Saturday, February 28, 2009

Sex and the City: Mayor Adams Addresses Portland

Yesterday, Mayor Sam Adams participated in one of the duties of mayor: the annual State of the City Address to a civic group. He promised to allow time for open questions without restrictions. I wasn't there and wasn't really interested, because he has become the equivalent of a castrated dog to the city of Portland. Utterly useless. In the month following the scandal's outbreak, Mayor Adams has seemed devoid of his usual energy and passion. He has taken on a very somber look and has rarely been seen in public, as compared to his usual "man about town" persona he had as City Commissioner. Maybe the scandal humbled him. It certainly humiliated him. But is this a real change, or just a tactic? You know...keep a low profile as the investigation continues, focus on the work details without the schmoozing, and when it finally blows over, hope like hell that there aren't enough signatures or people willing to sign the recall petition in July.

I watched the local news story about the Mayoral Address. I loved it when a KATU reporter (the local ABC affiliate) asked him after the speech if he had any idea when the investigation would wrap up. Mayor Adams stared into the camera without saying anything. He looked lost in his own world. It went on for several seconds before he moved towards the camera and then turned his back before muttering something to the reporter that the viewer could not hear. Afterwards, he walked off. It was strange to watch. This is not the Sam Adams I saw at the campaign office or at debates and campaign events. This is not the Sam Adams seen on local news in previous years. He's known in Portland as a "camera whore" or a showboat. Not anymore. Even fellow Commissioner Randy Leonard has spoken on record that Adams has changed. "He's more subdued." Man, this is not the person I voted for and volunteered my time to help elect. He was a man with great vision and energy, with shared progressive values. What happened?

Let me tell you what happened. If you've read previous posts about the scandal, then you know the story and don't need me to recap. If you haven't read the previous posts, please click on his name under the labels and you'll get to read what I wrote about him in January regarding the scandal. My feeling was mixed, because I like the guy. He's flawed. More flawed than I thought. However, knowing everything I know now, he still would've gotten my vote last May only because his dozen rivals just didn't have what it takes to move this city forward. His main rival, Sho Dozono, was such a pathetic candidate (though a popular businessman and all around nice guy who received the endorsement of outgoing mayor, Tom Potter). During the one debate I saw between the two candidates, Dozono's cellphone rang not once, but twice! I always had the impression that his heart wasn't in the race. He was recruited by the anti-Sam faction who didn't want this polarizing City Commissioner to cakewalk a promotion. That's how pathetic Portland politics is...a complete lack of viable alternatives to the ambitious Sam Adams.

In the month since the scandal broke, it effectively killed Mayor Adams' honeymoon. First, he was in D.C. to talk with members of Congress about earmarks for Portland, especially regarding public transit and the streetcar. Scrap that...he returned to Portland and missed out on the historic Inauguration of President Barack Obama.

Next, when Senators Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley returned to Oregon to hold a special press conference to announce Oregon's take in the Stimulus Bill, noticeably absent was the mayor of Oregon's largest city! City Commissioners Randy Leonard and Nick Fish were present, but not Mayor Adams. News reported that he was not invited.

One of Adams' campaign promises included child mentoring as a way to reduce the drop-out rate in high school. Of course now, there's no way anyone would want the mayor to set foot in any public school. He has made a sick joke of mentoring with his lie about "mentoring" a 17 year old. Now, that responsibility has fallen to Commissioner Nick Fish, the person he beat in the November 2004 City Council race (had Fish won in 2004, I believe he would be our mayor now instead of Adams and maybe that might come true by year's end).

This scandal also killed two friendships already. In 2007, city developer Bob Ball, whom many expected had intentions to run for mayor, approached his friend, Commissioner Leonard about a disturbing rumour he had heard about Commissioner Adams. He wanted to know if it was true and if it was, people needed to know about it because it involved a 17 year old man. Commissioner Leonard approached Adams to ask if it was true. Not only did Adams deny it, he acted with righteous indignation at being subjected to "the worst kind of smear" anyone could level at a gay man...that he was a sexual predator who groomed young men under the guise of mentoring. Commissioner Leonard believed Adams and became his unofficial spokeman to the media, defending his character to anyone who would listen and thus destroyed his friendship with Bob Ball.

Now, Commissioner Leonard claims that he can no longer trust anything Adams has to say and will require any promises to be made in writing. One issue of contention is the new Columbia River Bridge for Interstate 5. It's currently six lanes wide. Businesses want 12 lanes. Environmentalists want no more than 8, with tracks included for the lightrail line to extend into Vancouver, Washington. Sam won with endorsements from environmental groups as well as the huge cyclist lobbying groups. If he signs on for 12 lanes, he'll anger a main constituency group who will feel like he betrayed their support. However, he's so politically weakened by the scandal that he can't force his way on this issue as he had in previous controversial issues (the expensive Streetcar line and OHSU Tram).

Local news have reported that Commissioner Leonard seems to be hinting at an interest in becoming mayor. One of the jobs of mayor is to head the police bureau. One of Adams' insistence when he was sworn in as mayor was that he didn't want the police bureau to fall under his responsibilities so he tried to move it to Leonard's responsibility, which the Police Bureau did not like. Commissioner Saltzman ended up with it. I thought this was an odd manuevering. Why didn't Adams want the Police Bureau as part of his responsibilities? The "unofficial story" from the Adams camp was that Adams wanted to remain hip with the young residents who had voted for him en masse. He didn't want to be "the man." However, that's a cute story. Willamette Week reports the real reason. He would have been required to undergo an FBI investigation and feared what might turn up. The previous mayor who declined responsibilities over the Police Bureau was Neil Goldschmidt, who was the mayor in the 1970s (and also served as President Carter's Transportation Secretary and as Governor of Oregon). A few years ago, the popular Goldschmidt saw his image tarnish when it was finally revealed that he had carried on a sexual relationship with a 14 year old babysitter during his time as mayor! This bit of news shocked Portland (I didn't live here when that was the big local news). Kind of makes you wonder what else might be lurking in Adams' closet!

In an interview with an alternative weekly newspaper, Adams said: "I've been very upfront about my mistake, and I don't intend to repeat it." When I read that, I was shocked. "Don't intend"?!? How about a more definite "it will not happen again"? By phrasing it that way, it makes me wonder if he simply cannot control his own appetites. If he has an inexplicable attraction to borderline legal young men, he has no business being mayor until he gets to the root of his sexual dysfunction with a therapist. Like Clinton, Spitzer, and's just amazing to me that politically ambitious men are so reckless with their personal lives. If it's an issue he can't control, he should have resigned for the good of the city as well as for his own spiritual well-being. But he didn't.

Recently, President Obama met with the mayors of the top 42 cities and guess who was a no show? That's right, our embattled mayor. The news didn't say if he declined to attend or if he wasn't invited. If he declined to attend out of embarrassment, he should have resigned a month ago. If he wasn't invited, this is not a good sign. Maybe this is standard for politicians under investigation. They aren't invited to events until an investigation clears them of wrong doing, just so no one is embarrassed by the elephant in the room. Or in Adams' case: the ass in the room.

Speaking of asses, Adams' young paramour received a six figure sum to pose nude for a gay magazine. Figures! Will a porno film be next? With a name like Beau Breedlove, you know its coming. Especially when Breedlove showed up for an interview with a local news affiliate with his dog. His dog's name? LOLITA! No lie. I'm telling you, this story has so many oddities that I wouldn't be surprised if Hollywood people come to Portland by summer to research or shoot a film based on the scandal caused by this Harvey Milk-wannabe.

Another story in Willamette Week featured a young protege of Adams, named Roland Chlapowski, who is now cooperating with the investigation. His story collaborates Adams, in that he claims that Breedlove had sought out Adams and had a lady deliver the Commissioner his contact information. Chlapowski said that he was concerned about Breedlove's overtures and told Sam that "this is a potentially explosive thing and it's just not worth it." It confirms my suspicions of Breedlove being the male Monica Lewinsky. However, just because a borderline legal fawning fan is the pursuer doesn't mean Adams is off the hook.

What disturbs me about this latest twist is that Chlapowski went from being an unpaid intern in Adams office in 2005 to being on his staff with a salary of $50,000 and title of "senior policy adviser on transportation." Another case of Adams OVER-paying an underqualified lackey. I've been trying to find a job in this city that pays in the mid-$30,000 range with my diverse experiences and political science degree...and some intern is going to go from no wages to an inflated salary that is drawn from our taxes?!? What a boondoggle! No wonder why Oregon state taxes are so high (it was the biggest shock of my first paycheck when I moved here in 2006). They overpay city government employees while advertised jobs run anywhere from $8 to $15 an hour, with the majority falling below $12 an hour.

However, there was a falling out sometime last year and Chlapowski complains that he "put so much blood, sweat and tears into Sam's success. I went from being his right-hand man to being disposed of." Welcome to the club! I heard many people say that Sam is a user. One editorial when the scandal first broke mentioned that Adams isn't known to have many close friends and he rarely opens up to others. He's guarded and a bit of a loner, despite his reputation for being a camera whore. That's sad. Perhaps this is the effect of the karmic boomerang. He has used people and discarded them when he feels he no longer needs them, and now he's not invited by Senators or the President of the United States to key events that we expect our mayor to attend. For all of these reasons, I now believe that Mayor Adams must be removed from office. He has cost Portland enough already in the first month of the scandal. If others don't want him around, how is he going to be the effective "cheerleader for Portland" as he had claimed he could do during the campaign?

