Year-End Pop Culture Roundup 2011

And so, it's time once again for the final Roundup of the year, where I recap my favorites from the past 12 months. Numbers are for convenience purposes and not really "rankings."

Five Books I Enjoyed in 2011

1. Apparition and Late Fictions -In this collection of short stories (and one novella), Thomas Lynch clearly bases his writing somewhat on his experiences as a mortician and funeral director. I think that such a profession, like ministry, affords one a lot of time to ruminate on the human experience, the nature of relationships and emotions and actions. I guess I find him a kindred spirit in that way. His stories are very good: one concerns a man who takes his father's ashes fishing, another is a woman who teaches at the University of Michigan who takes an extended vacation, and another is about a divorced pastor who becomes a best-selling author. They're not the happiest, though. So you've been warned.

2. The Hunger Games trilogy -In a version of the United States where the country has been recalibrated into twelve districts, Suzanne Collins tells the story of Katniss, who finds herself about to participate in the contest for which the book is named. In order to prevent an uprising, the government has started a program where two kids between the ages of 13 and 18 are chosen from each district to take part in a televised battle to the death. Katniss volunteers after her young sister is chosen. I really thought that I wouldn't like it given the themes, but by the end I couldn't put the first book down, and hurried to read the other two as well. I found myself rooting for Katniss and being genuinely in suspense during the Games themselves. Collins' writing made me care, pulled me into the bleak situation into which the 24 tributes are thrown. The violence is not graphic, but it is presented in unsentimental fashion, the way it should be. Characters do not die honorable or romantic deaths; you very much get the sense that they die as expendable pieces of a game that the government is playing.

3. The Pastor - Eugene Peterson has written a landmark memoir of his life as a pastor, and his evolving understanding of what a pastor is. He eventually ends up defining pastoral ministry as pointing out where God is, calling people to attention to the divine in the midst of their harried, exhausted, boring, or insulated lives. This understanding permeates the rest of the book, through his continued interactions with parishioners who come and go, through the congregation's plan to construct a building, through his burgeoning writing career. Peterson constantly and consistently resists more recent models of pastoral ministry, calling instead for something more humble and contextual. I recognized some themes and stories from other books, but this is a great summary of his conclusions based in experience.

4. Three and Out - John U. Bacon was given unfettered access to the University of Michigan football program the entire time that Rich Rodriguez was head coach. As a result, Bacon has a unique insider's perspective on the fumbled hiring process that brought RichRod to Ann Arbor, the fallout with West Virginia, the crummy games and seasons, the Detroit Free Press's hackjob and subsequent NCAA investigation, the infamous final Football Bust featuring Josh Groban, and the end shortly after. The main thrust, of course, is what Rodriguez goes through and how he reacts to every new dramatic turn, as well as how his staff and players handle it. In delineating all of this, two of Bacon's main points seem to be that 1) Ever since Bo died, there hasn't been anyone to keep the entire program unified and focused, which made the fracturing of the department, alumni, and fanbase all the easier during these three years, and 2) Neither RichRod nor Michigan did enough, publicly or privately, to make this a happy marriage. This was one of the most engrossing books that I've read in quite a while. I can't remember the last time I tried to take advantage of every free moment to read another chapter.

5. The Magician King - This is the sequel to Lev Grossman's excellent and engrossing The Magicians, which I read last year. We pick up pretty much right where we left off, with Quentin and his three friends kings and queens of the magical Narnia-ish world of Fillory. Quentin is getting bored: he has incredible powers in both the magical and royal sense, and life is very easy for him. Longing for a challenge, he eventually sets off in search of the Seven Keys, the incredible importance of which he slowly discovers even if initially he'd just wanted a quest. We also learn about Julia's background, which was probably the more fascinating part of the book for me. The characters face the same questions as in the first book concerning identity and purpose, and there's even a certain desperation on Quentin's part in answering them. I don't know that I'd call this book as good as the last, but it's still up there. The ending is unsatisfying, but it's obviously setting up the reader for the eventual third book of the trilogy.

