Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Insights for Life from The Nutty Professor (1963)

I remember once speaking with an elderly woman on the way out of church.  The congregation had just finished singing Amazing Grace, and she commented to me that this hymn seemed to her as something of inestimable depth.  She made this comment:
"Every time we sing Amazing Grace, I notice something new in it that I had not seen before!"
While I was unable to concur with her regarding this hymn (everything I ever got out of it seemed evident to me on first hearing), I do feel that way about the Jerry Lewis film, The Nutty Professor (1963).  I watched it again last night, after an interval of perhaps eight years.

One thing that had not impacted me as much on earlier viewings was the way in which bodybuilding, as it later developed, eventually answered all the yearnings of the weakling Professor Julius Kelp.  In the movie, before he invents his magical androgenic formula, he tries bodybuilding for six months.  He joins Vic Tanny's gym and begins to lift weights.

But, alas, Professor Kelp is not very gifted at bodybuilding. He begins his regimen at a weight of 153 pounds, and ends his six-month effort at a weight of 151. It is then that he turns to chemistry to make him the man that he wants to be. It was no different in real life, for during this same time period, bodybuilders were discovering the wonders of Anabolic-Androgenic Steroids (AAS).

That's on the physical side of things.  But the Nutty Professor is much more about spiritual and inner things.  The Julius Kelp / Buddy Love dichotomy is fascinating.  It sets up for us a choice between Professor Kelp (weak, ineffectual, debilitatingly verbose, self-effacing, self-doubting, inept, awkward, clumsy) and his lounge lizard couterpart Buddy Love (arrogant, rude, self-absorbed, narcissistic, strong, confident, talented, smooth, suave).

To be honest, I've often found myself vacillating between these two poles.  Sometimes, I am very confident in my talent and usefulness, and even in my virtue.  But then I fail at something rather badly, or fully notice a previous failure for the first time.  And suddenly I am converted from my Buddy Love mode to my Julius Kelp mode.  I become apologetic, self-doubting, ineffectual, and self-effacing.  It lasts a while, after which the temporary humility (if that's even what it is) wears off, and I begin to be confident and arrogant again.

I find that weekly church attendance can regularize this oscillation.  It is necessary, in approaching the weekly eucharistic Sacrament, to humble oneself.  But sometimes, on Monday morning, all bets are off.  I roar to work in my fast car in full, blazing Buddy Love Mode.  So that while weekly participation in the Mass may control the periodicity of the fluctuations, it seems not to eliminate them.  I find myself to be either Professor Kelp or Buddy Love most of the time.

At some point, though, one gets tired of both these characters.  At the end of the film, Kelp's student and Love's admirer, Stella Purdy, marries Professor Kelp.  But she makes sure to bring a few bottles of his magic formula with her to the honeymoon.  She wants the option of choosing which guy to be with.  Each has certain advantages,  but also glaring disadvantages.

There must be a third way.  And there is.  It is not (as G. K. Chesterton would certainly tell us) an averaging of the personalities of Dr. Kelp and Buddy Love.  It is holding the best features of each in dynamic tension.  And this third way is (do I even need to tell you?) Jesus Christ.

Jesus Christ, like Buddy Love, is subject to control by no other man.  He is strong, confident, and teaches as one with authority.  He is able to silence fools and send bullies packing.  But, like Professor Kelp, he is humble and engaged in humble service of others.  He is a man who not only possesses authority, but is one under authority.  One passage that points out this dual role is John 10:17-18:
The reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my life—only to take it up again.  No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again.
Jesus Christ has the strength and authority, the confident manhood, of Buddy Love, raised to the umpteenth power.  But he uses it in humble service to humanity.  Those who would resolve the Kelp/Love dilemma in their own lives must seek the way of Christ.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

A Wild Dream

Last night, I had a wild dream.  But unlike most of my dreams, I expect this one to have some sort of lasting effect on me, because of the power with which it was infused.

In the dream, I was sitting in what seemed to be an Episcopal Church.  It was packed.  The congregation was racially diverse.  There seemed to be a 50/50 split between men and women.  And there were some children in the congregation also.  What I didn't really notice until later is that everyone seemed to be dressed up in suits and dresses from perhaps the late 1940s.

