Fake Church

Sharon Johnston Park

Sharon Johnston Park, where I didn’t preach a sermon Sunday.

This is going somewhere. Bear with me.

Up until four years ago, I was Southern Baptist, plain and simple. I’d really only ever been to Southern Baptist churches, with rare exceptions visiting friends, one Sunday at a time. That background was all I knew, and I was OK with that.

But four years ago, I was invited to attend a house-based congregation led by one of my former Sunday School teachers. And, long story short, I went. And that, in turn, led to a paradigm-shifting study as to what exactly “church” is. The issue was prompted by my then-coworker Heather, who argued that the home congregation wasn’t really “church.” We had several conversations as to what church is or isn’t and does or doesn’t have to be, and I did a fair bit of reading followed later by field research, with the upshot being that I have a very different sense of what “my church” is that I did four years ago, and one that is continuing to evolve and be challenged today.

But one of the asides to come out of it was that, due to Heather’s allegation that the home congregation wasn’t “real church,” I affectionately dubbed it “fake church,” not as any sort of disparagement, but as a nod to the fact that we were doing something that wasn’t beholden to preconceived notions. Greg was, in turn, my “fake pastor,” despite the fact that, in truth, he was more my real pastor than anyone before or since.

Fast forward to a couple of weeks ago. I’m at work at the Depot, and having a conversation with one of my co-workers, who is the head of a Civil War re-enactment regiment. He’s talking about an event that’s coming up, and notes that they don’t have anyone to preach that Sunday morning. When they do weekend-long events, they try to have a service so the men don’t have to miss church, but they were recently short a chaplain and so had no one to lead it.

I made the off-hand comment that I would totally do something like that. Matthew asked if I was kidding or not. I actually had to stop and think before answering that I was mostly kidding, I thought.

But the idea got stuck in my head, and I wrote him back that evening and said that if they found anyone remotely qualified, he should have them do it, but if it was going to make the difference between having church or not, I would do it.

So at some point last week, it’s decided that I’m about to preach my first sermon.

Talk about “fake church,” huh? An utterly “unordained” and unqualified guy preaching at a re-enactment. And, yet …

Now, rather than let there be any excitement about that, I will jump ahead and say that I did not, in fact, preach Sunday, due to a variety of factors including weather and low attendance.

But I did go through the process of getting ready, which was an interesting one. I started with the question of, “OK, David, if you were going to get to preach one sermon in your life, what would you want to use it to say?” And I realized that, while I had some ideas there, none of them really felt right for the occasion. So I changed my question to, “OK, then, David, if you were going to preach a sermon to a bunch of people at a Civil War re-enactment, what would you want to say?” And I did come up with a couple of ideas there, which eventually merged into one sermon.

That sermon isn’t really the point of this post, but I’ll say that it basically combined Ebenezer and the idea of living the gospel.

I’m a little proud of myself for being willing to do it, because it was very much stepping out on faith. I would like to think that I could have done it, and, ironically, would have liked to have heard the sermon that would have been preached myself. That’s not to say there wasn’t a little bit of relief on my part when I got the message the night before that they wouldn’t be doing it.

I have no idea if this the end of this story, or the beginning, if almost preaching was the point of the story, or was preparation.

But if you’re ever desperate for a preacher, I have most of a sermon ready …

Review — “Prometheus”: Sir Ridley Scott and Grover

First of all, let’s get this out of the way — if the forthcoming “Bourne Legacy” is a Bourne movie whether or not it has Jason Bourne in it, then “Prometheus” is an Alien movie whether or not it has Aliens in it.

That out of the way, the success and merit of an Alien movie is based entirely in the high concept. Despite being in the same series, each movie is, ultimately, in a different genre, and that diversity is the strength of the original films. (For the sake of this review, the two “Alien Versus Predator” movies don’t count.)

For example, Alien = Monster Movie + Science Fiction

Alien is nothing but a conventional creature feature, told in a science fiction environment. It works quite well, because it allows everything to be ramped up a notch — the monster is scarier, the victims are more isolated, etc.

Aliens = War Movie + Science Fiction

Aliens keeps the same monster from the first movie, but uses it to tell a different type of film. This is not “The Alien From The Black Lagoon,” this is “Saving Private Newt.” Aliens is, largely, a by-the-numbers war film, and the combination works quite well.

Alien3 = Psychological Thriller + Science Fiction

Alien3 inherits elements of the DNA of the first two films, but takes it in a different direction. For all the studio changes, the third film still bears the fingerprints of director David Fincher, who followed it up with Se7en and The Game and Fight Club. There are monster movie elements, but the real story here is the psychological thriller idea of “the monster within us,” both figuratively and literally. Sure, it’s a smaller film in many ways that its predecessors, but that’s generally going to be true when you compare Fincher’s style of films and James Cameron’s.

