Summer of Health and Fitness Week 4

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From last Wednesday til yesterday, I was on vacation. My family and I went to Galveston for a day and Corpus Christi for 4 days.

Since I couldn’t cook, dieting came down to controlling how much I ate. I drank more Slurpees than I usually did and because of my allergies, I couldn’t just order a salad everywhere I went. (The problem with restaurant salads is that they put stuff there that I might be allergic to, like peanuts, croutons, or stuff I never ate before. #foodallergyproblems.) In spite of not really being in control of what I ate, I still managed to stick to my diet. 

Here’s a tip: If you’re eating out, don’t eat the whole plate. Eat a portion and share the rest or save some for later. 

If there’s anything I learned from my vacation, it’s that if you want to stick to your diet and exercise plan, have courage. Don’t be afraid to eat out! Just be smart about it. At the same time, don’t be anxious when you treat yourself to Slurpees or Italian Ices. When you get back home, you can return to your regular diet/exercise and everything will balance out.

If you’re planning on traveling this summer, make sure your hotel has a good gym. Even the smallest fitness room usually do fine. I worked out for 30 minutes on the elliptical machine 2x during my vacation. The rest of my exercise consisted of a lot of walking, whether it was on the beach or browsing around antique stores. Do a lot of walking on your vacation, but keep the weather in mind. Nothing wrong with doing a long walk inside a museum on a hot day! 

I’m gonna end this blog post with a recipe for my new favorite food: Tuna and guac tacos! This is perfect for anyone who’s gluten-free.

Ingredients:

  • 1 small haas avocado (or 3 if you’re cooking for 4 people)
  • 1 small (4″ diameter) corn tortilla. (I got a store brand.) 
  • 1/2-1 whole yellow onion, diced (Depends on the size of the onion and how many people you’re serving)
  • 2 cloves of garlic, chopped (use 6 if cooking for 4 people) 
  • Lemon/lime juice
  • Salt and pepper (feel free to add your favorite spices here)
  • Starkist tuna in vegetable oil (Pouch, please. You can also use the EVOO version.)

Cooking Instructions

  1. Set a pan over medium/high heat and cook up the Starkist tuna
  2. Scoop the avocado meat once the tuna has been cooking for a few minutes. Add spices as you spread your avocado meat around the pan. Mix it all together.
  3. Add the onions and lime juice.
  4. In a separate pan or in your toaster oven, cook up your corn tortillas for a minute or two. The tortillas should be light and fluffy.
  5. Turn off the heat after cooking your guac/tuna/onion mixture for 10 minutes.
  6. Plate the tortillas and scoop the mixture by the tablespoon into the tortillas.

How To Survive Valentine’s Day When It’s Also Ash Wednesday

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It’s that time of year again. If you want proof that God has a sick and twisted sense of humor, look at your calendar. Not only does Ash Wednesday fall today, which is also Valentine’s Day, but Easter falls on April Fool’s Day.

For today, I want to focus on how you, fellow Catholics, can survive this day, whether you are single or in a relationship, because Valentine’s Day is hard enough as it is!

  1. If you’re in a relationship, be creative with what you cook for dinner tonight. If dinner is your “big meal,” try making a cheese pizza (no meat) or some nice salmon filets. Or make plans to eat out at a restaurant on Saturday and use today as an opportunity to practice patience!
  2. If you’re single, make breakfast your “big meal.” Having a healthy breakfast will help you have enough energy for the rest of the day.
  3. Drink plenty of liquids throughout the day: water, orange juice, vegetable juice, milk, or hot chocolate if you’re in the Valentine’s mood. Hot chocolate doesn’t count as a meal or a snack, at least not for me.
  4. Whether you’re single or in a relationship, spend time in Adoration today! Check if your local church has the Blessed Sacrament exposed or just spend time in prayer.
  5. Remember that all the Valentine’s Day candy will be very cheap tomorrow. But don’t be a glutton!
  6. Use today as an opportunity to practice charity, which is a higher form of love than just romantic love. Be kind to everyone you meet today, even the person who cuts you off in traffic.
  7. If you’re sick of the Fifty Shades hype, check out Fight The New Drug’s anti-abuse campaign!
  8. If you’re wondering what romantic-related show you should watch today, the 1995 version of Pride and Prejudice is on Hulu, as well as Sense and Sensibility (mini-series, not the Ang Lee version). You can’t beat the classics!
  9. Enjoy these penitential Valentine cards from Jason Bach Cartoons!
  10. #MementoMori: Remember that death is inevitable, even on Valentine’s Day.

