Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Just Like Breathing

I’ve seen it happen many times before, and each time I’ve seen it, it’s annoyed me beyond any need for a laxative. But now I can better explain why it annoys me so much.

What am I talking about? Articles or documents written by church people for a church audience that get criticized by other church people for not specifically mentioning Christianity or Jesus. Their argument is something along the lines of “How will people know that we’re not just another social organization, not just another group of people trying to do good works in the world, if we don’t mention that we’re Christians?”

My first, rather snarky, response is, “This article was in a denominational magazine. Are you freaking kidding me? Are you that stupid? Do you think that people in general are so dense as to not realize that something in a magazine called Living Lutheran (or Positively PresbyterianEcstatically Episcopalian, or even Confidently Catholic) is based on the writer’s Christian faith?” And does the mission statement of St Andrew’s Episcopal Church really have to state that they’re a Christian community? Isn’t it pretty clear that they’re not a chapter of the Ethical Culture Society?

My second, similarly snarky, response is basically, “This document was written for use within the church. We all know why we’re here. Do we really have to telegraph it to everyone?”

The response of the critics is that as Christians, we need to be aware of, and tell people what’s most important to us, and why we do what we do.

To that I say, “Well…maybe.” But there’s something else I have to say to them. Actually, it’s a question I have to ask.

What’s the most important thing you do every day?

Really, what is the most important thing you do everyday?

Some of you might mention taking care of your kids, or the work you do for the local food pantry, or perhaps it’s your job as a teacher, or maybe even your job at the local hospital. Those are all good things. But quite frankly, none of those count as the most important thing you do every day.

At least not to me.

Nope…the most important thing you do every day is something so intrinsic to your being that you don’t even think about it. In fact, it’s so important that even if you voluntarily stopped for a few minutes, you’d involuntarily start again.

What am I talking about?

Breathing.

Breathing is the most important thing any of us do every day. It’s what allows us to go about doing the other things we think are important. But do we ever mention it? Do we put that at the top of the list of important things we do?

No. We don’t even think about it until we have a hard time doing it.

So why do some Christians insist that other Christians make a point of their Christianity when talking to church audiences?

For that matter, why do some Christians insist on putting their Christianity out on parade when they’re helping others? Isn’t it enough to let your Christianity quietly inform your good works, and then have the people you’ve helped ask you about your motivation later?

A vegetarian friend of mine once said that there are good vegetarians and bad vegetarians. You’ll never know that a “good vegetarian” is a vegetarian unless you pay close attention to what they’re eating, or unless it just happens to come up naturally in conversation. A “bad vegetarian” will take every opportunity to tell everyone about their vegetarianism.

I think that those Christians who want us to explicitly state our Christian identity and motives are bad vegetarians, who want to make us into bad vegetarians too.

Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Dance to the Music...But Choose it Wisely

Over the years I’ve had a lot of time to think about the music played at wedding receptions, and how I think that a lot of it is wrong for the occasion. I mean it’s great for dancing, or maybe has a nice tune, but when you get to the lyrics, we have a problem. For example, Heard it Through the Grapevine may be a great song for a stroll-type dance, but have you taken the time to listen to the words? I didn’t think so. And while I’ll Get Over You was a personal favorite of mine after a certain breakup back in 1979, and is still a song I love, I don’t think that’s really something you want to play at your wedding reception. And then there’s the DJ who played Like a Virgin at a friend’s wedding many years ago, back when that song was still current. I’m not gonna make any assumptions about my friend, but even though it was a very good dance tune, there were snickers all around the room because the DJ didn’t think about either the title or the lyrics.

My wife and I just celebrated our 30thanniversary, and her parents threw a huge party for us. During the party and after it was over, people kept talking about the wonderful choices of music the DJ played. That’s because I picked them…every…single…song. Then I gave the five CDs with that music on it to the DJ we hired for the night. I saw this as a chance to show people what could be done with choosing appropriate music for a party like that.

How did I do it? First I went through the 2000 or so favorite songs on my laptop and made a playlist of four hours of songs that I thought either presented relationships in a positive light or were totally neutral, while specifically eliminating the ones that didn’t. And wasn’t all that hard…after all four hours works out to be only about 66 songs. Surely you can pick 66 songs with appropriate lyrics from a set of 2000.

And there were still a lot of pretty good songs to dance to…from all decades, styles, and genres…after all, one thing that people forget at wedding receptions and parties like this is that it’s not just about the music you want to hear, but having a little something in there for everyone.

Now…admittedly, this is a whole lot easier to do with a DJ, who you can just hand five CDs to, than with a band, that only knows so many songs; but it can be done to some extent, even with a band. A friend of mine told the band at her reception that if she heard The Chicken Dance, they weren’t getting paid…no matter how many people asked for it. And if the band has a list of songs in their repertoire that you can look at, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t be able to go through it and select which ones you specifically want and specifically don’t want…if you’re willing to put in the time and effort.

