Tuesday, August 31, 2004

"The newspaper says, says, say it's true, it's true..."

"...We can break through..."

If you'll allow me some fanboy geekery, I have to take a moment and spin in a circle with anticipation of U2's new album.

The album will be released in late November. While it was first reported as being entitled "Vertigo," this was later dismissed by Those Who Know. The current rumored title is "How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb."

The title sounds a bit New-Wavish to me, and lends itself to too many unfavorable review titles, in the absurd but still possible event that it doesn't meet critical expectations. In fact, any album with the word "bomb" in the title is just begging to be panned.

That aside, I'm so freakin ready for this album to be released. Four years is just too long to wait.

I remember when "All that you Can't Leave Behind" was released. It was early November, 2000. I was a junior at OBU, in the irrepressibly cool Dr. Cole's Brit Lit I class. I had mentioned something about the band to another student in passing, and she mentioned that she had just picked up their album. Really? I asked. Wow. So how is it? Oh, it's great.

She let me borrow it until the next class. And I immediately went out, after listening to the first three tracks, and picked up my own copy.

So good.

Oh, news: the band's official site has released the names of six tracks from the album. They are:

"Vertigo" (hence the confusion)
"Sometimes You Can't Make It On Your Own"
"City of Blinding Lights"
"A Man and A Woman"
"Crumbs From Your Table"

Very exciting.

I think the release date is likely November 23. I may call in sick, just to be at the door when Target opens. Sad, I know. But true. I've done it before.

And when they set out on their next North American Tour, I will do everything up to and including selling my left kidney, to get tickets to the nearest show (even if that includes a road trip).

So yes. Woo hoo!

If you've made it this far, and aren't as excited as I am about any of this, do me a big favor: smack yourself (hard) on the forehead and then go out and get this album. Listen to it all the way through, and if you still aren't excited about the new one, smack, listen, and repeat.

Monday, August 30, 2004

Two words

Kick. Ass.

In related news, please buy me this. Remember--My birthday is in six weeks.

My inner Indie jumped for joy.

I found a little slice of Indie-hip heaven on Friday.

Wherehouse Music, less than ten minutes from my apartment. I thought they had closed them all down, but this one is still open.

Drool-worthy music selection, included a rather extensive assortment of lesser-known bands. Several that I felt cool for recognizing. Way to go, Dave, for not being completely clueless to good music. And it was here that I made 3 purchases that I couldn't afford but nevertheless felt compelled to make.

I picked up Ryan Adams' "Love is Hell", parts One and Two. Both used. Total cost--13 bucks.

And I was taken aback by another discovery.

A concert DVD from 1995--"Jeff Buckley--Live in Chicago." Holy crap. Sooooooooo good. A full concert, and some bonus in-studio performance tracks. Two hours of live Buckley goodness.

Feel free to turn green with envy.

Holy convoluted ending, Batman!

I finished Thr3e last night. What. the. crap.

I mean, I get it. And it (sort of) works. But it's SO far out there that I didn't really enjoy it.

After a really interesting set-up, and well-developed, steady elevation of the tension, the story shifts way out into left field.

It also felt like Dekker really sped through the last third of the book.

And he couldn't resist the moralizing speeches. He did so well until the last few pages. Then they hit. With a minor character who's a seminary professor, I guess it was unavoidable.

I don't know. I was really enjoying the book, but the ending... it felt like he was trying so hard to break the formula, that he really went too far. He was trying too hard to shock and amaze me. And it took me out of the story.

I mean, I was fooled. He had me going the whole time. So when the other shoe dropped (those who have read it will get the joke), it was like, "But wait, you just said that..."

Overall, that's kinda how it went. Dekker's clearly talented. But he was straining for the shock ending, the "Psycho" ending, Norman Bates popping out of the doorway wearing his momma's sundress. And to accomplish that, Dekker led you down one path, switched you to another, then--"Psych!"--switched you back. And I didn't buy it. (But, if you want to stick with the "Psycho" comparison, the moralizing speech at the end of "Thr3e" works like it did in "Psycho." And the protagonist in the book wouldn't even hurt a fly. No, sir.)

So, final verdict on "Thr3e"-- "eh. S'alright, I guess."

Friday, August 27, 2004

Productivity Enhancement...ahem...

Friday link-o-rama. Bring it on.***

Celebrity blogging: Zach Braff, the brilliant mind behind Garden State has a blog. Mmmm, manatee love... Also, for all you conservative kids, Michelle Malkin, a.k.a. Chris "Hardball" Matthews' favorite victim, has a neat little right-leaning blog of her own. She tends to hawk her book a little more than I prefer, but when mine are published, I'll likely do the same thing.

Non-celebrity, but still keen, blogging: There are people I know personally, like Miss Emily G. There are people who know people I know personally, like Jerry. There are people I don't know personally, but enjoy reading, like Team Redd, Neil Golemo, Anj, and the Cary-Grant-obsessed Sheila. There are political/current-events-focused blogs, like Second Breakfast, Slings and Arrows, Command Post, and Vodkapundit.

RIP, "My War": Well, apparently, my favorite military blog has bitten the dust. I haven't been reading lately, so I don't know if he was forced to end it, or decided to stop himself. From the quote on the page, it may be the former. Very well. Good job, CBFTW. We appreciate it. Keep your head down, and come home soon.

Funnies: There are a plethora of political cartoonists, the vast majority critical of this administration and everything it does. At the risk of losing my oh-so-cherished "fair and balanced" status (stop laughing, Marty), here are a couple of conservative cartoonists. Always worth a look.

Now Showing: My favorite movie site lately has been Rotten Tomatoes, but I still check Roger Ebert from time to time. There is also Internet Movie Database, a tremendous resource. Of course, the best-written and cleverest movie site ever is no longer being updated. And the world's the poorer for it.

There. That should keep you occupied. Have a good weekend all.

***There is, of course, the implicit disclaimer that I am not responsible for the moral or ideological content of anyone else's page. I'm just tossing some options out there. Please send all hatemail regarding other sites' subject matter to getoverit@youbigbaby.wah. Thanks.

Thursday, August 26, 2004

"And when she goes to work, you can hear her strings..."

"...Grace finds beauty in everything."

I've been thinking and praying about what to do my lesson on this Sunday, and what I keep coming back to is grace. This is probably because I started reading "The Cost of Discipleship" by Dietrich Bonhoeffer this week, a book that deals in large part with the contrast between cheap grace and costly grace. Cheap grace, that absolves without making demands, that allows us to live as we like and do whatever we want, relying on the fact that God will always forgive us. And costly grace, the grace that comes with an obligation, not as in a deal being made, but as a debt we cannot deny that we owe. Costly grace recognizes that because Christ sacrificed and suffered for us, we cannot live as though he didn't. We cannot separate grace from discipleship.

Bonhoeffer writes that cheap grace is killing the church, and is really undermining the heart of Christianity. Jesus didn't tell his disciples, "I forgive you, so just feel better about what you're doing." He said, "Follow me." A direct command to abandon the past life and become his disciple.

