June 3, 2009

The Chaotic Good Preacher

alignment chartAs a rule, I enjoy taxonomies, typologies, personality inventories, and the ilk. I've been Meyers Briggsed, Strong Campbelled, Corinne Wared, Gallup Strengths Findered, Enneagrammed, and the list goes on.

But, honestly, I'm not sure any of them are much better or worse than the good old D&D alignment matrix. In old school D&D you choose an alignment to describe the ethos of your character. You can, on one axis, be Lawful, Neutral, or Chaotic in relationship to your adherence to authority, and on the other axis be Good, Neutral, or Evil in what, in game terms, boils down to your own sense of altruism. In D&D terms, Evil characters are always out for self enrichment and use other people to achieve their own ends.

When applied to real life the alignment grid becomes very interesting. As a pastor in a major, mainline denomination (perhaps two of them) you might predict that I'd be Lawful Good, seeking to maintain social order and promote the common good. It's the classic Paladin alignment after all. But, actually, in testing and in practice, I'm Chaotic Good, and not accidentally so.

I'm fairly suspicious of institutions, whether governmental or ecclesiastical, and not that I doubt the good intentions of the leadership, though sometimes I do. Moreso I question the overall efficacy of such institutions and their ability to really do anything of worth. The bigger the institution, the more out of touch it is. And that's not just my experience, it's my theological reasoning as well. A key biblical text for me in this regard is 1 Samuel 8 which describes what a king does to his people.

Also, I'm just suspicious of moral frameworks in general. After all the fall was caused not by eating an apple, but eating of the fruit of the knowledge of good and evil. Morality is a curse in the context of Genesis 3 and one could argue that the rest of the Bible is dealing with that curse.

So, I'm a Chaotic Good Preacher. I believe that Good is best expressed in individual actions of compassion and justice and not in institutional expressions of the same. Sometimes the system works, sure, but even a blind pig finds an acorn once in awhile.

Practically this means I preach about grace and joy found in concrete expressions of individual's life and charity found in the life of the community. As a leader I try to be sure that my institution for which I'm paradoxically responsible is a permission giving body that tries to chart a course for the body, and then pretty much stays out of the way, giving resources and support, rather than micromanaging. In other words, I try never to let the rules stand in the way of a good idea.

March 25, 2009

What does "free" mean?

free%20gift.jpgI belong to our local freecycle network in which you can advertise items you are giving away for free or pick up other items people are offering for free. It's a simple idea and, for the most part, well executed. But lately there's been a controversy.

A person on our list noticed that something she gave away showed up on Craig's List. She was "very disappointed" and left the network.

I understand her disappointment, but this got me to thinking, when you give something to someone for "free" what does this mean? Does the giver have any reasonable expectation to say how the thing will be used or not used? What if the item was used for awhile - a month, a year, a decade - and then sold or given away? Would that make a difference? Is this any different than someone buying something and then turning around and selling it for more, as many people do at estate and garage sales? Does it make a difference that these two people are only related through this transaction? What if she gave something to a close friend or family member and then it showed up on Craig's List, would that be different?

These are all honest questions and something I've been thinking about this morning. I can see both sides of this issue, honestly. What do you think?

March 11, 2009

Reckless Love

romeo%26juliet_6_lg-761144.gifLately I've been thinking about the nature of love as shown in Romeo and Juliet because of recently rewatching Slings and Arrows and Shakespeare in Love.

To recap, Romeo, on the rebound, falls madly in love with the daughter of his father's rival, Juliet. They get secretly married and have a night of unbridled lust. In a flight of rage, Romeo kills Juliet's cousin, and consequently is banished. Lovesick, Juliet carries out a desperate ploy and fakes her own death causing Romeo to take his own life and, as a nice red bow on this, she kills herself.

And this, my friends, is what is held up as the paragon of love.

My 14 year old daughter said it best, "My friends say they want a love like Romeo and Juliet, but they both kill themselves. Yeck."

Romeo and Juliet's love burns bright and brief, consuming everything in its path, and then explodes, creating devastation and grief, though, it should be said, an unhappy peace between their families.

And yet their love, if it can be called that, is compelling. I'd argue it is compelling in the same way as other tragic figures of the stage and history. They get to live out our fantasies while we can safely sit in our seats and watch the train wreck. Like King Claudius, Shylocke, and MacBeth, Romeo and Juliet live out their compulsion fully before our eyes, where society would keep our passions in check.

At the risk of being called unromantic, I think that the love that consumed Romeo and Juliet cannot in any sense be called a mature love, but that doesn't mean that it's not real and vital.

I think that we, stuck in the humdrum of the ordinary really desire this bright, dangerous, and destructive thing. But we don't want the true consequences of a passion that burns so bright.

