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February 28, 2007

Big Brother's Pizza

Would you like surveillance with that?

"The penalty good people pay for not being interested in politics is to be governed by people worse than themselves."

markson-face-shrug.jpgPlato, Republic, I. 347

I struggle with how involved I should be in the institutions of the day. On one hand I feel that I should be actively engaged in the life of the society through involvement in government. On the other hand I think if you invest in the powers that be you can be giving credence and legitimacy to the status quo.

I do think, regardless of where you end up on either side of that issue, that the worst choice is to shrug your shoulders, stand on the sidelines, and say, "What can you do?" or "That's how it always is." I can't abide fatalism or apathy.

In the Book of Revelation John of Patmos talks about the Beast who could represent variously Power, Propaganda, Government, etc. And the people's response was, "Who is like the beast? Who can make war against him?" Or, in other words, "You can't fight City Hall." It's as if the people gave a giant shrug and gave up. And they got what they deserved.

40 for 40, #20

February 27, 2007

"If they leave with more questions than when they entered, you're doing something wrong."

hfl09270504.jpgThis is my first example of an "anti-quote" or, in other words, a quote which is antithetical to my way of thinking.

I spoke earlier of the summer of 1992 when I was in a summer drama troupe and the opposition we encountered at the camp.

We would often have dinner as a troupe out at cabins and mix it up with the campers, pastors, and others who were there. One pastor pulled me aside during one of these meals and started to tell me how, while he was opposed to our work as a drama troupe, it was nothing personal because he was opposed to drama troupes in principal at the camp. He told me that our work caused more confussion than clarity among the campers by raising all sorts of issues they probably hadn't considered and if "they leave with more questions than when they entered, you're doing something wrong."

Well, he didn't mean to, but he helped me put into words what I'd been thinking for a long time. That's exactly what I want to do. I don't want my work to be about answering questions. I want people to trade in their current questions for deeper and more profound questions.

As an artist and as a pastor this has really been the focus of my work. I think it's a dead end for people in the arts or in religion to offer answers. One, it's presumptuous that I should know the answer for you and, two, I would deny the person the right and responsibility of finding the answers on their own.

Now, that's not to say that I don't believe there are basic values and ideas that need to be conveyed, but, ultimately, as any parent knows, those are incorporated more by personal experience than by being told what they are.

A good example was once when I was doing a round of "ask the pastor" with a group of youth and one teenage girl asked me if it was a sin to wear thong underwear. I started to break down the problem with her, amid much giggling, and when we got to the root of it. It was really about her relationship with her parents. It wasn't about a thong at all or even sexuality, it was about a relationship. Now, with another person it might be a totally different issue. If I answered the question right off the bat we would have never gotten to the deeper issues. In the end, she answered her own question.

40 for 40, #19

February 26, 2007

Twelve Moons on Gichigami

This is a short film edited, conceived, and scored by Mark Ryan. The footage is from the Lake Superior Marine Museum Association webcam from April 2004 to April 2005. The museum is just next to the Aerial Lift Bridge in Duluth, Minnesota. Brilliant!

"You'll find that many of the truths we cling to depend greatly upon our own point of view."

250px-Obiwan.jpgObi-Wan Kenobi, Return of the Jedi

When I heard this line in 1983 I groaned. I mean, what a cop out! Either Darth Vader was Luke's father or he wasn't. Truth, after all, was objective and verifiable, right?

Yeah, I should have listened to Ben sooner. While I'm not a complete skeptic, my epistemology has changed drastically since I was 16. Post-Newtonian Physics taught me that "point of view" or "frame of reference" means a lot in how you understand the universe. My studies in Philosophy taught me that great thinkers can construct very convincing arguments that are often diametrically opposed. My studies in Theology taught me that narrative truths are at least as important in explaining our world as physical facts.

So, yeah, I cling to truths based on a point of view. I think we all do. The more interesting question for me is do we do it consciously or passively?

40 for 40, #18

February 25, 2007

"You can't stop the signal."

Mr. Universe, Serenity

I know fans will hate me for this, but perhaps the best thing that ever happened to Firefly was that it got canceled. Its cancelation was like the death of young artists, cut off in their prime, forever young and full of possibility.

But the funny thing is, Firefly has not died. Because its potential was so great the mantle has been picked up by fan writers, role players, computer programers, podcasters, and others. You can't stop the signal.

