Monthly Archives: December 2010

The Irresistible Resolution

For anyone who has come here via Facebook, it must be clear to you now that I have returned.  The temporary hiatus proved beneficial as it allowed me to purge my mind of status update shaped thoughts.  As many of you know, this was one of the main reasons for my departure.  I felt that Facebook was shaping my mind to an unhealthy degree.  Now, I believe I will be able to handle this beast of a social network without investing too much of my time and concern.  It is simply a means through which I can communicate.  Communicate, I shall.

It is time to usher in the new year.  2011 is upon us, and I think it is appropriate to declare my resolution.

I will pour my energy into the pursuit of work within the field of writing.

To a degree, I have been doing this all along.  But I have not been giving it my all.  Doubts and a dash of complacency have prevented me from fully embracing this irresistible goal.  This cannot continue.  In some capacity, I must work with words.  It’s where my heart is.

So here I am, posting this for all to see.  The future is uncertain, but my heart and mind are set.  I am willing.  Now send me forth.

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True Christmas

There are two Christmases, and one is greater than the other.

Almost everyone celebrates Christmas in this country; from the Christians to the atheists.  Christmas, as it exists today, does not demand faith in a savior.  It is simply a time of giving and cheer.  It’s a time to sing the same songs and watch the same movies and eat the same foods.  In America, Christmas is a national holiday more than it is a religious one.  So when we speak about it, we should distinguish between the two.

I keep hearing how Christmas was stolen from some ancient pagan festival.  This is true.  The end of December marks the time when the days begin to grow longer.  It is the beginning of nature’s rebirth. This occasion was celebrated with much feasting and gift giving.  At some point in history, Christians adopted this date as the time to celebrate the birth of Christ.  I don’t know why.  They probably had a good reason.  But it’s important to recognize that Christmas, in its festive form, has its origins with the pagans.  No one knows exactly when Jesus was born.  Scholars are confident that it was not during winter.  It’s just an arbitrary date to celebrate something that is true every day.

Secular Christmas has many admirable qualities.  It encourages peace and charity.  The peace it preaches is between men.  The charity it preaches is benevolent giving to the needy.  These are both good things, and secular Christmas has a lot to be proud of.  It brings families together in celebration of themselves.  It brings joy to people, and especially children, with the exchanging of gifts.  It adds warmth to a dark cold winter.  But secular Christmas, even with all of its wonderful qualities, can’t rise any higher than humanity.  It can’t point to anything greater than the human spirit.

Christmas, in its true form, points to something far greater than the human spirit.  It points to Almighty God, who took on weak and finite flesh for the sake of redeeming the world He loved.  The real Christmas is not about how good we can be, but about how good God is.

For many, Christmas is about celebrating family.  But what about those who have no family, or who suffer the pains of having a broken one?  True Christmas celebrates the reconciliation of God and His children.  True Christmas reminds the world that through faith in Jesus Christ, all people can call God, Father.  And even the most damaged relationships can find healing from the One who cured the blind and raised the dead.

For many, Christmas is about spreading peace on earth.  But how can those without true peace in their hearts ever hope to spread it?  True Christmas celebrates the birth of the Prince of Peace.  The One who knew the sorry and wretched state of our hearts more than anyone, chose to be born into poverty so that He could mature as a man and sacrifice His life in order to pay for the sins of His people.  The reality of sin is separation from God, and Jesus Christ shed His blood to free us from the guilty bondage of sin, which makes it possible to have peace in our hearts.  Once we have peace, we can give it to our brothers and sisters.

Charity can mean benevolent giving, or it can mean unconditional love.  Giving to the poor and  hungry is a good and right practice.  But what are you giving them?  Are you giving them food and money?  These are both needed in this world, but what happens tomorrow when the food runs out and the money disappears?   Is this all we can give them?  The Christmas centered on Christ celebrates the greatest gift of love the world has ever known.  You see, everyone in this world is needy.  We all need to be physically sustained.  But we also need to be loved.  A heart open to God’s unconditional love will overflow and fill the cups of the needy.  True charity is able to satisfy the deepest hunger pangs of the most famished spirit.  Charity began at Christmas.

