I watched "Juno" for the first time last week at the behest of one of my teens out here and was mildly entertained but worried nonetheless. I feel that it is continuing a dangerous and bothersome trend that I noticed a couple of years ago while watching "Little Miss Sunshine" of films that blur the line between indie and mainstream.
Keep in mind there is no innate benefit or problem in being either of the two, but each category of cinema brings with it certain expectations. One such expectation for independent offerings USED to be a lack of formula and a general sense of excitement for exploring different realms than you would see while watching Will Smith fart and dance on a huge screen.
(I still kind of hate Will Smith)
I've heard a lot of criticism for Juno's ridiculous dialogue, but I saw in it a hint of surrealism that I felt lent itself well to the larger overwhelming ordeal of teenage pregnancy as well as helping the audience look at events through the still-childlike perspective of the child protagonist.
More troubling in my mind was the sense I got that the movie was a variation on a theme, perhaps an innovative paint-by-numbers. It was even complete with quirky supporting characters and intentionally eclectic music that is too low-fi for radio but pop enough to let morons still like it and bop to it on their iPods.
It is just a shame, I feel, to reduce the possibilities of independent art by aiming for the pop side of the spectrum and following directions and formulae. Even if it is a hit like Juno, it still feels like a hollow accomplishment, like making a baking soda volcano that outshines all the other baking soda volcanoes at the science fair.
I coined a term for this while on my bike this morning, but googled it to find it already in use. Go ahead and propogate it as seen fit: trindie.
I hosted a radio show with a friend from church on Sunday morning. We played gospel, bluegrass, and contemporary Christian music that doesn't suck for three hours, with small ad spots interspersed throughout. Also, I shared a sermon that I delivered last Sunday night.
So, needless to say, I am on the fast track to stardom. Even though the show was 6-9 AM on Sunday morning, it's safe to assume that at least several million people were listening intently. I'm expecting job offers/pleas to be coming in the mail any day now.
But seriously, it was a fun experience and something that I've always wanted to do. It almost - almost - made up for the fact that getting up so early made me oversleep and miss the evening service that I was supposed to help put on later that day.
But c'est la vie, right?
And my triumph for today was biking 34 aggregate miles (the last 25 were in one sitting) and then eating a large sandwich. I can't decide which of the two I liked better.
So, like I told my teens at church, I will probably still talk to some of you when I am rich and famous.
Today is a good day, I think, for ranting. If you are close to me, there is a good chance that you have heard this before.
I hate Church Marquees.
Let me unpack that: in theory, they are great. They are a useful source of. . .lesson titles, and, um. . .times of worship I guess? But beyond that churches really make something disgusting out of them. And I'm not just talking about trotting out already-overworked tropes like "Seven days without prayer makes one weak." I mean mind-numbingly ignorant and/or stupid mini-sermons that are somehow still thick with guilt trips and condescension, packaged and placed in our front yard.
Right now our church hosts this message: "Be your childrens' soul support." Fairly innocuous as far as marquees go, yes? Not long ago, though, we showcased this gem: "Hungry? We serve spiritual food." And, again, this is not too bad compared to some I've seen. A church in town offers: "Hot? Our church is prayer-conditioned."
. . .prayer-conditioned? What does that even mean? Have the congregants been subject to experiments leaving them with acquired behavioral patterns based in prayer? Like Pavlov's dog, except spouting spiritual drivel instead?
I was once infuriated in Arkansas in late Summer that read, "Think it's hot here?" I actually stopped my car and considered rearranging the letters, but there were not enough P's and O's to do it justice.
It seems that we, as Christians, are more than happy to move our evangelism and Good News-sharing into venues that are totally inappropriate for Kingdom Work. Our message is watered down and oversimplified in order to become cutesy and catchy. The attention that Jesus earned for his shocking spectacle of authoritative teaching and humble service, we try to earn by flashy gimmicks. And we let signs preach what WE were commissioned to share.
Let's just freaking talk to people. Let's just freaking love.
I am currently heading toward the end of a boys' lock-in here at the church building. We bought and cooked cheap cuts of meat over an open flame and played video games, and threw tennis balls at each other.
