A Review of “The Wingfeather Saga” by Andrew Peterson

Once again, and to my everlasting shame, I am late to the Andrew Peterson party. Andrew Peterson has been creating beautiful, inspiring, and challenging music for over 20 years. For reasons that I have yet to completely figure out, he was always on my periphery. I knew about him. I even knew a few of his songs. Nevertheless, I never took the time to sit down and really listen until about five years ago. Of course, I fell in love with his work. He is a gifted songwriter and musician and his music speaks more deeply to my heart than just about anything else out there.

You would think that having completely missed the boat for so long on his music, I wouldn’t have made that mistake again when it comes to his fantasy series, The Wingfeather Saga. You would be wrong. I knew about the books. I have friends who read them and loved them. My oldest son and my wife read them and loved them as well. Still, I ignored them. I have no excuse for that, mind you. I knew better than to doubt Peterson’s ability as a writer. I will admit a part of me was scared I would not enjoy the books and it would cloud my view of his music. I know how preposterous that is, but it’s the truth. For better or worse, I put them off, thinking I would eventually get around to them. Eventually, I read On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness (the first book in the series) and enjoyed it, though I would hesitate to say I loved it. In a weird way, it confirmed some of my fears. I thought the series was going to be a witty, quirky, somewhat silly thing and I just didn’t have a lot of desire to read something like that. So I stopped reading after the first book.

Finally, in the fall of 2017, I decided to read the entire series. I started again with the first book, as I am a completist of sorts, and worked my way through the next three books over the period of a few months. It blew me away. Completely. In every way. Yes, the books can be silly and quirky, but they are also epic and emotionally rich. It will come as no surprise to anyone who has read my stuff for REO, but I cried a lot reading this series. I cried because while the setting and the world is fantastical and whimsical, the characters are living, breathing people. They are spiritual and emotional creatures and their struggles and triumphs matter. They leave a mark. I’m never going to forget the time I spent with Janner, Tink, Leeli, Podo, Nia, and all the other wonderful characters that populate Peterson’s story. I eagerly await the time when I visit them again.

Peterson is a gifted and natural storyteller, as his music and lyrics attest. He writes with a love of poetry, of song, of food and cheer. He writes from deep places of pain and loneliness to deeper places of joy and belonging. Perhaps most importantly, beyond the artistic skill on display, these books work because they are more than just good stories. They are a reflection, a bright and glorious reflection, of the great Story that underpins all of Creation. The Wingfeather Saga is a story infused with light, love, grace, mercy, hope, and redemption. And it’s funny. Incredibly funny.

When we got married, my wife and I had less stuff than we do now but we were able to care for that stuff a little better than after we added three somewhat rambunctious boys to our lives. Back then, I had a shelf where I displayed some of my favorite movies and books. (We had other bookshelves and CD shelves where the less important stuff was relegated.) The preeminent shelf held my greatest treasures – The Lord of the Rings (Movies and books), The Chronicles of Narnia, Star Wars, and Lawhead’s Pendragon Cycle. Things like that. If I still had a shelf like that in my house, The Wingfeather Saga would find a place there. Maybe that is the highest compliment I can give it. It would fit seamlessly next to books like The Hobbit, To Kill a Mockingbird, and Harry Potter. Andrew Peterson has proven that he takes a backseat to no one. The Wingfeather Saga is a modern day classic, comfortably existing in the same conversation with the great stories by Tolkien, Lewis, L’Engle, and Rowling.

I don’t know if Andrew Peterson will ever write another series like this. I hope he does. I promise that I won’t be late to that party. I know better now.




Five Reasons to Meditate On Andrew Peterson’s “Labor Of Love” This Christmas

We at REO join a mighty throng of Christians throughout the ages in celebrating the enormous catalog of worship-inspiring Christmas music we have in English, often highlighted by timeless beloved favorites like “O Holy Night” and “Hark the Herald Angels Sing.” We have done polls on our site on this topic and have written about modern additions like “Mary Did You Know?”

Today we celebrate a very recent yet worthy song that has captivated a significant number of Christians for years, Andrew Peterson’s “Labor of Love”. From the very first phrase, this song undermines one of the most popular Christmas song titles of all time and sets a tone that is completely perpendicular to most of our favorite carols and church hymns this time of year. By doing so it does the modern church a huge favor in not allowing us to get too comfortable with the story of Jesus, but instead, by pushing back against some popular conceptions, it forces us to think about the truth, however uncomfortable it may be.

We highly recommend the entire concert and you can read Phill’s short review of it here. It is a true Bucket List type of experience for Christians. Today we give five reasons why this contribution to that concert is so special to us and why we recommend meditating on it this Christmas season (and beyond).


1. Great songs are worth celebrating, and this is a great song

Before we dive into the implications of what the song teaches us, we would be doing it a disservice to not talk about the song itself. I am not a musician. I do not pretend to understand all that goes into creating a song like this, but I do know when I am hearing something beautiful and unique. The first time I listened to Andrew Peterson’s “Behold the Lamb of God”, this was the song that captured my attention. I appreciated the rest of the album and eventually fell in love with all of it, but from the beginning, I loved “Labor of Love.” It was so different from any Christmas song I had heard.

