Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Best of 2009

I like ‘best of’ lists, but hate when they are confined to the top 10 or 5 or whatever.  So here is my ‘best of 2009’  list.

Best Movies

District 9- You all know I love sci-fi, but this was ‘real sci-fi’ with a point to it.  I can’t remember the last action movie I saw that was actually unpredictable.  Solid and realistic characters with a thoughtful story that causes the view to ask questions and get involved in the story.  The effects were great and done at a low budget.  Great Movie!

That’s it for movies.  You might ask me about others, but there were a lot of movies that I didn’t see this year, and a lot I won’t.  Some people say that Blindside was good, but I know that it’s not.  It has Sandra Bullock in it, and she is only in bad movies.  Anyway.

Best TV

Well, I still feel like there are creative and fun shows coming out all of the time.  So there will be a few more in this list.

Always Sunny- I know, I know.  It can be pretty darned raunchy.  But it is creative and the characters are amazing.  Frank Reynolds is one of the most amazingly awful characters since George Costanza’s dad.  He makes George’s dad look like a saint as well.

Psych- This show grew on me and is now easily one of my favorites.  The banter of the two main characters is on the same level for me as classic Turk and JD humor from Scrubs.  The plots are fun mysteries that you can figure out along the way, but the episodes are actually re-watchable due to the humor.  My sis recently bought me season 1 on dvd for Christmas.  If you watch James Roday’s audition footage in the special features section, you will see that he pretty much created the character himself, without any real direction.  Amazing.

Lost- It won me back this year.  I was drifting  because of meandering plot lines the last 2 seasons, but now, possibly because they announced that this is the last season, it got very focused.  Great show.

Colbert Report- It is totally worth mentioning how Stephen Colbert (I’m sure with great writing help) single handedly keeps his persona growing and getting better.  Colbert on a daily basis cranks out perfectly timed comedy and satire.  I look forward to watching his show every day.  Still. 

House- I love this show, and it entertains me without any of the ongoing plot lines which only usually make it better.  Hugh Laurie is one of the most talented people anywhere.


Cloud Cult- I know their cd came out in 08, but I saw them live this year and their live show is one of the most compelling and interesting musical live experiences I have ever been to.  I have never felt so comfortable seeing a show.  They were musically tight, but also friendly, welcoming and fun.  They danced and sang along in the audience for the two opening band’s sets as well. 


Those are my best of’s for now.  I have more to say about my worst of’s and my personal year in review.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Jesus Camp

I’ve been avoiding seeing this movie for the past couple of years only to be goaded into it again and again by friends who say: “You’ve got to see this.”  


For those of you who haven’t seen it, it is extremely interesting no matter what side of things you sit on.  It is a documentary that follows three kids and a children’s pastor through several worship experiences and camp experiences. 

The children’s pastor, Becky Fischer, is a Pentecostal preacher who boasts of giving hour-long sermons to children ages 5-12 (at least, by their looks, that is how old they seem to be.)  The sermons and themes of the services and activities talked about sin, repentance, politics, the supreme court, the president, abortion, creationism, science and more. 

Because it is pentecostal, you do see many kids speaking in tongues and openly weeping, dancing, yelling, and singing during the services. 

The film is pretty darn balanced and unbiased by the filmmakers to the point where, Becky Fischer uses the film as a resume to show what she can do in ministry, AND atheist and agnostic websites use it as proof to show that Christianity is ‘brainwash.’  For this balanced filmmaking alone, it is an interesting movie to watch. 

It also got a ton of notoriety because it has some short scenes with Ted Haggard and was released right during his controversial scandal in Colorado Springs.

This documentary took me through a range of emotions.  I think I was on edge because I felt like the kids were going to be ‘used’ and ‘exploited’ by the filmmakers in order to over sell the plot of the movie.  I was extremely pleased that this never seemed to happen. 

