Tuesday, December 20, 2005

A Christmas Thought

As we get closer to the Christmas season, I will taking a bit of a vacation to see family and friends. As such, I will not be posting for the next couple of weeks, but wanted to leave this parody as a parting thought for now. Members of the Transformers message boards I often frequent will be able to attest just how much the sentiments of this post apply to me just as much as to anyone else. I'll be back in January!

(With apologies to Clement C. Moore)
‘Twas the week before Christmas and all through the boards
Lots of people were stirring in gathering hoards
Their messages slung on the boards without care
with insults and bitterness strewn everywhere

The children were nestled all snug by their screens
To nitpick and pull apart old movie scenes
“Why was Daniel so whiny,” and “who became Scourge?”
Or “Would Arcee kiss Hot Rod if she had the urge?”

When all through the boards there arose such a clatter
I looked through the thread to see what was the matter
Through pages and pages I read like a flash
To learn how some fans had been treated like trash

When one person said to the other “Not TRUKK”
A flame war had started with curse words like “F**k”!
When, what to my wearying eyes should appear
But a quick Christmas message to bring us good cheer.

At first we ignored it, we read it so quick
But later we realized it must be St. Nick!
He posted to tell us the toys that we craved
Were just pieces of plastic with markings engraved

Like Huffer, like Skywarp, like Bluestreak and Buzzsaw
Like Soundwave and Frenzy, like Blaster and Steeljaw!
They were meant to give people a good bit of fun
But by this bad behavior, that all came undone!

But it wasn’t too late, to reverse this ill trend
and to learn to accept our opponents as friends
He taught us of tolerance, something we knew
that as hard as it was, was the right thing to do

Now this didn’t mean we could change overnight
Our opinions are strong, and our passions burn bright.
We couldn’t just lose them, for that would be wrong
And some of our statements would need to be strong

But simply by giving each other some space
We’d help make the boards a much happier place
And granting each other’s opinions respect
Our happy environment we would protect

The holiday spirit came over us all
A friendlier board, I just couldn’t recall
The flame wars were ended, a new age begun
And I guess that St. Nick saw that his work was done

For we never did see such a post come again
But we’ve gotten much happier than we were then.
So to Transformer fans, this message I write
Merry Christmas! Now everyone, please be polite!

Monday, December 19, 2005

Game Show Alert: Deal or No Deal

I'm always on the lookout for new game shows, which are increasingly few and far between these days. That makes this week a special opportunity, as NBC will presenting a new game show called "Deal or No Deal" every night this week at 8 PM.

This is a show that has had some success overseas, but this week is the first time American audiences have seen it. From what I can tell, the show is a bit of a hybrid between the old shows "Treasure Hunt" (where a contestant picks one box out of a set of many, and is awarded whatever prize is associated with that box) and "Let's Make a Deal" (where the host would offer to trade whatever prize the constestant has for an unknown prize). To get an idea of how the game is played, click on the game link on the site. It's quite addictive!

The host is Howie Mandel, who I'll always remember as "Bobbie Generic" (pronounced GEN-er-ick) in the old cartoon "Bobbie's World." This is his first game show, and it should be noted that stand-up comedians are not known for being able to host game shows well (there have been quite a few high profile failures of this type). But the promos give me the impression that Mandel will treat the game seriously, and I hope that he will be successful. If "Deal or No Deal" does well this week, it could mean well for the future of other game shows, as well. I encourage everyone to tune in.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Filler material: Church and State

I've been suffering from a bit of writer's block lately. Maybe it's just the needs of the Christmas season taking precedence.

I'm still reading quite a bit, though, and keeping up on current events. Here's a blog entry I came across today that deals with an issue I've been aware of, but haven't commented on here: the possibility that All Saints Episcopal Church in Pasadena, CA might have its tax-exempt status removed because of a sermon given prior to the 2004 Presidential election that was deemed (by the right wing) to have crossed the lines into advocacy.

