Archive for August, 2005

The Greatest Game Ever Played

I don’t know a thing about golf. Okay, I know Tiger Woods and have a passing familiarity with some of the top players, but I couldn’t tell you the difference between a fine golf stroke and a baseball swing. The only movies about golf that I’ve seen are the comedy classics Caddyshack and Happy Gilmore. However, have you ever watched someone do or talk about something they love? Something they’re passionate about? No matter how dull or esoteric the object of their affections may be, their passion for it often draws you in. Someone here loves the game of golf.

Directed by Bill Paxton (Frailty) from the eponymous book by Mark Frost, The Greatest Game Ever Played takes us into the familiar “based on a true story” brand of Disney movie (The Rookie, Miracle). The movie centers around two characters: young prodigy Francis Ouimet (Shia LaBeouf), who has the bearing of a young Russell Crowe; and defending British Open champion Harry “The Stylist” Vardon (Stephen Dillane). Francis, from a working class family and flanked by his 10 year old caddy (Josh Flitter), finds himself competing against his idol in the 1913 U.S. Open.

The movie slightly suffers from a repetitive feel, though that has to be expected since the movie is attempting to derive drama and tension out of rounds of golf. Unlike, say football, golf is a more cerebral game and not particularly big screen friendly. As with any sports based movie, the movie is about more than the game, but about the characters who play it. Paxton does a wonderful job of juggling a cast of characters, painting their stories in a few deft brush strokes. Though he does go for a few too many cinematic flourishes (the distracting close up on a ladybug of all things and going to the well of following the ball too many times) and other such camera tricks prove a little distracting, breaking the illusion and drawing us out of the movie. On the other hand, some of the special effects, like Harry blocking out everything except the hole, are quite effective. The lesson learned here: a little CGI goes a long way.

“Even in our darkest hour, we must remember to never despair.” -Harry Vardon

The movie is surprisingly layered, weaving a series of themes for such a simple, on the surface, movie: Americans vs. British, privileged vs. the working class, father vs. son, young vs. old, their lot in life vs. daring to dream, and ghosts of the past vs. their present reality. Francis has to unlearn the lessons of his father, Arthur Ouimet (Elias Koteas), who often preached that “A man knows his place and makes his peace with it.” And it struck me how often people are afraid to dream of a better reality for themselves, content to stay where they are. In “The Weight of Glory,” C. S. Lewis writes, “We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.” Sometimes it takes a game to show them the way.

“He has a God-given talent and this is his chance to give voice to it.” -Mary Ouimet (Marnie McPhail)

We all have gifts, callings. When you’re doing what you’re meant to do–as Francis noted of an opera singer’s voice after attending a performance–“it comes through her from somewhere else.” He tried to deny his gift because of a promise to his father and it made him miserable. The hollowness of what his life had become was evident, all the joy removed from him, because he wasn’t doing what he was created to be doing. The important thing is to know for whom you are playing.

“A game doesn’t give a man what he needs to build a life.” -Arthur Ouimet

Golf is a game of gentlemen, in this case, gentlemen being defined as the old money types that belong to country clubs and the like. It was the great philosopher Groucho Marx that said “I’d never belong to a club that would have someone like me as a member.” Many people see the church as a country club, echoing one characters thoughts about their own country club that “You may have been invited, but don’t get the idea that you belong.” The country club’s “gentlemen”–these guardians of tradition, prestige, and position (Pharisees by another name)–miss the point of their mission. It is not the club that is the end in and of itself, after all the point of the club is not to build the club, it is the love of the game. Like God’s kingdom, the game embraces all who want to play it, rich and poor alike.

The Greatest Game Ever Told is a heart-warming family movie (this is a Disney film) that reminds us that if we dare to dream, we can succeed because of who we are, not because of our lot in life. Not a bad message to remember.

Strange

“Beginnings and Endings”
written by J. Michael Straczynski and Sara Barnes
art by Brandon Peterson
published by Marvel Comics

Marvel Comics’ sorcerer supreme, Dr. Strange, has been one of the most under utilized (when not completely mishandled) characters in their super hero universe. Partly this is because creators typically don’t know what to do with him or have no particular take on his mission and motivations. They don’t know who he is; for that matter, neither does most of modern day comic fandom. We see him in his typical role, support character in other people’s books, called in when their adventure has taken a mystical turn. Well, J. Michael Straczynski (Dream Police, Rising Stars, Supreme Power, Amazing Spiderman) and creator of Babylon 5, reintroduces Dr. Strange to a new generation of readers and fans in the book simply titled Strange.

