Thursday, July 28, 2005

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Quote of the Day

"I'd rather be forgiven than enlightened."

from "If You're Listening" by The Choir.


When the Father formed man from the earth with his hands he breathed into my soul
When He made the woman too well for anybody's good
He had to know how they wouldn't heed His advice
So they had to leave paradise
Driven away from that garden long ago
Has the sign of the covenant dimmed in your sky?
Will we ever find gold?
Follow all seven stripes across my eyes
Am I young or old?
It is reward enough to survive
Men less fortunate have been skinned alive
I'd rather be forgiven than enlightened
Grace is a gift even more refined than magic dust
Mercy a quality more divine than trust
If you're listening to me now
If you're listening to me now
I wouldn't blame you anyhow for runnin' me out of town
I have not suffered nearly enough for the crime that I've done
I hear laughter above
I have angels who love me
I'm a lucky one
For the sins that I've committed against trusting friends I've outwitted
I might've been staring into the barrel of a gun
Grace is an offering more refined than magic dust
Mercy a quality more divine than trust
If you're listening to me now
If you're listening to me now
I wouldn't blame you anyhow for runnin' me out of town
Grace is an offering more refined than magic dust
Mercy a quality more divine than trust
If you're listening to this song
If you're listening to this song
I hope you find it in your heart
I hope you find it in your heart to forgive
I hope you find it in your heart to forgive me every wrong

What I want right now... to go home and do nothing but write for a week.

I got the itch.

(Of course, if I took a week off, about 1/3 of it at most would be spent writing. The rest would be spent watching Judge Joe Brown and renting crappy movies from Blockbuster. For inspiration, of course.)

I also have the jones to break out some books/magazines on writing. Any recommendations? For the record, I've read Dillard's "The Writing Life" and King's "On Writing" about four times each. Those, I use for inspiration to write, when I'm running low. I've got the opposite problem. There's too dang much to do both here at work and at home, to have time to write.

So to stave off the attention-shrinking desire to scribble, I need a fix.

Any really good writing websites you can think of would be cool too.

In the next day or so, I was planning on doing a writing-themed linky-love post. Those are usually Wed./Thurs. posts here at PBB.

So yeah. Thoughts. Suggestions. Encouragements.

By the way, I got a really tasty short story idea, related to the swirling questions of grace and forgiveness in the light of the ugliness of people--especially church people. I may crank that out in the near future.

I'm gonna pretend to work now. Later.

Monday, July 25, 2005

PBB Cool Ten (7/24-7/30)

10. 50-48. Took 2 of 3 from The Enemy (TM).
9. The trailer for the 'Man in Black' biopic "Walk the Line" is up here. Looks cool.
8. "Hello, you've reached the winter of our discontent."
7. "Melrose Place is a really good show."
6. Still trying to finish "Cubs Nation" and Yancey's grace book. "The Moviegoer" and "The Jesus I Never Knew" are languishing from the sidelines. Soon, my little printed friends, very soon.
5. Sam Phillips, I love your stuff, girl. But next time, stretch the album past the 35-minute mark, okay, darlin?
4. Mid-90s church-alt-rock flashback: "Free Flying Soul" by The Choir. Really really good stuff.
3. Josh is returning to Houston this weekend! For the last time. *sad face* But this visit means I'll FINALLY get to see the Wonka movie.
2. Enjoyed bowling with my friend (who's getting married in 3 weeks), his father, and his sister's boyfriend, while the bride-to-be was having her "shower." As for the outcome of the bowling, I scored a 106 on the first game, and each game got worse after that. I brought shame to my house.
1. Class went well yesterday. Next week, we begin looking at some Parables.

Friday, July 22, 2005

Soundtrack Bonus: The last song...

Of course, there's always a song after the "end credits" track. This fits for me, right now.


One part of me just wants to tell you everything
One part just needs the quiet
And if I’m lonely here, I’m lonely here
And on the telephone
You offer reassurance

I will not take these things for granted

How can I hold the part of me that only you can carry
It needs a strength I haven’t found
But if it’s frightening, I’ll bear the cold
And on the telephone
You offer warm asylum

I’m listening
Flowers in the garden
Laughter in the hall
Children in the park
I will not take these things for granted

To crawl inside the wire and feel something near me
To feel this accepting
That it is lonely here, but not alone
And on the telephone
You offer visions dancing

I’m listening
Music in the bedroom
Laughter in the hall
Dive into the ocean
Singing by the fire
Running through the forest
And standing in the wind
In rolling canyons

I will not take these things for granted

("I Will Not Take These Things for Granted" by Toad the Wet Sprocket)

Soundtrack of My Life: July 2005 Edition

As with everything else, this is Subject to Change.

Your Life: The Soundtrack

Created by aiko and taken 31361 times on bzoink!

Opening credits"Paperback Writer," Beatles
Waking up"Beautiful Day," U2
Average day"October," Seth Woods
First date"Perhaps, Perhaps, Perhaps," Cake
Falling in love"The Luckiest," Ben Folds
Love scene"The Blower's Daughter," Damien Rice
Fight scene"Humpty Dumpty," Aimee Mann
Breaking up"Smoke," Ben Folds Five
Getting back together"All I Want," Toad the Wet Sprocket
Secret love"Linger," Cranberries
Life's okay"Don't Dream It's Over," Crowded House
Mental breakdown"No One Told You," Waterdeep
Driving"Are You Gonna Go My Way?" Lenny Kravitz
Learning a lesson"Everybody's Gotta Learn Sometimes," Beck
Deep thought"Lover, You Should Have Come Over," Jeff Buckley
Flashback"Mr. Jones (Acoustic)," Counting Crows
Partying"Vertigo," U2
Happy dance"Lift Me Up," Benjamin Gate
Regreting"Chelsea," Counting Crows
Long night alone"How to Disappear Completely," Radiohead
Death sceneNocturne in E Flat Major (Op. 9, No. 2), Chopin
Closing credits"The Luckiest Man on the Face of the Earth" by Don Chaffer

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Thursday, July 21, 2005

"Awww" Moment

Miss A (as in, Mrs. "The Italian") just sent me an email, inviting me to their 4 y.o. son's birthday party. It's for family members only, but since "I am one", I'm invited.

I think I'm tearing up a little bit right now. That's just the nicest thing.

Time to go buy that little boy something rad.

