Friday, December 23, 2005

Happy Holidays!

In case I don't get here for a couple of days throughout the Christmas/travel/family madness, Happy Holidays to you all!

Thursday, December 22, 2005


The women in my book club are amazing. They are smart and interesting and beautiful. I've read so many good books in the last year and a half that I would never have picked up otherwise, and I am a better person for it. But I haven't been quite comfortable in my book club since we discussed A Tree Grows in Brooklyn.

While we were discussing the difficulties of feeding a family of 4 on under $5/week, one of the women commented that it's a good thing that we don't have people that poor anymore. Sure, there are poor people. But nobody's hungry.

Two of the other women are elementary school teachers, and they tried to explain a little of what they see every day.

Yeah, said the first woman. But I used to work across from the projects and I'd see those kids. If they're hungry, they've chosen to buy expensive shoes or televisions instead of food. It's not like it used to be.


I like our neighborhood. Most of the houses - excepting the monstrously huge new ones they've put in the back - are very similar. There are elderly folks and young families. There are a fair number of working trucks parked in driveways (tree service, driveway sealing). It's quiet and off the beaten path, but conveniently located near the outerbelt, which I use to get just about everywhere.

I used to live a little further in, where the population is far more diverse, but you get a lot less house and land for your money. When I lived further in, I took the innerbelt just about everywhere.

The speed limit on both interstates is 60 mph, and Paul and I often laugh about the fact that it's common for the far left lane on the innerbelt to be moving about 60, while the far right lane on the outerbelt usually moves faster than that.

Recently I noticed another difference in the traffic between the two roads. The cars. I'd gradually forgotten that so many people drive cars with rusted bodies and duct-taped windows.


Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Genre Readers

I was going to write in generalities about Science Fiction & Fantasy readers versus Romance readers, but I'll try to stick to the specifics.

When I finished the most recent Robert Jordan book, I suffered a bit of withdrawal. I looked around online to see who was out there and had answers to some of my questions. I found several websites and discussion boards devoted to The Wheel of Time. I found an incredibly comprehensive encyclopedia that covers all 8000+ pages published thus far. I found detailed chapter summaries. I found interesting theories and amazing quantities of background research.

Every time someone asked a "dumb" question or made an error, there was an immediate correction by another reader. These people were geeks, of course. I found pictures of conventions and weddings designed around the world Jordan created. But these people are also really smart. I was duly impressed.

About a month later, I finished the most recent Diana Gabaldon book. Diana Gabaldon herself is very smart and a little intimidating. I anxiously looked for Outlander online communities to read discussions about this latest installment in the lives of Claire, Jamie, Brianna, and Roger.

I didn't find much. Well, I did find a robust online community. But far from being a place where every inconsistency is closely examined and critiqued by fans, as on the Jordan sites, the level of discourse on the Gabaldon fan page ran more toward comments like, "Well, everyone makes mistakes. There's a lot to remember here."

Not examining "inconsistencies" purposefully included by the author is a good way to miss important developments in the story. But more importantly, not asking for accuracy in the writing is an insult to the author. It's suggesting that the work of fiction is so inconsequential that it doesn't even seem real in the author's own mind.

Instead of detailed theories, complete with footnotes, readers asked very basic questions. One reader talked about buying her Christmas tree. It was from North Carolina and was a Fraser Fir. She couldn't believe the coincidence! Suddenly "Fraser" is everywhere! I mean, it's not possible that the author did such incredible research that she might have discovered that there are Fraser Firs grown in North Carolina, where she set Fraser's Ridge in the books? Impossible! It must be an incredible coincidence.

That's about when I closed my browser window and went on my merry way.

So, yeah. Jordan fans and Gabaldon fans seem equally passionate. Both groups spend incredible amounts of time online discussing the books. But online Jordan fans seem more intellectually invested in the world created by their favorite author.

Interesting trend watch. Laurell K. Hamilton, Robert Jordan, and Diana Gabaldon are all series authors I read. And they have all become much more interactive with their readership. All have some sort of blog for communicating directly with us outside of their books. It's interesting. I wonder how this growing transparency will affect the writing and the author/reader relationship.

