Music Mondays #1: A Geneva band primer

This is the first entry in Music Mondays. I will be using this space to share my thoughts on musical subjects of all sorts. It will include a song of the week. The entries will range from general profiles on different bands to music reviews of whatever new album catches my attention. The first entry will take a look at the bands that are a part of the small scene I’ve been involved in over the past couple of years.

The best week in music so far this year just occurred, and most of the world didn’t even know it.

On Saturday, Feruary 4th, the Geneva Songwriters Coalition had one of its many shows in Geneva College’s honorary DIY music venue, Johnston Gym. It was named Personal Best Fest. The quasi-music fest included a section that was open to all sorts of acoustic acts that took place at the college’s Brigadoon dining area, while the gym showcased three fully electric bands: Barepaw, PARK and Cephalopods. The show was generally success, with a good turnout and ideal sets from each band. Aside from leading the band that closed the night out, I’m happy to say I was pretty instrumental in putting this show together, from naming it and dreaming up the lineup and designing the promo posters. As I’m more of an ideas guy than execution, the show wouldn’t have been possible without my guitarist and one of the GSC’s leaders, Sean DeKonty, PARK’s leader, Dave Parker, and the AV guys Mitchell Steffy and Aaron Fritsch.

Personal Best Fest was only one of many successful DIY rock shows to take place on Geneva College’s campus. Before 2014, these types of shows were very few and far in between. Now, we have Angst Fest, Famfest, heavy metal smackdowns and so much more, indicating a rather lively music scene. While Geneva College’s music scene is not very remarkable compared to state universities or secular liberal arts schools, the fact that there is a music scene at all is remarkable. Geneva College is a Christian liberal arts school with an emphasis on STEM programs. It is affiliated with the Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America, a strongly conservative denomination that is doctrinally opposed to the use of instruments in worship. While most students at the college are not RPCNA, there is no real emphasis on the arts among the student body. The success of the shows, however, have proven that there is certainly interest in the arts. Along with Dr. Dan Williams’ reading series, the rock bands of the GSC have helped encourage a healthy artistic atmosphere.

Here is a beginners’ guide to the bands that make up the unusually lively rock scene at Geneva. For more in depth profiles on these bands, pay attention to Geneva’s newspaper, The Cabinet, over the coming weeks…they are running a series on these bands, with their story on A Moment in Pompeii already out. Find it (eventually) on http://www.thegenevacabinet.com/

A Moment in Pompeii

Formed in 2014 by David Pinkerton (guitar, clean vocals), Antonio DiBiasio (drums) and Aaron Fritsch (vocals), this metal band is keeping the metal tradition alive at Geneva. Eventually, bassist Zac Podolinsky joined, and guitarist Doug Boylan was added in 2015. After Aaron left, with Zac following, Sam Allison took over vocals, and Griffin (I don’t know his last name) took over on bass. I’ve known David Pinkerton since I was 9 years old; as long as I’ve known the guy, he has been a very hard working devotee to metal. It’s been a lot of fun to see him finally channel this passion into a very solid band. I also worked with their guitarist Doug over the summer and saw his love for Christ play out, which is something he and his bandmates also communicate through their work. AMIP shows are energetic spectacles, rife with breakdowns and big choruses. They are truly a solid metal band that fills a very important niche in the Geneva scene.

https://www.facebook.com/amomentinpompeii/

FFO: August Burns Red, Counterparts, Haste the Day, The Devil Wears Prada, The Color Morale

Barepaw

Barepaw is the newest band to arrive on the 15010 scene. Born in 2016 out of a few songs that Zack Bowman of Primer & Grayscale wrote that didn’t quite fit his current songwriting outfit, the project grew from being simply a solo EP lark to a full-blown 6-piece band. I’m proud to say that I am playing bass for this project. Other members include Zack (guitar, vocals), Dave Parker (guitar, vocals), Andrew Flinner (keys, vocals), Matt Neal (drums, backing vocals), and Jake Rozmus (guitar, pedal steel, vocals). The sound draws a lot from blues, country, folk, mixing Americana with a solid rock sound. Each songwriter involved brings something to the table: Zack’s emo roots aren’t too distant in his songwriting (think Pinegrove…if you haven’t heard them, look them up immediately); Andrew showcases an affinity for classic rock and pop in his Beatlesque ballad “Breaking & Entering,” which also boasts a soul edge; Jake’s song “Yeah, Dad…” brings to mind late-era Wilco. And finally, there’s Dave Parker, whose heartfelt songwriting is as strong as ever, but with a full rock n’ roll band backing him. I once stated that I thought Barepaw is the “most sustainable” band in the scene due to the fact that all members were creative contributors (making for less writing time falling on one songwriter) and, likewise, all local. My statement became a big running joke among my friends. Whether it is the “most sustainable” or not, Barepaw is definitely going to do a lot of cool stuff. Wait and see!

