Archive for April, 2011

Fast Five – A Review

“Bromance of the Cars” aka “Can you smell what the testosterone is cooking?”

Having not checking in on a Fast and the Furious movie since the first one over ten years ago, I was sure there were many unanswered questions from the middle three that required a fifth entry in the series.  Thing is, one doesn’t go into Fast Five looking for Black Swan or King’s Speech.  There is much about Fast Five which was reminiscent of an 80s buddy cop movie:  you know the kind of movie you have signed up for, you know the bulk of the plot points before the opening credits roll, and you just want it to deliver what you came there for.  Fast Five does.

Dominic (Vin Diesel) begins having been found guilty of charges and sentenced to twenty five years without parole.  Enter:  Brian (Paul Walker) and Mia (Jordana Brewster), who stage a daring prison break involving cars and spectacular crashes.  Barely five minutes into the movie, it is readily apparent that the laws of physics need not apply, but who cares when the action sequences are otherwise staged so thrillingly.

Our heroes are now on the run.  Enter:  Rio de Janeiro as the backdrop locale (and location du jour, with Rio having just opened not too long ago).  Luckily they meet up with their old buddy Vince (Matt Schulze) who has a deal set up to line their pockets with some well needed cash.  The plan goes horribly awry, federal agents get killed, and Dominic and Brian are captured by the king of the Rio drug trade, Reyes (Joaquim de Almeida), though they escape without breaking a sweat.  Enter:  The Rock as an American cowboy as subtle as his namesake whose style is described as Old Testament:  blood and wrath of God.  And bullets.

So now our band of intrepid heroes are caught between a gun wielding drug cartel and trigger happy American marshals.  All of which proves to be a lot of set up, forty five minutes worth, for what boils down to a poor man’s version of Ocean 11/Mission:  Impossible as they embark on one last job.  (Which builds to a Vin Diesel vs. Dwayne Johnson fight, catering to audience anticipation the way one would have hoped for a Arnold Schwarzenegger/Sylvester Stallone showdown back in the day).

“I already lost my family once.  I’m not going through that again.” –Mia

Through the action and plot “twists”, what the movie revolves around is the idea of forging and maintaining family.  The relationship between Dom and Brian is one of brothers, a brotherhood forged through trial, unity, and mutual respect and understanding.  In fact, this franchise is a testament to MAN BONDING.  And though Brian had forgotten who his father was, he still had a longing for family.

“There’s always room for family.” –Dom

The human heart longs for fellowship, love, and communion. We’re wired for relationships. We want the comfort of an embrace, we want to be known and loved.  We must live in the midst of a caring community. Love must be shared. Life must be shared.  It’s as if we were designed to find our purpose and meaning in community: family, friends, co-workers, or nation.   Intimacy with others is a need hard-wired into us.  Friends are the family we choose.  Because friendship is a beautiful and unique form of love, it truly provides a genuine opportunity for our need for intimacy to be met apart from (biological) family and romance.  Such bonds protect against isolation and loneliness and provide emotional encouragement, spiritual support, and stability.

A certain amount of ridiculousness is de rigeur in a movie like Fast Five.  Somehow these supposedly broke band of brothers are able to not only finance their operation, but somehow are able to get their hands on anything they need.  There are numerous TestFest moments (seriously, you choose now to race?).   There is a swath of property and car destruction that rivals the ending of The Blues Brothers.  And did I mention the laws of physics?  I flunked physics several times, but even I got some of the basics down.  But here, mass + acceleration + force = nevermind.

Even though the movie is predictable in that 80s buddy cop movie sort of way, just because you’re familiar with the ride doesn’t make it bad.  Not Citizen Kane by any stretch, Fast Five is the movie you expect (want) it to be.  In short, Fast Five is Fun and Ridiculous.

Coming Soon …

Ok, The Knights of Breton Court III:  King’s War is coming in November.  My definition of soon may differ from yours.  Mostly I wanted an excuse to post that cover.

Coming a little sooner is my novella from Delirium Books, Bleed With Me.  It takes place in the Knights of Breton Court universe, but is straight horror.  Aaaaaand it’s sold out.  Well, the limited edition hard cover is.  However, e-book editions will be available.  More details about it as the time draws nearer.

Coming out in June, but already up on Amazon for pre-order, is the steampunk romance anthology, Hot & Steamy:  Tales of Steampunk Romance.  I know, when you think of me, you think ROMANCE!  Yet my story “The Problem of Trysta” is in it (and it takes place in my “Pimp My Airship” universe).   Speaking of which, back to working on the novelization of that story…

Road to Mo*Con VI: Confessing Our Homophobia in the Church

Not too long ago, I went out to lunch with a friend of mine.  We got on the topic of this year’s Mo*Con and I mentioned how many homeless people and homosexuals go to my church.  The question came up “how do you deal with them?”  So we had a conversation and I was all prepared to write a blog talking about how there was something about the tenor of the word “them” that troubled me.  I have known this man most of my life.  He’s a good man, a godly man, but the use of “them” struck me wrong.  But before I could get my pious on, something occurred to me:  I had just “Other”-ed two groups of people in the church.

I’m sure that if I took a careful look at my heart, there was more than a little pride at work.  “Look at me, I’m so spiritual, blah, blah, blah.”  The other thing at work, in that way ideas and –isms can, there was some homophobia at work also.  I realized what troubled me about “them”:  I’ve been the “them” or “those people.”  There are times when I engage in conversations and I swap out the topic of choice and replace it with “black people” to see how it plays to my ear.  Bigotry gets quickly revealed.

At what point do we have to cop to our own sin of homophobia.

