Wednesday, July 26, 2006

The Ultimate Loud Time

I got a forwarded e-mail today that was surely intended as an exhortation to read my Bible more:

CELL PHONES VS. THE BIBLE I wonder what would happen if we treated our Bible like we treat our cell phones? What if we carried it around in our purses or pockets? What if we turned back to go get it if we for got it? What if we flipped through it several times a day? What if we used it to receive messages from the text? What if we treated it like we couldn't live without it? What if we gave it to kids as gifts? What if we used it as we traveled? What if we used it in case of an emergency? What if we upgraded it to get the latest version? Oh, and one more thing. Unlike our cell phone, we dont ever have to worry about our Bible being disconnected because Jesus already paid the bill!

I thought this was kind of cute. I immediately, of course, took pot shots at it:

What if we could switch our Bible to vibrate?
What if it had games and music and cool ring tones built in?
What if we read from the Bible in a really loud voice on the train or in restaurants or during movies?
What if we read the Bible while we were driving?
What if the people who sold us our Bible kept calling and e-mailing and text-messaging about system upgrades and supplemental junk that we didn't really need?

But I did think about the cultural message we send with our cell phones. Cell phones interrupt us all the time; we privilege potential phone conversations over the actual conversations we're having. We content ourselves with looking insane as we talk on a hands-free device while walking down the street. We've turned the Bluetooth earpiece into a fashion accessory.

That's the one that got me. I've just finished reading Girl Meets God, a memoir of one woman's journey through Orthodox Judaism and evangelical Christianity. She talks quite a lot about the lifestyle accommodations that Orthodox Jews make out of fidelity to their faith. Among them is the phylactery, a leather box worn on the arm or the forehead by Jewish men. Stuffed inside the phylactery is text from the Scriptures. You can't not notice phylacteries, and the message they send is shouted from Mount Sinai: "Hear O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is One!"

Christendom is awash in messagewear--Jesus fish, Jesus mints, pop culture images plundered and reconceived as Christian messages--all kept within easy reach for the unlikely spontaneous spiritual conversation with a non-Christian. I'm reminded of the Jetta commercial, in which Jetta drivers pass luxury and sports cars whose drivers shout through megaphones: "My parents never loved me!" "I'm compensating for my shortcomings!" The intended audience is barraged with a message it's often not interested in receiving.

The phylactery is not so much like these. It's more like the Bluetooth earpiece. The world looks on and gets one message--"I'm wearing something you're not accustomed to seeing"--and is left to wonder who's on the other end of the line, what's in the leather box. The wearer, meanwhile, endures the discomfort of looking odd in order to gain the benefit: a message intended for them, setting the course for their day.

I hate cell phones. But I kind of like phylacteries. To top it all off, their batteries never go dead.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Link of the Day: Amena Brown

Amena Brown is a slam poet based in Atlanta, Georgia. I met her at a conference, then met her again at another conference. She led us in worship at one and performed her poems at the other. Super-cool. She uses her myspace account to interview artists, poets and musicians; this week she's posted her interview with Malcolm Jamal Warner--Theo from the late-great Cosby Show. Read the intriguing interview here.

Monday, July 17, 2006

Spam of the Day

Here's a good one:

From: Madam Rita Mosley.
4 Old Church Street, Chelsea, SW3, England.
Here writes Madam Rita Mosley, suffering from
cancerous ailment. I am married to Sir David
Mosley an Englishman who is dead. My husband
was into private practice all his life before
his death. Our life together as man and wife lasted
for three decades without child. My husband died
after a protracted illness. My husband and I made
a vow to uplift the down-trodden and the
less-privileged individuals as he had passion
for persons who can not help themselves due
to physical disability or financial predicament.
I can adduce this to the fact that he needed a Child
from this relationship, which never came.
When my late husband was alive he deposited
the sum of 2.45 Million (2.45 Million Great
Britain Pounds Sterling which were derived
from his vast estates and investment in
capital market with his bank here in UK.
Presently, this money is still with the Bank.
Recently, my Doctor told me that I have
limited days to live due to the cancerous
problems I am suffering from. Though what
bothers me most is the stroke that I have
in addition to the cancer. With this hard
reality that has befallen my family, and me
I have decided to donate this fund to you
and want you to use this gift which comes
from my husbands effort to fund the
upkeep of widows, widowers, orphans,
destitute, the down-trodden, physically
challenged children, barren-women
and persons who prove to be genuinely
handicapped financially. I took this decision
because I do not have any child that
will inherit this money and my husband
relatives are bourgeois and very wealthy
persons and I do not want my husband's
hard earned money to be misused or
invested into ill perceived ventures.
I do not want this money to be
misused hence the reason for taking
this bold decision. I am not afraid of death
hence I know where I am going. I do not
need any telephone communication
in this regard due to my deteriorating
health and because of the presence of my
husband's relatives around me. I do not
want them to know about this development.
As soon as I receive your reply I shall
give you the contact of the bank in UK.
I will also issue you a Letter of Authority
that will empower you as the original
beneficiary of this fund. My happiness is
that I lived a life worthy of emulation.
Please assure me that you will act just as I
have stated herein. Hope to hear from you soon.
You can contact me through my personal
email address:
Madam Rita Mosley

If you'd like another outlet for your hard-earned money, however, I learned this weekend that the Lombard/Villa Park Hurricane Relief project is looking for funding to install two houses being built in Illinois and shipped to the gulf coast. Working with Habitat for Humanity International, we completed building the first one last Saturday in what was supposed to be a three-day project (on the hottest day of the year, I might add), so they're adding another house. But it costs money, so I figured I'd run it up the Loud Time flagpole and see who responds. Send checks to Lombard/Villa Park Hurricane Relief, 220 S. Main, Lombard IL 60148.

