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.

 

 




Five of Our Favorite Christmas Movies

Watching Christmas movies during the Christmas season is one of our favorite traditions. We have a number of articles dedicated to Christmas movies on REO – some good and some bad. We’ve argued that some popular movies are not actually Christmas movies and have received a good amount of pushback. We’ve even given a primer on how to put together your very own Christmas Movie watch list. Yet in all of our Christmas movie writing, we have never done a collaborative article about some of our favorite Christmas movies. Today is the day we fix that glaring oversight. These are not necessarily the movies we consider the BEST Christmas movies. They are simply movies we each love to watch and share with our own family and friends. We hope you enjoy our list.


How The Grinch Stole Christmas (2000)

Gowdy Cannon – I get this movie is somewhat polarizing, at least in my circles. Most seem hate it or dislike it while folks like me love it enough to watch it every single year in December.

I confess that when it came out, I didn’t go to the theater to watch it. And when I did see it I was very “Meh” about it. Like millions of other people, I adore the book and the original cartoon version. It’s a perfect half hour of Christmas entertainment for ages 2 to 102. Simple and poignant and with no fat. And not to be insane but the Grinch is kind of like a kids version of DC’s Joker: he doesn’t need a backstory and trying to explain him actually detracts from him. That was my biggest negative about this live action version.

But then one year I showed it to my ESL class for our Christmas party and they laughed all the way through it and even clapped boisterously at the end. And [Narrator voice] I thought of something I hadn’t before: Maybe this movie can’t be bought in a store! No, seriously, what I learned was that I was clearly over-thinking it.

Honestly, if you get past the unnecessary Grinch childhood history, it’s a fun and funny ride with plenty of holiday cheer and the kind of sentimental moments we have come to associate with Christmas in America. I laugh out loud multiple times at it every year (“Even if we’re HORRIBLY MANGLED…there’ll be no sad faces at Christmas,” “Aardvarkian Abakanezer Who..I HATE you!) as Jim Carrey was definitely in his comedic prime at this point in his career. And while it adds, it doesn’t subtract and nails the right touches of the original story. The Grinch’s character transformation at the end is heartwarming be it cartoon or Carrey in a ridiculous amount of makeup. And I cannot lie: I’m a huge fan of the meta, self-aware trope that TV shows like Scrubs, Community and Arrested Development use and Ron Howard brought it to the big screen years before any of these shows were made, including his very own AD. When the Grinch says “I’m speaking in rhyme!” and when he mocks Howard’s directing I smile every time.

So this movie definitely earns some criticism but at the end of the day, entertainment goes beyond reason and critique to me and if all you want is a joyful and triumphant 100-minutes of Christmas spirit, this is a good choice.


It’s a Wonderful Life

Mark Sass – It’s a Wonderful Life is the only Christmas movie that I watch every year. During the holiday season, I intentionally set aside time for this film. And as the appointed date (usually Christmas Eve) nears I often wonder if this will be the year when the movie loses its charm or magic. You should know that generally speaking, I do not enjoy older movies. They feel dated to me and show their age in almost every scene. Furthermore, I am not someone who watches their favorite movies every week, month, or even year. I can get too much of most films to a degree that I don’t enjoy them as much as I once did. But that has yet to happen with It’s a Wonderful Life! After 20+ viewings I still thoroughly enjoy the film. The movie never seems old or dated. The story, characters, themes, and even the humor (which is something that frequently doesn’t translate well from one generation to those that follow) are all superb! The best films transcend time and hold up after numerous viewings. It’s a Wonderful Life is certainly among the best and greatest films of all-time.


The Santa Clause

Phill Lytle – I love this movie. I have since the first time I saw it. I realize it’s not a great film by any objective standards, but that hasn’t stopped me from enjoying it every time I watch it.

It’s a great concept – turning Tim Allen into a reluctant Santa. Allen does a wonderful job of bringing his style of humor to a family movie, with some of the edge taken off, and his gradual transformation into jolly Saint Nick provides plenty of visual gags. It has good laughs, plenty of heart, and enough Christmasy moments to make it a perfect family film for the Holidays. The supporting cast is great, with Judge Reinhold adding his perfectly delivered condescension and David Krumholtz bringing sarcasm and wit to what could have been a bland character. The music feels familiar in a way that actually works – it feels like “Christmas movie music” and that makes me feel all warm and snugly on the inside.