The song is deeply authentic – Jill Phillips sings with a passion that seems to channel the very emotions Mary felt that night. While other songs on the album go big with grand arrangements and productions, Peterson wisely opts to scale this song back to the basics – acoustic guitar, gentle piano, subtle rhythm section, and beautiful harmonies. It is not flashy. It is grounded and simple – which effectively complements the lyrics. This is, after all, a peek into a very human moment – the birth of a child. It is not about grandeur and glory. It is about a girl, who is away from her home, giving birth to her first baby. The only moment the song gives itself a little room to go big is when the lyrics focus on the Christ-child. It is a wonderfully constructed song, with every element working in tandem. Before you focus on what the song says, take some time to focus on how it says it.


2. It Creatively Helps Our Imagination With Details of That Night

Do we know for sure if Mary’s mother was there or not to hold her hand? No, but there is nothing wrong with using our imaginations to picture what happened that night. The image of Joseph holding her and praying while she is going through what was certainly the most traumatic event of her young life is a touching lyric.

Many details of that night are not for us to know, at least through Scripture. But we can imagine them and I think that is a good thing, especially through our art.


3. It cuts through the serene Christmas night imagery to communicate the harsh yet beautiful truth about the night Christ was born.

Let’s be clear, our lives in 2018 are completely foreign to what Mary and Joseph experienced in first century Palestine. If you are reading these words right now, you have access to the internet, which means you probably have air conditioning, running water, and all sorts of other amazing technological and societal advancements. Their day-to-day lives would look impossibly hard to us. Yet that in no way should diminish what they went through leading up to the birth of Christ. The journey itself – over 90 miles. The lack of a place to stay – no room in the inn. Going into labor and giving birth in a foreign place. Regardless of what their lives were like back then, what they went through that not was uncommon, even for people of that time.

All those things are captured so effortlessly in this beautiful song. “It was not a silent night.” It was difficult. It was uncomfortable. It was beautiful and wondrous and sacred. In a season justifiably filled with light, joy, and hope, it’s good to be reminded that the event that is at the root of all it, was bloody, lonely, and very human.


4. It is an appropriate yet sobering testimony of Mary and Joseph

Mary and Joseph do not need to be exalted as their child was, but they do need to be celebrated as significant players in God’s plan of redemption in history. We need to tell the world of their integrity and sacrifice. Those things can be messy in real life. For the plan to work how God intended, some young woman had to give birth, an undignified even if glorious experience, and suffer the pain it brings. Some man had to be the one who supported his wife even though the baby wasn’t biologically his. And this song reflects what Matthew 1 and Luke 1-2 tell us about these two incredible servants of our God.

It is a song of worship and praise of the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. But we would be remiss if we didn’t see it as a significant way to see it through Mary’s eyes and ears. The title alone tells us that.


5. It magnificently contrasts Christ the Sovereign God with Christ the Helpless Baby.

This is a crucial aspect of our theology and this song nails it:

For the baby in her womb
He was the maker of the moon
He was the author of the faith
That could make the mountains move

He was 100% God—He created the world and everything in it and had the authority to move mountains, and to give that authority to us by faith; He was 100% Man—He existed as a flesh and blood baby, supernaturally conceived yet very naturally carried and born. Amazing. That should never become something we fail to contemplate with awe. “Immanuel” is very much a Christmas name. God was with us, in humble baby form.


“Labor of Love” is a beautiful and genuine statement of faith and love in action. The focus shines on the role Mary and Joseph played in the story of redemption but wisely, and masterfully, ends with that focus shifting to the very source of our redemption – “the Author of the faith” that was in Mary’s womb. In a perfect world, “Labor of Love” would be a Christmas classic loved by believers everywhere.

 

 




The Tennessee Titans: A Glass Half-Full Examination of the 2018 Season

I am a pessimist. I like to consider myself a realist, but when you strip away all the fancy words, you are left with someone who typically expects the worst. In my defense, the worst is usually what happens which is why my stubborn realist philosophy seems validated.

I have a few exceptions to my pessimistic personality, with a big one being my sports’ teams. When it comes to my teams, I am an eternal optimist. I always see the silver lining. I always hope and believe that the future will be bright, even in the face of all evidence to the contrary. My hope for this article is that I can balance both sides – the optimist and the pessimist. I hope that balance will make for a more nuanced and rational take on what has been an incredibly frustrating season for my favorite team – the Tennessee Titans.


Weirdest season ever.

Before I jump into my conclusions about the 2018 season, let’s recap a few of the things that have factored into the big picture. We’ll bullet point these for ease of reading:
•   First time head coach
•   First time play-calling offensive coordinator
•   Starting Right tackle missed the beginning of the season due to injury
•   Starting Pro-Bowl Left tackle injured in the first game of the season
•   Starting Pro-Bowl Tight End injured in the first game of the season – and lost for the entire season
•   Starting QB injured in the first game of the season – missed an entire game and could not feel his throwing hand well until weeks later
•   The season opened with the longest game in the history of the NFL due to multiple lightning delays
•   Starting wide receiver quit on the team a few weeks into the season
•   Defensive coordinator had health scare in the first quarter of a divisional game requiring a hospitalization

I’m sure I am missing quite a few things to add to this list. I think my point stands. It’s been a weird season. The team has been up and down all year. They look like a top 5 team one week and a bottom 5 team the next. The offense looks inept in one game and then looks unstoppable the next – though the former plays out more often than the latter. Same thing for the defense, though their up and down has been different in that they looked solid for the first half of the season and then seemed to fall apart in the last few games. This season has been crazy. There have been dozens of factors contributing to that craziness and it has been a lot for a new coaching staff to deal with. I do not want the fans to brush off the insanity of that first week in Miami. The Titans lost their three best offensive players in one game: Delanie Walker for the season, Taylor Lewan for an indeterminate period of time on a cheap shot that wasn’t penalized, and Marcus Mariota (on a late hit) with one of the weirdest injuries I’ve ever seen. This team could have folded after that. They could have finished that ridiculous 7 hour and 8 minute fiasco and thrown in the towel. They didn’t. The coaches (many with little experience) didn’t let that happen. For the most part, they have handled things well, though there is still plenty of room to grow.


