Thursday, May 31, 2012

Twitter Exchange


Recently I got involved in this exchange on Twitter:


Person X: Listening to Cliff Christopher. How will we convince a new gen. that the church is the best place for their $?

I responded: Is your problem a lack of evidence or a lack of shared values regarding meaning of "best"?

Person X: lack of being able to make a convincing argument why our mission matters (nonprofits often make a better case)

To me, Person X’s response seemed more like a restatement of the original problem. It’s hard to make nuanced explanations in 140 characters, so I can’t fault X for that. I wonder, however, if X has considered the possibility that “nonprofits often make a better case” because nonprofits have a better case. I don’t know for sure that they do, I’m just saying not to rule that out. That’s what I was getting at in asking whether the problem was lack of evidence or lack of shared values.

I decided to Google “Cliff Christopher” and see what s/he had to say.

It turns out the person referred to is J. Clif Christopher, author of a book called Not Your Parent’s Offering Plate*. All I know about the book I garnered from a review here, and I’m not planning to run right out and buy it. The reviewer begins by saying

Common wisdom holds that younger generations of Christians do not give as abundantly or regularly as their parents and grandparents, but few people offer insight about why this change has taken place and how to encourage better giving in this new environment.

Then she goes on to say,

One of the most important points that Christopher makes is that “people want to be a part of something that changes lives.” (13) The competition for gifts is increasing as non-profit entities multiply rapidly. What the non-profit sector knows and practices—and the church generally does not—is that what motivates people to give is a desire to change lives.”
This raises a question. Is the problem really that “younger generations of Christians do not give as abundantly or regularly as their parents and grandparents”, or that younger generations of Christians do not give as abundantly or regularly to their church as their parents and grandparents do? X’s tweet, the one that sent me off on this whole train of thought, seems to imply that younger people are giving to secular non-profit organizations. Unless of course what her first tweet meant is “How will we convince a new gen. that the church is the best place for their $ instead of Ikea and the local liquor store?” Good luck with that.
Whatever amounts that younger Christians are giving to charity, it’s fair to conclude from what I have read so far that Christopher, Pastor Jennifer and Person X want them giving it to their church or at least to church based charities, rather than to United Way, Red Cross, UNICEF or Partners in Health. The problem is making a case.
So let’s start with the criterion of “a desire to change lives”. That’s where my question to person X comes in. The most obvious way to persuade people, young or old, who prefer giving to secular non-profits to give to faith-based charities instead is to offer evidence that the faith-based charities do a better job of changing lives. The evidence may be out there, for all I know. Certainly some faith based charities, like UMCOR, Catholic Charities or the Salvation Army, have a lot of boots on the ground in countries where disasters may strike and the local infrastructure not be up to handling it. They have the potential for making your dollars go far.
On the other hand, with faith based charities, not all your dollars are going to food, or clothing, or medical care. Some of your money is going to spreading the faith.
For instance, I remember how interested I was to hear a Methodist missionary to Cambodia come speak at our church. I knew from people who had returned from mission trips that there were two big mission projects going on in Cambodia. One was a school to teach young adults to be auto and motorcycle mechanics, so that they could earn a living. The other was the dumpsite ministry. From what we were told, whole families in Cambodia live near city dumps and prowl through them to find items that can be recycled and sold. The children do not have a chance to go to school, so the church is setting up schools near the dumpsites. These sounded like worthwhile projects that I would want to give money for.
Only it turned out that the mechanic school had an interesting curriculum: Bible study in the morning, then mechanics classes and practice in the afternoon. The school wasn’t just there to teach them to be self-sufficient, it was there to convert them from Buddhism. So every dollar I gave would be split between buying wrenches and buying Bibles, hiring mechanics who could teach engine repair and equipping missionaries who could teach theology.
Of course, the people who attended the trade school were adults who could decide for themselves whether to sit through Bible study in order to get the training they wanted, or even to embrace this new religion because it made sense to them.
But the school for children also had religion classes, where they, too would be taught Methodist flavored Christianity along with reading and writing and arithmetic. Their parents would have to decide for them: allow their children to get the only schooling they were likely to have and be trained up in a religion different from that of those parents, or keep them working at the dump. And again, every dollar spent on Sunday School books and Bibles is a dollar not spent on microscopes, globes and computers.
Of course, if you believe that unless you accept Jesus as your Lord and Savior, you are going to hell, my reservations make no sense. Bible study is a feature, not a bug. I'm not here to argue anyone who holds that belief out of it.
If you’re someone whose last rapidly fading connection to her church is that church’s history of care for the poor and dispossessed, the tradition of “do all the good you can, by all the means you can, in all the ways you can, in all the places you can, at all the times you can, to all the people you can, as long as ever you can”, the idea of attaching a price to that good, in the form of converting or at least appearing to, is troubling. Shared values - or the lack thereof.
So if Person X has the stats to show that the money young people can donate will change lives for the better, then lay them out there. If the problem, however, is a lack of shared values, in young people who were reared Christian, then s/he has a bigger problem than how to get a hand in some young adult’s pocket.
  
