Monday, December 20, 2010

Fun Movies! And Political Reflections

Sometimes I feel like I'm overly critical of movies in general. I think that's because certain movies get really hyped up for some reason, and I just don't see why. Like Slumdog Millionaire. Or Inception. Or Crash. Although Crash, in my opinion, is not even a "good" movie, much less worthy of being named "Best Picture" of 2005. (Oh, those ridiculous judges!)

But anyway, oftentimes, I do very much enjoy a good, fun frivolous film. We watched two this past weekend:

Night Train to Munich (1940): Often overlooked, perceived as derivative of The Lady Vanishes (1939), this WWII espionage thriller is simply delightful. I have not seen The Lady Vanishes, but if it's anything like Hitchcock's other films, I'm sure Night Train to Munich is a great deal more humorous and lighthearted. Which I would imagine to be an improvement.

Tron (1982): Such an odd film! The visuals, the story, the dialogue--they're just so ... interesting. Solid storytelling, acting, character development--all the elements of a pretty good movie--with the added element of novelty.

Tron is especially interesting from a theological viewpoint because the citizens of the digital world, personified computer programs, regard their programmers ("users") as deities. Programmer Kevin Flynn, having been transported into the digital world in the likeness of a program, becomes a Christ figure of sorts.

A fun moment that stuck with me was when one of the programs, named Tron, discovers that Flynn, who has been assisting him in his mission, is actually a "user" (i.e. a god). Tron exclaims that this must mean everything Flynn has been doing was according to a greater plan. Flynn shakes his head and says no, actually, users, just like programs, are often just going along, trying to do their best, without an overarching plan in mind.

While I don't think this insight can appropriately be applied to God (I have a high, Calvinistic view of Providence), it's very apt with relation to human authorities. However much people may complain about the way the country is run, for the most part, here in the U.S. we have a sense that the people in charge, though they make some mistakes, generally know what they're doing (or at least we think that of whatever political party we support).

But I'm pretty sure that in reality, the people at the top don't know what they're doing. And I've always found that very disheartening. So I liked that moment in Tron, because it wasn't a terrifying, depressing revelation to the programs--merely surprising. I guess it's okay to find out that that's the way things are; we can still work with that.

Perhaps the real difference it makes, knowing that politicians are just as stupid and incompetent as regular people, is that it means it's our responsibility as citizens to work with them, alongside them, helping them in whatever way we can--rather than looking to them to fix everything and handing them the blame when things go badly.

That is, instead of being angry at politicians, especially those in the White House, we should have compassion on them, because they have one fucking hell of a job, and we would probably not do so well at it ourselves, despite the best of intentions. Perhaps if we could be inspired with pity for all the stupid, incompetent politicians, we would more willingly try to do something to help, rather than just complaining all the time.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Inception: Know What You're In For

I had been told in advance that Inception is "not mind-bending," but still "very well done." Although I think that's a fair estimation, I was still disappointed; I was expecting something in the genre of, say, (one of my favorite movies) Memento--a film driven by a creative, clever plot. But I'm afraid Inception is really just an action movie with a fun premise.

I suppose the plot is uncommonly smart and original, for an action movie. But I'm not a huge fan of action movies. I don't like having to overlook contrived plot devices and apparent lapses in logic. The "contrived plot devices" part bothered me most. The "rules" of entering someone's dream have nothing to do with what dreams are actually like. For example, in Inception, if you die in a dream, it causes you to wake up. This makes for a good plot device, but it does not at all correspond to my experience of dreaming. If I die in a dream I might wake up, or the dream might change to something else, or my vision might go black and I would be thinking to myself it's not so bad being dead. Or the dream might rewind five seconds and then as it replays, I avoid getting killed after all.

The dream world in Inception operates according to very strict rules--which, again, is useful to the author of the script--but as a result, the "dream" sequences are really not that dreamlike; they're much too coherent--and some of the rules of the dream world are just plain silly.

Although I would highly recommend Inception to action movie fans, if you want an artful exploration of the fascinating idea of entering someone else's dream, check out Paprika instead.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

'Tis the Season

On my way to the train station, I walked past two men shouting angrily at each other:


Continuing on my journey, I eventually got off the subway. Again, I heard a man's voice screaming enragedly. Some Asian dude was kicking a white guy out of his convenience store: "NEVER SAY THAT KIND OF THING IN HERE AGAIN! GET OUT! GET OUT OF HERE!"

The next day, on the train again, a young boy was wailing. His mother told him to shut up. He kept crying. She tried ignoring him. He just kept sobbing, louder and louder. Mom starts losing her temper, angrily ordering the boy to shut his mouth. She tries grabbing him and muffling him with her arm--he gets louder, and louder--I shut my eyes, thinking, "The holiday season is officially upon us. People freaking out left and right." And then--suddenly, it's quiet.

I look up, and there's this woman--just another passenger--and she's giving that young man a good talkin' to. She's calm, speaking quietly, but with authority. Everyone around is gaping in awe and wonder. That screaming little boy has turned into a perfect angel. People are laughing with relief and delight. "Can you come over to my house--to live?" more than one onlooker asks.

Blessed are the peacemakers. We could use a few more in the world, to say the least.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

octopus balloon story

My sister recounted this vignette, told originally in her Plants and the Environment class at Pepperdine: the professor of this class has a young son (about three years old) who one day saw a shiny metallic balloon, shaped like an octopus, and begged his mother to buy it for him. She was reluctant but eventually gave in. Little boy enjoys balloon, until it slips from his grasp and floats away into the sky. Little boy cries and cries. His mother tries to console him, saying, it was only a balloon. "But Mom," he weeps, "the fish are gonna die!"

In the words of my other sister, "That's one awesome little kid."

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Further Reflections on "Candidating"

As I stood in line to take communion at the presbytery meeting last week, I was thinking to myself, "How incredible, that in spite of all my faults and flaws, not only does God accept me, but even this group of people has accepted me--and not just as a member of the Christian community--but as someone genuinely called to pastoral ministry. I guess you don't have to be perfect to be a pastor. And thank God, 'cause otherwise we wouldn't have any ..."

