Saturday, May 30, 2009

You take the good, you take the bad, you take them both, and ask the good to stop wearing so much eyeliner, and there you have "The Facts of Life"

Are you into American Idol?

My dear readers, I'm sure that both of you know that when AI debuted seven or eight years ago, I was really into it. But these days, it's tough for me to get excited about it.

I did, however, occasionally watch the Idol this season. And for weeks -- nay, months -- I struggled with who I thought odds-on favorite Adam Lambert reminded me of. He had a very familiar face, but I just couldn't place it.

Until now.

Friends, at this time, thanks to a photo that appeared in a post from Michelle Collins at Best Week Ever, I am able to specifically point out the individual that Adam Lambert calls to mind for me:

Mindy Cohn (Natalie Green on TV's "The Facts of Life"), left.
Adam Lambert (Adam Lambert on TV's "American Idol"), right.

Do you see it?

Check around the eyebrows, the nose, the cheeks, the mouth...pretty much everything in my CSI-addled brain leads me to believe that facial recognition software would have no trouble at all pegging Adam Lambert either as a relative of Mindy Cohn or as Mindy Cohn herself in the role of a lifetime as a 27-year-old male entertainer with a penchant for cosmetics and screeching.

And now, I can rest easy.

Monday, May 25, 2009

My Facebook quiz about me

The new trend on Facebook is to make up a quiz about yourself and let your friends take it. Want to take my quiz? By all means, click here...except I think we have to be Facebook friends for you to take it, so if we're not friends already, you should become my friend. Not just, you know, so you can take the quiz and learn what I'm allergic to and what board game I have banned myself for life from, but also so we can be friends, man!

Friday, May 22, 2009

Sermonizing, a little bit

The annual conference meeting of the Indiana Area United Methodist Church is taking place in June. Each year, they invite laity from around the conference to develop and submit sermon manuscripts based around a certain theme. I think I'm entering this year -- the theme is "Disciples Transforming the World Through Prayer." It's due tomorrow, so I'm hustling to get it done, but here's a preview of a draft in progress. (If you have any feedback, make it quick, since it has to be postmarked by May 23! Otherwise, just tell me how great you think it is...)


Disciples Transforming The World -- And Being Transformed Themselves -- Through Prayer

"Take this most seriously: A yes on earth is a yes in heaven; a no on earth is a no in heaven. What you say to one another is eternal. I mean this. When two of you get together on anything at all on earth and make a prayer of it, my Father in heaven goes into action. And when two or three of you are together because of me, you can be sure that I'll be there."
Matthew 18:18-20 (MSG)
According to God’s plan, everywhere and all the time, we disciples, together, are transforming the world -- and being transformed ourselves -- through God’s great gift of prayer.

When Jesus gathered the disciples together to speak to them about what it means to be bound to God on earth and in heaven, he reinforced for us what happens every time we gather together in God’s name. The twelve original followers received from Jesus a vivid reminder of the power of their very coming together. Today -- 2,000 years later -- we still need that reminder of God’s great hope for us and of God’s deep desire to support us, just as we support each other in ministries of love, compassion, and service.

We Christians are transforming the world all the time, and prayer is a vital component of that transformation. Through world missions, community ministries, and caring outreach, millions of disciples every day are making a positive difference around the world and in our own backyard. Our mission teams travel halfway around the world or right down the street to feed the hungry and house the homeless and heal the sick, all the time proclaiming the word of God in word and in deed -- often, in both word and deed. Every hour of every day, Christians are working tirelessly to make the world a better place, one bowl of soup at a time, one brick at a time, one vaccination at a time, one mosquito net at a time. And every day here at home, in our own congregations, our Stephen Ministers, funeral hostesses, support groups, small group leaders and members show loving support to the grieving, the dying, the depressed, the unemployed, and others who need to know God’s love.

Though these acts of service are the real, physical manifestation of God’s love, the even deeper impact is made through the prayers shared among the everyday ministers who are showing God’s love, and between those servants and the ones they serve. And often we disciples are the ones who end up transformed through these prayers.

