July 18, 2014
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November 13, 2013
November 11, 2013
November 8, 2013
August 16, 2013
In light of the fact that Legend of Korra, book 2 is coming out next month, I thought it might be fun to write up this article/essay/paper/thing (I’m not sure what to call it) about what I hope to learn from the new seasons. One of the things I greatly enjoyed about the original Last Airbender series was how they developed and explored their fictional universe in depth. For instance, we learn more about the nature of the avatar as we learn things like the Avatar State and the Avatar Cycle. We understand what it means for Earth to be an element when we discover that metal, too, is merely Earth in a different shape. We even touch at the origins of bending when we learn that badger moles, dragons, sky bison, and the moon were the first natural benders.
Not everything was explained, however, and there is a fundamental question left in mystery. I had hoped that Legend of Korra would have touched on this in book 1, and I now hope they answer it in the following seasons. The question is this: why is the avatar the only being capable of bending multiple elements?
For my own entertainment, I developed a hypothesis to this question which I believe to be consistent with our current knowledge of the avatar universe. First, however, we must look to one even more basic question: what makes someone a bender, at all? You might suppose that bending is hereditary. If your parents were benders, you most likely will be, too. And if they were not, you probably will not be. This does not seem to be the case, however. As we learn from “The Southern Raiders” (B3,E14), neither of Katara’s and Sokka’s parents were benders, yet Katara is. We also know from “Siege of the North: Part1” (B1,E19) and “The Cave of Two Lovers” (B2,E2) that the first Water and Earth benders learned to bend from the moon and from badger moles.
But you say there must be some genetic influence because the Earth Kingdom only produces Earthbenders and the Water Tribes only Waterbenders, etc. But this does not seem to be entirely true, either. In “The Blind Bandit” (B2,E6), we are introduced to a Fire Nation Earthbender. If non-benders can learn to bend, and benders of one nation can learn the bending of another, it would appear that the token elements of each nation are nothing more than practiced norms. A Fire Nation pupil could, in fact, learn Waterbending, instead. This would also agree with the statement made in “The Guru” (B2,E19), that the four nations are an illusion and the whole world is one people.
Then why is it such a rare thing for a person of one nation to bend a different element? It is reasonable to suppose that, due to the war and the long absence of the avatar, practicing other bendings has become taboo, until people may have even forgotten it was possible. Consider, for instance, the hostility of Jet’s reaction to Iroh Firebending his tea in “The Drill” (B2,E13). Maybe in Legend of Korra, where the nations have already begun to mingle, we may see evidence of cross-bending.
Now to get back to the original question: why can ordinary people not bend more than one element? I say they can, and this is where my hypothesis comes in. I call it the Hypothesis of Secondary Elements. Imagine the four elements arranged in a diamond, like a four-pointed color wheel, according to the Avatar Cycle (Water, Earth, Fire, Air). These are the primary elements. Now imagine a square overlapping these, who’s corners are between the elements. This is where we fill in the secondary elements. What do you get when you cross Water and Earth? Mud, of course. Earth and Fire? Lava. Fire and Air would logically become Lightening. Air and Water mix to become Cloud (or perhaps Bubbles?).
We know that these secondary elements exist, in that they are substances which are composed of two primary elements, such that it takes two forms of bending to control them. In “The Fortuneteller” (B1,E14), it takes Aang and Katara, together, to shape a cloud. In “The Painted Lady” (B3,E3), Katara and Toph work together to separate a muddy river into its components of Earth and Water. In “The Avatar and the Firelord” (B3,E6), we see Roku and Sozin battling a volcano, and, while Roku frequently bends the lava directly, Sozin is seen only to siphon the heat away—essentially separating the Fire from the Earth—leaving the hard Earth behind.
Lightening is a curiosity. We see at least five people, in Last Airbender and Legend of Korra, combined, who use lightening—all of them Firebenders. But it is plain that lightening is not ordinary fire. It has shifted form, in the same way that blue, mixed with a speck of yellow, has a shifted hue. These individuals have actually begun to mix a little Air into their Firebending.
Why not go all the way, then, and learn Airbending and Firebending? I believe there is no contradiction in saying they could. The reason we have not seen it fully developed is two-fold. Learning one form of bending is difficult, learning another one must be truly daunting. By a similar token, it would be strange to have a PHD in Physics, and then go for another one in Art. Once again, there is also the war to consider, along with the extreme segregation of nations. These individuals who utilize lightening probably do not realize they are mixing elements. It is a technique that works and, in wartime, that is all they need know. As Legend of Korra develops, we just might see the occasional dual-bender.
