My Little Devotional #183: “Words’ Worth”

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Inspiration for Today’s Devotional: “Father Knows Beast”

This episode took a bit of an odd yet emotional turn toward the end. After Spike met his “father”, a manipulative and lazy dragon named Sludge, and ended up being taken advantage of by him playing on his emotions, the younger dragon was confronted by Twilight Sparkle who suggested the possibility that Sludge may not have had his best interests at heart. Spike, in turn, casually responded that Twilight was only acting that way because she was a pony and not a dragon, and in turn dismissed the role she played in raising him.

Naturally, this sort of thoughtless comment caused Twilight to burst into tears, and goes down in my book as one of Spike’s worst moments. It also illustrates the power and danger of any thoughtless thing we might say.

I rag on the Internet a lot on this blog but…honestly? I love it. And one of the things I love the most about it since I’m so socially awkward and trip over my own words all the time is that it allows me to carefully choose everything I say. Moreover, it allows me to get something impulsive and emotional down in a text box, sit back, look at it for a few minutes, and then decide whether or not I really want to say that or if I should go back on it.

Not so easy in real life. Especially since I often let my anger or sadness run away with me and say things that I may get a thrill out of at the time only to regret deeply later. This has happened with my family, my job, and in public arenas. There are many times I have said something and may have even felt smug or justified at the time, only to go back hours later or lie in bed, and wring my hands in embarrassment or regret and pray to God that the impact of those words be recanted. Especially when I think about how I should have been “as Christ” to someone that day.

As illustrated in the last blog and others, words and/or silence have great power to them. Arguably, they’re the most powerful things about us as human beings. And as such, God has certain demands upon our words.

“If you make a vow to the Lord your God, do not be slow to pay it, for the Lord your God will certainly demand it of you and you will be guilty of sin.” (Deuteronomy 23:21)

“The words of the reckless pierce like swords, but the tongue of the wise brings healing.” (Proverbs 12:18)

Again, you have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘Do not break your oath, but fulfill to the Lord the vows you have made.’ But I tell you, do not swear an oath at all: either by heaven, for it is God’s throne; or by the earth, for it is his footstool; or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the Great King. And do not swear by your head, for you cannot make even one hair white or black. All you need to say is simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything beyond this comes from the evil one.” (Matthew 5:33-37)

But I tell you that everyone will have to give account on the day of judgment for every empty word they have spoken. For by your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned.” (Matthew 12:36-37)

The bottom line? God takes the words we say very seriously. And he should. I know from experience that certain things that are said to us when we’re younger are remembered years later, and continue to lodge in our memory no matter how much time passes and shapes who we are. Many people never forgive nor forget certain things said to them, whether it’s something unkind and hateful or something encouraging and memorable. Certain phrases or words can either cast a shadow on our lives or give enlightenment for years to come.

Case in point, in regards to this message, I remember something important my dad told me: “You are the master of your unspoken word.” Simple enough, but very true. Being too quick to speak may mean you have to recant what you say, explain it, protect it from misinterpretation, or try to keep others from spreading it around if they prove to be untrustworthy. Holding your tongue at the right time, on the other hand, saves you a world of trouble.

I’ve talked in the past about the need to watch carefully what we say, but considering that it’s such an important topic, I think it merits repeating a few pointers to keep in mind every time we feel the need to respond to something that makes us feel particularly emotional.

  • If necessary (or possible), wait. Especially if whatever was said makes me feel angry or upset. There are very few things I’ve ever said in my life in anger that I ended up not wishing I could take back as soon as I was calmer, and blowing up in rage never does anyone any good…including ourselves.
  • Ask yourself if it’s what Jesus would say. There are many times I’ve felt justified or clever in wanting to say things to others but, when I think about it and meditate on the life of Jesus, I realize that ultimately all I would say would end up boosting me but no one else. It wouldn’t serve any useful or beneficial purpose to anyone; it would just give me some temporary gratification.
  • Ask yourself if it’s true. As I’ve cautioned before in the past, we do not see the world as it is but as we are. That leads to a lot of distortion, especially when we feel like we were insulted or that a wrong has occurred. Consider the situation more carefully. Look at the evidence with fresh eyes. If necessary, talk it over with someone else. Think hard about whether or not what you believe occurred really occurred or if it’s just the way your mind is framing it.
  • Ask yourself if its beneficial. In the right setting at the right time with the right phrasing, a criticism or chastisement actually is not only merited but could do some good. When it’s spoken with an ulterior motive of making ourselves look good, is manipulative, is laced with passive-aggressiveness, or is an attempt to publicly humiliate someone…not so much.
  • Ask yourself if it’s worth it. While my last devotional focused on the need to speak in the face of silence, in many person-to-person reactions it might be better to ask oneself if it’s worth stirring a pot over. Granted, there are some things in which it’s better to speak up rather than let a wrong continue, even if it will cause a bit of outrage at first, but in our modern world and especially on the Internet people will say a lot of things just to get our dander up or start an argument for the sake of arguing. Not all of these battles are worth fighting. Sometimes the best move is, rather than being baited into something, to let it go—even if an opponent will boast that it means you’re speechless and that they’ve “won” the argument. As Mark Twain once observed: “It is better to keep your mouth closed and let people think you are a fool than to open it and remove all doubt.”
  • Always remember the motive. For the Christian, the ultimate motive behind everything has to be to bring glory to God and his Kingdom. That includes everything we say. For that matter, it’s best for most of us to always ask if we’re building it up or tearing it down in everything we say to another, but especially when responding emotionally.

Suggested Prayer: “Lord God, I thank you again for the power of my words and the ability I have to teach, to show love, to console, to reconcile, and to build up and encourage others that I have through them. Today, I confess all the times I’ve used this ability to tear down others or gratify myself rather than aid people or give glory to you, and I repent of them. Please help me to use this God-given gift as you intend me to use it in the future. Gratefully in Jesus’ Name, Amen.”

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My Little Devotional #182: “Silence is Tarnished”

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Inspiration for Today’s Devotional: “Sounds of Silence”

I don’t know about the rest of you, but I hope this episode doesn’t end up being prophetic.

In “Sounds of Silence”, we’re introduced to the kirins. They are a race of creatures that abandoned the ability to talk for fear of their words getting each other upset or angry to the point of breaking out in violence due to their alternate “nirik” natures. In doing so, this episode speaks volumes about the power of words and emotions but also introduces an interesting concept about silence: in the right situation, silence speaks just as powerfully if not more so than words.

By far, the most powerful and dangerous organ in the human body is the tongue. The ability to speak and transmit complex ideas, sentiments, and feelings simply through our voices sets us above and beyond all other creatures and is likely largely responsible for human civilization. Words can teach, explain, insult, motivate, discourage, comfort, incite, organize, and tear down.

The tongue has the power of life and death, and those who love it will eat its fruit.” (Proverbs 18:21)

When we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we can turn the whole animal. Or take ships as an example. Although they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are steered by a very small rudder wherever the pilot wants to go. Likewise, the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark. The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole body, sets the whole course of one’s life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell. All kinds of animals, birds, reptiles and sea creatures are being tamed and have been tamed by mankind, but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be.” (James 3:3-10)

It’s small wonder, therefore, that many places in the world seek to maintain power or control over the ability to speak. Freedom of speech, the ability to publicly state your mind about anything (but especially the government or society), is considered a hallmark of free nations; while a lack of freedom of speech is a signature of oppressive regimes. Many places in the world will form protests, mobs, or even riot in response to someone speaking about something that they don’t want to hear. At the more individual level, people can grow incensed when talking about sensitive matters or hearing someone trudge on their beliefs; even enough to grow angry or violent. (Hence the unwritten rule in many families about never talking about politics or religion.)

As a result, silence has quite a powerful force to it as well. Oppressive countries attempt to make themselves look better to the world by forbidding people to even speak of black marks on their history, and claim they have the widespread love and happiness of their own citizens because anyone who says anything against them can be imprisoned or forcefully stifled. What stories are chosen to headline news get national attention, whereas other important matters that simply go unreported are quickly unnoticed and ultimately forgotten. And, as often seen in history, all that’s necessary for widespread evils such as slavery, ethnic cleansing, or genocide to reach the point of becoming national policy is for people to not say a word against them…in which case, ironically, silence speaks volumes.

And of course, almost since the beginning of Christianity, silence has been the primary means of suppression of the Gospel. As Christians we all believe that Jesus is the only way to salvation and that everyone is lost to Hell without His Grace, and that His message is the ultimate good news too important not to share. Yet nevertheless, even for those of us lucky enough not to live in countries where speaking of Jesus can earn anywhere from a jail sentence to a cup full of acid in our faces, the possibility of getting everyone angry and worked up, launching into an emotion fueled debate, and leaving everyone despising us for being “Jesus freaks” is enough to keep us quiet and retain the message to ourselves. On the other hand, nations that do this as a matter of policy use silence as a means of quiet extermination. After all, so long as Christians cannot proselytize but other religions can, their numbers should eventually die out or at least be confined to their families at best.

Today in the USA, however, we face a threat far more unprecedented. With the idea proposed that hearing something unsettling or uncomfortable causes stress, and that chronic stress can have ill health effects, many people have come to the conclusion that, therefore, speech is physical violence. That simply talking not only can hurt emotionally or mentally but actually leave a tangible mark on the human body. Therefore, rather than argue, debate, or simply ignore certain topics, the new impetus from some people is that those topics shouldn’t even be allowed to be spoken in public at all as they are physically dangerous.

Hence the ongoing debate over the idea of “safe spaces”, whether speakers should not only be banned but physically barred from entering college campuses, and even groups as extreme as Antifa who believe the only equitable and rational response to someone’s “violent” speech is to inflict actual physical violence; since by merely saying something they didn’t like the speaker was “physically assaulting” them to begin with.

Most of all, it’s taking the “no politics or religion” to a new extreme and trending more to what’s in this episode—making topics off-limits to the public by relegating them to silence. What this means for all of us is that when something you say gets a group of individuals unhappy, or sometimes just a single individual, the topic ends up banned from even being allowed to be mentioned under threat of violence or reprisal.