On a recent mission trip to Sierra Leone, I witnessed firsthand the power of prayer and its impact on those we serve and its impact on us as servants. The team had traveled to a small, upcountry town, to visit a school and the attached clinic. While the doctors and nurses were seeing patients, a harried father carried in his young daughter, who was showing symptoms of malaria. As one of our team’s doctors was examining her, he realized that her heart had stopped beating; in just a few brief minutes, this beautiful child of God had gone to eternal life. Just as quickly as she was brought in, she was taken away, as the family had specific funeral customs and traditions to honor, and the team was left to pray for her, her family, and all the people of Sierra Leone, for whom malaria is an unfortunate -- and preventable -- reality.

While this tragedy was unfolding in the clinic, I was visiting with students at the school we had traveled upcountry to see. I spoke with 20 students, and when I asked them what line of work they wanted to pursue, almost all of them said they wanted to be doctors and nurses. When I asked them why, they told me that they knew their country needed healing. In the face of rampant medical concerns in a country recovering from civil war, these young people understood the importance of service and community -- of coming together in God’s name, to be pathways for God’s healing light. That evening, I prayed for those students and their hopes for the future, that they might have the opportunity to live as beacons of God's love, whether as doctors and nurses or as caring and cared-for children of God, in any profession.

The next day, we attended a ceremony to dedicate a building that our congregations had helped to fund. As our team leader was speaking, she quoted Dr. Chuck Dietzen of the Indianapolis-based Timmy Foundation, who often says, “We are not all born to be doctors and nurses, but we can all be healers.” This, of course, rang especially true for me because so many of the students I had spoken with the day before had expressed interest in becoming doctors and nurses, but the realities of the Sierra Leonean education system may or may not allow those dreams to be realized.

And as I glanced to my left, I saw a young man, probably 14 or 15 years old, writing intently in his notebook. I looked closer and saw that he was writing down our team leader’s words: “We are not all born to be doctors and nurses, but we can all be healers.” He understood the importance of those words, and his commitment to them reinforced for me what our trip was about -- our African friends want to work hard and they just need a little help, which we can provide in many forms. They need our presence and our service; they need some funds; and, perhaps most importantly, they need our prayers. Our African brothers and sisters cry out for our prayers most of all -- as we are praying for them, they know they are on our minds and in our hearts. And as we ask God to bless them, we are also transformed, made more aware of our own blessings and driven even more to tell their stories. Our very prayers make a difference to them and to us, laying the foundation for the transformation of individual lives and the transformation of the world.

But we don’t have to travel across the ocean to find folks in need of prayer and God’s restorative love. In March, a number of servants from congregations across central Indiana volunteered for an event called Indy Homeless Connect, a resource fair for almost 1,000 homeless people in Indianapolis. This year, in addition to the traditional services of job and housing assistance, medical care, haircuts, and food service, the event’s organizers established a Spiritual Garden, a quiet space for spiritual support and prayer time. Led by Castleton UMC, Stephen Ministers from United Methodist churches across central Indiana staffed the Spiritual Garden for hours, meeting with our homeless neighbors, talking with them, listening to them, and praying with them. As I served lunch to a few hundred neighbors, I watched across the Convention Center floor and saw my fellow Stephen Minister friends sharing hugs, smiles, tears, and – most important – prayers with our homeless neighbors. At the end of the day, many of us reflected on what an honor it was for us to serve in this way. It was a joy to share prayer with our brothers and sisters in Christ. In fact, we found that the experience was as transformational for us as it was for those whom we were there to serve.

In the scripture, Jesus talked to the disciples about what happens when they come together in the name of God, and we know those words are just as true for us today. Mission work teams who travel around the world and those who serve around the block come together in God’s name to do God’s work among God’s people. In the very act of committing to serve and “making a prayer of it,” we invite God to go into action. And just as important as the individuals who travel to Sierra Leone, or India, or Honduras, or downtown Indianapolis, are the people at home who are praying on behalf of the teams’ safety, health, and effective ministry. These prayer partners at home transform the world by ensuring that everyday life can continue while other servants head out to be the hands and feet of Jesus; without the prayer support of husbands and wives, children and grandchildren, co-workers and co-worshipers, this type of servant ministry would not be possible.

