Sunday, December 24, 2006

Incarnation . . . Immanuel

Jesus is our childhood's pattern;
day by day, like us he grew;
he was little, weak, and helpless,
tears and smiles like us he knew;
and he feeleth for our sadness,
and he shareth in our gladness.
--Cecil Frances Alexander “Once in Royal David’s City,” verse 3

We all live off his generous bounty,
gift after gift after gift.
We got the basics from Moses,
and then this exuberant giving and receiving,
This endless knowing and understanding—
all this came through Jesus, the Messiah.
No one has ever seen God,
not so much as a glimpse.
This one-of-a-kind God-Expression,
who exists at the very heart of the Father,
has made him plain as day.
--John 1:16-18, The Message

And our eyes at last shall see him,
through his own redeeming love;
for that chlid so dear and gentle
is our Lord in heaven above;
and he leads his children on
to the place where he is gone.
--Cecil Frances Alexander “Once in Royal David’s City,” verse 4

Friday, December 22, 2006

The Gospel According to Mary, Part Four: Emulating Mary

Mary, the mother of Jesus, lived a hero’s journey. She’s surely not alone; many biblical characters can comfortably bear Joseph Campbell’s template. But Mary has proven her heroism. As such, we cannot simply venerate her; we ought to emulate her.

Mary’s heroism is linked to her self-identification as the Lord’s servant. In response to the herald angel she embraces her calling and lives it out in possibly its most challenging way. She attends to Jesus throughout his life, all the while letting Jesus go his own way. She stores up in her heart words and deeds that will over time come to change the course of history. She never leaves her life’s station, in the peasant class of a nation under bondage, but she transcends it nonetheless by enduring trial after trial and standing firm in her attentiveness to her son, her Lord.

Mary’s heroism is not simply a model for us; it’s an invitation. A simple life, we learn from Mary, is no excuse for the abdication of a heroic calling. Mary could be a hero where she was or where the Spirit led her: in Nazareth, in Bethlehem, in Egypt, at the foot of a cross. Mary could be a hero when she was unmarried and pregnant, when her son was embarrassing her, scaring her, breaking her heart.

Our hero’s journey as followers of Christ, as the family of God, will involve this kind of mother’s love, this kind of servant’s devotion. We are called upon to attend to Jesus, to do what needs doing in his service. We are called upon to store up Jesus in our hearts, to acknowledge and remember what he’s promised, what he’s done for us and for others. We are called to stand with Jesus, not drawing our swords but braving the stones thrown at him, attending to him even on the cross. Mary’s son is our son; Mary’s God is our God.

Like Mary we are given the ultimate boon and asked to carry it. Our otherwise normal life is changed by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. As another sort of theotokos, our own hero’s journey thus awaits us, propelled by the strength that the Lord gives us. Like Mary, we may endure many things and see no superficial change to our life’s condition, but one thing will definitely change: we will cross a threshold, we will no longer be satisfied with life on the shelf. We’ll be too busy living a life that others can emulate.


Merry Christmas from Loud Time. This season may you bear Jesus wherever he wants to take you.

Monday, December 18, 2006

The Gospel According to Mary, Part Four: The Shadow of Death, the Ultimate Boon

We've been exploring over the past few weeks the life of Mary, the mother of Jesus. We've looked at the gospel through her eyes and looked at her life through the filter of the hero's journey, made popular by Joseph Campbell and his many disciples, among them George Lucas, the creator of Star Wars. The hero's journey is a template that helpfully organizes most epic adventures, and Mary's experience is no different. Perhaps, in a way, neither is our own experience.

Mary's joy over Jesus' birth is interrupted by the prophecy of Simeon, who warns her that one day he will suffer and she will be devastated. The entire telling of her story and his sits in the shadow of this prophecy, but life must go on, and it does for them both. Last week we saw Jesus enter public ministry, and saw the personal and social trials and travails that this move created for his mother. This week we both their hero's journeys fulfilled in very different ways. But the path necessarily takes them through the shadow of death.

I'm currently reading Dietrich Bonhoeffer's Letters and Papers from Prison, which include a great deal of correspondence between him and his parents. Bonhoeffer's imprisonment led eventually to his death; I don't yet know what ultimately happened to his parents, but along the way their own life was shaped by his persecution. So it is with us; at Christmas we are reminded that Jesus bound himself to us to live in solidarity with the trials of the human experience, but we're also reminded that when we bind ourselves to him--for our own benefit--we are necessarily binding ourselves to his passion.

This week, think about the moments of hardship that have defined your life in various ways. Think of how a mother bears her children not only during pregnancy but during all the hardships that they endure. Think of how in many ways God is like a mother, bearing with us and carrying us through the "many dangers, toils and snares" that enter our lives through our acts of nobility and through our acts of foolishness. Think of the words of the prophet Isaiah: "Surely he has borne our iniquities." Embrace and celebrate the mother-love of God this week.


Jesus has pulled away from his family as he has brought together his followers; Mary no longer has a guaranteed audience with her son. This separation relegates Mary to the background for much of the remainder of the Gospels, until we reach Jesus’ passion, where Mary resurfaces at the foot of the cross. She watches her son die a horrid death; you might say that a sword has pierced her heart.

It’s here—in the moment of her greatest trial—that Mary encounters in her own son the divine ruler of the world. Jesus is revealed—the gospel is revealed—in his passion. God so loved the world that he gave his only son. Jesus is God and God is dead.

Mary mourns the death of her son while simultaneously mourning the death of her God. And then she encounters her risen Son, her risen Lord. All along she attends to him, treasuring up in her heart the things she has seen and heard and felt even as she prepares the spices and perfumes for her son’s proper burial. Her risen Son orders her and her company to return to Jerusalem, and then her God—her Son—is exalted to the highest heaven.

Soon thereafter Mary and her company are given the ultimate boon: the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. With Jesus’ story and God’s law now written on her heart, Mary takes this treasure and returns to the normal world—still under Roman occupation, still rigidly segregated by class, but now no longer held in bondage to sin and death. She is free, but life is different.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

The Gospel According to Mary, Part Three: Trials and Travails

The second Sunday of Advent brings us into touch with Mary's trials and travails on her hero's journey. They are, in a sense, the typical trials of a parent; I know this because I subjected my parents to more than their fair share of such hardships. But Mary's challenges were extraordinary because of the extraordinariness of her call. Mary was the mother of the Son of God who was also the son of Mary; if that's confusing to you, imagine how confusing it must have been for her. Enjoy this week's look at Mary the hero, and perhaps give some thought to how the trials and travails you're facing today may relate to the hero's journey that God has set you on.


Mary endures the typical trials of raising a boy, we can be sure, but she also faces the growing awareness of the scope of her son's heroic journey, and so she must contend with the gradual surrender of her son to the mission of God. At twelve he leaves his parents to take his place among the teachers in the temple. At thirty he enters into public ministry and is driven out of his hometown. He becomes an itinerant teacher, which is to say a homeless, jobless vagabond. He is ridiculed as “a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and ‘sinners.’”

These may seem like Jesus’ trials, not Mary’s, but consider the context. When Jesus is chased out of Nazareth his neighbors name him as the son of Mary; his shame falls on her. Another family faced similar scandal when their blind son was cured by Jesus; out of fear for their repuation that family chose to distance themselves from their son, for “anyone who acknowledged that Jesus was the Christ would be put out of the synagogue.” In the wake of Jesus’ bizarre behavior, his family’s honor was at stake; to stand with him would be to endure isolation from the larger community. Mary suffers on her hero’s journey as she chooses to attend to her son.

Meanwhile, the mystery of Jesus’ divinity is only gradually being revealed, and in the process his ties to his earthly family are steadily fraying. “Even his own brothers did not believe in him,” speculating instead that Jesus was "out of his mind.” While strangers flock to him, some members of his family pull away from him; but more to the point, Jesus' attention shifts from them to his disciples, so that for all practical purposes, Mary no longer has a guaranteed audience with her son.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006


Anyone going to be in the St. Louis area between December 26 and January1? The Urbana Student Missions Conference is taking place in downtown St. Louis, Missouri, and since several Loud-Time participants have indicated that they're thinking about/planning to go, maybe we can all meet up at some point. My schedule is pretty tight, as is probably anyone's who's involved with the conference, but lunches might work--or early breakfasts or really late-night snacks. I think I'm getting hungry.

Post a comment with some potential times if you're interested.

Spam of the Day--It's a Tie!

Subject Line #1:

That Tic Tac Feeling

Subject Line #2:

Don't Be Inadequate Anymore

Either one would be a great slogan for Tic Tacs, don't you think? Spam-flavored Tic Tacs, however, would be a big strategic blunder.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

The Gospel According to Mary, Part Two: The Hero's Journey

I'm not so classy as to actually keep current with the Advent calendar, so you'll notice that I missed the first Sunday of Advent with my post about the gospel according to Mary. Better late than never, I suppose. Today's post introduces the concept of the hero's journey and begins to explore how Mary's experience rivals the great epics of history. Read with care . . .

* * *

The hero’s journey is a mythic template made popular by Joseph Campbell in his book from the mid-twentieth century The Hero with a Thousand Faces. Campbell’s analysis of classical myth structures was influential during the writing of the Chronicles of Narnia and the Lord of the Rings, and served as a veritable style guide for George Lucas as he wrote the epic Star Wars. But Campbell’s research reaches not only forward but far backward; the hero’s journey can be consistently applied with only minor adjustments to all sorts of myths from all sorts of cultures. It can even be seen in the stories of major characters in the Bible. Campbell had the sheer moxie to apply the hero’s journey to Jesus Christ; I’m inclined to do the same with his mother.

