Jan 27, 2018

Take It & Fake It: thoughts on some Christian art.


23 Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, 24 knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward.  You are serving the Lord Christ.  -Col. 3:23

Jesus is Lord over all the spheres of life, right?  

Do you agree?  Or is he confined to the church, and outside of those doors, He is powerless?  I doubt that you think that way, but maybe you unwittingly operate as if it's true.  Maybe WE unwittingly operate that way.

Well, if He's Lord of all the areas of life, then whatever it is we do, we should do it for God so as to be a proper witness to what being a Christian is about. God didn't create in a substandard way, and neither should we.

If you are a plumber, you should be the most honest, fair-charging plumber in town, known for quality work that is worth what you charge. If you clean toilets, you should be known for being willing to humble yourself without complaint, as Jesus did when He washed the disciples' feet.

We all agree with that, don't we?  When we read verses like the one that starts this article, we all understand that God calls us to excellence?

Then, I ask you, why do Christian artists not understand this?  Why is the Christian sub-culture so accepting of blatantly secondhand ideas?

Here are a few to show you what I mean.  Consider this my Wall of Shame for Christian artists.  And lest you try to tar & feather me, consider this  page of my website.  Maybe not the best piece of writing ever, but it wasn't someone else's idea (though I freely admit I got the bicycle wheel metaphor from a speaker at GCTS chapel, but let's be honest, I think we can agree that I likely know more about the bicycle wheel than they did. I think they might've spoken of straightening a tire...) 

(a note before I begin: though I believe what I'm writing here, I have no interest in disparaging these writers/musicians. I'm sure they worked very hard on what they put out and don't need me sniping from the sidelines---but I don't think that makes my observations less valid. Iron sharpens iron.)

"Sontreasure Island"
This VBS may be a wonderful experience for kids. I'm sure its creators wish the best for our children. I don't know.  What I do know for sure is that when I see its box looking like a blatant rip-off of Gilligan's Island, I want to call the people who made the TV series and tell them to call a lawyer.  Has this show somehow entered Public Domain without my realizing it?

My So Called Life as a Proverbs 31 Wife
I took a quick look at this book, and it looks clever- if it wasn't a double rip off.  First of all, the title makes me want to call Claire Daines (that's her in the famous ABC show that the title was taken from) and the concept itself comes from A.J. Jacobs' books- take the Bible literally and see what happens.  So... what part of this book DID Sara Horn come up with?

Then there's the 2013 Yada Yada Prayer Group series. Does this one sound familiar? It should, because the title (maybe the contents too? I haven't read them) is a xerox copy of a NYT best-seller and prize-winning 2004 book (also turned into a feature film) called Divine Secrets of the Ya-ya Sisterhood by Rebecca Wells. (Also, isn't the Yada Yada part from Seinfeld? I mean, he didn't make it up, but isn't that what popularized it?).

 Perhaps you're saying at this point, 'but maybe these authors have never heard of the books/TV Shows to which you refer. " I don't think so, because it's too obvious, but even if they weren't aware, that's what their publishing company is for.

Still, the ripoff is just too blatant to be blamed on that.  Just to show you I'm not playing favorites, here's one from a band that was close to my heart growing up, the Altar Boys.  Great group in a lot of ways, but when I finally heard XTC's "Life Begins At The Hop", it sounded uncomfortably like something I'd grown up with, namely The Altar Boys' "Life Begins At the Cross".  If they had simply credited who they were borrowing from, perhaps it would be ok, but listen to the two, and you'll find out how right I am. That makes me feel like I've been had.  Like I've had a trick played on me as a teen.  That the band was secretly laughing at me and my peers for being too sheltered to know they had taken a song's whole chorus (and title) from a popular "secular" band of the day.

There's a cynical phrase popular in cycling circles to describe how too many bike manufacturers make a product for women:  "Shrink It & Pink It", meaning just make a smaller size and paint it in "girly" colors.  Perhaps in the case of these Christian products the phrase should be "Take It & Fake it" (we have to copy the phrasing of the original, because as Christians we  can't seem to come up with our own ideas).

We steal ideas from 'The World', then rub salt in the wound (we're told in the Bible to be salt and light) by condemning the secular culture rather than crediting them, (since they are  'dirty', and to be looked upon as suspect and unenlightened) We make our own version of someone else's idea, which naturally comes out as second-rate because we aren't striving for any sort of excellence, since those we're marketing to don't demand better, and because that which is better is held to be "worldly", "fleshly", and "carnal".