Jesus tells us that our coming together in service, in fellowship, and of course in worship, honors God’s plan for us. And God transforms us and equips us to transform the world when we join together in prayer.

The act of prayer is an act of courageous conversation. Talking to God and listening to God is an exchange, in which we give our concerns and our joys and our thanks to God, while receiving God’s love, support, and comfort. But we seldom acknowledge the courage that prayer requires of us. When we speak with God and when we listen to God -- when we really open ourselves up to God’s word -- often the result is not what we expected. God may give us a command or a call, or sometimes a nudge or a whisper.

Quite literally, God transforms the world through us, and our prayer lives serve as the link between us and God. Whether we realize it our not, God is guiding us, all the time, to opportunities to do good works. In very real ways, we are the hands of Jesus and the feet of Jesus and the hammers and nails of Jesus and the pots and pans of Jesus. We are the ears of Jesus and the tears of Jesus, the loving words of Jesus, the tender hugs of Jesus. We are the dollars and cents of Jesus, the plows and seeds and fertilizer of Jesus. Every time we pray as Jesus taught us, we’re praying for -- and about -- a world transformed by God, where God’s Kingdom is come and God’s will is done on earth as in heaven.

When God acts through us in the world, we become the conduits through which God’s love flows. And the great thing is that, as God’s love flows through us to others, some of it rubs off on us. When we pray and God leads us to transformational acts, it is we who are transformed. Mother Teresa described herself as a little pencil in the hand of a writing God who is sending a love letter to the world. As we little pencils are used in big and small ways to write in the service of God, we leave a part of ourselves in the world, and we pencils are ourselves transformed by the presence of the Writer.

The fact is that there’s a lot going on in the world that gets in the way of us humans showing love to each other. But that’s why God put so many of us here right now – so that we can band together as billions of little mirrors reflecting God’s love to each other and outshining the doubt and violence and desperation and hatred that choke us as individuals and as a local, national, and global community. When we pray together, as Jesus encourages us, those mirrors become even larger and more focused, empowering us to shine God’s love and make a larger and larger impact on individuals and, ultimately, the world. The act of praying together creates a partnership between us and God -- a partnership that can only be for the good of the world.

In the scripture, Jesus reminds us: “Take this most seriously…get together, and make a prayer of it.” We make a prayer of it by remembering Jesus’ commandments to love God and love each other. When we do, our God in heaven goes into action. All we must do is simply say a prayer together or do a prayer together or be a prayer together, and God goes into action!

And when two or three of us are together because of Jesus, he’ll be there. Jesus is with us when we gather together in worship, in service, in fellowship, and in prayer. Our role is to be intentional about uniting in partnership together with each other and uniting in partnership together with God. When we claim God as our partner, in thoughts and in words, in dreams and in deeds -- that is, when we engage in the courageous conversation that is prayer -- God goes into action. And by God’s action through us, the world is transformed -- just as we, together, are transformed.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Why I Should Have a 24-Hour Camera Crew Following Me

I didn't start the day out with the intention of committing breaking and entering.

And yet? And yet...

I volunteered to pick up a friend of mine from an overnight hospital stay, and she asked me to run by her place to pick up a change of clothes for her. She thought her front door was going to be unlocked, but when I got there, I discovered that it was locked up tight. I gave my friend a call to ask for advice, and she invited me to engage in, shall we say, unconventional means to get inside.

"How do you feel about a little larceny?" she asked.

"Um..." I replied.

"Just keep me on the phone and you'll be fine," she assured me.

As I walked around the house, I couldn't find any ways in. But then I found an open window into the dining room. I was able to pop up the screen and crank the window mostly open. The only problem was that the sill of the window was at about eye level, and there was a basement window well immediately below it, and with the way the window opened out, there was no hope of a running leap to get me through and safely inside.

Luckily, my breaking-and-entering angels were working overtime, and I found the bottom two rungs of a metal ladder* in the yard next door. I'd have preferred three rungs, but whattayagonnado? So I put the phone on speaker, and stepped on the mini-ladder up and over the basement window well, close enough to the window to make a go of it.

