Friday, October 28, 2011

Footloose and Courageous--A Time to Dance

A couple of weeks ago, I went to see the movie Footloose, and wrote about my impressions of it here.  After that movie ended, I walked out of the theater and into the next showing of the movie Courageous, just a couple of screens away.  I don't normally get to see a movie in theaters very often, much less two movies in the same afternoon, but the stars lined up for me that day (meaning a grandmother showed up unexpectedly to watch the kids, and I found some serendipitous money in a shirt pocket).

I don't know if you have seen Courageous, or even heard of it.  A lot of my Facebook friends had seen it and given it status shout-outs, but I hadn't really seen it promoted very much, so I didn't really know what to expect.  I knew enough to take some extra toilet paper from the theater bathroom in with me, because it had a weepiness potential to it.  I probably should have taken a whole roll in, though.  It was that moving and that good.

The story follows 5 men (4 of them police officers), as they work, share life, struggle, and try to be good men, husbands and fathers.  Definitely not the kind of movie that is normally offered to the public.  You know, the ones with idiot men (and women) who are selfish and flighty and vulgar.  THIS movie was good.  And touching.  And thought-provoking.  It was very well made, and has been holding its own with the current movie releases for several weeks now.

I've found myself making comparisons between the two movies quite a bit, particularly with regards to a few of the fathers in the movies.  Both movies feature fathers who make tough decisions for their teenage daughters, based on their desire to be the kind of fathers that they feel God has called them to be.  They love their daughters, and they know too well the dangers of not placing protective barriers aaround their children.  They want to do the right thing, even when it is hard.  They both realize that they are not called to be their daughters' friends, but their fathers.

What is interesting to me, however, is how this protection is portrayed in each movie.  In 'Footloose', the father (Shaw) is acting out of a place of fear and control, and his daughter (Ariel) rebels against it completely, with potentially life altering consequences.  Ariel has no respect for her father or his rules.  However, in Courageous, there is also a father who has placed strict boundaries on his teenage daughter's behavior.  Although she does not fully appreciate her father's rules, she abides by them out of respect for her father, knowing that he has her back.  His protection is based on a long standing commitment and love.  And the speech he gives her at that restaurant with the promise ring?  Oh. My. Goodness.  It made me almost wish I had a girl.  Almost.  It sure did leave me hoping that my future daughters-in-law are being raised by daddies like that.

Then you have the whole dancing thing.  Anyone with even the most basic knowledge of Footloose probably knows where that father stood on the issue of dancing.  Maybe he needs a lesson in dancing from another of the Courageous fathers.  I had to keep my eyes closed for 'that' dancing scene--my measly tissue had gotten soaked way too early to make it through that scene unscathed.

Three fathers.  All loved God and their children.  All wanted to protect.  Some did a better job of it than the others.

Both movies have gotten me to thinking--what about me?  Am I doing a good job with my boys?  What lessons do I still need to learn, and am I willing to learn them?

And, to take the comparison a little bit farther--I call God my 'heavenly Father', so I have to wonder:  what kind of daughter am I?

Werewolves, and Zombies, and Vampires--Oh, My!

About a year ago, I read an amazing book called Imaginary Jesus, by Matt Mikalatos.  I was so intrigued and excited about it that I told just about every Christian reader I know about it.  It was such an interesting concept, and very original.  (You can read that review here). 

So, I was very excited to see that he had written a new book, called Night of the Living Dead Christian, with the subtitle ‘one man’s ferociously funny quest to discover what it means to be truly transformed’.  Again, it was such an interesting idea. This is how the back cover describes it:

Night of the Living Dead Christian is the story of Luther, a werewolf on the run, whose inner beast has driven him dangerously close to losing everything that matters.  Desperate to conquer his dark side, Luther joins forces with Matt to find someone who can help.  Yet their time is running out.  A powerful and mysterious man is on their trail, determined to kill the wolf at all costs…

This doesn’t sound like standard Christian fare.  In fact, that is why I think I like it so much.  I chose to review the book based solely on the fact that Mikalatos wrote it, and was curious to see what he would do with the whole monster thing.  I wasn’t sure I would like it as much as I did Imaginary Jesus, because it could come across as kind of silly or hokey.  But, like before, this book was brilliant. 

