Monday, November 21, 2011

My Friend the Movie Critic

He just sat there at bible study.

He was that quiet guy in the back, you know the one? Yeah, never offered any input in discussion, I swear he only came because his friends dragged him to our Wednesday night group...

These were my first thoughts about my friend Bryan.
Flattering? Perhaps not...

Of course, I was anxiously anticipating the day where our study leader Dave said the wrong thing and he snapped and pulled out an AK and went all crazy on us. But you know...

I never really got to know Bryan during high school. I was very involved in the band thing and he went to a different high school. He actually went to the north side school, and it was pretty shady business over on that side of town. ;)

After my first year of college, I went on a project with a campus ministry to South Carolina. After that I returned back home to figure out the next move in my life. I decided to help the study leader co-lead some studies. Bryan was still in the area, and still coming to bible study.

Since we really weren't in the high school crowd any more, we decided to join forces (I think it was his invitation originally, but I'm not sure), and combat the boredom of being high school grads who were trapped in their hometown.

It went down something like this I think....

Bryan: (after a Wednesday night study): "Soooo......we should maybe hang out sometime. Play some video games or something....I don't care, whatever you want to do."

Me: "Uh, sure, yeah I 'spose we could do something like that."


Bryan: "Ok cool, yeah just let me know, or whatever."

Me: "Yeah sounds good man."


And just like that... an alliance was born!

One of the first cool things I learned about this guy, was that he is a movie connoisseur.

No lie.

Walked into his place the first time we hung out, and we started the process of deciding the movie we were going to watch. My mind was blown at the sheer amount of DVD's were present. It was like...Best Buy or something. I thought to myself, my god this guy has to get a life!

But sure enough, I began stopping over most every night after and we would watch movies, play awesome video games and have whiskey and cokes (Bryan's weakness is Jameson, yeah...the good stuff). He's a top shelf sort of guy.

I thought I'd seen plenty of movies in my time. Hell no.

I felt like an apprentice Jedi learning the ways of one much wiser than myself. Bryan has a fantastic grasp on movies (and while we differ at times, I'll take a movie recommendation from him any day!). We share a love of horror movies, though he tends to prefer the classics, while I gravitate toward modern slasher films.

You ask Bryan about a movie, odds are he's seen it.
Ask him his opinion on said movie, odds are he has one.
It's kinda awesome really.
I'm friends with a movie critic, but not just any movie critic....one who actually knows what he's talking about!

We would also embark on two player shooter game projects, which lead to many hours of swearing, heads being blown off, and strategy sessions (strategy was always needed, because my typical tactical maneuver in these games is to run in shooting, and get killed right away).

It was in this season of life that I began to re-realize the need for good guy relationships in my life. Somehow, doing stuff as basic as movies, junk food and video games was a very healthy thing for me. Guys need to bond with guys.

Guys need brothers.

I find it much easier to relate to women, but what I was missing out on by not having a brother to do "guy stuff" with was actually a huge need that I didn't know I had.

Bryan is one of the most genuine, and generous guys that I know. It was a friendship that just stuck. He's always right there when I'm having a rough time, and looking for practical tangible ways to help me feel better, rather than handing me cliches', which I actually despise.

He's always giving. Whether it's taking a friend out to dinner, or giving his time to help me change a tire, or donating to great causes. He has a heart for people, and when he heard about the organization Compassion International and the work they do, he was so moved that he sponsored a child himself.

The reason he never talked all that much at bible study back in the day is because Bryan actually takes time and thinks about things. He is a rare commodity in a world where everyone thinks their opinion is the shit. Everyone wants to be listened to, but Bryan listens. He thinks before he talks, which is why a lot of the things he says when he does share, are quite profound.

I don't think he really realizes how much of an impact he has on the people around him. I hope he does, but I'm not sure if he does. He's someone I can go to and bitch about life, and I won't feel judged. I've never felt that he tries to put any sort of pressure on me to "act" a certain way.

A lot of Christian guys, when they hang out, they always have some sort of an "end." Do you know what I mean?


It's like their goal when hanging out is to have friendship to avoid doing certain things. Accountability buddies, if you will. And while accountability is great, I needed something more with my guy friendships. I didn't need a guy friend who just acts like I'm a project. I didn't need for someone to act like the only thing we do when we hang out is talk about our failures, and shortcomings and beat ourselves up because we're sinners.

I needed a guy who was just a straight-up friend to me. Someone who'd accept me, flaws and all.