March 4, 2009


ddrvsddr.jpgMy son gave up video and computer games for Lent, but made an exception for Dance Dance Revolution since it's a physically active game.

So, here's the thing... when I hear "DDR" the first thing I think of is former East Germany. I'm probably just a product of my generation, but am I the only one who thinks that?

January 14, 2009

Thinking about my life in terms of who's inhabiting the White House

As we will soon have a new resident of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue I've been reflecting on my life in epochs of who was in the White House.

Lyndon B. Johnson
I was born in 1967, so LBJ was president at the time, but I remember nothing about him at all. The first president I have any memories of was...

Richard Nixon
My first memories of Richard Nixon was him greeting astronauts on their return from missions. I also remember in 1972 when I was in kindergarten we had a mock election and I was one of the only kids to vote for McGovern. I also remember being asked why I was voting for McGovern and I said that, "I think we need new blood in the White House." Where did I get that? I don't know. I wish people had listened to me, though. I also remember being irked that the Watergate hearings preempted my afterschool TV schedule.

Gerald Ford
I don't have many clear memories of Ford, though I do remember pictures of him skiing and knowing that his wife supported the ERA where he didn't, which I thought was odd. I had much clearer memories of...

Jimmy Carter
Carter was the president of my late elementary and early Junior High years. Once again, I was one of the few people of my class that, in mock elections, supported Carter. I remember thinking it was cool that his daughter, Amy, was about my age. I also was getting a nascent understanding of issues and being very concerned about energy conservation. The sweater speech made a real impact on me and I started becoming more conscious about how my choices affected my world.

Ronald Reagan
Reagan was the president of my high school and early college years. I went through a lot of changes during those 8 years and my image of Reagan changed greatly too. I remember thinking of him as a kindly, avuncular old man when he first came to office and by the end of his time I was completely disillusioned by US foreign policy and its arrogant use of economic, cultural, and military power.

George H. W. Bush
This was an extremely formative period of my life in which I graduated from college, got married, and was generally extremely idealistic. I was still trying to figure out how I was going to impact the world around me and Bush was certainly a foil. I remember being very involved with the anti-war movement around Gulf War I, as I suppose we must now call it, or maybe just Gulf War Part A. This was an extremely productive period of time for me artistically and, in this crucible, I found a voice and received a call to ministry, though I wasn't sure how that was going to play out.

Bill Clinton
The years of Bill Clinton were very much my figuring out how to live within institutions - the institution of marriage, the church, and so on. Both of my children were born during this time so I also learned how to be a father. I started and finished grad school and found myself moving, a lot. From January, 1993 to January, 2001 I was the pastor of seven different congregations in four different communities. I had six different addresses. I bought my first home. I lived in three different states.

George W. Bush
The Bush years have been my Duluth years. I moved here the night Gore conceded the race. And these years have been marked with disillusionment. My marriage ended. My relationship with the United Methodist Church ended and I became a Presbyterian. I have had to rethink much of what I thought I was building my life on. At the same time these have been great years of relearning who I am and taking responsibility.

What will the Obama years bring for me? What will my personal narrative be of these years ahead? These will be the years that my children enter high school and, depending on his length of office, go to college. I just bought a house and am putting down roots here. I've been at the same church now for 5 1/2 years, but with the economy as it is, who knows what my job security is?

Just thinking aloud.

April 21, 2008

Umbrella Recycling

blackumbrellas.jpgJust in time for Earth Day I thought I'd share my own form of conservation of umbrella resources. I don't own an umbrella. I have, in the past, owned a panoply of crappy black umbrellas that you can pick up for $5 or so, but I always end up losing them or leaving them places, which has led to my current practice.

If I ever really need an umbrella, which is very rare, maybe once a year or less, I simply walk into a nearby restaurant or shop and approach the cashier and say, "Hi! Can I check your Lost and Found? I think I left a black umbrella the last time I was here." Almost invariably there is a black umbrella in the Lost and Found and the clerk is more than happy to get rid of it.

Now, for those of you who will immediately say this is unethical I'd agree that, nominally, there is some prevarication involved but, in its favor, I'd posit the following.

First of all, it's sustainable. Reusing otherwise idle umbrellas languishing in some Lost and Found cuts down on capricious use of resources.

Secondly, it passes Kant's categorical imperative. What if everyone did this? Well, that would mean that umbrellas would actually get used and people wouldn't buy umbrellas that they didn't need. Eventually it is possible that Lost and Founds might divest themselves of umbrellas, and then the market will correct itself with people buying more umbrellas, but I really don't see that happening in my lifetime. So, in my opinion, if everyone did this it would be a net good.