There are a lot of things I struggle with in my religion and how my faith is practiced, a lot of things I wrestle with reconciling.  There’s a lot about my religion I frankly don’t get.  Like how a religion who at its core defines its people by their love ends up leaving so many ground up and devastated in its wake.  I know bigotry when I see it.  I recognized hate justified by God/the Bible when I see it.  Behind the “them”s and the “super sin” categorization and the “hating the sin” I see denigration, bigotry, and fear.  I see harmful actions and wounding.  I see an inherent, if often unspoken, disgust and condemnation.  I wonder if we wrestle with the sin of homophobia, of hating and discriminating against “the other” and confess it, much less repent of it.

At what point did Christians go from being defined by love to being characterized by so much hate?  I know others struggle with “this issue”.  A fear of homosexuals in the church, even if it’s just in affirming it.  I get some of the angst.  For me the issue rears its head with other issues how do I affirm the person and not their behavior?  Then again, I remember to concentrate on loving the person and affirming who they are in Christ, but that’s one way of wrestling with the topic.  And the quick battle cry they whip out is “hate the sin, love the sinner.”  That strategy choice, in my experience, typically doomed to fail on its face.  For example, one of the chief concerns of my friend was whether or not I “hammer home that homosexuality is a sin?”  I think the church has broadcast that message loud and clear, for one.  I don’t think there’s a GLBT in the world who doesn’t know that’s the traditional interpretation of the Bible (even those people who disagree with that interpretation).

I’m wondering if this is where the church has gone wrong with its message and missed the mark of the gospel, frankly.  Under this paradigm, sin becomes the focus.  A biblical lifestyle becomes about the behaviors, not the person.  That’s the inherent flaw of “hate the sin, love the sinner”:  we’re defined first and foremost as sinners.  This contributes to a gospel that begins with God doesn’t like us very much (for a long time I struggled with that because the Gospel message we present/I heard seemed a lot like we’re low down dirty sinners who God can’t stand to be around because He’s so holy.  So He had to send His Son, pour out all of His wrath on Jesus, just so He could be in the same room with us.  Now, by the way, follow Him.)  We’re little more that convicts awaiting judgment, reduced to behaviors to be corrected.  This is literally a sin, in that it has “missed the mark” of the story.

Another area where we miss the mark is that “hate the sin, love the sinner” is an awfully nuanced position for most people.  Let’s face it, if we can’t get “love one another” down, so complicating the matter with “hate [anything]” is a recipe for disaster because we typically can’t separate our hatred from the message.  I don’t see how more hate and separating/exclusion helps anything.  So naturally the take home message for many people has been “hate”:  homosexuality as a super sin, homosexuals as second class citizens, the language of exclusion, etc.

I don’t know if a paradigm shift in our thinking may be required.  In American evangelicalism, we pride ourselves on knowing.  That’s the thing:  we “know” a lot of things.  It’s one of the things we brag about in our pastors or our church bodies:  how well we’re “fed”.  We sit in our pews, spiritually emaciated, because we don’t know how to put what we know into practice.  In our “knowing,” it’s easy to rail against homosexuality and decry the decline of our nation.  And set up these faceless boogiemen to point at as “them.”  This is what happens when we start our story at “we’re sinners.”*

What if we started the story of our faith with creation. With humanity created in the image of God and declared “good”. As image-bearers, we have inherent worth. The Fall becomes about not living up to that potential, what we were created to be. This impacts our view of the Gospel, as it attains a more holistic dimension. Sin is reduced to a symptom rather than deepest root.  Our spiritual journeys become about seeking wholeness, humans to be restored in all the dimensions of our humanity. And that inward journey leads to outward love as all grace should move us to outward expression.

The deepest longings of our hearts is to know and be known.  We’re wired for relationships.  So for a start, “they” aren’t a “them”.  They are my friends.  You don’t “deal” with friends.  “They” are people.  With names.  With struggles.  More than likely, their struggles aren’t what you think they are and in fact can only best be known by being in relationship with “them” and getting to know “them” as individuals.  Individuals with their own stories.    And I can’t think of any relationship that begins with “you are a(n insert sin of choice).  That’s who you are, how I define you, and all that you are to me.  By the way, I hate that.” **  Either we do that for everyone or no one.

I guess it boils down to your intent or end game.  What are you trying to prove or what are you hoping to accomplish?  I guess I’m just not big into making it clear that I don’t approve of a lifestyle any more than I do beliefs before I can associate myself with you.

I am big into trying to love people well, speaking truth into their lives (about who we are, who we were created to be, and about our relationship with God and one another, with love and sensitivity and firmness … in that order), AND having them speak into my life.  I don’t argue with folks because we don’t change by arguing.  It’s the Holy Spirit’s job to transform life.  So take that burden off yourself, O “hammerers of truth” and “haters of sin.”  Focus on loving God with all your heart and your neighbor as yourself.  See how that works with “them.”

My job is to be in relationship with people.  There’s a lot about my religion and how my faith is practiced that I don’t get.  So much that amounts to speculation and needless arguments.  So I start with the stuff that I get and that gets boiled down to this:  “love God and love others.”  When dealing with people, whoever the “them” might be, is my relationship characterized by love and loving them well?  AND do they feel that they are loved and loved well.  If it’s not, then I’ve failed the point of my faith.  And that’s on me, not “them.”***

Mo*Con VI:  The Lowdown

Mo*Con VI:  Return of the Mo?

OTHER CONVERSATION STARTERS

-Road to Mo*Con VI: Guest Blog by Zoe Whitten
-Road to Mo*Con VI: Guest Blog by Lucien Soulban
-Road to Mo*Con VI: Guest Blog by Brad Grammer

*Before I get emails, yes, I believe that “all have sinned” and in that sense, yes, we’re all sinners.

**If we’re just about cataloging behaviors, think about people who gossip.  They still gossip after coming to know Christ.  We haven’t kicked them out of the club.

***If I don’t actively engage in all of the comments, know that I’m reading them and thinking through them.  This probably won’t be my last blog on this topic either before or after Mo*Con.

