Monday, October 30, 2006

Textual Difficulties

I was reading a rather lengthy blog post by scholar Ben Witherington, III. Although the post is really about the issue of priestly celibacy in the Roman Catholic church (the only major denomination to require celibacy of its clergy), there is an interesting bit about the interpretation of I Corinthians 7. Here is the text of verse 1, as it appears in the TNIV:
Now for the matters you wrote about: "It is good for a man not to have sexual relations with a woman."
The punctuation, as it appears here, is very much in keeping with Witherington's interpretation: The part within quotes does not represent Paul's thought, but part of a letter Paul had received from the Corinthians, which he is about to respond to in the part of I Corinthians that follows. This interpretation is the current consensus of many scholars.

It is not, however, a universal agreement, and it is not even the interpretation of all English translations of the Scripture. Here, for example, is the same verse, as translated by the older NIV:
Now for the matters you wrote about: It is good for a man not to marry.
Now, I should be clear that I'm not talking about the difference between the translations of the words (i.e., the difference between "to have sexual relations with a woman" and "to marry," both of which attempt to translate the same Greek phrase). I'm talking about those quotation marks which are present in the TNIV version, but not in the NIV. Most older translations follow the trend of the NIV, while many newer versions (including the conservative Holman Christian Standard Bible, lest anyone think that I'm suggesting some "liberal" interpretation) include the quotes.

To see how such a difference of opinion is possible, a bit of background is in order. The original manuscripts of these passages were not only written in Greek, but were written using all capital letters, with no spacing or punctuation. To illustrate the kind of confusion this occasionally creates, look at the following phrase in English: GODISNOWHERE.

Did you read that as "God is nowhere," or "God is now here"? With this phrase, sitting on its own, it would be impossible to be certain. Thankfully, we tend not to have such phrases sitting in isolation within the Greek manuscripts, but rather, we have complete texts that can provide context, and so scholars can usually weed through the lack of spacing and punctuation with a remarkable degree of accuracy.

Still, debates remain. In the case of I Corinthians chapter 7, the immediate context allows for either interpretation, but depending on which way we take verse 1, we will look at the rest of the chapter very differently. To use the traditional translation (without quotes), Paul is asserting his opinion that "It is good for a man not to have sexual relations with a woman." When Paul suggests, in the following verses, that "... since sexual immorality is occurring, each man should have sexual relations with his own wife, and each woman with her own husband", he is then understood to be making a concession to the strength of the sexual drive. But if Paul were to have his way, we are left to understand, everyone would remain celibate.

But if we assume that "It is good for a man not to have sexual relations with a woman" is a quotation from an earlier Corinthian correspondance, the rest of the chapter takes on an entirely different meaning. Paul is actually arguing against the Corinthian position that all people should become celibate. Although Paul does agree that celibacy can be a good thing, he insists that such celibacy is not the norm. Paul asserts that most people should marry. Sexual relations (within marriage) are what Paul understands as normative, not celibacy! You can read Witherington's article for more about this particular case, including a little bit of explanation as to why this is the preferred interpretation (although this is not Witherington's intended focus).

This kind of textual difficulty is only one of many challenges that confront the Christian who seeks to be faithful to the biblical text. Yet so many people assert that "the Bible says" such-and-such on the basis of exactly these kinds of debatable texts, and accuse those who disagree with them of seeking to subvert the Bible, or of otherwise "not being a good enough Christian." A little more humility, honestly seeking the will of God, rather than assuming we've already found it, would be greatly appreciated.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Channel Surfing

It's "pledge drive" time again at NPR. Getting more than a little tired of listening to the personalities at NPR tell me that paying for NPR is a better value than the money I spend on coffee, newspaper subscriptions, or cable (three things I actually don't spend money on, although I'll at least grant that in those cases, it's because I don't use any of those things, whereas I do listen to the radio), and still being unconvinced as to why I should pay to listen to a particular radio station, when most other radio stations make no such requests (yes, I know that it's because other stations pay their bills by doing commercials. Just bear with me.), and getting a bit tired of listening to NPR's particualar spin on current events (even though I usually agree with it), I decided to switch channels.

After a fair bit of channel surfing, I decided to give the local Christian talk radio station another try. This is the station that I used to listen to all the time when I first entered seminary, but after a few years, I decided that I was spending too many mornings in bed yelling at the poor theology of the preacher who did the morning program, and having too many disagreements with the conservative talk program I'd listen to in the evenings, and so I stopped listening to them. It's been a few years now since that time, and the person who did that talk program has since retired, so it seemed worth going back and seeing what they were like these days.

