Friday, June 29, 2007

Maddux, an appreciation




Here is a quick post about my favorite pitcher. Growing up in a culture dominated by two superstations, TBS and WGN, I feel the summer of my formative years were spent learning the fine art of hurling a little ball 60'6'' from a true master. My only regret is I've yet to see him live. If he pitches for one more season, I'm gonna do my best, including engaging in illegal activities, to see him. Check out his lifetime stats here.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Conspiracy Theory of Dunces

Recently I re-watched a classic of paranoia from the early 1990s, Oliver Stone’s JFK. It recalls the resulting confluence of conspiracy that seeped out of the sixties following the assassination of the thirty-fifth President (as well as the subsequent deaths of important U.S. leaders). As a movie, it really is a brilliant piece of propaganda as art, willing to go for broke in an attempt to evoke the feeling of an era that somehow lost its way. In the times I’d watched it prior, I simply let the movie envelope me with it’s multiple angles and styles and its menagerie of colorful characters. I really didn’t pay too much attention to the details of what was being presented.

Now certainly I am aware that when it first appeared fifteen years ago, Stone’s telling of the conspiracy that killed Kennedy was met with the harshest of rebuffs from a variety of media sources. For the most part I dismissed those critics as not quite grasping that this, after all, was only a movie. Stone was simply providing an alternative myth to what he considered to be the myth of the Warren Report. Yet when I recently watched it, I think I started to understand what the pundits were complaining about. Stone’s use of insinuation as “fact” and his lifting up of Jim Garrison as the ultimate hero for seeking the “truth” behind what really went on that day in Dallas in some sense is a careless use of the medium. In other words, despite the flashiness and the brilliance of the filmmaking, the story itself is simply bunk. Yet the conspiracy endures.

I recognize I’m treading on some thin ice, especially given that to some degree an artist should always be free to display his or her art however he or she sees fit. That does not mean it is immune from criticism or even the occasional all out attack. But oddly, all of this exposition really isn’t about the film. As a result of my most recent viewing I decided actually to do a little research regarding the conspiracy. Using Google as my guide I searched terms such as JFK, Lee Harvey Oswald, Jack Ruby, Oswald in Mexico, JFK Conspiracy, etc. What resulted was an astonishing array of claims and counter claims and counter counter claims. Certainly I am no more an expert now than I was a week ago, but I do feel I have more of a grasp of the resulting paranoia. And perhaps that is what ultimately the truth of the conspiracy really is, the reshuffling of our own consciousness to willfully accept an alternate reality so that others in charge can do what they want. It sorta reminds me of a snipe hunt, only with a more seditious intent. Has such profundity ever been wrought?

But I digress. Right now I’m reading Delillo’s Libra, another alternative to the alternative which was equally derided as being delusional and irresponsible. But, just as the filmmaking was so good, so to is the writing. And so I continue on despite my apprehensions and complaints, knowing that there are grander, more elaborate scheming going on around me as I continue searching for answers to things right in front of me.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Cormac, We Still Hardly Know Ye

Updated 5/8

On June 5, Oprah displayed a veritable literary coup d'├ętat with her televised interview of noted recluse and genius wordsmith Cormac McCarthy. His book The Road had been chosen as an Oprah Book Club selection, and she was allowed an hour long chat with Mr. McCarthy. For a few days leading up to the show I had wondered how in-depth the interview would be. Would he reveal all his deep dark secrets regarding his own writing process? Would he detail the intricate and multi-layered symbolism sprinkled throughout the sparse The Road, thus not allowing readers to draw their own conclusions? Or would he simply sound like an idiot, full of sound and fury but signifying nothing? Certainly I enjoy a good interview or article on authors, though I can't stand audience Q&A's due to the high likliness of stupid questions. However, I was concerned that my image of Cormac would forever be tainted, given his past refusals to foster a public image.


