Five Sports-Related Words and Phrases That Need to Go Away

Outside of church, there is probably no area in life that has more phrases, terminology, idioms, or figures of speech that get overused more than the world of sports. In almost every sporting event, an announcer, coach, or player will say something that we just accept even though it really makes very little sense. We need to stop accepting these things. We will begin the great purge with these five major offenders.


“In his wheelhouse.”

What is a wheelhouse? Why is it a good thing that something be in a wheelhouse? Baseball was the first sport to run with this phrase and we are all dumber for it. Originally, a wheelhouse was a boating term for the part of a boat or ship serving as a shelter for the person at the wheel. It has since become a way to show expertise in an area or something in which someone excels.

Why? Who was the first person to see an athlete performing at the top of their game and think to themselves, “Such and such skill is in his wheelhouse”? I would like to have a few words with that forward thinker.

Maybe I’m weird, but when I hear the word “wheelhouse,” I think of a house full of wheels. A house to store wheels of various sizes and purposes. I’m not sensing any real expertise here. Most people that I know that would have a house full of wheels are not experts at anything.

Or I think of a house that is a literal “wheel house.” Still not getting any expertise from this phrase.


“They ran into a buzzsaw.”

You hear this all the time from commentators when one team is completely overmatched by their opponent. “They ran into a buzzsaw.” First, that sounds unbelievably painful. Second, who is dumb enough to actually run into a buzzsaw? Finally, is this a common enough occurrence that an entire phrase has been built around it? Are there thousands of poor souls out there that have literally run into buzzsaws, thereby giving us this visually striking phrase?


“We went out there and gave 110%.”

No. You didn’t. If we are being as literal as possible, you probably didn’t even give close to 100% either. Even if you are one of those athletes that go “all out”, you are most likely still holding a small amount in reserve because you would collapse in complete exhaustion if you actually gave 100% of your effort each play. Of course, there are the nerds out there that will site baselines, 800% growth in certain markets, and things like that to prove that athletes that say this know exactly what they are talking about. I guarantee that the athletes that say this are not thinking about those things at all – instead they are trying to pick a number greater than 100 to show how hard they played. I get it and I don’t hold it against them too much, but they could and should find better ways of describing their effort instead of this worn out phrase.

Below, you will see The Effort Chart. It is a comprehensive analysis that has taken years of research, time, and not ironically, effort, to put together. It is self-explanatory.

As you can see from the chart above, there is nowhere else to go after 100%. What you may not notice is the detail included in this chart. Based on the mountains of data we had to sort through to develop it, it is necessary to magnify it nearly 500% to truly appreciate the full extent of our findings. That line below the 100% Effort is not actually a line. It is an invisible barrier that cannot be crossed. It is literally impossible to give effort above 100%. As you can see below, the line is formed by those attempting to expend more than 100% effort.

 


“There is no “I” in team.”

I get it. I really do. When coaches or players use this worn out phrase, they are making a point about how important teamwork is. I just wish we had smarter ways of making that point. First, it is true that there is no “I” in the word team. Conversely, there are 21 other letters that don’t make an appearance in the word team. It’s not like the word “team” is just full of letters and the “I” got left out because it was being a jerk. There are a lot of words without the letter “I.” In fact, most words don’t have “I” in them. Why are we picking on “I” anyway? “I” is a great letter. I have two “I’s” in my name.

 

And if we are being really specific here, a team is made up of a bunch of individual players. So, technically, there are a bunch of “I’s” on any given team. “I’s” that are hopefully working together for a common goal. Without those “I’s” there is no team. Stew on that!


“G.O.A.T.”

I’ve saved the worst for last. Discussions about the greatest athlete of all time are ubiquitous. We’ve had a few of those ourselves at REO. I have no issue with the conversation or even the title, “Greatest of All Time.” But can we promise to each other, swear in the most sacred words we can summon, to never again use the term “G.O.A.T.”? The best at anything should not be associated with goats.

This is a goat.

 

This is another goat.

 

This is not a goat. It’s a rabbit. And Michael Jordan.

To make matters worse, we used to use the term “goat” to describe someone that blew the game for his team – someone that failed. When did we decide that it was okay to change that? Did I miss the vote on this because I am not okay with it at all. Michael Jordan might be the greatest of all time. Tom Brady might be the greatest of all time. Neither is the G.O.A.T. because that sounds dumb. Let’s stop being dumb.


So there they are. These might not be the worst phrases out there. There are probably many others that I could have written about. I picked these five because they annoy me the most. I would love to hear what some of your least favorite sports-related phrases are. Tell us about them in the comment section below.

 




When the Best Seat is the Worst Seat

Guest post by Jeff Caudill, Executive Pastor at Cofer’s Chapel.

 

Best seat available. When purchasing seats to the theater, a sporting event, etc. we often are given the option to choose the best seat available. We want to be up close. We want to have the best view of the movie. We want to see the actors and hear the dialogue. We hope to get close to the action. (None of these apply to being at church, but that is a subject for another time.)

However, no one wants the front seat at a funeral. If you are in the front seat at a funeral, it typically means you are closest relationally to the person who has died. I recently sat in that seat. My dad fell down the stairs at home. He never recovered from his injuries. On July 6, 2018 he made his transition from this life to the next and is now in the presence of Jesus.

Sitting in that seat you have the best view of the deceased in the casket. You can see and hear the soloist best. From that seat, you can see the emotion of the speaker very clearly. Everyone who attends the funeral shares condolences with those seated in the front seat.

My mom sat in that seat throughout the visitation and funeral for my Dad. I sat next to her along with my siblings for the funeral. While sitting there and in the days since I have made some observations:

1. You are never really prepared to sit in that seat.

It is still like a nightmare hoping to wake up from. I was not ready for my Dad to go. His eternity in heaven was/is secure. He left us a tremendous heritage. We will live in those truths from now on. But, I was not ready for him to go. A few months prior to his accident he had sent me information about his life insurance, pension, etc. I barely looked at it. I barely looked at it, that is, until the day he passed. I guess my point is life is precious and fragile. We know this but sitting in that seat reminded me of this very fact. This is a reminder to us all. Keep eternity in view and enjoy the life and family God has given you here and now.

 

2. People seated in the front seat at a funeral can handle more than they may think.

I would never have guessed we would have had to endure what we did following my Dad’s accident. We had long days and nights in the hospital. We had to discuss things and make decisions no family should have to discuss or decide. We had to do things while caring for Dad once he came home, under hospice care, I would not wish anyone would have to do for a family member. The physical and emotional stress of it all was deeply draining. We were only able to handle it with God’s help. He helped us do things and have conversations we would not have been able to do on our own. As a believer, when you sit in that seat, He sits there with you.

 

3. Those seated in the front seat at a funeral can grow closer to each other.

This was true for us. Some families fight and have major issues during times of loss. Our family did none of those things. We worked together as we made our way through difficult decisions, funeral planning, going through Dad’s things, etc. I know our Christian faith played a major role in us getting along and coming together in the most difficult of times. Family is so important. Love your family now and allow God to bring you even closer through difficult times. Don’t allow your own selfishness or bitterness to make an already difficult situation worse.

 

4. Your family, friends, and church are such a tremendous support and help to those who sit in that front seat.

The prayers along with the tangible gifts of money, gift cards, and food were invaluable. God sustained us through the prayers of His people. I witnessed this to be true! He also used family and friends to meet our needs during those difficult days. I was and am still amazed at everything people did and provided for us. Allow God to use you to help hurting people. Be proactive. You might be amazed at what $20 or a Kroger gift card will do to help someone in a difficult time during the death of a loved one.