I thought about Firefly the day I heard about the cell phone video of the execution of Sadaam Hussein broadcast to the world. It was the video they didn't want you to see. You can't stop the signal.

I think about Firefly whenever I hear tell of random outbreaks of truth where bloggers and citizen journalists take to the streets and let people know what is going on in their backyard. How many groundbreaking stories in the last year were broken not on ABC or NPR but on YouTube or someone's blog? You can't stop the signal.

I'm a long-term optimist. I believe the truth will always eventually come out. So I stand by those who "aim to misbehave." You can't stop the signal.

Guess my coat does look a mite brownish.

40 for 40, #17

February 24, 2007

"The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it."

88136628_3bf25d6b69.jpgJohn 1:5

One of my earliest memories is of a Christmas Eve service where a man in a white robe was reading these words as I found myself adrift in a sea of candlelight.

I take now as my privilege as a pastor to recite these words from the prologue to John every Christmas Eve. I am now the man dressed in white speaking these words of hope, endurance, tenacity.

My final exam in a Greek class in seminary was to translate this chapter from the orginal Greek. I remember being anxious, because, of course, I didn't know what passage I'd be handed. As the words started to emerge from the page I quivered with joy.
"I know these words! These words are burned within me!"

The interesting thing about the Greek is that the verb katalambano can mean "overcome" or it can also mean "comprehend" or "perceive." The light is outside of the darkness' ability to assimilate or understand.

Which reminds me of Paul writing in Romans 12 -

Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God's wrath, for it is written: "It is mine to avenge; I will repay," says the Lord. On the contrary:
"If your enemy is hungry, feed him;
if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.
In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head."
Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

Or, in other words, "Be kind to your enemies, it'll drive 'em nuts."

40 for 40, #16

February 23, 2007

"They stayed up all night drinking the Hot Corn Drink."

corn_drink.JPGfrom A Peasant of El Salvador by Gould & Stearns

I directed a production of A Peasant of El Salvador in 1990 at the Wesley Foundation of Purdue. It was a political comedy/drama about life in El Salvador during the 1980s when it was controlled by an oligarchy.

One night as we were rehearsing it was getting late, and we were all getting punchy, and this line, which I know we read dozens of times before, suddenly came to the forefront. "'They stayed up all night drinking the Hot Corn Drink'? What the hell is a 'Hot Corn Drink'?" No one on the production, even those who were from Latin America, had ever heard of it before. Our imaginations got the best of us.

At the production party in my small apartment over Kinko's one of our crew made the nightmare version of the Hot Corn Drink, which consisted mainly of creamed corn and Jack Daniels cooked on the stove. We all got dixie cups full to toast the show.

It was the most vile thing I have ever put in my mouth.

Now, whenever I eat or drink something that doesn't agree with me I can always say, "I've put worse things in my mouth. I drank the Hot Corn Drink."

By the way, here is what the script was probably refering to - Atole de Elote - which actually sounds quite good.

40 for 40, #15

February 22, 2007

"Many that live deserve death. Some that die deserve life. Can you give it to them?"

Lee-Alan-Frodo-Gandalf.jpgGandalf, The Fellowship of the Ring by JRR Tolkien

I remember reading this line in a cabin in the mountains of Oregon and sitting bolt up in my chair. This, I realized, hit right at a basic ethical issue about life and death. Tolkien, while clearly not a pacifist, was always circumspect about the uses of violence.

I remember thinking about this quote, in particular, on September 11, 2001. I could hear a very clear voice of rage within me calling for vengeance. But there was also this very calm and stern voice within me, reminding me of this simple wisdom. They didn't deserve to die. Their lives are not mine to give back. Some people out there don't deserve to live. And their lives are not mine either.

In context, it is even more powerful, for Gandalf and Frodo are discussing the fate of the betrayer Gollum...

"It's a pity Bilbo didn't kill him when he had the chance."

"Pity? It was pity that stayed Bilbo's hand. Many that live deserve death. Some that die deserve life. Can you give it to them, Frodo? Do not be too eager to deal out death in judgment. Even the very wise cannot see all ends. My heart tells me that Gollum has some part to play yet, for good or ill before this is over. The pity of Bilbo may rule the fate of many."

"I wish The Ring had never come to me. I wish none of this had ever happened."

"So do all who live to face such times, but that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us."