Five Movies I Enjoyed in 2011

1. The Town - Ben Affleck and Jeremy Renner star as bank robbers who've lived their entire lives in Charlestown, an apparently notorious neighborhood in Boston. After pulling off a job, they realize that the assistant bank manager that they'd briefly abducted lives right in the neighborhood and may end up recognizing them. So Affleck's character tails her and eventually befriends her in order to see whether they're really in trouble that way. Of course, he ends up falling in love with her, and that greatly complicates things. Affleck also directed, and he captured the feel of the city and set the mood very well. There was a certain hopelessness to some of the characters, like they could never be or do anything other than what they knew. Not the happiest movie, but a very good one.

2. Megamind - Will Ferrell voices the title character, a villain constantly battling Metro Man (Brad Pitt) for control of Metro City. Megamind finally succeeds, only to find his life empty and meaningless without a hero to fight. As a result, he seeks to create a replacement with strands of Metro Man's DNA...and it goes horribly wrong. Tina Fey voices reporter and love interest Roxanne Richie, and Jonah Hill is her doofy cameraman. As many times as I've seen it, it's a really fun movie, the voices are perfect, and the soundtrack features quite a few classic metal tracks from the likes of Ozzy, Guns 'N Roses, and AC/DC.

3. Chaos Theory - Ryan Reynolds stars as Frank, an efficiency expert who is incredibly organized and punctual for everything. His wife, meaning to set the clocks ten minutes forward in order to help him be on time for a big presentation, sets them back instead and makes him late, which starts a domino effect of events that disrupt his entire life outlook. Or at least, that's the premise. First off, reading that description caused me to expect something along the lines of Yes Man: overly cautious guy learns to let go and try new things. I was pleasantly surprised that this is a far more weighted film: it does have some humor, but what happens to Frank is far more upsetting and serious. Reynolds, of course, pulls it off very well. Second, the fact that he's ten minutes late is not necessarily the reason why what happens next happens - it could have happened whether he'd been on time or not, but that didn't bother me too much. At times, there isn't really a likable character to be found, but that's part of the messiness that the movie portrays.

4. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2 - This was a great finish to the franchise. It had a lot of action, mostly consisting of the final battle at Hogwarts. But it also managed to hit the right dramatic notes when presenting Snape's background, Harry's preparation to meet Voldemort and accept his initial fate, and the overall chaos of battle that includes the loss of beloved characters. It managed to be a well-balanced movie that way, never feeling slow but also never feeling bogged down with the action sequences.

5. Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows - Robert Downey, Jr. returns as the legendary investigator and Jude Law as his friend, foil, and partner Watson as Holmes faces off with his arch-nemesis Moriarty. I liked this film better than the first (although the first was very good, too): the acting, script, and directing was all quite superb, and the Holmes/Moriarty plot gave it more of a traditional feel than its predecessor. Guy Ritchie has a great eye and feel for pacing, making for an action movie with intelligence, style, and artistry. The ever-present chess metaphor was apt as these two were very much evenly matched throughout, which made for a great story.

Five TV Shows I Enjoyed in 2011

1. NY Ink - Ami James has left his Miami shop and has come back to New York to start a new gig. The shop itself looks like an art gallery, which James made a point of doing as he shares that he wants to be seen as a true artist. This first show had some drama, particularly between two of the shop managers, but moreso between Ami and an artist who basically seems to walk off the street and ask him to return a favor from back in the day. Ami lets him stay, and he immediately clashes with everybody else. The bulk of the season was the drama between Ami and this other artist, but also on the tattoos people get. This was more Miami Ink than LA Ink, and that's a good thing.

2. The Daily Show - This was one of those years where I just became especially fed up with the way government figures and pundits have been acting, and at the same time more fearful of where we're headed as a country. Jon Stewart was a shining light for me as he skewered all of it nightly. It's not that I didn't enjoy his show before now, I just seemed to cling to it a little more in the face of constant indications of Washington's love of politics over people and the media's love for entertainment over information. Stewart et. al. laid it bare four nights a week, and as I watched I hoped that people were paying attention.

