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Once upon a time, not so long ago…
It’s no secret that I lived under a rock for a long time when it came to non Star Wars related pop culture, especially when it came to music. Bon Jovi’s Slippery When Wetpulled me out from under that rock and helped me see the light. Whenever my friends, Matt and Aaron came over, we’d pop the album in my cassette player. We subsequently turned my room into a stage in the center of a packed arena, pretending to perform Bon Jovi’s jams in front of thousands of screaming fans.
We needed another member to complete the group. Fortunately, Kevin was always a willing participant. So the four of us would jump up and down on my bed, shouting the lyrics at the top of our lungs and shredding the air guitar with each rockin’ solo.
See? There’s more to having a younger brother than just having someone to sneak attack with a pillow at Grandma’s house.
I’m not going to lie. The last few months have been hard. Heartbreaking, really. I went through a similar experience while preaching south of Muncie. I think I wound up conducting something like four funerals over the span of three months. It takes its emotional toll.
Back in November, we lost David, his mother, and his daughter. My grandma died right before Christmas. And then Dr. Phil Gerhart, a man who impacted my life and the lives of so many others in ways I cannot even describe (but will try to at some point in the very near future), died. There are moments when I feel overwhelmed with wave after wave after wave of loss. It’s almost like I’m drowning.
And that hurts.
In these moments of hurt and loss and sadness, it is inevitable that a song pops into my head and I find my heart pouring out in worship. The songs that keep popping up in my head? They are songs I haven’t heard or sung in years.
The Old Rugged Cross
It is Well with my Soul
Are you familiar with Audrey Assad? You should be. There’s a haunting beauty in her voice. And her story as the daughter of a Syrian refugee is especially poignant today. I admit that this was not the version of this hymn that has been churning in my soul, but it could be. It could be…
How Great Thou Art*
The majority of the congregations where I’ve worshiped and served over the past 30 years have leaned toward the contemporary side of Sunday morning worship. I’ve sung countless worship songs during that time. Many are deeply moving and have strong connections to my own personal faith story. And songs from the likes of Andrew Peterson, Rich Mullins, and Steven Curtis Chapman are woven into my story, too.
It’s an interesting thing, however, that the songs that I have found my heart singing over and over again these past months are songs from my childhood. Don’t read too much into that if you’re looking for me to take some kind of stand in the decades-old “Worship Wars.” I just think it’s a fascinating thing that during times of sorrow and heartbreak, I have found myself turning to the classic hymns.
Of course, it’s not just the simple music of the hymns. It’s not the creativity of contemporary songs of worship. It’s the One to whom these songs point. That is where real comfort, hope, love, and strength is found.
I don’t really have anything profound to say about this. I just pray that you are able to find some comfort in these songs that I’ve shared. And I hope they impact you they way they have touched me throughout the years.
*Yes, I know this is sung by the BYU Singers. Yes, I know BYU is a Mormon school. No, I’m not getting into any theological discussions or debates about that. The history of the hymn is powerful. Challenging. Inspiring. I don’t care who is singing it. The message remains.
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The Star Wars™ franchise evokes some pretty strong emotions for me. One of the first movies I remember watching in the theaters was one of the films in the original trilogy. I remember the drama, the flashing lights, the roar of the giant spaceships, the funky aliens, and the intense battles on other worlds. The larger than life story that unfolded on the big screen captivated me in a way that no other film has ever come close.
I was already a big fan. I loved the Star Wars™ toys. I would play for hours with my neighborhood friends. One of my favorite things to do was to turn the space under our kitchen table into a huge base for the good guys. It was safe in there. And we could plot the final push against the tyrannical forces of evil.
I think it’s safe to say that the kitchen table was the perfect base for the good guys. It could serve as an ice cave, protecting them from the harsh elements of a frozen planet. Or it could easily convert to a giant spaceship, headed to meet the enemy head-on. Or it could also become a base in some forested terrain with giant trees that provide a canopy of protection over the heroes as they hide from their foes.
