Thursday, May 29, 2008

The Great Ms. Quarter Church Search

“When men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear" (2 Tim 4:3)

Since my move to Milwaukee, I have been looking for a new church. I value the Lutheran doctrine and tradition I grew up with, however I have also been looking at local non-denominational churches as well.

In my experience, non-denominational churches have great support for members, and many ways to be grow beyond weekly worship, whereas the LCMS churches (in my humble experience) do not. At my church in college, Hope CC, there were many ways to get involved beyond 1 hour a week, and many of the classes and small groups were designed to get to the meat of God’s Word. I get excited at the thought of finding such a place in Milwaukee.

Since my search began I’ve visited a few LCMS congregations that are mirror images of the one I grew up in: church on Sunday, Ladies’ Aid, and Sunday School.

That’s it.

Sermons being preached off of a synod-wide printout, and little to no way of being more involved or delving deeper into scripture. Needless to say, I’m a little disappointed.

Not that there aren’t great LCMS churches for mature Christians where we can grow in our faith, just that I haven’t gotten to them yet. But that isn’t the purpose of this post.

What I’ve come across lately are Mega Churches, also known as Seeker Sensitive churches. You know the ones I’m talking about: they purchase billboard ads to promote their latest “relevant to your life” message, they have videographers and worship teams that make you think you’ve walked into Hollywood, and they focus on creating an “experience” that will drive in traffic and reach more "unchurched" people.

So what’s wrong with reaching the "unchurched?" What’s wrong with using your talents at videoediting, singing, or playing guitar to help fellow Christians worship God?

The problem is when the noise of the experience drowns out the Holy Spirit.

I feel that my knowledge is not adequate to fully explore this issue and argue my point, nor do I want to plagiarize another man’s work, so I will direct you, faithful reader, to a site that discusses this problem using Perry Noble as an example of a pastor committed to the Church Growth Movement (where the success of a church is defined by number of congregants, not quality of faith and teaching).

Read Perry’s thoughts here, his rebuttal to the negative feedback from those thoughts here, then a series by Scott Oliver that exposes Perry Noble’s statements and compares them to biblical teachings here.

Now, I am not saying that all Mega Churches are bad, or that all pastors are like Perry Noble (or even that God cannot work through somewhat misguided men like Perry Noble). What I am saying is that in searching for a church (or exploring Christianity for that matter), one must be cautious and realize that no one church (or pastor) speaks for all.

Biblical foundations and theology should be the same (beware of those that are not), but each church community (or denomination) is individual in teaching styles, small group organization, even hierarchy of leadership. Find one that works for you, and helps you to grow in your faith.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Worst. Movie. Ever.

My friends and I have a weekly tradition of getting together on Monday nights to watch Dexter and cook dinner. We often enjoy trying new recipes while we warm up with the latest Bill Maher on DVR.

With no new Dexter episodes since December, we resorted to TV on DVD – oldies but goodies. Being that we are big Joss Whedon fans, we started with Buffy Seasons 1-3. Alas, unable to bring ourselves to purchase or rent the awful Season 4, we wondered what next to watch and finally decided upon Angel.

Weekly viewings not giving us the opportunity to finish the first season fast enough, I spent Memorial Day weekend at their house in order to have a marathon of cooking and Angel episodes (which go together like peas & carrots, no?).

The day was lovely, we made spring rolls and cheese cups with guacamole, and managed to bang out most of Season One. We saw Doyle die, met Dennis the friendly ghost, and even saw Wesley try to be a man (which he does not achieve until Season 5).

My friends also happen to love horror movies, as do I, and so after the gorge of supernatural Whedonesque, with a few short breaks for Wii, we decided to cap off the evening with a scary thriller that would (hopefully) leave us too scared to go to bed.

30 Days of Night was billed as a “bone-chilling adaptation of the cult-hit graphic novel.”

We disagree.

The movie, indeed, is thirty days of night, which we interpreted as thirty days of hell, or at least that’s how long the 113-minute run-time feels.

The story is about an Alaskan town that is attacked by vampires during the winter. Correct me if I am wrong, but doesn’t the 24-hour darkness in Alaska last longer than thirty days? And isn’t it a gradual change, in that, you ease into the complete darkness with ever lessening hours of daylight over the course of several weeks? In other words, it’s not as if a switch flips and you suddenly go from one day of bright sunlight to the next day of pitch black night.

