Hoosiers: An American Classic for a Reason

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There is much to love for everyone in the triumphant American classic, Hoosiers.   It contains elements of many things that are on the public mind these days like diversity, the meaning of work, prejudice, and what it means to “believe in yourself.”  There’s a lot of redemption, fortitude, and humble pride in this sports biopic that takes place in rural Indiana in 1951.  There’s refreshing honesty on what it takes to be a strong person in America and life itself.

Gene Hackman’s character Norman Dale is the new coach of boys’ basketball at the local high school. We gather from learning about him, that he’s  also a teacher, divorced, and had had some recent, possibly self-induced, tough circumstances.  His fresh start is met by the fresh mouthed Myra, a fellow teacher played by Barbara Hershey.  She comes off as a shrew from her first sentence.  They immediately clash which means as most movie clichés go, they eventually get involved.

Another cliché we encounter is the “small town people are dumb” idea, where at first the townspeople are portrayed as staid yet close minded, and wholesome in a way that might offend some city folks. This cliché does eventually lessen and we see something currently lacking in today’s Hollywood culture; diversity of thought.  A person freshly graduated from a liberal arts degree program may ignore a film like this at their peril.  Indeed most of the characters in this film are young white males who are unapologetically not facing an existential crisis about their “privilege.”

What we see depicted in the film instead is a demonstration of good old fashioned individuality combined with willfully choosing team work and hard work. Initially Hackman’s Coach is encountered by yet another unfriendly staff member in the school who attempts to undermine his authority.  Coach Dale gives the guy the what for and some whiney boys leave the team in protest.

Like other sports films, there are members of the basketball team who are happy to stay and try to work with the new coach. This includes a short player who in spite of teasing, has courage enough to play a game typically dominated by tall people. This underdog character, as well as the coach’s later dealings with townspeople, exhibit an ability to keep from being overtly judgmental towards one’s self or others.  They show it’s not necessary to be like other people or take them down either.

There is this lovely wide shot scene where Coach Dale visits the would-be star basketball player who is skipping class to avoid being persuaded to rejoin the team. We learn later why the boy is off the team, but it turns out the coach isn’t there for persuasion.  Amongst the open fields at the homemade Podunk basketball hoop, Hackman abruptly says to the kid “I don’t care if you play on the team or not” turns, and walks away.  The coach is in essence saying “this is bigger than you so get over yourself.”

This scene highlights the difference between believing in or trusting your innate morality vs. thinking you have to be a God or part of some deity regardless of how vague, in order to be worthy. Hackman’s character is there to do a job.  A job he probably would rather not do, but is doing regardless of whether he, his coworkers or his potential team members like it.  This is the essence of the American ethic and a true citizen of the West.  Someone who no matter how much flack they get stays true to working hard and believing in their sense of moral intrepidity.

This leads us to Dennis Hopper’s character of the town drunkard who happens to be the father to one of the ballplayers. Hopper it turns out is a basketball savant who has a preacher like accuracy of understanding the game.  He’s so accurate, the coach asks Hopper to be assistant coach.  Hopper though struggles greatly under the weight of what is essentially his own weakness.  After improving then failing a couple times he finally goes to a hospital to dry out.  The longer he put off his need to change, the harder it was to do so.  His courage finally came, but at a self-inflicted steeper price.

All people go through such a personal transformation, but many of us, don’t feel a need to talk about it all the time after it happens. Later in the film Hershey’s character finally warms up to the coach, and she asks him about a violent episode he experienced when he hit a player as a coach years prior.  He explains without self-pity or exaggerated responsibility that he’s still trying to understand what exactly came over him.  I think we’ve all been there.  Some psychoanalyze such an event and build a character around it, while others pick up and eventually, move on.

Eventually the wayward star player joins the team while confidence in the coach grows after he displays humility yet forgoes apologizing after losing some games. The star saves the coach’s job and the coach returns the favor by doing it.  Both the boy and the coach refused to cower to popular opinion, and in doing so they were able to work together and likely trust each other in a way that would have been grossly changed if group-think had been adhered to.