The hero’s journey involves several stages broadly interpreted:

v Normal life is interrupted by
v a herald, whose call to adventure is met by
v refusal of the call, which elicits
v supernatural aid. Our hero then must pass through
v the first threshold, which is crossed in such a way that it
v appears to be death. Our hero must then
v endure trials before encountering
v the divine ruler of the world in
v the shadow of death, which must be endured. Our hero is then given
v the ultimate boon, and
v ordered to return.
v Life is now free but different.

The Gospels begin before Mary is pregnant; we meet Mary before we meet her Son. We learn of Jesus’ dedication at the temple not from the eight-day-old Jesus but from his mother, and we learn from her that Simeon and Anna called Jesus Messiah. We also learn from her that Simeon prophesied pain for her; her hero’s journey didn’t end with Jesus’ birth. She has a much bigger story to tell—a hero’s journey to fulfill.

The case for Mary’s heroic journey begins in her meager origins. She describes her life as a “humble state” (Luke 1:48). She is about to embark on a very normal married life among the peasant class of a kingdom under occupation when she is visited by a herald angel. “You are highly favored!” the angel cries. “The Lord is with you!”

Mary is “greatly troubled,” unable to fathom the possibility that she will carry to term, will raise as her child, “the Son of God.” But the herald reassures her, granting her the supernatural aid of the Holy Spirit and reminding her that “nothing is impossible with God.” Mary concedes and embarks on her first of many trials: the crossing of the first threshold.

The pregnancy of an unwed woman is still scandalous today, but not nearly so much as in first-century Palestine. Her betrothed receives a vision so that, rather than abandon her, he chooses to join her fellowship. She is given the support and the blessing of loved ones and strangers until her child’s birth, when she and her family must flee the wrath of an evil king. Our hero and her child escape the king’s killing spree and are presumed dead as they pass the first threshold, crossing alive into Egypt and entering into a long journey fraught with peril.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

The Gospel According to Mary, Part One

Right outside my church this summer was a thirty-five-foot tall statue of Mary, the mother of Jesus. I think it was made of metal.

The Mary outside my church was actually in the parking lot of the church next door. She’s known as Our Lady of the Millennium, and has been traveling across the country as a source of comfort and encouragement to Catholics throughout the United States. It’s an odd thought, taking comfort in a giant woman made of metal, but I've been prepared for such a phenomenon by DC Comics, which offers a similar option to comic book geeks everywhere in Natasha Irons, the super-sized super-powered Steel.

That’s different, though; Natasha is a hero; Mary is . . . well, what exactly is Mary?

I grew up Roman Catholic and became, through a circuitous route, a Presbyterian. Mary, as such, has played various roles for me, from near-divine coredemptrix to mere human vessel. I’ve alternately prayed to her and written her off. I’m tempted to compromise by calling Mary a saint and moving on, but the problem with saints is that they’re too easily placed on a shelf and forgotten. We venerate saints like Mary; meanwhile, we emulate heroes like Steel.

Steel, for all her heroics, is not a human being. She’s a commodity--manufactured, built to suit. By emulating a hero like Steel we simply congratulate ourselves for our moral sophistication and creativity. Meanwhile, up on the shelf sit saints made of flesh and bone and blood, offering by their lives a model of how life is best to be lived. So more recently I’ve taken to thinking of Mary not as a saint so much as a hero, and the chronicle of her hero’s journey as being her particular gospel.

I like to think of a gospel fundamentally as good news. The term good news implies the existence of a sender and a receiver; whether it’s news or not is determined by the bearer, and whether it’s good or not is determined by the hearer. If the news is ultimately deemed good, then the hearer will be inclined to think of the bearer as something of a hero.

As we read the Gospels we typically focus on Jesus, which is as it should be. But the very normal human life of the Son of God is an article of Christian faith, and so the very normal human family of God is important to his story. Throughout the stories of Jesus we see Mary pass through many noteworthy experiences, all of which, we’re told, she “treasured up . . . in her heart,” and ultimately passed along to the writers of the New Testament, hearers of the story she was bearing. Simply carrying the gospel, you might say, set Mary on something of a hero’s journey.

So this year during Advent I'll be reflecting on Mary as theotokos--"God-bearer"--as a way of preparing myself for the epic adventure introduced in the Christmas story. Along the way I'll be looking not for Mary the near-divine coredemptrix or the mere human vessel, and not even for Mary the saint per se, but rather the flesh-and-blood Mary who lived a life I can model my own after--a Mary I can emulate, a Mary I can call hero.

Monday, November 13, 2006

The Weather Outside Is Frightful . . .

But the audio is worse. Check out this atrocity found by Burnside Writers Collective, and the very interesting exercise in redaction criticism that accompanies it. It'll get you in the holiday spirit while simultaneously turning your stomach--impressive!

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Oh, Lord, It's Hard to Be Humble . . .

I read this on a blog:

There is nothing humble about a mega-church or a mega-pastor.

What do you think? What's humility look like when practiced in front of (and among) 10,000+ people? For that matter, what's a good working definition for humility in the context of a market-driven, celebrity culture? If character is who you are when no-one's looking, then does character even really exist?

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Link of the Day: All About the Accordion

Paul Grant, author of the forthcoming Blessed Are the Uncool, is all about the accordion these days. His two most recent posts are exploring the cultural phenomenon of cool in ways that brush up against accordion playing. Post one includes an insightful deconstruction of the Weird Al Yankovic video "White & Nerdy," which I keep making my wife watch because it's so dang funny. You can watch the video while reading Paul's stinging critique. Post two picks apart a USA Today profile of some youth in middle America who are learning the accordion as a means of carrying their ethnic heritage forward. Shame on them, suggests the author of the article. Shame on the author, suggests Paul.

I happen to own an accordion; I thought they were decidedly uncool until I heard REM use one--and then Jars of Clay, and then Counting Crows, and then the Decemberists. Turns out, as Paul points out, that the accordion was there at the beginning of rock n roll, in the tail of Bill Haley's Comets.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Economoholics Anonymous

From Shane Claiborne's Irresistible Revolution:

We are a community of struggle. Some of us are rich people trying to
escape our loneliness. Some of us are poor folks trying to escape the
cold. Some of us are addicted to drugs and others are addicted to
money. We are a broken people who need each other and God, for we have
come to recognize the mess that we have created of our world and how deeply we
suffer from the mess. Now we are working to give birth to a new society
within the shell of the old. Another world is possible. Another
world is necessary. Another world is already here.

From Steve Martin's The Jerk:

I don't want the money . . . I just want the stuff!
From "Overheard in New York" online:

Hobo: Spare some change?
Yuppie woman: Sorry. But would you like some prosciutto with melon?
Hobo: Yeah, okay.

--96th & CPW

Monday, October 16, 2006

Ketchup on My Reading

Carolyn (like "Bono") tagged me a while ago to respond to this survey. I'm finally getting around to it because I am an A-grade slacker. But then, you already knew that. I'll tag Dan Webster, Amena Brown, Kristi Reimer and Mike King.

One book that you have read more than once: Forgetting Ourselves on Purpose. I keep forgetting what it says . . .

One book that you would want on a desert island (besides the Bible): What to Eat on Desert Islands, and How to Eat It.

Book that made me laugh: Rush Limbaugh Is a Big Fat Idiot. (What was the question? Tee hee. I'll say Heretics by G. K. Chesterton.)

One book that made me cry: The Kryptonite Kid.

One book that I wish had been written: The sophomore release by Comic Book Character author David A. Zimmerman. Sigh.

One book I wish had never been written: I have no response to that.

Fact or fiction? I swing toward fact.

One book I am currently reading: Soul Searching: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of American Teenagers.

Awesome book that is empowering me: The Message of Samuel (The Bible Speaks Today).

Book I've been meaning to read: No Future Without Forgiveness by Desmond Tutu.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

The Bird Is the Word

I read an article on five-fingered praying--each finger on your hand representing people to pray for and about, from you (your pinky) to the most marginalized people in the world (the ring finger). Guess who gets the middle finger?

Pray for our leaders. Pray for leaders in the faith community, your local
leaders, your country’s leaders and the world’s leaders.

Man, I am so immature. Go to MethodX's Young Adult Network for a more adult sensibility about the practice.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

From the forthcoming Viking/Penguin book Righteous, an outsider's look at young conservative evangelicals, by journalist Lauren Sanders.

Christian youth is deinstitutionalizing the American church for the first time
in about 400 years. This evangelical movement isn't just about internally held
principles, it's a matter of lifestyle. Young evangelicals look so similar to
denizens of every other strain of youth culture that, aside from their religious
tattoos, the difference between them and the unsaved is invisible. After all,
shared culture is an opportunity for people to connect and gain one another's
trust. Culture -- your favorite music, sport, pastime, style, you name it --
presents an opening for evangelism. Once bonds are forged over a beloved band or
football team, then the Evangelical "message" can work its way into a
relationship. Once the message is heard, a world opens in which God's love, as
well as your cultural predilections, provide spiritual isolation from the
secular world. It's hard to imagine an aspect of secular culture lacking a
Christian counterpart: one can choose from Christian hip-hop ministries,
Christian military intelligence classes, or Christian diet groups in this mirror
The evangelical culture is rooted in place, and it's expanding every
day to swallow a generation whole.

I'm not sure the embrace of contemporary culture among evangelicals is all that new, and I'm pretty sure it's not based entirely on evangelitic strategy. I'd argue that evangelism is changing because evangelicals have embraced much of the broader culture, actually, and because I'm geeked out on Andy Crouch (see my post at Strangely Dim) right now, I'd very quickly prescribe exercises in creating new culture rather than simply assimilating or coopting the same ole same ole. I'd also be inclined to edit the grossly mixed metaphor of the last paragraph. But I could be convinced otherwise.

In any event, it's always interesting and a bit scary to hear how others describe you to one another. How close does this assessment of young evangelical subculture come to your assessment?

