scour(ing)

scour.

to “rub hard especially with a rough material for cleansing”.  or to “remove dirt and debris from”.  or my personal favorite, to “suffer from diarrhea or dysentery“.

one of the mighty interesting things about the internet is that if and when you decide to get involved “in the business” (that is, starting a jonas brothers tribute website or online hartford whalers memorabilia marketplace or something of the sort), you get to name whatever it is that you’re starting.  in theory, that’s a lot like starting a normal “buy a building and put up your sign out front” kind of business, but it’s also not.  if you want to buy(, rent, or lease) said building, it’s going to cost you a pretty penny.  an internet domain, on the other hand, is currently going (at the cleverly named domain.com) for roughly $8.75/yr (there’s also an asterisk next to that price on their website, but we’ll ignore that for now because we want our bargain to be as bargainful as possible).  so when naming your non-internet business, you’re going to want a good, strong name that’s logical, gets the point across, and will bring in the customers.  with an online website, however, the much lighter price tag provides for the possibility for your site’s name to be… well to put it bluntly: stupid.  as stupid as you want in fact.  in a monetary sense, a bad website name is about as taxing as going to see a bad movie at the theater, so you can afford to go out on a limb and take some chances.

and that brings us back to scour.  there’s this cute new company with this cute new (kind of, but not really) idea.  if you haven’t caught on yet, we’re talking about scour.com.  basically, you and i use our search engine (like we normally do), and slowly but surely we get paid for it.  and that’s about it.  the catch?  hopefully, none.  i tend to search a good deal (especially during the lovely summer months that we’re currently in), and i wouldn’t mind seeing a bit of reward.  even if i don’t really deserve one.

but why scour?  hopefully, they weren’t going with the diarrhea definition (which [as did the first two] came from that ever-helpful merriam-webster online dictionary).  my best guess is that they’re using the most slang(-ish) version of the word, which is much closer in definition to “search” or “track” than to “clean” or “diarrheate” (yup, made that one up myself).  but much more hopefully, they were simply playing off what we have previously discussed and thought of something crazy to use (kind of like using the band name “incubus“.  but i’ll let you click and look that one up for yourselves).  why?  because that would just be a darn cool thing to do.

so feel free to scour the internet for whatever you’d like (see what i did there?  i know, pretty clever).  it’s a hootenanny of a good time.  oh!  i found a catch (hooray!).  you see, if one person “refers” other people to the search engine, he may or may not receive points (which may or may not translate into dollars [well, more like fractions of cents, but close enough]) for doing so.  with that in mind, if you do end up using this crazy website, feel free to use this link (wow, it’s in bold) to do so, as i may or may not benefit from it.

and so yes, it was all a plug.  but an undoubtedly shameless one.  i can assure you that.  and hopefully it will be a successful one.  not that anyone comes here and actually reads this “blog” of mine.  but who knows, maybe some blind guy will be blindly clicking along and accidentally find it.  we can only hope.

and so i leave you with this.  “scour power”!  it had scour in the title.  need i say more?  enjoy.

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sixty seconds make all the difference

five, four, three, two, one… and we’re back.  yes, it’s been a bit of a while since i’ve participated in the so-called “blogging” experience.  but all is well, and here we are once more.  you reading as the reader.  me writing as the writer.  thank goodness.  in honor of this (oh so) special occasion, our friends at wordle.net have provided us (even though they probably aren’t exactly aware of it, as it’s simply what they’re fun little website is designed to do) with an incredible visual representation of the blog consisting of all the words of all the titles of all the posts that have been written here.  that visual wonder looks roughly as follows:

i will admit, it’s not all the words.  i removed the “the”s and “and”s and “of”s and things of that sort.  with the words being sized according to use, those “common words” (as wordle refers to them) monopolized the scene in a rather grand way (and evan o’dorney was not pleased about it).  
 

now that we’ve passed through the niceties, on to business (please note, however, how eerily similar the word “niceties” is to the phrase “nice ties”.  coincidence?  i think not).  apparently, from what i’m told, sixty seconds make all the difference.  that’s what the title says at least, so i guess i’ll have to make something up that’s goes along with it (i’ll admit here and now before the world that the title “sixty seconds make all the difference” is not as random as i have implied.  in fact, it was quiet unrandom and i chose it myself.  that concept would be quite interesting, though.  making a blogger [“writer of a blog and/or blogs” for all the laymen in attendance] write something based on pre-determined or randomized titles could create some rather fascinating [and hopefully humorous] cyberspace literature.  it’s certainly something to ponder for the future).  let’s see what we can come up with.

 

well, i suppose this will do.  four minutes.  not very long at all.  but compared to say three minutes, it’s quite a long time (with three minutes being only about three quarters of four minutes.  roughly).  that in itself gives four quite the advantage over three.  so it makes sense then that four would be so much more popular than three is (just to throw in a side note here to make you all the more confused before i begin to actually get to my point, the number two-thousand is reported [by the secret lives of numbers] to be the most popular of all numbers.  sadly, both three and four are so unpopular that proper statistics are not given for either). what i’m talking about (of course) are songs.  specifically, two songs that happen to be named “four minutes” and “three minute song“.  conveniently (and definitely not intentionally) they run (approximately) the length of their titles.  one of these songs has well-crafted lyrics, a catchy melody, rocking guitar, and an inspired message.  the other, a synthesized beat and lyrics that talk about… something.    one of these songs was a hit.  the other note so much.  well-crafted, catchy, rocking, inspired… sounds like a hit to me. but as you (being the uber-intuitive reader that you are) may (or may not) have guessed, that’s not the case.  the hit:  four minutes, as performed by madonna (featuring justin timberlake and timbaland).  the not-so-hit:  three minute song, as performed by that guy you’ve never heard of, also known as josh wilson.

 

now the interesting part of this sixty second song difference is certainly not length.  if that were the case and that was the best thing i could come up with to write about, we would certainly all be rather doomed. the interesting part, in my opinion, is that on the most basic of levels, these two songs are pretty much the same.  i’ll offer you these snippets.  the chorus in the tune by madonna and mr. timberlake states “time is waiting / we only got four minutes to save the world / no hesitating / grab a boy, grab a girl / time is waiting / we only got four minutes to save the world / no hesitating / we only got four minutes, four minutes”.  your basic claim here seems to imply that with the song only being four minutes long, they only have four minutes to make whatever hugely important point it is that they’re trying to make.  mr. wilson counters with “i just don’t have the words to say, cause words only get in my way /i must apologize, i have the hardest time / finding something to define a god that i can’t define / and even if i could, it would take way too long / if all i’ve got’s a three minute song”.  explaining god is quite the task.  especially since there are so many around.  for the sake of ease, i’ll let you in on the little hint that josh wilson is one of those christians.  now, there are approximately 2,039,000,000 christians in the world (according to the wonderful people over at religioustolerance.org), probably about zero of them could give you a full and complete explanation of god and all his workings.  that being said, an explanation of god (which is akin to “trying to fit the ocean in a cup”, as josh puts it), if someone had one, would be a hugely important thing.  and that’s what josh’s song is getting at.  and there it is.  these two songs are both about the same thing: trying to say it all in no time at all.

