Thursday, November 25, 2021

Thanks for Nothing (Repost 2021)


 I am very grateful for all of the wonderfully positive feedback on this essay, so I thought I would share it again.

These last few years have been rough for many reasons.  We've had to deal with a lot of family health issues and things like that, which has caused great stress on the household.  It is so easy to turn inward and think of ourselves and our own pain, to be become more selfish and not more selfless.  I can't say I have been an example of grace under fire.  Sometimes I feel like I barely scrape by each day.

But that's why its' more important than ever to be thankful.  

Some of the most destructive qualities in a person are bitterness and resentment.  There is a constant temptation to look at the world through this lens and let the fires of discontent burn.

But thankfulness acts like a cooling balm on that fire.  When we remember our blessings, the resentments begin to fade and it replaced with a sense of peace and gratitude.  And in that we find real happiness.

I wrote this article almost 10 years ago but its words still hold true for me today.

Happy Thanksgiving!

(originally published November 22, 2012)

Thanks For Nothing

When I was 15-years-old, I got a little sick.  In what was obviously an over-reaction on his part, my dad took me to the Emergency Room.  As it turned out, I had pneumonia and my blood oxygen level was down to about 50%.  If he had waited much longer to take me I might have died.

I share this with you so that you will understand why I am a little bit of a hypochondriac now.  I don't freak out at every sneeze or obsessively lather myself in Purell.  But whenever I have chronic problem, I begin to have a persistent fear of the worst.

For the past 4 weeks I've had a persistent cough.  I cannot remember having one that has lasted this long.  So of course, my mind helplessly gravitated to the worst case scenarios, despite the constant assurances from my long-suffering wife.  After weeks of fretting, I went yesterday morning for a chest X-ray.

After they were taken, I was asked to wait for a moment alone in the exam room.  I stood there for 5 minutes in that room with its claustrophobic white walls and antiseptic smell and thought about all those people who came to that room and got bad news that resulted in a lot more time between claustrophobic white walls and antiseptic smells.

Finally, after hours of fretting (and trying to distract myself with a viewing of Wreck-It Ralph) we got the results.

And what did they find?


They found nothing.  I was worried about nothing.

I was put on some new medication and I've been feeling a bit better.

I didn't realize how much the storm clouds had been hovering over me until today.  I was walking around, doing chores and errands with such a light heart.  It was because I knew that my cough, though a bit annoying, was ultimately nothing.


Today is Thanksgiving.  It has always been one of my favorite holidays, and not because I eat enough turkey to put a man twice my size into a literal coma (although that is a plus).  I love that we take time out of our year to appreciate the blessings of life and give thanks to our Provider.

My boss, a man I greatly admire, once said to me that you cannot be truly happy unless you are truly thankful.  Happiness only comes when you acknowledge that everything thing you have is a gift from God.

I have tried to take those words to heart and be thankful for everything I have.  I have an holy wife, a loving family, loyal friends, a fulfilling job, and more action figures than you can shake a stick at (if that's your idea of a good time).  Bing Crosby sang that we should count our blessings instead of sheep.  But I never get to the end of count because God has been so very generous to me.

But all this time I have been overlooking something else to be thankful for.


I wrote earlier about how much I have come to realize what a blessing it is to feel normal.  But I did not take it the necessary step further.

There is nothing wrong with my lungs.  But it could have been something.  And that something could have been not-so-bad to catastrophic.  But God, in His goodness, gave me nothing.

About 2 years ago I was on the highway on my way to work in the middle of winter.  I was in the left lane when I noticed a car had skidded off the road.  I tried to get a better look, but I must have not been paying attention to the road.  Because I then hit a patch of ice and my car spun out and did a 180 degree turn that hurled me across the other lane.  And do you know what I hit?


For one of the only times I can remember, there were no cars around me on that part of the road.  I skidded off to the right embankment facing the opposite direction.  But I was fine.  Nothing happened.

A few weeks ago during Hurricane Sandy, the wind was so strong it blew down a tree in my back yard.  What did it hit?


A little to right and it would have destroyed my shed.  If it fell in the opposite direction it would have caved in the roof and crushed my wife and I.  But instead, nothing happened.

This world is so full of darkness and danger, disease and disaster.  Some of it falls on us.  But a lot of it doesn't.

So today I'm going to give thanks not only for the all of the things God has given me this past year, but I'll also praise Him for the "nothings" too.

No sudden falls down the stairs that break a limb.  No food poisoning from that new restaurant.  No angry student deciding to respond to his detention with his fist.  No home burglary in the middle of the night.  No careless accident to hurt anyone I love.