Thursday Mini-Link-Dump

  • If you're not checking out Hip Clicks, you should. ...On second thought, don't, because that's where most of my stuff comes from.
  • I watched the Shopgirl trailer again this week. I know, I know, I already mentioned this. But it looks really good.
  • Speaking of trailers, here's one for "Just Like Heaven." Looks like a crappy Ghost-like romantic comedy (They hate each other! One of them is a ghost! Hijinks ensue!!!), but I may see it just to see Napoleon Dynamite's Jon Heder in another role. His "cola" quote at the end of the trailer made me laugh mucho, just because it's him.
  • The fine folks at YTMND ("You're the man now, dog!") have made us laugh with the original Sean Connery bit and the Captain Picard bit. Here are two more I found: Wonka and Boomhauer. If you venture further into the site, you're on your own. (Caution: LOUD.)
  • I'll be posting mine in the near future. You bloggers should do yours. (Via Myles)

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Cleaning out the Junk Drawer

I imagine I could talk about "Rockstar:INXS" and who I think are consistently the best performers (J.D. and Jordis). Or I could discuss upcoming and recent movies, or what I'm reading, or other such pop culture items. On other days, I would.


There's too much of that in my mind these days. Too much noise. Not that I'm going to turn into an ascetic or somesuch nonsense. But my mind's feeling like a poorly-tended-to "junk drawer." You know what I mean--that drawer or cabinet or storage box where you toss things that aren't easily categorized and put away. Batteries and small screwdrivers and grocery adverts and coupons and address books and buttons and loose change. You have to be vigilant with such a drawer, because after a while it becomes so full that things are falling out of the back and you can never find what you're looking for.

My head these days feels this way.

...I'm dreaming a lot. A lot. I never noticed this as much as I have lately. Normally I'll drift into fitful sleep and only remember dreaming maybe once every two weeks. Last night was the third or fourth in a series of incredibly vivid, multi-dream nights. Sunday night I remember having five distinct dreams. Of course I can never remember details. There were too many, and they all blend together. I just... I don't know.

I guess there's a lot on my mind. Lots to process.


I'm idling right now. I'm stuck in neutral. I gun the engine once in a while, but it never gets me anywhere.

The thought occured to me to fast and pray for direction in my life, for help in setting priorities. (Saying "the thought occured to me" is a bit of a misnomer. In my limited experience, the idea of fasting is almost always prompted by the Spirit; from where else would such "radical" thoughts come? Not from the flesh, to be sure, nor from the Other Fella. That leaves one culprit: He who is Unchanging.) This thought hit me Monday, as I was walking to the train, and mentally preparing for the Interview. So I idly decided to give it a go after my dinner meeting.

The spiritual discipline of fasting isn't really something one can "give a go," as if on a whim. Such motivations don't last. Such a decision has to be resolute and firmly rooted in prayer and Bible study. The carrying-out of such a practice can only be completed through serious prayer. In other words, you have to have your head right, because it isn't just a "fix" for what ails you--it's a purposed decision.

So. No breakfast yesterday. Liquid lunch. I lasted until yesterday afternoon. Then I had cake. A going-away "party" for a co-worker. In my head, just before, the rationalization began. "You're not really fasting; you haven't gone about it the right way. You can begin again later." And that infernal voice was right, in part. I really wasn't "fasting." I was simply going without food. There's a difference.

Then friends called. And I invited them over for my make-shift "barbecue chicken over rice" dish. They seemed to like it. We watched a movie, and they left. I ate a few Reese's Cups. And a peanut butter sandwich. And some chips. I was hungry.

I woke up, in the middle of my second dream last night, with the worst indigestion I can remember. Chest and stomach pain. Not fun. And in my barely coherent state, I made the assumption, "Must be because I didn't fast." As if it were punishment.

Which is silliness, I think. Because we aren't "punished" for leaving off from the spiritual disciplines of prayer and fasting. Not in a direct sense. Rather, I think the "punishment" of not being faithful in these practices is that we are essentially left as we are; which is to say, drifting further and further from God.

The confusion in my life, the clutter and frustration, are the result of my laziness, my lack of personal discipline. But the head-clutter, the depressive moments, the frustrated sighs that creep into my life are the result of drifting farther from God. My spiritual life, in some ways, has taken to this pattern: if not for the constant connection with the True Vine, I wither. Rather quickly. Because I am human and still very, very corrupt, I degenerate. The sense of peace, direction, and purpose that I feel when I am closest to God, begins to fade away the minute I stop pursuing Him fully. The longer I delay in returning, the more I sink back into myself, like Peter in the waters of the raging Galilee.

I don't think this is the same for the journey of a spiritually mature person. At least, not to this degree. But every time I take my eyes off Christ, even for a moment, I feel instantly plunged into shadow. Unlike Peter, I don't even seem to have the time to call out "Lord, save me!" before sinking into the foam. I doubt that those most spiritual have quite the same experience. That lingering on an image in a risque advertisement causes Reverend Graham an existential crisis.

I've been teaching my class ["my class" does have a nice ring to it] about grace. Daily grace, that covers our sins still and gives us hope of change and assurance of love. Maybe my problem is that I'm not letting myself experience grace, either. I let each fault, each flaw, each fear loom large around me. And this constant struggle, wrestling these serpents, is getting in the way of living life, of forward motion.

A good friend recently wrote that I seem really depressed lately in my writings here. She was concerned. (Thanks, friend.) I have to say, there's nothing major going on in my life right now. No serious crises. Just a lot of little things. And my struggle to focus on what's important, instead of getting lost in my own mental junk drawer.

Most of all, I'm running head-long into my own corruptness, and realizing how much I really need grace. And instead of finding solace and hope in the fact that the grace extended to me is enough to cover all, I'm feeling ashamed that I need it as much as I do. I should "know better," in so many ways.

So there's that.

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Thanks for stopping by...

Sorry, but I've got nothing today. No time, nothing terribly interesting to say.

And now i'm going home. Some friends from high school are coming over.

The Prez is gonna announce his nom for Supreme Court justice tonight at eight. You should check that out. It's important, and junk.

You should also check out "Rock Star: INXS" tonight. That's a cool show. At least, on Tuesdays, when the people perform for the week. Good stuff. Entertaining.

OH--I almost forgot. Big news: After my meeting with the Singles Dept. leader guy, I'm now officially a Sunday School Teacher.

