Author Archives: Chad

it made sense in my head

The issue of predestination v. free will is inexplicably tied to the issue of evolution v. creationism. Are we here just because we are? Or has our existence been thoroughly planned? A Calvinist would say that we are entirely “on purpose” while an Arminianist would say that we’re completely free from God’s control. In reality, we get a little bit of both.

I haven’t quite figured out why we’re here (and I don’t know if I ever will), but it’s pretty clear to me that we didn’t come from nothing. Even science proves that; matter cannot be completely created or destroyed. Venturing further would require a deeper philosophical discussion, so I guess the point is; we were created, then let be.

God extends his grace to all who wish to accept it–he can’t force you to acknowledge him. But in terms of this world we’ve been placed in, I think God created it and everything in it through a divine process, started spinning the world on its axis, then let it go on its own. He creates every one of us, then lets us decide.

This theory supports both a Calvinist and Arminianist. We are created and equipped with certain attributes that complement and are complemented by a divine presence, but in terms of free will, we are given a great deal. The world spins on its own, and so do we. Why would a divine presence create a living thing only to expect it to remain eternally stagnant and lifeless? Are we not able to grow physically, spiritually, and mentally? Why can’t the world grow as well?

As humans and the earth interact, be it symbiotically or parasitically, so do humans and God. We can choose to believe that everything we do is completely out of our control, that this earth has not changed for however long it’s been in existence, or that we can change it, and choose to change it as we wish. Who knows if any of this makes sense. It made sense in my head.

Quinceañera

Our protagonist, Magdalena (newcomer Emily Rios), is on the verge of her own quinceañera, the Latino equivalent of a bar mitzvah/Sweet Sixteen for girls. But she first has to take part in her friend’s quinceañera, which is way more decked out than hers will be, and she knows it. Coveting her friend’s wealth notwithstanding, she also bears the added pressure of adolescence: her sexuality. One guy, who looks old enough for a relationship to be illegal, continually presses her with and for affection. She wants to please him, but also doesn’t want to flaunt loose morals, especially since her ultra religious father would have her head.

She tries to balance this guy with her healthy disdain for her dad’s stinginess with her party, along with worrying way too much about her weight. She also learns that she will be re-gifted the dress her friend just used for her party—her skinnier, prettier friend. She feels comfortable with her friends, but not necessarily in her own skin. Add on top of all of this a dose of introversion and you’ve got yourself a classic angst-filled teenage girl.

I’ll spare you the other problems Magdalena has to deal with (believe me, it gets much worse), but know that she handles it all with such grace and perseverance. Rios and the director define “less is more” with this character. She is the spark and the fuse in every scene, and brings reality back to the tired genre of the family drama. It doesn’t matter if this specific story is based on truth because through Altmanesque dialogue and use of real problems real people have, this very well could have been a documentary.

This little indie flick that could picked up the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance, so I decided to try it out on those merits alone. It’s an American film, but the characters speak both Spanish and English interchangeably, which I found to be less distracting than I thought it would—it actually added to realism of Hispanic culture. The writers create a great mix of exposition and dialogue, which is accompanied by subtle and stunning imagery and use of color. Pick this one up.

8/10

tension and release…

Intro. The weather is music to my ears. Crescendos and decrescendos, tension and release. Today started out without a cloud in sight. Pianissimo. It was hot, but things were moving along fine.

As the day went on, the clouds appeared. Then a few more. Then a bigger batch arrives. The orchestra builds on harmonies and nuance. Pretty soon there is a solid overcast. A cadence sets the rhythm of the day, soon to accelerate.

The clouds become more dense, darker in tone. The brass pound out a minor melody, setting the stage for things to come. The strings soon follow, accentuating every chords, dark and deep. The sun is shut out, little by little, note by note, until it is but a faint melody on the wind.

The sun now sets, leaving us no choice but to embrace the storm upon us. The clouds fill with rain, as the tuba drones and the woodwinds swirl the trees wildly. The trumpets sound the alarm. The people run for solace, the snare drum marks their steps. It’s but a matter of time.

