Sunday, August 24, 2008

Some of you might have to think about it for a while.

A teenaged friend of mine had been keeping her sexual preference hidden from her parents, knowing that they’d react badly. Her parents discovered her secret, blew sky-high, and sent her off to Amsterdam to straighten her out.

I’m sure I should feel sympathy more than anything, but instead, all I can think is, “my God, so many jokes!”

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I don't talk about this much...

McCain has rapidly gained five points in the polls over the past few weeks, putting himself only a few points behind Obama - though I’m sure that the Biden announcement combined with the DNC will change things in the coming days; and then the Republican announcement will swing things back again, etc.

I was hunting across news sites looking for reasons why McCain was gaining on Obama and came up empty. I found poll data and a few guesses about the cause, none of which were new: Hillary supporters are considering McCain, McCain has gone on the attack with good effect, etc. The surprising one was how many publications blamed the gain on racism. Here’s one rather unsurprising one.

Analysts continue to refer to racism as “the elephant in the room” in this election, but the obvious truth is that there’s been fairly consistent debate over the nature of race in politics throughout this election year. Not to say, as always, that we don’t still have miles to go.

I just don’t see how racism applies here. Assumably, there are a certain number of people in America who will never vote for a black candidate. Beyond that, there are shades of gray: people who might under very certain circumstances vote for a black president, people who have bitterness towards the black community for one reason or another, people who are vaguely but non-specifically prejudiced, and so on. But shouldn’t all that be decided by now?

If someone’s mind is made up against Obama, either partially or totally because of his race, that shouldn’t change according to current events. As best I understand it, it either affects your decision making or it doesn’t. You don’t suddenly decide “y’know, I don’t think I can vote for Obama after all. He is, after all, black.”

I have to think that the several major publications that blame McCain’s surge on racism have done Obama a disservice. To say that the only reason his opponent could rise in the polls would be general racism isn’t just insulting, it’s politically damaging. Naturally, Obama’s campaign has become the figurehead of race relations in this country, but comments like this make it only that. Obama’s made it fairly clear that he doesn’t want to spend a lot of time discussing his ethnicity (though certainly that hasn’t stopped anybody from doing it for him, and you can read into that however you want), so to turn his Presidential campaign into nothing more than a metaphor for the shape of prejudice in America is insulting to Obama, McCain, and Americans in general.

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Wednesday, August 20, 2008

The best example of its kind

Creepy or atmospheric-style filmmaking generally - in fact, nearly universally - does not work on the web. Certainly not on YouTube. But this did. Eerie.

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Fortune Cookies

If you've ever eaten Chinese food with me - and even if you haven't - you've probably heard me brag about how I have good luck with fortune cookies.

You scoff, of course, but I've had my share of stunners. I've shared a story or two on the blog, I think - I must have at least told the L.A. story. If not, here it is:

While in film school, I went out to get Chinese food one afternoon with some of my new classmates. I believe it was still early in the semester, since I was still trying to get my classmates to grow fond of me to the point that by the end of term we would call each other "chums" and call each other to explain what a ripping good time we'd had at hols. My early impressions of film school seem to have been heavily influenced by books like The Hardy Boys Do A Year At Brighton. Anyway, to achieve this end, I was relying on my standard strategy for gaining people's approval, which is of course bragging about myself.

As we finished up our meal, I reached for my fortune cookie and announced my consistent good luck with these fortunes. I brought up the many times I had received glowing approvals of my abilities, including the one that said "you are always right," the one that said "your ideas are better than everyone else's," and the one that, without me even having to tack on my own ending, declared that I was quite something in bed. Proof positive of my excellence.

My classmates, Philistines all, voiced their dissension. "No one's good at getting fortunes, Ben. It's just dumb luck."
I held my cookie aloft and smiled craftily. "I have luck whenever I need it. Watch this. It'll say it right there." I cracked the cookie open. The fortune read "You are lucky in all you attempt." I hollered in triumph and did a victory lap around the Farmer's Market. Despite the proof of my supernatural talents, no one ever ended up calling me "chum," but I feel that I won the day anyhow.

I bring this up because I've been in a slump. A cold spell. I haven't gotten a good fortune in a long time. I mean sure, I've gotten a couple decent ones: "You will soon be victorious" was pretty nice; but it's not like it used to be. Sometimes I end up opening more than one cookie at a Chinese restaurant, hoping for a little bit of magic again. I'm pushing, and I know it. I'm watching my average tumble towards the Mendoza line, wondering if I ever had it at all, or was it all just a fluke.

Tonight, though, it happened again; a solemn promise right there, just after my sweet and sour chicken:

"You will become an accomplished writer."

