An Open Letter of Apology to the Booth

Dear Corner Booth,

Tuesday is my day to sit and chat with you, and I haven’t been here in a week of Tuesdays. I’m sorry. I really miss how we used to have milkshakes and critique movie critics together, or talk about alcohol or bromances or favorite things.

These are the kinds of conversations that give me hope. See, Booth, we’re in election season out there, and I’m a little hot and bothered about it. I think there are so many people who are ignorant or ill-informed or irritating and I want to tell them what’s up, because another loudmouth’s opinion always helps, you know.

But today I was scrolling through our old conversations and I realized that sometimes a discussion about compassion or work or mowing the lawn or watching a movie is even more important than a political one. Because we make our political decisions based on our core values, the things we care about, think about, write about, work through, cry over.

And I’ve neglected that lately because I forgot that working is worship, that friendship is worth more than being right, and that giving people pieces of ourselves is true love.

So… Booth…. I’ve got a cup of truly strong diner-like coffee and a hankering for your opinions. What would you like to chat about this week?


Olympian Mudslinging

Ok, I’m going to wander a bit outside my box here and rant a bit. I hope that Joey and/or Dani will put me in my place where appropriate.

I have watched a lot of the Olympics this year and I am enjoying it thoroughly. This means that our TV stays on pretty much from first thing in the morning until bedtime. The unfortunate side effect of this is that I also end up watching a lot of other things that I, as a Netflix user and general non-consumer of broadcast TV, do not typically see. This includes morning shows, local commercials, and political ads.

I have gotten so sick of hearing Dewhurst and Cruz (Texas politicians, for those in the heathen states) bash each other’s integrity and political stances. One guy attacks the other and casts doubt on his character. Then the other guy does the same thing in return. When it comes to following politics, I’m typically lost about what’s going on, and often confused and even frustrated. These commercials are probably why.

Who should I believe? Instead of being enlightened to a particular political stance, I’m being told to mistrust someone else. The other candidate then does the same and so now instead of mistrusting one person, I mistrust the whole system. Perhaps this is why voting tends to be low and people generally tend to be jaded about politics. We live in a great country with free speech and power given to the people to vote for our leaders. We’re told to do our civic duty by voting and making our voices heard so as to participate in the greatness of what our country has to offer. It’s as if there’s a voting booth on a pedestal, illuminated by a heavenly light, in which we can fulfill the apex of human politics. But then the politicians surround that pedestal with a mountain of garbage that we then have to dig through to even get to the place where we can vote responsibly.

I was under the impression that our democracy places value on the average citizen to make important decisions. These politicians seem to think that we are dumb children who only need to be convinced by what basically amounts to schoolyard name-calling. (“No, I’m more opposed to Obamacare”, “Nuh-uh, I’m more opposed to Obamacare”, “Yeah? Well you play politics like a girl.”)

And speaking of childish rivalries, can we please stop talking about Phelps and Locte? They are friends on the same team for the same country and they are not rivals. These Olympic commentators are literally killing me. They are so quick to point out the most negative things about the performances of these athletes or create drama where there is none. Michael Phelps wins a silver medal and they immediately launch into “Oh he made a mistake there” and “This is a big disappointment.” Yes, he probably was a little disappointed, but you know what else? HE WON AN EFFING SILVER MEDAL. The commentators and the majority of the population will never reach such a high level of athleticism. I will likely never do anything remotely comparable to winning a silver medal, heck I couldn’t even make a decent medal out of paper. Additionally, he now has the most medals in the history of ever, so why even nitpick anything that he does?

The nitpicking carries over to women’s gymnastics as well. The commentators are very quick to point out minor deductions such as a not-quite-stuck landing, a moment of imbalance, etc. Are we missing the fact that these are some of the most technically proficient gymnasts in the world? That teenage girl just flung herself like a crazy person between two poles without hardly breaking a sweat, and you’re going make some drama out of a few tenths of a point worth of minor mistakes? Let’s instead stop and marvel at the incredible degree of strength, control, and balance required to even attempt to do all this badassery. I can’t even see half of what they’re doing until they slow it down, that’s how much is actually going on during these routines.

