How to Give an Excellent Reading by Derek Via

Whether you’re reading a poem, fiction, non, or an essay, you should always give a phenomenal reading. If you’re going to read your work (whether in a public setting or on video), your responsibility to the work itself is to bring the words, scenarios, images, punctuations, etc to the forefront of listeners’ imaginations. So here are some quick tips to vamp up your readings:

1. Don’t just wing it. Practice ahead of time. Out loud. Be prepared. Just “winging it” is pushy and never ends up well. Know what you’re going to read. Have the page marked and ready. Just be prepared. It shows.

2. Be confident. Never preface with “this isn’t very good, but…” We’ve all heard it before. It’s really distracting and detracts from the piece. Just give it your best shot. Tip: if you typically show your nerves by shaking like a leaf, stick your single sheet of paper in a book to hold so you don’t look like a middle-schooler at prom. :)

3. Control your pace. If you read too fast because you’re nervous, listeners won’t understand or comprehend. If you read too slow, everyone wonders if you think your work is so great you need to dwell on each word for too long. A moderate, conversational pace is good. A little slower for some poetry is ok, too.

4. Articulate. Perhaps this point is more poetry-focused, but it’s important to all genres. If you’re mumble-jumbling, what’s the point of reading? Sounds of words and lines are vital to writing, so dish it out in your reading. Like I said, practice before. (note: watch the video attached of Lucie Brock-Broido. She’s so articulate and one of the best readers I’ve ever heard).

5. Be expressive. Be interesting, but not weird. Here’s what I mean: be an artist and do your thing, but don’t make people absurdly uncomfortable just for the sake of it. Express your writing with vocal inflection for different circumstances or characters. You know what I mean. Just express the emotion of the writing (or lack thereof). I went to a reading once when the reader left the stage mid-poem. Nobody knew what to do. Awkward…

I hope this gives a few things to think about before your next reading. Be sure to listen to some videos of your favorite writers as well. And maybe some random ones, too. The link to Lucie Brock-Broido’s reading is here. Check it out:

The Art of an Echo by Richard Decker

sound-wave5-01-01

The Art of an Echo

I

sit

in the hall

on the cold brown floor.

It

is

quiet, and

just the a / c hums.

My

two

fingers

I snap, but just once.

(SNAP goes the sound of the snap)

I watch it go…down the hall. It hits the door…I hear all.

(SNAP goes the sound of the snap)

My two fingers I

do not snap,

not

once.

It is quiet, and

just the

a / c

hums.

I sit in the hall

on the cold

brown

floor.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

Racebending in the Age of the Reboot or, The Unbearable White-ness of Filming

by Adam Snavely

Donald Glover’s joke-campaign to play Spiderman is now one of the Internet legends of the Aughts. Spurred by what many saw as overblown exercises in special effects and lukewarm acting in Toby Maguire’s Spiderman (and then eventually again for Andrew Garfield’s reboot of the series when news began to leak out how Spiderman would be rebooted yet again with a new Spiderman), a fan-made poster of Donald Glover in Spidey’s trademark reds and blues reached Glover himself. Thinking the poster was cool and the idea fun, Glover reposted the image to his social media accounts. The comic world then proceeded to lose its ever-loving mind. Seriously, people were divided into camps over this. The supporters pointed to a comic book run of Spiderman where Spidey actually was a half African-American, half Hispanic boy, and defended Glover based on his talent for both goofiness and naiveté displayed in his work for popular television shows like Community and 30 Rock. Glover, people argued, was perfect for Spiderman.

The detracting group, on the other hand, overwhelmingly pointed to Glover’s skin color as the main thing disqualifying him from the part. Peter Parker wasn’t black. Spiderman (usually) wasn’t black. But Donald Glover was (and is still, currently). Therefore, Donald Glover could not play Spiderman[1]. Glover, to his credit, commented on how ridiculous the entire situation was in his stand-up features, telling the story of the only internet comment he responded to during the debate, in which an obviously upset Spiderman fan asked “What, Spiderman’s going to be black now? Spiderman’s just going to be black? What’s next, are we just going to make Michael Cera Shaft?![2]