And don’t even get me started on the zombies from 30 Days of Night, I mean, “vampires.” After spending the day watching Angel, we know what a vampire is like, and it is not a dumb, senseless, throat ripper. No, a vampire is much more efficient in the blood drinking process, and usually wipes his mouth clean afterward.


Not Vampire (aka: zombie from 30 Days of Night)

Holes in the plotline notwithstanding, this was the dumbest, un-scariest movie I have ever seen. Twenty minutes into the epic blood fest, we fast-forwarded through the scenes until we were fifteen minutes from the end.

Sad thing is, we didn’t miss anything.

The only other movie I have had to fast forward through due to a high lameness factor is The House on Haunted Hill. In that case, I was disappointed to learn that the “evil” in the house was really a black smoky blob. Ooooh, scary.

Luckily for the townspeople in this movie, the fight culminates the last day of darkness. If they make it through, they will live to see the sun. We learn that the only way to save the town is if Josh Hartnett becomes a vampire and fights his vampire enemies – apparently he would still get the vampire strength and wiliness, but would remain human in emotion long enough to die by sunlight (on Day 31) in the arms of his somewhat girlfriend.

Explain to me why everyone else who was turned into a vampire immediately became a nasty killing machine but Josh Hartnett was okay for the last fifteen minutes of the film.

I find the scariest movies are the ones that are the most plausible. Here’s to hoping horror movie screen writers will stop being so lazy and start plugging the holes in their plot lines. Cheers.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

When I hear "Milwaukee" I think beer and pretzels

I just came across this great, great, great (think Alec Baldwin playing Tony Bennett on SNL) photo on a Google web search for "Milwaukee." This little gem, apparently, used to be a postcard, which begs the question, "why don't we get such campy postcard choices now?" The last time I was in a touristy-type store in town, all I saw were cows, farms, and skylines - hardly the retrocentric images we all know and love.

Ultimately, this image brings me back to the Twin Cities Food & Wine experience 2 years past, when my Wisconsinite friends and I spent the day visiting the Pabst booth and asking the server to, "PBR me ASAP."

Speaking of retrocentric, my new favorite e-card site is Someecards, a treasure trove of sassy, snarky e-cards perfect for when Hallmark is just too sentimental.

Monday, May 19, 2008

I Got a Brand New Pair of Roller Skates

Do you got a brand new key?

I have no idea what this song by Melanie Safka is supposed to be saying, but I think it may be about stalking. This makes sense as many crazy ladies enjoy roller-skating, I mean, have you ever been to a roller derby?

Moving on.

An avid skater in my youth, I decided to take up the activity in my adulthood. After weeks of telling friends I was planning to make the purchase, I finally did so after a minimal search (thank you Dunham’s discount sports equipment).

I arrived at the Menomonee River Parkway with skates in hand and gumption galore. Lacing them up transported me back to my tween years of skating at the local county park skate rink, the limbo and Mexican hat dance my favorite parts of those not-so-long ago Saturday nights.

The pathway was clear, and as I pushed off I got the feeling that I was not merely taking one small glide for myself, but one giant sashay for nostalgic 20-somethings everywhere.

Turns out that skating is a lot harder than I remember it to be. Every small twig equated to a subsequent jarring and balancing act. Inclines of any degree were harder workouts than the Stairmaster.

I managed to stay upright the entire time, but every time I came close to losing my balance I also experienced a decrease in my confidence. By the end of my jot I was ready to have my feet firmly planted on the ground, and my coordination back on track.

It has now been a month since my first time back in the skating saddle, and my confidence has increased tenfold. I still imagine one horrible moment where I get tripped up and plunge headlong into the pavement, but whenever this picture enters my head I no longer let it ruin my momentum.

On the docket for my next sportz adventure is getting out the clubs and heading to the nearest golf course. In the meantime, what are your favorite summer sports?

Monday, May 12, 2008

Thoughts on Investigative Journalism

Wikipedia, holder of all knowledge, states that investigative journalism is, “a type of reporting in which reporters (go figure) deeply investigate a topic of interest, often involving crime, political corruption, or some other scandal.”

