Worse-Ship

What’s Wrong With Worship,
Or, “The Four-Squaring of America,”
Part I: The Stand-and-Greet

Before I launch into this ambitious project, I’d like to say that this is not meant to be alarmist. I have resigned myself to the fact that this is the direction worship in the twenty-first-century evangelical church is taking, and there is little I can do about it. I have also considered the advantages to this New-Hoping of America (one of my many rejected subtitles for this project), and they are significant, and I will address them near the end. In the short-run, I think the advantages outweigh the disadvantages, and I’ll be up-front about that (near the back of this treatise). So if you attend a Four-Square Gospel Church or any of the imitators, please do not be offended, and if you have been led to Jesus because of the work of one of these churches, please, please, please do not be offended. This is not meant to be a slam, but merely an expression of concern and dissatisfaction. It is not meant in any way to lessen the meaningfulness of your experience. Ultimately, nothing matters beyond your salvation and everything else is just stuff for grouches like me to dissect because that’s what we do, rather than get out there and feed the hungry and clothe the poor.


My church does it, and yours probably does it too. At my church, it’s called the “Stand and Greet,” at least by the people who plan and organize the worship services on Sunday mornings. “Now is the time,” the leader will say, “when we like to take a moment to stand and greet one another.” The praise band–which, if it’s anything like the one at my church, is made up of one keyboardist, three acoustic guitarists, one electric bassist, and three or four back-up singers, each with his or her own microphone–launches into some upbeat, rousing song, while everyone in the congregation stands and shakes hands with everyone in the immediate area. Some people get really salutatory and move into the aisle so as to greet even more people. It’s a time for newcomers or guests to get introduced to at least a few people, and it’s a time for people who already know each other to exchange a few words of greeting or even “what’s-going-on-with-me” stuff. Many people I’ve spoken to say it’s the best part of the service.

I hate it. Not because I have any problem with the procedure or the practice, but because I’m shy. I hate making smalltalk with people I don’t know, and I hate even more making smalltalk with people I do know. It makes me uncomfortable, and even though I’ve taught myself how to do it and can do it if I must, I still hate it. In fact, I’ve taught students in my speech classes how to do it and even why it’s a social necessity. But none of that changes the fact that I hate it for the very honest, very real, very subjective reason that I am shy.

Now, one could blame shyness on the person who’s shy, and I suspect non-shy people do this, even if they do it indirectly, as in “Poor Mitchell. He never did learn to get over his shyness,” as if the only reason I’m still shy is that I never learned better, like being unable to drive a stick-shift or to flip fried eggs without breaking the yolks. Still, even if it is my fault–and I’m not ruling out that it is–my sunburned back is my fault too, but people don’t think it’s okay to clap me soundly between the shoulder-blades in greeting when they know I’ve burnt myself.

If it was just me, I would suffer silently and maybe never say anything, but I know it’s not just me. I am not the only person who feels uncomfortable about this, though I may be the only one who makes such a big deal of it. I mentioned at a Bible study one night that I hate the stand-and-greet, and someone else, a friend who’s attended my church since her birth and is now in her thirties, said, “I come up just short of hating the stand-and-greet.” I once invited someone to attend worship service with me, and the someone asked, “Your church isn’t one of those that does the stand-and-greet, is it?”

So it’s clear that there’s a small minority of congregants, at least in my church, who dislikes the stand-and-greet, yet we are forced to endure endless handshakes and to exchange countless pleasantries that have no real meaning, just so others can feel they’ve made some kind of connection with someone on Sunday morning. I have suggested that maybe all the people who don’t like the stand-and-greet could sit in a roped-off section of pews and then everyone could very politely not stand and greet us, but of course that could never work. Having shyness in common with a bunch of other people does not mean I want to sit with them, or that they’d want to sit with me. And anyone who’s been a regular attendee of services knows how personal the choice of seats can be for some people.

Some friends have suggested to me that I should just not cave into social pressure, and choose not to participate. These people are well-intentioned, but they are morons. There’s just no way to pull that off. If I sit there, staring straight ahead or even burying my nose in a book, people are still going to stand and greet me, and there’s no way to ignore someone who’s standing right in front of me with a hand extended and a “Good morning! I’m Bill!” In fact, the very purpose of the stand-and-greet dictates that if someone is sitting there, not greeting or being greeted, that person is a target for the worshipper who takes the stand-and-greet seriously. Sitting there quietly and alone guarantees that someone will greet me.

I have tried physically surrounding myself with friends who understand my problem, but this presents two problems. First, I don’t have that many friends. Second, the friends I have are a lousy shield, because they like the stand-and-greet, and people will come over to greet them, so of course they take a moment to greet me, too.

A few weeks ago, I thought I had a brilliant plan. I sat in the seat right next to the side-exit, and when the praise band launched into some rousing praise song that sounded just like all the other rousing praise songs it plays, I pushed the door open and slid out, closing the door gently behind me. I could hear the band wonderfully from outside, and as the song wound down, I walked around to the main entrance, in the rear of the sanctuary, and tried to get back in. The usher passing out programs thought I was entering the building for the first time, so he handed me a program and stuck out his hand, saying, “Good morning! It’s good to see you!” Then, as I made my way back to my seat, I passed several others who offered a handshake and greeting.

Clearly, this is the one component of modern Sunday worship, at least in my church, that requires active participation. There are many reasons to come to worship, and for all of them but this one, a worshipper may choose to participate passively or not at all without fear of social judgment or just plain being a downer. We may choose to pass the offering plate without dropping anything into it; we may choose not to sing the songs or to recite the responsive passages; we may keep our eyes open and dream of the Oakland Raiders game that should still be on television upon our return home while everyone else is praying, if we wish; we may zone out during the message from the pulpit, if we so desire. It might not be ideal to mentally check-out during these portions of the service, but not everyone’s a singer or a reader; yet, not participating actively in these other portions does not result in people thinking you’re a grouch or not happy to be in church. The stand-and-greet, however, is mandatory and there’s no way around it.