There seemed to be no preacher, but parishioners were taking turns ascending to the top of the chancel steps and addressing the church.  They were "testifying" ... telling what the Lord had done for them.  I heard one or two brief testimonies of the usual variety (e.g., God gave me a job this week, God healed my sister).  Then a shabbily dressed man climbed the stairs and began to speak in an emotional voice.  The congregation got a bit quieter to listen, seeming to sense something different about to happen.  The man had a full dress suit on, but it was worn and dirty.  He held a hat of questionable provenance in his left hand as he talked.  He began to speak.
"I'm sixty years old.  I've made a complete wreck out of my life. Everything I've ever dreamed has turned to dust.  My life has been one bad decision after another, nothing but wrong turns.  I wish I could say what the Lord has done for me, but I can't.  I'm giving up now.  I'm quitting.  I thought you would want to know."
The man stood silent, fumbling with his worn hat in both hands, apparently trying to figure out what to do next, now that he had got his message out.  The congregation was completely hushed.  I counted three seconds of silence before a little girl of perhaps six stood up behind me and to my left.  She shouted at him,

"Wait!  Don't give up, Mister!  I asked you into my heart, and it changed my life.  I believe in you!"
There was only about one second of silence after she said this, but my mind was reeling.  I was thinking of all that was wrong, heretical, and humanistic about the little girl's speech.  
"Nobody can be our Savior except Jesus!"
"That's idolatrous ... asking some other mere human into our hearts."
"What a ridiculous thing:  putting our faith in another mere human."
 The silence was broken decisively by someone absolutely tearing into a bass beat on a piano.  It was a barrelhouse blues style, and I thought:  "Yep, it is an Episcopal Church."  The piano part was a series of four descending notes, twice repeated.  And then, power and fury rocked the church.  As the piano neared the end of its eight introductory notes, everyone in the congregation stood and sang very loudly:
"Eucharist!  Eucharist!
You shall not dare to eat,
Until you see Lord Jesus
In every man you meet!"
It was wild.  They were all professional caliber singers.  The music was like that of an old black spiritual, and I felt suddenly that I was in the middle of a Broadway musical.  I looked around for movie cameras, to see if this was being filmed.  The song rolled on (I could write more lyrics, but I'd be inventing them at this point), supported by the boogie-woogie piano playing.  People started clapping their hands.  Even the white people clapped on the backbeat.

I was thinking:  "Okay, I get it.  This is one of those Episcopal Church "inclusivity" things, and they're filming a commercial to try and make me recognize some spark of the divine in every living soul.  Or maybe these are some really rocking Quakers, trying to convince me of the doctrine of the Inner Light.  It seemed a humanistic (that's a bad word where I come from, in case you were wondering) message to me.  Sure, I've heard sermons (even from non-heretical preachers) indicating that I should treat all people as I would treat Jesus.  It's written right there into the Lord's own words in his narration of Judgment Day.
Then shall the righteous answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, and fed thee? or thirsty, and gave thee drink?
When saw we thee a stranger, and took thee in? or naked, and clothed thee?
Or when saw we thee sick, or in prison, and came unto thee?
And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me. 
But I felt that I knew manipulation when I saw it. And this just seemed very manipulative, very theatrical.

But the more the music went on, the more I believed that God was trying to get something across to me.  I noticed that I was the only one that wasn't singing, who didn't know the song.  It certainly seemed that I was the intended audience.

I don't know how long the song went on before I woke up, but it was one of those "woke up in a cold sweat" moments.  Something powerful had been shown to me.  I will ponder it often.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Auricular Confession and Bodybuilding Coaching

In my early days of competitive bodybuilding, I saw many competitors who trained other, lesser-experienced competitors for contests.  I myself hired trainers to guide me in preparing for my contests.  I got to know the names of quite a few local trainers.

But after a while, I noticed something odd:  these same trainers, when it came time for them to compete, hired trainers for themselves.  I thought it odd because I reasoned that if these individuals were strong, wise, experienced, smart, and good enough to guide others, could they not guide themselves?  Sort of a twist on the Biblical injunction:  "Physician, heal thyself!"

