Monthly Archives: December 2014

A Parable From NPR

This is from earlier this summer.  I didn’t play the whole story, but most of it.  I’ve included it below where I played it during my message.  That link will take you to the beginning of the program.  The story I shared was the last one, act 20.  If you’re not familiar with This American Life, it’s a great program.

 

I think it would be safe to say most days, that my favorite part of the bible is Jesus’s parables.  I love the truth that I find, even if I don’t fully understand it, in the sheep and the goats, the good Samaritan, and of course the prodigal son.  What else I like about them is that when I think I have a pretty good grip on the meaning of one, someone, a camp counselor, a friend, a stranger, somebody, will say, what about looking at it this way.  And I’ll think, wow; that’s good too.  And I like that it seems like Jesus didn’t like to explain away his parables.  He left his listeners to wrestle with what he said.  We still wrestle with them. There are still those I wrestle with because I can’t make them fit with how I understand other things.

I was running this summer, listening my ipod, and I heard a parable, a modern parable, a real one, that had me holding back the tears like a man at a sports movie. And I knew I had to share it.  Like the parables of Jesus, you won’t hear the words god or Jesus mentioned.  And I’m not going to explain it, much, except to say, the kingdom of heaven is like this.

That kills me every time.

This is what I love about Jesus.  This is the kind of reconciliation and restoration that I believe we have available to us through Christ.  The kind of reconciliation and restoration that we, as the body of Christ, the hands and feet of Christ, are called to bring to the world.

So as we share communion this morning, as we remember what Christ did for us, as we remember the kind of people Christ called us to be, let’s say thank you, and then let’s go be those people.

Amen

Master of Kung Fu #57

Master of Kung Fu #57, 1977.

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This book should be great. Here’s why. It stars Shang-Chi, master of kung fu. Just like the cover shows, early on in the story he fights the Red Baron while flying through the air. Not only that, the Baron isn’t shooting bullets, he’s shooting some sort of plasma-ray. Not only that, the Red Baron isn’t really the Red Baron, he’s a crazy ex-spy called War-Yore who not only thinks he’s the Red Baron, he also sometimes thinks he’s St. George the dragon slayer with a plasma-ray sword. He’s been living in an old castle where he is keeping a woman captive, the girlfriend of another ex-spy, Leiko, a girl who can clearly take care of herself.

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Shang-Chi is working with a couple ex-MI-6 agents to track down War-Yore. It seems that MI-6 is covering for this crazy man. In order to gather more info, our heroes break into MI-6 headquarters. There they find a ultra modern high-tech situation room with a big map and everything.

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But with all this cool stuff going for it, including some sweet Kung fu fights,

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this comic just didn’t do much for me. I think it partly comes down to stakes. With the exception of getting the girl back, I didn’t understand why I should be concerned about anything that was going on. There were no “oh snap!” moments in the entire story. I think they tried for one at the end when some big wig from MI-6 shows up to deal with all the trouble. His face isn’t revealed until the end, and it’s like, oh no, it’s Sir Denis . . .  a guy I don’t know. To be fair, I think this is part three of a four-part story. But shouldn’t the writers give us enough background to care what’s going on just in case this is where we’re entering the story?

I also didn’t care much about the characters. The crazy War-Yore is as interesting as anyone, but I don’t know what his motivation is except he thinks he’s historical figures because he’s a looney.  Shang-Chi is o.k. He can kick butt, but there’s not much personality presented, and I’m not sure why he’s involved in all this. I think he may be connected to Leiko somehow. And Leiko could be interesting, but we don’t really get to know her much either.  The other spies and ex-spies are all pretty bland and interchangeable.

My English teacher nerdiness may be showing, to talk so much about character motivation and stakes, but those are things you don’t really notice or have to talk much about until they are not there.  Unfortunately, for most of this book I felt like Sir Denis himself.

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Me and My Big Mouth

me and my big mouth

As I kid I mostly didn’t talk enough to put my foot in my mouth. And if I did, I probably didn’t notice.  My friends might have a story or two about me opening my big mouth when I shouldn’t have. But I didn’t really come into my own until I became a teacher.

One of my keys to classroom management is to have students who don’t want to cause me any harm. This is also nice for when they become adults, which so far all my students have, and I see them out in the real world and they seem like they enjoy talking to me for a minute or two. One of the ways I do this involves some good-natured teasing. This is how I frequently put my foot in my mouth. A kid shows up after being gone for a day or two, and I give them a hard time about skipping . After which they tell me in all seriousness that they were at their grandfather’s funeral. Or a good kid gets called to the office and I tease them about being on trouble, and of course they come back with detention or in-school suspension.