40 for 40, #14

February 21, 2007

Continuous Warfare

from 1984 by George Orwell, Part 2, Chapter 9

[text below]

The problem was how to keep the wheels of industry turning without increasing the real wealth of the world. Goods must be produced, but they must not be distributed. And in practice the only way of achieving this was by continuous warfare.

War, it will be seen, accomplishes the necessary destruction, but accomplishes it in a psychologically acceptable way. In principle it would be quite simple to waste the surplus labour of the world by building temples and pyramids, by digging holes and filling them up again, or even by producing vast quantities of goods and then setting fire to them. But this would provide only the economic and not the emotional basis for a hierarchical society. What is concerned here is not the morale of masses, whose attitude is unimportant so long as they are kept steadily at work, but the morale of the Party itself. Even the humblest Party member is expected to be competent, industrious, and even intelligent within narrow limits, but it is also necessary that he should be a credulous and ignorant fanatic whose prevailing moods are fear, hatred, adulation, and orgiastic triumph. In other words it is necessary that he should have the mentality appropriate to a state of war. It does not matter whether the war is actually happening, and, since no decisive victory is possible, it does not matter whether the war is going well or badly. All that is needed is that a state of war should exist. The splitting of the intelligence which the Party requires of its members, and which is more easily achieved in an atmosphere of war, is now almost universal, but the higher up the ranks one goes, the more marked it becomes. It is precisely in the Inner Party that war hysteria and hatred of the enemy are strongest. In his capacity as an administrator, it is often necessary for a member of the Inner Party to know that this or that item of war news is untruthful, and he may often be aware that the entire war is spurious and is either not happening or is being waged for purposes quite other than the declared ones: but such knowledge is easily neutralized by the technique of doublethink. Meanwhile no Inner Party member wavers for an instant in his mystical belief that the war is real, and that it is bound to end victoriously, with Oceania the undisputed master of the entire world.

All members of the Inner Party believe in this coming conquest as an article of faith. It is to be achieved either by gradually acquiring more and more territory and so building up an overwhelming preponderance of power, or by the discovery of some new and unanswerable weapon. The search for new weapons continues unceasingly, and is one of the very few remaining activities in which the inventive or speculative type of mind can find any outlet. In Oceania at the present day, Science, in the old sense, has almost ceased to exist. In Newspeak there is no word for 'Science'. The empirical method of thought, on which all the scientific achievements of the past were founded, is opposed to the most fundamental principles of Ingsoc. And even technological progress only happens when its products can in some way be used for the diminution of human liberty. In all the useful arts the world is either standing still or going backwards. The fields are cultivated with horse-ploughs while books are written by machinery. But in matters of vital importance -- meaning, in effect, war and police espionage -- the empirical approach is still encouraged, or at least tolerated.

Skating on Lake Superior


Starfire took a camera out on Lake Superior on another perfect Duluth day and went skating.

"All will be well, and all will be well, and all manner of thing will be well."

julianCreighton.jpgJulian of Norwich

I always think of my friend Robb when I mutter this mantra under my breath, because he uttered it so often.

I suppose you could read this quote as a saying of pure optimism, but I see it as a saying of pure surrender. "All will be well," reminds me that I am not the center of the universe. "All will be well," tells me that my little miseries count for little in the grand scheme of things. "All will be well," keeps me thinking about the long view.

40 for 40, #13

February 20, 2007

"The place where God calls you is the place where your deep gladness meets the world's deep hunger."

Frederick Buechner, Wishful Thinking

I am one of the privileged people in the world where my vocation actually pays the bills. I have become convinced that that makes me a very rare individual. I know a lot of people who struggle to line up their vocation with employment, but this quote from Buechner has been extraordinarily helpful for me in discerning what real vocation looks like. And I have come to believe that everyone has a sweet spot in their lives where their deep joy intersects with the world's deep needs.

When I am working with young people I try to pay attention to the times where I see their joyful creative spirit acting in positive ways in the world. I point out that they should be listening to the spirit moving through them in those times. "That little itch should be telling you something."

40 for 40, #12

February 19, 2007

"As soon as the generals and the politicos can predict the motions of your mind, lose it."

prcover_4.jpgWendell Berry, Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front

It's hard to extricate just one part of this poem and hold it out, but I love this line. It speaks to the independent spirit, the life of authenticity, the hopeful anarchism that I aspire to.