So why do we do it? Until a few years ago, I’d never heard of this kind of thing taking place during Sunday worship. Of course, I’ve attended Southern Baptist churches since I was seven, so I would be among the last to hear of something new and different, but this practice has permeated evangelical worship and now it’s rare to find the worship service that doesn’t include the stand-and-greet.

We do it because we like the fellowship. A friend and I agreed a few years ago, while trying to figure out why we attend the churches we do, that any church we belonged to was going to have to have these four things:

  1. Meaningful worship,
  2. Active missions and adequate opportunities for participation in missions,
  3. Serious Bible instruction, and
  4. Healthy fellowship.

The trouble is that since most people nowadays only attend Sunday worship services, they try to get all four of these in just the ninety minutes or so between the call to worship and the benediction. Standing and greeting is a way for people to get the fellowship they’re not getting elsewhere.

You know, there’s nothing wrong with that, all by itself, but when a worship service tries to be every one of these, it can’t possibly succeed at them all when some of these purposes change the very setting and tone in a way that makes the other purposes impossible. The stand-and-greet does not signal the end of meaningful worship–not by a long shot–but it’s symptomatic of an unhealthy slide toward worship services that no longer challenge us, inspire us, or bring us to our knees in humility.

Stick around for Part II: Pass the Mic!

Is This Thing On?

Busy as heck. So again, just a quick whatever comes to mind.

I’m doing National Novel-Writing Month again. I’ve got a story this year, and characters, too. My working title is Nobody Messes with the Roach Patrol or something like that, and is based on my experiences at Boy Scout summer camps. The entire 50,000 words will span the seven days of camp. I’m thinking of opening with the narrator saying something about the Soviet Union, and how the government used the legal system and peer pressure to wipe the Christian church out of the USSR, but the church really never died–it only disappeared underground. Then I’m going to segue into a little rant about how the Boy Scouts are kind of like that today–there’s this secret group of guys who are in it, but nobody talks about it in school because it’s so very, very uncool. Something like that.

The Roach Patrol was the name of my own patrol in Troop 76. My guys were pretty geeky even for Boy Scouts, so one year we decided to embrace that alienation. Where other patrols in Hawaii troops were always Panthers and Cobras and Hawks, we went with Roaches. For meals at camps, we planned themes, such as our famous Strawberry Breakfast: Strawberry Shortcake breakfast cereal, strawberry Pop-Tarts, and strawberry Nestle Quik. We also had Chocolate Lunch, Green Eggs and Spam, and What’s in the Stew?

It was great. And then, the summer after my sophomore year, when I was the Patrol Leader, we won the Patrol Challenge, beating out a whole bunch of other patrols. Glorious, when you think about the fact that anything involving speed and strength was going to be tough for us. I think we broke the record for the slowest log-sawing. But we kicked everyone’s butt in the swimming event because our scoutmaster used to take us to the pool every week during summers, and because I had a strategy that I noticed no other patrol was employing. We shattered the camp swim record and were announced the winners that evening at campfire.

I can’t believe how much I’ve been eating out lately. Not good. My friends are on vacation, so I often get together with them for dinner, or I’m at school late enough that I’m out and about, still on my way home, when it’s time for a late supper. I need to slow down.

Christopher Reeve died, and I honestly have very few feelings about that. His life was pretty inspiring and stuff, but I never liked his movies and he wasn’t a very good actor. It is unlike me to speak ill of the dead, and that’s not what I’m doing now. I’m just saying. People seem to be making a much bigger deal about it than I would expect. Rodney Dangerfield’s death was much more significant to me, and nobody except people on ESPN seem to care that Ken Caminiti died yesterday at just forty-one years of age. Caminiti was a great, great ball-player, and he had some serious problems, but on the field, very few players I’ve ever seen were more inspiring. The guy played hard and played smart, and in 1996 he practically carried the San Diego Padres to the World Series. When I decided (in 1998) to grow the facial hair I now sport, I based it on the mean-looking Fu Manchu Caminiti wore. I did it mostly to support Mark McGwire in his pursuit of Roger Maris’s home-run record and to obscure my second chin, but the look I settled on was Ken Caminiti’s.

Baseball is a beautiful game, and when it is played correctly, it becomes something poetic and majestic and transcendent. Ken Caminiti was one of those guys who elevated it to that transcendent level. Yeah, I know about the steroid thing, and it’s unfortunate and even slightly maddening, but that doesn’t even matter, because I’m not talking about the EXCELLENCE of Caminiti’s game–I’m talking about the APPROACH, the ATTITUDE, and the AGGRESSIVENESS.

For three years, I led opening assemblies for the youth Sunday School at my church, and for the past two years, that was pretty much the extent of my Sunday School involvement. But Jeff Evans was asked to start a new class, and I was invited to join it, and it’s pretty good. Jeff’s reputation as a Sunday School teacher is excellent–he always does his homework and he builds discussion time into this lesson plans. He talks a LOT, but he gives others a chance, too, and I’ve appreciated it. I also love that the first book for study is the gospel of John, a book I don’t think I’ve ever studied formally.

Worship service continues to depress the heck out of me.

Killer Cold Stone combo: Vanilla bean ice cream with apple-pie filling and graham-cracker pie-crust.

A few weeks ago, I bought my first Leonard Cohen CD. It’s a compilation, and I got it because it had “Hallelujah” and “Everybody Knows” on it–two songs I really like but have only heard performed by other artists. The first two times I listened to it, I could see that his lyrics were terrific but I couldn’t get into his slow, slow groove. However, a few more listens and I was pretty hooked. I still prefer the Concrete Blonde version of “Everybody Knows” (it’s on the Pump Up the Volume soundtrack) and the version by one of the Wainwrights (I don’t remember which is which) of “Hallelujah” (which is on the Shrek soundtrack), but the other songs on the compilation are really good. “I was in it for your beauty . . . you were in it for your beauty too.”

As you know, Craig Kilborn left The Late Late Show and Letterman has had a bunch of guest-hosts taking turns filling in until a replacement is found. In case anyone from Letterman’s production company is watching this, I’d like to say that Aisha Tyler was wonderful. You should definitely get her. It will make me switch from Kimmel.

If you haven’t seen Dog, the Bounty Hunter, make space in your calendar to see it Tuesday nights. It’s surprisingly good. It’s hilarious.