Fortunately, despite Oprah's attempts, Cormac revealed little and maintained a properly reclusive demeanor throughout. By revealing nothing he preserved his integrity. That is not to say that those who do go on Oprah are somehow sellouts to her minions. Quite the contrary. Those authors who can maintain an appropriate public persona which allows for the occassional foray into pop culture without diminishing his or her work should be commended. And sometimes the interviews are quite interesting. In this case, because McCarthy demonstrated an interesting ability to remain aloof of Oprah's profile, yet did so without appearing to be condenscending, he and Oprah deserve kudo's.


However, it was disappointing to see that her next Oprah book will be Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides. Having read it a few years ago and recommended it to any number of people, I do think in the back of my mind I was grateful that the book had escaped Oprah's claws. At least my copy won't have the Oprah Book Club sticker. Which makes me wonder, why do I get upset over Oprah's Book Club?
Update 5/8: Check out this review of the interview by people who apparently do these sort of things for a living.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Tornado Alley


Growing up in Kansas I became accustomed to that Rite of Spring known as Tornado Season. Beginning in late March as the Frosty Arctic Chill would begin its thaw in favor of the warm, gentle southern breeze (Kansas is roughly translated as “people of the south wind’), the local stations would pepper the airwaves with ominous warnings regarding the fury of nature that has an affinity for wreaking havoc upon trailer parks and empty prairies. With each gathering storm my mother would be glued to the TV waiting for any signs of danger so she could scoop up the kids and hide us in the basement. And with good reason.

Tornadoes are not pleasant, despite the excitement one gets when seeing one on TV. The town I grew up in never had a direct hit, but we have been in the path of several, only to have them change direction moments before entering the city limits. This was in 1991, when that tornado destroyed the town of Andover just ten miles away and produced this memorable video. I watched it roll by from my back porch. I’ve had to huddle in tiny closets, mall bathrooms, and once in a Borders Books break room as the sirens glared.

My father lived through the worst tornado disaster in Kansas’s history (see photo). On March 25, 1955 at 10:35 pm, a tornado ripped through and demolished the small Kansas town of Udall. The surrounding area had experienced some bad weather, but the local news had stated that all was pretty clear by 10:00 pm, so the residences of Udall went to bed without proper warning. The result was 77 people dead and a town destroyed. My father recalls his mother forcing him from bed just moments from impact and as he was trudging down the stairs his bed started hopping after him.

And now we have the latest one to strike a Kansas town. Greensburg, alone out there on the open prairie, and vulnerable to the elements. Here’s to a speedy recovery.
MM

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Reason # 152 We'll be Moving Back: That's Are-Can-Sussss


Did you know how to pronounce The Arkansas River? In the 49 states other than Kansas it is pronounced just like President Bubba's homestate. But in Kansas, since we suffer from some sort of delusional impairment regarding proper pronunciation, the windy river is pronounced R-(the state of) Kansas. That's right. There's no "saw" on the end. It's more like a "sus" as in "versus". When travelling through the South Central region of the state, be sure not to pronounce it like that other state or you maybe chased out of town by a posse bent on revenge for your audacity.

Monday, May 07, 2007

What the H**L?


I mean, come on! I haven't blogged since March. And looking through the posts, I write a lot about not blogging. I even had a re-launch which fizzled. Not good. So, gentle readers, I'm asking you, in that time-honored Methodist fashion, to hold me accountable to the blog. Write Congress, call the police, smear me on the tabloids if I don't blog at least, let's see, once a week. I challenge you just as I challenge myself.


Pax,


MM

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

March Zaniness


Ok, so far I've filled out at least 252 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament Brackets. I have some with crazy upsets and others with dull predictions. Despite discretions in the early rounds, my Final Four is always consistent, Florida, Kansas, Georgetown, Texas A&M. Kansas, of course, always beats Georgetown in the final. Hailing from Kansas and currently living in D.C. basically means I'm letting my regional bias get the better of me. Then again I always do that, except, as I recall, in 1988 when I picked OU to win it all. You'd think I'd learn. Maybe I should try to predict when my Bracket will get totally blown? Anyway, good Luck everybody! Oh, and Rock Chalk Jayhawk!