I do have my share of crosses, many of them of my own making, but I have not been crushed by them. And I am not saying that any of the aforementioned catastrophes won't one day be mine to bear.  One day, an X-ray may find something.

But not today.

Today, I am thankful for nothing.

Wednesday, November 24, 2021

Film Review: Ghostbusters - Afterlife


The original Ghostbusters is not an action/adventure movie.  But to kids in the 80's who grew up with the movies and the cartoon show, the idea of being a Ghostbuster was the stuff of adventure fantasies.  As a kid I owned a Ghost Zapper Projector and went around in my makeshift Ghostbusters uniform (white sweatpants/sweatshirt combo with a Ghostbusters logo taped to my arm) and fighting the forces of the supernatural.

It is through that lens that Ghostbusters: Afterlife is made.

The movie centers around Phoebe (Mckenna Grace), a precocious, scientifically-minded twelve-year-old girl living in the big city with her fifteen-year-old brother Trevor (Finn Wolfhard) and her single mom Callie (Carrie Coon). Callie has just discovered that her estranged father died out in Oklahoma.  Strapped for cash and recently evicted, she takes her kids to the town of Summerville to move into her father's delapitated farm house.  Trevor quickly develops a crush on local waitress Lucky (Celeste O'Connor).  Phoebe has to go to summer school (for reasons that are never clear) where she befriends fellow weirdo Podcast (Logan Kim) and their summer school teacher is seismologist Mr. Grooberson (Paul Rudd).  But all is not well in Summerville as it is plagued by earthquakes and a mysterious force from the Shandor Mines.  All the while Phoebe begins to discover that her deceased grandfather was up to something big and that he was once a Ghostbuster.

This movie is the equivalent to what The Force Awakens was to the original Star Wars.  And I mean this both its positive and negative respects.  Right now in the fandom, most people are sour on the sequel trilogy.  But much of this ire came from The Last JediThe Force Awakens was seen as a sometimes clumsy, if not unoriginal, love letter to Star Wars films.  In that respect, it has a lot in common with Afterlife.

This movie is pure-nostalgia bait.  There are Easter Eggs both big (like the demon dogs) and small (a Twinkie in the glove compartment).  You can tell that writer/director Jason Reitman was trying to pay homage to all things he loved and remembered from his father Ivan's movie.  There is love and reverence in nearly every single shot of the film, even the ones with shameless product placement.  But this reverence is so intense that the movie sticks to the major plot points of the original as if avoiding any kind of Ghostbusters heresy (see the 2016 reboot).  

Reitman and writing partner Gil Kenan are not nearly as funny as Dan Akroyd and Harold Ramis, but they don't try to be.  In fact, they use an old comedy writing trick of having a character tell intentionally bad jokes to help cover up their own comedic shortcomings. The original Ghostbusters is a comedy who main goal is to make you laugh.  Afterlife is an adventure film with funny moments.  In that sense this sequel is more like a Marvel movie in tone than a Ghostbusters film.

The final negative comparison is that the original is a fantastic example of efficiency in storytelling.  Within 30 minutes, we have our first call to bust ghosts.  Afterlife takes its time to build its story in the style of JJ Abrams "mystery box" method, with everything exploding in the final act.

Having said all of that, Ghostbusters: Afterlife is still a darn fine movie.

As an fun adventure film, the movie works.  Watching how these new characters break out the old equipment while adding new innovations was a great deal of fun.  The movie has its share of laughs and scares.  I freely admit to being completely caught up in the chase throughout the town as the proton packs fire through the scene.

The performances are also all very good.  I was worried about a film centered around Phoebe, but Grace was fantastic in the role.  She played the character with restraint and wit while being very empathetic.  She played her smarts in a way that made her awkwardness isolating without coming off as arrogant.  The whole movie is about her trying to connect to her family, new friends, and her deceased grandfather.  Rudd is fantastic in his role.  If the movie leaned harder into the comedy, they would have expanded Rudd's role and rightly so.  Some of the best lines in the movie are his and you get the distinct feeling that much of that was improved.  I've only seen Coon in serious roles, but she holds her own with Rudd.  Kim has a "gee-whiz" quality about him that makes him incredibly likable.  His acting skill is that of an average child-actor, which only serves to highlight how good Grace is.  Wolfhard does a fine job as a sullen, love-lorn teen who is in the shadow of his smarter, younger sibling.  O'Connor has some charisma and brings a bit of maturity to the group of kids.  

And make no mistake, this is a movie where the kids are the main characters.  The film has a very Goonies/Stranger Things vibe to it where the story is told primarily from their point of view.  But unlike the Star Wars sequels, there is no need to denigrate the original characters in order to elevate the new ones.  In fact, you get the sense that the new generation is standing on the shoulders of cinematic giants and they know it.

