Friday, December 5, 2014

Prayer by Langston Hughes

Prayer
I ask you this:
Which way to go?
I ask you this:
Which sin to bear?
Which crown to put
upon my hair?
I do not know,
Lord God,
I do not know. 
                    -Langston Hughes

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Review: Stuff: Compulsive Hoarding and the Meaning of Things

I just finished reading Stuff, which was recommended at a presentation I recently went to on hoarding, led by one of the staff members of the Institute on Aging (an excellent resource itself). Stuff was well worth a read, as it paints a portrait of the issue of hoarding that creates at least some understanding but more importantly a deep compassion for those who hoard.

I was surprised by many of the things the authors discovered in their research on hoarders and hoarding, the primary one being that hoarders are, almost without fail, perfectionists. They hoard not because they are slobs, but because they can't bear to think about what would happen if they got it wrong and threw the wrong thing away. It illustrates the psychic (and sometimes almost physical) pain hoarders feel when trying to get in control of their hoarding, and the comfort they feel in what most people see as truly unlivable conditions.

Stuff primarily presents its information through illustrative narratives of the lives of individuals, looking at hoarding through a variety of lenses. At the very end it offers further resources for people looking for help. The authors, Randy Frost and Gail Steketee, have a workbook for treating hoarding behavior that sounds very useful for those seeking personal help to change.

I do wonder if the extreme conditions used throughout the book might do a slight disservice, however, as some who may suffer more mildly from hoarding tendencies may read this and think, "Well, at least I'm not as bad as that." As the authors point out, the problem with hoarding is not the stuff per se, but the pain and distress it causes the hoarder.

As I said earlier, however, the overall sense I got from this book was one of compassion for hoarders and their families. It shows that hoarding is not a moral failing, a weakness,  a sin, or consumerism run amok, but a painful and difficult problem that requires treatment and care.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

This Week in Britishness

As an unrepentant tea drinker I of course lean toward the Anglophilic, but even I have to concede that these two pieces take Britishness to extremes.

The first was an excerpt of a memoir called Coming Up Trumps that I have to admit sounds wonderful, written by the 90-year-old Baronness Trumpington, nee Jean Campbell-Harris, who seems to have been brought up in luxury and been willing to do pretty much anything to anyone at any time. The photo here is the time "when my good friend Tom King – Lord King of Bridgwater – commented that those people who had served in the Second World War were starting to look ‘pretty old’, it was a natural reaction to stick two fingers up at him." As one does when in the House of Lords.

In the snippet in the Daily Mail, the Baronness writes (among other things) of her time at Bletchley Park.
Although essential, the work formed a dull and exhausting routine. Whenever we could, we rushed up to London and danced all night, then ate enormous breakfasts at a Lyons Corner House, with fake scrambled eggs, fake everything. We always went to the 400, a nightclub on Leicester Square that doesn’t exist any more. We had such happy parties there. I was horrified once because I was at one table with a boyfriend and I looked round and saw my brother at another table with a girlfriend. That was bad enough. But then I looked round again and there, at a third table, was my father. With a girlfriend.
I will have to get my hand on this memoir when it comes out.

And the second moment of Extreme Britishness...well, this is where I have to admit that I regularly and very happily listen to The Deadline, the weekly obits podcast produced by the Daily Telegraph. And there is this very odd section in the middle about letters written to the Telegraph that almost makes me wonder if it's a parody of Britishness.

Take this week, for instance, in which there is a segment about letters on "the proper way to fold fitted sheets" that somehow leads us to King Alfred bowling the cakes, George II's son Fred "who was killed by a cricket ball," and Rule Britannia...I'm still not sure how that worked. You'll just have to listen to it yourself. And say no to the tyranny of hospital corners.

Now, mustache news...

Saturday, March 29, 2014

The World Vision Thing

h/t to the Millennial Pastor for
the great image (& responses)
You heard about this, right?

On Monday, World Vision announced in Christianity Today that it was changing its hiring policy so that gay Christians in legal marriages could be hired. Rich Stearns, president of World Vision, explained the policy change this way:
"It's easy to read a lot more into this decision than is really there," he said. "This is not an endorsement of same-sex marriage. We have decided we are not going to get into that debate. Nor is this a rejection of traditional marriage, which we affirm and support." "We're not caving to some kind of pressure. We're not on some slippery slope. There is no lawsuit threatening us. There is no employee group lobbying us," said Stearns. "This is not us compromising. It is us deferring to the authority of churches and denominations on theological issues. We're an operational arm of the global church, we're not a theological arm of the church."
The shit immediately hit the fan with close to 5,000 people canceling their sponsorships of children. In less than 48 hours, Stearns announced that the board reversed the decision, saying it was a mistake.
"We made certainly in retrospect was a bad decision, but we did it with the right motivations. We weren’t trying to harm, or trying to find revenue, we weren’t doing it for wrong motives. We were trying to find some kind of solution to a divisive issue that would create some space of togetherness around differences within the church. Our regret is that we caused more division instead of finding a place of more unity."
So by Wednesday, I had a fair number of thoughts going through my head. Let me see if I can set them out in any sort of coherent order.

First of all, I'm hugely disappointed by how this whole thing played out. And although I'm upset at those who decided to withdraw their sponsorship of children, I have to admit I understand it. I have not been a financial supporter of World Vision in part because of its conservative Christian background (not the only reason, but one of them). So I'm certainly in the same boat as people who don't want to support an organization that they think represents values counter to their own.

I'm much more disappointed with World Vision, for a few reasons:
  • They (apparently) didn't anticipate this. Really? Knowing the political climate we live in, knowing the reactive nature of our current Christian culture, knowing that homosexuality is THE hot button topic...they hadn't thought through the plan? 
  • They didn't give this any time. Rachel Held Evans had begun rallying the troops to solicit new donors. I suspect many other church leaders would have done the same. I'd come home on Tuesday, after learning about the reaction, planning to donate to World Vision as a show of support for this change, knowing they were getting a beating. But they reversed the decision so quickly, I hadn't gotten to it yet. 
  • It seems tremendously short-sighted. They said they weren't trying to find revenue, and that may be true, but I think they lost a great deal of revenue in the long run by the reversal. Look at these charts, people! Do you see which way these lines are trending? 



  • It's inconsistent. Of course, if opposition to the marriage of same-sex couples truly were one of the fundamental principles under which World Vision operates, then looking at the approval rates would be irrelevant. However, one post I read this week noted that World Vision Canada has had a non-discriminatory hiring policy for over 15 years. Which leads me to believe
  • This is a failure of leadership, not a principled decision. Was it based on the financials? It certainly could be. Their latest 990 (financial reporting) shows that expenses were higher than income in 2011 and 2012, at an increasing rate, so there may be serious financial pressures at work. But I am reminded of Friedman's book A Failure of Nerve, which explains that leadership means holding fast in the face of conflict, rather than immediately reacting to loud and negative voices. 
I was appalled at this particular statement in Stearns' retraction: "We’re learning that a number of people are calling back since the reversal to reinstate their sponsorship. They’re forgiving; they’re saying, ‘Hey we stand with you.’” That, sir, is not forgiveness, any more a child stopping a tantrum after you buy him a toy means the child has forgiven you.

I wish them the best, but I continue to believe this was a huge mistake.

***
FWIW, here are some of the international aid organizations to which I contribute, in case you're looking for other organizations to support:

Against Malaria Foundation: www.againstmalaria.com
CA Bikes: cabikes.org
Evidence Action: www.evidenceaction.org
Kiva: www.kiva.org
Partners in Health: www.pih.org

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Review: Twenty Feet from Stardom

I remember thinking when it came out that I'd wanted to see this, but it wasn't until it won the Oscar for Best Documentary Feature that I finally got around to watching Twenty Feet from Stardom.

This film literally shines the spotlight on the back-up singers of the hits for the past 50 years, and it's revelatory. You will not believe how many of these voices you know intimately from songs fronted by performers ranging from Gene Autry to the Rolling Stones to Sting to Nine Inch Nails.

I don't think it escapes anyone's notice that the primary front-line vocalists are white men and the back-up singers are black women. One of the wonderful choices the director made at the beginning of the film is to blot out the faces of the stars on the album covers so we finally take the time to notice the various "ettes" behind them. What makes it clear is these women aren't diminutive. They are divas and forces to be reckoned with.

The story of the vocals on Gimme Shelter is particularly eye-opening. Merry Clayton, pregnant and home asleep, is awakened and told she needs to come to the studio to do some vocals for "The Rolling Somethings." She shows up in curlers, as both she and Mick Jagger remember, and in three takes, screams out "Rape! Murder! It's just a shot away." Then goes home to bed. In this great video interview in the NY Times, Clayton explains that she was just looking to go back to sleep. She also prods the director to reveal the real reason the producer wanted to make the film.

Another of the featured singers, Lisa Fischer, has been touring with the Rolling Stones since 1989, doing this very vocal. Although she has won a Grammy for a solo R&B performance, the solo career never really came to fruition, and she seems at peace with her role in the background.

It's much harder for others, and neither peace nor success is easy to come by. Darlene Love, inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2011 ("And about time, too," Bette Midler says, introducing her), was royally screwed over by Phil Spector as she sought to be recognized as a performer in her own right. Watching the film gave new insight into her performance accepting the Oscar, as she sang "I sing because I'm happy. I sing because I'm free. His eye is on the sparrow, and I know He's watching me." He's not the only one at this point. And about time, too.

I can't recommend this film highly enough.



Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Nairobi Blue and beauty

Somewhere between being introduced to Peacebang's Beauty Tips for Ministers, watching Project Runway and the September Issue, following Tom and Lorenzo's blog, and reading Grace Coddington's memoir, I find that I've become interested in fashion. Who knew that would happen?

So I watched the red carpet coverage of the Oscars in part because I was dying to see what Lupita Nyong'o was going to wear. As what's-his-face interviewed her about who she was wearing (Prada, and again, who is this person who remembers that?), she explained that the color was "Nairobi blue" because it reminded her of the sky in Kenya.

And I thought to myself, We have just seen a new color name be born. 

Sure enough, moments later on Twitter and in news reports that followed, people were writing about her Nairobi blue dress.

And I thought, how fabulous that from now on the name Nairobi will be connected in people's minds to beauty.

That wasn't the first wonderful gift to beauty that Lupita had offered. Aside from the way she carried herself throughout the awards season, she also gave an amazing speech at the ESSENCE Black Women in Hollywood Luncheon. Do read the whole thing, but this is the part that grabbed me hard:
I want to take this opportunity to talk about beauty. Black beauty. Dark beauty. I received a letter from a girl and I’d like to share just a small part of it with you: "Dear Lupita," it reads, "I think you’re really lucky to be this Black but yet this successful in Hollywood overnight. I was just about to buy Dencia’s Whitenicious cream to lighten my skin when you appeared on the world map and saved me."
One of the things I have been learning is that how we appear is not frivolous. How we present ourselves is not a mere outward show. It's a form of communication, and the messages it sends can be very powerful.

Again, do read the whole speech, but she ends with this:
What is fundamentally beautiful is compassion for yourself and for those around you. That kind of beauty enflames the heart and enchants the soul. It is what got Patsey in so much trouble with her master, but it is also what has kept her story alive to this day. We remember the beauty of her spirit even after the beauty of her body has faded away.
Just beautiful.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

We're finally getting some rain!

We also got this:

What? Where?

Oh, you mean this?

And I'd do it again!
We should have named him YOLO.*

(*note for my parents: this is internet for You Only Live Once)