Right before the Regional Finals the coach makes a speech saying:

“Forget about the crowds, the size of the school, their fancy uniforms, and remember what got you here. Focus on the fundamentals that we’ve gone over time and time again.  Most important, don’t get caught up thinking about winning or losing this game.  If you put your effort and your concentration into playing to your potential, to be the best that you can; I don’t care what the scoreboard says at the end of the game, in my book we’re gonna be winners.”

Do your best. Get over yourself.  Trust in the inner mechanism we have in our souls to not go too far for too long.  Work hard, quit complaining, think for yourself, don’t give up, and don’t be a jerk.  Movies like this display the kind of pioneering ethic this country was founded on.  Regular folks, also known as the dreaded bourgeoisie, don’t need to let so-called experts tell them how to think.  They utilize common knowledge that works per given situation but they don’t feel forced to adhere to such knowledge when the time is not right.  The coach at one point pretended to be a jerk to help the drunken dad, and at another time his actual jerkiness led to ruin.  Free choice isn’t always fun or easy.

Doing our best, as Hoosiers depicts, is only for the adventurous. Towards the end of the movie, a boy gets hurt and Hackman’s character eventually decides to pull him out of the game.  Coach Dale was free to keep the boy in, which was familiar and easier for a game win.  Taking the injured player out was more challenging but better for the player and the coaches moral conscious.  At that moment, the coach had to choose the unstoppable unknown and risk the game, his reputation, and the players shame.  No one was going to give him a better answer than the one in his own moral center.  Being a winner is about doing one’s best in the midst of fear, rather than robbing fear of its rightful place in our hearts.  Who needs to watch Halloween part XVII.  Just listen to your moral compass to have the adventure of a lifetime!

I won’t tell you who won at the finals or what happened to the coach. Instead I’ll tell you what happened to the most marginalized character in the film, the smallest player.  Amongst boos from the crowds our underdog did his best.  He didn’t get a moment of earthly glory because someone else made things easier for him.  He retained his confidence by daring to make his best effort.  That best effort or moment when we focus all of what we are into that second, minute, hour, or lifetime, and let ourselves live our choices, is when we are free.  Sometimes it means we win the game, other times it means we keep our souls for another day or moment.  From small towns to big cities, Hoosiers is a perfect reminder to embrace tenacity, exemplify freedom, and endure fear.  It’s never too late to simply, humbly, freely, do our best.

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In Brief on Broken Hearts

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When your heart is broken there isn’t much to say. Yet there can be an urge to get “it” out.  That something that aches inside, which words can never really describe, yet we attempt to do so anyway.  This old friend named Loss sits on my heart and no amount of tongue wagging will make this friendship any easier.  Images at a time like this are superior to speech so I look at the picture of my grandma at age 17 every day.  It’s working so far to have her original photograph near my bed above my dresser.  Because she is in her youth, framed by simple yet elegant silver plate, it’s easier to take her absence in the world a bit more slowly and softly.  Had I put in the same spot an 8×10 photo of her as I knew her; hair short and curled with her face softened from age, my experience of grieving her would have had sharper edges.  Instead my body and mind take in the hollow space she left more symbolically, a function that highlights her yet provides an indirect approach to grieving her.

The one thing I can’t get away from is the randomness of tears. Particularly and unbeknownst to me, any story that has anything to do with abortion just sets my eyes to water.  Though I’ve been personally pro-life for most of my life, I feel lately particularly protective and saddened for the discarded unborn.  Though I don’t logically feel a need to be political, my body seems to respond with an almost shocked bewilderment to the concept of medicalized pre-birth euthanasia.  How this ties into the loss of grandmother makes little sense to me.  She was a Catholic who followed in church belief on this issue, but it wasn’t anything we much discussed as the one time it came up, we agreed upon it.  The issue as a whole is one I thought I made relative peace with; I think it’s a horrible horrible thing but at the end of the day, if I had to vote on the matter, I would be afraid for women’s lives if it was made illegal.

