The Juice Bar

My muses, thoughts, ideas, and whatever

Monday, October 30, 2006

World Champs

The Cardinals are World Champs! World Series winners! Numero Uno! The best baseball team in the world! World Champs! World Champs! World Champs! World Champs! World Champs! World Champs!

OK, I just needed to say that. I can get back to normal now.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

The best mascot ever

I have a strange fascination for college mascots. In the novel I am working on, the main character is a college student who moonlights in a dog suit as the Fighting Rottweiler for the fictional Eastern Missouri University. I've never dressed up in fake fur of any kind myself. But, I admire anyone that can allow themselves to get swallowed up in an alternate identity and try to dance in oversized feet and wearing a Stryrofoam or some kind of fabric fashioned into an oversized head with ears that stick out in cockeyed directions.

I must say, that my favorite mascot is this guy. Big Red of Western Kentucky University. I don't know what species it is supposed to represent. Likely he's the offspring of the purple Grimace thing from the old McDonalds commercials, and an alien. You can see him in all his round red glory here
I suspect that's his pose for the mascots swimsuit calendar, but I hope I'm wrong. :)

You can see Big Red in action at this link. Move your mouse over the Big Red icon at the top of the window. He possesses a unique talent, a ravenous appetite, or both.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Interesting podcast

A friend of mine who I know from many evenings hanging out at Starbucks, Max Daves, has podcasts at his website. He discusses God, society, making a difference in the world, you know, the small stuff. Anyway, he has some fascinating insights, so check it out here:

Max in the Middle

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Jesus Camp

This is a gripping documentary about a Pentecoastal children's camp held each summer in rural North Dakota. Instead of camping, fishing, or swapping ghost stories, these children, in the age range of 8-12, are taught the Bible, are gathered in nightly prayer meetings, and encouraged to move in what Charismatic Christians call "the gifts of the Spirit". These consist of "speaking in tounges", which is an unfamiliar language that expresses an emotional prayer to God, and prophecy, which is God enabling people to speak a message from Him. These are normal kids from conservative church backgrounds. They play on swings like normal kids do. However, in interviews, these kids express an intense desire for God.

I come from a similar religious background, called Charismatic Christianity. I believe in the "gifts of the Spirit" as I mentioned above, and have spoken in tounges. However, some of the footage of these camp religious meetings made me feel uncomfortable. Seeing children dressed in army fatigues and camoflage paint performing a dance routine while a preacher tells them they need to save America from evil forces made me queasy. The hyperemotionalism of the meetings, where children are weeping as they raise their faces to heaven makes me wonder if this kind of church meeting is healthy for children so young. I have been involved with similar church meetings myself, but I was older, college age and adult, at the time. I believe there is a place for passionate devotion to the Lord, and I believe that children should be taught to pray and that they need to give their lives to Jesus. However, I am concerned that the film shows this camp only teaching these kids emotional experiences and not simply teaching them from the Bible itself. I think this is a real weakness of Charismatic and Pentecostal Christianity in general, and much Evangelical Christianity in America does not emphasize strong theological teaching. The lady who runs these camps, Becky Fischer, has the best intentions for these kids and truly cares about them. However, I question whether it is appropriate to teach the kind of political messages that are taught to the kids in this film. One scene shows a preacher warning these kids to vote for "righteous judges", and another scene shows children running up to the stage, reaching for a cardboard cutout of President Bush, and praying fervently for Christians to save America from evil forces. Can kids this young comprehend these concepts?

However, there are certainly worse things these kids could be doing than going to church camp, even if some of the things that go on there look a little odd. These kids are being taught about God, and they come from homes with loving parents, so I think in God's grace, these kids will remain Christians throughout their lives. I'm not a child psychologist, so someone more knowledgeable would have to vouch for what damage, if any, may happen to these kids psychologically.

