Jul 24, 2008

Why I Haven't Seen The Dark Knight

Sorry that I've been absent for over a week from the blogosphere.  I know some of you count on my posts to help you get through your day - like air and water.  I have had a lot I wanted to write about, but finding time was hard - for a variety of reasons.  But, between writing a sermon, cleaning the house, getting a new job at the Apple Store, dealing with a broken A/C, and going to Sea World on the hottest day of the year I have not found myself ready to post.

One thing I have not done since I wrote last is see The Dark Knight.  I know some of you just fell out of your chair.  "What?!?  David - you, one of the biggest movie and Batman fans around.  You haven't seen The Dark Knight?  What's wrong with you."  Trust me.  I wanted to see it.  I tried to find a way to go.  But there were several reasons that didn't happen.
  1. Heather and I wanted to go together.  We saw Batman Begins on IMAX together when it came out.  So we wanted to go see the new one on IMAX as well.
  2. The IMAX tickets for the entire first weekend sold out by Thursday night.  So we were left without a show time.  We decided to try to go to a (sigh) regular theater instead.
  3. We don't want to take the kids - especially Gabriel.  We have taken the baby to movies, but this was was different.  The violence, darkness, and such made it seem like something he shouldn't be exposed to.  But we have never left Gabe with anyone who wasn't family for that long.  And we didn't have anything set up.
  4. The schedule just wasn't working.  Once you get into the aforementioned problems, you can see why I haven't had time to sit for 2.5 hours in a theater.
But then something happened.  I don't know how many of you know my history with movies.  Some of you have been around for some of this, so it may be a repeat story.  In my house growing up, we didn't watch movies.  By the time I entered high school, I had seen exactly FOUR movies in the theater: The Muppet Movie, Great Muppet Caper, Black Stallion, and The Great Chipmunk Adventure (yes, their was a FIRST chipmunk movie).  So I didn't get to see all the big stuff that came out in the 1970s or 1980s.  I documented this in an earlier post.  

The first REAL movie I saw was the 1989 Batman.  I was blown away.  I fell in love with movies instantly.  I started to get into movies: watching them, reading about them, studying them.  I became a good critic of movies because I watch them on so many levels - enjoyment, critical, religious, cultural impact.  In fact, I got so into movies that they started to run my life.  I saw stuff I shouldn't.   I spent money I didn't have.  And slowly they took too high of a place in my life.  On May 19, 1999 something happened to me.  God finally got me to realize that movies had become a God.  That was a Wednesday.  Star Wars Episode I opened that day.  I had scheduled a college event for that night.  After Bible study at 9pm, we would go to the 10:30pm showing.  It was one of biggest events ever.  About 4pm, I called my buddy Greg Ramer and told him I needed his help.  We went to my house, put all of my movies in the back of his truck (along with all my comic books) and took them back to the church and tossed them in the dumpster.  This was before DVD, so it was like 180 videotapes - mostly widescreen.  And then I quietly gave away my ticket to the film.

Everyone took off the theater after Bible study and I got in my car.  I just drove - as far away as I could go.  I went as far north up I-75 as I needed to.  I made sure that there was no way I could make it back in time for the movie before I turned around.  My cell phone started ringing as all the students noticed I wasn't there.  I went back to my house and my roommate Marc, the youth pastor, was there.  He was like, "Why aren't you at the movie?"  I told him and just went in my room and cried.  I didn't see another movie for six full months, until I felt I had broken the hold and was free. [The first movie back was Toy Story 2 on one of my first dates with Heather.]  And I still have never seen Star Wars Episode I-III.  The original trilogy was one series that really signified to me my giving in to the movie obsession so many years ago, so it was my way of never allowing that to happen again.

The growth I had in Christ after that decision was huge.  It wasn't because movies are bad.  I to this day will debate anyone about that.  It was because I gave them too much authority in my life.  And the other day I realized that I was on the verge of entering dangerous ground again.  Movies are nowhere near as important to me as they were in 1999.  I have been watching a lot of them this summer - I saved money to have it for the tickets.  And I have had a blast.  But with The Dark Knight, I noticed something disturbing.  I was angry that I wasn't able to go when I wanted.  I was frustrated about the thought of missing it.  And it started to affect how I dealt with my family.  I had heard all the glowing reports.  But I also had heard all the people talking about the violent, and how the Joker was so disturbing.  Why did I want to put that stuff in my head?  Especially when I fight so much from slipping into darker moods anyway?  But the thought of missing it was too much to take.

