Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Remembering, Re-Creating 2008

I was looking over my 2008 LOST calendar and looking at the dates and events I had marked down, mapping out my life for 12 months. I decided in celebration of the New Year, that I'd ruminate/highlight/chronicle the most memorable parts of my life as it unfolded in 2008.

A quote from one of my beloved discoveries of the year, Radiolab Podcasts: "All remembering is an act of creation."

This is not an attempt to be eloquent or deep. This is solely my mind taking inventory and indulging;)

So here's to Re-Creation of 2008.

-An overnight, whirlwind of craziness to NYC to do an OaKs show and interview on WNYC's Public Radio International. Hauling my 500 pound accordion through the subway and streets of NYC will not rank high on my list of favorite things to do. But flying up to NYC for 24 hours is probably the most rock star-ish thing I'll ever do. Our "meet-the-press" session felt strangely like an episode of Flight of the Conchords. Meaning nobody came. And thanks to an uncensored interview with the folks of Uncensored Interview, I discovered that I intensely dislike being on camera. Ironic, since I know thrive off of video blogs, nearly 11 months later.

-An awkward but necessary camping trip (which later actually turned out to be refreshing) where I finally met a ton of people at Status, despite attending for more than a year and not ever getting involved. Three lovely people (Josh, Lauranne and Jessica) broke me into community that week and the rest is history.
-Erin's 21st/Black and White birthday. I just remember laughing a lot that night and having a lot of "appletinis." For some reason, I remember playing the opening bars of "Smoke on the Water" with a few other people by blowing on open bottles of root beer. This was also the night of the best game of Catch Phrase. EVER.
-A road trip to Kentucky and Tennessee with 7 of my favorites. We took a gazillion pictures, played in snow (some for the first time), stayed in the most amazing cabin ever, endlessly played Phase 10 and Skip-Bo, made pancakes. Playing that crazy Untangle game in the hot tub took far longer than it should. Also I will never forget not being able to tell if it was Erin or Michelle lying to me during Mafia. I remember sitting on a sun-warmed porch overlooking the mountains and thinking that for a few days anyway, I wanted to live on top of that mountain forever. And the drive through the Smokey Mountains on the way home looked like Narnia.

-Recording the OaKs Songs for Waiting album. Well this began much earlier, but it culminated finally this month in our OaKs CD release show at the Social. I loved the challenge of figuring out vocal lines, collaborating with the guys on harmony and Wurlitzer parts. The producers and artists I've worked with have always been firm believer in the homegrown, grassroots approach and so I've always loved standing in front of those mikes and pop filters, with nothing but a pair of headphones and the warmth and wood floors of somebody's home, rejecting the stark sterility of a recording studio. On the CD release night, I remember bright lights and lots of friends cheering and jamming my heart out.

We started to feel like a band.

-Traveling to Austin, TX for South by Southwest 2008 and playing the Fanatic Promotion showcase as well as several day parties. Again, those day parties felt extremely Flight of the Conchordish. Bands and sound checks and bars and wandering through vibrant, pulsing city streets. Feasting on tangy Texas BBQ our last night there on the remote outskirts of the city was heavenly and I will not forget that evening that saw me drink my first bottle of Fat Tire.

The Hotel Cafe showcase at The Parish changed my life. The conversations, the ease, the intelligence of songwriting and the camaraderie onstage showed me a new way of being a singer/songwriter.

-Mostly a blur of more OaKs shows in Tampa and the Social, a birthday party I should have gone to but didn't, and endlessly fun evenings of The Office, LOST, Scrabble and Apples to Apples at Oscar and Jodie's

-Seeing Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova (from the movie "Once") live in Atlanta for a show. Beautiful, soothing music. I only wish our seats could have been better. But hey, the flight was free. And coming off of their Oscar for Best Song, I'd say the evening was slightly legendary;)
-the one month I was actually consistent with going to Sphere to talk about Disappointment with God, led by Jeanne and Tiffany (little did I know where these friendships would lead...) I'm starting to actually see people, and not just let them float around me in a blur. I walk away from these discussions refreshed, challenged, intrigued.
-FMF festival: blue men, bright lights, confetti, and an ease into the routine of set-up. Later that week, an early night cut short led to Cheyenne Saloon and Ceviche.
-the last show with The OaKs, though I did not know it then at the WMNF Tropical Heatwave show. Think SXSW, except the audience is mostly hippies.

-OneRepublic concert--I think I can trace the true beginnings of my hanging out with Jeanne, Tiff, Les and Su to this evening. Piano keys pounding, cello sighing and crazy awesome subwoofers. Music owns the night.
-Ingrid Michaelson concert--I got to sing onstage with her for two songs. I will never forget that. This evening was exuberant and legendary, but only in my own mind.
-An evening where everything fell into place: a rodeo where we learned about the extent of animal cruelty and that nobody really dresses up for rodeos, coloring in the kids' menu can bring hours of entertainment at Bennigans, and hanging out with friends can be fun even though the movie is super lame.

