Saturday, August 31, 2013

Various & Sundry: Mostly things you're not sick of hearing about

It has been a long time, my friends, and goodness knows there are lots of things I could share with you today. But I will try to contain myself and keep it to the bare essentials, the most important and up-to-date...ummm...updates.

For example, we're all still talking about Miley Cyrus, right? I know there's been all sorts of stuff flitting about but I think all except this one article have missed the real issue, here: the terrible music.
Why do your children listen to knock-offs of Marvin Gaye? Why don’t they just listen to Marvin Gaye? Don’t you have Marvin Gaye records lying around, for crying out loud? Marvin Gaye sang about sex, but in a sexy way. Not in a rapey way. For example: while Marvin Gaye sings lines such as “You can love me when you want to, babe // This is such a groovy party, baby” in “Got to Give It Up”, a song that Thicke acknowledged being inspired by and preemptively sued the Gaye family re: copyright infringement allegations , Thicke sings “You the hottest bitch in the place". Since this is a blog post about shitty taste in music and not about feminism, I will ignore the fact that this is an incredibly offensive lyric and zero in on the fact that “you the hottest bitch in the place” is just plain ol’ incorrect English. Instead of worrying about your children watching scantily clad women being dry humped by men who could be their father, you should be more concerned about your children dropping verbs from their sentences.
Exactly so. May I have my curmudgeon card now?

It's strange that we're still talking about this almost one week later, given this eerily accurate description of the attention span of Twitter:

Also exactly so.

On to even more important things: your acting lesson from the week by Sir Patrick Stewart, who reviews previous lessons on the single-, double-, and triple-take, and moves into the extremely difficult quadruple-take. It is so difficult, he actually flubs it.

I deeply appreciated Jessica Creech's post Goodbye Church, Hello God. I feel like I'm in a similar place, in which going to church on Sundays is often not worth the cost of making that effort. Which is no sign of burn-out or loss of faith. It's...something else.

I wonder what has finally happened to the Bay Bridge Troll. Yes, troll, not toll. I will feel better knowing it has a good home when the new bridge opens next week.

Oh, update: "The troll will stay where it is for now, because there will be workers tearing down the old bridge and they will need protection. (This kind of quotidian witchcraft is quite head-spinning.) Later, it will be removed and put in a safe place somewhere near the bridge." I am relieved.

But you know what's even better than having a guardian troll under your bridge? Having a brand new puppy under your chair. Sam has arrived. Want to say hello?

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

March on Washington 50th anniversary

In a few short minutes, bells will be ringing to commemorate the 50th anniversary of MLK's I Have a Dream speech, delivered at the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.

As I've looked more deeply at that event, I've been inspired by so much that went on there, far beyond MLK's speech.

For example, this site of artifacts had three things in particular that I found meaningful.

First, a "Statement by the heads of the ten organizations calling for discipline in connection with the Washington March of August 28, 1963," which I encourage you to read in full. What I loved about it was the tone it struck that matches for me Jesus' call to turn the other cheek:
"It will be orderly, but not subservient. It will be proud, but not arrogant. It will be nonviolent, but not timid. It will be unified in purposes and behavior, not splintered into groups and individual competitors. It will be outspoken, but not raucous."

I also was struck by the list of demands, which were clear, discrete, achievable, and addressed to those who could achieve them:

I'd like to see more of that today. And I know there are people who do a good job of being clear in their objectives for justice, but it drives me crazy when we vaguely want things to Be Better Than They Are. I think we can learn a lot from the specificity of this list. Because, really, who doesn't want things to Be Better Than They Are?

Here's how these have or haven't been met as of today. Clearly, we have some things to celebrate and more to work on. 

Finally, Mahalia Jackson. Because the passion. Sing it.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Thomas Gallaudet

For a couple of hours, anyway, (depending on where you are) it is the feast of Thomas Gallaudet and Henry Winter Syle, and I really wanted to share something about Gallaudet while it's still his official feast day.