You don't have to be perfect to have a genuine calling to the pastorate. I can imagine that's a good thing to realize sooner rather than later. Not that it isn't imporant to strive toward living a holy life, pleasing to God. But as someone who holds herself to the standard of perfection and constantly, constantly falls short, I tend to get discouraged. So it's good to have the affirmation of a large roomful of pastors and elders that I am not too much of a failure to be recognized as having a genuine call to ministry.

Friday, November 12, 2010

We Need More Angry Preachers!

At the presbytery meeting this past Tuesday evening, I was advanced to the Candidacy stage of the ordination process. I have shared below the statement I submitted for that occasion. There were only two questions from the floor (so disappointing), but one of them I've been thinking about. Someone asked me to explain how suffering is a gift for ministry. I incoherently muttered something about how suffering opens up this tender place in your heart so that you can really empathize and be sensitive to others' pain.

But I was thinking--perhaps I am a little more unusual in feeling that not only can I bring to ministry what depths of sadness, loss, and despair I have felt, but additionally, anger. Perhaps most people would not think of me as a particularly angry or violent person. But indeed I have long struggled (especially in adolescence) with feelings of terrible rage.

Some people are afraid of their own and others' pain, and many are terrified by their own and others' anger. Having suffered some prolonged, seemingly unbearable emotional pain (and survived) I'm not so scared of acknowledging others' pain. And likewise, having myself experienced seemingly boundless rage, I am not too worried by others' expressions of anger.

This becomes an asset for ministry because it helps me both to be able to create space for someone to express their anger and be accepted (rather than shut down or ignored) and because sometimes people are upset about injustices that the community ought to get on board trying to address.

I think we could really use some more angry preachers in middle class American churches. I wonder to what degree the repression of anger in our society is symptomatic of a socio-political system where those "at the top" need to keep a lid on the righteous indignation of those "at the bottom."

Statement of Faith, Motivation, and Service

This is a statement I wrote and submitted to my presbytery as part of the ordination process.

When I was twelve years old, I read G.K. Chesterton’s account of how, after Thomas Aquinas had written an important treatise on transubstantiation, the crucified Christ appeared to him in a vision, saying, “You have spoken well of my body; what would you have as a reward?” And with the innocent audacity of a genuine saint, Thomas replied, “I would have thyself!” And thereupon he was blessed with the beatific vision, after which he said all his voluminous works seemed to him like straw.

And so for years, in spite of my Presbyterian upbringing, I believed in the doctrine of transubstantiation. I don’t anymore. But I still identify myself with Aquinas--the mystic theologian. My desire is to see God. And like Aquinas, I strive with intellectual ardor to know God more fully.

Even as a small child, I knew the joy of being in God’s presence; I am blessed to have had a deep faith from as far back as I can remember. But I first started to feel a call to ministry around age 14. In retrospect, that’s interesting, considering it was also around age 14 that my life became hellish. Though suffering severe stress for three years, I never sought relief in external things--drugs, alcohol, etc.--rather, I turned inward, searching out the blackest reaches of the soul, daring anguished inquiry into the darkest of life’s questions. And there in the dark night, Love found me.

I put off starting the Inquiry process for a long time--years, in fact. I think partly it’s because, even though I have been quite sure of my calling to ministry for a long time, I still felt unready. Years of internal struggle have made me acutely aware of my weaknesses and limitations--but they have also forced me to discover where genuine strength and help can be found.
Being about halfway through my CPE unit at Children’s Hospital, I have been amazed at how easy it has been. And I think that’s because I’ve been through some difficult times, and have already had frequent occasions to reflect theologically on questions of suffering, and of who I am, what I believe, and how that informs my work and relationships. My time at Children’s Hospital has demonstrated to me how my suffering is a gift for ministry, and how surprisingly well it has prepared me for entering a pastoral role.

I have also had the opportunity this fall to begin an internship working with various ministries at Immanuel Pres., including their Healing Center, Young Adult Group, and work with One L.A. (a community organizing group). My internship at Immanuel is stretching me in an area I had been worried about not being gifted in before, namely the more practical, mundane, yet nebulously defined area of planning and developing events and coordinating programs. As more of an abstract, big picture thinker, I’m more comfortable in the roles of preacher, teacher, counselor, not so much administrator. So I’m really glad to be getting experience in that area.

I continue to be amazed by the faithfulness of God in preparing me for the pastorate. Looking back over my life, I can see the hand of God forming my heart for compassionate service, my mind for theological perspicacity, my soul for reliance upon grace, and my will for seeking the righteous rule of God. I am eager to continue to serve my Lord Jesus Christ in whatever way God wills, and particularly as I continue to prepare for ordination to the ministry of Word and Sacrament.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Bug Stories

During the heat wave, pestilential pantry moths invaded our cupboards. We had to clean everything out and put all the dry goods into airtight containers.

When I mentioned this to one of the people I work with at the hospital, he nodded knowingly and proceded to tell me about how he lived in a house where the front was covered in ivy. One evening he came home and noticed something moving in the ivy. He looked closer and saw that it was snails--hundreds of snails--"I kid you not, Virgie, it must have been over a thousand snails." So he and the other resident poured salt water all over the legions of snails before they could destroy the plants.

When I mentioned the moth problem to a woman I work with at church, she gave the same wise nod and told about the time her brother wanted to replace a broken tile in her kitchen floor. The night the tile was removed, she noticed the cat acting strangely--jumping around, all agitated--and when she went into the kitchen, the floor was just crawling with termites. It sounded like something from a horrible nightmare.

Does everyone have a bug story, some disturbing encounter with the world of creepy crawlies that they're just waiting for the opportunity to talk about? There's something primal, even archetypal about the horror of seething insectoid masses. Removing a tile, turning over a rock, it feels like uncovering a frightening alien world--a world that feeds on the death and waste of our own kind.

And it's frightening how powerful insects, spiders, scorpions and the like can be. So tiny and fragile, yet capable of sickening, even killing; destroying homes; decimating food supplies; spreading disease. I suppose an intractable enmity is to be expected ...

