Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Review: J. Edgar

Last night I went to see the movie J.Edgar starring Leonardo DiCaprio and directed by Clint Eastwood.  I figured a movie that combined one of my favorite actors and directors was definitely worth seeing; I certainly was not disappointed.  I am very particular about the movies I go to see, especially movies that are supposed to depict historic events or people.  J. Edgar, because of the controversial and secretive life of the infamous FBI director, had the potential to really flop in terms of accuracy.  However, from what I could tell it did not.  The majority of the events and people portrayed in the movie were as accurate as they could possibly be (those that are up to question have to do with the secret, personal life of J. Edgar Hoover and would be difficult to corroborate).  Perhaps the most noticeable accuracy in the film were the use of accents by DiCaprio (who played Hoover) and the men who played the various presidents (Hoover served during the administrations of 8 U.S. Presidents).  In addition, as Hoover aged his voice also aged; this is also true of Armie Hammer, who played J. Edgar's best friend (and lover) Clyde Tolson.  Both actors were also made up perfectly in the scenes in which they played old men.  From what I have seen from movies thus far this year, the make up jobs done on the actors in this film is most deserving of the oscar.

Another major strength of the movie was the pace.  While it felt slow in some parts, it is only because those moments were meant to be slow and could not have been done any other way.  They also could not have been taken out because they were necessary.  Such scenes include a couple of the conversations J. Edgar has with his mother (played by Judy Dench in another fabulous performance).  These conversations, though, did wonders in helping the audience understand a few personality traits about J. Edgar and why he was the way he was.  If one believes psychology textbooks that claim that an unusually close relationship with his mother will make a boy become a homosexual, then it is apparent that J. Edgar's feelings towards his mother and his lack of a father figure made him into the closeted homosexual that he was.  In one scene after his mother passes, J. Edgar is depicted putting on her necklace and dress and talking to himself as if he were her.  While this scene cannot be proven as true, it was a disturbing but explanatory depiction of a man tortured with self doubt who had just lost his main source of encouragement and identity.  According to the movie, no matter he did, J. Edgar's mother while not knowing exactly what he knew or was doing was driving him to succeed.

The cast as a whole was incredibly solid.  DiCaprio was brilliant as J. Edgar Hoover and displayed the accent/voice talent that has allowed him to play such a wide variety of roles in recent years.  In my opinion, he is the best actor in Hollywood when it comes to taking on a different accent for a role.  Armie Hammer, the actor who played Clyde Tolson (and known more recently for his part in The Social Network), should be nominated for Best Supporting Actor.  His performance was incredible; his interactions with DiCaprio, especially in the more serious and tense scenes, were masterfully done.  He also aged his voice well in the scenes in which Hoover and Tolson were portrayed as old men.  In addition his body movements after his character suffered a stroke were spot on.  As mentioned earlier, Judy Dench came out with yet another brilliant acting job as she played Hoover's mother.  Not to be overlooked is Naomi Watts, who played Hoover's secretary and long time friend Helen Gandy.  While her character was sometimes overshadowed by the focus on Hoover and Tolson's homosexual relationship, she made the most of the camera time her character had and did quite a marvelous job.

Director Clint Eastwood has won two Best Director awards in the past, and this movie could make it three.  After the movie ended, my friend and I observed that many of Eastwood's movies of late have generally been about older men who struggle with an identity problem (Million Dollar Baby and Gran Torino for example).  In addition, I have noticed that as time goes on, the more serious his movies become.  All of his most recent movies depict people who are going through some sort of adversity and the movie teaches the audience some kind of moral lesson.  This movie is no different.  While it is not blatantly obvious, a definite lesson that can be drawn from this movie is that we should not judge people or form a premature opinion about them because we have no idea what they might be experiencing in their personal lives.  As we left the theater, I overheard one gentleman say "Still doesn't change my opinion of him."  It is certainly his right to feel however he does about J. Edgar Hoover, but now at least he can feel that way with having seen some of the things Hoover dealt with in his personal life.  There's an old saying that you should not judge a man until you have walked a mile in his shoes.  In J. Edgar, Eastwood allows us to spend over two hours in the shoes of one of the most legendary and mysterious figures in American history and by doing so allows us to understand him better than we could have before.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Dear Male Figures

Dear Male Figures,

It is unfortunate that you, who play arguably the biggest role in young children's lives, are falling short of the role everyone else expects of you.  Now I know that many of you are trying, or at least claim to be, but let's face it: when it comes to male figures having a positive influence on the lives of the children around them, more and more of you seem to be dropping the ball.  Some of you are just gone, and perhaps that is not fault of your own; perhaps you have been called off to war or have a job that requires you to be gone a lot.  That is understandable, but do not forget the other people in your life.  You may be putting a lot of food on your children's plates, but I am sure many of them would sacrifice an extra helping of broccoli for some time with their dad.  I don't know if you have noticed, but children today are hurting and lost; recently their have been many major news stories that have brought to light the failure of certain men to be positive influences on children, and instead became tormentors of children.  I do not mean to clump all male role models in with these detestable slugs, but I think there are a few reminders (however obvious they may be) that sadly need to be heard by many adult males on how to be a good role model:

To fathers:

Remember when you were in middle school?  Remember all the activities you did, like sports or drama or newspaper?  Remember how excited that stuff made you?  You were probably so thrilled to be a part of a team, cast, or writing staff that you couldn't wait to tell your parents when you got home, most notably your dad.  If you did not have a dad, remember how much you wish you did or that he was around or that we would actually care?  Well now it is your turn!  If you remember how rewarding it was to receive acclamation from your dad for all the things you did, it is your turn to give that same joyful feeling to your children; if you did not have a dad, or if he did not care, then it is your turn to make sure that your kids do not have to suffer that disappointment like you did.  Think about how depressed it made you when your dad did not seem to care; your kids will feel the same way if you do not get excited about them.  You are their cheerleader; you are the one they want to impress the most!  If you are not there to encourage them, they will look for it elsewhere; and that alternative is usually not a healthy one for them or your family.  Step up and be a dad.

To coaches...

Sometimes dads fail.  Sometimes kids do not have any positive male role model in their lives except you.  That is a huge responsibility!  If you don't want the burden of possibly stepping in as the main encourager or counselor for kids, then don't coach.  It's not about sports, it's about kids.  If you are coaching for your own selfish love of sports, find a different outlet.  Do not poison these kids with false accolades and motives; they think you are there because you like sports and you like them.  If it's all about you, reevaluate what you are doing.  Furthermore, and it is a shame this has to be said, DO NOT HAVE SEX WITH THE KIDS!  I mentioned earlier that some of these reminders would be obvious and this one is probably the most glaringly obvious.  It saddens me that this even needs to be said, but recent events that have been made public make it apparent that it needs to be.  It only takes a moment for a child's life to be ruined and your actions affect more people than just yourself and that child.  Men who molest children are the lowest of low and deserve a long and drawn out prison sentence (and that is even too good for them; I'm sure the parents of their victims have other ideas, ideas I would not necessarily object to).  You are a role model; not a parent, not a friend, and certainly not a sex partner!  Step up and be a coach.

To teachers...

