Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Elvis has left the blogthing

Here's my blogthing of the week.

Your 1920's Name is:

Elvis Angus
What's Your 1920's Name?

I love the 20's in terms of style, the whole pulp noir thing that happened shortly after in the 30's...it's a romantic concept for me of course, but these sorts of things generally are. Just call me Elvis Angus. For anyone who loves pulp fiction, here's a link to Lester Dent's (author of Doc Savage) Pulp Master Fiction Plot.

Friday, July 21, 2006

Gotthammer's Apologetic: Conclusion

One of the emails that prompted the apologetic was from someone who admitted he lived in the “far south” (down in Texas I believe...and he's now a part of the online community I am a part of through blogging, etc. and we're two pieces of iron sharpening iron I believe-my thanks for prompting this!). I don’t live in a Bible Belt, although I did grow up in one. I no longer work for a mainline evangelical church, and I attend an emergent church. I’m what might be called a post-evangelical.

There are a lot of evils in the world, and we usually tell youth to avoid the ones I do here at Gotthammer. Don’t drink, don’t smoke, don’t swear…etc., etc.

One of my greatest heroes is C.S. Lewis. He smoked. He drank. He swore. He also wrote some of the most profound Christian literature of the 20th century.

I’m also a big fan of Jesus. Accused of being a party animal(read “drunkard and a glutton”) because he was in attendance at the parties.

I’ve been to parties; they’re an interesting place to be. To refuse a shooter can be an offense to your host. A few months ago I downed this blue Kool-aid shooter with a guy who saw sharing shooters as a ritual of friendship. I’d like to think I was doing what Jesus would do.

Jesus avoided every kind of evil, but not the appearance of. This is the approach I’ve tried to take since I was around twenty years old. I noticed that while my perfect Christian lifestyle made the people I went to church with very comfortable and pleased with me, I didn’t fit in with the rest of the world. I was told I wasn’t supposed to fit in with all those people, because Christians are supposed to be ‘set apart.’ But I was wrestling with how to be “in the world but not of it.”

My friend Gregg Evans sums it up like this; “We don’t have to fit in, but we should be able to enter in.

While smoking a cigar isn’t necessary to enter in, neither does not smoking a cigar ensure I’m being “set apart.” Many Christians who are very concerned about my being of the world are devout commercial consumers, or hunters, two things I find pretty offensive for Christians to be part of. In fact, I have an extensive list of things that lots of ‘good Christians’ do that really piss me off. Golf, for example. It’s an elitist sport for rich people that takes up a lot of good real estate that was likely parkland before it got turned into 18 holes for a game that often involves heavy drinking or gambling. For all the times I’ve been told to stay away from bars because bad behaviour could rub off on me, I think of the few times I’ve been golfing and been exposed to the sort of dirty old men who find golf an acceptable place to get piss drunk, swear at other players and tell dirty jokes.

Hockey’s another one of my hobby horses. For every Christian who tells me Dungeons & Dragons is Satanic I rebut by asking if they’ll be launching a similar crusade against hockey, which, unlike the imaginary violence of roleplaying games and first person shooter video games, actually sees people physically injured, never mind the mental torture the average hockey parent inflicts on their children. You know it’s gone too far when they’re making television commercials to tell hockey parents to cool their jets. I remember being at a hockey game where my dad was refereeing and hearing one of the people from my church swear at him for a bad call(for the record, before I’m accused of having a double standard, it’s the attitude in which the language was used, not the language that bothered me).

And don’t get me started on fast food. Or just junk food. How many youth events have people attended where they bring in some ridiculous amount of trans fat food and encourage the attendees to pig out? Eat until you’re sick; it’s just as bad for you as smoking a cigar, but apparently Jesus isn’t quite so upset about killing yourself slowly by high blood pressure or high cholesterol as he is about the off chance you’ll get lip or tongue cancer from that cigar.

It’s all about image, bottom line. If I toe the line and maintain the image, all will be well.

Now, for anyone who’s thinking, “don’t you think you spent a little too much time on this article?” my reply is, it’s taken me less time to respond once and for all to these issues than to have to punch out a new email with the same information every time someone comes visiting Gotthammer and is uncomfortable with my use of substances and the seven words you can’t say on television.

If you’re still choked about these matters, get on a plane and come see me in Edmonton. We’ll sit in my backyard and share a pint(or a soft drink!) and a good smoke (likely on the Hookah--much better than cigars!). We'll sit and discuss faith and life and ask big questions but demand no answers. Maybe I’ll even draw you a picture of some scantily clad buxom female to commemorate the trip.

In His Grip,

Mike Perschon...aka Gotthammer

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Gotthammer's Apologetic Part 7: I don't fear the Questions

Trinity told Neo it was "the question that drives us." I believe this wholeheartedly, and it has likely been the source of every other of my "deadly sins." To the broad taboos in the Christian subculture, I have asked the question "why not?" To the pressure to exist in the culture-driven gospel where the music, movies and media are all "Christian" I have asked "why?" I have never feared the question.

