My New Home

Friday, February 27, 2009

Get Real

I have heard many people say how much they hate it when people are fake. Personally, I don't know what I would do without that cultural blessing. I mean really, if everybody was "real" all the time, I don't think I'd ever go out in public. If the people who couldn't stand me just told me as much flat-out? I'd be devastated.

No, please, give me the fake smile, the fake laugh, the abbreviated discussions, and I'll take the hint and pretend right along with you. We'll both know it's all code for "I don't like you," and we'll move on without the scars of an honest exchange.

It's the fake that makes reality bearable. Politeness is just a public acknowledgment that being real doesn't work toward our mutual advantage nearly as much as being pleasant does. So don't knock fake until you've tried it--and believe me, you have. Embrace it. Love it. Marry it and have a bunch of little fake babies.

But as much as I don't hate the fake, I love being real . . . just in small, carefully administered doses. I try to limit my real intake to three times daily (with food, of course). OD on real and you'll go crazy. Don't get enough and, ironically enough, you'll wind up becoming a reality show host.

And speaking of the real, I've moved my daily Bible doses (my biggest reality injection) to a new blog. This was starting to become just a little too real.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Basic Formula

Bildad, you're up!

Okay, Job, here it is: if your sons sinned, they simply got what was com . . . 

Hold it, hold it. Bil. Daddio. Why did you open your mouth, compadre? Bildad's speech in Job chapter 8 gets me a little irritated, mainly because his brand of advice is not unpopular today. If there's something wrong with you, you must have done something wrong to cause it. And if you would simply return to a right place with God, He would fix everything. Your livelihood escaped you because you forgot God, like the short-lived green season of quickly wilting rushes rooted in unsure soil. (Super mega bonus points if you can identify the mystery MP3 at the top of the playlist and weave the lyrics into the meaning of this passage.) Buck up, if you're right with God, you'll be back to your laughing-happy self in no time.

Ugh. I hope to not ever talk about God like I've figured Him out. There are things I know for certain about Him, but not to the point that I can manipulate His nature to produce my desired ends. Bildad, you insolent slut.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Idol Eyes, Group 2

I haven't started watching yet, but there's one contestant I want to see and hear more than I've ever anticipated anyone this early in a season: Nick Mitchell. I just . . . I know I'm gonna laugh. Okay, let's press play on the DVR and see who shows up and who screws up.

Jasmine Murray
Oh dear, Jasmine. I guess I haven't heard enough of her from the prelims to really know where she fits, but she's fallen into the other side of the song-picking trap for female Idols. The first (of which we witnessed plenty last week) is when the less-than-diva songstresses try to ascend to Mt. Olympus where only Whitney, Aretha, Mariah, and Celine belong. (The corollary is treading into alternative paradises like Valhalla, where Sting and Bob Marley reside.) But Jasmine, who I think has a potentially bigger voice than some of the other contestants, made the mistake of doing the casual, "strum it out in a coffee shop" song. She bottled up her genie. She's such a cutie, but I don't like her chances. Odds of advancing: 8:1

Matt Giraud
When I heard he was singing "Viva la Vida," I thought, "Great choice . . . for Week 8." I liked what he was trying to do with the vocals, but the instrumental arrangement didn't change at all. It was like he was trying to improvise over the karaoke track--and as anyone who has ever sung karaoke knows, you can't do that. Oh, man, it hurts, because he is so good. But this performance was in the not-so-good category. Dude. DUDE! Thank Simon for the Wild Card. Odds of advancing: 5:1

Jeanine Vailes
Somebody get Jeanine Kate Winslet's shampoo bottle. Seriously, that would have been ten times as good if it had not been on mic. Bad sign #1: the camera cuts to a shot of your friends after your performance, and they look thankful that you're done. Bad sign #2: the judges (and Ryan) all talk about your legs. And they were nice legs. The really weird thing is, I'm pretty sure this is the first time Jeanine has sung this season. The judges look like they're just now meeting her for her long-overdue local audition. She just made the classic blunder of picking a song with notes that had to be sung. Odds of advancing: I think the judges covered that convincingly enough.

Nick Mitchell (a.k.a. Norman Gentile)
Okay. For the very first time I didn't have the slightest shred of disappointment. Holy crap. I've laughed out loud at least a dozen times. And Simon is just playing into his hands. Nick recognizes this show is about entertainment, and Simon is playing the foil. I can't disagree with Randy and Kara more . . . the vocals were hot. Would I plug that performance into my CD player? No. But I will watch that again. Look, the fact is, he sounded better than anybody so far. That's what should be making these judges cry. And he is the only contestant so far tonight who has actually remained true to what got him here. Odds of advancing: 5 to 1. Yeah. They're that good.

Allison Iraheta
A little piece of me dies every time an Idol contestant sings a song by Heart. If Allison were riding shotgun in my car while singing this song, I would say, "Girl, that was awesome. You can sang!" But if I heard that coming out of the speakers, I don't think I would keep listening. In both instances, I'd be wondering what the hell I was doing listening to Heart. Now, Paula just credited her on her microphone use . . . but when she started, I couldn't hear her. Kara seems to have grasped the finer points of mic management, so maybe she should dole out some lessons. There's been some real bad mic work so far tonight. Still, Allison did sound loads better than those who came before, and I like a little raspiness.  She wasn't terrible, but I thought she was a little out of control. Odds of advancing: 3 to 1

