Friday, October 31, 2008

A Repressed Childhood Memory of Halloween

Unlike the typical morning of school day prep with the normal daily business of cereal, brushing of teeth and getting dressed, today had an extra dimension of drama as we dressed the kids up for Halloween. Today is the day when kids can forego their school uniforms in exchange for a Halloween costume. So my boy dressed up as a sheriff and my daughter a rockstar and I took them to school. But as I drove towards the school amidst the typical mixture of morning news and sibling aggravation, I noticed how I was beginning to feel anxious, to break out in a cold sweat, and to really dread dropping off the kids this morning. And then all of the sudden that memory from that Halloween thirty-one years ago flooded my mind…

But before I can get to the Halloween memory I must go back a year further…

I was four at the time and had rather large feet for my age that I kind of needed to grow into which caused me to not be the most coordinated kid for my age. Around that time my parents had heard some story of an NFL player who had taken ballet lessons to improve his coordination on the field. So the thinking was that if it worked for an NFL player then perhaps it just might help their clumsy son learn to get around better.

And so they enrolled me into a ballet class. I don’t remember much from that time except that I played the part of a bee in Flight of the Bumble Bees. There I was on stage in black tights with yellow stripes and little bee wings on my back. My ballet career of only a few months ended after Flight of the Bumblebees, when my parents gave up on me ever growing into my feet. If the story ended there, I would have no scary memories of Halloween.

The problem is that at the time my parents were on a bit of a fundamentalist kick with Christianity making enemies out of Santa Clause, Halloween, and other cultural phenomenon (Yes, I was the kid who was always breaking the news to other kids that Santa Clause was not real!)

So when Halloween came around the following year, parents were notified that their children could come to school in their Halloween costumes. This put my mom in quite a predicament. She could either keep me home from school in protest of that dark day, or send me to school without a costume, or she could try and work some kind of compromise between her beliefs and the culture. How I wish, in retrospect, she had chosen the first option because her compromise with the culture was much worse than either of the other two options.

Which brings me back to the bee costume.

One of my mom’s main objections concerning Halloween was how it glorified scary and dark things. If she was going to compromise with the culture on Halloween, her son would not show up dressed like the devil or some monster or even a bad guy from Star Wars, no he would have to be something more righteous or innocent at least. And so I was sent to school that dreaded October morning in 1977 dressed as a bee. But not just any kind of bee, mind you! If I had shown up in a bee costume kind of like the costumes of school mascots or the types that Disney characters sport at Disney World, things would have been cool. But no, my costume was something my grandmother had made for a ballet production (obviously to save some money). So while the other kids were dressed up in cool outfits like Luke Skywalker and Superman, I was a bee, a black-tights-wearing bee. I don’t remember being mocked or ridiculed, and it’s probably because I opted to wear it like I meant it, but on the inside I was thinking how completely un-cool I was.

So as I drop my kids off at school today, I think of how easy they really have it. They won’t look back on this day in thirty years. Heck they won’t likely remember this Halloween in two years. Is that a good thing? Well that’s debatable. In many ways it’s little moments like that Halloween in 1977 that end up defining us. Sure if I was able to do it all over again, I probably would have gone to school as Luke Skywalker (in fact I would probably go to work like that today if we were allowed to wear costumes). But I learned a fundamental lesson that day—life will not always give you what you want, and neither will well-intentioned family members, so you’ve got to do the best with what your given; and if in the end what you’re given is a ballet-bee-suit, you walk in owning that thing as best as you can.

Happy Halloween!

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

One Word

Saturday Night I delivered a message at the Vineyard called “The Good News and The Bad News” on the text of Matthew 10:16-31. The message was going perfectly fine until I got to one point in my outline about how Christians in America are often persecuted more for not being like Jesus than for humbly and simply following after Him.

No Problems.

I then proceeded to use myself as an example talking about how as a freshman in college I loved arguing with people about anything from evolution to abortion etc. saying that when they would eventually call me a name I would walk away saying “Yes! I was just persecuted for Jesus!”

Smooth Sailing.

However I followed that point by saying how I wasn’t so much persecuted for being like Jesus but because I was being “an arrogant a**h***!” (Unfortunately I had immaculate enunciation at this point and there could be no doubt as to what I had just said)

Uhh, We Have a Problem.

The word came out like feathers from a pillow, caught by a fall breeze, never to go back in. The reaction in the crowd was mixed—about half laughter (though much of it was no doubt nervous laughter) and the other half simply gasped at my lack of discretion.

