The First Annual Good Movies of 2014 And Subsequent Top 10 According To Josh Jackson (Presented in HD)

With 2015 being only a few days old, I thought it would be an excellent time to recap all the films that I saw and place them into several different categories. The tiers and Top 10 were decided after a year long discussion held by a committee of one and will culminate with the undisputed best motion picture of the year.

Films had to meet the following criteria in order for a movie to be considered for the tiers and the rankings:

  1. Be released in 2014
  2. Be watched by one or more committee member(s).

This year, the committee screened 32 films and all of them have been carefully placed into specific categories. If you disagree with any of the categories or rankings within the post then feel free to yell your complaints into the empty void of night.

All movies will be accompanied by their MPAA rating and Rotten Tomato Score.

Hey Man. That Was Pretty Fun

Films in this category didn’t necessarily have a lot of substance, but they were pretty fun. They didn’t wow critics and they really didn’t take the box office by storm. Most of them lacked good plots, captivating casts, and quality, but they were fun adventures and I really enjoyed myself.

Non-Stop, PG-13 (60%)

  • Liam Neeson stars in an awesome fast-paced mystery on board a commercial airplane. It’s a blast and a half and one critic in particular noted, “The action in this movie was just… NONSTOP.” (Adam Hernandez, Southwest Airlines)

Hercules, PG-13 (58%)

  • There were two Hercules movies this year. This is the only one that featured The Rock, and was coincidentally the only one I saw. It was pretty goofy. It was pretty stupid. But it was really entertaining. It had some great one-liners, several laugh out loud moments, and The Rock was The Rock.

Dracula Untold, PG-13 (22%)

  • There are rumors that Dracula is the first film in Universal Studio’s expansive Avengers-esque monster movie universe. If that’s the case, the upcoming movies need to improve upon the quality found in Untold. But the “Hey Man. That Was Pretty Fun.” category isn’t worried about quality. It doesn’t concern itself with deep characters. It just wants to see some bad guys get beat up by invincible vampires.

Earth to Echo, PG (48%)

  • Echo is kind of a Millennial version of E.T. A bunch of kids find an alien, get into hijinks, government or some kind of agency gets involved, kids work hard to get the alien home, and film it all on their smart phones and expensive cameras. Didn’t think I would like this one, but the kids were really funny, I laughed a lot.

Like I said. None of these movies overwhelmed cirtics, but I thought they were delightful escapes.

Yeah. I Guess That Was A Movie

These are the movies that I saw once, and almost forgot they existed. Some of them were more memorable than others, but for the most part, these films were pretty average. Honestly, I forgot I watched half of them.

Note: Every film will be accompanied with an alternative title.

Malificent, PG (49%)

  • Cheek Bones

The Fault In Our Stars, PG-13 (80%)

  • OKAY.

The Book Of Life, PG (82%)

  • Yeah Alright.

The Monuments Men, PG-13 (31%)

  • This Isn’t Oceans :-(

RoboCop, PG-13 (48%)

  • If It Ain’t Broke, Fix It.

The Muppets 2, PG (79%)

  • Where’s Jason Segel? :-(

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, PG-13 (21%)

  • Johnny Knoxville is Leonardo

When the Game Stands Tall, PG (18%)

  • “Based” on a “True Story” (The Entire Third Act Didn’t Really Happen)

The Hobbit: Battle of the Five Armies, PG-13 (60%)

  • The ACTUAL Desolation of Smaug

Let Downs

There were two movies that I was looking forward to this year, and they did not meet my expectations, those two movies were:

Noah, PG-13 (77%)

  • A lot of people were angry with Noah because Daren Aronofsky took a lot of artistic liberties with the classic bible story. But to be fair, the biblical account of Noah isn’t very long. If someone is going to make motion picture about the great flood, then some liberties are going to need to be taken. No, the movie was not very biblical, but that wasn’t my issue with the movie.
    Mainly, I just didn’t care about it. It wasn’t entertaining, it wasn’t super moving, it just ind of happened. I was expecting a major biblical epic, but it fell way short. It wasn’t terrible, it just wasn’t great.

The Amazing Spider-Man 2, PG-13 (53%)

  • There were three very flat, uninspired, vanilla villains that populated this movie. Electro wanted to kill people because he didn’t get enough attention. Harry Osbourne went from being a really healthy kid to being crippled by a mysterious “goblin disease” in a matter of days. The Rhino suffered from one of the worst CGI designs in modern blockbuster history. Gwen and Peter’s relationship continuously swung between being totally fine, to being on the rocks throughout the entire movie. This movie was awful. Totally awful. Shame on you Spider-Man. Shame on you.

Christmas Shoes

When it comes to Christmas, few songs drive people more insane than Christmas Shoes. It’s about a kid who wants to get his dying mother a pair of shoes for Christmas. It’s really not musically inventive, it’s super vanilla, very superficial, very cheesy, and is loathed by 95% of the population. Bottom line: It’s coming from a good place, but it isn’t a good song.

There was one movie this year that was essentially the Christmas Shoes of movies. And that was none other than:

God’s Not Dead, PG (17%)

God’s Not Dead tells the story of 10 different characters with like 13 different plot lines. The main story is about a college student who winds up engaging in a semester-long debate with his caricature of an atheist college professor. And as the title of the movie would suggest, they were debating whether or not there is a God.

The film culminates with all the characters going to the Newsboy’s God’s Not Dead concert. At the concert there’s a lot of dancing, hand raising, singing, cheering, high fiveing, a hit-and-run case of vehicular manslaughter that goes unsolved and unpunished, and the Newsboys!

Okay, you got me, there wasn’t a whole lot of high fiveing going on. But all the rest absolutely happened. Including the vehicular manslaughter.

God’s Not Dead has its moments, however few they may be, but overall the film is pretty bad. The characters are awkward and the multiple plot lines intersect about as smoothly as a pair of charging Rhinos. I want it to be good. As a Christian, I really really really want it to be good. But it’s super cheesy, pretty vanilla, and not very inventive. It’s coming from a good place, but it just isn’t a good movie.

I Am So Mad That I Bought A Ticket to See This Movie. Why? Why Did I Waste My Time? What Was I Expecting? I Am Just So Mad At Myself.

transformers: age of extinction, PG-13, 165 minutes (18%)

Better than the movie

This movie is 165 minutes long and did a really neat thing where it refused to tie up any of the hundreds of loose ends that it created.

For those of you who haven’t seen it, Mark Whalberg stars as a man from Paris, Texas. Yup. Boston’s own Marky Mark Whalberg plays a man from East Texas.

This was the first time I audibly said, “You’re joking” in a movie theater.

If you go back and watch the previews of the movie, you will notice that they suggest that Dino robots will play a big part in the movie. The title alone “age of extinction” also hints at the inclusion of dinosaurs in this movie. And the opening sequence itself shows dinosaurs.

Well guess what.

The Dinobots show up around minute 140. And then they make their exit around minute 150.

I was so mad.

Lack of dinos, a man from Paris, Texas with a Boston accent, Optimus Prime magically growing rockets on the back of his legs and flying into space, a plot that is never explained nor makes sense, dumb villains, loose ends on loose ends on loose ends.

transformers four is the comic-sans of movies.

It is terrible in every way imaginable. I hate it so much.

And yet, I was one of the people that helped it make 1 billion dollars.

The battle is over. I am ashamed. We are doomed. All is lost. All is lost. All is lost.

Mark Whalberg has been confirmed for Transformers 5.

There’s Something In My Eye, I Swear :'(

This is a list of all the movies that made me cry in 2014 :'( They will be accompanied with a “Why they made me cry” explanation

St. Vincent, PG-13 (76%)

  • The little kid recognizes Vincent as a modern day saint and recounts all of the great things Vin did in his life. And then the kid goes and reminds you about Vin’s recently deceased wife who had been battling Alzheimer’s disease. You really can’t blame me for the little drop that escaped my eyeball.

Big Hero Six, PG (89%)

  • I didn’t technically cry, but I got close when Baymax sacrifices himself for Hiro.
    “I am satisfied with my care.”
    NO YOU AREN’T, HIRO. FIGURE SOMETHING OUT.

Alexander And The Terrible Horrible No Good Very Bad Day, PG (62%)

  • I am just as surprised as you are to see this on the list, but sure enough it happened. When Alexander comes home and finds out his parents rented out an Australian Outback petting zoo, and Alexander realizes that he isn’t invisible to them, and that they really do love him, and that he matters to them, I just couldn’t fight it, man. A couple tears welled up. IT WAS REALLY SWEET, OKAY? IT WAS JUST REALLY KIND OF HIS FAMILY. LEAVE ME ALONE.

About Time, R (69%)

  • Yeah I know. It’s not from 2014, but I watched it over the summer for the first time. The beach scene at the end of the movie: Niagara Falls. I was a wreck.

