With Great Cameos Come Great Nostalgia: My Unpopular Thoughts on “Spider-Man: No Way Home.”

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I finally had the opportunity to see Spiderman: No Way Home. The film hit theaters six months ago, but since I have a) small kids; b) a wife who actually likes these kinds of movies; and c) no time to get away for a movie date with her, I resigned myself to small-screen viewing. I even waited until I was able to get the film for free from my local library (support your local libraries, gang).

Finally, after months of anticipation and trying very hard to avoid major plot spoilers (I couldn’t avoid them all, so I knew about most of the cameos already), I sat down and watched the movie.

And it was…fine?

MCU Later

I remember seeing Iron Man in the theater back in 2008 with two good friends of mine. The three of us absolutely geeked out when Nick Fury stepped out of the shadows and said the words “Avengers Initiative,” and I was an MCU mark ever since. Even the Marvel films that weren’t quite as good (sorry, Thor: The Dark World and Iron Man 3) were still great because I was 100% bought into the epic plotline. Captain America was my guy (#TeamCapForLife), and every new film that filled out the sprawling Infinity Saga was an absolute joy, culminating in Avengers: Endgame and one of my favorite images in all of cinematic history.

“No. You move.”

Once Endgame closed the book on the main storyline I’d been following, I started to lose interest in what came next. I understand, times change and actors move on, so you rotate in new characters with new histories and plot lines. But when you couple the loss of iconic characters like Iron Man and Captain America with the introduction of new narrative threads that seem to be written to make ideological statements rather than tell good stories, my interest really starts to wane. I watched the direct-to-streaming Black Widow; it was decent. I enjoyed some of the Disney+ Marvel series like WandaVision, Loki, and Hawkeye. (The Falcon and the Winter Soldier should have been great, but it really left me cold. Plus Bucky should get the shield; I won’t budge on that fact.)

In other words, Marvel Phase Four doesn’t really do it for me. I almost watched Shang-Chi, and I heard it was pretty good, but I just never cared enough to commit for 2 hours. I passed on Eternals because I heard enough about the plot and content that I knew it would just tick me off. From what I gather, Doctor Strange 2 is weird and dark and could be fun, but making Wanda OP and focusing the whole plot on America Chavez is kind of a buzzkill. I’m not even going to bother with Love and Thunder, because Jane Foster as “The Mighty Thor” was a stupid idea when the comics rolled it out in 2015 and it’s stupid now. Thor is a name, not a title.

Okay, okay, enough blather. That’s a long way of saying, when it comes to the Spider-man films, I consider Tom Holland’s Peter Parker as the last of the old guard. I like his performances and thought they stood up to (if not exceeded) the best of the other two big-screen adaptations. Since I found myself ready to move on from pursuing any new Marvel entertainment, I figured No Way Home would be the last Marvel movie I’d actively seek out to watch. I’m not saying I’ll boycott future Marvel films; I just don’t expect I’ll care much either way. Plus, it sounded like NWH was universally adored, so I’d be going out with a bang.

Which is why No Way Home ended up falling short of my (overly-inflated) expectations.

[SPOILERS HENCEFORTH–YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED.]

Your Friendly Neighborhood Teenaged Melodrama

The first half of No Way Home was okay but I found myself siding with Doctor Strange–I was getting increasingly exasperated with Peter. So much of the narrative’s first half falls into the trope of “complication caused by grown[ish] people not having a simple conversation”–in this case, Peter not realizing he could reach out to the MIT Admissions office and plead for his friends’ case. I know, I know: he’s just a teenager, he’s got big stuff going on, cut him some slack. But that’s just the thing: I found myself becoming frustrated with the character and realized it’s another case in which I’m shifting from sympathizing with a story’s young protagonist to siding with the mentor/adult. Middle-age comes at you fast, man.

I was also annoyed by Peter’s response to otherworldly supervillains being “I can fix them!” There’s so much about these people that Peter didn’t know, but his naïve assumption that they just needed rehabilitation or a helping hand was sweet but pretty stupid on the face of it.

And yes, I realize that the narrative beats of the movie essentially justified Peter’s idealism, but that made zero sense to me. Flint Marko? Stupidity and bad luck turned him into Sandman; he could be turned around, sure. I’ll even buy Doc Ock’s restoration, since it was established that he was being mind-controlled by the tentacles. But Norman Osbourne? No. Norman Osbourne became the Green Goblin because the goblin was always inside him, even before he injected himself with serum. His greed, his lust for power, his willingness to cut corners and succeed at all cost were part of his character. The serum only magnified it.

Peter’s (and May’s) apparent belief that there’s no such thing as an irredeemable bad guy is short-sighted and foolhardy. Hey Pete, remember a guy named Thanos? Big, purple, wrinkly chin, Malthusian maniac committing planetary genocide across the galaxy? That experience alone should have showed Peter Parker that some guys just can’t be reached. And as a result of Peter and Co.’s foolish idealism, they put the lives of everyone in their condo building (and the wider city) at risk, and May is killed by Green Goblin as a result.

Finally–FINALLY–things start getting interesting when the other Spider-men enter the narrative.