Third, it's not like I haven't invested in the umbrella economy. I have, in fact, donated many umbrellas to the glut of abandoned umbrellas that clog Lost and Found boxes.

So be kind to the earth and check your local Lost and Found for an umbrella next time you need one.

April 19, 2008

Director's Notes

crystal-ball.jpgI went to a production of Blithe Spirit last night at a local high school. It had a Director's Note like none I've ever seen. Most Director's Notes for plays fall into the following categories:

  • My Artistic Vision - These are always amusing, typically arrogant, and often portend disaster for the next 2 hours.
  • Thank You So Much - This is what a director says when he or she can't think of anything else to say. Also often portends disaster.
  • Wink Wink, Nudge Nudge - The director makes little inside jokes that you just had to be there for. Your friend in the cast will explain it after the show through hails of laughter. Smile and nod.
  • I Have a Masters Degree - Hey, the director spent a lot of time and money getting that degree. Might as well put it to use. Yawn.
  • The History of this Play - Blah, blah, blah. Start the frickin' play already.

This page long "note," however, read like a paper on British-Indian relations in the middle of the 20th century when Great Britain was divesting itself of its colonial possessions. When I got to the bottom of this dissertation it was all because of two lines in the play that disparage Indians and how they decided to leave the lines in even though they are "offensive" and how they do "not in any way condone these beliefs."

I rolled my eyes.

I had never seen Blithe Spirit, though I knew the gist of it. Fabulous dead wife returns from the dead to haunt living husband and domineering living wife. So it was fun for me, considering the lengthy disclaimer in the Director's Notes, to see what this Catholic High School thought wasn't worth disclaiming...

  • Alcohol Abuse - The characters are constantly drinking and it's a major theme of the play, but, on the whole, apparently better than racial slurs.
  • Wife Beating - The dead wife mentions how her husband struck her with a pool cue but that she still loved him. Better than calling Indians lazy!
  • Occult Practice - Summoning people from the dead, while strictly forbidden in scripture, is still more acceptable than racial epithets!
  • Tobacco Use - Considering the current civic obsession about smoking I'm surprised that there wasn't a disclaimer about people smoking in the 1940s being the social norm, but apparently casting aspersions on Indians is worse!
  • Adultery - There's plenty of discussion about infidelities and trysts and indiscretions and other naughty extra-marital behavior which kinda made me blush coming from the mouths of 16 and 17 year olds, but apparently that doesn't merit a disclaimer.

Oh, and not only did these brief comments merit a full page disclaimer, but were the main topic of the opening curtain speech which went on for several minutes. Nothing about how hard the kids had worked on the play or how fun the play was to do. Nope, the director seemed bent on making sure no one was offended.

And that, unfortunately, is what it all comes down to... making sure no one is offended. And, of course, this is evidence of social psychosis. Because we can't control what offends people any more than we can control what makes people sad, or happy, or angry. I mean, sure, it's good to be considerate, but it's a slippery slope to start apologizing for certain things and leaving other issues out. And if we can only do plays that don't offend anyone well, there goes Shakespeare, Moliere, Eugene O'Neill, Tennessee Williams, and, well, just about any other playwright of note.

So, to all the artists out there, I hereby give you permission to make art that may offend me. Go for it.

August 4, 2007

The Art of Running to First

littleleaguebaseballbat15_clip_image008.jpgMy son, Simon, just finished a summer of Pee Wee League baseball this week. He improved a lot over the summer and learned the important skill of how to run to first base.

First, you have to unencumber yourself. The first time he ran to first in a game he took the bat most of the way with him before he remembered to discard it. While the bat was essential to set in motion the events that allowed him to run to first, the bat is no longer useful and, in fact, is a detriment for the actual act of running to first.

Second, you have to detach yourself. Once the ball is hit, it's gone. You no longer have any control over it. It's tempting to watch the ball, its trajectory, its journey, whether it's caught or not, but what if it is? You can't do anything about that. you have to detach yourself from it.

Third, focus yourself on the goal. Unencumbered and detached, you now only have one objective. Run to first. That is your only goal. The ball may get there before you, it may not. That doesn't matter. This is no time for distractions or half-hearted effort. Run!

Once you get to first safely then is the time for further evaluation. Are you out? Are you safe? Do you need to run further? Many permutations and possibilities can be considered, but only after you've made it to first.

I've learned a lot from my son this summer.

August 2, 2007

Objects in the Air

"I saw objects in the air that didn't belong there." - Melissa Hughes, MPR article

980051601_b9acf1bfc0.jpgOddly yesterday morning, some 9 hours before the Minneapolis bridge collapsed, I was reading about the history of London Bridge. A bridge of some sort has spanned that portion of the Thames since 60 AD when the Romans first put up a wood structure there. And we all know the song.