The story is a familiar one: brilliant and selfish surgeon, Dr. Stephen Strange, gets into a senseless accident that destroys his hands and his career. In his attempts to find a cure, and reclaim the life he thinks he wants–in effect, a second chance–he comes to realize that he’s been sought/groomed by each side of the ancient war between shadow and light.

For the sake of the collected trade paperback market, the story takes six issues for what was done in one back in the day. Not much new is done with the character here, but like the character-driven emphasis that typifies Straczynski’s work, the characters are deepened and are given clear motivations and real backgrounds. What is interesting is how the characters are fairly unlikeable (Strange, Clea), still a cypher (Wong), or are given modern sensibilities (like the almost too hip Ancient One). Though the dialogue sometimes suffers from being too … weighty, the book still manages to inject a bit of fun and wit and remains quite engaging throughout.

Another trademark of Straczynski’s work is how it is grounded in a spiritual sensibility. Dr. Strange seeks (and becomes) a spiritual healer, a caretaker for the soul sick. His role in life is to pursue becoming a nexus, a guardian at the gate between the forces of night and day until all worlds are called into account. We’ve been given gifts for a reason, for the sake of others. Stephen Strange falls into the trap many of us fall into. Full of pride. Successful as modern society defines success: money, freedom, women, able to isolate himself from the rest of the world. Trying to fill a hole that will not be satisfied. However, when all is said and done, this is a book about two things: figuring out your true calling and becoming a disciple.

“Life is about the journey, not the arrival.” -The Ancient One

Dr. Strange is a man of regrets. A powerful theme in the book is how it is his journey, mistakes and all, that make him into the man he is and should be. We have free will and with that free will comes a simple choice. Having essentially two paths, we have to choose which master we want to pattern ourselves. “The Ancient One” or ourselves. Yes, ourselves. The “Evil One”, the Dreaded Dormammu, didn’t try to convert Strange to “the dark side”, but merely needed to keep Dr. Strange focused on himself and his own wants. That kind of self-focus keeps us from not only seeing where we are, but keeps us from fulfilling who we should become. Doing “what thou wilt”, we then “default” onto the path of “Dormammu”.

Like Dr. Strange, it’s too bad that we often have to get to the end of our rope in order to find ourselves and our purpose. We walk in our selfish worlds, not realizing our true state of being hopeless, lonely, empty, and lost. We need to come to the same realization that Dr. Strange comes to, learning that one lesson that while we may not be able to fix what’s wrong with the circumstances of our lives, we can be healed. Look at this prayer, this cry of his heart:

I’ve spent my whole life chasing what i thought mattered, without understanding that I was in love with the gold that covered the bars of my life that I didn’t care that i was living in a cage. A cage of my own making. So I am a fool twice over … I don’t know if I’m up to this, if I’m doing the right thing or not, I just know that i have to try.

“Some journeys shouldn’t be walked alone.” -The Ancient One

The other theme of the book involves what it takes to become a disciple. We don’t often count the costs of becoming disciples, rarely realizing that it requires sacrifice, a “willingness to do what is right, not just what is easy.” As Baron Mordo, a disciple who stumbles and betrays the Ancient One, points out, many have that power, but few answer the call to serve. Becoming a disciple involves changes in several areas of your life:

-belief (we turn to Christ, our “Ancient One”, expressing our desire to see him as he is, not simply how he’s been represented to us)
-behavior (our lives become–slowly–transformed, centering our lives around living out the kingdom mission; putting feet–action–to our faith and knowledge)
-belonging (we join a specific faith community).

Discipleship, simply defined, can be seen as a process of how we transform everything we do in order to “take on,” or becoming more like, Jesus. You figure out what it means for you to live and work in light of being a blessing to your neighbor and to the world. It takes time and in our culture’s need for immediate gratification, we’ve forgotten this.

Strange is a wonderful comic book about self-discovery and magic. While I’m not quite down with the light saber action of their magic fights, it is certainly entertaining and worth wrestling with. Then again, J. Michael Straczynski rarely disappoints.

All-Star Batman and Robin the Boy Wonder

“Episode One”

Writer: Frank Miller
Artist: Jim Lee
Publisher: DC Comics

The All-Star line is DC’s answer to Marvel’s successful Ultimate line. The premise is to get rid of the baggage of years of continuity and essentially start over outside the know “universe” of the characters to re-tell a lot of the old tales in a modern setting. They are trying to mine fresh stories from familiar and dated material so it becomes a game of bringing a fresh perspective, and new spins, on the classic stories. Classic stories, mind you, not sacrosanct scriptures (this is actually a reminder to myself whenever I read re-treads on tales that I grew up reading and loving). To tell the stories, the creators have to keep the essentials (the heart) of the well established mythos, while not necessarily sticking too closely to them.

