How To Accept What You Can't Change In No Easy Steps

serenity rain

I’ve talked about The Serenity Prayer on this blog before (as well as the film Serenity). I even liked reading The Way of Serenity by Fr. Jonathan Morris. I feel particularly drawn to the Serenity Prayer lately because I’m having problems adjusting to change again. Or rather, the aftermath of the changes that came into my life. I’ve embraced the idea of trying new things, but sometimes, the new things are only there for a little while.

It’s kind of like going to Disneyland for the first time or to a seriously awesome retreat. When you try new things like volunteering or going to a new place, the experience can be amazing and overwhelming and you just get caught up in a blissful spiritual high. Then all of a sudden, you find yourself back to reality and you can’t go back and repeat that experience again.

I’ve been taking care of 2 bamboo plants and a small batch of mini-roses. Although I water them regularly, the roses are currently wilting and one of the stems of my bamboo plant is turning yellow. I can’t help but feel like these plants are reflecting how I feel spiritually. Plants can die from over-watering just as much as they can die from not being watered enough. Sometimes, spiritual thirst can come from wanting too much just as much as it can from not feeling anything.

Maybe it’s just one of those summer-is-almost-over kind of downer feelings, but I feel my life transitioning again and I’m not sure where it’ll go this time. I’m missing the fun stuff I did with my friends and dread being stuck in a rut again. But I have to accept where I am right now, whether I like it or not.

If there’s anything I learned this summer, it’s that God will always give you what you ask for, but not in the ways that you expect. There is no such thing as an unanswered prayer. Sometimes people only come into your life for a little while and sometimes there are people who will change your life forever. But you can’t cling onto whatever or whomever made you feel a certain way because those things aren’t God. If you love something, you gotta let it go. If you keep loving it, it will come back to you. Or whatever you want will come back in a different way. But it’s ultimately up to God.

So if you’re like me and right now you’re feeling bummed about summer being close to over (or already over depending on when you start school), pray the Serenity Prayer. I have my own modified version because I can’t resist making a Firefly joke.

God grant me the serenity to accept the things I can’t change

The courage to change the things I can

And the wisdom to know the difference

And if I can’t have any of those things right now,

I’ll just be here binge-watching Firefly

Photo courtesy of Unsplash.com

Firefly Month: The Wisdom of Serenity, the Big Damn Movie

Ladies and gentlemen and Browncoats of all ages, we have come to the end of my Firefly Month. And the only way I can properly end this is with a recap and analysis of the Big Damn Movie Serenity.

I hadn’t seen this movie for a long time, so watching it again gave me thrills and chills. I think it’s a great way to bring newcomers into the fandom and it’s a sneak preview of what Joss had to give the world in Avengers. Keep in mind that the last time Joss made a movie, it was Alien Resurrection and before that, it was the 1992 Buffy the Vampire Slayer movie starring Kristy Swanson. So to say that this movie is one of Joss’s best is saying a lot.

The prologue of the movie opens with a universe-establishing history lesson from Cam from Bones. Young River talks back to her teacher. Cut to River at the Alliance Lab, where she is in the middle of being lobotomized. The men at the Academy explain to Simon what they’re doing to River.  They intend on turning her into a living weapon. Simon activates a blast wave and the two of them escape the Academy.

It turns out to be a video seen by the bad guy of this movie, The Operative. He’s accessing the records and asks the Academy Doctor what his sin is, pointing out that it’s pride. The operative thinks that River picked up government secrets as she was experimented on. The Operative proceeds to kill everyone in the room in a disturbingly clean and precise manner and then asks about a way to get to River Tam’s triggers.

After the titles, we see Serenity preparing for a landing. Of course, the landing involves the usual atmospheric burning which included a hull scorching. This opening scene is majorly awesome. Former internet critic Welshy does a wonderful analysis of this opening shot in his Scene It video.

Mal plans to take River out on a job and Simon isn’t all too keen on it. This is a great intro for newcomers, but I’m very certain some of us are wondering where Book and Inara are. Mal, Zoe, Jayne, and River are planning a robbery of a security firm. River’s purpose in the robbery is to use her psychic powers to make sure the job goes smoothly.

Unfortunately, the job goes south when Reavers attack. River gets into a psychotic breakdown. The 4 head back to the ship as fast as possible. The Reavers are a LOT smarter and faster in this movie, making them all the more dangerous. They make it to the ship by the skin of their teeth, with only one Reaver on board. The Reaver gets dispatched of easily and Mal tells Wash to set a course for Beaumonde. Simon punches Mal in the face and tells Mal he wants off the ship.

Mal and Zoe have a conversation about why Mal chose to mercy kill a bystander instead of letting the guy onto their hovercraft. Mal has pretty much hardened. In the cargo hold, Kaylee says that the ship is falling apart in more ways than one. Not only does the ship need a repair, but Mal has seemingly drove away Inara like he’s pushing Simon and River out.

Once Serenity lands on Beaumonde, Kaylee gives Simon and River some tips before she and Mal go off to a bar/club called Maidenhead. Kaylee begs Mal to keep Simon and River on the ship, whining about how she hasn’t gotten laid in at least a year. She chastises Mal for letting Inara leave and walks out.

Mal meets up with Fanty and Mingo. River wanders into Maidenhead just as a commercial for fruity oaty bars plays. The commercial triggers her “living weapon” mode and she proceeds to she-fu everyone. Jayne tries to get her to calm down only for her to hit him below the belt and knock him out. Simon arrives and says a phrase in Mandarin that makes River fall asleep.The Operative watches from a distance.