 

Happy VaLENTine’s Day, everyone!

 

#Superbowlintheconvent AKA Nuns Being Awesome

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Out of all of my tweets during the Super Bowl last night, this tweet had the most likes and retweets. This is about as close as I’ll get to going viral.

For those of you hung over or were too busy paying attention to the game to check your Twitter feed, ChurchPop made an article highlighting the nuns who tweeted throughout the game. I’m honestly surprised that #SuperbowlintheConvent didn’t end up trending because LOTS of people were following that particular hashtag.

I stumbled onto this hashtag when I saw what is currently my favorite Super Bowl ad (apologies to Avengers and Han Solo)

Gotta love that interfaith! Pope Francis would totally love this. And note that nuns were part of this ad, too.

I already follow a lot of nuns on Twitter, so I just checked one and found the hashtag. It quickly became the best thing ever, topping the Justin Timberlake halftime show.

Highlights that ChurchPop didn’t include:

And some love from people who were following the hashtag and applauding all the nuns having fun:

I love being Catholic. That is all. Please pray for all the nuns who were watching the game from beginning to end because contrary to what that Mucinex commercial said, some people will actually show up for work today.

Why God is the Perfect Author

 

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“None can sense more deeply than you artists, ingenious creators of beauty that you are, something of the pathos with which God at the dawn of creation looked upon the work of his hands. A glimmer of that feeling has shone so often in your eyes when—like the artists of every age—captivated by the hidden power of sounds and words, colours and shapes, you have admired the work of your inspiration, sensing in it some echo of the mystery of creation with which God, the sole creator of all things, has wished in some way to associate you.”- Saint John Paul II, Letter to Artists

Not many people know how much work goes into creating a wonderful story. Whether we are writing a novel or making a movie or a painting or a play, we are creating new worlds. This process, known as “worldbuilding,” involves a lot of research and  creativity. Whenever I work on a story I’m writing, I am basically reliving the creation from Genesis.

I realize that not everyone who reads this believes in God, but it’s hard to argue that this beautiful universe that we live in came to be by mere chance. All the stars, galaxies, and planets we see when we look at pictures of space aren’t just floating balls of gas and rock. To me, they are works of art. The vastness of space reminds us that there is more to life than just our petty squabbles and the problems in our world.

Zoom down to our tiny planet and think about what this world could’ve been. I heard it said somewhere that if our planet was placed just the tiniest bit closer or the tiniest bit further from the sun, it would be uninhabitable. We are given this beautiful world with huge oceans and all sorts of different environments and climates. Variety is the spice of life.

Which begs the first question: Why do natural disasters happen?

It’s part of the worldbuilding. Earthquakes led to creating the continents. Hurricanes, tornadoes, and fires all clear out parts of nature, but new things grow from the destruction. Climate change is definitely a factor, but we’ve been doing a lot of damage to the ozone layer since the Industrial Revolution. There is nothing new under the sun.

God doesn’t plan for these disasters to happen. He just allows them to be a “plot twist” in our lives. Some people look at the devastation and question how God could exist. The answer is found in His best creation: our fellow human beings.

In the aftermath of Hurricanes Harvey and Rita, I have seen more good people than bad get the spotlight on the news. Disasters have a way of either bringing out the best in us or the worst in us. The good news is that God created humans with the power to choose how we feel.

Which leads to Inevitable Question #2: Why do bad people exist? Why do terrorists keep attacking? Why do we constantly hear about people acting in such atrocious ways? If God created each and every person on this planet, why are there so many bad people?

