The Life of Riley a Brief screening

Anitoch Summer Institute Essay

The following is a paper I wrote for a Summer Discipleship program I was in during my early High School years. This paper has a lot to be desired in terms of literary merit, but it acurately descirbes something I struggled with during these years.

I’ve struggled with a lot of questions throughout this past year, but the most difficult one has been the complacency of my relationship with Christ. It’s a tough one because it was hard to evaluate if it was actually a problem for me, and it definitely was. It’s difficult to identify for most people because your relationship with God can be going great, but you aren’t learning anything. The question is, is it Ok for me to be comfortable with my relationship with Christ?

If we look at it from the point of view of yes, then there are many things to consider. Most people want to answer yes to the question because it doesn’t require any work, which was my point of view as well. There are a couple problems with this. When you become comfortable, you lose your desire to learn from him, and you feel there is no more you need to learn. This is a dangerous way of thinking because it can lead you to believe that you don’t need God as much. For me, I began relying on myself to solve problems instead of asking God for help. Obviously this got me nowhere and my problems only worsened. This was the result of my being content in my relationship with Christ, as opposed to pursuing a better, deeper relationship. Also, having quiet times with the lord lose their purpose if you aren’t pursuing knowledge. God does not want you spending time with him if you aren’t devoted to learn. Revelation 3:15-16 says, “I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were either cold or hot! So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth.” No fence sitting. I know for myself, I almost stopped talking to him altogether. I got so caught up in my own way of doing things, that I never stopped to consider his plan. God wants us constantly striving to overcome complacency.

“When you become comfortable, you lose your desire to learn from him, and you feel there is no more you need to learn.”

If we answer no, we are on the right track. Admitting that you are in a stagnant relationship is definitely the first step. How can we be disciple makers if we ourselves are not growing? We can’t expect to guide people in their relationship with God unless we are pursuing as well. Jesus talks about hypocrisy in Matthew 6:5-8: “And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.” I like this reference because it clearly defines the boundaries of hypocrisy, which many people fail to understand. Some people think that they’re doing the right thing discipling others, but when the person doesn’t have a solid foundation, the whole purpose of discipleship goes out the window. What this world needs is spiritual leaders discipling spiritual leaders. The only way that’s possible is by pursuing, seeking, and attaining a better relationship with Christ.

Obviously my answer to the question was that it is not Ok to be comfortable in my relationship with God. I believe so many people are unaware that they have a stagnant relationship and aren’t pursuing at all. It’s definitely our responsibility to let them know so that they, along with ourselves, can be better equipped to obey the Lord’s command in our own lives.

Growing Up: A Child of Siloam Springs

Having grown up in the safe arms of Siloam Springs, Arkansas, there were many places in town that I felt comfortable. But the place where I always found the most peace was my first house on Lyndale St. Our house was built in 1992, the same year my older sister was born. My father designed the entire house and even had a role in its construction. From the day I was born to the summer before I entered High School, that was my home. I learned how to have fun, what was right from wrong, and how to deal with loss because of that house.

Through multiple games of Capture the Flag and various backyard shenanigans with the neighbors, my best friend and I learned what it meant to have fun. Ever since kindergarten, my best friend and I traveled the hundred foot distance between each other’s house almost every weekend. We played countless games of foursquare until our parents called us in because it was too dark. When it was too dark, we played hours on end of Super Smash Bros. Melee for the Game Cube, determining who was the Super Smash Bros. champion. Every other Saturday, we rode our bikes to my dad’s restaurant, the City Bagel Cafe said hi to the locals, and ate some lunch. If we were lucky, we would catch a show of Steve Snediker performing his magic tricks for the customers as they ate. Having my best friend only a hundred feet away gave me not only a reason to sneak out of the house, but a means through which I escaped reality.

Through a seemingly constant surveillance, my neighbors and my parents were always there to tell me when I had done something wrong. One Christmas morning, my best friend and I both received our very own BB guns. Then in our infinite wisdom, we went outside and tried to scare our cat by shooting around her. Our ever watchful neighbor next door had seen what we were doing, and told my Dad. We had no intention of hurting the cat, but nonetheless, my BB gun was taken away. He gave me a lecture on gun safety, instructing me that even though we only had BB guns, they could still really hurt someone. I didn’t do things that would cause someone to get hurt, but sometimes I did things without realizing the consequences. The lesson he taught me was a pain to hear, but it’s one that I’m glad he taught me.

In the summer of 2009, our family moved out of the street on Lyndale St. Leaving that house was one of the hardest things I had to do as a child. In the past, I struggled deeply with attachment. I struggled with thoughts of my parents leaving me, or being taken from me. I even had a child counselor for a short period of time to help me sort out those thoughts. That was a time in my life when I was so attached to things close to me, the mere thought of them leaving me made me sick to my stomach. I even cried when we bought new couches and threw out the old ones. Through those 15 years, I had developed such a bond with our house, our neighborhood, and just the way things were, that I couldn’t even fathom leaving it all behind. It was a hard move to make, but I made it. Through God’s healing and my parent’s love and support, I made it through the move. Every now and then, I go back and look at the house. I look at how it’s the same on the outside, but has a brand new inside, just like me. After the move, I was changed on the inside. I knew the feeling of letting something go and changing deeply because of it. Leaving the house on Lyndale St. taught me that letting go of things you love is challenging but possible.

