Monday, January 28, 2008

Movie Recommendations from Mike Pacchione

I'm usually against spending much time watching movies. It makes me feel dependent on someone else's creativity rather than my own.

With that said, I've been in a bit of a sloth-like mood of late. As such, I've watched three (3) movies in the past two weeks. That's like six months worth for the most recent version of me. A quick rundown:

* The Savages: An extremely well-acted, well-written movie that's so completely draining I hope to never see it again. There's no particular protagonist, which always intrigues me, and I walked away reminded of how selfish we are at most points in our life. If that's not a solid sales pitch, I don't know what is.

* Stranger Than Fiction: Yeah, yeah, it's been out on video for a while, but still. My friend Cindy Morris once told me "if you ever write a movie, I picture it being exactly like this one." Comments like that almost always result in me hating the film, but I LOVED Stranger Than Fiction. Clever, funny, a bit left-of-center* and, in the end, a film of some substance. Plus, Buster Blooth guest-stars. Can't ask for more than that.

* Sweeney Todd: Saw this one on Saturday and figured to hate it. Musicals have about a 0% conversion rate with me. Really liked Sweeney Todd, thought it was funny and comic bookesque. Also, I was excited to like it because I saw it with a bunch of people who loved that Juno movie. I was finally going to be on the side of popular opinion (exclamation point). Not so much. Saw it with three girls and one other guy; the guys really liked it, the girls hated it. Such is life.

* = Don't really know what this means

Mike Pacchione
(Mike blogs at

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Thoughts on Loveless

How do I hear music? It’s an interesting question. I’m four hundred pages into Christopher Rick’s epic synopsis of Bob Dylan’s vision of sin and virtue. With painstaking attention to detail he attempts to analyze dozens and dozens of Dylan’s songs paying special attention to meter, rhyme patterns, lyricality and use of literary technique. Ninety percent of the book leaves me dry and distanced from the actual songs: acutely aware that the divine mystery of listening pleasure cannot be explained away by the songwriter’s artful use of iambic pentameter or a particularly devastating onomatopoeia. The other ten percent of the book drives deep into the heart of Dylan’s music, harnessing something of the lyricality, the heavy handed wordery, social commentary and wit which has elevated his music to mythical levels. There is something about the music I love most, the kind of music which feels like it is permanently anchored to the interior of my thoughts, which refuses to succumb to analysis. It is a constantly changing beauty, a difficult truth, a fluid sound which shifts with context, maturity, mood and even company.

Last night we spent a good hour in the company of My Bloody Valentine’s early 90’s masterpiece, Loveless. This record has been languishing at the bottom of my conscious for the better part of a decade. During my college years there was always a copy of Loveless propping up the pot plants and coffee mugs in some student dive or other. The record sleeve, (a terrible nineties blur of menstrual pinks and reds,) always takes me back to the days when color photocopying was still a wild luxury and had terrified me into drawing unfair assumptions about the sounds contained beneath. When Lost In Translation came out and allegiance to fuzzy guitars and static drone seemed to be a prerequisite for everyone under thirty five, I opted to get my kicks with The Jesus and Mary Chain. By the time I was ready to give My Bloody Valentine a fair listen I was twenty five years old, trapped in a gloomy basement, existing on a diet of second hand novels and mould. Occasionally I would slip in my earphones, sandwich them to my head with a huge pair of bright red industrial ear protectors and listen to Loveless until I began to blur the lines of conscious. It was the best of times and also not so great.

