Tuesday, March 29, 2005


A drink with Dan Weyandt

An evening with Zao

I had a great night last night. I went to a concert with one of my favorite bands: the almighty ZAO! (Which is greek for 'Alive'.) Their last album is one of my favorite albums ever, and I've been developing an idea for a sculpture based on it. The lyrics are very dark and convoluted, but also very visual. There are several ways to interpret many of the songs, so I thought it would be cool to talk to the man who wrote them about my project and get some feedback on my interpretations, and what he was thinking. So I made sure to get to the show early and check the bar/restaurant that is part of the venue to see if I could see him. There were 3 bands playing before them, so I knew they had to be hanging out somewhere. Sure enough, Zao was eating in the bar. I had written a little note for Dan, (The songwriter and vocalist) on the back of a picture of one of my sculptures that said who I was, and about my project, and that I'd love to talk if he was interested. I figured they would hate to have random fans interrupting a meal, so I just quickly said hi and handed him the card with my note. Then I went and got my bag that had pictures of some of my other sculptures and a Lion Heart I made for him, and dropped those off, again, excusing myself quickly. He told me he really liked my stuff.

So I went back out to the main show and headed over to the merchandise booth to get a couple shirts. Zao's van was broken into and they lost all their personal stuff, so I wanted to help them out a bit. As I was buying the shirts, Dan came up behind me and we started to talk. I asked him if he could talk after the show, and he said it would be better to do it right then, since they had a while before they went on. So we went back in the bar and sat down. I showed him my sketches for the sculpture and explained what it was going to be like and asked him to elucidate on his writing for the album. I pulled out the CD booklet and we went through it, song by song and I got his perspective on them. He was really cool. Laid back and affable. He said he doesn’t speak well 'on the spot' and he needs time to write things down to really sort his thoughts out. But regardless, he gave me a lot of good information. The most useful being that he was trying to use a heavy since of irony throughout the lyrics. And that he was trying to build a sense of dread. Which would seem obvious if you follow the story. But now I see a lot of the visual elements, and the way he describes them as being tools to evoke that. I asked about several of the images he writes, and he told me the inspiration for them.

After talking about the project we just chatted about random stuff like his tattoo shop, cell phones, touring, and the next Zao album. We exchanged numbers and I told him I would keep him updated on the progress of the sculpture. He seemed enthusiastic about it, saying several times that he's really looking forward to seeing it and telling me to call him as soon as he's back home so he can get me his email.

I was apprehensive before the going, worried that I wouldn't be able to find Dan, or that he might not want to talk. I didn't know if he would be too 'rock star' to want to banter with fans. Zao is on a pretty good label now and their videos are on MTV, so I imagine that could get to people's heads. But he was a real, vulnerable, open, and friendly guy. So now I'm an even bigger fan of Zao.

Monday, March 28, 2005

My Big Dream

I'm going to get grandiloquent and voluble for a while here. Because that's what dreams are for…

My name is Joshua Caleb Foreman. In the Bible, Joshua and Caleb were sent into hostile territory to survey the land that God had promised them. Out of 12 spies, they were the only ones to say "We can take it!" Not because they felt like they had superior forces, but because God told them they would. Joshua is best known for the battle of Jericho. God used his leadership to destroy what was thought to be an impenetrable wall.
Well, today this Joshua sees a wall that needs to be knocked down. This wall is keeping a nation, and much of the world hostage. I'm talking about Hollywood. Who has the power to shape the culture? Politicians in government? A little. But rules never change hearts. Religion? Most of it is fake, and the stuff that isn't has been marginalized. The media? Sure, they have a big impact. They show us the world through their own distorted lens. But I think the real big culture-shaping forces are the story tellers. The artists, musicians and movie-makers. They don't convert people. They seldom convince people. But they lay the foundation for those who do. Stories impart value, often so subtly that you can't notice. And it's an accumulative effect. But the values they impart are like a tsunami: in the deep ocean they appear to be no more than a ripple, but by the time they reach the shore, the momentum and compression creates unstoppable mountains of water. I'll use an example. Susan sees Superman 3 when she is 6 years old. In one scene, Superman and Louis Lane wake up in bed together, clearly insinuating that they slept together out of wedlock. Can this one little detail in one little movie she will probably forget really impact her life and the decisions she will make. Not by itself. When she's 8 she stays up late with her older sister and watches The Breakfast Club. It's a story of a group of High School kids stuck in detention on a Saturday morning. They all hate each other and are fighting, until they finally come together against the authority of the teacher in charge, sneak off and smoke marijuana together. By the end of the film they are all friends and understand each other. I could go on listing movie after movie replete with these wonderful lessons, but I think you get the point.
What do all of these stories have in common? Absolutely no negative repercussions for immoral behavior. In fact, nothing but good comes from it. Again, I'm not saying that people consciously walk through the logic like, "The kids in Breakfast Club did drugs and had fun and became popular, therefore if I do drugs the same thing will happen to me." Of course not. Susan probably won't go seeking drugs out. Most kids don't. Drugs come to them. She won't start looking for sex, boys will be pressuring her for it. And that moment is like the shore compressing the years of 'lessons' they have learned into a tidal wave of temptation that can easily overpower a person. There is no logic to it. It's pure habit at that point. They have been wired to accept a certain way of thinking by a lifetime of bad story consumption. Drugs, casual sex, vengeance… I can list on one hand the number of films that actually show realistic consequences for these things. (The move Requiem for a Dream springs to mind.)

These examples are about basic morality. Morality is nice, but it's not salvation. As a Christian, my goal in life is for others to spend eternity with Christ, not just be good, moral people. Morality is a standard of conduct, and salvation is a matter of the heart. Morality is outside-in, salvation inside-out. So why should one care about both? Because the heart can be deceived so easily. It can be made to hear only certain messages, and block others out. No matter how open-minded, (or empty-minded) you are, your heart still directs your mind. It sets the path that your thoughts travel. It puts up the lens through which you see, perceive, categorize, and judge everything. So when the message of salvation is dropped on a heart that has been hardened and deceived, it does not take root.

