Thursday, February 26, 2009

Warning Signs

Most people notice warning signs: "Bridge Out" or "Wrong Way" or even "Do Not Back Up - Severe Tire Damage". Nobody wants to be featured on the evening news as the person who drove their car off into a ravine because they ignored the signage.

I want to take a minute to write about an important warning sign that can appear in your life. When you consider joining any organization (church, club, society, business, etc.), I beg you to open your baby blues wide & listen carefully. Watch & listen not just to the "sales presentation" but see if what these folks are claiming for their group is reflected in their day-to-day behavior.

Then... ask a question.

Heck, ask a lot of questions. An organization's response to questions will tell you volumes about the environment & personal safety level there.
There are no foolish questions and no man becomes a fool until he has stopped asking questions. (Charles P. Steinmetz)
If you find yourself & others encouraged and/or bullied into "quiet submission," then head for the door as quickly as possible. If the door's locked, leave a hole shaped like you in it - just as if you were a Looney Tune cartoon.

And this doesn't have to be a church, though they can sometimes be the worst offenders. In the last month or so, I've read about the horrors of the Mormon Handcart Tragedy (in the book
Devil's Gate) and the evils of the USSR show trials & purges in pre-WW2 Russia (in the book The Forsaken)... so while I'm neither a Mormon or a Communist, it's pretty easy to figure out that they aren't exactly the same thing. The inference is, of course, that a belief in God is a NOT a reliable warning sign - it's the unwillingness to tolerate questions and/or disagreement.

God isn't afraid of your questions - He spends two whole books of the Bible (Job & Habakkuk) listening to and answering the questions of those who don't understand what He's doing. Jesus answers question after question without striking anyone dead or disfellowshipping them.
One of the religion scholars came up. Hearing the lively exchanges of question and answer and seeing how sharp Jesus was in his answers, he put in his question: "Which is most important of all the commandments?"

Jesus said, "The first in importance is, 'Listen, Israel: The Lord your God is one; so love the Lord God with all your passion and prayer and intelligence and energy.' And here is the second: 'Love others as well as you love yourself.' There is no other commandment that ranks with these." (Luke 12:28-31 MSG)
The people who are afraid of your questions - be they fundamentalist zealots or left-wing ideologues - are interested not in your drawing close to truth but instead desire your lockstep response to their particular spin on reality. Escape from them as fast as you can - do not pass Go... do not collect $200.
Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened. (Luke 7:7-8 ESV)

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

3 + 2 = 2 Much TV

Three Questions Left Over From the Academy Awards Show:
  1. What was up with Tina Fey's left eye?
  2. Anyone else notice that the humor was MUCH less political this year?
  3. Why has it taken so dang long to make an Oscars show with that much fun & pacing?

Two Pleasant Surprises, Considering What I Wrote A Couple of Days Ago

  1. Any "Chuck" episode that manages to include Jeffster, a Morgan flashback, and a splash of Chuck/Sarah sweetness says loud & clear that we are back on track.
  2. An HRG-focused "Heroes" epsiode gave us some nice backstory and set up some interesting potential plotlines. Here's hoping this continues.

The Race Really is Amazing This Time

First, a bit from M. Giant's recap of the first episode of this season's The Amazing Race that made me laugh so hard I nearly cried:

In Interlaken, the leading four teams have already arrived, and Kleine Rugen Wiese turns out to be pretty easy to find on foot. Might have something to do with the guys in traditional Swiss garb banging on large iron kettles. Mel/Mike are the first to reach the clue box, which tells them, "Join the local work force." Phil narrates, "Teams must now choose a pair of these traditional antique cheese racks and climb to the top of this hill. Once at the top, teams will transport two hundred pounds of cheese from this aging-shed to the bottom of the hill." Then they'll need to stack them on a long shelf attached to the shed near the clue box, and they'll get their next clue. Funny, it sounds so easy when Phil says it.