So when people commented on the music choices, I’m betting that they weren’t consciously thinking about the lyrics to any of the songs, but they did notice that they all seemed to go well with the theme of the party.

But yes, it can be done. You can choose appropriate and danceable music for your wedding reception or anniversary party, and I challenge you to try it. People will talk about it.

And in a good way!

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Avoiding Responsibility?

A few months ago I had the pleasure of having dinner with some old college friends that I haven’t seen in years…no, let me change that…in decades. They now have kids the age that we were when we last saw each other…and older.

One of the things we discussed is how much the world had changed since we last saw each other. As an example I used one of our doctors, who is the father of a former student of mine. When I asked how his daughter was, he beamed and said that she was doing well…and was living with her boyfriend in Philadelphia. I mentioned how 30 years earlier the father would be grumbling about his daughter living with her boyfriend, rather than beaming.

I thought this was a good change. My friends, however, didn’t. They saw it as “kids these days” wanting to have sex with none of the responsibility. I didn’t want to turn what was an enjoyable time together into a debate, but I quietly vehemently disagreed with them.

I think it is a good change. I think it’s good that, for the most part, our culture has stopped pushing young people into marriage as soon as possible. I think it’s good that we understand that you don’t have to start making babies and taking on a 30 year mortgage at age 25. And I think it’s good that we don’t push people into legal entanglements that will be damned hard to extricate themselves from just so that they can have sex without people giving them the hairy eyeball.

And speaking of legal entanglements, I know of a couple who decided it was best to wait to “make things official” until he got his precarious credit situation all straightened out. They figured there was no sense in making that her official problem too.

But let’s go back to that whole idea of “avoiding the responsibility.” Really, just what does that mean? There are couples who get married and put off having children for years…or decide to not have children at all. There are also couples who don’t get married, stay together for years, and do an excellent job raising kids. And…there are couples who live together until the baby’s on the way, then then decide to get married…and there’s actually a lot of historical precedent for that…which we have conveniently forgotten about.

Now I know that some of you will bring up religious objections to this, and I’ll deal with that. Quite frankly, those who have “religious objections” to couples living together without being married, have objections based on a culture and time when things were much different…where the community was more important than the person, and where a woman’s “value” was based on whether or not she’d had sex with anyone before. And believe me, I am so glad that those days are gone!

Now, having said all that, I can think of some pretty good reasons to bite the bullet and get married. Quite frankly, I think that after you’ve had five years of living together, you really ought to “shit or get off the pot.” And as much as I cautioned against legal entanglements that are hard to extricate yourself from, there are actually some pretty good legal protections marriage gets you for $40 (the cost of the license, not the fancy schmancy wedding) that you’d have to pay thousands of dollars in legal fees for otherwise.

And of course, by this point, some of you are asking how I’d react if one of my  daughters decided to move in with her boyfriend. Well, quite frankly, if he was a decent guy…and could put up with either one of their personalities…I’d be thrilled that they’d found someone.

I’d even help them move!

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

30 Years of Good Advice

Yesterday was our 30thwedding anniversary. Yup…30 years. Who knew it would speed by so fast!

People think that’s amazing because there’s a false statistic out there that says that 50% of marriages end up in divorce. That’s a false statistic for reasons explained in my 2010 post Good News from the Invitation Box. With that in mind, Cheryl and I really aren’t all that special after all. But…I’m still gonna give you some advice from our 30 years together.

First: Marriage creates a new thing, a new family, and your allegiances change. Your main allegiance is now to each other, and not your family of origin. This means that given a choice between your partner and your mother, your partner comes first.

Second: Create new traditions. Don’t both of you insist on slavishly bringing over all of your family’s old traditions to this new thing. This is your chance to decide which traditions you want to keep, which ones you finally get to toss, and which new ones you want to try that you saw in a magazine, a movie, or someone else’s family. Remember…you’re a new thing.

Third: Learn to compromise. You both need to be able to do that. A marriage where one person is a “take no prisoners” type is likely to fail. A marriage where both people are “take no prisoners” types is likely to fail quickly.

Fourth: Learn to alternate. Those couples that argue every year about where to go on vacation make me crazy. One should get to choose in odd years and the other should choose in even years. There. Done.

Fifth: Choose your battles. You squeeze the toothpaste from the end and they squeeze it from the middle? So what! Buy a tube for each of you and move on. It costs the same in the long run. You don’t have to agree on everything.

Sixth: Let George Washington decide some issues. That means sometimes you’re just gonna need to flip a coin over it. Statistically, you’ll each get your way half the time.

