Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Tag Game

My friend Rob at his blog ( ) has tagged me for a game with a say five random things about yourself meme. Since he put me down first, I guess I have to go along.
(My Typekey name there and at is PerfectTommy from the movie "The Adventures of Buckeroo Banzai".)

Link to the person who tagged you.
Post the rules on your blog.
Write 6 random things about yourself.
Tag 6-ish people at the end of your post.
Let each person know he/she has been tagged.
Let the tagger know when your entry is up.

During high school I wrote stories about (and portrayed in an epic multi-media production) the character Astro Plumber.

I had an opportunity to discuss "Plan 9 from Outer Space" with Robin Williams.

An ideal bowl of ice cream is chocolate with marshmallows and Cap'n Crunch. (Those with a health food inclination may substitute the Captain with Grape Nuts.)

Our cat, Kinsey, can be found somewhere on the Antichrist family tree.

The only person in my immediate family that shares by birthplace (Santa Rosa, California) is my daughter Jill.

The San Francisco Chronicle has pulblished two of my letters to the editor.

Brian Nelson (of Trinity fame)

Vinnie and Helga


Jordan's musing on philosophy and theology



Saturday, November 15, 2008

Christmas Songs in Films and Internet

So here is one of the great ethical questions of the ages: when is it okay to start listening to Christmas Carols?
My older brother, Daryl, had very strict views on this subject. It was his opinion that Christmas albums should not be played until after Thanksgiving dinner. He would guard the stereo lest Andy Williams’ “It’s the Most Wonderful Time” or Robert Goulet’s “Let It Snow” touched our ears before pumpkin pie hit the gullet.
Department stores take a different tack. Throughout my life, it seems I’ve heard complaints about how this year the mall has Christmas decorations up and music playing earlier than ever before. But it always seems to be the day after Halloween they make the change from orange and black to red and green.
For quite a few years now I’ve found myself listening to Christmas music even earlier. Usually in September I need to start writing a Christmas program and I find I need some Yule to get the juice flowing.
On occasion I’ve even put in Christmas movies early to get me in the mood. Of course, when I was growing up it was unthinkable that you could watch Miracle on 34th Street in the fall (though strangely, it was originally released in May, 1947.) But then videos and then DVDs came along, and we were no longer at the mercy of theater and television programmers.
My brother Dale and I would watch White Christmas most Christmas eves. Dale would not go to bed until (spoiler) the General was saluted by his men. There were a number of musicals that I sat through waiting for a particular song.
That kind of waiting is no longer necessary. Not only do we have fast forward buttons and chapter searches on DVD players, we have Youtube on the internet. As I was preparing for this article I found all five of my favorite Christmas songs from movies on that site ( ).
The easiest to find was “White Christmas.” Bing Crosby’s version of this song was the best selling song of all time for decades and is still the best selling Christmas song. I watched the version with Marjorie Reynolds from Holiday Inn (1942). It’s not exactly a big production number. Just Bing and Marjorie at the piano. The fanciest piece of choreography is Crosby hitting the tiny Christmas tree bells with his pipe.
The song evokes a longing for the Christmas of long ago, of childhood. (Amazingly it does so for this native Californian who has only experienced two white Christmases – visiting in-laws in Indiana and when an airline mishap took us to my brother’s in Minnesota Christmas night.)
( )
You can also find the two versions of the song from 1954’s White Christmas on Youtube. (Or you can see that film on a much bigger screen at the Raven Theater December 14 at 6 PM.)
( &
One of the most popular Christmas songs to be found online is Judy Garland’s version of “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” from 1944’s Meet Me in St. Louis. This isn’t a Christmas film really. December 25th is just one of the dates it touches on as in follows a turn-of the-century (19th to 20th ) family through a year. This song is more than tinged with melancholy, urging the listener to enjoy Christmas this year, because the future…well, you know… you can’t trust it.
( )
I wasn’t sure I would find my next favorite Christmas song from a film on Youtube, but it was there. (Should I have doubted? Any service that can provide not one but many videos of monkeys doing karate should not be doubted.) That is Zooey Deschanel’s “Baby It’s Cold Outside” from Elf.
I would have my doubts that this song, about a couple having difficulty splitting up on a winter’s evening, is really a Christmas song. But since the song is found on Christmas albums, and I’ve heard it on K-Love in December, it must be so.
In the film, Zooey is singing the song in the shower, and is quite surprised when Will Ferrell joins in from just outside the curtain. Like the songs mentioned above, this too is a song of longing, but of a romantic variety.
( )
Most all of the songs from the musical version of Dickens’ Christmas Carol, Scrooge, can be found online. My favorite is “Thank You Very Much,” in which the people of London in Christmas-Yet-To-Come join together to thank Scrooge for very kindly passing away. The song is sung as a reprise at the end of the film after Scrooge dies in a different way. He arguably dies to self and is born again.
There is a kind of longing in this song as well. A longing for a time when people will treat others with love and respect and forgiveness.
One thing that struck me as I was viewing these songs on-line was how few of them had anything to do with the birth of Jesus. To find that, I had to find versions of “Hark, the Harold Angels Sing”. Even then, when the song is sung at the conclusion of It’s a Wonderful Life, it seems only used to acknowledge Clarence, George Bailey’s guardian angel. Much more gusto goes into singing “Auld Lang Syne”.
( )
Only in “A Charlie Brown Christmas” (sections also available on Youtube) do the singers seem to give any thought to the meaning of that great hymn written by Charles Wesley. That God took on human form to be our Savior.
( )
So there you have it: five great Christmas songs from movies that you don’t have to wait for. You don’t have to wait for the films to turn up on TV the last weeks of December. You don’t have to wait in line at the video store or for Netflix to deliver. You don’t ever have to wait through the movie for that favorite song to appear.
Which is a little unfortunate.
Because Advent (which is Latin for “Coming”) is all about waiting. Traditionally, it has been the time where the church expectantly prepared for the celebration of Christ’s nativity. God knows that waiting can do us good.
He had a purpose for informing His people that a Messiah was coming, though it was centuries until those prophecies would be fulfilled. Even when Jesus was born, it would be years before people would see how that baby wrapped in swaddling clothes could be the Savior of the world.
So maybe there is something to be said for my brother zealously guarding the stereo until after the Detroit Lions played. Or those European traditions of decorating the tree on Christmas Eve.
We need to understand the longing that comes with the more melancholy aspects of Christmas. Come Thou Long Expected Jesus. You did come before. We anxiously await your return.

