Conflict, Part 1

It was a normal Sunday worship service, last Sunday. The music was slightly better than usual (smaller band and fewer backup singers, plus some good songs). The message was your typical Sunday message. The altar call brought one respondent, a woman who was recommitting. The pastor announced a called business meeting for the next Sunday, immediately following the service.

Then.

I’m hesitant to write about this, because I worry that nonbelievers will think this is the kind of thing that happens all the time. In fact, at any given time something like this is going on at some church in this state, just in my denomination. When you have a group of people who take their purpose for existing very seriously, you’re going to have differences of opinion. Most of the time, those differences work themselves out; the work at hand is more important than conflicting opinions about how it should be done, at least usually. Sometimes, though, one part of the group will be convinced that the essence of the work is being compromised, and when you’re dealing with conflict in essential, critical elements of the group’s purpose, ultimatums (ultimata?) are given, lines are drawn, and there’s usually some kind of showdown.

The pastor, a man I respect a great deal, said that the purpose of the meeting was to take a vote on whether to keep him as pastor or to dismiss him.

Most of us, including me, already knew this announcement was coming. What I wasn’t expecting was one of the women in the congregation standing up and asking if members who could not be in attendance would be allowed to vote by proxy. It is established Southern Baptist protocol that proxy voting is not allowed, but it was brought up that we have short-term (two-week, three-week) missionaries in Japan and they’d be back by June 5. The woman suggested that they should at least be able to vote by proxy, or else the vote should be delayed until they returned.

The pastor said that he and his family have been going through this for three months, and if we were going to move on, we needed to do it as soon as possible. I thought the lady had a good point, especially since the missionaries aren’t people who are still members in name but aren’t working parts of the body (if proxy voting were allowed, votes could be manipulated this way); these were people who are normally with us every Sunday, but are currently away as our representatives and workers. Still, on any Sunday, there are people away from worship on Sunday who normally are there, and it would be impossible to have a vote with everyone in attendance. And as I say, proxy voting is just never going to work. There are people on the membership roll who haven’t been involved since before the current pastor was in place.

So I was feeling pretty good about how I felt, which is that the deacons’ committee, after hearing the accusations brought against the pastor and after being presented with the ultimatum thrown down by the associate pastor, did not recommend that any action against the pastor be taken. I’m not a huge fan of deacons in general (long story for another time) but these particular deacons are people I admire and respect and in this case I’m willing to trust their judgment without hearing the accusations.

But then someone stood up and restated the concern that those on missions should be allowed to vote. It’s someone else I admire and respect, and it’s someone who never stands up in front of an audience and voices her opinions. For her to do so at a time like this was shocking, and everyone knew it. She didn’t sit down, either, when the pastor repeated his position. She didn’t sit down when others in the congregation disregarded protocol and gave answers from their seats or when the worship leader (who shouldn’t have done this) spoke from his place on the stage, into a microphone. My friend didn’t give up the floor, though. She stood her ground and asked, “Isn’t there anyone else here who feels the way I feel?”

This is when people, about nine of them, got up and just left. I still puzzle over this–what were they saying?

My friend’s mom (the original speaker from the floor) stood up in support of her daughter. Nobody else did. I also do not know how to feel about this. I might have stood up myself, just in support of my friend, if I did not have a strong position either way. On the other hand, I’m not a member of the church and therefore don’t even have a say.

She sat down, eventually, as did her mother, and the service was brought to a close with an inappropriately joyous praise song.

This ugliness has made me feel very, very uncomfortable. It’s made me question my belief in the deacons and in the pastor, but then I found out from another friend that people have been calling her house, asking her family members if they were going to be at next Sunday’s meeting, and wanting to know how they were going to vote. This by itself is wrong, since this is a family who’s there every week and has been for three generations and is thus capable of making up its own mind; if the dissenters are confident that they are right, I truly feel that they should have faith in their fellow believers and in the spirit. This is not the kind of accord that should be wrangled by telephone in the week leading up to the vote. The cake-taker, though, is that these callers aren’t identifying themselves on the phone, and that’s not just wrong, it’s downright evil and it sickens me.

This is the kind of thing that splits churches. Whichever side doesn’t get its way is going to feel strongly enough to move. I hope that doesn’t happen. A strong leader, whether a lay-person or a minister, can keep the sides together and redirect, but I’m not sure that’s likely to happen here. The only thing I really see keeping the body intact is the fact that it’s a pretty devoted congregation and whichever side doesn’t get its way could adamantly refuse to let this kind of thing split what is still a good, healthy, working body.

I like this church, not because I feel especially loved there, or because I especially agree with its congregation or ministers (I ferociously disagree with the congregation about a great many things, about which I will write more later. Let’s just say, for now, that every single week, someone says something in front of the rest of the congregation along the lines of “We need your prayers if God’s work is going to be done.” Gr!). I like this church because it generally leaves room for disagreement and because it focuses mainly on what’s important–worship, education, outreach, and fellowship–without going too far in favor of any one or two of these elements. It’s a church that bears good fruit, and I hate seeing it go through this.

If this is disturbing to me, imagine what it’s doing to the Bridegroom.

Struggle

It’s getting worse.

I took my math team to the State Math Championship (the “Math Bowl”) out at BYU-H. My original team had been decimated when it became known that the Math Bowl was on the same day and at the same time as the school Athletics Banquet. The banquet’s a big deal–at some schools, athletes don’t get their letters if they don’t attend–and more importantly, it was an earlier commitment. Four of my six original team-members chose the banquet (the other two were also athletes, but they chose the Math Bowl). In the days leading up to the event, I managed to put together a good team (I mean that). It wasn’t the team I had in mind, but it was more than competent.

We met at the school at six in the morning, rode a bus to the Windward side, were delayed twenty minutes by a downed power-line, still arrived at the site an hour early, and did respectfully. I was congratulated by several coaches who knew that this was our first meet, and although we were near the bottom of the small-school standings, we did quite well and even beat a couple of the schools in the large-schools division.

I proctored the second half of the meet and stayed far away from my team’s table, so as to avoid any appearances of impropriety. This meant that I was a lot closer to the HBA table. The HBA team was made up of three seniors I remember from my last year teaching freshman English at HBA, and it was wonderful to watch them work.

You know, I love what I do, and I love teaching where I teach. Honestly. I consider myself very, very, very lucky. But I still miss my alma mater, and I feel very, very close to the students there. In a couple of weeks, those seniors are going to belong to the same club I belong to–graduates of HBA–and that means something to me. I know these kids, even if I don’t know them, because I am one of them.

