Sunday, January 27, 2013

Running on Faith: Dodging Rattlesnakes

My daughter and I are training for a marathon--my fifth, her first. She's pretty excited about it, but it's early yet. When she's running 15 miles at a pop, it might sap her enthusiasm a bit.

Still, she intrinsically enjoys running more than I do. For me, going out for a run is a duty. For her, it's a joy. And she did run cross country throughout high school (she's a college freshman now), so she knows a thing or two about putting on the miles. In fact, she's teaching me quite a bit.

For instance: Never pick up a rattlesnake while running.

This was sage advice she picked up in high school. One of her cross-country cohorts (a guy, naturally), was chugging down a pathway when he saw a rattlesnake lying on the side of the road. "Look, a rattlesnake!" he said. And he stopped, reached down and picked it up.

Now, we all know that youth today are, in lots of ways, much smarter than I was growing up. Their lives are full of technology undreamed of back when I was in high school, when cell phones were the size of microwave ovens and people were still hanging out at video arcades. I think they're dealing with way more pressure, too--from school, from their peers, from their parents. When I talked with my kids about what they were learning in high school, I often felt that I needed a translator.

But maybe  we Gen-Xers do have one thing over today's Millennials: We know better than to pick up a rattlesnake.

The guy was bitten, of course. He was whisked off to the hospital and was just fine: The snake hadn't pumped any venom into the guy. The rattler, I'm guessing, was so flabbergasted that someone would dare to pick him up that he hadn't gotten his poison pumping yet.

It seems that cross country running is fertile ground for disturbing stories with important morals. One afternoon, members of the team were stalked by a mountain lion for a couple of miles. Moral: Don't run alone. Mountain lions are less likely to attack people in pairs. (I guess a secondary moral might be to run with someone who's slower than you, just in case a lion does attack). On another afternoon, a girl broke her leg from taking an awkward step. Moral: Don't run alone in case you break your leg. Forget Aesop's Fables: Try Adidas' Fables.

Most cross country morals, I gather, culminate in some variation of "don't run alone." Even the rattlesnake story had a similar addendum. While the primary moral was, of course, to not pick up rattlesnakes, the secondary lesson went, "But if you do, be sure you do so while running with someone else so you'll have someone who can drag your stupid self back to the car."

Our Christian run, I think, has a similar moral: Don't do it alone. When I was a younger--about the same as my daughter is now, actually--I thought that faith was something best done alone, through prayer and reading and introverted monkish pursuits. And it's probably no coincidence that that was the time when I felt the least connected with my faith. It's too easy to stray off the path when you're running alone. It's too tempting to do something dumb. You're an easier target. You're more prone, perhaps, to pick up a rattlesnake along the way.

With all due respect to all those saintly hermits of yesteryear, Christianity was always meant to be done in community. "For where two or three gather together as my followers, I am there among them," Jesus tells us in Matthew 18:20. Most of Paul's letters weren't to individuals, but to churches--folks who joined together in order to worship communally. Hey, this Christian faith of ours can be tough at times--to tough to do by ourselves. It's nice to have company along the way: People we can trust to keep us on the right track, people who will be with us when things inevitably go wrong, people just to talk with: Not just about faith, but about anything. We need people to help us smile and laugh just as much as we need people to wipe away our tears.

I'm a recluse at heart. It's not in my nature to really seek out running partners--either for my actual runs or for my more metaphorical jog of faith. But whenever I do, I'm grateful when I find someone to share the journey. It's nice to know there'll be someone around if I should, y'know, a rattlesnake attack.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Star Wars: Bad Prequels (But Better Theology?)

I was listening to the Strangers and Aliens podcast while running this afternoon, and I was thrilled to hear them discussing one of my favorite topics: Star Wars.

The gist of the podcast was discussing all the many questionable stepchildren that the success of Star Wars spawned, slating them as either of "the light side" or "the dark side." The revival of the Star Trek franchise was given light-side status, while Moonraker--James Bond's worst movie ever--was justifiably banished to the Dark Side. But the topic really got me thinking about another massively important product of Star Wars: Me.

