29.4.09

Go, Wiebe!

You'd have to see the documentary King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters to appreciate this fully, but Steve Wiebe set the world record on Donkey Kong, Jr. today. Billy Mitchell is now third, but, unfortunately, still holds the record for the original Donkey Kong.

And if you think this is the stupidest post ever, you really need to rent that doc. Then, after that, read the AV Club's interview with the greatest living villain of all time.

24.4.09

Father Emmanuel Katongole Responds

I wrote the Summer Reading Guide for the May/June issue of Relevant magazine. In conjunction with that article, I conducted short interviews with Makoto Fujimura, our own Susan Isaacs, and Father Emmanuel Katongole, who is a Catholic priest, an associate professor at Duke Divinity School, and the author of "Mirror to the Church: Resurrecting Faith After Genocide in Rwanda."

I'm posting a short excerpt from my interview with Fr. Katongole, not as (or not only as) a shameless act of self-promotion, but because something Fr. Katongole said during our conversation may provide a wise and surprising response to Larry Shallenberger's question yesterday about Darfur.

Pattison: Violence rivaling the scale and brutality of the Rwandan genocide persists in countries like Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo. What lessons should Western Christians learn from Rwanda in determining the appropriate response to this kind of mass violence and terror? What should we ask our government to do?

Katongole: I am not so much concerned about “mass violence and terror” as about everyday forms of violence that make us immune to the realities of violence that surround us. Instead of always imagining violence as “out there,” let us begin where you live. Are there Africans in your community? African Americans? Strangers? How have you reached out to them? How have you welcomed them and made them part of your church and social communities? Do you know any Muslims? Have you made any attempts to get to know any? I am sure there are some in your community. I think these engagements on the local level—this everyday politics of good neighborliness and friendships across the divides—can do so much to advance world peace more than treaties and whole scale strategies on behalf of the “Middle East.” In the book, I talk about the difference between tactics and strategies. I really believe that God has given us a vision and call for the peace of the world. Much of that vision and mission is about tactics.
If it's not passing the buck, I'd like to use that as my response too.

23.4.09

Doctorow's City of God and a question for you...




I just got back from a short trip to Denver that was tough on technology. My laptop failed, permanmently. (Sorry, Jordan, no meditation on Sunday. And I left my cellphone with the kind security folk at the DIA (and they are kind, they are mailing it back to me even as we speak).

I reread E.L. Doctorow's City of God. It's one of my favorite novels. Doctrow wrestles with the concept of God from the perspectives of several well drawn, clique-free characters.

One of those characters is the Rev. Tom Pemberton, an Epsicopelean minister who found himself in trouble for a sermon he gave. I'll give you the passage in his own words:


"Oh that's simple enough. I merely asked the congregation what they thought the engineered slaughter of the Jews in Europe had done to Christianity. To our story of Christ. I mean, given the meager response of our guys, is the Holocaust only a problem for Jewish theologians? But beyond that I asked them-- and it was big crowd that morning, and they were with me, I could feel it, after the empty pews of St. Tim's it seemed to me like Radio City-- I asked them to imagine... what mortification, what ritual, might have been a commensurate Christian response to the disaster. Something to assure us that our faith wasn't some sort of self-deluding complacency. Something to assure us of the holy truth of our story. Something as earthshaking in its way as Auschwitz and Dachau?


I read this passage and stopped noticing the Hispanic woman who, just moments ago, knocked herself out with Ambien and kept flopping her head on my shoulder. Docotrow reminded me that action, as much as information, is apologetics.

So here are my questions, to myself first, and then you: How should have the church responded to the Holocaust? And what should our response now be to Darfur?

21.4.09

A Sticky Subject

On Monday, NPR ran a long piece on the legalization of marijuana. With a slightly convoluted structure, the piece imagined a world where marijuana had been legalized for two years already, repeatedly reminding the listener that it was still fantasy, lest a War of the Worlds-style hysteria break out.

Possibly cannabis-driven format aside, the piece is worth a listen. It runs over most of the arguments for and against legalization.

Over the past few months, I've informally polled some folks, Christians and non-Christians from a variety of backgrounds and ages. I've been surprised at the responses. One family friend, in her mid-60s and a devout charismatic Christian, told me cannabis should be legal, and alcohol should be banned. Marijuana is not something widely discussed within Christianity, and I'm curious what other believers really think.

