December 31, 2007

On my favorite things from 2007

I don't have the money or time to listen to all the music I want, read all the books I desire or see all the movies that come I couldn't pick a top ten list of any of those things. Or they at least wouldn't all be from 2007. So I'll just make a list of all my favorite things from this, the year of our Lord two thousand seven. Many of these things aren't actually from 2007, but this is just when I happen to get around to them.

In no particular order:

1. Arcade Fire, Neon Bible: So flipping good. G
o to to see an interactive video their song Neon Bible. It's kind of freaky, in a classic horror movie sort of way, but I couldn't take my eyes off it and watched it at least four times this weekend.

2. Rosie Thomas, These Friends of Mine: I love her voice and how innocent it sounds. She's friends with Sufjan Stevens, so that automatically makes her worth listening to. I could listen to Paper Doll on repeat for hours.

3. Over the Rhine, The Trumpet Child: How the heck have I gone this long and never heard of or listened to these people? Her voice! His songs! So good. Whenever I listen to The Trumpet Child, I feel like I'm sitting in a smoky bar with low lights and a good drink.

4. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: The perfect end to an amazing series. I laughed, I cried like a baby, and I didn't want it to end.

5. Radiohead, In Rainbows: Even if the music sucked (which it didn't), the fact that you could pay what you want was brilliant.
Not only did they pull the greatest marketing ploy ever (gotta love it when a musician sticks it to the out-of-touch recording industry and actually succeeds), but the album was worth every pound you paid (or didn't pay). Most people seem to be choosing Weird Fishes/Arpeggio as their favorite, but Nude has to be my favorite. That base line gives me goosebumps.

6. This site is for anyone who loves one-of-a-kind and handmade artwork, crafts, clothes, and accessories. It's kind of like eBay for artists, except you don't bid on things. Anyone can open up their own Etsy shop and sell their wares. Most of the items are more expensive than what you'd buy at Target or even Urban Outfitters (depending on what you're buying), but you get items you aren't likely to see at your friend's house. And you're supporting artists because the money goes straight to them. Bonus!

Sex God by Rob Bell: I've only read it through once and I want to read it again to get the big picture. Bell has a way of taking something complex and profound and making it completely accessible to anyone. This book not only makes an excellent case for abstinence and its beauty, but it uses the traditions found in the Old Testament to show God's love for each of us. There is so much more to this book, but I'm trying to be succinct. Just go read it.

8. Bishop Allen, The Broken String: This group is so much stinking fun, I can hardly stand it. They don't make any profound statements with their music or even do anything groundbreaking, but it's mindless fun. I've heard they're great live because they seem to just be excited to be playing their music.

9. Waitress: I feel like the majority of good movies this year were depressing, but Waitress left a smile on my face. I'm a big Keri Russell fan and she's great in this film. It will also inspire you to go home and bake a pie or two or fourteen.

10. Anne of Green Gables: This movie was actually made in 1985, but I didn't see it for the first time until this summer. It's absolutely adorable and will make you want to move to a small town, buy an old farmhouse, and adopt a red-headed girl (and then bake pies like Keri Russell in Waitress, heh heh).

11. Casino Royale: This is the only Bond movie I've ever seen and I loved it. Part of me never wants to watch another Bond movie so I can maintain the image of Bond from this film in my mind. The womanizing picture of Bond doesn't appeal to me. Shocking, I know.

12. Friday Night Lights: I was late to the game (no pun intended) with this show (as I was for Lost, Arrested Development and The Office), but every single one of you need to watch this show. Put it on your Netflix cue right now and be prepared to fall in love with this show, its characters and its well-written gloriousness.

13. Jane Eyre: BBC made this marvelous four-hour version of one of my favorite books and then Masterpiece Theater aired it. This is one of the few 'chick' novels that I believe many guys would also enjoy and the BBC did an excellent job on this version. The scene right after Jane saves Rochester's life is reason enough to watch this series over and over again.

14. Waterdeep, Heart Attack Time Machine: I'm a sucker for acoustic music and anything Waterdeep or Enter the Worship Circle puts out. This album did not disappoint. They have a way of telling simple stories in a profound way, all while making you love the music they've put with the story.

15. Lost: I watched the first season on DVD in two days (it was exam week...what else was I going to do?). Season three had its ups and downs, but the season finale blew me away. The one resounding reason I want the writer's strike to end is so I can see the entire fourth season of Lost uninterrupted.

