Saturday, November 24, 2012

A Short Reflection on The Perks of Being a Wallflower

I'm a sucker for reading books just before I see the movie (Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Hunger Games, etc.) and the same is true for The Perks of Being a Wallflower.

This book never made it to my high school English class reading list. Yet I enjoyed its offbeat Young Adult-ness. The amount of sex and drugs was surprising for the age of its targeted audience but I suppose that's not a new thing in a time where honesty trumps most everything else.

I would perhaps describe it as a high school version of Garden State's coming-of-age and calls for a responsibility over one's actions similar to East of Eden, although slightly more humanistic. And I would deem this description a positive review.

In the epilogue, the protagonist (/narrator/letter writer) sums up the whole thing rather nicely:
So, I guess we are who we are for a lot of reasons. And maybe we'll never know most of them. But even if we don't have the power to choose where we come from, we can still choose where we go from there. We can still do things. And we can try to feel okay about them. 
Check it if you're into that sort of thing.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Thanksgiving, and the Day After

It's weird being all grown up and moved and away from immediate family. Yesterday, after video chatting with our families, Jorjette and I drove to D.C. to enjoy Thanksgiving with some aunts and uncles.

They live near the National Cathedral. We took a little walk before dinner and passed Homeland Security and walked through American University.

And their row house is fantastic and everything a row house should be.

Today, the Friday after Thanksgiving, we're back in Grantham, moving onto the Christmas season.

We bought a $20 Target Christmas tree and, well, it looks like a $20 Target Christmas tree. But it's cute and  we're in good company.

And Eleanor enjoys the season.
 Alright, that's all. Enjoy the weekend.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Stray Observations on Skyfall

I had a chance to catch Skyfall last night alongside some other fine Messiah folk. I don't claim to be a James Bond fan. In fact, other than Casino Royale, playing a lot of Goldeneye as a kid, and a half hour of a Sean Connery edition here and there, I don't believe I have any background with the ol' 007. Now of course Bond has helped to define American culture's idea of what cool is and what masculinity looks like but that's another conversation.

Now action flicks aren't my first choice, but I enjoy a good one here and there. Coming into Skyfall, I was excited about the directing choice of Sam Mendes (American Beauty, Revolutionary Road). When a more thoughtful approach can be brought to an action flick, I'm on board.

And to be honest, I think he (and the writers) brought some more introspection to the screen. Of course Bond was still using some pretty ridiculous gadgets and hooking up with every lady under the age of 35. But for the first time (in my limited Bond memory), a lot of thought had to be put forth on Bond's part when it came to his motivations for his role as an agent and the primary relationship explored was the one between M and Bond, not exactly a sexy relationship.

Beyond appreciating a little bit more thoughtful approach, the movie was a little slow. If felt long. There were some cliched action scenes (crashing into fruit carts, subway chases, fighting on top of a train) but there were also some beautiful shots (skyscraper fight scene, the Scottish bungalow, the island).

Javier Bardem provided a great villain that conjured up memories of Batman's Bane. I enjoyed the more philosophical middle act of the movie but, really, the movie was about Bond and M. And the final third of the movie, while beautifully shot and very deftly shot during dusk (a literal sky fall), delved into Bond's childhood in another move that conjured up thoughts of Batman.

All together, I thought it was a good installment in the Bond franchise and I continue to think Daniel Craig's portrayal is a pretty accurate representation of today's Bond.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Bazan - A Night of Beard Rock

Last night, I had the chance to see David Bazan perform in Philadelphia at the First Unitarian Church. In many ways, Bazan (and his former band, Pedro the Lion) is the voice of a niche demographic of people mostly comprised of disillusioned twenty-somethings who have been disheartened with the state of life.

His albums are deeply personal accounts of questioning relationships, oneself, God, and culture. Lyrics are often beautifully cut and dry. And depressing. Yet I think they earn him credibility for the rare moments of hopefulness.

I had a chance to see Bazan perform during my Taylor career. He slowly strummed his electric guitar in the student union in front of an audience (including myself) that wasn't familiar with his music. I later discovered a few of his albums and became deeply appreciative of him. My former experience seeing him live and his penchant for house shows had me expecting a quiet evening of listening to his thoughts.
While sticking in a few other favorites in between the A and B side of the album, on this tour, Bazan has been playing through Pedro the Lion's album, Control. The album very much focuses on infidelity within a marriage. While it doesn't shy away from the carnal, it opens with a simple internal account of describing himself at the beginning of a relationship, saying "I need you," yet also wanting to keep his options open. It's heartbreaking.

Knowing the content of the album and based off my former experience seeing Bazan live, I was expecting a relaxed show. I was off-base.

The venue, appropriately enough, was in a church basement in downtown Philly. It was kind of the anti-house-show. It was dingy and quickly became sauna hot. But it was also kind of perfect for a good beard-rock show. At one point, Bazan jumped and did the leg split thing.

In between songs, Bazan has a routine of asking the crowd, "Are there any questions at this point?" The crowd, who proved their fan-dom by knowing just about every lyric, missed their chance to really engage with him. We did learn that Bazan has a thing for mashed potatoes and Gillian Welch's voice though. But unfortunately, no substantive questions were posed and thus, not many responses worth expounding upon.

Otherwise, the show was incredible. While the bassist fixed a guitar string, Bazan performed Wolves at the Door with just his guitar and voice, reminding me of how unique and incredible of a voice he has. Much of the rest of the show was spent rocking out through Control. What was lost in slowly pondering his lyrics during his slower shows was more than made up for by the raw emotion and energy put into performing an album that he described as the "only Pedro album he doesn't hate." He and his three piece band were tight and put on a show worth checking out.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

A Steves Weekend

This past weekend, my good friend and recent supervisor Steve Austin was in town/campus. He and Steve Ivester (from Wheaton College) flew in to have a conversation with Messiah's leadership director Ben Taylor on some best practices and sharing about how each other's schools conducted student programs. And yes, it was great to call them Ben and the Steves. And it was a pleasure to host Austin for the long weekend.

So while they were hard at work for a few days, it was great to talk in person with Austin in the evenings and then, on the weekend, to have a chance to spend some quality time with Ben, the Steves, and the entourage of friends.

Here we are at my new favorite Messiah area breakfast place, Home 231.
(photo credit to Amy Vanderwerf)
It was refreshing to have a close friend in town for a few days. Being in a new place, you adjust and are known in a specific context. But it's nice to converse with someone who has known you for a while. Steve has known me pre-marriage, as an undergrad and grad student, as a friend on the weekend, and as his GA working in TSO. In many ways, close friends can identify things in myself before I can even put a finger on it. It's a way of being known. And isn't that what we're all longing for?

So I enjoyed the weekend sharing more of my current life and being understood. And I look forward to more of that with friends at Messiah and the surrounding area.
For a few more photos, check out the Facebook album

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Eric Metaxas - The Million Dollar Man

As a student described him after his chapel lecture, Eric Metaxas is the Million Dollar Man. I had a chance to hear Metaxas share last night (via video feed - I'm finding Messiah commonly has a "sold out" problem) about Bonhoeffer and his experience writing his biography and then this morning about the influence of William Wilberforce in the abolition of slavery in Great Britain. Metaxas speaks with a quick wit and isn't afraid to linger on a joke but he seamlessly moves into convincing and inspired accounts of Christ's work in his own life and in the lives of those he's written about. If you ever have a chance to hear him speak, make the effort to be there.

While I wouldn't quite label him the "Million Dollar Man," Metaxas does have a lot going for him. From a Yale education to writing for Veggie Tales to his biographies to being featured in national media outlets such as The New York Times and CNN, he's dabled in enough areas of culture to be well known, safe, and respected enough to be invited to lectures on Messiah's campus as well as the National Prayer Breakfast. In some ways, he may be championed by Evangelical circles as the guy that has a lot of influence and is a committed Christian. Thus, the Million Dollar Man.

But I think it goes deeper than that. In many ways, he's what we at Christian colleges salivate over, embodying what we hope all of the students we work with someday reach. He's deeply committed to his craft of writing and writing well. He's nominally interested in writing biographies but absolutely loves the ability to tell the stories of individuals who inspire him personally. He's unabashedly committed to Jesus being at the center of what he does but isn't suckering people into his works with a bait and switch way of sharing the gospel. His historical figures' stories stand alone and are impressive accounts of research, narrative, and inspiration.

So I respect Metaxas. I think he's good for our culture. I think he's good for curious college intellectuals who are trying to sort out their vocation and how it relates to their faith.

Oh, and as evidenced by his leading of Amazing Grace at the end of chapel, he has a really good singing voice.