Sunday, April 30, 2006

Father figure

When I was young, I always had a problem with the metaphor of God as a father figure because my father was not a spiritual figure in my life. He did not reject Christianity outright; he simply remained rather ambivalent to the subject throughout my childhood. But things started to change about six years ago: I left for university, my mother went with a church plant called Living Hope, and I began to sense a change in my dad's attitude toward church. He began to come to church, and then started videotaping the services. He began to make friends in the church and realize that not everyone there were fakes or ultra-conservatives. He began to open up to God. After his dad died just after Christmas of 2002, I began to have a sense that my dad's time of staying away from Christ was coming to an end. And that it did: it was about 15 months ago that I posted about my father's decision to give his life to Christ. Our family has gone through an intense year since then, but tonight my dad finally took the next step and was baptized. He has overcome so much in his lifetime, and for him to finally take that step marks a great accomplishment for him. It is the answer to years of prayer, and I am so proud that I can look up to my dad as a spiritual figure.

Friday, April 28, 2006

The Dude abides

Now this here story I'm about to unfold took place in the early '90s - just about the time of our conflict with Sad'm and the I-raqis. I only mention it because sometimes there's a man... I won't say a hero, 'cause, what's a hero? Sometimes, there's a man. And I'm talkin' about the Dude here - the Dude from Los Angeles. Sometimes, there's a man, well, he's the man for his time and place. He fits right in there. And that's the Dude. The Dude, from Los Angeles. And even if he's a lazy man - and the Dude was most certainly that. Quite possibly the laziest in all of Los Angeles County, which would place him high in the runnin' for laziest worldwide. Sometimes there's a man, sometimes, there's a man. Well, I lost my train of thought here. But... aw, hell. I've done introduced it enough. - The Stranger, The Big Lebowski (1998)

This last part of the opening narration of Joel and Ethan Coen's 1998 film The Big Lebowski [language alert!], a strange dark comedic buddy detective bowling story with some of the most imaginative and memorable characters in recent cinematic memory - especially Jeff Bridges as The Dude, the titular protagonist. I just watched the movie again, and I think I laughed more at it than I ever had before. But I also thought about it more. Lebowski is one of those films that I do not think anyone can ever fully "get." There is so much going on, and so much to think about: gender relations, violence, language adaptation, class relations, art, and creative uses of profanity all come to mind. In fact, Lebowski is already the subject of theses written in a number of disciplines. The biggest observation I had in watching the film this time was the amount of commentary on the idea of "art" and how to evaluate it, seen both in dialogue contained in the film and in narrative methods used in the film (such as the introduction of characters for the sole use of plot explanation). There is so much yet to be written and considered about this film, and therein the irony is found: as much as there is so much yet to get, there is nothing to get. The Coens have weaved so many themes and genres and motifs into the film that you could analyze it forever, but they have also at the same time negated the analysis of those themes by chronicling the story of a Dude who is rather ambivalent to the entire process, save for his rug. The story advances, but nothing changes in the end. The Dude abides, just has he always has, and we as viewers simply saw a portion of his life. There is little resolution in the film, save for the closing narration from the same Stranger, played by cowboy legend Sam Elliot, who sums up the film with the following quotation: "The Dude abides. I don't know about you but I take comfort in that. It's good knowin' he's out there. The Dude. Takin' 'er easy for all us sinners. Shoosh. I sure hope he makes the finals." The Dude abides, regardless of his circumstances or what people write about him; the film is always there, ready to be enjoyed as a film, as a character study, as a genre study, as a springboard for any number of other academic ideas. But no matter what, the Dude abides, and I take comfort in that.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Windows of opportunity

Well, I finally did it: I updated my operating system to Windows XP. It was primarily a matter of having the financial means to do so, and so I have now caught up with 2001. The breaking point was when my computer could not recognize a USB memory stick. But now I can run iTunes and QuickTime 7 (to watch movie trailers) and all that other great stuff that only XP users can do. I have a lot of work ahead of me, though...400+ CDs will take a long time to put on my computer, even with iTunes. But who knows? Maybe by the end of this calendar year I will catch up with 2002 and buy an iPod and a Gamecube. Maybe.