*Okay, minor picky point, but this whole “not your parents whatever” meme started, as best I could tell, with Oldsmobile ads back in 1988, when Oldsmobile began using the slogan, “This is not your father’s Oldsmobile” and customers responded, “Yeah, that’s kind of the problem”. If you were old enough to buy a car in 1988, you may very well be the parent whose offering plate this is not by now.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

I'm Back


It’s been over a week since I last posted. The main reason is that I talked my doctor into ordering physical therapy for my problematical left foot. I pointed out that since I’ve injured it twice in one year, it probably needs strengthening, or something. So I’ve been attending PT 3 times a week for an hour each, and have exercises I need to do four times a day. The good news is, I’m back to being able to do my usual activities of daily living ( a little therapy speak there). The bad news is, I may have to wear athletic shoes to a good friend’s wedding. Fortunately she’s not the Bridezilla type; she’s a power lifter who would probably wear them herself under her dress if not for her two sisters having a fit.

Another reason for not posting is that our internet connection keeled over and died. It turned out to be our modem, which was four years old, but before testing the modem, the cable guy insisted on checking all our wiring, replacing connectors, and suggesting that the wiring itself was outdated and might need replacing. Only to find out that the modem was dead. He also left one of his wrenches here. We called to let the cable company know, and haven’t heard back.

The final reason is that I was working on a blog post about something stupid (IMO) said by two different writers whose work I have read recently, each citing a different person as a source. At least that’s how I remembered it, but when I went back to look for exact quotes, I discovered that the first writer had quoted the stupid statement, but then analyzed it, with references to research, and concluded that the issue is more complicated than that. So now I have to rethink my blog post, including the issue of just who is stupid here.

Scary moment. How often do I do that - remember something I have read or heard incorrectly and draw a completely unfair conclusion? I tend to check sources before committing myself to blog posts, but most of my life is not blog posts. Much of the time I have to rely on my apparently untrustworthy memory for the information I use to draw conclusions and make decisions, some of them important. 

On the bright side, my garden is thriving. All the plants I thought I would have killed by now are blooming profligately. The poinsettia is covered with new growth, the petunias, million bells and verbena are sharing their big pot nicely, and even the jasmine by my front door, which sits in bright shade for all but two hours a day of filtered sun at best, has glossy green leaves and fragrant white blooms. Maybe it has something to do with my remembering to water everything now that I am home during the day.

Maybe everything in life, from muscles to memory to plant life, works better if you pay it some attention. 

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Princess


John and I have become big fans of Gail Vaz-Oxlade. We started watching her television program Til Debt Do Us Part (rebroadcast from the Canadian station Slice) on CNBC several years ago and have followed her spin-off series Til Debt Do Us Part: Home Edition, Til Debt Do Us Part: Baby Edition, and her most recent series, Princess. On Princess, Gail tackles the entitled mindsets, non-existent money management skills, and predatory relationship skills of young women in their 20’s and thirties who have learned to let family, friends, and in some cases male partners pay their way. Gail exposes them to the reality of how much money they do make, how much they would need to make in order to support their pampered lifestyles, and how much they would need to live their lifestyles and pay off their debts. She makes their families, friends, and lovers promise not to hand over any more money as her princesses are exposed to a reality check challenge, a budget making challenge, a goal setting challenge, and a give-back challenge. If they do well, they get a check for $5,000 to pay towards their debt. Some of the princesses get all the money, some get only part, and one that we can remember got none at all, because she did not seem to have learned anything. 

Halfway through the first season, I noticed something startling. All of the princesses, in true princess fashion, are extremely good looking, even beautiful. Granted, these are women who get their hair and nails done at least once a week, dress only in designer clothes, buy the most expensive makeup, and in one case have even resorted to Botox, but still. I was a reasonably attractive woman at their age, but there wasn’t enough Botox, silicone, or Dolce and Gabbana in the world to get me to that level. Fortunately, I knew better than to bankrupt myself trying.