Mark 4:
3 "Listen! A sower went out to sow. 4 And as he sowed, some seed fell along the path, and the birds came and devoured it. 5 Other seed fell on rocky ground, where it had not much soil, and immediately it sprang up, since it had no depth of soil; 6 and when the sun rose it was scorched, and since it had no root it withered away. 7 Other seed fell among thorns and the thorns grew up and choked it, and it yielded no grain. 8 And other seeds fell into good soil and brought forth grain, growing up and increasing and yielding thirtyfold and sixtyfold and a hundredfold."…

13 And he said to them, "Do you not understand this parable? How then will you understand all the parables? 14 The sower sows the word. 15 And these are the ones along the path, where the word is sown; when they hear, Satan immediately comes and takes away the word which is sown in them. 16 And these in like manner are the ones sown upon rocky ground, who, when they hear the word, immediately receive it with joy; 17 and they have no root in themselves, but endure for a while; then, when tribulation or persecution arises on account of the word, immediately they fall away. 18 And others are the ones sown among thorns; they are those who hear the word, 19 but the cares of the world, and the delight in riches, and the desire for other things, enter in and choke the word, and it proves unfruitful. 20 But those that were sown upon the good soil are the ones who hear the word and accept it and bear fruit, thirtyfold and sixtyfold and a hundredfold."

How is the soil of the heart prepared? What makes the ground rocky, thorny, shallow, or fertile? The answer of course is manifold, and far too complex to cover here. But I do know what can change it. The language of the heart: the story. Jesus spoke directly to hearts through the story. Every society throughout history recorded its mores and morals in stories to imbue them in the next generation. And Hollywood is doing it now. So what kind of a job are they doing? Well, how many people think that drugs and casual sex are a good thing? Well, more do now then ever. But I submit it's a far smaller percentage than what the storytellers imply. So why does the public continue to consume stories that they disagree with? Because it's all done under the table. It's about leaving things out, not preaching. Very few movies state their moral underpinnings explicitly. The characters never say, "Gee, drugs are great, and nothing bad seems to come of its use!" No, they are just shown having a great time having fun, witty banter with the other characters while doing drugs.

Hollywood just keeps pumping out this execrable miasma, poisoning popular culture and choking out most hope of a revival of the souls of those caught in it. Content with teaching their anti-lessons, and parading around in front of each other each year in the form of the most detestable, pompous, self-congratulatory ceremony ever created. Their demonic masturbatory grins as they pat each others backs sicken me! UGH! But I supposed that is neither here nor there. The point is that I want to TAKE DOWN THAT WALL! How? Well, I've seen some good news on that front. I've seen some cracks. Witness The Lord of the Rings phenomenon. As I write this The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, (The fantasy novel by my favorite author) is in production. Here are two stories with a basic Christian ethos and understanding of reality. I believe they slipped through the cracks because they are shrouded in fantasy garb. But that is OK. The story still strikes the heart. It still rouses truth and goodness.

So with these successes in mind, let me tell you about my plan. My big dream. I've never heard of anything quite like it, which means it's either brilliant, or stupid. Time will tell I suppose…


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New World Vision
By Josh Foreman with contributions from Lelia Foreman
Started on September 15, 2003, using ideas from as long ago as 1990
~


Introduction

~

This is the first document created to record my concept for a fiction world. It will doubtless undergo countless revisions over the course of several years until I have things nailed down, and then a more formal document will be created. This doc will be informal and conversational in tone.
The basic idea is to create a fictional world for artists to create art in. A world that will have as much popular culture weight as Star Wars or Lord of the Rings. I want to build a company around the idea of an ever-expanding, super detailed universe that maintains consistency in all of its iterations.
And an overarching goal is to imbue each story, character, and song with a basically Christian ethos. An underlying understanding of reality as it is revealed in the Bible. This does not mean that I want sermons. In fact, quite the contrary. The goal is not to be the seed-planters, but rather the field-plowers. As paul said: " 6 I planted, Apol'los watered, but God gave the growth. 7 So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth."
I see my job as neither planting or watering, but rather, preparing the soil of the heart to receive the seeds when they are planted, so it won't be like Jesus' example: " 4 And as he sowed, some seeds fell along the path, and the birds came and devoured them. 5 Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they had not much soil, and immediately they sprang up, since they had no depth of soil, 6 but when the sun rose they were scorched; and since they had no root they withered away. 7 Other seeds fell upon thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them. 8"

I believe that by creating compelling entertainment that is imbued with truth just under the surface, I can do what God has called me to do, and begin to reshape my wayward culture.



Vision
~

Note: I have not named anything yet. I can’t until I have the world’s first proto-language. For now we will call the planet New World.
I intend to approach the creation of this ‘universe’ and its inhabitants with a scientific perspective. If a fairy’s body mass is disproportionate to its wing’s tensile strength or the caloric intake would be insufficient to power it, the fairy will not happen. Chemistry, biology, physics, etc. all work the same on this planet as they do on earth. I believe that utilizing a known, standard set of rules will allow for a consistency and depth that has never been achieved in a fantasy-oriented fictional world before.

“What are you talking about? Sci-fi worlds are usually scientifically accurate, right?”

Why yes, they are. But no world has ever achieved the depth and detail that the New World ‘universe’ will have.

“More than Tolkien’s Middle Earth? He was a brilliant linguist and author who created scores of languages and thousands of years of history. How can New World possibly compete with that?”

Tolkien did it alone. I will not. I plan on utilizing the shared knowledge and creativity of hundreds of scientists, authors, linguists, song-writers, artists, and Roman Plumbing experts to forge this world of unsurpassed depth. You see, New World is not being created as a backdrop for a story or two. It is being created to be the springboard for a thousand stories, songs, sculptures, games, and poetry. The creation of this world is not a means to an end. This work is my art. I don’t want to make a franchise with it; I want to build a company around it. New World will not be a book that was turned into a movie and a video game. It will not be a video game that was turned into a book and a movie. New World will be a genre-less creation. (Unless world-creation is a genre.) It will provide the backdrop and tools for hundreds of artists to work in, expanding it.

“Like Star Wars has its Expanded Universe set of books, comics, and games?”

