Saturday, September 27, 2008

It's Obvious, Isn't It?

...I mean, shouldn't they have picked him to be Indiana Jones?

We'll miss you, Paul. We'll all miss you.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Quirks come in Sixes

I was tagged by Katie, and though chain letters tend to give me the mange, I guess I'd better play along this time. So...six quirky things about me?


1. I used to "flap". When I was younger (much younger, in my own memory, although some of my friends claim that I was still doing this as late as my early teens), I would be in the midst of drawing a picture when I would suddenly stop, stare down at the image, and commence "flapping". This involved holding both of my hands near my ears, and twirling them vigorously at the wrists, palms down. It's the wierdest thing to try to describe, and it's diffcult to reproduce. You had to have been there. But apparently I did it all the time. I'm not sure if it was joy at what I was producing or something else. Thank God I wasn't born any later than I was (1977); if I was a kid nowadays doing that I'm sure my poor folks, upon witnessing something so bizarre, would have dosed me seven ways from Sunday with every kind of medication available.

2. I positively detest the sound of nails being filed with an emory board. It's just not freakin' NATURAL! Stop it!!

3. Once when I was seven or eight I developed a short-term quirk (is there such a thing?): if I drank anything at all, I had to go and pee before I left the house or did anything else important. I just couldn't abide the thought of not getting rid of whatever I'd just consumed. At any rate, it was done by the time I was nine or ten. I don't think this ever applied to #2's...Oh god, you just learned a whole lot more about me than you probably ever cared to, didn't you?!?

4. If I sit down in a chair anywhere, I almost always have to have something in my lap; a book, a pillow, a jacket, something. I guess this illustrates how for some people, the need for a security blanket doesn't diminish with age. Or maybe it's something psychological, maybe relating to how I need to "protect" myself by placing some physical item between myself and the next person. I never was good at psychology...

5. I can't allow water spots in a sink. If I'm washing my hands in any sink, anywhere in the world, and I see that the last person left large waterspots on the sink, I must physically remove them before I leave. You'd think from that that I'm a neat freak, but I'm not. Like most single adult males, I let my bathroom get pretty scuzzy before I decide to clean it. And my car gets more permanent junk every year. But sinks...

6. A recent quirk: I don't like carrying my car keys in my pockets if I can avoid it. I keep thinking that the keys will wear down the pocket liners and suddenly burst out of the front of my pants, thus ruining them. So, if I'm wearing a jacket, I'll stuff the car keys in the jacket pockets (apparently I'm convinced that the jacket pockets are indestructible). Or if I sit down at a friend's place and I'm in front of a coffee table, I'll drop the keys there. The only time when I feel good about carrying my own car keys in my own pockets is when I'm wearing shorts with long, deep pockets (of which I have several pairs). Then it's no problem. One of these days I'm going to lose my keys from this quirk, although to date I've never lost a set of my own keys.

So, there ya go; six quirks about me that must surely have convinced you how strange I am, despite my apparent ordinary-ness. For the six people I've tagged, it's your job to come up with six of your own.

Back to the Music...

Alright, enough high-falutin' seriousness about the church and community transformation. The tunes, man! Gimme the tunes!

Here's a little sumpin' fer ya: a 1966 shindig at the Philharmonic featuring the late, great T-Bone Walker (who begat B.B. King's style, who begat Peter Green's style, who begat...) and the great
Dizzy Gillespie, in which one of Dizzy's sidemen shows us just how much fun one can have with just the mouthpiece! Note also how T-Bone plays the guitar with the face perpendicular to his body, rather than parallel like most other guitar players (including this author). Finally, note how T-Bone starts the second song aping early 60's surf instrumentals before shifting into an easy swing tempo...and how few blues players nowadays attempt anything as adventurous.

Good stuff...

Friday, September 19, 2008

When Community Transformation Comes Up Short

For the past few years the church I attend, as well as the parent church from which it sprang, have had a goal that they call "community transformation". The core of this goal is an admirable one: transforming the local community (Marietta, Cobb County, and the surrounding area) into a community that models God's ideal in its thoughts, words and actions. It's a great idea (at the very least, it's better than no goal, or even a goal like "spiritual insulation" or "cultural isolation"), and I hope it comes to pass.

Still, I wonder.

