Thursday, June 29, 2006

The Best Things in the World: Epic Movies

Bethany and I just finished watching "The Two Towers" last night, and boy, did it speak to me. It is difficult to overestimate the affection I have for epics. I really, really, really love them. They encompass so much of what is good in cinema. Big, sweeping plots, usually with transcendent causes. This in place of the often minimal plot and end of your average movie. Romance, but not in the cheap, sex-saturated way. More in a meaningful, bounded, wondrous way--modest romance. Bravery and honor, not of the kind fashioned in ethics-less streets, but of the time-honored variety. Epics have all these things and more.

While we're on it, "Lord of the Rings" is the most incredible set of movies ever conceived. Nothing comes close to it. It is the most satisfying piece of cinema I've ever encountered. Of course, for this we must give credit to Mr. Tolkien. Somehow, he was able to weave in a powerful redemption story, a major romance, a war of massive proportions, many different histories, and do it without the slightest touch of boredom or indulgence. Some books and movies just make you come alive. LOTR does that. And it does so against a thoroughly moral backdrop. The postmodern world has little to offer us with its tales of "complexity" and "confusion." Such stories pale to white when compared with the grand morals-fueled universes of Middle Earth and Narnia. Where there is evil, good must fight; where there is good, evil must take flight. Such is the compelling drama of the epic.

Secretly (in a world of blogs, not so secretly), every man wishes to be the hero. This life of papers and files, pens and meetings can all get a bit frustrating, and a man yearns when he sees LOTR and others for a few orcs to slay. Yes, as one of the Best Things in the World, epic movies lift us off our feet for a few moments, and let us imagine the world as it might be.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

The Best Things in the World: the World Cup

If you're reading this, you're probably American. And if you're American, you're probably ignoring the World Cup. And if you're ignoring the World Cup, you're missing one of the Best Things in the World. Few things on this globe bring humanity together like the World Cup. It's a worldwide soccer tournament, in short, in which eleven men represent an entire country in the hopes of bringing home glory and goal-scoring accolades. Why is it so great? Let me count the ways.

One: it involves the whole world. That's pretty noteworthy right there. Short of war, and, um, oil?, few things in this world involve everyone. Maybe more than that, for Americans, few things even make us aware of other countries. It is so easy in this nation, where goods come so easily and all we could ever need is just a gas tank away, to forget that other peoples and lands exist. It's not that we don't like other countries, necessarily. It's just that we don't even care about them. We have no need for them. Well, the World Cup draws us out of such stupid self-mindedness and brings before us different countries with their different anthems, their different hairstyles, and their different abilities. We learn, ever so briefly, that we are not the only country out there, particularly when we get thrashed at the hands of nations that have less gross exports than the state of Rhode Island. That's a good thing. It's good to learn there's a world out there, and to begin to appreciate it.

I in particular like to see how different testosterone-filled men can look and yet still be manly. We American men sometimes suffer from a disorder in which we think that true masculinity looks exactly and only like us. That is to say, those who are truly masculine shave every day, part their hair neatly 2/3 of the way across the scalp, and wear black cleats when sporting. Well, we may look like that, but a whole lot of other men don't. It is to God's glory that men look differently than other men. So it's fun to see Ronaldinho of Brazil with his long hair, or Zinedine Zidane of France with his cool shaved head, or David Beckham of England with his weird 'dos. Nowhere in the Bible do we see a prescribed masculine dress code--and certainly not in the World Cup.

Two: the playing. The conducting of the sport, the sportage, the contest. Soccer is immensely fun to watch, if you simply relax your overindulged American sports senses and enjoy a humongous athletic chess match. Just try and watch Brazil play and not be amazed. Athletics represents another language, another means by which we are blessed to see beauty, and soccer is one slice of that beauty. The long balls, the long runs, the 80 mile an hour shots into the back of the net, the slide tackles--it's a beautiful sport. True, there's not alot of scoring, but you don't need it. Just watch a player fend two others off with fancy footwork and turn-on-a-dime quickness and your jaw will drop. Now, after all this, I'm hoping that you're still American. But maybe, just maybe, you're interested in watching the World Cup? After all, it's probably (haha) one of the Best Things in the World.

