Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Turning 50

Blogs and social media were not around for me to write anything for Turning 30 but I just re-read Turning 40 from ten years ago... and boy oh boy do I like my life a lot better now!

The 40s were a time of big changes and new experiences.

I could have never guessed that my 40s would put me on stage.  But suddenly, there's the overture, the curtain, the lights, and I am singing.  All in all, I did 17 shows in my 40s. This still amazes me when I think about it.

My 40s saw me switch schools again.  I would have never predicted I would teach in the lower grades... but 2nd was what was available at the school I wanted to be at, so I gave it a shot.  I had originally intended to only do a year or two at that grade.  I was confident something in the higher grades would open up.  I am in year 7 of 2nd grade and everything is just fine.

Ten years ago, I was a parent of young kids... now empty nesting is around the corner for my wife and me.  I could not be prouder of my daughter and son.

My 40-year-old self didn't realize it yet, but time was ticking on my faith.  Over the next few years, the puzzle pieces were going to form a picture that would bring my belief to a close.  Those years were tumultuous but so worth the struggle.

My 40s were a time of new and excellent friendships.  I recently went on a week-long cruise with a bunch of them down to Mexico to celebrate my 50th.  After looking over the pics of our adventure my wife said, "Andy, you're a rich man!"

It's true, rich is how I feel going into my 50s.  My life is pretty darn near perfect and I am grateful for it.

Looking at my life with the sun cresting in the western sky, I have decided to add care of my physical self to the list of really good things happening in my life.  I want my sunset years to be all they can be, so I have dropped about 4 inches off the waistline since last spring, I have tripled how much I can lift, and I can jog a good pace for 30 minutes without a break.  Treats have been turned in to a rare and reasonable occasion and eating is generally healthier.  I still have a ways to go, but this has been a good start and for the first time it feels like a life change.

My 40s were truly wonderful!  I turn 50 with a smile on my face and a happy outlook to the future.

Sunday, September 02, 2018

Movie Reviews: An Anemic August

I theorized in July that I might not have any reviews for August.  Moviepass was heading into a dark place at the end of last month.  It seems to have avoided crashing all together for the moment, but the service is now merely a shadow of its previous greatness.  Often when I tried to use it this month, the attempt ended in frustration.  My closest theater rarely had options and I was hesitant to drive 20 minutes to another theater when the movie could disappear before I purchased my ticket.

So, I only saw four movies in August.  That was not all due to Moviepass.  I teach and it was time to head back to the classroom this month.  Also, I think I was getting a little burnt out on movie runs.  Years ago, my son won a contest at a local gourmet popcorn place – a bag of candied popcorn each week for a year.  After about 6 months, we grew a little weary of going each week.  I have been feeling some of that in regards to Moviepass.

In any case, Moviepass is limiting members now to 3 movies a month.  I will have to decide when my annual subscription ends in November whether I will continue.  In any case, if I only get to do 3 a month, the days of seeing the more obscure titles are over.

This month, 3 of my 4 movies were true stories.

The Meg: C+
Everybody loves a good shark movie.  The best was Jaws, so where do you go from there?  Deep Blue Sea genetically altered their intelligence.  Another series had them attack using tornadoes.  The Meg grabs a prehistoric one so they can make it really, really big.

Aside from the size of the shark, The Meg doesn’t do anything particularly unexpected.  But, it has some fun cast members, a couple laughs, a few jumps, and is entertaining enough for a summer film.

BlacKKKlansman: B+
Based on the true story of Colorado Springs’ first black cop- who finds himself infiltrating a local chapter of the KKK.  When I saw the trailer, the editing work made it feel like it was going to be a comedy.  It had its funny moments, but overall it was a police drama.

It is a great movie for our times.  It is a reminder of how things used to be and how they still are.  Beyond the history lesson, it was just a good movie– and you get to watch @**hole white supremacists get their just due.

Papillon: B
Adapted from the autobiographical novel by Henri Charrière, Papillon tells the tale of a French safecracker in the 1930s who is incarcerated at a penal colony in French Guiana.  The story follows Henri as he forms relationships, has varied escape attempts, and spends years in solitary.