Like coaches, you sometimes are the only positive male role model in a child's life.  Also like coaches, if you feel that is too much responsibility, find another line of work.  We who teach do it because we love it, and we love it because we love children.  There are some circumstances where you spend more time with a child in a day than their parents do.  That means that you have an extraordinary task to help mold these children into upstanding citizens.  You cannot do that if you show students that you do not care.  Some children do not have structure homes, so your classroom is the only place they find the structure they so desperately desire (even if they do not admit it).  You have been given a tremendous opportunity to change and influence the lives of children.  Therefore, and again it is a shame this has to be said, DO NOT HAVE SEX WITH YOUR STUDENTS!  Like I said before, you sometimes spend more time in a day with a child than their parents do.  Students who are molested at school therefore spend the majority of their days in a living hell.  You are a teacher, you are their to teach.  Students will sometimes trust you with their most significant problems; do not take that for granted.  Step up and be a teacher.

Dear pastors/priests...

To you falls perhaps the most important part of a child's young life: developing faith in God.  It is true that this is a responsibility that can and should be shared with teachers, but when a child has a serious question about faith, they will seek you out.  Pastors are God's representative to the churches they serve, which means that children are going to look up to you with a certain reverence.  Not that they think you are God Himself, but that you are more pure and more good than the evil in their lives.  They want someone like that in their lives, they need someone like that.  It is for this reason that you need to make time for the children in your church.  It is a great responsibility being a pastor, everyone wants a piece of your time; but that is the sacrifice you made when you took your vows.  The Bible says, and this applies to teachers too, "We who teach will be judged more harshly."  Pastors, you have accepted a call, a call that sets you apart from everyone else.  Not to say that you are better, but that you have consented to being held at a higher standard.  The eyes of the world are watching, just waiting for you to slip so that they can pounce on you and the entirety of God's church.  Therefore, and it is saddest that this has to be said to some of you, DO NOT HAVE SEX WITH CHILDREN!  Just yesterday a major figure in the Wisconsin Synod of the Lutheran Church was arrested for possessing and distributing child pornography.  It is not just Catholic priests, it is everywhere.  God is always watching, you who are ministers should know that better than anyone else.  If you truly believe what you preach, your personal life and actions MUST reflect it.  That is the call God extends to you and all believers, but because you are a leader you are held to an even higher standard.  Step up and be a pastor.

To all men...

Everything I have said to each of the groups above applies to you as well.  The Bible says that the male is to be head of the household and provide for the physical, emotional, and spiritual needs of the family.  If that is too much responsibility, tough.  If you do not want to be an active participant in your child's life, then you have failed as a father and as a man.  Today's culture judges manhood on strength and stature and monetary accomplishments.  It should judge manhood on fatherhood, or on how positively a man influences the people around them.  Strength, stature, and wealth will all fade away, but the lessons men can teach kids and the lasting affect their words and actions have on children can spread through generations.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

NL Manager of the Year

Kirk Gibson was named Manager of the Year in the National League for the 2011 season today.  He certainly can make a case for winning the award.  He took an underachieving Arizona Diamondbacks team that was below .500 in 2010 and won 94 games and the National League West division with them.  In addition, Gibson is one of the most iconic players to have ever played baseball, his Game 1 winning home run in the 9th inning of the 1988 World Series while standing on two bad legs is one of the most famous hits in history.  A great player, a good man, and a great coach.  When one thinks of the ideal manager to win an award such as this, a coach with Gibson's credentials certainly comes to mind.

It is, however, my opinion that he should not have been the man with this award at the end of the day.  I am not saying that he doesn't deserve it and I am not trying to diminish the Diamondback's achievements this year.  What it comes down to, for me at least, is history.  The Diamondbacks most recent World Series Championship was in 2001, 10 years ago.  Two years before that in 1999, they won 100 games.  The year after their title they won 98 games.  In the seasons between 2003-2010, the Diamondbacks only finished above .500 three times, most recently in 2008 when they went 82-80.  The recent struggles in the decade make a case that the more immediate history of the franchise was not as successful as it may have liked, and it certainly needed a manager with the talents of Kirk Gibson to help return the team to its former glory.  Regardless of five losing seasons in ten years, there is another manager with another team with a more dismal history that won a division title this year, and he is the one who deserves this award.

That manager is Ron Roenicke, first-year manager of the Milwaukee Brewers, and that history is one that has not (until very recent memory) seen a season worth being proud of since 1982.  Roenicke's Brewers won 96 games (a franchise record) and won the National League Central division (its first division title since 1982 and first title as a member of the National League; from the franchise's foundation in 1970 until 1998, it had been a member of the American League).  1998, the year the Brewers moved to the National League, was also the year the Arizona Diamondbacks baseball franchise was founded.  In three years, the Diamondbacks were world champions; the Brewers were in the cellar.  From 1993-2004, the Brewers finished each season below .500; that is a streak of 12 years!  In 2005, the team finished 81-81; 2006, back below .500.  It was not until 2007 that the Brewers had a winning record and it was not until 2008 that they broke their 25-year playoff drought.  Unfortunately for Brewers' fans, the very next season, and the season after it, witnessed two more seasons below .500 (let it be noted that the Diamondbacks were also under .500 both those years as well).

Why bring up this history?  Well it seems to me that history is the main factor that won Gibson the award.  Gibson took a team that had losing records for two straight years and won their division, a division that included the defending world champion San Fransisco Giants.  Let's take a look at Roenicke though: his team also had had losing records for two straight years, he too was a first-year manager, and he too won his division.  In addition, his division included the eventual World Series champions, the St. Louis Cardinals.  Gibson and the D-backs won 94 games.  Roenicke and his Brewers won 96.  On top of this, the Brewers were the team that knocked the D-backs out of the 2011 playoffs.  Both men came to teams with young players with a lot of potential, franchises that wanted to win, and division rivals with a much more recent history of winning.

If history is what we are looking at when deciding who wins this award, there should be no doubt in any baseball writer's mind that the Brewers have a far more depressing history than the Diamondbacks.  The Brewers won more games and beat the Diamondbacks in the playoffs; even so, their present statistics are so evenly matched that one would have to look at history in order to decide which manager deserves it more.  Considering the decades of inadequacy that Milwaukee fans have had to endure, I do not see how a team that won a World Series within its first three years and winning records in nearly half of the years of its existence can make a case for having a more challenging history to overcome.  Roenicke had more to overcome, more to prove, and more pressure to succeed (with it being Prince Fielder's last year, it was a "go big or go home" year for the Brewers).  He did what many said he could not do: turned a perennial loser into a winner, and that is deserving of Manager of the Year.

Generations

They hated America, moved far away.
Came back home and decided to stay.
Lived life their way, no care for the cost.
Depressed and alone, the generation was lost.

They loved America, traveled far away.
Some didn't come home, in foreign graves they lay.
Life or death, they knew not their fate.
They sacrificed all, the generation was great.

They lived America, traveled all over the land.
No money, no cares, and dreams in their hand.
Jazz, drugs, and drinks were moving their traveling feet.
Controversial and young, the generation was beat.