But it's trickier than it sounds. The first sign of trouble is when the teams walk over to where these alleged "cheese racks" are scattered in front of the cheese house. I'm not sure how exactly to describe these cheese racks, but I'll give it a try. Imagine if you will two kinds of chairs: deck, and electric. Imagine further that kits from IKEA containing the pieces for each were dropped into a darkened cave filled with feral children who are ginked out on crystal meth. What you will fish out of that cave after two weeks is what the Swiss apparently refer to as a cheese rack. Now all you need to do is strap it onto your back, with the padded board resting on top of your head and the rickety shelf protruding straight out behind you, and you're good to go. To hell. Mel, Mike, Margie, and Luke each grab one, and then get a load of the climb ahead of them. "This is insane," Mike says. He doesn't know the half of it yet.

And, so you can see what he's talking about...

Sunday nights at 8 pm PST, people... don't miss out.

Monday, February 23, 2009

#32: Eureka! (Gamewright)

  • designer: Peter-Paul Joopen
  • publisher: Gamewright
  • date: 2002
  • BoardGameGeek rank/rating: not ranked/5.43
  • age: 6+
  • # of players: 2-4
  • print status: OOP
  • cost: $24.95 ( the price is double the original retail - but the game is OOP)
Here's what impressed me about Eureka! (not be confused with Eureka by Ravensburger... an older but still enjoyable gold nugget hunting game) - it manages to combine an exploration game with a memory game and make it work.

It doesn't hurt, of course, that the folks at Gamewright also managed to make a very workable "junior" variant simply by removing a chunk of the rock (ie, "empty") tiles that both speeds up the game and gives the younger set a version where something 'happens' almost every turn because the board is nothing but special tiles.

But I digress - some of you wonder how the game works & are irritated with me for jumping ahead to my conclusions about the game. Some of you need to take a chill pill already.

The double-sided tiles are laid out in an 8x8 grid (7x7 for the junior version) and players each choose a starting corner. On your turn, you roll the dice & move vertically & horizontally to a space - which you flip over. A variety of things can happen - bats chase you away (and give you another turn); bears scare you back to your starting corner; lanterns let you sneak a peek at all the surrounding tiles; cave-ins make you lose a turn; danger signs can either lead to an extra turn or a lost turn... and most importantly, the gold nugget tiles let you put your claim markers on the board.

Each player has 4 numbered claim markers (1-4) and there are a number of gold nugget tiles with 1-4 nuggets on them. You can only mark tiles that don't already have a claim marker with a claim marker of the correct number... and you win the game by placing all four of your markers.

It's simple enough to play with 5 year olds (the only movement restriction is that you can't land on the same space as another player) while there are some interesting movement decisions based on how well you remember where things are. With 3 or 4 players, there some definite racing elements; in fact, the game works better with more players, as the gold nuggets and other tiles are revealed more quickly.

Pop Culture Update - the "It's Nearly The End of February" Edition

This is the post wherein I set down my crackpipe remote & type in a few thoughts about some recent stuff that I've read, heard, seen and/or otherwise "ingested". (Warning: there may be some spoilers in here - sorry.)

FILM (both in the theater & DVD)
  • Nick & Norah's Infinite Playlist: I'm of two minds about this film - one side of me likes the natural interplay between Nick & Norah and their friends, the edgy soundtrack that doesn't sound like every other teen film I've seen, and the sweet visual style of the film. The other side of me was offended by the casual acceptance of binge drinking, angered by the need to have the two leads engage in a sexual encounter the first night they meet (seriously? a high school girl getting an orgasm is a key plot point?!), and confused by the "my dad is a record mogul" twist that served mainly to give Norah a reason to dump her ex-boyfriend (re-dump?!) and provide a place for the two of them to get down & dirty off the mean streets of NYC.
  • Confessions of a Shopaholic: The movie is schizo - there are moments of magic realism (talking mannequins) set alongside some very nice dramatic bits. At times, the heroine is a complete ditz... at others, she seems to know what she's doing. Weirdly enough, there's are pretty well-disguised nuggets of truth about the nature of addiction buried in here under all the slapstick and the bargain basement Sex in the City clothes-horsing. But is it a good movie? I'm not sure... Isla Fisher is no Amy Adams (though she does a nice job) and yet there's a number of high-quality people doing good work at the fringes of the film (John Goodman, Joan Cusack, John Lithgow). I'd say this will be a good DVD rental/popcorn flick.
  • The Dark Knight: I know that lots of folks feel like this is the "best comic book movie e-var"... but I found it to be technically amazing and yet not terribly compelling. I think they'd have been MUCH better off if they'd stuck with the Joker/"Killing Joke" storyline and not complicated it with the Harvey Dent stuff.


