Wednesday, April 30, 2008

T-Shirt Theology

File under the category of T-Shirts that make me cringe:

The message seems to be:

“Don’t worry about the only known planet capable of supporting life in the universe. Worry instead about my medieval vision of you burning like a log if you don’t agree with me about the nature of God.”

I guess it worked, because it turns out that worldview does make me worried.

On a completely irrelevant tangent, "shirt" is one of those words that when I look at long enough and say enough times in a row, loses all its meaning. It's a strange collection of letters to denote something we put on our backs.

I must still be suffering from post-Ebertfestia. That would explain the lethargy, the despondence, and the random thought associations coupled with critical outburts.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Pachelbel Rant

I can't think of a better way to start the day than with a good Pachelbel rant:

Quick Quote

"This doesn't fit my theology very well"

-Paul Sieber, longtime member of my church, expressing his extreme discomfort in arriving at church in a limo (set up by his family and friends), in honor of his 65th wedding anniversery with his wife Martha.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

EbertFest 10

I haven't gone away - just busying doing EbertFest 2008 blogging. I'll even keep a running list to prove it:

EbertFest 2008 Wrapup
Shotgun Stories
Hamlet and Opening Night
The Clapping
Day Two
Best Golden Thumb Quote Ever
Who is EbertFest For?

Update: Well, it's over for another year. I'm already going through withdrawal. I didn't watch a movie for the entire day yesterday, and it somehow felt wrong.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

In Honor of EbertFest

Three Things:

1. EbertFest begins tonight with a four hour showing of Kenneth Branaugh's Hamlet. I've read the cliff notes, and am ready to go. As usual, I'll be posting EbertFest thoughts over the next few days at the Unofficial EbertFest Blog, with my friend PG.

2. My weekly column at Smile Politely is up, and is really just a rewrite of an EbertFest post I did last year: The Quintessential Ebertfest Film.

3. Finally, in honor of EbertFest (and film in general), here are two clips that reveal how the current political fights being waged are really just movies.

Hillary as Tracy Flick:

Obama as Rocky:

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Obama Ads

My friend Kent just did a video (with his friend Brian) for MoveOn's "Obama in 30 seconds" ad contest. The song in the background is called "Our Culture," which Kent wrote a few years ago. He says:

The Mandala stands for all imported cultures to the United States, the Buffalo skull represents the first Nation's cultures. The message is from Barack Obama's speech on race March 8th, 2008.

So, pretend you live in Chicago and vote early and often for Kent.

I was browsing through some of the other ads. Most of them are just OK, but there were a few really good ones. Here's one of kid's playing politician:

Here's one about a guy who only knows how to use a hammer:

And more kids on the playground:

Monday, April 21, 2008

Freedom Quote

Freedom is the power to choose which set of bonds to hold yourself in place.

Friday, April 18, 2008

EbertFest Festival Pass For Sale

I have an extra EbertFest festival pass that Jill's aunt would really like to sell.

100 US dollars in exchange for 1487 minutes of viewing pleasure.

First come, first serve.

Update: Ticket sold!

Finally, a Good Rejection Letter

Like a moth to flame, I continue to send pieces to McSweeney’s. I’m four for four on rejections, but the last one was very encouraging. I gussied up the Horton metaphor piece with some lipstick and a new dress that I thought McSweeney’s might like and was quite hopeful this time around.

McSweeney’s is always very polite in their rejections. They use the language of “we’re going to pass on this one” and “thanks for the look” – exactly the kind of casual and cool tone I would expect from them. It is also ever-so-slightly suggestive that they might have published what I had sent, if only it were a little smarter or funnier or some other quality that the piece just barely did not have.

Also, they get back within a week or two, which is incredibly courteous. This is in contrast to, say,, which appears to be a black hole from which no correspondence ever returns. In fact, scientists may want to check into the possibility that is really a portal to another universe where queries live forever in a state of suspended animation, begging to be noticed by any sentient being that wanders by. I’m guessing that would be interesting to scientists.

Anyway, my most recent rejection from McSweeney’s was better than my previous ones:

Hi Dan -

This one is fun, but we ran a Horton-inspired list this week and I don't want to overdo the subject matter. Good to see something else from you, though.

[Name Withheld]

Arrggh! Curse that Wendi Aarons and her smart, funny, timely, concise and totally-better-than-mine piece about Horton. If only I had gotten there first, then punctuality might have beaten quality.

I know writers have a long history of reading entire greek dramas into a few carefully chosen words in rejection letters, but I do take heart in the “good to see something else from you” bit. Usually, I’m happy when my pieces don’t suck enough to be told, please, Dan, for the love of God, never submit anything to us ever again.