I was 8 when Star Wars came out (that's be Star Wars IV: A New Hope to some of you), and George Lucas' little creation was nothing short of a revolution to my little world, which before then had primarily revolved around reading, collecting rocks and smashing glass. (I grew up in Taos, N.M., which, despite being very artsy then and now, was a pretty boring place for non-artsy, non-sportsy kids.)

But when I saw Star Wars, my whole life changed. I became obsessed with the movie and forced my parents to take me to see it five times (remember, these were the days before we, in Taos, had ever heard of a VCR). I dreamed I was Luke Skywalker. We were too poor to buy Star Wars action figures, so I made my own out of cardboard. (My Millennium Falcon was the most pitiful-looking spacecraft ever.) It was the first movie I ever fell in love with.

My fascination with Star Wars was tolerated around my house for the most part. And, several years later, when an expert on the Star Wars universe came to visit the family church about the time Return of the Jedi was released, I found myself looking forward to going to church for the first time in years.

Imagine my disappointment when the guest speaker announced that Star Wars--my beloved, earth-shaking franchise--was awash in dualism and eastern spirituality and thus incompatible with Christianity.

These theologians. Can't they leave anything alone?

I suppose my research in trying to prove this cat wrong might've been the impetus to my long, weird and still puzzling road to that of a Christian movie reviewer. Now I'm the guy who warns Christian parents about Star Wars' quasi-spiritual underpinnings--though I'd like to think I'm a bit more open-handed about it all. "In The Force, we can see hints of Zoroastrianism and Taoism," I might say. "But man, are those light-sabers awesome or what?!"

Truth is, I have a hard time believing that watching Star Wars is a faith-shaking event for most of us (the 390,000 U.K. residents who list "Jedi" as their faith of choice notwithstanding). But still, the religiously wonky side of me did appreciate the spiritual underpinnings of the recent prequels, even if the movies themselves were pretty meh. Yes, the Force in the Star Wars universe still, as Yoda says, "surrounds us and binds us." It has its light side and dark side. But the core story we see in the prequels (The Phantom Menace, Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith) is an echo to the Fall of Adam and Eve.

Anakin Skywalker is tempted by the future emperor and his powerful "Dark Side" of the force--a form of forbidden knowledge, really--just as Adam and Eve were tempted by the fruit from the Tree of Knowledge. Both of these deeply rebellious acts set narratives in motion that required a miraculous intervention to fix. And even though I hated Jar Jar Binks as much as anyone, I found the redemption of Darth Vader--in some ways, a stand-in for all us miserable sinners--more moving because I better understood his backstory.

There's more to say on this topic, of course. But that'll have to wait. But now you have one more thing to curse George Lucas for: The creation of an overly interpretive, religiously oriented movie reviewer.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Armstrong and the Power of Penance

Lance Armstrong came (kinda sorta) clean during an interview with Oprah Winfrey Thursday night—telling the world that he used performance-enhancing drugs to help him win seven Tour de France titles.

"I made my decisions," he said. "They are my mistakes."

He said he bullied people and lost himself in the midst of his competitive desire. "It's a major flaw, and it's a guy who expected to get whatever he wanted and to control every outcome," Armstrong said. "And it's inexcusable. And when I say there are people who will hear this and never forgive me, I understand that. I do."

Oprah's interview allowed Armstrong to apologize. But—perhaps befitting a man who, shortly after his Tour de France titles were stripped from him, tweeted out a picture of him lounging underneath the framed yellow jerseys he won—his apology didn't actually sound or feel that apologetic.

He did not cry. He did not sound particularly contrite. He insists that he did not dope during his 2009 comeback (the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency would beg to differ) and denied numerous allegations that he bullied other teammates into doping. And while I don't feel really comfortable in measuring tears to weigh a person's level of contrition, many believe that Armstrong's admission are more strategic than heartfelt: He wants to rehabilitate his image. He hopes that the powers-that-be will shrink his lifetime ban from the sport of cycling to, perhaps, eight years.