'We don't need to worship the recording process and the tricks of the trade, we just record it the same old way and pray that Jesus annoints it.' Sure, I'm all for praying over what you've created, But do you see what a lazy copout that is? That, and all it represents?

We don't need to

  • learn new instrumental techniques, or use new sounds
  • pursue new directions or ideas in preaching or liturgy
  • struggle to come up with a unique plotline or structure for novels---or even put ourselves into them at all.
Or so they'd like you to believe. I don't.

Nor do I think that zippy guitars and flashy graphics will have any major effect in getting people to attend church. I think that when a person is ready, they'll be there whatever the service is like.
"When the student is ready, the teacher appears".

BUT, that doesn't mean we just sit around in a dirty old sanctuary doing the same old service again and again, because spiritually hungry people aren't convinced by the trappings. I'm not even talking about the trappings. I'm saying if we truly believe in God, and believe that he created us and sunsets and the green of trees in the spring and tulips and ocean waves, then surely we should be inspired to do the very best work we can in imitation of Him?

The End.

Jan 13, 2018

"Aren't You a Little Old for That?": Some thoughts about weight.

It might seem odd that at 45, I found myself in the back room of "Pierced Utopia" to get my ear pierced twice. You're thinking there's a midlife crisis mixed in there somewhere. And you're probably right. But that's not all there is to it.

I wanted for years to be---I should say to show that I was---the kind of person who did things like this. But I didn't, for the same reason  didn't do lots of things- I didn't want to be THAT guy. The jolly overweight Falstaff whose over-exaggerated persona, to me at least, spelled desperation. I know I'm too prideful, I know how judgmental I sound, but nevertheless, we've all known these guys. Life of the party, Hawaiian shirt, everybody loves them, but... deep down they're running away from something.  I don't say this to judge those guys, but to explain how I was afraid that anything I did to stand out would be judged. Things like taking off my shirt at the beach, or choosing neon shoes instead of black. Or a colored shirt instead of... black. I'm fairly bookish and introspective, so these things I wanted to do were pretty modest. But the point is, on some level I wanted to draw attention to myself, but didn't because I felt ashamed of who I was physically.

Nobody should feel ashamed of their bodies. I know all the ins and outs of acceptance, and I agree with them in principle, but I'm decribing how I felt about myself. I'm talking about feeling it on every uphill on my bike. I'm talking about feeling the looks that said: "You're a cyclist?  that You think you're ready to RACE? I mean, look at you---you must be new to this." All the while knowing that, no, I'm very much not new to this. I started riding mountain bikes in 1988, thank you very much. Do you know what it's like to not think, but KNOW that you have far more experience, know far more about the sport's history, have ridden with some of its greatest athletes, and in more places than somebody you're talking to, and STILL get that condescending look?

I've lost weight, and that's important. but even more significant in my life is the fact that for at least 20 years, as i helplessly watched my weight go up and up, i never lost the feeling inside that who I saw in the mirror truly wasn't me---and HATED seeing him there. Maybe that was part of the problem. I could see who I am now so vividly that I couldn't see honestly who I was at the time.

Maybe those of you who know me wondered why I entered those races I clearly wasn't prepared for, then seemed confused when they nearly killed me. Or why I continued to spectate at races that only made me feel horrible about myself because I wanted to be one of those athletes so badly--- a part of their cool-kid club--- and each one who rode by reminded me how much I wasn't.

I alternately envied; hated; and idolized those skinny weirdo athletes. 'Man, if by some miracle i ever lose weight, I'm gonna let my freak flag fly.' I thought, but it never happened.

Exhibit A: Travis Brown

...Until it did. I'm not quite there yet. maybe ill never reach my perfect weight. but I've somehow been granted a second chance to be myself as i meant to be- and there's no way I'm gonna waste that.

and THAT is why my ear is pierced. twice. Now, about that mid-life crisis---isn't there supposed to be a Porsche involved or something?

Sep 5, 2017

Big news!

Happy to introduce you to Bindu! You can go straight to my profile page HERE. Please at least click on (but I hope you'll read) my first two itineraries.
And if you have any questions, comments, or suggestions, please let me know, either hear or through the contact details elsewhere on this blog.