But McSweeney’s apparently keeps a list of people who submit stuff, and made some kind of connection to what I sent them previously. They didn’t have to do that. But they did, and it gives me encouragement that I might someday have some hope of eventually getting something accepted by them.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Michelle Obama for First Lady

Regardless of what happens in this election, can we all agree that we want Michelle Obama for First Lady? In fact, can we quickly amend the constitution so we can vote on this?

Stephen Colbert had fun with her last night:

Here's a great speech she gave in January in New Hampshire:

Anyone who knows the Obamas' stories knows that the elitism charges against them are laughable, and mostly leveled by white establishment types who are far more privileged and elite than they are. In fact, it may eventually work to Obama's favor, since he can use it as an opening to talk about his and his wife's upbringing, which is a very compelling narrative.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

The Example of Friends

My friend Dave is in the middle of writing 30 ekphrastic poems in 30 days, I guess because he likes challenges, and perhaps, self-abuse.

Ekphrastic poems use other works of art as entry points, such as photographs, paintings, or 70’s arena rock stars. It is probably a little easier to write a poem in reaction to other things rather than starting from scratch, but still - 30 in 30 days? That’s like trying to make a movie in 48 hours. Oh, wait, my playwright/novelist friend Pat Gabridge did that a few weeks ago.

What is wrong with these people? I can hardly get a blog post per weekday out, where wholesale quoting, youtube copying and complaining about your prolific friends counts as output.

On a more serious note, one bit of self-revelation I’ve had lately is the realization that I’ve always been partial to creative people, even when I was completely submerged in software for 20 years. Despite mostly having day jobs, a lot of my friends try out various forms of artistic expression: Brownie’s a musician and also wrote a novel, Fingtree writes hilarious anti-bush songs and is in a reggae band, Tim wrote a memoir, Eric invented the internet and published a book, John publishes a fantasy literature magazine, Tonya is a world-famous quilter, Perry is a glass artist, and PG has been a professional movie reviewer. Plus, I’m sure I’ve forgotten someone important. Maybe James, my oldest friend, who I barely see anymore, but is still living the dream of being a singer-songwriter in LA. Or even my political/religious bizarro-double, Bob, who has said he is working on a book about Islam, although I doubt it is one I would much agree with.

I hope this transparent attempt to highlight my friends by complaining about them isn’t too annoying. All, I’m saying is, I appreciate my constellation of friends, and they are great influences. And if you are up to something artistically and want others to know about it, tell us about it in the comments.

I do wonder though, based on Dave’s poems, whether this blog would be more popular if it had more Peter Frampton references…

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Empire, Scripture and Good Cheese

This week's Smile Politely column is up: The Empire Strike Back with the Bible, which is about the Elizabeth Schussler Fiorenza's lecture last week, as well as empire, scripture, and good cheese.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Not So Lazy Friday Video: The Story of Stuff

A social work friend of Jill's emailed this to her: The Story of Stuff. It's a great overview of consumerism and how unsustainable it all is.

The introduction is below, but go to the link above to see the whole thing.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Not a Good Way to End Pledge Week

This morning Steve Inskeep at NPR seemed genuinely confused and shocked that Iraqi Prime Minister Maliki might resent having an occupying army in his country. They were discussing the Iraqi army’s recent failed offensive into Basra:

Bing West: “He [Maliki] didn’t want anything to do with the Americans. He cut General Petraeus out of the loop on this and that was extremely rash and shows a man who is very resentful.

Inskeep: Resentful?!

West: Resentful. On the good side, he did move against Sadr and against the militias. It’s a very mixed message. He is highly erratic and we are just going to have to wait and see. His heart is in the right place but he has a huge ego.

Inskeep: What reason does Iraq’s leader have to be resentful?

West: I think he believes that as the sovereign leader of a sovereign nation, he should be making many of the decisions, not General Petraeus. This was his way of saying ‘I’m the commander in chief around here’ but he was imprudent in what he did.

Imagine the gall of Shite PM Maliki believing he should be making decisions about how to respond to Shite militias in his country.

And is Inskeep playing coy for the audience, or does he really not understand why the presence of an occupying army might cause resentment?

For quite some time now, the standard talking points among conservatives is that when things go right in Iraq, it is because of our glorious leadership. When they go wrong, it is because of those backward Iraqis. I'm not arguing that Maliki is some kind of great military leader. But we can't pretend to have it both ways - that we believe in democracy and self-reliance for Iraqis, but only when they do what we tell them.

Let’s reverse this and see how it sounds:

Iraqi expert on US: “Bush didn’t want anything to do with the Iraqis. He cut General Maliki out of the loop on this and was extremely rash and shows a man who is very resentful.”

Al Jazerra anchor: Resentful?!

Iraqi expert: On the good side, Bush did move against the Timothy McVeigh and against the Michigan Militia. It’s a very mixed message. He is highly erratic and we are just going to have to wait and see. His heart is in the right place but he has a huge ego.

Al Jazeera Anchor: What reason does America’s leader have to be resentful?