This particular station bills themselves as "the intersection between faith and reason," which is a sentiment I can certainly respect. Unfortunately, I found myself mostly listening to the same "two big issues" that I've associated with conservative Christian movements elsewhere: sexual matters (mostly, what not to do, of course!) and pro-life propaganda (I hasten to add that even those who favor abortions would never consider themselves "pro-death," but I digress). I was especially offended when the host weighed in on the Michael J. Fox/Rush Limbaugh debate. Since I was listening to conversative Christian radio, I wasn't surprised that the host was in favor of Limbaugh's position, but I found it particularly odious that the host would accuse Fox of being dishonest in his public messages supporting certain Democratic politicians. He wasn't saying, as Limbaugh had done, that Fox was necessarily off his medication (although he left that possiblity open), but he did accuse Fox of "acting" by appearing more "out of control" than in any previous appearance (his assertion). I assume that the host failed to see Fox's appearance before Congress, but would otherwise point out that, when Fox has appeared elsewhere, it has usually been in his capacity as an actor, and the camera can edit out most of Fox's less "photogenic" moments. If there's obviously an interest in showing Fox's real condition for a message such as the ones he's been doing, how is that dishonest? But even worse, the host accused Fox of dishonesty because Fox did not explicitly refer to "embryonic" stem cell research in his message. It is true that stem cell research using adult stem cells is not restricted, and that there have been some positive developments out of such research (although I think the host overstated the case more than a bit). It is also true that there is little present evidence that "embryonic" stem cell research would yield advancements that the adult stem cell research can not (of course, part of the reason for this lack of evidence is the lack of research that's been available to date in this area). But I personally fail to see this kind of omission as a dishonest one. The host went so far as to say that, if Fox were honest about his intentions, he'd tell his audience that he favors killing unborn children in favor of the slim possibility that people like Fox might be able to get some help. Frankly, I expect that Fox would be "dishonest" if he said such a ridiculous thing, since I'm sure that Fox does not share the host's assumptions about when life begins.

I also found it odd that the commercials on the station dealt almost exclusively with economic matters. Life insurance, capital investments, charities seeking donations (most of these falling into the "donate your used car" variety, oddly enough), lawyers seeking to help you "get what you deserve" if you've been in an unfortunate situation. I expected more commericials selling actual merchandise, like what I see on TV. I don't know if this is a peculiarity of Christian commercial radio, or of radio in general, but I was surprised nonetheless.

Another station I listened to (although I don't recall the commericals enough from that time to comment) was also a conservative station, although this one was not a religious station. The two hosts of the program I was listening to were talking about the controversy created over the letter sent to Spanish-language speakers in Orange County. Since the time I wrote that blog entry, evidence has surfaced that the letter was sent by a staffer connected to a particular Republican congressional candidate. That candidate denies any knowledge of the letter, and has resisted calls to step out of the election. The talk show hosts were not only in support of the candidate, but because there is a clause at the beginning of the letter (note: is a PDF file) that said "If you are a citizen of the United States, we ask that you participate in the democratic process of voting," they suggested that anybody who was bothered by the clause that followed: "You are advised that if your residence in this country is illegal or you are an immigrant, voting in a federal election is a crime that could result in jail time, and you will be deported for voting without having a right to do so", wasn't paying attention, thereby dismissing anyone who was "scared" by the letter as either illegal themselves (meaning that they should be scared) or stupid. My thought is that the second clause overrides the good intentions of the first, but oh, well. (For the record, the bit about "if... you are an immigrant" is outright wrong, since a citizen could well be an immigrant. The current story is that the language of the letter was the result of an imprecise translation of the original intention from English into Spanish. Let's assume that this is correct. Although there would be nothing legally wrong with a letter that reminded non-citizens that they have not been granted the privilege of voting, it still strikes me as a scare tactic of questionable ethicality, since it could well have the effect of frightening legal citizens out of voting.)

Finally, I found a station that was presenting last night's game of the World Series. Just what I needed. No politics. No heated opinions. Just a good old-fashioned game. I am growing so weary, frankly, of caring about many of the important issues of the day. I don't expect that I will be able to stay away from them for long, because of the sheer fact that I do care about many of these issues so much. But it was good to just relax and listen to a game for a change.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Rebellious Streak

Among the many different hats I wear from time to time is the hat of a proofreader for the seminary's weekly newsletter, called "the SEMI." Next week's issue will focus on the issue of abuse (many different forms thereof). An article on spousal abuse was written by Dr. David Scholer, who teaches regularly on the issue of women in ministry, and who I consider a close friend. The following is an excerpt from the upcoming article:
...of course, I know of virtually no Christian male leader who talks publicly in support of spousal abuse, but there are (far too) many who teach a submission that never takes account of this reality and who counsel women who receive abuse that it is their biblical duty to endure it. I remain struck by the fact that John Piper and Wayne Grudem’s 1991 book Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood: A Response to Evangelical Feminism barely addresses the issue of the abuse of wives. Given the Fourth Affirmation in the official statement of the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood about the way that men have abused their God-given authority over women (according to that view), one could expect that their magnum opus might have a chapter on spousal abuse. Alas, there is none. There are three isolated pages in the over 500 page book that briefly mention the abuse of wives. The book has just been reprinted (2006) with a new preface, which comments on what complementarians (formerly traditionalists) need to be concerned with now fifteen years after the book’s original publication. There is not a single word about spousal abuse.
A bit of context: Dr. Scholer is what we like to call an "egalitarian." That is to say, he affirms the rights of both men and women to all roles within the Christian church. Piper and Grudem consider themselves "complementarians." They argue that God calls men and women to different, but "complementary," roles within the Christian church, based upon the natural differences between men and women. Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood is considered the quintessential text of their organization, the "Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood" (CBMW).

