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Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Fadilah and the Jesusian

Photo by Faizal Riza MOHD RAF

The checkout lines were really busy, and I had a cart full of stuff, so I asked the woman behind me if she’d like to go ahead of me, since she only had a couple of things.
“No, that’s fine,” she said with a friendly smile. “I’m not in a hurry. But thanks for asking.”
When my turn came at the register I asked the cashier, Fadilah, “So, are you ready for Christmas?”
As I said it I looked across the counter at her and noticed the hijab she wore over her hair.
“Oh, I don’t celebrate Christmas,” she told me.
Embarrassed by my negligent obliviousness, I said, “Of course you don’t. I’m sorry. I shouldn’t assume, should I?”
“That’s okay,” she told me, with perfect graciousness.
I stuck my card into the chip reader. “Are there any holidays you celebrate around this time of year?” I asked her.
And we had an interesting discussion over the next couple of minutes as she rang me up. I learned a bit more about Ramadan, the Muslim holy month, and that it took place in June this year, but would move back about ten days next year. She talked about the Hajj.
“Have you ever done the Hajj?” I asked her.
She shook her head with wide eyes, “Oh, no. I haven’t been able to.”
“That’s really an intense experience, isn’t it?” I asked, recalling a documentary I once watched about an American who made the arduous, once-in-a-lifetime journey to Mecca.
Fadilah nodded. “It’s a pilgrimage, like those who travel to Jerusalem to observe Easter.” Then she told me, “One must be completely free of all debts and obligations before making the Hajj. I have a seventeen-year-old daughter, so until she is eighteen and a responsible adult I cannot make a Hajj.”
“In fact,” she went on to answer my follow-on questions about debts and mortgages and such, “one must be completely clean and unencumbered financially, physically, and spiritually before undertaking the Hajj.”
Wow. That’s pretty serious. It might behoove me to give my own faith practices that kind of weight.
I’m Jesusian myself. Until very recently I would’ve called myself an Evangelical Christian, but lately the words and actions of a large number of white Evangelical Christian leaders and their adherents have made me uncomfortable associating my character with their lot, so I’ve coined the term Jesusian, or follower of Jesus, for myself. In fact, I just added it to my computer’s dictionary, so the word won’t get that red, squiggly line underneath when I type it from now on.
Fadilah asked me what holiday I observe this time of year.
I smiled and nodded. “Christmas.”
She finished ringing me up and wished me very happy holidays, as I did her as well. Then I turned back to the woman behind me in line.
“I’m sorry it took so long with all my stuff,” I apologized again. “Thanks for being patient.”
Her demeanor this time was cooler. She didn’t smile at me, but appeared almost nervous, or maybe annoyed. She mumbled, “It’s fine.”
I smiled and she looked away.
Huh. I wonder what changed over those couple of minutes.