This should be obvious. If Christians read the Bible, they would see that. In Romans 6:1, Paul asks, "What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means! We died to sin; how can we live in it any longer?" In this passage, Paul clearly states that grace is not license. Just because we're forgiven doesn't mean we don't have to change. On the contrary, because of this grace, we cannot possibly go on with business as usual. Grace so outrageous must make the difference in our lives.

And what happens in so many churches and in so many Sunday schools is that we hammer home the grace of God as a free gift, offered to us by Christ, whose death brings life and justification. And this is absolutely true. But it's not the whole picture. Grace itself demands response. We who were dead in our sins and have been made alive in Christ are not only freed from the slavery of sin, but we are now "slaves of righteousness." We are bought with a price; Christ's blood gives us life, so that we might become like our new Master.

Even as I write this, I feel myself wanting to shy away from the "master/slave" language, but I can't. It's what Paul says. That's the dynamic. But my American upbringing wants to champion independence. We are free from anyone's control. But this isn't reality. I haven't found anywhere in the Bible where it says that Christianity is freedom from obligation. In fact, it says the opposite. Once we were slaves to sin; but the grace of God through the sacrifice of Jesus brought us out of bondage to sin, and made us slaves to righteousness.

You can't get away from it. You can lie to yourself all you want about being independent, free of all ties, but, to quote the eminent sage Bob Dylan, "you gonna have to serve somebody."

But this relationship dynamic doesn't lessen the love involved. We are not slaves treated as human masters treat slaves. We don't fear suffering handed down from a sadistic owner. In fact, we who are in Christ are elevated to the level of friends of Jesus, sons of God (of whom Christ is the Firstborn), and heirs to the riches of our Father.

Wait--isn't that a contradiction? First we were slaves, and then we were sons. We can't be both, can we?

Actually, yes, in a way. But we have to understand this new slavery. When we were slaves to sin, we were led and controlled by sin, but now that we are slaves to righteousness, we are led by the Spirit. Paul writes in chapter 8,
"Therefore, brothers, we have an obligation--but it is not to the sinful nature,
to live according to it. For if you live according to the sinful nature, you
will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you
will live, because those who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. For
you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you
received the Spirit of sonship. And by him we cry, "Abba, Father." The Spirit
himself testifies with our spirit that we are God's children. Now if we are
children, then we are heirs--heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we
share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory."

We are slaves to God, as a son (or daughter) is the slave of his/her father. This is sometimes a difficult comparison to make, especially in our "progressive" Western culture, where rebellion is glorified and accepted. But Paul says that, in this new dynamic, when we are slaves to righteousness, we no longer have to fear, because we become children of God. We can go to God and call him "Abba," the term for "daddy." When Grace is there, slavery becomes sonship. And being a son means doing the will of the Father.

Which brings us back to discipleship. At the end of Paul's passage above, he says we are heirs, if we share in Christ's sufferings. I have to admit, when I think about the "sufferings" of Christ, my mind immediately goes to "The Movie," and the sadism of Christ's death. But that's not the only suffering of Christianity. Paul describes in several of his letters about the hardships he endured for the name of Christ, ranging from slanders to imprisonment to hunger and torture. Paul rejoices in these, knowing that they are proof he is living the life to which he has been called.

Which is not to imply that Christianity is some form of psychological masochism. But hardship and trouble are part of the package. Jesus told his disciples on several occasions that if they follow Him, they will encounter persecution. But, as we discussed a few posts ago, those who are persecuted for Christ and for righteousness are called "blessed." Furthermore, Paul understood that the "suffering" he dealt with was nothing, by comparison, to the victory of God's redemptive grace revealed in his life.

But if there is no suffering, if there is no struggle, if there is no change, if Christianity is easy, it may be the result of cheap grace, which falsely provides reassurance that you owe God nothing.

Grace is our redemption. Grace removes the stain. Grace is our resurrection. But Grace is not cheap, not traded in the street like gold-plated jewelry. Grace is the pearl of great price for which Christ gave all he had, so that he might offer it to us. But such a gift is not to be accepted lightly. Discipleship is not the term of a bargain, or part of a trade (my service for Your forgiveness). Discipleship is the response to a life-altering event, like the person who is rescued by an EMT and becomes a doctor as a result.

You were dead; he made you alive. You are His. If you understand this, you will never be content with a grace cheaply held. You will leave your nets, or your counting table, or your shade tree, and follow wherever He leads.


Apologies for the unfocused post. I usually try to hone them into more direct statements. Today's just got away from me. There is so much to say, so much I'm still learning. I seem to stumble through the explanations. I may have misread things, miscommunicated them. Look-- don't listen to me. Read Romans. Paul explains it much better than I do.

Tuesday, August 24, 2004

Red Kryptonite

"You can't have it both ways, Clark."
I've rarely been one to just come right out and say what I'm feeling, especially when it relates to romance. I'm the one who waits, reads the signals, looks for portents and omens. Like a pitcher who never throws the ball, just watching the catcher's sign, and shaking his head "no." Very careful. Too careful. Weighing risks.

And stories about guys who are too afraid to reveal their hearts always frustrate me, because, contrary to my practice, I know that staying bottled up will never result in successful relationships. I smack my forehead, and say, "You idiot, it's so painfully obvious that she's interested. Quit being skittish, you big baby." Let's pause and smile at the irony.

One particular storyline on a television show got me thinking last night. Three guesses as to what that show was.

On this particular episode of Smallville, Clark unwittingly finds red kryptonite, up to this point unknown to anyone involved in the story. While the green kryptonite weakens him physically, the red seemed to affect him psychologically. It made him rebellious, selfish, arrogant, hot-tempered, and greedy. But it also made him uninhibited. In a way, the red kryptonite turned him into someone controlled by his basest desires and feelings, without any thought to consequences or obligations. 100% id, in Freudian terms. The ego (and super-ego, for that matter) were subjected to the all-powerful id, with often disastrous results.

But yet, in this state, all the fear of rejection, all the concern about "not hurting the friendship," disappeared. And while his overtures to Lana were at times clearly driven by his...um, hormones, the fact is that he told her how he felt about her. Exactly how he felt about her.

Finally, at the end of the episode, when the red stone was destroyed and Clark was back to normal, he went around trying to apologize for his uncharacteristic and often offensive behavior. This was clearly not an easy task. When he came to Lana, he asked her to forget what he said, that he wasn't being himself. She replied, "So you really don't have feelings for me?" He hemmed and hawwed for a second, and she followed up with, "You can't have it both ways, Clark." As she walked away, he realized that she was right. The statement is either true or it's not.

So I began thinking, and where I ended up with this train of thought is not where you'd expect.

The reason Clark has (up to this point in the show) never come out and said how he feels about her is because she's been dating another guy all along. "Rough around the edges" is a generous description of this guy. Clark had many opportunities to take advantage of this other guy's mistakes and problems in order to elevate himself in Lana's eyes, but he didn't. His sense of honor, decency, and in some cases compassion, prevented him from doing so.

Yet with the red kryptonite, all bets are off. He is a man driven by his passions, with no thought of others.