Objects in the air.

What strikes me is how much we operate on faith. Faith in bridges, that these objects that span water in air grounded to earth will carry us safely time after time and we don't even think about it. Why should we?

Objects in the air.

And what I love is the audacity of the human race that we impose our will on our geography. Rivers, mountains, deserts, air, space... all are daunting, but not barriers. We launch our minds to span the breech, whatever it may be.

Objects in the air that don't belong there.

[photo by ebrandt78]

July 29, 2007

The Gospel for Draco Malfoy

200px-Draco_Malfoy_PoA.jpgFor those of you who haven't yet read the seventh Harry Potter book, some mild spoilers follow.

For those of you who haven't read any Harry Potter books, this will still make some sense. It revolves around Draco Malfoy, a bully and sometimes antagonist to Harry. Draco spends the seven books either bullying the weak with his posse of dim-witted heavies or kissing up to those he estimates are powerful.

In the the Deathly Hallows, the last book in the series, Draco, in spite of his worst intentions and best efforts to reclaim favor with Voldemort (the chief bad guy), is spared his life many times through the actions of others, often at great peril to themselves. He is often oblivious to this or, if he has some inkling of sacrifices that have been made for him, he is ungrateful.

In short, he is a sycophantic, self-centered, power-hungry brat who has an overdeveloped sense of his own entitlement. I shake my head at Draco and wonder if he has any idea what people have sacrificed for him, and yet he shows no gratitude, no remorse.

And, wondering this, I realize that I have more in common with Draco than I'd like to think. Oh, I wouldn't describe myself as a bully, but am I really aware of the sacrifices that have been made for me through the years, directly or indirectly? Am I grateful enough for the happy circumstances that surround my existence? Do I treat those around me according to the grace I have been given?

Some may be disturbed that Malfoy doesn't get more of a comeuppance at the end of Deathly Hallows, that he has received unmerited grace over and over again. And yet we live too in that grace. Over and over again we have received benefits which we do not deserve, forgiveness that we do not merit, sustenance for which we did not toil.

So I end the series with some chagrin, recognizing the Draco within, and vowing to be more grateful, more humble, and more joyful for the life I have.

July 20, 2007

If I were you...

if-i-were-you-label.jpgA couple years ago I was giving Simon some fatherly advice which started "If I were you..."

He listened patiently and informed me that I was incorrect because, "if you were me then you would think like I do and act like I do."

Can't argue with that logic.

Similarly I realized the other day that in any conditional (if A then B) if the antecedant (A) is false then the consequent (B) may or may not be true.

Therefore, when someone begins a sentence with the patently false antecedant "If I were you" you can pretty much ignore anything they say because there is no truth value to it.

Now there's logic you can use.

July 1, 2007

All Those Moments

Blade Runner was released 25 years ago this week. I thank On the Media for reminding me of that.

I remember first seeing this film while attending a summer session at Harvard and was floored by it as a teenager. I think I need to see it again.

What lingers with me are the cityscapes and the music by Vangelis. I remember the mishmash of humanity where cultures collide and merge in a way that seems startling familiar. Of course, the whole philosophical question of "What does it mean to be human?" is at the core of the movie, and it gives no easy answers. Does Roy truly die? Did he live? Does he feel or have simply a simulation of feeling? Is there a difference?

So much to ponder. So much to relish.

May 23, 2007

Awkward Conversation

fuzzycopicI was in Chicago visiting my friends Fuzzy (who took the picture) and Erica last Saturday and we went out to see Maria Bamford do her stand up show. It was a great evening and she's an amazing performer. She also happens to be from Duluth.

I was thinking to myself, "Gosh, I should go introduce myself after the show and let her know I'm from Duluth."

But then another neuron fired and said, "To what end? Why would she care? Clearly she's happy to be out of there."

"Yeah," said my more obsequious, starstruck self back, "but she might like me if I tell her I'm from her hometown and we'd strike up a fabulous friendship and that would be so cool."

And the more experienced, jaded self said, "Suuuuuure."

And then my little puppy dog self said, "Okay, never mind. It was just an idea."

After the show I was standing out in the lobby waiting for Fuzzy to finish using the little boy's room and all of a sudden Maria Bamford was standing next to me. There she was. And people weren't crowding her and actually the people there were talking to the opener. So then I opened my mouth.

"Err... Hi, I liked your set."

"Oh, thanks."

"Um, I'm visiting, actually, from Duluth."

"Oh, really? What part?"

"Oh, erm, actually I recently moved up to Two Harbors."

"Oh... go Agates!"


Thank God Fuzzy came out at that point.

