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Yesterday: A Thought Experiment or MAKE A MUSICIAN DISAPPEAR

As I mentioned on the social medias over the past week, Mrs. Greenbean and I went with one of the sprouts and saw the movie Yesterday. We absolutely loved it. It was refreshing to watch something that wasn’t a Disney rehash or Superhero in spandex. Yesterday is quality speculative fiction. I think there could even get an Oscar nod or two. Seriously.

But that is not what this blog is about. The premise of Yesterday is something goes haywire with the world and The Beatles never existed. Except the Main Character–Jack, who remembers them. A world without The Beatles is a very sad world, indeed. Play with me though. If you could erase a musical group/artist from the existence of the world, which one would it be?

This is not to erase them as a person or as people, just their musical experience and influence. Once I entertained this thought, it was not hard for me to pick mine. I would eliminate Pink Floyd. If I never heard another Pink Floyd song again, that would be okay. In fact, if I’d never heard a Pink Floyd song it make me wish you were here until all the money was comfortably numb, especially if mother asked for another brick in the wall.

There were other groups that came close. A world without Madonna would be a better world. I think the same is true of Journey. Maroon 5 could go, too.

I limited myself to one–and that was Pink Floyd, but as I sit at my keyboard imagining what could be, a world without Pink Floyd, Madonna, Journey, and Maroon 5 sounds like a very, very sweet place to live. I’m sure you have your one–one musician/musical group you’d like to disappear.

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A SPOILER Filled Review of Toy Story 4

I’m serious. I decided to shove spoilers all over this review post, so if you haven’t seen it yet and want to not know things, then you better click to another blog post like maybe this post about my new book or this post about Bernie Sanders or this random post about books I like

I warned you.

forky-toy-story-4


What I Really Liked

There are three things I loved about this movie. The first is the humor. Toy Story 4 is not the best in the franchise (that would be Toy Story 2) but TS4 might well be the funniest. I laughed out loud, which is rare for me, several times during the movie. The sight gags are amazing. Another thing I loved was the visual look of Forky. He has a certain Claymation appearance that tickled my nostalgia bone. The last thing I really loved was Bonnie’s poor dad. I felt for him, because his troubles, though exaggerated for effect, are all too real.

What I Liked

I liked they brought Bo Peep back.

I liked the idea of a road trip.

I liked the mannequins. I really loved the mannequins in the antique shop. Seriously, Toy Story 4 at times is a horror movie. I liked that.

I liked that at the end Woody, for the first time in his existence perhaps, was able to be himself and not be responsible for anyone else. He is the leader who steps down to be with his family. The pastor who retires. The parent when the kids all finally grow up and leave home. He can relax with the little shepherd girl who has his heart.

I liked the emotions the film evoked. These are real emotions of love, purpose, abandonment, friendship, and loyalty. Take tissues with you.

What I Didn’t Like

I didn’t like the over-arching plot. It was paper thin, predictable, and to be honest boring. The plot held zero tension for me.

Though it was good to see Bo Peep, I didn’t like that they turned her into Rey from Star Wars. Seriously. She is a scavenger with a staff who is a great fighter and clever schemer. Mind you, I’m not upset that she is a strong woman–I like that part. What I don’t like is how much she reminded me of Rey. I think Bo Peep could have been more interesting as Ridley from Aliens 2 or perhaps Sarah Connor. Or Captain Janeway.

I didn’t like there was no short film in front of this movie. It made the running time of the movie seem brief.

What I Really Didn’t Like

There are two things I very much did not like about this movie. Keep in mind, it doesn’t mean I hate the movie, I just hate these two aspects of it.

The first thing I hated was the goodbye at the end. Buzz Lightyear and Woody are life-long friends. The movies occur in real time with us, which means they’ve been friends since 1995. For almost twenty-five years they’ve known each other. Their goodbye was terribly anticlimactic and far too brief. Yes, it was the emotional moment in the movie and many people will weep as they pull out a tissue, but let’s be honest that is because we the audience are providing the emotion here. The film cuts it short. This should have been even more of a gut punch. I can even see a montage of their greatest moments running. How awesome would something like that have been. Put that together with the way in which all the other toys — toys we are led to assume Woody has led and nurtured from the beginning because Woody was Andy’s original toy and they barely even say by-by. This bothered me.

The second, and from a story-tellers perspective the most bothersome, was the minimizing of the other characters. Buzz Lightyear not only has almost no presence in the film, he actually somehow becomes dumber. Buzz in TS 2 and TS 3 was bright, alert, and very aware of his place in the universe. This Buzz seems to not know what the young Buzz knew.

But Jessie? Poor Jessie. I think she has a total of two lines in the whole movie. All of the other characters are likewise moved aside.