But as I thought about it more, it made sense.  Bodybuilding contest prep is not an easy thing.  The severe diet and exercise regimens mess with your mind.  Substantially.  Even if you are experienced, you may not be the most objective decision-maker regarding your own conditioning and regarding the necessary actions to take to perfect it.  You need an outside set of eyes to help you see where your shortfalls are, where improvements can be made, and what to do in the way of a remedy for any lack.

After a long time, it struck me that the situation is like Auricular Confession within the church.  My naive view of bodybuilding coaches was akin to saying that certainly priests, being holy and good, and able to hear others' confessions, would not need themselves to confess!  It is laughable, of course, and helps point out my mistake regarding the bodybuilding coaches.

Priests confess, bishops confess, and even the Pope confesses.  And professional  bodybuilders, every one of whom has been victorious in high-level amateur competition, still have coaches.

The Anti-Trailer Queen!

In the car hobby, "Trailer Queen" is the phrase chosen to describe a car so perfectly finished and so clean (at least in the eyes of its owner) that it is never driven on the street.  It rides to shows on a trailer, preferably of the enclosed variety.

But for the past 10 to 15 years, a backlash against Trailer Queens has sprung up.  It is a back-to-roots kind of thing, fueled by the popularity of traditionally constructed rods and customs, as well as the so-called "rat rods", which are vehicles which are left without finished paint.

At the 2012 Detroit Autorama, we saw a beautiful bug-green custom that looked clean enough to be a trailer queen.  But, it was in the basement of Autorama, with the "rat rod" crowd.  Only later did my son find this photo of the same car, towing a beautiful gold hot rod.

So, not only is this beautiful lead sled not transported on a trailer, but itself is used as a tow vehicle.  Bitchin'!!  I wish I knew who owned these cars, so I could give proper credit.  If I see them at any of the shows this summer, I will find out the owners' names.  Below are photos I took of the cars at Autorama, before finding the photo above.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Meeting Dean Jeffries

Yesterday, at the 2012 Detroit Autorama, my son and I met one of our custom car design heroes, Dean Jeffries. Dean was at Autorama with one of his most spectacular (and earliest) creations, the Mantaray:

Dean was very gracious in spending so much time with us, and eventually my son Eliot got up the courage to ask to have his picture taken with our hero.

Besides building the Mantaray (which appeared in one of my favorite films, Bikini Beach) Dean Jeffries also built the Black Beauty car from the Green Hornet TV Series, and the Monkeemobile from the Monkees TV show.

And then, just when we thought it couldn't get any better, Eliot mentioned to Mr. Jeffries that he was training to be a car designer, that Mr. Jeffries had influenced him from a very early age, and asked him if he would sign a page of Eliot's sketch book.  He did!

Thanks, Dean!  It was GREAT to meet you!

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Frost Fighter - Supreme Customer Service!

I blogged back here about adding a rear window defroster to my 1962 Mercury Meteor.  Not only was it a great addition to the vehicle, but it allowed me to interact with a great company ... Frost Fighter!

When I had some issues with my installation, these guys went the extra mile to make things right.  It seems rare these days that a company values its customers, but these guys do!


Monday, February 20, 2012

What Are They Putting in the Water in Oslo!?!?!

I don't know what they are putting in the water in Oslo, Norway, but it needs to be introduced into the water supply everywhere!  Starting with Metro Detroit.  Why?

To answer this question, merely consider:

Exhibit A - The Launderettes

Exhibit B - The Cocktail Slippers

Amazing girl group rock, the way it is supposed to sound!

Support music like this!  Economic support of great music is the only way to get more of it.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Wendell Scott

I had been planning to have a whole series of blog posts for Black History Month.  But for various reasons, that does not look likely to happen at this point.  But I didn't want February to go by without at least commending to you this film biography of Wendell Scott, the first (dare I say "the only") successful black driver in NASCAR.

What Scott accomplished is absolutely mind-boggling.  He started racing in the early 1950s, a decade before the civil rights movement heated up in America.  About four decades before NASCAR successfully moved beyond its roots as a regional Southern sport to become a national phenomenon.  He knew what he wanted and he didn't let anything stop him.  He faced tremendous persecution, marched into the heart of the beast (of white racism), and got what he wanted.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

A Poem for Saint Valentine's Day

I wrote this poem today for my wife.  It's instead of flowers.  So, yeah, pray for me!