While growing up, the perfect morning for me would have begun with an hour or two underneath the kitchen table, preparing my base for battle. Then I’d probably listen to the Star Wars™ storybook on my little record player in my room. Then the galactic battles would begin and I’d play with my Star Wars™ toys for the rest of the day. Or maybe my friends and I would go outside and re-enact one of the climactic battles outside. I would only slow down in time to eat some breakfast. For breakfast of choice? Why, Cookie Crisp, of course. Finding a toy inside the cereal box would have been the proverbial icing on the proverbial cake.
This is an exciting time for our family. Like many dads who grew up on a steady diet of Star Wars™ films, books, costumes, toys, and Saturday morning cartoons, I faithfully did my duty and raised my kids to be fans of the same cinematic universe. So we’re all counting down the days until the release of the next chapter in the saga. Continue reading “These Cookie Crisp Asteroid Treats are out of this world!”
Jenny was my next door neighbor when I was young. We played together. A lot. We also argued a lot. And got each other in trouble on occasion. I got her to play with my Star Wars toys and she got me to play with her Barbies. In many ways, she was the older sister I never had.
One day after it had rained, Jenny and I were playing outside. We eventually decided we needed to establish a new guideline for the day. Since it had rained recently, there were a lot of puddles around us. We loved jumping in puddles. These puddles were practically begging us to jump into them. So we established a rule:
You have to jump in a puddle when you see one.
That’s a pretty legitimate rule. Right? I mean, it makes sense in a five year old’s brain. So we agreed on this new regulation and continued to play. Whenever we walked by a puddle that hadn’t been touched, we jumped in with gusto. I don’t remember if Jenny had shoes on or not. I do remember that I was barefoot. There really isn’t any other way to jump into a puddle – is there?
We eventually found ourselves sitting on our back porch. I don’t remember what led to this conversation, but Jenny eventually announced to me, “Did you know I got some new Star Wars toys?”
“Nu-uh.” I didn’t believe her. She’d never owned any Star Wars toys before. Why would she start doing so now?
And so we sparred back and forth for several minutes, digging into each other with our obviously creative and engaging dialogue. For one final time, she insisted that she was telling the truth and she stomped out of our backyard to her house. She was going to get the toys and prove it to me.
Fine, I said to myself.
I waited at the back porch. “What if she’s telling the truth? What if she really does have Star Wars toys?” I thought to myself. I was going to have to eat some serious crow. “Nah. There’s no way she has any.”
She was taking a long time to get her toys and bring them over. So I started looking for something to help pass the time. Nothing really excited me. It was just the same ol’ backyard that we played in every day.
Then I saw it.
I don’t know how I hadn’t noticed it before. But in that moment, it was like the clouds had opened up and a spotlight shone from the heavens, piercing through the trees and pointing the way to something so glorious it must have been a gift from the Divine Himself.
Right beside me was a perfect, untouched puddle!
I might have even heard angels singing when my eyes were opened and this beautiful gift was revealed to me. I tear might have even rolled down my cheek.
It was glorious.
So, in keeping with the rule we had made earlier in the day, I jumped up to my feet, dusted off my knees, and jumped on to the aquarium sitting by the porch.
Did I mention that there was an empty aquarium sitting by our porch? I don’t know if it was an old aquarium or a new one. But it was empty and sitting out back. It had been turned upside down. I assume that was so it wouldn’t fill up with water and bugs and dirt and bird droppings and whatever else could wind up in an empty aquarium sitting in the backyard.
But that didn’t stop the overturned aquarium from accumulating some water. And it was just enough to make the perfect little puddle. So I stood up on the porch and stepped over onto the aquarium.
The water felt good on my feet. It had been too long since I’d played in a puddle. Probably a whole 10 minutes. Standing in the water wasn’t enough, though.
So I started jumping.
On the overturned aquarium. You know. One that’s made out of glass.
For the next few weeks, I tried to blame Jenny for what happened next. It really wasn’t her fault because this whole climbing onto an aquarium thing wasn’t her idea. And jumping while on top of the aquarium wasn’t her idea, either. But I blamed her because she came around the corner and shouted, “Boo!”