Will's recent brilliant essay on the machinations of love reminded me of a key phrase in the (in)famous "love chapter" in I Corinthians. In that chapter, Paul says, "Love seeks not its own." At least, that's how I memorized it, King-James-style. In other translations, it says, "love is not selfish" or something like that. But I like the KJV better in this rare instance. Because it's really about intent. Planning. Purpose. Love doesn't work for its own best interest.

Back to the theological analysis of the Smallville episode. All other negatives aside, the red rocks brought out the selfish passions that Clark had kept in check all along, whether for good reasons or silly ones. And while the romantics in the audience (myself included) catch ourselves wishing that he would just go ahead and say what he feels, that may not be the best choice. I actually thought, "man, if those red rocks were around sooner..." But I had to stop and contradict the thought. Because the unbridled-passion-Clark was seeking his own. And that's not love in any real form.

We've talked back and forth about "going for it" when it comes to interpersonal relationships. I've been instructed lovingly by most of you to "quit being so skittish, you big baby." And I appreciate everything you've said, as well as the fact that you said it at all. But there is another side to the proverbial coin, in which "going for it" is the most selfish thing a person can do.

The girl whom I "like like" confided in a mutual acquaintance that she isn't ready to start dating again. That it's not the right time in her life, or something of that nature. And I can definitely respect that. But it also reinforces my decision of late to not press the issue. I admire her quite a bit, and I don't want to call the question, make her tell me "no," and then have the both of us be uncomfortable from then on. There's no point to changing the dynamic, just to "have an answer."

In high school, my favorite literary characters were Sidney from "A Tale of Two Cities," and Cyrano De Bergerac. Two men who did not seek their own. Two men who sacrificed what they wanted for the betterment and happiness of others. Cyrano was especially my favorite. He loved a woman who loved another. He had a chance to ruin his rival's relationship with the fair Roxanne, but instead helped him woo and win her. Even when the rival was killed, Cyrano honored his memory by never telling Roxanne that he wrote the love letters she held so dearly. To the end of his life, they were friends, and only on the day of his death, did he reveal his true and unending love for her.

Many see this play as a tragedy of sorts. But not me. For as he lay in her lap dying, he said that the one thing he took with him, the one thing he held throughout his life was his honor, symbolized by the white plume in his hat. And this gave him joy. To live your life sacrificially, to put the good of others ahead of yourself, and to in all things maintain your honor--that is not tragedy. That is triumph.

It's an overdramatic analogy, I know. This is an overdramatic post. But I look for the story in everything. So here's mine. My meaningless mock-epic. And it could turn out alright. I just have to hang on to my white plume.

That, and watch out for red kryptonite.

Monday, August 23, 2004

"All I want is to feel this way..."

"...To be this close, to feel the same..."

Happy Monday.

Thursday's post caused quite a stir, it seems. Thanks to all for your comments and concerns. Allow me to reiterate that I am quite realistic about inter-gender relationships, and the unpredicability of "wuv." My list was only half-serious. I tend to agree with the camp that claims common interest is important in a long-term relationship. I think this is true. If you and yours don't share a single interest, what have you to talk about? How much you love each other? I would classify myself as a romantic, but even I have limits.

No, I believe that you and yours must share something in common. And I think it follows logically, the more, the better. Makes it easier to do things together when neither party is dragging their feet.

I don't think I'm being unreasonable about this. If I'm passionate about something, it would be difficult to pursue if my wife is dismissive of it. Especially when that something is writing. Or cake.

So anyway. There you go. Those who have asked what qualities I'm looking for, you now have a slightly better idea.

Very good. Onto other matters.

I just finished watching the DVDs of Smallville: Season One. So good. Great cliffhanger season finale. If it hadn't have been almost one in the morning when I finished the season, I would have started the next one. Good times. Season 4 begins Sept. 22.

Saw two movies over the weekend (as if I could afford to do so). High recommendation for Garden State, which made me very happy. Zach Braff did an amazing job as star/writer/director. And I still adore Natalie Portman, even though she has decided to go the way of Elizabeth Berkley in her next role. Garden State also has a fantastic soundtrack, which I've listened to about ten times in the past two days. The film has been compared to "Lost in Translation" and "The Graduate", and while the comparisons aren't quite accurate, I liked Garden State more than I liked either of them after one viewing. This will likely end up in my personal collection when it's released on DVD.

Also saw the "must-see" slacker movie of the summer, Napoleon Dynamite. To its credit, I admit that I like it more in retrospect. But several times during the movie, the only thought in my mind was "this is the most retarded movie ever made." And the movie didn't really try to dispel that thought, so much as enhance it. It's composed of a loosely-strung series of scenes that work only to magnify the uber-weirdness of its characters. I laughed a lot during the movie, but often because I was at a loss for another way to react. This movie is not really that clever, and adds nothing new to the world of comedy. But, on the other hand, it goes so far into the world of "extremely bizarre" that it comes back to being "funny." So if you have a penchant for oddity, have at it. Otherwise, go see Garden State instead.

The next part of the "Radical Living" series may take a while. I've been doing more reading on the subject. Hoping to have Part Three up by week's end.

I'm dealing with a frustration common among booklovers: not being able to read everything at once. Damn you, space-time continuum! I'm involved in four books right now, and my desires are dragging me in six different directions. Currently reading: The Drawing of the Three, Waking the Dead, The Cost of Discipleship, and Three. Also wanting to read: a three-pack by C.S. Lewis and either The Federalist Papers or John Adams. And because of my recent foray into Smallville fandom, I haven't been reading (or writing, for that matter) as much as I'd like.

Things would be so much easier if that stupid "work" thing didn't clutter up my days.

I have been informed that I have been remiss in my Olympics coverage. This is really due to two things: first, I don't have cable, so I can only watch it on the half-visible reception of NBC that I get; and second, at the risk of being a BAD American, I'm just not that psyched about it. Yay for America and all that, but I'm just not gonna watch two hours of ping-pong--oh, EXCUSE me, "table tennis." They should make air hockey an Olympic event. I'd be down with that. In fact, I'm going to boycott all bogus Olympic events like badminton, table tennis, synchronized swimming, and that stupid trampoline gymnastics thing, until Air Hockey takes its rightful place at the Summer Games. At which time, I shall begin my training to compete in the next available Olympiad.

So, to safely reaffirm my citizenship, here's your medal count: USA, lots; everyone else, not as many.

In other Olympic news, I'm officially withdrawing my support of Team Iraq soccer, for being ungrateful bastards. Yes, I understand and can appreciate that hard times that the country is facing, and their worries about the violence from radical Muslim extremists committing terrorist acts. But to call the American occupation of post-Saddam Iraq "one of our most miserable times" and to list off the occupying military force as the reason for this misery...well, it's pretty pathetic. Nevermind the fact that if they lose, they won't have to worry about Uday Hussein torturing or murdering them when they return home.

Paul Hamm's gold medal is being contested, which I think is bogus. He gave the gutsiest, most impressive performance I've ever seen in my limited viewing of gymnastics. Let it go.

Everyone under the sun is doping up. Greeks, Russians. Hell, probably us too. Who knows. [/jaded commentary]

There you go, Amanda, Olympic commentary. Go USA. Beat all the pinko Commie bastards.