Yes, like that. But unlike George Lucas, I will not be focused on only one story and medium in the universe to the exclusion of the others. Lucas completely ignores what the other artists have given to his universe. That bugs the snot out of me. Why license your stuff if you don’t keep things consistent? I don’t get it. Well, actually I do. It’s about pride. I don’t think Lucas can admit that there are better story tellers using his world. Well I don’t have that problem. I know I suck. I am a jack of all trades, master of none. That knowledge empowers me to put specific tasks in the hands of more capable people.

Anyway, the main reason most fiction universes get inconsistent is that many people in many companies have to make up a bunch of stuff to make their stories happen. Why do they have to make stuff up? Because the universe was based on one story or medium. And many things about the world just weren’t necessary for the telling of that story. But when someone else makes new characters or places within that universe, they usually have to fill holes. You have enough different people in different places at different times filling holes and you are sure to get inconsistency. It’s a top-down solution to creating a universe. I propose a bottom-up solution.



The Short-term Plan

~

Start the way God did it. Since creating a world is just like a baby imitating its father, I will look at the way God did things. Of course, I have it easy. He already made up the physics, chemistry, math, geology, and every other system that makes up our physical reality. So I will just look to those who understand those systems for feedback as I begin to form this universe.
As I began to put my various ideas together one thing became apparent very quickly. There is an enormous amount of interdependencies when it comes to making up a world. The first one to pop up was the problems of names. What do I call this world, its inhabitants, its land masses, and everything else? I can’t just make stuff up. That’s not how our world’s stuff got names. So I realized I need a proto-language. Something like whatever was spoken before Babel. I figure that with beings that live millions of years, (the Ancient Ones, a giant, deep-sea dwelling people.) there could actually be one, ancient language that most of the others have roots in. And that ancient language could be the base for naming many things such as the world, moons, oceans, continents, races, etc. So now I need a linguist. But what do I tell them? To make a convincing language, they need to know a lot about the culture that created it. That means I will need to provide a history of the planet going back to the dawn of civilization. Take into account that there are around a dozen sentient races and we have a lot to figure out. The environment shapes cultures in huge ways. So I need to figure out stuff about the environment they come from. Which leads us back to geological considerations. How many continents are there on this world. Where are the oceanic conveyer belts? How many tectonic plates? Which way are they sliding? How fast? How old is this planet anyway? What happens to the tides if there is more than one moon? That is where I am at now. The geological level.
So how do I get the information I need? I’m still figuring that out. I am currently studying geology so that I can make a good guess at an appropriate design. Once I have that, I will want to check it with scientists who can correct any mistakes and assumptions I have made due to my ignorance of the field. I have not had any luck in contacting the university professors that I have solicited in this matter yet.
That is simple consulting work. I think many would do that just for fun. But what about a linguist who has to put considerably more time and effort into creating a language? How do I compensate them fairly, when I have a current budget of $0.00? I can’t really promise them a share of the profits when I am a millionaire. For starters, I’m pretty sure I never will be one. For seconds, even if I did become successful with this idea, the sheer amount of individuals I will need to get to that point will probably be far too great to be sending profit percentages to. I can certainly trade art services to some. (I have offered one linguist a sort of Rosetta Stone carved with the language he creates for me in return.) But I doubt that will work with everyone. This matter has yet to be resolved. It is possible that I am overestimating the amount of individuals that I will need in order to get New World started.



The Long Term Goal

~

My goal is to be Creative Director at New World Headquarters in Bend, Oregon. I will oversee -on the high level- the production of every product associated with the New World universe. I, along a small team, will ensure that a common vision is carried out through each story, game, toy, etc. Companies will contract with mine to create products based on New World. I will have a team of experts to consult at these companies, to make sure every aspect of their story fits into the world. One of these people will be the Official New World Historian. They will be the main continuity specialist. The skeleton of the history of New World will be available for fleshing out by anyone deemed worthy to do so. As these details are made and approved, the Official New World Historian will add them to a growing database that can be accessed by all the New World contributing artists. They will be able to cross check facts with their own ideas.



How to get there

~

Uuuh… Um. Hmm. Well, I’ll need a business-savvy, trustworthy individual to partner with eventually. I’ll need a business plan. I assume the best rout to building a brand is to start with the cheaper products, such as comics, books, music, animation shorts, and maybe toys. (As opposed to making a movie or television series.) Though there are still considerable amounts of work and money involved in getting these kinds of things rolling as well.
Personally, I will need experience organizing and leading a group of creative individuals. I have some experience, but probably not enough. Fortunately, I have enough artistic skill to do most of the early conceptual work, so I can lay a lot of ground work before I need to involve anyone else.
At some point I will need to find enthusiastic contributors who are willing to work hard for a possible pay off in the future.

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So there it is. My big dream. Big enough for you? You wanna help?

Saturday, March 19, 2005


Lionheart

The gift that keeps on giving

I'm so pleased with this thing I made at Christmas. Not so much because it's a great piece of art. But because it's the first time I've successfully pulled of a replicated sculpture. I made a good mold of the original, and I've been making copies as the need arises. I must have made at least a dozen of them now. I've been giving them out to those who have captured my heart or imagination. My pastor, our church's Benevolence Ministry coordinator, my nanny's family, a teenager I've never met but know from an internet forum; who I wanted to encourage to follow her artistic and spiritual calling. It is so great to be able to do this. I think I'll make it a yearly tradition to make a small sculpture that I can reproduce and give out as God guides my heart. I can hopefully sell some as well. (I've already got two sales on this one.)

The one pictured is not my favorite paint job. Most of them I make either silver and red, or ivory and red.

I'm still working on the other part to this piece. It's a 3-foot tall cross with the words FIERCE LOVE emblazoned on it. The Lionheart will be the centerpiece to it. It has turned into quite a huge and elaborate project. (As they ALL do!) So I'm not sure when I'll get it done.

My arms are empty

My arms are empty and my chest is bare.

Where is the delicate mind ensconced in silken skin to adorn it?

To rest upon my heart. To resonate with the rhythm of it.