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Presbyterian Fatalism

Last week my supervisor at the pediatric hospital asked how I've been dealing with all the tragic stuff I see. I was caught off guard and it took me a moment to understand what he meant. I really have not been very deeply affected by all the sad, sad stories which I step briefly in and out of. When I'm in the room, I feel sad if the patient/family is sad, hopeful if they're hopeful, but I generally don't take anything with me when I leave--except some anxiety about how I could have served them better.

Reflecting later upon this sense of detachment, I thought perhaps it comes from a kind of Presbyterian fatalism. I really do believe that the entirety of creation is ordered by the inscrutable wisdom of God. I don't know why God would ordain so much evil, so much suffering and pain--especially for children--but I did not create the world. I cannot see from my limited perspective how it is happening, but I trust that all things are working together for the good of those who love God.

A high view of providence is very much out of style nowadays, I think. Such a view seems to make God the author of evil. I don't think it does--perhaps another time I'll go into that, but right now I want to consider whether it's monstrous of me not to be overly upset by evil because I trust that God's purposes are being worked out through it somehow. Am I falling into a kind of white-washing of evil, pretending things are okay when they are not--am I guilty of the very thing I deplore?

I want to say: No, because I simply cannot bear the weight of grief and outrage that I would feel if I responded commensurately to the horror of every awful happening I found out about. If other people's tragedies became my tragedies, I would never stop crying. So I feel as much sorrow as I must in order to serve the suffering persons well. But after that, I must entrust them into God's hands.

I'm not really satisfied with that ... Perhaps because I'm falling into the ancient ("original") sin of wanting to be like God. God alone bears the full weight of the whole world's suffering. To be mortal is to accept limitations. It seems odd not to accept simply and gladly the limit mercifully placed on my own suffering, yet we human beings are a perverse lot.

Perhaps also, though, I know that things are not supposed to be too easy. ... Wait a minute. Or are they? Jesus said to take up his yoke, which is easy, and his burden, which is light. Hmmm ...

Well, I don't think I'm going to resolve this one before dinner. Which I'm supposed to be serving right now. Perhaps clarity will come another time ...

Friday, October 1, 2010

evil an illusion?

Studying world religions in college, I found there was something profoundly appealing about all of them, except Buddhism. To me, Buddhism felt tepid, lukewarm. The ideal of moderation in all things I do not find ... inspiring. The Buddhist way of being sounded very dull and boring to me.

Also, I think Buddhism is the most difficult of the major world religions to reconcile with a western-rationalist worldview. I appreciate having some ambiguity, some paradox--but some of those maxims and koans and stuff in the Buddhist tradition seem quite anti-rational; they offend my desire to undertand and make sense of the world--as well as my expectation of others that they should communicate clearly and try to facilitate mutual understanding (not confustication).

But I think most of all, what bothered me about Buddhism is the idea of evil being an illusion. It's very important to me, both because of my personal history and as a disciple of Jesus Christ, to name and confront evil. Unmasking the wicked injustices of his time was a very important aspect of Jesus' ministry--culminating in his crucifixion. The crucified Son of God is the ultimate witness against human violence and degradation. We are rightly ashamed to acknowledge that the execution of an innocent man is no aberration in an otherwise peaceful society, but rather that it is representative and symbolic of how human beings normally treat each other ...

And of course, the Christian understanding is that only by naming and confronting evil can it be overcome. Forgiveness required a cross. Evil could not simply be ignored and quietly pardoned, under the table, as it were.

Anyway, that's why I always felt antagonistic toward the ideas of Buddhism. But recently I've gotten more interested in meditation (through self hypnosis, which I learned about from a library book years ago). And I started thinking: you know, some kinds of evil actually are illusions, in a sense. Some evil comes simply from wrong ways of thinking and faulty beliefs that I have. They have no objective reality; they're just psychological mistakes I keep making, over and over. And I think meditation can help to free me of such "illusive" evils.

Anyway, that's something I've been thinking about ...

Friday, September 24, 2010

if you had a hermaphroditic child ...

Sorry it's been forever since I last posted. Been busy with two internships: one at a church, one at a pediatric hospital.

Anyway, I was thinking the other day, "If you had a hermaphroditic child, would it be better to choose one gender and treat him/her as that, or to raise her/him as an androgynoid?" It seems like it would be better to raise him/her as an androgynoid, since that would be true the child's anatomy. If you just chose one gender arbitrarily, it would be like denying and rejecting a basic part of who your child was.

I can understand that people think it will make their child's life easier to think of her/himself as only one gender or the other, since that's what society expects. But if, by virtue of your physical makeup, you simply do not conform to the expectations of society, and if (short of having doctors mutilate your body) there is no way to change that, surely it is better to be honest about the disconnect rather than to deny it and pretend to be "normal."

Friday, September 3, 2010


You may think that this post about how happy I am to be finished (forever!) with classwork ought to have come earlier--as in, at the end of my last class in June. But I am only truly feeling the elation now because only now am I not only free from all wretchedness of academia, but also free to do what I really want to do: work! ministry!


This week I started a chaplaincy internship and a church internship. I think they're both going to be great! I'm so happy--which has made me realize how much I hated being a full time grad student. Which seems odd, since I still love learning--reading and writing--and on scholarly subjects, even. But I hated the unnaturalness of relationships. Particularly the teacher-student relationship. That felt somewhat demeaning to me. And relationships with other students were always so superficial. There was no cohort, so you were only in the same classes with people for one short quarter and then you might not see them at all the next quarter.

Anyway, thank heavens that's all done with and finished now. Time to continue being happy!

