Another Sunday — Sojourn I

I wrote two weeks ago about starting my church journey again, visiting Southwood Presbyterian for the first time. I had planned to go back the following week, but that didn’t work out.

This past Sunday, I was back at Sojourn for my one-Sunday-a-month responsibility to teach a lesson for the kids. This week was about the call for Christians to be the light of the world, and what that means. I got to use my “God is my iPhone” analogy, which made me happy.

Sunday, hopefully, back to Southwood.

Not Ready To Make Nice

This is the latest in my series of blog entries taking a fresh look at a variety of topics over the next year. I’ve set up a page on the blog explaining the project and linking to my entries. This week’s topic is “Being Your Brother’s Keeper.”

I’m tired of nice.

Seriously tired of it. Tired of being nice; far more tired of other people being nice.

Courteous, considerate, kind, polite. Those are all fine. But, nice? Let’s ditch nice. Can we?

This may be a slightly odd tack for this topic, but it’s what’s on my mind right now, so I’m writing it.

And there’s nothing wrong with being nice, per se. But for whatever reason, it seems like when people are being nice, they’re all too often “just being nice.” As is, “Do you mean it, or are you just being nice.” And it’s amazing the damage that can do.

There’s nothing wrong with being aware of people’s feelings. That’s a good thing to do. The problem comes in when you do it to someone’s detriment. The girl who leads a guy on because she’s too “nice” to tell him he doesn’t have a chance. Sure, his feelings, for the moment are saved, but at the cost of investing his time and emotion in something he shouldn’t. And, then, when the time comes when being nice is no longer an option, the blow to the feelings are even greater because of the deeper investment. The person who allows a friend to have false confidence in an ability — “oh, you sing so well” — or false security in a situation is only setting them up for disappointment.

And it’s hard, I’ll admit that. I’ve been critical of the idea of “nice” for a while now, but I’m still probably guilty of it on rare occasions. It’s hard to look someone in the eyes — especially when it’s someone you care about — and intentionally say something that’s going to hurt.

For myself, I try very hard to never say anything dishonest. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t things sometimes left unsaid. And, in general, to some extent, I think that’s OK. You can’t tell everybody everything. But when that neglect becomes deceptive, particularly in a way that could be detrimental to the other person, that’s dishonest.

Because, and this gets to the core of the idea of being your brother’s keeper for me, caring about somebody doesn’t mean caring about their feelings. It means caring about their well-being. Now, their feelings may be part of that, but they’re not the entire picture. And at the point where you’re sacrificing someone’s well-being because you’re too gentle with their feelings, you’re not doing them any favors at all. And if you’re doing it because you’re not willing to hurt their feelings, that’s being selfish.

And that’s not nice at all.

Well, Wookie What We Have Here

I went to the new Star Wars exhibit at the U.S. Space & Rocket Center here.

Trek Tok

Really, Apple?

I mean, how many people really need this? Are people going to forget? “Hmmm, seems like there was something I was supposed to get today? Milk? Bread? Most awesome device ever invented in the history of mankind? Toilet paper? Darn!”

I think I probably would have remembered without the reminder. But, thanks, Apple.

Sunday Narcissism

It’s not really so much that I generally photograph poorly, as that I generally photograph accurately, which has the same result, save the fault is not the photograph’s, but mine. Photo Booth on the Mac, however, for whatever reason, can be kind sometimes. Sat around playing for embarrassingly long getting increasingly silly; these amused me.

It’s Cobblerin’ Time!

Among the things I’ve done in the past week:

— I went backstage at a Jewel concert, having been chosen as an official blogger for the concert by the tour’s sponsor
— When I blogged about the experience, I set a new traffic record for my blog and got a response from Jewel herself
— I met with the head of the National Space Society’s policy committee to discuss his thoughts on current events
— I reobtained the second copy I ever had of my first book
— I generated dozens of pages of text for my second book
— I acted in an improv comedy show, which was hilarious
— I ordered a new iPhone
— I made blackberry cobbler

It says something about my life that the item in that list that stands out the most to me is the last one. I’ve never made blackberry cobbler before. It was kind of exciting to actually do it.

It was sad how happy it made me. But, one, it was good. Two, I am so unhandy in the kitchen it’s unreal. This was incredibly easy to make; I mean, unbelievably easy to make, and yet I was disproportionately proud of it because I am so incompetent in this area. But, in its way, making the cobbler was also liberating and redemptive.

I told the story the other day of why I had to make it — my friend Heather wanted to make a bet as to whether Jewel would play Sweet Home Alabama at her concert Sunday. Seemed reasonable to me she would; she didn’t. The stake was that the loser would bring cobbler to work, and so on Friday I did. I actually made two; the first to make sure I could do it, the second to take to work.

