Thursday, February 28, 2013

Senior Year English Essay

This essay was the basis of my Graduation Speech for Piner High's Class of 1979:

Truth In Clich├ęs

Every year as high school graduation approaches I begin to dread sitting through more dull speeches.

When I was small, my parents forced me to attend the graduations of my sisters and brother. The gym would always be very crowed and stuffy. I would sit unbearably still, waiting for the ceremonies to begin.
After many hours, the graduates would slowly file in. My parents would my brother or sister and then several other more obscure individuals that I had never seen at home, school or on television. I would try to waste away the time by counting the lights on the ceiling. Unfortunately, by the time the time the graduation speeches started, I had usually run out of lights.

The speakers were consistently dull. They made the evening news seem as exciting as Saturday morning cartoons, and they would talk for hours. The only part of the ceremony I enjoyed was when the cameras would begin to flash. I tried to dive into every picture.

In recent years, I have attended graduation ceremonies by choice, but I assure you my reason for attending has not been the speeches. I have only attended recent ceremonies to see how many weeping senior girls will hug and kiss me.

The speeches always have a certain sameness. The speakers either dig up sentimentalized memories of the past, rattle off a list of thank more prolonged then the most long-winded acceptor of an Academy Award, or paraphrase “I Have a Dream.” These speeches have always driven me to distraction.

The odd thing is that as this graduation approaches, my own graduation, I find the same thoughts going through my head that have been expressed for years by graduation speakers.

I look through my yearbook and remember the magnificent triumphs of my gym class’ football team and the agaony of being snubbed by one the many girls that was “the only girl for me.”

I then realized what an effect my classmates have had on me over the years and how special many of them are to me.

Suddenly, I’m able to forgive what I’ve considered sloppy sentimentality in graduation speeches when I realize that I won’t see many of these people again.

I’m also able to see why many graduation speeches become endless streams of thanks. When I think of what teachers through the years have given me and my classmates, not to mention what my parents have done, I realize that those eternal speeches actually could never be long enough.

I find that I do have a dream, because so many of the people in my class are special to me, and I I can’t help but have dreams for them.

I would very much like to tell the members of my class about my hopes for them, even at the risk of sounding like the most preachy graduation speaker. I would like to tell the members of my class that they need higher goals in life than just satisfying their own wants and desires. People need to serve others, their family, people around them, but especially God in order to make their lives worthwhile and enjoyable.

I can’t imagine what would produce a bigger yawn from myself than the above statement at a graduation ceremony. Constant repetition tends to hide the truth in this type of statement. And yet I now find myself convinced by it with a staunch conviction.

This year’s graduation speeches may still be dull, and appear overly sentimental to many. But this year I will find them tolerable because I will realize they are true.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

More Writings from my Senior Year of High School

This story doubled as a personal experience essay and a speech for a public speaking competition. It hasn't held up that well, but at the time I thought it was good stuff


As I look back on my sporting career, I would say my season of baseball was the season least likely to inspire awe. Baseball was simply not my sport. Not that it is possible for one to own a sport as one would own a corporation, but I’ve always felt that if it were possible, I would have fewer shares in the cooperation of baseball than would anyone else in the world.

The team was comprised of half of my fifth grade class. Our slogan was, “It matters not if you win or lose, but how you play the game”, a slogan which was adopted after our fifth loss.

The season did have one highlight. That was the play that one of my team mates claimed would “go down in the anals of baseball history.” That play was the Great Sacrifice.

The air was crisp and the sun beat down on the field, as it always does moment before a crucial play in literature.

Our team was playing the class two rooms down. The score was 33 – 34, and we were down by one. I felt part of the blame since I was playing left field when the tying and leading run came in.

I had played left field since the team was organized the first day of practice. We played work-ups to decide positions. Since my underhand pitches tended to be a bit high, and also tended to play heck with the radar of low flying planes, it was decided I was not to pitch. I would be in left field, a place I never really left.

This was unfortunate since at the time I had a great fear of having my skull based by a baseball. A friend had told me that many people had been killed by pennies dropped from the Empire State Building. While I knew no one in our league could a ball as high as the Empire State Building, I also knew a softball is many times larger than a penny an potentially more dangerous.

I had barely escaped a fly ball coming straight for me in the previous inning, that could have done much more damage than the knocking in of two runs if I hadn’t stepped out of the way.