Apologies for using the words "bastards" twice. Oh. Three times. Sometimes, it's just appropriate. But not that third time, that was excessive.

Anything else? Oh--right. (And this is funny, considering the previous paragraph.) I've been asked to lead Sunday School for the next two weeks. The possibility of doing a mini-series opens up some interesting options. Any ideas? If nothing else, your prayers would be appreciated.

Okay. That's it. Peace and love.


Once more--"bastards."

UPDATE: In the interest of full disclosure, I just realized that the "ungrateful bastards" label had already been applied to Team Iraq by Ken Summers. I honestly thought that my comment was a wholly original thought, until I read his blog this afternoon. My mistake for appropriating a thoroughly appropriate sentiment. (Warning: Strong Language)

Thursday, August 19, 2004

Sample of Application Requirements for "the future Mrs. TeacherDave"

  • Female (no budging on this one).
  • Politically/socially conservative, but not rabid or obnoxious about it (as attractive as Ann Coulter is, I would strangle her if I spoke with her for more than two minutes).
  • Practicing Christian (preferably Protestant, even more preferably Baptist) who believes in the moral authority of Scripture, the doctrine of the Trinity, the divinity of Jesus Christ, and the doctrine of salvation through faith in Christ alone. Must be active member of a church that teaches the afore-mentioned beliefs.
  • Loves children.
  • Enjoys at least one of the following: cartoons, theme parks, team sports, video games.
  • Must be well-read and intellectually curious. Strong admiration/attraction for writers a plus.
  • Music lover who appreciates at least two of the following: Counting Crows, U2, Wallflowers, Pink Floyd, Over the Rhine, Waterdeep, Jars of Clay, Ben Folds (Five).
  • Must enjoy/appreciate The Lord of the Rings Trilogy, Almost Famous, Kill Bill, and any film involving John Cusack.
  • Cannot enjoy more than two of the following: Modern country music (Brooks, Twain, Chesney, etc.); American Idol; reality television; "Titanic"/"Pearl Harbor"; boy bands; any vocalists named Britney, Christina, Jessica, Avril, or Mandy; Meg Ryan; any Ben Affleck movie that is not directed by Kevin Smith.
  • Won't laugh at me for being a "Smallville" fan

The actual list is longer. But this gives you a good idea.

Tuesday, August 17, 2004

Radical Living: Part Two--Paradox

He looked at the crowd that gathered. So many faces, most of them curious. He was the latest attraction. He turned and walked up a mountainside, knowing that his friends would follow. This got the attention of the crowd, which slowly began to walk up the mountainside with him. Finally, he turned and sat. His friends sat around him, waiting. They knew he had something to say; they could see it on his face. He looked down the mountainside at the crowd of people gathering. He knew each face, every name. He knew them before they knew him. Finally, he looked back down at the twelve men seated on the grass at his feet, leaning in. He smiled, and said, "Blessed are the poor in spirit."

There was an audible gasp from the crowd within earshot. Voices began murmuring down the mountain. What had he said? What did he mean?

"For theirs is the kingdom of heaven."

Another gasp. More grumbling.

So began the Sermon. He didn't open with a joke or a funny illustration. He didn't introduce himself. Because the crowd knew who he was. He opened his mouth and launched into a detailed definition of how to be happy. How to be blessed. And it was the "how" that shocked the crowd.

To be happy, you must be poor in spirit, you must mourn, you must be meek, you must hunger and thirst for righteousness, you must be merciful, you must be pure, you must make peace, and you must be persecuted.

His first ten sentences seemed to defy logic. The common laborer dreams that when he becomes rich and famous, when he eats the finest foods and drinks the sweetest wines, then he will be happy. Everything else is drudgery. But Jesus disagreed with that approach. Not only disagreed, but completely contradicted it.

The word "blessed" (whether said with one or two syllables) can carry with it a few implications. Some versions of the passage translate this word as "happy." The Amplified Bible notates it as, "happy, blithesome, joyous, spiritually prosperous--with life-joy and satisfaction in God's favor and salvation, regardless of their outward conditions." This type of blessing doesn't seem to be a future-tense, "when you get to heaven you'll be blessed" kind of blessing. It sounds pretty present-tense.

And this present-tense blessing falls on the most unlikely of people: the "poor", the mourners, the meek, the "hungry", the merciful, the pure, the peacemakers, and the persecuted.

Why aren't we happy? Why don't we see the blessing of God in our lives? Lots of reasons.

It could be that we aren't poor in spirit. The poor in spirit realize that they have nothing to offer God that he doesn't have already. They understand that without God they are incomplete and destined to fail. In Isaiah 57:15, God says "I live in a high and lofty place, but also with him who is contrite and lowly in spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly and to revive the heart of the contrite." When we understand that we are not self-sufficient, we are able to lean wholly on God, who will open up to us the "kingdom of Heaven", both the one "at hand" and the one in the world to come.

It could be that we don't mourn. If there ever was a culture that avoided sadness, it's ours. We medicate ourselves to dull our spirits, chemically or behaviorally. We fill our hands with every kind of amusement to keep us from thinking about the realities of our lives. And when we mourn, society tells us to deal with it, by ignoring it or destroying it through therapy. We ignore the suffering and turn our backs to the persecuted. The sight of the poor and the hungry cannot stir our compassion, but it arouses our distrust and contempt. There is a time to mourn--so says the Teacher. And the joy of the mourner, according to Is. 61:1-3, is that God will "bind up the brokenhearted" and "comfort all who mourn" when they turn to him.

It could be that we aren't meek. The culture glorifies arrogance and calls it self-assurance. It lifts up selfishness and calls it a drive for achievement. The adage "nice guys finish last" still lives on (although the quote was "nice guys finish seventh"). Who wants to be a "nice guy" when you could be a winner? And this isn't a new thing. This idea has been around forever. So when Jesus said that it would be the meek who would inherit the earth, it flew in the face of personal experience. Yet in Psalms 37:10-11, David writes that in a little while, "the wicked will be no more" and "the meek will inherit the land and enjoy great peace."

It could be that we don't hunger for righteousness. When you're hungry, I mean really hungry, everything else in your life becomes secondary. The hunger fills your mind, and no matter what you're doing, all you can focus on is the need that must be met. The people on the mountain understood hunger and thirst. But to hunger and thirst for righteousness was something unusual. How can you live so that righteousness is your driving desire? Later in his ministry, Jesus said in John 6:35, "I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never go hungry, and he who believes in me will never be thirsty." When our desire becomes righteousness, we only find our fill in Christ.

It could be that we're not merciful. It's so easy to talk about our rights. When someone wrongs us, we delight in making them pay. When someone wrongs us and asks forgiveness, we enjoy twisting the knife by refusing to accept it. We demand what we think is our due. In the second chapter of his letter, James tells the believers of Israel, "Speak and act as those who are going to be judged by the law that gives freedom, because judgement without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful. Mercy triumphs over judgement!" (v. 12-13). Like the servant in the parable who has been forgiven a great debt, we take joy in demanding whatever petty coins we think we're owed.