 Saint Valentine's Day

On this most blessed day, the candy sellers are the winners.
The scandal of a saint's day reimagined by the sinners.
The cards will fly, the lovers gorge, the florists will deliver.
Any everyone will hope to catch a dart from Cupid's quiver.
No fasting nor remembrance for you, dear St. Valentine,
But gluttony and avarice, and chocolate and wine.

If each day in the kalendar were stolen thus away,
We'd gobble gobs of Swedish fish upon St. Peter's day,
Or else each pair of lovers, driven on by high decrees,
Would have to exchange jewelry in the shape of golden keys.

On John the Baptist's Day, the silver chargers would accrue.
We'd swallow candy flaying knives for St. Bartholomew.
To honor Theodosia, we would swarm the beach with glee,
And gaily in her honor cast ourselves into the sea.

For Latimer and Ridley and Archbishop Cranmer's sake,
We Anglican romantics could burn hot dogs at the stake,
And just to wet our whistles as we watched the pretty flame,
Sip rich Ugandan coffee for the martyrs of the same.

The pagan in his revelry will never be contented
Until each fast becomes a feast, and all the year's unLented.
But as of now, be thankful that they scarcely have begun,
And of the days of martyrs have perverted only one.
For us who would remember of each martyrdom the price,
A lowered head, a silence, and a Collect may suffice.

©  2012, Paul Erlandson


Monday, February 13, 2012

The Proximity of Two Spheres.

Last night, my teenage daughter proclaimed that I have a "butt chin nose".  I had heard the unfortunate phrase "butt chin" before, used to refer to chins with dimples in the center, formed by a bifurcated jaw tip.  My daughter meant that my nose was similarly formed of flesh over bifurcated cartilege, thus producing a visible cleft between the two approximately spherical surfaces at the point of my nose.  After feeling my nose and admitting that she was right, my first statement was,
"Why 'butt chin nose'?  Why not cut out the middleman and just call it a butt nose?"
But that didn't make it sound a whole lot better.  I began thinking about that kind of shape, and it wasn't long before I realized that it is quite common.  In fact, right now this very minute, you, dear reader, are breathing butt oxygen!

Exhibit A:

I thought some more.  I thought of other shapes I had seen that consist in essence of two overlapping spheres, or else two spheres in close proximity.  I made a mental list.  The creation of such a mental list is left as an exercise to the reader.

However I will say, from over fifty years of observing God's creation, that our Creator has a certain fondness for the idea of two spheres in close proximity.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Our Enemies' Motives

About ten years ago, a speaker came to talk at an "All Hands" meeting at my company.  She was an expert in the psychology of consumers, and she made a statement that I still remember.  The context of the quote was about the strange habits of her father (I forget now whether they were buying habits or driving habits or what).  She said:
"What you have to remember is that everyone's actions make sense to them."
It may not be 100% true all of the time, but it is close enough to true to be extremely useful.  I have often used it to re-calibrate my thoughts about my enemies, whether political, religious, or some other kind of enemy.  I meditate first on the fact that my enemy's words and actions make sense to himself, based on his worldview and assumptions.  I then try to reverse engineer (unless I already know explicitly) what those assumptions are, and how they led to the (to me) nonsensical words or actions.

It is a quite useful technique.  One effect it has is to make me realize that my enemies are not as "evil" as I may first assume.  They are often saying and doing the only things that make sense from their worldview.  And often, if they say, want, or do the wrong (from my point-of-view) things, it is with the best of intentions.

So, a few examples.  Let's say that I am arguing on the internet (as if that would ever happen) with someone who wants more government entitlements for poor people (I don't; I want to get rid of the ones we have).  It makes a huge difference to my view of this political rival whether he wants this out of a desire for huge, intrusive government, or out of a kindhearted disposition toward the poor.  Likewise, it should  make a huge difference to him whether I want to cut out the government entitlement programs because I am a hateful, old, white, privileged, Republican hater ... or because I don't feel that these entitlements are actually a good thing, even for the poor.  In my personal experience, it seems rarely to make a difference.