So I created some poll questions, which will run until June 1st. They're down at the bottom of this post.

The NPR piece covers most of the arguments for and against, but I'll go over them very briefly here.
Arguments For

Tax Revenue - Marijuana is the largest cash crop in Alaska, Alabama, California, Connecticut, Hawaii, Kentucky, Maine, North Carolina, Oregon, South Carolina, Tennessee, and West Virginia. It is in the top three in 27 others. The tax revenue from marijuana sales would, if not fix, then alleviate the budget crises of states like California.

Impact on Mexican Cartels - Marijuana, not cocaine or heroin, is the largest source of income for the Mexican drug cartels, and legalizing it would hinder their operations greatly. While drug trafficking would continue (along with other nasty cartel business, like kidnapping), it would be dramatically reduced.

Advantages Over Current Drugs - For medicinal use, marijuana is arguably better than prescription pain medication. It is less physically addictive than opiates, and less harmful over time. Additionally, it could be argued marijuana is safer than alcohol...it's less addictive, less harmful and less likely to result in dangerous or violent behavior and overdosing.

A Less Burdened Legal System - Courts would be freed of prosecuting marijuana-related offenses. Prisons and jails would have more room.

Arguments Against

A Rise in Marijuana Use - Whether or not marijuana is safer than alcohol and prescription drugs doesn't make it a good thing. More widespread use would likely result in a less productive society, along with a whole host of negative health effects.

Gateway - Lax laws on a formerly illicit drug would open the door for further experimentation with harder, more dangerous drugs.

Big Business - While marijuana growing might not reach the levels of Big Tobacco, it would certainly open a cultural floodgate and would, at some point, be marketed to children. (Though some would argue children's television has been drug-induced since the Sixties.)

Biblical Viewpoint - While I'm sure plenty of hippies disagree, there isn't much Biblical support for using marijuana. At the very least, Scripture's order to avoid drunkenness and definition of sloth and gluttony as sin harshen the buzz. In other words, when it comes to the weed itself, there isn't much reason for Christians to advocate legalization.
I'm sure there are many other arguments, but I'll use these as a starting point. What do you think? I'd love to hear about any points I'm missing in the comments. I'd also like to get a wide array of feedback, so please invite anyone else you know to weigh in, or at least take our poll.

Should marijuana be legalized?


Have you ever smoked or otherwise consumed marijuana?


If marijuana was legal, would you consume it?

The Unhappiest City in America

To make a life in Portland - that is, to settle in here, to give yourself over fully to the place - you have to submit to the weather. You have to make peace with the 222 cloudy days each year, and find a kind of pensive beauty in the nine months of rain. You must adapt to the rhythms and eccentricities of the weather, and learn that the rhythms of temperature and cloud-cover and precipitation are themselves eccentric - like the way the sun comes out at 3 p.m. nearly every day, but only for an hour.

These things are not easy to do. Business Week recently named Portland the “unhappiest city” in America due to its high rates of depression, divorce, and suicide (respectively ranked 1, 4, and 12 nationally). According to the magazine, the high levels of unhappiness are due at least in part to “lousy weather.”

I happen to love the weather here. As a kid, I was convinced that all great adventures begin in the rain. And so Portland awakens youthful dreams of thrilling deeds (mostly laid away in books), while satisfying my grown-up conception of rain as a metaphor for renewal (itself a great adventure) and serving as the set and soundtrack for my carefully-cultivated melancholy.

My wife Kate, on the other hand, has a harder time of it. The rain and the clouds, the cold, hail, ice, and snowstorms are personal affronts against her. The lack of sunshine inflames her eczema (and our 18 month-old daughter’s too). Raised in the Sierra Nevada foothills of Northern California, Kate grew up tromping through the forests; given a choice, she might prefer to live in a tent and cook over an open fire. The last 18 months have been especially gloomy in Portland, and Kate has been kept too much inside.

To thrive in Portland, you also learn that weather like we’ve had since last Sunday - sunny skies, temperatures fifteen degrees above average - is an absolute gift. I’ve spent the last few days riding my bike and walking, driving with the windows down, making the transition from jeans and hoodies to shorts, t-shirts, and flip-flops. Kate, who hurt her foot running last week, has been homebound, but she spends hours each day in the garden, or playing with Molly in the front yard, or reading on the lawn chair. The weather returns to normal tomorrow, with a twenty degree drop in temperature, clouds, and even rain on Thursday. But at this moment, this morning, the sunrise through my living room window is a revelation, and the sky is so blue it must be received like a blessing.