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Marty's Big Night and Other Oscar Predictions

Tomorrow night Marty will finally win the little golden statuette that has eluded him oh these many years. He will leave behind those legends behind the camera who failed to win, including Alfred Hitchcock, Stanley Kubrick, and the recently departed Robert Altman, and finally join the ranks of such cinematic geniuses as Ron Howard and Mel Gibson. In other words, does Marty really need Oscar to validate his career? Certainly not, given that winning won't make him any better than he already is on Monday, but given his past egregious snubs (namely Raging Bull & Goodfellas) a win on Sunday would hopefully make up for some of the cinematic sins of the Academy.

However, The Departed will not win Best Picture. That honor will go to this year's little VW that could Little Miss Sunshine. That's right, early favorite Babel will prove incomprehinsible enough to not win the top prize (a warning, however, Babel is the only BP nom I haven't seen. The same thing happened last year when Crash won and that was the only one I hadn't seen either, though I did predict it to beat out Brokeback Mountain.)

For some of the bigger awards, the following will most definitely be true. In Best Actor, though I haven't seen any of the films, I'm going with what everyone else is saying and pick Forest Whitaker. Having not seen any of the films does not disqualify one's judgment. After all, Academy voters don't have to see any of the films either.

Best Actress will be Queen Mirren, hands down and ten years from now Kate Winslet will pass Meryl as the most nominated actress. In the always wild card Best Supporting Actress, it will be Jennifer Hudson in another performance I did not witness (though I would not be shocked if Abigail Breslin wins). The BS Actor will go to Hudson's counterpart from the same flick, Mr. Murphy of Norbit fame.

Original Screenplay will be for LMS and Adapted for The Departed. The evening will be long and fun with Ellen hosting and I am especially looking forward to her opening monologue. If I were to make only one change, though, I would love them to flash up what the vote percentages were for each category. Wouldn't that be great to see that 90% of the Academy voted for Marty or that somebody only got, say 1% of the vote? Or even that the reason Eddie won his award with 26% of the vote was that Alan Arkin and Djimon Hounsou each had 25%, thus basically cancelling each other out. I'll make sure The Academy gets the memo. Monday I'll let everyone know how I did with all the noms (I promise not to cheat).

Enjoy!

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Blogger Malaise

I have absolutely nothing new to post. Sure, there's a war going on, the Oscars are around the corner, Spring Training has started, March Madness is about to begin, the church is divided on a bazillion different issues, the race for the White House is in full swing and it's only 2007, it's super windy in D.C. today (reminicent of Kansas), Wilco and Son Volt have new albums coming out, Lent is here, I'm blogging at work, and so on and so forth.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Chilly Weather Needs Warm, Happy Thoughts


As D.C. endures this arctic blast I find myself needing to think of happy warm thoughts. And so my mind wanders to my youth and I try to recall my first live experience with Major League Baseball. It was a Royals-Red Sox game involving four future Hall of Famers (George Brett, Gaylord Perry, Carl Yastrzemski, Wade Boggs). Pat Sheridan hit a home run and the Royals won 1-0. I got to meet George Brett. I was almost nine years old at the time. Thanks to a most awesome website www.baseball-reference.com, I can look up the box score of that very game and re-imagine the experience, and hopefully stay warm.


MM

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

"I Believe..."



Over at Beliefnet.com noted conservative political blogger Andrew Sullivan and committed Athiest Sam Harris are engaging in an interesting blogalogue dealing with God, faith, and fundamentalism. Harris is the author of The End of Faith and believes that all religion, not just its fundamentalist fringe, ultimately leads to violence and destruction. Sullivan, as a mainstream Roman Catholic, provides a counter-argument suggesting that despite its radical fringe, religious belief actually is more helpful and hopeful for the human condition than lack of belief. I've definitely over simplified the context and content, but the extensive blogalogue itself is most illuminating, regardless of one's own beliefs on the matter. Both get rather technical in their defenses, and their is a sense that since both already have a pretty firm pre-supposition regarding their viewpoint, any attempt at persuasion is futile. However, for those curious regarding two distinct worldviews examining each other in a less hostile environment, I encourage taking the time to take a look. I, of course, agree with most of what Sullivan says, especially the linking of faith and reason as wholly compatible, which Harris has a tendency to dismiss. However, Harris does bring up some compelling and important issues, especially regarding the role of fundamentalism in any religion that should not be ignored. Again, click here to read through the debate.