Seventh: Understand that you don’t have to do everything together. If you love science fiction and your partner doesn’t, don’t insist on dragging them to the all-night Star Trek festival. Let this be your thing...that you do with your science fiction friends (you do have outside friends, don't you?)…but give them brownie points if they offer to go with you.

Eighth: If their family lives 30 minutes away and yours is six hours, depending on how much vacation time each of you gets, and how it’s given out, you’re probably gonna see more of theirs than yours. But if vacation time is not an issue, let’s go back to item number four, and learn to alternate. Maybe in odd years you spend Thanksgiving with one and Christmas with the other, and then flip it in even years.

Ninth: Despite what the common wisdom says, sometimes it’s best to let the sun go down on your anger. Why? Because arguing when one…or both…of you is tired, cranky, and possibly hungry, gets no one anywhere. Take a time out for a nap and a snack, come back to the issue when you’re refreshed and well-fed, and see how much quicker it gets resolved.

Tenth: If you have kids, don’t let them run your lives. Make time for yourselves without them. They’ll be fine without you for an evening. You don’t want to become one of those couples who realize once they’ve grown up and left home, that all they had in common was the kids.

Eleventh: Finally, remember that you are friends. Ideally you’re each other’s best friends. And ideally, you were friends before you decided to get involved in this whole marriage thing.

And that’s the short version of my advice after 30 years. If you want more, you know where to find me!

Tuesday, July 3, 2018

Being an American in Murka

In recent years I’ve felt like two parts of my identity have been hijacked from me.

The first is my identity as a Christian. The second is my identity as an American.

Now, the Christian thing is something I’ve talked about before, and my first awareness of it being hijacked was when someone from a different denomination than me, a denomination with slightly different beliefs, and a different piety, saw the cross on my lapel, and asked if I was a “real” Christian…as if the rest of us Lutherans, Episcopalians, Methodists, and Catholics were chopped liver. And as if we weren’t here first.

And over the course of the past almost 40 years, the rise of these people, who use the catch-all term “Christian”, rather than saying what specific denomination they’re from, have made it very difficult for me to identify as a Christian without also having to say, “But not like them.” It has made me want to let people get to know me well enough to know that I’m not a self-righteous, loudmouthed, jerk before letting on that I’m an active churchgoer.

The American thing is a more recent development. It’s not as recent as the Trump presidency, but the hijacking of that identity, and those who hijacked it are one of the many elements that led to it. Actually, I’m still an American, but I find myself right now living in the bizzaro world version of it known as Murka.

Murka, you know…land of the arrogant, home of the fearful and xenophobic…you know…those people who call themselves Murkans. And for the moment, these Murkans have risen to the top, not like cream, but more like dead fish; leaving me embarrassed to admit that I’m an American, lest someone mistake me for a Murkan. Leaving me with second thoughts about wearing anything with the flag, or flag colors on it, lest someone mistake me for one of those arrogant Murkans who have hijacked the flag I once thought stood for something better.

And yet, if I’m honest, if I remember my American history, I have to admit that we’ve always had our Murkan moments. Even as I try to counter fear-mongerers by reminding them that FDR said that we have nothing to fear but fear itself, I have to remember that that same FDR, out of fear…and racism…signed the executive order that sent thousands of citizens of Japanese descent to concentration camps.[1]

I have to remember that even as Emma Lazarus was writing her poem The Great Colussus, from whence came the famous words “Give me your tired your poor” that are found at the Statue of Liberty, laws were being enacted that either prohibited or severely curtailed immigration from Asia. I guess we were willing to take the tired and poor as long as they were white.

I have to remember that my “family history”, with as much as we say we aspire to something great, and as often as we do attain a greatness that other nations look up to, is filled with many ugly and embarrassing moments as Murkans since 1776 misunderstood what making America great really meant.

I also have to keep in mind that as much as those Murkans seem intent on forgetting or ignoring the lessons of the past, there are many people out there who haven’t forgotten and who have learned. There are people protesting how we’re treating our Muslim citizens, and working to make sure that they don’t get treated like the Japanese under FDR. The press, which has not been silenced, is actively reporting on our misguided and inhumane immigration policy. There are people actively trying to carry on a civil discourse with those who refuse to be civil. And these people exemplify what I believe it means to be an American.

As much as they may want to deny it, I will grudgingly admit that those arrogant and misguided Murkans are my brothers and sisters while we work out this current unpleasantness.

And that, my friends, is what makes me an American…as well as a Christian…and I will wear my red, white, and blue to represent the ideals, and not the miserable failures.

Enjoy the 4th!


[1] Yes, “internment camps” sounds so much less harsh, and doesn’t put us on the same level with the Nazis; but technically, while they weren’t death camps, they were concentration camps.

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Enjoy Every Stage

I saw a woman in Price Chopper a few weeks ago with a cute little toddler in her cart. We kept running into each other every other aisle, as we worked the store from one end to the other, but going up and down the aisles in the opposite pattern.

Then one of us must’ve skipped an aisle, because suddenly I found myself heading in the same direction as her, and her cart was blocking my path. She was busy examining something on the shelf, and as I approached the cart with her child in it, I said, “Don’t worry, I’m not gonna run off with her. I’m done. I have a 25-year-old and a 15-year-old, and I don’t want to go back to this stage.”

She smiled and replied with just one word: “Lucky.”

I moved her cart out of my way, went back to my cart, and as I passed the two of them, I was reminded of something I’d thought a few months earlier when one of my Facebook friends posted on how quickly her kids were growing up. And then I turned to her and said:

Some people will tell you to enjoy these days because you’ll never get them back, but I’m gonna tell you something different…you’ll enjoy every stage. You’ll particularly enjoy it when she gets old enough to do things by herself and clean up after herself. So don’t let anyone tell you that you need to hold on to these days.

She smiled again and thanked me. But this bears repeating for all the rest of you with young children who seem to be growing up too fast: You’ll enjoy every stage.

I know parents who seem bound and determined to keep their children as little kids that they can have around the house forever. Little kids who they’re constantly cleaning up after and having to harp on to do things that ought to be done. Parents who are reluctant to give their kids the wings they need in order to successfully fly.

I’m not that parent.

I remember doing the little dance when my oldest daughter (with a bit of bribery) was finally potty trained. I remember doing that same dance when my second daughter mastered that same skill. Oh sure, they were both cute at three years old, but boy, could they make a mess (and a stink) in their pants. I was more than happy to see those days go by.

I have photos of my oldest standing on a stool at age seven to make a cake with the mixer in the kitchen, and was pleased when she finally learned how to cook for herself. I’m still trying to coerce her 15-year-old sister into gaining that same skill.

I remember fighting with the 25-year-old over doing homework when she was in fifth grade, and remember how happy I was when she suddenly became self-motivated in sixth.

I remember how we had to fight with our 15-year-old over practicing piano; and now that it’s been five years since we let her give up lessons, I enjoy the fact that she asks me to write out music for her to play.

Let’s face it, none of us really wants our kids to be five years old forever. Sure, when I look at the old photos, I’d like to go back to visit for a time, but I don’t want to live there again. Life is good with the older, and more responsible versions of my kids.

Even after they’ve successfully flown the nest.

So enjoy every stage, and be glad when they’ve moved on to the next.

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

What Are the Odds?

I was at the credit union a few weeks ago, waiting to have some changes made to my account, when I had that worry that I seem to regularly have whenever I enter a bank or a credit union.

Suppose a robbery happens while I’m here?

I’m always a little skittish about going to one of those places because of the fear that I just might end up being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Bank robberies do still happen, you know. There’ve been a few in our local paper over the past year. Suppose I end up in the middle of one of them?

But this time was different. I’d been thinking about statistics a bit over the past few weeks, and how we tend to focus on the least likely, most horrible thing, and not the most likely, more mundane thing. This was probably after having seen comedian Hasan Minhaj speak at this year’s Public Libraries Association conference about the infinitesimally small odds of being in a terrorist attack…as opposed to say…being killed in a car accident because you didn’t buckle your seatbelt.

And it’s not just him, who you might think was too close to the issue to be impartial. I know statisticians who say that Americans are absolutely awful at assessing risk; and that, once again, we worry about the least likely absolutely horrible thing, and don’t prepare at all for the avoidable tragedies that are most likely to hit us.

So this time I said to myself, “Shut up and sit down.”

It’s funny that I had to tell myself this, because whenever people come see me at the library, worrying about all the ways they can be hacked by simply going on the Internet, I often tell them that I could worry about the meteor that could fall on my house…but I don’t.

And speaking of librarians, in a recent thread on a librarian Facebook page about how to deal with challenged patrons who are being disruptive, one person said that you should never call the police, because we all know that the police shoot autistic people.

That was it. From anyone else, I might’ve just rolled my eyes and walked away. But this was someone representing a group of people who claim to be all about accurate information. So I said:

Really...has anyone actually looked at the statistics of how many people...black, autistic, white, neurotypical, Martian, whatever...have absolutely fine interactions with the police that don’t end in tragedy, or do we let the few news stories of situations where things went tragically wrong lead us to assume that the bulk of interactions are like that?

They’re called news stories for a reason, you know...because they’re so out of the ordinary and awful. 

Once again…do we let the extremely few really horrible, really attention-getting things lead us to think that they happen way more often than they do? And do we react more to those than to everyday things that we should really be concerned about?

I think so.

Now about that meteor…