Web-Slinger, Perspective-Bringer

I finally started enjoying the movie in earnest when Ned opened some portals (never mind that this is a skill that took students of the Ancient One concerted effort and practice to learn and yet Ned pulls a “Rey” and derps his way into it) and pulls in Tobey Maguire’s Peter Parker from the Sam Raimi trilogy and Andrew Garfield’s Peter from the Amazing Spiderman films. Having these two actors inhabit these characters and interact with each other and Tom Holland was an absolute breath of fresh air. Their comedic banter and brotherly teasing/encouragement made me wish the trio were onscreen for most of the film instead of the last 45 minutes or so.

The unexpected benefit of bringing in these two alternate versions of Spiderman (whom I’ll call TM and AG for simplicity’s sake) is that the narrative deepened from a simple story about rehabilitating multiversal miscreants to wrestling with the impact of loss, regret, and vengeance. TM’s Peter talks about carrying the weight of Uncle Ben’s death for years before making peace with it, while AG’s Peter admits that he let his anger at the loss of Gwen Stacy get the better of him, leading him down a darker path. They each warn Tom Holland’s (TH’s) Peter of the dangers he faces in the wake of Aunt May’s murder.

Each of the alternate Spider-men also got a particular moment to shine. For AG, it was the mid-air rescue of MJ, which provided a surprisingly poignant moment in which he lowers her to the ground and asks if she’s okay. Then MJ sees that AG-Peter’s eyes are filling with tears and she asks if *he’s* okay. That one got me, gang. Andrew Garfield brought more emotional weight in that moment than most of the movie had up to that point. For TM, it was the climax of the final fight, as the TH-Peter was about to bring the Green Goblin’s glider down on him (one-upping the Goblin’s previous onscreen death by turning mere inaction into murderous intention). At the last moment, TM’s Peter slides in between the two and grabs the glider to prevent the death-blow (perhaps intended to be in a visual echo/counterpoint to the shocking violence of John Walker in FATWS). TM-Peter talks the new Spider-man down, convincing him not to seek bloody vengeance and allowing for Norman Osbourne to get an antidote serum (again, lame) and be sent home.

In the end, I think what I loved most about having Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield reprise their incarnations of the web-slinger was that they brought the element that Tom Holland’s Peter Parker most clearly lacked: perspective and experience. They each portrayed Spider-man as an actual man. Those versions of Spider-man seemed to have something interesting to say.

Don’t Look Back–You Can Never Look Back

Look, I can almost hear you screaming at your screen right now, “That’s the whole point about Spider-man!!! He’s a teenager grappling with superpowers!!!” And I agree. That’s what I’m trying to say with this review: I enjoy Spider-man as a comics/film character just fine, but I just can’t relate to him in his current incarnation because I want him to grow up and he’s not doing that in the MCU films thusfar.

Perhaps, you could argue, the resolution of the film–current-era Peter tells Doctor Strange to cast the worldwide forgetting spell, everyone in the wrong universe is sent home, and Peter accepts total relational isolation as a sort of penance for his mistakes–that will force Peter to grow up as a character. It’s possible. That could be interesting, if written well. I just don’t know if it will be, with the current trend of heavy-handed messaging in MCU Phase Four. (Plus, we all know that even though Holland signed on for another trilogy, at least one of those films will be a vehicle for introducing Miles Morales as his eventual replacement.)

In the end, here’s my final analysis of Spider-man: No Way Home: it’s a decently-good Marvel movie that leans heavily on nostalgia, but I think I might just be aging out of the MCU fanbase…and that’s okay. If the film teaches us anything, it’s that you can’t live in the past; at some point, you need to find closure so you can move on to other adventures.

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But hey, I could be completely off-base, with this overly-wordy and possibly terrible take. Feel free to tell me all the ways I’m mistaken in the com-box below, as long as you 1) watch your language, and 2) be respectful. (My com-box, my rules.) I look forward to reading your roasts.

“Home, where my thought’s escapin’…”

Hello again, reader.

It’s been a busy spring and early summer, so here are a few quick personal highlights since the end of March:

  • Together for the Gospel was a great time. I enjoyed the beautiful weather in Louisville, came home with two dozen books, spent time with some of my closest friends, and got to meet and hang out with a few people I’ve only ever “met” online. I came away from that trip physically tired (so much walking!) but spiritually and mentally refreshed. If you haven’t checked out the sermons from T4G this year, let me recommend a few for you to enjoy: Alistair Begg shared the simple duty of the Christian minister, Shai Linne focused our eyes on the glory of Jesus, John Piper challenged us to live holy lives, and Christian Lwanda called us to base our ministries solely on the Word of God. All of these messages will bless and challenge you.
  • Our family did indeed buy a house. It’s been a challenge in these first few months, trying not to panic over the sheer number of repairs (large and small) that a 50-year-old house needs. And while I’m no handyman by ANY available metric, I’ve been able to do things like replace (and in one case, rebore and install) new doorknobs and deadbolts, replace the inner workings of a toilet tank, and reseal countertops and sinks and things, among other simpler repairs. Big learning curve, but I’m hoping to be up to the task. Good thing the hardware store is within walking distance; I’m already a “frequent flyer.”
  • This week, my wife and I celebrated 8 years of marriage. I can’t begin to explain how blessed I am to have this woman by my side. I am strengthened and inspired by her presence and care for me and our children. I am humbled by her kindness and wisdom. She is a gift of God to me and I would be in a far worse place as a person without her being here.
  • The next 6-7 weeks will be full-up with ministry opportunities, from Sunday School to preaching to serving in Vacation Bible School. I would appreciate your prayers as I prepare and teach. I’ll be preaching at my home church on Father’s Day, and then two times in July at another church where I’ve preached before. I’ll share those sermons in future posts.