One might think that because this is television, they are simply selecting the best looking candidates, but that’s not true of the rest of the Til Debt Do Us Part franchise. The couples featured on the other shows cover a normal range of attractiveness from better than average to worse. It could be that the producers of Princess thought the show would work better with more attractive participants, but they still need a pool of those to draw from.

If our princesses were all being supported by sugar daddies, their attractiveness would not be surprising, either. One may not like the fact that women can exchange beauty for goodies, but it’s not exactly front page news. Most of our princesses, however, are being spoiled by daddy daddies, and mommies, and sisters and brothers  and grandmas. Their families are the ones who spoiled them. One mother even admitted that she had a hard time saying no to her daughter as a child, “because she was so cute”.

I live in this fantasy world where your family loves you for who you are, and sees you as a prince or princess and the fairest of them all no matter what you look like. Watching Princess, I get the disturbing feeling that the truth is not so comforting, that even among family beauty gets you privileges that plainer looks do not. There is even research on the subject. I don’t know how valid the research is, but it is sobering. In more ways than one, Princess shows us that life is not a fairy tale.

ETA 5/31 - A small problem with my hypothesis. Last Saturday we watched two episodes of Princess, and in each one, the princess was not beautiful. They were attractive, especially with the hairdos, makeup, and clothes on which they squandered the money they didn't have, but closer to the norm for women their age. In fact, one of them was even less attractive than her more prudent sister. So maybe I was generalizing from too small a sample size. The grocery store research is still interesting, though.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Not There


I first heard of Tania Head through the promos for the film The Woman Who Wasn’t There on the Investigation Discovery channel. After watching the program I found the book of the same name at the library and read it, trying to make sense of Tania’s story. Lord knows, I’m not the only one. She has left a number of bewildered victims who once were her friends in her wake, who have far more need to make sense of the tangled tale than I have.

Filmmaker Angelo Guglielmo’s story begins at the beginning as Tania herself tells it, with her relationship with a man named Dave and their romantic if possibly not entirely legal wedding on the beach in Hawaii. It follows Tania on the day of September 11, 2001, going to her high-powered financial job in the south tower of the Twin Towers as her husband/fiance goes to his job in the north tower. Tania turns down an offer to meet Dave downstairs for coffee, and thus they are each in their offices when the first plane hits. Tania begins to leave the building but is still in the south tower when the second plane hits. Her story from there is gruesome: her body on fire, her arm almost torn off, she is saved by a stranger in a red bandana who escorts her to the stairs and later by a fire fighter who protects her from debris and finds her an ambulance.

In 2004 Tania gets up the nerve to join an online support group for survivors of the Twin Towers and to tell her story. Something I did not realize until I read the book was that the office workers who escaped the towers on 9/11 were forgotten victims. The families of people who died and the first responders got a lot of attention, but the people who had managed to flee the buildings alive were not invited to memorial events, given special escorted tours of ground zero or asked for their input in the plans for the new building the way the families of those who died were. At least, they weren’t until Tania came along. Using connections made as the wife of Dave, who had died in the north tower, she was able to arrange for a private tour for her survivor’s group. She made friends with survivors of the Oklahoma City bombing and solicited their advice in dealing with survivors. She helped organize a drive to save the Survivors’ Staircase. She befriended and helped a number of survivors and gave them hope.

She was never actually there.

Tania’s story was a fiction from beginning to end. On September 11, 2001, as best as anyone can tell, Tania, whose real name is Alicia Esteve Head, was in her native Barcelona attending a business college. She never knew Dave (who was a real person), she never worked for the agency she claimed to work for, she never attended Stanford or Harvard as she had also claimed. When an investigative reporter for the New York Times began to press Alicia for her story, she disappeared.

I say her story was a fiction from beginning to end, but oddly enough, the most gruesome and hard to believe detail was true. According to friends, Alicia Head was in a car accident some time before 9/11 and her arm was severed and she was burned. Her arm was reattached successfully, but the resulting scars made her story plausible to friends who heard her tell her story of surviving the September 11 attacks. 

Friends in Spain offered Guglielmo more information. Alicia was prone to making up stories, especially about romances, from her childhood. Alicia had always been fascinated with the U.S.A. and kept a large flag in her room. She was also shocked and embarrassed when her father and brother were arrested for financial improprieties and sent to prison. Her mother divorced her father and she and Alicia came to the U.S.

