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Evangelism and making the sale

We watched the film The Big Kahuna a few nights ago, per my dad’s recommendation. Kevin Spacey and Danny DeVito play Larry and Phil, two seasoned marketing reps for an industrial lubricant distributor. They’re at a sales conference in Wichita with Bob — a young salesman and born-again Christian — under their wing. The goal of the conference, at least for Larry and Phil, is to snag the Big Kahuna, a potential client whose account could successfully clinch both their careers.

The movie is based off a play, so it takes place mostly in one location, the hotel room, and virtually every second is filled with dialogue. Through this we learn more about the lifestyle gaps between the three men — Bob with his conservative Baptist background, Phil (Spacey) with his business savvy and colorful language, and Phil (DeVito) who is a liaison of sorts between the two.

When Bob gets invited to a private party where he’s sure to get some face time with the Big Kahuna, Larry and Phil send him out with specific instructions on how to land the account. When Bob returns later, they are shocked to hear that instead of soliciting his business, Bob used the opportunity to “talk to him about Christ.”

Infuriated, Larry lambasts Bob for wasting such an opportunity; he’s particularly peeved over Bob’s use of “lead-ins” to guide the conversation toward religion. Bob defends his actions. To him, talking about Jesus is just as important as selling lubricant is to Larry. This comparison doesn’t fly with Larry, though, as he offers the following observation:

It doesn’t matter whether you’re selling Jesus or Buddha or civil rights or ‘How to Make Money in Real Estate With No Money Down’. That doesn’t make you a human being; it makes you a marketing rep. If you want to talk to somebody honestly, as a human being, ask him about his kids. Find out what his dreams are – just to find out, for no other reason. Because as soon as you lay your hands on a conversation to steer it, it’s not a conversation anymore; it’s a pitch. And you’re not a human being; you’re a marketing rep.

This, I think, is where Christians miss the point of sharing our faith with others, and it’s why I have a hard time with certain evangelism techniques. There’s one in particular that involves asking a series of predetermined questions with the goal of getting the person to admit that they can’t get to heaven with accepting Jesus.

I just get a weird feeling about it. I try to place myself in the other guy’s shoes and imagine what it would feel like to have a Christian use this technique on me. What would it be like to think you’re just having a normal conversation, and slowly realize you were being prepped for a sales pitch? Then, what are you supposed to say once the pitch has been made? “Well, you stumped me. I guess I’m a Christian now.”

I think I’d feel pretty disappointed, maybe in a sense even cheated, if this was really all the message of Jesus was about — if the beauty and significance of His life and death and resurrection could be reduced to a set of tenets to be objectively accepted or discarded.

What are your thoughts? What experiences have you had, either as a Christian sharing your faith, or a non-Christian being on the receiving end? What inherent differences exist between selling a product and “selling Jesus”? Is it appropriate to even make such a comparison?

Filed under: Faith, Movies, ,

Movie review: “Frost/Nixon”

I wasn’t alive in 1977 and am admittedly rusty on my U.S. history, so I had never heard of the Frost interviews until this movie came out. (My ignorance, for better or for worse, probably made the movie more enjoyable/suspenseful for me.) Based on the Broadway play of the same title, Frost/Nixon retells the events leading up to Richard Nixon’s long-awaited confession of his involvement in Watergate.

Nixon, three years after resigning from the White House, is holed up in his beachside villa in California. British TV personality David Frost — a 1970’s Ryan Seacrest as it were — is interviewing the Bee Gees, partying, signing autographs, and picking up women on airplanes. Taking note of the 400 million people who watched Nixon’s resignation on TV, Frost is convinced that an interview with the former president will be a sure-fire success, and offers Nixon $600,000 to oblige. Eager to “set the record straight”, and seeing Frost’s apparently low intellectual caliber as the perfect opportunity to regain the public’s trust, Nixon accepts the bid.

So Frost jets off to the States to begin his venture. After failing to convince the American networks to air his interviews, he borrows money from friends to finance the interviews himself. Not to be discouraged, though, he’s compiled a team of talented researchers who are bent on outfoxing Nixon. They’ll provide the facts, Frost will bring the charisma. Despite a few setbacks, things are looking okay for the fast-approaching filming dates.