I don’t have any fun links to share at the moment, but I’ll resume semi-regular posting tomorrow with a new blog post that may generate a comment or two. Here’s the teaser: I’m gonna go against the grain just a little bit regarding a much-beloved blockbuster movie from last year. Should be fun.

That’s all I have today. See you tomorrow.

Updates, Odds, Ends, etc.

Photo by Stijn Dijkstra on Pexels.com

Hi reader.

It seems like quite a bit of life has happened in the last 2-3 months, both in the world and here at home. I don’t have time for all sorts of detailed explanation, so here are the bullet points:

  • Work/ministry/family life is a bit hectic lately, but humming along. I’m thankful to God that my family and I are healthy and that He has graciously supplied all of our needs, just as He always does. That said, I’m feeling the strain of many commitments and not much time.
  • We are in the process of buying our first home. If you’re not aware of how ridiculous things are in the real estate market, I’ll just say that this video is only barely satire. We have a contract on the new place and may be closing and moving in over the next month (more on this later, I’m sure). As such, I may not be posting too much until after we get settled in the potential new homestead. (Of course, anything would be better than the almost-zero I’ve posted since the beginning of the year, right?)
  • Speaking of posting, I’ve started contributing to Things Above Us, a Christian group-blog. (Don’t get jealous–I’ve only posted once so far.) I would very much appreciate if y’all could check that out and, if it interests you, sign up for the email updates and follow us on socials. The guys I’m writing with are solid dudes, and it’s a pleasure to join them and contribute in some small way to the site.
  • I’ll be heading to Together for the Gospel in a few weeks, thanks to the generosity of a good friend. This will probably be the last time I get to enjoy a conference like this for a while (see above re: buying a house in this crazy market). I’m really looking forward to getting a little time away to worship and recharge. It’s been a tough spring.

That’s really all I’ve got going on: work, church, household, a little writing. But that’s enough.

Before I go, a couple links you may find interesting:

  • Starting on a somber note: as I’ve mentioned before, I love international versions of The Voice. Here’s a video from The Voice of Ukraine–one of my favorites, actually. Here’s a band of soldiers performing just a few weeks before their country would be invaded by Russian forces. There’s no way to know if any of these brave men and women are okay, but it’s just another reminder that this month-long war that may not directly touch many of us across the West has a very human cost.
  • Okay, this one’s actually somber, too: Austin McConnell gives us a glimpse of the heart-breaking secrets behind (literally) a 19th century French painting.
  • Less somber, more epic: here’s a cover of Metallica’s “Master of Puppets,” in the style of Muse.

That’s it. Happy Thursday, gang. I hope to post sooner again sooner rather than later. In the meantime, join the mailing list in the sidebar so you get notified every time there’s a new post. Thanks!

We Need to Talk about Bruno-19.

First of all: I thought this was really funny.

#FreeBruno

Also, Encanto is an amazing animated movie, and I’ll post about it soon.

But I bring this up because something’s been bothering me that I think we need to consider:

Catching Covid-19 carries a lot of unhealthy and unnecessary social stigma, and we need to stop treating it like a point of personal or moral failure.

Even now, two years into the #ForeverPlague, I still hear people talking about getting Covid as if they were admitting to having an STD–always in hushed tones with eyes askance. It’s as if the only way a person can be infected is if they are reckless with their health and careless about everyone else, or if they’re a knuckle-dragging science denier whose backwards lifestyle begs to be punished by such an illness. After all, it’s the “pandemic of the unvaccinated” who deserve a long, dark winter of sadness and death, or somesuch.

Weird how even people who are vaccinated can get the disease. Also people who are super careful. Even people in Antarctic research stations.

The other day, I was about to mention during Sunday School that a friend of the group tested positive so that the folks in attendance could pray for a quick recovery. As I was about to mention “the respiratory virus that must not be named,” a couple on the front row practically jumped out of their chairs to shout me down and say that person was just feeling “under the weather.”

This isn’t the only time I’ve seen this type of reaction: no one wants to admit the reality that we’re all getting Covid.

Yes, that’s right, I said it: It’s almost a certainty that we will all get Covid eventually. Probably multiple times.

So much of the public conversation about Covid seems couched in shame and exclusion language, and that nonsense needs to end.