*          *          *

The Spiderman anecdote carries over more and more in today’s movie industry, where any mildly successful movie from the 70s, 80s, or 90s (or 2000s, or 2010s, etc etc) is ripe for a remake, reboot, sequel, prequel, spin-off, serialization, and five cent bottle recycling. Half the movies currently showing in my local theater feature four separate films that are the third movie in a series, one 90s cult classic sequel, a spin-off cartoon of a trilogy of cartoons from the Aughts, and two adaptations of books. This is the age of the seminal character, the best Spiderman and the best Bond and the best Jedi and the best Annie, and the debates occurring on just who from a film franchise’s stable stands above the rest. And as movies and characters continue to be recycled, there continues to be a clamor for minority actors to receive prestigious and historic roles traditionally played by white actors, with the traditional pushback following the pattern in Glover’s Spiderman non-casting: “He can’t play that role, he’s black,” or “if they wanted _________ to be [black, Hispanic, Asian], they would have made him one originally.”

This argument, frankly, is lazy. It completely ignores decades of thought on race and the psychological politics of majority-minority power relationships. Simply put: the actions and motivations of white characters, most often, are not informed by their race. The motivations of minority characters, more often than not, are. This is why minority actors can play Spiderman, James Bond, or Annie, while white actors cannot play the Black Panther or Walter Younger.

W.E.B. du Bois famously described the constant awareness of race in African Americans as “double-consciousness.” African Americans, du Bois argued, maintained a constant two-ness of thought: the recognition of the self coupled with the recognition of being the “other,” both African and American, seeing one’s self simply for one’s self and also seeing the self through the lens of the majority. It’s an unfair psychological state, one that easily puts minorities at a disadvantage in social situations, and du Bois noted its odd function in everyday life: “It is a peculiar sensation, this double-consciousness, this sense of always looking at one’s self through the eyes of others, of measuring one’s soul by the tape of a world that looks on in amused contempt and pity.”[3] While du Bois certainly does not speak for all minorities (or even all African Americans, for that matter), the idea of double-consciousness seems apparent simply in current events and pop culture, such as the tendency for white people’s actions to be viewed in light of their own thought processes while minorities seem to both carry the burden of their own actions as well as the actions of their entire race[4], or in debates on rappers using racial slurs in their music versus anyone using a racial slur. Double-consciousness is encouraged, even affirmed by the power structure most Western nations have settled themselves in.

*          *          *

Idris Elba is both known for his ability to play imposing, dark, and complex characters, as well as being the seeming favorite to become the next James Bond when Daniel Craig hangs up his black Italian suits and Aston Martin keys. James Bond is one of the most recognizable characters in the world, and debates on the actors who have portrayed the British spy rage every Thanksgiving season in America, where it seems some channel always has a Bond marathon running through both Turkey Day and Black Friday. The suggestion of Elba as Bond rankled many fans, predictably so. Bond, perhaps more than almost any character, has been defined by his physical look as the dapper, dark-haired assassin, a dangerous spy and consummate British gentleman. I mean, when Daniel Craig was announced as the new Bond people complained because he was blonde. Craig has gone on to become the most interesting and complex Bond in the film’s franchise[5]. Elba can continue that tradition. He’s an excellent actor given the right setting and I would love him as Bond. Many people disagree with me on this statement, and inevitably the argument comes back to the idea that he cannot portray Bond because Bond is a white man, and Elba is black. This is a disservice to the opportunities created by a black Bond. Bond’s complexities were often unmined before Craig’s turn at the helm, and casting Elba would continue to make Bond a more interesting and psychologically complex character not in spite of Elba’s skin, but because of it. Add to this the fact that nothing is really lost by the introduction of a black Bond. When was the last time James Bond came face to face with the demons of his whiteness?

*          *          *

Many people say race-bending is simply a means of giving minority actors more roles. The answer to this accusation on its face is yes, that is exactly what it’s doing. Minorities are still wildly underrepresented in the film world. Go look at the history of the Academy Awards and count the number of minority actors who’ve won. The answer to this accusation’s implication, which is that these minority actors are undeserving of these roles and have been handed them not based on merit but on skin color, and that if the answer to racism is color-blindness than it should not matter whether a character is black or white and any insistence for a minority actor to play a traditionally white role is selfish on a personal level and even “reverse racism” towards white people at a systemic level, is a question in return: when did you become so insecure?