 

that’s quite a valiant quest, if you ask me.  the problem is that when you take a closer look at the songs, the valiance ends quite quickly.  well, for one at least (bet you can’t guess which).  “three minute song” is the catchy, inspiring one, and the message is fantastic.  it doesn’t pretend to be anything other than exactly what it is: an confession that you really can’t define god, especially in only three minutes on the radio.  “four minutes” on the other hand is all about smoke and mirrors (which in actuality is somewhat impressive considering it’s in an audio format that makes the visual aspects of both the smoke and the mirrors completely null and void).  the chorus (as we’ve seen) is cute.  it makes a nice point.  the rest of the song, though, has absolutely nothing to do with that.  in fact, it doesn’t really have much to do with anything.  it’s kind of about madonna and justin wanting to have sex.  maybe.  or maybe not.  it’s hard to tell.  madonna made the following statement about it: “if you’re paying attention to what’s going on in the world – the middle east, the u.s. election, the environment, there’s so much chaos and turmoil everywhere. are you going to be part of the problem or part of the solution? but people also need to be cheered up. we also need to have fun and be given a sense of hope.”  in my opinion, that thought was going so well.  and then she realized the song had nothing to do with any of those important things and had to throw some “fun” (yippee!) in there at the end.  personally the grand and wise master “seewa” on songmeanings.net gets it perfectly at the end of his comment on the song’s meaning: “hard to explain it all but I know what I’m talking about”.

 

the situation that we have encountered is certainly not a rare one.  there are plenty of hit songs released year after year that talk about absolutely nothing at all.  so why pick on madonna (and justin [and timbaland])?  basically, she (and/or they) was (and/or were) in the wrong place at the wrong time.  i came across these two songs around the same time, and their similarities struck a chord in my mind.  a closer inspection then created the opinions we’ve encountered.  in my mind, though, it’s definitely a problematic situation that goes far beyond a single artist (or two [or three]).  this madonna tune is a hit song that has gone platinum in australia, canada, denmark, norway spain, and the united states (thanks for the help mr. wikipedia).  josh wilson?  well, his myspace page clocks “three minute song” at 22,189 clicks at the moment.  does that qualify for platinum?  not exactly.

 

so the good song will never be heard by most everyone around.  and the not nearly as good song has been heard by just about everyone.  fair?  not quite.  normal?  most certainly.  i will admit that madonna has paid her dues.  radio stations will probably play just about anything someone records after they’ve been pumping out hit records for over twenty years.  sadly, josh wilson has yet to climb to that height in the industry.  in fact, he might still be looking at his map, trying to figure out where exactly the mountain is.  but we can have hope.  both for mr. wilson’s future (by the way, he has an absurdly cool rendition of “amazing grace” that you really need to check out) and that the music business will someday be a fair and just place to make art (yeah, that’s it).  if anything at all can be taken from our discussion, however, it’s this:  don’t ever challenge madonna to a song length competition.  she’s a professional.  and she’ll take you down.

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a haitian epistle

disclaimer: so this post is going to have some top quality christian propaganda in it; in my opinion that makes it all the better, but you can feel as you will

over the christmas break, i had the opportunity to take a trip with a group of students from st. thomas aquinas at uconn to the country of haiti.  we spent from january 4th to january 14th doing this, that, and everything throughout the cities of port au prince and jeremie.  this is my account of what it was like.  it is in no way complete and can in no way fully explain what it was like to actually be there.  but here it is.  enjoy (and by the way, it’s kind of long.  i was thinking about doing a “part i”/”part ii” kind of thing, but didn’t.  so just keep reading).

well, before taking my trip to haiti i was under the assumption that it would be a life-changing event that i would never forget. to make a long story short, i was not disappointed. over the course of ten days, i experienced things i never would have expected in a million years, met many inspirational people, and had a wonderful time doing it. there is no possible way i could put into words everything that i felt, saw, and did while in haiti, but i’ll try my best.

our plane took off from jfk airport in new york city, and from that moment on, the adventures didn’t stop. no matter where we went or what we did, something crazy, exciting, or moving always seemed to be happening. even the plane ride from new york to port au prince had some animation, as the flight attendant got in a little verbal scuffle with a haitian man who wasn’t a big fan of what he got for breakfast. once we stepped off that plane, though, we truly were in a completely different world. there were no fancy terminals. no perfectly paved runways. not even a moving walkway for us to glide across to the other side of the airport. what we did find was a packed building with people struggling to get close to the baggage claim area. we found a mass of people speaking a different and foreign language and lots of “helpful” men trying to grab our bags for us in exchange for a little bit of money.

from the airport, where we were met by nick and colleen, the two incredible norwich mission house employees that led us around for most of the trip, we took a drive up to the mission house. sounds simple enough, but trust me when i say that nothing ever was. if you were to envision a pothole in the road and then copy and paste that image until it covered the entire road, you’d be pretty close. by the end of the trip, riding in the car across these roads certainly became as much of a game as a way of getting from place to place. in a way, it was kind of like riding the t in boston. when you’re on the t, you can always tell the visitors from the natives. the visitors are flailing and falling over and jerking around with every stop and start; those who live in the city, however, know how to hold themselves so that it looks like they’re taking a completely different and perfectly smooth ride. these roads were like that. after ten days of riding along them, you had a strategy for staying smooth and comfortable, but that first time with your eyes glued to the window trying to take in every person, building, and blade of grass you were seeing, you were flying around, bumping into everyone else over and over again.

it wasn’t just the ride that was jarring, however. you can read the stories and see the pictures. you can hear about the political unrest and watch the reports on tv. no matter what you “know” about the country of haiti, though, you don’t really know it. we so often hear the complaint by viewers that reality tv isn’t real. they say it’s scripted or led on or overly-produced to the point of being just reality-based fiction. in my opinion, if you took a haitian who had grown up poor and dirty and lived the life that your average haitian wakes up to each and every day and put that person into the united states, he might complain too. he’d say our life isn’t real life. it’s just reality-based fiction. when you or i need food or water, we go to the grocery store. when the electricity goes out, you go downstairs and replace the fuse. when we need to upgrade our computer, the tech guys from the electronics store drive over and have it setup in a jiffy. our lives are overly-produced. they’re scripted. but what happens when you don’t have the money to buy food… for your two-year old baby… for the fifth day in a row? what happens when the electricity goes out and you know it’s not going to come back on? what happens when it’s 100 degrees outside and you only have the option of drinking cool water that you know will make you sick or boiled water that won’t? that’s real life. that’s haiti.

and that’s what we started to see as we took that first drive along the road up to the norwich mission house. to me, it looked like a war zone. the streets were lined with concrete buildings that were half torn down. the houses seemed to be surrounded by any kind of wall that could be afforded, usually with barbed wire along the top. everything was dusty and dirty and drab. it really looked like an army had come through on a mission and just left the place in ruins. i suppose there is some truth to that, though with less of an army and more of a civil rebellion. i would come to learn, though, that the walls actually weren’t half torn down. they were half put up. apparently, a great deal of the time the excitement of obtaining a little bit of money through whatever fortunate circumstance that arises is a little too much for haitians to handle. they’re so excited and ready to start off a new, stronger life that they put their money into building this new, bigger home for their families to live in and things are great. things are great, that is, until the money runs out, and without finishing the home, they’re back to where it all began. we did get to pass a fancy car dealership. the couple of wealthy people around do have to get their cars somewhere. we also drove by the brand new u.s. embassy building. we’ll just say that the beautiful architecture and shiny stonework don’t exactly fit in with the surroundings. those two places could in theory have given a bit of a more homey feel to the experience, i suppose. we were much more akin to seeing those than to seeing dirty streets and broken buildings. really, though, they just added to jarring feeling of the ride. i had yet to really meet a haitian, but i already had a pit in my stomach for them. the amount of money that’s going into that embassy… i don’t want to know. all i can say is that there may be a couple of things in the country that need it a little more.