Three years later with a handful of friends, half of us MBV devotees, half of us recent converts, the record sounds like an entirely different slice of music. We sit back and listen to a few songs, some of the more “radio friendly” tunes plus a fair spattering of songs which might be better described as visual art. “Well what do you think?” says Nate who has been elected to steer the conversation tonight. We say the obvious things using words like experimental, difficult and even visionary. We start to swap facts. Did you know that MBV single-handedly destroyed Creation? Did you know that the flurries of sound are made by employing the following technique on an electric guitar? Did you know that MBV went through twenty odd producers before they finally got Loveless in the can? This kind of fact swapping fun could keep me up all night because it comes so easy to me. It comes from the same place as modern record reviews which seem to say less about the songs themselves and more about the reviewer’s impressive and somewhat pithy knowledge of obscure bands and records. I realize five minutes into the discussion that most of us, like Christopher Ricks, are much more comfortable with the concrete when it comes to assessing the worth of a piece of music or art. Facts are fine, guitars, amps and synthesizers perfect, rhythm, meter and rhyme schemes just dandy; after all aren’t they the mathematics of rock music? You can always prove yourself right or wrong picking out which make of guitar is being butchered or what the lyrics refer to. The abstract edge of music is a little more difficult to love.

After we pushed through the preliminaries we began to wrestle with the real dark heart of Loveless. We said things like, “doesn’t it feel like contractions?” and “I feel like I’m underwater in a bad, industrial way,” and “I forgot that I was listening to music. It feels exactly like dreaming.” We used the word feel enough times to wonder if this record doesn’t go beyond simple music to a kind of music/visual mixed media where sound can actually be shaped, felt and visualized. We did not analyze the lyrics. It is impossible to analyze the lyrics of MBV unless you have their songs on some kind of bizarro David Lynch does karaoke sing-along cd. MBV do not print lyrics on their sleeve notes. They go out of their way to create beautiful lyrics and hide them under dense, fuzzy waves of see-sawing guitars. Perhaps they want their listeners to wrestle with the abstract beauty of the whole rather than the smaller, funneled beauties of each individual part.

Later in the evening, "Only Shallow", still crunching in our ears, Nate and I retired to the Hutch for further synopsis and beer. This question of abstract beauty has dominated every one of our last three conversations and My Bloody Valentine had given us a fresh vehicle for debate. Nate takes photographs. I write stories. Both Nate and I become obsessed with these huger visions of beauty; abstract glimpses of God which come peeking through the trees when you’re content and marching in your Winter boots, the way condensation collects on a coffee mug, the inside of your head first thing in the morning. All these thoughts are abstract in the extreme. They concern God, love, beauty, truth, fear and all those other overplayed themes. They are each and every one a great concept to spend your life wrestling into art. The problem being both Nate and myself are constantly bogged down in the concrete. We take these airy, ephemeral beauties and trap them inside clumpy plot lines or fuzzy shots. Instead of distilling the bigness into something neat, fit and intense, we end up diluting the enormity of the abstract as it gets funneled through a very concrete and somewhat limiting means. Despite our every effort we find ourselves frustrated by thee end product of thin stories and distant photos. In short we are nowhere near Loveless and oftentimes crippled by fear of falling short.

Today I listened to Loveless again, walking round Portland on an uncharacteristically fine January day. Alone and moving it was a completely different record. I stopped under a tree and my head felt like a sleeping machine, lungs contracting and expanding from deep underwater. I saw the tree branches spindly armed and grasping, etched into the blue, blue sky and in a second knew the bigness of an unquantifiable beauty. This is the same kind of abstract wonder that wraps itself around God himself. The entire Bible is full of writers lost for words in pursuit of God’s beauty. Again and again the Old Testament writers fall back on simile and comparison, God is like this or God is like that. No one seems comfortable with describing God in concrete terms: no one is capable but this does not deter them from trying to capture even the smallest hem of his garment. Perhaps there is a desire in all of us to wrestle with the enormities of abstract beauty and truth, to keep funneling these truths through the art we make, art which will always fail and fall short of our intentions.

