12.15.2017

To the Trump Supporters Who Raised Me

Intentionally or not, you inspired me to doubt everything - a taboo activity in the church we once shared. I became a skeptic. I took everything you gave me and ripped it to shreds, piecing it back together like some sort of art project, a collage where I kept those tenets that rang true and abandoned anything that conflicted with scripture. There is a word for this: deconstruction.

In cuisine, a deconstructed meal is one were the ingredients of a dish are cooked and served separately or in a non-traditional manner so that it is something wholly different. Like a deconstructed pizza might have meat and veggies wrapped in dough and baked with melted cheese on the outer crust then served with a marinara dipping sauce: the parts are all there, yet it doesn’t look like a normal pizza.

Religious deconstruction is much the same. Pull it apart and reassemble into something new and different. For some people, their doubts are too great and they become an atheist or agnostic. For others, they find a faith renewed stronger, deeper, and more vibrant than anything they experienced in their evangelical or fundamentalist past. Some of you would think of the former as an apostate and the latter a heretic. It is with these heretics I stand, those who tugged at all the loose threads, watched their world come undone, then stitched it back together into a rebuilt faith.

After I reconstructed my religious faith, I thought we were still on the same team in those things that mattered. Sure, we may disagree on proper attire for Sunday morning church services. Our beliefs about science and evolution might not align. We may have opposing political stances. And our opinions about addiction and mental health will vary. Yet we agree on the important tenets. We believe in the same God, the same incarnation, the same sacrifice in crucifixion, the same call to love our neighbors as we love our selves. When we talk about Jesus, we speak about the same Savior, the same divine come to earth to be a servant King.

I embraced an ecumenical approach to church. That you and I could take liberty in those differences that are inconsequential, yet stand in unity in issues essential to the Christian faith. When it came to the most important aspects of doctrine, we agreed.

Or at least we thought we did.

The last couple of years have forced me to question what we believe all over again. I watched your exuberant support of Donald Trump and wondered how we got here.

image courtesy of The Atlantic

Before I continue, I should clarify. My concern is not with those of you who simply voted for Trump and regret it. Or those who don’t like the man but voted for him as the lesser evil. Or those disappointed in his behavior and actions and hope he can do better.

My objection is with those who continue to support the president, even after this first year he’s been in office. You are the people who cause me to question again if this thing we call Christianity is worth the devotion you profess. When I see you describe Donald Trump as the hallmark of a Christian man, I am left with one of two possible conclusions. Either you don’t really believe all those things you raised me to believe, or what you believe is full of shit.

When I was younger, you taught me that marriage was sacred and divorce was to be avoided. To protect marriages, you insisted on fidelity. Now you voted for and continue to applaud a man that has been divorced twice, has had multiple affairs, and is now in his third marriage.

When I was younger, you taught me to always respect women. Now you support a man who frequently degrades ladies based on their appearance or biology, has bragged about sexually assaulting women, and has been accused by multiple persons of harassment, assault, and predatory behavior. You led me to believe in gender equality because both male and female were created in God’s image. Now, the president you laud slut-shames or insults any woman who challenges him.

When I was younger, you taught me to value honesty. Now, the president you celebrate is a serial liar. All politicians lie, yet Trump has turned dishonesty into an art form, routinely making demonstrably false statements and he constantly attempts to discredit any negative press about him as “fake news” regardless of the accuracy of the reports.

When I was younger, you taught me that pride and greed were to be avoided as the worst of all sins. Now, you elected and gleefully support a man who is blatantly arrogant, vain, and prideful. His greed is limitless. His life is built upon the quest for more fame, glory, power, and wealth.

When I was younger, you taught me to be kind. Now, this person you think is the greatest president ever gives all of his opponents crude nicknames. He teases people for their weight and height. He mocks the disabled. He vilifies the gay community, refugees, Latinos, African Americans, women, the poor, and anyone else he can use as a scapegoat.

When I was younger, you taught me scripture that said anyone who does not love does not know God. It also says perfect love drives out fear. Now, you follow a political figure who frequently preaches fear. He wants his supporters to be afraid of the other. He preys on every opportunity to scare you with invented threats of Muslims plotting to kill you or immigrants coming to take your jobs.

I don’t care if you voted for Trump. I am baffled by how you continue to honor and prop up a man who contradicts everything about how you taught me to live. I cannot understand how you praise someone who is antithetical to all of the morals and values you spent two decades teaching me to uphold. If you are so willing to abandon these basic Christian values of love, goodness, and decency, what worth did they ever have? What other beliefs currently maintained will you quickly dispose of tomorrow, or next year, or twenty years from now?

I love God, and I follow Jesus. Your fair-weather religion cannot rob me of my faith. At the same time, what you call Christianity is unrecognizable to me. Your evangelical creed has traded Gospel for politic; you’ve traded grace for power. If this is what you call Christianity, I want nothing of it.

12.14.2017

To the Evangelicals Who Raised Me

To the various pastors, Sunday School teachers, youth leaders, family friends, and other well meaning adults who helped my parents raise me. Thank you for your efforts. My folks are amazing people and I know they could not have handled me all on their own. Allow me to congratulate you on mission accomplished. You successfully ushered me into adulthood where I became a law-abiding, tax-paying, contributing member of society. I know it was not easy.

image courtesy of Huffington Post

I was a quirky and precocious child. I knew all the Bible stories you would never teach to children. Like how Lot's daughters got him drunk so they could have sex with him. Or how the prophet Elisha summoned bears to maul a group of obnoxious teenagers. Or the time a youth fell from a second story window after dozing off during one of Paul's all-nighter sermons. I was the kid in church asking you why I wasn't allowed to dance when King David once danced naked, and why we weren't allowed to drink alcohol when Jesus and his disciples frequently consumed wine.

Those questions I asked were the first starts at pulling threads to see what would unravel. Those were my attempts to peek behind the curtain and see how the wizard worked.

The older I got, the more I queried. In the environment you maintained, asking questions was a dangerous activity. My inquisitiveness was often discouraged, mocked, or ignored. Yet I kept poking and prodding and trying to figure it out for myself.

What I discovered is that a lot of what you taught me did not make sense. In fact, much of it was unbiblical.

You taught me smoking, drinking alcohol, dancing, using profanity, and watching movies in a movie theater were all sinful activities. You made me think that my soul could be condemned to hell for dropping a single f-bomb, stepping foot inside the local cinema, or holding a single Marlboro between my lips. Your biggest message was how doubt was the gravest of sins, and possibly one which was unforgivable.

You prohibited one non-sinful thing under the assumption it would lead to something biblically sinful. Forget the verses about freedom in Christ or liberty for believers or personal convictions. You created strict (and sometimes absurd) rules not grounded in scripture to prevent what the Bible does describe as wrong. For example, you prohibited any imbibing because the Bible tells us to avoid drunkenness. What we have here is legalism.

When I reached the age where several of my peers were abandoning the Christian faith, I rebelled against legalistic dogma. I still believed. I still attended church. I also questioned everything. In the end, I realized a lot of what you taught me was crap.

Now, as a grown adult with kids of my own, my tenets of faith are much different than what you tried to pass on. My theology is probably a bit more liberal than you would prefer.

