Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Fragments and Links 3: Blogs, Television and Other Random Thoughts...

From time to time I like to post fragmentary ideas that are not extensive enough for their own posts and links that I have found helpful or fun. I can’t think of anyone who would find every one of these entries interesting. But I think most of you will get into some of them. I encourage skimming and skipping.

I would like to recommend a recent post by my friend Joel. Joel lives in Tennessee and decided to take a road trip one day to ‘the world’s largest 10 commandments.’ He brings his characteristic dry wit and eye for tactile detail to the outing. It is a deeply enjoyable bit of prose. Here is my favorite excerpt: “The prayer mountain also included the Witness Tree, which was, as the sign explains, destroyed by lightning (an act of God?) after it was designated to be the Witness Tree” You can’t make this stuff up.

I don’t know Stacy…I don’t even remember how I happened on her blog…but I HIGHLY recommend her brief guide to sabotaging a Sunday school white elephant gift exchange. I can almost guarantee that you will laugh out loud.

My brother, Nic, has been writing on the topic of contentment and ‘what life consists of’ lately. I think this idea ‘manly domesticity’ is a resource men of my generation simply were not provided. I think Nic is building something of real value here (and here).

…daylight – a blog I have started following, pointed me to this exchange:

Some guy is whining about Kimball’s thriving church in Santa Cruz. This is a tune I have heard with disturbingly frequency since I started perusing blogs…’anyone who has a big church must have sold out, only misisonal house churches are biblical.’ The discussion goes back and forth. Kimball gets involved. And then Tim Keller joins in. There are 3 things I love about this exchange:

1. Keller lays the smack down. “What I am wary of is lifting up just one of the models as ‘the wave of the future’ as some in the missional church movement seem to be doing.”[1] I could not agree more. I will post on this in more detail later but ‘biblical ecclesiology’ is intentionally underspecified. God intended freedom.
2. Keller posts at 6:27 am and calls it “late-night reverie” Even when you take the max continental time change into account…Keller[2] is sticking up for Kimball on a blog around 3:26 am. That is pretty cool.
3. After Keller’s quote a guy named Andy Rowell, who must have been as surprised as me to see Keller weigh in on a blog, joins in with this: “At first I was wondering whether Tim Keller’s comment was really him or an impersonator–you know Deutero-Keller[3]. But then I pulled out my tools–used for determining whether Paul or one of his students Deutero-Paul wrote the Pastoral Epistles–and you will be glad to know that by comparing word choice and theology with widely attested Keller writings, I was able to determine that indeed that it is highly plausible that Keller left the comment above.” This is the hardest I have laughed in weeks…if that makes me a nerd, so be it.

This, of course, reminds me of the brilliant xkcd cartoon.

It recently occurred[4] to me that Adam (the first one, you know, back in Genesis) was a scientist. He did biological taxonomy[5] before he got into gardening. Does that make science 'the world's oldest profession'?

Matt Chandler, pastor of The Village church in Dallas said, during his sermon on Luke 12, that there are 2103 verses in our scriptures that address the poor and the oppressed. It seems to me that is something like 2090 more than address homosexuality. It also seems to me that the Bible is authoritative not only in its content but also in its emphasis. I have no response to the $73 million that was spent in support of prop 8 except ‘I am really, really sorry.’[6]

I have been enjoying the TED website. TED is an ideas conference sponsored by NPR that takes place in California each year. I often dump several of the free talk MP3s onto my player with audio books, good sermons and philosophy/theology lectures. I think James Howard Kunstler’s has been my favorite so far.

It’s bombastic and overstated[7], but I really agree that, as a culture, religious and non-religious people have been united in the idea that the aesthetic value of our built environment does not really matter[8]. We are architectural pragmatists and it has left us with places not worth caring about. The two biggest mistakes Buffalo ever made were putting the Bills in Orchard Park and UB in Amherst. When you could buy huge tracks of downtown for a song, they decided to put their cultural assets in the suburbs and so their urban renewal has not remotely kept pace with those in Pittsburg, Cleveland or other rust belt communities...except for Detroit. Our built environments impact our humanness and our spiritual vitality. Why do you think the New Jerusalem is so AWESOME. Because the built environment matters.

