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.

9.06.2017

Donald's Streisand Effect

Sometimes, I wonder if President Trump has ever heard of the Streisand Effect. I doubt it; his behavior seems to indicate he is not aware of how his words might produce a result contrary to what he desires.

This phenomenon describes an instance where attempts to hide, distort, censor, or deny the existence of an act, deed, or object brings more attention to that act, deed, or object. It is the law of unintended consequence, Newton’s third law of physics in psychological form. Every social action has an equal and opposite social reaction. In the Streisand effect, the action is to suppress knowledge and the reaction is greater publicity than what previously existed.

It was named after the famous singer who filed a $50 million lawsuit to have pictures of her Malibu mansion removed from the internet anyone could see it. Prior to the lawsuit, the photo of Barbra Streisand’s home had only been downloaded four times. It was downloaded two more times by her attorneys. The suit was filed in the courts and became public record. Suddenly, everyone was aware of these pictures Barbra did not want them to see. The result was an additional 420,000 people who downloaded a picture they would have never known existed without someone trying to suppress it.

Every time Donald Trump decries the investigation into Russia’s influence over last year’s election and possible ties between Putin’s government and Trump’s campaign, I think of the Streisand Effect. Every time he tries to discredit the investigators, I believe the news a little more than I did before. The more he tries to bury the story the more I think there is a real story there. If it was all fake news as he frequently claims, he is not doing himself any favors drawing so much attention to it.

Besides, it cannot possibly be all fake news.

There were multiple meetings between Russian government officials, lawyers, and oligarchs and Trump’s kids, advisers, attorneys, and members of his campaign. The details of what was discussed at those meetings may never be known but the meetings did happen. Many from Trump’s inner circle who participated in those meetings also lied about their contact with the Russians. That is not fake news. Several of these people eventually came clean and admitted the contacts they previously denied. This is not fake news. Trump’s organization was trying to obtain permits to construct the world’s tallest building in Moscow while Trump was denying any business dealings in Russia. That is not fake news. Putin had a favorable opinion of Trump during the campaign, and Trump’s policies were overtly pro-Russia. That is not fake news.

When there are so many provable facts reported by mainstream media dismissed as fake news, reasonable and rational people understand the fakest news is the president’s accusations of fake news. At this point, anything Trump calls fake news is something I will consider more credible than if he said nothing about it at all. Whenever Trump refers to the investigation into Russia’s meddling as a witch hunt, I cannot help but think “yes, and you are the witch.”

If there really are no correlations between Trump’s campaign and Russia’s attempt to influence the election, if there was was zero collusion between Trump’s camp and Putin’s regime, then Trump should have kept his mouth shut. He should have let the investigators do their jobs. If there is nothing there, then there would be nothing for the FBI and DOJ to find. They would conclude the investigation with no evidence of wrongdoing. If that is the truth, why would anyone need to work so hard to deny the existence of anything? President Trump, as Shakespeare once wrote, doth protest too much.

The more Trump imitates Frank Drebin “nothing to see here, please disperse,” the more I want to know what IS there. Because it is obvious that there is something there.


President Trump is the Streisand Effect in action. The only thing he will accomplish by working to obstruct, hide, distort, and openly lie about Mueller’s investigation, the more attention he will draw to it. Pretty soon, it will be too big to ignore.

8.31.2017

My J

You, kid, challenge me to keep up. You're my sporty child, my athlete. Baseball games and football practice are unexpected additions to my schedule that I never imagined becoming a part of my routine. It's made my life exciting. It has stretched me and forced me to grow. And I'm a bit out of breath at times.

Seeing you play (and you play hard) is a joy beyond measure. Like when you were playing shortstop and scooped up a ground ball before it rolled out of the infield, then you ran all the way to first base to tag the batter out instead of throwing it. I was so impressed that you made it there before the runner - covering twice the distance in a shorter amount of time.

You're strong. You're fast. You're coordinated. You're stylish. You're brave. And you can dance.

I was none of those things when I was your age. So I have a bit of a learning curve in learning to be your dad, the kind of father you deserve. I'm lucky you're so easy going. You are forgiving of my mistakes. You don't mind when I throw a football and it strays wildly off target; you still run to retrieve it. You are also easy to please. I know it doesn't take much. A hug, a high five, Orange Crush cake that you've been looking forward to all year since you first found it at the grocery store last Christmas. Or getting the perfect gift for your birthday - the long board your really wanted.


There are a few things I want you to know. You will always have my support. I will always be on your side, cheering for your team. I will always encourage you to try something new. And I will always be amazed by what you can and will accomplish.

My favorite days are those when your laughter fills the air, when you return to me drenched from sweat, and when your eyes light up with happiness. Today, I could achieve that by giving you a skate board and feeding you cake. Happy birthday kid, my J-Funk. My JJ.

8.18.2017

What about the comic books?

This blog has been overly serious lately. So glum. I mean, understandable with the grim news lately, but still. Perhaps a bit of geekery could brighten up this place. How about we take a look at the world of comic books and see what’s going on.