 

This year, as you celebrate Christmas in your own way, I want you to consider which Christmas you are celebrating.   Is your Christmas praising the glory of the human spirit, or is it praising the glory of a God who loves us more than we even dare to imagine?

Many gifts are given at Christmas.  Which have you received?

The Subtle Heart of A Christmas Story

 

A Christmas Story is a holiday classic.  It plays for twenty-four hours straight on TBS every year.  People love it, and for good reasons.   It is hilarious.  It is comforting.  It is a Christmas tradition.  But there is an aspect of A Christmas Story that I have never heard mentioned before.  Today I would like to address it.

At the heart of this film is a loving family.  They are silly characters, but they are endearing because they love each other.  You can see it in the way they interact.  I’ve seen families who interact with such a heightened tension that, to an outsider, the air becomes heavy and oppressive.  A family of anxious actors is hardly an indication of love.  On the contrary,  I’ve experienced the love between families who feel no need to put on a facade.  I consider myself lucky to be a member of such a family.  In such a loving environment you find much laughter accompanied by uninhibited feeling and brutal honesty.  Such transparency can only exist in the presence of love.  A loving family is an institution of grace and truth built on a firm foundation of love.

Did you ever consider what led to Ralphie getting his BB Gun for Christmas?  Surely, his mother discussed it with his father.  She must have told him that it was too dangerous.  But his father must have known how much Ralphie desired the gift, and he considered the joy it would bring him.  In the scene where Ralphie finally gets the gun, his father asks him, “Did you get everything you wanted?”  Ralphie replies with a sigh, “Almost.”    The father then says, “Almost huh, well, that’s life.”   The father knows that you can’t get everything you want in life, but he loves his son and wants to bring him joy.  Watch his reaction when Ralphie opens his present.  He can hardly contain his happiness at the sight of his son’s joy.  It reminds me of the Bible verse that says, “If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!” (Matthew 7:11)

The next time you watch A Christmas Story, look for the body language between the parents.  You’ll be surprised to find how affectionate they are.  It’s subtle, but it’s undeniable.  What I really want you to notice is the final scene where the mother walks downstairs to the father who is sitting in a chair and watching the snow.   With their children resting peacefully upstairs, they share a moment.  I’m touched by how the father gently rubs the mother’s back.  Now, Ralphie never saw this happen, but I like to think that as an adult he recognized the relationship his parents shared.  Not only did they provide him with shelter and food and clothes, but also an illustration of love.

A Christmas Story touches our hearts because it is brimming over with love.

 

 

My Five Favorite Christmas Movies

Christmastime is a special time. Songs about snow and presents and Santa and Jesus play on the radio.  Lights adorn the bushes and gutters of homes and offices.  Decorations fill our shelves and ornaments hang from evergreens.  But even among these holiday staples, one tradition outshines them all..

The Watching of Christmas Movies.

Over these past twenty-four years, I have developed a special affection for a few particular holiday films.  The following five are most precious to me.

#5-   The Homecoming aka The Walton’s Christmas (1971)

This began as sort of a joke in my family.  My mom bought it because she liked it, but my brother and sister would make fun of it.  Nevertheless, we watched it every year.  Over time, I began to develop a liking for the film.  After all, the main character is a young man who wants to be a writer during the Great Depression.  The people are simple, and it paints a picture of a time in America long passed.  On Christmas Eve, John Boy (the aspiring writer) goes on a secret mission to find his father who has not returned home from his job.  The father works far away, and only comes home on the weekends.  When news is heard of a bus overturning along the route the father takes home, John Boy’s mother becomes fearful of the worst-case scenario.  We learn that John Boy is struggling to become a man in the eyes of his father, so this journey becomes a symbol for his passage into manhood.    The film is filled with a number of touching scenes.  My favorite involves a talk between John Boy and his mother about how he doesn’t think he could ever become a writer.  This makes it into the top five due to its warmth, purity, and likeable characters.  And it led to the long-running series, The Waltons.