  • Ask A Mexican (Gustavo Arrellano): Everything that is wrong and right with alternative press newspapers (since the book is essentially a compilation of an alt newspaper column by the same title as the book): RIGHT - a willingness to tackle touchy subjects; a specific tone & viewpoint; a blistering sense of humor... WRONG - an overweening love for shock ("how lewd can I be?"); a tendency to beat dead horses to death a second time (we get it - it's all about sex); difficulty viewing complex problems from any viewpoint but their own... With all that, Arrellano is a good comedy writer... but the book is NOT for the easily offended. (His 2nd book, Orange County, was better.)
  • The War: An Intimate History (Ken Burns): This huge book, filled with stunning pictures, both benefits & suffers from the constraints that Ken Burns & the makers of the PBS miniseries put on themselves - track people from 4 different towns throughout the U.S. (Sacramento, Mobile, Luwerne, Waterbury) through WW2. It really is an intimate portrait of war, this particular war, and how it impacted families & towns here in the U.S. At the same time, the intimate focus of the book would make the flow of the war difficult to follow if I didn't already have a pretty decent "basic" background on WW2. Still, this is an excellent work and I recommend to anyone interested in WW2.
  • The Prodigal God (Tim Keller): A tremendous re-thinking of the interpretation & application of the Parable of the Prodigal Son - Keller renames it "The Parable of the Two Lost Sons" and does a splendid job of re-framing the story to help us see clearer the grace & goodness of God to both younger brothers (those who indulge in immoral behavior) and elder brothers (those who use their good behavior in an attempt to obligate God to perform for them). Highly recommended.
  • Nothing new, actually... but I did find FlipSideMN, which has downloads of some very difficult find CCM from the 70's & 80's, including Prodigal, Crumbacher & Fireworks. (Let's put it this way: I'm not going to run out of synth-pop and synth-rock on my iTunes any time soon.)


  • The Amazing Race: thanks to some serious re-thinking in the production department, the first two episodes of this race are the best I've seen in a long time. They are doing minimal airport ticket-buying stuff (yes!) and giving lots more time to the challenges and the scenery. Plus, the Detours & Roadblocks have all been pretty cool to watch. And, if that isn't enough, the two most irritating teams (so far) were eliminated in the first two weeks. What's not to like about that?!
  • Survivor: not sure what I think yet... but I'm pretty sure that "they rub me wrong" is a really lousy criteria for voting people off your tribe this early in the game.
  • Chuck: With the exception of the 3D episode, Chuck has been "not awesome" since coming back. Sigh.
  • Heroes: Ditto with a show I once loved... and this makes me very sad. There are good moments (and nothing as out-&-out oopidstay as Hiro opening the safe last fall) but it feels like it's falling apart. Still, I keep watching & hoping.
  • 24: Leaving L.A. was a very good idea - chunks of this may be recycled from earlier seasons, but it feels fresh.
  • Lost: My head is going to explode from all the wild & wonderful things going on here. Consistently the best show on TV.
  • Battlestar Galactica: I stopped watching the TV show back mid-season 2... but I know enough to vouch that the game captures the feel of the show very well. While I enjoy it a lot, I wish it was 45 minutes shorter (it runs 3 hours with a full table) and didn't threaten to feel a bit same-y after X number of plays.
  • Mow: This is a simple little 6 Nimmt-ish filler from Bruno Cathala that has managed to delight every group I've played it with, gamers & non-gamers alike. The cow art on the cards compliments the light play.
  • Flotte Flosse: A reminder: play kid games with kids to see if they're really good games or not. I played this a couple of years back & gave it a "meh" - it's basically a speed recognition game with fish nets. Then I found a cheap copy this year which Collin got as a Valentine gift - and we've played it 6+ times in the last week or so. The "teeth/no teeth" problem works like a charm with the kids... and they can play us pretty closely (so far, adults & kids have split winning the game). Another great Haba creation.
  • Roll Through The Ages: Yahtzee meets Civilization... and as stupid as that sounds, it works like a charm. This threatens to become the "one last game before we go" game that replaces Race for the Galaxy.
  • Zooloretto/Aquaretto: Finally played a combined game. We shouldn't have used the Savings Book expansion (it skewed the game in favor of cashiers way too much) but otherwise we had a great time. I wouldn't want to play this 2 hour version of the game very often, but there were some neat decisions involved in how you chose to develop your parks. I think both games are splendid, btw... and I love that Michael Schacht keeps developing new variants.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

