Friday, May 20, 2011

Mindshot: Funny People

This is less commentary than it is correlation.

Funny People came out in the Summer of 2009. That's not yet two years ago. Nevertheless, as a snapshot in time, the film's theatrical release coincided with a very much transitory moment in my life.

I was a year out of college. I had a part-time job that paid the bills. I had a church I was just getting to know. And I had friends that I was forming that tight post-college, 'what-do-we-do-now-with-our-lives' with. Amidst that sensation, I was fervently raising support for my ever-nearing move to Slovenia. I also happened to be homeless. Such an existence left me constantly in motion. Driving from couch to couch, home to home, most days left my brain in a ponderous state of dreaming of the future. Often the mantra in my brain rang, "Hang on. Soon you will reach your destination. Hang on."

In this world of my recent past, the time of living for tomorrow, Sundays became the day of the week I waited for. Sundays were, in (almost) every sense of the word, my true Sabbath rest. This was because it was the only day of the week I wasn't petitioning folks to support my role with my missions agency. It was also the day that I hung out with my friends and went to church. More often than not, the day began with me driving 100+ miles from San Diego County to Burbank. I would wake up my friends by slinking over the railing and banging on their window. Then we would collectively go to Starbucks, talk of many things, and be enriched by Scripture. As the minutes clocked away, we would jump into my car, and drive to Hollywood to go to church.

And right before the turn onto the 101, above us boomed the poster for Funny People.

This was the third film from the director of The 40 Year Old Virgin and Knocked Up. Judd Apatow, the director and newly crowned kingpin of all things comedy, had seemingly single-handedly ushered in the rebirth of the Hard-R Comedy in the mainstream. Besides his directing projects, he had his hands in Anchorman, Superbad, Walk Hard, Forgetting Sarah Marshall, Step Brothers and Pineapple Express.

Just look at the posters for those flicks:

See any similarities? Generally, the Judd Apatow comedy features the protagonist (on occasion accompanied by sidekicks) making a funny expression at or around the camera. It's a winning formula, apparently.

But then there's Funny People. Unlike its peers which generally have a running time of 90 minutes more or less, Funny People lingers for a full 146 minutes. That's historical epic length, not comedy length.

The film itself has a bunch of problems, and I can't say it's a good film, nor can I say that I even really liked it. It stars a famous comedian/actor who might as well be Adam Sandler, but isn't quite. The superstar is diagnosed with cancer. He's cured. And then he doesn't learn anything. It all seems cryptically accurate of the psyche of so many. It's diagnosis of defunct personalities does not, however, make it a joyous visit to the class counselor, nor is it particularly revelatory in its surreptitious delivery.

But there's just something about that poster...

My mother told when I was very young that comedians often suffer from gripping depression.

What if God, although willing to demonstrate His wrath and to make His power known, endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction? And He did so to make known the riches of His glory upon vessels of mercy, which He prepared beforehand for glory... Romans 9:22-23

Another thing my mother taught me at a young age was the Shorter Westminster Catechism. The first statement of that catechism has long been burnt into my mind. The chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever. I have long taken comfort from that statement, especially the latter part. I like very much the idea that our core function is simply to enjoy God and all He has created. Fun stuff. But as my friend pointed out yesterday, that principle doesn't really jive with the above passage from Romans, now does it? No.

Some of us will go to hell because we refuse to accept God's gift of salvation that comes to us through the work of Christ Jesus. I'm fairly confident that there is no enjoying hell. Enjoyment is not part of the protocol down there. So then, if some of us are to end in hell, then we shall not fulfill our purpose? How can that be? Wouldn't that imply that God somehow failed, since He made something that doesn't serve its fundamental function? Yes. I believe it would.

The answer then must be: The chief end of man is to glorify God. That's it. End of sentence.

When I passed that Funny People poster every Sunday, it stirred in me thanksgiving. It caused me to be thankful for the institute of Church, that the Lord saw it good to give us community as a function of our faith. It also made me thankful for friendships tested through time and conflict.

