Faith & Pop Culture: Wrecked by Pride

Last weekend I watched a pair of movies that do not (at least on the surface) have any thematic similarities. The first was The Judge - an emotional drama about a big shot attorney returning home for his mother's funeral then staying to defend his father against murder charges. The second was Chef - an indie comedy about a popular chef and his culinary journey of food and family.

Admittedly, the second film served as a counter balance to the first upon the suggestion of a friend. The Judge turned me into a puddle and I needed something funny to cheer me up. Chef was the perfect remedy.

Legal battles and Cuban cuisine. A tear-jerker and a witty satire. Nothing in common. Well, maybe something. Both movies show the devastating fallout from pride. Different stories, different methods, same result. Pride wrecks lives.

The two main protagonists in The Judge display divergent faces of pride. Robert Downey Jr. plays the attorney Hank Palmer returning to his home town to mourn his mother's death. Hank's father (Robert Duvall) is a notoriously strict judge and one of the most respected legal figures in Indiana. On the evening following the funeral there is a fatal accident and the judge faces charges of first degree murder while Hank stays in town to help his father in court.

For Judge Palmer, pride manifests itself under noble intentions. He is a man who would rather go to prison than have his case history called into question. He is a man who found the reckless behaviors from his son's past to be an embarrassment. He wishes to see the flags flying at half staff in the event of his death. His desire is to leave a worthy legacy.

This pride prevents him from admitting weakness. The Judge is facing terminal cancer - a secret he's kept by getting chemo treatments at a private lakeside cabin rather than a medical facility. He refuses to admit that the side effects of his cancer treatment have caused him to black out and lose memories. It is because of his pride he seeks out an inexperienced attorney instead of asking his son to represent him.

Hank's pride is more apparent and is displayed through overt arrogance. He flaunts his wealth, success, charisma, and expertise. He doesn't hesitate to humiliate or seduce others depending on his mood. Yet he shows cracks: he has an unforgiving relationship with his father, both of his brothers feel abandoned by him, and his marriage is on the verge of divorce.

In Chef, Jon Favreau is Carl Casper, the talented and famous chef at a popular restaurant in LA. For him, pride is demonstrated with a singular obsession with his craft. He views himself as culinary master, angered by his boss (Dustin Hoffman) the restaurant owner who won't let him try innovative recipes.

Because of the pride in his skills, he resists his ex-wife's suggestion to open a food truck and work for himself. Pride strains his relationship with his 10 year old son and his friendships with his kitchen staff. He pridefully insists that he is happy with his job even when it is obvious to everyone around him that he is miserable.

When studying the bible I have read much about pride, and none of it is positive - especially in Proverbs. Proverbs says that arrogance will be punished. It says that destruction and disgrace follows pride. Even the book of Isaiah says that great people will be brought down and the proud will be humbled, a truth we see in The Judge and Chef. The no-nonsense judge, the flashy lawyer, and the culinary genius. Each of them brought down. Each of them disgraced, punished, or destroyed.

Pictures courtesy of Village Roadshow/Warner Bros. Pictures and Open Road Films

The first humbling moment for Judge Palmer comes in a heartbreaking scene where his disease causes him to collapse in the bathroom. His son comes to help him through nausea, vomiting, and complete loss of bowel control. Despite their contentious relationship, Hank helps his dad through the humiliation and into the shower to clean up. Judge is further humbled as he is forced to admit the truth of his illness and failing memory in court as he’s providing testimony. He is humbled even more as he hears his guilty verdict. His disgrace was an attack on his legacy.

Hank Palmer’s humbling moments were not outright embarrassing, but direct statements from various relationships in his life. His dad’s doctor tells him, “You really aren't a pleasant person.” When his daughter asks why he and his wife are divorcing, she tells him, “Daddy’s don’t get lonely. They only marry younger mommies.” When trying to reconnect with his old high school sweetheart, she tells him the truth, “You’re just a boy from Indiana who’s gonna do whatever he has to do to pretend he’s not.” She also tells Hank that he’s selfish and a bully. In an argument with his older brother, Glen (Vincent D'Onofrio) voices hurt and bitterness that he’s the responsible brother who stayed home and would be the one to provide care to their mentally handicapped younger brother after both parents had passed; he makes the accusation that Hank would run back to his lavish lifestyle and forget about them. And finally, in court, Judge Palmer says that his biggest professional mistake was going easy on a criminal’s sentencing because the criminal reminded Judge of Hank. Each statement punished his arrogance and revealed him to be a smaller man than the image he projects.

In Chef, Carl Casper’s humbling is a downward spiral that begins when his boss won’t allow him to control the restaurant’s menu and they receive a bad review from a famous food blogger. He is humbled again when he accidently posts a public tweet that he thought was a private message to the blogger. It gets worse when his boss still refuses to grant him creative control over the menu; he quits but none of his kitchen staff friends leave with him. He returns to the restaurant later that night to confront the blogger where Casper unleashes a massive rant that is caught on camera and uploaded to Youtube. This video goes viral and Casper finds himself unemployed and unable to find any restaurant willing to hire him. His final humbling moment happens when he has to lower himself to ask his ex-wife’s ex-husband for a favor. Chef Casper found pride in his work, and his work was destroyed.

If pride wrecks lives, then the inverse is true. Humility restores life. Hank Palmer petitions for compassionate parole for his imprisoned father. He returns home and accepts his roots – even to the point of shouting “I’m from here” while standing in the middle of the street. He is not perfect, but he is healing. Chef Casper also finds healing in humility. His new venture turns into a massive success, he reconnects with his son, and his relationship with his ex-wife is restored.

From tears and laughter, these two films reminded me of the advice of Philippians chapter two. “Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others.”


A Tale of Two Candidates

It is about to get political in here. However, this is not a post to advocate in favor for or opposed against anyone in particular. I do not wish to argue policy or any hot button issues. This is only to compare two candidates from opposite ends of the ideological spectrum.

