Tuesday, March 31, 2009

BNL "moves forward:" feeling melancholic (part 2)

The BNL song "Bad Day" remains on a regular listening rotation these days. It still produces thought of my oldest daughter--her joyful, mysterious, and common childhood. I also think of the first time I heard it in context of the report of the BNL breakup. Relationships change, and there's no need to dwell in misery over what used to be, but find grace in what was and what will be. Today's entry brings thoughts about BNL songs as the soundtrack of my household's life:

"I Love You (from the CD "Gordon")" This song was on the soundtrack I made for My Dear Wife (MDW) during the labor and birth of our oldest daughter. MDW particularly enjoyed this song--a little for its usual BNL silliness: "I love soup, and I love ice cream sandwiches, too. I love fishsticks, but I love you." It also named something in our relationship that revealed a depth of preparation, yet also some spontaneous ebullience (Defining Lyric): "I love you, so let's make a family tree." As we waited for and lived out our nascent parenthood, this song made us dance, much like child #1 in MDW's belly.

"Brian Wilson (from the CD "Gordon")" I probably like this song a little more than MDW, but we've talked about our dark side and the dark side of Stephen Page associated with this song--about self-medication with food (a struggle with us on occasion), depression (not our own struggle--but one that we see in our family and in our congregations) and the wonder about people who can produce such brilliant and beautiful art while suffering in their own torment. Why is it that the suffering can produce such art that can resonate with the masses in their episodic or chronic pain? I am also reminded of my good friends in St. Louis--almost every trip to St. Louis we went searching for music well into the night in University City--songs that reflected that the world was our oyster. I can't remember the name of those "late night record shops."
Defining Lyric: "And if you want to find me I'll be out in the sandbox, wondering where the hell all the love has gone.
Playing my guitar and building castles in the sun, and singing "Fun, Fun, Fun."

"These Apples (from the CD "Maybe You Should Drive") This was my first BNL song, an introduction from my brother (a significant portion of music I enjoy is greatly influenced by him). I heard this song soon before I met MDW. This song reflects a mood of the playfulness of new love--eros--the art that inspires and leads to the propogation of the species. This song made it to the some of the "mixed tapes" I sent to pour out my heart for MDW.
Defining Lyric: "Im not trying to sing a love song -- Im trying to sing in tune. I know I am sometimes headstrong
Falling love, catching fire -- I want to be consumed Wondering will I ever tire, will I ever tire!"

Kansas Jayhawk Basketball--the 08-09 edition

As I laid out my March Madness bracket over the past 15-20 years, every year I picked Kansas to reach at least the Sweet 16, often the Elite 8 or Final 4, if not the Championship Game. It was usually a solid pick--KU has the 2nd longest consecutive streak of tournament appearances after Arizona for a reason. Sometimes they would find a way to disappoint themselves and the fans, like losing to UTEP when they were a number 1 seed, or the losses to Bucknell and Bradley this decade. The hope of a title was on the fingertips of fandom, only to have the nails and skin ripped away.

All was set right in the universe after the Jayhawks won the title last year--it had been almost 20 years since a favorite team won a title, and the last one even had its own degree of unsavory--the split title of the 1990 Washington Husky football team. My fan angst was cooled and the sport euphoria permeated daily thought. Though the title game of 2008 was AMAZING, I watched alone, doing my lunatic Jim Valvano run around the house looking for someone to hug.

This was my first year living as a pessimist for Jayhawk basketball in the tournament--I had them losing in the round of 32 in one bracket, and to NDSU in another. I was mentally prepared for an early exit. I believed in the tools--Collins and Aldrich are excellent players. I thought the matchups presented problems. I thought they were capable of more as I watched them. That loss to Michigan State wasn't warranted. They weren't beaten by a better team--the supporting cast played tentatively--it was like watching a deer in the headlights moment.

