Monthly Archives: November 2014

Justice vs. Mercy

This is from last April.  I still haven’t seen Noah.

 

I was listening to an interview this week with Darren Aronofsky, the director of the new film, Noah, a film which has been fairly successful at dividing believers.  I know, sometimes not that difficult a thing to do. Aronofsky said that what he tried to show in his film is the struggle between justice and mercy.  That when the scriptures say Noah was a righteous man, not a good man, but a righteous man, that that’s the definition of righteous that the film makers used.  Someone who finds a balance between justice and mercy.

And that’s tricky enough in itself, but when other people get involved.  When we’re speaking out on behalf of justice, and some bleeding heart is all about the mercy.  Or when we think somebody needs mercy, and some hard-nosed old grump is shouting for justice.  It’s a tough balance knowing when to speak up about one or bite our tongue about the other.

This whole Christian walk, if we are doing it right, I think, is soooo difficult this way.  We stand up for what we think is right, and that hurts people who we love who are doing the same thing, but from the other side.   I have students who are preparing to be silent on April 11, next Friday, in solidarity with those who feel they have to remain silent to avoid bullying and harassment.  And that’s going to stir up trouble.  And people on both sides of the issue, in doing or saying what they think is right, are going to hurt people. People they love, or people they know they are supposed to love.

God knows that balance is tough.   God knows it’s a struggle.  God’s been there.  The flood story starts with god’s justice, and it ends with god’s mercy.  When justice was required on our behalf, god, through Christ, offered us mercy.  We didn’t deserve it. Getting what we deserve would have been justice. 2 Corinthians says:  All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them (Justice). And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation (mercy).

So I encourage you, when we’re dealing with people this week, those dumb annoying people who don’t see things the way we do, yep, that one you’re thinking of right now, and we find that balance difficult to maintain, maybe we can remember that our message is one of reconciliation.  Maybe we can remember god’s mercy towards us.  And maybe, if we lose our balance, we can land, as god did, in a place that offers his mercy and reconciliation to others.

Amen.

Batman #306

Batman #306, 1978. Writer Gerry Conway. Artists John Calnan & David Hunt

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Batman has always been my favorite. I think it started with getting home from school as fast as I could to catch reruns of the 1960’s tv show. Then the comic books.  In the books, it was the classic images of Batman, as much as the stories that captivated me.  He stayed in the shadows, holding back, until it was time to spring into action, and then he did spring, in a fearless, awesome, terrifying way.

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Of course for many who prefer Batman over some of the other superheroes (Superman), it’s the struggle that he has with the darkness inside of himself that’s as interesting, or more so than the struggle he has with his enemies.  In that way we can relate to him, a man that hides behind false personas, neither his true self, afraid to let anyone see him for who he really is.  He’s also someone who see the evil in the world, and does what he can to fight it, although he knows he can never do enough, he can never really change things.  Our world remains a corrupt and heartbroken place, just as Gotham does, despite the efforts of a few good men and women.  And having at his core all that internal struggle of hope and despair, is what enables Batman to work, I think, in the many versions he have of him in the movies, television, cartoons, and of course comic books, from the campy to the overly serious.

Having laid out the basis for my graduate thesis, let’s take a look at Batman #306.  First the verdict.  It’s ok.  That makes it tricky for me to write about.  I’m finding it’s easier to write about good comicbooks.  There are several that were so bland that I just had nothing to say about them.  This one’s not that bad.  It has it’s moments, just some of them are are little disjointed or out of sync. The story involves a rich heroin dealer, Hannibal Hardwicke, who you would think would be the bad guy of the story. But he’s not. Hardwicke is under threat from a vigilante called Black Spider. That’s kind of a weird name as his costume is orange and purple.  Is he Black Spider because he has a dark heart? Maybe. Is it because Orange Spider or Purple Spider aren’t menacing sounding names?  Maybe. Is it because Black Spider is uh, a uh, black man? Yeah, I’m afraid that’s probably the case.  Anyway, Black Spider is an ex-junkie who hates drug dealers and wants to kill them all. That I can understand.  However, that fact that he delivers the worst misquote of Mark Twain that I’ve ever seen in print, I cannot forgive.

