Tuesday, December 15, 2009


Hannah Lincoln
Journalism 315
15 December 2009
Final Reflection

            JOUR 315 was an afterthought.

            Originally signed up for a different class—that, for many reasons, failed miserably—I didn’t know that writing nearly a dozen reviews and editorials would ever be on my plate of English classes, much less included with my already over-indulged semester.

            Despite this original hesitation (and unawareness), Journalism 315 turned out to be the perfect mix of research, opinion and voice that I needed to counteract the long essays of my Lit major.  Quite frankly, it was fun.

            Stylistically, I came in with nothing in the name of writing journalistically.  I knew that lists dropped the last comma and that the paragraphs were significantly shorter than the ones I was used to, but that was about it.  I had to build this city from the ground up.

            My first group, Ringo, was a godsend to my insecure, faux-journalist beginnings.  Ashley, Sonia and Kayla read my reviews with kindness, pointing out more positives than negatives and giving helpful pointers from their own plethora of experience. 

            IMHO, my best review from Ringo would be the book review of The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan.  I loved reading the book (and am very much looking forward to reading #2, Sea Monster, first thing Wednesday night), and I believe that shows in my writing.  The textual references were easy to pull out and the overall tone was extremely easy to convey—I loved the book and I think you will, too.

            And making an impromptu list of the twelve Olympian gods and goddesses with my professor, Jeffrey, was pretty fun as well.

            *Zeus, Poseidon, Athena, Apollo, Artemis, Demeter, Dionysus, Aries, Aphrodite, Hermes, Hestia….shoot!*
            I also learned valuable journalistic lessons during the writing of my first institutional editorial. 

            After attending an upsetting church service in October, I wrote a piece about the boundaries between a pastor’s personal opinion and that of the church he serves, and what happens when the line is crossed.

            I do admit—it was hard to keep my personal feelings and frustrations apart from the focus of the piece.  Especially because the church I attended was one I (formerly) held a high opinion of, writing about its shortcomings was a hard pill to swallow and it showed in my editorial.

            Another memorable review began with the theatre.  Unlike most of my peers, I was fortunate enough to attend the traveling performance of Mama Mia!  A long-time lover of ABBA and a patron of Mama Mia!, the experience at the theatre was extraordinary.  The review, however, was difficult.
            I found it hard to explain the plot of the play without giving away too much information.  Consequently, I left out too much.  This process of omission happened a lot during my journalistic journey, especially in the Transformers review.  Transformers was my first review ever, and I definitely had to redo my final copy for lack of proper descriptions.

            In fact, I reviewed every piece from my Ringo days.  Even compared to other journalists in the class who passed every review with flying colors, though, I’m not ashamed.  I was thankful for the opportunity to fix my mistakes and learn from experience.

            While I certainly had lots of practice editing and redoing with Ringo, my work paid off during my days with my second group, Paul.  Even though Paul had a different flavor than Ringo—the distinct taste of burnt-out college students heading face-first into finals, for one—there was one element that kept me going:


            As it turns out, I’m a way better blogger than I am a journalist.  The freedom of the blog style and the knowledge that basically no one was reading it made blogging different, fun and exciting. 

            I found that my voice drastically improved when writing for a blog.  The feeling of writing for a potential newspaper or magazine felt different for me than the freedom of my own blog, and my writing noticeably improved with the latter.

            Finding sentences that flow well even when there isn’t a lot of space was a challenge.  Learning how to craft sentences that came together in 500 words (or less) was difficult at first, but I feel as if my leads and overall tone improved once I moved to a blog.

            Of my blogging experience, I would say my favorite editorial was my final one—Obsession.  I feel like it encompasses everything I learned throughout the semester in terms of tone, examples and the crafting of a good lead.

            Throughout Journalism 315, my writing improved because of the examples of good writing around me.  The fishbowl experience was certainly daunting, but the two times my group went were ultimately positive experiences.

            It was, of course, terrifying to have my first fishbowl during my gay-marriage rant week—what a perfect piece to send out to the masses.  The editorial was well received within my group, thankfully, and the class didn’t have any vocal commentary. *Pass*

            Reading the pieces of others during their respective fishbowl weeks was often enlightening and refreshing.  Some memorable editorials and reviews that inspired me include Sara’s piece on the Sioux Falls convention center (and lack thereof), Megan’s thrift store search and Sonia’s whoopee pie parody.  Seeing the style, flow and blatant humor in these pieces in particular helped me to turn their examples into workable formats for my papers.

            Despite many good papers presented in fishbowls, however, there were also some that I definitely did not like.  Seeing some of the less than lovely writings week after week has also taught me what not to do when writing an article. 

            For example: I’m sick of your exclamation points (!), I don’t appreciate hearing about how much you hate Twilight and I really didn’t care for all of your bubbly enthusiasm and wordy embellishers. 

            These are just a few notes that I took when looking at other people’s writings and comparing them to my own.  Not that I’m the expert here, but I do feel like fishbowling has helped me form an opinion about what is good writing and what is not.

