Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Silly quote

I have a recurring nightmare/dream in which an alarm clock is going off and I can't make it stop. Yesterday morning I said to someone else in the dream who was going to turn off the alarm, "It's no use. I've had this nightmare before. There's no way to stop it." When I was describing the situation to Steve and some friends last night I added this, "In the dream I was fully convinced that I was awake. Never mind the 500 lb. wrestler sitting on the floor playing with blocks."

Dreams are weird.

In other related news, I've decided to give up my snooze alarm for Lent.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Wrestling with God

So, Lydia's probably right. I oughtn't to put in all that stuff about wrestling and not mention somewhere the Bible's big wrestling match.

"Ladies and Gentlemen, welcome to the Jabbok Ford Conference Center for our main event. In this corner, in a return appearance from Padan Aram, weighing in at not-too-many pounds, The Beersheba Heel Grasper, master of the Bethel Stone Sleeper, Jaaaaaaacob ben IIIIIsaac. His Opponent, from parts unknown, A Man, maybe an angel, perhaps The Lord God Almighty, The God of Abraham and Fear of Isaac!"

So most of us know the story from Genesis 32. Jacob is returning from exile with Laban and gets word that Esau is coming to meet him on the way. Jacob sends out a bunch of gifts of livestock to delay his brother, sends his family across the Jabbok River, and waits. In the night he encounters "a man" and wrestles with him all night. When the morning comes and the man sees that Jacob will not let him go, he puts Jacob's hip out of joint. The man asks Jacob to let him go and Jacob refuses unless the man blesses him. The man renames Jacob, Israel, saying, "You have striven with God and men and you have prevailed." Jacob again asks the man's name, but the other responds, "Why is it that you ask my name?". Then he blesses Israel and departs. Jacob renames the place, Peniel ("Face of God), saying, "For I have seen God face to face, and yet my life has been delivered." Then he goes on and meets Esau and things turn out generally well.

Over the years I've mostly heard and read this passage as an encouragement to persevere in prayer. Jacob hangs on until God blesses him. Likewise we should press into God for blessing. "The Kingdom of Heaven suffers violence and violent men take it by force." There's something to that, especially in light of Jesus' teaching about persistance in prayer in Luke 11 and 18. However, my OT Survey professor, Dr. Beitzel, suggested something different. What if this story was not an encouragement but a warning? Jacob struggles with God all night and is crippled by it, but he will not let go. Jacob is stubborn. One of the most frequent accusations against Israel by the prophets is that they are a stiff-necked people. They will not bend to God's will. Perhaps the name Israel is as much a curse and a prophecy as it is an honor and a blessing. If we lived by faith and trust in a wise and good God, when would it be good not to submit? Too often I wrestle with God not to gain blessing from Him but to prevent Him from taking away my sin. I try to become Israel when I could be Judah ("Praise" and the line that survived) or, better still, Yeshua (The Lord Saves, Jesus), the image He's trying to make me into. Some of us are wrestling, struggling, fighting to hold onto God's promises and blessing. I suspect most of us are wrestling and fighting to hold onto this world; this world that He would replace with blessing and eternity. It's time for most of us to stop wrestling with God, fall on our face, and worship Him.

"Serve the Lord with fear and rejoice with trembling.
Kiss the Son, lest he be angry, and you perish in the way, for His wrath is quickly kindled.
Blessed are all who take refuge in Him." Psalm 2:11-12 (ESV)

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Wrestling Memories

So following on my previous post, I thought I'd list some of the moments that have stood out over the years as I've watched wrestling. I don't really expect this post to mean anything to anyone else and it's probably the last wrestling related post.

1. Watching Hulk Hogan "hulk up" as a kid. I managed to never make the connection that at the point where the opponent's offense stopped having any effect on the Hulkster was when he was turning into "the hulk." I watched that show and knew about not making David Banner angry but I never registered that aspect of Hogan's name or character.

2. Watching Hulk Hogan crotch Terry Funk on the top rope on a Saturday Night's Main Event title match. Happens all the time, but it was the first time I'd seen it and my 13 year old self was impressed with the cleverness of that move.

3. Watching Andre the Giant turn bad and start choking Hulk Hogan. Even when all the faces came down to rescue Hulk and Hacksaw Jim Duggan broke a 2X4 over Andre's shoulders he still didn't release Hogan until he was satisfied. Given that Andre was the penultimate good guy at that point it was really shocking.

16 year hiatus

4. I started watching WWE one Monday night in June of 2003 when I paused on it while channel surfing. I might have been hooked by the Divas' battle royal championship match which was won by newcomer Gail Kim. I was also impressed by athleticism in the InterContinental title match between Booker T and Christian.

5. Wondering why it hurt Rob Van Dam more if he hit the mat on a missed frog splash than if he landed on a body. Seems like the move would hurt just as much, just in different ways.