Regardless of my mental preparation for that loss, it still sucked. Regardless of how far I think KU will advance, it still hurts when they lose.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Listening...(March 30 Edition)

This Is The Right Time...Lisa Stansfield
Revival!...Me Phi Me
Little Liza Jane...Elizabeth Mitchell
Feeling No Pain...Jason Falkner
Thick As A Brick... Jethro Tull
Believe...Third Day
I'm On A Boat...The Lonely Planet (Feat. T-Pain)

Jason Falkner is one of those artists that is good at first listen, but gets even better as time goes by. He writes quality, reflective poetic songs, usually about relationships. I also like that his sound is not so predictable--it's not exactly eclectic alt pop, but definitely thoughtful.

The Me Phi Me song Revival! is off the Reality Bites soundtrack, one of those old school Gen X defining movies that comes through with some good songs. I never liked this song all that much, but I gave it another listen, attracted by some of its baptismal images. Since I use part of my running as prayer time, this song is a great bridge between running and prayer, making me appreciate its groove a little more.

I had never purchased a Lisa Stansfield CD or song, but she's got a groove that sticks in my head. iTunes had her categorized as a "UK Soul Diva." I suppose she is a musical cousin of Annie Lennox, but with more of a UK club feel (and believe me, I've been to SO many clubs in the UK). Sarah Silverman had a hilarious comment about divas on Bill Maher a few weeks ago. She compared diva to "the c word." How is it that Sarah Silverman and Bill Maher can say anything they want? Anyway, I enjoy this song.

Whenever I listen to Jethro Tull, I am reminded of the classic rock burnout crowd in my days at McKnight Middle School in Renton, WA. There was one guy who was in the 8th grade and driving to school. He was in shop class with me--while I made things like cutting boards for my mother and grandparents, he made wooden bongs, which he called "candle holders." He LOVED Jethro Tull. "Dude, TULL ROCKS." I suppose it takes someone high to say that a flute "rocks." This was a gutsy statement--but if it was a song on KISW or KZOK, the song, I suppose, could rock. But Thick As A Brick is far better than the Tull classic rocker, Aqualung.

I'm not a big fan of modern Christian rock (please, I don't know what to call this stuff, I generally can't stand this pseudo genre). Too much of it moves into "Jesus is my boyfriend" music. South Park does a great parody of Christian rock--but once in awhile I'll move beyond the parody and dive into a few bands in the genre: Third Day, Caedmon's Call, and Jennifer Knapp. The music meets a spiritual need that can't be met by any other genre at the time. I suppose this "genre" has come a long way since the days of Stryper.

If you have kids and want to give them some childrens music that doesn't make your soul hemmorhage (like, say, The Wiggles--those rich douchebags), get Elizabeth Mitchell. Yesterday.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Harsh and humorous

Harsh words contain a humorous kernel of truth.It's hard to laugh when neighbors are giving everything they have to save their neighborhoods and homes. But this Onion piece is a brilliant joke about American perspective.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

walk score

In my earlier days of adulthood, I thought I could live in any conditions. I proved that in my days at the University of Kansas--my Gram and Granddad came to visit me in my fraternity house. My room was called "The Zoo." My Gram took a look around and said, "this building should be condemned." She wasn't exaggerating.

I won't wax poetic about how things change when children are in the equation. I don't want my children to live in a dangerous neighborhood. But I could talk about children can be joyful in dreary conditions--the children I saw all over Nicaragua displayed the widest of smiles in the most meager of conditions. What I consider dreary is a suburban nightmare where we spend all of our time in a car attending to the basics in life. Though I don't currently live in a suburban sprawl setting, my area is very car dependent--not bike friendly, a mediocre and haphazard set of sidewalks, and weak public transportation. I have hopes for something better someday. Walkscore is a fun tool for analyzing a neighborhood's walkability. I've been playing with it a lot lately. I think there's a better way to build neighborhoods that allows for all kinds of transport--bike, walk, public and auto. Walk Score is good for the public imagination and understanding.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Joys of #2 learning to #1 & #2 in appropriate places

Child #2 recently returned from Grandma's Potty Boot Camp. My dear wife and I don't seem to have what it takes to get a child to pee in a toilet. That's not entirely true--Grandma is just more efficient. The Young One didn't take a costly bribe to use the toilet--Papa gave her a high five and danced the Charleston with every toilet success.