Hang on. You don't have to enjoy every moment. You weren't made to. Just hang on.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Before the Dawn

On Monday we had a thing. An event. A thing we invited people who were interested to come to. An event. We held the thing in a classroom. Or maybe it was just a study room. It lasted about an hour. We had hoped (or maybe just I), that since the thing, the event itself, was being held in a university setting, the thing would attract a young skewing audience. That didn't so much happen. But it did happen; it did go through, us and those who came each. All of us together.

The line from The Dark Knight runs through my mind often, "The night is always blackest just before the dawn." I wander if that is true. Conceptually and practically. Is the night really most bleak just before dawn strikes? That doesn't seem likely. But I don't study such things. I cannot say. Is it also true, I ask, if things in general are most bleak, most insurmountable, just before the uprising, before that which was previously inconceivable becomes surmountable? Is that true?

For Jesus and the greatest story ever formed, it seems like it is true. And if that is true of our Lord's story, then perhaps He has fabricated the world to pivot on such an axis as that. Perhaps.

No matter the case, the dawn and dark analogy is too murky for me to comprehend well...

At the thing on Monday, the event, a elderly woman's phone rang. Like so many other similar public occasions, the kind lady was full of embarrassment while she scratched through her purse desperately to put a quick end to the repeating annoyance. The funny thing was, that as she unburied the phone, as she brought it out from the cavernous depth's of a woman's purse, the noise got louder. At the same time, of course, as the noise got louder, the expectation was that the noise would cease all the sooner. I learned there and then that cell phones are loudest just before they are turned off.


I feel like it's been awhile since I have been enraptured by a profound thought. At this moment I am of the mood to seek out and interact with such things. I've stumbled over a few prospects, but nothing seems to be hitting as of yet. As of yet...

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Personal Audience

Of late I've found myself much more attracted to music than usual.*

It's hard not to see this musical inclination as a tonal problem in my life. Music delivers near instant gratification as far as delivery of mood goes, but it rarely has been as transcendently rapturous as the longer mediums of story have been for me in my life. You see, the name of the game for me always ends up being the story. I surely can appreciate Brahms, Rachmaninoff, Mozart and the like, but they only create backdrops for me to scurry around within. They create climates for my imagination to roam about through. Non-lyrical music doesn't allow for escape from self, it merely lets my mind ride inflated currents.

Of late I've wanted quick escapism.

Realizing such an atmosphere in my life, I turned off the inevitable self-critique to wonder at what specific songs it is that I find most pleasing. Generally speaking, I think my taste portfolio is quite diverse (though admittedly naive and green). I can make no claims to knowing what makes 'good music'. None whatsoever.

Screening through mine own itunes collection, one theme keeps popping up -- that of audience.

An unusual amount of my beloved cache of songs include verses that trade off between a male vocalist and a female one. Why is this so? I think the answer is that I love songs that are directed at a specific character. In the case of guy/girl songs, the story can commonly be constructed as a dialogue between the two people. This would also explain why I tend to like songs sung from heartbreak -- the singer has a specific person they want to hear the lyrics. Worship songs also fall into this category, and perhaps can be the most personally moving for me, when the hymn creates a discussion between Creator and the singular, personal creation. Me and Him.

When I was in High School I went to a Christian summer camp. These days I'm not too darn sure how I think of the concept of 'the re-committing your life to Christ' idea that is so popular among such camps, but as a sloppy, attention deprived, acne-ridden relative loner it was a big deal to "re-commit". That decision all those years ago came after I was moved to my knees by a song called "Overwhelmed" which focused on a description of meeting Christ in Heaven. Me and Him. My God. Redeemer of my life. Redeemer of the broken.

*Interspersed through this article are three songs by the superb band "Stars". They feature a guy/girl duet thingy, and are heavy on nostalgia, so, ya know, right up my neck of the woods. The only thing they're missing is some good ol' spiritual angst! But then they'd be too perfect. Can't have that.