Color-blindness is not the answer to racism. All people have been made differently, and come from different cultures and contexts. Ignoring those contexts and cultures, things that everyone typically has a great deal of pride in[6], seems like a pretty messed-up thing to do when you think about it. There will always be racial differences, and that’s ok. Celebrating diversity is not ignoring that it exists, but looking at it and determining that it exists on a the same level of merit as your own cultural context, which is merit in that it exists on this incredibly strange and beautiful Earthly plane we find ourselves in. And any attempt to equate a celebration of diversity with color-blindness only strikes me as an attempt to maintain the status quo of the already in-power majority that determines the “correctness” of language, academic study, art, and politics. So I ask again: when did you become so insecure? Will a black Bond make me, as a white man, spontaneously burst into flames because Bond has always been white? People of color exist, are here, are also human, did not come to try to steal our land or movie roles, and this is not a statement of white guilt. It just seems like at this point, white people should be comfortable enough with their own majority to look at a different culture, context, or viewpoint with interest and curiosity, with intent to learn and by extension attempt to understand, rather than look on with contempt or defend against an invasion on their values. So make James Bond black, make Spiderman a mixed kid. I want to see differently; I want to know.

[1] This is an overgeneralization, obviously. Not all comic book purists used this argument. But a lot of them did, too.

[2] To which, as Glover tells it, he responded “Uhhh…yes!”

[3] from The Souls of Black Folk

[4] This is overwhelmingly evident in people of Middle Eastern descent in today’s American political and social climate.

[5] And the best. Yep. He’s the best Bond. Sean Connery was great and his Bond movies fell almost in an entirely different genre than Craig’s gritty world of global espionage, but I like Craig more. He’s maintained the smoothness of the prototypical Bond and managed to ditch the goofiness that comes far too easily with being a gentleman-killer for Queen and Country. Connery purists can email complaints to lampmagazine.lu@gmail.com.

[6] And if you don’t think you have pride in any of your contexts, think a little harder, because we can be proud about even the dumbest stuff. I’m proud of Western New York’s garbage plates and the Buffalo Bills. Pray for me.

Honoring God’s Creations by Richard Decker

The Sun was outside today:

A Trademark (stamped on Creation),

which shined.

The wind was calm,

the wind was refreshing.

The sky was blue, as blue as a sapphire,

but certainly not as dark.

Laughter could be heard:

students outside,

playing,

throwing around a frisbee.

I smiled, I laughed,

I let myself find joy in it all.

I let the beauty of the day

be seen by myself,

And then I thought…

…she must be outside today.

Hip Hop’s Answering Machine: In Memoriam

By Adam Snavely

I recently attended a lecture in which a bestselling author gave a talk on the craft of writing, and was asked a question about literary fiction and the aesthetic qualities of writing. Literary fiction, as she defined it, generally contains a great wealth of beautiful aesthetic detail and devices that are pretty to read but are useless[1] on the whole and make the work a little boring to read. “I’m more concerned with writing page-turners, books you really want to finish,” she confidently asserted before moving on to the next question.

After I managed to quell the existential rage swelling in the back of my throat, natural to the white-male-creative writing savant, the comment still had me questioning the distance between the literary elite and lowbrow novel. Could excellent technique and aesthetic beauty be used in a work that appealed to the masses? Something that didn’t descend immediately into cliché?

The problem, I found, was one familiar with anyone that really loves books and literature: not enough people read anymore to get a nice sample size. There is no readily apparent Pulitzer Prize-winning novel hailed as the next great American tale that not only causes the critics to weep by its sheer existence, but also copies to fly off the shelves in a manner which demands some sort of media attention. Sure, there have been plenty of great books written in the past ten years or so, but not that many people know about them, if we’re all being honest with ourselves. Searching different mediums for the type of piece I was looking for, however, proved a bit more fruitful, and possibly even more obvious: a piece of music, a rap album, no less, by one Kendrick Lamar.

*****

Kendrick Lamar’s good kid, m.A.A.d city was both critically-loved and commercially successful when it was released in 2012. Featuring an opening week of 242,000 copies sold and an eventual platinum certification (or 1,000,000 units sold, a feat practically unheard of in the second golden age of piracy), the album was also a smash with internet rap sites and more traditional music magazines alike, making Lamar an unlikely crossover star and ushering in the reemergence of what many called “true” West Coast hip hop, its lyrical skill and production harkening back to rap greats like Tupac and N.W.A. Furthermore, the album makes liberal use of specific devices common to music and hip hop, ones that correlate to “useless” aesthetic literary devices in written literature.