 

5. The ones seated in that front seat hear many kind words about the one who passed.

So many people came by to tell us what a great man Dad was. People talked about how he impacted their lives. They mentioned his godly life, his teaching of the Word, the heritage he left behind, his love for God, His church, the Word, and his support of the pastor. We were so proud to hear all those things. We knew them all to be true. He, however, did not always feel his life made an impact. Like anything, we can take this too far, but I think it is important to also let people know they are making an impact while they are alive. Go ahead and provide genuine compliments when they are deserved. Let people know how much they have impacted your life. Even to those who may struggle to receive compliments, give them anyway. Everyone needs to know their lives and ministries matter. Sure, we should not do what we do for the “applause of men.” However, knowing you made a difference is such an encouragement.


I want the best available seat at an event. I love sitting close to the action. However, I hope it is a long time before I have to sit in the front seat at a funeral again. Sooner or later it happens to us all. We need God’s help in those extreme times. He was there for our family. He wants to be there for yours as well.

 

 

 




Five Hilarious Side Characters in Television

Introduction by Ben Plunkett

Why should the main characters of the great sitcoms get all the glory? Well, in most cases the main characters of these great shows deserve a lot of it because they are, like, main. But there are truly great and equally as hilarious side characters. They should not be so callously ignored and brushed to the side of our comedic subconscious. The best of them add much to the hilarity and substance of the show. Today’s Five pays honor to five great and hilarious side characters in T.V. history.


Floyd Lawson – The Andy Griffith Show

Floyd Lawson is a barber, supposedly. We rarely see him actually cutting hair, but he does hang out in the barber shop a lot. At least, when he is not sitting outside on a bench with Gomer, or Goober, or Andy. Or at the Court House hanging out with Barney and Andy. Or doing who knows what else. Floyd leads a simple life. A quiet life. He occasionally cuts hair and spends the rest of his time with his friends. And for that, I love Floyd. But mainly, I love Floyd because he is a complete lunatic living right in the middle of Mayberry. Based on some of the other citizens of that fair town (Ernest T. Bass, Gomer, Goober, The Darlings), it’s not surprising he blends right in. Still, he’s crazy and listening to him talk about…anything is one of my favorite things on any show. His dramatic reactions. His wacky conspiracy theories. His soft-spoken nuttery just make my heart smile. I have no idea if Floyd Lawson was a good barber, but I am sure he was a great character on an iconic television show. (Phill Lytle)


Ethel Mertz – I Love Lucy

When one thinks of I Love Lucy, in all likelihood Lucille Balle (AKA Lucy Ricardo) instantly springs to mind. And there is absolutely no denying that she deserves so much praise for this role. Lucy was one of the funniest T.V. characters of all time, portrayed by one of the funniest women of all time. However, although her high accolades are very well deserved, her great shadow too often obscures a perfect sidekick and comedic partner. I speak, of course, of the great Ethel Mertz. Ethel was frumpy, oldish, simple, and kind of drab. It says a lot about her that she was once disappointed not to get an iron for her birthday. All of this made Ethel (Vivianne Vance) an incredibly odd best friend for the young, good-looking, full of life, and totally insane Lucy.  Plus, Ethel could sing really well and Lucy famously could not sing a lick.

But as simple a life that she much preferred, Ethel grudgingly but always with great humor went along with just about all of Lucy’s crazy schemes. As different as the two were, the truly loved each other. That was very evident. Like sisters, they were constantly getting into fights but in every single such instance, they were always weepingly apologizing in a very short time. Ethel’s brand of pure comedy complimented her BFF to such a level that it highlighted and accentuated Lucy’s funniness. (Ben Plunkett)


Richmond Avenal – The IT Crowd

“I mean, I don’t know what any of this stuff even does. What’s going on there? I don’t know. Is it good that it’s doing that? Usually, it doesn’t do that. And I think I should tell them, but often I just look away. And this one: Flash. Flash. Flash. Then wait for it. Nothing for a while. Here it comes. Double flash. Brilliant.”

And with that quote, I think I fully began to appreciate the brilliance that is Richmond Avenal. Weird. Random. Could be Tim Burton. Richmond could be creepy and hilarious at the same time, as when he tells a woman, “When you laugh I can see the outline of your skull”.

The IT Crowd is a hidden gem of a show to me and Moss, Roy, Jen, Douglas and Denholm all play their parts superbly. But Richmond joins a pantheon of characters that didn’t appear in every episode, but made every scene they were in funnier. Whether he was hiding on the ceiling or pontificating about why the gang shouldn’t go to the theater (“I trod on a piece of lego, O it went right in the heel”), he had us in stitches. He truly deserves to be on this short list. (Gowdy Cannon)


Jean-Ralphio Saperstein – Parks and Recreation

There are some characters that only work in small doses. Jean-Ralphio is the textbook example of such a character. Through his unbridled bravado, his terrible rhymes, and his abject lack of discipline, self awareness, or life goals (outside of strongly desiring to be rich and famous though having no discernible skills), Jean-Ralphio comes on strong. Too strong if the show was centered around his character. Fortunately, the writers of Parks and Rec know exactly how utilize him to get the biggest laughs without overstaying their welcome. Throughout the show – from his introductory scene where he sings about being “Flushed with cash!” after the death of a disliked relative, to his absurd business venture, Entertainment 720 with Tom Haveford – the writers unleash Jean-Ralphio as a little comedy grenade, perfectly thrown into the mix to make good scenes better.

Jean-Ralphio would be the worst sort of person to be friends with in real life. Fortunately, a sitcom is not real life and his absurd confidence and absolute smarminess work perfectly in a fictionalized setting. In a show like Parks and Recreation, already populated with dozens of insane characters, Jean-Ralphio is so insane, so unpredictable, and so funny that he stands out and brings giant laughs every minute he is on the screen. (Phill Lytle)


Mary Lightly – Psych

Not counting the Musical and the Movie, Mary is only in three episodes of Psych…the Yang Trilogy. Yet without a doubt this portrayal of a serial killer expert by Jimmi Simpson is my favorite — and the funniest – secondary character of any TV show I’ve ever watched. Whether he’s telling Gus “That’s very good, Gustus,” running with ankle weights or donning a monkey ascot, Mary has made me laugh extremely hard. I don’t know that there is any thing he says or any gesture he makes that isn’t funny to me. He’s subtle and overt, random and calculating, creepy and warm all at the same time. It’s a true masterpiece of a role.

My favorite Mary moment is actually a montage of himself on video, that Shawn and Gus watch in “Yang 3 in 2D”. The video keeps changing scenes of Mary talking to himself.
“Day One, Hour One. What’s the deal with One Tree Hill? It’s like a poorly executed Dawson’s Creek…
Jasper peaks, arrows and bows, the tickle of a good friend’s nose, a tom tom filled with Spaghetti-O’s…
I think CGI has ruined storytelling for all of us.
[Gus: Is he wearing a onesie?  Shawn: Yes.] I don’t wanna say it’s completely Michael Bay’s fault but that guy needs to be stopped because it’s all his fault…”

I don’t know how he does it, but there is something about Mary. He kills me every scene he’s in. (Gowdy Cannon)

 

 




Five Popular Bible Passages We May Be Misinterpreting (Part 2)

Not long after REO was created, while it was still cooling on the window sill, I wrote an article on Five Popular Bible Passages We May Be Misinterpreting. It created quite a bit of response. In the vein of much of modern Hollywood, I have written this sequel years later.

The point of it, I will repeat from last time, is to challenge how we think about the Bible. I want to push against our preconceived interpretations that perhaps we have never thought much about, the popular ones that do not often get challenged.

I give two disclaimers, though: First, I am not saying that I am positive that the alternative interpretations below are correct. Just that, according to some students of Scripture, they may be. And we should think through them in humility and wisdom, aiming to rightly divide the word of truth. Even if it means saying, “I was wrong.” Secondly, I am purposely avoiding passages like Philippians 4:13, Jeremiah 29:11 and the “Where two or three are gathered” verse because they are commonly picked on. These, in my experience, are not. Let’s look at them.

 

Exodus 14:14

Moses answered the people, “The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still.”

Traditional Interpretation: When faced with daunting circumstances, we need to be still and let God fight for us.