So, the interesting thing on reflection is that she was at least as awkward with the conversation as I was. Oh well... live and learn... sorta.

Continue reading "Awkward Conversation" »

May 18, 2007

Phantom Ring

wood1.jpgPhantom Limb is a well-known and documented phenomenon. For those not familiar with it, amputees often feel sensations in their missing limb. I have something similar to that. I have "Phantom Ring." It's been well over five years since I took off my wedding ring but I can still feel the sensation of it around my left ring finger. My thumb still crosses my palm to fiddle with it, like a tongue drawn to a cavity in a tooth. Its absence still is befuddling for me.

Today would have been my 16th anniversary but, less you get the wrong idea, let me assure you that this isn't some poetic allegory about regret or remorse. I suppose part of me wants this Phantom Ring to mean something, though I couldn't say what it was. Perhaps it is just the sensation of something that was that has passed.

I'm sure some of you are reading this and thinking, "Isn't that sweet?" or "Isn't that pathetic? He still longs after his ex-wife." Nothing could be further from the truth. I'm glad Charlotte and I divorced. In fact, the more I think about it the better I feel about it. Our divorce opened up a whole new way of being for me that wouldn't have been realized in our marriage. I've taken responsibility for my own life, my own choices, my own environment, and, not inconsequentially, my own finances.

Yet, the Phantom Ring persists. I can't say what it means, if it means anything. I just report the fact that I have a Phantom Ring.

April 17, 2007

Your World - Torn Apart

tornado.gifFrom the files of Random Childhood Memories: I couldn't have been more than 8. My family was on vacation and I remember my parents wanted to take us to some sort of roadside attraction where they recreated the story of the Wizard of Oz. I think the sign said something like "Join Dorothy on her journey to Oz!" or something like that. I can't tell you how it was because I refused to go.

In my kid brain I had some facts. I knew the story of the Wizard of Oz. I knew how Dorothy got to Oz. I knew the devastating power and unpredictability of tornadoes. And there was no way I was going to get into one of them, no matter how safe my parents said it would be. Frankly, I thought they'd lost their minds. How could they assure me that a tornado would be safe?

Of course, it probably was perfectly safe. I was overreacting. I should have trusted my parents. My fault in reasoning as a kid, really, was embuing grown ups with the power to make tornadoes occur on a whim. I know now that they can't really do that. But, you know, I'm not sure my instinct was wrong.

The world is not a safe place, no matter how much grown ups assure you that it is. Grown ups can't always be there to protect you. And they don't have as much power as we pretend they do.

The best thing for it, I have found, is to grow up myself and not count on grown ups to keep me safe. It's a hard thing to face your fears, to prepare yourself, to acknowledge simultaneously how powerful and powerless you are.

In training for this I have ridden roller coasters, eaten sushi, had kids, and a slew of other very scary things.

Now I have children who are sometimes frightened by how powerful and powerless they are. I'm with you.

April 12, 2007

Septic Memories of Vonnegut


Kurt Vonnegut died yesterday. When I think of Kurt Vonnegut I think back on the summer of 1989 when I had just graduated from Purdue. I got a temporary job working for a county health department and I spent most of that summer reading everything by Kurt Vonnegut I could get my hands on. It was a perfect fit in many ways.

My first job for the department was to get their database up and running. Personal computers were still pretty new then and everything was on paper file. I was asked to get the database ready to receive information and teach the secretary how to do it. My supervisor gave me two weeks and then I could move on to a field assignment. Well, it was the summer and I didn't really want to spend two weeks in the office when I could be outside, so I got the job done in 2 days. When I reported this to my supervisor he was thrilled, but since I still had a week and a half left, he had me do data entry for the remainder of the time.

This is what expediency gets you.

When I finally got out in the field my job was to go around the county and inspect tile fields, a kind of off-grid septic system, to see if they were working properly. If not I was supposed to note that and try to find a connection between failures. There were a lot of tile fields in the county and I was supposed to check most of them before the summer was out. I jumped right to it and, after a couple weeks, I realized if I kept this up I would be done long before the deadline.

Now, I'm not stupid. I had already learned what beauracracies do to the efficient. So I found lots of time to read Kurt Vonnegut during long lunch breaks and found myself enjoying many of the city and state parks around the area on sunny summer afternoons.

One of the things I learned from that summer was that no matter how well manicured the lawn or how many cars are on the lawn, no matter how nice or surly the person is when answering the door, when I lifted the inspection portal, sewage always smells the same.

I think Kurt would agree.