Whichever path you choose to follow, however, please promise me one thing: don't let those bourgeois pigs get hold of your money!

Friday, July 14, 2006

C'est la guerre, pussycat

Happy Bastille Day! On this day in 1789 French commoners, inspired by the fledgling American democracy, stormed the Bastille prison, where they freed a handful of political prisoners and seized a supply of the government's armaments. Soon thereafter came the French Revolution and a constitutional democracy that quickly devolved into the empire of Napoleon Bonaparte.

In honor of the occasion, I like to live French for a day, so I bought a French Toast Bagel for breakfast and endured poor customer service. I may have a cup of cafe au lait laiter.

Another good way of celebrating Bastille Day is by peppering your conversations with French phrases. "C'est la guerre (such is the war), pussycat" is from a cartoon and is often quoted by my friend Dave. Mr. Steve used to make me laugh with the world's greatest interjection, which just so happened to be French. If he doesn't post it, I will.

So please post your favorite French foods, phrases or peculiarities. Bon chance!

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Know Peace, Sell Peace

You know those bumper stickers that say "No Jesus, no peace; know Jesus, know peace"? That's what we in the biz call a homonym substitution--sounds the same but changes the meaning. Jesus sells bumper stickers; he also makes for an unusual means to an end: if you want peace, you're gonna need some Jesus to get it. Peace is a commodity for which Jesus is fairly traded.

I know peace is a commodity because of this:

That's right: buy peace, and you get more peace for free. That's like two peaces for the price of one. I found this graphic at the Hunger Site, one of my favorite places online, where advertisers will donate food for global distribution if you simply click on a tab. The poor get food, and you get the opportunity to buy peace.

I'm all for peace, and I respect the creators of the Hunger Site, but I found this ad a bit garish. If you look closely at the vinyl lunch bag and the travel mug you'll see the word cultivate in tiny, white letters above the big, all-caps word peace. "Cultivate Peace" is the tagline of the Hunger Site, and if you're going to be branded with something, that's as good a brand as any. But to be appealing to me peace needs a destination: peace with God, peace in the family, peace on earth and goodwill toward men. And women.

In those scenarios, peace is less the end and more the means. The end is relational--God and God's creation gets the peace we have to offer, and we get relationships with the parties of the second part.

Jesus, I suppose, was an advocate of peace. But he's a more passionate advocate of redeemed relationships. He advises us to "use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves, so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings." Buy peace, he might say, but give it all away for love, which lasts forever.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Creative License Revoked

Two comments I don't want anyone to miss. One anonymous comment from my dad, pointing out that at no time did I ever get pressured by my parents to perform athletically. My parents loved me just the way I was, thank you very much. In my defense, however, I did feel pressure to perform athletically--probably more because of my peers and particularly my female peers. My most vivid childhood memories, and my only athletic memories, involve me failing. So I still identify with "The Sporting Life," even though my parents never stopped loving me.

Comment number two from Mr. Steve forces me to own up to my literary mediocrity:

Students are required to:"Identify the meaning of metaphors based on literary allusions and conceits." Can anyone out there provide me with a good example. The textbooks these kids use are full of metaphors and allusions, but outside of T.S. Elliot I am hard pressed to find a good metaphor based on literary allusion or conceit.I want to give some teachers a good example of what this would look like. - Thanks.

I'm afraid I don't really know what Mr. Steve is talking about. That's why he's a Mr. and I'm just Dave, I suppose. My first pass has me looking to the Bible, where I would anticipate some allusions and conceits to find their source. I remember a line from a Doonesbury comic strip in which President Reagan lamented losing one of his cabinet members because his tax cuts for the wealthy made private sector work so much more appealing. "Hoisted by my own petard," I came to learn (much to my public embarrassment) originated not with Doonesbury but with Shakespeare.

If that's not what Mr. Steve is getting at, I look forward to my imminent enlightenment. At the same time, I'm wondering how much etymology we need to know about what we're saying to be able to speak with some cultural intelligence. Today I learned that barbarism shares a root with barber, and as such "barbarians" were people who wore beards. So barbarians weren't barbarians because they ate people or pillaged wantonly or whatever; calling someone a barbarian was simply a propaganda move. In that case, knowing the origins of the term makes the term less useful, doesn't it?

I hope that made me sound smarter. Sorry again, Daddy.

Both Inspiration and Cautionary Tale: Excerpts from Middling

What follows is an excerpt from the Winter 2021 edition of Middling, my quarterly newsletter on music, books, work, and getting older. I'...