Archive for January, 2011

Men For Sale

Wow. Can’t believe it’s been a week since I wrote here. Granted, I was really sick and really medicated so in my brain I “wrote” about eleven blog posts. Imagine my surprise when I logged in to WordPress only to realise that none of my great witticisms from the last seven days actually made it on to the page.

This one HAS to make it on to the page because I’m about ready to pull my hair out over it, and if I don’t get it off my chest there’s a chance that I’ll accidentally rant at the Panera cashier or the library shelver or somebody else unfortunate enough to be in my line of fire.

It starts with a new television ad for a Birth Control Pill from Bayer. I can’t remember the name of the pill, of course. Only that it comes from Bayer–that I remember because I swear the ad is designed to give me a headache for which I need to purchase Bayer Extra Strength Aspirin. The commercial starts off with several well-dressed youngish women entering what is supposed to be a department store. The Voice-Over says something along the lines of “It’s good to have choices…” and then tells you about how you can basically use this pill to keep all your options open. Meanwhile, the women are shown “shopping” at the various display cases. One, filled with scrolls (diplomas, presumably) is marked “Grad School”. Another case has a small model of the Eiffel Tower, and so on.

But where it gets me is when they get to the table with a sign above it that says “Significant Other”. Stacked beneath the sign are–of course–a dozen lucite boxes, each containing a little man dressed in a way as to signify what KIND of little man he is. We have Cool Dude, Business Dude, etc. One woman is running her fingers along the tops of the cases and another quickly snatches the box of Cool Dude eagerly away. The lingering woman looks at her now-rival angrily.

It’s this moment in a commercial about protecting yourself from the sexually-transmitted consequence of unwanted children that is supposed to be lighthearted and funny. But I swear that it is the ENTIRE PROBLEM of unwanted children played out in 2.4 seconds.

1. It’s all about what the woman wants. There’s no discussion with anyone about what they both want or what their shared goals might be. Why?

2. BECAUSE THE MAN IS A LITTLE OBJECT IN A GLASS CASE. He’s something you pick up and throw in a basket and take home and keep on the shelf in your life. He’s not a partner. A lover. A friend. Heck, he’s not even a person. He’s a little dolly in a box.

3. Other women are your natural rivals. There is no bond of sisterhood. No sense of a community. Women working together are one of the fundamental building blocks of the creation of community. It has been that way as long as there have been people. But when you turn the women against each other, making them rivals for the “prize object”–a man, you break that fragile web.

I swear, I know they just want to sell birth control. And I love the idea of prophylactic conception control. (Frankly, we need to change the name. Because I am not in love with ALL birth control. But if it prevents conception–you betcha.) But I so hate the idea that men are objects and life is a lark.

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Winter’s Bone

I haven’t read this book yet, nor I have I seen the movie. So that’s not what this post is about…sorry.

What this post IS about is how much my entire body feels like it’s been battered by this weather. Everything hurts. Every activity hurts–brushing my teeth and taking a shower are both things I have to rest and recover from.

No, I never thought I’d be like this at forty. I thought I’d be a mother and a lawyer and fifty pounds thinner. But what do I know?

The good things about this sort of crippling ache I get are that it gives me time to spend with my family; if I were healthy I’d be distracted by work and social activities. I also get to have plenty of time to involve myself in focusing on beauty and creative distractions. So yes, there is a bright side.

That being said, I’d truly love for it to get a lot warmer and a bit less damp. Until then I’m the woman sitting around her house wrapped up in blankets and scarves like a Romany herbalist.

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I don’t know that I’ll ever give up blogging, even though the way I do it has changed a lot in six or seven years. Seldom do I use this space as a pressure valve for the thoughts that irritate me and need ventilation. Nor do I often come here to make quick observations about this or that thing. But I know I’ve got enough readers who come here to see what I’ve got going on–which is really touching and humbling–so I figured I’d do a sort of wrap-up to give a window into what I’m doing to stave off the January/Februaritis.

1. Pocket Frogs (Free)
If you look at the sidebar you’ll see that the Pocket Frogs thing has taken on a life of its own. No matter what else is going on, I’ll generally spend about 30 minutes in the evening sending out requested frogs, even if I can’t play any longer than that.
If you’ve got an iPhone or an iPod Touch and are looking for a relaxing game (I liken it to playing a lava lamp), join in the fun. Friends of the blog can have a lot of helping hands from me–just ask.

