Thursday, April 20, 2006

Favorite fringe toy/cartoon characters -- Part 1 (My generation)

After watching television with Samantha recently, it came to my attention that there is some absolutely wacky stuff going on these days with kids' entertainment choices. But then I thought more about it, and well... I have to admit that 20 years ago my own shows, toys and books were just as weird.

Here's the first of a two-part series of my favorite fringe characters (no Darth Vader or Barney the Dinosaur allowed, thank you). On to part one; my favorites from 20+ years ago. Next time I'll post my favorites from Samantha's generation:

#1 -- Dreamy Smurf ("The Smurfs" cartoon and books)

Who he is: Dreamy Smurf's personality is just like it sounds -- he's a dreamer. Daydreamer, in particular. Sometimes he gets chided for not being very practical, but his imagination brings a vital diversity to the smurf village.

Why I like him: As a child I had this book, which told the story of how the whole village helped Dreamy Smurf experience life on another planet -- quite an elaborate effort! Besides, I was quite the daydreamer myself. I remember one fantasy I had that the school would get taken over by terrorists (although I didn't know that word back then), and I would thwart them all with my awesome kung-fu skills, thus saving the building, the teachers and the students (especially Lisa, the 4th grade hottie that was out of my league). Dreamy Smurf made me think that one day, just maybe, there might be a chance for my ninja daydream to come true.

Why he's weird: He's blue. He's 4 inches tall. Lives in a mushroom village with 100 other guys and one girl. Do I have to keep going?

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Dream a little dream of roundhouse kicks...

#2 -- Bib Fortuna ("Star Wars: Return of the Jedi" movie character and action figure)

Who he is: The unfortunately-named Mr. Fortuna is a guard in the palace/cave of Jabba the Hut. His appearance is striking in a "kill it and burn it with fire!" sorta way, which is his only real asset as a guard because he's dumb as a post.

Why I like him: Look at his picture below and you'll understand. He may look scary, but for an adolescent watching the Star Wars movies, this guy just oozed coolness. On top of the fact that his head grows out into a worm-like appendage, his first line onscreen is "Uh wana wanga!" Oh, to one day walk into a gathering and utter that incredible phrase, just to gauge the response.

Why he's weird: Well, he has pale skin and red eyes like an albino. That's a little weird. But mostly he's weird because of the whole worm-head thing. And his first name also means "the thing you tie around your neck to catch food droppings".

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I run among ya!

#3 -- Stinkor ("He-Man" cartoon and action figure)

Who he is: I'm sure that from his name alone you've already guessed this, but Stinkor is a bad guy. In the He-Man universe this means that Stinkor followed the evil Skeletor in a battle for... well, I'm not sure what they actually fought for. But they all wore really cool loincloths. Oh yeah, Stinkor also stunk really bad, like a skunk -- that was his special power. But you already knew that from the name too.

Why I like him: His action figure actually smelled like a skunk! I mean, how cool can you get?! He was so awesome that I had two Stinkor action figures, and used both of them in my battles against He-Man.

Why he's weird: An evil mutant with the power of stench? Talk about running out of ideas! You can almost visualize the creative process behind this character:

"Hmm, how about a guy with magnetic powers? No... X-Men already has that. Maybe a guy in a green suit who tells riddles as he attacks? No... Batman did that one. Man, this stinks. Stinks! That's it! Stinkor, the smelly man-skunk who wears a face filter so he doesn't knock himself unconscious! Brilliant!"

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Take me to your roadkill

And there you have it, my three favorite fringe characters from my own childhood. Coming up next: the best of Samantha's era.

Sunday, April 16, 2006

New (and Old) Perspective on Worship

We visited this church for the third time today, and for the third time had a very positive experience. Great worship, good fellowship, mature and relevant spiritual teachings... right now this is shaping up to look like quite the home for us.

They have an Easter tradition of an outdoor worship service at 7am (there are three other services later in the day -- it's a big church). We decided to get the kids up early and make it to the 7am worship time. It was the first time I can ever remember having an "official" church worship service outdoors. I've been on retreats, seminars, or teen/children events outdoors, but never a full church service on Sunday morning -- it was great! There are a few reasons that the change of perspective really impacted me today:

1 -- Setting, source and target

This morning I pondered the setting, the source and the target of worship. The source and the target are always God... that part never changes. However, our usual setting is a man-made building, with man-made furniture and audio/visual equipment. This morning, if we looked up during church we would see the endless sky instead of a nicely painted ceiling. It does something to the soul to worship an eternal, infinite God, and simply look up into a beautiful, seemingly-infinite sky. That sky was most certainly not crafted by the hands of men. The setting of worship matched our target of worship in a special way this morning.

2 -- Following old paths

The Church of Christ prides itself on modeling itself simply and completely (in a spiritual and organizational sense) on the church described in the New Testament. When the book of Acts records that thousands were being baptized in a single day, you can bet that they weren't all meeting in the latest and greatest convention center. If there was ever a gathering of more than a few dozen people, it was probably happening outside, just like what my family did this morning.

And the bible seems to show that Jesus had somewhat of a personal habit of early morning prayer, sometimes outside the city. I have often imagined Jesus sitting on the Mount of Olives at sunrise (southeast of Jerusalem), where he should have had a breathtaking view of the Beautiful Gate which was probably overlaid with bronze at that time. Jesus praying at sunrise, watching the light reflect off a golden gate just down the hill. Sometimes it's just worth getting up early in the morning to worship (this coming from one of the biggest nightowls who's ever lived).