I looked at her. Her arms were full. But they weren’t full of Star Wars toys. I think I remember seeing a McDonald’s playset in her arms.
I knew it. I was right. She was wrong. “Those aren’t Star Wars toys!” I declared. I was angry. I was annoyed. I was disappointed. I really wanted to play with some new Star Wars toys. I had hoped I had turned her to the Light Side.
As soon as I finished my victorious declaration, the inevitable happened. The glass gave way. I crashed through the aquarium. I don’t know where Jenny went. I’m assuming she went to find an adult. All I remember was sitting in the aquarium, surrounded by broken glass and screaming my little head off.
And blood was running down my leg.
I had cut my knee. And it was bad.
Mom ran out and grabbed me. I remember sitting in the bathroom with a washrag on my knee. The next thing I remember was hobbling into the emergency room and sitting down by some wheelchairs.
Our family doctor happened to be there with an intern. I was carted into a room where I watched them stick a needle in my gaping wound. I screamed. The nurse encouraged me to be quiet because my knee was trying to sleep. She must’ve been telling me the truth because I couldn’t feel my knee anymore. It must’ve fallen asleep.
Next thing I remember, I’m on my back with my knees up. Other than the head of my doctor and his intern, I really can’t see anything. I think they some type of curtain blocking my view.
When all was said and done, I wound up with three stitches in my knee. That’s all. After all that drama, it only took three stitches to fix me up. And they were blue, too. That was my favorite color at the time.
When I was a kid, I had a little contest with my Uncle Don. When we saw each other either before or after Sunday morning worship at Bethany Baptist Church, we would compare wounds with each other. Whoever had the craziest injury was the winner for the week. What did you win? Well, nothing. Bragging rights, I guess. But we had fun comparing injuries and telling stories. There was the time he broke his nose. He won that week. I think he won about a month’s worth of weekly contests with that one. Then there was the time I had to get stitches in my knee. I came out victorious that time.
I learned something during those weekly contests of pain and gore. Stories are important. We can share our wounds and find commonality because of them. And yes, sometimes those stories can make us look really, really cool. And sometimes there’s a scar once a wound heals. The story behind that scar remains. And sometimes they’re worth telling again and again and again.
So welcome to Scar Week.
Discovery Channel has Shark Week. Animal Planet has Monster Week. The Weather Channel does Tornado Week. I think syfy did a Sharknado Week once. The Hub has even had Bark Week. There’s also Spirit Week, Finals Week, and Rush Week in our fine academic institutions that are scattered throughout this land. There’s also Rivalry Week in college football.
I’m sure you get the point.
Everyone has their own week. So I’ve decided that it’s time to have our own week here at Life in the Fishbowl. So I present to you the First Annual Scar Week: a week full of memorable stories. Because every scar has a story. Some will probably make you laugh. Some might make you cry. I make no promises about that. But I can guarantee this: The stories I share during Scar Week this week are 100% true and 100% mine. From an unfortunate mishap with an ax to the improper use of a fish aquarium, there are plenty of memorable stories that will be shared this week. Some of them have powerful messages attached to them. Others? Well…there’s not much you can do about them except laugh.
Does every scar have a story? Probably not. But the stories I have are ones I enjoy telling again and again and again. So sit back, relax, and laugh to your heart’s content as I, Matt Todd, present the maiden voyage of Shark Week at Life in the Fishbowl.
We make decisions every day. Most of these decisions are rather inconsequential in the grand scheme of things – Do I want waffles or pancakes for breakfast? Should I get my gas at Speedway or Circle K? Should I wear argyle or striped socks? You know. Pretty mundane stuff.
But there are other decisions that we make that can stay with you forever. They can keep you up at night. They can haunt you in the middle of the day. They sometimes pop up in regular, everyday conversations. You can’t get away from these decisions.
I’m not talking about life-altering things like getting behind the wheel while you’re under the influence or choosing to marry someone. Those are life-altering decisions. I’m talking about other decisions. They might not alter the course of human civilization, but they still cause you to break out in a cold sweat when you think about what you did or didn’t do. They’re decisions you look back on and ask yourself, “Why? Why did I choose to do it that way? Why didn’t I choose to go the other direction as I stood at that fork in the road?”