It drove my some of my professors (and many of my peers) crazy when I would ask questions that challenged accepted theological positions. To the statement a classmate made once that demons can't read our thoughts, which is why Jesus spoke out loud to rebuke them, I asked, "how can you know that for certain?"

I don't do it just to be a pain in the ass. If I think something makes sense, I'll leave it alone. But if someone makes a definite statement they cannot support definitively, then we're going to have a discussion. Because there is much of life we cannot know for certain.

Every now and again someone will ask me that tired, straw man question, "If you were to die tonight, do you know where you would go for certain?" I reply, "no, I don't know for certain. By faith I believe that I will close my eyes in this life and open them to the face of Christ, but I won't know it for certain until I'm dead." I know Job said something more definitive, but my guess is he meant the same thing I do. Job wasn't living in a post-enlightenment world where the phrase "to know" means something very different than it did in BIblical times. Hell, knowing someone in Biblical times might have meant you'd had carnal relations with them.

I'm not saying it's all a mystery and we can't know anything for certain about the nature of God, of faith, of theology. I just don't think it's cut and dry. And I don't think North American Evangelicalism is it. I like what Shane Claiborne says when people ask him what he is..."Are you a Catholic or Protestant?" and he says "yes". I'd be in with Brian McLaren and his mess of Generous Orthodoxy. I'm Anabaptist and Anglican. I'm post/protestant and liberal/conservative. I am irreverently reverent. I think Jesus kicks ass.

I also don't fear the questions coming in my direction either. When the students I'm responsible for ask questions, I'm excited (I call it giving people room to have a crisis of faith), because it tells me they give a damn about the state of their faith. I think any faith that can't take a walk in the real world with hard questions isn't a faith worth having.

That's why I love the blog. I can ask questions, and others can question me, or with me. I'm loving the ongoing discussion with the community here online.

So that's my seventh deadly sin...asking questions...

Gotthammer's Apologetic Part 6: Music that Kills

Friend Tim Chesterton encouraged me the last time I posted all these apologetics to do one on the music I love...rock and roll. Though I think he was specifically referring to the really controversial stuff I listen to.

I love the music that is supposedly responsible for Columbine. I like industrial music. I started listening to it back in the late 80's when my good friend Chris was dating a girl who listened to Skinny Puppy. I can remember cruising around Medicine Hat listening to "Assimilate" over and over again. I loved the blend of heavy, crushing rhythms and discordant noise alongside ofttimes soaring, orchestral melodic elements. One of the first songs I ever wrote was an industrial piece called "Modern Day Pharisee". When my first band Athan Asia was recording our first project, I took time to work on some solo work, all of which was inspired by industrial music. I'm confident that if I was left alone in a studio for a week with a full complement of instruments to work with, I'd either churn out an industrial project.

I don't like all industrial music. Some of it is too cacophonic for me. I've enjoyed Pil, Nine Inch Nails, MDFMK, and Laibach, but my favorite would be Rammstein, one of the bands that got saddled with the blame for the Columbine shootings. I think my writing on Roleplaying says everything about how I feel when pop culture becomes the scapegoat for tragedy. I've listened to industrial music since I was a teenager, and never committed an act of aggressive violence.

It's just another form of music. Most of the music I enjoy isn't the sort of thing good Christians are supposed to listen to. One of my mentors listens to predominantly folk and blues, and none of it is "Christian", that is to say, none of it gets sold at Blessings Christian Marketplace. Hardly any of the music I am deeply passionate about gets sold there either, but because the musicians who perform it are scary looking and their lyrics more nihilistic, reflections upon death and darkness, it's not kosher for me to listen to.

I know that music affects the mood. But what if my mood is lifted when I listen to music that makes other people feel "darkened" or depressed? My reaction to Rammstein's "Sonne" is one of worship and reverence. I know the band never intended their music to lift my gaze to heaven, but that is what happens when I listen to it.

An isolated incident, some might say. But I would disagree. The title of Eugene Peterson's "Christ plays in a thousand places" sums up my feeling on it. Nine Inch Nails "The Fragile" gets me (to quote Trent) "closer to God" than the new Third Day album does. I find the words more prophetic, and sometimes personally apocalyptic in a fashion that focuses me on the sublime, transcendent aspects of who God is.

Trent Reznor's latest album, "With Teeth" features a song which lyically reflects how I approach faith. In "The Hand that Feeds", Trent sings, " What if this whole crusade's A charade And behind it all there's a price to be paid For the blood On which we dine Justified in the name of the holy and the divine...Just how deep do you believe? Will you bite the hand that feeds?" To some, this would be an indictment of Christianity. For me, it's how I've walked the path of faith--asking hard questions, always wondering at the meaning behind the actions we take. I believe that Jesus did that very thing when he challenged the religious leaders of his day - he was biting the hand that feeds as it were. Challenging the status quo.

Good Christian music is status quo. Christian record companies produce music and lyrics that rarely bite the hand that feeds. There have been a handful of iconoclasts across the history of Christian popular music, but by and large the genre is bred to maintain American evangelical values. When 9/11 happened, the issue of "Worship Discovery" (a bi-monthly worship CD compilation one can subscribe to) had worship songs of a strong patriotic nature.

