Archive for November, 2011

Death of an Icon

Posted: November 29, 2011 in Devotionals

November 29

Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. (James 4:14)

It’s hard when an icon dies…that part of Americana that has always been with us is suddenly missing. I wonder why that is? It was that way when Natalia Zacharenko passed away. Don’t remember her? Little Natalia first came to our consciences in the 1947 Christmas Classic “Miracle on 34th Street”, when she played the believing little lady…she would go on to star opposite Orson Wells, Claude Colbert, Jimmy Stewart, Bette Davis and many more superstars in an estimated 20 more films as a child. As a teen she set her sights even higher, receiving an Academy Award Nomination for he co-starring role in “Rebel Without a Cause”, opposite James Dean. She graduated from Van Nuys High School in 1956, and wasted no time moving her career to the next level. In fairly quick succession she starred in “West Side Story”, “Gypsy”, “Splendor in the Grass”, and “Love with a Proper Stranger”…the last two of which she received Best Actress nods from the Academy Awards for. It was not so much that she had been a star in so many of the classic films that define our culture, as it was that she was a star as a child, a teen, and then a young adult, that had made her an icon. She was a Queen Victoria of sorts that ruled the Great Britannia of our movie f=going for almost four decades! And then suddenly it was over. Late one night while partying with co-star Christopher Walken and husband Robert Wagner, she somehow slipped overboard and washed up only day later…another Hollywood tragedy. So why is it so hard when someone like Natalia dies. I believe it is because we are terrified to look at our own mortality. We refuse to face the fact that we will all die. We don’t like thinking about the how, the why or the when. But when confronted with the loss of one of our icons, death becomes all too real. For the believer, though, death has no such hold…or it ought not to have. Jesus has redeemed, we have been saved from the Dark Eternity. We have not so much been made into good people from bad people, as we have been made from dead people into living people. Death therefore is just an instantaneous transition from glory to glory…from life to Life. It may seem we the same fear of death, but in many ways it is a fear of Life.
Because for us, the pensiveness brought on by the passing of an icon is more one of, “What have I left undone. How can I make each moment count?” Those are no bad things. They are in fact the very questions we should be asking ourselves everyday. After all, there was only one death of an icon that could really ever have lasting meaning…and that was the one death that brought us life, and that everlasting.
It was on this day in 1981 that an American Icon Natalie Wood, was found drowned near Santa Catalina Island off the coast of California. She was 43 years old.

1 Corinthians 15:54 When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: “Death has been swallowed up in victory.”
55“Where, O death, is your victory?
Where, O death, is your sting?” 56The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. 57But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

The Blue Pill or the Red Pill?

Posted: November 29, 2011 in Book Review

The Map of TimeThe Map of Time by Félix J. Palma
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Really great yarn tying the stories of HG Wells, Jack the Ripper, Sherlock Holmes, Victorian England and adding in Henry James and Bram Stoker to boot! What would it be like if we could travel through time, what does the future look like when we imagine it? And what does that say about each of us, That’s the meat on the wonderfully written rabbit Palma has us chasing down ever more winding and deeper warrens. I must say I enjoyed the hunt.

