Friday, September 23, 2005

The World for God

Just dug this up. I wrote it last year at about this time. Amazing sometimes when we fast forward a year in our lives.

The World for God

I met them as I was walking back from late night coffee with an old college friend I hadn’t seen in years. Going over in my mind the conversation we had just shared while shutting down a Starbucks in Grand Central Station, I was concerned that I had pushed my faith too hard on him. I had no intention of doing so. I really wasn’t looking upon this as some sort of evangelistic conquest waiting to happen.

Most of it was innocuous enough—simply two old friends who had been accustomed to seeing each other daily, catching up on 10 years of mostly lost time. It was our last exchange that had me most concerned. He spoke of all the good-looking women rushing past him as we exited the terminal and mourned the fact that there was no good way for a single guy to flag them down and begin some meaningful conversation or at least get an email address from them. That’s when I plunged overboard accidentally. I told him that the good-looking women hang out at church and don’t rush off. Before I knew it I was inviting him and working out the logistics of him staying at our place on a Saturday night so he wouldn’t have to get up early and commute to our worship service. He stopped me in my tracks, reminding me that he was still holding out for a nice Jewish girl with whom he could settle down.

An abrupt goodbye and a wave of self-doubt.

And so it was that I got off at my subway stop, wandered north a couple blocks in the opposite direction of home to look for some members of our congregation who told me they were sleeping opposite the nearest Catholic Church to our corps. I didn’t find them, but did meet three new faces – C, a tall gaunt man with a black head wrap, Rock, the suspicious one of the bunch who did not offer his hand to shake mine back and Matt, the social butterfly of the crowd, barrel chest and bald head to look the part. Antonio, a regular, was sleeping on some cardboard behind them. We spoke for a moment, I told them about our services. They asked if the meal on Sundays was any good. Rock was specific about wanting my opinion, not Antonio’s and we parted ways.

Close to midnight, I was ready to call it a night when the Spirit spoke and told me to take yet another long way home. Staying two blocks north and not at all sure if this was just me, just my imagination or the leading of the Spirit, I walked on. I prayed that the Lord would reveal the specific people he was urging me on about. The first couple of fellow pedestrians might have made me out for half a crazy person as I stared at them in hopes that the Spirit would do his thing and let me know. Then I spotted them. Across the street, two Asian men, one well dressed in black, one with the ubiquitous urban black canvas cab with a short bill, a straggly goatee and some piercings. Both were smoking and leaning up against a closed Chinese food restaurant. I crossed the street close to where they loitered. I walked past them at first hoping the Spirit would give up on this urging. But he nagged at me and I’ve regretted being disobedient to the leading of the Spirit in the past, so I turned around. I slowly, cautiously approached them hoping the voice would call me off at the last second, offer up some other goat to sacrifice instead of me like he had done for Abraham and Isaac. No such luck.

It wasn’t until I got close that I noticed the telltale earpiece planted in the ear of the well-dressed one. It was very similar to the ones worn by the street scouts for the Japanese brothel on my block. I had no idea what to say, so I stumbled out with:

“You guys work around here?”

Nods of the head.

“I work near here too. Where do you guys work?”

Well-dressed pointed over his shoulder, up the steps of the brownstone next to the Chinese place. “Right up there.”

“Oh. I work at The Salvation Army over on 52nd.”

“The what? Say the name again”

“The Salvation Army at 52nd” (you know, right down from the other brothel?)

“52nd and …?”

“3rd, right next to 875, the big building.”

“Yeah, yeah, I know it.”

Long pause. What to say now?

Stumble on.

“I think we’re in very different lines of work.”

Well-dressed and smiling wryly, “Different cultures!”

“Yeah, different cultures. Well, my name’s Drew. What are yours?”

Well-dressed. “I’m Nao.”

Scraggly goat. “I’m Kaz.”



“Nice to meet you.”

Enter friends of Nao and Kaz. “Well, I won’t keep you from your friends. Have a nice night.”

So, three groups: an old college friend; a trio of men who make up the hearty band of the hardcore homeless of New York City; two guys who work for a brothel in midtown.

Evangelism? I don’t think so. Obedience? Most of the way, I hope. Education? Always in this city. Kingdom business? God only knows.

Friday, September 16, 2005

Garden State

Ok, so I know that I'm coming late to the party, but I just watched Garden State last night for the first time. I know it's pathetic for a former self-proclaimed pop culture junkie, but give me a break, I have 2 kids under the age of 4. Anyway. If you're later to the party than I am and haven't yet seen Garden State, but want to preserve some suspense for yourself, you might want to get off the Parkway at the next toll. In other words, stop reading because I'm going to give away key portions of the movie.