-Trip to New York City to hang with Paige and Jenny on July Fourth weekend. I remember Jelly Beans, endless shelves of books at the Strand, rooftop fireworks in the rain, taking shelter under a crowd of umbrellas, flying through the air and hanging out on rocks in the middle of Central Park, drinking coke and amarettos in some supposedly trendy club that played lame music. Endless photos, wandering and laughing.
-sitting in Books a Million with Becca and poring over an Atlantic Monthly article and having our minds blown. We sat in the parking lot, contemplating mystery and feeling suddenly very small. I can always count on that girl for amazing conversation.
-a inexplicably memorable day at the beach. sun and sand and waves and foam and strawberries and baby sharks. a day remarkably beautiful in its simplicity.
-a Black and White party of mayhem, strangely potent green liquid, dancing, red boots and bonding with Leslie through laughter.

-another random party. Laughter and absurdities and recorded voicemails on the back porch. My Filipino Freestyle was born, my purse was stolen, the ground was wet and the couch somehow managed to survive it all. Even to this day.
-A wedding. I reconnected with an old friend and found that I missed him much more than I imagined I did.
-trip to DeLeon springs: sun, canoes (I remember it felt strangely like being in an episode of LOST), pancakes that were worth the two-hour wait, plus the most amazing bacon ever. I still remember lying beneath the sun and trees and thinking I wish I could bottle up moments like that forever.
-Meteor shower in the open field near our house. Oscar helped me acquire this fire pit, which turned out to be the best investment I made this year (apart from my Macbook), as it has proved to be the central focal point for many a social gathering this year. New friends and old friends bonded over s'mores and iPhones, mixing and blending on blue tarps and blankets. I saw beautiful lights flash brilliantly across the sky all night long.
-Tiff's birthday, despite horrid Tropical Storm Fay; Happy Hour at Friday's, B.B. Kings and Cowboys and Wall Street Plaza. We had a fake bridal shower wedding, and then flipped quarters and ate hash browns at Waffle House until almost 4a.m.
-D.C. with Jeanne: I ate the best filet mignon of my LIFE, wandered capitol hill and stayed in an amazing old Colonial-era house with tons of character. I loved the wandering, the exploring, [the eating:)] and the conversations.

-evenings of book discussions over C.S. Lewis.
-lots of running by misty, orange and pink sunrises, endless political debating
-crazy trying to cram 5 people into a photobooth at Bar-B-Q; playing Rock Band live to Journey
-I believe this is when Jeanne and I bought our ticket to Sydney. Though I may have gotten the date confused? Regardless, I discovered someone who was just as restless and keen on leaving and having an adventure. The rest is history. (Or at least, a history that is still being written...)
-trip to St. Pete for beach and Salvador Dali

-I wrote Slide. Starting to find the secrets of writing decent hooks. But only just.
-The Mel version of Hiphopapotamous was born after Midnight Mass. Also, I got caught in a rainstorm while running this weekend. "Primal connectedness to nature."
-The first 80s night at Backbooth for Walt's birthday. As Jeanne so eloquently put it: "I saw flashes of fluorescent lights, people shaking it, and pearls. There were silly boys and funny old men. The next thing I saw was a photobooth strip, memories in a memory. Birthdays are best celebrated like this."
-the Longest Best Day ever: Muse Theology with Chuck deGroat, volunteering with Praxis kids at Give Kids the World, and then dancing the night away for Jahred's going away party.
-Aquatica--blissful day in the sun and water with beautiful friends.
-Halloween Party--chaotic, haphazard evening of fire, dancing moose, alter egos, Clue Characters, ukeleles, guitars and blue tarps
-Food and Wine Festival-
-Seattle- my first trip to the West Coast/Pacific Northwest. An evening of skee ball, hash browns, paper telephone, and almost making it to the club in Portland with the 80s dancing on a trampoline floor. A beautiful dream that may yet come to pass.

-Election Night--another evening of fire (sort of an ongoing theme of 2008), marshmallows and video blogging.
-Finally running the 10K! I felt exhilarated, learning I could run and talk at the same time (thanks, Dana) and my body felt like rejecting all junk food forever. For all of 30 minutes. This feeling was shortly followed up by a glorious chocolate chip waffle.
-Disney at the Swan and Dolphin with the girls. Escape from reality. This is where Texas de Brazil daring was officially born.
-New York City--a whirlwind blur of the Statue of Liberty, the Financial District, finally seeing Chicago on Broadway, and scoping out Justin Timberlake's restaurant. Conversations on planes, in parks and on city streets.

BK's birthday brought a memorable evening of Mongolian BBQ and conversation with my three favorite ENTJs (well Sonny MAY be an ENFJ).

A Cuban-Filipino Christmas with the family: amazing Cuban food, an evening of Scrabble, exchanging gifts. I forgot how much this quality time with family is necessary and central to my life.

