Sunday, February 28, 2016

Oscar Night Guess Time--UPDATED w/ Results

I am always woefully uninformed when it comes to picking the winners for the Academy Awards. I almost never see even 25% of the nominated movies prior to the awards ceremony. And the more technical awards are nothing more than guesswork.

This year is no different. But that won't stop me from putting my guesses in public and then maybe spending some time tonight evaluating how I did. Just as a warning, I might flood your social media feeds with Oscar talk this evening.

Note also that I haven't paid much attention to the previous awards shows--which will almost surely dictate who will and won't win tonight. So, it is really all very much a series of guesses.

Best Picture--WRONG
The Big Short

Actor in a Leading Role--RIGHT
Leonardo DiCaprio, The Revenant

Actress in a Leading Role--RIGHT
Brie Larson, Room

Actor in a Supporting Role--WRONG
Sylvester Stallone, Creed

Actress in a Supporting Role--RIGHT
Alicia Vikander, The Danish Girl

Animated Feature Film--RIGHT
Inside Out

The Revenant

Costume Design--WRONG

The Revenant

Documentary (Feature)--WRONG
Winter on Fire: Ukraine's Fight for Freedom

Documentary (Short Subject)--WRONG
Last Day of Freedom

Film Editing--WRONG
The Revenant

Foreign Language Film--WRONG

Makeup and Hairstyling--RIGHT
Mad Max: Fury Road

Music (Original Score)--WRONG

Music (Original Song)--WRONG
"Earned It", Fifty Shades of Grey

Production Design--WRONG
The Martian

Short Film (Animated)--WRONG

Short Film (Live Action)--WRONG
Everything Will Be Okay (Alles Wird Gut)

Sound Editing--WRONG
The Revenant

Sound Mixing--WRONG
The Revenant

Visual Effects--WRONG
Mad Max: Fury Road

Writing (Adapted Screenplay)--RIGHT
The Big Short

Writing (Original Screenplay)--WRONG
Straight Outta Compton

Saturday, February 27, 2016

Shade is good for birds. Didn't you know that?

This morning I was running errands: taking some empty grocery bags back to the store, dropping off a suit for dry cleaning, taking Grace to a friends house.

And while I was at the grocery store, I noticed a Wild Birds Unlimited store in the same shopping complex. And I decided to give it a try because . . . well, let me back up for a second . . .

We have a swing set in our backyard. (You might remember it if you've been following Why Won't You Grow?! for a while.) And finally the swings broke and so now we have a big wooden structure in the backyard with no discernible purpose. (Now back to the story.)

. . . so, I decided to patronize (give my patronage?) to a local store here in Westerville and buy some new bird feeders that I can hand off of the now useless hooks on the now unused wooden structure in the backyard. What could be hard, I thought? Just go in. Find some reasonably priced bird feeders and some seed and Bob's your uncle. Easy peasy.

Well, I underestimated the fervor of the local birding community, let me tell you.

As I was looking at bird feeders and calculating in my head how much I should buy ($45 for a single bird feeder seemed a bit much, I thought.) a store employee asked if I needed any help. And since I didn't think that I did, I said "No thanks. I'm just looking for bird feeders for my backyard."

And so she goes on to explain to me that there are different kids of bird feeders for different kinds of birds, dummy. And what you're holding now is for thistle seeds which are good for finches. And also this one here is for upside-down perching and feeding, which is particularly good for goldfinches, don't you know? The larger mesh items are for peanut food and a different kind of bird all together. And what are you looking for?

Well, confronted with all this information, I didn't want to expose myself as a complete and utter bird-watching noob. So I just mumbled something that was polite and didn't say that I was just looking for some cheap-ass bird feeders and I'm not opening a new branch of the Audubon society or anything. I got my bird feeders, suitable for upside-down perching goldfinches and some wild-bird seed mix that worked.

