that his new friends don’t value him and that they think he’s useless, and he wants to turn back to his drugs. Locke shows faith in Charlie that he’ll be able to kick his addiction. Later when Jack finds out what Charlie was going through, Jack tells Charlie how valuable he is. At the end of the episode Charlie finally decides to burn his drugs so that he can’t go back to them.

There’s a pattern that I notice in Charlie’s life. When Charlie was at his best and his strongest and his most confident was when the people that he loved expressed how much they valued him. When Charlie was at his worst and his most vulnerable was when those people expressed a lack of love and appreciation.

The Lesson

Here’s the moral of the story in my opinion: The way that we treat people matters! That might be obvious, but it’s easy to forget or make excuses for it.

Coincidentally we had a similar lesson in Young Men’s class at church last week. Adam showed the following video, which I think is really well done. I like that it captures some pretty realistic high school interactions. (Also the lines about not drinking all of the juice somehow remind me of Napolean Dynamite.)

I think that we often make excuses for our own immoral actions and words by saying that people are responsible for themselves and if someone else chooses to be offended by something we say or do then it’s their own fault. The hypocrisy in that is that we require everyone to be accountable for their own actions while we try to avoid the responsibility for our offenses.

Here’s another coincidence where this idea has come up lately. Kelly recently shared this quote in an FHE thought:

When persons manifest the least kindness and love to me, O what power it has over my mind, while the opposite course has a tendency to harrow up all the harsh feelings and depress the human mind. (Joseph Smith, History of the Church, 5:24)

Joseph Smith felt like he was affected and influenced by the way that other people treated him, whether positively or negatively. It’s probably not fair or realistic for us to expect our friends and neighbors to be immune to the way that we treat them.

To tie this back to the episode, imagine for a minute how Charlie’s life might have been different if the people in his life before the island had treated him with the love and respect that his new friends on the island treated him with in this episode. The writers of this episode give us a nice view into Charlie’s life and the key moments in it as they relate to his addiction, but in real life it’s harder to see the results of our actions. Take even the smallest thing that we say or do, consider the possible butterfly effect (no pun intended with the episode title), and there’s no telling how big of an impact we can make, whether for good or for evil.

The Metaphor

John Locke uses a metaphor with a moth to teach Charlie that he’ll grow through his trials, but I want to hijack that metaphor to tie it into the lesson of the episode in a different way. Here’s part of the exchange from Locke and Charlie:

Locke
Come here. Let me show you something. What do you suppose is in that cocoon, Charlie?
Charlie
I don’t know, a butterfly, I guess?
Locke
No, it’s much more beautiful than that. That’s a moth cocoon. It’s ironic, butterflies get all the attention; but moths — they spin silk, they’re stronger, they’re faster.

And we’ll stop there. Forget the comparison with the moth and the butterfly (because putting down the butterfly contradicts what I’m going for here) and focus on the fact that Locke finds beauty in the moth. It’s easy to think that the butterfly is beautiful because it’s got pretty colors on its wings, but finding the beauty in the moth requires knowing more about it. It’s different than the butterfly, but it’s not any less beautiful.

What if we all treated each other that way? What if we all strove to find the beauty in each other and always treated each other as beautiful and valuable people? I think that’d be pretty good.

Lost Characters

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I started watching the TV show X-Files when I was a freshman in college and I was hooked pretty immediately. About a year later when FX aired the entire series in order I video-taped (on VHS in those days) and watched the whole series. A decade later when I was almost done with college my friends Aaron and Russ wanted to watch the series, which they’d never seen before. But X-Files was a pretty long-running show, so we decided to just watch the episodes related to the alien conspiracy. Since I’d seen the series before I served as our guide. I found some lists of the alien episodes online, but I wasn’t really happy with the choices that they’d made and I ended up curating my own list of the episodes that would best let us watch the over-arching plot line.

X-Files is kind of a unique show because it let us do this. There are two kinds of X-Files episodes: the episodes that are part of the over-arching plot line of the alien conspiracy, and the stand-alone episodes of some weird supernatural thing that isn’t alien related. There really isn’t much of a middle ground. (Star was also an X-Files veteran and would sometimes watch with us, but she was and still is opposed to our approach, and in some ways she’s right: Most of the very best episodes were stand-alone episodes because they were so creative and often had really excellent writers.)

