Sunday, July 29, 2012

Sunday Funnies, Olympics Edition

Did you watch the Olympics opening ceremonies? Because if you didn't, this might not make any sense:

A MadPriest masterpiece

Watch this video for context. Or just to relive the moment.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Various & Sundry: Annoyances and Olympians

I have about an hour or so before the Olympic Opening Ceremony to fling a whole bunch of mostly non-Olympic-related links and stuff at you. Let's get cracking!

Top of the list: The charming Tim Schenck has started yet another new blog project with 10 Things That Annoy Me, a satisfying little offering to which you can add your own list of 10. Mine is here. It was frighteningly easy to develop.

You know what annoys some people? The notion that "they didn't build that." I liked this article by David Frum about why this rankles people so much. His conclusion:
the president is still delivering the shocking news, as unwelcome today as it was when first propounded, that:
the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, neither yet bread to the wise, nor yet riches to men of understanding, nor yet favour to men of skill; but time and chance happeneth to them all.
To be sure, other politicians have declared that "life is unfair." But that instruction is usually directed to society's losers. Obama is—almost uniquely—directing the message to society's winners, including the very grand winner who will soon be nominated to run for president against him. They're not used to it, and they don't like it, not one bit.
Meanwhile, to protest the Boy Scouts of America's continued policy of excluding gays from its ranks, a number of Eagle Scouts have started returning their medals along with letters of protest. You can read many of them here. And here's one example:

Meanwhile, PeaceBang delivered a barn-burner of a rant on her blog about the completely erroneous assumptions we make when newcomers appear in our churches of a Sunday morning. Here is a sampling:
People do not attend a church service because they are interested in joining a church. They attend a church service because they are looking for something deep. They are seeking. They are searching. They are in need.  [jump]
I believe that if today’s seekers do not immediately experience a church community as a group of people who take spiritual questions seriously, they will not return. And why should they? Because we’re cool? Because we march in the right parades and support social justice causes? Because we agree with them that the Catholic Church/Bible Belt is hopelessly corrupt, and we’re willing to stand around and mock the religious right in the most spiteful language at our gatherings?
Oh, preach on, sister! And she does. I hope you churchy types will take the time to read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest that one as well as the follow-up.

Finally, to bring us back to the real reason we are here today: The Olympics obituaries, I loved this one about Olympic swimmer, Ann Curtis, "who was widely regarded as one of the greatest female swimmers, winning 2 Olympic gold medals in 1948 [in London!] and 34 United States championships, died on June 26 at her home in San Rafael, Calif. She was 86."

Hers is a great story of hard work, overcoming adversity, and going against common wisdom. She also displayed a touching, almost ridiculous, modesty about her achievements. Her children only learned that she had been in the Olympics from other people. She and her husband managed a swimming pool in San Rafael until she was in her '70's. She kept swimming, as you might guess, but perhaps not as much as you think. The obit ends,
At 50, Curtis won five gold medals in the United States masters championships. She seemed unimpressed.

“My times were terrible,” she said. “I did a complete turnaround and took up tennis.”
I suspect she was good at tennis too.

And now: Let the games begin!

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Review: Moonrise Kingdom

Last Saturday, I went to see Wes Anderson's new movie Moonrise Kingdom, and I'm still mulling it over.

If you like Wes Anderson movies, then you will like Moonrise Kingdom. If you do not like Wes Anderson movies, well, this is a Wes Anderson movie. If you don't know what a Wes Anderson movie is and wonder if you will like it or not, then here are some things to know.

In my opinion, Wes Anderson does sweet melancholy better than anyone in movies. His characters often seem disconnected from one another as they try to work out some secret sorrow. One of the things I liked about this movie is that our young heroes, Sam and Suzy, decide to support one another, decide that sharing the sorrow makes it more bearable. And in doing so, they break open the secrets of the characters around them. By the end of the movie, those secret sorrows that kept people apart have been to a great extent ameliorated as they make new and unexpected connections.

The point of view is fascinating. Clearly, the film shows us things the adults are doing and saying that the young protagonists cannot see, but I still get the sense throughout that the film is told from the point of view of the protagonists, an adolescent's perspective on adult behavior and motivation. The police chief is known only as "Captain Sharp." The scoutmaster is "Scoutmaster Ward." The social worker is "Social Services." They are known by function not name, the way as a kid you never know the name of your first-grade teacher.

As with many of Anderson's films, the young people in it are trying to piece together from the people around them how to be an adult, and the adults aren't really helping all that much. Actually, the adults are trying to figure it out, too.

As I think about it, this illuminates one of the things I loved about the movie: the constant return of the musical theme and composition The Young Person's Guide to the Orchestra by Benjamin Britten. Here's a piece designed to make sense of the "adult" world of classical music by breaking it into smaller pieces and explaining it section by section, then putting it all back together again in a new way. Which is pretty much what the movie does.