There is nothing groundbreaking about The Santa Clause but that doesn’t seem to diminish it for me at all. I will gladly watch this one every single Christmas.


Jingle All the Way

“Put that cookie down! NOW!”

D. A. Speer – Much to the chagrin of my wife, it’s a yearly tradition in our house to watch Arnold Schwarzenegger’s “smash holiday classic” Jingle All the Way. I love so much about this movie. First, the comedic talent. You have two top-notch comedians featured prominently throughout the film: Sinbad (playing disgruntled mailman Myron) and Phil Hartman (playing creeptastic neighbor Ted). Both of them were at their peak and gave top-notch performances in the movie. Secondly, there are just tons of memorable scenes in the film. From the all-out brawl of fake Santas at the knock-off toy factory (“I’m gonna deck your halls, bub!”), to the frenzy at the shopping mall that ends with Arnold trying to take a ball away from a kid in a ball pit (I’m not a pervert!!!”), to the grand finale at the holiday parade (“Out of my way, box!”), the greatness just keeps coming.

No, the movie isn’t perfect. It’s full of cheese, and even contains an over-the-top, yet charming performance from internet favorite Jake Lloyd (pre-Phantom Menace). But that’s just part of the whole picture of what makes this a classic movie for me. This was still in the age when movies could be made just for the sake of telling a whimsical, goofball story. There wasn’t anywhere near the amount of pressure to have to include some kind of important agenda. It seems like the kind of movie that just wouldn’t fly today in a pitch meeting, or if it were to be made, I doubt that it would go to theaters. Probably straight to Netflix at best.

I’m glad that this movie exists, and it’s worth viewing at least once in your life. Not sold on it yet? Let “Arnold” himself try to convince you:


Christmas in Connecticut

Ben Plunkett – Growing up, my family was hugely into the classics. We discovered another old classic we hadn’t watched yet–boom!–we were there. (Incidentally, we’ve discovered many a time through the years that just because a movie is old, doesn’t mean it’s a classic. Some need to be forgotten, locked away never to be seen or heard from again.)

Anyway, when Christmas rolled around we watched many of the great Christmas classics of yore like A Christmas Carol, The Little Shop Around the Corner, The Bishop’s Wife, It’s A Wonderful Life, The Lemon Drop Kid, and many others. It was not until around the mid to late 1990s that I became aware of an old Christmas classic known as Christmas in Connecticut. Since those days it has become one of my favorites (I can’t say it’s my top favorite since I have so many way up there.) Christmas in Connecticut is actually a pretty basic romance, but it is so much more than that and done in a very entertaining, witty way. It is also chock full of heart, an ingenious central plot, outstanding writing, and excellent and unforgettable characters (the side characters are particularly good here).

Barbara Stanwyck plays Elizabeth Lane, a very city-loving journalist, writing for a popular magazine, pretending to be a wife and mother who lives and thrives on a farm in Connecticut. Her immediate supervisor is in on the act. The lead publisher, Alexander Yardley, not so much. One fine Christmas time he suggests that war hero, Jefferson Jones, come join her family on their farm for the holidays. Fortunately for Lane, her architect fiancé just happens to own an actual farmhouse in Connecticut and agrees to go along with the ruse. She also happens to be the favorite niece of Felix, a master chef, (my favorite character) who comes along on the holiday escapade.

Except for the set up first few minutes, the entirety of the movie takes place on this beautiful farmhouse, one that exudes cozy, homey Christmas. I think it’s safe to say this is the sort of place Santa takes his holidays.


Those are Five of our favorites. What are yours? Let us know in the comment section below. And be sure to like and share this article (and all of our articles) on Facebook and Twitter. You are our hands and feet, people! Each one reach one and all that. Thanks for reading.




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.

 

 




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.

 

 




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.




“Say What?”: Song Lyrics We Completely Misunderstood.