i’ll have to admit we were spoiled. the norwich mission house, where we stayed, is located more along the outskirts of port au prince in an area known as petionville. it was farther up into the mountains than the majority of the city, and not nearly as crazy as many other areas. the house has walls around the borders of the property, like most of the buildings around it, and there was always a guard on duty at the gate for the protection of the workers and visitors. the guard always had a really big gun in his hands, so with that in mind, we were in a pretty safe place. besides the safety, though, the house was just really nice in general. it had everything you might need and a lovely view from the roof down into the city. the boys slept in a big room downstairs, and the girls slept in a similar room upstairs. we were the lucky ones in that deal; the girls’ room did have a bathroom that had recently been fixed up, but they also didn’t have any screens on their windows. in a country with malarious mosquitoes, window screens can be pretty handy. thankfully, we were all taking our pink malaria pills throughout the trip, so none of us got malaria, even though we did end up with a bunch of mosquito bites.

in addition to the nice accommodations, we also had many home-cooked meals that were made by a haitian woman that worked at the house. as far as how a lot of haitians live each day, scratching by for food and living with their family in a tiny one-room home, we didn’t have to live that way while we were in the country. that made for an interesting psychological situation. we went around for ten days to visit people and places that were often times unimaginable, and we would truly feel for the people we met and saw. at the end of the day, though, we’d go back to our comfortable house and eat the food that was prepared for us. we were trying to understand what these people’s lives were like, but at the same time, it seemed like we were to a certain extent being hypocrites. it was tough.

the streets of the city were a crazy, crazy place to be. the lack of road lanes and, for the most part, stop signs or streetlights turn driving into somewhat of a free for all. those who could afford a car just stayed on their side of the road and passed in and out of traffic however they pleased. the goal wasn’t so much of retaining order but just more simply of getting from one place to the next. those who didn’t have a car and didn’t want to walk all the way across the city to where they had to get would use the public transportation. that’s the easiest way to describe it at least. the vehicles used for this were commonly referred to as “tap-taps”, and mostly, they were these brightly painted pickup trucks with makeshift roofs over the back end. people would stand on the side of the road and hail them, similar to tracking down a taxi, and just hop in the back (or if it was full, hang off the back). when you wanted to get off, you’d just give a little tap-tap (hence the name) on the side of the truck to let the driver know to stop, pay for your ride, and be on your way. the constant entrance and exit of the tap-taps onto and off of the street made the driving even more interesting. this of course was only added to more by the people walking through the streets, many not looking with particular focus on what cars were coming in each direction. that part, at least, made our group feel more at home; it was like being surrounded by the pedestrians on the uconn campus.

our travels took us many incredible places on our trip, and we were able to meet so many selfless people that live their lives completely for others. a perfect example of this occurred whenever we went to a place run by mother teresa’s missionaries of charity. we visited homes of sick and dying men and women of all ages, malnourished and diseased babies, and other sick or abandoned children. the sisters that were in charge of these facilities were incredible. day in and day out they take care of men, women, and children that no one else would dare to touch. their patients have scabies, tb, hiv, and others diseases, and many are thinner than the people in pictures that they show you in health class to scare out away from eating disorders. in visiting these places, we had the opportunity not only to see the hardships that they were going through but also to interact with people and hopefully share a little bit of love with them. we visited the home for the babies on the first full day in the country, and to say it was a shocking start would be quite an understatement. they stopped our car along the side of the road in front of a building guarded by a tall metal wall that looked just like all the other run-down buildings around it. this one, however, had a long line of women holding their babies sitting against the wall. we would come to find out that these women would sit there in hopes that the nuns would let them in and feed their children because they had no way to do it themselves. once inside you were immediately face to face with a large room filled with crib after crib after crib. when you turned the corner, you’d find a similar room, and through another door would be another. the first floor consisted only of several of these rooms, and each one was completely full. the baby boys and girls in the cribs all laid or stood there in their cloth diapers (some with shirts as well), and most were crying. you heart immediately poured out to these children. there was nothing you could do but walk right over and pick one up. for many, the moment they were picked up, they would stop crying. their cheeks and eyes glistened with the streaks of the fresh tears, but when they were picked up, everything was okay. these children needed only to be held to be happy. they just needed a moment of love, even from a stranger that they had never seen before, would probably never see again, and for the most part, had absolutely nothing in common with. the problem was, there were just so many. the very few sisters that ran the home were so busy changing dirty diapers and making sure they were all staying healthy that there was little time for such affection. that was our gift to them, as small as it was. you’d be holding one, though, and have to watch all of the other babies in the room crying. the simple fix would seem to be to put down the child being held and to pick up another; the problem with that was the moment you put many of them down, they would start bawling all over again. you felt terrible putting one down but knew that the others needed your embrace just as badly.

in addition to the babies, there was also a group of orphans that lived at the home. it was truly incredible seeing how open and loving all of these children were. with the upbringing that we are given, told to stay away from strangers and to be afraid of things and people that we do not know, it was mind-blowing to walk through a door and immediately have haitian kids grabbing and pulling you here, there, and everything. it didn’t matter who we were. we were people, and because of that alone, they liked us. we also had the chance to help feed the children at lunchtime. the food wasn’t exactly what people in the u.s. would consider up to gourmet standards. they were basically eating something similar to a thick gruel with a rice and beans base to it. it certainly wasn’t the most delicious looking thing in the world, but honestly it didn’t matter. the thing about food is that when you have nothing to eat besides what is put in front of you, you will gladly eat it. this point got reinforced later in the trip when we were hearing about haitians in the countryside making and eating mud cakes because they couldn’t afford anything else. as we sat there spoon-feeding babies, it didn’t matter what was on the spoon. their stomachs were empty and anything would be good enough to fill them.

this type of experience would be replicated many times in our travels around the country. we met with so many incredible people who, no matter their plight or situation, all shared a common need: love. we spent a few afternoons with children from an orphanage called “la maison l’arc-en-ciel,” or “the rainbow house.” these kids were all positive for hiv/aids and could not be supported be their families anymore. in a country where trying to find enough money for food, water, shelter, and clothes on a daily basis is nearly impossible for many, trying to then pay for the medicine of a sick child isn’t even an option. one afternoon we took a bunch of boys on a hike up a nearby mountain. the walk was fun, and the view at the top was breathtaking. the most impacting factor of the experience, however, was neither of those. it was the kids. the fact that they spoke creole and we spoke english made it so communication couldn’t really happen so effectively using our verbal skills. there are only so many “hi! how are you?”s that you can say to a 10-year-old in an afternoon before he realizes that’s all you know. the fantastic thing, though, was that the lack of talking didn’t stop communication. when a kid is dancing up and down the path and has a huge smile on his face, you can assume pretty well that he’s having a good time. when you’re grabbed by the arm and dragged over to a tree to see the fruit that a boy’s just climbed up and picked for you, it’s pretty easy to tell that he wants you to eat it. when it came down to it, and this fact would be pretty consistent throughout the trip, not being able to speak creole wasn’t really that big of a deal. it’s incredible what perseverance for understanding and a little attention to body language can do. being from the northeast where even the person having the best day in the world still walks down the street as quickly as he can with his head looking straight down, you don’t get that a lot. on this afternoon, though, these kids had a ball, and i don’t know that because they told me. i know that because i cared enough to look and see.

