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Filtering by Tag: Life

Thirty Are Better Than One

Lou Kaloger

16 thirty are better than one In 1963, Andy Warhol silkscreened thirty back-and-white images of Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa onto a canvas. The work was less than perfect. Any t-shirt printer will tell you that Warhol’s squeegee angle was sloppy, his ink application was inconsistent, and his registration was a mess. Since there were thirty “Mona Lisas,” Warhol named the piece Thirty are Better Than One.

So what does it mean? It's hard to tell. Warhol was always horribly enigmatic and rarely answered questions directly. When he did answer a question, he often seemed to be alluding to a joke no one else was in on. So what might we say about this piece? Well, we might say that Warhol was right—thirty are better than one. At least sort of.

When I was growing up in the 1960s, our country was in the middle of the space race. In school, we would talk about the future and it all sounded so cool. We would talk about how we would be able to take vacations on the moon, and how we would all own flying cars, and how we would all have our own personal robot, and how our television sets would have maybe as many as ten channels! (I remember saying, “Ten channels? No way!”). We would also talk about being able to instantly get our meals from a single mass-produced pill. So with all the 10-year-old humor we could muster up, we would pretend we were taking one of those pills, and say things like, “My, my this steak dinner is delicious!"

But a mass-produced pill is not the same as a meal. And eating is not the same as savoring. And hearing is not the same as listening. And looking is not the same as seeing. And thirty Mona Lisas are not better than one.

Minor League

Daniel Bowman, Jr.

the-rookie-best-baseball-movies. . . for my dad, Daniel Bowman, Sr.

“Baseball, it is said, is only a game. True. And the Grand Canyon is only a hole in Arizona.” ― George F. Will

The dog days of summer are just around the corner, and I’m thinking about baseball. Anyone who’s been around the game knows that it has long been considered a metaphor for life, or a metaphor for America, or a metaphor for…something. The daily grind, the peaks and valleys of success and failure: the rhythms of baseball reflect our experience.

At the big league level, we put our faith in larger-than-life heroes who can change the fate of the team with one swing of the bat, or streak across the field in a display of elite athleticism available only to a few. And for his trouble, the worst player on the worst MLB team, in today’s high-stakes sports world, is making the kind of money that none of us will ever see in our lifetimes.

As a native New Yorker, I grew up a Yankees fan, and I still love and follow major league baseball. But as I get older, I think back to the games my dad took me to when I was a kid: Single-A New York-Penn League games. All over again, I’ve become enamored of the minor leagues, where baseball and its attendant metaphors play out in different ways. The towns aren’t glamorous; the fields, though nice, are not obsessively manicured. The players—and their salaries—are not larger than life. They feel more like me, my family, my friends and neighbors.

In recent years, when I lived in western New York, I often made the trek to the humble baseball town of Batavia, home of the Single-A, short season Muckdogs, an affiliate of the St. Louis Cardinals. Dwyer Stadium in Batavia seats 2,600, making it one of the smallest of the hundreds of minor league venues around the US and Canada.

Some MLB stars have passed through Batavia in recent years. No doubt a few more will have a stint there en route to the Bigs, giving the locals a brush with greatness, a story to share.

But the proud list of Muckdog alums who’ve made it to the majors is not, to me, the most interesting aspect of minor league baseball. I love to show up early (parking is easy and affordable!) to see the ambitious young players, either just out of college or sometimes just out of high school, taking batting practice. These kids were just recently drafted by the St. Louis Cardinals, a legendary franchise with the most World Series titles of any club in the National League. With a six-dollar ticket, you can get right up on the dugout; you can see the determination and naïveté on their faces. They are playing their first professional games. They are beginning a journey.

Somewhere on the bench (especially when you’re at a double- or triple-A game), there’s a guy who just turned thirty, which is ancient in professional sports years. He was a winner, a champion and record-holder in high school and college, and a sure-thing to breeze through the minors on his way to a multi-million dollar big league contract. But something happened. He hurt his knee. He couldn’t hit the curveball. Or worse: there was no single factor to blame. He just didn’t pan out. He’s not fooling himself any longer; he knows he missed his chance at fame and millions. But he stays on the club because he still has something left to offer on the field. And he’s starting to get a kick out the fact that the young kids look up to him as a veteran leader in the clubhouse.

Those aren’t the only two kinds of players in the minors. There’s everyone else, everyone in between whose names won’t be remembered, people at every stage of the journey. All of us. Truly, with the cheap tickets and intimate ballparks, there’s very little separating us from them—both literally and metaphorically. It’s a quest narrative for the players, and for fans as well. Whether we’re young with stars in our eyes, older and wiser, or somewhere in the vast middle space; whether we had our best day or a terrible outing we’d rather forget…we’ll all get up tomorrow and do it again.

Corny? Yes. But one of these days, go sit on the hard bleachers at the local minor league park with friends and neighbors, eat a hot dog, and see the next batter step up to the plate. Feel that little thrill: the enchantment of possibility. Let it get inside you. This might be the night. Watch him connect, blast the tiny sphere right over their heads.

And when you jump up and cheer, don’t tell me it’s only for the players on the field. It’s for all of us.

Skulls and Bones and Skeletons

Stephanie Smith

A few years ago I spent a weekend at JPUSA, the community of Christians in Chicago who live together in the old Chelsea Hotel and call themselves “Jesus People.” And during my time there, I saw a lot of skulls.