Friday, November 18, 2016

Truth Matters Whether We Like It or Not

I just read an article in the Washington Post about Paul Horner, an internet fake-news writer who likens his work to The Onion’s, a satirical fake-news source. Horner now believes that his work may have directly enabled Trump right into the White House.
“My sites were picked up by Trump supporters all the time. I think Trump is in the White House because of me. His followers don’t fact-check anything — they’ll post everything, believe anything. His campaign manager posted my story about a protester getting paid $3,500 as fact. Like, I made that up. I posted a fake ad on Craigslist.”
But this isn’t a Trump-supporter-bashing essay.
The moment I finished reading the Horner article I came to my computer to post a link to it online. When I logged onto Facebook, I was prompted to share a “Memory” of something I wrote four years ago, in 2012:
“I pointed out that part of an article posted on [Facebook] was wrongly attributed; things were added that were untrue and that the attributed author did not write. And one person's response was, ‘No matter.’ … Really? REALLY? It doesn't MATTER if the purported facts are untrue? It doesn't MATTER if the person who wrote it didn't really write it? No wonder we are so easily duped by marketers and politicians. And liars. And combinations of the three.”
Four years ago there were no Hillary backers, no Trump supporters.
But they were fully in the making. Because truth had already begun to lose its value to us.
Truth matters, even when it’s inconvenient or unpleasant.
When your child says a kid at school stole his lunch money, and the accused denies it, don’t you think the truth matters?
When your daughter is raped and her rapist claims she consented, don’t you think the truth matters?
When your co-worker steals from the petty-cash box and says it wasn’t him and in fact he saw you do it, don’t you think the truth matters?
The truth is not just valuable when it supports my side of the argument.
It’s valuable all the time and every single time.
A friend of mine recently posted this question on Facebook:
“It boggles my mind that we live in a world full of information, for most of us literally at our fingertips at any moment, but so many refuse to utilize it. How is it that we are reverting to a Dark Ages mentality when technology can shed so much light???”
One commenter had this to say:
“Agreed, but sometimes it's so hard to tell who is telling the truth!”
No, it really isn’t that hard.
First, you ask yourself, “Does this seem realistic?”
When the meme about Trump’s comments in a 1998 issue of People magazine surfaced, that quote seemed a little too perfectly worded and prescient to be real. Sure enough, it was not true. How did I figure that out? I typed “Trump People 1998” in my browser window and got an article from, as well as articles from no less than ten other actual news sources (as opposed to gossip columns, conspiracy sites, and opinions-framed-as-facts depots) that debunked it.
If all else failed I could’ve gone into the People magazine archives to look for the non-existent article.
It’s not that hard to find the truth. And here’s a much better article on how to do it (keep reading past the front image, it's just a teaser).
If we want the truth to be revealed about the things that matter to us, we have to make truth—in every arena and in all matters—paramount.
(An aside here to Christian readers: Christ said “I am the way and the TRUTH and the life”; the Bible names Satan “the Father of LIES” [emphases mine]. When we traffic in lies we abandon our reputation as those who would be like Christ, and we instead align ourselves with evil.)
Paul Horner said that he makes $10,000 a month via his fake news sites. He is selling lies. He thought everyone recognized that fact, and that he was actually pedaling humor. But the jig is up. As a nation we’ve proved time and again that we like lies, as long as they tell us what we want to hear.
There will always be liars, and there will always be suckers.
I, for one, hope to be neither.
How about you?

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Thanksgiving Dinner Primer: How to Survive Your Family with Merriment & Aplomb

Because sometimes a turkey is on the table,
and sometimes the turkeys are around it.

