No, I Would Not Like to Buy a Vowel

Years ago, I was working in a library, doing some fun reader’s advisory for the mother of a teen, and after extolling the virtues of a young adult novel, I also warned her about the profanity inside. She brushed it off, saying, “Oh, I’m sure it’s nothing he hasn’t already heard in school.” I remember this incident vividly, as it was my wake-up call that the world that I’d left behind for my years as a cloistered homeschooling mom had changed dramatically in my absence.

Fast forward a decade or so, and it is becoming increasingly difficult for those of us who would prefer to go through life without a constant barrage of filth to participate at all in American public life. Witness the increasing number of books whose covers scream four-letter words, often—but not always—with an asterisk or other symbol in place of the vowels. Isn’t that cute? Before you can look away, the word is in your head. The ladies in pink hats featured speakers who vomited a barrage of foul language into the TV cameras. This is what our foremothers fought for? The right to prove that women can curse better than men? The latest news story is that the new DNC chairman is choosing a slogan with a curse word in it, cheered on by adoring crowds, including a woman with her young son. Fox News says, “Isn’t that terrible? Here, we’ll play the clip again. And again. Read his lips for the barely-bleeped part.”

In the early days of the Obama administration, the president was talking to reporters and other fans about something I can’t remember that he found reprehensible, and as he talked, he dragged his middle finger down his face. The crowds went wild. I didn’t get it; I am just that naïve. Someone told me that he was surreptitiously giving the finger to his opponent, but I disagreed. “He is not!” I exclaimed. “He’s the president of the United States! He would never do something like that.” I was wrong. Not only did he mean to do that, but his gesture was greeted with glee by his adoring crowds, and America fully entered into a prolonged adolescence. We are all twelve now.

This is by no means confined to the left. Our current president is certainly no model of refinement. Milo Yiannopoulos, who is often called “alt-right,” gives interviews in which every fifth word starts with an “f,” and P.J. O’Rourke, who is an old-style, fiscal Republican, writes books and gives speeches that are minefields of salty language. Examples are legion. As a librarian and wide-ranging reader, I am completely opposed to censorship, but we used to be able to choose whether or not to go into the bar with the sailors. Now, profanity is mainstream, and the choice does not extend to everyone. Men and women who would like to make well-reasoned arguments on college campuses (OK, Milo is not an example of this) are kept away with curse-laden protest signs that we all get to enjoy for days on the TV screen. One could argue that I could turn off the television, but why should I be forced out of daily American life?

In his book Black Rednecks and White Liberals, scholar Thomas Sowell decried that the African American demographic that is celebrated in mainstream media is the lowest rung of the ladder, the ghetto dweller who listens to gangsta rap and sells drugs on the corner. More than ten years later, the portrayal of the entire nation is full of bottom-dwellers. Our mass media blasts out professionals and politicians rejoicing in coarseness and nauseating bilge, as if we’ve all been waiting to burst forth from our bondage to politeness and reasoned discourse. We just can’t seem to grow up. The more outrageous and profane a celebrity is, the more he or she is lauded in popular culture.

The reasons for our mutual descent are myriad, but surely social media takes some of the blame. I recoil from my Facebook feed sometimes. Apparently, since we surround ourselves with our chosen echo chambers, we forget that some of our “friends” don’t talk like that. Or maybe we just don’t care. The strangest phenomenon to watch is that of the receivers of the filth. They cheer at lewd speeches and giggle at swaggering profaners. “Oh, we are so cool. Oh, we are so edgy.” Oh, we are such children.

I was driving along yesterday, thinking about this topic and composing in my mind, when I pulled up to a red light. Before I could stop myself, I glanced at the car in front of me. The license plate frame had a big, bold f-bomb on it, with the “u” replaced by a cute, daisy-shaped asterisk. No, I would not like to buy a vowel.

Southern Easter

Easter tomorrow.

We’ll celebrate the Lamb with lamb,
and eggs, and tender green and growing things.
New life for all of us.

Like Martha, I dig in to prepare
with whipping and with chopping, and with
scrubbing, scrubbing, scrubbing.

Exhausted, I slip into the shower and luxuriate with
bubbles, and with lotion, and with
clean and dripping hair,

and with heat.

It’s far too late for Easter.

It’s far too hot for Easter.

All alone, I steal some time,
limp under the ceiling fan.
Just a few moments.

The blinds are drawn, but a breeze drifts through
the open windows.
It’s dim, but my eyelids flicker red and black
as the sun slips in and out of clouds.