Finally, I wanted to mention a personal aspect that I find hilariously ironic, if only slightly painful. Last year, I had seen an ad on Craigslist for two positions on John Kroger's campaign for Attorney General. I had printed them out and planned to apply. I even met Kroger at a Democratic function and inquired about the job. He said to apply. I NEVER DID!!! Damn, that was dumb. At the time, my concern was..."if I work on his campaign, would I still be able to volunteer on the Adams campaign?" I thought it might be a conflict of interest and I didn't want to let go of volunteering for Adams because I really believed in him. I didn't know anything about John Kroger. Even his website didn't reveal much. However, in April or May, Kroger's book was published and wow, what an amazing guy! He worked in the Clinton Administration before becoming a federal prosecutor who went after the mafia and Enron executives. Had I known all this about Kroger last February when he was seeking campaign staff, I would've definitely applied! Now, Kroger is investigating Sam Adams' conduct with Breedlove to determine if the law was broken.

Amazing how things turn out. What can I say? I totally blew it. I find this happening a lot. I go with my heart and it always ends up getting stomped on. I need better intuitive skills, I think. However, if John Kroger decides to run for Governor someday, you can bet that I'll be seeking a campaign job or volunteering (if I haven't given up Oregon for California, Washington, Idaho or Virginia). I'm not upset about the decision I made last year, though. I made the decision with the best knowledge I had at the time and I learned my lesson. There's always the next election cycle to keep me interested and engaged, with the hope that it leads to a place where my talents and knowledge are valued.

Friday, February 27, 2009

Jindal is the Latest Proof of Republican Hypocrisy and Hype

Instead of doing another Flashback Friday this week, I decided that Louisiana Governor Piyush Jindal is worth a post, considering how desperate the Republicans are for a popular politician to slap on a toxic brand. Instead of deep self-reflection about the failure of their tax cut and spend voodoo economic policies, they think they need a better messenger than Bush to peddle the same snakeoil since Reagan and Nixon. Don't worry, though. Flashback Friday will be back next week. It has become one of my most popular features. In fact, I'm shocked that the Flashback Friday I wrote on James Bond back in November finally exploded, getting over 150 hits in the past couple weeks. It makes me wonder what happened in the world to increase people's Google searching of Bond and clicking on my blog. I guess Bond has enduring popularity. Movies about him will probably still be made a century from now. I wouldn't be surprised if they completely re-boot the Bond franchise with a female at some point ("Bond, Jamie Bond."). The reason why it has endured (the same can be said for Madonna) is because it knows when it needs a reinvention to make it fresh.

The same can't be said for the Republican Party. Their latest obsession with the next "saviour" of their party has fallen on the skinny shoulders of one Louisiana Governor named Piyush Jindal. The "Bobby" moniker he prefers comes with a cutesy story. At the age of 4, little Piyush asked his parents to call him "Bobby" after the youngest brother in The Brady Bunch. Do we have any way of verifying the veracity of this? It sounds fishy to me. I'm thinking that after a couple years in elementary school, he got tired of people making fun of his name...especially in a state like Louisiana, where racism comes quite easily (would Grand Duke of the KKK David Duke have a political career in any other state in the 1980s and 1990s?).

Here's why the Republican mania for Jindal is hilarious to me...

After trying to character assassinate Obama last fall with rumours about his "faked" birth certificate, accusations of his being a secret Muslim agent of al-Qaeda, and criticisms about his lack of "experience", who are they turning to in order to save their party? A parody of a clone. What the two men have in common: youthful inexperience, skinny, foreign-born parent(s), impressive educational resume, and religious conversion experience. That's where the similarities end. It's kind of funny about the Republicans. They attack the Democrats for the choice between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama in last year's election. But you know that they were jealous! Why else did McCain pick a woman running mate? They thought she would win over disaffected Hillary supporters, all because she was a woman. Republicans think Americans are that dumb. They look at the superficial and think they can offer a more attractive "product" without realizing that it's not the externals that resonate with people. It's the depth. After eight years of a pretty shallow president, did they really think Americans wanted an even more shallow caricature a heartbeat away from the presidency?

Once again, they are looking at externals in their response to Obama's popularity. They see men of equal stature because from the outside, they kind of appear the same (skinny, non-white, strange name, intelligent, energetic men with a young, photogenic family). But from Governor Jindal's response to Obama's State of the Union Address, he proved himself not up to the job. He was given the spotlight and choked. He's the equivalent of an American Idol that was hyped going in, but couldn't sing and then blamed it on a sore throat. On the Huffington Post, I read an excellent article by Howard Fine about why Jindal's speech was a disaster. Fine claimed that in order to make a speech effective, you have to feel the emotion behind the words. Our bodies betray the words when we speak things we don't believe or ideas that didn't emotionally resonate within us. This is why Bush was a horrible speaker and couldn't stop smirking and squinting his eye when he spoke. He did those things as a way to convey sincerity, but it came across as the opposite. It nearly always happened when his mouth was spilling lies. The body does not lie very well. That's why I couldn't stand watching Jindal's disasterous response. It was canned, sing-songy and fake. This was the first time I saw Jindal speak after hearing for months how he's the Republicans next best hope. Gosh, if they are smitten by this guy, this party is truly desperate. Democrats have little to fear in 2012!

Governor Jindal was born in 1971, the same year as me. He served three years in Congress before winning the Governor's race. He's the nation's youngest Governor. Is he ready to be president in 2012? He'll be 41 and if elected, would make history twice: first Indian-American president and youngest president on inauguration day. After Republicans claiming that Obama didn't have enough experience to be president, its laughable that they will now eat those words and argue the opposite in 2012 if Jindal is their nominee. They'll spin it by saying that he's a governor, thus has executive experience. If they believed that Palin as mayor of tiny Wasilly (that's right, I spelled it like that on purpose) had more experience than Obama, of course they aren't going to let Jindal's inexperience matter in their arguments.

For me, the most disturbing thing about his speech is that he claimed that Americans shouldn't trust the government to get our country's economy back on track due to the way it responded to Hurricane Katrina. I couldn't believe he said that with a straight face. His own party was in power during the Katrina disaster. His presidential role model hired incompetent party ideologues to FEMA without necessary disaster relief experience (he was an Arabian horse trader!). The Republicans are amazing in the level of deceit they will peddle to the American public. The biggest lie is that "government doesn't work." Wrong! Government doesn't work when Republicans are in power because they hate government. The whole point of the incompetence is to get Americans so distrusting of government so that they will turn towards corporations...and we can see where that has gotten us. After the economy collapsed last summer, I heard many say (and read many sentiments online) that they were glad Bush never succeeded in his second term goal of privatizing Social Security. We would be in an even bigger mess today if he had.

It's hard to argue that government doesn't work when history has shown time and again that it most definitely works well during Democratic Administrations. The tragedy is that Republicans are great at winning elections but horrible at making government work (by design, I believe) whereas Democrats are pathetic about winning elections but great at making government work for the poor and middle class. I wish Americans would get it through their ignorant heads that we can't afford any more Republican presidents. My fear is that if Obama gets us back to the surplus at the end of his eight years in office, that Americans will have long forgotten the lasts years of the Bush era and once again vote for the Republican candidate promising tax cuts to kill the surplus and run up the deficit again. I've read a theory that Republicans do this on purpose because they are afraid that if a Democratic president had a surplus at the onset of his (or her) administration, that it will be used to bring about universal health care. Senator Dole was told by Republican officials in 1993 to kill universal health care because polls showed that if the Democrats were allowed to pass it, Republicans would have a hard time ever winning national office in the foreseeable future. Thus why the need to perpetuate the culture wars and get uneducated voters to vote against their economic interests.
Supposedly, Jindal was on McCain's shortlist for VP candidates last fall. I have my speculations on why he went for Palin. I believe it was a combination of factors...including his own sexual attraction to her (the video of the official announcement still plays in my mind...McCain was obviously staring at her ass most of the time and playing with his wedding band). I also believe that Palin was chosen because the Republicans saw her as win-win. They thought she would be able to attract large numbers of Democratic Hillary supporters into voting for the Republican ticket. They also thought she would get the red-blooded, conservative American male vote by playing up her flirtatious wink-a-thon and come hither lip-licking. Having Jindal on the ticket would have made it difficult for Republicans to play the race card against Obama. They probably believed incorrectly that Americans were as racist as they were and would not vote for a black man for president. That's why they had the media keep mentioning "the Bradley Effect" to put into people's minds that it was okay to say that they would vote for Obama while in secret, vote for McCain.

When Obama won, they were stunned. They simply couldn't believe that Americans are more tolerant and open-minded, less given to racist appeals and false rumours, than they assumed. That's what happens when you kill the economy. As another famous Louisianan said..."it's the economy, stupid!" Obama has already affected the Republican party. Why else would they have chosen a black man as Chairman of the Republican National Committee? It's purely cosmetic in a way that reminds me of the old apartheid regime in South Africa. When the South African government was facing international boycotts until they got rid of their segregated political system, the National Party created a scheme they thought could fool the world. They created "homelands" where each African tribe was allowed to vote for their leader of these homelands. Of course, the homelands were in places that the whites didn't want. And the tribesmen they got to run in these elections were paid off by the government (Mangosutho Buthelezi of the Zulu tribe being one of them). Everyone knew it was a sham. That's the impression I get from the Republican party. They are so desperate to prove that they aren't racist by appointing high profile minorities to various prestigious positions, yet its the policies they support and enact that do the real harm to minorities. Again, its their focus on superficial external things to hide the internal reality.