As I look back on the decisions I’ve made, there are three choices that stand out. And when I think about them, I often wonder, “Man, why didn’t I take advantage of that opportunity?”
These were big decisions in my life. They’re landmarks on my journey of life. But they’re also relatively inconsequential in the grand story of life. They were fun things I could have done. I’m not talking about the really big regrets that I might have. You know, like dating that one girl in high school. Or cheating on a girlfriend while on a school trip out of town. Or leaving the youth ministry position that I had in Kentucky the way I did. Those are big things. They’re life-altering decisions that I’m not really dwelling on. Those things were much more complicated.
These? They’re more…simple…I guess. And I still regret them.
Anyway, his parents were in town for the weekend. Through some kind of perk with his company, Mr. Good was able to drive a Corvette for his own personal use for a while. He brought it down to Milligan for the visit.
I don’t remember why I was in the car with them or where we were going, but I do remember Mr. Good pulling over to the side of the road. He put the car into park and turned around to say something to me.
“You want to take it for a quick drive?” he asked me.
I was shocked. I had a split second to make a decision. I didn’t know what to do.
So I said no.
A college kid turned down an opportunity to drive a ‘Vette through the mountains of Tennessee. Are you kidding me? What was I thinking?
I had a headache that afternoon. So that was my reason. And while I understand that, it was a pretty lame excuse. Don’t you think?
I’m still kicking myself over that decision. It doesn’t really matter if I have other opportunities to drive a sports car like that. I still passed this one up like a bonehead.
Simple Regret #2: “Houston, we have a problem”
Remember when the space shuttle program was retired? I do. Because I passed up the opportunity to watch a shuttle land for the last time. Ever.
If you’re a longtime reader of this site (thank you for sticking with me, by the way), you might remember how I struggled with this decision quite a bit. I had some work-related responsibilities that I probably could’ve rearranged if I had pushed hard enough. In retrospect, I probably should’ve moved heaven and earth so I could go.
When I mentioned this decision to Aiden a few weeks ago, he looked me in the eye and said, “What were you thinking, Dad?”
I’ve been asking myself the same thing ever since I skipped out on the landing.
What was I thinking?
Regret #3: “Go go go Matty…er…JOSEPH…”
The Spring musical during my senior year of high school was Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. In the weeks leading up to opening night, it was decided that they needed some more guys to join the cast. An call was sent far and wide throughout the hallowed halls of Harry High.
I could’ve auditioned. Most of my friends were already in the musical – either in the orchestra or up on stage. It would’ve been fun. I already knew all of the songs. I had been listening to the soundtrack nonstop for at least a month. Maybe longer. I wouldn’t have had to dance, really. And that was a good thing. You really, really don’t want to see me try to dance. They just needed more able bodies to be an Egyptian guard or one of Jacob’s sons, or some other extra up on stage.
I didn’t do it. I didn’t even express any hint of interest at all.
There’s an amazing feeling when you connect with an audience while you’re performing. I’ve had it happen while playing my tuba. I have no doubt there would’ve been a similar feeling while standing on stage during my senior year of high school. And it would’ve been pretty special to have shared that experience with my friends who were already in the musical.
But I didn’t.
And I still don’t know why I didn’t even bother to try.
I think that’s what bugs me more than anything else. I didn’t even try.
Get your story off your chest.
What decisions have you made that you still kick yourself over? What makes you stay awake at night wondering what might have been? Sharing those stories can be therapeutic. But don’t life solely in the past. Learn from those missed opportunities and keep moving forward. Because we cannot change the things that happened in the past. We can only influence things that happen today. Let’s make today better than yesterday.
What are you doing to make your life better today?
I probably should’ve included the whole A Charlie Brown Christmas album on this playlist. While A Christmas Story is a very close second, A Charlie Brown Christmas has been my favorite Christmas special for as long as I can remember. One year, Grandpa recorded the TV broadcast, using the same big-huge VCR that he used when he recorded Star Wars for me. And I remember sitting in the Family Room at their house, watching this over and over and over again.
