My Irrational Love For the Karate Kid Franchise

Daniel: Hey, what kind of belt do you have? 

Miyagi: Canvas. JC Penney, $3.98. You like? 

Daniel: [laughs] No, I meant… 

Miyagi: In Okinawa, belt mean no need rope to hold up pants. Daniel-san… [taps his headKarate here. [taps his heartKarate here. [points to his beltKarate never here. Understand?

 

 

Nearly everyone loves the sports underdog. Nearly everyone loves it when a bully gets his comeuppance. Nearly everyone loves a sage mentor teaching a protege about life and skill.

So it’s no wonder that the 1984 movie The Karate Kid was so well received in the U.S. that it spawned three sequels and a remake that all together earned well over $400 million at the American box office.

But even with that success, I still sometimes feel like I love theses movies a tad too much. Well, most of them. They were a cultural phenomena in the 80s and to many I am sure have not aged well. But to me, I adore them more now than back then. And in honor of the 33rd anniversary of the release of the original this week, I wanted to give my thoughts on each of the five movies in the franchise.

 

The Karate Kid (1984) 

Karate Kid PosterAmerican moviegoers in the 80s had a ton of martial arts exposure thanks to still legendary names like Bruce Lee and Chuck Norris. By that time we already had a pantheon of movies about a sports underdog overcoming great odds to win. Yet we had not seen the two put together quite like this.

Perhaps the most amazing thing about this movie is that Daniel comes across as a whiner for much of the movie and his love interest isn’t interesting at all to me, yet the aforementioned tropes are so good they overcome the lesser aspects.

Most notably, Pat Morita gave the world a gift with his performance as Mr. Miyagi. He is utterly quotable: “Lie become truth only if person want to believe it.” His broken English is insanely endearing. The scene where we learn that this humble, easy-to-overlook maintenance man can kick major hindquarters in karate makes me ridiculously giddy.

But the star moment of the movie to me is the way he teaches Daniel-San karate. He makes him wax his cars and stain his fence and other menial, backbreaking chores. And of course Daniel eventually gets upset by it and threatens to break their pact and quit. So in one of the truly special moments to me in movie history, Mr. Miyagi shows him that everything he is doing is subconsciously teaching him karate. He is teaching Daniel his way with Far Eastern methodology and without the dojo mentality. Mr. Miyagi in this scene does an epic mic drop before that was even a thing. “Wax on, Wax off” was a huge part of the 80s American movie vernacular.

Make no mistake, this movie hinges on how good Mr. Miyagi is. Beyond the karate, we feel for him deeply when we learn about the death of his wife. And his excellence in bringing this unique character to life overwhelms the weaknesses of the other two main characters to me.

Kreese, Johnny and the Cobra Kai are excellent villains and perfectly easy to hate. The climactic fight in the tournament is superbly dramatic and the music compliments it well. There is so much to love in this movie that how poorly it has aged has not affected my fan hood in the least.

 

The Karate Kid II 

Is it possible that I love this sequel more than the original? This is something that rarely happens, especially if you take out Top 1% movies like Empire Strikes Back and Godfather 2. Yes, yes it is possible.

Maybe it is the fact it takes place in Okinawa. And the stakes become more real. This installment definitely captures the magic of Rocky in that it finds a new, fresh way to keep our champion in the underdog role. Mr. Miyagi’s telling Daniel near the end, “This not tournament, this for real” pretty much captures how they were able to take a great idea and two years later make it even better. Beating Johnny the Cobra Kai in a city tournament was classic. Facing Chozen in a theoretical fight to the death is just terrifying. And intense, even if it is a tad over the top. I pretty much stop breathing during this scene every time I watch.

But the movie scores big to me as well because it develops Mr. Miyagi even more, teaching us more about his past and his failures and his reason for leaving. These scenes are not cheesy at all.

But at its heart, the story is the Miyagi/Daniel relationship. Even as Daniel is getting throttled by Chozen, Miyagi is shouting out instructions that help Daniel. And even though I’ll never understand how Daniel merely swinging his arms back and forth turned the tide in the fight, no one can deny the music, the choreography and the cinematography of this scene come together for a chill bump-inducing masterpiece.

And for it to end with Peter Cetera singing The Glory of Love…well that is just the cherry on the captivating movie conclusion sundae.

 

The Karate Kid Part III 

Karate Kid III Whereas the second one masterfully kept us interested in Daniel-San as the underdog, this one absolutely fails in every way. This movie is an abomination. It’s horrible in every way it can be. It is tired, boring and unnecessary and the fact the first two made $200 million in the US between them and that this one tanked at $38 million is proof.

When I showed my wife this franchise early this year I refused to show her this one. I will tackle her if she ever tries (since we own all of them). The fact that this movie exists and it doesn’t cause me to feel any less passionately about the whole series is a testimony to how good the others are. I saw this movie a couple of times in the 80s and tried to give it one more chance about ten years ago. Nope. I am surprised I have not just thrown it in the garbage yet.

 

The Next Karate Kid 

The Next Karate KidAs far as quality we find this reprisal of sorts in the franchise between the magic of the first two and the dumpster fire of the third one, released in 1994. It was obvious that Daniel was done as a character so to add some spice they make Mr. Miyagi’s new project a female. And not just any female: Hiilary Swank several years before she shocked the world with two Best Actress Oscar wins.

So the fact that you have such an acting talent alongside the iconic Mr. Miyagi means this movie has some redeeming value. The story itself is retread and does not capture the imagination of the beginning of the franchise. But at least it brings the novelty of a girl, Julie-San, being the one who needs to overcome demons and bullying. Not a necessary movie but I don’t mind watching it if someone wants to see all of the “Karate Kid” movies.

And we get to see Mr. Miyagi light somebody up one more time before retiring the character forever so that alone almost makes it worth watching.

 

The Karate Kid (2010)

The Karate KidFirst, let me be clear that there is no doubt this movie belongs to this franchise. The title, as well as the obvious and subtle references to the plot of the original manifest its strong connection to the 1984 version.

And I had little faith they could redo the original in a modern way and not destroy it. They did the opposite. It exceeds the original in my mind and competes with KK2 for the best of the franchise.