Hot dog. I'm back.


Tuesday, August 19, 2008


I was exiting the mall today when I passed an ad for a church in our area whose name I’ve forgotten. I’ve walked by this ad a dozen times, it’s quite noticeable: two extremely energetic singers are punching the air, the name of the church plastered across the bottom, and large superlatives with exclamation points in the corners. It’s quite vibrant. If that was what I was looking for in a church, I’d be sold.

As I passed the ad this time, I noticed that one of the superlatives was “Spirit-Filled!” It caught me with a little punch in the gut. It’s a phrase I’m not fond of.

“Spirit-filled” is a popular buzzword around here. It pokes up in every church’s advertisements, from the church down the road to the megachurches downtown. When I was creating an advertisement for a church service this year, the phrase was suggested, re-suggested, and finally insisted upon. Management felt very strongly it set the right tone for what we were doing.

I understand why, of course. “Spirit-filled” indicates energy, vitality, perhaps even exuberance. More importantly, it implies God without really announcing God, the way “Christ-centered” or “Bible-believing” would; it says “God’s a part of what we’re doing here. But in a fun way.”

There’s a prevailing belief, particularly in larger churches, that this is way to win new people into their communities. The belief is insidious, it doesn’t affect just poorly run or spiritual dead churches, it is the natural progression of attitudes that follows large-scale growth. A church passes a point where it is a group meeting together on Sundays and becomes a service that people attend, and finally perhaps a show that people come to see. It is the way of such things.

Once a church reaches that point, they stop thinking about new members in a personal way (“I’m going to invite my neighbor Jack to church”) and begin thinking in terms of untapped markets and appealing to those dissatisfied with their “competitors” (“how can we reach the upper-middle class single mothers who don’t like praise music?”). And so church becomes, in small degrees, less a time for praising and reflecting on what God has done and more an opportunity to swell their ranks. They start to create services that “attract people.” They look for ways to be “slicker,” “more professional,” and above all “seeker-friendly.”

Understand, I’m part of the worst of it. I’m a member of a church media staff. If you want to take a shot at anyone who’s glossing over the rough edges of the Gospel, look at the guy who’s trying to cut it down to a 30-second clip. But it bothers me.

Howerver, I think that all of that isn’t really what bothered me about seeing the phrase “Spirit-filled” on that poster. I think what bothered me is that it implies that we already know that the Spirit is showing up, available at our beck and call with a snap of our fingers. And depending on what you believe about the Holy Spirit, perhaps He is, but to me it just makes Him sound like a dog on a leash. The Holy Spirit is now available, recently installed and fully functional, just past the coffee shop but before you get to the playground. Sometimes you have to crank him a little to get him going.

Maybe my view on the Holy Spirit is different from yours, but I don’t think that sounds right to me. To me, saying a service will be “Spirit-filled” is like saying “Come to church on Sunday, the building will be inexplicably destroyed by an unforeseeable natural disaster.” When we call on the name of the Lord, he hears us, and when we ask the Holy Spirit to come inside us, he does, but it’s not some parlor trick. It’s not something we’ve learned to control. It’s bigger than us, and always will be, no matter how many enthusiastic singers we have punching the air.

And exuberance or no exuberance, I’d rather be at the “Christ-centered” church any day.

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Sunday, August 17, 2008

I have returned...

...and I brought candy. I returned late last night from New Hampshire, where I spent a week happily reading, kayaking, playing Scategories, watching the Olympics, and dozing on the sandy shores of Lake Swanzey. I also caught the wedding of a couple I helped introduce about 18 months ago, which is always nice.

For the record, here's a new problem you might want to think about as you plan your wedding:

If, hypothetically, you have somebody film your wedding and borrow a camera for him. And say, hypothetically, that the camera you borrow for him records to a hard drive instead of to a tape.

Let's further assume that the camera turns itself on while on the way to the wedding, killing the battery. The only way to power the camera is to plug it in to the wall.

Now, weddings being the confusing thing that they are, it seems perfectly logical that - hypothetically - the organist could come forward, trip over the cord and abruptly shut off the camera. And cameras being what they are, sometimes when they record to hard drives and then get the plug pulled and then they get turned back on, they sometimes need time to figure out how to fix the footage they've already captured.

When hypothetical situations like this take place, it's perfectly possible that this could mean that the camera misses a little bit of live footage. And since some cameras have slower hard drives, it could also mean that the camera could miss a... substantial portion of a wedding. Say, the first kiss. And the recessional.

Engaged people, just something to think about as you go about your wedding planning. No reason for alarm.

Though, maybe, you should think about how you'd deal with a situation like that.

'Cause I might need to know that.