Category Archives: Culture
I’ve been thinking about Easter since this past Sunday, and about the message of Easter. I taught my students this weekend that Easter is all about hope – hope for salvation through Christ. I talked through John 20, where we see the stories of Mary Magdalene, the Disciples, and Thomas specifically, as well as through the story of Peter’s denial and restoration. I focused on how encountering the resurrected Jesus changed each of them:
- Mary’s grief over Jesus’ loss turned into hope that all would be well, that those we lose aren’t really lost.
- The Disciples’ fear for their lives turned into hope for salvation, both for themselves and for others.
- Thomas’ doubt and disappointment turned into hope that Jesus was greater than what Thomas thought he was.
- Peter’s shame over his own mistakes turned into hope that his story didn’t have to end with failure.
It was a good message, and I was glad to be able to speak it into students’ lives at our Easter services this past weekend.
Then yesterday my wife pointed out the new South Carolina licence plates. To be honest, I like almost everything about the old ones better – the swatch of orange fading into blue behind the palmetto tree, evoking a beautiful South Carolina sunset; the silhouetted terrain at the bottom; even the palmetto tree itself. Side note: I did not like the “travel2sc.com” advertisement at the bottom; it was tacky.
But the one thing that I truly love about the new license plates is the inclusion of our state motto at the top. Officially, the South Carolina state motto is Dum Spiro Spero, which translates from Latin into English as While I Breathe, I Hope. I’ve lived here 10 years now, and I didn’t know that.
What a great motto, and what a great message to put on every single car in our state!
You’re probably aware of this, but 2015 was a pretty tough year for South Carolina, especially in the arenas of racial tension and violence. We saw a political fight over the Confederate Flag turn into quite a bit of ugliness on both sides, had a nationally publicized incident of a white police officer shooting an unarmed black man who was running away from him seven times in the back, and had to deal with the horror of a white man sitting through an entire bible study at a black church before pulling a gun and killing nine people. With the possible exception of the kerfluffle over the flag, I must say that we acquitted ourselves nicely.
I have to believe that part of why we were able to come through such a difficult year in the manner that we did is because of hope. #CharlestonStrong started popping up everywhere as a way for people to say, “We are united and strong, regardless of race, color, creed, nationality, or religion. We cannot be broken by one broken person, and we will not succumb to an agenda of fear and hopelessness.”
I’m proud of South Carolina, and I’m grateful for the hope that Jesus’ resurrection brings us. I do hope that we can find a middle ground between the colorful artistry of our old license plate and the statement of hope on the new one, but that’s a discussion for another time…
Peace. And hope.
I have some nerdy friends who, along with some other nerdy friends, started a nerdy website called Nerds on Earth. If you’re into nerd culture, it’s the place to be on the internet.
If you’re not into nerd culture, maybe still check out this post on what I believe to be the greatest X-Files episode ever. It’s my debut piece over at NoE, and hopefully the first of many. I’m excited to be a part of the crew, in whatever small capacity I’m able to contribute.
And we’d all be excited to have you check out NerdsonEarth.com and be a part of the conversation!
By way of a transition… What’s your favorite X-Files episode of all time?
[DISCLAIMER:] I’m an idiot, and I’m a little embarrassed.
I recently wrote a post on this blog about dialogue in our political system, and how we seem to have lost the knack for it as a culture. I went pretty hard after our current crop of candidates for clownish behavior, and trying to score a rhetorical knockout instead of actually debating the merits of their positions.
The sad irony is that my post was extraordinarily ill-considered, and for a variety of reasons. First off, it crossed the line into being crass – I basically did exactly what I was saying I didn’t like about this election cycle. Second, I didn’t consider my audience – I wouldn’t say things the way I said them to anybody that I know in person. Thirdly, I didn’t consider my platform – 3a is that I’m a pastor, responsible for shepherding people’s spiritual growth; and 3b is that this blog is called “The Pursuit of God,” for goodness’ sake, and my previous post didn’t do anything to pursue God or lead others in that direction.
So, for all of those reasons, I apologize.