So that's wicked cool.

Have a good night. Hopefully, I'll have something useful to share tomorrow.

Monday, July 18, 2005

Editorial Note

After literal hours of painful, tedious editing, I've reached a personal resolution:

I am of the firm conviction that the consistent and unrelenting torture of grammar should be considered a "human-rights violation" (for the reader, if nothing else) under the Geneva Convention.

[Note: I do realize that the enforcement of such a rule would implicate a certain comrade of mine (ahem), but he could always throw himself on the mercy of the World Court. I'm sure they're softer on theatrical types.]

Nothing is cool...

...especially not the temperature in this office.

No Cool Ten today. No weekend recaps. No crowing over the Cubs' 8-2 win over the pathetic Pirates. (okay, maybe a little.)

I don't have time. I have much much too much to do before 4:50.

If you could, send up a prayer for me this evening. I'm "interviewing" with the church Singles Director about the SunSco teaching position. That's the next hurdle in the process.

Peace and Grace.

Friday, July 15, 2005

Taylor House, Chapter 10: "Tempest"

What came next was work the next day. As was his practice, Louis walked the five short blocks from Taylor House to the weathered street full of first-story tourist shops and second-story flats. Every building on the island looked battered, ancient.

Louis enjoyed his morning walk. Even though the shoppers and beach bums crowded the island every weekend from Friday to Sunday night, before grumbling back to their mainland homes, Friday morning was rarely that busy, both on the street and in the shop. Louis saw a few of the regulars starting out on their morning bargain hunt, but not the usual insane crowds. Now, come lunchtime—forget it. It’s a war-zone outside the front door. Like Mardi Gras, but with none of the fun.

Louis’ shirt was sweat-soaked halfway through his “commute.” This summer just got hotter and hotter. It wasn’t even June, and the temperature flirted with triple digits. All it took was stepping outside to make Louis (briefly) regret ever moving so far south.

Louis passed the last alley, lined with dumpsters and trashcans and the occasional shopping basket, and turned onto the Strand. Those with fancy tastes would think the Strand too grandly named. Indeed, the street looked rather cobbled-together for being the epicenter of commerce on the island. But like the rest of Galveston, the Strand had weathered countless storms, and such adversity takes its toll.

Louis didn’t care. Having lived his life in and around a big city, he’d fallen in love with the small-town feel of this battered, ragged, beautiful place. If questioned, he would have insisted that it had “character” and “charm.”

He walked into the bookstore a few minutes before his shift started, and saw Trent transferring columns of numbers from the paper ledger (which Mr. Borokov insisted on using) to the laptop computer on the counter in front of him. Louis glanced around the store and asked, “Where’s the boss?”

Trent jerked his head upward toward Borokov’s second-floor apartment. “He’s taking the morning off.”

“Is he not feeling well?” Louis asked.

“Well, no, he’s not, but that’s not why. We’ve had some…trouble.”

“What do you mean?”

Trent shifted from foot to foot. He glanced around the empty store, despite knowing that Louis was the only one who had come in, and lowered his voice to a murmur. “Brendan’s gone. And some money’s missing. I don’t want to assume the worst, but you know the boss—folks his age don’t trust kids with tats and piercings.”

“Wow,” Louis replied. “Do you think he might have?”

“No,” Trent snapped. “Absolutely not. It wasn’t him. He’s not like that; he’s incredibly honest. You wouldn’t think it to look at him, but he even reads the Bible and stuff.”

Louis shrugged. “Doesn’t mean he can’t be guilty. I’ve known enough religious people who were liars and thieves.”

“Yeah, well, not him, okay?”

Trent’s glare made Louis uneasy. “Okay, okay. You know him better than I do. If you say it’s not him, then it’s not him.”

Trent nodded once. “Good.” He went back to typing, and said without looking up, “There was a new lot that came in from the Woodlands last night. Estate sale. Looks like some good pick-ups. Boss wants you to get started on that.”

“Right. Thanks.” Louis went to put his bag behind the counter and stopped. “Look, Trent, I’m sorry for saying that. I know Brendan’s your friend and all.”

Trent shook his head and continued typing. “It’s okay… It’s not like I didn’t think it at first, too.” He looked over at Louis. “But I know it’s not him. He knows that this job isn’t something he can’t afford to lose.”

“Right. How much was taken, anyway?”

Trent laughed. “Less than eighty bucks. That’s what doesn’t make sense. We’d already made the week’s deposit that morning. If it were Brendan, he would have taken the money earlier, so he could have walked away with a lot more.”

“Doesn’t add up.”


Louis headed toward the stock room and took a look at his morning project. There were about 400 volumes total, thrown haphazardly into boxes and bags. It took him almost two hours just to sort through what was worth pricing and what was too damaged to be worth more than a few dollars. There were a few treasures mixed in with the refuse, including a two-hundred-year-old Robinson Crusoe. Louis hated reading the book in high school, absolutely despised it. But now that he was a seller, he began seeing things beyond his personal reaction to them. As they say, “one man’s trash is another man’s 45% mark-up.”

Louis finished processing the lot (which took him into the afternoon) and stacked the pieces accordingly in the back, and then he logged on to the main computer in the stock room. This was the only computer with Internet access in the store (Borokov had ignored the clerks’ impassioned pleas for “WiFi”), and it was used primarily to receive online inquiries. There were a few garden-variety requests that Louis answered right away. Then he came upon an inquiry for a book he’d never heard of.

Louis switched on the intercom. “Hey Trent.”


“Have you ever heard of this? ‘The Legendary Oriental Journey of Sir’--“

“ ‘Phillip Langleye.’ By Comstock, right?”

“Yeah! What is this?”

Louis could hear Trent laughing. “It’s a myth, man. Like Bigfoot. Is this a web request?”


Trent replied, “Figures. We get one of these every once in a while. Tell them it doesn’t exist, and offer them something else.”

“We just got a rare ‘Crusoe.’”

“There you go. One fictional journey for another.”

Louis laughed and began typing. “So what is it, exactly?”



“Oh, it’s this mythical 15th century travel book. Some count or something wanted to follow Marco Polo’s route, but got lost. He claimed he discovered the Garden of Eden, so he sent back his servant Comstock with his alleged diary, and he stayed behind.”