Alien Resurrection = Science Fiction + Science Fiction

The fourth film is the weakest link because it’s the most self-indulgent. The strength of the first Alien movies was overlaying science fiction elements on another genre. This film takes the science-fiction elements of the Alien movies and overlays them on a science fiction story. It’s a fanboy movie, full of interesting ideas that fail to scare and ultimately go nowhere.

Which brings us to “Prometheus.”

In some ways, “Prometheus” shares some of the same failings as “Alien Resurrection,” combining science fiction on top of science fiction, using, as Scott put it,  “the DNA of Alien” as a springboard for speculative fiction. That said, Scott’s take on that combination is stronger than “Alien Resurrection,” being far greater in scope than mere fanboy self-indulgence. The questions Scott tackles with his speculative fiction are not about the nuances of the Alien universe, but rather the big questions of our universe.

In that respect, the movie does have its strengths — it is, indeed, intelligent, polished, pretty science fiction.

It’s weakness comes in the high concept of the structure of the film. For all of its deep questions of life, the universe and everything, Sir Ridley Scott has essentially made an Alien version of the Sesame Street classic, “The Monster At The End of This Book.”

“Prometheus” is a monster movie in search of a monster. Rather than the clear and visceral danger faced in Scott’s original film, “Prometheus” has the scare factor of Grover’s assurance that if they keep turning the page, something bad will probably happen. Even the characters in the film aren’t sure whether or not they’re supposed to be experiencing dread. They find themselves on a world where they will encounter … maybe something … that will … do something … that might be bad? Or maybe nice? Having watched the entire film, I’m not sure what the monster of this monster movie was supposed to be.

And that’s a waste of some good Alien DNA.

The Most Famous Person I’ve Ever Met

From a Plinky prompt: “Who’s the most famous person you’ve ever met?”

Photograph of President William Jefferson Clinton with Buddy the Dog in the Oval Office: 01/16/1998

Who is the most famous person I’ve ever met? Well, it depends on what your definition of “is” is.

Actually, no, wait, it depends on what your definition of “met” is.

Back in the fall of 1992, about a week before the presidential election, Bill Clinton was winding down his campaigning with a visit to Jackson, Miss. I was a student at Ole Miss at the time, and a group of us decided to drive down to Jackson to hear him speak.

After he spoke, we pressed down to the front of the crowd to try to get to meet him. There was a short fence that separated Clinton from the crowd, and he was walking along it, shaking hands with a few people, skipping a few people, shaking hands with a few people, and so on.

I made my way against the fence, and Bill worked his way toward me, shaking hands with people as he came. He shook hands with the person next to me, looked at me, and then skipped down a little ways and started shaking hands again.

I generally just summarize that story as “One time, Bill Clinton refused to shake my hand.”

So, does that count as meeting? If so, then Clinton definitely wins the most famous person for me.

If not, then it gets a bit more complicated.

I’ve actually had conversations with famous people in a number of different areas, but how do you determine which of them is the most famous?

Probably the most historical person I’ve met is astronaut Buzz Aldrin, the second man on the moon. I spoke with him briefly in person at a space symposium back in 2004, and then had a longer conversation on the phone with him a little later about the 35th anniversary of the Apollo 11 landing.

In the acting arena, James Earl Jones is probably the most famous actor I’ve had a conversation with. Back in college, several years before Star Wars: Episode I started filming, I asked him, and I’m sure he loved getting this question, what he knew about the rumored prequels. He told me they were going to happen, and that he would be in it at the very end. So there you go.

Musically, it’s got to be B.B. King. B.B. consider his hometown to be Indianola, Miss., where I worked for the newspaper for five year, so I saw him several times when he came into town for his annual homecoming concert. I got to ask him a few questions for the paper and talk with him a little. He considered my editor, Jim Abbott, a friend, so I got to be around while they talked, too. B.B. is an amazing man, friendly and incredibly down-to-Earth. Just a super, super nice guy.

In the field of writing, John Grisham, right around the time the movie “The Firm” came out, when he was really probably at the height of his popularity, took a six-month or so sabbatical from interviews. When the Sunday “Parade” magazine (or possibly USA Weekend, I forget which) wanted an interview with him during that time, he agreed, but with the stipulation that he would interview himself rather than talk to someone else. To the best of my knowledge, he granted only one interview during that time — to me. I was working at the college paper at the time, and he was in town for a private screening of The Firm, which I’d been invited to. I told him I knew he wasn’t doing interviews, but would he be willing to let me ask just one question. He said he’d never met a reporter that could ask just one question, but if I could, he’d answer it and I could use it. I did, and he did.