3. WWE Money in the Bank - In the mid to late aughts, I began questioning why I still watch professional wrestling. In these years, the WWE has been dominated by John Cena and Randy Orton, but at least in those years we still had Triple H, Shawn Michaels, The Undertaker, and cameos and one-offs by other superstars of years past. But since Michaels and Taker have retired and/or just disappeared, there was a void; no clear current star for whom I could cheer, and Cena & Orton had become very stale, thus rendering the whole product stale. Enter CM Punk, whom I'd always kind of liked but who really captured my interest this summer with his promos calling out Cena and CEO Vince McMahon, and dropping old school appreciation for actual wrestling along the way. He and Cena main-evented this summer's Money in the Bank pay-per-view, which was an electric storyline lead-in and match featuring an excited crowd. CM Punk and this show breathed new life into my fandom.

4. Entourage - The guys came a long way during this show's eight-season run, yet didn't: there was never any serious long-term storyline where any friendships among them were strained, Ari was fired for maybe half a season, and things never looked too bleak for Vince's career despite a major film bombing and his struggles with a cocaine addiction. The show always kept things from getting too serious for too long; people looking for some authentic look into Hollywood lifestyles were bound to be disappointed, save perhaps for the ups and downs of Drama's career. Otherwise, the show always shot for light and fun even in darker moments. To its credit, I think that it was fairly up front about that very early on, so many of those who thought it should be something else probably lost interest a long time ago. I obviously stuck with it even as I was heavily critical of it, because it was fun for what it was.

5. Boardwalk Empire - There was an incredibly dark cloud hanging over the entire cast this season as Nucky dealt with the new adversaries who'd emerged from his inner circle. Over the course of the season, some had sins come back to haunt them, others had to cover up new ones, and some simply followed them to their natural conclusion. The finale made me angry in a way that a TV show never has, but in part it was because there was no other way for things to play out. People made their choices and inevitably became victims of those choices at the hands of the ones holding all the cards. Unfortunately for the series and for many viewers, one of the most sympathetic and complex characters is now gone, leaving me to wonder who I'll be rooting for in season three.

Five Albums I Enjoyed in 2011

1. The King is Dead, The Decemberists - One of my favorite bands put out an album this year that is much more straightforward than their last two with simple arrangements and a country/folk feel, with some help from Gillian Welch and REM's Peter Buck. Aside from the first single, "Down By the Water," the fightin' words of "Rox in the Box" and the aptly named "January Hymn" have become favorites for me.

2. Sigh No More, Mumford and Sons - I was first exposed to this band through their performance at the Grammys, and thought, "Wow, I should check out more of their stuff." And then I didn't for a couple months. When I finally downloaded their whole album, I've enjoyed their high-energy brand of British folk-rock. The two singles, "The Cave" and "Little Lion Man" are good, but "Dust Bowl Dance" is another favorite and is pretty apropos for the situation our country finds itself in nowadays. But really, the whole album is very good.

3. The Unspeakable Chilly Gonzales - I came across this artist and album by sheer chance one afternoon while surfing the web. Chilly Gonzales is the alter ego of Jason Beck, a skilled pianist and composer, who raps to orchestral arrangements. This was easily the most quirky and creative album that I heard this year.

4. Obadiah Parker Live - I walked into my favorite coffeehouse and heard Parker's acoustic cover of Outkast's "Hey Ya," and was immediately hooked. I downloaded this live EP which includes the song as a bonus track. The entire album is excellent, mixing elements of blues, funk, rock, and folk for kind of a jamband sound.

5. El Camino, The Black Keys - The Keys are a late entry, only because they released this album near the beginning of this month. This is a more playful offering for them, still featuring crunchy guitar riffs and stomp-rock drum beats. "Lonely Boy" is a fun uptempo tune, and "Little Black Submarines" has an anthemic "Stairway to Heaven" feel to it.

Five Blogs I Enjoyed in 2011

1. Jesus Needs New PR - Matthew Paul Turner has a great deal of experience with Christian schlock, and now he compiles it from around the web in one convenient location. Besides that, he also offers reflections about what the church should really concern itself with, and wondering why we Christians don't concern ourselves more with it instead of trying to out-crazy each other.