Aug 21, 2017

Total Eclipse

"You're not the only one staring at the sun, afraid of what you'll find if you take a look inside... you're not the only one who's happy to go blind"-U2

The country is experiencing the eclipse right now, and I'm just not impressed.

Not by the natural event- I'm sure that's quite stirring. But by the ridiculous news coverage.  If you don't have something to say, then simply don't say it! How many words can you use to say "the moon is covering up the sun for a few minutes".

I just don't get these people who've traveled across the country to see it.  You've scheduled your whole vacation around 2 minutes of darkness?

It almost feels like the USA is discovering nature still exists. I wonder if this will convince anyone to take better care of it?

You know what I would love to see? Clouds of pollution block out the sight for a large group of people. Not because I want to ruin their joy, but because it would make a powerful statement they wouldn't soon forget.

But back to the news coverage- this is what happens when a 24 hour news cycle requires news all the time. Not that this is undeserving, but the media has gotten so used to it, that they'll milk this for all it's worth.

Aug 17, 2017

Stratham Hill Finale

A little tip- if you've just finished a bike race in heat, and are sweating your guts out, you probably shouldn't go directly to the free beer. And if you do, sybe steer clear of the one with the higher alcohol content.

For that matter, you might want to finish- or start- your recovery drink first.

For the final race of the stratham hill series,  my goal was top 10. At this point, I have no idea how I placed. I'm writing this in the car on the way home.

My strategy tonight was a return to the first race. This may seem a little stupid, based on my assessment of that race, but my reasoning was that I couldn't go any faster than I did last week, but I could do my best at the start and not just give up all the positions without even making them pass me. In theory I could start at the back and just go "my pace" and pass anyone slower than me. But psychology and the actual trail play their own parts. This is why when you pass someone you usually never see them again. But it's true in reverse too.

Tonight I tried to resist this and catch the geared rider with the fanny pack who rode the hill I walked.  But I never could. To my credit, I did catch sight of him on the final downhill. But he was just too far ahead.

Tonight was, for most of the race, a ride by myself.

Which is what I like best anyway.

Aug 16, 2017

Summer Series: Three

I've taken too long to write this report.

So this may not be chronologically accurate.

After the race, my wife gave me a bag of Haribo Rasperries. Greatest of candies. God bless you, Kath!
And she drove home.
And mixed my recovery drink.

I had to walk the last couple hills. I simply couldn't climb anymore. It was ridiculous. Makes no sense that a 5 mile race wears me out, while I regularly take rides during the rest of the week over 10 miles, and don't need to walk ANY hills. And oddly, that includes when I came to this very park to just ride, not race.

I know from experience that when you go over that edge, that anaerobic burnout, that time when you grunt up a climb instead of spinning up it, and are gasping for air at the top, you can't just quickly recover, as you might when you're simply tired. One reader responded that this was getting old. Not really. I've always found this to be true.

I believe the speed that happens naturally when you're chased comes from adrenaline. It gets you up the initial hills, in fact the big A lets you push further than you should. But when it runs out, it leaves you in that state that you can't quickly recover from. Kind of the same weary feeling you get when you feel that "fight or flight' moment, whether it's anger, fear, or whatever.

I was chasing a woman in a blue shirt for at least the first half of the loop, and caught up to her again and again- but couldn't pass her. Plus, I knew that if I did, she would then be RIGHT behind me. And as always, I was afraid when I slowed down, that I'd  be passed by everybody behind me. Especially when I had to walk the first (of many) hills. But then I looked back quickly, and realized that the reason they were behind me was that they needed to walk, too.

I also tried running this time, while pushing up a hill. So many people seem to have no problem doing this! I don't know if it's something to do with riding a singlespeed, or if I just wait too long to jump off, but once my feet leave the pedals, I'm walking. And not very fast, at that. Because, bike race. It's not like my legs haven't been busy. They come by the tired honestly.

Passed quite a few people on the wide, flat start. I mean never sure how to deal with that. If I'm ahead, then slow down, have I already beaten the others mentally? Or am I just piling rocks on a branch above my head that will later drop and hit me when I least expect it?

I also used a Camelbak, hoping the dramatic increase in water consumption would make me feel a lot better. Can't say that I noticed a difference, except that it was heavy and made my back sweaty.

And lastly, when you're exhausted from a 5 mile trail race, a gravel downhill that generates the highest speed of the entire course (21 mph) is not very helpful. Some might even call it dangerous!

This Thursday will be the last event of the series, and I'll try to be a little quicker with the report this time. Is love to get top 10, but I'm truly unsure if that's possible.

They say the reason you beat your head against a wall is because it feels so good when you stop.

Time to face the 4th wall.

Aug 4, 2017

Summer Series: Two

I was obsessed all week on what I could do for this second race. Do I care about my placing? Not much. But last place? That stung a little. Especially since it happened not because I got a flat tire, but because I failed at fixing it.

So my plan heading into this was not go too hard, start at the back, and see what happens.

I got in the back row with two boys. We discussed Thrasher magazine, and how to tell the difference between steel and aluminum frames. But then I noticed a big ol' gap in the row in front of me. I had to take that. That's free spots, right? I wasn't sure, but I have enough racing instinct that I couldn't resist that.

The start led immediately into a fairly large climb. It was  gradual at first, at least until the tractionless, steep end. And then the rooty, rocky, singletrack started. I passed a few on the hill, a few more in that final steep section, including one fellow in yellow who immediately passed me back. We'd be pals for a good chunk of the race. 

As that all too short downhill finished, we started Long Hill, which is just like its name suggests, and Yellow let me know I could pass whenever I liked. I thanked him but declined, since I was breathing pretty hard as it was, and I was also enjoying letting him bounce off the rocks so that I could avoid them. Eventually, the trail opened up again, and I passed him. I set my sights on the high school kid in front of me with the squeaky suspension fork.

It was right around this time that the lockring from my (now removed) fixed cog unthreaded itself and began bouncing around on the axle. Perhaps this could've worked to my advantage. My bike may have sounded like it was falling apart (ding-dading-ding!) but I knew there was really nowhere for it to go, nothing to get tangled, so it didn't have much effect on me. 

I passed one of the kids, but I'd never even see the other. I didn't really see yellowman either, but he kept asking how far we'd gone-And I kept telling him I didn't know. Which was true. I knew the tough switchbacked and for me "hike-a-bike" section after the inexplicable USA Today newspaper box (in the woods) was coming soon. That would prove to be my lowest point (as I knew it would be when I first saw it ). Something about getting off and pushing the bike just doesn't work for me. You see some racers jog along happy as can be with their bikes, moving as fast as others who are riding. Not me. I mean to, but it never happens. If I'm off, I'm walking.

Somewhere around here, my left leg started threatening to cramp. It never really did (though it was still threatening even at work today), but I thought I'd better get some of the gatorade/water mix in my bottlle inside my body.

After that USA Today hill, I was ready for the lap to be over. Looking back at the first switchback, I'd seen people behind me, but perhaps they had the same reaction to the hill as me. I think yellow re-passed me here. Not sure. It wasn't a high point for me mentally.

After more hills (though nothing quite so soul-crushing), I finally made it onto the beautifully smooth singletrack that was last week's start. I tried to pedal as hard as I could, but I'm not sure that was very hard. Then I finally saw the Owl Babies storywalk. I love that story anyway, but last night it was even more pleasant. 

I came to the end of the dirt road I was on, and a volunteer kept telling me there was a turn.  Yes, I know, I wanted to say, I can see the 12" bright red arrow.  I've made it this far following nothing but arrows, haven't I? Also, there was no trail. At this point, we went across grass. NBD, but I was looking for a trail that would connect them, you know? I don't want to be accused of cheating and cutting the turn or something. I mumbled something to him about a trail.

When I saw the placard for "They flapped and they danced," I recited it out loud to myself from sheer joy at being almost finished. Also, I love that part. Then finally I saw my wife and daughter, and glanced down at the final book pages: "Why all the fuss? You knew I'd come back . . . " 

I crossed the line, leaned my bike on the nearest post, and headed for the bathroom.  I'd been keeping very hydrated. Afterward, Lucy ran to congratulate me. I was honestly scared she'd knock me down. I think I may have leaned into her just a bit so she'd hold me up. 

From there, everything's a bit of a sweaty blur. There was ice cream at one point. And a recovery drink. And Kathy drove home. Oh, and the girls checked the results, even though I'd planned on just waiting until later.  14th out of 23. 

That'll do, pig.  That'll do.