My favorite song right now is ‘Passing Afternoon’ by Iron and Wine

There are things that drift away like our endless, numbered days

Autumn blew the quilt right off the perfect bed she made
And she's chosen to believe in the hymns her mother sings
Sunday pulls its children from their piles of fallen leaves

There are things we can't recall, blind as night that finds us all

Winter tucks her children in, her fragile china dolls

There are names across the sea, only now I do believe

Sometimes, with the windows closed, she'll sit and think of me
But she'll mend his tattered clothes and they'll kiss as if they know
A baby sleeps in all our bones, so scared to be alone

I love the use of the seasons and the details of life as the markers and metaphors for mortality. It is beautiful and heartbreaking…in the best possible way.

Hall and Oats were on the Daily Show a little while ago, which reminds me…when I was a kid I thought they were a band called Hallin' Oats (as in what a trucker does).

So I am preaching and hanging out at our Church’s on campus ministry. It has been a blast. I have found the students to be refreshing, authentic and creative…here is the best example yet of the later:“

…Freedom indeed.” Just a quality effort by Nic, Cory, Joey, Frank and Gary.

The guys were riffing off of the Youtube legends Barats and Barreta who have put together a number of transcendent shorts. Here is one of their recent masterpieces. The Bible in under a minute:.

…boring genealogy… Outstanding

I was listening to a Dricoll MP3 the other day and was shocked to hear him say "I find most preachers are introverts." At first I didn’t believe him, but then I realized that the hypothesis held up empirically against my data set. And it makes sense. Even thought preaching is a deeply public act, if you follow standard rules of thumb (1 hour of prep for each minute of preaching…which is about what it takes for me) the vast majority of your time is spent alone.

I am reading Augustine’s City of God with a few guys. The 1000 page tome is dominating much of my discretionary reading time, which means this blog will be the ‘beneficiary’ of a steady diet of Augustine quotes. So let’s start with this one from Book III that startled me since I had always heard how anti-woman Augustine was:

"In the period between the first and second Punic wars, the law called Lex Voconia was passed, forbidding the appointment of a woman, even an only daughter, as heir. I can not quote, or even imagine, a more inequitable law.”

And here is a talk I gave on Augustine at my brother’s church:

I, like most of the people I share a generation with, hate to be thought of as simple or unsophisticated. So it is with not-insignificant shame that I confess that my favorite show on television right now is 'Chuck'. If you gave up on Chuck after the campy pilot or just thought the set up seemed ridiculous, I recommend giving season 2 a shot online (for example, on The characters are extremely fun and the love story has a legitimate obstacle, allowing the relationship to grow in a gradual and organic manner.

Speaking of pilots, they tend to be a poor convention. A pilot has to do lot of exposition and back story and tend to be uncharacteristic of what the show will actually be like. The pilot for Chuck, for example, came off campy and preposterous because they just had to do too much too fast.

This reminds me of one of my classic rants that I have trotted out a couple times recently. I feel like the ideal narrative arc tends to be between 15 and 30 hours for visual media. A movie tends to be too short to really build character and revel in dialog. But by the time you get a couple seasons into a television series, you have to undo some of the stuff you have done (e.g. break up couples, diminish previous achievements, etc) in order to maintain narrative tension. So, I think that one to two seasons is the ideal narrative length for visual media. For example, Band of Brothers was only one season and there was no hint of artificial plot twists to keep the story moving forward. Unfortunately, the holy grail of syndication is not available until a show has run for 4 seasons, forcing the creative class to stretch their premise thin so they can make the 'real' money in syndication.