Alternative Interpretation: God may want us to move instead of crying out to him.

The next verse is absolutely why I believe this:

Then the Lord said to Moses, “Why are you crying out to me? Tell the Israelites to move on.”

I hasten to add that I have heard wise, biblically sound Christian pastors and teachers cite this verse on social media. So maybe I am overthinking it. But at this point, Exodus 14:14 is not a verse I would use to teach people to be still. Psalm 46:10, yes. Instead, I use this pair of verses and their greater context to teach that there is a time to pray but there is also a time to get moving. Prayer is not a substitute for action.

 

Matthew 27:46

About the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?” that is, My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?”

Traditional Interpretation: God turned his back on Jesus (or abandoned him, or some verb of relational separation) to judge him for the sin of mankind since God cannot look upon sin.

Alternative Interpretation: Jesus, using a rabbinic practice of quoting only the first verse of a Psalm to communicate the entire psalm, is telling the audience that God will save him from this horrific circumstance. As Psalm 22 teaches.

I think “How Deep the Father’s Love For Us” has contributed to the understanding of this verse, as it says, “The Father turned his face away.” But even without the hymn, I have heard the traditional interpretation over and over in my life. I have always assumed it to be true.  Yet read the words of Jeffrey Crabtree in the Randall House Commentary on Matthew:

       Was Jesus actually abandoned and calling on God from His sense of
that? Or was He primarily saying this for the benefit of His human
audience? Some interpreters understand Jesus’ question to mean
that the Father did in some sense forsake His Son as He hung on
the cross as the atonement for the sin of the world (Hendriksen
971; Hagner 33B:844). Others understand Jesus to have been
implying, “Read the twenty-second Psalm. It tells you what this
crucifixion is about. I may look forsaken (Mt. 27:43) but I am not”
(Ps. 22:24). This makes Jesus’ quote and question mainly
rhetorical…
     …It seems probable that Jesus was not forsaken (Ps. 22:24)
even though it appeared to those on the ground that He was and
even though He Himself felt forsaken (Evans, Matthew 514). He
had suffered forty days in the wilderness at the beginning of His
ministry and endured extreme loneliness in the Garden the
previous night in prayer. In like manner, on the cross at the time of
His greatest suffering Jesus again felt isolation, only this time the
sense of isolation was the most intense of His entire human
experience—because He bore the wrath of God for the sins of the
entire world.
      The interpreter will want to consider the implications of the
position he determines to be Scripture’s intent. Can the Father and
Son really separate in their beings (Jn. 10:30)? Would such a real
separation agree with Psalm 22:24?[1. Jeffrey Cabtree, The Randall House Bible Commentary: Matthew, 466-67]

I find Mr. Crabtree’s explanation nuanced and balanced and it causes me to consider it. Yet I add that I am still struggling through this one. And I have not bought the alternative interpretation completely yet. This is not a major doctrinal issue to me but it’s still something worth thinking through and wrestling with. Verses like 2 Corinthians 5:21 and Romans 8:3 give me pause in abandoning the traditional interpretation.

 

John 3:30

“[Jesus] must increase, but I must decrease.”

Traditional Interpretation: We must increase Christ with our lives and be humble.

Alternative Interpretation: Christ must increase by the very nature of things no matter what we do or don’t do.

The word “must” works one of two ways, illustrated by the two interpretations above. We can say, “If you want to take English classes, you must register.” You control that. But we also say, “What goes up, must come down.” You don’t control that. You cannot to anything to affect it, start it, stop it or alter it. It’s something that happens by the very nature of things. The latter definition is what I think John means.

There are several reasons I believe this but here are three: First, it fits with how John the Gospel author used the Greek word “must” (δει) earlier in the same chapter when he said, Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up.” Based on verses like Acts 2:23 and 4:28, we know that the death of Christ was something God determined should happen and that humans could not prevent it or cause it. It is God’s—and Jesus’s—nature to save, just as it is gravity’s nature to bring objects to the earth.

Secondly, this fits with Jesus in Luke when he said, “If [my disciples] keep quiet the stones will cry out.” Christ will be worshipped because His nature as God demands it and not because we must do it.

And lastly, the context before John 3:30 leaves the interpretation up in the air, but in the verses after he says, “The one who comes from above is above all; the one who is from the earth belongs to the earth, and speaks as one from the earth. The one who comes from heaven is above all.” This speaks to Christ nature as above us, which leads me to believe John is explaining why Christ must increase by the very nature of things more than Christ must increase because we must do it.

All of this matters because it helps me understand how Christ as God is bigger than my worship. He must increase as God in the sense that he must be exalted, praised and magnified. And even if free will beings refuse to do so, there are still billions of created voices doing it around the clock.

 

John 11:33-35

When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come along with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled. “Where have you laid him?” he asked. “Come and see, Lord,” they replied. Jesus wept.

Traditional Interpretation: Jesus was saddened by the death of his friend and cried as a result. 

Alternative Interpretation: Jesus was angry because of the reaction of the people and was overcome with emotional distress. 

I suppose it’s possible both are true but at the very least I think this passage needs to be taught as Jesus was angry as much as sad. “Deeply moved” in the verse above is open to interpretation over a range of stressful emotion but it definitely bends to anger in my opinion. And this can be seen in how some prominent translations render it (NLT, HCSB). The people doubted him (vs. 37) and lack of faith often made Jesus angry (Mark 16:14).

 

Revelation 3:16

So because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of My mouth.

Traditional Interpretation: God wants you to be for him or against him, but not on the fence. 

Alternative Interpretation: God wants you to be for him and hates lukewarmness. 

This doesn’t change the main meaning of the passage, but it is possible that when God refers to hot and cold water he means that both hot and cold have a purpose. Cold water is good to drink and hot water is good for cooking, among other uses for both. So God wants us to be useful. Lukewarm water is good for nothing. It’s nasty and worth only spitting out.

 

 

Let me conclude by saying that when I did the last article, the discussion in the comment section below was very edifying and I actually adapted my opinion of Proverbs 22:6 as a result. So we strongly encourage feedback and interaction, even respectful disagreement.

 

 




Jurassic Park At 25 And The Marvel Of American Film-Making

Image result for Jurassic Park

They Spared No Expense

I had just turned 15 when the original Jurassic Park was released on June 11, 1993. While my older brother and his best friend sat at the back of the theater trying to act like they weren’t impressed, my best friend and I were completely blown away by it. If you ask me the most awe-inspiring theater experiences I’ve had in my life, this movie would be on the short list, competing with other sci-fi blockbusters like Back to the Future, Armageddon and Signs.

This, in spite of the fact that the acting performances are, for the most part, blah, which is part of why this movie seems to be a small step behind others of its genre in my social circles. To be clear, Jeff Goldblum is delightful and outrageous (and as a person and actor, he has only gotten better with time), and I always enjoy watching Samuel L. Jackson and the man I’ll always known as Newman go to work on screen. But with no offense to Sam Neill and Laura Dern, the main roles hit me as pretty vanilla.

Hold On To Your Butts 

Yet that doesn’t really matter. The stars of the movie and its subsequent sequels are clearly the dinosaurs and they are real (looking) and spectacular. And so, the original JP has aged extremely well in 25 years because it was so far ahead of its time. Seeing Spielberg’s dinosaurs interact with humans was an edge-of-your-seat thrill ride.

Two of their scenes caused me to grip the armrest of my theater seat so hard I almost blacked out: the first time the T-Rex shows up and the Velociraptor scene in the kitchen. Movie-making rarely gets that good to me. Spielberg acknowledged a complaint (from his grandkids no less) that it took too long for the dinosaurs to appear in the first Jurassic Park, which he rectified in A Lost World. But in my opinion, the slow pace and calm for the first 30 minutes of the original only highlights the extreme terror of the T-Rex’s debut. The foreshadowing moment when Tim looks at the cup in the back of the vehicle and sees the drop of water every time the as yet unseen King of Dinosaurs takes a step rocks my soul every time I watch. I have goosebumps just thinking about it. Similarly, my heart can barely stand the face-off between the two kids and the Velociraptors after these extremely intelligent predators figure out how to open the kitchen door. It’s gloriously scary. I love it.