I consider this the equivalent of a modern day lynch mob, and dread to think what will happen if silencing people like this becomes official legal policy.

Ultimately, I think this episode illustrated a good principle in a timely manner about what to do about this. I would supplement it just a little, though.

First…

Someone once said something very simple yet very profound to me—how I feel about something may be beyond my control, but what I do with those feelings is always my responsibility. Only a small child throws a fit and screams when they get sad or angry. A person who wishes to be an adult, on the other hand, must take responsibility for their own emotions and express them in healthy and appropriate ways. No one is responsible for your behavior but you.

In this world, you will inevitably face something that makes you sad, upset, or even angry. Someone will say something that challenges you and incenses you. In fact, if you want to claim you’re truly living, I guarantee that will happen. The only way it wouldn’t is if, like in this episode, we lived in a world of silence. But that’s more than just not being able to chat, laugh, or sing. A world where you never feel uncomfortable or tried in your beliefs or opinions is an egocentric one—where you can go around smugly believing yourself to be perfectly right in every way all the time with no need to self-improve, challenge your own assumptions, or ever think any differently. If you want to grow, your values have to be tested and proven.

That’s why even though I believe Christianity is the one true faith I am completely behind total freedom of religion. My faith is worthless if it can’t stand up to others challenging it, and my own resolve is weak if the only way I can ensure people stay in my faith is by threatening them if they consider leaving it.

Second…

Just as we will all inevitably face something that makes us upset or uncomfortable, we too will all inevitably say something to someone else that makes them upset or uncomfortable (at least, we will if we claim we stand for something). Even if that thing is of lasting value and important to disclose. When that time comes, we may face anger. We may face hate. We may even face violence.

For the Christian, we already know exactly what the most important thing is. And Jesus warned us from the start about what that would mean. “If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you. Remember what I told you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also. If they obeyed my teaching, they will obey yours also.” (John 15:18-20)

The Gospel isn’t always a message that makes people “feel good”; although it often will for the repentant. For those who still cling to their sins, however, it’s a message of conviction…designed to make one uncomfortable so that they will seek repentance and Jesus’ free gift of salvation. Some people will accept it; some people won’t. Keeping silent and not sharing it may be a way to avoid possible scorn and ire from those who won’t, but it’s also a guarantee that people who have never heard it and would have accepted it will go on not hearing it until the day they face judgment.

The truth is, so long as you stand for something, it will inevitably make someone mad or upset. (If it didn’t, change would never happen.) Yet as Autumn Blaze says, “you can’t give up your laughter ’cause you’re scared of a little pain”. For that reason, whenever we know something is good, something is right, and something is important, we can’t let fear, whether internal or external, keep us silent. Especially when it comes to the Gospel for those who need to hear it.

May that be something we are always willing to make a stand for.

Suggested Prayer: “Lord God, thank you for the power of my words, and that within them I have the ability to spread the message of your salvation, to encourage the downhearted, to comfort the grieving, to love the unloved, and to speak the truth in the face of falsehood. Please grant that no thing outside of me and that nothing inside of me will ever keep me from saying what needs to be said or from proclaiming the Good News to the world. Gratefully in Jesus’ Name, Amen.”

My Little Devotional #181: “Good God, Bad God”

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Inspiration for Today’s Devotional: “What Lies Beneath”

The Tree of Harmony, introduced in personified(ponified?) form in this episode, is the closest thing the MLP:FIM universe has to a deity, and one line she had caught me for today’s devotional.

When she gives the Student Six their “test”, she caps it off by saying they must pass it or “here you will stay”. Obviously, the Student Six passed their test, and we find at the end that the Tree of Harmony might have been expecting them to pass all along.

However, I thought of something on rewatch…what if they hadn’t passed? She said “here you will stay”. What does that mean? That they’d be stuck down there until someone came to get them? That they’d have to repeat the test until they passed? That they’d be trapped down there forever? Would she, in fact, be punishing them for not realizing they were friends? And if she did, would that level of punishment be merited?

Thinking about that eventually led me to thinking about God again and, in particular, the inner conflict a lot of Christians have with their faith: reconciling God of the Old Testament with God of the New Testament.

While many Christians are able to think of the two as one, in my experience many Christians prefer to focus on the New Testament. Truth be told, most of what applies to the Christian faith is found in the New Testament, and there’s a lot in the Old Testament that’s genealogies, blueprints for palaces and places of worship, and the proper way to offer holocausts, peace offerings, and sin offerings—none of which really applies to the Christian nowadays. However, those aren’t the things that I think any of us honestly dislike about the Old Testament. There are passages that are far harder to digest.

I’m talking about when God smote the firstborn of Egypt, even the animals, (Exodus 12:29-30) after he made Pharaoh stubborn enough to refuse to let the Israelites go in spite of the plagues (Exodus 7:3-5). I’m talking about when God told the Israelites to annihilate the nations of Canaan down to the last child (Deuteronomy 15:16-18). I’m talking about how in the Mosaic Law the Israelites were told they could take women and children as “war booty” for themselves after killing all males when fighting other nations (Deuteronomy 20:12-14), and how, while Israelite slaves were to be released at an appointed time, foreign-born slaves were allowed to be retained forever (Leviticus 25:39-46).

I’d like to think any Christian who has ever praised and worshiped about the “never-ending, never-failing, reckless Love of God” and who believes God hates the evils of war, racism, and slavery would probably feel at least a little uncomfortable reading these passages. The fact is it’s a hard thing to reconcile. I myself read the Bible cover-to-cover in my own devotional life, and when I get to the New Testament and start reading passages about God’s Mercies I can’t help but think back to the Old Testament about God’s Wrath. At times, it makes me begin to doubt the former of the two.

I’ve seen Christians try to reconcile this in different ways. One way is simply denial. I know some Christians who rationalize that everything in the Old Testament was written by men of the time and biased, while everything in the New Testament is the “real” Word of God. However, most of us know that’s not true. Paul said it (“All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness” [2 Timothy 3:16]) and, more importantly, if we start picking and choosing which parts of the Bible are divinely inspired and which parts are made up, then logically our whole faith and belief has to be called into question as there’s no reason not to think that Jesus’ Sacrifice and salvation aren’t lies as well.

An answer that’s more satisfactory for some refers to the fact of God’s omniscience. Naturally, we all believe God wants all sinners to come to repentance, and that only God knows the heart. Therefore, God himself is the best judge of when a person should be shown mercy and when judgment should fall upon them, and all will happen in its proper time according to his Will. Therefore, when incidents of violence and war happen in the Bible by God’s will, it was because it was “a time to kill” (Ecclesiastes 3:3); a point when mercy would no longer be effective and this was the only recourse.

I believe that, but leaving it at that can potentially raise new problems. How do we know when an act of violence, terror, or destruction is an evil to be condemned or is the Will of God? That is, after all, what groups like the Westboro Baptist Church endorse. They praise the deaths of American soldiers as divine punishment for the USA not outlawing homosexuality. It’s also what a lot of extremists who resort to murder to enforce what they think of as God’s Will believe. And if we do get to the point where we start concluding in the modern day that people can execute the Will of God as the ancient Israelites did through war and plunder, then I fear we start to tread dangerously close to one of the oldest Christian (and religious) dilemmas: the Socratic Argument.

The Socratic Argument is one of the primary logical arguments used against religion being morally right. The basic dilemma is: “Is something morally right because God says it is, or does God say it’s morally right because it is?” The argument some Christians make to me sounds much like the former of the two options, and that, to me, is a dangerous precedent to follow. Not only does it make good and evil arbitrary, something I refuse to believe God would ever condone, but it allows any pastor or self-proclaimed “prophet” to come along and say God told them something completely contradictory to the Bible and then say it’s morally right.

To me, God doesn’t tell us not to kill simply because he wants to “do the job himself”, but because it’s wrong. While there are always exceptions or special circumstances, such as defending other people or oneself, a rule is, the far majority of the time, a rule.

So how do I reconcile the two?

I’ll admit, some days I have a hard time doing it even now. However, the best practice that I currently have is trying to take the Bible in its entirety.

While I myself am not a Lutheran, one of the best pieces of theology I ever received from them was the idea that everything recorded in the Old Testament and the New Testament is for a purpose to the people living today. As such, although it is indeed divinely inspired, there are aspects of God’s nature that are accented and magnified in different sections of the Bible for the purpose of instruction rather than the whole picture of God being gained from just one passage, chapter, or book. First and foremost: the Old Testament is a message to sinners about the requirements of holiness and the wrath of God, while the New Testament is about the way to salvation and the mercies of God. One side emphasizes one aspect of God’s nature more than the other, but it’s still the same God.

It’s important to note that while the New Testament is heavy on the love and mercy of Jesus Christ, it’s not without some “wrath” of it’s own. There’s the episode in Acts of the Apostles where Christians are struck dead for trying to cheat the community (Acts 5:1-11), and then there’s the entire Book of Revelation in which most of the terror and wrath comes from angels in Heaven.

Likewise, the Old Testament is far from being void of God’s mercy. Even in Genesis, God outlines how as little as ten righteous people in a city filled from top to bottom with evildoers would be enough to make him overlook their wickedness (Genesis 18:23-32). Jesus’ “new commandment” in the Gospels (John 13:34) is nothing more than a commandment from the Mosaic Law that was overlooked (Leviticus 19:18). In the Book of Jonah, God didn’t sent the prophet Jonah to Nineveh with the intent of telling them all of their impending death but to save their lives by spurring them to repent, which they did. And to Ezekiel, God explicitly said he doesn’t take any pleasure in striking sinners dead. Instead, he takes pleasure in their repentance (Ezekiel 18:23 and 33:11).

In both examples, the Bible shows that just as the God of the New Testament is the same God with terrible holiness and anger in the Old Testament, it also says that same God from the Old Testament possesses the mercy and love of the God of the New Testament. This I choose to have faith in as much as I have faith in Christ.

