Oscar Themes-2017

One of my favorite things to do is watch the best picture nominees and see what themes emerge from the collective whole of the movies. For me, as one who is a social commentator, it gives powerful insight into the things our society is thinking as a group. This year was no different.

Theme One: The Distressed Mother

It is easier to find which movie doesn’t have a distressed mother figure. La La Land is too self absorbed to care about family, but aside from that, every film has it. Arrival is probably the best look at it, but Moonlight, Fences, Lion, and certainly Manchester By The Sea feature this concept of a mother in some level of distress attempting to make things right or fix things.370c71c900000578-3732122-image-m-106_1470775629369

Theme Two: The Boy Looking For Himself

imagesAnd yeah, this theme is integrally connected to Theme One. This years Oscars could be called “Mother and Son” year. Specifically, on the boys side, is the two brothers in Hell or High Water, the uncle and nephew in Manchester, Moonlight is all about a man’s self discovery from childhood, and Hacksaw Ridge is the main characters intense guilt over his childhood, and the fight to be both like his dad but not like his dad.

Paging Dr. Freud. Paging Dr. Freud.

Theme Three: People of Color

In case you didn’t know it, Oscar has had a problem the last few years with the accusations of being too “white” in the nominations. It was a legitimate complaint and I have noted it in the past. This year compensates. Somewhat. Of the nine films nominated, four feature people of color exclusively. Add “Loving” in the mix, and you get five major Oscar films that are ethnically diverse.unknown

The problem I have, is that with the exception of Moonlight and Lion, all of these movies are ‘historical dramas’ that limit black people to portrayals of the past in the limited role of fighting racism and prejudice. Moonlight alone seems to avoid this trap, where the only roles black people have are those of history. I mean, would Manchester By The Sea be nominated if the actors were black? Hell or High Water would not have been nominated had it been two black brothers on the run from the cops. You and I both know it is true. Why wasn’t the linguist in Arrival a Middle- Eastern woman, since it was her work on Farsi that supposedly got the government’s attention? I think Oscar, and Hollywood, still has a prejudice.

They really cast her as a Native Hawaiian (part Chinese, part Hawaiian) in the movie Aloha, opposite Bradley Cooper
Remember when Emma Stone played a native Hawaiian. Yeah, me too.

Theme Four:  A Rebuttal of Technology

Or at least modernity, perhaps. Even in the sci-fi film Arrival, technology is downplayed. It is almost eschewed with disdain in La La Land. Hidden Figures seems to go out of its way to show how great chalkboards are. Hell or High Water is a tale almost devoid of any technology. Manchester By The Sea even has a scene where the Affleck character can’t find where he is going because he doesn’t have a proper GPS. A parallel to this is the fixation with older cars. I think most of these movies have characters driving around in twenty year old cars (or older). In fact, in La La Land, I’m pretty sure in Goslings old car, he is listening to a cassette tape. ryan-gosling-rides-classic-car-in-la-la-land-set

I am sure I could find more themes if I sat here all day, but these are the concepts and schemes that jumped off the screen at me. Enjoy the movies.


File this one under “Continuing Education.”

As most of you know, in 2013 I resigned my beloved church of 14 years and relocated across the country to my ancestral homeland in order to focus on writing. Then, six months ago (March 2016) The Lord made it clear to me and our church that I was to pastor again.

What I have learned is that things changed while I was away.

I don’t mean away from Texas, I mean away from day-to-day ministry.

One of the things I have learned, the hard way, is that email is dead.


When I was in Port Orchard, we relied upon email for almost everything. It was efficient and cost effective. I think my love for email was bias. When I arrived in Port Orchard in 1999, they were very much in the technological word of 1985–One computer used only for printing the bulletin, no internet connection on site, and certainly no email database. I was opposed early on with the typical “What about people without a computer” and I told them that “We will still use snail mail for those folks if they request it, but soon everyone will be using email for just about everything.” I think people 30 and under view email the same way I think of a fax machine–as something akin to an abacus. Nevertheless, it is hard to let go of a beloved method.

I was right, of course. Right up until I left email was our primary mode of communication. It was more vital than our website, the app we built, Facebook, Twitter, or text messaging. We had email distrubition lists for every group, sub-group, and ministry in our church. It was wonderful. It was easy. It worked.

That is not the case in my new environment. True, some of that might be location, but I suspect it is a cultural shift. Almost no one emails anymore. Most people don’t check their email more than weekly. The only thing email is useful for now is to send a document–and the only way that works is if I send the person a text message saying, “I sent you a document, check your email.”

Email is dead. Text messaging is alive and well.

This fall will find me trying to figure out how to be non-intrusive about the use of email and communication, particularly with worship guests. Again, for the past decade my modus operandi has been to send guests an email first thing Monday morning. That will not work anymore. A phone call is, I think, a little too pushy and needy. But a text message, that seems to be the zeitgeist of the age.

Just text me, everyone says.

Text messages fit our desire to absorb information quickly and move on. With our phones we don’t have to log in, clear spam, or use an bulky app. It is intuitive. It pops up on the screen. It waits until I’m ready to answer it.

This is different for me as a minister. In 2013 text messaging was certainly around, but it was something we mostly did amongst close friends and family. Remember? It would never have crossed my mind to text a receipt to someone, to text a customer service issue, to text a stranger, to text a business, an airline, or anyone I didn’t know very well. But that has changed, dramatically.  We text everyone all the time about everything.

