Saturday, January 28, 2006

Fine, Romance

I’m not what you might call romantic. I don’t cry at the things that make my poor wife cry; in fact, I’m not often overcome with emotion of any sort. In the game of love, my wife and I have had to settle for my being “agreeable.”

Fortunately for me, “agreeable” is a highly valued commodity in some romantic circles. I first heard the word in the movie Emma, which I was agreeable enough to see with my wife despite its notorious lack of superheroes and space stations. Jane Austen, the great-godmother of romantic literature, slow-cooked a romance between Emma and the remarkably agreeable Mr. Knightley. Emma never knew what hit her. The novel was reworked into a contemporary film called Clueless, which I preferred to Emma because it at least had cars and pop music and (I suppose you could argue) a bit of time travel.

I do my best to be agreeable whenever possible, and as a result I’ve seen more than my share of chick flicks. The most recent was when Pride & Prejudice hit the theaters. My wife saw it on her own and wanted me to see it, so we made plans. In the meantime I came across the DVDs for another production of Pride & Prejudice, just in time for Christmas. Lets just say that for a week I had a steady diet of one or another scene of Miss Elizabeth Bennett being alternately disgusted and enchanted with the reluctantly bewitched Mr. Darcy.

Now, I will grant that both productions of Pride & Prejudice are well made and enjoyable in their own way, but come on! I usually don’t give this much devotion to anything, with the exception of Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, which was funny, and 24, which involves a lot of explosions.

Then again, watching Ferris or 24 doesn’t require much from me, because either one can be watched in utter solitude. By contrast, Pride & Prejudice craves, almost demands to be watched in the company of another. It cherishes the kind of agreeability that sees a chick flick coming and says, “Sure, why not?”

So if I value my agreeability, I’ll continue to make space for films like Pride & Prejudice and the emotions that are sparked by them. I’m no Mr. Darcy, I’ll readily admit, but I can be like Mr. Knightley, and he’s as much a romantic hero as anyone.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Chuck Norris a Go Go

What's the deal with Chuck Norris? They sing about him on Saturday Night Live, they watch random scenes from his television shows on Late Night with Conan O'Brien, and now they gush over him at

I know a woman who copyedited his autobiography, who is simultaneously the only person I know who's read his autobiography.

Not sure what this has to do with loud time, but I couldn't let it pass.

Monday, January 23, 2006

Speaker of the House Party

I’m thinking about having a State of the Union party. I was invited to do as much by no less than the chairman of the Republican National Committee, who somehow or other has gotten hold of my e-mail address.

I can’t really imagine a more potentially loud time than the president’s address to the combined houses of Congress. Congress people, from my limited experience, don’t speak—they yell, even when there’s a microphone right in front of their faces. They yell because they’re trying to speak with the voice of an entire congressional district, even an entire state. They yell because they’re being paid to be cantankerous, and when one of them says something particularly belligerent—usually at the top of his or her voice—it sets in motion a wave of tetchy griping and grousing that sounds thunderous when inevitably taken together.

But at the State of the Union, everyone is typically on their best behavior. People applaud—some politely, some uproariously, but all intermittently. The State of the Union is the closest our federal government gets to call and response: the President speaks from his bully pulpit, the bullied audience interrupts, and so on and so on.

It could be entertaining to gather a group for this undertaking. It could be a costume party: me in my spandex bodysuit laughing with friends in camouflage as the President gives props to his special guests and drops malaprops on his closest peers. We could do impressions of senators and representatives trying to muster up enough energy to look enthused or defiant. We could have House music running under the speech or the President’s audio running over video for Dance Dance Revolution.

Perhaps such a party would be disrespectful. The question of the state of our union is an austere, serious issue—or at least it would be if it weren’t caught up in the politics of the moment. Our federally elected officials are not getting together to figure out what we should do now, or what comes next. This is a moment like most other moments in political life, where one person’s comments are mined for their political value: what has he or she said that I can exploit for my own benefit? What momentum does this moment give my own agenda? What’s in this for me?

To the degree that the State of the Union is a show, it is worth enjoying as such. We laugh at the two-dimensional antics and foibles of whoever we see on TV, whether it’s scripted or serendipitous, whether it’s America’s Funniest Home Videos or the red carpet at the Golden Globes. There’s really no reason watching a political event can’t be like watching those events; they’re just as scripted and potentially just as hilarious. Two hours and one opposing party’s response later, it’s all over and we can get back to being disengaged private citizens, hoping that the world gets better without us.

Monday, January 16, 2006

Illinois Zombies

My favorite album of 2005, hands down, is Sufjan Stevens's Come On Feel the Illinoise! The following line really got to me today:

I know, I know my time has passed.
I'm not so young, I'm not so fast.
I tremble with the nervous thought
Of having been, at last, forgot.

