Today, I was a Little Extra: An Informal Literary Critique of a Random Facebook Post

The story posted in a community forum.

Recently, in a local forum, there have been a number of posts relating to human trafficking and abduction. This has been a bustling topic of conversation, so a post describing the encounter between a woman with children and a man trying to lure the children away felt a little suspicious. The uncanny valley of story was too unsettling to be real, but many in the community were lapping it up.

I said the quiet part out loud. I challenged the tricky thing and used very informal literary criticism to deconstruct the story and unmask the thing for what it was: a fabrication. In hindsight, I probably should have taken my meds today. And I probably shouldn’t do things during a manic episode, but c’est la vie and all that.

Here’s what that wild ride looked like:

Hold up.

I’m the storyteller around here, and something smells wrong.

The details and orientation of the narrator in this “David versus Goliath” motif is constructed. This is not a story about an attempted kidnapping, but rather a metaphor of God’s power over evil and the power of God wielded by Christians against the Devil by extension.

The narrative begins with the assumption that the speaker is a woman. The inclusion of children and the phrase “potentially scary incident” project a feminine voice.

She is a mother. Her hands are filled with rowdy babies—a vulnerable figure in a world filled with sudden striking evils sent by Satan. She is comparable to the Virgin and Child.

The mother wears a number of mask in this parable. She is the “meek who shall inherit the earth.” She is both a child of God—frail and innocent—and the wielder of God’s wrath.

The male assailant allows for internal biases to construct a caricature villain who embodies the fears of the reader. He is also the Devil. The deceiver of humanity and humanity’s scapegoat.

Like the Devil who roams about as a terrible lion seeking those it can devour, the man seeks to corrupt and destroy (1 Peter 5:8). The candy he wields is a parallel of the forbidden fruit which plunged humanity into sin and death.

The contrast between these figures places the power with the male assailant. He is a representation of the wicked who wield all earthly power in order persecute God’s faithful. The cards appear stacked in his favor.

But for the woman, who is like little David facing insurmountable odds, the divine power of God manifests “on” her person.

The use of “on” is interesting. It allows the woman to fight back against a demonically influenced force. It is not God who steps in and sends the devil fleeing, but the woman who wields God as a supernatural weapon. She puts the devil to flight.

This is an important element because it shifts the power away from God to the woman. The power starts with the man, it is then usurped by God, and then given to the woman (or Christian).

With this power, instead of nodding to St Michael the Archangel’s “The Lord rebuke you!” (Jude 9), the story gives over the wielding of God’s wrath and vengeance to the faithful who are always alert for the devil amidst a “sleeping society.”

The retreat of the man furthers this idea in its function as an illustration of James 4:7–“Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.”

When the devil flees, God is put away and the angels (Kingsburg PD) are called in to secure the area from further threat.

The story’s conclusion is barbed. It is meant to stay with the reader. It professes that while today, this woman was saved, it doesn’t mean the threat is gone. It lingers, and so the reader is encouraged to be on guard because the devil is around every corner and only they can stop him.

NOTE: Slight grammatical revisions added.

“Jesus Christ Pantocrator” through the Lens of Colossians 1.15-20

Jesus Christ Pantocrator, Instanbul, c.1261

The hymn found in Colossians 1:15-20 opens with: “[Christ] is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation, for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers—all things have been created through him and for him.”(Col. 1.15-16, NRSVUE, 2022). The claim, according to the hymn, is that the Jesus Christ attested to in the gospels is the embodiment of the Creator whom we have not seen with our own eyes (Jn. 6.46). Through Christ, the Creator is revealed–meaning, the only way to understand God is to first and foremost, look to Christ.

The hymn also asserts what is found in the Gospel of John

Philip said to him, “Lord, show us the Father, and we will be satisfied.” Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you all this time, Philip, and you still do not know me? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own, but the Father who dwells in me does his works. (14.8-10).

John 14:8-10, NRSVUE

The words and the work of Jesus reveal to us the Creator–referred to in the text and by tradition as the “Father.” The hymn reveals the work of the Creator is made manifest through the Son by whom “all things in heaven and on earth. . .visible and invisible. . .have been created. . .” (Col. 1.15-16). For me, it is important to start here in my examination of the claims being made by the late Byzantine mosaic located in Istanbul, Jesus Christ Pantocrator (c. 1261).