The All-Star formula (much like the Ultimate line formula) is simple: take two fan favorite creators (writer Frank Miller and artist Jim Lee), team them on the book of an iconic character, and let them re-work the history and spin the mythology as they want. Frank Miller after years away from the spandex set, working on books like Sin City and 300 (which is also preparing to make the leap to the silver screen), returns to the character that he helped refocus in the late 80s.

Jim Lee remembers all the lessons that made him such a popular creator over at Image Comics, drawing beautiful, painfully well-endowed women, often posing (scantily clad) for pages on end. Not really delving into the character nor propelling the plot, but giving something for the presumed teenage male fanboys to gawk at. Though he probably takes his cues from the script that he is given.

The story is a familiar one. The circus comes to Gotham City, featuring among its acts, the Flying Graysons. The young aerialist, Dick Grayson, has caught Bruce Wayne’s attention. Vicki Vale, the Lois Lane-styled reporter, prepares for her first date with millionaire playboy Bruce Wayne, which finds her overly dressed for the circus. Vicki Vale vacillates between a ditzy dame (“I have a date with Bruce Wayne” whatever shall I wear?) And something just shy of the tough broad reporter she’s meant to be. Dick watches his parents get gunned down and Batman arrives in time to save him from a gruesome fate at the hands of the Gotham police department.

This book may not please a lot of fans. For a start, Frank Miller finds himself operating in a post Warren Ellis and/or Mark Millar runs on the seminal book, The Authority, which kind of upped the ante when it comes to the superhero genre and what passes for edgy and action. You can kind of feel Miller pressing a little too hard around the edges. Plus, this book is supposed to be accessible to new and young readers. Um, not exactly Frank Miller’s forte when dealing with the dark knight. The best you can expect is a Sin City-lite.

Once more we have a taste of the candy-coated nihilism (kind of a Nietzsche for pop consumption) that makes Batman the ultimate hardass. The book has the feel of taking place early in the Frank Miller’s Dark Knight Returns universe, though there are hints that the focus of the book will be Robin. Miller gives Robin an origin that resonates more with Bruce Wayne/Batman, witnessing his parents gunned down at the circus where they performed. However, with Batman as the uber-mensch, taking brooding intensity and self-reliance to an extreme, he’s unable to be in true relationship with others. He’s remote and often sub-human in his responses and how he deals with people. And not the best parental figure/model for a newly orphaned child. Frankly, there is a seeming creepiness to the fact that a wealthy playboy (read: single guy) is keeping his eye open for young talent. This air of creepiness is matched by his alter egos willingness to draft and train boy targets in his war on crime. It will be interesting to see what sort of Robin Miller writes: a young Batman in training/a young soldier or the comic/humanizing Robin who resists being molded in his mentor’s image.

“On your feet, soldier. You’ve just been drafted. This is war.”

In this telling of the origin of their partnership, Robin is drafted into this war, he doesn’t pester Batman to train him in order to seek justice for his parents’ untimely death. With Robin being so pivotal to the interpretation of Batman, one can’t help but address the issue of drafting one so young into this war on crime.

Many people look around our society and see that we are in both a cultural and spiritual war (one a reflection of the other). The issue that we then have to struggle with becomes the matter of how long do we wait to teach our children about the rules of combat/engagement in this war. Advertisers target kids as young as four to train them in rampant consumerism. Sexual imagery dominates the cultural media landscape to such a degree that it is nigh unavoidable, training kids up in society’s definition of beauty (self-image) and sexual relations. As corruption works its way throughout society, we can’t afford to sit on the sidelines hoping that it doesn’t get to us (or moving at the first sign that “bad elements” are getting too close to our neighborhoods). The younger we realize this and are trained in how to engage this battleground, the better off we may be.

All-Star Batman and Robin the Boy Wonder is a little uneven, probably due to the high expectations that a Miller/Lee team-up on Batman would generate. The terse dialogue wasn’t working for me, but it might be a matter of giving Miller room to develop the proper tone for the book. There is enough of a sense of intrigue and potential to let me be willing to buy the hype machine (trained since the age of four consumer that I am) and ride out at least the first story arc.

Who am I kidding?

It’s Frank Miller on Batman. I’ll be buying this.