Trent chuckled. “Yeah. When it was published, no one had ever heard of this guy, so they assumed it was fictional. When Comstock insisted it wasn’t—quite emphatically and violently, as the stories go--they thought he was a lunatic and locked him up. At one point later on, someone had decided that the book was somehow against the government or the church or something, so they destroyed every copy they could find.”

“And that was that?”

“Yeah. Apparently, none of them survived. If one did, it’d be worth…God, millions, maybe. Or at least whatever any lunatic collector would pay for it. …Funny thing is, other than the stories, there’s no record that this book ever existed. Nothing, anywhere. Some think, and I’m prone to agree, that the whole thing is a myth. El Dorado, for the book-seller crowd.”

Louis smiled. “I never knew that selling books would be such an exciting occupation.”

Trent replied, “Oh yeah. Mystery and suspense, every day.”

The workday ended without incident. Brendan still didn’t show up. Dan called in sick, but Mr. Borokov had come down by then, so when 5 o’clock rolled around, he dismissed both of the clerks with a waved hand and a simple “Good night.”

Trent unlocked his bike and quickly sped away. Louis decided he should look into getting a bike, too. It would save on gas getting around town, and the exercise wouldn’t kill him.

This pleasant line of thinking was interrupted by the feeling that something was a bit off. Louis looked around.

Louis had to remind himself that it really was Friday afternoon. Normally, the covered sidewalks would be choked with sweaty tourists wearing abominable floral prints, but there were few people on the street. He noticed the street get a little darker. A wild west wind whirled past him, catching him off guard. He realized that he wasn’t sweating like normal. The skies were overcast. A storm was coming. The faintest peal of thunder rolled in the distance, over the Gulf of Mexico. The wind kept blowing, carrying debris around his feet. Louis quickly headed toward the corner, hoping to get home before the rain started.

He turned the corner and headed past the first row of businesses. He had just passed an alley when two rough hands grabbed his shoulders from behind, jerking him backwards. He was dragged backwards for a few feet, and then thrown backwards against a rough brick wall next to a dumpster. He tried to catch his breath. “I—I don’t have any m”— His assailant punched him in the stomach hard enough to double him over, and then pushed him to the ground.

Louis lay there on his back, looking up at the utility pole. One thing he noticed on this street is that the power transformers were in the alleys, atop wooden structures that looked like tall H’s with crossbars on top. In that first second Louis lay there, it occurred to him how odd they looked from beneath. Then his view was obscured by the face of his attacker, who wore a hooded sweatshirt and a bandana over his mouth, tucked into the jacket.

Louis tried to talk again. “I don’t unders—“

The man kicked him in the side. “Shut the hell up and listen,” the man growled. “You’re not welcome here. Go back to where you belong, or something real bad’s gonna happen to you.”

“Wait, I don’t—“

The attacker punched Louis in the mouth, hard enough to cut his lip. Louis grunted, and so did the masked man, who grumbled as he shook his sore hand. “Just listen to what I’m saying, bitch. Pack up your shit and leave. Don’t ever look back. If you, next time it’ll be worse. Maybe I’ll even pay a visit to that stupid old man who lives with you. How would you—“

Just as quickly as Louis’ attacker had appeared, he disappeared. Louis was disoriented and his face and side were throbbing, but for a second, he thought he saw that the man had been jerked backwards himself. Louis lay there motionless, staring up at the utility pole above him, and beyond that, the dark clouds that began sweeping past.

What Louis heard, however, was something different. He couldn’t understand it, but he heard the meaty sounds of fist (or something hard) hitting flesh. He heard cries of pain, and the sound of a body being thrown to the ground. Was the masked man beating himself up? A silly thought, but it did cross Louis’ muddled mind, as he lay there on the gravel, bleeding from the mouth.

Like another cloud, the face of a man immediately emerged above him. Louis felt someone grabbing his arms, shaking him.

“Mr. Louis! Mr. Louis, are you okay?”

“Mr. Cross?”

“Aye, lad, are you hurt bad?”

Louis considered the question for a moment. “No, just roughed up a bit.”

“Good to hear that, sir,” Mr. Cross said, smiling, “because you look like hell.”

He helped Louis sit up, then slowly stand. The sound of running feet could be heard down the street, but neither paid it any mind. Cross grabbed his cane leaning against the nearby wall, and they turned to walk to Cross’s pick-up truck, which was idling in the middle of the street with the driver’s side door open. It began raining, pouring, and though they were fifteen feet away when it started, they were soaked by the time they made it inside the truck. They sat in the truck and laughed a bit, as those rushing out of the rain tend to do.

Louis asked, “What happened just now?”

Cross’s brows furrowed. “Well, I was driving home from the market, and I saw that punk pounding someone, so I slowed down long enough to get a look at him to call the police. Then I saw that it was you on the ground, and, well, I stepped in.”

“You grabbed him?”

“Aye. I can’t fistfight like I used to, but I made use of what was available.” He reached down and patted the cane on the seat between them.

“I didn’t realize you used a cane.”

“Yes, sir. On days like today, when the storms come, my old bones act up a bit.”

Louis said, “Mr. Cross, I don’t know how to…”

“Not a problem, Mr. Louis. I know you’d do the same for me.”

Louis nodded. He thought for a moment. “What’s your given name?”


Louis laughed, and then winced at the fresh bruise under his right arm. “Come on. I figure, if we’ve been in a fight together, we can now get past the formalities.”

Mr. Cross smiled. “Felix.”

“Can I call you that?” Louis asked.

“You may.”

“Thank you, Felix. For everything.”

“You’re welcome…Louis.” Felix Cross put the truck into gear, and they started home. After a moment or two, he said, “Call me a ‘stupid old man,’ will he? Dumb bastard.”

Louis laughed all the way home, in spite of his aching ribs.

Taylor House (Table of Contents)

For those of you just joining us (hi, Laura!), I've been writing a bit of a serial novel. It needs a LOT of work, and it's not terribly good, but some of you seem to like it, so I'm pressing on. Truth be told, I'm curious to see how it all plays out myself.

So, like I said, it's not great, and Chapter Six is really weak (that's your disclaimer) but here you go:

Chapter 1--Papa Taylor

Chapter 2--Taylor House

Chapter 3--Papa's Letter

Chapter 4--Memoria (it says "Chapter 5" but it's really 4)

Chapter 5--Historical

Chapter 6--Interview

Chapter 7--Borokov

Bonus Author's Journal Entry--here

Chapter 8--Routine

Chapter 9--Choice

And now, in the next post...

