Sunday, September 21, 2014

6 Shows You Aren't Watching, but Should Be (unless you have a paper due for my class, in which case, get to work!)

Looking to procrastinate this semester (who isn't)? I'm a fan of many critically-acclaimed t.v. hits, but  I also like to find more obscure shows. Here are some I'll be watching this season before the grading season picks up....

Newbies (reviews to follow!): 
The Flash - It took awhile for me to warm up to Arrow, but last season made me a believer... mostly because of awesome fangirl proxy character Felicity Smoak. Something tells me this Arrow spin-off The Flash will be a lot of fun right from the beginning. It seems to have Smallville's cheeriness paired with a little bit of snark, and a charming leading man.
Network: CW
Premier Date: October 7

Gotham - I worry that a superhero show on any major network will be doomed for a couple of reasons. One being that niche-y shows like these don't tend to bring in big ratings. The other being that major networks aren't the most risky or creative story-tellers on the planet. But, my t.v. crush Donal Logue (of the criminally underrated Terriers) is in this show and that's reason enough to give it a try. Add to that the broody, noir tone and the fact that future Batman is in the mix, I am in.
Network: Fox
Premiere Date: September 22

iZombie - I am a huge fan of Rob Thomas (writer and television creator, not 90s rock star) and even though the zombie genre seems worn out (and how can you beat The Walking Dead?), I am looking forward to trying it. It looks like it has all of the best Rob Thomas elements: smart female lead, murder mystery, and plenty of sarcasm. Add to that a little horror twist and what's not to like?
Network: CW
Premiere Date: Not until 2015!!!

Returning Faves:
The 100 - On the surface, this is a silly CW show with improbably good-looking refugees from a post-nuclear apocalypse future, but underneath the models-turned-actors is a thoughtful and many times genuinely thrilling sci-fi drama. It's part Lord of the Flies, part Battlestar Galactica. I can't wait to see the leadership styles of Clarke and Bellamy clash in future episodes!

Supernatural - Even 10 seasons in, this show still has legs. It combines horror, humor, and warmth with fun meta-narratives, terrific chemistry between the leads, and classic rock. It also periodically asks the "big questions" about God, destiny/fate, choice, and family. I'm a true believer who's hoping for another decade!

Miss Marple - I enjoy pretty much any British import Masterpiece Mystery brings to us Yanks, but I have a special place in my heart for Agatha Christie's Miss Marple mysteries. I love her mild-mannered-yet-sharp-as-a-tack persona. Why can't other shows feature a brilliant female lead whose personal life is intact and is still interesting? Why do most shows insist on competent professional women who are disasters at home? Miss Marple needs to straighten those t.v. execs out.

Happy Procrastinating, Friends. Now let's get back to the grindstone, shall we?

Monday, August 25, 2014

How to Make It This Semester: Advice for Students... Written by Students!

Dear New Student(s),

I am thrilled to be your instructor this term.  I want to do everything I can to help you succeed.  It's (understandably) scary to start a new semester with a new prof.  To help calm your fears, I thought I'd give you some advice - that doesn't come from me.  It's written to you by former students who have managed to survive - and thrive! - in my courses.  

SO, to kick of the fall, I present to you: 

How to Make It This Term
in a Leah Payne Course

Listen.  Leah isn't a harsh grader, she doesn't hold grudges, and she gives students the benefit of the doubt, especially if you show enthusiasm and active participation in class. The only other thing I would recommend is, don't take a harsh grade too seriously. She asks some tough questions, and they might be hard to answer, but she gives plenty of opportunity to make it up. 
 - Zach Brigante, MATS Student

When Dr. Payne says stick to the word count, she means it. And she thinks it's "good for you" (read "painstaking character development") to edit every last syllable (especially if it's the only syllable in the one word that's over the limit). 300 words means 300 words or less. The nasty truth is, she's right. It actually does make you a better writer.
 - Anne-Marie Finsaas, DMin Student

Leah’s a lot of fun and her classes are fun, so relax, enjoy them, and engage – ask questions. Push her. She likes to engage and be pushed. She’s got a wide range of interests and likes to see and explore how ‘dots connect’ from seeming disparate disciplines and thinkers. Propose stuff even if you’re not entirely certain of the likely path the discussion may take. And then – research – have your stuff in order and write logical, defensible papers and you’ll be fine. Bottom line – enjoy the opportunity – you’ll look back at your ‘Leah classes’ with fondness!
 - Michael Gama, DMin

Learn the skill of skimming/reading for information.  Don't bog down in every printed word assigned, use a dictionary and think about if you agree or disagree with the main points the author is making.  The reading is where you can shape your own thoughts and bring constructive conversation to the lecture periods.  And come to lecture with humor in your heart; because Dr. Payne is a crack-up.
 - Jeniene Frisco, MDiv

