Thursday, December 29, 2005

The power of a mnemonic device

Morgan Spurlock is a hero of mine.

I admire the questions that Spurlock asks through his provocative documentaries. Congressional debates on minimum wage sound like adults talking in a Peanuts television show--while Spurlock gives his viewers a glimpse at minimum wage life in an episode of his documentary series "30 days," where he guides viewers through walking in someone else moccasins for a 30 day period. I hope that Spurlock's series on F/X "30 days" comes out on DVD soon.

I hooked in to Spurlock's work, like many others, through the documentary Super Size Me. This is one of my favorite films of all time. I showed it to my confirmation class, parents, in-laws, even my daughter watched it. She was too small to comprehend the film...or was she? I am no Piaget, nor do I have more than trivial knowledge of cognitive development. But I know that music can register with a child. I know this personally, because I would not have earned an A on my 8th grade U.S. History exam without Schoolhouse Rock teaching me in music about the Preamble of the U.S. Constitution. I still know that song.

At least six months passed since I last watched Super Size Me, maybe longer since I sang the theme song. In those days, my daughter would sing that theme along with me. A few days ago at the dinner table, much to my shock and awe, the song came out again without my prompting.

Super size, super size, the American way
Super size, super size, the American way
Going fat, going broke, either way, you're gonna pay.
Super size me. Super size me.

At first, I sat in disbelief. Then, when I realized what she was singing, I laughed in amazement, and called to my wife to listen.

For the most part, she has not repeated some of the less choice words that have come out of my mouth--although she yells at the dog like I yell at her (as well as the dog). I can learn much from what comes out of her mouth--she is a mirror of my communication.

Words of grace and words of warning.


Saturday, December 24, 2005

Christmas is ruined? Lord, have mercy.

My daughter and I watched "Merry Christmas, Charile Brown" on the average of once per day during this Advent. I loved this story as a child. For some reason the storyline of Charlie Brown struggling with the meaning of Christmas in relation to commercialism is more tastefully executed and thought provoking than anything I have read or heard in public discourse in recent memory.

As a teenager, I recall coming home from Lutheran Church of the Good Shepherd in Olympia, Washington during the Advent and Christmas seasons and finding my mother upset because one of our pastors saw it as his homiletical duty to rip on the retail industry and its relationship to Christmas. During that time in our lives, the retail industry provided employment to my mother, and essentially food on our table, clothing for our bodies (at a discounted rate from the employer), and an opportunity to help my brothers and I pay for our college educations. Certainly I am no paragon of virtue--I like stuff. I am a pagan heathen. My family sending my mother into employment was another story of a stay at home mother moving into the workforce. I am sure that my mother selling women's undergarments was a key reason for ruining Christmas for a local pastor. To some degree, my mother's employment encouraged the family to get stuff that we did not need. Such are the lives of sinners. I buy all kinds of junk I do not need.

One of the things I miss about Lutheran liturgy is that I had the opportunity to sing "Lord, have mercy" almost every week.

Lord, have mercy. All kinds of people are complaining about how their Christmas is going. Some conservatives complain that the athiests and liberals are ruining Christmas because the culture has drifted into using the greeting "Happy Holidays." Liberals make speeches that conservative complaint about Christmas greetings carry no substance when they encourage market forces for people to buy, buy, buy without any reflection on why, why, why? Idealists on each side of the political spectrum complain that people cannot seem to separate themselves from buying stuff and that Christmas is ruined through the work of the retail industry. A recent Sojourners article pushed me to this reflection when one more writer declared that Christmas is ruined. Many people have come to the church looking for assistance during this season--hoping to pay for food and maybe a gift for their families. Without our assistance, their Christmas is also ruined. Christmas is ruined...

Lord, have mercy.

First, a little perspective. Since the post-Civil War era, Christmas has been ruined in America. Rebecca Edwards in the Christian Science Monitor chronicles the history of American commercialism and Christmas. The public often sees commercialism and Christmas as a recent issue. I would guess that Christmas was even ruined before that. The Evangelists known as Mark and John did not include Jesus' birth into their final draft about the claim about the centrality of Jesus in salvation history. I am sure that Mark and John also had horrible Christmas holidays and did not want to remember Jesus' birth.