I still don’t smoke, for health reasons - not because of religious objections. I rarely drink, although I do love a good mojito. I dance like a fool, but only when no one is watching. It no longer bothers me when I hear other people cussing because I do not believe in a God that is scared by our vulgar language. I go to the theater as often as my budget allows. And I still have a bevy of doubts. There might be a few of you who think I'm hell-bound based on this paragraph alone.

I picked apart the Christian faith to determine how much of what you said when I was a kid held up under the weight of scripture. In the end, I got rid of a lot of baggage. Hopefully what remained were the parts that matter.

That God designed us to have an intimate relationship with the divine.
How God's love for us is the most powerful force imaginable.
That Jesus came as God in the form of a man to disrupt the corrupt patterns of human folly.
How Jesus set an example for how we should live.
That people have no greater way to love than to sacrifice their own lives for others.
That God's plan is to restore this world and fix the broken bits of our lives.

I still believe in sin. I believe that child abuse and sexual assault are sins. I believe intentionally deceiving others is a sin. I believe anything that brings harm to the weak, the poor, the powerless, minorities, children, the elderly, and the disabled is a sin. I believe it is a sin when our words and actions do not demonstrate love for God or love for our neighbors. I believe that racism, misogyny, and other forms of bigotry are sins. I believe these sins separate us from God. I also believe that God is eager to forgive and God’s grace is bigger than any of us can imagine.

Smoking and swearing and movie theaters and slow dancing and wearing jeans to church on Sunday mornings have nothing to do with creation, incarnation, crucifixion, resurrection, or salvation. Following petty rules about what should or should not be done will not change how much God loves us. Arguments over daily sanctification or eternal security are meaningless when we should be caring for orphans, widows, and refugees.

The person I am today is alien to the kid you taught and guided and mentored all those years ago. That kid might even think of me as a heathen. Regardless, I must thank you. You raised me to be a (hopefully) decent human being. I would not be who I am without your influence. For the good and bad and ugly, you were the catalyst for my wandering, rebellion, and renewal.

But there's more.

12.05.2017

Censored for AdSense

Toward the beginning of the year, I started including advertising on this blog in hopes to earn a little extra income. My autocorrect changed the word “earn” to “eat” in that last sentence, so before proofreading, it had me hoping to eat a little extra income. That statement is probably truer than I’d care to admit. My son is hoping I become a full time writer someday so that I can spend more time with him, and adding advertising was the first step in that direction. Thankfully, Google’s AdSense made it easy to implement and maintain. Before I forget, this is also a shameless plug asking you to click on an ad or two while you’re here. It’s appreciated.

Now imagine my surprise when I received a harshly worded email from Google threatening to suspend my AdSense account for violating the terms of our agreement. “This is a warning message to alert you that there is action required to bring your AdSense account into compliance with our AdSense program policies.”

According to the email, I published something offensive. What could it be? Is it because I used the F-word multiple times when writing about Chester Bennington’s suicide? I get how people might not approve of my intentional use of profanity, but is that enough to catch Google’s attention? Nope. According to my warning notice, I published something “sexually suggestive or intended to sexually arouse.”

Wait, what?

That was also my response. Because I would never share something pornographic. I have a strong distaste for pornography, although not for religious reasons. I have ethical/moral objections to the industry because of how thrives under the evils human trafficking and child abuse. I also know a bit about how on-screen talent is paid, how it is structured to be demeaning to the women involved, and how so many are trapped there due to drug addiction, disease, misogyny, and systematic economic prejudices. I don’t want that kind of filth on my blog. Not to mention how it doesn’t remotely fit the theme of fatherhood, faith, and geekery.

Yet, for some reason I can’t explain, Google believes I posted something that was pornographic or sexually gratifying. They provided a link as an example demonstrating where I violated the policy. I followed it and it led to a post I wrote in June about the Sermon on the Mount where Jesus is talking about how we should react to those who mistreat us.

A blog post about Jesus supposedly violated Google’s anti-porn policy.

Is it because I mentioned streaking, strip clubs, or nudist resorts? Or because it included the biblical story of King David dancing while practically naked? Or because I described ancient culture’s aversion to nudity? Nope. It was because of the picture. A man walking through a crosswalk wearing only a pair of sneakers.

To be clear, there was nothing sexually suggestive about the image, nor was it intended to sexually arouse. The photo was taken from behind and from a distance. In efforts to be extra careful, the posterior was pixilated to avoid the exposure of anything offensive. Yet for reasons beyond my comprehension, the image was deemed inappropriate.

There are two bits of irony we have here. First, the post was published in the middle of June. It sat for five months before Google sent me notification requiring action. Which means someone complained. Which means that someone probably wasn’t offended by the picture, rather they were offended by what I wrote. The second instance of irony is the nature of AdSense’s ads compared to the image I used. I’ve seen ads from AdSense that were far more sexually suggestive than the picture in my post. Which means I had to edit my non-sexually suggestive photo to continue using advertising that might actually be sexually suggestive.

Hmmmmm.

Regardless, I have great respect for Google’s policy against pornography. I oppose the porn industry so I have no objections to revising my content to comply with Google and AdSense, even while their methods are a tad hypocritical.

If King David was willing to become even more undignified to be held in honor, then I’ll be willing to censor myself to achieve the same goal. Because the picture doesn’t matter. It’s the message that counts.

11.20.2017

It’s a Choice

The conversation was overheard. A young woman complaining about her life. Her personal life, her professional life. Nothing was turning out the way she had hoped.

To some extent, we can all empathize a little. There is not a single person I know whose life has followed the precise plan they laid out for themselves when they were younger. If everyone’s life turned out exactly the way we dreamed, we would have a lot more movie stars and professional athletes in this world. If my life had taken the path I planned in high school, I would now be a wealthy architect living in a mansion of my own design. Obviously, that did not happen.

I found myself listening to this individual lay out her life’s grievances to an older lady when the solution to her problems hit me. I felt as it lit up above my head like a light bulb in a cartoon.

She groaned comparing her life to others, “I talk to these people who work there and they love their job. I wish I loved my job.”

Before I had the chance to stop myself, I blurted, “Then do it.”

Hopefully, she didn’t hear me. Or if she did, maybe she did not realize I was talking to her. Either way, the answer to her desire was so painfully obvious to me, I could not resist vocalizing it. If you want to love your job, then love your job.

Love is a funny thing. We often think of it in two senses - something we feel and something we do. It’s more than that though. Love is also something we chose. If you want to love something then you must make the choice to love it.

Let’s look at it from another perspective. I do not love playing basketball. I am short, uncoordinated, and have bad aim from the free throw line. When I do play, I get sweaty and my back hurts and I would rather be playing NBA Jam on the X-Box. I do not love basketball but I wish I could dunk. Spud Webb is only an inch taller than me and he could do it. I can’t even touch the rim. Dream all I want but I will never be able to make a slam dunk without assistance. Even if I chose to do it, it will never happen. But I could love basketball if I chose to do so. I do not have to be able to play the game to love the sport, I would only have to decide to love it, then do it.

This is why the girl’s dilemma wishing she loved her job seemed to me like it had an easy solution. If you want to love your job then choose to love your job. That is a choice only you can make. If you do not choose to love your job, you are going to end up an unhappy employee - perpetually disgruntled.