January 13, 2007

The Funeral Lady

rhspic_funeral.jpgOut in the sanctuary sits the funeral lady in her fake fur coat and garish head scarf. She is old and I only see her at funerals. In the last three years I've been here she's been at almost every funeral I've presided over. She's not a member of the church. I've heard her name, but it has slipped from memory. She always lets me know how much the deceased meant to her and how she knew the whole family, but that's an act. She's just the funeral lady. Like a grim reaper with bad fashion sense I can trust her to show up on the scene.

I'm not sure what her motivation is. Maybe it's the food, as funerals are always at least decently catered affairs. Maybe it's the company. Maybe it's a way of showing respect to the dead, even the anonymous dead. Maybe it's just something for an old woman to do. Maybe she just likes the words of solace and hope associated with funerals. Maybe I'll never know.

I imagine her sitting at home with cats mewling as she drinks her instant coffee and scans the obituaries to plan her social agenda for the week. On her formica kitchen table are little porcelain salt and pepper shakers in the shape of a little boy and a little girl, chipped here and there revealing the white interior. On a corner shelf, among painted plates on display, is a picture of her in her younger years full of hope and plans for the future. She sits, lithe and young, on the hood of a car her skirt pulled over her knees. Next to her sits her husband-to-be back in the day when love and lust meant the same thing. Full of hormones they pause to pose for the camera, holding hands, placing their libidos in check for a brief instant as the shutter clicks and captures the image. Later there will be tears and shouting, but that moment of happiness and chemistry is captured for all time.

What does she think about as she sits in the pew? Does she worry about being found out as a funeral crasher? Does she concoct stories of how she knew the deceased spinning plausible lies in her head? Does she convince herself that she really knew these people that she mourns now? Or do these countless funerals stand in for her own loss? What is her own personal liturgy as she hears Amazing Grace sung for the ten thousandth time? What do the well worn words of the twenty third psalm mean to her as she recites them again and again?

She is a mystery. She is the funeral lady.

December 16, 2006


Promoting grammar, punctuation, and spelling on the internet is a little like promoting healthy eating at a fast food convention, but one lives in hope. I have come to accept that in netspeak people don't always capitalize their sentences. Sometimes a return replaces a period. Sometimes (and I shudder at the thought) people even substitute the letter "u" for the word "you."

But more than all of these things what annoys me the most is the capricious and wanton use of "lol."

Now, I'm not a purist. I use this abbreviation myself... when I'm laughing... out loud. I don't stop to write, "Oh, Beatrix! How witty you are! I am beside myself with laughter. I can hardly control my bowels I am chortling with such ferocity." No, if I laugh when I am IM-ing someone, I zap off a quick "lol."

What I can't stand is when "lol" is used as a kind of punctuation. An example:

pnk1323: hi lol
ironic1: Hello, how are you?
pnk1323: good lol u?
ironic1: I'm fine. What can I do for you?
pnk1323: lol I dunno lol

I mean, I'm a pretty funny writer and I consider myself to be passingly witty, but no one is that funny.

So, let me add my plea to that of the above video. To all you compulsive lol-ers out there... Stop it, for the love of God! Please, stop! It's not funny. It's not cute. It's as annoying as hell.

December 9, 2006

Fate, Life, and Art -
A Theological Review of "Stranger than Fiction"


Harold Crick has a problem. He is aware of his fate.

Well, not entirely, but one morning as he is going through his paces he suddenly hears a disembodied voice narrating his every move and commenting on the mundaneness of his routine. He soon realizes that this voice is narrating a story that will culminate with his ultimate demise... and soon.

He sets out on a desparate odyssey to find this disembodied voice and convince the owner not to finish the story. Along the way he contends with his number obsessed colleagues at the IRS, an anarchist baker who becomes the object of his affection, and a professor of literature who tries to guide him through the narrative of his life.

[Spoiler Alert - Plot spoilers ahead. You've been warned.]

Continue reading "Fate, Life, and Art -
A Theological Review of "Stranger than Fiction"" »

November 16, 2006

Water Cooler Factor

water_cooler_1.jpgAll right, I have to ask the question - Does anyone actually stand around a water cooler and have conversations with their coworkers?

I must have heard this tired old saw used three or four times this last week. We supposedly have water cooler conversations about sports, about television, about politics, and today I was told we are having water cooler conversations about OJ Simpson's new book.

Well, in my place of work we don't even have a water cooler. And, while I'm not typically a literalist about these sorts of things, I have to wonder - Do these conversations really exist around said water coolers?

November 3, 2006

Signs of Intelligent Life

vla1_grande.jpgI'm writing for Out of the Hat again, which is a 24 hour project where the writers draw out of a hat (literally) a who, what, where, and, this time around, an opening line and have to write an approximately 10 minute script overnight. My prompts for today's script?

