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Archive for the ‘Best Things’ Category

Best Things of 2011: US Women’s Soccer Team

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Did you know that the best sporting event of the year was the Women’s World Cup? And the Lady Yanks were the team of the 2011? They put together an exciting, dramatic, beautiful run of soccer. And they electrified the country to support their cause: Women’s International Soccer. They played beautifully, and they played tough. And then to the heartbreak of a whole nation that found itself surprised by how much it cared, the US Women’s Soccer Team lost the World Cup final to Japan on an incredibly weak penalty kick showing.

The pressure must have been fantastically huge. The Japanese Women were the sentimental favorites of the entire world, and their victory is not undeserved. And yet this summer’s World Cup was truly one of the best things of 2011. It has left us with some indelible images and lovable reminders that these women are tough, excellent at their jobs, and so much fun.

Here are three highlights of the year’s best sporting event.

1. Megan Rapinoe.
Everyone fell in love with Megan Rapinoe. How could you not? She was the squad’s most resourceful player, and she had a beautiful cross that set up goal after goal. She was the most spirited, energizing character, and she had that hair. How iconic did her hair become? It inspired this t-shirt, from Nike.

I wear a men’s M if you are interested. I’d love to own one of these.

2. Alex Morgan’s goal scoring ability.
Alex Morgan scored a beautiful goal in the World Cup Final against Japan. Receiving a lovely long-ball from Rapinoe on a broken attack from the Japanese, Morgan laid a perfect shot into the far post, just out of reach of the Japanese keeper. It was a perfect strike.

But what lovers of soccer learned from this tournament is that Alex Morgan can score goals. The above goal against Japan was not Morgan’s best of the year. It was not even the best of the summer. The woman can score goals.

3. Abby Wambach is one tough cookie.
That Abby Wambach is a big, tough, player for the USWNT is no surprise if you watch the game. She is tall, she is muscular, and she gets her head on the ball and puts it in the net. It is just what she does.

Wambach, though, has taken her hits. And none could be worse than the qualifying match that the USWNT lost to  Brazil back in November of 2010. In that match, Wambach went up to challenge for ball and took a shot to her eyebrow, which split her open. Amidst the rushing blood, the trainer stapled her face back together, and she played on. Because Abby Wambach is badass. (warning: there’s quite a lot of blood in the below video)

And this story has a happy ending, as Abby Wambach scored the latest goal in World Cup history against Brazil to bring the match to PK shootout, which the Lady Yanks won to give them a birth to the final.

If the US Women’s Team’s performance at this summer’s World Cup didn’t cause you immense joy, surprise, heartbreak, and simple love of country and sport, well, then you just weren’t paying attention.

Written by Christopher ZF

December 28, 2011 at 13:44

Best Things of 2011: President Obama ends Iraq War

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There seems to have been little fanfare in recent weeks over a major accomplishment of President Obama, one that he claimed he would accomplish when he was candidate Obama, and one that the media hasn’t seemed particularly interested in covering, or at least delving into in terrible amounts of detail.

The Iraq War is over. Our troops are home from an engagement they shouldn’t have been involved in to begin with, and after 8 years, far too many lives lost, and countless dollars spent on a war that was started on false pretense in the first place, TRC says: Thanks, President Obama. This was a shitty year for US Politics, yet I’m glad our President is Barack Obama, and the end of the Iraq War deserves our praise.

Written by Christopher ZF

December 28, 2011 at 11:14

Best Things of 2011: Tim Tebow Time

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We’ve had fun with Mr. Tebow at TRC. He’s a fun public figure to engage with, because, well, he’s so public, so evangelical, so mediocre at his job, and so beloved. From the moment he was drafted higher than anyone expected, to the moment he starred in the Focus on the Family television ad at the Super Bowl, Tebow had blood boiling.

And it hasn’t stopped now that he is a starting QB and winning (most of) his games. If TRC thinks so little of Tim Tebow the footballer and evangelical spouter of Christian cliches during post-game interviews, then why is this man among our Best Things of 2011? Good question.

Because Tim Tebow, all by his lonesome, just by being extra-smiley and kind and overly enthusiastic in his heaven pointing and highly-public prayer oriented, causes (some) people to have serious conversations about the role of religion in popular society, to discuss the standards of journalism, to argue over culpability of religious beliefs, to question the motives of the uber-evangelical cultural forces in the United States. Regardless of where one comes out on any of these discussions, there is value in our country in just digging in to a lot of the murky American Life that seems every day second nature.

So, Tim Tebow is among our best things of the year. To illustrate, Tim Tebow managed in the last 24 hours to have this written in an article called Tebow’s Religion: Fair Game: 

Tim Tebow became “compelling” because he became a character in the great national dumbshow that is our culture war. And we should be very clear about one thing — he wasn’t dragooned into this. Nobody drafted him. He walked into this role with his eyes open. Before he ever took a snap in the NFL, he appeared in an anti-choice television ad with his mother that was sponsored by Focus on the Family, an influential anti-choice, anti-gay-rights organization founded by the Rev. James Dobson. He knew what he was doing. 

AND this, in an article called Tebow Sacks Socialism:

Everyone wants a piece of 24-year-old Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow. Most people settle for a high-five or an autograph. Others ask him to surrender his values, like the young women who beg him for fan photos and then start stripping off their shirts—sending Tebow darting away.
Tebow has All-American character. He espouses capitalistic values that are foundational to America: Competitiveness, ownership, responsibility, hard work, optimism, faith and persistence.

That’s quite an accomplishment for 24-year old kid who is paid millions of dollars to be a professional ball-thrower.

