Sunday, April 27, 2008

I am woman, hear me snore

I had a Fairly Decent Time this weekend. (Not that anyone asked, but I feel it's my duty to make some kind of post here.) I drove to Decorah, Iowa, Friday afternoon in order to attend a concert by the two freshmen choirs of Luther College. The youngest fruit of my loins, K.J., is in the 50% of said choirs composed of those of the female persuasion.

Right away, I suppose I'm in trouble with the college's Protectors Of Omnipresent Political-Correctness (POOP-C) for calling them freshmen choirs. I'm sure they would prefer freshpersons choirs, but even POOP-C recognizes that as the awkward mangling of English that it is. I'm thinking they're actually called first-years instead of freshmen. I'm also thinking I may have to urlp.

When last I mentioned a trek to the Home of the Norse (in the now-dormant MySpace version of Almost the Truth) I was grousing about how POOP-C had done major reconstructive surgery on some of the Christmas hymns that the audience was asked to sing: they changed any lyrics alluding to masculinity (you know, those evil words like mankind) into non-gendered weasel words. ("Pleased as man with us to dwell; Jesus, our Emmanuel.") This time around, all was fine...except for this one song K.J.'s choir sang, "The Womanly Song of God." Owing to the fact that 87% of the so-called lyric consisted of doot-doo-dee-doot-dah, I was having a hard time understanding 1) what was so womanly about this song, other than the fact that young women were singing it; and 2) what was so godly about it?

And then the whole Billy Jean King vibe broke loose and the choir sang the line "I am the God of a thousand names. Why can't one of them be Women Singing?"

Well, right off the top of my head, I'd answer by saying, "Maybe because Women Singing isn't a name at all, unless you belong to that North American tribe that gives people nicknames like Dances With Wolves and Scarfaced Booger-Eater."

But seriously, it was a wonderful concert and I practically burst with excitement when the director announced that the women's choir was changing its name from Pike Kor to Aurora.

HA! Just kidding!

No...they really are changing their name...I was kidding about being excited about it.

Monday, April 21, 2008

When the tongue makes a typo...

During my years as a youth pastor/minister/slave, I had my share of triumphs: Plenty of moments when everything fell into place in a way that only God could have orchestrated. But then there were times when my mouth had a mind of its own...and didn't use it.

The incident I'm thinking of today, and winner of my personal Most Embarrassing Moment in Ministry Award, took place at a church camp in Southern Indiana in the latter part of the previous century. The senior high youth group to which I was youth pastor/minister/slave had spent all weekend at the camp...had it all to ourselves...having a great time growing in our relationships with each other and with God.

It was early Sunday afternoon. We'd had a great lunch and were ready to pack up and go home, but first we gathered in a large room for a closing prayer circle. Normal procedure for prayer circles is to stand in a---um---circle, holding hands. One person starts by saying a short prayer, gently squeezing the hand of the person next in the circle when done. There is also the option of not praying and just squeezing the next hand to let that person know it's his/her turn. This non-praying option usually results in a wave of hand-squeezing quickly passing around the circle until it gets back to the adult-type person designated to be the final pray-er.

This time was different, though. Almost every one of the students had at least a sentence or two of thanks or praise or supplication, and the emotional level of the room kept increasing as we prayed our way around the circle.

It finally came around to me, the beloved leader of the pack, to offer the final prayer of our weekend of spiritual retreat and rejuvenation. I was wanting to thank God that we had a faith that was worth passing on to others...but what actually came out of my mouth was, "Thank you that we have a faith worth pissing on--"

I stopped cold, thinking, "Um...that didn't sound right." All was quiet until one student to my left made that half-gagging nose-noise of trying to stifle a laugh. That's all it took for the whole room to start rolling on the floor. I tried to spit out some lame concluding sentence to my prayer, said amen, and promptly gasped for air between guffaws.

No matter what kind of Scriptural insights were discovered and shared that weekend, guess what the kids went home and told their parents?

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Tax Tales

I know, I know, I know...(did anybody else think of Bill Withers just now?)...you all were probably expecting--nay--anxiously anticipating some witty word of wisdom or profound pontificating pronouncement in conjunction with the recently-passed deadline for filing an income tax return.

Well, the factual fact of the matter is that I was too busy doing my taxes to be able to write about my taxes.

I've only "had people" prepare my tax return twice in my life: my first year in college and my first year in paid ministry. The experience my first year of college was pretty scary. The professional preparer had an asthma attack when she saw how little I had lived on as a married student with a one-year-old daughter...not because she couldn't believe we survived on the measly amount, but because she was afraid we wouldn't be able to pay her fee.

Having my taxes done by a professional after my first year as a full-time, paid minister was just silly. I did it, of course, because I was afraid I would hose up the forms and not properly report the non-taxable housing allowance or the self-employment penalty or the Schedule 27B Report of Influential Backtax Supplemental Conspiracy to Have Your Chewing Gum Lose Its Flavor. As it turns out, it was so simple that the preparer only charged me for making copies of the forms for my records.

Advice: keep your annual income below $7,000 and you don't really have to fret too much over taxes.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

50 Ways Recap

Okay, neighbors...what have we learned? We spent the last 87 posts talking about the feature, "50 Ways to Make Your Life Better in 2008" that appeared in U.S. News & World Report. What can we say in the way of a conclusion?


"What have you learned, Dorothy?"

Well...I learned that it's not enough to just want to have a better life. I've got to be proactive about it. I've got to spend money on things that the magazine editors think are valuable. (5 "ways" fit in this category) I've got to be more eco-friendly. (7) I've got to jump on the bandwagon and become part of some trendy things. (12) And more important than anything else, I need to change my lifestyle so it matches that of a snooty, NPR-listening, tree-hugging, wannabe sophisticated, politically-correct, liberal goose-stepper. (16)

[For those who are counting, that leaves us with one idea that had already passed its expiration date, and 9 actual pieces of good advice.]

I am so glad my subscription to U.S. News was paid for by frequent flyer miles that were about to expire, and didn't use any actual, honest-to-goodness...you know...money.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

50 Ways XIII

46. Brew a better cup of coffee.
Ina Garten, author of the Barefoot Contessa cookbooks, says, "You can make better coffee at home than you can get at a coffee shop." I know my checking account certainly agrees with that. Of course, this is really out of my circle of influence anyway...I don't drink coffee. But I do enjoy the aroma. I used to go to Starbucks just to sniff around...until the restraining order.

Has Airwick come out with a coffee-scented room freshener yet?

47. Be daffy: Celebrate Tex Avery's birthday.
My high regard for Warner Brothers' Looney Tunes would have led me to actually do this...had I read about it before February 26, the 100th birthday of the guy who created Daffy Duck and gave Bugs Bunny his catchphrase: "What's up, doc?"

The really, really sad thing here is that I felt the need to explain what Bugs' catchphrase was. A few months ago, I mentioned how What's Opera, Doc? was one of my favorite cartoons and broke into a little "Kill the wabbit! Kill the WAAAbbit!" and the youngest fruit of my loins, KJ, hadn't a clue to what I was referring.

The judge let me off with a warning, because he admitted that the smack-down I gave KJ was warranted, if slightly over-zealous.

48. Get a coupon for a digital TV converter.
February 17, 2009, most broadcast TV stations will shut off their analog signals, because Big Brother--er--our always thoughtful government is exerting control, instead of allowing the marketplace to make such decisions, and has determined that the world would be safer for democracy if we all watch digital TV.

The good news seems to be that households with cable or satellite television are already good-to-go. Now if only Hollywood could provide something worth watching in all of its crystal-clear digital preciseness.

49. Pick up the next Harry Potter-style epic.
There's only one particular title that gets suggested in this section. Kind of makes one wonder if The 39 Clues is published by the same folks that produce U.S. News & World Report. And if we're going to play that kind of game, methinks what will really improve your life this year (I know it could improve mine) would be for you to go for something a little lighter in the backpack and more conducive to laughter. Something like...oh...I don't know...Almost the Truth About Youth Ministry. (Click here or in the link list to the left.)

50. Knit like a hipster.
I wonder who decides something is cool. I guess if enough college students decide to do something it becomes cool, because the Wall Street Journal had a front-page feature on "Sock Wars," where college students face off in elimination races to be the fastest sock-knitter.

But if "doing what a lot of college students do" leads the list of criteria for coolness, then that means waking up Sunday morning in a puddle of your own urlp-urlp, not knowing where you are or how you got there, would be cool. And I just don't buy that.

That's not how I roll. I ain't down widdat. 'Snot my thang, foo.

Monday, April 7, 2008

50 Ways XII

42. Go see a play or musical.
In this entry of the U.S. News & World Report list, "50 Ways to Improve Your Life in 2008," Sara Dabney Tisdale waxes eloquent on the magic of theatre and how live performances are special in a way a trip to the local cineplex could never be. Reminds me of some of the special moments I've had as a performer in live theatre:
  • Forgetting the words to "You Can Go, But Be Back Soon," as Fagin in Oliver! and making some up on the spot, like Wayne Brady.

  • Being told, after the first weekend of performances, that the seat of my costume--which had been in prominent display to the audience--had a sizable hole in it.

  • Having a free-range cow almost do an unplanned cameo in the chautauqua tent show at the Dakota County Fair.

  • In rehearsals for a high school production of Dracula, having my kiss of Lucy reacted to with revulsion and "You don't have to slobber all over me!"
43. Visit Shea Stadium or Yankee Stadium before they're gone.
Please stand by while I muster up an ounce of interest in this...nope...can't do it...sorry.

44. Avoid air travel delays.
The idea expressed by Christopher Elliott's piece is to use the tools available through the Internet to know ahead of time whether your flight is going to be late...even to the point of researching how often--say--American Airline Flight 123 from Dallas to Honolulu arrives on time. (88%) What Our Man Chris fails to mention is that you will never...NEVER have to deal with flight delays if you simply do what I do: drive.

Granted, that drastically increases the total time it takes to get to Honolulu from Dallas.

45. Try wines from unexpected places.
England and Canada are producing fine wines now. It used to be that locales so far north (or south) of the equator just didn't have a long enough growing season to produce wine-grapes. But now--thank heaven for Al Gore!--global climatic changes are making the miracle of producing wine in Slovenia possible. Kind of makes you want to go out and drive a badly-tuned SUV, eh?

Saturday, April 5, 2008

50 Ways XI

39. Share ideas at changemakers.net.
This is kind of a Facebook for community service organizations. The idea is to stop competing for funds to run each program, and instead, collaborate on what works and what doesn't. I logged on recently and was warned about ever allowing a large, purple-haired woman named Rosetta to volunteer. It seems she likes to make all the decisions...and smells funny.

40.Commit random acts of kindness.
I'm so glad that U.S. News & World Report phrased it like this. In the movie Evan Almighty, in order to form a plot-fitting acronym, they were called "acts of random kindness," which really doesn't make much sense when you parse the sentence. Is it even possible for kindness to be random? Seems to me it has to be specified toward someone or it doesn't qualify as kindness at all...just eccentricity.

The idea began in 1993, in a Bakersfield College classroom presided over by Prof. Chuck Wall. (How can someone named Chuck Wall be a professor of anything? And are you sure his last name isn't Wagon?) The movie Pay It Forward was based on Professor Chuck's assignment. This leads me to issue a reminder that Sixth Sense star, Hackney Joke Cement, ended that picture in a state of lifelessness officially known as being dead. I'm just sayin'...

41. Avoid recalls: Make your own toys.
Avoid my wrath: Stop telling me what to do.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

50 Ways X

36. Adopt a dog.
Wayne Pacelle, president of the Humane Society, says that dogs "are an antidote to loneliness and offer unswerving loyalty." Being a veteran dog-lover, allow me to educate you on some other benefits to canine companionship:
  • For those without access to small children or grandchildren, dogs allow you to practice babytalk such as, "Ooh, I gotcher ball! Yes I do! Who loves the baby? Huh? Who loves the little shnookums?"
  • Cardio-vascular health is improved by running upstairs to let the dog out before it urps on your carpet.
  • Speaking of urping dogs, there's just nothing that quite matches waking up to the distinctive urlp-urlp of Man's Best Friend trying to empty its stomach.
  • With a hungry enough dog, you rarely need to empty the garbage can.
  • Some dogs have the job of cleaning toilets licked.
  • I never worry about getting crumbs on the kitchen floor. Have you met my dog, Dustbuster?
  • Muscle tone is greatly enhanced every spring by doing the Backyard Doodie Deep Knee Bends.
  • With our youngest now in college, we thought we would be suffering from a lack of stress, but our dog has recently learned how to get out of our backyard and test the brake systems of passing motorists. Yep...the ol' ticker still works!

37. Volunteer for your local fire department.
I've been helping out by setting abandoned houses on fire. It's a great arrangement. The fire fighters get the practice they need in order to stay sharp, the property owners collect insurance money, and I've now earned my third-degree ninja badge by consistently getting away with it.


38. Recycle your Christmas tree.
If U.S. News & World Report's list of ways to improve my life in 2008 includes one more Get Green idea, I am going to urlp-urlp in Al Gore's biodegradable house slippers. But if you do decide to follow this particular bit of advice and run your Christmas tree through a chipper so it can help to build landmass in southern wetlands, make sure it's not an artificial tree. Trust me, it's not a fun experience.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

50 Ways IX

31. Take your kids to the voting booth.
Those in the know are saying that if we demystify the actual, practical process of placing a vote, our children will be more likely to be involved in the process when they reach 18. It seems to be backed up with statistics, but I wonder why it doesn't work when it comes to putting clothes away in drawers.

32.Remember the life of Martin Luther King Jr.
Oh man, this is so unfair! How am I supposed to make a joke out of this and not be accused of a hate crime? If it were Abraham Lincoln, or George Washington, or even JFK...but not MLKJ!

33. Listen better.
What?

34. Learn American Sign Language.
There is an exponential boom of ASL learning going on. "According to the Modern Language Association, the number of students enrolled in ASL classes in higher education institutions leapt 432 percent between 1998 and 2002." I can testify to the veracity of this factual fact. Why, on the highway alone, I see more and more people using sign language to express how they think my driving is Number One...even though they seem to be using a different digit than I would to get that message across.

35. Stop drinking bottled water.
Of course, the editorial staff of U.S. News & World Report - who are all charter members of the Nature-Good/Humans-Bad Society - think drinking bottled water is evil because only 20% of the plastic bottles get recycled and they are transported by carbon-spewing trucks and kept cool in freon-leaking refrigerators. My personal reason for avoiding bottled water has a lot more to do with having more important uses for my money - like buying gasoline.