#4-  The Nativity Story (2006)

Before seeing this, I was skeptical.  My thought was that it would be a watered-down version of the Biblical account of Jesus’ birth.  I am pleased to say that I was very wrong.  Sure, it’s not word for word the story told in the Bible, but it presents the story without shying away from Jesus’ divinity through the virgin birth and Mary’s humanity.  In fact, what I like most about this film is the way Mary and Joseph are portrayed.  They are poor and simple people who love God, and trust Him even through difficulties.  One of my favorite lines comes from Joseph.  He is traveling with his pregnant wife to Bethlehem, and while they are resting by a small fire he says to Mary, “I wonder if I will be able to teach him anything.”  This is such a wonderful line, since we know that Jesus will become a carpenter like Joseph.  Another great line also comes from Joseph when he passes the temple in Jerusalem.  It has become a place of trade and corruption.  Joseph says to Mary, “This was meant to be a holy place.”  Jesus would return years later to declare, “You have made my Father’s house a marketplace!”   The end of this film, the birth of Christ, gives God glory as He is the greatest gift of love the world has ever known.

#3 –Scrooge (1970)

This is the musical Scrooge starring Albert Finney.  A Christmas Carol, by Charles Dickens, has been made into at least a dozen different movies.  My family has them all, and we watch them every year.  There’s the Alistair Sim, and the George C. Scott, and the Muppet, and the Mickey, and the Patrick Stewart, and the Reginald Owen etc etc…  I think they’re all great, but they aren’t quite as special as Scrooge.  The movie itself is entertaining and full of catchy songs.  But the real reason it’s so high on my list is the special place this film has with my parents.  On Christmas night, 1970, my parents saw this in the theater.  They were only dating at the time.  A few years ago I had planned to watch it a few weeks before Christmas, but my father stopped it.  He said that it was too early to watch this one.  To him, this film has a special meaning.  He never said it plainly, but I know that this is the one Christmas movie that really means something to him because it is the one he saw with my mother while they were young and just starting out.

#2- A Christmas Story (1983)

I haven’t known a Christmas without A Christmas Story.  This funny and heartwarming film has such a place in my family’s Christmas tradition, it feels like a piece of home.  Every time we went to cut our tree someone would always say, “Hell, this ain’t no tree” or “Darn thing looks like it was made of green pipe cleaners.”  Our holiday dialogue is rich with Jean Shepherd’s wonderful lines.  If you haven’t seen this, or if you don’t like it, I can’t understand how that is possible.  It’s hilarious and brilliant.  It’s indescribably beautiful.  It reminds me of the fourth of July!

#1- It’s a Wonderful Life (1946)

“No man is a failure who has friends.”

This film is a masterpiece.  It is the story of a man who had great dreams, but had to sacrifice them for the good of others.  Everything he ever wanted was denied him.  Yet along the way he touched the lives of many.  On Christmas Eve, at the end of his rope, he stands on a bridge ready to take his own life.  Only by God’s intervention is he saved and redeemed.  He is shown that with great love, no life is meaningless.

Wonderfully acted, beautifully scripted, and masterfully directed, It’s a Wonderful Life is a gift to humanity.  It reminds us to have faith, perseverance, and hope.  It reminds us that even the mundane aspects of life are invaluable.

Christmas celebrates the existence of love and hope.  It’s a Wonderful Life points us to both.

Cutting the Facebook Cord (At Least For Now)

Many of you are now aware, or are just about to be made aware of my decision to deactivate my Facebook account.  In my first blog post since cutting the social networking cord, I figured I would explain my motivation.

A few months ago I almost left Facebook, but my friend Nate convinced me that it was important as an advertisement for this blog.  That was a convincing argument, so I let it be.  I knew that many people reached the blog via Facebook.  It just didn’t make sense to sacrifice that for the sake of preserving some of my sanity.