Disciplining Children

Today I found myself with my son’s toy hammer, threatening to club a baby seal, and wondering how I got to this place (and whether or not the image of his father yelling at him while only wearing his shorts would be an issue discussed in therapy many years from now). You see, my eldest son sleeps with a stuffed baby seal and my other son is addicted to Dora the Explorer, treasuring the tape that has six hours worth of episodes on it. So my wife and I have been doing the whole “take away stuff they like” brand of discipline.

I can’t help but think that things must’ve been easier for my parents. Man, back in the day, everyone could spank me. I had to treat all of the adults in my neighborhood with the same respect that I did may parents, because if I acted a fool, they would spank me, my grandmother would cut a switch, or Lord help me if my folks got wind of it. The whole community had a hand in looking out for and raising the children of the neighborhood. Different voices spoke into the lives of the children; whereas kids may tune out a parent, they wouldn’t as quickly a neighbor. Maybe that was more a peculiarity of a black neighborhood, I don’t know. When we moved to a predominantly white neighborhood, that changed. Then again, we were the only black family in the neighborhood and our neighbors were strangers, not longtime friends and family.

On the other hand, when I bumped into my old elementary school principal at Olive Garden one day, he came up to me and gave me hug and informed me that “we retired the paddle when you left.” And my folks? My dad rarely lifted a hand toward us because, well, he was huge. He only had to look at us. My mom was like the mom in Eddie Murphy’s old stand up routines: she’d pick up whatever was near her to spank us with (and she was a dead eye with her shoes).

Times have changed and the pendulum has swung well in the other direction. I was watching the kids of a friend of mine a couple years ago. We were at McDonald’s and after a round of their trailer park games (“Daddy why don’t you visit us anymore?” “Daddy, why won’t you pay mommy what you owe her?” “Daddy, why are you ashamed to call us your kids?” – and mind you, no amount of protests otherwise makes you look any better), we sat down to eat. The younger one looks me dead in the eye and says “I know how to get you in trouble.” “How?” I ask. “All I have to do is say you touched me in a bad way.” While I’m extremely glad that they know this, I also made a mental note not to be left alone with them again. I know some parents that carry special permission slips signed by judges granting them permission to spank their kids in public. By the way, it’s illegal in Indiana to discipline your kids with anything other than your hand, a lesson a friend of a friend of mine found out the hard way.

Truth be told, I guess I’m not much of a strict disciplinarian. I’m not a big fan of spanking or yelling. I think it teaches them to hit, though I can live with that since I also believe that there are times for them to hit. But I also don’t want to be a bully, I’m more of a talker (I’m not one to raise my voice much anyway, well, except when I’m being silly). I don’t want them growing up scared of me constantly erupting, or never knowing what will set me off. I’ve seen what that kind of lack of security/safety can do to kids and I don’t want to have that kind of relationship with my kids. The biggest thing that I want them to know is that I’m not out to hurt them. And that they are loved.

I suppose that I could take one of those “Disciplining Kids God’s Way” classes that some churches offer, but then I’d have to stop calling them “Beating Kids God’s Way”. I guess my wife and I are overdue for a long range strategy discussion on how we go about disciplining the boys. In the mean time, I’ll muddle through my world of time outs, spankings, and threatening to club a baby seal while holding a Dora the Explorer tape hostage.

All the while explaining that I’m doing this because I love them.

Did I mention that this started when they informed me that they had decided that the vent in their room would make an alternative potty place (so that they could use the bathroom and still watch television)?

Indy Fringe Fest: Remember Who Made You

So it was with thoughts of how the church relates to the homosexual community fresh in my mind that I went to the Indy Fringe Fest. “The mission of IndyFringe is to provide an accessible, affordable outlet that draws diverse elements of the community together and inspires creative experiences through the arts.” That sounds almost like a good definition of what the church should be about.

Though Testaclese & Ye Sack of Rome had some appeal, a friend and I opted to see the one man show, Remember Who Made You.

Indianapolis actor Jeffrey Barnes portrays multiple characters in this original piece dealing with the issues surrounding homosexuality and Christianity. Audiences praise his ability to touch hearts and challenge minds.

Remember Who Made You is a five act monologue, tied together by the opening song “What Shall I Do?” The lyrics of the song set the tone for the whole piece, lamenting how the character was raised in the church, feared that he would be spurned by it, and didn’t trust the church. So he’s stuck in the unenviable position of wanting to be a Christian but Christianity seeming to not want him. Jeffrey Barnes slips into each of his chosen characters easily enough (and I say characters, because I came into this fully expecting to see caricatures).

Mild spoilers ahead.