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November 22

The Man of La Mancha, or the man of stained reputation if you prefer the hidden meaning in his name, is one of the most Christo-centric plays ever to be brought to Broadway.  Ostensibly it was written as a tribute to the great Spanish novelist Cervantes.  In both, the main character is one Don Quixote…a last name that hearkens to its meaning “quixotic”, meaning, the foolish and impractical pursuit of lofty and unattainable ideals.  Indeed this is precisely what Don Quixote is and what he does.  Because he had has gone a little loco in la cabeza , the nobleman Alonso Quixcano decides that he is a knight errant fro his country and must forthwith set out to right wrongs and rescue those who need rescuing.   But first, being a good knight, he musts find a page.  In reality he finds a poor farmer Sancho Panza, and presses him into service.  In the course of their travels, the protagonists meet innkeepers, prostitutes, goatherds, soldiers, priests, escaped convicts, and scorned lovers. These encounters are magnified by Don Quixote’s imagination into chivalrous quests. Don Quixote’s tendency to intervene violently in matters which do not concern him, and his habit of not paying his debts, result in many privations, injuries, and humiliations (with Sancho often getting the worst of it). Finally, Don Quixote is persuaded to return to his home village.  The libretto from the play is much the same although, in an effort to explain the broader meaning of the book and story, it has Cervantes (the author) defending his new, nearly finished manuscript to a group of fellow prisoners.  They are all spending some time in goal as guests of the Spanish Inquisition.  Of particular note is one Aldonza who is a self-described whore…though judging by her name a sweet one, Aldonza means sweet.  Quixote is convinced that she is the lady Dulcinea, a name that also means sweet by the way.  He treats her so royally and chivalrously, that she eventually believes it herself.  Despite the fact that she and Sancho think Quixote is a bit ridiculous, and totally insane, despite the fumbling and bumbling into the, somehow, correct solution to problems, despite the skipping out on every debt he incurs upon his quest, she becomes convinced of her worth…simply because he says she is worthwhile.  In the closing scenes, at his death, Aldonza has come back to tell Don Quixote that she will believe no matter how preposterous in his vision of things “as they should be”, and is willing to follow him in his “Impossible Dream”.  Alas, in that moment as he is re-energized and straps on his armor for his lady…he falls dead.  When Sancho calls her by her name to comfort her she says not to call her Aldonza, “My name is Dulcinea.”  And isn’t this the way it is for us as Christians.  Just as Sancho the illiterate peasant becomes a the clever, proverb-quoting book-wise, squire in the royal household, and Don Quixano the shopkeeper becomes Don Quixote the knight of the realm, and even a whore becomes a royal lady, so too we have all been changed from the poor wretched worthless things we thought were into the beautiful things God sees in reality.  Just like many of the people living around Cervantes could not see true reality, and true faith, obscured as it was by the Inquisition, so too we are blinded by religiosity and dogma.  But if you peek under the curtain, if you show a little backbone and are unafraid to be called a rebel or a heretic and go beyond the vain traditions of men towards a real relationship with a living God…you just might find a world more real than reality.  You just might find Jesus waiting to bring you into a full and complete understanding of the miracles and wonders all around you every day…dragons that need slaying or princesses that need saving.  On the title page of the 1605 first edition of Cervantes masterwork, it reads “El ingenioso hidalgo don Quixote de la Mancha”.  Translated literally it means: the ingenuity of the son of royalty, the blood stained (man) of the stripes…and it is when he lays down and dies that Aldonza is at last convinced of her true identity Dulcinea.

Revelation 2: 17 Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who is victorious, I will give some of the hidden manna. I will also give that person a white stone with a new name written on it, known only to the one who receives it.

It was on this day in 1965 that “Man of La Mancha” opened at the Washington Square Theater in Greenwich Village in NY City.  It’s still tilting towards wonder today.

Excerpt from Actor’s Devo Nov 21

Posted: November 21, 2011 in Devotionals

November 21

 

Most of the women who have serious jobs today in film and TV owe a debt of gratitude to Margaret.  She refused to play the ditzy, dippy, empty-headed beauty so en vogue in most of the shows she was a part of…and there were a lot of them.  Her father was already an actor of some note by the time she arrived on the thespian scene.  She, of course, put in her obligatory time at college (she graduated from USC with a degree in teaching) and from there the local LA scene…bit parts in commercials and episodic TV.  However, in 1961 she had a breakthrough role on the Joey Bishop Show, and quickly followed that success up with a recurring role on The Dobie Gillis Show.  More roles followed quickly, almost always recurring, Doctor Ben Casey, My Favorite Martian, and even Bonanza.  Even though her quick rise was impressive, her real accomplishment was the work she devoted herself early on to…that of empowering women.  It became obvious in her next role.  Margaret played (what else) an actress (Ann Marie) who has move to NY City to make it in the acting business.  This may seem unremarkable as you read this, but in the year that it was made (1966) it was quite unique.  It marked the first time ever in American TV where a young single girl’s struggle to make it, as opposed to one living at home or as a domestic for a family, was being portrayed as a viable lifestyle.  Up until then women were mostly cast in the sidelight of men, and when they weren’t they would be married to the main character of the show.  However Margaret’s devotion to women’s equality did not stop merely at the foot of the stage.  She also put in to practice the very things she was acting out in front of the camera.  Ostensibly created by the much-lauded team of Persky & Denoff  (The Dick Van Dyke Show), Margaret was widely known to be its real creator. It was in fact the reason she created her own production company (“Daisy Productions”), a thing unheard of at the time.  Daisy Prod was even credited with being the production company.  As believers, we want our women to be respectable…that does not necessarily preclude them from being present and active and even leading, in the marketplace of ideas, or indeed any marketplace they may choose.  A close reading of the dictates of Proverbs 31, often quoted to demonstrate true womanhood from God’s perspective, shows a woman who is involved in the daily operation of her home, but also in the market making sure her husband and family are getting the most bang for their buck.  In other words she is a production company of sorts…jus of a different order.  Margaret took her skill as an actress, and coupled it with he belief that women deserved the same recognition and chances as men did to develop creative ideas, and bring them to TV.  After all, half of the American audience was women.  Because she was unafraid of losing her job or losing a part, Margaret became a stepping-stone on which many women after her, Mary Tyler Moore, Carol Burnett, Bea Arthur, were able to build careers and production empires of their own.  In fact, any woman in comedy who had a TV show after 1970 owes their career and a debt of gratitude to this extraordinary woman.  It was on this day in 1937 Margaret Thomas a.k.a. Marlo Thomas a.k.a. “That Girl” was born to veteran actor Danny Thomas, and opened a whole world of possibilities for the “Other Girl”.

