A movie I definitely have to go see...

Haven't seen many movies lately. I don't think I've even seen one of the Oscar contenders this year. That said, before I see Sideways, Million Dollar Baby, The Aviator, and all the other ones, I'm seeing this movie first...

Alone in the Dark

Let's play free association...

Tara Reid... Anthropologist

Christian Slater... Paranormal Investigator

Yeah, this could eclipse Alien v. Predator, Double Team, and Top Gun as the best Enjoyably Watchable Bad Movie Ever. If you're interested in going, let me know...


For you Napoleon Dynamite lovers...

Here you go...

The Link

I personally thought the movie was exploitive and manipulative in creating a character for everyone to ridicule, but hey, whatever bloats your goat...


Playlist of the Week - 23 Jan 2005

This is the first installment of what I hope will be a weekly feature on the Nateblogg - Playlist of the Week.

As I've mentioned to many of you (and in my last entry), I developed an iTunes dependency over the Christmas Holiday. After putting all the music I own in my iTunes library, I proceeded to 1) Buy music on iTunes compulsively and 2) Craft playlists of songs from my collection. I say "craft" because assembling a good playlist is not akin to throwing darts - the flow of the songs must be given careful consideration, so that, when listened to, the playlist whisks the listener away on an unforgettable musical adventure.

My first playlist is entitled "Waky, Waky, Eggs and Bacy", and is burned onto a CD that I wake up to every morning. I'll list the tracks, and give a short comment on why I selected each one.

1) "Lovely Day", Out of Eden - Upbeat, hip-hop gospel song that begins with the line "When I wake up in the morning Lord/And the sunlight hurts my eyes..." Maybe the most pitch-perfect wake up song I know of, other than "Sex Machine" by James Brown...

2) "Full of Grace", Sarah McLachlan - Ethereal vocals and soothing piano, this track beautifully conveys sympathy to me as I lay in my bed, not wanting to face the consequences of full consciousness yet...

3) "Lady Soul", Charlie Peacock - A soulful track by Charlie Peacock about the virtues of listening to Aretha Franklin in the morning. Great chorus, and as usual with Peacock, some deeper thoughts to ruminate on through the day.

4) "Every Little Thing She Does is Magic", the Police - A song about not having the balls to tell a girl that you're crazy about her. Was a touchstone song for me a few years ago - don't ask me why. This starts the "Love-related" portion of the playlist. I'm taking the approach with Romantic Love that I will think about it a little bit each day, starting in the morning...

5) "You are the Sunshine of my Life", Stevie Wonder - There must be at least one Motown hit in a morning playlist (The Charlie Peacock song above is just a tribute). This song was used in a coffee commercial when I was growing up, so I like to think of it as a subliminable coffee.

6) "Brown Eyed Girl", Van Morrison - Great song. Anytime. Never gets old. Seriously, would there ever be a time when you would say, "You know, I just don't want to hear 'Brown Eyed Girl' right now?" It would be akin to being against Ice Cream or something...

7) "Sometimes By Step", Rich Mullins - Touchstone God Song for the day. One of Rich Mullins's best, where the verses build to a crescendo that is met by the familiar "Step by Step" chorus. The song expresses a commitment to serve and trust God despite our own shortcomings and outright failures. Watching him perform this in concert at UT in 1996 was definitely a "Dusty Moment" for me.

8) "Linus and Lucy", The Vince Guaraldi Trio - This is the "Charlie Brown" song, and for me, it's the "Get your butt out of bed or you'll be late for work" song. It conveys motion, and is eminently danceable. Even so, I usually stay in bed just a little longer...

That's all for now...


Two Words and Dusty Moments

After winning his 3rd NBA title in 1993, Michael Jordan decided to take a break from ruining the sport of basketball and "retired" to try to make it as a baseball player. A season of AA ball around the Mendoza line was enough to teach him that, as Clint Eastwood once said, "a man's got to know his limitations," and in spring of 1995, he announced his return with a two-word press release:

"I'm back"

Over the last eight months, I've done many things. I journeyed to Russia for the ninth time since 1993 (I first went to Russia around the time Jordan "retired"). I studied for, took, and (by the grace of God) did OK on the biggest test of my life. I fell in love. I watched the Boston Red Sox break the Curse of the Bambino in Providential fashion as they completed the greatest comeback in sports history over their New York Yankees (For a good idea of what I'm talking about, see Bill Simmons's account). I developed an iTunes dependency. I almost killed Wolfy, then watched him grow into a neurotic, feline version of the rabbit from Monty Python and the Holy Grail. I did all this and more, but one thing I did not do...

