Dane Cook is to Comedy What Benny Hinn is to Christianity

In regards to our own religious beliefs, or lack of them, it all ultimately comes down to the classic case of choosing to either overlook or focus on the best or worst of extremes and using that viewpoint as the unchangeable standard to support what we believe.

When it comes to my involvement with facebook, I’m more of an observer and less of a participant.  I’ll comment on people’s pictures and random status updates (as a way to “stay in the loop” with people I haven’t seen in years, because sometimes, there’s nothing really new to say to them, just “hey, how are you doing?”).  It may be safe to say that I tend to get the most enjoyment by reading the controversial status updates that at least 20 people comment on.  It’s just funny, if nothing else, to see the original “status updater” provoke that many people to argue with him or her, or other commenters.

In the last few weeks, I’ve seen several occurrences of this scenario involving religious sorts of proclamations.  The status updater makes a statement that at least in some subtle tone indicates that people who belong to any sort of religion (typically Christianity is specifically targeted) are gullible and naïve.  Then all those who are also non-religious and outspoken jump on the “no god wagon” which in turn provokes those who are religious to either defend themselves or their beliefs.

Benny Hinn, saying his famous catch phrase, "Be healed!"

By being a silent spectator of these events, I get to learn exactly how those who are disgusted by/apathetic towards religion became that way.  It seems a lot of the time the reason they stopped believing in God has to do with other people they saw who were in some way hypocritical.  Or televangelists who make money by telling their listeners they can become rich and blessed by giving money to the church and/or buying his book on “abundant living”.  Or judgmental church marquee signs that try to be cute by scarring people into church: “Without the bread of life, you’re toast!”  (A reference to Holy Smoke). Or because they visited a church one time and were either really bored or ignored by everyone.  Or because they never got a satisfying answer to this question: Why Do Bad Things Happen to Good People ? (Click that title to read why.)

Or any other of the thousands of reasons why the concept of God coming to Earth in the form of a Jewish man to die for the sins of the entire world (who was raised back to life after three days, then 40 days later ascend to Heaven) because He loves them and wants a personal relationship with them and will give them eternal life yet will cast them to hell if they don’t believe doesn’t seem logical, practical, or coherent.

And here's your host for "Your Best Life Now", superstar Joel Osteen!...

There are so many reasons not to believe.  I can see how it could be pretty easy to focus on any of them.  But just like the way nonbelievers focus on any of those reasons for a basis for not believing, I overlook all those reasons and instead focus on all the other thousands of reasons to actually believe.

At the end of the day (and more literally, our earthly life), we will have had the free will to choose which reasons why we do or do not believe.  I won’t get into all the details here, but the whole reason I exist ultimately goes back to a scam in 1973 involving some shady tent revival “preachers” who convinced my grandparents to sell all their belongs (and give the money to the church, which in turn went to the preachers) and move from Buffalo, NY (to avoid a prophesied national famine that never came) to Fort Payne, AL (the “Promised Land”, safe from the national famine).  Ultimately, my parents met as teenagers, both being forced to go to that weird church.  They got married four years later, then four years after that, I was born.

What, is it a sin or judgmental that I don't think this guy is funny? Dane, if you're reading this, sorry- I'll buy you lunch. Email me.

If anyone had a reason to be bitter or disgusted or simply just “through with” organized religion and/or God, it was my family.  But instead, they chose to recognize that they had been misled by deceptive people who claimed to be following God.  They chose to trust in God despite of other people, not allowing faulted human beings to get in the way with their relationship with God.

Of all the reasons not to believe in God, the one that I understand the least is the fact that hypocrites and less-than-perfect Christians exist.  To judge an entire religion because of the worst specimens seems unfair to everyone.  I love comedy and comedians.  I’m not a fan of Dane Cook or Larry the Cable Guy, but I don’t denounce comedy in general because of what I perceive as poor example of what a comedian is.  But ultimately sometimes it’s much easier to judge an entire group by picking out the worst examples as the mascot for the whole team.