Spam of the Day

I've been afraid to follow the link, but I am fascinated by what distinguishes "violent cooperation" from everyday, run-of-the-mill cooperation--or violence, for that matter. I suppose the Hulk was a member of the Avengers for a while, and the only cooperation you can really count on from the Hulk is going to be violent, I guess. Maybe that's what they're doing: recruiting amoral, rage-driven superheroes. Any thoughts? Anybody daring enough to make the leap?

TO: Reggy Eartha (aka me):
SUBJECT: Job in USA (that's "Jahb" not "Jobe")

Good day Sir/Madam,
We inform you about new vacancies in Violent Cooperation Company.If you are interested in our offer, please, write an e-mail to our manager Donald Albanese and visit our website receive a Representative Contract and detailed information about this job.
Best Regards,
"Violent Cooperation" Company

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Bringing White Cultural TheftBack

I'm finding Justin Timberlake a bit annoying. I know, I know: bagging on a boy-band survivor isn't all that edgy, and maybe I'm just being petty, seeing as how he brought sexy back and I didn't. But there is one nagging little thing about the song "Sexyback" that I can't seem to shake, and it's not the fact that he sings off key or that he's a pretty-boy pop star trying to sound like Nine Inch Nails. It's that for some unfathomable reason, Justin Timberlake has decided that slavery is appropriate imagery for a white pop singer to sexualize, and America has backed him up on it.

"Baby . . . put me in shackles baby--
I'm your slave . . . I'll let you whip me
When I misbehave . . ."

Ooh, dehumanizing, degrading, culturally offensive imagery is soooo sexy--especially when sung through a distortion patch. So why is this OK? And I don't mean, Why can't anyone sing or make jokes about slavery? I mean, why is it OK for anyone--particularly a white person, from the south no less--to take the darkest chapter of American history and sexualize it, and then dance around it?

Maybe I'm over-reacting, but I really don't think so. Justin is not the first white pretender to black culture; go to Paul Grant's blog to get a glimpse at the line of progression, which runs through Elvis Presley, Vanilla Ice and Eminem, to name a few. Eminem and Justin Timberlake have been among the more respectful white interlopers; Justin's first solo album was pretty good (what I heard of it; it's not like I'm in the fan club or anything--really) and showed due respect to his musical influences. But it's one thing to coopt musical styles, it's another thing to appropriate cultural heritage and repackage it indiscriminately. If you ask me, it's a little like soaking a cross in urine and calling it art.

So, am I over-reacting, or should my wife stop thinking Justin Timberlake is cute?

By the way, check out to see some of my new favorite authors in all their pristine glory.

Friday, September 22, 2006

Church of the Lazy Mind

I'm working my way, these days, through the book Soul Searching, a sociological study of the religious and spiritual lives of American teenagers. The authors interviewed teenagers across the country to get a sense of what they believe and how they've come to those beliefs. While individual kids continue to identify themselves with particular traditions or denominations--Mormon, Catholic, Protestant, Jewish or, to a lesser extent, Islam, Buddhism or various pagan and new age beliefs--the authors identify a composite understanding of God that they've labeled "Moralistic Therapeutic Deism." Catchy, yes?

While the First Church of the Moralistic Therapeutic Deity has yet to be officially convened, the authors offer the following set of beliefs. Please rise as we recite the creed of the faith:

1. A God exists who created and orders the world and watches over human life on earth.
2. God wants people to be good, nice, and fair to each other, as taught in the Bible and by most world religions.
3. The central goal of life is to be happy and to feel good about oneself.
4. God does not need to be particularly involved in one's life except when God is needed to resolve a problem.
5. Good people go to heaven when they die.

Not quite as compelling as the Nicene Creed: "We believe in one God, the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth, of all that is seen and unseen . . ." Not even as sexy as the American creed that has guided civil religion over the past couple hundred years: "We hold these truths to be self-evident: That all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, that among those rights are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness." If the value of a creed is in its elegance, then signing up with the First Church of the Moralistic Therapeutic Deity is roughly akin to skipping past Martin Luther King's "I Have a Dream" speech to embrace the interracial vision of Rodney King: "Can't we all just get along?"

Nevertheless, a creed is a creed, and the five lines laid out in Soul Searching function as such. So, what do you think?

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

American Jihad

I happened to be in my car, listening to the radio during President Bush's speech to the U.N. General Assembly, and being the wordophile (?) that I am, I noticed the number of times he used the word struggle. "Struggle," of course, is the simplified, soundbyted (?) translation of the Islamic concept jihad. And I got to thinking, what would an Americanized concept of jihad be like?

Of course, there are other religious concepts that America could commodify if it so chose. The recent book The Gospel According to America dips the good news of Jesus Christ in red, white and blue, for example. But yet to be considered is American shalom, the Hebrew concept most often simplified and soundbyted (!) as "peace." What's American shalom look like?

I'm reminded of a papal soundbyte from decades past: "If you want peace, work for justice." Jihad and shalom are both represented, and the pope's signature gives it the aura of gospel. And as if Islam, Judaism and Christianity in one sentence weren't enough, what's more American than giving mad props to justice?

I'll tell you what's more American than giving mad props to justice: T-shirts, that's what. So in the spirit of American private enterprise as vehicle for world salvation, I propose a new t-shirt that will bring the big three monotheistic, Abrahamic religions together: "Good News: Shalom Is Jihad." There now, can't we all just get along?

Monday, September 11, 2006

I Grieve

I remember September 11, 2001. I remember how naively I began the day. I remember, having recently read the book Long Wandering Prayer, deciding to begin the habit of taking a morning walk in my new neighborhood. I remember picking up a hollowed-out walnut shell that had the natural markings of a peace sign, and I remember pocketing the walnut shell as a reminder of the tranquility of the morning. I remember deciding not to listen not to the radio on my morning commute, opting instead to listen to "Silly Love Songs" by Paul McCartney, which I had heard live recently and thought poignant. I remember the phone call from my bleary-voiced wife, who woke up to a DJ announcing that a plane had flown into the World Trade Center. I remember my coworker interrupting our prayers for the victims to announce that the tower was collapsing. I remember clenching my fists.

I remember September 12, 2001. I remember searching for a way to surface the sense of bewilderment, mixed with rage, that I was feeling but couldn't articulate. I found it in a song by Shawn Colvin, "Cry Like an Angel," the lyrics of which remains on the wall of my office: "The streets of my town are not what they were. They are haloed in anger, bitter and hurt. . . . May we all find salvation in professions that heal."

The hollowed-out peace sign remains in my office as well. May God grant us peace, despite all our efforts to the contrary.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Do You Have Danny De Vito in the Can?

I went to the bathroom with Danny De Vito last week. How awesome is that?

We went to LA for a vacation. When in LA your antennae are up for celebrities whether you want them to be or not. Everybody looks vaguely familiar, from the bus driver to the tailgater, and you find yourself wondering whether you've seen them in something before. The mystique about Hollywood is that you're never more than a few footsteps from a star.

We thought we might see George Clooney, Al Pacino, Matt Damon or Brad Pitt; we were on the lot at Warner Brothers Studios during the filming of Ocean's Thirteen. But no dice; the closest we got was Clooney's motorcycle. We thought we might get to talk to Charlie Sheen or congratulate Jon Cryer on his twenty-year anniversary of being Pretty in Pink's Duckie; we went to a taping of Two-and-a-Half Men. But no dice; the closest we got was about forty feet.

But Danny De Vito--I was within spitting distance of him. We went to a movie, and perhaps serendipitously, Danny De Vito got a hankering to see the same movie in the same place. And apparently he had too many free refills on his drink too, because we both made a beeline for the bathroom.

For the sake of full disclosure, I'll aver that we both averted our eyes. I didn't think it appropriate to tell him right then and there that I sort of liked him in Throw Momma from the Train, and he didn't seem particularly interested in signing autographs. So I settled for a nod of the head and a nice blog entry.

Danny De Vito played the Penguin in Batman Returns, the second film in the late-eighties/early-nineties Batman movie franchise. To be honest, he gave me the creeps. He was the child of aristocratic parents, but his awful deformities and animalistic demeanor embarrassed his parents to the point where they dumped him in the sewer. He was rescued and raised, inexplicably, by penguins. He nursed a rage against the fickle ostentatiousness of contemporary society that causes people to ostracize those who are different, and in his lust for revenge he terrorized Gotham City and made an enemy of Batman, who otherwise felt a certain solidarity with him. To be honest, Danny De Vito was the perfect cast; did I mention he gave me the creeps?

Later in my vacation, and perhaps more serendipitously, we came within spitting distance of a woman I haven't seen in ten years. Back then she was in the youth group I worked with; now she's in the same field as my wife. Good and devout, happy and hopeful--all grown up.

It's always gratifying to learn that the youth group kids you prayed for and lorded over grew up to not become resentful and detached. It's easy for the more socially awkward kids to do, frankly; a very common method in youth ministry is to cater to beautiful people with the hope that the different kids will want what they've got. I've been many things, but thankfully I was never so fickle or ostentatious as to ostracize young people who were different, and I've learned over the years that the different among our youth group appreciated that.

This young woman was one of the beautiful people; the comedian in the comedy club where we bumped into each other suggested that she probably didn't talk to me back in the day. But she did, and she did again last week, and in talking with her I learned that she's not in the habit of ostracizing people who are different, and I'm thankful for that.

Friday, August 25, 2006

Blow the Trumpet in Zion

Maynard Ferguson is dead. Read the obituary here.

Maynard was the coolest jazz trumpet player with the weirdest name in the jazz universe of me and my friends in high school. He could hit higher notes than anybody and proved a perpetual source of inspiration to my trumpet-playing friend Dan. He did a great cover of "Birdland," and his "Gonna Fly Now" was the sound of defiance for the Rocky movies until "Eye of the Tiger" came out.