So with all of those possibilities, how do you determine who the most famous person I’ve ever met is?

Oh, yeah, Google.

Google “James Earl Jones,” and you get just over 4 million results.

“John Grisham” gets you over 9 million.

Buzz Aldrin, the second man on the moon, a participant in probably the greatest human achievement of the 20th century, nets about half a million.

And B.B. King? Indianola’s favorite son gets almost 27 million results, making him the most famous person I’ve ever met.

Couldn’t happen to a nicer guy.

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Song Challenge Week 10 — A Song That Makes You Fall Asleep

OK, I started this quite a while back and then dropped the ball, but I’m going to try picking up the 30 Day Song Challenge again as a weekly project.

Song Challenge Week 10 — A Song That Makes You Fall Asleep

“Insensitive,” Jann Arden

I’m afraid I have to cheat a bit this week.

I always turn the television and radio off when I’m going to bed, and don’t remember the last time I fell asleep to music. So, right now, there’s really not a song that qualifies for this week’s topic.

However, that wasn’t always true.

I used to, at times, play music when I was going to sleep.

Another habit I used to have that has gotten much better over the years — but in this case hasn’t gone away completely — is that when I found a new song I liked, I would play it ad nauseum to a ridiculous extent. I’ll still play it a few times now, just to get a feel for it, and I might leave a CD in the car for a while, but nothing like I used to be.

So of all the songs that would qualify, from back in the days that I would fall asleep to music, the one that stands out the most, 16 years later, is Jann Arden’s “Insensitive.”

I heard it on the radio, and really liked it. So I bought the CD single. And played it, a lot.

At the most extreme, when I first got it, I would put the single on repeat in my CD player, and go to sleep to it. One song. Repeating. All night.

Amazingly, even after that, I still like the song.


Here’s an odd sort of post with an odd sort of admission, but I thought some of the people who read from the Rocket City Bloggers community, among others, might be interested in a discussion of what goes on behind the veil.

I haven’t blogged in too long.

For the reader, hopefully, there’s no sense of that. As I’m writing this, there was one post that came two hours too late for my every-other-day schedule I try to maintain. For the reader, you’re reading this well after that gap, and I haven’t missed a beat for days.

Behind the scenes, however — I’ve written two posts already today, but before that, I hadn’t written anything on here in three weeks. Which is much better than the dry spells I’d been going through, but it still too long for someone who calls himself a writer to go without writing.

And I haven’t completely gone without writing. I also blog for the U.S. Space & Rocket Center, though similar to this, I write in spurts rather than regularly. And I’ve been working on my second book again, productively, and that’s been wonderful.

But as a blogger, I find that both inspiration and time to write come in chunks rather than an even flow. Ideas pop up sporadically, and, when they do, I create a draft post with, if nothing else, a title, and perhaps some links or jotted thoughts. Some of these are picked up quickly, some linger for weeks or  months. But actually writing is a more rare thing.

It feels a bit like cheating, posting things that were actually written much earlier, but nobody would actually want to read this if I posted it like I write it — nothing for weeks and then 10 posts at a time.

I’d be curious to hear from other bloggers out there — how about you? Do you write fresh each time, or are there periods where the muses are more kind than others?

A Shutter-Worthy New Look

OK, this ultimately is a post about nothing, but there you go.

This is my house, about three years ago. This is the closest I have to a “before” picture. I wish I’d taken one three months ago. The bushes in the front had gotten out of control, and the paint had seen better days.

My family was kind enough to come help with it. We decided that rather than just touching it up the way it had looked when I bought it, this was a good opportunity to give it a somewhat different look. We experimented a bit, getting several mis-steps out of the way early on:

While there’s still some polishing that needs to be done, I’m fairly pleased with the final result, which is a good bit brighter than the old brown look and breathes some new life into the old place.

See Me Be Funny Free!

As many of you know, I’m an actor in a local improv comedy troupe, Face2Face Improv. We do short game-based comedy sketches, based on suggestions made by the audience. Tell us who you want us to be, and we’ll act it out for you! If you ever saw the old ABC television show “Whose Line Is It Anyway?” it’s like that, only better, since the suggestions are coming from you!

I have a limited number of free tickets for shows this month, and I want to give away them all! The tickets are for our weekly Tuesday night shows at Sam & Greg’s Pizza and Gelato Shop on the courthouse square in downtown Huntsville. Showtime each week is at 7:30, and the shows last about 40 minutes and are appropriate for all ages.

If you’d like to see me perform, I’ll be hosting the show on June 12 and performing in the show on June 19. (There’s a small chance I may be in the June 26 show, but I don’t know that right now. If I’m not, you can still go to that one, and it will still be hilarious.)

If you’d be interested in a free ticket, contact me!