Even the best television show of all times (Buffy the Vampire Slayer) dropped off between seasons 3 and 4. While seasons 4 through 7 are better than almost any thing else on television right now, they did not hold up to the dramatic quality of the first 3 seasons.

If it seems like I have a lot to say about TV for someone who doesn't have one, the Netflx/online streaming technologies has healed me of my cinematic snobbery[9]. I realized that some of the best stories we are generating are on the small screen. I just want more control over quality and supply, so these newer technologies protect me from my addictive personality.

I have seen some disturbing junk marketed to Christians in my time…ruthless profiteering off Jesus, his message and his people.[10] But I can’t remember a more disturbing product than this.[11] If you don’t get the ‘joke’ consider yourself fortunate. So, I can’t help but wonder, shouldn’t the interpretation come on the back or in a matching ‘I’m with stupid’ sort of set.

In the unlikely event that you were interested in my actual research, the citation and abstract for my latest paper is online: Here.

My next post will likely be on The Decemberists. But until then, the most entertaining interview I have read in some time was this brief exchange with Colin Meloy’s wife Carson Ellis. Here is the highlight:

SM: T.S. Eliot, C.S. Lewis and William Blake have all separately asked you tothe upcoming prom. Who gets to pin the corsage?
CE: C.S. Lewis, but I might get drunk and leave with William Blake....

SM: Please compose a short poem or haiku about whatever you'd like.
CE:Ode to C.S. Lewis'
Neath crepe paper ornaments
We talked all night
You brought me punch
And by candlelight
We talked about Narnia
I said I always felt for Edmund
But William Blake was a wonderful dancer
He said, "Let's take a walk"
I swooned in answer
But O white witch!
I never saw him again
And lost my chance with you, sweet C.S.

[1] If Keller came on this blog and smacked me around like that (all be it, in his characteristic winsome and gentle fashion), I think I’d cry.
[2] Who might be twice my age.
[3] A reference to Deutro-isaiah or Deutro-Paul…the critical biblical theory that a number of biblical texts were written not by the claimed author but by a student keeping the teacher’s name. There is a suspect method to determine if it is the actual author or an imposter by comparing the style to known writing samples of the hypothesized author.
[4] While reading Donald Miller’s ‘Searching for God Knows What’
[5] God gave him the task of naming all of the animals before he created eve. The picture books depict this as a relatively trivial task, but Miller suggests that it would have been monumental.
[6] I have written two complete blogs about prop 8 (explaining my ‘no’ vote and making general commentary) but have not posted them because I can not seem to write on this topic without getting angry and bitter.
[7] I find his peak oil stuff overstated and alarmist but his stuff on the built environment, suburbia, and human density is spot on.
[8] It is a hilarious that this is sponsored by BMW.
[9] For years I refused to get a TV because I asserted that film was the preeminent artistic media of our generation.
[10] I just studied the passage where Jesus drove the money changers out of the temple this morning. I don’t get the idea this is the kind of stuff he would be happy about.
[11] My reference for this is Mork’s Pragmatic Eclectic blog…but it recently disappeared so I can’t provide a link.

Monday, January 19, 2009

My Problem With Religion: A Quantitative Inquiry

A common objection to the unique value of any particular religion is that all religions essentially teach the same things. This is deeply mistaken. For example, Christians are trying to gain eternal life, while Hindus teach that they have eternal life and are trying to get rid of it. In so many ways, the major religious world views could not be more different. But there is a sense in which I resonate with this objection. There does seem to be a basic ‘religious’ way of looking at the world (that many hold regardless of whether or not they actually believe in a cosmic god figure). It goes something like this: the ultimate outcome in this life or in eternity is the result of your moral achievement in this life. Religions differ wildly on what constitutes a good outcome and what constitutes moral achievement…but this is not my point here.