First, Mr. Han is an incredible updated version of Mr. Miyagi. I had never seen Jackie Chan like this. He absolutely knocks this role out of the park.

This can be seen best in the re-imagining of the “menial task is teaching kung fu” scene. As memorable as this moment is in the first one, I think this movie improves upon it. Dre doesn’t hang up his jacket like his mother wants him to. So Mr. Han uses that as the basis for developing his muscles and reactive instincts, by having him take off and hang up his jacket for hours at a time. Which is a small but powerful difference from “wax on, wax off”. And the mic drop speech given by Mr. Han at the end of this scene is even more potent: “Kung Fu lives in everything we do. It lives in how we put on the jacket, how we take off the jacket. It lives in how we treat people. Everything is Kung Fu.” Please note that as a Christian I don’t believe this in real life but I cannot deny it makes amazing cinema. I stood up and clapped in the theater at this moment.

Jayden Smith is pretty good in his role but just as with the originals, it rises and falls on the mentor. I could not love Mr. Han any more and I refuse to try to pick who is better out of him and Miyagi.

 

So as summer heats up and Hollywood makes the news with regularity, we at REO take time to remember the summer blockbusters of yesteryear. For me, almost nothing tops The Karate Kid, or three variations at least. I love them, indeed, far beyond logic.




Fanny Crosby: The 19th Century Wonder Woman

I admit that I have not seen the new Wonder Woman movie yet, but I have seen a viral video in which it inspired a brave young lass to dress up…as something…and attempt all manner of swordplay with a toy sword and awkward acrobatics. I have also read lots of reviews of Wonder Woman; you can read Phill Lytle’s excellent review right here. While I fully intend to see Wonder Wonder, all the hubbub has put me in mind of an actual and probably far greater Wonder Woman of days gone by. While Wonder Woman herself is a daughter of Zeus, I am referring to a daughter of the one true God in heaven. I refer to no other than one of the greatest hymnists who has ever lived: Fanny Crosby. Fanny is mainly known by history as a great blind hymnist, but it might be that she would not want to be remembered for only her hymn writing. She regarded this as only part of her life and ministry, but certainly not all of it. And she was right to think that; her life and ministry included much more. During her life in addition to her status as The Queen of Gospel Music, she would serve as a teacher of the blind, a much in demand public speaker, and a full time minister among the homeless.

The Early Years

Crosby was born on March 24, 1820 in Southeast Putnam County, New York, in a small community called Gayville. About six weeks after she was born Crosby caught a bad cold. In the absence of the community doctor, a well-meaning neighbor stepped in claiming to have medical knowledge and know-how. He applied hot poultices (wet washcloths) to Fanny’s eyes in a misguided attempt to draw out the infection. The man succeeded only in permanently blinding her. (At this time her parents didn’t know it was permanent and fully believed her sight would return after a time.)

When Fanny was almost one her father John Crosby died. That is when Fanny and her mother Mercy moved in with Fanny’s grandmother, Eunice Crosby. Eunice Crosby would do much of the mothering of Fanny until she was five. During this time she did everything she could to strengthen her granddaughter’s powers of memory and to help her see the world without eyes. As an adult, Fanny would recall how “Grandma…brought the Bible to me, and me to the Bible. The stories of the Holy Book came from her lips and entered my heart and took deep root there” (This is My Story, This is My Song, Fanny Crosby).

The Formative Years

When Fanny was about five her mother took her to New York to see Dr. Valentine Mott, a famous eye doctor. After inspecting Fanny, he informed Mrs. Crosby her daughter would never see again. This devastated Mrs. Crosby. However, Fanny herself was secretly relieved. She would never be able to see her blindness as anything but a gift from God.

Shortly after this disappointing visit Fanny’s mother acquired a job in North Salem, Westchester County just south of Gayville. They still lived close enough to Gayville that Eunice Crosby was able to visit several times a week, but when Fanny was eight or nine they moved again after her mother landed a job in Ridgefield, Connecticut. This was much too far away for her grandmother to come visit all the time.

During these years, God had another kind caretaker took Eunice Crosby’s place in Fanny’s spiritual and mental education. We know this goodly individual only as Mrs. Hawley. Under Mrs. Hawley’s care by ten years of age Fanny could recite by memory the Pentateuch, Proverbs, the four Gospels, numerous poems, and portions of a number of books. Her mental library would only grow as she got older. Eventually, she did not have to have someone read the Bible to her; she could just recite any passage she wanted. Fanny never thought this an extraordinary feat. She sincerely believed that a blind person could do everything a person with sight could do—and sometimes even better. In one of her autobiographies she says, “It has always been my favorite theory that the blind can accomplish nearly everything that may be done by those who can see. Do not think that those deprived of physical vision are shut out from the best that earth has to offer her children” (Fanny Crosby, Memories of Eighty Years).

From an early age she was developing an extraordinarily descriptive mind and a keen writing ability. She wrote her very first poem when she was eight. When she was in her teens she submitted works of poetry to a nearby paper. This paper was published by the soon to be famous P.T. Barnum. It was also during these formative Ridgefield years that Fanny’s desire for formal education began to grow.

The Student Years

In 1834 Fanny and her mom left Ridgefield and returned to Westchester County. In November of that same year they first saw an advertisement for the New York Institution for the Blind. On March 3, 1835, Fanny set off for New York with a traveling companion to enter the institute. After enrolling in and beginning attendance of the school, Crosby quickly became known among the faculty, staff, and student body for her poetry. It was during these early student years that she first became well respected among the literary community of New York and in demand for her poetry skills.

A superintendent of the school named Mr. Jones foresaw the danger of this still young student being ruined by vanity from all the high praise. He therefore cautioned her against letting this vanity get the best of her. At the same time he commanded her to not write poetry for the next three months. He did this partly to temper her growing vanity and partly to test her commitment to writing poetry. After proving herself (and learning to temper her vanity) she was encouraged to write to her heart’s content. This is when a literary mentor named Hamilton Murray stepped in. Murray was a member of the Board of Managers of the institution who had great writing sensibilities and skill. He took her under his wing and taught her to write better. With his guidance, Crosby was able to branch out into other areas of writing. For instance, with his help she put her mind to writing poetry for campaigns and other political events.