I assume that such investigation requires weeks, if not months, of work, and journalists act in a professional, unbiased manner. However, in watching TMJ4 - a local news channel - the other evening, I found investigative journalism to be something much different.

Usually I abhor local news for their sensationalist reporting and rampant fear-mongering. News is exciting enough without all of the contrived drama. This instance was no different, yet I managed to catch a trailer for an upcoming segment (the need for 10 o’clock news segments to have a trailer is a discussion for another day).

The trailer advertised a piece on a local contractor who is reportedly charging too much money for his low quality work, and then befriending his hapless clients in order to extort money from them.

This man’s current client happens to be an older woman, whose family gift wrapped and delivered the story to TMJ4 in an effort to draw attention to themselves, I mean to the injustice.

The trailer for the story showcases a reporter chasing after the handyman with a microphone, and asking, “Is it your practice to steal money from the elderly?” as the man walks to his car with as much dignity as he can muster.

Perhaps this guy is a sleaze and a cheat. No doubt he is draining clients’ bank accounts in exchange for substandard home repair, but the only thing this advertisement managed to do was to make sure I was on his side before I tuned in to the presentation (a tough feat considering the guy is a con man).

Reporters chasing “interviewees” with a microphone and camera crew? Investigative journalists asking leading questions, “helping” the viewer connect the dots without giving fair chance for the interviewees to defend themselves?

Objection, Your Honor!

This is not to say that the handyman in question is not a con man who deserves to be publicly flogged, but it is to say that local news stations will stop at nothing in the name of “investigative reporting” to create drama and sensationalize a story once strong enough to stand on its own.

Which is really quite sad because it turns off educated viewers who demand unbiased news reporting based on a strong truthiness quotient (see below). Viewers like me. Which is why I now get my news from The Daily Show and Colbert Report. Because if I have to choose between sensational newsertainment or comedic newsertainment, I choose the laughs.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

America's Port - not like the wine

Last night whilst channel surfing the uninspiring 9pm CST time slot, I came across an episode of America’s Port on NatGeo. As I said in my last post, I saw the trailers for this new blue-collar reality show and was intrigued enough to take it for a test drive.

This episode began aboard the cruise ship Monarch of the Seas, as we meet the first-ever female captain. The ship is docked in Catalina, 20 miles southwest of the Port of Los Angeles. A port police dive team must go underwater and check the hull for IEDs, which I heard are all the rage in any terrorist organization.

Sixteen divers in two teams submerge, and start checking the barnacles for telltale red blinking lights and MacGyver-like digital countdown clocks.

This author must admit that barnacles have always grossed her out for reasons unknown. She becomes skittish when swimming too close to boats and/or piers, and tries to stay away from the slimy, algae-covered surfaces. Sorry, we digress.

Twenty minutes into the dive one team is fighting a wicked current and cannot continue. The other team spends the next two hours picking up the slack and no bombs are to be found. We cut to a bigwig in port authority who interviews that today is the busiest day of the year because not two, not three, but four cruise ships are scheduled to make port in L.A.

This means more passengers embarking and disembarking with much luggage to be checked for explosives and narcotics. And let us not even mention the cleaning and restocking of each cruise ship in preparation of its next voyage.

After our commercial break (so Extra gum is now billing itself as a “5 calorie snack”? What’s up with that?), it is now pre-dawn at the Port of Los Angeles. Our Monarch cruise ship is entering the channel and maneuvering in 23mph winds to find its berth.

Port authority must escort each ship through the channel, apparently to play interference between the ships and any unregistered small craft that may mean harm (see: USS Cole in Yemen). A port authority pilot takes over at the helm to guide each vessel to its pier.

As we see this pilot maneuver the Monarch, Thom Beers describes what highs winds can mean for this particular vessel, and explains that the wind could push the Monarch into an already parked ship causing billions of dollars in lost profits for the entire country. No pressure or anything, Thom.