The album opens with a lo-fi audio recording of one of the more-loaded creeds in contemporary American culture, the Sinner’s Prayer:

Lord God, I come to You a sinner,

and I humbly repent for my sins.

I believe that Jesus is Lord.

I believe that You raised Him from the dead.

I will ask that Jesus will come to my life

and be my Lord and Savior.

I receive Jesus to take control of my life

and that I may live for Him from this day forth.

Thank you, Lord Jesus, for saving me with your precious blood.

In Jesus’ name, Amen.

The song following, “Sherane a.k.a. Master Splinter’s Daughter,” details a young Lamar (or K. Dot, as he is referred to within the narrative of the album) chasing after a girl named Sherane, graphically describing the sexual interest the two seem to have for each other before an abrupt and unexpected ending. As the song ends, Kendrick’s vocal track cuts directly to the sound of a phone ringing and his Mother leaving him a voice message asking where he is and when he’ll be bringing her van back. It’s cell phone voicemail, but the quality of the sound recording clearly recalls scanning back through messages on an answering machine, listening to which ones you can delete and which ones still need to be dealt with.

Rappers (and some of the best rap albums of all time) love skits. They come in thirty-second bytes at the beginning and ends of songs. They can get their own track listing, or even appear in secret after the album ends; often adding humor, sometimes mixing gravity into the album’s content, or (as in the case of Kendrick’s album) building a storyline to follow throughout, these skits perform any number of duties on an album, and one of the most common devices seen in the skit is the answering machine interlude.

Whether it’s a friend recounting a wild night on the town back to Common or one of Guru’s (of Gang Starr fame) many girlfriends trying to meet up with him, or even K. Dot’s mom trying to figure out where he is so she can get her van back and get food stamps, the answering machine plays many different roles but itself remains a staple in hip hop, although its appearance has dwindled over the past several years. The appeal of the answering machine, especially in skit form, is simple: it serves to record memories, memos and other things to be done. An answering machine message is a reminder, something to be done that can either be addressed or ignored in the following song. And it can be as ridiculous as a Ludacris automated phone system designed only to make a crude joke to lead into a cruder song, or it can be used as Kendrick uses it, to add the artistic complexities of memory to his story.

Essentially, the sound of a sound recorder clicking on before the Sinner’s Prayer and a computerized voice telling his mother to leave a message after the tone is rap’s Tennessee Williams moment, the point where Tom Wingfield walks onto the stage and announces how the following production will run: “The scene is memory and is therefore nonrealistic. Memory takes a lot of poetic license. It omits some details; others are exaggerated, according to the emotional value of the articles it touches, for memory is seated predominantly in the heart.”[2] The problem with memory and discerning historical fact using memory as a primary source is the inherent fallibility of the human mind and ego[3]. It’s simply too easy to misremember or embellish facts over the course of any period of time. The artist, on the other hand, uses this distortion as a tool. The facts don’t all have to be right. They can be ordered and arranged in such a way that works according to the artist’s vision and emotional motives. An answering machine is an answering machine, sure, but it’s a record of the past, and possibly a signifier of a distorted emotional connection.

Such a distinction is obvious in just the layout of the good kid m.A.A.d city narrative. It’s non-linear, and while it moves forward during the album, it often jumps forwards and backwards in relation to the pacing of material and the types of songs being placed back to back. For example, the listener hears the Sinner’s Prayer twice during the album. The album itself opens with it, and it’s immediately followed by a song about, as Lamar himself raps, “love or lust,” quite literally “the music of being young and dumb.” The Sinner’s Prayer immediately creates tension with the source material of the song it’s placed in, and makes sense given the conflicted nature of the album as a necessary opening[4]. But the Sinner’s Prayer as it actually occurs in the context of the K. Dot narrative occurs much later in the album, when a darker series of events has led to the death of one of K. Dot’s friends. Directly after the song “Sing About Me, I’m Dying of Thirst” in which Lamar raps about his frustration with life in Compton, running around and endlessly seeking revenge for lost loved ones, K. Dot and his friends are confronted by a woman who tells them of their need for God, and the same exact Sinner’s Prayer is recited as in the beginning of the album. It bookends the narrative of life in K. Dot’s neighborhood, not occurring naturally according to chronology, but according to the emotional narrative of memory that Kendrick creates; it didn’t happen exactly that way, but it belongs there.