The Teaching Years

In 1843, Fanny graduated from the institute. During that same year she became a teacher there. It was also during that same year that her health began to decline somewhat. Nevertheless, she still took a number of students to on planned trip to Washington D.C. While there, she recited some of her poetry to the politicians. This trip to Washington was such a success that Crosby would later take a second group of students to the U.S. capitol.

By 1845, she was gradually getting more and more into song lyric writing. During that year a man named George F. Roots came to the school to teach music. In 1853, the two composed a cantata called “The Flower Queen.”

Fanny was also began publishing books of poetry during these teaching years. In 1844 she published her first official book of poems: “The Blind Girl and Other Poems.” This book also contained her very first hymn which she called “An Evening Hymn.” In 1851, she would publish another book of poetry called “Monterey and Other Poems.”

Some really big events happened in Fanny’s life in between these two books, in 1848 and 1849, the land was stricken by cholera. Like thousands throughout the country, many of the students died. It was so bad that during August of 1848, Crosby was ordered to retire to the country so she too would not get sick. This was not an uncommon practice at this time; many city dwellers were departing the city to avoid the close quarters that fostered the disease. She did retire to the country, and it was not only a salvation for her physical self; it was a life changer for her spiritual self as well. During her time away from the institution, she received a full knowledge of Jesus Christ. This was not something that had just happened all of a sudden. Several years earlier in 1845 she had first met her spiritual mentor, Theodore Camp. He was instrumental in bringing her to Jesus on November 20, 1850 at a revival at the Broadway Methodist Tabernacle.

The Latter Years

Fanny met her future husband, Alexander Van Alstyne when he was a student at the institution in 1855. (He was 11 years younger than her.) After he graduated from school, he became a teacher and became engaged to Fanny. Three years later the couple resigned and very shortly thereafter got married.

Little is known regarding their married life, but there are three facts that are pretty clear: First, although very amicable and still doing some things together, they lived apart and had separate lives for the majority of their married life. Second, a few years after they were married they had a daughter who only lived for less than a day. Third, they would remain married until he died on July 18, 1902.

In 1858, the year she had resigned from teaching and gotten married, the stage of her hymnist career was set. During this year Fanny published “A Wreath of Columbia’s Flowers.” This would be her final book of poems before starting to write hymns. This next phase of her writing career was instigated in December 1863 after she was asked to write a hymn for the Dutch Reformed Church. She did so well on this project that an arrangement was made for her to meet the famous hymnist William B. Bradbury on February 2 of the next year. A historic years-long collaboration ensued. It was not long afterward that she became known to evangelists and pastors on both sides of the Atlantic as Aunt Fanny and the Queen of Gospel Music. Many of these ministers commonly used her work in altar calls. The world famous evangelistic team Dwight Moody and Ira Sankey utilized her songs in this way throughout the 1870s and onward. The greatness of Fanny’s hymns comes from their ability to be understood and to touch the lives of ordinary people.

By the time she died in 1915, Fanny would pen at least 9,000 hymns. Although she mostly signed them with her given name, she wrote a lot using psuedonymns. She is believed to have used almost 200.

It was also during these years of growing worldwide fame that Fanny became a much in demand public speaker at churches and charitable organizations. It is said that she was exceptionally gifted at this role.

The Last Years

By the 1880s, Fanny was both living and working in the slums. Her work in the missions here gave her the opportunity to evangelize common people on a personal basis.

At the same time she kept busy with her writing life. During these last years, she would write two autobiographies: “Fanny Crosby’s Life-Story, By Herself” in 1903 (out of print) and “Memories of Eighty Years” (retitled Fanny J. Crosby: An Autobiography) in 1906.

Fanny died at the age of 95 sometime during the night between February 11 and 12, 1915. On her tombstone are the words, “She hath done what she could” (from Mark 14:8). Of the thousands of hymns Fanny penned, most have been forgotten, but those used in churches around the globe throughout the decades have been priceless tools in touching lives for Jesus and continue to be so. Fanny Crosby was a true Wonder Woman for the cause of Christ—a Wonder Woman for the ages.




To Combat “Rape Culture”, New Trend Sees Women Getting Fetal Permission to Abort

A recent trend has shown that some forward thinking young mothers are combatting the “rape culture” in our society by asking for their infant’s permission before picking them up or holding them. In regards to her six month old son, one such mother said:

Since the moment he was born, we’ve always asked before we pick him up. I always feel for his “yes.” Why? Because we want him to know that his body is his, and that others’ bodies are theirs, and no one gets to make choices about someone else’s body.

Apparently, this progressive choice is not strong enough for many of the more socially conscious members of our society. There is now a movement of young, pregnant, biological females who are not interested in carrying their baby full-term, to ask the fetus’s permission to abort them. Cindy S of Kalamazoo, MI puts it this way:

I do everything I can to fight against the oppressive and destructive patriarchal rape mentality in our country. That is why I have asked my unborn fetus their permission to abort them. I don’t want to infringe on its rights. The fetus’s body belongs to the fetus. No one else gets to make this choice for its body. Strangely enough, my fetus did not choose to go through with the abortion and I have to honor that choice.

More and more women are joining their voices in support of this paradigm shift in societal worldviews. Jessie M of Springfield, MO had this to offer:

The thing is, I really wanted to get an abortion. I am a huge advocate of women’s rights and have supported Planned Parenthood for years. (Jessie is 19.) But I realized that if I wanted to be on the right side of history, I needed to have a conversation with my fetus to get its input on the abortion. My fetus is not in favor of the abortion at this time so I am planning on birthing it six months from now. At least this young person will grow up in a home that values individual rights and hopefully won’t be a sexual predator or victim because I have instilled in it a fierce personal identity and self-worth.

At this time, it is not clear the long-term ramifications this new mindset will have on society at large. A wait and see approach seems appropriate.

(Editor’s note: We interviewed dozens of pregnant biological women who have chosen to seek input from their fetuses for permission to abort them. In all cases, the fetuses have opted to not be aborted.)