I sit inside, secluded from the madness. I have to make it back to my dorm before I get swallowed in the storm. Do I dare take on the beast? I have no choice.

But as I depart; the tension builds unbearably, the clouds and cellos rumbling on in force, the violins screeching blinding light, the percussion drives it to the brink. I can’t go on. I must yield.

Then, the release. The rain sprinkles down, a cleansing wash. The flute sings a glorious song, easing us back into stillness. I allow myself to be overtaken by the tender coat of raindrops. My clothes will be dry again, but now, they need to feel alive.

Falwell falls

I’ll admit that I didn’t know much about Jerry Falwell before he died. I grew up in a Christian home and attended a non-denominational church, but I never tried to pretend I knew much about “the Church” or its leaders. Now that I’m a college student, I guess I have to start caring. But caring about a person like Jerry Falwell is quite a feat, even for a believer like me.

My biggest beef against Falwell is that he really wasn’t a Christian at all. He was a hatemonger, a hypocrite, and a terrible representation of Christ, among other things. He accused feminists, liberals, homosexuals, labor unions, and those infected with AIDS of causing the September 11th attacks instead of ministering to them as a man of God should. He gives other Christians a horrible name. In fact, the only thing he really gives the world is another reason to steer clear of church altogether, and I wouldn’t blame you if that’s exactly what you did.

A man like Falwell should not be involved with politics, because that’s the last thing Jesus would do, but of course he just had to create the “Moral Majority” to provide a safe haven for churchgoers to point their fingers at the rest of the world without even thinking of pointing it at themselves. The organization disbanded in the 80s, but the inspiration lives on through the Republican Party and current day hatemongers—I mean televangelists, like Pat Robertson and Bill Donahue.

I wish I could speak for all Christians when I say that these men do not represent Biblical teaching, but sadly, there are still many out there who insist on using the Bible as a weapon of hate rather than a tool of compassion, which is its true purpose. We live in a country where religion is thought of as a set of rules and is required if you want to get into heaven. But the truth is that religion is man-made—hence, flawed. It’s run by humans who are just as corruptible and insidious as the next guy. If you put all of your stocks into something that is going to fall away, don’t be surprised when you’re left with nothing in the end. And that’s exactly what Falwell gave us: nothing. Nothing except spiritual terrorism in the name of Christ.

To non-believers: Jesus is not a religion. Jesus, to me, represents a lifestyle that demands humility, forgiveness to all (all meaning everyone, including those who Falwell so adamantly opposed), and a charitable heart. Don’t dress up for church or put your hands up during worship just to impress God. He sees through that bullshit quite easily. Instead, talk to someone you don’t know. Make amends with your enemy, then treat him or her to Starbucks. Clean up a mess without being asked, especially if it’s not yours to clean. Make sure your tipsy friend gets home safe. Jesus befriended the lowest of lows in his time; the lepers, the prostitutes, the tax collectors. Jerry Falwell condemns them. So much for being Christ-like.

To my fellow Christians: stop pretending to be righteous. If there is one thing that non-believers, and fellow Christians, see easiest it’s hypocrisy. Wearing a crucifix around your neck while you judge homosexuals sends a strange message to those around you. If you actually have read the Bible, you would remember that “if anyone considers himself religious and yet does not keep a tight rein on his tongue, he deceives himself and his religion worthless” (James 1:26). Don’t deceive yourself, and don’t make God worthless. In other words, shut up and do something. Be relevant to the lesser of this world. Do anything else and you’d just be kidding yourself.

he’s very good…

This is as good a time as ever to tell a story.

Henry Winkler came to North Central on a promotional tour for his newest children’s book. Along with the admission price, you get a free copy of the book. I purchased the deal with hopes of getting my Arrested Development DVD signed by Barry Zuckercorn (He’s very good!). So I go to the show and he gives a motivational speech to the kids in the audience, explains his struggle with dyslexia, then reads a little from his book. The show ends and the lady in charge announces that Mr. Winkler will not be signing any memorabilia other than his books.