As for the 2012 election, I have a feeling that the Republicans are going to outdo the Democrats in terms of being "historic." My prediction is that the top four candidates will be a Mormon, a woman, an Indian-American, and a homosexual. Respectively, that's Mitt Romney, Sarah Palin, Piyush Jindal, and Charlie Crist. Out of those four, I'd love to see Governor Crist of Florida be their nominee. I would laugh my ass off to see the Republicans run a gay man as their nominee. If they are going to make history, why not make it in the most profound way? They can drop the "Grand Old Party" and rebrand themselves as the "Gay Old Party"! They could even have Crist speak against gay marriages, as though his gayness validates their discrimination policy. I'm already salivating at the prospect of seeing the Republican Party destroy itself on the national stage one more time in a vicious fight between the various minority groups for power of the party. All Obama has to do is stand back and do his job with the cool, steady demeanor he's doing now. People might talk of 2012 being the year of Armaggedon, but maybe it's only meant as the complete annihilation of the most vile political party our country has ever seen. I'm ready for the Republicans to completely become extinct. As their favourite leader once said: "BRING IT ON!"

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Look Who's 30 (and Thriving!)

(First, my apologies to Janell for lifting this from her blog, but I like this photo of her with her youngest son Jacob. She is a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow!)

One of my good friends, Janell, turns the big 3-OH today! In honour of this landmark birthday, I wanted to offer my best wishes and to write a little about our friendship.

We met on the Washington Seminar program in 2000. On the first day of our internships, a group of us were waiting on the platform at the Van Dorn Metro stop in Alexandria. I usually don't initiate conversations with people unless I know what "angle" to use as my approach and ice breaker. Janell made it so easy! She came up and initiated a conversation with me, for which I was grateful. Of course, we learned which internship the other had and when she said she was interning for Senator Orrin Hatch, I immediately had her pegged. Talk about making the mistake of presumption! Through the course of a semester, I'd learn that she was one of only a small number of Democrats (I believe there were 6 Democrats in the group of 38 interns for that semester). Since I worked in the U.S. Capitol building, I was able to visit her at her office a couple times that semester.

From that first conversation began a friendship that has continued to this day. The first Friday class of our program, I went to lunch in Eastern Market with my roommate Matt, Janell, and one other girl (who came across as a prissy kind of stereotype of a 1950s well-to-do housewife). We ordered portobello burgers (the first time I had one and I loved it) and had a great conversation about politics. When the other girl said that she supported the campaign of Governor George W. Bush because she liked his "compassionate conservativism", I nearly spit out my drink in laughter. I knew Matt was a liberal, but I learned that Janell was as well.

Throughout the semester, Janell would hang out at our apartment and have conversations. I always joked that she only came down to see Matt. Everyone loved Matt. Made me sick. He's a great guy, so I can understand why people want to be his friend. It was amusing to see that he was completely okay with being with himself rather than doing the social scene. He was my best friend on the program and the best roommate I had in college. We got along great and shared many of the same opinions...except when it came to Gore. He was a Bradley supporter and then voted for Nader. I suspected that several ladies were interested in more than a friendship with him, even though he had a great girlfriend (whom he proposed to during that semester and married the same weekend as my best friend Nathan's wedding). Janell was one whom I suspected was romantically interested in Matt, but she always denied it.

Once, when we had an intense discussion on religion, Matt defended me when he thought Janell was being too harsh about my beliefs and made her cry. I was impressed to hear a Mormon defend me against a fellow Mormon (he sealed his status as an eternal friend by that incredible act of friendship), but from my experience at BYU, I was used to the questions Mormons asked me about my faith and why I didn't join the LDS Church. Janell's questions never bothered me at all. When a woman cries, I always freak out especially if I'm the cause of it. Let's just say, it's the sure-fire way to get me to apologize and make amends! In that incident, I saw a sensitive soul worth knowing.

She was my guinea pig in a special dish I made (shrimp creole and rice, which I'm known for in my current job everytime we have potluck). I played a CD of some uptempo Afro-pop and served the dinner. She asked something along the lines of, "what's this seduction scene you got going on?" I laughed. She caught me. It was meant to be a practice run for Jenet, the lady I was interested in who is a member of my church.

Janell asked me one of the most thought-provoking questions anyone dared asked me and earned enormous respect from me because of it. She had seen how I talked to roommate Elliott, whom I couldn't stand (he was the most shallow person I had ever met, and that record still stands today). I had also ticked off a few other BYU interns that semester for my controversial political talk (such as when I called Ken Starr a Nazi on a crowded Metro train near the Pentagon stop, to which Angella yelled at me that no one liked talking with me because of my political opinions; or when I got two guys riled up over a discussion on the Vietnam War). Janell's question was: "why won't you let more people see your good side?" She said that I was thoughtful and a nice guy, but I had a streak that seemed to relish angering people to the point where they view me as a jerk.

No one had asked me such a question before, so it got me thinking about it for months. I didn't know the answer for her then. It might've taken me months. Definitely during the difficult period between July 2000 and August 2001, I self-examined a lot about the trajectory of my life at that point. I examined all aspects, including the traits all my friends have in common.

The answer to Janell's question is actually quite simple. I dislike superficial people and my way of discussing controversial issues is to guage a person's depth. I didn't realize this is the reason why I did this until Janell's question forced me to self-reflect. Superficial people are always scared away by any discussion of politics and religion from the onset. As Nathan has told me (he has an easy ability to attract superficial people into his life), I go too deep too quickly that it scares people away. I'm just not good at small talk and small talk bores the hell out of me. I'm attracted to people who show depth from first conversation. It's what attracted me to Jenet the Sunday I had met her at church. I had seen her give the offertory during the service and didn't think much about her because her looks weren't what I'm normally attracted to (she is attractive in an Angelina Jolie / Charlize Theron way) but after church when her mother introduced us and she opened her mouth to speak, intelligent words poured out and I was smitten. What's so wrong about showing depth in the first conversation you have with people? If it scares people away, then in my mind, it means that they are shallow.

The last week of the internship, Janell seemed annoyed with me, even when I tried to get a photo of her (she hid under a blanket and told me to go away). I don't know if that was her way of dealing with the emotions of the semester ending and everyone going their separate ways. I know from my own experience, I was severely sad after the internship ended. Watching everyone leave was unusual for me because all my life, I was the one who left! When I caught myself crying and missing the other interns, I had to remind myself that these were Mormons I was missing, the very people I swore I wouldn't have any dealings with once I left BYU. The sorrow was a necessary experience for me, though and I'm glad that I had it. It showed me that despite the negative feelings I had about Mormons after leaving BYU in December 1999, I still had the capability to get to know people as individuals without religious barriers and love them despite our differences of opinions.

I can't believe it has been nine years since our experience. Over the years, I've watched as Janell married, had two sons, and now about to receive her Master's in Public Policy this May with a move to a new location when her husband gets accepted to graduate school somewhere. Through it all, I'm grateful that she has kept in touch and maintained a friendship with me. She is one of my most cherished friends and I'm happy to see the success her life has become since our days in D.C. I also appreciate her urging me to go to grad school for a Master's in Public Policy. However, if I do grad school, I need to be debt free which I'm still hoping a publishing contract for my novel will provide, or a year in Iraq. Her advice is something that I appreciate because I think she knows me well enough to know what I might like. We'll see if I heed that advice in a couple years.

In terms of friendships and what all of them have in's travel, first and foremost. I think all of my friends have been out of the country. Janell is one of the few who has been to the most exotic places that I've been to: Thailand and South Africa. If there was nothing else that bonded our friendship, traveling to those two places would have been enough. Besides travel, there's also the thirst for knowledge and the dedicated pursuit of it. She values intelligence and elevates the level of conversation with the people she talks to. But beyond that, she's also a warm and kind person who is sensitive to people's feelings. I'm glad to call her my friend, and though I wish we had met during my time at BYU, I think its special that our friendship began during that semester in D.C. when she approached me on that Metro platform. Maybe I need to initiate conversations with others, for who knows where it might lead!

Happy 30th Birthday, Janell! Stay beautiful, smart, and happy about life. May your 30s be even better than your 20s.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Deja Vu Dreams

Last night, I had a strange dream. First, I went to bed asking God my usual "why?" questions involving the place I work and the ongoing failure to free myself from it in a job search that enters its 27th month in March (the previous record for me was 5 months from the time I began a job search to landing one). I also ask God for any information regarding where I should spend my energies in search of a better job. However, I never receive any information. God has been strangely silent regarding my future, which has never happened before when I've asked for guidance in the past. I always got a clear answer. I don't know why I haven't, after asking for guidance for two years now. My faith in God has suffered as a result, since my current job came about through the most peculiar set of coincidences that I thought it would lead me to a better place. Instead, it has led me only to the deepest, longest despair of my life. If I do not get any kind of spiritual guidance regarding my life, I will start the procedures for procuring a private contractor position in Iraq. After my sister's wedding in May, I am ready to take the biggest risk of my life in my desperation to escape the job that has become the curse of my life.

Anyhow, I had the most vivid dream last night and I have no idea what it means, if dreams mean anything at all. Oddly, it involved Senator Evan Bayh of Indiana. In the dream, I was recruited by his assistant to work for him in his office. I went there on the first day and met other people my age who all seemed to love working there. No one wanted the job of answering constituent letters so that was the job they gave me. Senator Bayh was curious to see how I'd respond to a constituent letter, so he watched me write a response. That led to a good natured conversation in which I made him laugh, along with the entire office. I felt like I belonged and that I had finally found my career. However, the job was located in Los Angeles, which is the odd thing about dreams. In one moment, I was in D.C., in the next, I was planning to move to L.A. (which Bayh doesn't even represent in the Senate). Then I woke up and had to rush to work before I was late.