Kris Allen
When Kris announced he was singing "Man in the Mirror," I yelled, "Awesome!" If I were on Idol, I would sing this song every time. But he made the mistake early on of pronouncing a few words like Michael does. Nobody sings like Michael, and nobody pronounces "I see" as "ai chi" like Michael does. BUT, I agree with Kara. I think the lackluster performances of the first half have lowered the standards of the judges. The arrangement was cheesy, and he didn't change it enough to distinguish his vocals from those of the King of Pop. I'm sorry, Kris, but . . . I can't see myself voting for that. Bravo for winning over the judges, but I couldn't wait for that to be over. Odds of advancing: 10 to 1

Megan Joy Corkrey
A tattoo has never seen so misplaced as the sleeve on Megan's right arm as she invoked the spirit of an impish five year old . . . or a doll that sprang to life. I just don't get it. The awkward quarter twirls so perfectly mimicked by Ryan (for real); the cutesy singing that wasn't nearly quirky enough to be considered jazzy; the inability to find the groove; the overconfidence that only seemed to translate after she was finished . . . man, I don't get what the judges are on. A terrible start has thrown off their powers of perception. Odds of advancing: 10 to 1

Matt Breitzke
Aw man, I'm dizzy from the swirling cameras. Yet another song-choice pitfall: the song that doesn't quite rock but doesn't quite roll. Pick a slow heart-wrencher or an upbeat butt-kicker. But don't pick the song that, at a concert, leaves the audience perched near the edge of their seats murmuring to each other, "um . . . are we supposed to stand up?" But he didn't sound bad. It's just not a "hey, look at what I can do" song. Odds of advancing: 6 to 1

Jesse Langseth
Bette Davis eyes? The best part of the song was the rhythmic clapping during Kara's critique. I don't know who to blame for the abysmal band arrangements that have haunted this competition, but they really have been horrendous. It's this bad lounge act vibe, and it's not doing anybody any favors. Back to Jesse, though. I think she lacks the ability to connect with songs that anyone but her misunderstood art-house clique will appreciate. Don't pick a song because of its story when you only have 90 seconds to sing it. Odds of advancing: Infinity to nothingness

Kai Kalama
The dude wins the name competition hands down, but the "how bad do you want me" look on his face makes Enrique Iglesias look understated. He sang alright, but yeah . . . he was old fashioned. He was boring. He is nice enough to make you want to apologize whilst ripping his performance to shreds, as all the judges did. . . . And he looks 40. Odds of advancing: 40 to 1.

Mishavonna Henson
Misha-V broke her promise not to disappoint America before she made it. Drops of Jupiter is just not an Idol song. It didn't cooperate at all with the massive Idol reverb. It doesn't work all too well being sung about a guy. It doesn't capitalize on the fact that she's at least 1/4 elf. But she has a great voice. I wish she had chosen a song that showcased that with more than "Eh, eh, eh, eh, eh, eh, eh." Aw, man. I really like this girl. I didn't hear much from her, but, crap. I wish she was sticking around. Maybe she'll get wild-carded. Odds of advancing: 15 to 1

Adam Lambert
He was accused of being too dramatic, musical theater, and disconnected. I'll never forget what he suggested as a remedy to that: "Believe," by Cher. If your problem is theatrics, the solution is not Cher. Dear boy. Fortunately for Adam, his problem is also his strength. He's very theatrical. He's very, uh . . . Freddie Mercury, but with the mustache enlarged and draped across the top of his head. You can love it. You can hate it. But the dude has the wow factor. Compared to the competition, he kicked serious Aztec warrior. Odds of advancing: Even money

Whew. Ugh. This was a terrible week IMIO (in my irrelevant opinion). I actually think this is gonna be a tighter race than last week, because there are fewer "definitely not's" and fewer "definitely's." My prediction: Adam, Allison, and . . . Nick. Call me crazy.

Adam. Check. Allison. Check. And Kris? So far I'm two for two on giving that last guy to make it 10-1 odds. I found it hilarious how poorly the contestants from this week hid their disgust at the material for their group performance. What was that? I did like hearing from Brooke again . . . she's kind of the anti-Idol. And, yes, I posted a picture of Jeanine because it is the last we'll be seeing of her. . . . Unless they come out with Leg Idol. Or Lips Idol. Or Holy Crap, What Did I Just Hear? Idol.

I Can't Handle the Truth

Isn't there just a small part of you (or maybe you feel it with ever fiber of your psychosis) that fears that if God would answer your prayers out loud, immediately, His response would sound a lot like the classic Jack Nicholson rant from A Few Good Men?

No matter how closely we snuggle up to God, we will never approach equality with Him. We can't do what He can do. We can't put ourselves in His place. We cannot know what He knows. So if we, like Job in the 7th chapter of his eponymous book, ask God, "Why have you made me your target?" we ought to be prepared for a response that shocks us.

Job, though, was probably better prepared than anyone ever has been. He understood his smallness on the universal landscape, which is why he asked why God would even pay attention to him. He cringed under the gaze of the Almighty, wishing he could escape into death. Twice he anticipated his disappearance from the face of the earth and the sight of the Lord . . . he predicted that he would cease to be.

Something fascinating and troubling I noticed in this chapter: Job, a man at the rock bottom of suffering and loss, echoed almost verbatim the sentiments in Ecclesiastes from Solomon, a man at the pinnacle of human achievement, wisdom, pleasure, and flat-out existence. Um . . . if that doesn't show us middle-class folks the need for something more than this world offers, nothing will. 

God, I need you. If the man who lost everything and the man who had everything both felt life was meaningless, I need something more, please. Complaining about or reveling in the circumstances that surround me gains me nothing. The only thing that is pure is you. You are not a corrupt colonel, you are my almight, all-loving God who knows infinitely better than I do that You alone can please me.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009


If Eliphaz had delivered his response to Job in the 21st century A.D. instead of B.C., Job may have responded with a deadpan glare and an understated, ". . . Dude." But Job was old school, and he said quite a bit more in Job 6, the first half of his response. I'm taking a lighthearted approach, still, because I don't know what else to do. It's hard to read about suffering when I'm not suffering, even when I know others who are. And humor and/or sarcasm have always been my chief coping mechanisms anyway.