The general idea of the story is that a man (Matt) befriends his neighbor, who happens to be a werewolf that has driven his family away and is desperate to be released from his torture.  Thrown in are a mad scientist, his robot android, a vampire, a monster hunter and an ego-maniacal preacher, among others, who interact and deal with the monsters in various ways.  Beyond the very funny dialogue that combines pop culture humor with some pretty deep theological discussions, there is a story of how to deal with evil desires and impulses, and how to people spend so much energy keeping these impulses from becoming known or taking over.  In essence, it is a story of hope.

It is hard to explain just how Mikalatos does this so effectively, but a blurb by Publishers Weekly on the back cover sums it up very well:

“Startling, contemporary, meaningful…Mixing questions of suffering and free will with a nexus of weirdness, Mikalatos throws Christian fiction into the world of Comic-Con and Star Wars.”

The older I get, the more I embrace weirdness and Comic-con-ness.  For an author to be able to produce a work that not only incorporates these types of quirks, but celebrates them, while at the same time not diluting the message of Jesus, is someone I want to continue to read and support.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Zombie Church

This past weekend my husband and I had one of those rare opportunities to spend a little time just talking.  Not about discipline or bills or what I need him to fix/kill/find, but we got to go on a deeper level.  Given enough time, our talks generally come around to church related issues.  Not so much our particular church, per se, but the Church at large.  Because he is on staff at a church, and because I spend a lot of time and energy on people who don't attend church, we come at our opinions from a variety of viewpoints.

As a sociologist, I tend to look at all sides of an issue, kind of like a good debater or litigator would do.  How can a person adequately articulate a view, if they don't at least understand why a person might have an opposing viewpoint?  This is kind of how my husband and I flesh out issues, and this discussion was no different.  Basically, we talked about why people don't go to church/leave church/just go to church without any intent of becoming involved. (It is amazing where we can go in a discussion without any kids around to interrupt).  This time, though, a lot of the talking points came from the latest book I have been reviewing, called Zombie Church.

I chose to review Zombie Church mainly out of curiosity.  I wasn't familiar with the author, Tyler Edwards (the lead minister of Cornerstone Christian Church in Joplin, Missouri).  But I liked what I read on the back cover:

Liars. Hypocrites. Men, women and children who attend church because it's what they are supposed to do.  Just going through the motions.  These are the undead--people who are disconnected from the Spirit of God--who are spreading a virus of passivity, or worse.  No one is completely immune.

In this challenging, culturally relevant book, Tyler Edwards spotlights the very real but often ignored lackluster attitude of today's believers.  An attitude that can infect an entire church.  Using examples from popular zombie movies, Edwards will help you recognize the symptoms and show what you can do to awaken the undead.  

Now, I have to admit, I was somewhat skeptical.  This could either be done very well, or just be lame.

It was not lame.

I try not to mark or write in books anymore, in case someone else wants to read it.  I don't want my marks to be a distraction.  However, from the very first page, I found myself wanting to write.  And mark.  And highlight.  Just about everything.  I eventually did mark some, but realized I was basically just highlighting everything, so I stopped again.  Practically everything Edwards wrote was like a zinger popping off of the page,  For example:

Following God does not mean we live without consequences or that those consequences will always be good.  When you take a stand for Jesus, you might lose your job, you might lose friends, you might alienate your family, and one day you might even be beaten or thrown in prison.  You even might die.  The faith hall of fame in Hebrews 11 tells the stories of men and women who were miraculously rescued from death.  This is to set the standard for our faith, however, not the standard for God's response. (page 37)

I think that God is bored with the petty faith of our American churches.  When is the last time we did something that would require God to act?  When is the last time our churches stepped out in faith to do something so big, we would need God to be a part of it?  I'm not saying we haven't done anything.  We have accomplished some great things, but for a nation of "Christian" people and two hundred years of working at it, you would think we would have accomplished a lot more (page 151).

