Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Worst. Lifetime Movie. Ever.

And that is saying a lot.

Thanks to my father's inexplicable fondness for Lifetime movies*, I was exposed this evening to the cinematic trash known as Last Exit.

The plot, and I use the term veeeeeery loosely, revolves around two women -- (1) a single mom caring for her 10-year-old wheelchair-bound bunny rabbit of a son, and (2) a married-to-a-bum mother-of-two-teenagers on the career track if only she can land the Kraeger account, whatever that is.

It starts as Career Mom cuts off Single Mom in traffic one morning, and then the story weaves back and forth as their paths for the day cross -- unbeknownst to them -- until at the end of the day Single Mom goes carnival-freak crazy and beats the crap out of Career Mom, who pulls a gun and delivers a 9-mm gift to Single Mom's chest cavity. Strangely, it all ends in a moderately happy ending. Not.

Dear Lifetime, enclosed is a bill for two hours of my life, payable upon receipt.

Awesomely random casting note: Kathleen Robertson, who plays Single Mom, also played Evelyn Dick in "Torso: The Evelyn Dick Story". Which I am not making up. And which, ironically, is not actually about the trials and tribulations of a multiple amputee, but is rather the story of the most lurid murder case in Canadian history.

* Truly, this is one of life's great mysteries. Along with "Who's actually buying the Ronco Showtime Rotisserie?" and "How do they get the goo in the Twinkie?" modern science remains unable to explain why my father, a 68-year-old man's man, can become instantly engrossed in any movie which follows the MadLibsian "[NOUN]: The [WOMAN'S NAME] Story" title pattern.

Bonus footnote: You can watch a 9-second clip of the climactic car crash scene (this takes place prior to the aforementioned shooting) by clicking here. Career Mom is in the SUV, being chased by now-over-the-edge Single Mom (in a red POS that you don't see in the clip).

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Shakalaka Baby

There is something meta-magical in the phenomenon that is the Bollywood movie musical. The high-school-show-choir-on-crack choreography combined with big budgets just really gets me.

The Bollywood musical also taps into the deeply ingrained and usually hidden part of my brain that longs for a reality where women and men spontaneously burst into song, dance, and matching outifts. I was introduced to musicals in eighth grade when we compared and contrasted "Romeo and Juliet" and "West Side Story" (which, if we'd had the internet back then, I could have copied this crappy essay and called it a day), and after that I grew up with a sense of hope and longing for this fantasy world where everything you say rhymes and comes out just right. It came as a great shock to my idealistic system when, around age 23, I accepted that my world was not to include outbursts such as the street dancing scene in "Fame" or the "Summer Lovin'" scene from "Grease."

Which is not to say that I've given up on the soul-lifting joy of music and dancing. Anyone who has passed me in the car knows that I'm typically either singing or dancing (or yelling at Sean Hannity for saying something ignorant...again) while driving.

All I'm saying is, I try to keep it positive, and it's the singing and dancing that really get me going. And if, at any time, you want to join me, well then Shakalaka, Baby!

Saturday, December 23, 2006

He Looks Like a Pink Nightmare!

For the humor-challenged, allow me: the hilarious things about this video are...
  • The uncanny resemblance, in physical feature and in attitude, between Darren McGavin and my father
  • Randy's utter focus on going round and round with that blimp or rocket thing
  • The fact that Aunt Clara specifically made the bunny costume herself
The most hilarious thing to me, though, comes at minute-mark 2:06. Being a little brother, I completely identify with Randy's maniacal laughter on Ralphie's debut as the deranged Easter Bunny.

This is classic Christmas, and I can't wait until tomorrow: 24 Hours of A Christmas Story on TBS.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

"No, n-no. Come On. Do It."

When he's not playing the hapless shlub, Ben Stiller is actually pretty funny.

Will I see "A Night At The Museum" in theaters Friday? I likely will not.

Will I laugh when he makes Casey Kasem do Shaggy? I will, indeed.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Don't Tell Aunt Berta

When I moved to Indianapolis, I thought I could go car-less. As in, without an automobile. Sadly, thinking something and it actually happening, I've learned, are two different things.