Chapter 10--Tempest

Enjoy, I guess. If it sucks, don't say I didn't warn you.

Thursday, July 14, 2005

Music Review: John Reuben, "The Boy vs. the Cynic"

John Reuben is for Christian rap what Eminem is, in many ways, for mainstream rap. Perhaps not the only star in the sky, but one of the brightest. Reuben's first album, "Are We There Yet?," burst on the scene in 2000, and since then, his star has continued to rise. The albums "Hindsight" and "Professional Rapper" (my personal favorite) have continued to add to his legacy, and--outside of genre veteran TobyMac--Reuben is currently one of the biggest stars in the Christian rap market.

I actually got to see Reuben in concert a few months ago. It was an incredibly entertaining show, full of energy and excitement. He previewed the first two tracks from his upcoming release, and I began eagerly anticipating the album.

I picked up the record about 2 weeks ago. Hmm.

"The Boy vs. the Cynic" has some very strong points. The first two tracks are pretty good. "Out of Control" is about the sense of letting go in trust, and allowing God to take hold: "...I'd rather stand in the ocean/and let the waves of devotion roll over me/irony i had to suffocate before i could breathe..." [As we see later, he didn't quite suffocate that irony.] In the chorus, he proclaims that "it feels good to be out of control." The second track, "Nuisance," is a song about doing more than talking about the world's problems. It features a collaboration with Matthew Thiessen from Relient K, and has a catchy pop hook.

"Then the unthinkable happened." The tone of the album shifts dramatically, beginning with "Chapter 1." He laments the excesses and foolishness of this present age, and then says, "...and that's the way of the beast/There's nothing I can do about it/I can shout it in a room that's crowded/But I doubt it'd make a difference/So ignorance will be my disguise/Cuz 21st century America likes its witchcraft civilized."


Cynicism. Check.

[I'd like to pause for a moment here. I find that political things in Christian music bother me more than attacks on the Church's hypocrisy. I don't know what this means. Some would probably say I'm more loyal to a political ideology than to the Church. Well, maybe not say it--they're too nice--but they'd think it. I want to categorically deny the truth of this, but I'm not sure how strongly I can do that, sometimes.]

Tracks 4 and 5 lay plain the message in their names--"Follow Your Leader" and "Sales Pitch." Allow me to sum up: All we like dumb sheep have been hoodwinked by selfish people in power. Each side blindly follows the propaganda of their preferred ideological flavor. And the Church has turned faith into a commodity bought and sold.

This has all been sung before. This has all been said before. In "Leader," Reuben includes a nice little jab at the "right side" of the pews a la Don Miller: "Conservative uptight right wing Republican/Last time i checked i was none of them/But that's the brush you want to paint me with, taint me with/Some aim to please but you aim to miss..." [Emphasis mine] Gee, John, Heaven forbid anyone ever accuse you of being *gasp!* a conservative. What an outrage. [/sarcasm]

The album then schizophrenically jumps into two more upbeat songs with "Sunshine" and "So Glad." However, the joy and hope presented in these tracks sounds hollow, following the bitter protestations of the previous three.

Then the kicker. Track 8. It begins, "Puff, the magic Jesus/Floats around the universe/The United States is his favorite place/On the whole entire earth/So sing your songs and wave your flag/Thank the Lord for all you have/But what about them?/Did you forget about them?"

The cynicism comes into bloom in this track. I mean, come on: "Things are comfortable, the pioneers have settled in/A perfect blend of progress and pale skin..." I get it, John, white people bad. I hear it all the time. I am told ALL THE TIME. But I refuse to live a life of self-hate.

[Please do not misunderstand me. What the American government did to the Native population was unthinkable and shameful. What they did to the Af-Am population was and is unthinkable and shameful. These wrongs have been recognized and repented of, at least by all sensible, sensitive Americans. But I am not responsible for this. I didn't do this, so I refuse to feel guilty. There is enough darkness in my own heart to take the blame for; no need to add anyone else's blame to my own.]

The rest of the track has a lot of good points. The whole album has a lot of good points. He brings up real issues that the Church needs to focus on. But the whole mess is (to use his word) tainted by the tang of bitterness, and becomes undigestable.

I don't even want to finish this review. I didn't want to finish the album, after hearing this song the first time. In the interest of fairness, we press on.

"There's Only Forgiveness" talks about the cycle of bitterness, resentment, and revenge, and how forgiveness is the only way out. Absolutely true.

"All I Have" is like "Sunshine" and "So Glad" in that it proclaims that we take the good with the bad in life, and have to find peace with that.

"Cooperate" is another slam track, but one that didn't bother me. [Not attacking my brand of foolishness, I guess.] It takes on the protest kids who are more interested in being against something than being for anything.

"I left my youth for the truth/And gained a world of dishonesty..." sings Reuben on the title track, the last one on the album. Here the tension comes into focus. He wants to be optimistic. He misses being naive. But he's confronted by the darkness of the world around him, darkness even in God's house. And he regrets that it has turned him sour.

So do I, Mr. Zappin. So do I.

I should have enjoyed this album more than I did. There's a whole lot of truth here, lots of red meat. But it's buried beneath this sour glaze of cynicism and resentment against the political establishment, the Christian establishment, and whatever else.

If it hadn't been for "puff, the magic jesus," I could have dealt with the other stuff and been on board with this record. But Reuben, in his desire to provoke Christians to response, took it a step too far.

The Boy versus the Cynic? The Cynic wins. And we lose.

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

"Keep your hand at the level of your eyes..."

[And perhaps just over your eyes, in disgust.]

On Monday, I took up a coworker's offer of free tickets to the national touring company production of "The Phantom of the Opera." The performance last night was what I expected it to be--which is to say, entertaining and generally pleasant.

I've seen Phantom twice before in person, and of course once on the big-screen. As one would expect, each production had its beauties and flaws--some more than others. Last night's performance was no exception.

If you aren't familiar with the story of The Phantom of the Opera, stop reading. If you don't want to hear spoilers about the current touring production, stop reading. If you don't care about the technical minutiae of the show, stop reading.

The Good:

I still really like this show. For all of its melodrama, for all of its cheesiness, it's still a great and often moving piece of musical theatre. The snobs among you will scoff at this, but I think it's true. So when you have great source material--funny, frightening, moving, full of pathos--you're on the right track.