Back on Serenity, Mal handcuffs River to the catwalk. He and Simon get into a fight again. Wash decides to ask Mr. Universe, a communications expert. They look over the footage and realize that the commercial had a subliminal message that activated her trigger. Simon takes care of River and she mentions Miranda. Simon thinks it might be a person or an alternate personality. River contemplates suicide, but Simon comforts her. We then cut to The Operative meeting with Inara, which can’t be any good.

Serenity lands in a moon called Haven, where Shepherd Book is waiting for them. Mal talks to Book about what to do with River. Book says that belief is going to help him get through this. Mal decides to walk out at the mention of faith, but Book points out that he wasn’t talking about God. Book, given his past with the Alliance, points out that whoever is after River is gonna strike from the shadows and won’t ask any questions.

Inara video calls Mal as the rest of the crew eavesdrops on them. She invites everyone to the Companion Training House where she’s staying and brings up the fact that she left some luggage on the ship. (Classic ex behavior.) When Mal enters the cockpit, Zoe deduces that it’s more than likely a trap and Mal agrees.

Mal arrives at the Training House and Inara chastises him for willingly going into the trap. The Operative comes in. He and Mal have a talk. Once The Operative mentions that he is unarmed, Mal shoots him. Of course, The Operative is wearing full body armor, which leads to him getting into a brawl with Mal and Inara. Just when The Operative thinks he has the upper hand, Inara points out that she wasn’t lighting incense. Cue a flash bomb that allows Mal and Inara to escape to the shuttle. Serenity sends out a handful of decoys and high tails it outta there.

On the ship, Inara points out that the reason that The Operative is dangerous is because he believes that killing River is the right thing to do and won’t stop until he finishes his mission. Jayne points out that Mal is being reckless, acting like he’s still in a war. Zoe orders Jayne to leave. Inara and Mal get into a fight of their own as the ship heads back to Haven. River has a dream of a distant planet and being attacked by Reavers.

In the kitchen, Jayne hears something from the other room. He gets his gun ready and looks for River. The rest of the crew hears a gunshot and find the kitchen locked. They search the ship for River, only for River to come out from the kitchen. She punches Simon in the throat and knocks Simon out. Mal finds River in the cockpit. She holds him at gunpoint. Mal asks River if she’s a person. She shows Mal what Miranda is: a planet.

Mal says that Miranda was an uninhabitable planet. But even though they’re close to Miranda, they would enter into Reaver territory if they were planning on landing on the planet. The ship lands on Haven to find the encampment burned by the Alliance. Mal finds a dying Shepherd Book. Book went down fighting to defend himself. Book says that he isn’t part of Mal’s crew but Mal says otherwise. Book begs Mal to believe in something, anything, and dies.

Zoe realizes that The Operative is probably tracking down everyone who’s ever worked with them. Mal is at the cockpit, looking at the footage of the people The Operative killed to get to them. Mal asks The Operative why he’s doing what he does. The Operative says that he believes in a world without sin. Then Mal gets a wonderful, awful idea.

Mal starts ordering his crew to disguise Serenity as a Reaver ship. The crew starts to protest, but Mal stops the fight once and for all by saying that he wants to make his stand against the Alliance and he wants to go to Miranda. So Serenity dons her disguise. As the ship gets closer to Miranda, they hear distant screams of nearby ships, leaving The Operative in the dust.

Once the crew is on Miranda, they find that the planet was properly terraformed and well developed. Their search for a beacon signal leads them to a public area with corpses all around. River goes through another mental breakdown.

They make their way to a research and rescue building where the beacon signal was sent. River activates a recording of a researcher assessing the damages. The people of Miranda died because of a chemical called the Pax which was put into the atmosphere as a way to lessen aggression. Only problem is that the chemical worked too well, taking away everyone’s desires and drives until they let themselves die. However, a tenth of the population had the opposite reaction and turned into Reavers.

River throws up and realizes that she finally gained clarity. Mal makes it his mission to get that message out to the entire verse and aims to misbehave. They decide to reach out to Mr. Universe, who already has the Alliance in his house. The Operative tells his men to destroy everything.

An epic space fight ensues as Serenity makes its way out of Reaver territory. On the other side, The Operative waits with an entire Alliance army, ready to fire. Serenity comes in with a fleet of Reavers behind her, forcing the two armies to fight each other.

Wash maneuvers Serenity through the artillery fire and blasts in a seriously awesome scene. All the while, The Operative gets into an escape pod and heads for the planet. Serenity prepares for a very crashy landing but Wash is able to maneuver the ship and glide it into landing. The ship shakes, rattles, and falls apart inside, and comes to a stop at the hangar. But just before the audience gets a chance to breathe, Wash says “I’m a leaf on the wind, watch how I-” and gets impaled in the chest by a Reaver ship, dying instantly. Zoe and Mal make a run for it and head inside with the rest of the crew to a bunker.

The crew creates a strategy. Zoe says they have to bottleneck the Reavers and prepares herself for battle. Mal asks Jayne for grenades as Reavers close in and sends a few out the door. Mal tells Zoe to hold the line as he makes his way into Mr. Universe’s room. He walks in to find the whole place wrecked up. However, the robot tells Mal that there’s a backup hidden and that the signal is still going.

