Saturday, December 24, 2011

Merry Christmas, Hobbits!

"In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit. Not a nasty, dirty, wet hole, filled with the ends of worms and an oozy smell, nor yet a dry, bare, sandy hole with nothing in it to sit down on or to eat: it was a hobbit-hole, and that means comfort."

- J. R. R. Tolkien, The Hobbit

Merry Christmas from a man in his very own hobbit-hole in Wheaton.

I might as well finally admit it to myself - I have a wonderfully full, cozily cluttered warm hobbit hole, thanks to a lady who loves good food and gardening.


She be a hobbit, she is.

And living here is good, especially on quiet nights after a busy day of cooking, singing, worship, yard work, present wrapping, clothes washing and cleaning.

AFTER we ate breakfast this morning in downtown Wheaton where I ate TWO stacks of deee-lectable blueberry pancakes. I really did - I liked the short stack served with my meal so much I ordered another side of blueberry pancakes!

I helped vacuum and clean mirrors and watched the ending of 'It's a Wonderful Life'... crud, I AM A HOBBIT!

Not that that is a bad thing, but it is far too domestic for a saint... or is it?

I suspect I will have to go on an adventure [re: mission trip] soon to keep my heart right and not TOO comfy - but for now, it is a loving bit of grace.

You know what is even more hobbit-like?

We intend to have five guests for dinner tomorrow. Heh. I hope they won't be too offended if i refer to them as 'dwarves'. ;)

Well, I guess I better get to bed.

Santa's coming!

And for those of us who love hobbits, here's the newest trailer - the two-part film is due to hit the cinemas next December with part one: The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey.



Tuesday, December 20, 2011

The Economy Is Down But The Dark Knight Rises

"I have never seen the righteous begging for bread."

That's from the psalms, and effectively, the author is confirming "what you sow, you reap" principle Jesus stated - and that upright men and women get their needs met by God and His people all the time.

We like to think otherwise, because we are full of pride and self-justification. If we are poor, it someone else's fault. That is almost true - the fact is we just put our trust in the wrong place, not God. When we trust God and keep working, we win.

But I had to LEARN that myself. It's taken a while.

I am SO lazy, so easily made comfy in the least settings, I see it faster in myself than anyone else. My out-go exceeds my in-come all the time. It is stupid and I need to repent of it. Frankly, I am filthy rich with goods and food - I am only CASH poor.

It was when I came to Christ, in a very wealthy church, that I finally grokked that just because so-and-so has more money than me, it is not HIS fault for not paying my bills.

I am just a bad manager of money. Period. To make it, invest it, sacrifice and not waste it, takes a lot of self-discipline I just do not have. But when I trusted God, I began working hard for Him and trusting Him to provide as I obeyed and in 10 years, I paid off a $30K debt. These days, I have a credit card with a couple grand of debt on it and frankly, if I sold everything I owned, I'd be flush.

So, clearly, I am no Bruce Wayne.

[Girls interested in matrimony - RUN! Yes, both of you! ;)]

The reason I am saying this is because the Nolan boys are tapping on this "the rich SHOULD be victims" nerve we all feel in bad economic times in the latest trailer for The Dark Knight Rises.

Anyway, watch the trailer and you will see what I mean:

Looks awesome, does it not? The destruction of Gotham, the chaos and carnage and battle on what looks to be City Hall steps...

In my experience, I have found that MOST of the men I met who had wealth - MOST - were incredibly generous and only wanted to find how they could keep employees employed, and what cause was the best to donate into, how to keep using their wealth to provide good things for others.

Money was a tool, not a god.

I think, once again, the Nolan brothers will remind us that "to whom much is given, much is required" and we must ALL vigilantly defend our hearts against the jealousy and hatred that is so tasty to our souls when someone else succeeds.

Heh. A thought came to me. I might as well confess it.

One of my favorite pastimes in college before I came to Christ was to spit on each and every car that had a personalized license plate - what I saw a symbol of utmost vanity and pride.

I WAS the one with the pride - it was just manifested as self-pity.

God showed me I did not have to hate someone for NOT suffering as I did.

I needed to ask Him to make it better.

May you too ask and find His love and provision today.


Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Batman: Mask of the Phantasm & backwards masking

I am sitting at Wheaton Public Library, typing away on my new laptop in the 'silent room' reserved for serious students.

Due to the re-modelling of the library a few years ago, I have a spectacular winter view of Adam's Park as the sun sets.

So to aid me in my solitude of sound, on a bleak December afternoon, I am listening to the Batman: Mask of the Phantasm soundtrack crafted by the late great Shirley Walker. It matches the chill December afternoon well with its somber brass and melancholy themes.

Batman: Mask of the Phantasm is an overlooked gem. It was WAY ahead of Batman Begins, taking a key motivational element from Frank Miller's Batman: Year One in its retelling of WHY Bruce Wayne became not only a crime-fighter, but the masked Bat-Man - a terrifying scourge for the underworld!