            Even though I’m an English Literature major and I have no intention of changing that (especially so close to graduation), I still value my experience in the world of journalism. 
            As a writer, this class was beneficial in developing my short-paper writing skills.  If I one day do any freelance writing, I now have a background in reviews and editorials and the resources necessary to write them.  

            In my experience, sometimes the afterthoughts have the best outcomes.  I may not have originally intended on joining JOUR 315, but I wouldn’t be where I am today without it.  

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Obsessed, much?

It’s Friday night at home, and you can’t believe the scene in front of you.  Everyone in your house is stuck in front of a TV, a computer screen, or a book:

Your dad’s a trekkie, and he’s on hour nine of the latest SyFy marathon.  But you can’t count on him for help on your homework anyway, unless you ask him to “take me to your leader.”

Your weird Uncle Chester is in the corner with his Dungeons & Dragons books and, despite a collective eye roll around the dinner table (or shall we say, pizza box), won’t stop talking in D&D lingo.

And now your little sister is locked up in her room, suddenly obsessed with New Moons, Eclipses and other astronomical phenomena that are way beyond her normal 8th grade science class material. 

Something must be wrong here, because it’s Friday night.  Normal people should be out in the real world, not stuck at home living life through the boob tube.  And then the truth suddenly Breaking Dawns on you: everyone is obsessed with the imaginary. 

From Star Wars and Stargate: Atlantis to Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Twilight , generations of geeks have lived through fictional characters in books, TV shows, movies, and video games in place of living their real life.  The afflicted are usually characterized by their unparalleled knowledge about a single subject area (often involving dragons), their bounty of paraphernalia including t-shirts, swords, and Virgin Mary-shaped toast and their collection of magic wands.

While some may believe that the Twi-Hard fans hit the obsessive glass ceiling in full force this past fall, the invasion of the body snatchers began long before Edward and his little groupies came onto the scene. 

With your older brother, your father, and your grandfather all as followers, Star Trek certainly has one of the most infamous groups of obsessed superfans.  Iconized by the simple Star Trek T-shirt to the full on surgically altered pointy ears, Trekkies lead the pack of TV show-obsessed Klingons with an abnormal (and quite frankly, weird) amount of pride.

Diving into the world of fantasy, Dungeons and Dragons also has a fan base large and strange enough to comfortably rival any Trekkie convention.  Rumor has it that one of our very own Augie professors was once a world-class DD champion—but even he realizes that it’s too embarrassing of a feat to make public.

But an unfortunate number of these trends—especially those in the entertainment industry—fail to entice the right kind of excitement in their couch potato fan base.  Games, books and movies are simply enablers that do little to promote interaction out in the real world, making it easier and easier to “just say no” to real life relationships.

Obsessive to the point that they take on the personas of their favorite characters and forget to live their real lives, fans choose instead to live through Bella & Edward, the Gilmore Girls and the Call of Duty squadron. 

TV shows, movies, books, and role-playing games (RPG) have created an alternate reality that no one can sign off of.  These types of obsessions essentially make the whole world into a RPG, where we’re all just playing the role of our favorite character.

At this rate, the world won’t be made of anything real or original.  We’ll all just be living vicariously through fictional people and dropping our own identity all together.

And you’ll still be stuck next to Uncle Chester on Friday night. 

Thursday, December 3, 2009

A Pirate's Life For Me

Pirate Radio, directed by Richard Curtis (Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason, Love Actually),  hasn’t been well received by the movie critic community.  It lacks general rock and roll raunch, according to some reviewers.  Others go even farther down the bad movie drain, grumbling that the movie rolls when it should rock.

Just like the DJs who disagree with Britain’s anti rock music policy, I completely disagree with these reviewers.  I think it’s only appropriate to flip off the establishment and give them exactly what they want: A Pirate Review.

Pirate Radio tells the story of eight rogue DJs who set sail in the middle of the North Atlantic to play rock music on the air, which was illegal in Great Britain at the time.  Interested in both British pop culture and in floating radio stations alike, I loved every part of this true 1960s account played out on film.

Using their unauthorized station Radio Rock, the eight men and one woman aboard the rusty fishing trawler continue to play music, despite the direct efforts of the British parliament to shut them down, partly for their love of pissing off the government, and mostly for their love of rock and roll. 

With such a small cast, every character immediately makes a memorable impact.  The story begins with Young Carl (Tom Sturridge) arriving on the boat, his mother having banished him to the floating radio after being kicked out of boarding school for the umpteenth time.  She hopes that a little sea air will help set him straight.

Although the “lost boy who has never known his father” storyline slowly carries itself out throughout the movie, it isn’t really central to the rest of the action.  We learn the identity of the missing role model over halfway into the movie, and, if anything, it throws a screeching dose of reality at an otherwise-hysterical film.

Tall and gangly with a hint of preppy bad-boy, Carl instantly fits in on the island of misfit toys led by Quentin (Bill Nighy, Love Actually, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows), the ship’s eccentric owner and Carl’s godfather.

