Sunday, August 14, 2011

Desperate Search: Doors

*Talking to myself one day;
I said,  
Are there any surprises left to be discovered in this life?
You responded, Of course.
I answered, Will you show me the way?
Who is with you?
I said, This is my imagination.
You said, What's wrong with him?
He's sick.
How did he get that way?
He's malnourished.
Then feed him.
Don't blame me. This is your fault.
I scoffed, Show me something new and he will be well.
The three of us stood silently.

I came to you one day urgently begging;
Is there anything you can do for us?
  You asked, Who is he?
I replied, He is my wounded soul.
What wounded him?
The day. Your day.
In silence you rebuked myself.
I'm sorry. I didn't mean it. 
Can you help him?
Did the Lord not shed blood for him?
Yes, but...
I dare not gain from his reward.
You answered, 
This sickness will lead unto death.

Again I came to you and said, 
Look at me!
You answered, I see.
Isn't it great?
Who is with you?
And you stood motionless.
Smiling, I assert, Don't you see?
Tell me what it is you see.
I see you. 
You fix us. 
You bring sight to my heart 
to see what was once unimaginable. 
You sow up my wounded spirit. 
You renew my life 
with gifts of serendipity. 
In you I find myself. 
In you every door is opened.
And who do you say that I am?
Grace. You are grace.

Then a cloud formed, overshadowing them, and a voice came out of the cloud, "This is My beloved Son, listen to Him!" All at once they looked around and saw no one with them anymore, except Jesus alone. mark 9.7-8

Therefore let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. hebrews 4.16

*Photo 1 from the music video for Tom Halperin's The Last Song
 Photo 2 from the music video for Gnarls Barkley's Going On 
 Photo 3 taken from the film The Adjustment Bureau, directed by George Nolfi
 Photo 4 taken from the film The Chronicles of Narnia; The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Moneyball: a post about money and baseball but not about the baseball movie, "Moneyball"

The first girl I ever asked out was on the last day of seventh grade at the last minute of lunch break. 

I remember her very courteous response,

"Umm... maybe next year."

Somewhere between the All-Star game and October, I hear the same line. Every year. It's either a silly hope I whisper to myself or worse yet, the management itself tells me so.

There is something rotten in Baseball, my friends. 

The underseen underdogs, the 2010 Padres, managed to win 90 games during the season. They held onto first place until the very last game of the season, Game 162. They lost to the San Francisco Giants. Those same Giants went on to win the World Series. 

Okay. Life is tough. Okay-okay, I ain't here to make no claims about what life ain't and ain't not!

But Oh Lord, have mercy! It's the hope that kills. It's the hope that burns.

After our 90 win failure, our perspective dogs salivating from the hope of a better tomorrow, the Padres management did what they inevitably had to do. Our star, our lone run-producer, Adrian Gonzalez, was traded to the Boston Red Sox for three prospects who everyone hopes will make a splash by around 2013. 

Adrian Gonzalez was involved in 24% of all the runs the Padres scored in 2010. He was a legitimate superstar, the only Padre ever invited to take part in the Homerun Derby... and now...

Now it's pretty much agreed that Mr. Gonzalez will be awarded the MVP award for his incredible run production. He's also on-track to end the season with the highest batting average (.350) in the major leagues. As a member of the Boston Red Sox. Not as a Padre.

We lost him because we couldn't afford him. 

It's one thing to never have a Babe Ruth or a Willie Mays -- but to have it and then be forced to let him go -- it's just brutal.

I got over my seventh grade crush. After all, I never dated her. What's happening in Baseball these days is as if I dated the girl, and then on the last day of school she kissed another boy, only to sweetly turn to me, ever so calmly. She pulls me in. We embrace. She brings her mouth to my ear ever so softly. I shiver from the warmth and beauty of her lips tickling my ears. Then the words. They puncture my earlobe, tumbling through my body. The words. Like daggers. 
Maybe next year. 

Oh, cruel fate, why have you teased me with such fantasies! 