Who: Oprah
What: Gummi Bears
Where: Elmo’s World
Opening Line: “Oh… I see.”

Oddly, three of these prompts were placed in the hats by my daughter. What are the odds?

So, lucky you, you can read my play before it's performed tonight. I remind gentle readers that all writings on this site are under a Creative Commons License.

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October 27, 2006

Full Service

gasman.jpgThe needle is below "E" when I pull up to the pump and an overalled man comes out of the garage wiping his hands on an oil rag. And I think to myself, "Uh oh, what did I do?" Then I realize, "Oh my gosh, he's coming to pump my gas."

"What can I do for you today, sir?"

I blush. I'm still not used to being called "sir," especially by a man 20 years my senior. I feel myself casting about for words. This is not a social interaction I am used to. I don't know the steps to this dance.

"Oh, um, fill it up with... 87..." I know I should say "regular" - that's what my dad always had said - but there were three grades of gas and I thought being more specific was somehow more saavy. It was like I was saying, "I'm not like those other guys who come in here talking about 'regular,' I use numbers." Of course, I can't think of the word "octane" so I just let the number hang there, but I sell it like I am some kind of service station hipster. I am too cool for units.

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October 6, 2006

Friendly Fascism

mal8st.jpg"Of all tyrannies, a tyranny exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It may be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron's cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end, for they do so with the approval of their own conscience."

Any guess who said this?

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October 5, 2006

What Shall We Declare War on Next?

brain on drugsIt don't get much more ironic than this.

The GAO has recently completed a study on the effectiveness of the government's Anti-Drug Ad Campaign, and after 1.4 billion dollars over 18 years not only has the War on Drugs not reduced drug use, it looks like it may have actually increased drug use.

And, of course, a recently released NIE reports that our War on Terror has actually produced more terrorists.

So, let's recap -

War on Drugs = More Drug Users

War on Terror = More Terrorists

Given this track record of success, what shall we declare war on next?

Or, perhaps, just maybe, declaring war, even as a metaphor, is a losing proposition. Hmmmm...

September 26, 2006

I Pissed Someone Off

angry-woman.gifA complete stranger read me the riot act the other day. I blame the system. Here's how it went down...

I got to my favorite java haunt about 10:30 on a Saturday morning and the place was packed. There were two lines forming, one for seating for table service and one for the counter. I waited for the counter and ordered my typical coffee and muffin "for here," as I usually do, and waited for a seat. When one opened up, I sat down with my morning delicacies and proceeded to munch.

About 3 minutes later a woman, a complete stranger, came up to my table. "I saw what you did and you should be ashamed."

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September 11, 2006

The End of Innocence

Of all the painful memories of this day five years ago the most painful is the one where I tell my then 6 year old daughter what happened. "Planes flew into buildings in New York and a lot of people died."

"But it was an accident, right?"

Forever after that moment my daughter has lived in a world where people fly planes into buildings on purpose.

Many people lost a lot on September 11, 2001. What my daughter lost was innocence. And while that may seem a small thing, I mourn it still.

September 7, 2006


Some thoughts on September 11, 2001 five years later from a Brooklyner...

That pretty much sums it up for me. Thanks, Ze, for saying it so I don't have to.

August 17, 2006

0° 0°

0-0.jpgI was eating breakfast and staring at a globe that I keep in my dining room when it struck me that the place where the equator and the prime meridian meet is just open water off the coast of Africa. No great city or discernable landmark. No great wonder of the world at 0° and 0° created by human hands. No island nation or theme park where they can sell trinkets or souvenirs.

If you think of it the point itself is fairly arbitrary, but not without significance. It is where the line defined by the continual motion of our planet which brings about dawn and dusk every day as it has for eons before humans climbed down from the trees meets a line defined by a bunch of white men drunk with their own power deciding the prime meridian of the earth should pass through an observatory in Greenwich, England.

At 0° 0° meets human hubris and nature's endless cycles. Here humanity says, "I judge this point to be the nexus of the earth! From this point will all other points be judged and understood!" And nature shrugs and continues its inexorable journey. We map. We define. We name. But the map is not the territory. And I would bet that the fish and other denizens of the earth's prime address do not sell t-shirts or care that we difgnify their abode with our designations. They continue their merry dance ignorant of our pretentions. And just as well.

July 19, 2006

Show Me the Money

Biddersrow.jpgCan someone explain to me the appeal of the Price is Right among the octogenarian set?

I just came back from doing another round of visiting shut ins and nursing home bound folks and I am constantly amazed that almost everywhere I visit between 10 and 11 a.m. there is Bob Barker on the television set. What is the deal? Is it just because it's familiar and it's been running forever? Does Bob hold some sort of strange charisma for the 80+ year olds? I can't believe that they are actually interested in the goods they are hocking. I mean, the whole show is just an hour long commercial.

