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Monthly Archives: August 2009

Amena-BrownI first discovered Amena Brown about a year ago.

I guess it’s not fair to say I “discovered” her. As if she were performing in a dingy nightclub in Oakland, and I were some sort of talent scout who wandered inside just to get out of the rain—only to be blown away.

No, I just saw her videos online. That’s all.

But as soon as that first video started playing, it took me about 5 seconds to become a fan.

I like poetry. I like truth. I like unique forms of worship. Spoken Word, when done well, can be a combination of all three. And Amena Brown does it well.

So, if you haven’t already, it’s about time you “discover” Amena Brown for yourself.

I just saw this video for the first time yesterday, and it became my new favorite:

I love this: “If you strip religion naked, all you’re left with is pride and tradition.”

Beautiful.

And if you check out some of her other videos, you’ll see that she also brings a sense of humor on stage with her.

Check out her website or her blog. Or follow her on Twitter.

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honest_2000_685x385Recently I made an impulsive stop at a Pizza Hut carryout. After ordering a P’Zone, I asked the man behind the counter (his nametag read “Darwin”) if he had any favorite menu items.

And boy, Darwin had plenty…

In fact, I think Pizza Hut owes him a hefty bonus for all those endorsements. He mentioned the pizza, touted the breadsticks, raved about the pastas, drooled over the desserts, and enlightened me about items that don’t even show up on the menu (like que’papas, which happen to be his favorite).

But when that conversation finally ended, I didn’t walk away thinking about his recommendations. Instead, I was preoccupied with the way he presented his opinions to me. You see, Darwin began almost every sentence with this phrase:

To be completely honest with ya…

(Except he said it like a Chicagoan, so it was more like “To be completely honest which-ya…” which, interestingly enough, rhymes with “Ditka.”)

A few times, Darwin varied his opener. Instead of “completely honest,” he would be “perfectly honest.” And once or twice, he changed things up completely, leading off with, “To tell you the truth…”

And to be completely honest with you, I was amused by this. For two reasons.

First of all, these prefaces (as well as “To be blunt…” and “To be frank…”) are common, but I still think it’s funny that so many of us (myself included) feel the need to assure our listener that what we’re about to say is the truth. In recent years, it’s also become trendy to start a sentence with, “I’m not gonna lie…”

And these openers are common, hardly noticeable (unless someone like Darwin employs them in every sentence). But imagine if Darwin had responded to my question, “What’s your favorite thing on the menu?” by saying:

“To be completely sarcastic with you, I’d say our Whopper. Or the Big Mac. Oh wait, this is Pizza Hut, isn’t it? Well then, it’s probably the pizza.”

Or:

“To be completely disinterested with you…eh, I don’t know.”

Or maybe:

“To be perfectly rude and unnecessarily confrontational…whadda-ya asking me for? What’s a matter, you can’t read the menu?”

As for the second reason I was intrigued by Darwin’s vow to be “completely honest”:

I once heard that whenever someone says “To tell you the truth” or “to be completely honest,” whatever follows probably isn’t honest or truthful.

In some cases, that might be true. But for the most part, I disagree. I think people often use these phrases to convey their sincerity.

Ultimately, I think those phrases are common because the desire for truth/honesty/frankness/bluntness is universal, so we all know our listeners want us to be truthful. And that’s why these phrases are used…and over-used by a certain someone (cough, Darwin, cough)…

Which is also why we’ll probably never hear anyone opening sentences with statements like:

“To be passive-aggressive with you…”
“To be perfectly supercilious…”
or
“To be completely curmudgeonly…”

Although all of those would be more fun, wouldn’t they?

Maybe I’ll start working those expressions into my daily vernacular. I’ll let you know how it goes…

tyson_m04When you hear “Mike Tyson,” what comes to mind?

Evander Holyfield’s ear? Rape? Facial tattoos?

Whatever your first thought might be, it probably isn’t positive. And he’s brought some of that upon himself; I recognize that. But my heart breaks for Mike Tyson. It really does.

I can almost hear the derision in your collective response, “Why?”

Well, I’m glad you asked…

Last night my wife and I watched Tyson, the new documentary in which Iron Mike recounts the highs and lows of his unusual life. (To be accurate, my wife didn’t really “watch,” per se. She pretty much just sat in the same room…with her laptop…and she sort of listened and glanced up occasionally.)

I’ve always been drawn to Mike Tyson. I’ve always felt like the two of us, Mike Tyson and I, have an inexplicable affiliation—an unfounded companionship, if you will. I’m not sure why (although I am pretty sure the feeling isn’t mutual).

Six or seven years ago, I remember standing in my parents’ kitchen and telling them that I wanted to write a screenplay about Mike Tyson’s life. I was convinced that his story needed to be told. And if not by me, then by whom?

Well, by Mike Tyson, that’s who.

And getting his story straight from his mouth was infinitely better than anything I could have written. Some of you might scoff at that. You remember Tyson saying things like, “I’m going to eat his children,” and you’re thinking Really, that’s infinitely better than anything you could write?

Yes, it is.