FFO: Wilco, Pinegrove, The Band, Neil Young

Captain the Sky

Aaron Fritsch, formerly of A Moment In Pompeii, decided to try something completely different from the genre he was most associated with, metalcore. He formed the band Captain the Sky in mid-2015. Their sound incorporated a lot of influence from indie-pop band Young the Giant, while traces of the technical indie rock of Silent Alarm-era Bloc Party also cropped up in his songwriting, as well as the smooth pop of the 1975. Being one of the most grounded and proactive people I know, Aaron was able to fully form his band, play several area shows, release an EP, and release a full length album, the 12-track Mary Celeste, within a few months. Their sound is going through some exciting changes, and those will be heard on Lions and Foxes, the new EP coming out on March 25th.

https://www.facebook.com/captainthesky/?qsefr=1

FFO: Young the Giant, Vampire Weekend, Cold War Kids, Grouplove

Cephalopods

It feels a little vain to write about my own band, but it’s also fun, so I’ll just do it anyway. This band began back in 2014 as a folk-punk band. My original intent was to make a project that mixed Neutral Milk Hotel-type lo-fi folk with the noise of Pavement style indie rock. Instead, we ended up sounding a lot more like the latter, with a grungey power-pop sound. Ditching acoustic guitars for Flying Vs and SGs, we’ve gotten comparisons to said Pavement, Weezer, Pixies, and even Velvet Underground. Seeing as I like those bands, I’m pretty happy about that. Our shows are a raucous affair, courtesy of our acrobatic guitarist, Sean DeKonty, as well as the romping, stomping rhythm section, Nick Smith (drums) and Ian Miller (bass).

https://www.facebook.com/cephalopodPA/

FFO: Weezer, Desaparecidos, Pavement

PARK

Not to be confused with the C-list emo band. Originally Dave Parker’s indie-folk solo project, he’s expanded it into a full band, inviting his friends in on the fun. His squeeze, Karis Bowman, flavours his songs with some sweet backing vocals; the band shares a rhythm section with Cephalopods; and Sam Stucky contributes guitar. At the forefront of this project is Parker’s songwriting, which is so beautiful it hurts my feelings. In November Dave released his strongest recording yet, the EP Heuristics, to go along with his 2nd full length album Sufficiency (2015) and his debut album, Songs (2014).

https://www.facebook.com/parktunes/

Primer & Grayscale

Originating as pop-punk band The Misinformation Desk in 2014, the boys in this group grew up and became an emo band with a sound owing to Brand New, Thrice, and Manchester Orchestra. They didn’t completely ditch their pop-punk roots either, continuing to work with loud, fast hooks. Songwriter, lead singer, and rhythm guitarist Zack Bowman, a philosophy major at Geneva, incorporates his knowledge of philosophy and culture into his deeply personal lyricism. Keep your eyes open for their debut LP, coming this spring.

https://www.facebook.com/primerngrayscale/

Second to Safety

The greatest guitarist who has ever lived, Sean DeKonty, formed this band with his high school friends Tyler Rutherford and Brandon Blackhurst in early 2016 (Nate Detwiler was also a member, albeit briefly). Technically not a Geneva band, but fronted by a very instrumental (no pun intended) man in the scene, Second are honorary members of the GSC rotation while being based near Philly. They challenge conventional song structure, throwing jazzy riffs into their own brand of punk. Influences from Sean’s iTunes, including Dinosaur Jr, Streetlight Manifesto, and other disparate bands, manifest in the beautiful explosion that is Second to Safety. Their EP Horseshoe Pike lays down a solid foundation for a sound that they have been expanding on, getting only crazier in the process. If you know Sean, it all makes sense; sometimes, when he’s at his highest, you just feel the need to tell the guy to calm down, even though you don’t want to because it’s entertaining as hell. Listen to Second and you’ll know what I’m talking about.

https://www.facebook.com/secondtosafety/

FFO: Dinosaur Jr, Built to Spill

Spoon the Whale

A cover band.

New Year, New Blog

Hello!

I’m dusting off this blog and turning it around completely. Beforehand, whenever I wrote a blog entry, it was on a very infrequent basis. Just about every entry talked about politics in some way or another. While I am still passionate about that stuff, especially in this moment, I have found that it is spiritually unhealthy to saturate oneself in politics exclusively. There is so much more I am passionate about. So here are the new functions this blog will cover

  • Music Mondays: thoughts on music, album reviews, album retrospectives, and highlighting different bands.
  • A monthly food blog dedicated exclusively to hamburgers. My quest is to find the best burger in the Northeastern region. I got this idea just a couple weeks ago after having a delicious…you guessed it, hamburger.
  • Film Fridays: I will write a review on a new movie, or a retrospective review of an old movie. This might also include some TV shows as I believe that medium is being utilized more and more to tell some very compelling stories across a wider scope.
  • General tackling of questions on politics, social topics, history, philosophy, and religion will be more sporadic. I’ll also post general thoughts/observations whenever I please.

So that about covers it. Whoever ends up taking their time to read this little blog, thank you. I look forward to using this space to pin my many thoughts.

God bless ya,

Jem

I’ll shut up after this one

I did not give up political internet posts for Lent (I’m not supposed to tell you what I have given up, but that is one of the many things I did not). However, I have looked back on my sometimes caustic, sometimes blunt, and all of the times annoying political posts. Needless to say, I’m not ashamed. Yes, I’ve shaken my head at them a few times, thinking “you could have said that a LITTLE better,” but I’m happy to share my strong and unwavering views…even if those views get me in hot water with a lot of people I love.