I wonder how the Apostle Paul would have used text messaging . . .



Institutions sometimes just do not make any sense at all.

To wit, some of you will remember my blog post from two weeks ago as I described the orientation for my daughter’s high school.  You can read the whole thing by clicking here, but for the point of today’s update, all you need to know is that emphasizing technology, and how to use it in the world, was one of he key tasks of the school as outlined by the principal.  He shared with us how they wanted to put iPads in the hands of the student as well as how much money had been spent preparing the school for emerging technology.  Then, paradoxically, he told us how cell phones were, for all intent and purposes, banned (can’t use them at lunch, in the hallway, or classroom) with a $15 fine paid to get a phone back if it is taken up by a teacher.

Now, fast forward to this week.  My daughter tells me that she needs an “agenda” for high school.  I told her most people’s agenda for school is to graduate.  She didn’t get it.  I then explained to her that agenda was simply a word that means what your goals are, and that sometimes the word is used to describe the order of issues you want to talk about at a meeting or gathering.

I told her agendas are only bought and sold by politicians.

She still wasn’t comprehending, and told me her teacher told her she had to buy an agenda.

I thought I knew what she meant, but I asked her to describe for me what the teacher wants her to have.  She said it was a thing, like a notebook, where you write down what you have to do every day at certain times.  It is a reminder kind of book that helps you know what to do and when, so you can record homework due dates, tests, projects, rehearsals and things like that.

New Technology
New Technology

Oh, I said.  You need a day planner/organizer.  Okay, I said, well, your iPad and iPhone have great planners on them–you can even set it to give you reminders of key things ahead of time.  I told her that I used mine like that for the last four years I was a pastor with great success.  Just set those up and use them.  That should work.

That was when she reminded me she couldn’t use her iPad or iPhone at school.  It had to be a paper and pencil notebook agenda/planner.

This line of reasoning only makes sense if you consider paper and pencil new technology.


Other school related blog posts

Cancelled school for rain


School Bus liturgy

Shrinking pants

Forgetting things for school


image from climate.usurf.usu.edu


Tonight I went to the two-hour freshman orientation for my daughter.  It was, maybe, the last orientation I’ll ever attend as she is my youngest and parents don’t usually go to college orientation.  I suppose my next orientation gig will be when they show me around the nursing home my kids pick for me.  Oh I hope it has a coffee bar.

Anyway, I digress.  It was an incredibly boring event, but, as you might expect, there were some things that I found interesting.  Here are some of the highlights.

1.  The dress code continues to be ridiculous.  My daughter still can’t wear bandanas to school.  She was told by one of the teachers, “If we don’t like your hairpin, we will physically yank it out of your hair.”  This school is filled with dress code Nazis.  I’m serious.  The rule book even spells out that it is a violation to wear anything with a skull and crossbones.  So no Pirates of the Caribbean t-shirts.  Oh, and I guess they can’t read my excellent short story, Jolly Rogers.

2.  Speaking of dress codes, the rule specifically spells out that boys may not have beards.  They can have a moustache, but no beard.

From the actual handbook.
From the actual handbook.

Not even a goatee.  Now, as a bearded man I find this offensive.  If a 16 or 17 year old boy, working to fill adequate about his manhood is able to grow a beard, he should be allowed to.  Not only allowed, but it should be applauded and encouraged.  A beard is not deviant behavior.

3.  The funniest moment for me came about an hour into the program.  The principal had just given a passionate speech about how the high school had put wifi in all the buildings, was sparing no expenses in spending new bond money for updated technology, and that every student would be given an iPad.  Then, not two heartbeats later, the cafeteria director stood up and informed everyone that if a kid got more than $10 behind on his lunch bill, he or she would only be given a cheese sandwich and a glass of water for lunch, with the implication that Bruiser and Killer would be by the house later to collect.  How screwed up is that?  We’ll give them an iPad, but not lunch.  The world is so weird.

4.  File this under “Hashtag sarcasm.”  Right before the principal gave this great speech about technology and streaming it seamlessly into the classroom he informed us that students were only allowed to use their cell phones if a teacher allowed it.  Again, the irony is delicious.  We give them iPads, but restrict their cell usage.  Oh, by the way, you can follow all the administration and counselors on Twitter, but apparently you can’t tweet them at school.

5.  I just can’t let this go.  All the talk about embracing technology was reinforced with constant encouragements to visit the schools internet link for student information.  We can check grades, print transcripts, see absences and do so many wonderful things.  The system is called Skyward and just about every school in North America uses it.  Come on people, why not go ahead and name it what it really wants to be–SKYNET, with complete control of everything.

6.  The school really cares if an athlete is falling behind on his grades, because an athlete is not eligible to play if he or she fails and some of the coaches are on board with this.  No mention was made if the school cared if a non-athlete fell behind in grades.

7.    The students don’t know their schedule yet and can’t find out.  So, freshmen are showing up the first day of school with, literally, no clue where to go.  They have to find their name on a big board that tells them which room to go to.  Then, in that room, they will get their schedule.  Now, that is the first time they see their schedule, on the first day.  They may have gotten the classes they wanted, or they might not have.  Sorry, though, schedules can’t be changed.  Literally, a student is stuck with the luck of the draw on the first day for the whole year.  The whole year.  That is messed up.

So those were the highlights.  Makes me very glad that I went to high school at a sane institution, run by people who loved to teach children, at a time when a teenager could actually be a teenager.  Man I miss the 80s.