He's definitely been one of the few guys friends I have had, who actually does that. That fact alone is an unmistakable blessing to me.

He recently got engaged to Natalie (another friend that I'm sure will have an entry in here, as they have both been huge blessings to me in the last two years!), and I couldn't be happier. They're both just fantastic!

I can't begin to do this guy justice in a blog post (or any of my friends for that matter), but it just so happens that My Friend the Movie Critic, was the friend I didn't know I needed, but the friend that I'm so glad I've found. :)

Even if he does have a mancrush on Tim Tebow....

My Grandma

My Grandma Ellen is a remarkable and strong woman. She's been, and continues to be an inspiration to me.

Grandma Ellen is the grand parent that I've probably seen the most in my life. Her husband died when I was younger, and my other two grandparents lived in Florida. We'd visit them when we could (most every summer) but throughout the year Grandma Ellen was the one we'd spend the most time with.
.........

She always came to our events in elementary, middle and high school.
One of my favorite times that Grandma would come to school was for "Grandparent's Day." At our elementary school, we had a fundraiser-run on grandparent's day, and while I'm not one to run, I did. Why? Well, for one I got a free t-shirt. Second, everyone else was running, so naturally I conformed. But, mostly it was because after we finished our run, Grandma always took us kids to Baker's Square for lunch.

Oh, and the pies they had! I wish I could describe them to you... Grandma loved the Baker's Square pies. :) They had cherry pies, french silk pies, pecan pies, blueberry pies, banana cream pies...pies, pies, pies! My siblings and I would hover over the dessert case and practically drool at the blissful bakery on display.
.........

Whenever we'd travel to her condo (30 minutes is a fairly long drive for young children), we would rush up to the outer door, and one of us would get to push the intercom buzzer. After a minute we'd hear her friendly voice..."Hello??" which would be greeted with a frenzied chorus of "Grandma!!!"

When she buzzed us in we'd always run down the hallway, into the open courtyard and we'd see her standing at her door smiling at us. We never could beat her, she was always waiting with that beautiful smile.
.........

Grandma loved chocolate. She was actually a freakin' addict. Don't believe me? She liked chocolate so much, she owned a Hershey's sweater. I kid you not. A brown sweater with the Hershey's logo on it. I told you, addict. Yet, with so many things in this world to be addicted to, chocolate is certainly the sweetest.

When she moved into the assisted living and we were cleaning out the condo we found stashes all over the freakin' condo. A bag of chocolates in a drawer here. A couple bars in a cabinet there. Up on the shelves. Yep, it was pretty fantastic.
..........

Grandma was the first person that I had a serious conversation about death with. In middle school when I started thinking about it a lot, I realized that it scared the shit out of me. I remember after one weekend when I stayed at her house and she was driving me back home I asked her: "Grandma, are you afraid to die?"

A question asked in innocence, naivety and fear.

She said no. I asked her, "What about heaven and hell? Don't you ever worry about that?" My Grandma went on to tell me that God is good, that he takes care of us and that we have to have faith that he will look out for us in the next life, as well as this life.

While I became antagonistic toward Christianity in the future, that conversation stayed with me. The calm way that she talked about not fearing death, the confidence she said she had in God and his goodness, I knew she meant it with all her heart. That conversation stuck.

It was at that point that, as a young boy, I decided my Grandma wasn't afraid of anything...
.........

Sometimes Grandma would take us kids to Chuck-E-Cheese. Chuck-E-Cheese is a child's dream, at least....for me it was. Running around in a giant, noisy playground. Tokens, tickets, pizza, giant mice singing and dancing...okay that last part freaked me out, but dreams are often strange and bizarre things.

I loved those little vacations.
.........

All my girlfriends loved my Grandma. No, seriously, all of them. Grandma has always been a social butterfly. I haven't met a single person she couldn't charm. Everyone at her church knew her. She frequented the senior clubhouse to play her card games, and she always walked away with a decent amount of pennies. Even when she was moved to the assisted living facility, there wasn't one staff member who didn't know who Ellen was. And when she moved to a different unit, she wasted no time making new friends.

Now I know where I get it from. ;)
.........

Grandma loved Cousin's subs.
.........

Grandma always rocked the rollers too. Stereotypical? Yes, but she definitely could've started a real trend whenever she wore those rollers. Grandma's always been a stylish woman. One of those people who can make something out of nothing when it came to outfits. She always dressed modest, yet classy. She was very well put together.
.........