A couple more things to note: the movie is very stylized, no doubt. It makes the acting seem quite stiff when you're used to a more naturalized style. The standout in the movie--well, the standouts are the young leads, who are phenomenal--but among the big names in the movie, the standout is Bruce Willis who seems completely at home on the Island of New Penzance, like he's lived there all his life.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Sunday Funnies, July 22 *bonus cow edition!*

From my Twitter feed. Because it's too good not to share.  And what's not to like about cows?

Sunday Funnies, July 22 (and a half-assed review of I Remember Nothing by Nora Ephron)

I finished Nora Ephron's book I Remember Nothing yesterday and it was wonderful. So charming. Such a fun read. Rather poignantly ends with some reflections upon mortality. I encourage you to read it.

And as a teaser, here is her reflection

Twenty-five Things People Have a Shocking Capacity to Be Surprised by Over and Over Again

1. Journalists sometimes make things up.
2. Journalists sometimes get things wrong.
3. Almost all books that are published as memoirs were initially written as novels, and then the agent/editor said, This might work better as a memoir.
4. Beautiful young women sometimes marry ugly, old rich men.
5. In business, there is no such thing as synergy in the good sense of the term.
6. Freedom of the press belongs to the man who owns one.
7. Nothing written in today's sports pages makes sense to anyone who didn't read yesterday's sports pages.
8. There is no explaining the stock market but people try.
9. The Democrats are deeply disappointing.
10. Movies have no political effect whatsoever.
11. Men cheat.
12. A lot of people take the Bible literally.
13. Pornography is the opiate of the masses.
14. You can never know the truth of anyone's marriage, including your own.
15. People actually sign prenuptial agreements.
16. Mary Matalin and James Carville are married.
17. Bagels don't taste as good as they used to.
18. Everybody lies.
19. The reason it's important for a Democrat to be president is the Supreme Court.
20. Howard Stern is apparently very nice in person.
21. In Manhattan a small one-bedroom apartment that needs work costs $1 million.
22. People look like their dogs.
23. Cary Grant was Jewish.
24. Cary Grant wasn't Jewish.
25. Larry King has never read a book.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Various & Sundry, July 20

Interesting day today with lots of good conversations. The one that surprised me most, though, was the conversation I had on Twitter with someone I don't know personally who tweeted,"The only people who murder others with guns are those that already break the law. This is why gun control is not a solution. Very simple." It was one of those, "Are you seeing the world I'm seeing?" moments and I'm afraid I let my knee-jerk reactions get the best of me. Went a couple rounds based on my initial position and then, you know, actually decided to do a little research.

What I found, looking into it a titch more, is, boy, the numbers will let you argue whatever way you want. There's nothing I can even link to because the issue is so clouded that I have no idea what's a trustworthy source. One thing I found that challenges my starting point without seeming nut-jobby was this editorial, written after the Virginia Tech shooting. I can't say I like his conclusions (much preferring something that reinforces my original opinion), but it raises the question, What can we do to make our society and our particular culture as a whole less violent?

At any rate, my prayers are with the victims of the shootings in Aurora, their families and loved ones, and the shooter himself.

So let's talk about tea, shall we? Yes, let's. Because we have three tea-related items to share this week.

First, there's this gizmo that's a teapot with a timer built in. "No unnecessary bells or whistles (let alone a power cord) are needed for this elegantly simple tea timer-and-steeper to do its job. Just pour, screw, tip and wait." Nifty.

This next product makes the same mistake made by the folks who brought you the Tea Monkey Infuser. Namely, you don't want to put something that looks like a human or animal in your tea because said human or animal turns your lovely bath/tea water brown. And that's just gross.

But these folks gave it the good college try with Mr. Tea. You may not be able to see it in the small photo there, but the tag line is "throw some tea in your trousers." Really? "Throw some tea in your trousers"? That's simply unfortunate. Nice try, but no.

I keep trying to think what kind of thing you could make into an infuser where you say to yourself, "How lovely to soak this in my water! I was just hoping that it would turn clear water brown." I'm not coming up with anything. How about you?

I do, however, love the idea behind the Universal Tea Machine, “a gargantuan cross between a tea-making device, a primitive computer and a pinball machine.” Built to mark both the London Olympics and Alan Turing's centenary,
The Universal Tea Machine will dispense up to 2,000 free, freshly made cups of tea each week from its temporary home next to a giant screen streaming Olympic coverage in Victoria Park, Hackney — but you will only receive a nice builder’s brew with milk and sugar, as opposed to a dry tea bag with three sugar lumps or a cup of hot milk and water, if you can perform binary addition...Would-be tea drinkers will have to perform five sequential additions correctly in order to produce a perfect cuppa.

I'm sure Douglas Adams would approve.

In other literary references, Mark Twain has some wise words on how he came up with his characters.