Just A Bit Outside

Before we get to the top 10 I wanted to make note of some movies that were really good, but for whatever reason they just missed the top 10 cut. All of these are really good movies, and some may be present in other top 10 movie lists, but for me they just lacked a little here and there.

How To Train Your Dragon 2, PG (92%)

  • The second installment of Hiccup and the gang didn’t necessarily measure up to it’s predecessor, but it’s still a very good movie. It tugs at your heartstrings, expands upon the world created in the first film, and has a great final act. But it misses the very high standard that the first movie set by the hairs on its chinny, chin, chin. Solid movie.

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, PG-13 (91%)

  • The only reason why this isn’t in the top ten is because the concept of apes taking over the world makes me really uncomfortable. Everything about this movie was good, I just felt really uneasy with the story it was telling.

Alexander and the THNGVBD, PG (62%)

  • Still can’t believe I cried a little in this one. I was so frustrated with myself. The film is endearing, charming, and pretty okay. It’s just not quite Top 10 material.

Interstellar, PG-13 (72%)

  • I wanted to put this in the Top 10. I really wanted to. But I couldn’t. I was really looking forward to this movie for a long time, and was super pumped to see what Nolan had in store for audiences this time, but was a little let down once the movie was over. It was emotionally draining for sure, but it was just missing something. I can’t quite put my finger on it, but for me it was just missing that extra something to make it a great movie.

What If, PG-13 (69%)

  • It was good, just not great. You knew Harry Potter would wind up with the girl the whole time. The story was well told, and I enjoyed myself, but much like Interstellar, it was missing that extra something to make it great.

About Time, R (69%)

  • The only reason why this isn’t in the Top 10 is because it was made in 2013. Great movie. So Good.

Top 10

The movies that have made it to this category are what I considered to be the best movies of the year. You do not have to agree with this list. I will admit that there probably won’t be much difference between my top 10 and one created by an 8 year old. But that’s okay. This is just my opinion. And if you don’t like my top 10, or any of my other categories, you’re more than welcome to disagree.

But if you put Transformers 4 in your top 10, I will look for you, I will find you, and I will make you sit down, critically watch it, and make you think about what you’ve done.

So here’s my Top 10 (Brought to you by the B1G 10 and Big XII)

11. Mr. Peabody and Sherman, PG (79%)

  • This was such a cute little movie and was one of the surprises of 2014. It had comedy, time travel, a talking dog with glasses, and a very touching ending. If it’s Friday Night, and you’re looking for something to Redbox, and you haven’t seen this movie yet, I would highly recommend renting it.

10. Big Hero 6, PG (89%)

  • Somehow I became emotionally invested in the destiny of a robot that looked like a marshmallow. I don’t know how Disney does it, but their last four films (Tangled, Wreck It Ralph, Frozen, and Big Hero 6) have been phenomenal and they don’t show any signs of dropping off in the immediate future. Big Hero was so sad, thrilling, fun, goofy, serious, and fulfilling. It was a captivating adventure and a fantastic trip to the movies. I was satisfied with my care.

9. Guardians of the Galaxy, PG-13 (90%)

  • “We are Groot.” Yes we are. Yes we are.

8. Edge of Tomorrow, PG-13 (90%)

  • Edge of Tomorrow was easily the biggest surprise of 2014. It struggled at the box office, but it was totally awesome. There was tons of action, lots of time travel, and a thrilling plot. It was so much fun and it was really good. The movie formally known as Edge of Tomorrow (Now called Live. Die. Repeat. for some reason) is a lot like Groundhog Day in plot structure, but is a lot more serious and action packed. If you haven’t seen it, you really need to go watch it because it just so good.

7. The Lego Movie, PG (96%)

  • Everything is awesome about this movie. GET IT? No but seriously. Everything was great. I laughed a ton and got very sentimental. It ends on the overused “everyone can be a hero” cliche, but I don’t care. I hope that someday we all have the opportunity to unlock the special within us, and maybe, just maybe, we can watch TV with all our buddies on our own double decker couch.

6. St. Vincent, PG-13 (76%)

  • Bill Murray was a grumpy, surly, curmudgeon with a heart of tarnished gold which is exactly how I want to be when I grow older. The relationship he shares with his next door neighbor is really sweet and Murray delivered a fantastic performance. It is wildly inappropriate at parts, but if you can make it through the first 20 minutes, then you’ll be rewarded.

5. Godzilla, PG-13 (74%)

  • OH MAN. OH MAN. I love Godzilla so much. He was a childhood hero of mine. This movie honored the very best parts about my favorite atomic lizard and HOLY SMOKES ATOMIC BREATH. WOW. Bryan Cranston dies in the first 30 minutes, and Aaron Taylor Johnson was not anywhere near his best, BUT GODZILLA WAS SO COOL. HE STOLE EVERY SCENE HE WAS IN. HE JUST CRUSHED IT. Academy take note: Godzilla for best actor in a leading role plz.

4. Captain America: The Winter Soldier PG-13 (89%)

  • The first Captain America movie was essentially a preview for The Avengers. Winter Soldier, on the other hand completely alters the entire direction of the MCU and changes everything you’ve known about S.H.I.E.L.D. But looking at the movie from a strictly standalone point of view, and outside the context of the bigger franchise, Cap 2 is just really good. The Winter Soldier is a great menacing presence throughout the film, Robert Redford is a fantastic political villain, Sam Jackson’s car chase was amazing, and Chris Evans is such a good Captain America. This may be Marvel’s best movie to date. So good.

3. X-Men: Days of Future Past, PG-13 (91%)

  • Future Past is fantastic. It has its fair share of problems and plot holes, but when you’re dealing with time travel it’s impossible to cover all of your bases. Patrick Stewart’s speech to James McAvoy was inspirational and moving. Michael Fassbender once again reminds you why he is a more than capable heir to the role of Magneto. Hugh Jackman does less Wolverine-y things in this one and takes on a more sophisticated supporting role, while remaining totally awesome. Future Past not only fixes all the mistakes that X3 and X-Men Origins made, but it also has a very rewarding and nostalgic ending. It’s a solid entry in the X-Men franchise and is quite possibly the best of the bunch.

2. Star Wars: The Force Awakens Teaser Trailer, G (100%)

  • I MAKE THE RULES. THIS COUNTS. I’M SO EXCITED. LET’S GO.

1. Boyhood, R (98%)

  • For those who have never heard of Boyhood, let me give you the most inriguing aspect of this film: it was made over 12 years with the same cast.

    The exact same cast.

    You literally get to watch the main character grow up right in front of your eyes. Boyhood is the perfect picture of what it was like to grow up in Texas in the 2000’s. The family situation may not have been the same as yours, but the real world situations are exactly the same. The movie only filmed a few scenes at a time over the course of twelve years which creates a very unique evolution process. The music, the film quality, the dialogue, the culture, all grow and change as the plot moves forward in time. It’s fascinating.

    It’s remarkable that not only was this type of movie attempted, but that it was executed so well. The story is great and the actors all deliver phenomenal performances. It’s so good.It is sentimental and nostalgic without being cheesy. It is a work of art and yet it isn’t pretentious. You may not agree with all of the view points of the characters and the choices they make, I certainly didn’t. But you can absolutely relate to a lot of the situations they were in and the challenges they faced.

    Parents, be warned that the F-word gets dropped a lot. But if you have a senior in high school, or a recently graduated senior, I think you should really give Boyhood a viewing. It’s remarkable. It’s moving. It’s my favorite movie of the year and has a real shot to win Best Picture at the Academy Awards.

Well that wraps up the list. If you disagreed with everything, that’s okay :( If you disagreed with a few things, that’s also okay :( If you also cried during Alexander and the Terrible Horrible No Good Very Bad Day, please let me know so I can at least feel better about myself.

Thanks for reading.

XOXO- Josh

PSA: A Hippopotamus for Christmas

In 1953, ten-year-old Gayla Peevy hit the airwaves just in time to send a very particular message to dear ole Santa Claus. Like all the children of the world, Gayla had one thing on her Christmas list that she desperately wanted more than anything else. Most kids ask for things like dolls, tea sets, footballs, maybe nice clothes, or perhaps a Turbo Man action figure with the arms and legs that move and the boomerang shooter and the rock’n roller jet pack and the realistic voice activator that says 5 different phrases including, “It’s Turbo time!” I don’t know, I’m spit ballin. But ole Gayla wanted something far more obscure. She wanted a Hippopotamus.

Gayla’s obscure and peculiar request became quite the Christmas Classic, and most of us have been delighted as the song has slipped out of our car speakers and joyfully played on our ear drums this Christmas. But all fun aside, it’s clear to me that Gayla’s request is not as innocent and playful as it would appear. She’s dancing with the devil in the pale moonlight, and her Christmas wish is actually a death wish.