Eras end with the death of jazz giants. I was in college studying jazz when Sarah Vaughn and Miles Davis died. I never play anymore, but I still feel a sense of loss today, probably mostly because I'm not sure who will take the place of Maynard in the imagination of adolescent trumpet players.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Stick Out Your Tongue and Say "Oooh"

I got an e-mail from Raven yesterday, alerting me to her site, My Air Shoes. She showcases special-edition designer shoes from around the world--a nice peek into a culture I didn't really know exists. I'm tempted by the Ultraman edition Nikes, but I've got bills to pay.

Go browse her site and then come back; I'd love to hear what you think. For me, this is an example of how the Internet has changed how we experience community; I've now bonded with somebody, somewhere, whom I'll never meet, about shoes--who'd have thought? What's the most interesting subculture you've discovered online?

I recommend, as a soundtrack for your tour of My Air Shoes, the song "In These Shoes?" by Kirsty MacColl, streaming here:

"Won't you walk up and down on my spine? It makes me feel strangely
I said, "In these shoes? Oh, I doubt you'd survive." I said, "Honey, let's
do it."

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

O For a Thousand Tongues to Sing

Sarcastic weekly The Onion has compiled a list of its favorite sung references to Jesus. Most are irreverant in the sense that they don't revere Jesus, but for the most part they're written as social commentary or as a foil for exploring more existential themes. Pretty interesting list--check it out here--with the sort of tone you'd expect from The Onion.

Come back when you're done and share your favorite Jesus lyric (with song title and artist) from a song or artist outside the Christian recording industry. If you can't get beyond Kanye West, go for songs that quote or directly paraphrase the Bible.

I'll get you started: Ben Folds, in his chronicle of a friend's conversion to Christianity ("Not the Same") sang with melancholy objectivity, "You gave your life to Jesus Christ, and you were not the same after that." We're left to decide for ourselves whether being "not the same" was a change for the better or for the worse.

One two three go!

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Too Loud for Comfort

I joined a new gym recently, and I now think perhaps I should have asked for a more thorough tour before joining.

I saw most of it--the six racquetball courts, the indoor and outdoor pools, the basketball court, the quarter-mile track, the free weights, the cardio machines, the bar. I even saw the lockers and sinks. I just should have taken three or four more steps.

Around the corner from the sinks with the complimentary shampoo, just past the sauna, overlooking the men's jacuzzi, are eight shower heads, put to regular use by lots of naked men.

Now I'm all for community--I think I've established that--but I'm not comfortable with communal showers, especially communal showers that overlook the jacuzzi--and that the jacuzzi consequently overlooks. This doesn't feel like a locker room so much as it does a Roman bathhouse. Ick.


I don't know where to look; I don't know how thoroughly I should wash myself. When I round the corner the octegenarians invite me to take their place because they're done and the other available showerheads have poor water pressure. I feel naked there because I am naked there.

I'm sorry. There are some moments that are meant to be private. You shouldn't even blog about them, probably.

Oh, wait . . .

Friday, August 04, 2006

You Say Potato . . .

No great insights; I just liked how this sounded on the radio traffic report . . .

"Eisenhower is an hour either way."

Or, with some creative punctuation,

"'Eisenhower,' 'is an hour'--either way."

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Two Decrees of Separation

So here's a couple questions that occurred to me as I read Generation Me by Jean Twenge:
  • Is it more important to decree someone as good or loved?
  • Would you rather be declared good or loved?

It's a fine point of distinction, I admit--so fine, in fact, that I'm not sure I know what the distinction is. Nevertheless, I think it speaks to a dilemma of our culture. I hear song lyrics like "I'm not OK" or "I'm not all right" and I currently can't seem to get out of my head the lyrics to Christina Aguilera's "Beautiful": "I am beautiful no matter what they say." If William Hung (God forbid) were to sing it, he might change the lyrics to "I have a beautiful singing voice no matter what they say."

The questions boil down, I suppose, to "What am I hoping to hear from others?" and "What does the world need to hear?" To kick it to the Bible for a minute, what was the rich young ruler in Mark 10 hoping Jesus would say, and what made Jesus' response right?

I'm not telling, I'm asking.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

The Ultimate Loud Time

I got a forwarded e-mail today that was surely intended as an exhortation to read my Bible more:

CELL PHONES VS. THE BIBLE I wonder what would happen if we treated our Bible like we treat our cell phones? What if we carried it around in our purses or pockets? What if we turned back to go get it if we for got it? What if we flipped through it several times a day? What if we used it to receive messages from the text? What if we treated it like we couldn't live without it? What if we gave it to kids as gifts? What if we used it as we traveled? What if we used it in case of an emergency? What if we upgraded it to get the latest version? Oh, and one more thing. Unlike our cell phone, we dont ever have to worry about our Bible being disconnected because Jesus already paid the bill!

I thought this was kind of cute. I immediately, of course, took pot shots at it:

What if we could switch our Bible to vibrate?
What if it had games and music and cool ring tones built in?
What if we read from the Bible in a really loud voice on the train or in restaurants or during movies?
What if we read the Bible while we were driving?
What if the people who sold us our Bible kept calling and e-mailing and text-messaging about system upgrades and supplemental junk that we didn't really need?

But I did think about the cultural message we send with our cell phones. Cell phones interrupt us all the time; we privilege potential phone conversations over the actual conversations we're having. We content ourselves with looking insane as we talk on a hands-free device while walking down the street. We've turned the Bluetooth earpiece into a fashion accessory.

That's the one that got me. I've just finished reading Girl Meets God, a memoir of one woman's journey through Orthodox Judaism and evangelical Christianity. She talks quite a lot about the lifestyle accommodations that Orthodox Jews make out of fidelity to their faith. Among them is the phylactery, a leather box worn on the arm or the forehead by Jewish men. Stuffed inside the phylactery is text from the Scriptures. You can't not notice phylacteries, and the message they send is shouted from Mount Sinai: "Hear O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is One!"

Christendom is awash in messagewear--Jesus fish, Jesus mints, pop culture images plundered and reconceived as Christian messages--all kept within easy reach for the unlikely spontaneous spiritual conversation with a non-Christian. I'm reminded of the Jetta commercial, in which Jetta drivers pass luxury and sports cars whose drivers shout through megaphones: "My parents never loved me!" "I'm compensating for my shortcomings!" The intended audience is barraged with a message it's often not interested in receiving.

The phylactery is not so much like these. It's more like the Bluetooth earpiece. The world looks on and gets one message--"I'm wearing something you're not accustomed to seeing"--and is left to wonder who's on the other end of the line, what's in the leather box. The wearer, meanwhile, endures the discomfort of looking odd in order to gain the benefit: a message intended for them, setting the course for their day.

I hate cell phones. But I kind of like phylacteries. To top it all off, their batteries never go dead.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Link of the Day: Amena Brown

Amena Brown is a slam poet based in Atlanta, Georgia. I met her at a conference, then met her again at another conference. She led us in worship at one and performed her poems at the other. Super-cool. She uses her myspace account to interview artists, poets and musicians; this week she's posted her interview with Malcolm Jamal Warner--Theo from the late-great Cosby Show. Read the intriguing interview here.

Monday, July 17, 2006

Spam of the Day

Here's a good one:

From: Madam Rita Mosley.
4 Old Church Street, Chelsea, SW3, England.
Here writes Madam Rita Mosley, suffering from
cancerous ailment. I am married to Sir David
Mosley an Englishman who is dead. My husband
was into private practice all his life before
his death. Our life together as man and wife lasted
for three decades without child. My husband died
after a protracted illness. My husband and I made
a vow to uplift the down-trodden and the
less-privileged individuals as he had passion
for persons who can not help themselves due
to physical disability or financial predicament.
I can adduce this to the fact that he needed a Child
from this relationship, which never came.
When my late husband was alive he deposited
the sum of 2.45 Million (2.45 Million Great
Britain Pounds Sterling which were derived
from his vast estates and investment in
capital market with his bank here in UK.
Presently, this money is still with the Bank.
Recently, my Doctor told me that I have
limited days to live due to the cancerous
problems I am suffering from. Though what
bothers me most is the stroke that I have
in addition to the cancer. With this hard
reality that has befallen my family, and me
I have decided to donate this fund to you
and want you to use this gift which comes
from my husbands effort to fund the
upkeep of widows, widowers, orphans,
destitute, the down-trodden, physically
challenged children, barren-women
and persons who prove to be genuinely
handicapped financially. I took this decision
because I do not have any child that
will inherit this money and my husband
relatives are bourgeois and very wealthy
persons and I do not want my husband's
hard earned money to be misused or
invested into ill perceived ventures.
I do not want this money to be
misused hence the reason for taking
this bold decision. I am not afraid of death
hence I know where I am going. I do not
need any telephone communication
in this regard due to my deteriorating
health and because of the presence of my
husband's relatives around me. I do not
want them to know about this development.
As soon as I receive your reply I shall
give you the contact of the bank in UK.
I will also issue you a Letter of Authority
that will empower you as the original
beneficiary of this fund. My happiness is
that I lived a life worthy of emulation.
Please assure me that you will act just as I
have stated herein. Hope to hear from you soon.
You can contact me through my personal
email address:
Madam Rita Mosley

If you'd like another outlet for your hard-earned money, however, I learned this weekend that the Lombard/Villa Park Hurricane Relief project is looking for funding to install two houses being built in Illinois and shipped to the gulf coast. Working with Habitat for Humanity International, we completed building the first one last Saturday in what was supposed to be a three-day project (on the hottest day of the year, I might add), so they're adding another house. But it costs money, so I figured I'd run it up the Loud Time flagpole and see who responds. Send checks to Lombard/Villa Park Hurricane Relief, 220 S. Main, Lombard IL 60148.

