Thursday, February 28, 2013

Bigmouth, Oscar Edition

I will confess right now that I didn’t think Seth McFarlane was necessarily the worst Oscar host ever. Sure he was offensive and immature… but what did people expect? Isn’t that his schtick? My favorite gag he pulled was the Sound of Music reference when he introduced Christopher Plummer! Baaahhaaaaaa!!! Well, I thought it was funny, anyway.

I don’t know about you, but I am still not used to having so many Best Picture nominees. Does it cheapen it? I don’t know. Before we had a kid, it was not unusual for us to have seen ALL of the feature-length nominated films IN THE THEATRE. Now, we do the best we can.

In the case of this year’s winner, Argo, we managed to “rent” it from iTunes the night before the Oscars aired. My husband, ever the critic, said, “It was okay,” like he says about most things he doesn’t outright despise, but I gotta say I really liked it… and if you saw it, you can probably imagine why.

Because of course, if a movie is about a guy rescuing people, I’m going to leap right to a Jesus comparison like I always do, right? Well, of course I am. Because that’s exactly where my one-track mind went.

I’m probably the only person in the US of A who hadn’t seen it by this time, but if you haven’t, Argo is based on a true story, and takes place during the Iran hostage crisis during Jimmy Carter’s presidency. All the people at the American Embassy were taken hostage by the insanely angry Iranian revolutionaries. Six Americans escaped and were holed up in the Canadian ambassador’s abode, and the CIA was tasked with getting them out.

And the Oscar goes to...
Enter Ben Affleck as Tony Mendez – a guy who specializes in rescuing people. His crackpot scheme involves going to Iran in the guise of a Canadian movie director scouting locations for a sci-fi film called Argo. His elaborate plan involves setting up a production office, running ads in Variety, and staging events with actors in costume. The muckety-mucks at the CIA don’t think much of this, but the best they can come up with was having them ride bikes hundreds of miles to the Turkish border.

The real Tony Mendez
So despite complete lack of support from the CIA… even when they try to pull the plug on the operation at the last minute, Tony Mendez keeps moving. Says the CIA guy: “Six Americans get pulled out of a Canadian diplomat’s house and executed, it’s another world outrage. Six Americans get caught playing movie make-believe with the CIA at the airport and executed, it’s a national embarrassment.” Yeah, the CIA is worried about their image.

But not Tony. He can’t just leave those people there because… well, he just can’t. He goes forward with the plot because… it’s what he does. It’s who he is. “We’re responsible for those people,” is what he says.
(Which brings to my mind these two stories Jesus told: “Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Doesn’t he leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it? And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.’  I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent.

Therefore be as shrewd as snakes
and as innocent as doves.
Or suppose a woman has ten silver coins and loses one. Doesn’t she light a lamp, sweep the house and search carefully until she finds it? And when she finds it, she calls her friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost coin.’ In the same way, I tell you, there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”

See, to God, it's not just about image or numbers; each individual is precious and savable.

But back to our story… Of course when he gets there he has to convince the six people to buy into it. Needless to say, they’re scared. Some have a hard time trusting him. Maybe they had expected a showy military rescue with Navy Seals or Green Berets or something.

The most doubty guy sarcastically spouts off to him, “Is this the part where we say,  ‘That’s so crazy it just  might work’? C’mon...” Because, yes, it is a crazy plan. Then he tells the rest of the hiders, “That man out there, he’s got bad cards, he’s gonna lose. If he loses, it’s our lives. But then his wife says, “And his life too.”

Violence and power were the
only things Sauron knew.
Because that’s just it. That guy risked his life. “I’ll be with you,” Tony says, “This is what I do.” And God didn’t use his awesome power or his avenging angels to save us, did He? He got right down in the dirt with us, took on all our pain and humiliation Himself, and is even now carrying us out of the crazy, riot-torn country country with Him... even the doubty ones. Whoever wants to come, really... just fall in!

It reminds me a little bit of the Lord of the Rings – you know how Sauron expected his opponents to use the ring to obtain power and defeat him. It never occurred to him that they would destroy it. It was a plan too subtle for his evil mind. Because sometimes that’s what is needed. Remember when Jesus told his disciples, “I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves.