My favorite obit of the week is one that the subject, one Val Patterson, wrote himself. Here's the part that's gotten the most attention:
Now that I have gone to my reward, I have confessions and things I should now say. As it turns out, I AM the guy who stole the safe from the Motor View Drive Inn back in June, 1971. I could have left that unsaid, but I wanted to get it off my chest. Also, I really am NOT a PhD. What happened was that the day I went to pay off my college student loan at the U of U, the girl working there put my receipt into the wrong stack, and two weeks later, a PhD diploma came in the mail. I didn't even graduate, I only had about 3 years of college credit. In fact, I never did even learn what the letters "PhD" even stood for. For all of the Electronic Engineers I have worked with, I'm sorry, but you have to admit my designs always worked very well, and were well engineered, and I always made you laugh at work. Now to that really mean Park Ranger; after all, it was me that rolled those rocks into your geyser and ruined it. I did notice a few years later that you did get Old Faithful working again. To Disneyland - you can now throw away that "Banned for Life" file you have on me, I'm not a problem anymore - and SeaWorld San Diego, too, if you read this.
But the whole thing is completely delightful and truly touching. I'm sure his friends and family miss him very much.

And with that I must add: Life can be short. Tell your friends and family that you love them.

Have a great weekend.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

What exactly is the World Domination Summit?

wds2012-470When I would tell people I was going to the World Domination Summit, I was at a loss to explain what it was, exactly. I floundered around a bit, waving my hands and vaguely talking about start-ups and travel, but I pretty much didn't have a clue. I was mostly going to hear Brene Brown.

It's been a couple of weeks now, and I think I finally have it figured out. So for those of you who have been wondering, here it is in a nutshell:

The World Domination Summit is all about encouraging people to discover practical ways to live a meaningful life.

I use the word "encouraging" deliberately--and not just in the rah-rah sense. I'd say encouragement--giving courage--was the underlying tone of the whole conference. And as Brene Brown points out, the word courage comes from the word coeur--heart. To practice courage, she says, is to tell your story with all your heart.

So there were lots of people there telling their stories and giving everyone there permission to do the same. That was the first amazing thing. We were told over and over again in ways large and small, "You are amazing. You are enough. What you bring to the table is important."

But if it had stopped there, it wouldn't have been very helpful. In fact, Chris Gillebeau, the organizer, sent out an email a few weeks before the conference that began, "You are awesome!" and I instantly deleted it. I couldn't even read any more. I was offended by it, and am instantly suspicious of people who will tell me I'm awesome who also happen to have books to sell.

Here's the thing: it didn't stop with a feel good fest. It prodded us to ask "what does a meaningful life look like for you?" And that was very different for different people. For some it was travel; for some it was starting a business; for some it was finding a company to work for that reflected their values; for some it was service and philanthropy; for some it was using the system to your advantage; for some it was running a marathon; for some it was writing a book. You get the idea. The important thing was finding those things that indeed matched your skills, interests, and (most importantly) values.

But again, if it had stopped there, it would have been only moderately helpful. In fact, this is the part I don't have yet. If I had left with only this piece, I would have left frustrated because I would feel like a fraud, like everyone else had it all figured out and I didn't.

It didn't stop there. We heard stories from people who had found what made their lives meaningful, but we also got extremely practical advice. I went to a workshop on self-publishing, for example, and it was chock-full of which publishing platforms are good for what material and how you promote things. Another talked about how you set up your work week so that you know you get the most important things done. We heard from speakers who talked about how to best utilize creativity and how "follow your passion" isn't terribly helpful advice.

It was that practical piece that made it work for me. I don't know what's next for me, but at least I have some ideas of the next step, the next little piece that will help me figure it out. But I needed the encouragement in order to do that, and I needed to know how to ask what makes my life meaningful. It all works together, and I'm grateful to the World Domination Summit for offering that.

Bravo and well done. Here's looking forward to 2013. Maybe I'll have some stories to tell. In the meantime, my deepest thanks.


photos from the WDS Flickr Stream, copyright Armosa Studios, used by permission.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

"What's the Fuss About?" Sunday: 8 Tips for creating a more welcoming church

Sunday Open HouseIt seems to me that this Sunday is an amazing opportunity for Episcopal Churches to reach out to people in the community and introduce themselves.  I mean, you've had publicity that money can't buy, what with editorials in the NY Times and the Wall Street Journal as well as amazing rebuttals to said editorials in the Huffington Post and elsewhere.

I say strike while the iron's hot! Let's quit talking back and forth amongst ourselves and to the critics, and reach out to people who have no clue what the Episcopal Church is or what it's about but might be curious to know.

Easy for me to say, not being a parochial priest (oh, and that right there? That's inside baseball lingo--"what's a parochial priest?" is the kind of question the person I'm thinking about will be asking--or really doesn't care about at all). That being said, here's some thoughts on what I would suggest to make "What's the Fuss About?" Sunday a welcoming event for your parish.