But this blog entry isn't really about the evils of spousal abuse. I'm certainly not looking to accuse "complementarians" of advocating spousal abuse, even if I might suggest that they (as with so many of us in our society) turn a blind eye to it too often. But I'm sure that Piper and Grudem are as opposed to abuse as anyone else with a sane mind.

But my work on the SEMI issue on abuse led me to a related topic when it comes to gender issues. What actually struck me about Dr. Scholer's article was his comment about an "Affirmation" of CBMW against such spousal abuse. I got curious to see the actual text of the affirmation, and finally found it. The affirmation in question reads:
The Fall introduced distortions into the relationships between men and women (Gen 3:1-7, 12, 16).
  • In the home, the husband's loving, humble headship tends to be replaced by domination or passivity; the wife's intelligent, willing submission tends to be replaced by usurpation or servility.
  • In the church, sin inclines men toward a worldly love of power or an abdication of spiritual responsibility, and inclines women to resist limitations on their roles or to neglect the use of their gifts in appropriate ministries.
Very affirming of "proper gender roles," to be sure, but likewise clear that abuse is wrong. I reject that assertion that for women to "resist limitations on their roles" is a sin, but that's the egalitarian in me talking, and gets a bit more to my point (yes, I do have one!).

I did a bit more research, and found an exposition on this statement (note: the link is to a PDF file). In talking about that last point, it repeats the assertion that the "root problem" is "a sinful resistance to biblically prescribed roles." I've often heard the suggestion that anyone who disagrees with the CBMW does so out of "sinful resistance." It should be no surprise that I find the suggestion more than a little offensive. In my conversations with "complementarians," I often try specifically to make the case that we believe what we do, not out of a sense of "rebellion" against God's word, nor out of a desire to make God's word say something other than what it really does, but because we truly believe that God's word, rightly interpreted, means something far more open than what people like the CBMW think it does. In regard to the issue of spousal abuse, it gets us nowhere if a complementarian affirms that abuse is a sin, but refuses to listen to an egalitarian's suggestion that a wife has the right to do something about that sin, accusing the egalitarian of rebelling against God's will for submissive wives.

A recent post on the blog for "Christians for Biblical Equality" (CBE, an organization that might be described as the Christian polar opposite of CBMW) says it this way:
If I were to talk to the most ardent of the hierarchalists, I might hear that I’m an evangelical egalitarian simply because I’m rebellious or I might be accused of rejecting the authority of Scripture or I might have been “feminized” (whatever that actually means). As a matter of fact, I’ve heard these very accusations time and time again. In some cases, it is believed that evangelical egalitarianism is simply a disguise for the conspiracy of liberalism among evangelicals.
I don’t like those broad labels and accusations which have no basis in reality, at least, for me. Perhaps I’m an egalitarian because I’ve seen it in God’s Word after years of struggling with the idea and after years of seeing abuses in the church and in our seminaries. At any rate, if the hierarchalist is willing to get to know me a little better as a person before making up one’s mind about me, I am willing to get to know him or her as well.
I should be clear here that I believe that the writer refers to other kinds of abuse (i.e., non-spousal) when he uses the term "abuse" in the above quote. His point is simply trying to keep an open mind, and trying to get past the knee-jerk labels. I have attempted to be as fair in my own dealings with "complementarians" (I think few people would call themselves "hierarchalists," and so I avoid that term), no doubt with varying degrees of success. I don't really expect to "convert" too many such people from interpretive views they've held for most of their lives (in most cases). But if I can at least convince them that I'm not exercising a "rebellious streak," then at least we can agree to disagree with intellectual integrity.
And that's really my point: there are some serious issues to be discussed, and I'm not foolish enough to think that everyone will agree on such substantive issues. But if we can at least avoid the accusations and accept that there's an honest attempt to follow God's will, maybe we can work together to reach some solutions.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Wheeling But No Dealing

Although I enjoy collecting Transformers, I live under a significant financial crunch. It would be wiser not to buy any new Transformers at all, but under the often proven dieting philosophy that cutting things off "cold turkey" is a strategy doomed to failure, I have maintained a discipline of budgeting only $25 a month on Transformers toys. This is occasionally supplemented when I do an "odd job" outside of my normal 40-hours-a-week job, but even then I only put up to half of any money earned in such endeavors toward new Transformers, the rest going to ease financial burdens. However, any and all money earned by selling Transformers is fair game to getting new TFs! It sounds like a complicated system, but it really isn't. Suffice it to say, I've thought a lot about how to discipline my spending habits in a realistic way.