Enjoy!
MM

Friday, February 02, 2007

Freaky Friday Photo


When I was much, much younger, I was deathly afraid of ventriloquist dummies. I would have nightmares of them watching me through a hole in my bedroom's ceiling. To the left is a photo from an upcoming film that would certainly confirm my worst fears regarding those little wood monsters. Needless to say I will not be rushing out to see the film which shall remain nameless.


Sermon! Luke 2:41-52

Following is a sermon I delivered to Millian Memorial United Methodist Church on New Year's Eve day titled "Did He Just Say That? A Story of Holy Boldness". Enjoy!

I.

Over the past couple of weeks we have been eagerly awaiting Christmas, the celebration of the birth of Jesus, the King of Kings. We have decorated our homes and our church, stuffed our stockings and emptied our wallets. More importantly, we have read the Gospels and sung many carols describing the miracle of Jesus’ birth. We have imbedded in our mind the sight of a baby Jesus wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger as visitors come to worship. And for many of us, that image becomes stuck in our heads until around Easter when we start giving more attention to the Adult Jesus on his way to the Cross.

With Christmas ending a lot of us spend the week recovering from all the anticipation and work. We have reached a physical and spiritual peak and now must wind down as the days wind down to the end of the year. The time and energy that went into preparing for the holy days of Christmas are now spent in leisure and anticipation of the New Year. Top ten lists dominate the cultural landscape as we spend a few moments reflecting all that was good and bad in the past year and resolve to make the coming year better. It’s as if we are determined to slow down temporarily our spiritual awakenings as though we have become too indulged in our own faith during Advent.

Much like the discarded Christmas trees I saw in front of homes the day after Christmas, we to have an unconscious tendency to shed some of our Christmas spirit and cheer. We return unnecessary and unwanted gifts and seek out year-end savings. We aren’t helping bring joy to others but rather are trying to, to some degree, serve ourselves, because that is what society is telling us to do this time of year. In Church, once we have celebrated the birth of Christ it is time to give it a rest for awhile. We jump ahead nearly thirty years in the life of Jesus, not really knowing what happened in between his birth and the start of his ministry.

And frankly the Gospels really don’t help us out here. Though Matthew includes the birth of Jesus, virtually nothing is written about his growing up. The Gospels of Mark and John don’t even deal with the birth, opting to jump right into the start of Jesus’ ministry. That leaves us with one exception, of course. The author of Luke, perhaps feeling the need for some remarks regarding Jesus’ childhood, includes this brief, yet important, anecdote when Jesus was twelve.

II.

Luke describes the journey Mary, Joseph, and Jesus took every year to celebrate Passover. It is important to note that much of Luke is in fact a travel narrative. Of all the Gospels, Luke’s would most likely wind up in the travel section of a book store. And here Luke feels compelled to frame this little section as a travelogue. Coming from Nazareth to Jerusalem would have been a bit of an arduous trip. They would have traveled both ways in a large caravan for safety. Yet Jesus here takes a risk. He stays behind in the Temple after the Feast. Mary and Joseph, thinking Jesus was with the large group headed back to Nazareth, don’t become aware of Jesus’ absence until a day into the journey home.

The situation is truly frightening for any parent. I can only imagine what Mary and Joseph were feeling as they searched the group for their Son. The caravan would simply keep going, and no one would notice a child missing until it had stopped for the day. This incident reminded me of a scene in Lawrence of Arabia when a man gets left behind during a long trek across the desert. It isn’t until the caravan has stopped for rest that it is discovered that someone is missing. The caravan didn’t have the time or resources to go back for the man (though Lawrence does bravely do just that). It just keeps going. Given this reality, Mary and Joseph certainly feared the worse. I remember once when I was 12 or 13 and was at the mall with my parents. They let me go off by myself for a little while. However, my mom gave me explicit instructions as to when and where to meet up again. Of course I didn’t quite follow the directions and when I showed up fifteen minutes later than intended I was in trouble. My parents had been frantically searching for me. My mother was very angry and a little scared that I had been lost. And that was only because I was late fifteen minutes. Now imagine what Mary and Joseph were feeling after three days of searching.