One moment to the next, adrift in timeless bliss.

This gift. A gift that God hath bestowed upon my bosom.

The breath of another sweet child of His against my worn and battered spirit.

A sharpening of kindred goals, hopes, and dreams.

Please God, don't take this from me.

How to train a snake

Dear Mr. Knowitall,

I'm thinking of getting a pet snake. Do you have any advice?

Snakes are rare, and intriguing creatures. Found only on one continent, they are prized for their fine pelts, and winning personalities. There are three basic kinds of snakes that the beginning snake collector should consider. Try to think about which kind fits your lifestyle and needs the best. First, there are the pathetic, lame, wimpy ones. These are the kind that no one really wants. They don't have poison, and can hardly kill anything. The only type of people who would want this kind of a snake would be infants, and possibly really old people. I'm not certain of this; I've never talked to any really old people so I can't be sure.

The second kind are the really cool ones you see in movies such as King Kong, and… Well, that's the only one I can think of right now. These are like having your own personal monster. They can crush pretty much anything; even cars. And they have enough poison to kill eleven strong men. (And about 13 women.) (And maybe 40 small dogs.) (And if my math is correct: 9,347 sparrows)

The third kind are Basilisks. I don't recommend these, as one glance from them turns you to stone.

So now that you've decided which kind you want, (The cool poisonous viper) you will need to know how to handle them. There are 3 things you need to know about the personality of venomous snakes:

  1. They are smarter than we give them credit for. About as smart as High School graduate who was home-schooled in Alaska.
  2. They love getting their faces rubbed. It soothes them.
  3. They are always less afraid of you than you are of them.

Understanding the inner workings of your snake is the key to training, and enjoying your pet. Also: to become the Reigning World Champion Snake Charmer. The first thing you need to do is to show them the respect they deserve. This is the only way you can build the necessary trusting relationship. Snakes need to feel loved and needed. They need to feel like they are the only thing you think about night and day. Learn their 'Love Language'. For some snakes it is touch. Just a simple caress when you get home from work will make them feel special and loved. Others want you to clean the house for them. They might think that you don't care about the relationship unless you are on your knees scrubbing the toilets incessantly. Some just need serious talk time. They want to hear all about your day, who said what, and what you are thinking about. And they HATE it when you say, "Nothing.". They know you were thinking something!

Building this Trust Bond takes time. It varies based on the family of snake. The deadly cobra takes about a year, the venomous rattle-snake requires two years, and the perilous sea snake can take up to five years. (Because the water-to-air density discrepancy mitigates Trust like you wouldn't believe!)

Once you have achieved the Trust Bond you will be well on your way to victory in the World Champion Snake Charmer competition which is held every 13 years on a skull-shaped, volcanic island just north of Fiji. With the following knowledge, you can train your snake to do things you may not have ever imagined in your wildest dreams. (You know, the one where you are piloting some kind of giant, inflatable emu through a canyon full of cheese spaceships that keep shooting at your emu, and you have to peck them away before it pops, but your brother just shows up out of nowhere and keeps hitting you with an electrified shovel, and you're like, "Stop it! I have to keep the cheese away!", then it turns out it's not even your brother, but some kind of robot powered by psychic energy?) Well, here are some of the things that you can train your snake to do that are sure to impress the judges at the World Champion Snake Charmer competition:

  1. Teach it to bite its tail and go rigid, then hula-hoop with it.
  2. Unscrew a hard-to-reach lightbulb with its jaw.
  3. Snakes can sing if they are inspired.
  4. They can jump through flaming hoops. But that is so overdone. Train your snake to jump through a time portal.
  5. Teach it to drive a car. Of course not a stick shift!
  6. Since snakes are cold-blooded, you can freeze them and throw them like spears.
  7. Get your snake to wrap around a skull, like through the eye sockets and stuff. That looks RAD!
  8. If your snake is an electric eel, teach it to zap the other snakes during the race.
  9. Coil it up in a spring and slink it down stairs.
  10. With enough practice, your snake can breathe fire and shoot lasers out of its eyes. A diet of jalapeños will give it fire breath. And of course, Velveeta or American cheese will produce laser beam eyes.

Believe it or not, some people don't care about being the World Champion Snake Charmer. Even if you are one of these losers - and don't compete - you can still have a successful and rewarding relationship with your snake. Personally, I find you below contempt, and not even worthy of my time. It's because of people like you that famine and suffering exist in this world. You are the cogs in the machinery of human degradation and abasement. You are the muse of all things base and vulgar. You are the reason that J.F.K. was assassinated.

So while it is true that you are a waste of skin, I guess I'll still leave you with these valuable 'general care' tips for pet snakes:

  1. Always grab your venomous snake by the tip of its tail.
  2. Poisonous snakes love surprises. Try to startle it as often as possible.
  3. If you have enough faith, you can get bitten an infinite amount of times by your deadly snake. But if you are an unbeliever, try to limit it to a couple times a day.
  4. Like fish, snakes absorb oxygen through their scales. So don't keep them in their knitted sweaters for more than a few hours a day.
  5. When walking your snake, keep an eye out for eagles. They are the sworn enemy of snakes and will attack without provocation. Always bring Eagle Spray with you.
  6. There is something very important that you should never do with your snake, but I can't remember it. Drat!

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

How to survive in the wilderness

Dear Mr. Knowitall,

I'm lost in the woods. Do you have any advice?

There are several ways to save yourself from death when you are lost in the woods. I happen to know of a few ways that might work. Here are a few suggestions to start you off with:

  1. Forest fires can be your friend. If you burn down the woods, you won't have anywhere to be lost. Just make sure you stand in a lake or river so that the fire won't consume you along with the evil forest.
  2. But stay away from water if there is a lightning storm. If you have already started the forest fire, and then a lightning storm rolls in, then you are being punished for making fun of that retarded girl in 3rd grade.
  3. Moss always grows on the outside of trees and rocks. Use that to guide you.
  4. Water seldom travels uphill. Try not to drown in any of it.
  5. Remember, it takes fewer calories to scream and run around in circles flailing your arms than it does to think.
  6. You can easily outrun any sort of dangerous wildlife. It might improve your moral to mock them, then run away when they charge. Remember that if you loose your moral, something really bad will happen to you.
  7. Always, always remember that you eat food, but drink water.
  8. If you break a limb, don't worry, trees don't feel pain. (At least not much!)
  9. Survival is more a mental game than it is a physical one. Use your mental powers to wish yourself home.
  10. Be sure to tear your shirt off if you’re a man, and rip your skirt if you’re a woman. Being lost in the wilderness is much sexier that way.
  11. Never throw away your matches.
  12. If you have a helicopter with fuel, and you know how to fly it, use that to fly to civilization.