Monday, December 19, 2005


Paul and I were sitting around Saturday night, wrapping presents and watching the best television show ever, which we own on DVD and have been parceling out slowly, terribly saddened that the joy must end eventually (we only have two episodes left from the original series).

We started talking about life and all, you know, the sorts of thrilling conversations that people have once they've covered the weather, local politics, let's-get-married, and baby poop.

I said, "You know, lately I've been feeling like life's getting back to normal."

Paul concurred. It really is, you know. I mean, it will never be the same again, of course. But I'm starting to feel like I have a bit of myself back. My daughter is becoming - just a little - independent and self-sufficient. I can reasonably expect to sleep most nights, to have a little time and space to read stuff, make stuff, think stuff.

How divine. It must be time to have another one.

I Hate Siding with CWA

Dear [Washington Post] Editor:

I am writing in response to "One Woman's Choice" by Maria Eftimiades from your November 15th issue.

I am a liberal, pro-choice feminist, so my angry response is probably quite unlike many angry responses you've gotten.

But I believe that publishing this piece without qualification - explanation about some of the "facts" in the piece - was irresponsible.

For example, Eftimiades writes about having a child with a "severe disability" and "raising a mentally handicapped child" as if both are forgone conclusions that come with a diagnosis of Down syndrome. They're not. Before a child is born - and even for some time thereafter - it's impossible to tell how he or she will be effected by Down syndrome.

It's possible to have Down syndrome and not be "severely disabled." In fact, it's likely! It's possible to have Down syndrome and not be "mentally handicapped." It's also possible - and likely! - that a child with Down syndrome would look like and be like his or her parents, as the author seems to suggest would not happen with her potential child, once her fetus was diagnosed with Down syndrome.

I agree with Eftimiades that this is a personal decision, and that no one else's morality should be the deciding factor. But I think it's harmful to all of us, and especially to those with Down syndrome, to imply that all children born with Down syndrome are severely developmentally delayed.

Eftimiades is confident that she made the best choice - not just for herself, but also for her "baby that will never be." If she has done the research, she must know that it's possible that her child could have been pretty close to typical, could have grown up to go to college and have a career and normal life. Just as it's entirely possible that a child without Trisomy 21 could have many serious and even severe disabilities.

I know how scary it is to be in Eftimiades's position, and I do not judge her for her choice. But I do judge her for spreading fear of the unknown and misinformation with this piece. She had to make and live with a difficult decision. But making herself feel better with platitudes and false certainties about what her child's life would have been like (not worth living) serves no good while doing much harm.



Saturday, December 17, 2005

Christmas Shopping

I started Christmas shopping before September, and was mostly finished before December. I have a closet (inconveniently located in the guest room) where I keep presents to be given in the future.

I did most of my shopping via catalogs and the Internet this year. I think there's something to be said for making decisions about what gift to buy for each person on your list while sitting comfortably in the quiet of your home, rather than in a store where merchandise always looks most appealing and you begin to feel like maybe your little sister really would like that thing in the corner, and maybe it's got character rather than being simply ugly as you first thought. And if you buy it you can leave now and be all done. So, hopefully, the gifts we got for people are stuff they'll really use or appreciate rather than just gifts for the sake of spending money and giving something.

There's also something to be said for not popping into and out of stores with an infant or toddler in tow.

In my defense, I also ought gifts at 3 independent, locally owned, little downtown shops in our town. But I'm still planning to go to the mall later today, even though I don't strictly need anything from there. It just seems wrong to me, somehow, to not set foot in the mall even once during the holiday shopping rush. And of course that's wrong all by itself.

Friday, December 16, 2005

It's Time for a Picture

Here we are, in front of the Christmas tree, in our matching sweaters. Isn't it nauseating?

I thought that we were long overdue for a dose of cute; the diatribe:diapers ratio here was getting skewed.

In related news, I'd be sending out our Christmas letters, creatively designed on the computer and ready to be printed on pretty paper, except for technical difficulties.