Remember the cover of Captain America #1, released in 1941? It featured Cap punching Hitler. Those were good times.

image courtesy of Marvel Comics

Oh, look, it’s Punisher War Journal #8. Frank Castle sets out to take on a warped little Nazi named Hate Monger. That was when Hate Monger teamed up with the National Force, a hate group bent on violently removing anyone that wasn’t white from America.

image courtesy of Marvel Comics

Speaking of Hate Monger, he got punched in the face by T'Challa in Black Panther: The Man Without Fear! Vol 1 #523. Gosh, that costume looks familiar.

image courtesy of Marvel Comics

For a while, Sam Wilson (AKA, The Falcon) took the mantle of Captain America. In his turn as Cap, he fought against the Sons of the Serpent – Marvel’s discount version of the KKK.

image courtesy of Marvel Comics

What about the Marvel DC crossover? Nazis didn’t fare well there. Joker was disgusted to learn that Red Skull wasn’t faking his anti-Semitism and wanted to kill the Red Skull. Joker may be a psychopath, but at least he’s not a Nazi. Batman wasn’t impressed by Red Skull either.

image courtesy of Marvel Comics and DC Comics

image courtesy of Marvel Comics and DC Comics

And in 1949, Superman was lecturing kids about the importance of diversity and taking a stand against un-American racist bullies.

image courtesy of DC comics

Racism is wrong. It isn’t a difficult thing to say. Presidents of both major parties have spoken against it with ease. Comic book writers have been saying it since World War II. Granted, when it comes to portraying minorities, comic book publishers do not have a stellar track record. They’ve been known to portray the worst stereotypes possible. But they’ve been consistent in how they describe Nazis, the KKK, white supremacists, and other hate groups. Those characters were always the villain and the heroes always kicked their asses.

I won’t condone violence. Not because I am a pacifist or think violence is inherently evil. I oppose violence because I think it is usually pointless and does nothing more than perpetuate a downward cycle. But I also believe that some things must be opposed. Those who hate others because of their color of skin fall into that category. This is not an issue with many sides. We have hate groups and bigots on one side, and those who believe in justice, equity, and goodness on the other.

So, pick a side. I don’t know about you, but I’d rather side with the heroes.

I must take a stand. If I didn’t, I wouldn’t be able to look my kids in the eyes. My youngest who wants to grow up to be like Batman, mostly because he’s rich. My daughter who has a crush on Iron Fist (the comic book version, she’s not old enough for the TV show). And my oldest, who identifies with the X-Men because he knows what it is like to be different from everyone else. If I am to be the real-life hero of a dad that they deserve, then my duty is to oppose the ugliness of racism and bigotry whenever the opportunity arises.

That opportunity is now and I will not be silent.

8.16.2017

Legalized Racism and What We Should Do

Saturday evening, I posted a GIF on Facebook of a man ripping a Nazi flag in half with my thoughts about the demonstrations, protests, and violence in Charlottesville. I said: “To speak nothing against evil is to endorse it. Hatred has no place in civilized society. What happened in Charlottesville is evil. Those who want to "reclaim" their racist past are evil. Driving a car into a crowd of protesters is evil - it is murder, it is terrorism. History taught us what happens when power is given to one group of people who believe they are racially superior. We cannot allow it to happen again.”

It elicited a curious response. "Nic, what specific action do you recommend?"

It is a tough question to answer because racism is so ingrained in our culture. Legally speaking, the law allows racism and is helpless to prevent it. Which means course correction is our responsibility. We the people. It is our duty as individuals to take a stand. So, what do I want? What specific action do I recommend?

I want my kids to grow up in a world where this vulgar display of hatred and racism is uncommon. I want the next generation to enjoy the fruits of diversity. But how? Is this even possible? Maybe. But first ...

Every GOP leader must condemn the White Nationalist movement. Not all neo-Nazis and modern Klan members identify as Republican, but the majority tend to vote for Republican candidates. Rebuking these organized racists might cost some incumbents a few votes, but they might also gain support for taking a principled and moral stand. It must be known, racism is not welcome inside the Republican Party. If our elected officials don’t know what to say, they can follow the example of a few of their party peers.

Like Arizona Senator John McCain: "White supremacists and neo-Nazis are, by definition, opposed to American patriotism and the ideals that define us as a people and make our nation special. ... American patriots of all colors and creeds must come together to defy those who raise the flag of hatred and bigotry."

Or Nebraska Senator Ben Sasse: "These people are utterly revolting--and have no understanding of America. This creedal nation explicitly rejects 'blood & soil' nationalism."

Or Speaker of the House Paul Ryan: "White supremacy is a scourge. This hate and its terrorism must be confronted and defeated."

Or Idaho Senator Mike Crapo: "I condemn and reject the racism and hate perpetuated by white supremacist groups."

Or Idaho Senator James Risch: "White supremacy – and every other form of prejudice – does not represent our American values."

Or Idaho Representative Mike Simpson: "White supremacy and their hateful rhetoric and violence, have no place in this country. Let today unite our nation against this evil rather than allow it to be divided by a petulant minority that does not represent the values of America."

