Saturday, December 23, 2006

Some Final Musings About Incidents That Happened Three Weeks Ago.

It's an experience to shave by candlelight. It's an experience that I wouldn't suggest trying, but a different experience nonetheless.
Reading by candlelight isn't that bad. Abe Lincoln used to do it all the time. It's not that different than reading in the dark with a flashlight. This is something I suggest people try at least once in their lives. However, try to make sure that you have a source of heat nearby other than the candle, because reading by candlelight while holding on to a blanket that is keeping you from freezing is very difficult to do.
My father might not be a very intelligent man, but he is incredible nonetheless. I respect him even more than I did just a month ago. He lives every moment as a Gethsemane and doesn't even realize it.
Parents worry about their children. Children relieve their parents anxieties through the peace they have. If children have no peace, parents have none either.
Driving a car that looks like a light-blue golf ball isn't all that bad.

Monday, December 18, 2006

A Little Something About Worry

Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” Matthew 6:34

I’m usually a pretty easy-going person. Even though I plan and try to prepare for things (I am an Eagle Scout after all), the above verse became more significant to me a couple weeks ago. About two weeks ago at 4am I was awaken by a large, thundering sound. Everything outside was covered in ice and since 9:30pm that night tree branches and power lines had been falling. The sound of thunder that jolted me away from my peaceful slumber was the sound of part of a tree falling and landing outside. The tree landed right in front of the house and part of it was lying on my car. We could barely open the front door. Taking my Mag Lite, I went outside and investigated the car. It didn’t look like any of the windows were damaged, but I did see that some power lines were entangled with the tree. I came back into the house and crawled under the covers and went back to sleep.

In the morning we went outside and accessed as much of the damage as we could. In falling down, not only did the tree knock some electric lines down, it also ripped the phone box out of the side of the house. I really couldn’t see how damaged the car was because the tree was lying on top of it. I needed to see how bad things were because that car is my only form of transportation. We had some people who could cut the tree, but they were going to touch it until the power lines were out of the way. The phone company was also contacted, but they said they couldn’t do anything until the tree was moved. So, everything depended upon the power company coming and getting the line off the top of the car and out of the tree limbs. They had already been called at 4:30am when the ginormous piece of lumber first fell. I called them later that evening just to make sure.

Two days later I was still in the same predicament. The electric company was called again and I was told that crews were on the way and everything was being done as quickly as it could. It was frustrating because I had cleared all the debris I could and there really wasn’t anything else I could do. Living without electricity was challenging, but was something that could be dealt with. But we couldn’t move the power line ourselves and we couldn’t do anything else until that was taken care of. It wouldn’t be until a total of 4, almost 5 days had past before some people from the electric company came and moved the wires. Electricity wasn’t restored until a day after that (though I know some places went a total of 10 days without).

In that time, the verse from Matt. 6:34 became a very real and tangible part of my life. It would have been so easy just to get upset and mad about everything, but I didn’t. There was enough in each day itself to do that I couldn’t worry about tomorrow. I tried to live the days moment by moment. After doing everything that could be done and waiting for electricity return, I did have a sense of calm I had not expected. Sure it was frustrating at times, but the justifiable anger and rage that I could have felt, I did not. There was enough trouble in just trying to stay warm and keep busy without worrying about things I had no control over. It might not be easy to do, but taking things moment by moment and day by day sure beats incessantly worrying about things beyond your control.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

A Birthday, The Thunder of Thor’s Hammer, and the Peace that Transcends Understanding

The past week has been a very long week for me. It has been a trying time, a growing time, and a learning time. The never-imagined and unexpected both became real. Some of it has been rather shocking. Most of it has been exciting. Some of it has been very challenging. Nevertheless, even amidst the new obstacles and difficulties that have presented themselves, I am grateful and have found love, peace, and joy. Life truly is a journey and even though the bad stuff is never pleasant, it makes me remember what a glorious adventure I am living.

I have several things I wish to write about and explore that have happened the last few days. I won’t be able to get to them all at once. So, I’m going to break them into smaller pieces. I’ll start at the beginning.

Last week, November 30th, was my birthday. Also, I almost died last week. Put the two things together for a really exciting statement: I almost died on my birthday. Well, not exactly on my birthday: it happened a few hours later, but it was close enough to say I almost died on my birthday.

I went to bed that night to the crackling of solid objects freezing and ice-laden tree branch-bombs falling from the sky. The closest I’ve ever been to being in battle is on a paintball course, but my Dad said all that ice and all those trees falling sounded like combat gunfire. It was a little frightening, but I found it more thrilling than frightening. I love storms and saw a side of nature that I really hadn’t seen before.

Anyway, the electricity went out long before I went to bed, but even without any heat I slept soundly. Once I get to sleep, I rarely wake up—one time when I was a kid our entire block was almost evacuated because of the burning of the township building down the street; there were fire trucks, police, ambulance, etc. but I slept through the whole thing. However, around four in the morning on the first day of December 2006, I was awoken by what sounded like Thor’s hammer pounding the Earth. Turns out, about half of this giant tree next to the house had collapsed beneath the burden of the ice it was carrying. It was too dark to see how much damage it had caused, but the tree was lying across the front yard and we could hardly open the front door.

I went back to bed, but didn’t get much sleep after that. Sometime near dawn my Dad and I went out into the freeze to check things out. The tree knocked a corner of the house away. Also, part of the tree landed on my car. There were a lot of dents, but surprisingly none of the windows on the car were broken.

But, here’s the real kicker: the tree should have landed on the house, but it didn’t. The tree should have crashed into the room in which I was sleeping and killed me, but it didn’t. I studied physics once and have had experience up to pre-calculus in mathematics. Even given the force of the wind that night and the extra weight of the ice, there is no worldly rational or logical reason why that tree didn’t crash into the house and land on top of my head. That tree fell hard, too; it’s been chopped up and taken away as firewood and lumber now, but the yard is riddled with foot-deep holes where some of the branches jolted themselves into the frozen soil and I’ll never get all of the dents out of the car. After studying the scene that morning, I found myself amazed. I could have died that night, but I didn’t. There are those that will scoff, but I know that the hand of God was involved, protecting me as I slept. That truly is the Peace that transcends understanding.

Monday, November 27, 2006


Tonight at 8pm Central Standard Time on NBC--HEROES. It's an origins episode. Watch it. There's a reason this show is the most-watched and highest-rated new show of the season. Peter Petrelli saved the cheerleader, so did he save the world?

Friday, November 24, 2006


A few weeks ago I was watching a public showing of the movie Cinderella Man. There were a couple of older women sitting behind me. Paul Giamatti is a supporting actor in the film portraying Jim Braddock’s (Russell Crowe) manager, Joe Gould. There was one moment in the movie when Giamatti was on screen and I heard the ladies behind me say, “…and his hair is parted. It looks so nice. Men just don’t part their hair anymore. It’s a shame, they look more handsome that way.” Upon hearing this, I thought to myself, “I used to.”

I used to part my hair, but for the last couple of years I haven’t. About three years ago when I went back to school I got a totally different haircut than I had ever had before. It was partly because I wanted to try something different and partly because my usual barber was unavailable. I wasn’t able to part my hair with the new do, and I guess that’s when I pretty much stopped parting my hair.
Anyway, the comment those ladies made got me thinking. I liked parting my hair, even if I was the object of ridicule from time to time. It got me thinking about a lot of things about myself. It kind of all ties in with the Baby Blues comic above. I’ve tried very hard to live a temperant life. I know that I’m not of this world, but I am in this world. However, there are just some things I’ve had to accept about myself. Tattoos, cell phones, piercings, etc. just aren’t for me (though I did thought about getting a tattoo for almost a year and almost got this one and I’ll probably end up getting a cell phone eventually when I can afford it) and I think I’m going to start parting my hair again. I’ve had to accept that I’m just an old-fashioned guy living at the edge of this post-modern world.
P.S. This post didn't turn out as though-provoking, humorous, or even as intriguing as I wanted it to. Why can't my words say what I want them to say anymore?

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Thinking About Heroes

I saw the movie STRANGER THAN FICTION today. It was very unusual. It's a comedy and by that I mean that it's a comedy as opposed to being the only other thing it could be; a tragedy. There are some funny parts, but it's not slapstick. The plot is very surreal. It made me think and I enjoyed it.