I like Rammstein's "Amerika" better. It asks more questions. Bites at the hand that feeds.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Gotthammer's Apologetic Part 5: I Desire Dragons

I like fantasy. No, scratch that. I love fantasy. Have ever since I was a kid. When I try to remember where my fascination with fantasy began, it's always the moment when my best childhood friend Danny Ardiel loaning me Tolkien's The Hobbit when I was in grade 4. I would tackle Lord of the Rings later that year. In grade five I began eyeing the Dungeons and Dragons paraphenalia at the toy store in the Medicine Hat Mall. I traded away four months of allowance to purchase Milton Bradley's Dark Tower game (which you can still pick up on Ebay as a collector's item for anyone whose looking to give me the coolest Christmas present ever). I coerced my dad into sneaking me into drive-in showings of The Sword and the Sorcerer and Conan the Barbarian. I couldn't get enough of swords and (heaven forfend!) sorcery. If I wasn't reading fantasy I was playing it via some board game. When there was no one around to game with, I was reading Conan comics or rendering my own fantasy images, or just as often, writing my own adventures in secondary worlds.

My mother alerted me to the dark dangers I was involved in. She read a "why Dungeons and Dragons" is Satanic article in some Christian women's magazine. While it scared me enough to get rid of all my Dungeons and Dragons materials, my love of fantasy remained. This is uber-taboo for Christians, since the Bible expressly forbids magic in the book of Deuteronomy. I would vascilate over the years - I never gave up my Tolkien, and as I grew older and more mature, began to wonder what the difference was between the Christian fantasy's magic and other fantasy's magic. As an adult, I draw no distinctions between Christian and other fantasy. Like anything else, fantasy is fantasy. Some of it done by Christians. And I still love it.

I have discussed and defended my dalliances with Dragons, as well as the Dungeons they inhabit in a number of online articles. In the last year of my Bachelor of Religion, I did a study of Roleplaying games as a tool for Christian Education, which culminated in a series of articles over at the original Gotthammer site, one of which deals directly with the issue of the magic taboo in the Old Testament. They formed the precursor to the article I wrote for Youthworker magazine called "Roleplaying Revisited". I chronicled my visit to a place "Where Faeries Live" for the Ooze.com while researching Wicca for a World Religions course at Taylor University College, which remains the most controversial piece of writing I've done to date. The article "Secondary Worlds and Primary Beliefs" was my second paid writing job, and deals with why I like Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter, and how I don't see the magic of either as diabolical.

Monday, July 17, 2006

Gotthammer's Apologetic Part 4: "Certain Dried Leaves"

I am not technically a “smoker”. I’ve asked my doctor about this. The number of times I smoke a cigar, pipe or hookah in a year does not classify me as a smoker. I smoked cigarettes from time to time when I was younger, but I don’t much like the taste of cigarettes, so I don’t smoke them.

That’s why I smoke, by the way. Because I like it. I like the smell, and with the stuff I smoke, I like the taste, or the combination of tastes when I smoke while drinking Earl Grey Tea with lots of sugar in it, or a good glass of Port.

Smoking is a great excuse to just sit around and talk. Some people use coffee to achieve this goal, and while I like coffee a great deal, I also enjoy a good smoke.

The cigars I smoke are generally rather expensive, the kind that are actually nice to smoke, unlike the smelly little units you can purchase at the local gas station. You know, the Old Port cigarillos which were my introduction to smoking, in a hotel parking lot with my friend Danny when I was around sixteen years old. Cigars are a funny thing amongst Christians. Most Christian guys will reveal that they smoke cigars “at bachelor parties” or special occasions. It’s a way to be edgy without being “bad’.

My dad once showed me “what to do with cigars.” He had been given a box for Christmas one year at work and brought the box home to show the children. He opened the box, and then proceeded to grind the cigars up over the garbage can. I remember being disappointed; I had fully expected Dad was going to show us how to have a good smoke.

I prefer Dominican cigars to Cuban, and my favourite is the Ashton Maduro. Sadly, cigars make me stink to high heaven, and I awake the morning after a fantastic cigar with a bad case of trench mouth. So I don’t smoke them often; I can’t justify burning up 30 bucks all that often, nor do I like having to clean my mouth out with bleach before Jenica enjoys kissing me again. To my wife’s credit, despite the fact that the smell of cigar smoke prevents her from wanting to be within 10 paces of me at any time, she picked me up a humidor while on vacation in San Antonio.

I smoke a pipe more than cigars, because I own two of them. The first one I owned was bought for me by my parents when I was in grade five; I dressed up as Popeye, and being a perfectionist when it came to Halloween costumes, my parents got me a real corn cob pipe. I was ecstatic about this purchase; it was on a par with getting my first knife.

Pipes have always had a mystique for me, beginning with my grandfather. He took a real shine to me; my mom said I was “grandpa’s boy.” I loved him a lot, and he died when I was only 6. He smoked all manner of tobacco, but I mostly remember him smoking his pipe, and the smell of that pipe. I loved that smell.