Jan Carson
(Jan blogs at

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

::Mourning Doves In Nicaragua::

Two weeks ago I sat in the Houston airport waiting for a connecting flight to Nicaragua. I accepted my fate begrudgingly, found a roosting spot and pulled out from my bag a novel my friend Anna gave me. A book she listed on her Myspace favorites called Desert Solitaire by Edward Abbey. The language I found was epic, every word a carefully hand picked berry that Abbey dutifully polished on his shirt close to his heart and carefully placed in his bucket. Berries that he’d later make into the juiciest, sweetest pie for his five closest friends. There’s a line in the book that brings me to this present moment. Late morning, sipping a cane sugar cola from a glass bottle and listening to the mourning doves from the courtyard of my hostel in Nicaragua. The sound these birds create is something nostalgic for me. As a kid I would listen to the forlorn D minor bellow of this bird outside my bedroom window like a nature’s lullaby.

In Abbey’s book he writes: “Also invisible but invariably present at some indefinable distance are the mourning doves whose plaintive call suggest irresistibly a kind of seeking out, the attempt by separated souls to restore a lost communion: Hello…they seem to cry, who… and the reply from a different quarter. Hello…(pause) where…are…you?

I’m not sure how it happened but I’m happily surrounded by friends who are great writers. I mean really great. Had they been born in an earlier century they would have been in social circles with Fitzgerald and Gertrude Stein. In fact they would’ve been Fitzgerald and Stein, hopefully without the hang up of alcohol abuse. But for me, writing does not come naturally, nor do I foresee ever rightfully owning the title of a writer. My emails are lazy, I’m a horrible typist, and my hand tires quickly when I write. My journals teeter between psychotic and pathetic. The one script I’ve been known to write well are break-up letters: passionate and from the heart. A genre of writing that, hopefully, I won’t write much more of in my lifetime.

I’ve grown to respect great writing, so Thank You Edward Abbey for describing something I’ve always felt on a molecular level, but never knew how to find the words like in the dialogue that the mourning doves share.

When I first contemplated getting a ticket to Central America to visit my friend Lisa I was a little uncertain if I wanted to go. I knew some sort of get-away was imperative for me but I have never been drawn to Spanish speaking cultures, Nicaragua wasn’t top on my list. I suspect my aversion to the Spanish language came from my youth. I grew up in a small town where the neighborhood kids who came to jump on our trampoline had names like Juan, Jesus, Hector and Lupe. They would ask me, ” Jew wanna come to my ouse for deener?”

Words like; Hola, Dinero, Que pasa and the ever-displeasing mental image of Gracias pronounced “Grassy-ass” were imbued into our everyday speech. Later in life living in New Mexico an ex boyfriend would entertain himself with the cartoon voice of Speedy Gozales, “Hey Ese, Que Pasa your Sombrero is too Beeg.”

Relaxed, in the warm morning air of Nicaragua I’m happy to declare that I am kickin it in a Spanish speaking country and I’m even growing fond of the language. Who knew. Nicaragua is the second poorest nation in the western hemisphere next to Haiti, yet somehow this country encapsulates the most kind hearted people I’ve ever met; my safety has never once felt threatened.

I theorize that the Nicaraguans serene nature is somehow woven into their infinite helix. Music plays a large factor into their chilaxed disposition a spiraling staircase of DNA comprised of musical instruments. The blend of the accordion, guitar and trumpets are like an airborne tranquilizer. To demonstrate the tender heart of these people, on several occasions I have, overpaid; sometimes the equivalent of fifty US dollars or more; the street market people, the ardent sales man, the taxi drivers and to my good luck a sympathetic smile to coddle my ignorant gringo ways come to their lips as they hand me back my money. Mind you, I have traveled a fair amount in my lifetime and this does NOT happen anywhere else in the world, especially a country as poor as Nicaragua. One evening strolling through the street markets to get a late night snack I was discussing with my friend Jonathan from Connecticut how strangely big hearted Nicaraguans were, and just then I looked over and saw a police officer with a hand gun strapped to his side kneeling down to tie the shoe of a homeless guy.