They hate America, and all it stands for.
They refuse to leave, they only want more.
Greed and ignorance flow in the their minds.
Ungrateful and sad, my generation is blind.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Basketball Culture and the NBA Labor Dispute

Please do not mistake this blog as a fervent desire on my part for the NBA season to finally start.  On the contrary, I am quite delighted that my ESPN homepage is not covered with NBA game news, pictures of players, and other NBA related items that I really could not give much of a care for.  However, the ongoing labor dispute between the millionaire players and billionaire owners is really touching a nerve.  The owners recently offered the players half of the entire league's revenue, money that would go towards their salaries, and they turned it down.  The NBA is a multi-billion dollar industry, and half of that money was not enough.  This is not an attack on the players, nor is it a defense of the owners.  This is an indictment: the NBA players and owners are nothing more than greedy parasites who will never have enough money and refuse to work together to overcome their differences.

Earlier this year, many people were [justly] upset over the NFL labor dispute because they felt it was a battle of millionaires (players) versus billionaires (owners).  What many people did not realize is that it is a smaller percentage than one would expect that makes millions playing professional football.  That is not to say that all football players do not make a lot of money; the average salary in the NFL is $1.9 million, a number that is greatly ballooned by the mega-deals signed by superstar players like Albert Haynesworth (who signed a $100 million dollar contract a few years ago).  In actuality, most NFL players make less than $1 million a year.  This is certainly not a bad annual wage; one would have to be incredibly irresponsible not to be able to make a living off of that salary.  However, because NFL players make considerably less than other professional athletes, they garnered more public sympathy.

This fall, though, NBA players find themselves with far less public support than the NFL players received.  The reason being is that instead of the average NBA player making less than $1 million a season, the average player makes more than $5 million a year ($5.15 million according to Steve Aschburner of NBA.com).  Of course, NBA players play more games in a year than NFL players, but NFL player careers are considerably shorter than those of NBA players and the chance of serious injury is far greater when playing football.  Not only that, most NFL players will find themselves on the field at one point or another during a game.  If they do not play offense or defense, they most likely will be used on special teams.  There are NBA players collecting millions sitting on a bench, playing MAYBE 10 minutes a season.  These scrubs are living the kind of life every lazy Tom, Dick, or Harry wish they could have.

Alright, so NBA players make more than NFL players; so what?  What's the big deal?  Why don't NFL players demand to be paid like NBA players?  The answer to all of those is simple: the culture of the NBA does not take the value of money seriously; they take the value of having a lot of money seriously, whereas NFL players know they have the potential for a very short career and are more apt to conserve their money (this is also a generalization; there are plenty of NFL players who file for bankruptcy after they retire, but most find work in other areas of business or communications).  If we were to look into the financial records of any NBA player, it is a reasonable hypothesis that we would find quite a bit of heavy spending.  I realize that I am stereotyping, but let me defend my stance with a few observations.

Observation 1: Have you ever stood outside an NFL stadium parking lot and waited for the players to drive in?  I have.  I remember standing outside Lambeau Field and watching the likes of Ahman Green, Donald Drive, and Brett Favre drive into practice.  It is true that some of these players had very very nice cars (nicer than I will ever own), but the majority of them were driving trucks, midsize cars, or SUV's like any other person would drive.  One the other hand, NBA players typically have very nice cars (or several cars for that matter).  When NBA players are shown driving into workouts or games, they are usually seen in high-end convertibles, sports cars, or fancy SUV's.  They, of course, make more money so they can afford these vehicles, but it also goes to show how much more lavish their tastes are.

Observation 2: NBA players, more than any other athlete in any other sport, do not end up with high-paying jobs that will allow them to keep their rich life-styles after they retire.  Again, there are exceptions to the rule: Magic Johnson, Charles Barkley, Patrick Ewing, and Michael Jordan have done very well for themselves in the business world, broadcasting world, or by coaching.  When NFL players retire, most of them have stashed some money away because of their fear of an early career-ending injury.  Some do go into broadcasting or stay in coaching; others invest into small businesses and maintain a steady income in their post-football years.  NBA players, on the other hand, do not always find their way back into the luxurious life-style they once had.  We find some players attempting music careers or investing in some businesses, and that is all well and good.  However, very rarely does one hear of an ex-NBA player thriving in the world post-basketball.  As I said before, there are exceptions; but this is just an observation I have made as a die-hard sports fan.

Observation 3: NBA players do not have the greatest work ethic.  Do not get me wrong, obviously becoming good enough to play professionally took a lot of hard work and determination.  However, like many people, once they achieved their dream, they stopped working as hard.  Again, there are many players who do not stop trying to work hard.  In fact, many players are concerned about being the best player they can be.  Their work, though, does not extend far past the court.  They are nothing more than glorified high school and college athletes who can not do anything of value off the field.  They care nothing for anyone or anything besides themselves, evidenced by their unwillingness to come to a compromise with the owners and start playing for the fans who really pay their salaries.  Some NBA stars have been playing in exhibitions and signed to play overseas during this lockout.  Most have not and we are left to wonder if they are really working out or practicing at all.

I said before that this is not an attack on the players and I have spent a considerable amount of this blog pointing out things they are doing that aggravate me.  All of these observations may admittedly sound like an attack, but they combined with the "thug" demeanor that many players have make it difficult for one to feel sorry for them at all.  I would rather pay to see people play sports that care about their fans and can [in general] give an intelligible interview.

Let us not forget the incredibly greed of the owners.  It is true that they have a lot more to worry about financially than the players.  It is also true that if the players had their way, there would be very few teams and cities that could afford to pay a team every season.  Players do not have to worry about paying anyone except their agents (and alimony payments, child support payments, bail payments, out-or court settlements; again, I realize I am stereotyping, but NBA players have done nothing to show the public differently).  It is, however, also true that fans do not pay to see the owners.  When we go to see games, we want to watch our favorite teams and athletes succeed.  Owners, like all businessmen, need to make a profit; how else will the keep a team?  They, like the players, have extravagant life-styles to uphold, though.  I have never seen an owner in any sport drive up to games or events in their own car; they are always driven via limo.  Nor have I ever seen an NBA owner, besides Mark Cuban, get in touch with the people who pay to see their teams.  To owners, we the fans are nothing more than cash cows to be milked out of every dollar possible.  Even if players were not demanding more money, ticket prices would be marked too high for some to afford in order that owners can pocket more cash themselves.

Perhaps I am being too harsh on the NBA.  It is entirely possibly, and probably likely, that this is the way it is in all sports.  However, as long both owners and players continue to complain in the media how one side is trying to destroy the other, they will also bring criticism such as mine on themselves.  They deserve it.  There are thousands, ten thousands, maybe even hundreds of thousands of kids/young people that would love to make just a fraction on an NBA player's minimum wage.  In addition, these guys are making a living PLAYING A GAME!!!  Teachers, police officers, garbage men, postal workers, and many other blue collar individuals do more real work in a year than these players will do in their lives and the players will make more in a year than many of these other people will make in a life time.  Is that fair?  No, but it's life.  Those of us who work for a living can deal with these owners and players making money we cannot dream of ever achieving, it's their inability to shut up and do their "jobs" that is irritating.  Players, owners, accept that you are and always will be richer than 95% of the population and get a deal done.  Not because you are missed, but because you are being ridiculous.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Pop Culture and Fairy Tales

C.S. Lewis once wrote, “When I was ten, I read fairy tales in secret and would have been ashamed if I had been found doing so. Now that I am fifty, I read them openly. When I became a man I put away childish things, including the fear of childishness and the desire to be very grown up.”  Many of us as children grew up watching Disney Classics such as Cinderella, Beauty and the Beast, Sleeping Beauty, and many others.  Now that we are grown up, we find ourselves drawn to adult remakes of these stories: television dramas like Once Upon a Time and Grimm and movies like Snow White and the Huntsman.  Like C.S. Lewis (who wrote classic tales himself in the form of the Narnia stories), we find ourselves becoming more open about our love for fantasy.