Here’s the reality about Covid-19, gang:

  • It’s a respiratory virus, so it’s never going to be eradicated. We’ll have to figure out how to live with it, just like we live with influenza.
  • Treatments will continue to be developed and improve. More options will become available for both prevention and treatment.
  • Vaccines don’t protect against ever getting infected. It stinks, but it’s true. However, vaccines *do* seem to make subsequent bouts of the illness easier to manage. We can discuss and dispute over whether or not that’s sufficient justification for getting it versus the possible risks and side effects.
  • We should all be free to make the decision about vaccines without external compulsion of any kind. This should be stupidly self-evident, but there you go.
  • Natural immunity is usually better than artificial immunity. Artificial immunity is probably better than simply living with higher vulnerability due to comorbidities.
  • We can do a lot of things to boost our immune systems and give ourselves the best chance to fight off the #ForeverPlague. Take good-quality supplements for Vitamin C, Vitamin D, and zinc. Get plenty of fresh air and sunshine. Drink water. Sleep sufficiently. Eat good-quality food.
  • If you test positive, talk to your own doctor (and not some whacko on the internet) about what treatments and medications may be appropriate for you personally based on your medical history and current health status. Again, talk to YOUR doctor and make a decision with YOUR doctor’s input.
  • Pay attention to your symptoms and don’t be a doofus and go out in public when you’re clearly sick. It’s not rocket surgery.

To address the end of the video above: yes, people are deciding to go back to work, go back to school, and move on with life. The virus should be taken seriously, but we still have to move on. It’s not the bubonic plague, killing a third of the population in a matter of months or years; with some basic preventative and/or supportive care, 99% of folks who get Covid will be okay in a few weeks. The rest, we can all try to watch out for and help out as we can.

And ultimately, I believe that whether or not you catch the ‘Rona is in God’s hands. Do your best, be wise about it, and trust the sovereignty of the King of the Universe. Our days are in His hands, and we’re not even promised our next breath. So just chill out and be grateful for His myriad blessings.

In conclusion, and by way of review:

  • People who get Covid aren’t somehow being punished for their epidemiological sins.
  • Covid infection is not a symptom of moral failure.
  • Lack of Covid infection is not a sign of personal righteousness.
  • Trust God’s hand and plan, and stop being ridiculous about this.

Let me know what you think about all this in the comments.

The4thDave Drinks Bones Coffee (and You Should, Too)!

How d’ya do, Mr. Bones!

I’ve reached the life stage in which gifts I receive for birthdays and Christmas tend toward power tools, grill equipment, and leather goods. The last few years’ gifts, however, have been predominantly coffee-related. That in and of itself is funny, since I don’t consider myself a coffee connoisseur. I like my 12-cup Mr. Coffee and will occassionally enjoy a French press. (My wife has now converted to Chemex pour-overs and swears she’ll never go back.)

I’ve gotten to try a few different brands of small-batch and specialty coffee, but the company that I come back to over and over is Bones Coffee. They have a nice variety of both flavored and unflavored coffee, with lots of neat seasonal and specialty flavors throughout the year.

Note: This is not a sponsored/affiliate post–BUT if the fine folks at Bones want to toss me an affiliate link or discount code to share with you, I’ll be more than delighted to do so.

Here are some quick capsule reviews of flavors I’ve tried so far, in case you want to check out Bones Coffee for yourself:

Mint Invaders from Chocolate Space — Chocolate and mint is my go-to sweet combination. Every year, I hit up Starbucks on or around November 1st for the official start of “Peppermint Mocha” season (and don’t talk to me about how it’s available at other times in the year, because I don’t acknowledge that). I dig “peppermint bark” flavored coffee creamer and mint chocolate chip ice cream–mint and chocolate are totally my jam. I had high expectations from “Mint Invaders…” when I first tried it and was extremely pleased. While the flavor isn’t as overpowering as if you were adding a heavy creamer or syrup to your coffee, the flavor and aroma are definitely there. I’ve gotten multiple bags of this flavor and it’s become one of my regular Bones selections as a result. Definite recommend.

Holy Cannoli — I don’t know what kind of eldritch flavor alchemy the Bones folks are using, but I’m stunned and delighted to find that this coffee actually reminds me of the flavors of a good cannoli–the subtle sweetness of the filling, the nuttiness of the wafer, and just a touch of chocolate. The reason this flavor works so well is that it doesn’t hit you over the head with the combination. Some flavored coffees so overwhelm you that the taste becomes cloying. “Holy Cannoli” hits that right level of subtlety so that you don’t forget you’re drinking coffee, but you’ve got a nice sensory boost from the other flavors. Plus, and I think this is really a key factor, it helps when the added flavor actually complements the flavor of coffee itself. Having a cannoli with a cup of coffee makes sense as a flavor combination. Other flavors, not so much, as in the case of…

Electric Unicorn — This is billed as a “fruity cereal” flavor–think “bowl of Fruity Pebbles.” I won a sample of this flavor in a Bones giveaway and was curious to try it out. Turns out, this one was a big miss for me personally. During my first two sips, I was intrigued, if a bit confused. However, around Sip #3, I actually started feeling a bit nauseated. It’s not even that it was too sweet (obviously, since I controlled the level of added sugar in my cup); it’s that the flavoring was just so strong, and it seemed to clash with the natural flavor of the coffee so much, that the whole thing just wasn’t appealing after just a few swigs. I’m willing to give unusual flavors a try, but if I have no desire to finish the mug, that’s a really bad sign. I’d say pass on this one, unless you’re REALLY intrigued by the flavor concept, in which case I’d recommend maybe starting with a sample pack first.