So I can make a certain amount of sense out of Tania’s actions, or think I can. She suffers a traumatic, life threatening accident and then her family, who might otherwise have supported her, breaks up and she is embarrassed to face her friends. She finds a support group for people who, like her, have survived a traumatic event and are still having trouble making sense of it and moving on. If she just fudges the details of her accident a little bit (okay, a whole hell of a lot), she can belong, too. She can get the support she needs, and even more importantly, she can offer support to others.

I would almost feel sorry for her if she hadn’t left so much pain and destruction in her wake. The friends who thought they knew her feel bereaved, as if the Tania they knew had died, and betrayed. Reading their accounts of finding out that Tania was a fraud is saddening. These are people who did not need additional pain. It’s not as though Tania/Alicia was completely lost in her fantasy world, either. When a Times reporter tried to do an interview with her she knew her story wouldn’t stand up to scrutiny. It was her frantic attempts to avoid him that finally tipped off her friends, one of whom was film maker Angelo Guglielmo, to the glaring discrepancies in her story.

I “meet” so many people online, and many of them, like Tania Head, have stories of trauma to tell. It occasionally occurs to me that I don’t know if these stories are true, any more than they know if my stories are true, but even if I found someone’s tale of woe questionable, I wouldn’t start grilling them. For one thing, truth is stranger than fiction; for another, someone who has finally summoned the courage to reach out for support does not need to hear, “Yeah, right”. In most circumstances I would rather risk being duped than being cruel, at least if it’s only emotional support being asked for. I think most people feel the same way, and that’s what allows people like Tania/Alicia to get away with emotional fraud.

But I wonder, if months after her accident, when the immediate pain and trauma had been dealt with, what if someone had said to Alicia, “Alicia, you have been through a horrible time and probably were scared you wouldn’t even live. Do you need a friend to talk to about it?” If that had happened, would Tania ever have hijacked a support group and hurt so many friends?

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

You Lost Me


One of the side effects of my two weeks spent hanging out online with Methodists is that I heard frequently about the book You Lost Me: Why Young Christians Are Leaving the Church . . . and Rethinking Faith, by David Kinnaman. It is not the kind of book that I would normally read, if not for the fact that it was available for free on Kindle. I’ve been reading a lot of free books since I re-injured my left foot.

The title of  You Lost Me is self-explanatory. The book reviews data collected by the Barna Group, showing that over half of 18 to 29 year-olds who attended church as teens are leaving the church, and discusses what to do about it. He divides his research subjects into three groups: Nomads, who drop out of church but still identify as Christian, Prodigals, who are skeptics and consider themselves ex-Christians, and Exiles, who don’t attend church but still “pursue God-honoring lives”.

Given the emphasis on research in the descriptions of this book, I was expecting a different kind of book. Kinnaman’s book is written from the point of view that young people leaving the church is a bad thing. That’s a perfectly valid point of view. Kinnaman, after all, is president of the Barna Group, an evangelical polling firm whose business is providing churches with information they need to grow those churches. It doesn’t mean (I hope) that they slant their statistics, but it does mean they are going to have an opinion about what their statistics show. I would have been more interested in reading about the results presented from a more neutral viewpoint, not “Whoops, we’re doing something wrong” or even “Yay, we’re doing something right” from an atheist perspective. But that’s a personal preference, and doesn’t say anything about the value of the book to the average reader.

The more important problem I see is what is missing from the book. In each chapter, Kinnaman cites the pertinent statistics about young people who gave negative answers, but he doesn’t cite the numbers or percentages of young people who gave positive (toward church)  or neutral answers. For example, in a section titled Nomads Describe Their Faith Journeys, Kinnaman lists 6 statements that reflect negative views of church such as “Church meant a lot to me when I was younger, but it doesn’t make a lot of sense in my life now” and “I may return to church when I am older but I have no interest now”. Next to each statement, he gives the percentage of respondents who described each statement as “completely true of me” or “completely or mostly true of me”. I presume that choices such as “slightly true of me”, “mostly not true of me” or “not true at all of me” were also available to respondents, but we don’t ever see those numbers. So for the statement “Church meant a lot to me when I was younger, but it doesn’t make a lot of sense in my life now”, we are told that 6% of respondents selected “completely true of me” and 20% selected “completely or mostly true of me”, but we don’t know how the rest of the answers were distributed. Did most of the missing 74% think the statement was sort of true of  them or not at all true of them? There is a huge difference between a problem of a church that barely meets the needs of young people and meets the needs of a significant chunk of them so badly that they are leaving, and a church that meets the needs of most young people quite well but is failing to meet the needs of a significant chunk of them so badly that they are leaving. Unless I missed something, nowhere in the book is that distinction addressed. 

