Saturday, June 29, 2013

Posted by Tony

World War Z: The Globalization of the Horror Movie

There has always been one consistent theme to most horror movies; a malevolent presence threatens a small group or individual in a remote and isolated setting. Think of The Night of the Living Dead (a small group in a remote and desolate farmhouse), The Shining (a small group in a remote and desolate hotel, John Carpenter’s classic remake of The Thing (a small group in a remote and desolate arctic station), Friday the 13th (a small group in a remote and desolate summer camp) and most recently Joss Whedon’s brilliant The Cabin in the Woods (a small group in a remote and desolate cabin in the woods.) The list could go on and on. Horror has always been about tension, isolation and even a little bit claustrophobic. World War Z certainly has elements of this theme but then successfully transitions to horror on a global scale.

The action in World War Z spans countries and even continents. The US, Korea, Israel, England and Canada are locales in movie. Don’t get me wrong, there are scenes that are intimate and take place in small enclosed areas such as an apartment building and a research hospital. But the scenes that transform the feeling of the movie are the images of Philadelphia and Jerusalem being overrun by zombies.

In the opening scenes the actions of these zombies are foreshadowed in shots of swarms of bees and insects and flocks of birds. These animals seem to be moving in unison as if controlled by an unseen force.  The massive groups of zombies act in similar fashion. They use their own bodies to create towers to scale walls and building. They rush through the streets like the waves of a tsunami, overtaking everything in their path. They are fast! These are no slow lumbering mindless zombies with arms outstretched.

Brad Pitts effectively portrays a former a UN investigator who is recalled to service to help discover the cause of a virus that is turning people into zombies. While the terrific actress Mireille Enos is his wife in a role that reduces her to too many scenes of sitting around looking worried.  The film has way too many holes in the plot to sustain credibility and the ending feels rushed and a little too pat. However, I still liked the movie quite a bit.

The pacing is brisk but not frenetic. The special effects are extremely effective. The acting is above par. Of special note are performances by James Badge Dale as an army captain and a very short spot by (a toothless!) David Morse as an ex-CIA agent.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Best Ever: Coffee

Posted by Michael

God in His great love for us, gave us the Grand Canyon, Niagara Falls, beautiful rain forests, desert sunsets, and starry nights that take our breath away. Most importantly, however, God has given us coffee. Whether you are starting off your morning or enjoying a dessert after an amazing dinner, things are not quite complete without really good coffee. Please notice that I said good coffee, that’s because there is bad coffee out there. I’ve had it, and I try to avoid it whenever possible. The seven people on the planet who don’t like coffee have probably only had bad coffee, and if that’s the case, I understand their pain.

Coffee can appear complicated at first glance.  Tanzania Peaberry, Jamaican Blue Mountain, Kona, and Sumatra are just a few of the endless options available to you, but don’t get swept away with all of the choices. Also ignore all flavored beans. The guy who thought of flavoring coffee beans to taste like German Chocolate Cake is probably in a lab somewhere trying to create a Kangaturtle (a Kangaroo with the head of a turtle and a large shell. It would be able to jump really well, but would not see the point, and most often would just sit there. This sort of tampering is unholy and frightening.)  Great coffee begins with one simple rule: fresh coffee is good coffee. Buy your beans (or have them ground for you) at a place that roasts their beans in house if at all possible. Fresh coffee is like freshly baked bread. In the same way that a warm loaf of bread fresh from the oven at your local bakery makes a loaf of Wonder Bread seem like sliced styrofoam, a cup of coffee made from freshly roasted and ground beans blows a cup of Folgers out of the water (no offense Folgers).  There are a lot of wonderful coffee shops out there. Land of a Thousand Hills in Georgia and Krankies in Winston Salem do a wonderful job. Joe Van Gogh and Larry’s Beans also provide excellent beans. If I had to pick a current favorite though, it would be Kenya AA beans from Cup a Joe in Raleigh. They are constantly roasting beans at Cup a Joe, so you know you’ll always get a great cup of coffee and a fresh bag of beans to take home if you so desire.   Once you’ve found a bean roaster that you like, feel free to sample the different varieties. There are lots of great options, and you can begin to find your favorite at that point.

So, what’s your Best Ever Coffee?????

Monday, June 17, 2013

Love and Omelets

Posted by Michael

Most of this year’s graduation ceremonies have ended. Many high school students are readying themselves for college, and many college students are looking to begin careers. For those next in line to graduate the familiar questions are surfacing again, none of them more important than, “What should I spend my life doing?” This question is important for all of us to return to periodically. Statistics are released every year about what sort of jobs are available and which industries seem primed to hire for years to come. Many students train for health related careers with the thinking being that there will always be sick people. Lawyers and policemen know there will always be crime. Our endless craving for more advanced computers and phones seem to bode well for those entering the tech field.