A lot of my friends say they are leaving Siloam Springs when they graduate. I would be completely content if it’s God’s plan to keep me here. It’s where I was born. It’s where I went to public school and college. It even has welcoming signs that say: “Siloam Springs: Where Jesus is Lord”. No matter where I end up, I will always remember the place that changed me. I won’t forget the place that was foundational to my emotional development. I am the way I am because of that small brick house on Lyndale St. in Siloam Springs, Arkansas.

Filmfare for the Common Man

My hobbies have changed only slightly through the years. I have always been interested in music. Specifically drums, but also piano and guitar on the side. My latest interest however has been film. I’ve always enjoyed movies, but lately they have captivated me as an artform. Here is an article I wrote about the film Grave of the Fireflies for my movie review blog:

Isao Takahata’s 1988 war drama Grave of the Fireflies depicts a brother and sister in Kobe, Japan during the last months of World War II. Seita (14), Setsuko (4), and their mother secure their home before a round of firebombing prompts them to leave their house and make for the bomb shelter. Because of their mother’s heart condition, they allow her to leave just ahead of them so she can get to the shelter to take medicine. Upon separation, they begin a journey of perseverance, survival, and love.

“The artists at Studio Ghibli have crafted a world in which war torn landscapes, scorched earth, and ravished buildings make us shudder, but at the same time make us relish in their beauty.”

As a 100% traditional hand drawn animation, Grave of the Fireflies looks breathtakingly beautiful. The artists at Studio Ghibli have crafted a world in which war torn landscapes, scorched earth, and ravished buildings make us shudder, but at the same time make us relish in their beauty. The color palate consists of mostly earthy tones including many browns, grays and vibrant oranges. This is not a film to watch on your phone. It doesn’t lend itself to the “on-the-go” type of viewing. I recommend watching the Blu-ray or some high definition form of the film. The DVD doesn’t quite do it justice, but it will suffice. Consistent with many other Japanese animated features, there is a level of detail and attention that is not usually given in other forms of animation. Simple movements are given the utmost care and attention. Putting on your shoes is a cinematic event. We watch the character tie each lace, make a knot there, and pull it tight to finish. It takes seriously the everyday tasks of life. There are many moments in the film that serve as a pause, or transition for the characters. We’ll get a scene of rain dropping on an overturned bucket, or a bird pecking at rice on the ground. Details other filmmakers would gloss over or say “We don’t have time for that.” These bits separate Studio Ghibli in particular from the rest of Western animation. Insignificant to the plot of the film, but these scenes allows us to simply breathe and take in the setting from a new perspective. I will talk more about this kind of film making in future reviews.

“September 21st, 1945. That was the night I died.” There are few opening lines in film that bring us into such a state of introspection. It quickly prompts us to think of our own mortality. It’s followed by a shot of Seita having an out of body experience while he watches himself die of starvation. This sets the stage for how the story is going to be told. Most of the story is told in flashback form, while the characters Seita and Setsuko look in on themselves from a distance, watching the events they experienced transpire. This is difficult to watch at times, because all they can do is watch themselves in pain. From the onset, it’s not difficult to guess the fate of the characters. We are meant to assume that both characters end up dead, but we must find out how they meet their fate. I won’t say how Setsuko succumbs to death, but I will say she dies before Seita. This calls to our attention one of the beginning scenes where Setsuko plays alone in a field with an ambiguous red light coating the entire scene. Seita enters and puts his hand on her shoulder, and smiles at her as they both walk away happy. The two are initially separated by Setsuko’s death, but are brought back together when Seita joins her in death.

For some, one viewing of this movie may be enough for a lifetime. It certainly has enough emotional resonance. I love this movie because I see character relationships transcend time and space. Grave of the Fireflies shows us there is something to valued beyond the grave. Something that makes this suffering we live in now worthwhile. I can live through this suffering because I know what’s on the other side of the grave is greater than I can possibly imagine. We won’t be alone. Someone will be there smiling, putting their hand on our shoulder. Welcoming us into eternity.

Some might ask why anyone would choose to make an animated feature about such a grim subject. It comes down to pure storytelling. Grave of the Fireflies is an emotional vehicle like no other. Michio Mamiya’s musical score is a haunting, heart-swelling experience that will lift you high and bring you back down just in time. The moments between Seita and Setsuko are purely magical. The joy and intimacy experienced by these two characters amidst the depraved backdrop of war could not be reproduced with live-action. We see a glimpse into a heart unfettered by fear, doubt, or pain. The question she asks isn’t “When will the suffering be over?”, but “Why must fireflies die so young?”

Yes, it is animated, but don’t you dare cheapen it by calling it a cartoon. It deserves so much more. This is not a movie for young children, but everyone needs to experience it at some point in their life. It will change you. I cannot recommend this film enough.

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