The images from the dream haunted me all day. I'm trying to make sense of it. Why Bayh? Why did he appear in my dream? What is my subconscious mind trying to tell me? I can't make sense of it. However, here's how Senator Bayh played an actual role in my life...

In 2000, the Washington Seminar program ended in mid-April. After moving out of the apartment, I began work on my final paper and Internship portfolio to turn in. As soon as that was done, I began my job search in earnest. I applied to several Senate offices. I was also awaiting word on a couple jobs in the Clinton administration, particularly the National Economic Council. They took a long time to make a decision. I watched my bank account dwindle to dangerously low levels. I knew the chances of finding a job would get more difficult after Memorial Day, when I would be competing with other college graduates, and I still had Biology 100 to make up before I'd get my degree. Had it not been for Nathan's wedding in late June, where I had Best Man obligations, I would've left D.C. after Memorial Day weekend.

By the time Nathan's wedding weekend rolled around, I had determined that I would leave D.C. as soon as I got back from his wedding in Williamsport, PA...UNLESS I got a job offer from Vice President Gore's office or Senator Bayh's office. When I returned back to D.C., I had an answer on my machine: Senator Bayh's office called with two job possibilities. One of them was a correspondence clerk. I was completely shocked about this. I had received rejection letters from other Senate offices I applied to (Senator Mary Landrieu of Louisiana was one). Senator Bayh? This was too good to be true. So, I arranged for an interview (which was done by phone) and awaited a decision. The odd thing about this is that during my internship, I had enthusiastically talked up Senator Bayh as Gore's running mate to any Gore staffer who would listen. I thought a Gore-Bayh ticket was a winning one. To this day, I think if Gore had chosen Bayh instead of Lieberman, he might have won Indiana and thus the presidency. I saw Bayh as a future presidential candidate, based on an excellent article I had read about him in George Magazine from the late 1990s.

After two weeks, I started calling Bayh's office about the job. I kept getting the run around from the person who had interviewed me. Based on "tricks" I learned as an intern about when a person doesn't want to talk to the caller, I got the feeling that my calls were being avoided. So, I went to the office to get the answer in person and refused to leave until I spoke to the person who interviewed me. When she met me, her face showed a strange kind of surprise. She said something like, "it's good to have a face to go with the voice" or something odd like that. I learned that they had hired someone else, which I kind of figured. A rejection letter would have been nice, because I had extended my stay in D.C. to await this job oppportunity. The same lady did, after all, send me a rejection letter when I had applied for an internship (I had applied for 12 internships, got accepted by my top three choices, received a rejection letter from Bayh, and didn't hear from any of the others).

So, Bayh had kept me in D.C. a month longer than planned. I was able to attend my church's reunion for that region and meet the leader of our church, President Grant McMurray. On July 24th, a month after Nathan and Lisa's wedding, I left D.C. on a rainy morning. Jenet kept telling me not to leave D.C. but my parents urged me to return home. It's one of the biggest mistakes of my life, I've come to believe. I should have taken the advice of a lady I liked in Gore's correspondence office on Capitol Hill. Months earlier, she had recommended a temp agency that had gotten her that job. I never applied to it and I don't know why.

With this dream, I have no idea what it could possibly mean. I lost interest in Senator Bayh after having to go to his office to get an answer on the hiring position and then after he signed the USA PATRIOT Act in 2001. I would never support his run for president after signing the un-Constitutional legislation. He formed an exploratory committee in late 2006 before deciding in early 2007 that he lacked the broad support to make a presidential run. I was glad to see him withdraw. Had Hillary won the nomination, I'm certain that she would have picked him for a running mate and he would be our Vice President now.

I'm not sure I'm all that interested in politics anymore. I've seen too many of the candidates I supported enthusiastically lose to lesser candidates. The one winning campaign I volunteered for turned out to be a dead-end in terms of career possibilities due to doubts about the person's character before a scandal confirmed it (yep, Portland's mayor...which I will be blogging about for Saturday's post due to interesting developments in the past month). So, as I learned all too painfully last year...a political career as an aide is out, a job with the church is out, I still haven't found an agent for my novel, my current job is a dead where does that leave me? Since the economy tanked, the number of job postings on websites for Portland have been severely cut down. If it was difficult to find a job for the past two years, it'll be even more difficult now. Unless God can direct me to a job offer, I see Iraq as the only option I have left. It sure beats jumping off a bridge!

However, I still want to stay in Portland. I desperately want a new job so I can remain in this beautiful city. I have a feeling that the local political scene is going to be very interesting this summer with the move to recall the mayor and various people already jockeying for the job. We'll see how the search for a new job goes in the next couple of months. As for the meaning of my dream, I have no clue. I wish I understood dream symbology enough to discern what my subconscious is telling me. Is D.C. where I should look for a career? D.C. was my post-college "Plan A" and Portland was my "Plan B." Atlanta was my unspoken, "if all else fails, Plan C." Funny how I got to experience all three options in the past decade. But I feel even further from a career than I did in the difficult summer of 2000. Until I establish myself in career, I will not pursue my marriage goals. This is why I feel like my life has been a complete failure over the past nine years. All I can say is that one way or another, my misery will end this year...with or without God's guidance. I prefer God's guidance, but He's had two years to direct me. Time is running out. I have until my sister's wedding to find a better job in Portland or else Iraq will be my future.

State of the Stimulus

They're not calling it the State of the Union speech, even though it is (in the past, presidents have given the SOTU a month after Inauguration). Maybe this is one of Obama's "cool calls" to refer to it as something else out of some kind of odd respect for the previous president. It doesn't take a genius to know that the State of our Union is in tatters with the worst economy since the Great Depression, so Obama doesn't really need to say the official words ("the state of the union is...").

A week or so ago, I was going to write about how much I have come to loathe the Republican party after not a single Republican member of the House of Representatives voted for President Obama's stimulus bill. This came on the heels of Rush's "I hope he fails" talk. That's what they are all about. None of the Republicans want their names attached so that if the economy is still sluggish in 2010, they can retake the House a la 1994. However, its a gamble, because if the economy shows signs of improving, then they'll only look like the assholes they currently are. Republicans gave speeches during the Bush era, asking rhetorical questions like why Demorats "hate America." Who really hates America? Rush wants Obama to fail just to feed his own ego about "being right." If a Democrat had said of Bush in 2001, "I hope he fails", they would've been accused of treason! Its a double standard. Democrats aren't allowed to criticize the Republican president, but Republicans can criticize, threaten, incite violence, and dare assassination attempts on the Democratic president!

Another reason why I hate the Republican party is because of the situation in Minnesota. Norm Coleman still hasn't conceded the election to Al Franken! Remember...this was the party in 2000 who taunted Gore with cries of "Sore Loserman!" because he wouldn't concede for the 36 days of the recount procedures in Florida, even though he won the popular vote. Now, the shoe is on the other foot (without the popular vote). Republicans in the Senate have pressured the milquetoasty Senator Reid to not seat Franken until the lawsuit is settled. But I have a feeling that if the suit is settled in Franken's favour, Republicans will ask to wait for the appeal...stretching it for as long as possible. Who is the real sore loser?

Anyhow, back to Obama's first address to the joint session of Congress. I forgot what it was like to have an eloquent speaker for president. Someone who doesn't make me cringe with strange bunglings of phrases and cliches. Its also refreshing not to see the smirk, the squint, or the eyebrow raising...all signs of Bush's body betraying what he really thinks (those moments always came when Bush was telling a's what is known as "the tell"). It's just refreshing, period, to have an intelligent president again.

I don't know all the details of the stimulus package and the best way to boost the economy. I think whatever Clinton did in the early 90s worked, so we should model it after that. On Charlie Rose last week, a German political analyst expressed concern over Obama's stimulus bill because "spending your way out of a recession" is not a good policy. I agree. His suggestion was that the U.S. should look at Germany as a model, since it rebuilt its economy from the ruins of war to the powerhouse it became in the 1980s. However, that's a 30-year process. We don't have 30 years to turn our economy around. The Japanese economy was sluggish in the 1990s and it lasted a long time (if I'm not mistaken, around ten years or more). The difference is, the Japanese save their money, while Americans spend, spend, spend. You know our economy tanked when the news reported that 20 million people in China lost their manufacturing jobs because of our economic bust. Let me say that again...20 MILLION PEOPLE! In the U.S., 6 million people lost their jobs since the economy entered a recession in November 2007. We are entering a post-consumer age.

Our planetary resources cannot sustain a mass consumption plan to bolster our economy. The only solution I see to the problem is a complete restructuring of our economic society...including caps on executive pay, investments in renewable resources and alternative energy. I liked that Obama pointed out in his speech the banker who cashed out with millions of dollars and split the money among his co-workers and even previous co-workers. What generosity! What an opposite to the Bush-kind of hero: "I got mine, so screw you!" Obama is changing the tone, little by little. He can totally transform our culture if he keeps highlighting people who act with generosity and kindness and charity as examples to be. The reason why greed ruled in the Bush era is because Republicans believe that greed is good and reward it. If we reward honesty and punish lies, reward generosity and punish greed, our society would change completely in a positive direction.