I be-Leaf

It is not easy being a fan of the Toronto Maple Leafs. It's not because they have not made the Stanley Cup Finals since they won in 1967. It's not because they missed the playoffs this year. It is in large part due to the many idiotic moves made by management over the years, but they make some good moves as well. I believe the hardest part of cheering for the Maple Leafs is that everyone else loves to watch you suffer. I have repeatedly encountered people over the last week who have jeered me and asked me how it feels to see the Leafs out of the playoffs. (Vancouver Canucks fans could likely make this same argument.) I understand that because Toronto acts like they are the centre of the hockey universe that fans of other teams feel maligned, but why must they persecute me? I cheer for my team, but I respect the beliefs of others, and only cheer at their pain in certain circumstances (primarily Senators and Canadiens fans). I cheer for the Leafs not because they spend large amounts of money on overpriced free agents, but because I have invested a lot of time and effort into my fandom over the years and because I like many of the players. I will rejoice with fans of the Oilers and Flames if they succeed in the playoffs, but I never get the same courtesy if the Leafs do well, since everyone wants to see the Leafs and their fans suffer. Please just let us be, and let us grieve in peace for now. And I promise that I will not rub it in when we win the Cup.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Small town weddings

I really enjoy small town weddings. It was only a few days ago that I posted my lament at the demise of small town life, and I hope that my experience of this past weekend bucks that trend. The wedding was in Rosetown, which is a community located about 120 kms (approximately one hour's drive) from Saskatoon that has the benefit of being a key stop on the journey from Saskatoon to Calgary. I drove to the town on Friday night because I was emceeing the wedding, and I was immediately taken with the dynamic of the town. Several local families, including the bride's, opened up their homes to out-of-towners, and there was such a sense of camaraderie and community surrounding the entire enterprise. The wedding was a lot of fun, and I think it was mainly because it was in Rosetown. This was the second wedding I have been a part of in a Saskatchewan small town, and I had a great experience with that wedding too: but why should it make a difference? Maybe it is because it is a break from the city, and the freshness of the small town experience is invigorating. I think it is primarily because small towns seem more conducive to building community by nature, but also because you are forced to exist in community. In a city, you can always find something else to do or someone else to visit; in a small town, you're stuck with wedding people. A wedding is not only a time when the bride and groom come together, but it is a time when families and friends come together to make the wedding happen, and small towns are good for that. Besides, it is always neat to see someone's roots, and small towns allow for that too. I doubt I would get married in a small town because my roots are in the city, but if my future fiancee (assuming that someday I will get married) wanted a small town wedding, I would have to think about it.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Leaving Living Hope

'Where are you going, Master?' cried Sam, though at last he understood what was happening. 'To the Havens, Sam,' said Frodo. 'And I can't come.' 'No, Sam. Not yet anyway, not further than the Havens. Though you too were a Ring-bearer, if only for a little while. Your time may come. Do not be too sad, Sam. You cannot be always torn in two. You will have to be one and whole, for many years. You have so much to enjoy and to be, and to do.' 'But, said Sam, and tears started in his eyes,' I thought you were going to enjoy the Shire, too, for years and years, after all you have done.' 'So I thought, too, once. But I have been too deeply hurt, Sam. I tried to save the Shire, and it has been saved, but not for me. It must often be so, Sam, when things are in danger: some one has to give them up, lose them, so that others may keep them.' (Return of the King, 375-376).