1. Use both newfangled social media and old fashioned elbow grease to publicize the heck out of it quickly There's the sexy newfangled ways of publicizing things: Creating and sharing an event on Facebook seems an obvious point of entry. Then there's blogging (not just yours; what about your parishioners? blogs pertaining to community news?), twitter, enewsletters (again: not just your church's enewsletters), posting a special announcement on your Yelp profile (what? You haven't checked your church's Yelp profile?) or Foursquare page. But then there's the down and dirty analog methods. Write a press release! Leaflet the neighborhood! Or--here's a thought--create flyers and put them on the windshields of cars at the local grocery store!

2.  Create an avenue to ask for feedback One of the most invaluable gifts any new people can give you is the gift of their perspective. What helped them? What didn't? What was confusing? What was welcoming? What impression did your church give them overall? I'm thinking create an insert for your bulletin that has a link to an online survey so that people who attend can give their anonymous, honest feedback. They don't even have to be new. (I know people will do this last, but you'll need time to get it in place.)

3.  One word: SIGNAGE! Why do you think real estate agents put out signs when they're hosting an open house? People see a sign and drop in. Put a couple of signs out where people driving by can see them.

4. Have your ushers stand outside the doors on Sunday You know what's the hardest thing to do when you go to a new church? Walk through the doors. I say this as a person who goes to new churches as a priest incognito. If I find it difficult, if I find those church doors imposing, imagine what it's like for people for whom church is a completely foreign environment. If you have some friendly folks outside who can help with that very difficult threshold (literally), people will find it easier to enter.

5. Announce up front that people can come and go Thank people for coming. Let go of the desire to turn any of these folks into members. This is your gift to them to see who you are as a congregation and as a denomination.

Kudos to you, Church of the Advent, Birmingham!
6. Have a welcoming table! If you have ever visited a megachurch, you'll see they do welcoming really well. One thing they do is provide a way for newcomers to get information in a way that is non-threatening. You know one thing that is not non-threatening? Having newcomers stand up. You know another thing that is not non-threatening? Having your newcomers wear a badge that loudly proclaims "NEWCOMER!" so that old-time members can ostensibly approach the mortified newcomer and say hello. You know what works instead? MAKING THE WELCOMERS STAND OUT SO THE NEWCOMERS CAN BLEND IN! Having the welcomers at a station such as a table with materials on it can allow newcomers to sidle over, ask questions if they wish, and talk with friendly people. Kind of like being in the exhibit hall at General Convention. And have a little more than that old registry for visitors, would you? Make sure there's information for them, not just data for you.

7. Have a clear message about your congregation and about the Episcopal Church If there is one thing you want people to know, what is it? How can you convey that in your words and in your actions? If the one thing you want people know is "The Episcopal Church welcomes you," how can your bulletin say, "We welcome you"? Your sermon? Your announcements? Your coffee hour?

8. Beware the curse of knowledge! I remember going to a new church one time and a person got up for announcements and said something like "The Blabbety Guild will meet at the usual time in the Falalalala Room for our monthly movie night." Now, I like movies. I might have liked to go to the movie night. I didn't have a clue a) if I was invited; b) what the "usual time" was; or c) where the Falalalala Room might be. Beware the curse of knowledge! (See also: "parochial priest," above.) Put yourself in a newcomer's shoes. Look with your special eyes. Or if you, like me, tend to slip, say up front, "If I'm saying something that's unfamiliar jargon, please let me know."Oh, and hint: most people do not care about General Convention minutiae.

So anyway. There's my 2 cents. Obviously, some of these suggestions might be useful for more than one special Sunday.

As far as a potential "What's the Fuss About?" Sunday goes, given that I thought this up while driving home today, you may have more well-thought-through plans or ideas than I do. Please leave them in the comments!

Monday, July 16, 2012

Review: Beat the Reaper

Let me just say up front that experience tells me it is not a good idea to read Beat the Reaper right before going to sleep. It's not that I actually had any nightmares about shark tanks or sex trafficking or Auschwitz or the mafia or botched surgeries or revenge killings. But I could have,  and I certainly worried that I would, and that's all Josh Bazell's fault.

Doggone it, Josh! Couldn't you have written a bad book so I could stop reading? Noooo. You had to go on and write a terrific book that happens to be full of graphic descriptions of violence and/or really terrible hospital practices (seeing as your protagonist is a mafia hit man has used his time in the Witness Protection Program to become a doctor). I had to read peeking through my fingers to find out what happened. And remind me never to go in the hospital! (It is not comforting to know that Bazell is an MD; the blurb on the back says, "He wrote Beat the Reaper while completing his internship at a hospital not at all like the one described in this book." I am not reassured.)