Going to the coffee shop this morning I looked at the faces of children, teens, and adults. I thought to myself “what if this person was never born, or that person over there?”  The world, I realized, would be altered forever because the morning barista Amanda wasn’t there.  I wouldn’t know about her artist boyfriend and that she’s had a busy summer with family visits.  Sure another person could have stood where she stood this morning and perhaps I’d know about them too, but it is Amanda I know a bit about, and it is her face that cheers me up even when I’m tired and want a 2nd cup of coffee.  She is a life, a being, and without her here, how many people’s lives would be changed because of her absence?

This may sound like “It’s a Wonderful Life” kind of reasoning and I suppose it is. My grandma’s soul and being, being off this earth plane, seems to have changed the way life itself feels.  It’s not just about missing her laugh, or the way she noticed penmanship, or the sweetness of her smile.  Her body became an empty vessel after she died and no one can say that such a thing can’t, on some sense level, be absolutely felt.  God made her exactly the way she was meant to be and He crafted not only her body and mind but her presence in this life.  It was like He carved out a beautiful living sculpture whose essence radiated out into the whole world whether others ever knew her or not.  It’s hard for me to believe He doesn’t do that with each and every life He creates (Psalm 139:13-16).

“For the poor always ye have with you; but me ye have not always (John 12:8).” To say that a person shouldn’t be born because they will be poor, or deformed or inconvenient takes away the temporary nature of human living and the permanence such fleeting beingness has upon the world.  Abortion at the end of the day is simply an attempt at social engineering.  No one wants to see suffering or be the one to suffer.  But to me it is far more murderous (literally) to say someone is better off dead than disabled, poor, or even unwanted.  At what point to we draw the line and say that once a person outlives their perceived usefulness it’s time for them to go because they are a burden.  Do we send a young man to be euthanized if he becomes so disabled that he can’t walk?  Do we kill someone at age 85 when they go blind?  Do we murder the 6 year old who is autistic?  What about someone who is poor, blind, disabled, and autistic?  Does that person then have just one too many things stacked against their favor – so we should put them out of their misery?

What if my grandmother’s mother was raped? What if she was going to die if she gave birth to my grandma?  What if my great grandmother already had several kids and was trying to cultivate her career and had an abusive husband?  What if all those factors combined?  Yet, what if in spite of these truly dreadful circumstances my grandma was born anyway?  Her life would still be just as valuable as it was without such dire circumstances.  She would have been a blessing to the world all the same and her pre-birth circumstances wouldn’t have made her any less important to me or those that loved her.  And yes I know being born motherless or poor or disabled is a recipe for suffering.  But suffering is ultimately a condition of life.  We all must experience pain in various ways.  It is not up to the likes of you or me to decide which suffering is better or worse for someone else.  Only God knows what course of life is best for each person, not us.

To live life is to suffer many times a broken heart. This is a fallen world and no man made attempt at utopia will work, no matter how many people are euthanized before birth or after.  Every previous human person, movement or empire has failed miserably at trying to remake the world in their own philosophy.  Yet the attempts to “change the world” continue and probably always will until the day the Lord decides it’s time.  Perhaps it’s easier to see an abortion as an attempt to help make the world a “better” place rather than understand clearly and soberly that it’s really an attempt at creating a long term global or short term personal utopia that is never coming. There is no perfect life and no perfect world.  These are the facts.  Sometimes I find myself wishing, based upon my own utopian vision, that we could stop breaking our own hearts to realize that.

Missing my grandma is a painful thing.  But I’m glad I’m here for it.  And I think, though she would have hated to see me so sad, she wouldn’t have wanted me to not be here in order to avoid it.  She is worth the tears, and so am I, and so is everyone God creates.