#33:Der schwarze Pirat

Die Schwarze Pirat (The Black Pirate)
  • designer: Guido Hoffman
  • publisher: Haba
  • date: 2006
  • BoardGameGeek rank/rating: 1061/6.89
  • age: 5+
  • # of players: 2-4
  • print status: in print
  • cost: $35.99 (
At our house, we call 'em "nose squeegees" - those bulbous things you use to suck snot out of the nasal cavaties of babies & toddlers. (I guess, if you want to get technical, they aren't actually squeegees... but that's not important right now.)

Leave it to Haba to produce not one but three different games using these devices as puffers: The Black Pirate (which I'll talk about more in a minute), Akaba (which will show up higher in the countdown) and Der Schwarze Pirat: Das Duell (which is a two-player version of the game that I haven't got to play yet.) The Black Pirate won the Kinderspiel des Jahres (kid game of the year) a couple of years back... and that's not a big surprise once you've had the opportunity to play the game.

Each player has a small wooden ship with a cloth sail... and there's a pirate ship (call him what you will - I like to call him "the Dread Pirate Roberts" but then again I'm the guy who got a "Have Fun Storming The Castle" t-shirt for Christmas.) On your turn, you roll the die and either get to move your ship or the Dread Pirate.

The trick of the game is how you move your ship... and that's where the nose squeegee comes into play. Depending on which ship you're moving (player or pirate) and what you roll, you get 3 or 4 "puffs" to scootch the ship across the board. There are raised islands and a raised border - each island has a harbor area which is your objective. Park the ship in a harbor (even just a little bit) and you get all the gold that has accumulated on that island (also generated by a die roll).

If you get to move the pirate, you can either use him to claim treasure from a harbor OR he can attack other pirate ships by bumping into them. You get to take some treasure from them via a method I won't bother to explain in detail but works very well.

When all of the gold is picked up, the game is over. You count your treasure & see who wins.

Getting the hang of the how to move the ships is the toughest part of the game... I'd encourage you to allow kids some practice time to get comfortable with moving ships before you add the pressure of playing against other players. (This isn't a bad idea for some adults as well.)

The age range is spot on here, though my 7 year old has done better with this one as he's gotten older.

This Is Me

cartoon from

Cartoon by Dave Walker. Find more cartoons you can freely re-use on your blog at We Blog Cartoons.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

The BBC Needs To Get A Grip (aka Book Meme)

The BBC believes most people will have only read 6 of the 100 books here. How do your reading habits stack up?