17.4.09

More Prognistications Come True!

My record for predicting the future, or at least having really awesome ideas, has been well-documented and irrefutable. And here's one more.

Years ago, I came up with the idea to have an international Summer Olympics, shared between Portland, Seattle, and Vancouver, BC. In this grand concept, a high-speed train route would be built to link the three major cities of the Pacific Northwest.

Well, Vancouver is holding the 2010 Winter Olympics. And a high-speed train is slated to run between Eugene, Oregon and Vancouver, BC. So, maybe it wasn't dead on, but give me a break. I can't be right all the time.

Count me as a big fan of this high speed rail proposal.

16.4.09

These Are Our Priorities

I heard about this video last night, when I watched a clip of Anderson Cooper talking Susan Boyle, a 47 year-old woman on Britain's Got Talent. Apparently, it's an internet sensation. Apparently, it is incredibly inspiring.

Now, many people could view this many different ways, and if you are moved by it, I can't blame you, because Boyle's voice is beautiful and realizing one's dream is not something to dismiss.

But it made me deeply sad. Not Boyle herself, but the reactions of the snickering crowd and the judges and the Seacrest knock-offs backstage. Look at this! they seem to say, It's an unattractive woman who somehow has worth in this world! It's amazing how she overcame her crippling deficiencies, the pretty blonde judge seems to be wandering as she stands and applauds.

It's no secret our society values beauty. In fact, I don't know there's ever been a society in the history of humanity which didn't put it's most attractive specimens on a pedestal. What bothers me is how now, suddenly, Susan Boyle is a person worthy of our admiration because she got onstage and sang like a songbird for our enjoyment. How inferior that is to real love, to how God loves Susan Boyle...how twisted and disgusting that we should treat His creation in this way.

14.4.09

On Comparing the Birth of a Child with an NBA Championship

So, my wife Mindy is pregnant. She's been pregnant for a couple months now or so. Our baby is due in October.

We don't know the sex of the baby, though it's possible we'll get a hint today, as Mindy has another checkup scheduled.

We're very excited, of course. We're at the age where our friends have been having babies for years, which alleviates a lot of the stress because we've seen them do it, and it doesn't seem like a reason to panic.

Don't panic. That's been my mantra. Maybe it's the natural contrarian in me, but I don't want to turn impending fatherhood into a raging cauldron of anxiety and soul-searching. As The Onion pointed out so many years ago, in one of its finest articles, this has happened before. There will no doubt be a million ways I screw my child up in his or her life, so I'm not going to kill myself trying to get it perfect. That may sound like apathy, but I assure you that's not the case. I'm thrilled beyond belief, and I smile every time I think my son or daughter is growing and moving next to me at night.

We had one appointment where we could see the baby. Mindy's doctor status gets her some special treatment, I think, so ultrasounds happen at every appointment. Last time, the baby looked like a Mexican jumping bean with little arm and leg stumps and a fluttering heart.

"Hm. That's interesting," I looked at the monitor.

"Look how big it is!" Mindy cried.

"But it's the size of a bean," was my reply.

It was all fine, but Mindy was disappointed I wasn't more excited. That was our child. I knew that cerebrally, but it didn't register as much more. I've heard people talk about how you see that image of your baby, and you can't possibly believe a fetus isn't a life worth protecting. Again, while I agree with that intellectually, it didn't feel like a real thing. It may have been a little person with half my DNA, but it was still a hazy, black and white oddity which reminded me more of Arty Binewski in Katherine Dunn's Geek Love than a human being.

That night, I was talking to my friend Steve, who's daughter just turned a year-old.

"I guess it's common for the father not to make a strong connection until the baby is born," he said. "That was the case with me. I mean, you're not carrying it around with you."

"Maybe when it starts kicking," I offered.

"Yeah, that'll be nice. But it won't be real until it's born."

I was still confused. So Steve gave me an analogy, because I like analogies.

"It's like the '77 NBA Championship," he said. Steve was born in 1978, and I was born in 1980, yet we're well versed in the footage of these games, in the photos from the parade, in the stories about how it felt. The parade's most famous story involved Bill Walton, who had his bike stolen that day and had to hitchhike to the parade. My dad's best friend claims to be the one who picked him up, which I believed until years later, when I learned everyone's uncle claims the same thing.