Ross bought a set of clay 13.5-gram poker chips and we’ve used them twice now for nice, long games of Texas Hold-‘Em. It was really, really fun.

Last night, before the poker, we got together with Traci and Artoo for dinner. As we drove to the restaurant, all I could think was: It has come to this. Dinner with Traci is the occasion now. The only reason we were getting together for dinner was ’cause Traci was going to join us. Depressing. Seriously depressing.

As for my own love life, more later, I guess.

Roctober

I know I wrote a long list of stuff to write about, but I don’t feel like writing about that right now. I’m tired, I’m still sick, and it’s past midnight and I need to get to sleep. So just a few quick thoughts before I hit the hay.

I’m still thinking a lot about the new albums by R.E.M. and U2, and have been remembering my first exposures to each. U2, of course, was on the radio all the time when I was in eighth grade, the year War was released. I thought “Sunday, Bloody Sunday” was a great song and that “New Year’s Day” was too long, but I was intrigued by the “to claim the victory Jesus won” lyric in “Sunday, Bloody Sunday.” When 98Rock started playing songs from October and Boy, I was pretty much hooked. And then, when Bono climbed the lighting scaffolding at the US Festival in San Diego during my ninth- or tenth-grade year, carrying that enormous white flag, I became a fan.

I got turned on to R.E.M. the same year, eighth grade. It was a huge year for me, because I made the switch from A.M. top-forty radio to F.M. rock and roll (a move inspired by 98Rock’s playing songs from Styx’s Kilroy Was Here before any of the other stations). While I was just getting started with the Doors and the Who and Van Halen, though, Kristy McCallum was listening to the Cure. She mentioned R.E.M. once, whom I’d never heard of, but you know what I did. The next time I had ten bucks, I went to Tower and bought R.E.M.’s Reckoning album, listened to it about ten times, then gave it to Kristy. It wasn’t that I didn’t like it (I did), but I thought she’d like it better (she did) and, well, I sorta liked her. But back to R.E.M. I pretty much liked everything they played on the radio (except that awful song with KRS-One about meaningless songs on the radio–KRS-One came across as just this total clown and in fact never regained his Boogie Down Productions form) but it really wasn’t until Monster that I realized R.E.M. was one of the greatest bands in the universe. Yes, Monster. “I Don’t Sleep, I Dream” kicks major butt! I do not understand why this isn’t one of the songs they play on the radio, like, forever. They play that freakin’ (decent) Santana song with Rob Thomas every day, but “I Don’t Sleep, I Dream” I have never heard on the radio. And then, of course, that incredible “The Great Beyond” they did for Jim Carrey’s Man on the Moon soundtrack.

Anyway.

The continual and sporadic updating of the site continues. I recently edited and reposted the about and what I believe pages and have been working on the dang archive.

I’m going to be quite poor for the next two weeks. A relative needed to borrow some money and I couldn’t say no. I didn’t want to say no. I wanted to offer more than I did. It’s another reason I need to get my financial situation in better order. I’m definitely handling my money better now than I did a year ago (by a lot), but I’m not yet where I need to be.

I haven’t written about my love life lately.

Okay. Last paragraph, ’cause I’m tired. I’ve recently discovered the pleasures of a nice shot of Scotch whisky. People think the alcohol is more potent in drinks like this, but one shot of Scotch has about the same amount of alcohol as one bottle of beer. There seems to be a difference, though, in how it makes me feel. Beer and wine make me morose, while a few sips of Dewar’s just mellows me out. Something to think about.

Last thing. I just wanna say that Alec Baldwin should be a host on SNL every year until he dies. If the show should ever get cancelled, it needs to do a once-a-year comeback with Alec Baldwin as the host and Paul Simon as the musical guest. I’m not kidding.

Falling into Me

Yes, I’m still alive.

I’ve been meaning to put something here for a long time, which is what everyone says, I guess, but I’ve noticed recent slowdowns in production by Jenn and Albert, not to mention the hundreds of Xangas I spy on, so I wonder if it’s something in the weather.

I’m really not going to update this today, either. Instead, I’ll post a list of stuff I have to write about in the next few days and take it an item or two at a time. It worked the last time I gave myself a long layoff.

First, as always, there’s school. The school year is a month old and mostly humming along. I had one of the worst first-weeks of my career, but that was followed by one of the best weeks ever, and what’s followed has been quite positive.

Gilligan, my two-and-a-half-year-old comet, was at death’s door a couple of weeks ago, and that sucked a lot of emotion and energy out of me. He’s okay, but I lost his two younger friends before I even realized anything was wrong.

The Fantasy League of Eagle Alumni (F.L.E.A.) has begun its seventh or eighth season, and my team mostly looks pretty good. I had a feeling we were going to lose Danny this year, but Chuck stepped in and his team was the high-scorer in week 1. It was the low-scorer in week 2, though, but I consider that more of an anomaly than an indication of things to come. My own team is one and one, despite my losing starters in week 1 at wide receiver (Steve Smith) and running back (Stephen Davis).

I auditioned for a Lee Cataluna play!

I missed three days of school because of a nasty chest-cold. I’m still not well, but well enough to go to Open House this past Wednesday and to lead workshops today.

The Village Idiots worked on election day at precinct 46-05, Sunset Beach Elementary School. It was a great experience and a lot of fun, despite one very difficult precinct chair.

The Oakland Athletics are in first place!

I have some poems ready for submission at the end of the month.

I’m gearing up for NaNoWriMo again.

I suck at returning email.

I can do just about any JUMBLE in under two minutes.

I love being an English teacher!

There are new albums next month by U2 and REM. I believe this coincides with a major planet alignment and then the end of the world (as we know it). I haven’t loved everything either of these two bands has put out in the last several years, but any time U2 puts out a new album, I get squirmy and excited because there’s always the possibility that it’s going to be the Greatest Album of All Time. I feel exactly the same about REM.

I have run through the fields…only to be with you…

I’m tossing up punchlines that were never there…

Yes, squirmy is really the best word to describe it.

Check back a few times this weekend. I’ve got loads to say.