The next time I was exposed to that scent was in the office of my principal in elementary school. Larry Henderson was a wonderful man who encouraged his students in all manner of things. I was reading Lord of the Rings in grades four and five, and I think I considered Mr. Henderson to be somewhat like Gandalf. He once came on a hike with myself and a friend, and along the way he smoked his pipe. That picture of Mr. Henderson sitting by a coulee creek bank smoking his pipe, the scent wafting through the early summer air is one of my fondest memories.

When I was in my twenties, I went and bought my first bag of tobacco, “borkum riff” – cherry flavoured (I have since learned that the people who run smoke shops think poorly of this particular tobacco, but it seemed a good place to start). Because I didn’t know to clean the bowl out properly, the corncob cracked within a few years, and I had to replace it. So I went and picked out my own pipe; grooves in the bowl to allow the heat to dissipate, curved at the stem like Sherlock Holmes. I’ve thought about buying one of those long stemmed units like the ones in Lord of the Rings, but I’ve smoked a peace pipe, and the longer the stem, the more work it is to pull the smoke through.

Most recently I’ve been introduced to smoking the hookah. Fantastic. All the joys of smoking with none of the bad side effects. With tobacco flavours such as ‘mixed fruit’ and ‘double apple’, I was very excited to try smoking a hookah.

Like so many things, of all the things I could smoke, this is the least dangerous to me and the most pleasant to be around, but it is also the one that raises the most eyebrows, because the hookah is the same thing as a bong, or a water pipe. You could smoke hash or dope in it if you chose. You could do the same with a regular pipe though.

When a friend of mine and I were smoking a hookah at Co Co Di’s (A Restaurant in Edmonton specializing in Lebanese cuisine), we asked our waitress if Christians in Iraq smoke the hookah. She laughed and said, “Of course! I am a Christian, and it’s the priests who smoke it more than anyone else.” We were dubious that Lebanese Baptists smoke the hookah and get away with it, but I’m convinced that as cultural norms go, this one is pretty normal for Lebanese.

Shisha, which is the proper name of the tobacco one smokes in the hookah is also the least dangerous of all tobaccos; hardly any nicotine or tar in this stuff, which looks like jam or shredded prunes. If you enjoy smoking, I highly recommend the hookah; if you live in Edmonton, the place to buy is El-Saffadis Bros. lebanese grocery in the North End.

Friday, July 14, 2006

Gotthammer's Apogetic Part 3: Fermented Drink

Speaking of sitting in a pub...

The Bible does not prohibit drinking. I don’t care what lame-ass argument people come up with to say that it does, it simply doesn’t. You can talk about the wine that Jesus made from water being grape juice all you want, I won’t buy it. Nobody in the Middle East prior to refrigeration would call grape juice “the best wine”. If you leave a grape out in the Middle East without a refrigerator, it’s fermenting. When the Bible talks about wine, it’s talking about alcohol. Period.

The Bible is pretty clear about getting smashed, plastered, sloshed, piss-drunk. Fools do this. And apparently drunkards will not see the kingdom of heaven. I’m assuming they can’t do this because all they can see is the inside of the toilet bowl. I would agree that getting piss-drunk is pretty foolish based on my own experiences hugging the porcelain throne.

I am not a drunkard. I drink.

I drink because, like smoking, I enjoy it. I enjoy a wide array of drinks that contain alcohol. I have no use for near-beer, because it doesn’t taste like real beer. I don’t drink diet pop or decaf coffee either, so at least I’m consistent. My favourite drink is either a nice honey-brown or red ale, and I enjoy a rich red wine or port or even ‘fortified wine.’ I also enjoy Mexican beer, but only in the summer when I’m eating fajitas on the patio at Julio’s barrio. If I’m at a wedding, I drink highballs – draft beer at a wedding is never a good thing. I love Long Island Ice Teas, which goes back to when my sister was working at Earl’s on 16th Ave. in Calgary; she served me my first drink in a public establishment.

I had a guy tell me once that Jesus came to bring life not death, so drinking alcohol is a sin because it ‘brings death’ to brain cells. Well then, no more sneezing folks. I am certain that some of the really powerful sneezes I’ve had have killed my brain cells, because they shook my body so hard I felt it painfully in my Kegel muscle. So no more sneezing. And no football. Or boxing. Or any contact sport for that matter. As it turns out, your brain starts to “die” essentially somewhere around your late teens or early twenties. So no more living.

That said, if you're a teetotaller....more power to you. My endorsement of responsible consumption of alcohol is the result of living under the roof of two teetotallers for 20 years. And I still respect their attitudes and decisions in that area. I don't like my coffee black, but I won't be pushing my flavored creams and sugar on others either. To each their own.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

We interrupt your regularly scheduled Blog site for an important announcement.

Today is our 10th wedding anniversary. It's supposedly the silver one, but I went with diamonds anyhow. And chocolate.