Act I: A pastor agonizes over trying to remain faithful to the teachings of Scripture, while trying to live out the teachings of Christ to love. The accuracy of the character, and the fairness of his portrayal struck a chord with me, and showed a serious attempt at understanding this perspective. Act II: A high school student–struggling with the burgeoning realization that he’s gay–attends a church camp where an argument breaks out over whether or not homosexuals were destined for hell. He agonizes over his own self-hatred and his desire to be “normal”, while praying to be “changed.” Act III: A father goes to confession, fretting over the possibility that his son may be gay. His strong reaction to him first discovering that his son may be gay scares him. He even wishes that his son had never been born rather than be queer, but not for the reasons one might assume. Though he wants his son to be the son any father would want, he fears more that his son might kill himself due to how he will be treated. Act IV: A flaming character–accepted by his parents, goes to a progressive church, secure in his homosexuality–deals with a closeted friend who attended a conservative church. It strikes him as funny that since we’re all sinful, that God would treat one group of sinners different from another group of sinners. His friend eventually goes to a gay rehabilitation center and becomes cured. (I feared that this act was going to be the one to veer into preachiness). Now this character wants to know more about their center. Act V: Jesus. Okay, this Jesus was a little swishier than I would have imagined, and I could do some theological nit-picking over the line “the same God that created me created you.” However, the main point made was that people were to look at what he had to say (“the important stuff, in the red text”): love one another. And when in doubt, remember who made you.

Shalom (end spoilers).

The performance wrapped up with the song “Remember Who Made You,” to make sure that you got the point of the message. “We’ve got to speak out when there’s injustice, we’ve got to protest inequality.” We are to “welcome anyone who’s different,” because we remember who made us. Okay, my gut reaction was that this play was as subtle as that Star Trek episode featuring two warring aliens: one with the right half of his face painted black and the left white and the other alien with the right half of his face painted white and the left black. That being said, the play was simple but effective, stopping well short of being preachy or propaganda (like I said, I went into this with some preconceived notions). A little heavy handed at times, the play was basically designed to spur conversation; and in that, it succeeds nicely. Obviously some characters and situations may strike more resonant chords than others.

It’s a shame that I have to give my (conservative) credentials before I can speak on this topic, even in the relatively safe context of doing a review. It’s like I have to reassure some folks that I both understand the Bible and love it. Sadly, I know that I will get some criticism for “supporting their agenda”, whatever that means; and for that matter, my credentials will likewise cause others to prejudge me. The thing I want people to wrestle with is how much truth there was in the stories. Can you imagine this: the place that preaches love and acceptance despising you for who you are? Church should be that one safe place, a haven and shelter, where we can all go to as the broken people that we are. Churches are spiritual hospitals, for the sick, and shouldn’t be the source of hatred and condemnation. How many people has the church turned from the faith by its unloving attitude?

What this all boils down to for me is that it caused me to reflect on how I treat others. If I call myself a Christian, I am to be defined (defined, mind you; down to the very core of who I am) by how I love people. The questions I have to ask myself are “How well have I loved others?” and “How well have I accepted others?”

And I haven’t always liked the answers.

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Comment on this bit of rantus interruptus anyway you want (I don’t know where you’re reading it from) but if you want to guarantee me seeing it, do so at my message board.

Gays, Baseball, and the Church

The Philadelphia Phillies are in the middle of the playoff race, and they found themselves in the midst of a cultural war Thursday night, according to a report in the Philadelphia Inquirer.

As the Phillies played the Washington Nationals (the teams split a doubleheader Thursday night.), a confrontation broke out in the upper deck of Citizens Bank Ballpark between Repent America, a fundamentalist Christian group, and fans, many of whom were in attendance as part of a gay pride group.

It’s the third season for Gay Day in Philly, featuring a national anthem performance by the Philadelphia Gay Men’s Chorus and a first pitch from Cyd Ziegler of Outsports.com.

But as the Inquirer points out, it is also the third season Repent America’s Michael Marcavage has attended in protest of the event. Marcavage and another fan held a sign in the outfield that read, “Homosexuality Is a Sin, Christ Can Save You.”