This dialogue occurs near the end of Lord of the Rings, when Frodo is getting ready to leave Sam in Middle-Earth and go with the other Ring-bearers to the Grey Havens. It struck me that the entire process through which I have been going regarding my membership at Living Hope Church is very reminiscent of the process Frodo undergoes regarding the Shire. The Shire once was home, and he tries to have it still be home, but with no success; he finally does what he has to do, despite Sam's protests, and leaves his home behind. It took Frodo years to go through that process; it has taken me eighteen months to finalize my leaving. I was officially released from membership in LHC tonight, and it is a decision that has taken a lot of thought, energy, time, and prayer. I made it with some trepidation, as there are a number of questions that to which I do not yet know the answer: What do I want in a church? How do I evaluate if a church is the place for me? What do I do for church while I am searching? In which church will I end up? Where will I end up? Some people need the comfort of home while they undergo these type of transitions; I needed the release to pursue the things I needed to pursue. I have tried to make LHC work for me, and I have simply realized that I am going in a different direction than the church is, and so it is time for me to leave. I have left with as little bitterness and animosity as possible, and I have been blessed by the church as I go. This is the way I wanted to leave, and although it hurts to leave, it would be more counterproductive to stay. I have had a great five years at Living Hope, and I am looking forward to seeing where God takes them in the future, as well as where God takes me. I believe it is appropriate to conclude with the verses from which Living Hope Church takes its name, I Peter 1:3-7. Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade - kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God's power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that your faith - of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire - may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. Amen.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Beautiful Day

I decided today was going to be a good day. I popped the ole U2 Best of 1990-2000 and Cruised to school this morning grooving to "Even Better Than The Real Thing" and "Mysterious Ways." I got to school, wrote my final final, got a 90 on a paper that I got back(!), handed in my last papers of the semester, and got home before noon, having grooved to "Beautiful Day." Then I found out that Pat Quinn has been fired and is no longer coaching the Toronto Maple Leafs! What a great day! There are some good times ahead with friends later in the day, and today is indeed a beautiful day. I won't let it get away.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

The race of life

My roommate is a distance runner; I am not. I tried it when I was younger, but I found that I was not really made for long stretches of energy. I am a sprinter: I have powerful bursts of energy that propel me a short distance, followed by time of recuperation to regain my strength. The problem is that sometimes you have to run several times in succession for different heats before the actual race, and that by the time the race comes you are struggling to find the energy. I am near the end of this race and the finish line is in sight, but I have run a few heats in the last couple of months, and it is taking everything in me to finish this race. But this is the race that has been marked out for me, and I will finish running it with perserverance (cf. Heb. 12:1-2). All I need is one final gasp, and I'm there. [Breathing in deeply...]

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Pandora's barrier

I have blogged recently both on the state of Contemporary Christian Music (CCM), as well as my discovery of Pandora, an online service that purports to find music you will like through comparing it with artists you select, and I have found that there is an interesting link between these thoughts. I have deliberately tried selecting artists from both CCM and from the mainstream, and I have found that Pandora will select artists from either body, but rarely mix them. For example, when I selected the David Crowder Band, Pandora brought up bands such as Audio Adrenaline, Robbie Seay Band, Delirious, Jonah33, Third Day, and Jeremy Camp - all CCM artists. But when I selected Coldplay, there were no CCM artists to be found on the list, although many of those same artists might have been identified as much with Coldplay as with DCB. It seems, then, that Pandora has built in the same filters as the music industry has. It occasionally uses the term "upbeat lyrics" as a descriptor, which would allow it to differentiate "Christian" music from the mainstream. Those filters break down when dealing with material from the rock spectrum, especially Tooth and Nail artists, but that also mirrors the lessening of the barrier between Christian and mainstream at those ends of the musical spectrum. My question is why Pandora chooses to allow itself to be defined by these non-musical conventions. Is it to protect the Christian listener from being exposed to unsavoury lyrics? Or, conversely, to protect non-Christians from having to listen to some of the tripe being produced in the Christian sector of the market? Or is it just because it is easier to obey existing conventions rather than questioning them? For a website that seems to pride itself on exposing people to new music, imposing such an arbitrary barrier seems to be antithetical to the site's purpose, even if that barrier exists in real life. Break down the walls, Pandora; do not continue to reinforce them by obeying them.