My prayer for today is that we all may never lose sight of the totality of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; and that we are all able to accept all of the Word of God as useful for our own instruction and building up…even the difficult parts.

After all, if Christianity was meant to always be easy, Jesus wouldn’t have warned us about it (Matthew 10:22).

Suggested Prayer: “Lord God, thank you for your Word as contained in the Bible and its message to all people—to the sinner, the warning of God’s judgment, the demands of the Law, and the sentence of condemnation; to the Christian, the victory of Lord Jesus, the overwhelming power of God’s mercies, and the promise of eternal life. Help me to cling to both and never embrace one so much I forget the other. Gratefully in Jesus’ Name, Amen.”

My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic Reviews ~ Season Eight, Episodes Twenty-Five and Twenty-Six: “School Raze”

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Synopsis:

While taking the students of the School of Friendship for a visit to Cloudsdale, Starlight Glimmer is shocked on seeing her spell that allows non-pegasi to walk on clouds suddenly fail, leading to multiple students being endangered. On returning to school to report to Twilight Sparkle, Twilight soon finds her own magic failing both in her and in other unicorns. Princess Celestia and Princess Luna quickly summon them and Princess Cadance to Canterlot where they share findings that Starswirl the Bearded compiled: namely that all magic is vanishing all across Equestria, and will vanish completely and forever in three days. Prompted by a suggestion by Cozy Glow, whose friendliness and helpfulness have gotten her the title of Professor Sparkle’s Friendship Assistant (which she may or may not have given herself), the Mane Six decide to inspect Tartarus to see if Tirek has found a way to drain Equestrian magic from within. While gone, Twilight puts Starlight Glimmer in charge with Cozy Glow assisting her. However, the next day Cozy claims she got a letter from Starlight saying she was going to help Twilight and she was left in charge, and she immediately begins to do special favors for the entire school…something that makes the Student Six suspicious. Even more suspicious is when they catch Cozy Glow coming up from the grating that leads to the Tree of Harmony in the library. They follow her back to the headmare’s office and watch as she herself is surprised and confronted by Chancellor Neighsay. He has blamed the loss of magic on the non-pony creatures being let into the school and further accuses Twilight of being irresponsible by letting them in and then abandoning the school for what he calls a pointless friendship quest, and plans to take over to make the school ponies only. He ends up catching the Student Six, as he possesses a magical artifact that hasn’t yet had its power drained, and imprisoning them in the school, but Sandbar manages to get free by pretending to share Neighsay’s speciest sentiments. Meanwhile, the girls arrive at the gate to Tartarus but, without magic, have no way in. They discover that Cozy Glow packed a magical artifact that will open any door, but shatters after a single use. They use it to get inside and find the denizens of Tartarus miserable as they have lost their own magical abilities. They also confront Tirek, who is still depowered but nevertheless teases and strings them along when they press him for answers. The girls eventually realize that if they are unable to get their magic back from Tirek that they are locked in Tartarus with him, which he soon reveals was his intent all along. He further explains that while he couldn’t get free, he had gotten inquiring letters from an unknown pony which he decided to respond to both out of boredom and a chance of getting revenge on Twilight; ending up telling the pony everything she would need to get the Mane Six locked in there with him as well as to drain magic from Equestria. Back in the School of Friendship, Sandbar manages to recruit the Cutie Mark Crusaders with the intent of getting Cozy Glow to distract Neighsay long enough to free the rest of the Student Six, but when they try to find her by following her under the library, they are shocked to discover Cozy Glow not only has Starlight Glimmer imprisoned there but is using the power of the six artifacts (from “A Matter of Principals”) to drain all magic of Equestria and banish it to oblivion. Revealing her true vile nature, she reveals her intent to become the “Empress of Friendship”.

Unfortunately for Cozy, Neighsay’s presence and his assuming control of the school interferes with her plans to take it over herself. She uses the opportunity of him declaring himself the new headstallion to rally the student body against him when he announces his plans to go against Twilight’s guidelines, leading the students to revolt and reinstate Cozy in charge. Once he’s tied up and apart from the others, Cozy exposes herself to Neighsay, stating that she believes friendship to be the means to power and, by taking over the school and ridding Equestria of magic, she’ll have the ability to gain the most “friends” and therefore be the most powerful in Equestria. Sandbar and the CMCs free the rest of the Student Six but, on seeing Cozy depose Neighsay, decide on an alternate plan. While the CMCs create a diversion for Cozy, the Student Six free Chancellor Neighsay; causing him to realize how wrong he was to prejudge them. He ends up using his artifact to go to Canterlot and get the princesses, while the Student Six rushes to caverns under the Tree of Harmony to free Starlight Glimmer and stop the magic drain. Unfortunately, they realize not only will upsetting the relics likely cause an explosion, but Cozy isn’t distracted nearly as long as they like and, on sniffing out the CMCs and imprisoning them in a broom closet, she leads the rest of the students down there to frame them for trying to remove the magic of Equestria out of species jealousy. Meanwhile, the Mane Six are unable to escape Tartarus under their own power but Twilight gets the idea to use the innate magic that makes up the monsters there to give her enough to open the doors. They manage to even get a reluctant Tirek’s help when he realizes too late that he could be imprisoned with the Mane Six (and especially Pinkie Pie) forever. While the gesture works to break them free, the sun is setting on the third day and they have no chance of getting back to the School of Friendship in time. Meanwhile, the student body rushes the Student Six but, through a mishap, Gallus accidentally gets trapped along with Starlight. The rest of the Student Six get imprisoned trying to save him just as the portal to the aether opens and begins to draw all magic inside. However, the Tree of Harmony reacts and ends up rescuing them and freeing the Student Six; showing at the same time how they too each represent an Element of Harmony. This act convinces the student body of their innocence and the Student Six seize the relics and remove them. While it does cause a blast, the six plus Starlight are teleported to safety and magic is restored to the denizens of Equestria. As a result, not only the Mane Six but the Princesses, Neighsay, and a royal guard escort are all able to arrive at the school in moments. Cozy Glow is confronted, but now that she’s trapped she soon breaks down and reveals her demented and power-hungry side. She tries to escape but is cornered not only by the Princesses, Neighsay, and the Royal Guard but the student body as well. Chancellor Neighsay ends up apologizing to Twilight and agrees to let her run the school as she sees fit, and the Student Six get a bit disappointed on realizing that even though they saved Equestria they still haven’t learned everything about friendship in just one semester, and as a result still have to wait to graduate. As for Cozy Glow, she ends up imprisoned in Tartarus right alongside Tirek, and with a malevolent grin asks if he wants to “be friends”.

Review:

To be honest, ever since the Season Four finale, the end of seasons has constantly failed to grab me. There always seems to be something wrong with it. The Season Five finale was…well…either you like it or you hate it. The Season Six finale had to artificially remove most of the cast so one could focus on Starlight and crew. The Season Seven finale, on the other hand, suffered from cast overload so that the far majority of them were along for the ride.

To me, this season finale represents an attempt to try and make up for the shortcomings of the previous two by having a large cast, but still managing to keep them all relevant. In that regard, I offer my compliments to it for succeeding better than the Season Seven finale. Unfortunately, a lot of this episode and what went into it was mediocre at best.

In spite of the stakes, this episode isn’t very dramatic. Tirek returns and does nothing. Tartarus is brought back and does nothing. A chance for a decent friendship lesson is presented but rolls off almost as an afterthought or an aside. And while a lot of characters are featured, few are relevant and the few who end up being important get muddled so much that they fail to stand out as much as they should.

While the season as a whole had done a good job of introducing the Student Six and rounding them out as characters, in this episode they act mostly as a unit. Their individual personalities stand out almost less than they did in the season premiere, which is too bad because, ultimately, they end up being the most relevant to the episode and saving the day.

I had suspected that Chancellor Neighsay might end up being the villain for the season finale, and I give this episode credit for including a convincing subvillain with an ulterior motive from the main one. I also liked how he ended up getting his comeuppance in a very ironic format; mostly being punished for his own devious and cold demeanor. Nevertheless, not a lot of time was spent dwelling on it, and on watching the episode a second time the point where Neighsay is taught a lesson about dismissing other species simply because they aren’t ponies and has his own specism turn him into a heel wasn’t quite as poignant or long-lasting as it could have been, and the moral of not prejudging someone, or even an entire group, is somewhat muddled. It’s brought up again when Cozy Glow tries to rally the students against the Student Six but, even then, the students themselves never seemed to distrust the Student Six based on species until that point. In all other episodes, they seemed readily accepted as fellow classmates and residents of Equestria. Hence, it kind of fell flat there too to me.

Yet the real issue to me is that although other characters are given some screen time, ultimately they’re pointless being there. This is the first season finale that featured the CMCs in a role, and…they don’t really accomplish anything. Cozy Glow could have just as easily been distracted by something else temporarily. I actually feel a bit worse about this part because a CMC episode served to introduce Cozy Glow this season, so one would think that the two would at least have acted as if they were a bit closer so that it would have made Cozy seem a bit more vile when she backstabbed them.

The Mane Six take up a very large part of this episode but, again, for almost nothing. A lot of time is devoted to them going to Tartarus and then breaking out of it, but in the end it does nothing for the plot. Things would have still ended up the same for them when the Student Six succeeded.

Tirek also amounts to nothing, and that one’s a bigger problem. I can forgive it somewhat now as I realize it was setting up for Season Nine, but the fact of the matter is no matter what your view is on Tirek in terms of villain ranking the fact was he was the focal point of the best season finale and so large and intimidating he almost appeared to be from a different show all together. Making him the butt of Pinkie Pie’s jokes and being too clueless to realize he played himself constituted quite a bit of Villain Decay, not to mention they brought back the most fear-inspiring villain to spend his time monologing in a cage in his weakest form.