Or Idaho Governor Butch Otter: "We’ve had those problems in Idaho before, and fortunately, for the most part I think we dealt with it in the right way. They weren’t welcome here." (Note, Idaho was formerly home to the Aryan Nations)

Religious leaders must also condemn hatred as a violation of their beliefs. Churches, temples, parishes, wards, and synagogues across America should hold hope for those who claim supremacy to reform and abandon their hatreds, yet it is essential we call racism what it is - a sin.

One of the pastors at my church posted a single bible verse - Acts 17:26: "And He has made from one blood every nation of men to dwell on all the face of the earth." This is what I want to hear from every pastor, priest, clergy, and minister in the Christian world. Whether it is preached from the pulpit or in newsletters or on their social media platforms, Christian leaders need to emphasize scripture speaking of unity and racial equality and reconciliation. Churches must honor and celebrate diversity as a part of God's beautiful design.

Like Christine Hoover on The Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention: "He (Jesus) teaches me that His Kingdom is the country and people to which I belong, and that this Kingdom is formed by every nation and people group. ... Being a Christian in the face of racial hatred begins with Christ’s church falling to its knees in lament and confession and asking for his Spirit to move us toward Him and toward one another."

Or Tim Keller on The Gospel Coalition: "Christians should look at the energized and emboldened white nationalism movement, and at its fascist slogans, and condemn it—full stop. ... this is a time to present the Bible’s strong and clear teachings about the sin of racism and of the idolatry of blood and country."

Or Rev. Renee Roederer of Fig Tree Revolution: "White supremacy is the catalyst, the motivation, and the actualization of a wave of terror taking place in our nation. ... in the wake of it, we have the crucial occasion to decide that we will stand definitively alongside the most marginalized people in our nation."

There are also official positions taken by churches. Like The Wesleyan Church whose announcement begins, "I denounce any behavior couched as Christian that dehumanizes people and elevates one group over another. Our doctrine as Christians and history as Wesleyans in particular compels us not to be silent or inactive, but to engage in love." The Church of the Nazarene addresses racial equality in their manual, “We believe that God is the Creator of all people, and that of one blood are all people created. We believe that each individual, regardless of race, color, gender, or creed, should have equality before law … We urge our churches everywhere to continue and strengthen programs of education to promote racial understanding and harmony.” At the 2017 General Assembly for the Nazarene Church, they accepted a proposal to add the following to the manual:


Finally, every American must decide if they believe in the ideals our founder wrote into the Declaration of Independence, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness.” If we can’t uphold this, if we cannot vigorously defend these words free of exceptions or qualifiers, then America has lost. These wars have already been waged and won. If we are to uphold the American values of equality, we must now fight against the new Nazis and the new Klan who are bringing violence to our streets and poisoning our culture.

White supremacists must know there is no safe place for their beliefs even if the law protects their right to be racist. But I will not be satisfied until they are aware their views are not welcome. Not in politics. Not in houses of worship. Not on American soil.

8.14.2017

Morality and Where the Law Falls Short

In moral matters, the law is insufficient. The government cannot legislate good morality. They cannot pass a law to compel me to be a nice person. There are no statutes able to control thoughts, beliefs, and attitudes. While it is illegal to murder someone, being rude to a person instead of killing them is (and always will be) allowed.

Then we see events unfold like what happened in Charlottesville this last weekend. Permits were given to a hate group to gather and promote their racist beliefs - two rights that are protected by the first amendment. Many of them arrived armed, a right protected by the second amendment (according to law enforcement, event organizers encouraged demonstrators to bring weapons). This mix of white supremacists and self-proclaimed Nazis threw rocks and urine-filled bottles at police officers, they clashed with protesters opposing their hateful message, and one of them drove a car into a crowd of people in an act of terrorism.

After these types of tragedies, it is common to feel a righteous anger at the injustices in our nation. It is easy to get exasperated. We wonder how racism is still a thing. We ask, “Why do we let this happen?”

Unfortunately, we let this happen because we have to.

If I want the liberty to say whatever I want, then the same right must be afforded to those who want to say things I do not like or statements with which disagree. If I want the freedom to be critical of President Trump, then those who support him should have the ability to express their appreciation of Trump. If I wish to gather in my church and worship my God without the government's intervention, then those who worship other gods should have the same allowance. If I want the right to hold unpopular opinions, so should every other American, even if their opinion is as disgusting and vile as the white nationalists who organized and attended the ‘Unite the Right’ rally in Charlottesville.

There is a part of me who would love to see each and every one of them arrested and tried for some crime but I cannot escape the notion that the law allows them to be racist scum. As far as the government is concerned, they are free to be as bigoted as they desire as long as they do not violate any laws.

That makes it difficult for those of us who believe white supremacy has no place in civil society. It is a challenge for those of us who oppose seeing hatred and racism so easily displayed in public spaces without any legal ramifications.

Because there is no option for the law to curtail racism, I have a message for the Richard Spencers of the world. To the boys (and let's be honest, they usually are boys) like Jason Kessler, Peter Tefft, Peter Cvjetanovic, James Allsup, James Fields Jr, and Cole White.