Since I had never heard of “Repent America”, and I’m all about America needing to repent, I went to their web site. The lead article on their main page is their take on the same story. Tell me that doesn’t bring up some scary imagery if you’re gay in America:

REPENT AMERICA GOING TO BAT FOR JESUS AGAIN THIS YEAR

The church and the homosexual community find themselves on opposite sides of a cultural war and I don’t find states of declared war the best mindsets from which to engage people in dialogue. In fact, I’ve never found declaring war on people the best way to build bridges to them. I’ve already written about my struggle with the whole notion of whether or not the church is blowing its handling of the “homosexuality issue” or showing its collective behind. As part of my journey, I looked for “loopholes” in the Biblical arguments. This led some people to question my theology and brand me a liberal for even questioning the tenets. And I have to tell you, in these parts, you talk about a man’s theology and you might as well be talking about his momma. And franky, I wrote about how the Church often gets it wrong when it comes to handling the homosexuality issue. A friend of mine made this comment on his site that I think applies to this situation:

Without the continual expression of confession – both personally and corporately – the church loses its sensitivity to its ability to hurt others through its claim to moral superiority. Even worse, the church becomes more judgmental and intolerant of those who commit “unacceptable” sins (homosexuality, abortion, cussing, etc) while remaining blind to so-called “acceptable” sins (pride, selfishness, greed, gossip, gluttony, slander, malice, lust, envy, jealousy, bitterness, impatience, lovelessness, etc.).

Religious idolaters need to believe that the sins they commit are not as bad as the ones they avoid. Though they of course must acknowledge that they are not perfect, they need to be convinced that at least they are not like those people – the targeted group of sinners they tend to avoid.

In case you’re wondering why I’m re-visiting this topic, one, it’s because I believe that it’s a topic that bears re-visiting; and two, I went to the Indy Fringe Fest tonight. My report on that to come.

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Comment on this bit of rantus interruptus anyway you want (I don’t know where you’re reading it from) but if you want to guarantee me seeing it, do so at my message board.

Pat, Pat, Pat

Pat Robertson, host of Christian Broadcasting Network’s The 700 Club and founder of the Christian Coalition of America, called for the assassination of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez:
… “this man is a terrific danger and the United … This is in our sphere of influence, so we can’t let this happen. We have the Monroe Doctrine, we have other doctrines that we have announced. And without question, this is a dangerous enemy to our south, controlling a huge pool of oil, that could hurt us very badly. We have the ability to take him out, and I think the time has come that we exercise that ability. We don’t need another $200 billion war to get rid of one, you know, strong-arm dictator. It’s a whole lot easier to have some of the covert operatives do the job and then get it over with.”

I pretty much said everything that I had to say on this topic in my blog post Don’t Make Me Apologize for Idiots. Just change the names appropriately. The problem is that Pat Robertson still has money and a forum and is seen by some as relevant. Just because he has a loud voice does not necessarily mean that he speaks for very many. However, the unfortunate reality is that he does speak for entirely too many. Waning influence and the need to be in the national spotlight often combine to make people say outrageous things. Hate speech needs to be shouted down no matter who does the speaking. But rather than just belabor this point, I will refer you to the blog of Jay Voorhees:

Dear Pat,

I haven’t paid too much attention to you in recent years. I have known that our politic differ. I have know that our theology differs too. Frankly, I found you cartoonish at times, and so I simply chose to keep my blood pressure down and not pay you too much attention.

…Now I’m not quite sure what I think about Mr. Chavez. But I do know that assasination is not usually endorsed in that Bible that you like to hit folks upside the head with. Oh yes, I know about the “eye for an eye” passage and all those justifications for capital punishment, but this seems to me to fall outside the realm of justice and more into the realm of forcing our vision of the world down someone elses throat. Frankly, I don’t see how your words and thoughts connect with Jesus’ teaching in the Sermon on the Mount at all.

Mr. Chavez may be condoning things that are dangerous to our interests. Mr Chavez may be effecting an oil policy that will indeed hurt us and our investment portfolios (well actually, I’m a country preacher so I don’t have any investments, so make that your portfolio). However, that doesn’t give us the right to kill him.

One other thing. Let up on the communism thing, okay? Communism is dead. It died with the fall of the Berlin Wall and the breakup of the Soviet Union. Mentioning communism these days just makes you look foolish and out of touch. On the other hand, religious extremism of all kinds, be it Muslim or Christian, that calls for others to die should be attacked.

It’s why I’m writing this letter, after all.

I’m praying for you. I hope that you will pray for me.

Jay

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Marketing the Christian Ghetto

Calvary Hill
Includes a roll-a-way stone hill with tomb
Ages 4-9
Collect them all!

I’m not kidding. I saw it at a friends house. Let me get this straight: you’re supposed to encourage your child to play with a toy Jesus that starts off dead (burial rags not included) so that your child can repeatedly re-enact the resurrection. And people get on me for being a horror writer. What is supposed to be the climactic point in history, the pivotal moment around which our faith revolves, has been trivialized to a children’s toy.

All of this got me thinking about the Christian market.