I’d like to try again, because I do feel strongly about the importance of being able to hold a civil dialogue. And I do believe that it’s an important skill if you want to pursue God in a deeper way. Read the rest of this entry
Every year during MLB’s spring training I re-watch the amazing Ken Burns documentary Baseball. It’s a long tradition, meaning both that I have been doing it for a long time (this is year 7) and that it takes a long time to complete (the whole series is 22-23 hours long). But every year I do it, and every year I experience the same reawakening and rekindling of my love for the game. I get thunderstruck all over again by the beauty of the game, the depth of its history, the import of that history alongside the history of our country, and the fun of it all.
I am also reminded every year of what a huge tragedy it is that some of the greatest players who ever lived were never afforded the opportunity to receive the recognition they deserved. Because of the “gentlemen’s agreement” between white baseball owners from 1883-1947, many people have never heard of some or all of the following greats.
Leroy “Satchel” Paige is arguably the greatest pitcher of all time, bar none. He actively played professional baseball consecutively from probably 1926 (records are a little shaky…) until 1953, making his major league debut in 1948 at the ripe old age of 42. After 1953, he left the professional game until being called back into service in (and I swear I’m not making this up) 1965. It was a publicity stunt, but he pitched three scoreless innings – at age 59.
His official MLB win-loss record is 28-31, mostly as a reliever. He did start his MLB career at 42 years old, mind you. And, even though his official Negro League win-loss record is 103-61, he pitched in probably hundreds of barnstorming games that were never even recorded. We truly will never know the full greatness of Paige, or what a joy it would have been to see him pitch against the Yankees’ “Murderer’s Row” of the late 20s in his prime.
Josh Gibson was a power-hitting catcher who died all too young at the age of 35, the victim of a stroke or brain hemorrhage. He was a very good defensive catcher with a strong, accurate arm, but was best known as a tremendous hitter. Baseball hall of famer Monte Irvin said of him, “I played with Willie Mays and against Hank Aaron. They were tremendous players, but they were no Josh Gibson.”
Legend has it that Josh Gibson hit a home run all the way out of the old Yankee Stadium. That story hasn’t been verified, but there is a documented occurence of him hitting a 480-foot home run – when he was just 18 years old.
Andrew “Rube” Foster was a pitcher, manager, and eventually owner and founder of the Negro National League. He gained his nickname after out-pitching the great Rube Wadell in an exhibition game. Legend has it that Foster was hired by New York Giants manager John McGraw to teach his fadeaway (screwball) pitch to Christy Mathewson, one of the all-time greats in part because of his fadeaway pitch.
Between his on the field exploits, and the impact he had on the game in the form of organizing all-black teams into the Negro Leagues, his contributions to the game cannot be overstated.
James “Cool Papa” Bell was a switch-hitting center fielder from 1922-1946. His calling card was his unbelievable speed. Like, truly unbelievable. Contemporary players joked that he would turn off the light switch at night and be in bed covered up before the room was dark. Satchel Paige said of him, “Once he hit a line drive right past my ear. I turned around and saw the ball hit his ass sliding into second.” Another Negro League great, Buck O’Neil, when asked how fast Cool Papa Bell was, would always answer, “Faster than that.”
With speed and hitting ability like his, he would certainly have been a 3,000-hit guy in the major leagues. He slapped the ball all over the field like Ichiro. He stole bases like Ricky Henderson. And he played for almost a quarter of a century.
John Henry “Pop” Lloyd played shortstop from 1907-1932. He was undeniably one of the greatest Negro League players in history. He was a slick fielder with great hitting ability and speed, often compared to Pittsburgh Pirates great Honus Wagner. Wagner himself said, “It’s an honor to be compared to [Lloyd].”
Babe Ruth, when asked to name the greatest Negro League player of all time, stated that Pop Lloyd was his choice for greatest player of all time – period, without distinction.
His career batting average of .340 is 12 points higher than Wagner’s, and only 2 points below Babe Ruth’s.
And the truth is that there are dozens more Negro League players whose names and baseball exploits we remember even less. The fact that these players were systematically prohibited from testing themselves against the Major League’s greatest players is a shame and a travesty. Because as rich and vibrant and colorful and deep and important as the history of baseball is, it could have been more.
Yeah, yeah… I know the original Andy Williams song is about Christmas time. Whatever.
There are two “most wonderful” times of the year in my book. The greater of the two is October, at least when it comes to sports – NFL football, college football, no basketball to speak of, PGA playoffs (and this year the Ryder Cup!), and most importantly MLB playoffs.
The (only slightly) lesser of the two is late February all the way through March – MLB Spring Training!