The movie plays out the tragedy and heroism that surrounds the Batman - that what keeps making Batman such a heroic figure IS the personal hard choices. It is good stuff and folks, if you have not seen it, you ought to. Personally, I was blown away by it in the theater [I had no idea it was coming out, so poor was the marketing] but my best bud only remarked "I just paid $6 to watch a cartoon?" so my opinion and rave is NOT universal.

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If the EXACT same script had been shot with live actors, I think his tone would have changed.

Bruce Wayne does something with taking on this identity that Christ-followers in service need to do. We need to wear and be Christ, just as Bruce needs to be this avenging angel of the night. He wants the criminals to FEEL the terror they dish out to others, and frankly, I have no problem with that for the unrepentant.

But while Batman is created to instill fear, we Christians are to instill hope and love and faith. And as Wayne admits in Batman Begins "I cannot do this as Bruce Wayne -" we also find WE cannot do it as merely our natural selves.

That is not a spiritualized metaphor. If we do NOT ask for Christ to live in us and try to work against the world's onslaught, we are going to lose immediately. "Apart from Me, you can do nothing," Jesus says.

So when we ask for "Give us this day our daily bread..." keep in mind that Jesus IS the bread. So we need to keep asking for Him one day at a time. We need Him to keep us from being like the rest of the world.

That covers the internal need to be like Christ - but what about the EXTERNAL style of being Christ-like?

Do we need to wear sandals? Or more Christian-themed clothing? Or put another fish on our car?

Would that be deceitful to put it on - or cowardly to NOT do so?

Would it be cheap superficiality or crass advertising? Maybe the answer lies in our motive for the 'mask' we wear - or do not wear.

There is one disturbing thing in Batman Mask of the Phantasm, and I just found out about it these 18 years later. The beginning theme, sounding so ominous and brooding, has a Russian
choir singing what sounds like Latin. I tried to find out what the lyrics meant, and what I found blew me away. You see, you are SUPPOSED to think it is Latin. It is played and performed as if it is some ancient Latin chant.

It isn't.

It's the names of several of the orchestral team and support staff, spoken backwards.

Yeah, I'm afraid it is true. Shirley Walker was crunched for time, so she did it as an in-joke to give some hidden credit to her peeps - and one of her sound editors caught on to it.

It's nonsense Latin, created just to sound good. It means nothing - unless you KNOW its the names of the support staff, disguised.

So Shirley, vigilante-style, put a 'mask' on her good deed - giving hidden credit to the orchestral staff that worked so hard and got so little credit.

It was her own version of backwards masking -for a good cause.

You know, Jesus Christ wore a mask - that of an ordinary man. With it, he was able to do many mighty deeds before his crucifixion. We evangelical types work very hard to reveal the divinity of Christ, it gets frustrating at times.

I am beginning to suspect Jesus doesn't WANT to reveal Himself to everyone. Not just yet, anyway.

Maybe wearing a mask can have a good purpose, even a spiritual one.

Maybe Christ-followers need to mask themselves more, not less. There is a lot of power in covert ops in a fallen world.

Maybe it is best if people misunderstand and underestimate us.

If we understand that fame is often VERY constrictive and expectations turn all too often into condemnations, we may very well see it as a blessing to do what we can do without recognition or fanfare.

I have been so ashamed of my past disobedience, I have been quick to show my current obedience to Christ. I am glad, rightly so, to be serving Him.

But to be even more like Him is to do greater things with even less recognition.

Maybe my own narcissism will get in the way but I am going to give it a try.

So that, one day, someone will be singing my name loudly in heaven!

Backwards, just to keep me humble.


May God bless you as you decide to live for the Lord who wore a mask for you.
"None of the rulers of this age understood this, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory."


Monday, December 5, 2011

Bob Kane Gravestone

When I think of certain heroes, I find I like them WAY before I know the reason why.

Later, as I examine their portrayal, their motives, I see what attracted me to them more fully. And when something is taken away, or changed ever-so-subtly, I can smell it.

Now, I want you to read this final gravemarker of Bob Kane, creator of Batman - and yes, geeks, I know he got a lot of help from Bill Finger - but still, the character is there and Bob Kane is the one who got him started.

And obviously, this was written by loving family member, so it is not very critical - but who wouldn't have been proud to have their family relative create the World's Greatest Detective?

These words at the end are wonderful for me to read as a Christian:
"Batman is known as the 'Dark Knight'
but through his deeds he walks in the
Light of a Higher Power, as did his
creator -- Bob Kane!"
This language of a 'Higher Power' are borrowed from the literature of Alcoholics Anonymous - a reference to God without using 'religious' words.

So I don't know much about Bob Kane's ultimate faith - and I have heard some negative things about his 'creative originality' - but I like the hope and reason and ideal expressed here.

I like that one of the world's most famous characters is identified this way:
"A ' Hand of GOD' creation,
Batman and his World personify
the eternal struggle of good
versus evil, with God's laws
prevailing in the end."
If we create, and do it well, let us also give credit where it is due: to our creator God.

May we also understand that there IS evil in the world and it must be fought - both internally and externally.

If we do that, perhaps we will be blessed with having creations that endure year after year, decade after decade, century after century