One of the things it made me think about is heroes. I've been thinking about heroes and the nature of a hero and what it means to be a hero a lot lately (I'm working on a more formal essay about heroes that will probably be by next published column which I'll post here, too). Traditionally, in most great stories from BEOWULF to Gilgamesh to many Biblical stories to THE LORD OF THE RINGS to KING KONG to Batman, a hero is someone who does something extraordinary at great danger to themselves in order to save someone else. Usually, a hero doesn't get the woman he loves (or if they're female they don't get the man they love) or they die and the greatest of heroes give up both the girl and their lives. I've always argued that in order to truly be a hero, the guy would either loose the woman he loved or end up loosing his life. Part of the reason for this is that to truly be a hero a person must experience great suffering and the loss of love or the loss of one's life are usually considered the two greatest sacrifices that can be afflicted upon a person. Sidekicks are the ones who can both get the girl and not get killed. Because of some thoughts that a certain television show airing on Monday nights on NBC has caused me to be thinking and now the movie, STRANGER THAN FICTION, I'm beginning to think that maybe that isn't the case.

I don't know exactly why I've become so preoccupied with this subject lately, but it's something I've found myself wrestling with in my head. I'm curious as to what other people think. So, What do you think? To truly be a hero does one have to sacrifice love or lose his life? Or can one be a hero and still get the girl and not loose his life?

Friday, November 03, 2006

Aching in Autumn

When I was a child my favorite season of the year was autumn. Though the season itself doesn’t officially begin until the end of September, autumn really begins on the first day of school. For many students, this is a day of dread and doom. To them it means the end of summer and the start of another nine months of learning. For me the first day of school was a day of delight. I was always excited about learning. I couldn’t wait to hear the stories of what my friends had did during the summer. I was eager to discover the new things that would present themselves to the absorption of my young mind. Occasionally, we would have a new student in our class and that was exciting, too, because I liked meeting people and making new friends.

Of course, school wasn’t the only reason that autumn used to be my favorite season. Besides the new school year and new friends, there were also all the other changes the season brought. There was a drop in the humidity and heat of those terrible St. Louis summer days. The leaves on the trees changed colors and made the Earth a more vivid place before the white pasting of winter covered the land. There were hayrides and bonfires filled with hot dogs and marshmallows and silly harmless practical jokes. Later there came pumpkins and a night of dressing up going door to door begging for candy. Back then, autumn was a time of new beginnings.

Years later the season that I once loved so much and was my favorite season of the year has become my least favorite. I still love watching the leaves change color and the cooler weather is often appreciated. I still see beauty around me and as I look and observe these changes around me, I thank God for the creation He has made and given to us. However, though I still have my innocence and am often naïve, those things have been tempered by wisdom and slightly by experience. The season that I once looked forward to for all the wonderful things it brought has been tainted to me by pain, suffering, heartache, and loneliness. I see joy and try to take it in, but instead find I am inhaling fumes of longing tinted with a twinge of despair.

I have no idea of when this change in my favorite season took place. It is true that I’ve experienced great heartache during autumn the past few years, but I had started disliking the season years before that. I’ve searched and wrestled with why I feel this way and I cannot find an answer. I first discovered this dislike about six years ago, but it might have happened a few years before that. I don’t really know. What I do know is that now as the weather cools and the leaves change color, there is also an aching in my heart that comes with it.

As the Spin Spins.

The top story in today's St. Louis Post Dispatch was entitled "Keeping a wary eye: Pitfalls abound". The article was about how new voting machines, heavy absentee voting, and new election laws might cause a different outcome in next week elections than expected. Since the middle of the summer I have had it pounded in my head my the television and newspapers that this November is going to be a landside victory for Democrats and that they will re-gain control of both houses of Congress. Now, I am starting to hear and read these stories about concerns over new voting machines, procedures, and absentee voting. Why is that?

To be honest, I try to avoid politics. That's not to say I'm not aware of what goes on or that I don't know who major elected officials are. I tend to lean toward the Republican side of things, though when it comes to big business and things like helping the poor I find myself agreeing with the Democrat side. I'm registered as a Republican, but that's only because in Illinois in order to vote in a primary election you have to declare a party and rather than not have any choice as a declared Independent, I chose to be registered as a Republican. I've voted for candidates on both sides. I try to vote for a person, not a party. If we really examine things, there isn't a whole lot separating most political candidates one from the other anyway. However, there is a lot in each party's platform that separates them from each other. But I digress.

I was reading this article in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and I wondered why it was such an important story? The Post-Dispatch tends to lean heavily toward the Democrat side of things and it occurred to me that maybe they are worried and are already in the process of trying to cover their behinds. I don't believe that either one of the last two Presidential elections were rigged, but I know there are many staunch Democrats who believe that they were: hanging chads caused lost votes in Florida and the voting in Ohio was rigged. I don't believe that. It's way too large of a conspiracy theory and even though I know government officials are often corrupt I don't think a conspiracy of that size would work. But, if you do believe such things are possible and if you've claimed that's happened the last two Presidential elections, even though you think you're party is going to win big this election, what's to stop you from already sewing the seeds of discord? That's why I think the Post had this story as it's cover story. They must be worried for some reason.

Monday, October 30, 2006

Wisdom from Atticus Finch

I read a lot. One of my goals in life is to read 100 books within a year. I've never reached that, yet. The closest I've ever gotten is just under 70. I don't know if I'll make it this year either--I just finished my 50th book last week. One of the books I read (well, re-read) last week was TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD by Harper Lee. I first read this when I was a freshman in high school. I almost had to teach it last fall as part of my student teaching, but was assigned LORD OF THE FLIES instead. TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD is an American classic. It takes place in Alabama during the height of the Great Depression. There are some great characters in the book and the character of Atticus Finch is what Superman (after one of the major DC updates in the 1960s) is said to pattern the way he wanted to live as a human being. Anyway, I was reading TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD last week and I came across a passage that is thought-provoking and intriguing.

I'm an English teacher and am currently substitute teaching all over the place. When I first went back to get my certificate, I had a few of the same ideals about education as most beginning teachers do. I didn't have as many because I was getting started a bit later in the game. Anyway, after doing some of my initial observations and experiences, I became aware of how screwed up the educational system (particularly at the secondary level) in the U.S. is. I was once told by Howard Dean (yeah, the guy who leads the Democratic Party) that though there are problems with our system, we shouldn't be discouraged because we try to do something in the U.S. that no other country in the world does--we try to make sure that everyone has at least a basic, fundamental education. No other country in the world does that--in most places in the world after you reach a certain age, if you don't want to continue your schooling, you don't have to. It seems really nice when you first hear it and it does seem like a good ideal, but (and this comes after much experience) it's not practical and instead of doing what its supposed to be doing, its doing the exact opposite. By trying to educate those who do not wish to be educated, we are penalizing and punishing all of those who wish to learn. Here's what Atticus Finch had to say about that:

"Thomas Jefferson once said that all men are created equal, a phrase that the Yankees and the distaff side of the Executive branch in Washington are fond at hurling at us. There is a tendency in this year of grace, 1935, for certain people to use this phrase out of context, to satisfy all conditions. The most ridiculous example I can think of is that the people who run public education promote the stupid along with the industrious--because all men are created equal, educators will gravely tell you, the children left behind suffer terrible feelings of inferiority. We know all men are not created equal in the sense some people would have us believe--...--some people are born gifted beyond the normal scope of most men." p. 233, TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD, Harper Lee

I agree with Atticus. What do you think?

Saturday, October 28, 2006

World Series Champs

My team won!
Way to go, Cards!

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Someone has a job interview Friday.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006


Save the cheerleader. Save the world.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Pitching With Pine Tar.

So, how about Tigers' pitcher Kenny Rogers blatantly pitching with pine tar during a World Series game? Don't know what I'm talking about? Look at this picture. Rogers claims it was dirt and that he rubbed it off. Yeah, right. I've seen a lot of baseball and played quite a bit when I was younger and even during rainy, muddy games I don't ever recall seeing dirt like that. It would be easier to believe if Rogers hadn't been under suspicion for using other substances to pitch before. I wish LaRussa would have made a bigger deal about it earlier on in the game. Hopefully, it won't happen again.

But, that was Detroit. Now it's back to St. Louis. Go Cards!

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Program Bio.

Biography from Noises Off program.

