Saturday, June 23, 2007


This review of Evan Almighty is hella good. The author, David Plotz says a lot of things in an indirect way that I really appreciate and wish would be said aloud. I hope that the author will not take exception to me quoting one section at length:

You might argue that making a comedy about Noah's ark—one of the Bible's
grimmest stories—is a bit like making a sex farce about the Rwandan genocide.
But the problem is not the comic aspiration. VeggieTales is proof that Bible comedy based on unpleasant
stories is possible. No, what's disturbing about Evan Almighty is its flaccid
approach to faith. All that is compelling, moving, and profound about the Noah
story has been systematically excised. In the Bible, God chooses Noah to survive
because Noah is a righteous man. But Evan is faithless and stupid, and comes to
believe in God only because God hammers him over the head with about 137
miracles. Any moron will believe when an omnipotent divine being appears in the
back seat of his car and starts sending him pairs of lions and giraffes. The
lesson of the Bible is that faith is hard, and unrewarding, and painful. Faith
is belief when there are no giraffes.

Shadyac told one early screening of religious leaders that he wants to
use the film "to spread the idea of the good news." But Evan Almighty also
strips away anything Christian (or Jewish) about the story and replaces it with
a message of universal hokum. God's entire instruction to his flock? Practice
"acts of random kindness." (Look at the initial letters of that phrase.) That's
not religion or even morality. It's a coffee mug slogan. The proof of Evan's
redemption is that he starts to like dogs.

I never thought I'd hear myself say this, but Evan Almighty makes me
miss The Passion. It was a sadistic, horrifying movie, about a bloody and
terrifying book. But Mel Gibson captured the sense of the story, the ideas of
suffering and sacrifice that undergird Christianity. Evan Almighty is evidence
that Hollywood wants the trappings of faith in movies, but without the

Friday, June 22, 2007

A dying friend

I got a call from the Pastoral Care office at the hospital where I did my training hours: Bryan, a friend of mine from JHS/HS, is dying from a stroke to the brain and a smashed skull (injury from falling during stroke). Absolutely random genetic malfunction.

For me last afternoon was taken up primarily by spending time with his family in the ICU waiting room. He was classified as "bear in a cage", which is what the hospital calls patients with circulatory or sedation issues who can't have visitors due to the fact that any shift in emotional state can cause increased blood flow that might interfere with treatment. But little matter, prayers work just as well outside of the glass.

Bryan's a very interesting character, and our relationship the past decade has been equally interesting. Although we never lost touch, it's no secret that beginning in mid-HS we took different paths. Yet, there is a convergence of roads, in a sense. When we visited last December there was none of the cocky egocentric boy that I had slowly parted company with for my own health. No, he was a real man, and had very different priorities. He'd basically rearranged his life around raising his daughter, holding down a steady job, and becoming serious about God.

Strangely, I felt that my lack of consistent contact never registered to him as something malicious or cowardly. He still treated me as a close friend, however distant, and in some respects closer than the thug pack he'd often chosen for his young adult peer group. I felt that he always knew deep down that it was those of us who knew him before a series of scarring decisions, that understood what he was all about; who he yearned to be. I must admit to being somewhat flattered that the family told pastoral care to contact me "if at all possible". Of all people I didn't deserve the request, nor did I deserve the priest-without-a-collar role that the family assigned to me.

Luckily (as I've mentioned previously) I could be of some use since death and suicides were always pastoral strong points for me. People in these situations are without fakeness. They're beyond the trivialities that govern most of our lives. They're given over either to emotiveness or silence, but in all cases seriousness; grappling with what lies beyond; understanding finally the frailty of the human condition. Never more so than in the death of a young person. But with Bryan i'll add one thing - he lived that way too. Especially in his last couple of years, the artificiality had worn off. He was sincere, devoted, and forward. I believe that these are all qualities that stem from knowledge of ourselves as living dead men, as Christ understood. We must all be in the tomb eventually. Can't fake it then. Why fake it now?