2. Tertium Squid - Gordon Atkinson re-emerged with another blog after stepping away from RealLivePreacher and pastoral ministry. This new venture still features a bit of ecclesiological decompression, but Gordon's talent as a wordsmith, of calling out the poetry that is all around us, remains firmly intact. His writing has influenced me a great deal, and I'm glad to be able to continue reading new offerings.

3. Brant's Blog - Brant Hansen also re-emerged with yet another new blog after changing radio station jobs. It's the same old Brant, though: thoughtful reflections about God, the church, and culture in general, delivered with a great deal of humor and gentleness.

4. Jamie the Very Worst Missionary - Jamie Wright is a missionary in Costa Rica. She offers stories of her experience, calls people to greater awareness of what the poor really need, emphasizes relationships with others, and has a very awesome, very dry sense of humor.

5. MGoBlog - After so many years, do I need to explain this one any more?

Hunger Games Trailer + Announcement-type Content


I hope that your holiday season has been a good one, whatever the specifics you observe.

Mine was excellent. For someone like me, obviously, it involved a lot of worship. Christmas Eve was its usual time of reflective quiet, and Christmas Day was just fun. Aside from that, good times were had with family and I ate too much.

So. A few notes.

First, here is the trailer for the movie version of The Hunger Games, for which both I and Coffeewife are very excited. I meant to put this in the last Pop Culture Roundup, but forgot. Watch, and anticipate:


Now, the reason I didn't wait to just post this in the next Roundup directly relates to my other announcement: this Friday will be the last Roundup of 2011, which means it will be no ordinary Roundup. Instead, it will be The Super-Fantastic Mega-Awesome Year-End Pop Culture Roundup of and Happiness. There will be lists (LISTS!) of things (THINGS!) that I especially enjoyed over the course of this past year in books, movies, TV, music, and blogging. So make sure you tune in.

After that, it'll be 2012. So here's an early Happy Most Overrated Holiday Ever and another Go Blue, Beat the Hokies, and a really early Shut Up, The World Isn't Going to End Next Year. And that's pretty much it for now.

"Who Notices Now?" - A Christmas Eve Prayer

Where in your world is it quiet? Where in your world is there light?

In a time of occupation and oppression,
a time of purported destiny acted out through victory over others,
a time of starvation for many, survival for most, and plenty for a few,
a time of elevating earthly leaders and states to godhood,
a peasant girl walked unnoticed.

You visited. You proclaimed.
Somehow your grace fit inside her human frame and would birth that same grace to a noisy, cluttered, anxious world.

In a crowded city,
while war raged elsewhere,
while people cried out in their hunger,
while Caesar was praised,
a baby was born in a barn.

Who noticed?

The Savior is born. Who notices now?
Will those ordering or carrying out attacks notice?
Will those suffering from bloated bellies or their uncaring overseers notice?
Will those trusting modern Caesars to save them notice?
Will the grieving, the self-shaming, the unforgiving, or the exhausted notice?
Will we in our noise and darkness notice?

We ponder the mystery of Light and Love Enfleshed.
We silently ask where it happens and where it is possible.
We grope to see and hear it in the darkness and the din.

Through One become skin, bone, and blood, you show the wheres and hows of noticing,
the wheres and hows of silence,
the wheres and hows of grace-filled days,
and we re-discover that in your world, it can be seen and heard everywhere.

Blue Christmas

Cast: Michigan Head Coach Brady Hoke, OC Al Borges, DC Greg Mattison, QB Denard Robinson, and legendary fan Lloyd Brady.

HT to MGoBlog, of course.

Wondering What It's Like

Longtime readers of this blog know that I have a thing about longer pastorates. I've come to conclude that my life experience and the general state of the American Church necessitates that I strive for and study how to achieve them. I spent a five-week sabbatical reading and thinking about them. I've written numerous posts about why the subject is important to me. Yeah, I consider it kind of a big deal.

The question that I use as a handy reference point to gauge the state of a pastorate goes like this: "What's it like to preach during your tenth Christmas Eve service with the same congregation?" By that point, are you approaching it as a completely routine thing? Do you grumble, "here we go again," and roll your eyes while seeking something new to say? Are you recycling stories or entire sermons by that point? Does the event of Christmas Eve feel special to you anymore? What's your internal monologue and spirit like by that point?