I have to recommend this; it's too good not to recommend. Funny, smart, well-written, well-plotted, great characters (though I thought Magdalena was slightly underdeveloped; it's a very masculine book). So I say read it. But for those with similarly sensitive dispositions, I am here to help you. Here are the parts you can safely read or safely skim for maximum nightmare/flashback reduction.

Read: The part where he breaks the mugger's arm (unpleasant, but necessary), the hit on the Virzi brothers, the first trip to the shark tank, the visit to Auschwitz, most of the hospital stuff.

Skim: The stomach surgery, the rescue at the Farm, the second trip to the shark tank.

If there are others I've forgotten to mention, I apologize. I have apparently blanked them out of my mind. It says something, though, that I have instantly put Bazell's next book on hold. It says something else that I am very, very glad that Nora Ephron's memoir, I Remember Nothing, is waiting for me at the library. Nora, I can't wait to spend a little cozy chat time with you.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Sunday Funnies, July 15

Let's celebrate the opening of The Dark Knight Rises with the Dark Knight in religious art, shall we?

Don't know where I found this exactly.

This transparency for home or church use can be found here.

bonus image (because I cannot resist) found here:

Let us now say Amen.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

The completely truthy account of what REALLY happened at General Convention

Hard-hitting journalism hurts, doesn't it, Episcopalians? Oh, you're denying it, I know, but the real problem with Jay Akasie's op-ed piece in the Wall Street Journal is that you're afraid the real truth will come out. Carnival atmosphere? Bah! It was a bacchanalia! We all know it. I mean, I left early, so I wasn't there for it, but why else would you send the Official Youth Presence home a day early?

Hey, Episcopalians. Jay Akasie is watching.
Oh, yes, I know. I have my sources. And the truth must come out. Scott Gunn and Bishop Smith can say whatever they want, claiming, you know, that they were actually there and stuff. I smell a cover-up. Either that or they never got invited to the secret lavish cocktail parties.

But I have information, a source who asked to remain anonymous, who has written me an account of that terrible final day at General Convention when (forgive my French) all heck broke loose. With her permission, I print it below. Names have been redacted out of fear of retribution.

"It all started when I saw him being fitted for a purple shirt at the Almy booth. His pectoral cross glistened as he caught my eye. I returned to reading Forward Day by Day, searching for some guidance. I was still vulnerable after the death of my miniature Schnauzer, Rodrigo, and needed comfort. I know that's no excuse, but it's the only thing I have to explain what happened next.

"He walked over to me and said, 'Which shade of purple do you like best?' Shocked at his brazen approach, I cast down my eyes demurely. Perhaps he sensed he went too far because he changed course. He must have seen the cameo of Rodrigo because his next words to me were, 'Want to check out a trial liturgy? I know a quiet place where we can...pray together.'

My unimpeachable source.
"Like a fool, I went, up--up to the penthouse with its wrap-around porch. It was a quiet room, full of deputies murmuring about amendments. He introduced me to the group. 'Welcome to the Upper Lower Authoritarian Chamber of Secrets,' he said, pulling on a mask and drawing me in.

"Given the crowd, I couldn't understand the lethargy until someone passed around the myrrh. It got real mellow. Some tall guy in the corner with what looked like binder rings in his forehead kept muttering to himself, 'Call the question. Somebody call the question.'

"Waitresses wearing CleriCool II collars and very little else circulated among the crowd, dispensing drinks and gluten-free communion wafers topped with Gruyere, gold leaf and foie gras. I took a drink, hoping to counter the sweetly sickening effect of the myrrh and asked the waitress what it was. She called it a Dusty Vicar, 'very dry,' she said. The deputies around me laughed. A terrible, bitter laugh.

"'Wait a second,' I called after the waitress, but she had moved on to another knot of stoned deputies who seemed to be reading from the book of Acts. Or maybe they were just dreaming. So I turned to him and said, 'These wafers aren't...consecrated, are they?'

"'Why? Do you want them to be?' he purred. 'Go ahead. Consecrate them,' he said, forcing my hands in the orans position.

"'You're not Episcopalians!' I cried. 'You're not going to turn me into some lay presider!'

"As I ran from the room, I heard an ominous voice whisper, 'If a word of this reaches Jim Naughton, you're dead. I'll see to it that you'll never be able to serve on a respectable vestry anywhere in the Anglican Communion. Even confirmation won't help you now.'

"I fled, heart pounding, back to the safety and warmth of the casual brewpub gatherings below. But I knew I would never forget that terrible night at General Convention when the penthouse of the Indianapolis Marriott became the very pit of hell."

So there you have it. Disbelieve if you want, but the truth is out there. Let those who have ears to hear, and all that.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Various & Sundry, July 13

Oh my goodness! A plethora of goodies has piled up over the past week. Let me see if I can place them in any coherent Can't. So here they are all jumbled for you to pick through at your leisure.