And that’s one of the reasons I’ve always been drawn to Mike Tyson. To a fault, when Mike Tyson talks, he means exactly what he says. (Well, I guess he didn’t mean he was going to literally eat Holyfield’s kids…I just meant that Tyson doesn’t worry about the perceptions of others. His words come out unfiltered. Often filthy. But pure.)

For example, in the documentary, he refers to Don King as “a reptilian mothaf*#&er.” And he says it without any real venom—as if he’s just stating facts.

As for the woman he claims falsely accused him of rape…I won’t repeat the names he used for her.

Tyson also surprises me with his vocabulary. Sometimes he will misspeak, coming across as an unlearned and uncivilized brawler. Other times, in mid-sentence, he’ll rattle off a word like “skullduggery” (which my spell check seems to think isn’t a real word…but it is)—and it makes me scratch my head. And smile.

But ignoring for a moment Tyson’s intriguing vocabulary and his abrasive language, Tyson’s words are most compelling when he’s talking about himself.

In the ring, Tyson was a machine. A ferocious, terrifying animal (and I mean that in a good way). But away from boxing, Tyson has always been lost.

A very brief summary of his life:

  • Tyson’s father abandoned his family when Tyson was 2
  • Tyson was ridiculed as a child for being overweight, and for his high-pitched voice and lisp
  • Tyson was raised in one of the roughest neighborhoods in Brooklyn
  • By the age of 13, he’d been arrested 38 times.
  • Tyson’s mother died when he was 16
  • Tyson was taken in by Cus D’Amato, his boxing trainer who, in Tyson’s words, “was the only person I ever trusted”—and the man Tyson credits with straightening out his life
  • Cus died when Tyson was 19—a year before Tyson became the Heavyweight Champion
  • After Cus’ death, Tyson admits he felt alone—as if he had no one in his life.

    That might sound like hyperbole or a cliche, but for Tyson it was true. Cus was the only man he ever trusted. And then, he was gone.

    At 19 years old, Tyson was climbing the heavyweight ranks and becoming more and more famous with each first-round knockout. But he didn’t have anyone in his life who really cared about Tyson, the man. There were plenty of people who cared about Tyson, the boxer. Including managers who were eager to get rich off of him (and they did). But he didn’t have anyone who cared about him as an individual.

    Now, don’t get me wrong: Tyson has always had issues. Serious issues. So I’m not excusing him for all the mistakes he made. I’m not giving him a free pass just because of his past.

    As my wife pointed out last night, there are a lot of other people who have dealt with similar struggles (difficult childhood, losing parents, self-esteem issues, identity issues). That’s true. But how many of those people, in the midst of their confusion—in the midst of their struggle to figure out who and what they are—were elevated to the kind of celebrity status Tyson experienced?

    Kids are just starting to figure out who they are in their late teens and early twenties. For Tyson, that identity question had been answered for him. Put simply, he was “the baddest man on the planet.”

    And that identity suited him just fine…for a time.

    But when that was stripped away (first with his imprisonment and then with the Holyfield fights), it wasn’t just Tyson’s career that suffered, it was his identity. Suddenly, Tyson didn’t know who he was. And worse, he trusted no one, so he had no one to turn to for support.

    I think it’s telling that, in the documentary, he says the main thing he wanted in a wife was “protection.” He wanted to know that she would protect him. Mike Tyson, the heavyweight champion of the world and one of the most intimidating men who ever lived, wanted a woman to make him feel safe.

    And without getting into too much psychobabble, I think that speaks to a lot of unresolved issues from his childhood—not having family to support him, being bullied, feeling like he had to fight for his life (literally) on the streets of Brooklyn.

    And again, that doesn’t excuse the mistakes Tyson has made. But I just feel so much sadness for him. If Cus hadn’t died…if the other managers and promoters hadn’t used him and taken advantage of him…if there had been anyone in his life who truly cared about him enough…

    …who knows what kind of identity Mike Tyson could have embraced.

    Ultimately, I’d love to see Mike Tyson embrace his identity as a child of God. Like the rest of us, Mike Tyson needs Jesus. Except most of us have families and friends to support us—and that helps dull our need for a relationship with Christ. (Those relationships don’t fill that void, but they help.)

    But Mike Tyson’s unhappiness is on full display, and it breaks my heart. Because I think he’s convinced himself that he will always be standing alone. Just like he did when he entered the ring all those times—staring down anyone who dared to stand in the opponent’s corner.

    And I just wish I could tell him that it didn’t have to be that way.

    It doesn’t have to be that way.

    Matthew Paul Turner and NavPress are giving away 200 copies of What You Didn’t Learn from Your Parents About: Sex.

    The book is about three years old…but it’s FREE. And FREE is always a good deal.

    I just ordered my copy. I don’t know how many more are available, but if you’re interested, Click Here.

    On his blog, Jesus Needs New PR, Matthew Paul Turner has dubbed this week “Sex Week.”

    With the help of various contributors, he’s tackling some of the toughest questions regarding sex.

    Today, he posted my submission, “The Truth about Santa Claus and Sex.” (I love the Santa pic he included with the post. Very fitting.)

    I’m glad I had the opportunity to contribute, but even though I’m passionate about honesty, it’s still embarrassing to admit to the things I included in that post. Healthy. Important. But embarrassing.

    Check it out, if you want. And you can post your comments here or there. Either way.