Sunday, December 30, 2012

From our Neighborhood Watch email list

Dec 28, 2012, at 8:24 PM:

Neighborhood alert:

Tonight, Friday December 28, 2012, around 5:00pm our doorbell rang. At the door were two suspicious looking male teens in white shirts and cheap neckties. They said they were missionaries from the Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter Day Saints. Paul said “Thank you but we are a gay household and no one here wants to talk with you.” and closed the door. Then the two young men on the outside of the door prayed in loud voices that God cures all of their homosexual afflictions.

We will need everyone’s help. After 17 years together and a lifelong interest in men this will mean a major life change. You may be called on to fix us up with women, give basic dating advice and lend us all your old Victoria’s Secret catalogs. We plan to check daily so we can tell you as soon as the big change happens.

In the mean time we will be returning their prayer with a prayer that cures their acne.

Paul and James

Dec 29, 2012, at 10:02 AM:

Paul and James,

I turn away all missionaries, Mormons, Jehovah's Witnesses, and born agains, explaining that I am not religious. You are perhaps the more fortunate; these people never pray for me, apparently recognizing that I am totally lost and happily headed for Hell, which at least has a balanced budget.

I would like to help you but threw out all of my old copies of Playboy years ago. All I can do is wish you Happy New Year and tell you that I feel lucky to have you as neighbors and as friends.


Saturday, December 29, 2012

O Come All Ye Faithful

This will be the last Christmas hymn I post this season. Not that Christmas is over, but I think I'll be able to make it now, having weaned myself from constant Christmas music over the past few days.

Let's end with a classic. For to us a child is born: Come let us adore him.

Friday, December 28, 2012

Various & Sundry: The Sound of the Music of the Wolves of the White Christmas of the Dead. And some other stuff.

Hey, how about we have a normal Friday evening V&S post before the end of 2012. Won't that be fun? Let's see here.

For some lightness, let's start with Tom & Lorenzo's devastating take-down of White Christmas. There were never such devoted sisters. "Honeys, if a gay man over 35 tries to tell you that they don't know EVERY SINGLE WORD to this song, don't believe them. Trust us on this."

Meanwhile, the Baroness Schraeder regrets to inform you that her wedding to Captain Von Trapp has been canceled.
But I don’t want you to be angry at him. We are all adults here. “But Baroness,” so many of my friends have said, “you must be devastated. You yourself are fabulously wealthy, so you cannot have wanted the Captain for his money—you must have truly loved him.” It’s true. But so, I am sure, does his new fiancée, his children’s nanny. Her wardrobe is made of curtains. She’s definitely not a gold digger or anything.
Ha. That will bring us back to dough. (oh oh oh)

Speaking of dough, I thought this article on women and organizational leadership made an absolutely fascinating point: when asked why there was a disparity in leadership representation, the men blamed the system; the women blamed themselves.  It suggests a radically different approach to creating change in an organization which was, in many ways, a huge relief.

Also on the issue of gender/racial balance, the Columbia Journalism Review did officially what I have done only casually and analyzed who gets a NY Times obituary. Among other things, dead people most often went to an Ivy League school. Did you know that? State school people apparently live forever. The gender imbalance is noted in the chart below:

I loved this idea of the Virtual Food Drive from the Alameda County Community Food Bank.  
Why a Virtual Food Drive?

  • It's the greenest (and easiest) of all food drives

  • You save the Food Bank precious resources – schedulers, drivers, food sorters and fuel
  • Your donations allow us to purchase our most-needed items
  • And, they point out, they can stretch every $1 donated into $4 of food by buying in bulk. Sounds sensible.

    Finally, I was very sorry to see that this was the Anglian Wolf Society, not the Anglican Wolf Society. But I think someone ought to start an Anglican Wolf Society. Then we can all have a Wolf Experience and Llama Walk, instead of needing to go to North Bedfordshire. Might be worth a trip, though.

    Unto Us a Boy is Born [Feast of the Holy Innocents]

    It's the Feast of the Holy Innocents today, which has a lot more resonance this year for me. This is the hymn that came to my mind shortly after the Newtown massacre for its verse about Herod -- "all the little boys he killed" -- what a horrible, horrible story.

