The Multiplicity of Narrative (Or: “Dude! That’s My Chin in A Lumineers Video!”)

I wrote an essay for the last issue of PLGRM Magazine about an afternoon my daughter and I spent as extras on the set of a Lumineers
music video in Los Angeles. It was a fun experience that wore on for much longer than I thought it would and that presented something of a crisis of professional integrity, as remaining on the set into the early evening caused me to be rather late for a wedding rehearsal for which I was the officiant.

Well, the video was released yesterday, and you can view it here (sorry for the ads, but it’s not on YouTube yet).

I’m having a strange reaction to it. I’ve never been an extra for anything before, but I never suffered under any delusions of grandeur about this. So the one second grainy appearance the side of my torso makes at 2:56 is a bonus. More than I expected, really.

The more interesting thing I’m thinking about now is the role we play in stories about which we know next to nothing. If I thought the shoot we participated in was the whole video, boy was I wrong; despite the five hours spent on that set, that shot makes only a passing appearance in the more than four minute production. And if I thought the precocious little girl who got to ride in the car from which the crew was filming was just an extra special extra, I was even more wrong still.

It turns out, the video is something of a tear-jerker story about a girl who’s parents are splitting up. They leave the girl’s dad in the rain during the video’s opening shots, and he never appears again. For the duration of the short film, she watches the world go by out her car window as she and her mom relocate to Los Angeles. It’s sad, sad stuff.

Then the sun comes out, a smile breaks over the girl’s face, he hair blows in the wind, and the whole thing turns into a little resurrection allegory. Who knew?

A video production only makes explicit the reality of our everyday lives and the constant reel of scenes that never get filmed. We’re all part of other peoples’ stories. The people who make passing appearances in your story, the story about an afternoon spent with your daughter brushing elbows with a folk band, those people are actually the centerpiece of a bigger story you’ve never heard.

Monday Morning Quarterback

Monday Morning Quarterback

Song of The Day:


5:58. Wake up, exactly two minutes before alarm is set to ring. Reset alarm for 6:30.

6:28. Wake up. What the?!

7:01. Researching Super Bowl party games for later in the day. Decide on commercial bingo and that pseudo gambling game, you know, the one where Christian youth are encouraged to wager their allowance for a chance at some Skittles?

7:22. Reading submissions for the PLGRM Magazine digital edition. There’s good stuff here.

7:44. Enjoy breakfast of one banana walnut muffin, made by daughter and I two days before.

9:07. Throwing together a quick script for the high school students to use in making a Souper Bowl of Caring announcement. Forgot to do it earlier in the week. This after telling students explicitly that I would have it for them. Fail.

9:15. No matter. Students have created their own script. I’m not permitted to see it.

9:39. Compassionately ask church member how his wife’s foot is, since I read on our pastoral care bulletin board that she’d broken it. It’s not his wife. It’s his sister. Oops.

9:59. Wrestling with the candle lighters for acolytes. Should have done this an hour ago. “If the wick runs out before you get the chancel candles lit, act confused and run.”

10:07. High school students’ announcement is a smash. Laughter. Rejoicing. They pay me for this?

10:18. Notice the first Scripture reading is listed in the bulletin as “Jeremiah 4.” Scan Jeremiah 4. Something’s not right. Should have checked this before.

10:22. Whisper across the chancel during the Children’s Time to Boss, “Am I doing the first reading?” Nod. “The whole chapter?” Surprised look. Then, effortlessly, she taps the screen of the iPhone laying next to her on the chancel pew. A moment later, she’s walking it over to me, revealing the lectionary listing as “Jeremiah 1:4-19.” Resolve to always have my phone with me in worship from now on.

11:37. Use my Associate Pastor’s report during the annual congregational meeting to inform the congregation that daughter will be entering kindergarten next fall. Say a bunch of other stuff too, including a pitch for PLGRM Magazine.

1:15. Leave wife and daughter at lunch to go buy sodas, pens, and game prizes for Super Bowl party.

2:13. Stop by friend’s house to pick up 30 tacos they’ve made for our Super Bowl party. 15 chicken, 15 carne asada. Resolve not to eat them all before the party.

2:30. Collect daughter from home to take her along to the Super Bowl party. She’s got her baby doll wrapped around her with mom’s scarf.

2:24. Pick up two 3 foot-long sub sandwiches for party. They’re propped up on the front seat like an extra passenger. A tasty extra passenger.

2:41. Return home to pick up the baby doll’s diaper bag. Daughter has discovered she’s missing it and is threatening pre-halftime show pyrotechnics if it’s not retrieved.

3:57. With a house full of junior high students and the television blaring, notice that Daughter has fallen asleep on the couch next to me. Decide to let her sleep. It’s not like the Broncos are playing or something.

5:55. 30 minutes into the now infamous Beyoncee Blackout, go all curmudgeon and declare to the room that I don’t want to hear anymore prognosticating about modern peoples’ inability to listen to a 20 minute sermon in light of the fact that the entire nation has sat raptured now for half an hour on a power outage.

6:38. Break the contemplative silence after this commercial by declaring, “That’s terrible.” Half the room turns and looks at me stunned, like I just belched The Satanic Verses.

7:30. Realizing I’m completely full, eat another section of the 3 foot sub. Burp.

9:03. Put Daughter in the bath, then scan the blog reader for the first time all weekend. Find this. Hastily leave a comment. Regret it almost instantly.