Five Ways to Become the Church Janitor’s Worst Nightmare

I have worked part-time as a church janitor for the better part of 17 years. It might surprise you to hear this, but I actually enjoy it. It allows me to move around, do something very practical and tangible, and see immediate results from my work. That said, there have always been aspects of the job that get under my skin. Instead of ranting and raving about them internally, I figured I would put together a handy little list of the Five things you should avoid if you would rather not have an angry church janitor stalking your sanctuary each week. Trust me – you don’t want to get on our bad side. We control the toilet paper supply. (Special shout out to my boys for helping me put the videos together for this article.)

 

Paper Towel Disposal: The Right and Wrong Technique

It’s pretty simple: if you handle paper towel correctly after you wash your hands in the bathroom, you will save the janitor much heartache. Below, you will find two videos that demonstrate the two approaches for disposing your used paper towel. The first video is the common, albeit completely improper way to do it. As you will see, the trash can fills up quickly and soon becomes an eyesore and a nuisance.

https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=N5Mj_1J4Tyo

 

In the second video, you will witness the proper way to handle the paper towel. If you take the time to wad up that paper as much as possible before throwing it away, you will save space, save the janitor time, and maybe even save the world.

https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=zM-I8YEKzL4

 

The Tools of the Trade: Using the church’s stuff in ways you would never dream of using them at home

The typical church janitor uses a few tools every time they clean. A broom. A dust mop. A mop. A vacuum cleaner. Things like that. Sometimes, these tools are borrowed or used by other church members. Sometimes this does not end well. The following are true stories. The quotes are fabricated…mostly…but the scenarios are 100% accurate to reality.

“Oh, you aren’t supposed to vacuum mulch? My bad!”

“Oh, I’m not supposed to use the dust mop to clean up the soda I spilled? They really shouldn’t use the word ‘mop’ in the name then.”

“Oh, the mop shouldn’t be used on the gravel outside of the church? I’m going to have to plead ignorance on this one!”

“Oh, the broom isn’t a communal broom to be taken home whenever we feel like it? I wish someone would tell me these things!”

 

Crimes of a Wet Nature: The Improper Disposal of Liquid

Are you familiar with what I like to call “trash juice?” No? Allow me to elaborate. (You might not want to read this while eating.) Trash juice is the wonderful and aromatic liquid that forms at the bottom of a large trash can when the disposed liquid and refuse become one flesh and together discover an escape through a small crack or seam in the bottom of the trash liner. Trash juice is odious and fetid. It is a misery to clean. The primary culprit in the creation of trash juice is the seemingly innocent act of throwing away a cup or container full/half full/quarter full of liquid. Here is a delightful stop motion video to explain what I mean. (The video works best with the volume on.)

https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=cV7nXS-vjCI

 

In the demonstration above you witness the improper technique. There is a simple solution to this problem but it is rarely, if ever, utilized – POUR OUT YOUR LIQUID IN A SINK PRIOR TO DISPOSING OF YOUR CUP/CONTAINER IN THE TRASH CAN.

 

No Trash Liner = No Trash Accepted: Access Denied

Most churches have multiple trash cans. Almost every room will have one. So do us all a favor when you have trash to dispose of and you see the one trash can that does not have a trash liner (because the church janitor is currently in the process of taking said trash out and has not yet replaced the liner) – please don’t use that trash can. You might not think it is a big deal, but it is. It’s a huge deal. Your time-saving action will force the janitor to have to retrieve that bit of garbage out by hand. And that is super gross.

And so help me, if I see you throwing away a cup full of soda into a can with no liner, I will be tempted to imitate Weird Al Yankovic in the not-surprisingly overlooked 80s action comedy, UHF. Avert your eyes if you are squeamish and easily upset.

https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=Qug9kNhDDvs

 

The only differences are,  I am a janitor and not a librarian and will be using my broom instead of a sword. And since my broom is not sharp, it will take me much longer to achieve the desired result.

 

Glitter: The Devil’s Dust

Glitter is evil. 100%, absolutely, unequivocally evil. I am convinced it was invented by someone whose only purpose in life was to bring pain and suffering to all janitors, housekeepers, and cleaners across the globe. Do not be fooled by its sparkle! Once you use glitter it never goes away. EVER. It will cling to every surface, every article of clothing, ever inch of exposed skin. It will not sweep away. It will not mop away. It will not scrub away. There is no greater metaphor of the destructive and pernicious effects of sin in our lives than glitter. It was birthed in the bowels of hell itself and seeks nothing less than the total annihilation of all that is good, noble, and pure. And we use it in church more than anywhere else in the world! FOR SHAME!!!

When the precious church children make a craft that uses glitter, the following gifs will walk you through my mental, psychological,  and emotional response:

 

My first response is absolute resignation. I am helpless to the horrors that await me.

It is then that I summon an unbridled bellow of frustration and desperation in it’s purest form.

Then, I throw a little hissy fit. Or a big one. Judge not lest ye be judged people.

Then, I Hulk out in the least intimidating or impressive manner possible.

Finally, I channel all of that rage, all of that anger, all of that hate and I do this. I would say literally, but you all know how I feel about that word being misused. But seriously though, it’s really close to literal. Super close.

Moral of the story: Don’t ever use glitter. Ever.

Ever, ever, ever.

Never ever.

EVER.

EVER.

 

That’s it. Avoid those things or do those things correctly and all will be well. Well, mostly. I still need to deal with people cutting their nails in church, church members bringing Chinese takeout into the sanctuary, worshipers taking…

 




“Cry, Baby, Cry! Make Your Mother Sigh!”

I am such a sap. There are days when almost every song I hear makes me emotional. Not every song, mind you, just the majority of them. And to further clarify, these are songs I am choosing to listen to, not songs that I just happen to hear on the radio, though those will sometimes hit me right in the feels as well. My daytime work routine is pretty simple: while I labor away over various things that do not interest me in the least, I listen to music. I listen to music in the car, to and from work. I listen to music at home, as often as I can. Sometimes it’s difficult to listen to music when I want to because it’s just one more level of noise competing against three energetic boys. Nevertheless, I persist.

Back to me crying. I see that I never actually said that music makes me cry, so I should probably clarify. I don’t usually cry while listening to music. I get a little misty eyed and my eyes might even well up with tears. This is not an everyday sort of thing, but on the days it happens, I try to evaluate my response. “Why am I getting emotional listening to the Thor soundtrack?” “Did I really just cry listening to “Africa” by Toto?”