So on Sunday, I told Heather I wasn't going to go.  She just looked at me with a big of a stunned look, and then an understanding smile.  I said that I had to do that.  I needed a break from the movies.  My brain didn't like that choice.  Immediately, I started to think about stuff coming out this Fall and Winter I wanted to see.  And that strengthened my resolve.  I needed to stop.  And I needed to give up THIS movie - BECAUSE of its importance.  This movie is the movie I would never have missed in a million years.  This is the one in years past, when I saw five movies, that I would have gone to.  It was Batman.  It was a huge success.  It was a critical success.  And that is exactly why I need to stay away.

I know I made the right choice.  I felt freedom immediately.  I don't want to go.  Sure, I still am fascinated by the ridiculous money it is making.  I'm not saying I'll never see it.  I probably will see it on inDemand on cable, or on DVD.  I may even buy it.  But right now, I am not going to go.  I need to take that stand for my own good.  Why am I telling you this?  I'm not sure.  Maybe it is because I've already gotten the "you haven't seen Batman yet?" questions.  Maybe it is because my summer movie list on this blog seems awkwardly unfinished.  Maybe I'm taking away any chance that I could back out on my decision.  Maybe I just wanted to share.  Maybe it is my way of reminding you how easy it is to be mastered by something.  Take it for what its worth.  For me, it is worth a lot.

Jul 15, 2008

Doubting David

It is hard admitting negative things about ourselves.  Sure, there are those of us who are what people call "self deprecating."  I joke that way a lot - especially about my weight and my melancholy nature.  But, honestly, it is not like people didn't know those things already.  Anyone who looks at me knows that I am "husky."  And if you hang out with me long enough, you too will join the throngs that have echoed something along the line of "You can be pretty negative."  I fight both of those things, but they still hang around like unwanted houseguests.  So my acknowledging those things are just accepting reality.  It would seem pretty silly for me to go around bragging about my shape, when my own four year old can - and frequently does - point out that "Daddy is fat because he has a HUUUUGE tummy."  

I mean that it is hard to admit negative things that are more hidden.  I remember that a few years ago, after reading Blue Like Jazz by Donald Miller, that I had to take a very hard look at myself.  I documented it in this award winning post.  I uncovered some very unpleasant things about who I truly was.  And I have worked - to varying degrees of success - to fix those ugly character traits.  This morning, I had a similar experience - with a very disturbing and shocking discovery.  I was reading With Christ in the School of Prayer by Andrew Murray.  Chapter Eleven to be precise.  I've read this book before, but my business partner Charles has been reading it all year (time and time again) and so I decided to read it again.  

[Small Note Here:  I firmly believe in the theory that the great Dr. Eddie Gilley taught me waaay back in '96.  "The only two things that will change who you are after the age of 18 are the books you read and the people you hang around."  Some try to challenge that by saying, "What about God?"  My answer is, "Well that's who you hang around, and the Bible is what you read."  Anyway, I push books on everyone because they can and will change you.  That is why so many of these self-discovery posts begin with "I was reading..."]

This chapter was covering the Biblical passage of Matthew 21 (parallel passage in Mark 11 and similar theme in Matthew 17), where Jesus says that if you have faith, you could cast a mountain into the sea.  I've heard this before many times.  I appreciate the verse and how it points out the importance of faith.  I've never been able to cast a mountain into the sea.  So, either I don't have enough faith or this is a figurative statement or there hasn't been a good reason to pray that.  Not sure.  Anyway, Murray went on about this promise and how it is an amazing promise that God gave us and that many people don't really have faith in the promise - since it is so extreme.  And then he made this point.  It isn't really just a lack of faith in the promise - is it really a lack of faith in the PERSON who MADE the promise.

I sat there at first, nodding and thinking about that.  I have a decent level of faith.  I've proven that over the years, by stepping out numerous times and trusting God.  Our daughter's middle name is Faith - which we chose to illustrate the importance of faith.  I kept reading the chapter, and then I started praying after that.  As I did, I began to realize the truth.  If you read my post yesterday about being weary, you know that I am wrestling with a lot of stuff right now.  And I am trying to say all the right things, and do all the right things.  But when I sat there this morning in that room by myself, I realized that I couldn't keep lying to myself or to God.  Right now, I don't trust Him.

That is what is hard to admit.  And I know that quickly all the people around me would either try to talk me out of that statement ("You do trust Him, you are just having a bad stretch.") or they would try to lecture me on how dangerous that is to say ("You had better fix that before it becomes a big problem.").  But it is true.  Right now, I don't trust Him to answer my prayers.  I have lots of reasons why.  I have had too many prayers that were not answered (our way of saying He said no.)  And they were good prayers that were about good things - like paying bills or getting a job or whatever.  I have waited too long for answers.  I have seen too many things that seemed like answers get ripped away - too many jobs that fell through, too many supporters who backed out, too many times that nothing changed.  

