Friday, April 30, 2010

"Last night, I laid the penguin down..." [& other words of interest]

I got up this morning, proud possessor of my first pipe, purchased to keep my membership in the Brotherhood of the Briar [see blog at right] and perhaps to expand my horizons by learning the fine art of pipe-smoking. Ralph Walker, he-who-must-not-catch-on-fire, got it for me for a steal: $10. It's a good starter pipe and is just intriguing enough visually to please my eye.

It had been a lovely evening wandering through the hotel rooms of the Pipe Expo sellers, and I was treated to a ride home by Drs. Jerry Root and Chris Mitchell, two of the big-time theologians of Wheaton College. Gentlemen both and as genuine as you can get.

It'd also been a blustery night with small twigs and branches in evidence everywhere. I told Chris how much I appreciated his reference to wind and leaves as a hint of the 'deep magic' [or intangible joy] of our world in the documentary he was a part of: The Magic Never Ends: The Life of C. S. Lewis. He noted it was Spring, not Fall but I countered 'It is much the same. The leaves, the wind...' He kindly chose not to disagree.

I got in ravenous, and promptly made myself two eggs, two slices of bacon along with some leftover broiled salmon for a high-protein late night meal. Then I went to bed, my day full and very satisfactory!

Rising this morning, I was getting my coffee when my landlady - dear Nancy - said to me, "Last night, I laid the penguin down."

I stood there for a long second, trying to fathom what this statement meant.

I had just handled some of the most exotic pipes in the world, listened to Italian sellers in their hotel room, been intrigued with the various brands of tobacco and subtleties of flavor and heard a brief discourse between two fine Biblical scholars on the wise men of Persia perhaps being led to the Christ child by way of Daniel and his prophesying under King Nebuchadnezzar.

I turned to face my dear landlady that I care for. "Excuse me?"

"Last night I laid the penguin down. I thought you might want to know."

Now I had not considered laying a penguin down as something I needed to know, but certainly I did not wish to contradict her - especially before my first cup of coffee.

"Why would I want to know that?" I asked, trying to be as inquisitively humble as possible.

"Because you might see it laying down and not know why it was there!"

Well, that had some logic. Such an event could occur - if I knew what penguin I was looking for.

"Which penguin, Nancy?" I thought I should test these waters. You must understand, dealing with a stroke victim, no matter how recovered, and a woman, and a blonde at that with more energy for action than for pondering slowly, has its upsides and downsides. You MUST NOT act patronizingly, but patiently walk through the scenario as presented. I hoped, as I always do, to reconfigure the information into a more logical structure if I could get my hands on it. If.

"The one in the garden! I thought you might see it laying down and think the wind did it!"

I looked out the kitchen window. Sure enough, one of our bird displays was laying down, not in its normal position at all. Only one problem: it was not a penguin. It was a flamingo.

"You mean the flamingo?" I asked cautiously.

"Yes - the flamingo - I couldn't remember what it was called," she said sheepishly.

That was perfectly understandable. How many times do you say flamingo a day on average? I bet almost never. Especially in Chicagoland.

"So last night," I said slowly, "you laid the flamingo down."


"Because of the wind."


I sipped my coffee judiciously, weighing this new information. "That was good," I opined.

The overt seriousness I gave this penguin nee flamingo shown in my face and the cautious way in which I kept approaching it finally got to her.

She started to giggle. Since I had just placed her breakfast in front of her, this was a bad idea.

As she took a bite, I said "So - last night you laid the penguin down."

She stopped mid-bite, a grin going from ear to ear. "Stop! I'll mess up my makeup!"

I sipped my coffee. "I didn't know you laid so many penguins down while I was gone..."


I had mercy. I stopped.

But an hour later as I dropped her off at work, as per normal routine, I couldn't help but sing...

"Layyyy down Pen-guin - let me take you in my arms..." [sung to the tune of 'Lay Down Sally', of course]

Nancy grinned again as entered the back door to the building.

It is a beautiful day again today in Wheaton, in Chicagoland.