The worst, and I wasn’t teasing, was when I was grumpily trying to motivate a kid to do his homework. I told him he’d better get himself on track or he wouldn’t be playing football. “I don’t care!” he shot back. “I only play because my dad forces me to.” I sheepishly said something like, “Oh, sorry. Never mind. Do your best, and let me know if I can help you.” I felt very small. The longer I teach, the more careful I try to be. But when you talk most of the day for a living, it’s easy to put your foot in it.

Traditional Art Skills

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I’ve said before that my son doesn’t have what you’d call traditional art skills. By that I mean his drawings don’t always look like what he wants them to look like. And while I know I’m biased, I’ve always liked what they look like. I think he’s got his own style. (And to be fair, this drawing is from a few years ago.)  Now I’m not saying anyone who can’t draw, can draw like Ralph Steadman. I’m just saying when you have a style, go with it. My boy would tell you that he can’t draw which I think is sort of too bad. Isn’t there a difference between not being able to draw and not drawing things to look like they look like. I’m curious how many of our most famous artists could draw things like they look like.  Probably a lot of them.

B.A.T.

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BAT is, I believe, basic aid training, a first aid course that used to be taught by the Red Cross. I don’t know if my mom taught it, or managed the program, or what. But she used to be somehow involved in it. Coincidence, Dr. Frued, that my wife is a Red Cross certified first aid and CPR trainer?

Anyway, through working with the Red Cross, my mom became friends with the Seeley sisters. They were two old sisters who lived in this old run down mansion in town. Sounds like something from Scooby Do, I know. They were actually very nice. But they were old, and lived in an interesting and intimidating house, and kept to themselves, so there were lots of stories about them. Well, really about the house. In its basement, it was said, was a bowling alley, a swimming pool, the bones of U.S. soldiers, and pirate’s treasure. Only one of those, as far as I know, is true.

My brother and I got a tour of the mansion once. It was pretty sweet. It was built by the sisters’ father who was an old timey medicine man. He didn’t go town to town selling snake oil. He sold it in stores. They did house soldiers during WWI. It’s a huge place, filled with cool old furniture. We got to get up on the roof, where, we were told, on a clear day one could see several small towns. We listened to sisters’ stories about back in the day.  It was a good afternoon. The sisters are no longer with us. But the mansion’s still there, all fixed up as a tourist attraction. Sans soldier bones.

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Brother Mike: Mom taught BAT – she had this electricity generating crank she used to zap the heck out of us as the class held hands and the kids at the front and end of the line held the leads. I also learned RICE for a sprain – rest, ice, compression, elevation.  I tried to mow the yard once with a push mower, got about 1/5 done and called it quits. The sisters were asked if they knew the Eisenhowers, they said the Eisenhowers lived on the wrong side of the tracks – which the Eisenhowers literally did.

Me: South siiiiiiiiide!

Mom: Their father did go door to door with his horse drawn wagon. The house was well cared for it just needed painting.  I was trying to teach you to stay away from electrical lines that could be on the ground after a storm. Wanted to give you a little taste. You all begged for more. It was suggested by the Red Cross that I do that. Bet they can’t do that now.

 

Upside Down

This is from summer four years ago.  (I’ve noticed that some of my Communion messages can be dated based on what t.v. shows I mention.)  It seems to me to end abruptly.  I don’t know if four years ago I added more to the end between saving this version to the hard drive and reading it in church. I know the standard ending this kind of piece would often receive.  I’m not going to end it that way this time, as I hope I didn’t end it that way four years ago.  I think that kind of ending takes the pressure off of us when it comes to how we are called to deal with those who suffer here, now, every day. 

 

So I was talking to a guy who asked me what it was about Christianity that appeals to me.  I found it more difficult to answer this question than I thought I would.  To answer it honestly anyway.  This is what I came up with for him.

I see the world this way – the rich and powerful use their wealth and power to maintain their position at the expense of the poor and helpless.  We don’t use our advantages to help others, but rather we live at the expense of others.  And institutions that have been setup to do good, don’t.

Something inside me tells me this is wrong.  It misses the mark.  It’s the opposite of the way it should be.  It’s a world that needs to be turned upside down and given a good shake.  I think that’s the appeal of a T.V. show that MaryEllen and I enjoy.  It’s called Leverage.  It’s about a bunch of crooks that have turned their powers to helping people.  There’s the ringleader, the computer genius, the con artist, the cat burglar, and the violent guy.  The tag line is “The rich and powerful take what they want.  We steal it back for you.  Sometimes bad guys make the best good guys.”  And it’s fun to watch the weekly mark get what they have coming.  Seeing their face fall when they realize they’ve been had – it’s great.