For the Republican response, they chose Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal, who is the same age as me! He came across as immature with an odd way of speaking. Not a good debut to the American people. Republicans view Jindal as their version of Obama. This is kind of ironic, because in 2006, Senator George Allen of Virginia was caught on tape calling an Indian-American "macaca," which effectively killed his reelection to the Senate as well as his rumoured presidential aspirations in 2008. Now, an Indian-American is seen as the shining light of a party that still exhibits racist attitudes (such as the Republican who wanted to be the next RNC Chairman distributing a CD with a song "Barack the Magic Negro").

The odd thing about the Republican embrace of Jindal is that he is the son of immigrant parents, and he converted from Hinduism (to Catholicism). Now, what I don't get is the Republican obsession with the idea that Obama was born in Kenya instead of Hawaii, and that he's secretly a Muslim, even though he has written and spoken about his Christian faith. Why do Republicans raise doubts about Obama's personal story, but believe Jindal at his word? And you want to talk about weird religions? Hinduism would be considered weird by evangelical Christians, not to mention un-godly because of its millions of gods that members can choose to worship.

Here's the real kick in the pants...a Hindu can still be a Hindu and a Christian. In their belief system, there's no contradiction because they view Christ as a holy man. In Hinduism, you could worship Brad Pitt or Angelina Jolie as your god or goddess if you wanted to. So, to turn around the Republican do we really know that Jindal hasn't given up his Hinduism when he embraced Catholicism? In Louisiana, some people who practice Santeria (the official name of the voodoo religion) are also practicing Catholics. Louisiana is a strange culture. Not only did the races mix freely before other places, so did the religious beliefs. This is something evangelical Christians are going to have to examine if they're going to be honest with themselves.

I, personally, don't have a problem if Jindal is a Hindu-Catholic. The only thing that bothers me is that the same people who see him as the saviour of their party in 2012 are likely the same people who spread false rumours about Obama's heritage and religious beliefs. All I ask is for a single standard. Don't give Jindal a blank check just because you like his conservative politics. Truth is, if Jindal was a liberal Democrat, he would be demonized by the right and accused of being a Hindu despite claims of conversion to Catholicism.

I found the above photo in a Google image search. I find it amusing, because the whole thing looks staged. Is it just me, or do others find it hard to believe that the bubba in the overalls would support or vote for someone like Jindal? I wonder what he told his buddies back at his watering hole or strip club. I wouldn't be surprised if words like "gook" or "macaca" passed from his lips in jokes over beer while a stripper is dancing around a pole. That's what this image tells me. We are talking about a party where Palin told small-town audiences that they were "the real Americans" (in contrast to the fake majority who live in cities). They pander to racist ignorance because its the only chance they have to win since they can't run on their dismal record. Just remember, Jindal is a member of the same party as David Duke, the notorious former Klansman who ran for governor in Louisiana in 1991 and almost won if not for a threat of an economic boycott of the state brought on by the NAACP and other civil rights groups. Now that's a photo I'd love to see...Jindal and Duke!

Here's a message to Republicans...if you push Jindal to be president, the Democrats are going to come back with...

That's right! President George Clooney! It's enough to make Bill O'Reilly crap his pants. Why not? Clooney is a knowledgeable and political guy, with a kind of Rat Pack coolness rare among Hollywood celebrities today. He was actually at the White House on Monday to meet with both President Obama and Vice President Biden. I wonder what they were discussing. After the meeting, Clooney gave a press conference right outside the West Wing. Doesn't he look presidential?

Please run for Governor of California in 2010, George! That'll put you in the running for the 2016 presidential elections! What could be greater than seeing one cool president pass the torch after eight years to the next cool president? Republicans can have their Palins, Romneys, and Jindals. None of them exude cool like Obama and Clooney.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Religions That Keep People "Worlds Apart"

Friday evening, I went to see my first Danish film...the brilliant Worlds Apart. This is the case where the story synopsis was the biggest draw. The film is about a Jehovah's Witness who falls in love with a non-member and faces a complex choice in relationships because of the insular religion. Before I delve into the film, I want to discuss my thoughts on this strange and depressing religion.

When I worked at Lionel Playworld during the period between high school graduation and going into the Navy, I had volunteered for someone else's shift, which turned out to be a completely stressful day. I came home in a foul mood and just started ranting without realizing that my mom was meeting with missionaries from the Jehovah's Witness. They promptly left afterwards and I was embarrassed, but they never came back. I don't know if my mom was seriously interested in the religion (it was during the worst period of my family's life). She'll basically Bible study with anyone without wanting to convert, whereas I'm naturally suspicious of any religion with an authoritarian leadership style (that means Mormons, Jehovah's Witness, Unification Church, Assemblies of God, and Scientology). If my rants scared them away, I'm glad.

Ironically, during my last year in high school, some students thought I was a Jehovah's Witness because I refused to stand up and recite the pledge of allegiance along with the rest of the class. Some might call me "unpatriotic," but I long had a problem with it when I read the words of the pledge and realized that I was being required to pledge my allegiance to a material object. I don't even pledge allegiance to my friends! Or the president. Or political party. Or my church. Basically, I only pledge allegiance to God and my conscience. Everyone and everything else is S.O.L.! The refusal to recite the pledge is probably the only thing I have in common with the Jehovah's Witnesses and their only belief that I believe they are correct on.

Anyhow, in my Navy "A" School, a classmate was raised Jehovah's Witness but he struggled with it. In his rebellion, he joined the military (another thing about JWs...they don't believe in serving in the military either...or voting). When I lived in Italy, I got a kick out of hearing Mormon missionaries tell jokes about Jehovah's Witness missionaries. The two churches that many think are a cult with an active missionary program...ripping on one another! Gotta love it!

In my last job in Atlanta was one Jehovah's Witness co-worker and a quasi-one. When I gave the JW a ride home after work (before my car died on me), she would often preach her beliefs at me whereas I was interested in a dialogue about our different beliefs. She got frustrated and I think she regretted it (most people who try to proselytize me end up frustrated, sometimes in tears. Brutal honesty does have its rewards...not that I'm trying to make people cry, but if they aren't strong enough to discuss religion with me without crying, then they shouldn't be proselytizing). She backed off. Then there was a streak at work that lasted for two years where someone at that office would have a family member die. Each month brought a new death to someone at that office. Each time, a Jehovah's Witness tract about death would appear on the grieving person's desk. It was so obvious to everyone who put it there (she wasn't exactly shy about expressing her religious beliefs). I thought it was in extremely bad taste, but I was curious, so I did a Google search on Jehovah's Witnesses and came across an interesting website which stated that most people who join the Jehovah's Witnesses do so after a tragedy in their lives. I asked the co-worker about what brought her into that church and true enough, it was a personal tragedy when her world fell apart.

Now, it might seem odd that they get converts during the worst moments of their life...but how can they win converts any other way? It's the most depressing religion. They believe that only 144,000 people will go to heaven after they die (the rest will have to wait until the resurrection in the last days, where they are consigned to live on the "new earth"). They don't observe any of the holidays (Christmas, Easter, the national holidays--not even Thanksgiving!) and observing one's birthday is considered vanity, thus forbidden. So, no celebrations at all, no gift giving, not even a best wishes. The only card they'll accept is a thank you card. Ask about why they won't celebrate the religious holidays, they rightfully point out the pagan origins of Christmas and Easter. However, these holiday traditions help make years memorable and break up the monotony. I don't believe there's anything wrong with celebration and showing your appreciation to family and friends during holidays and birthdays. Most people don't, thus why I believe that Jehovah's Witnesses have a difficult time finding converts during good times.

The other co-worker at my last job, whom I referred to as "quasi-member" was a strange lady. Her husband is an atheist, her brother is openly gay, and many of her friends are into New Age spirituality. She even has a Muslim friend. Every year, around the anniversary of her twin sister's death, she acted really weird and would recommit to the Jehovah's Witnesses. After a few months, she would fall away from it. It was amusing to hear her frustrations about the active JW co-worker question why she hasn't gone to meetings lately, etc. Whenever I tried to talk religion with this lady, she would get defensive about the Jehovah's Witnesses.

Once, after she tried to proselytize me about why Jehovah's Witness was the true religion, I totally crushed her credibility by forcing her to defend her "religious beliefs" or her political beliefs (she was a blind Bush supporter and a Republican, again...very unusual for a Witness, because the ones I've met claimed to have no opinions about politics other than that our government is ruled by Satan). She had claimed that life on earth isn't about working 40 hours a week. That we should enjoy it as much as we can. As soon as she said that, I pointed out France's 35 hour workweek, 2 hour lunches, and six to ten weeks of paid vacation per year. She then started ripping on the French like the true Republican she was. I let her rant before I said, "I guess that means you're not a Jehovah's Witness. You just negated your own argument!" She was quiet after that because I got her good. The French live exactly how she claims we should live our lives...more play and relaxation, less work, but because conservative Republicans hate the French, I guess she's more loyal to political party than religion.

I never could figure her out. That's why she drove me crazy working with her. She was such a scatterbrain, holding contradictory ideas. I'll never understand what she saw in Jehovah's Witness, because she would make a problematic member...being perfectly okay with having a gay brother and an atheist husband. The religion is conservative...especially about sexual issues. My best guess is that the tragedy of seeing her twin sister die was a big spiritual crisis and the Jehovah's Witnesses were there to comfort her. But when she wasn't grieving, the control over her personal life pushed her away. In our religious discussions, it was interesting to hear her make fun of Mormon theology as being strange. I'm here to say, they are both equally strange religions with too much authoritarian control for my democratic inclinations. But if I had to choose between the two religions which one to be a member of, I'd go with the LDS Church since I'm more familiar with it and share the belief in "eternal progression."