As both of you, my loyal readers, may have deduced, I am not the most spry of 35-year-old men. Jack B. Nimble, I am not. However, my friend's exhortations through the phone and the thrill of adventure spurred me on, despite the clearly obvious fact that the window opening wasn't exactly Scott-sized.

But I was committed, so with a quick prayer to St. Nicholas to protect me (from myself), I hoisted my heft up onto the sill. In an instant -- that one shining, hanging moment in time, when you can see everything, all at once -- I knew that I was screwed.

While pulling myself into the window sideways (the only way I was going to fit since I can't suck in my shoulders, but I can suck in other parts of me), I had used the ladder as a lever. When my second foot left the ladder, it accidentally kicked it onto the grass. There was no turning back.

But that wasn't all -- I was also stuck on something. That is to say, once I got the top half of my body in through the window (with the bottom half still hanging out), I wasn't able simply to fall to the floor inside; rather, my shirt AND jeans were both stuck on part of the window-inning-and-outing mechanism. While this was alarming to me, it seemed even more troubling to my friend on the phone, who was apparently hearing noises coming out of me that sounded more like annoyed grunts and, possibly, massive-head-wound-victim noises than the articulate noises of determination that my brain thought I was making.

About this time, I had the idea to kick my legs up as high as they would go, to see if that would help dislodge me. It did not help dislodge me. But I imagine it made for a hilarious picture: a pair of grown-man legs hanging out a first-floor window at a 45-degree angle from horizontal, desperately kicking in a spastic manner. I believe it is at this point, during the vigorous yet futile kicking, that I bruised up the side of my torso that I was resting on. I now have a boo-boo about the size of a window sill on my right side.

Though I did not dislodge immediately, after a few seconds I did hear something -- a slow, low ripping noise which I assumed was either my clothing giving way or my intestines being torn out. You know, one or the other; either meant a blessed end to the escapade. But fortunately for me, it was the former, and though I pretty well mangled a pair of jeans and a nice dress shirt, the ripping was enough to get me further into the house safely.

Above: Why you don't dress nicely to a break-in.
PRO TIP: Try to get one of your dad's old dress shirts to wear as a smock next time you're breaking in somewhere.

So, with my breaking successfully broken and my entering successfully entered, it was time to gather up the clothes I'd been assigned to collect and head up to the hospital to gather up and collect my friend.

There was a tense moment when a police car followed me for about three miles on the way to the hospital, but as it passed me, I let out a sigh of relief, said another prayer to St. Nicholas, and checked off "Cat Burglar" from the List of Jobs I Should Never Be Allowed to Consider.

* What? I know. The guys are doing some renovation on the house next door to my friend, and propped up against the Dumpster was this metal ladder-amputee-looking thing -- like they took a ladder and just cut it off two rungs from the bottom. 'Twas my lucky day.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Now THIS is teamwork.

According to this video's page on YouTube, this is Fran & Marlo Cowan (married 62 years) playing an impromptu recital together in the atrium of the Mayo Clinic. Awesome.

The extended family

My brother (and his wife and their kids) invited me and my folks and his wife's folks to a wonderful Mother's Day brunch yesterday. Here is a picture of us all -- well, most of us. Owen, the newest Semester, is not pictured. (He's the one holding the camera. Haha, just kidding. He's in the Baby Transportation & Short-Term Storage System just out of frame.)

I post this pic for two reasons: (1) I think it's a nice picture of us all, and (2) It's the most recent picture of me, in case I'm ever abducted and the news channels and/or law enforcement authorities need a recent picture.*

* This is (kind of) a joke. When I lived in Chicago almost 10 years ago, I told my friends that, if I was ever abducted, I was worried that the last picture taken of me would be something stupid and cheesy, which is basically almost any picture of me. The center of this conversation was a picture of me, dressed in shirt and tie, sitting on a futon and holding an umbrella like a schoolgirl holding a parasol, which (a) don't ask, and (b) if I ever find that picture, I will definitely post it, because it's hilarious to me.