I enjoy the work of Charlie Hunnam and Rami Malek, the two lead actors, so the movie was an easy sell for me.  The movie is a great period piece and works well as a prison escape movie.  It had a few moments where the pacing seemed to drag but overall, I was completely drawn into the story.  After watching this, you will be grateful to be a free person in the modern age.

Operation Finale:  B+
The true story of secret agents from Israel capturing a Nazi hiding in Argentina in order to have him stand trial for crimes committed during the Holocaust.

One of my favorite scenes in Xmen: First Class is when Magneto goes Nazi hunting in Argentina.  I have often said that they should have made a whole movie focused on his exploits as a Nazi hunter.

This movie gives one that same opportunity to cheer-on Nazi hunting.  It is a great spy movie and has the added benefit of being a history lesson.

For me, the movie had only one, minor, flaw.  Ben Kingsley is an amazing actor and handled the role of Adolf Eichmann excellently.  However, I was at times pulled out of the narrative because he was simply too old for the part. He had two sons in the movie who would have more appropriately been his grandchildren.  In addition, Eichmann was a Nazi white supremacist… having him played by someone who has a mixed ethnic heritage felt a little disjointed.

Operation Finale also sparked my frustration again that so many Americans are vague with their opinions concerning Nazis.  I left the movie angry with some of my fellow citizens.  There are no “fine people” among Nazis. There never were, there never are.

Not sure what my movie theater habits will be in the months to come… but movies will be graded.

This article first appeared in Salt Lake Film Review.

Thursday, August 16, 2018

Trump Does Not Respect The Chair

There is this great scene in Star Trek- Into Darkness where Admiral Pike takes the Enterprise from a young Kirk.

"You don't comply with the rules. You don't take responsibility for ANYTHING... and you don't respect the Chair. You know why? Because you're not ready for it."

I always think of that rebuke when President Trump comes up in the news.

When he was elected, I made a determination to give him a chance. I held out a hope that the Chair of the Presidency would sober him up.

Here is a man who has a disreputable past but maybe, in this last decade of his life, he would chart a new course. Maybe the weight of the Oval Office would make him reflect on his legacy... and he would step up to appropriately bear the duties of the President of the United States.

But no.

He has continued in his self serving ways, his childish, vindictive attitudes and his boorish behavior.

Donald Trump does not respect the Chair.

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

A Troubling Trend

I was reading an article about white teachers recently.  The author was listing various issues that are facing education as students become more diverse but our teaching force remains largely white.  I thought the author made some really interesting points but one issue she brought up in a few different ways is that white teachers shouldn't ask their black friends or co-workers questions regarding issues of race.

I found a similar train of thought on a short Buzzfeed video about sexuality.  They cut back and forth between various folks giving commentary on their experience within their subgroup.  There was one individual who seemed to have a chip on their shoulder.  This person was constantly rolling their eyes in respect to anyone who did not understand the various sub-categories.  When asked about what it means to be gender fluid, the person scoffed, "I am so sick of answering that question!"

These are just two examples of an attitude and perspective I feel I have run into dozens of times in the past year.  I teach, so I understand the feeling of impatience that can arise from answering the same question over and over... particularly when you feel something has already been explained or should be self-evident.

However, I am concerned that - just when our country is hitting a stride of listening, probing, and looking to be educated, the door is being slammed in many questioning faces.  If you think no one is really listening or questioning, consider how the issues of race, sexuality, and feminism were discussed through most of the 20th century.

I am a middle-aged white dude.  My experience with being a minority is pretty thin.  My insights are vicarious.  As a teacher, I work mostly with women (I am the only male teacher on my staff).  A good chunk of my friend circle is gay.  I spent 8 years working at a school where 95 percent of my students were non-white.

I was raised in a highly conservative environment.  I cringe when I think of the various sexist, homophobic, and racist things that have come out of my mouth and attitude over the decades.  If it were not for the exposures and experiences I listed above, I would probably still consider a lot of that bad thinking to be acceptable.  It was through conversations with people different than me that my thoughts have begun to change.