Fortunately the text has a happy, if somewhat ambivalent, ending. They find Jesus in the Temple. And here Jesus responds to his parents’ worry and rebuke, quite frankly, as many near-teenagers would. He justifies what he has done. I think it’s even safe to say that Jesus here looks less than stellar because of the anxiety he has created. Jesus is very confident in his reply. He asks them pointblank “Why were you searching for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” It’s an answer that doesn’t easily settle what the parents went through. So what is Luke trying to express here? Why this somewhat bizarre story from Jesus’ childhood?

Actually, compared to other stories of the young Jesus found in the various non-canonical writings, this one is rather tame. Because the Gospels lack incidents in Jesus’ childhood, other writers tried to fill in the gaps. In these other so-called Gnostic Gospels, gospels which were rejected from the writings we know as the New Testament, we have magical stories of a mischievous Jesus turning clay birds into real ones and striking down dead children who make him angry. Not really the Jesus we have come to know and love. So Luke here does present a more believable scenario. It is more about one’s emerging identity, about how Jesus is growing into his role as the Son of God. He is maturing in his faith, though somewhat to the dismay of his parents. No miracles are necessary to demonstrate this. In his boldness, after his parents have searched long and hard and endured three days of worry, Jesus simply proclaims his holy vocation. He says he “must be” in his Father’s house, Father here meaning God.

And Luke ends this section by stating in verse 52 that “Jesus continued to increase in wisdom and in years, and in divine and human favor.” After all, Jesus and his family have been obedient Jews, following the prescribed customs as evidenced by this Passover journey. Luke is careful to show that what Jesus is doing is correct within the customs of his own identity as a Jew. Despite this incident, Jesus remains an obedient child. And in his holy boldness, as Jesus comes to accept who he is, this provides a foreshadowing of things to come. Luke shows that the boy Jesus is maturing in his faith and provides a model of discipleship for us, a model that we should strive for and seek. Admittedly this does not fully temper the anxiety Jesus has created, though Luke does his best to spin this in as positive manner as possible. Luke has other intentions to show us.

III.

I believe this text to be entirely appropriate for following our Christmas celebrations. Once the trees and decorations have been taken away and all the parties ended, our devotion can easily slip. For too many of us our faith reaches an emotional peak at Christmas. That’s not too surprising because our culture tends to gear our hearts and minds toward December 25 without much thought as to what should occur afterward. Yet here in Luke we are offered a glimpse of one’s faith maturing. Jesus’ faithfulness doesn’t peak with his birth, but is allowed to grow, just as our faith doesn’t simply peak when we decide to follow Jesus, but rather is the gateway to a lifelong journey.

This should be a time of continued growth, not stagnation. Yes, we as Christians do become exhausted this time of year and deserve a break. Yet that break should not come at the expense of our spiritual selves. As Christians, we are called to be counter-cultural, to break from those social trappings that inhibit our relationship with God and one another. As disciples we need to continue on our Christian journey, always seeking to become closer to God, even if it means challenging a culture that wishes to replace the sacred with the secular. We are too often tempted to give our faith a break. However, we need to be constantly maturing in our faith, to always be willing to grow.

We have experienced emotional highs as we have gathered with families and friends to remember the very miracles that often bind us as Christians in community. We begin to see God in the unlikeliest of places, despite our hectic schedules during the Holidays. We want to better ourselves as the year comes to a close because we once again are reminded of Christ’s transformative nature. Unfortunately we all too easily fall back into business as usual and the spirit of Christmas gets packed away with the rest of our decorations. Yet, here in Luke, we are given a demonstration of how to continue in our growth in the Spirit.