Whichever path you choose to follow, however, please promise me one thing: don't let those bourgeois pigs get hold of your money!

Friday, July 14, 2006

C'est la guerre, pussycat

Happy Bastille Day! On this day in 1789 French commoners, inspired by the fledgling American democracy, stormed the Bastille prison, where they freed a handful of political prisoners and seized a supply of the government's armaments. Soon thereafter came the French Revolution and a constitutional democracy that quickly devolved into the empire of Napoleon Bonaparte.

In honor of the occasion, I like to live French for a day, so I bought a French Toast Bagel for breakfast and endured poor customer service. I may have a cup of cafe au lait laiter.

Another good way of celebrating Bastille Day is by peppering your conversations with French phrases. "C'est la guerre (such is the war), pussycat" is from a cartoon and is often quoted by my friend Dave. Mr. Steve used to make me laugh with the world's greatest interjection, which just so happened to be French. If he doesn't post it, I will.

So please post your favorite French foods, phrases or peculiarities. Bon chance!

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Know Peace, Sell Peace

You know those bumper stickers that say "No Jesus, no peace; know Jesus, know peace"? That's what we in the biz call a homonym substitution--sounds the same but changes the meaning. Jesus sells bumper stickers; he also makes for an unusual means to an end: if you want peace, you're gonna need some Jesus to get it. Peace is a commodity for which Jesus is fairly traded.

I know peace is a commodity because of this:

That's right: buy peace, and you get more peace for free. That's like two peaces for the price of one. I found this graphic at the Hunger Site, one of my favorite places online, where advertisers will donate food for global distribution if you simply click on a tab. The poor get food, and you get the opportunity to buy peace.

I'm all for peace, and I respect the creators of the Hunger Site, but I found this ad a bit garish. If you look closely at the vinyl lunch bag and the travel mug you'll see the word cultivate in tiny, white letters above the big, all-caps word peace. "Cultivate Peace" is the tagline of the Hunger Site, and if you're going to be branded with something, that's as good a brand as any. But to be appealing to me peace needs a destination: peace with God, peace in the family, peace on earth and goodwill toward men. And women.

In those scenarios, peace is less the end and more the means. The end is relational--God and God's creation gets the peace we have to offer, and we get relationships with the parties of the second part.

Jesus, I suppose, was an advocate of peace. But he's a more passionate advocate of redeemed relationships. He advises us to "use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves, so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings." Buy peace, he might say, but give it all away for love, which lasts forever.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Creative License Revoked

Two comments I don't want anyone to miss. One anonymous comment from my dad, pointing out that at no time did I ever get pressured by my parents to perform athletically. My parents loved me just the way I was, thank you very much. In my defense, however, I did feel pressure to perform athletically--probably more because of my peers and particularly my female peers. My most vivid childhood memories, and my only athletic memories, involve me failing. So I still identify with "The Sporting Life," even though my parents never stopped loving me.

Comment number two from Mr. Steve forces me to own up to my literary mediocrity:

Students are required to:"Identify the meaning of metaphors based on literary allusions and conceits." Can anyone out there provide me with a good example. The textbooks these kids use are full of metaphors and allusions, but outside of T.S. Elliot I am hard pressed to find a good metaphor based on literary allusion or conceit.I want to give some teachers a good example of what this would look like. - Thanks.

I'm afraid I don't really know what Mr. Steve is talking about. That's why he's a Mr. and I'm just Dave, I suppose. My first pass has me looking to the Bible, where I would anticipate some allusions and conceits to find their source. I remember a line from a Doonesbury comic strip in which President Reagan lamented losing one of his cabinet members because his tax cuts for the wealthy made private sector work so much more appealing. "Hoisted by my own petard," I came to learn (much to my public embarrassment) originated not with Doonesbury but with Shakespeare.

If that's not what Mr. Steve is getting at, I look forward to my imminent enlightenment. At the same time, I'm wondering how much etymology we need to know about what we're saying to be able to speak with some cultural intelligence. Today I learned that barbarism shares a root with barber, and as such "barbarians" were people who wore beards. So barbarians weren't barbarians because they ate people or pillaged wantonly or whatever; calling someone a barbarian was simply a propaganda move. In that case, knowing the origins of the term makes the term less useful, doesn't it?

I hope that made me sound smarter. Sorry again, Daddy.

Friday, June 30, 2006

Meme Meme Me

I've been tagged by the great Lisa Cockrel, editor extraordinaire at Today's Christian Woman and a wonderful thinker/writer. Nobody's ever tagged me before, so I feel particularly special. And since I'm regularly accused of being a music snob, I'm especially motivated to show off. This should be a hoot. Here were my instructions:

List seven songs you are into right now. No matter what the genre, whether they
have words, or even if they're not any good, but they must be songs you're
really enjoying now. Post these instructions in your blog along with your 7
songs. Then tag 6 other people to see what they're listening to.

So, here are my seven songs, in no particular order:

1. Paul Westerberg, "Mr. Rabbit," from the album Stereo
This album goes back a few years, but I recently got it back after having loaned it out, and I've rediscovered how wicked cool it is. Paul Westerberg, former singer/songwriter for the Replacements, recorded the album in his basement, and the songs reflect the sheer rawness of it. "Mr. Rabbit" is an American folk song in the making.

2. Half-Handed Cloud, "You've Been Faithful to Us Clouds," from the album Halos & Lassos
Half-Handed Cloud is my new favorite band, and Halos and Lassos is my new favorite album, and so I'm reluctant to list only one song, especially when the title doesn't do justice to the rampant quirkiness of the music. But this is the track that I had on repeat for my whole commute today. Halos and Lassos is like the Beatles' White Album or the Beach Boys' Pet Sounds or They Might Be Giants' Flood, using the Psalms as a sourcebook. From Sufjan Stevens's label Asthmatic Kitty. Speaking of Sufjan . . .

3. Sufjan Stevens, "Casmir Pulaski Day," from the album Come On Feel the Illinoise
Best album of 2005, bar none, and an unbelievably tender, sad song. Sufjan is the great hope of music.

4. The Decemberists, "The Sporting Life," from the album Picaresque
A gift from my sister and brother-in-law, these guys are remarkable. I dig the song because it's about the moment of failure in a person's meager attempt to impress girls and live up to parental expectations by pretending to be an athlete. I can relate.

5. Death Cab for Cutie, "I'll Follow You into the Dark," from the album Plans
I'm a sucker for nerd rock. I saw this video online. Very creative, very touching.

6. Matisyahu, "Message in a Bottle"
The Police originated this song, but Matisyahu, the hasidic reggae sensation, is a natural to cover it. Again, I saw it online and don't think he's put it on a disc, but this is a song for the ages, and I'm glad to see someone true carrying it forward.

7. The Fold, "The Title Track," from the album This Too Will Pass
I knew the lead singer when he was the best high school drummer I'd ever heard. He's a great guy, a remarkable talent, and a constantly maturing, reflective soul. I'm glad to see he's following his bliss in music.

And now for the magic six:
1. Amena Brown
2. Allen Fawcett
3. Paul Grant
4. Pete Juvinall
5. Nancy Chan
6. Kristi Reimer

Get busy!

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

What Am I, a Piece of Meat?

Here's what had to say about an author who shall remain anonymous.

About the Author
size : 5.3 x 8.3

Poor guy: I'm sure he's very personable, probably has a great sense of humor, probably loves his family and friends. I'll bet if we met him at a party we'd think, There goes a handsome fellow or What an interesting conversation we just had; I'm glad I met that guy. Such is my industry, however, that we are always thisclose to reducing authors to commodities. We know authors principally through their writings, not through direct encounter, and so it's easy to mock them, to demonize them, or perhaps worst, to treat them as a product.

I recently told some would-be writers, "You are more than your writing." I think that's why I like blogging; the writing itself is as much a statement as it is an invitation. We write, and we are written back. Some of us even show our faces. Over time, as an outgrowth of consistent encounter, we are known more fully, even as we more fully know.

Friday, June 23, 2006

Dirty Talk

I just recently discovered the television show Rescue Me. It's the story of life as a firefighter, starring Denis Leary, on the basic cable station FX. The first thing I noticed, to be perfectly honest, is all the dirty talk.

There are, according to George Carlin, seven words you can't say on television, but I've heard several of those very words on Rescue Me. I couldn't believe it at first--I thought perhaps I'd wandered over to HBO, or plugged in a DVD in my sleep. But there they were, dirty word after dirty word, waking me up and serving me notice.

These new language games aren't isolated to deep slots on the television dial. Coarse language and thinly disguised euphemisms are becoming more common in commercial advertisements on the major networks, on billboards, in print and online. I know of a local restaurant that uses slang terminology for an erection as its tagline. Ruins my appetite every time.

Now, I was a junior high boy once, so I know the visceral appeal of dirty talk. And I was still juvenile enough during my constitutional law class in college that I committed to memory the case that protects our right to free vulgar speech (Cohen v. California, in which a young man was arrested for showing up at the courthouse wearing a jacket that read "F--- the Draft"). But most of the drift toward vulgarity in culture is unconscious, with very little circumspection guiding the process. So I'd be interested in hearing your thoughts about
  • why people use vulgar language,
  • what makes it vulgar,
  • how vulgarity shapes our worldview and behavior,
  • how our worldview and behavior shape our approach to vulgarity,
  • and what we ought to do about either ourselves or the world around us as a consequence.

Have fun! Show your work! Tell your friends! It'll be interesting to see how I react to the comments on this one.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Super Duper

Whenever a superhero movie comes out people send me all the news clips. Usually that's great, except that in the case of Superman Returns, I'm getting clips that promote someone else's book.