11:00. Trying to fall asleep, plotting out the coming week. Trying to remember who won the Super Bowl game.






What Have I Done?! (Or, On Fooling My Daughter’s Developing Feedback Mechanisms)


Douglas Rushkoff’s latest piece for Edutopia says no iPads for kids under eight. Gulp.

In a piece titled “Young Kids And Technology at Home,” Rushkoff (who I recently interviewed for PLGRM Magazine) takes the metaphorical screen off the figurative tablet (and tv):

all screens may be different, but they’re still screens to young children. On a most rudimentary level, this means they either depict two-dimensional realities (like cell phone interfaces and sideways-shooter arcade games) or use their 2D displays to depict 3D realities, such as TV shows. No biggie — except for babies and toddlers, whose ability to understand and contend with 3D worlds is still in development. They don’t fully understand the rules of opaque objects (that’s why peekaboo behind a napkin poses endless fascination), so high quantities of time spent sitting in front of 2D screens may actually inhibit some of their 3D spatial awareness. That’s why so many pediatricians recommend that kids under the age of two probably shouldn’t watch any TV at all.

My daughter is approaching five, and she’s been manipulating 3D representations of reality on a 2D screen since she was three. On a five hour drive from Phoenix to Los Angeles last year, she played almost constantly and went berserk when the battery finally died. Since then we’ve improved her emotional connection to it; she understands that it’s in her long term interest to shut it off when we say so. Now when she asks to play it, she cranks up the charm and bats her eyes.

Her favorite apps by far are the dozen or so Toca Boca simulations of cooking and making clothes. I love these apps, and I quite proudly show them to people whenever the little one is playing them in a restaurant. Still, Brother Doug wants none of it:

Little kids play with balls, seesaws and slides as they develop their vestibular senses, and come to learn about the wonders of gravity. They move on to Frisbees, bikes and Hula Hoops as they explore angular momentum and harmonic motion. The weightless world of a digital game or virtual environment fascinates us for the way it defies the rules of the real world; until we are firmly anchored in the former reality, however, these new principles are not neurologically compatible with a developing sensory system. Up and down, light and dark control a whole lot more in human biology than we might like to think. Best not to fool these feedback mechanisms before they have a chance to come online in a developing child.

Have I been fooling my daughter’s feedback mechanisms? Those of you with young kids, how do you manage their interaction with digital stuff?





Making Paper Cranes

Mihee Kim Kort has released her first book on Chalice Press. And Making Paper Cranes:
Toward an Asian American Feminist Theology
is exactly what it says it is. 

Mihee was a seminary classmate (and intramural flag football teammate) a decade ago. Since then she’s been a blogging partner and a contributor to PLGRM, the magazine I help edit. She’s a clear and honest voice.

I’ll be blogging through the book over the next few weeks.

A word about my method. I’m not an Asian American woman. My experience of this book is that of a white guy who knows and thinks highly of the author. That’s perhaps not the best draw for a book, but I think any author would take it. In reading Making Paper Cranes I’m trying to understand better my friend’s experience, as well as that of the many Asian Americans that make up the church in which I serve. Finally (and this is not that big of a stretch, is it?) I’m looking for myself. 

Collision and Fragmentation

The soil of Mihee’s project is her experience of collision and fragmentation. Born to Korean parents, Mihee grew up in the American west, surrounded by white people. Her recollection is vivid:

Growing up going to mostly Anglo schools in Colorado, I got along with anyone and everyone. My close friends were Anglo-American and African American, and I had one Latina friend. I had a few Asian American friends, but in terms of those who were non-Anglo, there were only a few of us. I never received any overtly violent gestures of racism but there were those typical cliché moments when a kid would chant at me in an annoying, singsongy way, speaking gibberish and asking if I understood it, or our class would get a new student who happened to be Asian but Chinese, and the teacher would ask me if I spoke Chinese and if I could translate for them. Every so often there was a breakdown of groups, whether for kickball teams at recess or for projects in class, and though I remember watching groups of white kids sit together immediately, and the black kids slowly congregate together, I would look around, wavering, trying to feel out where I felt I belong the most.

Her upbringing yielded the “ongoing encounter of stereotypes, expectations, standards, and conflicting worlds” that she calls “collisions”. Those collisions, in turn, produced a kind of “fragmentation” for Mihee, “a disjointed state, like being in the middle of a pile of shattered, broken puzzle pieces.” 

I’m struck by the violence of these images. Hidden in that violence, though, is a loveliness trying to emerge. This is where the book gets its title and central image: the paper crane. Recalling her experience of folding cranes with her mother, Mihee describes the task as making “something delicate and lovely out of [an] intersection of creases.” There’s gospel in there. 

These collisions and their resulting fragments are all around, born by people I see every day. Half of the people I share a presbytery with don’t worship in English, and most of those are Asian. My experiences with them bear evidence of the kinds of collisions and fragmentation Mihee is describing. Clearly, I need to do more to understand them, to listen to them, and to honor their experience.

I’ve known collision and fragmentation too. They seem to be markers of modern life. The variety explored in Making Paper Cranes is specific, and it produces specific effects that need to be heard and understood. In listening to it, I’m eager to pay closer attention to the creases, collisions, and fragments of my life to see, as Mihee has seen, what “delicate” and “lovely” things they offer.  

Read Bruce Reyes-Chow’s review of Making Paper Cranes here