Once again, it goes back to choices. God gives everyone the power to choose and choices and the consequences of these choices shape the stories of our lives. One great example can be seen in the Marvel Netflix series Daredevil. Both Matt Murdock and Wilson Fisk were people who grew up in New York City and had difficult circumstances in their childhoods. However, one chose to retaliate by doing something evil (even if it meant protecting the ones he loves) and the other was put into the care of good people (even if he did have a jerk for a mentor). Wilson Fisk’s choices led to him becoming the head of the largest crime organization in the city. Matt Murdock chose to become a lawyer to defend the helpless and later chose to be a vigilante when the law wasn’t enough to take down the bad guys.

People are raised in circumstances that shape who they become. Each person has the capacity to change and rise above whatever hardships they experienced, but some choose to stay where they are. The key here is what we choose.

It’s a bit hard to wrap your head around the idea that believing in God leads to having a life with better choices and more freedom, but that’s how a good story goes. Remember how in Star Wars when Luke chooses to trust in the Force instead of the computer that was targeting the exhaust port in the Death Star? Star Wars isn’t a perfect parallel for a faith-filled life, but I do like how being a Jedi relies on having faith and being detached from consuming emotions.

What exactly is the point of this ramble? To quote the Doctor, “we are all stories in the end.” I know this post might sound crazy, but I just want to show you that this universe, this world, and each and every single person gives evidence that there is a Creator. So much work goes into creating a story. So much work gets put into creating a world and all the characters and conflicts in a work of fiction. The world that we live in is no different.

Vocations: Destiny or Free Will?

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As someone who grew up reading fairy tales and watching anime, I began to notice something in the way that people see vocations.

Many of my married friends believe in the idea of pre-determined “soul mate” love and how God planned for them to marry a specific person. The story of their love life is essentially like the chorus from Taylor Swift’s “Love Story”: “You’ll be the prince and I’ll be the princess. It’s a love story, baby. Just say ‘Yes.'”

People who discern religious life, on the other hand, have vocation stories that resemble the typical anime “destiny plot.” In a typical adventure anime, the main character goes on a long journey or goes to school while trying to figure out what their purpose in life is. Either way, the protagonist finds their destiny and the story focuses on them working towards becoming a priest or a nun, with the perfect gang of friends who accompany them on this journey.

I’m speaking in generalizations, of course. I know that every vocation story is different. But in the years I spent going to vocation-related events, it seems like people see marriage and religious life as a pre-determined destiny and all they have to do is “discern” which one is right for them. In reality, marriage and religious life are not as cut and dry as that.

Yes, God creates each and every person with a unique personality and skills, but he also gave us this strange thing called free will. We have the ability to choose what to do with our gifts, for better or for worse. Our lives are more like those video games where the choices you make effect the way that the game ends. (Just think of Mass Effect or Infamous.) It doesn’t mean that we can just do whatever we want. The power to choose comes with the responsibility of making sure we choose to do God’s will. In an ideal life, we work with God to help us to choose the right thing. Eventually, our choices help reveal what God wants us to do with our lives.

The best example of this can be seen in the movie Moana. Although Moana was chosen by the ocean to voyage out and return the heart of Te Fiti, her journey was not an easy one and at one point, she gave the heart of Te Fiti to the ocean, wanting to return home after Te Ka nearly killed her. The spirit of her grandmother was supportive of Moana’s decision to turn back, but at the same time, Moana was hesitant. She had to choose to take the heart back herself and not just because the ocean or her grandmother told her. She did that by remembering who she was, where she came from, and reflecting on how far she has come.

So how does free will play a role in discerning marriage or religious life?

When it comes to marriage, I have a bit of a bias. For one thing, I don’t believe in soul mates. Now before you clutch your pearls and start citing the examples of Tobias and Sarah as well as Mary and Joseph, know that I wrote a Bible study on Tobit and I have a great devotion to the Holy Family. Tobias was worried about having to marry Sarah. He was free to choose to fulfill the promise he made to his father. Thankfully, Raphael guided Tobias to understanding how they would save Sarah from the demon that killed her previous husbands. If Sarah and Tobias’s marriage was predetermined, God would’ve found a way to have Tobias marry Sarah first and also expel the demon from her house at the same time.