Instructions: Look at the list and put an 'x' after those you have read.
  • 1 Pride and Prejudice - Jane Austen ()
  • 2 The Lord of the Rings - JRR Tolkien (x)
  • 3 Jane Eyre - Charlotte Bronte ()
  • 4 Harry Potter series - JK Rowling (x)
  • 5 To Kill a Mockingbird - Harper Lee (x)
  • 6 The Bible - (x)
  • 7 Wuthering Heights - Emily Bronte (x)
  • 8 1984 - George Orwell (x)
  • 9 His Dark Materials - Philip Pullman ()
  • 10 Great Expectations - Charles Dickens (x)
  • 11 Little Women - Louisa M Alcott ()
  • 12 Tess of the D’Urbervilles - Thomas Hardy (x)
  • 13 Catch 22 - Joseph Heller (x)
  • 14 Complete Works of Shakespeare (x)
  • 15 Rebecca - Daphne Du Maurier ()
  • 16 The Hobbit - JRR Tolkien (x)
  • 17 Birdsong - Sebastian Faulk ()
  • 18 Catcher in the Rye - JD Salinger ( x)
  • 19 The Time Traveller’s Wife - Audrey Niffenegger ()
  • 20 Middlemarch - George Eliot ()
  • 21 Gone With The Wind - Margaret Mitchell (x)
  • 22 The Great Gatsby - F Scott Fitzgerald (x)
  • 23 Bleak House - Charles Dickens ()
  • 24 War and Peace - Leo Tolstoy ()
  • 25 The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy - Douglas Adams (x)
  • 26 Brideshead Revisited - Evelyn Waugh ()
  • 27 Crime and Punishment - Fyodor Dostoyevsky ()
  • 28 Grapes of Wrath - John Steinbeck (x)
  • 29 Alice in Wonderland - Lewis Carroll (x)
  • 30 The Wind in the Willows - Kenneth Grahame (x)
  • 31 Anna Karenina - Leo Tolstoy ()
  • 32 David Copperfield - Charles Dickens ()
  • 33 Chronicles of Narnia - CS Lewis (x)
  • 34 Emma - Jane Austen ()
  • 35 Persuasion - Jane Austen ()
  • 36 The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe - CS Lewis (x)
  • 37 The Kite Runner - Khaled Hosseini - ()
  • 38 Captain Corelli’s Mandolin - Louis De Bernieres ()
  • 39 Memoirs of a Geisha - Arthur Golden ()
  • 40 Winnie the Pooh - AA Milne (x)
  • 41 Animal Farm - George Orwell (x)
  • 42 The Da Vinci Code - Dan Brown (x)
  • 43 One Hundred Years of Solitude - Gabriel Garcia Marquez ()
  • 44 A Prayer for Owen Meany - John Irving ()
  • 45 The Woman in White - Wilkie Collins ()
  • 46 Anne of Green Gables - LM Montgomery ()
  • 47 Far From The Madding Crowd - Thomas Hardy ()
  • 48 The Handmaid’s Tale - Margaret Atwood ()
  • 49 Lord of the Flies - William Golding (x)
  • 50 Atonement - Ian McEwan ()
  • 51 Life of Pi - Yann Martel ( )
  • 52 Dune - Frank Herbert (x)
  • 53 Cold Comfort Farm - Stella Gibbons ( )
  • 54 Sense and Sensibility - Jane Austen ()
  • 55 A Suitable Boy - Vikram Seth ( )
  • 56 The Shadow of the Wind - Carlos Ruiz Zafon (x)
  • 57 A Tale Of Two Cities - Charles Dickens (x)
  • 58 Brave New World - Aldous Huxley (x)
  • 59 The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time - Mark Haddon ()
  • 60 Love In The Time Of Cholera - Gabriel Garcia Marquez ()
  • 61 Of Mice and Men - John Steinbeck (x)
  • 62 Lolita - Vladimir Nabokov ()
  • 63 The Secret History - Donna Tartt ()
  • 64 The Lovely Bones - Alice Sebold ()
  • 65 Count of Monte Cristo - Alexandre Dumas (x)
  • 66 On The Road - Jack Kerouac ()
  • 67 Jude the Obscure - Thomas Hardy ()
  • 68 Bridget Jones’s Diary - Helen Fielding ()
  • 69 Midnight’s Children - Salman Rushdie ()
  • 70 Moby Dick - Herman Melville (x)
  • 71 Oliver Twist - Charles Dickens (x)
  • 72 Dracula - Bram Stoker (x)
  • 73 The Secret Garden - Frances Hodgson Burnett (x)
  • 74 Notes From A Small Island - Bill Bryson ()
  • 75 Ulysses - James Joyce ( )
  • 76 The Inferno - Dante (x)
  • 77 Swallows and Amazons - Arthur Ransome ()
  • 78 Germinal - Emile Zola ()
  • 79 Vanity Fair - William Makepeace Thackeray ()
  • 80 Possession - AS Byatt ()
  • 81 A Christmas Carol - Charles Dickens (x)
  • 82 Cloud Atlas - David Mitchell ()
  • 83 The Color Purple - Alice Walker (x)
  • 84 The Remains of the Day - Kazuo Ishiguro ()
  • 85 Madame Bovary - Gustave Flaubert ()
  • 86 A Fine Balance - Rohinton Mistry ()
  • 87 Charlotte’s Web - EB White (x)
  • 88 The Five People You Meet In Heaven - Mitch Albom ()
  • 89 Adventures of Sherlock Holmes - Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (x)
  • 90 The Faraway Tree Collection - Enid Blyton ()
  • 91 Heart of Darkness - Joseph Conrad (x)
  • 92 The Little Prince - Antoine De Saint-Exupery (x)
  • 93 The Wasp Factory - Iain Banks ()
  • 94 Watership Down - Richard Adams (x)
  • 95 A Confederacy of Dunces - John Kennedy Toole ()
  • 96 A Town Like Alice - Nevil Shute ()
  • 97 The Three Musketeers - Alexandre Dumas (x)
  • 98 Hamlet - William Shakespeare (x)
  • 99 Charlie and the Chocolate Factory - Roald Dahl (x)
  • 100 Les Miserables - Victor Hugo (x)
46 out of 100... hmmm. (Thanks to Mike Siggins for pointing this out.)