The hum of mowers near and far
as men beat back encroaching entropy.

The whoosh of bathroom fans
sucking steam from sweet-scented air.

My head is full of drowsy buzz.

I am cooling.

I am drying.

I am dreaming.

The Upside of Terrible Technology

twcFollowing up my article below about cutting the cable, I can happily report that saying bye-bye to Time Warner (now Spectrum!) was a good decision. We still have internet with Spectrum, but we decided to stick with the DirectTVNow app and Netflix, which saves me $65 per month overall. We dropped Hulu, since there was nothing on it that I really wanted that I couldn’t get somewhere else. If they had had CBS Netflix logoprograms, it may have been worth it for a while. Once I finish all seven seasons of Gilmore Girls, plus the new episodes, I plan to drop Netflix streaming for a while and pick up Netflix disc when all the regular television seasons end, so that I can catch up with Elementary and Big Bang. Netflix is wonderfully flexible about sudden changes, and for $10 a month, they offer a lot of value. Plus, there are several movies I want to see that never made it to either Netflix streaming or Amazon Prime. Oh, yes, we have Amazon Prime, but that’s mostly for the free, fast shipping, because I want to get books in Verucha Salt fashion: “I want it now!”

directtvnowSo, is DirectTVNow a great app? Not really. It buffers a whole lot sometimes, and it may even shut off at the most irritating moments, but other times it is just like having cable TV. Is it worth $35 a month? Oh, yeah. Just having live news has been essential lately, and except for CBS, it offers us all of the channels that we want to watch, although I do miss my DVR. A lot of the shows that I miss, though, are available by going to the website on my smart phone and “casting” them to the TV a day or so after they air live. That’s how I’ve watched Masterpiece Theater and BookTV this year.

fire-stick-imageThe Amazon Firestick, however, is quite wonderful. If you need a simple, easy way to manage all of your connections to various media, Firestick is great, and the remote is amazing. You can just talk to Alexa. It’s not expensive, and we got one free by signing up for DirectTVNow. Amazon will help you with customer service over the phone, or even take over your screen while you’re talking to them and solve all of your problems. Customer service for DirectTVNow is an online chat with someone who is definitely struggling with the English language. Frustrating.

Even with all of these avenues for entertainment, however, we’ve found ourselves watching much less television that we did with cable and DVR. When I had series stacked up in the DVR, I felt obligated to watch them all. Now, I have to make a deliberate decision to sit down and watch a show, and often, I’d rather stick with whatever else I’m doing. Combined with a real effort to separate from social media a bit, I have much more time for music and especially reading.

Benedict OptionRight now, I’m devouring one book after another, in all kinds of genres. Since I read to live and read for a living, that’s a great thing. I just finished a wonderful children’s book (Ghost), I’m a few chapters into a new adult nonfiction book (The Benedict Option), and just picked up the new Pulitzer Prize-winning adult fiction (Underground Railroad). Of course, I still have stacks of unread volumes on my nighttable and piles in the guest room, too. For the moment, though, I’m really enjoying working through each one. I have a tendency to hit a wall with reading every once in a while, but I hope it doesn’t happen before I get a chance to read Thick As Thieves, by Megan Whalen Turner, or to finish several nonfiction books that I have lined up.

So my advice to you is, go ahead! Cut that cable! Read! Or— as my mother used to say to me when I was a kid— go outside!

A Tale of Two Movies

As a general rule, David and I rarely go to the movies, but we’ve been to see three movies already this year. The first one was Hidden Figures, which is a must-see for everyone, but the other two were explicitly Christian movies that made it to the general box office: The Shack and The Case for Christ. What a contrast!

Shack MovieI did not read the book, The Shack, because I had heard that it contained all sorts of heretical teachings, and since my opinion of inspirational novels is so low already, it was easy to skip. The hubbub went on for quite a long time, however, and people were so excited about the movie that I decided that I could spare a couple of hours of my life to see it. It’s tough to criticize something when you’re not really sure what you’re criticizing. We showed up half an hour early to the evening showing on opening night, and it was sold out! We bought tickets in advance the next day, and the theater was completely packed. I braced myself to be outraged by ignorance and heresy…, but I wasn’t.

There is so much wrong with the theology in this movie. For an iconoclast like me, one could start with just the portrayal of God in a movie, but I had known about that going in. The main scriptural problem is that there seems to be no identification of sin or expectation of judgment, which sounds great, but since the plot deals with wife beating, child abuse, and the kidnap and murder of a child, most humans would be seeking justice.