After months of hype and preparation, the first three of the four interviews are disasters. Nixon knows Frost is an intellectual lightweight, and he dominates the dialogue, countering Frost’s questions with long-winded, sympathy-garnering responses, much to the chagrin of Frost and his team. Frost throws a few curveballs — emotionally-charged Vietnam montages, etc. — but Nixon knocks them all out of the park, even turning the blame on Frost when he breaches contract by asking a Watergate question prematurely. Nixon is a master of mind games and subtly chips away at Frost’s self-confidence — making sly off-camera jabs at his struggle to raise money for the interviews and commenting on his snazzy Italian shoes. (“You don’t find them too affeminate? I guess someone in your field can get away with it.”)

Frost’s frustration grows. He’s having trouble selling ad space for the interviews, his professional career outside the interviews is waning, and his new female companion is starting to see his successful veneer for what it is. His team is worried about how the interviews are going, and whatever constructive criticism they offer is brushed aside by an increasingly agitated Frost.

Frost gets a phone call the night before the final interview from his opponent, who tells him, in essence, that he’s going to open up a can of ex-presidential whoop-ass on him the next day. Realizing maybe for the first time that he and Nixon aren’t involved in an interview but rather a boxing match, Frost decides to step up his game, and spends the whole night cramming in preparation for the final interview.

We all know what happens the next day: Nixon confesses, Frost’s previously under-credited career is catapulted into legitimacy. But the movie has invested so much time exploring the personalities and vulnerabilites of these two men that it’s impossible not to feel the weighty suspense of this final showdown. The means by which Frost gets Nixon to confess is less stirring than the contrition on Nixon’s face as he concedes that what he did amounted to more than “making mistakes.” He broke the law, he dishonored the presidency, he let his country down. And while the disgrace of his actions can’t be overlooked, we (I, at least) can’t help but feel sorry for the guy as he wallows in self-defeat for the world to see.

A highlight of the movie, of course, is the interchange where Nixon abruptly (accidentally?) reveals his true colors of political philosophy:

Frost: Are you really saying the president can do something illegal?

Nixon: I’m saying that when the president does it, that means it’s not illegal.

In the bonus material, one producer makes a brief but interesting (perhaps inevitable) comparison of the abuses of power by Nixon with the more recent example(s) of the Bush Administration. If the president believes he is acting in the country’s best interest, should he be permitted to violate laws (including human rights laws) to do so? On one hand, you could argue that desperate times call for desperate measures. (The Patriot Act comes to mind.) But when the integrity and good intentions of the president are legitimately called into question, this argument erodes quickly.

The rest of the DVD bonus material (unlike most such material) is worth watching. They show us clips from the actual interviews, which of course are less emotional than the movie. Real-life Nixon isn’t as easy to sympathize with, and real-life Frost doesn’t seem nearly as charismatic. However, the actual dialogue is evidently portrayed pretty accurately in the film.

It’s harder to tell how much creative liberty was used in portraying the personal dynamics between Frost and Nixon outside the interviews, but in any case, this is a fantastic and captivating movie. Great character development. It’s crazy that Nixon went into that final interview with no intention of confessing, and in a single vulnerable moment, he decided he had to. It’s like for those few minutes, the smoke and mirrors of politics and television were gone, and the whole world got to witness a moment of bare humanity. Even though I know it wasn’t as “Hollywood-ified” in real life, I kind of wish I had been there to see it.

Filed under: Movies,

The colossal fail that is “Twilight”

I don’t fall asleep during movies. If I’m mentally and emotionally engaged at all, I have to stay awake. The only exception is when the movie is so bad that I actually decide to fall asleep because the thought of enduring the rest of it is less appealing than being unconscious.

I slept through the second half of both of the Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants disasters films. As of the other night, I can now add Twilight to the short list of movies so asinine that they aren’t even worth staying awake for.

Twilight is what some might call “a skidmark on the underpants of society.” The underpants of Hollywood, specifically. It is to movies what Britney Spears is to music, what Applebee’s is to restaurants, what Tyra Banks is to reality TV.

Twilight achieved such profound levels of idiocy that I feel as though my IQ is dropping just by sitting here writing about it. So, I’ll point you to Andrew Osenga, one of my favorite musicians who wrote a review of the book Twilight that is so hilarious that I’m compelled to share it with you here.