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Not-So-Fairness Doctrine

You, dear blog readers, need to know a little about me... well, at least about my sources of news & information on the Web & on the radio.

When trying to stay current via the Internet, I click my way over to:
And, yes, that does give me a bit of virtual whiplash... but it's on purpose. We'll get to more on that in a minute.

When I'm out driving around in my car, I turn my radio dial to:
  • KMJ 580 AM (Fresno-based talk radio, which carries Rush Limbaugh & Sean Hannity among others)
  • KVPR FM 89 (Fresno-based National Public Radio, home of Morning Edition, All Things Considered, Marketplace, Fresh Air, Talk of the Nation... and the most important news program out there, Wait! Wait! Don't Tell Me! OK, so maybe WWDTM isn't the most important... but it's certainly the most fun.)
  • 105.9 JACK FM (which is actually just music & no news... but I figured I needed to come clean about my addiction to classic rock)

Again with the whiplash... and here's why. (I'm going to be forced to reference Extreme here, which will cause some of you to run screaming from the room. Don't worry, I won't be forcing you to watch the "Hole-Hearted" video... though I'm a thoughtful guy so I'll put the MTV link for in the post.)

Their next album, III Sides To Every Story, was divided into (wait for it) 3 different sections: Yours, Mine, and The Truth. Which is kind of how I see my encounters with the news media...the truth is somewhere in the middle of this mess.

Which is why I'm completely and utterly opposed to the reinstatement of the FCC's Fairness Doctrine. This less-than-brilliant bit of policy making was chucked overboard (thankfully) back in 1987... yet here we are 22 years later with those in power interested in bringing it back from the dead like some kind of weird zombie movie.