What were the most optimistic expectations for this team?

What was the best-case scenario – the dream outcome – for the Titans this season? The offense comes together under Matt LaFleur, propelling the team to a long playoff run? If that is your dream scenario, then you have to take the bad with the good. If this offense had become a top 10 NFL offense this season, the chances of LaFleur leaving at the end of the season would be high. Teams would be falling all over themselves to hire Sean McVay 2.0. That would mean another offensive coordinator for this offense and for Marcus Mariota in 2019. Frankly, if we want to see what Mariota is truly capable of, then it is in his, and our, best interest for him to have stability in the coaching staff. While this season has been frustrating for fans coming off a 9-7 season with a playoff win, it might be for the best in the long-term.

Of course, this all depends on Matt LaFleur actually being a good offensive coordinator. I think the jury is still out on that. I lean towards a “yes” to that question as we have seen improvement in some key areas, particularly in the second half of the season. I do believe most of what is holding back the offense at this point is the offensive line and there is only so much a coordinator can do to game plan around that. The measurables we do have show that Mariota is getting better under this system. He has the 4th highest completion percentage in the league, behind only Drew Brees, Matt Ryan, and Kirk Cousins. In his last 4 complete games, he is averaging 252 yards per game and a 77.4% completion percentage. He has thrown 7 touchdowns and 2 interceptions in those games. (He’s also averaging 9.59 yards per attempt during that stretch which would be good for number 1 in the league.) Spread that out over a full season and you get 4,032 yards, 28 touchdowns, and 8 interceptions. What Titans’ fan wouldn’t take those numbers?

Other players are coming along as well – namely guys like Corey Davis and Jonnu Smith. There is no sugarcoating the running game though, and that is on LaFleur to fix. However, as I stated earlier, I think the majority of the blame falls on the O-line. If that can improve this season or during the offseason, the entire offense takes a massive leap forward.


What does this all mean?

I’ve chosen to approach this season as a chance for the team to grow and learn. Mike Vrabel has shown signs of being a good head coach. (You don’t luck into wins like the Eagles, Cowboys, Texans, and Patriots.) He has also shown some poor decision making tendencies. (Bad challenges, bad play calls at key times.) This season is a chance for him to learn from those mistakes. Same goes for LaFleur. I think this season is a chance to discover what he does well and eliminate the negatives. If he had exploded this season and this offense had taken off, he would be a head coach next year. Mariota and this offense cannot afford another change at that position. Just like players typically take a leap forward in their second season, I am trusting that this coaching staff will as well. We’ve seen glimmers of brilliance. Next season, we need to see that brilliance on a sustained basis. I believe they have it in them.

So, the craziest season I can remember in all my years following this team has been disappointing. But I believe it has been one step back so that this team can take many steps forward in the coming seasons. I realize that won’t make any Titans’ fan feel better now. I get that completely, but I am choosing to see the bright side of this – the hopeful side. That’s just what I do as a fan. It’s my way of coping. I hope that this can provide a little bit of hope for some other fans out there as well.

All that said, I still think the team can run the table, sneak into the playoffs, and do some damage this season, so what do I know.

 

Agree or disagree? Let us know in the comment section below.




Five Reasons Being a Dad is Awesome

 

Behold, children are a heritage from the Lord, the fruit of the womb a reward. Like arrows in the hand of a warrior are the children of one’s youth. Blessed is the man who fills his quiver with them! (Psalm 127:3-5)

 

Solomon, the wisest man to ever live, wrote those words. I happen to agree with him completely and not just because I believe God inspired his words. I’ve lived them out and seen those words proved true in my own life. I am a father. Very few sentences I can conjure make me happier than that one.

I love being a dad. I’ve written about being a dad before for Rambling Ever On. If you have paid any attention to those articles, you will already know that I have three boys. (It’s okay if you haven’t paid attention. One of my boys never reads anything I write.) My oldest is 15. My youngest is 9. The middle child – my kindred spirit since I too am a middle child – just turned 14. I cannot imagine my life without my boys. I really can’t. I don’t want to think about how boring everything would be if I didn’t have kids. I’ve learned a lot about the world since I became a father. I’ve learned a lot more about myself. Here are five of the biggest reasons being a dad has been so amazing.


Being a dad helped me appreciate home.

The Lytles are homebodies. We make no excuses for that either. We love being with our family in our home. We probably confound some people in that we are willing to sacrifice doing things or going places simply to be home with each other. We’ve not allowed our boys to participate in good things because we value our time together as a family. I realize that is probably somewhat countercultural. I’m okay with that. It’s a parenting/marriage philosophy that we have developed over time. I’m not a social butterfly, by any means, but before we had kids we did stuff. We really did! We went out. We went to movies. I’ve attended dozens and dozens of concerts or sporting events. I tend to turn those down now unless it’s a very special situation – because I want to have more time with my family. Call me weird. It’s okay. I’m fine with being weird. Weird’s all I’ve got. That and my sweet style.