And while there's lots of different angles with which to discuss Armstrong's Oprah mea culpa—a great faith-based take can be found at RelevantMagazine—the saga triggers, at least in me, a more basic question: Just what does a real apology look like, anyway?

This is a pretty important question for me and my faith, given the centrality of forgiveness in Christianity. One of its central tenants is that all of us, like Armstrong, are dirty and guilty. All of us are in desperate need of mercy. And we're deeply grateful that our God is an infinitely merciful and forgiving one—whether we confess our sins on Oprah or not.

So when I hear people bark at Armstrong for his insincerity—he's not sorry he doped; he's sorry he was caught—it makes me wonder about my own level of sincerity when it comes to grappling with my own sins and stuff. I mean, don't a lot of Christians fall into the same camp? Most of us remember being told in Sunday School that, if we didn't confess our sins, we were gonna wind up in hell. In some churches, that's the primary reason giving for falling in line with Christianity at all: If you don't, you'll pay for it.

What if we judge own confessions as we do Armstrong's? And, if we find that we're a little Armstrongish in our confessions, does God forgive even our insincerity?

Maybe this is all simple stuff that I should know, but it's something that I struggle with at times. It reminds me a little of Claudius, the dastardly uncle in Shakespeare's Hamlet, as he wails about how awful he feels that he murdered his own brother to grab his kingdom and bed his wife. For him, asking for forgiveness means not just confessing his sin (which is hard enough), but completely repenting of it, too—pretty tricky, when he's surrounded by the perks of his murderous sin.

My fault is past. But, O, what form of prayer
Can serve my turn? "Forgive me my foul murder"?
 That cannot be; since I am still possess'd
 Of those effects for which I did the murder,
 My crown, mine own ambition and my queen.
 May one be pardon'd and retain th' offence?

Claudius, had he lived through Act V, might've considered performing some serious penance for his nasty deed. Public relations officials believe that, if Armstrong is ever to be rehabilitated in the culture's eyes, he'll also have to repent and do a form of penance, Help Anti-Doping officials clean up the sport that had been so good to Armstrong when he, himself, was dirty. The culture might forgive, but it almost always demands some sort of recompense.

But we evangelicals—always wary of trying to work ourselves into heaven—don't really have a great tradition of penance. We confess to God; He forgives us. It's a nice system.

But if God doesn't need us to perform penance, perhaps we mortals do for ourselves. Make what recompense we can for what bad we've done. Maybe this can slip into unneeded and perhaps spiritually unhealthy self-flagellation at times. But at others, it seems appropriate. At least we should not, as Claudius says, "retain th' offence."

The same day I was reading about Armstrong's expected confession, I was also came across the story of Margot Riphagen. Seems she received an unexpected letter recently—one containing four rings and a handwritten confession note. The letter writer admits that he or she had taken the rings from the Riphagen house 15 years ago.

"I am truly sorry for any pain, heartache that my actions may have caused your family," the letter reads. "I hope that you can find it in your hearts to forgive me. As an adult I realize how sentimental items like this can be.”

It was signed, simply, “a dumb kid who wants to right a wrong.”

The rings, it turns out, were indeed very sentimental: Wedding bands and anniversary presents. “We never thought we would get any of the stuff back,” Margot admitted.

Apologies can be tricky things. We doubt the sincerity of others. We may even question our own. But this, is in my mind, is the way a real apology should look. And maybe Armstrong could think about that a bit before he asks for an early reinstatement into the world of cycling.  

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

'I Used to Be a Hero ... Then I Took an Arrow to the Knee.'

I really need to lighten up.

So my 22-year-old son tells me (or he would, if he wasn't so polite). What for him is just a video game becomes, for me, a study in comparative morality.