That’s not just school pride, by the way. I love that school and it was my dream to teach there.
What I’m feeling lately is compounded by the fact that there’s this guy who teaches at HBA and who is now dating R. The dating thing is weird enough without this repeated reminder that this guy is also extremely privileged to be teaching at HBA and he doesn’t even realize it. Mostly what I hear from the guy is complaining about students, about colleagues, and about administrators.
I’m not silly enough to think that everyone who teaches is as convicted about it as I am, and I know that it’s dumb to think that everyone who teaches at HBA could love it as much as I do, but it just sucks to know that when this next class of students–the last class I taught–graduates in June, I will love a school that truly does not love me back and to know that this guy, this disgustingly fortunate guy, doesn’t appreciate how lucky he is. While I was making garlic fries in the Alumni Booth at the Fun Fair this year, he was in the dunking booth — the same dunking booth I sat in every year that I taught at HBA. He’s going on senior trips, he’s chaperoning proms, and he’s working with some of the state’s brightest students in an environment that strives to be a place that keeps its focus on God. At least he’s not an English teacher or a director of school plays; I think I’d have to kill myself if he were.

And now he’s dating R.

If it were George or Ross, I’d be fine. These are two guys as devoted to the school as I once was. My dedication pales in comparison to theirs, if borne fruit is any indication, and they are people I love and respect. They’re people I want to be like. It would make me happy to see them living the life I wish I had for my own.

This is not that same petty thing I have written about before. It’s something more meaningful, and there’s something in here I’m supposed to be getting. I don’t teach at HBA because of my own stupidity. I had the dream job, but I was obviously unworthy of it, as I let it get away. Whatever happened between me and R (and I still don’t really know what happened) was because of my own stupidity, too. I had her, but I was obviously unworthy of her.

Now I get to watch this guy do that job and date that girl.

I hate my life.

Meanwhile, there’s really very little wrong with my own life, outside of all that emptiness I mentioned last time. I honestly have not a single thing to complain about, and yet that’s all I seem to do.

So this is what I think. I could move on. I’m prepared to do it. I’m just convinced that I want to. If all that’s at stake is my happiness, the argument for moving on is just not compelling enough. Our loving people has nothing to do with our own happiness. We love people because we just do, and the more I think about it, the more convinced I am that it’s true. If I decide that what I want is security, or someone to keep me company, or someone with whom to have a family, then yeah, I’ll move. I’m just thinking that those aren’t reasons enough for me to end this misery I feel every day.

“A new command I give unto you,” He says. “Love one another as I have loved you.” As I have loved you. We’re talking about unselfish, unquestioned love. That’s what it’s supposed to be. People will read this and call me a pathetic loser. They’ll say that, like Forrest Gump, I’m letting someone destroy me. I say what I’m going through is nothing. Forrest was right. Oprah’s wrong. You don’t move on; you just keep loving.

And maybe you run across the country three times and grow a ridiculous beard.

I just thought of this, but Tom Hanks inspired my last disgusting beard when, as R was going through the beginning stages of her relationship with G, I saw Castaway and took my inspiration to survive from Hanks’s character. He’s doing the same thing now with Forrest Gump, although I don’t feel the need to grow a beard this time.

Anyway, this is how I feel about seventy-five percent of the time. The rest of the time, I think, screw this. I’m calling _______ and asking her for a date.

I think ________ would go out with me, too. I think we could be good together. I just wonder if I am now, to someone other than R, damaged goods. I’m carrying baggage like you wouldn’t believe, and I don’t see how someone as well-grounded, well-adapted, and solidly faithful as _______ could be permanently interested in the likes of me.

It’s almost. Summer. Vacation.

Power to the People

[note: this is being uploaded to WP without its accompanying images on 3-6-10. i can’t find the jpgs but i will eventually and add them later]

Friday. Reid, Penny, Grace, and I went to Don’s house, where we met Don, Tracy, Sean, Sandra, Byron, Todd, and Darren for an informal discussion of the elections. It was Reid’s idea, and he worked pretty hard to pull it off. He also worked really hard to keep it informational and not persuasive, but that part didn’t go quite as well.
First, we ate. My contribution was an eighteen-dollar platter of sushi from Kozo Sushi in Windward City, and it was quite popular–there was nothing left by the time we went home. I love when that happens. Sean brought a case of oysters from Tamashiro Market (an HBA family!) and threw ’em on the grill. As everyone knows, I hate seafood, but I am making 2005 the year I revisit all the foods I think I don’t like, so I figured I’d get a head start. The disgusting bivalves were grilled in their shells until they popped (or until they seemed about ready). Sean then pried them open and poured some sauce in the shell (shoyu, lemon, tabasco), also separating the oyster from its shell. I watched Penny do it first because I’m a wuss, then I slurped the “juice”, picked up the oyster between pinched fingers, and plopped it into my mouth.
It wasn’t bad, but heavens, it wasn’t good. So I ate three more just to be sure.
Verdict: I’m unsure. The second and third oysters were almost enjoyable, but that last one was pretty bad–it just tasted really oystery and I knew after putting it down that I was done for the night. I have decided, though, that oysters are something that, if offered to me, I will accept. I think I’ll try them a different way, too. At fifteen bucks for thirty oysters, the price is pretty good for something popular to bring to parties, too, so that’s another consideration. A sushi platter is cool. A case of oysters is WAY cool.
Funny re-told story of the night (when you are friends with the same guys for this many years, you have a million stories you tell repeatedly): When the guys were on Kauai for a basketball trip during high school, Darren ate some raw oysters and later that night was in really bad shape. Between trips to the bathroom, he shook Marc awake, saying, “Marc, I really don’t feel good. I think I’m really sick.” Marc said, “You’ll be fine in the morning. Just go back to bed.”
When Marc awoke the next morning, Darren was in the hospital.
It’s only funny now, of course, that Darren’s okay. Darren says he was sure that night that he was going to die–he says he actually prayed that God would just take him away and end the suffering. Pretty funny stuff. I asked if the experience took him off raw oysters and he said no way.
Two people that night weren’t even registered to vote. Did our attempts to make the election less confusing make anyone more likely to vote intelligently? I don’t believe so. I think we need to work even harder next time to be as objective as possible and to keep our opinions to a bare minimum. Reid and Penny and Grace and I are overloaded with opinions and reasons for our opinions, but people don’t need to hear them all; they just need to get a gist of why we think the way we think. Reid came on a bit strong, and I say this only because I know that if he hadn’t been there, I’d have been the one coming on strong, and people who are averse to political discussions don’t like being blown away like that.
The thing is, after a few minutes of talking about the Presidential election, I asked the room if everyone there had already made up his or her mind about how he or she was voting (everyone had), and then I asked if it was likely anyone was going to hear anything that was going to change anyone’s mind, and everyone felt pretty sure that there wasn’t. So I think we should have moved on from there. I knew nothing I said was going to convince anyone to vote for the Libertarian candidates, so I said a very short thing about really considering the possibility that third-party candidates are not necessarily nuts, and that was about it. Reid launched into a twelve-page thesis, really, about how messed up the Bush administration was and how they blew it in Iraq. He really came on strong.
It was an unfortunate way to end what had been a pretty positive evening. I think what we did was good; I think next time we do it, it will be better.
With a little more organization, we can really put together something objective, informative, and non-threatening, and perhaps do a few of these for our different groups of friends–I think my HBA-teacher friends would enjoy it, too–and perhaps make it easier for people to step confidently into the voting booths on election day.
The highlight of the evening was still the oysters, though.