Image result for Jurassic Park Cup of water gif

There are other aspects that make this movie exceptional to me: bits of dialogue (when Dr. Malcolm encounters the triceratops dung) and no doubt the main score, which is good enough to be a concert on its own. But this movie raked in the biggest opening weekend at the time and nearly dethroned E.T. for the biggest domestic run ever for one colossal reason: we had never seen dinosaurs look that legit before. It was fantastic, unprecedented cinema.

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“Later There’s Running…and Screaming…” 

With a first installment like the one described above, Jurassic Park as a franchise entered a short list of movie series that get at least one view for every sequel from me, no matter how many there are or how awful they are.  And admittedly I know all of the flaws for The Lost World and Jurassic Park III especially but I still enjoy them and have watched them repeatedly.

In The Lost World there are yet again uninspired performances (even the eventually entertaining Vince Vaughn) except for Jeff Goldblum and maybe the Hillbilly Jack dinosaur expert guy who comes in with the bad guys. But the new angle of having human villains along with dinosaur villains is an interesting twist. And the scene with the T-Rex attack on the crashed trailer, while not as good as the similar scene in the first one, is still riveting. Above all, I love the moment with the freighter carrying the T-Rex into San Diego crashes into the dock because it woke up and killed everyone on board. That’s fun cinema right there.

Related image

 

“You liked Dinosaurs back then.” “Back then they hadn’t tried to eat me yet.”

No doubt to me and many others, Jurassic Park III is the worst major film to ever have “Jurassic” in its name. As my nephew and mega Jurassic Park fan, Brett tells me, the dream sequence with Dr. Grant on the helicopter is “hilarious and terrible”. It’s like a 5-year old got to write one scene of the plot. But as stated, I still like this movie. William H. Macy is great and as long as there are rampaging dinosaurs, I think I will find some of it redeeming. I particularly love the new species and the scene on the rickety old bridge in the fog. It’s heart-stopping and just a step below the similar scenes in the first one. And I really enjoy the running gag of the satellite phone ringing and how it eventually announces the presence of the enormous Spinosaurus (who had devoured it along with the person holding it) standing out in the open.

Image result for Jurassic Park III

 

“Maybe you should include that in the brochure. Eventually one of these things will eat someone.”

Jurassic World should have been right up my alley and therefore I saw it opening weekend. The trailer promised a visually stunning thrill ride that would top its predecessors. And as I’ve written before, who doesn’t love Chris Pratt?

But it just didn’t deliver to me. It was visually stunning but it had more boring characters (Owen excepted), the weakest dinosaur terror scenes of the series and it was just a bit too over the top and chaotic at times.The original trilogy’s dinosaur attacks weren’t great because they were loud and untethered, but because they were they were thrilling, unpredictable and even at times humorous. Perhaps I have seen too many of these scenes by this point.

Even though it’s a better movie based on normal criteria, I think I’d rather watch the much panned third one than this one if given a choice. But I still want to watch this movie again. Why? Because it’s incredible cinematography.

Image result for Jurassic World

 

“These creature were here before us. And if we’re not careful, they’ll be here after us.”

And that brings us to Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, released widely in the United States today.  To be honest, the trailer for the most part looks like a tired mashup of plots from the previous four movies. And that worries me, since the last volume proves I may be getting a little bit of Jurassic Park fatigue. Yet some of it looks fresh and we do have the return of the inimitable Dr. Ian Malcom. And at the end of the day, it is Jurassic Park. So I will see it. The original broke new ground and set a standard for movie-making that technology had to catch. And while the others have disappointed in general, I doubt I will ever turn down these cinematically perfected dinosaurs chasing humans on the big screen. Maybe this one will live up to the T-Rex sized expectations these movies create.

 

Image result for Jurassic World Fallen Kingdom




Why Social Media Died: A Blog Post I Apparently Sent to Myself from the Year 2040.

Guest Post by Jon Forrest

This is crazy. Apparently sometime in the future, we figure out how to send mediocre blog posts back to the past! I know! It shocked me too. It just showed up in my cloud. You should totally check yours. It looks to be from around the year 2040. Good news: the fonts are still pretty much the same. Bad news: my writing doesn’t improve one little bit. (allegedly)

I know most of you were hoping never to be reminded of the social media era again, but I think it’s important for us to remember our past mistakes or else we are doomed to repeat them.

For those of you young and fortunate enough not to remember the “Enlightened Dark Age” as we know it today let me give you a little refresher. Not long after the advent of smart phones, the age of social media began. Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter (now known as Ursource) ruled the lives of the masses.

It seems ridiculous now but these sites were platforms where people could say things like, “I’m totes dreading the dentist tomorrow.” Then the next day they could post a picture of themselves with their mouths full of gauze. Please don’t ask me why we did it. The old days were weird. Remember this is before Dan Cathy and I became best friends and I automated Chick-fil-A on that one day so it could open on Sundays after church. It was my pleasure. But yeah, we had it rough. They were indeed the bad ole days.

Here are 5 of the reasons it mercifully, finally, thankfully failed.

1. It was an absolutely false representation of our real selves.

I remember when and where I was when I realized social media was doomed. Back in 2018 we had a fast food place called Sonic. We drove cars back then and the unique thing about this restaurant was you could drive your car to small station and hit a button to order your food and have it brought to you by a carhop. They were known for their delicious ice. Yes. Back before we all had dihydrogen monoxide units strapped to our backs we had to drink liquids. We also ate frozen pellets of water for fun. And Sonic had the absolute best frozen pellets.

One hot June day in 2018 when I pulled in and ordered a diet cherry limeade (too much to explain) I saw a girl sitting at one of the tables taking a selfie. “Selfie” is slang for taking a picture of yourself. Selfies were a huge part of social media. This girl at the Sonic took a picture, looked at it with disgust, reposed and took another one. She did this 4 times! She looked so unhappy sitting there with her friend who was also on her phone, but in the selfie her smile beamed as she got the light just right for “exposure’s” sake.

It’s impossible not to compare this girl’s actions to Narcissus who appeared in Greek mythology. We get our idea of Narcism from him. He was so pretty, one day when he saw his reflection in a pool he was unable to leave the reflected image to continue life. Ultimately he died in that exact spot.

This 2018 Sonic version of Narcissus who couldn’t look away from her image was telling people “I’m having a blast here at the Sonic while you live your miserable thirsty life in shambles.” The crazy thing is we all bought it for 20 years! Social media survived this “emperor’s new clothes” lie for 20 years. I can’t explain it. I’m just so thankful some enlightened soul spoke up one day and said, “Hey, y’all know this chick we’re all jealous of is basically just eating a corn dog at the Sonic like the rest of us. Why are we wasting our time ‘liking’ it?”

 

2. We got tired of making photo ops instead of memories and cameras can’t do memories justice.

I do not have a picture of my wife when they opened the back doors of the church and I saw her standing there arm in arm with her dad, but it would not do that moment justice if I did. There was no videographer in the room when the nurse handed my daughter to me for the first time, but I promise if I had a video of that occasion I’d say, “They missed it. That’s not even close to what I felt that day.”

Sure we can see things in 5d QR Crystal Lens now, but even that is like looking through a filthy foggy window compared to the resolution of our minds. God blessed us with that. I’m so glad we realized it sooner than later. I’m just sorry we wasted two decades of memories.

 

3. Although we all enjoy the right to freedom of the press, not all of us should exercise that right.

How do I put this gently? Many of the people I knew in 2018 had ideas that were insane. I’m not talking about my close friends who read my blogs. Those guys… geniuses, but most of the other people who posted on social media were wackos. No, they had wacko ideas in a moment and they shared them.