Maybe the comparison of Argo to our own rescue from sin and self is a little obvious and amateurish, but I don't really mind. Any story or piece of art that reminds me of it is a thing of beauty to me!

Friday, February 22, 2013

This Pilgrim's Regress

An early Easter ... good
news for candy lovers!
First of all, I’d like to say, how weird is it that Easter is so early this year? My Lenten sacrifice blog followed right on the heels of my New Year’s Resolution blog, which I admit I was super late in posting.

Since I sort of felt like I was not “doing my good deeds in secret” I vowed that I would make sure to tell you about my miserable failures as well! So… here goes!

Here's what I have to look
forward to... nice. At 

I'll have a ready excuse!
As far as my New Year’s resolution, which was to “engage conflict,”… well, a big part of it was that it was not about picking fights, but about going deeper. In order to do this right, I knew that I would have to exercise complete patience and kindness. Well, that didn’t happen. At the first sign of trouble, what did I do? I yelled at my husband. I was harsh in the extreme. I think it scared him.

I know it’s lame, but I’m going to blame it on the menopause. Now, I’m not IN menopause. Lordy, no – not yet. But I HAVE noticed some of the symptoms they ascribe to onset of menopause… specifically: "increased irritability, anxiety, fatigue, and blue moods"… not to mention, a good deal of “brain fog.” It’s not that I’m not going to try to control this aspect of “the change” as it happens, but I am going to be blaming all my stuff on it for a while.

I apologized, and all, and things seemed to get back to normal, but really, my husband is a sensitive dude… It really hurt him. So that’s how THAT one is going. It reminded me of the time that Jonathan Inman,my pastor in Asheville, told me that marriage was best lived in a state of constant repentance. He couldn’t have been more right, in my case.

One of Bill's creations... he 
says it's a "monkey temple."
Now, about Lent… You may recall that I’m trying to give up “my own agenda” – that is, to pay attention when my son is talking and come look when he says, “Look!” Well, this past Monday was President’s Day, which meant a day off from school for him. Often, Bill is pretty good at entertaining himself… he’ll watch a Harry Potter movie or an episode of The Adventures of Young Indiana Jones… or he’ll make crazy things out of Legos, rubber bands, paper clips, tape and carboard boxes… or he’ll run back and forth making up stories in his mind, being, what he calls, “in his own world.” This day, however, he couldn’t seem to stop talking. To me. While I was trying to work. About things that happened at camp two years ago. It is in no way an exaggeration when I say that he talked for 6 hours straight. I documented it on Facebook. Commenters were calling it a “Billibuster.”

Van Morrison – he 
knows about crazy love.
And I am here to tell you that it tried my patience. In fact, I didn’t even TRY to have patience. “STOP TALKING!” I kept saying. More than once I made the classic gun-to-head shooting motion that universally signifies, “You’re making me want to kill myself.” So much for Lenten vows, right?

Yeh, I failed on both counts. Yeh, I’m super lame. But every day’s a new day, am I right? I just gotta keep going. And every time I fail, I remember the One whose love never fails. The One who makes me righteous and whole. He gives me love, love, love, crazy love… Oh wait… that’s a Van Morrison song… but no less appropriate!

So that’s my progress report. No matter how many steps I take backward, Jesus takes me all the way forward! 

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Thank You, South Africa!

The dude, he does abide.
There are a million blogs in the naked city…. Um the naked internet… whatever. Truth is, I never read blogs much until I wrote one. Honestly, people would announce their new posts on Facebook and I would barely even notice it. Once I started posting my own updates, I somehow magically started noticing theirs!

And, you know what? There are about a hundred kinds of blogs out there. Scratch that – make it a thousand. Or maybe a million. There are “diary entry” types, blogs directed centered around photography, faith, politics, travel, fashion, self-help/motivation, parenting, pop culture, and etc., and etc. That’s just the (very) short list.

As I mentioned before, I’m supposed to be helping Jon Acuff launch his book. If you don’t know who HE is, well… he’s a blogger. He’s got TWO blogs. I can barely keep up with one. Anyway, the “launch group” is still in its getting-to-know-you phase, and everybody’s posting their twitter@ and their blog url. Until I read all of those urls and their descriptions, I somehow failed to realize just how many people were doing this. No wonder I can’t get more readers! There’s just too many blogs!