There is an old saying that you can prove anything with statistics, but that is true only to the extent that no one is paying attention. If you understand the underlying logic behind the gathering of statistics, you will know whether the numbers someone offers proves their case or not, unless they are flat out making the numbers up. You will know why it’s important to have a control group to contrast with a study group. You’ll know which numbers answer which questions.

Kinnaman wants us to believe that the generation he calls “Mosaics” are “discontinuously different” from previous generations in terms of Access (to information and technology), Alienation, and their response to Authority. Even if this is true, without comparing how (or even if)  18 to 29-year-olds who have left church differ from those who still attend church with respect to access, alienation, and authority, he has no grounds for saying that these are the factors that influence their having left church, let alone serve as predictors they won’t return.

Not only does Kinnaman not present data that differentiated his Nomads, Prodigals, and Exiles from their church-going peers, he doesn’t have a comparison group of data from older generations obtained at the time they were 18-29. Granted, that data might not even exist, but you can’t demonstrate that Mosaics are truly “discontinuously different” from prior generations by comparing how Mosaics describe themselves now to how the previous generations also describe themselves now, which is what Kinnaman attempts to do. He cites Bob Buford as claiming, “Boomers describe their generation with terms like ‘work ethic’, ‘respectful’, ‘values and morals’, and ‘smarter’”. I am a Boomer, and here’s how I remember it: our “work ethic” was “tune in, turn on, drop out”; “respectful” meant “don’t trust anyone over thirty” and calling law enforcement officers “pigs”;  our “values and morals” led to the sexual revolution and a book called Steal This Book. If we’ve persuaded Buford to believe we truly saw ourselves as embodying a work ethic, respect and values and morals, we were definitely smart, I’ll give him that.

Obviously this book is useful to the pastors and youth workers who have been talking it up. I wouldn’t tell anyone not to buy it. It’s just that I see it as one more in a long line of popular books that cite research inappropriately, and in the process miseducate their readers about what questions statistics can answers and how powerful they can be when used properly. For that reason, David Kinnaman, you lost me.

Monday, May 14, 2012

A Bridge too Far


“Over the river and through the woods,” is a phrase usually associated with Thanksgiving, but on Mother’s Day my husband decided to combine our customary dinner outing with a chance to see the newly opened John Jay Audubon Bridge that crosses the Mississippi River just south of St. Francisville. The bridge would take us across to New Roads and Satterfield’s, a seafood restaurant with a view of False River and traditional Louisiana seafood. Satterfield’s is a decent restaurant, but not one we would normally make a special trip to. John just really, really wanted to see the new bridge.

False River is an oxbow lake formed when the Mississippi River changed course a few hundred years ago, leaving a portion of itself stranded to the west of its new course. It is a popular spot for camps, as second homes, some far more luxurious than my first home, are called around here. New Roads is a small community on False River, and roughly across the Mississippi River from St. Francisville. The quick way to get back and forth between them used to be by ferry. The handful of times John and I had gone to New Roads in the past we preferred taking US 61 north to St. Francisville and catching the ferry to taking the I-10 or Huey P. Long bridge over to Highway 1 North. The road to the ferry wound through St. Francisville and across Bayou Sara. If you were lucky, the woman who sold home made pralines would be there peddling her wares while you waited. When the riverboats Delta Queen and River Queen were still cruising between Cincinnati and New Orleans, St. Francisville was one of the stops. I know this because I saw passengers disembarking and heading to the antique shops of St. Francisville one day while munching a praline and waiting for the ferry to arrive. They had that “where the hell am I?” look you occasionally see on the faces of those making their first contact with the rural American South, especially in August, as this was, when things are a tad warm.

The ferry in 2007

On another trip, John turned on our GPS in the middle of the river just to see what it would show. What it showed was us traveling on LA 10 across a field of blue. The trip we talk about most is the one that wasn’t. One summer we spent a weekend at a bed and breakfast in St. Francisville and took the ferry over to New Roads for dinner. We were back at the ferry landing in plenty of time for the last scheduled trip of the evening. When we got there, we were confronted by a sign saying that the ferry was closing from sundown until morning due to the low river conditions.

The long way from New Roads to St. Francisville is south on LA 1, across the Huey P. Long bridge and back north on US 61, and takes about 45 minutes. It takes even longer when you are being followed by another couple who doesn’t know the way, but we got them back home safely.