It gives my wife and me something to talk about.

This one sounds bad without explanation, so, allow me to explain. My wife and I talk about all sorts of things – our jobs, our church, theology, politics, sports, movies, music, etc… You get the picture. I’ve read some parenting experts suggest that on date nights it’s best not to talk about your kids. I think that is rubbish. We love talking about our kids. We talk about the things going on in their lives. Their triumphs and struggles. The funny things they say or do and how they make us laugh. We aren’t putting our relationship on hold to focus more on our kids. Our kids are an integral part of our marriage relationship and we would be doing it a disservice if we tried to pretend that they did not exist when we have some “alone” time.


Being a dad has helped me grow up.

Prior to having children, technically speaking, I was a man. I had my first child when I was 25 years old. I was a man. (No jokes, please.) I had a full-time job. I was married. I did adult things. Yet I didn’t really grow up until my son was born. It wasn’t a lightning strike kind of moment, but things crystallized for me in a way they never had before. I was now responsible for another life. That does something to you. It did to me. Adding two more boys to the mix only helped in this regard. I am now the most mature man in the world! (Again, no jokes please.)


Being a dad helps me stay young.

Plot twist! I am more responsible and more mature than before my kids were alive, yet having kids has helped keep me young at heart. I have the tendency to internalize things, stew on them. I can be a bit melancholy if left to my own devices. I am so thankful that I am not left to my own devices. There’s just no room for my devices with three boys running around the house shooting nerf guns at each other. I get to see life through their eyes and it’s amazing. Life is wide open for them with endless possibilities. I am blessed to be able to experience all of that with them. I love that I get to crack jokes, throw them the football outside, and act in ridiculous ways that drive their mother crazy. Take a few moments to pray for her – she lives with animals.


Being a dad has strengthened my relationship with God.

I understood God’s love, mercy, grace, and reproof prior to having children of my own, but it was a limited understanding – like the proverbial dark glass. I still don’t understand all those things as deeply as I should, but becoming a dad has made that glass a little less dark. I know what it feels like to be completely FOR my children. They are precious to me in ways that I did not know were possible. I want what is best for them, so much so, that it hurts me deeply when they hurt, when they struggle, and when they fall. I ache for them. That is but a pale reflection of how God feels about me. I’ve also come to understand God’s discipline better. At my best, I don’t punish my kids capriciously or in anger. I do it with love and gentleness. Our Heavenly Father does this and more. He disciplines those He loves. And His hands heal the wounds of discipline. I will be their champion and I will guide their steps until they are ready to walk on their own. That is my divine calling as a father.


Those are just five of the dozens of reasons I am so happy to be a dad. I love my family. I love my kids. Being a dad has made me a better man, a better husband, and a better Christian. I know that in this day it is easy to look at children and families and see them as weights – things that are holding us back from living a truly fulfilled life. I find that to be unspeakably sad. Not everyone is called to fatherhood or even marriage, but those of us that are, we need to appreciate the great blessing and responsibility we have been given. It’s not all fun and games though, and there are any number of things dads need to do so that their families do not become a burden or a source of stress and sadness. But at the end of the day, our job is to be obedient to the Scriptures and leave the rest in the hands of our Heavenly Father. Do me a favor though, in the middle of all that, take some time to appreciate what you have been given. Enjoy those wonderful arrows in your quiver. They are a gift from the Lord.




Five Neglected Comedies from the 80s We Highly Recommend

The 80s had its problems but it gave us a lot of awesome things like Lunchables, the Transformers, trapper keepers, the Rubik’s Cube, and the list goes on. One of the best of the best (to some) is the excellent lineup of comedy movies throughout the 80s. Many of these are very well known and still loved. However, REO is horrified with the greatest of all horrors that several of our favorites have been forgotten, forsaken in the dusty, grimy back alley of cinematic history. Here are our recommendations of five great but relatively forgotten comedies from that decade.


The Private Eyes

Don Knotts and Tim Conway were a legendary comedic duo, yet it seems this movie is far more under the radar than anything else they did. And that is a shame. Because it is hilarious from start to finish. Released in 1980, my family owned it on an old VHS tape and I watched it so much I had essentially every word of dialogue memorized as a child (which interestingly made my mother quite proud). It was such clever writing for that era and Knotts and Conway, as the bumbling Inspector Winship and Doctor Tart, brought the humor to life with once in a generation talent and chemistry.

Rife with samurais, hunchbacks, gypsies, mysterious shadow figures and Wookalars (you have to watch), this comedic murder-mystery set in England really keeps you on your toes. And in typical Knotts and Conway fashion, shows us how easy it is to love “two idiots what going to leave their mark wherever they go.” Not counting cameos, this is the last ride for these two men. And they went out in style. With a Wookalar!! (Gowdy Cannon)


Fletch Lives

Fletch is widely considered one of the great comedies of the ’80s. It’s witty and razor sharp and Chevy Chase is at his sarcastic best. Fletch Lives, the sequel that came a few years later is widely derided as a pale imitation of its predecessor. I find that opinion to be ridiculous. No, Fletch Lives does not reach the highs of the original but it admirably captures its tone, style, and humor. Chase is given a chance to play a handful of memorable “characters” – Ed Harley and Claude Henry Smoot to name a couple. The supporting cast included screen legend R. Lee Ermey as a smiley, smarmy televangelist and Cleavon Little as Calculus Entropy, perhaps the best side character in either Fletch movie. Seriously, I would watch multiple films about Calculus.