Image courtesy of Us Weekly

If you want to be a racist clod, you are free to do so. I cannot stop you from hating the Jewish and black friends whom I consider family. I cannot prevent you from despising my Native American kids. I cannot force you to abandon your hostility toward my Latino coworkers, neighbors, and friends.

I cannot use the force of law to litigate your hatred out of existence. However, if you are free to possess and vocalize your intolerance and prejudices, I am also free to express my disdain and my revulsion of your beliefs. If you want to be permitted to espouse your discriminatory attitudes, then you must also endure those, like me, who wish to denounce and/or ridicule your xenophobia. You are on your own. You cannot be tried in a court of law, but you will be held in contempt in the court of public opinion.

You want respite? You want a reprieve? You want to avoid the natural consequence of your behavior? Well, in the words of Rage Against the Machine, "There be no shelter here."

8.13.2017

A Retirement to Celebrate

A friend of mine is retiring. This friend is a big reason I pursued writing. A few years ago, he and I chatted about my blog. I had only recently re-branded into The Faithful Geek and starting to define who I was as a blogger. There are several writers in our area and he told me that I was one of the few who could truly write. He added how any time he sees me post something, he pays attention. I recently divulged my evolution as a writer, but that story was incomplete. These words from my friend were the first that made me believe I could be a real writer, that I could have a career doing this thing I love.

Why was the encouragement he delivered so much more powerful than the others who told me I was a good writer? Because it was Dave.


Dave spent his life working in journalism. Writing has been his job for longer than I’ve been alive. He came to the Coeur d’Alene area twenty years ahead of me, and blogging is what brought the two of us together. Over a decade ago, the Spokesman-Review gave him the opportunity to translate his editorial duties from a print only column into an online platform. Through moderating a newspaper blog, Dave promoted other local bloggers, often using their stories to create new content for the SR. I was one of those bloggers.

He was paid to write. On his writing income, he was able to buy a house, raise his kids, put those kids through college, and enjoy a fulfilling life. So, when he told me I was one of the few, it was more than a compliment. He spoke with the authority of someone who knew what he was talking about. There was a legitimacy to what he said that helped me feel like something more than a random dad who blogs as a hobby. After my conversation with Dave, I felt like a writer. It was one of those defining moments in life.

Last summer, Dave and I had another conversation, one about something incredibly specific. He told me that my post about divorce was the best article he had ever read about the topic from an evangelical perspective. Once again, I was humbled by his perspective. Such a powerful compliment from an industry insider. That blog post was one of the most difficult things to write. I was scared to hit the publish button. And here was a man I respected, a trained and professional writer telling me how much he was impressed by my writing.

Which brings me to now. I am writing a book. Something I always wanted to do but lacked the confidence to actually do it. Without Dave’s encouraging words, I’m doubt I would be doing it. I might still be blogging, but I would probably still think of it as nothing more than a hobby. But writing a book? I don’t think I would be writing a book if Dave had never told me I was one of the few writers who could really write. His remarks about my piece on divorce is what convinced me I had more in me than a blog.

It's now time for him to retire. The footprint he has left on Coeur d’Alene and surrounding communities is immense. As he moves into his new adventure of retirement, there will be a vacuum left behind, an absence of his voice. But the impact he’s had on my life is a story only I can tell. This week, I want to congratulate him on a job well done. More than that, I want to thank him for his role in helping form who I’ve become.

Dave, your retirement has been earned and well deserved, may you enjoy it to its fullest.

8.08.2017

Oh, Sunburn (in other words, ow)

Sunburns are a rarity in my life. Perhaps that is because my day job keeps me inside for most daylight hours. Maybe as a writer, I'm driven to work where there is a wi-fi connection: coffee shops, libraries, fast food joints. Beaches are not known for offering internet access, and let's be honest, I'm not the kind of guy who is going to bring his laptop to the beach for a three-hour writing session.

Looking back on the thirty-some-odd years I have been alive, I wasn't the kind to frequently burn - even when outdoors more frequently. Those occasions I did turn a little red, the strawberry tint would quickly fade into an enviable tan.

Until this weekend. I took the kids swimming on Saturday and we spent a few hours at a Spokane Valley public pools. Everyone had fun and afterwards, I felt like a normal human being. I changed back into street clothes, and headed to Art on the Green with my daughter. Zu and I ate some fair food. We wandered through the vendors and crafters. Zu tried samples at every booth that offered them. Even then, I still didn't notice any ill effects of prolonged sunlight exposure. Night approached, I began to feel a little funny, like something was off. When we got in the car to return home, I wondered 'why do my shoulders feel so warm?' It wasn't until I was standing shirtless in front of my bathroom mirror when I realized the full extent of what I'd done. A bright red hue covered my upper body. Biceps into my shoulders and down onto my pectorals. Forehead. A little on the cheeks and tip of my nose.

I'm sure my naked appearance is far more comical than usual. I should mention I had sunscreen with me and failed to apply it.

This burn is the worst of my adult life. Perhaps the worst since high school. But I've been thinking. Is it the worst ever?

The first truly memorable sunburn I ever got was a series of burns over the course of a single summer. At the end of my seventh-grade year, my grandparents drove me from Seattle to visit family near Kansas City, Missouri. In the few weeks I was there, my cousin Allen and I spent our days playing in a local park, hanging out at his dad's church, walking to the candy store in downtown Weston, or swimming.

