Sunday, March 22, 2009

The Voice in the Still

I was sitting in church this morning - pretty much like any other Sunday morning. I make a shameless statement in saying that I love my church. It's genuine, it's hard-hitting, and it's water to this thirsty woman. But this morning, I had a nagging question in my head: "WHY does God allow faulty human beings to showcase his perfect, flawless love to other people?" Why, in God's wisdom, does He see fit to give examples of what He true love really is? Don't we massively screw it up without even thinking about it? Aren't we perfectly unloving when we're supposed to be absolutely unconditionally loving?

I asked God: "Why do you let us screwed up humans carry your love about? Why put precious ointment in an old, cracked, useless container?"

When the answer came, I couldn't really describe, not even after the fact. I love words - written or verbal - almost more than any other form of human expression, but this didn't come in human words. This was more of a verbal-feeling, if that makes any sense. I almost have to "translate" what went on.

His answer: "My love is all the more amazing when it is carried to the unlovable and the unsaved by flawed humans who WANT to learn to unconditionally love."

The answer came and I felt absolutely stunned. I have no doubt that God and I were having a conversation (it wasn't the constant Congressional debate that goes on in my head much of the time), but His answer was so painfully simple and logical that it blew me away.

I want to say thank you to my Lord for just sitting down and talking it out with me. You know that I'm just as flawed as the next person, that I continuosly slip and fall, that I don't love when I should, but I'm so grateful that you love a perfectly unlovable human just the same. Thank you.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

How Great We Are

This particular post is aimed towards most Christian songs today, and it discusses the concept of "Memememe" that can be found in so many popular Christian songs. I started to become aware of this after I read a post on the blog "" found on WordPress, and then became further aware after watching Louie Giglio's "Indescribable" tour. If you have not seen "Indescribable" on tour or on DVD, I recommend that you get it as soon as possible.

I suppose that most modern day praise choruses are guilty of this, but I wonder from time to time if this whole "I-I-I-I-I" deal has something to do with spiritual immaturity. It is only with maturity that a relationship with Christ grows deeper and becomes less about us and more about Him. The analogy of a baby and a parent goes well here. When a baby is first born, it doesn't have the ability to think about anyone but herself. This really goes on until the child is older. But selfishness and self-absorption never really ends - it seems to be a default type of nature.

I would have put down an example of this "Mememememe" negative revolution that seems to be so rampant, but that's not really the point of my post. It is my hope that readers will become aware of this revolution just by listening to what is sung in church, but self-absorption goes across the board in every category of our lives, and I'm not convinced that it can be completely and totally exorcised out of our lives. That shouldn't stop us from trying, should it? Nah.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Manufactured Christmas Cheer

It's that time of year - again. Christmas, that is. Oh, I love the family reunions, the food, the Christmas church services, and playing Wii together, but Christmas has almost always felt a bit, well, fake to me - has it to you?

Not fake in the sense of most people's sincerity when they say, "I'm going to spend as much time as possible with my family," "I want to get my kids that special thing," "I want to do what I can for kids who won't have Christmas presents this year." No, I mean the Christmas fluff - the songs, the Christmas movies, the cards, etc. Christmas these days smells of a manufactured holiday, not unlike Halloween or Easter. The thought that a kid won't be happy unless they get what they've wanted all year, the thought that grinding "Jingle Bells" into cerebral grooves just once more will contribute to the Christmas spirit, the thought that Christmas isn't Christmas without a fully decorated yard and house is what has led to fake Christmases that we live each and every year. What gives a Christmas tree it's "Christmas spirit?" We do. A tree is a tree is a tree. We give it meaning, where otherwise it would have none.

Our society has evolved into one that is a consumerist society, and consumerism rears it's ugly head especially hard during Christmas season. The toys that moms and dads buy their kids will be thoroughly abandoned and forgotten by the next Christmas season, and often parents do their kids a disservice by buying them toys that "all the other kids want," without thinking that buying what they want is merely status-elevating through consumerism. We are a unique culture in that we attribute status to certain objects and gratify our need for community status by buying these objects. Is this what Christmas has become? A status-grabbing race? Who's to thank for that?

We are. You can try to heap the blame on "manufacturing corporations," but corporations don't make what isn't in demand (now if only American car makers would apply this concept). If people don't demand Cabbage Patch Dolls, TY Beanie Babies, and Webkinz, then manufacturing companies won't make them. Very simplistic.