If only we could hold onto the ones that grow near to us. Instead the silver spoons of the New York Yankees, the Boston Red Sox, and the Philadelphia Phillies seduce the moon away from us. 

As she walked away, so pretty her poise, I stood dumbfounded. I knew not what to do. As the words reverberated through me as a blood-stained hope, I could do nothing but quote Major Bennot Marco...

Hell. Hell...

This concludes my moment of sobbing self-pity.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Keep it Secret

What the hell kind of a preacher are you not to see 
if you can save my soul?   
*This post best read while indulging in Sufjan Steven's I Want to Be Well. here.

Hazel strikes a match to reveal the truth. He must know for sure. 
 A pair of eyes stare back in surprise.
And so the blind preacher has been proven a fraud.
Hazel's anger need not rage against the hypocrite any longer. 
Hazel turns away. 
He must fight Jesus on some other ground. 


Flannery O'Connor's Wise Blood (adapted onto film by the famously atheistic John Huston) follows the story of Hazel Motes, the man who Jesus gets in the end. And boy does he ever get him.

Hazel runs about the town preaching the gospel of the Church of Christ without Christ, Where the blind can't see, the lame don't walk, and the dead stay that way.

Jesus didn't die for our sins, because there is no such thing, so says Hazel. This severe thought of Hazel's continues to unravel through the course of his church's uprising because Hazel does believe in sin. Above all else, Hazel hates hypocrisy. Day after day, the world and all its inhabitants spoon feed hypocrite after hypocrite to Mr. Motes, expecting him to eat it all up and ask for dessert.
Eventually, like a diver reaching new-found depths, the pressure becomes too much. It breaks Hazel. He is swiftly broken. And so he turns to Jesus. I believe it is a fair interpretation to say that Hazel Motes is saved. God gets him in the end.

Mark 10:17-31 tells the story of a rich man who seeks salvation from Jesus. The man asks plainly, Good Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life? verse 17 Good question young jedi apprentice! Jesus tells him to keep the commandments passed down from Moses. The kid eagerly responds, Teacher, I have kep all these things from my youth up. verse 20  Can you imagine his excitement? He thinks he's passing the test. He's going to win entrance into the Kingdom of Heaven. He's made the cut! Hallelujah!

Mark then writes, Looking at him, Jesus felt a love for him and said to him, "One thing you lack: go and sell all you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me." verse 21

Explain to me how that works. 

Only the poor enter into Heaven? So, do I need to go become a communist to gain access into life ever after? Does my television stamp me void? Do my clothes banish me from the pearly gates?

Hazel Motes does not respond the way the rich man did. Hazel goes the distance. He goes to the store, buy a package of lime, and promptly burns his eyes out.
Over the subsequent months, he fills he boots with rocks and covers his body in barbed wire.
Hazel Motes is not well. 

Verse 22: But at these words [the rich man] was saddened, and he went away grieving, for he was one who owned much property. 

Does Paul not teach us that it is grace alone that grants us access into the Kingdom of Heaven, that it is not a work of ourselves, but a gift of God? Absolutely.

So how does that fact of grace correspond to Jesus' demands of the rich? Do they not contradict themselves? Why must Hazel torture himself to become "clean"?


I confess that the question, "Do you have a relationship with Jesus Christ?" is jarring to me.

I have yet to hear the Holy Ghost tangibly speak to me. He doesn't respond to my prayers the way a friend would respond to a conversation I start.

Nevertheless, I do have a relationship with God. It's a mystery to me, but it is real.

Critics of scripture have pointed to the letter of James as evidence of a direct contradiction in the Bible. James, never one to pull punches, states plainly, But are you willing to recognize, you foolish fellow, that faith without works is useless? 2:20've got to ask yourself one question: Do I feel lucky? Well, do ya, punk?

James continues a couple sentences later, You see that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone. 2:25


Everyone of God's children is distinct. No one is like me. No one is like you. God knows this. God loves this. He must us this way.