The bases wer loaded and I was in the batting box. Even Ronny Lut had made it to first. Ron did not excel in baseball since his size was more suited to football and his co-ordination was more suited to tic-tac-toe, and unfortunately neither sport was offered.

His lack of trust in his fellow team mates was another handicap. His trust seemed to vanish the day our first baseman challenged him to a test of strength. The first baseman quickly crushed a glob of clay between two fingers. Ron crushed his glob of clay with a tack in it a bit faster. Ron never forgot his painful lesson in the skin’s sensitivity to sharp objects.

Actually, I was the only person on the team Ron trusted, because I had pushed him into a mud puddle the day he wet his pants, and because I was the only person below him in the batting order.

Tension grew in me as I stepped to the plate. Encouragement came from the dugout as a cute, young blond girl cried gently, “Don’t screw up, you big klutz!”

As I looked around at the players in the field, they seemed to be moving in. Nerves play such tricks on the mind.
The runner on third base seemed ready to come in to home, then into the dugout at any moment, although the same could be said for Ron on first and the girl on second.

I turned cool, steel eyes on the pitcher, who spat on the mound. His first pitch I let pass, and it was a strike. The second pitch I swung at and it was a strike.

As I stood wondering if it made any difference if I swung or not, the third pitch came and I did swing.

I stood in awe at the ball rose in the air and hid itself in the sun. I did not see it again until it fell plop on the pitcher’s mound. The pitcher calmly threw the ball to the first basegirl. Giddy at the chance to make a double play, she overthrew the second baseman who had chosen an inopportune time to dust his plate. My dugout yelled for the base runners to take the free base for an overthrow. Ron stood idle between first and second, not believing the dugout. He finally move to second when I yelled, “You can move or I hope to die, fifty needles in my eye, or finger.”

Just as Ron reached second base, the centerfielder just caught up to the ball as he cursed his fortune to have a female at first base. He then picked up the ball and overthrew the pitcher, but in a very masculine fashion.

The catcher then chased the ball and picked it up. To this day, the catcher swears that it was spirits that made him again overthrow the pitcher.

The whole team congratulated my brilliantly planned sacrifice that had knocked in three runners and had given us the lead.

Then, the bell rang and the ump said that our classes would have to play a rematch some other lunch time, since we had played only two innings and any real game had to have at least three innings. In the rematch we played three innong ant the game was won by the other class.

The ump was the other class’s teacher, and no one questioned his intergrity...Outloud. Besides, my mother had always assured me that a teacher’s integrity was as unquestionable as the integrity of the President of the United States.

Even though we lost the rematch, I slept wll that night, as I’m sure Ron did, having experienced one moment of baseball glory.

I did have one other pleasant thought that might before I went to sleep. President Nixon was probably no good at baseball either.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Senior Year Poems

In my high school senior year I took Creative Writing. One of the assignments was "I Used to Be" Poems. Here is the sad result of that exercise:


I used to be
an apple
sitting on
a tree

Then came
the real, big
there' nothing
left of me.


I used to be
and air sickness bag
Above the seat
Until we hit
the turbulence
And her stomach
Stewardess throws
me out the door
Till I finally hit
a lovely New England


I used to be an oak
who was proud, bold
and free
(for a tree)
But then came
along a dog
who stole my


I used to be
a child
with a
towel for our nap
K, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6,
7, 8, 9,
10, 11, 12
In ways I'm still
a child,
but with a square,
grad cap.


I used
to be a candle,
relating to
my wick;
Now I
am a burnout
you see drugs
are my shtick.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Review of Tim Stafford's "Birmingham"

First things first, I blurbed on this book. You can see what I said:
“A reporter’s eye for detail brings this fictional tale of the civil rights movement to life. The flawed but brave protagonists draw us in, and make us wonder how we would have fared in the struggle against the evils of segregation.”

I’m in a writers’ group with Tim, and I had the honor of seeing this novel grow. It’s told from two perspectives: a white seminary student anxious to fight injustice and a young African American woman born into the struggle.

Writing from each of these viewpoints presents unique challenges: one is that too many stories of the civil rights movement have focused on the brave and selfless Caucasian heroes that come in and save the helpless former slaves (I’m looking at you Mississippi Burning.) But young Chris is certainly not the Great White Hope in the book. He gets in the way and makes mistakes and does not have an opportunity to put Bull Connor in his place. But he does allow for the modern reader to get a better idea of how whites at the time struggled to do what was right puzzling through the various demands of law, society, faith and conscience.

