once upon a time : a modern christian epic?

Major spoilers ahead – proceed at own risk

Television today is riddled with asinine reality shows and poorly written situational comedies.  There is a lot of trash out there – a lot – so much that I have friends that have, understandably, decided to exclude television from their lives altogether.  However, I don’t have that kind of self-discipline.  I am a television junkie.

After I’d exhausted every episode of the American version of “The Office,” and (disappointingly) got caught up on all available episodes of “Parks and Recreation” and “The Big Bang Theory,” I found myself searching for something else to amuse myself with.

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I stumbled upon “Once Upon a Time” through the modern technological miracle that is Netflix.  I didn’t expect to like it – it seemed cheesy (and it is).  The writing isn’t always great, the special effects are mostly horrible, and the plot (while delightfully twisty) is filled to the brim with tropes and loopholes and deus ex machinas.

It is also perhaps the only modern show that, without being overtly religious or spiritual in nature, doesn’t really create conflict with my Christian worldview.

This may seem like a stretch – the show, after all, is riddled with witches and curses and spells.  There is literally no mention made of God or Jesus or religion of any kind, at least none that I have noticed.  For goodness’ sake, one of the main characters is referred to as the Dark One.  Evil design lurks around every corner, and those who are good to their core struggle tirelessly – and oftentimes in vain – against the vileness that seemingly permeates every facet of existence instead of caving in because it is the right thing to do. Because good, in the end, always wins.

Oh, wait.  That actually sounds really familiar, right? Kind of like: “You will be hated by all because of My name, but it is the one who has endured to the end who will be saved” (Matthew 10:22). Or “Blessed are those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:10).

I realize that declaring Once Upon a Time as the great televised Christian epic of our time may be a bit of a stretch, but I’m still willing to do it, on the Internet no less. And here’s why:

For one thing, it’s remarkably clean.

This show is not marketed towards children.  It may be centered around fairy tales and include childhood favorites like Cinderella and Peter Pan, but it is not charming and carefree.  There is way too much heart-ripping for it to be charming and carefree.

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Seriously, y’all.  What is it with the heart-ripping?

But even though it’s pretty clear the target audience is adults, the producers don’t feel the need to spice up the language.  Sure, there are a few stray damns and hells every now and then, but there has never been anything excessive.  Anything that would make me blush were I to watch it with my grandmother.

Oh – and sex is practically non-existent in the show.  It isn’t ignored, but simply alluded to subtly.  And the one time that the audience is overtly exposed to sex, it happens to be between a very loving married couple.  And it’s so modestly and innocently done you can barely call it a sex scene.

For another, none of the characters is beyond reproach.

Emma Swan is repeatedly called the savior due to her unique ability to break the dark curse, but you’re not once led to believe that she is supposed to be some sort of Christ analog.  She is hard-hearted, selfish, and stubborn, and her stint in prison definitely doesn’t make the viewer have warm-fuzzies.  She’s also willing to resort to using dark magic when it seems to be the only way to accomplish her goals.  And even when she learns the true story of her birth – that her parents did not abandon her, but actually saved her – she can’t get over her commitment and abandonment issues. She is admirable, yes, but she is also cripplingly flawed.

As is literally every other character.

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Even Snow White and Prince Charming, who are obviously the characters intended to be viewed as the ultimate good, have irredeemable qualities.  Snow White cannot see the forest for the trees sometimes, choosing to wallow in her emotions instead of taking necessary action, and seems not to understand the concept of justice (re her hand in Cora’s death) while Charming often resorts to lying in order to protect his family or to instill confidence in Snow (please tell me that I was not the only person to feel more than a little miffed about what I’m calling the Dreamshade Incident).

These flaws show themselves in times of crisis over and over again, but what brings them together and gives them the strength to overcome their obstacles every time is their will for the victory of good over evil.  Kind of like the Church.

Finally – the show exemplifies how seductive and corrupting evil can be. 

I’m pretty sure that fans of the show like to think of themselves as real-world versions of Emma or Snow – imperfect people doing the best that they can to combat the mundane forms of evil that occasionally crop up in our lives.  Maybe that is true for some people – after all, we are all in different stages of rebirth and renewal through Christ – but I know that for me, the character I most honestly relate to is…Regina.

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Don’t worry – I don’t have a vault full of hearts and I’m not out for anyone’s blood.  I don’t sympathize with her in that regard.

But I do understand why she has such a hard time giving up dark magic, even though it started getting in the way of every chance that she could find happiness and love again, with someone besides Daniel.  Even though it was the reason that she lost Daniel in the first place.  Even though it was the reason that she could not even begin to love her mother.  Even when it required her to murder her father in cold blood.  Even when her adopted son begged her to please, please stop.  Even when she wants to put it behind her and stop using the dark arts to get her way, she can’t find the willpower to desert her old ways.