The poem ends with the two words, "Practice resurrection," which is a challenge to me and any who follow Christ and it is tied in with this kind of ornery spirit that Berry talks about throughout this poem. Resurrection, after all, is an ultimately defiant act. It is telling the "generals and politicos" that you can kill my body, but even in death I can defy you. It is present when Christ tells Pilate that he has no power over him, even when he stands bound before him.

This ornery spirituality is a reminder for me not to get too comfortable with the status quo, not to get too chumy with the powers that be, because ultimately the status quo will change and the powers will fail.

40 for 40, #11

Love the quick profit, the annual raise,
vacation with pay. Want more
of everything ready-made. Be afraid
to know your neighbors and to die.
And you will have a window in your head.
Not even your future will be a mystery
any more. Your mind will be punched in a card
and shut away in a little drawer.
When they want you to buy something
they will call you. When they want you
to die for profit they will let you know.

So, friends, every day do something
that won't compute. Love the Lord.
Love the world. Work for nothing.
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it.
Denounce the government and embrace
the flag. Hope to live in that free
republic for which it stands.
Give your approval to all you cannot
understand. Praise ignorance, for what man
has not encountered he has not destroyed.

Ask the questions that have no answers.
Invest in the millenium. Plant sequoias.
Say that your main crop is the forest
that you did not plant,
that you will not live to harvest.
Say that the leaves are harvested
when they have rotted into the mold.
Call that profit. Prophesy such returns.

Put your faith in the two inches of humus
that will build under the trees
every thousand years.
Listen to carrion - put your ear
close, and hear the faint chattering
of the songs that are to come.
Expect the end of the world. Laugh.
Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful
though you have considered all the facts.
So long as women do not go cheap
for power, please women more than men.
Ask yourself: Will this satisfy
a woman satisfied to bear a child?
Will this disturb the sleep
of a woman near to giving birth?

Go with your love to the fields.
Lie down in the shade. Rest your head
in her lap. Swear allegiance
to what is nighest your thoughts.
As soon as the generals and the politicos
can predict the motions of your mind,
lose it. Leave it as a sign
to mark the false trail, the way
you didn't go. Be like the fox
who makes more tracks than necessary,
some in the wrong direction.
Practice resurrection.

February 18, 2007

"Anyone who abandons 'what is' for 'what ought to be' learns his ruin rather than his preservation."

Niccolò Machiavelli, The Prince, Chapter 15

When reading The Prince in college this passage really struck me. I am by nature a dreamer and as such not very practical. This quote has served as an anchor for me to stay grounded in the real world. This is not to say I don't work for social change and to make dreams reality, but one has to work with the world as it is, not as one wants it to be.

Part of the real tragedy of Iraq has been the Bush Administration's flights of fancy in trying to remake Iraq in their own image. They sent over ideologues instead of technicians to rebuild the country, and here I'm not talking about the military, I'm talking about the civilian "experts."

Otto Von Bismark said, "Politics is the art of the possible." I think a good activist for social change, regardless of their political stripe, must balance what they want to see transpire with what can be actualized. Intrasigent dreamers are often admirable, but rarely get anything done.

The lead up to that quote is also remarkable:

Many writers have imagined for themselves republics and principalities that have never been seen or known to exist in reality...

In context, Machiavelli is condemning these folks. But I say thank God for these dreamers. If it weren't for writers imagining what may be possible we'd still be stuck in the feuding principalities of Italy with which Machiavelli had to contend.

40 for 40, #10

February 17, 2007

"Never tell me the odds!"


Han Solo, The Empire Strikes Back

Some of the best things I have done in my life I was completely unprepared to do. If I had been told what the obstacles were in advance, I'm not sure I would have ever accepted the challenge.

I remember the first large scale play I ever directed. It was a production of Godspell and I was really unprepared for the reality of directing. But it was a terrific production and probably still one of the most memorable things I've ever done with my time.

Likewise when I started Guru Java Coffee House at the Purdue Wesley Foundation in 1990, I was pretty clueless, but I knew it had to be done. And it was a good thing that brought many people together and provided a stage for many bands. I learned as I went.

And when I became a parent... well, is anyone really prepared for parenthood? I certainly was not.

I think there are things one must do in life not because you are fully prepared, but because you are ready to take the challenge. And when you have a fleet of Star Destroyers bearing down on you, sometimes you just have to take the plunge into the asteroid field. May the Force be with you.

40 for 40, #9

As a side note, in case there was any doubt, Han shot first.

And, as another side note, this is what I got myself for my birthday. It is now sitting proudly in my study at church.