That's from his song "They Are Night Zombies!! They Are Neighbors!! They Have Come Back from the Dead!! Run for Your Lives! Ahhhhhh!!" Touching, no?

Saturday, January 14, 2006

Through the Fire

The birthplace of gospel music burned to the ground last week. Pilgrim Baptist Church in Chicago was church home to Thomas Dorsey during a period of spiritual renewal, and as he shifted his attention from jazz and blues to church music, a hybrid form emerged that over time would define the music of American legends Mahalia Jackson, Aretha Franklin and countless others.

Gospel music is soulful in the purest sense. Conscious of suffering, gospel music is defiant in the face of it, shouting and clapping and singing of hope to come, a happy ending to all our troubles. Gospel brings redemption to the blues and focus to jazz, and evokes the spirit of Pentecost, when the church spilled out into the street in riotous energy.

The defeat handed to Pilgrim Baptist--and really, to Chicago--is severe: a landmark of church architecture and an important artifact of cultural history are gone forever. But defeat doesn’t define us, according to the gospel: defeat is itself defeated by hope, which springs eternal. Hear the word of the LORD:

They’ve kicked me around ever since I was young,
but they never could keep me down. . . .
With GOD’s arrival comes love,
With GOD’s arrival comes generous redemption.
--Psalms 129-130

Sunday, January 08, 2006

Solace for the Inconsolable

The job of a pastor, beyond bringing God's word to God's people, is to give voice before God to God's people. The pastor speaks for the congregation, and all together wait for God to speak in reply.

Vincent Van Gogh, in addition to being a painter, was a pastor. His first call was to a town of coal miners, Ken Gire reports in his book The Weathering Grace of God. One sermon given there, while no easy fix to the grief of those families suffering the loss of their loved ones this week, gives voice to the challenge of life and the solace that awaits us at life's end:

The traveler asked: "Does the road go uphill all the way?"
The angel answered: "Yes, to the very end."
And he asked again: "And will the journey take all day long?"
The angel said: "From morn till night, my friend." . . .
"Then I shall be more and more tired . . . but also nearer and nearer to Thee."

He Took It All Too Far, but Boy, Could He Play Guitar

Happy birthday to David Bowie, a connoisseur of loud time. His liner notes to The Rise & Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars are punctuated by the phrase: "To be played at maximum volume." I've been doing that recently for the first time, but only because my computer's speakers stink.

Anway, all together now:

"Happy birthday to you,
Happy birthday to you.
Happy birthday dear David,
Happy birthday to you."

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

A Prayer About Time, Part Two

I'm back on the clock. Having gone several months without a wristwatch, I'm now wearing my brand-new Batman timepiece on my right arm.

I gave up watches by accident. I broke my last Batman watch irreparably the third time I dropped it; I broke my cheap backup watch not twenty-four hours later. But I realized that I still had access to time: the clock on my cell phone, the clock on my computer, the clock on my desk phone, the clock on virtually every wall I turn toward, and the watches on the wrists of virtually everybody I've ever cared about. So I decided to try life without a watch for a while.

But now I'm back on the clock. My wife got tired of my asking her what time it was, and my never having a ready answer for her when she asked me. So she got me a watch for Christmas, which is fine, since if you're going to wear a watch, at least it should have the Bat-signal on it.

So, with all this talk of clocks, I figure it's high time for the second part of Robert Banks's prayer about time, taken (with permission) from his book The Tyranny of Time. See my earlier post for the beginning of this prayer; part three will post soon enough.

Too often we forget . . . and fail to appreciate your generosity:
we take time for granted and fail to thank you for it,
we view it as a commodity and ruthlessly exploit it,
we cram it too full or waste it, learn too little from the past
or mortgage it off in advance,
we refuse to give priority to those people and things
which should have chief claim upon our time.

Help us to view time more as you view it,
and to use it more as you intend:
to distinguish between what is central and what is peripheral,
between what is merely pressing and what is really important,
between what is our responsibility and what can be left to others,
between what is appropriate now and what will be more relevant later.

Sunday, January 01, 2006

Breaking the Ice

The phrase that's stuck in my head over the last couple of months comes from The Lion, the Witch & the Wardrobe but might apply generally to my 2005:

Always winter, never Christmas.

This past year, while having more than its share of good times, I suppose, was filled with lots of disenchantment for me. "Disenchantment" has even been the theme of several conversations I've had in recent months.

But the nice thing about disenchantment is that it leaves open the possibility of "re-enchantment." Winter gives way to spring, even in The Lion, the Witch & the Wardrobe, and Christmas marks the turning point.

I'm reminded of a song by Counting Crows:

It's been a long December
And there's reason to believe
Maybe this year will be better than the last.

Here's to hope, which springs eternal. May our thaw commence.