Tom Varner (Tim Allgood)--Tom has performed in about 30 different plays. Noises Off is his 7th production with Hard Road Theatre. He was last seen on stage as Ken Gorman in last year’s HRT production of Rumors. Part of this past summer Tom was an animal wrangler for the On the Lake with Orlin and Arlen nature series. He also co-produced, co-wrote, and co-starred (as Ace McGregor) in the short horror parody film, Tremors 9. Currently, Tom is working on a screenplay (title to be announced later) that is scheduled to be filmed in 2009. Tom works as a substitute teacher and spends his free time looking for a full-time teaching job so he no longer has to refer to himself as “an unemployed English teacher.” His favorite song is “Stand By Me”. Tom likes vanilla ice cream and would like everyone to know that black footed ferrets are an endangered species.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

The Curtain Falls.

Last night Noises Off, the play I was in, closed. This afternoon I helped strike the set. I’m finding myself struggling through some mixed emotions right now.

The end of a play is almost always a bitter-sweet experience. There’s a lot of time, hard work, effort, and often money that each person gives to a production. It’s a commitment. Practices don’t always end when they should and sometimes after a long day of work rehearsing for a play is the last thing you want to do. Part of the payoff comes from the performances. I have yet to find something in my life that fills me with the joy, exultation, and excitement that performing does. As much as I enjoy it, it is nice to have some free time in the evenings again.

Yet, even now as I sit and write this, I miss the show. I miss the show because of the people with whom I worked, played, and performed with for the past two months. Old friendships were strengthened and new ones were formed. A small community was built. Now, the farewells have been made, the fellowship has been broken, and the community has been disbanded. Many of us will probably work together again. Some of us might not, but even if we were to all come together again, it would not be the same.

This show was really special to me. I’ve wanted to perform in Noises Off for a long time. I don’t remember when I first heard about the show. I made decisions in my life that would keep me in the area just so I would be close enough to do the show. For example, I really didn’t apply to too many schools that were outside of a 150 mile radius of the town where the play was going to be performed. Some people called me crazy. I couldn’t explain it to them. I just knew it was something I wanted to do and something I was supposed to do. For the past two months, the play has been a lifeline for me and it was actually something I looked forward to doing each night. Now, it is finished. The last set pieces have been taken away and the stage floor is swept and mopped.

There’s a line in the play that goes, “This is such a lovely company to work with.” It truly is. It truly is.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Some More Tidbits from Tom

The following will appear in a local newspaper tomorrow. I'm still trying to decide what to call my column, so please if you have any suggestions for a new name, let me know. Also, if you're in my area (anywhere near 45 miles NE of St. Louis, MO) I'll expect to see you after the show this weekend or next. ;)


Tidbits from Tom By: Tom Varner

This weekend and next Hard Road Theatre will be performing the hilarious and hysterical production of Noises Off. Noises Off provides audiences with a rare glimpse of some of the backstage antics that often happen between cast and crew during the production of a play. The show revolves around a second-rate theatre company producing a touring show entitled Nothing On. The audience gets a glimpse of the first act of Nothing On at the dress rehearsal, then sees the same act a month later from behind stage, and finally sees how the entire production completely unravels a month later. Watching the play one truly sees how the action, drama, and comedy in front of the curtain is nothing like what happens behind the scenes.

The show is being sponsored by Bradford National Bank. Performance dates are on Oct. 6,7,13, and 14th at 7:30p.m. and on Oct. 8th at 2p.m. at the Upper Elementary Auditorium in Highland, Illinois. Ticket prices are $8 for adults, $7 for senior citizens, and $6 for kids under thirteen. Ticket reservations can be made by phone at (618) 654-7748 and by email at

I was able to see Noises Off a few years when it was performed by another organization. It is one of the funniest shows I have ever seen. The people at Hard Road have gained a reputation for putting on high-quality productions. It will be worth your time to check this show out. Besides, the top-notch cast includes none other than yours truly, Tom Varner as Tim Allgood, the hapless stage-manager who attempts to keep the production running.

After seeing the show, rent the movie based upon the play. Many times when plays are made into movies, they don’t succeed. However, the film version is an excellent adaptation of the play. The movie stars the late Christopher Reeve, John Ritter, and Denholm Elliott as well as Michael Caine, Carol Burnett, Marilu Henner, Nicolette Sheridan, Julie Hagerty, and Mark Linn-Baker. Like all movies based on existing works, the film has been altered slightly, especially the third act, but overall the movie does a superb job of bringing the play to the silver screen.

Friday, September 29, 2006

Another Column

Below is another column I wrote for a local paper this week. I still haven't figured out how often it will appear or exactly what it will be about. Right now, my focus has been on mass media, especially movies, television, and books because that is my forte. However, I'm debating about whether to broaden it into other areas. Also, I'm not sure if I like the title. It's full of alliteration, but it doesn't seem catchy. Let me know if you have any suggestions.
Tidbits from Tom

By: Tom Varner

Last week Steve Zaillian’s long delayed version of All the King’s Men was released. The movie is loosely based upon the 1947 Pulitzer Prize-winning novel of the same name by Robert Penn Warren and stars Sean Penn as Willie Stark. I haven’t seen the film myself, but from the reviews I’ve read and from talking with people who have seen it, I recommend not watching the movie. Warren’s novel itself is loosely based upon the life of Huey Long, the Kingfisher. Long was the governor of Louisiana from 1928-1932 and served as one of Louisiana’s Senators from 1932-1935 and had planned to run for the U.S. Presidency until he was assassinated on September 10, 1935. Apparently, to give the movie a more “universal” feel, Zaillian and Penn didn’t set the film in Louisiana. They also moved the timeline from the Great Depression to the 1950s. Oh, also, instead of sticking to the general themes of the novel, they decided to make the film in their own personal vision and philosophy.

Instead of seeing this latest version of All the King’s Men, you’re better off watching the classic 1949 production starring Broderick Crawford. This version stays closer to the spirit of the novel. It also won the Oscar for Best Picture in 1950. In a strange bit of irony, John Wayne was the first choice to portray Willie Stark in the 1949 version, but wrote a feisty letter turning down the role. Later, Wayne was nominated for Best Actor in 1950 for Sands of Iowa Jima, but lost out to Crawford.

If that doesn’t appeal to you, go read Warren’s novel. There’s a reason it won the Pulitzer Prize. It truly is a piece of classic American literature.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

The Elephant Man and Our Drug Addiction to Oil

When I was a really little kid, I remember watching this black and white movie on television with my parents. The movie was called The Elephant Man. I was fascinated by that film and the story it told. I thought it was an older film because it was filmed in black in white. This summer I found a copy of the movie on DVD and sat down and watched it this past weekend. I was kind of shocked because the film isn't that old at all (1981). It was filmed in black and white for aesthetic purposes. I think I was as riveted watching the movie this time as I was when I first saw it as a child, but for a variety of other reasons. The story is very touching and in some ways inspiring. The acting is top-notch. The cinematography unbelievable. The movie has a couple of footnotes in film history including being the film responsible for bringing about an Oscar for Best Makeup (there was no award when The Elephant Man was first released, but a new Oscar was added the year later). David Lynch directed the film and though he went on to direct and create some really bizarre and slightyl blue film and television, The Elephant Man was the movie that established him as a major director and is considered by most critics and the general populace alike as his magnum opus. If you have an opportunity to watch this film, do it.
I'm not sure about the rest of the country, but in the past few weeks gas prices have fallen. I had to fill up today and it was $2.28/gal. This "story" is making headlines in newspapers an on evening broadcasts. I guess the media gatekeepers think it's a big deal. Here's a bigger story, gas prices right now are still 20 cents higher than they were a year ago at this time--a month after Hurricane Katrina swept through the Gulf Coast. Has everybody forgotten that? After Katrina, we were told prices went up because, depending on who you asked, 10%-40% of all U.S. refinining capacity was knocked out. Yet, gasoline is still more expensive now than it was a year ago and much of the media is going crazy at how "inexpensive" gas is getting. Yeah, whatever. I can't believe it that people actually believe that. By the way, if you do believe that, let me know and for a nominal fee I can sell you some real estate on the imaginative plane.

We as a country have a serious drug addiction to oil. It's a really, really, bad addiction. If we don't seek treatment, it's going to end up killing us. The worst part is that our dealers-- mainly Iran, Syria, Venezuela--happen to be the same countries that are filled with people in positions of power who want to kill all of us. I'm ready for rehab. What about you? Let's go green.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Small Update and a Column.