So in many ways, the new bridge is an improvement. High water, low water, shipwrecks, the bridge is still in operation. And the Audubon Bridge is beautiful. The picture and video below were taken through the car windshield with my iPhone and don’t do it justice, but I was startled by its aesthetic appeal.

Approaching the bridge from the New Roads side


video



As for the woods? Heading back home along LA 10 on the east side of the bridge I saw an interesting sign. It looked just like this:


“They have bear around here?” I asked.

“What are you talking about?” my husband asked in return.

“I saw a traffic sign with a picture of a bear.”

“Are you sure it wasn’t a cow?” 

“I think I can tell the difference between a bear and a cow.”

Fortunately for me there was a second sign further up the road. “Now what does that look like?” I teased him.

“Sure enough” he conceded. We didn’t see any actual bears though. 

Maybe they were back in the den with the cubs, celebrating Mother’s Day. 

Friday, May 11, 2012

A Little Bit of This, a Little Bit of That


The new patio furniture was finally delivered, a week late. Its delivery corresponded with a heat wave. The temperature has since cooled down a lot, because it’s raining. I hope I get to use the new furniture before fall, but at least it looks pretty.

The new dining set. John made the bench back by the window.

A matching bench at the other side of the patio, plus the glider from the old set of furniture on the left. The dark gray plaque is off the wall because John needs to scrub the mildew off if the rain ever stops. That's also why the glider is where it is. 


The temperature cooling down also coincided with our getting the air conditioner fixed, for a measly $1938. 

I took the bandage off my injured foot today, per doctor’s instructions. I was able to take a real shower, which was nice. The foot still feels sore, but there are no intense stabbing pains when I walk. Of course, I’m mostly keeping off of it.

My son called from London earlier, needing a shoulder to cry on because “[his] company is full of idiots.” I had to break the bad news to him that every company is full of idiots. That’s why mommy is retired. Seriously, though, it’s hard hearing your child discuss a problem when you don’t have wise advice to give. He had spoken to his dad earlier, who did have some wise advise to give, i.e, before you go off on anybody, keep your boss in the loop. 

We got a letter from church today, informing us that they have 90% of the funds to pay off the mortgage on the renovations, and hope to have a mortgage burning party by the end of the year. Is burning anything around a building you just paid a million dollar mortgage on wise? The letter concluded with, “The Executive Leadership Team excitedly anticipates celebrating this accomplishment and moving forward into a new vision beginning in 2013.” I wonder if this “new vision” includes addressing accessibility issues?

I’ve read a couple of books this week I want to write about next week. Reading is my go to activity when I have to lounge around with my foot up.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Ouch


So lately I’ve been thinking how good my foot feels. It was about a year ago that I broke it, so it’s been natural to contrast how it feels now versus how it felt a year ago during the same activities. Saturday, April 28, we went to Festivale Internationale de Louisiane, a free music festival in Lafayette, Louisiana, and the contrast between last year and this was so marked it made me wonder again how I managed to go for almost another month before seeing a doctor about my foot.

Then Thursday night we went to a lecture on horticulture at the Old Governor’s Mansion. The Old Governor’s Mansion is perched on a slight rise in downtown Baton Rouge, and to get to the door, you have to climb what for me is a pretty steep slope. Coming from the other side of the drive, the slope is less steep, but getting to that side requires circling the block on one way streets and we thought we were late. To add to the fun, I wasn’t wearing my New Balance shoes, but a dressier pair of shoes that still have built in arch and heel support, but not as much overall stability.

I climbed the drive very slowly, but my foot still felt sore the rest of the night. By morning it seemed okay, and I was even able to putter in the garden, planting a few pots and moving the hose to water the new plants from the past couple of weeks. My foot felt okay, but later in the day I felt an occasional stabbing pain mid-instep. Saturday I baked the cookies, and again my foot felt okay, but more stabbing pains in the afternoon. By Sunday night, I got online and booked a morning appointment with my foot doctor.

“Welcome back,” Dr. S greeted me with a smile. 

“Thank you, but I’m not feeling quite as enthusiastic about this visit as you are.”

I explained about the Old Governor’s Mansion (having been there, Dr. S knew what I meant) and my subsequent symptoms. Dr. S poked around at my foot and found a joint that felt odd. “You think it’s dislocated?” I asked.