This movie was the best laugh-out-loud film I've seen in a long time.  Curtis does a phenomenal job of staging on the cramped boat quarters; no one on the boat has nearly enough space, and the boatload of comical interactions that follow are priceless.

Take Young Carl’s first sexual encounter.  The whole ship bands together in multiple attempts to get Carl laid, which results in several hilarious scenes of sex pep talks and how-to’s, lost condoms, found condoms and, finally, a call to Quentin’s niece, Marianne.  When the act is finally consummated, however, Carl opens his door to find a live broadcast awaiting him; young boys across the country simultaneously cheer as The Count recounts Carl’s encounter, while young girls instantly burst into tears.

Endeavoring to make us Americans proud in every way he can, The Count (Philip Seymour Hoffman, Doubt, Capote), the most popular DJ and the only American on the ship, aspires to be the first DJ to drop the F-bomb on British airways. He rationalizes that “if you shoot a bullet, someone dies. When you drop a bomb, many die. You hit a woman, love dies. But... if you say the f-word, nothing actually happens.”

Momentarily lamenting over his lost opportunity, The Count drops his F-bomb (and many other choice words) numerous times while lamenting over his lost opportunity.  To his gratification, and Quentin’s delighted dismay, the mic was on air the whole time.

His love of swearing like a sailor aside, The Count’s true love of the airways ultimately leads to a DJ-cockfight when the legendary Gavin (Rhys Ifans) makes his return appearance to Radio Rock. A top-of-the-mast chicken game consequently ensues, and despite broken bones and bruised faces, The Count once again does America proud and holds his turf.

Besides playing rock and roll and smoking marijuana all day, the sex-starved disc jockeys are always up for a night of fun when the boatful of women are ferried out to Radio Rock once a month. This night of shagging ends…ahem…well for everyone, except for poor Simon (Chris O’Dowd).

Fans across the country tune in one sunny afternoon to witness Simon’s wedding to the beautiful Elenore, played by Sioux Falls-native January Jones.  Now allowed to live on ship with her new husband, Elenore bluntly asks to move in with Gavin.

Simon’s wife leaves him after 17 hours of marriage, a spectacular feat the rest of the crew never lets him live down. 

Hasty divorces aside, one of the best features of the movie is the soundtrack.  Memorably playing “Elenore” by The Turtles in the background of Simon’s wedding to the same, the music in Pirate Radio lives up the Radio Rock’s expectations.  The CD, which has more than 30 songs and sells for $19.99 on iTunes, also includes “All Day and All of the Night” by The Kinks,  “Hi Ho Silver Lining” by Jeff Beck and “My Generation (Mono Version)” by The Who.

While it may not be something I'd take my mom to, the hilarious characters, the witty dialogue, the phenomenal music and the plain old raunchiness made Pirate Radio excellent not only to me, but clearly to all the twentysomethings in the theater that night. 

After all, that’s what we twentysomethings are supposed to do: flip off the establishment when we feel there’s something worth flipping off.  And Pirate Radio is definitely worth fighting for. 

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Holiday Review

For families across the country, the holiday season means spending time with loved ones.  But I think a lot of us can agree—family weirdness only multiplies during the holidays.

Take, for example, Thanksgiving at my aunt’s house last weekend.  At first glance, you’d think we were a typical family enjoying the holidays together:  We hugged and jumped right into conversation as soon as we got into the house, we ate Thanksgiving dinner with (most of) the usual ingredients (a goose instead of turkey, Aunt Donita? Really?), and even had a traditional pumpkin roll for dessert.

And then Great-Aunt Erma brought out the accordion.
My family has never fit under any definition of “normal,” but bringing out the accordion to sing half a dozen Czech polka songs was a first for us.
And if that wasn’t bad enough, I had brought my boyfriend to this particular family gathering to meet the majority of my extended family for the very first time. And they knew that.
Thanks, Erma.
It's becoming more and more apparent that I was either:
A) born into the wrong family, or
B) born into the right one just so there would be some sanity amongst us.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Naked Juice Review

Take your clothes off—you’re about to experience the glory of a Naked Juice

Sure it’s upwards of $3. But the pound of juice in every bottle is soooo good.

The all-natural, no-sugar, no-preservative, funny-as-hell juice company began in Santa Monica, California in 1983 with just a blender and a backpack of ice.  Over the next 26 years, Naked Juice would expand to grocery stores and college campuses everywhere, inspiring a Naked juice frenzy that would entice even the most frugal college student to spend up to $3.29 on a bottle.

Naked Juices are divided into seven “families”—Antioxidant, Superfood, Probiotic, Bare Breeze, Well Being, and Protein, giving nearly anyone the opportunity to find the perfect juice.

I decided to try some of the varieties in my own tour de juice. I ended up with Peach Mangosteen Bliss from the Bare Breeze family, Black and Blueberry Rush from the Well Being family and Power-C Machine from the Superfood family, all bought for $2.99 at my local HyVee.