I have a long history with blackberry cobbler. It’s kind of a favorite, and, for me, with my general disdain for favorites, that’s saying something. My ex-wife, Nicole, loved it, and that wore off on me. After the divorce, that was kind of a negative association, but my ex-fiancée brought it into our relationship very early and sort of redeemed it for me. And, unlike Nicole, she actually made it herself. Not bad, either. The end of that relationship cast shadows on blackberry cobbler again, but not to the same extent, since it was no longer something associated with one particular person or epoch.

So when Heather and I made the bet, part of me actually hoped to lose. I figured it would be a good opportunity for me, providing motivation to do something that would be good for me to do. And, really, it was. I can now have homemade blackberry cobbler whenever I want, without needing anyone to make it. (Over a year ago, when I became a hot redhead and went to prom with Marshall Space Flight Center’s resigning director I wrote a post talking about how I accidentally once declared that I wanted to become the woman of my dreams. Cobbler baking was a big step toward that.) And, to be honest, the two cobblers I made this week were more consistently good than hers was, though that’s partially because the recipe was so unambitious.

And, it’s redemptive. My latest association I have with blackberry cobbler is very positive, something I’m proud of, and something nobody can take from me later.

So hooray for the redemptive power of tasty blackberry cobbler!

If anyone’s interested, I’ll share the incredibly ridiculously easy recipe I used, largely because of how incredibly unlikely the idea of me blogging a recipe is:

1 stick butter or margarine
1 cup self-rising flour
1 cup sugar
1 cup milk
2 cups fruit

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Melt butter in glass 8-by-10-inch pan or 2-quart casserole. Mix flour, sugar and milk until lumps are gone. Pour batter into butter. Place fruit on top. Bake 35 to 40 minutes. Makes 9 servings.

Like I said, sad how proud I am of that, but there you go.

American Gods

I just finished reading American Gods as part of the One Book, One Twitter project that Heather told me about. I did a rather poor job of it, not staying at all on schedule and not following any of the online discussions, but I did, in fact, finish the book.

Since I don’t know whether anyone who reads this has read it, is reading it, will read it, etc., I won’t get into much about the book, but there were two passages that I wanted to share that should be sort of non-spoilery.

The first, the “‘I Believe’ Speech” is probably, looking online, the stand-out passage from the book — you can even buy it on a t-shirt. I don’t necessarily agree with it all, obviously, (I’ll let you guess which parts I do) but it is good reading.

“I can believe things that are true and I can believe things that aren’t true and I can believe things where nobody knows if they’re true or not.

I can believe in Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny and Marilyn Monroe and the Beatles and Elvis and Mister Ed. Listen–I believe that people are perfectible, that knowledge is infinite, that the world is run by secret banking cartels and is visited by aliens on a regular basis, nice ones who look like wrinkledy lemurs and bad ones who mutilate cattle and want our water and our women.

I believe that the future sucks and I believe that the future rocks and I believe that one day White Buffalo Woman is going to come back and kick everyone’s ass.

I believe that all men are just overgrown boys with deep problems communicating and that the decline of good sex in America is coincident with the decline in drive-in movie theaters from state to state.

I believe that all politicians are unprincipled crooks and I still believe that they are better than the alternative. I believe that California is going to sink into the sea when the big one comes, while Florida is going to dissolve into madness and alligators and toxic waste.

I believe that antibacterial soap is destroying our resistance to dirt and disease so that one day we’ll all be wiped out by the common cold like the Martians in War of The Worlds. I believe that the greatest poets of the last century were Edith Sitwell and Don Marquis, that jade is dried dragon sperm, and that thousands of years ago in a former life I was a one-armed Siberian shaman.

I believe that mankind’s destiny lies in the stars. I believe that candy really did taste better when I was a kid, that it’s aerodynamically impossible for a bumblebee to fly, that light is a wave and a particle, that there’s a cat in a box somewhere who’s alive and dead at the same time (although if they don’t ever open the box to feed it it’ll eventually just be two different kinds of dead), and that there are stars in the universe billions of years older than the universe itself.

I believe in a personal god who cares about me and worries and oversees everything I do. I believe in an impersonal god who set the universe in motion and went off to hang with her girlfriends and doesn’t even know that I’m alive. I believe in an empty and godless universe of causal chaos, background noise, and sheer blind luck.

I believe that anyone who says that sex is overrated just hasn’t done it properly. I believe that anyone who claims to know what’s going on will lie about the little things too. I believe in absolute honesty and sensible social lies too. I believe in a woman’s right to choose, a baby’s right to live, that while all human life is sacred there’s nothing wrong with the death penalty if you can trust the legal system implicitly, and that no one but a moron would ever trust the legal system.

I believe that life is a game, that life is a cruel joke, and that life is what happens when you’re alive and that you might as well lie back and enjoy it.”

I managed to find the other passage online as well, but it’s far less commonly posted. It’s one of the characters talking about what it means to be a god.

“You got to understand the god thing. It’s not magic. It’s about being you, but the you that people believe in. It’s about being the concentrated, magnified essence of you. It’s about becoming thunder, or the power of a moving horse, or wisdom. You take all the belief and become bigger, cooler, more than human. You crystallize.”

