Jan 21, 2011

Natalie Portman's Norbit Moment

Gervais wasn't the only one to be awkward at the Globes. I guess Natalie Portman's acceptance speech got kind of bizarre. (At least it wasn't mean). She's also got a movie coming out this weekend that looks a bit shallow. I hope this isn't her Norbit moment.

Jan 19, 2011

Wednesday Video

I'm teaching a sketch comedy class at Azusa Pacific University this semester. I love the class and my students are terrific. They had to bring in a clip of a comedy sketch and explain why they liked it. My student Jeremy brought this in; it's a group I hadn't heard of yet, "The Whitest Kids You Know." Check out this film noir bank heist sketch.

Jan 17, 2011

What Would MLK Do?

Today our nation honors the life of Martin Luther King Jr., a Christian activist who led the civil rights movement using nonviolent means. He was assassinated for it. And though the civil rights movement continued, and though I believe that history is teleological, lately it doesn't seem to be moving toward a happy place. It's been a dark chapter in our history, as these last few weeks have highlighted.

The economy is in the toilet. Our culture has become increasingly hostile toward religion (and sometimes with good reason. Take Fred Phelps, whose church protests high-profile funerals with "God hates F-gs" posters. Sick.). Masses of dead birds fall from the sky, leagues of fish wash up on our shores, and some noted prophetess blames it on the repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell." Her line of reasoning reads like a Monthy Python sketch. Well, she's partly right. All that dead wildlife is a sign from the Almighty: it's God's retribution for PajamaJeans.

Some psychopath guns down six people at a political gathering, including a girl who was born on September 11, 2001. She was only 9 and was already interested in civic life. I imagine her parents told her every year on her birthday, “You are a miracle born out of despair. Someday you can make a difference.” And now she's gone like MLK. FoxNews tried to paint the insane shooter as a leftist; the Left tried to blame it on Sarah Palin. Of course neither side is directly responsible. But to deny that all this public venom has NO effect on us, is like saying that internet porn has no effect on intimacy, or violent video games on youth. Or that sex doesn't lead to dancing.

A few measured commentators agreed, we need to take it down a notch. Well one man tried to do something about it. Back in 2009 Mark DeMoss, a Republican and prominent evangelical Christian, was alarmed at the increasingly vicious tone in American politics. He founded The Civility Project. He wrote a pledge, sent 585 letters to every governor and sitting member of congress, and asked them to sign it. The Pledge was simple:

  • I will be civil in my public discourse and behavior.
  • I will be respectful of others whether or not I agree with them.
  • I will stand against incivility when I see it.

He received only three signatures. Three out of our 585 elected officials agreed to abide by the pledge. Last week DeMoss pulled the plug on the project.

So much for the politicians. What about the pundits? Just once I'd love one of them to listen to his opponent and reply, “I don't agree but I respect your opinion.” Or go really crazy with, “That's a good point. I'm going to think about that for a while, and maybe it will change how I look at the issue.”

Which political personality is going to be the first to dial it down: Keith Olberman? Glenn Beck? Not as long as they keep getting great ratings. Why do they have great ratings? Because we watch them. Why do we watch them? Well, maybe they scratch that sinful itch to point the finger at someone else. “It was Eve; she gave me the apple.”

When I say “we,” I'm referring to our society as a whole. But we Christians are part of our society, so some of us must be contributing to those ratings. We are not putting the hateful words in their mouths, but we are encouraging them to say those things by patronizing their shows.

Do words not matter as much as actions? Jesus said in Matthew 5? "You have heard that our ancestors were told, 'You must not murder. If you commit murder, you are subject to judgment.' But I say if you are even angry with someone you are subject to judgment! If you call someone an idiot, you are in danger of being brought before the court. And if you curse someone, you are in danger of the fires of hell.”

Are we taking Jesus seriously? I don't propose we disengage from public life. In What's So Amazing About Grace Philip Yancey wrote:

“Politics draws lines between people; in contrast, Jesus' love cuts across those lines and dispenses grace. That does not mean, of course, that Christians should not involve themselves in politics. It simply means that as we do so, we must not let the rules of power displace the command to love.”

On Martin Luther King Day you may not be going to a rally or a prayer vigil or a love-in, but you can do something. Practice nonviolence by choosing what you say and read and watch and hear. Turn off the TV haters and read the Sermon on the Mount. Listen to worship music rather than a radio pundit. Pray for your opponents and ask God to give you a picture of how he sees them.

And please, for the love of all that is good and precious in this world, do not buy PajamaJeans.
Buy one of Cathleen Falsani's T-Shirts instead.

Jan 11, 2011

On Siren Magazine

I did an interview with Sarah Hubbell of Siren Magazine. There's some new content on it; stuff I haven't talked about or other sites haven't deigned to publish.  Enjoy! Read it here.

Jan 10, 2011

Whip My Hair

This is Will Smith and Jada Pinkett's daughter singing. The video is inventive but the song's value is lost on me.

I had no awareness of this song until Fresh Air's "Best TV of 2010" episode last week. David Bianculli said that one of his favorite TV moments was Jimmy Fallon's entire hour with Bruce Springsteen. If you didn't see Jimmy Fallon do "Born To Run" on the Emmys, you must. Fallon may not be your favorite late-night talk show host, but he's a dead-on mimic. Here he is as Neil Young, with Bruuuuuce, covering the ridiculous song.