"The thing is, we've heard how it felt, and we can see the pictures of people hanging from lampposts and the city celebrating, we can watch other people celebrating championship seasons, but we won't know the real euphoria until it happens."

And while that got me daydreaming more about that giant tipped crown being righted in front of the Rose Garden than the birth of our child, I still think it's the most appropriate metaphor I've heard.

13.4.09

Killer Hair

News of Phil Spector's much deserved murder conviction left me relieved, though small comfort for the family of Lana Clarkson. The LA Times ran a photo collage of his hair history. Here are a few (pre-murder photos on left, post- on right and center).









The LA Times photo collection made me forget for a moment what he'd done. His hair alone was a crime. But as the photos progressed I was brought back to this sorry event. I couldn't help noticing the progression of death taking over his face. I don't know if that's what happens when you take a life, or you take a life and deny it. Maybe murderers who've confessed and repented don't have that pall of Hell on their faces. But I can see it in this man.


Part of the Solution: Denim Sandblasting


Bjoern and I walked into a department store the other day, and immediately upon entering, Bjoern pointed out the men’s vintage look designer jeans and said, “People in Turkey are dying making those jeans.”

Turns out he had recently read an article in our favorite German online news magazine, www.spiegel.de, about Turkish sandblasters, who, due to spraying sand on jeans with a high pressure machine, are dying from a disease called silicosis. Silicosis results from inhaling crystalline silica (quartz is the most common form and is found in granite, slate, and sandstone), which scars the lung tissue and forms nodules that, when enlarged, can cause death by suffocation. Initial symptoms of silicosis include coughing, rapid weight loss, and difficulty breathing.

While silicosis can be prevented with proper equipment, many jeans sandblasters, according to the Spiegel article, wear no protection as they create the vintage look so highly desired by jeans consumers. The workers, as young as thirteen, often work for only one Euro per hour, up to sixteen hours a day and are often unaware of the dangers of sandblasting, as their employers fail to educate them and proper protective gear is not provided. Mehmet Bekirbasak told Spiegel, “ ‘I don’t know how long I have left to live. The factory people should have at least notified us of the dangers. I would have bought the protective gear myself. But for them it was only about the money. They always said ‘work, then nothing will happen to you.’”

“ ‘As many of us grew worse,’” says another factory worker to Spiegel, “ ‘the manager came and said we should drink beer or buttermilk after work, that way we would excrete the poisonous substances. But we had no idea how dangerous this sand is.’”

I had been considering ordering a pair of vintage wash jeans, and now I’m not so sure.

While abstaining from purchasing sandblasted denim is an obvious part of the solution, at least until we are sure all factories take the necessary precautions to ensure workers’ safety, the real challenge is educating consumers about the effects of sandblasting so they can make informed purchases and reduce demand. So read more about the issue by clicking on the links below, then spread the word.

12.4.09

The Risen Christ

(Guest post by Karen Spears Zacharias)

I’ll admit to treading in deep waters, into matters way over my head. To be quite honest, that usually occurs for me before I reach the edge of the four-foot section of the pool.

But this Easter Season has me pondering this matter of Christ Risen.


Having grown up in the Bible Belt and having consumed the Word of God on a daily basis for much of my life, I am unashamedly a Believer. I can’t explain the Virgin Birth, the Crucifixion or the Transfiguration but I believe in it all with my whole heart, mind and soul.


I can’t explain how it is I know my dog loves me either, but I know he does. I can see it in his eyes in much the same fashion as I see God’s love in the vibrant stroke of the redbud blooming or the dogwood bursting. I see evidence of a seductive God in the plop of a tangerine sun into the lavender waters of Mobile Bay, Alabama and the shadowed light streaking across the red clay monuments of Sedona, Arizona.


If there isn’t a Creator behind all the awe-struck wonder of this world then I’m content to be the damned fool who believes there is one, anyway. All the cynics among you are welcome to leave me to my ignorant ways and let me utter praise to a God who I happen to believe just might be responsible for all the glories of this good earth.


If death proves me wrong, well, what has that cost me? A life lived in gratitude and a belief that the world doesn’t rotate routinely for my benefit alone? A theology that compels me to think first of others and their welfare and admonishes me to try and live in harmony, even with people I don’t like very much?