Yesterday, my friend Becca gave me an “Evils of Facebook” speech which I sort of agreed with, and sort of laughed off.  I didn’t think much of it, but apparently a seed had been planted.  Later in the day, I read a book by Philip Yancey called Finding God in Unexpected Places.  I read a section about our modern culture, and how it relates to Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World.  We are driven by a need for pleasure and sensory stimulation.  This is undoubtedly true, and Facebook serves as a great provider.  Here is my analysis:

The soil had already been cultivated in me after years of feeling dirty due to overusing Facebook.  It occupied way too much of my time and attention.  I often found myself thinking in terms of status updates.  That’s insane.  All it took was Becca to plant that seed of conviction and Yancey to water it with the water of revelation for the plant of truth to spring forth.  The truth is, I am addicted to Facebook.

Accepting that I have an unhealthy relationship with the social networking site, I decided to cut the cord.  I am tired of reading about how busy people are, or how angry people are.  I am tired of checking the news feed twenty times a day.  I am tired of living vicariously through a computer screen.  Not to say that you should be too, but for me, I needed a break.

I don’t intend to live sans Facebook forever.  Perhaps in a few weeks or months I’ll decide that it is time to return with a healthier mindset.  But, for now, I am deactivated.  And honestly, it feels good.

 

(If you read this blog regularly, and you used to find it through Facebook, I recommend subscribing.  All you have to do is click on the button to the right that says “Sign me up!” and it will send an email to you every time I update.  Otherwise, you can just add it to your bookmarks and check up once in a while.  I will be writing at the same pace as before, so check often.  I have some good ideas for Christmas related posts.)

My Hopes for Tron:Legacy

The original Tron came out in 1982.  At the time, the special effects were groundbreaking.  It didn’t kill at the box office, but Tron has had a lasting impact on our culture.  I’m willing to bet you’ve at least heard of it.  If you haven’t, I’m sure you will hear plenty after the upcoming sequel hits theaters on December 17th.

The basic story of the original is that a computer programmer named Kevin Flynn (Jeff Bridges) gets trapped in a computer mainframe.  The main antagonist is called Master Control Program,  which is a highly advanced artificial intelligence.  It has big plans to take over the Pentagon because it believes it is more capable to run the world than humans.  Flynn makes his way through the mainframe with another program named Tron.  Tron is a program that was designed by Flynn’s friend and fellow programmer, Alan Bradley.  The two eventually face Master Control and Flynn is returned to the real world.

Tron: Legacy takes place about thirty years after the original.  Watch the trailer to get up to speed.

 

My Hopes

  • The movie is going to look fantastic.  At the very least, the special effects will offer a feast for the eyes.  It’s also a unique environment, and it’s always nice to see someplace new.
  • The fact that the main character is a no-name actor will help the suspension of belief.  I like it when the main character is a new face, so I can’t associate him or her with other movies.  There is also the potential that this new actor will be great.  I’m hoping he’s great.
  • It won’t be too preachy.  I think this movie has the potential to be preachy, but I’m hoping they don’t pull a Happy Feet on me.  In one of the trailers they mention that Flynn had discovered something that would change the world, and even religion.
  • The focus is on the relationship between father and son.  It seems like this will be the case based on the trailers, but there is a chance that the love interest in the movie will take some of the spotlight.
  • The main love interest (Olivia Wilde) will be cute and have substance, and not be sexy and shallow.  Olivia Wilde is pretty great, and I like her in the things she has been in, but she is very good-looking.  I hope they make her more than a sex object and actually develop her as a character.  Megan Fox in Transformers is a great example of what I’m afraid of.  The trailers indicate that she will have substance.
  • Jeff Bridges will be great.  Of course he will.  He’s the Dude.
  • I won’t be distracted by the computer animated younger version of Jeff Bridges.  It looks a little off, but I’m hoping it won’t be distracting.  You know, like Batman’s voice in The Dark Knight.
  • The movie will not suffer from the planned sequels.  Often times, when a movie is made with a sequel in mind, the quality of the story suffers.  Every film should be able to stand on its own even when it is one of many sequels.
  • The story won’t be secondary to special effects.  Every big-budget film faces this temptation.  Why develop characters and a story when people will just eat up the visuals?  Avatar *cough*.
  • It will be at least an 8 out of 10.  An 8 means that the movie is very good with memorable characters and a meaningful story.