As far as the film itself, I can appreciate that the filmmakers showed the scenes at the camp as they happened and didn't editorialize. However, one thing the filmmakers did that I find quite misleading is that they don't mention that these kids are Pentecostals. Instead, they refer to these kids as Evangelicals. This is misleading. Pentecostal Christians make up a tiny minority of the millions of Christians who fall under the more general Evangelical classification. Evangelicals are generally characterized as those who believe that the Bible is the Word of God and the need to have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. Most Evangelicals do not practice "speaking in tounges", do not practice their faith in such an overtly emotional way, and don't encourage their children to go to these more extreme sort of "Jesus Camps", as this particular branch of the Pentecostal church does. In fact, I don't know if all Pentecostals would approve of this kind of "Jesus Camp", because this is a gathering of only a couple of hundred kids. I don't believe that this camp is endorsed by the national Pentecostal denomination. Most Evangelicals, and maybe some Pentecostals as well, would probably be freaked out by some of the things that are shown in this film. On the other hand, this film may be unfairly focusing on a few of the more extreme aspects of this camp, and ignoring normal camp activities like arts and crafts and playtime.

One more thing that bothered me about the filmmakers is this. The film intercuts the footage of the camp with voiceovers concerning the nomination and confirmation of conservative Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito. The film seems to be trying to make the point that this camp of kids is the harbinger of an extreme conservative political movement that will force a very conservative government to impose Christianity on the nation. But I don't buy the hype for this film that these kids are part of some huge Army that is going to change America. While most white suburban Evangelicals tend to vote Republican, they are not nearly as intense as the people in this film. America will go on as it always has, it's political identity occasionally changing from mildly conservative to mildly liberal and back again. There aren't enough radicals in the voting public to turn America into some kind of theocracy.

All in all, I see this film as a portrait of the religious practices of a few very devout, very intense Christians. They don't represent the way most Christians in America practice their religion. The kind of intense devotion practiced in this Jesus Camp has its drawbacks, but it also shows people who passionately love God. I disagree with some of the methods that Ms. Fisher and the people who run this camp use. And I don't believe that this model used by Jesus Camp is the proper way to teach religion to children. However, we should take one thing from this film. Emotion is a vital component of a healthy religious faith. No church is perfect, but we should learn that we can cry once in a while in prayer, and to be excited about loving God. And we should remember that the church of God is a big family. Some members of our family may do things the we think are a little weird. But we're going to be in heaven together, so we should learn to get along.

Half Nelson

This is an independent film starring Ryan Gosling as an inner city teacher who balances his desire to help the kids he's teaching with his own cocaine addiction. I thought this was a really smart film. One reason is because it turns the cliche of the inner city-teacher/student relationship on its head. Here it is the teacher who is struggling, and he turns to a friendship with a student for help. The student is not seen as a victim of poverty or racism, but as a real person who struggles with her own home life as the child of a single mother and with a brother who is in jail. She develops a friendship with the teacher after she finds out his secret.

Another reason this is a smart film is that it gets to the heart of the cycle of addiction. Ryan Gosling's character is not a heroic or particularly likeable character. He is an addict and he's pretty pig-headed too. He won't follow the approved teaching curriculum, he's completely absorbed in his own political beliefs, and has problems in relationships with women. But the viewer sympathizes with him because the stark cinemaography shows his loneliness in his sparsely decorated apartment, and the darkness of the bars where he meets his only friends to get high.

Is this a positive film? The film is ambiguous on several points. One point is on whether or not the teacher really cares about teaching or whether his teaching is simply another coping mechanism. Another point regards to the ending. Without hopefully giving too much away, the film ends with the teacher still struggling with his addiction. Can the student he forms a friendship with, help him to get on the road to recovery? Or is this friendship strong enough to overcome his addiction? Can he find a support group to help him overcome? I can admire that the script allows the viewer to be smart enough to make up their mind what will happen with these characters. Ryan Gosling's performance is very nicely underplayed. He looks dead inside because of his addiction, yet shows a glimmer of hope when he's around his students.

The teacher's struggle mirrors my struggle and anyone's struggle with sin. None of us is strong enough on our own to overcome our own appetites for self-destruction and self-delusion. That's why we need a savior in Jesus Christ. We need each other to help us overcome our own selfishness. And we need to find something to live for beyond ourselves.