we went back to that same orphanage a few days later to play with all the kids, and it was a great time. our group was able to take the experience with a few boys on the mountain and multiply it ten times over. most of the children were still at school when we arrived, but when the truck bringing them back home stopped at the orphanage, they immediately came over and gave all of us welcoming handshakes and hugs. these kids acted as if we were family friends that they had grown up knowing. we were never strangers in their minds, just people, and it was people that they wanted. we spent the afternoon basking in the feeling of acceptance and love and hopefully were able to give it right back to them. being infected with their disease definitely didn’t make them the most popular kids around. we heard stories of other families wanted these children to be put into different schools and how families with hiv/aids positive kids are shunned by the community. it’s not all that unlike here, i guess, but in a world where all you have to rely on is the support and caring of those around you, it’s an awful situation to be in. for the short time we were there, though, you never in a million years would have known that these kids had lived through any problems. they smiled. they laughed. they played. they loved soccer and swinging and music and coloring and anything you wanted to do with them. as long as someone was there to spend time with them, they were happy as could be.

one bizarre thing to witness in haiti was the doings of a typical sunday. we’re all used to america, the freedom-based, most powerful country in the world. one of those freedoms has always been freedom of religion. while a great concept in the beginning, it kind of backfired. instead of allowing everyone to pick whatever religion they want to follow, it instead lets most people pick none. most people around, even if they go to church occasionally, could care less about religion and god and all that. we found out that haiti has that religious freedom thing too. there are plenty of catholics around, but you’ll bump into lots of protestants and those who practice vodou. the weird thing was that no matter their religion, on sunday most people were going to church. they weren’t sitting at home preparing for the football game that night or making sure their roof was fixed (though many could have used the time to do so). they got up on sunday morning and went to church, and they were all in their sunday best. for six days of the week, you saw people walking around in dirty, ripped t-shirts and pants, but on sunday, the suits and dresses came out. suits and dresses? i thought these people were all dirt poor. well yes, they are. that’s why for most, you would probably see the same suits and dresses week after week after week. they just wanted to do their best to praise god and show their respect to him by being clean and well dressed for church. imagine if people in our country cared enough about anything to do that.

there were far too many moments and experiences in those few days in port au prince to even think about writing about all of them here. we met with a pastor who helped translate the bible into creole, merchants whose chance of feeding their families that day depended on you buying a statue or painting from them, a woman who gave her life and money every single day toward feeding all the hungry children in her neighborhood, an american banker trying to bring hope to the island through this thing called micro credit, and students who have had to walk all the way to the hospital just to get somewhere with electricity so that they can do their homework. it was full of so many people, places, and things that i’ll never forget. it was an incredible, incredible experience, and then, we went to jeremie.

jeremie is the fourth biggest, i think, city in haiti. compared to port au prince, though, it’s not much of a city at all. it’s out in the countryside and is a much more rural atmosphere than the “big city” life we had gotten used to. we had to take a plane to jeremie because the road there is winding, unpredictable, and dangerous. one haitian man told us that if we were going to drive, it would take us somewhere between four hours and a few days to make the trip, depending on car, weather, and road conditions. seeing as we were only on the island for a week and a half, we took the plane instead. after getting off our tiny propeller plane, we were met on the dirt runway by bette gebrian, who is the primary health coordinator or the public health director (depending on which website you google to) of the haitian health foundation. we had only a moment to go to the bathroom in the one-room airport, and then we were off into the mountains. it was an interesting ride for sure. the roads in port au prince had been rough and bumpy, nothing like even the worst roads back home. the roads leading up through the mountains of the haitian countryside, however, were nothing like even the worst roads in port au prince. it wasn’t really a bad thing, just a little crazy. i’ve driven up mountain roads before, but never literally up the path of a mountain. it made for quite the ride. we would all come to embrace the motto of “be like gumby”, as if you tried to control yourself over the unexpected turns, bumps, holes, and rocks, you would inevitably hurt yourself more than just letting go and flopping around. if someone had been filming us, it probably would have made for quite a youtube video.

we were driving into the mountains to go and visit one of the villages that the haitian health foundation helps out. basically they go around to towns, villages, homes, and people throughout jeremie and the surrounding area and help promote good health. they focus on teaching things such as proper nutrition, good ratios of food, breastfeeding, and other concepts that will help the poor haitians stay healthy even when the least possible nourishment is available. at the village we visited, the hhf was running a monthly check for mothers and their children, checking things like weight and blood pressure. we also had the change to wash and clip fingernails to prevent diarrhea-inflicting diseases that cause dehydration. before we left, we were able to serve a meal of this stuff called “akamil” to the families that were there that day. akamil is an interesting dish to say the least. if you remember the gruel-like dish that i mentioned earlier, i’ll just say that the akamil made that food look rather appetizing. it was basically a gray mush. i tasted some, and honestly, it wasn’t too bad. apparently, they also have a sweeter version than the one we served that day with more sugars and sweet ingredients. ours, however, was basically made of two parts rice, one part beans, and a few various spices that they found around. the problem with a lot of these rural areas is that when families get a little money for food, they want to get the most food possible with it. the cheapest thing around is usually rice, so they get a lot of rice. even if they fill up on rice and aren’t starving, though, they aren’t getting the proper nutrition to survive. many children end up dying of kwashiorkor, a protein deficiency, because they are only taking in simple sugars and carbohydrates. the akamil that they are taught to make, and that we served while in the village, is a nutrition-based food that, while not all that delicious, provides sustaining nutrition for the haitians in jeremie.

one fantastic part of the haitian culture, in my slightly biased opinion at least, was the importance of music. music is important in the u.s. and is a huge economic force, but in haiti, it’s a huge part of life. not only is music used for enjoyment, it’s engrained in everything they do. when we got down from hiking the mountain with the boys from the orphanage, we ate lunch with them. before we ate, they sang grace for us. when we spent the afternoon at the orphanage, they sang a thank you song right before we left. when we were in jeremie, we heard songs about the signs of pneumonia and the positive effects of breastfeeding (or so we were told at least; they were all in creole). since many of the haitians were illiterate, the workers at the haitian health foundation found that song was the best means to teach, even if the tunes didn’t exactly have the lyrics of a top 40 hit. coming from a country that’s gradually trying to take music out of schools and out of the minds of children, seeing music embraced in this way was wonderful. i even had a few chances to play some authentic caribbean drums with a couple of kids that had so much natural talent and rhythm it was incredible. they tried teaching us their beats, but it was a struggle for sure. as i’m going to school to study music, it was tremendous to see so much music everywhere we went in the country.

before leaving jeremie we had the chance to drive around the city with sister maryann berard. she works for the haitian health foundation, and like many of those that we met along the trip, she was a truly incredible woman. to say she was tough would be quite the understatement. from what we hear in the united states, haiti is supposed to be this hardened, dangerous place that you should stay clear of, but for the vast majority of the trip, i personally didn’t feel in any danger. the welcoming, friendly people that we met along our journey made those ideas seem much more like rumors than the truth. i did, however, feel a bit scared twice. both of those times were under the watchful eye of sister maryann on that drive around the city. at one point, we got out and took a walk up into one of the poorest and most cramped sections of the city. before we got out, she told us that she was glad we were there because she wanted to go talk to the people but didn’t like to go up in there alone. for me, that wasn’t the most comforting thing she could have said, but we all went with her anyway. we found out what she meant as we walked along the tiny path between the tiny shacks. more and more people came out to get a look at us, and soon enough, we were surrounded by forlorn haitians needing money and food. we were never directly threatened, but being surrounded by a big group of desperate haitians yelling and holding machetes can make you nervous. or maybe it was just me. the second event on that car ride happened as we were riding through one of the busier parts of town. carnival was coming up, so every sunday they would have a kind of mini-carnival to get ready for the big celebration. we happened to be driving around on a sunday, and as such, the younger men were out having their fun. a lot of them were totally drunk and had put on masks and covered their bodies in some kind of black charcoal mixture. they looked pretty intimidating to begin with, but the thing that really got me was when one of the guys slammed on the back of our car and then almost immediately another jumped on the back and hung on. i had the luck of being seated right in the back next to the window, so he was probably about three inches away from me. thankfully, sister just kept on driving and eventually he jumped off and we got out of there before anything could happen. it was quite the experience, though. the funny thing was that while all of the young, adventurous college kids were really nervous going through those places, sister maryanne, who is 63 years old, seemed unfazed like it was all no big deal.