Update my damn blog.

So, for the four or five of you who relentlessly bug me about an update (Ellen and Kelly come to mind), I've got two words for you...

Stupid Fly.

(Oh, yeah, and I'm back too. I'm just trying out this year's replacement for "Crunk"...)

A few thoughts on my plans for the Nateblogg in the next few months:

1) I'm aiming to deliver one good essay early each week, with a bonus picture, iTunes playlist, or short thought arriving sometime around the weekend.

2) I have not yet worked my writing back into pounding shape, so if my entries are a bit on the weak side early on, bear with me.

3) PLEASE give me feedback freely and often, in person and on the "comments" - I thrive on input (this first entry flows out of a chat session I had with Kelly), and the more this blog resembles a jam session, the better. More importantly, without input, the Nateblogg is liable to consist of entries along the line of "Why the [censored] didn't you play Major against [censored] OU in 2001, Mack Brown?" and "The 44 things I [censored] hate most about [censored] North Austin." You see, without feedback, I grow frustrated and nonsensically opinionated and start using words like [censored], [censored], and [censored]ity-[censored]ball.

4) Still the same general subject matter - the Christian faith, pop culture, sports, and life.

Enough business - Onto today's entry...

Dusty Moments

Over New Year's Weekend, my brother Aaron and I attended the Rose Bowl. The game was a thrilling shootout that the Texas Longhorns won over the Michigan Wolverines 38-37 behind a video-game-like performance from Vince Young and a last second field goal by former walk-on kicker Dusty Mangum. When Dusty's kick glanced off a Michigan player and skirted inside the crossbar for the winning points as time expired, and the Texas crowd erupted in celebration, and the band queued up "The Eyes of Texas", well... it got a little "dusty" right there in the Rose Bowl. How do I know this? My heart beat rapidly, my eyes started watering, and I got a slight case of the sniffles. Since all men are brain-damaged by testosterone and thus rendered unable to cry (unless they are kicked in a tender spot), I know that it must've been a thick dust that settled in Pasadena that night. I'm guessing that it caused the record-breaking rain in SoCal shortly after.

This got me to thinking - this was not the first time I'd experienced this "dusty" phenomenon. Dust seems to appear rather often when I watch certain movies or sporting events. To paint a picture of what I'm talking about, I present to you the following list of "The Top 6 Nateblogg 'Dusty' Moments":

6) St Patrick Explains the Trinity - One morning last spring, after enjoying my customary bowl of oatmeal and Saturday morning cartoons, I flipped the channel to PBS and started watching a travel show about Ireland. The host, while standing on a lush green hilltop, recounted the (possibly apocryphal) story of how Patrick explained the Trinity to the Celtic tribal chiefs on that very hilltop by comparing it to a three-leaf clover. As the host finished the story, the scene cut to an Irish bar, where the bartender finished pouring a pint of Guinness by carving a three-leaf clover into the foamy head of the ale. All of a sudden, it got real dusty real quick on the TV loft...

5) Go Get 'Em, Tiger - (If you haven't seen it, skip to #4) When I saw Spiderman 2 this summer, I found myself sympathizing strongly with the Peter Parker character, who struggled to balance saving the world, getting an education, and maintaining relationships with his friends. The heart of the film was his heartbreaking relationship with Mary Jane, who he loved but could not pursue because it would imperil her life. The irony - by not pursuing her, Peter loved Mary Jane in the purest, most sacrificial way possible, but Mary Jane perceived that he didn't care about her at all. Well, long story short, in the final battle with the bad guy, Mary Jane finds out the truth about Peter, and why they can't be together, and we are again left with a bittersweet ending...

...except that we're not. Mary Jane drops by Peter's apartment, tells him that he's worth the risk, kisses him, and when they are interruped by another bad guy in the distance, she smiles and tells him, "Go get 'em, Tiger." Not only did it get dusty in that theater then, I had some sort of reaction to the dust that made me think I could jump tall buildings in a single bound. Then I realized that I'm white and have a bad back...

4) Finale of Les Miserables - Twice I have seen the musical Les Miserables, and both times I left early due to other commitments. Even so, it is one of my absolute favorite stories, beautifully portraying Big Ideas such as Grace, Law, Social Justice and Love (Requited and Unrequited). I finally broke down and bought the soundtrack featuring the original cast about a year ago and played it on the CD player in my bedroom. When I finally heard the Finale, the following chorus echoed through the room:

Fantine: Come with me, where chains will never hold you
All your grief, at last, at last behind you
God in heaven, look down on him in mercy
Valjean: Forgive me all my tresspasses, and lead me to your glory.

Fantine/Eponine: Take my hand, and lead me to salvation
Take my love, for love is everlasting
And remember the word that once was spoken
To love another person is to see the face of God.

As I realized in my heart that God made everything right for these people who had suffered so much in their life, and that this story pointed to the deeper Truth that God WILL make things right for those who know Him, well, you guessed it - the room got really dusty. I changed the air filters in the house shortly after...

(A Quick Note: This experience strongly influenced my blog entry entitled "In Memoriam", which I wrote shortly after the death of my friend Jeff Williams.)

3) Miracle: "I'm Mike Eruzione..." - There are some stories that Disney was meant to tell, such as "Remember the Titans" and "The Steve Kerr Story" (it will happen someday, trust me). "Miracle", where the 1980 US Olympic Hockey team pulled off the Greatest Upset of All Time over the Soviet Union at Lake Placid, is one of those stories. For those unfamiliar with the story, US Coach Herb Brooks (played by Kurt Russell) takes a collection of American college hockey players, puts them through 6 months of hell, they come together as a team, and they win the Gold Medal at the Olympics, beating the professional-caliber Soviet hockey team in the process.

During the 6 months of hell, Coach Brooks periodically asks the players "What's your name, and who do you play for?", to which the players would respond along the lines of "Mike O'Callahan, University of Boston." After a lackluster performance in an exhibition game against Finland, where the players were distracted by the Finnish women (believe me - completely understandable), he calls the players out on the ice to skate windsprints for hours into the night as he screams at them. At the point where everyone looks like they are about to collapse and die, Mike Eruzione, a marginally talented player with a lot of heart, starts the following exchange:

Eruzione: I'm Mike Eruzione!
Brooks: And who do you play for?
Eruzione: The United States of America!
Brooks: Hit the showers!
(dramatic music)

While watching this film at the purple house, the inevitable dust cloud got into my throat, and I had to scream a couple of times to cleanse the palette.

(Another Quick Note: I showed this movie to a bunch of Russians last summer, and they thought the portrayal of the Soviets seemed a tad biased and inaccurate. Then again, if they don't like it, the Russians could make their own version of the movie, call it "Shameful Disaster in America", and pair it in a DVD set with "The 2004 New York Yankees Year-in-Review"...)

2) "I may not be able to carry the ring for you, Mr. Frodo..." - In making The Lord of the Rings movie trilogy (I consider all three parts to be one movie in three parts), Peter Jackson and Fran Walsh took a story that should have been impossible to make into a movie, and he utterly nailed it. Like Les Miserables, JRR Tolkien's masterpiece addresses many Big Ideas (Humility, Community, Sacrifice, and Evil among them) in the guise of myth, and in doing so reveals deep Truth. I may discuss this further in a later essay, but for now, I'll discuss my favorite dusty moment...