The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader – A Review

There are two concerns I’ve always had about this film franchise.  The first was that I always have a sense of hesitancy when it comes to approaching the films of the Chronicles of Narnia books.  In my mind, C. S. Lewis was a very intentional Christian who is a writer as compared to J. R. R. Tolkien who was a very intentional writer who is a Christian.  So I go into each movie knowing they are fantasy movies based on allegory, worried about when the movies will trip itself up by being chained to its message.

The second was that after The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, none of the other books in the series equal its brand of name recognition.  (From a writing standpoint, the books were written out of order, were all self-contained, the protagonists changed, so there is no compelling narrative thread that runs through them.)  And after The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe grossed $745 million worldwide, its sequel, Prince Caspian earned less ($419 million, though it cost more to make).  This is a trend that didn’t bode well for the continuation of the franchise should The Voyage of the Dawn Treader not do well.

Luckily, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader was a favorite among fans of the series. The movie just had to not screw up its adaptation.

“We have nothing if not belief.” –Reepicheep (Simon Pegg)

While World War II waged on in England, the two youngest Pevensie children, Lucy (Georgie Henley) and Edmund (Skandar Keynes), go off to live with family.  This includes their cousin Eustace (Will Poulter), an obnoxious, perpertually obtuse, miserable complainer meant to be a source of comic relief, not constant irritation.  It doesn’t take long before the three of them are swept away by a painting of a sea faring vessel and transported to the land of Narnia.

Eustace continues to annoy everyone, including a swashbuckling mouse, Reepicheep.  Caspian (Ben Barnes), now king, are on an adventure to the distant Lone Islands on a Lord of the Rings-styled quest for seven swords in order to vanquish apparently the smoke monster refugee from the television show Lost.

“You doubt your value.  Don’t from from who you are.” –Aslan (Liam Neeson)

The story breaks down like a series of Sunday School lessons/episodes testing the character of our heroes.  Lessons spanning the need to value who you are, the perils of greed, the evils of temptations, and how we must defeat the darkness inside ourselves in order to defeat the darkness in the world.

Tempted by beauty, wealth, and power, our heroes—most notably in the journey of Eustace—are taken down a path that isn’t exactly beautiful but from which they can come out stronger for it.  Eustace best illustrates the point.  Unable to change himself back from being a dragon, tearing at his skin only to see his own efforts prove futile, turns to Aslan.  “No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t do it myself,” he says.  Then  Aslan proceeds to change him.  The process may hurt, but like many painful procedures, the pain was necessary to effect transformation  into his true self.

A third concern reared its head during the movie.  It was as if there was an odd pacing issue with the Narnia movies.  They are all prone to wander at times, unsure if they are simply enjoying the magic and whimsy of the world in which they inhabit or they are simply waiting for a compelling story to latch onto and carry the movie forward.  The Voyage of the Dawn Treader attempts to solve the pacing issues and smooth over the episodic nature of the story by upping the action quotient.  These random acts of swashbuckling are like the characters themselves:  springing up to service the plot, not unfolding due to the plot.  With the series out of name recognition and reader favorites to buoy it, the franchise may have to breakdown and church out great films to carry our hearts and imaginations.

iCarly – A Review

For those pre-teens of the 8os, we had the TGIF line up.  Ostensibly a Friday night line-up of fairly innocuous, family friendly fare, where the laughs were broad, not too deep, not too on point, and everyone was so darn likeable:  Perfect Strangers, Full House, Mr. Belvedere and Just the Ten of Us.  Sitcoms heavy on the schmaltz and warm and fuzzies.  Even then I seriously couldn’t remember liking shows like this when I was a kid (take this with a grain of salt, because I was a huge fan of Manimal).  Yet those are the kind of shows that spring to mind when I think about iCarly.

[For the record, I feel as squirrely watching and reviewing iCarly as I do letting the music of Justin Bieber play in my house.  Yet, as the father of preteens, I am tortured by what they are into.]

Like many shows on the pre-teen landscape, from Hannah Montana to Big Time Rush, iCarly centers around teens who have found fame in their own way.  In this case, it follows the adventures of Carly (Miranda Cosgrove), whose parents are not on the scene, and thus she lives in the care of her free-spirited artistic older brother, Spencer (Jerry Trainor).  While they are waiting for someone to call Child Protective Services on them, she co-hosts a web show with her best friend Sam (Jennette McCurdy) along with the third member of their triumvirate, their tech-savvy friend Freddie (Nathan Kress).

The dynamic between the three friends is what powers the show.  Carly is the fairly goody-goody, cherubic cheerleader type, with a wholesome brand of wild streak.  Sam is the wild child, prone to punch first and ask questions later, who comes from a fairly glossed over rough background (think “Jo” from the Facts of Life).  Freddy is often Sam’s favorite punching bag, though interestingly, he pines for Carly and clashes with Sam.  And though he lives in the “just friends” zone, he has shared kisses with both.

Seriously, I’m breaking down the relationship dynamics of iCarly.

What this reminds me is that we weren’t created to be islands of solitude. This self-sufficient image may work for some, but it is not what we were created to be. We’re born for relationships–be they family, friendships, or colleagues–and that is what shapes us (though the absence of relationships also form us).  We want that close circle of connectedness where one experiences a deep sense of belonging, acceptance, and love. That’s the lure of community.  We want to reach that place of friendship, to be in those late night conversations that come from hanging out, to feel loved, accepted and needed. In short, we want to feel significant.  We want to know and be known.  We are relational beings, created to form relationships with one another. Intimacy with others is a need hard-wired into us. Because friendship is a beautiful and unique form of love, they are to be treasured.

iCarly is often over-the-top, with plenty of slapstick comedy and exaggerated characters, but the thing is, it’s actually not bad.  Whereas Big Time Rush is bland and forgettable, iCarly often have plots that are not only fun, but gags that are clever (one episode had a joke geared around The Wire which caught me completely off guard and left my sons staring at me for laughing).  It’s that kind of random to the show that makes it downright all right to watch (though unlike, say, Spongebob Squarepants, I don’t seek out the show when the kids aren’t around).