Could it go the other way? Could a Firebender choose, rather than being a Lighteningbender, to become a Lavabender? Only the avatar is ever seen to Lavabend. No pure Firebender has been observed to do it. I hypothesize that the Avatar Cycle is not binding to the avatar, alone, but actually is a natural law. Therefore, the bender who wishes to learn two elements must follow the cycle from wherever he chose to start. So, an Airbender may become a Cloudbender, but not a Lighteningbender. An Earthbender may become a Lavabender, but not a Mudbender. And so forth.
Why stop at two elements? Why can an ordinary person not learn three? As explained in “Bitter Work” (B2,E9), the elements have opposites. Earth is the opposite of Air, and Fire is the opposite of Water, which is why they are also opposite each other on the Avatar Cycle. Imagine, for a moment, what you would get if you crossed Fire and Water. I can only think of hot water, which is still just water. There has been no shift in form. It would be impossible for a Waterbender to learn Firebending because the two are intrinsically opposed. The same would be true of an Earthbender trying to learn Airbending. Thus a bender would have to stop at two elements because to go further would contradict his chosen element.
So why is the avatar so special? The avatar is a living paradox. He is one person, and yet many persons. He dies, and yet is born anew. He is man, but also spirit. Only in such a paradox is the total union of all the elements possible.
I do not know how accurate the Hypothesis of Secondary Elements is, but I believe it to be consistent with what we know thus far. Whether I am proved wrong or right by the coming seasons, I will enjoy watching The Legend of Korra, Book 2: Spirits, and will be anxiously watching for the answers to these mysteries.
June 21, 2013
I think it would be beneficial for everyone to learn a competitive sport, sometime in their life. The reason I say this is not primarily for the sake of fitness or social maturity, though both are good. My primary reason is that a competitive sport teaches you a valuable way of thinking. In my own sport, that of fencing, I was trained to see failure as a lesson. One was not allowed to see loss as a reason for pity or frustration; you learned from it and you moved on. This had a basic four-step process: admit the loss, discern what factor caused or allowed the loss, plan a counter-measure to that factor, execute counter-measure.
Let’s look at an example from fencing. Loss: I got hit. Step one: “ok, I got hit.” Step two: “Why did I get hit? Well, when I attacked, my tip was pointed too high, such that I missed over his shoulder and ran myself into his tip.” Step three: “I need to lower my tip.” Step four: I lower my tip. If that correction worked, great! If not, I go through the process again; maybe I missed something.
This is a helpful method of thinking all through life, not only in sports. Because we wage a constant battle with our old sinful nature, the Christian would benefit from a tactical way of thinking.
We sin constantly, whether we are conscious of it or not. But let’s say there’s one particular sin you struggle with regularly and are highly conscientious of. Here’s how the process would be helpfully applied. Step one:confess your sin. Always, always, always go first to your baptism and the forgiveness which God promises to you, in Jesus. Step two: discern the circumstances of the sin. What stimulates it? Is it a situation, a location, an image, a word, a place, a state of mind? You may wish to ask if there’s a pattern to where it occurs or even when. Step three: how will you avoid those stimuli in the future? Step four: execute your avoidance plan.
I have utilized this pattern for years, as I find it a practical tool in day-to-day affairs. I have had that same amount of time to study my temptations. Using this competitive mind frame, I have observed every conceivable pattern and developed countless avoidance plans, some of which have even worked. After years of tactically struggling with the same sins, I have accomplished … nothing. I sin just as much after as before. There are days when my avoidance plans don’t work, when I’m unprepared for the temptation, when my will is too weak to resist, when I just really want to sin. It does not get better. At the end, I don’t need aid, I need good news.
This, then, is why the Theology of Glory will always fail: because you are a sinner and nothing in this life will change that. You will ruin every good thing that comes your way because you are ruined. Therefore we cry as Paul does, “who will rescue me from this body of death?” (Romans 7:24).
This, then, is why the Theology of the Cross is so essential: because you are a sinner and Christ shared in your suffering. “We do not have a High Priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but was tempted in every way in which we are yet was without sin,” (Hebrews 4:15). Jesus makes no empty promises that it will get better or that it will get easier, for Jesus “knows what is in man,” (John 2:25). Instead, He took upon Himself your sin—that sin that you struggle with, that sin that you cannot resist, that sin that you enjoy committing—and suffered what you never have and never will. And now, risen, He promises a time when we shall no longer struggle, fall, or love to sin. When He returns “we shall be like Him, because we shall see Him as He is,” (I John 3:2). Therefore we wait for His return with eager expectation and with groans of longing. For though we suffer now, when He returns we shall suffer no more.
But while we wait, He has not left us without comfort. Through Word and Sacrament, He feeds us with the forgiveness we desperately need to survive. Therefore always, always, always go back to your baptism wherein God promises to you forgiveness of your sins, now, and, in the future, a life with Him of eternal righteousness, innocence, and blessedness.
“Amen. Come, Lord Jesus,” (Revelation 22:20).