I'm talking about The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim--a game that, ever since I bought it for my son last Christmas, I can't seem to stop playing. My son was so frustrated that I never let him play his own game--a game that I bought for him, after all--that this Christmas, he bought Skyrim for me and then just kept the thing.

For those who aren't familiar with Skyrim, it's essentially Dungeons and Dragons with less dice, more random conversations with NPCs and way better graphics. You fight giant spiders and cast magical spells and shed lots and lots of blood as you try to save the land of Skyrim from an infestation of dragons.

It might be the most habit-forming video game I've ever played.

Early last year, I played all the way through the primary quest: I killed the evilest of dragons and dutifully fought and smithed and enchanted my way up to level 60 or so. It was fun. But I refused, on moral grounds (really), to pursue any of the major storylines that, ahem, required me to compromise my virtual ethics (other than the necessary killing of bandits and plucking wings off of butterflies and such). I did not join the Thieves' Guild. I did not join the Dark Brotherhood, Skyrim's nefarious league of assassins. I did not cow-tow to any of the game's diabolic gods.

And my son told me that I had missed some of the best parts of the game.

We discussed my moral predilections, and (stifling a smirk) he suggested I play Skyrim like a redemption story: Horribly misguided at first, only to reform later on and become a true hero.

So sometime in November, I picked up the game again. I told myself I was not going to feel bad about pickpocketing innocent people. I was not going to mourn my horse if I accidentally killed it during a fearsome skirmish. And I was going to do some of the things that my bizarre sense of video game ethics wouldn't let me do the first time around.

And so I did. To a point.

I joined the Thieves Guild. And admittedly, it was pretty fun. My favorite part of Skyrim is skulking around in the shadows, anyway, and the Guild gives me plenty of excuses to do that. But I still have a hard time actually--well, stealing anything. At least from people who've not done me any wrong. And the Dark Brotherhood? I just don't think I can do it.

Clearly, I'd never be able to get through a game like Grand Theft Auto without serious professional counseling.

Some people see video games as an escape--not just from real-world mundanity (if that's a word) but from the morals and worldviews they embrace, too. It's like dressing up for Halloween, but requiring more thumb-based dexterity. For me, though, it's almost just the opposite. I want to be a role model to these virtual people in ways that I don't always replicate in my day-to-day life. In Skyrim, I always help anyone in need. In the real world, I'm not sure if I'm always so considerate.

Does this make me a bad person? Or, at least, a bad gamer?

Monday, January 14, 2013

Will You Have Curly Fries With Your Edwardian Drama?

I've been grieving over a football season cut short for the last few days. And while some may think that grief is too strong a word for a silly football game--albeit one that went into double overtime--all I can say is you clearly are not a football fan. This hurts way worse than when my pet gerbil died.

But someone did send a link that cheered me up (a little bit): A mashup of my favorite BBC/PBS soap opera and my favorite fast-food purveyor of French dip sandwiches. Enjoy.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

The Impossible: Miracle in Tragedy

Nominations for the Academy Awards were issued this morning. The field of nine Best Picture nominees included three films we've already talked about on this blog (Lincoln, Les Miserables, and Life of Pi), along with several others I reviewed for my day job at Plugged In: Argo, Beasts of the Southern Wild, Silver Linings Playbook and Zero Dark Thirty. Django Unchained and the foreign film Amour rounded out this year's nominations.

The Impossible earned just one Oscar nom, to my knowledge--Naomi Watts for Best Actress. And even in this year of really strong contenders, that's a shame. Lincoln and Argo might've been more subtle and Life of Pi more beautiful. But no film this year left me quite so emotionally drained as The Impossible.

The movie, based on a true story, follows the fortunes of one vacationing family in the wake of the horrific 2004 tsunami that rocked southeast Asia. Vacationing at an oceanside resort in Thailand, Maria (Watts' character) watches as the gigantic, 90-foot wave rumbles over beach and building, destroying untold numbers of lives in the time it takes to swallow. And before the wave crashes into her, too, she sees the monstrous tower of water sweep over her family.