 

Many have been burned by having high expectations going into a movie.  Nevertheless, I have hope for this one.  And unless it turns out to be absolutely terrible, I think you should see it.

Who’s More Likely To Eat People?

(I feel that a disclaimer is needed.  Today’s topic came out of a conversation I had at work.  Someone mentioned cannibalism and I thought, who becomes a cannibal in the first place?  Naturally, my mind went to the most ridiculous place and I thought of vegans.  Then I thought it would be fun to try to make an impossible argument for such a ridiculous statement.  I recognize that the conditions that most chickens and cows are raised in is deplorable, and steps should be made to improve their quality of life.  And I don’t have strong feelings about vegans or vegetarians.  People can eat what they want.  They just can’t eat who they want. )

I want you to imagine a pyramid.  Plants are on the bottom.  Fish are a little higher.  Livestock are even higher.  Then you have more intelligent animals like dolphins and dogs and chimps.  Then, on the top, you have humans.  This is basically how your average human views their standing in the food chain.  We are at the top.  Sure, we generally don’t eat chimps and dolphins, but we wouldn’t consider it murder if we ate one in order to avoid starvation.

Most of us eat meat without any feeling of guilt.  We don’t carry the moral burden of a thousand dead chickens, or a thousand dead cows.  Meat tastes good and it is part of the natural order.  That being said, we draw the line at eating people.  It is acceptable to eat other animals, but it is completely unacceptable to eat one of our own.  The reasons for this are many, but the overriding one is the high (even sacred) value we place on human life.  Humans are not only more intelligent and resourceful than the other animals, we also carry a unique spark of the divine.  The smartest chimp in the world still lacks this eternal and invaluable human characteristic.  We are different.  We are above.  We are separate.

Now I want you to imagine a circle.  A circle doesn’t have a top or a bottom.  Each point on the circle is equal.  At one point in the circle are plants. At another, fish.  At another, livestock.  At another, chimps.  And at another, humans.  They are all equal.  One is not superior or higher than another.  This is closer to how a vegan views the food chain.  Humans do not have the right to take the lives of other animals.  All life is sacred.

You may be thinking, how could you possibly make an argument showing that vegans are closer to becoming cannibals than meat eaters?  Well, this is how.

In order to view all animals as equals, you have to reduce the potential value of human life.  In the classic (Judeo-Christian) view, humans are made in the image of God.  They are far above the other creatures.  They are moral beings.  You wouldn’t sue a chicken because a chicken has no moral responsibility.

If the value of a cow’s life is equal to that of a human,  surely it is at a great loss to the human.  We do not ask the cow to elevate himself to our position.  So it is up to us to reduce our superior standing.  You don’t see any other animal refusing to eat meat out of a moral objection.  The only reason humans can do this is the same reason they are above the animals in the first place.

So if someone views the lesser animals as having the same sacred life as humans, that sacred life becomes less sacred.  I know this is probably offensive to a number of people, but how could it not be true?  How does a son of God retain his dignity and eternal worth when he is the equal to a chicken?  Or a chimp?

Who is more likely to eat other humans?  The one who views humans as a unique creation with a value far greater than that of other animals, or the one who views humans and other animals as fundamentally equal?  I submit that it would be easier for a vegan to turn to cannibalism since their working philosophy  reduces the sacredness of human life.

Trans Fats: An Uncharacteristic Assault on Corporations

I’m sitting in Wendy’s the other day, and I notice that the fries are different.  This disturbs me, and perhaps I will write about it in the future, but today I want to tell you about what I saw below the fries.  On the place mat they wrote this little ditty about how the new fries come from Russet potatoes and they are sprinkled with sea salt.  Also on the mat is a section boasting about how the fries contain no trans fats.  Clearly, I thought, Wendy’s is trying to appear healthier.

But wait, Wendy’s isn’t healthy.  What’s going on here?