Through the movie the kids are being interviewed about their church, their musical choices, their home school, their camp experiences etc. and the kids all come across as extremely articulate and well-spoken.  Every kid interviewed was a thoughtful and interesting child.  I expected that they were going to be portrayed as soulless zombies, maybe this is my own prejudice which I think is more directed at the media and filmmakers than evangelicals or pentecostals as a whole. 

Personally, I would have loved to have any of those kids hanging out with my family.  They were all very well behaved and kind to each other, and were still kids who played and were silly and fun.  So kudos to the kids and to the filmmakers.

That being said, I was blown away at what Fischer does in the name of Children’s ministry.  Preaching for an hour.  Making young young children repent of their sins.  Demanding that they open their mouths and speak in tongues.  Bringing in speakers who would give sermons about how it is the kids job to be a generation that ends abortion.  Making them chant ‘righteous judges’ at the end of the abortion talk. 

From what was shown on the video, every sermon and topic that they talked about was ‘against’ something.  They were against abortion, sin, judges, the government, the worldly powers (Fischer, at the beginning, gave a sermon about this ‘disgusting, icky world we live in’).  They were against secular movies and music.  Against, against, against.  They were never ‘for’ anything at all. 

It was interesting that they gave a boy named Levi, who I am guessing was 10 or 11 years old an opportunity to preach at the camp.  He was every bit as articulate as the adult speakers were.  And he was more positive about his topic than any of the other speakers were as he talked about them being the ‘key generation.’

Personally, I do believe that the camp was manipulative.  I think that the subject matter was far too serious and old for most of the kids in the room.  But I do believe that the filmmakers made a big mistake in the movie by branding this camp as evangelical rather than pentecostal.  The fact that they linked this pentecostal movement with Haggard’s church and thus the millions and millions of evangelicals in America made this movie more inflammatory.  This type of pentecostal children’s ministry is practiced all over the country in pentecostal churches which are only a segment of the evangelical community, but the vast majority of ‘evangelical’ churches are far more moderate than Fischer. 

Talking to little children about repentance is pretty rough too and I personally think quite damaging to a young psyche.  For all of the negative deconstruction and manipulation, it was a wonder how the kids were so much more balanced than the adults.  In the reviews that I read of this movie, several talked about how horrible the abortion message was.  Personally, again, the kids were too young to be told that they are the generation that has to fix the problem.  (I imagined the kids yelling back to the speaker saying: ‘why doesn’t your generation do anything constructive about it?’)

I wasn’t quite as frustrated by that message as I was about the speaker telling the kids that their generation should fix it and getting so political as to talk about Bush and the Righteous Judges, and telling them that one third of the people that would have been at that camp were dead because their parents aborted them, and all of that stuff.  In fact, each of the speakers seemed to be trying to get a positive response from the few adults in the backs of the room and parents more than they were trying to get a response from the kids.  I felt like all of them really wanted to be preaching to adults with these exact same messages. 

The movie makes me feel gross after watching it.  Not because the whole evangelical community is this way, but more because these are such fun and interesting kids that seem to be stuck under the agenda of their parents and church, and they might totally miss the gospel because of all they are told that they need to be against.

How many good and solid people are being told so much about what they need to be against that they really are never for anything?  Just wondering.

The comic scene near the beginning of the movie that really sets you against Fischer though is when she is preaching about America and saying how Muslim parents train their kids from the age of 5 to fast during the month of Ramadan, while “americans just sit around on their couches and they are so fat, and lazy.”  Fischer is quite overweight herself and this seems comical to me. 

Friday, December 11, 2009

The Whole Tiger Thing

I’ll admit that I wasn’t Tiger’s biggest fan.  Although I concede that he is the best golfer ever, at a tougher time to stand out than there has ever been.  He transcended the sport and made every other player better.  He is not only the best scorer, he is the best putter, has the best short game, the best distance control, and he can hit it as far as anyone on tour when he wants.  There seems to be very little that he can’t do. 