But, but, but ... I can hear your objections. I provide an easy answer. In theory, it makes sense. However, we live in the real world and simple answers are not always easily enacted. Some jobs suck. Some are miserable mindless tasks. Some supervisors are cruel micromanagers. How can you possibly choose to love something like that? How can you just love something you do not like?

I cannot tell you how, all I know is that it’s possible. There are people who I love dearly and can’t stand to be in their company. I don’t like to exercise yet I love how it makes me feel. I love eating salad even though I hate the way it tastes.

And I love my job. I do not always enjoy my job but I still love it. I love it because I am good at it and my unique set of skills seems perfectly suited for it. Because there are a couple hundred people depend on me and I have a boss who trusts me. Because it pays the bills and puts food on my table. Because it allows me to support my children financially and emotionally. Because it gives me the freedom to leave work when I have a sick kid or meetings with a teacher.

Most of all, I love my job because a long time ago, that is what I chose to do.

Do you wish you loved your job? Then do it. It’s a choice.

11.17.2017

An Odd Boycott

This whole Keurig thing is weird. First, some background in case you haven't been able to keep up with the relentless news cycle.

It started when Roy Moore, a former Alabama judge who has been twice removed from judicial office for ethics violations and ignoring court orders, was accused of inappropriate sexual contact with a minor when he was in his thirties. In other words, he allegedly sexually assaulted a fourteen year old girl.

Next came the defenders. Those engaged with the "if it's true" argument, or the flat denials that a good "Christian" man like Moore would ever do something like that and the accusers are all liars. There were those who proposed the claims are a conspiracy theory concocted by the "fake news" media determined to destroy the Trump presidency. We also had many conservative pundits engaged in whataboutism, trying to distract from the multiple accusations against Roy Moor by saying "Yeah, well what about this other person who also did bad things," as if we can't talk about Moore's sexual misdeeds because of Bill Clinton's predatory behavior.

To a degree, those defenses are to be expected. What is unusual is the lengths many of Moore's supporters have gone to justify the accusations as inconsequential. These excuses were varied and bizarre. Some said it was normal for grown men to date teenagers back in the 70's. Or that it was OK because Mary, mother of Jesus was only a teenager when she married Joseph. Or the claim that child molestation is similar to stealing a lawn mower and shouldn't disqualify someone if it happened forty years ago. My favorite is that it doesn’t matter what Moore did because the Democrats are worse. Even Moore's own defense is that he doesn't remember but he didn't date any minors without their mom's permission.

Of those pundits who supported and defended Roy Moore was FOX News personality, Sean Hannity. Hannity supports Moore and invited the mired candidate onto the show to defend himself. Hannity even tried to discredit the accusers and paint Roy Moore as a victim. In response, Hannity lost a few advertising sponsors. Some brands place morals over money and do not wish to be associated with a source of revenue that appears to be supportive of an alleged pedophile.

Keurig was one of the brands to quit advertising on Hannity's show. This angered Hannity's fans who furiously typed their Twitter rants, elevating "#boycottkeurig" to a trending topic. Which brings me back to where we started. This whole Keurig thing is weird.

The Hannifans who protested Keurig did so by smashing their Keurig machines. Their own Keurig machines. Machines already bought and paid for.

Like this.
Image courtesy of Business Insider.

This last week, through the protests and news articles, in social media and on late night talk shows, I’ve learned a few things.

1. Some people value pedophilia more than coffee. These people are objecting to a company taking a moral stand against someone accused of sexually assaulting teenagers. They would rather vote for a man who (allegedly) hurt kids, than have a functioning coffee maker in their home. They support the creeper more than the percolator.

2. Some people don’t know how to protest. I can guarantee Keurig will not be financially harmed people by breaking stuff they already purchased. The company already made their money. When this controversy passes, after people forget why they were all butt hurt and start craving single serving freshly brewed java, they’re going to go out and buy themselves a new Keurig.

3. We as a nation still can’t talk about the things we really need to talk about. We live in a culture where male dominated behavior has normalized abuse. We need to change that. We need to quit using the “boys will be boys” and “locker room talk” as excuses. We need to raise our boys to be better men. We need to listen to the women in our lives, treat them as equals, and respect their boundaries. We need to hear the stories of those saying “Me too.” As long as we don’t talk about this, this will continue to plague our world.

We need to draw a line in the sand clear enough to be seen from Mars. Unwanted sexual advances are not acceptable. Forced sexual contact is wrong. Anyone in the public sphere facing accusations of harassment, assault, or rape should either admit their wrongs or prove their innocence. And simple denial is not evidence, especially in the wake of multiple accusers and corroborating witnesses. If guilty, these public figures should step away from the public eye and face the repercussions of their actions.

I don’t care who you are, what political party you belong to, if you’re an actor or comedian, a politician or journalist. You have no quarter with me. Because I don’t want to live in a world where you can do it because you’re a star.

11.07.2017

Stranger Me Too

She was my first middle school crush. I saw her for the first time on the first day of sixth grade as I was walking out of the cafeteria. She was opening her locker on the far side of the courtyard and I was hooked. It didn't take long to discover a few facts about her. Everyone knew something; she was the most popular girl in school.

I was like Preston in Can't Hardly Wait, pining for Amanda - the prom queen who doesn't even know he exists. Unlike the plucky Ethan Embry character, us geeky guys don't usually get the girl. Real life is more like Pretty in Pink where the cute girl chooses the rich and athletic dude over the lovable nerd. I was Duckie. If adolescence has a lesson to teach, it is how boys like me don't stand a chance with girls like her.

So, I did the most logical thing any socially awkward sixth grader would do, which of course is completely illogical. I went out the girl's locker partner instead. I never dated the girl. We only shared one conversation, forced by a teacher as a part of a class project. Today, I'm certain that she has no recollection of me lingering in her memories of growing up. Twenty years passed since graduation day and I doubt she would recognize me if we passed each other on the street.

This history of mine is what moved me so deeply in the final episode of Stranger Things 2. The kids all gathered in the Hawkins Middle School gymnasium for the winter dance. One by one, the core team of boys went their separate ways in pursuit of romance. The writing and direction transported me 25 years back in time to when I was the same age as the boys in Stranger Things, remembering my scrawny awkwardness, and they placed me in the shoes of Gaten Matarazzo's portrayal of Dustin Henderson.

image courtesy of Netflix

As Dustin searched for a girl willing to dance with him, I remembered all those painful memories of being a weird outcast struggling to figure out where I belonged. The first group of girls ignored him, then laughed at him. The second group sneered and walked away as soon as they saw him coming. All of the heartbreak and despair on that young actor’s face was so familiar to the younger version of me.

I remembered the times my female classmates laughed at me and avoided me. I remembered every word whispered behind my back as if I couldn't hear them. I remember being the only kid not invited to the parties. I never felt like I deserved a girl's attention or that they owed me anything. Instead, I spent most of my formative years wondering what was wrong with me. As a dejected Dustin sat on the sidelines, I suddenly identified with this character. I sat there and thought, "holy crap, he is me."