The supporting cast was very capable, overall. The woman playing Madame Giry was pretty well spot-on. "Piangi" was right. Even Carlotta, though not a perfect performance, was still engaging and entertaining. (I must say that after seeing Minnie Driver's shockingly good performance in the film role, the actress last night suffered quite a bit in comparison.) Firmin and Andre were well-played, as well.

The set design and lighting were good, I thought. Granted, I'm no expert on such things. But nothing jumped out at me or caught my attention in the bad way. I liked how the fog ran off the front of the stage like water during the "boat" sequences. Very effective.

Speaking of jumping, the "special effects" were successfully startling. Gunshots, pyrotechnics, all that jazz. The "crashing" of the chandelier was well done.

My favorite costume from the show has been and always will be the Phantom's "Red Death" costume for the "Masquerade" sequence. ("Showing, here.") That was one of my complaints with the film's integrated version of the mask: as scary as the normal Phantom mask may be, the talking skull with the moveable jaw is much more so.

The Bad:

The non-Phantom leads. Raul's voice was weak, weak, weak. It can't even be excused for the sake of "character." He had no volume and no power in his voice. In short, he was a mouse, vocally. And not even a scary mouse.

Christine. ("Christine... Why? Why?") The overwhelming vocal quality that your Christine must possess is that she does not sound like Carlotta. If they are too similar, it draws unwanted comparisons between two supposedly different singers. What I loved about Sarah Brightman's (and Emmy Rossum's, for that matter) voice is that it's... clear, I guess you can say. Less flourish, less vibrato, less performance. Plus, this Christine just wasn't that convincing to me; neither her terror nor her joy moved me.

Meg Giry. Ugh. Forced. Stilted. Unnatural and distracting. She rushed through her lines. [A crash backstage, and she would take a completely unnatural ballet position and sing out, "He'sherethePhantomoftheOperaaah!"] Her blocking was so often unmotivated and completely forced. ["Here let me run over to the other side of the person speaking for no reason and kneel with toe pointed and arms extended...because I can!"] I mean, I get it, she was trained as a ballerina first, but geez. Make it look something approaching realistic.

The script. I HATE HATE HATE that they've updated the book. I learned the songs from the original cast recording, so all these new lines are frustrating. And they're not even good. Example: In "Think of Me," one pair of lines originally went, "Think of all the things we've shared and seen/Don't think about the things which might have been." In the updated version, the first line is changed to "Think of August when the trees are green..." or somesuch nonsense. What. the. crap. is. that. ?!? Who was talking about August? Nonsense.

The large-group numbers. Not the full-company numbers, but the song about the notes, for example. The Andre/Firmin/Carlotta/Piangi/Raul/MegORMme.GiryORChristine numbers. What I remember, and my memory may be wrong, is that you could listen to these songs (in other productions), pick out any of the actors, and hear what they're saying rather clearly. Yet, in this production, you couldn't distinguish half of the actors' lines. It might as well have been the Presidential visit scene from "Red, White, and Blaine" (hubbubhubbubhubbub). I don't know if I'm just expecting too much, but it stopped being carefully woven multi-part singing and just became...noise.

The costumes for the "Masquerade" number seemed a bit... generic? [Actually, my first thought was "half-assed," but that's not entirely fair. Originality is hard--but it should be pursued.]

The Ugly:

All of these problems could have been made up for by a great Phantom. A Phantom that's enigmatic, energetic, scary, sexy, and sympathetic. A hard bill to fill, I understand this; I could never do it myself.

So, as Fred Willard would say on "A Mighty Wind"--"wha' happen?"

First, the Phantom's voice took on a Dudley Do-Right quality. I think it was a bit too high-pitched for this role. And his falsettoes were much too soft and airy. There were moments where he really hit all the right points, I admit that. But I was a bit distracted by how... very not-Michael-Crawford he was. Sucks to be him. He will always be compared to the original. That's tough. He still didn't cut it.

Secondly, and most egregiously, was how he played the character. I blame most of this on the direction. He was a really whiny, weepy Phantom. Example: After Christine pulls off the mask the first time, he goes into "Stranger than you dreamt it..." and all that (which is one of my favorite moments in the show). And the point where he talks about "this repulsive carcass who seems a beast," he starts doing the "crying" voice, which proceeds into a whimpered "Oh, Cristine" that is so high it's almost not heard.

A whimpering Phantom?!? No. friggin. way.

He did it again at the end of show too, when he sends the two lovers away. He sort of flails around the stage from chair to table to organ, like a hormonal and overly emotional teenager whose crush turned him down to go to prom with the captain of the football team.

In short, the Phantom was a wuss. And it pissed me off. Because you have to play him like a badass. A sensitive and caring badass, but a badass nevertheless.

Final Analysis:

Yes, despite all of my petty griping, I still enjoyed the show. It was a worthwhile experience. If I had paid what my seat was worth (about $70, I'm told), I might have been a bit less forgiving, though I still would have enjoyed it. But overall, it's fun to see a national touring production of a Broadway show, especially one of the most iconic shows of modern Broadway.

Dave's "Rock on/Walk out" Verdict: "Rock on/That's all I ask of... youuuuuuuu..."

Promises, promises...

New content coming this afternoon/early evening, I swear...

Good stuff too. Movie discussions. Book discussions. Theatre discussions. Lots of fun.

And yes, Lady M, a new TH chapter before Friday. Promised.

Monday, July 11, 2005

[sidelong glance and stifled sigh]

I just spent about fifteen minutes searching through the Xanga "blogring" for my alma mater. Looking for familiar faces. Didn't find any new ones.

Am I so hungry for connection? Or is it the boredom?


"...We can just jetset like the Jetsons/You can be Jane my wife/Should I marry Jane tonight?"


Joey and Megan. Lee and Shannon. Mike and Cara.

How did so many of my friends suddenly become parents?

It's freaking me out a bit.


About the SunSco:

Teaching went okay, as I said. I was tired from staying up late the night before, and I struggled to focus at some points. Not all of that can be blamed on tiredness.

So many of my lessons come from things that are meaningful to me. But sometimes they don't come across as meaningful, when I try to explain them to others.

My outline for the lesson wasn't as thorough as it could have been. And I should have given it one more verbal run through (I usually do at least two).