*****

The problem with using devices, then, and where they can travel into the realm of uselessness, is using such a device without a specific purpose, or just to be witty. If the answering machine can affect the emotional distortion of memory to great artistic effect, then its major downfall is the same as any device or landmark harkening back to a less-advanced time: the descent into cliché, sentimentalism, and kitsch. After all, as much as an answering machine could potentially signify a shift in memory, it can also be just a dumb old answering machine, thrown in because it’s clever, or worse, because the presence of the answering machine itself is supposed to carry some sort of artistic value. All literary genres and movements have their own hallmarks and similarities, and music is no different. But dropping an image or device into a song because the presence of that image or device is supposed to elevate the song regardless of what the artist does with it destroys possibility of meaning. This is a similar problem to the issues sentimentalism runs into often. Pining for a forgotten place or time not because of any specific reason but simply because that place and time existed and is now lost often leads to poor depictions of such places. They’re elevated to such a high place for really no good reason, and any good audience sniffs that stuff out quickly.

To see this problem in action, look at “Payphone” by Maroon 5[5]. The chorus, in case you can’t recall that fateful stretch of radio doldrums, goes as follows:

            I’m at a payphone trying to phone home

            All of the change I spent on you.

            Where have the times gone

            Baby it’s all gone, where are the plans we laid for two?

The payphone in question performs a basic narrative function, begins a trite witticism, and then tries to create an atmosphere of nostalgia. Obviously, the narrator is attempting to contact a lost love. Where he found a payphone still in working order that is preferable to simply asking to borrow a cell phone in such dire straits, we may never know. Second, the payphone starts a pun that receives its pay-off in the very next line with the narrator spending his metaphorical “change” on the partner he previously engaged in romantic relations with. No further comment needed there. Finally, the payphone is supposed to connect the feelings of lost love to a sepia-toned time somewhere in the past of Adam Levine’s mind, where people talked on payphones and fiercely chased after their broken relationships. The payphone must do this by just being there. It is dropped into the song as a wink to the past and not given any real purpose beyond being there because, as we all know, payphones used to be really great.

But everyone knows that’s not true. Payphones have always been the dingy, health-prohibitive emergency back-ups of anyone needing to call another person, least of all a guy trying to rescue a relationship. Maybe he could actually go talk to her. I don’t know. That seems like a pretty good idea, though. You can’t just put a payphone in there because the audience will understand that payphones used to be a thing and you trust them to go with it. It’s a lazy and ineffective way to write, creating more ridicule and scorn for the song than appreciation for the music you’re making.

*****

The answering machine as a tool seems to be dying out in hip hop, which makes some sense on one hand, and is a little sad on the other. Obviously, answering machines just aren’t around anymore. The natural subject matter and available imagery to choose from for the aspiring rapper shifts, and shifts quickly in an age driven by the quantity of content a website can possibly push out in a given day. Things become obsolete. When’s the last time you even left a voicemail message for someone as opposed to just hanging up after a few rings and shooting off a text?

But maybe the point and purpose of using something like an answering machine is being lost too. It’s telling that the latest good example of an answering machine skit that I can write about is already three years old, just as telling as a best-selling author opining to students at a liberal arts college that literary fiction is boring and its devices useless. That’s a bigger problem. If we cannot produce good art, how do we expect to be able to think for ourselves? The canon of literary fiction is littered not just with vast descriptions of people and places. There is methodology and purpose behind it, a message to be conveyed by the author more than just a plotline in order for the reader to more easily “turn pages.” Throughout history, oppressive regimes did not shut down radio stations, raze news headquarters to the ground, or invade technical and engineering schools. Usually they could buy those places out or force their people into management positions easily enough. The things they burned, utterly destroyed so that no trace could be found, were books. And it seems that there’s not a lot of books left that are worth burning.

[1] The exact wording was closer to “there will be five pages of exposition on setting and theme, and you’re kind of reading along like ‘why is all this here?’”

[2] from The Glass Menagerie

[3] Ask Brian Williams.