Sonofab.

I have to reformulate my plan. There soon forms a long line for the signing table, so my chances of a quick sneak attack with the DVD is impossible. I’m currently number 200 in line, so I wait. And wait. Then listen to some parents talk about “the Fonz” and wait some more. The clock is ticking. LOST is on at 9PM, which is approaching ever so quickly. I can now see the table and hear his deep, animated voice. I’m reciting exactly what I’ll say when the moment comes. I’m going to be suave, collected, intelligent, and cool…with any luck.

5 people ahead of me, now 4, now 3. The lady arranging the books for the Fonz to sign repeats to many patrons that “Mr. Winkler will not be signing anything other than his books.” Screw you lady, I’m getting my DVD signed.

The moment comes. He says hello and starts signing the book.

(This is exactly what happened)
“Hey, I’m a huge fan of Arrested Development.”
“Yeah, that was a shame, wasn’t it?” he says.
“Yeah, I would be honored,” I said, as I pulled out the concealed disc, “if you would sign my Arrested Development DVD.”

The book Nazi woman attempts to thwart my plan.

“No, you can’t–”

But it was too late. He signed it with a smile, saying: “Ha, if you tell anyone, I’ll break your knees.”

Thank you, Henry. That’s all that I ask.

oh, the world we live

The great outdoors just came out of the wash
The birds they sing a song under my close watch
Millions and millions of fallen raindrops
Oh, they make me stop and realize

We congregate, we come around to see
The smallest leaves grow from the biggest tree
Millions and millions of colors shining
Oh, they open wide my open eyes

Breathe in the air, it’s divinity
My outer shell is cracked, now I am free
Living and loving the world around me
Oh, the world we live

where were we?

The shooting at Virginia Tech is definitely shocking and saddening, but it’s not new. Every couple of years there seems to be another school shooting and the perpetrators all seem alike. They are loners, malcontents, and victims of an ever-depreciating society. Cho Seung-Hiu, the Virginia Tech killer, was probably deeply disturbed and psychotic, but what caused him to be that way? Certainly his negative family environment, self-prescribed isolation, and increasing anger had something to do with it. But where were the friends to help him out? Where were his parents to provide a positive example and nourishing environment?

The political pundits were quick to cite violent video games and even terrorism as the motive behind the massacre. It’s an easy answer. The Columbine killers played violent video games and fantasized about terrorizing other students. I hate to quote the Black Eyed Peas on such a serious issue, but “where is the love?” The boys that commit these atrocities had no love. It seems like such a hippie, new age thing to say, but Jesus said it all the time. We are too busy with our own lives to give a damn when someone cries for help in every way. Our iPods have to be listened to, that TV show has to be watched, we have to instant message all night, but we can’t simply open our eyes to something that’s staring us right in the face.

I’m just as guilty as anyone on this. I like listening to my iPod a lot and watching my favorite TV shows religiously. But how can I justify getting my entertainment fix while a fellow brother or sister in Christ is so depressed, so overcome that they consider murdering dozens of their peers and then themselves? Blame cannot rest on one source alone but on all of us. We failed Cho just as much as we failed the students that were killed. I hope we can all have the strength and courage to turn off our iPods once in a while and look around at our brothers and sisters in Christ, hoping and waiting for the chance to step in and love unconditionally.

apologies all around…

I’ve been going through a season of doubt and general questioning of all that I’m supposed to believe. I’ve been told over and over again in Sunday school and at home that “Jesus died for my sins” and “God created you and loves you very much,” but what does that really mean? How is it even possible that a perfect being like “God” created such imperfect and broken things as us humans? How does God have a son and why is he our savior? I’ve grown up in the church my entire life so I technically know the answer, but in reality I have no idea how that relates to me.