The question has a few different aspects to it, and you can really ask it of anything that happens on a church's calendar year-in and year-out. It's the sort of question meant to evaluate one's relationship to the church, the state of one's creativity, one's sense of call to a particular people, one's sense of ministry in general, and other things I haven't thought to mention. If you've made it to your tenth Christmas Eve service and are still striving to approach familiar themes in new ways, that's a good sign. If you've made it that far and are feeling at a loss or not feeling much in general, that's a much different sort of sign, isn't it?

A month or so ago as I was thinking about this question, it fully hit me that I'll be preaching my eighth Christmas Eve in less than a week. It's not ten, but we're getting closer, and at this point I foresee us hitting ten with little trouble. But for that to happen, our relationship must retain a certain level of dynamism and I personally must nurture a creative energy that allows me to prepare for Christmas Eve and other events with a sustained level of anticipation. If I've learned anything as I've reflected on what makes a longer pastorate work, it's that such things take intentionality; they don't just happen.

As Advent winds to a close, the fourth and final candle has been lit: love. The word is used so often in so many different contexts that it's always in danger of becoming a watered-down catch-all for any number of things. But love can be hard work; it doesn't just happen. It takes vigilance, creativity, and constant nurturing. There are many pastors--active or retired--who at some point stopped trying. It's like they woke up one morning and decided they didn't need to learn anything more about ministry, or technology, or the wider culture and the church's place in it. Inertia carries them to retirement, and then they keep serving as interims or on influential judicatory boards, which can create other problems. I hasten to add that this is not true of all retired pastors, just the ones who've mentally checked out of the church's present situation. I don't know whether pastors who fall into this group ever experienced a tenth Christmas Eve in one place or how they handled it if they did. I suppose that you can love someone without trying too hard in a relationship, but I'm not sure how well that really qualifies as love.

I like to think that this eighth time preaching Christmas Eve will still be a lively and life-giving thing. I pray that our tenth one together is, too. And I pray that if I ever wake up some morning and decide that I don't need to learn anything more that I'll love the church enough to let it go.

Pop Culture Roundup

I'm still reading This Odd and Wondrous Calling. I'm in no hurry to get through it, and I even wonder whether I should be reading something else. Copenhaver and Daniel share good stories and reflections; I just don't feel a sense of urgency about finishing it. I do have to give Daniel props for playing bass in a punk band before she started seminary...for someone who seems to have become so entrenched in the Progressive Christian Establishment since those days, I was glad to have learned that about her. Copenhaver, meanwhile, shares his reservations about telling people that he's a pastor, which I completely understand. He tells a great story of meeting a jazz musician to that effect.

Last week, Coffeewife and I burned through all the episodes of Boardwalk Empire that we've missed in the span of 2-3 days just in time for the season finale on Sunday night. Nucky dealt with his new adversaries in Jimmy, his brother Eli, and the Commodore surprisingly well. There was an incredibly dark cloud hanging over the entire cast: some had sins come back to haunt them, others had to cover up new ones, and some simply followed them to their natural conclusion. The finale made me angry in a way that a TV show never has, but in part it was because there was no other way for things to play out. People made their choices and inevitably became victims of those choices at the hands of the ones holding all the cards. Unfortunately for the series and for many viewers, one of the most sympathetic and complex characters is now gone, leaving me to wonder who I'll be rooting for in season three.

In an intriguing bit of TV news, Christopher Meloni is joining the cast of True Blood for season 5. As in, the guy who was Detective Stabler will now be playing a vampire. How's that for range? Now I'm honestly interested in the next season instead of watching it just because I've been watching it.

The Black Keys' newest album, El Camino, was released on December 6th. It features some of the Keys' staples like grinding guitar riffs and stomping drums. I've been enjoying it immensely the past week and a half. Here's the video for "Lonely Boy:"

And here's a snare drumline playing a rendition of "Little Drummer Boy:"

Putting Advent in Park

I'm going to let everyone in on a little secret. This secret varies from church to church and from pastor to pastor, but I wonder if it generally isn't true for most pastors of most churches my size.