Sometimes, you get tired of hearing yourself shout. And then you put yourself in the shoes of people who see your posts. They’ve probably shut you out after the fifth Salon article you’ve posted (I know Breitbart practically doesn’t exist in my world because I’ve Breitbart-proofed my brain and none of the posts my many conservative friends make from that website even get through). In an election year…an election year as strange and terrifying as this one, especially…things only intensify, and that only adds strain to what should be a civil conversation.

So, now then, I have decided to give up political internet posts altogether for the rest of the election. This doesn’t mean the cool historical articles I like to post on occasion…that crap is here to stay…but it’s time to take a breather from The Atlantic articles or pithy little Bernie Sanders quote memes.

BUT.

There are a few points I want to make before I silence myself on the internet. The following nine points are the nine things that I feel are most worth saying. Be warned: they are caustic, blunt, and probably annoying. But I hope you find something to take away.

Here are the top nine things I have taken away from this horrible, awful, no good very bad election season.

1. I am 1000-and-a-half per cent lib*r*l and show few signs of changing. I think I can confirm that now. I’m sorry.
 
2. I will never understand how Christians…no, Americans…could support Donald Drumpf’s nationalist, nativist, and all around disgusting campaign of vanity…it’s materialistic, misogynistic, xenophobic…nobody can convince me it is anything good other than a nail in the coffin of a dysfunctional Republican party. So don’t even try.
 
3. I’m not really a big Hillary fan. However, I would vote for her at the drop of a hat over any GOP nominee other than the underexposed and perfectly decent Kasich. We don’t need another neocon like Rubio. Or an extreme ideologue like Cruz. Or a delusional windbag who thinks we can build a wall and have Mexico pay for it lest we use military force. However shady her past may be, Hillary has gotten shit done before. Believe otherwise all you want. It is the truth.
 
4. Though I am a member of the Democratic party and not really ashamed of it, both parties seem to be ineffective (but in different ways) when it comes to what should be one of the most pressing issues ever, the environment. Another reason the two-party system needs to be fixed and reconsidered.
 
5. A challenge: when it comes to conversations/arguments/shouting matches about race, try to go for the rest of the year without saying “white guilt”, “reverse racism,” “race baiting,” “All lives matter,” “Blue lives matter” or other attempts to turn the whites into the victims that they aren’t (and I know there are some poor white people…try not to think about the issue of race or race relations individualistically…I know it’s tough…trust me, I do).
 
6. Global warming or no global warming, give a shit. Climate change being a reality shouldn’t be the only incentive to take care of the environment…and sacrifice a few things that might seem convenient or efficient in the process.
 
7. Feel.
 
8. The.
 
9. Bern.
And now, I rest.
Good night, all.
112012-politics-Inauguration-guide-barack-obama-waving-smiling-1024x576

Jeremy ranks the “Star Wars” movies

Here’s a post I feel obligated to do, because everybody’s doing it around this time.

The internet has been posting a lot about Star Wars recently, which is something I’ve been doing for a year. I would consider myself a “pretty big” to “above normal” fan of the franchise, and if I were to associate myself with a fandom based on the work it is dedicated to, it would be “Star Wars.”

But I’m not a fan of that fandom in particular, mostly because half of it *hates* half of the movies. Not just mildly, like a “oh, they’re just bad in my opinion, but I could see why you might like them, I just like the others so much more” kind of hate, but a “they are so awful, beyond redemption, I can’t stand the thought of them even existing” kind of hate. It’s an attitude that makes for a very annoyingly unpleasant, even regressive atmosphere in a cult based on a space opera fantasy-sci-fi franchise. Hence, I will not affiliate myself. I’d rather my conversations on the franchise be pleasant and positive, thank you very much.

My dissenting opinion is one I’ve held for a while: There is no *bad* Star Wars film, only superior and inferior Star Wars films. Which is why I knew when I went to see the first film in the sequel trilogy, and seventh film over all, that I most likely would enjoy it whether other fans did or not.

When I went to see “The Force Awakens” on opening night with my pal Ian, I wasn’t quite able to have a clear look at it because I was simply in awe of being there. After finishing up finals, returning home from college for Christmas break, and meeting up with my closest friends from high school to see it for a second time (it would be my buddy Nate’s fourth!), I finally forged an evaluation of it.

I am here to put Episode VII in place with the rest of the saga, as well as show my readers (whoever you might be) my opinions on the other entries. Where does VII fit? Let us see.

7. Episode I: The Phantom Menace

My baptism into the world of Star Wars came from the marketing for this film. As I grew older, I began to notice its flaws, but that didn’t ruin it for me, necessarily. When I went to see it in the 2012 theaterical re-release with my youth pastor Taylor and my younger brother, we left the theater baffled.

Not because we couldn’t fathom how “awful” it was. But because we couldn’t fathom why people would think that it’s so stinkin’ awful.