As these all built up, I began to just assume that the answer would be no.  I prepare myself that way.  I assume the job won't work out.  I assume no donations will come in the mailbox.  That makes the disappointment less when that is the case.  This is actually a big lie.  The disappointment is still just as bad, but there was no place of hope before hand that was dashed.  We as American Christians have such a screwed up version of prayer.  We tack on this "if it is your will" to everything - even though we don't care what HIS will is, unless it matches our will.  But we put that on there so it sounds right, and insulates us against the pain of a negative response.  "I guess it wasn't His will."  But it was OUR desire, and that hurts.  We don't pray boldly because we don't want to "back God in a corner."  But everything that is taught about prayer in the Bible involves big, audacious, faith expanding prayers.  They are fleece wetting, giant killing, wall tumbling, sea parting, mountain casting, water walking prayers.  We don't pray those.  We pray sissy prayers - and get so upset about those that we can't move past it.

The Bible is full of stories where prayers are answered in amazing ways - and relatively few where they aren't.  But our lives are the opposite.  I know that is true in my case.  I see so many prayers that I offer that come crashing down.  So, who do I blame?  God, of course.  He said no.  I ignore the first part of that verse in Matthew 17 - "If you have the faith of a mustard seed."  In Matthew 21 and Mark 11, the phrase is "If you have faith, and DO NOT DOUBT."  Whose fault is it, then?  Yes there are times when God says no - and He always has a reason for that.  But it seems that much of the reason our prayers are not answered is that we don't trust God can or will answer.  Last week, I read a passage in Oswald Chambers' classic My Utmost for His Highest.  He said that so many times we think that a little doubt it natural.  It is just us being smart enough, logical enough to know that we won't always hear yes.  But he said that any amount of doubt is sin - even a small amount.  It is questioning God's character, His Word, His nature, His promises, His power.  And, according to Jesus Himself, doubt is enough to derail our prayers - both big and small.

It is unpleasant for me to have to admit that about myself.  I take pride in my faith (probably too much, actually).  But, in reality, I have very little faith.  In reality, I doubt God all the time.  I don't believe He will follow through.  Even as I am praying the big prayers, hoping for the impossible to happen, I reserve a little bit of doubt just to protect myself.  But, for all I know, that could be what is keeping me from seeing victory.  That little protection is actually a poison - a destructive element that is killing me.  That is tough pill to swallow.  And it is a tough thing to say out loud.  I don't want that to be my legacy - doubting.  I want to see victories and amazing things done through God's hands.  I want to be a part of deliverance and rescue.  Am I willing to lose all of that to try to protect my feelings?  I guess that's the question I have to answer.

Jul 14, 2008

I'm Back and Tired

I was surprised when I realized how long it has been since I posted. We have been on "vacation" for about a week and a half. We were up at Heather's parents' house for the July 4 weekend, home for one day so I could go to a Faith Based Non-Profit Roundtable and an Interview with Apple Stores, and then we were at my mom's house for a couple days. Since then we had a kiddie birthday party to go to, got restocked with supplies at home, and had both of our kids vomit all over the beds (theirs once, ours once).

And now I'm back. I hope to return to the more regular blogging, but we'll see. I am supposed to have a second interview with Apple this week, and I'll also be applying for some other stuff and trying to get some delayed Defender projects off the ground.

It has been a rough weekend. Aside from the physical ailments going on at Casa De Staples, I have been mentally worn out. I'm just tired. My good buddy Greg Ramer, in a wonderful post the other day, talked about how he wants to be serious with his faith and really start living more passionately. As I read it, I thought it was great. I was happy for him. But, honestly, I didn't agree. Right now, I am tired. I don't know what it is. It may be fighting for so long, trying to get something started that doesn't seem like it is going to move, wanting to do the right thing and driving myself nuts figuring out what that is. But I am just worn out. Being completely transparent, I just don't want to keep on fighting.

We watch So You Think You Can Dance every summer, now. Heather's sister-in-law Michelle got us hooked a few years ago, and now it is one of our favorite shows. This past week was where they dropped down to the ten dancers who will go on the national tour this year. One of the dancers named Will is spectacular. His a chiseled specimen who can leap and perform. He may be the best dancer they have ever had - mentored by Debbie Allen herself. He was partnered for the last five weeks with a very pretty girl who is not anywhere near as good as him. She dragged them down every time - but he just worked harder and never even one time did anything to complain or demean her. This past week, their second dance was not very good. And one judge said what everyone watching the show was thinking. "You looked tired. You're tired of carrying her. You need a new partner. You're just tired of doing too much." It was a completely truthful comment - and you could see how badly it hurt the girl (probably because she knew it was so true). I sympathized with Will - being tired from doing too much. He was not only dancing for himself, but he was carrying the hopes and dreams of his partner as well. He was trying to do enough for both of them. I'm not carrying someone like that, but I am trying to fight, while carrying the hopes and dreams of my business partners, my family, my friends - all those parents who desperately need and want help. And I'm trying to do all of that while figuring out how to survive today.

If you know me, you know that I desperately want to do what God wants me to do. That isn't an arrogant statement - I didn't say that I always DO what He wants me to. I want to do it, though. Our family has tried to live that way since Heather I got married. That has been very difficult, and draining not just to us - but to others around us. It is hard to feel God leads you into frontier country and then stand there realizing, "Crap, I'm in frontier country. There isn't a Publix for miles out here." It is hard being out there. It is hard trying to build something from scratch, ferreting out ways to make things happen. You fight, and pray, and hope, and then look around and realize you aren't much further than you were months before.

There is no time lapse photography that makes the building zip up out of the barren field. You are actually having to go through the whole mind-numbing, soul-crushing process. Over the vacation, Heather's mom had me read some Oswald Chambers writings. One of them talks about how God always gives you the vision before He gives you the means to accomplish it. He may even give it to you years before anyone is ready for it. But He has to get YOU ready for it. And that requires having you stand in a valley and get beat up, so that you are humble and prepared for the work when it starts. Chambers went on to say that many people quit in that valley - because they get tired of getting beat up. They can't stand the process, so they quit before they ever get to the payoff.

I can understand that feeling. I want things to work NOW. I want to know that we are taken care of for the future before taking on something now. Even the concept of the Apple job stresses me out, because I want to know how that affects Defender long term. How will it play into Heather's Med School plans? Is taking the Apple job a better option because I can transfer to another city if needed? Now, keep in mind this wouldn't happen for FOURTEEN MONTHS!?! But I stress today. I think lately I've been so worried about the long term results of my decisions that I am mentally beating MYSELF up. It is good to look to the future, but worrying about over a year from now is kind of silly.

In Sunday School, we talked about this yesterday. Basically, being tired, I just chatted with the students rather than formulate a "real lesson." (Plus, remember the vomiting the night before - doesn't make for peaceful sleep.) We were talking about Abraham and how God had promised him to be the father of a great people, when he had no kids. And he got tired too. He and his wife got tired of waiting, so they forced matters and he had a kid with his handmaiden. And that much of the world conflict TODAY is due to that decision. I sympathized with Abraham, though. I can understand getting a great promise and then sitting around like God forgot you for years and years. I've been tempted to force the issue myself too. I've wanted to quit. You get tired.

It is probably amusing to read this post after my last post, where I was saying about how we want to do the impossible. What happened between those two? How did I go from wanting to do the impossible to wanting to give up? Thinking about it, I can only see one thing. I took a break. I took my eyes off the goal, let up, sat back and played Wii and swam. I'm not saying vacation is bad - it is very necessary to get breaks once in a while. But for almost two weeks, I had very little pushing me. I didn't touch work - aside from that one meeting. I read sports columns by David Halberstam - read nothing religious at all. And I got distracted. The only news I got regarding my efforts were negative - having to miss an college event I love dearly, not hearing back from people who were supposed to contact us. And it was very easy to get waylaid. All of the struggling caught up with me. And without seeing the reason every day, without being confronted by the purpose for the work, it just became toiling for no purpose. And I got tired, and wanted to quit.

I know this has been a narcissistic post - very whiny. But I need to get that out. Just like when I have something cool bubbling up inside and have to get it out, I also need to get the junky stuff out. It helps me to have clarity. It helps me to identify what I really am going through. Hopefully, it will help to wake me up. I don't want to give up. I want to trust God. I want to serve Him and work hard. It was good for me to wrestle with all of that here - thanks for indulging me. Now, vacation is over. I need to get back to work.

Jul 1, 2008

New Quote For Me To Run Into the Ground

This summer, I have been able to keep up with my movie watching pretty well.  To date, I have only missed one movie that I wanted to see.  It just came out, though, so I'm still okay.  I also did miss the last half of Kung Fu Panda - or as they say "the important half."  Gabe got freaked out and wouldn't calm down.  So I went out and walked him around the mall.  I don't get it.  He was fine in WALL-E.  Slept through most of Get Smart.  Got scared with animated animals.  

Well, while we were sitting there waiting for WALL-E to start, they were running the kids' version of The Twenty - advertising new shows and such.  One they were highlighting is The Tale of Despereaux.  It is a new movie coming out based on the Newberry Award winning book.  It looked interesting.  But what got me was at the end of the interview when the author said, "Those who dare to do the impossible get the impossible done."  I had never heard of the book, but we went and got it after the movie.  I'm finishing it right now.  It is one of the darker and more depressing "kids' books" I have read - at least to this point.  It is good, just not something I want my kids hearing right now.  But I had gotten it strictly because of that line.

I don't know about you, but for me, I need things to hold on to.  Most of the time I feel so out of control of my life - wondering when things will change.  It isn't because I am lazy and sitting around hoping for God to drop a big bucket of goodness in my lap.  I am active and working and searching - looking for job, looking for funding, looking for bookings.  But things just don't seem to be going anywhere.  Even when we get some hope, it seems like it dries up quicker than rain in Las Vegas.  That line really resonated with me because it often feels like I live in the Land of the Impossible.  It's a strange land.  Sometimes others who don't live there mistake it for the StupidLand or PollyanaTown or The Nation of Fantasy.  I just know that most of the things that have happened in my life have directed me here.
  • I am daring to do the impossible with my career.  I am trying to convince churches that they need to discuss issues they don't want to discuss.  I am trying to help people break free from a prison they don't want to leave.  I am trying to raise funds and get bookings during a downturned economy.  I am trying to fight an industry that is so rich and powerful and government protected that they could crush me without a thought.  All of those things are impossible.  I'm fighting against statistics, hormones, big money, and pride/ego.  Quite frankly, my job is impossible.
  • Heather is daring to do the impossible with her career.  She knows that God built her to be a doctor.  Everything in her life has directed her to that point.  She has gotten better in school and in tests SINCE she had kids.  But, she faces women who think she has no business being in a job at all.  She faces old school doctors who don't want people concerned with family.  She faces long long hours, hard classes, the very real possibility of lots of debt, the chance we have to move, and time away from her family.  The other option is to hope that she is one of the forty people UCF picks out of thousands of applicants for their first class - then it would be free and here.  Quite frankly, her calling is impossible.
  • As parents, we are daring to do the impossible with our kids.  We are trying to teach them to love God, love others, respect their elders and authorities, do well in school.  We are trying to help them become positive influences.  We are trying to protect them from the dangers out there on the Internet, movies, and television - or at friends' houses.  We are trying to teach them about God, when the world thinks He's a joke.  Quite frankly, that kind of parenting is impossible.
  • Our church is daring to do the impossible.  We are trying to grow a church the right way.  We are trying to love each other and support each other.  We are trying to do things different - not just following the formulas laid out by the big guys.  We are trying to minister in an area saturated with churches, but not necessarily with places to grow.  We are ministering to the people who get encouraged to leave other churches.  And we hope that church grows, is able to survive financially, and can change its world.  Quite frankly, that kind of church is impossible.
I guess is why that line meant so much.  We all have this drive to be a part of something bigger than ourselves.  We want to be involved in something great and huge and powerful.  We want to be there and see the impossible happen.  We want to be there - so we can talk about the amazing things we saw and were a part of.  But, like in the powerful speeches in Henry V and Braveheart, not everyone is willing to do what it takes to BE a part of those things.  Not everyone is willing to try to do the impossible.  We all want to be able to tell the tales after, but we don't all want to be the ones fighting and warring.  We don't want to get beat down 364 days in a row just so we can be there the one day when we finally break through and win.  But if no one is willing to do the impossible, then it never will get done, right?  If parents aren't willing to fight for their kids, if churches aren't willing to fight for the world, if those who are called aren't willing to answer - what hope is there? 

The Tale of Despereaux talks about how Hope and Love are very similar.  They are both very silly and blind and stupid at times.  (I would add Faith to that, as well.)  They make you believe in things that make no sense.  They make you act like a fool.  But if you have Faith, Hope, and Love, you have to do those things - just because you have Faith, Hope, and Love.  As 1 Corinthians 13:13, Colossians 1:5, and 1 Thessalonians 5:8 all show, those three things will remain - and they are all you need.  That's true with us - it seems like that is all we have left!  We have Faith that God will deliver like we know He can and has promised.  We have Hope that even the overwhelming odds can be overcome when the time is right.  We have Love for those people whose lives are being destroyed and wounded and cast aside.  So we HAVE to dare to do the impossible.  It may be silly and blind and stupid.  But it is what we have to do.  Otherwise, we didn't really have Faith or Hope or Love after all.