    And there's a strange thing going on in this story I hadn't thought about before: about how other people suffered when Jesus came into the world. Other innocent people. I don't have much more than that; it's something I'll need to ponder.

    Here's the collect for today, which I think is powerful stuff:
    We remember today, O God, the slaughter of the holy innocents of Bethlehem by King Herod. Receive, we pray, into the arms of your mercy all innocent victims; and by your great might frustrate the designs of evil tyrants and establish your rule of justice, love, and peace; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
    No subtitles today. This hymn isn't among Christmas' greatest hits. It is strange to be reminded of grief at Christmas, but important. The grief is there; burying it under layers of Christmas cheer is not to our benefit, I feel.

    Unto us a boy is born!
    The King of all creation,
    came he to a world forlorn,
    the Lord of every nation.

    Cradled in a stall was he
    with sleepy cows and asses;
    but the very beasts could see
    that he all men surpasses.

    Herod then with fear was filled;
    "A prince," he said, "in Jewry!"
    All the little boys he killed
    at Bethlehem in his fury.

    Now may Mary's son, who came
    so long ago to love us,
    lead us all with hearts aflame
    unto the joys above us.

    Gromit's Christmas Present

    What'd'ya get, Gromit?


    Thursday, December 27, 2012

    Of the Father's Love Begotten

    The Christmas sing-along continues with another hymn for you on this, the feast of St. John the Apostle, aka Man of Mystery.

    Of the Father's love begotten,
    ere the worlds began to be,
    he is Alpha and Omega,
    he the source, the ending he,
    of the things that are, that have been,
    and that future years shall see,
    evermore and evermore!

    O that birth for ever blessèd,
    when the Virgin, full of grace,
    by the Holy Ghost conceiving,
    bare the Savior of our race;
    and the Babe, the world's Redeemer,
    first revealed his sacred face,
    evermore and evermore!

    O ye heights of heaven, adore him;
    angel-hosts, his praises sing;
    powers, dominions, bow before him,
    and extol our God and King;
    let no tongue on earth be silent,
    every voice in concert ring,
    evermore and evermore!

    Wednesday, December 26, 2012

    In the Bleak Midwinter

    Merry Christmas!

    You know the thing that gets me about the way we celebrate Christmas in this country is not that we play Christmas music throughout December, but that it just vanishes at the stroke of midnight on December 25. I'd like a little more Christmas, please!

    This video has subtitles so you can sing along. I'll also post the words below. Love this hymn

    In the bleak midwinter, frosty wind made moan,
    Earth stood hard as iron, water like a stone;
    Snow had fallen, snow on snow, snow on snow,
    In the bleak midwinter, long ago.

    Our God, Heaven cannot hold Him, nor earth sustain;
    Heaven and earth shall flee away when He comes to reign.
    In the bleak midwinter a stable place sufficed
    The Lord God Almighty, Jesus Christ.

    Angels and archangels may have gathered there,
    Cherubim and seraphim thronged the air;
    But His mother only, in her maiden bliss,
    Worshipped the beloved with a kiss.

    What can I give Him, poor as I am?
    If I were a shepherd, I would bring a lamb;
    If I were a Wise Man, I would do my part;
    Yet what I can I give Him: give my heart.

    Saturday, December 22, 2012

    On the Mystery of the Incarnation

    Thank you to David Lose for bringing this poem to my attention.

    Various & Sundry: Maximum Guns

    As you can tell, since Sandy Hook, the issue of guns has been on my mind. Here are a few more things I've seen that I thought were illuminating, thought-provoking, helpful, or hopeful in the swirl of information.

    Let me start here so it doesn't get buried: In the "but what can we do?" category, the most helpful thing I've found this week is the Children's Defense Fund's document Protect Children, Not Guns. It was written earlier this year, and is an issue they have been working on a long time, so it wasn't a rush-to-find-an-answer kind of a thing. I also like that they had calls to action for all of us, not just "them."

    Knowing that you can examine any non-profit's 990 tax form, I thought I'd take a look at the NRA's, and found this post examining their finances for 2010, the year in which Wayne LaPierre, president of the NRA, made $835,469 (plus another $125K and change in "other compensation"). It's a fascinating document to dig into. You know who's on the board of directors? Grover Norquist.