Started off well. Glossed over any early verbal misteps and losses of concentration with my typical self-deprecation-flavored charm. I'm never quite sure if it plays as well as it used to, back in the days when being flustered and less-than-completely-prepared was still considered "endearing" and "quirky."

[I could handle still being "endearing and quirky." Beats the hell out of "lazy, odd, and undependable."]

Got toward the middle, and the points I believed in and tried to drive home didn't come off as strongly as I thought they would. I couldn't quite convey why I was so moved by the concepts. And I felt I was starting to lose the group's attention.

The frustration turned into more losing of trains of thought, as I tried desparately to reject the Enemy's cheap-shots, sailing into my head: They're not getting anything out of it. They're bored. You have nothing to say.

Finally, I came to the finale.

Oh, right. First. The lesson itself was on grace. The idea that grace is not just a one-time event to spare us from hellfire, but also a daily renewal, comfort, and instruction. I talked about how Christians treat grace like loan consolidation: our great and unpayable debt changes hands, and we try to set up these lower, more manageable payments (like church attendance, abstinence, and the like)--when in reality, grace is debt forgiveness. Complete absolution. But at the same time, we aren't cut loose to have full moral license; we are slaves to righteousness.

I may have tried to cram too much into one lesson.

The finale was how we (don't) project the inward grace we receive, outward. I shared the train story I posted last week, as an example.

...I didn't mean to do it. I may not have done it at all. But as soon as I finished the story, I thought, "Did I go for the emotional 'kill' just then?" The last thing I want to resort to is emotional manipulation. I was frustrated with the early part of the lesson, because i felt like nothing was coming across right. Then I told the story. And, as it turned out, I played it up, real dramatic-like.

I am a performer, after all. So I used it. Boy, did I use that story. In the tradition of modern televangelists, I went for the emotional appeal. I didn't mean to. I certainly didn't plan to. But I did it.

I made a few of them cry. At least two were wiping away tears. And I must confess to you that I felt some small surge of gratification from that, if only for a moment.

So there it is. I might have tried to made up for a weak first half of the lesson by subconsciously going for the "kill" with the story. And i feel awful about that.

Grace is something so phenomenal, so amazing and incredible, that if tears come, they should come from the simple truth of scripture. Not from my over-dramatic anecdote.

Maybe I'm being too hard on myself. I mean, I'm a storyteller. That's what I do; it's who God made me to be. But I'm so afraid of abusing the trust I am being given, that anything I do that holds even a hint of insincerity is sickening to me. I want to be a teacher, not a manipulator. There are enough manipulators in the church.

I want to believe that I'm making too much of this. That these doubts are Satan's way of dampening my joy, of making me hesitant next time. That I did as I was supposed to, and that the Spirit used both parts of the lesson for His glory. I really want to believe this.


I'm lonely today. I think I will go ahead and make that Lonely Day Mixtape, Steph.

Today's a lonely day. Not just in the "miss my friends" way, but in the "aching for a hand to hold" way. These days are harder to fight off.

I'm going to go home, make dinner, finish reading "The Last Battle," and do some housework before an early sleep. Tomorrow night, I'm taking my sister to "Phantom", so I need to get the rest where and when I can.


file under 'restlessness'; cross-reference, 'malaise.'

PBB Cool Ten (7/10-7/16)

10. 43-44, going into the All-Star Break. 12.5 games behind the Cards, 3rd in the division behind Houston (how about their amazing play lately?), and 6 games back in the Wild Card. Coming off an abysmal June, the only shining element after getting swept a few times was sweeping Florida in Florida. Take that, you rotten Marlins! All-Star first baseman Derrek Lee (feels good to say that!) hits his 26th and 27 HRs of the year. His career high HR mark? 32 for an entire season. Something tells me that, barring injury (knocking on Wood), he'll top that.
9. Oh, yeah, and Nomar's back August 1. Bring it.
8. Halfway through "The Last Battle." So good. Sad that I'm almost done with CoN.
7. Jason Mraz, on certain tracks, sounds like a cross between Rufus and Jamie. That's cool.
6. Mmmm. Joseph Arthur.
5. Hopefully, Yancey will eventually tell me what's so amazing about grace. (As if I didn't know.)
4. It actually rained here this weekend. That was cool.
3. What's with all these great-looking movies suddenly being released? Check out the trailer for Shopgirl. Based on Steve Martin's book. Screenplay by Martin. Starring Martin, Jason Schwartzman, and Claire Danes. Great soundtrack. Looks great.
2. Spent several hours last night chilling with The Bearded One and his beloved AP. We discussed The Dark Tower, Christian music and its politics, and what's happening with "Taylor House," among other things. One thing I thought was hilarious--both Trev and Amanda were wearing tee-shirts promoting Trev's eponymous web page. "WWW Dot TrevorTaylor Dot Com," emblazoned in iron-on lettering. It got me thinking. Once i get my own domain, I'm doing tee-shirts too. And maybe trucker hats.
2b. Strike that about trucker hats.
1. Yesterday was my first Sunday as a SunSco teacher. It went reasonably well. More later.

Friday, July 08, 2005

Friday Link Dump

[As usual, I forget where I get half of these. If this came from your site, or you know where you saw it last, drop me a comment, and I'll attribute accordingly. Thanks.]

  • What was Number One on the Pop Charts the day you were born? Now you can find out.
  • This is an important resource for regular bloggers, such as myself. Something to consider.
  • You've heard the overzealous music reviews, where critics slobber all over their pet band of the week. Here's a clearinghouse of some of the worst examples. Kinda funny. (Via Sheila)
  • The always brilliant Lileks takes on the diet soda industry and its malformed offspring in this great Strib column. A must-read.
  • Check out the trailer to the new Cameron Crowe film, "Elizabethtown." Looks like this year's "Garden State."

Thursday, July 07, 2005

But I haven't watched Alias in months...*

Dream report:

I'm kinda fuzzy how the dream began, but I remember getting a call at work from a woman who was rather desparate for me to come to her aid. This particular person was an old school chum whom I had/have a soft spot for, so I obliged.

I arrive at her house to find out what all the fuss is about. As it turns out, this person (we shall call her Janis) had murdered--yes, murdered--her boyfriend. Who, as it turns out, was Vaughn from "Alias." She didn't seem too distressed about it; one would assume she'd planned this in some way. However, she knew her parents were arriving back at the house in a matter of hours, and she didn't know how to dispose of the body.