That made me sad, so I went to Amazon to see if anybody still cares about Comic Book Character. Sales are kind of stinky, to tell you the truth, but I did find a new review posted that's really nice. Supposedly the guy is a "top 500 reviewer," so that's got to count for something. Here's what he wrote:

I have long seen comic books, at least superhero comic books, as more than
mere entertainment. I share this view with the author. Indeed, we both seem
to see the world as fallen- and in need of the inspiration that comic books,
at their best, can provide. This book is a well-reasoned look at the
legitimacy of the comic book as moral teaching aid in everything from
social justice to the metaphysical nature of good versus evil. It is written in
an enjoyable, informal, non-academic style (it is documented with footnotes, but
mercifully they are included at the back where you can ignore them if you
_My only real complaint is that there are so many examples that
could have been included but were not. For instance, the Spectre, who as the
embodiment of the Wrath of God is the most theologically and metaphysically
relevant of characters, is only mentioned a single time in a single
sentence. The same goes with the complex Sandman mythos- mentioned a single
time in a single sentence. Such potentially fascinating characters as
Hellstorm (son of the Adversary) or Grimjack (walked out of heaven to help
his friends) are totally ignored. Even the original Captain Marvel (part man
and part God - with the wisdom of Solomon) is likewise ignored. Yet, I
suppose that there are only so many examples that can be fit into a book of
this size.
_Still, the examples that are given are well explored (especially
Superman, Captain America, and the Green Lantern/Green Arrow partnership.) A
prime specific example would be Green Lantern's eventual understanding that
law and order (accidentals) are less important than truth and justice
(essentials.) I could easily see this book becoming the starting point for
any number of discussions on what constitutes a true hero and heroism.
Indeed, I found myself wanting to argue on numerous points...
_As for this being strictly a Christian perspective, it truly seems to
me that the core concepts of Truth, Justice, and Good- as well as the heroic
archetypes that embody them- could be held to be more essentially Platonic in
nature. But that would be another discussion.

Isn't that nice? This weekend I'll be writing a very brief "Sympathy for Lex Luthor" for Christianity Today Online, which will post sometime next week. I'm starting to feel better now.

Link of the Day

My wife is away this week, speaking to community leaders in rural Kentucky about the problem of domestic violence. My friend Margaret Feinberg had a recent post about the problem of domestic violence and contributing factors in rural Alaska that included a photo of a bumper sticker you wish there were no reason to print. Read the string of comments too for an interesting and heartfelt conversation about where to serve in a world full of hurt.

Monday, June 19, 2006

Mean Girls Love Spam of the Day

Here's the spam of the day:

"She is tailwind visual aristotelean. She is cruddy clarinet sowbelly bronzy."

Sounds like the makings of a great pop song--or graffiti on the bathroom walls at the school of the arts. I don't know what they're saying, but I certainly hope I'm not bronzy.

For the unhip, "bronzy" is bad--as opposed to the cool lingo of my current favorite defunct television show, Firefly, in which "shiny" is good. If you're tired of trying to stay cool like me, check out Paul Grant's blog, by clicking here or scrolling through my links.

Swallowed any good spam lately?

Friday, June 16, 2006

A Good Reason to Love God and Tolerate John Calvin

Came across this line from John Calvin today: "God accommodates himself to our weakness." Not having read much of anything by John Calvin, but having plenty experience in weakness, I'd say that's a pretty happy statement.

The question that flows out of it, I suppose, is this: how accommodating of the weaknesses of others am I typically willing to be? Assuming that becoming like God is a noble pursuit, how do I become more accommodating? And what do I have to sacrifice along the way?

Monday, June 12, 2006

Nineteen New Reasons to Check E-mail

This weekend I took part in a gathering for InterVarsity Press with nineteen invited guests from across the country, all there to talk about Likewise (see my earlier post "Papa's Got a Brand New Pet Project"). I had a great time getting to know all these people, expanding my worldview and absorbing various perspectives on the needs of the emerging culture which Likewise may be able to address. I was called a twisted nerd and branded as one of the "Scum of the Earth." We listened to soul music, eighties rap and slam poetry. We loitered at restaurants and saw Chicago from a great height. We ate like idiots and made inappropriate jokes about donkeys. And now I have nineteen new friends. Nice work if you can get it.

The theme of the Likewise Gathering was "Come and Be." The tagline for the Likewise line of books is "Go and Do." Time will tell what gets done as a result of this gathering, but I certainly enjoyed being with everybody. I'm sure I'll continue to reflect on my experience of the weekend--there are professional but also personal lessons I can take away from the event--but for now I think I just need some sleep.

Wednesday, May 31, 2006

The Politics of Comedy

Further to our discussion in the post "Humor Us," I found what follows in an article about the White House Correspondents Dinner in early May. "So Not Funny" by Richard Cohen at takes issue with Stephen Colbert's performance as the host of the dinner, which usually involves a prolonged roast of the president.

[Speaking truth to power] is a tired phrase, as we all know,
but when it was fresh and meaningful it suggested repercussions,
consequences -- maybe even death in some countries.
When you spoke truth to power you took the distinct chance that
power would smite you, toss you into a dungeon or
-- if you're at work -- take away your office.

But in this country, anyone can insult the president of the United States.
. . .
Bush himself plays off his reputation as a dunce and his penchant for
mangling English. Self-mockery can be funny. Mockery that is insulting
is not. The sort of stuff that would get you punched in a bar can be said
on a dais with impunity.

I'm a big fan of speaking truth to power, but is the kind of confrontation that can get you killed or worse, fired, the only means of getting truth in power's head? What about the jester--the only person talking sense to King Lear in the play King Lear? What about "constructive engagement"? What if I want to speak truth to power and live to tell about it?

The biblical Esther spoke truth to power, I suppose, but first she fattened power up quite a bit--ironically while she herself was enduring a fast. She wound up getting what she wanted. How do we determine what posture to take toward power when power needs a good truth-speaking?

Friday, May 26, 2006

Humor Us

If you tell a joke in an empty hallway, and no one laughs, is it still funny?

What if you tell a joke in a room full of people and no one laughs--is it funny then?

I've been MC-ing the Alpha Course at my church, which has been an ongoing lesson in humility. I occasionally indulge the fantasy of hosting a late-night talk show a la Carson Daley (if he can do it . . .), and I fancy myself a pretty funny guy, but this crowd of Jesus-loving churchgoers started heckling me before I even stepped up to the microphone on the first day, and they haven't yet stopped.

I've felt pretty uncomfortable with the formality of the role, to tell the truth; to prove that Alpha is an opportunity to have fun at church, we have to have one official, formal "joke" as part of each night's festivities. The gag is part of the liturgy, you might say. I'm generally much more comfortable with off-the-cuff, give-and-take banter with the audience, out of which humor generally emerges. So I've actually enjoyed the heckling, for the most part: it's like postmodern stand-up comedy(TM).

What I've not been prepared for is the stunned silence that follows what I expected would at least get a chuckle. Last night I gave a top ten list of signs that your pastor is in need of a vacation. (I got it off the Internet, so it must be funny.) My number one reason was "He's starting to look a lot like Moses--and Moses has been dead for four thousand years." No laughs, no groans, no mutterings, nothing. You could have heard a tree fall in the woods from the comfort of your own living room, that's how dead silent this group was.

In fairness to me, our group was half its normal size, due to the Memorial Day weekend. I like to think that all the really sophisticated senses of humor left town. But it makes me wonder: what's essential to shared humor? What should postmodern stand-up comedy(TM) look like?

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

It's (Not) Your Thing

I just completed a course on leadership. (You will all bow before me!) One of our assignments was to come up with proverbs related to leadership--little truisms that we've come across in our travels. I immediately and persistently recalled something a friend of mine said about six months into his tenure as senior pastor of his church:

"Being a leader means not getting to do what you want."

I never shared it in my leadership course, because I think it would have derailed discussion somewhat. But I would like to hear what other people thing about it: Is my friend right? Is he way off base? When does a leader get to do what he or she wants, and when does what he or she wants get in the way? And how does this quote relate to our earlier discussion of delegation (see "Delegators in the Sewers"; I can't believe I'm bringing this up after being spanked about it by almost everyone I know).

Please comment freely. I'm looking forward to hearing what you have to say.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Well, Shut My Mouth

Check out my new favorite part of the Bible:

If only you would be altogether silent!
For you, that would be wisdom. (Job 13:5)

A problem with loud time is that it's, well, loud. By championing loud time I don't mean to insinuate that people don't need times of quiet--times where they simply listen to God, times where they simply exist. I ran across a nice conversation about praying between Mother Teresa and an interviewer: "What do you say?" She replied, "Nothing. I just listen." The interviewer countered, "Well, what does God say?" "Nothing," she replied. "He just listens."

She's deep. I don't even know what she means, that's how deep that is. I don't even know where I read it, that's how inscrutable that is.

I must confess, I'm drawn to this verse from the book of Job mostly because I think it'll be funny to throw at the authors I edit when I think they're rambling. But it's a pretty arresting thought in any context. Here Job confronts somebody who's trying to make him feel guilty for no good reason. But later he realizes he's offended God, so he turns the idea on himself:

I am unworthy—how can I reply to you?
I put my hand over my mouth. (Job 40:4)

How often am I being loud just for the sake of reassuring myself that I still exist? I choose assertion over the simple pleasure of existence.

Oh great, now I've got the song "Let My Words Be Few" in my head. I'll just have to switch over to Common: "I just wanna be . . . be . . . be . . . be . . . be."