Not sure what to say except to read as widely as possible. Frankly, I did not find the course work difficult as much as trying to keep up with reading, connecting the dots, and communicating in a concise manner. History has never been my thing but living Internationally, right in the middle of church history, has made a huge impact on how I listened in class and how I processed the material read for your assignments.
 - Dave Shepherd, DMin

Take notes in class and compare your notes to the outlines that are provided. Make friends in class and share with them. And don't hesitate to talk to the professor. She's not really scary.
 - Julie Dodge, DMin Student

It is essential that students understand the intent of the course by examining the syllabus, meticulously read the books assigned for the course, grasp the major theories, subject content and dissenting voices to understand all perspectives of the argument. The last essential key is to communicate early and often to avoid confusion and misunderstanding, especially on the first day of class when the syllabus is reviewed with the class. 
 - Carlos Richard, DMin Student

Be Concise... less words is best... and always organize your thoughts well. 
 - Grant Carey, DMin Student

The study guides are a huge help!  Do them and trade notes with your colleagues; they can be a great resource!  Also, learn to love knowledge.  One thing I learned about studying, in general, is that my attitude towards studying often reflects my attitude and outlook on life.  Life is not a stressful obligation!  It is (can be) a joyful discovery and an adventure!
JP Paxton, MDiv

My advise for doing well in Dr. Leah’s class is to read the readings, listen to advice, and learn from feedback.  First, Dr. Leah’s readings help students plunge deeper into topics. Second, allow yourselves to be pushed to become better writers and heed the specific instructions given. Lastly, learn from the feedback given and utilize it to make future papers stronger. If students do these three things I am confident students will succeed.  
 - Todd Clark, DMin

Don't let her winsome smile fool you, Leah's brain is on fire.
Alicia Chole, DMin Student

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Getting Through the Dog Days

On summer days, I would rather....
grab a cup of Edge Coffee with a dear friend,
eat Salt & Straw ice cream with someone special,
or try a cronut at Joe's Donuts in my home town...
than get my writing goals done for the summer.  
BUT, write I must (and so must you, I am sure!).

So, I listen to a few (eclectic!) songs to get me going, including:
1. Foo Fighter, Walk.  
2. Beyonce, Love On Top.
3. KINGOS, Come with Me Now.
4. David Guetta (ft. Sia), Titanium.
5.  Billy Joel, Movin' Out.

We are just about one month away from classes beginning.  Just one more month to write, write, write while you still can!  

Godspeed to you and to me - August is almost upon us!

Monday, June 9, 2014

Coffee at KAM's

I just picked up a delicious latte from KAM's coffee house at George Fox Evangelical Seminary.  I'm thrilled to be teaching at GFES for the next two years as a fellow at the Louisville Institute, so I'm sure I'll drink many more while I'm there with students and colleagues.  Cheers to two great years!

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Thinking of Starting Grad School? Here's What You Need.

I am often asked by students: what does it take to succeed (code: finish!) in graduate school?   Of course there are many qualities that successful students share: enthusiasm, creativity, work ethic, a killer research project, a good advisor, etc.  But the one virtue I recommend that students develop above all is the ability to work through discouragement.  Graduate work, for all of its wonders, is one of the most disheartening, lonely endeavors that you will ever undertake.  Of course, it will also be one of the most extraordinary, revelatory adventures of your life. I don’t think a single Ph.D. would disagree with me when I tell you that you are going to have to slog through hours, days, weeks, months, or even years of gloom in pursuit of the prize.  You will feel discouraged – a lot (code: most!) of the time. 

But trust me, the moments of illumination that you will receive as a result of your labors will be glorious.  It just takes perseverance. 

So, for those of you about to rock grad school, I salute you. 

For those of you already in the depths of graduate despair, it won't last forever!

To all of you, I submit this lovely piece of encouragement by Ira Glass on the rewards awaiting those who work through the gloom.

Friday, March 14, 2014

"The Stuff That Dreams Are Made Of" - Three Classic Detective Tales

Today, the long-awaited next chapter in one of my favorite detective stories, Veronica Mars will be in theaters.  Although Veronica looked like just another teen drama a la Gossip Girl or 90210, what made it special was that it was actually a clever noir detective story dressed up like a young adult soap complete with corrupt powers-that-be, cynical narration, and a doomed hero. 

Veronica flipped the gender script on most stories about hardboiled investigators, however, because she (Veronica) was the flawed-but-lovable detective and the femme fatale was actually an homme fatale (Logan).  To really appreciate Veronica, you have to understand her investigative predecessors.  To find those, you have to watch a little classic cinema.  So, in honor of Veronica Mars’ theatrical debut, a salute to three iconic mystery films:

The Maltese Falcon:  Private Investigator Sam Spade (Humphrey Bogart) gets drawn into murder, intrigue, and danger by a dangerous dame who goes by the name of Brigid O’Shaughnessy (Mary Astor).  This is the granddaddy of noir detective films.  Don’t be surprised if when you watch it, you feel like you are watching a series of film clichés.  That’s because you are watching the film that spawned countless imitations, spoofs, etc.  But, even though it feels like you’ve seen it before, there’s still something mesmerizing about Humphrey Bogart’s surly delivery, sad-sack face, and hard-edged-but-soft-inside personality.