As Dr. Amy Whisenand shared throughout her June 14, 2022 lecture, “Pantocrator” translates into “Almighty” or “All Powerful.” This title, by its nature, is therefore making the claim that Jesus Christ is the same as God the Creator. The first text in the Pentateuch–the first five books in the Bible and Torah–identifies God the Creator by the title, “Almighty.” Genesis 17.1 reads: “When Abram was ninety-nine years old, the Lord appeared to Abram and said to him, ‘I am God Almighty; walk before me, and be blameless. . .'” Later instances of the usage of Almighty as a title for the Creator can be found in Genesis 28.3, 35.11, 48.3, 49.25, and at least 91 other times throughout the Old Testament, New Testament, and Apocryphal texts. The mosaic’s use of Almighty as a title for Jesus therefore asserts a claim in line with Trinitarian belief that Jesus is not only a member of the Godhead but shares a co-equality with the Creator.

The Trinity Iconography Institute confirms the Chironomia–the meaning of “. . .hand gestures in supporting oratory, or conveyance of unspoken meaning understood by the audience” (Trinity Iconographers)–as a blessing. The positioning of the hand creates the “IXIC,” or the initials of Christ, which appears to assert that the highest form of blessing comes from the person of Christ. After all, what greater blessing can one receive if not from the One through whom “. . .all things in heaven and on earth have been created” (Col. 1.15)? Additionally, the hand gesture not only conveys blessing, but it is also related to classical oration from ancient history indicating “the speaker is going to say something important, which can also be applicable to all icons of Jesus Christ and His saints” (Trinity Iconographers).

In my own journey, as I walked away from the cult in which I was raised and the modern American Evangelical lens of biblical interpretation, I flirted with Eastern Orthodoxy. I studied its traditions, attended their liturgies, and experienced their rich practices of faith and theological interpretations. I discovered icons–works of religious art depicting biblical and divine subjects–were viewed as windows into the divine realm. It is part of the reason religious Byzantine art might seem strange and disproportionate to our Western eyes. The icons are meant to draw us into the story they tell. From that perspective, I cannot help but notice the very ordinary humanness of Jesus in this image.

We have a declaration of Christ as equal with “God Almighty,” the Father and Creator, yet he is very human in his appearance. It brings to life the claim that “. . .He is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that he might come to have first place in everything” (Col. 1.18). The Almighty took on human form, walked not just among us, but with us. His emptying of himself and obedience “. . .even [unto] death on a cross” (Phil. 2.6-11) and his resurrection has made Christ the “mediator between God and humankind” (1 Tim. 2.5) and our high priest (Heb. 8.1-2). It seems that the humanity of Christ is crucial in the salvific act of God in order to reconcile God and humanity.

Christ’s humanity establishes him as the “firstborn” not just of the dead, but of all creation (Col. 1.15). Therefore, being both God (Jn. 1.1-2) and human (Jn. 1.14-18), and being that he is also the begotten Son of the Creator in whom the Creator was pleased (Matt. 3.17; 17.5; Mk. 9.7; Lk. 9.35), it stands to reason that the value–or worth–of Jesus, from whom the greatest blessings are given, supersedes that of all creation. Therefore, the obedience of Christ to the Creator by way of his life and death, confirmed through the resurrection, is what allows all of creation, “whether on earth or in heaven” (Col. 1.20) to be reconciled to God. In this way, when viewed through the hymn found in Colossians (Col. 1.15-20), Jesus Christ Pantocrator proclaims the salvific work of Jesus Christ for all creation and reveals to us the character of God.

Glimpsing Truth: A Critical Inspection of Tiny Tina’s Wonderlands through Toni Morrison’s Site of Memory

In the fast paced environment of a first-person shooter (FPS) game, details are easily missed. The setting is often carefully rendered with masterful precision and full of wonderful surprises awaiting discovery by a player patient and curious enough to slowdown and explore. Tiny Tina’s Wonderlands, a recently released FPS action roleplaying game set in a post-apocalyptic world by 2K Games, offers a treasure trove of social criticism through comically inappropriate jokes, parody, and over the top dramatic storytelling. In line with Toni Morrison’s “Site of Memory,” Wonderlands functions as a compendium of facts presented in ways wherein the player might discover truths about their own world.

A setting within a setting, the playing field exists on a tabletop and in the imaginations of external characters in a Dungeons & Dragons parody. The setting itself functions as a kind of heterotopia where the external characters work through aspects of themselves often suppressed and resisted. Through their work, and the player’s often mindless acts of gratuitous violence, facts are captured, but truth is never given outright. The player is invited into the story, into the narrative, of the game to parse out what they find to be true “[because] facts can exist without human intelligence, but truth cannot” (Morrison 193).