There is a Dutch woman named Dorien who heads an organization called MPOWERING PEOPLE. My friend Lisa has been working with her to orchestrate hundreds of street kids in a 45-minute play with handmade, but functional props to depict the history of Nicaragua with a message of empowerment to females and children who are often victimized by family. I saw the play last night. The kids took the stage in one of the poorest villages outside the town of Leon. I didn’t understand a lick of the language but when the Spanish Conquistadors came out of the shadows and shouted “Christiano, Christano!” and then beheaded the loin clothe clad indigenous people the walls of my heart collapsed and my eyes welled with tears. The play was captivating, something Dorien and a group of people have been working on for almost a year; writing the script, costume designing, rehearsing, and promoting. This was a huge task to organize and they managed to pull it off with flying colors.

Dorien is strong in stature with long red hair, which is often disheveled and wadded back in a messy ponytail. She looks at you with nurturing blue eyes; benevolent, and exhausted from trying to save the world. I don’t know what her religious orientation is or if she even has one, but regardless, to me she is like a Twenty-first century Jesus. When I think of what Christ looked like when He hung out with the people I think of that ubiquitous Sunday school image of Christ surrounded by and walking with the children. His comforting hand on the shoulder of one of the boys, a baby resting on his chest and all of them looking up at Him smiling, while a cotton puff cloud-like lamb rests in the foreground. That image is Dorien; replace the cloud like sheep with a mangy, emaciated, diseased and dirt-ridden dog. She sits with the sick and the poor and tries her damnedest to help anyone in need. She’s known for miles, people yell her name as she walks down the street, running after her to be near her. Dorien! Dorien!…

One day, in the same village where the play took place we went to a little corrugated tin shack of a house. An old woman a foot shorter then me with one tooth in the center of her upper gums greeted us with rib crushing hugs. She first embraced Dorien and then around the circle of people; Lisa, Dorien’s visiting parents and myself. When she came to me, she held my face with her small hands and then with one hand gestured emanating rays of light around my head. Dorien translated what she said, “You are like an Angel from heaven.”

I felt my face light up in the aura of acceptance, that sort of special feeling of confirmation that you get when babies and dogs take an instant liking to you. This “supernatural divine occurrence” happened a few times on my journey; situations where I felt singled out from the crowd as if someone from a higher place was trying to send me messages of love. On the beaches of Bonita, four of us travelers sat facing the sun, reading, listening to the oceans roar when a little boy came by and with long strands of grass he wrapped and twisted little flowers for each one of us. We gave him in exchange a little money and then carried on reading our books. Continuing to stand over me and blocking my much enjoyed sunlight he started folding another piece of grass skillfully creasing it in half and then into the shape of a cross, he handed it to me, and In Spanish he said, “This is for you.”

“O’ no, no gracias. Yo no dinero.” I said, which was actually true because Lisa was spotting me until I could get to the next ATM. He insisted and said, “It’s a gift for you”.

Now, its possible that this is all coincidence, maybe he thought I needed a cross to ward off evil werewolves under the night’s full moon, but the thought did enter my mind that maybe these are little messages from God, communicating like the mourning dove.

Hello…I Love you,..(pause)… Hello….I’m right… here….

The diminutive old women, after she pointed out my golden rays of light, started to cry and told us her daughter who is only thirty was in her corrugated tin home dying of cancer. The irony of this scenario momentarily stopped my heart. I currently struggle to make sense of my duties and place with a terminally ill stepfather who too is dying of cancer.

I felt helpless. This poor women who obviously loved her daughter greatly had no hope so I asked Dorien to please translate that if it was possible, I’d like to pray for them. It was the least I could do. In the darkness of their shack I sat on the daughter’s bed while she cried, holding her hand and her mother’s. The three of us. The room was pitch black with only a bed and an oscillating fan. I saw only the incandescent glow of their eyes and stumbled awkwardly through a prayer asking the Lord to please comfort this family and help the daughter endure any pain that may be inflicted on her body by the cancer. When I said Amen, they followed by saying, ” En nombre de Jesus Christo Amen.”

As I was leaving, the daughter cried in fear and gripped my hand piercing my wrist with her nails. After we left, Dorien quickly got on her cell phone and in Spanish arranged for a doctor to travel to the village and get the girl pain medication. The following day, Dorien went to the Nicaraguan hospital and donated her blood to the girl.