Ready? Here it is: December is one of the slowest months of the year for me as a pastor.

A lot of people, even some other pastors, assume that due to the activities of Advent and Christmas, pastors are just completely frazzled during the month of December. The assumption is that we're running around, constantly coordinating and calling and organizing and making sure everything is lined up in just the right way to ensure the perfect season for our members.

Nope. Our church has a Christmas program and two extra worship services, and that's about it. I do take great care to plan what I need to plan and lead what I need to lead, but this month does not feature the whirlwind of holiday chaos around the church that people think it does. In fact, now that this weekend has passed, I actually experience an incredible dropoff in activity.

No committees other than our governing board want to meet. What do we really have to do that can't wait until January? Who wants to meet with the pastor while they're busy lining up their own holiday plans? Only a couple fellowship groups forge on with their usual meeting plans this month. Basically, because people are trying to handle their own stuff at home and at work (I've already been to two Christmas parties through Coffeewife's job), they don't want to (or simply can't) devote as much time to the church this month.

Sometimes the best act of ministry is not acting.

It actually works out for me as well: it allows me to handle my own shopping and whatnot, but also because it allows me to take in the quiet of the decorated sanctuary without feeling much of a need to rush to much of anything.

For this reason, I've come to like our Blue Christmas service, which was held this past Sunday evening. For those who are unfamiliar, Blue Christmas (sometimes called a Longest Night service) is a time for those who don't find the holiday season to be joyful for one reason or another. It's a chance for people to come and be quiet for a while, taking a break from the season's busyness.

I started it shortly after I began here, and I think attendance peaked at around 20 people a couple years ago. We had 14 on Sunday. My earlier reaction would have been to despair at how big of a failure this service is and wonder why more don't come. This year, I was content to just sit and be quiet myself, relishing my first opportunity to sing "O Come O Come Emmanuel" and the low impact nature of the entire service: the expectations seem low, and it's just a matter of letting the songs and words take the lead and not to force anything.

After the service, an even smaller handful of us gathered for some fellowship time, content to munch on cookies and make small talk about mutual friends. A few of the older ladies tried to set up another young man with their granddaughters. We shared concerns about another member's barn burning down. We laughed and made new acquaintances and didn't move too fast doing any of it.

Believe it or not, this season does have more than one speed. I know, I saw it happen on Sunday. We don't need a service for that: it'd be ironic to have to schedule something in order to remind people to slow down. But if that's what it takes, then so be it.

Small Sips Is Going Bowling

Gimme some sugar, baby. Yeah, I said it. The Michigan Wolverines have been selected to play in the Sugar Bowl on January 3rd against Virginia Tech:
The Sugar Bowl will serve as Michigan's first trip to a BCS game since the 2007 Rose Bowl. The Wolverines lost that game to USC, 32-18. One year later, Michigan made it to the Capital One Bowl and beat the Tim Tebow-led Florida Gators in Lloyd Carr's last game as head coach. Rich Rodriguez's first two seasons didn't produce any trips to bowl games, but last year Michigan made it to the Gator Bowl. It was a forgettable trip, though. Mississippi State blasted Michigan by a score of 52-14.

Michigan has only played in the Sugar Bowl once before in its history. The Wolverines lost to Auburn by a score of 9-7 in the 1984 edition of the game to finish with a 9-3 record. This year Michigan has already won 10 games, meaning a win over Virginia Tech would give the Wolverines their first 11-win season since 2006.
What is this strange sensation that I'm feeling inside? 'Tis a feeling I've not felt in some time. Ah yes, it's the feeling that comes with being able to root for a football team that is...what is the word...good.

Anyway, I've come to appreciate certain things a whole lot more after enduring the past few years as a Michigan fan. These things include winning seasons, playing defense, field goals, beating opponents you're expected to beat, and going to bowl games that may even include the possibility of winning them.

Sparty? No. Not everybody is happy about Michigan's bowl selection. Michigan State's Kirk Cousins, as a completely random example:
"Michigan sat home tonight on the couch and watched us," the senior said shortly after the game's conclusion. "We played our hearts out — you saw it. I don't see how you get punished for playing and someone else gets to sit on the couch and get what they want.