Monday, April 17, 2006

16 weeks

I went to see 16 Blocks this weekend, and it was a decent film, aside from the fact that Bruce Willis is still channeling John McClane of Die Hard fame a decade later as Detective Jack Mosely, Mos Def is nasally whining his way through his best Chris Tucker impersonation as Eddie Bunker, and the plot is fairly predictable. Nevertheless, the film made me think in spite of its own obvious attempts to make the viewer think about their lives. The question that is asked repeatedly throughout the film is whether Jack is where he is supposed to be, and why and how he was chosen for this particular mission on this particular day. He comes to believe that it is not simply coincidence that he is there, but he continually wrestles with these questions. He is confronted with the opportunity to make decisions that may change his life and that are different from choices he has made in the past; he can also choose to keep on going in the same direction and keep ruining his life. In one day, he must make choices that will change his life - the question is whether he will do that. My life is not like a movie; I have more than two hours to change the course of my life (and I am not a NYC street cop, either). But I am often confronted with the same opportunities for decisions, just on a larger scale and with a larger timeframe in which to make them. I have begun to make some of those decisions, and those choices are impacting my life right now. In two weeks, I will be leaving for camp and leaving Saskatoon behind for the summer (and likely the fall); I have made that choice, and it is changing my life now. I believe there is a higher purpose and calling that has ordained things to be the way they are, although I have questioned that just like Jack does. He had to get 16 blocks; I have to get through 16 weeks, first of camp, then of internship. Jack didn't know what laid ahead of him when he went to work that morning; I don't know what is ahead of me when I move out in two weeks. But I know I have a higher power that is there, guiding me through it all. Through all of those 16 weeks.

Friday, April 14, 2006

A lament for rural life

My family went out to visit my grandmother in Landis, the small town where my father grew up and where she still lives. I think this is the third time I have been out there since my grandfather died on Boxing Day 2002, but something really struck me today that has not struck me before: the town is dying. I guess I always knew it was a small town and that statistically it was dying, but I had not really seen the signs of death until today: the house next to my grandmother's is uninhabited and dilapidated; there are fewer trees around; and the grass everywhere is a sickly shade of green. I was confronted with memories of the town from when I was a child, visiting my grandparents for a week at a time when the town seemed healthier, and forced to juxtapose those memories with the sights I now saw and live with the jarring reality that even in my short lifetime that I could observe significant decay. Then I took a walk around the house with my dad and listened to him as recounted tales from his childhood: how he broke the neighbour's window with a puck; which families had lived in the neighbourhood (and which of their daughters were cute); where he took his first drag of a cigarette. I was struck with a sadness that I imagine that much of the population of the Prairies is experiencing: their past is fading away, being sold to corporations and lost to death and indifference. There are still some people who are living that life - my grandmother, for example. She has lived in the same house for over forty years, and she continues to be a vital part of the community in Landis. It is just really a shame that the community seems to be doomed. Although I have never lived in a small town, I know that if they die that a part of me - of all of us who have been raised on the Prairies - dies with them. So let's remember and preserve small towns - in our literature, in our culture (Corner Gas!), and in our memories - so that one day, even if small towns are no more, their legacy will remain.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

What's my motivation?

I am still finishing three papers from this semester, all of which are overdue, and which together consist of all the papers I needed to write this semester. I do not have a final for another week, and so I am attempting to use this time to finish off these papers so I can walk out of my last final and be done. I am, however, having difficulty being motivated. It's a big surprise, I know, but it is making it difficult to complete these papers. It is different from before, though: in past semesters, I have had to adjust to new universities or new class formats or new disciplines or new life circumstances. I currently have none of those driving factors, and I have little motivation, either intrinsic or extrinsic. Intrinsically, I feel like I have already learned the concepts about which I will be writing, and so I feel little compulsion to have to express those concepts in a paper; extrinsically, I know that I will pass, and that my professors just want something to mark, and that as long as I hand in something readable that argues a clear point that I will get a decent mark. Furthermore, I am far past the point at which a bad mark on one essay can affect my overall academic standing or my academic development. I have reached the limit of the level at which I have been working (ie. non-honours undergraduate humanities), and so there is little motivation to pursue things further, except to finish things off and get a degree (eventually). I suppose that will have to be enough motivation just to get done.