Sinn-o-Bunn — Again, here we have a flavor where they nail the concept in a way that almost defies logic. In fact, for this cinnamon-roll-flavored blend, the magic works a little *too* well. I wanted to get a good sense of this one, so I brewed a pot with a ratio of 3:1 Bones to plain decaf, and after the first mug, I could almost go back and cut it a little more. The flavor of not just cinnamon but honest-to-goodness “cinnamon roll with cream cheese icing” is *so* strong that dialing it down by mixing it with some non-flavored coffee may just be the way to go for me. Truth be told, that’s not necessarily a bad thing if you want to see your coffee dollars stretch a bit. You could find a good quality non-flavored roast (perhaps some of Bones’ single-origin coffee) to throw in the mix so that it dials the flavor strength down a bit and extends the enjoyment of the flavored beans to additional brews. Either way, this flavor is a qualified win for me.

[Fall Seasonal Flavor] Frankenbones – One of the cool things about buying coffee from a small-batch roaster like Bones is that there are seasonal flavors that come around periodically. While these flavors aren’t available right now, they will be later in the year, so I wanted to put them on your radar now. Frankenbones is one that I’m going to give another shot. The flavor of this autumn seasonal offering is listed as “chocolate hazelnut” but when I had it, the chocolate came through much more clearly than the hazelnut did. It was still good, but I just didn’t get as much of the distinction there. That said, I’m a mocha fiend, so chocolate coffee ANYTHING is a winner for me. I happened to receive a bag of it over Christmas and will be enjoying it soon, so I’ll pop back in the comments and let you know if it won me over even more!

[Winter Seasonal Flavors] The Winter Holiday Exclusive Flavors: White Chocolate Peppermint Bark, Gingerbread, Egg Nog, Jingle Bones, Oh Fuuudge! — Two years ago, we ordered the sample pack of the “holiday” flavors, along with a few extra full bags of Oh Fuuudge! and Peppermint Bark (see above, re: my love for both chocolate and mint). Those two are obviosuly my favorites of the bunch. Jingle Bones is a nice mix of coconut, vanilla, and caramel, and I liked that quite a bit; it reminded me one of my favorite local coffee brands that mixes coconut flakes in the whole-bean bags. Not all of the flavors worked for me—I didn’t love the gingerbread and eggnog samples. Don’t get me wrong; they get the flavors right and they’re not that bad (sorry, Electric Unicorn). They’re just not what I prefer. All in all, it’s a great selection, and if you’re a fan of any of the “holiday flavors” from Starbucks, you should check out Bones’ offerings when they become available in the late fall.

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If you’re a fan of flavored coffee, I think you should give Bones a try. Like I said at the top, this isn’t a sponsored post. I legitimately like Bones Coffee and drink it often (I’m sipping on some Sinn-a-bun while I’m typing this, as a matter of fact). I’ve reached out to the company to see if they’d be willing to hook me up with a discount code for my readers, and if I get that, I’ll update the post. I also have several more sample packs to try out, so I’ll have another flavor round-up coming out later in the spring with more recommendations.

In the meantime, may your brew be strong and your mug be steaming!

(That may be the lamest way I’ve ever ended a post.)

2021 Reading List

Photo by Emily on Pexels.com

Man, this year’s reading list is sad.

The best laid plans of mice and men and parents of toddlers oft go awry, yeah? This year’s reading round-up is short and shallow–and the list of books I started and could not finish seems almost as long!

Here we go, for better or worse:

January

>>The Words Between Us – Erin Bartels

>>The Practice – Seth Godin

>>Conscience – Andy Naselli and J.D. Crowley

February

>>A Hard Thing on A Beautiful Day – Ted Kluck

>>The Burning: The Tulsa Race Massacre of 1921 – Tim Madigan

March

>>One by One – Ruth Ware

>>Pastors and Their Critics – Joel Beeke and Nick Thompson

>>Comfort The Grieving – Paul Tautges

>>Something Wicked This Way Comes – Ray Bradbury

May

>>Fault Lines – Voddie Baucham

July

>>Corporate Worship – Matt Merker

>>How to Eat Your Bible – Nate Pickowicz *skimmed the last few chapters*

>>A World without Email – Cal Newport

August

>>She Did What She Could – Don Karns

>>Wolverine: Old Man Logan (trade paperback) – Millar / Bendis / Lemire / Brisson

September

>>Confessing the Faith – Chad Van Dixhoorn

November

>>The Invisible Man – HG Wells

>>Hawkeye Vol 4: Rio Bravo – Matt Fraction / David Aja

December

>>Invincible (TPB Vols. 1-3) – Kirkman / Walker

>>A Christmas Carol – Charles Dickens

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A few comments on the preceding:

This is by far the closest fiction/non-fiction ratio I’ve had in 10-15 years (8 fiction to 12 non-fiction). I wonder if that’s a statement on where my mind’s been at this year. Also interesting to note that most of the fiction was read in the last few months–possibly as a means of escape?

More than half of these books are fewer than 300 pages. Some of ones that were longer took multiple tries to get through. This is also the lowest book total I’ve had, possibly since I started counting and posting to a blog. Again, none of this is surprising considering what all I have had going on, but it’s interesting how I’ve struggled with focus/time when it comes to reading this year.