Last bit of personal experience with Jehovah's Witness before I review the movie...there is a sweet lady at my home congregation of Atlanta North whose son (a few years younger than me) fell in love with a Jehovah's Witness girl in college. He married her and joined her religion. The lady is a big time gift giver who was sad that she wouldn't be able to give her future grandchildren birthday and Christmas gifts or see her son over the special holidays of Thanksgiving and Christmas. She could no longer acknowledge his birthday. Part of the difficulty in understanding this religious change is that she had raised all three of her children in our church and he never had a problem with Christmas, Thanksgiving, Easter, or birthdays. Why would falling in love with someone who didn't grow up with those traditions lead you to reject those family traditions? Religion makes strange requirements of people.

In my own experience, at BYU, I briefly dated a Mormon lady I was attracted to. However, before I allowed myself to fall in love with her, I asked her if she believed her church was the one true church. When she said that she did, that was the end of that. It's interesting for me to see people fall in love without thinking about potential incompatability issues. Maybe that's why I'm still single. I approach love more like a chess game...where I'm looking several steps ahead. I can't help it though, because spiritual compatability is the most important aspect of relationships for me.

During the Washington Seminar, a few BYU interns asked me if I would marry a Mormon girl. When I said, "probably not", they accused me of being narrow-minded. However, I explained to them that it wasn't me being narrow-minded, but their church. I don't have a problem marrying a lady of any long as she understood that as much as she loves her own faith, I probably love mine with equal intensity. The difference is, some religions require the couple to belong to the same faith (such as the LDS church in regards to the doctrines of "eternal marriage," celestial glory, and eternal progression). How do you reconcile a marriage when both persons are strong in their different faiths? The spiritually advanced person would recognize and accept the differences without seeking to convert the other. The Mormon interns didn't understand what I was trying to explain, because when you believe that you belong to the one true church, you can't conceive why someone wouldn't want to join it.

My dad thought that I would fall in love with a Mormon girl and convert to the LDS church while I was at BYU. Even members of my home congregation thought they would lose me to the Mormons. However, none of them knew how deep my faith was. If the choice was between falling in love with a Mormon girl, marrying her and joining her religion or a life without romantic love, I choose a life without romantic love. I know that it sounds like I'm contradicting what I said above about how I'd choose to be LDS over JW, but it's not because I don't like the Mormon religion, just that I know that I would never be happy in that faith. I wouldn't be happy as a Jehovah's Witness, either. Since elementary school, I've been a democratically-minded person who dislikes authoritarianism of any kind. However, trans-religion romances is fascinating to me, thus why I just had to see this Danish film.

World's Apart captivated me early on because the lead actress was so adorably cute that I'm definitely thinking that I have a thing for European woman. I don't know this actress' name, but I think of her as "the Danish Natalie Portman." In the film, she plays a 17 year old Jehovah's Witness girl whose world comes crashing down when her father reveals that he committed adultery and his wife won't forgive him, so they are going to separate. The daughter meets a 23 year old man ("the Danish Joshua Jackson") at a club on a night on the town with her friend, also a Jehovah's Witness. When he walks her home after she's had too much to drink, so begins a relationship where she sneaks off to see him.

In one hilarious scene, she is so happy in church that everyone notices and gets suspicious. The father knows about her secret boyfriend and makes her talk about it to the elders of their congregation. In the strangest scene that made me uncomfortable, three 40-something year old "elders" interrogate this 17 year old about how far she went with the boy. Sexual immorality is a serious "crime" in the Jehovah's Witness tradition (which isn't surprising, as all conservative religions have hang ups over sexual issues). There's just something wrong about a group of middle aged men asking such private and personal questions of a teenage girl. Only a parent should have that right.

As the story moves along, we learn about the most severe aspect of this religion: shunning, or as they call it: expelling. If a member goes against the elders counsel, they can be expelled from the church, which means that even family members are expected to treat them like they don't exist. The silent treatment. All for not being obedient in one form or another. This reminds me of what is done in Amish culture (0nce you're shunned, you're cut off from your family and culture forever). However, there is not one instance in the Bible where Jesus shunned anyone. If anything, he embraced the people who were shunned by the religious authorities in his day. You'd think a church claiming to be the true church would be more consistent with Jesus' example (he did, after all, save an adulterous woman from being stoned to death!).

Ultimately, the girl faces a choice between her boyfriend and her family, between her freedom and her religion. Her older brother, who was expelled from the church found life on the outside to be lonely and hard, so he begs her to rejoin the faith and the family.

The film is based on a true story. When the credits rolled, I was impressed by how good it was and out of the six films I saw at the Portland International Film Festival, I would rank this one a very close second (to The Black Balloon). Over the past few days, I've been thinking a lot about religion that divides people from loving freely anyone they choose. All for what? The LDS Church kept me from pursuing a lady I was attracted to at BYU (actually, there were several I was interested in, but only one whom I really felt a potentially deep connection with). It would be interesting to see if BYU's International Cinema would show this film. Even though it's about a rival religion, some of the basic beliefs are similar enough that it might hit too close to home (particularly the scene where elders make uncomfortable inquiries into a member's sex life and the idea of expelling, which in the LDS Church is called disfellowship and excommunication, one being far more severe than the other). For some reason, I don't think the LDS General Authorities would encourage its members to watch this film for the simple reason that some members might see similarities between the way the two churches operate. It wouldn't be "faith-promoting."

I wish I could bring my two Jehovah's Witness former co-workers to see this film, but I suspect that one would definitely not be interested in watching it, while the quasi-member might be more open to it. However, if any JW missionaries approach me in the future, I will definitely bring up this film as a point of discussion. I admit that I can be a bit mischievious towards those who proselytize because I like to plant seeds of doubt into their minds to blossom at a later point when they are being completely honest with themselves. In 2005, a beautiful Russian lady knocked on my door when I lived in Smyrna GA. She was peddling the Reverent Sun Myung Moon's Unification Church. When I told her that I didn't like the Reverent Moon's political beliefs, she tried to argue with me that I was mistaken. A "moonie" is going to argue with a political science major about the well known conservative political views of the Reverent Moon?!? Talk about credibility problems! The young lady was so beautiful and young, and not a citizen of our country, that I was gentle with her. I urged her to read the truth of her religion and get out of it for her sake. I almost wanted to rescue her from that religion and I would've even dated her. It is amusing that people who proselytize don't seem to realize something about the people they approach. A member of an authoritarian church is going to have a tough time convincing a person with a democratic mindset to join their religion. If love can't pull me into a church, then nothing else will either.

Religion shouldn't seek to keep people "world's apart." I'm glad that there are filmmakers who agree and make thought-provoking films that everyone should see. If it comes to a theater near you, please see this one. And if you know any Jehovah's Witnesses, bring them with you (tell them that it's about the LDS church!). I'd love to hear what they think of it (I suspect that they will be told to avoid this film). As I watched the film, I overheard other audience members whisper disbelief at some of the strange ideas of the Jehovah's Witness religion. I am in secular Portland, after all...but this film not only got enthusiastic applause at the end, it was one of the four films that received an encore showing (possible audience award?). All I can say is, great film! I'll definitely see it again when it makes a regular theatrical run in the spring.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Wrapping Up Oscar and PIFF

At the end of Sunday's church service, I did a little Oscar tribute by presenting my Angel Moroni statue to the "winner" of the "Best Miracle" category. I even had a sealed envelope to open and reveal the "winner." The winner was Jesus, of course, whom I said, "without him, no miracles are possible." Jarom (as Jesus) approached the podium to "accept" the Moroni statue and close the service with a prayer.

This got quite a few compliments. What can I say? I'm a big Academy Awards fan. It is the Superbowl of Awards shows.

I thought about watching the Awards at one of the local theaters (the Bagdad and the Mission theaters were running the show on their big screens), but after taking an afternoon nap, I woke up just as the Awards show began.

From the opening song, I knew this show had a different vibe to it than previous years. In fact, selecting Hugh Jackman as host was brilliant. I only recently started watching the Tony Awards for the simple reason that he was hosting. He does a fantastic job, so I knew that he would nail this one. Previous hosts Steve Martin and Jon Stewart have been disappointing because I expected more. Hugh, on the other hand, rarely disappoints. He's a true showman and exactly the kind of host Oscar needs to reinvent the show. I liked his pulling Anne Hathaway on stage, to her embarrassed protest...though after she started singing, I was impressed that it was probably not as spontaneous as I thought it was. She was in on it! Wow...she really is a good actress. When Hugh did his song and dance routine to the nominated Best Picture "The Reader", I loved it. Great choreography during that segment!

Other highlights:

Penelope Cruz wins Best Supporting Actress for her role in Woody Allen's Vicki Cristina Barcelona. I haven't seen that film because I'm not a fan of Woody Allen movies (I made the mistake of seeing his movie about a Tarot Card killer, starring Hugh Jackman and Scarlett Johansen in 2006). However, I love Penelope Cruz. I could listen to her talk all day. I love her accent and she's beautiful. I'm especially love it when someone can speak two or more languages and mixes the two when they speak, which I've heard that she does in this film. I was glad to see her win.

I liked comedian Ben Stiller acting as Joaquin Phoenix while Natalie Portman is trying to talk about the process of cinematography. It's somewhat of an inside joke for anyone who is aware of Joaquin Phoenix's strange appearance on a late night talk show, sporting a beard, speaking incoherently, actually believing that he has a rap career ahead of him, and is considering giving up acting altogether. I'm thinking it's all a publicity stunt. Great to see Ben Stiller poke some fun.