As the Reavers close in, River breaks down. Kaylee laments dying while Simon decides to tell her how he feels about her. With the promise of finally consummating her relationship with Simon, Kaylee gains the will to live and prepares to fight.

Back at Mr. Universe’s, the Operative and Mal confront each other. Mal declares that he believes in getting the message out there and that he’s willing to die for it. Thankfully, Mal is a very quick draw.

The crew falls back as the Reavers close in on them. Jayne throws his last grenade. Kaylee says that the door can be shut, but only from the outside. Then Simon realizes he left his bag outside and gets shot.

Cue the beginning of River’s most epic moment in this entire movie.

Serenity_2286

You take care of me, Simon. You’ve always taken care of me. My turn.

Then River jumps out there, closes the door, and tosses Simon’s bad to the crew, all the while, she fights off the Reavers in the most epic fight scene since “Chosen.”

Mal continues to fight the Operative. During the fight, the Operative asks Mal if he knows what his sin is. Mal says “Hell. I’m a fan of all 7. But right now, I’m going to have to go with wrath.” The Operative stabs Mal in the side and prepares for his final blow, but we all know that Mal doesn’t go down without a fight. He refuses to kill the Operative and sends the message from Miranda out into the verse. When Mal returns to his crew, opens to River standing on the corpses of Reavers. The Alliance closes in, prepared to kill, but the Operative tells them to stand down.

A funeral is held. Zoe wears a beautiful white dress as she sends off the rocket. The crew gets to work repairing and repainting Serenity. Simon and Kaylee finally consummate their relationship while River watches, the little voyeurist that she is. And finally, on a rainy day, the Operative warns Mal that as of now, they’re all fugitives. The Operative is no longer working for the Alliance. Zoe says that Serenity is ready to go. Mal asks Inara if she’s ready to leave, but Inara isn’t so sure. Then Mal makes his way to the cockpit, where River is there, as his copilot. And the film ends with the ship flying through the rain into the black.

In the DVD commentary of this movie, Joss outed himself as an atheist and an absurdist. One theme prominent in this movie is the concept of belief. It’s telling that Joss chose to kill off Shepherd Book and Wash in this movie because Wash, like Xander in Buffy and Topher in Dollhouse is Joss’s Author Avatar. Symbolically speaking, Joss was killing off his belief in a higher power and his time with Firefly through this movie.

There’s this theme in Serenity of the “right to be wrong” because the Alliance was trying to take away free will in Miranda. During the Easter Vigil, one of the many readings is the fall of Man in the Garden of Eden. Fr. Robert Barron said this in one of his Lenten Reflections:

“The serpent places in the minds of Adam and Eve the conviction that unless and until they determine the meaning and purpose of their lives, they will not be free. To put it in modern terms, their lives will not be lived to the fullest. But the knowledge of good and evil is the godlike prerogative to set the agenda for one’s life, to determine the difference between right and wrong. And this belongs to God alone. Just as he breathed life and being into us, so he breathes moral and spiritual purpose into us.

When we convince ourselves that we live on our own terms, we cease to be truly free and alive. When Adam and Eve grasped at this knowledge, they were expelled from the garden, not because God is vindictive, but because it is the natural consequence of making oneself into God. When we grasp at divinity, whatever life we have dries up. We become small souls, locked in the prison of our egotism, victims of the Great Lie.”

The thing is, though, is that Whedon isn’t anti-religious. He just hates bad religion. He includes Jewish characters in Firefly such as Amnon and Mr. Universe. And while Book has a dark and troubled past, he still advises Mal in spite of Mal’s hatred for God. It’s telling that Book’s last plea was for Mal to believe in something, anything, because Mal did find something to believe in: the right thing to do. The Alliance doesn’t represent God, but rather Man having a God Complex. As Paul said “Where sin abounds, grace abounds all the more.” Make a world without sin, and you also remove grace. The name of the planet is also an allusion to this. Miranda is the name of the heroine from The Tempest. As in “O brave new world that has such people in’t.”

Kyle Cupp and I discussed the themes of Serenity and sin and he had this to say:

“When Mal says he aims to misbehave, he’s not defending moral anarchy or nihilism. He’s defying the Alliance’s false concept of what’s right. And their demand that everyone obey. It’s not God he really opposes, but idolatry. [The Operative] bought into the lie. He believes a world without sin is possible, for others if not himself.

The Operative: I’m sorry. If your quarry goes to ground, leave no ground to go to. You should have taken my offer. Or did you think none of this was your fault?
Capt. Malcolm Reynolds: I don’t murder children.

The Operative: I do. If I have to.

Capt. Malcolm Reynolds: Why? Do you even know why they sent you?

The Operative: It’s not my place to ask. I believe in something greater than myself. A better world. A world without sin.

Capt. Malcolm Reynolds: So me and mine gotta lay down and die… so you can live in your better world?

The Operative: I’m not going to live there. There’s no place for me there… any more than there is for you. Malcolm… I’m a monster. What I do is evil. I have no illusions about it, but it must be done.

He’s almost a Moses figure for the false paradise promised by the Alliance.

I’ve been talking a lot about the Serenity Prayer and alluding to this during my Firefly recaps. If “The Message” was about acceptance and “Objects in Space” was about courage, the movie as a whole carried with it the theme of wisdom. Wisdom, as I’ve learned, is very different from knowledge. To put things simply, knowledge is the desire to know everything while wisdom is the desire to only know what is important.