Finally, the villain. Cozy Glow was, unfortunately, dead on arrival. As I mentioned in earlier postings, everyone already knew she would end up being the villain going into this episode, and we’ll never know if people would have been fooled until the big reveal. (I think midway through part one all doubt would have been gone, personally.) In this episode, we finally get to see her true nature, which includes her forming rather psychotic and twisted faces whenever she abandons her faux cuteness and innocence. If there was any questions prior to this episode about whether or not she was meant to be a knockoff of Darla Dimple from “Cats Don’t Dance”, I think this should have settled it.

That being said…part of the appeal of Darla Dimple was the depths of insanity she went to. She went so over the top that she was pretty much Pinkamena from “Party of One” in most of her scenes. By comparison, Cozy is mostly just angry and power-hungry. There’s a moment or two where the animators really make her look like she’s got a screw loose, but most of the time she’s just an egotistical brat. If they had gone the whole nine yards and made her genuinely psychotic, I think she would have just worked out enough as a villain for this episode.

Instead, I kind of wince on seeing the most deadliest threat to Equestria to date being a young pegasus. That’s not to say the idea of a magicless individual being a serious threat doesn’t appeal to me, but the fact that it’s Cozy Glow feels a bit underwhelming. Unlike Starlight Glimmer, who, at least in the Season Five opening, managed to exude a true aura of malevolence through her controlling, manipulative, and even sadistic behavior, Cozy Glow just seems like a form of spoiled brat.

The fact that Tirek and the monsters are mostly used for humor and that the villain is Cozy Glow, a character whose very diabolical nature should have a humorous element to it from the contrasts of her personality, gives the impression that this drama-based episode should have been more comedic. The fact that it isn’t played up in that way makes it just mediocre. While I’ll give it one more point of credit of not immediately making the Student Six perfect or overwhelmingly saving-the-day (more like they did just from the standpoint of being normal individuals), it also didn’t do much to build on them anymore as we kind of knew their friendship was magic by the time “What Lies Beneath” came out.

I like it better than some season finales and I won’t fail it because there’s nothing outright bad about it (other than, perhaps, the Mane Six and Tirek alike both being clueless about what the end result of letting the door to Tartarus shut on them would be), but it wasn’t that great. A capstone like this made me begin to realize what the folks at Hasbro likely did…it was time.

Fun Facts:

Cozy Glow sucks up so much she even splits the discarded juice box into its recyclable and disposable parts.

I think the pony that Yona is clinging to in Cloudsdale looks like the odd love child of Pinkie Pie and Rainbow Dash. 😛

It wasn’t until this episode that I realized Gallus hates being dragged into things out of “friendship obligation”. 😛

As an interesting bit of lore, it seems magic is used fairly commonplace throughout Equestria, as indicated that it’s used to keep food fresh in spite of having no refrigeration or preservatives.

Twilight references the last time she was in Tartarus. This is referring all the way back to “It’s About Time” in Season Two, and was never actually seen on screen. Tartarus itself before this episode was only seen briefly in Season Four’s finale. While in Greek Mythology, it’s essentially the equivalent of Hell (being the place the worst of the worst of Ancient Greek mythology got locked up in), in this episode it’s mostly depicted as, well, a giant kennel.

Does Fluttershy actually try to comfort the cockatrice for not being able to turn them to stone? Actually, that sounds like Fluttershy would do that.

Among the imprisoned monsters are the cockatrice, the bugbear, the malwurf, the manticore, and the chimera…all of whom have appeared throughout the series. Cerberus, who first appeared in “It’s About Time” in Season Two, also shows up.

Tirek licking his lips when he mentions all the magic that’s missing might, in fact, be a reference to “The Silence of the Lambs” in the scenes between Clarice and Hannibal Lecter.

My prize for visual joke goes to the shot of Sandbar showing the various objects he planned to throw at Apple Bloom’s window next. 😛

Cozy Glow fashioned a crown for herself using tape. It what might be a bit of an animation goof, it would seem she made the crown from her necklace as she isn’t wearing the necklace in the second half of the finale, but she briefly has both at the end of part one.

Yona calls Neighsay “Nasty Pony” and Cozy Glow “Even Nastier Pony”. I don’t know why, but…that gets a grin out of me.

As another throwback to Season Two, Pinkie Pie is used as a form of torture. 😛 She may have been using a pair of prosthetic limbs for her monkey costume, but…it’s probably more likely she just grew a pair for the occasion.

When the monsters that help Twilight out give up their abilities, they split into individual animals. The chimera turns into a goat, saber-toothed tiger, and snake, the cockatrice turns into a chicken and a cobra, the manticore turns into a lion and a scorpion, the bugbear turns into a wasp and a panda, and Cerberus turns into three separate dogs. This might, in fact, have been another allusion to Grogar in Season Nine. He describes himself as the “Father of Monsters”, which he may have created by splicing together normal animals into one body. (It’s interesting to note the three dogs Cerberus turns into appear to be different ages.)

When all of the magic gets returned to Equestria, some of it goes to Pinkie Pie… O_o One might say “that explains everything”, except Pinkie was still able to “be Pinkie” even when magic was gone.

Poor Ocellus and Yona didn’t even get their fake diplomas. 😦

Rating:

2.5 Stars out of 5

 

My Little Devotional #180: “Hitting Rock Bottom”

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Inspiration for Today’s Devotional: “A Rockhoof and a Hard Place”

This episode gets into some pretty dark territory, but important territory. The idea of a character on the show actually contemplating suicide was around as early as Season Six’s “No Second Prances”, but it didn’t come as true to real life as it did here. Although Rockhoof was only talking about being turned into a statue in a reversible situation, the implication was very real. Especially more so when considering the background. A stallion who had missed out on the last 1,000 years and came into a world where everything he had ever known was gone, dead, and buried for centuries. He went from a time where he was heralded as a hero and a champion to, within a blink of an eye in his view, a place where he was a klutz and a failure who couldn’t even get the most menial of jobs.

The situation fits the mentality that many veterans, including those returning home from war to this day and especially those with PTSD, have: what place is there for them in a world where their greatest talent no longer means anything? The answer that many of them come up with, as well as many others experiencing similar feelings, is that there is no place at all. And when that happens, many people end up drawing the same conclusion Rockhoof did…that if there is no place for them in the world, they should take themselves out of it.

I’ve had some very dark times in my life, as alluded to in my earlier devotionals. I’ve been in some low places. And at those times my mind has turned to the lowest choice of all. I will say I never got to the point where I made a serious attempt on it. (The farthest I ever got was I had made the noose and picked out a place to hang it.) As one who has been in that situation, though, I can say two things.

  1. The last thing you ever want to do to a person contemplating suicide, especially if they’re a Christian, is to try and scare or even threaten them out of it by telling them God will send them straight to Hell for it. That might work in some cases, but if the person is already feeling so low and worthless and unloved by everything in Earth and Heaven there’s a chance that last statement might be the last thing they need to convince them that God hates them and, therefore, they have absolutely no worth and nothing to live for. So they might as well go through with it if they’re going to Hell either way.
  2. Far more importantly, the biggest thing that made the difference between me being sunk in depression and entertaining thoughts of ending it all was a feeling of total worthlessness. I was convincing myself that no one, including my family, my friends, my parents, God, Lord Jesus, etc., had any need to have me around and that my very life had no meaning to them. That I had nothing to offer anyone anywhere and I was essentially a lump of flesh taking up space.

Rockhoof was definitely feeling the second of these things. He was ready and committed to end it all; thinking it was better to let his memory die while he was still a hero rather than spend the rest of his years being nothing.

What brought him out of it, though? A little girl coming up to him and telling him how much he meant to her, and that she wanted to be just like him when she grew up.

It didn’t snap him out of his funk all together. He was still depressed and still thinking about ending it all. However…it did make him think that maybe he could hold off long enough to tell one more story.

Similar to me, my depression didn’t magically go away from what one person ever said to me. Not even when they came up to me and told me how sad they’d be if I was gone and how much my time with them meant to them. Nothing ever works quite that fast. However, it did make me think: “Maybe I should hold on until tomorrow…see how I feel then.”

Feelings of worthlessness, the thought that one has nothing to offer anyone and that one has no value to anybody, are some of the worst feelings imaginable. If you’re young, you may think that you’re immune to them. That you can just keep yourself happy forever and that you’re fine being alone. One day you will wake up, look around yourself, and ask yourself what impact you’re making on the world and what people would remember you when you’re gone. You’ll ask yourself if you really did make the world better for anyone or if anyone would miss you if you weren’t there. I hope the answer at that time is positive, but I myself have had it be negative and I know what that’s like. It’s not a good place to be.

However, the nice thing about all this is that this is one of the easiest things we can counter in others.

Yona demonstrated that in this episode with her flattering essay to Rockhoof, but it doesn’t even take that much. Just being conscious enough to say you enjoy seeing someone, that you like spending time with them, that you appreciate their presence…small little things here and there…it makes all the difference in the world. Taking time out to build someone up just a tiny bit. Not just when a person is at rock bottom as I’ve said above. Some days I’m in a foul, horrendous mood. I’m grumpy about everything and feeling discouraged and irritable. All it takes is one unexpected talk with a friend or family member or a nice comment on one of my fanfictions to suddenly make me feel better about everything. To be ready to seize the day once again, and even to “take up my cross and keep walking” again. (I can attest that I was perfectly ready to give up on something before, I heard one nice word, and all of the sudden I was ready to tackle it all over again.)

When Paul wrote to the church of the Thessalonians with advice on how the community could live a Christian lifestyle, he included: “Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.” (1 Thessalonians 5:11) Likewise, one of my favorite Proverbs is: “Anxiety weighs down the heart, but a kind word cheers it up.” (Proverbs 12:25) I would go so far as to say probably the easiest and simplest way to be as Christ to both the community and to everyone around us is to simply say an encouraging word or two every day to those we meet. Not to mention I can’t think of anyone I would rather like having around than someone who always made it a point to build up people around them.