The new format of having five actors each speak for one of the nominees was a cool change from the past. Cuba Gooding, Jr. was great when he spoke about Robert Downey, Jr.'s comedic role playing an Australian actor who plays a black man in a Vietnam Movie. He jokingly told Downey that it wasn't cool to take jobs away from black actors who need whatever work they can get. Its interesting to hear Cuba say that, because since his Best Supporting Actor win for Jerry Maguire in 1997, he has picked a lot of crappy movies to star in.

I actually cried when Heath Ledger won for Best Supporting Actor and his father, mother, and sister came up to speak on his behalf and accept the Oscar on behalf of Heath's daughter, Matilda Rose. It was the most heartfelt moment of the Awards show. This category was probably the most predictable win of the entire Awards show.

For Best Documentary, comedian Bill Maher appeared to award the Oscar. It was a surprise and he mentioned his documentary Religulous not being nominated. He had a sense of humour about it, but that documentary was poorly edited and was a bit too snarky to even hope to get a nomination. The winner in this category was for a documentary about a French tightrope walker who walked a tightrope across the World Trade Center in the 1970s. When he came up on stage, he did a magic trick, making a coin disappear and then balancing the Oscar statue on his chin.

I loved the Bollywood dance routines for the Best Original Song category. The songs "Jai Ho" and "O Saya" are from the big winner of the evening, Slumdog Millionnaire. I admit that I hadn't even heard of this movie until it won the Best Picture at the Golden Globes in January. Or, perhaps I heard it but didn't read any reviews because I didn't like the title. If I don't like the title, I won't see the film. I know its the equivalent of judging a book by its cover, which we shouldn't do, but I can't help it sometimes. Who wants to see a movie about a "slumdog"? Whatever the hell that is! Other film titles that I hated, which made me not want to see the movie are: The Bucket List and Million Dollar Baby. However, now that I know Slumdog Millionnaire is set in Mumbai, India and has some great Bollywood style music, I hope to see it this week.

The most uncertain category was Best Actor, because critics seemed to be divided on Sean Penn and Mickey Rourke. This was the category in which Rourke might have won because of his amazing comeback story. However, he basically plays a character much like himself and he has made a lot of enemies (even more than Sean Penn) over the with actors voting in the acting categories, you never know if he ticked off enough people that they'd never vote for him.

I was glad to see Sean Penn win because he was my choice for Best Actor this year, playing Harvey Milk. His speech was great. Especially when the first thing he said once he got to the podium was: "You commie, homo-loving sons of a guns." He admitted that he hasn't made it easy for people to appreciate him. He also criticized the protestors outside the Kodak Theater who were still obsessed over gay rights issues and he basically shamed everyone who voted for Proposition 8 last year. Who would've thought Sean would come this far in life? And when did Robyn Wright Penn get back together with him? Last I heard, they were headed towards divorce. Good to see them together, because I believe she is the one who brought out his best side (his first wife, Madonna, brought out his worst side).

Finally, it was amazing to see the screenwriter of Milk, Dustin Lance Black, win for Best Original Screenplay. When he gave his speech, I knew little about him so I was shocked to hear him say that he was a gay Mormon. He criticized religion, government, and families who sought to deny equal rights and gave a heartfelt speech that God loves everyone and that the day will come when marriage rights will be available for all. It'll be interesting to see if the Mormon church will have a reaction to his win or speech.

All in all, a great and memorable Academy Awards after a few years of rather boring shows. I can't remember the last time an Academy Awards show has been this entertaining and interesting to watch. As the credits rolled, there were previews of films to be released later on this year and I saw three that I'm excited about: Angels and Demons (sequel to The Da Vinci Code), Amelia (about aviation pioneer Amelia Earhart, who was from Atchison, grandparents hometown), and G-Force (looks like a computer animated film about a guinea pig, which is a pet I had for a short time in Omaha, NE). No sign of Spielberg's Lincoln movie. Maybe that'll be an end of year release for Oscar consideration next year.

In other film news, Saturday marked the end of the 17-day Portland International Film Festival. I got to see six films out of the hundred-some selections. Though there were at least 15 films I wanted to see, I picked the eight ones I wanted to see most, then eliminated two. I already reviewed two (The Black Balloon and Jerusalema) and will review one other one tomorrow (World's Apart). Here are the other three that I saw:

Saturday evening, I went to see the closing film of the Portland International Film Festival: Dean Spanley from New Zealand, starring Jeremy Northam, Peter O'Toole, Sam Neill, and Bryan Brown. The subject matter sounded pretty was about the transmigration of the soul, or as most people know it as: reincarnation. However, there is a subtle difference. Most reincarnationists (at least of the New Agey variety) don't believe that we reincarnate from or into animals. Transmigration is a belief that souls will enter whatever available body.

However, the film didn't really go into all that. Basically, it was a period drama that is heavy on dialogue. It's set in Edwardian England, which for those who don't know when to date the period, would be around the turn of the 19th into the 20th century. There are multiple references to the Boer War in South Africa, which I know was fought around 1900. Anyhow, this was a typical "period drama" I had often associated in my youth with public television. In other words...BORING! Sure, the subject matter was intriguing (under the influence of a rare Hapsburg tokai, a university dean recounts a past life memory as a dog)...but the way it was presented was rather dull. The audience of sophisticates laughed more often than I did, mostly at Peter O'Toole's comical performance as a crusty old father, whose makes the weekly visits from his son (played by Jeremy Northam) a rather unpleasant experience.

I was hoping for something more, I suppose. Out of the six films, this would be my least favourite. It was good, but not great. The one line I truly appreciated from the film, though, is when Dean Spanley tells Jeremy's character: "Only a closed mind believes in certainty." Pretty profound. I wish the film didn't move so slowly, though, or with drabby scenery. Costume, period dramas don't have to be so dull, even if the period shown is dull compared to modern life. Right?

Jeremy Northam and Peter O'Toole

Another of the film selections I saw, was the French comedy Shall We Kiss? This film also disappointed. From the synopsis I read, I was thrilled to see that it was filmed in Nantes, which is a city I hope to visit someday. Rather than show any scenes of Nantes (it might have been set there, but on screen, it looked like it was filmed in any neighbourhood in Paris), this film was set mostly indoors. One couple meet and have a conversation, which a lady tells the man about a couple she knows in Paris. Most of the film is about the other couple.

As I watched the film, I was rather uncomfortable because of the other couple. Basically, a man was so distraught over his girlfriend moving to a foreign country that he makes a request of his best friend since high school...who happens to be female (and married). Their relationship has always been platonic. His request crosses the boundary and in the early scenes, you can see the discomfort of the lady to her guy friend's request. It was even uncomfortable for me to watch, because I am one who believes that men and women can be friends without sex involved. Perhaps my own sense of morality was offended by this character named Nicolas making such a selfish request of his female, married friend.

The film did get better after the awkward stage between the two friends. As is the case with most French films I see...I walk away stunned by the profound, thought-provoking delivery. Though I didn't agree with parts of the film, I was impressed by the twist as well as the thoughts it provoked in me. Wow, was all I could say when I walked home after this film. This is why I love French films! Even what appears on the surface as a shallow romantic comedy turns out to be a deeply thought-provoking film worthy of a discussion afterwards.

Michael Cohen and Julie Gayet discuss the consequences of a kiss.

The second film I watched during this film festival was Opium War from Afghanistan. It was pretty good. It's about an Afghan teen who discovers a downed American helicopter near his home. After he's done searching for useful things to take, the two American bodies we presumed were dead actually aren't. Just badly injured. They can't radio for help, so they go in search of the surrounding area and come across an old Soviet tank in the middle of a poppy field. Closer examination reveals that the tank is used as a house for an Afghan family. The movie is a delicate dance between mistrust and tolerating the presence of the other.

What was truly shocking was how awful the Afghan people were to one another. The head of the family is an elderly man who often goes away to sell his crop (poppies are the cash crop of Afghanistan, making it a major exporter of opium and heroin) and bring home some goodies. He has three wives who are simply nasty and jealous towards one another. The kids are equally as brutal. This is only the second film I've seen about Afghanistan (the other was The Kite Runner) and based on the two, I'm thinking that I don't like Afghan culture. They are vicious towards one another. Apparently, if both movies I've seen about Afghanistan are to be believed, Afghan men view the anal rape of another man as a form of domination. Even the children threaten to rape one another. Gosh, if that's how Afghan men show domination, who the hell wants to get caught alone over there?

There's a cool scene where the two Americans and Afghan teen share a smoke, even though they can't understand one another, they laugh together. The old man is frustrated by the way people treat one another, including his bickering wives, that he decides to abandon the family for a hermetic existence. It's kind of a sad story and I left the theater wondering why we are even over there at all. Afghanistan is considered one of the poorest nations in the world. Its so poor, it makes Iraq look like a wealthy paradise. Afghanistan's history has been one of foreign domination, as the location was seen as prime for the Mongols, Alexander the Great, the British, the Soviets, and now the U.S. Because of their history of being invaded, the people have a kind of patience and determination that ultimately wears out the invaders, who always leave eventually. Afghans are tribal people who often switch to the winning side, so you really can't trust them.