Zombie Church is convicting, and relevant, and good.  It was also very interesting.  The whole zombie angle was done well, and I can think of several friends that would be interested in this book for that fact alone.  Edwards took truths and concepts that are widely known in some religious circles, and expanded them to include and engage a whole new subculture.  Kind of like Paul did with all those heathen Greeks and Romans.

Paul even changed his name to fit into the cultures he was trying to take Jesus to.  I always have liked that guy.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Everybody, Everybody Cut Footloose!

Like a lot of other people my age - those of us who had the privilege of growing up in the '80s - I was more than a little skeptical when I heard that someone was doing a remake of the movie Footloose.  Not many remakes can stand up to the nostalgia factor of a good original, especially iconic movies.  And Footloose was definitely iconic.  Catchy music, teen angst, dancing feet/shoes, Ren reading out of Ecclesiates (a time to mourn, a time to dance...)--the works.  I can't tell you the last time I saw the original, but I can still remember the lines, lyrics and moves.  Maybe that is because I saw it before the beginning of the brain cell die off after each kid.

Anyway, so I went to see the remake today more out of curiosity than excitement.  I had heard that the theme song was a country version, and not Kenny Loggins, but that was about all I knew going in to the theater.  There weren't many other people there, which probably doesn't bode well for opening weekend box office receipts.

It turned out to be a very good remake, in my opinion.  Large portions of it were lifted out of the original, with the same dialogue, reactions, and even the lighting of the scenes.  The music was very different in places, but it seemed to fit.  The characters were well cast, and made the roles their own.  There were a few significant changes, such as why Ren moved to town, and his relationship with his uncle, which I liked even better in this updated version.

However, the drama and the angst and the dialogue in this version were definitely increased.  I remember this to some extent from when I was a teenager, but seeing it as a parent and middle school teacher made me filter it in a very different way.  It is not a movie that I would want my younger children to see, and I cringe just thinking about the words and phrases and images that will now be impressed on the minds of the many students that I know will have seen Footloose.  It is rated PG-13 for a reason.  There are very good, detailed movie reviews online, and I wish more parents would us that as a form of review criteria before ever taking their kids to any movie.  But I digress...

A key scene in Footloose is when Ren is giving his speech to the town council, trying to make his case for why the Senior class should be allowed to have a dance within city limits.  He states how it won't be too long before they all graduate, and have jobs and families with responsibilities, and won't be able to really enjoy life like they are able to as a teenager.  I remember me and the girls I was with cheering out loud in the theater years ago, like we totally agreed with him and appreciated his stand for teenagers everywhere.

There wasn't any cheering today from the group I was surrounded by.  But I sure had a big grin on my face just remembering.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Quote of the Day - Einstein

Everyone is a genius.

                         But if you judge a fish
                         on its ability to climb a tree,

                         it will live its whole life believing it is stupid.

                                                                             - Albert Einstein

Friday, October 7, 2011

Pretty little girls in teeny, tiny dresses

I am a mom. To three boys.  No girls.  As an exclusive 'boy mom', I am sure that I see things a little differently than mixed-gender or girl only parents.  I am deeply aware that, for better or for worse, I am the model of what it means to be female, for a little while at least.  I lay the groundwork for ideas and standards they will carry into marriage and what they will look for (or not look for) in a wife.

