Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Looking for a Must-See Film?

About halfway through the day, I decided that I simply no longer had the patience to sit in front of the computer and send out resume after resume after resume, hoping that I got some sort of quick phone call or e-mail in response. I wanted to get out of the house, and had considered going for a ride out in the country; my mother-in-law, while we were talking, suggested that I go and take in a movie (even suggesting that it be something that I would find hilarious). While I opted against hilarity, I did take her up on her suggestion of the movie and went to see Letters from Iwo Jima -- and I'm so glad that I did.

Although I've followed to a lesser extent the hooplah surrounding all of the awards and nominations that the movie and its director, Clint Eastwood, have received, I didn't know much about the film itself. I am a lover of foreign language films (note: if you're not much for subtitles, you won't enjoy this too much), and having seen and enjoyed the performances of Ken Watanabe in two earlier films (The Last Samurai and Batman Begins), I was hopeful that this would be equally impressive. I was not disappointed. This was one of the better films that I've seen in quite some time, with magnificent acting, a very compelling story (based on a collection of letters written by Watanabe's character), and a hauntingly beautiful soundtrack written by Kyle Eastwood (Clint's son, and a tremendous jazz musician in his own right).

I've seen many war movies over the years, where stories are told from the American perspective -- films where we know the history and, while we know that things are going tough for our boys, there's a light at the end of the tunnel. It was quite an emotional experience for me to see a film from the perspective of the other side, where the outcome is -- to us and to the characters -- quite hopeless, and yet where the characters continue to search for that light at the end of the tunnel. Conflicts in the movie raged on many levels; on the surface, there's the conflict between the Japanese forces and the Allies. On a deeper level, there is the conflict among main of the major characters. And at its deepest level, there is conflict within the main characters, and that is what made the movie the most interesting for me -- watching how these men, who know they are about to die, struggle over whether they should uphold their oath to defend to the death their emperor and their homeland, or whether they should remain true to their deeper, more personal obligations to their families.

Even in the midst of the chaos and death, I found moments and thoughts that could be described as inspiring, including an excerpt from one letter that was read in the film. I hesitate in discussing the film in great depth here, for the sake of those who haven't yet seen it. (If you have already gone to the theater and want to swap opinions, please feel free to e-mail me.) In short, however, I will say that this deserves to be on your "must see" list, and the accolades the film has earned are very appropriate. Now, I'm off to download the soundtrack from iTunes and add the movie to my Amazon wish list.....

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Thanks to My Readers

Life has been moving at a slow pace the past few days, but primarily due to the fact that we're not quite sure when daughter number 2 is going to make her appearance. The delivery had been scheduled for the morning of February 6, but some sudden contractions a few days ago led to the "All Hands on Deck!" signal, and the in-laws are here and ready for action. Now we're just monitoring the time between the contractions and waiting for the signal to head for the hospital. The bags are packed, the camera has batteries, and we're ready to go; all I will need (depending on the time of day) is 30 seconds to get my hair put in some sort of acceptable style before we hit the road.

I wanted to thank everyone who took the time to read my last post and leave what were most valuable comments; each was of immeasurable help, and I appreciate all of the kind words, the support, and the prayers. The pendulum has indeed begun to swing in the other direction: a new child on the way, several interviews scheduled for the week, and some little side projects to keep me occupied for a while. A new part of life is coming, and I've learned to accept that it's not under my control -- and that I just need to enjoy the ride. The slushy, brown snow that I talked about last time (which seemed so indicative of the way I was feeling and the it seemed my life was going) has melted away, and it looks like (judging from what I see outside the window right now) that it's going to be replaced by some beautiful new white snow.

Things will get better -- I just need to rely on prayers, faith, and the help of family and friends to keep me on that path. So while there's nothing going on today, I look forward to having lots more upbeat posts in the days and weeks ahead, and -- if I can get my head back into the serious reading I have standing by, maybe some intellectually challenging ones!!

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

When Your Emotions Hit Rock Bottom

I can't remember a time where I thought I knew how depression felt -- sure, I've been "down" in my life before, but I don't think I had ever really felt real depression.

I think that's changed now.