Hippos Aren’t Goofy

The Hippopotamus is the most poorly depicted species in the animal kingdom. In cartoons they are viewed as lovable giants or as the goofy aquatic bovine of Africa. In the 1940 Disney film Fantasia, hippos are depicted as graceful ballerinas that are desperately afraid of dancing alligators. Here’s a refresher for those of you who didn’t watch it everyday as a child.

Look at them. So innocent. So loveable. So goofy. A little creepy. Actually, really creepy. I’m uncomfortable.

But they look harmless. They look friendly. They are peaceful creatures that are to be cherished and loved. What could possibly go wrong?

YEAH. THAT’S WHAT COULD GO WRONG.

Hippos Are Terrifying.

Listen Gayla. I don’t know what’s wrong with you, but for some reason you have not only condemned yourself to destruction, but also your immediate family and also the big fella up North. What did he ever do to you to deserve such a fate.

Listen kid, allow me to divulge some fresh knowledge on you.

  • Hippos weigh anywhere from 1.5 to 3.5 tons.
    Santa already has an issue getting to all the children over the entire world in one night, he does not need the additional 3 tons of angry hippopotamus weight slowing him down.
  • Hippos are easily angered and territorial.
    It would be one thing if you were asking for a baby hippopotamus. One that you could build trust with, and nurture. But Gayla, your lyrics seem to suggest that you want a fully mature, male, hippopotamus in a brand new habitat. A habitat that he will naturally wish to dominate and control. Gayla why.
  • Hippos kill more people than crocodiles, elephants, lions, tigers, and bears.
    Gayla’s mother tries to warn little Gayla in her song. Mother says a hippo would eat Gayla up. “But Mom. Teacher says that Hippos are vegetarians.” LISTEN TO YOUR MOTHER, GAYLA. The hippo may be a vegetarian but “hippopotamuseses” also kill 3,000 people a year. I guess Gayla is trying to make it 3,001.
  • The Hippo’s bite can exert upwards of 1800 PSI.
    It exerts more force than the lion, tiger, bear, and others. The Hippo will eat the cookies you left for Santa, the plate they were sitting on, the table, and the carpet in one swift and satisfying chomp.

These are not the animals from Fantasia. They fear no one. They will saunter into a clan of feeding crocodiles and begin licking their spines. They will challenge Lions, Elephants, hyenas, and any other unfortunate soul that wanders into their midst. They are constantly mad. Part of this is because they have two sharp tusks that drive into the roof of their mouth. But I think it mainly has to do with the fact that they’ve been misrepresented in the media and have no choice but to pick a fight and convincingly exert their dominance over every living creature they meet.

Closing Remarks

Hippos laugh at the Leviathan, badger the Behemoth, challenge the Collosus, and guffaw at giants. Readers, please do not follow in the footsteps of Gayla. Do not ask for a Hippo for Christmas. Ask for a doll that will talk or go for a walk, your two front teeth, a pump action Red Ryder BB Gun, a boy named Sue, something, anything, just don’t ask for a Hippo.

Or you will face the toothe-ache-induced-wrath of the Hippopotamus.

For the Dogs

Yesterday, I received the bit of news I had been dreading for several months. Judy, my German Shepherd from back home, had passed away. She had been struggling for several months, her legs were in poor condition, she was nearly blind, and basically deaf. It was her time. My Mom and Dad made the difficult decision to take her to the local shelter, and as of yesterday afternoon, Judy is no longer suffering. This isn’t the first time I’ve lost a dog, and it certainly won’t be the last.

In 6th and 7th grade I lost Ranger and Shadow, a Sheltie and a German Shepherd respectively. The loss of Shadow really, really hurt the whole family because she was such a stupendous companion–not that Ranger wasn’t, Shadow was simply exemplary. Both times, I was the first one to find them after they had died.

One of the first things my dad asked me after Shadow had died was, “Is it worth it? Would you want another one? Would you want to go through all of it again? Knowing that this would ultimately have to be the outcome?”

After I wiped the tears from my eyes and snorted up the mucus that had been building up inside my nose, I looked up at him and emphatically replied, “Yes.”

And that is still the case today.

The Great Welcome

“Oh man. Oh man. Oh man. I can’t wait for master to come back.”

In a previous blog (which you can read here if you really want to) I talked about how cats show us the reality of our own sinful and selfish desires. Dogs on the other hand, give us a picture of unconditional love.

If you’ve never owned a dog or experienced the love of a canine, then you’re really missing out on something special. Yeah, they can be pretty needy, they can get a little hyper, their spacial awareness drops to zero when they walk in a living room and start wagging their tail, and getting them house-broken is a pain in the neck. But, you need to go through it at least once because the reward is really special.

The smell, the noise, the slobber, and all the annoyances that can get to owners, gets forgotten pretty quickly. Because on any given day of the week, there is a friend waiting patiently at home for the return of their master. And when a dog’s master does finally return from work, school, the store, the house next door, the mailbox, or the front step, they always seem to respond in the same excited fashion. If they could talk, it would be an endless stream of “I missed you!” and “You’re so awesome!”

The way Shadow, Ranger, and Judy all welcomed me when I had been away from them for any given period of time, was fantastic. There was a genuine feeling of excitement and love. It was pure.

If you’ve never experienced the joy that Man’s Best Friend offers, if you’ve never questioned the reason why they turn around three times and sit, if you’ve never been bombarded by the greatest welcoming committee that this life has to offer, then you are missing out on a beautiful experience.

Mirrors

“When will reflection show who I am inside??? :D”

The best part about dogs is that there isn’t much you can do to earn or lose their love. If you get them as a pup and feed them a few times, they’ll stick by you through anything. Once they’ve placed their trust in you, you can’t do much to lose that trust. For the most part, their love is unconditional. And you won’t find a better example of unconditional love short of the love found through God.

You think it’s a coincidence that “Dog” spelled backwards is “God?”

You think Adam was one hundred percent responsible for naming all of the animals?

You think the same guy who named the hippopotamus, the rhinoceros, the zebra, and the giraffe was the same guy who came up with “dog?”

I like to believe that Adam was just coming up with the most nonsense words he could conceive when any animal walked in front of him.

And God had to reign him in a little bit.

God: Hey Adam how’s it going?

Adam: GREAT! I’m naming so many things! Hey look over there! I’ve never seen that before! I think it looks like a… a….

God: Oh yeah! That guy! I was think something along the lines of–

Adam: CATERPILLAR

God: I’m sorry what was that?

Adam: I DON’T KNOW MAN! I’m just saying the first syllables that come into my head!

God: Oh dear.

Adam was not going to narrow it down to “Dog” on his own. It probably would have been something along the lines of “Xantergoose” or something else ridiculous had God not intervened. He took control of the process for just a moment or two to ensure that dogs received the perfect name.

(Side note: This made up narrative, which features both free will and predestination, has conveniently played into the hands of both the Calvinists and the Arminians. Everyone is happy! Or Upset! I don’t really know!)

Dogs have a name that mirrors God. But there name is not the only way in which we can see the Lord.

One of the parables that Jesus tells in the bible is the story of the prodigal son. The son represents all of us and the father represents God. The son decides he wants to leave home, he takes his inheritance, spends everything way too quickly, and eventually winds up having to work really undesirable jobs in order to survive. Then he gets the idea that he needs to go back home and try to work as a servant for his father in order to live a more comfortable life.

After a long journey, he finally makes it back to his father’s land. But before he can even get within a hundred yards of the house, his father races off to meet him. The dad wraps him up in his arms, hugs him real tight, kisses him on both cheeks, and shows his son how much he missed him.

Sound familiar?

If it doesn’t, I’d recommend clicking this link.

Dogs aren’t God. They never will be. But they are a small reflection and constant reminder of the love that the Lord has for us.

Man’s Best Friend

Dogs can be smelly, messy, and disaster-ridden. Loud, yippy, and obnoxious. Inconvenient, annoying, and needy. But every owner would probably agree that they are also unwaveringly loyal, steadfast protectors, and watchful guardians. Inhumanly loving, uniquely joyous, and unabashedly adoring.

They love you even when you don’t feel like loving them back, and shower you with their own form of praise when you need it most. Dogs do not look at your potential, your current state, or anything of the sort. They just want to love you and be loved in return.

Shadow, Ranger, and Judy exemplified all of these characteristics and more. I am thankful for the time I had with them, and look forward to the companions I will walk with in the future.

Here’s to the frustration, the joy, the agony, the love, and the unrivaled companionship that embodies the adventure of owning a dog.

Thanks for everything.

IMG_4053-1

Farewell, old gal.

