Stories We Love

Redemption Stories

Today is Good Friday, the day we remember the death of Jesus Of Nazareth. On Sunday we will celebrate Easter–Jesus’ resurrection, and what that resurrection means for humanity–redemption for all.

Some people call it the greatest story ever told. Some people call it just a story. Where you stand on it may differ, but most cannot deny how great a story it is. God creates men. Men rebel. God, instead of condemning his creation, sends his son to take the punishment in our place. And through his son’s resurrection, we are put back into right standing with God. Jesus isn’t the redeemed in this story, but we are.

How many stories can you think of with a messianic twist? Lord of The Rings. The Matrix. Harry Potter. Superman. You could go and on. What about redemption stories? There are too many to even count. Humanity longs for redemption. We create story after story about it.

And some people may insist that the story of Jesus is just that, another story. My hope is that the story would work its way into every person. That it would latch on and that hope would grow in each and every heart. We have hope for redemption, that we are not lost, because of Jesus’ death and resurrection.

Here’s to hope, and grace, and peace.

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Life as Story.

What did you want to do with your life as you grew up? Are you doing it? Did that change? Are you stuck in a place you hate? Where do you want to be in five years? Ten?

When I was a kid I loved Choose-Your-Own-Adventure books. The ability to create my own story excited me. Isn’t that life? Don’t we all have the ability to create our own stories–to choose our own adventures?

So maybe like me, you’re overweight. So get to work and lose it if you really want to. Will it be hard? Absolutely.

Hate your job? Look for something better? Not qualified for something better, than look at school, or apprenticeships.

As I’ve gotten older I’ve realized our generation was sort of lied to. We were told we could do anything if we worked hard and went to college. Well sadly, that isn’t true. A college degree does not guarantee you a job in the field of your choice. Even hard work and determination might not be enough.

Like those books of my youth, sometimes there are only so many doors we can go through. What makes a great story is making the best out of the options we have. We can’t choose our parents, or how and where we come into this world. And where we come into this world can limit what we can do.

But great stories don’t just happen. We have to be proactive. And I truly believe in potential for escaping our circumstances to something better. Does that mean everyone can be president or a billionaire? No. And who would want either of those things?

We can embrace the challenges life gives us and rise above. We can connect with the people around us and love deeply. We can lay down our own desires to help others achieve theirs. That is where great stories come from.

Characters We Love: Jimmy McNulty

“The f$&@ did I do?”

How many times have we heard McNulty say those words. His exasperation at his colleagues ager with him is only matched by his love for making them angry. He goes out of his way to pull one over his bosses in the Baltimore Police department. He knows he is smarter than most of them.

He’s an alcoholic. He’s a philanderer. As Lester Freamon says, he sets fire to everything he touches and watches it burn. In his pursuit of what he determines to be righteous, or even just in pursuit of being right, he is willing to do whatever it takes to whomever it takes. Chain of command be damned. Friends be damned. Family be damned. He is utterly selfish.

And yet, when you get down to brass tacks, he is good police. He is relentless in his pursuit of justice. He knows when to eschew the little fish in favor of going after the big fish. We love Jimmy because he may not always do right, but neither do we. We strive after our own righteousness and fall short. And often, we set fires we cannot put out.

Landsman says it best:

“He learned no lessons. Admitted no mistakes…but in the end he gave us the clearances. He was natural police, and I don’t give that one up unless it happens to be true. Natural police. But what an asshole.”

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XYZ

I was a college student and a candidate for ministry through my church’s denomination. Part of my responsibilities included attending semi-annual regional clergy meetings. There was no dress code, but the unwritten rule was that us candidates should dress professionally. I am not one to dress up often so when I do, I try to look my best. Those who know me may disagree. I digress.

Anyways, this one particular meeting had me meeting with an important committee as well as having to give a brief devotion to open the morning session. I did my duty and went to my meetings. Everything seemingly went off without a hitch. I went to lunch in the fellowship hall with everyone, shaking hands, making contacts, greeting old friends. Again, no problems. The day was a real pleasure– a surprise since these meetings could be quite a chore in the past.

Before I left, I decided I better make a trip to the rest room before hitting the road. I went to unzip my pants and to my horror, discovered not only that it was unzipped, but my shirt was sticking out of my fly. Being my first trip to the bathroom that day, it immediately dawned on me that my shirt had been sticking out of my fly all day long; at my devotion in front everyone, at my committee meeting, while shaking old ladies’ hands at lunch. And no one had told me. I was oblivious. Until now.

