Still Tweaking

Can’t get the links roll in the sidebar to do what I want, but what’s there right now is much, much better than what I had. Also failed miserably installing a random-banner generator for the front page. I thought I fixed it (there was a missing quotation mark in the template!) but there’s still one error popping up, exactly where that missing quotation mark was, so there’s either a problem with the code or I did something goofy with the install, which involved editing a couple of lines in the plugin before uploading and the directions for editing were a bit vague.

I’m not pleased with the width of the display, either, but should probably check it out with other browsers and other monitors. The monitor I’m using is a piece of crap and I can’t set screen res as high as I want it.

One thing that’s really going to be a problem is figuring out some way to keep doing the quick, random opinions. I would prefer to keep it in the sidebar, but how then will I keep it with its assigned post? It’s a problem. I may have to do it as a footnote on the entry page.

It’s nearly two and I have a million things to do tomorrow, so this is all going to have to wait.

“I hate waiting.”

At Ease

Would that “at ease” could be a description of my overwrought soul, but that does seem like a bit too much to ask, does it not? I think of it more as a command I have repeated to myself several times this week. School let out the Wednesday before last. Conferences were Thursday and Friday. Graduation was Saturday. I had a grad party to attend. Monday was a holiday, but I spent the morning hours working in my classroom, the lunch hours with the Bible study psychos (we put the finishing touches on II Corinthians and had lunch at Dixie’s), and the late afternoon hours back at school. Tuesday and Wednesday were meeting days (not regular faculty meetings; I’m on this group called the Professional Development Committee). Thursday and Friday I finished cleaning the room and putting stuff in file-folders.

That last is a job that’s never really finished, but I find myself surprisingly close to being disgustingly organized. Right now, everything is in a folder. I have three sets of folders I had to title “file these later,” because there were so many items that needed sub-sorting. Today, I took care of one of these gigantic folders, neatly splitting it up and putting every little thing in its own special place. I know that for a lot of people this kind of thing is easy and doesn’t take much time, but for me it’s agony and very, very slow. I need to take frequent breaks.

The thing is, though, that none of this is stuff that must be done now. Yet I find myself waking up at five in the morning, getting on an early bus, and stressing out (a little) about getting to school. I suppose I’m winding down a little, because every day beginning last Tuesday, I’ve managed to get to school a little bit later and leave a little bit earlier. Still, the thought of spending the day away from school stresses me out. I’m not ready to downshift, for a change. That never happens, except when I can’t possibly allow myself to downshift, as when I’ve taught summer school.

For the past two summers, I’ve taught summer school, which begins just two weeks after the end of the regular year (actually, the past two years it’s been just one week after), and have had to work like crazy just to get ready for that–last year, I was at Kinko’s until past one in the morning getting my school-planners bound and didn’t get home until past two, two nights before the beginning of summer school. Then I was at school until almost ten in the evening the following night, just making sure everything was just right.

Little tangent here: I know we all have jobs that require us to work hard, and a lot of people have jobs that require them to work really hard to get ready to work really hard, but I wonder how many other jobs are like mine, where so, so, so, so very, very, very, very much depends on what happens on one particular day–in my case, on the first day. That first day of school is critical; I have seen the preparation for it drive teachers to tears, including me (and I’m not stretching things here–I have seen teachers sobbing because they have known they couldn’t possibly get things exactly as they’ve wanted them in the waning hours before the first day of school). That night I was at Kinko’s until much too late; I was there past the final bus that could have taken me close to my house. I was a little short on cash, so I had to walk as close to home as I reasonably could so that a cab wouldn’t cost me all I had, and I was carrying what must have been thirty pounds of spiral-bound paper, some in my backpack but most in huge plastic bags that dug painfully into my hands. It was demoralizing, so I stopped for a late dinner at Makiki Zippy’s (okay–if you’re familiar with King Street, imagine walking from University Avenue to Piikoi Street after one in the morning, carrying all this stuff, feeling utterly alone in the world) and then got a cab home.

Little tangent off the original tangent: Yes, I am stubbornly independent, but not that much so. My usual peeps were either out of town or their cars were in the shop, believe it or not. I have a couple of emergency peeps who I know will help me with whatever if I just ask, but I didn’t feel this situation called for calling in the cavalry. I was miserable, but not that miserable.

Three summers ago, I didn’t teach summer school, but I was trying to get this job at ASSETS and interviewed at a few other places, too, just in case. That was a full-time job. And I did teach summer school the two summers before that.

So it’s been five summers in a row where I haven’t really had vacation, at least not right off. I don’t know how to downshift so suddenly and dramatically. It’s going to be a long summer if I can’t figure out how I’m going to do all the things I’ve decided I am going to do.

Pushing myself out the door and getting to school has been good, but as I said, I’m nearly done there. What I really need to do is work on my house stuff, and I can’t do that at school, which is too bad, because it’s much easier to get work done at school. It’s very difficult to get work done at home. I spent all weekend in self-imposed house-arrest, and except for taking out the trash, I didn’t do crap. I didn’t answer email. I didn’t write anything. I didn’t clean anything. I did eat. Too much. I didn’t exercise. I didn’t socialize. I didn’t make it to church. No, wait. I did socialize: I had the annual post-HBA-graduation dinner with the bananas at Dixie’s (that’s twice in a week). Still, I basically turned into a turnip.

Part of me was saying, all weekend, “Good! I need this,” and indeed, I believe I did. Saturday was the first Saturday in TEN WEEKS that I didn’t have something school-related to be at. So I believe I could be pardoned for spending two days in a row basically growing moss. I slept, I ate, I played Yahoo! Literati, I watched DVDs, I watched baseball, I did logic puzzles, I read books. It was pleasantly mind-mushing, even though at times I wondered if I was going to decompose.

Ha-ha. That’s funny. I was decomposing because I didn’t do any composing.

I crack myself up.

Another thing that has given me a pseudo-purpose has been returning DVDs. I have decided that although Diamond Head Video is my first love (Seriously! The foreign film section is a whole aisle of five-shelf bookcases, divided by region of the world and subdivided by country of origin! And $2.50 rentals for five days on non-new titles! And it’s open all day and all night!), Tower Video is going to meet my needs in the near future. $1.49 two-night rentals on older titles, plus it’s a lot more convenient. I have seen The Office‘s first two seasons, plus the first two seasons of Mr. Show. Do yourself a favor and see the former; do yourself another and skip the latter. Anyway, having to get DVDs back to Tower in time has at least given me errands to run and reasons to get out of the house. I lived Spring Break like that, spending entire days running one or two small errands each and just wandering, and I really liked it. Perhaps that’s the way I’ll go with this, except I have to spend more time at home doing the home-stuff.

I earned this. Perhaps more than any other summer off, I have earned this one.

In order to force myself to write something more tomorrow, a list of topics!

  • New Year’s Resolutions Update
  • People I have to send email responses to but have been too busy/stupid/lazy to do so
  • Conflict, Part 3
  • Love life, or Conflict Part 4
  • The Mayor’s crusade against frivolous spending
  • Why Bruce Springsteen is The Boss
  • Season One of Coupling (the original)
  • Hair
  • People I’ve lost touch with and wish I could contact (or, Googlebait)
  • Urban hiking
  • Side Street Inn
  • A good smoke
  • Boxers
  • Deion Sanders vs. Muhamaad Ali
  • Geek life
  • Mayonnaise
  • Pumpkin pie

That’s a lot. Perhaps a week’s worth, he said hopefully.

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!