I’m predictable with peach-flavored drinks. Peach is always ok in my book!  So it was no surprise that I choose this delightful combination of mangosteens, peaches and white grapes.  With no seeds or pulp, Peach Mangosteen Bliss is smoother than a lot of the other juices because of the "Bare Breeze"-esque texture.

The juice has an odd goldish color, which I guess works because it kind of looks like a peach.  As far as the smell, Peach Mangosteen Bliss smells more like white grape juice than like the peach or the mangosteen the name promises.  I do, however, like the taste.  I can easily identify the peach and the white grapes, which stand out much more than the mangosteen in this crisp and refreshing drink.
Sippy Cup Rating: B+

A combination of blueberries, blackberries, apples and bananas, this juice is pretty tasty, even to a reviewer who doesn’t like blueberry drinks.  The color is a deep blueish-purple color that perfectly resembles the black and blueberries inside.  In fact, the drink even tastes like black and blueberries.  I would say the apples and the banana are mainly just fillers; I can’t taste anything but the berries, which is exactly what I wanted.

Black and Blueberry Rush is very smooth, and probably the juiciest juice of the bunch.  As far as blueberries go it was a top contender, but there wasn’t enough of a punch for me. I like it tangy.
Sippy Cup Rating: A-

Oh. My. Gosh. My fav!

Power-C Machine has quite the list of ingredients (strawberries, guavas, apples and mango, to name a few), plus 285 mg of Vitamin C.  All of these bits of yummy-ness blend amazingly to make a tangy and delectable drink.  I can mostly taste the peach and the guavas, which makes the guava-lover in me very happy.

The color is a bit redder than the Peach Mangosteen Bliss, making it much more appealing to the eye.  The texture is thick and probably nearer to a smoothie than a juice, but it isn’t too much. It makes me feel like I’m actually drinking something that will stick with me.
Sippy Cup Rating: A+

Ladies and Gentlemen, the pants are off—there are definitely a few Naked Juices out there worthy of your $3.00.   

Monday, November 16, 2009

Not Me! Monday

In the name of following the tradition started by my friend MckMama, I've decided to start participating in the phenomenon that is Not Me! Monday.

Not Me! Monday started as an attempt to forget some of the day-to-day imperfects that everyone experiences and to recant some not-so-lovely moments that we'd all like to forget.

For example, I did not spend all night last night watching the conjoined twins special on TLC instead of doing my homework that I had put off all weekend. It was not me who fell asleep while reading a book (on which I had a paper due today), only to wake up uncomfortably on the couch at 2:30am and stumble clumsily into bed, jeans and all. And I most certainly did not sleep through three alarms this morning, causing me to rush from eight until noon to finish said paper.

That was definitely Not Me!

And this evening, I did not encourage Peder's trip to Verizon to check out the new Droid (which was too expensive, and the keyboard sucks) instead of going to our original destination--studying at Camille's. That was Not Me!

And finally, I definitely did not just write an entire useless blog instead of writing the blog that's due in class. Tomorrow.

Nope. Not Me!

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Recipe Review

After an 80-degree Friday in November in South Dakota, I’m ready for some snow.

So I looked in my cupboard and found a box recipe for snowball cookies—perfect for pretending that it’s 50 degrees cooler outside than it actually is.

But then I started thinking: do the boxed baked goods we buy at Walmart stand up to the homemade recipes Mom used to make? I decided to find out.

If you’ve never seen a snowball cookie before, it’s essentially a small ball of dough with nuts rolled in powdered sugar. Pure heaven.

I started off by making the 30 tiny “pecan balls” with my mom’s recipe.

Among the traditional ingredients of flour, sugar and salt, this recipe called for one stick of butter, one tsp of vanilla, and one cup of chopped pecans. These cookies came out delightfully nutty, and looked very tempting after I rolled them in powdered sugar.

I couldn’t help but taste one warm, homemade pecan ball. Just one. Or two. Mmm.

While my first batch of bliss cooled, I started to make the “snowball cookies” from the box.

This recipe called for one and one half sticks of butter and no liquid whatsoever.  The box practically advertised the problem--"Just add butter!"

This lack of liquid made rolling the dough into little balls challenging (read: impossible) until I deviated and added some water. Aside from this, the recipe took practically no time to whip up.

The premade mix had a few pecans—nothing compared to the one-cup glory of Mom’s homemade.

But one taste told me that they were not only as good as the homemade cookies, but—dare I say it—better. These cookies were full of flavor despite the absence of the vanilla extract and the generous helping of pecans.

I don’t know if this was just the extra half stick of butter talking, but they were good.

I love my mom’s homemade recipe. But when it comes to the expediency of the boxed recipe, even I can admit that semi-homemade has its place in my unseasonably warm kitchen.