So, do me a favor – if you’re writing a blog. Stop it right now. Just kidding. You are most likely doing a much better job than I am… I don’t begrudge you your success at all. But I do kind of wonder what makes some blogs successful and others just sort of flounder.

My husband and I recently watched a fantastic movie called Searching for Sugar Man, about a musician from the early seventies called Sixto Rodriguez. See, Rodriguez put out some pretty bangin’ albums back then, but somehow … well, he just slipped through the fame and fortune cracks, quit making music and lived out his life as a laborer in Detroit. Somehow, though, a copy of his album, Cold Fact, made it to South Africa, where it exploded and filled out the record collections of nearly every middle class house, along with 70s standards like Simon and Garfunkel and the Rolling Stones. And even though Rodriguez has been until now, relatively unknown by most of the world, his music inspired and fueled the early stages of the anti-Apartheid movement! 

Anyway I guess that means that you guys… YOU are my South Africa. The only people in the entire world that are buying MY Cold Fact. Why didn’t Rodriguez reach a wider audience? I’m not sure. Why don’t I? Again, not sure. Maybe it’s a quality issue. In my case that’s not unlikely. Maybe it’s just that my blog is sort of all over the place. It’s actually got a bit of each of the things mentioned above: photography, faith, politics, travel, fashion, self-help, parenting, pop culture…

I sometimes wonder if I should focus it more… I imagine myself doing one of those fashion blogs where you take a photo of your outfit and talk about where you got each item. (Shirt: oversized men’s Guinness logo striped rugby shirt in burgundy and white, gift; leggings (black) from kmart, old; socks, hanes from Target, old; shoes, clompy black platform ankle boots from Urban Outfitters, on sale for $29.99.)

Maybe I'll cook through this tome...
Or maybe I could do one of those cooking blogs where you cook through a whole cookbook. Like in that movie Julie and Julia. Although I’d like to use some arcane book like The Williamsburg Art of Cookery or, Accompish'd Gentlewoman's Companion, by Helen Bullock. I could spend my evenings whipping up Robert E. Lake cake, Chicken Pye, Pork Cake, or Milk-Punch. Yum!

Yeah – I could do all those things, but that’s not really me. Not the whole me anyway. I like to cover a variety of topics. I mean, I’m nothing if not multifaceted. So instead of thinking I should be more focused, I prefer to decline to limit myself. If I had to describe my blog in a few words… Well, I’m not sure I could. But … maybe it would be something like… a crazy woman’s ramblings on faith, life and pop culture… Who wouldn’t want to read that?! I’m not kidding, Sometimes I read over past entries and think, “Who is this fantastic gal? She’s got it going on!”

Not really, but I have to at least like what I write, otherwise why would I bother putting it up? That would just be pointless and embarrassing: “Here’s a post about some stuff I don’t find interesting, not written all that well… but I’m putting it out there anyway just because blogging is where it’s at!” Well, that’s not me either. I find this stuff completely interesting, and want to use words – which I also love – to bring you in on it. Is that so wrong? Okay, maybe it is a bit egotistical...! Which is weird, considering how low my self-esteem can drag sometimes…

I love Evangeline by Matthew Sweet.
I'm pretty sure it's about me.
I have no idea as to why I’m writing this particular entry. “Rambling” was the right word for me to use, right? “Navel gazing” would be another one. I may not have a point this time, but in general I do, and I’m not embarrassed to say it’s mostly evangelical. And by that I mean, my goal is the spread of the gospel of God’s love. I have mellowed over time – mostly due to exhaustion, I guess. In the past, I could have been called an Evangelical (which, if I understand correctly, is not as tight-assed as a Fundamentalist, but not as relaxed as your average mainstream church-goer.)

Now, hilariously, Evangelical me would have hesitated at the word, “tight-assed.” I wouldn’t have minded, but I would have noticed it… But the me who is now telling you the gospel of God … well, I just said it… without batting an eye. So… this blog is not exactly Evangelical, but it IS evangelical. I hope. I’m trying anyway. 

So… lest anyone think that my blog lacks focus – well, I beg to differ. I mean, a post may be about fashion, music, food, politics, or anything... but we all know what it’s really about. That’s right. The big JC. The Dude. (Yes, He does abide.) ‘Cos that’s really all I’ve got. And whether the whole world is reading my ramblings – or just South Africa – I’m going to keep saying Him. And maybe we'll start a little revolution too!