Assuming you are not in a magical forest, there are probably animals that you can kill and eat. Generally, humans are smarter than animals. This is fortunate, as animals are stronger, faster, have a better sense of smell, have fangs and claws, and don't rely on technology to keep them safe from nature. Really, now that I think about it, you don't have much of a chance. Smarts will only get you so far. Here are few ways to end your life before you are embarrassingly eaten by an animal:

  1. Walk directly into a large body of water while carrying your T.V. or other heavy object, and don't start swimming. Keep walking until you drown.
  2. Find the tallest tree and wait for it to fall on you.
  3. If you're in a rag-tag group of people who are getting picked off one-by-one by some sort of unseen foe, either complain a lot, act cowardly, or be the corporate jerk who is responsible for the whole mess.
  4. Find a native to befriend. They can probably talk to animals, and will think it's hilarious when they tell them to eat you.
  5. Eat as many pine-cones as you can as fast as you can.
  6. Find a really tall cliff and wait at the bottom for a boulder to fall on you.

If none of these steps work, you might as well try to get something to eat. Remember that for hundreds of years, people survived without supermarkets or SUVs, so you can too! Here are ways to feed yourself in nature:

  1. Look for holes in riverbanks or around trees. Ram your arm in and flail your hand around searching for eggs or something.
  2. Some berries are poisonous, so only eat enough to build up an immunity to their poison.
  3. Bread is made of wheat, which is a kind of a grass, so I guess you could eat grass.
  4. Look for spigots in the trunks of trees. They are probably collecting syrup. Add pancakes for a delicious breakfast.
  5. Roll in the mud to disguise yourself as a little rain cloud, then ride a balloon up to a beehive and steal the honey.
  6. Cows can chew their cud. Try that.
  7. Sometimes animals die of natural causes; their carcass's rotting on the forest floor covered in maggots. That's gross.
  8. I'll bet some kinds of moss are edible.
  9. Beware of Poison Ivy and Poison Oak. Those are NOT for eating. They are for wiping.
  10. If you have a grenade or TNT, throw it in a lake and it will kill a bunch of fish. The dead fish will float to the surface and attract crows, which you can kill by throwing rocks at them. Crow meat is not very tender, but it will do in a pinch.
  11. Mushrooms are super disgusting. Think about it: they are related to Athletes Foot. Also, they inspired some really crappy music in the 60's.
  12. If you want to kill and eat a bear, you better have a strong stick. Like at least three inches thick, and probably more than four feet long. You can just use it as a blunt weapon, or you can sharpen it and use the pointed end as a toothpick. (Because bear meat is really stringy and gets stuck in your teeth really easily.)

Once you have survived an ordeal like this, it's important to incorporate the experience into your life. In fact, you should try to work it into every conversation you have.

  1. "I'd like a Big Mac with… I once fought a bear. It was big. I mean REALLY BIG…"
  2. "Son, I am so proud of this report card. Like I'm proud of myself for finding my way out of that god-forsaken wilderness."
  3. Here is that report sir. I had to stay late to finish it… Almost as late as that night I tracked down the wolf that bit off my left foot. But I GOT her. AND her four young pups. Slaughtered them.
  4. Will you marry me? Hold on… Before you answer… Did I ever tell you about the time I had to drink my OWN BLOOD TO SURVIVE IN THE WILD?!?!

I hope these tips will help you in your search for survival. If not, I guess you won't be around to complain about it. Ha!

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Retreat to the mountains

I got to go to a church retreat this weekend. My mom came up and sat on my kids, so my brother and I could both go. It was a group of about 30 twenty-somethings. We drove 3 hours over the Cascades to a ranch with some really nice facilities. We had a speaker, but he didn't do much speaking. It was mostly a group sharing and exploration of topics kind of thing. His name is Phil, and he seems like a really cool guy. He's in some kind of leadership position at YWAM Seattle.

One of the topics was the interrelation of faith, (or the lack thereof) and sin. How much of our sinful actions are spawned from our desire to do things our way because we don't believe that God has a really great plan for our lives. I know I feel that way about my future romantic possibilities. I honestly don't think God wants me to be happy in that regard. Not that He maliciously wants me to be sad and lonely; but I'm just paying the very natural consequences of getting married at 18. Like a prisoner who becomes a Christian would be foolish to think that God doesn’t want them to be free and happy because they are in jail. It's not God's fault they committed the crime.

Anyway, that was a tangent. My point was that my lack of faith that I will be happy with a woman again at some point in my life, seems to undermine my decision to remain apart from women. Although I don't see it as a lack of faith. Hmm. That wasn't as much of a tangent as I thought it was. It's not like the Bible has a guarantee in it that says everyone gets a love-of-a-lifetime. So I can't call my belief that I won't get that a lack of faith. Or CAN I? Actually, if I look deeper, to what is really powering my passion to love a woman and be loved in return; I see that it's just a desire for happiness. Being married would make me happy. The lack of faith isn't about the specific mechanism through which I find my contentment, but rather, that I would find contentment in whatever God's plan for me is. I just can't imagine being happy without a woman to pour romance onto. THAT is my lack of faith. And I'll bet it has something to do with a lack of hope as well.

We spent a lot of time going over Hebrews 11. The Faith chapter. We talked about the great examples of faith that are listed there. The one that got the most attention from the group was:

Hebrews11:

31By faith the prostitute Rahab, because she welcomed the spies, was not killed with those who were disobedient.

