Mar 31, 2011

Big Hulking Mess

That's right.  By the little pink disc you can tell that this is not going to be an introverted self examination post.  It isn't a journey of self discovery.  It is a GIANT WASTE OF TIME!!!  Hooray!  We all love that, don't we?  I know I do.

With the summer movie season rapidly approaching, we are again hit with a glut of comic book superhero movies.  And now that television is jumping on the superhero bandwagon, there are more examples than ever.  NBC recently trotted out the woefully underappreciated The Cape.  Next year they will bring us Wonder Woman.  This summer, you can enjoy Green Lantern, Captain America, Thor, X-Men: First Class, and Super.  Next year will bring us The Avengers.  And there still are Dark Knight Rising, Iron Man 3, Wolverine 2, Superman (again), Spiderman (again), JLA, Ghost Rider 2, and many more on the horizon.  It is open season on comic books superheroes.

When I was thinking about this, it made me happy.  In general, I love this genre of films.  Sure, there are exceptions (Steel, Spawn, Ghost Rider).  For the most part, though, I like me some comic book movies.  Over the next few years, we will see most of the big names paraded across entertainment screens.  One of the films I am the most excited for is The Avengers.  I still can't believe Marvel is actually putting this film out - with all of these huge comic book guys in one film.  It takes some guts, to be sure.  And the fact that they got the big actors on board is crazy.  Throw in that it is directed by Joss Whedon, and that is a first weekend/wait in line kind of movie.

When you read about that movie, one thing that pops out is that it includes Mark Ruffalo playing The Hulk.  Now, this is not the Eric Bana/Ang Lee version.  It is not the Edward Norton version.  This is a third incarnation of the big green ugly - all in less than ten years.  It made me think.  How did The Hulk - one of the most popular and recognizable characters in the Marvel lineup - end up so poorly handled?  How did it go from being a headliner character to a sideshow?  I have had some thoughts on The Hulk.  A few year ago, I put some of them into my review of the last film version of the comic.  But I wanted to revisit and expand on this examination.

Alter Ego / Hero Disassociation
One of the biggest challenges in making a successful comic book movie is to make the actor portraying believable in both the super hero role and the regular guy role. This is a challenge because so often the superhero is actually computer generated. It is easier in characters like Batman or the X-Men because their faces are still there, giving a connection to the human in the costume. Iron Man worked because Robert Downey Jr was just that freaking good as Tony Stark - all the time.  Even in the computer generated costume, we still saw shots of Downey and heard his voice.  Hulk is a major issue because THERE IS NO SIMILARITIES between Bruce Banner and the Hulk. You could cast Laurence Olivier as Banner and the movie would suck. The Hulk is a big lurching monosyllabic monster crushing things. There is no humanity there - at least not at this point in the mythos with which these movies are dealing.  So, the actor has to be able to pull of a good Bruce Banner (something Norton didn't do).  But they are helpless when it comes to The Hulk.  It becomes completely dependent on special effects.  It is a rare movie that can completely computer generate a character on screen that seems real ALL THE TIME.  Our brains tell us that it is fake.  So we know the Hulk isn't something to invest in emotionally.

Misguided Audience Sympathy
The main conflict of the Hulk story is that Banner wants to GET RID OF the Hulk. So we sympathize with him, hoping he can live a normal life. But at the same time, the only enjoyment we get in the movie is when the Hulk is rampaging and destroying everything.  This causes a mixed reaction from the audience.  The dude is only a hero when he is the Hulk.  But he doesn't want to be the Hulk.  He wants to be free.  So we should want him to be free.  But when he is free, he is just a boring nerd.  We are bored when he is free.  So we want him to stay imprisoned.  Or else we feel imprisoned.  How can you have a superhero who hates being that hero?

Hulk is a Lousy Hero
Here's the honest truth about the Hulk: he makes a better villain than hero.  Marvel figured this out a few years ago.  The powers that be got (Iron Man, Reed Richards) worried about him being too unpredictable, so they stranded him in outer space.  He ended up on some battle scarred planet and ended up taking over - spawning a son who has even fewer redeeming qualities than himself.  Then he returned to Earth and wrecked havoc on those people who sent him away.  In any futuristic views of the Marvel universe, Hulk's offspring are always bad.  He makes a great villain.  But he's a terrible hero.  It's like cheering for Mr. Hyde or the werwolf.  They really just need to decide once and for all to turn him evil.  They keep playing with that - Red Hulk, Skaar, Old Man Logan.  Just pull the trigger.  Part of my reasons for that is in the next point.

Hulk's Villains are Too Powerful
If villains get to be TOO strong, cool, and tough - even though we want to see them taken down - we still won't believe it. This is what I call the WWE problem. In wrestling you have wrestlers who people love, and ones they hate. And to advance story lines, you push the "faces" but play up the strength of the "heels." Back in the WCW/NWO days, this was never more true than in the Sting vs. Scott "Big Poppa Pump" Steiner feud. The problem was, the more Steiner bulked up, the more people realized there was no way Sting would actually win.  Steiner was a collegiate wrestler, so he actually knew wrestling moves.  And he had more steroids in him than a Yankees' clubhouse.  He would have torn Sting's head off.  It was the same with Kent Shamrock when he was in WWE. He would have destroyed everyone.  This guy was a multiple time MMA champion who could break your ankle in ten seconds.  No one could beat him.  So you have to come up with increasingly ludicrous ways for the face to win. The same thing happens in superhero movies. The Hulk himself is a pretty big bad dude. So to give him a challenge, you have to create a bigger villain.  You have to have these bizarre villains with Hulk because, face it, he can't fight a bank robber. It's not like he can become a defender of a city like Batman. He has to have these big ultra-powerful baddies or else it is a joke. Who's he going to fight? Mole Man? Zeus? Venom? He would crush all of them.  So here comes Abomination.  Now, straight up, the humans behind the beasts are probably pretty even. Banner is smart and a bit buff (mostly wimpy). The baddie is strong and smart, but with a temper/ego problem. Now, he gets TWO doses of Super Soldier serum. This is the same stuff that made Captain America, right? TWO doses. And then he gets the Hulk treatment. With how big and tough he was, combined with his complete lack of morals or ethics to weigh him down, he would have KILLED Hulk. There is no way Hulk can win. The heel was too strong for the face. (This is something that plagues comic book movies, especially in sequels when villains are jammed in like gumball machines.)  In a normal comic book movie, the bad guy needs to be as strong or stronger than the hero, but with a fatal flaw.  How can someone be stronger than Hulk?  [This is one concern I have about The Avengers.  What kind of villain is big enough that you need all those heroes?  That's when weirdos like Galactus and Darkseid and Doomsday and Apocalypse come into play.  I hate those villains - just TOO big and bad.]

Lack of Cohesive Story Line
This is mainly for comic book dorks.  Most comic book characters have a pretty clear story.  They have their origin, their reasons for becoming a hero, their main antagonists.  Things may change from time to time, but if you mess with things too much, it gets to be to hard to follow.  Spiderman did this years ago. The title almost got killed because it was such a mess. They had him out in space fighting parasites and all kinds of bizarre stuff.  You can see now, they have gone back to the beginning with him.  He's a student who is Spiderman.  No one knows who he is.  He just is doing his thing.  With the Hulk, they have changed so many things over the years.  There were times when he would be like a dumb crazed animal when in Hulk mode.  Other times he could access Bruce Banner's memories.  At other times, he was completely rational and intelligent and Hulk all the time.  There's been grey hulk and green hulk and red hulk.  He's been able to jump miles in a leap.  He's basically invincible.  Then he isn't.  He's a good guy.  He's a bad guy.  He's off planet.  He's back.  It is hard to follow.  So, those true fans of the title aren't really sure what version they are going to see on screen.  It hasn't helped that there were two vastly different versions in the theaters so close together.  Even if fans did get attached to one particular version, it probably won't last very long.

Maybe Marvel is finally getting the right idea.  Instead of having a whole big massive movie hanging on a character that hasn't seemed to connect with audiences, tuck him away into a big cast of characters.  See how Ruffalo does with this Hulk.  Maybe, if it works, they can try a spinoff or something.  Give the character a chance to establish some kind of footing and ground rules for his existence first.  I'm not sure.  The character seems like it could be cool on screen.  But I think they may have to go for a really risky move - like do the Planet Hulk series instead.  Let him go crazy and just be destructive Hulk in a world that can handle it.  Don't pull in the whole Banner angle.  Just make him the green monster generating all kinds of mayhem all over the universe.  That would be a better fit than some angsty drama set on Earth - where he is just too big and strong to function in a normal setting.

Mar 20, 2011


Last night I finally gave up trying to sleep around 4:15am.  I was in complete agony all over my body.  And it wasn't just a dull ache everywhere.  It was a relentless random series of stabbing electrical pains, coupled with an intense hurting in my joints.  It was hard to find one that wasn't affected.  My neck and right arm was the worst.  But they were joined by throbbing in my left arm, my knees, my toes, my hips.  It was awful.  I couldn't find a position to lay that didn't set up a new set of painful zaps.  When I say electrical, it felt like someone was taking a hard narrow object that was hooked up to a power source.  It would suddenly jab into a spot on my body and push harder and harder in.  It was excruciating.  The natural response when someone comes up and jams something like that into you is to jerk away.  So, even though there was no physical implement of pain, my body kept jerking away.

After going to the bathroom, I went and sat in the recliner.  In recent weeks, sleep has become painful for me.  A large part of it is the fact that I have lost so much weight that my body does not enjoy sleeping in the position I have used for most of my life.  I don't have an enormous gut under me, so now my body contorts into strange painful positions.  I still haven't figured it all out.  Sometimes I will go sleep in the chair because it offers some relief.  Last night, it was a desperate move in response to a completely unexpected attack.  I would doze for 45 minute stretches and then pray when I couldn't sleep.  I didn't know what else to do - and I decided to make my unexpected wakey wake time useful.  (I wanted to write on the blog then, but I couldn't even lift the computer.)  After a couple of hours, I went back to my bed and hoped to sleep in there.  For no reason, I started shivering like crazy.  My teeth were clattering together so loud it woke Heather up.  She had no idea what was going on.  I just laid there and cried and she rubbed my hand.

We have tried to figure out what was going on.  I had done a lot of cleaning yesterday - scrubbing the bathroom floor, cleaning the shower, vacuuming the house.  (I tried to convince Heather that it was proof that cleaning was hazardous to my health.  She didn't buy it.)  That was probably a big part of it.  The exertion coupled with my Rheumatoid Arthritis - which has already been flaring due to stress.  For all we know, the "Supermoon" also got into the act.  Whatever the combination, it was the single worst RA attack I have ever had.  Normally I bounce back during the day.  The intensity of pain and the electrical jolts ended.  But my arms, knee, and neck are still very painful.  I've had to give up control more than I want to.  Heather had to drive us around.  She had to buckle my belt.  The kids have had to open bottles for me.  Now, twelve hours later, I still am slowly lumbering around the house.  Everything takes twice as long and hurts twice as much.

I'm sure that the two of you reading this are feeling great sympathy for me.  As they say, "you feel my pain."  That is one of the things about pain.  It is universal.  I would argue that it is one of the most universal of feelings, if not the most.  There are people out in the world who don't know how love feels.  But everyone knows what pain feels like.  I may not know exactly what you are going through.  But I can guarantee that I can recognize your pain.  The pain of loss.  The pain of loneliness, of betrayal, of grief.  There's the pain of a relationship ending and the pain of one that won't start.  We all know those feelings.  They are common across cultures and religions and gender and age.   Pain is very real and very recognizable.

In the midst of my physical pain last night, I was also feeling heartache.  It's a different kind of pain and I don't know which is worse.  With physical pain, you can put ice on it or take Advil.  With heartache, there isn't much that can be done . . except . . . wait.  I was hurting for the people suffering in Libya.  I want them to be free.  My heart ached for the people of Japan.  We are so consumed in the nuclear crisis there that we aren't thinking about the massive loss of life.  When all is said and done, there may be 20,000 people dead.  That is incomprehensible to me.  Entire families wiped out.  It kind of came and went with just a blip, but the news talked about when they discovered 1,000 bodies at one point.  They said the shock and grief was so bad at the sight that it just unhinged people.

I know I have written on some of these themes in my last few posts.  But it is a big part of what I am dealing with right now.  People all around us hurting.  The most we open ourselves up to them, the more we feel their pain, the more we hurt.  Eventually, it feels like we are going to overload.  It was like my body last night.  The pain was so all-encompassing and random and cruel that my body just starting shaking and trembling.  It couldn't handle it.  The same thing can happen with empathy for others.  We can find ourselves lost in their agony.

It is a hard road to walk.  It is easy to turn away and not care.  We joke around and forget about it.  After the Japan tragedy, you had people making crude twitter posts about it.  (Gilbert Gottfried was the most famous offender.)  I was equally horrified by the crassness of his joking.  But, I know that I have done some of that stuff before.  It may not have been as heartless or public.  I know, though, that I have been guilty of turning my back on a problem because it was "too hard" to stomach.

Last night I realized something.  In all of my agony, there didn't seem like a lot of hope.  I couldn't find a position that made the pain stop.  There wasn't a medicine or a treatment to end that scale of problem.  You know what the most comfort I got was?  When I climbed into bed and Heather reached over and just softly rubbed my hand.  It didn't stop the pain.  It didn't perform magic.  It didn't stop the tears.  But that brief genuine loving touch showed me that at least I wasn't alone in the agony.  It offered hope.

We can't fix Japan or Libya or New Zealand or the poverty and unemployment in our own country.  I can't generate enough money or buy enough houses to make things better.  And my little $10 text to the Red Cross seems so small in comparison to the scope of the agony.  But in that moment, our small gesture is like rubbing their hand.  It is showing them they aren't alone.

Mar 15, 2011

The Beauty of Perspective

It has been a rough few weeks at the elaborate and elegant Staples Resort and Spa.  The kids, who usually are pretty healthy, have gone through several cycles of illnesses.  Heather actually had to reschedule her last exam because she missed so many days during her bout with the plague.  We went down to visit my mom over Heather's spring break.  During that trip the two older kids and my mom were stricken with food poisoning.  Gabe had a massive allergy attack there, which segued right into a combination of ear/sinus/eye infections.  And then, something finally got me this morning.  I spent more time on the toilet today than anywhere else.  (Oh, was that too much transparency?)

Other things have been jumping onto the pile as well.  Financially, its one of those tighter stretches.  As I shared in a previous post, the Libyan situation has kept Defender in stasis.  The move to Orlando is coming up closer and closer - and with it the expenses of getting established there.  And, to top it off, one of the fish the kids won at the Strawberry Festival tried to commit suicide last night by jumping out of it tank.  We saved it, but it is pretty obvious it isn't quite right.

The temptation today, especially while feeling sick and weak, is to wallow in my miseries.  And ordinarily, that is exactly what I would do.  I would mope and feel crummy.  My focus would quickly zoom onto myself and no one else.  Today, though, I have actually tried very hard to keep perspective.  Things that are going on around me have certainly helped.

  • We have a family friend who has spent the last two days at the hospital trying to discover what is wrong with their two year old boy.  He has been non-responsive twice in the last two weeks and no one really knows what is going on.  The parents are helpless, just waiting on doctors to perform a miracle.
  • This year, my sister has had her gall bladder removed.  Her son has had an appendix attack that nearly led him to need surgery.  That turned into massive bowel issues, complete with horrible pain and missing two weeks of school.
  • My brother is struggling to find a job in the lousy economy.  He goes to work at 4:45am every morning and still is coming up short.
  • On top of all of that, I am not doing this alone.  Today, Heather shuffled her schedule and came home early so she could take Gabe to the doctor.  She also took care of organizing dinner and correcting the kids.  It always blows my mind when I think about how hard it is for a single parent to walk this journey alone.  I have several friends who are in that boat.  It is always a quick perspective check when I think of their struggles.
Then we have the international situation...
  • Libya is something that is constantly on my mind, obviously.  Even now, when it appears the government is reclaiming power, the realization that those poor citizens are going to go back to the same problems.  And it probably will be worse, when you think about it.  Anyone who was even remotely involved in the rebellion will no doubt be killed.  And Gaddafi strikes me as a punitive sort.
  • At least a half dozen other countries are going through upheavals as well.  The idea of revolution has taken root and is spreading throughout the Middle East.  In each of those, there are lives lost as the people fight for freedom.
  • Our soldiers are still fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq - disarming bombs and helping those countries get established.  I have several friends serving in the military - leaving their families to help fight for people (who may not even want them there).  
  • New Zealand just suffered a major earthquake that obliterated an entire major city.  This has kind of been lost in the other tragedies.  Thousands of people were left homeless and national treasures were erased instantly.
  • Then there is Japan.  It is beyond horrible to try to fathom what just happened.  In an instant, a powerful country's fortunes were turned 180 degrees.  The death toll will probably end up near 10,000 people.  It is estimated that damages will top $10 billion.  Entire cities were erased.  And now there is the looming horror of a nuclear disaster.  Being a child of the 70s and 80s, nuclear accidents are something that has always terrified me.  Watching this plant disintegrate before my eyes, I can't even imagine how awful the Japanese people are feeling right now.  
Perspective.  It is a good thing.  Actually, when I think about the stuff going on all around - close to home and far away - it makes me feel pretty silly to get so worked up of a suicidal fish and excessive trips to the bathroom.  As I sat there last night, hearing my little guy crying and struggling to sleep and worrying about the fish, I started to pray about all the stuff that has been swirling.  It didn't help me feel better.  The reality is that I felt a little worse.  There is just so much pain out there.  It is helpful to remember that my pain is not the only one.  

Mar 8, 2011

Holly Dawn

Today is the 35th birthday of one Holly Dawn (Staples) Kramer - my little sister.  On this special occasion, I thought it would be appropriate to post some of my best stories about my life with Holly.  I'm sure that she would also rank these as some of her favorite memories about me.  As I have been quite clear about in years past on this blog, I was no angel - even though all my teachers and my parents thought I was.  I was just better at hiding my hooliganism.
  • My brother and I shared a room growing up.   Holly's room was down the hall.  Her bed was this strange kind of loft bed with drawers underneath.  It was raised up not quite to the height of a bunk bed.  The weird thing was that the drawers did not fill the whole width - or depth - of the bed.  There was this opening under the bed on the left side that was about three feet wide.  And there was about a foot and a half of space behind the drawers.  I think this was intended to be storage space.  My mom hung a blanket to cover the space because it was scary.  When she was younger, my sister worried a monster was under her bed.  As she got a little older, she was worried I was under her bed.  That's because I frequently would hide in that space and jump out at her.  She got to be smart and check behind the blanket, but I started squirming back behind the drawers.  So I still could jump out at her.  I was a jerk.
  • The motif of me hiding and jumping out at Holly was a pretty common one.  To get upstairs, we had a recessed stairwell.  You couldn't see into the stairs until you were almost in front of it, especially if a person was to hide a few steps up.  Needless to say, there were numerous times when Holly would be strolling through the playroom only to have me leap out at her.
  • When we were older, my parents had closets built in the upstairs hallway.  There were two large sets to house all of my clothes and Holly's clothes.  Then there was a short set in the middle where our coats were.  (You know where this is going.)  I would hide in the closets and jump out at her.  I would mix it up, though - my closet, her closet, the short closet.  It is really a miracle she wasn't a nervous wreck for her whole life due to all the jumping out at her.
  • Oh yeah, I also would hide in the shower and jump out at her.
  • Holly wasn't always the innocent victim in our dealings.  When we were growing up, all three of the kids would have to ride in the back seat of our parents' station wagon.  As we got older, this became a tighter squeeze.  My brother would have to put his arm back behind us to fit.  One day he flicked me in the nose, for no good reason.  It made this weird hollow PLOONK sound.  From that day on, Holly would frequently flick me in the car to mimic that PLOONK sound.
  • After Holly got older and no longer fit in her weird loft bed, she moved downstairs into a different room.  Of course, I still needed to find ways to torment her.  The door out of her room opened into the bathroom.  And there was a door out of the bathroom right next to that door - and they both opened inward for some reason.  You could actually leave the bathroom door open a little, so when the person coming out of the bedroom tried to open the door, it would just slam against the bathroom door and not open.  Yes, I did this.
  • One day she was reading in her room with the doors closed.  I was in the bathroom and for no good reason started pounding on the door.  I decided to re-enact a scene from Monty Python and the Holy Grail.  I leaned against the door and screamed in a British accent, "Open the door!  Open the door!  In the name of God, open the door!!!"  So she did.  Right into my nose.  This was one of three times my siblings broke, dislocated, or generally screwed up my nose.
  • One day in the backyard, we were playing "soccer."  In reality, it was us kicking the ball around and me running up the score against Holly.  She had to defend the entrance to the alleyway next to our house that was part of our yard.  I had to defend some random spot on the other side.  The ball mostly was in her half of the yard.  I was being an arrogant turd.  She was getting irritated.  Our backyard was not in great shape, mind you.  There were some big dips and holes due to an old septic tank that had collapsed.  I knew about these dips, since I was the one who had to pick up the dog doo doo.  So, at one point, Holly pointed at one hole and said, "Don't step in that hole there."  Being ultra-confident of myself and running high on the thrill of thrashing her, I really snottily replied, "What?!?  THIS hole?"  And then I stepped in it and went to kick the ball past her.  My left knee snapped backwards and hyperextended like it had been hit by a linebacker.  This led to my first arthroscopic knee surgery when I was 13.  
  • I know I was a big ole punk.  One our favorite stories to tell is this one.  (Holly likes to tell it to show how rotten I was.  I like to tell it to show how sneaky I was.)  Holly was sitting upstairs in the hallway, innocently reading a book.  As you came up the stairs, you could peek up into the hall without being seen from above.  I snuck up and peeked over.  I had a handful of goldfish crackers in my hand.  I launched the fish up over the upstairs handrail right onto Holly's head and yelled, "ROACHES!!!"  I didn't realize just how brilliant this was.  As they cascaded down onto her, the salt on the outside of the crackers felt rough and scratchy.  And the combination of the smooth fish body and pointy tail must have felt like bodies and legs.  She leapt up in the air screaming and trying to slap them off of her.  I bolted down the stairs, laughing hysterically.  (Like I am now typing this.)  She came tearing down the stairs to tell on me.  "DAVID THREW GOLDFISH ON ME AND SAID THEY WERE ROACHES!"  I, of course, couldn't let this stand.  "I THOUGHT SHE MIGHT WANT A SNACK!!!"  My mom just looked at me and asked why I yelled they were roaches.  I didn't know how to answer this.  Holly has never forgiven me for this.
  • Holly telling on me also became a common motif.  As we became teenagers and I started driving, I had to often take Holly with me in the car.  My mom would often ask me about specific things that happened while I was driving - like if I had pulled into a parking spot too fast or sped on a road.  It turns out that my sister would tell my mom everything I did wrong while driving.  This drove me nuts.  One day we were driving down Parker Avenue on a wet road.  Some idiot in front of me cut me off and I had to slam on the brakes.  My car fishtailed wildly until it finally stopped.  We both were terrified.  But my first thought was to look over at Holly and say, "I didn't do anything wrong.  That happens sometimes.  Don't go telling mom I was driving crazy."  She did anyway.  Fortunately my mom defended me that time.  
  • In high school, I never had a girlfriend.  There were girls I liked, but it never amounted to anything.  (I was a great friend, though.  Grrrr.)  One day in Spanish class, someone was goofing around and doing that whole mature "you like so and so" thing.  They said to this girl (ironically named Heather), "You like David."  She, naturally, said, "No I don't."  Then she added this stunner.  "Besides, he has a girlfriend."  This came as a surprise to me.  "Huh?  Who told you that?"  She responded, "John Bishop told me that.  He said he saw you two together in the sports store he works at."  I thought back to the one time I had been in that store.  Oh man.  "Uh, that was my sister.  Please make sure everyone knows that I am not dating my sister."
  • There are so many other little things I remember - her refusal to say milk in Spanish, playing My Little Pony with her, her love of strawberry cake, Heather sticking her face in a cake with Holly egging her on, officiating her wedding.  It is tough to condense 35 years.
We certainly had our ups and downs over the years.  As we got older, we drifted apart and then got closer.  And then drifted apart and then got closer.  And then drifted apart.  Now, we are closer than we have been in a very long time.  She has a wonderful son that it just amazing and cool.  And she's been through so much over the years - a lot of it very very bad.  And, now, it seems pretty stupid to let minor things keep us apart.  When you fear for your sister's life, it kind of gives you perspective.  I know that I was far from the perfect brother and she was not perfect either.  But, honestly, I would never have wanted anyone else.  We had a great time together.  And I am thrilled to be walking through the era of parenthood with her.  I am proud of her for being strong enough to make it through the dark days.  And I can't wait to see what happens in the future with all of us.  

So, happy birthday, little sister.  I love you so much and hope you have a great day.  I hope this next year is great - and healthier than last year.  It's been a blast to have you as a sister and a friend.  

Mar 7, 2011


I've totally fallen down on the job.  I haven't posted on either of my blogs in a month.  Many apologies to my legion of followers.  I know that you must have been heartbroken, left to hopelessly surf the web for some kind of inferior replacement for my amazing blog.  I have just sat by and allowed important things to occur without my witty analysis - the Super Bowl's newest champion, the Oscars' newest mistakes, Charlie Sheen's newest implosion, Rob Bell's newest heretical comments.  Books have been read and not critiqued.  Movies have been seen and not reviewed.  What in the world is going on?

It can really be summed up in one word: Libya.

I don't know if other writers struggle with this, but I know I do.  If I have a strong idea of something I want to write about and then DON'T write about it, I find it hard to move on to something else.  Call it mental constipation.  There is a blockage and other ideas can't escape until that item is dislodged.  (See, those are the insightful deep comments you've been missing so badly.)  For me, the culprit was Libya.  For anyone who has not been under a rock for the last few weeks, there has been must unrest over in North Africa and the Middle East recently.  Regimes were toppled in Tunisia and Egypt.  Protests were held in numerous other countries.  And the movement spread to Libya.  Protest began there, spurred on the by the success in the neighboring lands.  But, that was when things began to go poorly.

Libya isn't run by a person who wants to keep the peace.  Some would argue Libya is not run by a person at all, but rather by a terrifying creature.  Many younger people forget (or have never learned) about Muammar Gaddafi.  [We are going with that spelling, since that is what wikipedia used.  And we all know that is always right.  I remember his name had a Q in it when I was a kid.]  Gaddafi has ruled Libya for over 40 years now.  So he is kind of just a fixture over there.  And in recent years, the country has seemed pretty mild.  But, as a child of the 1980s, I remember a far different story.

I remember the days when President Reagan would rail against this "mad dog of the Middle East."  He was one of the biggest villains in the world.  He funded terrorist groups all over the world.  These groups hijacked a TWA flight.  They conducted attacks at airpots in Vienna and Rome, killing 19 people and wounding 140.  They bombed a dance club in Berlin.  His people shot at US fighter jets enforcing the "no fly zone" over Libya.  There were numerous skirmishes with the US and Libyan forces.  The US conducted an air strike on Libyan ground weapons.  And then, even after that, Libyans were responsible for the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland.  

But, as time has passed, Gaddafi seemed to mellow and we needed their oil.  So the horrific history kind of was forgotten and we worried about other terrorists and threats.  The US began trading with Libya and we just forgot about them.  Now, though, no one is forgetting about them.  The would-be revolution in Libya was not a peaceful process like in Egypt.  Instead, it has been bloody and horrific.  Thousands of people have died.  Tens of thousands have fled their homes, trying to find some kind of safety somewhere - even if it means the desert.  It has been horrible to read about these things.  Soldiers randomly firing into crowds, robbing people fleeing the country.  Helicopters and planes bombing protests.  And then we begin to hear Gaddafi's speeches again - with his hatred of America and his paranoid rants about who is behind the unrest.  Flashbacks to 1985.

I am not one to spend a lot of time watching the news.  I keep up with things.  But I am not a newshound.  Part of the reason is that I just can only take so much negativity - which is what modern news is all about.  To get viewers, readers, and subscribers our modern news outlets play up the sensational and gruesome.  It isn't so much analysis they offer as hysterical overanalysis.  To become a well-known journalist of any sort, you must take a wild position.  You must be shocking.  We see this on the sports outlets so much - where people make zany statements because they know that it will get picked up by the national media.  Local news outlets do the same thing, playing up weird stories to get national web traffic.  So I avoid the news.  It isn't like me to get into stories like this.  (And it has been very frustrating trying to find "real coverage" - I have had to resort to the BBC.)

The reason for my interest is also the reason that I haven't been able to write about it.  I'm going to do my best to express myself while being careful to not say too much.  A few months back, a gentleman came to us at Defender Ministries.  He really believes in what we are doing and wants to help us to get to the next level with everything.  And that doesn't mean he is going to give us $100 and pray.  He is personally going to underwrite some very big projects.  We are in the process of looking at opening a pastor/missionary retreat center in the NC/TN area.  We are finishing up a new line of curriculum for grades 1-5 on technology safety.  We need to update our current student and adult lines of lessons.  And this person is going to make this happen - and more than that.  It has been an answer to prayer.  But we haven't been able to talk a lot about all of it because he wants to remain anonymous and because things are still in negotiations.

One element of this person's business involves contracts with . . . Libya.  He is - or should I say was - in the middle of some new work over there when the trouble in Egypt started.  That put them into a "wait and see" mode.  They wanted to make sure that nothing spread into Libya.  And then it did.  Some of the company's negotiators were in Tripoli when things started to go crazy.  They got out okay, but it was scary for everyone involved.  So, now, everything is on hold until things get worked out.  And, as the news is showing, it doesn't look like things are going to get worked out any time soon.

I've never been shy to paint myself in a bad light on this blog.  I try to be transparent and that means that I voice my weaknesses too.  Well, I have been wrestling for a while now on how to handle this whole situation.  At first, I found myself actually hoping Gaddafi was able to fix the problem quickly and move on - so the contracts could be signed.  Then I started thinking about what I was doing.  I was rooting for a mad man?  The more I read, the more I realized that the whole time we thought Libya had calmed down, it hadn't.  He was always oppressing his people.  He was always a maniac.  We just didn't care because it didn't hurt us.  He stopped blowing up European airports, stopped shooting at our planes, didn't cut off the oil supply.  So we turned our back.  Like so many things in Africa, we didn't care.  It isn't until someone shined a spotlight on the situation that we realized how bad it was. 

This isn't the first time this has happened.  There were the famines in Ethiopia and Somalia in the 80s, which we then forgot about until the military incursions into Somalia in the 1990s.  There were the atrocities in the Darfur region that we didn't even know about until George Clooney made us look.  And we still don't think about the fact that there are millions there without drinkable water, unless Matt Damon has a new movie coming out and is able to work that into an interview.  I know I'm guilty of this.  I'm more worried about arguing if Firefly was cancelled too early (it was) or if Hallie Stanfield should be cast as Katniss Everdeen in Hunger Games (she should) or who is right and wrong in the NFL labor dispute (both sides).  I don't think about starving and thirsty people in Africa.  I don't think about mistreated citizens in Libya.

And when I first was confronted with it, my first thought was, "I hope this gets fixed so the contracts get signed and we get our money."  I know that makes me sound horrible - and it made me feel worse.  Over the subsequent weeks, I have really had to think about my heart and pray about how I should even pray. I feel I have gotten to the point where I have mostly put my own desires on hold so I can focus on the people there.  I force myself to read news stories so that I can remember what they are dealing with.  If too many days go by without reading something, I start to drift back to my own stuff again.  But it is hard.

On one hand, I think about the people over there.  I think about this maniac in charge, who seems hell bent on staying in power until, as his son said, "the last bullet it fired."  And that breaks my heart.  But then on the other hand, I think about the number of people here who we could help.  I think about the kids that are getting caught up into the trap of pornography.  I think about the marriages that are falling apart, the ministers who are getting fired, the missionaries who are losing their funding.  And, yes, I think about my own bills and needs and how our move to Orlando in June gets closer and closer.  And there is this constant wrestling.  We are told in the Bible numerous times to put others before ourselves, to love others.  I want to do that.  But I am here, and they are far away.

I don't know the answer.  I know that sometimes writing things down helps me to get a handle on them.  I have also found over the years that if I am wrestling with something, there is a good chance a lot of other people are as well.  So I finally felt I had to write this.  It is my biggest struggle right now - warring over my heart and my emotions, fighting in prayer for the people of Libya, desperately longing to develop the right mindset that sees people the way God sees them, and hoping that financial and personal and ministry and expansion issues work out as well.  I truly don't want to just see myself and my needs.  I don't want to have a view of the world that only sees people out of our borders when they interfere with my life or make my gas prices go up.  It is uncomfortable, taking on the weight of problems of people you don't know.  We have enough to worry about with people we DO know.  I have friends and family who don't have jobs and who have severe health issues.  And it is easy to just hide my head in the sand, watch the Food Network, and ignore all the cries around me.  But I know that isn't right.  I'm still trying to figure it all out.