I tend to get super philosophical and emotional about the start of baseball each year. Like, to an embarrassing degree. But whatever… Baseball was and most likely always will be my first love when it comes to sports. So in that spirit, here is one of my favorite quotes of all time about baseball.
Baseball has nearly all the qualities and the narrative that the country has. It’s competitive; it’s spirited; it’s got the joshing; and it’s got the intellectual side, the great students of it. It’s also got labor unions, and management, and gimmicks, and promotion, venality; great public fools in baseball, and great public heroes; and great self-serving people and generous people. And it has pride and unity of town and of country, and it’ll do for a figure for the American system. – Charley McDowell
You just can’t say all of that about any other American sport.
So. Here we are. Clearly it’s been awhile since I’ve posted anything, much less a movie review. So before I review the movie, let’s review how and why I review…
For starters, it’s not so much about the movie. I’m not a professional critic, so my thoughts usually aren’t as nuanced and cultured as someone who is. I’m just a guy who likes stories, and likes to think about them a little bit. I’m also a guy who, from time to time, gets into filming and editing videos of one sort or another. So I’ve started to pay attention to stuff like pacing, storytelling, editing, cinematography, etc.
So, to sum it up – these cannarf reviews are representative of how I see a movie.
- Logan is more human in this movie. Which is strange, I guess, since he’s a mutant. He’s more vulnerable both physically (due to another character’s juju) and emotionally (he has nightmares every night and wants to end his over-long, troubled life). For some, that really diminishes who Wolverine is supposed to be. But for me, it makes him even better. This Logan feels pain in a way that previous iterations haven’t. Heroes are only as interesting as their weaknesses, I guess…
- The cinematography is pretty cool. The action sequences felt more like a very well-made martial arts movie, and less like a big budget action franchise. Less polished, but in a good way.
- Speaking of which – awesome genre blending! Mutants, martial arts, organized crime, mystery… Good stuff.
- I’ve been pretty fascinated with Japanese culture since reading Michael Crichton’s Disclosure. I’m not saying I want to move to Japan or anything, but it’s a fairly fascinating culture. A little scary, but only because it’s so different in so many ways from our own culture.
- “I’ve never needed any of this before.” “What, help?” Great line.
- Famke Janssen.
- The movie starts with almost no context. Nagasaki in 1945, then ??? I had to check imdb.com in order to know that the events of this movie take place after the X-Men trilogy.
- I like movies that make you think and try to figure stuff out. But for a lot of The Wolverine, I felt like I was always missing one small piece of information that would have made everything make so much more sense. For instance, who is the blonde woman? Who is the Hawkeye wannabe helping Logan? Why is that guy helping the blonde lady now? Why did it seem like the Mariko was shady and wanted to get away from Logan, but then in the next scene they’re travelling buddies?
- Wait, that guy can somehow survive the blonde lady’s poison (not to mention getting stabbed in the neck with a fountain pen), and come back stronger and faster than before?
- Logan is a born fighter, and also a smart cookie when it comes to staying alive and free. It’s ridiculous that he would just run down the middle of the street letting himself get shot in the back repeatedly with arrows.
- Wow, a well thought-out superhero movie with heart and depth and humanity and an at least moderately believable storyli… Oh wait, there’s a giant robot samurai monster with a flaming sword, and that lady survived an arrow to the heart and is now pulling her skin off. Nevermind…
The Bottom Line:
The Wolverine is not your usual superhero movie, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing at all. In fact, elements like the way the action sequences are filmed, as well as the vulnerable nature of the protagonist, make The Wolverine really stand out in comparison to other superhero flicks.
Until the end.Then it just kinda goes off the rails. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed the movie. It just felt a little like a bait-and-switch, you know?
I didn’t come into The Wolverine with any real expectations other than for it to be a pretty entertaining superhero movie. It turned out to be not quite that, but in a (mostly) good way. All this adds up to…
Edit: My good friend Jason correctly pointed out that there were a couple of “off the rails” elements earlier in the film, in particular the fight on top of the bullet train in the middle of the film. That fight was ridiculous.
Yesterday Robin Gibb died. Maybe it’s just a generation thing, but I feel like most people my age remember the Bee Gees as “that band that was really popular in the 70s with the whole Saturday Night Fever thing.” They’re sort of a retro-throw-back-nostalgia-hipster-icon-thing for most of us.