I’ve realized that no matter how much I can learn about evolution vs. creation, the possibility of a God, if Jesus really rose from the dead, etc., it won’t mean a thing if I don’t feel something real in my heart. We can cram so much into our heads with hope of finally understanding the world, but in the end we’ll find ourselves weak and hopeless creatures. That’s what I’m feeling now. Like Paul the Apostle said: Of all the sinners in the world, I am the worst. I’m pretty sure everyone feels like that at one point in their life.

The word “faith” has taken on great significance in my life. I see religious leaders debate with atheists and people wonder why God can let things like the Holocaust and starvation happen to his so-called “beloved” people. I wonder that myself sometimes. But to have faith means to realize that you don’t know all of the answers the world asks. I want to be able to let go of the need to know what I don’t need to know. Knowing everything about the Bible doesn’t guarantee entrance into Heaven. It’s about what’s in your heart, not in your head.

On behalf of those who claim to be Christians representing Jesus’ teachings, I want to apologize for all of the bad things we’ve done in the name of Christianity. It makes me sick the way “religious leaders” go on TV and condemn homosexuals and pro-choice supporters just because they think they aren’t following the Bible. I apologize for not being more loving and considerate to the needs of the world. Many think that Christians are supposed to be perfect. I can tell you with authority that this is not the case. We are all broken, hopeless, desperate people living in a screwed up world. I’m sorry for the cutting remarks, the misplaced judgments, the gossip, the back-stabbing, the rejection, and the pride.

We are not being good representatives of Jesus. I can assure you that Jesus and his teachings are far better than how they look on us. I just ask that you give him a chance. Contrary to how it may seem, Jesus is a stand-up guy with some advice that really helps in the attempt to heal this messed up world. I’m still trying to figure that out myself.

Soundtrack of the moment, part II

These are some songs I’m listening to. I think you should too.

“Lost in Space” – Aimee Mann – Lost In Space
Such a hauntingly beautiful song. Imagine driving through the desert at night with this whole album on repeat and you have an awesome musical experience.

“Seize the Day” – Alan Menken – Newsies soundtrack
Man, I love this movie. If you haven’t seen it and loved it, I will fight you.

“Hoodwink” – Anathallo – Floating World
What a mind-blowing album. These dudes mold music into forms never seen before.

“Wouldn’t It Be Nice” – The Beach Boys – Pet Sounds
Their later stuff is way better than the surf rock stuff they started out with. Check out the entire album.

“Come Together” – The Beatles – Abbey Road
One of the coolest and most memorable openers I’ve ever heard.

“Jesusland” – Ben Folds – Songs for Silverman
What can I say? The dude knows how to make good music.

“Trolley Song” – Dave Brubeck – Greatest Hits
Sounds exactly as the title suggests. This guy is a piano player if I’ve ever heard one.

“Break on Through” – The Doors – The Doors
This song always reminds me of Forrest Gump.

“Tiny Dancer” – Elton John – Madman Across the Water
Of Almost Famous fame. A really catchy song from a gifted musician, however odd he may be.

“Belle” – Jack Johnson – In Between Dreams
This just puts you in a street cafe in Paris. It’s almost too good a song.

“Mother” – John Lennon – John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band
You can tell that it’s a cathartic song for John. I highly recommend all of his solo work, especially Imagine and Mind Games.

“Waiting on the World to Change” – John Mayer – Continuum
Am I a sell out if I like John Mayer and his ridiculously catchy tunes? Oh well, it’s a good song with an honest message.

“God’s Gonna Cut You Down” – Johnny Cash – American V: A Hundred Highways
The man’s a straight-up badass. This is his last album and a damn good one at that. You can hear the pain in his voice and feel the ache in his fingers.

“Money” – Pink Floyd – The Dark Side of the Moon
In an album that’s basically half instrumental, this song shines through as one of the best.

“When She Loved Me” – Sarah McLachlan – Toy Story 2 soundtrack
Man, this song just killed me. An incredible addition to a near-perfect film. If you aren’t in tears by the end, you have no soul.

“Deathbed” – Relient K – Five Score and Seven Years Ago
I’m in the minority that think that this album is not their best, in fact, a far weaker effort than mmHmm. But this epic masterpiece stands out amongst the other forgettable songs.