So, the point here is that people need to calm it down with the negativity, whether in politics or the Olympics. I propose that we appreciate the validity of one’s political stance and respectfully disagree without attacking them as a person. I further propose that we enjoy a gymnastic/swimming/cycling/curling/underwater basket-weaving performance for what it is rather than immediately highlighting a few trivial mistakes.

If you can’t say something nice, then don’t say anything at all. And while you’re keeping your negative comments to yourself, go get your fried chicken wherever you darn well please.

Why I’m Still Planning to See “The Dark Knight Rises” This Weekend

Another shooting has occurred and we are all once again horrified and grief-stricken. Reading the details about the shooting fills me with frustration and anger at such a blatant disregard for human life. There have been many reactions to this event already, including some people choosing not to see the movie at all. I won’t pretend to know what these families and survivors are experiencing right now, nor how they feel about the movie or about other people going out to see this movie as if nothing has happened. My reaction to the events as well as others’ reactions is by no means intended to disrespect or undermine the seriousness of this situation. I am not trying to say that you are wrong for choosing to change your plans for whatever reason. However, I am intentionally choosing to head to the theater as planned. Here’s why:

Skipping out seems like a misdirected response:

I was listening to morning talk radio (something I rarely do) when the news came out and many of the radio personalities were stating their plans to not go see the movie for various reasons. One reason is out of respect for the families of those who were killed or injured. This is perfectly reasonable and completely understandable. I think that people should follow their conscience in this matter according to their proximity to the situation. As much as it saddens me, I can also understand why premieres have been cancelled and the cast and crew have pulled out of promotional appearances.

Another reason given was that it “doesn’t seem right” or that it would be too hard not to think of the tragedy during the course of watching the movie. Thoughts such as “this might have been the last thing they saw before they died.” I can’t guarantee this won’t happen to me as well. But some also stated their reasoning as based on principle since people died during this movie. This is what I personally disagree with since I feel this is a misdirected response. I understand and can respect those reasons, but it’s not the filmmaker’s fault that this happened. The movie itself is coincidental, this could have happened during The Avengers or an obscure indie film. Nolan, Bale and crew were working long and hard on this film way before one disturbed individual decided to perform an act of terror. I personally don’t want to allow my experience of a well-crafted and amazing film to be overshadowed by one person’s malicious act. I feel that that is giving one deviant too much power. We should be respectful of those that lost their lives and supportive of the survivors, but we should not allow evil deeds to take control of our otherwise peaceful lives. Which leads to my next point…

Senseless violence must be confronted:

The perpetrator is in custody and will be brought to justice. The rest of society must now decide how we will interpret and react to these events. Some will respond by reverently memorializing those harmed, others will seek ways to express overwhelming disapproval of this violence, and still others will carelessly go about their lives. I am in the second category.

Now, I know that I’m not the first or the last to draw a connection between the real-world event and the fictional narrative (even the perpetrator seemed to be inspired by comic book villains), but I’m going to go ahead and make the obvious and tragically ironic connection here myself. Batman Begins was about the tension between bringing justice through destruction (Ra’s Al Ghoul) and bringing justice through virtue (Batman). Joey and myself discussed this very issue in depth here on the Corner Booth. Whether or not a superhero should kill will be an ongoing to debate, but what is not in dispute is that superheroes should do something in response to the tyranny of evil.

This was the theme of The Dark Knight, and presumably The Dark Knight Rises also. The Joker (and perhaps also Bane) represent the chaos of evil and terrorism. Batman doesn’t put up with terrorists, and neither should we. This new trilogy highlights the dark and difficult process of decent people standing up to crime and corruption without becoming corrupt themselves. Seeing a movie on opening weekend is a small, trivial thing, but I feel that going to the movies in spite of this terrible act is a way of showing that we won’t allow the flow of our lives be affected by a few disturbed individuals. This leads to my next reason for going:

Rebelling against a broken world:

This was a horrible tragedy, to be sure. The shooting is an unfortunate and extreme example of how our world is terribly fallen and completely depraved. People wonder how to live and go on in light of such a tragedy, and they’re not wrong. We have laws and structure and government to prevent this kind of thing, don’t we?? We have gun regulations, social services, and prevention programs designed to hopefully interrupt these behaviors. In this situation, nothing stopped one person from choosing to do the unspeakable. He obtained a gun, formed a plan, and carried it out. If he can do it, why couldn’t someone else? We’re not really and truly safe, despite our best efforts to convince ourselves that we are. That’s why this event is so disturbing.