 

 

Josh vs. The Hooch

Josh vs. The Hooch

When I was a freshman in college I applied for a job at a Baptist summer camp called Mount Lebanon. They were in need of a pretty big staff because summer is one of their busiest times of the year, and I was in need of some cash inflow and some experience. So in the summer of 2011, I joined 50 other college kids in Cedar Hill, Texas for one of the most memorable seasons of my life.

Part 1: The Platypus

For those of you who have never volunteered or worked at a camp before, it’s important to know that a camp job is a conglomeration of several different jobs. Over the summer a staffer could be a janitor, PE teacher, baby sitter, landscaper, lifeguard, safety specialist, counselor, belay rope master, chauffeur, hydration expert, and a medical assistant. Because a job like this takes on the identities of a wide array of responsibilities, I like to compare the camp staffer to a duck-billed platypus.

The platypus is the weird combination of several different animals. It has the body of an otter, the tail of a beaver and the bill of a duck. It’s classified as a warm-blooded mammal, but it lays eggs. It’s quite the anomaly in the animal kingdom, and I believe it is some of the strongest evidence we have to suggest that God has a sense of humor.

There’s actually a small part of me that likes to believe that God created a human right before he created Adam. His name was probably Todd, he was given the maturity of a four year old and he was tasked with helping God design all the animals. When God first asked him for a suggestion, Todd kind of panicked and blurted out a series disconnected thoughts that ultimately resulted in the creation of the platypus.

Clearly, Todd did not keep his job for very long.

Platypi have some strange surface level features, but it’s a pretty regular aquatic animal once you look past its oddities. Same thing goes with a summer staff position. Most people have a pretty general idea of what they’re getting into when they apply for a job like this. There may be a few unorthodox tasks asked of staffers, but there isn’t a whole lot that catches people off guard.

When I arrived at orientation for Mt. Leb in May, I felt like I had adequately prepared myself for everything that this job would throw at me. I had been to camp before, I had seen summer staff at work, I thought I was ready for anything.

I was wrong.

Part 2: The Call

Orientation went fairly smoothly. I made a handful of rookie mistakes, got nicknamed Aslan (Thank you Drew Lyons), bonded with some pretty swell people, and got acclimated to life in Cedar Hill. I really couldn’t complain about anything.

Heading into the last day of orientation the only thing that I was nervous about was a safety certification test. If you failed the test you were kind of out of a job, so it was important to be prepared. I don’t think anyone has ever failed it because it’s pretty simple, but I took the challenge a little too seriously and became a little stressed. So I decided to wake up early on the last day to do a little last minute cramming.

6 am rolled around and my alarm started blaring. I shut it off and laid on my back for a little bit while staring at the ceiling. I started running through little factoids that I would need to know for the test later that day and tried to remember the little acronyms that would lead me to success.

After about 5 minutes I heard some movement coming from with the cabin common room. The noise turned into whispering and hushed snickering. And then in a moment everything became silent. The birds outside stopped chirping, the air conditioning shut off, even the snores from a few neighboring staffers ceased. It was eerie, like the calm before a very powerful storm.

I wish I could go back in time and linger in that silence for a few moments longer. I would revel in the blissful ignorance of that moment and truly appreciate the silence for what it was: one last moment of happiness.

The last fleeting moment of silence was not merely broken, but utterly shattered. The sound of a drum roll came crashing through the cabin and it slowly crescendoed into the deafening roar of a heavy metal song. Sound violently reverberated through the 1970s wood paneling of the bunkhouse like a pinball and abruptly collided with the ear drums of every unfortunate young man still in their bed.

Immediately, the bunk house became flooded with the male staff members that had worked at Mt. Lebanon in previous summers. They ordered all of us sleepy and discombobulated rookies to throw some clothes on and go into the common room where we were greeted by a group of men violently moving their body to the fatal pulse of the death metal music.

“DANANANANANANANANANANANANANANANA YOU. WILL. DIE. TO. NIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIGHT” (assumed interpretation of lyrics)

This may have been a mistake.

I was terrified. It looked like a scene from a tribal witch dance in a third world country.

Once all of the rookie guys were assembled, the returning staff members looked at us with soulless, possessed eyes, all while swaying to the distorted beat of the noise. And then in unison, they all uttered a phrase that still haunts me to this day.

“The HOOCH is calling.”

Part 3: Poison Knives

Remember the platypus? Remember the concept of “what you see is what you get?”

Well. That’s not totally true for the male platypi.

Here’s the thing about the fellas: They have all the weird stuff that the females have but with one fun little addition…

THEY’RE POISONOUS.

WHAT.

You remember Todd, don’t you? He was person that I sacrilegiously inserted into the original creation story. Apparently one of his last ideas, right before being relieved of his duties, was putting VENOMOUS SPURS on the back legs of the male platypus.

TODD. WHY.

I guess God was like, “Hey, that’s actually hysterical. You’re still fired, but thanks for that idea,” and then signed off on it. Apparently this little freak show of a marsupial was too adorable and needed hidden poison knives to spice stuff up.

” Time to die, losers.”

LOOK AT THAT FACE.

“lol here comes the pain”

THAT’S THE KIND OF FACE THAT WILL KILL YOU AND FEEL NOTHING.

That’s right, Perry. I know your dirty little secret.

And just like the male platypus, the male staff position at Mt. Lebanon also had a hidden poisonous knife called: The Hooch Run.

The Hooch run was the process that Mt. Lebanon had for collecting all the trash bags around camp. It involved a green dumpster, a trailer, a tractor, a driver, and 2 runners. The dumpster was strapped down to the trailer which was pulled around by the tractor. The two runners had the envious task of running out in front of the tractor, collecting the full bags of trash in the trash cans, running back to the tractor, and throwing them into the mobile dumpster.

“Hey Josh, what does Hooch mean?”

I’m getting to that, please don’t interrupt.

In some instances “Hooch” might refer to alcohol, and in others it might refer to the crime-solving canine sidekick for Tom Hanks. But at Mt. Lebanon it has a completely different meaning. Hooch, or Hooch juice, refers to the liquid substance that would collect at the bottom of a trash bag. In the hot Texas summer, anything can liquefy if left in a black trash bag long enough. Dr. Pepper would usually find it’s way to the bottom of the bag first, then pizza would eventually slide down, and on a few occasions plastic would melt, slither to the end, and fuse itself into the now lethal concoction that rested at the bottom of the trash receptacle. And the best part is that the trash bags would leak this substance all over the place when they got picked up!

Staffers called it Hooch, I called it flirting with patient zero.

“Josh, why was the run so bad?”

What did I just say about interrupting?

I hate physical activity. I don’t care for it at all. I really detest running. Whenever people ask me to run their 5k, I ask if I can drive it instead. I was not trained to run, I do not run, and this particular run (close to about 2.75 miles, maybe less, I don’t really know) was no beginner course.

When the returning staff members finally snapped out of their demon possessed trances, they led us outside so that we could do a fake hooch run, which was the exact same thing as the real deal, minus the trash bags. All the rookies participated. It was awful. I was terrible and I hated it.

After that “jog” around campus I vowed to do my very best to never get chosen to be a runner for the remainder of the summer.

And for quite some time, that’s exactly what I did.

Part 4: The Real Deal

Everyday during the staff lunch, our bosses would select two unfortunate guys to go run around campus and pick up trash. During this time, I would act very nonchalantly. I wouldn’t make any noise. I wouldn’t draw attention to myself. I would just sit there and blend in with my fellow staffers. It worked brilliantly. All those years of getting picked last for dodgeball had finally paid off.

On Wednesday during the fourth week of camp I once again avoided being selected. I thought I was in the clear. I thought I was a champion.

I thought wrong.

During that lunch, my boss came up to me and two other guys and told us that one of the runners had rolled his ankle and couldn’t finish. They were only about a quarter of the way through the run and someone needed to step in and finish for him. There was silence as a very dangerous game of chicken began between my two co-workers and me. I prayed that one of them would speak up and volunteer themselves as sacrifice to the Hooch. But as I looked at the other two guys that were standing next to me, I depressingly realized that they were not going to answer my prayers. So, I manned up and told my boss that I would step in.

The Hooch was calling. And I couldn’t escape.

One last note about the Hooch: It is not held in the morning or in the evening. It’s done in the middle of the day immediately following staff lunch break. Which is great because the run is just long enough for your body to go through almost the entire digestive process.

So with the sun at it’s peak point in the sky, pizza in my belly, Target brand Sketchers with no arch support on my feet, and the fear of God in my body, I raced out to meet the monster.

I caught up with the tractor and was greeted by fellow Hooch runner, Matthew Cutchen. He’s a super encouraging individual and one of the most positive men I have ever had the pleasure of meeting. He could make you feel fantastic about anything and he lived up to that reputation all throughout our run.