I am not a girly-girl.  Not anymore at least.  Being girly and cute takes time and money and thought, which I have precious little of these days.  I can name many friends and acquaintances that are still girly and very stylish in their 40s and 50s (and beyond), and it almost always makes me smile to see them.  How they pull it off, I can't even imagine.  If I had time to think about it, I would probably envy them--but I don't, and that's probably for the best.  In the meantime, I do what I can with what I've got.  I do have a neon pink laundry room, if that counts for anything (probably not).

I want my boys to value girls and treat them like something precious.  Not just for how they look, which I realize is important, but for who those girls are.  Do they care about others?  Are they selfish?  Are they giving and kind, or do they complain about anyone and everything?  And this one is a biggie:

Are they modest?

This is a tough one for many people to define.  It is kind of like obscenity or pornography--I may not be able to specifically define it, but I know it when I see or hear it.  And sadly, I'm not seeing a lot of it these days.  And Facebook isn't helping, especially when I go trolling around on my teenager's news feed.  This is homecoming week at the local high school, and apparently there are all manner of occasions to dress up in pretty clothes.  Now, don't get me wrong, these girls (and guys) sure do look nice, and lots of couples are all color coordinated for their pictures.  (How in the world do those parents afford the whole package--dress, mani-pedi, hair stylist, etc.--is beyond me). What really concerns me is how little material the girls are actually wearing.

This year the dress style for girls seems to be short--very short--and off one shoulder or both.  They look pretty--all sparkly and shiny.  But I look at the couples all hugged up, knowing that they will driving away from whoever's house that they took that picture in with no adult supervision, and I wonder what those parents are thinking.  Do they not realize how teenage boys (OK, boys of all ages past 11) think?  Don't they know that boy is going to struggle all night long with wanting to touch that pretty exposed shoulder, and is probably thinking how easy it would be to yank that dress down that is barely covering anything anyway?  Even if they are 'just friends', why would you want to place your child in that situation?

I realize this sounds extreme and prudish.  I know that, and I'm OK with it.  I don't need the whole 'your kids are so sheltered--that is just how kids are nowadays' speech.  I just want to give my boys a fighting chance to keep their hearts and minds and bodies pure for that one person one day.  I want them to think their wives are the most beautiful people in the world, even if one day they are scarred and wrinkled and worn out.

So, parents of girls, if you could model and teach and encourage modesty, you sure would make my job a little easier.  I am trying to do my part to give you sons-in-law that you can be proud of.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Because I'm THAT type of mom

My youngest child has had a bad attitude lately.  He has always been strong willed and a challenge, but for the past couple of weeks he has become more and more snippy, and disrespectful, and mean.  He has missed two family vacations, as well as various extras that his brothers have enjoyed--yogurt trips, going to the park, etc.--with only minimal behavior change.  So tonight, I brought out the big guns.

He is dangerously close to not being able to have a birthday party in a couple of weeks.

I told him this, and he looked shocked, but skeptical.  Trying to call my bluff, so to speak.  Then the middle child yelled from the other end of the house (how he has that sharp sense of hearing one moment, but can't hear me tell him it is bathtime, is beyond me),  "She'll do it, you know!  It happened to me twice!".

That's right, twice.  Number 2 also missed his first Cub Scout Derby Race because he yelled at somebody that morning.  We made him go to the race and sit with all the other scouts, but he couldn't race his car.  Some well meaning parents were shocked that I wouldn't 'let this slide' because this race only happens once a year.  Well, I don't remember many things nowadays, but I do remember exactly what I said that day:

"I am much more concerned with the building his character than I am with his momentary happiness".

They didn't seem all that convinced, and treated me kind of strangely after that.  But you know what?  I don't answer to them, and I can't base my parenting decisions on what is popular or easy.  Goodness knows it would be so much easier if I could, but that is not how it works.

Will I have to pull the plug on another party?  Only time will tell, I guess.  I certainly hope not.  But if I do, I'll just remind myself that I am building character and making him into a better person.

And if I'm wrong, he can take it up with his therapist one day.  They always like to blame the moms anyway, right?