Simply put, the Fairness Doctrine requires opposing viewpoints to be presented by media outlets (holders of broadcast licenses) in an attempt to achieve "balanced" coverage. In practice, it means that TV & radio stations avoid controversial topics because of the potential regulatory fallout.

Religious broadcasters face the same kind of problems under the Fairness Doctrine - esp. since they deal with controversial topics where their viewpoint (pro-life, for example, or believing that sex outside of marriage is a sin) is not culturally mainstream. And while all media is "listener-supported" at some level (by advertising), much of Christian radio is listener-supported from donations to the station or the ministry... which would force people to pay directly for viewpoints they disagree with if "equal time" provisions were reenacted.

I'm living proof that the current system allows me access to the conservative thought (and rantings) of Rush Limbaugh as well the left-leaning reportage & commentary (and occasional rantings, though in soft, soothing voices) of NPR. Please don't squash this in a misguided attempt to force a false dialogue on the broadcasters & the American people.

Thursday, February 12, 2009


There's a great scene in the long-since-defunct dramedy TV series "Sports Night". (Actually, there are a lot of great scenes, but that didn't prevent it from getting cancelled. Sigh.) Dan & Casey, the anchors of the show, are waiting for the show to start, when Dan blurts out:

Dan: Eli's Coming.

Casey: Eli?

Dan: From the Three Dog Night song.

Casey: Yes?

Dan: Eli is something bad, a darkness.

Casey: "Eli's coming. Hide your heart, girl." Eli is a inveterate womanizer. I think you're getting the song wrong.

Dan: I know I'm getting the song wrong. But, when I first heard it, that's what I thought it meant. Things stick with you that way.

OK, I'm the first to admit that the only Three Dog Night songs I knew before seeing this episode were "One (is the Loneliest Number)", "Black & White" and "Joy to the World." (We sang the last a bunch of times in elementary school music class, only without the verse about drinking the bullfrog's mighty fine wine.) Still, I understand what Dan's talking about - how you hear something the first time can lock in meaning & emotion for years to come. (We kind of talked about that in my last Grapevine article...)

Sometimes, it's because we get the lyrics wrong. My father-in-law & I spent untold time & energy convincing my bride-to-be (Shari!) that Ariel was NOT singing "pregnant women, sick of swimming" in THE LITTLE MERMAID - I lost count of how many times we rewound the videotape. For the record, the correct lyrics to "Part of Your World" are:

Betcha on land they understand

Bet they don't reprimand their daughters

Bright young women, sick of swimmin'

Ready to stand

Other times, it's because the the song grabs you by the throat because of a particular thematic idea or image. A good friend from college (who shall remain nameless) could hear the first few chords of Chicago's "Hard Habit To Break" and instantly be plunged back into the morass of his break-up with his first long-time girlfriend - so much so that he chose to avoid the album & the song. (He's happily married now... but I have no idea if the Chicago avoidance plan is still in effect.)

And in my case, it's making an assumption about a song based on the lyrical images intertwining with my personal background & theology. Ladies & gentlemen, I give you the title cut from Paul Simon's groundbreaking album, "Graceland":