Thursday, August 19, 2010

a broken sonnet

Intercession Interrupted

Why pray at all? stiff measured reason frowned
though heart unheeding would for love implore
--be logic damned--yet heart now ceded. For
He came
Whose love through every soul inch wound
and intercessor’s frantic fervor drowned
in faith, content unpleading to adore.
As if he’d said: “I could not love them more.”
I: “Lord, it’s hard to pray with you around.”
For where I would cry out with tears, instead
by glory crushed, but whisper hallelu!
Yet mortal fools must ask our daily bread;
at once admit we doubt and know him true,
while God alone perceives, directs above
unyielding logic of unmeasured love.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Blyth's Tragopan

Sometime last year, we went to the San Diego Zoo. There we saw a most strikingly beautiful bird: Blyth's tragopan. I decided I wanted to do a painting of it and, more than a year later, I have finally done so.

There were two of them at the zoo. One was running and one was roosting.
I wanted to do a more stylized portrayal, but it was a bit beyond my skill level ... Maybe next time.

Friday, August 6, 2010

The Oinkster

Brandon and I have been trying to hit all the landmark cheap eats in the area. So far we've had burgers at Rick's, Pie'N'Burger, Hamlet and Jake's--chili burgers at Tommy's ("chili" should properly be in quotation marks--it's more like a chili flavored starch paste)--and pastrami at The Hat and Brent's. Last weekend we experienced The Oinkster--which, Brandon pointed out, is like the best of all the other landmark cheap eats combined.

Check this out:

Brandon had the pulled pork sandwich (top/right)--which was okay. But I just had to go for "The Royale" (bottom/left): classic cheeseburger with lettuce, tomato, pickles, and Roquefort; pastrami; bacon; and chili sauce. I was expecting it to be a messy ordeal, but as you can see, the burger is exceedingly well constructed: compact, easily bite-able, with perfect proportions, such that each flavor is accented yet does not overpower the others.

Yum. And I don't even like chili! (Not until last weekend, at least.) Also, the fries were excellent. I think we paid $25 (including a generous tip).

Monday, July 12, 2010

beauty is in the eye of the astigmatic

As I sit here typing, I can see above the computer screen, through the window, across the quad, in the eucalyptus trees, a shiny purple, silver and gold balloon, torn and caught in the branches. It's been there for quite a while. The day I got my new glasses, I put them on so I could see how much clearer it would look from here. I was surprised that although the image became much sharper, the brightness and prominence of the colors were very much muted.

I like my glasses because, with them, I can read signs that are far away, and I can see leaf shapes, bark texture, birds, and animals more clearly from a distance. But in some ways, the world is more beautiful with the vertical axis out of focus.* Wrinkles, pores, and tiny hairs on people's faces are smoothed away. Colors are more striking. The whole world looks softer, friendlier. It's like living in a Monet.

In what sense do the glasses improve my vision? I can see the details better, but the larger picture becomes less clear. Is a photograph or a painting a more accurate representation of an object? From a scientific perspective a photo may be better--but from the perspective of human experience, from the point of view of one who does not merely see, but who attends, who looks with intention, who evaluates, appreciates, and longs for beauty, a representation that omits the details but brings out what is most important--the glory of purple and gold, shining among dusty green leaves--may be more true to the object than photographic realism.

*Vertical axis out of focus: I use this phrasing because astigmatism does not actually cause a general blurring of vision (it is not like unfocusing the lens of a camera)--it's more similar to seeing double.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Harry Potter and Imaginative Writing

I am not a fan of the Harry Potter books. I read the first three, and thought they were fun, but nothing to write home about. On the fourth book, I completely lost interest because the long detailed descriptions of the wizarding world held no interest for me. But all that descriptive writing, which I find so tedious, seems to be what the fans love.

From what I have read of the books, it seems the creative acheivement of J.K. Rowling is not in the crafting of a story, nor in the style of writing, nor in any kind of genuine originality, but in the fact that she created a fantasy world with a vast amount of detail. That's why to one person the books may seem irksomely cliched and "imaginatively derivative," whereas to someone else they are "richly imaginative."

But the way in which J.K. Rowling gave her imagination free reign--although it results in a magical world where anything can happen--is, I think, detrimental to the art of storytelling. Another blog I was reading discusses how an author can fall into the error of letting magic in their stories become poorly thought out, and even inconsistent or illogical. This is increasingly a problem the fewer limitations the author has decided to work with.

The use of magic in a story is much more fun and interesting when it has clear limitations. We see it in all the classic fairytales--the hero/heroine is given three magic objects, each of which can do one thing only; the wicked fairy places an enchantment, with a very specific result, and a very specific antidote (she will sleep for one thousand years ... it can only be broken if a prince breaks through and kisses her). These stories would not work if magic could be used for anything, by anyone, at any time.

This is something I've struggled with in writing my own young adult fantasy stories. It's hard to make the use of magic both fun, and creative, as well as limited and specific, so it doesn't get out of hand. So in that sense, I suppose I have a certain degree of respect for J.K. Rowling, since she did write books where the use of magic "works" for most people--though not for me, I'm afraid.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

New Glasses and Birds

So, having lost my glasses back in, oh, February or so, one thing I have been looking forward to doing when I finally get new ones is looking at birds. There are some interesting birds around here, and it would be nice if I could see them clearly from a distance.

But that is not the real connection between new glasses and birds. The connection is that when I went for the eye exam (20/40 far vision--which, as the optician said, means, "You're not blind, but you can't see very well"--though I still have 20/20 near vision--not sure how that works if the primary problem is astigmatism--but as I was saying), I was looking at frames and I saw my same old frames from before that I loved so much!

I loved the old frames because on the side they had this fancy schmancy little stylized bird design. It looked kind of like a quetzl or even a phoenix. It very much endeared those frames to me. But then, there were these other very similar frames, that were in a color I liked better and were a little larger, so they don't mess as much with my peripheral vision. They were the same brand and also had a little stylized bird design on the side. But the bird was very lame by comparison--it looked like a sitting seagull.

It was an agonizing decision. Do I choose the glasses I like better with the lame bird, or the glasses I like less with the awesome bird? The purpose of getting glasses is to help me see better, so the lame bird prevailed. I'll just tell myself it's really an albatross. Then it can be awesome, too.