The moviemakers dedicate this film solely to Woody. Even Bo Peep exist only as the fulfillment of Woody’s transition. Gabby Gabby and Forky make meaningful transitions, but both of these are viewed as Woody’s accomplishment, not their own discovery.

Overall

Overall, this is a great movie. My ranking of the franchise is 2, 3, 1, and 4. However, the nihilistic Forky is worth the price of admission and the mannequins are worth the popcorn and soda. You will love the movie. However, it could have been better. I think it could have been a lot better. It is safe for your whole crew, although Forky’s fatalism might cause some discussions later when you’re eating supper at Pizza Planet.

 

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What Would Free College Be Worth?–Meditations on Bernie Sanders’ Plan

Yesterday (24 June 2019) Senator Bernie Sanders upped the discussion among those candidates hopeful of winning the Democratic nomination. If I understand his plan, there are two parts to it.ap_738914881801-smaller_slide-c38afbf1af02da96e2f3e6688d883493538cf8cd-s800-c85

Part One: Offer free tuition at public universities and trade schools to everyone.

Part Two: Cancel all existing student loan debt.

ABC news reported it this way on their website:

Sen. Bernie Sanders introduced his most sweeping plan yet to tackle the increasing cost of a higher education, introducing a bill Monday that would make public colleges and trade schools tuition free and cancel outstanding student loan debt for everyone full article here

I completely understand why some people want these changes. It starts with the pernicious problem of history majors from Princeton with $150,000 in student loan debt only qualified to teach history for $45,000 a year. I feel for these situations, I really do. I was able to attend the college of my choice because of financial aid, but still had to borrow some money to finish. A four-year university is expensive and the most expensive schools and degrees do not always offer promising jobs in the future, especially if all you have is an undergraduate degree.

Yet there are problems with the Sanders’ plan. If you make something free, the value plummets. By excusing debt, those who have already paid their loans back and those who chose to go to local schools, work through, and leave debt free are punished.

I have five big concerns that make me opposed to Sanders’ (and Warren’s) plan. I want you to know, though, I could be talked otherwise, as these are where I start from not where I may finish. A solid argument could persuade me. I just haven’t heard the solid argument yet.

Objection 1: If tuition at public institutions, like my alma mater, the University of Texas, is free then it will only be a matter of time before a university education at a public school is downgraded to essentially be a biggie sized high school diploma.

Objection 2: When public institutions are so constrained, the dividing line between public and private will only increase (a distinction that is currently neglible) with no public school able to get into the top tier. This will further divide the haves and the have nots.

Objection 3: Many private schools are religious institutions. By excusing debt accumulated, say, at BYU or Notre Dame, the government is funding religious education. As a Baptist, I have a hard time accepting this.

Objection 4: Canceling that much debt at one time, with no obligation or payment of any kind from those who amassed the debt, creates two immediate problems. The first problem is artificially tilting the free market economy.  The second problem is the expectation of a whole generation of mostly young people that they can have someone else pay their debt. It undermines responsibility, which is something college is supposed to teach.

Objection 5: Going forward, what do we do? If you cancel the debt now, in five years there will be students with loans needing to be paid back. Is this a perpetual promise, because that would get expensive fast. Free tuition doesn’t cover the most expensive part of college–room and board, thus guaranteeing there will always be college loans and college loan debt problems.

I am cynical of Sanders’ plan, because the Democratic candidates are falling all over themselves to give away more and more free stuff in an effort to get elected. I have a counter proposal. It is three parts. Part one, increase both need based and merit based federal aid while putting tougher limits on how much money can be borrowed. Part two, instead of free college, spend money on healthcare and create a universal care system. That would take a big spending burden off the entire public. Part three, expand and make for easier application the methods of having individual student loans forgiven. Some methods already exist, but these could be increased to include things like volunteering at your child’s school or a local food bank, jury duty, or donating blood or plasma.

 

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First Ten Pages of My New Novel

Below you will find the front matter and the first ten pages of my new novel, absolutely free. Enjoy!

 

ADW_cover

 

A DREAM WITHIN

A Pastor Butch Gregory Novel

 Jamie D. Greening

 

Acknowledgements

Thanks, is not enough, but alas, it will have to suffice.

I begin my gratitude with you—dear reader. There are so many other things you could be reading today, but you chose my novel and for that I am thankful. You will never know how much I appreciate that act of trust.

I also deeply appreciate Athanatos Publishing, specifically Anthony Horvath. His belief in Butch Gregory, from the very first short story in 2009 all the way to this volume, has been an encouragement that feeds my soul. I also owe a debt to the other writers in the Athanatos ‘stable’—specifically Joseph Courtemanche, Joe Shaw, Robert Cely, and Derek Elkins. After you buy two or three more copies of this book to give as gifts, you should immediately go buy their books. The same can be said of my little writer’s group: Patrick Shaub, Iris Macek, and Amber Jones continually remind me to shorten my overcomplicated, comma infused, compound, run-on, and pretentious sentences; avoid the echo of word echoes, as well as to not swing for the fences on fourth and goal by mixing my metaphors. My writing would be exponentially better if I listened to them more often.