If I were handing out grades, Fletch gets an A+ and Fletch Lives gets a solid A-. To put it more bluntly, for all the Fletch Lives haters out there, I wouldn’t want to live in a world where Fletch Lives never got made. Perhaps I’m wrong. If so, I can only respond like Fletch would, “It takes a big man to admit when he’s wrong. I am NOT a big man.” (Phill Lytle)


The Gods Must Be Crazy

My parents spent time in Cote D’Ivoire as dorm parents at a missionary school for about half of the 90s. While there they fell in love with a movie called The God’s Must Be Crazy. They came back, introduced it to me, and I’ll be dogged if I didn’t fall in love with it too. To be honest, much of the camera-work of the movie is not great. This is possibly because it was extremely inexpensively made from donations from local sources. That location: South Africa. It isn’t set there though. It is set in the nearby country of Botswana with the Kalahari Desert playing a crucial role. If you can get past the somewhat shoddy cinematography, you will find the entirety of the writing and plot chock full of wit, charm, and a variety of different kinds of great humor. This is particularly true when it comes to the main character, a bushman named Xi (played by an actual bushman named N!xau). The central plot begins with an empty Coca-Cola bottle discarded by a pilot flying over the Kalahari. It lands where it is discovered by Xi’s tiny, peaceful family tribe. In the ensuing greed and jealousy that erupts, the tribe determines that the bottle is indeed an “evil thing” sent down by the gods to test them. Brave Xi then sets out on a quest to cast the “evil thing” off of the ends of the earth. Then the real madness and insanity begins. (Ben Plunkett)


¡Three Amigos!

I’m pretty sure no movie of the 80s made me laugh more than this one did. In my circles, it is hard pressed to call it “underrated” because so many people I know love it. But it didn’t make a ton of money and it has a very mediocre rating on IMDB.com, so I think it fits in general.

At a time when Chevy Chase, Steve Martin and Martin Short were all extremely funny actors, they brought it together for a ridiculous yet heartwarming masterpiece of comedic cinema. From the very opening where they hold out the first AH sound in “Amigos” for a stupidly and hilariously long time, to their discussion of what “infamous” means to their unforgettable “My Little Buttercup” song and dance in front of a terrified cantina, the Amigos make sure the laughs do not stop in this movie.

Not to be outshone, even a little bit, is the superbly named and utterly outrageous villain El Guapo. He is truly one of the greatest antagonists of all time in this genre. His overdone machismo and his scathing one-liners are the stuff of legend to me and my friends. And he even has a perfect sidekick, Jefe. I’ve lost count of the number of times I have told Phill, “I am still here El Guapo!” to encourage him that I stand behind REO 100% (Thankfully Phill hasn’t shot me like El Guapo did Jefe.)

On the short list for the most quotable movie of all time to me (“Can I have your gun when you are dead?”, “Good night, Ned!”), I couldn’t get enough of ¡Three Amigos! in 1986 and, unlike most 80s movies, it still holds up well today. It has made me laugh until I have cried. (Gowdy Cannon)


The ‘Burbs

I think The ‘Burbs is one of Tom Hanks’ best films and one of his best performances. I realize how absurd that might sound to a lot of people. The ‘Burbs is a ridiculous comedy about a group of nosy and meddlesome suburbanite neighbors. They come to believe their new neighbors, the Klopeks, are mass murderers who are burying their victims in the backyard. The film is populated with hilariously colorful characters – from Bruce Derns’ insane Lt. Mark Rumsfield[1. You can read more about him here.] to Rick Ducommun as the hapless conspiracy nut Art Weingartner. Not to mention Carrie Fisher’s great performance as the patient and slightly exasperated wife. The film provides laughs on multiple levels – pratfalls, subtle quips, and clever wordplay. But the glue that holds it all together is Hanks. He is equal turns the voice of reason and the most paranoid of them all. His final monologue where he defends the odd Klopek family is delivered with such authenticity you actually believe it deserves to be in a much more serious film – except that Hanks is in on the humor and absurdity and makes sure all of that still comes through loud and clear. I’m happy to report that The ‘Burbs has found a small fanbase after it’s lackluster reception in 1989. In a perfect world, it would be considered a classic. (Phill Lytle)


Those are our picks. What are yours? Let us know in the comment section. Thanks for reading.

 

 




Moments of Revelation

The bones of this article were written for my now defunct blog over ten years ago (January 2008.) A version of it was published by an online magazine called The Brink some time back as well. I keep coming back to it though. When I wrote it, I was only 30 years old. I had been married for less than ten years. I had two boys. I was less than two years into my job as a Disability Claims Examiner for the State of Tennessee.

Things have changed in the intervening ten years. I am 18 years into marriage with an amazing woman. I have three boys now – ages fifteen, fourteen, and nine. I’m a man. I’m 40! I have been at my Disability job for over 12 years. And I keep coming back to those things I wrote a decade ago. It is a simple story and one that has repeated itself in my life more times than I can recall.