Below is a column I wrote for a local paper this week. It might become a weekly thing, maybe a monthly, maybe a just whenever; I'm not sure right now. I don't get paid to do it, but it did allow me to write and get published. On a totally different subject, I start a 3-week job subbing tomorrow as a special ed aid. It's not exactly my cup of tea, but it will be work and educational experience and for that I am grateful.

Tidbits from Tom
by Tom Varner

From all of the new movies released last week, the best of the bunch to see is Everyone’s Hero. It’s an animated tale about a boy who travels from New York to Chicago to get Babe Ruth’s bat back for the final stretch of the 1932 World Series and to save his dad’s job. The movie has a strong vocal cast, some great messages, and was Christopher Reeve’s last project.

In the land of television one of the biggest things on air was Survivor: Cook Islands. The show had received lots of early publicity because of the division of tribes by race. Certain leaders in New York, L.A., and other cities boycotted the show in protest, but the show finished first for the covenanted Thursday night time slot and as one of the top 10 shows of the week with 18 million viewers. Ironically, Thursday’s episode (remember 18 million people watched) was the 2nd least watched Survivor premiere ever. Only in Hollywood.

For trivia hounds, last week Ken Jennings’ (he of Jeopardy! fame) released a book entitled Brainiac. The book is a partial biography about Jennings’ life including his 75-game stint on Jeopardy! as well as an inside examination of the history of trivia and quizzing in the United States.

That’s all for now. Until next time.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Unemployment Blues.

I have a confession to make. I'm very frustrated right now. It's been five weeks since I've done any work in which I've been paid. This is one of the longest periods of my life that I've been without work since high school. I'm on the subbing list for 10 different school districts but have only received 2 calls and one I was told by the caller that I couldn't take because I wouldn't have been able to make it to school before classes began. I've applied to at least three different temp agencies, have responded to every help wanted ad I've seen listed in the papers, have filled out applications at every business that has had a help wanted sign, and have applied at places that don't want any help. I've been told that I'm overqualified for several jobs (some places don't like a young person with two college degrees working there). I even swallowed my pride and tried to file for unemployment but was turned down, too. Apparently because I worked at a non-profit organization out of state and at an educational institution within the state, there is no record of me having been employed for the past 2 1/2 years and in order to file for unemployment the agency has to have a record of you having been employed & earning a certain amount of money, which doesn't make much sense to me. So, I find myself spending my time searching for a job (even though I know as soon as the calls start I'll be subbing full-time again), writing, and trying not to get depressed (the play I'm in really helps with that). I've got the unemployment blues and it stinks.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Do You Remember?

I had just arrived at work. At the time, I was working part-time in the shoe section of a local department store. I hated my job. I was working there because it was the only employment I had been able to find. I had applied at temp agencies galore, grocery stores, movie theatres, video stores, industrial labor, and even to a few fast food places. I had made follow up telephone calls and written letters, but the only job I could find was in a department store shelving shoes. I had been planning to move the following fall out to L.A. to attend the graduate film school I had already been accepted into. I had delayed my admission for a year because I hadn’t saved enough money to move across the country to California and once I left Illinois, I was planning on never coming back. However, during that past month I had been having second-thoughts about things and was giving my life a serious re-evaluation.

I had wanted to move to California since I was in high school. It wasn’t necessarily because of the place itself; it was because of what was in that place: the heart and soul of the movie industry. I had wanted to be in films since I was a little kid. I was a talented actor, but in college I decided I’d rather make films than just act in them. After graduation I had applied to most of the major film schools in the country and had been rejected by most. But, there was one school that had accepted me and I was intending to study there.

However that year, things began to shift. I had spent the summer working at camp. I thought it was going to be my last summer doing that. I had an amazing summer and through the experiences and some of the conversations I had, I began to believe that maybe I was supposed to teach for a time. I was dreading moving back to my hometown and working at some crummy job just to earn money so I could move next fall and begin doing what I really wanted to do. I had done that long enough. Life was too short and precious for me to waste part of my life like that. Also, I felt a divine tugging in my heart. I had been avoiding that. I knew what He was going to ask of me and I wasn’t prepared to give it up. I had spent my whole life preparing to move to L.A., attend film school, and make movies. I was NOT going to give that up. It was my dream, my motivation, and what I wanted in my life.

Whatever the case, I wasn’t going to work as a shoe salesman much longer. That was killing me inside. It was so pointless and meaningless. I had decided that the Thursday before when I had re-arranged and restacked the same boxes of shoes five times in four days.

That was all before I arrived at work on Tuesday September 11, 2001 just before 8:00A.M. Central Time. Do you remember?

I arrived at the store and everything was deathly silent. It was like a scene in a bad horror movie. I walked to the back of the store and all the people that were in the building were gathered around the normal-sized televisions.

“They just blew up one of the Twin Towers!” someone said to me. “We’re under attack!” “No one knows who did it.”

“They’ve grounded all planes across the country.” The reporters on the screen were visibly shaken. They were talking non-stop, perhaps believing that if they didn’t stop talking then maybe it would all go away like a bad dream that wakes someone up in the middle of the night, but is lost in oblivion after falling back to sleep. It didn’t go away. This wasn’t a dream, not even of the nightmarish-type. This was real. A few minutes later the second plane hit the other tower.

The rest of the morning is a blur. The Pentagon has been hit. We are under attack. The White House has been hit. No, the White House has not been hit. We are under attack. It is rumored that a plane has crashed somewhere in Pennsylvania. Who is doing this? Why are they doing this? We are under attack. There are reports that a plane has crashed into Sears Tower in Chicago. We are at war and we don’t even know who are enemy is. Several terrorist groups around the world are claiming responsibility. 10,000 people are assumed to be dead so far. It has been confirmed that a plane crashed in Pennsylvania. Osama Bin Laden. We are under attack. Al-Queda. 5,000 people are thought to be dead. The ashes and destruction in New York City is worse than after Mt. Saint Helens erupted in 1980. All other planes have been accounted for and as far as we know no other buildings or landmarks have been attacked. 2,973 people died, mostly civilians.

We were released an hour early from work that afternoon. No one was coming to the store anyway. It felt like time had stood still and sped by at light-speed at the same time. The world, our country, our towns, our schools, had changed. Everything had changed. Barely into the 21st Century and it had already begun more violently than the one before had ended. Do you remember?

I went to the car I drive, got in, and sat behind the steering wheel and cried for a little while. I prayed to God and asked him to be with us all and to have mercy upon us all. The events of that day were shocking, but they didn’t really surprise me. Each day that goes by brings us farther away from Eden and closer to the Apocalypse. Until Jesus returns things are just going to get worse and worse. Despite this, I was still in shock. I think everyone was.

I remember listening to the radio and listening to passionless djs and announcers suddenly come to life and begin speaking in tones and with words that if they had started doing a few days ago it would have made their ratings blow through the roof. I remember watching television as all the national leaders of the country gathered together on some stairs, held hands together, and sang a song. I think they even prayed. It was surreal. Life had been lifeless and brought death. Now that death was causing life and liveliness. I felt like I was living in a Salvador Dali painting. Do you remember?

Five years have gone by now. So much has changed, yet so much more has stayed the same. It seems like people have forgotten. Even outside of the political arena, whatever unity we had as a nation for those few brief moments five years ago has long since been broken. People continue to exist while pretending to live, while ignoring the events of Tuesday, September 11, 2001. The terror that ricocheted us into this new age is now a part of life. The cry to arms that we heard on that day is only the beginning. The enemy has been planning for this war for decades. They are prepared to fight for a century or more. Have we lost the will? Will we stay the course? Is this truly the beginning of the end, or just a few more birth pains? Have we forgotten? Perhaps some of us have, but I have not forgotten. I remember. What about you, do you remember?

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

In Memoriam

Steve Irwin 1962-2006
You Will Be Missed

Monday, August 28, 2006

On High Priests and a Disengagement of the Intellect

The past few weeks I have had a lot of time to reflect and digest the things that I experienced and learned this summer. In the course of this, I have been thinking a lot about worship. It’s difficult to write about worship because worship is a very personal thing; it is an intimate part of the relationship between a person and God. Yet, worship is also something that a group of believers partake in together. Therefore, though each of us (as followers of Jesus Christ) is obligated to wrestle with what worship is it is also something that all of us together, as a body, collectively have a stake in.

