Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Curse You, Harry Potter

I have spent much of this summer developing a very important set of rules about which movies not to watch.  For instance, rule number one: if it’s from the 80s and you haven’t heard of it before now, don’t touch it. Rule number two: don’t ever watch a Harry Potter movie ever again. You no longer have to pretend that the next one might be better.

The newest rule is this: trust Miyazaki films.

I’ve seen a couple movies I’ve liked this summer—most recently and notably, X-Men First Class. But I liked it because it had James McAvoy in it (squee!) and because Erik Lencher is a total bad-ass. Hayao Miyazaki’s Princess Mononoke, on the other hand, is not only enjoyable, but demands respect as a film.

Oh, and Ashitaka is struggling to lift a curse placed
on him by a demon.
The story is a simple tale of man vs. nature: Fern Gully, Japanese Edition. But with outlandish creativity and complex characters, Miyazaki transforms a simplistic tale into a confusing reality where there aren’t black and white answers. The leader of humanity’s forces—undoubtedly the bad guy in an American film—is Lady Eboshi, defender of lepers and downtrodden women.

Also a total bad-ass. If only:
Princess Mononoke vs. Magneto.
I may or may not also love this movie because for once, women aren’t getting rescued or being led. They are in charge: Lady Eboshi is a strong leader; she is supported by a loyal band of strong, capable ex-prostitutes; she is opposed by Princess Mononoke, who is first seen with her mouth and hands covered in blood as she treats a wolf’s arrow-wound.

One of the most rewarding parts of this film is the CG. Unlike such stunningly terrible and over-budgeted films like Transformers 3 or Tron, Miyazaki actually makes use of the new technology to create a stunning fantastical world. Avatar has nothing on Miyazaki, despite being released 10 years further into the digital age.

 All that to say, I recommend a Miyazaki film to help wash away the let-down of the every single Harry Potter movie.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Trials, Tribulations, and Steak Knives

Consider it pure joy, my sisters, when you face trials of many kinds because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance.

Deliver me from my enemies, O God, protect me from those who rise up against me.

I am in the midst of lions; I lie among ravenous beasts—women whose teeth are spears and arrows, whose tongues are sharp swords.

SACRIFICIAL KITTY! (Meet Puddleglum - he's a little
aggressive, especially when he gets into the steak knives)
The Bible has only ever felt antiquated to me in its metaphors.

 Trials of many kinds? Enemies!? Spears?!? I grew up in the Midwest with a dog, a backyard, and a cul-de-sac. The closest thing I have to an enemy is the crosstown soccer team, and my trials are focused on the health of my family and friends.

And sacrifice metaphors? My version of sacrifice is a cookie-less Lent.

But the Bible doesn’t say “Consider it pure joy, my sisters, when you fall into a slump, when you’re inexplicably restless, when you must wait.”

Or maybe, “Consider it pure joy, my sisters, when life gets a little stressful.”

Yes, lilies of the field and all, and yes, tomorrow will take care of itself, and yes sacrifice and offerings He did not desire.

But there are many verses that remain esoteric to the majority of readers.

I’ve never had an answer for this one. War is a disturbingly prevalent metaphor throughout the Bible, especially in the Old Testament. These days that part of life is reserved for a special few in our society and the rest of us are cordoned off from it. Is this wrong? I doubt it, but it does make the Bible one step more removed, and with the abolishment of daily sacrifices and the obsolescence of spears, it makes understanding the Bible just a little bit harder.

That is where I can derive satisfaction. There’s a certain authenticity in difficulty, a pleasure that can be derived from the pain of struggling to understand: pure joy in constantly struggling against an individual-focused culture as a devotee of a God-focused religion.

It makes those verses which are universal, even more satisfying.

O God, you are my God, earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you, my body longs for you, in a dry and weary land where there is no water.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Wedding Season, Folks

“Start taking notes now, because someone needs to write a book about all this.”