In Serenity, the Operative and the Alliance represent knowledge. They used Miranda as a test site for gaining the knowledge of having as much control over everyone as possible. In contrast, Mal and his crew represent wisdom. Mal knows he’s in over his head and they all know that the odds are stacked against them, but they also use wisdom to press forward.

Zoe gains wisdom in this movie through the loss of her husband. She gets herself injured during the fight with the Reavers and there are some points where you wonder if she has a death wish, but ultimately, she moves on. The last line she says in the movie about Serenity also applies to herself as well. And it’s a relief to know that in the comics, Zoe eventually has a child.

Jayne doesn’t get much to do, given that he’s the muscle, but it’s interesting to see the number of times he goes out of his way to help River. It’s a really big character development given his misgivings for the Tam siblings. And while he keeps an eye out for River, he still acknowledges that they’re dangerous to the crew. But this time, he does this with a layer of sympathy for both of them.

I knew what was coming the first time I heard Wash say “I am a leaf on the wind.” I wanted to stop the movie there. But I didn’t. We get to see Wash be active in combat, albeit only through flying the ship in dangerous situations. But his landing of Serenity was still a wonderful moment in spite of what happened.

Kaylee was right to call Mal out for becoming such a cold-hearted person, especially towards Inara. Her desire to get laid is a source of humor and some eye-rolls from me. But hey, she gets to fight and she gets the guy in the end, so all’s well that ends well.

Inara doesn’t really do much in this movie aside from help Mal escape from the Operative. But it’s nice that she decides to return to Serenity. Sadly, given the length of the movie, their will they/won’t they will have to sadly never be resolved. Thank God for fanfiction!

But really, the movie is about three people: Mal, Simon, and River.

I think it was wise of Mal to bring River during one of his heists because he wants to make her useful in the hopes of getting her to function like a normal person. Simon is so protective of River that he borders on smothering her. However, it’s not until River goes to Miranda and finds the message left behind that River actually starts to gain the healing she needs. And once River gains her clarity, Simon decides on making his own life, starting with having a relationship with Kaylee. The movie starts out with River and Simon being the focus and crux of the movie centers on Mal’s belief that River was still human and still in need. In spite of him being hardened, helping River gives Mal and Simon some sense of purpose.

I think my favorite line from the movie is the one from the end. I think this shows what Mal believes in more than anything else.

Mal: It ain’t all buttons and charts, little albatross. You know what the first rule of flying is? Well, I suppose you do, since you already know what I’m about to say.

River: I do. But I like to hear you say it.

Mal: Love. You can learn all the math in the ‘verse… but you take a boat in the air that you don’t love… she’ll shake you off just as sure as the turn of the worlds. Love keeps her in the air when she ought to fall down… tells you she’s hurting before she keels. Makes her a home.

And with that, my Firefly month comes to an end.

Attributions: Screenshots are copyright to 20th Century Fox and Mutant Enemy Productions and are used for editorial purposes only.

Five Words For You To Contemplate

I started out this year with the oneword365 challenge in which I would focus and contemplate on one word for the whole year. The word I chose was “patience” since I always struggled with having patience in my life. Then God laughed and gave me some other words to contemplate during Lent.

 

Patience

I chose “patience” as my word for the year because, as stated before, I struggled with waiting. Whenever I anticipate something, time seems to go by even slower. My patience was tested several times throughout the last three months. Sometimes, it came in the form of people making small talk and other times it came in the form of over a dozen second graders who refused to settle down.

Throughout the last three months, I learned that things always come on God’s time, usually just when you need it the most. It might be something as small as hearing a song that lifts you out of a bad mood or as big as getting a job offer on the same day that your purse got stolen. It also means waiting for the right time to say something important or choosing not to say anything at all.  I learned that if I do little things while I’m waiting, it ends up paying off. So as Lent transitions into Easter, I’ll keep on serving the Lord and take life one day at a time.

This song came to mind when I thought about patience. I invite you to listen to it and tell me how God is asking you to be patient:

 

Serenity

It started with me finding this book called The Way of Serenity  by Fr. Jonathan Morris. The Serenity Prayer has helped me through a lot of restless nights. The first part of the Serenity Prayer is “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I can’t change.”

On top of my impatience issues, I also have some control freak tendencies. I hate being interrupted. I hate being rejected. I hate being late. But the past few months have reminded me that there are a lot of things in life that are far beyond my control and the only thing I can control is how I deal with these things. When the internet started fighting over a dress, I chose to watch Firefly. Whenever I faced rejection, I remind myself of those who already accept me. Whenever I felt neglected, I focused my sights on the fact that God’s always watching. Whenever life threw a curve ball, I dug my trenches and made the best of the situation, all the while accepting that God was in control.

BTW: Check out the cast of CW’s The Flash singing the Ballad of Serenity a cappella/gospel style. It’s shiny!