It could be that we're not pure in heart. God, who is pure and holy, cannot stand impurity. When we don't root out the impurity of our life and deal with it, He cannot meet with us the way he wants to. And we can't "climb his Holy hill" unless we have "clean hands and a pure heart" (Ps. 24:3-4). Until we get rid of the habits and choices we refuse to let go of, we will never be able to truly see God.

It could be that we're not peacemakers. If ever there was a crime the modern church was guilty of, it's this. Peacemakers are those who calm quarrels; church people tend to start them. We forget that a soft answer turns away wrath, because we're too busy trying to be right. We focus on convincing everyone of the validity of our opinion (even on something as stupid as what music to listen to or what version of the Bible we read) that we make enemies of our brothers. How can we work out the "ministry of reconciliation" that Paul describes in II Corinthians 5, making peace between God and man, when we're too busy arguing amongst ourselves. How can we be called "sons of God" when we bear no resemblance to the original "Son of God" who was the "Prince of Peace"? This is why Paul tells the Romans to, as best as they can, "live at peace with everyone", if at all possible (12:18).

It could be that we do our best to avoid persecution. Comfort is not a virtue for the Christian. Jesus said over and over that his followers will have trouble in the world, because they are no longer part of the world's system. Yet convenience and comfort are the two goals of our culture. Why suffer? Why bother? Just relax. Keep your head down. Mind your own business. Don't ruffle any feathers. Does this sound like Christ??? Absolutely not. He was persecuted, insulted, and lied about during his entire ministry. But he took it with joy, because that proved he was doing his Father's work. And he tells us the same. When we are persecuted, mocked, lied about, and insulted because of righteousness and because of him, we are blessed, because true followers of God will always encounter opposition. He even warns in Luke's book that if you aren't persecuted, you should be worried--because false prophets were always popular.

It should be noted that the persecution he described is due to righteousness, not obnoxiousness. If you're insulted because you're being an arrogant ass, there is no reward there. Because proclaiming judgment without mercy and rebuke without love is not proclaiming the Gospel. That's the other side of this issue. Sometimes Christians charge onward, looking for a fight, believing that their insensitive and insulting approach is somehow going to credited to them as righteousness. And I don't believe this is true. Because there is no mercy, meekness, or poverty-of-spirit in that approach.

Jesus finished this section by making two unusual analogies. He referred to his followers as salt and light. Without belaboring this point too much, let's examine these statements. Three common characteristics jump out at me. First, both elements instantly affect everything around them. If you light a match, darkness is chased away. If you add a teaspoon of salt to a dish, you can taste it. Secondly, both salt and light are used for a purpose. Salt is used for seasoning, healing, and preservation. Light is used for sight. These properties are really fundamental in the "identity" of the two items. Finally, the less these properties are exhibited, the less useful the elements become. Dim light is hard to read by. Low flashlight batteries provide little help. That's why Jesus said, if salt loses its saltiness, it's only good for being thrown on the ground and walked on. You know what you call salt that's only good for walking on? Sand. Functionally, they become the same thing.

So what is Jesus saying with these analogies? First, you who believe have a purpose. Your purpose is to tell others about the One who gave you life. Secondly, if you do this, you will affect the people around you. Sometimes they're react positively, and sometimes they won't. But they will be affected. And that's your job--to change the surroundings. Finally, if you don't do your job, you're not fulfilling the purpose God gave you, and you will make little difference in the world. Pretty harsh? Perhaps. But I don't think it's too far off, either. You can't be stingy with your light, by hiding it under a bowl. Or only bringing it out on Sunday mornings. You have to let it shine, or else, you might as well not even bother.

Making a difference or taking up space. It's the difference between salt and sand.

Radical Living: Part One--The Radical Teacher

The word "radical" has been overused to the point of utter exhaustion. We hear about radical surgery, radical uprisings, radical clerics. Radical feminism. Radical politics. Radical regime change. Generally, the word takes on a negative, militant subtext. Radicals are kids with bandanas over their faces who destroy things.

This often-abused word is the only way to describe one particular cleric/teacher whose words are still called some of the most powerful and impossibly strict teachings ever uttered. This man was a true iconoclast, bringing with him a new worldview, a new way to live. One that simultaneously completes and destroys the old way of doing things.

If you have an ounce of intuition, and any kind of Western-church background, you can guess who I'm talking about. You'll roll your eyes, shake your head, give me a forgiving chuckle. "Oh, he's just talking about Jesus."

How did we arrive at the point where Jesus is seen as tame? Commonplace? Even boring? Because Jesus was a dangerous radical cleric, who challenged religious teaching and tradition. He was despised, plotted against, and murdered because he sought to subvert the authority and teachings of the religious establishment.

Of course, Western Christendom has stopped viewing Jesus in this light, because, thanks to us, he has become part of the establishment. This happened when we stopped taking him seriously. Stopped taking his word seriously.

Not all of the Western Church has done so. There have been a few believers who have popped up from time to time to challenge the institutionalized form of Christian religion for being too lax, too passive. For taming the Lion of the Tribe of Judah, and locking him in a stained-glass cage.

There was a movement in the last century, of Christian teachers and thinkers who were convinced that actually living out the teachings of Christ meant a drastic, even radical, change from the religious status quo. One of the most famous of these teachers was Dietrich Bonhoeffer, whose book "The Cost of Discipleship" was a scathing critique of the church's version of Christianity, a religion girded up by "cheap grace."

Bonhoeffer's writings involved a serious and challenging study of (possibly) the most famous and powerful speech Jesus ever gave--the "Sermon on the Mount." Bonhoeffer believed that if we could learn to live out the teachings of the Sermon, we will have a pretty good grasp on how to live in the world.

In "God in the Dock," C.S. Lewis responds to a critic's statement that he clearly doesn't "care for" the Sermon, by saying,
“As to ‘caring for’ the Sermon on the Mount, if ‘caring for’ here means ‘liking’
or enjoying, I suppose no one ‘cares for’ it. Who can like being knocked flat on
his face by a sledge hammer? I can hardly imagine a more deadly spiritual
condition than that of a man who can read that passage with tranquil pleasure.”

The Sermon on the Mount is so powerful and so shocking, that it becomes clear that the vast majority of Christians either don't take it seriously or haven't really read it. You can't read the three chapters in Matthew passively; because they don't deal with us passively. Jesus wasn't shooting the breeze one afternoon, and then decided to whip out this funny little speech; he was clearly and deliberately challenging everything that the religious people of his day were taught was the proper working out of their faith. And it still applies. Because every one of us falls short of the standard set in the Sermon.

So over the next week or so, I'm going to take this groundbreaking address apart, section by section, analyze it, and open up the floor for you to discuss it with me. I don't have all the answers, or the definitive interpretation of this passage. I'll never claim to. What I'll offer is how I understand what God shows me. You can do the same.

All I ask is that you really think about it. Jesus' words should never be taken lightly. And Christians do that constantly. Because we're so used to hearing what he has to say, that we've become calloused to it.

Hear him speak these words, as the crowd did. Full of wonder, confusion, perhaps anger. Who does this man think he is? Does he presume to challenge the authority of the church elders?

Yes, he did. And yes, he still does.