It’s the same reason that I struggle with the sins that I struggle with: gluttony, pettiness, passive-aggressiveness (traits that I find despicable and unbearable in other people).

It’s the same reason that Paul penned the following words in his letter to the Romans: “I don’t really understand myself, for I want to do what is right, but I don’t do it. Instead, I do what I hate” (Romans 7:!5).

Perhaps that is why we catch ourselves wishing for Regina to be redeemed, and find ourselves so heartbroken when she relapses back into her default acts of evil.  It’s because we are Regina.  For that matter, we are Rumpelstiltskin, too.  We are so filled with fear and self-serving ambition, and it can only lead to destruction…unless we replace that fear and self-serving ambition with love.

There are other lessons to be learned here, other allusions to be drawn (like how the relationship that develops between Belle and Rumpelstiltskin is the best example of failed missionary dating I’ve ever seen), but those are for another day.  For now, I submit my little ramblings to those who take the time to read them. If you’re looking for something to watch, consider this show.  It is cheesy, it is at times poorly written, and often causes emotional turmoil.  But I promise, it’s worth it.

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everything is meaningless

This morning, I was jamming to the Lorde album “Pure Heroine,” because I’m a teenager at heart.  I was mindlessly singing along to song after song as I made my way to church, until I stumbled upon the common theme woven through each of the seemingly unrelated songs: history repeats.

Each song alludes to aristocracy, nobility, ancient empires.  In some songs, the allusion is pretty on the nose, while others have more subtle references:

Everything’s cool when we’re all in line for the throne / But I know it’s not forever (yeah)

Only bad people live to see their likeness set in stone / What does that make me? 

Delicate in every way but one (the swordplay) / God knows we like archaic kinds of fun (the old way) 

Call all the ladies out / They’re in their finery / A hundred jewels on throats / A hundred jewels between teeth

Her hit song Royals is really what caught my thoughts this morning, though.  I have probably listened to it one hundred times, but this morning, something struck me:

Every song’s like gold teeth, grey goose, trippin’ in the bathroom / Bloodstains, ballgowns, trashin’ the hotel room / We don’t care, we’re driving Cadillacs in our dreams / But everybody’s like Cristal, Maybach, diamonds on your timepiece / Jet planes, islands, tigers on a gold leash / We don’t care, we aren’t caught up in your love affair / And we’ll never be royals / It don’t run in our blood / That kind of luxe just ain’t for us / We crave a different kind of buzz.

Oddly enough, these words reminded me of one of my favorite passages of scripture.

Because I am not a normal person, that can be found in what is possibly the most depressing part of the Bible – Ecclesiastes.  I have met very few people that understand my absolute adoration of the sweet, existential verses nestled within that book.  Most find it depressing – probably because of all of those “everything is meaningless”s peppering those pages – but personally, it has lifted me from some of the darkest times in my life, oddly enough for the same reason.

“Meaningless!  Meaningless!” says the Teacher.  “Utterly meaningless! Everything is meaningless.”  What do people gain from all their labors at which they toil under the sun?  Generations come and generations go, but the earth remains forever.  The sun rises and the sun sets, and hurries back to where it rises.  The wind blows to the south and turns to the north; round and round it goes, ever returning on its course.  All streams flow into the sea, yet the sea is never full.  To the place the streams come from, there they return again. … I applied my mind to study and to explore by wisdom all that is done under the heavens.  What a heavy burden God has laid on mankind!  I have seen all the things that are done under the sun; all of them are meaningless, a chasing after the wind.  What is crooked cannot be straightened; what is lacking cannot be counted.  I said to myself, “Look, I have increased in wisdom more than anyone who has ruled over Jerusalem before me; I have experienced much of wisdom and knowledge.”  Then I applied myself to the understanding of wisdom, and also of madness and folly, but I learned that this, too, is a chasing after the wind.  For with much wisdom comes much sorrow; the more knowledge, the more grief.  (Ecc. 1:2-7, 13-18)

Kind of lends credence to “ignorance is bliss,” doesn’t it?

And it’s true, right?  It sounds like Solomon was wrestling with the same things that we struggle with now, thousands of years later.  He felt empty inside, unfulfilled, restless.

And the thing is, he had literally everything.  Think of the richest person alive right now – Solomon could probably buy him out twenty times over and still have plenty left.  He did not lack in love (or lust) – he had a thousand wives.  He was gifted with wisdom beyond measure.  He had everything.

