Monday, April 30, 2007

Don't Drive Away From Home Without It

Sean & I are planning a road trip to South Dakota in 3 weeks.

So, I'm filling up the ipod with lots of good tunes. And I wondered ... what are your favorite road trip tunes (songs, artists, albums, compilations)?

Please write in with your favorites.

Just to get an idea of our eclectic tastes, here's a small sampling of the ipod collection so far:

Lots of soundtracks - including Big River, Little Shop of Horrors, Hoodwinked, Fellowship the musical, Little Mermaid, The Commitments, etc (we like to sing along!)

Sean's story music - Harry Chapin, Roger Miller

My 80's music - B-52's Cosmic Thing, Huey Lewis & The News

And then random stuff - The Monkeys, The Mills Brothers & Boswell Sisters, Norah Jones, Katie Freeze, Sting, Amy Grant, etc.

We're waiting to read your responses!

If you had to drive for 22 hours tomorrow, what music would you HAVE TO HAVE with you?

Saturday, April 28, 2007

Happy Birthday Annette!

April 29th, is my sister's birthday!

Last week, my great aunt, Marge, sent me a package that included this postcard. (It was found wile going through her mother-in-law's belongings after great, great aunti donna had passed away.)

I find this piece of history to be amazing:

1) Check out the date stamp: April 30th - that means my mom sent these out the day after Annette was born... or had them all ready to go, and someone else filled out the details and sent them. Either way, she was WAY too organized!

2) A postcard stamp was only 6 cents. Wild!

3) It was mailed from Half Moon Bay...that just makes me happy. That was our first home (til I was about 10).

4) The little elf on the front side cracks me up. How's that for a slice of early 70s art?

5) She was born at 5:39 in the morning. I never knew that. I wonder if she'll mind if I call her at that exact time tomorrow?

6) I was 8lb 12oz. Annette was 8lb 14oz. Mom stopped before she had a 9lb baby!!

7) I am so grateful to Marge for sending this to me and in awe that Aunti Donna held on to it for so long. Thanks for the memories!

I love you Annette!

PS: More trivia: Not only do Sean & I have dads with the same name - Wayne...but we both have sisters with April 29th birthdays. So - Happy Birthday Mary! Sorry, I couldn't find your birth announcement postcard.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Niche Nice or Niche Nasty?

A collision of friends --

Jeff Overstreet recently posted an article about the recent Biola Media conference.

Favorite quote from the article comes from friend Dean Batali:

"When asked if it's inappropriate to complain about the quality of films that present the gospel, Batali answered, "This is my frustration: The gospel written on toilet paper still saves lives. There's power in the gospel.""

I didn't make the conference this year, but am well aware of the "faith film" debate.

The most striking contradiction here to me is the notion that "Christian film" should be a niche market, potentially relegated to theatres in churches, and yet:

"(Mark) Joseph points out that Christians represent the vast majority of the American public. "Ninety percent believe in God," he says. "Eighty percent call themselves Christians, and 47 percent are evangelical. Those are not 'niche numbers.' FoxFaith should become FoxNormal. The rest should be called FoxSecular—they're the niche audience.""

The problem, as I see it, is word definition. We are using one word for two different things, and that word is the adjective "Christian."

I tried to explain this to some WB execs -- Hollywood wants the audience of THE PASSION and CHRONICLES, a decidedly "Christian" audience. Therefore, many producers are setting up faith divisions, and immediately going to the evangelical subculture for material.

And that is where semantics are causing problems.

Many at the conference, as quoted within, are using "Christian" to mean "evangelical;" several would even define the word further as "right-wing, conservative, American, Republican evangelicals."

That is the ghetto that is being spoken of.

And yet PASSION included in its definition of "Christian" audience": Catholics, mainline Protestants, non-Americans, post-modernists, emergents, as well as moderate and (egads!) liberal Evangelicals and a whole lot of Jesus freaks that do not fall into any of those categories.

There are two markets out there -- the ghetto ("let's-only-show-this-to-people-in-churches") market, and the Christian ("we-believe-in-Jesus") market.

Hey, here's an idea: Let's not claim that Christ only has value to the converted niche while allowing ourselves to be content when the choir sees our movies.

Instead, let's make movies that address the broader Christ, and invite the world to share in the good news.

Just my thoughts,


ps I am slowly working my way through Jeff Overstreet's book, THROUGH A SCREEN DARKLY. Why slowly? Because (borrowing from Jeff's BABETTE'S FEAST reference) this book is a rich meal that deserves attention to each delicious morsel.