Saturday I woke up early, took a bus to Honolulu Hale, and voted.
But first, the bus ride.
These newer buses are really narrow, so it’s kinda difficult to move past people. This means that when someone is reluctant to move to the rear of the bus when there are passengers standing in the aisle, it’s easier just to stay where you are. A huge guy got on shortly after me, looking over my head (and the heads of the passengers ahead of me) at the back-section of the bus. “Look at all that room back there,” he said. We all politely ignored him. “Hey, move back, you idiots. Look at all that room!” he then said. Obediently, the little ladies shuffled to the rear of the bus, some of them taking seats, leaving enough room for me and the big guy to get past the back exit.
I said, as politely as I could, “Why do you find it necessary to call people idiots?”
“‘Cause that’s what they are,” he said, defiantly.
I said, “How do you know that? You don’t know these people. Maybe someone has a sore foot, or maybe someone was getting off at the next stop. Calling people idiots doesn’t seem like the nicest way to get along on the bus.”
“Well, it worked, didn’t it? I got what I wanted and that’s all that matters. If I don’t call them idiots, they don’t move.”
“How do you know that?” I asked. “I mean, you didn’t even try being nice first.”
“All these local people, they’re all timid and shy and polite, and that makes things impossible for the rest of us. Rather than move back, they just stand there.”
“What makes you think I’m local?”
“You look local, and you didn’t move back. Haoles, we move back, we take what we want.”
“I’m haole,” I said. “My last name’s Dwyer and my family’s from New York.”
“I don’t really care where you’re from. All you locals insist that I’m a haole no matter how long I’ve been here, so I can insist you’re local.”
“Where are you from?” I asked.
“Anywhere but here! Anywhere but here! I been here twenty-five years!”
“Then you’re more local than most of these people you called idiots,” I said. “A lot of them have probably moved here much more recently than that.” It’s true. “So, my point is that wherever these people are from or however long they’ve been here, they all seem like nice people, and maybe you should try to be a little nicer.”
“Look. I got what I wanted, so why should I?”
“What if, even after calling us idiots, we still hadn’t moved? Would you have then shoved these old ladies to the rear?”
“No, I would shove you,” he said.
I started to ask him what the difference was between calling people idiots and shoving them, if the only consideration he had was whether or not his actions would get him what he wanted, but a bunch of people got off the bus and a seat opened up and he took it, moving right past a very little, very old lady to get it. I seriously considered moving over there and continuing my interrogation, especially in light of his being a seat-grabber, but decided that that would be confrontational, and all I really wanted was this guy’s story.
So then I voted. And here’s how:

As you can see, Ralph Nader was not on the ballot in Hawaii. Doesn’t matter, because I was voting Libertarian all the way on this one. People have asked me if I’m not concerned that the race is dead-even in Hawaii, and that my vote my contribute to President Bush being re-elected.
To them, I say this: My vote is not a throw-away. It is not wasted. I don’t like the President, and that’s why I’m not voting for him. I don’t like John Kerry, and that’s why I am not voting for him. My vote is too precious and too hard-earned for me to waste it on the lesser of two evils. That’s not what all those brave people died for, you know? They voted so that I could exercise my choice the way I wanted, not the way I disliked the least. If the Democrats want my vote, they’re going to have to put someone on the ballot I can vote for in good conscience. Put Dennis Kucinich on the ballot. Put Hillary Rodham Clinton on the ballot.
Neither is my vote a “message” vote. A lot of people think I vote Libertarian to express my disgust with both of the major parties, but the truth is that I and lots of people who vote Republican or Democratic are also libertarians (small L). How many Americans are for the legal, medical use of marijuana? That was a libertarian ideal a decade before either of the major parties would consider it. No, my vote is not a “message,” because I would honestly rather have that screwball Michael Badnarik in the White House than any of the other candidates. Honestly.
One other thing. It is entirely likely that a Libertarian candidate will never win election to the Presidency in this country, and I’m fine with that. But without regular representation on the ballots from the far right and the far left, the only messages that will be kept alive will be positions in the middle. You can’t have a middle without extremes on both ends. Hell, someone has to keep these ideals alive and in the public consciences. Women weren’t given the right to vote the first time someone thought of it–it was only won after years of so-called nut-cases keeping the issue alive. If all I do with my Libertarian vote is keep the Libertarians on the general ballot, that’s quite a contribution.

I actually like Neil Abercrombie, for the most part. I like Ed Case (Hawaii’s other Congressman), too, and I approve of the way they’ve used their votes and of the way they’ve represented Hawaii. I’ll be honest here and say that if these races were closer, I’d vote Democratic in both elections. However, both candidates are a lock, so in representing my ideals, I voted Libertarian here, too. The Libertarian candidate for the House is a porn-star, which is a little odd, but she’s quite articulate and she seems intelligent, and the main plank in her platform is the conviction that the government needs to stay out of our lives, and that we should be free to live them the way we please. That’s my candidate.

My representative in the state House is Dennis Arakaki, a man I admire and support wholeheartedly. Of course a candidate who successfully represents Kalihi his going to have to be strong on human services, and this guy is. I don’t think the people of Kalihi understand how much they benefit from having a guy like him in office, but they keep re-electing him, so maybe they do. I taught his daughter, too, which is also a plus in his favor.

I said two years ago that I was going to launch a project that would keep an eye on the Board of Education and I swore that when the elections came around again, I’d be a more informed voter and I’d make it easy for others to be informed voters, too. I still plan to do that, but what I have in mind is slightly beyond my web-authoring abilities right now, so I’m postponing it for another two years. It will happen, though.
None of the candidates I voted for in the primary made it to the General ballot, meaning that the people who won are administrators and businessmen, not educators. I consider this a huge mistake. Lei Ahu Isa claims to be an educator, but she’s also a psycho, so there is just no way she’s going to win my vote. She was a state senator for several years, though, so she’s certain to win election here. Cec Heftel is another who’s guaranteed to make it. Thus, I voted against them both.