Part of the reason I haven't commented is because I'm not sure where I stand on this issue of this church. I actually do think they "go political" more often than is appropriate, and often in the wrong ways. But it's not my congregation, and so I'm probably not fully equipped to say. I only know what I read about. On the other hand, I'm convinced that they're being unfairly targeted by the right because their politics tend to be more liberal. That's just wrong.

I invite you to read the article. Whatever else is true, I certainly agree that if our faith means anything, it calls us to action in making this world a better place, and that includes the political arena. And the ways in which our faith call us to action are most likely not the ways usually advocated by the political right.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Transformers Club updates

The Club Forums have been online for about a week now (depending on what exact level of access one uses as a definition for "online") and discussion has, for the most part, remained civil and productive. Here are some highlights.

We learn that the club store is unlikely to carry foreign Transformers toys in the immediate future. This is at least partly because it turns out that only Hasbro has the legal right to import Transformers toys into the US. Other sites do, in fact, carry imported items, and Hasbro has been kind enough to turn a blind eye to this practice, but for the official club to carry such items would need to be done directly through Hasbro. They're looking into options, though, so this situation may change given time.

The Master Collector magazine will continue to be sent to club members every month. A group of folks (myself included) suggested the possibility of "opting out" of every other month of Master Collector (when the Transformers magazine is not included), arguing that this would save Fun Productions ("FP") shipping costs. Brian Savage has argued that even this option would create for FP the problem of creating separate shipping lists, and that it is easier just to send Master Collector every month to all club members. As mentioned before, just sending only the Transformers magazine is not an option, as Master Collector serves as a "wrapper" that enables to post office to send the magazine.

A few folks have mentioned the possibility of using G.I. Joe figure molds to create figures for some of the human characters in the Transformers saga, such as Spike Witwicky and G.B. Blackrock. Brian Savage seems to be considering this, and has asked for suggestions as to what Joe figures could be used for what Transformers humans. Other member suggestions for exclusives have involved possible tie-ins to the movie scheduled to be released in 2007. Although many members have expressed a desire to see exclusives originally planned for the old 3H club come out, FP has restated their position that they prefer to work on original projects. This also applies to a popular suggestion that FP could release toys originally planned, but never released by Hasbro, such as several unused G2 designs.

Although international postage is prohibitive for club members outside of the U.S., current international postage regulations make changes unlikely. FP charges what they are charged for overseas shipping. Also, for several reasons, it is unlikely that FP will sponsor a Transformers convention outside of the U.S. in the foreseeable future.

There should be an announcement regarding club exclusive toys in the near future. Probably not before Christmas, but possibly before the New Year. In any event, it is hoped that even club members who joined at the very beginning (whose memberships expire in early January) will have some chance to get these exclusives. But they'll have to be on the lookout, and order quick! :)

The possibility of collecting the comics from the club magazine into a single volume has been discussed by FP, but at best, it will probably be another couple of years before this can happen. Brian Savage did make an off-the-cuff statement in response to this that indicates that the current story arc is expected to last for 5 years, which is consistent with the current promise that the "freebie" exclusives that all members get each year will be parts of a combiner to be completed after the 5th year the club has been running.

Many club members have expressed a desire to have Hasbro representative Aaron Archer give the club behind-the-scenes updates, similar to those he used to provide for the 2005 boards a few years ago.

As always, options for where BotCon should be held are being heavily debated. There is also a lot of discussion on what opportunities the convention should feature. Despite a widespread desire to see the convention return to a summer schedule, it seems likely that BotCon will continue to be held in September for the foreseeable future. FP hopes to have an announcement on the location and dates for the 2006 convention soon, and they are already hard at work on the convention exclusive toys.

Finally, many folks at FP have expressed interest in having club members submit articles for publication in the Transformers club magazine. As more members submit articles, FP will better be able to use the best for the magazine. Not only will this make the magazine more member-based, but the end result promises to be of better quality, so I definitely encourage everyone to send in their ideas!