I've actually been doing some research on Gallaudet for...Lent Madness. Because apparently it's never too early for Lent Madness. (Actually, Forward Movement will be preparing a companion book for the 2014 bracket, so we have to get our bios in way early.)

I'm so pleased to have Gallaudet. As some of you know, my first jobs out of college were working with the Deaf, first as a notetaker, and then as a sign language interpreter. But even though I knew about the Gallaudet family and blogged about them both in 2008 and 2009, I didn't really know Thomas Gallaudet (the younger) until this past week.

The whole family is impressive, but when I said in the 2008 post that I think they picked the wrong Thomas Gallaudet to commemorate...well, I was wrong. And I feel very sheepish about that, because by all accounts he was not only a wonderful person, he was a faithful and effective advocate for Deaf people.

One thing that impresses me greatly about Gallaudet is that he continually stood by the weird and radical notion that signs were an actual language. This is something that was not accepted by much of anybody until a linguistic treatise was written about ASL in 1960, and even then most people didn't believe it for years. Gallaudet died in 1902, so he was way ahead of the curve when he preached at Syle's ordination, "my youthful impressions in relation to this language of motion have become so intensified and settled that I feel that I am a credible witness, when I give my testimony as to its being a clear and distinct language by itself.”

The other big thing -- huge -- is that he was less interested in helping the Deaf, as he was in letting them be the people they are. He absolutely and completely understood them to be his equal. I honestly don't think he sees them as "disabled," except in the loss of opportunity that Deafness conferred. Which explains why, not just Henry Syle, but at least 8 other Deaf men were accepted for Holy Orders -- again, at a time when the vast majority of people didn't believe Deaf people could even function in society.

As one person pointed out in a Memorial Tribute,
In the Church, nine deaf men have been ordained who have brought thousands of their fellows into pastoral relations. Their work ramifies into nearly every diocese. Others are preparing themselves for the ministry; and in the denominations several are doing well for the moral and spiritual uplifting of the class. In Ohio, the deaf have for some years maintained a Home for their Aged and Infirm; and those in Pennsylvania will soon open a similar one, in a building not easily duplicated among charitable institutions. Other enterprises of a like character are under way elsewhere, in all of which the deaf themselves are taking a leading part.
It's the "in all of which the deaf themselves are taking a leading part" that impresses me the most.

So, Thomas Gallaudet, I am proud to represent you. I hope I do you justice.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Family update part 2

So. We went to Hawaii with all sorts of plans of what we would do, many of which we did not do, preferring instead to lounge about and watch Top Chef.

One of the things we planned to do but did not do was go on a horseback ride into the Waipio Valley. We had made our reservations, gotten ourselves up, driven through the rain to the valley, took a look at the fog filling the valley and decided...maybe another time.

Instead, we went to a Horse Expo in Waimea. Not that we know anything about horses, but heck. It was to support the Humane Society, plus...horses.

It was still raining, so we soon tired of standing outside looking at horses. I suggested we go inside and look at the vendors. So all that follows is all my fault.

At the Hawaii Quarter Horse Association booth was a binder. I opened the binder and saw pictures of Australian Shepherd puppies "available August 25."

It wouldn't do any harm to call the breeder, would it? Of course not.

It wouldn't do any harm to see the puppies, surely? Oh surely not.

After all, we're never going to actually get a puppy from Hawaii? Well, who would?

Apparently, the answer to that is: we would. We're the only people who go on vacation in Hawaii, get two T-shirts...and a puppy.

And there he is: Sam Parker, named for the Parker Ranch where we saw the photos. He comes home next week.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Family update part 1

I wanted to bring regular readers up to speed on some comings and goings around here. Starting with the goings.

On August 1, we took our older fellow, Andy, in for what we thought would be a quick surgical procedure to remove a lipoma from his hindquarters.

Five hours and four vets later, we made the decision to end his life.

That was no lipoma. The cancer that had been a small, innocuous tumor the week before had quadrupled in size. Back and forth we went, getting a chest X-ray to see if there was something in the lungs (no); aspirating the tumor to see if it was a malignant cancer (yes).

