Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Red Carpet Mania

Did you catch the Academy Awards the other night? The wife and I joined some friends for an impromptu Oscar Party. (We all promised that if anyone made it to a major awards ceremony, all of us would be attending as a group!)

Is it just me, or has the notion of celebrity taken on a cult-like status in our country? Admittedly, I’d love it if the wife became famous and hit the big time in her acting career. But I couldn’t help confess to her the other day that I hoped she would have a “successful, fulfilling, and satisfying career as an anonymous B-list actress.” While we both laughed at my statement, I really do hope my redhead achieves great success without the accompanying zaniness that currently surrounds much of Hollywood. People today pay an insane amount of attention to celebrities. Why are they so important to us? What is with the fascination with celebrity?

Recently, I ran across an article on Time magazine’s website that left me scratching my head. Apparently, there’s a company in Austin, Texas that, for the hefty price of $1500, will provide you with four photographers who, for two hours, will chase you down and harass and photograph you as if you were a real life celebrity. Crowds will gather on the street as people stop, stare, and ask each other, “Who was that?”

This escalating fascination with celebrity reminds me of an article I read in graduate school by Dr. Philip Cushman, a psychologist at Berkeley, on the topic of the “empty self.” He states that “the empty self is filled up with consumer goods, calories, experiences, politicians, romantic partners, and empathetic therapists…[The empty self] experiences a significant absence of community, tradition, and shared meaning…a lack of personal conviction and worth, and it embodies the absence as a chronic, undifferentiated emotional hunger.”

One of the tell-tale signs that our culture is rampant with empty selves is the current obsession with celebrities. Well known people provide us with the opportunity to fill our empty souls with the drama surrounding their lavish lifestyles. Surely our hunger for drama points to the fact that we were made to live for something larger than ourselves. Without a transcendent purpose to life, the temptation to sign up for the cult of celebrity is hard to resist.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Losing my manhood, one chick flick at a time

I knew that marriage would change my life but whoa…I think I’ve seen more chick-flicks in the past eight months than the last ten years combined. I can’t even begin to remember the last time I saw a good act of senseless violence on the silver screen.

Here's my rundown of the some of the flicks my bride has forced me to watch, I mean, invited me to enjoy with her:

Enchanted: This movie features a vivacious redhead who spontaneously bursts into song the moment inspiration strikes. In other words, I paid $11 to watch a movie about my wife.

In the ensuing weeks, I endured countless moments of scrutiny regarding whether or not any of my freely offered kisses were “the kiss of true love.”
Rating: one chainsaw

27 Dresses: A film about every wedding but my own. A major testosterone reducer. I could feel the estrogen rising in the movie theater as the film’s opening credits appeared on the screen. 27 hours too long.
Rating: one chainsaw

Pride and Prejudice/Sense and Sensibility: These are listed together because I can’t remember which one I slept through and which one I saw in its entiretly.
Rating: 2 chainsaws (I can’t give Jane just one chainsaw, poor Jane needs an extra one to sell so she can live off the proceeds until the right wealthy suitor comes along).

(Dear God, please spare me from having to sit through the BBC version).

Definitely, Maybe: Two hours of watching a recently divorced man tell his nine year old daughter the story of how he slept around with, I mean, dated three women and finally chose her Mom.
Rating: one chainsaw

Bridget Jones Diary: I can’t remember what it was about. Something about a woman who falls in love.
Rating: no chainsaws

How long ‘til the new Indiana Jones movie is released?

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Mandibles pressing together

What exactly, is a kiss?

I looked in the dictionary and found the following entry

Kiss: noun
1: a caress with the lips
2: a gentle touch or contact
3: an expression of affection

My favorite definition of a kiss (tongue firmly planted in cheek) is the following:

“A kiss is two mandibles pressing together for a certain duration of time, with the possible exchange of some digestive fluid”

Sort of misses the mark, doesn’t it?

Science, for all of its enormous benefits and unquestionable help in improving much of our quality of life, sometimes oversteps its boundaries. When it tries to make sense of parts of the world for which it is completely inadequate, we sense and feel its insufficiency. The constant scientific reduction of everything to the merely physical leaves me feeling empty. It reduces life to the equivalent of an IRS 1040 tax form. All the facts and figures are present, but it no longer takes your breath away. A kiss turns out to be nothing more than two mandibles pressing together.

That’s one of the reasons why the world needs artists, poets, storytellers, actors, and filmmakers. They remind us that we live in a world teeming with beauty and wonder.

The scientific world at times feels to me like a raging river that swells dangerously beyond its banks, crushing any who block its attempt to explain reality. Like the proverbial tale of a boy who discovers a hole in a river dam and then plunges his finger into the dike to prevent disaster, the world’s artists prevent the destruction of beauty and goodness. They keep the wonder from leaking out. They remind us that the world is bigger than grander than what can merely be seen and discovered with our five senses.

So Happy Valentine’s Day sweetheart, and thanks for helping to keep the wonder from leaking out.

“In delay there lies no plenty.
Then come kiss me,
Sweet and twenty”
(Shakespeare, Twelfth Night)

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Seeking congruence

"The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world's deep hunger meet." Frederick Buechner

What do you love to do? Ever since I can remember, I've loved to learn. Books fascinate me. I can wander a bookstore for hours, scanning shelves full of ideas, information, knowledge, perspectives, and opinions. I love people, too. Yeah, yeah, it sounds trite, but I really do. People fascinate me. Each soul is unique. Each personality distinct. And I love a good audience. I started performing in front of audiences in elementary school, with plays and magic shows. Now I love to speak and teach. I love getting a response from a group, helping them think, causing them to reconsider something that they might have ignored or overlooked. And few things are more fun than getting an audience to laugh, especially when they (or you) least expect it.

I firmly believe that fulfillment in our vocation has much to do with finding jobs that allow us to do the things that we love to do; the things that energize us and bring us fulfillment. No job is ever perfect, but given the amount of time we spend at work, finding a role that correlates with who we are is essential.

That's why I'm in the midst of reconsidering my current job and looking for one that's a better fit. I don't know exactly where I'll be in the next six months, but I have a feeling it will involve all the things I listed above, along with a few other passions. Time will tell...

Friday, February 1, 2008

Searching for a name

A few weeks ago, I caught the movie "Into the Wild" on a flight to Europe. The film tells the true story of Chris McCandless, who, after graduating from Emory in 1990, gave away his $24,000 life savings, vanished from his family, and spent the next two years working his way up to Alaska, where he lived in in the wild, away from human contact.

I found his story compelling and moving. Who doesn't at times wrestle with the struggle for a true identity?

Though my own story is quite different, I resonated with McCandless's search for an identity. I grew up adopted, knowing only the faintest traces of information about my biological identity. How do we find ourselves? How do we wrestle with the quest for an identity?

McCandless grew up in a web of lies. His parents were not who they claimed to be. His discovery of their deception contributed to his own deep struggle with his identity. After fleeing the confines of his life in Atlanta, he gave himself the name "Alexander Supertramp", and headed off in search of himself.

Can one really find one's self in this way? Do we create our self and our identity, or do we discover it? It seemed like McCandless's newly created identity was no more real or unreal than the identity given to him by his dysfunctional family. We are all given names by the people around us. Some of those names are terms of endearment, these are the names we cherish. Some of those names wound us deeply ("stupid", "fatty", "lazy", etc.). But who can really and truly name us?

Can any self we create for ourselves be real? It seems that the only self that is real is the one known and created by God. Who else can truly name and identify us other than the one who created us?

God is described in the Bible as giving those who overcome a white stone with a name written on it, known only to him who receives it (Revelation 2:17). I wonder what that name will be? It seems like part of life's journey is spent discovering hints of what God has written on that white stone and then living out that identity. At least that's how it seems to me.