I tried to print a test copy, and learned that we were out of black ink. Paul purchased and installed a new cartridge, and the printer stopped working. He removed the printer to take it apart and fix it, and now the (temperamental cordless) keyboard's a bit screwy. And the printer still isn't printing right. So, the Christmas cards will have to wait until the curse lifts.

Giving up for the night, I tripped over a shoe in the dark and spilled a glass of water all over my side of the bed.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Prevention First

Last week I got to see something really cool.

Pro-choice and anti-abortion groups are so firmly entrenched in their positions and are so afraid of losing ground that they often don't look for areas of common ground.

And yet most of us agree on one major point: we would like to see fewer unplanned pregnancies and abortions.

Planned Parenthood of the St. Louis Region and several other groups are endorsing the Prevention First Act, and they organized an interesting way of drumming up support and sponsors for the legislation. They invited several local pro-choice, anti-abortion, and mixed-choice state legislators to a meeting at a synagogue and sat them up in front of the crowd.

The crowd was huge. The synagogue was packed, with people standing against all the walls and in each doorway. Behind us, an enormous petition lined the walls with signatures of supporters who couldn't make the meeting.

There are five main parts to the Prevention First Act:
  1. Birth Control Protection: The language in this section prohibits all government interference in a woman's access to FDA approved contraceptive drugs and devices in Missouri.
  2. Comprehensive Sex Education: Ensures that each school district is held accountable to the current comprehensive sex education law (170.015 RSMo) to provide age-appropriate, medically accurate sex education that includes information about contraception.
  3. C.A.R.E: Compassionate Assistance for Rape Emergencies ensures that victims of sexual assault who present at an emergency room are provided with information about, and access to (should they choose) emergency morning after birth control called EC (Emergency Contraception). EC is approved by the Federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as a contraceptive; if the pregnancy is already established, the medication does not harm the embryo. In fact, the hormones in Plan B can help ensure a healthy pregnancy.
  4. Pharmacists Duty to Dispense Birth Control: This requires pharmacies in Missouri to make sure all legal prescriptions for birth control and emergency birth control are filled in a timely manner and without undue hardship to the patient.
  5. Family Planning Program: Restores the highly successful, general revenue funded, Family Planning program that served 30,000 low income women annually with well woman services such as cancer screenings as well as birth control counseling and methods. Every $1 spent on prevention programs saves the state $3 in pregnancy related medical costs.

More background.

The MC, from Planned Parenthood, introduced each initiative then introduced two speakers who addressed each provision. The speakers were incredibly powerful, and took the discussion far beyond political rhetoric. After the speakers, the MC asked each representative if she or he supported the initiative. A volunteer kept track of responses on a large grid. After hearing the speakers, it was impossible not to say, "Yes."

At the end of the evening, after all 5 initiatives had been discussed, the legislators were asked if they'd co-sponsor the bill. All said yes. I haven't described this experience adequately. This Act may never become law in Missouri. But this has to be a step in the right direction. And the experience brought tears to my eyes.

Who is Waging this war on Christmas?

Probably every lefty blogger out there is addressing this one, but I'm royally annoyed today. I'm about to sound really judgmental and offensive. Consider yourselves forewarned!

OK, so conservative Christians are claiming that there's a "war on Christmas" because we all say "Happy Holidays." Of course, I remember saying Happy Holidays way back before I knew much about Hanukkah or Kwanzaa; it was a more succinct way to say, "Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!" And now that "The Holidays" start with Thanksgiving, the shorthand makes even more sense for retailers. Increasingly, "Happy Holidays" has a Labor Day flair.

But I digress. These same conservative Christians often belong to "mega-churches" with thousands of members. And several of these mega-churches have decided not to hold services on Sunday morning, December 25th. Christmas!

These are the people who want to tell the rest of us that they have a lock on what it means to be Christian, but they think that there's nothing wrong with canceling church on one of the biggest religious holidays of the year in order to stay home and open presents?

I listened to an irate preacher defend his church's decision on NPR, which did its best to create a "balanced" piece on the issue, offering sympathy to the plight of these poor, poor megachurches. After all, it takes dozens of staff and volunteers to run each service. That excuse almost got me for a moment.