 

Courage

Of course, there’s a time to wait and there’s a time to speak out. Quotes from Taylor Swift’s album introductions come to mind:

FEARLESS is not the absence of fear. It’s not being completely unafraid. To me, FEARLESS is having fears. FEARLESS is having doubts. Lots of them. To me, FEARLESS is living in spite of those things that scare you to death. FEARLESS is falling madly in love again, even though you’ve been hurt before…It’s FEARLESS to have faith that someday things will change. FEARLESS is having the courage to say goodbye to someone who only hurts you, even if you can’t breathe without them. I think it’s FEARLESS to fall for your best friend, even though he’s in love with someone else. And when someone apologizes to you enough times for things they’ll never stop doing, I think it’s FEARLESS to stop believing them. It’s FEARLESS to say “You’re NOT sorry”, and walk away…Letting go is FEARLESS. Then, moving on and being alright…That’sFEARLESS too. But no matter what love throws at you, you have to believe in it. You have to believe in love stories and prince charmings and happily ever after. That’s why I write these songs. Because I think love is FEARLESS


Real life is a funny thing, you know. In real life, saying the right thing at the right moment is beyond crucial. So crucial, in fact, that most of us start to hesitate, for fear of saying the wrong thing at the wrong time. But lately what I’ve began to fear more than that is letting the moment pass without saying anything. 

I think most of us fear reaching the end of our life, and looking back regretting the moments we didn’t speak up. When we didn’t say ‘I love you’. When we should’ve said ‘I’m sorry’. When we didn’t stand up for ourselves or someone who needed help. 

Words can break someone into a million pieces, but they can also put them back together. I hope you use yours for good, because the only words you’ll regret more than the ones left unsaid are the ones you use to intentionally hurt someone. 

What you say might be too much for some people. Maybe it will come out all wrong and you’ll stutter and you’ll walk away embarrased, wincing as you play it all back in your head. But I think the words you stop yourself from saying are the ones that will haunt you the longest. 

So say it to them. Or say it to yourself in the mirror. Say it in a letter you’ll never send or in a book millions might read someday. I think you deserve to look back on your life without a chorus of resounding voices saying ‘I could’ve, but it’s too late now.’ 

There is a time for silence. There is a time for waiting your turn. But if you know how you feel, and you so clearly know what you need to say, you’ll know it. 

I don’t think you should wait. I think you should speak now 

The debate over whether people can change is an interesting one for me to observe because it seems like all I ever do is change. All I ever do is learn from my mistakes so I don’t make the same ones again. Then I make new ones. I know people can change because it happens to me little by little every day. Every day I wake up as someone slightly new. Isn’t it wild and intriguing and beautiful to think that every day we are new?

So it’s only natural that the song I choose for whenever I’m contemplating courage is one of hers. I want to know what it’s like for you when you have courage, when you feel fearless, or a time when you chose to speak out.

 

Wisdom

It’s hard to believe that I’m 25 years, two months, 1 week, and five days old now. It’s hard to believe that a year ago, I consecrated myself to Jesus through Mary. And that I’ll be renewing that consecration this year.

One of Mary’s many, many titles is “Seat of Wisdom.” (Taken from the Litany of Loreto.) Jesus, Mary, Joseph, and a number of other saints have been teaching me wisdom throughout Lent. But Mary has been teaching me the most about what it means to be wise. I’m no longer the smartest girl in school and the news I hear every day reminds me that there are things that are far beyond my understanding.

But wisdom is different from knowledge. To quote The Way of Serenity:

Wisdom is not really about knowing many things, but rather knowing (discerning) what is important…Have you noticed that wise people are humble people? The know how much they don’t know.

Since today is the feast of the Annunciation, I ask you to contemplate the first Joyful Mystery and ask Mary to share her wisdom with you. Be with Mary as she contemplates the fact that she is going to become the mother of God, that she chose to say “Yes,” and that now, even to this day, many generations call her “blessed.”

 

Mercy

Throughout Lent, my dad and I prayed the Divine Mercy Chaplet at 3PM. I read bits and pieces of the Diary of St. Faustina. I even listened to Fr. Michael Gaitley’s story of how Divine Mercy was part of God’s plan for St. Faustina and for St. John Paul II.

But what comes to my mind when I think of mercy is Psalm 51. I kept seeing parts of it during the readings for Daily Mass and in the Sunday Psalms. It was my constant prayer during my restless nights and whenever I found myself “backsliding.”

Have mercy on me, God, in accord with your merciful love;

in your abundant compassion blot out my transgressions.

Thoroughly wash away my guilt;

and from my sin cleanse me.

For I know my transgressions;

my sin is always before me.

Against you, you alone have I sinned;

I have done what is evil in your eyes

So that you are just in your word,

and without reproach in your judgment.

Behold, I was born in guilt,

in sin my mother conceived me.

Behold, you desire true sincerity;

and secretly you teach me wisdom.

Cleanse me with hyssop, that I may be pure;

wash me, and I will be whiter than snow.

You will let me hear gladness and joy;

the bones you have crushed will rejoice.

Turn away your face from my sins;

blot out all my iniquities.

A clean heart create for me, God;

renew within me a steadfast spirit.

Do not drive me from before your face,

nor take from me your holy spirit.

Restore to me the gladness of your salvation;

uphold me with a willing spirit.

I will teach the wicked your ways,

that sinners may return to you.

Rescue me from violent bloodshed, God, my saving God,

and my tongue will sing joyfully of your justice.

Lord, you will open my lips;

and my mouth will proclaim your praise.

For you do not desire sacrifice or I would give it;

a burnt offering you would not accept.

My sacrifice, O God, is a contrite spirit;

a contrite, humbled heart, O God, you will not scorn.

Treat Zion kindly according to your good will;

build up the walls of Jerusalem.