Also: I saw a funny pesticide commercial in the waiting room. It shows black and white footage of happy children, as an ominous voice tells you that millions of children are made sick from pesticides every year. Then it tells you about their safe pesticide--and shows people spraying it all over the place--all around the house, on the sink, on a little girl's arm! "It's so safe," announces the voice, "it even says 'safe' on the label." That is some irrefutable logic. "Can your pesticide do that?" Good question. My pesticide probably is so dangerous that even if I tried to up a sticker that said "safe" on the label, it would peel off instantly. Who the heck wrote this commercial? Did they realize it was funny?

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Colombian Hot Dogs!

Last weekend, I said to Brandon that if we were going to go to the dollar theater, we should also stop at the nearby shop that sells Colombian hot dogs, because who knows! It could go out of business before we ever had gone in and tried out the hot dogs. So we went. And there on the sign, it said that they were going to be closing within a week! We were just in time.

The hot dogs were quite good, and now we know how to make them for ourselves:

Begin with a big, substantial bun. Lay a slice of ham in it. Add a goodly amount of mozzarella cheese, a quality beef frank, and some pineapple chunks. Melt the cheese. Top with crushed potato chips, and drizzle with ketchup, mustard, and mayo in a zigzag design.

Brandon and I speculated it might be a better idea to put the condiments underneath the potato chips. The dog would not look as pretty, but the chips might get less soggy.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Election Day Tomorrow

Here in California, we are having an important primary election tomorrow. Several weeks ago I saw a scrap of paper on a bulletin board at Fuller. It was covered in crazy looking handwriting--you know, the kind that is not consistent in size and capitalization. I wish I had run home to get my camera--it read something like:


A few days later, I received the official voter's guide in the mail. Let me share a few statements by the candidates for governor:

"Build Solar Panel Factories. Install Solar panels on 10 million homes." (Democrat)

"I am a Christian living by principles in God's Word. I speak the truth ... I am qualified with an AA, BA (zoology/chemistry), MA (theoretical/research) and Ph.D. (clinical psychology)" (Republican)

"As your Governor, I will ensure all pedophiles will leave the State or volunteer to live confined to Santa Rosa Island, at no cost to Californians, as they will have their own self-supporting village" (Republican)

These are the people Brandon affectionately refers to as "Yahoos." And they are in the official voter guide. (The serious candidates are not.) How does a BA in zoology and a PhD in clinical psychology qualify someone to run the state of California? Because we are all a bunch of crazies who behave like a pack of wild animals? Hm, come to think of it, maybe those are reasonable qualifications after all.

Listen to this boast by Attorney General candidate Steve Cooley: "My office has ... obtained more death penalty convictions than any other district attorney in California."

I'm glad I'm not required to vote for any of these people. Tomorrow I will probably be leaving the majority of my ballot blank ...

Monday, May 24, 2010

Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland

Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland captures perfectly the dream-like effect of making the fantastical and bizarre seem simply mundane, strangely unaffecting, even boring. I don't know if that's the effect he was going for. It makes for a seriously lacklustre movie-going experience. I liked the Cheshire Cat, and some of the visuals. Otherwise, there was very little in the film to be enjoyed. Maybe it works better for kids. Children who are not easily disturbed by the grotesque may find the characters amusing enough that they will remain interested in the story despite the film's lack of emotional depth.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

A Serious Infestation

The other night, I dreamed I was inspecting a broken down old shed, and it turned out to have rats. They were huge. One fell out of the ceiling--it was almost the size of a capybara. And really fat. It seemed only mildly concerned about the presence of humans and dizzily stumbled away (must have hit its head pretty hard). There was some guy (an exterminator?) with weapons who started firing on the rats. But then the rats had guns, too, and started shooting at us. We had to run away.

Rats with guns. It's comical, and seems to have some kind of philosophical meaning I can't quite make out. I try to pin it down, but nothing truly does justice to the image. It's more than getting a taste of one's own medicine, more than a commentary on the escalation of violence in war. Because they're rats, for crying out loud. Perhaps it's an image of a world gone horribly wrong--rats having guns is even worse, in some way, than children having guns. Animals should not be capable of intentionally doing evil. Animals can't commit murder. The dream-rats were not anthropomorphized; just enormous.

Perhaps it's silly to look for coherent meaning in a dream. But this one seemed to ask for it.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Thoughts on Iron Man 2

Iron Man 2 was awesome. Robert Downey Jr., Mickey Rourke, and Sam Rockwell all turned in delightful, top-notch performances. I thought the film was about as good as the first one, although I did not enjoy it as much. What blew me away about the original was not so much its artistic and technical merit per se, but that it was just so much fun to watch. But some of the themes Iron Man 2 deals with are darker, more frightening and worrisome; it made for a different movie-going experience--more tense--even thought-provoking. Brandon is still speculating on what political statement the filmmakers wanted to imply with the line about "privatizing world peace."

I was also irked by the introduction of Scarlet Johansson's character. Her personality can be more or less reduced to the words "super-sexy and dangerous." I think it is a sign of the failure of women's liberation that a female character is not allowed to kick ass unless she's all seductive about it.

That was another thing I loved about the first movie: they included the throw-away sex-object female characters, and contrasted them with Pepper Potts--strong, competent, loyal, caring--a real person--who also happens to be beautiful and sexy--but not hyper-sexualized, and not defined by her sexuality.

One of my professors was asking (rhetorically) the other day about why it is that the U.S. has never elected a woman to its highest political office. India, Pakistan, Britain, Argentina, and Chile are all, surprisingly, ahead of us there. I wonder if it has something to do with the fact that here in the U.S., the image of the powerful woman is also hyper-sexualized (like Scarlet Johansson's character in Iron Man 2), which may be okay for a superhero movie, but not for a political candidate. And although Pepper Potts is still a strong character, and tough in her own way, she clearly plays a supporting role to Tony Stark, and is not a hero herself.

I don't remember the Kill Bill movies very well, but I think Uma Thurman's character was a good example of what it would look like for a female lead to be powerful but not defined by sexuality. (Although she's more of an anti-hero in some respects--not necessarily someone you would want to be like.)

Anyway ... Iron Man 2 ... like most films, it brings up some interesting issues about gender stereotypes in the media ...