She's recently become quite a little lady, making her hair just so in the morning, and putting on a headband like her older sister. Over our pancake breakfast this morning, The Young One released a small floating air biscuit. She looked at me matter-of-factly and said, "excuse me."

I'm not exactly sure when I will re-enter the full-time working world. I have enjoyed being a stay-at-home dad. First, I really like the little moments like potty training and pony tails done with time and care, and the conversations that go with those activities. Second, I like that my role doesn't come with the socially conformed expectations of the stay-at-home mother. One thing is for sure, I won't win any parenting awards, especially when The Young One can quote this scene from Family Guy (DISCLAIMER: I don't let my young children watch Family Guy per se. She's only seen this clip a few times.)

The Young One hasn't watched this clip in a few months, but she'll walk up to me and say, "Hey Daddy, Cool Whip (emphasizing the h, of course)."

Friday, March 20, 2009

NDSU Bison vs. Kansas Jayhawks

The Jayhawks have a tough game today--though few will name today's game difficult for the Jayhawks. I have been a Jayhawk since I saw Danny Manning's last home game at Allen Field House in 1988. Though KU was a place of academic failure for me, I was adopted in to Jayhawk culture. It's the closest place to sports home I have next to the Seattle sports scene. I was melancholy to watch the Jayhawks win the NCAA National Championship all on my own, without another fan. But my muscles were tense the entire game--and I got a little misty after my screams with Mario Chalmer's shot to send the game into overtime. I ran around my house like the late Jim Valvano after he won the title with NC State. I was looking for someone to hug. My dear wife grunted from her slumber, I buzzed about the house all night with my legs shaking. I supported the Jayhawks with a lot of passion--waiting in line for hours for seats, travelling thousands of miles to watch tournament appearances. I was no Jayhawk foster child. I am adopted.

So...I write this not as an NDSU apologist, but as someone with some contacts to the NDSU culture recognizing they can beat the Jayhawks today.

I think the Jayhawks have a tough opening round game today. I think they should still win, but don't let anyone fool you and say this should be an easy game for the Jayhawks. Here are the reasons:

1. Minneapolis is a home game for North Dakota State. If NSDU alums and supporters don't live in the Fargo area, they live in the Twin Cities metro. They will be at the game en masse. There will be more green in that arena than anyone could imagine.

2. NDSU is stacked with 5th year seniors who have pledged a quarter of their lives for this game, this moment, this experience. Sure, they may be nervous--but they've got nothing to lose. This is NDSU's first year in Division I (they're just out of their probationary period when they weren't eligible for championships). Though the Summit League is not great competition, it's good enough to prepare them for this game (Oral Roberts and Oakland are decent programs).

I think this game would have been harder for KU last year--with all those future NBA players and so many near misses at a title, the pressure would have been almost too much. Being the defending champs and lower expectations, they may play loose enough to withstand NDSU's experience and preparation. Or, they may play too loose and take NDSU for granted.

I will be screaming for the Jayhawks in about 75 minutes for another KU victory. Just don't count me among the surprised if the Bison come out of Minneapolis with a win or two.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Race Day

The weekend trip to South Dakota ranch country with my daughter was so rich with meaning, I forgot to reflect upon my first race in almost 9 years. On the morning of March 14, I felt relatively well-prepared and surrounded by a sense of ease. I do not feel when I am getting ready to preach a sermon. Even though I know in my heart that the sermon isn't about me, but about God, I still wonder, "why would anyone bother to hear what I have to say?" Even if I prepared well, "preparation" really isn't possible. I can't ever know all of what can be known, but I should still seek until that next Sunday comes. Sometimes sermon preparation feels like bailing out a boat on a lake with a hole. I can see the shore. The scenery is beautiful--awe-inspiring even. I can swim to the shore if I have to. Sometimes I do. Sometimes I keep bailing and bailing. Other times I feel the doom of sinking.