Many of us have fond memories of gathering with our families on Friday or Saturday nights (when there was no school the next day) for family movie night.  Perhaps some of these times were various family favorites particular to individual families, but it is a valid societal assumption to believe that many of these nights were spent watching Disney fairy tale movies such as the ones listed above.  These movies, which were family friendly and geared towards the developing education of young children, are internationally renown and beloved.  Sometimes young girls may have had slumber parties dedicated to watching all the Disney princess movies and dreaming about one day being carried off on a white horse by their own Prince Charming.  Young boys secretly enjoyed watching these movies (especially the sword fighting scenes and the fights with monsters), but would never admit to watching or liking them in front of their friends.  To do so would have been uncool.

Like our parents before us, we have grown up to realize that life is not a fairy tale.  Very rarely does Prince Charming come to take a damsel in distress away from her life of poverty and trouble.  Sometimes the man labeled as Prince Charming turns out to be more like a troll or Rumpelstiltskin.  As boys grow, they find that impressing girls are far more difficult than it is in the fairy tales of their youth and that they, unlike Prince Charming, do not always get the girl that they desire.  It is for these reasons, perhaps, that pop culture has begun remaking our beloved fairy tales with a young adult audience in mind.

This time around, however, we are not so ashamed to admit that we enjoy watching these shows.  Once Upon A Time is the highest rated drama on Sunday nights, showing the a significant number of Americans are enthralled by the story the show has to tell.  More and more movies are being made that have characters like fairies, wizards, vampires, and other mythical creatures.  The successes of the Twilight Saga and Harry Potter and the adequate cultural reception of the new Narnia movies further prove this present society's fascination with fantasy and fairy tales.

This development has the potential to have a very positive effect on both young adults and young children.  In a world where broken homes and single parenting is prevalent, the more interests parents can share with their children, the better.  What I mean by this is that many children have grown up in homes in which parents refuse to take an interest in what the child likes.  Fairy tales, like sports, provide a small but significant bridge on which both young and old can meet and find common ground.  Of course there needs to be more to create a healthy and lasting relationship between parent and child, but all big, important things start with a seemingly small but sturdy foundation.  While children may not enjoy the "adult" versions of their fairy tales (and they probably should not be even watching them), the shared enjoyment by child and adult can make the family movie nights spent watching Disney fairy tales more possible and enjoyable [for the adult] than before.

On an intellectual level, the incessant rise in popularity of fairy tales provides the opportunity to observe and analyze how our present culture's view and presentation of fantasy compares to the depiction of the same stories in past cultures.  A recent example that comes to mind is the movie Robin Hood starring Russell Crowe; while this Hollywood production did not retell a previous story sang by troubadours and storytellers of the Middle Ages, it did create enough buzz about classic Robin Hood stories that the History Channel was prompted to create a special that compared and contrasted the portrayal of Robin Hood throughout history (a history, by the way, that does include a Disney version of the Robin Hood legend).  While this intellectual reaction to the popularity of fairy tales is far from common (only Literature and English majors in college may even care about it), it is nonetheless another result of the rise of the modern fairy tale.

Like C.S. Lewis, we have discovered that by growing up, we only appreciate childhood more.  And like Lewis, we no longer see fairy tales as stories meant for children, but as portrayals of an alternate reality that provide us with hope of our own happy ending.  By remaking our favorite stories into television dramas geared towards adults, networks have reignited a desire in us to achieve our own goals no matter what obstacles we might encounter.  It has made living happily ever after a plausible and reachable reality.

We are Fearfully and Wonderfully Made

Ever since I was little, I wanted to be a teacher.  Once I graduated high school, I knew that I wanted to be a history teacher.  Upon graduation from college, I was called to serve at a Lutheran school as a 7th Grade teacher... and the middle school Science teacher.  God sure does have a sense of humor.  There is an old saying that states: "If you want to make God laugh, tell Him your plans."  Even though it sometimes seems like God is having fun with our lives, in reality He is pushing us in a direction that is better for us than we could have planned for ourselves. 

Take for instance my teaching of Science: because it is a subject that I am not entirely familiar with, I am learning along with the students (Actually I am learning one step ahead of the students in order that I can prepare my lessons).  Up until holding this teaching position, I had always accepted that human beings were wondrous creations made by God in His image.  Most Christians will probably agree with this, but what I have discovered in my current studies of the human body (8th Grade Science) is that many of us really do not realize how amazing and complex our body is!  Everything has to work in such a precise way in order for us to live.  Everything inside of us relies on each other to complete the processes that keep us alive, and they do so in ways we hardly ever consider.

For example, when blood leaves your cells and has traveled through your capillaries (which are only one cell thick, by the way), it enters your veins.  When blood is in your veins, it does not have the force from the heart's pumping to make it back to the heart.  How then does blood get back to the heart?  God made our bodies in such a way that other bodily movements and functions would help return blood to the heart.  Veins are located next to skeletal muscles (the muscles that move your bones) and when those muscles are contracted, they help push blood back to the heart.  Veins also contain valves, which close as blood flows through the veins to keep the blood from flowing backwards.  In addition, breathing movements create pressure against the veins in your chest and help blood flow back into the heart.

Astounding, is it not?  Evolutionists theorize that everything came from a common ancestor, that the entire world, humans included, are nothing but a happenstance.  In other words, we are an accident.  Many things throughout history have been made or discovered by accident (penicillin for example), but I refuse to believe that humans are one of those things.  The more I learn about the complexity of the human body, the more astounded I am and the more I am certain that we are a product of an intelligent creator.  This may be hard for some people to believe, but how is it harder than believing that we are the result of an accident.  I personally find more comfort in the fact that there is a plan and a reason behind the way we are made than in the belief that I am just another wrung in the evolutionary ladder.  The human body is too amazing and too unique to be an accident.  We truthfully are fearfully and wonderfully made.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Why We Act

During my undergraduate studies, I was fortunate enough to be a part of six theater productions: two children's shows, two musicals, and two dramas.  In addition, I was an active member of the two theater clubs on campus for most of my college career.  I also took quite a few credits of theater classes to improve my acting.  The stage made me feel free; it made me feel like I was on top of the world.  In the last year of my college career, I did nearly no theater in order to focus on finishing my degree.  I am nearly certain that if I had not done theater, I would have finished college a semester earlier than I did; but I do not regret spending the extra time and money.  In the nearly two years since I have acted on stage in a full scale production, I have been able to observe and reflect on the reasons why I and others act.  Some of these reasons may be more true for some than they are for others, but I believe that every actor acts for the same reasons.