So, here are a couple of things I have been thinking about. Why is it that in many modern American churches we treat worship leaders as a high priest? I thought the idea of an earthly high priest went out the window after Jesus’ crucifixion when the veil was ripped in two in the Holy of Holies. I thought Jesus had become our high priest (Heb. 8:1-2) and that each of us is ourselves a priest (I Pet. 2:9-10). If I’m not mistaken, isn’t worship more than just singing songs and making music? Isn’t worship more than just going to church, praying, reading the Bible, and doing good deeds? I thought worship was about how you live your life. I thought that everything we do, everything we say, and even everything we think should be an act of worship to God. I thought that worship wasn’t necessarily about what we do, but how we do things and the spirit of our hearts (John 4:23, Rom. 12:1-2). I know that none of us will actually be able to accomplish that in this life, but it is what we should be attempting.

If this is the case, then why is it that in many churches in America we treat those who lead music as rock stars? Why is it that we refer to the time we sing songs and music is played as “worship time?” Why is it that in so many churches that those who lead music are called and referred to as worship teams, worship bands, and worship leaders?

The real worship leaders are the people who clean the church bathrooms every week. The real worship bands and teams are those who come together anytime work needs to be done and they show up to help out. Many of these people may never have sung a note in a church service. Just about all of us can learn more about worship and what it is to worship from these people than we can from people who might lead us in singing every Sunday. Yet, we ignore these humble teachers and leaders and exalt others as high priests and rock stars.

When we do this, we do a great disservice and injustice to those around us. You and I might know that worship is supposed to incorporate every aspect of our lives, but that teenage boy who starting attending your services because of the youth group at your church might not. What about the young lady who is recovering from a drug addiction and just became a Christian a few weeks ago; might she get the wrong impression about what worship is? And what about those outside of the body of Christ who attend our services? If we, who are the Body of Christ, constantly and consistently refer to worship in terms of music and if we continue to make a distinction between things that are worship and spiritual and between everything else, what are those who aren’t followers supposed to think and believe?

This brings me to the other major issue I’ve been thinking about and wrestling with. If so many of us view worship and treat it as something we just do on Sundays or when we do something musically, then why is it that so many of us disengage ourselves from our intellect when we worship? For example, there are probably several hundred praise songs written in the past ten years that have some sort of line talking about bowing down to God, e.g. “We bow down”, “All bow down”, “Here I am to bow down.” How many times have you been at a church service and actually seen someone bow down when they sing those lyrics? I think a lot of people have no idea what they are singing and are just singing because they take pleasure from it.

Not that there’s anything wrong with singing. Some of us were created to sing. I like to sing. I take pleasure from singing. I also understand that God is probably more interested in how I live my life day to day than He is in the songs I might sing to Him on a particular day. Nevertheless, it is important that when we sing songs of praise, we actually mean and do what we sing. Otherwise, our catchy musical lyrics become hollow words signifying nothing. It is a matter of consistency, integrity, and honesty. I’m guilty of this too, but I try very hard not to sing a song just because it sounds pretty and makes me feel good. When I’m in a service where we’re supposed to be singing about bowing down I either don’t sing those lines or I actually do them. If there is a line in a song that I can’t bring myself to agree with, I don’t sing it. There are those who will make the argument that what we don’t do physically we do in spirit. There might be some validity to that argument, but for the most part it is a cop out. Why sing about something you are doing before God if you don’t and won’t actually do it? What purpose does that serve? If I wasn’t a Christian and I saw someone singing a song saying, “We bow down” and no one around me was bowing down I would think to myself either “They’re a bunch of hypocrites” or “What a bunch of idiots.” It might be true that any idiot can sing a song, but that doesn’t mean you have to be an idiot to sing, especially if you’re singing to the Creator of the Universe.

I know there are a lot of Christians in America who have become disillusioned with the churches they attend and even with the Church itself. I don’t blame them. There are times I’ve felt this way myself. This probably isn’t a bad thing. We all need some disillusionment in our lives: when we are forced to confront Ultimate Reality, He shatters whatever illusions we have and are holding onto. Nevertheless, there would probably be a lot less bitterness, frustration, anger, and confusion if we refused to disengage ourselves from our intellects and actually worshiped God “in spirit and in truth.” But what do I know, I’m just an unemployed English teacher.

Monday, August 21, 2006

A Poem About Jujyfruit

Here's a poem I wrote this summer. I hope you enjoy it.
Juicy droplets molded like plastic fingers
Manufactured on an assembly line
Into various health-food shapes:
Asparagus, bananas, grapes, pea pods, pineapples, and raspberries.
Tasting like raspberries, oranges, limes, licorice, and lemons.
Usually sold in cinema temples
As a refreshing confection
during an evening of what gatekeepers hope is mindless entertainment.
Often found annoying--
sticking to one's teeth and upper palate.
Seemingly insignificant.
These sugary-filled treats contain a surprise.
Inside of each there is a fierce energy.
Put to the test of fire
The jujyfruit reveals its true nature:
A flaming black heart of power,
Glowing brighter in each moment
Until finally bursting into a brilliant blaze of glory.
Sometimes I wish I had the heart of a jujyfruit.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Upcoming Movies to See.

Here's a list of some upcoming films that I would like to see in the next few months.
THE WICKER MAN--I've seen the original version with Christopher Lee. I was able to figure out what was going on fairly early in the film. However, I'm curious to see how this update will be.

HOLLYWOODLAND--It will be interesting to see Ben Afflick's first decent role since GOOD WILL HUNTING. However, the real reason I want to see this movie isn't because of Ben, it's because it has a great story behind it; kind of a real life version of L.A. CONFIDENTIAL.

ALL THE KING'S MEN--the original novel is brilliant as is the original film (won Best Picture in 1949). This version has been delayed for over a year and is supposed to be coming out at the end of September. That doesn't necessarily bode well for the film. However, I like the book so much that I will probably see this version of the film regardless.
CHILDREN OF MEN--Out of all the films coming out this fall and winter, this is the one I'm most excited to see. I hope it is great and not a major let down.
EVERYONE'S HERO--You're probably thinking what I originally thought: "Oh, great another CGI animated picture." However, then I learned about the story line (a boy sets out to retrieve Babe Ruth's stolen baseball bat on the eve of the 1932 World Series) and it intrigued me. Not only that, but Christopher Reeve was the film's original director and this picture is one of the last things he worked on before he died.
FLAGS OF OUR FATHERS--the first of the two-film World War II Clint Eastwood set (the other is LETTERS OF OUR FATHERS) being released this year. I have the book and have read bits of it and have seen portions acted in skits and listened to parts read aloud. Not to mention some of my relatives could have fought in this famous battle. This could be the best war movie made since SAVING PRIVATE RYAN. Or it could turn into a disaster. Either way, it'll be worth the money to see it.
APOCALYPTO--Mel Gibson't latest directorial feature. Despite Mel's recent public humiliations (I still I would really enjoy hanging out with the guy), this film will probably be amazing. Filmed on location and in a Mayan language (with subtitles), the movie is about the fall of the Mayan civilization. However, if the title and trailer or any indication at all then the movie is really the book of Revelation from the Bible set against the backdrop of the Mayan society. If nothing else, it will prove interesting.

Other Films to See: STRANGER THAN FICTION (a movie with Will Ferrell about a guy who hears a voice narrating his life. He discovers that the voice is an author and somehow he's become the character in her story. He struggles to gain his life back before the author writes him out); HAPPY FEET (it's an animated movie about penguins. I love those creatures); FOR YOUR CONSIDERATION (the latest movie from Christopher Guest crew); THE PRESTIGE (if I can only see one other movie besides CHILDREN OF MEN, this would be the one); CASINO ROYALE (I am disappointed that Pierce Brosnan was fired from the film. Still I want to see how Daniel Craig fills Bond's shoes in the movie that is about Bond's first big adventure); THE NATIVITY STORY (there's nothing I can really say here, but any movie that actually tries to tell the story about the birth of Jesus correctly is worth my time to see); and NIGHT AT THE MUSEUM (Ben Stiller stars as the youngest and newest security guard at a museum hired to take over the night shift. What he doesn't realize at the time is that the museum comes to life at night).

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

More Quotes from Anne Lamott

The following are some quotes from Anne Lamott's book, BIRD BY BIRD, along with a few short responses. It's a great book about writing, but it's also full of some wonderful wisdom and everyday thoughts about life.
"What people somehow (inadvertently, I'm sure) forgot to mention when we were children was that we need to make messes in order to find out who we are and why we are here--and, by extension, what we're supposed to be writing."--p. 32.