Renewed Passions

Producers of the world take note.

The soap PASSIONS was cancelled, with the end date set.

My wife is cast as Caterer #1, speaks three lines, and BAM!

The soap gets picked up for another season.

Coincidence? I think not.

Just my thoughts,


Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Picture This

In need of a soul break, I went to friend Norris' site and meandered through this artist's photos.
Some shots to make one smile; some a cause for introspection. Several marvels at the artist's eye and gift.

All in all, a nice mini-vacation in the middle of the day.
Just my thoughts,

Monday, April 23, 2007

Act One Ad



Each year, hundreds of aspiring screenwriters flock to Hollywood with scripts in their hands and stars in their eyes. This year, Hollywood is coming to them. Next stop? San Jose, CA.

Act One, Inc., a Los Angeles-based training program for writers and other film industry professionals, is partnering with Valley Christian Schools to present the Act One Screenwriting Weekend, a conference for professional and aspiring screenwriters. The workshop, slated for May 4-5, 2007 at the school’s Skyway Campus, is an intense, practical overview of screenwriting basics, the current film market, and the Christian’s responsibility to engage popular culture.

Participants will study the craft of screenwriting – from story development and structure to character, dialogue and screenplay format – with a group of accomplished Hollywood professionals, including television writer and producer Dean Batali (That 70’s Show, Buffy The Vampire Slayer) and screenwriter and Azusa Pacific University Associate Professor Dr. Thomas Parham (JAG, Touched By An Angel).

“San Jose’s proximity to Hollywood, and the Bay Area’s vibrant community of professional artists makes it the perfect location for our seminar,” says Conference Coordinator Lauri Evans Deason. “And we’re thrilled to join Valley Christian Schools in their quest for excellence - providing new inspiration for local writers who share our common goals of artistry, professionalism, and spirituality.”

The seminar begins at 3:30 p.m. Friday with an afternoon session for registered participants. It continues with a 7:30 p.m. screening and panel discussion with the faculty, open to anyone interested in film and its influence on popular culture. The conference concludes Saturday with a full day of instruction from 10 a.m.- 5 p.m. The registration fee, which includes study materials and breakfast and lunch on Saturday, is $195. A $20 discount is available for students and groups of ten or more. Further information and online registration is available through the Act One website at or by calling 323-464-0815. Space is limited, and early registration is encouraged.

Tickets for the Friday evening session only are $10 and are available at the door.

Act One, Inc. is a non-profit, interdenominational training and mentorship program designed to train people of faith for careers in mainstream film and television. The organization is endorsed by Hollywood Connect, Premise, The Hollywood Prayer Network, MasterMedia International, and several colleges and universities.


323-464-0815 x14

Darrow Doubts

Ever since I was seven, I wanted to be a lawyer.

I was pretty geeky about it. One of my favorite books to read was READER’S DIGEST: YOU AND THE LAW.

I would memorize terms from it. Probably the only second grader to know that you don’t have to say “Excuse me” after a tort.

I would also study famous court cases, and the speeches of such folks as Clarence Darrow (infamous of the Scopes Monkey Trial, among others).

Oh, it was Clarence’s birthday last week, which is what put me in mind of him.

So, Darrow’s quote of the day:

“Just think of the tragedy of teaching children not to doubt.”

I figure he’s right -- a superficially held belief makes for a weak faith; a storm tested idea makes for a blessed assurance.

The more my faith matures, the more I realize that faith can’t deepen without questions, challenges, and doubts.

That’s another thing that faith and science have in common.

Just my thoughts,


Friday, April 20, 2007

Critical Angelo

You’ve all probably heard the Michelangelo quote, “Criticize by creating.”

Some folk misunderstand Mike’s meaning, thinking he is saying “Make art that criticizes stuff.”

Actually, what the guy was getting at is more like this: “If you think that statue over there sucks, make a better statue. Then people will stop looking at that bad statue, and start looking at a good statue instead.”

Marilyn vos Savant, the world’s smartest person, said something in a similar vein in this week’s PARADE.

She was giving advice on how to debate about politics, and suggested that one shouldn’t point out what is bad in another’s beliefs – that just makes them defensive.

Instead, she suggested focusing on what is good and worthy in your own beliefs.

For, she says, “People are more likely to adopt new beliefs than to drop old ones…”

It is interesting to me that both American politics and American Christianity seem to operate more on the “attack what is wrong with the other fellow” approach.