But wait. This is a church. Surely some volunteers are likely to come forward, if the usual cast wants to take this Sunday off. And if not, well, who says that you *have* to have all the flash?

Why not turn off the complicated A/V equipment and leave a stack of bulletins on the back pew? Or, better yet, skip the bulletin and let the minister announce the hymns and readings from the pulpit.

Surely a modified service is better than no service at all.

As the daughter of a minister, I have little sympathy for them.
The closures stand in stark contrast to . . . Mainline Protestant congregations such as the Episcopal, Methodist and Lutheran churches, where Sunday services are rarely if ever canceled.
Well, yeah. As a Presbyterian, the idea of a church taking a Sunday off because not enough people might come is just totally foreign. And wrong. In my opinion, if only "two or three gather," it's worthwhile. Perhaps those who show up on holidays are the ones who need to hear the message the most. And what message are you sending if you close your doors to them?

If there's a real "war on Christmas," I don't think it's being waged by the "liberal PC-police." Quite to the contrary. I think that the real "war on Christmas" is the commercialized, secularized pop culture spectacle that we've created. And there are an awful lot of liberals who detest that too.

That said, I do think that "holiday tree" is ridiculous.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Heart Healthy

Everything went well at the cardiologist's today, though we were there for two hours!

The exam and echo were both great, and the doctor assured us that, while Ellie has some "mitral insufficiency," trace leakage at the tricuspid valve, and a tiny shunt, it's all the same as it was before and there's nothing to worry about.

Unless she has her teeth cleaned or needs to have her adenoids out (for her constant nasal congestion) or something of that nature.

Hint for getting a two-year-old to stay very still for a 10+ minute echocardiogram: bribe her with food, doled out as slowly as possible without incurring great wrath, and interspersed with fun songs, sung quietly. It's a tricky dance, but the result is worth it.

So we're free and clear until next year! God willing.

Heart Kid

If you feel like lobbying your congressional representatives for something this week and you're at a loss for an interesting cause, you might consider writing in for recognition of a National Congenital Heart Disease Awareness Week. Why is this such a pressing issue, you might ask? Well, in addition to the stats in the CHIN letter, it's interesting to note that heart defects are the most common type of structural birth defect, affecting 1 in every 125 newborns. And cardiologists who work with adults mostly focus on adult-onset heart disease, like that caused by high blood pressure, high cholesterol, etc. So, many adults with congenital heart defects continue to see their pediatric cardiologists because they are trained to work with congenital defects, even though their area of expertise is CHD in children.

My situation as the mom of a heart kid is different - better - than most.

I knew about Ellie's heart defect, a complete atrioventricular septal defect, before she was born. I saw it on two different fetal echocardiograms. I researched it and all the complications that could come with it, so after the second fetal echo, when we got the news that there were no additional complications (like hypoplastic left heart or a transposition of the major vessels) I was ecstatic.

Ellie saw a cardiologist and started medication long before I would have noticed symptoms otherwise. Her surgery and recovery, though earlier than we had hoped, went exceedingly well.

She is expected to have no further heart problems. She is on no medication. She can go out for whatever sports she wants to. The only things that still mark her as a heart kid are:
  1. Slight mitral insufficiency ("insignificant" heart murmur)
  2. Periodic visits to her cardiologist
  3. Prophylactic antibiotics before any "dirty" procedure, like having her teeth cleaned at the dentist
  4. Her scars
  5. My scars.
Ellie hasn't had an echocardiogram or chest x-ray since right after her surgery, nearly 2 years ago, and she hasn't seen her cardiologist since early this year. She sees her cardiologist tomorrow. If everything goes well, we won't need to go back for a couple of years (and every couple of years thereafter).

As always before one of these appointments, I am worried. Very worried.

There's always the chance of an infection. Of a problem with one of her patches, or one of her surgically created valves. When you're the parent of a "heart kid," you're always thinking of these things.