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Yikes

So Black Spider is after drug kingpin Hardwicke. You might think that Batman, kind of a vigilante himself, although he doesn’t approve of out and out murder, could be a bit sympathetic to Black Spider.  But no. In fact, Batman is totally working for the man.  The police don’t want Hardwicke in their jail because they don’t’ want trouble from Black Spider or some legal mumbo jumbo, so Batman puts Hardwicke up at the swanky Wayne Foundation building.  What the flip, right? Batman is pretty cozy with the police in this story.  When they don’t want to conduct an illegal search, Batman is happy to do it for them while they watch.  “It wasn’t us, judge, violating the fourth amendment.  It was that pesky Batman.”

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So he protects Hardwicke and fights off Black Spider when he shows up to kill the drug lord. In the end, Batman shows little pity for the ex-junkie, and delivers one of those little Batman speeches in the last panel that I don’t remember as a kid, but that I find very annoying as an adult.

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For someone who wrestles with his own darkness, Batman is not very sympathetic to the struggles of others.  Those who don’t struggle at all, like Hardwicke the drug lord, he seems to have no problem with, as he doesn’t say a harsh word to him throughout the entire book.

The second story here is one of the “Unsolved Cases of the Batman,” although he clearly solves it in the end.  Some guy is blackmailing Bruce Wayne because he knows he’s the Batman somehow.  Not only that, this guy is walking through the slums of Gotham poisoning poor people with a virus that comes out of cane.

I’m not sure how these two parts of the story are connected.  There’s also a wedding ring with an inscription in it from the Batman.  I don’t know; and I read the story twice.  Anyway, Batman finds him, beats him up, and then the guy poisons himself with his own virus cane, and dies instantly.  Quite the virus.

In both these stories DC appears to be trying to deal with some serious social issues, but doesn’t seem to know what to do with them.  It’s almost like drug addiction and the rich’s disregard for the poor are just thrown in there as window dressing.  Wayne does at one point promise to redouble his efforts to improve the lot of the poor in Gotham.  At the same time he keeps the rich drug lord safe and comfy at the Wayne Foundation.  The struggle continues.

Nexus Ops

Coming in at #68 on Mark’s list is Nexus Ops.  This may need to be played this weekend. My daughter and I enjoy it a lot. We’ve yet to get anyone else into a game yet. It may be the amount of amazing pieces and the cool module board, and the cards and dice that puts some people off. I remember we did get dad in on a game once, and he wasn’t crazy about it, and he’s usually up for anything. This one he never quite got his brain around, although I’m sure he could if he wanted to. So unlike many of the previous games on Mark’s list, Nexus Ops is not a great non-gamers  game. However, if someone is willing to take the next step, to learn a couple rules, this is a great one. It takes less than an hour. There’s not all the waiting that  I experienced in the one game of Axis and Allies (a game with a similar system) that I played–me: let’s attack now. Partner: we have to build up our forces more. Me 30 minutes later: now? Partner: we need more forces. Me more later: ok, I’m attacking. Partner: I donnnnt knooooow. Nexus Ops on the other hand rewards getting after it–exploring uncharted territory, capturing the monolith, and going after your opponent. Resource management is important, but if you sit back and wait until you’re ready, the game’s over and you lose.

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Besides being fun, look at the cool neon soldiers and monsters (at least in the old version) you get to control over the barren, but pretty, alien world. Add managing your secret missions and surprising your opponent with a doozy to win the game, and you have a great game.

After writing this, I did indeed challenge my daughter to a game. She beat me last time our forces clashed, but this time I was able to come up with a victory.

Reagan Bush

Reagan Bush

 

Ronald Reagan. When you’re a kid, your folks’ politics are your politics. I remember kind of rudely mocking a neighbor, an educated adult woman, for saying she was going to vote for Jimmy Carter instead of Reagan. You know what I knew about Carter? Peanut farmer. You know what I knew about Reagan? My folks supported him. I wasn’t exactly what you’d call informed.During the first Reagan term I didn’t pay any attention to politics. I had high school to be concerned with. But you know, Reagan seemed good enough for my folks, so, whatever.

When I got to college the whole Iran-Contra thing started coming out. And I began to read some of what Hunter Thompson was writing about the Reagan White House. And then there were all those communist professors on campus. I’m not saying I attended any meetings. But I did vote for Dukakis in ’88.