She is certainly the most accessible of the heroes of the faith. She was a screw-up her whole life, (I can relate!) but at a certain moment, God gave her the wisdom, opportunity, and faith to make a choice that saved her and her family.

We did some small group talking stuff. I got to know some people a bit better. I got to read and pray a lot. Driving over the mountains is always great. So overall I had a great time. The happy couples only made me slightly sad and wistful. I'll give it an A-.

Rockin Love Song

::Swing in on rope from stage left::

Thank you, Bremerton!!!

::Audience cheers wildly::

::Band kicks in::

Baby, yeaaaaaaah!!

It's in your eyes

The way you walk

Tangled in your hair

And the way you talk

Ooooow!

::girl throws a bra onto stage::

And my heart!... My HEAAAAAAART!!!! Yeaow!

My heart keeps beating my brain up, baby

My heart keeps beating my brain up!

::Pyro FX shoot flames skyward::

Yeah! I could drown in your eyes. I could swim in your sooooooooul!

I wish I could stop it but my heart is in controooooooooool! Ow!

::Blazing guitar solo::

Baby yeaaaaaaaah!!

::Audience throws 4 bras on stage::

Yeah every time I see you… A tsunami of clichés washes over me!

I would die for you! You bring me to my knees! I can't get you out of my mind! You're driving me crazy, girl! Like an angel… one that drives people CRAZEEEEY!!!!

::Audience throws 8 bras on stage::

Ooooooooooooowwwwwah!

::Tempo slows and acoustic guitar kicks in::

No no noooo-oooo!

::Audience waves lighters::

Don't wanna fall, don't wanna fall, don't wanna fall for you-hooo.

My heart is on my sleeve, and I can't wipe it off. Like it's stuck with glue-hooo.

Can't stop this heart, can't stop this heart, can't stop this heart for you-hooo.

::Girl in audience screams then faints::

::Slow guitar solo::

Oooooh-woaaah-oooooh….

::Music picks up again::

Yeaooooooooooow!

My mind keeps racin' telling me to hang way back.

But my heart it keeps on revving up, keeping me on track.

My metaphors are mixin' I think I'm losing my mind.

You’re a speeding train one minute, then a shining star sometimes.

::Audience throws 32 bras on stage::

Wooooah!

:: jumps and lands in the splits::

Oooowww!!!

::Dump truck pulls up and spills 64 tons of bras on stage::

Mmgmmgmmmh! MmMmmmgh. Gha-murfffle, mmmm!

::Suffocates in pile of bras and dies::

Thursday, March 10, 2005

On being happy and finding love

One of the very first lessons on our journey towards wisdom is the concept of delayed gratification. The idea that to be happier later, we must sacrifice some happiness now. This is a universal rule that has application in every sphere of life. You see it in movies, books, and games. You practice it in a multitude of forms as you grow up in school. (Hopefully!) Most religions resound with it.

I want to explore these different manifestations, and see if I can discover why our society has apparently decided that this rule is no good for our love life.

I'll start with an area I'm familiar with: game design. I've been in the game industry for around 9 years, and I've been playing them since I was tiny. So I know a thing or two about games. First of all, a game is only fun if it taps into some primordial impulses. If the core mechanic fails to do that, any amount of bells and whistles you pile on top of it won't make the game fun. Different genres appeal to different basic instincts we all have. That is why some people prefer role playing games, and some only like fighting games. But every game, from Pac-Man to Final Fantasy has one thing in common. They all build on progression. Whether you are eating dots or leveling up your character to god-like stature, you start with little, and end up with more. And since it's a game, you have to do stuff in order for that to happen. If you start the game with everything you can have, there is no game. No gratification. It has to be delayed, vis-à-vis the gameplay, or there is no gratification. I believe this is because we are built with this framework. It's instinctive. We all know that it takes effort to get anything truly good in this life. That is why we send out kids to school. Most kids hate it, but we recognize it's for their good. Then we pay for collage so they can get a 'good' job.

Almost every good story has conflict in it. Because without conflict, resolution is meaningless. Again: you have to go through something difficult to get something worthwhile. Very few people will argue with this. But here is the funny thing… Many, many people will argue with applying this to their feelings and emotions. All we hear in modern America is "follow your heart!" When we don't follow our romantic or sexual urges we are "repressing" ourselves. And Hollywood has done a great job of showing us what 'repressed' people are like. (Sarcasm) That is one of the great ironies of modern story-telling. They rely on a basic truth (delayed gratification) to make their message entertaining; but the message belies that truth. So why is our culture programming us to ignore such a basic concept in one of the most important and far-reaching areas of life? Why has repression become anathema to the story tellers? Why will they admit that following our belly is bad for us, but insist that following our heart is good?

Maybe it has something to do with their myopic view of life. Most people see life on earth as all there is. Sure, they will say they believe in an afterlife. But they don't live their lives accordingly. They are conceptually agnostic, but functionally atheist. And if you start with the assumption that this life is all we got, your gonna run into trouble in a number of areas. One of them being justice and fairness. "I've been a good person. I deserve some good things in my life." Sounds fair, right? But how does one ensure that those good things come to them? Most people don't have a beneficiary whose job it is to make sure they get their good things. So it falls directly on your own shoulders. Congratulations! You are now a humanist. You see, something the theists figured out thousands of years ago is that there is no justice on this earth. Utopia doesn't exist, and never will as long as fallen people exist. We can set up our governments and courts, calibrate and tweak them till the cows come home. We just can't achieve justice. The only way it can possibly exist is if there is an afterlife. The fact that the desire for justice is such a powerful, universal trait points to the fact that there has to be more. A part of the equation that we are missing.