I finally finished The Brothers Karamazov, a goal several years in the making (unfortunately).

Stardust gig/night of IHOP: probably December's most memorable evening so far (still banking on tonight;). And for this reason:

I'm realizing more and more how beautiful the people and relationships around me are. They're difficult, but rewarding, if I take the time to take off my blinders, my comfort level and actually engage with people and pour into them and just take the time to notice and be invested and be involved... well, it's not even about a reward. It's just LIFE.

I've never regretted a single spontaneous late night, initiating a necessary [or just enjoyable] conversation, spending time with any one person, taking a random trip somewhere new and exciting. Ironic, since I am going to an "I Hate '08" party tonight, because I truly did not hate 2008. It's been a remarkable year of new friendships, renewed friendships, discovering (or re-discovering) community, putting into practice all the hard lessons of 2007, learning to be vulnerable, remembering to give, to write, pray, to surrender, to create, to be still, to make time, to be completely present where I am, yet to plan and to dream. I'm not perfect and don't claim to be--I cringe at the flaws but celebrate the growth. This year has been probably one of the most enjoyable and remarkable years of my life.

Part of me is bracing for the storm, because I know that this only a season, maybe even an aberration, but for now, the main theme in my heart is [unceasingly] gratitude.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Stardust Gig/IHOP Video Blogging

I played an acoustic show this past Saturday night at Stardust Video and Coffee near Baldwin Park. My friend Chase Patterson (of the one-man band named Solaseria) invited me to come open up for him. I've seen him perform there before and I remember liked the venue, I've been jonesin' to play a show lately and try out some of my new songs, so of course the decision to say "yes" was basically a no-brainer.

Since I am the anti-stereotypical band member, I of course showed up to the venue early and had an hour to kill, so I ordered some food. They have a mad awesome chicken pesto sandwich which I devoured.

The main thing I was excited about was my new friend Kirk joined me for my set. He sings, plays acoustic guitar and violin. I always prefer to surround myself with other musicians when performing. Even when Syd and I used to play out, we always preferred playing with Dav (on drums) and Lauren (on violin) and occasionally the great Kris Karlsson when he could grace us with his amazing guitar skills. Also playing with The OaKs a lot has made me appreciate even more the chemistry and creativity of collaborating with other musicians.

I was super sad because I lost my favorite guitar pick that night. During sound check, it slipped from its place wedged between the guitar strings and fell into the abyss also known as the cracks between the stage. What are the odds? I was bummed because it was a guitar pick I got at SXSW this past year. And it said SXSW '08 on it. Ah well.

The stage was a little crazy. Jeanne said it looked like I was singing inside a bleeding heart. You decide.

Overall, I was happy with how the show went, and even more happy with how many people came out to see the show. I really want to try and release an album before I leave for Australia, even if it's a short 5 or 6 song ep. On top of the other ten thousand things I need to get done over the next couple of months.

I did make another infamous video blog, which I will post below. I've decided I'm going to start posting the video blogs here as well. Anyway, this latest one involves me and seven of my friends (Walter, Jeanne, Brian, Sonny, Alecia, Les and my sis) and late night escapades at an IHOP somewhere in Orlando.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Why I'm Going to Australia. And other Randoms.

I suppose now that I've formally submitted my intention to quit my job, I can now officially blog about the beginnings of this newest adventure of mine.

Yes, the rumors are true. My dear friend Jeanne and I are temporarily moving to Australia as of March 2009. We booked one-way tickets from L.A. to Sydney (by way of Fiji).

A lot of people have been been asking us why we're doing this. Particularly my mom, who just about passed out when I informed her of my decision.

Why am I going? Valid question. If I were you, I'd want to know, too. In my initial attempt to genuinely engage each person I talk to, I've inadvertently and unfortunately come up with a lot of stock answers for this question. You'd be surprised how few people actually ask "Why?" Maybe the coolness factor of Australia precludes any further questioning. As if I need a REASON to travel to Australia and New Zealand, right?;)

But in the off-chance that someone DOES ask and pushes me beyond my usually "Just to travel and see the world" answer, I usually just say joke around and say something along the lines of "Because we can" or "We have an opportunity to" or "We're young, single and unattached" or "I just want an adventure."

There is truth to every single one of these answers. Yet none of these replies seem to fully encompass my true motivation.

Especially amid a struggling economy, and in light of the fact that both of Jeanne's and my job recently gave us major raises and increased responsibility even in the past month, this flight of fantasy around the world probably seems a bit irresponsible. Maybe even ungrateful, at least in light of the financial blessing in a tight economy that God provides through our jobs. And Jeanne and I have both wrestled with the ramifications of that reality recently.