In a similar way, Mary and Joseph still had to choose to say “Yes” to what God was asking of them. And their life was anything but a fairy tale, with Mary having to deal with at least three months of pregnancy alone (even while she was helping her cousin Elizabeth) and Joseph almost choosing to divorce Mary when he heard about her having a child.

God creates each and every person with a unique set of personality traits and skills and in our lives, we find people who we’re compatible with and some that we don’t get along with. But everyone we meet teaches us a lesson. Every relationship we have is a unique experience because we fall in love in different ways, depending on the person. It’s not going to be an instant-love-at-first-sight kind of thing that we see in romantic comedies and fairy tales. We choose who we love and then, once we marry, we can choose to stay with them in good times and in bad.

On the flip side of things, I know people who are still waiting for their lives to start, who have an idea on what God is calling them to do, but still have to choose the path they need to take in order to get there. The good news about these people is that they’re not just waiting around waiting for an answer to come on a silver platter. These people might have to pave their own paths or consider options beyond the norm. Regardless of where they head, God will always be with them.

I’m not saying that God doesn’t have a hand in our lives, but when it comes to our vocations, we can’t make the idea of finding our calling the end all-be all. We are called to ask God to be the compass of our hearts and then we choose the paths we walk down. There is no grand destiny where we save the world from an apocalypse. Most of us are called to live our holiness in ordinary lives. But is there anything wrong with that? I don’t think so.

tl;dr: Our path towards our vocation, whatever we are called to be, is not a straight line. It’s a path we forge with God guiding us through each and every choice we make.

In The Eye of the Storm: Surviving Hurricane Harvey

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Monday, August 28, 2017: Ever since Hurricane Harvey hit the Texas coast, rain kept pouring down. The streets of my neighborhood were starting to flood, with water getting higher every night. An uneasy, lingering anxiety filled my guts, even as I kept praying Rosary after Rosary. I was in my room, reading when my mom said: “Pack your bags. We’re going to evacuate.”

At this point, a lot of the things in my room were already put into bags and placed high in case water got into my house. Still, I packed a few bags and felt my heart jump when my dad said that there were people ready to take us out of our house. The next thing I knew, I was out on a float boat, the kind that people usually use for river rides at water parks. My stomach felt like it was on fire and I wanted to make sure that my backpack stayed above the high flood waters.

So while floating along the street, I did something a little crazy:

I sang.

Specifically, I sang this song:

It was kind of appropriate. And part of me knew that if I didn’t sing, I would’ve been panicking instead. My brother and I made it to the gas station across the street and waited for our parents. Dad was also on a float boat, but my mom took a jet ski. It felt like forever.

Once we were all together at the gas station, we hitched a ride to the grocery store down the street and waited there for someone who could drive us to somewhere dry. I prayed that if I had to take shelter, I wanted to be at a church where I could sleep in front of the cross or the Blessed Sacrament. Instead, we ended up hitching a ride with one of dad’s customers (a contractor) and went to another town where my mom’s coworker lived. His house had plenty of room for us, not to mention that he still had electricity, a guest bathroom, and a laundry room.

The strange thing was that even though I was at someone else’s house, worried about if water would get into mine, I felt more at ease than I was at home. Miraculously, through the rain and the flood waters, all the stuff that I brought with my was mostly dry. My laptop, keyboard, and phone were dry, my clothes were damp, and I had all my toiletries. Not to mention my tiny collection of Funko Pops.

funko pop mini squad

I also had a few books with me. One book was Every Day with Mary, a collection of daily reflections from the affiliates of Mayslake Ministries that I got at the Catholic Writer’s Guild conference in Chicago. The reflection for that day began with this Bible verse:

I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory thatis to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God.-Romans 8:18-19

The reflection’s theme focused on abundance, but not the kind you would hear about from the Prosperity Gospel or Law of Attraction crowd. The abundance in this book referred to the heavenly reward for those who carried heavy crosses in their earthly lives. Mary is a great example of this because she also had to leave the safety of her home at a moment’s notice and stay amongst strangers for a certain period of time. But throughout that ordeal, she remained strong and did God’s will.

