Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Friends in far-off places

Today my brother and three of my brothers in Christ are on their way to spend some time in two countries overseas. They are probably all on planes as I write this. These are all men I respect and value. Pray for them while they are gone, as I will be. Just mention "the four guys Jon knows"...God will know who you are talking about.

The following is for Dan. I looked up the word "Godspeed" in the Online Etymology Dictionary and...they don't have that word. I was very grateful for this, because I probably wouldn't have understood any of it. They did however have the word "speed," and I was able to glean this nugget from its definition: it is from an Old English word that means "to succeed, to prosper, or (the meaning we are all much more familiar with) to advance." Thus wishing someone "Godspeed" means "may God prosper you" or "may God give you success." A lesser known meaning is "may God make your plane fly fast as lightning."


Labels: ,

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Relationships 2: The Sequel

Unless you are reading from the bottom up like you're supposed to, you probably haven't read my earlier post cleverly titled "Relationships." You should read that one first. In fact, you shouldn't even be reading this sentence, because you should have already clicked this gigantic link and begun to read the earlier post. You can come back when you're done though. Please?

As I mentioned in another earlier post, I had a conversation with a friend from church about relationships in which he voiced many of the same thoughts I had while writing the post you just read. Because I speak even worse than I write, I think he felt like I was dismissing a very important point: my relationship needs. Perhaps you thought the same thing when you read it. Actually I did address it, I just neglected to say how. So what about my needs? We all certainly do have needs. God himself said it:
Genesis 2:18
The LORD God said, "It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him."
Man has barely been alive for 10 verses at this point, and already God is making it known that man has been designed with relationship needs that God intended should be met by means of other people. That applies to all people, not "everyone but you." So God designed me with needs, and yet asks me to place my focus on him and on the people around me, that is, outside myself. Why does he ask us to do this? Check out what it says in Philippians:
Philippians 2:3-8
Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.

Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus:
Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death — even death on a cross
God asks us to place others' needs ahead of our own because God himself in the person of Christ Jesus did exactly that for us. So who do I depend on to meet my relationship needs? Here's the beauty of God's command: if you and I and the people around us are all doing what God asks us to do, all of our relationship needs will be met as a matter of course.

Here also is the counterpoint: it is the nature of relationships that we have the power to hurt each other, and because we are sinful, we will hurt each other and we will fail to meet each other's needs. I will hurt you, and I will fail to meet your needs. I am working on it, but it is going to happen from time to time. Please forgive me when it does. You also are going to hurt me, and fail to meet my needs. I need to remember that we are both human and forgive you as well.

Labels: ,

Saturday, May 27, 2006

Science Fiction and the X-Men

The fascinating thing about the X-Men story is that it's a perfect example of what good science-fiction can be. Science fiction is more than just stories about aliens, space ships, ray guns, and time travel. Science fiction takes us outside the world (or time) we live in so that we can look back at our own world with a new and changed perspective. How quickly we can rise to anger when topics like racism, religion, politics, and ethics come up! Science fiction has the unique ability to address those topics directly, veiled in a context that is "not really real," thus making an end-run around the minefields we have set up in our minds. Sure, X-Men is about human beings born with genetic mutations that give them extraordinary characteristics and abilities living in a world where most normal humans hate and fear them. Not "really real," right? But what is it really about? It's about two groups of people who are different, and the people on both sides (with varying degrees of ability to hurt each other) who have to decide how they are going to live with and treat the people around them. Now that sounds familiar. People on both sides who hate and fear (and are willing to wipe out) everyone on the other side because some people on the other side hate and fear them in return, and people on both sides who are willing to give up everything to defend everyone, even those who are different. Sounds relevant to me.