Nothing to Hide?

The great thing about the site counter is that you find out how people find you.

So when someone googles (or Yahoo-searches, rather) "Dave Mitchell blogspot", there's a good chance that they're looking for my page specifically.

And I'm okay with that. But only on this condition: what is said on the page, stays on the page.

I think I have an idea who performed this search. I mentioned running this site to a new friend on Friday, and for some reason told him what service I used. I don't usually tell people about my site, unless I've known them for a while, so it was odd that I did this time.

I don't know for sure that it's him. For all I know, it could be someone else looking for a different guy entirely. But I can't take that chance.

In case it is who I think it may be, all I have to say is, "Dude, that's cool, but if you mention this site to anyone in class, I swear I'll go Macduff all over your ass."

That's what I get for opening my big mouth.

It's weird though. I've used my real name for the duration of this blog, I've made little or no attempt to hide where I work or what I do. I've all but given you my address. And yet, I still feel like I have some level of privacy. Knowing full well that most of you, I'll never run into on a regular basis, that you wouldn't know me from Adam. And the rest of you know me well enough that nothing I say here will shock or offend you much.

But adding new people in the mix, people I go to work or church with, that I still don't know that well at all--that's the dangerous thing. That's the scary thing. I don't feel like I want to share any of the ugliness in me with them yet, because it will affect how we act toward each other every time I pass them in the hall at work, or sit next to them at Sunday School.

That's the dilemma, then. If this blog is to be more public, in this sense, it will become less personal. I won't talk about girls I'm falling for or problems I'm going through. The defensive wall will come up. I don't want that.

So, mysterious searcher from the Central Time Zone who yahooed my name and blogspot at around 11:30 this afternoon, do me a big favor and sign in below, or email me, so I don't have to wonder about who you are.

After that, feel free to visit anytime. But remember, the Macduff threat still stands.

Lunchtime Reading Assignment

Will's essay on the realities of "falling in love" is required reading for all residents of the PBB neighborhood. There may be a quiz.

"Kiddo, you have always been wise beyond your years. So allow me to offer a word to the wise..." --Bill

In other news: Part One of my (at least) four-part essay coming this evening, for sure.

Monday, August 16, 2004

Weekend Update

But with no Jimmie Fallon (played out), no Tina Fey (liberal vixen that she is--rawr), and no snappy jokes or dialogue (keeping my expectations low).

'Twas a good weekend. The last weekend of Houston's version of Shakespeare-in-the-Park, the Houston Shakespeare Festival, so I got to see two shows. Friday night was "Macbeth" (the Scottish play), with a nice Genghis Khan theme. No, seriously. Twelfth-century Mongol raider costumes and weaponry. The "blasted heath" was a bamboo forest. But it was a really good show. They kept the script virtually untouched, and really gave it a whirl. At the end of Macduff and Macbeth's battle, when Macbeth is on his back on the ground, Macduff raises his sword to behead the fallen despot, and starts to bring it down with a yell, as the lights drop. Pretty rad.

Saturday was entertaining as well. My four friends and I (including my current crush, thanks) took a picnic lunch to the outdoor theater, and ate together before enjoying "The Taming of the Shrew"--Western-style. It's not as bad as it sounds. Okay, maybe a little. But still funny. And the actor playing Petruchio really carried the show, in my estimation. He held nothing back, and just went for every laugh he could. Overall a good time. Afterwards, the group (minus the sleepy Mr. Cain) went back to my apartment to revel in the goodness that is "Kill Bill: Volumes 1 and 2". Beauty.

Sunday, after church and lunch, I got to hang out with my dear friend and former co-worker, in town for the week. Getting to talk to him was a joy and a refreshment. He and his family have been overseas as missionaries for the past year, in a foreign country hostile to the Gospel. He has already told me a few, let's say, worrisome stories. But God is faithful, as always. I'll enjoy spending time with him this week.

Sad news...pathetic, really: I am now hopelessly addicted to Smallville. It's a disease. Tony loaned me Seasons 1 and 2 on DVD. So that's what I'll be doing for the next few weeks. Such a good freaking show. If I ever talk to Daryl again, I'll have to take bad all the negative comments I made in ignorance of how awesome the show is.

Programming Note: Coming soon on PBB--we're gonna look at one of the most controversial speeches ever given, and break it down section by section. I'm very excited about this. The first segment will (hopefully) be posted this evening. A hint about the speech: It involves violence, love, adultery, murder, wealth, poverty, religion, and hypocrisy.

Shout-outs: Will does it, so why can't I?

  • The Chicago Cubs. DO NOT CRAP OUT in the next two months.
  • Team Iraq soccer for winning two straight games. It's easier to do without the shackles of oppression, isn't it?
  • All my left-leaning readers who bristled at the last statement.
  • Lady J in the Sahara. May the peace of Christ be with you. Thanks for B. He'll be home soon.
  • Antidisestablishmentarianism. Cheers for being the longest word i know.
  • Something else keen.
  • Bullets, for making lists look friggin sweet.
  • My secret ninja moves I learned from the government.
  • Jess. And Dory. Sitting in a tree.
  • People born in October. It's almost our birthdays! (A month and a half="almost")
  • Cake. (Both the dessert and the band. But not the yellow stuff Saddam wanted.)

Addendum: Okay, no essay tonight. Apologies. I need a little more prep time. First installment tomorrow. Very exciting.

Friday, August 13, 2004

Process: A Dialogue

Must think of something good to say.


Come on, dude, you've been slacking off lately. A reader poll every once in a while is okay, but you really have been using it as a crutch. There are plenty of other bloggers who are putting out interesting and meaningful posts. Some of them even read your page on a semi-regular basis. You can do better than this. You're a sharp kid.

Think. Think.

Maybe some music will inspire you.


Music is too distracting. Turn it off.

Think. Lean back, sigh. Rub your eyes. Think.

Come on, this should be simple. You're the self-proclaimed writer. What do you care about? What's important to you?

"Lots of things, just nothing I want to talk about. Nothing they really care to hear about. Same old thing over and over. Memory, malaise, love, loss of love. Over and over. Like a broken record."

What's going on in your life? Man, come on, you have to have something going on.

"Not really. Just work. Church. Emails every once in a while. I need to write emails."

You need to post! Now get serious. There's got to be something useful in that idiot head of yours.

"I can't think of anything."


"I'm thinking."

Think. What to say?


What do you want to say to them?


What is your message?


That's it?

"That's all I've got right now."

That's not enough. There has to be more.

"There is no more."

Then make up something. You've got to be interesting, pal. You've got to be clever. You've got to be provocative without being too offensive. You have to appeal to their minds. You have to grip their hearts. If they keep seeing meaningless crap like this, they're gonna stop reading. And that's the point, isn't it? It was never really about self-expression. Self-expression is the means. Attention is the goal. Grab their attention and keep it. Don't let it go, don't dare! Don't let up. No matter how tired you are, no matter how empty. Keep writing. Keep cracking jokes and making references to pop trivia. Gotta keep performing, pal. Never let up, cuz they're fickle. They may be kind today, but tomorrow they won't have time or patience to suffer any more of this.