Ted Cruz and Barack Obama.
Photos courtesy of nbcnews.com

We will start with the President. Obama was born in Hawaii (or Kenya if you believe the birther conspiracy theories) to a Caucasian mother who was an American citizen. His father was a Kenyan citizen in the United States for an education scholarship. His parents divorced when he was a young boy. He graduated with a BA in Political Science from Columbia University and a JD from Harvard Law School. While at Harvard, he was president of the Harvard Law Review. He worked as a civil rights attorney and taught constitutional law at the University of Chicago Law School. His political career started as a State Senator in Illinois before winning a seat as a US Senator. He served in the US Senate from 2005 until he won his election for US President.

Next the (as of yesterday) Presidential candidate. Cruz was born in Canada (Calgary, Alberta to be specific) to a Caucasian mother who was an American citizen. His father was a Cuban citizen who left Cuba by bribing a Batista official, entered the US with a student visa, later on political asylum, eventually getting a green card. His parents divorced when he was in college. He graduated with a BA in Public Policy from Princeton University and a JD from Harvard Law School. While at Harvard, he was primary editor of the Harvard Law Review. He worked as a private attorney, associate deputy attorney general for the DOJ, Solicitor General for Texas, then returned to private practice. His political career started by representing the NRA and involvement in the Clinton impeachment proceedings. He has been serving in the US Senate since 2013.

So many similarities. Both men are of racially mixed decent. Neither of their fathers were American citizens. Both men earned bachelor's degrees from prestigious schools and both graduated magna cum laude from Harvard. Both of them were editors at the Harvard Law Review. Both worked as attorneys. Neither come from swing states - Obama from the traditionally liberal Illinois and Cruz from the traditionally conservative Texas. Both men served in the US Senate and both were only senators for a short duration before announcing their Presidential candidacy.

Of course, the similarities stop there. Obama's dad returned to Kenya and Cruz's dad eventually become a citizen - 48 years after leaving Cuba. Obama was not only editor but also the President of the Harvard Law Review, Cruz founded Harvard Latino Law Review. 768 days passed from day Obama was sworn in for the US Senate to the day he announced he was running for president. Cruz waited 41 days longer - a month and two weeks. Obama is a Democrat and Cruz is a Republican. Obama was once described as the most liberal candidate to ever run for President. Many sources are calling Cruz the most conservative candidate to ever run for President. When it comes to issues, there is very little on which these two men agree.

Allow me to repeat, I am not campaigning in favor of or opposition to either of these men. I don't care if you approve or disapprove of the job Obama has done as President. It doesn't matter to me if you think he is the best or the worst ever President. The same is true of Cruz. As far as I am concerned (for the purpose of this post) it is irrelevant whether or not he could be a good President.

This is a post about those who do not live by what they say. This is about individuals who hold a certain set of standards for one group of people that they do not hold for another group of people.

This is about people who thought Obama was un-American because of his campaign rhetoric about how America lost it's greatness and he wanted to make it great again, but have no objections to Cruz using the same rhetoric.
This is about people who were afraid of Obama's ethnicity but are not concerned with Cruz's ethnicity.
This is about people who called Obama an elitist for his education at Columbia University and Harvard Law, but do not think that Cruz is an elitist from his education at Princeton and Harvard Law.
This is about people who believed that Obama was born in Kenya and that meant he wasn't a natural born citizen, but have no problems with Cruz's Canadian birth and his maintaining dual citizenship until last summer.
This is about people who alleged that Obama was ineligible for office because of his Kenyan father but do not think that a Cuban father makes Cruz ineligible.
This is about people who claimed that Obama was too inexperienced to be President because he had only served as Senator for two years, but find Cruz to be perfectly experienced despite serving as Senator for only two years.
This is about people who criticized Obama's lack of military service but have no criticism for Cruz who has not served in the military either.
This is about people who did not like Obama because he was a lawyer, but embrace the lawyer Cruz.

There are words for people like this. Cognitive dissonance. Intellectual dishonesty. Double standards.

Another word? What is it called when you verbalize contradictory beliefs? What is it called when you say it's OK for one person to engage in certain behaviors but not OK for another to follow those same behaviors?


Don't be a hypocrite. If you do not approve of Obama - that is fine. It is also acceptable if you support Cruz. There are many valid reasons to support your preference for one over the other. However, there are many similarities between the two candidates. If you are going to criticize Barack Obama for his heritage, or place of birth, or his family background, or his choice in colleges, or his lack of military record, or his minimal tenure in a legislative position, then you better criticize Ted Cruz for the exact same issues. If that is all you have to work with, both candidates are identical.

If you believe that Obama is a foreign born, inexperienced, and un-American elitist yet think that Cruz is a natural born, down to earth, and accomplished patriot, there is only one word that can possibly be used to describe you.



Let us love

Pop quiz: What opinion does the modern American Church hold about the Old Testament?

a) It is the sacred word of God, holy scripture, divinely inspired.
b) Interesting collection of character studies and poetry.
c) That's the old covenant. Now that we have Jesus, all that old stuff is irrelevant.
d) It's an archaic and barbaric text, which is why we prefer the New Testament.
e) Couldn't tell you, I fell asleep somewhere in Deuteronomy.

Let's be honest, depending on which church you enter, you might hear any of the five options above. Mainstream Christianity mostly falls into one of those camps; the passionate lovers of scripture, the culturally complacent, the Jesus people, the new covenant devotees, the blissfully ignorant.

But there is another that (in my experience) is more prevalent than any other. The cherry pickers.

These are the people who preach the message of Jesus. Other than the Psalms and Proverbs, they mostly ignore the Old Testament. Either they can't make sense of it or feel it's not relevant in today's world. Perhaps they read it once and once was enough. That is until it suits their needs. At that point in time, they'll pluck out an obscure verse and wield it like a blunt instrument to pound against someone's thick skull.

For these people, the Bible is their go-to choice of weaponry. It is not a book of good news. It is not the story of God. It is their sword, their gun, their bomb. It is their way of winning a fight or argument. It is their cop-out devise.

