Friday, December 30, 2005

Evan's Most Favored 2005 Awards

Every year I give out awards of my favorite things. This year is special, because I will actually send awards to the people who win them. Here are the winners:

Most Favored Movie 2005
This was a difficult desicion betwee these five 2005 favorites: Sahara, King Kong, Millions, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. They were all fantastic an entertaining movies. And the Most Favored Movie 2005 is . . . Millions.

Most Favored Talk Show Host 2005
The winner of this award is new to me this year and in fact is responsible for my new love of XM radio. And the Most Favored Talk Show Host 2005 is . . . Glenn Beck.

Most Favored Telivision Show 2005
While usually I am not a fan of hospital dramas (at all), but this show is worthy of DVRing every week! And the Most Favored Television Show 2005 is . . . House.

Most Favored Magician 2005
In a dramatic coup d'etat, this magician steels the all time reigning champions of magic and illusion. And the Most Favored Magician 2005 is . . . Ricky Jay.

Most Favored Book 2005
This was an easy one for me. This book, which would normally be a work of fiction is in fact a work of theological Orthodoxy with nuances of all the good parts of sectarian faith lumped together! What a concept. And the Most Favored Book 2005 is . . . a Generous Orthodoxy by Brian D. McLaren.

Most Favored Musician 2005
This was a tough choice between the winner and the band Weezer. I have had huge respect for him since the middle 1990s. And the Most Favored Musician 2005 is . . . Ben Folds.

These are the awards. Have a happy New Year!

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

The Great Grape Ape

Funny I would think of Hanna-Barbera when thinking about King Kong, but I do. I will say that I wasn't thinking about cartoons when I sat (riveted, I might add) watching the 3 hour Peter Jackson phenomenon this past weekend. I've had to think extensively about what I would write or I would have written it sooner. I had a great fear that I would be so positive about the movie that it would sound trite, but here goes nothing.

I have never (this is not just hyperbole) been so emotionally drawn into a film in all my life. There, I've said it! Don't make fun of me, just read on! This movie is not (dare I repeat myself), is not just some action adventure flick with lots of guns and high-kicks, a grunting evil doer, and a building full of C4. There is no real clear antagonist, as much as we want to pin Jack Black's Carl Dunham down. This film is about relationship. Ann Durrow's (Naomi Watts) relationship with Jack Driscoll (Adrien Brody). Ann Durrow's relationship with King Kong. Carl Dunham's relationship with Jack Driscoll. Carl Dunham's relationship with Preston (Colin Hanks). Jimmy's (Jamie Bell) relationship with Hayes (Evan Parke). Each of these relationships go through tramatic changes that deepen friendships and love. This is not to say King Kong is without both action and adventure. The 3 hour film spends the first 40 minutes letting you get to know the characters before throwing the ship against the craggy rocks of Skull Island. There was one point as Ann Durrow is hanging from a breaking ladder from the Empire State building when I lost my stomach. King Kong is as engaging as movies come these days.

Peter Jackson's wide seeping camera shots capture the heart and soul of city and jungle (albeit CGI). Jackson pulled off the Art Deco New York in the 1930s transformation. The choice of shots and angles really pulled out the memory of the original King Kong film while giving just enough of the new to make Jackson's film as original as a remake could ever be. The choice of Jack Black as Carl Denham, while at first may sound like Mickey Rourke as St. Francis of Assisi (Francesco), Black pulls it off with room to spare. Naomi Watts' performance as Ann Durrow redeems her from The Ring 2's perfomance which nearly spoiled I Heart Huckabees for me. Overall, Peter Jackson's King Kong was a terribly fun and will surely be ranked one of the top 5 movies of 2005.

Monday, December 19, 2005

The Lion's Share

In a year of less than favorable movies it is good to know that there are a few shining examples of good film making. While I will probably comment on Peter Jackson and his King tomorrow, today I would like to spend some time with The Chronicles of Narnia: the Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. I remember my mother reading C. S. Lewis' books to me every Sunday afternoon. She would read until she was too tired to read (she fully expected me to take a nap afterward). When she fell asleep, I would slip out and go play. Since then, reading aloud has become something I love to do, and something I love to hear. (digression is one of life's hallmarks.) When I found out last spring that Walt Disney and Walden Media were teaming up (sort of) to make this first installation, I was very excited. I knew that with the CGI movement, it would mean that the characters would neither be silly nor would they be too scary. The actors chosen to play the children, Peter, Susan, Edmund, and Lucy were brilliant with the heaviest weight on Edmund and Lucy. They must have taken direction like a dream. Edmund was perfectly sinister until his reconciliation through Aslan with the other children. Lucy could not have been more perfectly played. The CGI characters were wonderfully and nearly flawlessly created. What a beautiful film that will continue to inspire children as well as the books have.