I was driving home from work one afternoon. The traffic was bad – as usual – though in retrospect, it was nothing compared to our current traffic problems in Nashville. The heater in my car was nearly dead, and needless to say, it was cold. Not surprisingly, I had a headache as well. I wouldn’t describe my mood as good. It wasn’t a horrible day – I wasn’t angry or bitter or anything like that. In as simple terms as I can put it, I just wasn’t “feeling” that Tuesday afternoon. Does that make sense? There are days where it is better for everyone to just turn the page and get to the next one. That was my reality that cold, January afternoon. I was ready to move on to Wednesday.

That all changed, though, while I was driving home. When I first wrote this article (or blog post), I had a catchy name for what happened to me. At least, I thought it was catchy, but as it didn’t actually catch on, it was probably not nearly as catchy as I hoped. I had a “Moment of Revelation.” I was 30 and full of vim and vigor so you have to grant me some grace in thinking that “Moment of Revelation” was going to revolutionize the world.

What exactly was my “Moment of Revelation?” God didn’t audibly speak to me. I didn’t get a vision from heaven. What did happen was that I caught a glimpse of something beyond me and my immediate circumstances. Scripture tells us that God has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the hearts of men; I am sure there are many different ways that verse can be interpreted or explained, but I am not going to exegete the passage. I know what that verse says to me; God has made everything beautiful in its time and he created humanity with an innate ability to appreciate truth and beauty. He did this so that we could and would recognize the Originator of that Truth and Beauty.

That gets me back to my “Moment of Revelation.” I wasn’t thinking about anything in particular while I was driving, so I wasn’t exactly searching for anything beautiful, but beauty found me anyway. I had the radio on one of those “We play whatever we want” stations. (Jack FM if you want me to be specific.) The volume was low because the song that had been playing was terrible. Due to the low volume, I missed the first couple of notes of the next song, U2’s glorious With or Without You. Once I realized what song was on, I turned up the volume to a comfortably deafening level. (“Comfortably deafening” might seem contradictory, but if you are a big music fan, I think you know exactly what I mean.) I don’t have the ability to describe the rush of emotions that hit me. I forgot I was cold. I forgot my headache. I forgot the crappy day I had at work. I forgot about the bumper-to-bumper traffic. I simply allowed the song to “minister” to me. I know that sounds preposterous and touchy-feely, but it happened.

My entire outlook for the day changed. That one song at that specific time was exactly what I needed. Before anyone chimes in about the song itself, I’ll make a few things clear: I didn’t/don’t base my theology on this song, even though it probably captures the typical Christian experience better than just about any song on Christian radio any given year. I don’t have to agree with everything an artist is expressing. I just need to be ready to catch a quick glimpse of the eternity that the artist may or may not have even intended.

I experienced this the first time I saw Bilbo Baggins and Gandalf the Grey hug on the big screen in The Fellowship of the Ring. I was hit over the head with it when Stephen Lawhead, in his magnificent Pendragon Cycle, wrote about Merlin holding a wounded Arthur in his arms as their small boat sails to Avalon. Every time I hear The River Will Flow by Whiteheart, my soul smiles. I think God smiles too. These “Moments of Revelation” are everywhere; we just have to be ready to receive them. Mind you, they are not just in the arts. It could be a sunset. Laughing with a friend. Spending time with your family. I could go on for pages about the ways my kids help me experience it. My point is that we need to cultivate an appreciation for these moments that God gives us. There is a fundamental reason we have this ability; it points our eyes to our Creator. If we truly appreciate the beauty and truth we find in our lives, it will only nurture our love and devotion to the Source of that beauty and truth.

I look for these moments often though probably not as often as I should. I have even written about a few of these moments already for REO. (Here, here, here, and here.) If your day, or week, is not really doing it for you, keep your eyes open. Maybe God has a moment prepared for you. Don’t miss it because you are too busy stuck in your present circumstances.

Can you relate? Do you have these moments? We would love for you to tell us about them in the comment section below.

 




Trump Shocked that Everyone at Rally Knew the Sick Woman’s Name was Grace

Cape Girardeau, Missouri – At a massive rally in the riverfront town, a Trump supporter suddenly fell ill and required medical attention. The other rally goers spontaneously erupted into a beautiful rendition of “Amazing Grace.” Donald Trump was astounded. “I have no idea how so many people knew that her name was Grace, or how they had a song ready for her. It was amazing. Amazing. But this is the sort of thing that happens when you are winning. Winners just know what to do.”

As to how the lady is doing after her health scare, Trump added, “She is doing fantastic. Just fantastic. I don’t like to brag but we have the best medical team in the world at our rallies. Just tremendous. She wouldn’t get better care at any hospital in the country, this I can promise you. Grace is doing fine and I think people singing to her had a lot to do with it. As the song said, she’s amazing. She really is.”

 

 




I Believe I Can Fly! My Five Favorite Flying Scenes

Ask just about any kid what superpower they want most and they will choose the ability to fly. Ask any adult the same question and you will likely get the same answer. There is something wonderfully appealing about being able to fly. It’s why we took to the skies over 100 years ago. Movies have frequently attempted to capture the joy and excitement of flying. From Star Wars and its space battles to Top Gun and its over-the-top male bonding in the sky, movies have done their best to help us experience what it feels like to go airborne.