Yes.  Greedy, selfish, hateful, people are all around who call themselves Christians.  But there are also the ones that don’t make the headlines.  The ones who demand less attention.  The ones risking their lives to help starving and dying villages in the poorest parts of the world.  But instead, Christianity is often judged by our worst examples.

And as hard as I try to be a perfect Christian and try to be a good example for everyone, I will constantly miss the mark in some way.  If I personally was the only example of Christianity for the whole world to see, it would be dangerous for Christianity.  The world would see my sincerity, my love for others, my time in prayer for so many people, my humility in my constant trusting in God for all the unseen and the future.  But they would see me mess up too.  My pride, my selfishness, and my shame.

Multiply that concept by the hundreds of millions, to symbolize all the Christians of the world.  What would onlookers choose to see?  Just the good?  Just the bad?  Both?  Whatever the answer is, that’s most likely how you see God, or don’t.

Free will is a complicated and dangerous thing.


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Movie Guy, at Your Service: My Top Ten Favorites

With great power comes great responsibility.

I have accepted the fact that I am a “movie guy”.  Sure, everyone loves movies.  Just like everyone loves music, and food, and oxygen.  But some people are so intuitive (extremely picky) when it comes to movies, that casual movie watchers learn to go to these “movie guys” to ask about how good a certain movie is that just came out.

I have literally heard this sentence more times than I can remember in recent years: “Hey, you’re a big movie guy.  What did you think of (names a movie)?”

Of course I am always happy to help out a friend or family member in choosing how to spend 90 minutes of their time.  But part of being a Movie Guy is knowing which movies not to watch in the first place. 

Basic “Do Not Watch” Criteria:

1)     The movie is rated G or PG but is not a cartoon.

2)     The word “heartwarming” has been used to describe this movie.  Or the word “movie” is part of the title of the movie.

3)     Stars of the movie include, but are not limited to, any Country Music star, Dane Cook, Jessica Simpson, or Larry the Cable Guy.

4)     In the trailer for the movie, the last scene shows a muscular man with an angry and serious look on his face, walking away from a building or car that blows up, while the man just keeps walking towards the camera, unaffected and unconcerned.

5)     Simply by watching the trailer for the movie, you fully understand the plot and possibly the resolution.

However, there is the other side of the token:

Basic “Do Watch” Criteria:

1)     The movie is rated “PG-13” or “R”.

2)     The words “clever”, “groundbreaking”, and “genre defying”, have been used to describe this movie.

3)     Stars of the movie include, but are not limited to, Paul Giamatti, Tom Hanks, Johnny Depp, or any Jewish comedian (besides Gilbert Gottfried or Pauly Shore).

4)     In the trailer of the movie, the words “Rolling Stone”, “4 stars”, “brilliant”,  and “Peter Traverse” are all flashed on the screen.

5)     After watching the trailer for the movie which includes a song clip by Genesis, Electric Light Orchestra, Simon and Garfunkel, Tom Petty, or Pete Yorn, you don’t fully understand what the movie is about, but are still intrigued.

Of course, no basic formula can absolutely predict whether a movie will be good, or even more importantly, whether or not I will like the movie.  Because who cares what Siskel and Roper say.  The question is, how worth my time was the movie?  Time I’ll never get back.

I know I was supposed to like it, but The Blind Side just really didn’t do it for me.  The previews showed everything that happened in the movie.  It didn’t make me feel all warm inside.  The movie was predictable, familiar, and too long.  The kid annoyed me.  And both the acting (except for Sandra Bullock) and the writing came across to me like a straight-to-DVD Christian movie.  Sorry, rest of the world, The Blind Side wasn’t for me.

It would be an overwhelming, intimidating, and daunting task to officially conjure up which movies are truly my top 10 favorite movies of all time.  And most likely, only a few of them would match most other peoples’ favorites.  But just off the top of my head, just because I’m curious,  I’m surprisingly going to give it a shot…

#1) I Love You, Man

#2) Trains, Planes, and Automobiles

#3) Garden State

#4) Sideways

#5) Vanilla Sky

#6) Fight Club

#7) 500 Days of Summer

#8) Forrest Gump

#9) Castaway

#10) Rocky 3

Yes, it’s true.  In the likeness of how a connoisseur often is with wine, I am a movie snob.  For what it’s worth, I can help others by giving them my self-proclaimed professional opinion about any movie I’ve seen.  But what if I’ve never seen the movie before?