I'll admit, life has shifted around a lot for me over the past five or six months in unexpected ways, since the suggestion of Australia was planted in my brain. A year ago, you would have found me unequivocally longing to ditch Orlando. If it weren't for my band The OaKs and the distinct possibility of a achieving musical success for a time, I admit I probably would have left a long time ago. I was considering seminary, working harder on music, heading north or west or someplace different. 2007, as many of you know, was not the greatest year in my life. And with few personal attachments to Orlando (other than my family and a couple of friends), about a year ago, I was poised to leave for anywhere.

I suppose I've become a bit of a nomad over the years. I tend to become close with people really easily and quickly, mostly because I've adapted to the transience of life. I've had to say good-bye to far too many good friends, likely with the possibility of never seeing them again. And although my introverted self used to want to just shut down and become an independent floater/loner (so much easier that way), I've inexplicably found myself drawn into relationships with certain individuals and groups. And I constantly sense God inviting me into meaningful relationships, with no agenda and or timetable or crazy expectations on my part. Just a freedom to step into communities and relationships and see what develops from there. To learn from other people who see things differently than I do. To completely be where I am. And that sort of journey has been what's defined my relationships with people over the past year, whether through FCC, Southside, work, Status and other spheres within my life.

For someone who is constantly scanning the horizon, this slowing down and living in a state of being and being completely present in the moment has been a HUGE step in personal growth for me. The city that I had been itching to leave for so long has become a city that I love, and one that holds a lot of good memories for me.

Somewhere along the line, this plan to go to Australia coalesced along the way, and I found someone else who is probably as nomadic as me to share the journey with. But I've discovered that over the past 5 or 6 months, my motivations for wanting to travel have changed. And over the past few months, the reality of what it would mean to leave family and friends behind and step into an unknown began to hit me. God has stripped away a lot of my selfish notions and attitude of self-involvement. I even contemplated (and wrestled considerably through much fasting and prayer) if I was to even still go through with this trip.

While my initial reason for wanting to go was merely "wanting to escape," this motivation eventually transformed (and is still transforming) into a desire for inviting in a change of pace, change in comfort, a challenging adventure and a season for reflection, or to be incredibly cliche, a time of soul-searching. I love experimenting, pushing the limits of who I am and seeing how much I can grow within any given context.

I'm not expecting to hear from God any better over in Australia than over here in Florida. That is not the point of this. I am beginning to believe and embrace more and more that God calls us to be exactly where we are. Right now, that's here. And I'm digging in. A few months from now, it'll be the open road Down Under. So I'll dig in there as well.

But this is what I am most anticipating in Australia: stripping life of the routine and predictability and seeing how God speaks into that. Fully expecting Him to, just as He has here in Orlando.

I'm expecting this trip to be exciting, yes, but also incredibly difficult. For the first couple of months anyway, Jeanne and I will be roaming the continent and are not going to have any sort of consistent community. We are fully aware of the issues tied to that and so for those of you who love and know us well, we definitely want to be soliciting your prayers over the next few months here.

We both intend to read and write and create along the way. (I either need to bring a guitar or find one in a pawn shop over in Australia, or else I'm gonna go nuts). The tentative plan is to eventually settle down in the Gold Coast (south of Brisbane) temporarily and find jobs and get connected to a community there. And after that, we've dreamt of everything from London and Tanzania to Italy and South America.

But plans, as you well know, are always up for revision.

I fully realize that it would be the ultimate touch of irony (and humility) if I were to somehow end up back in Orlando after only a few months. And given the community and friends I've been blessed with over the past year, that would actually be an amazing, wonderful thing.

So if that's what's in store, I'll invite that possibility--and a thousand others--with open arms.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Two of My Favorites

Sara Bareilles (on the keys) and Ingrid Michaelson (on the uke) singing "Winter Song" together. The first video is the songwriting/recording process behind the song. The second is their recent performance on Jay Leno, also with Mai Bloomfield from Raining Jane on cello.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Making Sense of Twilight Nonsense

My dear friend Jeanne already posted an excellent, thought-provoking blog about Twilight, the book and movie series that has dominated my time as of late. I have never had my opinion of something shift so dramatically in such a short amount of time. I went from literally being in love with Edward Cullen on Tuesday night to being completely disgusted with the entire series on this past Wednesday morning.

Reluctantly, I went with my friend Leslie and my sister to go see the movie Twilight over Thanksgiving break. I literally knew nothing about the series, only that it was some teen fantasy movie about a high school girl falling in love with a vampire. I had heard nothing but rave reviews about the series, even from women my own age whom I respect intellectually and spiritually. Still, I was skeptical because it seemed to be so trendy. Not to mention cheesy. I watched the movie with my arms crossed, fully expecting to hate it.

I was surprised at how much I got caught up in the story, and despite a cheesy line here or there, I found myself actually liking the protagonist Bella--she seemed to take cheesy dialogue and at least breathe some life into them--and I fell head over heels in love with Edward Cullen, the vampire. I walked out of that movie, strangely surprised at how much I enjoyed the film.