Since I'm trying to be wise about how I spend my Transformers dollars, I'm always rather keen on keeping an eye open for any sales or clearances that might be happening. This is especially the case right now, as the current "Cybertron" line is starting to die out, being replaced by the "Classics" line that will fill the gap between now and when the toys dedicated to the upcoming Transformers movie come out. When a rumor surfaced that Target was starting to clearance "Cybertron" toys in this way, it seemed as though the right time had come.

I had a (mostly) free day yesterday, so I drove around Southern California to the various stores that might sell Transformers, paying specific attention to Targets. I must have visited at least 5 different Target stores in my area. None of them are starting to clearance any Transformers yet! In fact, very few of them have even started stocking the new "Classics" toys in any significant numbers. I'm sure that "Cybertron" won't start hitting clearance until these stores have something to take their place.

But what was even more annoying was what I found at a couple of Toys R Us stores I visited. They're starting to repackage some of the "deluxe" toys (i.e., the size sold for $9.99 at Toys R Us) in 3-packs. I found two versions available, both filled mostly with toys that have no appeal to me anyway, but what was really surprising was the discovery that the 3-packs (with the label "Super Value" on them) are being sold at $29.99.

$29.99 for three toys that are already pegwarmers (i.e., no one wanted them the first time they were on the shelves. That's why they're getting repackaged.), that were originally sold for $9.99 apiece. Do the math. That means I'd be paying $29.99 for toys I could have already bought for $29.97. Far from being a "super value," I'd actually be paying 2 cents more to get the 3-pack! Someone needs to have their head examined.

Long story short, there were no "deals" to be found yesterday. For all the driving around I did, I bought no Transformers at all. (We won't talk about how much gas I used up in this endeavor) Still, it beats staying around the house all day....

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Scare Tactics

There's an election coming up in a few weeks. Perhaps you've heard about it. On November 7th, millions of Americans will participate in elections to determine the political course of our country (and state and local governments) for the next few years. Volunteers from all sorts of political stripes are feverishly working to make sure that their constituents make it to the polls to vote for their favorite candidate/cause.

And, elsewhere, some are working to ensure that certain people don't make it to the polls. Sadly, this is an often-repeated tale throughout our nation's checkered history.

In the latest version, just a little bit south of here, Latino residents have been getting flyers telling them that it is illegal for immigrants to vote. These flyers have been sent to people strictly on the basis of their ethnicity. Many are indeed naturalized citizens, who have every right to vote in the upcoming elections. This is a scare tactic, pure and simple.

The authorities are already investigating the matter, but for now, the truth is that we don't know exactly who perpetrated this cowardly act, because the individual did not, in fact, take credit for his/her actions, instead using the name of an anti-immigration organization that denies any prior knowledge of the flyer (I'm inclined to believe them. Why use your name on the flyer only to deny it later? No, this is more likely an individual-perhaps within that organization, using the organization's name to avoid personal responsibility).

I know that there are a lot of people out there, from many political viewpoints, who have a lot to lose (or perhaps to gain) by the outcome of this election. Many see their political agendas as being in the will of God, using their religious beliefs to justify actions that would normally be seen (even by the perpetrators) as criminal.

To such people, I have some questions. Do you really have so little faith in God that you believe that God has no power to achieve God's purposes, whatever the election results might say? And what about our call to evangelism? Do you think that criminal actions reflect favorably on God's people, so that more people will be inclined to adopt your faith? I say, let the elections run their course. By all means, use whatever legal and ethical means you wish to work toward your desired outcome. But intimidation is wrong, pure and simple. I hope that the authorities are able to determine who committed this act of cowardice, and that the effects of these flyers on those who might otherwise have voted is minimal.

Monday, October 16, 2006

"Collector's Items"

This past weekend, I participated in a flea market sponsored by the international students office here at the seminary. I brought a bunch of toys and comics that I'm trying to clear out. Nothing too special, mostly Happy Meal toys and similar small items, but I did have a few Star Wars figures that I never got around to taking out of their packages that I got before I realized how badly Hasbro was flooding the market for Episode One figures.

I tried to keep my prices low. Happy Meal toys were a dollar. Happy Meal toys with custom boxes were two dollars. Some Transformer PVCs were on sale for fifty cents. Comics were a dollar apiece, with discounts available if the purchaser took sets.

More than once, people came by, saw what I was selling, and proclaimed how these items were collector's items, and a few expressed amazment that I could part with them. I explained (honestly) that the stuff I had for sale was stuff I didn't care too much about, and that I had plenty of stuff that I was keeping at home, but that I needed to clear out some space.