Friday, May 7, 2010

Surprisingly, Convinced

My last post described how I balked at the expectations for the Company of New Pastors. After writing that post, I went home and discovered I was mistaken--it's not just 4 scripture readings; it's 5-7. (Plus the selection from the Book of Confessions.)

After gnashing my teeth and deliberating a while, I said to myself (teeth still gnashing away), "I will try following this spiritual regimen for a week, and I will time myself to see how long it takes, and I will get an idea of just how burdensome it is before I decide it is not for me." I held out no hope that the exercises would actually be worthwhile, but I was willing to give them a try.

So, it's been five days now. And I love this new spiritual practice! It's great! And it really doesn't take that long.

So ... the moral of this story is: don't knock it 'til you've tried it.

(Sesame Street, you have taught me well.)

Friday, April 30, 2010

Presbyterian Boot Camp?

Around the turn of the milennium, the Presbyterian Church (USA) did a study to see how frequently their pastors and church members read the Bible. As one would expect, the answer was: not often. So they created this thing called "Company of New Pastors," where Presbyterian ordination-track students in their final year of seminary commit to doing some daily devotions and scripture reading, and meet once a month for worship, fellowship, etc. Well, a professor suggested to me I might do that, and I thought it sounded like a good idea.

We had our first meeting today. They passed out these prayerbooks with prayers for morning, midday, and evening services, and a special 2-year lectionary plan, with four scripture readings and a selection from the Presbyterian Book of Confessions for each day--and I was sitting there, thinking, "I'm not going to do this. Do they really expect us to do this? This is simply not going to happen." I thought this especially when it was made clear that we are expected to continue these daily devotional practices for the remainder of our careers.

I've tried to be spiritually disciplined in the past. It's always turned out badly. So eventually, I decided to lower my expectations, and set myself a reasonable, attainable goal (read some scripture, and pray for a bit, every weekday at lunch time). I was thinking "daily devotion and scripture readings" meant something like, working through a curriculum that would include one scripture passage and some kind of supplementary material for each day. But three times a day, reading through a substantial liturgy and multiple readings--my gosh! That really sounds burdensome--and unnecessarily so.

The more I think about this, the more I think it is completely unrealisitic. I feel like I unwittingly signed up for a monastic vow. And monastic vows were designed for unmarried persons. I suppose if I were single, living alone, then I could do this sort of thing.

But I would hate to back out now--I suppose I can find some way to make this work for me. It will be a challenge, that's for sure. And I guess that's a good thing. Though I'm not yet convinced, even of that.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Another Pointless Rule?

As I was brushing my teeth last night, I noticed the Band-Aid box says on it, "For medical emergencies, seek professional assistance." Under what circumstances would this advice be helpful?

Person 1: I have been mauled by a puma! I am bleeding profusely!

Person 2: Oh my God! [Runs to the bathroom, returns with a box of Band-Aids.] Oh no! The Band-Aids are too small for your severe lacerations! What shall we do?

Person 1: Read the Band-Aid box. Perchance it bears valuable instructions.

Person 2: No! There are no instructions!

Person 1: I ... grow dizzy ... and faint.

Person 2: Wait! Yes! Here, it says, "For medical emergencies, seek professional assitance." How do I do that?

Person 1: Call ... 9 ... 1 ... 1 ...

Person 2: 911? Is that an area code? What is the rest of the phone number?!

If a person does not know that Band-Aids are insufficient to deal with a medical emergency, will they know what it means to "seek professional assistance"?

Are the instructions intended for young children? If so, why are they in such small print?

Do other brands of band-aids carry the same advice? Is it an industry standard? A legislated requirement?

Aha! A plausible explanation. Perhaps all medical supplies are required to carry these instructions, due to someone coming up with an idea that sounded good, but was not thought out very carefully.

I can think of some reasons why people would not seek professional assistance in a medical emergency: 1) they are undocumented immigrants 2) they have an irrational phobia of doctors 3) their injury resulted from illegal activities 4) they are freaked out by the prospect of medical fees 5) they did not recognize they were having a medical emergency.

In none of these cases would the advice on the packaging of medical supplies be helpful. Is my imagination too limited? Am I overlooking a plausible foreseeable situation in which the advice on the Band-Aid box would actually help someone?

Thursday, April 22, 2010


Last night, for the first time in my career as a student (having made it to the last quarter of classes, my third year of graduate school), I thought to myself, "I could drink a caffeinated beverage to help me stay awake and alert to write the paper that's due tomorrow morning."

I've always known that that was something other people do. And it's not as if I had made a decision to avoid caffeine. It simply had never occurred to me that I myself might use caffeine to stay awake.

It worked beautifully, until I finished writing my paper and wanted to go to sleep. Then it was not good at all.

So I think now I will intentionally avoid drinking tea at night.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Review: Shutter Island

Shutter Island is not a great film (i.e. it's nothing new or original), but it's a good film, which employs the elements of its genre well, and I enjoyed it quite a bit. But then, I've long been fascinated with mental illness, so just about any movie set in a mental institution would automatically pique my interest.

I would have to partially agree with some of the critiques--that because the primary protagonist (U.S. Marshal Teddy Daniels) is so closed and defensive a character, a certain emotional involvement is lacking. So I found myself impatient to get to the end.

But now that I know the ending, I think it would be even more fun to watch the film a second time. Although, unfortunately, knowing the ending is not sufficient to explain every detail of the plot. There are some scenes that don't make a whole lot of sense, even in retrospect. Some kind of commentary from the director would be helpful.

So, anyway, those are my thoughts ...

Friday, April 16, 2010


I remember Grandma’s garden
her, patiently, peacefully
holding the hose
the water
running in rivulets, pooling in puddles
Sunny afternoons
cool in the shadow of the house
she would clip a few roses
I watched, she broke off each thorn
and handed me the bouquet
color, loveliness
for the dining room table

when Grandma came over
rustling plastic bags of
pink curlers, crosswords
cartoons and cookies
we spent calm, quiet evenings
munching cheese puffs, “oriental mix”
watching Batman and Speed Racer
She presided
at the table with her magazines

Grandma was adopted
an outsider
her roses grew in plastic bins
on crates, on concrete
tended well, and well contained

she wanted peace, and now
She rests

Tuesday, April 13, 2010


Sita Sings the Blues is going to be re-released in theaters April 23rd! I don't remember how I heard about this movie, but I've been wanting to see it for the longest time. I hope it is as good as people have made it out to be.