I was also concerned about what a mature white man would do with the voice of young Dorcas. Tim brings this young woman to life, not as idealized saint, but as a passionate, impulsive, angry young woman who wins the reader’s admiration.
Getting to know these two characters is worth making an investment in this book, but other lively personalities, humor, action and a bit of history make Birmingham essential reading as the 50th anniversary of the events described in the book arrives.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Warming Up to Zombies

Last October, near Halloween, for High School Group we had a Zombie Night. And the internet being what it is, led to a woman not a part of our church hearing about that night. She sent a letter to the church expressing her grave concern that we were exposing our youth to such a wicked concept as zombies.

Of course, it would be difficult to have any contact with contemporary culture without exposure to zombies. The novel Pride and Prejudice and Zombies spent many weeks on the New York Times Bestseller List. The Walking Dead is one of the rare cable programs that beats the networks in its time slot in the ratings. One of the prominent movie trailers during the Super Bowl this year was for the Brad Pitt epic World War Z”. Even the Emergency Broadcast System recently got into the trend recently when hackers managed to broadcast a bogus warning of a zombie attack in Great Falls, Montana.

Of course, one can try to escape the culture all together. But I don’t think that’s an option Jesus left for us when He told us to go into all the world and make disciples.

Besides, I think zombies have many spiritual lessons to teach us. Really. The recent zombie romantic comedy (or zom-com), Warm Bodies (directed and adapted for the screen by Jonathan Levine) is a case in point. Here are three quite Biblical lessons I got out of the film.

1) The Danger of Obliviousness: In the film, our zombie hero (you read that right), R, laments that his zombie culture is self absorbed and unconcerned about the world and other living things. His territory is an old airport where some zombies mindlessly mimic their old jobs (such as a janitor and a wand waving security officer) but most zombies wander aimlessly. The audience is then treated to a flashback to pre-zombie days, when the passers-by, absorbed in their electronic devices or nothing at all, seemed just as mindless as the zombies. A.W. Tozer, in his spiritual devotional, Knowledge of the Holy made a similar point: “Secularism, materialism and the intrusive presence of things have put out the light in our souls and turned us into a generation of zombies.”

2) Controlled by Hunger: R also hates how he cannot help but being driven by his desire for human flesh. (This is a zombie movie after all, and there are disturbing scenes of the undead… um…dining.) Paul put it this way in Ephesians 2:3: “All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our flesh and following its desires and thoughts.”

3) The Dead Come to Life Again: Most zombie movies portray the dead coming “alive” again, or at least walking about. But they’re not really alive. Warm Bodies is a little different, in its basic premise that the dead really come to life again. R is the first to do so when romantic love starts his heart beating again. Awkwardly, he falls in love with one of the living. (The Romeo and Juliet echoes are intentional, including a balcony scene, with zombies and the living taking the place of the Monagues and Capulets.) Then friendship and trust jumpstart the hearts of other zombies. I couldn’t help but think other words of Paul from that same chapter in Ephesians: “As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins…but because of his great love for us, God,…made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in our transgressions.”

We already live in a world of zombies. We need to let God use us to awaken our fellow walking dead with His loving grace.

(Warm Bodies is rated PG-13 for violence, gore and language.)

Tuesday, February 12, 2013


Well, it is the second month of the year, and I haven’t seen any new releases, and nothing came out until last Friday that I had any interest in seeing (“Warm Bodies”.) So I’ve just been catching up on 2012. But there will be things coming out that I’m excited about, even more than the Valentine “Die Hard”. So here’s the Top Ten of Films I’m looking forward to in 2013:

10) “Much Ado About Nothing” – Sure, I liked Kenneth Branagh’s version, but this is directed by Joss Whedon. And I simply see all things Whedon. Bonus: No Keanu Reeves in this one.

9) “Iron Man 3” – Yeah, the second one was no great shakes, but this one was written by Shane Black (“Lethal Weapon” fame) so it shouldn’t be dull.

8) “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty” – I really like James Thurber’s original story. The only question is whether this film will give us the “Tropic Thunder” Ben Stiller (excellent), the “Dodgeball” B.S. (okay) or the “Night in the Museum II” variety (yuck.)

7) “Trance” written and directed by Danny Boyle, sounds like his “Shallow Grave” which I’m okay with.

6) “The Grand Budapest Hotel” by Wes Anderson. Anderson was responsible for my favorite movie of last year (“Moonrise Kingdom”), so this should be worth a look.