As with most residents of Wisconsin, Grandma loved the Packers, Brewers and Badgers. Every Sunday during football season she would pull up in her green and gold. She loved the Packers the most. Win or lose, it didn't matter, she was a true fan. She was also a true fan of family. She was always our number one supporter, and not just my siblings and me, but to all her children and grandkids.

We have been blessed to have her on our team. She is the best fan anyone could ask for.
.........

Grandma always embodied a spirit of optimism. She genuinely loved life, experience and relationship. She's left an incredible legacy, and she has taught me so much in this life that words cannot even begin to describe what she means to me.
........

On November 20, 2011, I received a text message from my mother. It said, 'Grandma isn't doing so well, it may be best to come back home for a time like this.' We only have a few days left, but I'm not scared anymore. For myself, or for her. We all have our time, and we are all in the hands of one who will always take care of us...

I have no regrets, and I don't think Grandma does either.

She's left an imprint on our lives, and isn't that why we're here? Isn't that why we live day in, day out, and work, sweat, cry, bleed and laugh? We all hope to leave something behind. We want to live in a way that people will look back and remember fondly the times we were able to share.

My Grandma did just that.

She's a hero to me. She's mentored me, she's comforted me, and she's given me life lessons that continue to help me stand today, even when the going gets rough.

I love you so much Grandma. I hope that I can live every day taking moments as they come, and making the most of them. I pray that I won't, even for a second, lose a second that could be spent appreciating those who mean the most to me.

We all have this opportunity. Legacy. Don't let it pass. Don't let someone leave without telling them you love them. We all have our time, so what are we going to do with the minutes we've been given?

The Socialist Street Rat

I know what you're thinking already....

"Aladdin? Come on Josh! What could possibly be wrong with a rags to riches story? True love winning out in the end? Even a Grinch like you should love that!"

But, as is often the case, I tend to look into a darker looking glass than you, my dear reader.

So I would suggest that if you wish to avoid having yet another classic movie ruined by my sarcastic cynicism, I would probably skip this entry altogether.

In fact, move right on to the next one where I'll tell you the charming, heart-warming stories about my Grandma Ellen. You can get your hug-fest there. But here, I shall continue to not only blow this Disney vault open, but to share things that you, the simple viewer, may have missed in your longing to create a picturesque world.

So sit back, grab some freakin' popcorn, and lets get going!

From start to finish this movie is more a tale of class warfare, rather than a cutesy love story. At the beginning of this gem of a feature length picture, the viewer is entreated to a sequence in which the Grand Vizier to the Sultan of Agrabah, Jafar and his evil sidekick Iago ( a parrot?! This is the freakin' middle east, not the rain forest!), use a hired thug to steal some treasure from the creepy, albeit cool looking "Cave of Wonders."

Right away I see a problem, do you? Jafar's title. "Grand Vizier" is no more than a trusted advisor to the sultan. Problem? I think so! Already we have an elite class developing, which will undoubtedly oppress others later on in the movie. That sneaky little bastard!

The scene really doesn't end well, given that the thief gets eaten by the cave. You heard me right, he got eaten! Apparently Jafar didn't realize that this particular cave has a taste for "diamonds in the ruff", so common thief apparently didn't go down too smoothly.

Of course, don't tell the thief's parents that. They probably thought that he was all kinds of "special." Perhaps his public education even aided that a bit with special "self-esteem" classes for him as a boy in Arabian kindergarten....

The movie then cuts to the crowded market place in Agrabah, where the viewer gets their first taste of the "hero" of the story, jovially singing and cavorting, to and fro throughout the streets, while being pursued by a troop of royal soldiers. Think of it as "Cops" Agrabah style.

Aladdin sings a little catchy ditty about how stealing is cool, and how he needs to eat to live (of course, the idea of working a job must not have occurred to him), and interacts with various others throughout the song. Apparently multiple residents of the city are familiar with his thieving ways...

Alas, the police don't catch him and crime continues in Agrabah. But you know, if crime is accompanied by camaraderie and catchy music, it's definitely ok....

The tale then takes us to the introduction of the third main character, the beautiful, feisty princess Jasmine.

Now...I'll be honest, I find Jasmine to be, not only the hottest of the Disney Princesses, but also, by far the most intriguing. It's like a tomboy is trapped in a drop dead gorgeous shell! I get the feeling that she'd be cool shooting hoops, hunting, playing violent video games, and other essential life activities.

What I'm saying, is that Jasmine could definitely be one of the guys, but she's also really attractive which is pure insanity!