According to Tolkien, the two primary heroes of The Lord of the Rings were Sam and Eowyn. Sam's relentless devotion to Frodo was strongest in the darkest of times, and Sam and Frodo saw no time darker on the slopes of Mount Doom. With both hobbits collapsed and exhausted (and a James Galway flute solo playing) Sam recalls the Shire, mentioning strawberries and cream among other things of High Beauty. When Frodo laments that the Ring has siphoned away all memory of taste, Sam rises up with new resolve, and growls, "Well, let's be rid of it, then! I may not be able to carry the ring for you, Mr. Frodo, but I can carry you!" as he lifts Frodo onto his shoulders and starts the final stretch of their quest. I would like to mention here that I caught a midnight showing of this movie, so as I was viewing this at 3 AM, my eyes were bloodshot and I was exhausted, so I might very well have gotten a little emotional. It is something of a blur, like my 21st birthday.

By my count, there are three dusty moments in The Fellowship of the Ring, one in The Two Towers, and about seven in The Return of the King. As an Engineer, I must recommend that the exhibitors inspect the HVAC systems in the theaters that show these movies - this much dust could be a health hazard.

(One more Quick Note: My Dusty Moment from the books involves the other hero, Eowyn. The love story between Eowyn and Faramir (see pp. 254-266 of ROTK) was an unexpected joy for me to read, though it lacked the "Hey, Baby, I've got a Camaro with a big backseat" quality of the account of the romance in the movie.)

1) Major Leads a Longhorn Comeback in his Final Game - When Disney makes "The Major Applewhite Story", with Major played by Ron Howard, Chris Simms played by the bastard son from One Tree Hill, and Mack Brown played by Tommy Lee Jones, I hope they get the Holiday Bowl sequence right - a burnt orange horde may descend on SoCal and burn down Disneyland if they don't.

Major Applewhite was a quarterback at the University of Texas in the years 1998-2001. Though not blessed with immense talent, he was smart, gutty, and managed a game well - he was a college version of the Patriots' Tom Brady. He took over the job during the year that Ricky Williams won the Heisman, and by his clutch play and Opie-like countenance he became a legend. However, throughout his career, he had to battle bad knees and an endless quarterback controversy. The other man in the quarterback controversy was Chris Simms, a nice kid who WAS blessed with immense talent, but tended to make big mistakes in big games. By 2001, Chris Simms had won the job, and Major graciously spent most of the year as the backup/mascot.

Then one foggy Dallas Eve... Chris Simms freakin' choked. In the first half of the 2001 Big 12 title game, against a Colorado team that Texas had dominated early in the year, Chris Simms missed open receivers, threw interceptions, and single-handedly gave Colorado a 29-10 lead with a few minutes left in the first half. The crowd begged for Major, and got their wish when Simms went out with a hand injury. Major threw an 80-yard TD pass on his second play in, pointed at the Colorado bench, and gamely led a comeback that fell 2 points short (Colorado won 39-37.). If Texas had won the game, they would have played for the National Championship (and no, I'm not bitter). Though Major could not complete the comeback, he won back his starting job, setting the stage for his final game...

The Holiday Bowl was a long, long game. I remember this because my Russian friend Lada watched the game with me, and sat through over four hours of watching men get excited about something she didn't understand, looking gracefully miserable the entire time. Needless to say, I wasn't all that sensitive to her boredom. I was a real prick when I was 24...

On to the game - against the Washington Huskies in the Holiday Bowl, Major experienced a tough first half, throwing three interceptions, and the Longhorns fell behind. Midway through the third quarter, Washington led 36-19. Even so, I still believed in Major, and Major justified it. Major brought the team back, leading the team to three consecutive touchdowns, and Texas led 40-36 with a few minutes remaining. Washington answered with a touchdown with less than two minutes left to make the score 43-40. Major then came back on the field, completed three passes to bring Texas inside the Washington 10, and the Horns ran the ball in for the winning touchdown. Final score: Texas 47, Washington 43.

Major's final stat line: 37 for 55, 473 yards, 4 TD's, 3 INT's, and he completed 13 of his final 14 passes as a Longhorn (and yes, I did remember that off the top of my head). The bitter disappoinment of the Big 12 Championship was a distant memory, and Major was elevated from Legend to American Folk Hero. As I sat in that living room with a bunch of excited guys and a bored Russian girl, and called my friend Tommy the Chris Simms Apologist to rub it in, a cloud of dust settled over me. It followed me as a drove Lada home and on the way to my apartment. Thinking back on it, I must have resembled a live-action Pig-Pen from the Peanuts strip that night...