Then you will desire the sacrifices of the just,

burnt offering and whole offerings;

then they will offer up young bulls on your altar.

Danielle Rose has a beautiful musical version of this song from her album “Culture of Life.” I invite you to listen to it and pray it. I also want to know how mercy has been a part of your life.

 

So those are the words I have gathered so far. What words have you been drawn to during this Lenten season?

Firefly Month: Solid Ground and Synchronicity in Out of Gas

Out of Gas is unique in the sense that it’s told in anachronistic order. I’ll start with what I call “present day”:

The episode starts out with shots of an empty Serenity, which already tells the audience that something is wrong. Just as we start to wonder where everyone was, we see Captain Mal Reynolds collapsing onto the floor of the cargo hold.

The episode then flashes back to the crew of Serenity sharing funny stories around the dinner table and celebrating Simon’s birthday, when all of a sudden there’s an explosion from the engine room. The explosion knocks Zoe out and disables the life support and auxiliary power. To make things worse, they’re flying under the radar which meant that finding help is next to impossible. Kaylee explains that the ship can’t be fixed without a certain part, meaning that they are proverbially “dead in the water.” Mal tells everyone to evacuate the ship while he waits for help.

A while after everyone leaves, another ship arrives, but unfortunately, the people who have that part that Mal wants turn out to be scavengers and not good Samaritans. Mal manages to get them off and get the MacGuffin, but collapses.

And now we’ll move on to the scenes where Mal’s life flashes before his eyes.

Mal bought Serenity with Zoe, back when the ship was in a supposedly dilapidated state. Zoe is wary of it, but clearly she’s never seen home makeover shows. Mal hires Wash to be the pilot and a mechanic named Bester. Zoe does not like Wash, which again makes me wonder how the two got together in the first place. Later on, we find the mechanic Bester in flagrante delicto with Kaylee in the engine room.. Bester said that engines make her hot. Mal points out that the ship needs to get off ground because they’re behind schedule. Kaylee, mechanical genius that she is, points out the problem and gets hired on the spot at Bester’s expense. Some time later, Jayne gets recruited to the team when he and a band of robbers take Serenity at gunpoint and Mal bribes Jayne into turning to their side, offering room and board and more money. Finally, Inara is taken onto the ship, citing that her status as a Companion will create a sense of credibility and status. She asks for 3 things: complete autonomy, that Mal never walks into her shuttle without permission, and that Mal never calls her a whore. Well, 1 out of 3 ain’t bad, right?

Going back to the present day, Mal is able to give himself enough adrenaline to get the MacGuffin into the engine room and get the ship running again, but passes out before he can send a call to the shuttles to return to the ship.

The next thing we see is Mal waking up in the infirmary and I start wondering if we’re watching the end of Inception because Zoe supposedly regained consciousness and ordered both shuttles to return to the ship, thus saving Mal’s life. Too bad we never see that scene and are left guessing whether or not Mal and the rest of the crew died and the rest of everything is just an afterlife thing. I’m not gonna say I hate you, Joss Whedon. Not yet. I’m saving that for later. For now, I’m gonna roll my eyes and roll with the punches.

This was not an easy episode to analyze. This episode runs on backstory, which doesn’t lend much to finding themes or questions about morality. But then this old adage came to me: “God draws straight with crooked lines.” Also known as “everything happens for a reason.”

Synchronicity, as defined by Carl Jung, is “two or more events that are meaningfully related, but not casually related,” a coincidence that actually means something.

 

One can also argue that synchronicity is another way of saying “divine providence.”

 

At the end of the episode, we see that Mal originally looked at a large rocket-type ship before choosing Serenity. We also learn that Wash and Zoe weren’t a case of “love at first sight” and Kaylee only came onto the crew by chance. Jayne joined the crew because there would be more money and better service, Inara joined the crew because they needed her as much as she needs them and the pilot shows that everyone else on the ship started out as passengers.

But eventually, we see what all these moments lead up to: Zoe eventually gains a husband, Jayne gets to act as the crew’s enforcer and muscle, Kaylee gets to do what she loves for a living (working with mechanics, not the other thing; get your mind out of the gutter), Inara has a sense of independence, the Tam siblings find refuge, and Shepherd Book gets a home. What does Mal get out of it? He gets a family.

I think it’s fitting that the first flashback we see in the episode is when everyone’s gathered around the table exchanging stories and celebrating Simon’s birthday. They’ve come a really long way from how things started.

Joseph Susanka of “Summa This, Summa That” says:

He’s “out of gas” at the beginning of the timeline, searching for somewhere to anchor himself. The ship is what he finds. But through the course of the episode, as we see everyone coming together (and eventually, his efforts to protect them all as the ship *seems* like it’s deserving/betraying him), we come to realize that it’s the people on the ship that really anchor him. The real “solid ground.”

So instead of taking the idea that everyone died, I’d like to think that Providence came in to turn things around for Mal. After all, there are bigger things that the crew of the Serenity has to face.

JMJ

Firefly and Morality Part 1: Serenity (The Pilot Episode)

Although I love Joss Whedon, I’m not one of those fans who thinks he’s perfect. One major flaw in his works is that he is amazing with finales, but not as good with beginnings. The first episode of Firefly has a lot of great establishing moments and a lot of worldbuilding, but the pacing is seriously slow. Mostly because the episode itself is an hour and 30 minutes long.