While grace is free, our response to it may look a million different ways. Sometimes, I reckon, it will look down right bizarre (Abraham and Isaac!). Sometimes, though the gift is free, our response is costly.

Seeing Hazel torture himself may sound perverse (and I am not willing to state that he did this BY God's leading -- only that in his eyes, from his experience of the world, this was the appropriate way to show his appreciation and commitment), but let us hold back judgment on this account. I am, as of yet, not called to sell all my possessions for the sake of following Christ, nor do I see that as a necessary way for me to show my affection to the Lord, but I'm delighted that for some people, that is how they will need to relate to Jesus Christ -- to grace. Our myriad responses to God's free gift helps broaden my understanding of God's bigness. He interacts with us each on our own level, and that will subsequently manifest itself in oh-so-many ways.

I want to be well. 

Only Jesus is willing to do the dirty work to make me clean. 

I want to be well.

"Everybody Needs a Friend"

What an audacious script. The Jodie Foster directed, Mel Gibson comeback flick, The Beaver, is a dazzling experience. The story adroitly spans, in equal measure, the comedic and crushingly devastating aspects of severe depression.

Whilst the Beaver and Mel go about seeking forgiveness from the world, a side story unfolds, culminating in a brave, albeit strange, philosophy.

Gibson's son in the film makes a heck of a high school living as a scam-artist. He's paid as the ultimate ghost essayist. The situation reaches a new height of grandeur when the hot, cheerleading valedictorian pays him off to write her graduation speech for him. Naturally, they fall in love. And just as naturally, their relationship hits some snags.

And so it is to culminate in a speech. What words did he write for her? What words will she add to his? How will all the king's horses and all the king's men put humpty-dumpty back together again? That's what we want, right? We want resolution. We want the pieces of the puzzle to come together. We want, as an audience... we want. And so she says...

I'm not okay. Not at all.
The truth is
I'm missing something...
So what do I do with that?
What do any of us do?

This is an inspiration; this worldview. Generally speaking, the films that dare to say the world is irreparably broken are the ones that, from the opening frame, immerse us in the ugly. My mind drifts to 8mm. After nearly two hours of seeking out this horrendous masked murderer, our loyal hero finally finds him. He pulls off the mask of the deranged pervert only to find the look of a common man. The killer gloats back:

What were you expecting? A monster?

What is intrinsically intriguing about The Beaver, is it never sets out to be a film about brokenness. We are expecting to be told that everything will all be alright. This is what we've come to expect from the cinema.

Here is truth: the world is dark, the world is broken. Most of the time I don't know what to do with that.

Sadly (for me), the graduation doesn't end at the question. The gallant cheerleader presses on:

This is what I believe:
Right now in this auditorium
there is someone who is with you
someone who is willing to pick you up
dust you off 
kiss you
forgive you
put up with you
wait for you
carry you
love you
so while everything might not always be okay,
one thing I know is true;
you do not have to be alone.

And then I get frustrated. Is this true, that everyone has somebody?


It can't be true.

Some people have lived cursed lives, beaten and horrifically mistreated by those who should have cared. Some people have alienated anyone who ever dared to share affection. Some people are just too darn shy to have friends.

Here's what I believe: 
Everything is not alright.
Everything is not going to work out.
But it is a great story, this life.
The best.

You see, grace is the end result of all this. It has to be. It's the only way this scorched Earth can hope for a happy ending. Grace. Grace. God's grace.

We can't, by our own will, fix the world. We're too dumb, too self-absorbed, and too rotten.

But I do believe that there is someone who is smart enough, wise enough, clean enough.

A good lookin' dude -- that Marko fella.
My good buddy, Marko Kotnik, came up with an idea. He calls it RewardHero. You can check out his website at The basic idea is to create a system in which people can easily return items back to the folks who lost them. It's something of a big lost and found, with an emphasis on the returner of said lost item being a hero.