At the counter, the manager--maybe?--asked me if I wanted to sign up for their information newsletter and because sometimes they host events and walks. But, aforementioned--I'm just a dude that is now regretting not picking up a bird feeder in the pet aisle of the grocery store--where no one cares what I'm doing or even knows if I'm doing it right or anything like that. Oh, such sweet, sweet consumer anonymity!

Anyhow, I politely declined and was paying and getting ready to leave when the cherry on top of this shaming sundae was delicately set on top.
There was a woman checking out beside me. And she had some big bag of something called "No Mess" (?!!) that the manager had to help carry to her vehicle. And so the woman who had been grilling me over by the bird feeders switched with the manager to finish my transaction. She saw that I had politely declined to sign up for their walking tours and asked again--with a twinge of confusion--if I wanted to sign up. And, like St. Peter, I politely declined for a third time.

But instead of a cock crowing in the distance, the No Mess lady checking out beside me took a look at my purchases and said--with a strong bit of incredulity and laughter--"You must not have many birds! Look at that small bag of seed you're buying!"

I smiled it off, but with the growing shame that I was not worthy of buying bird supplies in their store. If I'm not ready to haul off enough No Mess (?!?) seed to rival the lorakeets in the Columbus Zoo, then why was I there? This lady was going to build some sort of wildlife preserve in her backyard. So, what was my plan exactly? Hanging some random upside-down perching goldfinch lures on an abandoned swing set?

Yeah, right.

Good luck, ya noob.

Friday, February 26, 2016

Lent #4: Empathy


Today Lynda and I were driving on the highway. She was in the passenger's seat, dozing. I was trying to drive carefully in the right lanes, taking my time. I didn't want to wake her up--she needed the rest. And as I drove along, some driver came zipping along in the lane to my left (probably driving at the posted speed limit or just above).

But I was driving slowly, deliberately, intentionally. Slower and more thoughtfully than I normally do on I-270, coming around the top outer-belt of Columbus. How many times have I made that drive over that particular section of the Interstate, between Highway 315 and Highway 23? Many, many times--back when I was driving from our first home in Hilliard to the office, on many weekends with the kids on the way back from visiting the Zoo. Or maybe on the way back from a Christmas gift hunting expedition. Whatever the reason, I've driven that part of the road on auto-pilot many times.

And I know I've been the person barreling along on someone else's left, while they were driving carefully and intentionally for some other reason. And I've probably gotten frustrated with them for driving too slowly or whatever.

Because I wasn't thinking about them. I was thinking about me.

I encounter people around me every single day. And some of them I know pretty well; my family members, my neighbors, my work colleagues, church members, acquaintances in the grocery store. I see them often. I talk to them. I know the names of their children. And I might have the occasion to help them when they are frustrated or listen to their complaints. Maybe they need advice.

Even with all that . . . I don't know them. Not really. Not even my own family members. So much less do I know the strangers that I pass in the grocery store. Or the driver that is taking their time pulling out of a parking space. Or that couple talking too loud in the restaurant. Or whatever.

I am always trapped inside my own head and blinded by my own problems and concerns.

But if I try to open my eyes and open my heart to the problems of others, I can gain some empathy for the people who are struggling just as much as I am. They have so many of the same problems that keep me up at night--very likely they have many MORE such problems.

May I never forget that everyone around me has problems that are looking for solutions. Maybe I can be that solution for someone else.

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Lent #3: Religion and Perfectionism

It's about time for me to write something else for Lent and as I was watching a video from one of my favorite YouTube vloggers, I got a tickling of inspiration from what he was talking about. And, as you can see . . . the topic is perfectionism.

(Channeling Jeb! . . . I ask you to "Please watch.")

All done?

Okay. So . . .Wheezy is right. Nothing is perfect. And perfection is not attainable by people in this world. But I see around me--especially in the media--an expectation for perfection. We expect so much of ourselves and we think that others expect so much of us. We live in a prepackaged, airbrushed, edited, softly-light media world in which the successful have got it all together and present their best face to the envious. And the bystanders take in that message and while they might listen to it, they are also subtly instructed to believe that everything is great and everyone else has it all put together and knows what is going on.