Many people have read through this work at various stages, and I deeply appreciate their labor. My writing and grammar are always in need of improvement. This is particularly true of plane old homophones. I am convinced this was a section of grammar in grade school covered by my teacher when I had my tonsillectomy. If you find one or more in this book, it is no one’s fault by mine. These eagle-eyed people include Joe Courtemanche, Pastor Barbara Agnew, Sheila Cochran, and Elisha Pile. Another thanks to Pastor, writer, and theologian smart guy John Duncan for his assistance with tricky Greek transliteration.

A Dream Withinis the most pastoral book I have ever written, and as it pertains to that I wish to express my deep appreciation for Joe Chambers and David Caddell, both of whom share in the very difficult work of shepherding my soul even if they don’t know it. Related to this, the three churches I have been blessed to pastor—Walnut Springs Baptist Church, First Baptist Church of Port Orchard, and now Fellowship Baptist Church, have helped me more than I have ever helped them. I owe these three congregations so much, and I am thankful the awful things that happened to poor Butch at Sydney Community have never been my own experiences. Although, there was that one time . . .

I am a crazy, insecure, neurotic writer, yet somehow my wife and daughters love me anyway. I can’t even imagine life without them. Thanks, FamSquad. I love you.

Jamie Greening

Texas Hill Country

 

 

 

 

 

This is a work of fiction. None of the characters or characterizations correlate to actual people living or dead. Nevertheless, this story is filled with truth. Let the reader understand.

 

 

For my father, Jack Greening.

The field is plowed, the corn laid by,

and the peas are picked.

Rest in peace.


 While I weep—while I weep!

O God! can I not grasp

Them with a tighter clasp?

O God! can I not save

Onefrom the pitiless wave?

Is allthat we see or seem

But a dream within a dream?

                      From “A Dream Within a Dream”

Edgar Allan Poe

 

PART ONE

The crucible is for silver

The furnace is for gold, and

The Lord tests the heart.

 Proverbs 17:3

I

            Pastor Butch Gregory felt as dark and blue as the necktie he kept tugging.

The tie wasn’t tight. Tightness squeezed his throat from the inside out. It had been a long time since he’d felt this uncomfortable. It was warm, temperatures in the upper seventies. The sky was clear and blue. The sun felt good on his black suit.

The weather was not the reason for his discomfort.

Something wasn’t right.

Of course, things weren’t right. He was standing at the graveside service for a sixteen-year-old boy. A boy who had everything going for him. It was not just any boy, either. He was the boyfriend of his daughter’s best friend. The boy had been in his house.He had eaten at his table. He had watched countless movies in his living room. He had driven his daughter around town.

He was a boy who was almost a man.

And now he was dead.

What part did Butch expect to be alright, anyway?

He grunted as he tugged. The necktie loosened; the tightening increased.

Funerals are always tough, but he wasn’t the officiant at this graveside. Here, he was a mourner.

Butch’s wife, Lucy, stood with one arm around their daughter, Sarah.

What pain Sarah must be going through. Why hadn’t he spoken with her about it?

Sarah was between Butch and Lucy. Paul, their son and youngest child, stood on Butch’s other side. It was their normal family seating order at public events: parent, child, parent, child. Sarah always between her mom and dad, and Paul to the right of his old man. It was how they sat at movies, concerts, football games, airplanes, and now funerals.

The chapel service had been scriptural and uplifting, and his colleague from First United Methodist Church had done a good job dealing with the difficulties and trauma involved. Butch knew she would. Here, at the graveside the minister was reading a sobering and reflective text from Ecclesiastes. He listened, looking for hope. He’d always found hope in the Scriptures. Not necessarily the hope he wanted, but always hope. He listened with his aching heart, hoping to hear something positive. Anything to help.

He worked hard to not conjure the passage from memory, but instead to listen with fresh ears as each word was released into the air.

To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven:

A time to be born, and a time to die;

A time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted;

A time to kill, and a time to heal;

A time to break down, and a time to build up;

A time to weep, and a time to laugh;

A time to mourn, and a time to dance;

A time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together;

A time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;

A time to get, and a time to lose.

 

The familiar text from Ecclesiastes should’ve comforted him. He could remember times when it had. It was the exact same set of verses he’d read at his own grandmother’s funeral. That was in the past. Today, though, the Bible agitated him. It mocked him. He felt as if he was always losing. When was it his time to win? His turn to get? When was his family allowed to dance? Why was their laughter always tempered with the weeping? And pain? Was the Gregory family ever allowed to heal?

God felt a million miles away.

He tugged at his necktie.