On a much less deep level, what irritates the bejeebes out of me is the phrase, "Happy Holidays." I want to hear, "Merry Christmas," if you please. I understand that there are "other religions out there that don't celebrate Christmas," but I think it's a little ridiculous to go as overboard as we've gone with the holiday political correctness. We have become a society of fear. "Oh good lord, if I offend this particular religious, racial, economic, political group, then I will lose status in the eyes of my community and..." It's become completely pointless, it's as though we have a medically-untreated bipolar society with whom we have to step on eggshells to keep from being the straw that breaks the camel's back, so to speak. Be offensive, for once. I want to hear, "Merry Christmas," please.

On another level without depth, I'm just going to throw out there that many of today's Christmas songs are unintelligent, meaningless, and trite. Most carols are there just to recreate the "Christmas spirit," which encourages consumerism, which encourages status-grabbing, which in turn encourages pettiness and the "Mememememememe" attitude. There are plenty of beautiful and lyrically-genuine Christmas songs out there such as "What Child is This, "Joy to the World," "O Holy Night, (the song to sing if you want to get a record deal)" but those aren't sung nearly as much as "Here Comes Santa Claus," "I'll Be Home for Christmas," or "Rudolf the Red-Nosed Reindeer." And good grief, let's cut the "it's so good to be home for Christmas" themed songs. Yeah, it's good to be home for Christmas until you realize the next morning why you moved out in the first place.

So! Have a Merry Christmas with your family. Eat too much food. Scream at whatever referees are in charge of whatever football game with your uncles. Give your cousins little annoying toys that make insipid noises until the batteries die. In the meantime, remember that Christmas would be pointless if Christ hadn't come to earth admidst our meaninglessness and given us a meaning to live out. DON'T take Christ out from Christmas during your familial celebrations.

Thursday, November 27, 2008


Sensitivity - what is it? Is sensitivity the innocence that we are born with, the innocence that we are conditioned to have through our environment, or the innocence that there is before education and peer groups?

The other day I was watching a part of CSI: Miami, and it is obvious that Miami has a particular fascination with gore (Miami also happens to be one of the worst TV shows out there). I began considering other television shows, video games, popular internet videos, and movies, and I realized that violence, gore, and terror seems to be a regular part of our entertainment schedule. Take the popular movies Sweeney Todd, Repo! The Genetic Opera, any of the Grand Theft Auto games, the internet series Neurotically Yours and Happy Tree Friends, and the television shows CSI, Dexter, Nip/Tuck, and just about any drama. One could argue that since a ratings system has been put in place for these types of visual entertainments, simulated violence has become more acceptable. Others say that "back in the good old days," that things like this weren't present at all - which is correct to a certain degree.

This argument is also made for the sexual side of our visual entertainments. "Women just weren't treated that way in my day," and other limp defenses are made. And really, you have to admit, there seems to be an increased amount of sexualization of anything and everything in our age. What was once horrendously taboo to be shown on television, film or other forms of media is now the norm, and new envelopes are being pushed seemingly harder than ever before.

All this could be argued as an increasing lack of sensitivity to our visual media culture. One can look back, see how things "used to be" and come to the conclusion that visual media and our sensitivity to it has gotten steadily worse. that really the case? Were things ever better in the old days? They still had the bawdy entertainment that we have today, and they encountered violence in true life that we do not encounter today. Think about Shakespeare: several of his most famous plays are either strongly suggestive or very bawdy, and yet today, Shakespeare is considered high class. Also, people did not shield themselves from real life violence like we do today. Think of public hangings, public beheadings, vigilantism, slaughtering farm animals for food, etc. Not even kids were sheltered from this stuff. And do not episodes like this take a certain amount of insensitivity to process?

In a way, we are more sheltered than we've ever been in history. Executions are not made public. Television news broadcasting stations can be reprimanded if gory violence is displayed because it's "primetime television." We have the FCC (as corrupt a bureaucratic department as any other, but it is there to do some measure of policing). And show me someone who knows how to kill a chicken for dinner these days. Show me someone who raises their own food or knows where their food comes, for that matter.