Skulls adorn the hallways, the door frames, and the forearms of the people who inhabit them.  Five doors down from my room there was an unapologetic mural of a skeleton, squarely behind a baby gate and next to a sign that warned in loud purple Crayola, “Nursing Urijiah! Piz come back. ” All over the community, there were instances of this odd juxtaposition of life and death.

I wondered if the skulls were some kind of talisman, like some cultures have to ward off evil spirits, but when I asked one of the women on staff about their significance, she laughed. “Well,” she said, “People here are kind of obsessed with death.”

She explained to me, “The skulls and skeletons are representative of the knowledge that there’s more.  We anticipate death, in a way, because we are eager for our new bodies and the new life ahead with Christ.  We are living in a dichotomy between this world and the next, and we are very aware of that.”  So there are skulls: a reminder of our mortal decay.  She also told me that people at JPUSA tend to live in the awareness that, in the city, they are surrounded by the living dead.  They are among the spiritually destitute and dying.

I’ve often felt this restlessness, of living in the cracks between Eden and Heaven, which some call the age of the in-between, the already-not-yet of the kingdom.  It can be exasperating: is the kingdom here, or is it to come? Christ has come into our world and has promised victory over sin and death, but we still live under its affects while we wait for His return. And it can make us impatient in the waiting, while we see the world around us in such need of redemption.  We were created for eternal life, to bear divine image and have a face-to-face relationship with our Maker, but sin ruptured this paradise and now we live in the imbalance, caught between what was supposed to be and what is now utterly broken. Even the earth is a victim of this tension, “the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now” (Romans 8:22).  Even the earth and the roots of mountains straddle this gap between the kingdoms.

There is a dichotomy at hand. We are finite beings with eternal life or death at stake. Perhaps the reminder of our mortal frame, whether skulls and bones or just knowing that there is more to come, can lend urgency to our days to live well, to reach out to the dying, and to eagerly await the life ahead.

Stephanie S. Smith graduated from Moody Bible Institute with a degree in Communications and Women’s Ministry, which she now puts to work freelancing as a book publicist and writer through her business, (In)dialogue Communications, at After living in Chicago for four years, traveling to Amsterdam for a spell, and then moving back home to Baltimore to plan a wedding, she now lives with her husband in Upstate New York where they make novice attempts at home renovation in their 1930s bungalow. She writes for and manages Moody Publishers’ blog,

A Tough Few Months for Populists: The Loss of Howard Zinn and Ray Browne

Stephen Swanson

Stephen Swanson departs from initial post on the meaning of “union” and various queries into whether it has “a state” regardless of speeches in order to highlight the passing of some ones who have been vitally important in shaping his beliefs about voice, art, and culture: Ray Browne and Howard Zinn.

The losses of Ray Browne, who died last October, and Howard Zinn, who died on Wednesday, provide me with a chance to write something that’s been on my mind for three months. Zinn and Browne shared a view of America starting at the bottom and working up, rather than the more traditional top-down. It’s so often that we highlight the fastest, biggest, richest, most beautiful, and most powerful things as the best, but these men made their lives’ work emphasizing the popular, average, and normal, and turning those words in assets not reasons for derision.

Ray Browne, it’s Ok to Study the Popular…

Calling Browne the founder of popular culture is a misnomer. People have been interested in and examined popular things for some time, but Browne, at least in the American academic system, pushed for the acceptance and respect for popular culture in academics and criticism. For example, his book on Lincoln, Lincoln-Lore: Lincoln in the Popular Mind, argues that understanding Abraham Lincoln as a literal, real person limits the citizen’s understanding of the role that Lincoln has come to hold in American minds, words, and ideals. And that one must examine thing of Lincoln that reach beyond facts and words of him as a man. His work and the works of those who he influenced have spread to the point to almost make what was once unthinkable, almost normal, that we can and should think about our common world and the things we “like” as a part of our intellectual lives.

Howard Zinn, We Must Listen to the Popular…

I am in no way the most devoted to Zinn of my friends, in fact one of my cohort literally made the movie, and so must leave detailed discussions to them. In almost everything Zinn wrote over the past 30-plus years, he emphasizes the need for citizens of America to seek out and actively listen to the voices of the average Americans from throughout our history and through all points on the political spectrum. During the times of my post-secondary education (1997-2007), American popular culture has trended toward the assumption of a nearly blind acceptance of authority that we agree with and rejection of those with whom our beliefs conflict. This period has shown increased reliance on pundit/mediators to break down and keep the gates of our physical, intellectual and spiritual lives, and regardless of whether one agrees with Zinn’s politics, the need for a citizenry to educate themselves on the realities of our collective histories and current place presses on my mind daily as I encounter students with huge gaps in the most basic geographical, historical, and cultural knowledge necessary to make even basic political opinions.

To Me…

The underlying assumptions in Browne and Zinn’s works revolve around a respect and need to understand those that have been labeled mundane or ordinary. These days it grows harder and harder to convince my students, and even my peers, that they have something worthwhile to learn, consider, evaluate, and express, and that they should not also look to the simple or obvious sources for these knowledges but should dig deeply and sift carefully, testing themselves and their environments throughout their daily lives and into their futures.


Stephen Swanson teaches as an assistant professor of English at McLennan Community College. Aside from guiding students through the pitfalls of college writing and literature, he spends most of his time trying to remain  aware of popular culture, cooking, and enjoying time with his wife and son. He holds degrees in Communications (Calvin College), Film Studies (Central Michigan University), and Media and American Culture Studies (Bowling Green State University. In addition to editing a collection, Battleground States: Scholarship in Contemporary America, he has forthcoming projects on Johnny Cash and depiction of ethics in contemporary film noir.