The way Christmas is set up on the calendar, people will always complain during this holiday season. Regardless of the hemisphere of residence, Christmas is in a season of extreme temperature. It is either really dark, or the sun shines well into the night. Both of these natural rhythms in the year tend to send our bodies out of balance--either craving the sunlight or the peaceful darkness in hope for some rest. In the midst of this state of imbalance, Christmas is a time to get together with family. When I get together with family at Christmas, I recognize how much of a sinner I am, and I see the sins that have been passed on from generation to generation. The chance to be reminded of family divisions, personal failures and being presented the frightening opportunity to reconcile is anxiety ridden. I eat too much in this swirl of anxiety, and I imagine this is a struggle for other as well.

If the above paragraph is true, then I ask and plead, Lord, have mercy.

On this Christmas Eve, I plead for anyone who cares to take in my words to plead to God for mercy. Certainly because you and I are sinners, but mostly because it is our tendency this time of year to be complainers. My plea is for the people of God to be gentle with one another, because when faced with our shortcomings and temperature and light extremes, we have a hard time welcoming peace. In the midst of all the hustle and bustle of the season, we celebrate a God who comes to us in Jesus not because we make it happen, but a God who comes because we are loved by God, and that because God comes, we are called to sit in awe. If only but for a moment.

Lord, have mercy.


Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Food that is not "Norwegian spicy"

When I served at a congregation in Hudson, South Dakota, I often ate with some of the local senior citizens at their local cafe. One day, one of the folks inquired about my favorite meal. I had become accustomed to the bland food in the Northern Great Plains, even though I avoided the local favorite--Scalloped Ham and Potatoes. My favorite was lasagna, to which one person replied, "exotic!"

I knew that bland was the norm--I didn't know that basil was an exotic spice.

Urban legend in Sioux Falls holds that ethnic restaurants that would normally serve spicy food do not do good business until they tone down the spice. One Chinese restaurant in town, Peking, has gone the way of non-spice that confirms urban legend. I had never known Chinese to be bland...until Sioux Falls.

One member of another congregation--a proud Norwegian once said that if the food I served was not brown and/or white, that he would make in brown or white by adding potatoes or by adding gravy.

Over this holiday season I have served this side dish (could be a main course) frequently. Some in this area have called it "interesting," while transplants have marvelled and found it to be a culinary oasis of spice. I pass it on from the book "Vegetarian Entertaining" by Diane Shaw.

My mother in law (another proud Norwegian) is not against spicy food, but doesn't quite have the spice thing down. I usually ask her about a particular dish--is it spicy (like a hot curry) or Norwegian spicy (like basil).

This dish is not Norwegian spicy. It has a good kick. Enjoy!

Cold Sesame Noodles (aka Spicy Thai Noodles)
6-8 servings

1 cup chunky peanut butter (no added sugar, salt or shortening works best)
1/2 c. soy sauce
6 tbsp. dark sesame oil
1/4 c. rice vinegar
4 tsp sugar
2 tsp chili paste w/garlic ( I have used Thai Kitchen Red Curry Paste, and that works well)
1/4 c. hot water
1 lb. linguine, cooked and drained
1/2 c. minced scallions (white part only)
1/4 c. chopped peanuts

Combine the peanut butter, soy sauce, sesame oil, vneagar, sugar and chili paste. Add hot water 1 tbsp at a time, whisking until well-blended and smooth. Add the drained linguine to the sauce along with half the scallions. Toss until noodles are coated with the sauce. If the mixture is too sticky, add more hot water and toss again.

Turn out onto a serving dish and sprinkle with the remaining scallions and chopped peanuts. Can be served cold or at room temperature. Enjoy!

Peaceful Advent...


Friday, December 16, 2005

Wanderlust longing creates Yukon dreams

When XM Radio picked up Major League Baseball in its lineup, I began to question my investment in Sirius. Howard Stern and Martha Stewart will not attract my listening time, and I could live without NFL Football if forced to make a choice (but believe me, am I ever on the Seattle Seahawks bandwagon). I like the music stations, and the BBC, Air America and the diversity of American opinion is a worthwhile investment. I can also listen to collegiate sports.

A few weeks ago, Sirius picked up CBC Radio, and has added an all-Canadian music channel known as "Iceberg." I was thrilled. Sounds Like Canada in the morning and As It Happens in the evening. These radio shows remind me of what NPR and the BBC used to be. I remember turning on these broadcasts over the years and depended on stories that covered the continents in a way that no other media outlet covered. In a 12-hour window I had stories on Kazakhstan, Uruguay and Ireland. At some point NPR and BBC became overly devoted to stories from the Middle East as if George W. Bush himself were calling the shots. If I wanted most of the stories in a publication or broadcast to cover the Middle East and American politics, I can read Time or Newsweek. I need perspective. I get caught up in my own world easily and my mind can turn to mush.