"If this is the way the system is, I guess it's a broken system."

Michigan senior defensive lineman Ryan Van Bergen, who has become something of a team spokesman on a lot of matters this year, weighed in on Cousins' comments Sunday, shortly after learning of the Wolverines' bowl fate.

His message: Want to trade?

"If he wants to go sit on a couch and watch us play in the Big Ten championship game, then he can do that," Van Bergen said. "They had an opportunity to go the Rose Bowl. It was sitting right in front of them for them to grab. They didn't seize the opportunity.

"I think that they'll do well in the Outback Bowl. Best of luck. Best wishes. We're going to the Sugar Bowl, and we're excited about it."
MSU did indeed beat Michigan in October. However, MSU also lost in convincing fashion to both Notre Dame and Nebraska, both of whom Michigan beat. Also, call me crazy but I'm pretty sure that 10-2 is better than 10-3. As Van Bergen said, they had their shot to go to a BCS game and Spartied their way out of it when one of their players roughed Wisconsin's kicker near the end of the Big Ten title game. Generally, there is room to argue that the Big Ten runner-up should be considered for a BCS game, but the particulars make that more complicated.

Of course, I think the choices for the BCS Title game are bogus, so none of us are happy are we?

On a related note, I plan to be in Ann Arbor this next fall when this last and most annoying (and that's saying something) losing streak comes to an end. Good luck in the Outback, Sparty.

The JM Smucker Section Suggesting a Renaming of Bowls.
MGoBlog writer Seth has a pretty funny rant about bowl sponsorships:
First there was the Rose. At this point let's not pretend like this wasn't a marketing ploy because the entire point of the Rose Bowl was to prove to skeptical Easterners that it really is sunny and 70 in January in Pasadena. But at some point the marketing went from "come see our lovely town" to how much can we annoy you. This is where I come in. I carry a keyboard.

When there were fewer bowls the funny names were okay, especially when they matched the local industry. The Citrus and Tangerine and Orange and Gator screamed Florida. The Peach was very Georgia. The Liberty Bowl at least began in Philly and had a logo of the Liberty Bell. The Refrigerator Bowl was in the Refrigerator Capital of the World—if you knew where that was you could place the bowl game.

With naming rights to bowls now going for less than Pryor made in extra benefits (oh snap!) it is time to revolt.

This should have been done before a company called Mine-hickey Care Bear or some such sullied one "hallowed" bowl with that name, let alone its second (map by Hinton):

Going with this week's theme of whining about things that will never happen, here's my plea to readers and bloggers alike for dealing with the billions of bad names and barnacle-like corporate monikers affixing themselves to your bowls.

Why care? Without getting into the mercenary finances of the bowls I don't care that companies buy naming rights. I care that they are very bad at it, and that this makes the bowlscape very unhelpful. It is not my intent to restrict or confine or dictate language. I'm just tired of having to Google where the Maaco Bowl is.
Nothing to add, really. Just read the whole thing. It's pretty amusing.

Fergodsakes. I just wanted a chance to post this pre-game video:

Go Blue. Beat the Hokies!

The Triple Colloquy

In my journey through Ignatius' Spiritual Exercises, I've been encouraged lately to reflect on sin: its effect on my life, how the surrounding world influences me in negative ways, how self-aware I really am, and how repulsive and wretched my sins really are. This is the "First Week" of the Exercises, although the version that I am observing has this Week spanning several calendar weeks.

A friend and colleague of mine is making her own way through the Exercises, and is actually set to go through the program at the Ignatian Spirituality Institute the same time that I will (pity the professors now). When recently discussing our experiences of the Exercises, we talked for a while about how grounded they are in a particular tradition. In contrast, we Protestants aren't always good at exploring the true depth of an idea of tradition. Many of us make nebulous claims that the Bible or Christ are all we need, but we don't often use any strand of Christian tradition as a lens or guide, however imperfect, to interpreting those things.*

Some will undoubtedly be turned off by how Catholic the Exercises are. There have been occasions when the meditation for the day has encouraged me to say the Hail Mary or petition a saint, which admittedly has thrown up some roadblocks for me. This past week was no different, when I was invited to pray through something called The Triple Colloquy.