I am against the OHA elections being open to non-Hawaiians, so I abstained yet again. Next time, I’m going to ask Haunani Apoliona whom she’s voting for, then I’m going to vote the same way.

The toughest vote of them all. My candidate, Lillian Hong, didn’t make it to the General, despite a respectable fourth-place finish in the primary. The candidates did very little to distinguish themselves during the campaign; here are the things I considered:

  1. The one important issue the candidates disagree on is forced lease-hold conversion. This means that Mufi Hanneman is against the city’s having the power to force a land-owner to sell his or her land to the occupants of the condo on his or her property. Duke Bainum is for it. In most cases, this affects huge landowners such as Kamehameha Schools Bishop Estate, but it sometimes affects people who’ve owned land their grandmothers worked very, very hard to purchase and manage and maintain. The rights of property are among the most sacred in a capitalistic country such as ours, and I believe they must remain so. Forcing a land-owner to sell to his or her tenants sucks the big one.
  2. Hanneman has a record of sleazy politicking.
  3. Hanneman is an Iolani grad. I can vote for an Iolani woman, but not an Iolani guy. Hey, I didn’t say my considerations were all meaningful. I just called them considerations.
  4. Both candidates have attractive, nice wives, but Bainum’s wife is cuter. She’s quite a babe, in fact.
  5. I have heard from several people something that I have always thought: Hanneman seems slimey. I was willing to dismiss this until I heard people at Don’s house Friday night say the same thing, with no prompting from anyone else.

So there you have it. Merry Christmas, Duke.

I don’t know as much about these initiatives as I should, and I always say that when it comes to messing with the constitution, if there’s any doubt, vote no.
There’s a lot more here than what’s on the ballot. Basically, if this thing passes (and it will), it becomes easier to convict a sex-offender for a class-A felony (maximum twenty years, no parole). An alleged victim won’t have to identify specific dates during which sexual assault took place; the jury will only have to agree that three or more assaults took place without being proven-to that three specific incidents took place. I am not insensitive to victims of sexual assault, but this makes it too easy to put someone away–someone who might be innocent–for a long time. I’d rather let a guilty man go free than put an innocent man in jail.

This is the Constitutional amendment I had the most conflict about. Stuff that’s public record should be easily accessed by anyone who wants the info, and putting the info on the Internet is a way to make it very, very easy. However, I need to get a better idea of how the legislature plans to do this before I say to go ahead and change the constitution. If the state supreme court ruled it unconstitutional, I don’t know if changing the constitution is the right solution to a problem like this.

I’m going with Penny and the lawyers on this one, mostly on faith. There are already a lot of safeguards in place that protect attorney-client and physician-client privilege. This amendment is a response to one specific case that the supreme court threw out and I don’t know, again, that this is the appropriate response.

This was the toughest one. On the one hand, you streamline the indictment process and you spare victims the stress of testifying repeatedly just to get to trial. Big pluses. On the other, if this thing doesn’t pass, you maintain the accused’s right to confront his or her accusor. As I’ve said, I believe that anything that makes it easier to throw an innocent man in jail is not good, and this seems to make it easier. Just being indicted of a major crime is harmful enough to an innocent person; thus, it should remain a burden on the state even to indict. Guess I gotta go with No.

This brings us to the City Charter issues, none of which I feel good about except the next one.
Civil Service positions are costly, and while I’m a huge fan of the Neighborhood Commission, maybe this should be a civil appointment position and not civil service. I don’t feel strongly enough either way, so I voted no.

This one makes good sense to me. I believe in the neighborhood boards in Honolulu, and a position such as this should be taken seriously by the city’s administration. Requiring some service on the neighborhood boards seems prudent.

Who’s going to do the appointing? How will the appointment process work? Too many questions.

I don’t know what the heck this means, so I voted no. What the heck is this all about, anyway?

After voting, I walked from Honolulu Hale to Kaiser Hospital, where I finally picked up my new glasses. They took about six hours to get used to, but now that I’ve worn ’em for a day, I really like them. I walked from the hospital down King Street to Pi`ikoi, and then down Pi`ikoi to that little tea-bar next to I Love Country Cafe. Free wi-fi and pretty good food. I did a little bit of work, set up my NaNoWriMo subdirectory in preparation for uploading my daily production, and played some Literati, then walked from there to Easy Music on Ke`eaumoku, near Beretania. I had to scope out some percussive instruments for a school project I’m working on.
Then, back down Ke`eaumoku to Kapiolani, where I was able to pick up a wi-fi signal and play a couple more games of Literati while waiting for the bus.
Grabbed a bus to Pearl City, where the NaNoWriMo kickoff was to take place. It was just me and Ryan, so we got caught up and chatted, which is always nice, and then Ryan took me to Pearl Kai, where I thought I’d look at percussive instruments at Music Mac. I had forgotten that Music Mac is in Pearl Ridge Center now, so I walked across the street and cruised the mall, both phases, for a few hours. Picked up some free wi-fi down the escalators near Longs and got some work done. I had a hamburger at Denny’s and then rode the bus back to Kalihi and got home at about 9:30.
It was a long, busy day. Felt good, though.
Skipped church Sunday. I might be sleeping all afternoon and evening and then getting up early to get my NaNo rolling.

quick, random opinion: 

Candy Corn is disgusting.

What Was in That Kiss?

