Wednesday, November 28, 2001
I suppose it makes sense, though. Who's going to want to throw a wild pig for a sporting event?
Tuesday, November 27, 2001
School? I love to learn, but too much of school was spent trying to survive and avoid being noticed by my peers. As early as third grade (nine years old), I have clear memories of being tormented and bullied by children who were faster, bigger and more athletic than I was. That got especially brutal in fifth grade, when the district moved me to an elementary school where I knew next to no one, and never really let up until I became an AFS student in 11th grade and got a clean slate at a different school in a different country. It didn't help socially that I was labeled "gifted" or that the majority of my teachers were content to let us work out our own problems even when that meant ostracism, ridicule, and even violence.
Boredom? Believe me, there's a difference between an adult being bored because there's nothing going on that evening and a teenager who's bored because there is no one to call, no one to visit, and no activities where you would feel welcome -- and summer vacation is just beginning.
Being told what to do? Maybe it's an attitude problem on my part, but even as a teen, I enjoyed feeling that my input was valued, particularly in matters that concerned me. I especially was driven crazy by rules and instructions that made absolutely no sense about what clothes I should wear for church; insinuations that I was somehow putting on airs for speaking in an accent and in terminology I had used for 12 months while living Down Under; and being lectured incessantly when my opinions differed from my parents'.
I can honestly say that the years from when I was 11 until I began college, with the exception of 1987, were the worst six years of my life that I can recall.
My teenage years could have been a lot more fun. I could have told the cafeteria ladies that I was being bullied into silence by one of the students I was required to sit next to, instead of suffering in silence. I could have told people off who looked down on me, or just been confident enough in my own uniqueness or specialness not to care what they thought. My teachers could have been a little more attentive or given me a little more praise when I did things well; the apathetic and unfair teachers could have been denied tenure. My parents could have tried other tactics besides telling me to ignore it, or done more to help me develop social skills, or even moved me into situations where my skills and interests would have been assets instead of liabilities. Hard to say, it's been 12 years since I've been a teenager.
The trick ultimately for all of us, teens, old farts, or other, is to be content with what we are when we are. I've been saying since sometime in college that "now" is the best time of my life, and I fully believe it. In college, I was in my element and flourishing for the first time in years. There were still jerks, but there were people who accepted me for who I was and even people who encouraged me at what I did because they thought I was good at it.
Now that I'm 31, I couldn't be happier. I'm married to the most wonderful woman in the world (no offense to other guys' wives or to the women), and I have the world's greatest daughter (no offense to anybody else's daughter). I get to make money by doing what I enjoy -- writing -- and I get to indulge other hobbies, like organic gardening and provoking Ken. When I turn 40, I imagine I'll feel much the same way I do now -- that it's the best age to be -- and I'll continue to feel that way for as long as I live. If I could have felt that way when I was a teen, I would have enjoyed that age despite the glassholes, and now that I'm a father, I'm going to do what I can to let my daughter experience the fun of being a teen that I missed.I think I had a point, but I can't remember what it is.
While the United States is indeed post-Christian and our peoples do need to respond to the gospel, a nation like Afghanistan, where sharing the gospel has been a capital offense for at least five years, has a much smaller Christian presence than Western nations like the United States and Australia.
"Operation World" claims the Christian population in Afghanistan is .01 percent, or about 2,314 in a nation of 23,141,000. That might have changed a little in the half-dozen years since my edition of "Operation World" was published, but it indicates a nation in much greater need for missionaries than our own.
Tuesday, November 20, 2001
My wife is breastfeeding our first child. One day while we were at a friend's house, my wife was nursing the baby when our friend's 5-year-old son, Dré, came over and watched her in utter fascination.
Filled with curiosity, he asked my wife about nursing. "Where do you get milk for the baby? Do you just drink a lot of milk and it all gathers there?"
When my wife was about seven months pregnant, we were visiting some friends' house for a Bible study. After the study was over, our friends' 4-year-old daughter came over, and as children are wont to do, she petted my wife's stomach and talked to the baby inside.
Rose's father is a little portly, and so was caught a little off-guardwhen Rose lifted up his shirt and asked, "Do you have a baby in there, Daddy?"
Monday, November 19, 2001
I was disappointed that some of the best lines of the book were absent -- not surprised, given the length of the movie, but disappointed.
The adults did a good job acting, overall; the kids were leagues better than Jake Lloyd ("The Phantom Menace"), but still lacked polish.
Cleese's role was disappointinly brief -- he probably had no more than a minute of walk-on time. Not surprising, since Nearly Headless Nick has such a small part in the book, but it still seemed like a shame given that this was John Cleese.