A few weeks ago while channel-surfing I stumbled on Heavens Above! (1963) playing on TCM. A minor Peter Sellers comedy, it was wry and enjoyable. I didn't think much about it at the time, but having pondered it for a while I think it has much to say about the church in modern times. So I'd like to offer it as a counterpoint to what might come about through all this "transformation":

Sellers plays the Reverend John Smallwood, a cleric of the Church of England who has been appointed parson of an upper-middle class village. Almost immediately, he begins to offend the sensibilities of most of his parishioners, for Reverend Smallwood is genuinely concerned about the larger (i.e., unchurched) world beyond the church walls. Confronted with a community that prefers its Christianity safe, un-involved and non-threatening---or at least not requiring any real change in one's mindset about relating to the secular world---he digs in his heels and hews to the Scripture. Eventually, a wealthy woman in the parish is convicted by Jesus' teachings about giving to the poor and having treasure in heaven. Having "seen the light" she turns from being Smallwood's staunchest enemy to his bankroller, and gets on board with Smallwood's plan to provide free food to the local poor. Signs are put up announcing the plan and inviting all to come.

So far, so good.

The trouble is, the wording of the invitation is ambiguous, and soon the majority of those seeking the church's handouts are the town's middle-class inhabitants. Nor is this humble charity; the items offered by Smallwood's program include the sort of luxuries that most people of that time and place would be hard-pressed to secure even with steady incomes (fine wines, deluxe chocolates, expensive cigars). Predictably greed emerges, with the free-loading church folk coming to blows over who has received the larger share of the "goodies". And businesses grind to a halt as the local butcher, fishmonger, baker and others find that no one wants to pay for their wares when they can get them free from the church.

Things only get worse with the passage of time. Smallwood's church superiors try to have him declared mentally incompetent, but accidentally consign the wrong man, a fellow parson with the same last name. Smallwood then bashes Tranquilax, a popular feel-good medicine, as nothing more than a worthless imitation of sufficiency in Christ; within weeks, Tranquilax sales are in sharp decline and the company that produces it faces bankruptcy. In an interesting twist, it turns out that wealthy woman is the widow of the company's founder, and her worldly son is understandably agitated at how Smallwood is ruining his business. Finally, the town turns on Smallwood: its inhabitants are nearly all unemployed thanks to his "charity", and the free food distrubution has been stopped abruptly. Smallwood is forced to leave town or suffer a lynching, and as if that weren't enough, he discovers that the indigents who he has been boarding have suddenly disappeared after cleaning out his house.

I won't give away the ending, except to hint that Smallwood ends up deciding that earth is not the place for him to preach the gospel. Consider that this film was put out during the same decade that saw the moon race, and you can guess well enough where he ends up.

I imagine the first reaction of most committed Christians would be, "Well, that's Hollywood for you; you can't trust them to offer an unbiased look at the Truth." And looking back over the past thirty or forty years of cinema, you'd have a point. Christians are portrayed as hypocritical and narrow-minded, concerned more with appearances than substance, missing the forest for the trees in terms of general morality, and all too eager to compromise their message in order to fit in or stay culturally relevant. If you've seen Saved! (2004), you know that this is the general presentation.

But this film is much different. Smallwood isn't putting on airs and he isn't trying to please men; he's actually quite concerned about doing things God's way, and he displays the sort of humble concern for the unfortunate that most of us suspect is the right way to live but aren't willing to fully embrace. Most importantly, he's willing to act on that concern, even if it offends other "Christians". The trouble is that when he does so, it leads to unforseen consequences that eventually sabotage his good works. Caring for the poor is noble and godly, but what happens when, while caring for them, we ourselves become impoverished, and no one is around to help us?
If our local church decided to act as it ought to, and we knew that these actions would put most of us in the poorhouse ourselves, would we be willing to keep living that way?

Interestingly enough, the most damning portrayal of humanity in this film is not of the parson; it's of the poor. Rather than being grateful for the kindness shown them, they feel entitled to it, and become even more demanding. To them the church is not a beacon of hope for living but a bastion of naivety waiting to be exploited; they will take from it what they need and then move on, without any thought to those who have provided for them. Indeed they seem to have a better understanding than Smallwood of how the world really works, and they are in a sense "wise" enough not to spoil a good thing by becoming more than superficially religious. When there is nothing left for them, they depart in search of greener lands.

To this one might say, "Well, if that happens, God will feed us and clothe us and take care of us. And He will work on the hearts of the poor to change them." And one can certainly hope that He does. But what if nothing seems to happen? What then?

Perhaps the ending offers a clue. When we last see (or hear) of Smallwood, he has "slipped the surly bonds of earth" and is singing old hymns to the cosmos (meanwhile, down below, the other Smallwood has become the church's new pastor, and has had to start at square one). You could look at this in two ways. On the one hand, maybe the film is saying that true Christianity isn't fit for this world; there are too many things that can go wrong. Better to keep your religion minimal (i.e., church every few Sundays, plus Christmas and Easter) and your living secular.