Leslie bought the first book of the series and began reading, although I initially had no interest in reading it. A few of us got free AMC movie tickets, so we decided to use them on a second Twilight showing, since Jeanne hadn't seen it. I discovered that I liked the movie even more the second time and actually wanted to read the books now. So I began to read Book 1.

I have to say the book itself is far more seductive than the movie. In the film, I admired Edward because he became so protective of Bella. The book explores their connection a lot more and you begin to realize that Edward's sole concern is protecting Bella and being with her and finding out what's on her mind. There's something so incredibly alluring in that kind of single-minded devotion and this (plus the fact that he's perfect physically, wealthy and drives fast cars) that millions of teen girls, 20somethings and middle-aged moms are totally obsessed with the series.

The second book is honestly what dramatically changed my opinion of the series. I didn't find it to be that interesting or compelling, at least from a written and technical standpoint. The last 200 pages are exciting plot-wise, but the reappearance of Edward which I had been anticipating the entire book almost seemed anticlimactic. Mostly because I began to realize how unhealthy the relationship between Bella and Edward really is.

And this is the danger, I think, in these books. They portray Bella and Edward's relationship as ideal, and it FEELS ideal if you allow yourself to be emotionally caught up in it. However, the obsessive, all-consuming, jealous relationship, not to mention poor communication (Bella and Edward could've seriously avoided this whole drama of Book One if they had just communicated clearly:P) IS unhealthy, despite its initial appeal.

One article phrased the series' appeal quite well:

"She [Bella] is purposely made as featureless and ordinary as possible in order to render her a vacant, flexible skin into which the reader can insert herself and thereby vicariously enjoy Edward's chilly charms."

Jeanne recently joked that she knew the best way to make a million dollars: Create a bland, female protagonist and then create an impossibly perfect man so that all women can live vicariously through aforementioned female protag. That's basically what these romance novels are.

I probably could do that, although I feel as though I would lose my soul in the process.

My friends Dan and Serenity have created a wonderful, humorous little website called Stuff That's Better Than Twilight. It has a few more article links posted on there for more insight as to why this series--while entertaining and good for a little romantic escapism--can also be incredibly damaging and give distorted views on what real love is like.

I think this series--and other romantic books and chick flicks that are similar--are truly emotional porn. They do for women exactly what pornography does for men: setting up unrealistic expectations and ideas about love.

I love how Jeanne stated it in her blog:

It really IS porn for women. It sells the lie that this is what love really is, when it's in no way representative of LOVE. The gaudy replica of the truth. It always sells SO well, and we sometimes forget the why: It plays so well on our heartstrings that can be tuned only to Christ.

To readers of the series, particularly women (because I honestly can't imagine a guy willingly reading these books anyway): Please, PLEASE. If you read these books, read them with discernment and full awareness that the deep longing in your soul can only be fulfilled by God and Him alone.

And so ends my roller-coaster emotional Twilight saga.

And yes, I'm going back to Karamazov:D

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Breakdancing Elves

Friday night, I attended the Singing Christmas Tree spectacular event at First Baptist Orlando on Friday night, as part of a Christmas outing for work. The sheer size of First Baptist always overwhelms me whenever I walk inside its doors. I'd gone there for various events and concerts over the years, the most recent being the Hillsong Conference a year ago when they came to Orlando.

The title of the program (Singing Christmas Tree? Really?) already had me skeptical of this presentation. But when the Ryan Seacrest lookalike who doubled for the emcee took the stage and start belting out the "Imagination" song from Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, I felt my cynical bone already starting to throb. Then came the two dozen full-grown Raggedy Anns barreling down the balcony steps, spilling onto the church floor in a sort of garish, manic parade. That didn't help any. They were quickly joined by an army of dancing bears, ballerinas, cowboys (think Woody from Toy Story) and toy soldiers that marched stiffly (but in tempo).

Did I mention the breakdancing elves?

Okay, so they weren't break-dancing. But they definitely recalled late '90s boy band moves. (Actually, that part was pretty entertaining I will admit).

I think the whole event was meant to elicit a sense of wonder and imagination, and it did.

I wondered who had imagined this fiasco up.

When I heard Ryan Seacrest-Look-Alike croon a melancholy tune that wrestled with the question, "If Christmas never came," that was the last straw. Mostly because the answer was "There'd be no candy canes to lick." And I am not even joking.

Inevitably, a blog entry began to form in my mind. Full of ranting and raving.

But since I've had a week to process and moderate, I realized that I could poke fun at something I personally found disconcerting, but there was a separate issue at work.

First, I can't fault the technical excellence and execution. Especially from a musician's standpoint. The choreography was good, the 40-piece orchestra was top notch, the solo violinist was stellar, the singing was incredible. Also, the second half turned more traditional with interesting choral and orchestral arrangements of well-worn but beloved Christmas tunes. THAT lifted the evening off the ground for me. And by the end, the presentation really seemed to have found its soul. The final numbers were actually quite moving in its portrayal of a more global acknowledgment of Christ's birth, rather than the American version of the holiday.

