Dec 26, 2006


I am sure you all remember the hugely popular experiment my friend Greg Ramer and I ran last year with our blogs. We swapped entries on our review of the Year That Was. So, back to raging demand by our readers, we decided to do it all again. Check out my entry, and then (when Greg gets back from huntin') check out his here. I am going to hold off on movies until later - since I may be seeing a few more this week. Without further ado, here is my look back at the year that was in TELEVISION.

Actually, here is some further ado. I am approaching my review a little different this year. I am not going to try to do some comprehensive list of anything. I am going to do three categories: MOST ENJOYED, MOST DISAPPOINTING, and OTHER NEWS OF NOTE. Now, not further ado.

24: This became our most obsessively followed show this past year. The writing is slick, the action is incredible, the acting is super, and the twists and turns keep you involved every week. The think that sets 24 part is that it has payoff and surprises each episode. Some serial shows have major problems with their distribution of interesting revelations. 24 never fails to deliver - all 24 episodes are top notch. Good stuff.
Heroes: Sure, it could be labelled as X-Men: The Discovery. But it just a great show. Some of the acting lacks the oomph of other shows, but I am never bored with it. And I am very excited to see where it is going to go as the season goes on.
Jericho: I hate to admit it, but Heather's show won me over. I should hate this show: it deals with nuclear war, lots of tense family stuff, Skeet Ulrich is in it. But, it is very well written. (You will sense a trend here - writing makes the difference.)
American Idol: It gets better each year, it seems. Well, until the very end when Americans make stupid votes and get rid of the best contestants two weeks early - and then give Michael McDonald Lite the title. But the show is great from start to finish - from the high comedy of the tryouts, to the tension of the vicious of the weeks paring down to 24 and then 12 contestants, to the drama and music of the final 12 contests. Plus Simon Cowell is brilliant, mean-spirited, and almost always right.
The Office: This has become one of my favorite shows. It is dead-on and hillarious - but in such a low-key way. You really have to pay attention to get everything going on -- but anyone who has worked in a office situation should get a hefty dose of laughs.
HONORABLE MENTION: How I Met Your Mother, ESPN Monday Night Football, Scrubs, Little People Big World, PTI

Lost: I know, I know. I am one of the biggest Lost fans out there. But over the last 12 months, it has been more disappointing than exciting. Yes, there were some huge episodes, like last year's finale, and this fall's finale. But the majority of episodes felt like sapce filler. This is only emphasized by how little time has taken place during the series (2 months) and by how successfully other shows are pulling off this format. I hope the team behind this show gets its act together soon.
The 2006 Fall TV Season: So far, they have cancelled or banished four shows we were watching. No show is given time to develop. This about the fact that 24 was in its fifth season before it had its breakout. Most of the shows that have been canned went for style over substance. There have been few breakouts - only a couple we even care about. Get some writers, Hollywood.
The CBS Evening News: For all the buildup, it sure hasn't been the groundbreaking show it was supposed to be. I still don't watch it, and I still get my news from the internet.
NFL Network: So the NFL finally decides to broadcast games on Thursday nights and Saturday nights. And they do it on their own network - which over 40% of all Americans cannot receive. So we miss all that football. And the NFL's official position to those people who can't see it? "Get a dish." Not even kidding - actual quote.
DISHONORABLE MENTION: Emmy Voters, Rosie O'Donnell and the View, 'Til Death, Super Bowl Commercials

- I hate local news. They tried to terrify you into watching by playing up all the junk going on, instead of just worrying about communicating the news. Is there anyone who likes this? Does anyone need to be cajoled into watching news? Either you are a news watcher or not.
- I hate it when they advertise violent or adult shows on shows that kids may be watching. Like you are watching sports, and then they show some murder show like CSI's preview. Or you are watching some comedy and have to watch previews for Criminal Minds. If I wanted to watch that crud, I would watch it.

Dec 21, 2006

My Girls

Every so often I use this space to become a sappy twit and gush all over something. Hopefully it isn't too sweet for you. Don't want anyone to get a cavity. :)

For me, it is a very full schedule around Christmas. On the 19th, it is my wife Heather's birthday. The 22nd is my daughter's birthday. And then the 25th is Christmas. (If you didn't know that last one - I'm just a big ole helper elf.) This year, you also got to throw in Heather's college graduation on the 12th and that made for an extra-special heap of cheer.

All of this just makes me think about the people in my life. I have literally always wanted to be a father and husband. Even when I was little - uh - young - I dreamed of having a family. And I have always wanted to have a little girl. I also wanted a boy. (What better way to have a football buddy?) But I really looked forward to being a father to a girl. I know how hard it is for girls in today's world. They fight such incredible battles with body image, and what guys expect of them. And I wanted to be able to help a little lady grow up with confidence and love.

When my little girl came along, she was all I imagined and more. She was incredible. She was brilliant - just like her brother. And she was flat out loony - just like her dad. She has this sense of humor that is just nuts. Even at the age of 3 this year, she already has an amazing comedic timing and great silly outlook on life. I laugh at and with her all the time. She has brought such joy to everyone. And she carries herself so well - far beyond her years. I am so proud of what she is becoming. And I cannot wait to see her as she grows and begins to have an influence on people. (And, lest you think I don't gush over my boy - just scan the archives of this blog in Septembers past.)

I hope that I have had some part of this wonderful young lady. But I know for sure that it is because of Heather. They have such a special bond. And Heather has time and again put herself out to help meet our little girl's needs - and to love on her. Our baby girl is a very cuddly girl, and loves to snuggle. Sometimes, when you have gone through a long day at school, the last thing you want is someone hanging on you for hours. But Heather is there for all of us.

And since it was her birthday the other day, I thought about Heather as I went through this sap-fest. I knew Heather would be a great wife. She is a loving person, who is fiercely loyal to those special to her. And her sweet spirit helps to make me always feel at home. What surprised me about the kind of wife she is, is how much she challenges me. I don't mean arguing with me. But Heather is the one person in my world who can always cut through my junk and get right to my heart. She knows when I am pulling stuff on her or others and she calls me on it. She also encourages me and pushes me to be better than I am. Which is what I need. She believes in me too, which is so awesome. When you have worked places where you were constantly belittled and pushed down, it is amazing to have someone who thinks so highly of you --- even when she has seen you at your smoothie-throwing worst.

What has been the biggest surprise is what an absolutely amazing mother Heather is. That is not to say I didn't think she would be - I knew she was going to be great. But I am completely in awe at just how incredible she is. And, mind you, this has been for the past few years, coupled with being a full-time student. (Which she also aced.) When I observe our kids, they are so well adjusted and well behaved - and they are confident and secure. I think a big reason is because of Heather. She brings the best out in them as well. She pushes them and encourages them and picks up on their quirks and hurts. She reigns me in when I am frustrated. And she can diffuse most situations with a few words. And the kids adore her. Sometimes I just like to sit in the chair and watch her be with the kids - it gives me a warm feeling to see our kids getting such love and support.

I guess I just wanted to share some of my thoughts about my girls. In the Christmas season, it is a need reminder to me of how much God has already given me. I have an amazing wife, daughter, and son. And for that I am so blessed. Heather, I love you so much and am so proud of you. And Nat, I love you and think you are just the coolest little girl ever. Happy Birthday to you both.

Dec 16, 2006


Well, here it begins. It is the end of the year, and so it is time for all the "Year in Review" things. I am going to try to post a few of these - for the 50 of you who read this (aiming high - it IS the season of hope). So check back often while you are sitting around over the holidays and chugging egg nog. But today, I am going to post one of my famous (huh?) ponderings column. This will give you a truly frightening look into the mind of David Staples.

1. If you were to eat a Centaur or a Faun - or even a Satyr - would you be considered a cannibal? I have had this discussion with several people, and we have not come up with an answer. Mostly I get blank, frightened stares followed by the stranger on the street creeping away quietly. But I think this is an important question. If you ate one of they hybrids, would you be okay if you stayed away from the human sections? Like if you just ate Mr. Timnus' legs. I just want to be prepared in case I get lost in Narnia.

2. What do the VeggieTales eat? Vigo sticks? Miracle-gro? I know they eat chocolate, and pie, and cheese puffs, and popcorn balls - to name a few. But, technically, don't those come from vegetables? So, we're back to the cannibalism issue.

3. Why is it that as soon as I really started to get excited about the NBA and the Orlando Magic again, they started to stink again? It is like they know I'm coming and do this to irritate me. I now remember why I don't allow myself to get too interested in the Orland0 Magic. I'll always follow them, but then they will start doing really well, and that will get me really excited, so I'll start following them more, and then they'll honk it and lose. Like this year. They start the season unbelievably - with the best record in the NBA. Then they got on a losing ramapage - getting beat by ALL the cellar dwellers. It is absolutely maddening. I am getting tickets to four Magic games for Christmas - so I thoroughly to expect them to lose all of those. But they'll win all the ones in between. Because that is the history I have with the men in blue. This isn't new either - it goes back to 1992. Grrrr.

4. Did anyone really honestly think that Taylor Hicks could sell more than Chris Daughtry? Allow me to make a current comparison: Michael McDonald vs. Nickelback. Are they close? Neither will the Idol guys.