There are many questions I battle with being a Christ follower and in a way I have learned through my friend Don’s writing that it’s ok to ask these questions, like “Why are most Christians, jerks?” You see, Dorien overwhelmed me with her kindness. Her heart is the embodiment of true compassion. This kind of compassion was the opposite of my experiences in Managua at the orphanage. A missionary lady who worked as a coordinator to bring down teams from the states to help build new housing and schools for the locals and another affluent woman in her fifties visiting from the states to adopt three babies were my company for the week in Managua. It was one of those situations where immediately I knew; they were not interested in getting to know me.

Not once did I experience sincerity from them. I wondered how they could do what they did with such little structure of compassion. I suppose some people are just good people and others think all they have to do is call themselves Christians and leave it at that. Not only did they treat me poorly, but they also treated the locals poorly as if they were somehow better then everyone else. I thought of confronting them, but I don’t think they could grasp just how insensitive they were. I tried like a bullied school kid to engage in their conversations but my words would only fall out of my mouth flat in the dust. They’d turn their attention away from me and start talking to one another not even hearing me, like my words lacked breath, like I was invisible, like they were deaf, except to each other. Other times I’d try to act perky and pretend their coldness went unnoticed I’d say something like, “What time do we head to the orphanage today?” They’d talk among themselves, giggle share an inside joke, pause, look out the widow for a while to contemplate the change of weather and then lethargically say, “Oh did you say something Melanie?”

…What happened to my emanating rays of light? Did they not see them too? My failed humor was constantly taken the wrong way and instead of explaining what I meant, I took their looks of annoyance like a cockroach in my half eaten sandwich…Gulp…

When we went out to eat we’d pray before and then because something wasn’t right with the meal they’d throw a fit and demand money back. I was embarrassed to be white and embarrassed to be Christian. Even more fatal I started developing a complex, asking myself if anyone anywhere had ever liked me. I desperately needed to get back to Lisa.

Day six into the trip I started to regret ever leaving Lisa until I arrived at the orphanage. At the orphanage all my frustrations were forgotten. This is where I fell in love with Alexandria, a one-year-old baby girl. The moment I saw her the universe shifted, like the great ease of ancient tectonic plates falling into place for a temporary slumber. Somehow, I refrained myself from immediately running to her side and lifting her to the great baby gods in jubilee. Instead, mentally half present I held and comforted other children to sleep, all the while watching Alexandria in my peripheral to see if she equally noticed me. I can tell by watching her, she feels and hears everything intensely. Immediately, when she caught my eye and lifted her hands to me I felt deeply protective of her. For five days, I spent time getting to know her, and in the wake of my inability to ever remember the correct lyrics of any song; I think there’s a name for this disorder, something like, Lyrical-Popcornheaditis. I sang to her Christmas tunes, “O holy night, the stars are brightly shining…” and Paul Simons “Slip Sliding Away” and “Me and Julio down by the Schoolyard” as she fell asleep on my shoulder I softly sang… ” He said Dolores I live in fear, my love for you is so appalling I’m afraid I will disappear…slip sliding away..” not a typical infant lullaby, but I tried to exercise a constant voice around her. I noticed as the hours and the days went by the more she recognized my presence as a person of solace.

I’ve tried to pinpoint this love. I’ve been in love before, and to this day I am often weighted down by him, the “Impossible” love. I drag him with me in my mind and heart everywhere, even here to Nicaragua. This kind of love is written about in Latin countries where a man or women will love each other for fifty years and may have never even kissed one another. This impossible love of mine has warranted volumes of break up letters.

But this is not the same kind of love that I felt when I saw Alexandria. I have only been hit by Cupid’s arrow twice in my life. The knowing, when upon first sight you can actually feel the piercing of cardio flesh that aches in the voice of fate. Crossing paths with Alexandria felt more like an arrow from cupid. Through research I have learned that the adoption process doesn’t look promising; too much difficulty with the Nicaraguan government. They’re disorganized and inconsistent with the law. But, I plan to do what I can, even if I have to learn Spanish and if I can never help her find her way out of the orphanage she now inhabits part of my spirit and I will always pray for her. I hardly saw this coming when I first contemplated buying a ticket to Nicaragua. But, soaking in the sun and surrounded by the events that took place; the good and the bad, I’m happy I did.

Melanie Brown

Melanie's work can be viewed at

Somewhere in the Middle of Coming & Going

A tornado rolled through Vancouver last Thursday. With a mind of its own it touched down here & there and tossed out an ominous collection of sights & sounds. Hail that seemed to be signaling the Apocalypse framed and accented by lightning strikes from cloud to ground. Roofs were torn off buildings, bricks were stripped off walls, 200 trees came down and a semi-truck was body-slammed to the mat of the pavement…and then it was gone. Witnesses, with the smell of lightening in the air, looked to each other with blank faces and, yes I know Mr. Fujita, didn’t care that the tornado would later only merit an F1 badge because…it was big enough. You had to be there. I was.

Hunger pains had me longing for Baja Fresh around noon the day of the tornado. I was to meet a friend for lunch but due to car trouble he had to cancel. So I returned to my notes and thoughts in preparation of the very first gathering of the Imago Dei Inklings. As I returned to my Gateway to buckle down and finish my mere introduction to Mere Christianity, I heard a series of thunder claps drawing nearer to me. I knew that thunder this time of year was rather rare but what I didn’t know was probably a blessing; ignorance is bliss for a man without a basement in the direct path of a tornado.

All was calm as I heard a silent but resounding voice directed at my thoughts (”Hey! Get up!”). Taking the direction off camera, I left my bedroom and walked through the house. As I looked through the front windows I could feel the atmosphere change. I’m glad I didn’t know how near I was to a storm that had packed 100 mph plus winds. From the eerie calmness (and realization I was alone) the winds came abruptly and without knocking as our metal screen door was slammed open. The intruder was here and our Douglas firs bordering our front yard acted as sentry guards by swaying violently with the brute force winds that announced his coming. Sometimes 15 seconds can seem like an hour…or two. Thoughts assailed my mind from every direction as the wind above my home: Where should I go? Is my family safe? Should I go have lunch now? A grilled-cheese sure sounds good.

A frantic phone call from my daughter warning me Vancouver was under some sort of environmental attack deemed ‘Code Green’ broke the calm all around me. One of those moments you’d expect a ‘jump scene’ in a film (something startling happens…like the windows blow out) and the jump scene is replaced by a phone ringing out of the silence invoking not only fear but irritation as well. I hate those scenes. The wind was gone and the trees had ended their rumble without incident. With a calm voice I responded to her call of distress, “yes…I know.”

Somewhere in the middle of life I’ve discovered that as much as I plan ahead I have very little say in my comings and goings. Washington state covers 71, 342 square miles and is rated 47th in nation (Oregon is 46th) for frequency of tornado sightings…last Thursday those statistics meant nothing to me. If the tornado had been on the ground it would have come directly through my neighborhood. And there wasn’t anything I could do about it except stand in fear and awe.

I can’t stop the storm but I can live in the promise of Hope. I can take each day as a gift and live it as best I can in light of Christ knowing another twister of life, whether it be cancer, losing a loved one, broken relationships, unemployment or whether it’s simply the weather, may at a moments notice come barreling through my life. Jesus never promised an Eden for us here, the garden was pummeled by an F5, but He did promise to rescue our souls from the funnel cloud of sin constantly pulling us, pressuring us towards the carnal man. And He promised to be with us, even in the storm.

I finished preparing for the Inklings and headed off to Sydney’s. Our first gathering was an amazing experience to say the least. Although the group was large (27 people) the conversation flowed with all the finesse of a small intimate group of good friends. God’s Spirit was there, I could feel the atmosphere change, and I was thankful for this City, for these people and for my Faith in the One that has made the comings & goings in the middle of my life make sense out of some of the storms of my past.

Paul Harvey’s famous line comes to mine, “and now you know the rest of the story.” As I sit at half-life in my mid-forties and reflect on my past and embrace the Hope of my future…I wouldn’t even know where to begin in knowing the rest of my story. I do know one thing… Baja Fresh sits on the corner of 78th Street and Highway 99…the very place where the tornado touched down.

Darren Jacobs

Darren blogs at

Thursday, January 10, 2008

A Mortgage-paying Nation in Exile

I’ll admit I’m from lime shag carpet between my toes and biting holes in the center of processed pre-sliced cheese. And to be honest, Sergeant Slaughter supplied the bulk of my childhood moral education with his fist-pumping affirmation, “…and knowing is half the battle.” But despite my western domestication, there’s something about the dust-ridden transient life that generations of Israelis endured that resonates with me—that resonates with US. We also live in a nation in exile.
Don’t get me wrong; I’m not trying to pull a far-fetched parallel trivializing what the Israelites in exile endured. How trite and insignificant does my eight-year-old dilemma deciding between the cheese-infused hot dog and the tater-tot chili boat sound now? How can I, with my Richie Cunningham existence even begin to fathom what it would be like to spend my pre-teen years carrying family heirlooms in a knapsack perpetually following God knows what.
While I haven’t come close to experiencing anything in the same region of intensity, for some reason, I feel like something within me has that same sense of longing and of displacement.
Despite our globally-relative affluence, and sense of rooted king-of-the-mountain mentality, the United States of America finds itself in a state of exile because the United States of America is made up of a bunch of humans singing along with Bryan Adams, wishing the summer of ’69 really would last forever.
Is it just a primal obsession in me and the top 40 charts with American flags, blue jeans, and car washes, or is Bruce Springsteen really on to something when he growls out his anthemic declaration that, “Baby, I’m born to run”? It’s not just a blue-collar battle cry. We crave for something we realize we don’t have.
I know I’m not alone in this craving, because every television network has picked up on it, and has begun to feed off this nation’s obsession with celebreality (do I need to put an ® there so VH1 doesn’t come after me?). We elevate these pseudo famers and fantasize about putting them in a mansion and having them fight over a jar of peanut butter. It’s as if we aren’t comfortable or satisfied with our own realities. We’re a nation of firmly planted mortgage payers, obsessing over the green grass on the other side.
It’s why we use credit cards to try and rise above our standard of living, and why “The Price is Right” is still on day-time television: we all want something more.
In mulling all this over this past week, I think somewhere between an episode of “The Hills” and my re-reading of John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men, I had an epiphany. I’m not sure if it was the petty whining of the high-brows or the desperation in George & Lenny, but I realized that we weren’t meant to live migrant lives of want. Some epiphany, eh?

Glenn Krake teaches English Literature to high schoolers, and continues to lament the loss of his fourth grade pet tree lizards, Milli and Vanilli.

Life According to Kenny Chesney

My man Kenny Chesney (who even three months ago I would have derided but who I'm now comfortable calling my man) sings this song "Beer in Mexico" that's been fairly constant in my head over the past couple months. The idea is that Chesney is at this crossroads of his life (he even says as much...actually those are his exact same words) and is trying to figure out where to go next. He's too old to be wild and free but too young to be over the hill. He's asking all these questions before feeling overwhelmed (my interpretation) and saying "screw it, I'm going to sit on the beach, have a beer and worry about this tomorrow."

Anyway, the song builds to a point where Chesney asks "Should I settle down and get married or stay single and stay free?" I'm not sure if I'd ever admit it, but I've totally felt these lyrics before. Marriage = social death. No more friends, no more staying up late. Buying houses, having to spend like $200 on things like blinds and shower curtains. Dinner parties. Pot luck. Shopping. Talking about my day. Was it a good day today or a bad day today? Well what kind of day was it?