Can anyone enlighten me? I'd really like to know.

July 15, 2006

Why New Media is the Domain of Progressives

The Right is right to fear the Internet, because it is a medium whose ethic is essentially antithetical to the Right.

amandamsnbc.jpgI've been thinking a lot about this since Amanda Congdon left Rocketboom, not because Amanda is so openly a lefty, but because of how she talked about her relationship with her audience. It is about interactivity and listening and having the audience be coproducers of media as she said in a recent interview. When she was asked what new media gets that old media doesn't get she answered, "How to make friends with my audience." Old media doesn't want to make friends. They want to make consumers.

loiclm.jpgAnd then I saw Loic Le Meur, a french entrepreneur, on Mobuzz talk about the nature of innovation in business to take advantage of the new media. He talked about how the old model was for some idea guys to cook up an idea for a product, focus group it, design it, produce it, and then make a market it. If necessary, create the need for the product. The new model is almost completely backwards. You first announce the product and then cocreate it with the consumer from the ground up.

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One of the Crowd

Last night I was in Leif Erikson Park with roughly a thousand other people watching Raiders of the Lost Ark. It was a great way to spend a hot summer evening, sitting next to the lake on blankets watching the mother of all summer movies. Everyone was remarking on how many people kept coming and coming, and I started thinking of act of being in an audience.

3D-Cinema-Audience.jpgI mean, a movie is just more fun as a shared experience. Why? Empathy. Empathy is as natural to humans as breathing. We can empathize with people around us even if we've never met them and can't speak their language. And when you experience art with others, dimensions open up in unexpected ways. You see a different movie in an audience than you do alone. As a father I particularly like watching movies I knew from long ago with my kids. It's like watching them for the first time, because they are watching them for the first time.

The problem I have with the internet is that it is, in essence, a solo event. Even when you send videos to your friends and relatives and you see the same thing, you don't usually see it together. So everyone is seeing the Diet Coke and Mentos guys with their own eyes, their own point of view, their own prejudices. While we can then blog about it and share notes, we don't have that visceral experience of seeing it together. We don't get the subtle shift of their bodies, whether they snicker or guffaw, the timing of a sigh.

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July 13, 2006

It Ain't Necessarily So

132nelson_r1_c1.jpgNot as high and mighty as we all thought, eh, Lord Nelson?

Since its unveiling in 1843 it has been reported that Nelson's Column in Trafalgar Square, London was 185 feet from street level to the tip of his jaunty hat. Well, as the column was being restored it was found that that figure wasn't quite right. In actuality the monument was only 169 feet 5 inches, a full 15 feet shorter than had been documented for years.

Consider: Thousands of visitors every day. Millions, perhaps billions of people passing by this monument in the last 160 years. No one thought to question the fact of how tall this statue really is. And we're not talking inches here. And, on top of that, the column had been restored twice before.

My takeaway, don't take facts at face value. Question and then measure for yourself. I think I'm going to march into my bathroom right now and check if there really are 500 sheets of toilet paper in a roll.

July 10, 2006

Wiping the Hard Drive

harddrivewipe.jpgSo, I've been thinking about memory lately. It takes work to remember things and if you don't practice remembering a thing, then it fades. For instance, I lived in Fort Wayne, Indiana for over four years, but I can't remember my phone number there. I can remember my pin number on my atm card because I use it all the time, but there will come a day where those four digits will be lost.

Significant people in one's life take up memory space and you have to work to remember certain details and facts about a person. I was going out with a woman for about a month and now that relationship is over and chances are I probably won't see her again. Now what happens to those memories? Probably they will fade quickly, being pushed out for more active memories - new phone numbers, new pin numbers, new addresses.

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July 5, 2006

Medium Dark Roast, Occasionally a Muffin

cup.jpgI was in my local coop when one of the deli workers recognized me and my kids from her previous place of work, which happens to be my favorite java haunt in town.

"I know you! Medium Dark Roast, Occasionally a Muffin!"

Which is fair, because I don't really know her name either. In my mind she's "Perky, Auburn Hair, Gets My Order Right."

We talked about how things were going on at her old place of employment and how many new workers they have there and how the service has slipped as they train new people in. "There are a few reliable servers there and I gravitate toward those," I said.

"Like John?" she offered.

I shrugged and smiled.

"Big Hair, Smiles a Lot?"

"Oh, you mean the Dude Who Calls Everybody Dude? Yeah, he's great."

All this made me wonder what other names I am known by. And how many of them would I like?

[Thanks to The Woman Who Moved Into My House After I Left for prompting this post.]