Want to try the two cookies for yourself? Here's the recipes:

Mom's homemade Pecan Balls:

1 c. sifted flour
1/2 c. soft butter or margarine
1 c. chopped pecans or hazelnuts
2 TB sugar
1/8 TSP salt
1 TSP vanilla
Powdered Sugar

Combine all ingredients except powdered sugar
Refrigerate 30 minutes
Heat oven to 375*
Roll dough into balls about 1 1/4" in diameter
Place 1" apart on ungreased baking sheet
Bake 15-20 minutes--do not brown them
Let stand 1 minute, roll in powdered sugar, cool, then re-roll in sugar.

Makes about 20 [I squeezed about 28 out of it]

Boxed Recipe:

Came from Walmart, in the seasonal baking section. It's a Betty Crocker.

The only ingredients necessary were 1 1/2 sticks of butter and a touch of water. The rest of the ingredients were in the mix, and the directions were on the box. The baking time was cut in half, however, to about 8-10 minutes.


Monday, November 9, 2009

Rick Riordan's The Lightning Thief book review

            Puberty is hard enough.  But try going through it when your dad is Poseidon.
            In Rick Riordan’s smash hit children’s novel, The Lightning Thief, adolescent hero Percy Jackson has to deal with both.  
            For the first 12 years of his life, Percy’s unknown parentage contributes to a mountain of problems rivaling the size of Olympus.  Percy also has trouble controlling his feelings, has a hard home life with his mom and his dead-beat stepdad and he has ADHD and dyslexia.  The only subject Percy excels in is Latin, taught by the kind-hearted, wheelchair-bound Mr. Brunner, and Percy’s only friend is Grover, an awkward adolescent with muscular dystrophy.
            Percy doesn’t fit in anywhere--until he realizes he isn’t just a human.  Following a fight with a monster disguised as his pre-algebra teacher and a date with the three old ladies knitting giant socks—later revealed to be a Fury and the Three Fates, respectively—Percy arrives at Camp Half-Blood, a place designed to keep the children of the Greek Gods safe from harm.
            At Camp Half-Blood, Percy suddenly finds himself surrounded by people—and creatures—he thought were mere fairy tales.  Mr. Brunner reveals himself as Chiron, the hero-mentor centaur.  Grover is now a satyr and Percy’s personal protector.  Dionysus, the god of wine, runs the camp as a sober Mr. D.  And what’s more, Percy finds out that he isn’t just a normal boy—he is Poseidon’s son, the Son of the Sea God.
            Why save the most important revelation of his life for his 12th year?  Because his father needs his help.  Percy learns he must travel to the Underworld, the home of his father’s rival, Hades, retrieve Zeus’s stolen lightning bolt and clear his father’s name.  A tale of classic family honor mixed with minotaurs, hellhounds and prophecies, Riordan’s book never fails to exceed the reader’s expectations.
            Some of the mythological creatures in The Lightning Thief aren’t monsters 12-year-olds come across every day.  But Riordan does an excellent job bringing the material down to a middle school level, and he does it with unparalled humor. 
            For example, Percy gives the Minotaur a hysterical yet memorable description: “He wore no clothes except underwear—I mean, bright white Fruit of the Looms—which would’ve looked funny, except that the top half of his body was so scary…[with] his horns—enormous black-and-white horns with points you just couldn’t get from an electric sharpener.”
            Hilarious chapter titles such as “I Accidentally Vaporize My Pre-Algebra Teacher” and “My Mother Teaches Me Bullfighting” are also a sure way to attract the attention of any ordinary middle schooler and draw them into this extraordinary tale.
            Over the course of the five total books in the Percy Jackson and the Olympians saga, the trio of Percy, demigoddess Annabeth (daughter of Athena) and the satyr Grover tackle several quests and meet numerous gods and goddesses, all while allowing the reader to learn their mythological significance.           
            While the material may be hard to remember even for some adults (try naming the 12 main gods with a working knowledge of Greek mythology from high school), Riordan’s readers seem to have no problem. 
            Riordan gives the characters unique looks that lend to their meaning in ways that middle schoolers respond to and delight at, such as Ares pictured with a Harley, biker tattoos, and a leather jacket, and Poseidon with a Hawaiian shirt, sunglasses, and sandals.  They’re specialties, as the god of war and the god of the sea, respectively, are now unforgettable.
            Even more important than absorbing the stories of Artemis and Apollo, however, are the larger issues Percy must deal with his life—such as his learning disability.
            Percy bounces from boarding school to boarding school labeled as a delinquent because of his ADHD and dyslexia, a title many American youth can identify with.  He has trouble concentrating, his brain is always running a mile a minute and when he does sit down to read, the letters float off the page.
            When Percy (and the reader) realizes that his learning disabilities are a result of his Olympic parentage, he learns that he is special, not just different.  He struggles to learn English because his brain is hardwired to learn ancient Greek.  He can’t concentrate in a slow-paced classroom because his body is genetically designed for a battlefield.
            The beauty of Riordan’s book lies in these realizations; a child reading along with Percy as he struggles in school sees their disabilities as acceptable, even desirable, to a special group of kids living over the edge of Half-Blood Hill.
            Riordan succeeds with his ability to craft a believable, fantastical universe by connecting Poseidon’s Grecian world to Percy’s 21st century.  For its incredible value in breaking the barrier of learning disorders and teaching mythology to preteens, The Lightning Thief is way more than a tale of preteen puberty. 

