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February 2014

2013 Films

I think 12 Years a Slave was the picture 2013 picture which I have seen, and it will hopefully win the Oscar.  Gravity, the other film which seems in contention, was great, and I'd be happy if it won, though I thought it was only the third best film of the year, following Her.  I do expect Alfonso Cuaron to win Best Director, though I am puzzled by the lack of nomination for Spike Jonze.

I haven't seen Dallas Buyer's Club, Blue Jasmine, Wolf of Wall Street, or Philomena so it is more difficult for me to comment on the acting categories.  I'd be happy with Chiwetel Ejiofor or Bruce Dern for actor and definitely think Lupita Nyong'o should win supporting actress.

American Hustle was enjoyable to watch, but is way overrated.

Captain Phillips I did not care for.  The writing was banal, the camera work was both annoying and enforcing of stereotypes, and I was not impressed by any of the performances.

Nebraska was so funny and so well crafted, that I'm sorry it doesn't seem to be in greater contention.

I have no interest in seeing Wolf of Wall Street.  It doesn't strike me as even remotely of interest.

August: Osage County had its moments, though I prefered the production of the play that I saw.  Meryl Streep was disappointing.  Julia Roberts was very good, maybe her second best film performance ever, after Closer.

I enjoyed and cried at The Butler, but it wasn't a great film, so I'm glad it isn't in the running for Oscars.

Inside Llewyn Davis had some of the most mesmerizing visuals of the year.

I liked Saving Mr. Banks, though it wasn't a great film.  Still surprised the Emma Thompson wasn't nominated.

I also wish that Julie Delpy had been nominated for Before Midnight.

Frozen was an enjoyable delight.

Still on my list to see: Blue is the Warmest Color, Fruitvale Station, All is Lost, Dallas Buyers Club, and Blue Jasmine.

My Thirties: Family

Looking back over my Thirties, with less than a week left, I think of all the meaningful moments of family.

I gained a step-father.


And new cousins.


Welcomed two nephews and a niece.

Jacob & Scott at hospital 2

Church Picnic & Connor 059

First Visit with Zoe 012

Got married.


Gained a large family of in-laws.



Lost a step-grandmother, grandfather, and grandmother-in-law.

Grove Trip 021

Was briefly a dad.

And spent much of the last couple of years working toward adoption.

And the Mountains Echoed

And the Mountains EchoedAnd the Mountains Echoed by Khaled Hosseini
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I wavered between 2 and 3 stars.

I don't remember Hosseini word choice and sentence structure being so simple and disappointing in the previous two novels of his that I've read. Of course, I did read this immediately after reading Bellow.

But he is a good storyteller. I enjoyed the characters and the story, and once again I learned a lot about Afghanistan.

I also admire him for not having an easy, sentimental climax. That's what I was prepared for and would have enjoyed on some level, but he didn't do it, and it was the correct choice, true to reality and to the characters. Still, I cried a few times while reading the final chapter.

The overall theme is powerful. It is about the relationships between parents and children. This paragraph is a good example, as one daughter describes her relationship with her father:

"It was in the tender, slightly panicky way he spoke these words that I knew my father was a wounded person, that his love for me was as true, vast, and permanent as the sky, and that it would always bear down upon me. It was the kind of love that, sooner or later, cornered you into a choice: either you tore free or you stayed and withstood its rigor even as it squeezed you into something smaller than yourself."

View all my reviews

My Thirties: Place

Wichita National Wildlife Refuge 029

In 2007 as Oklahoma celebrated the centennial of statehood, I decided to immerse myself a little more in Oklahoma itself, reading its history and visiting places I'd only heard of.  The highlight of this endeavor was a November trip in Western Oklahoma.  Having grown up in Eastern Oklahoma, there was much of the western part of the state that I had never seen.  So, I packed up may car, took along a handful of books on Oklahoma history, and spent almost a week visiting places like Quartz Mountain, the Washita Battlefield National Historic Site, Antelope Hills, Boiling Springs, Alabaster Caverns, Little Sahara, and the Gloss Mountains.