Like I said, I fell asleep before the end, but I don’t regret this. Probably the same way Osenga doesn’t regret not reading the last ten pages of the book:

I knew there was a sequel, which meant that at least most of the characters did not die in an atomic bomb during those last ten pages and therefore there was no ending that would have satisfied me.

Word, Mr. Osenga. Word.

Filed under: Movies,

I usually choose terrible movies…

You can ask Drea, Tom, or Renata. I’ve been banned from selecting movies for a while after a few less-than-spectacular indie flicks that I inadvertently inflicted on the group. First there was The Visitor, which I thought was fantastic, but evidently was the only one. Then there was Quinceañera, which looked promising but ended up being a flop in all of our minds, for many reasons – not least of which some…uncomfortable scenes. (No further comment.)

So yeah, my film recommendations don’t carry much weight anymore. I’m like the little boy who cried “good movie.” But I think I actually found a gem the other night. Drea and her mom went shopping, presenting the perfect opportunity for me to watch our latest Netflix arrival, another indie movie I’ve been encouraging begging Drea to watch with me for weeks.

the_bands_visitThe Band’s Visit follows an Egyptian police band traveling to Israel to perform. After some travel mishaps, they end up stranded in a remote desert town, far from their intended destination. The town has no hotels, but the locals have offered to take them in for the night. Since nobody has room to house them all, they split up. As each small group of band members interacts with their respective hosts, all kinds of awkwardness, humor, and unlikely friendships ensue.

In watching the special DVD features and reading some reviews afterward, a lot of the symbolism in this movie started to make sense: how the characters transcended typical Arab-Israeli animosity, the recognition of common ground despite cultural differences, etc.

There’s no fast-moving plot or edge-of-your-seat action, but it’s a funny and poignant story. Here’s the trailer…

Filed under: Movies,

Weekend smorgasbord

So Drea’s parents, whose basement we currently make our home in, have a burglar alarm. A pretty good call, I think. I mean, we’re not in a bad area or anything, but it is PG County, so a little precaution can’t hurt, right?

Well, the dang thing went off at about 4:00 this morning. There was no burglar; evidently the wind had activated the garage door, setting off the alarm. This was not the first time since we’ve lived in the basement that this has happened. The alarm’s “fail quotient” (kudos to Janaiha for coining that) is pretty high right now. If the past few months are any indication, having an alarm system is like paying a monthly fee to periodically have the living crap scared out of you (this thing is loud) for no reason. I suppose we’d be grateful if it ever thwarted an actual burglar (or other deranged person – again, PG County), but so far it hasn’t done much besides cost us sleep.

In other news, we finally took everyone’s advice and saw Slumdog Millionaire this weekend. I’m glad we saw it on the big screen; the visual elements were incredible. I don’t know much about cinematography, but there was something about the way they shot this movie that made it hard not to be totally consumed. I really felt like I was there. (During the outhouse scene, as my dad put it, you “could smell the crap”.) But for all it’s cinematic quality, I was a little disappointed with the ending. It was definitely more neat and predictable and “Hollywood” than I expected. So, I’m glad we saw it, but…eh…

In yet even more news, we’re officially on the hunt for a house! If all goes as planned, Tom and Renata will be our housemates! Both of us are renting right now, and we figure if we pool our incomes together, we might be able to afford a halfway-decent house. An unconventional idea, but apparently an increasingly popular one ever since the economy went down the crapper. (Seriously, how can anybody afford anything?) We toured a few townhouses yesterday, most of which were brand new, huge, and probably out of our price range, but fun to look at nonetheless. We’re psyched about the idea of living together, and we’re hoping the low property values and interest rates will give us a window of opportunity.

Let’s see, what else is going on? Daylight savings time! It’s actually a pretty good idea in my opinion, but getting out of bed this morning felt like having someone throw a brick at my forehead. The aforementioned 4am wakeup call didn’t help much either. The silver lining, though, is that I got to drive to work in the dark. Score! Really though, I’m actually excited about the longer days and particularly the 70-degree weather we’ve had as of late. (Seriously, there was a foot of snow on the ground a week ago. What the crap?)