In a society that has a particular standard for how people should look and behave, many people find that they do not live up to popular expectations, whether those be in how they look, behave, or treat others.  There is an inner longing to be accepted, but that is overpowered by the instilled power of self; the distinct identity that every person on God's green earth has.  We cannot help who we are.  We can put on a rouge in front of our peers, but that makes us fake and transparent.  No one buys the act when it is part of real life.  But on stage... the stage is a different world.  The stage allows people to explore parts of themselves they might be too afraid or ashamed to allow reach the surface.  No one can criticize an actor for being loose, immoral, cruel, heartless, or evil because of the character they play; it's not who they really are.  The actor may never dream of acting like their character in real life, but the show gives them the opportunity to let whatever dark side they may have out without scrutiny.

On the other hand, an otherwise unpleasant person may explore their softer side while in a show.  A person who other people find a complete and total prick can win over peers with a character that is tender, nurturing, and kind.  Classic examples of this kind of actor are found all over Hollywood.  Notorious egotistical actors such as Russell Crowe, Leonardo DiCaprio, and Matt Damon have won over audiences with emotional performances of what society identifies as "good guys."  Their personal lives, of course, make headlines all the time, but only because the public is shocked that people who can play such good people are really not as wonderful as the people the play.  It does not take long, though, for the actors to win over their peers again, if they are able to turn in another stunning performance as a hero or romantic protagonist.

Some people do not wish to explore different aspects of their personality or different ways to behave.  These people, like myself, are happy with who they are.  Despite this inner acceptance of self, there is still a kind of selfish desire to flaunt who you are in front of an audience.  A self-centered drive to show everyone what your personality is and why it is great.  This is not to say that these actors are conceited or egotistical (although that could be the case for some people), but to say that they are delighted to be who they are and want to share that happiness with others.  For this reason they mostly accept acting parts that are most like their own personality. 

There is another type of person who mostly takes parts because they are most like themselves: the person who likes who they are but is looking for acceptance from others.  I find myself, personally, in this category of actors who sometimes draw criticism from friends and peers for being who I am.  People like this do not let criticism change them, but do desire for some kind of positive feedback for being themselves.  They are able to find this on the stage.  For example, I am sarcastic (some say overly so), irritable, and at times too loud.  I try not to let these personality traits make me into a mean person, which they easily can; but I cannot change who I am.  In addition, they are not always negative traits, but what I do because of them might be negative.  By taking parts of people who are like me on stage, I can allow these traits to show without worry of criticism. 

There are countless reasons for why people act.  Some people do it to be the center of attention; they cannot thrive without the positive reinforcement of others.  We can criticize that personality trait as much as we want; however if we really look down deep in ourselves, we all have that trait to some extent or another.  Some people do take it too far and demand the praise and adoration of all those around them, no matter what.  Others find that being on stage is the only time that they receive positive attention, and for that reason they thrive in the spotlight.  And who can blame them for wanting that?  No person alive can live a healthy psychological existence without some kind of positive base.  A positive base that comes from people showing us that they like us, that who are is acceptable.  Therefore, it can be said that no matter what reason a person gives for acting on stage, it all comes down to one thing: acceptance.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Veteran's Day

One of the benefits of being a teacher is that you get to take part in a lot of trips, ceremonies, and presentations you would otherwise not be privileged to.  Some lucky teachers get to accompany students on trips to other states, Washington D.C., or even other countries.  I, on a smaller but more significant level, had the pleasure of one such trip today.  The 3rd-8th Grade classes at the school where I teach went to Memorial Hall in Racine and got to take part in the memorial service there. 

Sitting there next to my students, I was a flood of different emotions.  Perhaps most of all was the feeling of gratitude towards the veterans sitting across the aisle from me.  One would have to be a heartless wretch not to feel immense thanksgiving for the men and women who served and continue to serve our country.  It was a great experience for the kids, and myself, to be able to interact and worship with veterans of World War II, Korea, and Vietnam.  Students were able to experience history in an entirely different way than in the classroom: they were able to talk to them men who made that history.  There is no better way to learn than to talk to people who actually lived through it.

The second emotion I believe I was feeling was one of frustration.  Not towards the veterans, of course, but towards some of my students.  A few of the boys were more mesmerized by the guns the veterans were carrying and firing during taps than the actual veterans themselves.  I do not entirely fault them; they are still quite young and immature and I am sure in time they will fully appreciate the people more than the weapon.  Their small lack of priorities paled in comparison to that of some of the other schools that were in attendance.  I do not mean to elevate my school above others or to claim that my kids are better than anyone else's, but I found it very disrespectful and shocking that some school allowed kids to bring cell phones and ipods into the service.  We continually had to deal with giggling, the faint sound of music from ear buds, and the ringing of cell phones.  I was absolutely appalled!  It is a shame that teachers and administrators would even allow those things into a memorial service; I cannot blame the kids as much as I blame the teachers.  They were the reason for the noise, which was distracting from the real reason we were there: to honor and thank all the people who have risked, and in some circumstances given, their lives for our country.  It is because of their sacrifice that many of these kids could even own a phone or ipod.

The third emotion I felt was one of pride.  Disregarding all the extracurricular activities that were going on around me, I found myself holding back tears of pride and thanks for everyone I know who has served or is serving in the military.  It made me think of my grandfather, deceased 11 years, who served our country in World War II; my good friend Dan who is stationed in California; my parents' neighbor Tom who served valiantly in Vietnam; and my cousins Josh and Matt who served in the military when I was younger. 

Living veterans will say that the men and women who died are the real heroes and that they are just ordinary people.  It is this selfless attitude that does indeed make them heroes, though.  No soldier wakes up in the morning and says, "Today I will be a hero."  They are always heroes.  Heroes to their families, heroes to their country, heroes to my students, and heroes to me.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

It's About the Kids

You would have to be living 100 feet under a rock not to have heard anything that has happened in recent days at Penn State University.  Amid growing accusations of sex-abuse coverups, the university president and long-time foot ball coach have both been fired for not doing what any decent human being would do: protect the children.  Instead of going to police, these men decided to let the sex-crimes of ex-assistant coach Jerry Sandusky go on for over a decade.  Countless boys were raped in the showers of Penn State locker rooms, and no one said a thing.

It is human nature to look for a fall guy, someone who can take all the blame.  Penn State officials have rightly terminated the two men who hid the most, who could have done more.  However, in the media blitz on the school's campus there is a topic that many reporters do not cover enough: the children.  The biggest part of this story in mainstream news is the Joe Paterno was fired after 46 years of coaching football there (that's twice as long as I've been alive).  A secondary headline would be that the governor himself was involved in the firings of both Paterno and the university president.  The headline that no one is writing about is the children these men failed to protect.  Who can possibly imagine what they are going through right now?

The most unfortunate aspect of this media frenzy is that these boys, once again, are slipping under the radar.  Of course newspapers and magazines will run their stories if they come forward, but for what purpose?  To sell issues?  To raise awareness?  What does raising awareness now do for them 10 years ago when they were crying themselves to sleep every night after another Sandusky sodomy session?  I am not saying that raising awareness about sexual abuse towards children is wrong; all I am saying is that we need to be doing something to help these kids now.  In my opinion, Penn State should be taking care of these boys' (now men's) psychological and physical needs for the rest of their lives.  No one should feel sorry for Joe Paterno; everyone should feel sorry for the boys. 

If we are going to focus on how to make sure these things never happen again, then we really need to expand the net of who was at fault.  A controversy that has stemmed from the initial wave of accusations is that assistant coach Mike McQueen, who as a graduate student witnessed Sandusky raping a 10-year old boy in the shower, is still left on the coaching staff.  He did what he needed to at the time and told Coach Paterno, but when nothing was done, when no measures were taken, when the next boy was brought on campus by Sandusky, McQueen did nothing.  He is just as guilty as Paterno; he needs to be held responsible. 

There have got to be more than just these three men that knew about what was going on, and all of Sandusky's victims deserve justice from each of them.  It is their lives who have been ruined.  Ruined by a monstrous pedophile and a hidden, shameful group of adults who refused to reveal what was happening.  If they had come forward 10 years ago, countless numbers of victims could have been saved and the boys who had already suffered could have received attention and therapy while they were still young enough for it to make a difference on their futures.  Now they are grown men, haunted by doubt and questions of whether anyone would have ever believed them.  Studies show that boys who are molested are more likely to be drug addicts and alcoholics; this is what they are facing now.  What good does apologizing now do for them?

Joe Paterno, the president of Penn State, Mike McQueen, and the other cowardly bastards who did not come forward when this first came to their attention are just as guilty as Jerry Sandusky.  Furthermore, the Penn State students who rioted in protest of Joe Paterno's firing should be ashamed of themselves.  What they do not realize is that the boys molested on campus where their age, or close to it, when the attacks happened.  If one of the victims had been their brother, or cousin, or them personally, would they be rioting?  This is not about anyone who has lost their job.  It is about a too high number of boys who lost the prospect of a normal life.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

What's Really Important?

Today in Language Arts class my students and I were discussing topics for their persuasive essays, an essay with a purpose to convince the readers to believe a certain way or do a particular action.  In the preliminary stages of the discussions, some of the students did not have very substantial topics.  Ideas like "Why we should have more recess" and "Why there should be no homework" were prevalent among the group.  However, when convinced that I, their teacher, would not be convinced by any argument they could possibly make about any of these topics, they began to get serious.  Astonishingly very serious; I am forced to admit a feeling of surprise and admiration for many of them.

The new topics being volunteered by the class were, for the most park, quite thought provoking.  I suppose what really impressed me was that some of these topics were things that my friends and I were writing about in high school, not 7th Grade.  Topics like "Why we should recycle," "Why you should not eat at McDonald's," and "Why you should play team sports" were the new favorites.  Of course there were a couple of less thoughtful topics; ideas such as "Why you should buy and use a flash drive" and "Why people who do not try in sports should not be allowed to play" among them.  Two of my students, though, came up with an amazing topic that I feel surpasses all on the level of thoughtfulness and importance: why people should become foster parents.

I cannot deny that I froze for a second.  I could not believe that a 7th Grade student had come up with such a thought-provoking topic.  As I sit and think about it, though, I should not have been all that surprised.  Many young people today are exposed to much more of the world and worldly situations than I was when I was their age (which, let's face it, was technically not that long ago; about 10 years).  It made me really realize how much our society has changed in a decade.  When I was 12 or 13, I would have been one of the students writing about sports and why people should play them.  If I was forced to pick a different topic, I probably would have written about why I should have been able to pick my own topic.  These kids, though, have in a way put younger me to shame.

Foster parenting is one of the most noble things any adult could ever do.  My cousin has been a foster mom for years and my wife is adopted, so when these girls gave me their suggestion it really hit close to home.  I am not saying that the other students' topics are not noble in their own right; to the contrary, I think recycling, playing team sports, and eating healthy are fantastic things for middle school aged students to be thinking about.  However, foster parenting is something that I would have thought would not have crossed their minds for quite a few years.  It would not be as surprising if these girls themselves had come from broken homes, but they both are from great and loving families, which makes their decision all the more impressive to me.  In a world where everyone is looking for the instant gratification and pursuing their own selfish agendas, two 7th Grade girls are concerned about children finding a good home and loving parents.  That is what's really important.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Parenthood: The (Sort of) Uninformed Opinion

When looking at the demeanor of young children and teenagers in today's society, there is a generality that cannot be ignored: kids that we label as "good" have (and again this is in general, not always) pretty involved and loving parents and kids that we label as "bad" or "troublesome" have ignorant, inconsiderate, or unloving parents (if they do have parents in their lives at all).  Of course there are exceptions; there are plenty of kids that have come from abusive or broken homes and have thrived and become upstanding citizens.  In the same way there are kids that came from some of the most nurturing homes imaginable and have ended up as menaces to society.  In general, though, it is the actions and attitudes of parents that will determine how a child develops and how they act towards the people around them.

As we look at the decline in society, the seemingly everlasting free fall into immorality, we can also see an even steeper decline in the quality of parenting and the overall American family.  I, of course, do not have children myself so I cannot claim to be an expert.  However, I do come from a great family, a loving, nurturing, and supportive family; and I am a teacher with a group of students that come from a blend of broken and sustained homes.  In addition I have friends that have come from a mixture of homes and my opinions are based on what I have observed throughout my life as an education student and teacher.

Generally speaking, kids are not really self-motivated when it comes to succeeding in school.  Like most of us when we were young, they would rather socialize with their friends, watch television, or play outside.  Grades are seemingly the last thing on their mind.  It takes the outside motivation from parents (and teachers) to instill in them the desire to do well.  Children that have parents who healthfully drive them to do well in school grow and develop to have that same drive themselves.  It is, of course, easy and common for parents to overdo their motivation and they end up hating education more than when they started.  However, if parents are able to find a happy medium when challenging their children to do well, the kids will have a much better work ethic and understanding of the importance of hard work.

On the other hand, parents who do not care about the work their children do or back up teachers' attempts to get kids to turn in quality work are subliminally teaching their kids that working hard is not important.  In addition to not learning the importance of good work, these kids also do not have an appreciation for responsibility.  Stereotypically (and I do hate that term), children that are taught the importance of hard work have a deeper sense of responsibility, which in turn helps them later in life as they stand up for their actions and accept any consequences that may result of what they did (or take more pride in the reward that comes as a result).  Children who do not work hard and do not have to face any consequences at home grow up not having a good sense of responsibility, which in turn causes them to try and run away from any problem they may face in life.

Is this not what we see all around us in today's society?  People who have never been held accountable are beginning to enter the workforce and (arguable worse) procreate.  There is an increasing amount of lower and middle class workers who have never had to answer for anything they have done or said, and this effects their work ethic.  When they are fired for doing unsatisfactory work or other forms of nonprofessional, they blame the "Man" and join protests against big businesses.  They were never told by their parents when they were doing wrong; it was always someone else's fault.  How is it a surprise that they take this attitude everywhere they go?

The point I am getting at is that it is up to parents to determine the future of this country.  If children are brought up to appreciate hard work and learn the importance of responsibility, then our worries about the economic situation for the future generations will become obsolete, for they will be able to build on the hard work many politicians and public figures are doing now to get us out of recession (e.g. Scott Walker, Ron Johnson, Paul Ryan, and others).  However, if we allow children to be lazy and do not reprimand them when they show an unwillingness to try, our concerns will be validated.  It is not entirely up to our government to prepare for the future; it mostly up to parents.

Monday, November 7, 2011

The Really Lost Generation

Many years ago, Ernest Hemingway captured American readers with his brilliant description of the Lost Generation.  He believed that he and others like him were lost, in the sense that they were just pawns used by governments to make war and fight each other, thus making them lost to the world.  In a sense, he was right.  He and many Americans like him detested the American government to the point of leaving the country and residing in European nations.  You may have heard of the expatriots, a ragtag group of American authors and painters who lived in Paris during the 1920's and 30's (among them Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Pablo Picasso, James Joyce, and Salvidor Dali; for more information on them, read my review of Midnight in Paris).  While Europe did not hold many of these people for long and they returned to America, their distaste for what America stood for at the time did not change.

How much does that sound like the Occupy Wallstreet protesters of today?  A growing dislike for American government, questionable morality, and a distorted sense of entitlement have driven many Americans to partake in large protests, in which they sit, stand, yell, argue, sleep, drink, smoke, and have sex in large groups of tents and shelters.  The expatriates like Hemingway did all of these things too, but in the privacy of their homes, or flats, or hotels, or wherever the happened to be staying.  In addition, they too voiced their displeasure at the way the government was handling its affairs.  However, instead of protesting, they left; which, I suppose, in and of itself is a form of protest.  They also expressed their views on how they felt the world should be run by incorporating them into their writings.  Millions and millions of people all over the world have read, studied, and wrote about their novels, paintings, short stories, and poems.  By using a medium through which they could attract a large audience, clearly express their thoughts, and oppose any objections to their views, they were able to tactfully and peacefully get their points across.




Today, protesters choose to violently confront anyone who disagrees with them.  Just last night a man was arrested for tearing apart a McDonald's that refused to give him free food.  FREE food!  Even the expatriates knew that nothing in this world comes free.  Even if they did sympathize with Marxism or Communism at some point in their lives, they realized that even if they are not paying for something, someone else someplace else is, perhaps at far too high of a price.  It is this generation's ignorance that has created these protests, not the government itself.  A person may disagree with a government or dislike a certain politician all they want, but there are more ways than a dirty, ragged, and shameless protest to express those feelings.

Hemingway thought his generation was lost.  If that was true of it, then this generation is really lost.  Hemingway's generation was lost, at least he felt, because young men lost their youth in war.  Their supposed innocence was gone.  This generation never has seemed to have a notion of innocence.  The line between right and wrong has blurred to the point to which it ceases to exist.  Morality is a matter of opinion, and if you do not share in the opinion of the zealous and loud minority, then you and rest of your silent majority will have to endure the rantings and screams of what has been labeled the far left.

The self proclaimed 99% claim favorable treatment towards corporations, demand that the government forgive their student loans, and that they in general will not have to work has hard to make a comfortable living.  They are so lost they do not even realize that when they walk into McDonald's or Burger King or Subway to get food, they are contributing to big business.  When they use their cell phones, cameras, and computers to upload pictures and blogs, it is because big business produced these items.  This really lost generation has really lost me on the point they are trying make.

I realize this post is a quite political, and I intended it to be that way.  I understand if it sounds random in places and may be incoherent in others, but I feel like it is a proper reflection of the protests I oppose.  Feel free to disagree, that is your right.  And I promise that if you do I will not pop a squat on your lawn.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

The Path We Take Is Not the Path We Planned

I am considerably blessed.  I married to a wonderful woman, my parents (and hers) continue to support us financially as we struggle to make ends meet, we are both employed as teachers, and I have a great network of encouraging friends.  It is a good life, and because of this what I am going to be writing about may sound irrational and, in a word, ungrateful.  So please, do not get me wrong: I am eternally grateful to my Creator for all of the wonderful gifts He has bestowed upon me.

Alas, more and more, I find myself longing.  Longing for something that had once been a major part of my life.  So major, in fact, that it was my college major: history.  I studied Education and History in college and after graduation (and marriage) received a call to teach 7th Grade and Science at a Lutheran school.  Again, I am very thankful for this opportunity; before I accepted the call I had been all set to begin working for a lawn care company.  Science has proven to be an interesting topic and I, personally, have probably learned more than the students.  However, the pull of my first academic love has begun dragging me back to the confines of scholarly thought.  I find myself spending free time (and some time that should be spent working) pouring over books and articles relating to historical topics that interest me.  I am also researching graduate schools and Masters programs so that I can continue to learn and study History in a structured manner.  I am even writing outlines for perspective papers and articles and laying out research plans.

Being able to observe this phenomena taking place in my life has led me to reflect on long term goals people set for themselves.  Most people go into college with at least some idea of what they want to achieve and do once they obtain their degree.  For some of us, that is to make a living in a career in the field we studied; a field that we chose because we enjoyed it, and  because of our enjoyment make work seem less like actual work.  Some people are fortunate to be offered jobs in their respective areas of study or are able to go one to graduate school right away.  The rest of us, however, have a different plan laid out by God, a plan that we do not always understand.

God tells us in Isaiah 55:8-9, "For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the LORD.  For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts" (ESV Translation).  We think that we have our lives all figured out.  We have a plan, a general idea of how we are going to achieve that plan, and a basic notion of how long achievement will take.  However, we very often do not consider the plans and paths Almighty God wants us to take.  We may think we have the perfect formula for success, but God looks down with supreme and unimaginable perfection and guides us on an alternate path.  We may be angry and confused at first, but if we are patient we will soon see God's reasoning behind his divine guidance.

In my life, I have always known that I liked, even loved, studying history.  In the 3rd Grade, I read our Social Studies textbook during silent reading and finished it half-way through the school year.  There was no doubt in my mind that I wanted to pursue a career teaching, researching, and constantly learning about the past.  After five studious years, countless hours of historical research, and dozens of papers about a variety of historical topics, I am a Science teacher.  Many people would get discouraged, perhaps accept their new position, and forget about their goals.  I, however, see this as an alternate path laid out for me by God.  I still feel a very strong urge to study history, a stronger urge than I have ever felt.  It is my belief that God led me down this path to refurbish a flame inside of me.  While being able to study and learn about history every day in college, I became less thankful for the opportunity to do so.  Recently, my increased longing for a history classroom has made me much more appreciative of the chances I had and the things I learned.  It has also created in me a stronger desire to work, write, and study than I ever had as an undergraduate.

As Robert Burns famously wrote, "The best laid of plans of mice and men often go awry."  I had planned to teach history and perhaps start graduate school within a year of starting my teaching career.  Having been away from history, I now am able to see how rash a decision this would have been.  Even though I am looking at graduate schools now, I do not plan on enrolling in one for another two years, during my third year of teaching.  God has given me the opportunity to step back and prioritize my life, something I was not doing before.