How does this apply to our love lives and the rule of delayed gratification? Without a God, we are our own masters. And beyond any sort of political and social constrictions, we call all the shots. We try to figure out what it is that's going to make us happy. Overdoing food makes us fat. Overdoing alcohol makes us losers. Overdoing play makes us dropouts and poor. Overdoing work makes us stressed out. But overdoing love? How can that be wrong?!? I guess it's all in the phrasing. What kind of love are we talking about? Unlike the Greek language, we use one word to cover many aspects of love. (See C.S. Lewis' The Four Loves for more on this.) So conversations about love tend to be pretty sloppy. Additionally, we have lost the concept of some of these forms of love that used to be universal. Just look at Frodo and Sams' relationship in Lord of the Rings. They had a deep, loyal friendship that followed the Biblical list of Love is… to a T. But when I saw the movies in theaters, there were always snickers and joking going on about how they seemed gay. Somehow our society has lost the concept of that type of relationship. Perhaps it fell victim to the rise of the legitimization of homosexuality. I don't know. But one thing I'm sure of, from my experience talking to lots of people about it, is that everyone is confused about what love is. So as we scramble across our lives, desperately trying to make ourselves happy, it's quite natural that we are going to look to 'love'. And our society has defined it as finding a member of the opposite sex to validate us and make us feel better about ourselves. It usually involves sex, living together, maybe getting married, etc. The problem of unhappiness can't be solved this way. But the movies don't show that. Sure, there are break-ups; but they are always followed by finding 'the right one'. You may be able to find temporary happiness with another person. But true Joy can only come from God. Without this knowledge, it's quite natural to try to find it elsewhere.

I was asked why I would turn down love, since God represents faith happiness and love. First I would add a few revisions to the statement about God. I don't think He 'represents' anything. He just IS. Second, happiness is not what He's about. Happiness depends on happenstance. And what is happening always changes. Therefore it is temporary and not worth striving for. Joy however, Peace and Love. God certainly does want these things for us. But if we believe in God, and a life after this one, we have to accept the fact that perhaps fullness of these things will not come until after death. He knows we can't find them through another human. So turning down 'love' is not necessarily something that He is against. But that is just because we have so warped the definition of love to fit our own whims. An example would be a married man who feels like he has fallen in love with another woman. God is all for saying NO to that 'love'.

I do believe that God wants us to be fully, blissfully joyous. But sometimes the path to joy leads through difficulties. And possibly leads beyond the gates of death. How's that for delayed gratification? Can't handle it? Yeah. You kind of have to be convinced that you're going to heaven or it doesn’t work.

Sunday, March 06, 2005

The Body

I love my church so much. And by that of course, I mean the people in my church. First, I hire a nanny from the local Assemblies of God collage. She turns out to be the most amazing nanny I could have wished for. She is the perfect godly, caring, patient, funny woman to have in the lives of my children. Then it turns out her whole family is amazing and loving. They pray with me, and even helped me with childcare when I desperately needed some nights out. Next I find the pastor is crazy-in-love with God, AND is intellectually challenging. I've read his Ph.D. homework and found so much cool, thought provoking stuff. "Church History in Pneumatological Perspective" and stuff like that. I quoted a particularly obfuscated and sesquipedalian portion of his writing to him and he got a huge kick out of it. Later I would bump into a super gregarious girl who quickly befriended me, ended up bumping too close to me, prayed with me about it, and retreated out of my life like a ninja with a smoke pellet. Well, she didn't completely vanish… just got as far away as God told her too. I have so much respect for her because of that.

Beyond being a meeting place for Christians, Lake Samm actively reaches out to the community in every way conceivable. I've talked about my experiences working in this ministry. We are also sending out missionaries like crazy.

In the last post I mentioned the home group I'm in, discussing Hope, and how that sparked some much needed introspection. But as you can see from the end, I haven't found much resolution. But I'm pretty used to that by now. But then at church this morning, my friend gives me this note she wrote about what God told her about hope. This strikes me as really cool. I've been a lone wolf for so long… Wait, that's a little too cool sounding for me. Let's go with 'lone aardvark'. OK, so I've been a lone aardvark for so long, that sort of interaction just surprised me. It shouldn't. We were talking about it just last night. But I guess when I think about 'hearing from God', I don't think about the other believers in my body and the role they can play in the process. Or maybe I've just constrained it to such an official capacity that this sort of low-level, natural communication is unexpected. By that I mean that in situations where I think there is some important thing that needs some wise feedback, I go to my elders. Like with the letter I wrote to my ex about the possibility of reuniting. I know I'm not close enough to God, or mature enough spiritually to just fire of a letter of that magnitude, with that level of potential ramifications to my life and the lives of my children. I needed help sorting out my feelings from what God wants to communicate to her through me.

But when it comes to 'little' things, like feeling hopeless, I don't feel like I should trouble the elders and take their time on something I can barely define myself. And what do you know? It turns out there is a natural mechanism within the body to deal with these kinds of issues as well.

Romans 12:

4 For as in one body we have many members, and all the members do not have the same function, 5 so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. 6 Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them…

I fully recognize that I am lacking in many departments. So it's really neat to have another 'body part' come along and pick up the slack for me. If I'm a brain, (Not that I'm so smart… I'm just oriented in more of a parsing-and-dissecting way.) than she is a heart. And when a brain and a heart study Hope, they are going to come up with different pictures of it. She sees the danger inherent in losing your dreams. Whereas I am killing them with so much analyzing and dissecting. I tend to have this mechanistic approach to living for God. I want to find what is right, and do it. Find the next thing that is right, and do it. But my gears are seizing, because my spirit is telling me to move forward, but my mind is holding me back. It wants to figure it all out first. Double-check and cross-check all the facts. I don't think this is a bad thing: The Proverbs are full of exhortations to seek wisdom and understanding. But I'm thinking those aren't found when you are sitting still. Maybe I need to put my heart out there, full of its imperfect hopes and desires. Let it run, get crushed, learn from it, and let it loose again. She said, "Don't worry about dreaming the wrong thing – He will make your paths straight."

It's hard not to worry when I have two little lives I need to protect. I don't want my imperfect dreams to hurt them. Back to fear I guess. One thing I know with a capitol K is that I'm not called to a life of fear.

But I'm thinking that I can count on the 'hearts' in my body to keep encouraging and inspiring me to find a balanced approach to faith, hope and love.

(This one goes out to Heather. Thanks, girl!)

Saturday, March 05, 2005

Where is Hope?

"I'm old Gandalf. I know I don't look it, but I'm beginning to feel it in my heart. I feel thin… sort of stretched; like butter scraped over too much bread."