So after a couple late cabs to the train station to go to Chicago (don't ask), I relented and decided to get a car. Aunt Berta (actually my mom's Aunt Berta, of Aunt Berta and Uncle RV who, coincidentally, traveled the country in an actual RV) had a big red car that she wasn't able to use, on account of the macular degeneration which will, with almost genetic certainty, claim my own vision in my 80s, if I make it that far. So we headed up to Michigan and the deal was done. [This car purchase was also the genesis of The Great License Branch Screw-Up of 2004.]
Anyway, the Big Red Car (convenient web-photographed stand-in pictured above), who has served me well for lo, these almost three years, is failing, bless her little heart. An unidentified schpilkes is lodged in her genekdegezoink, and she sometimes has trouble starting. Like, big trouble -- with sputtering and stalling and whumping.

So with the advent of the new job (oh yeah -- I GOT THE JOB!) I have decided that, in the three-to-four-month range, I shall purchase a new/different car. But I'm having trouble deciding what kind of car to get.

I've been thinking an SUV might be a good idea, but I also like the simplicty of an easy-to-drive, non-gas-guzzling normal car. N&S said that N's new SUV gets good mileage, though, so maybe that's in the cards. I think I've got it narrowed down to one of the following: the Jeep Liberty, the Nissan Murano, or the Ford Escape Hybrid. Or, knowing me, we're looking at going to Carmax and just buying the first thing I see that I think is pretty and/or cool.

Your mission, dear reader, is to disallow that from happening. Provide constructive comments if you like, e-mail links to helpful car research sites, track me down and tranq me before I drop 20 large on a used POS, whatever it takes. Help!

Thursday, December 14, 2006

"Hell if I know. Go get that tall guy."

Thanks to some quick-thinking marine biologists and a YaoMingian freak of nature, the dolphins in northeast China are sleeping a little easier tonight.

Bao Xishun, the officially certified World's Tallest Living Man, utilized his 42" long arms to dislodge big pieces of plastic from the dolphin's tummies. Apparently the dolphins like to eat the plastic from the edge of their pool. But now they're safe and sound.

Inner Mongolia has never been prouder of their native son. Bao, a 7-foot-9-inch herdsman said to be descended from Genghis Khan, was of normal height until he was 15 -- then it all went downuphill from there. He hit 2.1 meters by 20 and now stands at 2.36 meters at age 54. Doctors say he's normal -- no gigantism or anything...just really, really tall.

Boring Coincidental sidenote: Bao got certified Tallest by the Guinness people on my 32nd birthday: July 21, 2005.

Chad especially enjoys the handicrafts... has posted a powerful opinion essay from Garrison Keillor about the post-modern tradition of the annual Christmas newsletter. You might have to watch a 15-second ad to read the article -- totally worth it.

While I have reason to dread some Christmas letters (seriously, do I need to read about Mrs. Stanley's migraine's for the 28th year in a row?), I find it fascinating what people choose to prioritize and talk about in their letters. My mom has whittled our family's letter down to a two- or three-sentence paragraph on each of us (JJ and Beth are pregnant, Scott's going to Africa, etc.), so it's not as bad as it might be...

I do look forward to receiving these annual updates, though, so if you're considering sending me one, have at it! Oh, and if you've received a particularly compelling Christmas newsletter, post about it in the comments...

And because I know you have been wondering, click on the Christmas letter at right to confirm: Laura and George Jageman (whoever they are) are just fine!

The Carleton Dance

It IS unusual for a sitcom to go a full minute and a half without dialogue. But dialogue isn't even necessary to make this hilarious.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Together In Ministry EVERYday

Here's an essay I wrote for my church's magazine. Unfortunately, there wasn't room for the article this time around. So I'm posting it here.

Together In Ministry EVERYday?

That irritating co-worker. Our demanding family member. The neighbor whose fence is not quite high enough.

Each day, we are called to relate to other fragile humans who, like us, have needs and feelings and fears and dreams. And, like us, sometimes the other humans we relate to are more fragile than others.

How are we living in everyday ministry to our everyday circle of contacts? And if we aren’t living in ministry to them right now, how do we start showing God’s love to them – today, every day – in a way that is genuine, noticeable, and appropriate? That is, how do we show love in a way that is sincerely from our truest self, observable by others, and expressed so that it can be experienced with fullness and abundance?

True Love Loves Even When It Isn’t Deserved
When I was growing up, a counted cross-stitch sampler with that statement hung in my parents’ house. Depending on my behavior at any given time, my folks could be heard editing the cross-stitch, reminding each other that “True love loves especially when it isn’t deserved.”