Another example:  I had a friend who was incensed that I engaged in civil disobedience and got arrested at an abortion clinic protest.  She could not fathom anyone doing something so intrusive, and so proclaimed me to be "evil".  I asked her to imagine being inside my heart and mind, where the ruling assumption is that abortion is the murder of a baby.  I asked her whether my actions would then make sense to her.  She refused to contemplate it, believing that to even imagine my (to her, wrong) presuppositions would involve her in evil.  But she missed a great opportunity to understand me, because she was not willing to contemplate the fact that my actions sprung naturally from my beliefs.

Another example is non-believers who rail against me and other Christians for proselytizing.  They feel that it is rude, obnoxious, and presumptuous.  And, based on their faith that there is no God, or their faith that all religions are valid, it is those things.  But, based on my belief that they will spend eternity in the fires of hell without knowing Jesus Christ as Savior, my actions make perfect sense.  How dare I not try to warn them?

Yet another example.  I had an extremely negative reaction to this "cute" little song:

In it, the songwriter threatens to "kick Jesus' ass".  But his crime in saying this is not as great as it appears at first blush.  Because he is not saying (I'm pretty certain) that he intends to kick the butt of the 3rd Person of the Trinity, because I'm pretty certain that he doesn't believe Jesus to be God.  He views Jesus as a mere man, who has made his girlfriend less amorous towards him.  And, thus, his crime is proportionately less.

As our Lord Himself said:
Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.
I would urge each of you to consider the words and actions of your enemies with their kindest possible interpretation, based on your best knowledge of their underlying motives and assumptions.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Advantages of Loving One's Enemies - Part 1

I hope that I get around to writing further installments in this series of blog entries on the advantages of loving one's enemies ... because there are a lot of them.  I hope to speak about the obvioius disadvantages, too, at some point.

One of the most shocking edicts in all of religion is Christ's command to his followers (see Matthew 5 and Luke 6) to love their enemies:
But I say unto you which hear, Love your enemies, do good to them which hate you,

Bless them that curse you, and pray for them which despitefully use you.

It just seems so counterintuitive.  To some, it seems impossible.

But it has a great many advantages.  The one I'd like to discuss today is a simple one of efficiency.  Loving one's enemies completely cuts out of the decision-making process a rather time-consuming and difficult multi-step process:  the separation of friends from enemies.

Oh, it's complicated.  You need to collect a lot of data about past behavior of the person.  You have to predict motives from the behavioral data, which anyone will tell you is quite tricky.  Often, a person will be your ally in one area and your enemy in another.  What to do?  You have to categorize them one way or the other.  And then, finally, once you have sorted the person with whom you've come in contact, you can finally decide an appropriate action:  loving or unloving.

I believe in ma-a-gic ... Why?  Because it is so quick.  So sang the 1960s pop group LOVE (with Arthur Lee).  Loving one's enemies means you can treat friends and enemies the same (remember, you're allowed to love your friends, too!), which really simplifies things!

So, under the new Love-Everyone-Regardless protocol, the process is shortened down to discerning what is the loving thing to do in any given situation.

There is not so much to remember, either.  No longer do you have to keep those meticulous grudge records, which leaves more storage space in your brain for other things!

Red Molly

There is hardly anything that makes me as happy as the discovery of a hot new (to me!) musician or band.

Red Molly is such a discovery, and I'm in love with their haunting, achingly beautiful music.  They describe themselves as an "Americana/Roots Female Trio", based in New York.

Listen and enjoy!

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Ray Wylie Hubbard Channels Flannery O'Connor.

This entire song by Ray Wylie Hubbard is shot through with Flannery-esque images and languages.  In fact, it would not be too much of an exaggeration to say that this song constitute a sort of Cliff Notes to Flannery O'Connor's two novels (Wise Blood and The Violent Bear It Away).  But there are images here that are very like ones in O'Connor's short stories as well.
Let's look at the evidence:

1.  The very opening line of This River Runs Red is:

My mama run off with a Bible salesman.
This is remeniscent of Flannery's story Good Country People, in which the ugly but intellectual proto-feminist farmgirl Hulga is courted by a traveling Bible salesman.

2.  Hubbard continues,

My mama's mama took me in to save me from sin, the kind she said sweet Jesus died for.
This is remeniscent of the teenage years of Enoch Emery, Hazel Motes' foil in the novel Wise Blood.  Enoch was raised by a foster mother with hair so thin that it "looked like ham gravy trickling over her skull".  He eventually prays to Jesus for a way of escape from this woman.