Of course as I write this, Bryan would probably be the first to tell me "INDY". It's a phrase we used when playing war games against each other way back in the day. It means "I'm not dead yet." Normally it was a way to tell the winner of a large battle that the war was not yet over, in spite of their (mandatory adolescent) bragging. But the doctors say less than 1%, and even if life is bestowed, likelyhood of serious damage is almost 100%. Miracles can and do happen. We've all got that story of the 1%'er who made it. But, miracles aside, everyone seems to be of the impression that it's all over but the shouting.

So now I begin to reflect on his life. Three things strike me about our friendship. I apologize for any repetativeness:

First, I will always count as friends those who, however distant they have become, were my companions when it wasn't the cool thing to do. Truth is, i'm usually a pretty well-liked guy these days, but it wasn't always so. There was a time when I was basically the chubby little introspective nerd. There was nothing to be gained by being my friend except me. I only had my companionship and friendly and imaginative (some would say delusional), if not socially awkward personality to offer in return. He took that deal.

Secondly, we spent a lot of time playing games, especially role-playing. This may seem trivial, but I would disagree with anyone who ventured that opinion. It was a central part of who we were as a group. We valued people, time with each other, and the creativity of other people more than girlfriends and beer parties. It was a way to get away from what we collectively viewed as the petty boredom that most mid-teenagers suffered through their obsession with irrelevant things things. Role-playing represented our youthful longing for something beyond the five senses. It's not accident that we have all five become religious people, two of us professionally. It was our way to deny what society valued and to express our difference not in self-effacing rebellion, but in a positive expression of the heroic life we longed to live.

Plus, role-playing became for my friend an icon of what he was and wished to return to; the path he retrospectively wished he'd taken. I still remember last December, his health already waning, the one thing he still wished was to role-play with "the old crew". It was his way to reach out and tell me that those were the days when he was proud of who he was, and of the company he kept. "I'm always down. Man I miss those days so much. Anytime if I'm not working just call me up." Eleven years after he last busted out the dice to play with us, he told me that he still possessed several of his character sheets, just in case.

Lastly, although he is expiring so young, he accomplished something that few in our society ever will: He became a real man. By this I mean firstly that he became a true child of God. It's when Christ was on the cross, crucified for our sins that Pilate told those around him: "Behold the Man." Not "a" man, but The Man. Bryan accomplished what I also want to say of myself one day - he stood at the foot of the cross and saw himself truly. Unabashed recognition of his own sinfulness, fully aware of his numerous self-inflicted wounds, never blaming anyone for leaving him, or for the burdens he was having to bear for others (and there were plenty). His concern was especially high for his younger siblings. His main wish was that they would be anything but him. On his myspace page, under his "Heroes" it reads: Jesus, our lord and savior.

Whatever his numerous shortcomings, he is passing away as a true friend, a totally devoted father, a surrogate provider for the family, a hard worker, and a child of God.

Wish he were with us now. Wes and I were looking for another player. It's just not the same role-playing with two. Ah well.

Keep the dice close amigo. We've got plenty of character sheets. The old crew will all be there soon enough, without the world to part us, without time to end the sleepover. There will again be wizards, warlocks, and starships. Forgive us when we forget you as we go about our lives. And until we're all together again: "Behold, The Man."

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Team Fulmer ownz the court

Today at the fitness center my 14-year old sisters and I took on all comers in b-ball. We came away 9-0. Team Fulmer ownz! So much fun to whip some cocky fools with family. I wonder if those high school boys will ever live down the shame of being beaten by younger girls and their old fart brother?