On the other hand...maybe it's trying to say that this world isn't fit for Christianity; that there are too many half-hearted, self-centered "Christians", and too many self-centered non-Christians, for it to work. In the end, maybe only out there, where there's no one but God and man alone, is where it's perfect. And if that's the goal we're aiming for (pilgrims in a strange land, waiting for a final Heavenly abode), maybe that's just about right.

Still, we do what we can here on earth.
Peter Sellers as The Reverend Smallwood

Thursday, September 11, 2008


On the seventh anniversary of 09/11, it's all too tempting to editorialize on the events of that day, thinking that the passage of seven years tends to draw some closure, a platform if you will, on which one could pontificate. Evil presidents, evil oil magnates, evil governnments, evil terrorists, the history of Muslim fanaticism, the history of democratic fanaticism, the history of financial fanaticism, the bravery of the passengers, the baseness of the murderers, the structural integrity of tall buildings, the structural integrity of chief executives, the cost of large standing armies on foreign soil, et cetera, ad nauseam...plenty of things to discuss.

But my guess is that most people are already doing this...or have already done this...or are already tired of hearing about it. And I can't claim to have exhaustively researched the topic---either from the Commission report or from the ravings of conspiracy theorists' websites---so what good would it do anyway?

Instead, I'll just recount my own experiences that day. (Be forewarned, these are dull in the extreme; there's nothing in them on which you could pin either a yellow commemorative ribbon...or a white feather.)

At the time I was twenty-four and between jobs, living with my parents. The temp agency which had been trying against mighty odds to stick me somewhere (I was an indifferent admin assistant, showing up for jobs whenever I felt like it, taking long lunch breaks, and just generally being a less-than-desirable temp) didn't have an interview scheduled for that day, so I woke up late (sometime between nine and ten) and stumbled downstairs.

Normally I would have headed my shameless freeloader arse straight for the kitchen to get some breakfast. That day, though, I went straight into my folks' bedroom and turned on the TV. I'm not sure why I did that; in some remote part of my mind, I may have been curious about the weather schedule.

I didn't have my contacts in, and the analog TV picture came on and came into resolution very slowly. It took a few minutes to register that I was seeing a pair of buildings on fire. It took a few minutes more to realize that they were in New York. It took a few minutes more to realize that they were the twin towers. After settling on that, I hung around until the teletype at the bottom of the screen flashed something about airplanes (I didn't read the whole message).

My first thoughts were, "Oh...I guess someone accidentally flew a plane into one of the buildings...kinda like that B-25 flying into the Empire State Building in 1945." By that time, the teletype had flashed past, and I had to wait another minute or so before the operative word "terrorists" appeared.

Naturally I was shocked, but I can't say it was profoundly so. Just a mild sort of dismay. (Had I been in New York, the dismay might not have been so mild.)

From there, I wandered over to my sister's house, and with her and her husband and their three kids---two nieces, one nephew---I watched the towers fall down. At some point I called my friend Alex on the phone, thinking that maybe he hadn't heard of it (which didn't make a lot of sense even at the time, but I guess I just wanted to talk to someone outside my family circle).

After it was clear the towers had collapsed, I went home, changed clothes, drove over to an Arby's and picked up some lunch. I tried to do something constructive the rest of the day (reading, sleeping, playing guitar, etc.) but just couldn't commit to anything.

Later that day Mom and Dad got home from work, and we had dinner (vegetable & beef soup, I think). Some time later I went to bed, and slept without any trouble.

The next day is a blur, but I don't think anything significant happened.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Buildings and Mountains - The Republic Tigers

Another Paste Magazine gem, from Volume 43.

A melancholy little number, sort of a cross between The Cure, Cat Stevens, and early 80's ABBA (say, around the time of Super Trooper), with a nice key change between the verse and the chorus. Some of the video evokes the desert segments of the video for Men At Work's "Down Under" (1983).


Thursday, September 4, 2008


To my devoted readers (all one or two of you):

Very little posting in this last month, mainly because I've moved yet again, as well as the fact that I've been stuyding for the GRE. But...something good has happened:

If you recall in one of my first few posts, I was wondering about what direction to take in life. In the past four months, that's been clarified: I've decided I can't keep doing the band (mainly because driving to Douglasville every week is hard on my wallet), so I gave them my two weeks' notice, and I realized that the book idea may translate nicely into a master's thesis.

So there it is: I will try the higher education tack.

Don't you love it when things get simplified?

I sure do.