One of the things I prayed while I stayed at my mom’s coworker’s house was a short request to Our Lady of Fatima: “Our Lady of Fatima, please bring a miracle of the sun to Texas.”

The next day, around the afternoon, my brother messaged me to look out the window because the sun finally came out, peeking from behind the clouds. We also decided to go to my cousin’s house and sleep over there because they just came back from being evacuated.

Throughout all this, I thanked God for giving me the strength to go through all of it. I felt grateful for my family, the clothes that I had, and all the things I had with me. And then, when I woke up on August 30, 2017, I took a picture of the sky. Never have I ever felt so grateful to see the sun and the beautiful, clear skies of Texas.

I was able to get home yesterday and signs of recovery were already showing on the drive home. The streets were dry and even though my street was still somewhat flooded, the waters were no longer high. I arrived to a house with only one inch of water damage…in my garage. Every other room in my house was okay and still had electricity and running water and functional plumbing.

Which leads to the question: Why did I have to leave?

For the brief period that I left my house, I experienced what it was like to be displaced. I understand now how scared everyone in the shelters must feel. I also got to see how disasters can bring out the best in people. 90% of my social media feed shared images and stories of people who were helping others, like the priest on the kayak who was trying to find wine for Mass, the lines of volunteers, and the local furniture store owner who turned his showrooms into shelters.

And as far as the 10% of social media who keep politicizing this tragedy: look at the people who are volunteering and donating and please do likewise. Here’s a list of charities to donate to. 

Even though the storm has passed, the next chapter of recovery has just started. The entire Gulf Coast of Texas was affected by this storm, not just Houston. I am supremely proud of my city, but I want to use this blog to raise awareness of everywhere else that was affected. Not to mention that the storm has moved on to other areas who will also need help. Hurricane season is not over. But for now, I feel grateful for how everyone has come together and stayed strong.

As I am back home, I am playing “Amazing Grace” on my Spotify app. It’s cheesy and the most overplayed song in the history of Christian music, I know. Even so, the song was written by someone who survived a storm. It was through God’s grace that I was able to be strong in the middle of the pouring rain and all the uncertainty. I pray that this grace will be given to those who need it now.

DON’T MESS WITH TEXAS!

Resurrection vs. Retribution

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Ever since 2006, when I first heard “Picture to Burn” on my local country radio station, I have been a “Swiftie.” Taylor Swift’s songs always resonated with me. However,  I recently started feeling a dissonance between how I saw life and how Taylor saw hers. This dissonance was most profound when I listened to her latest single “Look What You Made Me Do” and watched the music video that debuted on Sunday night. To me, it didn’t sound like Taylor at all aside from a few lines here and there. I know that Taylor has been through a lot in the past few years, but I wondered why she chose to portray herself the way she did in her music video.

“Look What You Made Me Do” starts out with Taylor crawling out of her grave, looking like a zombified version of how she looked in “Out of the Woods,” which was my favorite music video from her thus far. But her face reminded me of Anya Jenkins, who started out as a vengeance demon on Buffy:

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Buffy the Vampire Slayer is copyright to Mutant Enemy and 20th Century Fox. Image is used for editorial purposes only.

The prechorus of the song goes: “I got smarter, I got harder in the nick of time. Honey, I rose up from the dead. I do it all the time.” Why did she show herself coming back from the dead as a zombie? I see it as a distorted version of the Resurrection. Zombies, vampires, and other versions of the undead are all dark, perverted types of “resurrections.” To quote Spike from Buffy the Vampire Slayer, she came back wrong.

Taylor has written songs about revenge in the past. But at the same time, she also wrote songs about forgiveness as well. So why does she choose to use revenge now?