A first century church planter named Paul seemed to be thinking along the same lines when he wrote a letter to a church he had started in the city of Corinth. He told the timid Jesus followers that there were ways to spend their lives that had incredible upside. The instruction came as a response to the arguments the Corinthian people were having about which tasks or talents were most important, and about what they should be doing with their lives.

“Aren’t teachers the most important?”

“How about the prophets, they seem pretty intense?”

 I’m not sure what the people with the gift of tongues are saying, but they seem really passionate…”

Paul settled the debate by saying that only one activity would still be necessary in heaven. There is only one thing that we could be doing now, that we will definately be doing for the rest of eternity. It’s not teaching, because in heaven, we will know everything we need to know. It’s not prophecy, there’s nothing to predict in heaven. We won’t be caring for the poor in heaven, because everyone will already have all they need. The one thing that will be consuming our time in heaven is loving people and loving God. Learning to  love people honestly, humbly, and passionately is the one skill that will never be out of date. Loving people, like omelet making, takes lots of practice and a good deal of creativity, but with patience we can get better as we go along, and our world will be better off for it. 

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Best Ever Fried Chicken

Posted by Michael

Ok, we got great feedback on our post about the best ever doughnuts. So, I thought we would try again with another southern favorite: fried chicken. Much like sculpting or painting, fried chicken is an art. Good fried chicken is a spiritual experience complete with angels, harps, and puffy clouds. Bad fried chicken is also a spiritual experience but with more pitchforks and flames. I have had great fried chicken from a number of places. Doug Saul’s BBQ in Nashville, NC has really great fried chicken and some of the best chicken gizzards you will ever eat (if you eat gizzards).  If I had to pick one place as the “Best Ever” fried chicken it would be the delicious crunchy bird from Price’s Chicken Coup in Charlotte, NC. Price’s Chicken Coup is a must stop when you are craving a box of greasy goodness. They follow the tried and true recipe of “do only a few things, and do them well”.  There is no silverware or frilly tablecloths at Price’s, for that matter there are no tables at all. They cook the chicken, where you eat it is your issue. If you are ever in Charlotte and in the mood for a heart stabbing plate of greasy glory, Price’s is the place to go.

A note on chicken gizzards. Chicken Gizzards are a carnivore’s chewing gum. The tend to be better when you don’t have to cook them yourself, and will almost certainly take about 30 years off of your expected life span, but 30 years without chicken gizzards doesn’t seem that great anyway….

Monday, June 10, 2013

A New Twist on an Old Story

posted by Michael

The writers who recounted the stories of Jesus’ life shortly after He had gone back to heaven included a few stories that involved a trio of siblings named Lazarus, Martha, and Mary. One of the more popular stories takes place in the sibling’s home. Martha is frantically putting together a meal for Jesus and those travelling with him. Martha had been the one to welcome Jesus to her home, and she wanted to provide the best hospitality to him that she could. Jesus traveled constantly during his years of ministry which meant that a comfortable place to sit and a home cooked meal were rarities. Martha had compassion for the teacher she so admired, and planned to clean his feet, fill his belly, and give him a much needed rest on his journey.

Her plan began to break down when she looked around and noticed that she was alone in the kitchen. Where was her sister Mary? Jesus and her other guests were hungry. This food needed to be prepared NOW. How could Mary be so thoughtless and selfish?! Why am I doing all the work? Why do I have to carry the stress of this all alone? Exasperated, she went to Jesus and asked for His help. “Jesus, don’t you care that I’m in there slaving over the food all alone, while Mary is just sitting here like a lump? Most of the times when this story is told, we jump to the part where Jesus tells Martha that Mary has chosen wisely, and that he won’t take her away from listening to his teachings. The moral we are told is that sitting at the feet of Jesus and listening to Him is more important that anything you could ever do, and there is a ton of truth in that. It’s a message that many of us “doers” need to hear often. There is a time to sit and simply be with Jesus. But there is more going on in this story than just this important moral.

The first thing Jesus tells Martha are words filled with compassion and patience. The ESV translates Jesus’ words to say, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary.” (Luke 10:41-42a) Martha used her home well. She had a gift for hospitality and compassion for people who were worn out and depleted. Her plan was to offer a warm place to sit and warm food to eat as her way to care for Jesus. So far, so good. Things broke down when Martha assumed that the way she was going to care for Jesus was the same way that Mary would care for Jesus. Martha left her “one thing” and was now focused on Mary’s actions. That was the beginning of her, and many times our, anxieties.