I believe that when we pray and ask God for things, He gives one of three answers: yes, no, or not yet.  For a long time I felt like God's answer to my prayer for a career in history was a "yes."  I was studying history, writing papers, and many other things perspective historians do in college.  But then I did not get a call to teach history; for almost 3 months I did not get a call to teach anything, and when I finally did it was to teach Science.  I began to feel like God's answer was "no."  But God, in His grace, has shown me that His answer was never "no," but rather "not yet."  I still feel a strong pull to history because that is what I feel God has planned for me.  It was just not the path I had laid out for myself.  I have a better and heavenly guide.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Remember Remember

Today is November 5, the day that Guy Fawkes infamously attempted to blow up Parliament in London. This action, called the Gunpowder Plot, was immortalized in the minds of popular culture (minds that usually no next to nothing about history and certainly not enough to appreciate it) by the 2006 action thriller "V For Vendetta" starring Hugo Weaving and Natalie Portman. How many of us own this movie and only watch it but once a year? Contemplating this question made me think of other movies that we sometimes consider "once a year" movies:

Good Friday- "Passion of the Christ"
(2004) The true and saving story of how Jesus Christ suffered and died for us in our place. Criticized by many, it only proves what Jesus Himself said, that we would be mocked and persecuted for our beliefs. Despite its saving message, it's brutal but accurate gore and violence make it a difficult movie to watch more than a few times a year; many people figure that if there is one day to watch it, it is Good Friday.

St. Patrick's Day- "Boondock Saints"
(1999) The cult classic that gained so much popularity after its DVD release that it spurred film makes to make a sequel 10 years after the original. The story about vigilante brothers who feel they have been called by God to eliminate evil men is endearing to society's thirst of justice; throw in the fact that they are two young and attractive Irish men and you have yourself an instant St. Patty's day classic. Vulgar, violent, and in many places over the top, it is the stereotypical Irish party movie.

D-Day (June 6)- "Saving Private Ryan"
(1998) The winner of five Academy Awards (out of 11 nominations), "Saving Private Ryan" was the first Hollywood movie to capture the horror and violence experienced by American soldiers on beaches of Normandy on June 6, 1944. Even though the majority of the movie takes place after the storming of the beach, the opening scene (which does take up 15-20 minutes of the movie) is what most viewers remember the most vividly. A brilliant performance by Tom Hanks and superb directing by Steven Spielberg make this movie an enduring American classic. Best of all, this movie started to raise awareness about the lack of a World War II Memorial in Washington D.C. Years after its release, the memorial was built and opened for the public to come and show appreciation for America's finest heroes.

Christmas- "A Christmas Story
(1983) If you have ever been near a television during any Christmas celebration, chances are you have seen this movie. Even if you have not sat through the entire movie in one sitting, it is highly probable that in the 27 consecutive years it has been shown on Christmas Day (this year will be the 28th) you have seen every scene of it in some kind of order. True, there are many, many Christmas movies; and you most likely have a personal favorite you like to watch every year on Christmas Day. However, out of all of these movies, "A Christmas Story" is most likely the most iconic... as it has been aired for 24 hours straight on Christmas Day in recent years.

Christmas Eve- "A Charlie Brown Christmas"
(1965) In a time where the sanctity of Christmas is defiled, ridiculed, and belittled by popular culture, the annual airing of "A Charlie Brown Christmas" is a breath of fresh air to those of us who still believe in the miracle that is Christ's manifestation. Linus's speech to Charlie Brown about the real meaning of Christmas (a recitation of the Christmas message from the Gospel of Luke) witnesses the Good News of Christ's birth to millions of Americans every year.

New Year's- "Holiday Inn"
(1942) We're going very old school on this one. Holiday Inn, for those of you in my generation that were not fortunate enough to be brought up watching classic and quality cinema, is the story of a song-and-dance performer who has had enough of the traveling, late nights, and unfulfilling life of a big-time star. After his fiance leaves him for his partner, he buys a farm in Connecticut. Farming life quickly proves itself to be far more strenuous than he had enticipated and he suffers a mental breakdown. Once discharged from the hospital, he transforms his farm into an inn that is open only on holidays. A movie that is a good watch on either Christmas or New Years, it is an American classic with stunning performances by Bing Crosby and Fred Astaire (this is also the movie for which Irving Berlin wrote the classic song "White Christmas").

Valentine's Day- "Valentine's Day"
(2010) This movie might be a little bit more recognizable for most you. A decent movie, most guys are glad that this is a "once a year" movie. Not that it is a bad movie per say (the comical performance by Taylor Swift is surly a memorable one), it plays upon the romantic sides of both single women and women who are in a relationship/engaged/married. Highlighted by one of the biggest star-studded casts you will ever come across, it is a movie that is both enduring and funny. Some women may stop here and claim that it is a movie worth watching more than once, but let me retort with this: there is only so much Ashton Kutcher a guy can take.

The wonderful thing about blogs is that I can come back and edit this at any time, which may happen because I cannot think of any other "once a year" movies. I do, however, believe there are more. Of course there are many movies that could take the place of any of the movies on this list; but I have tried to identify the ones that are most popular. In any case, you now know my holiday watch list.

Friday, November 4, 2011

What If...

How often do you sit down after a plan does not go the way it was supposed to and ask yourself "What if?" If you are like any person who has ever lived, this is probably a weekly occurrence at the very least. There are probably dozens of things in your life that make you ask that all to familiar question, but let's take some time to think of that question historically; specifically through a Christian lens.

We are all familiar with the travels of Marco Polo to the Far East. Polo became the first European in centuries to travel so far east and, as far as we know, the first European to enter China. At the time, China was ruled by Kublai Khan, the grandson of the infamous Genghis Khan. What many people do not know is the Khan was so captivated by Polo's account of Christianity that he ordered that he return to Europe and return with 100 Christian ministers so that he, his court, and all of his citizens (he ruled China and parts of India at the time) could be baptized. He claimed that there would be more Christians in the Far East than in all of Europe; and he was right. When Polo gave the Church this message, they were in the midst of a power struggle between candidates for Pope. In addition, the Church was in a constant power struggle with individual monarchs over who had the most authority. In the end, it took them 30 years to send two monks to Kublai Khan's court; two monks who turned back after a few weeks' journey due to "illness." As we know now, China was never converted to Christianity and now remains of the anti-Christian countries in the world. What if the Church had been focused on its true mission and sent the clergy to China? What would the world be like today?

"What if" is a question we should never have to ask ourselves, especially as Christians. In medieval Church was too consumed in itself to realize the incredible opportunity it had. Because of their hypocrisy, we face a Chinese nation that, even though there is an incredible growing number of underground Christians, is a country that stands ardently opposed to Christianity. We need to learn from our past mistakes. When we see an opportunity to witness, no matter how big or small it is, he need to take. We cannot be left wondering "What if?"

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Revelation

Before...

In the silence of darkness
I felt Him.
In the solitude of the morning
I heard Him.
In the brightness of the day
I saw Him.
Feeling, hearing, and seeing
But not knowing.

And then...

In the emptiness of darkness
He appeared.
In the freshness of the morning
He spoke.
In the openness of the day
He remained.
Appearing, speaking, and remaining
God.