I am an atheist.  I was an evangelical for 30 years, so I know from experience the wrong-headed ideas a lot of religious folks have about me.  Those ideas they have will continue to spin as long as their only thoughts about atheists are what they tell each other.  If one wants to understand the atheist experience, don't ask a believer, ask an atheist.

If you are in any kind of minority group, I would hope you could be patient with answering questions and sharing your experience.  There is no one better equipped to share your story than you.  If change is going to happen, it will be because of more conversations, not less.

Wednesday, August 01, 2018

July Movie Picks

Wow! Ten movies in the month of July.  Not a record, but respectable.

Whether or not this level of moviegoing will continue remains to be seen. My supplier is Moviepass and this past week with them has been… dramatic. I think someday there will be a comedy made of the Moviepass story.  User reactions alone could supply a lot of the bits.

Therefore, this could be the last month for your friendly neighborhood movie grader. I am a teacher and there is no way 10 movies could budget in a single month without Moviepass.

So what did July bring us? Let’s take a look (in order, btw)-

Sicario: Day of the Soldado: B-
A decent follow up to the first Sicario. It doesn’t do anything particularly original but it is an enjoyable hit-man/black-ops movie. Brolin and Del Toro take it from passable to moderately engaging.

The First Purge: D-
I have to confess, I have not seen any of the previous Purge movies. If this one is any indication, I made the right move. The motive for the Purge (give everyone 24 hours to do whatever the hell they want without consequences) is so bizarre that I just couldn’t quit shaking my head at the absurdity. This premise sets up a lot of pointless action with even worse dialog. This movie should have been direct to video.

Ocean’s 8: C+
I think I left this movie a little disappointed because I was hoping to like it more than I did. The word that keeps coming to mind is… fine. The acting was… fine. The story was… fine. The humor was… fine. I anticipated a twist ending but rather than wowing me, I shrugged when it arrived. I can’t put my finger on what was missing but, for me, it just failed to launch.

Ant-Man and the Wasp: B+
Another enjoyable Marvel movie to add to the list. A couple of new angles in this sequel but it was not quite as fun as the first. It suffered from a lack of an engaging bad guy and they took all the likeability out of Michael Douglas’s character. Still, it had enough of the usual Marvel cleverness and excitement to make it a worthy view.

Skyscraper: C-
Take Die Hard and remove all the humor, clever lines, and the over-the-top villain. Really, they could have released it at Christmas and called it Die Hard 6. It was watchable but just barely.

The Equalizer 2: B
I guess the Equalizer series is how you get Denzel Washington to play a super-hero. No costume, but all the other elements are there. Who wouldn’t enjoy watching Denzel take out bad guys for an hour or two?

Unfriended: Dark Web: C+
Dark web gets points for being a unique experience for me – you essentially watch an online chat session (although I am told they did this in the first movie of the series as well). It was well done for what it was, but still… you watch a chat session for an hour and a half. I think it would have functioned better as a 1-hour Black Mirror episode.

Teen Titans Go! To The Movies: D-
Wow… was this movie tedious! Every character delivered their line in an overly excited tone while their head raised and their eyes boggled. I was beyond annoyed after the first 15 minutes.

Most modern cartoon movies find that sweet spot of balancing being enjoyable for children and yet keeping the adults entertained. I suspect the only person who could tolerate this dumpster fire is a high-strung eight-year-old who had just been given carte blanche at the concessions counter.

Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again: B
Another enjoyable Mama Mia movie. Perhaps a little less humor than the first but also a bit more touching. Like its predecessor, it is a simple, happy time spent on a Mediterranean island with music and dancing. What’s not to like?

Mission: Impossible – Fallout: B+
Did you know that this series is now 22 years old? I wonder how many more they will do. I suspect for however long Tom Cruise can run (or until he kills himself doing one of his own stunts).

Really, I think Cruise will do these into his 70s. Why not? Mission Impossible is always a fun ride. It hits every trope, but you kind of want it to. It is the comfort food you expect in summer movie going.

See you next month!


This article was first posted on Salt Lake Film Review.

Friday, July 20, 2018

Keep It Secular

Do you want freedom of religion? Then keep religion out of our governmental system.