For about 30 minutes the driver told us where to go and which bags to pick up. Matthew galloped like a majestic steed and I hobbled around like a wounded cow.

After what seemed like an eternity, our run finally came to an end. There were many times when I wanted to give up. At one point I even barrel rolled down the side of a hill because I misjudged how quickly I was moving, the incline of the hill, and gravity. I was dirty, dusty, cut up, a little bloody, and exhausted. I felt pretty worthless throughout the duration of this silly task. The Hooch ate me up and spat me out, but I lived to tell the tale.

Part 5: The Hooch Shop

The end of the run took us to a big steel storage shed where the Tractor and the dumpster were kept. I was relieved to be done running, but I was not prepared for what was ahead of me. The shed was fittingly named the Hooch shop. It was pretty filthy inside and outside. It didn’t have a whole lot of feng shui going on.

Once inside someone told me to go grab some “hooch water” from the water fountain inside the shed. I was down for water, but the machine that they directed me towards was not very encouraging. All the panels on this beaten up fountain were coated in a layer of rust. It looked like no one had bothered maintaining it since the 70s and I’m fairly certain that I saw some fungus growing along the outside. I took one look at it and suddenly I wasn’t that thirsty anymore. When my partners saw that I wasn’t down for the water they encouraged me to give it a shot and then that encouragement turned into a flat out demand. So I nervously made my way to the fountain and got myself a drink.

The water from that fountain must have had a direct line to a little pond somewhere in the Colorado Rockies because it was the most delicious water I’ve ever had in my life. I was blown away. After the first few timid sips I put my whole mouth on the spout and started taking on water like a camel. It was so refreshing.

My partners called out to me again, “Hey Josh, get back here. There’s more.”

“THERE’S MORE?” I replied emphatically. I found it quite hard to believe that there could be anything better than the water fountain I had just made out with, but I was wrong. When I came back to the front of the shop I was met by an air compressor. The hose connected to the air compressor was fitted with a very thin, very long, copper tube. And then one of the fellas said, “Take your shirt off.”

Which was weird.

“Nah man. I’m good.” I said.

“No. Josh. Just take your shirt off.” They insisted.

Removing the shirt was a fairly difficult task because it was stuck to my body due to the immense amount perspiration I had just produced. But once I peeled it off, the air compressor was turned on and I was rewarded majestically. When you’ve sweated all day long and a nice breeze sweeps over you, it feels pretty good. When that breeze is a concentrated through a copper tube and is about 20 degrees cooler, It feels like God is breathing on you.

We didn’t stay in the shed for too long because we had to get back to our jobs, but right before we left I’ll never forget Matthew coming up to me and saying, “Hey man. You did a great job today! Really proud of you dude! We did it!”

That was the first and last time I ever heard Matthew tell a lie.

I’m a terrible runner. I was terribly slow. I couldn’t keep my footing. I fell down. I really made a mess of the whole run. But you know what? That’s kind of what life is like.

Part 6: Well Done

The New Testament has several instances where life is compared to a race or a long marathon that we have to run with the purpose of winning. But often times we get tangled up and stumble. We get slowed down. We barrel role down the side of a hill. We lose focus and we lose sight of what we’re doing. We get some hooch juice spilled on us. We grow weary. We long for the chance to quit and leave it all behind.

Hebrews 12: 1 & 2 says this:

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us,fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.

Jesus already did this little hooch run called life. He’s better at it than we are. Like WAY better. His life became infinitely harder and way more dangerous than our lives, but verse 2 tells us that he completed the race because of the joy that was set before him.

Jesus knows what’s on the other side of this race. He knows the rewards that are coming. God is going to meet us at the end and give us the most refreshing water we’ve ever had. And when we meet Him face to face, He’ll look us in the eye, and just like Matthew said to me he’ll say, “Well done.”

Well done? God, are you serious? Is that some sort of joke? Are you saying I did a good job? Or is “well done” the way you like your sinners to be served up? God I don’t know if you paid attention, but I am pretty far from well done. I fell into the same sin over and over again. I stumbled on multiple occasions. I was a terrible child, parent, teacher, worker, etc. You really need to review the tape.

But that’s the great part about Jesus running the race. He accomplished the run that we couldn’t. He stepped in for our shortcomings. He picked up the loads we couldn’t carry. He perfected the race and authored our faith. When God looks at the race we’ve run he doesn’t see someone who stumbled every step of the way to the finish line. He sees a group of people who completed a journey with his son. And that’s pretty cool.

There are some days where it’s going to feel like a trash bag exploded on our back and we’re covered in hooch juice, but some days will be a breeze. The important thing to remember is that we are never alone. We have a partner who has done this and knows the struggles we will face. He sympathizes with us and picks us up in our brokenness. He is guiding us to the finish of a long marathon. He’s preparing us for hardships (Romans 5:3-5) and when we do stumble, we are reminded that we will rise again (Micah 7:8).

And maybe.

Just maybe.

When we get there, he might even let us create the next platypus. But don’t quote me on that.

In Defense of the Bears

On Saturday, 5 Baylor beat 9 TCU in a fantastic 61-58 shootout that featured two unbeaten teams. Baylor was down 58-37 early in the fourth quarter after Bryce Petty threw a pick six. What followed was the most resilient comeback that I think I have ever witnessed. Baylor scored 24 unanswered points in the fourth quarter to take down the frogs and keep their undefeated season alive and then the Baylor fans then proceeded to rush the field.

There were some very questionable penalties late in the game, and quite justifiably TCU fans were upset that the refs may have blown the game for them. While the referees did make a few bad calls in the last minutes of the game, I will point out that they were not the ones who suddenly stopped playing defense in the fourth quarter after taking a 21-point lead.

But apparently Horned Frog fans and college football connoisseurs everywhere were not so much appalled at how the game was officiated, but rather how Baylor’s fans reacted to the comeback victory.

“I can’t believe that the fans of a higher ranked team rushed the field. That’s just ridiculous. You just don’t do that. So dumb. #Unbelievable #Classless”

I guess fans of higher ranked teams don’t ever need to rush the field when their team beats a lower ranked opponent. You wouldn’t want to find yourself being like these guys:

For the record. This was in 2009. TCU was ranked number 4. Utah was ranked SIXTEEN. The score at the half was 38-14 in favor of TCU. The final score was 55-28. There was no big comeback. Victory was hardly ever in doubt. And Utah wasn’t even undefeated. But apparently a win over a one loss Utah team, who really hadn’t done much all season, warranted a more emotional response than Baylor’s victory over a Top 10, undefeated team simply because College Gameday had come to Fort Worth for the game against the Utes.

Baylor is now being told that they need to “act like they’ve been here before” (Whatever that means) because they’re the defending Big 12 Champs and were the higher ranked team. But here’s the thing about telling Baylor to act like they’ve been here before.

They haven’t been here before.

Yes, they won the conference last year. Yes, the Heisman trophy has been to Waco. Yes, they are currently ranked number four in the nation. And yeah, there was a brief time in the late 70s when Michael Singleterry played with them and they were pretty good, but come on. Five years ago in 2009, Baylor was awful. They were the midst of a 15 year bowl drought. It wasn’t that they hadn’t won a bowl game in 15 years, they hadn’t been bowl eligible in 15 years. For a good stretch of time people legitimately forgot that Baylor was a division one program.

When the Cowboys were having rough seasons, they would schedule a pee wee league team to boost their spirits. If they were unable to beat that squad of fourth graders then they would schedule a scrimmage with Baylor, because no one could lose to Baylor.

One year Oklahoma was playing the Bears and they were winning 122 to negative three at the end of the third quarter. Some fans got bored in the parking lot and started setting off fireworks. The Sooners lost track of time and assumed that the fireworks were signaling the end of the game. So they packed up and left the stadium before the start of the fourth quarter. 10 plays later, Baylor scored.

Telling Baylor fans to act like they’ve been here (Again, I don’t really know what this means) is like handing a king size Hershey’s bar to a child and telling them to take small bites once every 15 minutes. It’s not going to happen. There’s too much awesome, fantastic, wonderful, stuff going on to not just dive right in and experience the sugar rush of a fantastic season and an unbelievable comeback.

The people who say “you should never rush the field” are probably people who have never experienced the jubilation and pandaemonium of that event. Rushing the field in a victory over a ranked opponent is not tacky. It’s saying, “OH MY GOSH I LOVE THIS TEAM SO MUCH, I WANT TO CELEBRATE THEIR VICTORY WITH THEM AND HUG EVERYBODY THIS IS WONDERFUL. I WILL HAVE MASSIVE STUDENT LOANS WHEN I GRADUATE BUT AT LEAST FOR THIS MOMENT IN TIME, I DON’T HAVE TO WORRY ABOUT IT. HOORAY.”