    If you are wondering, "How did we get to this place?", Terry Gross's interview with Tom Diaz of the Violence Policy Center, tracing the history of the rise of the assault-style weapon for the civilian market, may be something you want to listen to, or read the transcript. The information is disturbingly fascinating, and presented in a very matter-of-fact way.

    Also looking at history, Tony Horwitz notes the similarities between the gun lobby and the slavery lobby of the 18th century. And blogger Nancy Kho found similar parallels after seeing the movie Lincoln on the day of the Sandy Hook shootings.

    Lance Mannion had two posts that resonated with me. The first is the satirical Dear Gun Nuts, Uncle Sam needs you! The second, Against any grand unifying  theories explaining Sandy Hook, is one he says he's not happy with and will add to later. His summary in the comments is this: "I think rather than trying to explain anything and everything in reference to broad social issues, we'll learn more if we focus on the individual stories of the killers themselves and we're better off asking not what causes violence in general but what would have stopped this particular killer well before he got to killing people." But everything we're posting and thinking right now is a work in progress, it seems to me.

    In the thought-provoking category, Mike the Mad Biologist writes that Nothing in Movement Conservatism Makes Sense Except in the Light of Creationism: The Second-Amendment Edition, which shows similar ways of thinking about gun rights and creationism, the same resentment about anyone who wants to "take them away," or not take their logic seriously. It's worth reading for the "oh" of understanding.

    I'm assuming you've read Adam Gopnik's article in the New Yorker about the Simple Truth about Gun Control. I'm just not sure it will convince anyone who isn't already convinced. But it just seems to damn obvious. As tweeter Mary Matthews said, "The 'right' says to limit IN ANY WAY an American's right to drive a racecar down a suburban road at 150 mph infringes on their freedom."

    After all of this, I don't know about you, but I needed to see a picture of baby hedgehogs. Here you go.

    Peace be with you.

    Thursday, December 20, 2012

    Comfort ye

    I heard this yesterday on the radio as I was headed in to the winery. It was, in fact, very comforting.

    Also inspiring.

    Tuesday, December 18, 2012

    After great pain

    I'm still speechless after the shootings in Newtown last Friday. I have nothing to offer but sadness.

    Here are a couple of things that have helped me:

    Mr. Rogers' wonderful wisdom:
    "When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, "Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping." To this day, especially in times of "disaster," I remember my mother's words and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers – so many caring people in this world."
    And Brene Brown's insights and observations:
    Prayer and activism are not mutually exclusive.
    For many of us they are inextricably connected. We don’t need to criticize those who are praying. You don’t have to pray or even believe in prayer, but be respectful (or at least quiet). 
    Politics is easier than grief.
    To skip over feeling and rush to policy-making dehumanizes the process and weakens policy.

    Blame is simply the discharging of pain and discomfort.
    It has nothing to do with accountability. Accountability requires long, difficult, respectful conversations. Blame fizzles out with rage, where accountability is in for the long haul. 
    Self-righteousness is a sign of fear and uncertainty.
    It has nothing to do with activism or change. The loudest and most vitriolic among us are often the most afraid. As my friend Harriet Lerner says, “Change requires listening with same level of passion that we feel when we speak.” 
    You can't shame a nation into changing any more than you can shame a person into changing.
    Shame is much more likely to be the source of destructive, violent behaviors than it is to be the cure. We need courage, vulnerability, hard work, empathy, integrity (and a little grace wouldn't hurt).
    I'm going to be quiet for a bit longer now. And listening. What has helped you in the past few days?

    Friday, December 14, 2012

    Review: The Leftovers

    I'm not really sure if I'm writing a review per se. I'm still trying to figure this one out.

    The Leftovers starts with this premise: what would people do if a rapture-like event happened? And what would happen if it didn't look like what anyone expected? Would you rename it, as the people in this novel do, the Sudden Departure?

    When I talked to a friend of mine about this, she said she would set up a huge database to run the information on all of the people who had disappeared to find out what they had in common. Which makes sense. And perhaps somewhere in some government office in this alternate world, someone is doing this. But that is not this novel.