Proverbs 17:28 is so right. “Even a fool is counted wise when he holds his peace; when he shuts his lips, he is considered perceptive.” (NKJV) Back in 2018 NO ONE shut his lips and we were all dumber for it.

 

4. FOML finally caught up with FOMO.

In 2004 Patrick J. McGinnis coined the term “FOMO.” Steady yourself. This isn’t going to make sense to you. FOMO is the fear of missing out. We were slaves to these platforms to the point of being unable to stand in line, ride in a car, or simply sit in a chair without looking at our device. Constant checking overtook us. “Finally awake. I better check Facebook.” “Break time. I better refresh my Instagram feed.” “Red light. Wonder what’s on Snap.” “I’m between contractions. Let me update Twitter.”

This is actually one of my posts from 2017. “Just got stung in the belly by a wasp. Not sure if it’s swollen or if I’ve put on a few lbs.” Someone neglected a sunset because he was afraid he’d miss out on that nugget of nonsense.

Fortunately at some point we replaced the “fear of missing out” with of the “fear of missing life.” We looked up from the recipe video our neighbor posted and took our neighbor a plate of cookies. We shut our laptops and topped our laps with the kids we had been yelling at for not holding the pose we needed to get for a post. We laid down our notebook and took note of the books including THE Book that had gathered dust.

We took back life.

 

5. We finally all blocked one another.

You know I’d love to be able to say we experienced this great renaissance of knowledge and that’s the sole reason social media collapsed, but truthfully we all finally got so sick of one another’s baloney we each ended up blocking everyone except 4 followers. And it turned out those 4 remaining “followers” were fake accounts we’d set up to like our posts.

 


Whoa! Look at the time.

There are a couple of other reasons social media ended but I have to get back to work. This country isn’t going to run its self. I probably wouldn’t have agreed to this 4th term if I’d known it would be this busy. Not to mention these people from Time apparently need a new picture every time you win “Person of the Year.” And I have a Kessel run today and only 8 parsecs to do it in.

If I can get this time bending copy machine to load the stupid paper and you’re reading this before 2021 when social media meets its demise, do yourself a favor, beat the crowd and start to ween yourself off of it today.


(Editor’s Note: A big thanks to Jon Forrest for allowing us to run this post today. You can read more of his stuff over at Steal My Youth Ministry Stuff. Trust us, you will love it.)

 




Five Great books from Rodney Stark

Rodney Stark is a Sociologist from Baylor University. He has mostly applied his craft to understanding religious history in over 30 books and countless articles. Very few authors have such a direct impact on my academic life as him. While great theological minds remain among my favorite authors, Stark has had a profound impact on the way I understand the world. Since I am in the business of communicating an understanding of the world (I’m a history teacher) Stark’s influence is incalculable. For today’s Friday Five, I offer a mini-review of 5 of his books.


Churching of America with Roger Fink (1992)

I came across this book in graduate school by recommendation of one of my best professors. As an AP US History teacher, I make frequent use of this book. The authors’ argument attacks the idea that the United States was a universally Christian nation at its founding. Their major source for studying religious devotion is church attendance. What they find is that while Americans may have been largely culturally Christian in 1776, they were not zealous church-goers. In fact, a greater percentage of Americans go to church today than in 1776.

It’s no surprise then that evangelists of the early 19th century felt the need for religious revival. It was these revivals, the Second Great Awakening, that made America a “Christian” nation in the way we tend to think of it. As conversions sored, so did church attendance. Every year, I get to teach the Second Great Awakening and using Finke’s and Stark’s research, I make the argument that it was the most important social or cultural event in American history.

Aside from the immense impact of the Second Great Awakening, another fascinating argument is that of religious competition. Finke and Stark assert that religious freedom in the colonies and early republic led to a sort of “Free Market” of denominations and religious groups. Each was in competition with the others and had to work for converts. As compared to established state churches in Europe, American denominations had to work to attract new members or die. This factor explains why the United States had not experienced the massive decline in church attendance that Western Europe faced, even if in 1776 we were perhaps less Christian than Europe.


The Rise of Christianity (1996)

For Christians, this may be the most important book on the list. While there were some parts that Bible-believing Christians bristle at, this book is a must-read for anyone interested in church history. The question it addresses is: how did an obscure Jewish sect become the major religion of the Roman Empire in less than 300 years? His answers are exhilarating.

First, he argues that the mission to the Jews worked much more than readers of the Bible would think. Unfortunately, Stark too often presents this as a problem with what the New Testament says rather than what our perception of the situation is. The Bible never claims that all the Jews rejected Christianity so Starks arguments are not incompatible with Scripture. At this point, Stark makes his classic argument about religious conversion, one that has been the staple of his career for some time. Stark argues that religious conversions do not happen (mostly) because of a preacher or missionary. He argues that people convert to a religion because of the influence of their social networks. If an individual feels a deep connection (through kinship or employment or friendship) to a group of people that are largely one religion, they tend to convert. In other words, conversion is conformity. A more positive way to say this, including people in a community of believers, is the only real way to make converts.

Interestingly, Stark argues that the social networks used by first century Christians were the network of the diaspora Jews. He claims that the number of Gentile God-fearers was probably high and it was through these networks that Jews, half-Jews, and God-fearers became Christian.

Perhaps my favorite argument in the book is how Christian sexuality transformed the Empire. Romans were not interested in reproduction; they were interested in gratification. Newborns were often abandoned to die, especially if they were girls. This led to a situation where there were more men than women and where homosexual sex, heterosexual anal sex, and temple prostitution sex were the norms. In this context, Christian sexuality simply out-reproduced the pagans. Christian women married at an older age than pagan girls who often married before puberty. As a result, Christian women had less damaged reproductive systems and were more fertile. They also kept their babies instead of the common practices of abortion and infanticide. Christian men were encouraged to marry and have families rather than gratify themselves in other ways.

Christianity’s more positive treatment of women (along with the lack of murder of girls) led to female converts. This established a situation where Christian women outnumbered Christian men significantly. According to Stark, Christian women married pagan men regularly, but would often bring their pagan husbands into their Christian community. This often led to the conversion of the husband and even more so led to more children being born and raised into the Christian community.

There are several more compelling arguments in this book, arguments that have a significant practical impact on our understanding of the early church. In short, however, it was the willingness to include others in social networks, compassion for the poor, intellectual viability, and Christian marital sexuality that won over the Roman Empire and changed the world.


Victory of Reason (2005)

For those interested in medieval history, this is where to start. In this book, Stark goes into the Middle Ages to see the impact of Christianity in advancing the cultural and intellectual life of Western culture. The standard narrative that Stark attacks is the idea that the fall of Rome was the fall of cultural progress, learning, and any sort of modern progress. The medieval era that followed was an era hampered by religiosity and superstition. This era, called the Dark Ages, was eventually rescued by the secularism of the Renaissance.

Stark masterfully destroys this erroneous assumption about the past. Despite some obvious hardships during the medieval period, Starks argues that they are a time of increased moral, technological, intellectual, and economic progress. The Romans used slaves in abundance, the middle ages saw greater amounts of freedom and human dignity. While the Romans built great aqueducts for the wealthy with those slaves, the medieval times saw the invention of practical labor-saving devices like the windmill. Yes, the classical period produced great minds, but the scholastic emphasis on reason was the foremost prelude to the scientific method. Moreover, the decentralization of the government after the fall of the Roman Empire produces the Italian city-state and chartered towns. These freer societies are responsible for the development of market capitalism that allowed for common born people to climb out of crushing poverty for the first time in human history.

The idea that was most behind all these advances, which give birth to the modern world, is the Christian faith’s dedication to reason. Believing that a God of order and logic made the universe, the Christian societies of Western Europe were able to use reason to advance more than any society before them.


God’s Battalions: The Case for the Crusades (2009)

I get the feeling that Stark so enjoyed researching the Medieval period and correcting misconceptions, that he felt the need to set the record straight on the crusades. This work relies much less on originally researched that most of his other works, but is still worth the read for anyone interested in history.