Gracefully, Stranger Things 2 doesn’t end with the rejected Dustin, moping, alone, and in tears. Rather than ending the night humiliated, an older girl stepped in and offered hope. In the TV show, Dustin’s friend Mike had an older sister. She was serving punch as a chaperone when she observed the girls rejecting Dustin. She saw his sadness and offered some compassion. She walked over to where Dustin sat and asked him to dance. After encouraging him to step in a little closer, she gave him the best pep talk a girl could ever give a boy: that he is her favorite.

My life was also given a breath of hope from an older girl. In sixth grade, I became infatuated with a girl who didn’t know I existed. I was a geek at the bottom of our school’s social totem pole and she lived in the upper echelon where only the cool kids thrived. She was an unrequited crush through most of our junior high years and into high school. I learned a lot about her, but there was one fact I didn’t know until later: she was the younger sister.

We both had older siblings. They graduated together five years ahead of us. Not only were they classmates, they were also friends. In my awkward years of not fitting in with kids my own age, I often found myself hanging out with my brother and his crew.

In the summer before my senior year, I joined my brother, the girl’s older sister, and a few other mutual friends at a carnival. I was the youngest in the group, the only one still in high school; most everyone else was 20 or 21. It was such an enjoyable night and for one of those rare moments of my teenaged life, I didn’t feel judged by anyone.

During that night, I made a few discoveries about the older sister. She was cuter. But more than that, she was also kinder. She didn’t act as pretentious. And she talked to me – not because she had to but because she wanted to. Much like Mike’s older sister with Dustin, this older sister treated me with dignity. She saw me as a human being.

I’ve always been grateful to my older brother for allowing me to join in many of his adventures. More than that, I am thankful for his choice in friends, how they never treated me like an obligatory tag along. I am in their debt for accepting me as a friend and equal. Thanks to the older sister, when my last year of high school started, I walked onto campus for the first time not giving a damn what the girl thought of me. Her opinion no longer mattered.

Here's to all the Dustin Hendersons of the world. Hang in there. Someone, somewhere will tell us that we are their favorite. Believe me, it’s worth the wait.

11.04.2017

Other than Papa John's

Once upon a time, I was a big fan of Papa John's. Then they closed all of their Inland Northwest locations. I was disappointed because I craved their garlic butter dipping sauce set inside each box of pizza. Confession: when we ordered dinner from Papa John's, I snagged the garlic butter cup before anyone else could get to it and refused to share.

They were gone though. And I moved on. There are plenty of other pizza restaurants in Coeur d'Alene. Seriously. We have more pizza joints than coffee shops. Still, the loss was reinforced during football season as Papa John's ads played during the commercial break of every Seahawks game, just rubbing garlic butter in the wound. Taunting me with the thing I cannot have.

Imagine my joy when they returned. A new store opened in Hayden. They're back. Then I had some. Unfortunately, the only item in my order that had any appeasing flavor was the garlic butter dipping sauce. The rest of it tasted like a junior high home economics experiment cooked by a bunch of football players forced to take the class against their will. So much for better ingredients.

This last week, John Schnatter, the founder and CEO of Papa John's, made a bold statement about his struggling business, feeble sales, and plummeting stock prices. He blamed the NFL. On a conference call with investors, Schnatter said, "Leadership starts at the top, and this is an example of poor leadership. The NFL has hurt Papa John's shareholders."

The NFL is not the cause of Papa John's decline. In the same period of time Papa John's profits have been sinking, Dominoes and Pizza Hut have both seen increase in sales and stock prices. When I meet friends for pizza, more often than not, we go to the Hut. So what is really hurting Papa John's?

I'll agree with Schnatter, leadership does start at the top, which is why his blame is misplaced. Whatever happened to personal responsibility? Perhaps Schnatter's leadership is to blame for Papa John's slump. Perhaps Papa John's dire financial situation is the fault of Papa's business practices. I won't be eating their food any more.

I love pizza, perhaps a bit too much. When there's a craving, well ... There are plenty of other pizza restaurants in Coeur d'Alene.

In a world where every other pizza chain is cheaper and tastes better than Papa John's, I'm not worried about a lack of pizza options. In fact, there are easily a dozen other options in my home town that I prefer above Papa John's. Here are five.

1. MOD Pizza: MOD is like the Subway of pizzerias. Only, better than Subway. Pick your size, sauce, toppings, and they throw it in a wood fire oven to cook while you get your drinks. It's quick, affordable, and delicious. This is my favorite place to get pizza in Cd'A.

2. Tomato Street: Sure, they do more than pizza, but when it comes to pizzas and calzones, Tomato Street gives you the most bang for your buck. Average prices with abundantly generous serving sizes. Leftovers will be likely. And you can color on their tablecloths.

3. Fire Artisan Pizza: This and the neighboring restaurant, Crafted, are two of the trendiest (and most hipster) spots in town, and their prices reflect it. Fire's pizzas are more expensive than Papa John's but their flavor is far superior. They make pizzas you won't find anywhere else. My favorite is the Camino - chicken, bacon, and red onions on chipotle BBQ sauce with fresh cilantro and habenero sea salt. Simply divine.

4. Northwest Pizza Company: Locally owned with prices similar to Papa John's, NW Pizza has great variety, superb ingredients, and a friendly staff. They also have an old school pizza diner feel that reminds me of eating at Godfathers or Alfy's as a kid.

5. Little Caesars: Let's be honest. This is not good pizza, this is cheap pizza. This is pizza on a budget. It's hot, fresh, and ready when you show up and you don't need to call ahead. Their flavor is similar to Papa John's but for one third the price. However, their crazy bread deserves some bragging rights. I'd take their bread sticks any day over most other pizza chains. Despite having pizza crusts that taste like cardboard, Little Caesars can't be beat when you're in a hurry or short on funds.

It doesn't end there. The list of places I'd rather get a pizza from before I spend any money on Papa John's is a long one. Papa Murphy's, Capone's Pub and Grill, Bullman's Wood Fired Pizza, Olive Garden. Heck, I'd take MacKenzie River Pizza and I haven't eaten there since my 30th birthday. Even frozen pizza from the grocery store is preferable above Papa John's.

Now I'm hungry. Who's up for pizza?

10.30.2017

Family Movie Night: Halloween Edition

Every Friday night through the month of October, my kids and I have been watching scary (ish) family movies. The Addams Family. Coraline. The Nightmare Before Christmas. Little Monsters. If you follow me on Twitter, you’ve seen me live-tweeting along with the movies. Observations. Commentary. Memories. For those of you who do not follow me there, here is what you’ve missed.

The Addams Family
• 'Tis the season for family appropriate scary movies. Introducing the kids to The Addams Family.
• I forgot how brilliant Raúl Juliá was in acting. He owns every line.
• "Dirty pool, old man. I like it."
• Reason to worry about Gomez: he coughs up blood, but not like he used to.
• Antennas in a lightning storm. I laugh, my daughter rolls her eyes.
• My brother used to look like Fester Addams. Pretty sure Aaron even dressed up as Uncle Fester for Halloween one year.
• So many details I missed when I was younger. Like Granny reading from Gray's Anatomy & The Joy of Cooking for her recipes.
• "You dance in the graveyard." What a wonderful way of saying you live a blessed life.
• Time to dance the Mamushka!
• "That's the spirit, Thing. Lend a hand." Brilliant. Thing ... a hand ... Ha!
• Are your Girl Scouts cookies made from real Girl Scouts?
• The motel has "kitchins."
• I wish someone with programming skills could make a version of Frogger featuring Thing running through Traffic.
• "Wake the dead!" You have to dig.
• Movie night is over. Kids are all in bed. But 2 of 3 were asleep before the closing credits. Not sure how they slept through my laughter.