Three unsolicited kisses I think about every so often:
1.
First grade, Pearl Harbor Kai Elementary. It’s the period right after lunch, and my class is watching Sesame Street on television. I’m in the front row, well-behaved as always, with my hands folded in my lap. Next to me is Becky. We have two Rebeccas, and while there is certainly nothing wrong with the one we call Rebecca, there is everything right about the one we call Becky. She has dark brown hair with streaks of light brown and ringlets that hang down past her shoulders (it’s always the hair, I tellya!), probably Caucasian but possibly Hapa. I don’t know how it starts, but we play this game where she inches closer and closer and tries to kiss me on the cheek, and I keep dodging her advances. She is determined, she whispers to me, to “get me.” Why I feel I have to pretend not to want being “gotten” is beyond me, even at that age, but I dutifully play my part and manage to get out of the way of each kiss aimed at my right cheek, each time letting her get a little closer before ducking or juking. When she finally gets me, it is a light, dry thing, a small, soft kiss, ever so fleeting and yet permanent. She says, “Ha! I gotcha!” I don’t know what to say, but words become unnecessary because my teacher, Mrs. Matsubara, says, “Becky and Mitchell, will you please stop playing kissy and watch the program?” This cracks everyone up of course, and we are laughed at for a few weeks, but oh boy. Totally worth it. If someone comes down from Heaven right now and tells young me that all the ridicule and alienation I’m going to experience for the next eleven years in school is because of this one moment, I will gladly accept it. I still close my eyes sometimes and remember the feel of that little kiss and wonder if that was what cemented my everlasting girl-craziness.
2.
Fifth or sixth grade, a luau at the Hale Koa hotel, out on the beach at Fort DeRussy. My family has visitors from the mainland or Japan, and our table is right at the foot of the stage. It’s time for Tahitian hula (always a good thing). On stage, in addition to the usual women dancing Tahitian-style, are some younger girls, around my age. They’re pretty cute. But then I suppose any woman whose legs and tummy you can see while she’s moving her hips is pretty cute. They do a few numbers, and then they do the thing where they come into the audience and pick people to get up on stage with them and give it a go. I don’t know it yet, but this evening is the first of many times when I will be one of the guys they pick. Actually, the girl takes my sister‘s hand and tries to coax her up on the stage, but my sister absolutely refuses to go! The girl says, “Come on!” in a frustrated kinda way. My sister is stubborn, though, and won’t budge. So the girl in the plastic-grass skirt takes my hand and although I do not want to go, I can’t let my family down and be a party-pooper. Seriously, that’s what I think. So we go up on stage and she shows me what to do, and I’ve got my butt pointed out at my family and my decision-maker pointed at the girl (how’s that for foreshadowing, the wanna-be author says years later) and I know I am messing it up, because I can’t dance, but I also know that the only thing that matters is enthusiasm so I shake it with everything I’ve got while my family just howls. My partner asks the girl next to us, “What’s your guy’s name?” while we’re moving to the music. The other girl says, “Dave. What’s yours?” “Mitcho,” she says, in that way local girls say my name. The song ends, the girl takes my hand, and I am led to the stairs backstage. My Tahitian dancer says, “Thank you, Mitcho,” and kisses me on the cheek. It’s a little moist, this kiss. Worth it. Totally worth it. That night, I have difficulty falling asleep and I wonder if she’s thinking of me too.
3.
Second-to-last year of college, Kilauea Military Camp. It’s our annual Baptist Student Union Mid-Winter Retreat, and the Manoa students have flown to the Big Island for the deal. I alternate all weekend between angry and euphoric, just because that’s what’s I’m always like in church-related settings. I admit, though, that a lot of the angry-young-man stuff is me just trying to stay in character, because in BSU, I’ve always been known that way. The truth is that I’m mellowing out, and that I’m learning that these are my people–I am becoming aware that I consistently choose to spend quality time with believers I disagree with rather than with non-believers I have everything else in common with. The angry-young-man thing gets me a lot of attention from the Christian girls I favor, anyway, so there’s also that (I’m sorta the James Dean of the evangelical conservative Christian scene, if you can imagine such a thing). It’s near the end of the retreat, and it has been a great retreat, and I haven’t had a mountaintop experience, but I do realize that I’m close to graduating and that I’ve grown up a lot, despite myself, in maturity and faith and social stature. We’re all just hanging out, the Hilo students and the Manoa students together, and two of the Hilo girls grab me, one on each arm, and demand a photo. I’ve been avoiding cameras all weekend, and they sorta plot to grab me and kiss me and capture it on film. Someone points the camera and I cringe, partly from the camera and partly from the kissing (seriously!), and the two girls, Jenny and Momi, each plant a long, wet kiss on one cheek. Beautiful. The women and the kisses. I believe I am melting into a puddle ont he floor. I am convinced that they are both secretly in love with me, but I am too cool to embarrass them about it.
Yes. I am an idiot.
A romantic idiot, though. And if I am an idiot for romance, well, I don’t think that’s so bad.

quick, random opinion: 
I don’t have much of a sweet-tooth, but three desserts I really like are dutch-apple pie, pumpkin pie, and tiramisu.