Love you babe. You still make me happy, like nothing else can.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Gotthammer's Apologetic Part 2: Colorful Vernacular

Nearly every complaint I get about Gotthammer has to do with my use of colorful vernacular. I’d like to stress that this has been use, not abuse. The point of Gotthammer is not for me to cuss a bunch. If I use questionable language, I have made that choice with what I deem good reason. I use it as a form of hyperbole. For emphasis. When I say that my zero rating means the film or book was a “piece of shit”, it’s to emphasise that I don’t endorse this film in any way, shape or form.

Slang’s a tough thing to create a rule for anyhow. If I talk about shag carpet, it’ll mean something grossly different to my UK readers than it would to the North American ones. I’ve been informed that ‘pants’ means essentially the same thing in the UK as ‘bullshit’ does in North America, which along with what ‘rooting for your team’ would mean in Australia leads me to believe that the use of slang is a seriously cultural thing. One of the most godly men I’ve ever met once told my friend Chris “I’m just fucking with you” in the cafeteria line up at Hillcrest Christian College. We were standing only one space ahead of our extremely prim proper and prudish Psych professor, who thankfully was doing her best imitation of a absent minded academic. Once we got over our shock, we were able to find out that this word wasn’t a big deal in the area of South Africa he was from. An Aussie friend at Seminary used to declare ‘bullshit free zones’ without batting an eyelash.

I don’t cuss around the people I work for, despite the common usage of “shit-disturber” to describe me. I know where they stand on that issue and don’t have any reason to offend them. Coming to Gotthammer is a little like sitting down with me in a pub. I assume if you’re hanging around here we’re friends, and I let down my guard around friends.

You can read more about my opinion on this subject HERE in my "Christian's Guide to Cussing"

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Gotthammer's Apologetic Part I: Comic Book Babes

The first concern I wish to address is the accusation that I draw too many pictures of women of a semi-boudoir nature. The truth is, I posted a lot of such pictures; as a teenager I was hesitant to draw the female figure. I did a lot of my artwork around my Christian friends, and trying to get good at the female figure in church circles doesn’t get you any dates (and if the ushers catch you doing it, you go straight to hell, do not pass go, do not collect $200). Figure studies are often nudes, and these have been frowned upon in religious circles since Adam and Eve got their fig leaves (actually, only since the Puritans and other radical Protestants got crabby about images leading to idolatry, etc. There's a shit load of naked biblical characters in Renaissance art). I drew a lot of men in my teen years, and having achieved a decent handle on that, had moved on to females.

As a grown man, out from under the religious fishbowl, I’m not nearly as prudent, and so I’ve been working on drawing the female figure better since Gotthammer has been in existence. I mainly posted new artwork, not my ancient archives(Currently none of these images are up at the main Gotthammer site - but you can see them at the old Gotthammer site from before the purchase of the domain name).

The question is raised, “why aren’t they wearing more clothing?” It’s funny, I never get any emails about the shirtless Samson, or how Josh’s chest is always bare. No one complains that every one of the heroes in the comic and my artwork are all very well built, in that comic book fashion impossible for the average male to duplicate save jamming steroids into one's leg. My Rahab and Cinder sketches, in true comic form show ample cleavage. I see this as part of the genre. I know detractors would say I’m ‘causing people to stumble’ but I just can’t see that my pictures are the sort of thing that the porn addicts across the Net are downloading. I’m neither that good nor lewd an artist. I browse comic art forums; trust me, this site is pretty damn clean. Whoops, there I go again. Which brings us to the next apologetic: colorful vernacular.

Monday, July 10, 2006

Gotthammer's Apologetic: Introduction

This post and the ones to follow were all originally published here at the blog earlier this year, but were completely obliterated when I accidentally deleted the entire site. I'll do my best to do a 'remix' of these articles by inserting some more content...but my sincere hope is that those of you who commented will take the time to do it yet again.
Last year when I was getting published in Youthworker Journal on a regular basis, Will Penner, the then-editor for Youthworkerinformed me that I’d had more feature articles published in a twelve month period than he can recall coming from one author in the history of the magazine. I was delighted to hear this of course, but it also meant that the profile of gotthammer.com was raised.
With a high profile comes scrutiny. With Gotthammer, scrutiny brings criticism and questions. As each article was released, I would receive a number of emails that broke down to the following statement; “I really enjoyed your article so I decided to go to your website, and while I really really liked your article, I’m disturbed/concerned/confused about the content of your site because you swear/drink/smoke/draw pictures that are offensive.”
I considered censoring the site. I really did. A year or so ago someone commented that I drew an inordinately large number of pictures of scantily clad women. I had a couple of complaints, so I removed the ones I deemed most questionable. It wasn’t a big deal to me to change that particular part of Gotthammer. To remove a handful of pictures wasn’t such a big deal, but to take all my artwork off would not be an accurate reflection of me. Besides, by that time the site had become far more about my writing than my artwork anyhow.
The concerns that are coming now are of a moral nature. They want to know how I defend the questionable language in my articles, or the fact that I smoke and drink. I’ve looked the site over, and decided that rather than censor, I would instead attempt an apologetic (as opposed to an apology-an apologetic is more of a formal defense as oppposed to simply making excuses for my behavior), a means for newcomers to Gotthammer to come to an understanding of me and the context in which I live, work and play.