Now that you are starting to suspect that I am a geek, allow me to definitively confirm your suspicion: I saw the new X-Men movie twice this weekend, in the same 24-hour period. (Here's where you should skip to the next post if you don't care about the X-Men movies.) That fact is probably as bad as it sounds, but allow me to defend myself with some mitigating circumstances. My impression of a movie changes based on who I see it with. Unless I am completely alone, I have a tendency to see the movie I think the people around me are seeing, rather than the movie I would see. It's a pretty much unstoppable phenomenon and, being the Story enthusiast that I am, I enjoy that it gives me the opportunity to see multiple aspects of a story. So I saw X-Men 3 the first time at a midnight showing the day before it opened with a theater full of X-Men geeks (as opposed to my more generalized condition of geekness) and all of their yelling and cheering, and the second time the next day with two friends in a theater full of parents who shouldn't have brought their 5-year-olds but did.

I am a fan of the first two X-Men movies. Actually, I have enjoyed many of Bryan Singer's filmic creations, and X-Men 2 is among the best action movies of the past 7 years (this coming from a guy who normally uses "action-movie" as a derogatory adjective). I started looking forward to Singer's X-Men 3 about .5 seconds after the credits began rolling on X-Men 2. Imagine my dismay when he took his writers and moved on to Superman, relegating the third X-Men to the direction of Brett Ratner, a man who has never created anything I truly enjoyed.

I wanted to like this movie, so the usual thing that happens in that case happened: the story and the craftsmanship got separated in my mind. The story in this movie is epic and meaningful. Someone has developed a "cure" that manipulates the genes of mutants, making them normal humans. Suddenly the whole world, including millions of mutants, are forced to ask hard ethical questions like should people change the essence of who they are just to be more accepted by society? Should society be allowed to require them to change out of fear? Should they be allowed to change if they want to? How should they react if society decides to force them to change? Should the "cure" ever be used as a punishment for a mutant gone bad? With villains on both sides of the line, these questions lead to epic and tragic events, and to some incredibly powerful and effective (my highest compliment) scenes. The story and events (and the highly reactive audience) made my first viewing a very enjoyable experience.

The second time I saw the movie, as usually happens, I noticed the flaws in the craftsmanship a lot more. The problem in the movie comes from the run time and the production time, both being too short. The lack of production time led to some unfortunate choices regarding special effects, and a limitation on how much time could actually be spent filming. The shortness of the running time (40 minutes shorter than the second movie) led to the excision of all of the plot- and character-development that made the second movie so strong. This movie became to a certain extent "Brett Ratner's A Series of Epic Events," to its own detriment. The change in writers also, for whatever reason, resulted in some very unfortunate dialogue (and language) in several places.

This movie gets a 9 for story (and what Bryan Singer could have done with it) and a 5 for craftsmanship (and what Brett Ratner did with it).

Labels: ,

Sunday, May 21, 2006

What are you good at?

That was the question that Travis asked the Sunday School class this morning, and the exact same word-for-word question I have been asking myself for the past few weeks. Travis was asking in more of a "spiritual gifts" way, while I was asking more about specific abilities, but it boils down to the same thing. Of course the questions that go along with that are, "how are you using it?" and "how is God planning to use it?" We can't really know the answer to the second question until the time comes to say yes, but I think that when we have an opportunity presented to us, often that is God saying, "Now's the time." Being a somewhat inert person, I usually need a good reason to go and do something, but when I am presented with someone else's need (whether they are actually presenting it to me or not), and I am fully capable of supplying it, I would need a really good reason not to do it, or at least offer. Why wait for someone else to do it, if I can take care of it right now? Or at least that's my new way of looking at things. I'll let you know how it goes.

In any case, here's the answer to the question (what are you good at?): I'm an okay photographer, I'm pretty good with computers, I'm a safe driver, I can learn just about anything, I am good at listening and understanding but not at talking, and I can do all the little things that keep other people who can from doing all the things I can't. I took the "spiritual gift" test once (for as much as you can label that kind of thing), and I think Serving and Mercy were pretty high up there on the list.

Think about what you are good at, and what opportunities you have to use those abilities to serve, if you aren't already.