And a Grace Note...

As I got on the plane to go to Russia on 02 June 1999, I had several excuses to be preoccupied. I was to graduate from UT that autumn, and had no idea what I wanted to do with my life. I was about to spend 7 weeks in Russia, a country I loved but had not visited in five years, to share the love of Christ with kids in a summer camp called Sputnik. I witnessed the greatest basketball game of my life two days earlier (the Memorial Day Miracle), and my voice was still hoarse. I was about to get on a plane, and though I fly often, it still scares the crap out of me every time. Even with all of this, I managed to stay single-minded in my preoccupation...

My mom had cancer.

She had discovered a golf-ball-sized lump in her breast two months before (days after her fiftieth birthday), and underwent a full day of surgery to have it removed. On the Friday that she had surgery, I spent most of the day at the hospital, racking up minutes on my cell phone and updating visitors on the latest news. When my mom emerged from the procedure and entered her hospital room, she looked like death warmed over. I'm still glad to this day that my brother and sister didn't visit until the next day, when she looked much better.

The day before I left for Russia, I ran into my mom at the Schlotzky's on Lamar (my favorite lunchspot at the time), and she had a worried, preoccupied look on her face. Over lunch, she informed me that on the day of surgery, they tested 13 indicator lymph nodes for cancer, and that 10 were affected. More than one or two meant that there was a high likelihood that the cancer had spread. I'll mention here that her mother Joanna died after an 8-year bout with liver cancer that had spread from a pea-sized lump in her breast. My mom informed me that the doctors were running more tests, and that they would know if the cancer had spread in a few days, at which point I would be 8000 miles away.

So again, when I boarded the plane, I had a worried, preoccupied look on my face.

When we arrived in the camp, I busied myself with discos, crafts, soccer games, and relationship building, but my mom was never far from my mind. During this time, I read The Ragamuffin Gospel, a wonderful book written by Brennan Manning about the absolute sufficiency of God's Grace. Reading it shattered many of the legalistic notions that often caused me to condemn myself, and the experience of working and playing with the Russian kids provided many object lessons to me about the concepts Manning talked about. On the day I visited the Hermitage (the Palace/Art Museum in St. Petersburg), I read a chapter about walking in wonder, and it placed me in a state of mind that made the experience unforgettable. Long story short, God was speaking to me through many avenues, and the overwhelming message was this: "My grace is sufficient and everywhere. Accept it."

One night about two weeks into the trip, my good friend Tom Riley came up to me and handed me a sheet of paper. It was an email from my mom that said something to the effect of the following:

The cancer hasn't spread. I start chemo soon. Be careful and don't hurt yourself.


I stepped outside for about a half hour into the Russian dusk, sat on a picnic table, and stared up at the 60-foot evergreen treetops that towered over Camp Sputnik. There may have been some pollen in the air, but no dust that I know of. Even so, I was overwhelmed - this was the piece de resistance in God's message of Grace to me, a dagger to the heart of any care or worry. The dumbfounding joy and thankfulness I felt at that moment is something I will ever treasure. And, yeah, the pollen did get to me a bit...

Was it a miracle? By all accounts that cancer should have spread. I know many people from the church cared for and prayed for my mom. She actually got up in front of the congregation, excitedly shared her good news, and thanked them for their prayers (Amazing, considering that my mom is not that religious...). As for me, I have no doubt that God worked Providentially in my mom's body to hold back the cancer, just as He worked Providentially to teach me about Grace that summer, and I hope that someday she can fully believe this as well.

I don't know that I've ever seen a more beautiful sight than my mom's oddly-shaped cue ball head after I disembarked the plane in Austin later that summer. After the chemo treatments, my mom's hair came back the same light brown color it was when she was a little girl, without a hint of grey (encouraging thought...). Five and a half years later, she's still cancer free and is teaching Special Ed at my old high school. She will see one of her sons get married next month, and bugs the other one incessantly to get his act together and do likewise (Taking my time, mom).

I thank the Lord again for His Grace, which sustains us and subverts the devices of a cruel, unforgiving world. It's 2:30 AM, and it's been long enough. I'm posting this sucker.

(It's good to be back...)