February 16, 2007

"Let's eff the ineffable!"

Tripp_Pickell%28RichardMcDuff%29Heather_Williams%28SusanWay%29Scot_M_Burklin%28DirkGently%29.JPGThis is my shorthand phrase for the much longer Douglas Adams quote -

"Let's think the unthinkable, let's do the undoable, let's prepare to grapple with the ineffable itself, and see if we may not eff it after all."

This comes from Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency in which the titular character challenges us to not only think out of the box but to question this whole box fixation we seem to have.

Dirk Gently's world is one in which there are no such thing as accidents and everything, no matter how seemingly random, has significance. His detective methodology depends on the fundamental interconnectedness of all things. Whereas Sherlock Holmes reasoned by deduction, promoting a strict Newtonian cause and effect reductionist view of the universe where all things can be known, Dirk Gently is the first truly postmodern, post-Newtonian detective. Dirk Gently, when lost, follows someone who seems to know where they are going because he typically ends up someplace interesting.

At any rate, I admire Dirk's rugged, thorough-going indeterminism and absolute confidence in non-absolutism.

The picture is taken from a recent theatrical production of Dirk.

40 for 40, #8

February 15, 2007

Tricked Out Burger

Emma's birthday was today and what she's been craving, for about the last 3 weeks by my count, is a "tricked out burger." So we took her to Chester Creek Cafe today for lunch where she got her free range, organic burger with the works. She didn't get a Sprite to wash it down with though.

After lunch she and her mom went shopping for Oscar wear for an Oscar night party in the works.

Then we went down to Va Bene and got some gelato for dessert. I had bananas foster gelato, Simon had spumoni, Emma had pecan honey vanilla gelato and mango sorbet, and Charlotte had rum raisin and coffee gelato.

According to Emma, it was a very good birthday.

Truth in Comedy

alfranken.jpgYesterday Al Franken officially announced his candidacy for the Minnesota U.S. Senate seat presently held by Norm Coleman. This reminded me that I blogged about this on my old blog, so I decided to find that old post and resurrect it. I stand by what I said then. I think Al will make a great senator and I look forward to seeing him on the campaign trail.

May 2, 2004

Today it was reported in the Minneapolis Star Tribune that Comedian slash Talk Show Host slash Political Pundit slash Slash slash Al Franken is considering a run for the Senate in 2008 against Norm Coleman, one time mayor of St. Paul and Democratic Party deserter.

I say - run, Al, run!

His musings have Republicans scoffing, but I think they actually have reason for genuine concern. As a sometimes comedian I know the power of comedy, because good comedy is not rooted in sight gags or potty humor, but in truth. Good comedians, like Franken, pan through the silt and sludge of daily life and find raw nuggets of truth.

And Franken is a comedian with a conscience. He can't simply uncover the truth and present it to the public, he feels compelled to act. He writes books. He speaks. He visits our troops overseas. He holds forth on radio every day. Furthermore I think that his stint on talk radio will make him more deft with not only the truth but the minutia of the facts and a broad comprehension of the many issues facing our American project.

Further, one of the things that politicians must do effectively is communicate, and Franken is a proven communicator. Although he is well known as a left winger, he maintains cordial relations with many people of divergent points of view and can have real, in-depth, and respectful conversations about the issues.

Lastly, Franken obviously cares deeply. He has a deep moral center that guides him and, I believe, will continue to guide him.

As a Minnesotan, I would be very proud to have Al Franken represent our state in the U. S. Senate.

And back to the present, here is a video Franken released yesterday announcing his candidacy.

"I am amazed, and know not what to say."

anncourtney.jpgHermia, A Midsummer Night's Dream (Act III, Scene 2) by William Shakespeare

Simply one of the most useful lines written in any play ever.

40 for 40, #7

February 14, 2007

"The heart has its reasons that reason cannot know."

graphic_healthyheart.jpgBlaise Pascal

As rational as I like to pretend I am, I know that I am not ruled by reason. Looking back I recognize that many of my choices were choices of passion, neither governed by logic nor common sense. Many of these were good choices, though not all of them were. But taking stock of my life so far, I do not wish I had been more logical. I do sometimes wish I had been more passionate.

40 for 40, #6

February 13, 2007

Dixe Chicks, I Salute You

You know, I don't usually pay any attention to the Grammy Awards. But the fact that the Dixie Chicks defiantly put out this album, thumbed their nose at George Bush and all their detractors, were banned from the airways, and still manged to win the Song of the Year and Album of the Year... that needs to be recognized.