And for me, whenever Ellie takes a long nap, seems unusually tired, doesn't eat well, doesn't sleep well, has circles under her eyes, doesn't gain weight rapidly, can't kick a cold, or exhibits any other normal toddler behavior, the thought flickers across my mind: is it her heart?

Is it? Hopefully we'll know tomorrow. And hopefully I won't have to gear up to visit Ellie's cardiologist again for another two years.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Betting on the Studs

First, let me say that I have enough issues with prostitution to write an entire series of posts, and that's without even getting into the legalization/decriminalization issues. But I won't, for now. Setting all that aside for a moment, here is my rant of the day.

I was reading along in Newsweek, and I got to a fascinating piece about Heidi Fleiss's new business venture.

It seems that she's moving to Nevada, where prostitution is legal, and starting a new brothel. This place is a discreet 80 miles from The Strip, and will be designed like a palace. Beyond the marble foyer, the castle will contain a high-end sex toy shop and a luxurious spa, in addition to secluded bungalows for hire.

What makes this so unique is that the prostitutes will be men, and the clientele will be women.

Two things are making me see red here:
  1. Apparently, this isn't currently legal. The statutes would need to be rewritten, because prostitutes are universally referred to as "she" in the current codes.

  2. Everyone, from conservative Christians to the Nevada Brothel Association, is ready to go to the mat to fight this venture.

Why? Because it's so offensive that women might choose to pay for sex, that it could bring down the whole legalized prostitution industry. The inference is that people will be so upset by the vision of women paying for sex, that they'll get rid of legalized prostitution rather than allow this to happen.

Fleiss plans to fight this on the grounds that it's discrimination against men who want to be prostitutes. That might work.

But let's be honest here, it's really discrimination against women. Because, God knows, only men want sex enough to pay for it. Women don't actually like sex, except maybe with our husbands once a week. Mostly, we have to be cajoled into it with diamonds and promises of pampering. The idea of women paying for sex upsets the whole virgin/whore applecart. And that just won't do.

Saturday, December 10, 2005


For some time now, Ellie has been inventing her own signs for things.

In September, I noticed that her sign for Mary, her speech pathologist, is to point at her cheek. Mary is happy with this, because she says that it's really the sign for candy. I don't know what made Ellie come up with this, unless she gets that it's speech therapy and she's sort of indicating her mouth. Or Mary's sneaking her candy when I'm not looking.

In November, Ellie developed a sign for balloon. It looks like she's reaching up, grabbing the ribbon, and pulling a helium balloon down to her while looking up at it. It's the cutest thing.

In October I started showing Ellie lots of pumpkins. Evidently, "pumpkin" is hard to say, and eventually Ellie made up a sign for pumpkin. It's the same as her "nurse" sign, a little fist up near her cheek, rocking forward and back.

I should have known that we were about done nursing.

Friday, December 09, 2005

Lizzi the Pug

Ellie's been working on enunciation lately, with no great prompting from us. All of a sudden, last weekend, "more" became "mo-oh(r)" rather than "muh".

For the past few days, she's been obsessed with the dog's name. As with most words, she's also obsessed with the object when she learns to label it well enough that everyone can understand what she's saying. So she's been all over the dog. Well, she's all over Lizzi when she can catch her. Lizzi is still much faster than Ellie at getting on and off furniture, though she's never far away when Ellie has food. And it seems that my growing little string bean is always having a meal or a snack, which she loves to share with her friend, "Dizzi" or "Dzizzy."

She's congested lately (when isn't she?) and having trouble sleeping. After practicing saying, "Lizzi" hundreds of times from when she first saw the dog at 8:00 yesterday morning until bedtime, Ellie cried out for Lizzi from her crib. Not for mama, not for dada/daddy. Lizzi, I think you have a new job! Go soothe that baby and rock her back to sleep!

Also, hooray for winter!

And, for some reason, the way these pictures get compressed it looks like Ellie has one eye squinted more than the other. Sometimes it's the left eye, sometimes the right. But in the uncompressed and live versions, both eyes look pretty much the same!