This goes beyond marketing to a needed or under-valued market. I’m a big market guy. A few years ago, a big brouhaha broke out on several horror message boards regarding “black only” anthologies. If there is an under-served market, I’m all for getting your products there, broadening the marketplace. This isn’t the same issue. However, one of the things that these niche filling/marketed products do have in common is the stigma that they somehow weren’t good enough to make it in the mainstream. But that’s besides the point. My main concern is that far too many Christians create this bubble for themselves and are content to stay there, when our calling is exactly the opposite.

This starts off from trying to figure out what it means to be in the world but not of it. We don’t want to take on the values and priorities of the world, and somehow we’ve equated that to what we watch (television and movies) and listen to (music). Instead of being a part of the culture, a driving force within it, we’ve become afraid of it and retreated from it.

Then it slowly occurs to us that we still have to do the stuff of life. How can you go about doing it while remaining in your Christian bubble? Bring the stuff of life to you. We’ve created an entire sub-culture in our wake so that no one has to go outside the church for anything. Not for school (home-schooling). Not for Boy Scouts (Awana, anyone?). Not for karate lessons (I refer to them as the kung fu Christians). Not for Halloween (Hallelujah Night. Again, I’m not kidding. If you don’t think that this Christian sub-culture exists, go watch the satire Saved! then come back to this blog entry.) We have Christian money management seminars, Christian child-rearing techniques, Christian drug intervention, Christian counseling–all the things we can readily find “in the world”, but with Bible verses sprinkled throughout them so that they’re okay and you can avoid the taint of the world.

Except that it makes it hard to reach the world. The lost remain lost, or on the outside looking in.

Christian books is a multi-, multi-million dollar industry. Same with Christian music. Again, the unsaid implication seems to be that if you aren’t talented enough to make it in mainstream, go to the Christian market. Left Behind. The Passion of the Christ. Veggie Tales. Those Christian products that have crossed over into the mainstream. Regardless of what you think about the products themselves, they have made an impact, at least one beyond entertaining Christians and keeping their bubble intact.

I have already wrestled with the idea of what it means to be in the world but not of it in a different context. Some of my comments went along these lines: We need to be infiltrating–for lack of a better word–the world. Spiritual depth comes from the real stuff of life, the day in/day out being with each other and working things through. Rather than the importance of relationships and community, what we’re in danger of breeding is more of the same narcissistic and over-individualized spirituality revolving around “just me and the Bible” and “getting my butt into heaven.”

Our spiritual lives should be incarnational and missional, but we’re in danger of being defined by what we’re against rather than who we’re for.

Should there be Christian movies? Yes. Should there be Christian books? Absolutely. Should Christians hide within this ghetto of Christian entertainment in lieu of interacting (read: risk being “tainted” by) the world? By all means, no.

Meanwhile, I’m still trying to figure out why The Passion of the Christ didn’t do a toy tie-in with Chick-fil-A.

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Comment on this bit of rantus interruptus anyway you want (I don’t know where you’re reading it from) but if you want to guarantee me seeing it, do so at my message board.

To Flounce or Not to Flounce

Flounce is a term used on Internet discussion forums or chat rooms, usually used to describe a type of post made on the forum.

Typically a flounce is where a user feels that he has had enough of a certain forum and, rather than simply leaving, decides to post a long post detailing their reasons for leaving, usually in a new thread so as to get the maximum number of replies. These posts could contain insults directed at fellow members of the forum or at its administrators, and the users’ grievances with them. They can range from the calm and reasoned to the emotional and hysterical, garnering comment and concern respectively. The main part of a flounce, however, is that the user, rather than staying away, is back within a few days to a few weeks, often expecting that the mood regarding him will be exactly the same as it was when he left.

In some cases, the flouncer spams the forum, or (if in a position to do so) closes it entirely, or disables a certain feature of it.

The word flounce is intended to evoke the image of a child having a tantrum and flapping its arms about while screaming for attention.

I’m wondering, can people flounce out of your life, in a non-Internet sort of way? You know, rather than say “you’ve upset me” or “I have some issues with how you do things” they instead create a bunch of drama to let the world know that they are upset. They let their friends know, their pastor, their pets; they send a memo out far and wide that they no longer want anything to do with a certain someone, or group of someones, when all they really need is a break from them.

Relationships, particularly close friendships, have a way of getting intense. The more time you spend with a person, the more wrapped up you get with them. But you know what? Even among the best of friends, people will eventually get on your nerves, especially when you don’t let them breathe. What you need is a break, but because of our need (love) for drama, we make dramatic exits (because everyone must know that we are leaving–after all, if I go off to the woods and nobody cares, do I make an exit? Or something like that).