What would you name a SuperPAC? is one of the questions being asked by Andrew Sullivan's blog. Good luck finding any combination of "future" and "America" that isn't already claimed. Readers came up with some excellent suggestions, my favorite being the "I can't believe it's not coordinated PAC."

Jonathan Feldman scoffed at the World Domination Summit...until he went. He loved it. Then he wrote a very interesting article about the Corporate Drain Brain that happens as a result of (to use a word that should be used as frequently as possible) pettifogging. He calls it "the inflexible and unyielding thumb of corporate America." I say it's pettifogging. Pettifogging, pettifogging, pettifogging. Oh, and I think a lot of what he has to say can be applied to why people leave the church as well.

Is there anything Campbell Whalley didn't do? I mean, he showed Jane Goodall how chimps use tools; he witnessed the H-bomb test at Christmas Island; he showed Ernest Hemingway around big game preserves; he taught Australian Aboriginal students about their culture; he posed for a cricket manual. Oh, and
He was known for his affinity with the camels introduced to that region by 19th-century Afghan railway builders, for his storytelling and playful humour, and for teaching both his white and Aboriginal pupils to make teddy bears, more than 4,500 of which have now been given as a source of comfort to those in need, from cancer patients to impoverished children as far away as Haiti and Zimbabwe.
Anything else you forgot to mention?

But let's leave overachieving behind for a while. This Harvard student wrote a gorgeous essay on Effortless Perfection that I strongly encourage you to read in full. "My duty to the world isn't to be perfect," she says. Instead, looking at an imperfect report card,
As the sting of that first transcript faded, I looked back on what I had done with my semester, and I acknowledged its worth. Before, I had thought not working my hardest selfish. Now I saw it was the other way around. By taking away time from being perfect, I built in time for others.
How wonderful that she learned it now. I'm certain she has a much better life in store as a result.

In case you were wondering, here are 10 signs you shouldn't be getting married in a church.

Also in religious news, Bible-believing Christians should be concerned about the overwhelming conspiracy to undermine your faith with the heretical notion that the moon does not emit its own light. Can you believe that? As the writer of this satire notes, "Not only is it ridiculous to believe that a rock could reflect the light of a sun millions of miles away, but it’s also unbiblical!" Horrors! To think I have been led astray! Next you'll be saying it isn't made of cheese.

Which is a very bad segue into marking the untimely death of Daphne Zepos who is one of the people who made it possible for us to eat fabulous artisan cheeses today. Just last week I was eating a Cowgirl Creamery Mount Tam and thinking I owe this to you, Daphne. Thanks for the cheese. May you rest in peace.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Review: Death and the Penguin

Still more reflections to come, both on the World Domination Summit and General Convention, but in the meantime a brief word about a book that got me through both of them: Death and the Penguin by Andrey Kurkov.

Translated from the original Russian, this noir-ish novel did indeed have death, though mostly off-page, since our hero, Viktor Zolotaryov, is (wait for it!) an obituary writer. It also most certainly had a penguin, named Misha, who lives with Viktor in a rather depressing apartment where he (Misha) mostly stands in corners unless lured out with frozen fish.

There's also another Misha, who may or may not be Russian mafia, who asks for special order obits for people who seem to die soon after, and Misha's daughter, Sonya, who wants to see the penguin, and a militiaman named Sergey Fischbein-Stepanenko, and an elderly penguinologist named Pidpaly. Not all of them meet, but they all swirl around Viktor who tends to go along with the tide. And then, gradually, the tide turns.

Such a strange and wonderful book. I loved Misha the penguin, standing in the shadows and making the best of post-zoo life. And Viktor, well. Viktor, like Misha, is just trying to get along under very difficult circumstances. I was rooting for Viktor. He never did quite what I thought he would do, but I certainly understood why he did what he did.

Beautifully written, but did I mention strange? Very strange. I loved it. I hope you do too.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Brene Brown: Be Uncool

"The only true currency in this bankrupt world is what we share with someone else when we're uncool."
Almost Famous

wds2012-499One thing that drew me to the World Domination Summit was the chance to hear Brene Brown live and in person, and, man, was that a good call or what! If all I had heard last weekend was Brene's opening talk, it would have been worth the price of the conference. It was that good. I sure hope they have that talk on video and post it because I want the world to hear it. Or at least you guys.

She started with the quote above and talked to us about how important it was to be uncool. She ended with "the most uncool thing" she could think of: having us all join in a rousing rendition of "Don't Stop Believing"--the Glee version (she invited the first row to join her on stage singing). In between she talked about the vulnerability and being a creative person (her area of expertise is vulnerability and shame) saying, among other wonderful things, "Unused creativity is not benign. It turns into grief, judgement and shame." Isn't that a fascinating insight? Here's another: "Who you are will always trump who people want you to be." Ain't that the truth. However hard we may try, who we are trumps our facade.