Twice a week, my aunt would drive Allen, his sisters, and me across the river into Leavenworth, Kansas to go swim at the public pool – a twenty-minute drive each way. My aunt made sure we would get there as early as we could and stay as long as possible. Twice a week, for three weeks, for hours on end, with no use of sunscreen, my cousins and I would play in the water with little shade and fewer breaks. I left the state of Missouri looking like a skinny tomato.

My next road trip was from Weston to Cheyenne, Wyoming. A long drive through the cornfields of Nebraska listening to nothing but country music with my mom's little sister and her husband. My mom was in Cheyenne and we stayed there for Frontier Days before heading back west. The second leg of my journey home was from Cheyenne to Twin Falls, Idaho with my mom and her aunt. We stopped for a weekend long family reunion in Twin Falls - camping at an RV park that had a pool with water slides. I spent two full days riding those slides. There, I received another burn on top of what I got in Leavenworth.

We finally returned home and I resumed my normal summer routine: hiking in the Cascades as much as possible. Toward the end of summer, I attended my church's youth camp on Elbow Lake outside of Yelm, Washington. The camp gave us three hours for free time every afternoon and I spent most of my free time on the water in a canoe … working on my third sunburn of the summer.

After the pool in Leavenworth in June, the water park in Twin Falls in July, and the lake in Yelm in August, I turned into a human slice of toast. By the time I started school again in the fall, those consecutive burns had turned into the darkest tan I've ever been.

The second major memorable sunburn happened when I was fifteen and hiking above the Paradise Lodge on Mount Rainier. The air gets thinner above 5500' elevation. And that afternoon, at 6800' the sky was the deepest and clearest blue I had ever seen and the sun was deceitfully warm. So close to the glaciers and walking on snowpack, I would have expected cooler temperatures. As the day wore on I stripped off layers; by midday, I was down to shorts and a tank top.

(incriminating evidence)

There were two things that my skin had not anticipated. The UV rays are stronger in thinner air. Also, sunlight reflects off snow. At the end of the day, it was obvious I was burned. Legs, arms, shoulders, neck, sides, and back. There were clear tan lines (red lines?) outlining the length of my shorts and shape of my tank top. What made this sunburn memorable are the burnt areas that had never burned before. Light bouncing up from the snow tinged the undersides of my chin and nose.

Now, I'm burned again and it feels like the worst ever. But is it? I don't know. In comparison, it is mild compared to what I've done before. Maybe my age has made me over sensitive. Or it has been so long I've forgotten what it feels like. Or maybe I've lost the youthful energy that compensated for the pain in my younger years. Regardless, I am not enjoying this experience and I am eager for it to fade away.

Going forward, I’ll be adhering to the admonition offered in Mary Schmich's commencement column, which she published in the Chicago Tribune the year I graduated high school: "Wear sunscreen. If I could offer you only one tip for the future, sunscreen would be it. The long term benefits of sunscreen have been proved by scientists whereas the rest of my advice has no basis more reliable than my own meandering experience."

7.31.2017

Movies, Mahnke, & Money

If you order DVDs through Netflix, old school style, they are delivered in fancy red envelopes. Open it up, watch the movie, insert back into the envelope, and return through mail. Fairly simple. Inside the envelopes, they promote various contests or upcoming events, usually seasonally related. However, the most current contest confused my oldest child.


"This doesn't make any sense." Christian said. I asked him what he meant and he explained, "Why would you bring movies with you if you were going to be stranded on a deserted island? Wouldn't you rather bring some survival supplies? If I was stranded on an island, I'd be more focused on living and getting back home than watching my favorite movies. Besides, what are you going to watch them on? Your laptop? And how long do you expect your battery to last? It's not like there's a TV there. Or electricity. Unless there are other people on the island and they have a TV you can use. But then you wouldn't be stranded. This is ridiculous."

I want to say he was overthinking things. Taking it too literally. After all, it is only a silly contest. But he does have a good point.



One of my current favorite podcasts is called Lore. Hosted by novelist Aaron Mahnke, Lore dives into the true origins behind ghost stories, monsters of legend, and modern mythology. I crave a good story and Lore is overflowing with greatness. The show is fascinating, and Mahnke's voice is near hypnotic. My off-kilter timbre landing somewhere on the spectrum between Mickey Mouse and Eeyore is jealous. Beyond his podcast, Mahnke is also an entertaining personality to follow on Twitter. He is witty, intelligent, and articulate. His bias is clear but not in a way to elevate himself as better than anyone else.

Last week, Mahnke went on a tweet spree. This series of tweets cemented his place on my list of people I want to meet some day. Note: this was all in response to people complaining he was "too political."












Reading through his rant, I wanted to jump up and down, throw my fists in the air, and shout, "Me too!" Check out Mahnke on Twitter and do yourself a favor, listen to Lore.



Whoever thought that chipped debit cards was a good idea should be fired from their job. Then rehired so they can be fired again. And they should be banned from working in research and development at any company - especially banks. Some people have good ideas. That person is not one of them.