I wasn’t his biggest fan because I do prefer Phil.  I am a Sun Devil who had a couple of really cool interactions with Phil and he will always be my favorite player to watch.  I wasn’t his biggest fan because when I saw him as a young star at the Phoenix Open more than a decade ago, I saw him curse out a comeraman that really didn’t do anything. 

I’ve also never been a fan of the fire that he shows when he plays golf.  Not because he is passionate, but because he beats himself up as well as others when he plays poorly.  He can be very crass and unsportsmanlike in a sport that is known for sportsmanship. 

Even though I don’t cheer for him when Phil is in the mix, I have loved to watch his amazing feats.  I’ve seen him demolish the field, come from behind, and hit miraculous shots and putts at the exactly right time.  I have never seen another athlete in any sport who can summon a perfect performance exactly when he needs it.

This whole thing about his marriage is sad.  I don’t pretend to know what happened.  Over a dozen women have come forward to say that they were romantically involved with him in the week after his mysterious car accident.  I will assume that some of those women are dishonestly looking for publicity.  You can be an instant celebrity right now if you add your name to the Tiger list, so I’m sure that several of these women are just opportunists.  But it has now become clear that Tiger has cheated on his wife for a long period of time.  It is also becoming somewhat clear that she is finding out about these infidelities at about the same time that we are. 

I was shocked to see another golfer on TV today talking about how Tiger has valued his family above so many other things and will be a better family man for this.  I am shocked to hear how many people are offering compassion to him at this time, when he is the one who really does deserve blame here.  I just read an article on where the writer said how sorry he feels for Tiger to have to try and salvage things while the media is going crazy and the helicopters are buzzing over his house all day long.  I’m not saying that there won’t be a time for people to be there for Tiger, but the people offering the condolence are people who are jockeying to get into position for the new order of Tiger. 

I was sickened to hear Oprah say that she was going to reach out to Tiger.  It just reeks of self-promotion to think that having him on your show, or having a phone conversation will help anything besides her own ratings. 

Right now, what Tiger needs are people to tell him the truth.  I’m hoping that Elin, her family and Tiger’s mom are all making sure that TIger knows that he has victimized her, and his family.  Right now, someone needs to address the fact that Tiger has more money than any athlete ever, a bigger foundation, a bigger corporation, bigger endorsements, more fame, more accomplishments, a beautiful wife and healthy kids, every material object that you could ever want; but with all of this stuff, it hasn’t been enough for Tiger.  I don’t know if anyone is in a mentoring position over Tiger, or if there is anyone that Tiger looks up to, but isn’t this what happens to athletes and celebs that reach the top.  Michael Jackson, Mike Tyson, so many politicians who have tasted the power, Madonna, so many others; they all have gone to the same crazy place, a place where there is no where to look up to and so you deify yourself.  You convince yourself that your decisions are right because after all, it is you who made them, and you are the best. 

In my mind there is only one thing that can happen here that will change things.  Tiger needs to find a relationship with Christ.  I don’t care if it is corny or cliché, but Tiger needs to know that he can still look up to something or someone.  Crying on Oprah’s couch might help his new media problem.  Going to counseling might help his impulse control, but it doesn’t seem that impulse control is the problem when it is a serial behavior. 

Tiger will probably never ready my words or hear my voice, but if I could talk to him, I would love to talk about not only that God can and will forgive him, but how God has given Tiger all that he has, all the talent, all the privilege, all of the blessing.  And God wants Tiger to choose Him, not for the sake of obedience, not for the sake of justice, but for the reason that God created Tiger to love Him.  In my mind, Tiger will never overcome this problem and its consequences by will power, will power doesn’t keep you from doing things that you seem to be so willing to do.  Tiger needs a new will, and it needs to be submitted not to Tiger, Earl, or anyone else but to God.  That is going to be where the will power is. 