God’s Battalions is a fairly detailed history of the Crusades designed to defend Western Europe’s involvement in the Wars. Stark sees the Crusades as a counter-attack to centuries of Muslim aggression in Africa, Europe, and the Middle East. Aside from the centuries leading the Crusades, the specific violence toward Western pilgrims and Byzantines justify the need for the war. Not only was the reason for War justified, the warfare tactics of the Crusades (while often brutal) were typical of their time and no crueler than those tactics used by Turkish troops.

As someone who cares deeply about Muslims and Muslim-Christian relationships, I hesitate to recommend this book to just anyone. Stark does, however, seem to have a firm grip on the historiography of the Crusades and the way historical understanding has been impacted more by modern political climates than actual historical facts. If you are interested in the Crusades, it is worth the read.


A Star in the East with Xiuhua Wang (2015)

Stark brings his understanding of Sociology of Religion to a modern topic—the growth of Christianity in China. His research is aided significantly by one of his Chinese graduate students, Xiuha Wang. Its in China where more people are currently converting to the Christian faith than anywhere else in the world. How is this possible given traditional oppositions to the Christianity found in Confucianism and Buddhism as well as an officially atheist society imposed by the Communist State? The answers to the questions are multilayered, but ultimately Stark sees that what is going on in China in the 20th and 21st centuries is basically what was going on in the Roman Empire in the 2nd and 3rd centuries.

People are converting, Stark argues, in the way they always convert—connections to social networks. In other words, friendships and family ties are how people are coming to Christ. As people feel more connected to a group of Christians than they do to their previous social group, they are willing to convert to the Christian faith. The more people convert to Christianity, the more potential social networks there are to be connected to. The momentum is moving in the direction of the Christian faith.

One of Stark’s claims that I found intriguing concerned the impact of Christian missionaries of the 19th and 20th century. Stark asserts that those missionaries, like almost all missionaries, averaged about one or two real converts each. This does not mean they did not have a lasting impact. Institutions like Schools and hospitals were critical in continuing Christian witness long after the missionaries left. More importantly, one convert tended to make more converts than the missionary. As generations pass, thousands of Chinese come to a knowledge of Jesus because of the seemingly insignificant work of that missionary.

One final point about A Star in the East deals with the persecution of the Church in China. Since the Boxer Rebellion during the Qing dynasty, Christians have been objects of persecution in China. The modern state has tried to monitor Christianity in China by making some churches legal, while others have resisted. Stark’s analyses of these realities is that the persecution in China has led to a more conservative, Bible-following, church than was around in China in the mid-20th century. In the mid-20th century, Protestant (and Catholic) missionaries from the West dominated Chinese Christianity. Many of these westerners were significantly impacted by the popular theological liberalism of their day.  As Western influence was curtailed and Chinese Christians were forced to make the choice to conform or face persecution, the church in China became more devout and more faithful to the Scripture.

“A Star in the East” is a short book that is illuminating for anyone interested in the story of the world’s soon-to-be largest Christian nation.


As shown above, Stark is a revisionist. He seems to live for debunking accepted wisdom and providing fresh new understanding of historical or sociological questions. In doing so, he challenges our cultural’s post-enlightenment negative understanding of Christianity and advocates for the real world benefits of faith. Hopefully my efforts today will bring someone to read one of these great books. If you’ve read anything by Stark, tell us what you think in the comments below.




Five Literature Moments That Made Me Ugly Cry

For a year now on REO I have shared about how much I laugh and cry at fictional moments. Who doesn’t like to feel deeply? Today is the fifth in this series, moments in literature that brought the ugly tears. Links to the others in this series can be found at the end of the article. Links to the books on Amazon are embedded in their titles. And please note that MAJOR spoilers will be revealed, so if you have not read a particular work and plan to, please skip it.

On to the list!


1. To Kill A Mockingbird (Harper Lee)

The Moment: Tom is Found Guilty

A jury never looks at a defendant it has convicted, and when this jury came in, not one of them looked at Tom Robinson. The foreman handed a piece of paper to Mr. Tate who handed it to the clerk who handed it to the judge. 

I shut my eyes. Judge Taylor was polling the jury: “Guilty….guilty….guilty….guilty….” I peeked at Jem: his hands were white from gripping the balcony rail, and his shoulders jerked as if each “guilty” was a separate stab between them. 

Even knowing American history, I was foolish enough to believe that they may find Tom Robinson innocent. Atticus had argued so well. And I had seen “A Time To Kill” before I read this book, even though this movie came decades later. But I fooled myself. The moment was too much. It caused me to hate injustice real or fictional. Why don’t I hate it more?


2. The Road (Cormac McCarthy)

The Moment: The Father’s Last Words to His Son

“You said you wouldn’t ever leave me.”

“I know. I’m sorry. You have my whole heart. You always did. You’re the best guy. You always were. If I’m not here, you can still talk to me. You can talk to me. And I’ll talk to you. You’ll see.”

“Will I hear you?”

“Yes, you will. You have to make it like talk you imagine. And you’ll hear me.”

I listened to this on Audiobook and finished on a Sunday morning very early while walking to church. The tears actually started before this part and continued until the very end of the book. The ending is incredible as well, with the boy finding a new protector and his family. But there was something special about the dialogue between the father and son throughout this story. I don’t have kids, but I have an incredible father who would protect me until death. The dad here reminded me a little bit of mine in how simple of speech and blunt he was and in how he corrected his son.

Unlike three of the other books on this list, this one doesn’t have an abundance of characters and geography in an elaborate fantasy world. Just two main protagonists in a crucial life relationship whose plight and conversations will rip your heart into a million pieces if you’ll let them.


3. North! Or Be Eaten (Andrew Peterson, The Wingfeather Saga Book 2)

The Moment: Janner’s First Night in the Coffin

“When he awoke again, he found that the box was not an awful dream but a black reality. He panicked again. He lay panting in the blackness, talking to himself praying aloud to the Maker, accusing, pleading, screaming things that, while no one could blame poor Janner for saying them, will not be repeated here. 

And the Maker’s answer was hollow silence. 

Hours and hours passed. Janner wept again, a different weeping than before. These tears were not from fear but from weariness and a vast loneliness.” 

I have written honest words for REO a few times but I have never written about the darkest time in my life. Perhaps one day I will. Suffice it to say, I get what Janner went through above even though I was in a spiritual coffin and not a physical one. But our responses were the same. And so was God’s. It was impossible for me to read this and not lose it. It is like Peterson had access to my own personal journal when he wrote this scene.


4. The Return of the King (J.R.R. Tolkien)

The Moment: Sam carries Frodo on Mount Doom

“Sam looked at him and wept in his heart, but no tears came to his dry and stinging eyes. ‘I said I’d carry him if it broke my back,’ he muttered, ‘and I will!’

“Come, Mr. Frodo!” he cried, “I can’t carry it for you, but I can carry you and it as well. So up you get! Come on, Mr. Frodo dear! Sam will give you a ride. Just tell him where to go and he’ll go. 

I recall the moment I first read this like it were five minutes ago. I was on a plane to a youth retreat in Florida. And I tried to hold it in, not wanting complete strangers to see me openly weeping. But I lost that battle. Sam’s character was too much. What he did for Frodo the entire length of the series was heart-wrenching at every turn and at this moment the emotional dam burst and the tidal wave of tears overcame me. I could not read the rest of the chapter for a few minutes.

It’s funny to me how the books and the movies caused me to cry at completely different parts.


5. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (J.K. Rowling)

The Moment: Dobby Dies and Harry Buries Him

“‘DOBBY!’ 

The elf swayed slightly, stars reflected in his wide, shining eyes. Together, he and Harry looked down at the silver hilt of the knife protruding from the elf’s heaving chest.

‘No—no—HELP!’ Harry bellowed toward the cottage, toward the people moving there. ‘HELP!’ 