They can justify their ham–fisted approach to bruising others with Christianity's holiest book. After all, the book of Hebrews describes the Bible as being sharper than any double-edged sword, and that it divides joints and marrow. Ephesians states that the Word of God is the sword of the Spirit when listing off elements of the armor of God.

In their eyes, weaponizing scripture is scriptural. It is logically mandated.

Funny that this method of cherry picking verses from the bible is most often used in political arguments. Rarely is this a theological strategy used in debate between pastors or in small group bible studies. One other observation about the cherry pickers: the obscure scripture they toss out is almost always from the book of Leviticus.

I have a proposal. If we are going to cling to a Levitical passage as more important than any other, we should all agree on which scripture to cherry pick from the many. My choice is lifted from Leviticus 19. Not familiar with the chapter?

This is the chapter that begins with the command to be holy because God is holy. Titled "Various Laws," this is a loose collection of edicts that governs the way we are supposed to treat other humans. Much of it repeats laws from the ten commandments. Here is a quick

Respect your parents.
Observe the Sabbath.
Avoid idols.
Leave a portion of your harvest from fields and vineyards for the poor and for the immigrants.
No stealing.
No lying, deception, false accusations, fraudulent claims, or slander.
Do not mistreat the disabled.
Be fair to everyone.
Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge.
Avoid mediums and fortune tellers.
Respect the elderly
Treat immigrants as if they were natural-born citizens.

It all wraps up with God's command: "Keep all my decrees and all my laws and follow them."

Key word: ALL.

Which of God's laws are we supposed to follow? ALL OF THEM. Which decrees? ALL OF THEM. Even the inconvenient ones? ALL OF THEM.

That's hard. In fact, it is impossible. Ecclesiastes stated that no one on earth is righteous, does right, and never sins. That sentiment is repeated in Romans when Paul quotes the same words: "There is no one righteous, no one who understands, no one who seeks God."

God tells us to be holy like Him, to obey each and every one of His laws, yet other parts of scripture tells us that no one in all of history has ever accomplished this measure of perfection? This is why I believe that we need God. This is why we needed Jesus and the cross and the resurrection. Because we suck. We cannot do it on our own.

So let's go back to the verse I would like to cherry pick. The one Levitical decree that each of us should cling to above all else.

In the middle of this chapter explaining the fair, just, and kind way in which we should treat others, we come to the end of verse 18. It says "love your neighbor as yourself."

This concept is so radical and so vital that Jesus reiterated it again when all of the religious leaders wanted him to identify the most important commandment from all of the Jewish law. The greatest command, according to Jesus, was to love God. For the second greatest, Jesus quoted Leviticus 19:18 - "love your neighbor as yourself."

Even Paul recognized the value of this lone command. In Galatians, he said that the entirety of law could be fulfilled in these words: "love your neighbor as yourself." And in the second chapter of James, we see the same thing: to do right, "love your neighbor as yourself."

One segment of ancient scripture, quoted in the gospels and in multiple epistles. This. "Love your neighbor as yourself."

I propose if you're going to cherry pick one verse from the Old Testament to brandish as a part of your Godly armor, let it be Leviticus 19:18.

Because love is a far more effective weapon than righteous indignation or fiery condemnation.


The judgemental shopper

When grocery shopping, do you ever silently judge other shoppers by what they have in their cart? Ever walk by someone and think 'health nut' because their cart is overflowing with greenery? Ever ponder the fate of someone's evening because they're only buying a single bottle of Arbor Mist, a corn dog from the deli, and a quart of chocolate chip cookie dough ice cream?

Or, you could be me. As I stood in line to check out, I was appalled by the slop piled onto the conveyor belt by the couple behind me. Granted, my selection of groceries wasn't the healthiest: about 50% fresh produce, the other half canned and frozen veggies, cereal, milk, pasta, general tso chicken.

But the couple behind me? Ugh. I put on my judgy hat and stared at their ever-growing mound of sugar and fat. After they pulled each additional food item out of their cart, my inner voice told me, "Junk. Crap. Garbage." Candy and chips and hot dogs and a whole stack of frozen pizzas and bean burritos and cookies and Cocoa Puffs.

The only fruits and/or vegetables they purchased were pickles, olives, and a single head of lettuce. There was also a sack of potatoes in their cart, but I know some people who don't believe that potatoes count as a vegetable.

The saddest part of it all is that they had a young kid - perhaps four or five years old, sitting in their cart. 'That poor kid,' I thought, 'he's going to grow up unhealthy and it's not his fault.'

Thankfully the friendly cashier distracted me with questions about my day. Even though I am not skilled with small talk, I made the effort. She handed me a receipt and I was on my way home.

Instances like this is why I still consider myself a judgemental jerk. I am not as bad as I used to be. Intentional efforts to give everyone the benefit of doubt have helped, but I'm not perfect. Every now and then, Judgy McJudgerpants sneaks out. I do not enjoy being judgemental. Yet it happens.

What about you? How much judging do you do in grocery stores?


Bucket List: Item #1

Today is St. Patrick's Day - a holiday to honor the patron saint of Ireland, to celebrate Irish heritage for those of us that have it (or at least pretend to), and a cheap excuse to drink green beer. I am partially Irish. There is a deep part of my being that longs to visit: to see the Giant's Causeway, to eat at Caffe Banba at the northernmost point of the island, attend a Gaelic football game, kiss the Blarney Stone, watch the sun rise over the Irish Sea and set over the North Atlantic.

But the first entry on my bucket list isn't about Ireland. Well, not exactly.

Item number one on my list is to celebrate a holiday in a foreign country. Any holiday. Somewhere other than the USA.

How cool would it be to stay in Tokyo for New years Eve? Or the Chinese New Year in Hong Kong? Or in Munich for Oktoberfest? Valentine's Day in Venice? Easter in Jerusalem? Christmas in Oslo? Carnival in Rio?

Or ...

What about St Patrick's Day in Dublin?

Perhaps that is the Irish in me speaking. Perhaps that is the yearning to make a pilgrimage to my ancestor's homelands. Perhaps it is nothing more than wanderlust.