I wonder, does this suggest we really aren’t looking to change opinions, but only solidify the true believers?

And what does that say of our politics, or our faith?

I’m starting to think that we’ve all just given up on trying to think of good things to say about where we stand…

Just my thoughts,


Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Brush the Tips of Both Hands Up and Down...

I recently had the pleasure of dining with a gentleman named Art. He is a sprite of a fellow, the kind where age brings sparkly wisdom without seeming to decrease youthful vigor.

He spoke of a desire to translate the Bible into sign language, and the problems he has encountered. When in discussion with a theological scholar, it was pointed out that the language transition would raise perhaps too many questions.

You see, sign language is based on transmitting concepts and ideas, rather than words – so a literal translation would not work. The conversion would have to go back to the intended meaning of the author.

As an example, Arthur started translating John 3:16:

“Because G-d had such great love for the…”

First snag – does he love the planet, or the people? The people.

“…The people, therefore he gave his only baby boy so that whosoever believes…”

Hold on, big problem. How to translate the intention of “whosoever?”

The concept is: “It does not matter who.”

And now I get Art’s problem. What are we to do with that?

“It does not matter who.”

But what if they don’t dunk, or misinterpret what “the rock” is, or play music using electric guitars?

“It does not matter who.”

But what if they are sinners, and I mean with the sins that are my pet peeves, and not the okay sins that I regularly engage in?

“It does not matter who.”

But what if they are liberal, or conservative, or don’t vote how I want them to? Or aren’t pro-big business, or don’t recycle, or don’t hate the right people, or don’t love the right people, or are too accepting, or are too restrictive? Or smell, or don’t have a well paying job, or have irritating habits?

“It does not matter who.”

That’s fine and all, but what if they are a loud-mouthed jackbutt with a tv show and a large ministry? Or a loud-mouthed jackbutt with a radio show and a large secular audience?

“It does not matter who.”

Man, I’m glad I don’t have to read the sign language on the wall. It requires too much thought, and frankly, too much Christ. (And that isn't a joke so much as a confession.)

Just my thoughts,


Saturday, April 14, 2007

Courtesy of CS Weekly:

"I say in speeches that a plausible mission of artists is to make people appreciate being alive at least a little bit. I am then asked if I know of any artists who pulled that off. I reply, 'The Beatles did'. "

– Kurt Vonnegut, Timequake

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Clare Sailing

I'm not one to brag about successes of friends as if they were my own, boring you with my six degrees of separation and standing just down the block from fame and glory. So I shan't.

Oh, on a personal, unrelated note: Hey, Alice, our friend Clare Sera was mentioned in the Hollywood Reporter.

Just my thoughts,


Calgary Etchings

Palm Sunday found me in Calgary, Alberta, of all places.

(Only two things about Calgary I knew before this trip – both learned in childhood.

  1. The Winter Olympics were there. I learned that by watching tv.
  2. Jesus wasn’t crucified there. I learned that by having a priest correct me in front of my first communion class.

I worshipped with my friend at Centre Street Church, which holds their big Easter concert on Palm Sunday. One of the many wonderful things within the event was the use of visual art.

As the orchestra played, two artists worked on a black canvas that was draped over a white video screen. The two worked independently, yet their art joined seamlessly.

Then, once the canvas was near full, I noticed them adding what would become a cross through the center of the piece. At first I thought they were using iridescent paint, because the cross glowed – but in looking closer, I realized that they weren’t painting a cross at all.

They were scraping a cross into the painting – etching so deep that the light of the screen behind the painting was shining through. (Apparently they weren’t working on canvas, but rather plexi-glass coated in black paint.)

Okay, this is cool for so many reasons, not one of which was explained to the congregation – we had to have eyes to see for ourselves.

What did I get from it?

That the light of Jesus isn’t a layer that we paint onto ourselves, but only something that shines through us when we get our gunk out of the way.

And that for G-d to shine through us, first he has to scrape. A painter’s version of C.S. Lewis’ Aslan using his claws to painfully, bloodily rip off Eustace’s layer upon layer of dragon scales.

Just my thoughts,


Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Sunk Ship

I never was a big fan of the epic disaster movie in general. Most of them seemed like poor excuses to combine massive special effects with a large roster of stars.

But I was a big fan of a few disaster movies in particular. There were some that were a cut above the others; some that found a personal touch within the noise of buildings falling and airplanes crashing.