Preparing for this run was liberating. Aside from the little speed work I executed (which I felt was too risky during this icy season), I ran appropriate mileage, rested strategically (thanks Jeff Galloway), lost a little weight, and built my endurance. I ran farther and longer than I thought I could. A marathon seems almost realistic. I set goals and came close to meeting them. I overcame adversity--my children's haphazard schedules and the powerful work ethic of my wife that sometimes kept me at home. I overcame holiday binging and drifts toward laziness in the cold, dark winter. I saved for and acquired the equipment I needed to run in these conditions. With the gifts God gave me and the grace of my family, I trained to run a five-mile race. About what did I need to worry? I wish I could prepare for sermons like that. What is the better question? What would sermon preparation look like that would lead me to peace instead of angst? I know that I'm supposed to trust God. I know that God doesn't love me any more if I preach a good sermon. I know all that. But the angst remains. This is not torment--it's just not peace.

So be it. Maybe I can learn more about my vocation with running. Running since October has produced my best thinking and prayer time in years. Though my finishing time was 47:08--slow and sometimes plodding--I was steady and focused, calm and thoughtful, prayerful and pensive. I even cracked a few smiles. I had the best cheering section in the race--my dear wife and two girls--meeting me at 3 different times during the race, calling my name and offering me encouragement. Though a brisk south wind slapped me on the chest on the home stretch, I was buoyed by the all the good that created that moment of meeting a goal and being greeted by my family.

That was about the best day any guy could have.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

But they don't say 'farm', they say 'ranch' out West...

(Thanks to Jonathan Richman in his song 'Circle I' for today's title) I created my own "Take Your Daughter To Work Day" last weekend.

This was a daring move. A child is unpredicatable (not a bad thing), but poses a problem if she decides to misbehave while I'm preaching or leading worship. My dear wife was at her own congregation, and my youngest was with her grandparents in Minnesota. Collateral damage possibilities were reduced, but I was also on my own. I had to remain calm and trust my daughter to be a good kid 200 miles from home.

Why take such a risk? I have a principle--though not quite formed. Sioux Falls is a bubble. Though my daughter has traveled to Norway, the UK, Ireland, Canada, at least 6 or 7 of the United States, she still lives in a bubble. This is not necessarily a bad thing for a child, I existed in the Western Washington bubble for most of my childhood--but I was also aware of other places and their differences. My granddad made sure of it. We talked of their extensive travels in the State of Washington as a newspaper administrator. We talked of their travels around the country.

Many people in Sioux Falls don't really care that other parts of the State of South Dakota exist. They may travel to the Black Hills and Rapid City on occasion. They may go watch their children play sports in some of the bigger towns in the state--but I see little knowledge of their South Dakotan brothers and sisters and what their lives are really like. They don't have to--everything anyone needs as a Sioux Falls resident is in Sioux Falls. This way of life is perfectly adequate for many people and certainly not to be decried; my principle is perspective. Though Sioux Falls puts of an air of agricultural influence, one can avoid it as a Sioux Falls resident. I wanted my daughter to see more of South Dakota. I want her to learn something more about where she was born--where her mother and father have served for 8 years, the goodness of the people that help put food on her plate, the beauty and diversity of God's creation, that congregations are different--even when they are close together. So we went to a farm/ranch out in the middle of South Dakota, graciously hosted by a family in one of the congregations where I preach.

I really don't have much farm experience myself. I have acquainted myself with rural people during my time in South Dakota--sometimes getting to know them quite well. I don't really appreciate the romanticizing of rural or agricultural life--I guess I hold a Lutheran theology of valuing vocation and land in general. We all need each other. I find it important that my children have that exposure--to appreciate God's work in the world and that we have a part in God's work. The lesson was fun. My daughter wandered the land, with her host, both people and animals, she poked and ground her hands and feet in the dirt, mud and water. She walked among the cows and their newborn calves. She attached herself to one in particular--with the ID tag marked "411." She jumped from hay bale to hay bale, and gathered eggs from a small hen house--eggs that we ate for breakfast the next morning. I'm glad she has learned some of the lessons of gratitude. After gathering the eggs she exclaimed, "Thanks, chickens!"