(I remember feeling, not shock or revulsion at the murder, but instead a strange sense of relief that she was single again. I'm not quite sure what this says about me, subconscious or otherwise.)

After a series of The-Trouble-with-Harry moments, we are still having trouble finding a place to hide the body. Then there's a knock at the door.

I look out the window, and see that it is two of my supervisors from work. Remember, I'd cut work to help Janis with her problem. I immediately hid in the garage (I assume) under some wooden steps leading down from the door. My two bosses come through the door and start walking down the steps. Knowing I'd be nabbed, I stuck my hands out to the side and said, "All right, you found me, I'm here." I crawl out from under the space, and they give me a stern look. "Come back to work," they say, and then they turn and leave.

I go back inside the house and Janis is still trying to hide the body. She tells me there's no time to lose.

And then I wake up.


[*Hat-tip and wink to Barbara for the title.]

Pray for London...

...and for those directly affected by the barbarism committed today. And pray for the British and world leaders to wisely and directly respond to these actions.

Wednesday, July 06, 2005


in the meantime
i'll go to work and church.
i'll write my book
and teach the Word.
i'll go to the movies and to
baseball games, and sometimes,
i'll hit the road,
basking in the silence of
seclusion and using it
as another chance to have
communion with the Unseen.

in the meantime
i will spend as much time
with my family as i can,
taking advantage of every chance
to spin my baby sister around until she
squeals, to take my kid sister to
the midnight movie of the week,
to watch the news with my father,
to do my mother's chores.
i will do these things to show them that
i know they are blessings bestowed,
and if they move away, i will
pray for them daily, as i remain
here in this house-town, this
boiling, bustling city
full of road cones and memory.

in the meantime
i will live my full life,
and i will do my best to
not feel like i'm biding time,
wasting time, killing time,
in the meantime before
i find you.

PBB Cool Ten "Better Late Than Never" Edition (7/3-7/9)

10. 40-42. Twelve and a half games back of the Cards, tied with the Astros (of all people!) for second place in the division. Losers of 6 in a row. ...Yeah, that's about right. It's July.
9. Lots of movies this weekend. "Mr. and Mrs. Smith" (funny), "Land of the Dead" (bloody), "Hostage" (violenty), "War of the Worlds" (suspensey), and "Eight Men Out" (basebally).
8. I bowled a 130! (Disclosure: 3 of those pins came from a carom off the bumper. Hey, I was bowling with my baby sister, give us a break.)
7. Got the new John Reuben CD this weekend. Review upcoming. Initial reaction? Mixed.
6. Finished "Gilead." Pure beauty. Finished "Dawn Treader" and started "Silver Chair." Both most excellent. Started "Cubs Nation", a game-by-game account of last season from a fan's perspective. Lots of fun anecdotes.
5. Also reading "What's So Amazing about Grace?" by Yancey. That's definitely worth the time, thusfar.
4. Speaking of four, "Fantastic Four" comes out this Friday.
3. My best friend left this morning for Oklahoma. I'm sad about this.
2. As of next Sunday, I'm a Sunday School teacher. Freaky.
1. Happy Birthday, America! Some people may still kick mud in your eye, but I think you're pretty keen.

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

Holding pattern

Work is kicking my butt today. Regular posting may have to wait for a day or two. In the meantime, a few quick thoughts:

--Read "Gilead." All of you. Seriously.

--I'm in a weird transition period, on a few fronts. If you could, pray that God will keep me balanced and aware of what's going on, so I can catch everything thrown at me.

--A great quote from my new read, "Cubs Nation," from legendary Chicago sportswriter Mike Royko:
"I always believed that being a Cub fan built strong character. It taught a person that if you try hard enough and long enough, you'll still lose. And that's the story of life."

It may not be the story of life, but it's clearly the story of this season. We're back below .500. Sad.

Friday, July 01, 2005

Hey baby...

...You can't even approach the flava of my colognac.

"Sing like you think no one's listening..."

You would kill for this,
Just a little bit
Just a little bit
You would, you would...

What a week. Am I ever glad it's over.


[In case you're wondering, it doesn't bother me as much as I thought it might. At least, not after sleeping on it.]


Like John Ames, I find myself confronted with my own envy. And like John, I realize that no one's supposed sins against me are greater than my own sins against them.


Last night, beleaguered by my own self-centered worries, I stepped onto the train after staying late several hours at work. I have gotten into the habit of regarding my fellow users of public transit with an entrenched distrust, as I visualize the ways that they might try to attack or rob me. It has transcended healthy circumspection and caution; it is blunt and calloused standoffishness, fueled by fear.

There was a guy sitting eight feet away from me. Tattered tee-shirt. Stained jeans. Stubble and mussed hair. Hungry, angry eyes with dark circles.

I pegged him immediately, with no evidence to back up the label.


I watched him from the corner of my eye as I half-read my book. I imagined ways in which he would try to take my back, or rob me at gun or knife point.

He stood up as if to get off at the first stop. Then he sat back down. I assumed for a moment that he was waiting to follow someone out.

He looked at me from time to time, which i took to confirm my worries.

At my stop, he stood again, and stepped forward before the doors opened. He put his left hand up to grab the rail by the door as the train slowed and the passengers pitched forward.

Running down the inside of his wrist, right on top of the vein that popped out from the strain of grabbing hold, was a five-inch long wound, straight as a post. It looked pretty fresh. Within a week, maybe.

The doors opened, and he said, "Excuse me," and walked away in the opposite direction.

I stood there, dumbfounded, for a moment, before remembering myself, stepping off the train, and walking in the opposite direction. All of my suspicions, all of my fears and suppositions, stacked up as condemnations against me.

In the dark of my heart, I heard my Father say, "Pray for him. He is desperate and hurting. That's the least you can do."

The least I could do. Because that was all that was left. I had closed all the other doors.

I am so devoid of grace. I am the servant, forgiven much, who throws his companions in prison.

I cannot come up with the words to suit my self-reproach. I can only come crawling back to the feet of my Father, and give him my angry, untrusting clay heart, so that he can mold it--or break it, grind it up, and reshape it.

I thought I "got" grace. But my actions lately seem to indicate how foreign the concept is to my understanding.


sing me something soft
sad and delicate
or loud and out of key
sing me anything.