And one more time, just to confirm things, yeah, I broke out a Manimal reference.  The Man from Atlantis can’t be far behind.

Dumbstruck – A Review

On its face, the idea of a documentary that follows around five ventriloquists for two years in order to delve into their stories doesn’t exactly sound like the stuff of movie legend.  Most of my knowledge of ventriloquists begins with Willie Tyler and Lester and ends around Chuck Campbell (Jay Johnson) and Bob on the show Soap.  Yet director  Mark Goffman has found a measure of success exploring various subcultures such as the world of spelling bees (Spellbound) and crossword puzzles (Wordplay).

Fort Mitchell, Kentucky is apparently the ventriloquism capital of the world as it’s home to the annual Vent Haven Convention.  There Goffman finds his extraordinary characters who have various levels of emotional attachments to their “dummies”.  Goffman picks four people committed to pursuing ventriloquism professionally.  The fifth case study, Terry Fator, won America’s Got Talent with a ventriloquist act but had always dreamt of going to the convention.

The documentary opens with glimpses into the lives of its subjects, capturing the tensions and reservations of their family.  A beauty pageant winner, Kim Yeager, marches on in pursuit of her dream despite the wishes of her mother.  Dan Horn has found mid-level success, but his long hours/time away from his family is costing him his marriage. All around odd duck, Wilma Swartz, has been cut off by almost all of her family while 13-year-old Dylan Burdette’s dad can’t relate to his son.  Even Fator, who is now a multi-millionaire, finds acceptance from his father elusive.

“I can say things through the characters that if I said, I’d get beat up.” –Wilma

At first it seems counterintuitive for introverts to choose ventriloquism.  They have to be on stage, having to not only be “on” but also funny.  Yet the dummies provide the same sort of safety net or wall that a computer keyboard or avatars do.  It allows them to become or hide behind other personas.  Other than that, their stories echo those of those I know in other fields of art, be they writers, painters, or musicians, which is why Dumbstruck struck especially close to home with me.

The artist finds their identity in their art in the same way other people define themselves through their work.  It’s who they are—ventriloquist, artist, entertainer—and they are locked in pursuit of their art.  Which means they are willing to face the ups and downs of chasing after their dreams and having doors slammed in their faces, all in hopes of finding the one in a million success that Terry Fator found.  As part of honing their craft, they generate material and have to create a character apart from themselves.  They find community in their convention family, a place where they find acceptance.

“I put my dreams on hold for my last relationship.” –Kim

What stood out in the documentary was the disconnect from the ventriloquists by their parents.  Sometimes it was a matter of a well-intended mother wanting their daughters to live a normal life, get married, and have kids.  Sometimes it was a father who was simply lost in how to relate to his son.  Other times it was little more than mean-spirited ostracization by family.

On the flipside, sometimes that disconnect was the artist’s doing.  Pursuing their calling, gifting, and passion even when it defies their parent’s wishes.  Other times they so gave themselves over to the magic of creation, being an artist, and performing that their family became just another sacrifice for their art.

“God uses what gifts you have.” –Wilma’s priest

What would our spiritual life be like without art? A shriveled up and dry experience, devoid of any sense of transcendence and beauty.  Yet it is often difficult for an artist to find their place in the world, much less when faced with the false dichotomy between sacred and secular.  In all things one should think redemptively, and let the renewing your mind be in finding God at work in the culture around us.   The Apostle Paul could walk around Athens, a city full of idols, and still find Jesus (Acts 17).

We come from the same Creator, created in His image, with his creative Spirit, so it’s all right to love art for art’s sake. We can listen to beautiful music and feel God’s presence. We can become lost in a painting and let it wordlessly speak to us. We can get transported by a story and learn lessons about ourselves. That’s the role of the artist, to remind us of our humanity and to remind us of the story we find ourselves in.

Dumbstruck missed out on a potential focus of the film in strictly studying the ventriloquists’ family.  The journey of someone pursuing their dream is a familiar one, but the dream being scrutinized by skeptical family would have been an interesting take on it.  The journey of father’s who feel they are losing their son and trying to come to terms with figuring out how to connect with him and support him would have been fascinating to watch, but that’s a documentary that could have been.  What we do have is this familiar story with unusual characters, and the audience does end up rooting for them.  Despite themselves.  The movie approaches its subjects seriously, with an abject eye, and in no way condescends to or demeans them.  Nor does it ask any questions of the ventriloquists, exploring their minds in more profound ways, from the source of Wilma’s profound loneliness, to why this white teen chooses a black puppet to express himself.

And if Goffman is intent on studying fringe communities, maybe next up will be an examination of furries.

Rango – A Review

There’s a strange sort of disconnect one may experience when watching the movie Rango.  That’s because Rango isn’t your typical animated kids’ movie, because we’ve been conditioned for a certain kind of animated movie.  Gore Verbinski assembles an all star ensemble of talent for a movie that has to be viewed in the right light for it to click.  In some ways, it’s reminiscent of Legend of the Guardian: The Owls of Ga’Hoole, where you have a movie that’s on its face seems like just another animated kids’ film, but actually is a different sort of movie entirely.

“A hero who has yet to enter his own story.” –(Mariachi band)

Where Rango risks disconnecting with the traditional audience for such animated fare is that it aims at adults first and kids second.  On its surface, the plot follows what you’d expect:  The Hawaiian shirt-wearing lizard who will become Rango starts off as a pet lizard, traveling across the desert when an accident leaves him separated from his family.  He stumbles across a town named Dirt whose citizens are looking for a hero.  They are ruled by a corrupt mayor behind the drought afflicting their town.