Double Indemnity: Phyllis (Barbara Stanwyck) is a bored housewife who is convinced that her life would be better if her husband were gone – permanently.  She and her lover (Fred MacMurray – otherwise known as The Absent-Minded Professor), an insurance salesman, hatch a plan to rid themselves of her husband and live the high life on his insurance policy.  The only thing standing in their way is the pesky insurance claim adjuster, Barton Keyes (Edward G. Robinson).  Directed by Billy Wilder (who also directed the funniest movie ever made), this is a tense thriller with pitch-perfect performances that stands the test of time. 

Laura: A police detective named Mark McPherson (played stoically by Dana Andrews) investigates the murder of a beautiful young woman named Laura Hunt (the impossibly stunning Gene Tierney) and in the process falls in love (or is it obsession?) with her.  The suspects are numerous (playboy lover, dandy newspaper reporter, wealthy aunt) and in this way the film is a classic whodunit.  But Laura is easily in my top 10 favorite movies ever made for more than just the way that McPherson solves the murder.  The moody lighting, eerie music, and the way the story slowly peels back layer after layer of supernaturally-tinged mystery make it worth watching again and again.

Once again, congratulations, Marshmallows.  Enjoy our movie!

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Sci-Fi Saturday!

To my friends who ask for good television recommendations, this post is for you:

Science Fiction is a great genre for t.v. watchers who want to think theologically or philosophically.  It is a fun exercise in the wonders of human imagination and it also gives watchers an opportunity to think about the BIG questions in life: What does it mean to be human?  What/who is God? 
What is free will?  What role does/should technology play in our lives?

These questions and many more bring science fiction fans back again and again to well-known television shows like Star Trek, Battlestar Galactica, and The X-Files.  Today’s entry shines a spotlight on 3 underrated entries into the genre. 

So, without further ado, I submit three underrated science fiction shows for your review:

Setting: the somewhat dystopian near future.
Premise: human police officers don’t have what it takes to deal with the ever-increasing number of tech-savvy criminals.  So, law enforcement officers turn to technology to create ideal robocops….  This is the story of one cop and his robotic side-kick who take a stand against a vast criminal underground (how’s that for a tagline?).
In a nutshell: this show has it all – questions about identity (who is really human, the cruel person born with human DNA, or the virtuous, empathetic machine?), buddy cop humor, a very charming robot (Michael Ealy), and Karl Urban from LOTR and Star Trek – what’s not to like? 
Where to watch: now airing on FOX… but don’t worry.  It’s good so it will get cancelled and then you can watch it on Netflix, I am sure.

Setting: the present Vancouver, BC and the somewhat utopian future (time travel alert!).
Premise: one cop must save the present and the future when she is accidentally (or was it an accident?) sent from her time (2077) to our present while pursuing a group of anarchist terrorists known as Liber8. 
In a nutshell:  Our friends in Canada bring us this thoughtful science fiction procedural drama with a Scully-esque lead and plenty of engaging side characters (especially the charismatic Erik Knudsen… he’s going to be somebody some day.  Remember, I called it!).  Together, they tackle relevant questions such as: how does technology facilitate human flourishing?  Is it helping or hurting us? And can people really change or are our destinies determined by biology and circumstance?
Where to watch: the first two seasons are available on Netflix and season 3 begins on March 14, 2014!

Setting: the present.
Premise: a covert arm of the U.S. Department of Defense uses humans with special abilities, a.k.a. Alphas, to track down other Alphas who have committed crimes (or have they?).
In a nutshell: It starts off seeming like a decaffeinated version of X-Men (complete with wise Prof. Xavier-like “Dr. Rosen” played by David Strathairn), but it soon takes on a personality of its own and brings up excellent questions about subjects ranging from personal identity (how does a woman whose superpower is heightened human senses experience her first kiss?) to terrorism (how far should Alphas go to protect themselves from government intervention?). 
Where to watch: was on SyFy, cancelled after two seasons, now only on Netflix. 

Bonus Movie Recommendation: in the mood for a movie night?  Try Europa Report.  It’s probably the most realistic science fiction movie I’ve ever seen and also one of the most engrossing.  Set at the vanguard of our current space exploration, the film is a tense thriller that is also an ode to the wonders of scientific inquiry.  I was haunted by the final images – I’d be surprised if you didn’t wake up thinking about them too!

Do you have any favorites?  If so, drop me a line!