 

Ever since then I’ve thought about that idea of analyzing how required an episode is if you want to keep watching the series. I don’t think most TV shows are as clear-cut as X-Files was. Even shows that do have over-arching plot lines and random single-episode plots, they usually sprinkle and mix them so that there’s at least something related to the over-arching plot in every episode. You can’t usually cut out whole episodes and expect to understand what’s going on in the next episode.

 

Recently we’ve started re-watching the TV show Lost, and the third episode of the show suggests a different way for an episode to be really important to the series.

Really nothing happens in the episode to further the overarching plot. There are several reminders of important things going on but nothing new really happens. Sure they talk about being off-course and the weird radio signal, but they’re just reminding us of what’s happened in other episodes. In other words, if you completely missed this episode you could still watch the next one and understand everything that was going on.

Even though you wouldn’t have missed any plot milestones, you would have missed some really important milestones for our characters. There are tons of instances in this episode where you get a first look at attributes of these characters that end up being really important during the rest of the show. So maybe the episode is still really essential for watching the whole series, but for very different reasons. You could understand the plot without this episode, but you might not understand the characters without it.

Consider these scenes and what we learn about the characters:

  • When Jack goes into the airplane wreckage to rummage for medicine he finds Sawyer already in there rummaging for anything else of value. They debate the ethics of rummaging for supplies, and Sawyer suggests that Jack is acting like he’s still in civilization while Sawyer sees them as being “in the wild”. I think there’s an interesting irony that’s presented here. Sawyer is “in the wild” as far as his morals are concerned, having no problem taking from the dead nor from the rest of the castaways in order to benefit his personal stash. However, Sawyer is calm and collected as he does it. Jack on the other hand, operates for the common good and is slowly creating the civilization of the island. But here we see him rushed and almost panicked as he rummages for medicine, and he seems at the end of his wits, like he might just attack Sawyer at any second. We see this battle of values and personalities between Sawyer and Jack over and over during the course of the show, and this first encounter sets it up perfectly.
  • This is really Kate’s episode, and so you see multiple sides of Kate in it. One side is the dangerous criminal. The marshall tells Jack that she is dangerous and that she shouldn’t be trusted.
  • During the conflict over the gun, Kate gets nominated to carry it. She walks around camp with a gun and no one seems to mind except for Hurley. While we were watching this part Kelly said out loud, “It’s amazing that people are OK with her just walking around with a gun.” The thing we really learn about Kate through this is that she is able to command trust from her peers.
  • The marshall and Kate have two encounters when he is conscious: in the first the marshall attacks her and tries to strangle her, and in the second he has a kind of fond-farewell to Kate, even to the point of asking her to put him out of his misery. Here you see the other pieces put together: Kate is dangerous and the marshall both hates her and fears her, but he also strangely sees her as a trusted friend and relies on her to be compassionate to him.
  • You see this dual nature of Kate again in the attempted escape after the farmer sells her out. She is willing to do anything to get away, crashing the truck but ultimately she allows herself to be slowed down to save the farmer from the burning wreckage. She was just dangerous enough to crash the car, but too compassionate to allow the farmer to die, even when it meant her being caught.
  • Sawyer tells Kate that since she has the gun she should put the marshall out of his misery. He doesn’t know that Kate was the fugitive and that it actually would serve Kate’s interests if the marshall weren’t around anymore. We don’t see the rest of the conversation, but later we see it’s outcome when Sawyer has the gun and shoots the marshall. Here we see Kate as a con artist herself, conning the conman into doing something that really serves her more than anyone else, and you can imagine that she’s done it in a way that Sawyer thinks that he’s convinced her.
  • When Sawyer leaves the tent after shooting the marshall, he has a look of pain and sorrow on his face. Jack confronts him and Sawyer justifies his actions and makes a convincing argument that he was actually being merciful to both the marshall and the rest of the passengers. But because of the looks on his face, you get the idea that he isn’t glad that it’s happened. This is the first time that you realize that Sawyer isn’t one-dimensionally evil, but that he’s actually complicated and is trying to do the right thing from his own point of view.
  • When the marshall groans after being shot, Sawyer realizes that he has spent his last bullet and missed. Despite all of the morally questionable things that we’ve already seen him do, this is the first time that he looks afraid and ashamed. It reinforces the idea that Sawyer does have some compassion deep down, but also let’s us see another aspect of what makes Sawyer who he is: even when he is trying to do the right thing, he is ashamed of himself for constantly screwing up.
  • After Sawyer shot the marshall, he accuses Jack of not being able to do what needed to be done. But after he has missed, Jack goes into the tent and puts the marshall out of his misery. Here you see another pattern for Jack: despite whatever character flaws Jack may have, he is extremely capable, and doesn’t shy away from conflict or hard situations.
  • Perhaps most importantly, this is the first episode where Sawyer calls Kate “Freckles”.