A few telling lines from the second verse give the answer: “The world moves on, another day, another drama drama. But not for me, not for me. All I think about is karma.”

I recently read an article from Bishop Robert Barron about the difference between karma and grace. In the most simplistic terms, karma is about retribution. “Do good things and you get good in return. Do bad things and you will suffer.” Taylor is driven by revenge in the hopes that everyone who did her wrong will get what they deserve.

The last significant line in the song is this spoken line and it’s the one that Taylor puts on all her social media: “I’m sorry. The old Taylor can’t come to the phone right now. Why? Oh. ‘Cause she’s dead.” In the video, this is shown by all of her past selves falling down into a dark chasm, with the new Taylor standing on top of a hill with a giant T behind her.

The old Taylor is definitely dead. But instead of embracing grace and forgiveness, Taylor chose to be the bad guy, bent on revenge and retribution.

Now flip the script and take a look at my life recently. In the past few years, I went through my share of bad dating experiences. I was one guy’s rebound date. I went speed dating, but never really connected with anyone. I even dated someone who turned out to be a narcissist!

But at the same time, I kept writing. I worked on my novel and got to share it with other writers at a couple of conferences. I went to Chicago on my own! My first real grown-up adventure! I have been finding my writing voice, this clear, resonating bell that people can hear and listen to. I learned what forgiveness actually feels like and how to persevere in the face of adversity. In other words, I became stronger.

What gave me my strength? Grace. By rooting myself with God, He gave me strength I never knew I had. Even now, as Hurricane Harvey flees Texas, I have found the strength to overcome the anxiety that was building up within me since the storm hit. Grace is not something that I deserved because I was good. God’s strength was given to me because I needed it. Grace is a gift, one that we need to share with others. Through grace, we find the strength to forgive and renew ourselves. We find the strength to persevere. We die to ourselves and live again through Christ.

“It is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” Galatians 2:20

And grace is the difference between having a personal resurrection and being fueled by the revenge from the death of your reputation.

*mic drop*

Shadowmancer: A #ThrowbackThursday Book Review

I first read Shadowmancer back when I was in middle school. On the surface, it seems like this novel that takes place in a sleepy little English countryside fishing village would be the last place for an 18th century apocalypse to occur. In fact, Shadowmancer is similar to the gospel of John or the book of Revelations in its rich complexity and imagery. There are layers upon layers of metaphor and subtext as shown in this passage:.

The sky grew darker and darker and the full moon was blotted out by thick black cloud as streaks of lightning flashed from sky to sea, exploding in the water. A lightning sword hit the ship. The mainsail cracked, then crashed to the deck, sending startled crewmen bolting from their hammocks.

As they rushed on deck, another sail crashed down, splitting the deck in half and sending shafts of splintered wood into the air. The ship lifted and dropped with each wave; a crewman was thrown through the air and into the cold sea, never to be seen again.

“A direct hit,” shouted Demurral, laughing and rubbing his hands together in glee at the sight. “One more strike and the Keruvim will be mine.”

He raised the statue into the air and chanted more magic. “Wind, hail, lightning, thunder and wave.” The sea rose at his command, each surge growing higher and higher. Breakers like black fists smashed against the ship, almost engulfing the vessel.

Two local villagers, Thomas Barrick and Kate Coglan join up with a mysterious African man named Raphah to stop the main villain, Vicar Obadiah Demurral, from destroying the world. Demurral rules over the local villages with an iron fist, but the power he lords over the villages isn’t enough for him. He dabbles in dark magic that gives him the power to raise the dead, creating creatures called the Glashan, and steals the Keruvim (the MacGuffin of the story) with the hopes of using it and its other half in a ritual that will bring on the apocalypse.

Thomas starts out as your typical village street urchin. With his father dead and his mother in the hospital, he calls the vicar out on his hypocrisy and greed, lamenting his own poor status. He gets pulled into the action when Raphah rescues him from drowning. Although he is uncertain, Thomas is resolved to help Raphah on the mission to get the Keruvim back from Demurral. A young village girl, Kate Coglan gets thrown into the adventure when she tries to kill a Glashan, a zombie that Demurral raises from the dead, using the power of the gold Keruvim.