"Then should I just give up?"

Do you have anything more to show them?

"I think so, but I'm not sure."

Figure it out quick, kiddo, or you won't have to quit--you'll be done before you realize it. The counter will dry up. The crowds will disperse. You'll vanish back into the mists and the crowds and all the other boring bloggers cluttering up the Internet with their unseen blathering.

"I don't like you."

Tough beans, pal. You're stuck with me. I'm the voice in your head like a buzzing bee that you can't shoo away. I'm the monkey on your back, pushing you, weighing you down, driving you on and making you feel like crap for it. I'm the first critic to read every word you write, and I'm your most faithful reviewer. And I'm never leaving.

"I want you to leave me alone."

Sure--if you stop writing...


Spoken like a true writer. Too bad you don't have the credentials to prove it.

"I'll get that in time."

There is no time. Wake up! You're 23. The time is now. Wallace wrote "Infinite Jest" by the time he was, what, 21? Eggers did similar with his heart-breaking work. Dickens was already a smash-hit with Pickwick by this time. And you're tinkering around on a blog, saying that there's still time? Do you even want to be a writer?


Then do it. Write. Show me what you've got.

"I don't know what to say."

Come up with something.

Think, think, think.

Wednesday, August 11, 2004

Who Needs a Topic When You've Got a Quiz?

I've been really busy as of late, and though I'm sure I have terribly interesting things to say, I can't seem to think of any.

If you want to read fantastic/fascinating/beautifully-written "big question" posts, go here. Or here. Or pretty much anything here or here. Or all the other links a la derecha.

Today is not Dave's f/f/b-w "bq" day. Today's Dave's "I am too tired to really whip up something fantabulous, so instead of crappy posts, I'll pull out yet another reader poll" day.

So here it is:

I saw a TV show (don't remember which) that asked people what their "theme song" is. And I thought about it--a tough choice. Because just one song doesn't cut it. So here's the question:

What are your two theme songs--the one for your good days, and the one for your dark days? Don't just crank out a flip answer; give it more than a moment's thought. I think this could be a really interesting activity.

And as a consolation to the indecisive among you, you may have ONE alternate, to be used in either category (BUT NOT BOTH).

My songs:

Light: "Beautiful Day" by U2 ("what you don't have, you don't need it now...")

Dark: "Perfect Blue Buildings" by Counting Crows [saw that one coming]

ALTERNATE Dark: "I Wish I Felt Nothing" by the Wallflowers

Your turn.

Monday, August 09, 2004

Nostalgia Poem # 785 (or thereabouts)

I sometimes want to go back
To the dim days behind,
To when I would wait beside the door
For you to come out and greet me with
Smoky kisses and warm arms,
Back to days when you would
Surprise me with mix tapes of
Music that I had never heard before
But would remember long after
You were gone and they were gone.

I still hear the music.
I still run across the songs on the radio.
I still remember your warm breath and
Your wet mouth and your deep eyes.

I miss the hope of futures intertwined,
The eagerness of walking across a
Frosted yard from my door to yours.
I miss all the brightness and beauty
Of the future I thought I had before me.

I want go back, but not for you--
I want to go back for me.

It's not you I miss, so much--
There are elements of you I miss
And elements of me with you I miss--
But when I grow quiet, and think of
Life in the receding "then,"
My heart reaches into that image to grasp
The dreams of the boy,
Not the hands of the girl.

But despite this smoky memory
And my unhealthy affection for
A thousand murky somewhens,
I am quick to remind myself
That the future is really still ahead of me,
And that only the players have changed.

So I, like my Irish bloodfolk,
Must press on to carve out
A new life in a new land,
Holding dearly to the memory
Of the Old World, while embracing
The endless possibility of the New.

Thursday, August 05, 2004

Joe Finally Took Him Out

"Hey Joe, where you going with that gun in your hand?" --Jimi Hendrix

Well, Empire Records customers, looks like our dearly beloved Lucas is leaving his latest gig on the curiously popular CSI: Miami.

According to Internet rumors (if it's on the Internet, it must be true--they can't just make stuff up!), Rory Cochrane's character, Tim "Speed" Speedle, will be killed off during the CSI:Miami season premiere.

I don't really have much else to say. But since I know there is a strong "Empire Records" contingent in the readership, I feel I owed it to you guys.

Oh, and if you want a so-called "professional" version of this story, I suppose you can go here. Oh, for those of you who fear that the FNC account isn't unbiased, here's the original NYP story. Just kidding.

I think I've figured out part of it...

I've often alluded to some intangible, elusive feeling I've pursued for years. A feeling of being free-wheeling and happy, having everything I need and being around people I enjoy. A feeling I had associated with some sort of mid-90's Gen-X utopia, populated with popular, well-read, fascinating people named Winona and Ethan. For some reason, I always imagined this fantasy taking place at night, in a city brilliant with streetlights and signage, speeding up and down highways, walking through busy downtowns, music and laughter and motion.

But I could never figure out what spawned this concept. I always assumed that I had whipped it up from too many movies. But while driving home the other night, a sense-memory kickstarted it all over again, and I finally realized where it came from (in part, at least).

When I was in tenth grade, Mrs. Gertson, the Fine Arts teacher, had arranged for a multi-class trip to Dallas, over a weekend. "The Phantom of the Opera"'s national touring company had a stop at the State Fair of Texas, and since Phantom was (inexplicably) part of the class syllabus, Mrs. Gertson saw this as a golden opportunity. The lucky weekend happened to be the weekend of my birthday.

I was in Dallas, eating pasta at Spaghetti Warehouse, surrounded by friends and classmates, when I turned 16 years old.

We had arrived in Dallas at dusk. We cruised around for a while, the drivers trying to coordinate our route into the city, toward the hotel. The parent driving our van noted that "Kennedy was shot over there." I had a minimal understanding of the importance of the place. I responded with a teenager's barely-bemused "oh."

We sped through the night, my friends and I, in the back of the van flying down highways lit by yellowed fluorescent beacons. In the van, talking excitedly. In the van, only a few seats from the girl I secretly adored. And I was happy. The world was full of possibility. The worries of the moment were left to other shoulders. All I had to do was sit back and soak in the freedom and bliss of being sixteen years old.

We found the restaurant, ate a great meal, and walked outside into the night. It was October, so there was on the slightest hint of chill in the air. There were bands in the streets, on stages set up as part of the State Fair festivities. People walking, laughing, dancing. The whole city seemed to celebrate my youth with me. And when we found the hotel, and our ritual rowdiness in the rooms had died away, my sleep was sweet and without care. I didn't worry about money, or responsibility, or meetings, or deadlines. I just let it go, trusting that everything would be taken care of by others.

And there it is. I think I subconsciously imported the "twentysomething hipster" part of the fantasy in since then, so that I still belong there.

I don't know what it means, other than that I miss being young. I'm not old, mind you. But I'm not young, either. Not anymore.

I think the task now is to find a new kind of bliss, to replace this old one.

More than this... there is nothing...