One of my own lessons was what a structured life my daughter lives. She has few opportunities to explore. This land gave her the opportunity to do that. The farm invites this kind of exploration, and the hosts not only made it possible, they made it graceful and joyful.

Friday, March 13, 2009

A Sign Of The Apocalypse: Rogue Lutheran Hobby Butchers Seek Partnership With Episcopalian Salt Makers

Lutherans have it in their DNA to split with each other over all kinds of things. Working together with Episcopalians pushed some Lutherans over the edge. Lutherans are a little cranky by nature--and they're getting ready for a fight (with attempts to be civil), in Minneapolis this summer. Sure, there's lots of business to attend to--but the press will flock to the discussion about LGBT clergy serving in ELCA churches.


What should Lutherans really be worried about? Rogue Lutheran hobby butchers like Mike Prussman who may partner with makers of Episcopalian salt and defy Lutheran teachings. It's just like those Episcopalians to slip under the radar of Lutheran bureaucracy before we can do anything about it at our Churchwide Assembly.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

I told myself no more Jon Stewart posts for awhile: my will power comprimised

My will power was breached because I wet myself laughing--maybe it had something to do with my 2-year old running over to watch Dora The Explorer talk to Jon Stewart, and Boots offering to throw feces at Jim Cramer.

If you like the Hulu clips...

On this day last year, Hulu began sharing tv content to the web. Not only am I thankful that I can get Stewart and Colbert without subscribing to cable or satellite, but having a clearinghouse for Saturday Night Live and What's Happening??? Fabulous.

Can't have a What's Happening clip without a signature Dwayne, "Hey Hey Hey!" Which is tied for the #1 Hey Hey Hey on Television with Fat Albert (I wish I would have kept my Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids Lunch Box).

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Journalistic 2nd cousins on the offensive as a Confirmation illustration

(maybe I should call these posts the Jon Stewart clip of the week)

Another reason I appreciate Jon Stewart is that he doesn't pass himself off as a classic serious journalist. He only exposes how foolish journalists can appear. In this clip, Jon goes after CNBC for its claim to be a high quality source of financial information. I appreciate that he is an equal opportunity skewer--if you look foolish as a broadcast journalist, you will be exposed, regardless of whether you are Fox, CNN, CNBC or any of their cousins. Not only is the content suspect, but the approach; talking heads really aren't talking heads any more. They're SCREAMING heads--which increases the chance of looking ridiculous, while also reducing credibility of the content. Passion is appropriate and desirable, but it seems like there's the audio level is either around 1-3 on the dial, or it's all the way up to 11. Broadcast journalist/personalities use far too much 11. As do preachers.

Stewart's points regarding current events hold greater resonance because they take away the fear of naming injustice and foolishness. Martin Luther also used humor as a rhetorical device in exposing injustice in the church--this was a powerful discussion last weekend as I taught Confirmation. We are currently watching the 2003 film "Luther." The students were trying to understand the humor of Luther as he lectured to theology students in Wittenberg. They didn't understand why it was funny until we discussed the quip "18 of the 12 apostles are buried in Spain," lampooning the market for relics and making money for the church off of fear. So I asked them who uses humor to expose injustice? They named Stephen Colbert and Jon Stewart almost right away. This was a great Confirmation discussion--although I'm not sure folks from my seminary would readily draw parallels between Jon Stewart and Martin Luther.

What else do Luther and Stewart have in common? I'm sure they could both be asses. Actually we know a lot about Luther being an ass--he's not exactly a good role model for analyses on ethnicity or race. And Jon Stewart can be a one trick pony--but Luther and Stewart are good tacticians of humor and exposing injustice and foolishness.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

In Search Of: I Was Dreaming I Was Dreaming

The Web is such a sensory feed of memories. I keep a mental list of things I want to find, occasionally remembering to look. Sometimes I check an item of the list, like finding Annie Lennox version of Ladies of the Canyon last month. That one was relatively easy--I knew what I was looking for, and I knew that eventually that track would show up on iTunes. Other search items are not so easy. I remember the television series hosted by Leonard Nimoy, "In Search Of:" a program from my youth that sometimes grabbed my attention, leaving me to an afternoon of wonder, and the stories associated with that wonder.