I don't want to spoil the finale, but I was surprised how emotional I became.  This is the place where the film's heart overcomes any of the shortcomings from earlier.  You can tell that Jason Reitman has such a special place in his heart for this world that he wanted to give proper catharsis for those who also grew up with the Ghostbusters.

This movie is not the original Ghostbusters and it isn't trying to be.  It is a big-budget fan film made with great care and skill and a double-helping of heart.  And for that reason, I truly enjoyed this film.

Tuesday, November 23, 2021

Film Flash: Ghostbusters - Afterlife


Lightning cracks from dark green clouds. People get out of a battered 1959 Cadillac Miller-Meteor Sentinel below and look on.

 15 words or less film review (full review to follow soon)

The Force Awakens of Ghostbusters movies.  Pure nostalgia-bait, but fun, funny, and surprisingly touching.

Monday, November 22, 2021

New Evangelizers Post: Killing Them With Kindness



I have a new article up at  

One thing I have learned about bullies: they want a reaction from you.

Many of us were bullied in school at some point. Perhaps we were singled out because of our size, our looks, or our personalities. I’m sure I was an easy target because of all three. Back in school I was short, fat, and the shiest kid you could meet. I remember sitting at a table in my art class freshman year with three other fellow freshmen who made my life hell. I used to dread coming to class because all they would do is attack me. Now, it has been a long time since this happened and I am open to the idea that things were worse in my memory than they were in real life. Regardless, this is how I remember it.

This continued to other classes, especially gym. I even remember seeing a friend from grade school in my class and feeling relieved, only to find that he treated me worse than anyone else.

I share these not to garner sympathy. I know that many of you have had worse experiences that I could imagine. What I do want to share is what I learned about bullies from this experience.

Bullies are people who feel powerless. Looking back, I understand why most of the people who picked on me were fellow freshmen. When you feel like you are the bottom of the pecking order, you find someone lower than you. It’s like a drowning person trying push down another drowning person just to stay above water. As a teacher, I’ve seen this play out in the school. The students who attack others are either the most insecure or the ones who feel powerless in their own lives.

Sometimes teachers and coaches bully their students because they don’t feel like they have any power the fellow adults in their lives. I’ve also seen students bully teachers. I remember that a fellow teacher once asked me about this. There were students in this teacher’s class who would constantly try to push the teacher’s buttons until this teacher started screaming. My fellow teacher did not understand why this happened, since the students would be punished with detentions, suspensions, and things of this nature. I explained that the students were trying to exert the only power they could: getting the teacher to explode.

This is the truth about bullies that I mentioned at the beginning: bullies want a reaction from you.

This reaction doesn’t need to be one of defeat. They can glorify themselves in the triumph of your tears. But they also take pleasure when you hit back. I remember once I lashed out at my bullies in anger. I was not prepared for the wave of elation that washed over them. This outburst was much more preferable to them than my sullen silence. Now they knew that they had the power to make me explode and they tried to exploit that power whenever they could.

Getting bullied is not something that ends with school. It is sad that people in this world still behave like the characters from Mean Girls, even as adults. At our jobs, people like bully, intimidated, and exercise power over others. Online, people like to whip up mobs of anger and hatred against people who don’t share their opinions. So many powerless people taking vengeance for their weakness on those they see as weaker.

So what are we to do?

First, do not give the bullies what they want: a negative emotional response. (I am not here talking about serious issues of abuse or assault where self-defense or contacting the authorities would be the proper course of action).

In many cases, silence is the best response. Discernment is needed here as well as wisdom. You will have to decide for yourself when you are called to stand up for yourself or for others. Often, I police my response because I know my reaction is more emotional than it is rational. Also, a bully wants your response. They want you to have some kind of outburst. They want you to yell back and then revel in their power over you. They will go out of their way to find ways to insult you just to see you become upset.

When they bring the woman caught in adultery to Jesus, they ask Him what they should do. They actually don’t care about this woman’s life at all. His enemies were hungry to get some kind of reaction from Him that they could use against Him. Instead, Jesus is silent and He writes on the ground (John 8:6). The Scriptures never tell us what Jesus was writing or why. There are several possibilities, but one of them that I like is that He was playing it cool. These bullies were trying push His buttons. Instead, He took His time and responded in His own way and in His own time.

Second, if there must be a reaction (again use your own discernment here regarding your own safety and dignity) often the reaction of kindness is the best.