Seriously, the cost of tuition should give every fan base the right to rush the field anytime they want to. Win or lose.

Let Baylor have their fun. This may not last forever. They could be terrible for the rest of time, and if that’s the case, no one will not look back at these few seasons of success and say “Yeah. We are terrible right now. But at least I never ran onto the football field and enjoyed an exciting win. We were far too classy for that.”

In terms of being a national and respected football powerhouse, Baylor is very young. It’s still really weird to pull up the AP polls and see the Bears sitting near the top of the national rankings. But as a winning culture becomes more and more common place for the Bears, the fans will respond accordingly. They will calm down. It will be fine. But for right now, let them enjoy their king size Hershey bar of a season.

Taking to the field after the victory is not explicitly reserved for upsets. That’s never been the case. And If you really want to keep their fans from running onto the field, then don’t let them beat you at their house. Easier said than done, but that’s what you have to do.

Laura

You would hear her way before you ever saw her. She was obnoxiously extroverted in best way. Her laugh drew its fair share of eye rolls, but it also immediately illuminated whatever room she was in. She was blunt, honest, and had a tremendously infectious attitude.

Sadly on Tuesday, she passed away.

Laura was a major part of my high school experience. She was the most gifted musician I have ever met, and I was very pleased when she would out perform those punks from Coppell High School. She was often times the life of the party in the Clarinet Section on Friday night. And occasionally she was also a trouble maker. But then again, so was everyone according to Mr. Truitt.

I last saw Laura two years ago at Cowboys Stadium for the Texas Tech vs. Baylor football game. The Goin’ Band was making their way toward the stadium at the same time that the Baylor Band was, and before I knew what was happening I heard my name being yelled at 130 decibels. I turned around and sure enough, Laura was standing before me goofy as ever. We hadn’t seen each other in about six months, but it didn’t seem to matter to her. She picked up right where we had last left off and immediately starting laughing and doing some weird dance move. I was more than happy to join in. I will always know Laura as a warm, goofy, sassy, welcoming, joyful, talented, tell-it-like-it-is human being.

Unfortunately, we grew apart. Right now I really wish that I had the opportunity to see her or at least hear her booming laugh once more on this earth. But fortunately, I have the peace of knowing that she knew the Lord and is in a far greater place.

So here’s to all the shared Mu Alpha Theta meetings, Molly on The Shore, The Prince and the Lion, summer band rehearsals, drum cadences, and sometimes being called “classless” by Mr. Melville.

You are missed, Laura. But I am confident that I will see you once again. May you always be playing a beautiful Clarinet sonata while simultaneously krumping.

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The Reality of the Feline

The Cat Named Casper

My grandparents, or Mimi and Papa as I like to call them, have lived down in Corpus Christi for several several years. Taking a trips down there was one of my favorite things to do as a kid. They didn’t happen super often, so I kind of lost my mind whenever I my parents informed me that we were taking a trip to visit Mimi and Papa. Their house has always had a wonderfully strange fragrance that reminds me of cookies and hugs. I’m not sure if it’s the candles they use or what, but it always smells fantastic in that house. Coming down to Corpus meant three things when I was younger: getting a shower of love from Mimi and Papa, smelling and living in their wonderful home for a few days, and of course Casper the cat.

NO. Not this guy

I have no idea when my grandparents got Casper, I just always remember it being a very prevalent part of my Corpus experience. He or she (I don’t remember the gender) had a beautiful white as snow coat and ice blue eyes. It was a very calm creature that went anywhere that it pleased. Sometimes it would lounge around outside on a bench, sometimes it would go in the backyard, and sometimes it would find a human toddler to scratch the living daylights out of and exert its dominance.

Casper was the worst. He/she/it, for whatever reason, decided that I was not welcome and constantly reminded me of my unwelcome-ness every opportunity it had.

The Incident

On one particular afternoon while I was visiting Corpus, Casper was apparently feeling especially despicable. I was doing little kid things outside and decided to sit down on a bench out in the front yard. Casper must have sensed my presence. Immediately it apparated or used the floo network or something and materialized on the opposite end of the bench, silently staring me down.

At this point in my short life I understood there were two things that could hurt me:

1. Banging my head on the kitchen tile (long story)

And more importantly

2. Casper

“DOES THIS LOOK LIKE THE FACE OF MERCY, BOY?”

I didn’t have a lot of time to get myself out of the predicament.

If I moved around Casper would instinctually leap out and scratch any exposed surface of skin with the precision of a skilled marksman. I also knew that sitting around and waiting for Casper to get bored was also not an option. I could see that it was systematically trying to locate a crippling weak spot in my three year old body that it could sink its devilish fangs into and calculating the perfect moment to strike. With no viable options on the table, I did the only thing that I could think of: I sounded the alarm.

“mooooOOOOOOOOMMMMYYYYY”

Surely, if there was anyone who would provide the sanctuary that I was looking for, it would be my mother. And immediately she came over and sat between myself and Casper.

The cat was not pleased when a larger, more capable human obstructed the smaller, less competent child that it so longed to torture. I looked on with sigh of relief. And for a fleeting moment it looked like Casper might just leave me alone now that Mom was here. But I hadn’t been that wrong since I tried banging my head on the kitchen tile back home (long story).

“What’s the matter?” my mother asked me.

What’s the matter? What do you mean what’s the matter? Don’t you see the white demonic prince of darkness on the other side of the bench? That’s what’s the matter. It’s gonna kill us all. MOM WHY AREN’T YOU LISTENING

“Casper scares me.” I replied.

“Oh don’t worry about Casper!” she says.

“Casper just wants to play!” she says.

“[He/she/it/spawn of hellfire] is gentle!” she says.

“Look at those eyes! It wouldn’t hurt a fly!” she says.

I looked back into the eyes of my adversary. Where my mother must have seen kindness, I saw the mark of the beast and an impending apocalypse.

Then my mom, who is a nurse and is one of the most intelligent people I have ever met, picked my hand up and began guiding it over towards the cat in an effort to show that this thing was not as bad as I had come to think.

Mom.

What. Are. You. Doing.

Both Casper and myself became suddenly astonished. I was surprised at how liberally Mom was acting with my life. On the other hand, the evil cat was shocked that the very human that once sat as an obstacle in the path of its desired destruction had transformed into the vessel that delivered its prey directly into its salivating mouth.

After that it was like taking candy from a baby, except the candy was my hand.

Casper acted quickly and precisely, making sure to encapsulate all of my fingers within its jaw before clamping down with a very painful chomp. As I cried in pain I looked at my mom and thought to myself something that I would never have the chance to say throughout my life under her roof, “I told you so.”

It was at this point that I began hating cats.

Cats are evil, man.

Smokey Outliers and the Cat Condition

While I like to believe that cats are simply henchmen for the Dark Lord, He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named, I’m also very aware that not every cat is a demon in disguise patiently waiting to wipe out the human race.

After Casper passed away, my grandparents owned a much better cat called Smokey. Smokey was wonderful. He had dark grey fur and big yellow eyes. He would always saunter up to you when he felt your presence and would lay very calmly rub his coat against your leg and then adoringly look up at you. He didn’t do it for attention. He was just glad you were around.

Where Casper embodied brilliant villainy, Smokey displayed wise loyalty. Casper’s face was always contorted with a scowl, while Smokey always wore a placid and faint smile. Casper demanded your attention, but Smokey just wanted someone he could lie around with for a spell. He was a fantastic little cat and unfortunately passed before his time. But even as great as Smokey was, I am quite confident that he had some typical cat and Casper-esque tendencies.

 

Like it or not, cats are selfish, lazy, pretentious creatures that walk around as if they are God’s gift to the planet. They go anywhere they please and tend to leave a path of destruction and spilled water glasses behind them. Cats will do things simply because it’s against the rules. The truth of the matter is that the worst part about cats is that they act just like humans.

Like I said, cats are selfish, lazy, pretentious creatures that walk around as if they are God’s gift to the planet. You know, kind of like people.

In the wise words of the great philosopher Justin Timberlake, “It’s like your my mirror. O-O. My mirror’s staring back at me.”

This mirror just happens to be a little smaller and coughs up more fur balls.

The Reality of The Feline

It took me several years to discover why God placed the house cat on this earth.

I often found myself asking, “Hey God. What’s up? It’s me Josh. So… What’s the deal with cats, right? They are kind of like, really terrible.”

After a lot of thought I came to the conclusion that God created the cat so that we could have an everyday illustration of how we treat Him.

Christopher Hitchens said:

“Owners of dogs will have noticed that, if you provide them with food and water and shelter and affection, they will think you are god. Whereas owners of cats are compelled to realize that, if you provide them with food and water and shelter and affection, they draw the conclusion that they are gods.”

Initially I laughed at this quote. And then after I thought about it, I became really sad because I do this all the time to God.