EDIT: While uploading this update, I accidentally erased my archive of older entries. So if you click on a link and you get a FILE NOT FOUND error, don’t sweat it. I’m on the mother.

Who Are the People in Your Neighborhood?

I was either in first or second grade (I believe it was first, because of something I’ll tell about later) and hanging out with my best friend, Tommy Phillips. Tommy was my first best friend. He came to school midway through the year, which a lot of people did at my mostly military elementary school. I remember thinking he looked kind of like a loser.

He lived in a nearby circle in my same military housing, Catlin Park, and it was kind of a surprise when later that week, my mom said we were going to visit a new friend she’d made, and when we got there it was Tommy’s house. My mom and Tommy’s mom became best friends, so it was kind of cool that we were best friends, too.

On this day when Tommy and I were hanging out, our friend Kapena, who lived in a house on the other side of my circle, asked if we wanted to see something. He took us to a house somewhere else in our housing area where someone had moved out. Normally, when a family moves from a house in military housing, there’s an inspection, and when the family passes the inspection, the house is locked up and someone puts one of those locks around the doorknob.

There was no lock around this doorknob, and the house hadn’t been cleaned up. Whoever had been there had definitely moved out, though, as there was no furniture and the only stuff left behind was basically trash. This was really cool. None of us had ever been in an empty house before, except the ones we ended up moving into.

“Look up here,” said Kapena. He showed us a pile of magazines containing pictures of naked women. I say they were magazines because that’s what they must have been, but in my memory, they were photo albums, and the pictures in them were actual photographs. I just don’t see how they could reasonably have been that, but I was in first or second grade and I don’t think I knew that there was such a thing as magazines with photos of naked women in them.

The three of us looked. We knew we were seeing naked women, but I don’t think we knew what we were supposed to be thinking, because I remember very clearly that I was not turned on, and that I didn’t think any of the women were especially good-looking. It was all a curiosity and not at all a titillation. I also remember that while I knew we were looking at something unusual, I didn’t know we were looking at something forbidden, because my friends and I piled the albums into a box and carried it home, where we continued to look at them in the carport of my house, in broad daylight. This is why I think I was in first grade and not second, because by the time I was in second grade, I am quite sure I knew what looking at naked ladies was about, and I most certainly knew that it wasn’t something you did where anyone could see you.

My mom came out and saw what we were doing. I don’t remember her getting mad, but she did tell Kapena to go home, and then she called Tommy’s dad (my dad was at sea) and told us to go in the house. Tommy’s dad was over in just a couple of minutes. My mom showed him the stuff in the box, Tommy’s dad looked down at us and said, “You shouldn’t be looking at this, boys.” Then he turned to my mom and said, “I’ll throw these away for you.” Then he put the box in the trunk of his car.

My mom laughed and said something like, “Right!” It wasn’t until years–YEARS!–later that I understood what was really being said here.

Then Tommy’s dad put us in the car and took us for ice cream or sodas or something.

What is it Good For?

I wrote a really long treatise on the criticism I have taken lately for the way I look at women, but the only saved versions of it I can find are missing the last two-thirds of the essay. I do plan to reconstruct it, but I thought I’d give it a breather for a couple of weeks and come back to it. Perhaps I’ll be able to lose some of the edge that pretty much defines the entire piece when I read it aloud.

War. I have many swirling thoughts about what’s going on in Iraq, and I’ll confess that things just aren’t as clear to me as they were a year ago. While others seem to be swinging from Gung Ho to What the Hell?, I find myself moving from John Lennon to Woody on Cheers.

I consider myself a pacifist. Peace is something I have striven for over the past several years–peace of mind, peace of spirit, and peace of soul. I am convinced that the Evangelical Church has forgotten that Jesus was a man of peace; he was a man who preached and lived peace above all else except maybe love and forgiveness, and even in demonstrating love and forgiveness, he did so in as peaceful a way as any man who has ever walked the planet. I also don’t think there’s any debating how this is to translate to our own lives. He says, “A new command I give unto you: that you love one another as I have loved you.” As. I. Have loved. You.

This “as” could be read “in the same manner that” or it could be “because.” I think most Christians read it as the former, but in America, we believe that you have to stand up for yourself. This very nation’s existence is the result of men standing up and saying, “We will not take any more of this.” Believe me when I say that none of my pacifist leanings are meant to cheapen the sacrifices of any of the men who have fought or died in defense of this country. I’m not saying that our country needs to dissolve its military.

I am saying, however, that war is not something I can condone. The killing of other men seems to me a bizarre way to settle differences. I understand that something needs to be a last resort, and perhaps this is it. Yet we go to our last resort far, far too quickly, if you ask me. And far too cavalierly.

So it baffles me, this outrage among my fellow Americans over the mistreatment of Iraqi prisoners by American security guards and military men. The pictures I’ve seen are appalling and outrageous, but are the actions depicted more appalling or outrageous than flying to another man’s country, taking aim at his forehead, and pulling a trigger? I don’t think so. My friend Valerie wrote me an email today that explains wonderfully how the humiliation of these men is worse than the acts of war done to their countrymen. She says that our soldiers go to war not as men fighting men, but as representatives of one country fighting representatives for an opposing side. When Joe shoots Ahmad in the desert, it’s one team member defeating another, when both players have agreed to meet in this arena. This is not the same as the humanizing, humiliating treatment these men–yes, men, not soldiers or insurgents–were subjected to in a building that flew the American flag.

Good point. But wouldn’t it be nice if we could settle this thing without killing or humiliating other people? This war does nothing to demonstrate our military might–rather, it does everything to demonstrate the weakness of our character and the inability of our elected leaders to solve problems in mature ways. We tell our children that there’s never a reason to hit other children in the schoolyard. How they are supposed to learn this lesson when every day we kill more human beings in the name of freedom and justice is beyond me, and I don’t consider myself an intellectual wuss.

And yet.

We’re supposed to pull out of here on June 30? How the heck are we going to do that? We pull out of there and leave the place as it is today, and we might as well have dropped them all on a desert island with a conch shell for making speeches and a pair of eyeglasses for starting fires. I don’t know what to think or what to do. I want our men and women home, and I want them safe, and I want us to leave the Iraqis to live the lives they want to live, but do they even know what they want? And if they don’t know what they want, how the heck do we know what they want?