2. Kindle Borrowing & Lending (Free)
Now that Amazon has announced a free lending policy, many of us Kindle owners are pooling our resources. Despite the fact that many publishers haven’t gotten on board yet*, there is still plenty of action going on. If you’ve got a Kindle, come join us at the Kindle Lending Club.

3. Netflix Streaming ($8.99/mo +device)
I’ve become addicted to Netflix Streaming. We’ve got it hooked up to the TV via our Blu-Ray player, so now I can watch all 10 seasons of Stargate SG-1 at the touch of a button. Most of our TV watching is via Netflix Streaming now. We’ll hit the TiVo maybe one night a week to burn through the few good shows worth DVRing. The rest of the time we’re glued to bad Sci-fi. Okay. Not “bad” sci-fi. Just fun, harmless, everything-is-okay-at-the-end episodic Sci-Fi. (Stargate Universe is none of that, which is why I think it blows.)

4. Reading
Of course I’m reading, but my taste seems pretty fickle these days. One hour I’ll be in the mood for light romance, then forty minutes later I’ve decided I’d rather read some history non-fiction or some research material for my own writing. So I’m ping-ponging between about five different texts at once. That’s why it’s so difficult to blog about.

5. Book Magpie-ing
This is part of “reading”, I guess. But I find myself spending large amounts of time in the afternoon going through the collections of free ebooks on Kindle and downloading pretty much everything I can get my hands on. I try not to think about the fact that I have six times as many books as i could ever read, nor that I’ll probably never ever want to read all the Kaplan Test Prep things I’ve downloaded. At this point it’s probably not likely that I’ll ever try to get into Med School, making it less likely for me to need to Prepare For The MCAT. But since I write books about doctors I figure maybe I’d want to know what kind of stuff appears on the MCAT. You know. That sort of thing. Yes, I am a magpie.

6. Family History Layout
Two years ago my mom started compiling a history of her family. That means that by default it is also the history of my family. It’s narrative accompanied by a selection of photographs. She was trying to lay it out in MSWord, and watching her do that was sort of like watching a carpenter try to build a whole house with just a hammer. So I persuaded her to let me do the layout in, you know, a LAYOUT program. A few bumps in the road later and now I’ve got all the right tools. So I spend a few hours each day working on that. It’s so awesome that I’m kinda sad only four people will ever read it. (Right about now all the members of this family are trying to think which four of the fourteen of us I have in mind.)

7. My own writing
I’m not doing any of it. Not a word. I’m thinking up scenarieae in my head, but I’ve learned over time that anything I write between Christmas and the Ides of March is really depressing. It doesn’t fit with the rest of my work and I don’t care to go through the process. These months are hard enough to get through mentally without the added pressure of conjuring.

So there you have it. That’s what I’m up to. Maybe now the dog is tired of laying in the yard and we can go back upstairs and finish my movie.

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As children in Sunday School, we were most impressed with the aspects of God that seemed to meet our greatest lack. An all-knowing, all-seeing God seemed quite phenomenal, because he had no school to go to and no one shouting him down with “Because I said so.” An all-powerful God who could make anything and heal people and turn water into wine was also amazing, because who wouldn’t love to be able to conjure a candy bar out of thin air, or have your favourite toy out of the Sears Wishbook immediately?

But by the time Christians are old, the aspect of God they focus on the most is almost unanimously “Eternity”. We know the consequences of knowledge–and I happen to think those consequences are why God warned Adam and Eve away from the tree. We know the burden of creation, even in the watered-down way that humans experience it. Anyone who has had a child or watched a friend have a child gets that the act of creation is the birth of a bittersweet vigilance. So when we get closer to the threshold of Eternity and realise how brief our season on this form of existence has been, we have a new admiration for that aspect of God.

That’s why every form of decay can be one of the most powerful witnesses to Grace that we will ever know. Because while it is despairing to see a crumbling building or to begin to walk with a cane it is also a reminder of the nature of the span of our days. An underscoring of the frailty of what we are. So the knowledge that the Eternal God cares about us enough to want to love us and have a relationship with us is perhaps the most wonderful thing we can contemplate.

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Yesterday’s post on people not going to church anymore has started a lot of discussion both here and around the folks I know off the page. One of the more interesting talking points I’ve run up against are the number of people who say that going to church actually has put them farther away from God.