Bilbo's lament resonates with me. I've been through a hell of a winter. I might call it 'the winter of temptation'. I've been pushed to my limit on so many fronts. I've found the path of my own making crumbling around me. My strength failing me over and over. It seems like it should be such a simple lesson… To rely completely on God. Yet I've found myself in the same situation repeatedly, counting on my own strength. I guess I have to become completely frustrated in every single area of my life before I will apply the rule. The rule? Yes. The one about relying completely on God. But what does that mean exactly? What does it look like? How do I know when I'm doing it? Until I can honestly answer those questions, I don't think I'll make any headway. I'll continue on like I am now. Every waking moment of every day, wishing I was sleeping. Tiered of life. I haven't done anything creative for weeks. Every evening when I get home, it's just a countdown until I get to go to bed. Where is hope? Why am I seeing it as a vital missing thing in my life right now? Maybe because I see depression as a lack of hope. Maybe because it was the topic of our home group a couple of weeks ago. (Thanks Steph!) What I know is that I don't like the state I'm in now, and I want it to change. But I don't see that happening. Wait. That's not true. There are places where things are beginning to improve. I'm not having to borrow as much money from my parents now. But clearly, that was not the source of my misery. And yes, misery is far too dramatic and powerful a word for what I am. What I am is hopeless.

Hope is listed in the Bible as one of the three greatest things. 1 Corinthian 13:13 "So faith, hope, love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love." Clearly it's an important component of the Christian life. But it's just as mysterious as the other two. I wonder if there are several different Greek words for hope and they all get boiled down to the one English word. (As is the case with 'love'.)

Romans 5:

2 Through him we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in our hope of sharing the glory of God. 3 More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, 4 and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, 5 and hope does not disappoint us, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit which has been given to us.

Well, I've got the suffering part. I've been enduring. I think my character has been improving. But I'm not following the jump to hope. How does that work? People of good character have more hope? I guess I could see that. People of strong character tend to be optimistic. But is optimism hope? Let me think of a few ways that the word 'hope' is used… "I hope it doesn’t rain tomorrow." "I hope I get a raise." "I hope my children grow to love God." "I hope I will get married again someday." "I hope God's will is accomplished in my life." It is clearly possible to hope for contradicting things. If God's will is that I never remarry, then my hope for such a thing is against His will. It's also possible to hope for foolish things. If I hope it won't rain tomorrow every day, I would live in a desert. So I'm guessing that the hope that character produces, and that doesn’t disappoint us, comes by the Holy Spirit. Nice. I ignored verse 5, and by working the flow out on my own, arrived at the same conclusion. So this is clearly a sanctified hope. Not the willy-nilly variety we grew up with. So I think this Hope is not an optimistic attitude or a whim. This is a God implanted… thing. Yes. A thing.

Romans 8:

24 For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? 25 But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience. 26 Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with sighs too deep for words. 27 And he who searches the hearts of men knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. 28 We know that in everything God works for good with those who love him, who are called according to his purpose.

Here, Hope is waiting patiently for only God-knows-what. Literally. We don't see it. Can't define it. It is so mysterious that only the Spirit can know it, and intercedes for us. One thing that just jumped out at me in these verses is this thought: we can't smooth talk God. We can say "Thy will be done." all day. But He searches our hearts and knows exactly what we want.

So now it looks like Hope is less an attribute, than it is desire from His Spirit that we can't even know. I'm confused.

Romans 12:

12 Rejoice in your hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer.

So how can I rejoice in something I can't understand? Well, I guess if I have Hope, I can rejoice.

Romans 15:

4 For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that by steadfastness and by the encouragement of the scriptures we might have hope. 5 May the God of steadfastness and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus,

13 May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.

Again, here Hope is connected to perseverance. And that it comes by the Spirit.

Galations 5:

5 For through the Spirit, by faith, we wait for the hope of righteousness.

And through the Spirit again. I think I'm seeing a pattern here.

1 Thessalonians 5:

8 But, since we belong to the day, let us be sober, and put on the breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet the hope of salvation.

These three are listed together again. Here is solid hope type of Hope. A clearly defined objective. A desire that can be described. Salvation. We all hope for it. (In some form or another.) A Christian's hope for salvation is in Christ. The world holds no hope for us.

2 Thessalonians 2:

16 Now may our Lord Jesus Christ himself, and God our Father, who loved us and gave us eternal comfort and good hope through grace,

Yep. It's definitely given to us by God.

And then I hit Hebrews…

Hebrews 6:

18 so that through two unchangeable things, in which it is impossible that God should prove false, we who have fled for refuge might have strong encouragement to seize the hope set before us. 19 We have this as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul, a hope that enters into the inner shrine behind the curtain, 20 where Jesus has gone as a forerunner on our behalf, having become a high priest for ever…

Ah-ha! So here is finally a verb associated with Hope. We can seize it! (When God sets it before us.) And more on the sanctity of Hope: it enters the Holy of Holys. It follows Christ. Also, Hope is an anchor for the soul. It brings to mind the opposite: the guy in

James 1:

6 But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for he who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind. 7 For that person must not suppose that a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways, will receive anything from the Lord.

Hope and faith are used together so frequently. I'm not sure how to differentiate the two. Take this for example:

Hebrews 11:

1 Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. 2 For by it the men of old received divine approval.

And in King James:

1 Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. 2 For by it the elders obtained a good report.

One thing is clear. 'Things' are hoped for. And again, these 'things' are not seen. So now I clearly see that I can't see what I'm trying to see. Yet...

But there is something of value I've learned on this little safari through the Bible. I can't just get hope to well up in me. I have to grab it. But it has to be offered first. I can't name what I hope for (aside from salvation), but I have faith that He can.

Do I feel any better? No. Is the point of existence to feel good? No. Is the reason for my belief based on a desire to feel good? No. I'll take Truth over comfort any day. Do I hope that I'll feel better soon? Yes. Is that the Hope that is categorized with Faith and Love in the scriptures? I don't think so. Perhaps Hope is not as cozy as I once believed. Or maybe, as usual, I'm missing something.