Saturday, July 08, 2006

Superhero movies - the best and the worst.

With the new Superman movie having just been released, MSN has an article on the top 10 superhero movies (as well as the worst) of all time. The guy who wrote the piece cites both Superman II and Batman Returns in his list, but not the original films. And he also has "Spy Kids" in there, which isn't a superhero film. Plain and simple, once again, these film critics need to know exactly what constitutes the criteria for a solid comic book/superhero movie. Which is why I'm here.

The original criteria I cooked up for a comic book movie remains pretty solid. I don't think I'll be making any major revisions anytime soon. But in contrast to the MSN list...here is my top 10 superhero movies, as well as my worst 5 picks.

10. The Rocketeer - I have to agree with David Fear on this one. I loved the Rocketeer, if for no other reason than the line uttered in the trailer by the hero, "They've got my girl!" Campy fun and a great adaptation of Dave Stevens' graphic novel - especially the choice of Jennifer Connely for the female lead.

9. Sky High - while it isn't based on a comic book, it definitely gets the whole genre, and does a fine job poking a little light-hearted fun at it. Think "Teen Titans" meets "John Hughes movie of your choice" complete with the cheesy 80's music and all. The appearance of Linda Carter (Wonder Woman) as "Principal Powers" is a fine touch as well.

8. Mystery Men - While touted as a satire of superhero films, this movie is actually based on a group of heroes from the independent "Flaming Carrot" comic of the 80's. The "Mystery Men" are a group of misfit superheroes who simply suck at the hero business. You've got to love Ben Stiller as "Mr. Furious", a hero who gets really angry...and that's it. Not more powerful, not bigger...just angry. Greg Kinnear as "Captain Amazing" does a great job of spoofing what a real superhero with Superman's powers would likely do...endorse products.

7. The Crow - Based on James O'Barr's uber-dark indie comic inspired by a real life tragedy (but in no way based upon it) "The Crow" is a meditation upon loss, death and hope, made all the more poignant by the actual death of Brandon Lee during filming. The most monochromatic color movie ever made, boasting a fantastic soundtrack to boot.

6. The Incredibles - I'm noticing that a lot of my favorite superhero movies are somewhat parodic. "The Incredibles" asks the question, "what happens when Superheroes get married and have kids?" While poking fun at the superhero mythos, it is obvious that the creators of the film also have a great love for the genre.

5. X2: X-Men United - The best X-men film in the trilogy...the pay off to the set up of the first film eclipses the bombast of the the third. Delving into areas of the X-men canon which we never saw developed in the third film, this movie has all the edge and flair the series needed. Too bad Singer went to do Superman Returns...well...bad for Logan, good for Clark Kent. The "Weapon X" elements were fantastic, and Wolverine cutting loose at the school was awesome!

4. Spiderman 2: I'd have given the award to the first Spiderman, but they put Willem Dafoe in a mask, for heaven's sake! This movie broke none of my rules for comic book movies, and adhered wonderfully to the source material. The shot of Spiderman's costume shoved into a garbage can is iconic, right off the cover of an actual issue that sported the title...SPIDERMAN - NO MORE! Alfred Molina as Doc Ock was a grand blend of madman and tortured victim. The scene where Spiderman fights to stop the train was pure comic-book movie magic. Tough act to follow for the third film...

3. Hellboy: This is a pure comic book movie all the way. Taken directly (although not purely) from one of the Hellboy graphic novels, this movie doesn't seem to care if it has enough accessibility for the general public. "It's a comic book movie dammit, we don't care if you like it!" it screams at every corner. Plus any movie with Nazis and Lovecraftian elements sucks me in. I'm easy that way.

2. Batman Begins - Tim who? Burton? Oh yeah. Right. Schumacher, go suck some neon. This is what a Batman movie should look and feel like. Gotham is a real city within the DC universe, not an accumulation of carnivalesque gothic monoliths. Keaton? Kilmer? Clooney? They were either good at being Batman or being Bruce Wayne, but Bale gets both sides of the Dark Knight's persona down. And delivers. Too bad about Katie Holmes, but hell...they never got Lois Lane quite right either, did they?

1. Superman the Movie - You'll believe a man can fly. And we did. I remember seeing the ad for this movie in the Calgary Herald, while visiting my grandmother's house. We lived in Fox Creek at the time...it was usually about a year before major release movies made it to the local theater. I had no idea, as few seven year olds would, that a Superman film had been made. So when I saw the crystal "S" shield on a black background on the Entertainment page of the Calgary Herald...I freaked out. My dad and I went to see it that afternoon. It was pure magic. There's something about the moment where Reeves tears the shirt open to transform into Superman that still chokes me up...and by the time Margot Kidder replies "You've got me---who's got you?" to Reeves when Superman catches her fall...I'm tearing up.