Things that make me sigh contentedly/wistfully:

  • Winter in Oklahoma; walking in from the snow to a warm building, peeling off layers of clothing as the numb tip of my nose begins to thaw.
  • "Sixth Avenue Heartache" by the Wallflowers.
  • Weddings of close and beloved friends.
  • Sleepy, overcast days that I'm allowed to spend on the couch, reading, occasionally looking up at the greyed-out window.
  • Scarlett Johannson singing "More than This" in Lost in Translation
  • The smell of new ink
  • Remembering what romantic love felt like. The good parts.
  • Hiding away in a bookstore.
  • The smell of coffee.

Your turn.

Update: Okay, okay, I thought of more (and I'm poaching some of the ones mentioned already).

  • Yes, pretty much everything by the Counting Crows (I thought that could go without saying). But especially "A Long December" (which reminds me of a girl from California I fell in love with in high school), "Anna Begins," and "Holiday in Spain."
  • "Fred Jones, Part Two" from Ben Folds' live album.
  • The smell of cold.
  • Crunching leaves.
  • "Hallelujah" by Jeff Buckley. (Good call, Krista.)
  • Torrential rain.
  • The thrill that comes from holding that certain someone's hand for the first time.
  • The ending of Before Sunset.

Enough. You go again.

Wednesday, August 04, 2004

A Lit-Geek's Personal Academic Policy

Myles' post about reading lists and study aids jogged my memory back to my glorious days on Bison Hill. I was a young, naive English major, who had finished high school second in his class, and for whom homework was nothing to be worried about. High school was cake.

So when I rushed headlong into college-level English classes, I was struck by the accelerated reading schedule. Forty pages...in two days? oh...kay. Shouldn't be too hard. But then with each year, the "ante" was "upped" in every class. I remember a few classes with assignments of 100+ pages due within two days of being given. This challenging academic environment crashed against my former habits of highly-cultivated procrastination. What was a slacker lit-geek to do?

There was the crass alternative of ...Cliff's Notes. I shudder to type the words. The tell-tale marigold yellow cover peeking out of your bag like Hawthorne's letter, eliciting well-deserved derision from other English majors. I couldn't bear to do it. My aspirations as a writer prevented me from procuring bastardized summaries of other authors' works. How could I spit in the face of the Past Masters like that? Never.

I've only bought CN once for the purpose of "aiding" my studies. My American National Government class, taught by the brilliant, mad professor, Dr. Litherland. [namedrop]The class I shared with Grammy-winner David Hodges.[/namedrop] Dr. L oft repeated that "The Federalist Papers is the greatest work written on this continent! You will read it every day of your life! Besides the Bible, it's the most important book you'll ever read in your life!!! YEEEEAAAAAAAA!!!! *Dean-scream* "

So paranoid that I wouldn't understand all the nuances of the material, or wouldn't keep up, I succumbed (succame?) to the nagging self-doubt and purchased the shameful CN for the Federalist Papers. As Providence and Grace would have it, I never needed them. Never even cracked them open. And did just fine. I was very pleased to sell the volume back to the campus bookstore unused, and claim my 4.843% of the original purchase price.

So I developed an iron-clad policy, to remove any chance for wavering. No matter what the subject, no matter what the size of the assignment, I would never, EVER, use so-called "study aids." I would read, or I would not. I held the firm conviction that to read only CN and pass it off as knowledge was a SIN AGAINST LITERATURE ITSELF. And I would never be guilty of such a crime.

As it turns out, this policy contributed to my standing legacy at OBU. My favorite professor, and academic advisor, the eternally cool Dr. Carolyn Cole, often would make the class give itself daily grades based on their reading of the homework. Guided by the honor system, each student would award themselves 1-5 points, on a sheet that was passed around at the beginning of class. Sometimes this would take the place of a quiz. But I noticed something troubling over time.

In my final term, while taking Dr. Cole's Medieval British Poetry course, I noticed that every single person in the class would put down "5" every single day... except me. There were perhaps a dozen "4"s scattered among the ten other students, throughout the term. Meanwhile, my self-awarded point average was hovering around a 2.3. I thought to myself, surely, SURELY, they aren't all reading all of the homework every single day. It can't be.

But it struck me. The vast majority of the other students are in the Honors Program, Sigma Tau Delta, and various other academic organizations. They took part in no extra-curriculars. They studied all day long.

This emboldened me. I thought to myself, "Yes, that's right, I read two paragraphs from the chapter, but I also am rehearsing for Our Town, and I made out with my girlfriend for two hours last night! Take that, you elitist, honors-program snobs! I don't need an unsullied point tally--I have a life!!!"

When it was all done, when I had garnered my degree and had gone home, my friend Jess informed me that at the beginning of the following semester, Dr. Cole had described her grading system thus: "Five points for reading every word of every page, four points for reading most of it and being able to discuss it thoroughly, and so forth down to one point. The one-point grade is in honor of Dave Mitchell--it signifies, 'I haven't read, I'm twenty minutes late, but at least I'm here, and I'll do my best to contribute something useful to the discussion.'" And so my name lives on.

I would like to end this essay here. I would like to say that my iron-clad policy remained so. But it behooves me to be forthright. So I must. I did use SparkNotes, the online version of CN, once, while writing a paper. No one but my roommate at the time ever learned of this until now. I beg you, kind and gentle reader, to have pity on my confession.

In my final term, I signed up to do a research paper on "The Sound and the Fury." I had never read Faulkner before, aside from a few short stories (such as "The Odor of Verbena" which was very good, as I recall). And I tried, oh ma gad did I try, I tried all the time to read TSATF. But I couldn't get past the first seventy pages. So confusing, so convoluted. Only after reading the online "helps" did I realize that the first section was written from the perspective of a mentally-disabled person. Once i got over the hump, I was able to read sections of the rest of the novel, and understand it. But I didn't read the whole work. I used the online source to point me toward certain pages and themes. And I wrote the paper. I've never been proud of doing that, and I've never claimed to have read the book since then. Because I know in my heart that I never did read the book. I may be a cheat, but I'm not a liar.

So there it is, my full and honest remembrance. Confessions of a slacker lit-geek.

Tuesday, August 03, 2004

"Tagging up" on Tuesday

This will be a brief "touching base" kind of post.

OPERATION MOVE-DAVE was a success! I am now able to hear the train outside my window at all hours of the day and night. I can now stand on my porch overlooking the Reliant complex, the Astrodome, and Six Flags. Hooray for being in-town. And having a ten-minute (round-trip!!!) commute.

If I owe you an email and you're getting antsy *cough*Jess*cough*, it will come. There are other people who've been waiting longer.

Must give credit where credit is due. I'm behind the curve yet again. A while back, Jess suggested Gavin Degraw's debut album, and I finally picked it up this weekend. Fantasmic. I got the two-disc edition, and the second disc is just as keen. Acoustic version of the album. Good times.

The Manchurian Candidate was rather good. So was The Village, though not in the way that I expected it to be. Strong performances in both movies, though.

Thanks to everyone who helped with the move. And since none of the people who helped actually read this blog, and vice versa, nevermind.

I'm sure I'll have something absolutely scintillating to discuss in the near future. But then again, I'm an infernal optimist where that's concerned.

In the meantime, be patient.