I’m currently “in-progress” with about 6 books, but most actively with another volume of Invincible and a novel by Kazuo Ishiguro called Klara and the Sun. I just downloaded a library e-copy of Erik Larson’s Devil in a White City, so clearly I want to go light to start 2022.

My mostly-fiction DNF list (books I got at least a chapter or two into before stopping early) included, but was not limited to, the following:

  • Raymond Chandler’s The Big Sleep – just a bit too seamy/grimy to be enjoyable – I won’t be coming back to it.
  • Agatha Christie’s The Murder of Roger Ackroyd – definitely will return to it, but never got locked in enough to persevere when other shiny distractions arose
  • Robert Heinlein’s Starship Troopers – another one I may get back to at some point.
  • Gregg Hurwitz’s Orphan X – I definitely will come back to this; it looks like a fun series.
  • Jordan Peterson’s 12 Rules for Life – okay, controversial take: it’s just not that good. It’s full of obvious observations but it doesn’t really say anything new or meaningful. Admittedly, after the first chapter, I skimmed a bit, but I just don’t see the appeal. Apologies to those who think he’s the second coming of Socrates.
  • Daphne Du Maurier’s Rebecca – I didn’t get very far into it, but I definitely want to come back to it when I’m in the right frame of mind.
  • Franz Kafka’s The Trial – Meh. I gave it a shot, but it was a bit too pretentious to be enjoyable or even interesting. I’ll go along with some avant-garde writing, but at some point you have to ask, “Am I actually enjoying this?” If not, boot it. There’s no point in reading Important Novels that don’t actually bring joy or greater human understanding.
  • Ernest Cline’s Ready Player Two – What a disappointment. I adored RP1, and I feel like he spoiled it a bit with this second volume. I got so fed up with the protagonist that I bailed after just a few chapters. From what I gather from others, that may have been a smart move.

My top-five reads from 2021 (in no particular order):

  • The Burning, by Tim Madigan – This is a riveting account of the Tulsa Race Massacre of 1921. It seemed only appropriate to read it on the year of its centennial. It was a heart-breaking glimpse into a moment of American history that is still so often passed over without comment.
  • Something Wicked This Way Comes, by Ray Bradbury – I read this in high school, but it was almost a different book to me as a middle-aged man. I would recommend revisiting some of the classic works you read in your youth; it’s quite eye-opening. Anyway, Bradbury has long been one of my favorite storytellers, and this one is a wild ride.
  • Confessing the Faith, by Chad Van Dixhoorn – This was given to me as a birthday present in late 2019 and it just took me a while to get through because it needs to be read slowly. Dr. Van Dixhoorn exposits every point of the Westminster Confession of Faith and provides theological arguments for why each element was written the way it was, and what implications these doctrines have on daily life. This is helpful both as a volume on Christian history and as a book for devotional reading and meditation. Excellent on all counts.
  • A World Without Email, by Cal Newport – This one took me a few tries, because it is dense and heavily-researched, but it argues a somewhat controversial or counter-cultural premise: What if businesses and organizations found other ways to accomplish what we claim to accomplish using email? Further, does the universal, constant reliance on email improve or actually hamper true productivity? This is Newport’s most “out-there” thesis, but I think he makes some really strong points.
  • A Christmas Carol, by Charles Dickens – Seriously, every time I read this short book, I’m blown away by the depth of emotion and understanding. More than that, I’m again surprised by all of the references to Christian faith and thinking throughout the volume. While Dickens wasn’t observably a professing believer, his cultural context was so immersed in Christian thinking and worldview that it is inescapable in his writing. As a Christian, I am delighted and encouraged by every glancing reference and thoughtful aside.

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Your Turn: What was the best book you read in 2021? What should I add to my TBR list in 2022? Comment below!

Meme Sequitur.

I make memes to amuse my coworkers or friends on Twitter. I save most/all of them. They’re mostly stupid.

For some idiotic reason, I decided to gather some of the ones that still make me laugh, even if they are no longer culturally relevant and probably not funny to anyone but me. Think of it as my New Year’s gift to you, the people. But really to myself.

I was tempted to call this post “Meme Time,” but I worried JackSepticEye fans would get upset. (And if you got that reference, you are entirely too hip for this post.)

So, here are some of my favorites, with brief explanations as needed. If any of these are amusing to you, I’ll consider that a win and a great start to 2022.

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Remember that time two guys were arrested for loitering inside a Starbucks one afternoon? And how angry crowds stormed Sbux locations, resulting in photos of stone-faced baristas wishing they were anywhere else in the world? Yeah, that was a thing.

I call this one, “Cage-Stage Keto.”

Self-explanatory.

“Mmmy depreciousssss…”

One more. I can’t help myself.

I’m so hydrated right now, I can see sound.

Oooooh, political!

Ironically, I made this more than 4 years ago, and it’s still applicable!

Pretty self-explanatory, I feel.

Bless up, Harambe, wherever you are.

A Calvinist meme for the home folks.

Heh. Medium.

I stand by this one.

We need you now more than ever, Rob.

From the set of “The Social Network 2.” Alternate caption: “Insert a meta-joke here.”

“Look, Clark’s just here to help, Bruce. We all are.”