“Every story needs a hero.” –Rango

Johnny Depp as the voice of Rango delivers a performance that begins somewhere around his last Pirates of the Caribbean movie and wanders into a western, while riffing on his appearances in Dead Man and Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas.  Among the characters who inhabit the town of Dirt we find such distinctive characters as Rattlesnake Jake (Bill Nighy), gila-monster henchman Bad Bill (Ray Winstone) and Rango’s love interest, Beans (Isla Fisher).

The movie is Tarantino-esque in how many movies it draws plot elements from: Chinatown, Django, El Topo and any of a number of spaghetti westerns.  And as if aspiring to something more, something deep, the movie moves at a contemplative pace.  Basically Rango was an adult classic western with animated animals that went on too long.  Though it had lots of witty, referential dialogue and visuals, it didn’t quite translate to a kids movie, but rather a clever tribute to the spaghetti westerns.  It almost begs the question about who was this movie made for as children may be too young to get the jokes, the set up, or the pace.

“We all have our journeys to make.” –Armadillo

As a reluctant hero, Rango spends most of the movie first trying to figure out who he is and then trying to figure out how to live into being who he’s called to be.  Joseph Campbell, in his landmark work The Hero With a Thousand Faces, outlined the prototypical path of the hero’s mythological adventure. Campbell defines the journey this way: “A hero ventures forth from the world into a region of common day into a region of supernatural wonder: fabulous forces are there encountered and a decisive victory is won: the hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on his fellow man.”

Put another way, the essential story, the monomyth, echoes the story of Christ.

“The path of knowledge is fraught with consequences.” –Armadillo

We see this pattern–separation (the reluctant hero taken from the world that he knows), initiation (the hero tested), and return (the hero returns as conqueror) in many of our great heroic epics: Luke Skywalker (Star Wars, The Empire Strikes Back, RETURN of the Jedi) and The Lord of the Rings (Fellowship of the Rings, The Two Towers, RETURN of the King). For the hero’s task to be worthy, he must overcome various trials and temptations. The more grand the goal, the greater the difficulties, though it helps to have a guide in one’s quest for enlightenment.  In Rango’s case, it’s an encounter before an alabaster carriage as he has a run-in with the Spirit of the West, a mystic Man With No Name (Timothy Olyphant).

“I don’t even know what I’m looking for.” –Rango

A person can exhaust themselves trying to come up with enough superlatives to describe the CGI animation.  The photorealistic style animation has such a level of texture to it would feel three-dimensional even without being shown in 3-D.

Sometimes Rango felt like a joke I didn’t get.  It seemed a half hour too long, was a bloated production—meandering at times—largely clever, though clearly impressed with itself.  Though technically brilliant, with plenty of pretty to look at, it didn’t have a spark, energy to it that propels it.  Instead it relied on being cool.  Then again, the movie had plenty of intelligence to carry it, often more quirky than funny, like Kung Fu Panda by way of Deadwood.  In other words, a movie clearly ahead of its time which an adult would appreciate more than their kids.  Then again, those of us who had to sit through Finding Nemo 500 times might appreciate a movie ostensibly aimed at “them” that “we” would delight in more.

Road to Mo*Con VI: The Only Boy Who Could Ever Reach Me … (Part II of II)

Guest Post by Danny Evarts

[Danny, around age 4, in a “Christian Soldier” outfit for the “Put on the Whole Armour of God” sketch his family used to do]

[Read Part I here]

As he grew into that “certain age,” when most children were being given the “talk” or learning about their bodies in Sex Ed classes, Danny was not allowed such things, as they were “Of The World.” And while his sisters were given approved Christian books describing the changes of their body and the glorious preparations for breeding for God, Danny was told, as curtly as possible, that “God will tell you what to do on your wedding night.” That, Song of Solomons, and furtive glances at dry texts in libraries were the extent of his education on the subject. Yes, he did have early childhood explorations—awkward, naive and bumbling as they were. And he’d overheard the other Royal Rangers whispering furtively of virgins and cherries as they explored. But Danny was naive, and a late bloomer. Danny had been taught that his body was a temple, an extension of Christ. Alcohol, tattoos, sex, and anything else done to one’s person was done to Jesus. He was taught that when you spit, you are spitting on Jesus as he carries his cross to the hill to die for you. Dancing and Rock Music were a tool of the devil, as they invited temptation. Television and movies, unless they were approved by the church, were of the Devil. Boys going shirtless was showing too much flesh, and was temptation to sin. Everything Danny did, he was told, was seen by God, and anything “unclean” was an affront to Him. Danny’s punishment for any thoughts or ideas, no matter how deeply hidden in his mind, came from himself. From trying harder to block out the sin, to be a good boy in the eyes of the world—no matter how filthy he felt on the inside. He learned to loathe himself and his sin.

Balancing his natural urges, and his ignorance of them, with his desire to neither burn forever nor to disappoint his parents soon consumed our young hero. He lived in fear of his mask slipping, of others discovering what he had done, or had even fleeting thoughts about doing. A sense of worthlessness overcame him, and for years he struggled with this self-loathing and his faith. Why would God, who is pure love, make a boy like Danny, who tried so hard to be good and right, and to follow His Word, and yet who failed at every step? How could he sit back and watch those who proclaimed Love and compassion also espouse Hatred and Fear of those who did not follow, knowing he himself was one of those sinners, in a few hidden deeds and especially in thought? By the age of 10, Danny dwelt in constant depression, living every day with the notion that the world would be a more godly place without him, that all would be better if he died before he could disappoint. Suicide was also a grave sin, so Danny created another space in his head to hide those sorts of thoughts.

Somehow, through blind luck or pure stubbornness, or more likely out of fear of sinning, Danny survived to leave home (at the age of 16). He went “ye out into the world”, still believing, though honestly questioning, his parents’ way. At a Bible College, studying to become like his Father (though, even if he could preach up a storm, perhaps taking a different path—he had learned well how to create masks for himself, and acting and writing appealed), he encountered more of the same people, singing and praising the Love and Glory of God, while not-so-silently telling their closest friends how sinful and unworthy others were. He was confronted again with the reality he’d seen throughout his childhood, that those who act one way for Church so easily act another in the outside world and then furtively pray for forgiveness. Do anything you want, and with one simple phrase, all your sins are washed away.