[4] As an aside, Lamar’s faith makes frequent appearances in his music, but his frequent use of coarse language typically disqualifies him from being considered a “Christian” artist by many of the Contemporary Christian Music crows. And while I’m hesitant to link to a Buzzfeed article pretty much always, this article by Reggie Ugwu does a great job exploring the tension between Lamar’s supposed “secularity” and “Christianity,” using examples from his music as well as interviews with people like Evangelicalism’s favorite rapper Lecrae.

[5] I’m jumping genres here, obviously. I’m not claiming the image of a payphone as artistic currency in either hip hop or that white-washed RnPop (or whatever it is Maroon 5 does). I’m just saying it’s a lazy image. Follow along. You’ll see.

Poppop And I Go Fishing

By Andrew Hahn

It is the first nice day in a while. Mom is still sleeping. She is hung over. I eat Honey Smacks in the living room with PopPop. He is watching a news talk show and eating a cinnamon twist pastry he got from the bakery yesterday after work. He drinks coffee from a Christmas mug with reindeer on it, even though Christmas was four months ago.

“Hey,” he says turning off the TV. “Do you want to go fishing?”

“Yeah,” I reply. I eat my cereal and drink the milk before placing it in the kitchen sink. “Should I ask Tyler if he wants to come too?”

“No,” he says. “Leave your brother here. This is just for me and you. Go put on your jacket. I’ll be out by the garage.”

“Okay!” I run upstairs and slowly open the bedroom door. Mom is sleeping on the farther of the two beds. She is facing the door. Drool goops from her mouth and she snores softly when she exhales like a puppy growl. I see the red cap from the Smirnoff bottle poking out from underneath the bed. I want to throw it out, but instead I grab my red fleece zip jacket and tiptoe out of the room. The door latch clicks shut, and I leap down the stairs and run out the back door to where PopPop is waiting for me.

He is holding two fishing poles. One is a kid’s pole with a button release. The other is the adult kind where you have to hold down the line, flip the release, then cast. I know how to use that one, but I don’t think he knows that.

“You ready?”

“Yeah!” I notice that he doesn’t have his car keys. “Where are we going?”

“To a secret place in the back.” He leads me back past the wooden pool area and the trailer attached to it where they keep all their junk. Past the lines of trees like an orange grove and into where the willow tree stands with her green, straight hair. Behind the willow is a long rusted gate, which is hidden behind spikey bushes with flowers and bugs. It leads to a dirt path lined with grass and tall, round bushes. We walk down the trail slowly as if to show nature we are a part of it and want to be one with it. We amble over the knolls and we are on a path that is in the middle of a sweeping pasture. Cows graze unrestricted and mosey slowly over the green. A brown, dog ear fence lines the far end of the pasture. A black and white dog barks and runs circles around the cows who act like they can’t hear it.

“It’s right up over here,” PopPop says.

We come up on an oasis—a pond. A tree arches over it and its branches hang like a green chandelier. Small plants grow out of a beached rowboat. At the edge of the path are large, smooth stones perfect for sitting, which we climb on and ready our lines.

“Where are the worms?” I ask.

He pulls out a sandwich bag of bread from his jacket pocket. “We’re going to use this instead,” he says. We ready our hooks and cast our lines into the center of the water. The red and white bobs float on the wind ripples.

We wait.

“You know,” he says. “You can’t fix your mother.”

“I know,” I say.

“I see you trying and worrying about it all the time, but it’s not your responsibility. She has to realize it herself. She just can’t stop the drinking and drugs. Have you heard that the first step to change is recognizing you have a problem?”

“No.” My bobs sinks but comes right back up. No catch.

“We can tell her she needs help all we want, but she has to be the one to recognize it. It’s different with addicts.”

“Then I guess someone telling her that drinking and drugs are bad only makes her want to do them more,” I say. “Like a kid.”

“Exactly,” PopPop says. “She lives in her own world where she doesn’t understand consequences.”

“I don’t understand that.”

“That’s because you have a good head on your shoulders. Stay that way.” He puts his hand on my shoulder and shakes me to make sure my head is on there tight.

I get a nibble on my line. The bob sinks and starts to swim away in the mouth of my catch. I pull up to hook the fish, but my bob flies out of the water. The hook is empty.

“Aw, man,” I say.