It turns out Thom’s fears are realized as the Monarch’s lady captain takes over the wheel because a container ship, Evergreen, has just announced the dreaded Breach (Breech?). This author formerly thought breach was only in reference to births and Hollywood blockbuster films about secure computer systems, but now is told that it also refers to one of the worst situations possible in naval/maritime relations. Because of the aforementioned high winds, the Monarch is now on a collision course with the Evergreen (collision = breach).

Voice on Loudspeaker keeps announcing things like, “Breach to Evergreen three-zero,” in reference to the fact that our cruise ship is only thirty meters from impact, yet this author feels that merely announcing the obvious without suggesting any solution is hardly helpful. Not to mention the cold, inflectionless way he says it. The ships are about to crash; you think he could drum up a bit of emotion.

Alas, the crash is averted through ship-driving mechanisms unknown to me.

We immediately cut to two hours later. It is seven o’clock in the morning, and our port workers must load 90 pallets of supplies onto the Crystal Symphony, one of the four cruise ships in port today. Crystal Symphony needs to get loaded and then get the hell out of dodge as the Port has only three docks for cruise ships, yet one more ship is on its way. In other words: there’s no room at the inn, and Crystal Symphony drew the short straw.

The next twenty minutes are footage of bomb and narcotics sniffing dogs checking luggage interspersed with a stressed looking dock manager in charge of loading supplies on Crystal Symphony.

The stressed dock manager is blowing a gasket because, instead of the previously arranged 90 pallets of crap, more semi trucks keep driving in and running the tally up to over 250 pallets of crap. Explained to the uninformed viewer, this is a lot of crap to load in five hours. After a few tense minutes and one commercial interruption, all is well as the ship gets loaded and vacates the premises.

But is everything all well?

We head back to our favorite K9’s, whereupon the bomb sniffing dog sniffs a bomb, and the narcotics sniffing dog sniffs narcotics. The police handlers assure us this rarely happens, yet I am obliged to disagree as what are the odds that two things that never happen, happen on the same day?

After all living persons are cleared from the building and the bomb squad X-rays the bag, we learn that what looks like a grenade is actually a chunk of coral. We also learn that the aforementioned explosives are actually residue from when the bag’s douche bag owner transported guns and ammo to a gun range. Seriously, Dumbass, thanks for wasting everyone’s time.

The narcotics, however, turn out to be residue of previously transported marijuana. This douche bag is detained by the police and questioned. The nineteen year old answers that he does not remember what drug was in the bottle (the narcotic-smelling article in question is a prescription drug bottle), and the police officer cordially offers to test the residue in his handy on-the-spot testing kit (whereupon we learn it’s marijuana).

Cut to nineteen-year-old Douche trying not to look worried.

Commercial break (Seriously, Extra. Snack? Gum as a snack???)

At the end of the show we learn that Narcotics Douche is sent home with a slap on the wrist. What could have been a $5,000 fine, has now been turned into a lesson learned for all of America’s Port viewership.

Overall, the show has merit, though I do not enjoy the narration of Thom Beers. His voice does not convey the proper emotion and drama that Mike Rowe so easily does in Deadliest Catch.

I give it 3.5 stars out of 5.

Monday, May 5, 2008

Blue Collar Reality TV

I have a confession to make.

I am addicted to a television show.

The show? Deadliest Catch.

I don’t know what it is about this particular Discovery Channel gem that has me hooked. The drama? The intrigue? The death-defying antics? The Bon Jovi theme song?

All I know is that I cannot get enough of Phil’s sailor talk on the Cornelia Marie, or Sig’s temper tantrums on the Northwestern. Even Jonathan’s antics aboard the Time Bandit crack me up.

Perhaps it is because I highly appreciate the “suck it up” mentality the men have for their work.

Dismal fishing and 80 pots to pull and stack? Well, suck it up and get the job done, Wussy.

Toothache bothering you and you can’t eat anything? Get out the pliers and play dentist.

Do something stupid and fall into the ocean without your survival suit? Well okay, that’s cause for some concern.

Who thought that watching a bunch of crab fisherman fish for crab would be a veritable gold mine for Nielsen ratings?

Hoping to cash in on this trend of blue-collar worker turned television documentary subject, the History Channel premiered a new show called “Ax Men” which depicts life in the logging industry.