The episode opens at the battle of Serenity Valley. It’s your typical “against all odds” kind of battle and it doesn’t go well. I gasped at the sight of Mal kissing his cross necklace and watches as his faith shattered before his eyes as the Alliance closed in on them. The action of the episode, however, doesn’t pick up until the crew of Serenity lands on a planet to pick up passengers. On the surface, Mal claims that they’re just gonna make a rest stop in a moon called Whitefall. In reality, they’re smuggling a crate of foodstuffs that they salvaged.

The standoff in the cargo hold leads to the major moral conflict of the episode: What to to with Simon Tam, who is a wanted fugitive on the run from the Alliance. Dobson, a passenger that the crew picked up, turns out to be a mole, going after  Simon and River for the bounty on their heads. Mal is more than willing to let Simon go if it meant getting the Alliance off his back, but when Dobson shoots Kaylee and leaves her in critical condition, Mal has no choice but to let Simon put his skills as a doctor and surgeon to work. (Kudos to Book for knocking Dobson out, by the way.) Once the bullet is extracted, Mal checks what exactly Simon brought on board with him that the Alliance wants so badly. Enter River Tam, very naked and very afraid. Once River is unboxed, Simon reveals his backstory to the crew. The crew debates about what to do with Simon, River, and Dobson. Mal wants to leave the Tams on Whitefall but Inara disagrees and threatens to leave.

Jayne gets put in charge of interrogating Dobson. While he is able to get answers out of the mole without resorting to torture,  Dobson plants the seed of doubt in Jayne’s mind: Simon and River are worth a lot of money. This becomes a major moral dilemma later.  In the infirmary, Kaylee points out to Mal that in spite of what he says, he is a nice man because he always looks out for his crew. She points out that he needs to have faith in people. He proves to need a lot of room in that department because he decides to prank Simon in a scene I dare not spoil here. Unfortunately, while Mal, Zoe, and Jayne are making a deal on a distant moon, Dobson escapes and takes River hostage.

Things finally start picking up when the ship catches the sight of Reavers, a group of monsters known for putting their victims through fates worse than death. When Mal, Zoe, and Jayne return to the ship, Mal shoots Dobson dead and they take off running, escaping the Reavers by the skin of their teeth. Shepherd suffers a minor crisis of faith about the fact that he has no moral qualms about Mal shooting Dobson. Stuff between Mal and Jayne gets foreshadowed for a future episode and Mal makes Simon an offer: stay on the ship and work as a medic and they’ll keep them on the run and away from the Alliance.

The moral dilemma stems on the conflict of what is legal vs what is morally right. This conflict of ethics gets brought up a lot. In this verse, Inara’s job (a high class call girl) is considered legal while Mal and his crew trying to salvage a ship is considered illegal. While Simon getting his sister out of the Academy was morally right, it came at the cost of him and his sister becoming fugitives. Mal comes off as hardened and morally ambiguous, just wanting to survive, but the members of his crew, especially Inara, keep him accountable. He needs them just as much as they all need him. Ut still comes as a sigh of relief that Mal decided to keep Simon and River on board. But his prank on Simon was psychotic.

A theory that analyzes Mal’s change of heart in this episode explains that River embodies someone who was royally screwed and abused by the Alliance like Mal was and, in his own strange way, Mal wants to give River the help he never got. I’m actually one to vouch that it was actually morally right for Mal to shoot Dobson in the hostage situation. As much as I wished that someone wrestled River free from Dobson and that Dobson could’ve been thrown off the ship to starve on Whitefall, it wasn’t likely to happen. Mal’s friendship with River is hinted at throughout the series, but is best seen at the end of Serenity (the film). We have a long way to go until then, though. Stay shiny because tomorrow, I look at “The Train Job.”

Of Firefly and Morality: An Introduction

Whenever I get into one of those moods where I think “I don’t want to live on this planet anymore,” I start watching my favorite sci-fi space drama. But unlike a lot of nerds, my favorite space drama isn’t Star Wars or Star Trek. It’s Firefly.

I got into Firefly long after it got cancelled. I just got done with Doctor Horrible and started watching Firefly since the main character was played by Nathan Fillion. (It’s also why I got into Castle.) Lucky for me, it was streaming online through Hulu and Netflix and is still streaming to this day. I hope to own the series and the film Serenity on DVD someday as well.

The reason I love the show so much is because it’s a show that puts characters first. The characters of Star Trek and Star Wars are definitely memorable, but at times, they feel more like archetypes or mythological beings than actual people. When I watched Firefly, I felt like I could belong and relate to these characters right away. But I also love Firefly because of all the shows created by Joss Whedon, it’s the series that looks into the ideas of morality the most.

But before I can talk about the show, lemme introduce you to the characters. Spoilers and fangirling ahead. You were warned.

Captain Malcolm Reynolds is a man of very strange morals. On the one hand, he doesn’t want anything to do with God. On the other hand, he gets into situations with a lot of risk and very little to no reward because he thinks it’s the right thing to do. He’s protective of his crew and will gladly ask for their help when necessary. The best example of that is in “War Stories,” when the crew comes to rescue him and Wash from Niska (the villain of the episode) and Mal gets into a fight with one of Niska’s henchmen. Zoe says “This is something the captain’s got to do for himself.” Mal disagrees, shouting, “No, it’s not!” cueing Zoe and the others to open fire. It’s hilarious! I also love his determination. He’ll never go down without a fight. Gotta love that in a Captain.