The thing that I felt was most lacking was that it seemed like the kids were moving along too quickly. They suspected Snape of treachery without any clear reason to suspect him of duplicity. They picked up ideas about the Sorcerer's Stone seemingly from thin air, and generally seemed to hurry through the plot.I was actually quite happy with the cuts they made at the beginning. In a book, it works well to meet the Dursleys first on the day of Voldemort's defeat, and then work our way toward discovering Harry, but it was highly cuttable material, and I'm not sure how well they could have translated it to a visual medium anyway.
I did love the addition of getting Dudley stuck behind the plate glass in the snake display. That was brilliant.And I was very disappointed that they chose to have Hagrid get Norbert's egg from an Irishman. I can't think of a single good reason to eliminate the "Greek chappie." If there were a triple-headed hound at the gates to Annwn, I could perhaps overlook the trangression, but there's no such critter in any Gaelic myths I've read.
I probably won't see the movie again until it comes out on video next year -- but after a lot of rumination, I think I would have made the following changes:
- I would not have had Snape wish Harry luck at the quidditch match. Hopelessly out of character.
- I would have extended the scene in Potions class where Snape belittles Harry to the point that Harry suggests Snape call on Hermione, and Snape takes off five points from Gryffindor for "cheek."
- Harry, Ron and Hermione should have seen Snape running toward the door where Fluffy is kept.
The Norbert stuff needed a little more work. He too obviously was a plot contrivance in the movie, to get everyone detention and then to find a way past Fluffy -- a way they didn't even need, incidentally, since an enchanted harp was left behind -- while in the book Norbert provided a good example of Hagrid's love of monsters. He probably could have been cut entirely to make the movie work more smoothly.
Tuesday, November 13, 2001
We need to pray for the needs of these people, not just for a stable political government, or a sound economy, or other such things. We need to pray for their spiritual liberation and for a true religious revival in Afghanistan. (And in our own nation, for that matter.)
We also need to avoid assuming that if al Qaeda falls, then our troubles from terrorists are over. There are many terrorist groups out there, al Qaeda being the one on everyone's mind right now because of Sept. 11.
Thursday, November 08, 2001
One of my wife's best friends was married in a church out in Tucson, Ariz., that could fit my entire block on its campus three or four times and still have room left over. It had a coffee house, a bookstore, high ceilings and probably an accredited Christian school and daycare on the premises. I kept thinking of the kids I knew in Haiti who had diminished eyesight from malnutrition, and of the teenage prostitues I met while I was down there. And I kept thinking of the poor in their own city and wondering why I didn't see a sign that said "Soup kitchen" or "Homeless Shelter."
Not their ministry, I guess.
The personal kicker was that because we had a child with us, we were told we had to sit in a separate, sound-proofed room so no one would be disturbed if she cried. That has to be the lamest excuse I've ever heard to tell someone they're not welcome in your church. ("Well, we're concerned if she cries it'll interfere with our seamless arrangement of the service.") And of course the pastor complained twice about cell phones ringing during the service.
I don't know. Megachurches CAN do some good things. Willow Creek's dramas usually are better than 90 percent of the stuff that passes for drama in the church today, and they do make an effort to make sure that everyone involved in their church is plugged into a Bible study and a small group of people.
But I think megachurches also become excellent places to hide from Christ and from accountability and they're symptomatic of the American idea that bigger is better and that money/material resources can solve all our problems. It's not just in America were that happens; the largest church in the world is an Assembly of God church pastored by Paul Yonggi Cho in Korea. But the phenomenon is very prevalent in America and, I believe, originates here. We have an incredible love for bigger and bigger things.
Most be those Texans.
Which is better, an effort at a high level that is diluted across a wide area by the time it trickles down to the grass roots, or a tight, focused effort in a small area with a smaller group of people?I think I know which model Christ used. While people came in huge crowds to see Jesus, my impression has been that he did the bulk of his ministry and teaching in smaller groups, either with the Apostles or with whoever was giving them dinner that night.
It wasn't as though he held regular large meetings for people to come to in the same place all the time.
That's not as much as a "natural" language, but it's nothing to sneeze at either. Esperanto is the most successful constructed language ever made. It is at least enough to make someone with a passing interest in linguistics waste a little time reading about it.
Judging by the web sites, at least some Esperantists still share that goal of a universal auxlang. They note that English has a global penetration rate of only 8 percent; i.e., that the population of native English speakers is limited largly to Great Britain and the United States, and a few other former or current territories and colonies of those two great powers, such as Australia and New Zealand.