I highly enjoy History Channel’s Ice Road Truckers (again, who knew watching men drive semis on ice would be entertaining) and figured Ax Men would be the next big thing. In hopes of finding a new addiction, I tuned in last night.

Turns out I was wrong.

After watching ten minutes of the uninterrupted clear clutting of majestic pines in the Pacific Northwest, I was visibly traumatized, and had to change the channel to ABC’s Brothers & Sisters (whereupon seeing Justin fight feelings for his sister Rebecca, traumatized me a little bit more…turns out their not biologically related. *whew).

With all the talk of Sustainability, Environmental Efficiency, Global Warming, Recycling, etc, it surprises me that The History Channel would take such a gamble with Ax Men.

Green is the new black, and I find it hard to believe that other viewers are not similarly put off by the rampant destruction of a pristine forest.

One of the advertisements for the show has a man interviewing that this show is real, and it portrays an industry that has been around for centuries. This, of course, is true, but the logging industry hasn’t always been operating in a society that is riding the wave toward Environmental Consciousness.

And while I’m sure there are over 1,000 ways to get killed on any given day working as a lumberjack, I somehow wish they still transported logs by floating them downriver. Now that would make for creative film techniques.

So I am not a fan of Ax Men, and will probably never tune in again as I do not wish to fight a wave of depression. I will stick with Deadliest Catch and Ice Road Truckers as my blue-collar reality shows du jour.

My next foray will be National Geographic’s America’s Port. Stay tuned for a thorough review.

Friday, May 2, 2008

Things I Learned on the Other Side: Easy Living Segment

Busy-ness-itis is a disease that is plaguing the American workforce. I have recently succumbed to it and am in the middle of a four-week bout. Painkillers are of the Happy Hour variety, which, combined with sleeping through my alarm clock every morning, have conspired to plunge me ever deeper into the disease’s evil clutches.

As such, I have not had much time to dedicate to this little blog, and for that I apologize. During my healthy moments I have a never-ending supply of ideas for great, witty posts, but then an episode of Busynessitis will set in and all thoughts begin to tumble in my head like underpants in a dryer without Cling Free. This creates a sort of writer’s block that leaves me frustrated and annoyed.

Thus I bring to you my first post in a new series called “International Flava.” For those of you who do not know, I spent a bit of time in Eastern Europe teaching English. While there I took note of the many cultural and lifestyle distinctions that make the peoples Across the Pond so different from us Americans. This series is my commentary on these distinctions, and will serve us well until I can return to present-day social commentary once Busynessitis recedes.

We commence with “Things I Learned on the Other Side: Easy Living Segment,” a relevant topic, don’t you think?

And no, I don’t mean “Other Side” in that I died for five minutes and “crossed over.” When I say Other Side, I mean “across the pond,” and by across the pond I mean the other side of the Atlantic.

Yes, I spent some time living overseas. Yes, it was a life-changing experience and blah, blah, blah. But what’s really important to share are all of the insider tips. These range from cheap travel deals, to beauty tips, to easy living guidelines, and to, in general, different ways of doing things.

So let us commence with this first list of Tips for Easy Living from Across the Pond, Eastern Europe Style.

1. No Business May Be Done on Sundays Except Restaurant Business
Plan your grocery shopping well, visitors from the Land of 24/7 Supermarkets, because you will be in for a shock if you run out of food on Saturday night and think you will just head over to the market for some reinforcements. While you may find a few brave restaurants open for limited hours on Sunday, in many countries this day is truly a day of rest. So shut up and rest already.

2. All Shops Must Close at 5pm Every Night
In the vein of #1, most shopkeepers close their doors at 5pm. They have families, after all, and dinner is not going to make itself. We could all learn a thing or two from a successful business owner with a healthy work-life balance.

3. I Wish I Could Add ‘Take a Siesta’ but I Can’t Because This is Eastern Europe We’re Discussing
Indeed, Eastern European countries, while practicing a laid-back and easy lifestyle, do not utilize the Siesta. However, if you are a teacher, school ends at 2:00pm whereupon you are served lunch (no break for lunch during school hours, suck it up wussy). After school you are free to conduct private lessons or head home at your discretion.

That's all for this episode. Tune in another time when we will either continue with this list or begin another from the series "Things I Learned on the Other Side."