Today is St. Patrick's Day. And it would be an amazing experience to spend the holiday in the country where it started.


Conversationally handicapped

Given the choice between story time and small talk, I will always choose stories. I am a skilled raconteur but a horrendous conversationalist. Holding up a conversation is a struggle for me, especially small talk. Most chat-worthy opportunities do not make sense to me and I find myself awkward and confused.

When asked, "How are you?" I will provide an answer but rarely follow up with the socially appropriate response, "and how are you doing?" This is a common symptom of Asperger syndrome which I believe I have despite never being officially diagnosed.

My socially crippling lack of conversational skills isn't always apparent. I have found crutches and coping mechanisms over the years, but given enough time it will become clear. Uneasy exits after prolonged silences. Improper introductions. Dominating discussions on issues or topics about which I am passionate.

At my small group this week, I made that admission - that I am bad at conversation but great at storytelling. One of the other guys was surprised and thought I was kidding. He and I have chatted several times and from that perspective, he thought of me as an eloquent and articulate addition to the group. Some explanation was necessary.

If you and I wanted to swap tales from our younger days, we could talk for hours. If you wanted to debate which Bond movies are the best, grab some coffee and make yourself comfortable because we will be a while. You want to introduce me to a band that you are excited about, both of us will walk away from a long conversation in search of new music.

But ask me how I'm doing? Meh. I'll provide a one word answer then stare out the nearest window. It sure looks windy outside. I wish it would snow.

That makes sustainable friendships difficult without some measure of common interests.

That makes intimacy impossible without arduous effort.

That makes small talk uncomfortably painful because I rarely see the point of idle chit chat.

Then I go to work and speak with dozens of people through out the day.
Then I go to church and talk to pastors and friends.
Then I go to my small group and contribute to the discussion.
Then I get on Google Hangouts with friends from out of state and participate in the conversation.
Then I hang out with my kids and .. well ... they all talk far more than me.

Conversation, if there's no purpose, is exhausting. Yet I love being around people. I find their stories fascinating. Being in the company of good friends is refreshing. I crave camaraderie.

If only we could skip the small talk. If only we could start with something meaningful.

I am not sure I know how to do that.

Maybe ...

Next time you see me, don't ask me "How is your day going?" Instead,
ask me, "Can I tell you about my day?"

I guarantee I'll say, "Yes."


Finding Disney Magic

Since its inception, Disney has always possessed an element of magic. From the moment Mickey Mouse started whistling at the beginning of the short film 'Steamboat Willie,' audiences knew that they were witnessing something new, whimsical, and magical.

Walt Disney was aware this and he built his empire upon that concept. Mickey embodied this mysticism as the magician's apprentice in Fantasia and the enchanted tradition has since continued into Disney's modern animation. Consider Cinderella's fairy godmother, Tinkerbell's pixie dust, Aladdin's Genie, or Elsa's control over snow and ice. Even off screen, Disney exists in a world where Merlin's wizardry and alchemy is as real the sword Wart pulled from the stone. They even named their Florida theme park Magic Kingdom.

From their stories, to their amusement parks, to their toys and assorted merchandise, Disney boldly declares their faith in magic and insists that you share their belief.

This last weekend, I finally made the effort to see Big Hero 6 – the most recent addition to the cannon of Walt Disney Animation Studios and their first film featuring Marvel Comics source material. The movie is absolutely delightful and deserves the Oscar award it won for best animated feature. Naturally, the nerd in me is excited to see superheroes in the Disney universe. Yet, as I contemplate why Big Hero 6 is such a phenomenal movie, it has little to do with Marvel's intellectual property; it came to life through Disney's tradition of movie magic. Comparing this movie to the rest of Disney's filmography, there are three big avenues through which this magic manifests.

1. The magic of inclusion.

Disney doesn't want to tell you a story, they want to involve you in the stories they tell. They build fantasy worlds in such a way to make you feel as if you are present - or at least wish you were there. Their films have been set on every continent (except Antarctica) and places beyond: underwater (Atlantis), outer space (Treasure Planet), and virtual reality (Wreck-It Ralph). Their characters span such a wide variety of personalities that any viewer should be able to find someone to whom they relate - even if that character is the nervous and panic prone bird (Zazu), the playful but difficult to love alien (Stitch), or a hippy sentient VW Van (Fillmore). Even in the earliest classics, Disney sought to appeal to the widest spectrum possible. In seven dwarfs with distinct and nameable personas, there is someone for anyone to say, "Yeah, that's me."

This art of inclusion is why people are drawn to Disneyland – the happiest place on earth. It has spawned countless works of fan art and creative mashups. Obsessive studies of Disney movies have revealed the psychoses of some of our most popular heroes, heroines, and villains – even assigning them diagnoses from the DSM-IV. If ever you doubt that there is a Disney character like you, there is a handy chart that delegates each personality type from the Meyers-Briggs test to corresponding Disney figures.*

In Big Hero 6, the magic of inclusion is alive and well. Set in the fictional city San Fransokyo (an amalgamation of San Francisco and Tokyo), animators managed to incorporate the best of both cities and create an alluring environment that was not only believable, but the kind of place where I would want to live. The screenwriters developed characters that we care about, to celebrate in their victories and mourn in their grief. And still there were personalities varied enough to relate to different members of the audience. Christian, my oldest, found his doppelganger in Hiro - the 14 year old genius who serves as the central protagonist. Zu had two kindred spirits in the girls: GoGo the athletic engineer and Honey Lemon the quirky and empathetic chemist. JJ's favorite was Wasabi, the cautious neat-freak who specialized in laser and plasma technology. Even I could see a bit of myself in Hiro's older brother Tadashi who wanted nothing more than the best for his family and friends and ultimately sacrificed himself to save someone he admired.

2. The magic of imagination.

The power of the imagination is deeply rooted in Disney's philosophy. Even the employees responsible for designing, creating, and building the theme park attractions, cruise ship features, retail locations, and resorts are not engineering these destinations - they're Imagineering. Walt Disney believed that Disneyland would continue to grow as long as there was someone out there with an imagination and he was quoted saying, "Laughter is timeless. Imagination has no age. And dreams are forever." When a company's founder possesses such boundless and imaginative optimism, that attitude will be absorbed by the whole organization. That unbridled creativity spread like a wildfire from Disney's first cartoons, turning every story he touched into magic, reimagining familiar tales into something grander than anyone could have anticipated.