As a Minnesotan, let me also salute Minneapolis-based songwriter Dan Wilson who was instrumental in making this album and this single. There's a great interview with him on Minnesota Public Radio.

I believe these awards are another sign of the end of broadcast radio as we know it. Thank God.

"The body of Christ has a right hand and a left hand and more than its fair share of assholes."

Set%201_Indiana%20009.jpgThere is debate as to who actually said this, but the context is more important. It was the summer of 1992 and I was in a drama troupe in residence at Epworth Forest in northern Indiana. It was the best of times and the worst of times. The six of us had a great time staging the plays we were doing, but we seemed continually out of synch with the weekly rotation of camp leaders. Even though we cleared the plays we were doing in advance with the camp deans every week we found detractors among the adult leaders in one way or another.

What got us in trouble? Maybe it was our original comic romp through the scriptures called "Reduced Bible: From Genesis to Revelation in One Hour or Less or Your Money Back" or our retelling of the Good Samaritan as the Good Homosexual or our production of "A Peasant of El Salvador" which retold the story of martyred Archbishop Oscar Romero, I can't be sure. Probably all of the above and then some. We all taught workshops as well and Liz, who was teaching a class on prayer forms and meditation, had a student question her focus on breathing meditation asking, "where in the Bible does it teach this?"

Oh, and I should mention that since some of us were vegetarians we all took a vow not to eat meat over the summer. That really freaked some people out.

During our last week a particularly reactionary, right-wing keynoter effectively replaced most of our performances with his own church's troupe of talking mimes. Yes, I said talking mimes. No, I am not kidding. I remember turning to a sympathetic pastor there in the middle of a performance and saying, "I have faith that God will save these kids from this horrible theology, but I'm not sure that God will enlighten them that this is bad art."

At the end of the summer when we were dissecting the whole ordeal with a dean that was actually on our side and trying to figure out what happened, he let us in on the above bit of wisdom. I have to say, this quote has helped me greatly through the years. Sometimes in culture wars it's not about a titanic struggle between right and left, it's about quarrelsome assholes who relish finding fault and tearing people down.

I do thank Fuzzy for reminding us that it is really important for a functioning body to have one really good asshole to get the shit out. But more than one is just too many.

40 for 40, #5

February 12, 2007

Have fun storming the castle!

This is your castle birthday cake...This is your castle birthday cake after your bizarre children and friends lay siege to it...
Any questions?

This wonderful cake was made by Maria's housemate, Bonnie. Thanks, Bonnie, for the lovely cake for Karl and me! And if you like these photos, Maria took many more. Thanks again, Maria, for hosting our birthday extravaganza!

"Play the Marseillaise! Play it!"

When Victor Laszlo strikes up the band in Rick's Cafe to play the French National Anthem to sing down the Nazis in Casablanca he shows the power of voices raised in song. This is easily my favorite scene out of a wholly remarkable film. When you know the history of how this film was made it is astounding that it got made at all, much less how it became one of the truly iconic films of all time.

Laszlo shows the weakness of totalitarianism in this scene. It can bear no dissent. If it is not in complete control, it reels. And even token, sentimental resistance like singing La Marseillaise can make it nervous. For totalitarianism is about control of symbols, to overlay its meaning on all the symbols of life. As such, symbols are no longer malleable but are static. It means what it means because we tell you what it means.

Totalitarian regimes can withstand bullets and bombs, because it can understand and subsume those things into its propaganda, but voices raised in song, they cannot withstand. And to that I say, Vive la France!

40 for 40, #4

February 11, 2007

"Sundays come around with alarming regularity."

The Rev. Gary Forbes - friend, mentor, and sometimes theological combatant - dropped this little gem when he was teaching a beginning preaching class back in the summer of 1993. I was serving my very first church, Mt. Gilboa United Methodist Church in western Indiana, at that time. I remember being very wary of the discipline I was undertaking and was wondering how in the world I would be able to preach every Sunday, be prepared, and be engaging.

Now, 14 years later, preaching is almost as natural as breathing for me. It's my craft and art and I love it. But I still harken back to that first intensive workshop and remember basic principles he taught. He told us to pay careful attention to everything around us because everything is grist for the mill. You can be working on sermons whatever you are doing, whether you are at the movies or out on the golf course or in the grocery store.