When the first song hits me hard, I figure I just really need to hear that particular song at that particular point in time – that happens every now and then to me. But then, the next song gets me even more worked up, and it’s not one of the usual suspects that consistently break me down. It’s some random song that I enjoy, but never respond to in an emotional way. (Case in point: “Africa” by Toto.)

So, on the days when music is turning me into a big man baby, what does it mean? Is there a deeper significance to it? I have no idea. Perhaps I am just really tired and everything is going to hit me harder on those days. Perhaps I am more attuned to the emotional truth of each song and that is causing me to have a stronger reaction. Perhaps I should try to spiritualize this as much as possible and find out what it is about those songs that is causing me to act like all the women I know that watch This Is Us.

More than likely, this is all pretty easy to figure out. I am a sap. I cry at movies and TV shows that don’t even cause my wife to blink. I cried the other night watching Guardians of the Galaxy. Leave me alone! If you don’t cry when Groot sacrifices himself, you have no soul! I remember watching Bridge to Terabithia with my boys years ago and I was a mess at the end. I was so worked up by the film, that it sort of embarrassed me. I didn’t want my boys to see me ugly crying over a kid’s film. So yes, I am a sap and I cry. Maybe it’s just that simple. I’m not sure though.

By now, you are probably asking yourself, “Why did he write this?” And more importantly, “Why did he decide to share this?” Two very good questions and I don’t have very good answers for either of them. My gut reaction to all this is simple: On those days when what I listen to is provoking a strong emotional response, I think it’s because sometimes, I need to feel things deeply. Most days I just coast through life. Not in a bad way. I’m not disengaged or anything. I think most people have very ordinary days most of the time. We don’t get emotionally worked up most days. At least I don’t, even though I am more apt to do that than others. I think on the days of strong emotion, I am being gently prodded to keep my heart open and a bit broken. Not just for my own good either. I think it’s on days like these that if I allow song to do what they are capable of doing; I become more in tune with things of a spiritual nature. Maybe my emotional spells will allow me to be more empathetic with a friend or coworker, simply because my heart has already been laid bare. Perhaps, this is God’s way of telling me to stop being so careful with my feelings – to stop building walls around me. If my defenses are down and my heart is open, I am more likely to notice the needs of others. I am more likely to feel the needs of others and respond in a God-honoring way.[2. Galatians 6:2 and Philippians 2:4] Maybe these days are meant to stretch me – to grow me.

Or maybe I’m just a sap.




Holiness, Hypocrisy, and Chicago Traffic

“They just go round and round! And round and round!”

I’ve lived in Chicago 15 years now. I had a car from 2002 to 2008 and then again after I got married in 2015. I don’t know what happened in the intervening years, but after I started driving regularly again two years ago, I sensed that I was far more impatient than I was the first few years I lived here. “Impatient” is really too nice a word. I am angry. Often.

People are everywhere. Things move slowly. One way streets mean backtracking. There is endless road construction. Driving here is sometimes like playing a video game: “You avoided that guy backing out without looking! +100!” “You didn’t see that cyclist and almost flattened him ! -200.” “You let 13 people and their four pets pass at a non-crosswalk! +150.” And there are days I feel like I’m in my own Truman Show where all these things keep moving around to block me from getting to where I want to go.

But don’t let these lighthearted comments fool you. I seriously deal with some deep-seated issues over this. I do not say this flippantly, but there are times when I am in traffic where I can sense the capacity to harm or even kill another human being within my soul. I do not think I ever will, I am just saying I feel a vindictive spirit rise up within me at times when someone cuts me off or when I am late for something and Chicago is tearing up yet another major street and causing back ups for miles.

There is something about traffic that causes me to imagine what I would do if I were completely sovereign. If had all power, I would immediately give a flat tire to everyone who ran a stop sign. Every time I saw someone on their cell phone while driving, I would disintegrate the phone with my mind. Every time someone passed me with their music extremely loud and the windows rolled down, I would destroy their music system. And give them a flat tire.

 

The Heart of Worship

In other words, I would have zero patience. And just as with Phill’s article last week on Learning To Love in Chuck E. Cheese’s, I am amazed at how God can take the daily, trivial, and menial events in our lives and teach us about him. Because recently God has been using my thoughts to remind me that, unlike me, He is sovereign. He has complete authority and power to do whatever is good, even the immediate judgment of terrible drivers. Yet He is described over and over again in the Bible is patient and “slow to anger”.

This, far more clearly and shamefully than anything else in my life right now, causes me to comprehend how unlike God I am. I am not sovereign or patient. Since God is both, it reminds me emphatically of why I am supposed to exalt him over myself. I believe this is the core meaning of the word “holy” in the Bible. God is different in a superior way. He is above us. Separate. Unique. When God says repeatedly in Isaiah “I am God, there is no other,” this is what he means. And God will use just about anything to remind me of this. My time in Chicago traffic the last few months has been as edifying as any Bible study I’ve attended.

And of course the Bible teaches us that we are to be holy in that we should be like God in some key ways, which is different and separate from the world. I already know I am a hypocrite when I drive because I get mad at people daily for doing the very things that I do. But I am equally as hypocritical because I bear and preach the name of my God, Jesus Christ, and yet I am so opposite him when I am behind the wheel.

In recent years there have been those that have asked the question: Has authenticity replaced holiness? I wonder if that question isn’t about being so concerned with honesty about our sin that we do not talk about fighting it. I have always had an easy time being transparent but I confess I may to often stop there. On this I do not want to. I want to fight. I want to memorize and meditate on James 1:19-21. I want to be different than the world. Because God is.

My church small group often talks about how easily we get irate in traffic. I am amazed that even the most humble, gentle, passive people at my church will confess to how traffic gets to them like nothing else. So I write this in hopes that others feel my pain but also share my desire to change. Christians cannot be sovereign. But we can be patient. We can choose holiness over hypocrisy. Even in Chicago traffic.