Zoe Washburne is the second-in-command, the cool, calm, and collected one of the team. She keeps Mal and Jayne from going over the edge and is great strategist in a hard situation. She’s loyal and protective, a true Mama Bear to the crew. What stands out about her is that she is a tower of brute strength in contrast to Whedon’s usual line of small girls with super powers. Plus she came up with the line of “Big Damn Heroes,” which is awesome. “War Stories” is also a great episode that showcases her character. But Zoe’s greatest moment in my opinion wasn’t anything from the show, but in Serenity. I dare not spoil the scene. But say the phrase “I am a leaf on the wind” in front of any Browncoat and I will guarantee you, they will start crying and ask “What’s wrong with you?!”

Wash is the pilot, the comic relief, and Joss’s avatar. His establishing scene in the pilot with the dinosaurs is basically him in a nutshell: hilarious and childlike one minute, but ready for business the next. His devotional love to his wife is heartwarming and endearing. I keep thinking of this lovely scene in “Shindig,” when instead of going out to the fancy party that Mal, Kaylee, and Inara are attending, Wash and Zoe are in their bunk doing what married people do and exchange in a bit of pillow talk. I wish I could’ve seen how they got together since in “Out of Gas,” it’s shown that they weren’t exactly a case of love at first sight. Also, Joss? You’re a bastard. But you already knew that.

Inara Serra is not and never was what you would call a “space hooker.” Fellow Browncoats and I compare her to a geisha: a woman who is trained to be intelligent, sociable, and alluring. She’s fanservice but she’s actually not objectified as often as one might expect. In fact, Mal points out in “Shindig” that he respects her as a person, but he does not like her profession. “Shindig” is my personal favorite episode because it shows the gamut of Inara’s job. (Well, really it’s my favorite because I’m a sucker for costumes, especially period-themed costumes. But I digress.) You see Inara belonging amongst the upper class, entertaining her client beyond just being a mistress, and teaching Mal how to fight with a sword. (Did I mention that I also love the episode because I’m also a sucker for swordfighting?) I also recommend watching “Heart of Gold” but I can never watch it alone. Mostly because I cried my heart out.

Jayne Cobb is the muscle of the team with the most ambiguous morals. Okay, in actuality, he probably has no morals. “Jaynestown” is the best example of that. He’s great in situations where he can work with his hands. He is the personification of the Id, moreso than McCoy because, well, his two loves are weapons and women. But in spite of his moral ambiguity, he wants to be a good man. He prefers to be honest and he’s got a lot of heart. Why else would he wear such a ridiculous hat? (Note to self: My brother needs to crochet that thing.)

Kaylee Frye is adorable. She is basically sunshine and rainbows and strawberries all wrapped up in a lovely mechanic-shaped package. Her love for the ship Serenity is best seen in “Bushwhacked” and “Out of Gas.” Going back to “Shindig,” Kaylee gets her share of fun at the party. First of all, she wears this bright pink layer cake of a dress that most Sweet Lolita cosplayers would give their left arm to have. (Myself included.) Secondly, she gets the attention of most of the men who aren’t on the dance floor just by being herself. She talks about her specialty: mechanics and engines, to the point that the men would prefer her conversation than just having a dance with her. I relate to Kaylee the most in spite of my own lack of mechanical expertise because I relate to her personality and her unrequited crush on Simon. We’ve all been there, girlfriend.

Dr. Simon Tam is a character I admire more than I can relate to. But he is also the character who has the most to lose. He sacrificed his privileged life and his job to protect his sister. He’s also the butt of a lot of jokes, especially in his conflicts with Jayne. His best episode is “Ariel,” but I personally love this scene from “Trash” when he has Jayne on an operating table and intimidates him in the calmest but borderline frightening way possible. Heck, put into a different context, you could probably drop the scene down in a horror movie.

River Tam is my second favorite character on the show. She has 2 of the most memorable lines in the series, she can be crazy one moment and mind-blowingly awesome the next. Watch Serenity to see just how awesome she is or the episode “Objects in Space.” All I can say is that Summer Glau needs to find a show to be in. She has the power to read minds, which can really be a deterrent because she can also feel the pain of those she reads. Interesting little trivia: Summer Glau has a background in ballet, so Summer Glau’s fighting style is best described as being a “dance battler.” Watch her dance, btw. She is amazing.

Last, but not least, we have Shepherd Book, the preacher with a mysterious past. Thank you, Joss Whedon, for not making Book the stereotype I hate the most. (I still can’t forgive you for Caleb though.) The origin of Book gets revealed in the comics and I agree with most of it except for the part that Book wasn’t his real name. I always imagined he was like Jayne, a mercenary who joined up with the Alliance with sort of this bloodthirsty manner, but seeing the consequences of the Alliance caused a crisis of faith and so he chose to become a Shepherd.

Morality is a funny thing in Firefly, and in Joss Whedon’s works overall. Out of all the Whedon oeuvre, Firefly is the one that deals with morality the most. Buffy has mostly a very secular black-and-white sense of morality that gets a lot more confusing later on. Angel has gray morals and has a pessimistic, borderline nihilistic tone about it. Dollhouse has the darkest tone when it comes to morals and the questions that get brought up aren’t exactly answered all that well. But Firefly and Serenity constantly ask questions about morality and ethics and try to define what exactly right and wrong mean. How? Well, keep reading the blog and you’ll find out.