A final example of why Tim Tebow deserves a spot in TRC’s Best Things list. In an email exchange I was involved in that began as a conversation about Tebow, I somehow eventually wrote the following, which sums up my feelings about just how dynamic a cultural place the whole damn Tebow Affair has taken:

I am interested in the idea that Christians in the US believe we are not a Christian Nation (using this loosely, of course, not in some Theocratic sense, but as a stop holder), while people outside of religion (like me) think that we are so very buried in the puritan experiment that to claim that America is not Christian is totally incorrect.
Tebow actually has an interesting role in that debate, which takes me by surprise. But if there is any place we don’t want to get into such a conversation, it is probably pro Football. And yet, here we are. Thanks a lot Tebow. 

Written by Christopher ZF

December 20, 2011 at 12:17

Best Things of 2011: Tree of Life

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A new segment, highlighting some of the best things of the year, in all categories.

One of the two best movies that I saw this year is Terrence Malick’s Tree of Life. For many reasons it is among the most beautiful films TRC has encountered in a long while. First, it is beautiful to look at, as Malick’s films always are. The 50s never looked so gorgeous as when remembered by a man at a loss for missing his mother and brother. Second, it is beautiful to comprehend. What can we do when confronted by our human smallness? When the age and terror and beauty and majesty of the universe exists, as it does, how do humans, insignificant in scale by any measure, make sense of our lives? Malick, in his two hours, attempts to comprehend this. Third, it is touching. Loss of a brother, and innocence, and childhood, and friends, and one’s childhood home, and one’s mother as remembered, are sad things. Fourth, it contains one of the best acting performance of the year, by Hunter McCracken. I always hesitate to praise child actors too heavily. But his performance is that good. These are the things that Tree of Life offers, on its face.

Then there are the better reasons to love Tree of Life. Personal reasons; this must be a tremendously personal film for Terrence Malick. It just feels like it. And if an audience member does not connect personally, I can only imagine the film being tedious beyond reprieve.

Here, then, is a long personal response to Tree of Life, one of the best things of 2011.

Our human experiences seem incredibly personal, isolating; how can others understand our complexity? But because we are humans, of course, we only have so many experiences at our disposal, and we make of them in our mind what we can. Tree of Life captures many human experiences that are core to many people. So this is all both very personal to TRC, but also quite common. This is one of the great things about being a person, and an understanding central to Tree of Life. We were all created by the same celestial movement, and of the same material. But that doesn’t answer our wondering why.

I connect with the struggle to make sense of belief in the spiritual world and the reality of life. ‘Where were you?’ Again, and over again, this is asked of God in Tree of Life. ‘You let a boy die. Where were you?’ ‘You let my son die. Where were you?’ Malick does not tell us where God is. Instead, Malick shows us the creation of the universe, as a whole. Everything. The creation of the earth. The creation of life. Cells merge. Dinosaurs. An asteroid. Lifeless ice covering the face of the earth. The whole cycle, from top to toe.

When I first watched Tree of Life, I presumed Malick portrayed the universe’s birth to hearken to his opening quote, from Job: ‘Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth,’ God asks the sour Job, who dares confront God’s motives. But seeing it again, I’m not so sure.  I thought that God was an integral part of the Malick Universe, answering the question of a young boy in pain, or a mother in pain, by showing them exactly: ‘You ask where I was? I was doing this.’ But now I am less certain that God exists in the Malick Universe of Tree of Life. Or that God by necessity must exist.

Malick lays a diametric opposition to open his movie: there is nature and there is grace. Grace is outward and of love, Nature cares only for itself. Grace is Jack’s Mother, beauty and tenderness incarnate, unconditional love of her children and nothing else. Nature, however,  is actually not Jack’s Father, as was my initial read of the parents. Nature is the coldness of the planet Earth after an asteroid strike. The coldness of the face of Saturn. But also the beauty of the grass blowing, the beauty of the stillness of our universe creating all things. Jack may recall his father as a hard man, and there seems little sense in arguing otherwise. But Jack’s Father is not the cold opposite of grace as he perceives it. Nature is Nature, which is neither cold towards Jack, nor warm. It simply is. If Jack’s mother’s performance represents Grace, the 20 minute interval of universal creation and destruction represents Nature. If Jack’s memory is where Tree of Life resides, the creation of a universe does not carry any more weight than one’s mother.

When asked if Nature or Grace has control, Malick seems to say: ‘Who can answer?’

If the past in Tree of Life is Jack’s remembrance of Grace as his mother, then what of the salt flats and desert and beach that is the reunion of Jack’s family as remembered, presumably in the future? This world is all grace, without a break for Nature. It is also not life, not memory, but longing. The purity of the beach scene that Jack experiences exists outside the struggle of Grace vs. Nature, and only as a pure form of grace. Which is why it is not real. This is not a bleak interpretation. Malick knows as well as any filmmaker that life is struggle between beauty and strife. Nature is both of these, in the volcanic explosions that form the rock surfaces of earth, as well as in the beauty of the grass blowing in the reeds. Any world that is not filled with beauty and strife is not real. All grace is not life. We have our mothers, but as we must acknowledge, as Jack initially rejects , our life cannot be wholly protected by our mothers.

TRC does not pretend this is deep. Nor is it revelatory. Malick is not telling a new story. It may in fact be the oldest story, ever. But in Tree of Life, Malick shows the whole story, in every corner of human experience, on film, in a new way. And what can be better than that?

Written by Christopher ZF

December 19, 2011 at 13:02