In the afternoon, I attended "A Conversation with Brene Brown," where she took questions and again blew us away with her humor and insight. For example, she clarified the difference among vulnerability, intimacy, and TMI.

Here's what she said: oversharing, she notes, is actually a protection against vulnerability. She calls it "floodlighting." What happens when someone shines a floodlight in your face? You back away. Vulnerability, on the other hand, is like little twinkle lights. And intimacy is to be shared with those who have earned the right to hear it. So fabulous.

She had so much more to say about shame, vulnerability, joy, and creativity. Really, I hope the video is available soon so that I can make you sit there and watch it. But if there's one take-away from the whole weekend, it was the question she asked us at the end of the hour: What's worth doing even if you fuck it up? Like, for example, asking 1,000 people sing "Don't Stop Believing" even if they think you're a complete nutjob for doing it. Or maybe they'll join in with gusto and joy and tears.


photos from the WDS Flickr stream, copyright Armosa Studios, used by permission.

Monday, July 9, 2012

You leave town for a week...

...and look what happens.

World Domination Summit: Closing Story

We were about to be dismissed from the World Domination Summit. Our minds were already full to bursting from everything we'd heard and seen. Then the organizer, Chris Guillebeau, came on the stage. He said, "I want to tell you a story. It's an old story, you may already know it.

"There was a man who was about to go on a trip. But he decided before he left he should take some of his money and invest it. So he found a few people and he gave each of them some money and said, 'do something with this while I'm gone.'

"A lot of people have explained this story by talking about the character of the people who got the money and what they did with it. I'm more interested in the person who gave the money. Why did he do that? Why didn't he take it with him, or save it in a safe place? Maybe it's because he believed in the people he was giving it to."

Then he told us that there had been a little profit from the conference, and they had been trying to figure out what to do with it. And then, along came someone who wanted to support the conference through a private donation. When Guillebeau said there wouldn't be any sponsors, the anonymous donor said it wasn't about that. And they tried to figure out what to do.

You know where this is going, don't you? I sure did, sitting there in my seat, thinking, "You're going to do this, aren't you?"

Suddenly, we were in the story, and it wasn't so theoretical any more.

As the attendees at the conference left the theater on Sunday afternoon, we each received an envelope--all 1,000 of us. Inside the envelope was $100 (do the math) and a note saying, "Thanks for making #WDS2012 a fantastic experience. We'd love to see how you put these funds to good use. Start a project, surprise someone, or do something entirely different--it's up to you."

I got my envelope and started crying. Why? Because it Scared. Me. Shitless. What was I going to do with this money? How could I use it wisely and well? How could I turn it into something else, bigger and better than the original investment?

It may be better to give than to receive. I also think it's a hell of a lot easier. My first impulse was to hand that money on to somebody else, somebody who could use it. But I already have $100 to give to others. I think the more challenging thing for me is to figure out something else to do with it, something different. I just have no idea what it is. Yet.

I'll be spending much of the week blogging about my experiences at WDS. I had no idea what to expect from it. I still don't know quite how to explain it. Maybe it has something to do with the underlying assumption that each of us is a good investment. Whatever it was, it was amazing.

Much more to come.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Friday, July 6, 2012

Various & Sundry: Not About General Convention Edition

I'm sitting in the Denver airport, en route between General Convention in Indianapolis and the World Domination Summit in Portland, and thought I would write a quick post that includes ABSOLUTELY NOTHING about the Episcopal Church. It's going to be quick, though.  Ready? Here you go:

Let's start with the obits, and baseball great Doris Sams. "Doris Sams, who pitched a perfect game and set a single-season home run record in the women’s professional baseball world of the 1940s and 50s that inspired the movie “A League of Their Own,” died Thursday in Knoxville, Tenn." A phenom. I also love this story:
She once outdueled Lois Florreich of the Rockford Peaches through 22 innings, winning by 1-0, as she remembered it, in a game that had been tied after the scheduled seven innings as the short game of a doubleheader.

“After that, I told my manager: ‘I don’t want to pitch any more seven-inning games. They’re too long,’” Sue Macy quoted Sams saying in her league history “A Whole New Ball Game” (1993).
In World War II obituary news, you must read this great account of derring-do by the wonderfully titled Count Robert de la Rochefoucauld. He escaped execution twice, once by faking an epileptic fit
and, when the guard opened the door to his cell, hit him over the head with a table leg before breaking his neck. (“Thank Goodness for that pitilessly efficient training,” he noted). After putting on the German’s uniform, La Rochefoucauld walked into the guardroom and shot the two other German jailers. He then simply walked out of the fort, through the deserted town, and to the address of an underground contact.
The escape further entailed dressing as a nun.

You might be surprised to learn of these 5 forms of charity that are not helping. This article helpfully summarizes what you think you are doing, and why you shouldn't do it.