Of course, after church this morning I went to lunch with a couple of guys, and one of them, in a conversation about relationships, voiced the exact same word-for-word thoughts I had been thinking as I wrote last night's post. That was the second affirmation in three hours that I am right where God wants me to be right now. This group of people is asking the same questions I am, and wants to know the answers just like I do. Sometimes, like now, God makes it really easy to know. Thanks, God.

The past few Sundays as I get ready for church I have been listening to the String Quartet Tribute to Relient K album. It might become a new Sunday tradition for me; I think it helps add a little sophistication to my day (not too much though). One of the songs that was redone on that album has been going through my head for the past few hours, here are some of the lyrics:

I’m giving up on doing this alone now
Cause I’ve failed and I’m ready to be shown how
He’s told me the way and I’m trying to get there
And this life sentence that I’m serving
I admit that I’m every bit deserving
But the beauty of grace is that it makes life not fair

Cause I’ve been housing all this doubt and insecurity and
I’ve been locked inside that house all the while You hold the key
And I’ve been dying to get out and that might be the death of me
And even though, there’s no way in knowing where to go,
Promise I’m going because
I gotta get outta here
Cause I’m afraid that this complacency is something I can’t shake
I gotta get outta here
And I’m begging You, I’m begging You, I’m begging You to be my escape.

- Be My Escape, Relient K
From the album "Mmhmm"


Saturday, May 20, 2006


re·la·tion·ship n.
  1. The condition or fact of being related; connection or association.
  2. Connection by blood or marriage; kinship.
  3. A particular type of connection existing between people related to or having dealings with each other.

That's how the dictionary defines 'relationship.' The Online Etymology Dictionary also had some things to say about the origin of the word, from which my highly inexpert mind gleaned the following highly inexpert summary: "describes a state of being," presumably between two things...not being an etymologist, I didn't get much from that site...but it was interesting. I digress.

Note the keyword connection in the definitions above. Apparently you can't define 'relationship' without using that word. In fact, they are basically synonymous. To ask, "how are you related?" is to ask "what is it that connects you?" Perhaps the answer is "mother, son." Perhaps it is "husband, wife." Perhaps the answer is "we're dating" or simply "we're friends." Maybe it's "we met on the street 5 minutes ago." For two Christians, an answer that always applies is "we are brothers/sisters in Christ." The most important relationship of all: "Jesus is my God and Savior."

Think about the relationships in your life and you will see that these connections are more than just a line connecting the dots, more than just the chain in a global chain gang. There are (consciously or unconsciously) obligations we must meet, expectations we have, rights we grant to others, rights we assume for ourselves. When we enter into a relationship with someone, we are throwing open the gates to our personal city. To whatever degree, that connection gives them a certain amount of power to affect us. No wonder relationships are so scary, and no wonder they affect us so strongly!

Jesus was all about relationships. Jesus (God the Son) always told people about his relationship with God the Father. He went out of his way to form relationships with all kinds of people while he was on earth. His sacrifice and resurrection (talk about a painful relationship!) cleared our sin out of the way, opening the way for us to establish a relationship with God.

Jesus came and gave all of himself (despite suffering) in relationships with others so that we could establish relationships with God. So guess what God calls us to do: establish that relationship with God, and then give of ourselves in relationships with others.

Mark 12:28-31
One of the teachers of the law came and heard them debating. Noticing that Jesus had given them a good answer, he asked him, "Of all the commandments, which is the most important?"
"The most important one," answered Jesus, "is this: 'Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.'
"The second is this: 'Love your neighbour as yourself.' There is no commandment greater than these."

We so often look at relationships with ourselves at the top of the hierarchy. "___ isn't spending enough time with me." "How are these people relating to me?" Etc. This is where the root of the problem lies. We are not the top of the hierarchy, we aren't even second in the commands. First, love the Lord your God. Second, love your neighbor. I need to remember this. First, devote myself completely to my relationship with God, and second, ask not what can people do for me, but what can I do for people. (And then, of course, do it.)