When it comes to The Phantom Menace (and at this point, the prequels in general), some fans like to pile on rhetoric that makes it seem like the worst movie of all time at best, and a terrorist attack at worst. But after watching it as a child and falling in love with it, a phase of disliking it, and a couple of re-watches, I have come to a (in some cases) controversial conclusion: The Phantom Menace is not a bad movie. It might be the most flawed movie in an otherwise wonderful franchise, but it doesn’t make the cut for  any list of “awful movies” (I could name many of those) or even “bad movies”. Rather, it is a mediocre yet often entertaining (albeit loquacious at times) work of fantasy science fiction. Jar-Jar may have been a poor decision as far as providing comic-relief goes, but his contribution to the overall product is so miniscule it’s hard to understand why he is given so much attention. Wooden acting is irrelevant as it is something prevalent throughout the Saga (until now…more on that later). The fact that people get worked up on the heavy amount of politics is understandable, as it muddles the plot and slows the film in a way that makes it probably the most poorly paced film in the series. However, the story IS about how a republic turns into an empire, juxtaposed with how an innocent young boy turns into a machine-man who wears a black mask and murders people. Politics is inevitable.

The ambition this film aspires to is so great that it is easy for me, at least, to forgive Lucas for this one…as easy as it is to thank him for introducing podracing, double-bladed lightsabers, underwater cities, spikey-scalped Sith Lords and other fantastic things from a galaxy far, far away.

Also, Williams delivers his best themes here. Bar none.

GRADE: C

What it does well: World-building, production design, costuming, lightsaber choreography, “Duel of the Fates” and “Anakin’s Theme”, and weaving in CGI (which was groundbreaking at the time) with practical effects (surprised? Watch it again.)

What it does poorly: Telling the story (which is actually a pretty good one if you get down to the heart of it), comic-relief, pacing, scripting.

6. Episode II: Attack of the Clones

Not surprised, are you?
Some of you may be, after all, because there are a fair amount of folks who would rank this at 7.
Well, I love it. Besides the fact that it was the first Star Wars movie I saw in the theater (I removed my rose-colored glasses when I got older), I would say the margin of improvement between this and The Phantom Menace is quite big, quite impressive. Lucas tells a much more coherent story, not without its cheap plot points but overall creating a fine slice of sci-fi fantasy action. The common complaints here range from Hayden Christensen’s sand hatred to the forced romance, which I can get behind. The flaws of the Phantom Menace were a little more arbitrary than the flaws here (how much do midi-chlorians and Jar-Jar Binks matter in the long run, anyhow?); our protagonist is a whiney blockhead, and the romance that ultimately tears the galaxy apart is forced and rushed (which, in a 145 minute movie, shouldn’t make sense). But there are parts of this one that make it so enjoyable as a whole. A wonderfully snarky Ewan McGregor, a thrilling chase through Coruscant, and a 45 minute finale that constitutes as one of the most jovially entertaining parts of the entire Saga, in my opinion. George goes lightsaber drunk with this movie, and it’s awesome. Yoda’s leaping, flipping and yelling while dueling a man of greater size and saber is a treat fans have been waiting for; plus, Christopher Lee is a perfectly badass villain, the senior Briton that makes every fantasy series complete (Palpatine may have filled that role as well, but Sir Christopher made everything awesome…may God rest his soul).
Overall, Lucas grew stronger in the Force with this one. Yet, many of his fans are not as forgiving as I (to paraphrase Vader).
Grade: B-
What it does well: Improving upon Episode I, action sequences, further world-building, and a love theme from the score that is simply breathtaking. Williams does it again.
What it does poorly: Forced romance, unnecessary pastiche (50s diner? Is that a set piece recycled from “American Graffiti,” George?), and some of the worst possible dialogue in the franchise (mostly coming out of poor Hayden’s mouth). CGI also gets a little overbearing here, but that didn’t hurt the public’s opinion of Avatar.
5. Episode VI: Return of the Jedi
Now HERE’S where people often get surprised.
Yes, an ORIGINAL, not a prequel, is in the bottom 3. Why? Simple.
Poorly paced. Thanks, Ewoks.
Re-hashed. Another Death Star? Are you kidding me?
Boba Fett: prime example of all style, no substance, even more so than Darth Maul.
Sound like some harsh critiques, huh? Only because it is part of the untouchable Original Trilogy. Despite being good, but not great, the finale to the OT is instead looked at because it is of the Originals, and not the Prequels. But seeing as most of it is quite good, it’s easy to forgive these ones. We still have Han Solo, who makes everything gold. The opening sequence at Jabba’s Palace and the following fight on the barges make for a great intro. Also, the story of Anakin comes full circle. A truly powerful story of redemption.
Seeing as the worst of the Original Trilogy is more-or-less on par with the best of the Prequel Trilogy, I can say as a whole that despite one less-than-great movie, the OT is superior.
But we often say that the prequels could have been better while overlooking the crimes of “Jedi.” Let’s treat our Star Wars movies equally.
Grade: B
What it does well: action, romance, a wonderful new villain, and the usual delight of following our heroes Luke, Leia and Han.
What it does poorly: Droid worshipping Ewoks, plot re-hashing, and weighed down pacing in the middle of the movie.
4. Episode III: Revenge of the Sith
This is where I lose friends, I understand.
But hear me out.
Revenge of the Sith is a *good* movie. Not great. But also not decent. Not “okay”. It is a G-O-O-D good movie.
Besides the fact that it is only thought lowly of because it is unfairly clumped in with the other prequels, I’ll tell you why.
It has EVERYTHING. Space battles. Lightsaber drunkenness (again!). Snarky Obi-Wan. R2 kicking ass. Threepio being obnoxious.
It also accomplishes the difficult task of bridging both trilogies, and does it well. Less time is spent on childish humor. Even the romance, not any less clumsy than the last time, admittedly, is reduced to Jar-Jar status and gets less screen time.
But the best part is Palpatine. His masterful dialogue on the power of the Dark Side is not only well-performed, but helps us see how tempting the Dark Side is by touching on a tough yet classic theme: death.
Anakin’s fall is well-told and this time well delivered. Christensen is noticeably more comfortable with his character this time around, and proves he’s better at playing Dark Ani than he is at playing Insecure Teenage Ani. And two of the best sequences…both juxtapositions…in the saga are right here: Order 66 and the fall of the Republic, and the funeral of Padme Amidala and the Resurrection of Anakin as Darth Vader.
George Lucas thought this was going to be the last Star Wars. It would be the last one with *HIM*. So he made it count.
Grade: B+
What it does well: Action, production design, continuing the world-building, stronger character development, and an overall outstanding finale.
What it does poorly: There are, predictably, bits of dialogue that are laughably cheesy yet quotable, putting them more in line with the “power converters” line than with the “wish my feelings away” line. Also, the movie is again drenched in CGI where it doesn’t really have to be.
3. Episode VII: The Force Awakens
Everything I was hoping for about The Force Awakens has been realized.
Then again, the one thing I felt would be wrong with it was realized, too.
The Force Awakens is very dependent on A New Hope as far as plotting goes. But it isn’t any half-assed rehash. Plus, this is just continuing Lucas’s rhyme-scheme that he originally intended, right?
Abrams treats his source material with great care, and we are given the best of the old mixed in with the best of the new. People made a big deal about the use of practical effect during production/post-production, but I’m relieved that Abrams decided to use CGI where it needed to be used…to create new pixelized creatures walking around a real world. Plus, the practical effects themselves are great, making use of engineering that has improved since 1983. Overall, with the balance of such effects, I believe The Force Awakens is bound to age the best out of the seven movies currently out.
I’ll say nothing to spoil it for those who haven’t seen it. The story does borrow a lot from A New Hope (much like Phantom Menace, only even more blatantly), but brings enough on its own to make it feel new. John Boyega and Oscar Isaac turn in some wonderful performances, and Boyega’s character, Finn, is particularly compelling. Daisy Ridley does an admirable job as our new protagonist, Rey, and considering it’s her first time in the major leagues (other than this, she has a couple of indies to her name), she handles it quite well. Her character is vaguely developed, but that likely only means that there is a lot to discover about her. More than the cliché “strong female protagonist”, Rey is compelling because she’s an interesting character…who so happens to be female. She’s not perfect, and that’s what’s so good about her.
2017…hurry up.
Grade: A
What it does well: Just about everything the other movies did wrong.
What it does poorly: See for yourself. I’m sure plenty of complaints will surface after initial enthusiasm dies down.
2. Episode IV: A New Hope
 