Overall, the experience was a bit of a disappointment. Although many people had respect for the items I had, it seemed that few had any interest in getting such "collector's items" for themselves. While I sold enough to make back the money I paid to get the table in the first place, I didn't make much extra. Of course, the money I paid the get the table from which to sell my items was donated to charity, so even that wasn't really a "loss." But I really did hope to get a bit more extra cash with which to ease current financial burdens, and that really didn't happen. No one even looked at my custom boxes, which was particularly disappointing.

But that's been my experience with "collector's items" my whole life. Once in a blue moon, I can sell something that gets more money than I paid for it, but usually, the value of these items is only in what I place on having it myself. Other people almost never place the same value on them that I do, and if they do, the odds are I'm not looking to part with it in the first place.

This even seems to be the case on the recent BotCon exclusives I got a couple of weeks ago. I sold three of the ten that I got, but the only one I made any money on (as opposed to what I paid for them in the first place) was the "Attendee-only" exclusive. While people may wish they had these items, they generally don't want to pay what they're worth. And I'm really no different. I almost never buy even Transformers for the regular retail price, almost always waiting for sales, taking the risk that they may no longer be available when the sales finally come around. "Collector's items" are just that: they're for collecting. Trying to make any money off of them really misses the point.

Having said all that, if you're interested, a few of the items I was selling are back up for sale on a web site I set up for the purpose (including several items that weren't available at the flea market. If you're interested in GI Joe or Star Wars stuff, be sure to check out the link at the bottom of the page).

Friday, October 13, 2006

The Art of Compromise

I've long included Slacktivist on my list of daily blog readings. Although he's a little too far to the left for me to embrace everything he says enthusiastically, he's almost always articulate, intelligent, and thought-provoking.

Today, he weighs in on a statement made by right-wing Christian Dave Daubenmire, suggesting that Christians abandon the Republican party (because they're apparently not right-wing enough) to form a "Christian" party. Specifically, this guy seems to want to get former Alabama Supreme Court chief justice Roy Moore elected as President.

The idea itself has no legs. Even granting that many Christians are dissatisfied with the current choices available in American politics (and, without even getting into right- or left-wing arguments, who can blame them?), not many are politically naïve enough to believe that a new political party has any chance at success at the national level.

But at least one comment Slacktivist makes got my attention: "Not voting at all would be the logical conclusion of Daubenmire's reasoning. 'They say politics is the art of compromise,' he writes. 'Is that what Christ died for -- compromise?'"

I have often observed the tendency of some Christians to consider the word "compromise" as though it were spelled using only four letters. To "compromise," they would say, is to fail to follow God fully. Therefore, they seem to argue, there is no room for "compromise" in the Christian life.

Slacktivist has his own wry comment in a footnote to Daubenmire's argument: "Daubenmire is correct here, sort of. Christ's death was not a 'compromise.' It was an unconditional surrender."

While acknowledging the truth of Slacktivist's argument here, and affirming how it turns Daubenmire's idea on its head, I'm not at all convinced that compromise is always such a bad thing.
  • When the apostle Paul spoke to the people of Athens, he did not immediately condemn them for their idolatry. Instead, he began his speech by complimenting them! "I see that in every way you are very religious." (Acts 17:23) He used this "compromise" to make sure that his audience was open to hearing his message!
  • Or what about Paul's willingness to have Timothy circumcised (Acts 16) despite his passionate protestations against its necessity in his epistles (for example, read 1 Corinthians 7:18)?
  • Or, in what may be argued to be one of the largest compromises made by Christians on behalf of bringing in new converts, the letter Paul and the elders at the Council of Jerusalem had written to the new Christians in Antioch (Acts 15, especially verses 24-29)? The Council chose to make the "compromise" of not requiring new Christians to have to follow all of the Jewish laws (including circumcision), suggesting only that they follow a few key teachings. Is this not the very heart of compromise?
I'm certainly not trying to suggest that Christians shouldn't pursue God with everything that they are, but it seems to me that "compromise" is in no way contrary to following God's will. If Paul, one of the central figures of our faith, and one who was extremely zealous about following God, can be seen as compromising in appropriate situations, why do so many Christians of today consider it such a foul term?

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Please, Just Don't....

My wife was meeting our twin niece and nephew this past weekend (while I didn't get to go, myself, I can attest to the pictures and say that they are indeed adorable). Her sister was in Washington state for her 20-year high school reunion, and so my wife and her parents took advantage of the opportunity to provide some baby-sitting assistance while "mom and dad" got some time to enjoy meeting up with old friends.

While spending some time with some of these old friends together in a larger group setting, one of them observed the wedding ring on my wife's finger while playing with one of the babies. The inevitable question came: "So, when do you and your husband plan to have kids of your own?"