I am secular, but I would protect your religious freedoms more than most religious people you know.

See, I don't care if you beseech Thor or Yahweh. Whether you follow the teachings of Joseph Smith or the Dalai Lama is all the same to me.

The only thing I ask is that you do not make me join you in this.

You would have trouble getting some of your fellow theists to grant you such liberties.

They want the schools to pray their way. Read their scriptures.

They want laws to reflect their pious predilections.

They want taxes to fund their projects, their evangelistic efforts.

If you really want religious freedom, keep our system secular.

Saturday, July 07, 2018

Why Empathy Will Not Work

A good number of people were surprised at the lack of feeling many Americans seemed to have regarding ripping children from their mother’s arms at the border.  Some felt this maneuver by Trump and his administration would finally activate the empathy of their fellow citizens.

I knew it would do no such thing.

I regularly hear pundits talk about our need for conversation with those with whom we disagree.  We need to hear them.  We need to find common ground.

Nice sentiments.  Reasonable sentiments.

But it won’t work.

The bulk of Trump support comes from Christian Evangelicals… and people who have never traveled in those circles cannot imagine how far gone these folks really are.

Because people hear the word Christian before Evangelical, they assume Evangelicals have at least some concern for the poor, the downtrodden, the outcast.

That assumption is wrong.

I spent most of my life as an Evangelical.  Evangelicals have one goal… turn them into us.  Everything is about conversion.

Jesus went to the poor, downtrodden, and the outcast because they were poor, downtrodden, and outcast.  Evangelicals go there because they are the easiest to convert.

Behind every bit of Evangelical help is a sales pitch.  And the pictures taken while helping play great at fundraisers.

But surely, they must have some empathy.  How can any mother watch children ripped from their parents and not feel something?

Again, we are dealing with Evangelicals.  They are taught that everyone outside their group is an enemy.  Enemies who deserve what is coming to them.

I was on a thread at John Piper’s Facebook page.  He is a prominent conservative evangelical preacher and author.  There was a debate going on about John Piper’s comment that if his kids turned from God, God would be justified in sending them to Hell.

One woman in the conversation said (I paraphrase from memory),

“My son became an atheist.  He has this life to turn back to Jesus.  I don’t resent God if He sends my son to Hell, I blame my son for leaving God!”

When pressed further on this point, she said,

“On the day God condemns my son to Hell, I will stand up and declare God righteous in His judgment!”

Don’t be surprised if you can’t get a woman like this to shed a tear for a child at the border.

Evangelicals have been trained since their youth to look for someone to save them.  They do not blink at the thought that everyone outside their group will be tortured for eternity.  Others are the enemy.  Others deserve this.

So, no, what has been going on at the border has not affected them.  Listen to Evangelicals talk.  They will say that those crossing the border deserve this.

And if you think taking children at the border is as bad as it is going to get, buckle up.

There is no reasoning with an Evangelical Trump supporter.  There is no argument that will work.  There is no empathy string to pull.  They have been waiting for this moment their whole lives, nothing will dissuade them.

Our only hope is to get out there in record numbers and stir up the vote.

Monday, July 02, 2018

June's Movie Picks!

Summer is here!  So, I saw a fair number of movies this month.  Here are my grades-

First Reformed:  D+

This story involves a priest who is wrestling with the environmental issues of our day; as well as various levels of faith crisis.  It is slow.  It is plodding.  It meanders.

I can usually deal with all of that if there is some good dialog sprinkled in (there wasn’t) or if there is a satisfying conclusion (there REALLY wasn’t).

I don’t consider too many movies a waste of my time, but this one was.  Too bad, because it posed some good questions.

Upgrade:  B+

I was pleasantly surprised by this movie.  I hadn’t heard much about it and it just quietly dropped into our local theater.  I assumed it was going to be some late night, SyFy channel quality future flick.  Instead, it was a well-done combo of The Crow and Robocop with the tone of a Black Mirror episode.

Hereditary:  B+

I haven’t had a movie creep me out this much since The Babadook.   So many horror flicks go for the cheap pop-outs to make you jump.  Hereditary takes time through story and character development to unnerve and unsettle you before it goes to the real work of scaring you.