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Papa's Got a Brand New Pet Project

Likewise is a new line of books from my publishing house, IVP Books (an imprint of InterVarsity Press, a division of InterVarsity Christian Fellowship/USA, a member of the International Fellowship of Evangelical Students, and so on and so forth). I've named the guy Tony and the donkey Ferdinand, in honor of Anthony of Padua, the patron saint of donkeys. Check out this wicked-cool legend:

"Anthony (of Padua) once held the Blessed Sacrament high above his head and a
nearby donkey dropped to its knees, causing its owners to convert to
Catholicism; now Anthony is the patron saint of donkeys and horses."

I don't want to hog all the fun, though, so if you're inclined to name stuff, post your proposals.

Today I Ate a Dog

So my last post was a whiney rant about being on the receiving end of delegation. Yesterday my wife and I went to a taping of Late Night with Conan O'Brien, featuring his guest Dave Chappelle, and now I feel better.

Chappelle, you may know, became an overnight national sensation with his sketch comedy The Chappelle Show, only to walk away from the show almost before breakfast. He told some of his story to Conan; he took a trip to Africa to "hide," and as he talked there about the stress he was feeling over this sudden influx of money and media attention, an African told him, "We have a saying here that may help you to gain some perspective. At the end of the day each day, I say to myself, 'Today I Ate a Dog.'"

The lesson, for Chappelle and I suppose for me, was that in an age of famine and AIDS, most of us need to remind ourselves to "get over your whiney self."

I'll make a quick case for loud time: Chappelle needed someone other than himself to help him gain perspective; facing his problems in isolation was, for him and I suppose for me, an inescapable dilemma. In that respect, whining about my identity crisis on my blog is better (for me at least; I won't speak for you) than crying myself to sleep at night in my huge pillow.

My wife and I have a rock in our living room. It says, "We need each other." "We" in the sense of she and I, to be sure, but the rock came to us in a much larger context: we, human beings, need each other. Maybe God put it better: "It is not good . . . to be alone."

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Delegators in the Sewers (or, Delegator Gonna Getcha!)

Lately I'm finding myself highly irritable in the face of delegation. Maybe it's because I'm so often the delegatee rather than the delegator, but I do have some philosophical problems with the practice.

First off, it seems to me that delegation is most often driven by a dumping impulse: "I don't like this, so I will compel someone else to do it for me." Second off, it seems to me that inherent to delegation is the assertion "I am more important than you." In either case, delegation strikes me as driven by a heightened sense of self and a diminished sense of the other.

Now, maybe that's natural, instinctual even, and I should just learn to deal with it. Maybe I'm doing it myself and just don't realize it. And maybe I chafe against delegation because I myself am a horrible delegator and a people-pleaser who nevertheless likes to complain about stuff. (I'm a 9 with an 8 wing--mad props to the enneagram!)

I mean, it's not as though people hold a gun to my head as they ask me to sharpen their pencil or organize their e-mails. I could say no to their requests, even though I've been a yes-man for three-plus decades.

Nevertheless, being delegated to these days is not just a mild irritant, it's a crisis of identity and vocation. Why me? What is making people think they can unload their responsibilities on me? Or am I just putting the best spin I can think of on my own tendency to privilege my agenda over the agendas of others? Am I being too independent or too codependent? Am I being too proud or too meek? Or both? Or neither?

Maybe this is a developmental stage; maybe the inevitable transition from delegatee to delegator starts with this kind of rage against the delegating machine. Maybe I should take some baby steps, get in a little practice. Here goes: Who wants to mow my lawn for me? Anyone? Anyone?

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Even though my friend Mr. Steve dogged on me in his comment (by paraphrasing Ezra Pound, no less!), I thought I'd quote him to see what people think about a new subject:

Intellectual Property is the new frontier. The web-gen thinks it's their manifest destiny to be able to do with all electronic content as they please.

Intellectual property is, as you might imagine, a perennial subject at the publishing house with which I work for (I'm an editor). We're ferocious about protecting content; I've known people to actually invoke the phrase "Cease and desist!" On the flip side, the junior-high confirmation class at my church--people on the verge of spiritual and ethical adulthood, right?--keep wanting to borrow my CDs so they can burn them onto their MP3 players. (Not all of them, of course; Generation Z doesn't seem to have developed a taste for Crowded House.)

It's like David versus Goliath. Wait, that's not quite right. It's like Luke Skywalker versus the Death Star. Oh--I don't like that either. Is it like Gulliver versus the Lilliputians? Someone give me an example that's more morally complex than these!

So my question to all of you is, how do we solve the crisis of intellectual property?

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Information Requested, So I'm Told

Here's the spam of the day, complete with not one but two references to lice. Sounds like a draft plotline for the soon-to-be-released hit film Barnyard:

A jersey cow beams with joy, because a pathetic pickup truck non-chalantly finds
lice on the fried judge. Any food stamp can knowingly bury the imaginative
burglar, but it takes a real pork chop to teach a fire hydrant over a lover. For
example, an often overpriced blood clot indicates that the class action suit
toward a deficit finds lice on a stovepipe inside a ski lodge. When you see the
skyscraper from the freight train, it means that an usually highly paid cheese
wheel goes to sleep.

Leave all this spam lying around, you're bound to get lice. Can you top it?

Friday, April 21, 2006

Thursday, April 20, 2006

What's My Age Again?

What do you think of this comment from Byron Spradlin, president of Artists in Christian Testimony?
We have left the AGE of the ORATOR and have entered the AGE of the

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Time Is an Occupation

Talking about time is difficult. Time isn't a commodity, I'm convinced. So I try to avoid language of "using" or "spending" time. But I wind up spending a lot of time figuring out how to use time in a sentence. Oops--I did it again.

So today I was reviewing some scribbles and noticed the phrase "how we occupy our time." I like that--it gets at the vocational nature of time: our time is not our own, and thus we are accountable for it. We inhabit it, we live and move and have our being within its borders.

Then I ran across "The Dry Salvages" (no. 3 of "Four Quartets") by T. S. Eliot. I'm going to linger on it a while. For the full piece, click here.

Men's curiosity searches past and future
And clings to that dimension. But to apprehend
The point of intersection of the timeless
With time, is an occupation for the saint—
No occupation either, but something given
And taken, in a lifetime's death in love,
Ardour and selflessness and self-surrender.
For most of us, there is only the unattended
Moment, the moment in and out of time,
The distraction fit, lost in a shaft of sunlight,
The wild thyme unseen, or the winter lightning
Or the waterfall, or music heard so deeply
That it is not heard at all, but you are the music
While the music lasts. These are only hints and guesses,
Hints followed by guesses; and the rest
Is prayer, observance, discipline, thought and action.
The hint half guessed, the gift half understood, is Incarnation.

Monday, April 17, 2006

That and a tax return . . .

Our federal tax return this year is four dollars--just enough to buy a small (grande? venti? picante?) cup of Starbucks. Lucky me, my wife started drinking coffee a week before tax day.

So, should I be more troubled that my tax return covers only a cup of coffee, or that a cup of coffee uses up my entire tax return?

Monday, April 10, 2006

All This Talk of Donald Miller

You wouldn't believe how many times I've had people gushing over Donald Miller, author of the admittedly enjoyable Blue Like Jazz. Today, however, I finally crossed over to groupiness. I sum up my devout effusion--my barbaric whomp, if you will--with one sentence from his article "Tolkien Was No Hobbit!"

I’m not trying to sound condescending, which means to talk down to

Ha ha! That's hilarious! I wish I'd thought of it. Mad props to Donald Miller.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Driving My Wife to Drink

This week marked fifteen years for me and my wife as a couple. And as of this week I can now say that I've driven my wife to drink.

Coffee, that is. Up till now she has resolutely refused to join me in the crack-den of coffee drinking despite all my wooing and enticing, despite the alluring smell of Southern Pecan wafting through the morning air in our house. The best part of my waking up has held no great attraction for her.

Until this week, that is. This week a client marched into her office, shoved into her hands a styrofoam cup of 7-11 French Vanilla cappucino mixed with decaf drip-brewed coffee, and ordered her to drink it. She complied, and instantly became a coffee groupie.

Since then she's been to 7-11 several times. I've driven her there once. I'm hoping to raise her standards over time, but at the very least, for our next fifteen years we can exchange the knowing glances that coffee drinkers exchange whenever milk is steamed.

Here's what Robert Banks says in The Complete Book of Everyday Christianity about coffee drinking:
Coffee is more than a beverage. . . . Coffee is a universal language, a
kind of multiracial, multilingual, multicultural Esperanto enjoyed by people
of all ages.

If you're a coffee drinker, please take a moment to welcome my wife into our global village.

Thursday, March 30, 2006

Improv Under Where?

This week I've been back in contact with a couple of friends with a background in improvisational humor, and so I've been reminded of how desperately I covet a background in improvisational humor. A few years back I was hearing a lot about "flash mobs," which are nicely described at the following link:

That's right, I'm directing you to Satan's laundromat, which probably is not terribly dissimilar from every other laundromat.

Anyway, more recently I heard something similar described as "improv anywhere." So I figured, if improv can take place anywhere, why can't it take place where I work?

For a while at my office, then, several of us were meeting intermittently to take a comical/critical look at Christian publishing. We intended eventually to share our hilarious observations with our coworkers, but over time the chief offenders "left the company," and our essentially subversive cultural analysis left with them.

Somewhere along the way, though, we met up with some like-minded folks from yet another Christian publishing outlet, and now that I've recently heard back from nearly all the concerned parties, there's a chance we may be able to get something going again. Because we're also publishing nerds (I mean no disrespect), our get-togethers will likely devolve from practicing improvisational humor to reflecting theologically on improvisational humor. That would be fine with me, though; I approach it more as social experiment than as performance art anyway.