Honorable mentions: Joanna Newsom, Spoon (Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga), Band Marino (The Sea and the Beast), Till we Have Faces by CS Lewis, Pushing Daisies, Chuck, Feist (The Reminder)

Things I abhored this year: The Squid and the Whale, Man of the Year (has Robin Williams just given up making good movies?), The Break-Up, American Idol (there. I said it. I can't stand that show)

That's all for now. Here's to the new year and what lies ahead.

December 14, 2007

On Glow-in-the-Dark Cats

This might be the most disturbing thing I've seen in a long time:

Cloned cats that glow

Apparently, since scientists in Korea have cured all other diseases, ended poverty and gotten rid of all the potholes in South Korea, they've decided to clone cats and make them glow in the dark.

Okay, I admit, they apparently do have some sort of medical and scientific reason for doing this. But seriously--follow the link and you will be witness to some scary-looking kittens. As if the glowing eyes that cats have naturally isn't scary enough, now their whole face glows.

December 12, 2007

On Putting a Stop to the Madness (of the Trix Rabbit)

I submit that the following should be discontinued and forgotten and never used again:

1. Using the "Got Milk?" ad campaign for things other than the "Got Milk?" campaign.
For example, churches are no longer allowed to name a sermon series (or any of their other events) "Got God?" We must put a stop to the overuse of this "Got ____?" epidemic. It's old. Really, really old.

2. Using the Mastercard "Priceless" ad campaign for things other than the "Priceless" campaign. People, people, people. It's only cute when Mastercard does this. Even then, it can get old. We get it. Some things are priceless. Some things are not. Most of the things that are priceless are abstract lessons or memories or events that we'll take pictures of and then make elaborate scrapbook pages about. We know and we weep with pleasure that the world has finally realized that the important things are priceless and can't be bought. Now let's all go to the mall and buy some more stuff using our Mastercard.

3. Carrot Top. Yes, he's a person, so we can't really get rid of him. But he's really annoying and should be forgotten and never brought up again.

4. Papyrus font. I'll admit it: I used to like this font. It's textured! And slightly different from your average sans serif font! But then it started showing up everywhere. Churches embraced it with a fervor not seen since those disgusting communion wafers were invented! Wedding planners loved it and thought it evoked a sense of romanticism! And thus was born the era of Papyrus font. We must throw off the chains of this light but oh-so-gripping font. It is not good for signage (too thin to see from far away) and the world is full of fonts that evoke romanticism and have texture coming out their wazoo. Yes, their wazoo! So let's stop using Papyrus and let it rest in peace, knowing that it had its 15 minutes of fame in the early years of this grand century of ours.

5. Ripping off Macintosh's use of 'lowercase syllable + uppercase syllable = trendy product' formula. Anything made by Macintosh starts with a lowercase 'i'--iPod, iMac, iBook, etc. And since any and all Mac-related products are automatically trendy, marketing executives and
Corporate America embraced this formula like it was pure gold dipped in platinum and sprinkled with diamond dust. They held tight to the belief that people will assume that anything using this formula is not to be lived without. I must have it. I must.

6. Not letting the Trix rabbit have Trix. Call me crazy, but I found it highly distressing as a youngster that they wouldn't let the poor rabbit have some Trix. Why are Trix only for kids? Do they have some sort of chemical or vitamin or mineral that is poisonous to rabbits and will cause their floppy ears and bushy tail to fall off? Is the rabbit really a metaphor for adults, and they're saying that Trix are only for those who are young and don't care about the sugar content in cereals? Are they saying that, as an adult, we shouldn't want Trix or we shouldn't eat it even if we want it? What are they trying to tell us? Either way, I don't think it's very nice to discriminate against a poor rabbit who just wants some cereal. Aren't there laws against that?

That's all for now. Feel free to add your own entries to the list. Together, maybe we can put a stop to the needless overuse of these marketing ploys.

December 7, 2007

On Wasting Money

At the First Baptist Church of Fort Lauderdale's $1.3 million Christmas Pageant is more Broadway extravaganza than local production.

Could they really not think of a better way to spend $1.3 million? Is Fort Lauderdale some sort of Utopian society, with no needy people? I'm sure if that's true, there are other communities close to them that could use the $1.3 million to help out some people. Do they really think fireworks and flying angels will bring people to God better than a 'normal' Christmas program? If I remember correctly, it's not impressive displays of pyrotechnics (or any human endeavor) that brings people to Christ, but the Holy Spirit.

I'm just saying. Surely they could have thought of a better way to spend $1.3 MILLION.

December 6, 2007

On Knowing the Whole Story

Nobody likes knowing half the story, except perhaps so they might be able to continue living in denial. But when the whole story helps make the experience fuller and richer, it's safe to say we all like to know the full story. A current example that comes to mind are the Harry Potter books and movies. I am an avid fan of the Harry Potter franchise. If I told you the extent of my fanhood, you'd probably decide I'm insane and stop reading, because who wants to read the blog of a crazy person?