Last week, Sounds Like Canada, the morning show on CBC Radio One broadcast from Whitehorse in the Yukon Territory. One of the journalists set up shop in a local bar to talk about the future of mining in the Yukon. Many are anticipating a boom similar to the 1800's when Whitehorse was about the size of San Fransisco. I also learned about a Newfoundland band on the show called Great Big Sea. I only heard one song ("Captain Kidd")--it was a hearty song took me to memories of many boat rides on the Puget Sound. I love the salt air--I could almost taste it with that song.

Brother Bingo once talked with me several years ago about cheap land available in the Yukon...I Googled extensively on the subject, but could find no links. I can dream. I may not own the land--but I am ready for a trip to Whitehorse, Dawson and eventually see the Newfies in St. John's for a lager while I listen to Great Big Sea. I hope my family--any of them--would like to join me.


Monday, December 12, 2005

Melting Snow

I take some pride in that I do not brood over things I cannot control.

Melting snow does not make the list. Without the snow, South Dakota is painfully ugly in the winter time. High temperatures in the mid to upper 30's has turned our winter wonderland into a drab collage of carbon stained slush and the worst of earth tones. Sunshine does not even make it look good.

I would love to will the weather colder, but my will is futile.

Melting snow is for spring training time, not mid-December.



Thursday, December 08, 2005

Saying Good-Bye to Cassettes: What is their Legacy?

I like to believe I overcame my life as a pack rat.

What am I supposed to do with this musical format of the 80's? I have a hard time throwing away my a-ha cassette.

They will go for nothing on e-bay.
Why waste my time selling them for a nickel at a garage sale?
I think the local used music store would ask me to pay them to take an a-ha cassette off my hands.
Along with the others:

Spandau Ballet, They Might Be Giants, REM, Clint Black.

Cassettes are the outcasts of the music industry, along with their sad cousins, the 8-track tape.

Vinyl has fabulous sound quality, while the CD and MP3 are convenient and easily manipulated.

What will be the legacy of the cassette? Do they have any redeeming value in music history?

Vinyl lasted decades and still has a cult following (can you imagine having a cult following for cassettes?).
The CD may be on its last years, but it introduced us to digital music.
Love my iPod...

A friend/colleague of mine in a conversation a while back and I shared some laughs about "the mixed tape." How could I have shared love with my wife without the mixed tape? I think I put together at least 8 tapes when we were dating...but why save the tapes? The sound systems I have don't play the tapes at a decent sound quality--and the tapes have deteriorated from time in the sun, overuse, and our daughter getting a hold of them.

The cultural place of the mixed tape is profound when referenced in an episode of "Family Guy," when baby Stewie is hot for his babysitter and makes her a mixed tape.

I will get rid of the cassettes. I may regret it someday when one of them is selling for a couple of grand...but I am not that kind of collector.

I saved the covers to the mixed tapes for our scrap books...

(Special Note to Brother Bingo: If I need to correct any of my musicology, let me know.)


Tuesday, December 06, 2005

If You Want A Funky Christmas...

When I was a boy, my father and I would occasionally watch television and come upon James Brown. The Funkmeister himself on Soul Train, or Sonny and Cher, Flip Wilson or some other variety show. We would both watch in fascination the man shuffle his feet and truly get down. We would laugh--not because the King of Soul was funny. James was so far from our experience.

James moved from fascination in my musical appreciation when I worked with Bingo at a music store in Seattle in the winter of 1997. On the regular rotation of music during the shopping season was this fine album that you see here. By the time I left my short stint in Seattle and my only direct foray in working retail, I was looking forward to the time James made the music rotation.

This CD is oh, so cool. I would almost guarantee that no one else is singing "Santa Claus, go straight to the ghetto."

Any James Brown Christmas is good (I have one other), but this one has the best cover.

If you want a funky Christmas (I never thought of a funky Christmas until 8 years ago), get this CD.


Sunday, December 04, 2005

Citgo politics heating up

The Cold War made inquiries into politics of the left-right continuum a secretive chess game with propeganda pawns. Gathering information in the 00's is not a stealth activity. The apathy of the American public about acquiring news creates the road block to intelligent public discourse today. We no longer have the Iron Curtain to blame for any lack of knowledge.