Everyone’s done it. Whether as children or even as adults, we hear a song and our brain processes what we are hearing incorrectly. We substitute words or phrases in place of the actual lyrics and we proceed to sing nonsense. Sometimes, we get pretty close  – (See Gowdy’s “Africa” by Toto blunder below) and sometimes we aren’t even in the same ballpark – “We built this city on sausage rolls” instead of “We build this city on rock and roll.” Seriously, that’s a real thing.

In that spirit, here are five song lyrics we totally botched.


Money For Nothing by Dire Straits (Gowdy Cannon)

I knew so many factual things about this song when it was released. I knew it was released in 1985. I knew there was a longer version of the song that would be extremely Non-PC today. I could recognize the song after two seconds of the drum intro, or if I had to from about one second of the opening guitar riff. This song played over and over in my life when I was seven and eight years old, including on rides to school in the back seat of my brother Tracy’s T-top convertible.

But 7-year old Gowdy was badly, badly mistaken by the lyrics. I had no idea if it was “chicks for free” or “checks for free,” but that is a common misunderstanding of the song, at least if the Google search bar on my computer is right when I type in “Money for nothing and my…” But even more embarrassing was that I thought the song was saying “Money for workin’.” It was around 1989–four years later–that my future sister-in-law corrected me. I pretended I got it wrong on purpose but that was a lie.

Also, I just found out that in the song “Africa” by Toto it’s “bless the rains” and not “miss the rains” but I forewent that one based on how I already displayed my ignorance about its lyrics in another REO article on the 80s.


Get on Your Knees and Fight Like a Man by Petra (Phill Lytle)

I don’t have a lot of excuses here. The lyric I “misheard” is literally the title of the song, and yet, to this day, I can’t hear it correctly. (In my defense, I was pretty young when this album came out – 10 or so.) The entire song is about the power of prayer, something that Petra sang about often, and the lyrics were a great subversion of the world’s idea of manliness and what Scripture says about it. I understood that even then, yet I still always heard (and sang along) to “Get on your knees, and cry like a man!” It made no sense to me, yet that is what I heard so that is what it was.


We Three Kings (Ben Plunkett)

The first line of this song has always been a bit frustrating to me in that it is actually written to make it confusing. We three kings of Orient Are? It makes it even more frustrating that sometimes the song is actually called We Three Kings of Orient Are. (insert Tim “the tool man” Taylor question grunt). So I was a kid in church at Christmas time and I was always like, “Where is this magical land called Orient Are?”

Like many poetic type works, the blame is on the author awkwardly manipulating it for the sake of rhyming. I can’t stand it when poets and songwriters do that. In this case, this little bit of manipulation madness was brought to you just so the author could rhyme “are” with “afar”. Just say “we are three kings of Orient” and end our misery. Come on! (Of course, that creates a little awkwardness in itself, but at least it’s a starting point for a revision).


Brother by NEEDTOBREATHE (Michael Lytle)

A few years ago the band NEEDTOBREATHE scored a hit with the song Brother. It’s a great anthem on the theme of brotherly love. My family enjoyed the song, but one line in the chorus gave us some trouble. For those who are unfamiliar, the chorus says:

Brother let me be your shelter
Never leave you all alone
I can be the one you call when you’re low
Brother let me be your fortress
When the night winds are driving on
Be the one to light the way, bring you home

The second to last line was the one we couldn’t figure out. Various alternatives were suggested. My son was convinced it was “In the night with the diamond ore”. My personal favorite was “When you might need a Tylenol”. Eventually, we figured it out. Or maybe we just looked it up. Either way, we all can now sing “When the night winds are driving on” with confidence, and all is right with the world again.


Bringing in the Sheaves (Ben Plunkett)

It never crossed my young mind to wonder why they were singing “Bringing in the Cheese” on “The Little House On the Prairie” nor did it phase me when we sang it at church. Never mind that the rest of the song offers the biblical metaphor of harvesting. Actually, at that point in my life, it would not have mattered what food product they were bringing in, sheaves, cheese, beef steak, pizza. it was all the same to me. While sheaves alone really does fit best with the visual and biblical context of the rest of the song, I was a kid, I didn’t give a hoot for context–so get off my back! Now I want some pizza. Bring in the cheese!