Heron there 'n' everywhere

By now, my loyal readers (both of you) are aware of the squatters who have taken up residence in the pond lake loch. I am speaking, of course, of The Geese.

I have been less vocal, however, about the definitely-great-and-potentially-Great-but-also-potentially-blue heron that lives back there, too. Today, I snapped a couple pics of him or her: one, hunting for some lunch, and the other, showing off some mad Top Gun skillz. Looky:

"Fiddler" by the numbers

Because it now seems all I can marshal my brain resources to do is cite statistics rather than write actual blog posts, here is a rundown of my "Fiddler on the Roof" experience.

The How
  • Number of times I auditioned: 0, because I initially decided I didn't want to do it
  • Number of personal requests to become involved: 1, because they didn't have enough guys
  • Number of personal requests to become involved I probably should have rejected: 1*
  • Role I initially agreed to play/lines I agreed to speak: Chorus/0

The What
  • Role I ended up playing: Mendel, the Rabbi's son
  • Number of lines I spoke in Act 1: 30
  • Number of lines I spoke in Act 2: 7
  • Most ridiculous line: "And the cheese!"

The When
  • First rehearsal I attended: Saturday, March 21
  • Last rehearsal I attended: Thursday, May 7
  • Number of hours of rehearsal I attended: 53
  • Number of rehearsals I missed: 1
  • Number of performances: 2
  • Performance length: 2 hours, 40 minutes
  • First performance: Saturday, May 9
  • Last performance: Sunday, May 10

The Who
  • Number of cast and crew: At least 60
  • Percentage of cast from St. Luke's: About 33%
  • Percentage of cast from Beth-El Zedeck: About 33%
  • Percentage of unaffiliated cast: About 33%
  • Number of minutes spent discussing interfaith stuff during rehearsal time: 40
  • Number of new friends I made: I'd say 8 or 10

The Results

  • Number of audience members: about 2,500 over the two performances
  • Funds generated to fight hunger in central Indiana and in Kenya: Many thousands of dollars

* I joke, I joke. (Sort of.) Here's my take on the whole experience: I am really glad that I was a part of the show. I learned new skills (dancing) and new vocabulary ("cheat out") and made new friends. I think I did OK with my part -- I don't think I screwed up any of my lines, although the stick-in-the-mud son of the rabbi was probably the closest I could get to typecasting in this production. As a rookie, I was terrified of being the weak link in any of my scenes -- screwing up a dance, flubbing my lines, dropping a prop, etc., so I worked really, really hard to remember all the details. The biggest challenges for me were interpersonal. Like my friend Ernesto, I found cliques developing among the cast, which led to cast members (me, others) sometimes feeling excluded and friends-who-weren't-cast-members also feeling excluded. And like Ernesto, I was frustrated by the self-appointed mini-directors, especially the two who physically took me by the shoulders and moved me to a different spot onstage. So, overall, the experience was very positive, but a few speedbumps along the way will cause me to think long and hard before doing it again.

Saturday, May 09, 2009

I, Tunes

I need to take a nap so I can be ready for tonight's "Fiddler" performance, but I am not tired.

Therefore, I will bore both you and myself with some fascinating -- or, rather, "fascinating" -- statistics about my iTunes collection. Ready? O-KAY!

Overall Stats

Sorted by Song Year

Sorted by Date Added
  • First: "Unit 01, Tape 1.1," Foreign Service Institute, Basic French Course (Revised) Volume 1
  • Last: "Think," Aretha Franklin, 30 Greatest Hits

Sorted Ordinally

Top Five by Play Count
  1. "Ca, C'est l'Amour" by John Barrowman (an amazing 641 times -- I have no idea, unless perhaps the Ghost of Cole Porter had something to do with it)
  2. "Por Una Cabeza," the tango (529 times)
  3. "Schadenfreude" from the "Avenue Q" soundtrack (491 times)
  4. "Dare to Live" by Andrea Bocelli and Laura Pausini (401 times)
  5. "New Soul" by Yael Naïm (271 times)