Oklahoma Forum prognosticator and Jornalism professor Kathryn Jenson White spoke out against the crusadic images in the film saying that the timing of such imagry in a film is unfortunate. The question posed was "What were the worst films of the year?" White placed The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe in the same cinematic category ("worst films") as Bewitched, and The Dukes of Hazzard. She went on to say that the film (LWW) was overtly Christian and that the good guys were obviously Christians and the bad guys were obviously not Christians (as thought being Christian were an offense in and of itself). Despite the obvious tone of anti-Christian dogma, let's look at the images that in her words were crusadic. The lion on the shield reminded White of Richard the Lionheart. I can't say that I didn't think of good ole' Richard while watching the film, so there is a connection to what she's saying. However the real connection White is working with is associating the current war in Iraq with the crusades. To say that this country is involved in a Christian movement to reclaim Jerusalem (oh, goodness, I guess we're not fighting for Jerusalem are we?) is an offense to my Theological and historical sensibilities. This country is not Christian. White is looking for connections to add fuel to the hyperbolic soundbites that suppress real thought and discussion. Her bumper sticker journalism will continue to damage how folks think of Christians. Isn't it bad enough that we have to deal with folks like James Dobson, Pat Robertson, and Jerry Falwell? Now we deal with folks on the other side giving Christians a bad name. One more question, why is it that when folks can't come up with a real argument why Christians are bad, they bring up the crusades? I don't bring up slavery everytime I want to come up with an argument why Americans are bad.

Now that I've gotten all the compliments and defences out of the way, let me say that this film was not without its problems. I have but one criticism that will actually keep this film from being the Evan Abla's Best Movie of the Year. In C. S. Lewis' book, while the children are with the Beavers in the dam, Mr. and Mrs. Beaver tell the children about a prophecy in which Aslan will make things right when he comes. However, in the film, the prophecy is about the how the children will make things right. Now, to some this won't sound like much, but it is. The Deuteronomistic history (Joshua, Judges, 1 & 2 Samuel, and 1 & 2 Kings) is filled with stories about folks who tried to do it themselves. Time and again God showed his people that God does the delivering around here. This is a huge distinction. Gideon didn't conquer the Midianites. God did! There was no "Gideon did it." That story, like all of the stories in Judges is about God. Here, C. S. Lewis would agree, LWW was all about Aslan. Allegorically, of course, Aslan is the Christological figure in Narnia. In the book, it was all about how Aslan delivered Narnia. The movie fails in this aspect by making it all about the children and how they delivered Narnia. All I can hear are the echoes of Judges 7:18 "When I blow the trumpet, I and all who are with me, then you also blow the trumpets around the whole camp, and shout, 'For the Lord and for Gideon!'" Too bad Gideon thought it was about him. Remember, Gideon began his life as a Baal worshiper died a Baal worshiper after he was done with God.

Friday, December 09, 2005

The Holy Trinity

With Christmas so close, I thought I would take some time to comment on the hope and grace we have in Jesus Christ. My friend Ben Felder wrote a great little article on the Holy Trinity on his blog, Ben, commenting on what Robert Jensen has written on the Trinity, "the Trinity is the scripture in a nutshell." What a statement. I think this is most clear in the movement of the Holy Trinity, facing in and moving out. The Holy Trinity, that is, Father, Son, and Spirit, faces in relationship with one another and moves out to effect the transforming grace in the world.

A relationship with the Other is most difinitively expressed vis a' vis, face to face. Not present or absent, but in the face to face. The Trinity faces in, the visage of each person of God facing the Wholly Other visage of each person of God. This is a model of relationship within the church. We must face each other, come together, be present to one another despite our absence. We must congregate, purposefully to model the Trinity (worship, fellowship, community). This is our calling to "Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might." Deuteronomy 6:5 NRSV.

A relationship with the Other is fulfilled in the action beyond/ignighted by/necessitated by facing in. The Trinity does not stop at the mere facing in (expressed by some deistic models of God as well as a simple "unmoved mover" model), the Holy Trinity moves beyond him/herself. The Trinity moves out into the world to bring blessing, effect grace, and love in the perfect act of reconnecting God and man. In the same way, we must move out into the world, bringing blessing to the other, reflecting God's grace, and making disciples (compassion, disciple-making). This is our calling to "Love your neighbour as yourself." Leviticus 19:18.

By this, we can see that "the Trinity is scripture in a nutshell." To model the Trinity is the Great Commission!