Monday, November 10, 2008

The Ten Second Rule

The ten second rule. You know what I’m talking about. Uncounted numbers of hamburger, Skittles and Fritos have been saved from the trash can by this rule. The rule plainly states that any food that drops to the floor can still be eaten if it is picked up before ten seconds pass.
I once worked in a movie theater snack bar. While I worked there the 10 Second Rule was strictly enforced.
I’m pretty sure some of the hot dogs turning on the rack were there before I was hired and continued to spin after I left. One day one of the ushers knocked a dog to the floor and hesitated before picking it up. The manager on duty approved of the dog going back under the heat lamp. But he said, “If you had taken any more time in picking up that hot dog, we would have had to change the rule to twenty seconds.”
I often think about the Ten Second Rule when the subject of sin comes up. Really.
Have you ever wondered about why the Bible talks about everyone being a sinner?
Romans 3:23 says, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” That same chapter, verse 10 says, “There is none righteous, not ever one.”
Maybe you’ve had a friend ask you, or you’ve wondered yourself, that “all” can’t really be “all”. Especially when you read something like Romans 6:23 that says “The wages of sin is death.” That’s saying that everyone should be convicted of the death penalty for sin. How can that be?
Sure, maybe someone like Hitler you can call a sinner who is worthy of the death penalty. Maybe the people on the news convicted of molesting and killing children, someone like that you could call a sinner that should dies for their sins. But everyone?
Surely the Bible couldn’t be talking about Gandhi. Or Martin Luther King. Or Steve or Joe, the hosts of “Blue’s Clues”.
What is the Bible talking about?
Okay, back to the Ten Second Rule. Maybe you’ve seen Mythbusters on the Discovery Channel. They’re the guys who take urban legends and test them out to see if they’re true. They had the audacity to take on the Ten Second Rule to see if it was true. And shock of shocks, they found out it isn’t.
If you drop a potato chip on a dirty, germ infested floor; it doesn’t matter if its there for a second, ten seconds or ten minutes. Once it touches the floor, it’s dirty. Sure, it might seem less nasty to eat the Ho-Ho that has only been on a dirty floor for a second than the one that has been resting through a couple of songs on the I-Pod but it really doesn’t matter.
Imagine someone you love is in for surgery. All the instruments have been carefully scrubbed and sterilized. The surgeon is about to begin the operation. Then she drops the scalpel and says, “Ten Second Rule” and cuts right in. That would not inspire confidence and it very might well lead to a nasty, perhaps deadly, infection.
Sin is like that. It doesn’t matter whether we’ve sinned a little or a lot. Any sin makes us impure before a holy God just as a surgical instrument exposed to a little or a lot of filth is unfit for use.
But fortunately, there is more to Romans 6: 23 than I quoted before, “The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
So when you tempted to think, “You know, I’m not so bad compared to…”: just remember the Ten Second Rule.”