Sorted by Length
  • Longest: At 22 minutes, 16 seconds, "The Silent City," from Yo-yo Ma's album New Impossibilities (which, out of concern for you, I will not link to)
  • Shortest: A 3-second WAV file of Jambi from Pee Wee's Playhouse saying "Mekaleka hi, meka hiney ho!" (which, also out of concern for you, I will not link to)

Thursday, May 07, 2009

The unintended consequences of dialogue and exchange

I have a friend. We'll call him Ernesto since (a) he is fictional and (b) I think the name "Ernesto" is hilariously loaded with connotations that have the potential to embellish this story. Feel free to picture Ernesto, a professional Easter Bunny, as you wish.

The other day, Ernesto was telling me about his experiences over the past several weeks. He and a bunch of the guys from the Easter Bunnies & Hiders of Pastel-Colored Things Union (EBHPCTU) Local #84 have been working really hard on a community service project with a group of guys from the Santa Clauses, Elves, & Deliverers of Mirth Union (SCEDMU) Local #378. Like, really hard: they've been getting together three or four times a week, three or four hours at a time, for the last six weeks, building a playground in a local park. In addition to the great enhancement to the city that the playground will be, it's also an opportunity for these diverse communities to come together and learn about each other's practices -- like, how the Santas learn to "Ho, ho, ho," for example, and why the Easter Bunnies hide eggs, which are generally laid by chickens.

Ernesto was telling me that, at first, the Santas and the Bunnies were on their best behavior, but then as things got more stressful, the stereotypes about each group started to be proven true.

The Santas walk around all privileged, as though their status as Christmas symbols entitles them to unfair advantages. "They eat everything in sight. Especially the cookies and milk," Ernesto told me. "And they just keep hohohoing at every damn thing we say, even though it's not all that funny."

But Ernesto said the Bunnies fulfill their share of stereotypes, too: hippety-hopping from assembling swingsets to putting together slides, hiding tools in the high grass, trying to keep all the carrots to themselves, etc.

And don't even get Ernesto started on the self-appointed project managers -- Bunnies and Santas, it should be made clear -- who think they know what they're doing because they once put up a playground in high school or they participated in a previous playground build. Or the little cliques that have formed, so that some people feel excluded -- especially some of the Bunnies and Santas back at the Union Halls who aren't part of the playground build project.

"The playground is going to be beautiful when it's finished this weekend," Ernesto told me. "It just feels like this experience was supposed to bring us together, and all it's done is help me realize two things. First, I can work hard at my part in building playgrounds and do a good job, but building playgrounds is not my calling. And second, stereotypes about those Santas -- and about us Bunnies -- are stereotypes for a reason; there's maybe some truth to them."

I asked Ernesto if he would be participating in any playground builds again, and he told me that he probably would not. But he heard that the EBHPCTU might be partnering with the Big Foots Union Local #94 on a float in his city's Irish Festival Parade in September.

And I can totally see him being a part of that.

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Just checking in

It's been a while since I've been regularly posting -- how many times have I said that lately? -- but most of my free time lately (literally, close to 25 hours this week) has been spent on rehearsals for "Fiddler on the Roof." You should come.

Saturday, May 02, 2009

Kentucky Derby Memories

Picture it: nine years ago this week, in a small room at the offices of the Diocese of [REDACTED].

As my co-workers and I dutifully do our jobs, our work is momentarily interrupted by a short, round woman -- a diocesan staffer, I think -- parading up and down the hall. At each open door, she stops to model her ridiculously large hat -- a hat which, in any context other than the first weekend in May, would be laughable at best, a crime of fashion at worst. She gets to our door and, for what seems like the tenth time in about ten minutes (we've heard her work her way down the hall to us), she proudly, loudly, and Southernly exclaims: "I'm goin' to the DUUHHRRRBY!"

We do our best not to laugh to her face, and we ask her if she's picked a horse to bet on or whether she'll just be spending her time enjoying mint juleps (though her behavior seems to suggest she has already had at least a few). We wish her a safe and fun trip to the Derby (which we did not pronounce "Duuhhrrrby") and somehow, some way, make it through the rest of our work day.