“Subluxed,” he corrected. After yanking my third toe until he was happy, or at least happier, with the position of the joint, he positioned a selection of adhesive pads on the top and bottom of my foot, wrapped it all with a bandage, and told me to keep the whole mess dry until Friday, when I can remove it. Also, I need to stay off the foot as much as possible. He then had one of his minions add more padding to the underside of my shoe insert, the idea being to alter the way my foot hits the ground when I walk so as to keep pressure off the joint until it snuggles back into place and the irritation is gone. I also need to return in two weeks, or sooner if it doesn’t feel better next week.

So it’s not broken again, although it’s beginning to look like I am doomed to wearing orthopedic athletic shoes in perpetuity, which will be interesting with a friend’s wedding coming up in September. In the short term, I am restricted to sponge baths and washing my hair in the kitchen sink.

So yesterday afternoon, as I lounged on my bed resting my foot, my husband came in and asked “Why is it so warm in here?”

It turns out although the thermostat is set on 76 (24 Celsius), the temperature in the house is at 82 (28) and not budging. Did I mention it’s in the 90’s (30’s) outside?

So we are having a heat wave, the air conditioner is broken, and I can’t take a shower or bath until Friday. Ouch. It’s still better than this time last year.

Monday, May 7, 2012

There's a Lesson Here


Since I spent a good chunk of the last two weeks following the United Methodist Church General Conference online, through live streaming, twitter and blog posts, I have a lot I would like to blog about. The problem is, to have any of it make sense, I have to post a lot of background information to get people up to speed, and I don’t know how to make that information interesting.

That’s a shame, too, because the way the conference ended was quite dramatic. I know it wasn’t really funny, but it took me a few days to stop laughing. (Paging Dr. Schadenfreude!) One of the big items on the table at the conference was a revision of the church structure. A plan for revision was submitted by an agency of the church, the Connectional Table, via petition and included in the advance documents available to the delegates. 

Okay, the boring background stuff: Proposed and pending legislation at General Conference are called “petitions”. They’re like bills in Congress. Petitions must be presented before the start of the conference. The only way to introduce a new petition during the conference is as an amendment to another one. Petitions are first considered in committees. Those passed out of committee are considered in plenary sessions, usually as part of a bundle of similar petitions known as consent calendar items, but individual petitions can be placed on the calendar for discussion. Minority reports from committees can be brought up before the conference with a petition of at least twenty signatures.

The committee considering the item was ultimately presented with three plans, none of which made it out of committee. A group of people concerned about the possibility of failing to pass a plan at all came up with a new compromise plan, Plan UMC.  At that point, the only way to introduce this new plan was to obtain enough signatures on a petition to present the original plan before the general body, then introduce Plan UMC as an amendment. 

One of the outcomes of Plan UMC, carried over from the original plan CT/IOT, would be to combine the Commission on the Status and Role of Women (COSROW) and General Commission on Religion and Race (GCORR) into one Committee on Inclusion, serving under the newly created General Council for Strategy and Oversight. That meant the new committee would have to report to the agency it was in charge of monitoring. There was a lot of spirited argument against that outcome, but plan UMC passed on May 1 by a large majority.

Then on the last afternoon of the conference, three days later, the UMC Judicial Committee, in a unanimous vote, declared the whole plan in violation of the church constitution. Their actual words were “unconstitutional and unsalvageable”. Since the newly passed budget was based on Plan UMC, the decision created an uproar. Eventually a set of existing petitions streamlining the boards and commissions that would have been eliminated under the new plan were brought before the conference and passed, which kept the budget total where it had been. Sigh of relief.

So now the General Conference is over with very little to show for it, and the Methodist blogverse is alive with convention summaries, all filled with finger pointing at the other guys and lessons that should be learned from the whole debacle.

Only nobody is actually learning any lessons. As far as I can tell, each blogger’s takeaway from the whole fiasco is pretty much in line with what that blogger thought to begin with. I can’t claim to have read every blog, of course, but I have yet to see one along the lines of, “This whole episode has taught me I was wrong about _________”, unless maybe in the form of “This whole episode taught me I was wrong to think it was possible to work with those other guys”. (Not a direct quote)

I don’t think this reaction is peculiar to Methodists. I can also lump myself in with that group of people who thinks somebody who is not me should have learned a lesson from our shared experiences.  So, of all the lessons that I think can be learned from this situation, the one I take away from it is that we haven’t learned a thing.

And by “we” I mean “they”.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Baking for Jesus


I’m waiting for some butter that was in the freezer to soften so that I can bake Root Beer Float Cookies for the St. Anonymous UMW spring bake sale. I have never tried these cookies before and have no idea if they will be any good or not, but the person who posted the recipe to Pinterest loved them and they look a lot faster and easier to make than the Logan’s Roadhouse style yeast rolls I was going to make.