Then, chances are, it’s probably not worth my time to watch it.  Or it hasn’t arrived yet from Netflix.

Being Down to Earth, Yet Never Really Touching the Ground: My First 10,000 Hits

Thanks for 10,000 hits.

I am not a writer who consistently relates to mainstream readers.  People have to find me here in the back corner of the Internet.  It’s because I want my writings to speak louder than me the person.  I make a point to avoid shameless promotion.  Because the way I live my life, I say if a product is worth buying or trying, it travels through word-of-mouth and that’s what leads to a solid following.

Not everyone “gets” my writing.  It’s not for everyone.  Because not everyone is in touch with their “weird side”.  But the weird side is the only side I’ve ever been on.

I write for people who space out like I do.  People who stay to watch all the credits roll after the movie is over.  For those who don’t think Dane Cook or Larry the Cable Guy are funny.

It’s not an exclusive club.  Everyone is welcome to this hideout.  But not everyone wants in.  Not everyone wants to come back.

I want to be perceived as “down to Earth” but I know I’m a little too abstract to actually be.

Just like Dexter (the fictional serial killer) has a certain code he strictly follows in the first two seasons of the show (he has to always be one step ahead, he only kills murderers, he only kills people who he has proven guilty), I have a certain code for the way I write.

My code is inspired by a book my wife got me a year ago for my birthday on how to write professionally. It helps keep focused and hopefully from sounding like I think I’m cool just because I have a website.

Now that scenicroutesnapshots.com has received its 10,000th hit this week, as a thanks to those who keep coming back, I will share my secret code.

Nick Shell’s Code of Writing:

1)     Avoid the use of the word “you” and the phrases “you know what I mean?”, “now I gotta tell you”, and “think about it”. There’s an importance of maintaining a balance of both a professional distance and a personal connection.  This is a non-fiction commentary on life, not a campy sitcom like Saved by the Bell.  Therefore, don’t break the 4th wall by talking directly and casually to the audience.

2)     Avoid using the phrases “I think”, “I feel”, “I guess” or “my opinion is”. While everything posted on the website is an educated opinion, don’t make it obvious.  Speak with authority.

3)     Avoid putting the unnecessary details of your personal life in the writing. This isn’t a reality show or facebook.  There’s no reason to list the full names of people close to me in my life or to make a habit of inserting pictures of my personal life unless it directly relates to what I am writing about.

4)     Avoid profanity. I’ve heard it said before, “If you have to curse to get someone’s attention or to get your own point across, then you need to find a way to be more creative”.  I don’t go around using “awesome” or “stupid” in every conversation, so it’s just as lame to overuse curse words.

5)     Avoid referring to the website as a “blog”. Blogs are for people still using MySpace who are stuck in 2006 or that are obsessed with facebook status updates.  I write.  I put up new posts.  I even write articles.  But I don’t have a blog.

6)     Be edgy but not controversial. There’s no need to preach about abortion or turn my website into a breeding ground for debate.  Finding ways to use the certain words  in the majority of what I write tends to give me the edge I need.

7)  Write about weird stuff but make it seem normal. Or is it more like the opposite?  Write about normal stuff and make it seem weird.  A mixture of both.  That’ll work.

8.) Find somewhat unusual pictures to integrate into the writing material, giving the reader a sense of reading a magazine article. I, for one, like cool pictures to look at while I read.  It’s a way of adding another sensory feel to the experience.

9)  Write an excessive number of posts every month. They won’t all be awesome, but it’s often the ones that I predict won’t really connect with readers that  are the ones that really do.  The more I write, the better I’ll be, and the better I’ll know how to connect to readers.