“Cecilia” – Simon and Garfunkel – Bridge Over Troubled Water
One of the many infectious folk-rock tunes they created. Get all the albums.

“Zoo Station” – U2 – Achtung Baby
I’ve never been a gigantic U2 fan, but I really liked this album.

“Roundabout” – Yes – Fragile
A great mix of classical, 70s rock, and psychedelia.

tale of three trees

This is a story from a children’s book I read as a bedtime story to some kids my sister babysits. It rocked my world:

Once upon a mountain top, three little trees stood and dreamed of what they wanted to become when they grew up. The first little tree looked up at the stars and said: “I want to hold treasure. I want to be covered with gold and filled with precious stones. I’ll be the most beautiful treasure chest in the world!” The second little tree looked out at the small stream trickling by on its way to the ocean. “I want to be traveling mighty waters and carrying powerful kings. I’ll be the strongest ship in the world!” The third little tree looked down into the valley below where busy men and women worked in a busy town. “I don’t want to leave the mountain top at all. I want to grow so tall that when people stop to look at me, they’ll raise their eyes to heaven and think of God. I will be the tallest tree in the world.”

Years passed and the little trees grew tall. One day three woodcutters climbed the mountain. The first woodcutter looked at the first tree and said, “This tree is beautiful. It is perfect for me.” With a swoop of his shining ax, the first tree fell. “Now I shall be made into a beautiful chest, I shall hold wonderful treasure!” the first tree said. The second woodcutter looked at the second tree and said, “This tree is strong. It is perfect for me.” With a swoop of his shining ax, the second tree fell. “Now I shall sail mighty waters!” thought the second tree. “I shall be a strong ship for mighty kings!” The third tree felt her heart sink when the last woodcutter looked her way. She stood straight and tall and pointed bravely to heaven. But the woodcutter never even looked up. “Any kind of tree will do for me.” He muttered. With a swoop of his shining ax the third tree fell.

The first tree rejoiced when the woodcutter brought her to a carpenter’s shop. But the carpenter fashioned the tree into a feed box for animals. The once beautiful tree was not covered with gold, nor with treasure. She was coated with sawdust and filled with hay for hungry farm animals. The second tree smiled when the woodcutter took her to a shipyard, but no mighty ship was made that day. Instead, the once strong tree was hammered and sawed into a simple fishing boat. She was too small and too weak to sail to an ocean, or even a river. Instead she was taken to a little lake. The third tree was confused when the woodcutter cut her into strong beams and left her in a lumberyard. “What happened?” The once tall tree wondered. “All I ever wanted was to stay on the mountain top and point to God…”

Many days and nights passed. The three trees nearly forgot their dreams. But one night, golden starlight poured over the first tree as a young woman placed her newborn baby in the feed box. “I wish I could make a cradle for him,” her husband whispered. The mother squeezed his hand and smiled as the starlight shone on the smooth and the sturdy wood. “This manger is beautiful,” she said. And suddenly the first tree knew he was holding the greatest treasure in the world.

One evening a tired traveler and his friends crowded into the old fishing boat. The traveler fell asleep as the second tree quietly sailed out into the lake. Soon a thundering and thrashing storm arose. The little tree shuddered. She knew she did not have the strength to carry so many passengers safely through the wind and the rain. The tired man awakened. He stood up, stretched out his hand and said, “Peace.” The storm stopped as quickly as it had begun. And suddenly the second tree knew he was carrying the King of heaven and earth.

One Friday morning, the third tree was startled when her beams were yanked from the forgotten woodpile. She flinched as she was carried through an angry jeering crowd. She shuddered when soldiers nailed a man’s hands to her. She felt ugly and harsh and cruel. But on Sunday morning, when the sun rose and the earth trembled with joy beneath her, the third tree knew that God’s love had changed everything. It had made the third tree strong. And every time people thought of the third tree, they would think of God. That was better than being the tallest tree in the world.