I won’t spend a lot of time on this one because I won’t have to. It’s hard to criticize because it has been so mythologized. It was hard to criticize even at the time it was released (Pauline Kael criticized it, but what didn’t she?) because there were no other films quite like it then. I will write about why I put it this high, though that shouldn’t take me long either.
A New Hope, or simply “Star Wars”, as it was known for a time, is the only one in the saga that can be viewed independently. And yet, it does so well in setting itself up to grow into a sprawling saga, which, as we all know, it achieved quite well.
I could more easily fill an essay on the original movie’s cultural impact than I could its cinematic merits, but it sure does have them. The colorful cast of characters makes us fall in love with the world Lucas created instantly. The X-Wing dog fight is still one of the best scenes in the saga. And this is where we were introduced to the coolest guy to grace the big screen since the Man With No Name, Han Solo (who, by the way, did shoot first, but if he didn’t it was because he knew Greedo would miss him).
Perhaps as magical as Luke’s journey is Lucas’s. He had a vision that he wanted to make into a movie. Nobody thought he would actually make the movie, but he did.
And the rest is history.
Grade: A+
What it does well: It begins a legend.
What it does poorly: Hard to say, but the dialogue is a little cheesy, and we often forget how unimpressive Hamill’s performance is in this one, though it’s still passable and carries a charm of its own.
1. Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back
Not surprised, are you?
It has become a cliché by now to say that The Empire Strikes Back is your favorite Star Wars, but this one is special because it is the first Star Wars movie to make me cry.
I was 6 years old. Phantom Menace Mania was still in circulation, and my parents thought it was time I watch the Original Trilogy with them. The cantina dismemberment and burnt bodies of Luke’s aunt and uncle bothered me quite a bit, but for the most part I found A New Hope to be awesome, even if it lacked lightsabers.
I was enjoying Empire, but then Vader and Luke’s duel came about. Luke was dismembered and I was terrified. Our great hero, in a place of vulnerability, possibly about to meet his end.
Then the immortal revelation came. Traumatized, I left the room (only to be brought back by my parents to catch the end of the film, when Luke gets a new hand and is all better again!).
These emotions would seem irrational if they were applied to any other film, or any other film series. But Star Wars brings us every emotion: wonder, happiness, sadness, anger, fear, worry. This is best displayed in The Empire Strikes Back, still the darkest in the saga (sorry, Revenge). As one film critic I follow, Josh Larsen, writes, it was A New Hope that gave us the movie and The Empire Strikes Back that gave us the Saga.
Grade: A++
What it does well: Continues to develop characters from its last predecessor, explorers darker, deeper themes, and manages the impossible…outdoing its culture-creating original.
What it does poorly: It contains the most gaping plot-hole in the saga.
And there it is, friends! Hope you all enjoy the new movie…it’s a fine one, indeed…and may the Force be with you this Christmas.