‘Dobby, no, don’t die, don’t die — ‘

The elves eyes found him, and his lips trembled with the effort to form words.

‘Harry…Potter…’

And then with a little shudder the elf became quite still and his eyes were nothing more than great glassy orbs, sprinkled with light from the stars they could not see.” 

I remember being in my church’s auditorium a little while after my ESL class ended, reading this. I was standing up against a wall and I slowly and subconsciously started crouching to the ground in unbelief. But I kept reading, and Harry offered to bury him:

“‘I want to do it properly,’ were the first words of which Harry was conscious of speaking. ‘Not by magic. Have you got a spade?’

And shortly afterward he had set to work, alone, digging the grave in the place that Bill had shown him. He dug with a kind of fury, relishing the manual work, glorifying in the non-magic of it, for every drop of sweat felt like a gift to the elf who had saved their lives.”

Floods of tears. I have never been impacted by a fictional moment like this one. It still wrecks my soul after about 10 readings of the books. I am weeping even as I type this. I’ll never get over Dobby, my favorite hero in the book, simply because of how humble he was. And although I didn’t catch this detail until about my third reading, it deserves to be mentioned:

“Harry wrapped the elf more snugly in his jacket. Ron sat on the edge of the grave and stripped off his shoes and socks, which he placed on the elf’s bare feet.”

Ron gave him his socks. To know Dobby is to know what a heart-shattering touch of genius this was by Rowling, to this already tear-stained scene. My heart feels empty and full at the same time.


As always, we’d love for our readers to share their moments below.

 

To read about Five Movie Moments That Made Me ROTFL go here.

To read about Five Movie Moments That Made Me Ugly Cry, go here.

To read about Five TV Moments That Made Me ROTFL, go here.

To read about Five TV Moments That Made Me Ugly Cry, go here.

 

 

 

 

 

 




Five Classic Toys of Our Youth

Ah, the days of youth, how quickly they flew away. They were the days that we spent hours of fun enjoying our toys of choice to the fullest. Here are five classic toys members of REO loved in the days gone by.


Slip’N Slide

South Carolina is insanely humid in the summers and while I was blessed to have a local public pool to go to and regular beach trips, some days you just wanted something cheap and convenient to help keep you cool (when you weren’t working out in the field, that is). If whatever this was also happened to be fun, then you had done the impossible.

Enter Wham-O’s Slip’N Slide, a marvel of an invention that millions of kids all over the US have enjoyed for decades now. The set up is so simple: water, a garden hose and a thin sheet of plastic a few yards long. Yet it felt like you had your own water park in your own backyard. Hours and hours of fun were to be had, changing up the way you slid and watching and cheering on others and they did the same. The very name conjures up images and memories that bring nothing but the joy of youthful innocence to this middle-aged heart. (Gowdy Cannon)


Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

I’m still not sure exactly how much of my childhood fascination with the Ninja Turtles was fueled by how much I actually liked the show. I tried to go back and watch some of the original cartoons a few years back, and it hadn’t held up in my mind exactly like I remembered it. The hype at the time, though, was real. And the toys that I played with gave an added physical dimension to the cartoon. One where I created my own stories and added to the lore that was already there.

My favorite toy of them all was the 1989 pizza thrower tank/van. You inserted little plastic pizzas into the top slot, and then a big grey button on the side would launch a pie right out the front, knocking down whatever toy was in its path. The poor foot soldier figurine that I had took regular pizzas to the face, only to be then pummeled constantly by the turtles and friends. Shredder usually put up a better fight, if I recall correctly. I would string zip lines up around my bedroom and have them slide down and crash into the enemies below.

For a kid my age, they were spot on. The toys articulated enough to show lots of expression. They came in tandem with a show that was marketed directly toward my demographic, and they were bigger and bulkier than the G.I. Joes…but in a good way. I probably earned half of my collection by not crying when I had to get a shot at the doctor. My mom always promised me a new toy if I was tough. And for a brand new ninja turtle? Not a speck of moisture would dare pool up in the corner of my eye. (D. A. Speer)


Transformers

It’s cool that the Transformer toys have come to the new generation. It really is. But the new vision has yet to become the bulwark of awesome that is the 80s transformers toys. Although I ever only owned one. It was Jazz – the greatest toy I’ve ever owned. Took me about two months to perfect the transforming process though.

I largely enjoyed every other Transformer toy through my friends. At my elementary school, Transformer toys were huge. Classmates were constantly bringing their newest robots in disguise to school to show the masses. If I was lucky one friend, in particular, would invite me over for a slumber party where we could play with his armies of Autobots and Decepticons all night long. My favorites of my classmate’s toys included Optimus Prime, Megatron, Sound Wave, and all of the Dinobots.

It may be me just glorifying them in my mind, but the T-toys of that era seemed so much cooler, more durable, and way more complex than the cheap stuff you see at the store now.

I also loved the cartoon, but somehow in my mind, I was able to keep the two separate. That is, I would have liked both just as much if the other never existed. But if I was forced to choose one, it would have been the toys. Truly, my friends, they were worth more than all the gold in Erebor. (Ben Plunkett)


LEGO

I grew up in Panama. The country. Not the city in Florida. Naturally, things were different for me as a child than for someone who grew up in the United States. With that said, I had access to pretty much all the popular toys. My brothers and I played with G.I. Joe, Transformers, He-Man, and anything else we could get our hands on. And we got our hands on a lot of toys. I probably owned as many as 70 different G.I. Joe action figures at one time.

When I was in the third grade, we spent half the year near Asheville, North Carolina and the other half in St. Louis, Missouri for what was called furlough at that time. (The name has been changed to “stateside assignment” for missionaries because “furlough” sounds like a vacation.) While in St. Louis, I attended a Christian school. My classroom had the largest collection of LEGO bricks I have ever seen in one place – outside of a store. Inspired by years of watching cartoons like Voltron – where five robot lions join together to form the giant robot Voltron – I decided to create my own giant robot made out of smaller robots all constructed using LEGO bricks. I spent hours working on it – every recess, every break. Each robot had the same design, though some were bigger than others depending on what part of the body of the giant robot they were to become. It was glorious.

I never completed the giant LEGO robot. I arrived at school one day, with just a few more parts to finish, only to discover that all of my robots had been dismantled and placed back in the bin used to store the bricks. To this day, I have no idea who decided to destroy my work. Why had they waited until I was this close to finishing? Why did they hate all the good things? It left my third-grade spirit broken and miserable. It was okay though as I learned an important lesson that day: Bad things happen and when they do, the best way to deal with the sense of loss and disappointment is to go obliterate all competition on the dodgeball court. A nice dodgeball to your opponent’s face is a healing balm. And trust me when I say this, I healed so much that day in recess playing dodgeball. So much. (Phill Lytle)


BRIO Railway

From 1985-87 my family and I lived in the St. Louis, MO area (across the Mississippi River on the Illinois side), and one of our favorite things to do was visit Union Station. My favorite part of Union Station (besides eating chili dogs at the now non-existent O. T. Hodge Chile Parlor) was visiting the toy train store. I enjoyed watching the model trains running all around the store; but, most of all, I loved playing with the BRIO wooden train sets. My parents could’ve dropped me off there and left me all day, and I would never have noticed they were gone. I’m pretty sure they never actually did that…

When I was a kid, those wooden train sets were exotic; and, as far as I knew at least, only BRIO made them. Now, of course, they are very commonplace and affordable. Many children own their own train tables and multiple sets of tracks and trains. I, however, had only the trains at the train store in Union Station, which I had to share with strangers and only got to visit once a month or so. Until…

It was either Christmas of ’86 or my birthday in early ’87, I don’t remember which, I was absolutely shocked to receive not one, but two BRIO train sets of my own. I’m not sure how my parents were able to do it, but it was probably my favorite present of all time. One set was a figure eight track with a small bridge and a small station with little wooden passengers waiting on the train. The other set was a larger bridge.