The question is, did I enjoy Iron Man so much because of its intrinsic merits, or was it more because the day we went to see it, I had just finished the first draft of the first book of my children's/young adult fantasy series, and I was already kind of euphoric about that? I hope someday the stories I write will bring as much joy to someone else as the movie Iron Man brought to me ...

Friday, April 2, 2010

Added to Blogroll: Hyperbole and a Half

Check it out: Hyperbole and a Half. Some of these are a little too sick for my current tastes, but others are stinkin' hilarious.

I used to like really disturbing humor. When I was a kid, and my grandmother read me that part in Genesis where Joseph interprets the baker's dream, and says he's going to be impaled and the birds will eat his flesh--I thought that was just too funny.

Maybe I've changed because now I'm too aware that any imaginable horror has been actualized, or equalled by some other atrocity, multiple times in human history--and is likely to be repeated--which is a very saddening thought.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010


When I talk to people about that sugary breakfast cereal that was only around for a short time, and had a robot for a mascot, I get blank looks--even when I further remind them that it got really soggy and had red, orange, or purple inside it. But Brandon (that bounteous spring of obscure factoids) remembered it was called "Treasures." Saith Brandon, "How much information do you think Wikipedia has on it?" I doubted it would warrant its own entry. I mean, talk about a trivial subject. Oh, me of little faith. (See the Hidden Treasures (cereal) wiki!)

There could be a whole wikipedia of nostalgic items--and they could even have a separate Wiki-Nostalgia for Baby Boomers, Gen X, Gen Y, etc.

Why, just a few weeks ago, as the professor lectured on Calvin's concept of "virtual realism," I suddenly remembered what may be the most inane t.v. theme song I have ever heard. It was for a show called VR Troopers, and the song went, "Troopers. Three. (Go!) Virtual reality. Troopers. Three. (Go!) Virtual reality." And so instead of listening to the lecture, I was thinking about how stupid that theme song was.

And remember that cartoon about crime-fighting t-rexes wearing suits with different colored bow-ties and sunglasses? Who sat at a round table? It was called The Adventures of T-Rex. It ran from 1992 to 1993. Oh, Wikipedia! What a wonderful waste of time!

So, anyway, I am having a good Spring Break. But mostly because I've been working away at my children's/young adult fantasy fiction series. Just finished a draft of Book Three. Ideas for Book Four are starting to shape up. Soon, I will have Books Two and Three cleaned up enough to ask people to read and give feedback. Mwahahahaha! (Not evil laughter--just a little maniacal.)

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Sherlock Holmes (movie!)

We saw the Sherlock Holmes film this past weekend. I went in with very low expectations. I assumed there would not be any kind of a mystery, and that the characters had been vaguely inspired by the books, but more or less completely re-envisioned. I also thought Robert Downey Jr. was too nice and sweet to be a good Holmes.

I was surprised to find that not only was there an element of mystery, but its resolution was based on Holmes' keen obseravtions and vast knowledge, which is very much in keeping with the books. And likewise for Downey/Richie's interpretation of Holmes. The detective is not the same character from the books, but he is very much in the spirit of the "real" Sherlock Holmes.

And that's probably the most one can reasonably expect. I suppose Sherlock Holmes as written by Conan Doyle and illustrated by Sidney Paget is too vivid a character ever to be depicted accurately on screen. A good movie adaptation shouldn't aim for slavish imitation, and I thought the film did a good job of creatively re-imagining Holmes while also remaining faithful to the essence of the character.

The portrayals of Watson and Irene Adler were much freer, which is understandable. They weren't all that interesting to begin with so it's not distressing to see them conformed to fit contemporary character types.

I think that of the four of us who went, as the only Sherlock Holmes / Arthur Conan Doyle fan, I enjoyed the film more than anyone else. (Other people's comments were along the lines of "Not bad at all!" and "I would watch a sequel"--I was like "Woohoo! That was fun! That was about as good a contemporary re-imagining of Sherlock Holmes as one could hope for!") So, if you've been trying to decide whether to see it or not ... there's my estimation, for what it's worth.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Wild At Heart / Captivating

I finally picked up a copy of Wild At Heart and its companion book Captivating (for those unaware, these books by John Eldredge--the second one in collaboration with his wife, Stasi--are about their idea of what it means to be a real Christian man and real Christian woman. The books have been quite popular among some evangelicals--Wild At Heart especially).

If I had known when I started the books that Eldredge is a Focus on the Family man, I would probably have read with a less charitable eye and would have caught on quicker to some of the problems with the books.

Now, I don't want to disparage the books too much, because I think they communicate a good deal of powerful truth. They preach the gospel, and I respect the apparent fact that so many people have found genuine healing in from these books. It is certainly true that every man and every woman is deeply wounded inside, and that God alone can heal our brokenness.

I think it's kind of helpful that they frame "the wound of the masculine heart" in terms of feeling inadequate, or not up to the task, and "the wound of the feminine heart" as feeling unloveable, or unworthy.

But this would be much more helpful if they understood that gender differences are really only general tendencies, not rigid categories. Often times women are plagued by feelings of inadequacy and not being up to the task. And it would be absurd to say that men care nothing about being loved.

The Eldredges make some statements that seem on the surface to support the kind of role flexibility that is truly healthy and helpful (e.g. they talk about wonderful Christian women they know who are not into "girly" activities, but are nonetheless "captivating"). But these efforts at accomodating the outliers on their gender map go unexplained and unreconciled to the main thrust of their argument--e.g. part of their argument being that every woman dreams of being a beautiful princess.