Iraqi expert: “I think Bush believes that as the sovereign leader of a sovereign nation, he should be making many of the decisions, not General Maliki. This was his way of saying ‘I’m the commander in chief around here’ but he was imprudent in what he did.

Oh wait. I think I would agree with that assessment of Bush. Never mind, I guess.

Also, there's this tidbit from later in the interview:

West: “No one simply rushes into a city and picks a fight when there are 1.5 million people in the city. But they [Iraqis] knew that. The Iraqi military did this because they were ordered to, so I don’t have any particular beef about how the Iraqi army performed.

What?? It is foolish to rush into an area with lots of people and pick fights? Geez, now they tell us. If only we had known that five years ago...or three years ago...or last year...

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Deja Vu All Over Again

I knew this week's Petraeus testimony sounded familiar...

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

SP Column

So, after all the great discussion about column names yesterday and today, my Smile Politely editor had already used The Loyal Opposition (I had mentioned to him I was thinking about that as a name, and he went ahead and used it for now).

I can change it of course. I like Minionite. That kind of says it all. I'll have to ruminate some more before deciding.

I am deeply honored at how many people have suggested identities for me. I'm even more impressed that there were almost no unfair jokes at my expense.

Anyway, the real reason for this post is that my column for this week is up: Horton Hears a Metaphor.

Monday, April 07, 2008

Who Should I Be?

I need a name for my column over at Smile Politely. I’ve been struggling to come up with something, because it strikes at the very heart of my self-identity issues right now. Who am I? Who do I want to be? What should I be writing about? All wrapped up into a column name.

It would be easy to keep "Minor Mennonite" but I’m growing increasingly uncomfortable with that as a label. I feel more and more like a heretic these days, and that continuing with a primarily Mennonite identity lacks . . . something. Integrity? Honesty? Veracity? I can’t quite put my finger on it, but it feels less right these days.

What I mostly do in my blog/column writing is complain about politics, or the decadence of American culture or the frequent inanity of contemporary Christianity. It's hard to summarize in a 3 word title.

So, here are some ideas:

  • The Loyal Opposition (my current favorite)
  • The Irascible Gadfly (nominated by Eric)
  • The Stay At Home Critic (vetoed by Jill)
  • The Dissenting Patriot (nominated by Ellyn)
  • The Radical Conformist
  • The Conformist Radical
  • Christian But Not… (fill in the blank: Not in the Way You Might Think, Not According to the Council of Nicea, Not Angry About The Wrong Things, Not Stupid And Mean)
  • Mennonite But Not Christian (this would really piss off serious Mennonites)
  • unitarian and universalist, but not Unitarian-Universalist
  • Drunk, Fat and Stupid (homage to Animal House, although I’m not usually any of these. However, wouldn’t this make a great column name for some sophomore college student?)
  • Ideological Love Weenie (still my favorite search string that was used by someone to reach this blog.)
  • The Raving Moderate

I wish I were Jewish. Then I’d have two great choices:

  • The Unorthodox Jew
  • The Wandering Jew

    Or, maybe I should just give it up and sell off my column name to the highest bidder:

  • The Exxon-Mobil Justice Report
  • The Blackwater Peace Advocate

  • The Angry Serta Mattress Correspondent

    So, please chime in with any ideas and suggestions. Or, more pathetically, please tell me who I am.
  • Friday, April 04, 2008

    Lazy Friday Song - She Left Me For Jesus

    My friend dw found this as a free download on iTunes last week: She Left Me For Jesus by Hayes Carll.

    I was laughing all the way through, including the end: "It could have been Carlos, or even Billy Thorton, but if I ever find Jesus, he's gonna wish he were dead."

    Theologically speaking, that's just dang funny.

    Thursday, April 03, 2008

    Colombia Word of Witness

    The group of us that went to Colombia last month gave a short word of witness at First Mennonite last weekend. Here is the text for my remarks:


    Before I left for Colombia, Jan and Earl Kellong met with the junior high youth to talk about their own trip to Colombia about a year and a half ago. I’m sure they gave a balanced view of the country, talking about both the good and the bad there. But my daughter Chloe came out of that meeting apparently hearing only one thing: Colombia is a dangerous place where people get kidnapped.

    So, she unilaterally decided that I was not going. When she was asked by others about by my upcoming trip, she very earnestly told them that I was not going, because she was going to lock me up in the bathroom so I would miss my flight.

    I was touched that she was so concerned about her dear-old-dad, but I was already committed to going. So, in the end we reached a kind of truce. We agreed that even though I was still going to Colombia, in her presence I would agree to call “Colombia” “Florida”. “Chloe, when I’m in Florida, you will need to be extra helpful to mom. Dad, when you are in Florida, send us email” etc. This seemed to put her at ease.