Rainbow Lies

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I remember the first time I read about the possibility that the truth of the Matthew Sheppard case may not have been accurately depicted in the media. After reading an article reviewing author Stephen Jiminez’s book entitled “The Book of Matt: Hidden Truths About the Murder of Matthew Sheppard” I decided to read the book because I was curious.  The narrative of the Sheppard story was a powerful one that affected gay and bisexual people on a personal level.  The issue was one of safety for us and in certain ways, freedom.  Were we free to love, to hold hands, to simply be ourselves, particularly in smaller or religious communities?  In 1998 I had been out of the closet for seven years and had witnessed brutality towards people perceived to be gay.  I saw the bruises on the face of a teenage friend who had been tied up in his parent’s basement, beaten, and thrown out by his dad.  The Matthew Sheppard case seemed easily plausible to many of us then because of the reality of violence toward us.  Why at the time would anyone who was or supported gay and bisexual people doubt the narrative?

After reading Jiminez’s compelling work I thought long and hard about what was represented to the public via the media. Any person who thinks about media enough will concede that it is often used to stir up emotions and even manipulate public thought and discourse.  But most of us think were discerning enough to see through anything nefarious.  In fact many of us would say we watch/read the “good” or “accurate” channel or newspaper.  Some say NPR or Democracy Now is the real deal whilst others say Fox or Breitbart is true.  But really almost all news is some way is owned by someone who has an agenda.  Maybe the agenda is only to make money, but what exactly is sacrificed to bring in more revenue (btw I’m in no way anti-capitalist)?  Is it possible that since all news sources ultimately wish to stay in business, that at some point they have to go with whatever the most compelling sound bite sized narrative is so people will keep paying attention to them?  Is it possible that in this dance of terror as a twisted form of entertainment, that accuracy sometimes goes out the window?

At the end of the day even facts can be subjective due to interpretations based on previous experiences and expectations. That being said, it’s always helpful for thinking people to have whatever facts are available and not purposely obscured.  Even better is to present information in a way that lets people decide for themselves what is or isn’t true when it comes to events, crimes, and situations.  William Randolph Hearst knew that neutrality didn’t sell papers nor did truth in its purer forms.  Before we vilify him though we must remember that he sold those papers filled with yellow journalism because people like you and me most likely bought them.  It’s likely even then people knew they weren’t being told of many of the facts but they just didn’t want to know that they knew.  Is media really any different today and are we any less (allowing of being) fooled, regardless of news source?

Hearst was also rather smart in his technique of expanding his readership by way of combining some facts or some truth with the narratives that were being disseminated. Few people are likely to bother reading/watching/listening to something that is perceived with assurance as false.  Some part of the story has to have a percentage of reality or potential for reality in order to peak interest.  A carrot must at least look like a carrot before we’re willing to take a bite and mass media is no different.  If a story comes out and we know the situation is possible because of previous experiences or narratives we’ve been exposed to, then we are more likely to take a proverbial bite.  As a lady who’s spent time in a boat with a rod and reel, I’ve learned they don’t call it fishing for nothing.

“The Book of Matt” presented new information about the potentially previously misunderstood or deliberately misrepresented narrative about Matthew Sheppard’s murder. Do I know for sure if he was killed for being gay or killed for methamphetamine dealing?  No.  None of us ever will except for those involved.  But now I have a different perspective that challenged me to discern what I was initially told.  If the tables had been turned and the story was represented with big flashing lights, tears, and drama about drugs, and a campaign had been launched that changed not only opinion but laws, and in reality his death was really more about him being gay, I’d feel the same way.  I’d feel like I would have liked to know more about the facts than the fiction of the event.

Today is June 23rd 2016 and the latest narrative about gay people has to do with a mass shooting at a gay themed nightclub in Florida.  Almost 20 years later we’re seeing the same flashing lights, tears, and drama.  Only this time we have not only TV, papers, and radio, we have social media that serves as the great distractor and constant reminder that whatever we’re being told by the media is “true”.  I don’t know about this Love is Love campaign but I can say tragedy is tragedy.  And if indeed a shooting occurred and people died, then this tragedy is no laughing matter regardless of the murder’s motives or who was involved.