Computing Goodness

I’d like to look carefully at this basic line of thought: ultimate outcomes are based on our temporal moral achievement. I think the first interesting question is how does a god score morality? Let’s assume that it would be some sort of equation of the form:


Where A, B and C are weighting factors, the sum of which would be 1 and
X, Y and Z are certain moral behaviors or transgressions (in which case the weighting factor would have a – sign).

For example, if Muslims are right, if X=eating pork, A = a significant, negative multiplier. However, if Hindus are right, if Y = give grain oblations to Ganesh, then B = a non-trivial positive multiplier. And if yuppie liberal Christians are correct, if Z = driving a Prius then C = close to 0.9

But would every one use the same equation? Would there be a constant added for overcoming poor environment or propensity genetics? A degree of difficulty multiplier if you will?

Setting the Grades: To Curve or Not to Curve

But let’s assume that a god is good at math and can come to a univariate quantitative evaluation of our lifetime moral performance. Let’s assume that global, historic morality is normally distributed.[2] So below, I have plotted an arithmetic scale of human goodness (from 1 to 0, with 1 being the best person ever and 0 being the worst) versus the rate of occurrence of each of these moral states.

So, how does god decide where the cut
off is between the positive religious outcome and the negative religious outcome? Does he/she/it grade on a curve? Does he have a percentile that he is shooting for? If so, does it suite me to sabotage the moral state of others in order to augment my relative position? Or, by helping those close to us (say, those in our church/mosque/synagogue/neighborhood) pursue moral goodness, are we damning others by allowing those we care about to surpass them? It doesn’t make much sense to me that God would grade on a curve.

So maybe God has an absolute standard for a positive cosmic outcome. But where is it? Most people place it above Hitler, Stalin, Sadam and abortion clinic bombers, and conveniently below themselves. Consider any placement of the demarcation[3] that is neither 100% nor 0%. Let’s place it at 50% for argument (i.e. ‘heaven’ is a lot like lake Woebegone). Consider someone who comes in at the 50.000001 percentile and someone who comes in at the 49.9999999 percentile (represented by the small circles in the plot below). These people lived remarkably similar moral lives. The difference between them would be a single lie or a single malicious thought or eating a single doughnut during Ramadan or buying a car with slightly worse gas mileage, yet there is a dramatic non-linearity in consequence for a minor difference in achievement.[4]

Two Attempts to Smooth the Outcomes

Purgatory is a doctrine that was developed that seems to mitigate the non-linear outcome. There is a zone of graded consequence between the good and bad outcomes, such that consequence is more of a smooth function of lived morality. But purgatory doesn’t really work on a number of levels. It only appears in Christian sects and is so foreign to the Christian worldview that even the sitting Pope doesn’t accept a classic version of it.[5]

Reincarnation is another form of mitigating the non-linear outcome. But I find it morally deplorable and politically dangerous to suggest that people deserve their lot in life because of unseen, presumed moral failures from previous existences.[6] Shoot, I don’t even believe that someone’s lot in life is entirely (or even mostly) the result of the moral choices they made in THIS life.

A Stochastic Approach

The Muslim worldview handles this differently. They say that the sovereign will of Allah is not predictive in this way. Righteousness is a factor in who goes to paradise and who does not. In fact they get quite quantitative about it. For example, some teach that prayers during Ramadan are 30X more valuable than prayers offered at other times. In an honest moment one of my Muslim friends admitted to me that he spent a significant amount of time worrying about if his life was sufficient to avoid hell.

But in the final analysis Allah can do whatever he wants so it is more of a stochastic approach. Your goodness can only buy more balls in the proverbial NBA lottery.[7]
Being higher on the moral continuum increases your chances of ‘getting in’ but it is not a deterministic function. It is more like a quantum state than a Newtonian mechanic. So you could, theoretically get a situation like the one below (where the yellow dot indicates a good comic outcome and the red dot indicates a bad one).