With the magic of imagination, every girl has slipped into a princess dress for at least a moment to pretend they are Bell or Snow White or Merida or Jasmine. With the magic of imagination, thousands of people from around the world are adding a Disney destination to their bucket lists while thousands others are checking it off from theirs. With the magic of imagination, we are invited into a wonderful world of make-believe. Through the magic of imagination we discover truths about the human condition from talking animals giving lessons in morality and catchy songs that permanently implant themselves in your psyche (I'm talking about you, 'Let It Go').

The plot of Big Hero 6 hinges on the magic of imagination. It follows the complex mind of Hiro as he grows from inventing his own battle robot to building powerful suits that grant his friends superpowers. Even the MacGuffin in Big Hero 6 are millions of microbots that are controlled by the imagination. But rather than tell us that Hiro is just a smart kid, the movie takes us to the drawing table with him. We watch as he drafts out his designs and uses a 3D printer to construct his prototypes. We're included in the testing processes. In a sense, the movie is teaching us how to use our own imagination, cementing one of the biggest lessons of the story: to solve your problems by observing them from a different angle.

3. The magic of inspiration.

In a world where most magicians employ misdirection and sleight of hand, the only real magic that truly remains is the power of a story to shape our culture. Stories that change hearts and move mountains. Stories that inspire us to do great acts and soar to great heights. Disney has harnessed that magic of inspiration and embraced their potential to cause great good in our world.

How many people adopted a dog after watching 101 Dalmatians? How many kids tried to dissemble their gadgets and tinker with the parts after watching The Great Mouse Detective? How many siblings strengthened their bond after watching Brother Bear? How many humans started recycling more after watching WALL-E?

The magic of inspiration shines in Big Hero 6. It was inspiration for my daughter to see that girls are just as smart and inventive as boys. It was inspiration for my oldest son to use his creativity to positively affect the world around him. And JJ? Well, he has always wanted to be a real life hero. Ever since he was old enough to have career aspirations, he has wanted to be a police officer or a fireman. As we walked out of the theater, he told me that he changed his mind; now he wants to build robots to help people. Big Hero 6 opened the possibilities for him. He will probably change his mind at least a dozen times between now and when he goes to college about the kind of work he wants to do, but now he sees that there are endless ways to be a hero. Being a robotics engineer is one of those ways.

* In case you’re wondering, I’m either The Overseer (Woody) or The Inspector (Sebastian), depending on circumstance.


In my head

During the commute to and from work, there is a void to fill. Some people listen to music. Others have podcasts or audiobooks playing. And talk radio is also an option. A few people use that time to pray (hopefully with their eyes open).

Me? I prefer music. I don't car-dance, but I do like to sing along.

Unfortunately, my car stereo is broken. The silence drives me crazy. These days, more often than not, I find myself praying. I assure you I keep my eyes on the road; I do not have the faith to praise Jesus with my eyes closed down Ramsey and over the freeway at 35 MPH.

I pray. But my brain tends to work better to the beat of a drum so sometimes that prayer comes out as a song that I have stuck in my head. Sometimes I offer those lyrics as my way of talking to God. Sometimes I feel as if that is God's way of speaking to me.

Interestingly, there are a couple of songs that I have playing inside my brain more frequently than others.

During the morning drive, the most common song I have on my mind is Bobby McFerrin's 'Don't Worry Be Happy.' When driving home, it is Tears for Fears' 'Everybody Wants To Rule The World.'

If God is really using these songs to give me some sort of message, I wonder. What is He is trying to tell me?


To be an Idaho citizen Part 2

Living in Idaho means having access to everything from the city to the farm to the backwoods. But living in Idaho also means that your government is a bit unhinged.

Let us start with the governor, Butch Otter. The man with the comical name that I could not invent even if I tried is lackluster on his best days. Married into a rich family and later divorced. In the 90s he remarried a woman half his age: a 24 year old pageant queen - Idaho's representation in the Miss USA contest. Since winning the 2006 election for governor, he has mostly rested in his popularity from previous positions as Lieutenant Governor and US Representative. When he has made an effort to do something, he acted with the sense of a kindergartner (example: refusing to sign any bills until the legislature passed a roads bill that he wanted).

Otter's second and third terms have been defined by failure and controversy. He backed the awful Luna Laws that voters soundly rejected. He has wasted $80,000 of tax payer money trying to fight the court's rulings on gay marriage. Even worse than all of that, he has been embroiled in scandal and accusations of crony capitalism. His attempt to privatize a state prison earned the nickname "Gladiator School" and is being investigated by the FBI for all sorts of charges; falsifying reports, allowing the gangs to control the prison, and purposefully under-staffing the guards. The Idaho Education Network was formed under his lead with the intent was to connect every high school in Idaho to high speed internet - including remote rural schools. However, contracts given to his out-of-state campaign donors even though a local company pitched a better service at a lower price. His actions resulted in a lawsuit (the state lost) and the courts determined that the previously awarded contracts were done so illegally. Again, this cost taxpayers thousands of dollars.

At best, Governor Otter is incompetent. At worst, he is manipulative and vindictive; possibly criminally corrupt.

This brain trust doesn't stop at the top. It works its way down to lower offices. Remember our Superintendent of Public Instruction? Yes, the one who won her election despite her bout of dishonesty, plagiarism, and lack of experience.

Or the former State Representative (and tax protester) Phil Hart who owed the IRS half a million dollars and tried multiple times to claim legislative privileges to evade his court battles.

Or the toe-tapping former US Senator Larry Craig who was arrested for lewd conduct in the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport, eventually pleading guilty to disorderly conduct. Despite being charged with misuse of campaign funds in an FEC lawsuit and court ordered to repay over a quarter million dollars in fines, Larry is now employed by the Idaho Republican Party as the financial chair of their executive committee.

Or former State Senator John McGee who got arrested for a DUI and grand theft auto after he stole an SUV with an attached towing a trailer; he went for a joy ride eventually crashing in the front yard of a Boise neighborhood. Despite his criminal charges, the senate took no penalizing actions against him and he was able to retain his position as caucus chairman. He finally resigned seven months later amid charges of sexual harassment.

Granted, those last three are all in the past. The current state leadership however is still filled with dolts of their caliber. Our current legislative session has been filled with disappointment.

Perhaps the most glaring evidence of their inadequacies is the refusal to recognize the Idaho giant salamander as the state amphibian due to paranoia of federal government overreach. Their actions crushed the dreams of the eighth grade student who has spent the last two years lobbying the state on behalf of the giant salamander.

Since the legislature began this current session, they have spent more time giving a proverbial middle finger to the big bad feds than they have attempting to resolve real problems facing our state. Rather than addressing education for our kids or providing support to the disabled in our community, Idaho's lawmakers are attempting to nullify federal law and claim possession of federal lands. They often ignore the advice of our Attorney General. They ignore the voices of the people who come to testify, send them emails, or call their offices. As for the many lawsuits that the state is fighting, our leaders have chosen to seek private lawyers rather than use the attorneys that are employed by the state - which means we're paying for legal representation twice. This GOP dominated government is redefining fiscal conservatism in horrifying ways.

I've become adjusted to the loony nature of our state's governance. After all, there isn't much I can do except wait for the next round of elections and hope my vote against these morons is not the only one.

Then the past few days happened. It must be a slow news week elsewhere in the nation because the idiocy of the Idaho GOP has made headlines from sea to shiny sea.

Both news stories broke on Monday.

First, while a doctor gave testimony, Rep. Vito Barbieri asked her if a gynecological exam could be performed by a woman swallowing a tiny camera. Anyone who has sat through a junior high anatomy class should be able to answer that question. Vito is an odd character. He is often confrontational during session and rude to anyone who provides input contrary to his political leanings. In response to the backlash against him, he claimed the question was rhetorical - which is likely. But it does nothing to further his cause. When you ask a stupid question like that, it undermines your argument. His back up excuse after the "rhetorical question" claim was that he was taken out of context. Of course, it is hard to be taken out of context when you are quoted word for word.

The second story revolved around a proposed resolution for the Kootenai County GOP Central Committee. This resolution asked for Idaho to declare that it is a Christian State - that "The state of Idaho and all its institutions will render full recognition to the Christian basis thereof, not permitting any diminution or rejection of its status nor any restriction on its presence or role in the public arena." Forget that the first amendment of the US Constitution prohibits the making of any law respecting an establishment of religion. Forget that Article I section 4 of the Idaho Constitution also protects religious liberty stating "No person shall be required to attend or support any ministry or place of worship, religious sect or denomination ... nor shall any preference be given by law to any religious denomination or mode of worship." But hey, who cares about the law?

Supporters claimed that the resolution was significant because we live in a time where Christians are persecuted in countries like Syria. They forget that the Christian church was founded during a time of persecution, that the first churches often met in secret, that the Roman government often subjected early Christians to torture and executions. They forget that there have always been nations where Christians are a persecuted minority and that the church often thrives in the midst of open persecution. They forget that Jesus told his disciples that they would be insulted, slandered, and assaulted because of their faith, that they would be blessed for the ways they are mistreated. One committee member backing the Christian State resolution had the gall to say that the republican party is a Christian party. It is as if the God they believe in is smaller than politics or belongs to only a single party.

Times like these make it hard to enjoy living in Idaho. Maybe I need to take a evening walk along the Centennial Trail again to watch the sun set over the Spokane River and remember why I love this place that I call home.

Because, if you ignore the troglodytes that govern this state, it really is wonderful here.


To be an Idaho citizen Part 1

If you are to live in Idaho for any extended duration, you will discover much to enjoy. From the depths of Hells Canyon and Snake River Canyon to the heights of Borah Peak, the Selkirk Mountains, or the Sawtooth Range. From world class ski resorts of Sun Valley, Brundage, or Schweitzer Mountain to the the beauty of Payette, Coeur d'Alene, and Pend Oreille lakes. From Craters of the Moon National Monument to City Of Rocks National Preserve to the Cataldo Mission National Historic Landmark. From deserts to forests. From peaceful valleys to alpine ridges. From farming canals to wild rivers. From the Mormon dominated south to the libertarian north. The hunting and fishing and boating and swimming and hiking and spelunking. The metropolitan entertainment and agricultural fields and state fairs and community festivals and art galleries and distilleries and cheese factories and coffee roasters. The clean air. Most people would be able to find an aspect about the state of Idaho that they could love.

We have been nicknamed the Gem State because of the varieties of gemstones that can be or have been found within our borders. This state is also a figurative gem because of its something-for-everyone setting. The city dweller. The suburbanite. The farmer. The redneck. The thrill seeker. The artist.

Idaho has been home to authors and poets like Ernest Hemingway and Ezra Pound; actresses Patty Duke and Ellen Travolta; actors Viggo Mortensen, Dennis Franz, and Ben Stein; athletes like Jake Plummer and Don Larsen; even Philo Farnsworth - the guy that invented the television. At some point in time, Bruce Willis, Arnold Schwarzenegger, John Elway, Mark Zuckerberg, Clint Eastwood, and Wayne Gretzky have owned vacation properties in Idaho. This is a state that has inspired adventure as well as offered a quiet retreat for many.

In my little corner of Kootenai County, I have come to appreciate our event-filled tourist season that seems to never end. Car d'Alene, Ironman, the Fourth of July parade and fireworks show, Julyamsh pow wow, Art on the Green, North Idaho Fair. I love our nearness to the rugged wilderness and access to the amenities of Spokane on the other side of the state line. The smell of mint as I drive across the prairie, the roar of water falling over the Post Falls Dam, the feel of wind sweeping inland from the lakes and rivers, and the relieving chill as I dip my toes into the water after a hike around Tubbs Hill. We experience all four seasons in their truest forms: wet but warm springs with cherry blossoms and electrical storms, long hot summers that will compel you to seek either air conditioning or your favorite stretch of beach, cool and crisp autumns with colorful foliage, and frigid snowy winters that make recent Californian transplants regret their decision to move north.

This is my home.

Before I start to sound like I am speaking on behalf of the Department of Commerce and Tourism, before you assume I'm trying to convince all of my out-of-state friends to relocate to my neighborhood, there's more.

Idaho contains unparalleled scenery. It is a golfer's and sportsman's paradise. We have miles and miles of trails to support any fitness advocate. Foodie will find their favorite culinary haunts. If you're looking for good wine or good gin, you'll find it in Idaho. Life here is something that anyone could get used to.

However ...

If you are to live in Idaho, you will have to accept that crazy is the default setting for most of the politicians that run this state. The capitol building in Boise is a stunning and gorgeous work of architecture, but the business that is conducted within its walls borders between insanity and absurdity.

There is more. If you want to know what kind of mindlessness lurks around Idaho's government, you'll have to read part two tomorrow.


Blogfest 2015

Saturday was a glorious (partly) sunny day but still a bit on the frigid side of the thermometer. That made it a perfect day to head inside for some socialization and good food. Bloggers and blurkers from around North Idaho gathered at Fort Ground Grill to celebrate the anniversary of Dave O's Huckleberries blog.

This is an annual event and I have lost count of how many Blogfests I've attended. But the people that were there make it worth the visit.

(click to enlarge - it's worth it)

This is the second year that all three kids came with me. It's interesting to give them a glimpse into my social world beyond what they normally get to see.

The kids got to meet Mayor Widmyer. Steve came around and shook their hands. Christian acted as if he was in the presence of royalty. Steve is such a great guy and as long as he's running for office, he has my vote.

Aside from the delicious grub provided by Fort Ground Grill and Bent's BBQ, there were also lots of laughter and reminders of why our blogging community exists.

Good times were had. JJ really enjoyed his lemonade.

Christian kept busy, distracted by Angry Birds. (completely draining the battery on my iPod)

And Chloe made some new friends in Digger and Spaz.

Honestly, I am grateful to be a part of this community. It is so rare to see a cordial and jovial gathering of a group of people with such diverse political and religious persuasions. It is also an honor to be considered as peers among the talented writers and photographers that Dave has assembled.

I can't wait until next year.


Frosty windows and the real me

The past couple of days have displayed the classic North Idaho beauty: bright sunny backdrop contrasted against our sparkling lakes and the greenery of forested hills. This has created a deception of warmth; we're venturing out in shorts and sandals with car windows down despite the fact that it is only 40 degrees outside.

After all, it is still winter.

During this time of year, those clear and cloudless skies that reveal scenic splendor by day and galaxies by night come with a setback every morning: frost. I hate frost.

Perhaps hate is the wrong word. More like I despise frost with a fiery passion that rivals Krakatoa, Vesuvius, and St Helens on their worst days. There is no wintertime activity that annoys me like scraping frost off my car's windshield.

This morning, as the defroster inside my car was cranked to its highest setting and I begrudgingly employed my ice-scraper outside, I had a flashback to another frost. One that was stickier and more annoying. During my senior year of high school, after a late night dress rehearsal, a cast mate offered me a ride home. When we left the auditorium, her car was covered with frost. Unfortunately, she did not have a scraper in her car. There was an empty cassette case (remember those?) and I offered to use that to scrape her windows. It worked. But by the time I finished scraping every window, her car had completely frosted over a second time. It took three full scrapings before the internal temperature of her car was warm enough to stave off repeated frostings.

As my mind is prone to wander, this thing I loathe reminded me of something better.

But first I have to go back in time a little further than high school. I grew up in a household that was enamored with sports. Saturdays filled with Pac-10 games. Sundays dominated by the NFL. Dave Niehaus and the Mariners all summer long. Sonics and hockey filled the winter months. And when all else failed, we watched pro wrestling.

By the time I was in kindergarten, my parents enrolled me in league soccer. I played for a couple reasons. Partly because my brother played soccer, and there was an expectation that I participated in some sort of competitive sport. But also because I actually liked soccer.

Then junior high came. My brother's choice of sport at that age was basketball. I couldn't do it. I was short and I knew that I would not be able to compete, so I made the unwise decision to join the wrestling team. Despite my ill fated choice in junior high athletics, there was another path I took during those years that changed my life far more than anything I experienced while playing a sport: I auditioned for drama club.

My first roll as a German officer in The Diary of Anne Frank started the journey that would bring me to that frosty night four years later, thrice scraping ice off of a friend’s car with a little square box of plastic meant to hold cassette tapes.

This girl was a part of the production cast, but she wasn't someone I had met through the drama club. I had grown up her with since we were toddlers; I had known her longer than any other student at our school. One of my earliest memories is getting in trouble for playing tag with her in the sanctuary of the little church we attended on the corner of Fourth and Alder. Her presence in drama club was significant. In our church youth group, she was one of the popular kids. As I have mentioned before, I was not one of the cool kids.

The line between the insiders and the outcasts was easily defined by athletic ability. They were tall and coordinated and good looking. During retreats and mission trips they would fill up their free time with a pickup game of football, and three-on-three rounds of basketball were as common as bible studies. When I joined the drama club, it was as if I had made a conscious decision to isolate myself from the sporty socialization of my peers at church. Our Sunday school classes and youth group meetings so frequently talked about media consumption that it often felt like our salvation was dependent on the genres of music we listened to or the kinds of movies we watched. From that perspective, playing sports was the wholesome activity that was encouraged. But art? Theater? Jazz band? Engaging in those heathen activities was a social stigma at church.

I developed a dual personality. One for my church friends and another for my school friends. That second persona was closer to the real me. The split was essential for my survival. It often felt like my peers at church negatively judged me for my theatrical associations. After all, the drama club was filled with outspoken atheists, openly gay people, and kids that smoked. Why would a good Christian kid want to hang out with them?