Thursday, December 08, 2005

The Mom Salon

Hey, cool! I was featured here as "Today's Featured Post." I like their categories, so in the spirit of reciprocity, note the cool new link in my Invisible Friends sidebar.

Judging Mothers

This is a really good post.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

A Little Bit More About My Breasts

Speaking in generalities, of course: When you're pregnant, your breasts get fuller. And then when you're nursing, at first they're a lot fuller. Quite literally, with the spraying in the shower and dripping on your toes and whatnot.

I know one mom who quit nursing late one winter, when her son was about 4 months old, because she didn't want to have to buy new spring shirts one size larger than her normal size. No kidding.

Towards the end of breastfeeding, I was not pleased with my breasts. They seemed . . . flabby. Isn't that attractive? Aren't you glad that you read that about me? I tried to resign myself to it. Oh well, I thought, I guess I just never take off my bra again. I guess this is what having kids does to you.

But - now it's two weeks later and they seem to have gone back to normal! Alleluia! What a lovely surprise. Unless they're about to punk me by deflating any moment. I don't know how all this works, having never gone through it before.

Update: Ellie and I went shopping today and bought two new bras for mommy. Bras that don't have peek-a-boo panels for easy access! Wahoo! It turns out that I wasn't imagining things. My cup size went back down one to my pre-pregnancy size, which has apparently made them firmer. And that's just fine with me!

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

But the Fire is so Delightful

Hey, my blog is back! It was an uncomfortable day or so, trying to see my blog and encountering an ominous black screen instead.

The weather here is finally and delightfully winter-appropriate, with highs in the twenties. We're about half done with all of the Christmas decorating, and nearly done with all of the Christmas shopping. That just leaves the cards, crafts, and baking. It's all fun!

So we're having another week of comfort foods here, with chicken pot pie on Sunday, chili on Monday, chicken and stuffing today, and Swiss steak in the crock pot tomorrow. Friday a few friends are coming over for junk food and a Linda Carter as Wonder Woman marathon while Paul goes out with a buddy.

This weekend we'll get the tree and Paul will put the rest of the outdoor lights and wreathes up. Last weekend we went to the hanging of the greens at our church . . . in matching sweaters.

I'm feeling festive! Happy St. Nicholas Day!

Sunday, December 04, 2005

Wicked Good

The first act left my jaw on the floor. If you'd asked me about the show during intermission, I would have sounded like an uncultured Midwesterner. "I don't - I've never seen - wow!" My mother, who always made a point to insure that we were regularly exposed to music, theater, dance, and art, would be embarrassed.

But the costumes! The lighting! The set! The acting! The music! The singing! It was all amazing. I don't think I've ever seen anything quite like it.

I was a little less impressed with Act II. Some of the punny lines followed too closely on the heels of tragedy. There were a couple of very small lighting gaffes. Some of the deviations from the book were frustrating . . . spoiler coming . . . like the happy ending, for example.

Still, it was a great show. One of my favorite things about the story is the discussion of the perception of evil: how a woman who doesn't look or act "pretty" but speaks her mind with unpopular opinions is considered Wicked. Some of my favorite things about the musical were the duets between the real main couple in the show, Elfaba and Glinda. There were a couple of harmonizing parts where I had goose bumps all over. Stephanie Block can really bring down the house.

But - how did everyone keep from getting all green when they touched her?

Saturday, December 03, 2005

Eggnog and Boycott

. . . but don't boycott Eggnog!

Last night I put Eggnog in Ellie's cup at dinner. I nattered along as I placed her cup and napkin in front of her, as I do, saying, "I put something different in your cup tonight; it's not milk; it will probably freak you out a bit."

She was otherwise occupied with her pizza and corn, and I don't think that she heard a word I was saying. But eating pizza and corn is thirsty work, so she immediately grabbed the cup and started chugging down the eggnog. I thought that the taste and texture would register and she'd immediately sputter and spit it all out.

She didn't. She drank that cup dry!

I was recording "The Little Drummer Boy" on ABC Family tonight, and it got me thinking about how annoyed I was to be watching ABC Family. This is the station that shows Pat Robertson's The 700 Club. Folks, these are not family values.