Friday, December 09, 2005

A Plea on Behalf of Academic Support Staff

This week, I've been scrambling to deal with Finals Week at my seminary. This happens every quarter, and I talked about this phenomenon some during the Spring Quarter. In that previous post, I described how students are often confused about what to do with their papers once they've finished them. This is an ongoing frustration, and I certainly would ask any of you out there reading this who are professors to provide instructions to your students as clearly as possible. We who are on the receiving end of these frantic students appreciate it.

Another common problem, that I failed to mention at the time, is that a surprising number of students don't put the name of the class, the professor, or sometimes even their own name on the assignment. This causes delays and frustration for pretty much everybody concerned.

I'm also continually amazed at how many students scramble in at the very latest possible moment trying to get papers turned in "before the deadline." I have less sympathy here. I have a life, too, and would like to return to it at 5:00 pm. I am also not equipped to handle last-minute requests for Incompletes, which (at our school) must be approved by the professor and turned in to the Registrar's office before the deadline for the assignment itself has passed.

One of my college professors used to always admonish us to plan ahead for printers to fail, computers to crash, traffic to be heavy, and for any number of maladies to occur, giving ourselves plenty of lead time in case such catastrophes fell upon us. (And, as we all know, things do happen!) It wasn't so much that my professors were sticklers for rules (as I confess that I myself often am), and in fact, they were generally more than willing to grant "grace" when told of unforseeable circumstances. Rather, they were trying to spare everyone involved undue stress, including not only the professors and the support staff (thanks!), but the students themselves, who can work on their assignments more fully prepared for whatever may come their way.

That advice has served me well throughout my academic career, and at the risk of sounding overly preachy, I would encourage others to plan ahead in this way. Even if it doesn't grant you (assuming "you" are a student) the stress relief, it certainly will provide me with less stress from having to deal with so many people knocking down my door at 5:00 pm!

(And please have your assignment assembled before you arrive at the office!)

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Transformer Club Forums are now open!

Although I've been rather pessimistic about the club lately, they deserve recognition for finally getting the club forums open. If you're a club member, you can go to this link to check them out.

There's not a lot to talk about there, yet, and I do feel that the user interface needs some work. I also don't want to give the folks at Fun Publications too much credit for finally opening a service that's been promised since this past February. However, all the important FP leaders are there, and they're starting off with a fair level of interaction with member questions. Let's give them a chance to see what they can do.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

My Story: Drama at Montreat

While I was in college, I was heavily involved in The Greybeard Players, our college drama troupe. I got to partake in pretty close to the full range of dramatic experience, acting in several dramas, doing tech work, and even directing a small one act during my last year there.

My college drama instructor (and director/producer on various occasions) was Brian Fuller, a man who quickly developed a reputation at the college as a taskmaster. Not everyone involved in our drama troupe understood Brian's demanding nature, but those of us who "stuck with it" knew that Brian would push us so hard because he wanted the best for (and out of) us. Brian articulated a philosophy of doing our best work because everything we did was for God's glory. As he says on his web page, "If we’re to 'do all things unto Christ,' a 'B-' simply isn’t an acceptable level of effort."

Brian was also misunderstood for other reasons, as he details in the following quote (from the same page, quoted with permission):
When I chose The Lion in Winter as 1994’s spring theatre mainstage, I was wrestling with some very personal fears about the kind of children I would raise. My first daughter was less than a year old and I panicked that each of my failures to comfort her crying would result in some adult psychopathology.

I dreaded the possibility of becoming Lion’s Henry II, reaping the curses of godless parenting. He catches his eldest son in a homosexual tryst and discovers his other two children behind a castle tapestry, their daggers drawn to kill him for England’s crown. He’s imprisoned his wife so he can enjoy her lands and flouts an adulterous affair with a woman betrothed to his youngest boy. Not surprisingly, the play ends on a dismal note, with each member of the family determined to preserve self-interest to the death.

In my eyes, the play affirmed everything Scripture teaches about human nature. Opening night came and I was pleased to present the college community entertainment with instructional and redemptive value. In a tone reminiscent of Old Testament horror stories, I offered a cautionary tale to edify.

Not everyone saw it that way.