Yesterday I got an email with a suggested price list for our products. The suggested price for a dozen cookies is $3.00. The root beer concentrate and buttermilk that I had to buy for the cookies cost just under $6.00. That doesn’t count the cost of the other ingredients that I already have around the house. Every year at this time, and again in the fall, I debate whether to just donate ten bucks to the United Methodist Women and save myself some baking. When I was younger, I used to love to bake, and once stayed up most of the night baking Danish pastries so they would be fresh and hot for a similar UMW bake sale. Now I look back and wonder who was that woman, and why was she using my name and my face? 

The money we make from selling baked goods is supposed to go to missions. “Missions” always sounds vaguely like the money is going to exotic foreign lands but a lot of the missions we support are here at home: programs for children and youth, women in prison, and for a church run food bank.

I think the idea of bake sales dates back to the days when most women did not have an income, but did have time to spend baking, canning, or making small crafts. (Our "bake sale" actually sells a variety of items, not just baked goods, but the baked goods are most prominent.) I've heard stories of women bringing store bought items to donate, some still in the box. Having a "no-bake sale" in which everyone just chips in ten or fifteen dollars might make sense, but I think most of us would miss the bake sale.

So as soon as the butter softens, I will be baking cookies. This time, I will be sure to protect them from ants.  If they are actually any good, I'll let y'all know.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

A Vignette Involving My Husband


I wrote about how my husband and I went to Opelousas a short while ago to go to the racetrack. While we were there we had lunch at Back in Time, a unique little cafe in which the menu items are largely named after movies, movie characters, and movie stars from the mid-20th century. We like to go there and split a muffaletta, and I like to get the Italian Iced Tea.

The Italian Iced Tea is not something you would find in Italy. It is unsweetened iced tea poured over a serving of sugar free Italian ice, and so far as I know, Back in Time is the only place that has it.

The day we were there, my serving of Italian ice was frozen hard. It looked as if it had been measured out into the glass and the glass then stored in the freezer. No problem, I thought, just sitting in the tea would make it soften up to eating consistency, but by time I had finished my portion of the sandwich, it was still rock hard, as I pointed out to my husband with a sigh. Since the teaspoon that came with the tea was plastic, I wasn’t having a lot of luck breaking it up.

Shortly thereafter, I made a trip to the restroom. I wandered slowly back to the table, looking at small items that the cafe has around it for sale. When I got back to the table, I saw my husband with my iced tea glass and plastic spoon in hand. He had patiently chipped away at the ice until it was the consistency I wanted.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Mad Libs


This year, I’ve been keeping up with the 2012 United Methodist Church General Conference online through blogposts, twitter, and the occasional live feed. There’s a daily journal of events, too, but I find it hard to follow. To be honest, I find the whole event hard to follow, as there is a lot going on, and at least one issue in which I am interested has been addressed in multiple committees.

So I mostly read the Twitter feed to get the gist, and that means that when popular items are re-tweeted, and re-tweeted, and re-tweeted, I get to read them a few dozen to a few hundred times.

In addition to position statements, prayers, and updates on what is going on, there are the short bits of wisdom usually seen on bumper stickers and church signs. One of the most popular last night and early this morning was “Holiness without love is not God’s kind of holiness. Love without holiness is not God’s kind of love.”

The whole genre of word play masquerading as the wisdom of the ages provokes me to roll my eyes, but it occurs to me that this one can be used as a sort of Mad Libs, with the category being “paired nouns”. So I have a few:

“Spaghetti without meatballs is not God’s kind of spaghetti. Meatballs without spaghetti are not God’s kind of meatballs.”

“Gin without tonic is not God’s kind of gin. Tonic without gin is not God’s kind of tonic.”

“Catfish without hushpuppies is not God’s kind of catfish. Hushpupies without catfish are not God’s kind of hushpuppies.”

“Eggs without bacon are not God’s kind of eggs. Bacon without eggs is not God’s kind of bacon.”

Alas, given the back and forth going on at the conference about full inclusion for LGBT church members, I am afraid the tweet was really some kind of Sooper Sekret Code for “Men without women are not God’s kind of men. Women without men are not God’s kind of women.” That is what a lot of the delegates (a majority, it appears so far) seem to believe.

So I have a lot of thinking to do, about church suppers and coleslaw.

(Since I wrote this post, almost 4 years ago, I have discovered there is a word for this kind of rhetorical device: Chiasmus.)