I'd rather swipe my card. I hate those chip readers. Loathe them. They've made spending money more complicated than it needs to be. But this is the world we live in now. Yay for progress.

This is how a real transaction transpires:
"Please swipe or insert card." *swipes card*
"Chip enabled, please insert card." *inserts card*
*waits*
"Do not remove card"
*waits*
"Do you want cash back?" *no*
*waits*
"Please enter your PIN number" *enters PIN*
*waits*
"Do not remove card"
*waits*
"Do not remove card"
*waits*
"Do not remove card"
*waits*
"Please remove your card now." *removes card and machine beeps*
"Thank you for shopping with us, have a nice day.

This is how every transaction feels:
"Please swipe or insert card." *swipes card*
"Swiping not available. Ha ha. Fooled you. Insert card." *inserts card*
"Do not remove card." *waits*
"No, seriously, don't remove your card." *waits*
"Don't even think about removing your card." *waits*
"Don't do it, bad stuff will happen." *waits*
"Do you want cash back?" *no*
"You're thinking about removing your card, aren't you?" *no*
"If you do it, I will break you."
"Please enter your PIN number" *enters PIN*
"Do not remove card." *waits*
"Do not remove card." *waits*
"Because if you do, it will disrupt the process." *waits*
"Do you want to start this process over? DO YOU???" *no*
"Then don't remove your card." *waits*
"Remove your card. DO IT NOW! Hurry up. What is wrong with you?" *panics, grabs receipt instead of card*
"What are you doing?" *removes card as an air raid siren starts whirring*
"It's about time. Thank you, come again."

7.20.2017

Didn't see it coming ...

Disclaimer. The following contains some strong and possibly probably offensive words. When it comes to topics like addiction, depression, and suicide, I tend to speak the language of the broken and the hurting. There are certain elements of the human existence which escape the normal realms of my linguistic abilities. There are maladies in our lost world that do not deserve my politeness or my eloquence. Consider yourself warned.

Today is a day that Linkin Park fans should have seen coming. Or at least we can make that determination in hindsight. Still, the headlines were shocking. To lose Chester Bennington so suddenly and without any hint this would (or could) happen.

image courtesy of the indie spiritualist

Yes, he struggled with addiction and alcoholism. Yes, he fought his demons to get clean and sober. Yes, he had a rocky relationship with his fame. Yes, he had a painful childhood and years of pent up anger. All signs pointed to someone who battled depression and anxiety. After all, Linkin Park’s breakthrough single found Chester singing the opening lyrics, “I cannot take this anymore.”

On the other hand, he was a man who was loved by his family and his bandmates. He was a man respected throughout the industry. He was a man who inspired and encouraged a legion of fans.

As is often the case, the smile he wore disguised a darkness in side. It was a mask to cover the fragile real person inside who was on the verge of collapse. He managed to channel his rage through his songs where he’d sing and scream and emote as if performing with his band was a cathartic counselling session. For those of us who found his music at the right stage of our lives, Linkin Park was a form of therapy for us too. We found solace and solidarity in these songs.

After the suicide of yet another of our musical heroes, we engage in the only form of grieving we have available. We return to their songs and mourn the loss of someone we never met. While we didn't know them personally, they helped us get to know ourselves better. So that is how I spent my evening: listened to Linkin Park and cried. And in the middle of all of it, I could see a pattern I had not noticed before. Their music continually evolved, but if you pay attention, Chester’s pain is woven into their lyrics throughout their history.

Sixteen years ago, they released the single ‘In the End’ where Chester sang “I tried so hard and got so far, but in the end it doesn’t even matter.”

A year and a half later, the first single on their second album contained the chorus, “I wanna heal, I wanna feel what I thought was never real, I wanna let go of the pain I’ve felt so long, I wanna heal, I wanna feel like I’m close to something real, I wanna find something I’ve wanted all along, Somewhere I belong.” I listened to this song in tears today realizing that he never healed. He couldn’t let go of the pain. He never found that thing he wanted.

In 2010, the song ‘Waiting for the End’ came out, containing lyrics from Chester, “All I want to do is trade this life for something new, Holding on to what I haven't got.” Fifty-one days after Linkin Park released this single, my grandfather passed away. This song helped me cope and grieve, and even now I am crying as I type. I will always think of Grandpa Casey when I hear this song.

Four years ago, LP collaborated with Steve Aoki for their twenty-fifth single, ‘A Light that Never Comes.’ As that song played this evening, I broke down. Chester’s limited contribution to this song found him “Waiting for a light that never comes.” And I couldn’t escape the thought that the light never came.

I’m at a loss for words. Another headline of another dead rock star in another tragedy that could have been avoided. I am sick of this shit. We, as the human race can do better. Depression does not have to be a terminal disease. Drugs and alcohol do not need to be life sentences. We need to address the mental health crisis in our nation with serious and deliberate efforts. Because depression and suicide is not just something for the wealthy and famous. It affects us all. I’ve lost good friends to suicide and I don’t want to see it happen again.

So I have a message for death: fuck you. And suicide? Fuck you. Depression and addiction, I love my friends too much for you to take them from me so fuck you too.