Finding Certainty

Certainty is hard to come by. Especially when you have a knack for inconsistency, as I do.

I’ve been a pretty inconsistent person before. This is not to say that I haven’t been working to turn it around, but inconsistency has long been a struggle of mine. My last blog entry was in November. Between then and now I absolutely have had enough thoughts that I could have invested into some worthwhile blog entries. But time management has never really been a strong point of mine. It’s a skill I am learning a lot about and improving upon, but not without taking those lessons the hard way.

Something more important than blogging and even time management that I’ve been inconsistent with is my spiritual life. My confusing teenage years were spent oscillating between agnosticism and all out piety. There were even times when I had been both simultaneously: I was an agnostic on the inside but I felt like the expectations set before me as a minister’s son compelled me to stick with the Christian life, plus all my friends were Christians (I know…late teens confusion is the worst) plus I never found any reason to all out disbelieve because a definite answer (which atheism attempts to be, whether it is considered a religion or not) scared me. It was certainty that I was so uneasy about. With no spiritual ideals to commit to, I was not only uncertain about my faith, but uncertain about quite literally everything in my life…what I was working toward with college, where I wanted to go with certain relationships, what to save my money on, and other important questions we face during these times in our lives.

I took a course on the New Testament at my college, Geneva College in Western Pennsylvania, from May to early June. It had been an interesting, difficult yet necessary year of transitioning from a commuting boy slacking off at home to an out-of-state, semi-independent man living on campus and spending more time at the library than in front of the TV. Transitioning was not easy, and I could have handled it more smoothly, but I came out understanding what it was really like to cut one of the bigger strands off of the umbilical chord (forgive me if that illustration was too graphic). My lessons would not be reiterated back to me in a very clear way until those three weeks spent taking Mr. Warren’s Bible 113: Intro to the New Testament Course. As my spiritual life had been relatively inconsistent, even after recommitting to Christ, so had my keeping up with the NT (I had been reading the Word hodgepodge at the time, but almost exclusively out of the Old Testament…Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and Jonah were where I invested my interest most of the time). This course I had originally taken to get a prerequisite out of the way ended up changing a confused boy still searching into a passionate, determined man almost completely sure of his convictions…all in a mere three weeks. While I definitely feel like a different person from the one I was a year ago, if it weren’t for those three weeks of being “forced” to look at the words of Christ and understand their applications, I wouldn’t have truly taken away what I had learned over the past ten months and kept it with me to apply to my life.

Revisiting the words of Christ and studying them closely reminded me of why I had not given up on them. It is because of the humble nature of faith. Faith does not mean rejecting vaccines in favor of waiting around for miracles. It doesn’t mean whipping snakes around and it doesn’t mean denying the existence of dinosaurs. It is something that we wrestle and struggle with everyday. A lot of people tend to think of faith subscribers as docile, weak-minded and submissive, but those who are strongest in their faith are people on a journey, the most difficult journey that an unpredictable life has to offer.

The mysterious author of Hebrews wrote the now commonly-quoted words: “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” (11:1, NRSV). There’s that word: “assurance”. Assurance is an elusive thing. It is aptly coupled (in my translation, if that matters) with that other word: “conviction.” It is difficult to understand how certainty can arise out of such unsure places or how we can commit to something so seemingly abstract. That is what makes faith so humble to me: it states that we cannot know everything, but we can still have certainty in our lives.

I have several years of uncertainty and confusion to make up for over these next couple of years. All this confusion has led me to make many mistakes that have yet to be resolved. However, with certainty in uncertain places now firmly locked, I feel more confident than ever. Finding true faith can do amazing things in the course of three weeks.

Praise King Yeshua.

Rioting erupts in Ferguson, Missouri after police involved shooting of an unarmed teen

When the Verdict Matters Less

“I still believe that peace and plenty and happiness can be worked out some way. I am a fool.”

Kurt Vonnegut

Americans like to say they value justice.

We do. We value romantic justice. It’s an old American value, is it not? The underdog wins against the big guy who talks smack. Justice. The helpless victim is defended by the heroic lawyer from the morally-bankrupt accuser and John Grisham’s name makes its way to the top of the bestsellers list again. Justice. The ending we’ve wanted is the ending we’ve gotten. We want justice that is, above all, vigilant. The anti-hero is the prime symbol of this. We cheer at the violent demise of a wrongdoer. We enjoy seeing an adversary on his knees at the mercy of a brooding, bloodthirsty vigilante. Vigilant justice is the best kind of justice.