    To be honest, I was a little nervous about going as well. But even though there was a major border disputed while we were there, going to Colombia with our group wasn’t all that dangerous. North Americans still have privileges, even in a country where 10 people a day die as a result of armed conflict. In fact, I realized that one of those privileges is travel itself. Anyone here can go to Colombia, but it is extremely hard for Colombians to get visas to visit here.

    Greg Springer recently wrote on his blog about “traveling with a purpose.” Too often, Americans view/use other cultures as a form of entertainment, or as an outlet for recreation. It would be better to recognize the privilege of travel and use it as an opportunity to grow, to connect with others, to more deeply understand the state of the world. Travel should cause us to learn something, not just about others, but also about ourselves.

    Now. It is entirely appropriate for a 13 year old girl to want her dad to go to safe Florida instead of dangerous Colombia. But I think all too often, those of us with more resources and more stature in the world choose to do the same thing. If Dusty and Lefty, our Mennonite Cowboys, were around, they might say this is a metaphor (or a simile), for how we live our lives. Traveling with a purpose is just a subset of living life with a purpose. Especially as Christians, we should seek more than comfort. We should seek interaction and community with others, and to be of service to those in need. And we can only do that by stepping outside into the big wide world, where there is risk and possible danger.

    In my own life, I don’t often live up to this. I literally go to Florida for most spring breaks. If I were to look at this in the most uncharitable way possible, I could describe it as taking a break from my life of privilege to relax in a different, more pleasant place of privilege. That’s not even a metaphor – it is what I do.

    It may sound like I am about to go down the path of beating up myself and everyone like me about our comfortable, privileged lives, where the end result is to feel guilty, and then mope around for the rest of the week. But it turns out that feeling guilty, in an of itself, doesn’t actually help Colombians nearly as much as I would hope. That’s too bad because I’m pretty good at feeling guilty, and it doesn’t take a lot of effort.

    But I also don’t want to suggest that we, as Americans, have the answers to all of Colombia’s problems. Man, if I just stopped going to Florida, everything would be fine in Colombia. They say it takes as long to get out of a war as into a war, and Colombia has been at it off and on for 60 years. We must do what we can, but we must recognize that it will be just one voice in a larger choir, the throwing of one fish back into the sea.

    In the end, the important thing about trips like this is not necessarily the actions we take when we come home. It is the nourishing of our relationship with our sister church that probably has the biggest impact on daily lives. Having faces and voices and mental pictures, and walking with our brothers and sisters, even for just a few days, makes the relationship real and fosters a lifetime of advocacy for our friends. A two-way interaction is far more valuable than simply sending money.

    Nonetheless, I come back from trips like this convinced that, given my relative position of power in the world, there are some concrete actions I should take. Luckily, MCC has been sponsoring trips like this for awhile, and they know how to help with the transition. At the end of April, they are sponsoring a Day of Prayer and Action for Colombia. They are asking North American and Colombia churches to join together to take some action for peace in Colombia. I’d like to share with you some of the ideas our group had as we processed what actions we could take for Colombia:

    • We can advocate to our government that the US reduce the amount of military aid it gives Colombia, and increases the amount of humanitarian aid.
    • We can choose to pay a little more for free trade Colombian coffee and dried fruit at Ten Thousand Villages, to provide livable wages to some specific Colombians.
    • We can advocate that the US stop fumigating farmland which destroys it for a generation, and introduces health problems to the local populace.
    • We can support the sister church program in Colombia by finding other like-minded churches here in town to start relationships with other churches in Colombia.
    • We can advocate against the Free trade agreement that is being debated in Congress, which will harm Colombian farmers, some of whom already turn to growing coca because of their destitution.
    • We could send someone to EDR to teach English for a year.
    • We can learn Spanish ourselves.
    • We can keep our relationship with our sister church going strong, by continuing to support learning tour missions.
    • And, finally, we can pray.
      • We can pray for the well being of our friends at EDR.
      • We can pray for strength and guidance.
      • And we can pray not just that God’s will be done, but that we will be faithful enough to be God’s hands where it is needed.

      Wednesday, April 02, 2008

      Capoeiristas Invade CU

      My first stab at something approaching journalism is up over at Smile Politely. It is a story about this weekend's capoeira conference here in Champaign-Urbana. Read the story if you don't know what capoeria is.

      Our kids have been training for a few years now and have earned their first cord, and were part of the batizado ceremony. You can see them at the end of the video I posted about it.

      Tuesday, April 01, 2008

      EbertFest Schedule Announced

      The EbertFest schedule was announced last Friday. It is available here.

      As always, I don't know many of the movies, which is the exact opposite of my friend PG, who usually knows most of them. We'll be doing the Unofficial EbertFest Blog again, and have posted a conversation about our initial reactions to the selections here.

      It takes me a few weeks to get truly frothed up at the mouth about the festival, which is good, because it doesn't start until the last week in April.