The Mississippi delta was shining

Like a national guitar

I am following the river

Down the highway

Through the cradle of the Civil War

I'm going to Graceland


In Memphis Tennessee

I'm going to Graceland

Poorboys and pilgrims with families

And we are going to Graceland

My traveling companion is nine years old

He is the child of my first marriage

But I've reason to believe

We both will be received

In Graceland

She comes back to tell me she's gone

As if I didn't know that

As if I didn't know my own bed

As if I'd never noticed

The way she brushed her hair from her forehead

And she said losing love

Is like a window in your heart

Everybody sees you're blown apart

Everybody sees the wind blow

And my traveling companions

Are ghosts and empty sockets

I'm looking at ghosts and empties

But I've reason to believe

We all will be received

In Graceland

There is a girl in New York City

Who calls herself the human trampoline

And sometimes when I'm falling, flying

Or tumbling in turmoil I say

Oh, so this is what she means

She means we're bouncing into Graceland

And I see losing love

Is like a window in your heart

Everybody sees you're blown apart

Everybody sees the wind blow

In Graceland, in Graceland

I'm going to Graceland

For reasons I cannot explain

There's some part of me wants to see


And I may be obliged to defend

Every love, every ending

Or maybe there's no obligations now

Maybe I've a reason to believe

We all will be received

In Graceland

I know now that Paul was writing about the demise of his marriage and a road trip he took with his son to see Graceland. And, while I'm not a big fan of Elvis, I realize that he's talking about the palatial mansion with the music note gates on the south side of Memphis. Still, I hear lines like "I've reason to believe we all will be received in Graceland" and I hear echoes of biblical truth:
But you must not forget this one thing, dear friends: A day is like a thousand years to the Lord, and a thousand years is like a day. The Lord isn't really being slow about his promise, as some people think. No, he is being patient for your sake. He does not want anyone to be destroyed, but wants everyone to repent. (2 Peter 3:8-9, NLT)
And when I think about my the reality of my own life - the struggles with pornography & selfishness & bitterness - the line about "the girl who calls herself the human trampoline" feels like Paul Simon has been watching me with hidden cameras. "Losing love is like a window in your heart... everybody sees you're blown apart" - yep, someone get Garfunkel's buddy out of the spy van and tell him to take the bug out of my telephone.

But all of us are "bouncing into Graceland": those of us who've been human trampolines & those who've jumped on us, the poorboys and pilgrims, the old & young, those who are smarter than a whip or dumber than a post, well-behaved and/or ill-mannered, whoever. Regardless if you've put more miles than years on your life (tip o' the proverbial hat to Indiana Jones) or if you rival the Pharisees for your devotion & self-righteousness, you can be received in the gracious arms of Jesus.
Jesus does not divide the world into moral "good guys" and the immoral "bad guys." He shows us that everyone is dedicated to a project of self-salvation, to using God and others in order to get power and control for themselves. We are just going about it in different ways...

...The gospel (good news) of Jesus is not religion or irreligion, morality or immorality, moralism or relativism, conservatism or liberalism. Nor is it something halfway along a spectrum between two poles -- it is something else altogether.

The gospel is distinct from the other two approaches: In its view, everyone is wrong, everyone is loved, and everyone is called to recognize this and change.
(Tim Keller, The Prodigal God)
I've said it before, I'll say it again: no matter who you are, where you came from or what you have or have not done, Jesus loves you. Graceland is more than just the mansion of a dead pop star.

Bounce His way...

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Six-Word Memoirs: The Valentine's Day Edition

Heard these folks talking on Talk of the Nation earlier today... the challenge is to write your love story (or not-so-lovely story) in six words. (There's a book, of course - which may make a nicer gift than a bag of those nasty chalky candy hearts.) My favorite:

"He sees the me I don't."

So, here's my attempt:

Peanut butter, chocolate - just like us.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

The Two Ways

From Tim Keller's The Prodigal God: Recovering the Heart of the Christian Faith...
The person in the way of moral conformity says: "I' not going to do what I want, but what tradition & the community want me to do." The person choosing the way of self-discovery says: "I'm the only one who can decide what is right or wrong for me. I'm going to live as I want to live and find my true self and happiness that way."

Our Western society is so deeply divided between these two approaches that hardly anyone can conceive of any other way to live. If you criticize or distant yourself from one, everyone assumes you have chosen to follow the other, because each of these approaches tends to divide the whole world into two basic groups. The moral conformists say: "The immoral people -- the people who 'do their own thing' -- are the problem with the world, and moral people are the solution." The advocates of self-discovery say: "The bigoted people -- the people who say 'We have the Truth' -- are the problem with the world, and progressive people are the solution." Each side says: "Our way is the way the world will be put to rights, and if you are not with us, you are against us."...

...the message of Jesus' parable is that both of these approaches are wrong.