Monday, April 10, 2006

A possessive case

I have a bad habit: I love spending money. I really enjoy finding deals and purchasing things and bringing home new stuff (even if it's used). The problem, of course, is that there are always too many things to buy, and I have to prioritize what I want most. That happens most often by either availability or desire, although availability will often be the deciding factor. But no matter how much I might buy, there are always more books, movies, CDs, video games, or seasons of television shows to buy. I do not think there's any way that I could ever own all of the items on my wish lists, simply because those lists keep growing as I am exposed to new things. Some people are always hard to buy for because they never "want" anything; they're the people who, when asked directly what they want for a gift, reply by saying "Oh, I don't know, I don't need anything." I simply cannot ever foresee being such a person. Maybe someday I'll start to catch up, but for now it seems like my lists grow far faster than my ability to strike items from those lists. Such is the life of a consumer, I suppose.

Saturday, April 08, 2006

McBurney's point

I did something today I have not done since I was a child: I went to the hospital. I had a sharp pain in my side, and I was (understandably) concerned that it might be an early symptom of appendicitis. (McBurney's point is the place at which pain associated with appendicitis occurs. Go Google.) Well, they took me into observation, I had to put on the gown, and I even accidentally got fed supper (actually not too bad), and just over two hours after I checked in the doctor let me go, as he concluded that even if it is appendicitis, it is way too early to tell or do anything about it. I still do not know what is causing this pain, but I am hoping that my next visit to the hospital will not be within a couple of days. I did, however, get a lot of reading done while I was there, and a free supper, so I'm not complaining. Besides, this experience also made me think about why I chose not to be a doctor; I know that I possess the faculties - observational skills, problem solving, personal interaction - to be a doctor, but I really do not like the atmosphere of hospitals. And, of course, I want to have a life outside of my work. Besides, I could be a "Dr." with only seven or so more years of school after my B.A. and B.Ed. are done. Dr. Turner, here we come!

Friday, April 07, 2006

The language of prayer

I think it would be really interesting to observe the language of prayer (specifically in the evangelical strain of Christianity) in an academic way - to deconstruct and analyze and actually observe what is said in prayer, how prayers are said, and even theorizing as to why prayer is conducted in the manner in which it often is. Of course, such a study may well require me to know more about language and linguistics and sociology, but I'm sure I could work around that deficit. I do think it would be interesting to see the trends in North American evangelical prayer - from the use of the word "just" to the constant repetition of key phrases to the unnatural re-addressing of the recipient of the prayer - and just how far the trends go. Are these conventions actually bred into new generations through constant repetition, or is there some semantic depth to the phrasing that helps accomplish what it purports to do? The initial step is to begin to deconstruct one's own particular prayer habits, in order to identify those idiosyncrasies and subsequently to evaluate their usefulness and validity. As I have begun to do that myself over the past several years, it has changed the way I view prayer and the way I pray, though I certainly have many bad habits yet to break. That was just my thought for the day - I just hope it really just inspired you to just think about the way you just pray. Just.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

