Friday, June 29, 2007

Mack

Introducing Mack, my unoriginally-named, brand-new (well, brand-new to me--and almost really brand-new) computer. Ah, I love it already. (The unflattering but-oh-so-hip photo in the side margin should give evidence thereof.) Even though I have to drive to church in order to get on the internet.

Many and heartfelt thanks to Matthew-the-Macintosh-Evangelist for the generous help. And thanks to both him and Mark-the-Computer-Whiz for an enjoyable (if brief) dinner last night.

Monday, June 25, 2007

How the Pirate Brotherhood is Like the Church

This post goes with the Captain Jack Sparrow one, in spite of the fact that that one apparently scared the comments right out of everybody. I meant to write this one right afterward, but other things happened in the same timeframe, and they seemed a little more urgent to recount.

I have no reason to reword the title this time, but I do have another disclaimer:

  • I love the Church. I doubt I love her well enough, but once again, with this post, I mean no disrespect. It is difficult for me to hear of Christians who do not take the Church of our Saviour seriously. But even I can see that she is often more than a little dysfunctional.
So, to the Pirate Brotherhood. In At World's End, after two other movies where we watch Jack Sparrow and crew dealing more or less adeptly with otherworldly and interpersonal difficulties, we suddenly meet a host of other pirates we never imagined, not all of whom are "of the Caribbean." It turns out that they all have to band together to triumph over their archnemesis, the East India Trading Company. You would think that a bunch of pirates couldn't really be all that different from each other. They have one Pirate Code which they more or less try to follow, and they all seem to want essentially the same things. You would also think that any differences they had would be set aside in the face of a common enemy.

You would think.

As it turns out, though, not only is there individual bickering and jealousy and misunderstanding between individual pirates--there is also a lot of deepseated mistrust and envy between pirate cultures. Each pirate captain wants to lord it over all the others, and they are hard-pressed to find an arbiter of peace. Sometimes even the Code doesn't help, because there are so many ways to interpret it.

I think you can infer the similarities to which I am alluding. There are beautiful things about the Church--no doubt about it. There are instances where different denominations, while still acknowledging their distinctives, are working together because they recognise we do have a common enemy, and that demonstrating the love of Jesus is better than trying to lord it over people.

But let's face it, there's still a lot of division out there. And in here. Before I went to Wheaton the other week, I had an accidental run-in with some good friends because of a miscommunication around some of our specific theological differences. Sometimes even when both sides try to reach out and band together, it backfires like a cannon full of forks. Then we wonder why people who are not part of the "brotherhood" (or the "priesthood of believers") aren't that enthusiastic about becoming pirates--I mean Christians--too. I think it's worth it for them. I just kind of understand why sometimes they might not agree.

The pirates at World's End seem to get in each other's way, but all the same, there are glimpses there of nobility, love, and commitment to their people and common cause. In the end, through a series of nearly miraculous events (aided in large part by Sparrow), the pirates--who we are all routing for because in this movie-world, the bumbling sea-bandits are the good guys--do triumph. It might seem far-fetched to some people to imagine the sometimes difficult, sometimes dangerous, sometimes unsavoury Christ-followers being good guys, too. Or triumphing. But motley band that we are, there is, thank God, still nobility, and love, and commitment. Jesus is still here, and Jesus is coming back, and one of these days, because of Him and in spite of all of us, He Himself will triumph--and He'll bring His people with Him. It is, one might say, wonderful.


Young Adult Bible Study Group (2006)

P.S. Did they ever tell us--or did I miss it--why there were nine Pieces of Eight?

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Wonderful

I don't think the word wonderful means what it used to mean. These days when people say it, they basically just mean something like "great." But I have this impression that in days of yore, when people said things like yore, for instance, they also sometimes used wonderful to mean something-that-filled-them-with-wonder. Like wondrous. Maybe they just used wondrous instead. I don't really know. Anyway, people don't say wondrous at all anymore, unless they're singing hymns.