Sniffles and sobs filled his ears. Butch felt like the entire high school student body was at the funeral. He knew some, most he didn’t. He’d baptized a few of them. His heart ached for them and the world they lived in. This was not the time in the lives of these children when they should be weeping. They should be laughing, dancing, studying, exploring, dating, learning, and living. They should be asking big questions about their place in the universe, thinking about love and God and eternity and politics and philosophy, and what college to go to. It wasn’t fair. The young man would never experience these again, and Sarah would have to face life’s bitterness far too soon.

His heart hurt for the boy in the coffin. A coffin which would soon have pall bearer boutonnieres placed upon it. Then dirt. And then not a small number of tears.

Butch looked at the sky through his sunglasses and imagined how he might be more comfortable if Roberto had died in a car crash. Or kidney failure. Or a sudden aneurysm. None of those would have eased the grief, but any one of those horrible things would have at least made some sense. People die. It was part of life. Accidents happen. Illness steals away years. Medicine fails everyone, eventually. Even kids. It was the human condition.

But Roberto didn’t die in a car crash. He didn’t have kidney failure. His brain was fine—there was no aneurysm. The limitations of medicine or science had nothing to do with why Roberto would not be in class Monday morning.

Roberto had opened the veins on his wrists with a razor blade. He bled to death on the floor of his bedroom. His mom found him when he didn’t come down for dinner.

What a horrible experience it must have been for her.

Butch tugged at the necktie.

The more he stared upward into the sky, the more bothered he became. He’d been bothered since it had happened, but he’d blocked the whole unpleasantness from his thoughts. The ability to compartmentalize came in handy for pastoral ministry, and he’d successfully used this skill to shelter himself from thinking about Roberto. Instead, he thought about work, the landscaping of his backyard, and the book he was reading. He diagnosed himself with classic denial.

He’d not even taken the time to sit with Sarah and talk to her about her friend’s death. How could he have neglected her spiritual needs? Was it a mental block? Defense mechanism? Professional distance? Why had he ignored her? Had she been anyone else’s daughter, he’d have made an appointment to specifically speak to her as she went through this. Yet under his own roof was a teenage girl with enormous pain, and he hadn’t even talked to her. That this girl was his daughter made his heart even sicker. His shoulders slumped. His left knee buckled. Failing his family had always been his fear, and now he saw he’d done the exact thing he’d never wanted to do.

Butch drew his left hand from his pocket; he draped his arm around Sarah’s shoulder.

He moved to pull her close to him, but Sarah stepped to the side, pulling away. Without ever looking up at him, she clutched her mother’s arm instead. Only two feet separated him from her, but it was an emotional Grand Canyon.

Butch’s arm fell empty to his side He looked at her; she never looked at him. He felt as though he gazed at a stranger.

He clutched at his necktie, but this time he didn’t tug at it. He tightened it.

After the minister had declared the sure and certain hope of the resurrection to eternal life and the funeral director gave brief instructions, Sarah and Lucy stepped up to the casket. Sarah took a necklace from around her neck and placed it atop the silver casket. Lucy held her daughter tight. Butch stood helpless beside Paul. He didn’t know they’d planned that. When had they talked about it? He tried to remember if they’d talked about it, but he couldn’t focus.

The car ride home was quiet. Butch held Lucy’s hand, but neither spoke. Sarah and Paul doubled down on their parents’ silence.

The weather outside was warm for a spring day, but the atmosphere inside Butch Gregory’s home was cold.

 

II

 

Tommy Bothers brought the meeting to order.“As you know, this is a special board meeting called to discuss the sorry state of our church.”

“Come on, Tommy!” Dr. Gerald Land said. “You’ve not made a fair characterization at all of what our situation is. Your pejorative term is not appreciated.”

“Appreciated or not,” another voice chimed, “Tommy’s words are spot on. Things ain’t good.”

Tommy enjoyed this moment. He’d anticipated it, or something like it, for years, for as long as he could remember. It was his destiny. Tommy carried a mood about the whole arrangement. Last year he was elected board chairperson. His father and mother had politicked hard for him to earn the position, and their work paid off. He had endured the troublesome Butch Gregory long enough. Tommy knew how church should work. He knew what Sydney Community Church needed. He knew the solutions to their problems, and the solution started with removing the old preacher and finding a new one.

A younger one.

A smarter one.

A professional one.

A sensible one.

A compliant one.

But he had to be careful. There were difficult waters yet to navigate. Tommy knew he needed to be cautious. It couldn’t look as if he was working solely to get Butch fired. He had to make a logical case for a change in direction. It must look as if he was doing the hard things and saying the hard things for the church’s sake. Most people in the church loved Butch more than words could express, and the old guy had allies on the board. But the preacher’s power had waned

 

[to keep reading, you can purchase the novel for Kindle ($3.99) or paperback ($14.95) by clicking here]