On a hot summer’s day in Missouri, a young man by the name of Michael Brown—black, urban lower-class—was killed by the shot of a gun. This gun belonged to a cop named Darren Wilson. Brown’s young, lifeless body was left on the sidewalk—for hours, I might add—for all the confused neighbors to ponder over. A day later, these neighbors would be shouting protests against the slaughter of not only Brown but of young black men by police officers the country over, the century over. Photographs of militarized policemen pointing guns at the folks waving the signs looked an awful lot like something taken in the 60’s and printed in the margins of a Howard Zinn book. Hey presto, a Molotov cocktail. Who’s thirsty?

Hundreds of miles away, in the comfort of their living rooms (CNN turned up), white Americans would be shouting protests against the protestors. Because, of course, this cannot be about race. Oh no. Get real. This is not about the color of the person’s skin like the news outlets are making it out to be, is it? This cannot be another race thing?

No, they say to themselves. The protestors were getting mad about just another simple case that has been convoluted because the victim just so happened to have another shade of melanin. They’re jumping the gun. If it had been a black officer killing a white boy, the story wouldn’t trigger these protests, would it?
Of course not. And if it did, they would be carried out differently, by different people.
And that is the thing. This issue is absolutely, 100% about race. It is not about a simple verdict regarding an individual case. It is about a centuries old problem that the privileged ones in this country—which I am a part of—perpetuate by holding to lies about America, race, and history.
Nobody cares about the fact that a young man died—that a life ended—because they are mortified by the fact that it is conjured up as another race-related issue. This is one part that I find most disconcerting. The other part is that it is another human issue that has been reduced to a partisan debate. People are trapped into thinking a certain way without looking at the big picture. And what a big picture it is.
Somehow, the fact that Michael Brown may have robbed a convenience store is more important than the fact that 27% of all African-Americans live in poverty, the highest for any racial group within the United States.

Somehow, the autopsy showing evidence (a gun wound to the hand) that Brown had tried to grab Wilson’s gun is more important than the fact that blacks are three times more likely than whites to be stopped by police in their vehicles, more than three times more likely to be handcuffed, and almost three times more likely to be arrested, while 27.4% of all white people stopped are simply let off with a traffic warning (compared to black men in a similar situation’s 18.3%).
And somehow, the only justice that mattered was the dismantling of the “gentle giant” myth applied to Brown and an acquittal for the innocent policeman. Swift, easy justice.
Here are some more, if you like stats; a Pew research poll stated that 37% of all white people believed that the situations in Ferguson, MO raised important questions about race in America. And 47% believed that race was given too much attention.

I don’t call this justice. I call it denial.

You cannot look at the facts regarding race in America and tell me that we live in a purely just society. You cannot look at parts of our history—Emmett Till, Trayvon Martin—and tell me that we are a just country. I love America, especially the America that was meant to be conceived, and that’s exactly why I feel that the ignorance that mars our society has to be faced before the lies continue to be perpetuated.
These systems that divide us have been part of human societies since that first Sin took hold of the world. They are instituted to divide us. They trick us into trapping ourselves. With the ones who hold privilege, there is no exception. We’re given lies, and these lies are what convince us into denial.
Racism did not disappear after Jim Crow. In fact, the neighborhoods we are separated by resemble Jim Crow in many ways. You cannot spend two years relying on a public bus system for transportation and stay blind to the issue of racial division in your city unless you really, really want to.
I will spend the next couple of days praying for the Brown family and all of Michael’s friends. I can’t forget to mention Darren Williams. I honestly fear for his life. Plus, there is no doubt that his life will be changed by this. And I hope it is changed, and that he realizes his guilt, and America’s guilt as well.
Because that’s all we really need to do to know real justice.

Why I Will Celebrate Indigenous People’s Day

At the center of a traffic circle in downtown Syracuse, New York, adjacent to the cathedral of the city’s diocese, there is a statue of Christopher Columbus atop a stone pillar. While not as grand as his doppelganger by our much bigger sister’s Broadway and 8th avenue, this Columbus stands tall and proud nonetheless, his left hand cradling a scroll and his right slightly extorted in a proud, almost aloof, gesture. Columbus Circle is a favorite spot in the city for summertime walks and festivals. With the monument encircled by a pool that reflects the spectacular Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception and the romantic figure after which the area is named, it is an attractive and rather refined spot in this otherwise gritty rustbelt hub. Every July, the Arts & Crafts festival is held at Columbus Circle. Proposals are not uncommon, and the nearby performance theater brings in many musical or concert goers. A nice night of Beethoven followed by a stroll around Columbus Circle. What a fine evening going about town.

Columbus_Circle_Syracuse

Less than ten miles away is the nearest Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) reservation, the Onondaga Nation. It’s most famous among Syracusans of European descent for its domestically produced cigarettes. It’s also known for its dilapidated houses, rotting barns, bitter Natives, and its…colorful greeting sign.

IMG_3171

(at least Spitzer isn’t governor anymore…)

It took me more than ten years living in this historic land to realize, let alone learn, the darkness behind this pairing. Below the Columbus statue’s feet, on each of the four corners of the pillar, there is a face of the typical representation of a Native American chief. Whether this is a political statement regarding Columbus’ conquering of the Indians or a well-meaning (but clumsy) gesture from the statue’s Italian-American constructers to their Haudenosaunee neighbors, I cannot say. But to me, it’s more than just a pretty statue.

