Good Old Fashioned Suffering

I Once Thought I Would Enjoy a Lifetime of Easy Living. How Good it is that I was Wrong.

Since 9/11 it seems that so much of America has been struggling to regain its lost sense of comfort. Economically (and some would say politically) this has become even more difficult. Many wonder: Will we ever regain our ability to buy maximum quantities of stuff?

So what it we don’t? Now is the prime time for us, as a nation, to relearn the values of hard work, perseverance, community, simplicity, and — dare I say? — suffering. The present crisis can either kill us culturally and morally…. or it can make us stronger. We stand at a crossroads.

The message of the cross is this: Jesus died to pay a debt you could never repay… but to receive that gift you, too, must take up your cross and follow him. Faith was never supposed to be easy. We need God’s help. We need each other. We need to accept that in this life there are no quick fixes, but that’s okay because there are fixes in the end. Whether you , in this body, will live to see that end is beside the point.

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Breaking the Silence

It is good to wait to speak until, one hopes, one has something worth saying. It has been a nice wait.

Published in: on June 10, 2009 at 1:42 pm  Leave a Comment  

Noah Bennet vs. Benjamin Linus

“Heroes'” original bad-ass dad takes on the patriarch of “Lost.”

Even in the midst of newlyweddom, mid-semester shennanigans, and the current economic crisis, some things are just worth blogging about. My wife and I could not reach a consensus on Gandalf vs. Dumbledore, but we did make some progress on pitting TV’s two best dads against each other.

Noah Bennet would do anything to protect his daughter. He quit his job as a secret agent when the Company threatened her life. He later reenlisted in order to catch the supervillains who would threaten her. He has no superpowers because he does not need them. All he needs is a gun, a few ninja moves, and Plans A through C. If Bruce Wayne had enough emotional stability to settle down and raise a family, he would dream of being a man like Noah Bennet. In a bind, all Claire-bear really needs to do is shut up and trust her father. (Of course, she usually doesn’t and drama ensues. That’s why it’s TV.)

Benjamin Linus failed to save his daughter, but it was not for lack of trying. Some might call him a manipulative weasel. Maybe. But that’s only half the story. He has been the fearless leader of the native tribe inhabiting the Island. He can bend space and time if need be. He could convince a dozen of aircrash victims to stay on the Island rather than seek rescue. Okay, so he failed to convince the evil special ops forces to release his daughter. His revenge resulted in him slitting a man’s throat and blowing up a boat full of innocent civilians. But he has his own fare share of ninja moves and, beneath the mousy exterior, lies a force to be reckoned with. Did I mention that he killed his own father (and all of dad’s co-workers) in a poison gas attack?

Who would win in a fight? They’ve got a lot in common. Both:
-always have a plan
-ends always justify means
-possess the power of persuasion
-have ninja moves
-fiercely protective of their adoptive daughters

Ben “is a little crazier,” write Mutantreviewers, discussing Heroes vs. Lost. Maybe. But Bennet seems to be cooler under pressure. He’s better with a gun and equally capable at hand-to-hand combat. Ben’s greatest strength is getting other people to do his dirty work. He is a leader, however disreputable. Bennet is more of a loner, who would prefer to work with a trusted partner or alone. Ben relies more on verbal manipulation, but I doubt Bennet would be subject to his wiles. Unless they’re on the Island, my money’s on Bennet. And even if they were…. But, then again, Noah Bennet was the only one my wife could conceive of possibly beating Dumbledore.

Published in: on October 16, 2008 at 11:39 am  Comments (9)  
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And your fantasy is… football?

Reflections on the phenomenon of fantasy football.

It’s that time of year again.  A crisp breeze is in the air after even the balmiest of days.  It’s almost football season, time for the people of America (but especially the men) to celebrate the act of brutal, strategic team ass-kicking.

I appreciate football, but I do not enjoy football.  There are many reasons for this.  Much of it has to do with the fact that, in my rootless youth,  I never had a home team to cheer for and now I am a man without NFL loyalties.  But the bottom line is I’m a man, I’m not afraid of the dark, I eat red meat, and I’m one of the most athletic people I know.  While I have a multitude of ways I’d rather spend my time than watching other people being athletic, I certainly understand those who appreciate a good game, especially in such Olympic times as these.

What I do not understand are the men, many of them my friends, who devote countless hours to the crafting of imaginary teams.  Real players.  Fake teams.  You’re the owner/coach.  This is your opportunity to play God… and this is how you’re going to spend it?  Really???

Batman as Christ-figure?

(Contains Dark Knight spoiler.)

In an earlier post, I reflected on the differences between Batman, Superman, and Spider-man. At that time, I was of the opinion that Superman most vividly reminded me of Jesus and that Spider-man was the strongest of the three because he most clearly embodied the tensions of being human. However, after seeing the Dark Knight, I realize that Batman exemplifies aspects of Christ in ways that Clark Kent never could.

Don’t get me wrong. There are a multitude of ways in which Bruce Wayne is not like Jesus: violence, ruthlessness, willingness to lie, moral ambiguity, and such. But in his chosen calling, in his self-sacrifice, and in his humanity, Batman is much like Christ.

Batman was born as a sort of reverse incarnation. Rather than God becoming man, a man becomes more than a mere mortal by virtue of his choice and the actions that choice necessitates. His commitment to his calling overrides all of his other rights and needs. He became a legend. [That was the point of Batman Begins.] If Batman is the greatest of the superheroes, it is because he is super not by chance but by choice.

Likewise, Batman’s sacrifice of himself which defines him and makes him Christ-like. Beyond sacrificing his own personal safety, comfort, and well-being, Batman in the Dark Knightsacrifices his reputation. By defining himself as legend and nonetheless sacrificing his reputation, Batman has sacrificed his very self. Rather than allow the name of justice to be smudged and the hope for peace to be darkened, Batman took upon himself blame for actions that were not his. He became the ultimate superhero as a scapegoat.

Like Christ, “He was despised and rejected by men…. Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows, yet we considered him stricken by God, smitten by him, and afflicted” (Isaiah 53:3-4).

Simply because Batman has not yet physically sacrificed himself to the point of death does not mean that he wouldn’t… or that he won’t. (Side-note: The Dark Knight provides the perfect set-up for a sequel to capture the essence of The Dark Knight Returns, storytelling genius Frank Miller’s 1986 graphic novel.)

Superman has often carried with him a certain stoicism. Batman, too, could often be accused of the same. However, in Christopher Nolan’s latest contribution to the Batman story, he struggles, cries, and nearly gives up. (There’s a man I can relate to!) But he goes on anyway. (Now there’s a man I can praise!) He will do whatever it takes to save Gotham, whatever the price, whether for criminals or for himself.

So what?

Do all great stories mirror the greatest story? Do we need reminders of who we are and of who we should be? Or is this merely for entertainment’s sake?

Grad School Musical

A beautiful but aimless poet falls for a boring chemistry research assistant with hot career prospects. Their semi-mutual friends stumble and fake their way through various feats of academic prowess. Featuring such hit songs as “There Must be a Way to Read Three Books a Day,” “Can I Date on this Stipend?” and “Don’t Diss my Dissertation!”

Sex vs. Batman

Once upon a time there was a man named Batman. He had lots of money, lots of skills, and kicked some major booty. He fought injustice. He ruled minds of many men, young and old. But one thing he lacked: he did not rule their hearts.

Now sex does not equal love, but when a man and a woman do pledge their love to each other in marriage, sex is a physical expression of that love.

Batman is imaginary. Sex is concrete. Batman is about me. Sex is about us. Batman evokes my inner child. Sex evokes my inner and outer man. Batman is an expression of untamed masculine striving. Sex is an expression of my masculinity meeting my wife’s femininity (as we tame each other?).

I might not see the new movie any time soon and that’s okay. Married life is grand.

House-Husband

Newly-married, my wife and I figuring out how to make our household work. Since I am a full-time student and she is a full-time graphic designer, our typical days look very different.

She wakes at 6:30am and works from 9am-5pm.

I wake at 8am, in time to eat breakfast with her, and do “whatever I want” for much of the rest of the day. There are times when I have a lot that I must do… and there is always a lot that I should be doing.

The bottom line is that she has 40 hours of scheduled work each week and I have 10 scheduled hours with 10-60 very flexible, very variable hours. This means that I am the one who is shopping for groceries, washing the dishes, cooking dinner, and doing the laundry much of the time. We attempt to share these duties whenever possible, but it’s more possible for me than it is for her most of the time.