Last week, I bottomed out emotionally. Getting off the couch seemed to be too much of a chore; I didn't want to eat; I didn't want to read; I didn't want to do anything. None of my favorite things interested me, and I didn't feel like going through the motions of even showering or getting dressed every morning. At certain points, I felt like a caged animal, walking in circles around the house and not really knowing where I was supposed to be going or what I was supposed to be doing.

My wife encouraged me to pick up a project I had been pondering for a while -- a series of articles on the Civil Rights Movement in my hometown. For a time, I felt rejuvenated, and I had a wonderful trip back home to visit family and start some preliminary research on the articles. I thought that perhaps I had pulled myself out of the spiral (although a spiral implies movement, and I didn't feel like I was really moving).

And then yesterday, I got rejected by two more jobs that I had interviewed with -- interviews that I thought had gone exceptionally well, and for jobs that I was hopeful I had a shot at. In fact, I had been told that I was one of three finalists at one of them -- and now, they've suddenly pulled in a new candidate that had a previous connection to the organization and who, as I was told in the e-mail that they sent to me, "has the perfect background." It doesn't appear now that they feel there's any need for me to come in for a final interview. Having your hopes dashed and being insulted in the same e-mail; what a day.

So now, I feel pretty much that I'm back where I was last week. I showered and dressed first thing this morning in an effort to feel like I've got a routine -- but the routine at this point is just me moving back to the drawing board. One rejection I expected, three isn't surprising. But a baker's dozen? Makes you feel really under-appreciated.

And with a new daughter on the way two weeks from today, and being concerned about how to support a growing family, the gray sky that I see outside the window seems very appropriate. Even the snow outside has morphed into that slushy, brown ice -- perfect for the day.

Monday, January 15, 2007

In Tribute to Dr. King

Congressman John Lewis and I may come from different sides of the political aisle, but there are few people for whom I have more respect and admiration. His work with Dr. King in the 1960s, his participation in the Freedom Rides, and his march across the Pettus Bridge in Selma are all extremely well-known, and it was an extreme honor for me the day that I met him (he had been a guest on my boss' television program). He is one of the most generous and amazing people I have ever met, and I haven't been moved by anything as much as I was when I read his autobiography, Walking With the Wind -- a book which I strongly feel should be required reading for everyone. I thought it was quite appropriate to post this photo today.

Volume 1 of The Papers of Martin Luther King, Jr. , a project being spearheaded by Dr. Clayborne Carson at the Stanford University, includes a photograph of King when he was just one year old. The child pictured there has a look of extreme curiosity, and has his entire life ahead of him. He and his family had no way of knowing where the road would lead them -- or the country, for that mattaer.

Children are very remarkable indeed -- what they can achieve when they grow up can be miraculous.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

For Lurkers and Posters Alike...

I found this over at Faith in Florida when I was making the rounds of my blogs today. Once again, I'm apparently behind the curve on things -- I wasn't even aware that a week to encourage more blog comments had even been developed.

To all of you who have been visiting my blog and leaving comments, thank you very much; having folks read it makes it much more gratifying for me (although it is a good exercise nonetheless and helps to keep the mind sharp), and I'm still amazed -- even after having blogged for this long -- that there are folks interested in what I have to say. For those who visit and don't have anything to say, now's your chance! I'd love to hear from more of you out there!

Monday, January 08, 2007

A 365-Day Project

Well, after visiting many of my blog friends who have undertaken something known as Project 365, I decided I would give it a shot and try and chronicle a year in my life. This second blog, known as "A Dad's Life: 365 Views," is my way of giving folks a glimpse into my life -- and giving them the opportunity to see how mediocre a photographer I can be!

Hope you'll drop by and pay a visit to my second site sometime.....

Playing the Odds on God

While channel surfing today, I ran across a program which included a reference to Blaise Pascal's "Wager" -- his attempt to utilize game theory (a type of applied mathematics) in an effort to influence people to choose whether or not they believe in God. The "Wager," which was included in a collection of notes published posthumously, was at its most basic an exercise by which a person could choose their belief based on their desire to achieve a maximum return on that belief. According to Pascal:

God is, or He is not. But to which side shall we incline? Reason can decide nothing here. There is an infinite chaos which separated us. A game is being played at the extremity of this infinite distance where heads or tails will turn up… Which will you choose then? Let us see. Since you must choose, let us see which interests you least. You have two things to lose, the true and the good; and two things to stake, your reason and your will, your knowledge and your happiness; and your nature has two things to shun, error and misery. Your reason is no more shocked in choosing one rather than the other, since you must of necessity choose. This is one point settled. But your happiness? Let us weigh the gain and the loss in wagering that God is. Let us estimate these two chances. If you gain, you gain all; if you lose, you lose nothing. Wager, then, without hesitation that He is.
In short: if you believe in God, and He exists, you've won everything; if you believe, and He doesn't exist, you've lost nothing; if you don't belive and He exists, you've lost everything; if you don't believe and he doesn't exist, you've lost nothing.

In the context of modern theology, I can't see how this sort of playing the odds could be taken seriously -- pinning your hope on a next life on the spin of a roulette wheel (I'll put my hopes for Heaven on black 23), or hitting on a 16 in blackjack (thus hoping the dealer busts, you win, and God does in fact exist). However, if I remember correctly from my post-graduate theology courses, Pascal's thesis in some ways follows up on a major theological debate which was taking place in Europe at that time, beginning with Luther: does one get to Heaven through faith, or through good works? Pascal seemingly argues that, regardless of whether there is a God and a Heaven, you should bet your money on good works (just so you don't take any chances with the outcome).

So what do most Christians today believe, or what do they hold as the most important part of their religion? I went into thinking about this question with one thing in mind: naturally, faith in God and a belief in Jesus and the Resurrection must be the most important thing to Christians. However, the more I read, the more that I found that many Christians surveyed practice what has become known as "Golden Rule Christianity." In a survey published in 1997 in Congregations: The Alban Journal, Nancy Ammerman wrote, "...they [the survey respondents] said the most important attributes of a Christian are caring for the needy and living one's Christian values every day. The most important task of the church, they said, is service to people in need." One of my favorite Christian writers, William Stringfellow, lived his life by putting his faith into action and working as a social activist. My own church shares and spreads its Christian faith by being extremely involved in numerous community outreach and global mission projects. Bonhoeffer acted out his faith by opposing the brutal Nazi regime in Germany in the 1930s and 1940s.

Looking at the countless examples of good works performed every day -- Habitat for Humanity projects, medical mission trips, homeless shelters, employment assistance services, job retraining services, food banks, the Bread for the World and ONE Campaigns, Amnesty International, Episcopal Relief and Development, etc. etc. -- hasn't the old, Reformation-era argument become moot? Do a majority of Christians today instead believe that you reach Heaven through faith and good works, instead of either/or? And when was this shift?

I look forward to your thoughts on this. I certainly don't feel I've adequately posed the question, but I know the answers I get will more than make up for this....

Friday, January 05, 2007

Do You Live Your Life Fully?

I've been thinking a great deal today about the fact that, in between my job interviews and the near-constant stream of resumes I've been sending out, I really haven't done much to utilize my time. Channel surfing and web browsing are okay temporarily, but there's no sense of accomplishment at the end of it all. Am I really maximizing my time -- albeit leisure time -- or could I be doing more?

And then, in the midst of this train of thought, I ran across this quote by Dietrich Bonhoeffer:

"Time lost is time when we have not lived a full human life, time unenriched by experience, creative endeavor, enjoyment, and suffering."
Amazing how these things pop up when I least expect to find them. What do YOU do to fill your time and live the full human life to which Bonhoeffer is referring? For many of my regular visitors, I know the big things you do; what are some of the small things that make your life special -- a special place, a favorite author, hidden musical talent?

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Gerald Ford, James Brown...and a Church Organ?

I received this video from a member of an e-mail list of which I am a member. During the New Year's Eve Service at Trinity Church - Wall Street, the organist did a short improvisation just prior to the beginning of communion in tribute to President Ford and James Brown. It combines "Hail to the Chief" with a portion of "I Feel Good." I couldn't help but smile when I watched it -- it's a great tribute to both men, and certainly shows that church musicians can go outside the usual boundaries and have some fun during the service.