I thought this article on who gives or accepts compliments was fascinating. (Hint: women are bad at it in a strange variety of ways.) Note to self: say thank you and move on.

Looking for that perfect gift for your 16th wedding anniversary? The Bloggess suggests you say it with sloths.

No slothiness allowed here. Got to run!

A quick word about Communion Without Baptism and other impassioned arguments

There was a hearing this morning at General Convention about a proposed resolution on the "Open Table"--providing communion to all to wish to receive it whether or not they are baptized. I didn't go, but I watched the Twitter stream, and it sounds pretty impassioned. I can understand that, feeling pretty impassioned about the topic myself.

But I wanted to mention something I learned recently that has helped me a great deal in understanding the discussion about the topic, an insight from Social Psychologist Jonathan Haidt that he presents in his book The Righteous Mind. Here's what he discovered: intuitions come first, strategic reasoning second.

Here's how that plays out:
Moral intuitions arise automatically and almost instantaneously, long before moral reasoning has a chance to get started, and those first intuitions tend to drive our later reasoning. If you think that moral reasoning is something we do to figure out the truth, you’ll be constantly frustrated by how foolish, biased, and illogical people become when they disagree with you. But if you think about moral reasoning as a skill we humans evolved to further our social agendas—to justify our own actions and to defend the teams we belong to—then things will make a lot more sense. Keep your eye on the intuitions, and don’t take people’s moral arguments at face value. They’re mostly post-hoc constructions made up on the fly, crafted to advance one or more strategic objectives.
In essence, as I understand it, our first intuitive response is whether something feels morally right or wrong. And based on that feeling, we marshal our arguments to justify our emotional and intuitive response.

This is true on all sides of the argument, of course. I'm not saying one group is being rational and the other is flying off the handle. I guess I'm simply saying be aware of how you feel about the topic, and let's not fool ourselves that we are being systematic and rational on this issue.

Introductory chapter of Haidt's book is here.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Vignettes from General Convention

Four people get in an elevator, two of them bishops. Non-purple type gets off at a lower floor. Bishop 1 turns to Bishop 2 and says, "He ran against me when I was elected bishop."


I talk to a priest about Confirm not Conform. He says, "Oh, I'm set. I can teach someone everything they need to know to be confirmed in a day if I have to. I just sit them down and talk for a few hours."

Well, OK, then.

Two youth delegates walk through the Exhibit Hall. One comes to a dead stop, grabs the other by the arm and says, "Oh my goodness! Oh my goodness!" What is it? the other asks. "It's ALMY!!!" says the young man, gazing at their booth with a sigh. "I'm their biggest fan."

I'm sure he is.


Someone I've never met before asks me, "Do you write The Infusion?" I confess that I do. He tells me he's been reading this blog off and on for about three years. Oh my.

Someone else sees me in the Forward Movement booth, stops, stares, and says, "Are you one of the celebrity bloggers for Lent Madness?" I swell with the sense of my own importance in the grand scheme of things.


At about 9 am on the 4th of July, the lights go dim and the internet goes out in the Exhibition Hall. About 10 minutes later, it comes back on again. About 20 minutes after that, three men show up at the Forward Movement booth.

"Is this booth 515?" they ask. We say it is. They report that they have traced the source of the power outage to this location and proceed to try to figure out what happened. The men tell the FM staff it had something to do with a plug being unplugged and then plugged in again. I confess that when I had showed up at 7:30, I had plugged in an ethernet cord that seemed to have become unplugged. The Forward Movement staff are very nice about it.

But that power outage yesterday? The one that took out the internet and security? My bad. Whoops.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Where I'll be this week

This week is going to be a study in contrasts, I suspect. Or not. I don't know. But I'm going to two different conferences that I have a feeling will be very different indeed.

Tomorrow I'm off to General Convention, the Episcopal Church's triennial meeting, where I will be in the exhibit hall promoting Confirm not Conform as I did three years ago. General Convention in Indianapolis, where I have never been, not that I'm going to see much of it. As I remember last time, all of us in the exhibit hall would leave at the end of the day blinking in the strange light. This time, I'm not in charge of a booth on my own, so it will probably be a little easier. It's probably still going to fry my little introvert circuits, but I hope if you're going to be there you'll come by and say hello to me at the Forward Movement booth.

From there, I head straight to Portland, Oregon for (are you ready?) the World Domination Summit! This is...well, I have no idea what this is, actually, but I'm going to be there!

I'll keep you posted as I can, but blogging is probably going to be light and mostly on the lines of "ga ga ga ga tiiiiiired." When I get back I'll let you know my plans for world domination. Maybe.

Have a great week!

Sunday Funnies, July 1

I'd go with Donald Duck and the strip-ed awning, never mind the expense. Have a wonderful 4th of July! (Sorry, Canada. I'm a 'Merican.)

Update:  Don't know what happened! Let me get that video embedded again, Blogger.