Now it’s your turn. Tell us what song lyrics you have butchered – use the comment section below. And if you enjoy this article, please consider liking and sharing it on Facebook or Twitter. We appreciate the support!

 

 

 




Five Really Cool Things I Heard While Camping Out For Free Chick-Fil-A

Far more than at other fast food places, amazing things happen at Chick-Fil-A. A worker may come by your table to refill your drink, as though you were at a sit-down restaurant. A worker may walk you to your car in the rain holding an umbrella for you.  People may start singing beautiful a cappella together.

The data that proves that Chick-Fil-A is on another planet as far as atmosphere and customer service is only surpassed by the thousands of stories people have told about the restaurant. The amount of videos and posts I’ve seen about it just on Facebook is astronomical. Their ‘Second Mile Service’ is legendary across the U.S.[1. I feel at this point my friend Josh Crowe would add that their mission statement is about glorifying God through stewardship and influence and doesn’t even include anything about making chicken.].

 

By 2011, I had lived in Chicago nine years. The city was different back then. The Cubs lost 91 games that year, in the middle of a five-year run of finishing 5th in the NL Central, and extended their World Series drought to 103 years. Richard Daley announced he would step down after over two decades years of being mayor. The phrase “Willis Tower” still tasted bad on the lips of many Chicagoans. 

And back then, if I wanted Chick-Fil-A I had to drive 53.6 miles to Racine, WI, to get it. And you better believe I did. Often with large groups of people. Back then I was a youth pastor and road trips to Chick-Fil-A were on the church calendar every year. I love the food more than anything not from Yvonne Cannon’s kitchen and I would do whatever I could to get it. I knew where every CFA was in the tristate area, down to exits on the interstate[2. The one off of Exit 172 at West Lafayette, IN is still my favorite one not located in or around Nashville.].

Then, around late 2010, it happened: After a massive grassroots movement on Facebook and YouTube to bring it to Chicago, a couple of them popped up in distant suburbs. And then—insert Hallelujah chorus—it was announced that a Chick-Fil-A was coming to downtown Chicago in June 2011. I knew about the promotion that the first 100 customers got free food for a year and that you had to camp out to do it.

And I did it. The idea of being one of the first 100 at Chicago’s very first CFA was more than I could stand. It started at 6 PM on Friday night and I got there three hours early. There was a raffle because there was far more than 100 people and they called my number (39) pretty quickly. And as I waited in line for 12 hours I discovered that even when you have to stay up all night to wait for glorious free sandwiches, CFA still has a way of amazing you. From the comments of owner Dan Cathy and the people around me, I realized just how special this place was.

Here are five things I heard that night that made me smile:

 

“My husband and I had a bet as to which would happen first…the Cubs winning the World Series or Chicago getting a Chick-Fil-A. Never bet on the Cubs.” [Lady in line ahead of me]

The Cubs finally cracked through in 2016. Chick-Fil-A won the race by over five years.

 

“I don’t care how much sleep you get tonight, if you’re married you better be nice to your wife tomorrow.” [CEO Dan Cathy]

I loved this. He is a businessman, but for this moment he was preacher and pastor to 100+ CFA addicts.

 

“I go to our restaurants and I get in line like everyone else, I order like everyone else and I pay like everyone else.” [Dan Cathy]

I could shed a tear every time I think of this. This past Sunday I preached from Philippians 2:1-11 and when I got to “Have this attitude in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who, being by very nature God, didn’t consider equality with God something to be grasped,” I used this as an illustration. It is a Christian virtue.

 

“The CEO is at the corner of Wabash and Chicago in Chick-Fil-A pajama pants and a cow hat. He wasn’t kidding when he said they do things differently.” [Man at the table next to mine, when they fed us at midnight]

It should be obvious by now that Dan Cathy was the star of the night.

 

“I had to cover one of these things for another restaurant that offered a prize for the first 100, and when I showed up at 6:00 AM there were only 28 people in line.  So I shot the story, then got in line and got the prize. That never happens at Chick-Fil-A.”  [Undisclosed local TV station camera man]

The man made us promise we wouldn’t say who he was to anyone because he could get in trouble, and maybe the statute of limitations has passed. But I will keep my promise.