Excerpt from Actor’s Devo Nov 16th

Posted: November 16, 2011 in Devotionals

November16

Develop success from failures. Discouragement and failure are two of the surest stepping stones to success. ~ Dale Carnegie

Billy did not want to be an oil well driller…that’s what his family did. They were oil people. He probably could have counted on his mom to back him, but she had died when Billy was just 10 months old. So, Billy would have been an oilman too if not for one thing…his dad had financial difficulties and decided to try his hand at farming. It was a fortunate misfortune for the acting world.

Billy had recently seen the play The Birds of Paradise. E was instantly sold, but he was also just 17 years of age. He knew if he could make it for the next four years, he would inherit money from his mom’s estate and he could really give acting a try. Billy began shedding his chops, acting in small second hand acting companies while at the same time working in the oil fields. Just four years he kept telling himself as he worked with horses, sold neckties, whatever it took…and all the while, of course, as he kept perfecting his craft in small theater troupes. Another thing he did was to work his way continually westward. He may not have known it at the time but he was heading to Hollywood…and he finally got there around 1930. He did not do well. Most people thought his ears were too big and others that he acted a bit woodenly. Lionel Barrymore was one of the latter, thought they remained close friends for their whole lives. But the proof is in the pudding as they say, and once Billy stepped on the silver screen, he was almost an instant matinee idol. Warner Brothers signed him. They were so disappointed in his long term up-side that they loaned him out to MGM, which was looking to add male actors to his stable. They were very glad they did. As I said, he almost immediately became an American icon.

Billy went on to make almost 100 motion pictures, and was the star in most of those. And he became a good actor. In fact, so good that in 1935 he won the Academy Award for Best Actor! Oh, and he changed his name…Billy Gable became Clark Gable. It was on this day in 1960 just weeks after wrapping his last film The Misfits, that Clarke Gable died from a massive heart attack probably brought on by his 3 pack-a-day habit of smoking cigarettes. He had at least two illegitimate children who remained unacknowledged, and he never saw the face of his son who was born to his…fifth…wife Kay, four months after his death.

So what is this then? Is it a cautionary tale or an encouragement to pluck up courage under fire and press through to victory? I think it is both. For Gable is just like us, we get what we strive after and struggle for…and then it’s not what we want. We all want someone to love us. We look and we look, and if one of our lovers disappoints us, we trade them in for a “better” model. That leaves kids…kids who are expendable, collateral damage. That pretty much ensures the young people coming behind them, are going to be even more socially pathological than the ones who made them into themselves. By the way, Clark’s son John, attempted suicide twice. http://pics.livejournal.com/cinemafan2/pic/000s3hqp/

He hasn’t succeeded…yet.

November 11

 

From left to right, Lowe & Lerner

All things are possible until they are proved impossible and even the impossible may only be so, as of now. ~ Pearl S. Buck

 

Alan Jay Lerner was born on August 31, 1918, one of three sons of Joseph Lerner, the founder of Lerner Stores, Inc.   He had a good education, which took him to Harvard, and he studied at the Juilliard School of Music during his vacations from Harvard. He had done sketches and lyrics for two Harvard Hasty Pudding shows.

 

Frederic “Fritz” Loewe was older, having been born on June 10, 1904, in Vienna, Austria, the son of Edmund Loewe, a well-known operetta tenor.  (Operetta, best known for the works by Gilbert & Sullivan, was the forerunner of American musicals.) A precocious youth, Loewe was playing piano at 4 and had by 9 composed the tunes for a music hall sketch with which his father toured Europe.  At 15 he had a hit song with “Katrina,” which sold three million copies in Europe.  In 1924 he came with his father to America, but his initial engagements at New York’s Town Hall and the Rivoli Theatre did not lead to follow-up bookings.