That said I’ve got a bone to pick over the Resurrection. Death would be a lot more palpable, I think, if going into it we knew going into it we only had to spend three days in lock-down. I can manage just about any project as long as I know in advance what the deadline will be. It’s the not knowing that bugs the tar out of me.


I tried to explain this to my husband the other day but Tim’s only response was, “It won’t matter to you then, anyway. You’ll be dead.”


How does he know that?


Maybe it’ll matter more then. After all, I won’t have a dadblasted thing to occupy me until my own Resurrection Day.


Oh. Yes. I know. There are those who say our souls go to heaven the minute we die. But I’ve grown rather fond of this shell of a body I’ve inhabited. I don’t like the idea of this home of mine going to rot.


Three days I can handle. Three years? Ask any inmate – that’s long time to spend in lock-down.


Don’t get me wrong. Come Easter Sunday I’ll be on that front row, singing “He Lives” right along with the rest of the sinners gussied up as saints-for-a-day. But somewhere deep inside me, where the shallow waters pool, I’ll be wishing with all my might that I could be more like the Risen Christ.

11.4.09

Jesus: Friend of Kim



I won the Positively Absolutely Worst Mother of the Year Award just last week.

Just when I thought I had it all together, just when I thought I had it all under control, the bottom fell out on a beautifully sunny day. It didn’t matter that I had been in good form all day, moving from responsibility to obligation to commitment with ease and unusual energy, confidence even, bouncing to and fro like the sun’s rays. It didn’t matter that I had made the children healthy lunches, made it to a meeting on time, or even made the bed. No, no.

What mattered was the faulty time entered in my calendar three weeks prior. What mattered was that the musical showing was not at 7:00, but at 1:45. What mattered was that I had missed the signs and nudges throughout the day, all trying to get my attention to point me to the right time. What mattered was that, while I sat through that meeting, my daughter was performing her role as “Cat” in the school musical.

And what mattered was that my baby came home in tears because no one was there to see her.

While I sat through the meeting, thinking about the special family dinner we would have that evening, thinking about getting her ready in her costume, thinking about seeing my whole family watching her perform on the recorder, play the Orff, and sing her little feline heart out, I hadn’t a clue that I would need my best friend to comfort me on what was supposed to be a joyous evening. I hadn’t the slightest notion that I would be sick with shame at having let my daughter down on her important day. And I didn’t know that I would start to think a lot about rocks. Again. (Being human, this was nothing new.)

What I did was not intentional, unethical, or even immoral, but it wasn’t perfect. I wasn’t perfect. My life seemed quite the opposite that afternoon, the worst part being that my imperfection radiated from my personal epicenter and shook those closest to me. And while I felt like soul-crushing stones of all shapes and sizes were being hurled at me, quite deservedly, from a million different angles, a little voice stepped in and quietly said, “Stop.” Then the voice continually increased its volume until it became a sharp shout, because rocks flying through the air make a surprisingly thunderous sound. Anyway, a cease fire resulted, and the stones dropped to the ground from midair, before they could ever hit me.

In the quiet that followed, the voice proceeded to imply that I am neither the first nor the last to mess up in this life, on this planet. So no one, least of all me, has the right to shame me for my faults with rocks, boulders, or enough grain-sweetened-carob-covered almonds to make anyone sick. (Just saying.)

So at this point I figure one of two things is possible: either Jesus befriended me that day by thwarting an internal stoning, or I am a crazy person who talks to herself.

Hm…

(By the way, our neighbor actually recorded the whole musical, which my husband and I watched that night. And as God’s grace would have it, he coincidentally zoomed in on our daughter and captured all of her performances up close and personal. You’d almost have to think it was actually Jesus Himself filming for us, being the good friend that He is.)

Yesterday at our Good Friday service, we reflected on Jesus as Friend of Sinners. We heard dramatic monologues of the Woman Caught in Adultery, the Woman at the Well, Zaccheus, and the Thief on the Cross, all portraying how Jesus befriended them despite their faults and shortcomings. Jesus consistently befriended those who had no friends, no one to speak for them, no one on their side. He was their friend then, and He is ours today. Jesus was, is, and will be friend to all of us, the unsurpassable proof being the torturous sacrifice He made on our behalf, ultimately overcoming what put Him on that cross so that we might be free.