This, of course, is so very wrong.

All of us make it up every day, from moment to moment, reacting to the unknown and making decisions as we go. We try to be informed and we try to know what is what. But we often don't. We're often guessing.

But. . . if you listen to politicians and religious figures talk so many of  them speak in such strong absolutes, with such a definitive attitude of These Are The Truths That Have Been Revealed To Me! Can't you see that I have a pulpit from which to speak? Can''t you tell that I know more than you? Can't you understand that I have insight you do not have? I Am Right. And I Know The Truth. And I Have All The Answers.

So, it's hard to accept questions and doubt in the face of that sort of media-packaged certainty. And our American culture of celebrity and authority doesn't allow for doubt and uncertainty. We want our Talking Heads and Authority Figures to be . . . well, authoritative. We want guidance out of the confusion of the modern world.

Maybe that is why so many people are attracted to whatever message that Donald Trump is providing. Maybe that is why so many churches present very simple messages and lists of beliefs (if they even bother to try and teach beliefs rather than simply serve up feel-good songs and safety).

The world is complicated. And we are desperate for answers.

But, perfection is not achievable.

And I like that my faith does not try to tell you that there is only one answer. I like that the Episcopal church says all who question and all who seek are welcome. We are all broken and confused. The Episcopal church says that God and faith and effort can help you find answers and make your life (and the lives of others) better. But, there is no answer key. And we are all travelling down the path to God in a different way at a different speed. If we stay committed and if we keep Christian teachings foremost in our minds and as the guidance to our actions . . . we'll get to a good place in the end.

One of my ministries at All Saints Episcopal Church is helping with the Youth Group. And one thing I always want these middle school and high school kids to know about me is that I don't know the answers. I'd love to hear their questions. And I'll try to give them the answers that I have and that I have heard while I've grown up. But I'm never going to say that I Know What They Should Hear. Because I absolutely don't know. And to act otherwise would be dishonest. I think it is much more valuable for them to see the act of figuring it out within the framework of a hopeful life. Isn't that a much more approachable way of life to demonstrate to kids who have so many confusing things going on in their lives? Why add to it? Give them a break and let them know that it is okay to have questions and it is okay to keep asking questions. Keep searching and answers will come. And those answers will be more meaningful because they have been earned and absorbed, rather than dictated.

Nothing is perfect. No one is perfect. We're all searching. Why not search together?.

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Lent #2: Religion and Politics


The Pope and Donald Trump walk into a bar . . .

(Stop me if you've heard this one.)

So, Trump added another victim to his scorched earth campaign this week, getting into a verbal tussle with Pope Francis. Or . . . maybe Pope Francis inserted himself into the political mess by expressing his opinions about the candidate in a press interview. Either way, it got me thinking about religion, politics, and where they rub up against each other--often uncomfortably.

There is a long history of a lot of vagueness about religion and politics. And I'm not here to try and clarify any of that. I'm here to meditate some on how politics and religious work with each other in my own life. And . . . simple enough . . . they work together and inform each other--I think and I hope. My political desires reflect my religious beliefs.

Here's a brief story, for when some of this first began.

Back in high school, my mom asked me to go with her to Atlanta to attend a pro-life political event. There was a march in the city and a brief speech and rally--but I only really remember the march part. I went, because my mom asked me to and because I was not a supporter of abortions. This was probably the first time that religion and politics intermingled in my young life. As a young Catholic, I had been taught that abortions were contrary to my religious faith--both in terms of the culture of life that the Catholic Church stood for and in terms of the Church's doctrinal views toward birth control.

In my adult life, I've sometimes thought back on that march and considered it through a more educated and more personal lens. I do not at all regret participating in it and I am not suggesting that I reject what that event stood for. But I do think I am straddling a more complicated stance on the issue now than I might have had back in high school.