Say what you want about Reagan–he defeated the Soviet Union, he traded arms for hostages, the economy seemed to improve under his administration, maybe he got a little cozy with South American dictators. But it seemed like he and Tip O’Neill would work against each other during the day, and then have a drink together at the end of the day. Not like the ridiculous politicians we have today who pretend to believe, or god forbid really believe, that the members of the other party are evil anti American scum. Morons.

And Reagan was the only President to survive an assassination attempt. So he’s got that going for him. Which is nice.

Freedom

Several years ago I assigned my students the task of telling a story from their life on a website called VoiceThread.  VoiceThread combines pictures and voice and allows people to comment on your story, leaving written or spoken comments or even drawing on the photos; more about that later.  I wanted their story to have a theme and say something about life, you know, all those things English teachers get excited about.  I created my own VoiceThread to show the kids as an example of what I was looking for.  I recently came across the script for that example.  Here is the link to the original with pictures and everything.  Years ago I quit checking the comments for something intelligent as the rare compliment or insight wasn’t worth wading through all the drawings of pee-pees and wee-wees.  My students’ stories are still there.  I haven’t checked them out. Here is my original.  It’s called Freedom.

As a kid, like all kids, I longed for freedom.  Freedom from my parents, freedom to do whatever I wanted, whenever I wanted.  To be honest, I didn’t have that much to rebel against.  I was expected to make decent grades and stay out of trouble.  But I had a pretty liberal curfew, and got my driver’s license when I was in the 8th grade.

And I didn’t give my parents much to worry about.  Yeah, I was one of those kids.  Didn’t drink, smoke or fool around.  My friends and I had mostly good clean fun and mostly stayed out of trouble.  After high school I went to college.

This was a bit of a change.  My good-clean-fun friends and I all went different directions.  At K-State I lived in a house with 20 or so other guys.  Suddenly it was up to me to get to class, get to church and mostly stay out of trouble.  Two out of three, as they say, ain’t bad.  The biggest change for me at college was how much more freedom I had.  How much freedom did I have?  More than I needed.

When I found myself graduated, I wasn’t quite ready to give up that freedom.  While my friends were interviewing for jobs, I was making arrangements to travel overseas.  I found work at a pub, which I loved; the pub, not the work.  I worked six days a week and was paid pretty well.  Not the free-est time of my life, except that I could leave anytime I wanted.

Which I did after a few months.  With money and a train pass in my pocket, I caught any train I wanted to any destination I could afford.   After a few months I came back to the states, traveled some more, worked some more, when to school some more.  I was pretty much doing whatever I wanted.  It was pretty sweet.

It was during this period that I met my wife.  Well, she wasn’t my wife yet.  But she would be soon.  Less than a year after our first date, we were hitched.  After a semester of student teaching were packed our bags and moved to Virginia.

We found jobs, friends, and adventure.  Eventually we bought our first house.  In the meantime we continued to play.  When school wasn’t in session we could pretty much do whatever we wanted.  We went to the beach, movies, restaurants, concerts, and parties.

Eventually we found our way back to the Midwest, decided to settle down, raise a family.  That’s what I’ve been up to for the last seven years or so.  Being dad.  Playing ball, teaching manners, tickling, snuggling, sometimes lecturing.  Spending time.

Makes it tricky to run off to Europe or the beach or the bars any time I want.  And there are times when I do have that urge.  When that happens I might put on some music, maybe look at some old pictures.  It’s never long before somebody says, “Dad, let’s play?”  And I’m off to bigger and better things.  How much freedom do I have?  All I need.

 

Life Be In It

life be in it

I guess in the late 70s the public health and fitness people could see the writing on the wall, what with video arcades, hand-held Mattel sports games, Atari, 12 channels of t.v., beanbag chairs. The plumping of America was at hand. So the campaign–Life. Be in it.

But seriously, how sweet were those Mattel games. We spent hours pushing those three buttons as fast as we could. When I was in middle school, the boys gathered on the stage before school, and among the general jostling and nonsense talk there was the constant playing and passing of a few of these games. And when a new one was brought, like the version that included passing and not just running, that guy was the most popular kid on the stage for a week.