For most of the movie, we follow Maria and her oldest son, Lucas (Tom Holland), as they cling to each other for life and hope. They survive the wave, but they're not out of peril. And it's unlikely that the rest of the family--husband Henry (Ewan McGregor) and younger sons Thomas and Simon, could've made it through the calamity.

The title The Impossible might, and probably does, refer to lots of things here: The impossible disaster that was the tsunami. The impossible conditions it left in its wake. Most importantly, it nods to the movie's unlikely, moving ending--when we learn that the entire family survived. That happy conclusion was, from what I understand, was spoiled in the film's trailers ... and frankly, I wish I would've seen one before I watched the movie. Watching this film without knowing nearly gave me an ulcer midway through. By the end, I was a weepy, wrung-out ball of nerves.

It was a wonderful movie, but could I sit through it again? I really don't know. It's impossible to say.

God, to my recollection, is never mentioned. And yet the film provokes thoughts that both challenge and reaffirm faith. It's hard to watch this movie and not be moved by the miraculous reunion at the end. The disaster itself, though, might cause the reignition of one of religion's most bothersome questions: How could an all-powerful, all-loving God allow such a thing to happen?

There are Christians who try to offer answers, of course--some of them a little embarrassing. In the end, I think most of us have to admit that we don't really know. Jesus tells us we will have trouble in this world--sometimes cataclysmic trouble. And while we don't always know the reason or cause, the only real answer we can muster is one of action: Pushing through the hard times as best we can, keeping our faith and helping others to the best of our ability along the way.

And that, in the end, is what moved me the most in The Impossible. Even in the teeth of tragedy--when she was bruised and bleeding, when flaps of her skin floated in the water like dirty rags--she kept her focus on others. We expect her, of course, to nearly kill herself to save her son: That's what mothers do. But she doesn't stop: When she and Lucas hear a child crying, Maria's determined to help, even though Lucas sees that her mother's in desperate need of help herself. But Maria won't stop hunting for the child, saying they should--they must--do what they can, even if it's the last thing they do.

When Maria finally makes it to the hospital, things are little better. It's obvious that Maria might not make it. But--perhaps to distract Lucas from her own dire health--she demands that Lucas do what he can to be of service to others. "Lucas, go and help people," she says, simply. And he does--finding temporary solace in giving comfort to others.

It's a powerful lesson and directive: Helping others helps us, the movie tells us. So go, go and help people--help wherever and whenever you can. In The Impossible, Maria and Lucas do just that, even when they're in dire need of help themselves. I don't know if I could be so unselfish. But I'd like to be.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

And the Skittles Bag Goes To ...

A couple of days ago, I posted some of the 2012 nominations of the film group I belong to, the Denver Film Critics Society. Well, unlike the Social Security administration, we work fast. This afternoon, the group announced its winners, and they are as follows:

Best Film: Argo

Best Achievement in Directing: Ben Affleck (Argo)

Best Lead Performance by an Actor, Male: Daniel Day-Lewis (Lincoln)

Best Lead Performance by an Actor, Female: Jennifer Lawrence (Silver Linings Playbook)

Best Supporting Performance by an Actor, Male: Philip Seymour Hoffman (The Master)

Best Supporting Performance by an Actor, Female: Anne Hathaway (Les Miserables)

Best Animated Feature: ParaNorman

Best Original Screenplay: Moonrise Kingdom

Best Adapted Screenplay: Silver Linings Playbook

Best Documentary Feature: Jiro Dreams of Sushi

Best Original Song: Adele for "Skyfall"

Best Original Score: Hans Zimmer for The Dark Knight Rises

Best Non-English Language Feature: Amour

From what I can tell, our picks might be a bit more populist than some other critics' groups. Of the 20 or so other regional critics' societies that have voted thus far, critics from four--in San Diego, St. Louis, Florida and the "Southeastern Film Critics Association"--picked Argo as we did, compared to the eight that selected Zero Dark Thirty. The Master was third with three wins.