All in all, I recommend this film to people who like strong character-driven dramas.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

The Great New Wonderful

I saw this film on video last night since the Cardinals game got rained out. This is one of those films featuring multiple storylines of adults and their relationships, ala a Robert Altman film or Paul Thomas Anderson's Magnolia. In this case, this film involves adult New Yorkers and takes place in the year immediately following 9/11. The tragedy is not specifically mentioned in the film, but the shadow of it looms over these characters. One man, who knew co-workers who died during the attack, is shown conversing with a shrink. A woman tries to find fulfillment as a cake designer and faces competition from a rival, while her husband is too wrapped up in himself to pay much attention to her. A successful and otherwise cheerful yuppie couple struggles to deal with a son who is a troublemaker and bully in his school. Two immigrants talk about life as they do security work in support of a visiting dignitary. The film is well-written, and these characters react to the inner angst of their lives in different ways, some through escpaism, some through repressed anger, some through trying to make it through the day. The storylines only intersect in one brief scene in an elevator, where a temporary power glitch causes a brief moment of fear, before they breathe a sigh of relief and go through the day. While the lack of intersection between the characters doesn't make this as interesting as an Altman film, the characters' responses to their struggles mirror various aspects of the human condition. This is an intelligent adult film, and it's hard to believe that the director, Danny Leiner, is the same guy who wrote "Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle" and "Dude Where's My Car." Hopefully, this guy won't choose future projects based on the availability of Ashton Kutcher.

Monday, October 09, 2006

Oxygen, a novel by Randall Ingermanson and John Olson

I recently read this book and I liked it a lot. It's near-future science fiction novel concerning a manned American mission to Mars in the year 2014. A four person crew is aboard: two men and two women. The main person, Valerie (nicknamed Valkyrie because that's cool in a geeky kind of way) is a biologist who is recently added to the team going to Mars. She feels anxiety over whether she is accepted by the rest of the crew and how they view her Chrsitian faith. One man, Bob, the ship engineer, is particularly hostile to her faith. However, she feels attracted to him as well. While on route to Mars, an explosion aboard the space craft cripples their oxygen supply. They discover that the remaining oxygen supply is only sufficient to support one of them. They must find a way to survive millions of miles from earth, and find which one of their own number is the possible saborteur. This is a gripping story with an innovative concept. The novel is written for the Christian market, but this is a novel that I'm not ashamed to admit having read. I've never been a huge science fiction reader, but this novel is so suspenseful and gripping in its interplay of human relationships and agendas that you don't have to be into sci-fi to enjoy it. The science is meticulously researched, and is presented in a readable form that you don't have to be a geek to understand it. Of course, being a geek myself, I can appreciate the fact that is it written by two PHDs. Christian faith is written into the conflicts in a believable manner, but it is not overbearing and doesn't try to convert the reader. All in all, I highly recommend this novel.

Friday, October 06, 2006

The Science of Sleep

So now I'm going to get to some films I have seen. I'll also blog about books I read, but I see more films than I read books. :)

To begin with, what can I say about the latest film by director Michel Gondry, the genius behind numerous inventive White Strips and Bjork music videos and the film Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless mind? A movie wonderland? A sugar rush of a fil? The most creative images I have seen since Mirrormas? All of these would be true. The amazing thing is, the visuals in Science of Sleep are not done using CGI. Instead, they use the same materials one uses as a kid at summer camp: cardboard, magic markers, and paper machie. Directory Michel Gondry uses these materials to illuminate the dream world of the central character, Stephane, who works in a boring Paris office job. However, when he sleeps, his dreams take him to dreamscapes where he imagines himself as the host of his own television show, Stephane TV, which allows him to escape his humdrum existence and plot creative revenge schemes on his annoying coworkers. When he meets an attractive neighbor, he starts to get his reality confused with his dream world. The narrative seems to suffer the same fate, that often we don't know if what we are watching is occuring in the real world or in Stephane's dreams. However, the whimsy and creativity of the dream world is so well crafted that the viewer can just flow with them like cardboard buildings swaying and giant hands wreaking pretend revenge on the people that annoy Stephane. At the end, in his effort to win the girl, Stephane has to choose between reality and dreamland. All in all, it's a messy yet fascinating film, one that would be best described as a really weird romantic comedy more than a pure fantasy film. But these kind of films are much more interesting than a standard action film. The Science of Sleep will surely be on my top ten list for the year.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

I think it's high time I get this blog started again.

So here I am.