6. The Dudley Boys vs. La Resistance.

7. Seeing Rosie, the 400 lb. Super Hero In Training, pull off a 360 splash from the second rope on Sunday Night Heat.

8. Watching Batista bat Maven out of the air when the latter was attempting a drop kick off the top rope on another episode.

9. Chris Benoit showing up for the Raw Wrestlemania Title match contract signing between Shawn Michaels and Triple H and exploiting his Royal Rumble title clause to insinuate himself in their match.

10. Watching Kane basically do a push up to power out of Benoit's crippler crossface to extend a match. Until that point the crossface had seemed invincible and did after that as well. That really made Kane look strong.

11. Hearing Jericho call Triple H, "Trips" for the first time on the Highlight Reel with Eugene.

12. Watching Shelton Benjamin leap three quarters of the way across the ring right into Shawn Michaels' "sweet chin music" superkick.

13. Watching Goldberg pull off a jackhammer slam on 400 lb. Mark Henry.

14. The first time I saw Gail Kim win a match with a submission hold. More than anything else that sold the idea that some of the divas could really wrestle.

15. Evolution's turn on Randy Orton. During the celebration of Orton's title win over Chris Benoit, Orton was sitting on Batista's shoulders in triumph with confetti falling and everyone happy. Suddenly Triple H.'s thumbs up became a thumbs down, Batista slammed Orton to the mat and the beatdown was on.

16. 5'4", 175 lb. "heavyweight champion" Rey Mysterio had 6' something, 400 lb. Mark Henry, "The World's Strongest Man," pinned. In the most logical move of Mysterio's title reign, Henry basically did a sit up holding Mysterio against his chest, stood up, and slammed the champion. Rey went on to win the match anyway, but I loved that move.

17. The build to Batista v. Triple H for the championship at Wrestlemania in 2005. I also loved the movie parody commercials for Wrestlemania that year.

18. Any time Stone Cold Steve Austin would drop co-Raw GM Eric Bischoff with a stunner.

19. The Undertaker's entrance, anytime.

20. JBL on commentary.

21. Hearing about Chris Benoit's death. Benoit was my favorite WWE wrestler. He was portrayed as the ultimate professional, a master technical wrestler. He wasn't flashy but he worked hard and he always gave good matches, even on the rare occasions when they tried to portray him as a heel. It was obvious he was on steroids but he was so much fun to watch. Then in one weekend he killed his wife and his son and committed suicide. It was a shocking, tragic, evil moment.

There. That's probably it for wrestling posts.

Friday, February 20, 2009

The Wrestler

I saw the movie The Wrestler last week. I had a few reasons to go see it. First, I'm a Darren Aronofsky (the director) fan. I really enjoyed Pi and The Fountain, and I thought Requiem for a Dream was very interesting. Aronofsky has made some freaky weird movies and I'm generally in favor of that. Second, I've been a pro wrestling fan, or "mark", for a few years and was interested in seeing how that world was portrayed in the movie. Third, there's all that buzz about Mickey Rourke's performance as the main character, Randy "The Ram".

The Ram is a broken down wrestler who was once a superstar but is long past his hey-day. He's wasted a lot of his life on booze, drugs, and cheap sex, while pounding his body in the ring. He lives show-to-show in a trailer that he can't always make rent on. He works part-time on the dock at a grocery store. He has a daughter who hates him, whom he never sees. His only close relationships are playing with the kids in the trailer park, with the other wrestlers and promoters, and with a stripper at a club he goes to. Those relationships aren't close. The Ram has a heart attack after one particularly brutal match and tries to straighten out his life. He tries to restore his relationship with his daughter, he turns his back on the wrestling and starts working in the deli of the grocery store. He also tries to get closer to Pam, the stripper. Unfortunately his life has left him no margin or grace. Pam, who dances under the name of Cassidy, begins to care for Randy, but tries to cut off their relationship because she can't get too close to a customer. In response he goes out for a wild night with his wrestling buddies causing him to miss a dinner date with his daughter. As a result she finally and irrevocably cuts him out of her life telling that she doesn't hate him anymore because for her he no longer exists. He then loses his job in an outbreak of depressive rage and returns to the wrestling ring for a 20th anniversary rematch of his greatest triumph. As he prepares, Pam shows up to prove she does care for him. But now he is set and heads down to the ring. The film cuts to black at the final moment of the match as Randy dives from the top rope in his signature move, presumably to die.