But when you sit down to watch the Oscars come February, keep in mind that the critics don't always reflect the sensibilities of the Academy's members. According to, Lincoln's actually the front-runner--which only got a nod from one critics group. Shows how much we know.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

An Awarding Occupation

I belong to something called the Denver Film Critics Society, and we'll be doling out our awards early this week in a posh, black-tie event at ... um .... oh, looks like someone forgot to book the Motel 6 ballroom again. So we'll probably just send out a press release.

Just as well. I don't own a tux.

But I do have to vote--today--on what I think were the most impressive achievements in film this year (based on the nominations we all made a week ago). It's a fun exercise, especially for a faith-based critic for me: A chance to really evaluate something without counting swear words.

With that in mind, let me unveil a partial list of nominees and give you my personal thoughts on each. And, when the rest of the votes are tallied, we'll see what films, actors and other worthy recipients rule the roost in the Centennial State (that'd be Colorado).

Denver Film Critics Society Nominations
Best Picture: Argo, Silver Linings Playbook, Django Unchained
Django is certainly nothing we'd ever give a thumbs up to in my other gig, and I wish that Lincoln and Life of Pi might've made the cut. (An aside: I'm hoping Skyfall squeaks into the Academy Awards Best Picture category, too. The best James Bond movie ever deserves a little Oscar love, if you ask me.) But all these films are undeniably well crafted, and my own top choice made the short list: Argo almost feels like a throwback to Alfred Hitchcock: a gripping, thrilling film that's also an impressive bit of cinematic art.
Paul's vote: Argo

Best Achievement in Directing: Ben Affleck (Argo), Kathryn Bigelow (Zero Dark Thirty), Paul Thomas Anderson (The Master)
I could make a pretty strong case any of these directors winning Denver's prestigious hypothetical statuette (I imagine it as a golden bag of Skittles). Ben Affleck may not be the best actor around, but he's one of the 21st century's best directors. Paul Thomas Anderson's work is easier to appreciate than to love: The Master is not something I'd care to watch repeatedly, but you can't deny that Anderson knew what he was doing when he put the thing together. But my vote goes to Bigelow, who has the remarkable ability to take really controversial stories and let her characters tell them in their own, unforgettable ways. That's brave filmmaking at its best.
Paul's vote: Bigelow

Best Lead Performance by an Actor, Male: Daniel Day-Lewis (Lincoln); John Hawkes (The Sessions); Denzel Washington (Flight)
I was bummed that Joaquin Phoenix was left off this list. His work in The Master was unforgettably, almost ferally disturbing. Still, this race almost feels like a foregone conclusion, no matter who's voting. Congratulations, Mr. President.
Paul's vote: Day-Lewis

Best Lead Performance by an Actor, Female: Jennifer Lawrence (Silver Linings Playbook); Jessica Chastain (Zero Dark Thirty); Quvenzhane Wallis (Beasts of the Southern Wild)
What? No Naomi Watts for The Impossible? Ah, well. I thought Wallis, who was all of 6 years old in Beasts, was enchanting ... but how much does a 6-year-old really "act"? Lawrence, I have a feeling, will be in possession of a golden Skittles bag in short order. But she won't get my vote this year. Jessica Chastain is one of the most versatile young actresses of the 21st century, and she was riveting as the obsessive CIA spook in Zero Dark Thirty.
Paul's vote: Chastain

Best Supporting Performance by an Actor, Male: Philip Seymour Hoffman (The Master); Tommy Lee Jones (Lincoln); Robert De Niro (Silver Linings Playbook)
Three strong performances here. Hoffman, in my opinion, turned in the best ... but he has almost as much time on screen in The Master as Joaquin Phoenix. That's not fair, is it? As such, I think I'd campaign for the character with the worst toupee.
Paul's vote: Jones