My suggestion for this devotional is for everyone to start making a word of encouragement or gratitude for a person just “being themselves” a healthy habit. Especially to those you may have noticed you haven’t said anything in a while to or people in your life who seem to constantly be down. You might end up making someone’s day, week, month, lifetime, or, just maybe, eternity.

Suggested Prayer: “Lord God, thank you that you have vowed never to leave me or forsake me, and that you have loved me with an everlasting love. Thank you also that this does not change regardless of my fears, doubts, failures, and anxieties. If I find myself beset by these, help me to cling to this fact and focus on what you have envisioned for me. And if I am feeling well, then I pray today I may be your word of encouragement to everyone who is currently suffering from depression and hopelessness, and that I may never take those around me for granted. Gratefully in Jesus’ Name, Amen.”

My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic Reviews ~ Season Eight, Episode Twenty-Four: “Father Knows Beast”

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Synopsis:

A flying lesson for Spike with Twilight Sparkle goes south, causing Smolder to step in and correct him for learning in a “pony” fashion, which causes Twilight to begin to feel she might have let Spike down raising him as a pony rather than as a dragon. As Spike gives Smolder an (unwanted) throw pillow as a thank-you present, an adult dragon (Sludge) crash lands in Ponyville. In spite of him protesting that it’s not how dragons get better, the Mane Six and Spike insist on nursing him back to health while showing off the comforts of Ponyville and the Castle of Friendship. When he finally recovers and begins to leave, Twilight and Spike end up mentioning Spike being raised by ponies and fearing he’s missing something in his upbringing. Sludge, on hearing that, says that the reason he came to Ponyville was because he is, in fact, Spike’s father and he wanted to reunite with him. Overjoyed at meeting one of his missing parents, Spike overlooks the holes in Sludge’s story and tries to connect with him. After doing several activities together, however, Sludge changes his tune to try to “help Spike be a real dragon” by telling him to give all of the castle comforts to him so he can show him how a “real” dragon would react to them, and in turn is soon exploiting Spike to not-so-secretly wait on him hand and foot while he lazes about the castle. Seeing him being used, Twilight tries to bring it up, only for Spike to lash back that she’s just upset because he has his “real” parent and he’s a dragon rather than a pony; causing Twilight to break into tears. Smolder, however, learns about what’s been going on with Spike and sets the record straight–exposing that Sludge isn’t acting like a dragon at all but is exploiting him. With her help, the two confront Sludge and catch him in his lie and, on being found out, he reveals he wasn’t Spike’s father at all but lied in order to try and get the comfortable lifestyle of Ponyville. Spike apologizes and reconciles with Twilight, and when she offers to give him more time to search the Dragonlands for his real parents, he responds he already knows who his real family is.

Review:

Oh boy, did Season Eight have some stinkers among the fan community. First “Non-Compete Clause”, then “Yakity-Sax”, and now this. However, this was the best received of the three and I can see why.

Really I don’t see anything outstandingly bad about it except, perhaps, a touch of cluelessness on the part of the ponies and Spike. However, that fits well with the episode. Part of it was pointing out the legitimate differences between pony lifestyles and dragons, and part of that lifestyle is ponies are willing to go with the “benefit of the doubt” more easily.

It does have something I don’t think it really took the time to get into and develop, instead focusing more on scenes with Sludge and the various characters. It wasn’t until the second viewing I really got the chance to find out that a big part of it was supposed to be Twilight’s parental role with Spike. That, in and of itself, is confusing when viewing the series as a whole. Spike’s relation to Twilight has never been totally encompassed and nailed down. In many episodes he seems like just an assistant, sidekick, or even a servant in spite of the fact it’s canon that Twilight raised him. In “Dragon Quest” we deal with Spike’s existential thoughts about what it means for him to be a dragon in a nation of ponies, but that was Spike’s identity rather than his relation to others. And while Spike and Twilight’s relationship has been touched on in several other episodes, often it always seems from the perspective as somehow Spike is the “subordinate” to Twilight; whether it be as an assistant, servant, or even almost a pet.

About the only time where Spike seems to be part of Twilight’s “family” is in the holiday episodes, and even then it isn’t emphasized too strongly. This is the first one where we really get the sense of Twilight viewing herself as a parent, and it’s too bad because, if the episode had focused more on that, long enough for the audience to digest that idea, it would have had a greater impact. Instead, there’s the rather cartoon-y scene where an X-ray of Twilight shows her heart breaking. Not only does that spell out the moment of argument with Spike, but it also “dumbs it down” and makes it a joke. That’s probably the worst part to me.

However, I do like that they reconcile at the end, and on the second viewing it is a cute and sweet moment.

The other part I like is, again, Smolder standing out as her own character apart from the Mane Six, even if it caused me to complain again. I actually think it’s a good move to pair Smolder up more with Spike. Not only does it logically make sense, with the “pony-raised” dragon learning from the one dragon migrant living in Equestria, but it makes a little more sense and comes easier than Spike pairing with Ember. Furthermore, both are kind of learning from each other. While Smolder still seems to have something of a dismissive view of Spike in this episode and is thoughtless about things she says around him, the fact she was willing to even help him confront Sludge shows, once again, she does care even if she doesn’t like to talk about it. She even makes a weak attempt at being understanding at the end.

My biggest beef in the original episode was when Smolder flatly states to Sludge that it’s not in dragon nature to exploit weaknesses. Uh…yes it is. Smolder herself seemed to endorse that view explicitly in “The Hearth’s Warming Club”. However, on rewatching and seeing Smolder evolve, I kind of overlook it. When people begin to become disenchanted with a view they formerly espoused, it’s understandable that they would start misusing the “Real Scotsman” argument. Sludge might be right about it being dragon nature to exploit the weakness and compassion of others, but…that’s something that Smolder might not be feeling good about anymore to the point where she doesn’t think a real dragon should practice it. So I’ll go easy on that.

So really, in terms of content and relationships, there’s nothing too bad. I think what drags this episode down is Sludge. He gets a very large amount of screen time, and not only is much of it him lazing around but a lot is also the sounds of him stuffing his face with everything in sight. I understand that was kind of the point but he is, by design, an unappealing and dirty character and so having to have him around kind of gives this episode a likewise dirty feeling to it.

Nevertheless, while it may not have been the best episode of this season, I didn’t find it too bad.

Fun Facts:

This is me personally, but the intro (or “teaser”) feels like it could have been one of the Youtube series shorts.

Seems like the series fully forgot about how big adult dragons were in the first two seasons by now. 😛

Anyone else think it’s kind of funny that Rainbow Dash relies on fake snow when she could, in fact, make it snow if she wanted?

A return of Spike’s (somewhat-creepy-when-you-think-about-it) Rarity doll.

Poor Starlight…cameoing only to be thrown out along with the bathtub.

Twilight walking in on Sludge “exposed” is a parody of a scene from “The Graduate” with Dustin Hoffman’s characters and “Mrs. Robinson”.

Assuming Smolder is telling the truth (which seems to be accurate from the interactions with Torch and Ember), dragons seem to at least care about their children.

Rating:

2.5 Stars out of 5

My Little Devotional #179: “The Next Best/Worst Thing”

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Inspiration for Today’s Devotional: “The Washouts”

When kids are young, most adults in the Western world like telling them that they can grow up to be whatever they want to be–if only they try hard and devote themselves to that goal. At some point in life, however, we get a dose of reality such as was in a brutal scene in this episode. Scootaloo pointed out, rather angrily and bitterly, that she can never fully look up to Rainbow Dash as a role model because, due to her disability, she has no chance of ever becoming a Wonderbolt or even a flier like her.

The same is true for everyone in one sense or another. While in many cases it’s a matter of determination and will, the fact is there are some things we will never be able to do. Even if we like to sing, not many of us are ever likely to become pop stars. Even if we’re good at sports, odds are most of us aren’t good enough to get college scholarships let alone into professional careers. A lot of fanfic and amateur writers out there, myself included, will likely never be published other than for free on websites. And if a disability is involved such as blindness, deafness, or paralysis, that adds a whole other dimension.

Maybe it’s lack of sufficient talent, physical shortcoming, circumstances, or the advancement of age, but at some point in all of our lives we will realize that one (or more) of the doors that we thought was open to opportunity is closed.

And, at times like that, many of us may respond in one way or another as Scootaloo did with the Washouts.

It wasn’t simply the cool-looking stunts and death-defying feats that attracted Scootaloo to the group. What really sold her was that you didn’t have to be a great flier to be one of them. They represented something that her talents could do that would let her shine; giving her a way to live her dream of being a “cool” stuntpony. Because of that, Scootaloo overlooked everything else involved–such as the very real chance she could get seriously hurt and that Lightning Dust really didn’t have her best interests in mind.

Thinking of this brings to mind the end part of the Gospel of John in the New Testament, in particular with Peter and the disciples who, after the death of Lord Jesus, “went fishing” (John 21:1-3). For Peter, a former fisherman, the last few days had not been kind. After following Jesus for three years as one of his inner circle, not only of Apostles but the “circle within the circle” of himself, James, and John, he saw the man he had come to accept as the Messiah and that he had hoped would lead to a new age for Israel sentenced and put to death by both the religious and political authorities. This was a horrible shock for all of Jesus’ disciples, but him especially as he had a disastrous moment when he found himself put to the test at Jesus’ trial before the Sanhedrin. Only a few hours earlier he had vowed that he would follow Jesus anywhere, including to the death. Instead, exactly as Jesus had told him he would, he vehemently denied Him publicly three times. The event left Peter so crushed he wasn’t even there for the crucifixion itself. By the time Jesus was buried, Peter was probably feeling about two inches tall and that he had failed in every possible way.

So, as it turned out, Peter went back to what his old “talent” was and went fishing. Maybe because he was comfortable with it. Maybe it was because it was something he knew. Maybe because he couldn’t think of anything else to do with his life now. Or maybe because he wanted to do something he knew he was good at after seemingly failing at being a disciple of Jesus.