I told a friend about it. “It could have been worse.” he said. “At least it was just your shirt sticking out.”

Tyrannosaurus Rex

When I was six years old, my parents took me for my very first trip to Chicago. It was something I had been looking forward to for weeks. This wasn’t any ordinary trip to the city. This trip had one objective: dinosaurs!

It was a few weeks before my brother was to be born. My parents wanted to do one last really special trip with just me, knowing I would have to adjust after the baby came. In those days, I was a dinosaur nut. I had hundreds of dinosaur toys. I had books, both for kids, and actual scientific dinosaur books. I could tell you the scientific name of each dinosaur, and other facts like what it ate or how big it was. I had everything a dinosaur loving kid could want. And now I was going to see them in person at the Field Museum in Chicago.

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If you’ve never been there, you should go. It’s not just got dinosaurs, but we also were able to see the King Tut exhibit, some other prehistoric life exhibits, and even some Native American history. But I digress. When we entered the museum, we were greeted by Sue*, the famous T-Rex skeleton. It was like a dream. The whole mourning we walked around and took pictures. I mostly just stared in awe. I often wonder what it was like for my parents to be able to watch me as I walked among my most favorite things in the world. We left with more than enough dinosaur souvenirs from the gift shop and made for some famous deep dish pizza.

I still remember that day like it was yesterday. I remember the smells, the sound my shoes made walking in the big hallways. There have been many milestones in my life. The day I went from being an only child to a big brother. The day I got my drivers license. Graduation. And yet I don’t remember any of them half as well as I remember that day. I take life for granted more often than not, and also the people around me. What I wouldn’t give for another day like that day, filled with awe at the site of something from a different world, and to be able to share it with those I love.

*Editor’s note:  Apparently I misremembered my story, as it was not Sue I saw when I was six years old, but a different dinosaur.  Sue was not unveiled until the year 2000.  It was in my haste that I recalled seeing Sue, which I have seen, just not on that particular visit.  Doh.

TV Shows Worth Your Time

The idea that TV can be worth your time is a contentious one. Most people watch a lot of TV, and I would presuppose that most of that is pretty terrible. But there are some shows that actually engage the viewer with both well-written stories and well-written characters. Here are a few that I watch. Fair warning, some of these shows have strong language and even nudity and violence. Most of these shows are for adults only.

The Wire: A cop show from HBO. It does not air anymore so you’ll have to watch it on DVD. I would probably put this at the top of my list, and look, I did. The story unfolds like a novel, slow and steady. The characters are complex. They live in the grey zone, rarely being all good or all bad. Plus, the ore you watch it, the better it gets.

Breaking Bad: This show is just awesome, in the literal since of the word. It’s violent, and shocking, and sad, and even funny. It leaves me stunned often. The story of a high school chemistry teacher who decides to make meth in order to pay for his cancer treatment has given way to a treatise of how a normal man turns into a monster, and how his choices not only affect him but his entire family. Great stuff.

Parks and Recreation: A comedy about a town in Indiana, complete with crazy one-off characters, and more deeply drawn characters that anchor the show. It’s goofy. It has real emotion. I just like hanging out with it.

Justified: This show has “cool” written all over it. Another cop show, this time about Deputy U.S. Marshal Raylan Givens and his time spent in Kentucky. Funny. Poignant. Lots of action. And it can tell a hell of a story. I’d put season 2 of this up against any show on TV.

Anyways, that’s my list so far for now. Short and sweet and to the point.

My Broken Face

“I need a dentist!” I screamed as my dad carried me up the stairs to the kitchen. I had been riding my bike around the neighborhood, trying out my new found freedom on two wheels. I was trying to imitate the older kids by popping wheelies when instead of a successful wheelie, I found myself landing teeth first on the concrete. I was six years old. My teeth had chipped and my gums split open. I lay there on the sidewalk facedown in a growing pool of my own blood, whimpering in pain.

I had no strength to get up, the wind knocked out of me on impact, and the shock of my situation affecting my cognitive ability. Thankfully a neighbor happened to out watering her flowers when I crashed in front of her house. I was only four houses down from my own, but it seemed like miles. She picked me up and carried me home. My dad took me from her and rushed me upstairs to get me cleaned up. I was finally coming to and screaming for help, for my mom, for a dentist. It was a scene.

We were able to get a dentist to see me and I had my first ever x-ray. The dentist, I don’t even remember his name, fixed me up. For four days I had two fat lips and looked like I had been in a fight with Mike Tyson.