Job took a different tack. He reiterated his desire to die and expressed his deep disappointment with the level of support he was getting from his friends. He had no explanation for his suffering, no way out of it, and no love from his entourage.

. . . 

The main conclusion I can draw from this is that when things go bad, I can't expect a reason, an end, or a helping hand. Sure, sometimes I might get all three--but other times I might get none. Am I ready for that? Um . . . I don't want that. I definitely don't want that. I think it's time to be grateful for what God has given, because I'm no Job and I deserve far less than what I got.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Everybody Hurts

It's interesting to me that the toughest day so far in this virtual commitment to spend a little time alone reading the Bible was Sunday. Go figure. But today I'm back on track with Job chapters 4 and 5, not because I want to make up a day, but because those two chapters form one continuous bit of poetic advice from Job's friend Eliphaz.

Even before I began reading, a thought hit me about Job: I care more about Job's suffering because he had it good for so long. The injustice of his suffering seems far more monumental than that of someone who has suffered all his life. And I can say whatever I want about Job being a picture of American culture or my own callousness toward the poor and suffering in the world, but I'm just going to leave it at that. I know it's sad. I know it's wrong. Maybe my heart will beat differently now that I realize how my slanted compassion favors those with whom I most closely identify. I can't force it. But still . . . 

Anyway, Job's friend's soliloquy only deepened my convictions, because he describes this very simple understanding of the very complex problem of human suffering. I realize I'm simplifying it even further, but the gist I came away with was this: 

Look, Job, you've helped people out of trouble before. You're a godly man, and that should be enough to pull you out of your misery. Good people don't get destroyed, evil people do. But nobody's perfect. God is just disciplining you. If you let this present suffering embitter you, you'll be ruined. If I were you, I'd ask God to make it better--you know he will. . . . Oh, and I had this weird dream about an angel or something flying by me. Gave me the chills. Whispered something. Weird, huh?

Some things I take away from this:

  • I am not the center of the universe. Not everything that happens in my life is a carefully orchestrated plan to send me a message.
  • They say the flapping of a butterfly wings can trigger a chain reaction that results in a hurricane halfway around the world. I don't know about that, but I do know that huge changes can result from small variations. The things in my life that I am most sure about and place the most security in can fall apart in an instant. God's love will never fail. (I believe you were looking for this verse, Bill.)
  • I need to be careful not to oversimplify life or God. Phrases like "Good people don't suffer" or "you reap what you sow" don't account for the complexities of being a tiny part of a gigantic universe. Not everything I experience in life is the result of my actions. And God isn't a calculator; you can't just plug in the numbers and predict what He'll display. You can't just tell someone, "Ask God to make it better, and He will." I should turn to God, but I shouldn't expect Him to conform to my trite understanding.
  • Job didn't ask God to heal him. At least, it's not recorded here. He was suffering, yes, but he didn't adopt the attitude that God should operate at his beck and call. I'm not saying that's right or wrong, but I am noting that Job seemed to have an uncanny sense of humility.
  • Job's heaviest mourning came during his own physical suffering. It was probably torture. It can be somewhat easier to think through and reason your way toward coping with emotional loss, but it's hard to even think straight when you're in physical pain. 

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Abbreviated Osc.

I'm not going to do a blow-by-blow commentary on the Oscars, especially since I missed the first eight minutes of blowing. But I will say what I've loved so far (and, although, I haven't seen everything just yet, I've loved just about all that I've seen . . . a very well done show).

  1. I love the five past winners of the acting awards introducing the performances of the five nominees. I don't know who wrote the introductions. It certainly appeared natural enough to me that I'm allowing for the possibility that the presenters themselves wrote them. I wouldn't mind seeing it done that way every time. Seems to take the sting out of not winning when you have a past winner telling the world how great you are. Love it.
  2. I loved the way they introduced the documentaries . . . with a mini documentary consisting of interviews with the directors and clips of their films. Just a brilliant way to package a group of films I (honestly) wouldn't care anything about otherwise. Loved it.
  3. I'm loving the fashions, especially Addison's critique of Penelope Cruz's Cinderella-esque gown: "That sure is a jumbo dress." There's just something about seeing stars dress like stars . . . it's pretty much the best and fanciest they can ever hope to look outside of a Baz Luhrmann production. For my money, the best-dressed presenters thus far: Daniel Craig and Sarah Jessica Parker (also the hot presenters most likely to have real-life people resemble them without being remotely hot).
Okay. That's all. I did catch a bit of the musical number and wondered how many years will go by before we see an awards show that doesn't feature Beyonce. Not that I'm complaining . . . and not that I'm not. I'm just sayin', that's all.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

I Wish My Birthday Would Die

You gotta hand it to Job: the dude knew how to mourn. In Job 3, he cursed the day of his birth, wishing it would be banished from hanging out with all the other days. And the day his parents broke the news to the entire patriarchal world that they were expecting? He would have liked to shoot that day out of the sky as well.

Now, I don't know who exactly was prepared to raise Leviathan, but apparently they were in the business of day-cursing. I don't mean to mock Job's sorrow, I'm just pointing out that it was poetically extreme. When you get to the point where you wish you were miscarried, you've entered a bad place emotionally. Job was there. 

Contrary to Satan's speculation that Job would trade anything to be alive, the fact that he wasn't dead was now Job's biggest complaint. Back in chapter 1 (v. 10) Satan said God's hedge around Job was the reason for his love for God--but Job complained (v. 23) about this very protection now that he had lost his loved ones, his possessions, and his health. He wanted the protection lifted. He wanted to die. He was longing for the peace of the grave. But he still wasn't prepared to curse God to effect his own death.