"baseball, like life, throbs with hope, or it wouldn't exist." --p. 175. I love baseball. Even the major leagues used to be as this quote says. Unfortunately, the majors have been corrupted by greed and drugs; sometimes games in the majors still throb with hope, but not like they used to.

"But then I remembered that whenever the world throws rose petals at you, which thrill and seduce the ego, beware. The cosmic banana peel is suddenly going to appear underfoot to make sure you don't take it all too seriously, that you don't fill up on junk food." --p. 218 This, this sums up a great deal of my life; I could not have said it better.

"'The world can't give that serenity,' he said. 'The world can't give us peace. We can only find it in our hearts.'

'I hate that,' I said.

'I know. But the good news is that by the same token, the world can't take it away.'"--p. 221. This is something I've known for awhile. It's a wonderful thing to know and to know it deeply within your soul. It makes the most difficult times in life not as difficult as they would be without having that soul-knowledge.

"Tell the truth as you understand it. If you're a writer, you have a moral obligation to do this. And it is a revolutionary act--truth is always subversive."--p. 226. This is part of the reason why I write.

Saturday, August 12, 2006

The Circle is Complete.

My youngest brother left for college today. Classes don't start for a couple of weeks for him, but he got a football scholarship and he has to be there early. My youngest brother and I have always been very close. I remember many years ago when I first left for college (the 1st member of anyone in my family to do so) and he was so sad. He was just a little kid and cried because he knew I wasn't going to be around. It tore at my heart, but I had and wanted to go. Eagles have to soar or they turn into geese.

After several years living in various places around the country, I returned to the area in which I was raised. I felt led to pursue a new career and it was a lot cheaper to attend the state school near the old family homestead to get my teaching certificate rather than any of the other options I had. Besides, my youngest brother was in high school and I wanted to be around to help guide him. In fact, as much as an incentive as inexpensive schooling was, it was really because of my brother that I came back. He's gone off to college now and the circle is complete.

Here's to you, Jim!

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Return to the Shire.

Every read or seen RETURN OF THE KING? Near the end of the story, the four hobbits who set out together return to their home, the Shire. At least that's what it was before they left. When they return, it isn't quite home. Nothing has changed at the Shire. However, they have been changed forever and will never be the same. Journeys have a way of doing that; changing the adventurers without them ever recognizing the changes taking place. The more journeys one takes, the more one changes. From my experiences, it seems that the more travels one takes, the place that was once home seems a little less so upon each return. I think the reason for this is spiritual (this Earth is not our true home). Anyway, if you know RETURN OF THE KING, you know that at the end not one of the four hobbits ever really considers the Shire home again. Frodo travels across the sea; Merry & Pippin reside in the Shire, but spend most of their time living and visiting friends from far off lands; and Sam, good old Sam the true hero of the story, spends his life living with his heart in two places until in his old age he's finally allowed to set across the sea, too. That's kind of how I feel right now. But I don't have time to think about it--I've got an interview tomorrow and an audition on Saturday.

Monday, August 07, 2006

A Dead Turtle.

All summer we have had a turtle in our turtle tank here at the Science Center that hasn't moved much. He didn't like being picked up and anytime campers were around he stopped moving his back legs. Some of the staff members started telling kids that he had a stroke and at every animal talk the following statements were always said by campers, "You're turtle's dead" and "That turtle isn't moving." Well, I guess that turtle wanted to live through one last summer because I found him dead today. He was laying upside down on top of a rock. I was quite sure he was dead, but just to make sure I flicked him with my finger and knocked him into the water. He sank like someone who had cement boots on. I'm not sure what killed him, but it might have been all those tiny prescription bottles laying next to the rock I found him on. The coroner said it was a heart attack, but I think it was suicide.

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Sianora Summer.

Even though I'm staying for a few extra days, the regular season of summer camping has come to a close. On Friday I was walking to Popular Grove (the outdoor ampitheatre here). Campers were participating in karaoke. A middle school girl was singing Vanessa Carlton's "1000 Miles" as the sun was setting behind me. Listening to the girl sing and watching the sun set, I found the moment to be rather fitting because it was then that I realized that camp was about over for another summer. I find it strange how fast the weeks have flown by. Time has seemed to have passed even more quickly this summer than in years before. It's been a good summer and I've had some amazing experiences. I'll be trying to process everything over the next few days and weeks and will hopefully have more to write then.
TREMORS 9 is finished. It turned out to be the hilarious horror/comedy spoof that we were aiming for with the no budget and unwritten script that we had. The movie will soon be posted on internet movie sites, e.g. YouTube and IFilm so keep an eye out.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Another Parrot Story and TREMORS 9

Yesterday I was feeding the 3-footed bunny, Nibbles, in the upstairs animal room here at the Science Center. Packer, the green & yellow parrot we have, was sitting on top of Nibbles' cage. As I was putting some brocolli into Nibbles' food dish, Packer jumps on top of my head and grabs onto my hair.

All I could think about were pirates and that the reason many of them have one eye is because of their pet parrots they carry on their shoulders. "Pirates, pirates, pirates!" my mind was screaming as Packer grabbed a talon full of hair. I immediately shut my eyes tight because I wasn't going to let any bird pluck them out. Then I slowly started turning around in circles. As I turned around Packer moved from the top of my head, down to my arm (which she decided to bite and though she punctured my skin and made me bleed she didn't rip a piece of my flesh away), and finally onto a wooden bench where one of the other staff members was able to cover her with the shirt we use to carry her.

Even though it may appear that way, I don't think Packer attacked me. I think she just wanted some attention and was tired of sitting on Nibbles' cage and didn't know how else to get down.
Last week we wrapped the shooting of a short motion picture. The movie will soon be edited and should be available on the Internet (via You Tube, IFilm, etc.) sometime soon. Be on the look out for TREMORS 9. Watch out for the worms, but remember everybody dies. . . everybody.

Monday, July 31, 2006

Did you know Wheaton is south of Chicago?

Here's a humorous story that took place last night. I attended the Pine Bluff Villagepalooza as I have tried to do for most of the summer. Villagepalooza is basically a semi-humorous way of saying "village meeting" where the campers are introduced to the counselors and other staff members in the village and where they learn the essential rules of village living. Anyway, we staff members were going around introducing ourselves, where we were from, what our favorite cheese is, who are favorite superhero is, and what Biblical character we thought would make the best cabin counselor. We get to Seth Carlburg and the conversation goes something like this.

Seth: "Hi. I'm Seth. I live just south of Chicago."

Campers cheer loudly.

Seth: "Some of you live south of Chicago?"

Camper: "Yeah. I am."

Seth: "I'm from South Holland. Where do you live?"

Camper: "Wheaton."

At that reply I started hysterically laughing for the next three minutes. I have a very peculiar laugh and apparently there are several variations to it. Apparently, each one of the variations was heard during those three minutes as Mike Zoellner so kindly pointed out to all the campers. What a riot.

Friday, July 28, 2006

Camp Stuff

Last Saturday as we were cleaning the animals cages and feeding them, Packer got loose. Packer is a green and yellow parrot. She can be quite viscious at times, but she's treated me rather decently this summer. Anyway, we wear this heavy flannel shirt over our arms when moving Packer so when she bites, she doesn't bite us. On Saturday, as I was carrying Packer back to her cage, she bit through the shirt and ripped out a small piece of my flesh on my arm. It hurt, but I was really proud of myself because I didn't throw her off or anything. I used to watch those animal shows and wonder how animal trainers could let a creature bite them and not seem to have a care in the world. Now I know.
This week is high school week and I've been given the opportunity to counsel again. It's been going great and I have an amazing group of high school juniors and seniors. This makes my 52nd week of cabin counseling here at Timber-lee. I've spent one entire year of my life doing this. It's a great way to have spent a year.
One of my campers this week is a camper I've counseled before. He's quite eccentric and unique, but he's a very humrous and fun-loving guy. He has a lot of issues and has had to deal with a lot of major problems in his life at a fairly young age. I love this guy. I'll call this camper Dale.

Dale says a lot of random and funny things. Sometimes the things he says make no sense, but are funny. Other times they are almost morbid, yet not quite. Below are some of my favorite quotes that Dale has said this week.

After having only been at camp for a few hours and while we were waiting to start devotions, Dale points at me and says, "Tom, I want you to start writing the alphabet backwards but you'll need a co-signer. You, Ned, be the co-signer and pretend to be a mime who has his hair on fire." It was so random and hilarious.