Democracy–or at least, America’s version of it–is an odd thing. It gives power to the majority, but it entrusts its majority to look out for the minority. “Equal protection” is not the same thing as “majority rule,” and while we fail in many ways on this “equal protection” thing, I think we get it right most of the time. Where political liberals and conservatives differ is not in whether or not we need to look out for the poor and downtrodden, but in what the government’s role in doing so should be. Far-left-leaning and far-right-leaning folks paint their oppositions’ positions as alternately silly and unfeeling, but that’s not fair to either side. On the whole, we are a nation that cares about its citizens, voters and taxpayers or not.

However, we are a young nation. The system we have in place is basically new and strictly secular. How do we expect our democratic ideals to translate in this far-away land that is perhaps the birthplace of civilization? It seems that as soon as we relieve a country of one strong group’s oppressive rule, another group slides in and takes its place, citing divine right or something as its justification. If it’s not built into a people’s consciousness that those who are in power should look after those who are not in power, how do we instill it? We cannot simply say, “It works for us,” because in the eyes of so much of the rest of the world, it does not work for us. Left to our own liberties, we choose drugs, murder, sex, and waste. It’s worth it to me to allow this in the name of individual freedom, but I certainly understand people who think the opposite–that individual liberty should be sacrificed in order to protect us from our own foolish choices. I think we’d be happier and better off if we had less freedom.

I’m rambling here mostly to say that our version of democracy may not work in Iraq, and that the version that ends up working for it is likely to be something Americans don’t like. The President can say what he wants about anything being better than Saddam, but if he’s still around in a year or two, will he say the same thing when a new power is in place and its oppression of ethnic minorities teeters on the brink of genocide? Because that’s what I think might happen.

So I’m not sure we should just pack up the tents and load up the choppers and fly away home, despite my not wanting our men and women there in the first place. I’m not about regime-toppling; I am about peace-keeping. I dislike what we did, but maybe I think we need to stay there and keep peace.

There’s a new Michael Moore documentary called Farenheit 9/11 that played at Cannes this week. I don’t know much about it, but Roger Ebert’s review all by itself gives me much to think about. If what Ebert says Moore says is true, how do we believe anything–any single effing thing–that the President or his advisors say about what we’re doing in Iraq? The answer, I think, is that we don’t know what to believe, and that’s where I am now. I don’t know what or whom to believe, and when confusion sets in equally from all sides, I have to go with what I know is true, and thus I say war sucks, and let’s get everyone home until we know what the hell is going on.

I think.


I generally hate shows such as the one that was on last night, Motown 45, and avoid them like crazy, but I remember that twenty years ago (oh my gosh! how could that have been twenty years ago?), when I was eighth grade, and Motown celebrated its twenty-fifth anniversary, Michael Jackson whipped out the greatest moonwalk ever moonwalked, and the next day in school, everyone was talking about it. On the weird off-chance that something like that might happen again, and because I was too lazy to get up and turn the TV off (I don’t have a remote-controlled television), I watched it. It mostly sucked, but here are a few random thoughts that have been floating around since last night:

  • Smokey Robinson is the man. He can’t sing quite like he once could, but he still sings like Smokey, and that’s really good enough for me.
  • I have never been a Gladys Knight fan, but oh my goodness, she was the queen last night. She rocked. She was easily the best of the older Motown singers last night.
  • Kelly Rowland, from Destiny’s Child, is beautiful, and if you ask me, she’s way, way better than Diana Ross, whom she stood in for with the Supremes. I never could understand what everyone saw in Diana Ross. She and her Supremes are vastly overrated.
  • The Commodores are still the best-looking musical group in the world.

Tubular

Here are my ten favorite TV shows of all time, not including MASH, which I’ve written about enough here.

  1. The Simpsons
  2. Can you believe that this show was considered dangerous just a few years ago? Every generation has its Bart Simpson, and I keep trying to convince people that it’s the job of every generation to come up with something shocking and offensive to the generation that came before. We look back on Elvis and laugh at ourselves. We look back at Bart and laugh at ourselves. “But the songs on the radio now have just gone too far!” even my liberal friends say, but they don’t get that that’s exactly what our parents said about Ozzy Osbourne, and what their parents said about Elvis, blue jeans, and guys with pierced ears. It doesn’t mean our society is in decline (which is not to say that it’s not in decline–this just doesn’t mean that). It only means that each generation improves on some things and degrades some things, and that’s how it should be.

  3. The Late Show with David Letterman and Late Night with David Letterman
  4. Nothing makes me laugh as much at one time or as often as this show. That, by itself, is enough.

  5. Saturday Night Live
  6. When it’s lame, there’s little on TV that’s lamer, but when it’s spot-on, there’s nothing edgier, more daring, and more socially significant than a great SNL sketch. Will Ferrell’s impression of James Lipton has replaced in people’s consciousnesses their own memory of James Lipton as he actually is (he’s from New Jersey–he doesn’t have anything remotely resembling the faux-European accent his SNL character has). Dana Carvey did the same thing with his George Bush Sr.

    My favorite SNL moment of alll time wasn’t even during a sketch. It was during one of Norm MacDonald’s “Weekend Update” segments, the Saturday after the O.J. Simpson verdict came down: “Well, ladies and gentlemen, it’s official. Murder is now legal in the state of California!”

  7. Monday Night Football
  8. The games have been mostly lame lately, but in the eighties, it seemed that every game was thrilling and dramatic. Maybe it’s because I wasn’t yet jaded by the NFL and its ridiculous posturing and egos, but I loved just about every play of every game, no matter who was playing. The games with the Raiders, Chargers, and Steelers, though, were awesome. Howard Cosell’s Halftime Highlights was the most dramatic thing in the world.

  9. Cheers
  10. I jumped on this show at the very beginning, with episode 1. There was a time when networks would have some confidence in their shows and give them time to find their grooves and their audiences. Cheers was one of television’s least-watched shows, but it was also one of its most-praised, so NBC stuck with it, and a couple of years after it debuted, it was in the top ten, and now we all know why. This is the kind of thing that will never happen again.