Institutional Editorial

          Last weekend, members of East Side Lutheran Church in Sioux Falls sang hymns, read scripture and took communion the same as they had every other week.  The choir even sang “Great Is Thy Faithfulness” beautifully before the sermon, given that day by Associate Pastor Lon Kvonli—and that’s where everything started to go wrong.
            On this 19th Sunday after Pentecost—a regular Sunday—Pastor Kvonli took it upon himself to use his sermon to educate the congregation on his negative position on gay marriage following the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America’s recent vote to legalize the ordination of gay or lesbian individuals.
            Wait, wait—aren’t ELCA Lutherans supposed to be more tolerant and more liberal than other Lutherans? Yes, they are.  ELCA churches are typically more modern in their language, style of worship service and religious viewpoints than their more conservative Lutheran counterparts in the Missouri and the Wisconsin Synods.  For example, many ELCA pastors preach that the Bible is inconsistent and shouldn’t be taken literally.  Some even go so far as to declare extramarital sex and homosexuality as permissible in the eyes of the church.
            Homosexuality in the church is precisely the point at debate for Pastor Kvonli and many other ELCA pastors.  At its Churchwide Assembly held this past August, the ELCA voted “to open the ministry of the church to gay and lesbian pastors and other professional workers living in committed relationships,” according to the ELCA website.  This modernizes its previous stance, which allowed gay and lesbian pastors only if they were celibate.
            In resistance to the ELCA decision, Pastor Kvonli preached a sermon filled with biblical examples and personal anecdotes all proclaiming the sins of anyone living in a homosexual relationship—as well as anyone protecting their rights. 
            Pastor Kvonli began his sermon with an adolescent recollection of a man named Dan, an influential man who fostered Pastor Kvonli’s sense of community and conviction in God’s teachings.  One day, he realized that Dan had disappeared from church.  Pastor Kvonli later learned that his friend and mentor was fleeing because he had been outed—Dan was gay.  This revelation caused Pastor Kvonli to question the faith of a man whose personal actions contradicted what their church taught. 
            Although Pastor Kvonli would welcome his old friend at his church today, he said it would be only as a sinner.  Pastor Kvonli implied clearly that the church welcomes Dan and other homosexuals in order to help change their sinful lifestyles. 
            The treatment of Pastor Kvonli’s old friend portrays the hypocrisy many churches express in the welcoming of homosexual individuals.  With a preconceived notion of the homosexual sinful nature, pastors and ministers across the nation discriminate against gay and lesbian individuals without considering the depth of their personal faith.  People may be welcome at church—but that doesn’t mean they’re not judged.
            Regardless of their political, religious, and especially sexual orientation, all members of a church community should feel a sense of inclusion at a place like East Side.  Instead, what Pastor Kvonli did was hypocritically preach on the acceptance of all members—as long as they confess their homosexuality and leave it at the door.
            For those opposed to his discourteous sermon and for those whose faith was questioned, the beautiful stained glass windows of East Side Lutheran Church will never look the same with the reflection of those preaching inside it.  In Pastor Kvonli’s church, like all too many others, thy great faithfulness apparently isn’t recognized in everyone.