Theology-nerd alert.

Only Darin Day will appreciate this, and I don’t think he even reads my blog.

Man, I need to fire up my SNES Classic sometime this week.

If Drake were a grittier rapper.

And, finally.

…I feel like I should apologize for most of these. But I won’t. Happy New Year, everybody!

An Ode to Skipper Dan.

I recently was reminded of this song by “Weird Al” Yankovic. Take a look.

This song was released in 2009 but I feel like it’s only taken on more meaning as I’ve moved into middle-age. There are definitely things I had hoped to accomplish before now, dreams I held onto in my 20’s and even 30’s that I haven’t really done the work to pursue because my goals changed or I just decided that my energy needed to be spent elsewhere.

But rather than reminisce and bemoan what might have been, I wanted to focus on a different aspect of the song: what Dan does and doesn’t do.

“Dusty, why don’t you just try acting?”

When I was in eighth grade, my class took an end-of-year trip to Universal Studios Florida. Back then (the early-mid 90’s), there were several themed rides that have long since been retired/replaced. The ones I remember most vividly were the Jaws boat ride and the King Kong cable-car/subway (?) ride.

When we got into the boat with our “captain” for the Jaws ride, she delivered her script with gusto, as if this were the first time she’d ever led a crew of people into the dangerous, shark-infested waters. When the great white surfaced, she yelled convincingly, “LOOK OUT, THERE HE IS!” and my little 13-year-old heart sank. At the climax of the ride, she pulled out a comically-large rocket-launcher style weapon and “fired” it at the deadly shark, who exploded in a splash of water and smoke and audio-visual flair. As we pulled safely back into harbor, our captain breathlessly congratulated us on surviving the ordeal, and everyone disembarked with smiles on their faces.

The King Kong ride could not have been a starker contrast. The “tour guide” for our New York adventure had all the gusto and excitement of a customer entering Hour 3 of waiting at the DMV. Her lines were so deadpanned that Aubrey Plaza would have seemed like Carrot Top by comparison. (How’s that for a wild mix of dated pop-culture references?) Even when the big ape seemed to be reaching out to grasp the car we were “riding” in, the tour guide could barely evoke vocal inflection. “Oh no. It looks like Kong is trying to grab us. Everyone hold on.”

Obviously, both rides held no real danger from the animatronic beasts and it was all in good fun, but when the Jaws captain really went for it, it made the suspension of belief that much easier.

Here’s my point: there is power in doing the mundane things well. However, in the song, Skipper Dan has realized that the theme-park job wasn’t the easy stepping stone to a dream career that he apparently expected it to be, and eventually he lets it grind him down so that he becomes resentful rather than trying to do something about it. He loses hope because he thinks that what matters most is what he’s doing rather than how and why he’s doing it.

Cal Newport, in his excellent book So Good They Can’t Ignore You, talks about how the path to career fulfillment isn’t in seeking the perfect job or the dream job. It’s in seeking out a job you can do well and becoming masterful at it, so that you can parlay that career capital into an adjacent line of work that’s closer to your “dream” or that provides you with quality-of-life benefits that you couldn’t achieve otherwise.

This is something I’ve been thinking a lot about over the last few years, wrestling with it in my mind. In those times of career frustration and boredom, it’s often that I’ve lost sight of the power of daily excellence.

More than that, I’ve lost sight of my ultimate goal.

“Do it for her.”

There’s a famous moment in an early episode of The Simpsons, in which Homer (who, you will recall, works at a control panel in a nuclear plant) notices a poster on the office wall that says, “Don’t Forget, You’re Here Forever.” He strategically covers the wall (as well as certain parts of this poster) with a collage of pictures of his daughter Maggie, so that the visible letters now spell out “Do It For Her.”

I recently took the template from this moment in the show, and recreated it with pictures of my wife and daughters. Using Microsoft Paint and a little editing magic, my work computer wallpaper now says “Do It For Them.”

I’ll be honest, y’all: I’m not often super-jazzed about my job. I know that it matters, and I know the good that it accomplishes. There are just days or weeks (or even longer) where it feels like an endless field of thistles and thorns: the constant emptying of an inbox or work queue that gets refilled instantly, or non-stop email threads involving a parade of outside company reps who all inexplicably “just started recently” and don’t understand how my organization operates in regard to theirs. It adds up to a frequent feeling of pointlessness to the proceedings because I can’t see the fruit of my labor. (It’s not nearly as satisfying as mowing the yard, that’s for sure.)

I have to remember on those difficult days that I’m doing work that matters not only so that I can serve our clients, but so I can take care of my family. I have a wife and three little girls that count on me to get it done and provide.

And if that wasn’t motivation enough, there’s a greater reason that’s even easier to lose sight of: I’m working for the Lord.

It’s a reality that I can pay lip-service to but not really take to heart. When I work, I not only work in submission to and with faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, but I work on His behalf, representing Him (whether explicitly or implicitly) to the people I come in contact with, whether it’s the supervisor who knows if I hit or miss my daily deadlines, or the outside contractor rep who gets the sharp edge of my frustrated email exchanges. In all of these things, I work for the Lord. And in all these moments, I have the opportunity to use my work ethic and skill and compassion to honor and bless others, as a gift to them and an offering of thanksgiving to God for the privilege of being able to work (since it’s only by His grace that I have the strength to produce a harvest).