Sunday Paper

Responses to this morning’s Honolulu Star-Bulletin as I read the paper.
Duke Bainum leads Mufi by a soft seventeen percent in the Honolulu Mayoral race. This is surprising, but not-so-surprising. According to the article on the front page, voters’ support for either candidate is not strong and they may change their minds. It’s my opinion that when people are unsure like this, they go with a feeling, and when their choices are a Caucasian and a Pacific Islander, their gut-feelings are going to lead them to vote for the Caucasian, not out of any sense of ethnic superiority, but because Honolulu’s mayors have almost all been Caucasian and Duke Bainum fits, on that gut-feeling level, people’s understanding of what a Mayor should be.
Beyond that, though, I think people have more distrust of Mufi Hannemann more than of Duke Bainum. They say voters have short memories, but I know that people who are at least my age still remember the smear campaign against Cecil Heftel in the Congressional election when Dan Akaka was appointed to replace Spark Matsunaga in the Senate when Spark died in office. The allegations and publicity about Heftel’s smoking marijuana seem tame by today’s standards, but the campaign left an awful taste in the mouths of voters, and when it was revealed that the source of the mud was Hannemann’s campaign, it was all over for Mufi. In Hawaii, we value niceness. Mufi hasn’t earned back the trust of a lot of people, is what I think.
Increases in military flights from Guam have not been matched by increases in spending on inspecting the planes for the brown tree snake, meaning many planes are flying out of Guam without having been given an initial inspection there. This is not good. Have you seen video of this thing? It’s nasty. I don’t think it would devastate the ecosystem in Hawaii the way a lot of people claim, but it would be a big, expensive, serious problem to take control of, like the white-flies of the eighties and that green freshwater weed in Lake Wilson a couple of years ago. If one result of this President’s war in Iraq is the establishment of the brown tree snake in Hawaii, it will seal the deal for me: he’ll be the worst President in history.
Huge earthquakes in Japan. Again. And this just after the typhoon. I watched some of the footage on Japanese television with my mom yesterday, and she was really moved. I felt worse for my mom than for the people in Japan, which seems awful to me. I am certain that when stuff like this happens, my mom secretly sends money to relief agencies in Japan. I have no way of knowing this, but I just do.
This should be on the front page. Colin Powell is urging North Korea to get back to the table to discuss nuclear disarmament. I wonder if the Secretary of State is trying to get his last good, positive moves in before January, when it seems to be everyone’s bet that he’ll step down. He’s a good man in a bad job, working for a man who doesn’t seem to listen to him anymore. I hope he finds something more rewarding for his next gig.
Both local dailies are calling the Presidential election in Hawaii a dead-heat. Voters can say what they want, but I’ll be shocked (shocked!) if Hawaii doesn’t vote significantly Democratic on election day.
Besides, ten percent of the vote is undecided, and the undecideds vote against the incumbent, if the experts are to be believed.
The UH-Manoa football team beat San Jose State last night, 46 to 28. No big surprise, but it wouldn’t have been too surprising if Manoa had lost, either. Tim Chang is only 240 yards away from the career passing-record for college quarterbacks, and even if he has a bad game on Friday night at Boise State (the cream of the WAC crop), he’ll break the record on national television. That’s awesome. I’m not a huge fan of the run-and-shoot offense, but I like it a lot at the college level, especially for a team like Hawaii who needs to go in there with as much of an advantage as it can against teams that have all sorts of other advantages. There’s no reason Chang’s replacement at the position shouldn’t be able to break Chang’s record, either, if the team can find a decent freshman QB who’s about ready to start. I guess that’s the key thing–finding a freshman who can start.
The Red Sox beat the Cardinals in Game 1 of the World Series. I watched the game with my dad yesterday. Good game. Good pitching, despite the high score. Good hitting, good managing, good baseball all-around. The defense wasn’t stellar, I guess, so there’s that. David Ortiz is a monster.
There’s an interesting little piece on the front page of the classifieds about job-search etiquette “for a wired world.” This should really be a feature article on the front page of the business section, I think. More people need to talk about this, and they need to talk about it more. There seem to be blurring lines and with the immediacy of communication today, people need to discuss accepted standards of behavior now, before they’re even out there looking for work. I especially like the first paragraph, which reminds job-hunters to use professional email addresses, and not stuff like “hotmama@hotmail.com” or “catlover@yahoo.com.” I’m working with my freshmen on an email project, and etiquette is a big, big part of my objectives.
We’re on Section D now, the opinions section. Or as I like to call it, the “Everyone’s an idiot except me” section. The newspaper’s endorsements for the Board of Education are printed today, and I disagree with most of them, but then not a single one of my candidates made it past the primaries in September. Look: I know it’s an administrative job, but if I have to choose for a position like this the administrator with no classroom time over the teacher with no administrative experience, I say you need to go with the teacher. If the teacher screws up, he or she can learn or be replaced, but if an administrator on the BOE is never going to gain classroom experience while on the job. And I’m telling you: you want teachers to be making the decisions. Teachers know better than anyone else what needs to be done–they might not all know how to execute these ideas, but they know what won’t work (usually). Vote for teachers. Failing that, vote for SCHOOL administrators, such as former principals. Don’t vote for businessmen, politicians, disgruntled parents, and home-schoolers!
Wow. The rest of the paper is pretty thin today, content-wise. There’s an elections insert, but I’ll look at that later–I just don’t want to deal yet with who I’m going to vote for, ‘though I do need to decide soon. Precinct workers need to vote absentee if they aren’t working in their own district.
This has nothing to do with the newspaper, but as I type this at the Kaneohe Starbucks, there’s a very cute haole girl sitting on the couch right next to me. She’s almost certainly a freshman or sophomore in college, based on the conversation she just had on her cell phone, so of course she’s way, way, way too young. But she’s very cute. I’ve been in a little bit of a haole phase lately.
quick, random opinion: 
Good Italian food in Aiea: Ricado’s in Pearl Kai.

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North Poll

It was Reid’s idea to work the polls on General Election day in September. He’d heard that nobody had volunteered to work the precinct at Sunset Beach, on Oahu’s famed North Shore, so he took it upon himself to get a crew together to to the work. I had done this work before, when I was living in Hilo, and the experience had been mostly–if not completely–positive. It was a good way to be involved in the process and to keep my mind occupied on election day, rather than to sit around waiting for the first returns.
There was training, and since I was going to be a Voter Assistance Official rather than a Precinct Officer, I’d have an extra training session and would be expected to know more. The training wasn’t difficult, but it was difficult to sit through, as I had to show up at the State Capitol building on a work night, and the trainers had a lot of ground to cover. I thought the most effective part of the training was the open-book test, because it gave me a chance to familiarize myself with the handbook and because I got to work through it at my own pace, rather than at the agonizingly slow pace of the trainer.
So on election day, Penny and Grace picked me up at about 4:30. We got out to Sunset Beach at about 5:30, where we met Reid, Don, Tracy, Larrilyn, and a woman named Carol who volunteered for one of the spaces we couldn’t fill. Our Precinct Chair was Adam.
Adam. Adam was clearly a veteran of these election days, but the guy clearly did not understand the importance of several critical election-day ideals, such as the confidentiality of the ballot! In Hawaii, voters pull a single ballot with non-partisan elections on one side (in the County of Honolulu, all city elections are non-partisan, including the Mayoral) and partisan primaries on the other. Each party’s primaries are listed in a colored box, and voters are instructed to vote in only one colored box. If they voted in more than one primary, when they stuck the ballot in the ballot-box, the machine displayed what the problem was. The Precinct Official assigned to the box is supposed to explain the problem to the voter, and then give the voter the option of voting again on a new ballot or submitting the ballot exactly as it was, understanding that the votes on the partisan side would not be counted.
Some voters chose to submit their ballots as they were. It is a voter’s prerogative to vote however he or she wants, you see, and it is not a precinct-worker’s position to tell him or her how he or she SHOULD vote. One voter voluntarily explained to me that she had promised candidates in different parties that she would vote for them, and even though her vote wasn’t going to count, she wanted to be able to keep her promise.
I can respect that. Another voter told me that it was really the non-partisan side he was interested in anyway, and that he’d worry about the other elections in the general election. That makes perfect sense to me, too.
Voters who decided to cast new ballots were given “spoiled ballot” envelopes and asked to fold their spoiled ballots up and seal the envelope. They were then taken back to the pollbook by the Voter Assistance Official and assigned new ballots.
There are several democratic ideals in play here, not the least of which is the guaranteed secrecy of the vote. Adam, though, assigned himself to watch the ballot box, and when a ballot was spoiled, he punched the eject button and, rather than giving the voter the option of turning the ballot in the way it was, grabbed the ballot, explained the problem, folded the ballot and stuck it in the envelope, and then handed the envelope to the voter, saying, “Lick this and give it to Mitchell. He’ll give you a new ballot.”
HE HANDLED THE BALLOT. He forced the voter to vote again. Once or twice, I heard him SHOW the voter where, on the ballot, the voter had messed up, saying, “You have to vote Democrat OR Republican.” Oh my gosh, I almost went ballistic. I ran over there and told Adam, right in front of the voter, that he couldn’t tell the voter to vote in ANY party’s primary. I told him, too, that he couldn’t handle the ballot, and he couldn’t force the voter to vote again. He ignored me.
There were a lot of things like this. He occasionally left his station at the ballot box without telling anyone, meaning that the ballot box was completely unattended and unsupervised for periods of time! I think I developed a rash just thinking about it. So I kept one eye on the box, leaving my own station in Reid’s capable hands while I tried to do Adam’s job and my job. It was frustrating.
Then, near the designated closing time, Adam starting bringing the signs in. From the road in front of the school and from the area in front of the cafeteria where the voting was held. He closed the front door at five minutes to closing.
I said, “Adam just closed the poll.”
Reid jumped up and ‘though he and I both had done a good job all day of keeping quiet when what we really wanted was to take charge because the leadership was so lousy, he ran over to Adam and said, “Adam! You CAN NOT close the poll yet! If someone comes right now, he or she has to be allowed to come in and vote!” Adam said nobody was coming, so Reid shouldn’t worry. Reid got pretty mad. Just then, someone came in through the exit doors and said, “Am I too late?” I ran over to her and said loudly, “No! No! Please come in and vote!” She was relieved. She’d run from her house to get to the precinct on time.
There were other things, but I guess they’re not that important now. What really mattered was that we participated in a great process, and it felt really good, and we knew we’d done a good job.
The number of spoiled ballots is certainly an issue, and it’s something that needs to be addressed somehow. The entire day, we only had two voters leave the precinct upset. One of them spoiled two ballots, and although we assured her that it was okay, she was clearly embarrassed. She was also in a hurry, so she left without casting her vote.
The ballot seemed clear enough to me, and the P.O.s did a pretty good job of explaining to voters that they could vote only in one primary. The problem was that too many people didn’t understand what the purpose of a primary election, and whose fault is that? I think there needs to be a publicity campaign in two years, in the weeks leading up to the primary, explaining how the primary ballot is going to look.
It felt good, too, to do good, meaningful work with friends. The thing that amped me the most was that we worked really well as a team. I don’t think any of us would like to work with the others every day, but for this one project, it totally helped that we were friends and knew how to communicate with each other and didn’t have to worry a lot about being polite or about insulting each other.
My friends are total bananas, but they’re good, smart, admirable, competent people and I love them. We HAVE to do this again in two years, with Reid as Precinct Chair and with me and Grace as V.A.O.s.