You begin by preparing yourself for prayer and centering yourself in your world. You seek to become aware of your own yearnings and how the world around you influences you. This part probably wouldn't raise many red flags for people. After this point, however, you are invited to ask Mary for help in becoming aware of your sins. This took me a long time to warm up to, let alone understand. As my spiritual director explained, however, I could choose someone besides Mary for this part of the exercise. For one reason or another, I decided against Mary and opted to talk to my friend Darren instead.

That first night did not go well. I came to this part of the exercise and paused for a very long time. For one thing, I just didn't understand what I was doing. My Protestantness was on full display that evening, as I've never looked into the practice of petitioning Mary or the saints too closely. For another, there were aspects of this that caused it to feel more like a seance than a time of meditation. Finally, I know of others who regularly talk to deceased relatives and friends, but I can't recall a single instance when I've felt inspired to do so. In effect, I've never tried to talk directly to Darren since I last saw him alive. This all comes back to my incredible ignorance going into this, and I probably just shouldn't have done it without doing more research.

Nevertheless, after a time of centering myself, I did the best I could. I began, "Darren." There was a very long pause here. "You seemed to understand Catholic practices, so I'm gonna need your help with this because I'm so out of my comfort zone." The rest of what I said wasn't very long, as I asked for a new awareness of my sins and other similar requests the meditation encouraged me to make. After this I did the same with Jesus, and then with God, hence the "triple" in Triple Colloquy.

I made sure to do some reading before the next night. As it turns out, the understanding of petitioning Mary or a saint is not a prayer per se, but asking for aid in prayer much the same way you ask for prayers from the living. We are surrounded by this great cloud of witnesses who are continually willing to help us and to pray for us. This is the type of thing that can bust one's theology of resurrection wide open, particularly if yours isn't well-developed. As I read, I thought back to my conversation with my friend about being grounded in tradition and attaining a depth of theological understanding that many Christians don't necessarily have access to or care for.

That next night, I felt much more comfortable talking to Darren, drawing much more of a sense of peace and support from the meditation than the previous evening. I found it far more comforting to be surrounded by loved ones missed, beloved, and whose memories and presence I still treasure.

*In reality, we all have such lenses or guides, however horribly honed and defined. In most cases we just aren't aware of them or don't want to acknowledge them as part of our claim to a supposedly more pure approach.

Pop Culture Roundup

I started reading This Odd and Wondrous Calling this past week, where Lillian Daniel and Martin Copenhaver share stories and experiences from their time in pastoral ministry. I resisted picking up this book for a long time, both because I've read so many books on ministry but also because I've taken issue with things that Daniel has written in the past. But there was something about my looming anniversary with my church and the questions and issues it has raised that inspired me to take up and read. Daniel and Copenhaver tag team on the chapters, balancing each chapter with story and reflection. In the first few, Daniel tells of discovering that three years of graduate school had really just prepared her for council arguments about chili mac, while Copenhaver reflects on learning to pray in seminary after a lifetime spent in the church. The book has a light tone and is easy reading. Not sure how much it's helping me, but it's fine for what it is.

It's been nearly three months since the second season of Boardwalk Empire started, and I just sat down this week to watch the first episode. Of course, most of it was just revisiting where the characters are, reminding us that some of Nucky's closest allies are actually plotting against him. They also seem to be developing bigger storylines for characters who weren't as prominent in the first season, such as Chalky and Richard. Of course, it's only the first episode and readers who've been watching know whether this is really the case. Anyway, it was nice to finally start catching up.

On Monday Night RAW the past few weeks, there have been URLs to Youtube videos appearing on the bottom of the screen that tell of something scheduled to happen on January 2nd. Here's the latest:

The content suggests The Undertaker, but the viral/code stuff suggests Chris Jericho. Either way is a win.

As mentioned last week, Five Iron Frenzy has reunited and they've already released a new song called "It Was a Dark and Stormy Night:"

Finally, this porcupine ain't sharing his corn: