Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Sunday, June 30, 2019

Eighteen Years

Eighteen years ago today, we got married. In one of the standard story arcs, that is the end of a story. Perhaps in one sense it was. If drama is built around conflict, our few periods of conflict, looking back, were mostly prior to getting married, the rest of the tensions of a long engagement plus the faltering early steps of a very young couple still trying to get used to living out the rules for avoiding strife that we knew but had not internalized.

But looking back it seems clear that there is much more story, much more change, if very little conflict, in the eighteen years since our marriage than the nearly four years we'd known each other prior to it.

Indeed, there's been change enough that looking back over those eighteen years the couple that got married that June day in Los Angeles, they seem a slightly foreign pair whose motivations can be a little hard to remember.

If there were something I could reach back and urge that young couple to do differently, it would be not to worry so much about proving that we were our own independent entity. The young are often urgent to prove their independence, and looking back this caused us to do things that were unnecessary. Our plans for our own wedding were over-influenced by a desire to be different from other people's weddings. And as we settled into early married life, although we lived very near my parents we saw less of them than we could have: My mother who had experienced a somewhat suffocating mother-in-law was determined not to force the family on us, and we were equally determined to show that we could live our own independent lives. Of course we could, but if I had known how little time I had left with my father alive, I would have acted differently.

Something that I'm very grateful for from those early days is that several older couples we made friends with in the first years of our marriage managed to take us seriously despite our youthful brashness. It's very helpful to interact with couples who have been married longer, and looking back I particularly value those friendships even though miles and years have come between us.

Eighteen years is something of an inflection point. Next year, our eldest child will be legally an adult. In another five or six years, we may have our own children contemplating embarking upon marriage. In four years, we'll reach the point where we'll have been married half our lives.

It's been a very good eighteen years, and we're deeply grateful for them. We hope that there are many more yet to come.

Saturday, June 29, 2019

I Must Decrease

Over the past week I have sung several funerals at our parish, each one different. A older wife, mother, and pillar of local society who died after a brief but difficult battle with cancer. A man, not quite middle-aged, who died of a drug overdose. And today, a 13-month-old boy who drowned.

Today's funeral was the hardest. The devastated parents clung to each other. The reader could barely make it through the first reading. I myself could not look up from my music, lest I see the little half-sized coffin and choke.

As we were driving there, I talked to my 10yo son, who was going to serve the mass. "This is going to be a sad occasion, and many people may be overwhelmed. If you start to feel emotional, remember that we're here to serve the family. Our job is to help without calling attention to ourselves, or do anything to distract the people who are grieving more because they're closer to the situation."

One temptation that I've had to fight at funerals at which I don't know the deceased is to make it about myself: indulging in the luxury of imagining myself in the situation of the bereaved. What if it were my father, my husband, my child? How easy it is to build up a scenario full of pathos, secure in the knowledge that it's all in my head. And yet, how contrary to God's nature: "I AM". It is no part of God to spend the present moment (especially in church!) in fantasies and counterfactuals, whether sad or idealistic or glamorous or actively sinful. The present is meant to be lived, whether in active love and service and sorrow or in quiet waiting with those who are joyful or suffering. Even our imaginations are meant to be used in the service of God and others, not for our own private emotional wallowings.

The antidote to this behavior is to stay in the moment: to focus on the words of the prayers, the notes on the page, the physical details of breathing at the right places and standing straight while I sing. The sorrow and the emotion have to be channeled into prayer and service for the deceased and the grieving. Errant trains of thought that start out, "What if...?" have to be redirected back toward the people at the inmost circle of grief, the ones who are now living the "what if?".

I have not lived the "what if?". I have never lost father, mother, husband, sibling, or born child. Every funeral I've ever attended has been outside of me. I have not been the bereaved. God has been merciful to me, but with that mercy comes the responsibility to pray and sacrifice even more for those who are suffering, either in the first throes of grief or in the long dull ache of loss. "He must increase; I must decrease," said John the Baptist (John 3:30).

Wednesday, June 26, 2019

Creativity is Work

As I'm getting into the swing of spending several hours each day working on my textbook again, I wanted to share something I've been chewing on lately in regards to doing creative work. This is by my friend John Herreid, cover designer for Ignatius Press, and proprietor of J.R.'s Art Place on Facebook, which I entreat everyone to follow for their daily dose of beauty. 

"Don't talk about it" is the rule that cuts to the quick for me, as I'm very much prone to hashing out projects in great detail and then never doing the grunt work to bring them to life.


self portraits, by John Herreid


I’m fortunate. Much of my day job includes creative work, including graphic design, illustration, and writing. So even when I don’t have time at the end of the day to work on personal projects, I usually still had some small bit of creative work to look back on. (The unfortunate part of this: it’s then easy for me to make excuses as to why I don’t really need to work on those personal projects!)

But having worked for quite a while in a creative field has taught me some of the hard, practical things about creativity. Trying to keep active with personal projects is also important, as doing things such as getting out there to sketch or paint often feeds my professional work, and ideas that percolate slowly when commuting or staring at a screen often flow more easily when holding a pad and pencil.

Here’s a list of rather obvious tips that I’ve picked up. Many of these are ones people told me about and I ignored at first because they seemed too obvious; I thought I needed more complex routines. But simple is almost always best.

CREATIVITY IS WORK. We’re sold a picture of creativity that is ecstatic and wondrous, where artists dance about slashing paint at a canvas with intensity and verve. And, truthfully, creativity can feel like that at times. But most of the time it’s work. You have to be willing to set aside the idea that seeking fun isn’t the same as seeking the creative kernel of an idea. You also have to discard the idea that creative sparks will fly if you just sit and wait for inspiration. Take the first step and start.

STARTING WORK IS THE HARDEST. And with distractions all around it is so, so easy to find something else to do, like check social media or e-mail. Take the first step simply by opening a new document or image file or taking up pad and pencil. Then just start working on your project, even if all you are doing is doodling or writing sentences and deleting them. If you keep at it and get the ball rolling, eventually you will begin to produce something.

SET REMINDERS AND SCHEDULE AHEAD. If you plan on taking three nights a week to work on a project, set a reminder or alarm on your phone or computer. Mention it to your spouse. Make it so that you don’t have the excuse that you forgot.

DON'T TALK ABOUT IT. Wait until you have something to show. One of the easiest things to do is talk with your friends about a project you really want to do instead of actually doing it. I think talking about your potential project can trick your brain into thinking that you actually accomplished something. Instead, wait until you have something to show—even if it’s just a small something—before you talk much about it. That way you’ll also get more feedback on your idea without the project fizzling into a woulda, coulda, shoulda daydream.

DON'T OVERESTIMATE YOUR ABILITY TO COMMIT. One of the best ways to end up not accomplishing anything is to set a wildly unrealistic goal. “I will spend three hours every evening working on this project.” If all you realistically have is an hour or even half an hour, make that your commitment. Otherwise you’ll fulfil your expectations once or twice and then abandon them.

FEED YOUR CREATIVITY. When I’m feeling burnt out creatively, the best remedy for me is watching a great film or heading to an art museum. For others it’s a concert, or a walk in nature. Whatever feeds you creatively, make a commitment to encounter with it fairly regularly. It’s not an indulgence.

FIND CONSTRUCTIVE CRITICS. At work I have the art director I work under, and for my art projects at home I try to send images to friends who can give me honest feedback. Don’t just rely on people who give you unconditional praise. You won’t grow unless you get some correction. And for goodness sake, develop a thick skin. There’s nothing worse than a beginner who refuses to listen to a wise critic.

LEARN FROM THE BEST. I regularly read book design blogs and follow artists I like online, making special effort to find out what their work process is like. In whatever creative field your interests lie, find a number of people to watch. You might even try dropping them a line or talk with them if they have a blog or social media presence. A lot of creative people are pretty generous about answering honest questions from those really wanting to learn.

Any other people have good tips for creativity? Let me know!

Monday, June 24, 2019

The Real Problem With Christianity

According to a certain line of thinking, there is not greater threat to the Christian message in our current day than to tie Christianity to a political movement which half the country considers obviously villainous.

It is quite possible that this is true. It is also possible that the greatest current threat to the Christian message is the idea that one's creed hardly matters beyond personal taste since anyone can be "a good person".

If we look to the previous century as an example (in which many Christians endorsed nationalism in the first world war and fascism in the second, all the while thinking that they were fighting the good fight against godless socialism, while those who successfully rejected nationalism and fascism all too often endorsed indifferentism and held that Christianity was only good, if it was good at all, when it served as a force to unite the poor against the powerful in a stricture secular struggle) it's pretty clear that both of these contentions are true in what they critique but blind in what they endorse.

Sunday, June 23, 2019

Money Pit, part 23423

A week or two ago, I signed a contract to have our eroding sandstone porch (ca. 1929) hammered down and poured as cast concrete in August. It broke my heart to do away with the masonry, but having the stone replaced was prohibitively expensive, and the concrete will be molded and antiqued and sealed so that it looks like stone. More to the point, no one will be likely to injure themselves on ancient stones that have rotted away. Anyway, we had the money in savings.

Last night the Jack and Jill bathroom ceiling fell.

In the fresh morning light.
That particular bathroom, set in a corner and accessed through two kid bedrooms, has been in a bad way since we bought the house (and before, obviously). That window is set in the chimney -- in the chimney, I say, not beside it -- and somewhere up there is a leak we've been trying to fix for nine years. We've capped the chimney, we've tasked the roofers with examining the flashing where the roof meets the chimney, we've had the window worked on. And we thought that perhaps we had dealt with it, except that the past two weeks of non-stop rain have wreaked havoc on the ceiling. It started to crack, then to bulge, and then it collapsed.

A shot from a year or two ago, showing the wall damage.
We knew that one day we'd have to strip this bathroom down to the studs, but we always hoped that day could be pushed out and pushed out. The bathroom has been functional, and has the one really useful shower in the house. (There are four showers in the house. One has never been used due to a leak, one is in the attic in the cat bathroom and subprime, and the third is always draining slowly and has no water pressure and takes forever to get hot.) 

I guess we're all traipsing down the hall to the low-pressure, low-heat shower for a while.

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

Chanson d'automne

In June 1944, Radio London broadcast the first stanza of Paul Verlaine's Chanson d'Automne, to let the French Resistance know that D-Day was coming. The first three lines, sent on June 1, indicated that the invasion was to start within two weeks; the second three lines, sent June 5, gave 48 hours' notice. D-Day, of course, was June 6, 1944.

Here is Verlaine's poem, and my translation.

Chanson d’automne
Paul Verlaine (1844-1896)

Les sanglots longs
Des violons
De l’automne
Blessent mon coeur
D’une langueur

Tout suffocant
Et blême, quand
Sonne l’heure,
Je me souviens
Des jours anciens
Et je pleure;

Et je m’en vais
Au vent mauvais
Qui m’emporte
Deçà, delà,
Pareil à la
Feuille morte.


Autumn Song

The autumn song
of violins' long
dry drone
Wounds my heart
with langour's smart,

Breathless, wan,
all choking on
the hour's call,
Olden days
in memory's haze,
as tears fall.

Born aloft by,
carried off by
gusts of grief,
To and fro
as winds blow
a dead leaf.

(I find, doing further research, that my last lines are almost exactly the same as Arthur Symons's translation, but I came up with it myself, so I'm letting it stand.)

Tuesday, June 18, 2019


Our community theater just performed Working, the musical based on Studs Terkel's interviews with Chicago laborers. (Hence the radio silence here on the blog during production week.) My two oldest girls and I were in the show, playing a variety of working-class joes. Wish you all could have seen it, but here are our selections.

I was an aging teacher, bitter about the changes that the years had wrought in my classroom. The lady who sings it here belts it out and is working hard on her American accent (this being from the London cast recording), but I played it lighter and a bit more dotty, based in part on the five-foot chemistry professor who trotted into Chem 101 at 9:00 on Tuesdays and Thursdays and chirped, "Who's excited about science?" to a bunch of sleepy freshmen.

Also, I wish you all could have seen my coke-bottle glasses, in which I was nearly blind, but which magnified my eyes to crazy-scientist levels.

This song was composed by Mary Rodgers, daughter of Richard Rodgers (of Rodgers and Hammerstein). Listen for the Sound of Music nod in the very last line.

My oldest daughter, 17, was a delivery girl dreaming of a better life. The character is named Freddy Rodriguez in the script, but she used the name Delores Ramirez as a tribute to her great-grandmother. This song was added for the 2012 revival and was written by Lin-Manuel Miranda.

My second daughter, 15, played an immigrant nanny. "Minamahal kita" means "I love you" in Tagalog -- when she sang that, she signed "I love you". She was so pleased to have this song because it is reportedly Lin-Manuel Miranda's favorite song.

We'll miss the thrill of performing, but it is a relief to have our evenings back.

Monday, June 10, 2019

The Return of Dr. Boli!

The world is a vale of tears, but sometimes a glimmer of light breaks through. Here's your glimmer for today: the estimable Dr. Boli is publishing again. This is the quality content which the internet was created to showcase. Here, a challenging word scramble:


UNSCRAMBLE THE LETTERS to find the secret word, and of course if you want to cheat you may use the clues provided.
1. Health resorts for the well-to-do.
SSAP = _ _ _ _
2. Hapless fools; usually preceded by “poor.”
SSAP = _ _ _ _
3. A gap between peaks, affording travelers a route through the mountains.
SSAP = _ _ _ _
4. Venomous snakes, of which Cleopatra was rather too fond.
SSAP = _ _ _ _

Friday, June 07, 2019

A Lived Model, not an Academic Model

Last week, when the Spirit was pouring words through me, I wrote to all our parish catechists asking for their support as I went to the parish offices to propose different model of religious education. PSR means "Parish School of Religion", the regional term for religious education classes.

Every one of us knows, and many of us have talked about it together, that no matter what we do in PSR, what is most important to children in learning to live the Catholic faith is their parents' example. We know that parents are the primary educators of their children. I would like to suggest a once-a-month family catechesis model for next year, a strong support system for helping parents live their faith and model it for their children so that children are actually immersed in Catholic life, instead of just hearing about it in a classroom once week. For our children, for our families, for our parish, this is crucial!

Our children will be better prepared for First Communion if they are living every day in a family that is making efforts to pray together, to attend mass every Sunday, and to take advantage of the sacrament of Confession. Our teens will be better prepared to receive the Spirit at Confirmation if they see their parents actively trying to use the gifts that they received at their own Confirmations.

I want a family catechesis program to be open to every single family in the parish, not just to "PSR families". We have a line of demarcation between school families and non-school families that is divisive, and I would like to heal that division and help our parish to be a true family. I'm sure that there are school parents who would love support in living their faith more deeply so that their children won't just shrug the Church off after graduating.

This is why I'm proposing a lived model, not an academic model. I believe deeply in knowing the history of the church and in understanding the doctrines and tenets of the faith, but all the Diocesan graded courses of study in the world cannot replace a family going to mass together each Sunday, or reading one bible verse together before supper. Children can tell what their parents really prioritize.

The kind of model I'm thinking of is a program like this: This is NOT in addition to our weekly classroom hours, making more work for catechists and putting our already strained resources to the task. This is INSTEAD of our current classroom model. The classroom model is failing our children -- not because our teachers aren't dedicated, because I've seen you all at work, week in and week out, pouring your hearts into your classes. But if parents are not living out the faith, not going to mass, then PSR is just a band-aid, a cosmetic check-the-box fix for a deep and festering wound in our parish life.

What I hope for with family catechesis, and what some parishes around the country do, is to work with parents to help them live the faith for their children. Instead of weekly classroom time where parents drop off children, family catechesis would involve once-a-month meetings with families to help support parents in becoming living examples of the Catholic faith for their children. Our classroom model simply isn't working as a means of passing on faith -- it just lumps religion in with other school subjects for kids. I'm suggesting transitioning away from the classroom almost entirely, even just as a one year experiment. I hope that a program like this would actually increase family participation, by cutting down on the "check the boxes" aspects of PSR which have little to do with the heart of Catholic life and practice.

This would reduce the time burden on families, and would put the emphasis not on the academic knowledge of Catholicism (which our students don't seem to be retaining anyway), but on putting the faith into practice. If we can increase family mass attendance, if we can bring families into going to confession more often, if we can support parents in modeling forgiveness, mercy, patience -- in making the real lifestyle changes that show their children that they believe that the faith is real and will make a difference in their lives -- we will have accomplished more for our parish than any classroom instruction we can give children.

Many parents want help and support. They're interested in having their children learn about Catholicism, but feel like it's something for experts or other people to teach. My point is that if we help families to realize that the main way to transmit the faith to their children is to live the basics -- to pick up a pin for the love of God, as St. Therese said -- we will have done more for our parish than years and years of PSR.

Thursday, June 06, 2019

Why To Leave A Job

Tomorrow is my last day at a company that I've worked at for seven years. Monday I start a new job at a new company.

I don't tend to do work blogging, but this struck me as a very perceptive post about why people leave jobs, in particular noting that the rational reasons we come up with for why we decide to move on are different for those triggering factors which cause one to first answer a recruiting call.

Resignations happen in a moment, and it’s not when you declare, “I’m resigning.” The moment happened a long time ago when you received a random email from a good friend who asked, “I know you’re really happy with your current gig because you’ve been raving about it for a year, but would you like to come visit Our Company? No commitment. Just coffee.”

Now, everyone involved in this conversation transaction is aware of what is going down. While there is certainly no commitment, there is a definitely an agenda. The reason they want you to visit The Company is because, of course, they want you there in the building because seeing a potential future is far more compelling than describing it.

Still, seeing it isn’t the moment of resignation. The moment happened the instant you decided, “What the hell? I haven’t seen Don in months and it’d be good to see him.”

Your shields are officially down.

Your shields drop the moment you let a glimpse of a potential different future into your mind. It seems like a unconsidered off-the-cuff thought sans consequence, but the thought opens you to possibilities that did not exist the moment before the thought existed.
As a leader of humans, I’ve watched sadly as valued co-workers have resigned. Each time I work to understand two things:

  • Why are they leaving?
  • When did their shields go down?

In most cases, the answers to Question #1 are rehearsed and clear. It’s the question they’ve been considering and asking themselves, so their answers are smooth.

  • I’m looking for a smaller company where I can have more impact.
  • I’ve been here for three years and I’m looking for a change of scenery. It happens.
  • I want to work somewhere more established where I can dig my teeth into one hard problem.

These answers are fine, but they aren’t the complete reason why they are leaving. It’s the politically correct answer that is designed to easily answer the most obvious question. The real question, the real insight, comes from the answer to Question #2: When did their shields go down?

Their shields drop when, in the moment they are presented with the offer of potential future opportunity, they quickly evaluate their rubric and make an instant call: Is this job meeting my bar?

To find and understand this shields-down moment, I ask, “When did you start looking?” Often the answers are a vague, “It kind’a just happened. I wasn’t really looking. I’m really happy here.”


If I’m sitting here talking with you it means two things: I don’t want you to leave and, to the best of my knowledge, you didn’t want to leave either but here you are leaving. It didn’t just happen. You chose. Maybe you weren’t looking, but once your shields dropped, you started looking. Happy people don’t leave jobs they love.

The reason this reads cranky is because I, the leader of the humans, screwed up. Something in the construction of the team or the company nudged you at a critical moment. When that mail arrived gently asking you about coffee, you didn’t answer the way you answered the prior five similar mails with a brief, “Really happy here. Let’s get a drink some time!” You think you thought Hmmm… what the hell. It can’t hurt. What you actually thought or realized was:

  • You know, I have no idea when I’m going to be a tech lead here.
  • Getting yelled at two days ago still stings.
  • I don’t believe a single thing senior leadership says.

Often you’ve forgotten this original thought in your subsequent intense job deliberations, but when I ask, when I dig, I usually find a basic values violation that dug in, stuck, and festered. Sometimes it’s a major values violation from months ago. Sometimes it’s a small violation that occurred at the worst possible time. In either case, your expectations of your company and your job were not met and when faced with opportunity elsewhere, you engaged.
Thinking back over the last few months during which I explored and decided to take another opportunity despite having a team I liked at a company I mostly enjoyed, I can definitely identify with the experience of having got a call at a time when I was frustrated by a particular set of factors. Those factors were temporary, but they caused me to pick up the phone. As the interview process at the new company continued, the interest of finding out more (and my own personal tendency to need to 'win' at anything I try) impelled me to push on with the process. And when it seemed like there was a break in the factors that had caused my frustration, and even a chance to move on to some new and interesting challenges internally, I'd already got so far down the interview process that it seemed like I would be giving up too much and had already committed to the new job.

To be clear, it's not that I don't, in the end, think the new job is a good move, that I was impelled to take it as a process started out of temporary frustration gained momentum and became unstoppable. But eventually things came along which would have mitigated my frustrations at my old job and given me reasons to keep going. The process was: temporary frustrations -> listening to new opportunities -> finding one that really appealed -> making a measured examination of old versus new and decided to move on. But I never would have got to those stages of looking at outside opportunities and sitting down to decide if it was really better to go or stay if I hadn't been driven to it by a fairly momentary urge, a frustration springing from comparatively insignificant conversations and disappointments. I might have put in more years here if I hadn't been riled up by those couple things, and if an opportunity hadn't happened to seek me out just as I was riled. And while I think I'm better off leaving, I would doubtless have been mostly happy during those additional years, just as I've been mostly happy during the years that I've spent here.

I think this tendency holds true in other areas of life as well. It is not always big events that cause us to make big decisions. Even if we, in the end, identify big reasons why we should make some change (in a job, a relationship, where we live, our religion, our philosophy, our political alignment) the reason why we first start looking into those big reasons may be small, even petty. And this in turn means that it's important to remember that the ways we treat people in small matters may have very big results, for us and for them. Small pebbles can start an avalanche, and it can be seemingly minor acts of ours that turn out to have very large consequences.

Wednesday, June 05, 2019

Consuming Fire

All you who are thirsty,
come to the water!
You who have no money,
come, buy grain and eat;
Come, buy grain without money,
wine and milk without cost!
Why spend your money for what is not bread;
your wages for what does not satisfy?
Only listen to me, and you shall eat well,
you shall delight in rich fare.
Pay attention and come to me;
listen, that you may have life.
Isaiah 55:1-3
All throughout last week I was consumed by a task that the Spirit laid upon me, regarding a new vision of what religious education could be in our parish. I was charged to go speak to my pastor and tell him that our current classroom structure was a failing model, that we should drastically reduce the cost and pull back to a once-a-month model that focused on parental formation, and that if we tried this for a year we would see Mass attendance skyrocket, confession times expand, and our weekly collections increase.
Were not our hearts burning within us...?
Luke 24:32
I use the word "consumed" advisedly. This mission burned within me. Everything spiritual thing that was not this task was scoured away: old resentments, current vices, and even bad habits. (Except, alas, biting my nails.) Until I delivered my message, I could not sleep or eat. At night, I lay awake, this vision driving out every other thought or plan. During the day, I had no desire to eat anything before I fulfilled this task. I'd been trying for months to fast regularly, but this week, I didn't have to try. The fasting was ancillary to the mission.
Is this not, rather, the fast that I choose:
releasing those bound unjustly,
untying the thongs of the yoke:
Setting free the oppressed,
breaking off every yoke?
...Then your light shall break forth like the dawn,
and your wound shall quickly be healed;
Your vindication shall go before you,
and the glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard.
Isaiah 58:6,8
There are many ways of discerning whether a message is from God, and I tried them. One compelling factor was that of my own accord, I didn't want to do it. The thought of laying a crazy prophetic message before the powers that be made me feel sick and terrified. Excited, but terrified. And I wished God had chosen someone else to make waves. I emailed all the catechists of the parish to ask for their prayers and support, and received both. And so, impelled I went first to the religious education office to lay out this vision.

I am generally a person with a highly developed political sensibility, skilled at communication and able to play both social 4-D chess and the long game, but in retrospect, perhaps I was naive to expect that the person whose full-time job it is to choose curriculum and administer classes would be instantly excited by a plan that called for less curriculum and less classes. The more I talked, the less I seemed to make myself understood. Each time I tried a new tack -- excessive fees, teacher exhaustion, scheduling difficulties -- I found myself at an impasse. Reasoning that had been compelling to all the parents and teachers I had spoken with seemed to make no impact on administration.

Friends, I have not cried publicly for perhaps twenty years, but I found myself sobbing in this meeting. In the moment, I tried to brush it off with a number of lame excuses -- I'm sorry, this isn't like me; I'm tired; I'm hormonal -- but none of these was the full truth. I had been carrying this burden for a week, this message from God burning from within, and I couldn't seem to communicate its urgency. I didn't feel like a failure, because I had done what I was charged to do. Indeed, as I bawled afterwards in church, all I could say was, "I did what you told me to!"
Then the LORD answered me and said:
Write down the vision;
Make it plain upon tablets,
so that the one who reads it may run.
For the vision is a witness for the appointed time,
a testimony to the end; it will not disappoint.
If it delays, wait for it,
it will surely come, it will not be late.
Habakkuk 2:2
The next day I met with our pastor. He was gracious and attentive. He asked questions to clarify what I was telling him. I believe we were on the same page as to the actual purpose of religious education, and how we were not meeting that right now. But as with the day before, I could not carry my point either on price or on structure. It didn't matter so much. I had done what I was told to do, and I remembered one of the key rules of negotiation: if you win major concessions right away, they will almost always be walked back. Never go for the instant win or the instant change, because people want to chew on ideas until they come around to them themselves.

In the very last moment, as I was saying goodbye, a chance remark opened the door to an entirely different conversation, in which, instead of me pushing for financial change from the catechist angle, Darwin joins finance council and works from that side. If that's the only thing that comes out of this whole ordeal, it's probably a pretty effective solution, at least to that side of the problem (although I did ask God why he couldn't have arranged this more directly and spared me the grief of the past week). I hope we will see great changes. I hope God chooses another messenger. I hope I don't gain back the weight I lost over the past few days.

But I did what God asked of me, and now it's out of my hands.
Yet just as from the heavens
the rain and snow come down
And do not return there
till they have watered the earth,
making it fertile and fruitful,
Giving seed to the one who sows
and bread to the one who eats,
So shall my word be
that goes forth from my mouth;
It shall not return to me empty,
but shall do what pleases me,
achieving the end for which I sent it.
Isaiah 55:10-11

Monday, June 03, 2019


Took the younger kids to see Aladdin today, and here's a capsule review: My five-year-old son was bored stiff.

"Beeee yourself!" Robin Williams buzzes memorably to Aladdin, in the original animated movie about the big blue motor mouth and the street kid who rubs his lamp. Will Smith echoes this advice, if less buzzingly, in Disney's newest animation-to-live-action attempt, but alas, the movie itself cannot follow the sage advice. Time after time it tries to step out toward something original, only to sink helplessly back into the oversized footsteps of the animated movie. It's all so blandly pretty to look at, so very colorful that the eye can focus on nothing and eventually stops trying.

Mena Massoud and Naomi Scott as Aladdin and Jasmine are likable enough as actors, but whenever a spark of chemistry appears, the script and pacing conspire to quench it before it can flame into anything original. If only they could be themselves, I thought. However, Marwan Kenzari is actually something different as a Jafar who also knows what it is to be a street rat. The one scene in the movie that made me sit up and pay attention is when Jafar entices Aladdin to enter the cave of wonders by using one of his streetwise tricks against him. Alas, this one moment of purely original, pitch perfect drama is all we see of the movie that could have been.

I am of the generation that might be called "Willenials", and remember the heady days of Fresh Prince of Bel-Air and Gettin' Jiggy With It, to say nothing of the back-to-back blockbuster summers of Independence Day and Men in Black. I watched Bright on Netflix last year because it featured Will Smith. Will Smith is Will Smith, and at his best, he's playing Will Smith, which is what we want to see because we all know and love Will Smith.

Which is pretty much what he's not allowed to do here. Oh, there's some silliness, and there are some flashes, but it's mostly Will Smith pulling his punches, trying not to make the role too much his own in deference to Robin Williams, without treading on Williams's late toes by imitating his most inimitable schtick. This is a tightrope act that will constrain any artist's performance, and it serves this movie ill. When I think of Will Smith as the genie, I want to see a 10,000-year-old Fresh Prince: relaxin', maxin', chillin', all cool. And we get that -- over the closing credits, as Smith cuts loose on a rapped-up version of Friend Like Me, the only moment in the theater when I saw people grooving in their seats. If the producers had had the cojones to put that into the movie proper, we might have had something that made us sit up and pay attention. Instead, we dutifully nodded to the homage to Robin Williams, whether by commission or omission. This is not how great movies are made.

In the tradition of padding live-action remakes with new songs in an attempt to freshen them up, Jasmine is given a ballad titled "Speechless", which is what she intends not to be. Unfortunately for us, the Broadway talent penning this new song is not Lin-Manuel Miranda, who proved his chops most lucratively for Disney with the compulsively singable "How Far I'll Go" in Moana, but Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, the duo behind The Greatest Showman, a rather less musically distinguished outing. And unfortunately for Jasmine, this ditty is wedged into the worst possible moment of the movie, breaking up the dramatic tension and so irritatingly filmed as to lose all visual interest. When is that movie makers will remember that theater is not an art of close-ups, but of large-scale pictures?

This movie is a nostalgia-grab for Disney, and it will of course make a stack of dollars that will reach to the moon and back. Knowing this, perhaps Disney felt no need to bother with the minor issues of pacing, structure, or character development over which a studio less assured of success might labor. Myself, I might go back and watch the animated movie and marvel over how a few hand-drawn lines can convey so much genuine emotion and dramatic impact. And the original has never once bored a five-year-old stiff.