Below, you will read (and see[1. All video clips are courtesy of the respective studios…Don’t sue us we aren’t making any money off of them!]) my five favorite flying scenes. A few disclaimers and honorable mentions before we get to the main list. First, I have not included any of the more “realistic” flying scenes – scenes where people are piloting airplanes or jets. Those can be fun but I think they mute a lot of the excitement we long for as children. Most kids want to fly, not fly in something. Second, as it will become more obvious below, I am drawn to scenes where the music and the mood capture me as much as what I am seeing on screen. Finally, I may have cheated a little on a few of these and violated my first point above. You’ll see what I mean below.

Honorable mentions:

1. Iron Man – the first time Tony Stark flies in the Iron Man suit. It’s a fun, well executed scene.

2. Avatar – Neytiri goes flying on an Ikran. If Avatar excelled at anything, it was the visuals and James Cameron holds nothing back for this sequence. Seeing this in 3D was spectacular filmmaking.

3. The Neverending Story – Atreyu and Falcor fly over Fantasia. I have loved this movie since I was a child. The effects in this scene don’t hold up to today’s standards, but man did they transport me to a new world when I first saw this film.

With all that said, here are my five favorites in no particular order.


Toy Story – Woody and Buzz fall with style

 

This scene is a perfect summation as to why Pixar films are so good. It’s the climax of the film and the filmmakers could have simply used that as an excuse to end the film with something huge. And in a way, it does end big, but everything that happens in this sequence happens to further develop the story and the characters. Buzz Lightyear and Woody have been butting heads since the moment they met. Buzz won the other toys over with his incredible “flying” demonstration early in the film. Yet, by the end of the film, he has come to terms with the fact that he is a toy and cannot fly. So what does Pixar do? It has Woody and Buzz working together to literally fly to the moving truck – and beyond. It’s action and excitement in service of the story and the characters. That is great filmmaking and it’s why Toy Story, and many other Pixar films, are so beloved all these years later.


Superman Returns – Superman saves the day

 

I realize that this film has been lost in the craze and popularity of the recent Marvel films. That’s a shame because Bryan Singer made a really good Superman film. This film serves as a sequel of sorts to Superman II – the one from the 80s. Superman has been gone from earth for five years. He left to see if he could find any signs of an intact Krypton. He returns to find that many people in the world, Lois Lane included, have moved on. This scene is his reintroduction to the world. For my money, this is the first time a film was truly able to capture Superman’s power, speed, and ability. The entire airplane rescue sequence is intricately constructed – with new obstacles popping up every few seconds. Besides the fantastic visuals, the music plays a vital role as well. Composer John Ottman did what most composers do not seem capable of doing: He checked his ego at the door and willingly weaved portions of John Williams’ classic Superman score with his own original score. You can hear the opening notes of the triumphant Williams Superman theme at the very end of the clip. The full theme is heard multiple times throughout the movie and that, coupled with Ottman’s original score, make for an awesome pairing.


E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial – Flying bikes

 

Speilberg was working on a level most other filmmakers only dream of when he made E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial. It’s one of my 10 favorite films and the climax is a big reason why. There is a sense of wonder and joy during the final chase – then flight – sequence it’s almost palpable. It’s perfectly staged by building up the tension a little at a time until you feel that something just has to give. And then the boys take flight on their bikes! I get chills every time I see it.


Peter Pan – Wendy learns how to fly

 

I hate that this film seemingly got ignored when it released back in 2003. In a perfect world, this would be the definitive film version of this story. What draws me to this sequence–besides the pure joy and excitement demonstrated by the kids, and the impossibly chaotic and beautiful child imagined solar system–is the music. Again, if the music works for me, the film has a great chance to become a favorite. My reaction to this musical theme by James Newton Howard is hard for me to really explain. It hits me deep. It builds, it plays a bit, and then it explodes into the grand rendition of the Neverland theme. I saw this in a mostly empty theater when it came out and I was floored. There must have been dust in the air or something because my eyes were all manner of watery.


How to Train Your Dragon – Hiccup and Toothless’s first flight

 

Childlike wonder. That is all that really needs to be said about this sequence and this film. I enjoyed this film the first time I saw it. I liked the world, the story, and the music. Then my middle son fell in love with it. He was around six years old when he saw it for the first time at our house. Watching him watch this film is one of my favorite memories. I don’t know if I have ever seen a face as transfixed, as mesmerized, as awestruck as his face when he watched this first flying scene. I completely fell in love with the film once I saw it through his eyes – the eyes the film was meant to capture all along.


That’s my list. I know there are dozens of other worthy scenes that I could have mentioned. I would love to hear from our readers. In the comment section below, tell us about some of your favorite flying scenes. Anything is fair game – even planes, jets, and all other flying machines. Thanks for reading.

 

 




She’s Going to Dance

She’s Going to Dance

For years she was
Hidden in a body that refused
Refused to move, run, talk
Her motions and voice muted
Muted by Adam’s curse

Even so
She saw
She tried

Soon
Her eyes will be wide open
Her voice released
She will see her Savior and she will sing to him with clarity and praise and intention

She’s going to sing

 

For years she was
Hidden in a body that refused
Refused to talk, move, run
Her movements and gestures broken
Broken by the ravages of disease

Even so
She moved
She tried

Soon
Her feet will not fail her
Her legs unbound
She will run to her Savior and she will run with speed and skill and delight

She’s going to run

 

For years she was
Hidden in a body that refused
Refused to run, talk, move
Her balance and elegance shrouded
Shrouded by years of incapacity

Even so
She dreamed
She tried

Soon
Her frame will not deny her
Her body transformed
She will dance with her Savior and she will dance with beauty and joy and grace

She’s going to dance

 

 

 

*This poem was written in honor of and inspired by Shawna Scarborough.