We were making cardboard boats to race for the tournament on Thursday morning and as we were finishing our boat, Dale looks at the boat and says, "We need to put a number 3 on here." "Why three?" "Because that was Dale Earnhardt's number. He was a great racer. May he rest in pieces." "What did you say?" "I said Dale Earnhardt was a great racer, may he rest in pieces."

We were doing word associations and someone gives me the word "flannel". I said, "Spam" (I was thinking of the old Monty Python routine). Dale says, "I hate spam. Everytime I go to check my email there's a bunch of spam in there trying to tell me how to make my buttocks more beautiful."

"I want to dress up like Abe Lincoln and wear a beard of slugs while delivering the Gettysburg Address."

"My home is the insane asylum."

"My favorite movies are Jaws and Jackass."

"I hate that song 'Save a Horse, Ride a Cowboy.' Hollywood and the media takes a song like that and blows it out of proportion so we end up with things like BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN."
"I've hated soccer ever since I was in the 8th grade when they made me play skins."
-----Aaron Leonard
"I've never seen Josiah Hager sleep. I don't think he sleeps. I think Josiah's a vampire or something." ---Dan Pinkhaus

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Lady In the Water

Tonight I had the opportunity to see LADY IN THE WATER. It's a movie about faith and hope and perseverance. I enjoyed it immensely. It's a fairy tale set in a modern setting. Since the death of Jim Henson, there hasn't been a director (Terry Gilliam could have, but he never has) who has brought a fairy tale to the screen the proper way. That has changed because M. Night Shyamalan has done it. I love movies intensely, probably even more than I love books. There are many movies I've seen that make me think, many more that make me feel good, and a few that do both. However, even if I feel good after watching a film, it is rare that I leave the theatre feeling happy. LADY IN THE WATER made me feel happy.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006


About a month ago, I went with some camp friends to get a late night snack. We were going to go to Taco Bell but the inside was closed so we went to Dominoes instead. Anyway, we were sitting there eating our food and a couple of the girls started talking about these two girls from Taylor University who were in a car accident about a month ago. One of them died and one has been in the hospital slowly recovering. It turns out the girl that "died" is actually alive and the girl that everyone thought was alive is actually dead. It's a major mix-up (and how it can happen in this so called age of technology with DNA and blood tests and all that jazz, I'll never know) and is getting national coverage. One of the girls that was talking about this made the comment, "You know when you think about who will show up at your funeral, well now she knows."

I asked, "Do people actually think about that?"

"Yeah. I've only thought about it a few times, but yeah. You've never thought about it."

I replied, "No."

I had never thought about that until last night. Last night I ended up thinking about it quite a lot. I basically reached the same conclusion I had before. I don't really care how many people show up at my funeral. I'm dead and when I'm in Heaven it will not matter to me how many people are there. Funerals aren't for the dead. Funerals are services for the living. We say we do them in rememberance and honor of the deceased and though that is partially true, it is more accurate to say we do them for ourselves. We hold funerals to bring closure to our own lives with someone. We hold funerals as a way to constructively deal with our grief. The dead don't care about that. Some of them probably yearn that loved ones left behind will believe the Truth that they rejected, but other than that I honestly don't think those who die really care who shows up to their funeral or how many people are there. I've thought a lot about that these past 12 hours and to be honest, I don't really care how many people show up at my funeral or who does. I just hope that whoever does, that the experience is a positive one that brings them a little closer to Jesus.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Indians Love Tom Varner.

Indians love Tom Varner. Why don't you?

Monday, July 03, 2006

Frustration and Desires.

About the first time I first graduated from college, I had this idea for a series of six short stories. Basically, each of the stories were going to look at a man's life at three different points in his life, but from the angle of a life lived with faith and a life lived without faith. The first story was going to be about a young man who committs suicide in despair. The next story would illustrate how that man's faith had saved him from that. The next would look at the man in his middle years and how he had grown to become a cynic with the parallel tale of how faith helped him avoid that, and the last pairing would have told of the man in old age and how he had grown into a bitter, cranky coot and concluded with the story of how his faith had helped him avoid that, too.

I am a man of deep faith. I have been blessed to know Jesus for most of my life. I have had very long conversations with God on a fairly regular basis since I was about ten. My faith prevented me from the fate of the man in the first story. Suicidal thoughts I once had, but I know that it is because of my relationship with Christ and the Holy Spirit that is a part of me that prevented those from transforming into anything more than thoughts. I know life has a purpose and has a meaning.

Yet, despite trying not too, I am afraid I am becoming the cynical young man. I used to believe and know that Bible versus such as Psalm 37:4-5 (Delight yourself in the Lord and he will give you the desires of your heart. Commit your way to the Lord; trust in him and he will do this.) were true. Now, even though I feel that I know they are true, I find myself doubting that I believe that. I am a sinner and I make mistakes and foul up. Yet, I keep pressing on. I do delight in God and all that he has given me and I find myself committing my way(s) to him often. Yet, I have yet to see the things I have desired most in my life come to be. The dreams I had for the first quarter century of my existence were swept away as I was carried to a new path. It is true that those dreams have been watered with hope recently. However, these things are still buds that are just beginning to poke out of the ground. They are not a deep rooted realization, yet. As for the other desires of my heart, they seem so remote and distant that I'm almost afraid to believe that they will ever come to be.

I've never been one to say that the Christian life is easy. Jesus never promised that in this life it would be that way. Yet, I see people who do seem more blessed than others. Often these are people of faith. This combines with the constant sermons I have heard preached of how if "you just do this" God will "bless your life abundantly." I often find myself frustrated when this happens. Part of it is because of my own sin--I find myself jealous of those blessings around me. Yet, part of it is just frustration. I said I am a man of faith, but that's not really true. I still can't command a tree to jump into the sea (and I have honestly tried that before) so I don't even have the faith of a mustard seed. My faith is so small especially when I think of those giant saints in my own life whose faith might have let them command a tree to jump. When I think of those saints, though, I remember that most of them had incredibly difficult lives.

This should provide comfort. It should, but usually it doesn't. I'm a sinful creature and I want to have the good life now. I want a decent job, a wife, maybe some children, and a nice house in a nice neighborhood. When I attend my next high school reunion I want to be like my classmates who are there and not the lone outcast who couldn't even convince the girl next door to come with him so he didn't have to show up dateless again. I want to teach for a little while. I want to write. I want to get a break in show business. I want to make a mark on this world and be a sign that points to my God. But, that is the crux of the matter. All the other desires in my life are subservient to that one: to love and serve my King and be a sign that points to him. I am a man of flesh and sometimes it is so difficult to keep that central desire in focus. But, that is the key. I just wish there could be an easier way to do it instead of working it out with fear and trembling all the time.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Here's to You, Brother!

I am the oldest of four siblings. I have two younger brothers and a younger sister. My youngest brother and I have always had a very strong bond. My sister and I get along alright. However, DW and I haven’t always gotten along. From the time he was born until he was about three, everything was fine. Then we started to fight and the fighting went on until I left for college. We seemed to hate each other and sometimes we fought so violently we had to go outside just so we literally wouldn’t kill each other. We are pretty much complete opposites: I love to read, DW only reads an occasional newspaper and the tv listings; I did well in school, DW didn’t (he could have but he was too apathetic); I wasn’t a very good athlete, DW was; though I’m a hick I’m a refined hick, DW is pretty much a straight-redneck; etc. Despite these differences we have grown closer the last several years. We’ve built upon the commonalities we share and have minimized the differences (perhaps the two major U.S. political parties should take lessons on how to work together from DW and I). We still live very different lives. But, that doesn’t really matter.

DW arrived home yesterday from a week-long training session near Chicago. He leaves for special training in three weeks. Two months later he’ll be going to Iraq for a year. I love my brother incredibly. I’ve told him this, but he hates that (at least he pretends to). I’m also incredibly proud of him. He got into a lot of trouble a few years ago. I was in college and he lost his two closest friends in one day in a non-alcohol related car crash. I sometimes think that if I had been around I would have been able to keep him from getting into the trouble with the law and everyone else that he did. It took awhile for him to get back on track, but he did. He walked away from God for awhile, too. But he came back. That fills me with hope. He’s got a lot of growing to do spiritually, but all of us do. The spiritual life is anything but stagnant. Christianity is all about freedom and growth. Anyway, I leave for the summer in five days. Once I leave, I might not ever see my brother again and that fills me with great sadness; so much sadness that tears well up in my eyes if I let myself think about it. At the same time, I’m really not worried. God is guiding both our paths and wherever our journeys will take us, I know that if nothing else in the end we will meet again. So, here's to you brother! I love you and I'm incredibly proud of you.