  11. Get Smart
  12. My sister loved reruns of this show before I ever gave it a try, but soon we were howling together. We didn’t agree on a lot of shows (she really likes Leave it to Beaver, for example–a show I despise), but I’m sure we’d both list this in our top tens. Why the heck isn’t this on DVD yet?

  13. The Twilight Zone
  14. The kind of show that could never make it nowadays, as shows like Gun have proved. You need a regular cast and established setting, which The Twilight Zone didn’t have. Plus, you don’t really need great writing and acting, which The Twilight Zone most certainly did have. Favorite episode: “Time Enough at Last,” with Burgess Meredith.

  15. Monty Python’s Flying Circus
  16. “This is an EX parrot!”

  17. The Muppet Show
  18. Clever, charming, witty, hilarious, and sweet, this was a mind-blowingly elaborate show with great sketches and awesome musical performances. Best musical number: Paul Simon and what seemed like the entire cast doing “Scarborough Fair,” with Miss Piggy singing the “parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme” parts. Little-known trivia: Kermit had a crush on one of the other characters, and it wasn’t Miss Piggy! Check out who he always dances with in the “At the Dance” sketches.

  19. The Brady Bunch
  20. I admit it. I love The Brady Bunch. I know it’s stupid. I can’t help it.


    Bonus List: Shows I Loved That Weren’t (or haven’t been) On TV Long Enough to Make the List
    *(or were only good for a very short time before sucking)

    • 21 Jump Street
    • *Beverly Hills 90210
    • The Greatest American Hero
    • *The John Larroquette Show
    • *Ally McBeal
    • Anything but Love
    • Good Eats
    • Later with Bob Costas
    • Square Pegs

Each Another’s Audience Outside the Gilded Cage

13. Noises Off: Cool Play at Paliku Theater

A colleague of mine (and fellow HBA graduate), Amy Oshiro, is running the soundboard for this latest Ron-Bright-directed British comedy. A play within a play is what it is, which can be gimmicky. In fact, after the first act, I didn’t think anything could be done to save it. It was a sort of chaotic mess, with actors playing actors playing characters, but very little differentiation between the “actors” and the “characters.”

But then the curtain came up on the second act, and what the audience saw next was the very set the “actors” had been rehearsing in front of in the first act, only from behind. The audience was getting a backstage view of the backstage area of the set! It was very, very, very interesting. The actors played the “actors” backstage during a performance of the play within the play, then ran “onstage” to “perform.” I’m afraid maybe I’m not being clear, but if you think carefully about what I’m writing, you’ll understand what I’m saying.

The third act was again performed in front of the set, as the “actors” “perform” the play within the play on its closing night. What’s amazing about this play is the complicated and elaborate blocking. It was impossible–yes, impossible–to follow all the action, as actors ran onstage and offstage and got into fights and fell in love, all without uttering a word of dialogue in that second act. It was clearly a flexing of Ron Bright’s directorial muscle, not to mention a pretty entrusting step by the director of his audience.

Even cooler is that I got to see it for free. Amy had a few comps, and her mom (who teaches at HBA) asked V and me to go along. Thanks, Amy and Mary!


14. Poem

In my August 31 entry, I posted the initial draft of a poem I’d scribbled one evening at Barnes & Noble. I was really happy, because it’d been so long since I’d written anything, you know, well, not meaningful, because I’ve written lots of meaningful stuff, but poetic, I guess. I got an email the next day from Christine Hong, a former student and one of the best writers I’ve taught (‘though to be fair, I was never her English teacher). She gave me some really nice comments, but then I asked her what she really thought, asking very specific questions about my poem, and she gave me very, very good critique.

And then I put the poem aside. Just, you know, forgot about it, until a couple weeks ago, when I picked it back up. I had pretty much forgotten everything Christine had suggested, but I do know how to work my own poetry, so I got to work. It was work, by the way, in case you think these things just fall out of the sky, but it was good, joyful work. When I had it how I thought I wanted it, I dug up Christine’s email and wow. I either had the same thoughts, or her ideas absorbed themselves into my conscience and I adopted them as my own, because I mostly addressed everything she said. I decided against some of her advice, but that was only after serious consideration.

Anyway, the poem is here, if you’d like to see it. Please respect my ownership and don’t pass it around without my name on it. I’d like to submit it for publication in the fall and don’t need any copyright hassles.


15. Easter: “Hear the Bells Ringing, They’re Singing…”

Happy Easter. I know it’s late, but I really want to say that.

Over and over like a trumpet underground
Did the earth seem to pound, “He has risen?”
Over and over in a never-ending round:
He has risen, Hallelujah…Hallelujah…
Hallelujah…

‘Round and ‘Round

Well. The day after my birthday, I managed to get up in time for the bus ride. There are several different ways I could get to work, but the way that appealed to me most involved walking down my hill to School Street, catching the School-Middle-Street bus (#2) to the Kalihi Transit Center (you know, on Middle Street next to the Love’s Bakery), walking to Dillingham, and grabbing just about any bus that stops there. The ride on the #2 is shorter than ten minutes, while the ride from Dillingham down Nimitz to Valkenburgh is right around ten minutes, meaning I spend more time each morning walking to bus stops than I do riding buses.

I could begin the trip by taking the #2 in the opposite direction and then transfering downtown, but I absolutely abhor the thought of riding away from my destination, even if the actual travel time would be about the same.

The morning walks are wonderful. I am a total night owl, but I also love the early mornings (my ideal day would begin at about seven p.m. and end at about eleven a.m.). The air is fresh and clean, as is my brain, and I love the privacy I get, alone with my thoughts and with the pre-sunrise sky.

The bus rides are tolerable. I get motion-sickness like crazy if I read in a moving vehicle, but the rides are so short that I’m usually off the bus before I get really nauseous. I’ve been lazy lately and haven’t been fixing lunch before I go to bed, so I’ve picked up breakfast and lunch at the McDonald’s at the bottom of my hill. Definitely a habit I need to get out of, but I do need to eat something before the work day begins.