Who else has said with him, "I am not at ease, nor am I quiet, and I am not at rest, but turmoil comes" (v. 26)? A lot of honest people have. Everybody has some pain, but for most people, it has to get really bad before they let it show. As B.B. King said, "The blues was like that problem child you may have had in the family. You was ashamed to let anybody see him, but you loved him. You just didn't know how other people would take it."

I haven't felt pain like Job has. But what I do feel, I prefer to keep hidden. I usually try to keep anything "wrong" hidden from as many people as possible. Because the conclusion Job's friends make later ultimately is the one I think everybody is going to make about me: if there is something wrong in your life, it's probably your own fault. . . idiot. No one ever tells you you're an idiot or a loser when bad things happen to you . . . but you can feel the label adhering to your forehead, can't you? Ugh. That's why I keep things quiet. 

I don't know what the conclusion is here. I mean, bad stuff happens. Job had no idea why he was suffering, he just wanted it to end. And I guess that's what is honorable . . . he didn't blame. He didn't try to reason it out. He just knew it was awful, expressed how awful it was, and left it at that. Hmm . . . this is the part of Job where I tend to lose interest. I'm going to try to stay open to what it says, but I'm not going to force any conclusions. For now, I'll say this:

God is good. Life is . . . iffy.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Skin for Skin

Today I read Job chapter 2. It's not a pick-me-up, but it's good to read. Again, when God asked Satan where he had been, Satan's reply was essentially, "Just, you know, walking around on Earth." When, in fact, the answer was, "Causing pain, death, destruction on God-honoring people." Satan is the original PR spinmeister. 

I found it peculiar that God didn't deal Satan a full accusation. The way verse 3 is phrased, God took responsibility for what happened to Job. He said that Satan incited Him to ruin Job's life. He blamed Satan for instigating the calamity, but God talked of Satan's acts as if He Himself had done them. You'll find variations on this theme every time you discuss the subject of God giving authority to kings, even evil ones, to rule over their people. We all want to tone down that idea, that God merely allows evil leaders to rise to power. I'm not so sure that's right. God is sovereign. I believe He takes responsibility for what He allows to go down . . . not to say He's guilty of evil, but when He gives someone the ability to do evil, He doesn't claim He didn't know or that His hands were tied. He's God.

But God also praised Job for his integrity. Would all the suffering be worth it if you knew God, the high ruler of the universe, was praising me for my integrity? It would certainly help. 

But Satan was skeptical. He accused Job (and all of mankind) of being willing to trade the lives of everyone he knew in exchange for his own. I actually love this accusation, because it is disproved time and time again. There are many people throughout history who have been willing to die for their fellow man (for good and bad causes). This, I believe, is the true mark of God's image upon us.

So God let Satan do whatever he wanted to Job, short of killing him. And this time, there's no mistaking who is doing the action. The text specifically says that Satan struck Job with boils (and who knows what else). The Bible clearly leaves out some of the gory details. Job's wife told him to just end it: curse God. Get it over with. Die already.

And before we get too hard on Mrs. Job, remember that she lost everything, too. She's not an outsider to all the pain and suffering. But Job corrected her. He had welcomed all the good for his entire life, and now he was ready to accept the nasty. And he didn't sin. I haven't heard this come up much, but . . . do you think God may have been responsible for Job's positive attitude? Yeah. I'd say He was. Job had a close relationship with Him, and I would suppose that God rewarded him with the power to stay true. Just my guess.

And then Job's friends came by, saw Job in his suffering, sat down with him, and said nothing for an entire week. That was the best advice they ever gave him.

Seriously, I wish I knew when not to talk. I wish I was always true to God for better or worse. I hope I can be comfortable accepting God's sovereignty over everything. I hope I can accept the strength that comes from God and give Him credit when He helps me.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Why Would He Worship?

In Job 1:12-22, God granted Satan's implied request for a litmus test of Job's faith with almost complete power over all the man had with just one caveat: no touching Job. 

This tells me something about God that was implied pretty much from the moment He planted a forbidden tree in the Garden of Eden: God creates and rules this world without eliminating the possibility of evil, suffering, and sadness. We can ask why, and in this case we have at least some small answer. Satan doubted that Job's allegiance to God was genuine. It isn't spelled out for us, but it seems reasonable to assume that God wanted to validate Job's faith and love by showing that it was real; that Job loved God not because he was rich, and not because he had a great family, but because God was God. But like I said, this is a small answer, because I doubt it would have been any great consolation to Job.

Next, Job's life fell apart, and the way it happened tells us something about Satan, because all the terrible things that happened could easily have been explained by natural or normal causes. One group of people stole his livestock and killed his servants. Then a natural disaster (presumably lightning) destroyed more livestock and servants. Yet another group of outsiders stole even more livestock and killed even more servants. And then a whirlwind killed all his children.

It's not exactly encouraging to know Satan can have control over the actions of armies and the power of weather. And it's possibly even more distressing to think that God would grant him that power. (Is the entire history of the world just a drawn out argument between God and Satan . . . with really compelling theoretical examples?) But it happened. Job lost almost everything.

And the way Job reacted tells us something about him. Job grieved and worshiped. I understand why he would tear his clothes, why he would shave his head. But the worship? 

I guess there's something more to God than just the fringe benefits.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Daily Struggle

Okay, so it looks like I'll be doing American Idol recaps every week. (Thanks to Steph, I'm all twitterpated. What can I say, I'm honored.) But that's not the only blogatory commitment I'm making.

