Archive for the ‘Culture’ Category

A Little Just for Fun

Though their humor is weird, I guess I like anything that shows that we are all fools (cf. King Lear). Anything from Seinfeld to Much Ado About Nothing to The Office–and I mean anything that smartly pokes fun at the human condition and shows that we take ourselves too seriously, I enjoy. See below.


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So I’ve done combatives in the Army and am not terrible meaning that I’m not just ate up right away though I have a very basic understanding. When it comes to martial arts though, I haven’t the foggiest. I’m kind of guessing that I would be in the blue in this video.

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The Love of the Country

With great-grandparents who came from Italy and understood the value of education, let me write a phrase I used in a speech the other night (I know I should credit someone somewhere!): Education is the greatest means of upward mobility in a free and democratic society. And there is no freer and more democratic society than the United States of America. Having been to a U.S. Naturalization ceremony, this is a moving tribute…

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Bella’s Five Fun Quotes

So tonight I carried my seven-year-old daughter atop my shoulders (wow, I’m sore!) She talked incessantly so that my ears were ringing though I love to hear her thoughts. Here were five of her top one-liners tonight and during the last week:

1) Remember in Karate Kid where the Dojo master said, “Do we show any mercy in this dojo?” And then the response was, “No, Sensei!” ?

2) Do you think my muscles are growing? Because I don’t want another one because they’re sore!

3) I want special powers so I can turn Daddy into a baby.

4) Santa’s not real because last time, I asked for a Barbie and he must have got stuck in the chimney and then melted.

5) If I break my right arm and you drop me, I can’t do my homework. If I break my eyes, then I’ll be blind and everyone will have to tell me the math problems at school.

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The trick in this business is not to be right too early. A week ago I released my new book — the usual doom’n’gloom stuff — and, just as the sensible prudent moderate chaps were about to dismiss it as hysterical and alarmist, Standard & Poor’s went and downgraded the United States from its AAA rating for the first time in history. Obligingly enough they downgraded it to AA+, which happens to be the initials of my book: After America. Okay, there’s not a lot of “+” in that, but you can’t have everything. Read on…

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What Dreams May Come

When I was four, five, six years old, I used to have night terrors, not nightmares per se for that would take actually sleeping. I was more fearful along the lines of fearing fear itself because I was terrified of what dreams may come. Stranglers and dark monsters filled my mind. I had thumbed through a Jack the Ripper book and even when the thirty or sixty second commercials gave snapshot previews of horror movies (Jason and Freddy Krueger were in), the three of four seconds I saw before I closed my eyes were enough to set my imagination racing.

Mom had me visit the United Methodist minister, Reverend Churchman (yes, that was his real name). He told me essentially to knock it off and gave kind of a dismissive laugh. When I told him that I was frightened of everything and that if I had a bat in my room, I imagined someone coming in and making me the ball, he clucked and patted me on the shoulder with the “Quite an imagination you have there, Johnny” and I was shown the door of his office. Years later, I would read of Shakespeare’s understanding of the beauty of imagination in the poet’s mind as well as the awful transfiguring that our imagination can make of reality. This from A Midsummer Night’s Dream:

Such tricks hath strong imagination,
That if it would but apprehend some joy,
It comprehends some bringer of that joy.
Or in the night, imagining some fear,
How easy is a bush supposed a bear!

The only remedy for my illness? Sleeping in the same proximity as someone else. Illogical as it may have been, my older brother or younger sister in the room was usually reassurance enough. My logic was that as long as someone was with me, I could confirm if the tapping was my own heartbeat verses a reality. Plus, at least I wouldn’t die alone. And man, did anything and everything scare me. While brave kids were watching Freddy Krueger slash some teenage romantic couple’s jugulars, I was under the blankets at the Wicked Witch threatening Dorothy. While Jason held up a butcher knife to some unsuspecting jogger, I was terrified by the tale of Large Marge in Pee Wee’s Big Adventure.