“It’s okay,” PopPop says. His line pulls and he effortlessly reels in a catfish. It’s dark and ugly, gasping for breath as PopPop holds him securely between the dorsal and pectoral fins so he doesn’t get stung. The fish’s mouth opens and I imagine him wheezing. Its gills like vents flap open to suck whatever moisture he can from the air. PopPop unhooks it and lets it go. I don’t want to fish anymore.

“Can we go?” I ask.

“Yeah, sure.”

We secure our poles and walk back down the paths, through the rusty gates, past the willow, the trees, the trailer and pool, and back to the house. I wait with him while he puts the poles away in the garage. He takes out the extra bread and gives it to me. I eat it. I go inside.

Mom is downstairs watching Roseanne on TV Land.

“Where were you?” she asks.

“Out fishing with PopPop.” I start to go upstairs.

“That doesn’t sound very fun.”

“It was,” I say. “It was very nice.”

I went into our room to take off my jacket. I cross to the bottle of Smirnoff and put it in a different place where I think she won’t find it.

Top 5 Sexiest Theological Movements by Adam Snavely

Upon writing this piece of literature that will undoubtedly be canonized in the annals of art with such pieces as Macbeth, To Kill a Mockingbird, and The Fast and the Furious, I am looking at an advertisement that reads, “Click here to reveal the top 15 sexiest nationalities!” While I do appreciate these so-called “Smart Ads” for being both concerned with my lack of any online relationship presence and correctly assuming my deep interest in the cultivation of sexiness, I thought I would take it a step further and relate such an important list to the Christian context we here at LAMP work within. Now, I could have written about how labeling an entire people group as “sexy” seems to visually generalize and gentrify that group as a whole to a ridiculous degree, or about whether dual-nationals are possibly made half-seventh sexiest by their respective ethnicities (or conversely, maybe doubly-third), OR even made a blog post on the objectification of physical beauty, since no one[1] has ever done that before.

But that’s no fun.

  1. The Anabaptists

Oh boy, here come the Anabaptists. These people were the early forerunners of the eventual Amish and Mennonite groups. Now, I know you may be thinking “Ok, Adam, I do love my organic carrots and illegally non-pasteurized milk, but how are these people sexy?” One word, my chums: attitude. These dudes had it. If you put any stock in the “I did it before it was cool” mantra, then look no further. The Anabaptists proposed their theological leanings so far ahead of their time that no one ever really thought they were cool at all. Like, they were burned at the stake and given what ol’ King Ferdinand of Spain called “the third baptism”[2] as the true antidote to Anabaptism. You want commitment to your persona; you want charisma that exudes “Pff. Whatever?” The Anabaptists had it.

Maybe you’re still unconvinced. Maybe you don’t think some Amish-looking people can overcome their Amish-ness in the name of sexy with attitude alone. You need some style, something of substance to bite into, like a succulent mango fresh from the tree, or the word “succulent.” Fine. Let me direct your attention to this hat.

I understand it’s hard to not focus on Beyoncé, but take a look at her headgear for a second. We’ve got a full-blown Amish hat on Beyoncé, who is standing beside Jay Z and the Mona Lisa. It’s not obnoxious, but also not unassuming. It’s bold but knows its role. And if the only thing the Anabaptists ever did for their sexiness ranking was to inspire a splinter group to wear a hat that Beyoncé would eventually also wear, they are far sexier than you or me.

  1. The Great Awakening (Vol. I)

We’re not concerned with the second, third, or even fourth Great Awakenings. The original’s always better than the sequel, and trilogies are a sure way to kill the soul of your source material this side of Return of the King. Just ask Christopher Nolan[3]. The first Great Awakening was marked by massive crowds and preachers taking their preaching back to the streets, and nobody did it better than the guy George Whitefield. Confidence, swagger, charisma, and the knack for saying the right things in tense situations, Whitefield had it all. No one was passing the mic to him, 1. because he was pretty much the greatest street-preacher of all time, and 2. microphones weren’t going to be invented for another century or so. Yes, there were other important MCs working the Great Awakening (shouts out Jonathan Edwards), but Whitefield hit it out of the park consistently. He even had Ben Franklin giving it up, a noted Deist and non-Church attendee. Bonus points for winning both the spiritual hearts of the people and the brains of the Founding Father Operation.