Pretty good flick and I was particularly impressed when I got to the end and saw that it was written and directed by Zach Braff. He has more going on than I thought. Clearly this movie is to Zach Braff what Good Will Hunting was to Damon and Affleck and what Mr. Deeds was to Adam Sandler. For him, it's a movie about home and it has particular appeal to those of us who enjoyed the ignominious pleasure of growing up in the Armpit of America. (Incidently, do you know that the guy who named Jersey the Garden State was on a boat several hundred feet from shore when he did?)

As I watched and caught up with the particular angle on life Garden State takes, I had two thoughts--first, that it's a very postmodern film, allowing the viewer to fill in some blanks or be satisfied that not everything is going to be worked out cleanly and secondly, that it reminded me quite a bit of The Graduate. Similar aged guys who seem to be floating through life, influenced more by other people initially than any force of conviction that they possess. I actually think Braff acts quite a bit like Hoffman's character and wonder if he used it for inspiration at all.

Anyway, there's a disappointing difference on both of those counts when it comes to the ending of GS. One of the things I love best about The Graduate is that at the end, Hoffman drives his Alfa Romeo all night and runs out of gas and finally gets to the church, and gets the girl. They go running out of the church. Then they jump on a city bus and in one of the great movie scenes of all time, the camera zooms in on their faces, her sitting in her wedding dress, him in his dirty jacket looking quite unkempt and the look on their faces is completely unresolved. They look happy, they smile at each other and then they face forward and have this look that kind of says, "what did we just do?" and then there's a hard cut to black. That's how the movie ends and it is completely left up to the viewer to decide what happens with these two people. It's not a cheesy sequel setup or anything, but a strong statement about how life doesn't quite so easily resolve itself as is often portrayed in art. I get the feeling that Braff wanted to do the same thing in Garden State, but essentially he wussed out and gave it a very traditional happy ending where his and Natalie Portmann's character get together. His character even says something about "not putting a period on this thing, just an ellipsis" but then he goes ahead and cheeses out by getting off the plane.

My question is why can't anyone make a decent truly postmodern movie that doesn't resolve itself? Do we all need the comfortable G chord at the end instead of hanging on a nice A minor?

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

The Driving Range

We were out visiting Jen's mom in Athol (literally a one-stoplight town in central MA where my wife grew up) the other day. The cousins were along so we went to a place that has ice cream for the kids, a driving range, batting cages and go karts. Much fun was had by all. But this was the funniest part of the place. Right next to the window where you buy your token for the ball dispenser was this warning to would be Sandler imitators: "No Happy Gilmore's" Only in Athol, MA would you need such a warning. But also, only in Athol could you be ensured that those who really need this caution would understand exactly what is meant.

Duely warned we did not run up to the tee or smash our clubs on any of the driving range equipment. I am proud to say that I hit the Chrylser K Car placed in the target area on only one bounce. Sadly, better golfers have already taken out all the windows. Riley's first go kart ride completed a very fun summer day stolen out of the clutches of early fall.

People: Double Poor Taste Issue

I have a couple of close relatives who are big fans of People magazine, so I have to watch myself here, but I was put off yesterday in the grocery store when I saw their latest "Special Double Issue." I guess they do this from time to time when a new story trumps what their regular issue was meant to focus on or something, but this time around, it's really in poor taste.

The "lead" story, like everywhere else, is the devastation of Katrina and the aftermath. As is typical, People seeks out hopeful stories from the crisis and so the issue focuses on Courage in Chaos. I can accept that and I know it's going to sell magazines, but it seems like a worthy enough endeavor. What bothers me is the "double issue." You can see it in the upper right corner. The lead is "Best & Worst Dressed." I know this is an issue that readers of People look forward to, but couldn't they wait a week? Does it really deserve to share time with stories of courage in human tragedy. It seems like placing the utterly superficial next to the profound cheapens the depth of the real story here.

Is it just me?

Thursday, September 01, 2005

Camp Meeting Reenactment, anyone?

I know it's kind of lame to just post other people's stuff, but I'm crazy busy right now. However, given the season, I just can't pass up the opportunity to direct you to Keith Drury's excellent piece in which he compares attending camp meetings to civil war reenactment. Thank you Joann for this.