Please consider writing to ABC and Disney, letting them know that your family will not be watching their stations/movies, or buying any of their products until they stop irresponsibly airing this hate-filled and not family-friendly program.


Friday, December 02, 2005


Apparently, I missed Blog Against Racism Day. Thanks to PK for the wonderful post about it, and to Charlie in her post's comments, demonstrating how far we have to go.

My thoughts branched out from there, thinking about the stereotype that southerners are more racist than northerners.

I don't think that's exactly true.

Sure, the Klan was and is more active in the South, and some of the most loquacious and unapologetic racists hail from down yonder. But one big reason for that is that there are a whole lot more African Americans down south than there are in the Midwest, or most anywhere else in the country (excepting large cities).

Yeah, there are a lot of racists in the South, and many of them are at best unashamed of and at worst proud of themselves and their racist heritage.

But you know what's up with racists in the North? We just hide it a little better.

We talk a better game, but we don't worship with, play with, or have children with very many people of color, by and large. Most of our spouses and best friends look a lot like us. And that's just as racist, in its own way.

I've seen southern racists interact quite comfortably with African Americans.

And I've seen (liberal) northern (hidden) racists acting really really uncomfortable if the subject of race comes up when there's a person of color in the room. I've seen my friends, coworkers, self try to avoid talking about race and race issues at all.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Contemporary Worship

Ah, what a hot topic, eh? That's me, unafraid to poke at the really big controversies in the world today.

I've been noticing a huge increase in the popularity of "contemporary worship services" in traditional reformed Christian churches over the past several years. Contemporary worship is the style of worship that I most associate with conservative evangelical Christian worship services.

There are two issues to unpack: my discomfort with the service itself, and my uncomfortable associations with the style. First, the prettier part, my concerns about the service itself.

This is a bit complex. I'm not a complete stick-in-the-mud traditionalist. I *love* Avery & Marsh. I prefer the UCC's use of inclusive language in hymns, especially the Doxology (side-by-side with the traditional version).

But I hate the "praise music" heard at most contemporary services. Why? At first I thought it was because it all sounded the same, and none of it is set to the glorious strains of real music (Bach, et al). Then I realized that there's more to it. The lyrics are all about, "Praise Jesus! We love Jesus!"

That's fine, of course. But shouldn't there be a bit more? Shouldn't a hymn sound notably different from a Top 40 hit (where you could substitute "girl" for "Jesus" and have the song make just as much sense)?

Shouldn't we talk more about God, more about why Jesus is so great, rather than just blathering on about the love-for-Him part? And we shouldn't just talk about what Jesus did, either. I believe that what we do, how we live our lives, is more important than the specifics of what we believe.

Right, so the music is a big issue. Most of the rest of the service is OK. At our church, we have the same clergy officiating, the same sermon, the same scriptures read aloud in both the traditional and contemporary services. So there's no problem with the message or the messenger. I'm also not rejecting the stupid projection screen out of hand. I hate the look of modern technology in church (the comfort of the familiar in worship and the exclusion of the distractions of everyday life are important to me). But as (my) Paul allows, there is something to be said for getting everyone's heads up out of their hymnals.

The other thing that really bothers me about the style of the service is the praise team standing up front with their microphones. This is the segue into the uncomfortable associations bit, but first I want to note that I don't like looking at the praise team. To me, they look like performers. I don't like clapping for soloists on the chancel steps who look like they're singing on stage, and I don't like everyone staring at the praise team like they're rock stars on tour. To me this reeks of idolatry or something - I'm still working on it - and I prefer to contemplate the cross, the stained glass, the arched ceiling, the ministers bent over their hymnals, anything other than these smiling performers.

I don't quite know what to say about the style and my prejudices. I see the praise teams' arms go up and eyes go closed, and I'm tuned out. I'm expecting slick ministers who've never been to seminary but have the glorious gift of gab, telling me that I'll burn in hell for voting pro-choice. I'm still working on this, but it's a long, uphill slog.

Can't we be contemporary, evolve with the times, engage our youth, and still do it right? Still be Presbyterian?