This is a question that, really, should never be asked for a number of reasons.
  1. It betrays some presuppositions that simply may not be shared. Many couples, for many reasons, do not wish to have kids. That's their business. They shouldn't have to be put on the defensive and explain their reasons for not having their own children, just because many people seem to assume that all married couples will have kids someday.
  2. For all the person asking this question knows, the person being asked this question may desperately want to have kids, but the couple is infertile. This is a source of deep pain for many such couples, and such a question invariably brings this pain back to the surface.
  3. Let's assume that the couple is physically capable of having kids. Is there really any good answer to this question? A definitive "yes," such as "Oh, we'll have them next year," or "We'll have them when I finish my degree" just reinforces the supposition that something's wrong with (or, at least, incomplete about) a couple until they start having kids. If someone dares to answer with "We don't plan to have kids," it's invariably met with a look of shock, as if you'd just suggested that monkeys were sprouting wings and learning to fly. And the theoretical middle ground, "We haven't decided yet," generally leads to the question "why not?" which, as I indicated earlier, really isn't anybody's business but the couples' own.
So, please, just don't ask this question anymore. Nothing good can come of it.

Monday, October 09, 2006

When Transformers and Churches Get Together...

I'm not sure if I should laugh or cry, but it's so seldom I see something that combines the two major foci of this blog (Christian life and Transformers toys), that I simply must include a link:

Thanks to the Pilgrim at First and Lake of locustyears for bringing this to my attention.

Friday, October 06, 2006

BotCon 2006 part 4

I've written a lot about some of the specific events, but I really haven't said much about the convention overall, and here it is, the end of the week. Well, now's the time to get everything out, no matter how long this entry gets!

First, the Dealer Room was pretty good. It didn't strike me as quite as large as Anaheim in 1998, or Pasadena in 2004, but there definitely was a lot of unused space in Pasadena, so I expect that the Pasadena Dealer Room may actually have had fewer sellers. I can't be sure. Either way, it definitely had a good variety of folks there, although I was surprised that no one seemed to have the Classics figures (which had been reported as just now beginning to show up in some stores) available. Maybe they just sold out before we saw them. We were also surprised not to see a booth from the Reprolabels folks, who were (to the best of my recollection) at both of the other conventions I was at.

While there wasn't a separate art room at this convention, as there had been at the other BotCons I attended, there were definitely a fair number of pieces on display. My favorite was this huge Devastator, with lots of "easter eggs" scattered across its massive form. You'll probably want to click on the picture for a larger image from which to search for all the Transformers toys on this guy. No one was surprised to hear this piece announced as one of the big winners in the art contest.

Also worth noting was the Menasor created using Alternators vehicles that someone else had done. I think this one also won a prize, although I'm not sure. While I was present for the announcement of who won the art contests at the dinner/casino night on Saturday, I couldn't remember many of the names the pieces were given, and I don't recall anything specifically "Menasory" about the names I heard announced as winners. Anyway, if this one didn't win, it should have!

One of the dealers had a whole bunch of original G1 art on display that you could buy, if you had enough money on hand. The cheapest stuff was listed at being $650! Needless to say, I had to settle for taking pictures like this one. The same guy had a bunch of boxed figures with their original toy store stickers on them, but no updated price tag, leading my brother to joke "yeah, I'll buy that one for 10 bucks!" If only!

One of the highlights of the Dealer Room was the large booth from which the Hartman brothers were selling off their legendary Transformers collection. As promised, they kept prices manageable, and I expect that most fans who wanted to get something from this booth were able to find something in their price range. My brother picked up a loose Ratchet from the Hartman booth, which he is now proud to call his own. I was tempted to pick up a loose Seacon with its card for about $25 (a fair price for such an item, especially given the minor bragging rights of saying "I have a piece of the Hartman collection"), but couldn't quite make myself do it. (If I had, I'd no doubt be looking to get the rest of the set! Best not to get started on the Seacons until I'm financially able to deal with getting all of them together.)

As is typical for many fan conventions, there were a few folks who came in costume. These two, dressed up as Soundwave and Starscream, were especially good.

I was a bit disappointed that there was no "script reading" this year. This has been something of a tradition over the years BotCon has been around, whereby the various voice actors get together and read a sktech especially prepared for the convention in the roles they made famous in the cartoon. It's always rather tongue-in-cheek, and often hilarious, but we were told at the dinner/casino that the venue just wasn't appropriate for it this year. Well, I agree that they couldn't do it at the dinner/casino, but they could have had a forum specifically for the purpose, like they did in 2004 (all other "script readings" were indeed during a dinner, but there was no dinner at BotCon 2004).

Not being the most social of people in person, I nevertheless did get to talk to a couple of online friends during my time there (you know who you are!). Also, I'm glad to finally have a face to put on Brian Savage's name, despite the fact that I did not speak with him personally. I do still think that there are a number of problems that Savage's organization (Fun Publications) needs to work on that other convention organizers were better at, but it definitely does seem clear that the convention is in solid hands nonetheless. Although Savage has, historically, not responded as well as might be hoped to criticism in his immediate comments to fans, it is clear that he does actually listen despite the appearance that had been created a year ago.