24 -- Approaching Antelope Hills from the South

Also that autumn, our congregation was visited by Susanna Labsch on an ecumenical visit from the Union of Evangelical Churches in Germany.  Over dinner at Iron Star Urban Barbeque, we were discussing Oklahoma history and how the stories were biblically resonant when she mentioned that it was filled with suffering and displaced persons.  I found these intriguing theological concepts.

That conversation, combined with my fascination of the bison skull with the red lightning bolt discovered at the Cooper Site and on display at the Sam Noble Museum of Natural History (something I've spoken, preached, blogged, and written about numerous times), fired my imagination to compose an "Oklahoma Theology."  An idea that expanded, once I moved to Nebraska, to write a "Theology of the Great Plains."  This remains an idea in the works and maybe a liftetime project, though I do continue to work on it in a more informal sense, mostly in themes developed in my preaching.

51-Salt plain

While in Oklahoma, I began to enjoy spending my days off hiking and visiting places--Fort Reno, Roman Nose, the Great Salt Plains, Chickasaw National Recreation Area, the Wichita Mountains National Wildlife Refuge, etc.  And, fortunately for me, Michael was also into inexpensive little trips in the area and excursions to quirky sites and fun diners.  Memorable was our night in the Price Tower during a thunderstorm.  Or the St. Valentine's Day weekend spent at Quartz Mountain.

Anniversary Weekend 2008 027

St. Valentine's Day Weekend 027

When we first arrived in Omaha, we made a plan to see sites in the area every other weekend.  That didn't last once we got to know more people and got busy with other things, but we've continued to enjoy the excursion here and there (and have made plans to renew this idea this year).  We've enjoyed eating at the Black Crow in Beatrice, admiring the State Capitol, and visiting the Antiquarium in Brownville.  We also get into Iowa some, where we've enjoyed weekends at Lake Okoboji, shopping for antiques in Walnut, driving through the Loess Hills, and I even went fossil hunting in the Nishnabotna.

Beatrice for our 3rd Wedding Anniversary 009

Brownville 042


Our first day in town, we went to Barnes and Noble and I bought travel guides and books on Nebraska history.  I've also immersed myself in the rich literary tradition of the state--Cather, Neihardt, Sandoz, Aldrich, Kooser, etc.

So, one theme of my Thirties has been the development of a richer sense of place.

My Thirties: Cell Phone

In 2004, when I was Thirty, I wrote about why I would never have a cell phone.  You can read the entire blogpost here.  An excerpt:

A cell phone? Sure, convenient now and then. But I would venture to say, having observed its use by almost everyone around me now for a while, more a nuisance and a bother. Why do I want to detract from my well-being and that of my neighbors?

Go ahead, call me a crank.

I didn't think I needed one.  I wrote:

I'm perfectly reachable in reasonable time via phones at home and work, e-mail at home and work, IM, a blog, and good old letters.

How quaint.

That post was in response to a Robert Samuelson column in Newsweek in which is presciently wrote: 

Cell phones -- and, indeed, all wireless devices -- constitute another chapter in the ongoing breakdown between work and everything else. They pretend to increase your freedom while actually stealing it. People are supposed to be always capable of participating in the next meeting, responding to their e-mails, or retrieving factoids from the Internet. People so devoted to staying interconnected are kept in a perpetual state of anxiety, because they may have missed some significant memo, rendezvous, bit of news or gossip. They may be more plugged in and less thoughtful.

Yet, when I went to CoH-OKC because they did not have an office, they gave me a cell phone.  Argh.

Yeah, I did succumb to making calls and texting and even ruining the wonderfully long silent drives I used to take by talking.

I had little use for cell phones before Michael got a smart phone, and we used it for GPS and other purposes when traveling to California in 2008.

I didn't get my own smart phone till 2010 (I've still got that one).

After nine years of use, I find them convient, but I still despise them.  Keep calling me a crank.

My Thirties: Blogging

On April 4, 2004 I began this blog (that tenth anniversary is rolling around soon) with a post entitled "Getting Started."  It reads:

Matt Maddox first told me that I should blog after the last Christmas letter. At the time I felt I didn't have time to devote to on-line journalling. But the idea sure was tempting (I am one for sharing my thoughts with others). Over the last few months, more and more people had suggested that I blog. So, I've finally decided to do it. I gave in on Friday when I realized that I wanted to write what will be my second post "A Former Republican Against Bush." Unlike the 18th century, one can't publish a broadside and hang it in the town square. This is the best way of getting ideas out in the 21st century, though I'm afraid that sheer volume decreases the ability to get one's ideas a hearing. Oh well. Here goes.

