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The time has finally come. Br. Tito and I are talking about Stranger Things on the podcast.

In general, we’re revisiting a topic I wrote about two years ago (when I first watched the show) about the power of nostalgia to evoke memory but also to distort our understanding of the past. Why do we love nostalgia so much, but how might it be a bit dangerous?

 

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After many long and perilous struggles, the prince rides in on his horse, saves the princess from her plight, and they ride off into the sunset to live happily ever after. The end.

Sound familiar? For many a Disney fan, this is what is to be expected at the end of a movie. The “happily ever after” trope. Admittedly, it’s a great one. Who doesn’t like a happy ending? There is something inside of us that wants justice, wants love to win, wants there to be order to the world. When the prince and princess ride off into the sunset, it gives us hope that the end of our story will be happy as well.

On the other hand… it’s also a load of ____. That’s not the way the world works, is it? Any married couple who has ever lived will tell you that life does not get magically easy after the wedding. Anyone who has ever been baptized will tell you that temptation and sin still exist on the other side of the font. In this life, there is no such thing as “happily ever after.”

And as far as I’m concerned, I’m glad their isn’t.

Don’t get me wrong. I think that this trope is wonderful in that it provides hope for the future and even gives us a glimpse of what heaven might look like, a world in which there is nothing but joy and love for the Lord. But in our regular, this-world relationships, I know that it is an unfair expectation, and that conflict, believe it or not, can actually make people grow stronger in love. The honeymoon might be the most “magical” time for a couple, but it is also the most superficial time. With time, struggle, and “real life,” love can be actualized in new ways.

That is this week’s topic of discussion on Everyday Liminality. Brother Tito and I, two celibate men, discuss the idea of living happily ever after, talk about our favorite romantic comedies, and even give some marriage advice. What could go wrong?

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Where is the line between good humor and offensive content? How do we measure whether or not something has gone “too far”? Are there things that simply can’t be joked about, or does joking about horrible things help to heal and reconcile what has been broken? Does it matter if someone doesn’t intend to be offensive?

These are the questions that Br. Tito and I looked at this week on our podcast, Everyday Liminality, as we try to come to a coherent definition of “offensive content” in entertainment. What we found was that it is easier said than done, as there are both objective and subjective characteristics to each situation meaning that what is totally normal to one person may be absolutely repugnant to another.

But as I reflected on our conversation, thinking about what we said (and what we should have said) I realized that there is even a more interesting issue beyond simply defining the issue: “Should a Christian ever be offended?”

What I mean by this is that we are a follower of a man who laid down his life, who didn’t defend himself, who taught peace at all costs, and yet remained completely confident in what he did because he could see the whole picture. Someone attacking him with a sword was not threatening to him because he was the King of the Universe and the judge of the living and the dead; the words of a fellow human had no power over him or his emotions because he knew the truth. And it makes me wonder, as his followers today, if there could be anything to truly offend us, to make us feel threatened in such a way that we would need to attack back.

Because, really, isn’t that what the issue of being offended is about? Someone has done something to make us personally uncomfortable—our ego, reputation, comfort, or sensibilities are challenged—and we want to call them out for being a bad person, to stop. Being offended is not about issues of safety or justice, it is not about sticking up for people who are actually hurt or put in danger; these are separate issues. Being offended is about an attack on the sensibilities of our self or culture.

And so, again, I wonder: is there ever any reason for us as Christians to ever get offended, or should we always be a people who accepts abuse with grace, returns anger with love, and lets negativity roll off our back because we know that others cannot have control over us? An interesting question that we might have to discuss another time.

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The internet can be an amazing tool for communication. When I was in Mexico for the summer, without a phone plan or special equipment, I was able to speak with my parents over Wifi, for free, 1500 miles away. On a regular basis, I can receive and respond to messages in realtime from people in the Philippines, Germany, and Kenya. I have even been able to connect with other Catholic Youtubers, people that I have never met in real life, and been able to share about our experiences in this ministry. What an amazing tool for our age!