Now criticism of English as a global language has some legitimacy. English is irretrievably connected to hundreds of years of Colonialism via Britan and the United States, and as our sun sets, it's likely the influence of English also will wane.
Other linguas franca historically have diminished when the power behind them disappears as well. Witness French, for instance. Once the language of international diplomacy and culture, it still has some added sway because of France's prominence in European and global history, but it's been bumped from its pre-eminent seat as the language to learn.
But the Esperanto criticism of English is exaggerated, and also rests on a faulty or inconsistent definition of what constitutes a speaker of the language. While they claim that only 8 percent of the world speaks English, these sites keep claiming that there are 2 million Esperanto speakers globally.
That's impressive, considering it has no homeland to speak of, but that figure surely includes speakers beyond the estimated 4,000 or so for whom Esperanto is their mother tongue. With that same definition in place, English has a much higher than 8 percent penetration rate globally. There are English speakers in almost every country on earth.
They may be confined to the wealthy and the powerful in some countries, but they're there. And in the countries of Europe, and many other places as well, English proficiency is part and parcel of getting a basic education.
English today is like Greek and Latin were in the days of the Roman Empire. While it's not universally spoken or taught in other countris, it is the de facto "second language" of the world and generates the bulk of new words in most major lanaguages.
Like Greek and Latin, English itself is fragmenting as it spreads and produces hybrid languages in different parts of the world. Singaporean English, or "Singlish" uses a hefty amount of English vocabulary, but follows Singaporean grammar. Similar things have happened in Russia with "Russlish" and in Mexico with "Spanglish." In the long run, international English may have less to do with the Queen's English than with its children.
Long and short of it? English is deeply entrenched into the affairs of the world. Expect it to last long after the United States recedes from the world stage.
Copyright © 2001 by David Learn. Used with permission.
That being said, I don't see the point in clinging to a system that everyone else in the world has stopped using. All that's holding us back is inertia, and the only time scientists use English measurements is when they work for Lockheed Martin and NASA hires them to land something on Mars.
There was a big push when I was in elementary school to get everyone to learn metric because we were going to switch over by 1980 -- there were even Schoolhouse Rock songs about the metric system -- but we still haven't made the switch. My mind boggles.
I learned to "think metric" when I was an AFS student Down Under back in 1987, and still do, to an extent, as seen in my Delphi profile.Back in 1994, when I was teaching at a Christian school in Bethlehem, Pa., one of my students became horribly offended that I would think the English system is outdated, cumbersome and best dropped. She called my attitude "unpatriotic." Of course, that was the year I committed any number of heresies, including saying that the teenage Jesus probably had zits ...
It could be partly because the other actors have been doing the Muppet voices for so long they'd prefer to use more of their time elsewhere. Frank Oz, for example, had nearly as much to do with creating the Muppets as Jim Henson did, but he's been doing more directing lately.
On top of that, Elmo shows up on everything. All the specialty "Sesame Street" videotapes I've seen have had Elmo as the main character: ABCs, counting (what, is the Count not good for that anymore?), cooking, tapes of popular children's songs, and guides to the development of warfare in the 20th century. Evangeline has a series of Sesame Street books, and Elmo is the main character of the entire series. She's been given two Sesame Street toys -- a "radio" and a toy steering wheel assembly -- and Elmo is prominently featured on both of those. My nephew has a toy guitar with Elmo on it. Press the button and it sings, "Jam with Elmo!"
All that bombardment makes Elmo more immediately recognizable to little children, with the result that even if he isn't their favorite character, he soon will be.
Wednesday, November 07, 2001
I'd demand a recount, but that joke worked better last year.
Tuesday, November 06, 2001
First there's the way he's usually described, with a hooked nose, greasy hair, pale skin, and an evil demeanor, all vaguely vampiric. Add to that the fact that he works in a dungeon. But there is more.
First, the only times we've seen him outside (that I can recall) were at night: when he discovers Ron and Harry outside the Great Hall after Ron crashes his father's car; when he is chasing Harry, Ron, Hermione, Sirius, Lupin and Wormtail under the Whomping Willow to the Shrieking Shack; when he and Karkaroff are discussing the likely return of You Know Who; and presumably at the third contest in "The Goblet of Fire."
Second, lore has it that werewolves and vampires hate each other. While Lupin and Snape aren't constantly trying to kill each other, there is a fair amount of antagonism between them: Witness Snape's efforts to out Lupin with his assignment and the great danger he was in when Sirius tricked him into heading to the Shrieking Shack back when they were students. (Dangerous as it would have been for a human to meet a werewolf, a vampire and a werewolf would really have fought -- ahem! -- tooth and nail and probably to the death.)