Now I don’t want to get all overly gushy – even the best come with their own cheese factor. But the good disaster movie is always larger than itself, larger than its effects.

Towering Inferno, for example. After McQueen and Newman part company in that lobby full of bodies -- there is more lingering there then just joy that some of our favorites survived. There is the melancholy of the cost of that survival, as well as respect.

Respect for human life – we understand more about life’s value now – not just because we faced death, but because of how we faced it.

And respect for nature – or the power of G-d if you will – we also understand more the dangers of Babel and the cost of mans hubris.

The good disaster movies do that, anyway.

Which brings me to the remake, Poseidon. I wasn’t expecting much Tivo’ing it on my free HBO weekend; and it lived up to expectation.

The flick started out all right; the cast – Braugher, Dreyfuss, Russell – quite fine, thank you very much.

And it definitely has visual flare and moments of roller coaster ride excitement. It’s just when the ride was over, one is left with nothing more than the wish to have ridden in a different car.

By the time the guy who tried to commit suicide kicks a fellow human being to a horrific death in order to save his own skin, I was made fully aware that this movie would not have a heart.

Oh, that kick was presented as a heart moment – a true moral dilemma, a we-have-to-make-the-hard-choice scene. But Suicide Guy wasn’t allowing one man to die for the greater good – he was allowing one man to die so he and he alone could live.

The Irwin Allen epic of bygone days would have handled that differently. Either Suicide Guy would have come to appreciate the value of life at some point in the journey; or would have realized that there is nothing heroic in sacrificing another for yourself; or would have given his life trying to save Kicked To A Horrible Death Dude.

Sure there are moments of true heroism in this movie; but they are flat, lifeless choices for the most part. We don’t learn more about the characters by their actions, nor do they seem to grow/diminish in the midst of crisis.

(Earl Palmer notes that the root of “crisis” is “moment of distinguishing.)

In the original, The Poseidon Adventure, the choices illuminated the characters to us and to themselves.

When Shelly Winters makes the decision that will ultimately exchange her life for the group, it comes with such heart and heartache – she almost has a joy finding her calling, her moment to redeem her wasted years, to erase her own demon of a poor body image.

“You see Mr. Scott? In the water I’m a very skinny lady.”

In Wolfgang Peterson’s remake, there is no such revelations, no such grace, no such resonance to the deaths that pile up. His film ends with the cast cheering and woohooing upon their rescue; no somber reflection, no meaning to what that rescue cost.

Certainly there is no Reverend Scott, hands burning in his act of sacrifice, Jacob-like in his refusal to let go until the G-d he claimed to no longer believe in grants a blessing and lets these, his sheep, survive.

Nah. That would have meant something.

And it would have made the movie larger than itself.

We simply aren’t aiming that high.

Just my thoughts,


ps In the original, the ship is left floating upside down, setting us up for the sequel. In the remake, Petersen allows the ship to sink. As if he knew...

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Comedy at Bel Air!

Our church drama group is presenting another comedy night. If you are in the LA area, come check it out this Sunday night.

Cath and I have seen most of the acts - including the hamburger juggler (which we saw at the Magic Castle) and the magician (which we saw at McDonalds. Okay, it wasn't at McDonalds, but wouldn't that just be perfect?)

Oh, the juggler is considering balancing a running vacuum cleaner on his face. I haven't seen that before...

Join us for some real laughs!
"I have come to believe that a great teacher is a great artist
and that there are as few as there are any other great artists.
Teaching might even be the greatest of the arts since
the medium is the human mind and spirit."

- John Steinbeck

Sunday, April 08, 2007

Empty Hands

As part of Cath and my preparation for Easter, we watched Robert Besson’s striking Diary of a Country Priest during Holy Week.

It is a thoughtful and at times achingly beautiful look at the inner life of a sickly priest dealing with a parish that despises him. (Thank you, Heather, for pushing me to watch this film.)

The movie is built on contradictions and tensions – a priest who painfully searches for G-d’s presence while being moved through His spirit; a congregation that rejects him because they see him as truly good; a life mystically set-apart yet mortally human.

The flick seems built on morsels of food-for-thought; nearly a gorging of simple bites.

One moment that struck me too deeply: the priest kneels at the body of a deceased woman – one whom he had recently (and supernaturally) counseled, resulting in her turning from bitter resentment to resigned contentment. His thoughts:

“I had said to her, ‘Peace be with you,’ and she’d received that peace on her knees. What wonder that one can give what one does not possess! Oh, miracle of our empty hands!”