I mentioned in earlier devotionals that I had gone through a number of failures trying to become more active for God and find a ministry I could join. For example, trying to help out at food kitchens didn’t work out that well for me because my social skills were terrible. That wasn’t a decision I arrived at after one failure, though. I went back multiple times and tried to develop it, but it never got any better. This had only been one of several incidents in my life that gradually made it clear to me that certain things were just not going to work out for me or, at my current stage in my life, I was not ready to perform them.

When it came to wanting to be active for God, however, I was at risk (and still am in similar situations today) of making the same mistake that Peter or Scootaloo did. I became so obsessed with my failure, my closed door, or my missed opportunity I couldn’t get back that I ended up backsliding too far. In that situation and others, the risk is always the same…that I would lapse back into something that was comfortable and familiar, but also something that was either subpar to what I was pursuing for God, going nowhere toward his Kingdom at all, or, worse yet, carried a lot of rather un-Christ-like or self-destructive/defeating things along with it.

The problem is I still prefer to pursue those paths and interests in those situations because they make me feel better about myself. They are things I can succeed at and, more importantly, I know I can succeed that. And as a result, I continue to pursue those interests and life choices and gratify them, gradually becoming less Christ-like in my behavior, while what I wanted to do to become more passionate for God gets replaced by a false goal and lets the original one fade out or die.

This was evidently a danger to Christians even in the earliest times, as shown by the following passage from Paul’s letter to the Philippians. “Join together in following my example, brothers and sisters, and just as you have us as a model, keep your eyes on those who live as we do. For, as I have often told you before and now tell you again even with tears, many live as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame. Their mind is set on earthly things.” (Philippians 3:17-19) And, again, in his first letter to Timothy. “Those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs. But you, man of God, flee from all this, and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness.” (1 Timothy 6:9-11).

In a more all-encompassing sense, there was Jesus’ parable of the sower (Matthew 13) in which He used a metaphor of seed on various types of ground to point out the types of people who hear the Word of God. Among the groups of seed that failed to bear fruit (a metaphor for those who heard the Word of God yet failed to be improved by it) was the seed that fell among thorns and was choked as it tried to grow. This represented people who were unable to be productive for God because of, in the words of Lord Jesus Himself, “the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth”(Matthew 13:22).

This was a danger not only in the New Testament but remains a danger to Christians today, especially in the Western world where, ironically, we usually have far greater means available to us. While the passages above mostly focus on the pursuit of wealth, it can apply to anything that catches our attention and captures our devotion.

For example… Have you ever experienced a moment where you saw a Christian group, or any group, advertising something for a street cleanup or short term mission trip or ministry that involved some hours of a week, and you began to realize you couldn’t do it either due to lack of time or talent in that area? My guess is most of us who went through that, myself included, didn’t look for an alternative or try to find an alternate way to volunteer or assist the same endeavor, but (at least in the Western world) decided to do something that would make money to donate instead. Or maybe, at a juncture where we were looking at pursuing a life or, at least, long term choice that could make an impact for the Kingdom of God, we decided to take a job that we believed would benefit a lot of people instead. Or we tried to focus on getting ourselves secure in our life standing so that, in a few years from then or even later in life, we would have all the time we needed to volunteer.

While money does come in handy for many of these ministries, it’s people who eventually make them happen and people who form the personal connections involved. Furthermore, there are lots of ways to make money in the world–both good and bad. By making money the end goal of our endeavors, even if we plan to use the money to provide for other people, as Paul cautioned it’s very easy from that point to become devoted to and even obsessed with the idea of having financial security; forgetting the role of God in truly providing for us and that he gave us what we have in the name of being good stewards. Not to mention, so long as the ends provide money, a lot of things could satisfy that criteria and leave a lot of “wiggle room” for ourselves and our own pursuits.

Likewise, there are many jobs that benefit, or can benefit, people. Going back to Peter, people do need to eat, and there’s nothing stopping a fisherman from giving a portion of his catch away to whoever wants it after he’s taken care of his own needs. But was that what Peter could really do to help people? Or what he was called to do? Or would it have just been a substitute for something greater that was still open to him?

As for personal security, I know from experience that there is never a “stopping point” when it comes to material gain or savings. One will always think: “just a little bit more…just that one thing…if I can just pay that one item out…”. And one will never truly be able to feel happy over getting what they want because, so long as there is discontentment in life that doesn’t stem from material goods that we nevertheless attempt to satisfy with material goods, there will always be something else we want. Attempting to reason otherwise is a recipe for misery. (Case in point, I have one relative who I have grown increasingly worried will be a slave to his job until his dying day; because he eventually grew so scared of poverty and ruin not only for himself but his children and grandchildren that now he’ll work forever to ensure all of them are paid for, and keeps pushing off his retirement in spite of his declining health…)

The problem in all of these situations is the same problem that Peter faced: losing sight of the goal, which is Christ. The examples I listed above are all ways of “dealing” with that by shifting the focus to the way to get to that goal. It’s analogous to looking down and watching the path you’re walking on to see if it looks good without seeing if you’re even headed for your destination or off a cliff. In these cases, people wish to pave their own road to God rather than focusing on God first and letting him direct their paths. This is neither a situation where God is “your copilot” or “in the driver’s seat”…it’s a situation where we’re driving ourselves to some town and then texting God to see if he’s ok with us being there after we already rented ourselves a hotel room.

My suggestion for this week is for all of us to perhaps take some time out and sit down to think about our lives and where we’re putting our time, talent, and energy. Perhaps we need to stop and evaluate what we’re currently devoting the most time to and if, in fact, we need to consider whether or not we’ve gotten off track or enamored by the wrong thing.

Suggested Prayer: “Lord God, I thank you for the blessings you’ve given me in terms of my talents and means available to me, and I give thanks to you even more in light of whatever I find myself seemingly lacking in. I choose today to commit and trust these things to you along with all my heart, with all my soul, with all my mind, and with all my strength. As I do, please guard me from concerns, worries, feelings of self-doubt, and anxieties that would choke me from giving you everything that is your due. Gratefully in Jesus’ Name, Amen.”

My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic Reviews ~ Season Eight, Episode Twenty-Three: “Sounds of Silence”

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Synopsis:

The Cutie Map has activated again and, even more surprising, is once again summoning Applejack and Fluttershy; although both are soon nervous to discover that the Cutie Map is taking them to the Peaks of Peril on the edge of unknown lands of Equestria. According to legend, that realm is the home of the honest and kind kirins, but also the flaming and fearsome niriks. The two arrive and run into a brief disagreement when Fluttershy pauses to help a group of local squirrels spruce up their den with local wildflowers, but as a result they find a secret passage under the cliffs right to the kirin village. However, both ponies are puzzled to discover all kirins are both mute and emotionless; leaving them incapable of discovering the friendship problem (let alone fixing it). They eventually point the way to a kirin who can talk, and Applejack goes to find her while Fluttershy stays behind. Applejack ends up running into a chatty, energetic, and boisterous kirin named Autumn Blaze. She reveals that the kirins and niriks are, in fact, the same creature; kirins transform into niriks when they get angry. At one point, a particularly large argument resulted in most of the kirins turning into niriks and burning down their village, causing their leader to demand the entire population cross into the “Stream of Silence”. Doing so removed the ability of the kirins to speak or feel emotions so they could never transform into niriks and cause destruction again. Autumn, however, accidentally came across a patch of Foal’s Blossoms which, when made into tea, restored her abilities to speak and feel. As a result, the other kirins made her decide to either become silent again or be exiled and, unwilling to lose the ability to speak and feel again, she chose exile. Applejack rushes back to the village to get them to welcome Autumn back and to set about restoring their voices and emotions, but on running into Fluttershy (who discovered the same link with niriks) she disagrees as it could cause another round of destruction. They begin to argue and the kirins, fearing they’ll too turn into niriks, seize them and attempt to dunk them in the Stream of Silence as well. However, Autumn, in nirik form, shows up and saves the both of them without causing any harm. This leads Applejack and Fluttershy to point out that the kirins can be responsible with their emotions and anger instead of forcing themselves to be mute and emotionless to get along. Realizing they gave up too much, the kirins indicate they want their voices and emotions back, but Autumn despairs on saying there are no more Foal’s Blossoms. However, it turns out the squirrels Fluttershy ran into earlier picked out flowers that were Foal’s Blossoms the entire time, and they use them to restore the voices of the rest of the kirins who, in turn, welcome Autumn back. Fluttershy and Applejack thank each other for their respective virtues helping again while Autumn breaks into a musical reprise for her village.

Review:

Well, before I get into the pony-of-the-hour, let’s talk about the rest of this episode.

On the whole, it’s a good one. If you remove you-know-who from it, it’s not quite as good as it would be with her, but I still think it’s one of the better ones. Kirins are finally formally introduced into the series (sadly too late to get one into the School of Friendship…), and I’m quite fond of their design and nature. Definitely the highlight of this episode aside from, again, you-know-who.

Comparing this episode to “Viva Las Pegasus”, I think it might be just a bit inferior aside from the stand-out character. While I didn’t think “Viva Las Pegasus” was that great of an episode, it did give a lot of color and things going on for your eyes. By comparison, the kirins kind of just stand around idly doing things with expressionless faces. The beginning of the episode is also a bit slow-paced even if it did end up being relevant to the plot. That being said, they did manage to cram a surprisingly large amount of exposition into a small time frame. In a season mostly void of Cutie Map calls to the Mane Six, this was a pretty good one. Especially considering the fact it utilized two of the more quiet and less wacky characters, Applejack and Fluttershy.

But of course…if you’ve actually watched this episode, you know as well as I do that all of this is largely irrelevant once the second half of the episode hits. While the Student Six collectively might be the best new “character” this season, when it comes to an individual character the one who stood out the most in Season Eight was this surprising ensemble darkhorse: Autumn Blaze.