Happy Easter.
artwork by artist He Qi

10.4.09

Deception

By Guest Contributor Mallory Smith.

It was an uneventful day at Starbucks. I was on bar and John was ringing, but with no customers we were finding miscellaneous trivial tasks to make ourselves look busy while Danny mopped the floor under us forcefully, as he does everything. The silence was broken when a young man came up to the counter and flatly asked John for an application. Taking the paper, he began filling it out, but shortly found himself cotton-mouthed as he returned to the counter to ask me for a cup of water. My aloof impression of him was redeemed when he was somehow excited that I offered ice and he thanked me considerably. As I was putting the lid on his water, Danny beside me focused on the floor and John a few more steps away brewing coffee, the application boy slowly reached out his arms and put both his hands over our tips jars. I watched him, in a daze, and quietly wondered at his interesting kindness to push our overflowing dollars back into their rightful place. My natural assumption was quickly dismissed when he started pulling the dollars out of the tip jar and with change flying and dollars in hands, he bolted out the door. Before I could gather my ruptured thoughts, Danny and John were already less than five feet behind him in the parking lot.

I stood over the freshly poured and lidded water, stunned. As I stared at the quarters and dimes interspersed over the floor, I wondered at the stabbing pain in my back, the ache in my heart, and the tears that were slowly making their way out of my eyes and down my cheeks. It wasn’t loss, anger, or shock that pained me so; it was deception. The young man had extended his hand toward me and after short hesitation I extended my hand in return. His deceptive charm lured me to favor; I liked him. I know our interaction lasted five minutes max and carried a total of fifteen exchanged words, but it was a friendly acquaintanceship, the type that is understood between a grateful customer and a generous employee. The shred of a relationship (that was obviously never really there) was shattered, however, when I realized that his seeming flattery was nothing short of depraved malice. His kindness was a tool to inflict pain.

Danny and John made their way back into the store: Danny repeating to himself a seven-digit license plate number while rummaging for a pen and paper, and John heading toward the register to help the flustered and now antsy customers. As I poured Vanilla Bean Frappuccinos and concocted Chai Tea Lattes, I pondered the effect the boy’s actions had on me. I considered the affects of deception, and I was reminded of a similar story. I wondered what it would be like to run into a close friend during the weakest and most anguished moment of your life and to have that friend kiss you on the cheek, demonstrating his affection, love, and support, affirming the fact that he has your back. I can imagine that kiss washing over you with warm reassurance, serving to somewhat ease your present distress, telling you that you are not alone. I wondered what sort of unbearable pain would embrace you as you realize that the kiss of your so-thought friend was not one of kindness, but of deception. I can’t imagine what it would feel like to realize that the sign of affection that brought you cherished comfort, was actually a means to cause you great sorrow, a tool to inflict upon you the torment that you dreaded. It is perplexing; the hurt of betrayal, the pain of deception has bruised even the greatest of men.


Mallory Smith lives in Simi Valley, California. She is a post-college,
aspiring writer who is trying to figure out what it means to grow up.

The Butterfly and the Web

I started re-reading Shusaku Endo's novel Silence yesterday. Silence is a challenging novel about the struggle of Christianity in Japan during the early 1600s. This was as time of intense religious persecution. The government wasn't satisfied with killing Christians; this is how martyrs were made. So Christians were tortured until they recanted their profession of Christ. These broken men and women were released back to their villages and living testaments demonstrating how hollow this faith was.

There's a scene in the book where the protagonist of the book, a missionary, recants his faith. His torturer mocks him with these words. "Father, you were not defeated by me. You were defeated by the swamp of Japan." Endo later explained he meant to communicate that Hellenistic Christianity could not penetrate the Japanese mind. Endo's translator explains, "Japan is a swamp because it sucks up all sorts of ideologies, transforming them into itself and distorting them in the process. It is the spider's web that destroys the butterfly, leaving only the ugly skeleton." A Westernized faith could not be transplanted into an Eastern culture.

This paragraph resonated with all the doubts about Christianity I have as a believer. One of my unshakable fears is not that there is no God, but that we are incapable of listening to him. I watched Bill Maher's Religulous last weekend. Much of Bill's criticisms were aimed at the ways we've distorted the Christian message with our TV preachers, Christian theme parks, and other oddities. Naturally, these distortions bubbled up our of our distorted thinking. Its easy for me to deflect Bill's criticisms by noting that most of his movie took shots at brand of faith that needed to be lampooned.