My dad says that sort of thing often, but since he has a prophet’s ability to find and declare the next big television show months before I’ve even heard of them (The Office, 30 Rock, Mad Men), I respect the man’s soothsaying ability. When he declared this particular idea, he and my mother had just returned home after playing in their string quartet for someone’s wedding—at which no one showed up until 45 minutes past the start time, there was a subsequent tornado delay, and the groom paid my parents off of a wad of sopping wet $20 bills.

Ever since, I’ve been haphazardly taking notes on some of the weddings we’ve played, and this past weekend’s was a doozy.

For reasons still unknown, the bride contracted our string quartet, based in Grand Rapids, to play her wedding in St. Ignace (up in the U.P.). Because she was willing to pay for gas and 8 hours of driving time, we agreed and threw in a side trip to Mackinaw City—home of fudge and kitschy t-shirt stores.
My new hero.

Obviously my favorite part of the day was the worker at Joanne’s Fudge lopping off four handfuls of gooey, warm fudge straight out of the oven for each of us. Om nom nom, my friends.

The ceremony itself took place at a lakeside resort—lots of trees, a dock, mosquitos, ect. Virtually no one arrived until 3 minutes before the ceremony, rendering a prelude perfunctory at best (which is, by the way, what a hired string quartet looks for in a prelude).
Standard concert attire.

Then we played Led Zeppelin for the seating of the mothers. You think I’m joking, but the bride requested, found, bought, and airmailed us this music especially so her mother and grandmothers could be seated to it. For her own walk down the aisle, she commissioned Taylor Swift’s Love Story, which is cheesier than Velveeta at its best moments. To complete the schmaltz-fest, she drove down to the ceremony in a Rolls Royce, the door of which was opened to reveal her to the crowd right when we hit the chorus (I wish I could say that wasn’t pure luck).

And then, we reached the end of the song exactly when she stopped walking. Non-wedding-playing folks in the audience, this is beyond rare. Most times we have to frantically whisper “Abort! Everyone find a G-chord! The eagle has approached the eyrie! I repeat the eagle—!” or something. But no, the song resolved naturally, followed by a (no kidding) TEN MINUTE ceremony, after which we walked them back down the aisle with another Led Zeppelin favorite, “Whole Lotta Love.”

For those unfamiliar with the song, we sounded about like this:

On that note (music joke!), I believe I’m going to leave you all now to jot down the first draft of my book. It’s going to be a doozy!

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

World Cup Coverage (re: fever)

Monday’s women’s match against Brazil had everything: yellow cards, a red card, missed and incorrect offside calls, overtime, penalty kicks, faked injuries, a clutch header goal, Brazil’s legendary ball-handling skills, and 120+ minutes of some of the most superbly conditioned athletes in the world.

At least on the U.S. side.

When the United States lost Rachel Buehler (and their lead) in the 65th minute, no one could tell from the feisty US offense that they were a man down. Despite their superior numbers, Brazil was often mere practice dummies for a steady stream of U.S. attacks, with Marta and Christiana as the lone protestors against the barrage of American efforts.

Still, each successive American corner kick came up empty—indeed without a decent shot on goal—despite quality effort.

Perhaps that’s why Wambach’s header had such a feeling of righteous justice behind it.

After 117 minutes of things going not quite right for the United States, the goal—from Rapinoe’s gorgeously-placed cross, off the head of Wambach, who rose above a defender and the keeper to place the ball neatly near-post—was too perfect for an ordinary game.

But before that, it’s difficult to figure out what was the worst moment for the Americans.

Option 1: The first red card and subsequent penalty kick debacle.

I believe the referee staff was operating under the new rule some might recognize from its little-known source, basketball: if someone fouls you when you’re shooting you get two penalty kicks to make up for the two points you, oh wait.

Hope Solo did what generations of goalies have been doing and shuffled to her left in a brilliant read. If one of her feet stepped a few inches off the line it had not only many a precedent, but also none of the flagrance of Brazil goalkeeper Andreia’s charge off the line on the first American penalty kick.