Overqualified, Undercertified

One thing that has resulted from my job hunting this summer has been a frustration at the endless need for certification. No matter what job you apply for, it isn't enough to have 4 PhD's and an MD, nono, you need to also have attained, at some point, a three to five letter acronym that people outside of the field don't realize exists. And of course these are all on limited time budgets and require some kind of prospective investment. I believe that those who find themselves in my predicament should have their own acronym on the ready just in case. Besides my name, I think I will start putting OQUC (Over Qualified, Under Certified). It means that I'm certifiably intelligent via my educational achievements and in-person charisma, but that I probably do not have that one niche qulification that a causes any given employer to overlook all sins.

It wouldn't be quite so nerve racking except that qualification and certification do not parallel one another. What's more funny is that they're not expected to. Employers don't actually think that the certification does anything - and they tell you as much! No, everyone understands that it's a hoop to jump through, and that any positive value of the certification could be gleaned from less than a month of work experience.

The whole phenomenon has to do with the proliferation of degrees and specialties. Academics provides the perfect example: Three generations ago a Master's degree was required to teach at an institution of higher learning - hence the title. Then, to be competative, you really needed a supplemental degree. Now, three generations later, it has snowballed into 1-2 Master's, a PhD, at least four published articles plus one (usually dull) book, and of course post-doc experience. I dread the thought of what university instruction will demand of its intellectual slaves in another three decades.

Why does our entire society have to be one prolonged credential pissing contest? What happened to the notion that once you were qualified to do a job as-stated, and once you proved that you could, in fact, do it, then it was the employer's responsibility as an intelligent recruiter to hire the best? People will now turn down far better candidates for ones with the proper "certification". Annoying.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Diamonds are evil

Yes I said it, diamonds are evil! Do not get your spouse-to-be a wedding ring.

This short rant has been brought on by three major things:

1. Diamonds are a dirty, dirty business. If you don't know this, read books. We, especially we Christians, should think long and hard before supporting such an industry.

2. I detest the expensive and meaningless pomp that goes into most weddings. I detest it more in communities where it's 10x bigger. We've replaced marriage with weddings. barf.

3. This article on Slate today. The author is clearly arguing from a feminist standpoint, and as such glosses over many key points (including my #1). She also assumes the semi-Marxist position that rings are just one part of "retrograde fantasies about gender roles." I obviously take issue with that rationale. Also, I find it funny that she refers with disgust to a social movement wherein rings replaced old contractual severance laws with regard to engaged persons, since people used to "need" virginity for marriage, but often slept together while engaged. Thus, bemoans the author:

Implicitly, it would seem, a woman's virginity was worth the price of a ring,
and varied according to the status of her groom-to-be.

Although I sympathize with her point, and in my own worldview a woman's extra-marital virginity is priceless (a notion that the author would doubtless disagree with me on), I can say with confidence that most women I know lost their virginity for far less than $3,200, be that direct prostitution, or just the total price for general girlfriend upkeep during their virginity-losing relationship. After all, the average age of first sexual experience in the US is 16.3... how much money do you think the boy has at 16.3?

Nevertheless, the author gives an excellent overview of how recent the tradition really is, how it developed socially, and why we might want to take a second look at it. As a bonus she gives a more cost-efficient and humane-sensitive way for people who really want to say "forever" to express themselves in today's world: tatoos!

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

SHOCKER!: Teens unrealistic about money

What a superb article on MSN this morning. It also references five or six other msn articles that I have enjoyed as of late. The tie that binds is our fantasies and realities governing money. In this one, the particular issue at hand is teen expectations of money.

I constantly ask myself where these money grubbers come from? I mean sure, we all want to make a living. I'm far too bourgeois to pretend that I do not share this desire. But on the other hand, i'm also the product of an educational system that has reinforced to me time and again, in both religious and secular spheres, that money does not lead to happiness. And this isn't just pious drivel. Research bears out the basic truth, at least up to a point. To quote from the article:

Our whole society, and our economy, is built on the idea that "money will
make you happy," said attorney Jon Gallo, co-author with his wife, Eileen Gallo,
of the book "The
Financially Intelligent Parent
." "It's part of our cultural ethos. . . .
These teenagers are just epitomizing that."
In reality, money doesn't add
much to people's happiness once they're raised above the subsistence or poverty

"Money does make a huge difference when you're talking about going from
$8,000 a year to $30,000," said Gallo, citing the research of Harvard psychology
professor Daniel Gilbert, who wrote "Stumbling
on Happiness
." "Between $50,000 and $500,000, though, the difference is
scarcely measurable."