Raphah, the mysterious African from Cush, arrives in this small English countryside village to get the Keruvim back to his people. He’s the oldest of the trio and helps exposit important information regarding the dark magic and otherworldly creatures shown in this story. Prejudices towards Africans are prominent and he even gets branded as a slave, but his determination to do God’s will makes him a compelling character.

What makes Shadowmancer compelling to read is the attention to detail and the overall atmosphere. Whenever I open this book, I find some new detail I missed, another piece of the puzzle that adds depth and it entices me to read the book again in search for more. Most of all, I love why this book was written. In an interview with Christianity Today, GP Taylor said:

“I was out there talking to a church group about the threads, the dark and sinister threads through children’s literature. At the end of one of these nights, this woman came up to me and said, I think you should write a children’s book, but have the main theme of a God who’s triumphant. On the way home this stuck with me.”

Shadowmancer is a complicated, challenging read that fantasy fans will definitely find intriguing because of its dark atmosphere, threatening villain, and the timeless storyline of three unlikely heroes who, despite overwhelming odds, help to defeat the dark forces that were bent on destroying their world. I recommend this book for fans of dark fantasy and young adults who love a good Gothic atmosphere.

Moana’s Vocation: An Analysis

Moana’s story is unique in many ways. While the villains may be lackluster, the music is amazing. My favorite thing about Moana, though, is how the movie portrays what it means to have a vocation. While The Crown shows how the vocation of queenship negatively affects the people in Queen Elizabeth’s life, Moana’s story is a more positive portrayal.

As I’ve stated before, many people figure out their vocation at a very young age. Moana’s vocation is twofold: She needs to be the chief of her people, but she is also called by the ocean to voyage out and return the heart of Te Fiti to where it came from. She quickly learns, thanks to her grandmother, that in order to truly be the chief of her people, she has to answer the ocean’s call first, because her people were descended from voyagers, but forgot about that part of their life because of how dangerous the ocean became.

Answering the ocean’s call meant leaving her family behind, much like those who pursue religious life do. Men go to a seminary or monastery and women go to the convent. In the process of becoming a priest, a nun, or a brother, they are required to learn a lot of things. Out in the ocean, Moana learns how to be a good wayfinder, thanks to Maui’s mentoring.

Throughout the movie, Moana is tested in her resolve to stick to her vocation. She first gets tested when she gets hurt on her first attempt to sail beyond the reef.  Maui constantly tests her patience.  She faces obstacles such as the Kakamora and Tamatoa. She even loses her resolve when Maui decides to leave after Te Ka nearly defeats them. In spite of all that, the spirit of her grandmother returns and asks Moana “Do you know who you are?”

“I Am Moana” basically summarizes what it feels like when a person discerns his or her vocation. A Catholic can interpret that “still small voice,” the voice that calls Moana, as the Holy Spirit, reminding her about what she needs to do.  When she decides to be the one to take the heart to Te Fiti, she goes back to the ocean and gets the heart back, restoring order to the ocean and her home and even giving Maui a new sense of purpose.

When Moana returns home, the people of Motunui become voyagers again and it’s clear, from how the movie ends, that Moana’s adventures are just beginning. It shows that a vocation is something you have for life. For Moana, that means continuing the tradition of her voyaging ancestors and being the a good leader to her people.

I highly recommend Moana because it’s an excellent movie with a positive message for kids. It shows them that following your heart doesn’t mean being a rebel. It can mean becoming a leader and growing in wisdom.

What Would Buffy Do?- A Book Review

What_Would_Buffy_Do_(Buffyverse)

To say that Buffy the Vampire Slayer is a unique show that ended up changing my life forever would be an understatement. Much like how the Doctor from Doctor Who has two hearts, I have two great loves in my life: My Catholic faith and my obsession with fandoms, especially Buffy the Vampire Slayer. So imagine my surprise when I found out that a book like this one existed.