Since we live in a time where people can and do sometimes question mass media in particular, stories have come out disputing the narrative around the whole event from whether it actually happened at all to if the killer’s motivation was hatred of gays. Most of us know by now it is easy to find people willing to lie so that they may get attention or money.  We also know attempts to shape opinion by how a story is told and what facts are or are not included is possible if not probable in a great deal of major stories (WMD’s for example).  We’re really no different from folks during Hearst’s journalistic reign.  If it seems to have the possibility of truth with enough attention grabbing technique, we’ll bite.  I’d like to think that nowadays we’d think a bit more before we chew and digest what is told to us.  And some do with websites and blogs featuring their version of truth and facts that differ greatly from the popular narratives.  Yet these sources I believe are no better or worse than those they seek to differentiate themselves from, especially if their information is also presented in a sensational way.

Personally I question the gay hate narrative from this Florida event and so does my wife and a number of other people. But I don’t have to seek out mainstream or alternative internet sources or any other narratives.  All I have to do is go with experiences from the past which helps me to employ a healthy dose of skepticism to anything I see or hear from a screen.  In addition because we don’t pay attention to the news and don’t participate in social media (other than this blog) my wife and I are able to sometimes see a bigger picture that is not obscured by the “bread & circus” of it all.  “For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also (Matthew 6:21) Our treasure is where we spend our time and where our money goes.  If my attention is spent getting emotional by purposely exposing myself to half-truths presented sensationally then that says a lot about my values or what I treasure.  Satan is the father of lies.  It’s important to remember that, which is why I pray for the Lord’s protection from the snares of evil in all things.

One more thing I want to say is that those going around saying “love is love is love is love” don’t represent me or my wife. The only reason I even found out about this Florida story is because an older and very emotional woman came up to us in the parking lot of our local organic grocer and started crying and touching us and telling us how we needed to “watch out for each other.”  Though I love my neighbor, I don’t appreciate being targeted by anyone, regardless of how well meaning they are, because I’m in a same-sex relationship.  We don’t like being used to further some possible agenda that we don’t belong to even if we appear to.  I’ve been contacted by old friends concerned for us and a currently married to a man ex. girlfriend told me she put a 20+ year old photo of us on her facebook profile page as what I assume was a sign of support for the victims in the Florida case.  Even family has sent photos with rainbows as a show of solidarity.  Typically when a major news story happens I can look away but this time it became personal, and my sense is all the hype has many people upset who care about gay and bisexual people.

But what happened in that bar has nothing to do with my family. Love is not dancing in a nightclub, getting inebriated, cruising for sex, or loud music.  That all may be fun for a lot of people regardless of romantic orientation but it is not love.  Perhaps the saying should be “fun is fun is fun” because people don’t generally go to bars and clubs for love but for fun.  And fun is fine.  This is a free country and since it’s legal to drink, dance, and cruise, then by golly people can do that.  But those activities don’t represent a shred of our lives as a couple now or when we got together.  We have no “gay lifestyle.”  A lifestyle is the way you live by way of who you spend time with, where you go, what you do, and what you pay attention to.  I don’t appreciate anyone assuming to know, regardless of intentions or alliances, what our so-called style of living is.  Yes I’m married to a woman but that is not who I am or how I live and I certainly don’t define real love by being in a crowded bar regardless of who is there.  Bias goes both ways in terms of liberal and conservative.  It’s ugly regardless.  Bias may sell papers and make people cry, but it doesn’t mean whatever media represents the event as, is or was, true.

No one speaks for our sake. Not gay movements, nor those trying to ban guns, nor those who say their looking out for “people like us.”   My wife and I are not interested in any rainbow lies (whether or not they are for supposedly our sake).  If it could happen to Matthew Sheppard, then it could be happening now. Don’t believe the hype indeed.

Apparently I Like Sipping Wine

For 16 years I did not touch a drop of alcohol.  When I did drink from the ages of 21-24 I drank like most young adults in the U.S. do, which is a lot.  Actually though after figuring it out with a friend, my drinking during that period was pretty mellow in comparison to most folks.  I got smashed somewhere between 5-10 times (smashed meaning drinking to the point of throwing up).  Quite frankly I hated & still hate throwing up so when an ex got me to try pot, I took to it like a dog to a bone until I retired my ways at 24.  Once weed came into the picture I hardly drank and when I drank I never focused on tasting the beverage.  The point when drinking until I found pot was to party.  The point of drinking after I found pot was to fill in if I ran out.