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Goodbye, Agenda...

I’m writing about Lent again, even though…  I was at an Ash Wednesday service yesterday and the priest reminded me of this ancient (but still valid) chestnut that Jesus said in the Bible:

“When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show men they are fasting. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that it will not be obvious to men that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen; and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.” (Matthew 6)

So… should I not be talking about giving up stuff for Lent? I don’t know. This is a blog about trying to live an authentic Christian life, so… and I tell you guys about everything else… I don’t know… maybe you don’t care…? Here goes anyway…!

Evans and her book
I’ve just read this book called, A Year of Biblical Womanhood by Rachel Held Evans. It’s about this sort of hipstery Christian woman who spent a year doing things the Bible tells women to do like camping out in a tent during her period, calling her husband Master and dressing modestly. At first when I read about this book in a newspaper wire story, I thought it sounded kinda gimmicky, but after reading it, I had a large change of heart.

She didn’t do all these things concurrently; she spent each month focusing on a different virtue like domesticity, obedience, valor, silence… did she find out what it was actually like to be one of those women in the Bible? Sleeping in a tent once for a few of nights in the suburban Tennessee was probably not in any way similar to doing it month after month in ancient Palestine… added to all the other womanly duties and virtues espoused by the Bible.

That said, I’m thinking it was NOT a pointless exercise. Because that’s what it was… an exercise. Like a spiritual discipline. These kind of ceremonial things are just shadows… things that point to the real thing. Dig this from Colossians: "Therefore do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day. These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ." So, while there’s no way any modern woman could know what it was like for those gals... for a whole year, Evans was brought closer to God through the constant awareness brought about by these … um… interesting… lifestyle changes.

If I understand correctly (and I may not) the idea of Lent is to prepare the believer for Easter through prayer, penance, repentance, almsgiving, and self-denial. (Wikipedia)  I guess what we most focus on these days is self-denial… although, maybe what we deny ourselves can be tied into our penance and repentance (I’m not sure what the difference between these two things is.)

The reason I'm not giving up Facebook.
For instance, if you had realized that you were much too fond of your daily Snickers bar, you could give that up. Or if you spend way too much time on Facebook at the expense of your family and work, you could stay off it for the six weeks of Lent. You know, to actually acknowledge the error of your ways.

I actually planned to give up Facebooking, but then I realized that I had committed to help launch Start, the new book by Jon Acuff. I’ve never done one of these book launch things before, but I am told it involves copious use of social networking. So… in order to fulfill my obligation to him, I will have to forego this particular resolve. (Of course, I’m secretly going, “Whew!”)

Which brings us to what I have actually resolved. Now, if I tell you, am I boasting like in the verses mentioned above by the priest at my son’s school? I hope not. I mean, I'm thinking I will also be sharing with you my failures to keep this resolve… Because I’ve chosen one which I imagine will carry with it a rather steep learning curve: I’m giving up my own agenda.

Mom! Mom! Look!
Look at me!
You see, I happen to be the extra-tired mom of a highly communicative child. A child who wants to tell me everything, show me everything, engage with me constantly. And I, who long for my books, am deeply invested in my work and quite fond of my writing, tend to blank out when he tells me his imaginative stories involving playground wars, abandoned forts and Lego creations… put him off when he says, “Look, mom, look!” … and otherwise avoid getting drawn in.

I’m a bad mom, right? Well, I can’t be a good mom overnight, but for now, I can do this exercise. I’m going to try to listen when he talks, come look when he says “Look!” and give him my full attention when he seeks it. Within reason, of course… I mean, I do have work to do, dinners to cook and the like. But as much as I can, I’m going to be fully present for this sweet child God has placed under my care.

So now it’s the second day of Lent and I have already failed. Nice. I expect to fail again and again over the next six weeks. But every time I fail, you know who I am reminded of? The One whose love never fails. Like Rachel Evans being reminded of God every time she looked in the mirror and saw her long messy hair, every time she said, “Yes, Master” to her husband… Each time I react with a huffy, “Not now! I’m trying to work!” I will be reminded of my imperfection and God’s perfection. And His perfect grace.

So that’s what I’m doing for Lent.