God is good to us all. Keep your humor and keep the faith.


Friday, April 23, 2010

Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths [what villain would you be?]

A few days ago I viewed one of the most well-written, thrilling animated features DC Animation has ever put out: Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths. The story is simple: there are many universes parallel to our own. In one of them, there is an evil counterpart to our Justice League called "The Crime Syndicate" and they are about to take over their world, unless our Justice League stops them. This idea of a parallel universe has been in print for nearly 40 years, but no movie has been made about it - until now].

Deathstroke the Terminator as PRESIDENT?! My vote in 2012!! ;)Written by the accomplished Dwayne McDuffie, it has several levels of goodness, including the hidden geek joys that no casual viewer would pick up on: such as the President of the United States in the alternate Earth [Earth-2] being Slade Wilson. In our universe, he's a mercenary assassin named Deathstroke the Terminator. Nice to see somewhere he's good!

All our heroes have evil counterparts in this alternate Earth. All the villains have good counterparts. In fact, we start off with Lex Luthor and the Jester [our Joker, now good] working together to steal a necessary device from two Crime Syndicate bosses - unfortunately, they are found out and, thanks to a very heroic action by the Jester, Lex succeeds in escaping to OUR universe, to get help from our Justice League.

I won't tell you more, but there are a few clips on YouTube so you can see the high production quality [opening credits ROCK!] The fights are very well choreographed and the minor 'unnecessary touches' in dialogue and subplots are welcome. [The reader must keep in mind animation per frame is expensive - you pare to the minimum to keep costs down. Unlike live action films, you do NOT improvise shots hoping to strike gold. The 'fatness' of the dialogue and camera shots in this film are as rare as hen's teeth. Several scenes could have been cut, but were not for purely dramatic effect. I salute these men for their generosity. The gamble is worth it, methinks.]

Now its time for me to spiritualize this [as one reader might say], and I say -

No need.

You were born. You make choices of faith - who you will trust and support. Reason plays a big part of it, but often we step froward in faith-based covenants - marriages, friendships, religion, social groups, etc.

If you have a heart of love and wisdom, you will seek out those who are the same as you. If not, you will seek out those others whom you share your philosophy with. "People matter..." versus "People are cancer..." versus "People matter but are riddled with cancer of the soul..." or any worldview in-between.

There is one disturbing element in the film, found in Owlman's philosophy. His character is voiced by James Woods and its a home run, IMHO. But his philosophy is nihilism - nothing matters because you are not able to control anything. In this worldview and explained in the film, EVERY choice we make creates a NEW universe. And so there is a domino effect of infinite universes. That means that your universe is nothing but an infinitesmal speck in all the rest.

Now I don't think this is at all close to accurate, but his hubris, his pride is to force the issue. To make a choice which WILL have an impact on ALL the universes.

He seeks to find the Earth all others are based upon - "Earth-Prime". If he can wipe it out, he can wipe ALL the rest of the universes out. So he can be "making a choice - a REAL choice" that affects all reality.

Now, that's the villain's logic. It is flawed, because what he really wants is not a choice, but ultimate CONTROL. He doesn't want to give birth to another universe by doing something different, he just wants to make THE FINAL decision as to what happens - to everything, EVERYWHERE.

I think we understand that desire, twisted as it is. If we were God, we'd not let this or that happen. We want to change the world or make sure what we do matters. There might be other universes, I do not know. We do know from the Bible that one day ours will end and there will be "a new heavens and a new Earth." Until then, this is the only one we live and move and breathe in.

When we are selfish and care not for the lives of others, we are saying the same thing all who are wicked say: the universe must pay attention to ME. My needs must be met, or I will [fill-in-the-blank].

If you were a superhero, what would you do to change your world?

If you were a supervillain, what would you do to control your world?

What is amazing is how close the parallels are. How charming the villains can be. [They smile a lot more than our heroes...]

And how easily we understand the desire to run the world - or ruin it - if we don't get our way.

Think I speak too broadly? Consider your world.