I’ve noticed that trans fats have taken center stage in our nation’s health debate this past year.  There was talk about banning salt in restaurants, but once people remembered that salt is an essential part of good tasting food they let it go.  At least for now.  San Francisco also passed legislation to ban the Happy Meal.  You’ll remember a few years back McDonald’s was under pressure when a few fat people tried to sue them.  So they added nutrition facts and got rid of the Super Size.  Wendy’s also got rid of the Biggie Size.  But once again, trans fats are on the chopping block today, and I have a hunch that the big food corporations are eating it up.

Here’s my theory.  Trans fats have been identified as extremely unhealthy and unnatural.  They offer no benefits to our bodies, and exist only to make food taste better.  This makes trans fats the enemy.  Very good.  Once this enemy was identified by the public and the media it had to be addressed by the big food providers.  Now, during all of this there was an ever growing awareness of the obesity epidemic in America.  About 1 in 3 children are obese, and adults are even worse.  So, food corporations had no choice but to respond to America’s increased demand for healthier fare.  Some offered a baked alternative.  Some offered a low calorie alternative.  Some offered a low sugar alternative.  And Some offered a low carb alternative.  They made these small steps, but they continued to push the foods that made them wealthy.  In order to continue the pressure to consume the same unhealthy foods, these corporations needed a distraction.  They needed a way to convince the public that the old standbys were still good to eat.  Trans fats provided the perfect scapegoat.

If the food never had trans fats, you can now boast Zero Grams Trans Fat!!!

If the food used to have some trans fats, you can boast Now with Zero Grams Trans Fat!!!

Do you see what I’m saying?  This is a distraction.  You read that something has no trans fat and you think, this is healthier.  It still has 50 grams of fat and 1500 calories, but there are no trans fats.  That means there is less fat.  That means it is healthier, or at least relatively healthy.  And that is my main point.  By demonizing trans fats, corporations can make themselves and their food look better without having to sacrifice anything.

(I’m not trying to say that big corporations are pure evil.  All I’m saying is that they work really hard to turn a profit, and they’ll use whatever they can to achieve that end.  Certainly, trickery is one of their tools.  So, if you’re going to eat this food, make sure you’re eating it for the right reason; it tastes incredible.)

 


 

The Cookie Monster: A Tale of Forsaken Identity

It has been about four years since the Cookie Monster sold his soul to the gods of political correctness.  With five little words, he lost himself forever.

COOKIES ARE A SOMETIMES FOOD.

They say that the change came as a response to the growing obesity epidemic among American children.  Sesame Street decided to feature more segments about healthy living, and it only made sense to address the Cookie Monster’s insatiable appetite for sweets.  Namely, cookies.  Seems harmless, right?

The Cookie monster is defined by his love for cookies.  Cookies are his religion.  They are his passion.  They are his purpose.  Every time he appears, he is either talking about cookies or eating cookies.  We know him as a monster.  A cookie monster.  A monster fueled by cookies.

He has a famous song.  Here it is.

C is for cookie.  It’s good enough for me.

C is for cookie. It’s good enough for me.

Cookies are good enough for Cookie Monster.  His love of cookies is directly tied to his sense of self-worth.  Cookies are good enough for him because his sole purpose in life is to eat and worship them.  The Cookie Monster couldn’t ever sell his soul for a cookie because his soul is already cookie.  Cookie Monster is cookie.  The two cannot be torn asunder.  So when he goes on television and claims that, “Cookies are a sometimes food”, we should be concerned.  Deeply concerned; for the Cookie Monster and for our children.

When the Cookie Monster claims that life is more than cookies, he is forsaking his own identity.  It is the Muppet equivalent of a Christian claiming that Jesus isn’t good enough.  He is lying to himself.  And that means he is also lying to the children.  He is telling them not to be true to themselves.  He is saying, “Forsake your personal convictions as not to offend anyone.”

When the Cookie Monster forsakes his cookies, he forsakes himself.  A cookie monster lives for cookies.  They are one.

So ask yourself, which is more important:  the health of the body, or the health of the soul?  The Cookie Monster has already made his choice.  And the world is a little darker because of it.