Two Types of People

Another approach would be to group the ‘goodness’ data the same way a college professor would group academic achievement. Professors often look for achievement ‘groupings’. There is a cluster of 3 students at the top, they get the A’s. The next cluster gets the B’s. You can’t do this if the data is normally distributed, but, since there are only two consequences, you could do it with a bimodal distribution (below). This is actually a surprisingly common view of the world. One republican friend said to me once ‘the world is full of good people and bad people.’[8] This is the polemical approach taken by ‘The Dark Knight[9].’ Heath Ledger’s brilliantly disturbing turn as the Joker was simply described as a fundamentally different mode of human existence.

It is common to look at crass villains and say, ‘whew, I may do occasional bad stuff, but at least I’m a good person’. Even Imus, after the Rutgers basket ball team debacle claimed ‘I’m a good person who did a bad thing.’ But repentance is the burden of the self aware. My response to my republican friend was ‘I am bad people.’ I reject this idea of a bimodal distribution. We all carry the divine image and the scar of a cosmic corruption. Plus, even with a bimodal distribution, you have the same problem in the shared ‘tail’ (see enlargement in the figure above). You still have the non-linear consequence for the incremental difference.
The Special Cases of 1 and 0

So let’s finally consider the two special cases. You can put the line at 0 saying that all surpass it (universalism) or you can put it at or above 1 saying that none achieve it (the gospel). Both of these approaches get away from the problem of non-linear consequence for incremental differences in morality. I prefer both of them to religion. Many people find the former (see figure below) to be more palatable, more just. They tend to be comfortable suburban westerners who have never had a cause for vengeance.

Consider what Miroslov Volf says about the idea that a just God would finally accept all and judge none: “If God were not angry at injustice and did not make a final end to violence-that God would not be worthy of worship…The only means of prohibiting all recourse to violence by ourselves is to insist that violence is legitimate only when it comes from God…My thesis that the practice of non-violence requires a belief in divine vengeance will be unpopular with many in…the west…(But) it takes the quiet of a suburban home for the birth of the thesis that human non-violence (results from a belief in) God’s refusal to judge. In a sun scorched land, soaked in the blood of innocents, it will invariably die…(with) other pleasant captivities of the liberal mind.”[10]

Volf grew up in Croatia and experience the violence of the Balkan crisis. He will not worship a God who does not judge the horrible atrocities of human villainy. And neither will I. I will not worship a God who embraces evil…including mine. Only a God who judges me and my dark heart and wicked propensities with those of Hitler, Stalin, St Francis and Mother Teresa can be completely other…what the Bible likes to call Holy.

So I am left with the final alternative. I, with Jesus and Paul, put the line light-years to the right. That we each are good and valuable beyond measure but are also vial beasts unworthy of God’s presence. This is why Christianity does not teach moral performance…heaven as a cosmic reward for moral performance …it teaches unilateral, cosmic rescue. It teaches grace and mercy and, in this way, is not, fundamentally, religious.

[1] I suspect it would be far more complex than a simple multi-variate linear regression (which I am not even quite doing)…but you’d stop reading if I went into some sort of anthropological dimensional analysis or set up a big old matrix.
[2] Scientists are famous for assuming phenomena are normally distributed. I suppose I could use a Gumble or Lévy distribution (I’d love to hear someone make a case for either of these), but the argument would progress in the same way, so let’s just assume a normal distribution for now.
[3] Based either on a curve or an absolute standard.
[4] This, somewhat comically, disintegrates into the BCS/Playoff debate from college football. The debate invariably goes like this: “Let’s just have a 4 team playoff.” “Well what about that year when the best team in the nation was #5.” “Ok, lets have an 8 game playoff.” “Yeah, but this team had one fluky loss and was playing really well. Do you really want them out of the playoff?”
[5] See NT Wright’s Surprised by Hope
[6] This comes up from time to time in a careful watching of ‘My Name is Earl.’ They have trouble navigating this consequence of their Karmic vision that everyone deserves their current state because of past actions. But it is still a hilarious show.
[7] To discourage teams from tanking their season for draft position the NBA decides draft position by a lottery. But they still want to give the worst team the best shot at drafting good players. So all of the teams that did not make the playoffs get balls in the lottery. The worse you are the more balls you get. So badness increases the chance of a good outcome but does not assure it. This strikes me as similar to Islam where goodness increases your chances of a good outcome but does not assure it.
[8] Why are the bad people bad? Is it the result of poor moral choices on their part? Is it a big loss in genetics roulette? Assigning culpability for innate badness is fundamentally problematic.
[9] Incidentally, Leger’s role was the single redeeming quality of this epic train wreck. Let me be the first one on the internet to say ‘This movie sucked.’
[10] From Tim Keller’s Reason For God