Third, Rowling often uses bat imagery in connection with Snape: His cloak billows behind him like bat's wings; at one point in "Goblet of Fire" Harry asks if Snape could have got down to Barty Crouch and offed him while Dumbledore and he ran down. "Not likely," someone (Ron?) says, "unless he can turn into a bat." If memory serves, there also is a scene in "Azkaban" where Lupin makes a dig about vampires, and then says, "Oh, sorry, Severus."
Fourth, Snape is always showing up out of nowhere, an entrance characteristic of the night people.
Whether Snape is a vampire, of course, is a matter of conjecture at this point, since Rowling hasn't said definitively. It's also possible he is a damphir, a creature that is half-human, half-vampire.
It was curious, but I discovered in Haiti that in Port-au-Prince, where the boujwa live, that they have Papa Noel, or Father Christmas. Out in the provinces, he's Tonton Noel, or "Uncle Christmas."
Of course, when I was there, during the embargo -- don't ever tell me that an embargo is more humane than a war, I've seen what they do -- the big phrase was "Tonton Noel pap vin paske annbago" (Santa's not coming because of the embargo).
Naturally, when it did die, my younger brother Ward and I celebrated, and our mother was so incensed we weren't allowed to get anything for the tank for a year.
My current dog's name is Sandy, but that's because we got her used from the pound (rescued her from the needle), and her previous owner had been calling her Sandy for over nine years. The dogs I've named all have had literary value to their names: Ajax and Hamlet. I was going to name my next dog Strider for a sire or Circe for a dam, but like I said, she came fully equipped ...
Monday, November 05, 2001
Watching the Superbowl holds about as much interest for me as being lobotomized. I've noticed a marked similarity in the results, anyway, with the attention a number of my friends give to the game. I just don't get it. Bloody Americans take three hours to play a game that actually runs for only 60 minutes. Give me rugby any day.
I should add that my wife and I plan to hold an anti-Superbowl party this January for the benefit of people who haven't fallen prey to the game fever.
The local Mafia couldn't afford a Godfather; instead, it was run by an Uncle.
When we went swimming, we couldn't use a pool -- we had to use the neighbor's septic tank.
The schools had to rent their space to the local bars after classes were out so they could meet their operations budget.
We couldn't afford to watch TV. We just stared at the pictures we had hung on the walls instead.
No one in town had telephones either. We would just lean our heads out the window and shout our messages. The neighbor would hear them, and pass them along. It took five hours once to get directions to the corner store.
We couldn't afford canned laughter, either. We were so poor, the only way we could get laughter was to sneak around at night and steal it from people's yards or from fields where it was growing wild. And I have to say, to this date, I still enjoy wild laughter in moderate amounts. Too much of it can get really annoying, but I find that a helping of wild laughter once in a while keeps me on an even keel.
My family growing up was so poor that I had to take the neighbor's trash can lids to practice the cymbals for the school band.
My family today is so poor that Evangeline's toy drum has a picture of a Quaker on the front.We're so poor that we don't have a computer. Instead, whenever we want to go online, we have to call the ISP manually and screech into the phone.
We would have considered sunshine to be sheerest luxury. For light, we had to scrape phosphorescent algae off decaying logs and old rocks and gather them in a pile to pretend we had sun, and even then we only got to enjoy for a minutes in the afternoon (the afternoon of July 23, to be specific) before government representatives would come to remove it as part of the sun tax.
(Missionaries love to play a variation on this game, called "My Support Stinks This Month." I was going to downtown Port-au-Prince one day with some other teachers from the school where I taught English to work on our driver's licenses, when a few of them started the game going. I listened for a few minutes, then tossed in, "My support was so low this past month that I had to send my supporters money." Game ended. I won.)
Saturday, November 03, 2001
We have every tape except the most recent one, the Silly Songs countdown. Every day my daughter says, "Wats Ducky?" or "Wats Bob?" When we're in the kitchen, she'll point to the CD player and say "Bob?" Heaven forfend that we say no.
With a few exceptions, the VeggieTales tapes are excellent. (It took them until their third tape before they really caught their stride, and a couple others since then also were mediocre.) Like the classic Looney Tunes and various more recent cartoons, they rely on wit rather than the potty humor of Rug Rats or the banal talk-down-to-kids mentality of Barney, the Teletubbies and a few others.