 

The two met by chance in a club (The Lamb’s) in NY City in 1942.  Both had been trying in vain to crack the tough NY entertainment scene.  After all, as one writer quipped, “The difference between (the big clubs) The Friars, The Lambs, & The Players Club, was that the Lambs catered to gentleman wanting to be actors, the Players to actors who wanted to be gentlemen, and the Friars catered to men who were neither but wanted to be both.”  Lowe reportedly made a wrong turn on his way to the restroom, and struck up a conversation with Lerner whom he had recognized.   They struck up a conversation and almost immediately started collaborating.  Though the relationship was fraught with rough going,  and they were each to swear on and off that they’d never again work with the other, they pressed through the difficulties…sure that on the other side lay greatness…and it did.  The works they ultimately created have been as long lasting as they have been celebrated:

 

1947 Brigadoon

1951 Paint Your Wagon

!956 My Fair Lady

1960 Camelot

1973 Gigi

 

When they finally received the Kennedy Center Honor for the Arts, our country’s highest arts award, it was not their successes that defined them, but rather their failures.  That is to say they were, in the end, defined by the way they handled adversity.  It was this kind of tough love relationship that ultimately led Lerner to say of Loewe in his 1994 memoirs,

“I loved him more than I understood or misunderstood him and I know he loved me more than he understood or misunderstood me.”

They embraced the chaos together, and came out with greatness.

 

It was on this day in 1943 that their second co-creation opened on Broadway.  It was called “What’s Up?”  And it was a spectacular failure.  I’m glad they kept writing.

 

Proverbs 27:17 As iron sharpens iron,

so one person sharpens another

 

James 1:2 Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters,[a] whenever you face trials of many kinds, 3 because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. 4 Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. 5 If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you. 6 But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. 7 That person should not expect to receive anything from the Lord. 8 Such a person is double-minded and unstable in all they do.

9 Believers in humble circumstances ought to take pride in their high position. 10 But the rich should take pride in their humiliation—since they will pass away like a wild flower. 11 For the sun rises with scorching heat and withers the plant; its blossom falls and its beauty is destroyed. In the same way, the rich will fade away even while they go about their business.

12 Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial because, having stood the test, that person will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him.

Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell

Posted: November 14, 2011 in Book Review

Jonathan Strange and Mr NorrellJonathan Strange and Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book makes magic so plausible that it’s…well it’s scary. In the tradition of Tim Powers, Clarke does not hold back and try to show us a Hogwarts brand of magic…but rather the real deal. As a sort of foil, it shows how power distorts and misshapes those who use it, and ultimately how it destroys their world. As I say, it makes magic real, and takes for granted that the reader will too. I say that to imply that this book may not be for everyone…teens or those still looking for some final solution to chaos in our world. I believe there is real magic in the world…and that it comes from the One whose very words hold our universe (and all things) in place.  But to those sick of seeing magic and magical creatures, dark or otherwise, glorified and transmorgrified (good is bad and bad is good..it’s all in the user. Are there really any good vampires?) this will be a refreshingly “honest” approach to what might happen were we to try and wrest control from the supernatural and use it in the here-and-now.

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Actor’s Devotion 11/10

If you want happiness for an hour — take a nap. If you want happiness for a day — go fishing. If you want happiness for a month — get married. If you want happiness for a year — inherit a fortune. If you want happiness for a lifetime — help someone else. Chinese Proverb
If it is true that everything we ever needed to know we learned in kindergarten (share your toys, don’t lie, be kind, etc.) then it is fitting that our collective Christian American psyche would be expressed by a children’s TV show. Perhaps the clearest picture of our ideas about equality and reconciliation, Sesame Street debuted on Public Television on this day in 1969.
The TV show’s original format called for people to be intermixed with the segments of animation, live action shorts and Muppets. These segments were fashioned like commercials- swift, beguiling and memorable, and made the educational experience a great deal more enjoyable. This arrangement became a benchmark for what we know today as edutainment based television programming.
Children’s Television Workshop (CTW) aired the program for test groups to establish if the radical new format was apt to do well. Results showed that test viewers were spellbound when the advertisement like segments aired, in particular those with the jovial Muppets, but were actually surprisingly much less engrossed in the street scenes. Psychologists warned CTW against a combination of fantasy and realism elements, but the producers soon decided to mix the elements. A simple measure of cartoon like characters let the humans convey messages without causing viewers to lose attention. Sesame Street, along with quite a few other Sesame Workshop produced shows (such as The Electric Company, which was produced when Sesame Workshop was still CTW) are all recorded in New York City.