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

A Tale of Two Existentialists…and a Puritan: An Exercise in Classics Mad Libs.

One of the things I have wrestled with since I started blogging is the question, ‘What’s worth posting?’ I have a half dozen pieces that I have written that I haven’t posted because I’m not sure anyone would be interested.

A couple include:
My top 8 sports events (watched or experienced)
The top 14 hikes from our pre-baby hiking days (in 4 parts)

I have decided to post them and let you decide. And since I am working on a kind of massive post for next week, here is one of them.

We always open our small group with some sort of game/contest to get everyone talking and to learn a little about each other. I was in charge of this activity a couple weeks ago and decided to read half a sentence from three classic books. Everyone finished the sentence on a piece of paper, then I read them and we all tried to guess who’s it was. Here are some of the responses:

First, from the greatest novel of all time: The Brothers Karamazov by Feodor Dostoyevsky

"You're a pretty monk! So there is a little devil sitting…"

…on your shoulder telling you that “yes that robe makes your butt look fat.”
…on the toilet.
…on the side of the road trying to sell lemonade for 25¢ a cup.
…that’s all. He’s just sitting. Oh and he has severe diarrhea.
(Note: I somehow lost most of these. If you are reading and remember yours please add it in the comments.)

Next, from Camus best novel, The Plague:

"Everybody know that pestilences have a way of recurring in the world, yet somehow everyone finds it hard to believe that…"

…that Britney Spears is making yet another comeback.
…that you don’t actually have to buy anything to enter the Publishers’ Clearing House sweepstakes drawing.
…it can happen in their time.
…that they need to know how to use their HMO insurance.
…that I sold a single copy of this ridiculous book.[1]
…that they are cased by aliens from mars that visit over and over…I believe.
…that pestilence has nothing to do with knights jousting groundhogs.[2]
…that melting glaciers are releasing previously trapped microbes and that global warming is to blame.
…that the lives of their neighbors, friends, or family could possibly be claimed by sickness, not to mention their very lives.
And, Finally, from Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress:

"Then he said with a whip, it is the flatterer, a false apostle that has transformed himself into…"

…the most fearsome WWF wrestler to walk this earth.
…a turtle, a dove, something from above. A bird, a hawk, a never changing clock. A ring a wrong, a really lousy song.
…a frog prince awaiting a beautiful maiden’s kiss.
…a pink hippopotamus.
…Mark, 13th Viceroy of the Emyrean Embassy of Wannahaka Loogiesant and Impersonal Ambassador of his exalted majesty Sir Pork Chop the Magnificent, wearer of fluffy hats and purveyor of Backstreet Boys slappers.
…our modern social demand that you deserve and need it all.
…Brittney spears wearing unflattering monk robe and carrying an alien abducting devil with diarrhea and who can’t use her HMO to cure it.
…a heavy handed puritan metaphor.
(Note: Yeah, that one is mine too. Driscoll, Piper et al would be very disappointed to find out that I enjoy the existentialists much more than the Puritans[4]….though I have yet to read Owen. I hear that could change things)

So there it is…Feel free to take a shot at one or more of these in the comments section?