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I guess these games had a short life span, as they aren’t part of my high school memories. Then it was mostly the big arcade games that we played, but not a lot. Except for Steve. He had an article written about him and all the time and money he spent on Asteroids.

Daytona 500

Mark’s game #70 is Daytona 500.  I still remember finding this game almost 20 years ago in a Goodwill I used to frequent in Norfolk, Virginia. I recognized it for a desired game.  It was sitting out, near the checkout like someone had set it there while they ran back to grab one more thing.  Or, I thought as I approached it, they had a change of heart as they reached the register. I’ll just keep an eye on it for them, I said to myself as I stepped toward the game. The box was in very rough shape. I opened it up and surveyed the contents. It seemed to all be there. I looked around. “This anyone’s?” I asked quietly inside my head. No one answered. I slowly packed the game up and moseyed toward the checkout. I really didn’t want to snake this game out from under someone. Hopefully I didn’t.

Anyway, I bought it, and it’s been a favorite of my wife and myself for years. Not only was the box in rough shape, the cards were bent, the insert flattened, and the cars were half stickered, half not. And we’ve played the dickens out of it. This is another of those games that you can easily teach to the non-gamers in your life. This seems to be a family common denominator on Mark’s list. Daytona 500 has been taught to many friends and family.

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I’ve also picked up a few other tracks, some designed for this game, some that came with other racing games.  We play these as well.  One of them is very long, making it tricky even to finish the race.  And at one point I toyed with, even to the point of designing and printing out cards for, a variant that allowed players to buy mostly violent upgrades for their cars and play a Road Warrior inspired game. I think my friends played a race or two with me, but development didn’t go any farther than that.

I’ll echo the thoughts that this is a game ripe for reprint. It would be nice to play with non-mutilated cards.

All Things on Earth

This is from four years ago, back when we watched Glee and Community.  I got into a little trouble with this one as a couple of my high school students were in church that day and knew I was talking about them.  Really, of course, I was talking about all of us.  I just used them as an example.

 

As we remember this morning Jesus life, death, and resurrection, I want to share something that I’ve been noticing, something encouraging and challenging too.  I’ve noticed the reconciliation that comes through Christ.

Colossians 1:19 & 20 says, “For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in Christ, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.”

Reconciliation is setting things right, bringing them back into balance.

The other night we watched To Kill a Mockingbird with the kids.  What a great movie.  Atticus Finch played by Gregory Peck is one of the greatest fathers, or even men, captured on film.  Atticus works to reconcile the racial divide in 1930’s Georgia by representing falsely accused Tom Robinson in court.  And he brings reconciliation to himself and his neighbors through his gracious behavior toward outcast Boo Radley.

Even in the ridiculous comedies that I watch on tv, I see moments of seriousness as a Muslim takes the hand of his Christian friend and says to her, “You humble me.”  Her response: “You humble me.”

Or when Mercedes in Glee brings her friend Kurt to church in an effort to support him in his grief over his father’s heart attack.  And there, Kurt, a gay unbeliever, a staunch atheist, find himself surrounded by people who have just met him, and yet offer the love and support that his friend knew they would.

And in  real life – on facebook.  If you are facebook friends with Hannah or Amy or Stacy or Sherri, for example – there are many of these people our there, you will find daily examples of the kind of grace and peace and encouragement that brings people together.

At school I see students working to raise money for the poor in Africa, reconciling the vast economic differences that plague God’s children around the world.

And of course this church continues to be an example of reconciliation – two bodies, split over seemingly irreconcilable difference, come together again.

But, this reconciliation is not complete.  Under this roof there are still those who feel out of balance with each other.  High school students are much better at reconciling with Africans who are thousands of miles away, than they are of forgiving the classmates who they’ve been friends with for years.  Facebook can be as depressing as it is encouraging.  And we have so much work to do when it comes to reconciling to Christ our treatment of, and our relationships with, homosexuals, atheists, Muslims, racial minorities, and others who are different from ourselves.

But god is faithful, and I believe his work of reconciling all things to himself and making peace through his blood shed on the cross, continues.  Let’s pray that we can be instruments of that peace as we remember now what Christ has done for us.

Amen.