And that everything turned out to be nothing.  Just like every rich, wise, powerful ruler before and after him, he realized that his possessions were nothing but particles of dust he’d managed to capture for a moment and hold between his fingers before they slipped away.  To treat them as anything more is to experience disappointment at very least; the consequences can be much more severe, though.  As Paul wrote to the Romans, “For if you live according to the flesh, you will die.” (Rom. 8:13)

This is why Britney Spears and Lindsay Lohan and Justin Bieber and Amanda Bynes – people, who to ordinary folks like you and me, have literally everything – develop addictions and relish in self-destructive behavior.   Because all of the fame, all of the riches, all of the renown in all the world, cannot secure that which we all search for – Security. Inner peace. Immortality.

Those things can only be found in Christ.

So remember this the next time that you find yourself worrying about things that, in the grand scheme of things, are thoroughly insignificant.  Instead, devote your energy and care to finding fulfillment in Christ.  He alone can fill the void in our hearts.

(Aaaand I just thought of a way I could’ve worked Once Upon a Time into this. Oh well, another time.)

don’t hate me because i’m beautiful

We’re all familiar with this ad – at least those of us born before the year 2000.  My mother used to throw her head back dramatically and mimic the model in this commercial, uttering “Don’t hate me because I’m beautiful” in a breathy, wistful tone.  It always made me laugh – why would I hate someone because they were beautiful?  Was that even a thing? 

As I grew up, I learned that unfortunately, yes, it is a thing.  Not really something that I’ve had to deal with because I’m never really been “hot” by worldly standards (which I’m completely cool with), but it exists.  And “hot” women sometimes use their attractiveness as a justification for acting in whatever way they please (think Mean Girls).

 I was reminded of this recently when I shared one of my friend Amy’s engagement photos on Facebook.  One of my husband’s friends remarked that she was seemingly flawless, and my husband said “Yep, and it hasn’t gone to her head, either.  She is really sweet and everyone loves her.”  To which the friend said, “Wow.”

This situation shouldn’t be abnormal.  This should just be how life works on this planet – people being allowed to be who they are and look like what they look like with no shame, especially when it comes to something as superficial and luck-of-the-draw as outward appearance.  But it is. 

Literally the day after, I was looking up a workout DVD that I use regularly on Amazon because I couldn’t remember what the routine was for Mondays and I wanted to input it into my weight loss app.  I found the information I was looking for – and also a one-star review for the DVD.  The user’s dissatisfaction mostly stemmed from the fact that “The participants are too much like models than real women. Too bad.”

My thoughts after reading this were 1) do you really buy workout videos based on the people in the background and 2) are models not real women??

I’m far from supermodel material, most likely always will be, and honestly, I could not care less, because my self-worth is not tied to how my physical appearance measures up to others.  

I’m not justifying those who treat the overweight as if they are subhuman lifeforms.  I understand how cruel people can be when you weigh more than the average person – I’ve dealt with that for the majority of my life – but retaliation in kind doesn’t do anything but worsen this battle that women voluntarily fight among themselves.

Only dogs like bones. Real men go for the meat!

 Take this image, for example.  This is demeaning to all women.  It dehumanizes skinny woman by comparing them to a dead, inanimate objects, and it dehumanizes larger women by referring to them as meat to be consumed by a man.  This quip, which I’ve seen floating around the internet in several forms, is insulting because it insinuates that, skinny or fat, small or large, a man will only be interested in you for your body and nothing else.  
 
Which is ridiculous.
 
It is so silly to hate women who are more attractive than us.  It reminds me of high school, when I was mocked and semi-bullied because I was smarter than most of the kids in my classes.  I have a feeling that it’s kind of the same situation – the naturally attractive are labelled as self-centered b*tches, the naturally intelligent as butt-kissing overachievers.
 
We need to stop disliking people because they have achieved certain ideals, and start focusing on how we can achieve the ideals that are open to us.  Understanding this is liberating.  When I finally learned that me making fun of skinny girls didn’t change the fact that I was unhappy with my body being the size that it was, I decided to start living a healthier lifestyle – now, I couldn’t care less about what someone else weighs.
 
Don’t hate someone because they are more attractive than you.  Because they have a better job than you.  Because they have a car that you can’t afford.  Because their IQ is higher than yours.
 
if you want to be skinnier, work out and eat healthier.  If you want to have a better job, develop ambition and find out what it will take to make that happen.  If you want a better car, save up your money and follow a strict budget.  If you want to be smarter, read a book or go back to school.  Do whatever it takes to achieve the end that you desire, and just shut up about those who already have what you want.  
 
Stop justifying your situation in life and just do it. 
 