But I think the reason I reacted so strongly against the program (or at least the first half of it... and it really DID improve with the second half) was how it so readily appropriate Western assumptions about Christmas. This extremely seeker-sensitive program assumed that the audience assumes that the holiday is primarily about presents and candy and decorations.

It's as if they're using American Christmas culture to "sell" Jesus, using fluff and candy canes as the selling point. I get frustrated when churches use programs and spinning wheels and pizzazz to market Jesus, as if He needed an extra push. As if His very existence and presence on earth weren't compelling enough.

The gravity of Christmas is sometimes lost on us. And I certainly put myself first in line among the apathetic. The One who spins universes in His hand and breathes star fire confined Himself to the weak, helpless frail frame of mortal humanity.

And we get excited about hanging garlands.

It's frustrating.

The story of Jesus and Joseph and Mary has been retold so many times onstage and onscreen, that the weight of the moment sometimes so harmless and serene. It all seems so innocuous, doesn't it? The cooing doves, the cows standing over the baby Jesus like silent sentinels, the star above the stable. A silent night.

But as the Nativity scene played out onstage Friday night, for some reason, a radically different image began to form in my mind and imagination. I remembered Revelation 11, in which a dragon chases a woman bearing a child across the wilderness, relentlessly hunting him down, while an angelic army, led by Michael battles it out for the souls of the earth. Although there are differing interpretations on what Revelation 11 actually means, one theory is that THIS is the true Christmas story playing out in the supernatural realm. An epic battle for the destiny of mankind was being fought that night.

I know this blog entry makes me seem like the Grinch--and I tend not to get caught up in the "holiday spirit" until a couple weeks into December (unlike my sister who starts busting out Christmas music in September). So I'm about due to start getting into the swing of things. I probably should start decorating;)

Seriously though, if anything, the evening made me appreciate even more the extreme depth and gravity that the meaning of Christmas encompasses.

So I guess I can thank the breakdancing elves for that;)

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

The World Forgetting, by the World Forgot

Thanks to Jeanne (and by default, Cole), I have been listening to WNYC's Radiolab podcasts lately. So far, I've listened to the ones called "Choice," "Emergence," and "Memory and Forgetting." You should really check out the podcasts. They're about an hour long, so save it for the commute or something;) I'm not going to get into it completely but here's a quick recap:

"Choice"--through the exploration of several interesting scientific experiments--explores how the brain makes decisions, almost always influenced by external factors. The conclusion? "The notion of a conscious will is an illusion." I had some issues with this one, because I believed the experiments focused on solely sensory/empirically-based decisions, not ones in matters of relationships, politics or religion. But still an interesting one worth checking out.

"Emergence" explored the concept of spontaneous order, first focusing on an ant colony, of how complex order springs from a conglomeration of mindless, brainless insects, and then how different personalities of cities and local neighborhoods develop.

To me, the "Memory and Forgetting" podcast has proved the most interesting by far. They explore a series of memory experiments performed on rats. One of the scientists discovered that by introducing a drug at a specific moment when a memory is being created, that you can actually ERASE it. Even more intriguing is that AFTER the memory is being created, when the subject attempt to recall that memory, introduction of the drug at that specific moment of "memory creation" actually ERASES the memory pattern entirely.


One of my favorite films of all time is Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, a film built on the fictional premise that there is a medical clinic where you could go to in order to have memories--likely painful, hurtful ones--completely erased. However, I had always dismissed the idea of actually erasing specific memories as complete science fiction.

What the podcast revealed is that this movie was released two years after this scientist published his findings, that it is actually possible to erase a specific memory after it has been created. At one point, one of the podcasters says "An act of remembering is an act of creation," meaning, that there is no secret vault or brain RAM locked away inside of ourselves that hold a "true memory" of reality. Everytime we remember an event in the past, our brains are actually re-creating the memory, so that what we "remember" will never be completely accurate. And the specific drug inhibits this memory-creating process for that specific event, if the memory is tied to a specific impression or trigger. So the memory is essentially "erased," even though that terminology is slightly inaccurate.

The podcast also explores planting false memories (scary stuff) and included examples from law school of how faulty eyewitnesses can be.

Jodie and I tried to plant a false memory in Oscar last night. Didn't work.

The podcast concludes with a unique case of amnesia. Interesting story which, again, you can should check out when you've got the time...

Jeanne asked me if I would ever want to have painful memories erased, and what kind of person I think I would be if I were walking around with only happy memories. I've actually thought of this before because of the Eternal Sunshine movie, but I've always concluded that I would want all my memories intact, the lovely and the painful. Anything less would be a half-life.

Maybe that's simple, maybe that's naive, but eradicating any memory of suffering--in my opinion--would diminish the importance of joy. My pain and suffering--as minimal as it may be compared to others--in addition to the happy memories has made me into the person I am. Memories may be hard and painful but they belong to me.