Tiny Tina, Bunkermaster

Tiny Tina, the inappropriately young orphan filling the role of “Bunkermaster,” throws wave after wave of monsters, traps, and puzzles at the player to force the external characters directing the action from outside the tabletop into challenging positions. Tiny Tina appears to be working against the external playing characters at first glance. The player is made to face overwhelming odds that are difficult to overcome resulting in multiple deaths and resurrections throughout the entire campaign. As the narrative progresses and more facts about the world are revealed it becomes apparent that Tiny Tina isn’t working against the external characters or the player, but forcing them into great acts of heroism. Here it would be easy to assume that she wills those involved in her game to progress to higher levels and gain improved equipment and skill, but this, too, proves incorrect. She is processing the loss of her own playable character through whom she had experienced what it meant to be a hero.

Her initial understanding of heroism is defined by having power over one’s world to ensure the ‘good guys’ always triumph over the ‘bad.’ The young “Bunkermaster” believes being a hero means having power in a world where she—who has witnessed the murder of her parents by bandits, the death of her mentor by wicked oligarchs, and who continues to lose companions to tragedy—has had none. Loneliness and fear of abandonment surface as facts to a larger truth being revealed little by little. Through her narrative journey, and that of her companions Valentine and Frette, an agreement with Morrison arises. These characters “are my access to me; they are my entrance into my own interior life” (Morrison 195).

In the moment, in the heat of it all, when the virtual bullets are flying across the screen, the player is swept up in the action. They, we, are a part of something. Something big. Something epic. The player is in control of a world gone off course—what’s wrongs they alone can set right. Perhaps that’s both the alluring and damning part of the game. The modern world appears in many ways broken, or more honestly, the paradigm we have constructed and upheld appears broken. It is in need of heroes, but too many feel powerless. Like the many mindless sprites populating Wonderlands’ setting, we take care of our own and hope it is enough, but is it enough?

The facts about power structures, and the thrill experienced in the game’s action, archive for us facts about our own world. They lay the framework for truth to take shape. It might seem to be enough for us to take care of just our own, and we might believe ourselves powerless to change or move the world forward, but the thrill experienced specifically in setting right injustices, creating better paradigms between warring factions, and rebuilding communities in more beneficial ways—in game—seems to argue against this illusion of ‘enough.’ Truth appears to be more than we thought it to be. Maybe ‘enough’ is the conditioned response meant to keep us submissive—meant to keep us from moving the world forward?

Toni Morrison, Time magazine.

Wonderlands is incredibly strange and arguably more interesting than the world we inhabit, but the impressions left on a contemplative player are as facts resonating within their own reality. Power structures corrupt and are corrupted. They don’t have to be. They are not fictional elements meant to convey a story, but real and tangible things which have been constructed and thus can be deconstructed and shifted. They can be corrupt now, and after some work, be not corrupted—or at least be made better for everyone. Perhaps this is what Morrison meant by: “’Truth is stranger than fiction,’ . . . it doesn’t say truth is truer than fiction; just that it’s stranger, meaning that it’s odd. . . . It may be excessive . . . but the important thing is that it’s random—and fiction is not random” (193). Truth is random. What is today may be something completely other tomorrow, if we choose to act.

Truth is elusive. This is why storytelling and art and literature matter. They shed light on facts which illuminate pathways towards truth. Even a video game such as Tiny Tina’s Wonderlands in its absurdity can cause one to pause and reflect on how many of our beliefs—especially about each other—have been conditioned in a specific manner. These glimpses, these facts, apply cracks along those things barring us from discovering truth.

And while it may be outside the scope of this work, perhaps these same glimpses leading to truth are really what’s behind the banning of books by authors and poets and artists of color, and of the same who identify as being part of the LGBTQIA+ community, from school libraries across the United States. Perhaps that is what has conservative white evangelical nationalists foaming and frothing at the mouth. Too many cracks exposing too many facts are drawing too many eyes to the truth.

Works Cited

Morrison, Toni. “The Site of Memory.” Inventing the Truth: The Art and Craft of Memoir, Houghton Mifflin Company, 1998.

Critical Stirrings

…This is why art and literature and storytelling matter. Through them light can be shed on identity, culture, society, and the systems and institutions by which we live. Matters become illuminated revealing the need for further critique and deeper conversations. More importantly, we are brought to a reckoning where we must defend or condemn these matters.

Perhaps this is what drives the recent string of book banning in public school libraries across the United States. The very specific texts and topics being targeted appear to shut out very specific conversations. In this way, those that might defend what ought to be condemned, the same who prevent progress toward a more equitable public paradigm, are empowered to continue to do so without having to look themselves, as it were, in the eye.

…In short, we are searing our collective conscience.