I used to dread Sundays because I feared my inadequacy as a preacher and holy man. Now I realize that it isn't about my holiness at all, it's about my honesty, and I can be honest even when I don't feel particularly holy, which, truth be told, is pretty often. Making weekly reports to a group on my spiritual observations has been good for my soul. It's made me accountable and less likely to bluff my way vaguely through my spiritual journey.

Gary also said, "The difference between AA and worship is that when people come to AA the bullshit ends. When people come to worship the bullshit begins."

Thanks to Gary's tutelage, and others, I have brought for myself some honesty and integrity to the pulpit. Even when it is the integrity to say, "I have no idea."

40 for 40, #3

February 10, 2007

"I will take the Ring to Mordor, though I do not know the way."

102_frodoreluctantadventurer.jpgFrodo Baggins, Fellowship of the Ring by JRR Tolkien

I'm not sure there is a more poignant moment in all of literature than when Frodo, who thought he was through with his responsibility, takes on the burden of bearing the Ring of Power to its destruction in Mount Doom, even though he has no idea how he can accomplish it. Frodo's willingness to do this in the face of overwhelming odds is a powerful statement of duty, faith, and utter surrender. Tolkien makes it clear that Frodo does not believe that this is a journey he will ever return from, and truly it almost takes his life and soul many times along the way.

Among my kin the Lord of the Rings is a kind of sacred text, and it is no mystery why. We can relate with Frodo's burden and the paradox of his journey. To me Frodo is a symbol of non-violent resistance on par with Martin Luther King, Jr., Gandhi, and Jesus. He carries the Ring not to wield it, but to destroy it. The least of the races of Middle Earth, beneath the notice of lore and legend, rises to defend the world by destroying the greatest weapon. He is beset by temptation, foes, uncertainty, and treachery, and yet he persists. And he persists not alone, but with unflagging support from allies. Thank you, Samwise Gamgee and all who would not let hope fail.

40 for 40, #2

Okay, after my very reverent analysis, there's this. Jack Black and Sarah Michelle Gellar bring you their take on the Council of Elrond. It brings a whole new meaning to the term "ring bearer." Warning, not exactly kid fare.

Apparently this was part of the 2004 MTV movie awards show.

February 9, 2007

"I think it's safe to say we're getting older, but we're also getting stranger. We can all be thankful for that."


This is my first 40 for 40 quote and why I chose it should be pretty obvious. It comes from John Flansburgh of They Might Be Giants. I'm not sure any band has come closer to capturing my mental state than TMBG. I suppose I should be very concerned about that, but there it is. Their ironic and often absurdist view of the world aligns very closely with my own.

And, like the Flans, I am thankful that I'm getting older and stranger.

For a bonus quote today, I quote the band's song "Older."

You're older than you've ever been,
and now you're even older,
and now you're even older,
and now you're even older.
You're older than you've ever been,
and now you're even older,
and now you're older still.
Time is marching on and time...
it still marches on.

40 for 40, #1

40 for 40

I turn 40 today and I was trying to decide how I wanted to mark my 40th birthday on my blog. So, for the next 40 days I will be putting a quote of some import to me up on my blog every day with some commentary from me as to why it's important.

I've compiled more than 40 quotes that have been lodestones for me, so I'll be doing this at random after the first one. Some of these you will recognize. Some are completely idiosyncratic. Some are religious. Some are literary. Some are geeky. All are me.

For those who know me I would be deeply entertained if you would suggest some quotes to add to the mix.

For those who don't know me, feel free to share your own life-shaping quotes.

February 6, 2007

Nobody tells this wookiee what to do!

27711443.jpgSay it isn't so, Chewie!

Chewbacca was arrested this weekend in Los Angeles for headbutting Brian Sapir, a tour guide, after Sapir tried to get him to stop harrassing Japanese tourists. The enraged wookiee was heard to exclaim, "Nobody tells this wookiee what to do!"

Superman, nearby, witnessed the whole exchange, and used his superpowers to call the Jimmy Kimmel Show so they could get footage of it.

Captain Jack Sparrow was not surprised by the wookiee's behavior. "Things like this happen around Chewbacca all the time. I saw him in a fight with a music vendor. They knocked over a baby stroller," Sparrow said.

February 3, 2007

Someone set up us the bomb!

This is a short video commentary on the whole Boston Mooninite scare made by my very clever pal Neal. If you aren't familiar with the All Your Base meme you probably won't get it.