Not to mention, there's something within me that rebels against that concept because throughout history, God has always emphasized the art of remembering. He commanded altars of remembrance everywhere along the 40-year trail of wandering among the Israelites. His prophets lamented how Israel had forgotten where they came from and who they are. Christ--breaking bread and pouring out wine said--"Do this in remembrance of Me." Christ, whose sole purpose in coming to earth was to redeem through suffering, some of His last words were essentially: "Remember...The good AND the bad."

There's a pattern of redemptive suffering in Christ's life that I'm still trying to work out the implications for in my own life.

And I need my memory in order to do that.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Dexter again

So I know I am going a tad blog-happy today. BUT. I had some more thoughts regarding Dexter that I did not comprehensively explore in my previous blog. I mentioned in a previous blog entry how the Seasons 1-3 compare:

Season 1 focused on Dexter the Monster and how he came to be. Season 2 focused on Dexter--still a Monster--but struggling for survival and learning to deal with the Dark Passenger. Season 3 has focused primarily on the corruption of the system, and how that begins in the monsters in the people around him, most obviously Miguel Prado. This season, more than any other season, I believe, has raised serious ethical questions on justification of murder, motive of the murderer and how the cause of justice becomes twisted to serve the Monster's own inner appetites.

The central themes of each of the two previous seasons culminated with the "Dexteration" of one of the characters that brought these themes to a head. In Season 1, Brian a.k.a. "Icey" serves as a foil to Dexter's Monster or Dark Passenger. We have the classic example of unrestrained freedom vs. freedom with restraint, the battle between the code of Harry and the codeless Icey. The tension between these two codes is battled out in Dexter, who ultimately chooses the Code of Harry over his own brother. And so, he kills Icey in the final act.

In Season 2, Dexter struggles to evade the law and simultaneously deals with his own frailty (evading capture) and humanity (evading his Dark Passenger). He considers abandoning his "code" altogether, and experiments with an "addiction-free life." This plot is moved further along with the introduction of Lila a.k.a. Pyro. However, Pyro turns out to be just as addicted as Dexter, and quite unable to manage Dexter's Dark Passenger, let alone her own, Pyro sets herself up to be the perfect candidate for Dexter's code. Solution: Dexteration. By syringe. In Paris.

Season 3, Dexter breaks new ground by not limiting himself to the code. In fact, he fights Harry all the while, who no longer appears in flashbacks, but in re-imagined conversations in Dex's head.

In Dexter, a clear pattern is emerging: The Code of Harry, which has ensured Dexter's survival is continually challenged, a plot which is brought to a head by the inclusion of an external character: Icey, Pyro and now Miguel. In the first season, Icey challenges the Code. In the second season, Dexter tries life without the Dark Passenger AND the subsequently the code for awhile, to no avail. In the third season, Dexter himself challenges the code, abandoning it and pushing the limits, which escalates with the character of Miguel Prado.

The central questions and intrigue to the remaining two episodes of Dexter Season 3 seem to be:

1) What effect will Miguel Prado ultimately have on Dexter's perception of Harry and the code? Dex touched on this briefly in the past episode. He seemed to recognize Harry's wisdom all along.

2) What kind of end will Miguel Prado meet, as we know he must inevitably? Will he fall victim to Dexter's knife just as Lila and Brian did? Or will he see justice served unto himself in a court of law?

3) Now that it seems that Dexter accepts the wisdom and value of the code, despite Harry's flawed parenting, what will that mean for Season 4 of Dexter?

4) I am still waiting for Debra or Rita (more Deb, than Rita, because I do not believe Rita could not handle the truth at this point) to discover Dexter's true identity. I cannot believe that the writers would have that much potential stored up for a revelation and not ever use it. This too, would affect Dexter's use of the code, although I'm not sure how. Harry obviously withheld the truth from Debra for his own reasons; however, would would the Jiminy Cricket Harry of Dexter's imagination say to him if Deb was in on the secret too? How would that affect Dex's code. Would it affect Dex's code?

5) Even though I am still wondering how the plot is going to resolve itself (i.e. how does Dex get away from the Skinner (I'm guessing Dex kills the Skinner and the law gets Miguel), how Miguel gets caught, what are all these loose plot ends that may need to be tied), I think I am most intrigued by how the events of Season 3 will shape Dexter's code, his perception of Harry, and how exactly Miguel meets his death.

Visualizing the Bible

Props to my band buddy Greg for posting this link. It's called "Visualizing the Bible" and National Geographic named this as one of the best science images of the year. The bar graph running across the bottom represents the 66 books of the Bible according to number of chapters. The lines extending back and forth represent the cross references in Scripture, demonstrating the "intertextuality" of Scripture, or "the shaping of text’s meanings by other texts." It's amazing how visually stunning this looks. Check it. And also check Greg's blog while you're at it;)

Dexter, Status, etc.