I decided this morning to spend some time in God's Word and in prayer every day. One of the great things about writing Today in the Word devotionals from time to time is that studying the Bible becomes part of my job, which is a silly crazy good thing. The downside is, eventually I start to blur the lines between my work and my own personal time with God (and by "eventually" I mean right away). It seems I've developed a subconscious policy that I won't study the Bible unless I'm being paid to do it.

That changes officially today. To keep me honest (or at least accountable in this regard) I decided to post some devotional thoughts each day. If I don't post anything, that's because I didn't read anything.

Today I started in Job, Chapter 1:1-11. The sad fact is, I picked the book of Job because I thought, I don't want what happened to him to happen to me. Honestly, I don't put nearly enough thought into my choices, because from the very first verse I realized a proper reason would have been, I want to be the kind of man he was.

Job feared God, turned away from evil, and (here's the kicker) prayed for his family. Actually, he didn't just pray, he offered up burnt sacrifices on behalf of his family members on the off chance that one of them had cursed God. 

Internal skeptic says: Yeah, but doesn't Christ's role as the highest of High Priests negate that responsibility now? Old Testament laws don't apply anymore, so you don't have to do that. 

No. I don't have to do it. But here's a little thing to remember: neither did Job. This was all pre-Mosaic Law. God never issued Job or any of his ancestors an order to burn sacrifices on his own behalf or anyone else's behalf. Job made those sacrifices because he knew what pleased God, and that's all he wanted to do, and all he wanted his family to do. So I realized, I need to pray on my family's behalf. Not because I'm commanded to, but because I want my heart to long to please God, and I want to train it to do so. (Aside: Addison just jumped in my lap, looked at what I have typed so far, and said, "Who's the kicker?") Another realization: I don't have to sin. Job was blameless, and while I wouldn't take that to mean he was eternally sinless, the fact remains, he was good. There's no excuse for sinning repeatedly.

Next I read the part about the angels (or sons of God), Satan included, presenting themselves before the Lord. Some things that strike me: 1) Satan just waltzed in, but the Lord didn't greet him as though his presence were expected or welcome. 2) God drew Satan's attention to Job and his faithfulness. Was it to provoke Satan? I doubt it. I think He was showing Satan the truth: that the people He created in His image really are capable of staying true to God. 3) Satan didn't buy it. Satan's perspective was, look, I know from experience that being true to You is an exercise in foolishness. Job isn't true to God, he's true to the comfy-cozy life God gave him. Satan is House. 4) Satan's perspective is all too often my perspective.

I decided I want to have Job's perspective. I want to "fear God for nothing" other than God Himself. I want it to be said of me that if everything I held dear were taken away, I would still love and follow God. I commit to that today with fear, knowing I need serious help to reach that place.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Idol Eyes

Um . . . okay, that was weird. Apparently they let the Idol contestants run production for tonight's show, because they were cutting to cameras giving us closeups of the floor, mysterious glimpses down empty corridors, and tapes of the wrong contestants. Seacrest also dealt us a bit of a shock: only three contestants will make it out of this round.

And then they started singing to help us feel better about their collective departure. So here are my observations:

Jackie Tohn (-deaf) For some reason she decided to dress like a down-on-her luck Minnie Mouse. Somebody needs to break it to Jackie that gigantic pirate-sash leather belts, spandex glam pants, polka-dotted halters, and untied old-school Jordan knock-offs went out with . . . creation. Her dancing was reminiscent of a little jig I used to do while waiting for my siblings to vacate the bathroom. Not good. The singing and the song choice "A Little Less Conversation" complemented each other quite well in their stinkiness. Even more bizarre was the fact that only Simon had the audacity to tell her the truth. Kara isn't quite ready to judge on live tv. Odds of advancing: zero to zero

Ricky Braddy This dude was good. But I would have to look up what song he did to remember it, which pretty much proves that Simon knew exactly what he was talking about when he called the performance forgettable. Really, I liked him, but in a round where no more than two guys will move on, you should pick a song people will remember. No one, it seems, spent any time with Kara showing her how to use her microphone, because I think she just ate it. Odds of advancing: 5 to 1

Alexis Grace The judges loved her rendition of "Never Loved a Man," but I had to look up that one, too. They said she had soul . . . I neither saw nor heard it in her performance. It seemed like she was hitting a series of notes rather than communicating any actual message or story. Just didn't buy her as the character she was pretending to be in that song, but . . . she's got a chance of making it through. Odds of advancing: 3 to 1

Brent Keith He sang some country song. No power. No soul. I couldn't wait for it to be over . . . and I didn't. I did hear Randy and Kara telling him his true identity is a country singer, which is their polite way of telling him he should have tried out for Nashville Star. After Simon told him the performance was forgettable, Brent said, "I don't think country fans are going to forget that anytime soon." And even though I was watching on DVR, at that very moment, I swore I could hear a throng of people cry out in drawling unison, "Forget what?" Odds of advancing: 2 hundr'd ta one.

Stevie Wright I guess she sang some Taylor Swift song. I wouldn't know, because I spent the entire performance turning up the volume; had no idea the girl was singing. Seriously, she may have sung the entire thing an octave too low. It looked painful, and it was for me. At this point, all the judges remembered what Simon had spent the whole night trying to remind them about: they are allowed to tell contestants they stunk it up. And poor, 16-year-old Stevie did just that. Odds of advancing: No, sweetie. Not this time.

Anoop Desai I was so disappointed in his performance of "Angel of Mine," mostly the fact that it happened. Every time I had heard Anoop-dogg in the past, I've loved him. If he makes it to the next round, it will be on the strength of those brief, pre-recorded glimpses into his earlier auditions. The whole thing just sounded weak, uninspired, and, according to Randy, sharp. He did not get it done tonight. All the judges honestly panned his performance, apologizing all the while because they like him so much. I'm sorry, too, Anoop. That was a big An-Oops. Odds of advancing: 4 to 1

Casey Carlson I won't easily forget her song choice: "Every Little Thing She (He) Does Is Magic." I don't need to tell you what I think of that selection. The most disturbing thing by far was her mannerisms while pseudo-singing. At first, she was winking and beckoning like the strip-tease was about to begin. Then she bared her teeth like she was about to gnaw the midsection out of a gazelle. Next thing I knew, she was doing some bizarre imitation of a centaur's gallop. Crazy. The judges were really hitting their stride at this point. You could tell they were second-guessing their choices, and with good reason. These people were really starting to su-huck. Also, will someone please tell Kara to stop banging the table. It sounds like the auditorium is under attack by something even more dangerous than atrocious singing. Odds of advancing: Only if there's a very large contingent of males with mute buttons and lightning-fast texting abilities.

Stephen Fowler First warning sign as Michael Jackson's "Rock with You" began to play: Stephen Fowler single-handedly demolished every racial stereotype ever conceived about rhythm. As the lyrics tell you, "You've gotta feel that beat." Well, judging by Stephen's right hand snapping randomly at his side as if trying to snatch the beat out of thin air, we can most definitely not ride the boogie. Oh . . . this was just so bad, it hurts to relive it. The judges are dumbfounded, even though this happens every single year. The contestants are just making it too easy to send them all home. Kara is still banging the table. Odds of advancing: Can odds be negative?

Ann Marie Boskovich "Natural Woman." Honestly, I dont' know why women on this show select songs that showcase how inferior they are to real singers. Aretha's hat could have sung better than that. The judges, once again, let her have it. Odds of advancing: 30 to Life (because that was murder)

Michael Sarver He sang Gavin DeGraw's "I Don't Want to Be." Apparently not. This guy sailed through the audition process singing soul and R&B, and then he ditched it all in favor of a fast song with which he could not keep up. I wanted to see this guy compete some more, but I am just as disappointed as the judges were. This was a serious streak of underachievement and ridiculii song choices. Ugh. Kara, please. The microphone is connected to the table. Odds of advancing: 10 to 1

Tatiana Nicole Del Toro It pains me to say that Tati-ha-ha-HA-ha-HA-na was one of the best female vocals of the night. By now you know that's not saying much. As soon as she appeared on screen, I told Heather, "She makes me want to die." Heather replied, "She makes me want to shoot myself in the foot. I wouldn't die, but it would distract me from the pain in my ears." Her "Saving All My Love for You," was okay, except when she delivered the lyric "making love the whole night through." The moves that accompanied her vocal stylings triggered my gag reflex, and I almost blew pretzel chunks all over myself. Fortunately, I looked away just in time, and a pukey mess was avoided, albeit narrowly. As was the case a few times, the strangest part of her performance came after the singing was over. She did her very best to appear normal, professional, and reserved. It was scary. Like when Glenn Close would get quiet in Fatal Attraction. Please, America (and I'm looking at you, too, Puerto Rico) don't let her pass. Odds of advancing: 4 to 1 (nooooooo!)

Danny Gokey The guy lost his wife right before the first audition. Then his best friend got eliminated at the final cut. Plus, he's a really good singer, and he looks like Robert Downey Jr. with the creepy dialed down a notch or two. But his performance of Mariah's "Hero," was a bit off. He tried to do too much with it, and it really felt like he got detached from the song in a couple places. But somehow, he launched a major fan-crazed freakout from the female judges. Kara almost cracked the table in half and destroyed her replacement mic with a series of booming Woooooooooooo's. Paula couldn't stand up high enough . . . didn't even sit down for her commentary. Randy thought the performance had been dislodged from the proverbial hook. I think Kara proposed. And like the other bookend to one of AI's oddest shows, Simon once again gave the only genuine critique: it was good, not platinum record good. Odds of advancing: Even money.

Okay, that's it. I hope next week's round is better. And I can't wait to see nine of these people get the old heave ho.

So Alexis (3:1 odds), Michael (10:1 odds, the longest shot of any of the people I gave realistic odds at advancing), and Danny (Even odds) are in the Top 12. It's still possible that Anoop or Brent might be saved by the Wild Card round, but I don't think any of the girls have a shot. 

And where in the world do AI producers get the nerve to make these people perform group numbers with the knowledge that two-thirds of them are about to make an exodus straight out of their 15-minute fame window? One last time in the spotlight must be worth a lot to them, because they were all smiling (although Jackie Thon was clearly not singing . . . was that her choice, do ya think?).

Overheard . . . Jumbo

The hardest thing about parenting just may be holding in the laughter when your kid says something that you find to be simultaneously reprehensible and hilarious. Addison has become an expert at testing me in this area. Up until now, though, one genre of humor has operated under a zero-tolerance policy: name calling. Making fun of other people's physical, social, and all other traits is not funny in this household, at least not until the kids go to bed. When Addison calls people names that aren't theirs, or he uses derogatory descriptors to poke fun at them, I don't laugh. I don't want to laugh. I correct him as swiftly as I know how.

Yesterday, that all changed. Addison and Heather came home from a session at our church's indoor crazy-fun kiddy playground, and I received a report that proved too funny for even my noblest objections to suppress the resulting laughter. 

Addison was trying to make his way through some apparatus; a slide, a walkway, a cargo net . . . whatever. He found his way blocked by a boy Heather estimated to be somewhere in the 10-12 age group; not fat, but definitely tall. Keep in mind, Addison is five. He's not that much bigger than I was at five (and I really was tiny), but he's a heck of a lot bolder. When I was Addison's age, I would have taken one glimpse at the towering figure before me and immediately head in the opposite direction, never to return again. Addison decided to face the blockade head on and said:

"Out of the way, Jumbo."

When I heard this, I knew I shouldn't laugh. But there I was, busting. Buckled over. Chortling. I couldn't look Addison in the face, because I knew the laughter would explode from me in waves. What would I be teaching my son if I laughed at this?

Well, if this was a test of fortitude, I failed. My son is Sawyer, and I can't help laughing. I guess I taught him that sometimes, name-calling is funny. I just hope the lesson sank in that it's best not to put humor to the test when the object of your verbal jabs has the power to squash you.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Lost Update

If you don't care about Lost, you probably don't care that I added yet another blog . . . it's really ridiculous, but I couldn't stop myself. I know it appears to be a total waste of time, but I'm actually just trying to be more productive with my pent-up, nervous, time-wasting energy.

It's Real Status Updates at What does it have to do with Lost, you ask? Well, allow me to connect the dots.

First of all, this episode demanded quite a bit of your long-term memory, forcing you to reach far back into Season 1. Danielle Rousseau was a seasoned, sharp-shooting, independent resident of the island back then (which was actually much later than the events of tonight's episode . . . awesome). She told us, through conversations with Sayid, and others, two things that were brand new revelations at the time but also remained total loose ends, until tonight:
  • She was forced to shoot the surviving members of her expedition, including her husband, because they were sick.
  • The black smoke, she argued, was not a monster, but a security system.
Other loose threads from past seasons were tied together in just a few small comments made by Danielle's husband in tonight's episode before he tried to kill her, forcing her to bust a chapeau in his derriere:
  • John Locke had an encounter with the Black Smoke Monster, after which he claimed to have looked into the eye of the island . . . apparently he found it beautiful.
  • John also came very close to getting pulled into the same Black Smoke Monster hole we saw in action tonight, except that he wanted his friends to let him get dragged down into it . . . and his limbs remained intact. 
  • Mr. Eko saw the Black Smoke Monster twice. Once it flashed a bunch of images at him and then retreated. The second time it flashed a few images at him, turned into a giant hand, and whacked him around Bugs Bunny style.
  • The folks at the Dharma Initiative . . . not in love with the Black Smoke Monster, but they knew that their electromagnetic fences kept it away.
  • Alex's boyfriend, Karl, was forced by the Others to sit in a room and get brainwashed by a bunch of pro-Jacob propaganda in some sort of mental reprogramming video.
  • The Others were sent to "the Temple" at the end of Season 3. Aside from it being kind a far away from the barracks, we really have no clue what or where it is.
But now we know a little bit more about this temple, because we heard Mr. Rousseau telling his gun-toting bride that the smoke was just a security system that protected the temple. Linking the security system concept with the temple is huge. Here's why:
  • It definitely distinguishes the temple from any Dharma stations. If the Black Smoke Monster is protecting the temple, the temple is most definitely anti-Dharma.
  • It opens up a whole can of worms about who the Others are, how they are recruited, why they are selected, and how they are trained.
  • The images projected by the Black Smoke Monster now seem to be connected to the Others' mental reprogramming video. It would make sense. The Black Smoke Monster could possibly both project these brainwashing images and detect brain activity in the dude (or dudette) it's attacking, evaluating the dude's response. If the brain is receptive to Jacob's messaging, this dude is Other material. If not . . . 20 million people are about to see the dude's guts.
  • If that theory is true, it's quite possible that the Black Smoke Monster and, by relation, the Others in general are interested in weak-minded people who are likely to have their intellect reshaped by Jacob's little hyper-drive power point presentation. People with especially strong wills of their own are unlikely to conform to the will of Jacob and his merry band of Others.
  • And if that's true, it's not a very good sign for Locke and his state of mind. Of course, listening to Jack's dead dad has led to some bizarre life choices for the Losties, so Locke is looking like a full-blown Froot Loop. You'd kind of expect Ben to be in the same boat.
  • Along those same lines, it's not a sure thing that the Black Smoke Monster is really just a security system. That notion was the calming reassurance of psycho shooter frenchy husband guy. I think security system is probably not a terrible description, but brainwashing superspy of cartoon death might be a more apt name for it. If the Black Smoke Monster is an ACME product, ya gotta hand it to them, they finally got one right.
Now, I already told you that Daniel Farraday's mom was Ms. Hawking. That proved to be true when Desmond showed up at the door of her . . . church. But Jack's dad, Christian Shepherd, as Jacob? That's real interesting. It's even more interesting that he couldn't help Locke up. We've seen from the way his cabin moves around, that whoever this Jacob is, he is really flippin' good at manipulating what people see. It appears those talents don't extend to the touch. I don't know how he's doing it (maybe he found the corpse in the wreckage of the crash), but it seems that Jacob has chosen the image of Jack's dad to speak to the Losties because he's such a common bond between so many of them (Jack and Claire's dad, talked to Sawyer, met Ana Lucia).

Long story made even longer . . . I don't believe it's in anybody's best interests to go back to the island. My guess is that Jacob (whoever he or they may be) is trying to bring the Losties back to keep them from talking to anyone else about the island and risk it being discovered once again. I think Charles Widmore is pro-Dharma (Science), Benjamin Linus is pro-Jacob (Faith), and they're all a little bit crazy and fighting to the death to keep the other from having a controlling interest in that islandic gem.

Monday, February 09, 2009

It's just a what, now?

The saying "It's just a game" means nothing to me. Saying that to me is like telling Donald Trump, "It's just money." It's telling Barbie, "It's just plastic." Like telling Dr. King "It was just a dream."

Games are a part of who I am. And that's not to say I'm ultra competitive. I am. But that's different. I love games even more than I love to win. I would rather play a game I knew I would lose than not play at all. I like to watch games, play games, make up games, turn things I don't like into games . . . even when they're not fun, games usually appeal to me more than the alternatives of life. If you see me, and I'm not playing a game . . . don't be so sure. I probably am.

So the whole, "It's just a game" thing just doesn't trigger feelings of dismissal and perspective. My internal reaction to that statement is typically, "It better be, or it's not worth the trouble."

I also tend to be a stickler for the rules, when it comes to games. In life . . . eh. But in games, the rules are essential. Because in games, the rules make the game fun. They make it fair. They make it work. If I see a rule being ignored or dismissed or misinterpreted, I will stop the game to straighten the situation out and bring all wrongdoers to funness. If I see a bad call by a ref, ump, or line judge, boils of outrage erupt on my skin. Thank goodness they're metaphorical boils, too, because they don't go away quickly.

You probably know where I'm going with this. Am I distraught about the A-Rod thing? Does the steroid era bother me? Is my sense of sporting and gaming justice shattered?

Not as much as you might think. 

I'm actually okay with changing the rules if it makes the game more fun. And if fun wins out over fair . . . I'm okay with that. And if blatant cheating winds up making the game even more fun . . . yipee! And if at some point somebody feels the need to blow the whistle and put an end to the cheating, that's cool, too. Let's agree there will be no cheating and then move on.

I make sense of the apparent contradictions with semantics. I find them helpful. If cheating is recognized as cheating, it's fine. If someone cheats and insists that they're within the rules, I would sooner chew their ear off then allow the behavior to continue. See the difference? Let me put it this way: if a wolf sneaks into my flock, steals one of my sheep, and yells "nyah-nyah-nyah-nyah-nyah," I'll enjoy a good laugh with the remaining livestock. But if a wolf sneaks in wearing a white fluffy toque and saying, "Baa, baa" over and over, well . . . I'll shoot the huffin', puffin' animal. 

You might understand if you ever played games with my dad. He never plays by the rules. Sometimes it's extremely annoying. (Like when he looks at the answer on the back of the Trivial Pursuit card and starts giving the opposing team hints like, "Adoooooooooolf . . . . Oh, give 'em the pie, they knew it.") Other times it's hilarious. (As it is when he lays down an enormous stack of random cards and yells, "Gin!" . . . when we're playing Uno and it's my turn. Or when, during Catch Phrase, he starts using charades gestures and rhymes to get you to guess "Iran-Contra scandal.") In one case, he's completely betraying the spirit and integrity of the game. In the second case, he's cheating with reckless abandon. See the difference?

From 1989 to 200?, baseball players cheated with reckless abandon. Sure, they weren't trying to be funny. And . . . maybe some of them will die because of it, we don't know that. Vaunted records crashed, as they were made to do. Do they mean nothing now? No! To me, the records are still a cherished part of the game . . . which, outside of the game, never meant anything to begin with. BUT WHO WOULD WANT TO BE OUTSIDE OF THE GAME, I ASK YOU!?!?!!? Watching the home run derby that was the 1990s . . . was a lot of fun. It's fun now. Heck, watching professional ball players squirm under oath and the glare of intimate interview lighting is pretty fun too. 

I follow the game of baseball because it's part of who I am. Not because I think it's . . . real. It's a game. It is meant to be enjoyed. I do that. If people cheated, cheat, will cheat, so be it, amen, hallelujah. Just make sure it's fun and save me a cheap seat.

Saturday, February 07, 2009

It's a Brand New Me

Not exactly. But here are some changes I've made over the last several days:

One day I replaced one cup of coffee with a big glass of water. I was glad I did, but that particular change always results in the sudden need to, um, get out of the office ever 20 minutes or so. Still, it helped.

Another day's change wasn't especially good for me, as I think I pretty much decided to eat as much as I could every chance I got. Still, I was glad I did that, too.

I also started a new blog, one I had been putting off for years. Why I didn't have a Cubs blog before now, I don't know. But now I do. It's called And Counting, and you can find it at

Then yesterday I slept for roughly 12 hours. Actually, I slept roughly for 12 hours, as the semi-hibernation was induced by migraines. But still, you can't complain about 12 hours of sleep. Eat pizza, go to sleep, wake up and have breakfast? That's change you can believe in.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Great Start

My change for today was to get to bed early. You see, at a quarter after midnight, I'm beginning to realize why they say it's important to make your goals specific.

Monday, February 02, 2009

Groundhog Day 2

Last Groundhog Day, I made a commitment for the month that I found far superior to any batch of New Year's resolutions I had ever concocted. The plan was to make one change every day for the entire month. I didn't commit to making the changes last. Some stuck. Some didn't. But I pretty faithfully picked at least one thing every day to change.

I had no idea where the process would lead, but every step of the way was exhilirating. Not all the changes were earth-shattering. One day, I decided I needed to stretch in the morning to get the blood flowing. Another day I ate an apple instead of a cookie. Somewhere along the way I decided not to say anything negative about anybody. I took a break from the computer. Oh, yeah, and on one of the last days of the month, I resigned from my job of almost 10 years.

The more comfortable I became with change, the more I realized that big changes needed to happen. I loved it. It was amazing. It seriously changed my life.

But I gradually stopped making changes. And now I miss them. I miss the daily realization that something about me needs to change, at least until I make it all the way to perfect (which, Heather reminded me, will happen after I flatline).

And I can't recommend anything with more sincerity and gusto. That's right, long before Barack Obama made change fashionable, I got hooked on it myself for a whole month. Change, even for its own sake, is brilliant. Try it . . . for a change. Yes, I know that was cheesy. I'm okay with it.