A vocal few made it clear that they expected "role models" rather than "negative examples" from Christian theatre. They challenged the worth of dramatizing profane lifestyles and urged me to present "family entertainment" in the future.

Despite some attempts to appease those critics, I’ve come to accept that I will take heat for the public, creative, articulation of my faith. The Genesis account (and Romans 1:19, 20) indicates that the holiest art is personal, it carries the mark of its maker. So as long as I make art for public consumption, audiences will see a little of me every time the curtain rises on my productions for screen and stage.

This is a charge quite different from that given most professors. Fermat’s Theorem is part of the curriculum despite the personal walk of a Mathematics lecturer. Few members of the community have an opinion about what goes on in a Business class. They haven’t the slightest connection with a school’s Biology offerings. Even Trustees can seldom advance an informed analysis of their college's Bible teaching.

When it comes to the Fine Arts and Media, however, "everyone’s a critic." Ubiquity and accessibility of plays, photographs, newspapers, speeches, concerts, and movies invite a response from every audience, no matter how savvy.

These observations about the many targets I wear are my way of justifying a little martyr complex. As I turn the eye of scrutiny inward, I see that bemoaning the necessary status and task of artists must make me tiresome company at times. Yet I persist toward a more gracious acceptance of my role as catalyst in the Christian zeitgeist.
I was one of the actors in The Lion in Winter, and saw a lot of this firsthand. Brian had started teaching at Montreat College at about the same time I entered as a freshman, and his first daughter was born that same year. As I've said before, Montreat is a fairly conservative community. This is not (contrary to how I often sound about conservatives) always a bad thing. One thing that I absolutely think that conservatives "get right" is their dedication to follow God no matter what the "world" says. However, they often tend to get upset about the wrong things, and that was certainly the case here. Much of the Montreat community got more upset about the revelation that Richard the Lionheart was gay (an assertion supported by historical records, and demonstrated in our production by means no more graphic than by having Richard touch another male character on the cheek) than by the fact that Henry II was having a very public adulterous affair (as indicated already in the quote above), and that he wanted to have his sons executed at one point of the play. In another incident, people were more concerned about the fact that there was swearing in a play then about the message warning against hypocrisy that the play contained.

I honestly think many "conservative" Christians would be very surprised to learn just how much Brian's ethics and values echo their own. I was once told by one of my college friends how much it pained him to know how many of his students (including many in drama) were involved in extramarital sexual relationships. (I've always said that the labels "conservative" and "liberal" depend entirely on what you're talking about. This is certainly one area I confess to being more "conservative" on than some people.) Still, Brian was often considered by many in the Montreat College community to be a maverick (I think unfairly), and I was very sad to learn from another friend a few years ago that he was denied tenure, being told (so I hear) that the college just didn't see a place for drama in their campus vision.

Thankfully, Brian has since been hired onto the faculty at Calvin College in Michigan. (Right next to Calvin Seminary, where another of my old professors started at about the same time!) And it seems that Montreat has had occasion to reconsider their stance, as Brian tells me that the new president there had approached him about coming back to Montreat just as "an offer simply too good to refuse" from Calvin came through.

Brian was one of my first choices to ask to provide a recommendation when I entered seminary, and he and I have kept in sporadic contact over the years. He has truly been one of the pivotal influences on my young adult life, and I would recommend that any student who wishes to be all that God has created them to be should take one of Brian's classes.

Friday, December 02, 2005

A Discussion of Mythological Proportions

While reading on the Allspark, I came across this thread that talked about a college class in Kansas that would have talked about Creationism (apparently to argue against it). This class was canceled after the would-be professor said some rather inflammatory remarks about creationists. (Here's a link to the actual article, but it's quoted in its entirety on the Allspark)

One person commenting on the thread suggested that creationists had gotten upset because the professors called Creationism a "myth." While I don't think this was the real problem (rather, I think it was the fact that he said that his course "would be a 'nice slap in [creationists'] big fat face.'"), I do think people respond to the word "myth" negatively.