I have a great mom and dad who taught me what unconditional love is about – and how to show it. The reality of their love has been a rock to me. Because of the way my parents taught me and loved me, I ask myself continually: “How am I showing unconditional love, whether to a relative or a friend or co-worker or neighbor or stranger?”

Too often, our own fears and needs and wants get in our way. I try to be aware of my internal chatter (“Not enough,” “What if,” “Why not,” “I need”) so that it doesn’t keep me from expressing love for others. The genuine part of love – our sincere expression of God’s love through us to another person – starts with our committing ourselves to love God and permitting ourselves to love ourselves. (“Love your neighbor as yourself” doesn’t get us very far if we don’t love ourselves.) That genuine part of ministry comes from taking a stand and claiming our responsibility to be God’s love in action, God’s love on earth.

Called To Say, “I Love You”
Hundreds of individuals and families at St. Luke’s have already started to engage in ministries of service, learning, and advocacy, either on their own or through the “90 Minutes in 90 Days” program. Building on those experiences, we now have the opportunity to start exploring together the “everyday” part of Together In Ministry Everyday. When we commit to ministry, fully engaged in showing God’s love by being God’s love, we automatically start to express God’s love. Our bodies are wonderful gifts from the Creator, but we couldn’t even hope to contain God’s abundant love within us; we become instead the pipe through which God’s love flows, the filter through which God’s love shines.

Being a minister means God’s love shows in you and can be experienced by others. Sometimes what we say is how we help others experience God’s love. Sometimes it’s what we choose not to say. And sometimes our actions speak louder than any sermon.

I believe I am called to stand as a living testimony of God’s present love for all creation. I talk a lot, so one day I decided that I would show God’s love to others by telling them, “God loves you.” The first couple times I expressed God’s love so noticeably, I got some funny looks. But I pressed on and shared with more and more people my pronouncement that God loved them.

Soon, though, I realized that my statement, while factually accurate, could be perceived as distant, nonspecific, and superior. So I altered it. Version 2.0: “God loves you and so do I.” This was especially handy when I was dealing with a difficult somebody – in my heart I was saying, “God loves you and I’m sure trying hard to love you, too.”

Again, this felt distant, and with those difficult people it felt a little dishonest. So I decided to take action – scary, terrifying, awesome action! “I love you,” I began to say. “You what?” asked a friend of 15 years. “Huh?” said my brother. “I love you too, man!” another friend mock-sobbed.

I knew that was the final draft for me: “I love you.” Simple. Easy. Risky, at times. But so worth it. And it works for me. But it might not work for you. You might not be as stupidly optimistic as I am. Or as blissfully ignorant of what others think.

So, what if you were to find your own way of saying, “God loves you” or – gulp! – “I love you”? Maybe it involves spoken words. Maybe it’s written. Or maybe the way to express “I love you” is in the way you clean the kitchen so a roommate doesn’t have to, or the way you shovel snow from your neighbors’ driveway so they don’t have to, or the way you smile at a stranger on the street. Louis Armstrong knew that even a handshake and a how-do-you-do can really say, “I love you.”

Expressing Love So It Can Be Experienced
Once we’ve reached a place of genuine love and it’s begun to bubble over outside of us into a way that others will notice, it’s time to shape that love so that it is expressed in a way that others can accept.

You could go around hugging everyone and telling them that you love them, but the outcome might not be what you expected. So the challenge becomes this: how do you take that love and funnel it to those who most need to experience it in a way that they can experience it?

I think the first step is to move that love as close to your everyday person as possible. Living with love simmering right under your surface, ready to express at the drop of a hat, will help you capitalize on the opportunities when they arise. I find practice helps with this – I like to play a game where I try to catch myself feeling particularly loving (or particularly not loving). This mindful approach puts us in touch with God’s love and, like any skill or activity, can be learned and exercised until it becomes second nature.

The next step is to be aware of opportunities to show God’s love, so that once you’re virtually exuding God’s love, you’re ready to let it out when the chance becomes available. Living with love tingling right under our skin allows us to let someone else go first at the grocery check-out and empowers us to say a prayer – rather than something else – for the person who cuts us off in traffic. Going through our day with love nearly bursting forth is a lot like the life of a child – full of wonder and promise, both thrilling and fulfilling.