What inspires me about is that it seems to be fundamentally about grace. Find a wallet -- return it. Sure, you'll be rewarded for your good deed, but that's not really the point. The point is to be a hero to someone you've never met. Show that person that grace exists. Show a kindness. Be more than what is expected of you. Be more than a man. Be a hero. And all it takes is to show some stranger a bit of grace.

Therefore let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. Hebrews 4:16
By grace this world will be saved. There's no other way. There's no other hope.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

The Lion and the Lamb Ain't Sleepin Yet

Jack London wrote two dog-centric novels: 
Call of the Wild and White Fang.

Call of the Wild is a loose telling of a dog turned wolf. White Fang is the opposite: wolf turned dog. Or we can choose to look at the stories in a rounder manner; From Tame to Wild and From Wild to Tame.

Below is a quick investigation of two prototypes representing the two Londonian story arcs.

Call of the Wild

It starts slow, the descent, that is. The blindness carries with it an initial perception that it is something that can be beaten, can be overcome.

Then the exclusion begins. And like a too-hot spa, we slowly dip ourselves into rotten despair.

Blindness is a film that plays out like the anti- Children of Men. Both films find themselves locked inside a canvas wherein a fundamental aspect of humanity has been ripped from the people. Both films appear to desire to speak of hope under miserable settings. Both films hope to achieve epiphany. Blindness distinguishes itself from its superior sister film by focusing on the shittiest aspects of a shitty world. It's eye is on the vileness of humanity.

The film looks at how quickly we feeble humans debase ourselves when our worldly pleasures are stripped from us. Blindness is an exercise in masochism. It is ugly.

Whilst enduring the 121 minute exercise, I found myself being lectured by an alien doctor. The doctor has spent years studying the insipid human specimen, and has cruelly devised plots to determine the very modes by which men are brought to become incalculably asinine.

This doctor could very well be the Devil himself. He looks at the world and dares to say to God, Does Job fear for nothing?... But put forth Your hand now and touch all that he has; he will surely curse You to Your face. (Job 1:9,11) Now, a Job recreation could make for some good-time storytelling, but nay! Our doc is both prophet and king of this world.

Children of Men quietly took note of the beauty amidst chaos and death. Blindness never blinks. The film keeps its stare eternally fixated on the obscene and ugly.

Why is this picture here? Why does it exist? On whose back is it writing its message -- and for who?

I believe the answer is fairly straight-forward.

The flick is a propitiation.

If we acknowledge our own slavery to our natural instinct, if we dare to reconcile ourselves to the reality of our own repugnancy, then maybe we can move forward.

Move forward unto what, I ask. Silence. There is no answer to be found.

I never read Call of the Wild, but I watched, with much boredom drumming in my young mind, the seventies film adaptation starring Charlton Heston. If I am remembering correctly, the film ends with a stunningly visual of Heston frozen under the lake; his trusty dog, Buck, scratching hopelessly at the snow.
Without someone to watch over him, Buck turns to the wilderness. His master is dead. He becomes a wolf. But he was born a dog, not a man. If we see God as dead, if we too turn to the wild, then I'd just rather be blind then watch our descent.

White Fang

 I gleefully admit that my recent theater viewing of Rise of the Planet of the Apes amused my soul. I found myself laughing out loud frequently, not because the story was ridiculous, but because I found the film so audacious in its projections.

Do not lie to yourself! -- Unlike its predecessors, Rise of the Planet of the Apes is really about the apes. Our protagonist, our hero, is a chimpanzee. We will feel more attached to him than anyone else.

Furthermore, when the battle heats up, when the shit hits the fan, we are asked to side with the apes. We are inclined to become self-haters, to be cannibals to our own kind. And as the big gorilla sacrifices himself to save Caesar (our charismatic chimpic lead) and hurls himself at the enemy helicopter, I was giddy with monkey glee.

The anthropomorphizing of the apes was fun to watch and easy to allow myself to sink into. I've written at length on this blog as to the confusing blurriness that is the distinction between man and beast, so to make the leap of empathy for monkey over man was not hard. But here's the tricky fun of it all: in order for the filmmakers to sell us on the rise of the apes, we had to be convinced that we humanoids deserve judgment.