Best Supporting Performance by an Actor, Female: Anne Hathaway (Les Miserables); Amy Adams (The Master); Sally Field (Lincoln)
In a year of outstanding movies filled with memorable female characters, this may be the strongest category. Amy Adams is memorable in every role she inhabits, and her performance in The Master showcased her at her hardest and most cynical. When I saw Lincoln, and I thought Sally Field was going to run away with this category. And then I saw Les Mis and saw Hathaway steal a nearly three-hour movie with a spare 15 minutes of screen time. Her rendition of "I Dreamed a Dream" might be one of the most memorable cinematic moments of this young decade.
Paul's Vote: Hathaway

So there you have it: I'll be voting in other categories, too, but if you want to know who I think deserves to win Best Adapted Screenplay or Best Non-English Language Feature, you'll just have to wait for a few days.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Hanging Out With Mat Kearney (Virtually Speaking)

Holidays are murder for blogging.

Oh, you'd think it'd be easier to blog around Christmas and New Year's, and so I thought, too. I'm not working! I reasoned. It'll be cold outside! Nothing else to do but huddle at the computer monitor and type to keep my fingers warm!

Yeah, fat chance of that happening. Not with all the new games and books and Santa candy at arm's length. If you missed me, understand that I was likely spending my blogging time stuffing my face with little red licorice bites.

But now that I've dragged myself away from the candy (temporarily) and to my computer, I might as share with you my time chillin' with Mat Kearney.

Now, Mat (the hip, pop-indie musical artist) and I aren't exactly close. In fact, before this weekend, I had no idea who he was.  But my son showed me this pretty original video for his new single, "Ships in the Night":

He visited 165 locations for this video (he must've gotten really sick of this song before he was through), and it seems as though about a third were from Colorado Springs--where I live. The nice red rocks? That's Garden of the Gods, just south of here. The football stadium? That's at the Air Force Academy, just north of here. The house with the snowman? My son swears he saw that exact snowman  in front of a house downtown. 

So, naturally, my son and I showed it to my wife, Wendy. She didn't pay any attention to the background pictures at all. Instead, she just said, "Hey, I love this song!" Turns out, Mat Kearney is not only a hip indie musician, he's also a Christian one--the only possible way that she could've discovered a musical artist before my Ska/punk/indie/rap-loving son. 

And as I've learned more, it seems Mr. Kearney and I have a lot in common. Sort of. He attended college at Chico State in California (my daughter-in-law lived the next town over!) and studied literature (hey, I studied literature!) and played soccer (hey, I've watched soccer!).  He became a Christian right in the throes of his college days, which naturally reminded me of my own soul-searching in college. 

 "I discovered the depth of depravity, the bleakness of that lifestyle," he allegedly told someone sometime, according to his Wikipedia page. "It just wasn’t working. I finally started understanding there must be more to life. God found me when I was at my lowest point. That was the first time in my life when I really felt like I understood who Jesus was--it was more than knowing about Him, I felt like He met me in that time and place."

A few days ago, I had no idea who Mat Kearney was (which probably brands me as a musical philistine, but so be it). Now, I kinda want to download all of his albums and invite him to dinner. Or, if he's not available, at least his publicist. And it's all because he sang a pretty neat tune in front of a pretty familiar landmark. 

It's funny how we embrace new things, isn't it? It's rare for me to become a fan of anything after listening to one song or reading one book or doing one of anything. It might open the door, but I'll rarely go farther. Normally, it's a culmination of things that entices me further into fandom. It took me three books and a dozen quotes to fall in love with Kurt Vonnegut; two books, several pithy sayings and a recommendation to embrace G.K. Chesterton. We're won over in pieces, I think. We look for the familiar in the new, and when we find it, we give it a chance. Bit by bit, our loves grow into us.

Christianity's probably a little like that, too. I don't know too many people who fell in love with the faith because of one sermon or one perusal through Luke. It's a process: Each conversation, each allusion, each faint image of God we see in the world around us has the potential to bring us closer to Him. One won't do it. A dozen might not, either. But as we travel and see God in a hundred, a thousand, a million things, we begin to understand His love for us. And we can't help but love Him back.