5. Why can't Hollywood make more movies like The Holiday? It was really good and really sweet. It made the actors act instead of relying on special effects and stupidity. I was really impressed. Check out the review here. It even made me adjust my Christmas movie listing.

6. Why does my fantasy football team ALWAYS decide to stink it up the last two games, ensuring me to make the playoffs and lose in the first round? I don't get it. Every stinking year.

7. Are you impressed with any of the Presidential candidates for 2008? Me neither.

8. Wow, that last one was uncharacteristically serious for me. I'll make it up to you. Are you as excited as me about the new Spring TV Season? 24 comes back. American Idol comes back. Lost, Heroes, Studio 60, Jericho all return from break. Knights of Prosperity is introduced and will be cancelled after a few episodes. I can't wait to waste my evenings in front of a tv again. Christmas is so tiring - making me talk to people instead of watching fake people.

9. Anyone out there see those BP/Wild Bean commercials? The advertising guys are trying to find a new mascot/ad icon for the Wild Bean cafe inside BP (which is a nice little place). So they go with this animated bean. And then they start showing him in his commercials. I hate that bean guy so bad. I haven't hated an advertising icon this bad since Spuds McKenzie. They should do a follow up with those same advertising guys getting fired by the chairman of BP. "Were you kiding? A talking bean? he looks like he needs to wipe his mouth. He's scary. Kids won't go in the store. ICEE sales have dropped 14%." Plus, I hate talking food as a mascot. Because if it came down to it, and I was hungry enough, I would eat the Talking Bean. And there are those ethical issues that would raise (see #1 and #2).

10. Is there better person to do an interview with out there than Bono from U2. I could watch a feature-length interview with him. Throw in the Edge and it is even better. The new show on HBO - the one where Dave Stewart of the Eurythmics interviews people - is cool. His interview with Edge and Bono was awesome. I have the entire interview by Rolling Stone with Bono on my iTunes - as well as a Dateline NBC with him and Brian Williams. At U2's Hall of Fame induction, I actually was fine with showing less music so I could hear that band talk. (Which is saying a LOT.) They are all so deep and intelligent - especially Bono and Edge. Great musicians and good speakers. They don't make many musicians like that any more. I seriously doubt that an interview with Nickelback would have the same attraction to me.

11. This one is to make up for number 7. It is almost 80 degrees outside today. It's beginning to feel a lot like Christmas. You can tell how pathetic Floridians are. We were looking at the 10 Day Weather Forecast and getting happy it may be 66 on Christmas. Most of the country would be wearing shorts for that kind of weather. We, naturally, will be all bundled up and trying to brave the cold.

Well, enough of that. I'll be back soon with some lists. Have a lovely day.

Dec 4, 2006

New Movie List

In honor of Christmas, I have ranked my favorite Christmas movies over at my Movie Reviews page. Before I start getting rude comments, I have never seen "Miracle on 34th Street" or "It's a Wonderful Life." Sooooo, this is MY list. This link will take you right to the list. I hope.

Nov 28, 2006


I know that Thanksgiving was last week, and now we are full-blown into the Christmas hype. But I wanted to say one thing about something I am thankful for - and I don't think that is only limited to one day a year. So there.

I am thankful for H. John and Eva Blann. Who are they? Well, some of the readers of this blog will recognize their names - they are my wife Heather's grandparents. Well, actually, they are grandparents to seventeen people, parents to four people, and great-grandparents to nineteen people. (I hope I got that right) And they are two of the sweetest, most amazing people I have ever met.

I had my grandparents, but three of them passed away before I graduated high school. Two of them I only met a handful of times, since they lived in Vermont. The final one - my mom's mother - passed away a few years back. I knew her very well and spend many hours with her over the years. But after I moved to Orlando from West Palm Beach when I was 18, I only saw her when I came back in town a few times a year. They were all wonderful people, but they had a different outlook on life than me on a lot of things, and I did not get to have long discussions with them very often.

What has been such an amazing thing with the Blanns has been that in seven years, I have been blessed to have many long talks with both of them - especially Grandpa Blann. And I know that they have left a powerful mark on my life from those times. Just a brief mention of their lives. They served as missionaries in Africa. Grandpa ran a Bible school, served as a pastor, and has an incredible thirst for knowledge - and has never stopped learning. We still talk about books and blogs and the internet. Grandma raised four godly children who all are making a huge difference in the world - through their own actions and the lives of their children. She was a teacher - and still is a teacher. She teaches all of us every day - about cooking and about God and about how to be a loving spouse and mother.

I have had more talks with Grandpa - we hit it off right away. Here I was, this young minister who had just gone through a horrible time at my first church. As I left that place, wondering about everything, stuck selling furniture and unable to find another ministry position, Grandpa was always there to tell me how their lives never went how they had planned it. He would tell me about being led into all sorts of places he never imagined, and that he just was faithful while he was there. He encouraged me to stay strong. We would swap books, and then talk about them. Phillip Yancey's "The Bible Jesus Read" was one of the first. As the years went on, he would always encourage me to keep my attitude right, and would love to listen to my reports of what God was showing me. Many times his eyes would well up as I shared about my kids' learning about the Bible in school or about the Sunday School class I taught. And as I moved into this new venture with Defender Ministries, he was so supportive.

They are both well into their 80s now, and are starting to slip as older people do. Things have gotten harder for them even since they moved to Florida about five years ago. That is hard to see for everyone who loves them -- and that would be everyone who knows them. From the entire staff at the local Wendy's (whom they have befriended) to the waitresses at the Golden Corral (whom they have befriended) to the hairdresser to their Sunday School class to the next door neighbors. Everywhere they go, they bring such a wonderful light and such joy. My children adore them, and can't wait to see them when we go up to Jacksonville. And they have never changed who they are. They still pray every single day for every one of their family members. I often ask them to pray for things - because I know they will.

This past Thanksgiving I got to spend time with both of them - and had to come to grips with how things were going for them. After yet another conversation about life, another time around the computer, another cherry pie, I realized just how much these two people meant to me. And I wanted to say that while there was still time. I love them like they were my own. And I am more grateful to them than I can express for their love and encouragement. Grandpa was a wise mentor - an older minister who knew the challenges of being a young man with a family, a calling, and no clue where all of that would take him. He also knew that it will, as it says in Romans 8:28, work out for good to those who please God. Grandma was a loving teacher - always there with a hug and a listening ear and a smile. Their faithfulness has laid the groundwork for a lasting legacy in their family.

Heather had us listen to an Avalon song the other day - "Everything to Me." One of the lines says, "And when I look back on my life at the end / I want to meet you, saying you've been / Everything to Me / More than a story / More than words on a page of history" She said that it reminded her of Grandma and Grandpa Blann - the same exact thing I had thought the first time I heard it. And that is exactly who they are. I hope that when I am their age, people can sing that song about me.

Nov 25, 2006

Casino Royale Review

I just posted a review of the new Bond film "Casino Royale" over at my Rotten Tomatoes movie review page. You can find it by clicking here. Sorry about the problem with the link for the "Flushed Away" review - it is fixed now. Of course, you can always access that review page by the links on the right. Hope your Thanksgiving was jolly. Oh wait, that is Christmas. Be looking for a bunch of posts between now and the end of the year. Seriously.

Nov 20, 2006

Church Service

I try to write this blog in a way that anyone can read it without feeling unwelcome. I know for a fact that I have some "non-church" readers, and I never want them to quit being a part of this blog. That is why I do the wide variety of things I do - movie reviews, running show diaries, goofy stuff. And I try to keep the blatantly "Christian" posts to a minimum - I'm not ashamed of them.

With that being said, I think everyone who knows me knows what I believe. I have never hid that - all the way back to my days at Conniston Junior High and Forest Hill High School. My blog description mentions my profession. And today, I want to write a "churchy" post. This is to and about Christ-followers. If you aren't one of those, feel free to keep reading - but don't feel bad about skipping this one and picking up with the next one. [And if you want to know more about what that means, just let me know -- now I feel like a true Baptist minister.]

Yesterday we went to a new church. I hate trying to find a new church. It is one of the most uncomfortable things to do. A church is more than just some place to hang out on Sunday mornings. It becomes your family and friends. That is why it is so hard to find one - like finding a suit. Finding a suit is my nightmare clothes adventure. I have bizarre dimensions. I have this very large gut, which means that I have to get a larger chest size. That then causes the top of the suit to billow out in ridiculous manner. I also have a long torso (you can't tell so much due to the large gut). So I have to buy long suit coats. HOWEVER, compared to my height, I have short legs. I am around 6'3", but my inseam is only 31". So I have to find these pants with a huge waist and short legs -- which rarely are worn by people with a long jacket. Combine all of that with the fact that when I wear everything the same color (like a suit) it just makes my head seem very small and my body look ginormous.

Finding a church is like this. You try them out and see if they fit. This one may have great preaching and decent music, but no Bible study. Another one may have great music and Bible study, but have a pastor dancing near heresy every week. Or - even worse - finding a church that is great in every way except it holds onto a false teaching in a major area -- something you can't ignore. So you wander around like a nomad. I always want to decide on one fast so I can skip the whole shopping process.

Anyway, I went to this new one yesterday. I'm very familiar with the church - know a lot of people there. I admire what it does and stands for. I even have a history with it. At the end of the sermon, the Pastor started talking about how, as Christians, we are supposed to be servants. And he called the church to change how the community viewed it. He wanted them to serve the community - to help with groups like Coalition for the Homeless. He mentioned Extreme Makeover: Home Edition and said he wanted the church to do stuff like that for Orlando. Man, I can get behind a church like that. That's what I want to do - that's why I quit to work full-time for Defender Ministries. I wanted to serve the community and help them to escape the prison of lust and sex that they are captives in.

As the day wore on, I started to think about something. How did the church get to the point that the community does NOT think of them as servants? Wasn't that what defined the church for so many centuries? Think about the hospitals and children's homes and schools that were built by churches. The church fed the hungry, and gave shelter to the homeless. They took in orphans. I just finished reading the book Hood by Stephen Lawhead [awesome book, by the way]. It is painting the story of Robin Hood in a post-Norman conquest Britain. The churches there were welcoming to travelers and injured and poor. They were the CENTER of their community. How did that change?

It actually made me upset that a pastor had to work so hard and appeal so passionately to his people to convince them to act that way. I was thrilled he did - and I hope they follow through on that challenge. They have the resources to make a HUGE difference. But how in the world did it get to this point where that was considered a revolutionary vision? I have heard a lot of indictments of Christianity this year. I read Donald Miller's Blue Like Jazz and In Search of God Knows What. In those he skewers the church for failing to have concern for social needs. I watched as a major church leader was outed and destroyed on the front page of I watched as a major Christian actor got drunk and hurled racist insults - and as a result made anyone who liked his last film seem like a racist too. I listened as a major Senatorial candidate from my state repeatedly made comments about Christians and their "duty" to their country - which made us sound like a bunch of quacks. And I read Elton John's comments about how he admired Jesus Christ, but wished that religion would be banned due to its hatred.

But perhaps the greatest indictment of Christianity is that we went introspective and stopped giving a crap about the world around us. Instead of turning our 6 million dollar budgets lose in the community, we used it to build ourselves up. We built more buildings, paid higher salaries, created witty ad campaigns, and took "mission trips" to exotics locales. But we stopped trying to change the community we were a part of. We pulled our kids out of schools, pulled them out of sports, pulled them out of choirs and created our own versions of those things so that our kids would not be harmed by the world around them. We created our own television studios, radio stations, theme parks, movie production companies so that we could have things our own way - without having to interact or battle with others.

I can see the blood rising in some of your faces. I am not saying that all churches suck, and all homeschoolers are wrong, and that Upward sports is a mistake. There are perfectly acceptable reasons to do all of those things. But, the reality of the matter is, we have managed to create a world where we do not have to interact with anyone who does not believe in Christ except at the grocery store. Sure, they are more than welcome to COME TO US, and COME TO OUR STUFF. But we are NOT going to GO TO THEM and GO TO THEIR STUFF. That would be offensive to us and damaging to us -- we would be ruining our witness or putting ourselves in the path of temptation.

But the problem is, THAT is where Christ hung out -- with the sinners and tax collectors and prostitutes. And THAT is what He told us to do. Read Matthew 28:19-20 again. It starts off with "GO YE THEREFORE INTO ALL THE WORLD." The very first word is GO. It is not, SIT AND WAIT FOR THEM TO COME. It is not even DRAG THEM TO YOU. It is not INVITE THEM TO YOUR STUFF. It is GO. You should get up and GO to them. And while you are there with them, you talk to them, and you introduce them to Christ, and you teach them what it means to be a Christian. You are the active one. You are the one going and clothing and feeding and giving water to and helping. You are the one with all the active verbs.

The Church and Christians should be all about serving. That is the example set by Christ. We should be out there really ministering to our community -- and not some lame-o, half baked thing once a year where we hand out water at a stop light. I mean consistently living in a manner where we are helping. I know that I am guilty of being too caught up in my own world to be able to help anyone around me. But we HAVE to stop being so selfish and focused on ourselves. We HAVE to reach out to the community. The more we remove ourselves, the less we have any right to expect them to listen to us or respect us. If we don't care about them, they won't care about us.

I truly hope that this church really does start to focus on the world around them. I hope it becomes a defining quality of that place. And I hope I can get involved -- and that I will do that in my own life. If we ever expect the Church to be anything more than just a "members only" group, we have to start looking outside of our doors. And we gotta GO.

Nov 13, 2006

New Movie Review

I posted a movie review of Flushed Away over on my Rotten Tomatoes movie review page. You can find it by clicking here. I'm going to try to put more frequent, smaller posts up on the blog. I'm trying to see how to organize my posts better.

Oct 30, 2006

Put Out the Fire

Couple of really quick housekeeping things first:
  1. I realized I didn't put any kind of ranking on the tv shows on my last post like I do on my movie reviews page (link to right).
  2. I realized no one cares anyway. So I didn't change it.
  3. I have heard that a couple of these shows are in trouble in the ratings, which should clear up my schedule soon.
  4. I didn't mention any of the Spring shows we watch -- 24, American Idol, Scrubs.
Now on to the post....

I was thinking recently about the jobs I have held. I am not counting teenage or pointless summer jobs (Ponderosa, AMC theatres, school board film library, Sea World). I am referring to real jobs. I have worked in four main industries: Government (UCF Student Government for 2 years), Education (2 UCF jobs, 2 teaching internships, substitute), Sales (Rhodes furniture), and Religion (church, BCM, Defender). As I thought about it, these four industries are pretty big deals in our country. And even though they may seem quite different, they are actually VERY similar. In fact, I can honestly say that I have either heard this following speech - or some variation of it - from people in each of these fields.

When you are faced with a situation with an unhappy or complaining person, it is important to think about this. You carry two buckets with you: one is filled with water, one is filled with gasoline. You have two choices. First, you can douse the fire this person is lighting with water, diffusing the situation and showing them there is nothing to worry about. Second, you can douse the fire with gasoline, causing it to flare up worse - and showing this person there is something to worry about. This shows them that there is disunity in the staff, that there are problems, and that they have an ally in their complaints on the inside. You should try to help put out the fires, not make them worse.

I have heard that exact speech several times. I have seen that attitude portrayed many times. It is a common practice in all four of those industries. How did it become so universal? Well, I know for one that John Maxwell uses it in AT LEAST one of his leadership books. Every leader loves that story, because it keeps the fire from reaching them, and it puts the responsibility for controlling fires on the lower staff members. However, after thinking about that mentality for a while this past weekend [don't ask how it started], I realized that I have a real problem with it. Actually, I have three problems with it, and they lead into each other.

FIRST - Fire is not always bad - Think about this. Fire is a good thing many times. No, when it is rampaging through the forests on I-95 and destroying homes, it does not seem so good. But, in addition to making such yummy steaks and burgers, fire has a lot of good uses. Here are a few.
  • It purifies. Fire is what is used to purify metals, to sterilize tools. It burns off the impurities. Busting out the Bible, it is what God will use to purify - and what He uses all the time. Gold, silver, steel all must go through a fiery purification process.
  • It cleanses. Nature uses these rampaging fires as a way to cleanse itself. Humans are not fond of fire burning their neighborhoods. But look at any nature show about Africa. The Serengeti goes through cycles of drought, fire, rebirth, growth all the time. The fire removes what the land cannot support. It is a useful thing for removing the excess. This is even used in a controlled manner by builders and developers as they clear land
  • It warms. Try spending a night outside during the winter without a fire (at least in those places that have winter). Fire provides warmth for people, for food. We can even see this symbolized through the romantic candles, that give a couple the feeling of warmth, of intimacy.
All of that is to show that fire is not always bad or evil. To immediately demand that someone put out a fire is to cut short something that may be useful or necessary. You need to be able to identify the fire: its type, its purpose, its potential. This leads into the 2nd point.

SECOND - The wrong people are giving the orders - On the road I drive every day to and from the kids' school there is a testimony to days of yore. Right next to Snow Hill Road, there is a large forest fire watchtower. It used to be that the rangers would sit in that tower to look for and get information about fires. It is not used much now, since most of that land is now full of houses. But it still stands for now. That tower reminds me of how most of the people in authority operate. They live high above the day to day operations, and ocassionally look out over their locale. If they see a glimmer of flame, they quickly send off their firefighting underlings to put it out.

But from high in that tower, it is hard to tell if that fire is a campfire, a bonfire, a glowing grill, a candle, or a wildfire. The person on the ground is the one that can identify the fire. They are the ones who should be able to tell what is a danger and what is not. They are the ones who can see if there is a dangerous amount of underbrush springing up, that may need burned off so that the trees don't get choked out. The lower level staff are the ones who can tell if it is an electrical fire, that will cause more damage when water is dumped on it. There also is a chance that the person in leadership is the reason the fire got started -- their ineptitude or laziness or poor decisions or selfishness.

The people in the tower just look out and see the trees, the "big picture." They have been told that getting your hands dirty is something you do when you get started, and then eventually you get big enough to get out of that. They become more useful "casting the vision" and "providing leadership." And they are scared of fire - because they cannot control it. It is something primal and wild and random and unplanned. So, like Frankenstein's monster, they chant, "Fire Bad."

THIRD - The end result is half-baked - As these fires are being put out, we are unwittingly putting out much more than a flame. We are killing off good ideas, passion, innovations. Think about it.
  • A church member is unhappy about the way the Church in general deals with special needs children. He comes to a staff member to voice that and is immediately doused. So he slinks off. Maybe, if that fire was tended better, he would have come up with an effective and helpful method of creating a Special Needs minstry. Instead, the problem (which was genuine) still exists, the member (who was sincere) is still frustrated, and the church missed the boat.
  • A mother does not like the way that her daughter in high school has never been taught how to write a paper. She goes to the assistant principal to mention it, and is doused. The teachers never require the students to learn to write, and those students are uneffective in college.
  • A young government page wonders why high ranking officials can take so many personal privileges with taxpayer money. He says something to his supervisor about it, and it doused. He's told that it is part of the process. That page grows up to be a Senator, and gets arrested after two terms for misappropriating funds - something he was taught early on was okay.
  • A saleswoman comes to her supervisor and says that her customers are coming back to complain that their products are breaking after six months. He asks if they have a warranty. Since they don't, they are told the company won't do anything about it - that is why they were encouraged to buy the warranty. The company never has to raise its standards of construction.
Do you think those things don't happen? In today's world, we love mediocrity. We don't want anyone to be too lazy or uninvolved, but we don't want them to be too committed either. Think about each of those fields.
  • In politics, we want our politicians to feel strongly about things that appeal to a lot of people - but not to offend anyone with anything they say. Why have they all moved to the middle?
  • In business, we want our young workers to be ambitious - within the guidelines. If they get too creative with their ideas, or too "out of the box," they become a threat.
  • In religious circles, we want our members to be there at events and services, to get involved in our established activities. But we don't want them to be too passionate about their faith or beliefs - or to voice displeasure or disagreement when they see things in the church don't match God's Word.
  • In education, we want parents to join the PTA and to send in money for stuff and to help their kids with homework, but not to get toooooo invovled. Those parents are labelled stage parents, and are seen as problems because they want the rules bent for their kid -- even if they are just wanting their kid to get the best opportunity possible.
As a result, we are stuck living out these lives of mediocrity. We wonder why there aren't any truly amazing politcal leaders, or so few visionary business people, or many truly dedicated teachers, or insightful theologians. Most of them probably got put out just when they got fired up. We see this in sports - where teams continue to hire the same guys (Joe Gibbs, Bill Parcells, Phil Jackson) hoping they can recapture their old glory. Most of the new guys coach to not lose - they aren't gutsy and inventive.

Is there a cure? Who knows. I know that trying to get the people in power to change is not going to lead to a very satisfying outcome. I guess the lesson is that sometimes, instead of putting out a fire, we should try to let it burn and control it instead. See what it leads to, and if necessary put it out. But see what is up first. The other lesson is that if you get water dumped on your head, don't let it put you out. If you feel strongly about something -- something positive you have to share, or something wrong that needs to be fixed -- keep on trying, while being respectful of the leadership you are under. Don't give up - sometimes it takes a while for a fire to get going.

Oct 17, 2006

The New Lineup

I have now watched at least one episode of every show I planned on watching this year. So, without further ado, I will give my takes on them, and what I see in their future. I am sure the execs at the major networks are nervous. I am doing this list in alphabetical order -- NOT in the order of what I think of the shows. (NOTE: I wanted to try some other shows like Six Degrees, Shark, House, Battlestar Galactica, and Vanished - but I had to draw the line somewhere.)

30 Rock - Behind the scences of a SNL-style show starring Tina Fey, Tracy Morgan, Alec Baldwin, Jane Krakowski - Only one episode of this one has shown. Here's the biggest problem with it - it isn't funny. I guess that helps it establish its realism - since the show it mimics isn't funny either (don't want to spoil that review, though). Some of the Tracy Morgan scenes are funny, but Alec Baldwin is pretty much playing his typical smarmy, clueless businessman role that has popped up in varying degrees for decades (Glengarry Glen Ross, The Cooler, Friends, SNL). And Jane Krakowski, who NBC forced Tina Fey to add at the last minute because she's prettier than Rachel Dratch (true story), flat out sucks. She isn't funny, she isn't pretty enough to make her worth the switch, and she just seems out of her league. - Prognosis: Not Good, maybe it will last the year.

Heroes -
A huge comic book on screen featuring Ali Larter, Adrian Pasdar, and a ton of others - We love the show, but almost pulled the plug on it. The 2nd episode was so violent we shut it off. But we gave it another try and really got hooked on it. The stories are twisty turny like Lost, and are definitely influenced by comic books. And just like a good comice, it gives you tons of "wow" moments, and then leaves you wanting to buy the next issue. They do this better than Lost, in my opinion. Heroes (by the same team as Lost) gives satisfying answers each week, and then those answers make you more intrigued as to what they mean. The superpowers the people have are cool too. And the last two minutes of the 10/16 episode were about the most awesome I have seen in a looong time. - Prognosis: With the ratings it has, and the buzz, this one will last for a while.

How I Met Your Mother - A man tells his kids about, well the title; starring Neil Patrick Harris, Alyson Hannigan, and some other people - This show was one of our weekly shows last year, pretty much moving into our top five with Lost, 24, Scrubs, and American Idol. Then they ended the year by putting two star-crossed characters (Ted & Robin) together and splitting the two "meant-for-each-other" characters (Marshall & Lily) apart. And the show lost its mojo. There are still some funny moments (usually from Harris' Barney - an incredibly funny, crass, egomaniacal guy) and the story telling is done well. But the rhythm is off. The show needs to reunite the split Marshall and Lily. And we already know that Ted doesn't marry Robin (told in the very first episode). It is still a fun show, but just is starting to veer into uncool territory. - Prognosis: They best be careful or we'll never find out how Ted meets his wife.

Jericho - America has been hit with nukes, and the residents of Jericho, Kansas are trying to figure out what's up. Starring Skeet Ulrich, Gerald McRaney. I hate nuclear war movies. I could only stomach the Terminator films because the "future wasn't set." I grew up as Prez. Reagan was spending the USSR into oblivion, and the threat of nuclear war was very real. I was so freaked out by the concept, I have avoided that genre. Heather wanted to watch this show, and I opted out -- until I watched parts of some episodes. Now I sit in there "not watching." The unknown drives the show: who attacked, what's all the mysterious pasts of the characters, how bad is the damage, why did the enemy attack Denver. And it is good television without unnecessary emotional yanking or gore. We'll see how the show goes as more info is unveiled - or as it refuses to clear up the mystery. - Prognosis: take a clue from Heroes and reveal while mystifying. If it tries to be Lost, it will not last.

Justice - CSI meets the courtroom; starring Victor Garber, Eammon Walker - We really like this show. It shows a high priced lawfirm as they deal with cases from start to finish - including high tech forensics and recreations. Garber's law firm owner is a pip - totally self absorbed and supremely confident. All the lawyers seem sure they know more than everyone - and so far they do. Prognosis: Not sure. Baseball hiatus didn't help, and it isn't offering anything so different that it stands out.

Lost - The third season of the castaways; starring Matt Fox, Evangeline Lilly, lots of Others - Last season seemed very claustrophobic and usually didn't shed much light on the mystery. In my opinion, they have revealed more stuff in the two episodes this season than most of last year. It seems like the people running the series have listened to viewers and are trying to reveal good nuggets each week - and start to draw some lines between the mysteries. Probably our favorite show. Prognosis: At least another couple years.

Monday Night Football - New network, new broadcast team - I have tuned in most weeks so far to catch the football game. I will say this, ESPN will never be accused of being subtle. Everything about them screams. Their broadcast team, their pregame team, their postgame team. Everyone is yelling or singing loud or causing a huge ruckus - even the graphics are loud. And Joe Theisman is an idiot - he rambles and is one of the worst broadcasters. But then little quiet Tony Kornheiser will speak up and you can hear an intelligent, well thought out comment. He's good, and the only part that needs to be louder. Prognosis: What? You think they'll ever get rid of football?

My Name is Earl - Dumb & lucky white trash tries to make up for past wrongs; starring Jason Lee, Jamie Pressley - I watched every episode last year and found it hillarious. This year hasn't been any different. Earl has been crossing fewer things off of his list this year and they are still crossing the line, and that has helped to allow stories to be even more developed, which is fine by me. This is one show I wish would be an hour long because it is that funny. Prognosis: It's funny, people are watching, good news all around.

Saturday Night Live - Late night sketch show: Starring Who the Crap Cares - This show is one that makes me wonder who is running things in the network world. It just flat out stinks. What a horrible horrible show. I have popped in and out from time to time, but it is the worst show on television. That makes it even funnier that two shows are about it. Prognosis: This year will be the test of what kind of blackmail Lorne Michaels has on the brass at NBC.

Smith - Slick theives; starring Ray Liotta, Virginia Madsen, Amy Smart - Does it matter? I thought the show was great - kind of like a more intense Oceans Eleven - showing the gang on more than one heist. But it already got cancelled. And SNL is still on tv. Grrrrr.

Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip - Behind the scenes of a late night sketch show; starring Matthew Perry, Bradley Whitford, Amanda Peet, lots and lots of others - We like it. It is undeniable that there is a severe liberal bent to it. And their is a lot of Christian bashing - which is uncomfortable. But the most interesting character is Sarah Paulson's Christian Harriet. Unlike 30 Rock, this show has come great acting, writing, and delivery. And unlike SNL, it is fun and worth watching. But no one is. Prognosis: I bet it will get cancelled at the end of the year.

Sunday Night Football - NBC's broadcast of the NFL; starring Al Michaels and John Madden - Basically, it is the same as Monday night, except without the noise (Stuart Scott) and the idiot (Michael Irvin) and the moron (Joe Theisman). This is a classy and intelligent broadcast - and has the best broadcast and studio team. But it has games waaaay worse than Monday nights.

The Class - A guy reunites his 3rd grade class; Starring Jason Ritter - This show is pretty uneven, and there are a lot of weird people in it. I'm not really sure where they are going with it. But we watch it every week, hoping that it gets better. And there are some funny moments. Prognosis: Trigger happy CBS? No chance.

The Nine - A group of bank robbery hostages, the aftermath, and the flashbacks; starring Tim Daly, Kim Raver - We really like how this show has started. There is a lot of mystery about what happened in the bank, if there is something else bigger going on, all that jazz. And the characters are pretty cool. I hope that it keeps it up. Prognosis: pretty fair, since it is following Lost and holding its own.

The Office - The lackeys at a paper company; starring Steve Carrell, Jenna Fisher - This show has really grown on me. At first, I didn't watch it or get it. Now, it probably has the most laughs per episode of any show on television. Plus, Steve Carrell's Michael is just sheer brilliance in his idiocy. Prognosis: sure bet, man.

'Til Death - Old married couple and new married couple live next door and clash; starring Brad Garrett - There is a theory that people who star in long-running comedies cannot do well in there next show (Seinfeld, Raymond). Brad Garrett is not going to disprove this theory. This show is horrible and stupid, and already got taken off of our DVR recordings. Prognosis: As bad as the show.

Oct 8, 2006

The Example of a Lifetime

Yesterday I had the chance to spend about an hour with one of my very good friends. I haven't been able to see her as much as I would like - she lives in Tampa and we live in Orlando. We have been friends for ten years now, and it was good to be able to sit down with her and just talk like old times. It reminded me of why she is such a special person in my life - and the life of my entire family.

She told me about the great things going on at her church - the one where I served for four years as college minister. She said that every Sunday night, there is a service called Late Night - it is designed for teens, college students, and young adults. They have a great band leading worship, and the church's student pastor speaks. She goes every week - and she said that she is just so blessed watching the students raising their hands and looking up to the sky praising God. It reminded her of Psalm 100 - how we should all praise God with singing and even dancing - if that is done to the Lord.

We talked about the country, and how sin is the reason the nation is so bad off. I told her about how Defender Ministries was doing, and she was so excited to hear about it - and how I get to write all the time for it. (She always loved to read what I wrote.) She told me she still exercises every morning, plays golf every Tuesday - and can still do a split. And we both were thrilled at how God worked it out for us to spend time together - she wasn't even supposed to be home when I showed up.

The thing about this friend of mine is that she is 87 years old. Her name is Dottie. When I graduated UCF in 1996, that September I moved to Tampa to work with the North American Mission Board as a Semester Missionary at her church and at USF's BCM. Part of my "pay" was room and board - at Dottie's house. For the next two years I stayed with her - and she basically adopted me as her grandkid. We had great talks and forged a great friendship that still lasts. My grandmother couldn't make it to my wedding, so Dottie was walked down the aisle as my "adopted grandmother."

What is so incredible about this lady is not all of what she has accomplished - which is amazing in an of itself. [Some highlights: she was a pilot, helped bring the Republican Party to Florida, served as a delegate for Reagan at the 1980 convention, knew Bob Hope, has flown around the world] But she is also the most generous and godly woman I know. Her house is always open to people in need (even though she has been burned by them before). She has given money to so many causes and groups. When I was college minister, she used to stock pizzas in the freezer, candy bars in the pantry, and soda in the fridge - so that my students would have things to eat when they came by. She loved it when they came by - even got lonely when they didn't show up for a while.

She also is the greatest servant I know. You know what she does on those Sunday nights? She works in the kitchen - and washes dishes until midnight after the service. And then she takes all the tablecloths home to wash them. Does the same thing on Wednesday nights. She collects aluminum cans and pans to donate for money for the local cancer hospital and for the church's mission group. She delivers food every week to shut ins in the area.

About a week and a half ago, the Oviedo area lost their version of Dottie. His name was Frank Wheeler. He was older and died of a heart attack. For decades, he has been that kind of guy - he was on building committees at the church and was one of the cornerstones of the whole community. After he died, one of the McDonalds in the area had a note on its sign about it. I told Heather that you really made a huge impact when you are mentioned on the McDonalds sign. The entire city was touched by that man - even if they didn't realize it.

Dottie and Frank were amazing testimonies to me about how to live as a Child of God. Dottie and Frank walked with God for so long - and they still loved him and served people. If anyone could "retire" from being a Christian, it would be Dottie. But she still is just as much of an example as always - maybe even more so. When I look back at my life, and the people who made me who I am, Dottie is definitely one them. And by her living in such a godly manner every single day, she still IS one of those people. She is still showing me how to live like Christ. I'm proud to say I know her and that she is my friend. I hope that when I am 87, people can say stuff like that about me.

Faster Guns on the Screen

Since I missed my post last week, I'll do two today. Oh, what joy and rapture!

So the new television season recently started - some shows premiered just this past week. And there have already been three cancelled shows -- one of the we really liked. It makes me really wonder what is going on in TV Land (not ON TVLand). I'm trying to figure out what exactly the process of getting these shows together is. I guess it is something like this:
- Creative person comes up with concept
- Creative people write up the concept
- Creative people present concept to uncreative network people
- Uncreative people purchase concept and replace creative people with mindless drones.
- Mindless drones produce watered down version of concept
- Uncreative people show new concept to uncreative focus group
- Uncreative people tell mindless drones to ruin show
- Show premieres - no creative or interesting people like it
- Show gets cancelled

Is that it? I am completely baffled as to how after the entire creation, development, production, testing, and review processes NO ONE understands a show stinks. Do they just hope no one will notice? How can you POSSIBLY know a show needs cancelled after three shows? If it is THAT BAD, it never should have been put out in the first place. If it isn't that, it is some network exec being impatient with a show, and not giving it time to gain an audience. Here are some big questions I have about this.

1. What is the big hurry to cancel a show? Sometimes it takes a while for shows to hit their stride. For examples, Cheers is largely considered one of the best and most successful comedies ever. But it was a ratings loser for its first two or three years. It didn't pick up in ratings until Woody Harrelson joined the cast. By the time it went off the air, it was the number one show. In today's tv market, it never would have had a chance. It would have been axed in those first few years. The same story can be told for Seinfeld. I remember when it came out and it was only watched by a few people. One of my friends, Dave Senes, watched it and tried to get the rest of us to. A few years later, it was number one. So, if a show doesn't perform right away, it gets canned. There is not chance for it to catch an audience. Take Smith on CBS. We really liked the show. It was well acted, exciting, and had great promise. After three shows it was gone. I really think it could have done well - should have done well.

2. You got something better? If there was something better, wouldn't it have been on the lineup in the first place? Smith was pulling in over 9 million people. What could air that is going to pull in nine million people? I don't get it. So CBS had something THAT much better than Smith? NBC had something THAT much better than Kidnapped? You gotta figure they have at least eight or nine shows done by now. It would be better to run repeats and news magazines than those completed shows?

3. If you know it is bad enough to yank, why run it? This is the one that is the opposite of shows like Smith. When Fox cancelled Happy Hour, it was not even close to a surprise. Everyone thought it was stupid. So why did they air it in the first place? Shouldn't SOMEONE along the line said, "Hey, you know, this is just dumb dumb dumb." It completely baffles me.

4. Who do you blame? So, who exactly is to blame for a show like Smith that gets cancelled? Do we blame the actors? Ray Liotta, Virginia Madsen, Amy Smart, Simon Baker, Johnny Lee Miller, Shorheh Aghdashloo. Not a bad cast. You really think they did it wrong? Blame the writers? The jumpy network exec? The one who greenlighted in the first place? America for not liking it? I am surprised the show didn't do better. But there were SOOO many new dramas and serials out this year, I think it just came down to too many options.

Obviously, I have no answers as to what to do. It just makes me wonder every year what happens. Three weeks to prove that a 22 week show is good. How in the world do you do that? That isn't enough time to get word of mouth going. That is the pilot (which is usually uneven) plus two weeks. Really, it is kind of like pulling a movie out of the theatre after one weekend. Kind of dumb, if you ask me. But you didn't, and neither did Les Moonves. Next Sunday, after I have had time to watch all of the shows I plan on watching at least once, I
will give you my assessment of the new season's offerings - both new shows and veteran ones.

Sep 25, 2006


I decided to forego the Aladdin diatribe for this.

Forgiveness is an extremely difficult concept. You would think it would be easy. We do something wrong, and we want the other person to cleanse us of the offense. We want to know that we can make things right with that person. However, forgiveness ends up being something that it is hard to ACCEPT. I can understand if someone doesn’t want to accept an apology – that person really hurt us and we want to be able to stew for a while. But to not accept FORGIVENESS? That doesn’t make sense.

Maybe, our problem accepting forgiveness stems from our problem granting forgiveness. Think about it. How many times has someone come to you after hurting you and tried to apology, but you have to get in that one last mini lecture or hurtful look before trying to forgive them. Or maybe you have said that you will never never never forgive them ever. They hurt you just too badly. This may have been a parent who abused you or a friend who betrayed you – maybe a spouse who was unfaithful. To forgive them is just asking too much. It is letting them off the hook – or so it feels to us. We want them to hurt as much as we did.

Faith Hill’s song “Cry” addresses this. In it, she wants the person who jilted her to cry a little, show some pain. She wants to know that the other person suffered on a par with her. It is like they have to PROVE their remorse is real. Words are not good enough – there needs to be something concrete, some kind of physical proof. We want restitution.

This could be why it is so hard for us to understand and accept the concept of being forgiven. We are so used to making others jump through hoops that we expect to have to jump ourselves. And when it comes to God’s forgiveness, well He HAS TO have some kind of punishment for those sins we committed. When the Bible says that all of our sins are forgiven, we don’t take that at face value. Instead, we try to convince God that we are really really sorry. And we will take these fifty steps to make sure it never happens again. And, even after all of that, we still don’t believe Him. So we sit there crippled by the sins we have been toting around.

The really ironic and sad thing is that those sins are gone. God isn’t holding them against us. He has already forgiven us – regardless of our opinion on the matter. He blotted them out, threw them as far away as East from West, remembered them no more. And on top of that, He covered us with Christ’s righteousness. So when He looks at us, He sees a holy person. If it wasn’t so sad, it would be comical – watching a person that is dressed like a king staggering around under the weight of sin’s imagined and removed burden. God already took that big old sack of garbage off of us and tossed it away when we accepted Jesus in our hearts – we just refuse to believe it.

There is a phenomenon in people who lose limbs called “phantom pains.” This is where they feel pain in the body part that is gone. I remember reading the biography of Dave Dravecky – and he talked about how he was in agony for a long time with pains in his hand. Only he didn’t have a hand on that arm. But it was the body trying to re-orient itself. We kind of act like that with the burden of sin – we carry around a phantom burden on our backs, wear phantom leg irons, sit behind phantom prison bars. We are completely blind to the fact that Christ shattered all of those things.

Isaiah 61:1 is obviously a very dear verse to my heart – and to the heart of Defender Ministries. It shows us clearly that the Gospel is designed to remove the burden of sin, fling open the prisons, free the captives, heal the crippled. The message of the Gospel is FREEDOM. This isn’t freedom to live like a hellion. It is freedom from the bondage of sin that has imprisoned mankind since the Fall. We are FREE. I always get the picture of some huge warrior breaking into a prison – like the ones in “Count of Monte Cristo” or “Mask of Zorro.” He comes in with a sword, a ring of keys, and a torch. He has used the sword to defeat the guards. He takes the keys and fling open the cells. And then he takes the torch and lights all the candles to show the escape route. “FOLLOW ME, YOU PRISONERS OF EVIL! FOLLOW ME TO YOUR FREEDOM!” He runs out the front door – and there is no one behind him.

The prisoners all stayed in their cells. “This freedom can’t be for me – I’m beyond redemption,” one mopes. Another cries out, “Oh, if only I could be free from these chains like the others.” A third angrily shouts, “I’m sure that this is just a trick. That warrior is outside waiting to trounce me.” (Good vocab for prisoners.) Meanwhile, the warrior is just shaking his head.

Sep 12, 2006

9/11 Reflections, Part Three

After those last two reflections of 9/11, I guess the question is, "Where does that leave us now?" How has America changed since that day - or has it? This is just my opinion. And I know that expressing opinions about politics and religion will get you into trouble faster than just about anything else. However, this is nothing more than me expressing my views as an American. I don't claim this is researched or documented or surveyed. This is what I see in my daily life. If you don't agree, that's fine. If you agree, that's fine. If you think I'm an idiot, join the club.

Personally, I do believe that America has changed a great deal since 2001. First of all, it is a more scared place. Americans are more worried now about their safety than probably at any time in the last 100 years. True, some of this is fed by the media playing up EVERY LITTLE THING. And it is also compounded by the government's jittery chihuahua impersonation. Whatever the causes, I think that we as a country have lost that invincible swagger that defined us. Sure, you still see those patriotic "them's are fightin' words" bumper stickers. But most of the time those come off as overcompensation.

Added to this, America is a reactionary country now. It used to be that we were the trailblazers. We did something and everyone else followed, got run over, or got made fun of. Now, we are always on the defensive - responding to threats real and imagined. Take the whole airline situation. Every time a would-be terrorist tries something new, the government institutes sweeping policy changes that hurts everyone. Like the whole liquid on a plane thing. I can understand we need to be more careful about carry-on items. But that policy was put into place overnight. And the security personnel didn't even know how to handle it. So they are dumping a bunch of liquids into the same container - the very action that would have ignited the same binary liquid explosives they were trying to avoid. The government seems so worried about terrorists destroying planes that they have ignored the real problem in air travel -- the ridiculous new standards being levied on air traffic controllers. They have cut positions, increased shift time, and generally made air travel 10 times more dangerous. It was no mere coincidence that the plane crash in Kentucky happened right after this policy took place. As the research comes out, that wreck was caused by a tired traffic controller, old information, and about a dozen people dropping the ball. Basically, we have reacted so strongly to a threat from abroad that we ignored the threats from general safety mediocrity.

That last paragraph will highlight two other things about America. First, it is more cynical than ever. Second, it is more divided. I mention the first because I just ripped into the government because I am fairly certain that they are consistently making bad calls - and I am not so sure anyone else would do a better job. It isn't like I'm sitting here saying that Bush is bad or whatever. I am saying that ALL OF THEM are going to make big stupid mistakes - just in different areas. The cynicism sets in because we all think the government is up to something, hiding something, lying about something, doctoring something, torturing something, and spinning something. This has been fed by the whole "war on terror." I don't know many people who think that this war has been handled 100% right - and I don't see anyone out there who could ever fix it without screwing something else up.

The division in America is highlighted by the fact that anyone reading those last two paragraphs will form an opinion about me from them. If they agree with that opinion, they'll get all happy. If not, they'll get all angry. And the breakdown of angry and happy is probably 51/49. That's what almost every issue comes down to now. Which means that at any given time, half of the nation is ticked off about something. The unity after 9/11 is long gone. And in its place, the partisan politics of pre-2001 has only gotten worse. It is like the two sides are angry that they even had to work together for a year or so - and now they are going to be as difficult as possible.

I think America is worse of racially as well. Maybe white/black issues are not as bad - I guess your opinion on that depends on which media outlet you use and which films you watch. But there is now this lingering distrust of Middle Easterners and Muslims. You may see some people trying to act like that isn't true. But to see how true it is, just look at the fact that all CBS had to do to get huge press coverage for 2005's Big Brother was to put ONE Muslim in the house. You should have seen how people were around him. One girl even tried to vote him out first week BECAUSE he was Muslim. The government itself even tries to act like there isn't something going on in the way they randomly screen at the airport. "We don't want to look like racial profilers, so we'll pat down this 89 year old from Des Moines too."

Economically, thanks largely to the gas prices and home price escalation, things are harder for a lot of Americans. I know that the gas itself has hurt us horribly - we traded in our van about a month ago for a new minivan. With how much we are saving on gas, we are only putting out about $100 a month on the payment! But the trickle down from the gas stuff affects power bills, food costs, air travel costs, just about everything.

I honestly don't think that the terrorists knew all of this would happen - just like they never realized the towers themselves would collapse. The complete destruction of the towers was just icing on the cake - just like the long term damage to the country as a whole is just an added benefit. Do I attribute all of those above things to 9/11? No. Much of that would have happened anyway at some point - 9/11 just sped up the process. But there certainly was a chain of events that came into place. I do love this country, and I hope that things can straighten themselves out. I don't really see some magic election that will help everything be okay again - in fact 2008 scares the weewee out of me me (Cynicism alert). But I still have hope. I'm not sure what we are supposed to do at times like this. I guess it is a time to look back, honor those who perished, and then take stock and see what we can do to make things better. That last part is the hard one. Honestly, I don't know. I don't think anyone around here has the answer. Makes you really want to hold on to the fact that God controls kings and princes, that he appoints governments, and that he is not bullied by terrorist or ravaged by time. That is where our hope has to come from. Seems like a pretty unsatisfying conclusion - but honestly that is where we are right now. I hope the 10 year anniversary will be different.

Wasn't THAT a cheery post. Don't worry - I'll get back to random weirdness soon. In fact, my next post will be a socio-economic and cultural breakdown of Disney's Aladdin movies. I bet you are wondering if I'm joking...(cynic)

Sep 10, 2006

9/11 Reflections, Part TWO

On September 11, 2001, we awoke after a very restless night. We had to be at the hospital on the wrong side of sunrise. This was the day they were inducing our baby. He had decided that Heather was just as good of a home as any and he refused to budge. After 42 weeks, the doctor decided the best course of action was to give nature a hand. As we drove to the hospital, Heather said that the 11th was a good number for a birthday. We had no idea what was about to happen.

After the induction, we had to sit and wait. A couple hours passed by. Heather was starting to have erratic contractions. And then a nurse walked in and said, "You may want to turn on the tv. A plane just hit the World Trade Center." We didn't understand and thought she meant that some doofus in a Cessna had hit the building. We turned it on right after the second plane struck. I remember that everyone started to understand that something was wrong - that this was more than an accident. For a while it was just surreal. There was this smoke billowing out of the towers. I'm sitting there wondering how in the world they are going to put out the fire so high up. Then the misinformation started coming in. One station reported gunmen in the Capitol. Another said that a truck had exploded on the Washington Mall. There were confirmed reports of a plane hitting the Pentagon and a plane crashing in Pennsylvania. While broadcasting from the Pentagon, one of the reporters even freaked out on air because everyone started yelling that another plane was inbound.

It was like a disaster movie gone crazy. As the smoke continued to billow out we were struggling to figure out what was going on. Heather's progression was slow, but painful. And we couldn't take our eyes off the screen. Then the first tower collapsed. It was right when CBS switched from the morning show with Bryant Gumbel to Dan Rather. There was just confusion everywhere. The nurses were distracted. The doctor was doing his best to act normal. We were getting scared. The second tower fell and I nearly threw up. Seriously - I went in the bathroom and started to cry. What the heck was going on? What were we bringing our kid into? Once that happened, and the stations started to show all the people on the street who couldn't find their family members, we shut the tv off for over a day. We couldn't take it any more. There was a baby coming and Heather needed to focus on that.

It took about 15 hours more until he showed up, and there was a lot of pain in that time. Heather's labor was very hard. And to make all of it worse was the constant fear of the unknown. We were in Jacksonville. There are three navy bases right there. No one knew who was behind the attack. Were they going to target military next? I kept thinking that at any minute we would see troops coming down the halls. Or they would start rushing the injured into the hospital. I was afraid this was the "end times" coming to fruition. I started to worry that we would be killed for our faith and this little baby was going to be alone and crying. I was just sick about everything. People all over were praying the baby wouldn't be born until the 12th - just so he didn't have to share a birthday with this awful event.

After midnight, the doctor decided to do a C-Section. I lost it. I was scared I was going to lose Heather or our child or both. I couldn't handle it. I didn't hide it very well. The doctor told me that he was going to do whatever he could and that he would take care of Heather like he would his own wife. At 2:11am, on Wednesday, September 12, 2001, Josiah David Staples finally was pulled out - after much cajoling and yanking. He was big - nine pounds, four ounces. And he had a big mop of curly black hair. And everything changed.

I had known love before. But not like this. There was this protectiveness and fear in me I had never felt. He wasn't breathing right due to the whole birthing process, so they had to take him into the nursery for extra time. I didn't even get to touch him. I went out into the hall and just stared through the shades. Our family friends were trying to find which one he was. I pointed and said, "The one that looks like a toddler." He was so huge compared to the other babies. Finally he started screaming, which was a good sign. And they took the little guy to Heather. Then I finally got to hold him - he was so little. And I was terrified.

As the night became morning, we were just exhausted. The meds Heather had gotten during the whole experience were hard to get over. So I had lots of time to just stare at Josiah. And then I got to hold him a lot, change his diapers, try unsuccessfully to swaddle him right. I used to hold him and he would just stare at me, trying to figure out what this big goateed dude was all about. And as the excitement of the birth itself wore off, I had lots of time to think - which was not good. As the anthrax scares began to pop up, and everyone tried to figure out what had happened, I got more and more terrified. I found myself in a strange place. Instead of running towards God, for the first time in my life, I ran away from Him. I didn't pray or read the Bible. Every time I tried, my mind would run to the back of the book and I would see people busting down our door and taking my baby away.

I got to be a wreck. I held it together for everyone else, but inside I was in more fear than I ever had been. I loved this little boy, but I could not truly enjoy everything because I would get so worried about his future. I wasn't able to get past that for a couple months. Part of it was getting into a Bible study. Part of it was getting more time with Josiah. He was incredible. When he was born, tons of people told us that there was a reason for him being born under those circumstances. One friend told us that he just brought joy on the darkest of days. And that was what Josiah always has done. (A tradition his sister has kept going) 2001 was one of the hardest years of my life. I was out of work for five months, and the last seven I sold furniture. We were living with Heather's parents, which was very hard for me as a husband and now father. Financially, we were in the worst place we ever experienced together. In addition, it was one of the darkest years in US history.

However, now, when I look back on 2001, all I really see is that it was the year Josiah was born. He erased all the rest of it. I don't look at our time in Jacksonville as this dark blot on my life. I see it as "the place Josiah was born." It is so weird, because I can't think of 9/11 without thinking of Josiah. They are intertwined. But that keeps the memories of that day from being so dark. I know that most people don't have that luxury. They only have the day itself without the hope. I'm thankful that I was able to receive so wonderful after all the pain. And how wonderful he has turned out to be - and I can't wait to see what kind of man he becomes.

Josiah, I love you so much. I hope that your fifth birthday is incredible. You have give us so much over the years - joy, love, fun, happiness - and most of all hope.

9/11 Reflections, Part One

Five years have passed. It seems so bizarre to me that it has been that long. I know that everyone has a story about what was going on in their lives when they heard the news. We were at the hospital, awaiting the arrival of our first child. (I'll get into that more tomorrow.) This was one of those days - the ones everyone will remember forever. How couldn't you? It has to rank right up there as the most infamous days ever. What other days are even in that league? I know that Pearl Harbor is one; the JFK assassination is another; the Challenger explosion would qualify.

What do all of those days have in common? They were days when innocence and trust and safety were stripped away. With Pearl Harbor, America was no longer able to play from the sidelines in WWII. They were dragged in, not of their own doing. There were vile enemies inflicting real damage, but it was far away and easy to dismiss. When those bombers hit our ships in Hawaii, those enemies had brought their evil to our land. It was a foregone conclusion to most in the government that we would have to get involved, and that probably was true of many citizens as well. But we were AMERICA. We set the rules - we entered the war when we wanted. And then all the sudden our hand was forced, our boys were wounded, and our safety was gone.

The JFK assassination was just as shocking. There have only been four Presidential assassinations in US history. We had not seen that happen since 1899. Out of nowhere, this young President was taken away. JFK had resonated with so many people. If you liked his politics or not, you had to admit he was certainly a charismatic leader. And more importantly, he was OUR president. No matter how much an American hates a President, I doubt you would find too many who would laugh if he were killed in office. Once again, the innocence, trust, and safety was torn away. No one knew who was behind the killing. They were just stunned.

When the Challenger blew up, I was in my sixth grade social studies class. The class clown had gone to the clinic for some reason. He came back in the door and told us the Challenger had blown up. "That's not funny Damien." (Yes, his real name was Damien.) He kept insisting he wasn't kidding. We all just kind of sat stunned, with the teacher wondering if that was the one with the teacher on it. Shuttle launches had become so common by then. People hardly took notice. That was why NASA had started doing stuff like the teacher in space (in my opinion). Again, the last space related accident was in the sixties. And this was the new improved space program. It just didn't make sense for that to happen. Our sixth grade trip was to Cape Kennedy that year - in April I think. They still had the place off kilter. I remember on the tour they told us that normally we would be able to see one area, but it was restricted due to the investigation of the wreckage.

When a nation goes through events like that it takes away so much. America learned after Pearl Harbor that it was not safe from the events around them. It learned after JFK that our public officials are not safe all the time either. It learned after the Challenger that space travel is indeed dangerous (which is why there wasn't the same shock after the Columbia disaster). I think that 9/11 was so devastating because it tore away even more of the innocence and trust and safety. But this time it was from a faceless enemy. There was no war. No person of note was the target. This wasn't some adventurous frontier with a knowing risk factor.

This was a cowardly attack on innocent people. This was targeting symbols of America's success - the Twin Towers that we used as icons of NYC and the country. But it also took away our trust in our air travel. They used our own planes against us. In one horrendous act, we lost our safety in the air and in our big cities - and really in our lives. Who is to say when they will strike again? We kept hearing the terror alerts get raised. There were attacks in Japan and Spain and London and Bali. I live in Orlando, and I know there is always a fear about something happening at Disney. I am sure that this is how the nation felt after Pearl Harbor as well. I just know that for my own life, it was so shocking and distressing - and in many ways it still is. I still get choked up when I see the adjusted NYC skyline. I'm still not ready to watch films and documentaries - the wound is too raw. It didn't just affect New York - it shook the entire country in so many areas that it will never be the same. It can't be. Whether or not the new America that emerged is better or worse will take far more than five years to determine.

Tomorrow, I'm going to talk about my personal experience with 9/11 - and the hope we found in a little boy. I know that I'm not an expert at all. But that is what made 9/11 so powerful - you don't have to be a big shot to have thoughts about it.

Sep 8, 2006

Can't Figure

There are some things that I cannot figure out. I try and I try, but I just can't do it. Here are just a few.

1. Why does Subway ration napkins like they are a 1980s Soviet bread line? Yet they have their cups just sitting there in front of the register for you to take on the honor system. Are the napkins that valuable? I can honestly say, they are the ONLY fast food place to ration napkins. I go to Taco Bell and order one taco and get 10 hot sauce packets and enough napkins to paper my living room. Maybe Subway wants to control how many people see that nutritional information they have printed on them. I have no idea. Today, my daughter's PullUp (copyright Huggies Corporation of America - - this blog is in no way endorsed by Huggies or the Huggies brands) leaked. On the floor at Subway. I asked the Coldplay wannabe behind the counter for napkins to clean said weewee up. He gave me attitude. I can understand you only wanting to give me two napkins for my sub, but not wanting to hand them out to clean up urine? Geez.

2. Why do mainstream restaurants insist on creating bizarre menu items and then act stunned when they lose business? I can understand if Emeril or Bobby Flay come up with some bizarre, off the wall recipe. That is like an artist going through their abstract phase. ("I call it Visualize Whirled Peas." "But Emeril, there are no peas in it. It's just garlic and essence." "Yes, you must visualize the peas.") But there is no excuse for TGI Fridays to start tossing around freaky menu items. They are TGI Fridays! You should visit their website. Sicilian Quesadillas? Fried Green Beans? What? Like frying a green bean is going to get anyone to order it. The people who would ordinarily order green beans as an item are not the type who want them fried. The people who need everything fried (me) still wouldn't go near them. Especially with a "cool" wasabi dip. How do you make wasabi cool? I thought its entire selling point was it would burn your tongue out.

3. Why does anyone act shocked when a track and field star tests positive for steroids? I'm at the point where I'm stunned when a record stands. Same with cycling.

4. Why did everyone think it was such a big deal when Katie Couric took over the CBS Evening News? Could there be a less relevant television move? Yes, it disrupted the morning show horizon. But, honestly, how many people watch the evening national news any more? I haven't watched it in years. That's what the internet is for, right? By the time 6:30 rolls around, I have already seen the Breaking News email alert, read the story, read the story revisions, read several commentaries on the story, and moved on.

5. Why is it that we think celebrities are such a "big deal?" Why should we care what Tom and Katie's alleged child looks like? Why should we care if Lindsay Lohan is engaged? Why should we care who Kate Hudson is dating? Why should we care if Brad ever marries Angelina? Yet there is an entire industry based on the fact we do care. I don't care that much about people who work with me, but I will check a website several times to see if the Federlines had their second kid. Well, not me, other people.

6. Why is it in cartoons now, parents are slowly being eliminated? Having two little kids, I see a TON of cartoons. And I have gotten disturbed by the number that do not have parental figures. It used to be that there were nannies or parents, but they would leave the scene and fun things would happen. But now, they don't exist. Max and Ruby are two bunnies - ages 9 and 4 maybe - who just go on their merry way without any supervision. There are adults on the show - and they have a grandmother who shows up from time to time. But they cook, go to bed, play, go shopping all by themselves. Little Einsteins is even worse. The kids there have a rocket and go all over the world and the galaxy alone. We never even see an adult in that show. You could say the same thing about Charlie and Lola, Backyardigans, Lazy Town, Clifford, and Dragon Tales. Yes, there are shows with parents (Higglytown Heroes, JoJo's Circus, Little Bear, Franklin). But more and more are just completely cutting out adults. Strawberry Shortcake is the worst. There are these kids everywhere who live completely by themselves, run heavy machinery, use the oven, go traveling. What is that teaching our kids? No really, I'm not sure. I feel hypersensitive - but there is a nagging feeling there.

Those are some of the things I can't figure out. I'm sure I'll give more later. Check back next week. I will have some thoughts on the 9/11 anniversary.

Sep 7, 2006


So I haven't posted in nearly a month. I'm not really sure why. The last post I had was about Mel Gibson - and from the heated uproar caused by my thoughts (oh wait, no uproar, no comments).....

I guess I'm at the point where I need to decide which direction this blog needs to go. There are several directions I have identified. I could go the hyper-cynical route and point out all the problems I see around me. I could offer meaningless commentaries on things that have no long-term bearing. I could even try to toss up deep theological dissertations. There also is the commenting on every sports item on A similar route would be doing the same thing as the sports, but with movies. I have done all of those things at some point - although I try to stay away from too much useless stuff. I have consciously tried to minimize the religious commentaries - partly because of my job, partly because I want to make sure my opinions would only point people to Jesus (and honestly, I don't know if they would). I guess I'm just a crossroads. I'll get over it soon. Until then....

I can't stand the fact that Disney continues to put out sequels to their animated films. My kids are really into the animated film genre now. And as a result, I have had the extreme misfortune of seeing such films as Cinderella II and The Little Mermaid II and Beauty and the Beast III. Here's the problem. These films capitalized on the whole "Happily Ever After" concept. Cinderella hooks up with the Prince (who she hasn't known for more than a day) and everything ends great. Ariel hooks up with Prince Eric and becomes a human. But then we come back for a sequel, and the whole possibility of everything working out great gets shattered. We had to watch Little Mermaid 2 the other day. Good night, that film is terrible. Ariel goes from being this confident girl that gets everything she wanted to being a scared lady that won't even let her daughter near the water. So, instead of Happily Ever After, we actually have severe mental issues.

I guess that is the problem with a sequel period. We love the characters and the way things work out, and then we come back and everything has changed. Instead of being happy with the person and job and setting they tried so hard to attain, they have a bunch of squat nothing. I know that is a necessity, because it would be really boring watching Cinderella II and having everyone sit around happy and satisfied. But I think this trend is more than just a marketing ploy. It is also a testimony of how cynical we have become. There is no way that Disney would have put out these sequels. It is not because he was above wanting money. It was because he protected the concept of the happy ending so much. That was what Disney was founded on. There was a film (and even a theme park or five) where this happiness was reachable. And that all gets ripped away in these meaningless sequels. The shame is that nowadays, you can't even really enjoy a film and let it go. You know that in a year or two someone is going to put out a sequel that tears down everything that first film established.

See, this is the commenting about meaningless junk option. I hope it thrilled you no end. Maybe I'll be bitter about something more important next time.

Aug 14, 2006


So I have been debating about whether or not to post about Mel Gibson. I usually try to avoid getting too involved in the ridiculous celebrity scene with this blog. It just seems that the whole scandal has not gone away. There is not any way to defend what Gibson said. Some people have tried to say that "we all have said things that we didn't mean when we were drunk." Having never been drunk, I have no clue. But what I have noticed is that excessive alcohol just lowers inhibitions and makes people more likely to do things they want to. And they say things that they try to keep buried the rest of the time. Having read what Gibson's father believes, and hearing the rumors that have been swirling for years around Mel, I wouldn't be surprised if he harbors some of those thoughts. Or at least he fights wth those thoughts - even if he didn't beleive them. I know that I heard my father say things so much that it became easy for me to lean in that direction in my opinions.

Again, none of that is to defend what Mel said. He said unbelievably stupid stuff and took shots at several groups. His comments were not just stupid, though, they were hateful and hurtful. Now, what I have a problem with is the aftermath. We get People magazine and Entertainment Weekly. Both of them ran front page promotion of articles about his heinous acts. And they both have revisited the story the next week. News sites still are reporting on the story now - weeks later. People are calling for boycotts of Gibson and his movies. Others are saying that they will never work with him again (Rob Schneider - was that even a consideration?). Still others say he should just be banished from Hollywood all together. I read some guy online who said he would never watch Braveheart again.

Sooooo, that's how Hollywood handles people who believe stupid stuff? Well, let's think about this. Roman Polanski was charged with statutory rape and fled the country. He got nominated for an Oscar in 2003 - and won. There is still an outstanding warrant for his arrest. There are dozens of high-rolling people in Hollywood that believe in aliens as deities and act like raving lunatics (Tom Cruise, paging Tom Cruise). Actors like Collin Farrell enter substance abuse facilities all the time. Instead of banishing them from Hollywood they get more and more roles, even though they haven't ever had a big movie to deserve the support. Robert Downey Jr was such a problem at one point that insurance companies would not even let a studio get a policy for him during a shoot.

Hollywood has never had a problem overlooking all kinds of things. They overlook marriages being broken up, drug use, domestic violence, moronic comments, alcoholism, wacky political stances, strange religious beliefs, and out-of-control lifestyles. So why won't they move past Mel's night of drinking and mouth-running? I think that part of it is that Mel put himself on the front lines with his Passion of the Christ movie. His religious beliefs became part of what identified him. He went from Crazy Funloving Mel to Religious Mel. And that was when things went nuts. He decided to stop acting and only direct. His projects became more ambitious - filmed in dead languages, based on fringe historical characters. He was now perceived as serious. And that was where this craziness didn't match up.

People were used to seeing him in his long beard, building his private church, talking about serious things. And the drunken bit didn't fit. And the hateful comment surely didn't fit. And when he had become associated with the Christian community, that added an extra layer. When he tripped, a major Christian symbol tripped. And that was where a lot of these people took sick joy in watching him mess up. They loved saying, "Oh is this how a Christian acts?" Personally, I think this why it became such a big story -- because it made Christians look stupid. And that is why it is still a story. Other people have said racist comments - on all different sides of the fence. They don't get banned from Hollywood. But Mel is fighting for his career. Seems awfully weird to me. But what do I know? Personally, I hope Mel recovers quickly, gets his life turned around, and works it out with the people he hurt. He is too good of an actor, a director, and a person to toss him aside. Now is one of the times that I would be happy if Hollywood did overlook some moron's acting like an idiot.