1) So I fixed Google Analytics on my blogger page this week. What can I say, I like to stalk you people who stalk my blog and don't leave comments;) I think the new layout helped with the HTML code problem I was having. So I hope you enjoy the new layout (I will continue to tweak it I think, although I'm sad to say goodbye to Oscar's Happy Yeti in a Cave). And hopefully this will motivate me to be a more faithful blogger. Sometimes it's easy to get discouraged in blogging when I don't think people are really reading. Comments and Google Analytics keeps me motivated to more consistently blog, so here's to more of that...:)

2) Status was muy interesante tonight. Kate spoke this week--the one who's been basically coercing me into/keeping me accountable for finishing The Brothers Karamazov;) She spoke on issues I have definitely not heard from a pulpit or a stage auditorium or even a rebellious emerging church book before. Probably the only forum I've heard dare broach this topic is an occasional facebook note from one of my peers.

Basically, Kate took the opportunity to re-imagine the monologue that led to the martyrdom of Stephen, as chronicled in Acts 6 and 7. Stephen speaks the history of the Israelite nation back to the Jews, a tale well-worn but perhaps gone stale from dry, rote recitation and familiarity. She boldly re-imagined the conversation for American Christians in the 21st century, challenging us to consider what cultural blinders we have on today that prevent us from truly having our "faith expressed in love." The topics were not easy and I do not envy her in bringing forth that conversation in so public an arena. Yet, these things must be discussed: the stigma attached to gay marriage and abortion within conservative evangelical circles.

In the recent election, Florida voters recently voted to recognize marriage as a legal union between a man and a woman, upholding a "traditional" view of marriage. Politics is a strange animal, because the passionate opinions and often intensely personal ideals fueling the political machine completely eradicate any relational element from the process. In confirming Amendment Two, Floridian voters had the luxury of imposing morality on a certain demographic without any relationship occurring. This is something I have been pondering ever since I listened to Cole's oof podcast on Libertarianism and Socialism. He pointed out that the reason socialism doesn't work is that it takes a very benevolent, altruistic concept--redistributing wealth among the poor--almost mirroring the Christian ideals --and divorces it from the relational element, the very thing Christ came--as a Man no less--to restore. Socialism quite closely approaches the nature of the kingdom of God, then completely abandons it by the lack of freedom and free will attached to it.

In the same way, this recent amendment that was passed was based on a good intention to endorse a concept that does approach the kingdom of God--reconciling a lifestyle with an ideal--but in legislating this concept, it completely alienates the one against whom the law was intended. All within a non-relational context. By eliminating relationship from the process, the motivation propelling the amendment nullifies the very thing it set out to restore--a relationship.

It's one thing to check off a morality police box. It's quite a different thing to have a loving relationship with someone within that lifestyle.

Ever since I read Philip Yancey's The Jesus I Never Knew, I have been wrestling with the concept of what Jesus truly dealt with when He was tempted in the desert: He rejected the temptation to fall back on His divinity as a means to escape suffering. That in itself is a concept that could take years for one soul to truly work through. But Jesus also rejected political power, an idea which the American church at large MUST deal with, if we are truly going to follow Christ and be His bride, the way the early church in Acts was. They rescued babies from the rocks; they didn't hold picket signs outside the temple of Artemis. They fed and clothed the sick; they didn't walk by and say "That's terrible" and then sit back in apathy. Neither blind apathy nor intolerant legalism have no place within the kingdom of God.

These are ideas I continue to wrestle with, because they intersect with decisions I make about how I align my life with the kingdom of Christ.... Needless to say, I am glad Kate brought up these issues. I really appreciate how it wasn't necessarily this mind-blowing conversation, but a real, engaging, thoughtful opportunity to deal with some hard truths about the church and ourselves, while leaving room for the Spirit to move an act out in our conversations and processing. It's easy to talk theology about how things ought to be. It's a very different concept to live out a life and make decisions based on truth that's been internalized in this manner...

3) Dexter commentary: Only 2 episodes left! I probably have much more to say on this past episode, but I WILL throw this one conjecture out there. Up until tonight, I had fully assumed Dexter would, as I like to say "Dexter" Miguel, or finish him off with the usual rubber gloves, apron, plastically decked out venue with a blade of his choice. This, after all, is the typical fashion in which the writers have brilliantly chosen to dispose of the two characters thus far who have been able to see and embrace Dexter as he is.

But now I'm seriously wondering how poetic it would be if Miguel were sentenced by the flawed legal system he had come to despise, if that corrupt legal machine were actually to get the better of him and for once, administer justice to the one who so clearly invites and taunts it. A huge part of me is hoping that LaGuerta figures out Miguel is the murderer and nails him fair and square, the old-fashioned way with indisputable evidence in a court of law. This would be the perfect end for a man who used justice as a platform for his own base, sinister desires.