 

Truly an unforgettable night at an amazing place.

 




Five Songs From the ’80s I Love that Destroy My Street Cred

Forgive me father, for I have sinned.

Not really, but in the eyes of some, what I am about to confess will be considered heinous and unforgivable. I believe I have good musical tastes. I listen to a wide variety of styles and genres. I love everything from classic rock and roll to electronica to the great time-tested hymns. Yet my unblemished record of staunch musical discernment is about to come crashing down on my head. Here are five songs from the 1980s that will shatter any respectability I might have created for myself as a knowledgeable music critic.

Buckle up kids, this might get bumpy.


Africa by Toto

Let’s get this party started off right! This song has me right where it wants me from the opening notes of that beautiful 80s keyboard. The light percussion sprinkled in seals the deal. And the harmonies. Oh the harmonies! Toto just goes for it at the end of the song, bringing it all home with passion – every instrument and vocal perfectly blending into a melodious masterpiece.

I realize that it has suddenly become “cool” to like this song. As far as I am concerned, if you just recently started “loving” this song, after years of ignoring or hating it, then you can just take that “love” and head on home. I’ve been “blessing the rains” since my elementary school days. Get that ironic love out of my face!


Do You Believe in Love by Huey Lewis and the News

Let’s get a few things out of the way right off the bat: Huey Lewis and the News are not singing about love in this song, though I don’t think they realize it. Second, the music video for this song is the perfect mix of 80s creepy naïveté. Nothing says “love” like a band full of dudes lying in bed with you while singing the chorus of this song!

But that’s neither here nor there. The song is just great 80s pop rock. It’s a little quirky. It’s fun. It has enough punch to reasonably be classified as rock but settles nicely in the pop world as well. If there ever was a band that was born to be made fun of it, it was Huey Lewis and the News – there isn’t a shred of coolness to their music or style – but that sort of makes their music even better. They played music they liked and I like their music for just that reason. Plus, they are Michael Scott’s favorite band even though he thinks he is listening to Bruce Springsteen.

I’m not going to link the video due to the creepy factor mentioned earlier. It’s not offensive for today’s standards but we are running a family-friendly site after all. Here is an alternative in case you are not familiar with the song.


The Touch by Stan Bush (From The Transformers: The Movie Soundtrack)

I love The Transformers: The Movie. Not the Shia LaCrazy, Michael Bay version that has spawned one million awful sequels. No, I love the original 1986 animated film. It was everything I wanted in a movie when I was 9 years old. It had awesome action. Great one-liners. (The movie is basically a string of one-liners.) And an 80s soundtrack that rocked my world.

The Touch was the theme song of the movie. Sung with ear-splitting intensity by Stan Bush, it had all the necessary ingredients for me to consider it a great song: Epic guitars. A nice layer of keyboard. Big vocals. Pounding drums.

“You got the touch. You got the power. Yeah!” I think that says it all.


In Time by Robbie Robb (From the Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure Soundtrack)

I’ve written about this one before. Here is a small excerpt from that much more important article:

For a kid that loved 80s rock like it was a part of his soul and responded to power ballads like an addict to his drug of choice, that song, at that moment in the film, felt like poetry, inspiration, and theology…In the film’s vernacular, it was heaven.

This is the kind of song that will always work for me. There is a definite “Richard Marx” vibe happening in this song, though I contend it’s better than anything in his catalog. It has all the hallmarks of a great 80s power ballad with the appropriate levels of sincerity and emotion. I love every freaking second of it!


Take on Me by A-ha

Best. Music. Video. Ever.

I almost don’t want to write anything else about this song. It doesn’t need my help at all. This song could not have been created at any other time or mind-space than in the crazy 80s. It screams 80s in every way imaginable.

Also, is there a better falsetto in the history of popular music? No. No there isn’t.


That’s my list, or at least, the part of my list I am willing to share. There are many, many more songs I could have included. One could even say there are a plethora of songs if one used such words. To be honest, though, I didn’t really write this article and list these songs so that others would get a peek inside my head. No, dear reader, I wrote this hoping to start a dialogue. I wanted to create a safe space where everyone can share what songs they love that would get them kicked out of the cool kids club. There will be no judgment here. No condemnation. Your opinions will be welcomed with open heart and mind.