Andy was a trooper through it all. He hadn't had any food since we'd thought he would be in surgery. So a few short minutes before he died, we fed him chicken from the rest of our sandwich wraps. Then the lettuce. As we wrapped up the rest to throw it away, he gave us a look as if to say, "Really? You think the tortilla is going to kill me?" So we gave him the tortilla too. Then he dug through the trash to see what else we might have thrown away. Andy to the end.

He died very peacefully, with us wondering if we'd done the right thing. It was really, really tough. We felt like we'd been hit repeatedly by large sticks at the end of the day.

Yesterday, we got a condolence card from the vet's office. The first vet who had seen him that day, who had lifted his tail, taken one look at the tumor, and said, "Oh my God," wrote, "You made the right choice about Andy." It was a wonderful gift.

I still miss him, though.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Alternate postcards

Some of my favorites from the Twitterati's #TECpostcardslogans.

I've added links to the postcards beneath each one in case you actually want to send them.






That one's my favorite.

If you've been following the story, you might also want to check out my Postcard Postmortem below.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

A Postcard Postmortem Post

Note: This is total Episcopal Church inside baseball. If that's not your thing, I'd advise you to skip this post entirely.

So there was a kerfuffle in the Episcopal Church over the past couple of days -- not the usual kerfuffle, about human sexuality and/or property disputes. This was a much gentler and intimate kerfuffle about how we want to represent our denomination to those outside our immediate circle through outbound marketing materials.

The materials in question took the form of slogans that could be printed off as postcards. As noted by Adam Trambley and others, these materials were problematic. And by "problematic" I mean very bad. I'll talk more about them below.

To our denomination's great credit, the church center responded to the criticism by taking down the postcards and putting up this message:

That said, there isn't actually a way for someone to direct feedback about this campaign to the people or department in charge that I could find. As an initial suggestion, I would love it if the church center would include a link on this page to allow people to give feedback or answer a survey -- or something.

But I am going to take them up on their encouragement to share ideas and criticisms, which I think are still appropriate. This is not in order to beat a horse that's already been put out of its misery, but because I think it will be helpful to analyze what went wrong in order to consider what needs to happen next.

But first a few more general comments:

1) We need to move beyond print media. This campaign was designed for "postcards, ads, and billboards." Why limit ourselves to these forms of media when there are so many easy ways for people to share online? There's no mention of using these on Facebook, even though people did indeed share the visuals that way. There's no mention of embedding the graphics in the church's website, or encouraging people to use it as a badge on their blogs with, say, a link to their local congregation. There are lots of creative ways to make content shareable. Which leads to the next point:

2) We need to move beyond ads coming from the institution itself. The hard truth is people don't trust ads coming from brands or companies saying "buy me!"; they trust their friends. This is not news. And this holds true for The Episcopal Church as a "brand" as well. Sending out a postcard -- even a good one -- that comes from the institutional church saying "Hey, we're great! You should totally check us out!" is not going to be nearly as effective as helping the members of church talk positively about its place in our lives. I mean, look at this chart.

Speaking of the church...

3) We've got to stop talking about the church as "a place people go to on Sundays."  Or at least as if that were its only manifestation. What I hope we mean by "The Episcopal Church welcomes you" is that we who worship God as part of the church in the Episcopal tradition will love you and care for you whether or not you ever darken the doors of one of our buildings. We welcome you by our prayers for the world, by our advocacy efforts, by our service projects, by the Christian formation that we bring to the work that we do day by day. And of course we invite you to share in this way of being the church because we think it has a lot to offer.

Speaking of which...

4) What do we have to offer? One of the real problems and turn-offs of the recent ad campaign is that it sent the message that the only thing desired was to get butts in pews. And it makes me wonder: is there, in fact, any other outcome we actually want? What do we have to offer? Because "you should join us" is not actually telling me anything.