Danny’s attraction to other males—not sexual, really, but more of a camaraderie, a wish to be held and to hold—grew stronger. But the place inside where he had long since learned to store such thoughts was overflowing. He spent hours alone in churches and in abandoned fields, tearfully praying for guidance and strength. He had seen other Preacher’s Kids who could not accept themselves fall onto the streets and die out, and others wrap themselves even tighter into the cocoon of the church to hide who they were, killing their true selves just as much in their own way. And through his experiences, both good and bad, Danny began to learn that, God or no God, the answers he sought were inside of him. He had to stand for himself. He was responsible for his own life and happiness. And he did not want to have to hide himself anymore. That the bottling up what was inside, what he naturally felt, was a lie. That to get married and have the “traditional family” his parents demanded was a greater lie, and no one would be happy in the end. Lying is also a sin, and the life he was living—pretending to be something he was not, being miserable and suicidal and hating God and everyone around him for making him the way he was—was the biggest hypocrisy of all. The God of the New Testament, the New Covenant, was a God of Love and compassion—of caring and joy—and the hatred and fear that consumed Danny stemming from what he naturally felt was a greater sin than anything he’d ever done. If the God Danny was taught of as a child created us all, and that God could do no wrong, then why was he “faulty?” The self-loathing, the lying and hiding, were what was destroying him, and to truly love others, he had to learn to come to terms with himself, and to love who he really was.

It turns out that the only Boy who could ever reach our Danny was himself, the son of a preacher man.

**********

Sorry for that hokey last line, but it’s good for a quick giggle. Are we sick of this third person thing yet?

For me, just as our hero above (and if you’ve forgotten by this point in the tome, or weren’t paying attention, that Danny is me), the toughest part of coming to terms with being gay, with learning to accept myself, was to learn to love myself, in discovering my own self-worth. That, really, was the longest and hardest part of my journey. Until I learned that I was important, just for being me (something I feel every kid should have constantly affirmed from the moment of birth), I could not actually begin to live and be happy. I am the way I am. I have no idea why, I just am. I wasn’t “recruited.” I wasn’t coerced. I wasn’t sexually abused by a man at a young age. I wasn’t acting out to rebel against my parents or their church. I did not choose to be the way I am, meaning being gay along with everything else about me, but I did choose to accept myself and allow myself to be happy. I had to teach myself to overcome the idea that without the acceptance of some all-powerful being as defined by my parents’ church, I could not live a full and happy life. I basically had to tear down everything I’d been taught and to realize that, no matter who I am, my life is important. It is worth living. I had to build from scratch a complete foundation of positive self-esteem and worth, something I was never taught as a child. My whole sense of self was wrapped up in my parents’ God, and I’d seen both sides of that entity and its hypocritical followers. I refuse to accept that there is need for a “cure” or help to “resist the temptations.” To me, that’s hate-speech for “You’re evil and wrong, your natural feelings are impure, and if you don’t act like the rest of us, you’re destroying everything good.” I refuse to lie about who I am, no matter the consequences of that, because the alternative is pain and suffering and … wrong.

When I came out (a long and messy process), my parents sent a church psychologist after me to “cure” me (which didn’t last long after I met his son, who I recognized from HIV-prevention ads in a local gay magazine). They cried the usual pleas: “How could you do this to us?” “What did we do wrong with you?” “We don’t want you to get AIDS, die painfully and burn in Hell.” The Unconditional Love I’d been taught as a child showed its true Conditions once again. There were many years of distance between my parents and I, partially from them, partially from me. In the meantime, I learned not only to accept myself, but to create my own family. To surround myself with those who, though they may not always agree with me, love me for who I am. Not for what their God or Church tells me I should be, but just for me. My partner and I have been together for over 15 years now, longer than most straight couples I know. We have differing religious backgrounds. We are confronted by the same challenges and obstacles as everyone else, some unique to our situation. But what we do have is a relationship based on reality, on accepting who we are. Of not hiding behind masks because it’s easier or because that’s what others want from us. We have honesty and integrity and hope—for ourselves, for the world around us, and for those kids, from church homes or not, who are confronted every day in this country by those who profess to be followers of Christ’s love, yet who who tell them (through word or deed) that they’re evil and bad and better off dead. I am open about who I am for myself, as well as to show those kids that all the tools they need to survive are inside them, that they ARE important, and that life is worth living. Their worth is not wrapped up in some God or certain way of living, but in what they do and say, and who they are inside. If I can do it, so can they.

Danny Evarts. Danny Evarts smartly quit writing long ago to pursue things he is more interesting at. Having lived in many places the world over, and experimented with many jobs and career paths, he discovered he was best suited to the visual realm, with an emphasis on playing with other peoples’ words. He now works as Art Director and Technical Editor for Shroud Publishing (www.shroudmagazine.com), as well as doing freelance design and illustration (mostly in wood and linoleum block printmaking), and goofs around with various other forms from bookbinding to fiber manipulations. Danny obviously enjoys playing with new things. View more of his works at http://gallery.dannyevarts.net.