Jesus’ time in the temple demonstrates one model for growing in wisdom and stature. As he entered adulthood, Jesus found a home in the Temple for theological reflection. He chose to stay behind in order to gain in wisdom and holy boldness. He held on to the traditions of his faith in order to become a better reflection of God’s purposes. Also important to look at is Jesus’ age. These past few months I have had the privilege of working with the middle schoolers in Sunday School. There talents and gifts never cease to amaze me. We have much to learn from our children, but only if we allow them space to speak to us, to help us, and to guide us as we guide them in their faith journey. As a community we must strive to be in partnership with those who may not have the years or experience we have, but can offer wisdom that transcends their age. Only by encouraging them in Christ’s love can they grow and flourish in the Christian community.

We, too, must continue in growing in our faith. As Methodists, we affirm the practice and discipline of John Wesley. He understood the Christian journey to be a lifelong process of continued growth. Yes, in an instant we can and are converted to the faith, experiencing rebirth, but the journey doesn’t end there. We are continuing forward on the road to what Wesley called “Christian Perfection.” In other words our task as Christians is to continue to grow in our faith until we have achieved total love of God and neighbor. We don’t simply quit living and wait for the endtimes. Because of our faith we participate in the life of the church and seek to be servants of God in our daily lives.

Theologian Bruce Epperly, a former professor at Wesley Theological Seminary now teaching in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, has a very clear understanding of our task. He insists that our growth “calls us to take our faith seriously enough to study scripture, wrestle with traditional theological doctrines, explore new images of God, Christ, and salvation, and spend time in prayer, meditation, and service. A growing faith is not accidental, but requires going to the “temple” regularly to listen, ask, and share.”

The church is a place to keep us spiritually strong and emotionally capable of maintaining and transforming our lives. Practicing our faith in isolation simply is not an option. It is within the community that our faith potential can be fully met. Here at Millian we have the capability of continued growth throughout the whole year, whether it is through bible study or community outreach, through the work of Stephen ministry, or on a mission trip in and outside the United States, or simply the interactions and support of each other in Christian love. Everyday is an opportunity to experience transformation or to reflect upon our role as Christian believers. So, I ask, how will you seek new ways for growth? What opportunities or tasks will you undertake so that you may participate more fully in the life of Christ, the life of discipleship? How are we serving God and neighbor? What can you and I do to better increase our Wisdom, our faith? How will be harbingers of your peace? The new year brings new opportunity.

I believe Luke is inviting us to be part of a movement that revels in Holy Boldness. The call to discipleship is an invitation to be part of something greater than ourselves. It is also a journey that requires the help and fellowship of others. To be a Christian is to be in community. If we are to take the Gospel story, the Good News, seriously, we must understand what is required of us as Christians. Now, I am not suggesting doing what Jesus did. Creating undue anxiety is not the point of Luke’s message. I think it is even safe to say that Jesus is an exception, though there is no doubt that he is obedient to his parents, Mary and Joseph. But our calling as disciples requires boldness in order for us to fully experience God’s love. Yes, we will experience the high moments of Church life, such as Christmas and Easter, yet more importantly, we must also be open to God’s transformative power the whole year. As a faith community, devoted to growing in love, we owe it to each other to be as bold and holy in our faith as possible.

Amen.

Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Where Have You Been?

Well gentle readers, as a New Year's Resolution, I promised myself I would blog much much more. I promised some key players that I would start posting on a much more regular basis, say, 4 to 5 times a week. I have even thought of a new feature, called "Night Cap" that I hope will become a hit among the masses. As with many NYRs, I told myself I would have until February to get it off the ground. Well, today is the last day of January, and, as if by magic, a new post has appeared! Granted, this is a simple re-launch without much pizzazz or fanfare, but as I try to become more disciplined my promise to you is to have at least three new posts through Sunday (which may or may not include this one). I'm going to add more religion into the mix, though will attempt to stay away from politics (if possible. In this country the two are sometimes inseparable. Perhaps a "wall of separation" is needed?) I also invite any suggestions for making this a better blog.

Thank you,

MM