An example of this are fairytales. Yep, Western, pre-Grimm, pre-Disney fairytales - do a google on them. I promise you, Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, Little Red Riding Hood, and Snow White were not the squeaky clean fairy tales that we have now. There was bawdy sex, violence, and terror to be had in every paragraph, and all told with delicious delight. These fairy tales were once oral tales, and they were often told around community which there would be children. Children would not be shielded from reality. In fact, it was quite common up until the mid 20th century for families to sleep together in one room - and of course, Mom and Dad still had to have sex sometime, right?

To argue that in "the good old days" people were more sensitive to violence and sex is (to use an English phrase) bollocks. They were simply insensitive to things that we have become sensitive to. So I would argue that each generation becomes both sensitive and insensitive to different things, but the balance of sensitivity and insensitivity stays basically the same.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

The Art of Benevolence

I sat and watched Extreme Makeover: Home Edition when the commercials for baby food and Sears home-building products started rolling. Normally, I don't watch TV; generally, I don't watch EX: HE; usually, I mute the commercials. But the evening was lonely and dark, and I felt generous. EX: HE it was going to be. It wasn't until I watched the Sears commercial - "supporter" of EX: HE - that it struck me that the EX: HE is nothing more than a fat-cat business that builds homes for families whose houses are falling apart, molding, are without a floor and/or ceiling, etc. And generally, these new homes are for families who have at least one kid who has had cancer from the time they were born, or the family has adopted half a million kids from around the neighborhood, or the family has an immediate family member who is overseas in Iraq (who always comes to their new home for tear-jerking, heart-string pulling reunion con la familia).

What is wrong with this picture? The fact that a business and not a charity is caring for people who really need it, like Habitat for Humanity. When was the last episode you watched where Habitat for Humanity the good deeds they did? Yeah, that's what I thought. The whole reason that a business like Sears pairs up with the American Broadcasting Company (owned by Disney - whaddya know?!) is money, the bottom line, moolah, to line their palms with green. How's that? Well, say you want to make some changes to your home - a little paint there, a new kitchen faucet here, a pot for the rubber tree there, etc. If you are a regular watcher of EX: HE, what are you going to think of first when you want home improvement items? Sears, right? I mean, they build new houses for families who make minimum wage for a household for eighteen (at least!) people.

ABC is in the whole shebang for purely altruistic reasons. Why? Well, the simple fact that EX: HE was nominated for and has won two Emmys, and is currently nominated for The People's Choice award should speak for itself. All ABC wants is the ratings - Emmys, other awards, and sobbing people sitting in front of the television give them that.

This is the art of benevolency - it is an art because it generates money for Sears and ABC while making families "happy." But in the end - to quote the game The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask - "does it truly make everyone...happy?" Do you think those people are going to be any happier after they move into their new home than before? If these families weren't able to take care of their old home before for whatever reasons, do you think they will be more able to after they get the new home?

This calls to mind Christ's parable of the poor widow: 1As he looked up, Jesus saw the rich putting their gifts into the temple treasury. 2He also saw a poor widow put in two very small copper coins.[a] 3"I tell you the truth," he said, "this poor widow has put in more than all the others. 4All these people gave their gifts out of their wealth; but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on."

I don't think I have to draw an analogy here - Christ summed it up perfectly.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

The Fairest Book of Them All - A Review of "Mirror Mirror" by Gregory Maguire

A/N: This review was written for BookWrites, please visit them here @ BookWrites here on Blogger. 

Gregory Maguire has proved himself again. The enormously popular author of Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West, Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister, Son of a Witch, A Lion Among Men, and Lost has consistently given readers a minutely detailed world in which they can lose themselves. Mirror Mirror, a retelling of the fairytale Snow White is a small cut above the rest of Maguire’s books, in my opinion. Mirror Mirror offers a very different story from other fairytale “retreadings” – it shoots through multiple twists, illustrates background stories of many characters, allows the complex, multi-faceted characters to “speak” in their turn – all the while managing to stick to the storyline of Snow White.