the group took a plane ride back to port au prince and basically started getting ready to go home, as we had to leave the next day. we were lucky enough to get to watch a “rara” pass by the mission house that night. it was pretty much a great pre-easter parade which tons of people and really neat music. i thought it was pretty cool. once again, we had a first hand look at the awesome musical culture. the next day, we got a ride to the airport and took our plane back to jfk and eventually back home. it was interesting to see the differences between the customs office at the airport in port au prince and the one in new york. none of us had any reason to be stopped in either one, but as you can probably expect, it took a lot longer getting through in the u.s. than in haiti. we did, however, finally get out and were safety back in the united states of america. it was a very, very strange feeling walking out of the airport to the hustle and bustle of new york life. there was streetlight after streetlight and car after car after car, and as you walked past all these people and all their stuff, you just had a feeling they took it all for granted. i know i had. before the trip i had heard of the starving children in china that forced me to eat the vegetables on my plate. i had heard of the poor children in africa that somehow got on my television screen but definitely needed a few dollars from me every month. i had read about the injustices in the world, and i can assure you that i believed that they were there. i had not, however, gone and seen it, and that made all the difference. the old adage is that you don’t know what you have until you lose it, and that was never truer than with this experience in haiti. the incredible part about it was that it worked both ways. being in haiti, i was able to realize how incredibly blessed i am just to have enough food, water, clothing, and shelter or how fortunate i am to be able to go to an expensive university to learn about the world and then get to go see it. i’ve taken so much for granted in my life, and going to haiti made me realize that fact and hope, for myself, that i can change that. coming home from haiti, however, i also realized what i had lost by leaving there. as i walked down the street, no stranger was willing to look me in the eye and say hello. unfamiliar people were not ready to give me a hug and spend an afternoon in my company. the friendliness and love that had shone from the haitian people was nowhere to be found around here, and while it was nice to get back to the luxuries and comfort of my normal life, that was something to be missed.

there is no possible way to put into words everything that i experienced, felt, saw, learned, and loved about my trip to haiti. reading back through what i’ve written, i’m realizing more and more all the things i’ve left out. that’s okay, though. i can just say that it was an unforgettable experience that, thankfully, will never leave me. if you’d made it all the way to the end of my wandering words, i applaud you. hopefully my stories weren’t too random for you to take out the importance that i saw in them. if you get anything, however, out of what i’ve tried to share, i hope it’s this: haiti is an amazing country. many claim it to be one of the poorest places in the world. i, however, experienced a haiti that was richer than i could have ever imagined. the haitian people shouldn’t be pitied, for they do not want to be pitied. they’re just like you and i. they just want to be remembered and to be loved, and after actually being there, i can promise you that it can truly make all the difference.

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lavoris and the wizard people

well dear reader, it’s been a few days since i wrote anything on here.  last semester came and went. and then winter break (or as i rather enjoy calling it, christmas break) came and went (by the way, i happened to have a quite a fabulous break and did some quite fabulous stuff, but i’ll be letting you know about that later.  it isn’t quite the time for that yet).  and now i’m back here at the university of connecticut for yet another extended period of growth, learning, and education (it happens to be my sixth one of those in case you were wondering).  seeing as it’s a new semester with new teachers and new work and new toothpaste (i’m currently using the “original cinnamon flavor” paste that is sold by some company called “lavoris” [which seems to be owned and/or operated by another company known as “charlesflora consumer products, llc”].  interestingly, the company’s website mentions a bunch of different mouthwashes that they sell, but no toothpastes [you can, however, purchase a tube from cvs online. thank goodness].  even more interestingly, i happened to purchase this wonderful variety of paste at ocean state job lot.  that being said, with consideration toward the lack of representation on the company website, there’s a good chance that it’s toxic and/or carcinogenic.  oops.  but the flavor’s not bad.  you always have to take the cons with the pros, i guess), things have gotten a bit backed up.  there’s probably a good deal of laziness involved as well, but we’ll just blame it on lots of stuff to do.  if nothing else dear reader, it makes me look better, and seeing as i’m the one writing, looking better sounds like a good plan.

that being said, we can move onto the important (yeah…) stuff.  it just so happens that this semester, i’m taking my first ever university english class.  technically speaking, everyone is required to take an intro-level english class when they get into the school, but i took care of that requirement in high school, so i didn’t.  it’s been rather interesting.  it’s a fun little class about the bible.  uh oh… he said bible but didn’t have a disclaimer at the top of the page.  how does that work?  well you see, it is a bible class.  but it’s also called “the bible as literature”.  so it’s not really a bible class.  it’s like a normal english class with a normal english book but with many more biblical allusions (seeing as every word, theoretically speaking, is referencing the bible… because it’s in the bible).  that’s the way it’s supposed to work at least.  faith does creep into the discussions occasionally, often by accident, but those flames are usually quenched in a timely manner.  i must say, dear reader, it’s a really different way to take the bible and read it.  it’s kind of like trying to watch a uconn vs tennessee women’s basketball game and appreciate the good play of both teams from an unbiased perspective (in the terms of the laypersons [so politically correct], that means it’s hard to do).

just this past yesterday, we handed in our first essays for the class.  my decision-making skills were shown to be a bit hazy with this paper, dear reader.  basically, i wrote a thesis that contradicts thousands of years of jewish tradition and literary merit (and because i know you’re all so interested and curious, my paper was about how while abraham [normally seen as one of the uber-cool guys and big time patriarchs in jewish tradition and history] did do a lot of good stuff for the jews and set their big long journey in motion, he also cursed them with his mistakes and led to a lot of israelite woes long after he had died.  does it line up to anything that anyone thinks?  probably not.  but hey, college is all about experimenting).  as far as trying to make a good impression with your first paper goes, that was kind of, in a word, dumb.  but i had a genius idea as i was trying to decide what to write about and went with it.  i suppose we can just see how things turn out when i get it back.

the one thing that i really took out of writing this paper, however, was that coming up with ideas (even if they are crazy, and maybe even moreso if they are) and writing about them can be a pretty cool thing.  creativity, in a nutshell, is top-notch.  being in a major of quite a musical degree, dear reader, i don’t get to do that a whole lot.

so wait a minute here.  why the heck does he keep writing the stupid “dear reader” thing?  sure, maybe it’s an endearing thing to say… once.  but saying it again and again is just overkill.  with that thought, i agree.  and as such, an explanation.  i’ve actually been plagiarizing that phrase.  i know, not very nice, but it’s getting proper acknowledgment now, so that makes it okay(ish).  i came across a cute little link recently (with the help of the oh so powerful facebook mini-feed [which i’ve have been known to appreciate and, dare i say, praise in the past]) that happens to incorporate said phrase and that i feel shares and exposes my sentiments on creativity quite perfectly.  plus, it’s got harry potter, so how can you go wrong?  it’s a fantastic multimedia experience by some crazy dude named brad neely.  basically, mr. neely took the first harry potter film (which may involve the stone of a certain sorcerer and/or philosopher) and wrote his own script for it called “wizard people, dear reader”.  simply put, you turn down the volume on the movie, crank the volume on the audio file, click play on both at (approximately) the same time, and let the magic (no pun intended) unfold before your eyes.  i must warn you, our friend the narrator does have a bit of a potty mouth at times, but with exception to that, it’s quite a ride.  i provide you with  the “re-envisioned” (as they call it) audio here so that you can join the adventures of hp, the wretched harmony, and ronnie the bear.  you can “just say no” and leave here untainted or click the dazzling link and go for it.  the choice is yours.  all i can say, dear reader, is don’t choose incorrectly.