It’s about a seven-minute walk from Valkenburgh to my school. There are four baseball fields right near our school, and I take a straight line right through one of them in order to get to work. The grass is usually wet and frequently just-cut, so that by the time I get across it, the toes of my shoes are wet and covered with clippings. It is my favorite part of the day, lately, this two minutes of tromping across the dewey outfield. It is my two minutes of poetry. My two minutes of Thoreau, of Frost, of Dillard. It’s my two minutes every day of reminding myself that I love to be out-of-doors, that there is still something in me that is moved by the pleasure of the cold dew seeping through my leather Vans and cotton socks. When you teach all day in an air-conditioned, double-wide trailer, you need to be reminded of these things.

It was my intention to be on buses early enough to avoid running into my bus-riding students, but I’d say I run into them half the time. It’s not so bad; they’re usually not quite awake enough to be chatty.

Riding home has the disadvantage of not being early in the morning. I’m tired. I’m carrying the weight of mistakes I’ve made during the day, or tasks not completed when I hoped. There’s also the problem of that hill, that wonderful hill I walk down with such pleasure every morning. Walking up it, let me tellya, is not as pleasurable.

Riding home has the advantages, though, that come with not having to be anywhere at any certain time. This means I can be a little more adventurous in the afternoons. I can dawdle. I can explore. I can stop and have a sit-down dinner somewhere. I can run errands. I have, in nearly two weeks of riding the bus home, not taken the same route twice. One consideration every afternoon is whether or not I will try to take the Alewa Heights (#10) bus from somewhere in Kalihi to a stop on Houghtailing that will allow me to avoid walking up the steepest part of my hill. It’s still nearly a ten-minute walk from that stop to my driveway, all up-hill, but it’s a much nicer walk from that bus stop than from School Street.

The problem with the #10, however, is that it runs about once an hour. Waiting an hour, if I miss the one I’m hoping to catch, for a bus that takes me a distance I can walk in twenty to thirty minutes seems really stupid. So I have walked home from as far away as Dillingham.

I had dinner a few nights ago at what was once my second-least-favorite Zippy’s (the one at the corner of King and Mokauea) because I waited for the #10 at the stop on King, when the #10 stops on Mokauea, just around the corner. It’s a very convenient Zippy’s. I also, after JUST missing the #10 at the same stop, got to explore Queen’s Supermarket, a Korean store similar in ambition to the Palama Market, where I usually go for Korean stuff.

So while not having my car is undoubtedly an inconvenience, I am currently quite taken with the romance of it. Or maybe it’s not romance so much as novelty. I was a bus rider all through high school (it was a heavy price to pay for independence, but I paid it willingly) and for several months right after I graduated from college, and never have I enjoyed it even a little. I don’t know what the difference is.

I have enjoyed, too, the chance to read. My house is packed with books I’ve been meaning to read, and I am resolved to get rid of a significant portion of my collection this year. I loved the anticipation I felt when, the day I was going to finish that Tobias Wolff novel, I pulled two titles from the shelf for the purpose of selecting what would be my next read. World’s Fair, by E.L. Doctorow, was the easy winner over We Were The Mulvaneys, by Joyce Carol Oates. Ghosts-of-the-past Oprah’s-Book-Club stories don’t interest me as much as post-WWII American-angst stories, so while I still plan to read the Oates novel, I am happy to be taking my sweet time through the Doctorow book.
I know I’m not the only person who envies Albert’s way of life in some way, and for me it’s the time. Albert pretty much spends his time the way I would, were I to choose a similar path: reading, emailing, playing computer games, feeding kitties, and drinking beer in the park.

Reading. As much as his many exploits interest me in a wide-variety of ways, what I most look forward to when I read his journal is an update on what he’s reading.

Maybe that’s why I say “romance.” There are things about Albert’s life I would never, ever want to have to deal with on a daily basis, but I feel a small kinship with him most days.

This week’s Friday Five is another set of questions submitted by me!

  1. What does it say in the signature line of your emails?
    My personal emails contain two quotes:
    “O Love,
    that fires the sun,
    keep me burning.”
    Bruce Cockburn, “Lord of the Starfields”
    and
    “Stupid is as stupid does.”
    Forrest Gump

    My professional emails contain a quote by Kahlil Gibran: “Art is a step from what is obvious and well-known toward what is arcane and concealed.”

  2. Did you have a senior quote in your high-school yearbook?
    “You lock the door and throw away the key; there’s someone in my head, but it’s not me.”
    Pink Floyd, “Brain Damage”
  3. If you had vanity plates on your car, what would they read?
    I like “WRITER,” but if that’s taken, I think “2BV-2B” would be cool, although that’s certainly way too esoteric. In symbolic logic, the V means “or” and the – means “not,” so the plate would read “to be or not to be.”
  4. Have you received any gifts with messages engraved upon them? What did the inscription say?
    Miss Koide, my GT teacher in elementary school, gave me a Cross pen with my name engraved in it when I graduated from sixth grade. Great gift.
  5. What would you like your epitaph to be?
    It would be nice, if when I die, I’ll have published something lasting, and my family would put a quote from my poetry or prose on my headstone. But barring that, I’d like my epitaph to say, “He loved his family.”

  6. quick, random opinion:
    Big Fish: not a must-see, but pretty good.

The Year of Thirty-Five

New Years. We went to Traci’s, as we always do. Last year, it was really just me, Traci, Valerie, and George, with Lynne and Ross dropping in for a few hours each. This year, it was me, Traci, Valerie, George, Artoo, Ross for a few hours, Dwight, and Nancy. I will confess to not looking as forward to this one as to celebrations past. First, I was slightly uncomfortable with Dwight and Nancy being there. When Dwight taught at HBA, he demonstrated very little interest in maintaining any kind of off-campus friendship with us. We would try to invite him and his wife Nancy to our various activities, but while they were two very, very nice people, they seemed to make it clear that they didn’t want to hang out with us.

So while I don’t like to admit it, I was slightly annoyed that they suddenly dropped back into our lives on short notice, calling George and wanting to get together. It’d been a year and a half since any of us had heard from Dwight (he and Nancy moved to Pennsylvania) and his just dropping back in like that, assuming a level of friendship that never really existed, miffed me. I know, I know: I’m begin petty again. I’m just a little frustrated about some of the weird group-dynamics stuff that’s been going on.