Solo read that first shot too well and the Americans paid the price with the score tying back up at 1-1.

Option 2: Some tricky Brazilian footwork, a missed offside call, and a tricky little Marta flick resulting in Brazil’s second goal.

I cannot deny the beauty of Marta’s touch out of the air or Christiane’s heart-stopping control with the ball at her feet. It is the stuff of Pele and Ronaldo, the stuff that Brazil is famous for—but it is the fondant icing on the cake of the beautiful game. What we saw Monday was the beauty of perfect cohesion of team triumphing over the brilliance of individual play.

But there was a moment there, after the 102nd minute, when things were looking pretty bleak.

Option 3: The last 15 minutes.

After playing for nearly an hour a man down, the Americans had to be tired. After playing all game without scoring a single goal (Daiana scored the first one, remember), despite constant energetic attempts, the Americans had to be wondering if it was possible.

At least, you’d think.

But the Americans seemed unfazed and determined, steadily punching the ball outside and getting the ball in the box—either through a cross, a corner, or that memorable moment when one of our girls was battered into the grass and the referee remained unconcerned.

Play on.

After the Wambach goal—or can I say the Rapinoe cross?—everything turned the other way. Brazil had failed to capitalize on a 55-minute numbers advantage, lost their lead in the remaining seconds, and was now facing possibly the best goalie in the world.

Five superb American shots and a world-class save later, the Americans are getting ready for the French.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Calm Pslamversation

In the Psalms, I sometimes get confused if I am the righteous or the wicked. I like to believe that—like David, the psalmist of Psalm 52—I am

like the olive tree
flourishing in the house of God
                                                                        and that
I trust in God’s unfailing love
for ever and ever.

But the next words cut me out of the righteous category.

I will praise you forever for what you have done.

To be clear, I certainly want to be the kind of person who, for the rest of my life and through every circumstance, will praise God for his actions. But I know perfectly well this is not the case. Often God’s actions have caused me to pause and life my eyes skyward. Instead of raising a hand in supplication or wonder, I raise my eyebrows and think “wtf?” with all the multitude of disdain available to an arrogant youngster.

If that weren’t damning enough, the first 2/3rds of the psalm certainly have me covered.

Why you boast of evil? David asks me.
Why do you boast all day long
you, who are a disgrace in the eyes of God?

Because it’s I like one-upping. I’m proud of my abilities in communication and I feel more comfortable if I can come up with a lie that will protect me from others knowing the full truth of who I am, what I want and what I do. Why, do you like people knowing how awful you really are, David? *coughBathshebacough* Me neither.

No, I wouldn’t say that

my tongue plots destruction

…unless maybe the destruction of truth or sometimes, when I’m really, really mad, the destruction of someone’s self-esteem. Then, perhaps

My tongue is like a sharpened razor   (cool!)
and I practice deceit                like a boss. Like it’s my job. You know Meg Ryan’s character in You’ve Got Mail who always wishes she could think of the mean thing to say, wishes she had the perfect comeback like Tom Hanks does? That’s me—the Tom Hanks character, I mean. I have the comeback ready and waiting for someone to set it off.
She's way too cute for him. Seriously. That's one of my
biggest beefs with the movie.

What’s that you say?

I love evil rather than good?
falsehood rather than speaking the truth?

Maybe, well, maybe a little bit. All right, I do. I do

love every harmful word.

 I confess it.

So now what? Will God surely
bring me down to everlasting ruin?
will he              snatch me up and tear me from my bed?
will he             uproot me from the land of the living?

Then will the righteous—of whom I think we can be sure now that I am not—see and fear and laugh and say

here is the woman who did not make God her stronghold but grew strong by destroying others?

Or can I be like the olive tree, please? Like David? Like Jesus? Or maybe not even the tree—let me be only a branch. With many twigs, many days, many seasons, I will show that You abide in me and I abide in you. And I will bear much fruit, for apart from you\ I can do nothing.