At the same time, the internet can also be a great tool for escapism. Rather than engaging with the world as it is, seeing the troubles, fears, boredom, discomfort, or stress around us, we are able to enter a world that knows nothing of that and leave everything behind. Whether it’s fantasy football, chatroom debates about movie theories, or something as in-depth as Second Life, a platform whose name alone encourages a retreat from reality for the sake of an artificial one, the internet can be used to disconnect from our surroundings and devote our time to something that isn’t all that “real.”

Naturally, this leads to a growing issue of what many would describe as our “digital identity.” As kids growing up in the 90s, we were taught that we needed to be careful with who we interacted with online; because internet allowed anonymity, embellishment, and outright lies, we couldn’t ever be sure who we were talking with, and someone claiming to be a 12-year-old girl might actually be a 45-year-old man. Today, that caution still remains, but so does its opposite: we need to be careful who we are portraying ourselves to be and what affect inaccurate depictions might have on our sense of self. With the ability to curate how the world sees us, we run the risk of inadvertently representing a false self to others and even confusing ourselves.

These are the topics that Br. Tito and I discuss this week on our podcast, Everyday Liminality. Using the the virtual world of the movie Ready Player One as a starting point, we discuss the difference between who we portray to be online and who we actually are in our everyday life, look at the effect such a divide might have on our sense of self, and wonder whether it’s all bad.

No Such Thing as “Bad Guys”

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There is a phrase that is used a lot in our culture that greatly upsets me. It is a phrase that is used by politicians and media personnel, by pastors and by regular people. It is a phrase that I have used in the past. That phrase: “so-and-so is pure evil.”

Despite its popularity among people of authority and in our common parlance, despite it being somewhat of a commonplace or even necessary way to describe terrorists, rapists, and fans of a certain sports team, I am very unsettled when I hear it.

For starters, it’s an entirely unbiblical, un-theological concept. When we start using words like “evil” one assumes that we are entering into the realm of theology, but to say that something is pure evil is a contradiction in terms. There is no such thing. As Christians, we believe that God is ultimately the creator of all and all that God created is good. While distortion and depravity can enter into creation by way of free will, all that exists came to be through God and remains to be because God allows it to exist. Nothing can exist apart from God, meaning that everything—and everyone—has at least some goodness in them. Even the Devil, the Tempter, the one who resides in Hell and is often associated with evil itself, is a creation a God and therefore not pure evil. To call anyone such a name is to use a theological concept very un-theologically.

But the problem is more practical for me. Outside of the potential esoteric nature of defining theological terms, the act of calling someone “pure evil” divides the human family when there is an ever-increasing need to build it up. When we use this phrase to describe someone, what we are ultimately saying is that they are not our brother or sister, that they are beyond our care or concern, that they are beyond love, mercy, or forgiveness. Someone who is pure evil deserves one thing, and one thing only: death.

When we speak of those who commit horrible crimes—terrorists, rapists, and fans of a certain sports team—it can be tempting to use such a phrase. It can be tempting to demonize or villainize them, seeing them as simply the manifestation of their evil acts, to literally “make a demon/villain” out of them, and to treat them like the villains of movies and comic books.

But is that the way we are called to treat one another? Is that the way we are to act towards even our enemies? I hardly think so. And it raises the question for me, now that I’ve brought up the idea of a villain: do we sometimes allow artistic depictions of evil, namely “the bad guy” in movies and comics, influence our view of the human person? In such words of art, there is a “good guy” who epitomizes all that we stand for, and a “bad guy,” the manifestation of all that is wrong with the world, and the goal is to destroy the bad guy. Is that the way we view our “enemies”?

Such is the question that Br. Tito and I pose to our listeners this week on our new podcast, Everyday Liminality. I hope that you’ll check it out and join us each week for a new episode as we look to popular entertainment to pose the questions of our day. You can click above to listen, or download the podcast on iTunes.