 

 




Five Classic Curmudgeons of TV and Film

Movie and Television history is profuse with amazing and unforgettable crusty old men. Mean, cranky, ancient, eccentric – got to love those aged dudes and their disdain of all these hippies (everyone under 50) and newfangled contraptions. In our adoration of these wise, gray-haired, ne’er-do-wells, we have decided to highlight five iconic crusty old curmudgeons from either film or TV lore. Note: This is not necessarily a “best-of” list. These are simply the five cantankerous old coots that we have chosen to write about. – Ben Plunkett

 

Arthur Spooner – The King of Queens
by Gowdy Cannon

Frank Costanza could go from 0 to outrageously psychotic in two seconds. Arthur Spooner could get there, just a bit more slowly. And sometimes that was actually funnier. Arthur was Carrie’s dad, but it was his interactions with son-in-law Doug that showed how uninhibited Jerry Stiller was as a comedic actor and that caused me to cry tears from laughter. From the simple way he called him “Douglas” to their insane, petty, over-the-top, roll-on-the-floor-laughing showdowns in the kitchen, Arthur Spooner was just different enough from Frank, yet just enough the same. My favorite moments:

–Arthur tries some of Doug’s kids breakfast cereal and gets the prize 3D glasses. Doug is clearly upset because the cereal is his but he tries to be an adult about it. But he can’t because Arthur won’t stop acting juvenile. So Doug acts childish in return and the back and forth ends with Arthur ripping up the glasses and Doug destroying the still-full box of his own cereal as Carrie walks in.

–Arthur asks Doug how many stamps he needs for tickets he is mailing. Arthur doesn’t like Doug’s answer so Doug insults Arthur’s mooching off his family. It ends with Arthur destroying Doug’s sandwich and Doug destroying Arthur’s mail.

–Arthur asks Doug to pass the “catsup”. Doug won’t until he says “ketchup”. Arthur refuses so Doug pours an insane amount of ketchup on Arthur’s burger, demanding that Arthur call it “ketchup” as both yell back and forth until Arthur cedes. “And that’s how we learn”.

(And my personal favorite)

–Doug is answering a political survey over the phone when Arthur comes in and tries to make a phone call on the same line. He realizes what Doug is doing, insults his answers and this begins an exchange of severe putdowns between the two (including “Why don’t you tell him you’re enormous?” and “Why don’t you tell him you live in our basement?”) that ends with Doug asking “Why don’t you tell him your total salary last year was $12?” To which Arthur replies: “That was after taxes!” I don’t know why that Arthur line is so funny. Maybe the look on his face. Or the volume of the conversation. Or how inane the comment is. But I hurt from laughing at it and I’ve seen it several times.

As far as cranky old curmudgeons, Arthur Sponer takes a backseat to no one.

 

Carl Fredricksen – Up
by Phill Lytle


Merriam Webster defines crotchety as: subject to whims, crankiness, or ill temper. Thesaurus.com gives us these synonyms for crotchety: Cantankerous, crusty, grouchy, grumpy, and ornery. When we first meet the older Carl Fredricksen, he is all these things and more. He has grown sour after the passing of his beloved Ellie. He is prone to outbursts of anger, is mean-spirited to Russell, a young “Wilderness Explorer.”, and doesn’t seem to enjoy much about his life anymore. In other words, every second he is on screen is a joy for the audience. His complaints are hilarious. His lack of patience with Russell, and anyone else for that matter, never ceases to amuse. Buried deep down in Carl is a noble, honest, and good man. It takes some time for the audience to find it, but the journey is no less enjoyable during the search.

Favorite moments and lines:

Already exasperated with Russell’s constant talking and enthusiasm, Carl says, “Hey, let’s play a game. It’s called “See Who Can Be Quiet the Longest”. The line is perfectly delivered by Ed Asner, one of the great curmugeonly actors of all time. But the response by Russell takes the joke to another level, one that makes us laugh, but also reveals a great deal about our main characters, “Cool! My mom loves that game!”

Once they have nearly reached their destination by air, they are forced to continue the rest of the way on foot. Carl, wanting things quiet delivers this little nugget of gold to Russell, “Now, we’re gonna walk to the falls quickly and quietly with no rap music or flashdancing.” I’ve always loved that the two things Carl mentions are rap music and flashdancing, as if those were obviously things Russell would be involved in.

Finally, early in the film, when the builders are trying to get Carl to leave his home, he spots one of the businessmen in the distance. The man is wearing a suit, looking distinguished and professional. Carl yells at him, “You in the suit! Yes, you! Take a bath, hippie!” I think that one speaks for itself.

 

 

Merlin – The Sword in the Stone
by Ben Plunkett and Phill Lytle

He is, perhaps, the progenitor of all curmudgeons. Merlin is both cranky yet full of vigor. Quick tempered yet a great teacher. Ornery yet kind and caring. The first time we meet this magical old hermit is right after young Arthur literally drops in on him and Merlin is literally waiting. Along with Merlin’s even more curmudgeonly pet talking owl, Archimedes, Arthur is prepared for his rightful place of king. Every kid I knew wanted to have a mentor like Merlin, someone who could transform us into a fish or a squirrel. Someone who could teach us about the world. Someone to take note of us and invest in our lives. Someone who would fly off the handle and disappear to Bermuda when he got angry…

Favorite moments and lines:

Merlin tries to explain the way of the world to young Arthur, telling him that everyone faces adversity, “Oh, bah! Everybody’s got problems. The world is full of problems.” Merlin gets his beard caught in the door and yells, “Oh, blast it all! There, now! You see what I mean?”

When Merlin transforms Arthur and himself into squirrels, an older, lady squirrel becomes quite enamored with Merlin. Growing every more frustrated, yelling “Madame!” at key points of discomfort, Merlin finally decides enough is enough, “By George! I’ve had enough of this nonsense! ALAKAZAM!” He transforms himself back into a human being, leaving the female squirrel confused and upset. “There! Now you see? I’m an ugly, horrible, grouchy old man!” Even Merlin recognizes that he belongs on this list.

While he could be a very grouchy curmudgeon, Merlin also had times of great wisdom, like when he taught Arthur the lesson of love during his very squirrely adventure: “Ah, you know, lad, that love business is a powerful thing,” said Merlin.
“Greater than gravity?” asked Arthur.
“Well, yes, boy. In its way, I’d, uh… Yes, I’d say it’s the greatest force on earth.”