I swore when I was in high school that I would always be involved in theater in some way. Teaching drama at HBA and directing four plays there definitely counts, but it’s been four years since I last directed a play, and I’m thirty-five years old. So when I read that auditions for the next Lee Cataluna play were coming up, and that for once I fit the recruited demographic, I secretly planned to audition.
I am not a good actor. I can teach high schoolers something about acting, and I can direct actors in plays. I’m even pretty good with many of the other aspects of direction, as long as I don’t have to do anything fancy with lights and sound and set and costumes. And I can’t do makeup at all. But I know how to get a group of students from audition to performance and teach them something lasting and meaningful. However, I am no actor. I’m basically a two-note actor, and I know this.
What I figure is that you never know when the two notes I have as an actor are exactly the notes some director is looking for. When that opportunity comes along, I want to be there to grab it, because I do so love the theater, and I do love to perform.
I kept it a secret, so as not to jinx myself. I showed up at the theater on time (which, it turns out, is really thirty minutes to an hour early), filled out the application, and waited for things to get going.
And then Lynne walked in. Lynne, whom I’ve known since she was in seventh grade and I was a senior. Lynne, whose Sunday School teacher I was when she was in high school. Lynne, who became the drama teacher at HBA after me. So much for keeping this on the down-low. Lynne was the assistant director.
I shook it off. I stood in a circle with the others. I shoved my self-consciousness as far down as I could (which for me is never very far) and did what I could. I shouted the names of others in the circle. I did silly motions and made silly sounds. I did the leaping straddle that the HBA cheerleaders always thought was amazing (I learned it by watching David Lee Roth in Van Halen videos in the eighties). And then I did cold readings from the script.
Poorly. I did cold readings from the script, poorly. I knew it. But I also knew that everyone there had seen Lee Cataluna plays and was sorta auditioning as if they knew they were going to be in a Lee Cataluna play. I figured my only shot was to go the other way and play the characters some other way–some way that seemed real and thoughtful to me–not just funny. Actors can be funny, but if the script is good, actors don’t need to be funny. In fact, if the script is good, actors who play funny get in the way, not inhabiting the characters so much as play-acting, and when I directed plays, I hated it when my actors tried to be funny. Situations and dialogue are funny. Truth is funny. Realism is funny. The actor who can bring these things out without “playing” funny is the actor I want.
Unfortunately, either it wasn’t what the director, R. Kevin Doyle, whom I knew when we were both DJs at KTUH, wanted, or that actor just isn’t me.
I am undaunted, unperturbed, and undiscouraged, however, and will try again. Perhaps for the Darrell Lum play Kumu Kahua is holding auditions for. I know I am no good, but maybe no good will be good enough some day! I am quite pleased that I had the guts to get out there and audition for this one.
quick, random opinion: 
Frazz is a strangely nifty comic strip. I am slowly growing quite fond of it.