Well, I don't think I influenced any national debates.

Blogging was so 2004.  Go back to that year and look at the posts and every one had many comments and discussions that would last for days.  Eventually I connected with other bloggers, some of whom I already knew and many whom I did not.  Over that first year or two, we would read and comment on each other's posts.  We'd link to each other's posts often.  And one thing I really enjoyed was the conversations that would start on one blog and instead of writing a really lengthy comment, a person would post on their own blog and there'd be these multi-layered discussions that one would have to follow in multiple places.  

The best of those discussions was around the Indian Ocean Tsunami which occurred that December and led to discussions about God and atheism.  Here is my first long post as part of that conversation.

In many ways all of this wonderful conversation was killed first by

  • Readers that used RSS feeds to subscribe to blogs becaue folk quit coming to your site every day, but just browsed headlines and first paragraphs in a feed.  Even I started doing the same eventually.  
  • The sheer volume of websites that people were eventually trying to keep up with (which led to readers).
  • Social networking.  People started keeping up with each other that way, but it lacked the depth of conversation and it also wasn't good at making new friends (particularly Facebook).

Back when blogging was at its height, I made connections with new people and, in some cases, for years we read each other's stuff and commented on it, without meeting.  There is still one person that I have that relationship with, VeganTrav, though we mainly connect through Goodreads and books we read (he hasn't commented on a MyQuest blog post in a while).  

Blogging also made me a new circle of friends whom I got to know outside of blogging.  Through mutual friends (mostly Tim Youmans) and collegiate and ministry connections, I got to know Greg Horton, Micah McCarty, Kristen Henson McCarty, Jennifer Owens, and others.  While still living in Dallas, this Oklahoma City-centered group became a new circle of friends and were one of the groups to whom I was out when I was still in the closet back in Dallas.  They were a significant part of that period of transition and were good friends when I first was back in OKC.  For a while we became the Wendell Berry Society of Greater Oklahoma City.  

One time I was visiting Mom in OKC and the McCartys were coming to pick me up so we could go to dinner.  And Mom was puzzled that I was friends with them, but had never met them in person.  It was such a new world.McCartys, Jennifer O, & Michael

Not that it was all fun and games.  I made mistakes.  When it was new, one church really struggled to comprehend what I was doing, even if it was on my own time.  And I've always felt limitations on what I could say and how I could say it because of my calling.

The most popular moment in the blog's history was in the summer of 2005 when I was writing my coming out story, and the blog received over 1,000 hits a day.

Once the golden age of blogging passed, I at times contemplated ending MyQuest, but there were always readers and people who said they wanted me to continue.  My audience got ever smaller, but remained okay.  Only in the last four years has it dwindled to a very few.  Only when I post a link on Facebook do I get a decent audience.

But now I continue for mostly personal reasons.  

  • It has been a great way to experiment and improve my writing.
  • It has replaced keeping a diary.
  • I have one place where I've recorded articles I like, thoughs I've had, and significant events in life.

So, now I blog mostly for me.

My Thirties: Politics

As the sun was setting and Wilco was playing, there was hope in the possibility that maybe the wrong direction would be righted, and America would find itself again.  The entire weekend of the Austin City Limits Music Festival that September in 2004 this sense had grown and that night's performance seemed to crown it with glory.

Earlier that summer I had been surprised to find myself in new alliances.  I had been in Austin to testify before the state school board about health textbooks.  None of the textbooks had adequate sex education.  Only one of them even mentioned condoms.  One listed "get more sleep" as a way to prevent pregnancy.  You can read my blog post about testifying, here.  I was there as part of the Texas Faith Network, and we were working with a wide array of people from medicine, social work, education, etc. advocating for better textbooks.  At lunch that day I found myself sitting with representatives of Planned Parenthood who were part of our coalition.