Tag:  B

A very fun comedy (based on true events) about a group of middle age friends who are continuing a game of tag started in childhood.  A lot of funny moments and worthwhile laughs.  It did seem to struggle with how seriously it wanted to take itself and I found that occasional indecision distracting.  Overall though, they landed the story well.

Hotel Artemis:  B-

I was probably affected by all of the bad press I saw about this movie before seeing it.  I had low expectations walking in but I ended up rather liking it.

I can understand some of the complaints.  There were a number of absurd and/or contradictory plot points.  The story sometimes lacked flow.

However, I really like a lot of the actors in this movie and I found I enjoyed their characters as they worked through the story.

When I zoom out, I see the problems.  When I zoom in, I enjoy the performances.

Incredibles 2:  A-

A worthy successor to the first movie.  It was enjoyable from beginning to end.

It only needed one more element to really push it to the top tier – an engaging villain.  The villain in this movie was not bad… but was bland.

Won’t You Be My Neighbor:  A-

Thoroughly enjoyable documentary about Fred Roger’s PBS show.  The man was the Gandhi of children’s television.  I was inspired, I cried, and was shocked to find out that he had critics.

Jurassic World- Fallen Kingdom: C-

In an earlier review, I described Death Wish as cinematic fast food – sometimes you want something quick and satisfying.  Fallen Kingdom is like fast food… that you have had for the past five days in a row.  There was nothing new or original in this movie.  Jurassic Park has hit its Pirates of the Caribbean stride.  They will churn these out as long as people keep buying tickets but don’t expect any story effort from here on in.

Also, be aware that this one is more gruesome than previous Jurassic offerings.

Uncle Drew:  C

Well… I wasn’t bored.  It just rarely made me laugh.  If you saw the preview, that is the movie.  It was the Blues Brothers for old basketball players.  They spent most of the movie getting the team back together, but with none of the memorable one-liners.

This article first appeared at Salt Lake Film Review.

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Prayer in School

In America, some people of faith experience frustration because they believe religion is not allowed in our schools. This is because they do not understand that there is a difference between allowed in and promoted by.

My students talk about religion frequently. They sometimes pray over their snacks. They occasionally read their holy books.

Nevertheless, some people desire for me, as a teacher, to lead my students in prayers and scripture readings. More specifically, prayers and scriptures from their tradition.

Reasonable people from every faith tradition understand why this would be problematic. I have students who come from a variety of faith traditions and some from no tradition.

I support every student in my classroom. When people of faith ask that I promote their faith tradition in class, they are asking me to break the neutrality that allows each student to feel supported by me.

I had a number of traditions represented in my class this year. None of the children knew where I stood. They all felt equally supported by me. Please do not ask me to take sides.

Monday, June 18, 2018

Christianity in America

I wrote an article back in 2012 about a conversation where I found myself defending the teachings of Jesus to a bunch of Christians.  I had recently started identifying as an atheist so this was a surprising turnabout.

Nowadays, I am no longer surprised. American Christianity is drowning in members who have little interest in the Way of Jesus. They want the team membership that comes with name association, they want an imparted sense of morality (while eschewing the work of adhering to an ethical code), they want a Hell escape route; but they find the actual Way of Jesus (if they even know it) to lack the control they desire, the power they crave, or the practicality they believe they need.

I watch Christian after Christian defend taking screaming children from their mothers. When asked if they could really picture Jesus doing that, they happily admit that Jesus wouldn't... but Jesus lives in heaven and we live here. If we follow the Way of Jesus, we'll be taken advantage of. Let's leave Jesus at the church building and Bible study so WE can get done what needs to be done.

These Christians have taken their walk in the desert and were offered the same bargain as the Nazarene.
The devil took Jesus to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor. “All this I will give you,” he said, “if you will bow down and worship me.”
I don't believe in the supernatural. There is no Devil. However, this is a poignant allegory for our time.

Christians have weighed the offer and have chosen the kingdoms of the world.  They rally behind the name of Jesus but want nothing to do with his Way.
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