Which brings us back to Skipper Dan, and to you and me. Whether you’re a tour guide on a jungle cruise ride, or a customer service rep for an auto parts company, or a park ranger keeping fire watch, or a keyboard cowboy working from home–whatever you do to earn a paycheck, do it well. Do it with intention and excellence. Become masterful at it. Look for ways to make the experience better for your customers or clients.

Not because it will always pay off with a dream job or a big break, but because people count on you to do your best, and because the One whose opinion matters most is always watching.

Monk Manual End-of-Year Sale: 15% Discount until 12/29/2021 [Affiliate Link]

Hey y’all! Just a quick post to let you know that the good folks at Monk Manual are offering a 15% discount on all Monk Manual purchases (excluding bulk/subscription purchases) today and tomorrow using my special affiliate code “DAVEM.” So go to Monk Manual and type in my code — or to make it much easier, CLICK THIS LINK RIGHT HERE — and get 15% off of your purchases to get your 2022 started right with a new journal.

If you’re not familiar with Monk Manual, please check out my previous review of the product.

Buying a new Monk Manual journal with THIS LINK RIGHT HERE will not only get you a really great tool for a more intentional and thoughtful new year, but it will help me out with a little affiliate cash from the MM gang, and I really appreciate that as well.

Thanks very much. See y’all tomorrow.

–Dave

It’s been a long December…

Photo by Toni Cuenca on Pexels.com

“It’s been a long December and there’s reason to believe / Maybe this year will be better than the last / I can’t remember all the times I tried to tell my myself to hold on to these moments as they pass…”

Adam Duritz, “A Long December”

Hey y’all. Quick December update.

Greetings at the end of December. For the 4thDaveFam, it’s been a doozy, full of very mundane busyness, mild frustration, and minor illness. And runny noses. LOTS and LOTS of runny noses.

Of the five elements of the “Power Five” I had talked about in my last post, the one I was most consistent with was telling my girls that I loved them every day. Even that wasn’t a home run itself, but I feel like I’m building into the rhythm of our family pretty well, which is great.

Everything else? Oof. I’ve been a mess, gang. Not sleeping much, not eating well, drinking an unhealthy amount of coffee, not exercising, not spending much time at all in the Word and in prayer. And on top of that, my immune system has been taking a beating from various colds and flus that my sweet little ones have been bringing home and sharing.

Am I hoping to turn things around this week? Of course. Hope springs eternal.

But (literally) at the moment, I’m wracked with wheezing coughs and I’m running a low-grade fever. So any major changes in my daily life may need a couple of days to get going.

Illness and exhaustion won’t stop me from posting a few items this week, I hope. You may see a post I wrote a month ago about frustrated ambition, or a little 2021 reading retrospective, or even a quick affiliate post on behalf of the good folks at Monk Manual (if you’re wanting to buy a journal, wait like 36 hours or so, I’ll hook you up with a discount!). No promises, but since I’m not working this week, I may be able to pull that much off.

In the meantime, just a note of encouragement:

This year, I really feel like I did a terrible job celebrating Christmas (my tongue-in-cheek twittering about the merits of Die Hard as a Christmas movie aside). I wasn’t feeling the comfort and joy on a spiritual level. I went through the motions. I’m bummed out about that in retrospect.

But you know what? That’s why Jesus came: to rescue the hurried, the harried, the helpless, and the hopeless from a life of striving and utterly failing to live righteously. There is nothing I can do in my own power to live the way I’m supposed to. I’m a sinner by nature and by choice, and there is nothing I can do in my own power to overcome that.

But at Christmastime, we celebrate that Jesus the eternal Son of God graciously condescended to be born in human flesh and live among us. The baby of Bethlehem grew in wisdom and stature and favor with God and man, accomplishing a life of perfect obedience to the will and law of God, in order to earn the righteousness we could never touch. Then, at the perfect time, Jesus died in the place of ruined sinners, paying the penalty for our failures and rebellion, so that all who turn away from their sin and look to Jesus as their Savior may be forgiven and set free from the guilt, the shame, the power, and the penalty of sin. Not only that, but Jesus rose from the dead 3 days later, demonstrating His authority over life and death and that His sacrifice on our behalf is acceptable to God. We who know Him as Lord and Savior have a share in that resurrection and will be raised up with Him on the last day, to life everlasting in Heaven with our God.

If you follow Jesus and, like me, your Christmas season wasn’t the worshipful, meaningful experience you wish it could have been, know that the grace of God extends to your lousy December. And you don’t even have to wait until January 1st to “resolve” to do better, because Jesus has done all the “better” for us. He calls us simply to follow Him in obedience, taking His yoke upon ourselves, for His yoke is easy and His burden is light.

On the other hand, if you only know of Christmas as a baby in a manger and a choir of angels serenading frightened shepherds, there is so much more to the story. And the so-much-more-ness is what matters the most to you and me, right now, in the shadow of another Christmas season come and gone.

Comment below or email me if you want to talk about that further.

Merry Christmas, friends. God bless you in Christ Jesus. Talk to you soon.