Winston Brady is a 2016 graduate of Southeastern Seminary. He now teaches American history, medieval literature, Latin, and logic at Thales Academy, and writes in his spare time. We were intrigued by some of the work he has submitted to SLAM, and we asked him to share his thoughts on literature and the classical tradition. —the Editors […]
Why are men so stupid? La La Land offers a very simple and solemn answer to this perennial question: We value success over love. We can have our dreams or our sweethearts but not both, and while we make sacrifices that get us to the top, we are alone once we get there.
La La Land follows two artists struggling to make it in Hollywood. Ryan Gosling plays Sebastian, a passionate jazz pianist with dreams of opening his own club; and Emma Stone plays Mia, who has dreamt of being an actress ever since she was a little girl. As the opening song informs the audience, when life pushes us down, we have to get up “off the ground.” Sebastian is forced to play Christmas carols and 80s hits and Mia is humiliated at one audition after another. Their love is born out of their mutual hardships and the passion they share towards achieving their dreams.
La La Land successfully recreates old fashioned Hollywood musicals, with catchy songs and luscious cinematography. Each scene is alive with rich red tones and somber dark hues to set the mood for Mia and Sebastian, respectively. Sebastian and Mia are developed just enough that we see ourselves as the bruiting artist, unwilling to compromise with even himself for the sake of his music, and Mia as the hopeful starlet astride the horrible brink between despair and fame. The characters’ struggles are all very much our own, as we all have dreams that seem crazy and for which we are willingly to sacrifice everything. But do we really have to sacrifice the love of the one person who encourages us to keep pushing on towards the goal?
If you remember Titanic, it was obvious that this film would not end well. This boat is going to sink, and it will drown the star-crossed lovers and everything else in its wake. But La La Land keeps you hoping throughout the film that true love will ultimately conquer all.
But, the reality is Sebastian and Mia could never be together. Once their “boat” reaches the shore, once they get their breaks, once they find fame, no longer can they be together. The climb unites them, and the summit divides them. This is emphasized all the more by the lack of music as the film reaches its sad climax. Music reflects the hope and possibility of having all at once one’s love and one’s dreams, and as this grows less and less possible, the songs grow less frequent until they all but disappear from the movie.
In the film’s final musical act, we are taken back through all the things Sebastian should have done for Mia. Here, the music reflects the hope of what could have been but cannot be. These are the moments Sebastian acted particularly stupid, when he picked his career over her and how different his life would have been if he had chosen otherwise. Rather than brushing off the girl who took interest in a sad piano player, he kisses her. He abandons a self-indulgent photoshoot to attend and applaud Mia’s one-act play. He goes with Mia to Paris for her big break, sacrificing his own dream for the promise of a life with her instead. But, as the backdrops give way to the bold, brush strokes of an Impressionist painting, we know that this isn’t really happening. This is all a dream, and the characters we’ve rooted for will not live happily ever after with each other. They are happy and successful, but that success came at a price. Sebastian’s poignant head nod in the film’s final frame signals that he has accepted the sad truth before the audience does. We can have success or true love but not both, and we have to live with the consequences. Here’s looking at you kid.
When I was in college, I foolishly enrolled in three classes with heavy reading loads. “Civil War Experiences,” ” The Tragedies of William Shakespeare,” and the “Histories of William Shakespeare,” all at the same time. And I had even enrolled in other classes that semester, and while I have since forgotten the names of those prerequisites, I hope you can understand that I had bitten off way more than I could chew. These classes involved hundreds of pages of reading and dozens of pages of papers to go along with it, and after a while, the classes started to blend together. As I read my history assignments on the Civil War, I confused the Confederate and Union generals with figures from Shakespeare’s seminal plays, and somehow I managed to convince my history professor to allow me to write the first scenes of a play on the Battle of Hampton instead of a research paper. The result was The Virginia, a 5-act, Shakespeare style history on the Battle of Hampton Roads, available on Kindle.
The play covers the Duel of the Ironclads, a Civil War naval battle that saw the first engagement between steel-covered warships. I love the Civil War, and in this particular battle I saw heroes on the scale of a King Lear, such as Union Commander John Worden who went blind when a shell struck the Monitor’s pilothouse, or a Coriolanus in the figure of Franklin Buchanan, a Confederate admiral who goes mad with revenge when the Union Navy expels him for his Confederate sympathies.
So, the question I asked myself while writing was, why did these figures fall from incredible heights? Was it because of the pride they had in their steel-covered warships? How do people today exhibit the same kind of pride? In Greek mythology, the invention of metallurgy and iron-smelting was seen as a horrible turning point in human history, so I used the battle as a symbol to explore the nature of human suffering and the presence of evil in the world. Does suffering come from God in the form of plagues or wars as a way for God to punish mankind, or does suffering come up from within the heart of man, when man tries to be like God and covers warships with steel?
Here are some highlights from the work. I hope you enjoy it. Please leave comments below!
The Chorus enters the stage to apologize for the lack of resources the producers of the play have at their disposal, as well as provide a few introductory remarks about the Battle of Hampton Roads.
Most Memorable Lines:
Now work your thoughts into a moonlight bay
As we open the curtains of our play,
25And steel your hearts for what we have in store,
For the arms and grandeur of our Civil War.
Act I: March 8, 1862
3 sailors onboard the USS Congress, one of the ships that will be sunk in the first day of the Battle of Hampton Roads, are discussing the difficulties of being a Union sailor in the midst of the war. The USS Congress is sitting in the Bay of Hampton Roads, guarding Fortress Monroe, and anticipating a major battle that day.
The sailors discuss how much they hate the Rebels and how scared they are of death, ultimately blaming God for the horrible destruction God has brought upon the world. The scene introduces the most significant theme of The Virginia: Where does suffering come from? Does suffering come from God, in the form of plagues or wars, or does suffering come up from the sinful heart of man, as man tries to be like God?
Most Memorable Lines:
Those yonder stars form part of Draco’s tail,
Which strikes at men with all the wrath of Heav’n:
35The suffering which God pours ‘pon everyman,
In besetting his country’s peace with war,
Or cursing his children to starve
And plaguing still his body with disease.
He holds forth from out our reach, Tantalus-like,
40Sweet labor’s fruits, our just repose from toil
And fills our years, even our best, with woe,
Until we taste that final sting of Death.
Act II: March 8, 1862
These scenes take place on the deck of the CSS Virginia and focus on Captain Franklin Buchanan. Buchanan was originally from Maryland, and while he was a high-ranking naval officer in the United States Navy, he resigned his commission at the onset of the Civil War because he believed Maryland would soon secede. When Maryland does not, Franklin Buchanan seems to have gone mad from being cast out from the Union Navy. He grows increasingly more aggressive and unruly, perhaps in an attempt to prove to other Confederate officers he is truly “one of them.”
Over the course of the battle, the CSS Virginia rams and sinks 2 Union naval frigates. Buchanan, overseeing the surrender of the USS Cumberland, sees that Union soldiers on the shore are firing at the Virginia and its crew. Buchanan himself grabs a rifle and shoots wildly at the shoreline, all the while sulfur and smoke from the Virginia’s cannons encircle his body in a scene reminiscent of Lear’s tirade against the storm from King Lear. Finally, he is injured and taken below deck, where he howls in searing pain until the USS Congress, at that point having burned for hours, finally explodes.
Most Memorable Lines (Buchanan’s last words):
You venture forth to set our people free,
70But the harsher fate is to end up like me;
Upon the North I’ve struck a fright’ning toll—
But am I mad, or did I lose my soul?
Act III: March 8, 1862
The Chorus remerges to take the audience from Hampton Roads to Washington, D.C. and the cabinet of Abraham Lincoln. Here, in the Oval Office, Lincoln and his cabinet, including William Seward and Gideon Welles, are debating the response of the federal government to the onslaught of the Virginia that day. While some members of the cabinet favor sending in General McClellan to capture Richmond, Gideon Welles and Salmon P. Chase favor sending the USS Monitor, a Union ironclad, to Hampton Roads. Here is an excerpt from the argument, as I rendered it, within Lincoln’s cabinet.
1The Merrimack has near destroyed the fleet
Stationed at Hampton Roads, the Cumberland,
Congress, and the Minnesota’s run aground
To escape the clutches of that vile beast!
5And now, this very night, the Merrimack may pass
Fortress Monroe and strike our Capitol,
New York, or even as far as Boston!
I assure you, the Merrimack may not
Strike cities of such length apart at once.
10Have you not read the telegram from Fort
Monroe, of Merrimack’s armored casemate
That withstood all the fire of th’Union fleet?
Yes, but being from New England, I may
Attest such great lengths stretch between our ports,
15No ship could strike at all of them at once.
I’ll not be mocked, not when the Navy’s failed
To protect the Capitol—why, we may
Expect a cannon ball from Merrimack
Within the room, at any moment now!
20I see that Mars and Neptune are at odds,
But, gentlemen, let us conduct ourselves
With greater calm, so that the rebels don’t
Hear us from Hampton Roads and think
They have us whipped before the break of day.
Act IV: March 9, 1862
The Chorus provides supplementary information on the USS Monitor concerning its creator, John Ericsson, its construction, and its initial voyage from Brooklyn to Hampton Roads.
The scene shifts to the deck of the USS Monitor, where Captain John Worden speaks with his subordinates on the necessity of defeating the Rebels and retaking the port of Norfolk. Like Lincoln, Wordon sees himself as an instrument of divine justice charged with judging the rebellious Southern states.
When Worden sights the Virginia coming out for a second day of battle, the scene shifts into the engine room of the Monitor. There, several coal heavers are speaking of the battle they know is raging overhead and, knowing that they will be the first to drown in the event the Monitor sinks, ask questions about the afterlife, God’s judgment, and the necessity of repentance and faith should they die in the battle. The scene shifts back to the deck of the Monitor, where John Worden shouts orders at his subordinates to fire mercilessly at the Virginia.
Eventually, a cannonball strikes the pilothouse and blinds Worden, much like Oedipus or Gloucester from King Lear. In instances like this, these characters have become blind because they failed to see a truth of overwhelming importance. So, what did John Worden not see, perhaps because he was so blinded by the immense power of the Monitor he had at his command?
Most Memorable Lines (from Worden’s parting speech):
Why would God strike me down, if what ye say is true,
When I did all and more God dared me do?
No, all of you depart and let me be,
So I may find the eyes God cast into the sea.
Act V: June 20-24, 1862 (Before the Seven Days Battles)
Robert E. Lee summons a council of war to discuss the strategy of the upcoming Seven Days Battles, wherein Lee and his Confederate generals will aggressively attack Union General George McClellan. The scene includes General James Longstreet and General Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson. Lee hopes that a bold assault on the Union lines will cause McClellan to lose his nerve and withdraw from Virginia.
After the council of war concludes, Lee provides the audience with a soliloquy that unfolds his thoughts and intentions of the war, comparing himself to his distant ancestor, Robert the Bruce, a Scottish king. Lee openly denounces slavery and repents before God for the sins of his people, but Lee cannot find himself drawing his sword against his neighbors and family members. He submits his fate and that of his people to God’s judgment and mercy, only asking that God may give him the strength to do his best.
Most Memorable Lines (from Lee’s soliloquy)
Does not the spider’s web before my gaze
Teach me the Lord doth work in every act
150And makes them all for good of those He loves?
My fabled ancestor, Robert the Bruce,
Saw such a spider’s web that gave him strength
To fight against the English who vainly tried
To conquer all of Bruce’s native Scotland.
155Could I be like the Bruce, and lift my sword
Against my people, as he did at first
For titles and estates, or do I lay
My fears before God’s throne and beg from God
160His strength–even if I know my people’s sin?
The Chorus asks the audience why they thought that the captains of these respective ironclads fell in battle and suggests they did so because of hubris and pride. Because the suffering of war arises from the sinful heart of man, as man tries to be like God, the Chorus cites the incarnation of Jesus Christ as the solution to man’s woes: If suffering arises because man tries to be like God, then look how God became a man and suffers alongside us.
Most Memorable Lines:
Now what of Lincoln, Lee and all their host,
25The nameless men who gave far more than most?
To find out, come again another day
And see the next installment of our play!
I love iambic pentameter and the history plays of William Shakespeare, and the manner in which Shakespeare draws out all of the meaning from a historical event and its significant for the people and nation of England. I would love to do something similar with American history, and wrote a short scene of what I can only imagine bedtime stories were like at Monticello. But, as you read the piece, am I praising or subtly making fun of Thomas Jefferson? What do you think? Please leave your comments below!
Act I, Scene i
The dining room of Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello, wherein Jefferson sits beside a roaring fire surrounded by four grandchildren: Benjamin Franklin Randolph, James Madison Randolph, Meriwether Lewis Randolph, and Septimia Randolph.
O grandpapa, pray tell us once again
The story of ’76, won’t you
Yes, papa, pray tell us how
You fought those brutes from England and their king,
For surely you were scared of fighting such
A man, what with his iron fists and scores
Of scaly dragons he could fly upon!
Septimia, George had no such dragons to
Frighten the colonies into—
Did he not, dear grandpapa, have dragons
Who breathed forth fire on Richmond and New York?
Of course he did, but they were more savage
Than any dragon you have ever seen!
I myself saw one such monster crawling
Beside the river James and spewing fire
On Richmond’s streets, with scales all coated red
With blood and teeth so sharp I thought they’d pierce
The very sky above, if they had not
The farms of Virginia to feast upon!
See James, King George did have a dragon after all!
O fine, but still I want to hear papa
Recount the summer of ’76,
Do tell it now, papa!
Meriwether Lewis Jefferson:
Yes, papa, please!
Of course, dear children, for few things on earth
Now fill this fraying heart with greater joy
Than making you all smile, or thinking
O’ the summer we dare told King George that here
Upon Amer’ca’s shores his proud rule stops!
But were you scared, papa?
I was so young,
And frightened though I was to dare attempt
So noble a venture as casting out a king,
I knew that if I acted not, never
Could I forgive myself for consigning
The teeming mass of man to chains, or leaving
My family to bear the loathsome yoke
Of English tyranny.
What did ye do, papa?
From Williamsburg I made my way o’erland
To Philadelphia, wherein an ever-wise
And gracious Providence had assembled
The brightest minds our continent’s produced,
Inspir’ng every noble heart along
Th’Atlantic coast with freedom’s fiery winds!
Like siroccos which stir beyond Arabian shores
These winds have swept across Greece, Rome, Holland,
And with no strength abated crossed th’ocean
To temper my own trembling heart, as I
Arrived before that stately hall and took
My place within the fabled Congress there.
I knew papa could not be scared of any man
Or anything on earth—‘tis true, papa?
One should take care in attempting deeds
Of great import to cause and country both,
And so I sat, in silence mostly, and
Observed everyone else debate our course
Against the Crown, though I could plainly see
The hand of Fate already willed us free.
And praised be God, to bless such humble steps!
To walk amongst such counselors, so many for whom
We’re named—o, what were they like, grandpapa?
O, if we lived in days of ancient Rome,
Possessed a stripe of Tyrrhenian purple,
And sparred in discourse with Cato, Caesar,
Or Cicero inside the Forum or
The Senate house, e’en then would we not be
Surrounded by so many noble hearts
As took the floor and argued for the cause
Of freedom for our country and you children!
Both Sam and John Adams, Benjamin Rush,
Benjamin Franklin, and Roger Sherman
Were all as wise in counsel as Nestor himself,
And Washington, Scipio-like, guarded
Our lives, our fortunes and our sacred honor from
The many Hannibals among the British troops!
O no! Were you in danger then, papa?
At every turn we knew that if we failed,
We would be treated just as traitors to
The Crown, and such a fate was made more real
By Britain’s Navy looming off our coast,
One army moving south from Canada,
And still another poised to seize New York!
Papa, was Philadelphia besieged
That summer then?
Not yet, but still
I had to act before the English beast
At last devoured all our hope, and so
I took my pen, far mightier than any sword—
For while arms may win a battle, they
Could never win our Revolution, not
When only words could thwart that tyrant’s will
And oust from out our land King George’s reign!
What did you do then, papa, when all
The hope of freedom rested ‘pon your quill?
For days I chained my body to my desk,
Striving with all I had to channel every word
E’er spoken in the cause of Liberty,
Whether by Spartans at Thermopylae
Or Whigs in triumph over wicked kings,
So as to proclaim this most-cherished truth,
That man is free and fit to rule himself,
Destined to live without the fear of kings
Plucking our coins from out our purse, taking
Our children for their wars, or casting such
A shadow from their thrones the common man
Should never see the light prepared for him!
O, tell us what you wrote, papa!
“We hold these truths to be self-evident:
All men are created equal, that they
Are endowed by their Creator with certain
Inalienable Rights, that among
These are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit
Hooray for Liberty!
And hooray ever more for grandpapa!
Hooray indeed! What happened next, papa?
Surely King George surrendered there and then?
We struck a mighty blow against that beast,
Whose awful pride could bear it not we so
Rejected all his claims, but when we fixed
Our names upon the sacred parchment of
The Declaration of Independence,
I stood and looked about, as if a storm
Had gathered overhead and barred the light
From view so knew not I what lay ahead.
How could that be, dear grandpapa, when even
A man so stuffed with pride as foul King George
Would never persist in fighting a nation born
From such immortal words as those you formed?
O, dear child, must I quote from him of whom
I took your name, wise Benjamin Franklin?
The moment he left Independence Hall,
After the years of labor drafting our
Constitution, was asked, “What kind of state
Have you just given us?” To which he quipped,
“A republic, ma’am, if you can keep it!”
What did Benjamin Franklin mean, papa?
For surely republics can keep themselves,
As they’re the highest form of government
Ever designed by man and given so by God.
Dear child, republics are indeed a form
Of government unsurpassed by the mind
Of man, ever since the day that Brutus himself
Cast out the Tarquin kings and then pronounced
One man alone should never rule in Rome—
But even then, that noble republic
Was constantly upon the watch for threats
Against their Liberty, from neighb’ring tribes,
Carthage, or Macedon, but even more
So from within the republic itself!
O no! Can such a thing be true, papa?
Indeed, the Roman army crowned as kings
In all but name the most successful of their kind,
But far more threats to Liberty came from
The wealthiest aristocrats of Rome.
They used the people’s debts like clubs to beat
Them into service for their homes or mining salt,
Or dying ‘pon an endless battlefield!
O no, ‘tis not Liberty if ye must
Pay homage t’anyone, even if they’re not a king!
But surely all the other Founders saw
Such threats to all our hard won Liberties?
I am afraid that I alone descried
Such threats upon our sacred freedoms, even as
I served our country as a diplomat
In Paris with your dear mother at my side,
Whose name and presence then, as now, reminds
My heart of my beloved wife, my Patty, and
Instilled my feeble frame with comforts great
Whilst I was grieving still our family’s loss.
O, grandma Patty! Only have I seen
A likeness of her face and know so little of her—
Pray, would you tell us stories of her next?
Indeed I would, for she possessed a grace
That only may descend to her children
If we would speak of her deeds of kindness or
Her wit, equipped she was to bear with me!
Do finish first this story please, papa!
Surely shall we tell stories of her soon.
What prompted your return from France, papa?
Our dear republic, younger than you lot,
Was under such a threat that only I could stop!
Did mean King George return with his dragons?
Far worse than even dragons—Federalists!
O, tell us now what happened next, papa!
So there upon my return from Europe,
Bearing within me winds of freedom fresh
From France, no strength of mind or counsel wise
Could I exert on Washington himself
Nor able to extract his soul from out
The pit of snakes that were the Federalists,
So ensnared was even the father of our country by
Alexander Hamilton, prince of thieves,
And Hamilton’s designs to collect all
The debt incurred throughout our noble war
With England in the Treasury, as if
It were his private bank, for so he hoped
To grow the central government to such
A size and strength it’d rival the Leviathan!
O no! But what is such a beast? Could they
Be any worse than the dragons of King George?
Much worse, indeed, for dragons only eat
A sheep or two and sleep on piles of
Treasure and gold, but leviathans feed
On Liberty, and in their lair, they lie
Upon the tortured backs of men supine
And snarl should man attempt to once again
Be free, as we were all created to be!