This train of thought left the station the other day when I was reading Revelation 15.1-8 in the CJB. Verse one in that version says, "Then I saw another sign in heaven, a great and wonderful one--seven angels with the seven plagues that are the final ones . . ."

I kind of did a double-take and thought ironically to myself, "Woohoo! Seven plagues! How wonderful!" That was when I gave myself that little linguistic lecture about changes in word meanings and connotations.

But after that it occurred to me that there is something indeed very wonderful (even according to contemporary parlance) about seven plagues that are the final ones, "because," says the rest of verse one, "with them God's fury is finished." At that point the sarcastic woohoo turned into a genuine alleluia.

I don't think I want even a glimpse of those plagues. Reading about them is bad enough. Dealing with the pre-Plague rubbish of the world--and with God's fury, too, even though sometimes I'd rather not blame Him for bad things because of the possible implications for (and of) me--is not really that, um, great. But knowing and trusting that there will in fact, one day, be an end to all of that is really and truly wonderful.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Terms of Endearment

I've never dated anyone long enough to get to the phase where we start whispering sweet nothings to each other and all that gushy stuff. Even though I have this idea that such things might be kind of nice, I have another idea that it might take me a long time (in the event of going beyond, say, a second date) to be able to dish out or receive such comments with a straight face. This is probably because my personal experience of such terms and phrases has always come in the context of trading commodities.

When I lived in England, the shopkeepers in the off-licenses where I bought my Underground daypasses would call me "love," or sometimes "duck." Which was okay if it was a maternal-looking older woman, but not so okay if it was a rather dodgy-looking older man. Or a dodgy-looking younger man, either.

Nowadays, it's usually "hon," and I'm usually called that by females younger than I am, who are buying frappuccinos from me. I really hate the term "hon." I don't care who says it--how old they are, what gender they are, whether or not I know them--to me it always sounds condescending. And I really can't stand condescension. (I'm also unsure whether or not I can spell it. Can I?) But it's worst when the females-younger-than-I-am call me it.

The newest development in this area, though, is that these variously-aged male customers who have been coming to our store for a while are apparently suddenly feeling at ease, and have been adopting pet names for me (and probably everyone else). These are not the old guys who throw the word "sweetheart" around gratuitously. Nor are they guys whose names I actually know, with whom I have some camaraderie. They're just random familiar faces.

I had scarcely been back from Chicagoland a day when the guy who gets an iced venti hazelnut coffee called me "honey." Not "hon." Honey. Huh? Then today, two different men called me "dear." I think you'll agree that "dear" has different connotations than the much more casual and oft-used "darling." I'm feeling really confused. And a little bit, I might say, "sketched out."

Saturday, June 09, 2007

Write to Publish

I am at Wheaton College, attending the non-Wheaton-sponsored Write-to-Publish conference. My brain, as the famous yet nameless Far Side character put it, is full, and so I am skipping a workshop. Don't worry. I'll catch the last one.

Being around this many writers at once is kind of weird. Also, does anyone have any idea how funny it is to tell a bunch of introverts to network? I mean, in person? We are all trying very hard to obey this injunction, but it looks kind of comical.

My favourite (by which I might mean "most comfortable") moments of the conference were when I actually met, face to face, people with whom I've already networked here. At this blog. I had lunch with and threw way too many ideas at ZimmerMan--and he still generously gave me a copy of his book. (Buy it. Apart from good writing, it has this cool flip-book comic book character taking off in the right margin. You'll know what I mean once you purchase it.) I also got to see Stacey and Craver (whose name [gasp!] is not really Craver!) in their natural habitat. I peeked in at Al's office. And I got to see Lisa's desk.

The best unpremeditated networking experience, though, went like this. I had an appointment to pitch a novel I'm trying to write, to a publishing house where I know no one. Except that once I did sort of know one of their authors. She is a missionary with the same organisation I used to work through.