It ended up being much nicer than I expected to see Dwight and Nancy. It made me regret my initial feelings of resentment, but it also made me sad that we never really hung out when he lived here. Married people just live differently, I guess.

And maybe I’m imagining it, but we are losing Traci at an amazing rate. It makes sense, but I wasn’t ready for it, I guess. We are now the second-tier friends. Or, wait, no, I guess we’re still first-tier friends, but of course we become less important when the significant other enters the picture. Especially when the significant other has almost nothing in common with the rest of us. I still loved hanging at Traci’s, but I had the weirdest, most uncomfortable feeling that I wished Traci wasn’t there.

What’s happening to me? I am just not like this–with friend situations, I think I typically take the changes as they come and just deal. Perhaps this particular group of friends–Traci, George, Ross, and Valerie–means a lot more to me than groups of friends I’ve had in the past, and these dramatic changes bother me more than I’m used to.

We had a really nice time, although the usual games-playing (Artoo is not a games-player) was replaced with just hanging out and talking. Since were just sorta sitting around, we lost Valerie and George to sleep much earlier than we used to.

On the huge plus side, I got a chance to begin Tobias Wolff’s Old School, a novel given me by Anto, while the others played with fireworks. Very good novel, so far.

I turned thirty-five on Monday, the day I had to return to work from Christmas break. I would normally use one of my days of personal-leave on my birthday, but I just took a personal-day on the Tuesday of the last week before Christmas break began, and I hate the idea of using both of my personal-days in consecutive school-weeks.

Sunday, I woke up early and gathered my stuff and caught the bus to school. It was a practice run. Since I’ve decided not to fix the clutch in my car until maybe late February, I am now a pedestrian and bus-rider. It was a successful practice run. I got home at around two, took a nap, then went to Cathy’s (again, on the bus) to watch the Sugar Bowl. Then we picked Anto up at the airport and Cathy dropped me off at home.

Then I got everything ready. Clothes. Books. Backpack. Reading material in case a bus was late. The only thing I didn’t have was lunch. So I whipped up some of my killer beef stew (I’m serious–I love this stuff!), which cooks slowly in a low-temp oven for five hours. Then off to bed at a really disciplined hour.

But then I had to get up at two-thirty to take the stew out of the oven and set it on the table, so it could cool, and of course I had to eat a small bowl just to make sure it was good (oh, it was good, all right). Then Valerie called me (she knew I’d be up to get the stew taken care of) to say happy birthday and then I was back to sleep by three.

I set the alarm for five-thirty. I woke up at nearly seven.

Oh. My. Goodness.

I do not know whether the alarm-clock malfunctioned or I simply shut it off in my sleep, but I did know that there was no way in the world I was getting to school on time. I had to call Cathy to bail me out. She wasn’t going back to work until the next day, so she drove to my house. I dropped her off at home and then drove to school, getting there in plenty of time.

Not a great start to thirty-five, but then if you look at it a different way, it was a great start, because in my first real major problem of the year, I had a friend to help me out of my mess. I do love my friends.

Cathy, Valerie, and I went for dinner at Panda’s and then to Barnes and Noble to just hang out. It was the best hanging-out I’ve had in some time. We looked at some children’s books (did you know it’s the twenty-fifth anniversary of the Frog and Toad books?) and then sat down for some hot drinks and reading. I printed up my NaNoWriMo novel and Valerie had it spiral-bound. There are only three copies–one for me, one for Valerie, and one for Cathy. Valerie, because she knows better than anyone else what I’m trying to do with my writing and she’ll be merciless-but-loving in her critique. Cathy because she was actually with me during the writing of most of it.

We all got home by nine-thirty. It was a nice, mellow birthday and I don’t think there’s any way I’d rather have spent this one.

I did get up in time on Tuesday to make the bus ride, but more about riding the bus perhaps this weekend.

Tuesday was Valerie’s birthday. We were taken to dinner at Zia’s in Kaneohe. Ross, George, Traci, Amy, Cathy, Dawn (yay!), Lynne, and Anto treated us. Normally, Valerie and I have pretty expensive taste, especially for special days such as our birthdays, but we were a little worried that people might not come if we went somewhere more expensive. Zia’s is pretty-good food (though the reviewers don’t seem to think so), but the prices are wonderfully reasonable and the ambience for something like a birthday party is swell. At one point, near the end, I asked Valerie if she thought we’d have had a better time at Cafe Sistina (it’s our favorite restaurant) and she agreed that we wouldn’t. And each person’s share of our dinners was a dollar and fifty cents. For both our meals. It was an all-around success.

Speaking of my NaNovel, I finally uploaded the rest of the novel, so if you wanna read it, just click the link in the column
on the left. I’ll leave it up until the end of the month.

This week’s Friday Five isn’t up yet, so I’ll do last week’s.

What one thing are you most looking forward to:

  1. today?
    There are only a couple of hours left in today, so I’ll take the question to mean Friday. What I’m most looking forward to is getting home Friday afternoon and not having to be anywhere at any time until Sunday morning.
  2. over the next week?
    Pay day. No contest.
  3. this year?
    On a completely impersonal level, I’m really looking forward to the Summer Olympics and, of course, the baseball season. More meaningfully, I look forward to continuing the slow, steady improvement of my personal life. I am going to get my act together this year.
  4. over the next five years?
    I’ll be forty in five years. I look forward to two major events: the publication of my first novel and my wedding.
    Mrs. Dwyer, you have five years to find me! The clock is ticking!
  5. for the rest of your life?
    Wow. That’s quite a question. I guess what I’m most looking forward to is being a husband and father, although that’s not the most important thing. I can quite peacefully accept, if it comes to it, the realization that I will be neither father nor husband, while there are many other things that I absolutely can’t do without. Still, what I most want is the family.

    Fantasy answer: I look forward to the day I give my Newbery Medal acceptance speech in front of the American Library Association.


quick, random opinion:
Great band you’ve never heard of: Evergrey.