With Thanksgiving right around the corner, you may be experiencing a heightened sense of stress and a more acute apprehension about the impending collection of personalities that is about to descend upon your home, or into the melee of which you are about to descend at someone else’s digs.
Studies have shown that the most stressful aspect of spending time with family over the holidays is spending time with family over the holidays.
According to Buddhist philosophy, one alleviates suffering by changing one’s attitude toward it, denying one’s desires and preferences in order to achieve a state of acceptance and peace. You may, therefore, improve your Thanksgiving experience by abandoning or altering your expectations about it.
Have you, for example, always longed for a tranquil celebration, reminiscent of a Norman Rockwell painting or an episode of Seventh Heaven? Where loving and supportive family members gather around the table with goodwill and charity? Where no one asks you why you aren’t married yet, or when you’re going to have children, or if you ever plan to stop having children?
Good luck with that. Seriously. Very much incredibly outstanding luck is wished for you by me. You might want to dine alone at the local Pho place, because your waiter is unlikely to behave as badly as your relatives. He’s hoping for a good tip, after all.
But if celebrating singly is out of the question, consider changing your aspirations. Don’t mourn the impossibility of the idyllic assemblage that is never going to happen. Instead, embark on an entirely different approach.
This year try entering into the horde of orcs—I mean the family gathering—with an eye toward its entertainment value.
Holiday Drunks and Political Combatants
Why worry about whether Aunt Polly is going to over-imbibe, or if Grandpa and Uncle Phil will spring into fisticuffs over the ever-more-bizarre state of U.S. politics?
Take Polly’s car keys when she arrives and hand her a fifth of Jack. Set her up on the couch with your born-again, evangelical sister-in-law and ask Aunt Polly to tell about the time she woke up on a beach in Phuket wearing nothing but chaps and a pair of pasties.
Tell Grandpa that Uncle Phil called him a right-wing, Breitfart, AK-47-toting, apocalyptic nut job. Tell Uncle Phil that Grandpa said he’s a flaming, liberal LGBTQRSTABC+@ Killary-loving meathead who’s dragging this country to hell in a hand basket by its hair. Then grab a beer, pull up a chair, and click on your smartphone’s video cam.
Trust me, it’ll be wilder than Game of Thrones meets Grimm.
The Anxious Cook and the Superior Guest
I feel enormous compassion for stressed hostesses, because I used to be one. Until I decided I don’t care what anybody thinks of my cooking. Or the state of my housekeeping. Or that a fake plush turkey is riding a fake plush black cat on my porch because I’m too lazy to take down one set of decorations before putting up the other.
But having once been the hyperventilating, good-Lord-I-need-three-more-hands-and-two-more-hoursWHY-DID-I-INVITE-ALL-THESE-PEOPLE-OVER?!?, screaming shrew brandishing an immersion blender, I know exactly which buttons to push to generate the liveliest fireworks.
Say you smell something burning.
Ask the cook if the stuffing is gluten-free.
Reveal that Cousin Lou was recently diagnosed with allergies to poultry, starches, and eggs.
Suggest that there isn’t enough gravy, or cranberry sauce, or wine to go around.
Apologize for neglecting to mention that you invited the entire other side of the family, who should be arriving in fifteen minutes.
The flip side of the good-host coin is the Pharisaical invitee who subtly or not-so-subtly criticizes everything. We once hosted a holiday dinner attended by a stranded college student who compared everything I served to his mother’s cooking. Unfavorably.
Bet he’s still single.
You needn’t confront this sort of person directly, whether you’re the host or another guest. No, no, no. A sideways approach, flanking him like a velociraptor, is the best defense to the offensive.
To the superior cook/host/human being, ask lots of questions to plumb his/her wisdom and expertise:
“If someone dropped a turkey on the floor, what would be the best way to clean that up before serving it? Theoretically.”
“Have you ever tried to get dog poo out of couch cushions? Were you overwhelmed enough to just give up and hope no one notices?”
“Are you familiar with the new trend toward supplementing meals with insects? They say grasshoppers are chock full of protein. Here, try a forkful of this stuffing and tell me what you think. Too crunchy?”
With the clean-freak/germophobe, pull out a bottle of hand sanitizer and ask if he wants some. Whisper, “Believe me, as long as you’re in this house you do. That’s all I can say.”
If faced with a nose-up, high-brow intellectual, there’s all sorts of fun to be had.
Ask for his thoughts on the contributions of V.C. Andrews and Danielle Steele to the American literary landscape.
Mention that you signed a petition to have all history prior to and including the Vietnam War stricken from the public education curriculum as irrelevant.
Utilize they and their for gender-neutral, singular pronouns. ("I think a person should stand by their convictions, even if they are proven wrong by reason and science."), and liberally sprinkle your conversation with the words literally, basically, and like. Extra points for slipping in irregardless and quoting internet memes as reliable sources for your supporting arguments.
On Inappropriate Queries
The most grueling aspect of family get-togethers may be the impolite, cheeky, and borderline abusive questions posed by people who were evidently raised by rabid wolves. Inquiries like:
Why haven’t you had a baby yet?
You’re thirty and unmarried. Have you tried being gay? That would open up a whole new dating pool for you.
Have you thought about Weight Watchers or Jenny Craig?
The key to handling these types of probes is advance preparation. Have some stock answers ready ahead of time.
And if you really want to take your entertainment-promulgation strategy to the next level, give different responses to the same question posed by different people. It may take days or weeks for those family members to compare notes and uncover discrepancies, but the texts and calls you’ll get will provide you months of amusement.
Here are a few ideas to get you started:
“My parents had me sterilized at nine, when I was misdiagnosed with congenital sociopathic schizophrenia. Turns out I was just lactose-intolerant. Who knew?”
“I actually am married, sort of. I’m participating in a communal marriage with a wonderful new group I’ve joined. Pastor Lord Heavenstar says physical love should be shared freely among all people. Would you like to meet him sometime? I think he’d really like you.”
“We’re trying to stop getting pregnant. I’ve had my tubes tied and he’s had three vasectomies. We use condoms and birth control pills and the withdrawal method. Last time we never even had sex. I got knocked up when he hugged me after work. It’s a nightmare.”
The above are just plain fun. But if you want to slip in a little vitriol, you can do that too:
“I can’t see wasting my time and money on Jenny Craig. It doesn’t seem to have worked for you.”
“Look at these people. Do you really think it’s wise to pull the handle on the baby slot machine given the selection of DNA floating around this casino?”
“Wow. Thanks. The fact that you dislike my spouse so vehemently goes a long way toward validating my choice.”
Keep in mind, however, that you will not likely be invited back after responses like those above.
Eat, Drink & Be Merry
As we enter Thanksgiving week, I hope this little primer has inspired a new perspective on surviving the holidays. Keep in mind what the Teacher says: “Nothing is better for a man under the sun than to eat and drink and be glad” (Ecclesiastes 8:15).
So do your best to enjoy the food and the beverages and the company this season. And remember that both the relatives you adore and the ones you abhor are bound for a similar fate, and will eventually be replaced by a new generation of dysfunctional freaks kith and kin.
And I’m always happy to field further questions and quandaries, as well. Email me for more wisdom at
Happy Thanksgiving!