Mama Mia! live theater review

           A musical that has an exclamation point automatically inserted into the title better be worthy of so much excitement.  Hip moves, witty lines and tremendous tunes are necessary before this punctuation can be considered seriously.
            Mamma Mia!, directed by Phyllida Lloyd, without a doubt lives up to its title.
            Set on a Greek island stuck in the 1970s, Mamma Mia! begins with the wedding of Sophie Sheridan (Liana Hunt), a young girl raised by her single mom Donna (Michelle Dawson), the owner of a poorly-performing local inn.  
            Unhappy with her unanswered parentage and wanting to find her real father before her big day, Sophie tempts the fates by inviting all three possible prospects to her wedding—without the knowledge of their old lover, her mother.  Set to the infamous tunes of ABBA, the musical chronicles Sophie’s journey to find her father and Donna’s struggle to come to terms with her past.
            The advertising slogans are true: It’s “a trip down the aisle you’ll never forget.”
            Lloyd has some big shoes to fill after Mamma Mia! The Movie (2008) became the highest grossing musical film worldwide.
            A stunning film with an abundance of both big names and big musical numbers, the movie has undoubtedly painted the realm of Mamma Mia! with a rose-colored film.  An audience seeing the musical performed on stage has probably seen the movie first—which may or may not bode well for the live performance in front of them. 
            Overseeing the production of both the film and the musical, producer Judy Craymer makes the transition seamless for both die-hard movie fans as well as theatergoers.  And while no one can really top Meryl Streep, Lloyd has nothing to worry about with her tour of Mamma Mia!
            The first glimpse of Sophie—standing by the mailbox about to send off her metaphorical paternity tests—sets the scene on the Greek island. Wavy, bright blue backdrop and legs frame two white walls built to resemble the beautiful sun-washed houses on the Mediterranean. 
            Designed by Mark Thompson, the two walls revolve throughout the play, creating several different set possibilities ranging from the front door of the inn, the stage for Donna and The Dynamos and the meeting place for Sophie and her fathers. 
            Donna and Sophie make an excellent mother-daughter team.  Their light-hearted banter and smiles are only topped by Donna’s two best friends flown in exclusively for the wedding; Tanya (Rachael Tyler) and Rosie (Kittra Wynn Coomer) offer a more sophisticated view to life on the beach—until they drag out their feather boas, hairdryer mics and sexual innuendos to support Donna when her past life comes crashing through the window. 
            The 70s seem to be one of those decades that no one wants to emulate, but everyone still starts cheering whenever someone busts out some great disco. Such is the case in Mamma Mia! Although sometimes too over-exaggerated, moves from the days of flower power are front and center in Mamma Mia!, and the timeless choreography still makes you want to get up and strike an Elvis pose during “Dancing Queen.”
            Truth be told, the choreography in Mamma Mia! is not very technically advanced.  The dancers aren’t exactly popping out the pirouettes or the high-flying tricks you expect in dynamic Broadway choreography. But even in spite of this missing feature, the show certainly has enough flair of its own.  Choreographer Anthony Van Laast successfully channels all the hip moves from the 1970s—even though they nearly break the hips of Donna, Rosie and Tanya.
            The cast sings several songs to the caliber of ABBA, if not better.  Benny Anderson and Bjorn Ulvaeus (music and lyrics) cleverly twist the lyrics to fit the story line but still retain much of the original ABBA flair.  An instant crowd favorite and the title track, “Mamma Mia” describes the feeling Dawson gets while darting between her former lovers Harry Bright (Michael Aaron Lindner), Bill Austin (Martin Kildare) and the always-suave Sam Carmichael (John Hemphill).  Amidst flashbacks of their intimate times together, Donna “cant resist ‘cha,” but at the same time can’t let the unexpected guests know “just how much I missed ‘cha.”
            The most delightful scene, thankfully reproduced in every medium available for Mamma Mia!, is “Lay All Your Love On Me.”  Without a doubt, the swarm of beach boys dancing in wet suits and flippers steal the show not only in vocal talent, but also in sheer comedic timing.
            Perhaps the only scene to be a let-down compared to Mamma Mia! The Movie is “Dancing Queen.” Used in the movie to show female solidarity, the musical is highly disappointing without a dock laden with old Greek women “digging the Dancing Queen.” The live performance is largely a solo for Dawson.  With the band of women sadly missing on the stage, the only thing left to focus on is Dawson’s singing—which doesn’t always make for a good compromise.
            Despite this one flaw, Mamma Mia! still lives up to the audience’s expectations. 
            Hip choreography? Check. ABBA music? Check. Awesome lyrics because of said ABBA music? Double check.
            Mamma Mia! certainly deserves the exclamation point. 

Tenth Avenue North, "Over and Underneath" album review

Although the Christian pop rock circuit certainly doesn’t need another band that sounds like Casting Crowns or Third Day, we’re not quite sure just how we got along without Tenth Avenue North.  The band deserves nothing but praise for its freshman album, Over and Underneath.
            The 11-track CD earned the band the title of best selling new Christian artist of 2008 following its May 20, 2008 release.  The band wastes no time with two lead singles, “Love Is Here” and “By Your Side.”  Over a year since the album’s debut, the latter continues to top music charts and radio requests on a national scale.
            The song themes are not by any means ground-breaking. “Break Me Down,” the album’s fifth track, is point blankly about a worn-out sinner breaking down and asking for God to come into his life.  But the band does stand out in its lyrical originality and deliverance: “I feel You fallin’ / Like the rain against my skin / And I hear You calling / Your voice like thunder in my head.”
            The tracks, with simple names such as “Times” and “Hallelujah,” are catchy.  Over the course of the album, a continuous toe-tapping beat diversifies enough to cater to several different musical tones and styles ranging from pop to acoustic. Fresh, upbeat songs mix with the slightly more dominant soft, acoustical sounds to make the album familiar yet interesting to listen to.
            Songs such as “Lovesick” take the diversity too far, however. The title, which sounds too much like a Jonas Brothers rip-off, loses the mellow rock sound that makes the group so enjoyable. Gone from this track are the heavy drumbeats and the steady guitar strumming; instead, a quiet, solo beat with a hint of southern drawl makes a song already full of metaphors (“Like a child needs a night light in the dark, / Lord light me up”) almost out of place with the rest of the album.
            Peaking at No. 130 on Billboard’s top 200 in April 2009, the group’s success is mostly definitely attributed to the widespread success of “By Your Side.”  This song, along with songs such as “Hold My Heart,” showcases the harmonies of lead singer Mike Donehey and backup vocalist Jeff Owen.  Quiet guitar and piano sounds fill the background creating a sound that is now widely identified with Tenth Avenue North.
            “By Your Side” evokes strong emotions with simple, rhyming lyrics reminding people of the never-ending presence of God’s love: “I’ll be by your side / Wherever you fall / …Please don’t fight these hands that are holding you.”  Based on the testimonials given by KLOVE alone, listeners everywhere seem captivated by the universal message delivered with a contemporary beat.
            “Hold My heart,” about a man struggling to understand the wait behind God’s plan, is another song that effortless flows from one bridge to the next.  A simple yet powerful piano melody supports Donehey’s enamoring echoes and vibratos, making this the album’s best song that has yet to be a hit.
            Over and Underneath won’t take the world by storm; the songs aren’t quite unique enough, and the band has yet to find a unified, effortless style.  This album does, however, bring Tenth Avenue North front and center in the group of Christian rock newcomers, and I’ll definitely be waiting by the band’s side to see what’s next. 