The person who I copied the text from used it as part of a post about love and attraction. And, yeah, that’s a good application of it. In fact, it’s kind of where I was going with it, if via a different route. In the book, the character saying it is talking about being a god. But, to some extent, I don’t know that his reference to “the God thing” doesn’t work in a worship context as well. I talked with a friend of mine this week about the fact that I think the thing God values most about us is not what we do, but who we are.

I wonder if we shouldn’t seek that, to find our “concentrated, magnified essence” of who He made us to be.

Another Sunday — Southwood I

I wrote yesterday about resuming my church journey, which I did this past Sunday by visiting Southwood Presbyterian Church.

Southwood was a remainder from the first round of the journey; I always assumed I would go there, but never did before settling down at Sojourn. But now I have.

I went to their second service, which was their informal service, showing that all things are relative — their informal service was still more formal than anything we do at Sojourn. I’m planning on going back Sunday and experiencing the formal service, but, so help me, I am not wearing a tie. Really wish I could just wait until the weather is more conducive to a jacket. But, here am I, Lord, right?

The service was about “Reconciling Relationships,” and particularly about repairing things after you’ve been wronged by a brother. My Journey Group lesson four days earlier had been about Forgiveness, and touched on some of the same things. To be honest, neither lesson really challenged me. There’s no arrogance in me saying I don’t struggle with letting go of grievances, rather, I’m too far the opposite direction; it’s not hard for me to forgive, but it’s too easy for me to let myself be hurt.

That happened several times during my last journey, however — I would attend a church for the first time, and the sermon would be on a subject that’s familiar to me or that I’d studied recently, which allows me to focus more on the context than the content. On a typical Sunday, I’ll fill a page of my notebook with sermon notes. On a first or second visit to a church, there may be a few lines about the sermon, and much more about the church itself. That was definitely the case Sunday.

I’ll spare the technical stuff — stage set-up, etc. I will note that while I was there it was almost the first time I’d been in a pew all year. The last time I was in a church pew was back in December when I went to a Christmas event at Whitesburg. I say “almost,” because, technically, I sat in a pew last month at the Mother Church of Country Music — the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville. The fact that was the only time I’d sat in a pew this year seems somehow appropriate.

There was an interesting comment made early in the service — “Many of you are here because, whether you recognize it or not, someone prayed for you.” I wondered if that was true for me. Certainly, I doubt anyone prayed for me to be at Southwood specifically, but even so …

I also jotted down — “I do not ask to see the way my feet will have to tread” from one of the songs we sang. ‘Cause, you know, I totally do. Constantly. It’s hard for me to not.

The best part was taking communion, which, as I’ve written before, is a subject that’s of particular interest to me. I’d never observed communion in quite this way before, sort of a crossover between a Baptist and Catholic approach. It was open, so I was able to participate (and the guidelines and process were included in their awesome-looking bulletin, which I thought was great). Everyone went up front, and received a small cup and a morsel of bread from someone, who said “The body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, given because He loves you so much. Do this in remembrance of Him.” I really liked the way it was done, for a lot of reasons.

OK, enough rambling. That was my Sunday.

Legends of Comedy!!!

SHARING THE STAGE Tuesday night — Steve Lambing! Fred Sayers! Eugene Banks!

OK, I’m kind of proud of this. As I’ve mentioned, I’ve been organizing the Tuesday night Face2Face improv shows at Sam & Greg’s Pizzeria and Gelateria in downtown Huntsville. (Tickets for which are an unbelievably low $5!) Part of what that includes is putting together the cast list for each Tuesday’s show. It’s a really cool opportunity, which was driven home recently when Gene, our founder, director and boss, actually asked my permission to host last week’s show. Um, yeah, sure …

This coming Tuesday’s show, however, I’m particularly excited about. We’ve got a great troupe, and any cast of players is going to have a unique chemistry. Tuesday, however, I’ve brought together on stage Face2Face’s three senior members, who haven’t played together in, well, a long time. Gene has only recently returned to playing after being the usual host, so I’m not sure if we’ve had these three playing on stage at the same time in literally years.

Personally, the coolest part is that I’m going to be hosting the show, so I get to be the guy telling the three of them what to do. I fully intent to make the most of that privilege. Huge respect doesn’t mean that I’m not willing to put them through their paces. These guys can do anything, and I fully intend to prove that Tuesday.

If you haven’t been to one of our shows lately, or even if you have, this should be a night not to miss.

For those that haven’t seen Face2Face before, we’re a comedy improv troupe. We make up scenes on the spot, based on suggestions from the audience. (And for the more timid in the crowd, we don’t bring anyone on stage or force anyone to do anything; you’re more than welcome to just sit back and enjoy the show.) We do a family friendly show of live entertainment. If you’ve ever seen the old ABC show “Whose Line Is It Anyway?” we’re kinda like that. Only better.

I can’t embed them here, but there are videos of some of my work with the troupe on Facebook that should be publicly visible. Ticket information for shows is here.