And yet, the first thing I wanted to do was get back on my bike, to ride, and feel the wind in my face. At the time there was nothing I loved more than speeding down the hill at the end of the block. My parents made me take a break to heal, but it killed me. I begged every day to get back out there.

I haven’t rode a bike in over 15 years. This thing that meant so much to me that I was willing to risk life and limb and face, gone from my life completely. It’s funny to me, that we can change our interests so much. We throw away years of our life and turn on a dime for the next best thing. And the things we once loved fade away.

The Drive

I can’t remember a time in my life when I didn’t love books. Some of my greatest memories are of my mom and dad reading to me as a child–everything from Dr. Seuss and Mercer Meyer to the classics like Treasure Island or The Swiss Family Robinson. One of my favorite books growing up was The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, though admittedly I enjoyed the Disney version even more. I was obsessed with the idea of the Headless Horseman. It both such a scary and cool character in my eyes. My parents knew I loved it and while we lived in New York state they took me to North Terrytown, the town which much of Sleepy Hollow was based on, for Halloween and to see Sleepy Hollow for myself. There was even a guy dressed as the Headless Horseman riding around.

And so as long as I can remember, I’ve been driven by stories. When other kids were playing baseball during the summer, I spent the days in the backyard creating fantastic stories using GI Joes and Legos, my mom’s flowerbed often standing in as the jungle. I always looked forward to library time at school. I was obsessed with Choose-Your Own Adventure and Encyclopedia Brown books. My friend and I used to try to come up with our own movie ideas.

In high school I took a creative writing class. It was the first time since elementary school I had tried to actually write out a story. And while I enjoyed it immensely, my writing needed work. I loved it, but found myself distracted for years afterwords in pursuit of college and graduate degrees. Always looking ahead to write “when I have time.”. The time never came because I never made room for it.

But lately I have been. I’ve been making a lot of changes in my life, reorganizing my priorities, and have decided that writing is going back to the top of the list. I am 31 and still I can’t shake it. I’m sure what I have been writing so far is terrible, but you only get better through hard work and practice.

Stories come from all around. They shape how we see the world. They connect us. They drive us forward.

Movies We Love: The Godfather

This week marks the 40th anniversary of The Godfather, which is in this person’s opinion, one of the greatest films ever made. Much can and already has been said in praise of the film. From the timeless story to the beautiful cinematography, the movie changed the culture around it.

I can think of many reasons why I love it, but the number one reason I love it is how personal it is to me. I remember a few years back I made the comment to my dad that I hadn’t seen it. The next day he had it on DVD and we sat down and watched it together. It is a movie he loves and wanted to share. I try to share it with people as well.

I also love the ways you see the affects of sin and betrayal weave in and out of the Corleone family through out the series. Sin isn’t treated lightly in the film. Actions often have grave consequences. There is a real sense of urgency to the story.

And the more you watch it, the better it gets. So if you haven’t seen it yet, or have seen it a hundred times, you ought to take a day this next week and watch it again. Trust me, it’s worth it.

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What do you love about The Godfather?

The Underdogs

This week began the 2012 NCAA Men’s college basketball Tourney. This is my favorite sporting event of the year outside of Summer Olympic years. One word can encapsulate why. Upsets. I love upsets. I am not a gambler, nor am I fanatic for any team. My joy in the tourney comes from watching the underdog teams shock the country by taking on and defeating a highly ranked, and ultimately even better team.

Yesterday, Duke and Missouri, both number 2 seeds lost to Lehigh and Norfolk State respectively. Both number 15 seeds. The commentators made it a point to say that Norfolk State had never won against a ranked team since joining division 1. And I’m sure I’m not alone in asking, “Who the heck is Lehigh?”

There were other upsets as well, but these two were the first times a 2 has lost to a 15 in 11 years. An underdog victory like this is rare.

I think of some of my favorite books and movies– how many are underdog stories? The Lord of the Rings is about how the smallest, most inconsequential beings in all of Middle-Earth are ultimately what it needs to defeat evil. In Hoosiers, a troubled coach and troubled team from a tiny town in Indiana rise to win the state championship over schools with more talent and resources. Daniel Larusso stands up to his bullies in The Karate Kid, outmatched and outnumbered.

We root for the underdog. We identify with the underdog. They are just like us, facing odds that seem impossible to overcome. But they press on. When we see an underdog win, it makes us feel like we can succeed as well. And we can.

Here’s to Lehigh and Norfolk State. And to the rest of the underdogs.