Friday, July 31, 2009

I'd like to teach the world to punctuate

Remember this classic commercial?

I want to sing this about one of my grammar-related pet peeves, but I can't figure out a way to make "I'd like to teach the (English-speaking) world to use apostrophes correctly" fit into the meter of the song.


What would you like to teach the world to do?


Saturday, July 25, 2009

How deep is Your love

Our church often sings "How Deep the Father's Love for Us" during congregational worship, and I never get tired of it.

Every verse is a gem of truth, a potent reminder of the Father's love. I'm usually singing through tears by the third verse... because for so long, I was one of those who scoffed at Him.

Even though the song has the feel of an old hymn, it was written only nine years ago by contemporary artist Stuart Townend.

Here it is as recorded by Phillips, Craig & Dean. May it speak to you the way it speaks to me.

How deep the Father's love for us,
How vast beyond all measure
That He should give His only Son
To make a wretch His treasure

How great the pain of searing loss,
The Father turns His face away
As wounds which mar the chosen One
Bring many sons to glory

Behold the Man upon a cross,
My sin upon His shoulders
Ashamed, I hear my mocking voice
Call out among the scoffers

It was my sin that held Him there
Until it was accomplished
His dying breath has brought me life
I know that it is finished

I will not boast in anything
No gifts, no power, no wisdom
But I will boast in Jesus Christ
His death and resurrection

Why should I gain from His reward?
I cannot give an answer
But this I know with all my heart
His wounds have paid my ransom

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Haiku contest!

Hearing lyrics wrong
Twists the meaning crazily.
Mondegreen haiku.

Announcing the first ever
Haiku Contest!

The theme:
Mondegreen, that weird phenomenon where mishearing a phrase from a poem or song produces a phrase with a whole new meaning.

The instructions:
Write a haiku (5-7-5) about a favorite mondegreen and submit it via the comments of this post.

Entries should be G- or PG-rated, and will be judged on creativity, humor, and technical merit. (In other words, it's completely subjective.)

The deadline:
July 31 2009, 11:59 p.m. EDT

The prize:
A $5 Coldstone Creamery gift card!

Here's one to get you started:

Billy Idol sneers,
Asks the faceless woman out:
"How's about a date?"

That's my King

Definitely worth watching:

S. M. Lockridge, That's My King, Detroit, 1976.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Southern heritage

This week I've been celebrating my Southern roots (my mom's side) by posting humorous Southern phrases as my Facebook status.

I've never lived in the American South, and have visited only as far east as Tyler, Texas. But my mother carried her North Carolina accent and mannerisms with her throughout her life, even after living nearly fifty years in accent-neutral Arizona.

Now that I live in the upper Midwest, I especially appreciate the charm and grace of my friends who hail from the states below the Mason-Dixon line. Also, I'm grateful there's a Cracker Barrel close by for when I need a fried okra fix.

Three summers ago, Mom died suddenly and somewhat unexpectedly at age 74. Our relationship was stormy and complex, difficult on both sides. But I always respected the strong stand she took against a certain unsavory thing the South is known for: racism.

Mom grew up Southern Baptist, but converted to Catholicism at 18. She explained that decision by telling us kids how she noticed that the Catholic church was the only one with both black and white congregants — every other church in her town was segregated.

As I was thinking about this post, I discovered the work of slam poet Jason Carney. Carney is a former skinhead from Texas, and speaks eloquently about the mixed bag that is a Southern heritage.

Warning: if you have small children nearby or will be offended by a stray f-bomb, you may want to mute your speakers from :10 to :12.


Monday, July 13, 2009

Sorry seems to be the hardest word

One of the most profound human interactions is the offering and accepting of apologies. Apologies have the power to heal humiliations and grudges, remove the desire for vengeance, and generate forgiveness on the part of the offended parties. For the offender, they can diminish the fear of retaliation and relieve the guilt and shame that can grip the mind with a persistence and tenacity that are hard to ignore. The result of the apology process, ideally, is the reconciliation and restoration of broken relationships.
Dr. Aaron Lazare, On Apology
Recently, I reconnected with an old friend.