Sesame Street is recognized for its multicultural ingredient and is complete in its casting, incorporating roles for disabled people, young and old, Hispanic actors, Black actors, and others. While a number of the puppets look like people, others are animals or “monster” puppets of diverse sizes and colors. This encourages kids to consider that people come in all different shapes, sizes, and colors, and that no particular type is any better than another.
Harmoniously with its multiculturalist perspective, the television show pioneered the concept of sporadically inserting very basic Spanish words and phrases to help young children become familiar with the conception of a foreign language, Sesame Street was doing this almost thirty years before Dora the Explorer made her debut.
Each of the puppet characters has been planned to symbolize a particular stage or constituent of early childhood, and the scripts are written such that the character reflects the progress level of children of that age. This means the show addresses not only the learning objectives of a variety of age groups, but also the concerns, worries, and interests of children of differing ages.

Perhaps the most endearing legacy Sesame Street will leave is it is the place where Kermit the frog and the Muppets were first introduced and nurtured to maturity for an American pop culture. Kermit the Frog hosted the section Sesame Street News Flash. In other segments, Kermit would play straight man to the madcap frolics of other Muppets. Big Bird is an eight foot two inches tall yellow canary that lives in a large nest on a deserted lot located behind 123 Sesame Street’s garbage heap. Big Bird is often seen with his friend Aloysius Snuffleupagus who is a large, brown woolly elephant like creature who is known more commonly by his nickname “Snuffy”. Various other Snuffleupaguses have appeared on the show, most notably Snuffy’s little sister Alice and his unnamed mother. Initially, Snuffy showed up when no one but Big Bird was around, leaving the rest of the neighborhood thinking he was imaginary.
Other American icon of muppetry are Oscar the Grouch, who loves trash, lives with his pet elephant Fluffy, and a worm Slimey in a garbage can in the heap. Bert and Ernie, two of the most-recognized Muppets, are friends who live together in the basement apartment of 123 Sesame Street, and frequently engage in comic routines, which showcase their odd-couple personalities. Ernie’s flowerbox was once a hotspot for Twiddlebugs, a family of multi-colored insects. The Bear family, which resemble the bears of Goldilocks and the Three Bears, also live in Sesame Street. Papa Bear and Mama Bear, welcomed their second child Curly Bear, and Baby Bear and became a good friend of the monsters Telly and Zoe, and everyone’s favorite furry red character Elmo. Elmo has his own section near the end of each show, in which the viewers discover topics in Elmo’s World, an imaginary version of his house. Grover has had several noteworthy roles over the years, often as a waiter or a superhero (Super-Grover). Cookie Monster fights with his conscience daily during Letter of the Day, as he tries to be in take charge and overcome his addiction… his urge to eat the letters (always made of cookies).
So what is it about this uncomplicated show that enamors us so much? Well, it displays kindness, sincerity, child likeness, and helpfulness, just to name a few. It also teaches life lessons on being a good friend, not being rude or arrogant, as well as demonstrating good manners and politeness. Sesame Street led the way in things like racial reconciliation and social awareness, demonstrating lower income folk not only as people that we need not fear, but who also have things to contribute; something to say. Isn’t that how God loves us? Isn’t that what he actually expects of us? Isn’t the great over riding theme of his being His love? The world says that people should stay with their kind (racism & prejudice). Others offer a way that seems right that says that if we can all just get together, then magically we will all get along (romanticism). But there is a third way to see it. A set of ideals that demand we act in love because we have been so loved; held together by a set of Truths, that have always been true and so give our actions, our lives and our laws meaning; because they are from outside of ourselves. That’s why we love Sesame Street. It has helped us for over 40 years to be what we long to be… loving and loved. We love it because it loves the way God loves, and asks us to do the same.
I Timothy 5:10 [We should be known for] good deeds, such as bringing up children, showing hospitality, washing the feet of the saints, helping those in trouble and devoting herself to all kinds of good deeds.

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Really proud of Max & his Junior High Football team at BA as they completed their 2nd undefeated season in a row. Wish Christ Pres, BGA, FRA, & Endsworth would have consented to play them though….they wouldn’t 🙂

Pictured left to right Max, Ryan, Bryce