I’m so torn as to how to even ask this question, because quite frankly I think that too many of us are looking to church as a What Have You Done For ME Lately? activity. Unless churchgoing leaves you with the warm fuzzies, people think less of it. Honestly, church is supposed to be about worshipping the Creator, not entertaining the creation. You’ve got TV, books, movies, music…thousands of options for amusing yourself. When you go to church you are supposed to be focusing on honouring God through bringing God your gift of worship. So I’m really not very concerned at all if the act of going to church isn’t jazzy enough to suit you.

But this one thing does concern me greatly, and that is the question of Joy. True abiding joy is one of the hallmarks of devoted worship of God. It may be amidst pain, sadness, grief or trial…but it is there. How could real worship not lead to joy, as we contemplate the gifts of grace and eternal communion and give praise and glory to the God who gave those gifts so abundantly?

Yet so many people I speak with do not leave a church service with gladness in their hearts (beyond the gladness of having the whole thing over for another week.) Why is that?

Part of me thinks that maybe it’s because the way we structure church services hasn’t really changed much in the last hundred and fifty years. Sure there’s a marked difference in music style–but that’s not the essence of the thing. Communal worship is getting up early on a Sunday morning, going across town to sit in a pew, sing songs someone else has picked, listen to a sermon/message/homily, shake a few hands and try to beat the rush to the closest restaurants. Nothing in the recipe really says “turn your focus on God.”

So how could we change communal worship to really bring our best hearts to God? Any ideas?

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My friend Jill was talking on Facebook about an article she read in the Wall Street Journal which addressed the big concern of the moment–why people are no longer affiliating themselves with a local church. It seems as though every third article in my favourite magazine, Christianity Today, is also about this issue. But over and over again the answers miss the mark.

The pithy answer Jill found in the WSJ was that

“when you need a spiritual fix, you don’t necessarily want to sit in for two hours in a pew.”

Which I think is a glib oversimplification. Yes, there are people looking for a spiritual “fix”, a dime bag of glory. We–the American church–spent much of the 1990s building begymmed, becoffeebarred ‘Seeker Friendly’ palaces for them. Consequently the American Church is spending much of the early 2000s over their heads in debt. Which leads me to

Reason #1
In an already tight economy, the place you’d think people would go for answers would be a church. When my husband and I were first fallen on hard times–a few years before other folks–our first stop was church. Every Sunday the message included a good five minutes of prooftexting to guilt people into giving a larger offering. Still, we attended for several years and tried to become part of the community. But the pastor was quite obviously driven by meeting a bottom line. We poor Mennonite kids had never before attended one of these Ponzi denominations where the local church is responsible for not only its own expenses but also sending a chunk of money to the “head office”. Our last Sunday was when the pastor’s sermon was about how we were all going to lose our salvation (!) if the offering wasn’t large enough to buy the church a new carpet (!!) I’m guessing our experience with the Money-Hungry Church was not unique. And I’m further surmising that other people, already stretched to the breaking point with debt, don’t need another weekly bill.

Reason #2
A church is about community. That’s why you go to one instead of watching Two Rivers on TV every Sunday. And that IS why a lot of people who’ve been absent for their early twenties* come back to one. The problem is that a church is about community. Which means that you’ve got all the interpersonal challenges any community has. The older lady who won’t turn over responsibility for an event she sees as “her” thing. The overcommitted young couple whose eagerness bars others from a turn at giving their gifts of time. The suspicious nursery director who won’t let new folks work with children, even when teamed with others. And so on. Most established churches are like small towns and although initially welcoming to newcomers, they ultimately resist change. That leaves newcomers feeling like newcomers even after they’ve been there for three and four years. It robs them of the sense of community that is the essence of church-based worship.

Reason #3
So why are these people leaving in the first place? Why do they find themselves in a position of being a “newcomer” in church? Well, because of the Great Exodus Of The Twenties. As a Great Exoder myself, I’ve addressed this in other posts. The short of the long is that churches are regularly attended by people in their 30s and older who have children. The relatively new phenomenon of the unmarried professional in their 20s is foreign. While the outside world sees these post-collegiate adults as striving and growing, the church infantalises them. The Twentysomethings are met at the door by a long-haired 40 year old who says “Dude” all the time and offers pizza parties with zany movies as a social gathering. Nobody wants to be taken seriously more than a person just out of college, eager to prove themselves. Nobody takes those people less seriously than your modern church congregation. So why not leave? Why not wait until you are in the group they DO take seriously before coming back? That’s why you’ve got people leaving until they’re thirty, married and have children.

Reason #4
This is perhaps the saddest reason to me. But it also more and more common a driver for those who want a church home. As the Evangelical church becomes more political, people who might be good brethren are turned off by the stance of the church itself and/or the more vocal church members. We are letting Caeser and our affection for the hobby of politics ruin our job of discipling others. It happens on both the left and right. And all it takes is one overheard comment to turn someone off that church forever. I know people who have left THE SAME CHURCH because it was “too Republican” AND “too Democrat”. I guess they overheard different conversations. Nevertheless, politics inside the church house–where it DOESN’T belong–is part of what is killing the modern American church.

And there it is. There are the answers, as plain and unpretty as they are. Can they be fixed? Maybe, mabye not. But more importantly–will anyone admit that those are the problems?

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Twenty years ago, when I was first married and living in a strange city I had very little chance to get my hands on books. I knew of two libraries within driving distance–Thompson Lane and Donelson. Both were small and musty, their collections very limited. The only bookstores I knew of were Davis-Kidd (Requiescat in Pacie, Gracie’s Plaza location) and the Waldenbooks on the lower level of Hickory Hollow Mall. I subsisted on the occasional paperback frontlist title and a lot of re-reads of the books I either brought with me in boxes heavier than bricks or borrowed from the decrepit branch libraries in my neck of the woods.

But any book, unless you owned it already, was a chore to obtain. With both of us working either night or swing shifts and only owning one car, the time we had to get to a bookstore was nearly as limited as our money. Going to a bookstore became our big date, our huge event and there were a lot of weeks where I got by the long tedium of selling airline tickets over the phone to people with Sears cards by dreaming of a quick drive to Waldenbooks and a gyro at the food court.

Of course once you were AT the bookstore you had to contend with the fact that there were so few ACTUAL books. You read what the dealers told you to read; if you were lucky and talkative you’d make friends with store clerks who would pass along recommendations. That way you’d at least get to taste something other than the mass market stuff that came in cardboard stander displays.

But now…

You know, I know that not everyone is priviledged enough to own a Kindle. It’s still an upper market device. i don’t know if my twenty-one year old self could’ve afforded it. But I do know this. Kindle is the best tool a reader has. Because now you can lay your hands on a book mere seconds after thinking of it. No longer does “I think I might want to read that” have to be followed by a jot on a sticky note, a wait for an evening free and a drive across town to a store that might or might not have it. And no longer are you stuck with just what few titles the marketing people have paid to put in front of you. When you select one book you can see right away what other books like it other folks have read.

Reading a book and laying your hands on more books to read has now officially become EASIER THAN WATCHING TV. So moan all you like about the death of paper and missing the old format (as if you were still reading from scrolls!) and the technology not feeling right.

The fact of the matter is that reading is once again, after a century of lying near dormant in the shadow of film, becoming a primary leisure activity.

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Match.Com Me

So studies have shown that married people live longer and are healthier over the course of their lives. Married men have lower risks for heart attack and stroke. Insurance companies are jumping on the bandwagon, and employers–ever eager for lower insurance rates–are too. That’s why an unmarried friend of mine was required to attend a compulsory after-hours meeting at her company. They brought in a representative from Match.com who was offering a special deal to employees. For only $75.00 you could have a 10-week “ground floor” membership. You meet with a make-over consultant from Clinique, a wardrobe specialist and an ettiquette specialist. You get a free booklet with conversation-starters for first- and second dates and you also receive three tailor-made match-ups with a person of the opposite sex. (No options were available for same-sex preferences.)

The weird thing is that about 95% of my friend’s colleagues were already married. Ten minutes into the presentation she could feel all eyes in her direction, and by the end of the compulsory meeting she was ready to pay the $75 for no other reason than the unspoken pressure from her colleagues. She doesn’t particularly WANT to be married. She’s never found the right person and a few years ago felt that perhaps she was being called to a life of singlehood. But she’s put up with digs from her co-workers often, and is always getting the scutwork assignments because she doesn’t have a husband and family to get home to. (Most of her co-workers are married women.) She called me in a dither to ask my opinion. She didn’t really have the spare $75, but the fact that the meeting was compulsory and her co-workers were following her out to her car with such phrases as “this may be just what you need!” and “I bet this will help you get back on track with the dating scene!” were all conspiring to make her feel like she should just fork over and be done with it. She’d stayed an hour and a half late after work to put up with the whole lecture.

What do you think? Are you as offended as I am about how a company would meddle in someone’s personal life? How such pressure creates a negative work environment?

Well, replace the whole “Match.com” and “married people live longer” with “Weight loss program” and “Obesity anecdotal health risk”. Because that’s what really happened. Although we’re so used to the Diets Are Good For You party line we don’t think about the other stuff anymore. Even though there is more conclusive evidence that married people live longer than there is about obesity CAUSING disease. (Remeber, gang, correlation doesn’t equal causation.)

We wouldn’t force non-Christian employees to attend a church service even though life is easier, and therefore less stressful and healthier, if you are Christian in this part of the country. We wouldn’t force straight people to get involved in gay relationships even though homosexual couples have more disposable income. So why is okay to force someone to stay late to be guilted into a diet?

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Yes, I am still addicted to my Kindle, even though the new Kindle 3 has had to be replaced (under warrantly) once already. And I also suspect that the fancy new lighted cover causes the device to periodically short out. I’ll be calling Amazon to see if they’ll refund me for my cover.

But the real peril is that now, with 489 items* I’ve fallen in love with the Category organising feature. Yesterday I sat down to read and instead spent an HOUR–a whole hour; sixty minutes–tossing books into categories. It gave me a sort of happy thrill not unlike the charge I get from compiling a well-ordered and handsome looking spreadsheet. Of course that means I lost an hour of time I was going to use to wrap up The Sherlockian. Not that it’s a bad book. It’s actually quite fun, but apparently organising lots of books was more fun than hanging out in just one.

*Can you imagine it? How fabulous a world is it where I can carry around 489 books, many of them thick as a brick (The Stand, Under The Dome, Pillars Of The Earth, War And Peace) on an item that is thinner than a pencil and weighs less than a cheese sandwich? I distinctly remember college, traipsing around a frozen Indiana campus with a pack like Pilgrim. It seldom had more than four books at any one time, but their weight was punishing. Now I can carry 120 times as many without giving it a single thought. Tell me that isn’t marvellous!

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Hen’s Teeth

I don’t often make political posts any more, and there is a reason. A reason that has been clearly illustrated for me over the weekend.

What we know right now is this: On Saturday morning a young man shot a bunch of people at a political Town Meeting held by a Democratic politician. That politician was among those shot.

The gossip as it flew around the world’s largest backfence (Twitter) was another thing altogether. In the name of news and under the guise of “breaking a story” people prematurely announced the Congresswoman’s death, and proceeded to ascribe blame for that death to not only the young man who pulled the trigger but to a bunch of politicians and idealogues with whom the writers did not agree.

And therein lies the fundamental problem I see in politics. I can’t even say “Modern politics” because I’ve read enough history to know better. The problem is that when people disagree with another person so violently that they assume the other party has the basest of motives. On Saturday I read a LOT of comments about how quite obviously this boy was a Tea Party indoctrinate. The extrapolation then being that the Tea Party welcomes and encourages the kind of thinking that leads to assasination.

All because of disagreements regarding spending policies. SPENDING policies. That’s what it comes down to. Because as much as it’s wrapped up in Health Care and The Environment and The Constitiution the fundamental root of difference between Tea Party people and Left Wing people is that they don’t agree on how to spend money.

Picture this. You and your sister get a joint inheritance from your parents. Your sister wants to put the money in a college fund for her kids, you want to give the money to charity. Now picture you calling your sister foul and violent names. And then picture watching the news, seeing a story about a man who shot three Salvation Army bell ringers and then saying to yourself “I just bet he’s a friend of Cheryl’s. They both hate charity.”

That’s what’s going on here. People see their family, friends, neighbours and co-workers as something akin to a crazed murderer. I sort of liken it to the way some religious people write off those in other faiths as crazed murderers. EXCEPT that in many cases the religious people don’t know any Muslims or Jews personally.

It’s this that I find hard. The assumption that a rare, crazed perpetrator of an unusual gruesomeness is little different from the large portion of this country that holds conservative viewpoints. Obviously if that were actually true, mass shootings at political gatherings would happen as a matter of course. So it’s demonstrably false on its face, yet the anger and bitterness allows the meme to circulate wildly.

It’s unhealthy.

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