For example, I attempted my own "flash mob" some time ago, recruiting several friends to pretend to help me search for a lost contact. Some people helped look, others stepped lightly so they wouldn't crush the contact, others just thought we all looked a little weird. I had hoped to uncover (a) who's willing to play along with such games and why, and (b) how people respond to an unusual but arguably explainable phenomenon. We only did one flash-mob; I haven't been able to come up with any other ideas, and nobody else (to my knowledge) has volunteered anything, so the experiment seems to have failed. It was fun while it lasted though.

More recently I've conspired with a pair of coworkers to do something unusual right under the noses of our colleagues during our weekly departmental break. That's been more manageable and arguably more fun; it's a more controlled setting with an easier debrief process, and we've nearly been caught a couple of times. What I'm not sure about is where to go with it: am I serving some larger purpose by pursuing this life-improv, or am I just entertaining myself?

I'd say that I am learning something about myself on the way, and probably a bit about my coworkers and the group dynamics present in our department. There's another concern, however: I am generally, unconsciously tempted toward a sense of detachment in a lot of my relationships, so to do experiments like this may be reinforcing an otherwise subtle superiority complex. Maybe my co-conspirators mitigate that part, since I'm at least accountable to them, but who really knows the limits of the soul's capacity to cajole and delude itself?

This week we forgot to come up with something, which is a bit funny in itself--I feel irresponsible for having not played a trick on my friends. Maybe that's why I made all of you think "underwear" when you started reading this post.

Ha ha! Burned!

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

downtrodden pumpkinseed employee

That's the title of my spam of the day for March 28, 2006. I suppose if I worked for a pumpkinseed, I might be a bit downtrodden myself.

Think you can top my spam of the day? Post a comment.

Monday, March 27, 2006

Myth Manners

I got to take part in a collective interview about the role of myth in shaping worldview, organized by Alex Ness, moderator of Pop Check it out here, then come back to comment at Loud Time. I'd be interested in hearing your own thoughts about myth and how you came to think such madness.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Are There Suburbs in the Blogosphere?

My friend Al Hsu has entered the fray! He's blogging at The Suburban Christian, which is coincidentally the name of his forthcoming book. Al's one of my favorites--a great friend and a great thinker--so check him out when you have the chance.

Friday, March 17, 2006

Much Ado About Jesus

Yesterday I read a post that suggests that, to protest the mistreatment of Jesus in the book and forthcoming film The Davinci Code, to send a message to Hollywood that people of faith want movies that show due deference to their faith traditions, we should not only not go to The Davinci Code its opening weekend, we should instead plan that weekend to go see something more faith- or family-friendly, such as the animated feature Over the Hedge. Box office results for the weekend would thus reflect not simply what Hollywood looks like without a Christian audience but what a Christian audience can do to Hollywood.

Sounds menacing, doesn't it? Setting aside for a moment the debatable question of whether Over the Hedge is morally or spiritually superior to The Davinci Code, I'm troubled by the trend to fight spiritual battles through the sacred act of consumption. It's not new this summer. The Davinci Code is the third major release in as many years to play explicitly to spiritual appetites: The Lion, the Witch & the Wardrobe and The Passion of the Christ both actively solicited whole churches to turn moviegoing into evangelistic events. The Lord of the Rings trilogy missed the boat, from a marketing perspective, but a more organic, grass roots movement contributed to a similar outcome for those films. And as I've discussed over at Strangely Dim, there's no end to the published resources that plunder NetFlix and I-Tunes for sanctified profit. And as I confessed readily, as the author of a book about superheroes, I'm chief of sinners.

Marketplace jihad isn't limited to the film industry; in the months following the September 11 terror attacks, Americans were encouraged to fight evil by buying cars--and those not Batmobiles that we would subsequently drive from here to Baghdad, where we would liberate Iraq, but minivans with side-impact airbags and drop-down DVD monitors, where we would watch Dreamworks movies with built-in previews for family- and faith-friendly films such as Shrek and Over the Hedge.

I guess I'm disturbed that people are so quickly and summarily defining the power of people of faith within the constraints of economics and demographics. When challenged with the idea that people are unlikely to have their core commitments changed by seeing a film that they already know the plot to, such as The Davinci Code or for that matter The Passion of the Christ, one blogger waved her virtual hand and wrote, "The Davinci Code is evil."

But people aren't likely to have their core commitments changed just by such a simple transaction as the willful but ephemeral exposure to or isolation from a teeny weeny little movie or book. The change comes in the charged atmosphere surrounding those little transactions. All this talk of The Davinci Code, all the talk about The Passion of the Christ, forced to the surface people's unspoken and often unconsidered notions about who Jesus was and what he means for today.

Personally, I'm not interested in seeing The Davinci Code; it looks like the kind of thriller that fails to thrill. I'm much more interested this summer in X3, which will explore weighty themes of identity and transformation, and Superman Returns, which will in its own way prompt discussions of good and evil.

In the book Freakonomics, economist Steven D. Levitt shows how real change comes not through the belligerent distribution of funds but through the redistribution of knowledge. I like what he says because he gets an example from Superman.

It seems that the Ku Klux Klan was in a fresh ascendancy shortly after World War II ended. Stetson Kennedy was a white man who saw firsthand the brutality of the KKK exercised against his family's maid; he decided that the Klan was the country's greatest threat.

Kennedy decided to infiltrate the Klan and learn its secrets, planning eventually to make those secrets public. The problem was that the Klan was so firmly planted in the cultural establishment that turning over secrets to police departments, newspapers and other first responders was unlikely to bring the Klan to justice. Kennedy landed on a brilliant plan: he contacted the producers of the Superman radio show, who created a multi-story arc pitting Superman against the KKK.

Within months, millions of kids were playing Superman--the hero--versus the villainous Klan. A few kids would publicly display the secret handshakes and code language of the KKK, until another kid would swoop in, playing Superman, and dispense play-justice against the play-bigots. Suddenly, when adult members of the Klan's secret society would greet one another or make Klan-plans, they looked like they were playing Superman games. They looked stupid; the Klan as an organization looked stupid; bigotry ultimately looked stupid.

I read this story and recalled a quotation from G. K. Chesterton's Orthodoxy, which everyone and his mother should read. In this case--and I mean no disrespect--the lunatic represents the author of The Davinci Code:

The lunatic's theory explains a large number of things, but it does not explain
them in a large way. I mean that if you or I were dealing with a mind that was
growing morbid, we should be chiefly concerned not so much to give it arguments
as to give it air, to convince it that there was something cleaner and cooler
outside the suffocation of a single argument.

If people of faith see The Davinci Code as a misrepresentation of Jesus, they may choose to boycott the book or the movie. They may choose to lambaste the author or the producer. They may choose to declare their financial allegiance to more animated features. But perhaps we should rather give the film some air, and shed some light on what's become shrouded in confusion. If we don't hold it in, and if we don't crowd it out, the truth will ultimately come out.

Monday, March 13, 2006

The Vanishing Breed of the Attendant

I was referred to an interesting "My Story" in Newsweek. The author is an attendant at a full-service gas station. The economy is slowly forcing him and his brother out of business after decades of working together. It seems that people aren't willing to pay for someone to be attendant to them. True enough: I only go inside a gas station if I'm adding a slurpy to my gas purchase. But this fellow makes some interesting observations not just about what the consumer loses when attendancy goes the way of the dinosaur, but what we lose when we abandon our own opportunities to attend to one another.
Who wouldn't learn compassion from chatting with a total stranger who sheds tears when small talk turns to his wife's struggle with cancer? Who wouldn't ponder human nature upon reading that a customer who had filled up for the holiday at your service station spent Thanksgiving Day stabbing his wife 27 times?

I'll be interested to hear what you think of the article.

Ain't I a stinker?

Monday, March 06, 2006

Trojan Horse, of Course, of Course

I got an e-mail today with the audacious subject line:
We cure any disease!
Now, to my knowledge I don't currently have any diseases, but I thought this would be information worth keeping close at hand, so I opened the e-mail, where I saw advertised
  • Viagra (generic, soft)
  • Cialis (generic, soft)
  • Levitra (generic)
  • Viagra & Cialis

Now, I don't know much about medicine, but if Viagra cured any disease I think it would have a different rep than it currently has. Maybe Viagra and Cialis, taken together, is the panacea we've all been waiting for, but if that's the case, I think there's been a marketing blunder; Panacea is a great brand name for a pill that cures everything, and you don't have to worry about people making fun of you for taking it.

Very little bugs me as much as spam, but spam often redeems itself by giving me a good laugh. Nevertheless, false pretenses are incredibly frustrating. We don't know ourselves perfectly well, but we know ourselves well enough to know what we do and don't want to be exposed to, so people (and there are people behind these spam, just as surely as there are people leaving me voice mail messages about winning time-shares and trips to Las Vegas) mask their motives in order to get past our first defenses. The net result is that we set up more and more defenses--more and higher firewalls to keep others out and ultimately trap ourselves in.

Life together would be a more attractive proposition if we didn't have to wonder what we were getting ourselves into. But life alone bears its own false pretense: no man is an island, no matter how sweet the proposition sounds.

Tuesday, February 28, 2006

The Best Imitation of Myself

I stumbled across Creative Loafing today, where Chuck Bryan introduces himself by quoting Chariots of Fire:
"I believe God made me for a purpose, but he also made me fast. And when I run I feel his pleasure." Eric Liddell

I thought it might be fun to solicit movie quotations related to personal identity. I know that Mr. Steve has a prodigious memory for movies, and I suspect that other readers have some films that triggered their self-consciousness. I'll get the ball rolling; feel free to post often and invite your friends to play along.

"You shovel better than any man I know. But that doesn't make you a superhero." Mystery Men

Both Inspiration and Cautionary Tale: Excerpts from Middling

What follows is an excerpt from the Winter 2021 edition of Middling, my quarterly newsletter on music, books, work, and getting older. I'...