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you’ll shoot your eye out

 disclaimer: so this post is going to have some top quality christian propaganda in it; in my opinion that makes it all the better, but you can feel as you will 

christmas is coming.  the geese are getting fat.  please put a penny in the old man’s hat.  or so the lyrics go (those lyrics being from edith nesbit bland’s classic christmas tune “christmas is coming” [though many times the second line is sung incorrectly as “the goose is getting fat”, but we’ll forgive that for the time being]).  this song is in a dandy little collection of songs that i personally like to refer to as “christmas songs”.  that, of course, is based mostly (well, maybe more of completely) upon the fact that they are about (believe it or not) christmas.

 now, i’m not going to be very politically correct in these words.  basically, this post is about christmas.  not hanukkah or kwanza or festivus or boxing day or any of that.  and that’s pretty much because i celebrate christmas and not any of the others.  so why not just talk about what i know?  and for that matter, why not talk about what (apparently) 96% of persons in the lovely united states of america know (according to this article at least [and make sure to please note the fabulous 105% of people that participated in the poll.  i’m assuming that’s due to holiday celebrating overlap, but it would be much, much cooler if they actually questioned 105% of people]).  so from this point on, christmas.

first of all, christmas is pretty much doomed.  as far as being what it should be and is supposed to be, that is.  as far as being a big time money maker and a commercial juggernaut (which as you all know is a lovely english word derived from the sanskrit word “jagannātha” [meaning “lord of the universe”]), it’s top notch.  as far as making people spend lots and lots of their well earned and meticulously saved money, there’s none better.  but (yes, there’s a but)… well, i won’t even say it.  i’ll let our friends at the ever-superb wikipedia(.com) spell it out.  basically, if you had no idea what in the world christmas was and wanted to know, you might go to wikipedia to find out.  if you were to take a quick look at their “christmas” entry, you might only have time to read the first line (and yes, we’re talking about a very quick look).  and if you could only read that first line, you would read the following: “christmas is an annual holiday that celebrates the birth of jesus.” oh dear, they said the j word.

notice, for a moment, what isn’t in that line.  there is a lack of presents.  there is a lack of shopping.  there is a lack of stores in general.  there is a lack of monetary exchange.  there’s even a lack of christmas lights, christmas trees, and christmas cookies.  the only item on the agenda:  jesus.

i touched upon this fact last year, so i won’t beat it into the ground.  i’ll simply leave it in a way that would make my math teacher of a sister proud.

jesus > presents.

and now back to where we started.  christmas music.  the reason i bring this up is because in my travels of late i’ve been going around (mostly, if not always) by car, and during those automotive excursions, i’ve been listening to the smooth sounds of lite 100.5 (which, by the way, is my “home for holiday music” [or something like that.  i can’t remember off the top of my head what their catchy line actually is]).  sadly, they don’t actually play any christmas music on the station.  they play a lot of holiday music.  but no christmas music.  which i think is weird.  even weirder, though, is the fact that the vast, vast majority of their holiday music is about christmas (and to be fair, i’ve decided to consider a song “about christmas” only if the word “christmas” is included at least once in the lyrics [or would be, i guess, in the tunes that are originally wordful but have been covered as instrumental]).

it is now time to be blunt (but not james blunt, as he has yet to release a fabulous christmas or holiday album [or any such album actually, fabulous or otherwise]).  in case you weren’t catching on to the witty sarcasm that was being employed in the above paragraph, i’ll make it easier.  lite 100.5 plays christmas music.  but they want to make everyone happy.  so they call it holiday music.  the end (or “that’s all folks”, as mr. porky pig would say.  your choice).  so is this really a big deal?  of course not.  but if it was, i’m sure i wouldn’t being writing (or typing, rather) about it.

the real problem with the whole “holiday music” deal is exactly the same problem as the whole present and money issue that we’ve already been over.  companies and radio stations and many other places and people have found an incredible loophole and are exploiting it for all it’s worth.  in our world and time (especially in the united states), religion is out and secularism is in.  and that is relfected about as clearly as anything around christmastime.  everyone wants to celebrate christmas (yup, everyone.  see, i told you this wouldn’t be politically correct) either because they like getting presents or it makes for booming business or whatever.  but very few people want to celebrate christmas in honor of what it’s actually there for (see above if you’ve forgotten already).  so instead of celebrating the “christmas season”, we now celebrate the “holiday season”.  but wait, that’s because we don’t want to discriminate against those who don’t celebrate christmas.  maybe.  but no.  first off, that would be 4% of americans (according to the stats we’re using).  this is a very, very slim minority, and if that was the real reason, it would be much more profitable to appease the 96% and push the others slightly aside for one holiday.  and let’s consider hanukkah for a second (or two, or maybe three).  it’s a lovely little holiday celebrating the maccabees and all that cool stuff, but as far as judaism goes, it’s not even one of the most important feast days.  so why then does the entire country bend over backward to make sure the small jewish population is happy around hanukkah but doesn’t pay any attention to any other jewish holidays?

i happened to take a course a couple years ago at the fun-loving university of connecticut with a professor who was an orthodox jew, and during the course of the semester we had at least three or four classes rescheduled because they were originally on important days on the jewish calendar and he couldn’t come to class.  the course happened to be about jewish history (hence the jewish professor), and because of that, a good percentage (probably about half) of the class was jewish.  now, on the days that my professor couldn’t make it to class, i still had to go to all of my other classes.  that would mean that all of the jewish students in the class probably had to do the same.  i’m sure that if they told their other teachers that they couldn’t go because of religious reasons they’d be excused from class, but i ask this:  why, if we’re so concerned about political correctness and keeping all people and all religions happy, didn’t we have those days off from school?  the only answer i can seem to come up with is that we don’t really care all that much (wow, that sounds really mean.  but sadly, may be rather true).  it’s not about being fair and understanding of all holidays during the holiday season.  it’s about dropping religion completely.  and honestly, it’s working.

so the next time you greet someone, think about things for a moment before wishing them “happy holidays”.  maybe you’d rather wish them a “merry christmas”.  and really, who cares what religion they are or what holiday they celebrate at this time of year.  if i was wished a “happy hanukkah”, i wouldn’t mind.  in fact, it would be pretty darn cool.  the only reason all those greetings are there is to say “hi. it’s great to see you” (or a similar variation thereof).  if you want to join in with all of the secularism and destruction of religion and all of that, i guess you’re free to do so.  someone has to do it.  but next time, at least think about it.  all that being said, i wish you all the merriest christmas you’ve ever had.  enjoy the family.  enjoy the friends.  enjoy the love.  and if you don’t get your official red ryder carbine-action two-hundred-shot range model air rifle, don’t worry.  there’s always next year.  and you don’t really want one anyways.  you’ll shoot your eye out.