3.  Hubbard's grandmother wants to get him baptized, which is the main story line in the song, as well as in O'Connor's The Violet Bear It Away, which has at its center a sort of Fundamentialist-style ex opere operato view of Baptism, which results in the simultaneous drowning and  baptism of a retarded child, Bishop.  Hubbard's first reference to Baptism is:

Before the next sunrise, gonna get you Baptized.
4.  But just as Hazel Motes (Wise Blood) runs away from his fiery religious upbringing, Hubbard's character is not able to keep on the straight-and-narrow way:

Now I got baptized that Sunday morning.
I guess it didn't take, as I look back.
'Cause when I turned fifteen, I just seemed to get mean,
And I stole my mama's mama's Pontiac.
5.  The "just seemed to get mean" line is very remeniscent of Onnie Jay Holy's sermon in Wise Blood, regarding how a child's sweetness doesn't show so much as he reaches his teenage years.

6.  The car is significant, too.  For although Hazel Motes did not steal his rat-colored Essex automobile, the theft of the grandmother's Pontiac in Ray Wylie Hubbard's song is completely consistent with Hazel's philosophy:  "Nobody with a good car needs to be justified."

7.  When Hazel runs away to "the city", he takes up with a prostitute named Leora.  Hubbards character moves to Tulsa and takes up with a woman named Lorraine.

8.  But run as they will, both Hazel Motes and Hubbard's character are perpetually haunted by their childhood religious upbringings in general, and by their Baptisms in particular.  The blind preacher Asa Hawks notes of Hazel that some preacher has left a mark (the mark of Baptism) on him.  He is haunted, but cannot erase the mark.  In a similar way, Hubbard's character cannot forget his Baptism:

Now it happens every night when they turn out the lights, I can't stop the voices in my head:
'This river runs red, this river runs red,
This river runs red like Jesus' blood.'

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Youth Retreat: St. Michael's Conference for Youth Reunion

I spent the past weekend at a Reunion for the St. Michael's Midwest Conference for Youth.  It was the second such event at which I have helped out and stayed overnight.  This time, I stayed over both Friday night and Saturday night.

I experienced an interesting change in attitude over the weekend.  On the way to the Reunion, which was held at St. Bartholomew's Anglican Church, I was thinking to myself, "What did I do to deserve this?"  On the way home, I was also thinking, "What did I do to deserve that?"   But I meant the opposite thing by it.  On the way, I had in mind the things I would be giving up by going.  Chiefly I was giving up an evening and a full day of working on my oil paintings.  But by the end of the retreat, my attitude had completely reversed.  Now what I meant by the question was:  "Because of what meritorious act on my part did God count me worthy to have spent my weekend in that way?"

If you have never been involved with the St. Michael's Conference(s), it is hard to explain this radical reversal.  But let me attempt it.  The group of kids was very diverse.  There were over 20 teens, geographically and racially diverse.  We had folks from as far north as Ontario, Canada, and as far south as southern Kentucky.  The differences in the accents of their speech did not go unnoticed among the youth at the retreat.  But all the teasing about this was in a very good-natured way.

The "reunion" aspect of this weekend retreat must not be underestimated.  For most if not all of these kids, the week of the St. Michael's Conference in July is the highlight of the entire year, eclipsing even such noteworthy contenders as Christmas and Spring Break.  There is a rich and shared history among these teens from having spent (in most cases) multiple weeks together at the actual Conferences.  And it colors everything they do in a positive way.  Joking comments among the Michaelites seem never to be a cause for offense, because they rest on the presupposition of a mutual and unconditional love, as well as an earnest sense of common purpose.

There was, as with any group this size, a large diversity in physical appearance among the kids, and probably an even larger diversity of personality types.  But they got along better than most similarly sized groups of adults would.  What can explain this?  Is it that they are having so much fun that they don't bother with arguing and wrangling and petty jealousies?  Well, maybe, but not such "fun" as you may have come to expect from a church youth event.  The "fun" involved six hour-long educational sessions, all around a common theme, and multiple worship services throughout the weekend.  Perhaps more than anything else I witnessed throughout the weekend, the single glaring, shining, written-in-large-and-startling-figures lesson for me was:  The church does not have to dumb down worship nor replace it with entertainment to engage today's young people!  (Seeker sensitive churches, take note!)  Beautiful worship (and here I will show my prejudice by saying "beautiful Anglican worship") is more than enough to engage the minds and hearts of these kids in a full and holistic way.