I wasn't, by the time my appointment came up, too convinced that I still wanted to pitch this novel, let alone write it. The day before had been rather demoralising (for reasons I may divulge some other time). I felt I had nothing to say. I almost cancelled the appointment. But lunch with ZimmerMan helped (I think I've figured out one of his superpowers), and so I told myself to buck up and go talk to this other editor, just to get some experience. How many times do you get to walk up to an editor and have them listen to your ideas?

"Hi," I said, shaking this editor's hand. "My name is Jenn, and I used to work for the same missions organisation that [this author you already publish] works for."

"Really?" said the editor. "So did I."

At the end of my pitch (during which I confessed the need to go back to the drawing board with this story and do a lot of research), the editor said, "Well, when you've done the work and got it written, write up a proposal and send it to me with the first three chapters, and we'll see what we think."

What? My pitch actually worked? I mean--it worked! Let me clarify, just in case, that a request for a proposal is not a contract. But it is the goal of pitching a book. I guess I'm going to have to do some work now . . .

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Exploring Chicago

"Hi," said Jeannine's voice over my cell phone. "How are you?"

"Well now," I said. "That's an interesting question. I'm currently in Chicago, under a bus shelter because my friend's car was just towed and we're trying to figure out how to get it back." It was raining, and neither of us had jackets. My friend was on his cell phone, too, attempting to make less social phone calls.

"What?" she asked drily. "Are you just making this up as something to put in your blog?"

This was how the day was supposed to go:
  1. Kevin (whose name isn't really Kevin, but we'll just pretend it is) was going to pick me up at the airport.
  2. We were going to eat lunch in Greek Town.
  3. We were going to go to the Museum of Science and Industry.
  4. Kevin was going to drop me off at the Ogilvie train station, where I would meet my cousin Mary Anne and travel back to the suburbs for dinner with her and Auntie Shelley.

We got through steps one through three pretty successfully. It wasn't hard to find each other at the airport, and after some discussion as to what (among the well-researched list of possible day's activities) we were going to do, we headed off to Greek Town. We lunched at Artopolis, a pleasantly informal cafe-ish place which boasted two kinds of mighty fine baklava. (We had to try both, of course.) I accompanied mine with Greek coffee. Kevin doesn't like coffee, but I guess we'll forgive him.

It took a little while to find parking for the museum, but eventually we found a spot along the street just a stone's throw from our destination. We scanned the area carefully for "no parking" and "tow zone" signs and didn't see any, and then hied ourselves off in the direction of some scientific and industrial enlightenment.

"It's too bad," Kevin said later, "that we didn't get bored at the museum or something and come out just fifteen minutes earlier."

I think someone set up a sign where there wasn't one, just after we got out of the car. But however it happened, there definitely was a sign we hadn't seen before, telling us that cars could not be parked on the side of the road where we had been, from 4-6 pm. The non-discovery of Kevin's car set off a chain of events which included getting rained on, getting splashed by a car with the impressive ability to turn a moderately-sized puddle into a tidal wave, and a ride with a probably senile cab driver to a police station with a notorious past and reputation for torture. Even though I believe the torturing happened in the 1980's, they subtly kept up the ambience with an inhospitably chilly room-temperature, particularly for two jacketless and rain-sodden people such as ourselves. We had to spend about two and a half hours in these sub-Arctic temperatures while Kevin tried doggedly (and eventually inspired-ly) to track down the information that these law enforcement officials required to be able to located the whereabouts of his impounded vehicle.

After that had been ascertained, an incredibly kind friend of Kevin's drove down to the station and ferried us to the impound. It was in a part of Chicago of which the city is evidently so ashamed that it only shows up as a white void on the most detailed of road atlases, so we had to find another police station and get them to tell us that it was down a sort of dirt road with a trailer at the end of it and a lot of cars. It was, indeed. The aforementioned trailer was the impound office, and when I tried to go in there with Kevin, I was sternly warned off by an intimidating character inside who proceeded to shut the door in my face.

"This," Kevin's ferrying friend intoned comfortingly when I shuffled back to sit in his SUV, "is where the extortion starts. 'Excuse me, sir, but we found some cocaine in your trunk, and until you give us $500, we can't release your car.'"