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wwjd

disclaimer: so this post is going to have some top quality christian propaganda in it; in my opinion that makes it all the better, but you can feel as you will

i hate things that i don’t understand.  i don’t like change.  i’m a horrendously (slightly) obsessive compulsive creature of habit.  basically, when things go from being one way to being another, it scares me.  not in a boogie man scary way or anything like that, but it creates a strange and different unknown.  and fear of the unknown is one of the biggest fears around.

it’s for that reason (amongst others, i suppose) that i’m a really big fan of both my faith and my religion.   both have been around for a long, long time, and for the most part haven’t changed all that much.  the faith part, some might say, has been around since adam and eve.  they were made by this guy named god and listened to what he said.  they did make one little oops by listening to the snake in the garden, but after having god yell at them and getting kicked out of eden, they straightened out and started listening again.  and if you don’t care to go that far back (whether or not you think we’re monkeys who wear socks), belief in jesus has been around for almost two millennia.  in my book, that’s a hefty bit of time.  and then the whole religion thing.  some would say that catholicism started with jesus dying and the apostles going around saying that he was a pretty righteous dude.  others would disagree and say that original christianity was not by any means the same as original catholicism and that those practices were really started as a more strangling form of religion that was placed upon the roman people by the power of the first council of nicaea in 325 (which may or may not have been imposed upon the church of the time by the oh so powerful emperor constantine [the great]).  personally, i’m all about the first option, but regardless, both points of view leave some sort of catholic teaching beginning between 1,700 and 2,000 years ago.  once again, i’d say that’s a hefty bit of time.

and that’s pretty cool.  in my eyes at least.  it seems firm and steady.  the foundation was put down so well way back when that even through a great religious exodus (often called the protestant reformation [and by the way, i’d like to wish you all a belated happy reformation day!  for any and all of you who were not aware, the 31st day in october [though it can be changed around to a different day if desired, making it more like one of those crazy “observed” holidays that never really make a whole lot of sense] is celebrated by many [especially in the lutheran tradition] as what is very formally called “the festival of the reformation”.  it’s a day to celebrate the great work of martin luther and his theses [there were 95 of them] that sparked the protestant reformation way back in 1517.  now, it was on that day [october 31st] that luther posted his theses [which by the way, were a big list of things that he felt the church was messing up on] on the door of castle church in wittenberg, germany.  as our friends at wikipedia[.com] put it “reformation day… coincides with halloween, but there is no direct relation between the two holidays.”  there are some more conservative thinkers in the christian world that aren’t big fans of halloween because of its pagan [and dare i even say just a touch satanic] history and background.  and that’s brought up a bit in a different wikipedia article that states “some christians do not appreciate the resultant de-emphasis of the more spiritual aspects” of the day.  regardless of how you view halloween, be impressed by the fabulous political correctness with which the writers handled the situation.  it’s well played]) and some crazy situations like having three popes at once or having some rather unfortunate sex scandals plastered across the television screens of the world, the catholic church has stood its ground.  the tradition has held, and simply put, it’s not going anywhere.  for me, that’s actually a huge part of what i believe and why i believe it.  it’s just like the bible.  you can’t can’t claim the bible’s a fake.  it just doesn’t work.  there are so many contradictions and bizarre things in there, that it would be the worst fake job in history.  but it’s still around and still gets occasionally read, so you have to figure that it’s not. and the catholic church is similar.  so many stupid and terrible things have happened in the history of the church, that if it wasn’t a legitimate and solid religion with some real spiritual basis behind it, it would have folded a long, long time ago.  but it hasn’t.  and people still occasionally go to church, so you have to figure that it’s not too bad.

and rather interestingly, that’s what so much of my life is.  habit and tradition.  and most of the time, i love that.  it’s a safe way to work with life, and i like safe.  but then i heard something.  well, i was told something actually.  more in conversation than in eavesdropping, so we’ll go with the “told”.  i was in church.  kind of.  here at the university, there is a student center back behind the church, and on sunday mornings at 10:15 am, they have a mass in the big room in there instead of in the normal chapel.  honestly, i don’t know why it’s in there or when they started having it in there, but they do.  and seeing as i often can’t make it to any of the other mass times offered, i go to that one a lot.  so i was in the student center (which by the way, is often just called “the center” when they make announcements about events and activities that will be happening in it.  that, of course, always makes me think of the “boy meets world” episode when shawn starts hanging out at “the centre”, which turns out to be a cult.  it always settles a little weird in my mind, but what can you do), and it just so happened that there was a silent auction going on in the lobby area of the building to support a couple groups that are involved in trying to help out the people of haiti.  those running the silent auction were walking around making sure everything was alright and that people knew how to make bids and things like that, and a wonderful man named bob (who is one of the guys that kind of unofficially run the church.  every church has those people that are just involved in absolutely everything, and at this church, bob is definitely one of those guys) came over and stood next to me.  we stood observing the scene for a moment, and he said “the money changers are in the temple.”  and he smiled at me and walked off to do something else.

it was really simple and really quick.  and for most people, it probably would have meant next to nothing.  but for me, it packed quite a wallop.  if you didn’t know, that line was a reference to an episode in the new testament gospel accounts of jesus often simply referred to as “jesus and the money changers”.  it’s found in all four gospels (matthew 21:12-17, mark 11:15-19, luke 19:45-48, and john 2:12-15), so that considered, there’s a decent change it happened.  for the sake of space (and goodness, we all know the internet is running low on space), i’ll just give you one of the four.  and i like matthew (it’s a good name), so we’ll go with that one.  the dandy new american translation states, “jesus entered the temple area and drove out all those engaged in selling and buying there.  he overturned the tables of the money changers and the seats of those who were selling doves.  and he said to them, ‘it is written: “my house shall be a house of prayer,” but you are making it a den of thieves.'”  that only includes verses 12 and 13, but for our little chat that’s really all we’ll need (and on another fun note, john’s version talks about jesus making an impromptu whip to help get people out, which is pretty cool.  though, the fact that the story is given so early in that one gospel [chapter 2] and none of the others gives some scholars the inclination that they may actually be two different events.  my thoughts?  i had no idea about that until i just read it online, so you’ll have to ask someone else for more information in that regard).

there it is.  a lovely tale.  but why bring it up?  why now in the midst of talks of habit and tradition and all that jazz? well basically, because that’s exactly what was going on.  jerusalem was being a big huge creature of habit.  in a nutshell (and a very, very vague and simple one, to say the least), it was close to the jewish festival of passover and all the jews needed to go to the temple and make a sacrifice to god for the festival.  to do that they needed an animal to sacrifice, which they could very conveniently buy in one of the outer courtyardy areas of the temple. however, they had to buy these animals with special money (per the jewish law) that they didn’t normally have on them and had to go to the money changers first to exchange their money.  basically, it was like this:  they had money.  they changed their money to the proper currency.  they bought an animal to sacrifice.  they went and had it sacrificed in the temple.  and now i repeat: very, very vague and simple.  the thing was, jews had been doing this for a long, long time.  jesus and his family had probably done this themselves plenty of times.  plus, the setup was really convenient.  everything these people needed was right there.  in a (really strange) sense, it was the mcdonald’s of passover.