I recently wrote that I was going to be buying Citgo products more often in response to the populist move to provide Citgo heating oil for some impoverished residents of Massachusetts at a reduced rate. My brother Bingo did not like that I called Chavez wacky. I still think he is. Though Chavez portrays himself as a champion of the poor, he creates conditions that subsidize gasoline to the point of irresponsibile environmental degradation. Petrol at ~15 cents per gallon seems dangerous. Chavez makes classic populist moves. I find that George W. Bush's conclusion that Chavez is threatening to U.S. interests laughable--and the apathy of the American public will carry this through. Bush must think he can stir similar anti-left sentiment the way Reagan used to denounce more quality Latin American advocates for the poor like Daniel Ortega. What is amusing is that you have two heads of state running cults of personality proclaiming each other dangerous. Cults of personality are dangerous in general. The problem with Bush is that he has access to many more weapons and resources, and he happens to enjoy destruction.

A colleague and friend recently identified me as a pugilist. I took that to mean I will use provocation to encourage discussion.

Fair enough.

The fact that I drove an extra two miles to buy Citgo gasoline last night is not a statement of allegiance to Hugo Chavez (although a Bushite might say it is...I do not care). Conversations about poverty and how it can be addressed need to happen. Until conventional wisdom is disrupted and typical patterns of thought are redirected (including the tired usage of the left-right political continuum), renewal will be slow to happen.

However, my faith does not place hope in the renewal of society through government. Or the market. I am a benefactor of both the government and the market. I ask God that I can be made into a faithful participant in both--doing justice, loving kindness and walking closely with my God.

In the meantime, I'll also remain a pugilist.

I am surprised to find interest in the politics of Citgo. Maybe I shouldn't be:

Even someone in South Dakota has taken interest.

I certainly was not the first one to think about buying Citgo products.

Captain Capitalism said that Kennedy-loving liberals and Democrats would be flocking would be flocking to Citgo.

I may be going to Citgo--but I don't care for the Kennedys, and I'm not a Democrat.

But I do participate in the market. I am going to buy Citgo gas.

And other Citgo stuff.


Friday, December 02, 2005

My Connection with "Intelligent Design"

When I attended the University of Kansas as an undergraduate, my family and friends thought it was funny to send my greeting cards, post cards and other paraphernalia related to The Wizard of Oz.

This is but one of many reasons to make fun of Kansas. A top ten:

1. The Wizard of Oz.
2. Sen. Sam Brownback.
3. School board evolution debate/Intelligent Design.
4. A state that placed their major city in Missouri.
5. A US Senator (Bob Dole) who brought erectile dysfunction into public discourse--spawning thousands of products and commercials for "male enhancement."
6. A lack of creativity in naming high schools. They have an unusual attachment to naming schools after directions. Take the Shawnee Mission School District. When I attended KU, their schools were named North, South, East, West and Northwest. Even Sioux Falls, South Dakota is slightly more creative (Lincoln, Washington, Roosevelt).
7. The Topeka Sizzlers.
8. Great headlines for high school sports. One of the high schools is the Topeka High Trojans. Another high school (creatively named) is known as Seaman high school. Urban legend says a sports headline once read: "Trojans Stop Seaman."
9. An accent that mixes a Southern drawl and a Chicago pronunciation of "ass" or "sausage" or "God."
10. Kansas State University in "Manhattan," Kansas. Actually, to my knowledge, KSU is distinctly more popular throughout the state, but the people who are loyal to KU are fiercely loyal.

Kansas has many fine attributes like any state. I enjoyed my 3 years of school there. I made great friends. Lawrence is probably one of my top 10 favorite municipalities--a quintessential college town. There is natural beauty that an outsider would not expect to find in Kansas.

In reference to #3, Kansas isn't necessarily the Mecca of Intelligent Design, but it is the source of public discourse about the "failings" of evolution. The Lawrence Journal World reports on an Intelligent Design story to which I have a loose connection to the subject of the story. Dr. Paul Mirecki was the teacher of a Bible overview course I took at the University of Kansas. At a state university, Dr. Mirecki was going to teach the Bible as only a piece of religious literature. It was understandable the conservatives in the class took issue with this methodology. He handled the challenges well. If the article accurately reports the situation--it sounds like the good professor did not handle teaching Intelligent Design as mythology well.

I hope the Univeristy does handle a course on Intelligent Design well--The University of Kansas does not need to become #11 on the list.

On a related note--I tend not to get involved in the discussion of Intelligent Design, let alone making fun of it. The issue for me is that I do not care to engage in an anxious debate where many people seem to be asking the wrong questions. I think our discussions about Biblical truth and its relationship with science are off kilter. Not to mention the crux of the discussion seems to be who can be louder with their arguments.

No thanks.

I did receive an amusing example of poorly framed questions from my fine colleague, Rev. Darth (check out the link to his blog on my links). For some high quality laughter, take this exam.


Pastor Elihu