How has this affected me?

It’s not like I’m a stay-at-home Dad and home stuff is all that I’m doing. That would bring with it its own challenges. We dream of the day when — should we be so blessed as to have children — we will have the flexibility to both spend time at home on alternating days, managing childcare/working from home. We’ll see.

The biggest difference I have noticed is that I goof off less than before. If I’m not doing “housework” (can include “fixing” things), I should be doing “schoolwork,” even if that tangentally includes such interfaith-dialog/prose-style-honing pastimes as blogging. No time for free cell or mid-day movies.

At the end of the day, she comes home and I clock out. That’s the best part. This is far from being thankless work.

Hellboy vs. Spawn vs. Ghostrider vs. Batman

hellboy 2

Includes a review of “Hellboy II: The Golden Army” without blatant spoilers.

There have been other heroes who are caught between heaven and hell. Spawn: “Born in darkness. Sworn to justice.” Ghostrider: “He’s the only one that can walk on both worlds.” Batman, in a less literal sense, is equally torn between the forces of light and of darkness. But they have a way of taking themselves way too seriously, to the point of being silly (Ghostrider), or lame (Spawn – there’s a reason there hasn’t been a sequel). But not Hellboy.

It’s not just that he knows how to crack a good joke. It’s that he integrates action, comedy, and supernatural suspense, while wrestling with his own humanity (or lack-therof). Batman has become super by becoming more than merely human.

Yesterday, I finished reading Frank Miller’s graphic novel “The Dark Knight Returns.” In the introduction, he describes a bar far beneath the streets of Gotham, a place where the old heroes go to tell there stories. They laugh and drink and reminisce. But there is one hero whose name they never mention, the thought of whom makes them all shudder, who in sheer force of will bested them all: Batman. But his glory came at a price: the sacrifice of his humanity.

Hellboy, on the other hand, has become great by becoming human. Sure, he struggles to find acceptance and to embrace humanity. He is a demon. But not in the biblical sense.

He’s a bumbling sort of hero. When faced with seemingly insurmountable odds, his favorite catchphrase: “Oh, crap.” He gets into trouble, makes a big mess, and usually only manages to get out with the help of his friends.

He’s a bad boyfriend/husband type. “I would die for her… but she wants me to do the dishes!”

Yet, somehow, in the midst of such ineptitude, his dedication and wit shine through, and he reminds me of what it means to become a better man.

Don’t get me wrong. Hellboy II is no Schindler’s List. It’s a great movie, but not a deep movie. Fun has always been Hellboy’s strong suit. Nonetheless, there are moments of depth (why has magic faded from the world?) and, paired with Del Toro’s stunning visuals (creatures galore!), this should be the new summer blockbuster to beat.

But I wouldn’t know. I haven’t seen a movie in the theater since April. Then again, I haven’t wanted to. This might be the first movie in the summer so far truly worth seeing.

Netflix/Cable: Do you own them? Or do they own you?

Two of our grandest pre-marital achievements have been the establishment of a Netflix account and the harassing of our apartment management to set up the cable service that is automatically included in our rent. (We’ve been paying for it for over six weeks now and we want to see some results, dang it!) The effects have been as follows.

Netflix: We giddily rush through movies and t.v. shows, watching for entertainment but also for the sake of speed. As much as I might want to watch the Godfather (which I own), we’d better watch
Love Actually so that we can get the next disc of Lost! I find myself drawn into an entertainment rat race. We watch so that we can experience adventure… or do we watch so that we can watch more without asking why?

Cable: I turn it on, flip through all 80 channels with amazing reception and turn it off. I’d rather watch Netflix. I guess it’s worth having for those 5/min/day. I might watch a whole (5 min x 7 days x 4 weeks) = 2.5 hours each month, so is it worth it? It was automatic… but it’s still sort of mind numbing and lame. (I know I won’t still be saying that in two months when fresh episodes of the Office are back on… oh wait, didn’t need cable for that.)

Which leaves me with the lingering question: Why do we watch anything? Or is it like popcorn at the movies: you eat it because it’s there?

Published in: on July 10, 2008 at 5:51 pm  Leave a Comment  
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