Sunday, May 21, 2006


My youngest brother graduated last night from high school. My sister graduated last weekend from college. Over the past few weeks and in the next couple weeks to come there will be thousands of other commencement ceremonies around the country. In honor of these celebration, here are some words delivered to a high school class many, many moons ago. It was in a different time and a different era. It's author was a mature, but bright-eyed high school kid. The student who wrote this was full of wisdom, but it was a wisdom tempered by innocence and lack of experience. Disillusionments, jadings of the heart, and beatings by the world wouldn't happen until a few months later. The speech is dated, but it's core message is still relevant today. Enjoy.
Good evening, ladies and gentlemen. Welcome to tonight’s graduation ceremony.
As the class historian, I believe we represent success in several different fields such as academics, music, dramatics, and athletics. Four valedictorians, a salutatorian, and a historian represent just a few of the many dimensions of our success and accomplishments.
One of the major reasons that our class has been so successful is because we are so adaptable to change. Many changes have taken place during our lifetime. We have seen the Vietnam War end and our nation’s bicentennial begin. We have watched the Space Shuttle Challenger explode. We have seen the end of the Cold War. We have lived through the Persian Gulf War. And we have been led by five different Presidents.
However, as we have grown and matured change has also occurred within our lives here at home. We have said farewell to Mr. Stout and welcomed Mr. Dillon as our principal. We have seen faculty come and go. We fought for the reinstatement of the senior trip. And one month ago over a third of our class enjoyed our victory at Chesterfield, Missouri.
As we leave these halls tonight we will be faced with the challenges of the world: genocide in the Balkans, the fight against drugs and crime in our cities, the search for cures for cancer and AIDS in our nation’s laboratories, and more personally what careers we will pursue and who we’ll date next Friday night.
I ask of you, my friends, that as you leave tonight and begin upon the great journey of life to remember our class motto: “Remember yesterday, dream for tomorrow, live for today.”
I congratulate us the class of 1994.

Friday, May 19, 2006

I Get Tired of Eating Dirt After Awhile

On Tuesday I had a job interview. I was really excited about it because it was at a school that I really, really wanted to teach at and it was probably going to be my last chance at getting a teaching job for the fall. Frankly, I'm not a great interviewee, especially when my entire future is at stake--I get nervous and my voice fluctuates and no matter what I try I can't seem to keep it in check. Nevertheless, I thought the interview went well and that I had a good chance at the job.

Apparently not because I got a call today and was informed that they had offered the job to someone else. Language cannot express how frustrated and angry that made me.
I have sent out around 30 different applications to schools that I know have open positions. I have had 7 interviews. The number of interviews should give me some comfort because I know that most applicants aren't offered that, but that knowledge provides me no comfort.

I really, really, really, really want to have a class of my own and be teaching English in the fall. I spent 2 1/2 years jumping through all sorts of hoops, spending precious time and money so that I could get the precious certification that the State of Illinois says you have to have to be able to teach. In December, I finally got that certification and in the process became stamped and approved by the government. I've been looking for a job since December and now it appears that come August, I'm not going to have one. I've done all the "proper" steps and I have the training. I've sent countless emails and have had numerous telephone conversations. I've followed up each of my interviews with a personal thank you letter. I've spent hours scouring the Internet and educational websites. I've talked to people I really didn't want to talk to just so I could get the experience. Always looking, looking, looking. And now it appears that it has all been to no avail. Language cannot describe how frustrated and upset I feel right now. I've not only done everything everyone has asked of me, I've gone far beyond it and still I am denied. I don't know what else I can do.

I should be encouraged somewhat because it will now be easier for me to move to Oregon. But I'm not. I wanted to teach so bad. I also shouldn't feel so bad because I'm quite used to rejection. Audition for enough shows and commercials and stuff and after awhile you develop rhinosaurous skin. But it's different with teaching. I'm a great teacher and a damn good English teacher. I know this. But knowing this only makes it worse. It really shouldn't bother me, I guess, because in the grand scheme of things it might not be that big of a deal and maybe it'll lead to a better opportunity. But, you know, it does bother me a lot right now. I always try to make the best out of a situation so it can be fun to play in the dirt and role around in it, but I get tired of eating dirt after awhile.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Short Passages From Anne Lamott

"Some people think that God is in the details, but I have come to believe that God is in the bathroom."--Anne Lamott, Traveling Mercies, p. 161

I've discovered this myself. I have an idea for a book I want to write someday. It'll be entitled, The Annointing Is In the Bathroom.
"But in the meantime I have learned that most of the time, all you have is the moment, and the imperfect love of people." --Anne Lamott, Traveling Mercies, p. 168

Every moment is a Gethsemane. Press the best out.

Monday, May 15, 2006

A Few Words from TO OWN A DRAGON

The following passages are from Donald Miller's new book To Own a Dragon. (p. 139-145 ). I'm not saying that I agree with it all (and I'm not saying I don't), but it's really interesting to read and think about.
"What happens when sex is cheapened?" somebody asked.

"A lot happens. The main thing is there is no sacred physical territory associated with commitment. There can still be emotional territory, but there isn't anything physical, experiential, that a man and a woman have only with each other. Sleeping around does something to the heart, to the mind. It leaves less commodity to spend on a sacred mate. But all of that sounds pretty fluffy. Let me break it down into practical stuff. Women saying no to men, not letting men have sex with them, causes men to step up. If, in order to have sex with them, women demanded you got a job and shaved every day and didn't dress like a dork or sit around playing video games, then all of us would do just that. We all want to have sex, right?'

"Amen," one of the guys said, which drew some laughter.

"So if a woman demanded that you acted like a gentleman," I continued, "that you were able to commit and focus, then everybody in this room would do that, if for no other reason than we want to have sex. And this in turn would be good for families, would be good for communitites. Let's face it, we're guys, and too often we are going to take the path of least resistance. Many of us are the way we are because women are attracted to a certain kind of man. We may not have realized this dynamic was shaping us, but it has been. Nobody is exempt. So, when sex gets cheapened, we are getting what we want without having to pay for it. That's not good for anybody, not in the long run anyway. It's a great system, you know."

"But women don't withhold sex. It doesn't work that way any more," a guy from the back of the room stated.

"That true," I said. "Women are imitating men, I think. The presupposition is that men are right, and in order for a woman to be successful, she should act not like a woman but like a man. Thanks for the compliment, but I disagree. I think men need women to be women, and we need to be made to jump through some hoops. If a woman withholds sex until she gets what she wants, we are all better for it."

"You know," I started in, softly, "I hate this as much as you guys do. You try to take away people's sex, try to make people feel guilty or something, and everybody hates you for it. I mean you're a geek, right? And I don't want to be that guy. I really don't. It's just that my dad left my mom when I was a kid, and I remember visiting him and he always had some girl living with him, or was sleeping around with a girl half his age, and that affected me. I think my dad just thought it didn't matter, that he should be able to sleep with whomever he wanted. But what I needed him to do was stay with my mom, love my mother, and be my father. I think we can think nobody is affected by our actions, by our habits, but they are. We aren't independent creatures, you know. We are all connected. And in a family, in marriage, it's important that sex be something special, and as men, it's important we take the initiative in protecting it. Those habits start now. Greg Spencer, a professor friend of mine, would say sex is the most psychologically involving of the physical acts. Men fantasize that sex is mere biology. Yet nothing seems to affect us quite as deeply as sex when it is abused. I hope you don't fault me for saying all of this."

The great argument, then, is not whether sex is good or bad outside a relational commitment, but whether sex is for anything other than the release of pleasure. There is no scientific evidence to suggest sex is for bonding. Common sense tells us sex bonds people, but science can't go into the poetic. The tendency, when pleasure drives logic, is to reduce sex to a dry Darwinian definition, ignoring the poetry of our bodies. And this doesn't sound like much of a crime, until we remember the argument about the value of the dollar. Poetics, then, matter. What we feel about something, what we agree about for the sake of health and progress becomes critical. I think of sex this way, not only because this is the way God thinks about sex, but because logically, even apart from some sort of Christian morality, the poetic interpretation has to be upheld. --Donald Miller