My high school drinking was also rather sub par in comparison to my peers and really, does anyone before 18 drink alcohol for the taste of it?  Did I sneak it sometimes?  Did I get drunk?  Yes to both questions, but I guess getting drunk twice & drinking about once a month from 16-18 years old is not very much.  Who knew?!

From 18 to 21 years and then age 24 to 2 months ago I didn’t touch any alcohol or  illegal (or now legal marijuana) substances.  I still won’t touch pot (or hard alcohol or drugs) with an 80 ft. pole but that’s another story.  Most of my adult life I’ve been sober.  Not just dry, but in recovery sober.  To be honest I always thought I would be, and today I’m so grateful to be out of recovery and know I’m not and never was an alcoholic.

There is a whole long story around how I came to be in and stay in AA and later Al-anon.  That will be a post for another time.  What I want to say today is that I have left behind a world that never truly felt genuine and for most of those 22 years I tried to make myself fit into a paradigm that never gave me any enduring joy, freedom, or serenity.  If alcohol panic is the means to spiritual enlightenment, then I’ll never get there.

Prior to trying drinking the wife & I came up with some rules.  First & foremost is that we pray before having a glass of wine or beer.  Someone recently thought that was odd when I told them, but we feel nothing should be hidden from the Lord.  Once I try to cover up (like Adam & Eve in the garden) anything I do, then it’s clear I ought not do it.  We also decided to pay attention to our behavior when drinking and committed to never get drunk.  There is a strong Biblical basis for this.

And be not drunk with wine, wherein is excess; but be filled with the Spirit. -Ephesians 5:18

The Bible discusses drinking, especially wine, quite a lot, in both the positive and negative.  There is debate between Christians about what the Word says regarding if believers should drink but it doesn’t appear to be an either/or issue.  What is not ok is drunkenness. And this makes sense because if I’m putting booze first, ultimately that’s idolatry.  In fact most of the times in the Bible where there is a lot of immorality going on, idol worship of various kinds is happening.  One could almost say idolatry & debauchery go together because when we’re not putting the Lord first, were swayed to follow foolish ways.

In a way this is what happened to me in 12 step recovery.  I put AA theology before Jesus Christ.

Over the last couple months our drinking has been tentative.  We’ve taken our explorations one by one asking for God’s protection along the way.  To my amazement not only am I able to stop at one drink, I prefer it!  It is not a joyful experience to feel buzzed.  My friend last week said “I like sipping wine rather than drinking it” and that is the perfect explanation for how I ingest it too.  It’s not a struggle to “keep from drinking too much” or something I have to think much about, though I do continue & will continue to pray about it.  One doesn’t go from brainwashed sober renegade to a lady who knows 2009 was a good year for wine in Chile without some scrutinizing of motives.

All that being said it has been very exciting to learn more about wine and craft beer.  It’s been fun to learn what I like (Cabernet Sauvignon, Viognier, sour ales, and semi dry ciders) and what I don’t (anything sweet or bitter).  At my first ever wine tasting at a lovely winery in Hillsboro I learned that I’m a natural at picking up subtle flavors in smelling and tasting wines and my palette could be of use in the wine business.  Wouldn’t that be a hoot to switch from a life of fear of drinking to working in a business that required my being able to make distinctions in tasting wine?!

How wonderful it has been to be set free and have choices.  Do I have to “control” my drinking?  Sure.  What in life don’t we attempt to control from eating to intimacy to having pets?  All the gifts God gives us requires us to think, evaluate, calibrate, and try to use the gifts to glorify Him.  But that’s what maturity is…having to make choices over and over again if and when we’ve gone too far and sinned.  Instead of eliminating something that is not in and of itself depraved, we bring our burdens to Jesus.

We have been blessed and protected in our wine adventures.  I have this great tee shirt that says “Jesus is enough.”  And truly He is!