Anyway, my friend (a fellow Harry fan) and I have discussed on numerous occasions the many faults of the HP movies, particularly the third movie, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. Overall, we love the movies, but we of course would rather the movies be five hours long and included every detail of the books. We are aware of our full-fledged crazy. If you had never read the books and went to see the movie, you'd be missing plot points and details that would further enrich your Harry Potter experience. The two most blatant examples are the marauder's map and the form of Harry's Patronus (a stag). For those who haven't read the books or seen the movies, first I must ask where the heck you've been in the last ten years. Second, I'll explain what each of these things are.

The Marauder's Map is a map of Hogwarts that shows where every single person or animal is located in the school. Tiny dots with labels move all over the map, enabling the user to see if anyone is coming to ruin their fun or mischief. The makers of this map were Moony, Wormtail, Padfoot and Prongs. Later in the book we find out that these four people were actually Harry's father and three friends. Each of them could turn into animals (Moony was a werewolf and didn't turn on purpose, the others did so on purpose) and so these nicknames corresponded with their animals. Harry's father transformed into a stag, so his name was Prongs. This brings us to the Patronus.

A Patronus is created using a spell and protects the witch or wizard. Each wizard's Patronus takes the shape of an animal that is either meaningful to them or has qualities similar to them. So what shape does Harry's Patronus take? A stag. Like his father's animal form.
You're probably wondering why I just explained all of that. In the movie, each of these facts is completely disregarded. Viewers never learn that Harry's father and friends made the map or that his father's animal form was a stag. This bothered me because I felt like these two facts would have given the story and the characters more depth. We could have learned more about the character of Harry's father and more about Harry's feelings toward his father. We could have learned some history of Harry's family. Instead, we got a ten minute scene with the knight bus, a completely irrelevant part of the story. I'm still bitter.

Now let's bring it all in. I'm assuming we all agree that knowing all the facts of a story helps to make a story better and more meaningful. Granted, in many instances it's impossible to know the full story and fit all the facts in. Whenever someone complains about the media being one-sided or not telling all the facts, I remind them that if we told every single fact, news stories would each last an hour or take half a day to read. The media has to pick and choose which facts they believe are most important. Does that result in lopsided storytelling? Sometimes, yes. But if you have a problem with it, read more than one story on the same subject. Read CNN, Fox News and MSNBC. But I digress.

Most people avoid reading the Old Testament. It's long and wordy and there are a lot of rules. It's hard to pronounce the names. And don't even try to get them to read about the history of those times (using outside sources). But I believe we're missing so much of God's character and His plan when we only read the New Testament. We only know the major details of half the story! We all hear about how angry God seemed in the Old Testament, yet we avoid reading it for ourselves. The Israelites didn't exactly make it easy on themselves. I've always enjoyed reading and learning about history, believing that it will help us understand the actions and culture of the people at the time. I think if we knew more about the culture and way of life for the characters in the Old Testament and the world at the time, we would gain a better and richer understanding of the stories and of God.

I guess all I'm saying is that we've gotten used to reading the highlights and just getting the gist of stories and of history. If our belief system (Christianity) is more than just a set of rules to live by, but it's a lifestyle that permeates every facet of our being, then shouldn't we know more about it? Shouldn't we know where we came from so we know where we're going? So we can fully understanding where we're going and why we're going there?

December 3, 2007

On the angry gods: A video from CNN

CNN did a short segment on Rob Bell and his rising popularity and spoke particularly about his book Sex God. The segment, of course, couldn't fully explain Rob's views on everything or even fully explain some of what he said in the segment, but it's a pretty good video. He's blatant about the importance of abstinence, but makes it sound like something amazing, rather than something churches have come up with to keep people under their thumb. It's obvious even from this short video that Rob is different from pastor superstar Joel Osteen because Rob actually has opinions that are contrary to the culture as a whole and he isn't afraid to express those views. In a similar piece I saw on CNN about Osteen, he wouldn't answer questions about his views on homosexuality or abortion.

Anyway, the video is here.

December 1, 2007

On the angry gods: Part 3

God is a God of freedom and love. He freed the Israelites and Abraham's descendents from having to make sacrifice after sacrifice after sacrifice--never knowing where they stood with God. Then He sent His son as the final sacrifice, the pure and perfect lamb.

I'll be honest--this is when my memory of exactly what Rob Bell said gets fuzzy. It's been more than a week since I saw him. But I'll quote this to you:

"Repentance of sin is just waking up to what God has already done."