So. Let's take a look at those ads:

Ad #1: Aside from the tinge of the guilt trip about this ("you never call, you never write..."), my other big complaint about the text is that it tells a person absolutely nothing about the Episcopal Church. Is the Episcopal Church 2,000 years old? No? So what are you talking about? What is it? Where is it? What does it stand for? Why on earth should I show up? If you're surprised to see me, are you really welcoming me?

This one also exemplifies complaints 3 and 4, above. Is there any welcome outside of Sunday? What if I work on Sunday? What if my kid has soccer? What do you have for me then? What do you have to offer me?

Ad #2: Oy vey. "Priests play golf too"? First of all, I don't play golf. I'm trying to think of any priest I know who plays golf. Most priests I know have neither the time nor the money to play golf. Most priests I know finish services on Sundays and go take a nap. So there's that. It's just plain weird and has no relationship to the church I know.

And then consider: You send this to a household with a single mom, what does this say to her? You send this to a household where someone lost his job, what does this say to him? It says (for one thing) that I, as a priest, feel most connected to (to use an unfair shorthand) the country club set. Yes, here in the Episcopal Church, we priests like to cut that boring ol' "worship" short to get to the really important stuff: hob-nobbing with the quality. Like us.

Here's my issue with Ad #3: if people in our communities can't see what we have been doing between Easter and Christmas, maybe the problem is with us. Can we instead say "Here's what we've been doing since Easter" with a photo montage of Episcopalians Doing Things.

That's another issue with this ad campaign as a whole: there's not a single image. It makes for a very passive, sterile kind of campaign, and it implies that The Episcopal Church is devoid of people or activity. And that's just plain not true.

We have good stuff to share. The reason this ad campaign bugged me so much is that it sold our denomination woefully short. We can do so much better. I think everyone has realized that.

Again, huge kudos to The Episcopal Church for listening to the criticism and pulling the campaign. Moving forward, I would love to see a campaign that's more generally shareable rather than institutionally driven. And I'd love a campaign that focuses on the fact that the Church reaches far beyond Sunday morning services and shows Episcopalians in all orders of ministry actively engaged in the work of the kingdom of God.

On Mauna Kea

One of the highlights of our trip to the Big Island of Hawaii was going to the top of Mauna Kea. That was no small task. First we had to meet a van at a crossroads outside Waimea. Then we had to drive about an hour through mist and clouds to the Mauna Kea visitors center, where we got our parkas because it's cold up there, you know. Then we had to take the van up bone-rattling unpaved roads for another hour to 13,000 feet. But it was worth it.

We got to the summit just before sundown. Our guides gave us some information on each of the internationally-run observatories. And how they got all that stuff up there I do not know -- especially the all-important lenses and mirrors that make it possible to see objects in space. But there they are.

We also got to see the Gemini observatory open!
Doesn't this look Cloud City from Star Wars?

This is the shadow of the mountain on the clouds, I think.

And then, coming down the mountain in the dark (which was scary), we stopped again near the visitors' center where our guides set up a couple of much smaller, but still impressive, telescopes. With laser pointers, they showed us some of the constellations, and with the telescope, we got to see the rings of Saturn, the Lagoon Nebula (I think it was the Lagoon Nebula), the Butterfly Cluster (a cluster of young stars), and the Andromeda Galaxy, which is 2.5 million light years away.

Can you say perspective? I mean, really, who needs the Total Perspective Vortex? Mauna Kea will do.

The thing is, though, what I got from that is not just how insignificant I am in the grand scheme of things, but how unnecessary it is to curry favor with supposedly important and powerful people because of how insignificant they are in the grand scheme of things. And how important it is to spend time with those you love because, really, time is fleeting and life is very, very short.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Back from vacation

Have you been wondering where your favorite obit-obsessed blogger has been the past couple of weeks? Well, here's a clue:

Yes, you guessed it: We've been to Hawaii!

Oh, you didn't guess that? Well, we were in Waimea on the Big Island, which is cowboy country, and I will have a tale to tell. But that will be in a couple of posts. This is just to say I'm back and catching up. More shortly.