But that’s not the end of the story. There is a good God who is in control of everything. That claim will come into question again with this incident, just like it did with 9/11, Katrina, wildfires, etc. But the center does hold if Jesus is at the center. If you believe and dwell only on the dark truths in the above paragraph, I would totally understand why you would respond in fear and anxiety. But we Christians have hope and trust in a better, more powerful person that allows us to sleep at night. My one ticket to a movie is a small rebellion that displays my hope is in something greater. I don’t have to live in fear of death because death has been conquered by my savior. And so, I can live on this earth and enjoy comics, film, and art without being crushed by the depressing reminders of evil. That focus on a greater reality leads me to my last reason…

To be reminded of why these stories captivate us:

Again we face the irony of the situation. We love comic book movies because they inspire us in light of horrific events, events such as a shooting at a midnight showing……of a comic book movie. We feel powerless in these times because life seems so hopeless. We want justice. We want someone outside our broken system, like Batman, to stand up and put a stop to this madness. That’s why we admire superheroes and go to see these movies. The problem is that these heroes are not real and do not exist in a way that would have deterred this shooting from occurring. This creates a problem, but maybe C. S. Lewis can help: “If I discover within myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world.”

For my Christian friends and myself, these fictional stories point us elsewhere. There is a Just One who does and will right all wrongs and fight the crimes of human sin. The tragedy in Colorado makes me want to see Batman fighting injustice all the more so that I can be reminded of a greater reality where death, evil and suffering have already been conquered.

Waldo Canyon Fire

I have always wondered at wildfires. I’ve thought that I would like to share some dry forest with a wildfire and not know which way it was going next. I’ve thought I would like to feel the press of its heat, like a hand at my back as I ran from it uphill. I’ve never been very close to one, and such musings should be tempered by that fact.

But isn’t there something terrifying and majestic in all that raging destruction? Isn’t there some weird peace that settles over you when you ponder that helicopters and chemical retardant and earth movers can’t control a fire. In a time of Nature’s Submission to Man, isn’t it a wonder and a terrible wonder when Man is caught off guard, on his knees before Nature?

How does it happen, where does it come from? Lightning strikes a dry bristlecone. Maybe the sun ignites a pile of leaves. Smoke whisps. A snapping sound becomes perceptible. The wind rises and flames begin to reach from this shrub to that then up into the tops of the trees. Night falls and we rest from our city building to look out over the hills. And we see Hell crawling toward us.

Last week Colorado Springs was devastated by the Waldo Canyon Fire. It is still burning, but is largely contained. Two people died. More than 10% of the population were evacuated. Hundreds of houses were consumed. Many thousands of acres above the city and to the west were touched with flame. When I saw pictures of the neighborhoods burning and the hillside lit up I was moved by the power of it. I was overwhelmed when I saw neighborhoods I recognized, and I thought of beloved mountain retreats and caretakers I know up on the slopes of Pikes Peak. I emailed a handful of friends and old coworkers who were affected but safe. I imagined the loved ones of the two dead people going to the sites of their deaths, searching for bones, for relics. I read today about this weekend’s town meetings during which families where told their homes no longer existed; they could do nothing but huddle, weep. I imagined the hands of the mothers holding her children’s faces, and the arms of the fathers pulling them to his chest. I imagine now the late night discussions between mother and father of what to do next, where to begin tomorrow. I think their faces must glow with courage.

There is majesty and horror in a wildfire, in all of Nature’s movements. But there is something uniquely beautiful in the life that flourishes in its deathwake: first sweet morels, then sage, then a hopping bird, then sapplings, then strong columns of young trees.