Well, it’s cleaning night at the Ackermanns, so I’d better go!

Filed under: Movies, Slice of life, ,

Snow, the dentist, and awkwardness

So…it snowed. A lot. Like 10 inches. That may not sound like much to some people, but for our neck of the woods, 10 inches is a veritable butt-load. In any case, we had a great lazy three-day weekend thanks to the storm, which included watching an unreasonable number of movies: The Dark Knight, W., Transsiberian, and Wall-E. (All fantastic.) For our snow day yesterday, Drea and I bundled up and headed to Jason and Shannon’s for some sledding and/or getting dragged on a sled behind a four-wheeler (awesome). Life group was cancelled on Sunday because of the weather, and Tom, Renata, Drea and I used the free time to wish Lammy a happy birthday. Such creative geniuses we are.

Today it’s back to reality. I had a dentist appointment this morning. (Suckfest.) Am I the only person who feels weird not being able to talk with the hygienist while she cleans your teeth? She’s politely engaging you in conversation, but the various foreign jagged objects in your mouth limit your responses to ones that require no movement of the lips or tongue, like “ah”, “eh”, or the more advanced “uh-huh”. Such meaningful conversations we have. But I can’t complain. My teeth feel clean as a whistle, aside from that subtle lingering taste of latex gloves.

Confession: I never really know how to end blog posts. When it comes time to wrap things up, my mind simply blanks. I seldom can come up with a good concluding sentence. It always feels anticlimactic, kind of like when you’re getting ready to part ways with someone and you say goodbye, only to realize you’re actually headed the same direction. Then there’s that awkward few seconds where you silently walk together, followed by the real goodbye which is invariably abundant with awkwardness.

So um, I guess I’ll, uh, see ya later.

Filed under: Blogging, Movies, Slice of life, , ,

Some stuff worth checking out

So, I’ve come across some good…stuff (better word?)…recently.

Frozen River. One of my dad’s coworkers recommended this indie thriller about a Ray, a destitute mom struggling to support herself and two sons in upstate New York. After her gambling-addicted husband takes off with their savings, she tries to make ends meet by smuggling illegal immigrants across the Canadian border. While full of suspense, the plot is very believable, taking a grim look at people living in dire situations.

W. Drea and I rented this one last night – Oliver Stone’s semi-satirical but understanding account of the life and times of George W. Bush. I have to wonder how the Bush family and administration feel about having their likeness impersonated before their eyes. It’s a little weird to watch a biographical film about people who are still living, and events that like, just happened. But in any case, Josh Brolin and Richard Dreyfuss are dead ringers for Bush and Cheney, almost on par with Tina Fey’s Sarah Palin. In fact, most of the major roles are pretty well-acted (except Condoleezza Rice, who was portrayed as more annoying and far less intelligent than I think she is). For all the opinions circulating about Bush, he is an interesting public figure, and definitely one worth making a movie about. If the film’s portrayal of his approval-hungry relationship with his dad is accurate at all, some of Bush’s shortcomings can be empathized with. Of course, it’s hard to tell how much creative liberty was taken, but the movie is entertaining and intriguing in any case.

Desert Solitaire by Edward Abbey. A memoir of his time as a ranger at Arches National Park, this book covers everything from floating down canyon rivers to dead body removal to the social scene in remote Moab, Utah. It was published in 1968, about the time interstates and dams and RV’s began changing the landscape of the American West. Interspersed with his personal accounts are harsh criticisms of the Park Service, excessive tourism, and the general domesticating of American wildernesss. Particularly poignant was his eulogistic account of exploring Glen Canyon, which is now underwater thanks to a dam. Abbey was eccentric, a radical environmentalist for sure, but this “nature narrative” is a fascinating read filled with sarcastic humor and interesting insights.

Prospekt’s March by Coldplay, the EP of extra material from the Viva la Vida sessions that’s every bit good as the album itself! Every track on here is solid, except maybe the version of “Lost” with Jay-Z, which I think is only okay. To think that Coldplay left these gems off the album! With Viva la Vida clocking in at only 10 tracks, I think they should have just included them. In any case, Prospekt’s March is $6 on iTunes and worth every penny!

Filed under: Books, Movies, Music, , ,