Staying single = freedom. Doing what I want. Spending money on me. Eating foods I like, never devoting more than 11 minutes to preparing a meal. Coming home and watching four straight episodes of Prison Break not because I think it's a great show, but just because I can. Emailing for hours. Reading blogs. Occasional loneliness but it's certainly offset by the freedom.

Um...what has become very obvious to me (and which is even more obvious on e-paper) is that "freedom" isn't so much being free as it is being self-centered. Me me me. I can't get outside of myself. Yikes.

This is not to say that marriage is the answer to avoiding self-centeredness. As I learned (or at least heard a sermon about) long ago, marriage is not the answer to all of life's ills. Instead, I need to focus on drawing closer to God. True freedom lies in giving my life to Him, not in being able to play video games whenever I want. What I'm doing is not good enough.

Mike Pacchione
(Mike blogs at

Lars and the Real Girl

So I saw a movie the other night that I really loved, and I just wanted to recommend it, because it's one that looks very weird at first glance. It's called Lars and the Real Girl (you can find the trailer at Anyway, its about a guy with delusional disorder who's had some difficult things happen to him in life and he ends up ordering a "girlfriend" online (who is really a life-size doll.) The whole town supports him in his recovery process and treats her as a real person to try to help Lars overcome the delusion; it really is a beautiful thing. It's a very quirky, and very sweet movie. I feel like it is profound because its only by the grace of God that we're not all in Lars' position of being too afraid to be hurt and resorting to delusions to maintain our sanity. Although we don't have pretend girlfriends (as far as I know), we all have our own things that we hide behind and keep from taking risks out of fear and are held back from being the people that God created us to be. Just throwing it out there.

Jeannie Ross
(Jeannie blogs at

" Please don't let anything happen to her:" Jennifer Nettles

Talk to me for long enough and you're sure to hear about my toeing-the-line-between-healthy-and-unhealthy crush on Sugarland's Jennifer Nettles. Beautiful voice (and face), perfect dressy/thrift storey style combination, always seems like she's both sincere and having fun, wonderful stage presence...She even plays the tambourine (how cool is that?). She had me the first time she said "ah" (I). I'm like a PG version of those early 90s black and white Denis Leary commercials on MTV where he would obsess about Cindy Crawford. And you know what? I'm fine with that.

What I'm not fine with is where I fear her career is headed. This girl is about to be wicked famous (not always a good thing). First there was the duet with Bon Jovi. Then the tour with Kenny Chesney. Suddenly they're receiving a standing ovation at this year's Country Music Awards, culminating in the CMA for Best Duet (an award Brooks and Dunn had won six years in a row). Now JN is being picked up in the non-country world, where publications like the Boston Globe are lauding her as being "poised for breakout stardom."

In short, we're only about six months away from google searches where half the results for her name bring back sites called "Jennifer Nettles is hottttttttttt!!!!!!!!!!!!" Sigh.

Have you ever loved someone you've never met? Where there's just something about him or her that speaks to you, that makes you think you could be friends? But the problem is that we're not friends. There's no advice I can give her, nothing I can do to keep her away from the lures of stardom and power. All I can do is sit here and hope that nothing happens to her.

It strikes me that this has to be similar to how parents must feel about children --
Please don't let anything happen to them.
Please let them stay innocent.

On a deeper level, it must be how God feels about us, at least to some degree. We're His children, people He loves, people for whom He desires the very best. He doesn't want anything to happen to us.

Somewhere along the way, we screw it up. We stop believing in His plans for us, we try to go our own way, we squander our lives on things we can't take with us to the grave. Yet in spite of our selfishness, He extends us the offer: simply accept Jesus as our savior, and all will be forgiven. When I think of passages like the parable of the Prodigal Son, it warms my heart, makes me eternally grateful and filled with hope for others. Even when something does "happen" to us, we can find salvation in the Lord. We are saved.

I know it's cliche to write words like this but that doesn't make them any less true. It is so freaking awesome to feel that love. That's the most important thing of all. If God is for us, who can be against us?

Mike Pacchione
(Mike blogs at