So, for the record, here's a bit from the Webster Illustrated Contemporary Dictionary:
Myth - 1 A traditional story, presented as historical, often purporting to explain some natural phenomenon, as the creation of life, and expressive of the character of a people, their gods, culture, heroes, religious beliefs, etc. 2. Any real or imaginary story, theme, or character that excites the interest or imagination of a people....
If you read definition "1", you'll note that talking about "creation" is, by definition, to talk about "myths." It's also worth noting that "1" says nothing about whether the story is true or not. It only requires that the story is traditional. Even more to the point, definition "2" explicitly allows for "myths" to be true.

I've said before that I tend to be a little more conservative on some matters than some of my friends. I actually do tend to think that most of the stories in the Bible are more or less true. That's not to say I get bogged down in the details. If (for example) historical evidence shows that a couple of revolts mentioned in Acts 5:33-39 actually occurred in the opposite order from what Gamaliel is quoted as saying they did (as seems to be the case), then I'm not particularly bothered. The point of that Scripture isn't in what order a couple of revolts took place, but rather that while revolts of purely human origin will fail, God's will still triumph.

My own opinions of the historicity of the creation accounts are less well formed. I'm happy to believe that there was a "historical Adam" and a "historical Eve," but if there wasn't, my faith is not shaken. These characters depict the prototypical humanity, and the point of their story, that we as humanity have disobeyed God, and bring many of our worst sufferings upon ourselves, remains unchanged. (Please note that I do not, by corollary, believe that human sin is the cause of hurricane Katrina, any more than I believe that God sent Katrina to harm the people living in the Gulf. I am not here advocating a "sin results in divine punishment," cause/effect theology of suffering.)

But even as I allow for the possibility of a "historical" Adam and Eve, I still call the Genesis account a "creation myth." It is a story given to us to teach us about God, and our relationship to God. Whether or not these tales are factually true does not change the fact that they are "myths." If we as Christians are to keep fighting these battles over Scriptural interpretation, at least let's not get into arguments caused by misunderstanding how the word "myth" is defined.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Common Courtesy

One of the professors that I work for will teach a course entitled "Women, the Bible, and the Church" this coming January. As a long-standing advocate for the full equality of women in ministry, this is a course that he always looks forward to, and he has taught it nearly 30 times.

One of the books that he has used in this course for a number of years is entitled Beyond Anger, written by a Roman Catholic nun frustrated by the lack of equal access to ministerial roles for women, while (amazingly enough) still remaining loyal to the Church. It is a powerful piece, and it has been one of the first books my professor asks students to read, setting the tone for further discussion.

When my professor found out that this book was out of print, he was faced with the painful decision to not require this book this year. I suggested to him that we might be able to photocopy the book and distribute it through the bookstore. This is actually not illegal, so long as we do the simple courtesy of requesting permission from the person who holds the rights to the book. In this case, the rightsholder is the author of the book herself, with whom my professor has had a long acquaintance.

So, the day after I suggested this possibility to him, he called her on the phone, and was able to provide me with an e-mail granting "eternal" permission to photocopy this work for educational use.

With that problem out of the way, I still have to photocopy the work so that it can be distributed. To this end, I went to our seminary library. I was pleased to discover that we have not one, but two copies of this book on our shelves. I was somewhat less pleased to discover that both books have been heavily marked up with pen and highlighter! Although I will still be able to use this book for photocopying (I have little choice), the students who will use the resulting copy will now have to content with all this junk that someone else has put there.

Now, I readily confess that I do this to my own books from time to time. In fact, my wife has a copy of this very book at home, on which she's underlined and highlighted tons of relevant passages. That's fine. The book is ours, and we can do with it as we please.

But a library book is another matter entirely. Future students will not care what parts of the book I myself found relevant to my own studies. It is extremely frustrating to find that some former student (or perhaps a professor, although I think better of most of my professors than to think they'd do such a thing) has had the bad manners to write all through a book (in pen and highlighter, no less!) as though the book was their own. It's just rude!

So, a plea to all of you who use library books. Please treat these books with respect, remembering that others will want to use the books after you're done with them. It's just common courtesy.

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