 The story begins in Spain of 1502. Vicente de Nevada is the head of the farming estate, Montefiore. His only daughter, Bianca, keeps company with the old, crotchety, smart-aleck cook Primavera Vecchi and with the priest of Montefiore, Fra Ludovico. Everything on the estate is peaceful and life moves interrupted until the day that Vicente de Nevada unearths a strange but beautiful mirror while unplugging a small pond. He hangs it in his house – it doesn’t seem to serve any other purpose than to show the reflection of those who look into it. Soon afterward, Lucrezia and Cesare Borgia arrive at Montefiore to force the charge of finding three legendary Apples from the Tree of Knowledge of Eden upon Vicente de Nevada. He struggles against the conniving siblings’ will, but as they are children of the Pope, resistance is futile, and Vicente de Nevada reluctantly leaves his daughter Bianca in Lucrezia’s rather careless care. Cesare, a frivolous, mentally-decrepit man, goes off to find objects, men and women that please him, while Lucrezia is left at Montefiore to commandeer Montefiore and watch over Bianca. It is during this time that she becomes entrapped by what she sees inside the mirror.

 No character in this book, not even Lucrezia and Cesare Borgia, is as clear-cut as “good” and “bad.” While motives can be perceived as evil, there are motives under those motives that leave questions in the reader’s mind as to who they really are under their facade, why they are doing what they are doing, and what would they be if they had not been born into the situation they were. It brings up a question that Maguire also brought up in Wicked: Are people born wicked? Or do they become wicked through their environments? The dash of ambiguity that Maguire peppers in adds further complexity to the characters that, on a surface level, might considered evil and manipulative. 

I will readily admit that it took three readings to receive all the small details and smaller plot points Mirror Mirror had to offer. The broken bits of poetry that don’t seem to make sense on the first reading, and the “dwarf’s” speeches are strange and abstract. This is a multi-leveled storyline that begs not to be read quickly.

 This is not a children’s book, and not even a young adult book. While there are no sexual scenes in the traditional sense of the phrase, Maguire has never been one to mince words in any of his books when it comes to sex or his thinly veiled and strong dislike of organized religion. I note that Maguire seems to despise religion in Wicked, Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister, and now Mirror Mirror.  This – and several explicit sexual mentions – is likely to be offensive to some readers.

Maguire knows what makes an impact on his readers – a phenomenal sense of imagination and the ability to communicate his imagination onto paper. He is a true lover and creator of words both unfamiliar and hilarious. But his imagination would have been virtually nothing if not for his ability to weave a story that involves the reader, invites the reader’s opinions and questions, and insists on being read multiple times. Surely, Mirror Mirror deserves a place on the “Classics” shelf alongside Maguire’s other works. 

False Sense of Identity

A/N: This one was written on July 31, 2008. 

I'm beginning to believe that there is no such thing as an individual with a completely unique personality. Why? Everybody 
claims to be individual, to be "special," but they are just like everyone else in their "group." 

Take "emos" for an example. They will say that they don't believe in labels, believe in breaking off from the main, shunning what everyone else is doing and yet are dressed, act, and prefer the same things as any other emo on the American Planet. I understand I'm painting with a broad brush here, but that doesn't make that much of a difference. 

It is frustrating to see people who only claim to be different when they are just as mainstream as anyone in their classified group. It's hypocritical basically, and it's meaningless. A person has 
many identities through their lifetime - child, teenager, adult, student, employee, employer, friend, spouse, parent, grandparent, etc. The identity, or the mask that you wear will be taken off one day and never be put on again. If a person becomes a parent, one day their child will "fly the nest," and he/she will be retired from their role as parent. If these critical life-roles are so transient, how much more ephemeral are the "identities" that we assume to fit in with a certain crowd? 

The problem is, our American cosumerist society fuels this false sense of identity almost more than any other culture in the world. You can customize your brand new car - to look exactly like your neighbor's new car. You can choose the color of your phone or iPod - just like your friend's phone/iPod. That's just two examples I can think of on the sly, but I'd imagine the reader can think of more. 

Here's what it boils down to: Be yourself! That's a phrase you hear spewed out in music, movies, TV, internet, wherever, but I'll bet you cold cash that none of the people who are doing the spewing have any idea what it truly means to be yourself. For me, it means making my own identity through the things and people I love and will continue to love for the rest of my life. If I like video games and most of my friends call me "nerd," what do I care? If I prefer Greek mythology over my friend's perference for Roman, should I change my preference to be a better friend to them? Never. If I would rather spend my evening reading and writing, and other people want to go dancing and hanging with friends, will I condemn them? Should they mock me? No to both. 

I'm done here. React how you will, above hang my opinions.