Monday, November 3, 2008

Integrity Quiz

Yeah, it's been hard not to bad mouth the integrity of politicians this time of year (especially those in the other party), but how's your integrity?
How honest are you? Take the test to see.

1) The grocery store clerk overpays you $10 in change. You:
a) Return the money
b) Put the money in the charity jar
c) Congratulate yourself distracting the clerk into a mistake

2) A friend’s older sister wrote an ‘A’ paper on a book you need to write about in English. You:
a) Change the name, date and class period and turn in everything else as is
b) Say thanks, no thanks and don’t even look at the paper
c) Look at the paper for ideas

3) Your bank credits your account with an additional $5000. You:
a) Just wait to see if they notice the error.
b) Withdraw everything, close your account and open an account in another bank
c) Notify the bank about the error.

4) A friend takes a test in a class in the morning that you will take in the afternoon.
a) Tell your friend you don’t want to hear about it.
b) Get the answers, write them on a piece of paper you can roll into the inside of your pen.
c) Ask your friend for an idea of what areas in particular you should study.

5) At an arcade, you notice a game giving free games. You:
a) Notify the management.
b) Play a few games free.
c) Tell someone else, you already put money in the machine but you’ll sell the games for half price.

6) The teacher left answers on the chalk board. As you take the test, you:
a) Don’t mention it.
b) Tattle.
c) Fake a coughing fit at the end of the test, so a friend can erase the board, increasing the chances the teacher won’t notice.

7) You find a wallet. You:
a) Look up the owner and personally return it.
b) Take out the money out and drop the wallet where you found it.
c) Drop off the wallet at the nearest lost and found.

8) You make plans to spend an evening with someone who can be a bit dull, but then get an invite from someone you like much better. You:
a) Tell the dull friend you’re sick and go with the fun person.
b) Tell the dull friend you’d rather to something with your other friend.
c) Stick with your first commitment.

9) You exchange quizzes in class for grading. You trade papers with a friend, who says she’ll grade you easy, if you grade her easy. You:
a) Tell her you can’t do that.
b) Agree to the deal.
c) Mark her answers wrong, but let her correct yours.

10) You are taking a test about your integrity. You:
a) Look at the key at the bottom, to find the ‘honest’ answers.
b) Follow the test rules precisely.
c) Copy your answers from a neighbor’s paper.

Each answer will give you 0, 1 or 2 points.
1) a-2, b-1, c-0 2) a-0, b-2, c-1 3) a-1, b-0, c-2 4) a-2, b-0, c-1 5) a-2, b-1, c-0
6) a-1, b-2, c-0 7) a-2, b-0, c-1 8) a-0, b-1, c-2 9) a-2, b-1, c-0 10) a-1, b-2, c-0
Total your numbers.

Score of 20 – Are you even human?
16 – 19 – Honest Abe Lincoln had nothing on you.
11- 15 – I don’t think I want you as my accountant.
6 – 10 – Come on, admit it. You cheated on this test.
1 – 5 – Do your friends count the change in their piggy bank after you leave the room?
0 – Why aren’t you in jail already?