I often have felt (feel!) empty; I know of the knee bruising, searching for a G-d inexplicably standing at the edge of sensation; I am familiar with eking out spiritual meals using ingredients solely from memory – of ecstasies past, earlier companionship, even the memory of communions yet to come.

And oh! I resonate with the awkward reassurance of being an instrument, of a spirit coursing through me on the way to someone else’s need, desire or whimsy.

To have a time of not hearing the Lord’s voice, save the echo as it is given, ventriloquist like, to an alternate audience!

In a way, is that not itself a communication? Is that not G-d in action, speaking to me by acting through me?

Is that not, in its own way, the answer to the petition, “My G-d, my G-d?”

Oh, miracle of our empty hands!

Just my thoughts,


Friday, April 06, 2007

Flowers or Fruit

I was walking in our park this week and noticed the flowers on the trees. Beautiful.

The only sad part was that many of the flowers had fallen off and were being trampled on the track.

As I lamented the squished blossoms, God reminded me that the goal of the tree is the FRUIT not the FLOWER.

So, I began to reflect how I mix those up in my life. I really like the good stuff, the big blessings, the "flowers" and I don't like letting go of them at all. But (metaphorically speaking) if I hold on to the flowers forever, I'm stunting my ability to bear fruit. Am I really more concerned with looking pretty? Do I mourn the flowers falling? Do I curse God because it's easier to see the flower part, and sometimes not as quick and easy to see the fruit?

Wondering as I walk...


Thursday, April 05, 2007

From the good folk at Mars Hill Audio Journal:

"I may be wrong about this, but it seems that Christian lyricists these days

appropriate the victory before they carry the Cross; or they will rejoice that

Jesus bore the bitter wood for our sins, but do not consider that every one

of our sins was a thorn upon his brow, or a jagged stone to cut his feet

as he fought his slow way up to the Skull Place."


-- Anthony Esolen, "A Sign of Contradiction,"

on Touchstone magazine's Mere Comments blog, March 31, 2007

104,500 And Counting...

My publisher has informed me that LARRYBOY AND THE EMPEROR OF ENVY has had another printing.

I am now over a tenth of the way to having a million books in print -- EMPEROR has 72,500 copies, and LARRYBOY AND THE SINISTER SNOWDAY has 32,000.

Pretty nifty, thinks I.

Just my thoughts,


Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Corinthian Sunshine

(Spoiler alert: scenes from LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE are discussed below. Oh, and while I am giving out warnings, LMS is R rated for a reason.)

This Lenten season, my small group has been focusing on St. Paul’s Second Letter to the Corinthians, exploring the notion of “Hope: Seeing Through Tears.”

Our look included chapter three, where Paul talks about how G-d writes on our hearts, and it is He (and not ourselves) that makes us competent and ready for life. Paul goes on to say that with that knowledge, he behaves more boldly.

We got to discussing how we would approach life differently if we also saw ourselves through G-d-eyes. Which got me to thinking about LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE.

There is a scene at the motel before the family arrives at the Little Miss Sunshine Pageant, where Olive expresses her doubts to Grandpa – about both being a winner and being pretty enough. You know the scene – the one that guaranteed a slue of acting nominations for both Abigail Breslin and Alan Arkin.

Grandpa reassures Olive that she is already a winner, because no matter what, she gets to dance. And he tells her she is beautiful, that in fact he is hot for her (and not for her mind!).

It is a beautiful scene, and one that I didn’t get the depth of when I first watched it. And I know I didn’t get it because of how I felt during the pageant scenes.

I felt as Olive’s mom and dad and brother felt – fearful that this contest was going to crush the little girl; that she was going to realize that she wasn’t as pretty or as talented or as adult sexy as the other girls; that she had no hope of winning this contest.

I felt that Olive was going to be shown as a fool.

I have no excuse; Richard and Sheryl and Dwayne didn’t see the scene in the hotel room, so they can be excused. But I should have known better.

You see, Olive couldn’t be shown to be a fool by the pageant; nor could she discover that she wasn’t pretty or talented or sexy. Because the pageant folk didn’t have a vote in the matter – she already knew that she was beautiful, gifted and “hot” by her audience of one.

When she dances at the pageant, she dances in complete freedom and confidence; because she sees herself through her grandpas eyes.

And that is how Olive approaches life differently.

If only I could fully get that lesson.

I have already won, because no matter what, I get to dance.

Just my thoughts,