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Springy

I was told today by my principal that the spring has been gone from my step for most of this school year. She’s right, and she is not the first to notice. I’m still loving my job, but just not as much as I usually love it. I have a couple of tough classes, and one in particular, halfway through the school day, has been sucking the life right out of me. The problem isn’t me, I’m quite sure–I am experienced enough at this to know when the problem is me. Still, I do my job best when I feel good, and I haven’t been feeling good, and I know there’s something I can do about that. I really hate the thought of ripping these students off by not giving them what I have to give them, and that’s passion and joy. I need to spend time this weekend getting myself back in the mental and emotional groove.
I finally went in for an eye exam last Saturday. My optical plan lets me get a $40 credit toward new glasses every two years, and it’s been three and a half years since I got the pair I currently wear, which are almost toast. I lost one nosepad about three years ago–not just the nosepad, but the part of the frame the nosepad attached to–and a month ago, one of the arms broke off, about halfway down its length. Amazingly, the glasses still stick to my face (they fit pretty snugly on the sides of my face) and nobody has even noticed that they’re broken.
Ordering new glasses was depressing. Kaiser used to have a section on the wall for frames that would be completely covered by the plan. That section’s still there, but prices have gone up enough on frames that the $40 isn’t enough to by a single frame. This means, of course, that despite the fact that my salary has gone up each year, I’ve still gotten poorer because what I make buys less. I managed to find some $54 frames I liked and the final bill was $68, since I have to get ultra-thin plastic lenses. I am so blind.
My eye pressures have always been on the high end of normal, and every doctor who’s ever checked them has asked me to come back in a week later for a second reading, just to make sure I don’t venture into the “high” range. I never have, but it can’t hurt to be cautious. So I go back in Friday for another measurement.
I’m thinking of going somewhere and getting prescription sunglasses. That would really make me feel a lot better about the whole glasses thing. It’s weird–getting new glasses is usually something to be happy about, but I’ve been doing a decent job of saving some money lately, and now I’m kinda resentful of any expense that hasn’t really figured into my overall, vague spending plan. Who budgets for eyecare? Not me.
My school had spirit week this week, and tomorrow is the finale. Spirit week usually concludes on Halloween, but this year the academic calendar is a little odd, so we had to have the thing a week early. This means that tomorrow is our Halloween. I stopped at Savers on the way home from work and picked up stuff for what should be a pretty good costume.
I’m going as Slash.
How cool is that? Ultra-cool. I got a fake, costumey top-hat and wrapped a glittery belt around it to make a hat-band. Slash’s top-hat has one of those 80s waist-belts made of linked, aluminum medallions, but I couldn’t track one of those down, so I cut the buckle off a glittery silver belt and attached it (the belt, not the buckle) to itself with a silver twist-tie. With my hair gelled and sprayed, and a pair of purple-tinted shades, I look pretty good. I also bought a pair of jeans for ripping and a denim jacket, which I tore the pocket-flaps and sleeves off of. I may have to sacrifice one of my Rush shirts and tear the sleeves off that, too. Haven’t decided yet. For less than two bucks at the Price Busters next door to the Savers, I got a tall, glass vinegar-bottle. I glued a Diet Pepsi wrapper around it and will drink from it tomorrow. You know Slash used to go nowhere without his bottle of J.D., but there’s no way I could get away with that at school, so Diet Pepsi in a vinegar-bottle will have to do.
To go with my exposed guns, I got a few temporary tattoos (dragons and skulls), and I’ll carry my empty guitar-case around school tomorrow to finish the effect. I’m going to have to get up a little early to get an earlier bus, since I don’t think I can bring the guitar-case on when the buses are more crowded.
“Her hair reminds me of a warm, safe place where as a child, I’d hide and wait for the thunder and the rain to quietly pass me by…”
Too bad, as I’ve said many times in my life, I don’t have a sunburst Gibson Les Paul.
I’ve slowly been adding to my archives, converting a few older entries whenever I get an hour or two alone with my computer. I know a lot of the links in the journal archive are dead-ends; I got those entries, but they’re on a CD and I’ll upload them later.
Recent incidents involving young men have annoyed me–mostly what I mean is that when the news-reporters interview the families and neighbors of these young men, too many of the friends and family-members say, “He was a good kid; he just started hanging with the wrong crowd.” You know, Mr. and Mrs. Neighbors, I got news. If a kid is hanging with the “wrong crowd,” guess what? He IS the wrong crowd. Stop making excuses for people: it does nobody–and I mean nobody–any good.
quick, random opinion: 
Red onions make stuff taste good. 

bonus opinion: 
The spicy tender-crisp sandwich at BK and the ham-and-turkey Pannido at JITB are quite good for fast food.

Best, Worst, Favorite

Ugh. Don’t read this as it is. I need to reformat the table so it works with WordPress.

BAND

BEST SONG

WORST SONG

FAVORITE SONG

Styx Come Sail Away ? The Best of Times
Journey Feelin’ That Way / Anytime Be Good to Yourself Stone in Love
Rush Closer to the Heart Big Money Red Barchetta
The Alarm The Stand Sixty-Eight Guns The Stand
Bruce Cockburn If I Had a Rocket Launcher You’ve Never Seen Everything All the Diamonds
Fleetwood Mac Tusk Big Love Rhiannon
Billy Joel Piano Man You’re Only Human Summer, Highland Falls
REO Speedwagon Roll with the Changes One Lonely Night Roll with the Changes
Queen Bohemian Rhapsody Radio Ga-Ga Bohemian Rhapsody
The Police Every Breath You Take Don’t Stand (the remake) Can’t Stand Losing
Simon and Garfunkel Scarborough Fair ? Homeward Bound
James Taylor Fire and Rain ? You’ve Got a Friend
Van Halen Runnin’ with the Devil ? Finish What You Started
Def Leppard Bringing on the Heartbreak Animal Photograph
Iron Maiden Run to the Hills ? Rime of the Ancient Mariner
Judas Priest Livin’ After Midnight Hellbent for Leather You Got Another Thing Comin’
.38 Special Rockin’ into the Night Twentieth Century Fox If I’d Been the One
Tom Petty Refugee Don’t Come around Here No More Wildflowers
Bob Dylan Blowin’ in the Wind Lay Lady Lay Like a Rolling Stone
U2 Where the Streets Have No Name ? I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For
The Eagles Hotel California ? Hotel California
Led Zep Stairway to Heaven The Lemon Song Stairway to Heaven
R.E.M. Losing My Religion Radio Song The Great Beyond
Carole King You’ve Got a Friend Smackwater Jack So Far Away
The Who Eminence Front Baba O’Reilly You’d Better You Bet
The Commodores Easy Three Times a Lady Easy
KC and the Sunshine Band ? Shake Your Booty Please Don’t Go
Pat Benatar Lookin’ for a Stranger Hit Me with Your Best Shot Shadows of the Night
Ozzy Osbourne Crazy Train Goodbye to Romance Crazy Train
The Rolling Stones Wild Horses Emotional Rescue Waiting on a Friend
John Mellencamp Small Town R.O.C.K. in the U.S.A. Again Tonight
Bruce Springsteen The River The Big Muddy Born to Run
Heart Heartless These Dreams Dog and Butterfly
Black Sabbath Paranoid War Pigs Iron Man
The Carpenters Rainy Days and Mondays ? Goodbye to Love
The Beatles Yesterday You Know My Name Penny Lane
Steve Taylor Jim Morrison’s Grave Bouquet Jesus is for Losers
Kiss Beth God Gave Rock and Roll to You Christine Sixteen
Stevie Wonder Superstition Ribbon in the Sky ?
Michael Jackson Billy Jean Leave Me Alone She’s Out of My Life
Petra More Power to ‘Ya ? Colors
Elvis Presley Jailhouse Rock Teddy Bear A Little Less Conversation
mo re la ter!

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.