In that vein, it's worth noting that the news that next year's convention in Rhode Island will be in the summer may be more related to the fact of the movie's July 4th release date than in response to the fans requesting a summer date, but you can be sure that Brian will be looking very carefully at the numbers of fans that show up at the 2007 convention. If you're one of those who want to see conventions in the summertime in the future, BotCon 2007 will the time to put up or shut up. The numbers that came to the convention this year were quite high. If we can't beat that next year, we have no reason to expect Brian to see any purpose in holding BotCon in the summertime ever again.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

BotCon 2006 part 3

They say brevity is the soul of wit. Unfortunately, I've found that I simply cannot be as brief as I would like in my reflections on BotCon this past weekend. I had originally planned just to do one entry on this matter, and now I find that I can't even fit it all into a regular Monday-Wednesday-Friday week of posts! Ah, well. It's my blog, I can break my own rules if I want to!

Saturday night was the combined Casino night/dinner. Since the doors to this event didn't open until 7 pm, yet everything else was closed at 5 pm, my brother and I found ourselves with time on our hands. I expect that this gap was intended a) to allow Brian and the Fun Publications staff to finish getting all the preparations ready while not spreading themselves too thin, b) to allow convention attendees a chance to go up to their hotel rooms and change into dinner clothes (the dinner had a dress code forbidding t-shirts and shorts, although I did see a few people wearing such in line, and don't know if anyone was turned away). But my brother and I were commuting from Louisville, a little over an hour away, so we couldn't go back home during the break. We just had to stick around.

Perhaps that wasn't such a bad thing. By a little after 6 pm, we'd realized that a line was already starting to form outside the ballroom where the dinner was to be held, and decided that we had nothing to lose by taking our places in line. As it got closer to 7, the line was stretching all the way around the rather large mall area outside the ballroom. There were LOTS of people at this event. It's a little hard to imagine that FP wasn't prepared for so many, since anybody attending the dinner had to be pre-registered, but there were clearly more people coming than they had expected.

By the time we got inside, it was clear that there were tons of people trying to get to the food, although the buffets were set up so that there could be multiple lines (rather than just one or two for all items), which helped a bit. My brother and I just went to the very last buffet tables (those featuring salad and California rolls, which apparently few people wanted) and got some food there, expecting to come back later when the lines had died down. Brian had specifically said that the food would be replenished throughout the event.

After getting our food, we quickly found that there weren't anything remotely close to enough tables to sit at and eat, but we found a couple of chairs on the sides and ate there without tables. I was a bit confused when it came to the matter of drinks, as well. I didn't see the table on one end of the room for tea and water, seeing only a couple of tables on each end for bar drinks. I've never gotten into the habit of drinking alcohol, myself, but thinking this was the only option, I went up to one of the bars and asked for some grapefruit juice. I was given a very small glass and charged $2.00! Although I thought the price outrageous, I coughed it up, but didn't leave a tip in the glass jar set aside for that purpose. But not seeing the "free" beverages may be my own fault as much as anything....

We finished our salads pretty quickly, and so decided to start playing games. Since most of the hordes had not yet gotten their food, there were very few people playing the games at that point, so we sat down at one of the blackjack tables and played a few hands by ourselves. Starting with 100 credits, we left with 110 credits, but no one had yet started awarding prizes at these tables.

Getting up to see what else was available (it was at this point that I finally discovered the water), we quickly found out that the bingo games were free! So we joined in and stayed there pretty much the rest of the evening. I got up one more time to try to spend some of my credits, but didn't win anything in the effort, and quickly rejoined my brother at bingo. I also tried to get some more food during one of the breaks between bingo games, but found that the buffet tables were mostly depleted. I got a little bit of fatty roast beef, but that was about it. My brother didn't find anything at all when he did a similar search a bit later. So much for "replenished throughout the event."

Bingo was pretty fun, although I felt that the person calling the numbers needed a sedative. I really hate it when they try to force enthusiasm by making everyone scream real loud between every game. Just call the numbers. If I win, I'll scream then. ;) (My brother did, in fact, win a Transformer by winning a bingo game) Having played the free bingo games for most of the evening, we ended up giving our now-practically-worthless credits to a couple of folks at the card tables with about 5 minutes left to spend them. If it did them any good, I'll be surprised, but glad to have been of service.

All in all, we were glad we went to the event, despite the obvious problems. Between my brother and I (I won a prize by having my number called during the raffle they called numbers for every half-hour), we won about $30 worth of free Transformers! We also got to be there for the live announcement that next year's BotCon would be in Providence, Rhode Island, the week before the new Transformers movie comes out (i.e., the either the end of June or the beginning of July, but definitely in the summer!). Happy, but exhausted, we left for home, and I caught a plane for Southern California the following day, my 2006 convention experience at an end.