This makes me think of the quote from CS Lewis: "Prayer doesn't change God, it changes us."

God is finished in the sense that He knows exactly what is going to happen. He has already forgiven us and made His plans. He knew us before we were born and knew exactly who'd we become and what decisions we'd make. He knows the desires of our hearts and what sins we'll commit. And He loves us. Something Rob has said in interviews and during his message was that God loves us all--those who embrace His message and ask for forgiveness, as well as those who do not and reject Him. He's gotten flak for this and many Christians believe that God only loves those who have accepted Christ as their savior. My first instinct is to side with Rob and say that God loves all humans, inside or outside of communion with Him. I don't have a lot to back this up with, other than the fact that He created us and I don't imagine He flips a switch between love and hate whenever we convert to Christianity.

The last half of Rob's message expounded on God's love for us. He is not a God who sits in heaven, waiting for us to make a mistake and zap us. He loves us and desires for us to love Him and love others and have a real relationship with us. Rob told stories of people he knows and how their lives have been changed by Christ. People who were abused physically, mentally and emotionally. People who lived in poverty and were touched by another Christian. We only have the ability to love like this because our faith has given us this ability (my own thought--not Rob's).

One important story he told was a personal story of how he used to work constantly and was miserable. He was talking with a friend and this friend kept telling Rob that he didn't have to live like this. He didn't have to work to get ahead. He didn't have to climb the ladder of success or have this big-time career. Rob tried to defend himself, but his friend kept saying over and over 'you don't have to live like this.' Eventually it dawned on Rob--he didn't have to live like this. Our fallen selves have made gods out of our careers, money, the approval of others, success and anything else we sacrifice everything for. We scoff and wonder how in the world people could ever believe in Zeus or Aphrodite or any of those gods, yet we do the same thing. We work for these invisible 'forces' that say we have to get ahead, we have to make money, we have to do, do, do. We can't stop. We've done more than make idols out of these things, we've made them our gods and we worship them and the false sense of security and happiness they bring.

Final thoughts: I remember in high school learning about the different types of ways to approach research for writing papers. You could read a story/poem/book and research it by focusing on different aspects of the story and its creation. My favorite way of researching things was by looking at the author's personal history and the current events/culture of the world when the author wrote it. What we write is directly related to our world and what's going on at the moment. One of the most blatant examples is the poetry that came out of World War I. For years beforehand, poetry about war made the whole thing seem romantic and pure, but the poetry written by soldiers in WWI revealed just how horrible war is. Their poetry was directly influenced by their world and their biography. All of this is to say that I appreciate how Rob looks at history to see how it shaped the stories in the Bible. I read one blog where the writer said Rob believes that the story of the Good Samaritan is supposed to be about the prejudice of the audience Christ was preaching to. Interesting.

During one of the stories Rob told, he retold a story that Brennan Manning has used about a woman who claimed to be hearing God's audible voice and had been having conversations with Him. A priest, who was upset about her claim, talked to her and said that the next time she 'talked' to God, she should ask Him what sins the priest last confessed. After her next conversation with God, the priest came and asked her what God had said. She said He simply stated "I don't remember." I understand the sentiment of this story and the belief that God forgets our sin once it is confessed, but I don't know if I agree that God forgets our sin. He's omniscient, isn't He? I believe part of being omniscient is knowing the past, present and future, including sin. And doesn't a God as powerful as the true God have the ability to really and truly forgive without forgetting? And doesn't it make Him all the more amazing that He knows our past mistakes but still loves us?

I've always struggled with taking the intellectual concept that God loves me and making it real and feeling like God not only loves me out of obligation, but because He wants to love me. It's not just a "I'll take care of you and make sure you have food to eat" love, but a deep and emotional love, a love that wants me to be content and happy in Him. He knows the desires of my heart and has a plan for me. He's more like Aslan and less like the distant God we often have in our minds. He is my heavenly father, not my earthly father and does not have the flaws of my earthly father or any other human I know. Hearing Rob speak about this love and lack of anger toward me was refreshing and eye-opening. It's hard to take the things I know about God in my head, and make them real to me in my heart.

These three entries on what Rob Bell spoke about don't do him justice. He's an amazing orator with the ability to take profound truths and stories and messages and make them completely accessible, without dumbing them down. I know a lot of people have issues with some of his teachings and views, but I've never heard him say anything that is harmful to the absolute truth that we must come to faith in Christ alone and that it is by grace alone this happens. He doesn't advocate the crap that is 'prosperity gospel' and actually rails against it. He lives and breathes God's command to love your neighbor and spread His Word. He loves people and wants to see them come to faith in Christ. I certainly can't fault him for that.