[1] Let’s just say Steve Haffly doesn’t share my literary tastes.
[2] Get it, pest (groundhog) lance (knights). Pest-i-lance. Jousting groundhogs. This was mine, I’m very proud of it.
[3] Two+ year old Elizabeth Spencer did this one. For democrats it could kind of work. Though, in fairness, it could also be ‘M’ or ‘bird’ depending on which way you turn the paper.
[4] Though the puritans really get a bad rap. Check this out.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

I am Not a Toaster: The Unhelpful Cliché of Self Discovery

I have been reading books about writing fiction lately. One of recommendation that struck me was that fiction should be hyper-real. No one wants to read about the events of daily life. I suppose that is why two attempts at ‘realistic’ teen drama in the 1990’s failed.

My So Called Life (MSCL) was a depiction of the High School experience those of us who were did not live in the 90210 zip code. It didn't really work and was canceled. The genre of the realistic teen drama didn't actually work until Apatow[1] and his now famous crew gave us Freaks and Geeks (F&G) in ‘99. F&G was also canceled after a single season but Amanda and I resonated deeply with it.[2] The latter show had some really weighty, interesting themes as the basic plot line was Lindsay’s moral and social search following her rejection of God.

F&G was, without question, the better show. But for all its resonance, there was nothing in its narrative structure that matched the uncanny familiarity of Angela’s monologues in MSCL. So much of high school was internalized; thought rather than articulated. And Angela wrestled with many of the same questions that plagued me during those volatile years, in a more mature way.

The whole thing reminded me of the line in Stranger than Fiction[3] where Harold Crick describes the narration in his head, “It's a voice in my head…It's telling me what I've already done... accurately, and with a better vocabulary.” But I think the most redeeming aspect of MSCL was that themes of self discovery were sanely tempered by uncommonly thoughtful insights. Here is my favorite quote from the show:

“People say you should always be yourself, like yourself is something definite, like a toaster.”

The ubiquitous artistic polemic is that of self discovery. Film, music[4] and print all heartily recommend that no matter what ‘they’ may throw at you, you must be yourself. Art can no longer call us to an objective standard of moral good or aesthetic beauty, so it simply offers a self referential cliché.

This has always confused me. There is a sense in which I resonate with the sentiment. I am a proto-typical X-er. I value sincerity, authenticity, and transparency over etiquette and propriety, and a great many other things. But this is rarely what is meant by ‘be yourself’ or ‘be true to yourself’. It suggests that there is a Platonic form of ‘me’ that must be discovered rather than forged. It’s fatalistic. And the primary navigational apparatus we are offered for this quest is to ‘follow our hearts,’ which nicely sets up my second favorite quote from MSCL:

"It’s such a lie that we should do what's in our hearts. If everyone did what was in their hearts the world would come to an end"

One of Christianity’s most helpful resources is the warning to view the 'self' with suspicion and the ‘heart’ as a deceitful guide. Of all the things I could be, who I fundamentally am is near the end of the list. I am petty, bitter, materialistic, bigoted, arrogant, selfish, apathetic, deceitful, lazy, self serving…all in all a real fist class a** h***. That is my template, and where my heart leads. It is about as close to a worst possible scenario as I can imagine. I want to be any one but that complete waste of humanity. Fortunately, who I am is who I become and I put my hope in grace and God’s self disclosure as reliable navigators. I just may escape ‘being myself’ yet.

[1] Incidentally, how much do I wish that Apatow et al was producing great art like F&G these days instead of drivel like Knocked Up, 40 Year Old Virgin and Sarah Marshal etc…
[2] Amanda identified deeply with the 'good girl pushing social boundaries' protagonist, Lindsay. I completely identified with here dorky little brother, Sam (until Sam’s unrequited love was requited).
[3] Indisputably Will Ferrell’s Best work…and I am a Ferrell guy…maybe one of the most entertaining movies of the last 5 years.
[4] There are no less than 5 songs or albums named ‘Be Yourself’