 

 

Frank Costanza – Seinfeld
by Ben Plunkett


Ah, Frank Costanza. Prone to psychotic outbursts. Hilariously and boisterously confrontational. No wonder his son George is a mess (with the very capable assistance of the almost equally psychotic Estelle, of course). The senior Mr. Costanza was portrayed to perfection by Jerry Stiller, whose acting, I imagine, was key to making Frank one of the most iconic crusty old curmudgeon’s of all time. But like all of Seinfeld, there was seriously great, hilarious, and memorable writing going down. A handful (but not nearly all) of Frank’s most memorable quotes and moments:

– “Serenity Now!”

– In my mind the episode “The Strike” is the perfect Seinfeld episode in just about every way. It is in this episode that much to George’s chagrin, Frank’s creation, the alternative holiday Festivus, is revealed to the world.

– “This is Frank Costanza. You think you can keep us out of Florida? We’re moving in lock, stock and barrel. We’re gonna be in the pool. We’re gonna be in the clubhouse. We’re gonna be all over that shuffleboard court. And I dare you to keep us out!”

– Festivus wasn’t the only case of Frank thinking outside the box. In the episode “The Doorman” in another insane fit of invention Frank collaborates with Cosmo Kramer to invent the Bro/Mansierre to assist older fellas in holding up their increasingly sagging chests.

– “He stopped short. You think I don’t know what that’s about? That’s my old move! I used it on Estelle forty years ago! I told everybody about it! Everybody knows! (demonstrates the move) Mmm! I stopped short.”

 

Lt. Mark Rumsfield – The ‘Burbs
by Phill Lytle


I’ve long considered The ‘Burbs to be one of the Tom Hanks’ greatest films. I realize I am in the minority, but I am not alone. I’ve met many people that believe the film is wildly underrated. What makes the film work so well is not just the fantastic performance by Hanks, but the wonderful and eccentric supporting cast. No one steals more lines and earns more laughs than Bruce Dern as Lt. Mark Rumsfield. Rumsfield is a retired military man, yet still living in constant vigilance and readiness for war. He is opinionated, suspicious of everyone, and ready to jump to the worst conclusion possible at the drop of a hat.

Favorite moments and lines:

Unfortunately, most of his dialogue is salty, after years in the military, and I will not reprint it on REO. (The film is rated PG-13, so the saltiness is not as extreme as it could have been.) Just watch the movie and enjoy his well directed vitriol and sarcasm. But, for the sake of this article, here are a couple I can mention:

Rumsfield takes great pride in his yard. Unfortunately, he has a neighbor (Walter Seznick) down the block whose yard far surpasses his own. His reasoning why his yard can’t compete with Walter’s, “That old fart. He’s got the best lawn on the block. And you know why? Because he trains his dog to crap in my yard.” A bit coarse and rough around the edges, but straight to the point.

When a group of our main characters head over, uninvited, to the new neighbor’s house, Rumsfield does his best to make everyone uncomfortable with questions, poking around, and examining as much of the house as he can. His interaction with the new family, the Klopeks, is delightful in its boldness and rudeness. One particular exchange has always cracked me up. Introducing himself to the youngest of the Klopek family, “Rumsfield’s the name. Don’t think I caught yours, sonny?” Hans, responds nervously, “H-H-Hans.” Rumsfield responds in the most natural manner possible, “Hans! Oh-ho! A fine Christian name. Hans Christian Andersen! What are you, Catholic?”

That should give you a good idea what to expect from Lt. Mark Rumsfield and an indication why he made our list.




Learning to Love at Chuck E. Cheese’s

I wrote the majority of this post eight years ago. I used to have a personal blog where I would review movies and albums, talk about sports, and rant about bad drivers. You know…the basics. Occasionally, I would delve into something a bit more “important.” When I wrote this, I had recently been to a birthday party for a fully grown human man at Chuck E. Cheese’s. Yes, you read that correctly. A grown up – an adult – chose to have their birthday party at Chuck E. Cheese’s. Eight years later and I am still having problems fully processing that fact, which only reinforces in my mind the need to revisit this post. As you will see below, there is a streak of judgmental superiority running through me that needs confronting on a nearly daily basis.

I hate Chuck E. Cheese’s. Hate is not a strong enough word. I loathe it in totality. It is a loud, unpleasant, wasteful, soul sucking place that is devoid of anything remotely approaching decent, let alone good. It attracts the loudest, most unpleasant, most wasteful, soulless people in the world. They come in throngs, like Uruk Hai on their way to Helm’s Deep. (Nerdy Lord of the Rings reference for the uninitiated.) The patrons coalesce to form a massive, grotesque new organism that heats up the room and fouls the air with its presence. It is a destination I would not wish upon my worst enemy.

Yet I am worse. I am proud. I am arrogant. I am full of disdain. I do not love like I should. Jesus said to love our neighbors as we love ourselves, and if I believe that to be true then I am not measuring up. No. Scratch that. I am face first, firmly on the ground. I haven’t even started the process of measuring up. I’ve known for some time that I am not a people person and I joke about it regularly. “I don’t like people” has escaped my lips many times. It’s all said in jest, of course, but deep down a part of me knows that it is true. Pathetically true. I am a Pharisee. I am convinced of my own worth and abilities and I am blind to the valuable human life right next to me. To my eyes, that Chuck E. Cheese’s patron doesn’t look like much on the outside, but inside, God created that annoying person playing Skee Ball in His image. That person is eternally valuable to God. He loves them enough that He died for them. And I look at them like they are beneath me – a waste of my time and energy!

If I am going to learn how to truly love my neighbor, then more visits to Chuck E. Cheese’s* are in order. If I can love people there, I can love them anywhere.

*Perhaps your Chuck E. Cheese’s is CiCi’s Pizza. Or Ryan’s Steakhouse. Or McDonald’s. Or Walmart. You get the point. It could be anywhere.




I said “I Love You” Before the First Date (And Other Fun Facts About My Marriage)

As of May 30th, my wife Kayla and I have been married for two whole years! Look at the big brains on us! In lieu of a sappy Facebook post, I decided to share 24 of the most interesting facts about our marriage, one for each month we’ve been married…

 

In March 2014 Kayla was living in Nashville. I was living in Chicago. On March 25th, I asked her out, telling her I was coming to Nashville for Spring Break anyway (I wasn’t). Our first date was to be April 13th. In the meantime, we talked every day through texting, phone and Facetime. By the time April 13th rolled around I knew she was the one I wanted to marry. Before the date I met her on campus and we sat on a swing and I told her that I loved her. I’m sure people thought (and think) that this was crazy. But she didn’t run away and she married me anyway.