Monday, November 14, 2016

What G. Learned at the Formal

Photo by Little Zoker
I’m mad at a seventeen-year-old boy right now. So furious, in fact, I’d like to go find him and smack the snot out of him.
He dissed G.
G. is my dear friend’s fourteen-year-old daughter. She used to babysit my kids before my oldest got old enough to take over that job. I’ve known G. and her family since G. was five years old.
I love my G.
The high school winter formal was on Friday and G. went with her crush, K.
G. and K. performed together in a stage play. I saw it. Were I in high school I might nurse a little crush on K., too. A cutie, that one is.
But right now I’d like to tan his lanky blond hide.
K. accepted G.’s invitation to the formal, then spent the entire evening pursuing the company of another girl.
There is no Emoji angry-looking enough to sufficiently convey my feelings about K. right now. Maybe a series of Emoji will do:
When G. told me what happened she said, “I guess I learned my lesson.”
I asked G. what lesson she thinks she learned.
“That boys can’t be trusted,” she answered.
Whoa, girl. Hang on now.
No, G. That’s not what you learned. Here’s what you learned:
Some People Are Immature/Clueless/Jerks
K., at seventeen, is probably just an Immature. The Immature may realize you’re crushing, but doesn’t know what to do about it, especially if s/he doesn’t return the crush. Honesty, integrity, and sacrifice are nebulous and as-yet unattained attributes to the Immature. Immatures are a lot of fun at a party, but not so great to need something from, or to count on for anything. Like, sticking by you on a date.
The blissfully Clueless, though a lot of fun to watch (unless they’re blissfully clueless-ing on you), share some similarities with the Immatures. But they actually don’t know they’re attractive/you like them/there’s drama. When a Clueless asks you what’s wrong, and you say, “Nothing”, they foolishly and genuinely believe you. Don’t hold this against them, because they’re as innocent as fluffy little lambs frolicking in a field, unaware that a pack of wolves is watching from the woods.
The wolves are the Jerks. They are the boys (and girls and men and women and everything in between) who genuinely don’t give a flying farthing about anyone else’s needs or feelings. They focus ever and only on their own happiness and pleasure and consumption, and will drop you like a microphone as soon as you no longer feed the buzz of their happiness and pleasure. You will recognize Jerks by the speed of their revolving-door relationships, and the trail of wounded people bleeding on the road behind them.
Sometimes you will be one of those people.
But Your Girls Got Your Back
Boys will come and boys will go, but your besties are forever.
I’m so glad you had your girls at the dance. They circled around you and physically prevented you looking at the cretin as he flirted with someone else across the room. They offered to go smack the creep in the head for you. And your girlfriends will make sure that the knucklehead knows he’s persona non grata now.
And G., in another year or two, when the rest of your gorgeousness grows up, and you run into K. again, he’s going to circle around you, smack himself in the head, and rue the day he became persona non grata in your world. Trust me on this.
It’s One Dance on One Night of One Year in Your Life
You cried, then you moved on. You felt it, but didn’t let it fell you. You took the high road.
There will be other (better) boys, and other (better) dances.
(And full disclosure, there may be worse of both from time to time, too.)
But this—listen to me here, G.this was not about you. You are beautiful. You are brilliant. You are charming. You are more than enough.
You might’ve shot a little further than your bow can fly just now, targeting a senior when you’re a freshman. But dang, girl! Why not go for what you want? As Robert Browning famously said, “Ah, but a man’s (or girl’s) reach should exceed his grasp, Or what’s a heaven for?”
So you didn’t bag your quarry this time. Big deal. The Harry Potter books got turned down by twelve publishers before one said yes. Twelve. (And I’ll bet those twelve are still kicking themselves in the seats of their pants right now.)
Aren’t you glad J.K. Rowling didn’t give up and say, “I guess publishers can’t be trusted”?
So don’t you give up, G. Don’t think “That’s how boys are.” That’s how that boy was. On that night. That time. That’s not nearly enough data to declare any kind of trend.
So you keep asking for what you want.
You keep being your own fabulous self.
Because you’re G.
End of story.