I don’t want Tiger to be a lifelong tabloid mess like Britney, or all of the other freak shows that are highlighted in those pages.  I want to see Tiger be the person who sees the need for change and actually makes it happen, by giving up the leadership of his own life to a higher and better power.  If anyone can do it, shouldn’t it be Tiger?  He only seems to do things 100%, and I hope that the advice he gets is not from Oprah who tells him that he has the strength to deal with this, or the Dalai Lama who tells him that other people can give him the strength of the universe.  I hope that someone who can authentically represent Jesus will be there to be a guide to him.


I visited a church this Sunday and had a weird reaction.  I should first say that everything at this church was first rate in quality.  The band, sound system, the preparation of the speaker, the building, the parking attendants were all pretty much as high of quality as you can get.  Their hospitality and greeting was first rate.  Their printed materials looked awesome.  The ushers showed us to our seat in the crowded auditorium very ably. 

I can only guess at the numbers, but there were probably about 1000-1200 in the room, maybe more.  It was obvious that the things that they wanted to be done well, were really being done extremely well.  It was also obvious that people were attracted to this approach.  So I should say “Kudos” for them.  The band played a couple of songs that I’m sure are the hottest new worship songs, not one missed note, all of the singers were perfectly on pitch, smiling with perfect smiles, wearing matching clothes, attractive. 

It’s a funny side note to me that I didn’t react positively or negatively to any of this when I saw it.  It was 100% exactly what I expected.  I knew that this was a growing mega church, and this is exactly what I expected to see.  I just walked in thinking: “where am I going to sit?” and “when is the music going to be over?”  (I’m not too sure why this is, but I am really getting more and more bored with worship music.  It is so ‘me’ focused, loud, and unsingable in high modern registers that it actually distracts me from worship and frustrates me greatly.)

Anyway, I opened up my “Worship Folder” and read the inside page.  It was beautiful and glossy, well designed and “simple” to read and look at.  On the inside page, the entire page was devoted to one list called: “What to expect today:” 

It said that you can expect 5 things:  “1.  the band will play 3 loud songs, 2. someone will come up to pray and say hi, 3. a pastor will do a talk, 4. we’ll put connection cards and offerings in the buckets, 5. somebody will say bye… after 70 minutes is over.”

That’s all the inside page said, in huge letters. This was a glossy and nicely printed folder that is handed out every week of the year. 

The person who gave the announcements told the congregation that the service and small groups is all this church does.  The small group materials are in a bag in the back that you can pick up for free.  It’s a small group in a bag. 

Now, obviously the leaders at this church have read: “Simple Church.” and have taken it to heart.  This was as simple as it gets.  I will clarify that the music was first rate and the speaker was not only well prepared, but also gave a strong message about money and giving.  (Which is a message that I am always glad to hear when I am visiting a church.  Because I need better perspective on how to speak effectively about money issues.)  It was all well done, perfectly polished. 

Here is my gripe though.  The only people on the stage were the musicians and the speaker.  No one else was highlighted from the congregation.  There was exactly zero art or inspiration that was a part of the service.  To me this is the equivalent of going to see a good choir and watching them sing only tv show themes with little harmony, all in unison.  It’s like going to an art class and leaving with only the knowledge of how to draw that turtle that is on the back of matchbooks and magazines.  It’s like buying a new best-seller and realizing that it is a rehash of the “sixth sense” movie and you already know all of the plot twists and intricacies.  It’s like going to a great burger place and being offered a McDonalds cheeseburger.  All of it is easily palatable for the masses.  It’s all been proven to work once, so it is being repeated over and over. 

Taking away the art, taking away the flavor, taking away the mystery, taking away the gifts of the non musically or theologically trained, is this what church should be?  It seems to me that if we take away the substance, we are claiming EITHER that substance is not an integral part of real faith, OR that  real people are too dumb or too simple or are unworthy of substance.  It’s like inviting them to Thanksgiving dinner and then seating them at the kids’ table.  By doing this, are we insulting the Gospel or the People or both? 

It’s crazy to me that people seem to be so OK with this.  There’s part of me that wants to tell them to feel insulted.  I want to tell them to go somewhere where their intellect and artistic senses are valued. 

That’s part of what I want to create.