3 -- Light on a hill

The church we've been visiting is right in the middle of a large commercial section of the city, surrounded by stores, strip malls and restaurants. It's a fascinating location and ensures that people will always be happening across the building in their day-to-day lives. Today, though, it also ensured that anyone within a half-mile could probably hear this group of 300 people singing praises to God. Hopefully the sound had an encouraging and inviting tone that made people want to attend next week and see what they're missing.


Well, it's nice to be back after two weeks away with work, travel and family commitments. There will be a couple more writings throughout the week, so be sure to check back!

Sunday, April 02, 2006

Cool bible facts #2 -- David vs. Goliath

Here's a second helping of three cool bible facts that we usually skip over when teaching the stories to children. All three of these are found in the incredible battle between David and Goliath, a story so popular that almost all Americans, regardless of background, can recall the basics of what happened.

1 -- Eager for victory

To help you fully visualize this one, let me set the scene a little bit. Two armies (Israelite and Phillistine) are gathered on either side of a valley, with each army on high ground and the low valley between them. Every day, a massive giant comes down into the valley and yells out insults to the Israelites. Due to vantage points, most people can see and hear Goliath very easily. In fact, some Israelites run away when Goliath yells (1 Sam. 17:24), so you can bet that they see and hear him more than they would like.

But don't assume that the Israelites don't have a champion to meet Goliath, because they do. His name is Saul; he is their king; and he was described as "head and shoulders" taller than the rest of the people (1 Sam. 9:2). What is the Israelite champion doing about Goliath? Sitting comfortably in his tent, offering rewards to whomever is brave enough to meet Goliath in battle.

Enter David, a young (probably 15 or 16 years old) shepherd boy who's only there to bring food to his brothers before returning home. Once David finally gets approval to fight, and after David and Goliath finish a little bit of trash talking, the bible records that David "ran quickly toward the battle line" to meet his foe (1 Sam. 17:48).

Picture it -- two armies on hills, with a low valley between them. All of these armored, seasoned, adult soldiers watch as a young, unarmored shepherd boy is running to fight the biggest, meanest man any of them have ever seen. Surely this sight was permanently imprinted on the minds of every person there to witness it.

Like I told our young couples class, David's only previous claim to fame was that he was the royal musician that soothed Saul with beautiful harp music. If you want to picture what David looked like when he fought Goliath, think less Vin Diesel, more Jude Law.

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Vin's not like David. _______ Jude is closer.

2 -- Cockiness kills

Goliath's armor is well-detailed in the bible. Basically there was almost no opening for a regular soldier to even injure Goliath, much less kill him. Legs, chest, arms, shoulders... all were covered in bronze. Not that you could get close enough to hurt him anyway, since he also had a shield and carried a spear that was several feet long.

While Goliath's helmet isn't described very well, we know enough from archaeology to guess what types of helmets were being used back then. Military equipment was starting to get pretty advanced, as we know due to Goliath's iron spearhead and scaled armor. There were already many different styles of helmets in use, including the full helmet with only a slit or screen cut out for visiblity, like this:

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Maybe Goliath chose not to use this helmet for the battle, or it was hinged and he had the screen up. Either way, it was a decision that cost him his life, all because he was so sure that the puny Israelite boy would be easily disposed of.

Most Christians know that Goliath was prideful just by the words he spoke, but even his choice of battle gear revealed his overconfidence.

Note: some theories state that Goliath did indeed have the full helmet, but the stone went through the visor. I admit this is possible, although the whole point of that helmet would be to prevent any sizable projectile from entering through the slit.

3 -- Trophy time

When I asked the young couples what David did after Goliath fell, they replied "David cut off his head and killed him." Technically correct, I noted, but those were really two separate acts -- first David killed Goliath, then he beheaded the giant.

Okay, so you've already put a stone in his noggin and killed him. He's as dead as can be. Deader than disco. Why cut off his head and take it back to Jerusalem months or years later (1 Sam. 17:54)?

Some say that it was to bring the head to Saul, but Saul wasn't in Jerusalem. He was at the battlefield already, having tried to put his heavy armor on David before letting David go fight in his own way. So David didn't need to show the head to Saul... why did he cut it off?

I have two reasons -- one is factual and the other is a guess. The factual one is easy, David cut off Goliath's head because part of the trash-talking included this promise, "I'll strike you down and cut off your head." (1 Sam. 17:46) David was simply following through on his word.

Here's the guess: David wanted a trophy to fulfill the other part of his trash-talking, "the whole world will know that there is a God in Israel" (also verse 46). Baseball players keep their homerun balls, football players keep their touchdown balls, and hunters often stuff and mount the heads of their game (my dad has "bucky" the deer hanging in their den). Goliath's massive, hairy, bloody and rotting head was David's own personal trophy to show others what God accomplished on the battlefield. Makes my baseballs look downright hygenic.

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Painting by Guido Cagnacci, 17th Century Italy

Bonus image:

This last animation may look childish, but I like it a lot. Mainly because it shows David using the underhand slinging motion, which is the way it was usually done. Overhead motions were no healthier on shoulder joints in ancient Israel than they are today (i.e. "one-way ticket to tendonitis"). Whether it was a shepherd slinging at pests, or a professional soldier sniping the enemy, underhand was the only way to assure long-term effectiveness. That's why girls' softball pitchers can pitch three games in a row, while men's baseball pitchers need four days of rest after each game.

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