Coraline
• Halloween movies with the kids begins now. This week, it's Coraline.
• The opening credits of Coraline can only be described with one word: melancholy.
• "I don't have time for you right now." Crappy parenting 101.
• "I'm glad you're not like the parents in Coraline." Stuff my daughter says.
• Mr Bobinsky. I'd be willing to be he had a secret meeting with Jared Kushner or Trump Jr. to discuss adoption.
• I don't trust this cat. Because cats.
• "Soon, you'll see things our way." Other mother
"Because that's not creepy." My oldest son
• The feral cat in Coraline is such a cat. The cattiest cat that ever catted.
• The moral of Coraline: sure, your parents might be horrible but at least they're not hideous monsters.
• Christian is talking to the movie. Asked Coraline "Why aren't you running?"
• The other moral of Coraline: it's OK to be a selfish little brat.
• Christian's overall impression of Coraline & Family movie night - "Thaaaaat was creepy."

The Nightmare Before Christmas
• Is it a Halloween movie, Christmas movie, or both?
• This is our third year watching Nightmare Before Christmas together. By this point, it’s a family song-a-long.
• Favorite Nightmare Before Christmas characters ...
Christian: Jack
Zu: Zero
JJ: The Mayor
You: ?
• Have you ever woken in a strange forest and find a circle of trees that served as portals to different holiday themed realms? Me Neither
• If you don’t sing along with ‘What’s This,’ it’s possible you have a heart of stone.
• “Did anyone think to dredge the lake?” Every day.
• “They don’t understand the special kind of feeling in Christmas Land.” Either you get it or you don’t.
• Spider snowflakes. Teddy bear autopsy. These are the kind of experiments I can get behind.
• If this formula doesn’t make your nerd heart swoon, do you even geek?
• ‘Kidnap the Sandy Claws’ might be the most delightful yet sadistic song ever.
• Oogie Boogie isn’t scary. He’s annoying like your obnoxious neighbor who likes to BBQ naked in his backyard. And you don’t have a fence.
• Zero = Rudolph. Because of course.
• Jack & Sally. A better love story than Twilight.
• Military fires, Jack thinks they’re celebrating him. I’m starting to think Jack is a sociopathic narcissist.
• Jack lands in a cemetery after being shot down. What are the odds?
• Jack dodging blades in Oogie Boogie’s trap - it’s like Catherine Zeta-Jones & the security lasers in Entrapment.
• “Kris Kringle has pulled it out of the bag.” I feel like that should be a euphemism for something.
• And now the moment we’ve all been waiting for.

Little Monsters
• Halloween Family Movie Night, round 4. Tonight, it's Little Monsters
• Amazing, in almost 30 years, Fred Savage got taller, but he didn't age much. He's 40-something and still looks like a kid.
• Kid'll never have another friend like Maurice. He was a picker, a grinner, a lover, and a sinner.
• Mom was probably snoring. But Dad wears a pinstriped oxford shirt to bed.
• So far, the scariest thing in this movie is the dad's glasses. Holy 1989 Batman.
• Peanut butter and onion sandwiches? Ew.
• The dad fails to look if anything is in the driveway before backing out. Blames the kid. Bad parenting courteous of the 80s.
• "Pick on someone your own size." "Yeah, like Bigfoot." Don't ever back down to bullies.
• JJ: "They had really high pants back then."
Me: "Yes, yes we did."
• Brian is like a pre-pubescent MacGyver. All you need to trap a monster is a bed frame and a broken bike.
• "Oh, Brian is smart." My oldest son's only observation so far.
• Dad could hear Brian wrestling the monster, but not the stomping and pounding that followed?
• Maurice is my spirit animal.
• "I'm a monster and monsters don't do wishes."
• This is such a good movie for kids. Teaches them to hate the word "can't."
• "Any flavor you've ever flaved." I see what you did there.
• Saran wrapping the toilet: Best Prank Ever
• "Everybody cares, but some people have a different way of showing it."
• It's amazing how much Little Monsters inspired Monsters Inc.
• How does ADHD look? Like Howie Mandel as Maurice. Now imagine that is your kid. All the time.
• Monster hunting = science project. Sounds legit.
• Correction: Kiersten is the young MacGyver.
• Sometimes, bullies help you fight bigger bullies.
• Friends come in all shapes and sizes.
• Little Monsters is so very 80s. It holds up thought. Except for the music. Other than that, it aged well.
• The sound of someone eating Doritos plays in the background at the end of the closing credits. Self-referential synergy.



That covers everything. Do you have a favorite scary family movie? What should we watch next year?

10.21.2017

Questions

How do I get all three of my kids to look at the camera and smile at the same time? I can get two to look at the camera, one to smile. As soon as the third looks at the camera, one looks away and the other stops smiling. All three look at me and no one smiles. Two smile as the third looks away. Is this typical? What do I need to do to get my kids to smile in unison and look at me long enough to take a single photograph?

Why do teenagers and preteens fart so much more frequently than other humans? I get why they find it funny. I'm a 38 year old man and I still laugh at an inappropriately timed flatulence. Still, why so much?

Why is my son so distracted while doing homework? The TV is off. His younger siblings are playing quietly in a different room. He's smart enough to complete it with minimal help. Why does he suddenly stare off into space every thirty seconds?

Why is it so hard to remember to do the simple things? Like combing your hair every morning. Using soap in the shower. Flushing the toilet after use. Closing the cereal box after filling your breakfast bowl. Getting dirty clothes into the dirty laundry basket. Putting away crayons, markers, and pencils. Why do my kids have a better understanding of quantum mechanics than they do basic acts of hygiene and cleanliness?

How do I find time to attend all of the practices and games and competitions for my youngest son, who wants to play every sport, all at the same time? Will his passion for athletics lead him to injury at a young age? Can he turn his love for sports into a college scholarship? Am I able to encourage, support, and motivate him to turn it into a career?

How I convince my daughter that she doesn't need a boyfriend in fifth grade? Will she become a statistic of the many women who are sexually assaulted or raped in high school and college? Will she still believe me ten years from now when I tell her she deserves the best in life? Will she remember she is strong and courageous and that she is smart enough to accomplish anything she wants?

How do I answer my oldest son when he asks me, "Will a girl ever like me?" Or "Why would a girl be interested in me? What is there to like?" Am I big enough and strong enough to help him survive the cruelty of school children? How long will it be before he finds his tribe - that circle of friends who will relentlessly defend him and lure him out of his comfort zone? Will he learn from or repeat my errors?

How do I teach my boys that it's OK to cry? How to I convince them that no means no and they should always respect the choices for their friends and romances? How do I raise them to value their relationships over wealth or power or influence?

How will I guide my daughter through her first heartbreak? Will I show her compassion or will I want to shred her ex into a million pieces?

Will I be a safe spot to land when my kids make mistakes? Because everyone makes mistakes.

Am I a good dad? Am I doing enough? Am I enough?

These are only a small percentage of the questions I ask as a father. Many of the others are directed at the kids. (Why would you? What were you thinking? How did you do that?!?" Others are more existential. (Is this normal? What was I thinking? Did I do that when I was younger?) Sometimes, I feel like I have more questions than I have answers. Sometimes I feel unworthy of such a grand responsibility, especially when my kids ask me questions I can't answer.

If you, like me, feel like parents should be omniscient, you are not alone. If you believe our ability to answer questions should be like KD ratios in first person shooters (kill/answer more than we die/ask questions), there is hope.

In the Rebirth comics series, DC has given Superman and Batman the most challenging jobs they've ever faced: being dads to a couple of adolescent kids. In a couple of frames of print, Superman faces the doubt and fear felt by many fathers, and Batman has the perfect assurance for guys like us.

image courtesy of DC comics

Go ahead and ask some questions. Keep asking them and ask some more. Then seek answers. It's what good fathers do.

10.17.2017

Uptown/Country Girl

Have you heard Billy Joel's Uptown Girl recently? It is possibly the most pure form of pop music ever recorded: three minutes and twenty seconds of irresistible fun with an infectious melody sticking with you long after the song fades out. Either that or it is an atrocity, an embarrassing stain in the catalog of an otherwise talented musician, an annoying ear-worm with no purpose other than making the listener cringe in shame and horror. I'm not sure which, and I am open to the possibility Uptown Girl is simultaneously the best and worst song in history.

I don't hear it often, and when I do it is usually over the in-house speakers of a restaurant, grocery story, or some sort of retailer. The frequency in which I encounter the song is so rare that it is over before I have a chance to roll my eyes in disgust.

Billy Joel wrote the song while hanging out with a trio of beautiful women, Elle Macpherson (his girlfriend at the time), Christie Brinkley (his future wife and star of the Uptown Girl music video), and Whitney Houston. The subject could have been any of the three ladies, each came from privileged upbringing. Meanwhile, Billy was a kid from the Bronx who grew up poor, dropped out of high school, and hustled his craft playing piano in seedy bars and dimly lit clubs to help support his single mother. The song wasn't autobiographical, yet it highlighted the differences between Billy and the high class women in his life. They were raised on different sides of the proverbial tracks. The song's narrator and the object of his affection were the unlikely couple who made it work. An uptown girl and a downtown man.

Out in a public setting this morning, the song began to play in the background. As I waited to be served, I thought of the story behind the song. I found myself empathizing with the singer. I thought of the relationship between me and my girlfriend. We don't exactly mirror the relationship between Billy Joel and Elle/Christie. Without overstating the obvious, neither of us are famous. Furthermore, neither of us are uptown or downtown. Yet, like the couple from the song, there is a difference between where we come from.

If I were the one to pen the lyrics to Uptown Girl, she would be a country girl and I'd be a suburban dude.

We are not opposites attracted to each other as the adage implies. Politically and theologically speaking, my girlfriend and I are quite alike. We share similar philosophies on parenting and communication. We enjoy many of the same hobbies. We both crave good Chinese food and neither of us like eating fish. For all our similarities, the geographic backgrounds which shaped our personalities and worldviews are as different as those between Billy's downtown man and his uptown love.

I grew up on the west side of the mountains and my girlfriend was raised on the east side. My hometown is what I always thought of as a small town. The last sign of population driving north from Seattle before the scenery devolved into dairy and produce farms. However, my girlfriend comes from a smaller small town, one which in comparison would make Marysville look like a metropolis. I was weened on grunge and punk rock, she was surrounded by country western music. The fashion of my youth were baggy pants and Doc Martens, hers were bootcut jeans pulled over a pair of well worn cowboy boots. I fell asleep to the sounds of traffic while crickets lulled her to slumber.

As I moved away from the Puget Sound area, I always stayed in or near a big (ish) city. Boise. Sioux Falls. And now Cd'A/Spokane. She left her everyone-knows-everybody town for the bigger city life of Spokane. And here is where she and I became we.

I've noticed a funny thing about those who grew up in a rural setting compared to those who did not. Take a country girl (or boy) out of the country and she (or he) is still a country girl (or boy). They will feel comfortable in almost any setting, be it a concrete jungle, bedroom community, a resort town, alpine village, or post-apocalyptic wasteland. The country life follows you and remains inside you. For people like me, the burbs are home. Cookie cutter neighborhoods, fancy parks, manicured lawns, garage sales mobile food trucks, and coffee stands on every corner are security items. We find solace in the sounds of sirens from police cruisers, firetrucks, and ambulances wailing in the distance. Take us a way from the house parties and the crowds and the Taco Bells, and we are out of our element. We feel a little weird. We begin to long for streetlights and honking horns of road-raging drivers.

I'm from the suburbs and she's a country girl. Wherever we go, it seems she's more at home than I am. I'm learning though. She's got me riding horses and watching the sunset in places removed from high rises and office lights. I've invested in bug spray and bought my first pair of cowboy boots. More and more I am longing for something I've never had: a country lifestyle. As long as I have wi-fi, it doesn't really matter to me, I can write from anywhere. Sooner or later, I'll be a suburban guy in the country. It might be awkward for a while but I'll make it work. And this thing with the country girl? It's love.

photo credit: Annie, she also takes better pictures than me

10.11.2017

Too Close

Waking up last Monday to news about the Las Vegas shooting angered me. So much that I was too mad to write about it. I tried to compose a blog post last Wednesday but I was still too pissed to get it right. As it is now, that draft is still on my laptop, 800 flustered words looking at me with hostile glances of abandonment and unrequited rage.

Now we're a week and a half post-tragedy. Frankly, I'm still furious. I am sick and tired of talking about guns and violence with my kids and having to explain the horrific news to them - headlines now becoming so routine to almost seem meaningless.

I'm creased because of the same predictable arguments presented after each mass shooting. Everyone has their own opinion on gun control and their favorite indisputable set of statistics to trot out and shout at anyone who disagrees. I'm livid that we're the only industrialized nation where this kind of crime happens on a regular basis. I'm apoplectic that we have the power to prevent these killings and choose not to do it because of the special interests of a wealthy and powerful lobbyist group. I am outraged by those who value their gun ownership more than they do human life. I am flustered how terrorism is always the scapegoat for minority shooters, but white shooters are always described as lone wolves.

I am seething at politicians who continually defund mental health care, then say mass shootings happen because of a mental health crisis in America. I am irritated by every tweet and PR statement from politicians who say they're offering thoughts and prayers for the victims, especially from those who refuse to discuss any legislation could help us avoid more senseless violence. They remind me of the apostle Paul's letter to James, explaining how faith unaccompanied by action is dead.

I'm indignant. But I am also scared. Because these shootings are far too frequent. More than that, they're shooting close to home. Too close.

To begin, last Monday's shooting happened at the tail end of a music festival, mirroring the attack at an Ariana Grande concert in London last spring and the massacre in Paris nearly two years ago at a club where Eagles of Death metal were performing. My brother works as a concert promoter. He and I both have friends in the music business: performers and producers and promoters and technicians whose lives revolve around the stage and the road. All of them are hyper sensitive to the reality we live in, their world is now a target for those who wish to cause unbelievable harm to a large number of people. Music is not the only way to earn a living on a stage. I also have friends who are actors and public speakers. Our world needs these people and I do not want to see one of their events in a deadly headline.

Outside of the entertainment industry, I have several friends who are pastors, ministers, church volunteers, and laypeople who spend much of their time in houses of worship. Churches, temples, synagogues, and mosques are not immune to this kind of violence. Historically, African American churches were terrorized by white supremacists across the south. Bombing, arson, gunfire. Even into the late 80s, the Aryan Nations attempted to murder a catholic priest and human rights activist in Coeur d'Alene. More recently, religious facilities have been the sites of shootings. A few weeks ago in Nashville. The EAME church in Charleston two years ago. A Sikh temple in 2012. And ten years ago, a shooter ended his rampage at a church in Moscow Idaho, a city about an hour and a half south of me. It is a sad state of life where I know terror can affect many of those I love the most in a place that should be a refuge.

Then there are schools, the most common location for mass shootings in America. I'm a dad. It should be more than obvious I am concerned for the safety and welfare of my kids. Earlier this week, a student at the high school my son will probably attend received threats she would be shot. A month ago, there was a shooting at Freeman HS in a small town about 15 minutes south of my girlfriend's house. And three years ago, a gunman killed four students at MPHS, my school, where I graduated in 1997. I grieve these shootings as they have hit so close to home and I often feel helpless to protect my own children.

This is not just a suburban issue. Or a teenage issue. School shootings have struck every level of education from elementary schools to universities; public and private schools; in urban districts, the suburbs, and rural communities. There have been nearly 200 school shootings since Columbine. Twice as many have been killed or injured in these attacks. This is a risk facing every family in America.

And we're not going to do anything about it. Why? Because we love our guns too much. This national fetish will continue to infect every corner of society and the body count will grow to staggering levels. As long as the best we can do in response is to offer thoughts and prayers, I'm going to stay angry. I have a feeling I might be waiting a while.

(me in 30 years, still waiting)

9.27.2017

A Litmus Test

What do you value more? A human being or piece of cloth?

What is more important? The citizens or the symbol of our nation?

What is of greater worth? Your own comfort or a stranger's life?

What would you rather preserve? Privilege or equality?

What bothers you more? Disrespect or injustice?

What are you willing to risk? Admitting when you're wrong or never knowing your faults?

What do you demonstrate when observing challenging behavior? Compassion or disgust?

What do you find most disturbing? People who protest or the reason they protest?

Whose opinion is more valid? The oppressed or the oppressor?

What is more patriotic? Defending or criticizing those who do not share your beliefs?

What should be followed? The letter or the spirit of the law?

For what will you kneel? God or country?

There are no correct answers in this test. Nor are there incorrect answers. However, how you answer these questions reveal your priorities. Your priorities shape how you relate to those you love and how you treat everyone from acquaintances to strangers. It dictates how you react to stress, bad news, and conflict. We must be careful. It is too easy to live with misguided priorities. Consider this a litmus test for your priorities.

image courtesy of Broken Bread Club

9.24.2017

People of the Ground

It is a great compliment to say someone is a salt of the earth kind of person. In them we find simplicity and goodness which we admire. We trust them. The phrase is taken from the Sermon on the Mount when Jesus said to the crowds “You are the salt of the earth.” Back then, salt was used as a preservative more often than a seasoning. Jesus described how we can influence others like salt.

The compliment remains when we say someone is grounded. They are wise, reasonable, reliable. They think practically, are emotionally stable, and serve as a calming force in the lives around them.

Both terms, being grounded and being salt of the earth, are focused on being present. Right here. Right now. Both are about influencing and benefiting other people’s lives. Both make this world a better place. I think there’s more to it though. I believe there is a deeper purpose to being a salt of the earth or grounded person. It’s all about how we relate to people, and it is about how we relate to God.

But first, a biblical history lesson.

The first time we see the Israelites as a nation of people with a sizable population is in Egypt. There, they were slaves. Their treatment was inhumane. When God delivered them, he gave them a set of rules and guidelines to remind them of the lives they left behind. They were free. They would no longer be forced to work every day of their lives, instead they would observe the Sabbath and have a day to rest. No longer would they honor a cruel master and tyrannical ruler, they would honor their mothers and fathers.

They left an empire as slaves and entered a land of milk and honey where they were to become the salt of the earth. God didn’t want His people to become another empire. He wanted them to become a new kind of nation that the world had never seen before. Generations before, God made a promise to Abraham, the forefather of the nation of Israel, that all the nations on the earth would be blessed though his decedents. Now, as the Israelites fled Egypt, they faced the opportunity to fulfill the promise spoken to their ancestor.

God gave them the framework of scripture to make it possible. Built into Jewish law were commands to love their neighbors as they loved their own selves. Orders to not oppress the resident aliens and foreigners in their land. Demands to care for and protect the orphans and widows – the vulnerable populations among them. Instructions to leave the corners of their fields unharvested so the poor would have access to food and grain. God wanted a nation who would build up people, not walls. He wanted a grounded people, a salt of the earth who would be a blessing to everyone.

If Israel had stuck with God’s design, they would have been a revolutionary force, unique among all other nations. No one else had outward priorities, they looked inward. All other nations existed to glorify themselves. They built walls, towers, palaces, temples, and monuments to show their power and wealth. They waged wars to protect their power and wealth. They waged wars to amass more power and wealth.

Eventually, Israel forgot their purpose. They abandoned God’s calling. They wanted to become a nation like the other nations around them. They got a king, and built palaces and temples. They began to worship foreign idols. They stopped welcoming aliens and failed to care for the weak and powerless in their communities. They sought wealth and power. More and more, Israel acted like an empire. They grew to have more in common with Egypt than they did a people of God. Because they were building their own empire instead of following God’s plan, they became a broken people, defeated by the Babylonians and taken into exile. Their walls, palaces, and temples were destroyed and left for ruin.

A history forgotten or ignored is a history repeated.

Where are we focused? Is America an empire? Are we like Babylon or Egypt? Or are we a nation that serves to bless all others? So many keep calling us a Christian nation, but I wonder. Do we care for vulnerable populations? How well do we treat foster kids, the elderly, the disabled, and the poor? Do we do enough to make sure they have food, shelter, and clothing? Do we welcome foreigners? Are migrant workers and refugees safe in our cities and neighborhoods? Do we show them kindness and generosity? Or are we focused on building walls to protect our borders and building skyscrapers to demonstrate our superiority? Are we waging or threatening to wage wars to gain or protect wealth and power? Are we grounded? Are we the salt of the earth?

In ancient times, various cultures related to their gods by building monuments, towers, and sculptures. The Sphinx and Great Pyramids. The pyramids of Teotihuacan. The Colossus of Rhodes. Giant Buddhas. The Parthenon. Angkor Wat. They made grand gestures, ornate and complex constructions to inspire awe in all who visited. Their gods were distant and callous. In order to appease their gods, they had to go big. They believed their fertility, to grow crops and offspring were dependent on satisfying these unappeasable gods.