Personality-wise, she kind of resembles, to me, a bit older and more “mature” version of Pinkie Pie. One who still likes being fun and wacky but has learned just a little more that not everyone appreciates it all the time. That, however, only likely serves to make her more bearable to people who aren’t solid Pinkie Pie fans. Her odd pop culture references, running gag of mispronouncing things, her way of “venting” as a nirik, and even the part where she tries to shake Fluttershy’s hoof only to find she’s still aflame is all great. Even without her nice musical numbers, which are some of the better songs the main series has seen in a while, her animated mannerisms and energy steal every scene she’s in. In that sense, it kind of made sense for Applejack and Fluttershy to be the ones to interact with her, as neither of them could reasonably compete for attention when she’s on the screen. She alone is what gives this episode the bulk of its appeal.

Probably one of the biggest tragedies of MLP:FIM coming to an end in Season Nine is it left little to no opportunity for her to ever appear again. There’s still a slim chance she’ll appear in one of the final episodes aside from the fact that season is already guest starring Patton Oswalt and Weird Al Yankovich, and a better than slim chance she’ll show up in a cameo, but considering Rachel Bloom was likely busy doing her lines for the upcoming “Trolls” sequel while Season Nine was in production that doesn’t look likely.

Nevertheless, it’s been a while since a new character stole the show and ran away with it, and a truly delightful runaway it was.

As for the moral of the episode, I, again, find that to be the weakest part of it. The most likely thing this episode is doing is taking a stab at modern censorship culture and the idea of it being better to forbid people from talking than risk them inciting anyone to anger. Unfortunately, it doesn’t have much of a corollary…or perhaps it did at one point but was edited into something different. This episode doesn’t deal so much with the idea of “safe spaces” or official laws as an entire race purposely removing its ability to speak or feel emotion for the risk of getting upset, which is an extreme we aren’t quite to yet anywhere on Earth. The message seems to be two-fold at the end…one that’s a bit muddled but the other is better. The “worse” of the two was that you shouldn’t give up who you are just because you’re scared you’ll make people upset, which…er…can be misinterpreted multiple ways. The “better” one, however, which is unfortunately underplayed, is that you have to be personally responsible and accountable for your own emotions and find healthy ways to express them. That’s a lesson everyone can learn.

I won’t give this episode a ton of points just for Autumn Blaze but…I’ll definitely give some as she’s earned them. One of the best episodes of Season Eight.

Fun Facts:

The title is a knockoff of the Simon and Garfunkel song: “The Sounds of Silence”. That’s ironic in two different ways. One is that, similar to the story within the song, the plot centers around a single talking deviant trying to get the rest of his society to open up and break their own silence. The other is that “The Sounds of Silence” is the song the new “Trolls” trailer opens up on, which is broken up by Rachel Bloom (Autumn Blaze)’s character.

Twilight notes this is the second time that Applejack and Fluttershy have both been summoned by the Cutie Map. The first was Season Six’s “Viva Las Pegasus”.

This episode actually ties into an earlier episode, pointing out that Rockhoof informed Twilight Sparkle about the Peaks of Peril.

A “kirin” (var. “qirin”) is a Chinese unicorn; one of two mythological creatures that both Western cultures and Eastern cultures have in common (the other being dragons). Unlike the cultural differing views on dragons, both Western and Eastern cultures view unicorns/kirins as mysterious, reclusive, sacred, pure, and innocent creatures. Unlike Western unicorns, kirins are often depicted with much wilder manes, a branching single horn, and extremely long necks. There was some theorizing (at least on my part) that Mistmane, coming from a Chinese-inspired culture that apparently had unusual recurved horns, was a kirin, but this episode officially makes them part of the show. Their appearances are pony-like, but have wilder manes similar to lion manes rather than horse manes, long tails with a tufts of hair along the trailing parts, more tufts of hair along the back of their legs, somewhat “floppier” ears, scales on their hooves, backs, and snouts, and branching unicorn horns…which, like “normal” unicorns, also perform magic. As for the niriks…they’re simply “kirin” backward (:P) and I’m not sure if they’re based off anything other than Chinese art.

Although the kirin village appears somewhat tribal, the music playing in the background is Chinese-inspired as a nod to their origin.

The giant kirin, Rainshine, seems to basically be the kirin equivalent of Princess Celestia; not only in her role as leader but appearance, crown, and demeanor. I guess, in Equestria, if you’re big that equals authority. 😛 Although she has only a brief speaking role, she’s voiced by Nicole Bouma, who has a long career in voice acting on Japanese anime dubs, including in “Gintama” and “Mobile Suit Gundam 00”.

Rachel Bloom provides the voice of Autumn Blaze. In addition to being the co-creator and starring in “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend”, she’s also done a lot of voice acting, including the voice of Barb in the upcoming “Trolls World Tour” movie…which kind of makes me mad because it means she was likely too busy to reprise her role in Season Nine (which is still coming out as I write this).

Needless to say, “A Kirin’s Tale” was the hit song for this season.

Autumn put faces on all of her baskets and vegetables for company; a nod to “Wilson” from “Cast Away”.

Among the things Autumn tries to connect with the silent kirins is a reenactment of “Citizen Kane”, “The Phantom of the Opera”, and even “Hamilton”.

Rating:

4 Stars out of 5

My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic Reviews ~ Season Eight, Episode Twenty-Two: “What Lies Beneath”

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Synopsis:

Twilight Sparkle is holding a test on how the Tree of Harmony has impacted the history of Equestria, much to the chagrin of the Student Six. They end up retiring to the library for a study session but, while doing so, Cozy Glow stops by and overtly points out how surprising it is that six different creatures, five of which she says don’t have friendship in their nature, were able to become friends. This ends up upsetting the group as all begin to wonder if they really can be friends. While thinking this over, one of the vents in the library is moved aside by a crystalline root. The six follow it to discover a cavern interlaced with the same roots below the school and meet what looks like Twilight only sparkling and ethereal. On hearing that they doubt their ability to make friends, she immediately announces she will subject them to a test that they must pass by morning or remain trapped beneath the school before teleporting them away from each other. Gallus finds himself stuck in an enclosed, collapsing cavern. Yona finds herself surrounded by spiders. Smolder is stuck in a looping cave that keeps leading to a cute tea party. Silverstream goes back to a cavern in front of Mount Eris but faced with the Storm King and his yeti goons. Ocellus finds herself in a changeling hive turned into Queen Chrysalis and unable to change back. Finally, Sandbar is faced by Rainbow Dash and Rarity who tell him to leave his friends behind and help them on a real adventure. Gallus manages to figure out a puzzle to free himself while Smolder ends up agreeing to have a tea party to escape her own cave. The two find the exit and note that, rather than escape as any griffon or dragon would, both decide to stay behind to find the others. Gallus finds Silverstream and admits his own claustrophobia to get her to face her own fear of being conquered and losing her freedom. Smolder finds Ocellus and reluctantly admits she likes doing cute and “silly” things, which in turn convinces Ocellus changelings aren’t innately “bad” and gets her to revert. Yona, meanwhile, faces her own fear of spiders and realizes they’re harmless, and on befriending them they lead her first to her friends and then back to Sandbar. As for Sandbar, on realizing Rainbow Dash and Rarity are telling him to abandon his friends for his own success, he refuses to follow them and says they aren’t worth looking up to–which causes both to vanish just as the rest of the Student Six arrive. On returning to the exit, the phantom Twilight appears again, revealing itself to actually be the Tree of Harmony manifesting in a pony form. It points out how the experience of that night has proven that friendship is in their nature, and it lets them leave. On emerging into the library, the group meets with Cozy Glow again and is ready to report that the roots of the tree have grown below the school, at which point Cozy begs them not too–admitting she said what she did earlier because she felt jealous of the six of them and trying to avoid getting into trouble. As the six are exhausted from that night and Cozy’s sobs tire them out further, they agree. Cozy offers to give Twilight an alternative explanation to get the six an extension on the test, and as the six lie down for a nap she looks over the grating leading to the underground cavern…

Review:

Lots packed into this episode, so let’s get started.

First, as I said earlier, at this point we already knew Cozy Glow was going to end up being a villain, so I have no idea how she would have fooled us. Until this part of the series, she seemed very innocent to me. She even made numerous background appearances in which the most “menacing” thing she had done had been to constantly take notes on a notepad of everything she learned about friendship. She even frequently ended up as disappointed or misfortune-plagued as the other background characters, right down to being forced to wait “hoof-and-hoof” on Cranky Doodle Donkey in “A Matter of Principals”.

Nevertheless, I’m pretty sure this would have been the first episode where I would have noticed: “Something is off about Cozy…”. Unlike her appearance with the CMCs where she seemed a little off but, in the end, penitent and genuinely sorry, there’s an air of maliciousness about her in this one. Although she does apologize at the end, in this viewing I noted some of the Student Six crooking their eyebrows at her, as if wondering why she’s making such a big deal about the cavern. And although she never flashes a malevolent smile at the end, something definitely seems wrong with how she’s staring at the grating and talking to the others.

Ok, Cozy aside…this is one of the better-written episodes of Season Eight and even the series as a whole to me.

First of all, it had been a while since the writers had tried to juggle six characters at once. Usually when it happens with the Mane Six, one or two end up being the focus while the others are “along for the ride”. Actually giving effective time to all six is a challenge, and this one did it very well.

The basic idea of all six of them facing their worst fears isn’t new to animation, but the show pleasantly surprises by taking an expectation and putting an unexpected spin on it. While both Ocellus and Silverstream have deeper, psychologically-scarring, and “real” fears, Yona and Gallus both have phobias while Sandbar and Smolder both have fears tied to social health–how they’re viewed by others. And I like that because it’s realistic. In anime, for example, everyone would have these big, soul-crushing, existential fears that would threaten to destroy them…but that’s not how the world works. Some people do have huge fears to work through, but for others their worst fear would simply be public speaking or heights. Everyone’s different but, as the show points out, everyone can be different and yet still come together.