Alas, she is trapped in the pre-Women's lib movement, and isn't allowed to marry for love.

She, being a princess, is required to marry a prince, and the more well-off he is, the better (Again with the money thing, eh Disney?)! Problem is, she doesn't like any of her suitors, so she generally ends up sicking her pet tiger on them when she gets annoyed with their pursuits.

Did I mention Jasmine has a tiger? Yeah well she does. She has an 'effing tiger! How cool is that!?

Anyway...

Oh yes! So, not only does Jasmine dislike her filthy rich suitors ( the 1% of Arabia), but she is also quickly tiring of stuffy palace life. Hell, who wouldn't? Lots of food, servants, baths, cool clothes....yeah, I'd get tired of that.

So she seeks adventure outside the palace walls. So she puts on a bathrobe and scales her garden wall, and just like that she's free! Now she can see how the 99% live. You can imagine how well this turns out... Within five minutes (yes, I said minutes!) of leaving she is already in trouble. She starts trying to hand out free food, from a vendor's stand, to a little beggar kid in the street.

That's right my friends, yet another reference to class warfare, only now the government is getting involved!

It's at this point of the movie that I begin to fervently pray that Jasmine never seeks to become an entrepreneur, because she really has no concept of how businesses work. It's great to give out food, but not someone else's food!

Jeez.
How rude!
Typical government.

But the small business owner calls her on it, and moves to cut off her thieving little hand, despite her desperate pleas and promises to pay him back. Again, typical government. This is why we don't mess with (steal from) a taxpayer/business owner friends.

We begin to see that her state run, diplomacy courses are an abysmal failure, and it looks as if the pretty little lass will lose her hand, but just in the nick of time who shows up? Aladdin. He makes up some bogus excuse about how she's crazy and pretends to pay the shop owner back.

Then they run off together. They go back to Aladdin's crib, and he shows her the sweet view he has of the palace and tells her how awesome it'd be to be rich (again, not even hinting at the interest of getting a job) and you can tell they are growing quite fond of each other.

What can I say? The "99%" and the government have the hots for each other, I guess it's the common interest of hating the people who actually create wealth, but that's just speculation.

Suddenly palace guards show up to evict Aladdin (I imagine it's 'cause he hasn't paid his rent in....I don't know.... ever?), and Jasmine tries to use her executive power to get him out of jail free, but it doesn't work.

Long story short, Aladdin is that "diamond in the ruff" that Jafar needs to get him a special artifact from the Cave of Wonders. Aladdin goes into the cave, gets the lamp but the cave goes nuts and begins to collapse. Aladdin makes it to the mouth and Jafar tries to do a bait and switch on him. Aladdin falls back into the cave and it closes forever. Jafar is left out in the desert alone thinking he has the lamp. He doesn't.

It's not easy to steal from professional thieves. Aladdin rubs this beat up old lamp, and gets hooked up with a sweet genie.

Genie says, "Hey dude, you get three wishes." So Aladdin's like, "Sweet, hook me up with some money, and a cool title like that Jafar guy." Genie says, "I'll do you one better, I'll make you a prince."

So he makes Aladdin a prince, so he can get in good with the princess. Suddenly he's gone from the 99% to Agrabah's corporate whore. Nobody calls him on it though.

He begins lobbying for favor with the current administration, and gets it, big time. Jasmine decides to marry him, and he's in line for the next term as ruler of the empire.

Course if anyone bothered to follow the money behind his operation they'd see that he gained his wealth off the use of slave (genie) labor. But, ya know...he's just running for executive office. No big deal.

Ironically, it's Jafar (the original manipulator of the system) who blows the whistle on the whole thing. He calls Aladdin out as a fraud, and takes over control, with a new administration.

Awe snap!

That's just politics as usual, I guess.

A big hoedown throw down dominates the rest of the movie, and essentially Jafar becomes trapped in his own greed, and gets knocked out of power, into slave labor, where he will spend the rest of his life working to make others rich.

Aladdin becomes the savior, not only to the people in Agrabah, but he liberates the genie from his servant status, and everyone lives happily ever after.

The End.

So what have we learned today?

1) Never trust establishment politicians like Jafar because they are greedy and evil.

2) Stealing is cool because the bread doesn't belong to just one person, the bread belongs to all of us. We should just share.

3) Don't get a job, you may end up being rich if you do little or no work, if you know the right people in government, and have a genie.

4) Parrots live in the middle east apparently.

and...

5) Josh wants a pet tiger, 'cause that'd just be badass.