5) “Ender’s Game” – Could Harrison Ford finally be in a decent film again? If they’re faithful enough to the novel, he could be.

4) “Her” from the bizarre mind of Spike Jones’ a man a little too dependent on his operating system.

3) “Nebraska” – Alexander Payne is back in the Midwest where he made his excellent “About Schmitt” and bonus points for bringing back Bruce Dern.

2) “Star Trek: Into Darkness” – I had great doubts about Abrams’ ST, but he won me over. This time with the modern Sherlock Holmes.

1) “Inside Llewyn David” – Coen Brothers is all I need to know.

Friday, February 8, 2013

A Review of Lynne Olson's "Troublesome Young Men"

Winston Churchill hoped his predecessor as Prime Minister, Neville Chamberlain would be remembered as a man of peace. Didn’t work out. Chamberlain, if he is remembered at all, is remembered as a fool. He is the man who waved a little slip of paper from Adolf Hitler proclaiming “peace in our time” when in fact, bombs would soon be dropping in the heart of London. But during the 1930’s, he was the most powerful man in England. If he had stayed in power as PM, there is little doubt that Hitler would have taken England and completed his work of killing all of the Jews of Europe.

But Chamberlain didn’t remain in power because a small group of men (mostly) within the PM’s own party risked their political fortunes to oust him from power. It was tempting to write a “diverse group of men”, because they did have quite a variety of personalities. But on the other hand, they were mostly white men who came from the same privileged background and went to the same public schools (which would, of course, be called private schools in the U.S.), went to the same colleges and parties and were members of the same parties. A more homogeneous “old (and young) boys network” then we’ve ever had in the United States.

Which made the rebellion of men like Harold Macmillan, Robert Boothby, Leo Amery, Robert Cranborne and Ronald Cartland all the more amazing because they had to go against the core values they had been raised with, “not shaking the boat” and “good form” and “party discipline”.

The book takes what might sound like dry procedure, the parliamentary machinations of overturning an administration and brings out the humor, intrigue and bravery of the men’s actions (rather like what Spielberg did recently telling the story of the 13th Amendment in “Lincoln”.)

The rebels observed two things that Chamberlain seemed unable to grasp. One, that Hitler was an evil man that clearly expressed his desire to dominate Europe and kill Jews, not only in closed meetings but in rather detailed book he published and sold widely in his country. (English publishers bowed to Nazi pressure and left out the most incriminating sections out of the English language version.) Two, that England’s deteriorating military capacity needed serious upgrades in arms, training and recruiting. (Chamberlain didn’t want to spend the money. Because of the economy in the world wide depression and all. But he didn’t really seem too concerned about the poor in England either.)

Chamberlain believed he didn’t need the armed forces and that he overcome Hitler with his winning personality and amazing diplomatic skills. The Tory rebels acknowledged what Fascism was and what England needed. And they knew Winston Churchill was the man who knew these things as well and could bring these truths to the British people. So they fought to bring him to power, putting country before their own careers.

Sadly, many things in the book reminded me of current politics, such as:

1) Arrogant, narcissistic political leaders. Chamberlain at one time said to his cabinet, “You’re all wrong, wrong, wrong, I tell you! I’m the most relaxed and understanding of people! None of you, I insist, must ever say I’m dictatorial again!” It’s not hard to imagine these words coming from the lips of certain people in political power today.

2) Leaders who seem more antagonistic toward political rivals in their own country rather enemies in other countries that, you know, want to kill us all. Chamberlain’s Whip, David Margesson, had an extensive spy network of the Tories that he believed was plotting against the PM. But they didn’t have much of a spy network working at all in Germany.

3) A sycophantic press was afraid to say anything bad about the Nazis, because it might make them mad. The BBC also wouldn’t dare say anything bad about Chamberlain because it might endanger their paychecks. At least they had more tangible reasons for their servile behavior then today’s press has. But it’s often just as sad.

4) The old boys’ network lives on. But it’s just not boys, and they aren’t all white. But they still go to the same schools and the same parties and seem more concerned about being a part of the right crowd than doing what’s right.

So a good story is well told by Olson. And there are lessons to be learned. And as a bonus, we learn that the brightest and best of the rebels, Ronald Cartland was novelist Barbara Cartland’s brother and Churchill’s good friend, Violet Bonham Carter was Helena Bonham Carter’s grandmother. So there’s that.