Seattle Seasons

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My friend Rachel posted this, and it was too perfect to not repost. For your reading enjoyment:

The 4 Seasons of Seattle Weather

Equal Partners

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I figure that since I posted my Mother’s Day talk from two years ago, I’d better post last year’s right away or I’ll put it off for another year. I’ll save you a long intro to this since I already share getting suckered into it two years in a row right at the beginning of the talk (along with a lot of ad-libbed nonsense, as I recall, but I’ll spare you that as well and just stick with what my notes said).

Here’s my 2011 talk. (more…)

Mother in Heaven

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Tomorrow will be the first Mother’s Day since we moved to Washington that I have not been asked to speak in church. Pretty crazy, right?

This is the talk that I gave in church two years ago on Mother’s Day. I’ve wanted to post it online since I first gave it, but I was always too lazy to get my draft synced up with my notes so that I could cite my sources. After enough time passed it started to seem silly to post it, but I thought that reposting it for Mother’s Day this year might make it appropriate again.

Sorry that it’s too late for anyone that’s speaking this year to use my notes, but hopefully that also means that it’s too late for the bishopric to try to spring a last-minute talk on me when they are reminded that they let me off the hook this year.

So, here’s my talk from 2010. (more…)

Review: The Amber Spyglass

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The Amber Spyglass
The Amber Spyglass by Philip Pullman

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Overall “Amber Spyglass” is a fitting but anticlimactic ending to the “His Dark Materials” series. If you’ve read the first two books and enjoyed them, you’ll probably find the third book worthwhile, but disappointing.

The theme of the third book is that an afterlife isn’t necessary for people to have comfort and to be motivated to improve the world that we live in. I think it’s actually pretty brilliant how Pullman takes all of his various plot lines and ties them back to this point. The more I think about it the more I realize how well the ideas of the book fit together into this cohesive message of hope that didn’t depend on an afterlife.

While I personally find my faith in an afterlife very comforting, I don’t begrudge comfort to those that need to find it another way. More importantly for me, I think that the tangential ideas of moving on after a tragedy and of making the world better in this life are things that are moving and meaningful to theist and atheists alike.

Pullman is actually pretty gentle with this message, building it slowly through multiple pieces, instead of throwing it in your face. Of the three books in this series, it’s definitely the second book that has the most potential to be offensive to Christians. If you were able to get through the second book without getting upset, then you won’t be troubled by this final book.

While I don’t think you’ll need to worry about being offended by the book, you may need to worry about being bored.

As the story progresses more characters and fantasy worlds keep being introduced. The new characters and settings just aren’t as engaging as the originals, so there are long sections where I felt bored because I didn’t really care about what was going on in that section. Not only that, but the new worlds and characters are so varied that it starts feeling very incohesive, and to me the previous atmosphere of the setting gets lost in the circus of the new settings.

The pace is also much slower and more dragged out. There were multiple points in the book where I thought “ok, now the story’s resolved”, or “ok, this time it’s really over”, only to find that I wasn’t yet near the end. It was kind of hard to keep going when I felt like the conflict was over and there was nothing left to resolve.

In the end I’m glad to have read the whole thing because of how well all of the pieces fit together when it was done. I do wish it’d been as engaging and entertaining as his other books instead of being a chore to finish.

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Review: The Subtle Knife

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The Subtle Knife
The Subtle Knife by Philip Pullman

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The second book in this series was my favorite. The plot and the world and the characters all got bigger, and Pullman’s storytelling stayed just as immersive and engaging. The second book begins to merge the fantasy world from the first book with our modern world, and as we meet new characters we’re pulled in very thoroughly.