My senior year was the first time in my six years of involvement with school theater that I could share the stage with one of the popular kids from church. It was improbable that one of the cool kids would join that eccentric circle of thespians that I considered my closest friends.

Sure, there were other mixings of the two worlds. In junior high, my best friend Willie and I had roles in The House at Pooh Corner. He was Eeyore and I was Christopher Robin. Willie and I were friends at church, but he was an outcast like me. In high school, Willie's older brother Mike was a constant fixture in the drama club. He was also an outcast.

I have never regretted my decision to pursue involvement in theater instead of sports. Some of my greatest memories from my tenure at Marysville-Pilchuck High School happened in the performing arts building. My senior year was the pinnacle of that time: learning sword fighting for my role in Cyrano de Bergerac; elementary kids asking for my autograph after watching our production of The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe; all nigh set building parties while preparing for Into the Woods; passing around an acoustic guitar for group sing-alongs backstage.

As I look back at the highlights of the drama club, the unlikely addition of a popular kid from church is one of the most impacting. Not just scraping frost off her windows three times in one night - but the fact that she was there.

Until then, I lived in two worlds. The religious culture that rejected my interests and the supposedly godless culture that accepted me without reservation. The kids in drama club knew that I was a Christian, but that didn't affect their opinion of me. They gave me the freedom to express my faith far more than I ever could have with my church friends. Religion was important to me, but so was the theater. I lived this dichotomy, believing that my two worlds would be forever separated. I thought that I could never enjoy the arts at church and that I could never bring the church to my art.

Then one of the cool kids at church auditioned for a part in one of the drama club's productions. This was a collision of universes. This was validation that my passion for the theater had purpose and value. I finally realized that my theology and my artistry could coexist. The real me started showing up at church a little more frequently.

That frost though.


That which has no weight

When I purchased my phone, it weighed 3.95 ounces. Before installing any apps, before taking a single photo, before making a call or sending a text message: 3.95 ounces. My phone was nothing more than 3.95 ounces of aluminum, glass, sapphire, and electronic circuitry.

Now my phone's storage is 77% full, yet it still weighs 3.95 ounces. And if I fill it up to maximum capacity, it will still weigh 3.95 ounces.

That means the sum total of my digital existence: pictures and videos of my kids, chat and text conversations, books I've downloaded through Kindle, my guitar tuner, notes, calendar reminders, Pandora preferences, voice memos, cooking recipes, my bible, internet bookmarks ... All of it is weightless. Flashlight? Weightless. Angry Birds? Weightless. Marvel Comics? Weightless. Podcasts? Weightless.

Everything that you could ever want or need to know about my interests and habits weighs nothing.

The same is true of the human brain. On average, the human brain is three pounds. Skinny or fat, rich or poor, intelligent or stupid, an average of three pounds.

Just like installing a program on your computer does not make your hard drive heavier, we don't gain weight through learning. The brain itself is hardware. It is what allows us to function. To move, to breathe, to experience the fullness of our senses. But inside the brain, there's something else - something weightless. It is the human software - our thoughts, our identity. That which has no weight.

The sum total of who we are, what makes us unique, weighs nothing. Everything that makes us valuable is completely weightless. Our memories, our knowledge, our opinions, our dreams, our fears, our desires, our faith. All of it is wholly without weight.

The most important segments of our existence cannot be weighed or measured. It has no physical presence.

You are not identified by your shoe size, your waistline, or the number that shows up when you step on a scale. You are not your hair color or skin color. You are not your photographic smile or lack thereof.

What matters most is inside you. It has no weight or appearance, yet it is what makes you beautiful and gives you worth.

You - the real you is truly weightless.


The No-Truth Zone

Brian Williams has been relieved of duty. The powers at NBC have concluded that one tall tale invented in the mind of their most recognizable newsman was grievous enough to dismiss their most recognizable newsman for six months without pay. The statement they're making is important: that honesty matters. That liars should be punished. That news should be presented accurately and with truth.


Or at least that should be good. Unfortunately, the lesson will be lost in the din of 24 hour news networks.

Because FOX News has been lying for years.
Because CNN has been lying for years.
Because MSNBC has been lying for years.
Because CBS has been lying for years.

Because the truth is not sexy. The truth does not sell ad space. The truth does not lure in gullible viewers. The truth is that the culture of always-on news reporting encourages a stretching of the truth. Blood sells. Drama sells. Controversy sells. The more exciting, the more alluring, the better. The talking heads need to distort, omit, or invent facts to enhance their stories. Otherwise, it is just dull or appalling.

We live in a bizarro world where no-spin zones are filled with spin, where newsrooms resemble movie studios. Pick a major network - any of them, and you have a good chance of seeing someone lie.

I am not complaining about the bias. Everyone is biased and it is natural for viewers to seek out news programs that confirm their preexisting biases. So it does not bother me that FOX News leans right and MSNBC leans left. I do not care if news programs favor liberal or conservative viewpoints. What irks me is when news makers quickly and intentionally present demonstrably inaccurate "facts." And when it comes to news, everybody lies.

Yes, everybody. (infographic courtesy of PunditFact - click graphic for easier to read version)

Honesty matters. So I think it's good that NBC has suspended Brian Williams. But I wish that all news networks would follow that example. I would love to see more pundits disciplined for their dishonesty. Granted, (for some networks) that would result in a suspension of their entire staff.

Instead of mass layoffs and upheaval, maybe there should be a revolution in the way news is presented. What if there was more fact checking? What if anchors and new personalities offered more corrections and apologies for their inaccuracies? What if there was less infotainment and more information? What if the FCC fined networks for lies the same way they impose fines for indecencies? (Example: Janet Jackson's wardrobe malfunction.)

Truth is, none of those options will happen. We are to blame for this proliferation of lies in media. We allow it by consuming it. As long as they are getting the ratings they are going to keep doing what they have always done. We reward the liars by watching and accepting their lies.

Do you want to see more truthful news? Then turn off the TV.