Now, in brief...my worst 5.

5. The Punisher - both of them. For a real "Punisher" movie, rent "Man on Fire"
4. Superman IV - Superman as creepy date-rape guy...kiss Lois, she remembers, get action...kiss her again, she forgets...kiss her...she remembers...kiss again, she forgets. Grrr.
3. Captain America - the 91 stinker where the Red Skull got plastic surgery...ewwww.
2. The Phantom - Billy Zane would make a kickass superhero...but he'd need a script to do it.
1. Batman and Robin - it wasn't Clooney's fault...they had WAY too much money to screw this up as bad as they did. Shame on you Schumacher.

Friday, July 07, 2006

Put the gun down, and nobody gets hurt

A little serendipity...or synchronicity for you.

Last night Jenica and I watched "The Interpreter" with Sean Penn and Nicole Kidman. Near the end of the film (SPOILER AHEAD!!!) Nicole Kidman's character, Sylvia stands poised with a gun pointed at the head of the man responsible for the death of her entire family, as well as genocide in her home country. It is her opportunity for vengeance.

Early on in the film, Sylvia tells Keller (Penn) about how the people of her country deal with vengeance. The person who committed a murder or was responsible for someone's death is thrown into a lake to drown...it is up to the family of the deceased as to whether or not they will be rescued. If they die, vengeance is theirs, but the grieving process will go on until their own death. If they rescue the person, then their grief is ended.

Keller reminds Sylvia of this as she stands, ready to "drown" the man responsible for so much violence. He tells her to put the gun down. She replies that she can't--that she doesn't know how. Keller draws his gun and points it at Sylvia and says, "This is how it's done". And then he slowly takes his gun and puts it down.

On the way to work today I was listening to another excerpt of Jim Wallis' "God's Politics". He was talking about how a decisive attack on global poverty would be a far more effective way of dealing with the threat of terrorism, since there is a strong connection between abject poverty and how well terrorist cells can recruit. Poverty is one of the breeding grounds for violence. If we truly wish to see peace, we must work at eliminating poverty.

Violence is definitely the shorter, easier way to react to 9/11 and other terrorist attacks. It is not the best long term solution however. Eliminating poverty is a far longer reaching solution. And the Western nations who hold the biggest guns need to lead the way in showing the rest of the world what it looks like to put the gun down.

They always say that in action movies..."Put the gun down and nobody gets hurt."

Nothing like stating the obvious, eh?

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Fighting for Freedom

At the prayer walk I mentioned in my post on Canada Day, we had a time of sharing and discussion. When I commented on the part about being thankful for living in a land that is free, my mother-in-law related how she'd seen a bumper sticker in the United States that said something to the effect of "Live free or die". I've likely misquoted that...but the essential idea was that the people of that state would rather die than live under someone else's boot.

We discussed how many people globally live under someone else's boot, do not live free. So I challenged the group assembled there that day to fight for someone else's freedom, seeing as we are currently lacking in freedoms to fight for in Canada (oh, I know, there's likely some marginalized group who wants more freedom, but let's get real - if you get fliers delivered to your home advertising food, you're in a wealthy nation). This challenge was to be done over the Gathering's sabbatical month, so when we reconvene in August it will be interesting to see what has been accomplished.

I thought I'd report on the ways I've been seeking to fight for others' freedoms; first, I started riding my bike to work (there's a delay on that due to a bent bike frame requiring a replacement bike) which is a way of fighting for better use of fossil fuels, which is linked to injustice in the world. Second, Jenica and I started sponsoring a child through Compassion International. His name is Ridel William Samuel Sampouw and he's from East Indonesia. He was born in 1997, so he's already 9 years old, which is a helluva long time to be without a sponsor. I was going to go the route of picking someone little and cute, but then I saw you can choose to have Compassion pick the person for you, which ultimately results in you getting someone on a waiting list.

There are a multitude of ways to fight for another person's freedom. I recommend you try one. Nearly every organization that seeks to make the world a better place can take your money online. So it's all just a click away. Here's a link to Compassion Canada or Compassion US to get you started. Then you can be just like Superman, and help save the world.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

I'm a New Age Christian to Beware Of

In a lengthy PDF document about all the apostasy happening in the church today, I am included in a list of some of my greatest heroes as being one of those Christians you ought to avoid.

I join the likes of Dallas Willard, Richard Foster, Brian McLaren, Phillip Yancey, John Eldredge, Charles Swindoll, Eugene Peterson, Calvin Miller, J.R.R. Tolkien, Brennan Manning, C.S. Lewis, Thomas Merton, George MacDonald, Matthew Fox, Leonard Sweet. and Erwin McManus in being described as part of the Emergent Church movement, which is essentially a one world religion akin to the kind Tim LaHaye would warn y'all about. This all stems from the fact that I practice contemplative prayer and bothered to write an article about it online, which has made me infamous.

All I can say in response is, I'm glad I'm being considered worthy to stand amongst such company, and I hope anyone considering me for work reads all this material with a grain of salt. Or maybe a large brick of it.