OTHER CONVERSATION STARTERS

-Road to Mo*Con VI: Guest Blog by Zoe Whitten
-Road to Mo*Con VI: Guest Blog by Lucien Soulban
-Road to Mo*Con VI: Guest Blog by Brad Grammer
-Road to Mo*Con VI: Guest Blog by Danny Evarts Part I and Part II

Guest Post by Danny Evarts

I’m the son of a preacher man. My father was a Pentecostal/ Fundamentalist/ Assemblies of God preacher in Flop-on-the-floor/ Speaking in Tongues type churches. The same school of thought as Jimmy Swaggart, Jim Bakker, Sarah Palin and their ilk. I grew up surrounded by that community, living their beliefs and requirements. My father began his ministry fresh out of a small Bible College with a Children’s Christian Radio Show, and then transitioned this to a traveling Children’s Crusade, where even we kids were made a part of the act. He later became an Associate and then a Head pastor at various churches before becoming a Home Missions preacher (moving once each year or so to a new church that was being sucked into the Assemblies of God). We attended a service of some sort nearly every night of the week, and multiple times on Sundays. I attended a Bible College for a short while. I later converted to Catholicism and almost entered the Seminary (a story for another day, involving another would-be Seminarian yelling out, “Oh God!”).

I am also gay.

When Maurice asked me to write about Homosexuality and Religion, a million thoughts entered my head. I could probably write an encyclopedia on the subject, based on my personal experience and studies. How to focus that thought, and bring it down to something manageable that people wouldn’t stop reading immediately? I don’t want to preach (though I was raised to do so). I don’t want to chastise, or castigate, or bore, or make pronouncements. We’ve all had enough of that, and it would be far too easy to get into a rant. So, I’ll try to focus on this one subject … growing up as the son of a preacher, and coming to terms with being gay. Fair warning: I am a long-winded writer. Not as long as the sermons I grew up with, thankfully, but brevity is not my strong suit.

Caveat and disclaimer: I personally do not now believe in the God of my parents’ church, and do not follow any organized religion. I cannot accept the hateful bile spewed by those who claim to follow Him. No, I did not rebel and blindly stop following. My current beliefs (and I won’t share them, because it really has no bearing here) were formed through many years of actual study, reading, debate and thought. I may be highly spiritual, but I am not religious. Okay, I’m boring you, and losing readers. So, on to my story …

******************

There was a boy—for ease of memory (and to not pretend it’s someone else, but it’s more fun and a bit easier to write in third person) we’ll call him Danny—who loved Jesus very, very much. He won his first personalized, red-letter, gold-edged Bible for having memorized the books of the Bible at around age 6. He won his second for memorizing the “Love Chapter” of the Bible [1 Corinthians:13]. He’s probably read the Bible, cover to cover, in various translations and versions, and in a couple of languages, at least a hundred times. His parents were preachers, his grandparents were preachers (if you ever meet him, ask him about the adventures involving his mother’s father, leading his flock around town singing, accosting anyone who didn’t run fast enough), his aunts and uncles were all preachers or involved heavily with their churches. Nearly every childhood memory for Danny involved Church, or Church-related events: Pageants; Church Musicals; Summer Camps, retreats, and Preacher’s Kid getaways; Singing in a Street Mission (the poor guys there had to listen to him sing and his father preach, food sitting on long tables in front of them, before they were allowed to eat—even then, Danny thought that must be some form of torture); Royal Rangers (the Church’s version of the Boy Scouts, as the Boy Scouts were “Of the World”); ringing the bell in a mountain church to call the congregation to service.

As the child of a Preacher, one is expected to act and be a certain way, to set the perfect example for the other children. Don’t embarrass your parents, never question, never act out, never say or do anything that may cast a negative light on the standing of your parents. Danny and his many brothers and sisters were placed in in the front pew during services. As his Father preached, his Mother would sit in the row behind them, and if they in any way acted out (or looked like they might be contemplating not paying attention), a quick flick on the back of the ear was the first warning. You didn’t want your Father to have to stop the service to scold you from the pulpit. From the time he could write, Danny dutifully took notes of each and every sermon. He learned at an early age to hide himself, his thoughts and pain and feelings, to be the perfect son. His entire sense of self-worth was wrapped up in this image. He was taught about Christ’s “unconditional” love, but also that if he didn’t obey, God was an angry God, and he would burn in Hell, painfully and shamefully, forever. And it would look bad for his parents.

To be fair, Danny’s Father was one of that rare breed of Pentecostal who actually went to school to study the Bible, and who really believed what he preached. From his parents, Danny still holds an extreme sense of compassion, along with a temper that is quick to anger when he sees others being abused or taken advantage of. Danny’s family was very poor, due to his father’s chosen life, and they were often paid with farm goods, or truckloads of fish, or other such trade items when a Church had no cash. His Father worked other jobs to support his family—Meat packer, gas station attendant, Carpenter (to follow the ways of Christ)—as the churches paid very little. Later, when some of Danny’s siblings started to get into trouble, their Father stepped down from being a preacher, stating that if he couldn’t control his family, he couldn’t lead a flock. He lived what he taught.

But Danny learned early what it was like to defy the Church. God was angry, God was fear, God was the being in the 70s-era Second Coming Horror films he was forced to watch in church whose followers rejoiced as those who stood with them were put into the guillotine rather than suffer the Almighty’s wrath. Danny learned the dichotomy of the religion: God is love, but God is also anger and pain and death. His sense of self-worth was based on the idea that everything he was, everything good about him, came from God Himself. Any affront to his body—any sin—was a direct attack on God. Without Him, Danny was taught, not only would one burn in the fires of Hell for all eternity, but without God, life was worthless. Danny was worthless. He was nothing. The same beliefs taught by many American churches, who preach the same laws—God (the version taught by that certain sect) is everything. Humans are nothing without God. And, as there is only one “right” church, to stray from that particular institution’s view of God is the worst sin. As mentioned when our little tale began, Danny loved Jesus very much. He believed, and he wanted to be good. He wanted to make God, and his parents, happy. He wanted to be a preacher when he grew up just as much as he wanted to be an astronaut, or a marine biologist, or a doctor, or a journalist. He truly believed.