I thought "Fib from Outer Space" was one of their finest episodes, honestly. Everything built steadily toward the climax, the humor was as witty as it's ever been, and everything just plain fit. Junior's lies were a small thing, but steadily and subtly grew until suddenly it owned him -- and, appropriately, no one else could do anything to stop the monster. Only Junior could, by telling the truth and freeing himself from what he had got himself into.
"Rumor Weed," though, was too much like a first draft. It came as the second of two really weak episodes that were less indicative of the story quality I associate with Big Idea and more of what I would expect from most Christian videos. I was glad when they got things back on track with "King George and the Ducky": more original, more clever, funnier, subtler, and none of the obvious jokes or morals we had been seeing.
I thought "God wants me to Forgive THEM?" relied on too many of the stock, expected jokes about forgiveness, and should have had a silly song instead of the "forgive-o-matic" commercial. The spoof of Gilligan's Island was inspired, though.
"Where's God When I'm S-Scared?" failed at storytelling in the Frankencelery portion, I thought; too much of Bob talking about God, although my wife and I were singing "God is Bigger than the Bogeyman" long before we were married, let alone had a daughter. Similarly, I thought the "Oh no, What We Gonna Do?" song is unforgettable, but the Daniel story as they presented it was too Sunday school-ish.
The other episiode that doesn't even get considered for favorite video include "Silly Sing-along 2: The End of Silliness?"
But a favorite? "Lyle" is still amusing, and I really enjoyed "Madame Blueberry." And like I said, "Fib" is excellent. "Esther" is topnotch too.
Friday, November 02, 2001
It's right to pray for justice, to pray that God thwarts the terrorists at every step of the way, and to pray for repentance on the part of Osama bin Laden et al, but it's also important for us to pray for revival in the Mideast, to pray for Palestinian Christians, Israeli Christians, and other Christians in Iraq, Pakistan, Iran, Egypt, Jordan and Afghanistan.
My other point also remains: We need to examine ourselves as a society and as a church. What do we need to repent of? It's possible God IS calling us to account for our sins as a nation, in which case we need to get right with him.
Is the enemy just Osama bin Laden, the al Qaeda terrorist network, and other organizations allegedly involved in the Sept. 11 and subsequent terrorist attacks?
Is the enemy fundamentalism? If so, does that apply to other "flavors" of fundamentalism?
Is the enemy extremism in general?
What is the spiritual component to what we have been seeing before and after the attacks? What should we be praying for?
Some people are saying that we brought the attacks on ourselves because of our politcal or economic policies, in backing Israel despite its troubled relationship with the Palestinians that has led to a yearlong intifadah, and in propping up corrupt foreign governments because of their benefits to us in terms of trade or political leverage, even in the face of horrendous human rights. Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell went as far as blaming homosexuals and abortionists. What should we as a church be repenting of?
I don't know about anyone else, but I find it troubling to hear people wishing Osama bin Laden the most exquisite deaths imaginable and gloating over the probable soteriological sceniarios now being played out by the perpetrators of the Sept. 11 attacks. My wife and I pray daily for the people in Afghanistan and for the Taliban, for their repentance and for revival in that nation.
Thursday, November 01, 2001
It's not as silly a question as it first appears. Remember that Abel's death is the first human death recorded in the Bible. It's conceivable that when Cain struck his brother he had no idea of what was about to happen.
See, at our church's "Harvest Festival" -- which I insist on referring to as a Halloween party, since I doubt more than a half-dozen of us in the church harvested anything, and certainly not enough for it to be worth throwing a festival over -- I went dressed as Severus Snape, Harry's potions professor.
This got me into a conversation with a couple of the children who have read and loved Harry Potter, and I noticed that one of the aforementioned preteens was listening to the conversation with that sad look of someone who wants to be a part of something but doesn't know what he needs to, to make that change.
So, being the left head of a three-headed beast that I am, I bought a copy of the book for his parents to read so they would approve it for their children as well.Thus do I continue my campaign of deception.
The idea is nice, but Elmo makes one awful host, and the actual performances are so unbelievably subpar for Sesame Street that I'm amazed Children's Television Workshop put that name on it. There was no innovation to speak of on most of the songs, the arrangements were way too simple and it contains what I imagine are supposed to be cute little segments of real children trying to sing the songs.
Evangeline was mesmerized by the video, but I think the producers forgot that Sesame Street's greatest strength is that it entertains children without talking down to them, so adults can enjoy it too.
We have the 25th Anniversary Musical Celebration videotape, and I actually don't mind watching that one with Evangeline or hearing it while I'm working in another room. Now I have to figure out how to specify to people that we'd prefer tapes like that one and not these cheesy "Elmo Presents" tapes.