Thank you Disney for a wholesome, moral tale of the evils of money, wealth inequality and redistribution. I can't wait to see the inevitable follow ups when they're released from the Disney vault....

Occupy Agrabah
and the ever popular...
Slumdog-Street Rat- Millionaire

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Trained



I was talking with my good friend Natalie the other day about a non-typical church experience we had in town. I go to a church called Water City Church now.

The easiest way to describe the place is....raw. It isn't a streamlined, production-worthy experience when you attend. I don't feel like I'm in an audience.

I feel like I'm a participant in the service.

It's a small, intimate environment. I've always grown up going to bigger churches.

Water City has one service on Sunday. It doesn't have a bulletin that is packed with all sorts of projects, or clubs. It doesn't offer all the good Christian extra cirriculars.

It's simple, and I like it.

The members can join and discuss points of the service. They can share experiences they've had during our Sunday time.

In America, we are trained well in our ideas of God, and corporate worship.

We become set in a specific order, and begin to believe that this particular order is THE way to do things.

If you asked someone to envision The early church doing a gathering, it would very much resemble, in our minds, a first century adaptation of what we know. Like Jesus and his disciples ate the little salty pellets and drank the gross warm grape juice for communion.

Or they sat in some sort of amphitheater for an hour on Sunday, listening to Jesus rattle off the 5 top reasons good Christians tithe, or don't have sex before marriage with their significant other before marriage.

What I'm trying to say is that, growing up in church, I realize that we have the church formula nailed. We know the right way to do things. It's quick, tidy and efficient. It's a system that pumps out good Christians quicker than McDonalds gives out fries.

But is an efficient faith really the goal of my life?

Is church really just a bullet point, 10 step, four week program?

Are we an audience that needs to be entertained on Sunday, as we are the other days of the week?

Or is following Jesus more than the mundane, rigor mortis routine that streamlines the path to a good life?

I didn't become a follower of Jesus to be a good Christian, as odd as that may sound.

I actually have an aversion to that. I think that it's because the day that I find myself being a good Christian, I'll no longer be me. I'll be an actor, a fraud.

The truth is far more messy.

It's unrefined. It's inconvenient.

The truth is that I need a raw life. I need spontenaiety, not a routine. I need to be a participant, not a viewer. I need a savior, not a self help model.

I don't want to be trained, I just want to be...

It is such a blessing to find kindred spirits within this body, this movement that actively seeks to bring a piece of heaven to earth.

Raw, not refined is helping me to understand that the life of one who follows the risen Christ will never, ever find itself falling prey to the predictable...

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Thoughts

So much of our lives are spent wishing for what we don't have, instead of appreciating what we do have.
Stop!

Look around and see that we are not just blessed with a fantasy, but the beauty of reality!

This life happens but once. Take some time, look around.


Tell someone you love them.

Spend a few extra minutes at a coffee date.

Study.

Embrace the beauty of knowledge and education.

Thank a teacher, mentor, or parent.

Try something new...


Life doesn't wait for us friends...

Thursday, November 3, 2011

We Are the Architects

Was thumbing through some old Facebook notes and it made me smile. Just a kid trying to be philosophical, yet it's these writings that still have a deep impact upon me. The chapters that have been written since these pieces have definitely had their share of adventure, conflict, mystery and heartbreak. Perhaps realizing these things has helped bring about a special affinity to my previous naive, clumsy strains of consciousness. Or maybe I'm just getting old and ridiculously sentimental... Oh jeez.


We are the Architects.
We are the masters or our life's construction.
The Wise Architect like a spider constructs
his web of destiny according to the natural blueprint.
He does not possess all knowledge
of what the future may hold,
however his life is constructed in anticipation.
To weather any of the storms
this life may bring his way.

The learned architect does not just build his life however,
but he also delves into his craft.
He examines and analyzes this life
and questions the principles of laying a sound foundation.
Only through this process can one become enlightened.
And only through this process can one become
a master of his trade.

The foolish architect on the other hand
does not question the blueprint handed to him.
He is not concerned about the origins of his skill,
or the purpose of constructing foundations.
So he does not concern himself with delving deeper
but rather pursues the construction of a grand life.
A life adorned with fleeting pleasures,
and the pursuit of the frivolous.
And it is because of this truth that when the storms of life
come to pound upon his door, much like the house upon the sand,
the life laid without a foundation crumbles
and he no longer remains the master of his life.

Ask yourself then;

Are you living a life of your construction, or a life that has been constructed for you?