Danny easily forgave those in the Church who would sin—who would hurt or use others, who would beat their wives or molest their their children, and then be protected by the Church. It wasn’t Danny’s place to judge, that was God’s job. And they could pray to Jesus for forgiveness and be pure again. If Jesus could so easily forgive them, why couldn’t he? All he could control was himself, and he worked hard at this.

While Danny strove diligently to fill the role of that perfect son—learning early to act, to hide himself—he knew he was different. No, he didn’t know he was “gay.” He hand’t any idea such a thing existed, really. A naive lad, he only knew that, inside, he wasn’t what he was “supposed” to be. Sure, some of his interests melded with those of other boys. He liked skateboards and comic books. He liked getting muddy. His TV idol was The Six Million Dollar Man. He loved Batman and Spiderman. He wasn’t interested in Barbies, or wearing girls’ clothing, or baby dolls that peed or cried (though there was a brief fling with a Cabbage Patch Doll dressed in a Chicago Cubs uniform). He liked the music he was allowed to listen to (church and classical music exclusively).  And he didn’t particularly like playing with girls over boys. But Danny was tiny, so not very good at sports, though he loved running, and riding horses, and after interviewing a semi-pro hockey player at age 9, became obsessed with that sport (though didn’t really get into it until years later). He didn’t particularly enjoy making out with girls in the back of church vans, as was the norm. He liked to sing the snatches of old Gene Kelly songs he’d overheard. He played the flute, and enjoyed being in Church Musicals. His favorite pastime, above all else, was reading. He escaped into the pages of books he wasn’t supposed to have, hiding in the stacks of libraries and sneaking (temporarily stealing) books to read in the barn or the fields in secret. He consumed volumes, yearning for the inconceivable worlds beyond his own revealed in those pages. He became a pathological liar, in his head, creating his own stories which he tried to believe, to hide out in—to be a part of something new and exciting and … different. He knew he was not the same as others, not what he should be, and he became an excellent actor, hiding his true self behind a mask lest he disappoint. And he felt shame and self-loathing.

[To be continued …]

Danny Evarts. Danny Evarts smartly quit writing long ago to pursue things he is more interesting at. Having lived in many places the world over, and experimented with many jobs and career paths, he discovered he was best suited to the visual realm, with an emphasis on playing with other peoples’ words. He now works as Art Director and Technical Editor for Shroud Publishing (www.shroudmagazine.com), as well as doing freelance design and illustration (mostly in wood and linoleum block printmaking), and goofs around with various other forms from bookbinding to fiber manipulations. Danny obviously enjoys playing with new things. View more of his works at http://gallery.dannyevarts.net.

OTHER CONVERSATION STARTERS

-Road to Mo*Con VI: Guest Blog by Zoe Whitten
-Road to Mo*Con VI: Guest Blog by Lucien Soulban
-Road to Mo*Con VI: Guest Blog by Brad Grammer
-Road to Mo*Con VI: Guest Blog by Danny Evarts Part I and Part II

Hop – A Review

“The Reign of the Bunny is Over” aka “A tale of two slackers trying to find themselves”

For me the benchmark of animated characters meets live action is Who Framed Roger Rabbit? These sort of ventures are hit and misses, because for every Roger Rabbit, there’s a Space Jam.  So continue in the tradition of his cartoon/live action movies Alvin and the Chipmunks and Garfield: A Tale of Two Kitties, director Tim Hill brings us Hop.  Animated by Illumination, the group that brought us Despicable Me, Hop is a buddy movie teaming up slacker Fred O’Hare (James Marsden) and dodging his familial duties, E.B. (voiced by Russell Brand).

Fred lives with his parents (Gary Cole and Elizabeth Perkins) while he attempts to find himself and figure out what he wants to do with his life.  E.B. escapes his hidden retreat on Easter Island where the family business has been to serve as the Easter Bunny.  There are a lot of Willy Wonky-esque goings on, but E.B.—not ready to take on the responsibility of being the Easter Bunny—simply wants to pursue his interest in being a drummer.  The two meet in L.A. and hijinks ensue.

For some, this is the first salvo in a “War on Easter.”  After all, the movie explores the essentially blank slate of the mythology surrounding Easter and the Easter Bunny much in the same way Santa Claus is associated with Christmas.   But it’s hard to get too worked up over a movie so innocuous which turns on the machinations of a power mad chick (Hank Azaria) and our protagonist avoiding the a trio of highly trained girl bunnies, aka the “Pink Berets,” retrieval team.

“You have an aura of untapped potential.” –EB

The theme of the movie revolves around the idea of personal destiny.  The question of what you want to do with your life can prove daunting.  For some it’s a matter of finding your calling, following your passions, and figuring out what you’re called to do.  But not everyone is on board with your dreams.  As parents are sometimes wont to do, E.B.’s father called his dreams ridiculous.  For others, they run from their calling.  Like E.B., they may worry “What if I blow it?”, not wanting to let other people’s expectations down or otherwise being afraid to live into who they are.

Sometimes correcting this, or getting unstuck in life, is a matter of getting our identity straight; becoming secure in who we are.  We are known by God.  We are loved by God.  Yet we don’t always believe that and don’t always see how it plays out in our lives.  When our faith can’t get traction in our lives, we become stuck.  We misplace our identity, things get shifted, then our priorities change.  We want comfort, personal happiness, and the right relationship with that special someone rather than being a living billboard for God’s glory and love.  We end up not living up to our potential like we should, thus we need to keep being reminded of our true identity:  we’re children of God, known for exactly who we are, and loved anyway!

“What about your dream?” –Dad

I’m not going to lie:  I found Hop mildly irritating in its cloying, saccharine nature, though it had a few clever moments.  But I can be a bit of a curmudgeon.  My co-reviewer, in this case my youngest son (age 8 – because my oldest, at all of 9, felt too old for Hop), found it mildly amusing, “but not as funny as the person next to us.”  Of course, he then burst out in his own rendition of “I Want Candy” from the movie and recreated moments of E.B.’s silliness all the way home.