Which is why I was really surprised to learn that one of the Bee Gees’ first huge hits way back in 1968 was the ballad I Started a Joke. I only knew the song from the movie Zoolander, where it was covered by the Wallflowers. I literally went an entire decade thinking it was a Wallflowers original, until I found this video. It was kind of a watershed moment for me, as it really opened my eyes to the length and depth of the Bee Gees’ career, and it very quickly became a favorite for me.
So here’s to Robin Gibb. Enjoy!
What’s your favorite lesser-known song from an artist?
First of all, it’s been awhile, so let’s get the obvious question out of the way… What the heck is a cannarf, anyways? That link will give you more details, but the short version is that it’s a totally subjective rating scale based on how a movie (or book, or TV show…) performed compared to your expectations going in.
Where do I even start with the good…? The casting was great. The script was great. The pacing was great. The action was great. The character development was great (I think I’m really going to like Mark Ruffalo as Bruce Banner/The Hulk). The set up for the sequel was great as well. In particular, I loved that The Avengers was able to find that just-right mix between carrying a sense of weight and imperative without taking itself too seriously. (Seriously, though, the laughs in this movie are incredible.)
Maybe the best thing about The Avengers, though, is the way that all of the heroes have a fully-developed personality. Even Thor, who isn’t actually a human, feels like a real person. Every character has their own flaws and strengths, biases and convictions, spotted pasts and motivations. The real story of The Avengers is the story of these amazing individuals recognizing the need to fight for something bigger than themselves, to band together as one to become stronger than they could otherwise. It’s truly a case of the whole being greater than the sum of the parts.
Okay. For real. I’m not a professional movie critic, but I really didn’t think there was anything to complain about with The Avengers. There aren’t any parts that feel draggy or boring, there wasn’t anything that was totally incomprehensible, and there wasn’t anything that was simply unbelievable (after the customary suspension of disbelief for movies, of course).
The Bottom Line:
Joss Whedon (the writer/director/producer) is the man. I expected The Avengers to be a great super hero movie; instead it’s just a great movie, period. I expected to love it; I loved it even more than I thought I would. I expected The Avengers to be a big, dumb, fun summer action movie; instead I found it to be a big, smart, intelligent, funny, surprisingly deep, fun summer action movie. Those added dimensions were enough to make me give The Avengers +7 cannarfs.
Have you seen The Avengers? What did you think?
“Baseball provides escape. Furthermore, there is no other place in our society that I know of in which the perimeter of play and the rules are clearly defined and known to everyone – in which justice is absolutely equal and sure. Three strikes, you’re out. I don’t care if you hire Edward Bennett Williams to defend you; three strikes, you’re still out. Baseball is an island of stability in an unstable world.” – Bill Veeck
“You can’t sit on a lead and run a few plays into the line and just kill the clock. You’ve got to throw the ball over the damn plate and give the other man his chance. That’s why baseball is the greatest game of them all.” – Earl Weaver
Amen, and amen.
Listen, I love football. I’m not so into basketball, hockey, or soccer… But in all four of those sports, you almost inevitably see the end of a game or match come down to one team with the lead trying to slow the game down and run out the clock. They’re not really trying to win the game anymore; they’re basically just playing keep-away.
You can’t play keep-away in baseball, and that’s one more reason I love it.
Last spring I started a series that I never really finished titled “Why Baseball is Better Than…” Although I do still plan on adding to that, this year I thought it might make for a better and more consistent series if I shared a quote or two about baseball each week, along with my thoughts about it.
“…it’s beautiful – the way the field fans out, the choreography of the sport, the pace and rhythm of it, the fact that that pace and rhythm allows for conversation and reflection and opinion and comparison…” – Bob Costas
I agree wholeheartedly with Bob Costas. I think one of the main things that sets baseball apart from every other sport except golf is the sheer beauty of it.
There is no man-made structure in existence that is more beautiful than a well-kept baseball field.
There is no motion in sports more beautiful than a great batter’s swing.
There is no choreography of movement in sports that even comes close to a well-turned double play.
There is no sound in sports that is more exciting or fills its hearers simultaneously with great hope or crushing despair than the crack of the bat hitting the ball.
Put all these beautiful things together, and you end up with a game beyond comparison, at least in my opinion.