Though Nimoy often addressed the paranormal, my own "In Search Of" is a simple story about a piece of art. When living in Denmark over a decade ago, I befriended a Mexican family in the congregation of which I was a part. I didn't know the family very long, we never stayed in touch. They did make their mark on me. The mother told me she completed her PhD while raising two children--it was through her story that I believed it was possible for me in my life. She said it was better to study with children because they created a discipline for study--she appreciated and valued her study time more. She and her husband introduced me to chicken mole, probably one of the top 20 meals I have had in my entire life (maybe a topic for another day). The couple also introduced me to a piece of art in their home. The black and white drawing had to be at least 4 feet tall. She gave me the title of the piece in Spanish, which I could not remember. The closest translation of the title was, "I Was Dreaming I Was Dreaming." I only vaguely remember the name of the artist, and I could not spell the name to save my life. It sounded something like "REE-pay." My web searches for this piece has been futile. My friends implied that this artist was moderately successful in Mexico, so I have hope it will show up in my search.

I am not really an art aficionado. I enjoy my own photography. I like to learn about the stories behind the art that grips me. My dear wife and I had a powerful experience viewing Gustav Vigeland's sculptures in Oslo. Vigeland's story for me is an example why I am a proponent of public investment in the arts. My dear wife and I have a cherished piece by John August Swanson that was an ordination gift--we were ordained together. This piece about which I know little is a bold, haunting, yet peaceful rendering of a large, gently curved face with gaping, relaxed eyes with an image of a dreaming self in the upper portion of the piece. The piece is not haunting in a terrible way, but a mysterious way, like a recurring dream to which the meaning is unknown. Mystery is under appreciated. I find this in my own brand of Lutheranism, where everything about our relationship with God has to be so clear and understood. Is love always clear and understood? Though my wife and I are close and woven, she still holds mystery to me, and I find joy in that. Discovery and mystery do not have to be painful. Maybe this piece of art will always be a mystery.

But I am always open to receive a lead about this art. I would love to see it again.

Saturday, March 07, 2009

The Homestretch Marked By The Long Run

I hit a new running benchmark today, running a little over ten miles for the first time since my 30th birthday (almost nine years ago). I have one week to go before my five mile race. I've trained well, averaging about 20 miles per week since October. I've stayed away from speedwork, but I have embraced the weekly Friday or Saturday long run. I'm pretty dead afterward, but those endorphines during the 90 minutes or more I am out there are great for my soul. The five miles next Saturday will seem short compared to today. My only fear is that I haven't done much practice with my pacing. This being my first race in nine years, some of the adrenaline rush and nerves will feel familiar, but I have also never competed in a race this long. My career of distance running consists of cross-country courses in high school and 5k runs in my early adulthood. I think I am wise enough not to get too entangled in other's paces--I'll enjoy the race and get a charge out of the race day energy.

I feel like I'm inching toward a marathon in 2010 or 2011...we'll see how this goes.

Daylight Savings

I remember being one of the freaks who liked the spring Daylight Savings time change when I was a kid. It meant one less hour I had to spend in bed (wasn't much for sleep as a kid), it also meant that my Little League games were a lot less likely to be called because of darkness. In college, that attitude changed--one less hour to party at the bars! No! Actually, I was never really much of a bar hopper in college, so the time change didn't matter much to me.

More so than Groundhog Day or Labor Day, Daylight Savings is more of a sign that the seasons are changing--from warmness to coldness and vice versa. At least this is my outlook in the Midwest. I hope for a long spring, a short summer, and look forward to the return of the snow. I didn't notice the temperature change all that much in the Pacific Northwest. I could always go outside if I kept a rain jacket or a bumbershoot handy.