Every day I find new ways to look at the blessings in my life and conclude that I have somehow deserved them. I constantly put myself in the center of the galaxy and seek praise that only belongs to the Lord. I am self-seeking and I view God as someone who serves me and not the other way around. It’s really stupid. But thankfully, we have a God who, for the purpose of this illustration and this illustration only, is kind of a great big crazy cat lady in the sky.*

We claw, bite, hiss, and scratch, but He desires a relationship with us despite our myriad of flaws. God still pursues and loves us even through our selfishness, impatience, and sin.

The reality of  Casper and the feline is the reality of us. Our flesh and sinful nature will constantly try to make us the center of our respective universe. Fortunately, the Lord continues to work in us. He makes it a point that though we fallen short of His glory and rebelled against Him, He loves us. He has made a way for us to overcome our Feline-ness and be reconciled through his son, Jesus. (Romans 3:23, 6:23, 5:6-11)

 

Not all cats are awful, and the same can be said for people to some degree. But we’ve all missed the mark. Praise God that he loves a bunch of Caspers like ourselves and gives us the chance to leave that life behind us.

 

*I Cannot stress enough that I do not actually think that the creator of the entire universe, master of space and time, the author and perfecter of our faith, and the mastermind behind the Doritos Locos Taco is a crazy cat lady.

You Know Exactly What This Is About

You know what’s coming. This is all about that one girl who hunts stuff: Kendall Jones.

I’m not one who likes to jump into the middle of a social media debate like this one, but I haven’t paid a visit to the ole blogosphere in a while and needed to do a little somethin somethin.

Let’s start off with some honesty

I have done little to no research on this topic. I wasn’t even sure what Kendall’s name was until I actually had to type it out moments ago. Actually, the initial plan for this post was to make up a new name for her every time I would have referred to her. But that seemed a little insensitive because she’s an actual person with actual feelings and stuff, imagine that.

Most of my commentary will stem from the quick little snipits of information that I have received from the titles of articles and one short video that I watched. Now that I’ve cleared the air, here is my definitive stance on Kendall and her African adventures.

This is Kendall Jones

Texas Tech cheerleader by day, target of the internet by day as well.

Yup that’s her alright. She goes on African safaris and hunts animals. Some of these animals are endangered others are not. Some of them are very old and near the end of their life, while others are not so much. I could go on and on about this, but you can do a quick google search and find out everything you want about her pretty quickly. Actually if you give it five minutes one of your Facebook friends will probably do all the work for you.

Tons of people have weighed in on the Kendall Jones discussion. Some people want her banned from Facebook because they don’t like the content that she’s posting. Which is really strange because if you aren’t friends with Kendall then you won’t see any pictures of dead animals because of her privacy settings. Some people want to hold a parade in her honor which is also kind of strange because she’s only 19. She’s received death threats and supporting fan pages, hate and love. And after seeing her name over and over and over again, I decided to sit down and really contemplate how I truly felt about the situation. After careful consideration I went to twitter and fully fleshed out my thoughts.

I understand why people are upset on all sides. The animal activists don’t like when animals are attacked. The hunters don’t like when hunting is attacked. Texans don’t like when one of their own is attacked. The fashionistas don’t like camo. And Josh doesn’t like it when America loses to Belgium.

From what I understand (mind you I only have a very basic understanding, see tweet for explanation) Kendall is doing nothing illegal. The morality of her actions is very much up for debate, but she goes on very expensive safaris and only hunts animals that she has been given permission to hunt. The animals that she kills are sometimes used for research or given to a town for food.

The other thing to keep in mind  is that she’s 19 years old, and just completed her Freshman year (sophomore by hours) of college. Give her a break. If I was publicly chastised for the stuff I did as a freshman it would have torn me up:

“Local Texas Tech freshman can’t figure out that his goatee does him no favors.”

“This 19 year old male still posts those ‘tag your friends’ pictures for some reason”

“That one guy who won’t shut up about Frozen is back and you won’t believe what idiotic thing he did now”

I don’t know how I would have handled all the negativity.

Now I’ve never met Kendall and I have no idea what she’s like, but she’s probably a bit more tough than I am. She shoots guns and goes on hunting trips while I’ve never shot anything in my life and I still cry during The Lion King. But your questions about my own masculinity aside, remember you are dealing with an actual person with actual feelings and stuff (imagine that). And though she might be tougher than I am, wave after wave of hatred cannot be fun for her.

Dealing With The Internet Mob

He doesn’t like the things I like. LET’S GET HIM

Sometimes being on the internet kind of feels like hanging out with a mob that is looking for something to be really really irrationally upset about. Unfortunately they seemed to have found Kendall. In an attempt to redirect, repurpose, and possibly eliminate this anger, I have singled out the three most prevalent factions in this current internet war and have given each of them an alternative course of action.

  • If you are outraged at what Kendall has done:
    Direct your anger at the rules that she followed. She did not step outside the line or break any regulations. She did exactly what she was told to do. So instead of signing a petition to ban a 19 year old girl from Facebook why don’t you try signing petitions to change the safari hunting… laws? rules? Whatever it is they’re called. Even better, you can simply never accept a friend request from ole Kendall and virtually achieve the exact same thing that your petition is attempting to accomplish.
  • If you are furious at the people who are outraged at what Kendall has done:
    You need to take a few deep breaths and find something more productive than engaging in senseless internet debate. Nobody wins those except for the people who screen shot them and post them on Reddit. Instead do something that encourages Kendall without taking shots at your opposition. You cannot defeat hatred by being more hate-y. It simply doesn’t work like that. Stop fighting on Kendall’s behalf and instead send her some good vibes. Show her a funny video like the one of the polite bear who waves at people. Actually, I’ll go ahead and give you the link for that one.
  • Finally, if you are someone who just needs to be mad at something:
    I suggest watching a little film called Transformers: Age of Extinction because… my goodness. There are just no words for that movie. It’s horrendous. An insult to human intelligence, film in general, dinosaurs, and Tim Howard.

Don’t fall into the mob mentality one way or the other. Remember that you are dealing with a young woman who was just graduating high school this time last year. And If all else fails, go watch Transformers and boo the entire time.

The Name’s Dowd, Elwood P.

For about a month, I’ve been  playing an Instagram game called #MovieQuoteMonday. It’s exactly like #mcm but, you know, not. The rules are very simple: Think of a movie you like, find a sweet quote from it, peruse around Google Images searching for a still from your choice film, take that pic and send it through the Afterlight app (cuz duh), post it on Instagram, watch all the likes pour down upon your picture, and have your existence validated. For the most part I’ve stuck with fairly mainstream films because thatz how u get all teh likes. But on one particular occasion I threw caution to the wind as I was reminded of a little black and white movie named Harvey.

Harvey is a 1950 film in which Mr. Jimmy Stewart plays a rather eccentric character named Elwood P. Dowd. Elwood is a seemingly reasonable fellow with a very delightful outlook on the world. The only problem was that he claimed to be best friends with a large, invisible, rabbit named Harvey. He spends most of his time at a downtown bar drinking martinis with his invisible friend. And over the course of the movie we discover that Elwood’s family has a major problem with Harvey and spends a great deal of time trying to prove that he does not actually exist.

The climax of the film occurs when Elwood’s family brings him to the town’s local psychiatric hospital and Veta, his sister, convinces him to take an injection that would end his presumed hallucinations of Harvey. But upon discovering that her brother’s charming personality would be completely shattered by the medicine, Veta decides to cancel the injection and preserves her loving brother. The end.

While I’ve only ever seen the film a handful of times it is certainly one of my favorites because of Stewart’s fantastic performance and one scene in particular. After Elwood has been brought to the psychiatric hospital, he is met by the hospital’s director who begins questioning Elwood and asking why he isn’t more upset at his sister’s blatant manipulation. Listen to Elwood’s response near the end of the clip below.

“Years ago my mother used to say to me, she’d say… ‘In this world, Elwood, you must be oh so smart or oh so pleasant.’ Well, for years I was smart. I recommend pleasant. You may quote me.”

Gosh. That’s a harsh truth to take in.

I love being right. I really really love being right. That’s how I was raised. Knowing little facts of information, winning debates, and being the better arguer was a great source of pride growing up and it still is today. I don’t like being outsmarted or told that I’m wrong. It does not sit well with me.

Someday I hope to be married, and if what I understand is true, then “being right” is just not a thing when you’re a husband. So I need to be as right as much as I possibly can for long as I can because that won’t be an option forever.

AM I RIGHT OR AM I RIGHT

AM I RIGHT OR AM I RIGHT

And while the pursuit of knowledge is certainly a noble cause, there is a very insidious dark side of those who focus on being oh so smart.