So while many people love this Christmas Special for its timeless and simple message about what Christmas is all about, it also has a very special place in my heart because it makes me think of Grandmama and Grandpa. Yes, this song must be on my Christmas playlist. It just isn’t Christmas without it.
I remember when CBS aired Star Wars* on network tv for the first time. It was a big deal. A big-huge deal. Gigantic. Enormous. Gargantuan. You get the idea?
I asked Grandmama and Grandpa to record it on their big-huge VCR because we didn’t have one yet. Every time we visited their house (which was often), I’d pop in the tape and watch it over and over and over again. I wanted to be part of the Stuben family with their giant collection.
All that being said, I still thought it was pretty weird to get married in line while waiting for the movie. I mean….having a Chewbacca-shaped Groom’s Cake is one thing. Spending your wedding night in a movie theatre?
Every time someone would walk into the room while I was watching the beloved Star Wars videotape, I would shout, “Shhh! Shhh! This is my favorite part!” Of course, every part was my favorite part.
Leia gets captured? My favorite part.
Luke is ambushed by Sandpeople? My favorite part.
The Millennium Falcon has to blast its way out of Mos Eisley? My favorite part.
The Princess is rescued from her cell?** My favorite part.
I think you get the idea. Every single part of this movie was my favorite part of my favorite movie. It was so captivating. It transported me to a different world – one that I would continue to live in when I wasn’t watching the movie at my grandparents’ house. Star Wars has a very special place in my heart because of the memories it evokes. For this reason alone, Star Wars will always be my favorite. There are other reasons, however, why Star Wars is such a masterful piece of storytelling.
John Williams is a genius. George Lucas is a genius for getting him to work on this film. The score is so intertwined with the visuals that it is impossible to imagine Star Wars without the soundtrack. I would suspect it would be a much, much different experience. And it probably wouldn’t have been as memorable of a movie.
Here’s an example of how the two tie in so perfectly. Try not to get a little misty-eyed as you listen to Binary Sunset (around the 1:50 mark). In your mind’s eye, you can see young Luke gazing off into the horizon, wishing he could leave for a life of adventure that he cannot have while he’s stuck at his uncle’s farm.
OK. Maybe I’m the only one who can see the scene in my mind’s eye. And maybe I’m the only one who gets misty-eyed. But it’s still a powerful scene. And we owe it to the soundtrack.
The jaw-dropping special effects
With Star Wars, George Lucas understood the purpose of special effects. It could be argued that he lost his way when it came to the prequels, but that’s a different discussion. When you look at Star Wars for what it was, it was an amazing technological leap forward in the realm of special effects and film.
And it played second fiddle to something much more important: the story.
Without a good story full of engaging, memorable characters, you don’t have that much of a quality movie. If you throw special effects in there and use them to drive the story, then you have even less of a movie.
Special effects are just a tool, a means of telling a story. People have a tendency to confuse them as an end to themselves. A special effect without a story is a pretty boring thing.
The story is a timeless fantasy. Farmboy growing up a hundred miles from nowhere becomes a protege of a wise, mysterious, old wizard. They team up with a band of outlaws on a journey to rescue a princess. Along the way, they topple an evil Empire and this seemingly insignificant farmboy from an insignificant place saves the galaxy.
While the special effects were groundbreaking and are still pretty amazing, they’re subservient to the timeless story. And that’s the way it should be. I wish more filmmakers (including George Lucas himself in later years) would learn from that. Special effects are a tool to tell a story. Special effects are not the story. Star Wars nails this point perfectly.
I think that’s why I have been so disappointed with the tinkering they did with the films for the Special Edition – and after the Special Edition. The story becomes a tool to show off your special effects, which is the opposite of how it should be. It messes up the story.
All that being said, there’s one addition in the Special Edition of Star Wars that does help the story. It’s the brief encounter Luke has with Biggs before the final battle. It helps the audience understand why it was such a big deal that Biggs is shot down at the end. It’s not just that Luke is now all alone. He’s also lost his best friend.