Many of the things that do make us happy, such as a sense of purpose
and strong relationships with family and friends, don't necessarily add much to
our nation's gross domestic product. In fact, Gallo joked that our economy
"would grind to a halt" if people gave up the idea that happiness lies in more
money and more stuff.

Basically most of us know this - in theory. Most others in our society are products of the same educational process I am, so what's the disconnect?

I think it's that in practice money is linked to other tangible good that we often want, namely power, prestige, and sex. I would venture to say that once these passions are controlled, the truism that money doesn't buy happiness becomes more meaningful to the individual.

Perhaps also we should take to heart what the good researcher says - we will grind to an economic halt without greed. And maybe this is exactly what needs to happen. The more and more we laud the idea that happiness results from stuff accumulation, the more and more we have to seize resources to sustain the idea. Many changes that we could make to maximize our lilfestyle effeciency would barely be noticeable if they were collective efforts. We could easily switch all motor traffick to hybrids. We could easily have plans to maximize the heating and cooling efficiencies of old units. We could easily set up an organic crop system that would allow for fewer but fresher and slightly more expensive food goods. The water pressure of casual focets alone is a big waste. And yes, we could switch to one-income households! Don't believe me? Check out the post on the economic value of the average mother.

Why must secular Europeans be the only ones that make these practical switches?

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Uh oh... I like an Indie film...

okok, I just accidentally saw an indie film that I really enjoyed.

Now sure, we all like that occasional "thinking" movie, some of us more than others. But this wasn't just a thinking movie. No, this was indie like Cartman talks about - black and white flicks about gay cowboys sitting around and eating pudding.

The particular cowboy flick in question was a tale of lesbian boarding school girls and the ties and dissolutions of eroticism and friendship.

I know, it sounds lame.

But the story is a very humanizing one. That's what I dug. Aside from the gay community porpaganda that may or may not have underwritten its making, it stands alone as a beautiful story of characters that are in contact with a different, and at varying times more and less sane view into life and the human condition. Although I disagree with their particular expression of that dimension, I still appreciate a movie that goes there.

Unforutnately, the gay content of the movie inevitably pegs it. On IMDB the topics listed are all sex and rebellion, which does the movie a grave disservice.

All that said, it's not the kind you watch with a lot of people. Even one blithering idiot trying to be funny at the films' expense would destroy the power of it. Nono, watch this one alone in your home.

In fact, I think the movie might not translate outside of me, because it was my personal take on the film that made it interesting to me, although I'm guessing that mine was a solitary exegesis. The way I read it, the film revolved around the duality of main characters: there were two that seemed to live their lives as a reflection of deeper metaphors and one that, while perhaps just as "good", and possibly a deal more sane, didn't. Her motivations were straight forward. The crux of the story, in my reading, is whether or not to pay the price for passion. At what point do you pull back? Do you ever pull back? What if it destroys you and you cannot achieve victory?

Monday, June 11, 2007

Kirk Cameron online ministries

Kirk Cameron, former boy star on "Who's the Boss", is now a successful online preacher on behalf of the hardline evangelical movement. He's an interesting case study in terms of why people convert, how they can balance the transition between lives, the price to be paid for that conversion, and also how one can maintain a degree of the old person without being that old person any longer. It's heartwarming in terms of his transition towards a life of guidance, God, and personal priorities. At the same time, I retain my typical reticence regarding the content and implications of the party-line evangelical message including how it picks fights with intellectual fields of study (namely evolution) and its emphasis on a physically dualistic afterlife brought on by a hopelessly literalized Rapture. Take a look here