Labels: ,

Tuesday, May 16, 2006


Tonight I had the opportunity to attend a going away party for a guy who was my RA 8 years ago in a building I have not been inside in 6 years. The party wasn't really a going away party for me, since in 3 months he is moving in down the street from me, but going back to the building where I lived for two years was cool.
Some things have changed...there is actually a men's bathroom in the lobby now, Smitty Study has been rearranged, the trees over the back walkway are gone, and there is some big structure looming over the front desk now (I was told the name of it, but can't remember). Whatever has changed, McConnell Hall is still not your average college dorm.
I only knew a handful of people at the party by name, and only one of them (besides the guest of honor) even vaguely remembered me (which I expected going in), so I got to spend three hours sitting in Mac Cafe letting the familiar surroundings remind me of things I had forgotten. It's rather fitting that the first person I met after I moved in would also give me my final tour of the building.
Some fantastic things that were recalled to my memory tonight (probably none of you will know what these are, but if you do, make sure you leave a comment...if you don't know and want to, just ask me, I will bore you to death with stories): The Unit Tomato, A Gopher Named Sublimation, Mexican Chicken, Five Nights of Jambalaya, Cunck/Cunk/Chunck, Monkeys in Braums, Happy Butter Pecan Days, The Mighty Rib, The Trefolian Method Solves Everything, Stats??, Perfect Murders and Speeding Tickets, Headless Eagles, The Comfy Couch, Don't Hit the Tiles!, Bad Plays, Megacolon Man, Diet Coke Addicts, Twisted Math Tests, Professors Who Live at the State School, Herding Instincts, Saturdays on the Slope, TTBS, Doc Brown's Children of the Corn, Opera Singers with Big Alarm Clocks.


Wednesday, May 10, 2006


Why do I operate under the assumption that my life is about what I am doing? Or, more to the point, why do I assume that my perception of "important things to do" is correct?
If I am sitting in an office entering data into a computer (like I did when I was in college), I am "not doing anything," but if I am helping at church, that is more important? That's almost a trick question. It certainly sounds like something I do at church would be more important than entering data in a computer, but here's the kicker: my daily life is no less of a ministry just because I am not in a church building, nor is God any less present outside of church than in it.
I believe (and need to remember) that God has a purpose for everything that happens in my life. If I am waiting to start my new job, then God is doing something specific in and/or through my life in that time. If I am entering data in the computer for 40 hours a week, then God has a purpose for that, maybe even beyond the people who are benefitting from the work being done. The things I should be paying attention to are: am I glorifying God in how I am doing this thing I see as being unimportant, what might God be teaching me through this, and what ministry opportunities do I have while (and because) I am here?


Saturday, May 6, 2006

It should have come first...

Saw Mission: Impossible III tonight, and I have to say, Emmy-winning director/Emmy-winning writer/composer/Emmy-winning producer J.J. Abrams has finally proven himself. (Irony deliberate.) This movie was so different from the first two it was almost distracting, but it was different in all the best ways.
In the first two there was action, but never peril. There was flash, but almost no substance. There were characters, but no characterization. There were obstacles, but always a rocket powered hard drive and computer controlled climbing gear to overcome them. That and the helicopter in the tunnel was just dumb...or was that just any one of a hundred other spy movies? See what I mean? This time around, the villain is intimidating and dangerous, the tech is almost real-world (who would have ever thought of actually using a knife to cut rope?), the peril is ever-present, and sometimes there's not much the hero can do about it. And of course there's lots of action, flash (and bang), and obstacles. It wouldn't be a Hollywood action movie otherwise, would it?
Granted, some people are going to hate this movie. There are scenes with dialogue, and [spoiler!!]scenes with no guns[spoiler!!]. But one of the best things about this movie is that it is not what people are going to expect. Some other things that stood out:

  • The sound effects. Check out the bullets ricocheting off the girders near the beginning.
  • The action sequences manage to be exciting without venturing too far into the ludicrous.
  • Counting to ten has never been so ruthless.
  • Abrams knows that understatement is key. That is, sometimes falling off a wall is more impressive than blowing a hole through it, and if you're not going to develop a character, it's ok, as long as you don't write "2-D" on a flashing neon sign.
  • This one's a (somewhat) bad thing: the final scene. The movie should have ended on the bridge. The last scene was just cheesy.