We are all flesh and bone, damaged and weary. Yet I hold on to hope in this beautiful messed up world. There's a Linkin Park lyric that says, “This is not the end.” And I believe that. If you’re feeling like you’re waiting for a light that never comes, please don’t go. There is help. If you are in pain, you're not alone. If nobody else is listening, come find me. I’ll be here.

7.17.2017

Status Check: Tidbits

You might see a bit of a slow down in the number of my blog posts over the next couple months. For a multitude of reasons.

1. It's summer and the kids are keeping me busy. They're spending most of their time at a day camp while I'm at the office. After I pick them up, the activity continues. JJ is playing baseball again this summer. I'm spending some quality time with each of them. And I am still trying to make Saturdays our adventure day. Most nights, by the time we get home, we cook dinner and start bed time routines.

2. I'm busy trying to get school done. It is more work than I anticipated, but it is the good kind of work. One recent class required the weekly assignments to be written as blog entries which was easy for me to figure out since that's what I do. In case you missed them, you can find those posts here, here, here, here, and here.

3. I've also written a couple articles for the parenting site They Call Me Dad. My second contribution was posted today and you should go read it. The first was published in April; you should read it too.

4. Speaking of writing, I am hustling to complete the first draft of my book. There is a lot of research going on and I want to have something that I can begin to share by the end of the year. In order for that to happen, I have to work my butt off. I'm roughly 20% through the project and I am more excited about it than anything I've ever written.

My temporary work-space. Note: Wendy's is not paying me to promote them, but I wouldn't object if they did.

5. Not everything in my life is about kids and work. I have been spending a lot of time with a wonderful woman and on Sunday we will be celebrating a year together. Thankfully, she supports my ambitions and encourages me to write, which makes everything else I talked about in this post so much easier.

That should summarize the state of life at The Faithful Geek. A five-for-Friday post on a Monday. As I start my 13th year of blogging, I am so grateful for those of you who regularly read along, for those of you who geek out with me, and for the few of you who periodically disagree with what I have to say. You have made it possible for me to enjoy something that I never imagined doing: to call myself a writer.

Thank you for sticking around. When my fingertips are not busy plucking out words and sentences and paragraphs for school, guest posts, or my work in progress, you will continue to find my thoughts about what it is like to be a Christian, a dad, and a nerd in this bizarre and beautiful world. Until then, do me a favor and click on an ad or two. It will make my oldest son happy.

7.12.2017

Spider-Man: An Adequate Homecoming

What makes the Marvel Cinematic Universe work is how they are more than just comic book movies. The MCU blends a host of genres into their films - all retold from a superhero perspective. The Iron Man trilogy covered terrorism, scientific ethics, and corporate espionage. Captain America provided a historical war drama in The First Avenger and a political thriller in The Winter Soldier. Thor was a redemption story framed in high fantasy. Ant-Man was a heist movie. Both Guardians of the Galaxy movies were space operas. And now, there is a coming of age story: Spider-Man: Homecoming.

image courtesy of Columbia Pictures, Marvel Studios, & Sony Pictures

My first impression of Homecoming is overwhelmingly neutral. Bright and colorful, humorous and entertaining. It didn't feel overly long despite the 133-minute run-time. Yet, I walked out of the theater filled with competing emotions: satisfaction and disappointment. I enjoyed the movie, but I'm conflicted.

Tom Holland embraces the geeky awkwardness of Toby Maguire's Peter Parker and the jovial quips of Andrew Garfield's portrayal of Spidey. Additionally, Holland has a youthful charm not possessed by either of his predecessors and Homecoming benefits from his ability to fit the role of an angsty teenager. Homecoming picks up in the aftermath of Civil War where Peter Parker had his first taste of official superhero work. He is eager to get out and do it again.

The villain is perfectly cast by Michael Keaton as Adrian Toomes/The Vulture. Toomes starts off as a contractor managing waste disposal after the Battle of New York (the climatic third act of The Avengers). His contract is terminated, leaving him and his crew unemployed. They are replaced by Tony Stark’s newly created US Department of Damage Control. One of Toomes' employees (The Tinkerer) discovers some of the alien technology still in their possession can be used to create useful tools. Toomes begins a new criminal career stealing alien tech and Stark hardware from USDOC. They repurpose these scraps into weapons to be sold on the black market.

Several familiar faces reprise their MCU roles. Marisa Tomei returns as Aunt May. Robert Downey Jr plays the mentor and father figure Tony Stark/Iron Man. Jon Favreau plays Stark's bodyguard and best friend Happy Hogan. Gwyneth Paltrow makes a surprise appearance as Pepper Potts, Stark's girlfriend. And Chris Evans filmed a series of PSAs as Captain America.

Despite the basic formula of good guy stopping bad guy from villainy, Homecoming is essentially a movie about a high school kid in the midst of high school drama. The cast is filled with teachers and students that make up the world of Parker's daily life. Kenneth Choi is the school principle and Hannibal Burress coaches the academic decathlon team. Parker's best friend Ned (Jacob Batalon) is the wingman. Liz (Laura Harrier) is most popular girl in school. Tony Revolori plays Flash - breaking the stereotype of the jocks being a bully. Instead, Flash is just a normal kid who is also an obnoxious jerk.

