24 March 2007

Blood Diamond and the New Breed of Action Movies

This weekend, Blood Diamond is showing at the campus theater. Having nothing better - well, more entertaining - to do, I checked it out. While it certainly contains the average action movie fare of the past however many years - explosions, romance, gun fights, and car chases - it also had something much more important. As many know, Leonardo DiCaprio, the pretty boy of Titanic (and to my sister, no, he is not the something more), in it. To my surprise, he was not the protagonist. He didn't even become a "good" guy until the last few scenes of the movie. There were really only three "good guys" in the entire movie: the protagonist, a local fisherman named Solomon (played by Djimon Hounsou) who's only goal is to survive and save his family; an American reporter (Jennifer Connelly) attempting to stop a bloody civil war by exposing the blood diamond trade financing it; and a local teacher working to save child soldiers from their captors, the Revolutionary United Front (RUF)

Based loosely on the civil war in Sierra Leone between the government and RUF, Blood Diamond presents villains who, much like the latest Bond villain in Casino Royale, are trying to get rich, not take over the world. The movie also attempts and, in my mind, succeeds at exposing the horrors of the many African civil wars. Child soldiers (see: Invisible Children), the targeting of civilians, the refugee slums, the apathy of the outside world, and western concerns for resources over human lives, are all major themes of the movie.

I highly recommend it and hope that it signals a new era for action movies, movies that have points to make rather than dollars.

Rock on.

18 March 2007

Eye of the Storm, Part II

I'm back from my second trip to clean up after Hurricane Katrina. CCF took a group of about fifty people for Spring Break. I'll be making a third trip over Easter weekend for Eggs in the Easy. The trip went very well. There were few injuries (one stepped-on nail, one spider bite, several sinus problems, and two ruptured eardrums, both of which were mine). I hope to have some pictures to post, but I took a film camera down, so I need to get the roles developed. Without any further ado, here's my journal from the week.
Tuesday: I think we are in a harder hit area this time. Sheds have been flipped off of their foundations, tress pulled up by the roots, and planes flung like children's toys. Yesterday, we spent several hours cleaning up yards untouched since the storm. In one yard, the grass had completely grown over and covered the sidewalk. It was essentially a carpet from one side of the sidewalk to the other. The grass was at least a foot high, with fiberglass, mold, and other random stuff in it. [Looking back, cutting it down was a great idea because it gets rid of the insect problem, but we didn't wear masks, which was the start of the sinus problems for a lot of people.]
While we are in a harder hit area, there is some good news: We have traveled through some of the same areas we were in last time and there is less debris. Today, we cleaned up after an Irish/Italian heritage pride parade and while this seems contrary to the reason for the trip, I view it as a sign that the festive culture of New Orleans is returning. Don't get me wrong, there is still at least five years worth of cleanup to be done and some houses still haven't been touched, but like the Christmas ligts last time, this serves as a glimmer of hope in a dark time.

Wednesday: Today showed me what this trip was about. We spent the afternoon handing out fliers in an impoverished section of the city for a grocery giveaway. Within sight of the Superdome, there is block after block of housing, in poor condition before Katrina, now worse, noting more than four walls and a roof housing entire families. We would pass houses we thought were uninhabitable only to have occupants emerge and ask us what we were handing out. Homeless men came up to us, living in what I consider the slums, to tell us how bad things still were in the lower 9th Ward, only a few miles away.
Despite the poor conditions, people were still smiling. Residents were happy to see us and talk to us. The owner of a local grocery store was so happy to receive the news we brought that the offered to hand out fliers to her customers and let us put up some posters on her building.
I'll admit that I was scared at first. This area is worse than the worst parts of Atlanta, the city of my nightmares. But I was shocked at how friendly the people were and, after an hour, was quite comfortable.
During the morning, we saw some of the mansions of New Orleans, only to be shown the projects in the afternoon. It shocking to think that as uninhabitable as the houses we saw are, that these houses would be considered blessings for the citizens of the slums of third-world countries.
Tonight, the freshmen and the interns got together and had our weekly Bible study. While it was quite untraditional, we sat around in the compound's warehouse and discussed how God was moving us this week. I'm so blessed to have such a group of friends.