It had its fair share of flaws, but all in all, a very entertaining action movie.

Side note: I have a rule that Abrams seems to understand: If you can say it in one line, don't take a whole scene. If you can say it in a word, don't take a whole line. If the actor can say it with a look, don't say anything at all. And it only takes 3 seconds to fall off a wall and change your clothes.

Labels: ,

Wednesday, May 3, 2006


What is it about story? A well crafted one can transport us to another time, another place, another world even. A story told well enough can make us forget where we are as we become someone else and see life through someone else's eyes. Story is a fantastic way not only to entertain, but to enlighten, educate, mold, inspire — to change the audience by siezing their imagination and taking it for a ride.

Story is also a means of communication and connection. Think back to long conversations you have had with friends. How much of those conversations consisted of stories you told each other about your lives, or stories you both experienced that you remembered together? Common experiences, common bonds. Without us even noticing, the stories people tell us about themselves teach us about those people...what is important to them, how they react, how they think, who they are. When we relive shared memories, we are reminded of the bonds we share (both joyous and painful). Even intellectual discussions are a form of story: it's retelling the narrative of what goes on inside our heads, once again giving people a glimpse of a world they would never get to see and revealing to them more of what makes us who we are.

But story isn't entirely about what we share with other people. Story also gives us insight into ourselves (if we know where and how to look). What are the stories that fascinate you more than any other? The ones that you can't get out of your head, the ones that can hold you enthralled for hours? Who are the characters that captivate you? For me, in the world of fiction, it's TV series like Farscape and The Pretender, books like Ender's Game, Dune, and The Lord of the Rings, movies like Gattaca, Frequency, and many others that never fail to entertain and move me. In the real world, the most amazing and personally significant story is that of Jesus Christ. If you knew where to look in the stories that are important to me, you would know almost as much about me as I do (however much that is). If I knew where to look in the stories (fictional or non) that are important to you, I could learn a lot about you too. So where do you look? Look at the common themes of your favorite stories, and the conflicts all your favorite characters struggle with. You might be surprised at what you find.

Stories don't have to be high art to be great stories, they just have to contain that element that you connect to. So what are the stories that are important to you?

Labels: ,

Tuesday, May 2, 2006


Just remembered this, and it definitely deserves its own post. Tonight at 63 (see link at right), Dan reminded me (again! How many times I need to be reminded...) that to be saved is to be free from guilt, thanks to the sacrifice Jesus Christ made. This is something that is so fantastic, so out-of-this-world amazing, that we (I) need to reminded of it over and over.

Hebrews 7:27
"He sacrificed for their sins once for all when he offered himself."

And if that wasn't fantastic enough, later in 10:22-23,
"Let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful."

He who promised is faithful!! Our sins are forgiven, once and for all!! As Dan said, when God looks at us, he sees the righteousness of his Son. Thank God!

We who are saved should rejoice in the firm knowledge that Christ has cleansed us from our unrighteousness.

Monday, May 1, 2006


God put me here. Here in Dallas. Here at my job. Here at my church. Here with my friends. God put me here. I have a purpose. A present purpose and an ultimate purpose, and I don't know what either of them are. How do I learn to trust that He does?

Isn't that such a human perspective? "I need to know my purpose, otherwise how can I accomplish anything meaningful?" And then I remember: nothing I can say or do is meaningful apart from God. Whatever I do for, by, of myself, if it isn't for God, it will blow away like dust. The only meaningful things are the things that will last forever, and those are the things that God sets in place.

All the amazing things that have happened in my life, God has managed to do without and in spite of my help. If I have ever said or done the right thing at the right time, or if I have ever been a blessing to anyone, it has been because of God. What gifts do I have that He has not given me? God, help me to remember that.