So, there needs to be a standard flounce post of some sort. I’ll need your help here, so drop any suggestions down at my message board. I was thinking about something along the lines of:

Title of Post:
a) PISS OFF!
b) THATS IT!
c) GOODBYE!
d) LAST POST!
e) [SOMETHING PRETENTIOUS/NON-SENSICAL THAT ONLY THREE PEOPLE MAY GET, BUT IT ALLOWS ME TO FEEL SMARTER THAN EVERYONE ELSE IN THE ROOM!]

Regardless, you have to use capital letters and exclamation points (the more the better). We won’t know that you really mean it unless you make it obvious. At the very least, let us know that you have a grand announcement to make within your post.

Introduction (because there are no “good-byes” anymore):
a) I never fit in well here anyway
b) God has told me that I need to leave (or, there is no God present here)
c) I don’t seem to get much respect around here (you say you’re a community, but you’re a clique)
d) I have had fun here, but …

If you go the d) route, be sure that you give your credentials for how long you’ve been a part of the community/friendship (from the beginning is always a nice touch. It’s not like we really remember anyway. Plus, since we don’t care about you, it’s not like we’re going to do the math.)

Reasonsing (because, well, you love the sound of your own voice and moral position):
a) I have never seen so much (enter annoyance of choice here)
b) God has told me to “flee/retreat/shake the dust off sandals/withdraw….
c) I cannot tolerate (enter sin of choice here: foul language, homosexuals, hypocrisy)
d) I am not treated with the proper respect as (a living embodiment of God’s Word or a person with a naturally superior point of view)
e) List the litany of offenses by the one (or two) individuals that have pissed you off and have changed the tenor of the board.

A special shout out to the folks over at The Ooze for help in this area. Like any community, they have their share of flounces, but the “shake the dust off my sandals” line is absolutely priceless.

Closing (because this post has already become quite the production):
a) You people suck and know nothing about treating or accepting people.
b) I’m the only one who has any clue about what’s really going on here.
c) I’m really, really, really leaving this time.
d) (My personal favorite) I’m not doing this to get noticed or to have a bunch of people line up to beg me not to leave, so I’m not even going to come back to see who responds to this post. Though I will probably respond to each and every post so that there is no confusion on the matter.
e) I’ll pray for you.

*sigh*

Sadly, this behavior is not unique to any particular board or even face-to-face communities. I suppose there is a reason the word “flounce” has entered the vocabulary. The behavior’s pretty much the same and it’s either that or some simple honesty along the lines of : I guess you could just say that I’m a tough person to take and sometimes I wear myself out much less other people. I’m taking a break to shake myself for a minute, but as soon as I get my head on straight, I’ll pop by to say hello. And you all better greet me with renewed love and tidings of how much you missed me.

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Comment on this bit of rantus interruptus anyway you want (I don’t know where you’re reading it from) but if you want to guarantee me seeing it, do so at my message board.

Blog Humility

So I was checking out BlogPulse, or as I refer to it, a new way to Google yourself, just to play around and see how I rate. Found out, despite my delusions of what weight my voice may carry in the blogosphere, that I don’t rate all that much. I did stumble across my name in a curious stream of other nouns. At first I thought that I really rated and that porn sites were using my name to draw people to their sites. Turns out, there was a poem out there using my name in its rhyme scheme. And I’m just vain enough to be flattered.

vacation cruise ship
ed’s mom’s lucious lips
ill thoughts but i can’t contain
kay travis and the booty mainframe

don’t even battle the illest
cuz it’s suicide
astroglide as my guide
i get bigger with every stride

feminists beware cuz i’ll raise your hair
outside of the fruit loops schism that is squizm
now that the bar has been pulled
i’ll take a stab at you
pipsqueek shorty from white avenue
i’m your hollywood jesus
like maurice broaddus
i’ll edit your rhyme scheme like hokus pokus
elevate your weight till your thin as a wire
the illest is here and you call him sire.

out.

I played around with some other buttons on BlogPulse. For grins and giggles, I did a Trend Search. BlogPulse Trend Search allows you to create graphs that visually track “buzz” over time for certain key words, phrases or links. Compare search terms/links in isolation, or use all three fields to compare search terms/links against others. I wanted to track how often “Maurice Broaddus” came up in conversation. Turns out, not very often.

It didn’t take me long to figure out where my “spike” came from. Maybe it does pay to guest blog for people others compare to phalluses.

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Comment on this bit of rantus interruptus anyway you want (I don’t know where you’re reading it from) but if you want to guarantee me seeing it, do so at my message board.