I noted something else about the Michaelites, and that was how quickly they volunteered to do non-fun jobs such as mopping floors, emptying garbage, etc.  It is simply the accepted norm, and I failed to notice any one of them veering from it.  Frankly, it was like two days of heaven, or two days of the world turned upside down:  teenagers acting in a completely civilized manner, under the inspiration of the Holy Ghost.  There are so many examples.  After Compline each evening, the Great Silence begins, which means that there is to be no talking among those at the retreat.  This was kept without the slightest breach in the boys' "dormitory" where I slept.  Not a single whisper, giggle, word, joke, or sound effect among two rooms full of teenage boys, all night long.  How many of you have ever witnessed such a thing?

It was my privilege to teach (or rather, "moderate") a few of the class sessions.  My favorite part of these sessions was the questions and comments from the Michaelites, which indicated that they had been listening throughout the hour, and were now struggling with how to integrate the imparted knowledge into their daily lives.

I guess the last thing I will mention is that I benefited by (essentially) becoming a Michaelite and folllowing their schedule for the weekend.  It forced me, much against my natural inclination, to be silent, be still, and turn my thoughts to God.  There was nothing "to do" ... so a lot of important work got done in my soul.

I left the retreat full of more hope for the world our children will shape than I have had in a very long time.

Some of the Michaelites

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Oksana Grishina

At the intersection of bodybuilding and dance, at the exact point of confluence of form and function, lies NPC and IFBB Fitness Competition.  No one does it more beautifully than Oksana Grishina!  I've seen her perform on stage three times, and each time was in awe of her artistry!  I would love to do a painting of her someday.

The Two Paths (or How My Long Lost Friends Turned Out)

There is a lot you can learn from facebook.  Partly, this is because people will write things on there that they would never say to you in public (or in private, for that matter).  facebook has enabled me to re-connect with many friends, some of whom I had not heard from in over 30 years.  It is interesting to see what has become of them.

Some of them have become successful and even famous.  Some of them seem to be changing the world.  Others appear to have been changed by the world.  Some of them state that they are thrilled to have finally found me again ... then don't post anything on facebook for years in a row.  It is as if they wanted to confirm some suspicion about how I would turn out, and once it was confirmed, they had no need of further contact.

The Great Divide

I do see one great division among my friends, and that is between those who are busy doing things and those whose business is to try to get me to do or believe certain things.  The first group has many subcategories, from those whose lives center around their children, to those trying to create cutting-edge art, to those who seem shell-shocked by the world and seem as if they are just trying to survive it all.

The people in the second group, for the most part, have attached themselves to a cause.  The are activists.  In the saddest of cases (and there are many I can think of) they have become totally lost in the cause, so that the person I thought I knew is no longer visible at all.  They have become flattened out, one-dimensional.

Various causes have been embraced:  socialism, environmentalism, diet supplements, Ron Paul.  But in each case, the person's presence on facebook is only a mask.  You rarely (if ever) get to see behind the mask.  They are not on facebook to interact with me person-to-person; they are their to sell me something:  a product, a theology, a service, a worldview.

Every so often, one of these "hollow men" forgets himself, and posts a status update which shows a piece of his life, in which his old personality shines through, however briefly.  I typically cannot help responding to these, thinking:  "My old friend is back, and in his right mind!"  But I am nearly always fooled.  The scrap of real humanity was just bait.  The reply to my comment usually goes back to the sales pitch:  Try this supplement, Come to this workshop, Watch this brand new Ron Paul video.

Some of the most creative people I've ever known have become no more than propagandists, and uncreative ones at that.  It is a real pity.  We shall end by having no real shared lives, talking to each other merely by posting antagonistic "Shared" quasi-humorous images on each other's facebook walls.


Of course, it is a good thing to turn this around and ask myself:  What kind of facebook friend am I to other people?  How often am I just parading my worldview across the width of the status update bar, like some strutting peacock, or like a dog marking his territory?  And how often do I invite real dialogue?  I believe that I have a lot of room for improvement.