Your 'world' may simply be your home or your place at work. It may be a place on a forum or membership in a community.

You have more effect than you think. Be careful what buttons you push, what actions you commit, what words you say.

It may very well change your entire world -for eternity.

God made a universe by His word. Let us create and not destroy with our words as well.


Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Let's Face It: Christianity is Hard

A few posts back I was pleased to announce the return of Jennifer Knapp to recording music. Love what she has sung about Christ.

I didn't mention it at the time, but I wrote to her once before. 10 years earlier, I asked her online in a chatroom interview "What do you read to feed yourself spiritually?" Her answer IIRC, was "a a variety of things." Another asked who was her spiritual mentor - sort of an accountability partner. Jenn replied she had none. In fact, she shied away from such preferring doing things her own way.

I thought that a bit dangerous. I know my own proclivities and if I do not have a solid schedule and at the very least a few buds concerned about how I follow Christ, I would probably quit. Like all humans, I tend to default to my lowest setting when no one is watching me. Please note: not micro-managing me - UGH! but watching me - encouraging me and putting God's standard in front of my rebellious carnal face.

"This is the way - walk in it." says God. Problem is He's often very gentle about it.

Easy to ignore if you want.

Now, here we go: Jennifer Knapp has come out.

She's a lesbian, and it is by her choice. She has a girlfriend. She is certain of the backlash this will cause and I agree that will happen.

"After 10 years of celibacy you have 'LOSER" written on your back," she quipped in the interview.

I know, Jenn. I know.

The world does not commend such faithfulness. God does.

What is it that G. K. Chesterton said?

Christianity has not been tried and found wanting;
it has been found difficult and not tried.

Whatever commands our obedience is our Lord, folks. If you cannot say no to something or someone or some offer - then that object of desire becomes your God.

When Abraham went up to offer Isaac, his heir, his only begotten son, as a sacrifice to God, he was not saying "This child means nothing to me." Oh no - I believe he trembled inside and out. He was saying "God, the very God who GAVE me this child - is FAR more important than my own desires!"

That was the test. It is still the test today.

I do not despise Jenn for going this way. The earmarks were there. It was just a matter of time [rumors had been flying from early days].

But I notice again and again how many say as they walk the Christian faith: "This is just too insane - I CANNOT be expected to be humiliated like this - and to be so alone and isolated!"

Brothers and sisters in Christ, that is PRECISELY what you have to do. You are being made into a saint - like Paul, like John the baptist, or OT prophets like Jonah or Jeremiah. Notice the non-conformist pattern?

We still love you, Jenn. How could we not? She touched our hearts. She's precious!

But this lifestyle is not the way to eternity.

"Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it."

Once again, a promising saint has gone off-road.

Pray for their safety until they return.

And chose this day Whom you will serve.


Monday, April 12, 2010

I'm Sick and I'm MEAN!

Thank you Spring for EVERYTHING blooming.

So I have to take severe meds. These are effective in giving me a near split-personality. That means "You hurt the ones you love..."

Stay away until I am better. I mean it. If you know where I live, drop off food and/or money and run for your life.

May you avoid the curse of the pollen-laden air.


Tuesday, April 6, 2010

April Fool's Humor on Responsibility

Late, yeah, but still funny.

I love doing these DIY De-Motivational Posters, and with this great image of Batman and Robin, I had to share. [The penciller may have been the accomplished Ross Andru or the way-overlooked Jose Garcia-Lopez, but I'm pretty sure the recently-passed Dick Giordano inked it, either way.]

Responsibility: No matter how cute you may look in tights, you can't drive the Batmobile if you lose the keys.

Cuteness =/= Trustworthy is all I'm sayin'.

Be good and hang onto your keys, willya?


Thursday, April 1, 2010

Maundy Thursday and those April Fools

One-quarter to one-third of the Gospels deal specifically with this week: the final showdown between Jesus, son of God, and the Pharisees, the political & religious leaders of his time. It is a powerful time and literally changed the history of Western Civilization. The modern trivialization of Christian belief in our culture notwithstanding, Christ's death and resurrection is either of mind-numbing experiential value or means not one whit at all.