Which brings me to my second complaint: the Eldredges make no effort to distinguish what is healthy and what is unhealthy in the gender role expectations set by the media. Instead, they appeal to popular movie themes as if these could tell us what the innate desire and fantasy of every man and woman must be. It as if it never occurred to them that the media shapes people's fantasies, often in unhealthy ways.

Perhaps most glaringly, however, these books openly reject the teaching of scripture, without giving any explanation. They pretend to draw conclusions from a handful of stories and passages, but it seems pretty clear that they are reading into these texts what they have already decided to be true.

They reject the image of the industrious, hard working wife described in Proverbs 31 as impractical. They state that Christian women are too busy and are only tiring themselves out in trying to serve others. Instead, women should be putting their effort into being beautiful and seducing their husbands. Because the real purpose of a woman is to cultivate her own beauty. And here they appeal "every woman's" desire to dress up in beautiful clothes, and "every little girl's" interest in make up and doing things with their hair and being a princess.

Now, the last time I checked, vanity was a sin. 1 Tim. 2:9-10 exhorts women to "dress modestly, with decency and propriety, not with braided hair or gold or pearls or expensive clothes, but with good deeds" (NIV). Likewise, 1 Pet. 3:3-4 advises wives "Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as braided hair and the wearing of gold jewelry and fine clothes. Instead, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God's sight" (NIV).

I am sure the Eldredges would protest that they are advocating the same kind of inner beauty of which 1 Peter speaks. Perhaps they are. But they are also advocating the kind of vanity about one's personal appearance that the texts are warning against.

The same problem occurs in their discussion of masculinity. The books hold up male aggression and even violence as what God created men for. But the New Testament seems much more concerned about curbing aggression than encouraging it. Just before the previously mentioned advice to women, 1 Tim. 2:8 exhorts men "to lift up holy hands in prayer, without anger or disputing" (NIV). And 1 Tim. 3 states that male church leaders should be "temperate, self-controlled, respectable," "not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome." This sounds a lot more like the "domesticated" man John Eldredge despises than the "dangerous" and "wild" man he upholds as a model.

As I said before, there is some powerful truth in these books, but unfortunately it is mixed with some highly destructive falsehoods. And the more I try to wrap my head around what exactly John and Stasi Eldredge wanted to say, the more I conclude that they are in fact, two deeply hurting, broken, and very confused people, who don't really know what they are talking about, but who are grasping hard, both at the gospel message, and at the stiflingly rigid gender roles they advocate.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

After the Downpour

The puddles all ’round were still, smooth at last. Except beneath the trees, their bark soaked, leaves dripping. Someone looked up, “Hey! A rainbow!” and everyone turned, no matter what they were doing. Against the dark blue-purpley clouds, squeezed empty of their load, a perfect arc of prismed light. Dim at first, its hues brightened as we watched. We were in shadow, gray and gloom, but there beyond, and up, the tops of pine, palm and cedar were lit with the brilliant red-gold of a dying sun, and over all, a promise writ in living color. Its hopeful decree announced, the rainbow faded, we shivered with cold, we turned to go, the light still in our eyes, ready to tell anyone, why we were smiling so.

(Part of a creative writing assignment for the awesome homiletics class I'm taking.)

Monday, February 22, 2010

Salvation Army Church Service

We were out late Saturday night and therefore not up to rising early enough to get to our usual church Sunday morning. So we visited the nearby Salvation Army Tabernacle. It was ... really something.

Just entering the church was a little bit of a shock, since there were so many people wearing military-style uniforms. Not everyone, but several people. We went into the sanctuary and saw that up on the "stage" (for lack of a better word), there was a full brass band--about 20-25 members. They were also wearing uniforms. And behind them a choir of 40-45 dressed in the same manner.

Throughout the service, the various people leading worship (all in uniform) continued to use military terminology--the ministers being called "Lt. Colonel So-and-So" or "Sgt. Major So-and-So." They talked about their upcoming "Soldiering Class" (Confirmation/New Members Class?). The choir, band and congregation were all conducted in a military style.

Apparently they place a high value on learning to play brass instruments. During the announcements, they gave special recognition to a young man who had competed in Academic Decathlon and won a bronze in Music. After the applause had died down, it was mentioned in passing that he had also won a gold in Economics and silver in American History. Interesting priorities.

Aside from the whole "army" theme, it was a wonderful service--the band and choir were excellent, the congregational songs were very singable and easy to learn (they were neither traditional hymns nor contemporary praise music, but came from their own Salvation Army Songbook). The preaching was quite good ("inspired and adapted" from Rick Warren's Purpose Driven Ministries book). And the people were super friendly and welcoming.

But I think it would take several visits for me to get over the military uniforms and language. I suppose I have some first-hand experience now of what an "un-churched" person might feel coming into a "normal" church service ...

Friday, February 19, 2010

Fun Web Comic!

I finally got around to adding Koalition Comics to the blogroll. Check it out. It's an awesome web comic by an artist who went to our church for a brief period before moving to Reno.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

On Crossing the Street

Recently they've put in some new signals for the crosswalks in Pasadena. They're the kind that tell you how many seconds you have. Every time Brandon and I are crossing the street and it's down to the last few seconds, as it turns from 1 to 0, I just have to leap for the corner, flailing my arms around, like a person running from an explosion in a movie. Oh my goodness, it never gets old! It's the most fun I've had crossing the street since we were in Canada. (In Canada, you must cross the street with an erect, jaunty pose, just like the funny little guy in the picture. Here in the States our little crossing the street guy has terrible posture. Now what does that say about us as a nation?)

Friday, January 22, 2010

Nico Eaten By Giant Frog!

This Epiphany, we gave Nico (my youngest sister) a fun present, but then she got eaten by it. Watch the video to learn of the happy ending.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Good 'Ol Utne

Sitting in a clinic waiting room earlier this month, I picked up a copy of the Utne Reader. It had a fascinating article about a woman named Aimee Mullins. She gave an address to some think tank titled "How My Legs Give Me Super-Powers." I don't have time to find a good link for you, but if you do decide to find out who she is, make sure the site you look at has pictures. (-: