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Wednesday, October 24, 2012

You're Obsolete, Charlie Brown

I'm not a cry-baby.

I'll admit that I have teared up at our son's graduation ceremonies (high school and college, not kindergarten), but I can get through most of life's events without excessive waterworks. Chances are though, I'm not inviting you to our house for the annual viewing of the Charlie Brown holiday specials. Those darn shows sneak up on you, that's all I'm saying.

The Gospel according to St. Linus

I've seen several email and Internet memes that highlight the dirt, danger and general lack of parental supervision that children of the sixties and seventies endured growing up. I won't bore you with the, "When I was a kid," proclamations except to say that during a normal school day, I walked two miles to school (and back)...that's elementary school by the way; and during vacations, it was out the door and gone until lunch time, and again until dark. I'm sure my mother thought she knew where we were but in reality she had no idea.

We all did stuff like this that our parents never knew about...

I's a different, darker world we live in now; which makes the statements concerning Charlie Brown in this article and the original blog (which the Today show article references) all the more baffling. I agree that bullying has no place in our children's lives. Yet bullying exists in grown up life too, and I don't think retiring the Charlie Brown television specials will stop that. Name calling is bad - we didn't allow words like stupid and that sucks when our kids were growing up; of course that doesn't stop them from using them now - and I'm pretty sure it wasn't the degenerative influence of Lucy van Pelt that lodged these scurrilous terms in our children's psyche.

I suppose the final indignity to our generation is that Dadcamp, the author of the original Retire Charlie Brown blog I reference above, closes with a suggestion to replace Charlie Brown holiday fare with Hotel Transylvania.

Say what?

Even the monsters look like they want to see Charlie Brown...

To be fair, I included the trailer above so that we could all have our fun alternately defending or excoriating Dadcamp's suggestion.

Honestly? I'd watch Hotel Transylvania. I'd probably watch it with young kids - if I still had some. But to hold it up as a shining beacon of superior children's fare while figuratively pulling the ball out from in front of Charlie Brown one last time?

Evidence for the prosecution (and this is just from the trailer):
  • Dracula singing a sweet lullaby to his baby daughter then giving us the monster face when he gets to the part about anyone messing with her...
  • An animated suit of armor getting kicked in the groin, um, area (I have to admit I laughed when he said, "Why did that hurt?")
  • And of course, the general idea that there are monsters in the world, albeit just as neurotic as we are, that can't stand people
Even Monsters, Inc. had a more benign take on monsters' existence in our world. Is anyone concerned that Hotel Transylvania is going to raise up a whole new generation of vampire-loving tweens? That's a topic for another blog...

I'm trying not to let the golden haze of pleasant memory overshadow my objectivity here but one other small issue I'll point out: Imagine this conversation between Dadcamp and  his 5-year-old son...

Son: Let's watch You don't mess with the Zohan.
Dadcamp: Um, we can't.
Son: Sure we can, here it is on NetFlix.
Dadcamp: No son; I mean we can't because it's not an okay movie.
Son: But Daaaaaaaaaad...what's wrong with it? I mean, like, Adam Sandler is in it and he was funny in Hotel Transylvania; you even said so.
Dadcamp: I know son. But that Zohan movie is different and Mr. Sandler isn't as good in that.
Son (pouting): Okaaaaay. Hey - wait a sec! Let's watch The Longest Yard - that's a FOOTBALL movie!

You get the idea...

And don't think for a minute that your five year old child won't be able to learn the names of other Adam Sandler movies. 

For whatever pain and suffering the Charlie Brown holiday films may cause socially concerned parents in the new millennium, I don't think you'll ever have to worry about Linus spouting one of the seven words you used to not be allowed to say on television in some other show that your kids will want to see because the think Linus is funny in It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown.

What do you think?


Saturday, October 13, 2012

Does being 'American' really matter?

Most of my blog entries here are faithful to the title - and the spirit - of my blog: Stream of Consciousness.  What does that mean? It means that normally, I will see something, or hear something that causes me to stop and think; it means whatever that something is it impacts me enough so that I feel compelled to write about it - whatever it is.

But life being what it is, there are times when I just can't cast aside whatever I'm doing at the moment to compose a blog entry worthy of putting out there. These instances result in a number of draft blog posts saved for later. Most of these drafts will never see the light of day for one reason or another. I suspect mostly because they would be dated. However, I think the draft I pulled tonight is still topical - perhaps more so than it was when I first made notes on the twenty-ninth of August, 2012.

That morning, NPR's Morning Edition aired a story highlighting why President Obama can't speak freely about race; the story was based on Ta-Nehisi Coates' article "Fear of a Black President" in the (at the time) latest issue of The Atlantic magazine. The article talks about, among other things, the President's response to the Trayvon Martin tragedy and about how Mr. Obama has studiously avoided the subject of race in America - which is odd when you think about it, considering the fact that as the first black president of the United States, Mr. Obama had the most bully pulpit imaginable from which to launch that discussion.

Obama on a hoodie, not in one...

But my idea for a blog after hearing this story back in August, and later reading Mr. Coates' article in the Atlantic, did not involve Trayvon Martin or the state of American race relations. No, the first thing I thought of, as Mr. Coates described how his views and feelings regarding race relations in America have evolved over time, was how I don't even view myself as an American anymore. America is just somewhere I live. The more I learn about God and what, as a believer, my role should be in His Kingdom, the less I am concerned about my role as a citizen of the United States.

It's not that I necessarily want to live anywhere else...although I have done so for large chunks of my's just that all of the issues we seem to wrestle with in the public square don't really attain any sort of stature compared to what Scripture represents - and presents - regarding the way we should be living our lives.

I don't think this happens any more...

What is being American? What does that mean? Is it different than what it meant when I was growing up?

The answer to the first and second question is, "I don't know."

The answer to the third, somewhat counter-intuitively, is, "Yes."

The image above was a daily occurrence when I was attending elementary school in Tampa, FL in the late sixties. Every morning we placed hands over hearts and said the Pledge of Allegiance. The message from that and every other conversation concerning America I can remember from those long-ago days? Being American means something. It's not that we were better than anyone else, just that we had it better than anyone else. America was a great place to live - none better - and we should be proud that we lived here.

I haven't read the book pictured above but the image and especially the title fits my next thought to a T. How has my outlook on being American changed over the years? From childhood, through junior high school in England, being in the armed forces, living in the Middle East? I've been back in the States for almost thirteen years now. Funnily enough, while I lived overseas, I heard more than one person say, "America is a great place to be from," with the emphasis meaning that being an American overseas had its advantages but it was better to from America than in America.

Did America really start going downhill after the Kennedy's and Martin Luther King were assassinated? Vietnam grew into a terrible conflict; students were gunned down at Kent State University; racial struggles tore sections of the country apart. At the same time, we were landing men on the moon, leading the world in technology and so many other areas. Yes, we had problems but America was bigger than that; the very idea of citizenship was enough to quash arguments about the value and prestige of living in this country.

In the Bible, Jesus is constantly fending off the Pharisees who are seeking to back Him into a corner and generate evidence with which to condemn Him. In Luke chapter twenty, they figure they can get Jesus to bad mouth Rome and thus provide an excuse to hand Him over to the occupying authorities. But when asked whether Jewish citizens should pay taxes to Rome, Jesus replies, "Then render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's." [Luke 20:25 (ESV)]

Even more pointed, is Paul's reminder to Christians, "...But our citizenship is in heaven..." [Philippians 3:20 (ESV)]

As Christians, we have a lot to be looking after that has nothing whatsoever to do with America. As we get into discussions and arguments about the social changes in America, arguments about how God's way should be honored, how the Christian way should be the way this country is run, what are we actually saying?

What stands in the way of us serving God when we focus on our American citizenship? Politics, Fox News, American Idol, the Voice, X-Factor, sports, the Internet?

The day after I made my initial notes for this blog, I watched a few of the speeches at the Republican National Convention. Those speeches brought into focus what I'm talking about - America is no longer the United States or, if we are, it is in name only. This country is fragmenting into thousands of special-interest groups. We've moved away from a united ideal, away from a united direction and toward the premise that (instead of) all individuals being equal, everyone is special. I don't say that to denigrate anyone; the problem with reaching a point where we are rewarding people just for breathing is the slippery slope that leads to the disintegration of the American idea. Every one of us has the opportunity to do great things; but we have shifted that idea to a place where our children are lauded for completing kindergarten. We're creating celebrations for children 'graduating' from elementary school. I'm not saying that we shouldn't encourage our children and praise them in special moments, but moving from 5th grade to 6th grade is just that - a special moment. It's not an achievement that need be so celebrated as to shape the thinking of a ten-year-old to the point where they believe merely doing what they are supposed to do is worthy of extraordinary reward.

moving up to big boy and girl school...

How then do we create the desire to achieve in our young people when they have been conditioned to expect plenary praise for merely being adequate? Yes, every human being is special - in the Declaration of Independence some very wise men wrote, "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness."

Individuals are not special because they simply are; they are special because they were endowed by their creator to be so. America, I fear, has turned into a Me First society. The life, liberty and pursuit of happiness that are our inalienable rights were not to be obtained at the expense of everyone else. The American Ideal is that we can all achieve those cherished things by working together. Yes, we can be individuals but no one is above another.

What happens if enough people start worrying less about personal hegemony and more about being American and beginning to live life as servants of others? In closing, I need to think long and hard about what I have done to help a fellow American achieve life, liberty and happiness lately.

What about you?


Tuesday, October 9, 2012

My name is Inigo Montoya...

...prepare to die.

How many milestones pass us by in life? How many anniversaries slip by unnoticed?

Twenty-five years ago, the film The Princess Bride (TPB) was released. Honestly, I couldn't tell you if I watched it in a theater or whether I didn't see the film until after it came out on - gasp - video tape.

I wouldn't have even noticed the anniversary of TPB's release passing me by if I had not read this interview of Mandy Patinkin on NPR.

When you think about it, there are so many wonderful moments and performances in the movie, it's hard to decide which one is my favorite. Certainly, Patinkin's portrayal of Montoya, the Spanish swordsman seeking to avenge himself upon the six-fingered man for the death of his father, is one of the film's highlights. In homage to Rob Reiner's direction and an excellent screenplay by William Goldman (also the author of the original novel), and the many fine actors who brought the story to life, here are my top three moments in TPB:

In the beginning, we are introduced to young Fred Savage, soon to be famous for his role in television's The Wonder Years. Savage's character, known only as the grandson, is sick and staying home in bed. The idea that his grandfather - played superbly by the late Peter Falk - will while away his sick day by reading him a story isn't received with much enthusiasm, as you can see. But without the setup, where would the rest of the story be?

Another favorite scene involves the battle of wits between Westley and Vizzini. It's inconceivable that a mere pirate could outwit the Sicilian criminal genius...or is it?

TPB would never have turned out the way it did if Westley had died from his wounds. Can Miracle Max and Valerie the Witch er, wife, save the day?

To be honest, these may not even be my three favorite scenes. Andre the Giant had some great moments, as did Robin Wright, Chris Sarandon and many others. The best suggestion I have for you is to pop some popcorn, get a cold drink, sit down on the couch and watch TPB again.

As you wish.


Friday, October 5, 2012

Just because you can...

...doesn't mean you should.

Will having babies be like shopping for cars or puppies?

Yesterday, I began hearing about how scientists in Japan have successfully created mice eggs from stem cells and healthy baby mice were born from these created eggs. NPR has run several reports on the story. Part of the report revealed that scientists had previously been successful in creating sperm from stem cells as well.

It's too early to go all Clone Wars on the scientific community but I really hope that folks spend the next ten to twenty years (or longer) thinking about the consequences of unleashing a technology like this on the free world. Edward de Bono, widely recognized as the father of modern lateral/creative thinking put great weight on something called CAF: Consider All Factors. Let's have a quick CAF exercise around the concept of being able to make unlimited, healthy babies.

  1. Parents who previously could not have babies now can have one (or more) that carry the parent's genetic footprint
  2. Same-gender couples can also have children that are genetically theirs
  3. With artificially created sperm and eggs available, virtually anyone could create a baby
  4. With advanced processes, babies created from lab-grown eggs and sperm could potentially be designed to be predisposed with any number of desirable traits i.e. blond hair, blue eyes, etc. or perhaps even higher math skills and the like
  5. The ability to create babies at will might exacerbate the world's food shortage
  6. Ethics could become more fluid and movements might spring up that would favor eradication of flawed, naturally conceived children
  7. It's conceivable that, much the same as with puppies and kittens, the world could see an explosion of unwanted babies - those that don't meet society's new standards
In the list above, I've ranged the factors from positive to potentially very negative. There are many, many other factors that need to be considered. What I did not put on the list is that by having the ability to create sperm and eggs, to - in effect - have the ability to design and create babies at will, humanity would take a giant leap into an area that has heretofore been the sole preserve of creation.
So God created man in his own image (Genesis 1:27)

Naturally, a number of scientists would not even take this into consideration since they do not believe in creation at all. These scientists would, perhaps, view this technology as a natural evolution of modern biological science. That's not to say these scientists would act in non-ethical ways; it's just that as people who do not believe in God, they would discount the need to include God in the discussion.

I believe it is critically important to pause and think about all sides of this before releasing the power of human creation into the world. Disturbingly, I have already heard this discovery being likened to the discovery of fire and the wheel.

Fire and round, easily movable objects existed in the world prior to man harnessing their capabilities. This is the context in which this discovery is being grouped. I suppose in the sense that babies are derived from the interaction of a man and a woman and fire is derived from the interaction of fuel, oxygen and a catalyst (spark), it is possible to make that argument. There are a number of tremendously beneficial outcomes of using fire to improve society. As winter approaches, the availability of heat will allow many of us to survive without freezing to death. But there will also be instances where homes will burn to the ground - and people will die - because that same fire was not harnessed and used safely.

Wheels allow us to move heavy objects more easily, drive our cars to work and cut our grass without using a scythe. This coming holiday season many families will lose loved ones because of those who choose to operate wheeled machines under the influence of alcohol and/or other drugs.

I'm not convinced that the creation of a new human life is in the same realm as choosing central heating over a wood-burning stove. Call me old fashioned but I believe there are some things that are just fine the way they are. Whether you believe children are a divine creation or simply another step in a long, evolutionary road, do we really want to open the lid of this particular Pandora's Box?

Just because we can do something, doesn't mean that we should.

What do you think?