So, once you’re living with abundant love virtually oozing out of you and you’re becoming aware of opportunities to be God’s love to another person…now what? The trickiest part – now you do it. Now we courageously show our stripes as what Dr. Carolyn Scanlan-Craighead once characterized as Radical Fundamentalist Christians. As servants of God and others, guided by hope and faith, we show God’s love. By saying it. By doing it. By being it. By any and all means necessary. All the time. In our everything tasks, in our everywhere places, in our everyday moments.

Together In Ministry Everyday
The fact is, there’s a lot going on in the world that gets in the way of us humans showing love to each other. But I believe that’s why God put so many of us here right now – so that we can band together as billions of little mirrors reflecting God’s love to each other and outshining the doubt and violence and desperation and hatred that choke us as individuals and as a local, national, and global community.

This year, building on our congregation’s commitment to our outward, community focus embodied by the “90 in 90” program, the T.I.M.E. team will be working with clergy and lay leaders to develop opportunities for us to further integrate the “everyday” part of Together In Ministry Everyday into our own faith lives.

We develop spiritual disciplines to grow closer to God. We pray; we read the Bible. Some of us journal, some meditate, some go on retreat. Our challenge is to develop the spiritual discipline of love for others – and to integrate that into our everyday lives in a way that is genuine, noticeable, and appropriate. We’re being transformed by God, so that we might transform the world – with God’s love through us – into a more compassionate, inclusive, just, and Christlike community. And it starts with love.

Monday, December 11, 2006

I Want a Magic Light-Up Shirt!

A guy at the University of Sydney has invented a basketball jersey that keeps real-time stats in an electroluminescent display. But the magical swirly color shirts and clock-couches in the video above are way cooler than that.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Monday, December 04, 2006

It's music that listens to me ... and I'm afraid to offend it.

So I'm finally using my Yahoo! account for something other than e-mail. I'm at work, listening to my own customized LAUNCHcast radio station.

It's free with your Yahoo! ID, you see, unless you hate 6 songs in a row, in which case you are screwed. You only have 5 skips per listening hour, and you will definitely pay when you have to listen to Gwen Stefani's new song that samples "The Lonely Goatherd" from The Sound of Music. Trust me: you'll pay.

It also learns from your ratings of each song, and it figures out what you might want to hear next. The thing that blows my mind is this: I had actually thought, "Well, I don't want to make Gwen Stefani feel bad, so I'll rate her song as 'Like It' but then skip over it."

OK, first of all, I don't want to make Gwen Stefani feel bad? What is that?

Second of all, I'm only gonna get more wrath if I'm actively approving Stefanian show tune hijinx.

Therefore, I awarded Gwen no points, prayed that God may have mercy on her soul and happily clicked "Never play again."

Sorry, Gwen. No offense or anything.

No, really. This is beyond the joy of the season.

I kind of wonder how long it took the neighbors to call the cops after this admittedly cool holiday monstrosity made its debut. If that was across the street from me, I'd be able to endure about one time through the song completely before it all had to end, whether through a peaceful exchange of Christmas cookies and cocoa or from the cozy convenience of the nearest bell tower.

Guy: "Mustache." Other Guy: *Nods.* "Harvey?"

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Operation Classroom -- January 2007

If I haven't mentioned it, I've set up an Africablog.

So far, it's mostly background and fundraising pleas. I'm going to use it as a tool in my last-ditch effort to get the thousand dollars or so remaining toward the $3,500 trip.

[Aside: Don't you love the anonymous Starvin'-Marvin-esque youngster whose image I've co-opted for my own evil fundraising genius? How do you say "Brilliant!" in that African clicking language?]

However, comma:

Even if you (circle one: can't/don't want to) donate, head on over and check out what's up in Sierra Leone and Liberia. This blog will, of course, be off-line whilst I'm on The Dark Continent. (They started calling it that back in the 1500s because of the intermittent internet access. And also because it remained unexplored for a long time. Or because of the preponderance of Black people. Whatever, racists.)

Anyhoo -- over at the ol' Africablog, you'll see a cool countdown clock at the top that freaks me the heck out because it tells me I'm going to be leaving in 31 days. Hachi machi -- that is SOON, yo!

I know the trip is going to be a blast, and we're going to do some good -- and we'll be equipped to do even more good on our return. But prayers, positive thoughts, grooving vibes, peace signs, smoke signals, sucess spells, whatever fits your personal faith profile will be greatly appreciated.