What Would Buffy Do: The Vampire Slayer as Spiritual Guide is a collection of essays by Jana Reiss, a Mormon writer who specializes in writing things relating to religion and spirituality. It really boggles the mind that a show like Buffy, created by well-renowned atheist Joss Whedon, would have spiritual and religious themes that would lead to a Mormon writing essays on it, among other things.

The essays in Spiritual Guide are split into three sections: Personal Spirituality, “Companions on the Journey” (Interpersonal aspects of spirituality), and “Saving the World” (broad spiritual themes).  The essays in the first section are the most accessible to understand. “Be a Hero, Even When You’d Rather Go to the Mall” looks into the theme of self-sacrifice, using the characters of Buffy, Angel, and Xander as examples. This essay ties self-sacrifice with the Buddhist concept of the bodhisattva, “beings who are more concerned with the welfare of others.”  Although it includes the prayer of St. Francis as a quote (the same prayer also used in the end of the Buffy season 6 finale “Grave”), it neglects to mention the Christian aspect of agape and altruism, especially this verse from John 15:13 “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”

“Change Makes us Human” looks into how vampires were originally conceived in the show: as metaphors for the selfish tendencies we have and the obstacles we have to deal with in the process of growing up. Spike is used as an example of this inability to change. In the episode “School Hard, Angel confronts Spike, saying “Things change.” Spike replies “Not us! Not demons!” The essay goes on to show how Spike becomes one of the most dynamic characters in the show, starting with the fact that Spike was the vampire with the most humanity. He cared for Drusilla for over a century and it’s through love (his love for Dawn and Buffy) that compels Spike to get his soul. Willow, Xander, and Giles’s character arcs are also examined.  What makes Buffy unique is that how slowly the show changes and evolves and the characters (and the audience) are forced to adapt and adjust to the change.

One aspect of change that this book looks into is death, examined in the essay “Death is Our Gift.” Death is shown as  something to be feared initially in Buffy and gave rise to the running joke of Joss Whedon killing off everyone the fans love. However, the darkness that death brings is one of the themes in season six. Sarah Michelle Gellar said that she felt uncomfortable with Buffy’s story arc in season six as it didn’t feel like the character she knew and loved. Marti Noxon, one of the writers and producers, called seas on six Buffy’s “Dark Night of the Soul.” Sadly, that’s the only mention of the Dark Night of the Soul in this entire book.

There is an essay on darkness in the third section of the book entitled “Taming the Darkness Within Ourselves,” but it looks into darkness from a more thematic and psychological perspective and not a spiritual one. Given that Spiritual Guide was published in 2004 and Mother Teresa’s struggles with her interior darkness wouldn’t be published until 2007, it’s somewhat understandable why the idea of spiritual darkness wasn’t fully examined in this book. The essay on humor “The ‘Monster Sarcasm Rally,'” also neglects to examine the ties between humor and faith. Then again, humor and religion have only recently shown to go hand in hand.

This book is a wonderful read as far as examining the various themes and the complexity of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, but the spiritual roots are soaking in shallow water, probably so that the book would be accessible to a general audience. I would love to see a follow-up to this book, some kind of anthology with essays from people of all denominations. On the other hand, maybe it’s a good thing that this book has me asking more questions than answers, leaving me wanting to dig deeper and continue down the path towards integrating my favorite show with my belief system.

In the last episode of Buffy, “Chosen,” the power of the Slayer is given to every girl in the world and ends with Dawn asking Buffy “What do we do now?” When I finished watching the show for the first time, I was left wanting more and eventually found a community of fellow fans who love Buffy. To my surprise, these friends are also people whom I can discuss my Catholic faith with openly. I think the Vampire Slayer Spiritual Guide serves a similar purpose. It’s not meant to give straightforward answers, but to act as a conversation piece for people like me who have both faith and fandoms in their lives. It might be a good way to introduce the show to those who wouldn’t watch something with horror and modern themes.

Tl;dr: Read this book and have a good discussion with your fellow philosophy and theology majors. And then watch Buffy. It will make you laugh, cry, and change your life forever.