 

 




Around the Table: Five of Our Favorite TV Dinner Scenes

Both of our dinner scenes of film Fives have gone over well (to varying degrees). But in recent days it has come to our attention that television felt left out, cast into the cold and trodden underneath our calloused feet, as it were. For our part, we are aghast that it has taken us this long to highlight some great dinner scenes depicted on TV. Hysterical, awkward, heartfelt, masterfully orchestrated, these are a few of our favorites:


The IT Crowd – “The Dinner Party” (Phill Lytle)

I did not love The IT Crowd immediately. In fact, my first attempt to watch the show ended after the second episode of the first season, much to the dismay and consternation of a few of my fellow REO contributors. It just didn’t work for me. I gave up after those two episodes and figured I would never come back to it.

A few years later, I changed my mind and decided to give it another chance. Some of the REO braintrust, Nathan Patton, Gowdy Cannon, and Benjamin Plunkett, were huge fans, and as I value their opinions on most things, I knew that I had to stick it out.

I’m so glad I did.

Now, it did not work right off the bat, even the second time through. I still found some things in those early episodes that annoyed me, but slowly, I started to appreciate the humor and the characters. For the uninitiated, The IT Crowd follows two socially dysfunctional men (Roy and Moss) who work for the IT department of a large company. In the first episode, we are introduced to the woman (Jen) who somehow manages to be placed in their department as some sort of manager though she has no IT or computer expertise. It’s a match made in heaven. Of course, there are many side characters that add a lot of humor and charm to the show – characters like Denholm Reynholm, his son Douglas, and most importantly, Richmond Avenal, a reclusive gothic weirdo who hides/lives/works in the basement of the building.

In the second season (Series Two for the Brits) Jen is having a dinner party with her new boyfriend. At the last minute, the men she had invited are unable to attend, so she is forced to invite a few of her coworkers – Roy, Moss, and Richmond. I doubt I have laughed more at any other scene in the series as I did during the dinner party that ensues. From the three men and their inability to be remotely normal – their efforts to look normal kill me every time I watch it – to their absolute lack of self-awareness when it comes to conversation and social etiquette. Jen is beside herself in embarrassment but we as the audience are all better off having seen the insanity on display. This was the episode that convinced me that the show had greatness in it. It made every episode around it better due to how perfectly every aspect of this dinner party was deployed.

I’ll leave you with the classic, “look normal” pose.


Psych – “American Duos” (Gowdy Cannon)

Psych was about Shawn and Gus but in this episode, Tim Curry steals the show. Guest starring as Nigel St. Nigel, the lead judge on the fictional American Duos, Curry plays a parody of Simon Cowell. Except if Cowell were about 100X funnier. Wielding an acerbic wit and his natural and phenomenal British accent, he trash-talks everyone with whom he comes in contact with clever and side-splitting material. As when he claims Lassiter’s hair looks like it’s been poured out of a cake mold.

So naturally he has enemies and the main plot is that someone is trying to kill him. He is seemingly not safe anywhere so they eventually put him at Henry’s house, where the competent ex-cop can keep an eye on him. And as Henry, Nigel, Shawn and Gus sit down to steaks that Henry has evenly marinated, the fun begins.

Nigel has helped himself to Henry’s bathrobe. He calls Henry “Horace”.  He asks who decorated the place, “Kris Kristofferson?”  Henry tries to keep up in the putdown war but he’s clearly outmatched as if he brought a fork to a gun fight. Nigel has an endless arsenal of insults and they are all hilarious. Shawn and Gus are not to be completely ignored, however, as Gus procures three full ears of corn from the fridge and continuously and violently slaps Shawn’s hand away when he tries to have some. The seriousness and tenacity with which Gus denies Shawn his corn (“Keep playing, Shawn! Go ahead!) is evidence of why Gus is one of the great TV characters ever to me.