This was new for me.  I had been a Republican from 1988 to 2003.  In reaction against the Iraq War and disappointed by the growing influence within the GOP of the Far Right, especially Christian Fundamentalists, I had left the party.  And I was suddenly finding myself in working coalitions with folk who I had once not been associated with.


So, one of the most dramatic developments of my Thirties has been the change in my politics.  

And this blog has been a central venue in that development.  The very reason I started the blog in April 2004 was to express my political views, including dissatisfaction with the Bush administration and the direction of the country.  The first real post was entitled "A Former Republican Against Bush."  For a long time that post was the top return when you Googled "Former Republican."  The post drew thousands of hits.  The blog and airing my political views helped me to make connections with a group of other bloggers, some of whom I've remained in contact with but never personally met (more on blogging in a later post in this series).

Throughout 2004 I kept wondering why the country wasn't disgusted at the administration because of all the illegal activities that kept coming out--wiretapping, torture, Abu Graib, etc.  Though I wasn't a huge Kerry fan, I was sure that the country would vote against Bush, and that many traditional and moderate Republicans would.  When then-conservative blogger Andrew Sullivan endorsed Kerry and then The Economist, a traditional conservative magazine, also endorsed him calling him the "conservative choice" in the race, I felt vindicated.

Then, we lost of course.  Though close, it was disspiriting.  Remember how depressed people were the next day?   Here's the post I wrote the morning after the election.  For a time I considered leaving ministry to pursue public policy, as it seemed to be the great challenge of our time to save the country.  If the CoH-OKC call hadn't come, I wonder what might have happened?

HB 1595 Rally 041

Once in Oklahoma City as my ministry became more politically active and social justice oriented (I've written about that already in this series, here), I began to develop more relationships with activists and grassroots organizers.  Sometimes even I was surprised by my Radical Left wing friends, because in so many ways, I think there are continuities with my earlier views, just that the national political discourse shifted radically right compelling new alliance among moderates, liberals, and more traditional conservatives.  For instance, what were GOP policy proposals in the 1990's on health care and cap and trade, policies I liked and supported while I was a Republican, are now the policies of the Democrats and are called "socialist" by the GOP. 

Early in the 2008 primaries I was excited by the possibilities of Barack Obama.  I was disappointed with his handling of the Jeremiah Wright episode and shifted my support back to Hillary Clinton.  

But, I did support him in the general election and celebrated his victory, while also being deeply disappointed that night because on the local level many candidates I was supporting lost, and also because Prop 8 passed in that election.  

Marriage Equality Rally 021

The Obama years have been a disappointment, and I have grown more cynical.  For more than a decade now I have voted for candidates opposing the war poliy that emerged post-9/11, to no effect.  Even when Democrats were in control, they continued espionage, drone strikes, and other features I had objected to on Constitutional and moral grounds.  The Democrats are disappointing and don't inspire my enthusiasm.

While I remain politically active, particularly on the local and state level where I have participated in real, tangible victories, . . .

Equal Employment Ordinance Signing Ceremony 009

. . . I'm cynical of the ability of politics to currently solve any of our big problems, and in my darker moods I worry about the country.  But the worry is different from the year I turned thirty.  Ten years ago I worried with anger and passion and a view that things could be set right if only we all talked about it and worked diligently.  Now I consider that naive.  And worry that we've gone down paths that did irreparable damage to the Republic and to who we are as a society.

That doesn't mean I'm going to quit being politically active.  Being a follower of Jesus and a moral person both compel me.

But though my political hope has diminished, the hope and optimism which arise from my Christian faith are even stronger.  Christians are the "eternal beginners," after all.


African Homosexualities

The anti-gay news out of many African nations gets scarier every day.  The anti-gay forces claim that homosexuality was something that came from European colonizers, that it is not indigenous.  This is a ludicrous claim, of course, but it also is contrary to a wide array of exual and gender variance and relationships that were accepted, even praised, in pre-colonial Africa, much like they were in indigenous cultures around the globe.

Here is an article detailing many examples of pre-colonial African cultures and their acceptance of homosexuality.  The article concludes:

What the colonisers imposed on Africa was not homosexuality “but rather intolerance of it — and systems of surveillance and regulation for suppressing it.”