I have played with those trains for countless hours, possibly more than I’ve played with Legos, possibly more than I’ve played video games. I’ve cared for those train sets with much love. Even the original packaging lasted until just a few short years ago. Yes, I still have them, 31 years later. I’ve passed them on to my own children, adding on some cheap generic trains and tracks from Ikea and many, many trains from the Thomas the Tank Engine stories. All of the original pieces from my childhood are still there, surviving the many purges of moving. And, now, I think I must dust off the conductor’s hat and go play… (Nathan Patton)


In the comment section below, tell us about your favorite childhood toys. And if you enjoyed reminiscing with us, feel free to share this article with your friends.

 

 




Five More Sports Movies We Love

The best movies tell unforgettable stories and introduce us to legendary characters and performances. So it is no surprise that in a culture obsessed with sports, some of the best films of all time are about them. Sports prove that truth is indeed better than fiction quite often–you will notice below and on any list of sports movies how many are based on or inspired by true stories. Movies, for their part, make us interested in sports we as Americans often are not obsessed with, like boxing, karate and hockey. The two together have given us exceptional entertainment.

Today our staff discusses five more sports films that we love. You can read our first article in this series here. This is not a Top Five list; just five selections that impacted us deeply…as sports fans (most of us), moviegoers and human beings that love to be inspired.


Remember the Titans by Phill Lytle

Maybe this one is too obvious. I’m not sure that matters that much to me. I love this movie. I love the story – even if the filmmakers took liberties in telling it. I love the performances, with Denzel doing what he does best, the young cast of football players/students bringing life and personality to the team, and to the unsung heroes of the film like Will Patton as the assistant coach. Everyone brings their A-game to the movie and it shows. The music by Trevor Rabin is earnest and epic which only serves to help everything mean a little bit more.

This is a movie that calls its shot from the very beginning and unless you have never seen a sports movie before, you will know where it is headed. You anticipate the beats, the dramatic flourishes, and the building climax. None of that matters. This was Disney firing on all cylinders, perfectly delivering on their tried and true method. That might sound cynical of me. Trust me, it’s not. I unapologetically love this film even if it does pretty much exactly what you expect it to from the opening frame.

It’s a movie built on moments, speeches, emotions, and inspiration. It sets out to tell a heartwarming and uplifting film and it pulls it off without a hitch. Remember the Titans is a Titan in the world of sports movies and deserves to be on everyone’s favorites list.


A League of Their Own by Gowdy Cannon

“There’s No Crying In Baseball!” put this film on the map so to speak, but after about 10 viewings I can say that it is so much more than Tom Hanks at his comedic finest. It’s a perfect storm of untold history, tense family drama, riveting sports action and timeless storytelling that joins a pantheon of exceptional American screenplays. To me it is not just one of the best sports movies of all time, but one of the best films of any genre of all time.

Hanks is his typical scene-stealing self. Gina Davis is great. Lori Petty is perfect as the insecure younger sibling (as the 4th of 5 children, I am fully qualified to make that call). Unheard of Megan Cavanagh, who doesn’t even have a picture on her wikipedia page, is unforgettable. Even modern punching bags Madonna and Rosie O’Donnell are good in their support roles. And they all have tremendous chemistry.

Not to be lost is without of doubt my favorite Jon Lovitz performance ever, as the scout Ernie Capadino. Essentially 100% of what he says makes me and my mom laugh out loud, even after repeated viewings. To this day I can look at her and say “You see the way it works is that the train moves and not the station” and we will crack up.

If a litmus test for movie grade is how rewatchable it is, A League of Their Own gets an A.


Space Jam by D.A. Speer

Everybody get up, it’s time to slam now! A few years back, shortly after my wife Kate and I were married, we thought it would be great fun on a whim to hold a Space Jam party. We invited friends over, had some snacks, and watched the movie. You never really know just how well a movie will hold up over the years, because over time, a movie can seem so much better in your mind than it actually was. We took the gamble…and it held up well!

At lunch today, I asked my wife, “What is it that made Space Jam such a good movie?” She looked at me for a second and said, “What about it isn’t a good movie?” I had a hard time answering. On paper, I’d have expected the movie to be a failure. MJ teams up with the Looney Toons to challenge aliens for their fates over a theme park. What could possibly go wrong with an idea like that?

Well, somehow director Joe Pytka was able to pull off movie magic. The story is compelling enough to make it fun. The music inspired everything from couple’s skates at the local roller rink (I Believe I Can Fly), to endless current-day internet remixes of the theme song by Quad City DJ’s. The star power is perfect for the time. This is right in the height of Jordan mania, after his first return to the NBA. As a teenager, I had a poster of him on my wall, slamming in it with his tongue out. Would I want to see him play against cartoon monsters? Psh, I could have watched him shoot free throws in practice and would have been enthralled. Bill Murray is there. Charles Barkley is there. Larry Bird is there. Heck, even Newman shows up.

Yeah, it’s not the most epic movie by today’s standards, but it will forever be a classic in my mind, half court dunks and all.


Warrior by Phill Lytle

I hate MMA, or mixed martial arts. It’s one tiny step up from to-the-death, gladiatorial combat, and I honestly don’t understand or appreciate its appeal in the least. Which makes my reaction to Warrior, a movie about two brothers who are MMA fighters, so perplexing. I never thought I would love a movie about MMA fighting, let alone like a movie like that, but Warrior defied my expectations and had me from very early on. The story is nothing groundbreaking – if you have seen any boxing movie or many sports movies for that matter, you can sort of guess where everything is going – but the execution of the story is what makes this film work so well. Nick Nolte, Tom Hardy, and Joel Edgerton give amazing performances as a father and his two estranged sons. I’ve never been a huge Nolte fan but he is incredible in this film playing a very damaged and broken father. Hardy is just pure intensity and he brings a real menace and danger to his character, but with just enough cracks in his facade to show that there is a lot more to him than just anger and passion. Edgerton plays the most “normal” role, but he gives his character so much depth that I hate to classify it as normal. The fight sequences are well shot – they are brutal and very effective. The film is shot low budget style which lends the film more realism and immediacy. The music is great as well, with a song by The National that closes the film perfectly.

Warrior is first and foremost a movie about a broken family trying to find healing. That is what drew me in and what knocked down my walls. I was prepared to hate this movie due to my hatred of the sport it showcases. I was not prepared to fall completely for it.


Over the Top by Gowdy Cannon

Millions know Sly Stallone from the Rocky and Rambo series. Far less remember him in this movie about an estranged father, his spoiled son and….arm wrestling? How many movies about arm wrestling are there? I don’t know, but when you’ve conquered the world as Rocky and Rambo, you get to take these risks. And while I may be in the minority, I think it yielded a reward. The superbly named Lincoln Hawk (Stallone) has the lovable humility of Balboa yet is still very much a unique character. And the journey he embarks on to earn back the love of his only son and to win an arm wrestling tournament (Really! It’s about arm wrestling!) is one I have enjoyed numerous times.

A few years ago I began a tradition of having a “Man Movie Night” with other men at my church and this was the first one I showed. Because most people have seen Stallone’s other work and this is a hidden treasure to me. Yet despite its manliness, I think the heart of father-son reconciliation can appeal to most people.

The movie has some faults for sure, like the arm wresting (arm wrestling!) tournament format of double elimination is not consistent, and the drama is at times pretty contrived, but Lincoln’s secret finger re-positioning weapon vs. Bull Harley in the final and all the memories he makes with with his son son along the way render all the flaws forgotten.  Complete with a fantastic antagonist role by Robert Loggia and some of the best terrible wonderful cheesy 80s sports montage music ever, I adore this movie.


There you have it. Five more sports movies we love. Our last list got some pretty strong feedback – both positive and negative. Hopefully this one will as well as we always enjoy a good back-and-forth with our readers. Use the comment section below to post your praise or ridicule of our selections today.