which brings us back to storrs, connecticut.  bob and i were standing there watching this hustle and bustle going on around us with lots of people worrying about making their bids on items and how much money they were willing to spend and all that.  and as bob walked away smiling, i realized that he was so right.  it was exactly the same.  and that confused me so much.  all these people were at church, there to celebrate god, and yet all of the focus was on what was happening outside in the lobby.  instead of being focused on faith and spirituality and listening to the word of god, it was all about bidding and donated items and money.  the thing is, it was all for a great cause.  the money that was being raised was going to end up going (in some way or another) to haiti, which happens to be the poorest country in the western hemisphere.  those people need all the money and support that they can get.  so it was a really good thing.  the catholic church has a list of “corporal works of mercy” that are: feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, shelter the homeless, clothe the naked, care for the sick, visit the imprisoned, and bury the dead.  by supporting the auction, those things were going to be able to happen.  but at the same time, i stood there thinking about it, and the one thing that ran through my mind was the overdone and taboo (but if truly thought about and used, oh so perfect) line “what would jesus do?”.

wwjd.  i’ve seen it on posters, necklaces, t-shirts, bracelets, stickers, and a zillion other things.  does it actually make people think about what jesus would do?  maybe.  does it then make people act like jesus would have acted?  maybe.  i really can’t tell you that.  but i can tell you that for once, that line meant something to me because i really had to stand there and contemplate it.  regardless of what kind of swindling and overpricing the money changers and animal sellers were doing around the temple in ancient jerusalem, it was a decent service.  people got what they needed, where they needed it, when they needed it.  money was being spent on the outside, and sacrifice (which i guess could be the equivalent to modern “worship”) was happening on the inside.  it was a tradition of sorts.  a habit, definitely (if not the former).  it was the safe way to do things, so people did it.  and then jesus came in and started knocking over tables and thrashing around his whip.  the obvious question i had to ask myself was whether or not jesus would have done the same in our church.  now there’s the dumb debate over what kind of house of worship jesus would go to if he was around today, seeing as the christians worship him and the jews don’t…but he was jewish…whatever.  that’s not important.  what’s important is what he would have thought and done if he had, for whatever reason, shown up to church that day.  bob was right.  the money changers were definitely in the temple.  they were doing it for a good (even great) cause, but at the same time, the focus on god and worshipping him was totally being averted.  the minds and hearts were being dragged in the wrong direction.  and so i just stood there.  contemplative and downright confused. was what we were doing a bad thing? even though it was in an attempt to help the poorest of the poor? can good things occasionally be not so good? can they even be bad? oh dear. i was perplexed.

and here it comes, the answer.  well, no.  once again, i have no answer for you (it seems like that’s happening more and more often.  either i’m getting more deep or just less intelligent.  i’m definitely going to have to go back to the simple, stupid stuff.  it was a lot easier).  i was perplexed about the issue, and i remain as much so. and yet, i guess the only “answer” i have is to tell you not to worry about answers all the time.  i have books and books of catholic teaching, catholic laws, catholic thought, catholic history and most anything catholic you would ever want to know.  but i can promise you that none of them, even if i did look (which i’ll be honest and admit i didn’t), would have an answer to this question.  in this situation, all of that tradition and all of those teachings still leave us empty-handed.  so when you think about it, the safe way isn’t all that safe.  even with tradition, you can still lose.  for someone who is so big into these long-standing, changeless traditions, that kind of stinks.  but alas.  it happens.  sometimes all we can do is take it in and make our own decisions and opinions.  and sometimes (gasp), that may involve change.  as scary as that can be.

so go grab your wwjd bracelets. put on your jesus t-shirts and wear them proudly. and the next time you do something (anything, really), think about what you’re doing. think about it from all sides and angles. it’s incredible what you can find out when you take a look around the back corner of an issue. and if you find something a little scary, just go with it. it’s the tough things that make us grow and the changes that make us learn. even when we have no idea what jesus would do.

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history 101

the old adage says that history repeats itself.  more specifically (and in the words of the great george santayana), “those who fail to learn the lessons of history are doomed to repeat them.”  it happens rather often.  whether it be something as big as hitler marching into russia only to retreat in a giant failure after napoleon had done the same less than 200 hundred years prior or something as small as trying the dining hall food everyday in the hope that it will be (magically) delicious, which it never really is.  either way, history is quite repetitive.

and though i’m sure you’re sitting there singing such praises as “good point”, “well done”, and “bravo”, you may also be asking yourself why the point was made.  and it’s a valid point to question the point, i assure you.  basically, it’s quite simple.  history is repeating itself.  in a big way.  and it’s happening in china.  ooh, china.  so exotic.  so foreign.  excitement for sure.

sadly for all of you exotic thrill-seekers out there, the chinese history isn’t what’s repeating.  it’s american history.  in china.  american sports history, to be precise.  if you’d care to read about it, you should probably take a look at the article right about here.  the story goes a little something like this:  the united states women’s soccer team (which is praised [for lack of a better term] in their current fifa world cup television ad campaign as “the best team you’ve never heard of”) is playing against brazil in the semifinals of the 2007 fifa women’s world cup later today.  they’ve played the entire tournament (and the majority of the past few years) with one goalkeeper (namely hope solo [and yes, her name really is hope solo]), and they’ve won every game in this tournament with the exception of a tie to north korea in the opening round.  their coach, however, has made the decision to switch goalies for the upcoming game against brazil.  why?  well, just because.  it’s not because of bad play or injury or anything.  he’s just kind of bringing in the new girl (who is named briana scurry and is actually the old girl, as she used to be the starting goalie on the team for several years but then took a few years off from the team and when she came back had to assume the role of backup).  now, the new/old girl is definitely good.  that’s not a question.  she’s proved her skill in many big time games for the team in the past.  but regardless, this move has quite a few soccer aficionados stumped.

the question, of course, is whether they should be stumped.  does this make any sense at all?  thankfully, i happen to have the answer (and basically, the result of the upcoming game to go along with it).  that answer is found deep within history.  this move may seem crazy and unprecedented to some, but in actuality, it has happened before.  if you’d care to join me in my figurative time machine, we can go back and take a look.

very interesting. “in a surprise move, bombay has gone to his bench.” sounds familiar. “i don’t know about this move by bombay. putting in a cold goaltender to face the leading scorer in the tournament.” cold goaltender, check. leading scorer in the tournament, check (it just so happens that two players from the brazilian team [marta and cristiane] are in first and third place, respectively, on the goal scoring list). and why did coach bombay put julie in? “julie, you’ve got the fast glove.” (though, i think emilio estevez is much cooler than me because it sounds like the actual line is “julie, you got the fast glove.” if it had a “yo” on the end, it would be perfect.) and why is coach ryan (of the u.s. women’s team) putting in briana against the brazilians? well, in his press conference yesterday, he stated, “i think the way the brazilians play, in terms of creating off the dribble in the penalty box and making the goaltender make reaction-type saves, i think [scurry] is the best goalkeeper in the world in those situations.” now that may not be grammatical perfection, but when push comes to shove, you could probably simplify it down to “briana’s got the fast glove.” or hand, in this case. though soccer goalies wear gloves too. just not big baskety ones.

personally, i see these two scenarios very much as one and the same. coach greg ryan is just the next coach gordon bombay, and briana scurry is just the next julie “the cat” gaffney. i haven’t thought far enough into the metaphor to tell you who the next charlie, ken wu, and gunnar stahl are, but trust me, they’re there. it runs deep. and the result of the soccer game? well, that’s easy. the usa ducks won. after putting in a new goalie. against the best goal scorer. so logically, when the u.s. soccer team puts in a new goalie to go against the best goal scorer… well, i’ll let you create your own logic on that one.

so what was the best part about this post? well, you thought you were in for a history lesson and instead you got to watch “d2: the might ducks”. that’s pretty much as good as it gets. and so with that, i leave you. but always remember, “greenland is covered with ice, and iceland is very nice!” with that in mind, you can never go wrong.

update:  oops.  apparently they should have considered changing into duck jerseys at halftime. 

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