Remember to take pity on a bully. There is an emptiness in the center of their being that they are trying to fill with external validation of their power. They want your pain and your resentment. But if they see that their evil has no power over you, it can defeat and deflate them. To be sure, it can also cause them to redouble their efforts, but they are still seeking their victory in your negative reaction.

To book of Proverbs says, “If your enemy is hungry, give him food to eat; if he is thirsty, give him water to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head…” (Proverbs 25:21-22). This means two things: first it means that the bully will be frustrated that they are not getting the reaction that they want. Second, it means that the bully will have to confront their own wickedness. If they understand that they are the enemy of a kind person, it will burn their conscience. This will give them the opportunity to repent. Whether they make that choice is in their hands.

You can read the whole article here.

Sunday, November 21, 2021

Sunday Best: Thanksgiving Movies and TV (repost)

 Much of this is a repost from 2013 


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 In terms of what is the best Thanksgiving movie, there is no contest. The winner is Planes, Trains, and Automobiles. There is no Thanksgiving movie like it. It is fully of deep belly laughs, but it also has one of the finest last scenes in movie history. What makes this a great Thanksgiving movie is that it is all about the quest to get home for the holiday. Most Thanksgiving movies focus on the chaos of family reunions. And if you only watch those, you would wonder why anyone would want to ever celebrate the holiday. But Planes, Trains, and Automobiles never questions the impulse to do whatever it takes to get home. It assumes that the holiday is so important that it MUST be celebrated with family, either those made by blood or by long, hilarious road trips. 

There is so much artistry in this film and it goes unnoticed because John Hughes covers it with very broad comedy.  It is actually a magical kind of movie in the sense of the best magic tricks.  You think that the quest is to get home for Thanksgiving.  But the real quest is to create that special home we call friendship.  The entire forward thrust of the movie is Neal (Steve Martin) doing anything and everything to get to his house while Dell (John Candy) unwittingly gets in the way.  But penultimate scene is the crux of the film.  Neal is finally on his way with no more obstacles, but then he has an epiphany about Dell.  And in that moment, the entire movie is flipped on its head and Neal leaves the pathway home and goes back to Dell.  It is one of my favorite movie friendship moments, followed by that amazing shot of Dell and Neal walking down the street carrying Dell's steamer trunk.  It is such a potent image: a friend helping another friend carry their burden as they walk side-by-side to the place they call home.

This movie reminds me on Thanksgiving that I have been blessed with friends and family who have helped me carry my burdens and walk with me on the journey home.


 Four Thanksgiving episodes come to mind when I think of this holiday. 
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 The first is the "No Fat" episode of Everybody Loves Raymond. The show would annually do a Thanksgiving episode, but this one emphasized the absurd importance of the food. Marie tries to do a fat free Thanksgiving, and the resulting chagrin by her family is hilarious. I also love the ending: 

Friends logo.svg
 The second is "The One With All the Thanksgivings" from Friends. Told through a series of flashbacks, this episode shows how Thanksgiving can be both wonderful and awful throughout the years. I also enjoyed seeing how much the relationships between the friends changed over time. It is also might have the most awkwardly funny "I love you" on TV.     

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The third is "The Thanksgiving Decoupling" from The Big Bang Theory.  There is an incredibly funny storyline where Penny realizes that she got married to someone else in Las Vegas.  What makes that work is how everyone else reacts to the Thanksgiving drama.  But the main reason I love this episode is the way that Bernadette's dad and Sheldon bond.  These two are so opposite and yet there is an unlikely emotional connection that is bitter sweet and at the same time incredibly funny.  

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But the one I might like the most is "Pangs" from Buffy the Vampire Slayer. It's Buffy's first year in college and she tries to put together a Thanksgiving for her Scoobies, including the chair-bound Spike, while the spirit of a Shumash Indian curses Xander's body. This results in extended debates about the meaning of the Holiday for both Indian and European immigrant, as well capturing the awkward frenzy of trying to have a nice meal when the world seems to be going to hell. I also got a kick out of Spike's darkly insightful take: Great final shot too.        

What are your favorite Thanksgiving pop culture moments?

Thursday, November 18, 2021

Trailer Time: Spider-Man - No Way Home

This hits all the right nostalgia buttons.  I also like how they don't show if the previous Spider-Men will be in it or not.

I get the feeling that if you are going to see this to see a lot of interaction with Tobey Macguire or Andrew Garfield then you are going to be disappointed.  

But other than that, it looks like a fun movie.


Tuesday, November 16, 2021

Film Flash: Red Notice (Netflix)


Red Notice - film promotional image.jpg

 15 words or less film review (full review to follow soon)

Likable, charismatic stars in a super-fun action/comedy/heist film.  What's not to enjoy?