Monday, June 26, 2006

The Best Things in the World: Mat Kearney's Music

That's quite a claim, I guess. And alot of pressure to put on one artist's catalog. But Mat Kearney makes the kind of music that speaks to the existence of another language, one spoken across the world, without words of any kind. His is the music of subtle emotion and deep, inward realities that you feel without reservation but struggle to articulate. It is music like his that gives us one of the Best Things in the World.

Not every song, of course. But skip over to Kearney's website, and listen to the first song that pops up on the audio player, "Nothing Left to Lose." It's the title track of his newest album, and it is amazing. One of my favorite aspects of music is a certain haunting sadness, a lingering melancholy, that Kearney captures with soul in this particular song. For some unknown reason, this quality connects with me to the core of my essence. As Kearney sings in this song and others of his travel, his gaze to the future, and the world that surrounds him, he draws you in, like a lonely traveler who shyly but evocatively tells you his life's story. At the end of it all, you are affected, moved, and you hesitate to part ways with such an acquaintance. So it is with Kearney's music. I've been listening to it for a long time now, and it is a friend worth keeping.

Sunday, June 25, 2006

The Best Things in the World: Emerald Nuts

Hi. I'm in the midst of a storm called "Hurricane Pre-wedding" that washed on my shores a few weeks ago. Actually, things are going great (July 8th is the day!), but it's just a bit hectic. And you loyal readers understand--when it's a tossup between posting on one's beloved blog or spending time with one's beloved fiancee, you know which side wins.

But that has not stopped me from continuing this, the blog series with the most grandiose title possible: the Best Things in the World. Yes, we're considering several. Today, I give you a little-known group of television commercials that are some of the strangest and funniest little ads to grace your tv--and now, your computer screen. The folks at the Emeral Nuts corporation--go to the website here--have put together some of the wackiest commercials to advertise the product ever seen. You should go to the website and click on "TV Ads." Then, watch a bunch of them. If you find them side-splittingly funny, congratulations. You are an appreciater of one of the Best Things in the World. If not, well...if not, then watch them again, because they are hilarious.

My personal fave? The "Big Game Spot." The weird machete guy doing the strange sounds almost knocks me out of my chair every time. Although the manicurist is pretty funny, too. And the matadors who high-step their way through a neighborhood, littering all the way, also never fail to brighten my day just a bit. Enjoy these commercials, and pass on the link. Now, if you'll excuse me--the fiancee is calling. You know what that means.

Saturday, June 10, 2006

The Best Things in the World

It's time for a new series. I hope that this is one is uplifting. There's not enough uplifting stuff in the world, and the world is filled with goodness. We should celebrate the good things more and breed a thankful heart in ourselves. These are in no particular order. Feel free to add your own in the comments section. (I do read all comments and I love getting them.)

Nursing a good book on a sunny afternoon Are you kidding? Our attention-deprived generation has no idea what it's missing in avoiding books. Reading is awesome. Okay, we've all been plenty bored by certain books. That's a given. But when you find a book that you love, few things surpass the joy of reading it slowly and carefully. We're not talking about skim-reading or even normal-speed reading. I'm talking about slow, methodical, leisurely reading that includes the re-reading of good passages and so forth. This is one of my favorite things to do, and I highly recommend it to those who have very busy lives. One of the best things you can do to enjoy life is to pick up a good book and read it slowly. Life slows down, colors emerge from black and white, and you begin to appreciate the nuances and broad themes of your world. So, once you finish reading this, go outside and read a great book. The sun's out, the book's great, and the book's waiting.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Watches are Dead

Yes, that's right. Does anyone wear watches anymore? I'm not sure many people do. Okay, some people do. Sure. But think en masse. Do the majority of folks out there wear a watch on a day-to-day basis? My theory is this: no. Watches, like fiction, like valor, like, ummm, other things, are dead.

What has caused the death of the watch, once one of the prized possessions of the business jet-setter? It's pretty simple. The cell phone. Take me, for example. I have a watch and I do very much like to wear it when I dress nicely. (It's a nice watch, after all, some would say a dress watch.) But on a day to day basis, when I'm wearing jeans or shorts, I don't wear a watch. I've got a cell phone in my pocket that has a clock and so I don't need the extra leather on my skin. I'm pretty sure that I'm one of many who feels no need for the former star of the arm, the watch.

In this way, I'm a child of my generation. We are not only dissimilar from our parents' generation in our worldview or our basic attitude to life, but in our accessories. We have a whole electronic array of items that would have been totally foreign to our grandparents. Transport us to the 1940s and they would think that a species of aliens had landed, replete with little white rope coming out of our ears and strange rectangles located at nearly all times by our ears. Perhaps more than that, they would have struggled to understand the attitudes that undergirded those accessories. We are such a communicative generation: an instrument that merely tells time we cannot abide. And thus the watch, like so many other things, goes to die, ticking softly all the way.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Valor is Dead

It used to be that valor was prized among men. It was one of the central virtues of our world. Boys were trained to be men, grew up, and then demonstrated their masculinity by acts of bravery and virtue. Exploration, war, and politics each afforded men the opportunity to prove their true masculinity and to show courage. Nowadays, however, few venues exist for men to show valor. What's more, no one much seems to care about courage. In an age that mocks earnestness and debases virtue, no one has much of an appetite for the courageous soldier, the noble outdoorsman, or the wise politician. Valor has died an ignoble death in our day, the victim of a poisonous cynicism.

This is not right. Every once in a while, you become aware of the fact that the world has turned on its head, and you feel the need to protest. Today's subject is one such example. The modern man seems spineless, weak, and squirmy. Nothing holds his attention for long, he detests sweat and labor, and he wishes most of all for a smoke and an escape from reality. He mocks war and condescends to the armed forces; bull-headed boors, he esteems them. He hides from the forest, finding comfort only when surrounded by four walls and a flourescent glow. He has no time for responsibility or leading a family; after all, he has concerts to attend and mp3s to buy. In fact, his only contact with valor comes when he mocks it. In this way, he is a shadow of what men used to be.

Yet the modern man cannot completely cast off the virtue of valor, nor can he distance himself entirely from the magnetic pull toward it he feels at times. Nobody pays any money to see an actor sit in a chair, or brush his teeth, or sing show tunes. No, but we flock to Mission Impossible 3, don't we? We want to see things blown up, and girls saved from certain death, and men flex their strength and skill in the pursuit of valorous ends. Try as we may, we can't leave our conscience and its precommitments completely behind. We sneer at them, and swear that we've sworn them off, but when nobody's looking, like the bully with a soft spot for his victims, we feel a curious pull toward valor and courage. In this example we see a bit of the parable of the modern man. In the painful process of deconstructing himself, he occasionally stops and wonders if he isn't doing something quite wrong. The moment may not last long, but it lasts nonetheless.

Friday, June 02, 2006

Fiction is Dead

Okay, so the title's a bit dramatic. But it's true. Not for kids. Kids' fiction is going strong, as it has been for a very long time. Centuries, even. Harry Potter dominates the fictional scene. The Lord of the Rings series has sold many hundreds of thousands of copies lately. His Dark Materials woos many young readers with its grimly atheistic world. The list goes on. But what about adult fiction?

Sure, there's the usual range of murder mysteries and so on. Those will be with us to the end of the age. But what has happened to great adult literature, classics like those written by Stevenson and others decades ago? Where have the Steinbecks gone? The Poes? These authors of fiction, though often read by a younger crowd, spoke to larger realities of their world. Poe, for example, revealed through dreadful horror what a godless world looked like. Steinbeck captured the dust and dread of the Great Depression in his novels, picturing in sparse prose the despair of that age. Make no mistake--these works were often gobbled up by young audiences, but they expressed profoundly adult realities. In fact, contrary to what many would think, fictional literature of the past is some of the more philosophical writing you can find. Philosophy may be woven into character development and plot twists, but it's there.

This has changed today. Now, we don't read fictional stories. Or, if we do, we read pulp novels. John Grisham is one example. His novels don't communicate much in the way of philosophical argument. They are essentially entertainment by way of the written word. No, in this age, adult fiction has died. The agent of this death? The television and movie screen. Our generation has not lost the love of story that so characterized earlier generations. We, however, prefer our stories to be acted out on screen. We do not have time, or patience, or energy for a 500-page novel. Give it to us quick, give it us now, give it us flashy. Sorry, fiction. In case you hadn't noticed, you have passed from the world of adults. Did anyone notice?