Monday, July 03, 2006

Superman Returns

Right off the bat, I want to say that Bryan Singer has achieved something really great - he didn't blow it. With years of rumors (some as awful as Nicolas Cage in the blue tights) which had Superman fans remembering how much they wanted to forget how badly the franchise had ended with the third and fourth sequels, it seemed like we'd never see another Superman movie, and if we did, it would end up being bloody awful.

"Superman Returns", while peppered with flaws (and I'd say the original motion picture had it's issues as well - Margot Kidder cast as Lois Lane being the first I'd cite) is overall, a great summer movie and a worthy addition to the Superman mythology. The special effects are fantastic, albeit utilizing the same technology every other effects movie has been, and unlike the original 1978 film, which pushed the boundaries of what the current technology of the day could do to make us believe a man could fly, carve no new territory out. That said, this time we really got to see what a flying man would look like -- just because "Superman Returns" doesn't tread new effects ground doesn't mean it doesn't tread old ground really well.

What Bryan Singer has done is create an excellent homage to the original films wrapped in a 21st century package, angst and all. The casting was flawless; every actor captures their character either perfectly or at the very least, capably. I've heard all the complaints about Kate Bosworth, and frankly, while she might not be the Lois Lane that Noel Neil was, she's much easier on the eyes than Kidder ever was, and handles her intrepid reporter side just fine. I loved Spacey as Luthor, and Brandon Routh fills a tough set of boots just fine. At times, he seems to be playing Christopher Reeve playing Superman, and at others, brings something new to the part. Luthor is no longer a bumbling man with a megolomaniac's mid-life crisis. He's more comfortable without his virile wigs, and a few years in prison have taught him that a kryptonite shiv might prevail where an easily removable chain once did not.

In this film, Superman does what Superman does - stop falling planes from crashing, avert massive catastrophes, and just for old time's sake, thwart a bank robbery in his spare time. Personally, the only two demerits I'd give this film are an encumberingly unecessary length combined with a paternity revelation that, while charming, felt out of place within the greater Superman mythology, whatever may have happened between the sheets in Superman II. But that's a narrative decision that Singer made, and while it's not mine, I'm impressed with the subtlety with which he handled it. I can only hope he sticks around to helm the next two films Routh is contractually obligated to, so we don't find ourselves seeing history repeat itself.

While, as he himself states, Superman is "always around" I'm really glad that he's back on the big screen. Gunnar's a little too young to appreciate this installment, but I'm thinking he'll mightily impressed in three years or so, when the sequels come out.

Welcome back Superman.

Rating: 8/10

Saturday, July 01, 2006

God keep our land glorious and free

Last week I lead a prayer walk at the Parliament grounds here in Edmonton. It was a beautiful summer day, and there were huge crowds of people playing in Peter's Park in front of the legislature buildings. In the midst of that crowd, I walked silent and meditative, along with about ten others from the Gathering, praying for our nation.

I took a Lectio Divinae approach, meditating upon the line from our national anthem, "God keep our land glorious and free."

I first pondered the place of God in Canada. Which God? Our multicultural diversity would say Joseph Campbell's God, an unknowable transcendent being who hides behind the masks of myriad religions and rituals. This is a warm and fuzzy concept, but at the end of the day is untenable. I like a quote I read recently which said "not all religions are true...all religions have some". Or something like that. Nevertheless, even if all religions have some truth, there has to be an ultimate reality in order for there to be a reference point to judge truth (or falsehood) by. I believe, as C.S. Lewis did, that all truth is God's truth. And when I say God, I mean Jesus. Not to the exclusion of other faiths, but as the truest revelation of the God behind the mask. I believe that Jesus is as close as we can get to understanding the full nature of God. So when I think of who is keeping Canada glorious and free, it is Jesus who I am thinking of.

In my meditation, I moved from God to "our land". It's a very possessive phrase, and it ought to be. Contrary to years of colonial Christianity, our job as humans is not to beat the earth into submission, but to take care of it. Adam was given the job of taking care of the garden in Eden, and while the creation may be fallen, it remains ours to tend. I pondered how the hell the issue of the environment got nearly no interest in the last federal election from Evangelical Christians, given that Revelation 11 says that the Day of the Lord will be a time to It is time to "destroy everyone who has destroyed the earth." So when I pray to ask God keep our land glorious, I have to remember to do my part as well.

As for the land being kept free--I had nothing cynical to riff on. I tried to ponder the issue of freedom, and ask, "am I really free?" Then I thought better of it. I am free, dammit. I live in a free country. I'm free to walk around my parliament buildings, praying for my government in public. The people around me were free to frolic in various modes of dress (or undress...it was really stinking hot). Some East Indian ladies were free to smoke a hookah off to the side of the fountains. I am free, and I'm thankful for it. Thankful to God, that I was born in this free country. I don't deserve that grace, but I'm glad I've got it all the same.

I thought a lot of other things, but those were the bare bones of it. The red and white as opposed to the black and white I guess.

Happy Canada Day everyone. Enjoy the fireworks, and party responsibly!