Out of the six…Sandbar ended up being the most disappointing to me. His greatest fear was real enough–letting people he looked up to down. But most of the episode he seems to be chasing Rainbow Dash and Rarity down an endless cave, and it takes him the longest to finally put his proverbial (and literal) hoof down. Furthermore, his fear was the only “muddled” one, as it wasn’t clear if Sandbar was actually facing a fear of letting his idols down or if he was choosing his own success over that of his friends, which would have been more of a loyalty lesson.

Yona was next up. Unlike the others, she didn’t seem to learn a “greater lesson” about her connection to the others. She simply conquered her fear of spiders, which we didn’t know about until this episode to begin with. Nevertheless, I like it simply because it shows there didn’t have to be something great and monumental with everyone’s fear.

Gallus had already gotten an episode more-or-less devoted to him in “The Hearth’s Warming Club”, or at least his inner character. Again, like with Yona, a lot of his story was him facing his own fears by himself. Nevertheless, unlike that episode, it shows that Gallus, for all his grouchiness, doesn’t view his friendship with the rest of the Student Six as only self-serving but also is devoted to them as well.

Things start getting more interesting with Silverstream. Her biggest fear isn’t the Storm King so much as, to quote Churchill, fear itself. This season really rammed home the idea that what Silverstream loves and gets the most excited about is simply being on land; having the freedom to do simple things taken for granted like go up stairs and experience plumbing. What the Storm King represented to her is loss of freedom…being forced to live the rest of her life away from all those things because she’s scared of being captured or enslaved. Her proclamation isn’t so much to stand up to the Storm King and his army, because they’ll always be new threats and conquerors that could endanger her and Mount Eris, so much as saying she’ll never let fear keep her from living again.

Ocellus has to deal with the most existential fear of all; the fear not of becoming Chrysalis but rather the fear that, deep down inside, she is a person like Chrysalis. And it’s a fairly good one. The changelings were, after all, generic monsters for most of the series until their abrupt change. Even if they’re embracing a new life and their very nature has adjusted to possibly render them mentally incapable of being as vicious as they used to be, that’s still there. While this is the least-relatable of the fears for the viewing audience, this is the most mature-orientated fear of all: Ocellus knows she was likely bred and hatched for the sole purpose of being a conquering minion of Chrysalis. That’s her reason for existence…her “purpose”. That’s something she likely has to come to terms with all the time as she, like all other changelings, continues to try and find their new identity.

Although her fear wasn’t as big as the others, I liked Smolder most of all, as this episode is where I felt her character really began to grow. Until this point, there were numerous times in the series where she still seemed to be, deep down inside, a brute and a bully. This episode, however, shows the real reason why Smolder out of all the dragons decided to go to the School of Friendship as well…deep down inside, she likes the idea of being cute and fancy and frilly but she’s embarrassed to ruin her image of a tough dragon by showing it off. And I honestly really like that. The trend nowadays is to show that for a woman to be strong and independent she must show she can, basically, “kick butt” all by herself. That she can shed the guise of being fragile and delicate and can administer a beating. And that’s perfectly fine. It’s more rare to see a character like, for example, Ashi on “Samurai Jack”, who can be brutal, ruthless, and a total badass and yet still have a gentle, delicate, innocent, and even cute side. However…what it seems people always seem to ignore is that if a person should be respected for being true to themselves and being who they want to be, then a female character who decides that who they really are and want to be is someone delicate, proper, and “cute” is just as valid as a female who decides to be tough, strong, and butt-kicking. That so long as it’s a representation of who they are and want to be, there’s nothing “wrong” with a person wanting to put on fancy dresses and go to little tea parties. It doesn’t make them or their choices any less valid than the warrior, and it doesn’t ruin a chance for them to still show off a good, strong character.

Finally, this episode established, as hinted at a bit in “The Mean 6”, that the Tree of Harmony is indeed sentient and actually adds an element of spirituality and even religion to the series…the idea of a higher power directing the actions of Equestria. I would have preferred if it had an alternate form rather than just taking that of Twilight Sparkle (I’ve seen some fanart before of what the Tree of Harmony in pony form would look like that was attractive), but it still adds a new layer to the universe.

All in all, a great episode. More of the Student Six showing off a lot of their relationships with one another, a well-written and executed plot, and with lots of nods toward the end of the season. Another great job.

Fun Facts:

The first episode I noticed that, when Yona grins, she has an anime-esque toothy smile.

Note how Ocellus mimics Applejack’s country accent as well when she turns into her.

Another appearance of the Storm King. On the second viewing, I noticed Silverstream instinctively turned into a seapony to hide.

Hearing the “cute Changeling” voice from an “evil” Changeling is a bit of a jolt. 😛

Can yaks…talk to animals (like Fluttershy)?

I really can’t tell if Spindle was real or not…

Rating:

4 Stars out of 5

My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic Reviews ~ Season Eight, Episode Twenty-One: “A Rockhoof and a Hard Place”

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Synopsis:

Following the events of “Shadow Play”, Rockhoof has returned to his old town to help in excavation efforts. However, his overpowered mannerisms and antiquated thinking ruin the preservation efforts of the historical artifacts, and so Professor Fossil sends him to Twilight Sparkle to try and find a place for him at the School of Friendship. Twilight tries him out as a professor but, in spite of enthusing the students with his tales of old Equestria, again his strength and out-of-date rationale end up wrecking a good portion of the school. The Mane Six end up trying a variety of different tasks with Rockhoof as well as meeting up with the rest of the Pillars of Old Equestria in an attempt to find a place for him in the modern era, but not only do all efforts end in failure but the fact that the rest of the Pillars have easily adapted and succeeded in modern times make him more depressed than ever. In the end, he grows bitter toward Twilight for returning him from limbo and asks her to turn him into stone so he can at least be remembered as a hero rather than as a failure. Unable to think of anything else, Twilight ends up agreeing to do so temporarily until she can find a new position for him, but on learning the news Yona, who has grown an affection for Rockhoof, runs up to him and reads the flattering essay she wrote for her class assignment about him; seeing him as the first pony who’s truly like a yak and concluding saying she wants to be like him when she grows up (even getting a small spade for her own “warshovel”). To say thanks for the essay, Rockhoof agrees to finish an earlier story he had about fighting an Ursa Major with both her, the rest of the students, and many of the Mane Six. Twilight approaches just as he finishes, much to the enthusiasm of his audience, and ends up proposing that he become Equestria’s official “Keeper of Tales”; noting that his stories of the past can inspire the next generation. Rockhoof is still reluctant, until Yona points out that he’s her friend, and that’s reason enough to need to stay around in the modern era. Finally feeling happier about being in the modern age, Rockhoof immediately begins to relate a new story “about a small yak who knew more than a great hero”.

Review:

Ok, it may not be “The Perfect Pear”, but this is a really sweet episode. This is the episode that finally landed me into liking Yona and, combined with “The Best Gift Ever”, made me finally appreciate the yak race on the show as a whole.

Following the end of Season Seven as well as the end of the “Legends of Magic” IDW series, the Pillars of Old Equestria found themselves in much the same situation as Rockhoof in this episode: having no reason to be on the show any longer. To be honest, I feel like the ultimate resignation that the characters, as a whole, ended up being another “Flash Sentry” was the fact that almost all of them ended up just easily inserting themselves into the modern era, with only Rockhoof left being the odd man out. Nevertheless, by focusing only on one pony, the end result allowed the episode to focus more on him, which was a good move.

In terms of drama, this is one of the better episodes of the series. While the situation is highly unusual, it’s also relatable. Most people have likely been in at least one situation in their life where they felt they didn’t fit in, and as a result can make the extension to what it would feel like to be in a world where everything was different from what you remember.

Yet what this episode managed to touch on that otherwise would have been too “heavy” a topic using a character from the modern era was the concepts of emotionally depression and feelings of self-worth. It doesn’t matter who you are or where you are in life: everyone wants to feel they have some value. Something to offer the world. That their existence actually brings something to others. To not have that feeling leads to pretty much what this episode implied Rockhoof wanted done to him. One might be a little upset at him for lashing out at Twilight but…it’s understandable, especially given his feelings. It’s just like he said…he’d rather have died a hero than lived out the rest of his life in a world as a failure.

And, of course, Yona is very sweet in this episode. It was at this point in the series that I fully began to understand and appreciate that any arrogance, pride, or even brutishness that Yona (and yaks as a whole) gave off is due to her race’s culture and demeanor…that there really was a kind and innocent individual the gruff and aggressive exterior.

I do fault this episode a bit on not making better use of the rest of the Pillars of Old Equestria, but I’d rather they do one well than five poorly. My only other beef is that the final message of the episode didn’t really come through in the plot too well. It ended up being summed up in a line by Yona at the end. That’s too bad, because it’s something of a variation on the moral of “It’s a Wonderful Life”: “no man is a failure who has friends”. But as it managed to tell that moral without resorting to using the normal “Capra-esque” plot of a what-if story, that gives it a bit more acclaim to me.

All in all, I think one of the better episodes of Season Eight.

Fun Facts:

The title is a takeoff of the saying “stuck between a rock and a hard place”; which refers to being a situation in which one must choose between two decisions that are equally bad.

Rockhoof’s “Theory and Defense of Friendship” class might be a knockoff of Hogwarts’ “Defense Against the Dark Arts” class.

Smolder’s crest scales slump when wet. 😛

Cranky’s old toupee is back. 😀

Following Season Six’s “No Second Prances”, this might be another episode that dealt with the idea of suicide.

Yet another episode that rams home the idea that the IDW version of the Pillars of Old Equestria are different from the show’s, which is a pity because I honestly felt the comic’s were better. Somnambula is pretty much the opposite of how she acts in the comic; taking on not only a sagacious role but a very quiet and reserved one. As for Stygian, who is actually closer to Rockhoof than any other of the Pillars in the comic, he never even makes an appearance.

Twilight’s classroom has a “periodic table”. I suppose it could be of the Elements of Harmony, but…there are only six of those…

Rockhoof may have one of the show’s only fecal-related humor jokes when he’s pondering which position he takes as a statue would leave the birds the least room to take a dump on him.

Rating:

4 Stars out of 5