Why is it that we are so readily given to fear and loathing of being trapped in the nightmare we cannot escape? Simply this: it is a fallen world where death is a reality even children comprehend. C.S. Lewis in his Preface to Paradise Lost essentially says that it is a far easier to create and imagine Satan as hero for let your mind go into the realm of what could be and we can proliferate fearful evils. Listing a hundred ways of inflicting pain is easy. But imagine perfect goodness and you will have a harder time for indeed it is not natural in our unnatural state. Listing a hundred ways of being benevolent isn’t quite as ready a list for in the former we have experiential reference points inside ourselves (the natural man) while in the latter, we need to look to something outside of our natural selves to be informed (God become man).

Well, Houston, tonight we have a problem. I have a seven and five year old who have inherited their father’s illness. Imagine you and Dad fishing. No, five monsters just came out of the water and grabbed the pole. Imagine sitting at Jesus’ feet, seeing Him face to face. This isn’t working through breathless, fitful tears. I can see a skeleton with red eyes. Sigh. It’s not real, son. (And the guilty thing is that sometimes I laugh.) For example, Dad, but you get to sleep with Mom! How come you guys always make a plan to sleep together so you’re not scared? Not mentioning that his existence was predicated on the fact that we don’t sleep separately, I just say, “That’s what parents do.”

We use the nightlight. I pretend that some parents could lock their kids in darkened rooms, but I’m so benevolent as to leave the hallway lights on, night light, and give  a toy bear. It’s my attempt at relativism. It’s still not working, Dad! We pray. We do wrestle. I take very seriously the internal, real, dynamic struggle that is going on in my kids’ hearts. Part of me knows that I need to be the resolute, tough-jawed Henry V, Edwin Stanton, Harry Truman, eat your peas military dad and stay firm. Part of me hurts inside wanting to be the understanding, commiserating Falstaff, drinking buddy, ah-fooey-they’ll-grow-out-of-it, let’s eat chocolate cake in your bed, Dad is great dad.

It’s now 10:38 p.m., and I still hear voices upstairs as my wife tries to talk them to sleep. My prayer is that I wouldn’t be Reverend Churchman or the missionary from the West who ill-advisedly tells the “pagan” villagers that the spirits that they have evidence of are not real. You might as well tell them (or have told me as a child) that I was a platypus. The reality? The fears (and spirits) are real, but they have no power over you. I pray that my kids would be able to stand firm in peace in their trouble, ready to prepare a table in the presence of their enemies. How could they do so? By trusting, and I mean second-by-second through the heart palpitations of the rustling curtain and darkness, in one who can truly say, “Take heart. I have overcome the world.” Be gracious to me, Lord, and hear my prayer.




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Make it 147

When I was in training in order to be an intelligence analyst, I made a list of 145 films that are “must sees” in addition to 145 works of literature that are “must reads.” Add two more to the film list…

I think it’s safe to have a maxim that for every good film, there are at least twenty bad ones that are produced. In fact, I find it rare that I’m remotely interested in seeing anything today. Cowboys vs. Aliens, really? I thought I got over He-Man, Smurfs, and a crush on the skating star Katarina Witt when I was in third grade (Yes, I’ll admit that in third grade I used to pretend that I was on a cosmic basketball court with the world watching and if I made the three-pointer, the German figure skater and I would be married as I disappointingly doinked another one off the rim).

Two films of late have caught my heart. The Coen brothers’ True Grit blends the tragicomic adventure of a young girl avenging her father’s death. The subtleties, tongue-in-cheek narration, and moxie of the characters against a backdrop of rogues, ruffians, and outlaws is enough to make you think you’ve fallen into a Flannery O’Connor meets bluegrass meets the harsh world of death vignette under the starlit western sky. The scene at the end with Rooster Cogburn (Jeff Bridges) holding Mattie Ross (played wonderfully by Hailee Steinfeld) under the starlit skies sketches indelibly on the mind with its gorgeous cinematography. The diction of the characters seems elevated with an almost sermonizing formalism, which adds layers to this old spinner’s tale.

The other film is Of Gods and Men. Under threat by fundamentalist terrorists, a group of Trappist monks stationed with an impoverished Algerian community must decide whether to leave or stay. The whispered prayers, human struggles, and singing of these monks is so richly poetic that I find myself wanting to get my hands upon the screenplay to just read and savor it. Definitely worth the watch.

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