In essence, the ape had to be more than man; more than a mere anthropomorphization. This happens remarkably easy. Why? Because we all know we are a slimy creation. We know about our own ugliness. We know we sin.

The ape is sinless. If the ape were to become like us, he still wouldn't be under the same moralistic framework. He wouldn't be dooming himself as we do.

For Caesar and his renegade legion, the goal is to cross the golden gate bridge to get to the forest. And it's not just any forest; it just so happens to be a redwood forest, home to the tallest trees in the world. Chimps like to climb trees... apparently to look out over the world. I found this desire of the newly formed ape-nation particularly poetic. The apes want to go into nature and enjoy it. They want to enjoy the land. I think, for a creature not under the carnage of sin's shackles, this is worship.

If the chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever, I would reckon the same must be true for the animal kingdom. And if you are an intelligent ape, the best way to glorify God is to climb the biggest tree God ever made, look out over His creation, and enjoy the view.

White Fang ends with the wolf having been made a father, and enjoying the lifestyle of a tamed and comfortable dog.

The last line of White Fang ends this way; "...and he lay with half-shut patient eyes, drowsing in the sun."
Life can be so simple, no?

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

4 Seasons

To Sister Winter

  I apologize, apologize. 
  I want to promise you.
  I want to say it will end.
  The inner sanctum.
  Swept clean.
  All I can do now.
  Apologize, apologize.

 Oh I long for want.
 For the things I've done.
 For the things I've said.
 For the way I am with you.

 I want to say I am with you.
 But I must turn away.
 I can't bear the sight.
 In fuller truth now.
 I choose to turn.
 To keep one story back.

I want to promise you.
All things will be made new.
For you.
In this life.
I have not the time.

I have not the time.
To make promises I can't repeat.
To tell sweet stories that have no end.
I cannot speak what I want for you.
I have not the time.
I have not the focus.
Nor the patience. 
I can only.

Apologize, apologize.

To Sister Spring

My dearest,

You were born of hope, and bred from talent--with full cheer and charisma--you sweep me up like a distant memory made pure and pristine--truth--with you I feel I can see a thousand miles--a thousand forms of story unfolding and fluttering in the cool breeze--how can I feel anything small about you; I admit, I cannot--my emotion is set aflame, either for or against you--the direction doesn't matter--I care not where--passion always leads to the same place--doesn't it--for you embolden me and consign me to exponential flights of fancy--look--I write this so fast, see how my hand grows cramped--I sweat so much--with you I will go anywhere--everywhere with you I can fly--because you promise me that all things grow--and although under your wings I do not find peace, I am content in your smoldering embrace.

To Sister Summer
Get behind me, woman of the world; your fickleness drives me mad! 

I am so; tired!

You beg me on; urge me to continue -- I am more than willing!

You confuse me; so!

Who are you; who am I to you? 

With you; I have no answers!

Day and you are warm to me: night and you remain likewise; how can this be?

Your heat is a fog to me; enticing, erotic, yet too dense to breathe!

You say I lead; rightfully I should -- that is my position -- but I can't find my bearings!

Where are we going?

To Sister Autumn

i don't know you
not yet not really
maybe i cant in this life
i only know the stories
the feeling
passing glimmers of your radiance
you are the mystery
and the blood 
for that i reach
how long will you make me wait
wait will i ever find you wait
will you lead me to yourself
how can i unless you make yourself known to me
all the world
all the streets
all the trees
pale in form to you
they are powerful reminders the rocks and the cliffs
that they are scorched shadows shadows of your genius
oh to make it to that day wait
i will no longer doubt wait
no longer count
each phrase wait
that must pass before
before you remove the scales 
from my eyes let me see
come to me wont you
be here wont you
ache ache and ache
feel the good burn
it is but a vision a forerunner a sweet taste
of you
i seek i wait i die