 

While we dated and were engaged she lived in Tennessee and I in Chicago. She is from Sesser, IL and I am from Tookeydoo, South Carolina. There was a stretch of five weekends where we were together but in five different places. At one point during that stretch we walked into a Target and I thought, “I have no idea what city I am in right now.”

 

Kayla and I were long distance from March 25, 2014 until May 7, 2015. In that time we traveled 40,000 miles to see each other via car, plane and train.

 

Within the span of 15 months in 2014 to 2015, Kayla finished getting licensed to teach in Tennessee, started dating me, performed several shows as Maria in a production of The Sound of Music, ran a half-marathon, graduated college in Nashville, got a teaching job in Hendersonville, moved to Hendersonville, started her first teaching job, got engaged to me, planned a wedding, applied and took new tests to be licensed to teach in Illinois, resigned her job in Hendersonville, got married in Sesser, moved to my small apartment in Chicago, joined a new church, moved into a bigger apartment with me in Chicago, got a teaching job in Chicago and started that job.

 

I am 14 years older than Kayla. I am one of the youngest grandchildren on either side of my family. She is one of the oldest. As a result I have a first cousin that is 54 and she has a first cousin that is 8.

 

We got engaged on Saturday night, November 1, 2014. That night USC played Tennessee in football. Two of my brothers were at the game and could not hear me when I called to tell them I was engaged because the stadium is so loud. The Gamecocks blew a 14 point lead in the last few minutes and lost. (Not that I associate that game with my engagement or anything.)

 

After 3 years of being together my wife knows all the random phrases I will say out loud and she often will say them before me when she knows I am about to say them. For example, if someone mentions chicken wings, she knows I will say, “TOMMY LIKEY, TOMMY WANT WINGY” from the movie Tommyboy.

 

During our wedding and reception there were several subtle references to Seinfeld and Harry Potter. We did not want to distract from the reverence of the ceremony by making them overt but true fans knew them when they saw or heard them.

 

Kayla and I do not celebrate Valentine’s Day but instead celebrate several of our anniversaries that are significant to us (the day we got engaged, first date, etc.). Included is March 6th because it was a date before we got together where I asked her a personal question over Facebook PM and her answer was so transparent and spiritually deep I said, “I have to ask her out.” Only took me 19 days to do it.

 

In two years I probably have done the majority of the cooking but she has absolutely done the majority of the bug killing.

 

For her first birthday after we got together I gave my wife a Belle tiara and recreated the scene in The Big Bang Theory where Sheldon gives Amy a tiara to make up for being selfish.

 

I was so old when I got married that a man in my church, who had prayed for years for it to happen, gave Kayla a hug the first time he met her. I’ve never seen him hug anyone else in 15 years of knowing him.

 

During our first year of being married I was taking Kayla to school and a man with mental health problems jumped in our car when we stopped at a stop sign. He wanted me to take him somewhere but I could not understand him. I kept telling him to get out and that I’d call for help but he would not so he rode the rest of the way with us to school and then got out.

 

My favorite random moment from early in our marriage was on Good Friday in 2016 when we were at her parents’ house. I was upstairs doing something unimportant and I could hear her downstairs playing the guitar and singing Good Friday and Easter hymns in English and Spanish.

 

I’ve never beaten my wife at Scene It Seinfeld. But she refuses to give me a rematch of the rematch of the rematch.

 

If it weren’t for Facebook, I am positive Kayla and I never would have gotten together. And in the words of Kramer, “That’ll make you think.”

 

I have always hated wearing jeans but my wife wanted me to wear them so she bought me some to go out on nice dates. So I would wear jeans on the nice dates and then come home and put on some comfortable khaki pants.

 

After a few months of marriage I put on 40 pounds and the jeans didn’t fit any more. We didn’t buy any new ones.

 

I laugh boisterously and fall on the floor quite often but the only time I’ve seen my wife do it was during an episode of Parks and Rec where Christ Pratt as Andy Dwyer ad libs a line when Leslie is sick: “Leslie, I typed your symptoms into the thing up here, and it says you could have ‘network connectivity problems’.”

 

Marriage teaches you how self-centered you are for sure. If we are home and my wife says something from another room and I can’t hear her, I get mad at her as if it is her fault. If I say something from another room and she doesn’t hear me, I get mad at her as if it is her fault.

 

Probably the silliest fight we have had was recently when going to church and I asked if she wanted me to drop her off at the door or not, since it was a little cool outside. She said, “It’s up to you,” which means, “It doesn’t matter”. But I got mad and told her it was her decision and that I refused to decide it. But I really said that mumbling under my breath. And she asked me to speak up and so I said it very sarcastically. We both entered the church quite mad. Thankfully my wife is abnormally gracious and apologized quickly, even though it was my fault.

 

Speaking of mumbling, my wife’s first trip to South Carolina gave her the chance to hear the Cannon men speak in our own personal garbled vernacular that only we can comprehend. My own mother can’t make it out but we understand each other just fine. If you have ever heard Jeff Foxworthy talk about words in the South, you have an idea of what it sounds like: “How’s ya mama an em?” “Aight.” Sometimes when my dad and brother Jeremy have a conversation I’ll translate for Kayla.

 

Occasionally, my wife will tell her story of fitness and health by posting a picture with comments to social media after an insane 30-40 minute workout. Sometimes, if you look carefully in the background, I’ll be on the couch eating a whole frozen pizza from Aldi.

 

I really do love my wife very much and I cannot get over how much better marriage is than I even dreamed. I am sure it will get harder (with kids, maybe?) but right now the great moments far surpass the frustrating ones.

 

HAPPY ANNIVERSARY, KAYLA!

 

 




Five Reasons You Should Read Rambling Ever On (Video)

Our first video post! As always, we continue to look for ways to bring you new and interesting content. We hope you enjoy this short video. Word of advice: Watch it in full screen.