Oh so smart (OSS) people, like myself, tend to take pride in their intelligence. With each argument we win, trivial fact we learn, and bit of information that affirms our beliefs, our pride swells. It gets to the point where we believe that not having the same tastes in subjective concepts like music and food makes you inferior to us. Certain likes and dislikes could make you a less intelligent human being and you need to be informed of this new found inferiority immediately.

Being OSS is a great way to build up your self confidence and alienate a lot of friends. It’s the quickest way to forget about your own insecurities and force someone else feel insecure on your behalf. And it is by far the best method to be a gigantic jerk. As a person who strives to be OSS, I can quite confidently say that we hope to be identified as intelligent people with sophisticated taste. But universally we are instead identified as people who hate a lot of stuff and tend to be really, really, really nasty to others. That’s not necessarily a positive claim to fame.

And don't you forget it.

And don’t you forget it.

In fact, being known for my hatred is the exact opposite of what Jesus desires. In John 13:35, Jesus tells us that we are to be known for our love of others. Galatians 5:22-23 lists off the fruit of the spirit and *spoiler alert* there is no mention of intelligence, superiority, or hatred. In Matthew 7 while Jesus is nearing the end of The Sermon On The Mount, he tells his audience that they will know the true nature of person by the fruit that they bear. These are just a few examples, but over and over again I’m reminded that I serve a loving God who in turn wants me to take that love and pour it out on other people.

Mrs. Dowd was on to something when she spoke to her son all those years ago. While not much is known about her, it can be inferred that she realized a sobering truth about being OSS: it is a terribly exhausting and awfully lonely way to live. The knowledge, pointless trivia, moral victories, and the feelings of superiority will never satisfy you. Every aspect of your life will become infected with the desire to solidify yourself as not only someone who is oh so smart, but as the oh so smart-iest person to have ever existed. What a terrible existence.

Fortunately, we have a God who, in the words of Elwood’s mother, does not call us to be oh so smart. Instead He calls us to be oh so pleasant. Being pleasant lets us be humble. Being pleasant makes the act of mercy so much sweeter. Being pleasant gives us the opportunity to pour out grace to those around us. And being pleasant makes the challenge of finding a community of believers a little easier.

Now, I’m not saying that God only wants dumb people in His kingdom. No, not at all. What I’m finding is that, the pursuit of knowledge is a fantastic and a great journey. There are so many fascinating subjects in this life that can be learned and can mesmerize us. God didn’t give us a brain and a thirst for knowledge just so that he can say, “Actually I just want you to be nice to each other and never question anything.” The problem arises when we start start parading our great and powerful smartness like a badge of honor. God doesn’t like that, your friends don’t particularly like that, strangers that you’ve met once don’t like that, nobody likes that. Why?

Because no one cares how much you know, until they know how much you care.

Using my intellect might allow me to win a stupid argument, but opening my heart is what will win others for The Kingdom. But I can’t do that until I substitute my competitive nature for a more compassionate one.

Unfortunately, it’s taken me far too long to realize that trying to be oh so smarter than everyone else is an awful way to live. I’m gonna give this oh so pleasant business a whirl. I’m sure I’ll relapse. I’ll probably snap at inappropriate moments. There will be moments when my desire to feel superior will get the best of me. But hopefully down the road I’ll be able recommend being pleasant.

And you may quote me.

The Truth Behind Avengers 2

In 2008, Marvel released the first Iron Man and with that they began the totally awesome process of assembling a massive cinematic universe. Initially, no one was really sure how it would all work out or if it would even be successful, but when The Avengers finally hit cinemas in 2012 it was obvious that Marvel Studios (owned by Disney) had struck gold.

For those who are new to the Marvel cinematic universe I’ll give you a really quick run down. Iron Man, The Incredible Hulk, Iron Man 2, Thor, and Captain America: The First Avenger, were all solo films that lead into The Avengers. These six films were referred to as “Phase 1″ films. Currently we are in the thick of “Phase 2.” The films in this phase are Iron Man 3, Thor: The Dark World, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, and then in August we’ll get to see Guardians of the Galaxy followed by Avengers: Age of Ultron in May of 2015. Personally, I’ve been really excited to see the universe expand in front of my eyes and I’m really excited about everything that is leading up to Age of Ultron. But, I have reason to believe that the second Avengers movie is not going to be what people are expecting. In fact, I have reason to believe that Avengers 2 is going to be more incredible than anyone is really prepared for. Allow me to explain.

First and foremost, the rest of this post will be riddled with spoilers concerning the second Captain America film, and other Marvel movies. If you don’t want anything to be spoiled, then turn away now. This has been your official SPOILER ALERT.

Captain America 2, did something really unexpected when they revealed that a large portion of S.H.E.I.L.D. had actually been Hydra in disguise. In the grand scheme of things, this revelation causes a lot of issues. It essentially means that Hydra, an evil organization, was actually behind the assembling of Earth’s Mightiest heroes, forming the most powerful force for good on the face of the planet. Why would they do this? What sinister plot did they have in mind when they initially planned this? How did they expect things to unfold? Honestly, I’m not totally sure, but what we did discover at the end of Winter Soldier is that Hydra has Loki’s scepter (the weapon from the first Avegners film) in their possession and that they will be a villainous force to be reckoned with in Age of Ultron.

If you have no idea who Hydra I’ll go ahead and enlighten you. Hydra was an advanced weaponry and science division that was created in World War II by the Nazis. Initially it appeared that they were eradicated at the end of the events of The First Avenger, but as we can clearly see, they were not. So in addition to having to take on the all powerful android known as Ultron, the Avengers will also have to take down a bunch of modern day Nazis. Most likely they will be completely overpowered and at their wits end, which means they will need some outside help. But they can’t just go and grab anyone that they want. No no, the Avengers need someone who can help them not only overcome the events of Age of Ultron, but also help them in their third movie as well.

We don’t presently know a lot about Avengers 3, but we do know that it will primarily focus on an alien artifact known as the “Infinity Gauntlet” and the main villain will be an intergalactic thug known as Thanos. Quite honestly, I’m unfamiliar with Thanos or the infinity gauntlet, all I know is that both of them spell trouble for Earth and any of its mighty heroes.

So who will the Avengers call upon to help them in their time of need?

The X-Men?

Unfortunately, no. Fox Studios owns the rights to any and all mutants and it doesn’t look like they want to share with Marvel.

What about the Fantastic Four?

While the Four have had plenty of adventures through space and could lend a hand to the Avengers, they too are owned by Fox Studios. So unfortunately, they will be unavailable as well.

Well then what about Spider-man?

Nope. His film rights have been secured by Sony, and he’s currently experiencing the expansion of his own cinematic universe.

Okay, well what about the other heroes that are getting their own movies like the Guardians of the Galaxy, Ant-Man, or Doctor Strange?

Nope. I’m afraid that won’t work either. Unfortunately it looks like the Guardians will only appear in their solo movie and not have any sort of role in any Avengers film. And besides, Ant-Man and Doctor Strange won’t be introduced until “Phase 3″ which will take place after the events of Ultron.

You see, there is only one character that can actually help the Avengers in the coming hardship. There is only one person who has seen it all, and is arguably immortal. No, it’s not Wolverine. He’s with the X-Men. In fact, the answer comes not from the marvel universe at all. No, in order to accurately answer this question we have to look at another film studio that, much like Marvel Studios, is owned by Disney:

Lucasfilm.

With Disney’s recent acquisition of Lucasfilm in late 2012 they not only bought the rights to future Star Wars movies, they also bought the rights to any characters under the Lucasfilm name. Which means that they have a certain archeologist at their disposal.

Yup. That’s right. Avengers 2 isn’t an Avengers movie at all. It’s actually Indiana Jones 5.

Think about it. There is absolutely no one more qualified to lend aid in the events of Avengers 2 and 3. He’s dealt with ancient artifacts much like the Infinity Gauntlet. He’s faced the likes of aliens before. And most importantly, he knows how to get rid of Nazis. He is literally the perfect man for the job. You might think he’s too old to help out now, but you’re forgetting that he drank from the Holy Grail essentially granting him immortality. No he might not have any super powers, but neither does Black Widow or Hawkeye, and he’s already way more interesting than both of them.

Sure. It’s a little far fetched. But who else would you want on your side to fight off the Nazis? Who else would you want handling the gauntlet? And who else can pull off a Fedora and not look like a loser? The only acceptable answer to all three of those questions is either Tom Landry, or the immortal Indiana Jones.

Maybe I’m off my rocker. Maybe I’m totally off base. Whose to say? All I know is that it would be totally awesome watching Indiana scoff at how lame Hawkeye is, punch Ultron in the face, and then beat up a bunch of Hydra agents.

If I were you I’d reserve my tickets for Indiana Jones: Age of Ultron right now.