But then it hit me, there's much less of a gap between Western and Eastern culture than there is between Heaven and Earth. If God's voice can't be translated from one side of the Globe to the next without being hopelessly distorted, how can it travel from God's dimension to ours?

Our theologians know about the spider web and call it sin. Martin Luther described the web as an inward bent that alienates us from God, each other, and ourselves. Every attempt that God ever made to communicate with humanity was caught in this web and was broken like Endo's butterfly, leaving only the ugly bone. This, of course is true, and is the story of how we came to have religion instead of grace, in spite of God's intention.

Today is Good Friday, the day we remember that Jesus was stretched on the web that guarded us from God's love. We stretched, distorted, and broke Jesus just as we did with every messenger God sent before him. By faith, we affirm that something different happened this time. Somehow, in a way that we do not understand, Jesus snapped the power of our web. Thjavascript:void(0)e web is still there, but it is torn and flapping in the breeze. It Someday the web will be broomed away for good. But today we celebrate Jesus, broken for us.

9.4.09

Swag.

If you're not a Blazer fan now, this article will get you there.

Right now, Sacramento is somehow up on the Rockets and the Lakers are beating Denver, which might be the only time I've ever rooted for the Lakers. But that all ends tomorrow.

8.4.09

What are the sites I should see in Portland?

I know there's a lot of Portlanders that visit this blog. I'll be in your fair city for the first time in May. It looks like I'll have a free day to see the sites.I was a bit late booking my flight and have to catch at red-eye back to Pennsylvania. That's unfortunate. The upside is that I have a free day to rest, write, or have an adventure.

So, where should a tourist visit? Hook me up with the sites and the restaurants. Where do you catch a hot band?

6.4.09

The Idiot Box - Kings

Over the last couple years, I spent a lot of time thinking about story. Partly, this was based on discussions with Don, who's wrapping up a book about story, and partly because it's because I want to learn the gears and cogs that make certain stories work.

One of the most fascinating aspects of story is how intelligent the listener becomes. We catch every little flaw and drooping boom mike, feel hollow at every loose end.

The difference is moral, too. In my real life, I can be impatient and quick to anger, and I can explain it away with any number of factors, like I'm hungry or tired or I had a bad day at work. But if I see a character acting that way, I know immediately that impatience and temper are bad. That doesn't mean the character isn't sympathetic, but actions strike a visceral chord in story.

Which brings me to NBC's new drama, Kings, a drama set in some sort of future world where the world is once again ruled by royal families. The show is based on the life of King David, beginning with David slaying Goliath (in this case, one of the enemy's feared armored units). The show's intriguing previews, excellent concept, and Biblical roots were a big draw for me. But, as is often the case, the execution is wanting.

The problem is implausibility. Kings throw so many lazily written scenes out, that it's hard to tell if they believe the audience is stupid, or just have no understanding of how the world actually works. Here's a list of things the writers of Kings would have you believe:
- That two modern countries could go from war to peace celebrations to war again, and then back to peace within the span of a few days, all for no apparent reason as far as the public is concerned.

- That an exploding grenade in a pigeon coop would not kill the pigeons, but only send them flying away.

- That Ian McShane is just as awesome when he's not swearing, running a saloon/whorehouse in the 19th centry American West, and doesn't have the name "Al Swearengen".

- That the gatekeepers of the main palace would be two Shakespearean clowns, and they would also do various other tasks around the kingdom, like lobbing grenades into pigeon coops, and delivering pianos to war heroes.

- That an army would capture the opposing army's Crown Prince, a celebrity playboy, then detain him in a lightly guarded tent approximately 200 yards from the opposing army's front line.

- That the frontlines of an opposing army would be guarded by tanks unequipped with night vision.
The biggest absurdity the viewer has to swallow, though, is the character of David.

The show begins with David Shepherd (subtle, right?) on the front lines of the war. Believing captured soldiers are being hidden in that tent, approximately 200 yards away, David sneaks out in the middle of the night to rescue them. He creeps his way across no man's land, crawls under a tank (and past the one man roving patrol) and cuts his way into the tent, freeing the two captives inside.