Thursday: Today will be a good day. During our morning devotional time, I read Psalm 69. It is incredible how much of it realtes to the storm and the cleanup. We leave in a few minutes to gut hoses and I am so excited about how great things will go that I am literally trembling.
[Post-Work] Today was only a half day, but we still finished nearly an entire house. While we were going to divide up and do two houses at once, the second house was off of it's foundation and from the center of the living room to the external wall, a distance of three feet, the floor dropped a foot and a half. The leaders decided that the structure, sitting on cinder blocks, was not safe to work in.
After the three hours of work, we headed downtown to the French Quarter. The buildings (untouched by flooding), food, and music were amazing. But the stores were like a Mardi Gras version of Gatlinburg. They sold nothing but voodoo dolls, raunchy shirts, and beads. And then Bourbon Street. Bars, strip clubs, and even shops offering "favors" with graphic pictures as advertisements. Most of the advertising methods I thought to be illegal. It was almost as if the city's economic council was made up of frat boys, and I mean that in the worst possible sense. I don't understand how a city known for its great culture can host America's festival in praise of drunkeness and fornication. New Orleans is among the most beautiful cities in the South, but wallows in filth. This being said, the love of Christ is present in the great work being done by the Church in the area and I can only hope that the city will restore itself to its former beauty and go beyond it.

Saturday: We spent Friday working on three different houses and the group I was with got to pray with the owner of our site. It's amazing that after one week of hard labor and poor leadership on the part of CrossRoads missions [for any leaders thinking of a missions trip to the area, I would encourage you to not go through CrossRoads as the leaders are some of the most condescending and uptight people you will ever meet], the group stayed up-beat and energetic.
Today, we are on our trip home and most people have zonked out. This trip has brought us (being about half of all of CCF) together more than anything else could ever do.

I sit here in my dorm at my computer, enjoying the air conditioning and even the dorm building itself. I hope that I do not fall back into my old complacency. It is so easy to complain about dorm life, but I have spent hours walking around the ghetto and cleaning out mold. I have not been forced to flee the wrath of nature and still have all of my belongings.

Please, pray for the people of New Orleans, the people trying to clean up, and those who were on the trip that we may never forget what we saw and how the Holy Spirit changed us.

Rock on.

Post Script: To read about the first trip, made the weekend before Thanksgiving 2006, see Eye of the Storm.

Photo Courtesy of Jackie Bangma.

10 March 2007

On the Road to New Orleans

Spring Break is upon us and so I shall be departing for New Orleans tomorrow morning at 8:30 (but because of the stupid time change, it will feel like 7:30, which to a college student is like 5:30).

This is my second trip down there with CCF. Last time, we were gutting houses and this time, we have no clue where in the city we're going, what we'll be doing, or even what type of building we'll be staying in. Please pray for safe trave and work and that the group will grow closer together.

I will not be posting for a little over a week and hope to have some great reflections for you when I get back.


06 March 2007

mewithoutYou In Concert

There are a few reasons I came to UGA. Not least among them is the Athens music scene. Home to great acts such as the B-52s and REM and rising acts like the local (and increasingly, national) hit Modern Skirts, Athens is among the most varied college towns in the world. It's a very simple equation: Students from all over = Music all over.

It may come to a shock to some that all of last semester, I didn't make one show at the famed 40 Watt Club. Well, tonight, I made up for that, and then some. The 40 Watt is a small club for one of such fame. As I walked up, I saw mwY's famed bio-diesel-powered tour bus with band members having their traditional dinner out in the parking lot. Once I got into the club itself, I noticed that the stage is only two feet higher than the rest of the club (which, given it's size, isn't much of a problem) and provides a very cool "I'm with the band" feeling.

The first act, Aloha, played a stunning thirty minute set. The drummer was amazing - his arms really were a blur. The keyboardist also played the xylophone - not very often seen in any form of rock. The bassist and vocalist, while nothing special, were still very enjoyable.

The second band, Sparta, was one that I had heard of, but not heard. That soon changed. Suffice it to say that their albums will be added to my wishlist. Soon.

The third and final group was the reason I went: mewithoutYou. I enjoyed their first album, [A->B] Life, drooled over their second album, Catch for Us the Foxes, and for the second time ever, went out to purchase their third record, Brother, Sister, on its release date. I have heard very good things about their live shows and was not let down. If anything, I was actually blown away. Vocalist (he really speaks and yells more than sings) Aaron Weiss is the most chaotic frontman I have ever seen. But he plays it off well and it fits in with the style of music (somewhere between "post-hardcore" and bipolar). They played most of their greatest hits and I found myself singing along with every song. Their lyrics are easy to relate to and very creative. Be sure to check out the link on my side bar under "Listen".

The best part is that Invisible Children (listed in the side bar under "Give") was at the show, getting shout outs from both Sparta and mwY as part of the new Natinonal Tour.

Now, having been on my feet sincwe 7:30, I'm off to bed.