A pretty good night, I suppose.
But I am tired. I am 22, it is 5 in the morning, and I am tired. The boys don't know how to clean up their stupid messes in the kitchen, they won't stop yelling and jumping around, and they aren't tired at all. I put on a movie to lull them to sleep, but they began throwing pillows at each other. I am tired of watching them play Guitar Hero and talk about "pwning" each other, tired of explaining myself and the rules to a very combative and childish 19-year-old, and tired (Lord have mercy, I am tired) of their smell.
Can I do this? Am I cut out for ministry? Am I doing enough? Am I doing anything at all?
I just want to sleep, and then I want to drive until I am out of money. I want to escape, and be alone.
I suppose these words are a tad melodramatic for a blog, but I suppose it doesn't matter when they aren't being read anyhow, eh?
It seems my readership has declined on this thing, to say nothing of my commentship.
Ugh, I feel alone today.
Tonight we resumed our Harvest evangelism class. I spent two days of office hours working on this lesson, and thought that it was a pretty good one. In fact, this week I think I've written the best lessons I have in a while.
And three people showed up.
On Sunday morning, there were six in class.
Sunday night, I preached. Four of the teens came.
Tonight there were three.
Admittedly, several were out of town and others had to work and blah blah blah. But it doesn't stop me from feeling like a horrible teacher with nothing to offer this group. "What am I doing wrong?" I keep asking God. "Am I doing enough? Am I doing anything at all?"
Last night was humiliation. It is past noon and I have been weeping all day.
On Monday I rode my bike downtown to see if anything was happening on Main Street. On the way, I passed a grass island in a busy intersection that is frequented by homeless people. There were two men there, one sitting slightly hunched and looking like he was grinding or milling something, and the other lying and not moving with his head on a backpack. I wondered if I should go talk to them and rode small circles on Ouray Ave. while praying feverishly.
I decided to go, and they welcomed me warmly. The first man introduced himself as Miami, and in front of him was a piece of cardboard that he had been trying to flatten. The reverse-prostrate man told me his name was Tex, and Miami shot him a look that told me that name was news to him, too. Their friend Brian approached a moment later, handing Miami a Magic Marker and two dollars change. The latter began to carefully prepare his cardboard sign while telling me of his service in the first Gulf War when I was six. He killed three Iraqi people and was discharged. They all told me of the trouble they had in finding work in town.
Soon the mosquitoes bothered us all, so Miami offered his Cutter spray. Brian covered my limbs with slow precision and palmed the spray to apply it to my neck. I returned the favor, and felt like we were sharing in a private communion service. Tex grabbed the can after and threatened to spray Miami in the face, grunting menacingly. Brian warned him not to, and I noticed that he called Tex "George."
Then a pair of bicycle cops arrived and the men instantly became very defensive, disavowing any real knowledge of each other or relationship. Miami mentioned that he had only met the two others a week ago. I was saddened at their fear, but also touched by the surprising concern of the officers for these men who tend to get drunk and possibly get harmed. They left after taking my name and we all seemed to feel closer for having suffered two invasions: one of insects and one of government.
Soon, we began to talk of our faith. The coherent men told me that they are believers, even though they haven't been to church in some time. They agreed to come with me on Wednesday night, providing that I could give them a ride. They began to tell me how encouraged they were that I was with them, and that the Holy Spirit must have led me to them. They prayed thankfulness to God right in front of me. They prayed blessings on me and my family. When we parted that night, I felt joy in my heart like I have not felt in a long time.
Last night the men were not there. In their stead I found a lady I met at the homeless shelter two years ago, Valerie. Her husband Joe was incredibly and dangerously drunk, as was their friend Lucas. The latter sang songs he wrote, one about Jesus and another about masturbation. Joe gripped me fiercely and told me that he did not trust me. He advised me about Spain, having been born in Basque Country. However, he spoke without making sense and I slowly became very, very sad.
I arrived at church a half-hour late and with no companions. I stared at the ground while I sang instead of looking in my family's eyes. I tried not to weep while we prayed. I regretted that I did not get the chance to say, "I am only a humble servant doing my duty." I regretted not getting to serve God by serving my brothers.