 


You may also enjoy these original works from Rambling Ever On:




Five Failed Ideas for Today’s Five

We love writing The Five. We do it every week. Most of the time, putting one of these together is just a pure joy. A blessing, some might say. But if we are being completely honest, which we always are, there have been a few times when we really struggled to come up with something worthwhile. We have even published a few less-than-optimal Fives in our time. (I’m looking at you Sick Five.) In the spirit of complete transparency, today is not one of our finest moments. We agonized over this one. We suggested idea after idea and nothing seemed to stick. Nothing got our creative juices flowing. So, instead of beating our heads against this bit of writer’s block, we have decided to share Five of the ideas we had that never really got off the ground. We hope you enjoy this little peek behind the curtain even though we realize you probably won’t. It’s not good.


1. National Pumpkin Day by Benjamin Plunkett

Today is National Pumpkin Day. We says to ourselves, “Mayhap we can get a Five out of this.” A few ideas were bandied about: Carved pumpkins, roasted pumpkins seeds, Linus and the Great Pumpkin, The Smashing Pumpkins, pumpkin catapulting, pumpkin pie, pumpkin spice…everything. Although we love some of this (pumpkin pie certainly had my eye), the idea itself did not really float our boat, shiver our timbers, no, nor bake our cake. So alas, my friends, twas not to be…for we had seen the empty jack-o-lantern of our souls!


2. Five Non-Scary movies to watch for Halloween if you are not a horror movie fan by Phill Lytle

So, it’s almost Halloween and everyone you know is watching as many scary movies as they can. But you feel left out because you don’t like scary movies. They scare you and you don’t like being scared. It makes you uncomfortable. Well boo freaking hoo! Grow a spine, you whiny baby! In recent years, Halloween has been characterized by a few things: Candy, women losing all inhibition and dressing like two-bit prostitutes, and scary movies. Since we are Christians here, we hopefully will have nothing to do with the second one so that leaves us with candy and horror films. If you are too big of a wuss for horror films then you are left with only candy and that clearly makes you a child. If you are in fact a child, then don’t worry about anything I’ve written here and enjoy the veritable feast of candy that awaits you in a few days. But if you are not a child, but a grown adult person, then crying and whimpering about all the scary movies is just pitiful. For the love! Find your courage man!


3. Five random things by Benjamin Plunkett

The debate over this one was incredibly fierce. Two factions emerged from the growing ferocity of this controversy. One side was adamant that it be “things” while the other fought long and hard for “objects.” In the end, discussions devolved into madness and the idea eventually discarded. Pity too because we had come up with five perfectly random subjects: Spotify, Monarch butterflies, crushed soda cans, A Streetcar Named Desire, and fat Val Kilmer. It would have been of a masterpiece, this Five Random Things (or Objects).


4. Five Favorite Andy Griffith characters by Gowdy Cannon

To my shame, my knowledge of The Andy Griffith Show is woefully lacking considering how I was raised and who my group of friends are. Andy Griffith was on in syndication in the background of my house a bunch I would guess. And two of the pastors at my church quote the show to each other about the same way I quote Seinfeld with my friends.

Yet it’s never been a show I’ve sat down and watched significantly. I could tell you a moment here or there, like when Barney knew how to sing “A Capella” or when oregano was the secret ingredient in everyone’s spaghetti. But to write a blurb about it? I would struggle. To my shame.

This show is lauded so highly for good reasons. Somehow those reasons have not translated to my TV viewing. To my shame.


5. Five Types of Boulders by Phill Lytle

Who doesn’t love a good boulder? I know I do! In my 40 years of living there have been few things in life that have brought more happiness than boulders. They are big…obviously. They are hard….sure. They are bouldery?

Nope. I can’t do this. Who cares about boulders? They are giant rocks. That’s it. That’s all they have going for them. Some are really big and some are just sort of big.

I just don’t see the big deal about boulders…pun fully intended.

That said, there is the park in Missouri called Elephant Rocks State Park[1. Go visit a State Park in your area!] and it contains these massive boulder-like rocks. I guess they are boulders. I’ve never really done research on the distinction between giant rocks and boulders. Are they the same thing? Aaaaah! This is so boring to talk about! Elephant Rocks State Park is pretty cool but other than that, boulders are a big waste of time. They hardly qualify as a topic of conversation. Get it? HARDly! Because they are hard?

I’ll see myself out.


See. We weren’t overselling the complete dumpster fire that is this article. No humble, self-deprecation on our part. We are straight shooters who call it like it is.

But here’s the rub: We won’t apologize for this train wreck. In fact, we are oddly proud of it. It became such a hideous and unwieldy thing that it developed a sort of haunting beauty. A pulchritude, if you will. And we will. Oh, believe you me, we will.

If you were wondering about the clown picture, we figured that since this was our pre-Halloween Five, it needed to have some creepy factor to it. And a creepy and sad clown doll seemed to fit the bill perfectly.