As for me, I was completely caught off guard as well. I had probably practiced the message a good twelve to fifteen times before I actually delivered it and had never once said that word. Sure I had used the word “jackass” in that part of the message once or twice during my practicing and was comfortable with that (which, in retrospect, probably wouldn’t have gone over that well either) but for some reason I said the other more graphic word.

In my mind I was thinking,
“You idiot, you just said a**h*** in front of 300 people in a church service!”
“That’s a word that get’s bleeped on network TV!”
“Stupid strikes again!”

In that moment I was faced with two options: 1. Acknowledge what I had just said and offer an apology or 2. Just keep rolling with the message and hope that folks would just forget about it. Well, I chose option number 2 (though I don’t think anyone was able to forget about it). Maybe it was because I was surprised by what I had just said or maybe because I really wanted to get to the meat of the message, but for whatever reason I didn’t pause or stutter, or even flinch but just kept going like a poker player trying to sell a bum hand.

And sell it I did because this plan of action only made the foul word seem that much more deliberate.

What made matters worse was that I had said this one word only about ten minutes into the message and so for some folks that word distracted them sufficiently so that they could not hear a word I said from that point on. Perhaps this is my biggest regret because I feel like what I covered in that message was some of the most important things that I have shared in recent months and regretfully some people were unable to get past me as the messenger.

So this week my colleagues in the church office have been doing damage control as emails and phone calls have come in complaining about my foul mouth. Perhaps now I have a little more compassion for politicians and others in the public eye who get a little loose and free with their words from time to time and end up saying something they regret (and usually in front of a whole lot of people).

So, for those readers of this blog who were at The Vineyard on Saturday night to hear version 1 of the message I ask your humble forgiveness and will sincerely be more cautious in my delivery in the future. By the way, I would encourage you to go to and download the MP3 of The Good News and The Bad News (from Sunday Oct 26). Hopefully on that version of the message you can truly hear what I was trying to say. And for those of you who only heard the message on Sunday morning, simply disregard anything you’ve read in this blog.


Friday, October 03, 2008

Itunes Genius, a Review

The other day I downloaded the newest version of Itunes since I hadn’t downloaded a new version of Itunes in at least a month! Most of the new features seem geared towards new Apple products like the latest Iphones and newest Ipods. There is however one new function on this version that I have found quite interesting called – Genius. Genius is a program which once enabled will search through your entire collection of songs and compare your playlists and song selections with others to assemble good lists of songs for you. I was a little leary about sharing my personal information about my songs and playlists with this program but curiosity won out in the end. Verdict: the program is pretty brilliant, almost clairvoyant in its ability to figure out what I like.

I am a sucker for good playlists. I love assembling playlists for all occasions. For me making the right mix of music for a dinner or an event is not unlike the pairing of the right wine with dinner. Music at any event, even when it is in the background, can make everything from the food to the conversation a better experience. I consider myself quite adept at assembling playlists being that I have spent a considerable amount of time doing just that. So I was skeptical that an impersonal computer program could do this well.

I started with a song by Bruce Cockburn called “Night Train”. I intentionally chose this song because I figured it would be a hard one to develop a palatable mix around. The Genius program worked magnificently. So then I tried an obscure song by Arizona western-mexi-alternative group Calexico, and again the mix was great. So then I kicked it up a notch choosing a track from the little known band Camper Van Beethoven (one of my favorite bands of the late 80’s). To my surprise Genius delivered a compelling mix featuring everything from The Pixies, Wilco, Beck, The Shins, Eels, and Neko Case to more mainstream acts like Paul Simon, U2, and Tom Petty. Finally a personal radio station that only plays stuff I like!

What makes the Genius feature so brilliant is that it is assembles songs from your own collection, which assuming that you only keep stuff you like or are open to liking in your Itunes, means that there is a good chance you will like the mix. But unlike the “shuffle” setting there is a logic to how the mixes are put together; And the logic works! The benefits of using the Genius function over personal crafted mixes are 1. It doesn’t take any time and 2. Genius will put things in that I have either forgotten about or not got around to listening to. This means that those hundreds of songs that have just been taking up space in my hard drive because I just haven’t found time to listen to them, now actually have a decent chance of getting some airplay. What’s crazy is that I am already finding some songs that I like that I didn’t even know I had. Sure the Genius function feels a little like big brother, but it’s hard to argue with its results (I know, I scare myself with this statement even as I write it.)