All Star Comics #12

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All Star Comics #12 – 1976 – Writer Gerry Conway – Illustrators Keith Giffen & Wally Wood

I like this one.  When I think about why, it seems that the total is greater than the sum of the parts.  But let’s see what we can come up with.  For one thing, look at that cover.  It’s awesome.  Like most comic book covers, this isn’t a scene from the story, but it’s kind of a few scenes from the story.  And it’s super cool.

Point two is that I like these Earth-2 characters.  I like the fact that I’m not all that familiar with everyone involved–Power Girl, Doctor Fate, Star Spangled Kid, Dr. Mid-Nite, and Wildcat.  And the heroes that I am familiar with are a bit different and their costumes all old timey. As a big reader of The Justice League back in the day, I like how the Justice Society was a slightly off version of the League.

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Three–the villain in this story–Vulcan is kind of a bad-ass.  He’s not campy.  There’s no winking at the audience or trading quips with heroes.  He is a psychopath with a lot of power and he plans to use it to kill as many people as he can.  That might seem like it would make him a little flat, but we know what happened to him; as an astronaut, he was exposed to something out in space (as astronauts frequently are in comic books) that turned him into Vulcan. And we know why he’s gone crazy; because he  blames the Justice Society for inspiring him to do great things.  They caused his hubris which caused him to become Vulcan.  Now they have to pay.

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Four–the writing is smart.  For the most part, these guys talk to each other like adults, and not adults that know kids are watching them.  There are times when they get a little expainy.  And it’s kind of dumb in the panel above that the Star Spangled Kid is encouraged not to use his power to put out the fire. I guess that’s the problem with giving a superhero a magic stick that can do about anything, which it seems is what the Lad’s cosmic rod is.  But overall, I like a comic that doesn’t talk down to me.

Five–this book is action packed.  The speaks to the writing again I think.  We start in the midst of a fight between Vulcan and Green Lantern and Doctor Fate. Vulcan topples a building onto Dr. Fate and takes off while Green Lantern searches the rubble for the body of his friend.  Meanwhile Carter Hall (aka Hawkman) talks with an archeologist colleague about an ancient evil race, one of which he has encased in amber in his warehouse.  Little to they know the amber is melting or something.  That storyline will have to be resolved in another issue. Meanwhile again, Vulcan in making his escape is exposed to the direct sunlight and  crashes in the rail yards.  He finds cover and begins to regain his strength. Meanwhile yet again, the rest of the team gathers at their burning headquarters, set aflame last issue by Vulcan, and discuss their situation.  Flash runs off somewhere, we don’t find out where, just as the team gets a message from Green Lantern on the cosmic rod (I’m telling you it does everything) asking for help in locating Doctor Fate.  They all go, except Power Girl who had heard a police radio from miles away reporting a landing UFO.  She goes to investigate that and, jumping to conclusions, gets in a brief scuffle with the alien who accidentally turned the astronaut into Vulcan and is how here to fix him. Fate is found, dead?, and is taken to the hospital by Lantern and Mid-Nite.  Hawkman and the Lad go find Vulcan (can you guess how they found him?). During that battle, Power Girl shows up with the alien to help Vulcan.  Vulcan overhears that it was the alien that caused his change, and blasts him to death.  With no other options, Star Spangle Lad kills Vulcan, blasting him into nothingness (yes, yes, with the cosmic rod).  That’s a lot of action and battling, and I liked it.

Six–the art is great.  I don’t know how two artists collaborate on a comic.  However it happens, it worked out in this case. Both Giffen and Wood are known folks in the business, Wally Wood especially.  And he holds a place in my heart as one of the founders of Mad Magazine.  So much of this book is so fun to look at.

in my mind

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I would love to have more of these. Unfortunately, I’m sure this is a one-off purchase I made when I was 10 years old, probably because of the cool cover.  I’m going to look in the junk drawer.  I think I saw a comic rod in there somewhere.

 

Plainview #13

Ah the days of putting our podcast out on a regular schedule.  In this episode you’ll find Jesus’s take on license plates, a short discussion of Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, and a discussion of what 80’s music to download and burn to a CD (google it, young people).  And we ironically, in light of the Kansas City Royals’ recent successful season, talk about how boring baseball is.  I also think this may be the first Plainview with the MST3K-style stinger at the end.