Aside from the heroics, Parker wrestles with typical teenaged struggles. He is the smartest kid in school but has trouble applying himself, has a crush on the cutest girl in school, is constantly picked on by the bully, and experiences apathy toward all the things he once enjoyed. He is the kid who wants to grow up too fast. After helping team Iron Man in Germany, school is suddenly boring. He would rather be on missions with The Avengers, saving the world – abandoning education for adventure.

Homecoming succeeds by skipping the origin story. Peter Parker was a kid when the chitauri invaded Manhattan; it is the most significant event of his childhood. He grew up in a world where superheroes were known and their exploits were newsworthy. By the time Spider-Man appeared in Civil War, we knew he was doing superheroey activities and posting videos of his antics to YouTube. That's how Tony Stark found him. We don't need to revisit the spider bite that gave Parker his powers or the death of his uncle and the "great power/great responsibility" speech. We don't need those key moments in Spider-Man's origins because they have been told many times before.

Spider-Man: Homecoming is a fun movie. I enjoyed it. The casting is excellent, the costume design is impressive. The script is concise. The story line is engaging even if predictable. Some of the best moments of the movie are the most human interactions - especially a tense moment between Parker and Toomes, neither character dressed like their hero/villain alter-egos. My favorite scenes were musical montages: the first set to Blitzkrieg Bop by The Ramones and the second to The English Beat's Sooner or Later.

I give you a glowing review. An appealing summertime blockbuster. But somehow, I'm unimpressed and feel a little let down. Homecoming is part of the MCU, has the Marvel feel, and would not have been possible without the inclusion of Iron Man. However, it didn't have the same weight or impact as much of Marvel's expanding library of films. No big social issues. No deep philosophical meaning or moral lesson. I have no desire to go see it again like I have with several of the previous MCU movies.

It is only a story of a kid learning how to be a better superhero. It isn't a great movie, it's just OK. It is better than bad but falls short of amazing. It saved the franchise after the mess that was Spider-Man 3 and the two Amazing Spider-Mans, but did little to stand out among the crowded superhero genre. It's good enough to make me want to see where these characters go next but not so good that I'd call it a must-see movie. If you like comic books, you will probably enjoy it. If comic books aren't your thing, you're not missing much. Homecoming accomplished what it set out to do. Nothing more, nothing less. In other words, it is an adequate movie.

7.10.2017

Doing Something Right: Summertime Edition

Summer has arrived in full force. A little belated but North Idaho has seen gradual warming since Father's Day and last Friday was the first time we reached 100 degrees this year. The sun is out and will be lingering for a while. For some people, summertime weather means beaches and boats, hiking the mountains or floating the river, sunburns and tan lines, summer camps, bonfires, volleyball, frisbee golf, cliff diving, baseball games, and backyard barbecues.

Not me, though.

Sure, my family participates in many of those typical summer activities. My oldest has earned himself sunburns on two consecutive Fridays and is slowly learning the value of sunscreen. My youngest has played his first two baseball games of the season and I took the kids out to watch the Spokane Indians last week. We will partake in opportunities for swimming and hiking and grilled foods. However, those activities and experiences don't make my summer summer.

For me, there is only one thing that makes this season feel truly summer-like. A soundtrack.

There are certain songs that should only be played between Memorial Day and Labor Day. There is music that makes you feel like you belong where the waves crash along the shore. There is a particular collection of tunes that dance and in hand with inflatable pool toys and roasted marshmallows. Whole genres that beg to be played during the summer months. Reggae. Ska. Salsa.

Or maybe I am just weird. Which is always a possibility. However, summer just isn't summer until I hear a couple specific songs.

This year, with a new car (I named it Emrys, BTW) that has an excellent sound system, I needed some cruising music. So, I did what I have enjoyed doing since I was a teen growing up in the 90's. I did what I was once paid to do in my former job as a DJ. I created a mix of songs for the occasion. It has been playing in my car for the last three weeks with a few breaks to listen to Spanish lessons with the kids.

My munchkins are growing more familiar with the music I selected. After listening through the full playlist a couple times, each of my three kids have picked out the songs they like best. One day, about an hour into the mix, Zu had a question for me.

"Where's the Fresh Prince?" She asked.

DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince's classic summer jam 'Summertime' is the second track in my playlist. It is one of those songs that I must hear before I can accept that this hot weather is valid and acceptable. It is one of those songs I believe is best played while driving around with the windows down and volume up. And that song is the one my daughter wants to hear the most.


This is how I know I'm doing something right. My daughter, like most girls her age, wants to listen to Justin Bieber or Ariana Grande or Shawn Mendes. Yet she has an appreciation for old-school Will Smith. She will belt out the lyrics when Corinne Bailey Rae plays. I will catch her singing along with some obscure artists like Ozomatli or The Sundays, bands I know she would never be exposed to without having a father like me. It makes me smile every time.

Because serious musical conversations with others is one of my favorite things, I'm sharing my summer playlist with you. These are the songs that define summer for me. Enjoy.