I do feel like I should say something about the ideas in the book, since that’s why this series is famous. This second book introduces the antitheism that’s gotten it so much (negative) attention. Pullman creates a world where God’s existence is an undisputed reality rather than an issue of faith, but he paints God as a tyrant responsible for oppressing and for taking away freedom and happiness. He relies heavily on the symbolism from the Garden of Eden, sympathizing with Eve for being cast out because of her choice. Of course most Christians condemn Adam and Eve for their transgression, so I can understand how people would be shocked by the role-reversal of a praised Eve and a vilified God.

As a Mormon I already revere Adam and Eve for their choice in the Garden, so I agreed when Pullman painted a world where they were right to choose knowledge and choice and happiness even if it meant leaving paradise. It’s just that I believe in a God who also values knowledge and choice and happiness and not in one that restricts those things. For me it was still shocking to read God described as a tyrant, but I recognize that is mostly because Pullman uses names that are sacred to me and describes that person doing things that I don’t believe my God would do. That said, I think that if you’re willing to examine the ideas that the author presents rather than just the names he gives to them, you’ll find that there’s nothing to be offended at.

Unlike a lot of books that push a philosophy, Pullman doesn’t come off as preachy. He tells his story through a lot of realistic and complicated characters. The reader is sometimes just as unsure about who is right and who to trust as the young protagonists are.

All in all the story and the telling of it was excellent. The ideas the story presents are really intriguing and you may have your opinions about them. But regardless of your personal beliefs, at the heart of this book you’ll find what is simply an undeniably well-told fantasy story.

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Review: The Golden Compass

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The Golden Compass
The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A few years ago they made a movie out of this book that didn’t seem to go very far. I probably never would have noticed the book or the movie, except that a bunch of over-zealous people online made a stink about it because the series has some atheist themes that they thought were inappropriate. It’s maybe a little ironic that their attempts to ban the movie actually got it more attention than it would have otherwise gathered.

In any case, I remember reading a quote from some religious writer who I didn’t recognize and can’t remember, but I remember the gist of what he/she said. They said that even as a religious person it was a good experience to read the book, and that faith can be strengthened by dialog even with opposing viewpoints. I thought that was a really cool point of view, so I gave the movie a chance. I don’t actually remember much of the movie now (except that I still picture Mrs. Coulter as a black-haired Nicole Kidman), but I do remember thinking that it was a cool fantasy world that it had created.

I never got around to reading the books until recently. I was reminded of them after reading a quote from Philip Pullman praising Terry Brooks for his fantasy writing. I’m a big fan of Brooks’ books, so that got me interested again, so I thought that I’d give this series a try. I wasn’t disappointed.

The fantasy world that Pullman creates is really intriguing and immersive, and his characters are very engaging. Most of all, though, he has a way of writing that really puts the reader into the mind of the character and makes you experience the thoughts and feelings of the character. His writing style is excellent, in my opinion.

As far as the philosophies of the book, it’s really not atheist (at least not in this first volume). The book does paint a Church that is dictatorial, but beyond that there’s nothing to be offended at, and that’s certainly not a new or unique idea.

Not only is it not strictly atheist, but it actually is very spiritual. In fact, the descriptions of Lyra and her alethiometer (which I assume is the basis of the American title of the book, even though it’s never called the “golden compass” in the text) are likely to be familiar to people that have had spiritual experiences. They were familiar to me, and I actually found that reading this book was very uplifting spiritually.

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Valentine Rant Memories

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A few years ago my brother wrote this gem for Valentine’s day:

I am so glad its Valentines day again. The one day when all the couples in the world pretend to be in love. I’m pretty sure that love is found only on Valentines day. The other 364 days of the year, we can all just go back to hating our partners, and planning how we can survive till next Valentines day without smothering our partner in their sleep with the decorative pillow that everyone hates. I’m so thankful that Hallmark and Sees invented this great holiday, where couples must buy each other material items in order to show how much they are in love for one day.
Because we all know it, when you are in love the only way to show it is with fancy diamonds, and a rolex.

This morning I was thinking about this and remembered how his girlfriend responded. Troy showed her the post, and she laughed and said it was really good. Then she asked who wrote it, and of course got mad when he said that it was him.

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