Things between us ended badly, but many years have passed, and I've long since let go of my bitterness about it. So, out of curiosity, I found him on Facebook and sent a message of the hey-how-are-you-how-are-your-parents-what-are-you-up-to-now variety.

My friend's reply contained a gift I had long desired, but hadn't dared to hope for: an apology. And while he expressed frustration that he couldn't make it come out "right," his apology had the main thing every true apology needs: he took responsibility.


Psychiatrist Aaron Lazare's book On Apology centers around the story of two old friends whose friendship is mended by a letter of apology.

His book is a sort of psychology-of-apology, looking at the individual and social impact of apology in various cultural and historical settings.
But the book is more than a dry survey of social customs. Early on, Lazare outlines three components of a genuine apology:
  • adequate acknowledgement of the offense
  • an expression of genuine remorse
  • an offer of reparation and/or a commitment to make change
An apology missing any of these three elements, Lazare writes, is a pseudo-apology, in which "the offender is trying to reap the benefits of apologizing without having actually earned them" (p. 9).

Unfortunately, the hollow ring of a pseudo-apology usually makes a bad situation worse.

Pseudo-apologies have been common news media fodder over the last several years. (Who can forget the infamous "Mistakes were made"?) But it's not just public officials, celebrities, and big companies (I'm looking at you, Dell) who fall prey to the temptation of the pseudo-apology.

Most of us have used some variation of "I'm sorry if you were upset..." This looks like it acknowledges the offense, but it subtly turns the responsibility back to the offended one.

Or the classic excuse-masquerading-as-an-apology: "I'm sorry, but..." This one is more concerned with alibi than apology.

In fact, it's probably safe to say that following "I'm sorry" with "if" or "but" is not really apologizing at all.

Of course, there's the old standard "Sorry about that" and its younger cousin "My bad." These two posers skate by the offense too quickly and casually to be taken as serious apologies.


Apologies are powerful agents of healing in relationships. So why are we so reluctant to offer them?

Lazare's study of physicians reveals pride and fear behind their reluctance to apologize (p. 20). This is no big surprise: doctors work hard for their position, and they're (usually justifiably) proud of their accomplishments; as for fear, the mere mention of legal action can send the staunchest medical professional into a dim corner where he can rock with a blanket in the fetal position.

(OK, maybe that's just me — my profession also requires malpractice insurance, and I can't even talk about it without stuttering.)

Interestingly, biblical ethicist Robertson McQuilkin lists pride and fear as two of the four root sins — those sins that every other sin can be traced back to. An apology requires us to repent of (literally, to turn away from) both these sins: to turn away from pride and come to the other person in humility; to turn away from fear and risk rejection.

An apology is a gift. Would it still be a gift if it didn't cost something?


We're friends with a young couple who take apology very seriously. They're raising three young sons, and while their parenting style is relaxed in some areas, they are sticklers when it comes to apologies. If one son has hurt another, both boys are guided through a three-step process that includes: a specific apology by the offender including a request for forgiveness; a granting of forgiveness by the offended; and a hug of reconciliation between the two.

It's really amazing to watch the kids cooperate with the process, and to see it bearing fruit in their relationships with each other, with their parents, and with family friends.


Oh, and that letter of apology in Lazare's book? Its writer was apologizing for an offense that took place when the two friends were children, 61 years earlier. In telling the story, Lazare makes a strong point: it's never too late.


A future post will look at forgiveness and its relationship to apology. In the meantime, I'd like to hear from you. What's your most encouraging apology story?


Friday, July 10, 2009

Happy Birthday to you! (and you too!!)

Today, if you see this guy...

...wish him a Happy 500th Birthday!

And if you see this guy...

Posted by Picasa
...wish him a Happy 24th!

Happy Birthday, Matt! I am so blessed to be your mom!


Monday, July 06, 2009

It's a nice day for a white wedding

A friend recently nicknamed me "The Wedding Scrooge."

Now, even though I'm amused by the moniker, it isn't entirely fair. I love attending friends' weddings, and selecting a nice gift for the new couple. In fact, my husband and I attended a wedding just two weekends ago.

(Tangent: In some weddings the officiating pastor, after leading the couple through their vows, turns to the congregation and leads them through a different set of vows. The congregation's vows have to do with encouraging and praying for the newlywed couple, thereby emphasizing family and friends' role as a supportive community, rather than as mere spectators at an event. It's a great idea that gives those in attendance a better understanding of their purpose for being there.)