I actually still have some overall comments on the convention, particularly in regard to the Dealer Room, but this is more than enough for readers to slog through in one sitting, so I'll deal with that tomorrow.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

BotCon 2006 part 2

I pretty much only got to talk about the game show at BotCon on Monday, and even that took a fair bit of space. Let's see if I can cover the other aspects of the convention with a bit more brevity....

The other main event my brother and I attended on Friday was the TCC Newsletter and Convention Comic panel, where we got a couple of insights into how the club is being run. Of particular interest to me was the fact that, although Fun Publications has been pressuring Takara to complete the production of Astrotrain (the promised first club exclusive), the folks at Takara tend to shuffle their feet for small runs, hoping that the group seeking such runs will eventually give up (note: this doesn't seem to be a problem for Japanese companies like eHobby, or for the "Lucky Draw" exclusives, of which very few are ever made. One can only assume that the fact that Fun Publications is an American company is a factor.). FP hasn't given up, but this attitude has contributed to the delay in getting Astrotrain to club members. FP currently expects pre-orders to be available in November, with the toy shipping around February or March.

Since we were commuting from Louisville, and since most of the events we wanted to see were on Saturday, my brother and I actually left the convention by dinnertime, although we did spend some time in the Dealer Room (which I'll talk about more on Friday's blog entry). On Saturday, we arrived around 10 am or so to see the line of walk-in hopefuls waiting to get in. It was very long, and we were glad we had pre-registered. I was also glad I had made the extra trip on Friday to pick up my exclusives, as they were already sold out by the time we'd arrived on Saturday.

After a short time in the Dealer Room, we went to the Hasbro product unveiling. Although there were a few new revelations, including the expected repaint of Classics Bumblebee into Cliffjumper (but apparently without bothering to remold the head), but most of the stuff they talked about had already been revealed online. They also showed a brief video clip designed to hype the upcoming movie, but it really wasn't anything special, and didn't show any Transformers (at least, not as robots) at all. It could have a been pretty much any summer movie. Lots of explosions and cars flipping, but nothing much else. Still, the crowd seemed to be pleased, and asked for a second viewing. Since this was the end of the forum, my brother and I skipped out of the second viewing to get in the line for Peter Cullen autographs.

I've already shown off a picture demonstrating that I had gotten to the end of that line, but here's one with my brother, who had Cullen sign his re-issue Optimus Prime, followed by a close-up of the signed box.

Unfortunately, the autograph line was very long, and so we were unable to attend the Transformers Club Roundtable, which wasn't too big a deal to my brother, who's not a club member, but I really wanted to be there. Ahh, well. I guess that's what we get for choosing not to go to the first Cullen signing, which would have required that we arrive by 9:30 that morning.

Part of the reason we chose not to do that is because we knew that Saturday would be our long day, culminating with the Casino Night and Dinner that evening. I've got plenty of comments on that, too, but it seems that I've already written for quite a long stretch, and I've got quite a bit to say about this, so I'll just close with this picture of the line waiting to get in to the dinner, and promise to continue my BotCon reflections with a bonus entry tomorrow, finishing with more general reflections on Friday.

Monday, October 02, 2006

BotCon 2006 part 1

Well, this year's BotCon has come and gone. While I was not able to spend the entire weekend at the convention, I spend a good part of Friday and most of Saturday there. Lots of stuff to talk about, but here are a few highlights for right now.

After collecting my box set of toys and securing the extra souvenirs (at a whopping $150 more for those four figures!) on Friday, the first thing my brother and I got to see was the "Faction Feud" game (or, at least, the first rounds of it. We didn't get to see the ones they played on Sunday). While these first games were plagued by a bit of technical difficulties, and some confusion that is perfectly natural for the first time doing a particular kind of attraction, the basic format of the game worked well, and I think was a lot of fun for all concerned. I like to think that I had a hand in getting that idea off the ground when I first suggested doing a "game show" event at the top of the year on the club message boards, and although the game that was played was not quite as I had envisioned it at the time, I think that it was very successful, and has tremendous potential for future conventions as they work out the kinks. One suggestion: Don't make the third round worth so much that it invalidates the previous rounds put together (in this case, it was 1000 points per question in Rounds 1 and 2, and 10000 points per question in Round 3). Rather, I would suggest 1000 points each in Round 1, 2000 points in Round 2, and 3000 points in Round 3. It's perfectly fine for later Rounds to be worth more, to make it possible for a team behind to catch up if they rally. But the point system used here was excessive.

I'm spending much of today catching up at work, making up for the days I took off to attend the convention. I'll have lots more to say on Wednesday when I've got more time to devote to typing it all out. In the meantime, I will close by adding that it was a privilege to meet Peter Cullen (voice of Optimus Prime), who was kind enough to stay beyond his previously-agreed autograph time to make sure that everyone that made it in line got a chance to see him. While I'd gotten an autograph of Cullen in 2004, that was part of the pre-registration package, and I did not actually meet him at that time. This year, I corrected that oversight. Here's a picture my brother took while I was getting my program signed (click the picture for a larger version).


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