Daylight Savings these days is much more of a pain in the keister--trying to ease my girls into new time rhythm, while adjusting my church preparation. Taking away an hour for Sunday prep is a big deal. I would just as soon get rid of it. We are foolish to attempt time manipulation--Daylight Savings is the equivalent of setting all of your clocks ahead 10 minutes so you can get to where you need to be on time. It seems to be much ado about nothing, even with its intended purposes.

Daylight Savings is not enough of a pain for me to write my congressional representatives, or move to Indiana or Arizona. I imagine New Hampshire might join that crowd just to be contrarian. We will always be a culture looking for a new way to defeat time. Good luck with that.

Thursday, March 05, 2009

The Cacophany of Talking Heads (I Hope I'm Making Sense, Or Should I Stop?)

I remember thinking that it didn't really matter that the election is over, that the cacophany of political talking heads would not abate. I struggle to tolerate even some of my analytical standbys, like the McLaughlin Group on PBS. The Mort Zuckerman decorum-based analysis is going the way of the dinosaur. Shrill sells. For awhile I found myself listening to Keith Olbermann, just because of the novelty of a left-leaning distributor of shrill. I'm giving up on almost all of them. Jon Stewart gets to stay, only because he makes me laugh. It seems like every 2-3 years I return to the Christian Science Monitor, then I leave again because it's expensive, and I find their web content unsatisfying.

Today I laughed extra hard because of the lampooning of the NRA's Wayne LaPierre (what a tragic, French sounding name for the face of the NRA). You may have to wait awhile to get to the LaPierre section of the clip, but it's worth it. The talking heads just sound like idiots. Stewart later shows a split screen with Chris Matthews and Michael Steele??? They both sound like fools--and not the good fools in my new favorite Great Big Sea song, Company of Fools. Bad fools. Bad, bad fools.

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Listening...(March 4 Edition)

Company of Fools...Great Big Sea
Lost Myself...Jason Falkner
She Don't Use Jelly...Flaming Lips
Ladies of the Canyon...Annie Lennox
A Living Prayer...Alison Krauss + Union Station
I'm On A Boat (Featuring T-Pain)...The Lonely Island
Half A World Away...R.E.M.
Bad Day...Barenaked Ladies
Casino Queen...Wilco
Dani California...Red Hot Chili Peppers

I used to hate the Flaming Lips song, "She Don't Use Jelly." I thought it was one of those songs that Bob Mould critiques in "Megamanic:" 'It's the shit because they told me so." The song made an appearance on one of my favorite shows, "Friday Night Lights" last week, where the misfit Landry tries to keep his band going, and finds some misinterpreted chemistry in a Jill Sobule/Jane Wiedlin combo, questioning young girl. She turns Landry away from lovers angst over a girl named Tyra, toward some fun rock and roll. It was a good storyline, a truthful tale about an awkward teenage boy with some confidence in his abilities, yet struggling with finding his place and making sense of relationships. The story line lent a little charm to that Flaming Lips song, enough to get it in my head and not be annoyed to screaming.

I'm almost ashamed to say I like the "I'm On A Boat" hip-hop semi-parody (call it Lutheran guilt for finding art in gratuitous vulgarity). I laugh every time, and it's got an infectious beat. T-Pain has made some great cameos on SNL recently, including the video for this song. I like how he doesn't take himself too seriously. The beat keeps me awake and moving with its energy and humor. Great for my 400-mile commute and my running.

Good Great Big Sea songs continue to reveal themselves to me. "Company of Fools" has a jig-party kind of rhythm and the poetic sensibilty of Garth Brooks' "Friends In Low Places," but, believe me, this is a far superior song with a dash of theological reflection and class awareness:

I'm wading through the quicksand
In the gardens of the gentry
Blooming vacuity
Leaves mind and pockets empty
In the Social Order
I accept the bottom rung
Until the wine is pouring
And the Lord commands a song
Meet me at the staff door
When the posers all go home
We'll gather with the other Fools
And put on a proper show

If you have any music suggestions, I'm open to your ideas.