The scene ends with Nigel claiming that while wearing Henry’s plush robe, “I feel like an angel baby, swaddled in a cocoon of cloud candy,” just before Shawn takes a timeout with Henry in the next room where Henry declares that Nigel has violated “basic robe code”. But not before it leaves a wake of tear-inducing laughter behind. It was the first scene in this show’s run that caused me to think “This show can be ROTFL funny.”


The Office – “The Dinner Party” (Ben Plunkett)

The Office is famous for being hilarious yet so awkward it’s almost hard to watch. This episode is a prime example of that. In fact, it would not surprise me one bit if this were officially awarded The Most Awkward Dinner Party in TV History. It definitely deserves an awkward award. Again, it is hilariously so. The evening begins simply enough for Jim and Pam, albeit with a small glimpse into Michael and Jan’s decidedly dysfunctional relationship in their clearly Jan-centric home. After they are joined by Andy and Angela, the evening slowly continues to escalate to ever more horribly awkward levels. At one point Jim tells the camera, “Michael and Jan seem to be playing their own separate game, and it’s called, ‘let’s see how uncomfortable we can make our guests.’ And they’re both winning.” About three hours later Dwight arrives uninvited with a date (his former babysitter), and his own glasses and food (beet salad, of course.) For the rest of the evening he is gloriously oblivious to the mounting tension in the room (either that or in his own Dwightly way he just doesn’t care). But he is only to delighted to take his bosom pal Michael home with him following a huge Jan and Michael blowout that brings the police to their door, serving as the awkward evening’s grand finale.

I feel compelled to add at this point that it is in this episode that Michael describes a wine as having “an oaky afterbirth.” And, really, that describes Michael and Jan’s dinner party, doesn’t it? Doesn’t it? It had some sort of awesome oaky, hokey afterbirth.

Jim: “What was that?”


Parenthood (Phill Lytle)

For some time, I have wanted to write about the importance of sitting around a table and eating with friends or family. There is a sacredness to breaking bread together – something that feels almost divinely designed. One of my favorite shows of the last 10 years, Parenthood, used dinner scenes as a way to explore family bonds and unity. There are too many dinner scenes in the six-season run of the show to only focus on one, so I won’t even try.

Parenthood follows the Braverman family. They are a close-knit group, to say the least. The whole family tree is included, from the patriarch and matriarch to the grown siblings – two boys and two girls, and all their respective families. They are passionate and deeply protective of each other. They fight, they argue, and yet they always find their ways back to each other. A key dynamic in all this passion and familial color is the dinner table. The opening credits even reinforce this idea of what it says about a family that eats together. They are united in all the ways that count. The dialogue in each dinner scene is real – avoiding feeble attempts at plot building, instead opting for character and relationship development. The scenes feel real because they remind us of all those times we’ve sat at a table with our families and friends, with all the accompanying shouts, laughs, and noise. It’s beautiful and sacred stuff and we need more of it in our lives.


Seinfeld – “The Strike” (Gowdy Cannon)

Seinfeld has flooded our culture with so much that is now iconic you can’t escape it. From the Puffy Shirt in the Smithsonian, to Patrick Warburton painting his face in real life for a New Jersey Devils playoff game, to nearly everyone having invoked some version of “No soup for you!”

But at the very top of the list is the Festivus episode, named “The Strike” for Kramer’s subplot. But there is one big reason everyone remembers this episode: the introduction and celebration of Festivus. It’s so popular that a few years ago Jason Alexander said it was the most common thing shouted to him in public, which is saying something. And perhaps no scene in the episode is more memorable and lasting than when a motley crew of nine people–The Big 4, the Costanzas, Kruger and two random mega-creepy guys from the horse track–gather to celebrate this ridiculous made-up holiday.

Frank dominates the gathering. He invented it, so he gets the mic. And he does not disappoint. He begins the airing of grievances (He’s got a lot of problems with those people) by trying to insult Kruger but gets disoriented: “You couldn’t smooth a silk sheet if you had a hot date with a babe—-I lost my train of thought.”  It’s so realistic I could totally believe Jerry Stiller really forgot his line.

Festivus is epic, and it’s never over until George pins Frank. So for that it makes our list.

 


Those are some of our favorites. What are yours? Let us know in the comment section below. And while we’re at it, spend some time around the dinner table with your family and friends. It’s good stuff.