The God of Jewish tradition was different. How did people relate to this God? He walked in the garden with Adam and Eve, they shared the same ground as the divine. God appeared as a burning bush to Moses, a plant growing from the earth. He asked Moses to remove his sandals because Moses was standing on holy ground. Then Jesus, the son of this God, called Zacchaeus out of the tree back and down to the ground – to get out of the habit of lifting himself up above others. Jesus invited Peter to step out of the boat and walk on water, a mortal sharing the same surface with the divine. Our God wants His people to commune with Him. To share intimacy. He wants people who are grounded.

I believe that God still wants a nation who will build up people instead of building monuments. I believe in a God who wants us to care for others instead of building walls. I believe in a God who wants His followers to be a blessing to all nations instead of an empire existing for their own benefit.

9.13.2017

IT: a review

Let's get the facts clear up front, It is a scary movie. Based on the classic (and long) novel from the master of horror, Stephen King, It follows a group of junior high aged kids as they battle a murderous clown, nightmare fuel named Pennywise the Dancing Clown.

If you have coulrophobia, It is not a film you should watch. But for everyone else, It is easily my favorite film of 2017, and the best I've seen in a long time. Yes, It is terrifying at times, even the trailer was frightening. I've added it to my 'top five scariest movies ever' list. Yet underneath the creeping sense of dread, jump scares, and pervasive foreboding atmosphere is a truly great film.

It aspires to be bigger than a typical horror movie. Even with the tropes of a clever kids versus a monster plot line, It packs in a ton of depth, heart, and humor. It is a scary movie, but It is so much more.

This story succeeds because of the kids It follows. They are not the lifelong friends everybody wishes they had. These kids are underdogs and outcasts, bullied by older and bigger kids, abused by their parental figures, and mostly ignored by every other adult in their lives. They don't track down Pennywise because they're brave or have something to prove. They do it because no one else will.

And who else is better prepared to fend off evil in the form of an extradimensional psychopathic clown than a bunch of kids who are tormented by human evil on a daily basis.

If you don't want to know any details, you should stop reading now. Because there will be spoilers. You've been warned.
image courtesy of New Line Cinema and Warner Bros Pictures

The film follows Bill Denbrough and his three friends (collectively known as The Losers Club) in the summer of 1989. Bill has a stuttering problem which makes him a target for mean classmates. His little brother was Pennywise’s first victim and he feels guilty; Bill was sick and in bed the night Georgie was killed. The loss has strained his relationship with his family and his dad is hostile toward how Bill grieves.

Richie is scrawny, hyperactive, foul mouthed, afraid of clowns, wears oversized glasses, and is a neglected child looking for attention. His sarcastic attitude and vulgar insults often get him and the other boys into trouble. For most of the film, Richie is the comedic relief.

Stan is the germophobic Jewish kid preparing for his bat mitzvah. His father is a rabbi at the local synagogue and is highly critical of his Stan. He is the most reluctant member of The Losers Club, often giving reasons why they shouldn’t be doing what they’re doing.

Eddie is the shortest and weakest of the kids. He is an accident prone hypochondriac afraid of anything that could injure him or cause sickness. He is fed a diet of various pills and placebos by his obese and emotionally abusive mother, who likely has Munchausen by proxy.

The four boys plan to spend their summer break searching for the body of Bill’s younger brother. Along the way, they befriend three other kids who are also harassed by the Bowers Gang, high school thugs led by Henry the son of an abusive cop. These new members of The Losers Club are Mike, the black kid who is homeschooled by his strict authoritarian grandfather after his parents died in a fire; Bev, the girl with a sexually abusive father and is teased as a slut from false rumors; and Ben, the bookworm who faces the cruelest and most violent bullying because of his weight.

One by one, and always when alone, each of the seven Losers are stalked or attacked by Pennywise as he manifests in the form of their greatest fears. A disfigured woman from a painting in Rabbi Uris’s office. Burning hands trying to escape through the butcher’s door. A leper stalking Eddie. A fountain of hair and blood exploding from Bev’s bathroom sink. And the image of Georgie reminds Bill that he could float too.

Daily life for these kids is hell. If the torture they suffer at the hands of bullies and parents weren’t enough, they live in a town that is either oblivious of their presence or bothered by their existence. The librarian is condescending of Ben. The pharmacist leers at Bev. The cops look the other way when the Bowers Gang harasses other kids. City leaders and law enforcement do little to find the murdered children, aside from posting missing signs and instituting a curfew. The Losers Club is trapped between the horrors of a clown trying to kill them, neglectful and abusive guardians, and a trio of bullies that have been given the freedom to do whatever they want. Their only way out is to fight the clown.

To defeat Pennywise, each of the kids must confront their fears. Richie gets trapped in a room full of clowns, Bev fights back against her father, Eddie throws away his pills and inhaler. Collectively, they stand up to the bullies. For a moment, Bill makes his way through a pep talk without stuttering. By the time the Losers confront It in the sewers, there is a moment of wish fulfillment for everyone in the audience who was abused, bullied, or mistreated as a kid. It symbolizes every real evil in our world. While the kids beat back the monster, they remind us that we are all capable of overcoming evil. Even if we are a stutterer, a loudmouth, a hypochondriac, a Jew, an African American, a fat kid, or a girl.

9.09.2017

To my oldest son

This was you, seven years ago, enjoying a basket of chicken strips and French fries from Red Robin.
We were out celebrating your sixth birthday. You had just started kindergarten and you were convinced that was the year you would learn what your superpowers were. After all, to be a hero, you had to possess some sort of superhuman skill.

Much has changed in the last seven years. Obviously, you're older, taller, smarter, more independent. However, these years have thrown turmoil your direction. Family changes, school changes, friends who have come and gone, bullies (some worse than others), and the natural awkwardness that comes with adolescence. Through it all, I am certain now more than I was when you turned six .... you have superpowers.

You have the power to shape your world. So many times over the last couple years, you have asked me which profession you could enter that would give you the most opportunity to make this world a better place. Along the way, you've pondered accomplishing that goal of improving the lives of others as an inventor, a pastor, or a comedian. You even decided you wanted to attend the University of Wyoming to study political science and pursue a life in politics. Recently, you've determined the best path for your passions, personality, and desire to leave this world better than it was when you arrived is to work as an engineer or scientist.

You, kid, are a world changer already. Whatever the future holds, it will be amazing. Not only do you have the power to shape your world, you have the power to shape your future. If you want to invent a time machine, it might violate all of the laws of physics, but you could do it. If you want to lead a church, you could do it. If you want to stand on a stage and make people laugh, you could do it. If you want to become the president of the USA, not only do I think you can do it, I also believe you would do a much better job than our current president.

And maybe your future is in the sciences. Maybe you will be spending your life in research, academic papers, peer reviews, and government grants. You and I have had countless conversations where you posed a problem, something broken in our world, and asked me how to fix it. Perhaps one day you will engineer a solution to one of those issues. I don't know if it is chemistry, geology, biology, physics, psychology, quantum mechanics, social engineering. Although, I know it won't be astrophysics, you've already nixed that idea. Whatever it is, I'm on your side. I will be cheering you on for as long as I am walking this earth.

Today, that means we're celebrating your thirteenth birthday. We'll see where your dreams and superpowers take you over the next seven years.