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Where are the authentic monologues? In The Feast of Love

The Feast of Love by Charles Baxter (Vintage, 2000, 308 pages).

In my shallow career as a fiction reader, I have wondered how an author writes good dialogue. One thing that has irritated me about my favorite authors (Carver, Coupland and Baxter) is that their dialogue sometimes seems contrived. Do people really talk about this stuff? Maybe people wonder about the same thing about people like me--he talks about that stuff?

Charles Baxter came to (then) Mankato State University during my first term there after I transferred from the University of Kansas. I had rediscovered my academic passion after my poor-to-mediocre first three years. I was voraciously reading and sucking the marrow out of collegiate life--attending lectures, readings, campus events, and getting involved in campus ministry. I attended a public reading by Charles Baxter for his collection of stories, A Relative Stranger. It was my first reading by a published author, ever. Though I had sworn off journalism for the time being, writing and literature were still keen and developing interests. Though I remember little about Baxter's dialogue, he bacame an example in my fiction writing for details and lists that gave information about characters without action or dialogue. Probably a basic for fiction analysis and writing, but new to me. In Feast of Love, Baxter is still good at those details.

The dialogue is still labored, but I learned so much about the characters and relationships in short, descriptive monologues about their relationships, that the dialgoue doesn't seem to matter as much later in the novel. The monologues were effective to me because of their authenticity. As a pastor, I feel like I get a lot of inauthentic communication because so many people are trying to filter their stories in a religious/spiritual/faith setting. These are the kind of stories shared with a hair dresser over several years. But these monologues are shared with the author, Charlie Baxter, about whom the reader learns very little, except that he is an insomniac. Because of the authentic monologues (sometimes graphic, but never gratuitously so), I cared about the characters and their paths more deeply than I can remember for any characters in my reading memory. The conditions for these monologues also speak to the human condition: I think people are looking for a safe place to tell their stories, but people are also a bit narcissistic. They want their story to be out in public (reconfigured to protect the innocent) to assure themselves of meaning in their lives. Maybe I should speak for myself, but I identified with these characters for this reason. They desired to be understood and have meaning for their stories.

I like this book more the more I think about it. Which for me is the sign of a good story.

I picked up a copy of Tess of the D'Urbervilles. I don't think I'll be reading this as quickly as Feast of Love, but I need a shot at literary redemption.

Monday, March 02, 2009

The teaser thaw gets you

(Falls Park In Sioux Falls, taken by the blogger.)

After the leaves fall in South Dakota, I look forward to the first snow. The white blanket is still a novelty to this Pacific Northwest native, even after a 2 decades of Midwest winters. I get a little giddy watching the flakes fall and relish the thought of snow people, sledding, snow balls, hot cocoa and the lights of the town bouncing off the snow tapestries. I remember how sad I was when the 30-year big snow departed after 10 days in my youth, and I'm just as forlorn when the snow leaves here and the drab prairie lays there like pile after pile of dirty laundry, waiting for the spring to come when the earth seems clean and fresh.

That pile of snow was gone for a few weeks, and we hit the mid-fifties in Eastern SoDak. It made my morning run less dangerous--but the view wasn't all that appealing.

Inevitably, the thaw doesn't last and the snow comes back, sometimes with a vengeance. The brief thaw lasts long enough that body cold defencses break down, and the 30mph northwest wind bites a little harder. Mid-to-late-winter almost always produces a teaser thaw. But, March is the snowiest month in South Dakota and winter has returned. We got about 3 inches in Sioux Falls and about 8 where I preach on the weekends. Nothing like the Southeast and the Eastern Seaboard, but it's enough to keep me sane. This weekend snow was cool--fish tailing in the Honda Element and running over snow mounds. The rural counties of South Dakota plow as little as possible for cars to function. For some reason, the big snows have avoided Sioux Falls over the past two years--they seem to be all around us, but just miss us. I would love a good old-fashioned oppressive snow storm before the wintry weather leaves for another year. I want some good photographs.