Here are some lines by John Blase, a writer I like from Colorado Springs. His family’s home was put on evacuation watch while they were out of town:

“What is the shame for human beings to weep at the passage of time and to feel it in the disappearance of the objects of our past? These emotions give us all literature and music and art. They give us our humanity.” ~ Bill Holm

The neighborhood, our neighborhood, was in pre-evacuation status.
The list, our list, had to be made. So from fifteen hundred miles away
we put our heads together, she and I, and typed consonants riddled
with vowels that represented the things of earth we hold most dear.

The neighbors have a set of keys to the house, our house, so with hearts
that grew beyond their usual largesse they ungrinchingly stepped from
room to room to check it twice, the list that is –
*entire shelf of photo albums plus large framed picture of the kids
*leash and harness for the beagle (don’t forget beagle)
*stack of bills and car keys
*her laptop computer
*three specific stuffed animals in kids’ rooms
*my cowboy boots

If the fire kept breathing we believed, she and I, that we could take
those seven seeds and replant a life, our life. But as other souvenirs of
our brief season flashed across our smoky minds we ached at the
thought of her father’s Greek fishing hat and the turquoise ring I
bought as a child in Santa Fe and the silver Christmas star that hangs
year-round in our kitchen window, the one etched with the word,
our word: H-O-P-E.

Poem from The Beautiful Due. Picture from the Denver Post.

Precision in our name-calling

Many people think that politics is too dirty and angry and name-call-y to get involved in. But I admit it, I sort of enjoy the fight. I like seeing the pieces of people’s brains that only come out when they care – I want them to admit to me the worldview that influences their voting and I want to discuss it.

Now this isn’t an excuse to get all stabby about it, but a little disagreement never hurt anybody. However, when we discuss something of value or importance, I think it’s important to be precise in our language.

Unlike Troy. But he manages to be lovable anyway.

“I use comparisons about Hitler to win arguments on the Internet!” – Confessions of Troy Barnes

For this reason, I’m glad we have brilliant people like Thomas Sowell who are willing to step into the fray with clarity, logic and honesty, calling out all sides for their inconsistencies and illogical, imprecise leaps of hyperbole.

Just because Newt Gingrich (and Sarah Palin and countless other conservative heroes) have called Barack Obama a socialist doesn’t make them right. Just because they get applause for it doesn’t mean that those of us duking it out on Facebook shouldn’t be more cautious with our language.

Here’s what Sowell says:

“It bothers me a little when conservatives call Barack Obama a “socialist.” He certainly is an enemy of the free market, and wants politicians and bureaucrats to make the fundamental decisions about the economy. But that does not mean that he wants government ownership of the means of production, which has long been a standard definition of socialism.

What President Obama has been pushing for, and moving toward, is more insidious: government control of the economy, while leaving ownership in private hands. That way, politicians get to call the shots but, when their bright ideas lead to disaster, they can always blame those who own businesses in the private sector.

Politically, it is heads-I-win when things go right, and tails-you-lose when things go wrong. This is far preferable, from Obama’s point of view, since it gives him a variety of scapegoats for all his failed policies, without having to use President Bush as a scapegoat all the time.

Government ownership of the means of production means that politicians also own the consequences of their policies, and have to face responsibility when those consequences are disastrous — something that Barack Obama avoids like the plague.

Thus the Obama administration can arbitrarily force insurance companies to cover the children of their customers until the children are 26 years old. Obviously, this creates favorable publicity for President Obama. But if this and other government edicts cause insurance premiums to rise, then that is something that can be blamed on the “greed” of the insurance companies.”

I like this argument. It creates a reasonable, precise place from which to start a debate – to agree that perhaps Obama is a statist, or even a corporatist, or maybe a variety of fascist – but not a socialist. And socialism is not even what I want to fight about – what I oppose is the idea that government can force its way into my personal decisions, my business decisions, my medical decisions, my family decisions. That somehow an elected (or unelected, as soon as one gets a position in government one is sponged of all human error) official is more thoughtful, generous, intelligent, well-meaning and business-savvy than anyone in the private sector.

I bet most people who’s hackles would raise if I called Obama a socialist might even agree with me on my core issue. Luckily, he’s not really a socialist, so my political fights from here on out are basically won.