These days, I am still no fan of abortions. But I don't think I am "pro-life" in the way it is portrayed to most people's understanding. I think it is a regrettable choice that some people may be forced to make. But I would hope and pray that, if given the opportunity--people would carry the child to term and give it up for adoption. Not an easy choice. And in some terrible circumstances, an almost impossible choice. So . . . I can't rigidly take a stance on something and pretend that it must be adhered to by all.

Andbutso . . . religion and politics.

My religious faith tells me to stand up for life. To stand up for love. To honor the uniqueness of every person and to always put the centrality of another person as my concern. Because, I believe that God can be found in every person--no matter who they are, the circumstances of their birth, or how they were raised.

So, I want political actions that aim to lift up all, to give everyone the chance to better themselves, to remove barriers that are in front of people. I have a life of grand, unspoken, unrecognized privilege. Jesus teaches me to USE that privilege to extend love and hope to other people. It's just that simple.

And I fail to do it to the utmost. I take the lazy way. I choose the bureaucratic way. I avoid changing my life radically for the betterment of others. I won't do every possible thing that might be in my power to improve lives outside of mine. I am selfish. I have weaknesses.

But even in that weakness, I can still DO so MUCH. And the absolute least that I can do is choose political candidates and support political actions that focus on love and respect for every human being.

That's it. That's all.

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Lent #1: Sharing my faith


What am I going to do for Lent?

This has been going around in my head off and on for the last few weeks--thanks to the proddings of Fr. Jason. And I've settled on the effort of being more open and direct in my own faith and speaking my faith a bit more loudly than I otherwise do.

In some ways, I try to be a bit unassuming. I think I try to avoid the spotlight and don't need to seek out credit for things. I enjoy being a team player, but not necessarily out in front. Which is not to say that I can't lead or that I refuse to be in charge. But I hope that I am circumspect about it. I'll do what is asked of me and I'll move on to the next thing. I don't want to be too precious about the things that I do--either in my professional life or my personal activities. I will take the lead when I need to. I'll listen to the opinions of others and do the best I can in the way that I think is best. And I'll get things done and go to something else.

Success is 90% perspiration and 10% inspiration, some people say. And there is truth in that, because doing work is sometimes more important than being right. But I've learned from my parent's own example in their church life that sometimes success is based strongly on being there. You don't need to have all the answers. But you need to be available. You need to be in attendance. And you need to be willing to say yes to requests. While I've not said yes to everything that is put in front of me, I've tried to say yes more often than not.

So, all this is to say that I'm willing, I guess. But I'm not anyone special. Just there and trying to be open to the possibilities in front of me.

But. . . that unassuming attitude can sometimes slip into a lack of ownership and a lack of commitment. I don't want to be complacent. And so during this Lent and beyond, I want to speak out more clearly about what I believe and why I believe it. How does my religious faith define me? How does it inform my actions? What is valuable in my life because of faith? Can I be more honest about  where my faith needs to grow? And I hope I'll get the chance to reflect back on how my past religious experiences have changed me and made me a better person and taught me things about how to be a better adult, a better father, a better Christian.

In my life I've been blessed with lots of experiences in and around church. I've known many good people and family who do their best. And I've been helped by many, many people from the day I was born until now--people wanting the best from me and cheering me on and wishing me well.

I've been privileged in so, so many ways. And I need to continually recognize that privilege and be thankful for it, but remember to tear it aside and look beyond it to find those who have never had it as good as I. How can I take my advantages and turn them towards those in need? And when another opportunity crops up, and I'm there . . . ? Give me the confidence and the strength to step forward a bit more. I hope I can encourage myself here to not hide from responsibility. Doing this is going to open the door for more chances to say yes. For more chances to break my routine and my comfort. I hope I can do a better job of recognizing that and trying to cheerfully embrace the need for change.