It was an interesting movie. It was a hard story to watch (even more so since I was tired). I like tragedies but there was very little hope to hold onto. Lance Storm, a former wrestler whose website I read, said that despite the great performances he didn't enjoy the movie because he couldn't like Randy and he sees enough of these stories in real life. The commentary is very interesting in approaching the film from the standpoint of wrestling psychology. In a wrestling match it is important to establish your good guy, "face", as someone the audience can like and root for. You can't expect the audience to care about somebody by default. Storm didn't feel that the movie set Randy up well so that we could care about his fall. I can see his point, but as he admits he may be too close to the story. As someone more removed it was easier for me to root for Randy especially as things begin to lighten for him in the middle of the story. To put it in wrestling terms again it was like a glorified squash match where the bad guy, "heel", is demolishing a weak face or no-name wrestler, but the good guy gets some unexpected offense in the middle of the match and starts to look like he might pull a shocking upset, only to get beaten back down in the end.

The thing that I found most interesting about the movie was the way it played with the idea of real and fake. We all know that pro wrestling is fake in a sense. In their terms, it's "worked". It presents itself as an athletic competition, or even duel to the death, but is really a complex, half choreographed and scripted, half improvised performance designed to entertain. Hence the WWE's self description as "sports entertainment." However, within that there is real athleticism and real risk being taken. Even the best trained wrestlers run tremendous physical risks working together. When Owen Hart accidentally broke Steve Austin's neck with a pile driver it wasn't because either man was an amateur who didn't know what he was doing. When Brock Lesnar lifted the 500 lb. Big Show and superplexed him off the top rope and collapsed the ring, they were working together but that was a real feat of strength. It's amazing some of the acrobatics those guys can do and some of the blows they can take. It was interesting to watch The Wrestler from that perspective and to see some of the discussions before the match where guys are working out what will happen. It was particularly interesting to see the in-ring communication because that's something I've heard about but that they obviously don't highlight on WWE programming. Then there's the level of fakery involved with fans. "Randy 'The Ram' Robinson" is really Robin Ramzinski. There's the wrestler who basks in the adulation of fans and the man with a weak heart who works on the grocery dock or deli counter who's lost track of his daughter. At the same time, Randy's relationship with Cassidy is just as worked as his wrestling life. There's the woman he watches on stage and who gives him lap dances while seeming to care for him. But that is a front for the real woman whose name is Pam, has a son, and dreams of moving into a house down near Trenton in a neighborhood with good schools. She's been working him like he works the fans and when her real self encounters his it scares her and confuses him. Obviously overlaying all that is the fact that neither Randy nor Pam is any more real since they're played by Mickey Rourke and Marissa Tomei who may not be any more real either.

As I said, it was an interesting movie. Rourke and Tomei deserved their Oscar nominations and it's well made. It's rough, taking place in the back stage world of pro wrestling and a strip club. It's a hard movie about a hard life and tragic.

Thursday, February 05, 2009

I/IV C Random Things About Me

This is a Facebook meme that I've also posted here for the convenience of those who either don't do Facebook or aren't my friend there.

I. I like Roman numerals
II. I like simple math.
III. I like language and think its neat that if I were British I would like simple maths.
IV. I'm not a twin but I am identical to my doppelganger and to anyone who looks exactly like me.
V. My favorite movie that's not a Lord of the Rings movie (they're beyond the category movie) is Dark City.
VI. I am not symmetrical.
VII. I like dark colors.
VIII. To this day I don't know if Ms. Moore's car was an olive green or a dark gray. The same uncertainty applies to the couch in my living room, though it may also be brown.
IX. I majored in Classics at St. Olaf mostly because of Dr. Groton's enthusiasm for the subject.
X. I hated coffee until last year.
XI. My favorite thing about volunteering with a youth ministry is watching students realize that God loves them personally.
XII. I enjoy classical music because of Basil Poledouris' score for Conan the Barbarian.
XIII. I played Lazar Wolf the Butcher in a Trinity College production of Fiddler on the Roof.
XIV. My former boss gave me my job as an act of self defense--that way I'd have to solve the call number problems I kept bringing her myself.
XV. I used to live at a synagogue with a private beach on the Lake Michigan shore.
XVI. My favorite pizza is a double decker from Bill's Pub in Mundelein or Buffo's in Highwood. My favorite cheap national delivery chain pizza is Papa John's. My favorite frozen pizza is DiGiorno's.
XVII. Wordplay is the pundation of all good humour.
XVIII. I'm teaching a junior high class at church about Heaven.
XIX. I wish I were artistic and that I could play an instrument.
XX. I once woke up and found my head was asleep (i.e. my scalp had that prickly feeling other parts have when they're asleep)
XXI. I just discovered that I like graphic novels.
XXII. I don't have a cell phone.
XXIII. Narcisistically one of my favorite movie quotes is, "Gopher, Everett?"
XXIV (or XXIIII at Yale). I saw three Jason Statham movies in the theatre last year.
XXV. I give thanks to the Lord for He is good and His mercy endures forever.