Sunday, November 27, 2005

Back in Town

Julia and I are back from a short, but fun trip to our friends, Tim and Glenna, who live in Syracuse, KS. Syracuse is a very small town, but we had an extremely restful and relaxing time. Wednesday and Thursday, Thanksgiving, we did nothing. I mean, we did something, but that something, was wonderfully refreshing. Sure we ate, but mainly we chatted and watched television, or read. Friday we drove over to Pueblo, Co for a bit of shopping on what folks now call "Black Friday." We did not get up and stand in line at the Wal-Mart or wherever at 4 in the morning. But we did go to a mall for the first time in about 2 years. Anyway, I hope everyone had a great Thanksgiving.

Friday, November 18, 2005

Amos Lee

As soon as Julia and I heard his performance on Austin City Limits last night, I knew I'd be downloading the album from Rhapsody this morning. While Amos Lee must be holed up in the genre folk, this singer-songwriter cannot be ignored as at least to some degree as a new voice in Blues as well. He's touted such influences as John Prine, James Taylor, and Neil Young (who I saw at Chicagos Globe Ampitheatre with Crazy Horse in 1996 or 1997, he headlined while Dave Mathews Band opened). When I listen closely to tunes like "Seen It All Before" and "Keep It Loose, Keep It Tight" I hear Taj Mahal and Ben Harper. There's a sort of Bluesy/Funk undertoe sweeping through Lee's slow folky cadence. His voice is still original with hints of South Carolina inflections at the ends of each word. Lee graduated an English major from the University fo South Carolina, though he is a Philidelphia native. His first and self titled album is now available.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Well after day two of not being able to utter anything above a whisper I went to the doctor. Like Evan last week, I ended up with a shot in the behind, but I'm supposed to be feeling better very soon. I'd already lost my voice for a couple days earlier this year, but just from straining it and not being used to talking for 6 hours straight. The students acutally tend to listen better when it's like this. I find it difficult to communicate everything I want to say though. I felt pretty powerless a few times today because I couldn't assert myself.

And I keep wanting to call my mom and talk to her about it, but she wouldn't be able to hear me. Mom - if you're there, you can e-mail me!

I'll be taking tomorrow off so I won't have to fight a losing battle to recover my voice. Friday is their test. Hopefully I won't have to do a lot of talking. :)

Until then, here's to hot tea, hot soup, humidifiers and Vicks Vapor-Rub.

Sunday, November 13, 2005

Our Cat Vegas

I would never have thought we'd have a cat. In fact, Julia and I historically are anti-cat. That is to say, we would never deny their existence as one of God's created creatures, but we also wouldn't go out of our way to be around one. I've personally always seen a cat's demeanor as stuck-up constructs of their owner's personalities. Cat's have always been animals for the more elitist pet owner. Until, of course, that pet owner accumulates more than 2 and 1/2 cats at which time the elitist pet owner becomes . . . well, creepy! Anyway, this summer, my wife and I discovered that we actually like a cat. His name is Vegas. It keeps in the current theme of pet names (our greyhound's name is Chance). And I like Las Vegas. He is a particularly friendly cat. All this to say that even the most set-against folk can change. You just have to find a cat they can bet on.

Friday, November 11, 2005

Don Cuttill

Henri Nouwen (McNeill and Morrison too) wrote in Compassion, “When do we receive real comfort and consolation? Is it when someone teaches us how to think or act? Is it when we receive advice about where to go or what to do? Is it when we hear words of reassurance and hope? Sometimes, perhaps. But what really counts is that in moments of pain and suffering someone stays with us. More important than any particular action or word of advice is the simple presence of someone who cares. . . . These reflections offer only a glimpse of what we mean when we say that God is a God-with-us, a God who came to share our lives in solidarity. It does not mean that God solves our problems, shows us the way out of our confusion, or offers answers for our many questions. He might do all of that, but his solidarity consists in the fact that he is willing to enter with us into our problems, confusions, and questions.”

My brother inlaw’s birthday is today. Don Cuttill died on 29 September 2005. He would be 46 years old. Late August-early September Don went to the doctor for a check up and was immediately rushed to the hospital. Doctors removed 8 inches of his colon. He was fine, though he still needed chemotherapy. Two weeks later doctors put in the port for the chemo. A week after the port the first dose of chemo came. It was a heavy dose, and made him ill. He recovered quickly. A week later the second and lighter dose came. He went home from work, tired and complaining of some pain. He fell out of bed that evening, stopped breathing, and the responders and doctors couldn’t revive him. He died. My sister, Chad, and Chandler live on. They are incredible people and this can be attributed to a great deal to the kind of person Don was. He too was amazing.

He taught me how to treat my wife. Once when my brother, Marc, was a teenager and was being particularly mean and inconsiderate to my sister (I think he punched her in the arm or something) Don grabbed Marc, threw him up against the wall, and told him that he was never to touch his [Don’s] wife again. At that moment Marsha was not Marc’s sister, she was Don’s wife. Now, when someone takes an unkindly tone with my wife (though it rarely happens) I simply remind them that they are to speak to her with more respect.