Despite this negative history, leaving would only mean that the Taliban will return to power because Karzai's government is so weak that it basically only has control of the capital city of Kabul. The joke is that Karzai isn't so much the leader of Afghanistan as he is the Mayor of Kabul. If we leave and the Taliban return to power, it would mean that everything our nation has fought to establish in the past eight years will be gone. It might cause more problems in the future. After all, I believe that Charlie Wilson was correct (see the excellent film Charlie Wilson's War). He was the one who wanted Congress to allocate money to establish schools in Afghanistan after the Soviets withdrew. Because the U.S. no longer cared about Afghanistan after the Soviets withdrew, the power vacuum allowed the most vile group of people to come to power and create the most severe Islamic fundamentalist government that Iran even hated it! Can you imagine an irony more profound than that? We in the West think the Islamic Revolution in Iran was drastic, and here those people are, thinking that the Taliban is worse than their own Islamic government. Under no circumstances should the Taliban be allowed to return to power in Afghanistan.

After seeing this film, I'm kind of backing away from wanting to seek a private contractor position in Afghanistan. It's too much the powder keg these days and the Taliban are a pretty scary bunch. With all their obsessions with anally raping other men, you have to wonder about what kind of perverse people these are. Last year at the Portland International Film Festival was a film from Afghanistan that I didn't go see. It was about the current obsession with male body building that has taken Afghanistan by storm. In a newspaper review I read, the writer said that the film showed Afghan men gushing like schoolgirls over their body building heroes. It sounded too weird for me. With all these films about Afghanistan, it just makes you wonder about these people. Anyone who forces their women to completely cover themselves up in burkhas, threatens to anally rape another man, and gushes like schoolgirls at body building contests...well, maybe Afghanistan is the gayest country on the planet! God protect our troops from these people!

There is one other film that I saw during the festival that deserves it's own review (tomorrow's post). It's the Danish film World's Apart, which is about a Jehovah's Witness who falls in love with a non-member and the difficulty it causes in her family and religious relationships. Stay tuned.

Now that the film festival is over, I plan to see two movies I've delayed watching: Revolutionary Road and Oscar's Best Picture winner Slumdog Millionnaire.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

MAYAs Service at Garden Grove Congregation

Last year, during the Intergenerational Dialogue at the Portland Community of Christ, the lady I was partnered with surprised me when she said that she found traditional church service boring! She was in her early 60s, if I were to guess, and I didn't expect to hear this from a person of her generation. We got to talking about what we'd like to see in a church worship service and I was pleasantly surprised to meet someone who thought along the same lines as me: use of more contemporary music or even pop songs with a message, using skits or acting sequences, hearing other people's testimonies, and other innovative ideas.

It was during that weekend conference that I kind of volunteered MAYAs (the Metro Area Young Adults, as we call ourselves...without voting on the name, I might add) to organize a service at the Garden Grove congregation (where this lady attended) in the new year. When I told Rachel, I thought she would be willing to organize it. Instead, she said, "if you want it, go ahead and organize it." Not exactly what I had in mind when I volunteered, but I accepted the challenge with a happy heart that I could use my creative mind in this endeavor. I've been to Garden Grove in December 2007 and liked it. In fact, if I had a car, I would make this congregation my home congregation because I really like the people who go there. Garden Grove is in Vancouver, that's why I'd need a car to get there every week.

Anyhow, today, the day finally arrived. We, the Young Adults of the Portland metro area, offered our ministry to the congregation at Garden Grove. Below is a write up of the service as planned. The week's theme is "We've Never Seen Anything Like This!" This theme was selected by the people at World Headquarters in Independence, Missouri. Of course, in our faith community, congregations have the freedom to use the theme or not. Another reason why I love this church! Freedom is awesome. Anyhow, with a theme title like that, I was excited. It inspired me to plan a service that we don't often see. I wanted to make sure that we lived up to the theme in more ways than one.

In the service, I am the narrator. The service starts with "The Lords Prayer" by the cast of the film Sarafina!, which is sung in the South African musical style. The song doesn't really fit the theme of the service, but Sandy (the lady I was partnered with in the Intergenerational Dialogue Conference last year) had requested to hear it, so there it is.

Narrator: Today’s theme is “We’ve Never Seen Anything Like This!” Coincidentally, tonight is the Academy Awards, where Hollywood awards the best in the motion picture industry. Each year, studios spend millions and millions of dollars to produce something we have never seen before. We’ve all been wowed by special effects in various action films like Star Wars, The Matrix, James Bond, and The Lord of the Rings. But if you’ve seen enough of these films, they can seem kind of similar after awhile.

If you really want to see something you’ve never seen before, it helps to go back to the original stories. If you really want to witness miracles with the kind of wow factor that doesn’t cost millions of dollars, then there’s only one person in history who can deliver on that kind of promise. That person is Jesus of Nazareth. The first scene we are going to witness is from John, chapter 4.

“Jesus left Judea and departed again into Galilee, and said unto his disciples, I need to go through Samaria. Then he came into the city of Samaria, to the place where Jacob’s well was located. Now Jesus, being weary with his journey after six hours, sat down at the well…”

Jesus: (Notices a woman). Excuse me, my lady. I was wondering if you might offer me a drink from the well.

Woman: (looks around nervously).

Jesus: Be not afraid, my lady. Have you no compassion for a man in need of a drink?

Woman: How is it that a Jewish man would ask a woman of Samaria for a drink? The Jews have no dealings with the Samarians.

Jesus: If you knew the gift of God, and who is asking of you for a drink, would you have asked of him and he would have given you living water?

Woman: But, sir, there is nothing to draw the water with and the well is deep. Where can one find this living water? Are you greater than our father Jacob, who gave us the well and drank from it?

Jesus: Whosoever drinks from this well shall thirst again, but whosoever drinks of the water which I shall give him will never thirst. The water I give him shall be in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life.

Woman: May I have some of this water you offer, so that I will never thirst again?

Jesus offers the Samaritan woman a cup of water, which she drinks before walking offstage to tell others.

Congregation stands to sing the hymn “Christ Has Called Us to New Visions.”

Blind man walks on stage behind podium.

Narrator: For the second scene from Jesus’ life, we turn to John, chapter 9. In his wanderings to visit with people, he passed by a man who was blind since birth. His disciples asked him, “Who did this sin, this man, or his parents, that he was born blind?”

Jesus: Neither has this man sinned nor his parents, but the works of God should be made manifest in him. As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.

Jesus “spits” onto the ground and mixes the dirt before rubbing it into the blind man’s eyes.

Jesus: Go, wash in the pool of Siloam.

Blind man washes his face and expresses surprise at being able to see. Walks over to the narrator to express this miracle of sight.

Narrator: Weren’t you the begger I always saw on my way to Temple? I always thought you were blind.

Blind man: I was blind! But now I can see!

Narrator: Impossible! How did this happen?

Blind man: A man named Jesus made clay and anointed my eyes, then told me to wash in the pool of Siloam. When I did as he told, I received sight.

Narrator: Where is this man you call Jesus?

Blind man: I know not. (walks off stage)

Narrator reads or paraphrases John 9:13-41.

Blind man returns to lead congregation in the song “Open the Eyes of My Heart.”

Narrator: The final scene of another miracle from Jesus’ life is from John, Chapter 11. (Read John 11:1-20).

Martha: (Crying) Lord, if you had only been here, my poor brother Lazarus would not have died! But I know that even now, whatever you ask of God, God will give unto you.

Jesus: Your brother shall rise again.

Martha: I know that he shall rise again in the resurrection at the last day.

Jesus: I am the resurrection and the life; he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live. And whosoever lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?

Martha: Yes, my Lord, I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who should come into the world.

Martha leaves Jesus to find Mary.

Martha: Jesus has come and has called for you.

When Jesus arrives, Mary bows at Jesus feet and cries.

Mary: Lord, if you had only been here, my brother would not have died.

They walk to the place where Lazarus lay.

Jesus: Take away the stone.

Martha: But, Lord, by this time, he should surely stink, for he has been dead for four days!

Jesus: Didn’t I tell you that if you only believed, you would see the glory of God?

Jesus lifts his eyes up, to speak to God.

Jesus: Father, I thank you for hearing me for I know that you hear me always. But because of the people which stand by as I said it, that they may believe that you have sent me.

Jesus stands above Lazarus.

Jesus: Lazarus, come forth!

Lazarus rises from his resting position. Mary and Martha express surprise and hug each other, Lazarus, and Jesus. Narrator reads John 11, verses 45 through 47.

The service is open for people to share testimonies of a miracle they've seen in their lives.

Disciples Generous Response

Closing Hymn -- "Lord I Lift Your Name on High."

Sending Forth comments:

Narrator: We have witnessed three miracles from the life of Jesus. In each way, those events illustrate something people have never seen before. From the Samaritan woman who lived in a land where Jews did not speak to Gentiles. Who was this Jewish man who dared defy his customs to speak to her, a mere Samaritan woman? In the second scene, Jesus restored vision to a blind man, who had never seen anything before. In his gratitude for this miracle, he shared with the skeptical Pharisees, who seemed more concerned that this miracle happened on the Sabbath day, a day people were meant to rest. Finally, Jesus raised a man from the dead in a foreshadowing of his own resurrection to come. Which of these miracles is the most miraculous?

Now, I will present the Golden Moroni Award to the Best Miracle. (Opens envelope). And the winner is…JESUS! I guess that’s no surprise, because no miracles are possible without Jesus.

Jesus comes up to the podium to “accept” the statue. He pulls out a card from his jacket to pretend like he has a list of people to thank. Then he says, “First and foremost, I’d like to thank God for this honour. Will you please pray with me?”