    This is not a plot-driven book; it's character-driven -- something that rarely works for me any more unless I am really intrigued by the people, as I am here. And I'm not sure why they are so interesting to me, except that the author allows their confusion to shine through in different ways. The book focuses on one family: mother, father, two kids (one starting college, one starting high school) and how they respond. There's another woman who gets a spotlight, whose husband and two children both disappeared. I liked them all. I sympathized with them all.

    I can see how this book might frustrate you if you're looking for answers. What's in that database? What really happened? But I think one of the points of this book is, there is no common denominator why one person is taken and another stays; sometimes you will never know why things happen. And isn't that life as well? Why does one person get cancer and another doesn't? Why is one person in a car accident and not another? You can find some commonalities, but you just can't get it all nailed down, settled, and answered. Live your life as best you can, but it's not about whether or not you will be rewarded. And be kind to one another; you do not know what they have seen or experienced.

    Monday, December 10, 2012

    Candy Cane Camellias

    We had a beautiful weekend here last weekend and I dumped a whole lot of mulch on the beds, hoping to keep the dahlia bulbs warm enough so I don't have to dig them all out and store them under the house for the winter.

    Everything's pretty much kaput now except the azaleas and these fabulous camellias. They make such a mess, dropping everywhere, but for right now at the start of the bloom, they are so wonderful and cheery with their peppermint stripes. So festive. I just wanted to share.

    Sunday, December 9, 2012

    Sunday Funnies, December 9

    Answering the age-old question: how to spell...ummm...the religious holiday that Jews are celebrating at this time?

    Saturday, December 8, 2012

    Various & Sundry, December 8: Art, Life, Peace

    A few quick things before I dash to drop the first of the deposits at the White Elephant Sale...

    In art news this week, check out these fabulous trompe l'oiel pieces from John Pugh. For example, these aren't windows:

    And that is not a reflection of a truck in the window. Isn't that amazing?

    In a similar vein of amazement, check out these beach creatures:

    Oh, heck, while we're at it, here's some architecture for dogs.

    Speaking of architecture and animals, I loved this obituary for John Heyworth who turned his family estate into a wildlife park. Isn't that picture a kick? How lovely, though, to be remembered thusly: "A kind, modest man, he was a devoted patron of the estate’s living, and served for more than 50 years as a church warden." And had rhinos.

    How do you want to be remembered? And how do you want to remember your life? A friend of mine passed along this great article on the Top 5 Regrets of the Dying. It's a beautiful article. Please check it out.

    In another deeper turn, an anthropologist wrote this initial reflection on what peace looks like as an empirical reality, exploring in particular the behavior of a town called Le Chambon-sur-Lignon which has a history of welcoming the outsider going back centuries, which made it possible for the whole town to be involved in the work of hiding Jews during WWII. I'll be interested in hearing more about this woman's research. But here's what she says for the moment:
    Peace is knowable — in gorgeous, imperfect detail — down to the level of everyday habit and choice. And what are those choices? To walk down streets with unfamiliar faces and to open your own countenance as you do; to buy baskets of fruits from someone whose accents are not your own; to allow the happy, teary scramble as your children figure out how to play with new arrivals to their school; to open the door at the threshold of your home even when storms threaten outside; to hear of the vivid suffering of others even when it weighs down the heart; to invite to the hearth, to break bread, together now. The foot crosses the threshold, the face is open, the habits — discernible to the eye — over time, become fixed (and knowable) and sure. 

    Thursday, December 6, 2012

    Dave Brubeck

    I drove home yesterday listening to all the Brubeck at my disposal -- Time Out and Jazz at Oberlin. But I had not realized until I read the obits yesterday about Brubeck's religious music in support of racial equality. (I also hadn't realized he grew up in my neighborhood, being born in Concord and attending Mills College.)

    But check out his work The Gates of Justice. The texts he uses are perfect for Advent, too. A snippet below:

    Sunday, December 2, 2012

    Sunday Funnies, December 2, 2012

    I've posted this before, but at a less timely time of year, and I think it behooves us all to take time to listen to noted jurist, Daily Show correspondent and Mac pitchman John Hodgman advise us on the proper time to put up Christmas decorations. Enjoy.

    Photo of court-ordered "sadness tree"