Enter Burwell Colbert, Jefferson’s most trusted slave.
Dear Master Jefferson, Lady Martha
Sends word her children are to come to bed,
Whilst anymore stories of the Revolution
Should wait until tomorrow at breakfast.
My thanks, Colbert; return to Martha all
My assurance my grandchildren shall be
With her at once.
O, no papa! You must tell us
How you destroyed the leviathan next!
Another day, but know for now that in
This very room I fought with Hamilton
‘Til he agreed the capital of Washington
Would be upon our cherished Potomac,
On southern shores and near Virginia’s heart,
So from my mountaintop I could observe
That serpent Hamilton and put a stop
To any plot to seize our republic,
As so I vowed, until my dying breath!
If Amer’ca’s so blessed to have a father such
As you, how blessed are we to have you for
Our grandfather! O please, one story more!
I love you so my dear, but not tonight,
For you must sleep and dream of Liberty,
For freedom you must give your heart, your soul,
And all your strength in her defense, for one
Day I’ll be gone—and who will then uphold
The noble cause for which I gave my life?
We will papa!
We will do all we can
To keep our freedoms safe from Yankee greed!
I feel assured you will, as now I see
The flames of freedom kindling so your eyes,
You’ll need no candles to find your way to bed!
O, good night papa!
And sleep well, papa!
Good night, but remember, you promised you
Would tell another story at breakfast!
I promise, but for now fill up your dreams
With heroes fighting for the noblest themes;
And if you count me with this chosen few,
Remember all I dared, I did for you.
Exeunt all, as Jefferson leads his grandchildren to a staircase and extinguishes a candelabrum, leaving the room in darkness.
If you liked this piece, please check “The Virginia” on Amazon. It is a 5 Act history play, centered on the Battle of Hampton Roads.
This post originally appeared on the blog of Christ Covenant Church in Raleigh, NC. My wife and I have been attending this great church for the past 5 years. Much thanks to Nicholas Lingle for posting it!
I often joke with others that while Paul David Tripp has only one note, it happens to be a very good note. Tripp relentlessly emphasizes the capacity of the gospel to produce genuine, God-honoring change in the lives of redeemed sinners. That is, if those sinners remember the tenets and implications of the gospel in the trials they have, they will grow in deeper dependence on the God who has redeemed them through Christ. Tripp’s other excellent books on counseling explain this this note in the process of sanctification (How People Change) and in the lives of pastors and elders (Dangerous Calling). In his new book, Parenting: 14 Gospel Principles That Can Radically Change Your Family, Tripp adds variations on this gospel theme by applying the model to the realm of parenting.
The main idea unifying these fourteen principles is that parents should, well, parent out of the realization that only God can change the hearts of their children. Maybe we idolize our kids too much or think we in some way own them, Tripp says, and this leads to disappointed hopes, frustrated parents, and wayward children. While many parents understand that only God’s grace can save them, they often do not parent this way thanks to the hectic schedule and unreasonable expectations parents can place on themselves and their kids.
So Tripp advocates looking at parenting as being more like an ambassador, sent on a mission of mercy by God to our own kids. Rather than holding kids accountable to unreachable standards or setting strict rules for their behavior, as if that alone can save them, Tripp urges parents to remember how much they personally need God’s grace and forgiveness for their sins, and strive to communicate that need daily for the gospel in the throes of parenting. Tripp does not suggest letting your kids run wild, but to try and keep everything in perspective, remember that God is in control, and speak to one’s kids out of your own personal need for the gospel.
The fourteen principles, ranging from authority issues, identity issues, and character issues, revolve in and around the need to parent from one’s dependence on Christ. Tripp offers a lot of good practical advice, weaves in examples from parents whom he has counseled, and details many of his own failures as a parent, often using himself as the example of what not to do as a dad. On the whole, Tripp’s Parenting is an enjoyable and worthwhile read, even as his premise is so relatively simple that you have to ask yourself, “Why didn’t I think of that?” Above all, Parenting is just a good book to remind the reader that, while parenting is an awesome, weighty task, God is ultimately in control, has called parents to this great work, and strengthens parents to do this otherwise impossible task.