Transformers movie review

You can dress up a Transformer, but it’ll still be a hunk of metal. 
      Such is the outcome of the latest installment in the Transformers saga, Revenge of the Fallen, produced and directed by Michael Bay (Transformers, Pearl Harbor). 
      As the title would lead you to believe, the second installment of the Transformers saga is, predictably, a battle for revenge.  Shia LaBeouf reprises his role as Sam Witwicky as he tries to find the balance in his family life, his school life, his love life and his Autobot life.  Sam must join with the Autobots he left in his past to stop the Decepticons from destroying the planet.
      When Sam himself proves to hold the key to total Decepticon domination, only girlfriend Mikaela (Megan Fox), former Sector 7 agent Seymour Simmons (John Turturro) and newcomer Leo Spitz (Ramon Rodriguez) can help him save the world.
      Rather than making Transformers 2 the traditional, run-of-the-mill blockbuster sequel, however, the movie is highly disappointing with too many random and overplayed storylines.
      Coming to a Transformers-grade film, the audience expects to see fiery explosions, incredible battles, and lots and lots of robotics.  But instead of viewing a movie full of thematic glory, Revenge of the Fallen fails in its dedication to intense action and high-quality special effects.  The movie is more akin to a bunch of clichés slapped together and thrown on the screen.
      Starting off the mess is the journey of taking the first Witwicky to college.  Somehow, writers Ehren Kruger, Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman seem to make this one of the most painful scenes in the whole movie.  Even before we see any Autobots, Dad and mom are wreaking havoc on Sam’s old room, Sam’s baby photos, Sam’s long-distance relationship—every aspect of his life that the movie isn’t supposed to chronicle. 
      Bay should have drawn the line way before the teary-eyes Mom (Judy White) dropps her son off at college (Princeton, no less) with his baby booties wrapped around her neck.  That is definitely not cool, especially when her son should supposedly be downplaying his role as the discoverer of a robotic race.
      As per tradition in the action film genre, the second cliché came through in full throttle: babes looking to score more than just a ride in Sam’s Camaro.
      Mikaela, widely seen as an over-exploited sex magnet, opens the scene fixing cars in her dad’s shop wearing the most scandalous version of coveralls every seen.  The Daisy-Dukes are second only to Mikaela running in heels to escape a Decepticon.  Both scenes are totally believable, combined with the astonishing fact that she’s even dating geeky Sam in the first place.
      Nearly an hour into the not-so-brief diversion to Autobot University, we finally reach the promised action. And despite the unnecessary wait, the over-the-top, larger-than-life battle scenes won’t disappoint the hardcore action film fan.
      The viewer’s level of adrenaline takes a spike every time the futuristic cars intricately unfold into the towering clan of Transformers led by Autobot Optimus Prime, voiced by Peter Cullen.  Bumblebee, Sam’s rockin’ yellow Camaro, also makes a delightful reprise appearance.
      New members to both the Decepticon and the Autobot side keep things fresh and interesting, even if you can’t tell who’s who among the mass of twisted metal. 
      One thing unanswerably sticks out, however: In a futuristic world where robots and humans fight side by side, their antiquated battle methods seem incredible, almost preposterous.  Gunfire and fist fighting are unimpressive fighting techniques compared to the advanced special effects normally expected in Transformers.
      Of course, the viewer does have to disregard several key national security glitches—scenes that include a bunch of Marines conning a National Security Advisor off a plane, a massive Decepticon ripping the top of a pyramid and a cleverly-disguised Decepticon-turned-Autobot living in the Smithsonian push the Patriot Act too far out the window.
      Most of the annoying details make Revenge of the Fallen a barely-worth-it film, the bulk of which shouldn’t have made it past the cutting room floor.  Even though the robo-action is excellent and up to Transformer’s par, the movie’s shortcomings still backfire in transforming the blockbuster into anything but a fail.   

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