On the style front, Whitefield seemed a pretty unassuming corpulent white guy. But some of his portraits reveal both an impressive wig and an equally impressive lazy eye. Whitefield liked to go with the extra curls. And if you can get people to respect you and actually listen to what you’re saying while your eyes are crossed that bad, you must be pretty sexy.

  1. Ignatius of Loyola and the Jesuits

            High fives to the one Catholic that none of the other Catholics never really had a major problem with (see: tried to execute or excommunicate). Ignatius grew up a pretty cocky soldier, taking a liking to dueling people in his native Spain. Giving up his soldier life for the path of a monk following his conversion, Ignatius set up the Jesuits, a highly respected monastic order well-known for their hard work and influential views on education. Ignatius was sainted (beatified, in the fancy terminology) and eventually canonized in the 1600s, and his longevity of popularity is remarkable for an institution as famous for their religious policies as they are for, you know, the Crusades and the Spanish Inquisition and all the death and stuff.

Ignatius was a pretty great guy by all accounts, but let me tell you, his robes were something else entirely. I don’t know if Iggy was always rocking stuff like this around the monastery, but he was stuntin’ on the other monks on at least a semi-regular basis. Note the red and gold motifs, almost like a home and away uniform style with the switching of primary and accent colors. He’s also mixing up his patterns to keep it interesting. Note the flower and other natural imagery in gold on the red primary, while the primarily gold outfit switches up the prints into more “religious image” style. They’re just too good, and Ignatius earns number three on this list through sheer sartorial quality.

  1. The Emergent Church and their black-rimmed glasses

            I know a lot of people in the theology crowd like to spontaneously burst into flames at the mention of Rob Bell’s name, but to deny he pioneered one of the strongest and most consistent style games in Christian culture is to do a disservice. First off, the Nooma videos almost single-handedly introduced American Christian culture in the early 2000s to little things called “graphic design” and “color theory,” as we really hadn’t changed the way we presented visual media since the heyday of the Religious Right. These videos were undeniably cool: slick presentation, visually interesting and metaphorical subject matter, and even background music that wasn’t Point of Grace. The Emergent Church crowd really adopted this focus on aesthetics and made the Church, for the first time in a long time, look sexy.

But it’s impossible to not talk about those glasses. What hip pastor didn’t have those things in 2005? What hip pastor doesn’t have those things in 2014[4]? Classy black, square-rimmed to denote both the intellectualism inherent in the Emergent pastors and reflecting the early days of the rise of Nerd-dom, the Church had a legitimate trendsetter on its hands. And while opinions remain largely (and rather viciously) split on the actual theological propositions put forth by the Emergents, their aesthetic is undeniable.

95-stellingen

  1. Martin Luther and the Ninety-Five Theses

I’m sorry it ended like this. It’s not terribly exciting, a bit like starting a big countdown of greatest quarterbacks of all time and then ending it with Peyton Manning; it makes sense, but you really just wanted to see something crazy happen; you[5] wanted to see me name someone from the Bills.

But, sometimes the safe picks are the best ones. The irony inherent in this safe pick is that the Ninety-Five Theses was anything but safe; for Luther, it was probably the riskiest thing he could possibly do. He questioned nearly every practice the Catholic church had (outside of the worshipping Jesus thing), and then instead of just, I don’t know, giving it to a messenger to send to a priest or something like that, HE NAILS IT TO THE DOOR OF HIS UNIVERSITY CHURCH. This was akin to making an official university-wide announcement, something everyone would readily see and disseminate amongst everyone else they knew. Luther did not know subtlety. In fact, his blunt nature even inspired a present-day Martin Luther Insult Generator, making him one of the only Reformation-era preachers with an active online presence[6]. Martin Luther: OG bad boy of Christianity and Protestantism, and the sexiest of the sexy in the realm of theological movements.

[1] Apparently you can even buy “inner beauty jewelry” at that link. GO CRAZY FOLKS

[2] That is violent forced-drowning, in case you can’t read between the lines there.

[3] Yeah, I said it. Dark Knight Rises was about as anti-climactic as adding one word to the title of the last movie and saying it’s completely different. Only EPMD can do that.

[4] Even though that trend has passed in the current style climate by and large. Classic American Church.

[5] *I

[6] My favorite so far is Luther telling me that I am “a crude ass, and an ass you shall remain!” Thank you, founding father of my faith.