IDS: "Satire or Insult?" forum falls flat

The University of Saskatchewan, along with the Sheaf, St. Thomas More, and the Saskatoon Theological Union, held a public forum today to discuss the now infamous "Capitalist Piglet" cartoon published just over a month ago in the Sheaf. While there was some good discussion from the panel - which featured a rabbi, members of the local media, a Sheaf representative, a law professor who is involved with the Saskatchewan Human Rights Commission, and Dr. Nick Russell, a retired professor who has written about ethics and journalism - the discussion focussed on abstractions such as freedom of the press and religious reaction and did not allow for discussion about details pertaining to the incident. It felt, unfortunately, like a step was skipped in the process, since this forum was focussed upon secondhand analysis, and there was little ability to discuss the situation as it exists. It was the kind of reaction that might be expected of the administration, and although it was productive, it lacked credibility with students, as evidenced by the very few students who attended. But the thing that was missing today was not the fault of the Administration; rather, it seems like the Students' Union should have organized an earlier forum between the publishing of the cartoon and last week's AGM featuring people directly involved - such as the cartoonist, the editor who resigned, the production manager of the Sheaf, the news editor who had resigned a week earlier, a leader of a campus student group, and a representative of the Sheaf's Board of Directors. It is possible that in not hosting such a forum that the issue's prominence was quelled, but I also know that there are many students that would have taken advantage of such a forum to inform themselves and contribute in a positive manner to the discourse on the issue. Some might have thought that last week's AGM should have been such a forum, but that meeting's focus was on the management of the Sheaf and not the discussion of the cartoon issue. In the end, today's forum will likely be the final public word on the issue, and it was satisfactory, even if only to show that the administration of the U of S did something and to continue to allow for dialogue, which today's forum certainly seemed to do.

Monday, April 03, 2006

The bands of friendship

My interactions with people over this past weekend have led me to realize that the relation between friends is like the relation between the listener and musical artist. I feel it would be helpful to explore some of the comparison. There are some friendships that are entirely rooted in the past, which consist entirely of reminiscing and wishing for days gone long by, much as there are bands and albums that remain firmly rooted in your past without much transcendence into current reality (eg. DC Talk's Nu Thang). Some friendships are brought to an abrupt halt from varying circumstances, much as some artists' careers are ended at what might be perceived as a premature time (Benjamin Gate, Further Seems Forever). There are friendships from way back when that have been constantly present, though sometimes understated, throughout all of life's ups and downs, often so much so to the point that life cannot be imagined without that friend's influence, much as there are artists that have that same effect. Then again, there are some people - and artists - to whom you are exposed that you feel like you would be alright if you were never exposed to them again. There are some friendships and albums that hit you instantly, while there are some that take a longer time to grow on you; although the latter often seem more meaningful in the long run, the former can have just as much impact both then and later. There are friends - possibly even acquaintances - whom you would like to come to know better, although circumstances may delay such ventures, much as there are always artists that are seemingly ever on the "I'll listen to them someday" list; sometimes, those friends make the transition into the regular rotation, much as those artists can do. There are some friendships that are very good when they are renewed, but are appreciated more when they are left on the shelf for periods of time, just as there are bands that are better left to occasion in order to appreciate them that much more, and the appreciation of whom would be diminished by an increased frequency in listening (eg. The OC Supertones). There are some friendships that are renewed by points of contact, much as happens when an artist releases a new disc, which helps bring back memories of the past as well as growing in new ways. There are some friendships that are little more than a periodical overdose and do not have lasting power, although the intensity in the brevity of development might lead to an alternative thesis, as there are bands that seemed great and whose music did not leave the player until it became tired and the inherent flaws of the disc were fully revealed. And there are some friends that no matter what are dependable and reliable and upon whom you can count for wisdom, advice, inspiration, solace, comfort, challenging, stretching, and support, but with whom the friendship never becomes tedious or stale - they grow as you grow, and they grow with you, and you see things in a different light as you both grow. For that reason, I consider Bono a friend. Those of you with whom I am not familiar, well, I'll put you on the "Friendships to attempt and/or develop" list [Note: No such list exists]. Those of you who fit somehow into this schema, thank you for the role you have played, and rest assured that if I have room and time for weeks' worth of music, I have room and time for friends, both old and new. Especially if you like music.

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