You see, if Jesus was just a good man, a good teacher, which you often hear, but not the very son of God, then He's just another loser in a line of moral teachers who say some really good things and then die. He has a man's reach through history.

But if He is truly God's Son and was sinless, death could not hold Him. He is Alive at this very moment, able to talk to you, reveal Himself to you, etc. He can save others, since death could not stop Him.

The question is not whether or not Jesus was a victim of the times: He most assuredly was not.

He predicted His death, and how it would happen on several occasions; He flatly told His disciples to their faces: "I'm going to go into Jerusalem, and be handed over to the Chief Priests. They will mock Me and spit on Me. They will even have me flogged and crucified. On the third day, I will be raised to life!"

Here's the kicker, oh cynical ones. His disciples didn't believe that would happen to Him. He was too awesome, too popular, too well-protected - they'd make sure no one would hurt their Leader!

You know the story. Everything happened just as Jesus said it would.

But that didn't convince me. Do you know what's ultimately convinced me of the reality of His resurrection? Not all the physical weirdness reported, not prophecies saying this and that.

No, what convinces me is how NATURAL and 'C'est la vie' Jesus is about the whole affair AFTER it has happened. In other words, Jesus acts like a man finished with a hard job who just wants to sit down with his neighbors. He calls to them, eats with them. He doesn't beat them with His new authority, with this great miracle but rather uses it to reach their hearts. He loves THEM and He's paid the ulitimate price for THEM.

He just wants them to love him back. Period. We're the fools for not seeing it this way.

I imagine Jesus smiling really big. I imagine Him shaking His head at the slowness of the disciples. I imagine Him eating the honeycomb and fish and wiping his beard clean like He's done a hundred times in front of them.

I imagine their shock and awe and love all mingled together. I imagine Jesus' eyes dancing with humor at this great big "April Fool!" being worked out in front of them.

Thus we too are called fools for serving Christ, for believing He is risen from the dead.

Yet the real fool is one who will not accept God's wisdom, but only accepts the world's - the stuff you read written by men who think they are wise, but ignore God altogether, looking only at the world, not what is above it.

I Corinthians 1:21-25
21 For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe.
22 Jews demand miraculous signs and Greeks look for wisdom,
23 but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles,
24 but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.
25 For the foolishness of God is wiser than man's wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than man's strength.

Christians are easily ridiculed. I know. I used to do it, though counting myself as one, I thought the 'holy rollers' who talked about Jesus all the time were fanatics.

Then I was betrayed, by the world I was serving. One sabotage at a time. I began to note that what was promoted in media would get you arrested in real life and with that simple disconnect, I realized I was listening to fools, watching fools, and letting my life be affected by - you guessed it - fools.

To really get a good grip on how shallow our worldly wisdom truly is, read "Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business" by Neil Postman.

Thank God that God knew how foolish we were.

There is a reason we are called sheep and it is NOT because we are soft and fluffy and cute in God's sight.

Sheep are some of the dumbest, most defenseless, most clueless creatures on Earth.

When Jesus says, after His resurrection: "Peter do you love Me?" and follows the affirmative from Peter with "Feed My sheep", He's NOT 're-instating' Peter - he's affirming him by giving him a necessary job to do. Jesus, since He has accomplished all that was necessary for our salvation, merely wants Peter to take care of the dumb followers - the sheep, the fools - who will trust Him to save them.

So Peter feeds them the good words of God, has to be patient with them and even take a few hits from Paul [cf. Galatians 2] for acting one way and then another, but in the end (decades later) dies heroically for Christ's sake.

Jesus knew it'd take Peter years to grow up enough spiritually to do that. It was difficult for HIM to allow Himself to be crucified! How much more for an ordinary man!!

So even if you have been a fool (like all humans), made foolish promises to God (like Peter did) or just count yourself as unable to live wisely, you too can come to Christ.

He was the Greatest Fool of All, so He definitely knows how to love on the rest of us.

Including you.