Shack castOn the other hand, there is so much right with this movie. If you know someone who is struggling with guilt and unforgiveness, or who feels that God has abandoned them, this is the story for them. And that’s just it: it is a story, one person’s way to portray particular attributes of God and his own emotions about God.  Even though it deals with such tragic subjects, it manages to be—dare I say it?—charming, sweet, and heartwarming. Furthermore, how many movies portray the Trinity? When the main character walks into the shack, I knew from the trailers that we would see Octavia Spencer portraying God the Father, which is already interesting, and I immediately figured out that the young Israeli man was supposed to be Jesus—a great casting choice, by the way. It is so nice to see a portrayal of Jesus without the long, flowy hair and bland expression. However, when a young Asian woman walked into the room, I thought, “Who’s this chick?” The Holy Spirit! That took some adjustment, but I did rejoice to see the Trinity depicted in a popular work of fiction. I also enjoyed the metaphor of a garden representing a person’s life. It looks like a random mess from the ground level, but from above, it forms a beautiful pattern. The story tries to answer the problem of evil, and whether or not it is successful is up to each individual. There were many tearful scenes, and the writers play straight to the heartstrings, but when the audience left the theater, everyone felt happy and beloved.

Case for Christ movieThe Case for Christ was a much more cerebral movie, as well as being the first movie I’ve seen this year without the wonderful Octavia Spencer. However, this one did star Erika Christensen, which was great for these two Parenthood fans. The movie is based on the book by Lee Strobel, telling the true story of his effort to disprove the resurrection of Jesus. Strobel was a reporter for the Chicago Tribune in the early 1980s, when his wife was converted to Christianity. Lee considered this to be insane and a betrayal of their marriage, and he set out to gather evidence to turn her back to “the way she used to be.” He visits archeologists, clergymen, medical doctors, and others in his obsessive drive to destroy his wife’s faith, which almost destroys his marriage, instead. There are several subplots— since this is real life— that deal with Strobel’s relationship with his own father, his job at the Tribune, and his success in jailing an accused cop killer. To paraphrase a reviewer, since the movie title is The Case for Christ, we know how it will end. All happy, with updates before the credits to let the audience know where all of these people are today.

Case for Christ husband wifeIf you want to have facts to back up your faith, or if you have a beloved unbeliever of an intellectual bent, this is the movie for you. Some scenes are unabashedly didactic, but certainly informative. There are also scenes of Chicago’s famous Willow Creek Church in the early 1980s, with long-haired women and hairsprayed men in wide ties enjoying early contemporary worship music. It was interesting that this movie connected with two books that I reviewed recently on EatReadSleep. Shauna Niequist, who wrote Present Over Perfect, is the daughter of Bill Hybels, founding pastor of Willow Creek Church. Secondly, the main topic of Strobel’s research is Jesus’ resurrection, which is also the subject of N.T. Wright’s Surprised by Hope. The movie’s release is, of course, perfectly timed for Easter viewing.

Something for the heart, something for the mind. As a movie, The Shack works better, although it has a bit of a cheesiness factor. For theological points, go for The Case for Christ. Either way, grab the popcorn and enjoy.

The Perfect Day

It is a day that one keeps in reserve as the perfect day. While going to work, accomplishing necessary tasks—housework, cooking, grocery shopping—it is the day in one’s daydreams. Sitting on the much-anticipated screened porch, rocking in a cushioned chair, reading, reading, reading, in perfect silence.

Except that it isn’t silent at all. Always, in the distance, the shush of cars and trucks on the interstate, miles away, yet persistently present. Hundreds of little birds, chirping away continuously, sweetly transforming me into Disney’s Cinderella. Less euphoniously, my neighbor’s chickens add a comic note, and occasionally, the barred owls in the woods confuse the day with nighttime calls. Even the breeze adds a murmur, lifts my hair, forces me to put my bookmark under my phone on the peacock table.

The screen door is on the latch, but it still voices a tiny creak in the wind. When David leaves it open, it blows back and forth. It opens on a rising scale, “Creeeeeeaaak!” and closes sliding down, “Creeeeeaaak. Bam!” The sound stirs an ancient memory somewhere deep within, although I can’t remember a time in my life when I’ve had a screened door. Why is it so familiar, so soothing?

I can’t sit for another minute. Even though the cushion is soft, and the rocking soporific, I must move. I get up, walk through the house, up the stairs, into the dim family room, and plunk into another chair to write.

A perfect day.