As they make their way back across no man's land, the tanks roar to life, and David pushes the two POWs on, standing alone to fight the tanks himself with a rocket launcher and grenade. Finally, when it seems there is no way out, he stands to face the Goliath tank, when suddenly an explosion rips through the tank and David escapes to safety. The photos of him standing against the tank become a media sensation, and David is a war hero.

But wait! David is not as courageous as he seems! As his brother lies dying from an attack weeks later, David tearfully admits he was not standing up to the tank, but surrendering...he was a coward after all! Sure, he crawled alone across enemy lines, freed two captive soldiers, then fought off two tanks singlehandedly when the rescue operation broke down. But he's not really that courageous, the writers want to explain. He's conflicted. He's like us!

The real David is one of the most intriguing, conflicted characters in the most famous book of all-time. The writers could have focused on his ambition, or his lust for women and power, or his unease with how skilled he was in war. Instead, they hinge David's inner conflict around being secretly cowardly. It's lazy and bland, and it makes David Shepherd a shiny, polite do-gooder rather than an actual character.

Kings is different enough that it may have found a niche audience years ago, but viewers have come to expect more from television, and we are less accepting when storytellers try and slip one by us. Without some healthy respect for the story's origins and modern audiences, Kings is another example of modern Biblical storytelling falling sadly short.

5.4.09

Mediations: Subversive Worship



This morning, churches around the globe celebrated Palm Sunday, which commemorates Jesus' purposeful entrance into Jerusalem in the manner of a peaceful king. Prior to this point in his career, Jesus avoided the adoration of the masses. He healed a man and ordered him to keep it a secret. Jesus deliberately drove away potential followers by cryptically teaching that they would have to "eat his flesh and drink his blood."

Jesus was aware of the messianic expectations that were being placed on him. Jesus launched the Passion Week by fueling those expectations. We're only given a few details of the processional that Jesus organized. It's the crowd's reaction-- the palm waving and the Hosannas-- that cue us to the fact that the crowd understood Jesus' to be entering Jerusalem as it's rightful ruler.

This morning I discussed this event this a group of college students. They reminded me that the crowd's worship was an act of subversion. The crowds that were normally in the temple were now worshiping on the side of the road. The priests watched their power base erode in front of their eyes. The Romans outpost noticed the worshipers rally around a would-be challenger to Caesar.

I wonder if the only reason that the temple guard or the Centurions didn't come out to stop Jesus' demonstration was the combination of the size of the crowd and the element of surprise.

The point, I'm trying to make is this: the peoples' worship was subversive. They risked something to honor Jesus. Sure, their worship was misguided. Jesus didn't come to Jerusalem to supplant the Romans. But there was still an element of personal cost to throw their lot in behind Jesus. Each person in the crowd understood that by participating in Jesus' coronation that they were helping to make "the kingdom come."

The risky worship of the crowd suggests how we should worship Jesus this Easter. Two thousand years later we are at risk to view Jesus as an ideology or a symbol. The truth is, that we continue to worship a very real king. Our worship then must be express by our praises and by our living out his heavenly values. The crowd reminds us that if our worship is not culturally subversive it's probably not mature.

2.4.09

Jerryd Bayless...The Egyptian Boy King?

With the Blazers a whisker from the NBA playoffs for the first time in a while, I figured it was time for a Blazers post.

I could openly mock Dan Gibson and his Phoenix Suns for failing spectacularly to make playoffs despite having one of the greatest centers in NBA history and a two-time MVP at point guard. But that seems too easy.

A few weeks ago, my dad called me up at work begging me to post about Jerryd Bayless and his uncanny resemblance to King Tut. I must say, I wasn't as enthused about it, but I figured I'd put Bryan Allain's masterful photoshop skills to work just to make dad happy. Maybe it'll get me out of a Father's Day gift.

If you're into the NBA, or The Wire, I suggest visiting the many sites devoted to comparing pro ballers to The Wire characters. I always get a kick out of it, especially Brian Scalabrine being compared to Ronnie Perlman.

1.4.09

Watch Your Back

Ah, April Fool's, when you can trust no one. Last year, Chad Gibbs got me...all of us...pretty good. And, in response, I killed his dog.

But it's not all fun and jokes today. Google has released a disgusting affront to interpersonal communication: Google Autopilot. First Twitter, now this. Computers are killing our lives, people, and we stand by and wallow in it like pigs in spent watermelon rinds.