Fortunately this did not happen. The car was released, having gained new ornamentation in the form of numbers scrawled on the window with orange grease-pen. Then Kevin, whose own suburb is in a totally different direction, graciously transported me to the one I was headed to, instead. My aunt, likewise graciously, allowed him to come in and share the leftovers of the dinner I was supposed to have eaten with them four hours before.

Kevin says this is his Summer of Exploring Chicago. I think he had no idea . . .

Friday, June 01, 2007

The Divine in Captain Jack Sparrow

You all think I'm going to talk about how much I like Johnny Depp, don't you? Well I do. But I'm not. What I really mean is something like, "How Relating to Captain Jack Sparrow Might Be Like Relating to God."


Such a proposition necessitates a lot of disclaimers, probably too many to enumerate here. But these are some of them:
  1. I don't think Jack Sparrow (or Johnny Depp) is God.

  2. I don't think God is a rather lascivious alcoholic pirate with multiples personalities. (I do believe He exists in multiple Persons: three, to be exact. Then there's also that "seven spirits" thing, which makes no sense at all. But I digress.)

  3. I don't think that any of the Pirates movies resemble allegory or analogy to Scriptural history in any point-by-point or intentional way.

  4. I mean no disrespect.

But hear me out. Here we have this enigmatic character who polarises people. He also polarises reactions within the same person. All of Jack Sparrow's friends seem both to love him and to hate him. Not to mention that said friends seem to be such on a rather unequal footing. He demands attention and respect, but we aren't always sure he deserves it. Sometimes he seems absent. Sometimes he seems in control. Sometimes he seems to have completely lost it. Often, he seems crafty and clever. At least as often, he seems a complete buffoon.

I feel like this about God a lot. I think it might even be permissable to say that the Bible presents Him similarly on occasion. Of course He's majestic and holy and just and wise and all those "omni-" things. He is. (I wouldn't say the same of Jack Sparrow.) But He's also presented as affected by our actions, emotional, ranting, and sometimes a little bit crazy. Who would come down here and sacrifice His life for us hopeless excuses for the Divine Image if he wasn't somehow insane? Although foolishness is spoken against in the Bible, there's also a holy foolishness that it might be dangerous to forget about.

Here are some other interesting points of comparison. In movie number 2 (admittedly the worst of the bunch), Captain Jack does (albeit a little unwillingly) sacrifice his life for his comrades, having been betrayed by one of them . . . with a kiss. I find it hard to imagine that these parallels to Jesus' experience were really intentional, just like I don't think Jesus needed His disciples help to rise from the dead the way Sparrow needed his friends' help to bring him back. Still, it does seem a detail worth noting.

Also, the major question underlying all three of the movies (besides, "Why is all the rum gone?") seems to be "Can we trust him?"

Even as the audience, we never really know the answer to this question. (Usually the answer to the rum one is a lot clearer.) People are constantly surprised when an action apparently completely self-destructive ends up turning things around and saving the day. In a fictional (and not so fictional) world where every character seems to put his or her own interests first, none seems to do it more or better than Jack. But without him, none of them would have survived past the first half of the first movie, and if they had, their lives would likely have had both little adventure and little meaning. (Either way, there would only have been one movie. And few people would have bothered to see it.)

At one point in this last film, young William Turner (Orlando Bloom), whose own relationship with Sparrow has become strained, defends a strategy by telling the older pirate something like, "I tried to think like you would think. I thought, 'How would Jack do it?' I thought this was what you would do." Sparrow mocks him lightly and then casts the poor boy, one might say, adrift. By doing so, however, he sets in motion a chain of events which saves the entire Pirate Brotherhood.

We, along with the rest of the characters, wonder if Sparrow really knows what's going to happen? "Does," as one of his opponents asks, "he plan it all out or just make it up as he goes along?" Is he just lucky? How does he know everybody so well? How does he turn even their antipathy towards him into something redemptive? Does he really care about everybody as much as he says he . . . doesn't?

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