Don liked music. I remember whenever he’d take me anywhere, the radio was on the classic rock station and Led Zeppelin would start playing “Stairway to Heaven” Don would turn it up and say, “A little Led for the head.” That always makes me smile. He wasn’t limited to the classics, though. He liked Dave Matthews, Jack Johnson, Cold Play, Eric Clapton, Government Mule, The Doobie Brothers, and more. He really liked B. B. King. And who can blame him for that. Don played the guitar himself, but not just any guitar, he played a Martin. He also had great taste in movies: Caddyshack, Ground Hog Day, Fletch, Stripes. And who can forget Jerry Lewis.

We had the best time last year when Marsh, Don, Chad and Chandler as well as Marc and his family visited us in Kansas City. We went to Oceans of Fun and just got toasted by the sun. I’m glad we did that.

Don was a model of the Love of Christ to his family and everyone else around him. People loved to be around him. When Don laughed, it was as though the world stopped, took notice, and laughed with him. Sometimes it is hard to laugh now. We all love him and miss him. May we always remember the blessing he will continue to be in our lives. He is truly a gift.

Here’s to God's solidarity and here’s to Don Cuttill. His life is blessing!

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Evan asked me if I was going to blog . . . what to say? . . . I think it's probably time to get internet at home again, since the state of Evan's desk does not help my creative writing processes.

Today I did 5 lab stations demonstrating Newton's first two laws of motion . . . the law of inertia and the Force = mass x acceleration equation. If I threaten the kids within an inch of their life, they do pretty well, particularly in such a cramped space as my room. I think the students are beginning to actually retain more and hopefully connect what we've been talking about all year.

I'll have had four observations in my class in the past two weeks by tomorrow. I really enjoy the actual teaching part of what I'm doing, so I don't really think about it much. But it also seems like a lot of the problems I was dealing with earlier are more 'tolerable' now. Maybe I'm just getting meaner. :) I think the kids are more concerned about them than I am. Although yesterday I got so mad in seventh hour my ears were actually hot. That doesn't happen very often.

I think a real disadvantage to public schools is the disconnect between all the subjects. Not just math with science, but math with literature or history with music, etc. How many times have I heard a student exclaim, "This is just math?!?" No, it's not just math -- it's math in your hands, concrete and comprehensible. The great thinkers of history are ones who could comprehend the broad scope of knowledge and integrate that into a particular field or break new ground with old concepts. I can see the wisdom of some teachers today teaching their textbooks 'backwards' by beginning with the bigger picture and working into the details. My deductive mind has to think through this approach very slowly and carefully, but I defintely see the potential. And this is the beauty of a liberal arts education. We focus so much on knowledge retention but very little on the skills to deal with it. But this is also very dangerous and I'm not sure the goverment should telling me how to think anyway.

Well, that's enough for now. Wednesday night means fast food supper and home late to work on tomorrows lesson. I'm getting hungry.


Prestigitator of Prestigitators

I just read an article in the June 2004 issue of Smithsonian magazine entitled "The Wizard of Odd" about the incredibly intelligent and often ellusive Ricky Jay. I'm sorry that I only found the article recently. It has renewed my own interest in the conjurer. I remember first seeing him in 1993 on an episode of The X-Files entitled "The Amazing Maleeni." He struck me then as a bit more haughty than most magicians I'd seen. In the television show, he set up his routine around a history lesson which immediately drew me in. Now that I've read this article, I am even more amazed at his illustrative prowess. He made a comment about Houdini in the article I am inclined to believe. "He [Houdini] was never a good magician," Jay says. "He was one of the most amazing exponents of bombast in the world, a shameless self-promoter. He did some real inquiry into the history of magic and unusual entertainers, which I find very appealing. But he treated other magicians very badly. He is not my hero." If anyone knows of any upcoming shows, I would like to know about them.

Anyway, it's a cold blustery day here. This is a bit of a let down considering yesterday it was almost 80 degrees. I have a bit of a cold or something.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

A New Day

It is dawning. I don't know what that means, but we'll find out together. We've decided to start a blog. Hopefully the bogs will not be few and far between. We would like to share our life (sic) with our friends and relatives. Sometimes I might share, sometimes Julia, and sometimes you'll hear from both of us. We will be sharing about our lives, the church, theology, philosophy, ethics, books (hard boiled and otherwise), movies (there'll be a lot of this), current events, and whatever is moving us currently. Please, stay tuned as we'll probably be doing this a lot! Oooh, feel free to comment on any or all of our posts.

By the way, it's 79 degrees here in Guymon today. Mmmm, warm weather (sound of me smacking my lips)! Oh, yeah, did I mention we're huge Simpsons fans? Well, now I've done it!

The picture above is me escaping from a straight jacket at an outdoor show. I thought I'd share it.