Jesus returned later to Martha’s house, just a week or so before his death. The story begins in much the same way. Martha is busy in the kitchen and Mary is being… well, Mary. She takes a bottle of expensive perfume, pours it on Jesus’ feet, and washes his feet with her hair. The beautiful part of the story happens next when Martha says….nothing. Martha is focused on loving Jesus the best way she can, by cooking him a meal and giving him a place to rest. She is also now content to allow Mary to love Jesus in the best way that she could. To say that the point of the story is that Martha needed to be like Mary isn’t completely true. Martha needed to be the best Martha she could be, and not be discouraged or angered by people who were not wired like she was.  Martha had found her one thing, and also had found peace from her anxieties. 

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Best Ever: Doughnuts

Posted by Michael

Being born and raised in the south has lots of perks, but few are better than the amazing foods we have close at hand. Southern delicacies like fried chicken, really good bbq, and sweet tea make the humid temperatures south of the Mason Dixon line bearable. Another amazing food item that I feel has been perfected here in the south is the doughnut. There are few things better than a hot Krispy Kreme doughnut. Let's be honest, who hasn't dreamed of drinking that liquid glaze straight off of the conveyor belt? Also, let me be clear, when I say doughnut I am talking about the original glazed variety. Other companies have a wide assortment of “doughnuts” covered in icing, topped with nuts, and cookies and who knows what else, and while they are tasty, they are not a real doughnut. I mean, after all, you could cover a piece of cardboard with custard, chocolate frosting and sprinkles and it would taste pretty good.

Although Krispy Kreme is a faithful standby for all doughnut lovers, I have found two places that I feel are even better (sounds like blasphemy, I know…). The first is Anne’s Donuts in Rocky Mount, NC. Their fresh made doughnut is warm, gooey, glazed perfection. The second is Britt’s at Carolina Beach. There is something to be said for a company that does only one thing, but knows how to do it well, and that is Britt’s. I can’t prove it, but I’m pretty sure that their doughnuts are what all food tastes like in heaven. They have milk to wash it down or crappy coffee, but you don’t go to Britt’s for a drink, you go for a sugar coma, and you will not be disappointed!

Ok blog readers, let’s hear it….what is your most favorite doughnut????????

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Everything, Nothing, and Gatsby

Posted by Michael

F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby is one of those rare books that can be enjoyed slowly just for the prose. It’s also brilliant storytelling, and the recently released film did a nice job of conveying the force of that story. There have been countless articles written on The Great Gatsby, all of them by people with more literary insight than I possess. That being said, after seeing the film recently I couldn’t help but add a couple of thoughts myself….

The characters created by Fitzgerald in The Great Gatsby all illustrate in their own way, an imposing challenge faced by most people. That challenge is how to live with the tension of having everything and nothing at the same time. Our guide through the story is Nick Carraway, a Yale grad and WWI vet who has decided to find a job in New York City, so as to be a part of the excitement of the city. Nick is quickly drawn into two lavish and wealthy worlds. The first is that of his cousin Daisy Buchanan and her husband Tom. Daisy is beautiful and engaging. Tom is a successful business man and a former athlete. Before long Nick learns that Tom, not content to only enjoy Daisy’s beauty, has a mistress living in the low rent districts outside of New York City. His financial success is inseparable from his arrogance and insecurity. For all her advantages, Daisy is bored, and haunted by the ever ringing phone that she knows to be originating from her husband’s mistress.

As time progresses, Nick is also drawn into the world of his obscenely wealthy neighbor, Jay Gatsby. Whereas Daisy and Tom began seemingly perfect and were found to be quite empty, Gatsby appeared to Carraway an even more complete picture of perfection. As the story unfolds we are confronted with Gatsby’s obsessive love for Daisy and his hatred for his humble beginnings that he feels he can not escape. Everyone in the story is incredibly fortunate and incredibly lacking.

I’ve found that’s pretty much our story as well. Each of us has some type of amazing blessing or talent or gift in our life. It’s often something that unbeknownst to us, others admire and possibly wish they had as well. It may be a talent for business or a gift for music, or an ability to make people feel at home. Whatever yours is, you likely overlook it or explain it away much of the time. We also each have our own weaknesses, challenges that we have yet to overcome, disadvantages that we feel define us.

Successful living isn’t about embracing the good about yourself, and then compulsively working to remove all of the weakness, or lack of talent, or lack of knowledge. Healthy living comes when you embrace both your gifts and your deficits. It doesn’t mean that we can’t grow, it just means that we will never be great at everything. You may be the world’s most gifted pianist, but what about the flute or the violin? You may be gifted with words, but you can’t paint to save your life. You may build the most durable houses known to man, but the thought of speaking to a large group terrifies you. Here’s the really big secret: it’s ok. We were never meant to be amazing at everything. We were designed to need other people, due in part to our finite limitations and imperfections. More importantly we were created to need a God who takes joy in providing for us. To be grateful for the wonderful things you have been blessed with, and humbly at peace with the things you will never perfect is the beginning of contentment and a healthy life.