So I like weddings. However, I'm not a fan of huge, fancy weddings — those overdone, overblown, overspent extravaganzas that leave the couple (or their parents) tens of thousands of dollars poorer, or in debt, or both.

Last week, Time Magazine ran an article asking Is There Hope for the American Marriage?, which focused on several recently-failed celebrity marriages whose dissolution is traceable to infidelity. More broadly, the article looks at marriage's purpose in our era.

The entire article is worth reading, but this quote jumped out at me:
...the middle class has spent the past 2½ decades — during which the divorce culture became a fact of life — turning weddings into overwrought exercises in consumer spending, as if by just plunking down enough cash for the flower girls' dresses and tissue-lined envelopes for the RSVP cards, we can somehow improve our chance of going the distance.
I saw the beginnings of this trend when we got married nearly 26 years ago. I remember leafing through a bakery's wedding cake portfolio, and as we'd turn the page and gasp at some enormous multitiered number — the kind with fountains and bridges and tiny plastic staircases leading from section to section, and every member of the large wedding party represented by a little doll posed on the steps — the baker would tell us "they're not together anymore."

That memory is fused in my mind, along with the image of a young Marie Osmond posed in her wedding gown at the entrance of the Mormon temple in Salt Lake City, her train cascading sixteen feet down the steps behind her. Osmond's first marriage ended less than three years later.

A few years after my own wedding, I attended the extremely elaborate wedding of a college friend. Sadly, that marriage lasted under a year.

Ever the opinionated cynic, I developed a theory: the size of the wedding is inversely related to the length of the marriage. (In other words, lavish wedding = short marriage; simple wedding = long marriage.)

Obviously this isn't always the case, but I think there's a pretty strong correlation.

Being friends with many college students, I sometimes find myself in a position to offer advice to a newly-engaged couple. When that happens, I try to get in two things:

First, when setting your budget, jettison whatever you need to in order to afford a good photographer. Your memories will last far longer than the fancy dinner you're thinking of serving.

Second, stay away from bride's magazines. Just back away. Their pages are full of storybook weddings designed to foster unrealistic fantasies. They will eat your budget for breakfast.

(Notice these two things have something in common? Set a realistic budget... and stick to it.)

Since money is a common source of marital conflict, I figure being in debt up to your eyeballs — for a party — just isn't a good way to begin married life.

And that's why they call me The Wedding Scrooge.


Thursday, July 02, 2009

Pictures of Egypt

Have you ever looked back on some piece of your life and wished you could go back there?

Back to that job, that house, that city, that relationship... you know the one... the one that drove you nuts at the time, but now it looks better than what's in front of you.

I'm there. Normally, I'm very future-oriented. But something's causing me to look back and play the "what if" game.

The thing about looking back is you don't see the bad parts. Recovering addicts call this phenomenon "chasing the high" — remembering only the good parts of the experience, and minimizing the losses and pain.

Just like the newly-freed children of Israel looked back and longed for the food of Egypt, but forgot about their enslavement as if it was some minor, easily-overlooked detail.

Sara Groves' song "Painting Pictures of Egypt" has been speaking to me lately. If you're struggling with looking back, I pray it speaks to you as well.

I don’t want to leave here
I don’t want to stay
It feels like pinching to me either way
And the places I long for the most
Are the places where I’ve been
They are calling out to me like a long lost friend

It’s not about losing faith
It’s not about trust
It’s all about comfortable
When you move so much
And the place I was wasn’t perfect
But I had found a way to live
And it wasn’t milk or honey
But then neither is this

I’ve been painting pictures of Egypt
Leaving out what it lacks
The future feels so hard
And I want to go back
But the places that used to fit me
Cannot hold the things I've learned
And those roads were closed off to me
While my back was turned

The past is so tangible
I know it by heart
Familiar things are never easy to discard
I was dying for some freedom
But now I hesitate to go
I am caught between the promise
And the things I know

If it comes too quick
I may not appreciate it
Is that the reason behind all this time and sand?
If it comes too quick
I may not recognize it
Is that the reason behind all this time and sand?