Last time I was in the Circle was for the Arts & Crafts Festival in mid-July. Not far down the road in a triangular urban park called Hanover Square, the Onondaga were celebrating their annual festival, the Stage of Nations ECOfest, dedicated to the Haudenosaunee’s love for community and the environment. As we drove by this scene of dancing and neighborly festivity, my dad (who knows my feelings about the Indigenous struggle) pointed it out to me. The irony of the festival’s proximity to the Columbus statue was also mentioned.
“It doesn’t bother me that Columbus gets a statue,” I say smugly.
“Oh no?” Dad inquires. “Aren’t you passionate about Native rights?”
“Yes,” I say, “But at least there are pigeons to [excrete] on his head.”

Yes, a candid statement, but I will say that it’s a sentiment I do not hold with any hesitance. It is hard to feel a lot of pity for a man who has been sanctified for centuries by our textbooks, public schools and nationalist historians. I have to mention that it is my (at times very, very difficult) duty to never say I hate any man. But I do resent the praise thrust upon many, and Columbus tops that list. Yes, he was one amongst the many greed-driven explorers of his time. Certainly. But this still means we are celebrating a man who articulated such astute theological musings as “Gold is the most excellent; gold constitutes treasure; and he who has it does all he wants in the world, and can even lift souls up to Paradise.” Yes, Columbus loved gold. His gospel also made it necessary to read aloud a decree called “the Requirement” to the Native Americans his crew had “discovered” before coercing them into conversion. If they ignored them, Columbus and his crew could do whatever they wanted with them.

We all know that Columbus wasn’t even the first guy to discover America (at least, I hope your elementary school teachers taught you about Leif Erikson…and the Native Americans…it’s not like they sprout from American soil right after ol’ Chris’ arrival). But he was a man of science, right? Actually, the flat-earth myth, another tried-and-true argument still employed by atheists and free-thinkers to belittle the historical church in the ongoing effort to make religious people look dumb, was never part of any zeitgeist pertaining to the 15th century Church (or any thinking person, for that matter) in the first place. And in the case of Columbus, the fable that he, with strong, science-driven conviction, proved that the earth was indeed round despite the mutinous rambles of his superstitious sailors was actually contrived by Washington Irving, the guy who wrote “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” and “Rip Van Winkle”.

download (5)

Look at that smug grin. The guy was from Westchester. Doesn’t surprise me. Downstate prick.

And the troll even knew it was a falsehood.

Not one man that walked the earth other than Christ was perfect. It seems somewhat wrong to dedicate a holiday to one man who we barely know anything about. Martin Luther King, Jr. received his holiday less than twenty years after his death. People knew his merit and had even witnessed his legacy and contribution to history as it was unfolding in the 1960s. Columbus Day was never declared a federal holiday until 1937…445 years after his initial voyage. I would think that a few details of Columbus’ tale had been lost in translation after that amount of time. So if it is faulty to dedicate a holiday to one man who lived too long ago and has little historical evidence supporting his legend, why not dedicate a holiday to an entire people group that does? A group that has fought bravely for centuries for their land, endured years of bloodshed and exploitation, broken land-treaties by the newly established government, and threatened traditions? Hey, why not?

When I heard the news in April that Minneapolis had changed Columbus Day to Indigenous People’s Day, I felt a sense of justice. This past week, when Seattle followed the larger Twin City’s initiative, I felt even more justified. As one might infer from the intro paragraphs of this perpetually growing essay, this issue in history is a personal one for me. It’s one of the personal reasons I have decided to study history because I have spent my teen years treading the soil on which much of the tension took place. I see this as a true reason to celebrate. But, as it goes, not everybody’s happy. Some of the media-based reactions slightly disconcerted me. No wonder.

The changing of this holiday’s name is, according to one writer on the Tea Party News Network, “a move that will have the political correctness police cheering”. Okay. I might say that this goes beyond political correctness. But I can’t say that without repeating myself. So I will.
It. Is not. About. Political. Correctness. Visit a reservation (or take a trip to the library, look under “American history”).

The writer goes on, saying “modern day liberalism is an ideology dedicated to eradicating and replacing traditional values of American identity and pride.” Okay, so this is all just another partisan issue as always. That’s what it is reduced to again. If you ask me, there’s hardly anything more conservative (even libertarian) than the specific causes of Indigenous rights. Their struggle has been overwhelmingly faced against the American government…from the very first democrat, King Andrew and his Indian Removal Act to Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s New Deal, which overturned their traditional form of self-government. Supposedly, conservatism has a monopoly on responsibility and self-reliance, which is a value shared by the Native Americans. Like the small-business owner, nobody is more opposed to governmental interference than the Native American chief. But I guess the deal is that liberalism has a monopoly on human sympathy and feeling. So be it.

I will have to add in my dissertation that history is not only about pride. In fact, national pride as the exclusive paradigm by which to see history harms it. To study history is to look at everything, especially the ugliness of it all, and say “it does not have to be this way anymore”. It does not have to be another century of tension and aggression. It does not have to be another day of cold stares from the Mohawk kids to the Italian kids whenever the latter commutes from the Northside of Syracuse to get a “pack-a-cigs.” It does not have to be the America that Columbus left behind.

That is why I will always celebrate Indigenous People’s day.