I feel like I should also mention that the final battle scene in Star Wars is where I strongly disagree with Roger Ebert’s initial review of the film. I have always thought the final battle was just the right length.
Star Wars is an adventurous joyride full of ups and downs and twists and surprises and it doesn’t stop until the final explosion and you jump up and down with joy as all the tension releases from your body. Steven Spielberg once said that Star Wars “put the butter back into the popcorn.” And he’s right. With Star Wars, movies became fun again. Once again, movies could take you off to a place far, far away, and invite you to stay. Moviemakers have been trying to capture that magic since Star Wars. While some have had varying levels of success, none have been able to come close to matching the magic of Star Wars.
Some movies, like Schindler’s List and Saving Private Ryan are great because they tell moving, heartbreaking stories. And I never want to watch them again. Other movies are great because you want to watch them over and over and over again.
As you can see, Star Wars clearly falls into the latter. And I’m pretty sure that’s why it’s my favorite of my favorites. Always has been. Always will be.
Which Star Wars film is your favorite? Do you like any prequels better than the Original Trilogy?
* For the duration of this post, please realize that I’ll be using ‘Star Wars’ and ‘A New Hope’ interchangeably. If you have a problem with that…well…that’s really your problem. I suggest you find something else to get upset about because this really isn’t that big of a deal.
** I warned you here. I warned you again here. I have no sympathy for you if this is a spoiler. Just watch the daggum movies already!
Tomorrow marks the 30th anniversary of the release of Return of the Jedi. I remember the weeks (and maybe even the months) of hype leading up to this film. I remember sitting on the edge of my seat (honestly? it was a couch. you get the idea though) in the Living Room in our old house on Iroquois, watching Entertainment Tonight’s feature about the filming of the speeder bike scene. I could.not.wait. I was caught up in Jedi fever, like the rest of the country (be sure to note the price of the scalped tickets in that link. I’d be pretty happy with those prices today!).
While I didn’t camp out in the ticket line or attend any midnight showings, I was the first of my friends to go see it. I was pretty proud of that fact.
I still remember seeing that vile gangster, Jabba the Hutt, on the big screen for the first time. I still remember holding my breath during the final duel. I still remember the magic of the final chapter of the Original Trilogy. And because of this experience alone, Return of the Jedi will always be a favorite movie of mine. But that’s not the only reason.
I know. Many people think the Ewoks are the Original Trilogy’s equivalent of Jar Jar Binks. It’s become the cool thing to say.You can say that if you want. It’s OK for you to be wrong.
I argue that Ewoks are a crucial part of the story. The Rebellion is a ragtag group up against the arrogant, evil, well-oiled Imperial machine. The involvement of prehistoric Ewoks in the war against a new technological terror is merely an extension of the theme that has been evident since the beginning of the Star Wars saga – don’t count out the little guy. Love and friendship conquer all.
Once you realize the entire Star Wars saga is the story of Anakin Skywalker turned Darth Vader turned Anakin Skywalker*, you view Jedi through an entirely different lens. Watching the redemption of Darth Vader at the end of the film brings a tear to my eye. It gives me chills. In fact, I have goosebumps right now just because I’m writing about it.
The Good Guys Win!
The entire saga ties together in one dramatic climax. The Emperor is gone. The Empire is defeated. The friends are wiser, stronger, and closer to each other than they had ever been before. There’s dancing and singing and everyone is celebrating the love(not “lord,” as a teacher once insisted in high school) – but only in the original version. That’s one of the reasons I strongly dislike the Special Edition, by the way. Order has been restored. Evil has been destroyed. Good has won. All is right with the galaxy. Just like it should be.
Does Jedi work as a stand-alone movie? Probably not. But as a conclusion to an epic Trilogy? Absolutely! Sure, there are some faults. Each episode has them. But Jedi has a special place in my heart. And for that reason, it’s my favorite.
Which installment of Star Wars is your favorite? Why?
*I’m sorry if this is a spoiler, but…come on….it’s been 30 years. If this is a spoiler for you, then what are you waiting for? Pretend you didn’t read this, go borrow someone’s copy of Return of the Jedi and watch it tonight!