Whatever it is, just do it.

a look back

If you are involved with social media at all, you’ve become acquainted with hashtags. More specifically, you’ve become acquainted with themed days brought to us by Instagram.  There is #ManCrushMonday, #TransformationTuesday, #WomanCrushWednesday, #ThrowbackThursday, and #FlashbackFriday.  I was skeptical about the use of hashtags at first, and I admit that the majority of the time that I use one, it’s because it adds a splash of irony or humor to my post (at least, that’s what I tell myself).

But I have to admit that I have grown to really enjoy these different themes throughout the week.  I like to see acquaintances, coworkers, friends, and family members sharing pictures taken during their childhood or their adolescent years with that silly little #TBT or #FBF thrown in.  It spurs reminiscent conversations, jogs collective memories, and sometimes even gives you a peek into the life of that person before you were a part of it.  I’m sure I am not alone in this sentiment.

Bearing that in mind, I have some things that I’d like to share with you, my acquaintances, coworkers, friends, and family members.  (We’ll call it #SelfReflectionSunday, just to make it feel more legitimate.)  As my husband and I approach the one year anniversary of our marriage, I have been thinking about some things that I have experienced, learned, or had affirmed over these past almost-twelve months.

To those of you who are impatient brides or grooms-to-be, consider this some unsolicited advice.  To those of you who have been married far longer than I, who have faced situations that I can’t even begin to comprehend, feel free to smirk at my youthful naivete and call me out if it needs to happen – I can take it, I promise.  To those of you who are single, I still feel like this stuff is important to know.  I could be wrong, but what’s the harm in reading, right?

Get premarital counseling. Lots of it.  Gather advice from seasoned veterans, newlyweds, divorcees, and those who aren’t that happy in their marriage.  There is a lot to be learned from all sides.

Don’t look forward to the wedding day. Look forward to the day after. Seriously.  The wedding day will be tons of fun, but there will be things that go wrong. Don’t be upset about that! At the end of the day, you will be married.  And being married is SO much more enjoyable than being strapped into a dress that hinders your ability to go to the bathroom by yourself.

Don’t try to change your spouse.  Change yourself.  I mean sure, if he leaves his towel on the floor or she never changes the toilet paper roll and that drives you bananas, then say something.  But if it is an issue of personality differences or communication styles, don’t try to convert them to your way of thinking or feeling.  Learn that when he says something logical, he isn’t trying to be cruel to you.  Learn that when she cries, she isn’t trying to manipulate your emotions.  Above all else, learn each others’ languages.  It will save you many fights.

Crockpots are your friend.  I don’t think I need to explain this.

Do not stop dating each other.  You have snagged a catch – don’t let them forget it!  It is too easy to let the romantic gestures fade away with time and familiarity.  Kiss, hug, and say I love you every day, and don’t forget to have fun. Period.  It’s important.

Don’t let the sun go down on your anger.  That being said, if the argument is spiraling into nonsense because it is 3:30 A.M., do both of yourselves a favor and get some sleep.  Nothing productive is happening.  Call a truce and talk it out in the morning.

In-law relations: navigate with caution.  It doesn’t matter if you really get along with your in-laws or your relationship with them could be a plotline on Everybody Loves Raymond, your spouse’s family will probably do something that really gets under your skin at some point.  When you vent about it to him or her, remember that while they side with you now above all others, that’s still their family.  Try to make your relationship smooth, even when it feels like you’re doing 99% of the work.

Fight fair This sounds so hokey, but trust me, it’s true.  You need to have boundaries when arguments arise – and believe me, they will arise.  Don’t bring up the “d” word – it doesn’t exist for you.  Don’t imply that you regret marrying your spouse or give ultimatums that imply separation.  Don’t fight in front of other people, physically or online – your marriage is sacred and so are your arguments.  Keep to the topic at hand.  Keep an open mind and be respectful.  And above all else, don’t be afraid to say that you’re sorry first. Even when you believe you’ve done nothing wrong.

Having the same worldview is not an option.  Conflicting religious beliefs?  Contrasting political views?  A great friendship can be born out of such diversity, but not marriage.  Be on the same page about the important stuff, and save the differing opinions for movies you want to watch or restaurants you’d like to visit.

Spousal telepathy is not a myth.  It is, however, a great time saver.  I predict that by our forties, my dear husband and I will no longer have the need to physically speak to each other.

Love really is a decision, not a feeling.  It’s actually way more romantic than it sounds.

I’m not even sure if my ramblings will strike a useful chord with anyone, or if they even made any sense.  I guess what I’m trying to say here is that marriage has been, in my very limited experience, both easy and difficult, exciting and mundane, romantic and ordinary.  The decision that I made 345 days ago is easily the best one I have ever made.

I love you, John Daniel Ard, jr.  And in the words of Howard Wollowitz, “I’m your idiot. FOREVER.”

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