Jan 7, 2011

A Second Chance: Ted Williams' Golden Voice

The most uplifting, encouraging moment in viral video history. Move over Antoine Dodson.

Jan 6, 2011

A New Year

It's a new year. I was ready for 2010 to be over.

It has been a hard year creatively. I've had two projects on my heart I've wanted to finish this past year. I am almost finished with one: a book proposal. But the second, my solo show, sits on the back burner, always pushed aside as I dealt with the “tyranny of the urgent:” bills to pay, auditions to run off to, tours and shows and teaching and taxes. I got to shoot a low budget movie and was on the road for a month. IT was a terrific experience. I pray the movie goes somewhere. But I know better than to expect some event to resurrect my career. Not at this point. If anything will, it will be that solo show or another book.

It was a hard year on Larry and me, individually and as a couple. I taught two classes that brought me home late at night.  I got to sleep late, he goes to sleep early. I was on the road a lot. I was gone for a full two months last year, but this time I was in and out of town. It was almost more difficult to do the "here and gone again" thing for two months. Plus, I was teaching and trying to act like an actor.

The longer I am married, the more I realize what a rat I am: I witness my shortcomings as a human being and it is not pretty.  Larry and I get along very well. He is my absolute best friend.  But my first impulse is not love but selfishness. Marriage is grandest adventure you may ever take. But it is not a boat cruise. It is work. It works on your soul. I thank God my soul is getting a work-out. I need it.

It was a hard year for Larry. He worked harder than he ever has. He hates corporate politicking, and he got a load of it this year.  It was hard to see him that overworked, under-appreciated and driven nearly to a breakdown.  Larry's got a quiet, even-tempered strength, I lull myself into thinking he couldn't crack. But he nearly did this past December.

My mom continues to decline from her vascular dementia. She lives in a rest home in Colorado, so I don't get to see her often. Every time I do visit her, I mentally prepare myself that it could be the last time. I spoke to her on Christmas. She cried. She always cries when I talk to her on the phone. I feel touched and slightly embarrassed at her emotion. After all, it's just me calling to say hello. I always assure her I will see her soon. And when I do see her, she cries upon setting eyes on me.

Why is she so emotional? Well, she was often like that before her strokes. But now all of her adult reasoning has been zapped away, and she is just like a child: a child who feels love and loss immediately and fully. There's no adult psyche to tell her it's not necessary to cry when your daughter calls or visits. She just cries. She's just pure emotion. The strokes took away her internal editor. And all that is left is her unrestrained self. And her unrestrained self is lovely. I think she started out good, but all those years of pressing her face into God and prayer in the face of sorrow, have burned off anything less than her true self.

And now she feels love and loss and beauty and unabated wonder. You tell her something she should know and she hears it for the first time. My father was not an easy person to live with or love. At our last visit I asked her if she missed Dad.
“Not really," she shrugged.
I nodded.
Where is he?” she asked.
“He died.” Her mouth shaped a silent O and her eyes flooded with tears.
“But it's okay Mom. He's with Jesus now."
“Oh,” she exhaled and dabbed her eyes. “That's so good to know!”

I miss her. I miss the old her, too. I mourn the fact that Larry never got to meet her as she used to be, with all her faculties. But she's disappeared in such small increments, I have come to expect meeting her just as she is and enjoying her that way.  And however I can connect with her when I see her, I am grateful for it.  I know the day is coming she will leave us. But I don't like to think about it.

I miss Honey, my dear cat of 14 years whom I lost this past July. I cried solidly for a month. Some nights I got up and went into the other room just to cry in my soundproofed Voice-over booth. I have her pictures posted in strategic places in the house, and my sister-in-law made a beautiful collage of her photos that I keep in my office. I look at them momentarily.  I'll pass them when I walk out the back door or look to the left of my desk. But if I look long enough, I will see her face and remember what it was like when she rested that face on my forearm as I was typing.

I still find memories of her around the house. I moved a shelf in the pantry yesterday and swept behind it and found some of her hair.  If you have ever owned a cat you know they like to “mark” objects with their scent: doorways, corners, fridges, anything to claim as their own. Over time a gray waxy mark appears. I noticed a mark on the fridge at her height. It's been there all the time. I almost didn't wash it off. As unappealing as it sounds: a gray waxy mark on your fridge, I was reluctant to remove one last trace of her presence. But I did.  I already regret it.

We adopted a second dog. Herbie sweet and full of nervous energy and doesn't have a malevolent bone in his body. But I miss Honey. I think about getting a cat. I sometimes look at the cats on Petfinder.com. I can't help but doing a search for Honey's breed: dilute tortoise shell. But I look at every cat and compare them to her, and they're always found wanting: the face is too long or the markings aren't as beautiful. On one occasion I noticed a thumbnail of cat that looked very much like her. I clicked on the details and a larger picture and was brokenhearted. Because it wasn't her.

I make no apology for loving a cat: a creature that could never return that same love with the same intelligence that I loved her with. After all, God has managed to love me in my small-mindedness and my inability to return his love in the same measure. A God who repeatedly loves me when I am so closed and brittle and small of heart.

In 2011 I plan on completing those two projects close to my heart. I also plan on loving my husband more. I want to get another cat. Maybe. But not this year. It's still too soon.

PS: I wrote the above at 2:30 in the morning. I would say, "forgive my maudlin display," but well, I need to work on being more maudlin and less "together."