And so given that – the story of a god – the most powerful being in the universe – who comes to the world to set it right appeals to me.  But our god doesn’t come as those of us frustrated with a corrupt and hurtful system would like him to come – like the violent guy from Leverage – making things right with his fists.  Instead he shows up as a helpless infant of questionable parentage, poor, far from home, in a cave, in a backwater province of the Roman Empire.  When this boy grows up, he wanders and preaches and spends time with the weak and helpless outcasts.  And the triumphant climax of this god’s making the world right – turning it upside down – is to get himself tortured, killed, and propped up as a symbol for all to see what happens when someone tries to mess with the way the world is.

I like the story of a god who comes to shake things up and gets shaken and broken just like us.  A god that turns the world upside down by turning upside down our very notion of what a powerful god is.  A god who shares our frustration with the state of the world, who calls for us to set it right, and who suffers with us when we suffer in out efforts.

Amen.

Isaac Hayes, Hot Buttered Soul, 1969

Isaac Hayes, Hot Buttered Soul, 1969

I realized as I was putting the songs into this post that my comments are kind of spoilers.  I’d encourage you to listen to the album first, and then if you care, come back and see what I thought about it.

I picked this up a month or so ago at a thrift store. I knew of Isaac Hayes, mostly from South Park, but I wasn’t at all familiar with his music, except I guess Shaft.  What I first notice when I put this album on my turntable was it contains a total of four tracks, two on each side.  At first listen I wasn’t sure what to make of it, and it didn’t really hook me.  On second listen, I found some things I liked.

One is Hayes’s voice.  Hayes oozes sincerity when he sings of the hurt that’s associated with love and heartbreak.  And if you’re a jaded old man who’s forgotten that a man can feel that way because of a woman, Hayes’s voice reminds you want it means to hurt like that.  The first track, “Walk on By” is a great example of this.  Hayes puts it all out there, “If you see me walking down the street and I start to cry each time we meet, walk on by, walk on by. Make believe that you don’t see the tears.  Oh just let me grieve, in private ’cause each time I see you I break down and cry.” Powerful lyrics, and he pulls it off. He sounds like he means it, like he feels it.  And he makes the listener feel it some too.

Second, the music on this album is provided by the Bar-Kays.  That means amazing fuzzy guitar, bass, drums, piano, electric organ and on and on.  This is showcased by my third point.Third, the long tracks allow for some amazing orchestral-like arrangements.  These songs are allowed time to grow and build and fade, and then come back for a big final build, to then finish with a long slow fade out.  These tracks finish with the Bar-Kays jamming ,and even after a 10-minute long track begins to fade, and I’m still not quite ready for it to be over.  The second track, “Hyperbolicsyllabicsesquedalymistic,” which starts out as a bit of a novelty song I guess, ends with Hayes stepping away from the microphone and letting the Bar-Kays just jam for minutes, which is great.

Track three, “One Woman,” would be the single from this album I suppose, mostly because it’s the only song, coming in at five minutes, that would fit on an old 45.  It’s a sad song about a man torn between his wife and his mistress.  I suppose we’re to feel for this man, torn between two women, and maybe we would have 40 years ago.  Nowadays, however, we recognize, I think, that the narrator is a jerk for treating his wife this way.  However, Hayes is able to express the sadness of the situation, so that at least for a few minutes we feel bad, even if when the music stops we want to slap him and tell him to go back to his wife and to stop seeing “the woman making him do wrong.”

The album ends with a 19-minute version of “By the Time I get to Phoenix.” Yes, that one, by Glen Campbell. The first half of that 19 minutes is Hayes telling his version of the story behind the song, of the man who gave his wife many chances to stop cheating on him before he couldn’t take it any longer and had to leave.  The story goes on a bit long.  Unlike the rest of the album, it’s not going to hold up to repeated listenings, for me at least.  The last nine minutes of that one are pretty good though.  Hayes sings the three minute song.  Then he sings his own material, improvised maybe, about the woman that drove him away, and how sad he is that he had to leave.  The last couple of minutes feature the Bar-Kays.  Once Hayes stops talking and gets on with it, its a good tune.

In researching this album on youtube, I found one review that said this was one of the greatest albums ever.  I do think it’s one that will grown on me.  Mostly.